Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

Storms

Summary:
storms banner We're far away from Forks, now. And what a lovely city Knives is- the perfect place to start afresh, don't you think? Edward is long gone and Jacob loves his wife-to-be. Bella is not happy- but then again, she hasn't been for four years. She's used to it. But mistakes have been made, and a destructive chain of events has been set in motion. Nothing can stop it. The storm is fast approaching- it's too late to get out now. Much too late. The Cullens are back.Char made my banner. She's an awesome person who has good things waiting for her in the afterlife.


Notes:
I'm alone, And more alone with every passing day; The danger is increasing every second that I stay. But the storms are fast approaching, And I cannot get away.


9. Bella goes a bit mad.

Rating 5/5   Word Count 7318   Review this Chapter

By the time I had escaped the hospital and started my weary motorbike ride home, I was more tired, more depressed and hungrier than I had been all day. My eyes kept twitching, and twice on the journey home I had caught myself nodding off. A constant rainfall battered my shoulders, and the bike wheels shredded puddles into my face and froze my fingers. And I had not eaten the sandwich. It was probably still lying in the bottom of the bin, where I had angrily buried it hours before.

The post-it, on the other hand, was folded carefully in my pocket. I wasn’t sure why I had kept it or what I was planning to do with it, but for some reason I hadn’t been able to throw it away.

I slowed down as I reached the house, swerved in and drove round the back. I turned off the engine and pulled out the stand. The sudden silence that always greeted me after the roar of the motorbike was a relief; the patter of raindrops was comparatively musical.

I took off my helmet, and paused, steadying myself. Time to bring out Jacob’s Bella. I fixed a stupid smile on my face, whispered “I can’t wait to get married,” just to make sure it sounded reasonably convincing, and then ran through the back door, shaking my hair and unzipping my jacket.

The outdoor noises cut off as soon as I shut the door. It was only feebly warm in here, due to the fact that the heating was turned right down, another of my vain attempts at economy. “You wouldn’t believe it was spring,” Happy-Smiley Bella called out, smiling and running her fingers through her hair. “It just never stops raining, I’m soaked.” I could hear Jacob bustling about in the bedroom next door as I hung up my jacket and helmet, untied my boots and shook them off. The dim light of the kitchen was perhaps even gloomier than the clouds outside. I rubbed aching eyes, dreaming of sleep. “Jake, are you home?”

“Yes!” he yelled, through the wall. “Give me ten minutes, okay?”

Odd bumps and irate curses came through the wall. I raised my eyebrows. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing! I need ten minutes, okay, Bells?”

I didn’t complain. Ten minutes was just enough time to take a shower, which I desperately needed to do if I didn’t want to explain to Jacob why I stank of Edward Cullen. I inwardly groaned at this realization; if I was going to have to wash before and after work every day, our bills were going to go through the roof.

I walked quickly across the hall, staring at the bedroom door as more sounds came from it. It sounded like some sort of struggle was going on. “Jake, are you okay?” I asked, as I held the bathroom doorknob.

“Ten minutes!” His voice sounded from the bedroom.

I took a shower quickly, forgetting to breathe in as I slid through the door and scraping my back. I used half the bottle of shower gel, just to make sure all vampire was well and truly rubbed off, before finally getting out. I was careful not to look in the mirror as I dried myself. I probably looked a sight, and I did not want to mope over my reflection again; that exercise would do nothing but depress me.

I wrapped the towel around myself, dragged a brush through my hair and then scooped up my clothes. Compared to the steaminess of the bathroom the hall air was cold and harsh. I shivered.

“Okay, Jake,” I said, padding forward across the carpet and leaving a trail of drips in my wake. I leaned against the bedroom door. “You’ve had ten minutes. I need to get dressed.”

There was no answering reply. “Jacob?” I waited, but the sounds from the room were just growing more frantic. “Jacob, what are you doing?” Again there was no reply, just hurried footfalls. I twisted the door handle, pushing inwards. “Jacob-“

The handle jammed as he held it still, and I was met with two excited eyes, which peeked at me from the crack between door and doorframe. “Hey,” Jacob said, grinning.

I raised my eyebrows, and pushed the door again. He held it steady. “Have you got someone in there, Jake?” I asked.

He chuckled. “Nope, just a surprise. Close your eyes,” he said. I did not even lower my eyebrows. “Shut them!” he commanded, his own eyes wide and mischievous, a sly smile playing on his lips.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“You’ll see in a second, but shut your eyes.”

“Jacob-“

“Nothing’s happening till you shut your eyes.” He grinned widely, his teeth a bright white in contrast to his dark skin. He waited, and, against my many misgivings, I closed them.

“Brilliant,” he said, and I heard the door open. He grabbed my arm, one hand over my face because he obviously didn’t trust me not to peek. He shut the door, and then pulled his hand away.

I opened my eyes and looked forward, expecting… I don’t know, something large and exciting. Instead, I found myself staring down at our bed, which looked quite normal. I cast my eyes around, but the rest of the room was just as it had been when I’d left it this morning. I turned quizzical eyes at Jacob, dropping my pile of clothes at the foot of the bed. “What am I looking at here, Jake?”

He frowned, and pointed. “I made the bed!” he said, and I detected a dejected note in his voice. His dark hair almost seemed to droop. “Can’t you tell?”

Now that I looked closely, the bed sheets had changed- into the fancy linen ones which had been a present from Jacob’s sister on my last birthday. The duvet was poking out of the cover and a pillowcase was on inside-out. The red material looked creased and twisted, clearly suffering from Jacob’s inept bed-making skills. “Oh,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Thanks, Jake.”

He looked down at me, disappointment written over his face. “You don’t get it.”

“I don’t?”

He shook his head, and then, taking me quite by surprise, he grabbed my shoulders in his huge hands, and turned me to face him. His palms were warm and dry against the dampness of my skin. He stared down at me, and a massive grin spread over his face. He lifted up a finger and wiped a wet, knotted strand of hair from my cheek. “I just thought…”

The sentence trailed off suggestively.

My stomach went cold. “What did you think?” I asked, hoping beyond hope that I had guessed his meaning wrong. But of course I couldn’t be right, because what kind of idiot sees making a bed as a passionate gesture? It sounded like the kind of romance technique Enid Blyton would have come up with, had she ever taken a break from Darrell and Gwendoline-Mary.

But Jacob grinned even wider. “Well, it’s been ages since we… y’know…”

Well.

There could be no mistranslation there. I stared up into his face, at a complete loss. I was suddenly struck by the hugeness of Jacob- he was just so tall, his shoulders so broad. His arms looked like they had bowls under the skin. It was almost intimidating, staring wordlessly up into his expectant face. I felt like Hagrid’s Barbie doll. How was I going to get out of this? I had to get out of it, had to, somehow. After everything that had already happened today there was no way I could take this too…

“What?” was the first word that came to my lips. I tried to keep the desperation from my voice, and succeeded reasonably well. If I acted the fool then maybe I could stave this off for a day, a week, maybe even the rest of my life…

But Jacob hadn’t bought it. “You know what I mean,” he said, looking from one of my eyes, to the other, and then to my mouth. Dread shot through me like a bullet. A bead of water fell from my hair, over my forehead, down my nose and then dripped to the carpet.

I heard a soft pat as it hit.

“Jacob…” I said, pretending his meaning had only just dawned on me. “I… I don’t- I’m really tired.”

“Well, it’ll wake you up.” His eyes had the playful look of the naughty teenager who, in more ways than one, he still was. I searched them desperately for anything other than that horrible, haunting, suggestive look they were wearing. But they were shallow, and I sensed the top layer of emotions were the only ones he was feeling.

“Jake, please, I’ve had an awful day-“

“I can’t think of a better way to cheer you up,” he said, his voice quick and excited.

I felt faintly sick, and my stomach quietly vibrated with hunger. “Any other day, I would-“

“I came home early!” he said, as if this would change my mind. He was pleading with almost pathetic puppy-eyes. “I made the bed!”

He couldn’t be serious! Those were excuses not to cook dinner or clean the shower, not reasons why I should- we should-

I stared into his face. His hands were still tight around my shoulders. I remembered the last time he had gripped me like this, remembered our argument, remembered faint bruises which had, and probably still, lined my skin from where he had gripped too tight.

Desperately, I searched for more ways out of this. “Maybe, Jake, we could wait until… until after the wedding.” I tried to fight back the hopefulness from my eyes. I could feel exhaustion descending over my body again. I just wanted to go to sleep

His grin lessened, and he looked confused. “Why?”

My mouth opened and I had no idea what I was going to say. “I don’t know, so it’s… special?” I was grasping at straws, and inwardly cringing.

“I don’t want to wait that long, Bells,” he leaned in and his breath was suddenly on my face- it smelled of fast-food meat. I felt very exposed, standing in the cold bedroom wearing only a towel.

“But-“

He looked suddenly nervous. “Bella, are you avoiding me? Is there some reason why-“

“No!” I said, before I could stop myself. The instinct to lie and protect had taken over. Like I had trained it to. “No, of course not.”

“Good,” he said, grinning again, and suddenly he was kissing me. I felt a clammy sense of dread as recycled burger breath wafted down my throat. This was not what I wanted, not at all, not at all, no no no-

There was a sudden crash, and I jumped. Jacob paused from his lip-lock for one second, and then shrugged. “Kids throwing stones again, I guess,” he said. He turned back to me, his eyes alight. “Where were we?”

Fatigue was pushing at my skull as he grabbed me once more, dragging me over to the bed. I could not complain. I could not fight back.

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

Jacob fell asleep quickly, but I lay up and waited. I did not look at his face- instead I watched his chest rise and fall, rise and fall, rise, fall… Only when his breathing was slow and deep, and I was perfectly sure that he was completely and utterly out of it, did I pull up the tangled duvet cover- the actual duvet was curled in it somewhere at the bottom- and slip out of bed. I grabbed my clothes from the heap on the floor and quickly got dressed. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew that I needed to get out of this little house, get away, and get away quickly.

I didn’t turn around to look at him as I shut the bedroom door, and I didn’t even make an effort to be quiet as I exited the house, grabbing a jacket as I went. Jacob was a heavy sleeper; he slept through the vacuum cleaning, and all those neighborhood parties that kept me up all night.

It was pitch black outside, and the air was cool and smelled of car fumes. It wasn’t raining, but that odd wet murk that hangs around after a rainfall was still heavy in the air. I breathed in and out deeply, but my throat felt vaguely constricted. I almost choked on my own breath.

I set off down the road, determined to block out any thought from my head. The only sounds in the night were my own footsteps, and the distant base beats of a far-off party. I ran my fingers along a hedge as I passed it, pulling off a couple of leaves and ripping them to shreds. A small red car sped past me, the loud raucous laughter of teenage boys fading as it flew away.

A light, cool breeze dried the last of the shower from my hair. I shivered slightly as I walked. The lights in the house next to me were on and I could see the outline of a woman and a bottle through the window.

I carried on walking. I was determinedly not thinking a single thing, avoiding every recent thought and picture and memory. But, through locking away certain parts of my mind, haphazard thoughts and memories surfaced to keep my brain occupied. Images of Newton’s Outfitters flitted randomly through my head, along with the lines of some old pop song. I found myself reciting the chemical equation for respiration. A few lines of a long forgotten poem streamed into my brain, and I focused on remembering the words to it as I stepped in time to its beats.

A love-song I had somewhere read,
An echo from a measured strain,
Beat time to nothing in my head
From some odd corner of the brain.

And against my better judgment the words sparked a few notes in my head, notes that had been played on a piano in what seemed like another life…


It haunted me, the morning long,
With weary sameness in the rhymes,
The phantom of a silent song,
That went and came a thousand times
.

Thousands and hundreds and thousands of times, again and again… I searched for the rest of the poem in my mind, but the memory had long since been lost; I could recall scattered lines, a few rhyming couplets…

And now those vivid hours are gone,
Like mine own life to me thou art,
Where Past and Present, wound in one,
Do make a garland for the heart-

But no. I could not remember any more, and doubtless it was wiser to stop the inner recital just there, in case the romantic phrases started to gnaw at me. My footsteps accelerated as recent memories surged up to replace the lilting lines, and then I was walking with a fury, no idea of where I was going or even where I was, fueled only by the desire to get far, far away, to do something other than remember the events of the night.

The hunger, fatigue and depression of earlier today were still heavy on my body, but they were outshone by an almost overwhelming feeling of nausea. I bit my lip and pressed a finger to my temples, shutting my eyes and walking on. Inevitably, I almost instantly fell over, tripping over something and flailing in the grip of gravity. I stuck out a hand to stop myself crashing to the ground, merely landing with my paper cut stinging again and my elbow raw. I opened my eyes to find myself sprawled out on the pavement, in the fringes of Cawdor, next to a long, ugly bridge with a wide concrete parapet running along it. The beer can at my feet was the obvious cause of my fall, and I kicked it away in irritation.

The night was black around me, the streets behind lit only by shallow pools of orange light, cast by stooping street lights. I turned back to the bridge, and with a groan I heaved myself to my feet. I walked over to the parapet, my footfalls loud in the silent night, and gripped the concrete edge, peering over the side and listening intently to the raging river below.

It was a powerful thing. I could not see the body of water that raged below me, but I could hear it loud and clear in the night air. I knew that somewhere, not far down the line, this river met the sea, and that long ago Knives had been a port, dealing in slave-made produce and tropical delicacies. I tried to imagine the cargo ships that would once have sailed along, perhaps not under this ugly, modern bridge, but under another. It was hard to imagine that Cawdor had maybe once been beautiful; dark green and forested- and not pebble-dashed and derelict.

I was suddenly overtaken by a desire to walk along the parapet. I don’t know where this desire came from or why it came, but I knew instantly that this was what I needed to do to keep the thoughts and recollections at bay. It was stupid and reckless and childish- and yet, maybe therein laid the reason for my wish. I had, long ago, lived off reckless things. Harry’s death had awakened me to the stupidity of these activities; had even brought me back from a cliff edge. But at the moment I just wanted to feel foolish and innocent; feel like a little kid again. Maybe that way I could block out everything I did not wish to recall.

As I gripped the concrete ledge, the moon slipped out from behind cloud cover and a dull, faint glow was cast over my surroundings, illuminating nothing but shapes and outlines. It was enough, however, to guide me up on the parapet and onto my feet.

The wind whipped my hair and ruffled my shirt, and I unzipped my jacket slightly, feeling it press the cloth to my chest. I stretched my arms out wide and took a step. Below me on one side was the sturdy solid of the road- below me on the other the steady gush of water that moved faster than a truck and with more power than twenty horses. Especially after the rain.

I took another step.

When I had lived in Phoenix, there had been a playground just down the road from where we lived, and every day in summer Renee and I had bought ice creams from the tinkling van on the side of the road, and then played in there for hours. She had pushed my swing and held my hand as I climbed the wooden logs and balanced my way across the trapeze bars. I closed my eyes and imagined myself back there. The breeze on my face was the humid air of Phoenix, the parapet beneath me just a four foot log, and I wouldn’t fall because my mom was holding my hand and guiding the way…

I opened my eyes and the darkness was almost a shock. The wind whispered through my outstretched fingers and my hair blew about my face. I leaned my head backwards to gaze at the sky. A few wispy clouds were floating across the moon. I fancied I could see a face in its surface- a kind of surprised face; two big eyes and an open mouth. I smiled up at it, bringing up a hand to push away my hair.

I rubbed my eye as it twitched again, and pulled my arms back in. I sank down on the concrete surface, careful not to slip because to do so would mean a scrape, fall, then a severe case of deadness. Ha. Deadness.

I shook my head. I was being silly. I was playing the child part too well. I pulled my knees up to my chest. My eye twitched again, and I ran my fingers through my hair as I yawned. The wind was slowing and the air around me was growing warmer, although the darkness was still as complete as before. I closed my eyes and listened the gush of water below.

I heard the rustle of trees in the wind, the whoosh of a far-off car, the low boom of a male voice somewhere in the distance. The river still ran far below, a steady flow which sang through the air. Nearer, I could hear the small patter of small stones on the road, and the light crunch of a crisp packet fluttering along the pavement. I leaned my head around and looked down at it, the dull silver moving along below me as the wind caught it and tossed it forward. It reminded me of the tumbleweed I used to occasionally see out of my bedroom window in Phoenix.

And on Looney Toons.

And then my head was full of Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote, and my thoughts wandered along ancient storylines and ACME and stuttering pigs and huge mutant Tweety Birds. I smiled absently at these recollections, and I stretched out my legs so that they were dangling over the edge of the bridge, swinging in the darkness. My eye twitched again and the water continued to gush below.

I continued to wander the lost lands of childhood in my mind, only half aware now of the purpose of these distractions. I felt strangely giddy— tiredness had finally taken my reason hostage. I leaned further forward to see if I could see the water below. I couldn’t, but the noise of the river still flowed through my ears. The last time I had been on a ledge like this I had almost jumped. For one irrational moment I wondered if you could cliff-dive off a bridge. But the sea at La Push had been deep, and this river was shallow. Jumping would not only be stupid, but it would be fatal. And probably very cold.

I yawned, and my stomach growled. I felt the urge to hit it- as if this would shut it up.

I spun around on the small of my back, and lay down flat on the parapet, closing my eyes again. One of my hands dangled above the road, the other above death. The wind had lessened almost completely, and the air was tepid and comfortable on my skin. I yawned again. My mind set off along more paths, wondering through play parks and schools and biology classrooms and bright, sunny meadows…

…and I was running along the hospital corridors, Jacob holding my hand and dragging me along, shouting at me to hurry up. I kept saying that I couldn’t hurry up, that I was tired, that I wanted to slow down and catch my breath before we carried on. But Jacob didn’t understand- he wanted to run faster and faster, through this door and into the forest it led too, and we were still running, running… and then we were running through the meadow and Edward was watching us run, smiling at me as we passed. I tried to tug away from Jacob, begging him to let me stop and go back, go to Edward, but he shook his head, pulling me onwards. I desperately tried to turn around, but tripped and fell off a cliff and I was falling and falling and falling- and someone had hold of my shoulder and was shaking it, saying my name in a soft, high voice…

“Bella,” my shoulder was still being shaken, and everything around was dark and blurred. “Bella,” the voice said again, and something pale was hovering above my face. Wind wafted across my skin and I shivered.

“Bella?” I blinked, and a face swam into view. It was a small and blurred, with bright red lips and wide, light eyes.

Alice let go of my shoulder and smiled widely.

I yawned, blinking heavily, disorientated. I was outside, lying on something hard and stone. There was a crisp packet beside me.

“I took you off the ledge,” Alice said. “It looked like you were having a nightmare and I didn’t want you to roll off, because then I’d have to jump in after you and I like this sweater.”

I yawned again, not quite hearing her, not taking anything in- not even fully realizing where I was- and hoisted myself up onto my elbow. I was vaguely aware of Alice sitting down next to me. She leant against the concrete of the bridge.

I was still on the bridge, though no longer lying on the parapet, and judging by the darkness around me it had not been long since I fell asleep. Fell asleep on the edge of nothing, a hundred foot drop below me, which I could easily have fallen down to my death…

I groaned, and rubbed my eyes with my fists. Sleep was still lingering over my brain, and nothing was clear yet. I slowly finished filtering the stupidity of my nap and dazedly began to process the presence of the figure sat next to me. I blinked one more time, and all haziness left me.

I stared at Alice, who smiled back. The dim moonlight illuminated her features, and she looked just as she always had done, young and bright and beautiful. She was mildly different to how I had remembered her; but that was merely because things that live only in your head are never true to their physical counterparts. I gaped dumbly at her, not quite understanding what was going on. I hadn’t seen Alice for four years (save from a flash of black hair in a hellish courtroom), and still the only difference between memory Alice and real Alice was that the real one was even more stunning than the make-believe.

“So,” she was the first to speak, her eyes wandering over my face. “Care to tell me what you’re doing on a bridge in the middle of the night?”

I didn’t answer, looking away from her and down at my feet.

A niggling worry of how awkward this would undoubtedly be wormed into my brain. Meeting my ex-best friend on top of a bridge in the middle of the night, while I was only semi-conscious, was not the way I ever envisaged a reunion. But suddenly she had thrown herself on me with a squeal, and I was gripped between two small, thin and incredibly strong arms. “Oh Bella!” She pulled away so she could see my face. “You cannot imagine how much I missed you, Jasper’s said that he’s been able to tell how lonely I was, I just wanted to get on a plane the whole time and pop in and say hi, but of course I couldn’t, and then I knew you were back but I still couldn’t see you- you know, like see you as in see you in the future in my head, and Carlisle said it was because of your wolf-boyfriend, and it was metaphorically killing me that you were so close and yet still I couldn’t come over- and then Edward wouldn’t let me go and visit you, although he’s allowed to follow-“

My mouth stumbled over a couple of words. “Alice- what?” I said, as I struggled to keep up with her speech. My voice was low and bleary. I was still busy absorbing her presence- it was like meeting a long lost sibling, only odder because this was the middle of the night on the pavement of a bridge.

Alice grinned at me, and… I don’t know, maybe her obvious happiness was infectious or something, but without conscious effort my lips curved slightly at the corners. And then suddenly- I still have no idea how it happened- I had hugged her, albeit tentatively, and completely without planning it I was telling her how much I had missed her too, and how sad and lonely I had been, and how incredibly unbelievably pleased I was to see her again.

I wasn’t aware, until now, that these thoughts and feelings had been inside me at all. But it was all true, I reflected, as her cold arms wrapped around me and I rested my chin on her shoulder. Why it had all just suddenly burst from me I couldn’t say. Alice didn’t seem to mind, however- she laughed and hugged me back and laughed again, and her laugh sounded like bells.

“I saw you lying on the bridge,” she told me, when my flow of soppy reunion talk was over. I pulled away from her and leant back against the bridge, feeling almost – if not happy- content. “In the future. I checked to see if you were going to fall off, and it didn’t look like you were… but I couldn’t be sure, you know how easily everything changes, so I came down to get you off. It was weird to see your future again, I hadn’t been able to for so long. Your boyfriend clouds my sight.” She looked sulky for a second. “And,” she added, wrinkling her small nose, “he makes you stink.”

This flood of conversation so soon after awakening baffled me slightly, and I only caught snippets of her words. However, I heard and frowned at her last few sentences, about to ask- but she explained quickly anyway. “Werewolves smell disgusting. It rubs off on you, I think. You smell like wet dog.”

I spoke again, a few letters against her floods of talk. “You smell to him,” I said, my voice low and strange next to hers. I didn’t look her in the face as I spoke; my fingers were running along the tarmac of the pavement, moving up and down over the bumps and indents. I guess I was unused to showing emotions, after four years of hiding them all; and this was why I was feeling uncomfortable after I had admitted how I had felt to Alice. “I had to have a shower today, after- “

I cut myself off, not wanting to drag the conversation anywhere near Edward.

Alice didn’t press me, but smiled sadly, and I got the feeling she knew what I was talking about. He had probably told her all about my little sobbing fit in the elevator. I felt myself blush and thanked heaven it was dark.

Mind you, Alice would probably be able to see me clearly anyway.

There was a short silence, during which I stared obstinately at the ground, moving my hands backwards and forwards over the pavement, not looking at her; but I could feel her eyes on me, and the awkwardness grew and grew. I wondered if she felt as self-conscious as I did, but I decided that she probably didn’t. I wondered if Alice had ever felt ill at ease in her whole life.

“You look awful,” she said, softly breaking the silence and putting a small finger under my chin. She peered at my face. “You actually look ill, Bella.” I blushed as her eyes wandered over my face, taking everything in and frowning at it all. “Are you okay?” And then her eyes looked hard at me. They were a light amber, and full of concern.

“Yes,” I said. But the truthfulness of this statement was completely negated by the fact that Alice had found me fast asleep in the middle of the night on top of a bridge. “Well, I’m just… tired,” I amended, looking away.

There was another silence, and this time I was sure that Alice had turned away too, and was staring at the other side of the bridge. We were both still sat leaning against the concrete rails, less than a foot apart, but neither of us said anything. I searched desperately for a topic of conversation. But what could I say? “So, Alice, do you like bridges?”

Eventually she, again, broke the silence. “I’m sorry,” was her baffling conversation starter, and her tone did sound bewilderingly apologetic- to the point of wretchedness. I turned to look at her. All I could see was her profile, head turned up toward the sky, her neck bent backwards and her head against the bars.

“What are you sorry for?” I asked her. She didn’t turn to look at me, and nor did she answer straight away- there was a short pause. The wind blew and the crisp packet pattered past my feet.

“For leaving you stranded,” she said.

I frowned. “You didn’t,” I said, nonplussed.

“Yes, I did,” she turned to look at me, her eyes wide. She looked desperate, almost like she was pleading with me. “I left you all alone in Forks, and I knew, I knew the whole time what you were going through, even though Edward told me not to look into your future- I couldn’t help it; I was kind of attuned to you by then. I watched you suffer for months and months, I nearly lost my mind when I saw you on the edge of a cliff-“ I blushed again, looking down at my hands so I could avoid her gaze. “But I didn’t come and support you or comfort you or any of it, and I know I should have done and I’m really really really sorry, Bella, really really-“

“It’s okay,” I said, quietly, more to appease her evident upset than anything else. She fell silent, waiting for me to continue.

I suppose I could have been angry; she had given me enough reasons. But I wasn’t, not at all. I searched for the words to explain, my hands pressed down on the hard roughness of the pavement, my skin scratching against it. The paper cut stung. “I guess, that if…” I ran my finger over a huge lump of tarmac, feeling it press into my palm. “If I was…was going to have to… let, you know, let him go,” I paused, letting the embarrassment of this sentence fade before I continued. “It would have been better… if it had to be a break, then maybe a clean-“

“A clean break,” she cut in, bitterly. “I’ve heard that before.”

There was another silence. I could feel her eyes on me again. I fiddled with a loose thread in my jeans, pulling it out and winding it around my fingers.

“Alice…”

“Yes?”

I hadn’t said her name with any idea of what to say next; but I did have a four-year long list of enquiries that I could send her way. I paused, wondering which of my many questions to ask. There were so many in my inventory that I couldn’t ask, merely because I would sound stupid and pathetic, and because Alice and I weren’t close anymore. I pondered for a few moments, before I selected a feeble, yet vaguely interesting one from my pile. “Where have you been, since you left Forks?”

She had tensed when I had uttered her name, but she relaxed against the railings again, her eyes lit up by the moon. “The Pyrenees. Lots of room and lots of food. Emmet and Rose went off travelling around Europe, but I’m not sure where… I don’t like to ask about their holidays in too much detail; Emmett likes to say more than I want to hear.” She grimaced. “But it’s been really awkward. Jasper and I had to go away for a while because he couldn’t handle Edward, and when Jasper gets depressed I tend to get angry and then…” she shrugged and sighed. “It’s been a difficult few years. Everyone’s had taut tempers and Esme has been really upset...” She paused, and I attempted to work out the meanings behind everything she had just said. I could guess what she meant by Emmett’s graphic stories, but I couldn’t fathom out what she meant by Jasper’s depression. I frowned, trying to concentrate. I knew about his empathy and the problems that came with it; but why would Edward have affected him? Chronic boredom? I felt an odd surge of satisfaction- distractions not working out, Edward?

“What about you, Bella?” Alice asked suddenly, her head turning to face me with unhuman sharpness. I shrugged, hoping she would dismiss the subject and move on. But the prolonged pause indicated otherwise. I sighed.

“Nothing, really. I finished school and Jacob wanted to leave, so we did.”

This conversation was so surreal; it must be two or three in the morning, and I was casually chatting with an estranged vampire on top of a suburban bridge. It was the stuff of bad fanfiction.

The wind blew again and I tucked a stand of hair behind my ear. Somewhere in the distance a bird hooted, and the trees whispered things into the night.

“Why?”

“What?”

“Why did Jacob want to leave?”

The thread ripped in two as I shrugged again, struggling and failing to come up with an acceptable lie. “I don’t know. Change of scenery.”

“Oh.” I could tell that she wasn’t buying it, and she was probably offended that I wasn’t telling her the truth; but it was just another sign of the gap that seemed to have opened in her four years of absence. I didn’t want to open up to her. I couldn’t.

But… I couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t nice to have her sat next to me, to have someone to talk to in the warm, dark night. It was almost like it used to be- except back in Forks I had felt as comfortable around her as I had around Renee, and our conversations had flowed with complete ease.

“What about college?” Alice’s voice was curious, and maybe a bit confused. It sounded just like Renee’s had done, when I had told her of my decision to move to Knives. It even held some of Renee’s disappointment.

I fumbled with the two pieces of thread in my fingers, knotting them together then rolling them into a small, white ball. “I’m doing a course.”

“You didn’t want to go?”

“No,” I said, quietly. “No.”

“Okay,” she said, equally softly.

There was another long silence. I sat against the hard concrete, the wind picking up again and the air around me as black as before. The gush of the river still continued through the calmness. I lay the balls of thread on the ground and pressed them in between lumps of tarmac, holding them down with my finger. I didn’t know what Alice was doing, but I kept imagining her eyes boring down into my skull. I had the feeling of being examined, like it had been in Carlisle’s office, and in the elevator. I always felt that the Cullens could see more of me than I wanted to show them; there were things in my head I didn’t want to share with anyone. Thoughts that were fit for nothing but the bottle in which I stored all my other thoughts.

I wished she would look away.

“I should go home,” I said, finally. I turned to look at Alice, who was staring at me with evident concern. “I’m sorry. Jacob might wake up and worry about me, and I’ve got to get some sleep before work.”

And as that sentence permeated my consciousness with its truth, to my absolute horror I felt tears pricking at the back of my eyes. But I couldn’t hold them back. I knew that tomorrow would hold another day of unendurable fatigue, that alert vampire eyes would stalk my back all day, that Med Students would wear down my temper and Linda would drive me insane and Marley would be too busy for my piano lesson and Jacob would want to plan more wedding stuff and endless flower people and cake people and church people and food people and dress people would ring me and ask about colours and arrangements and payments and outstanding bills.... I found myself almost hating Jacob, for robbing me of the sleep I had so desperately needed, demanding of me things I had not wanted to give. I don’t know if you’ve ever been so stressed and tired that you’ve reached a point where you just want to curl up in a ball and cry and cry. I don’t know if everyone gets it or it’s just me. But I just lost all control.

I turned away from Alice, much as I had from her brother earlier that day. It was so stupid, stupid stupid stupid, how I kept sobbing at nothing.

But Alice did not ignore my tears as Edward had done. Instead her arms were around me again and her head was on my shoulder, and I shut my eyes tight, longing for the sobs to stop so that I could just appear to be normal again.

“Ssh,” Alice whispered in my ear. “I’ll talk to Carlisle. Ask if he can’t get you a day off. He could, like, invent a conference for you to go to with him. Or say that you’re coming on one of our imaginary hikes.”

I tried to shake my head and tell her no, but I knew that I would let loose all havoc if I did or said anything. I just let her speak.

She seemed to sense my reluctance. She gently took hold of my shoulders and held me at arms length. “No, Bella, you need to sleep. It’s not healthy, how tired you look. I don’t know what that dog is doing to you, but it definitely isn’t good.”

I drew a rattling breath and shook my head. “No, Alice, Jacob isn’t doing anything, I’m just…” But I couldn’t find words to describe exactly what I was, so I moved on. “And you can’t let Carlisle-“

“He’s just as worried as I am,” she said, firmly. “Just because Edward is an inconsiderate…” she seemed to hold back a violently rude word she wanted to say, and instead used a less offensive one; “…jerk, doesn’t mean we all are. I am not going to watch you overwork yourself to the point of insanity, and I am not letting you leave your house tomorrow.”

Her face wore a determined, set look that I remembered seeing on her face many times before. It was a face that I knew would not take arguments. “Okay,” I said, quietly. I was too tired to fight with her, anyway. What she was suggesting sounded perfect. I would sleep all day. Lie in bed and not think about Jacob or the wedding or Edward or anything.

“Good,” she said, smiling up into my face. “Please be happy, Bella.”

I nodded, feeling stupid and self conscious and stupid and stupid and childish and stupid.

Alice hopped lithely up to her feet and held out her hand. I took it, holding back a yawn as she pulled me too my feet. Tiredness was attacking my body again, dragging my eyelids down and making me slow and clumsy.

We walked home together. She didn’t say a word the whole way, and neither did I. But somehow, the mere fact that she was there, that maybe there was someone in the whole world who wasn’t expecting me to be something I wasn’t or do something I couldn’t; it was still as dark as before, but I wasn’t feeling as awful as I had when I had left the house earlier that night.

I stumbled, and she laughed quietly and held me up.

We stopped at the end of my street. “I won’t go any closer,” she said. “Make sure you have a shower before you go back to bed, you probably stink of vampire.” She smiled warmly, and the hugged me again. “Carlisle will sort something out, promise. Sleep well.”

I nodded but I didn’t reply, and she gave me one last smile before I turned and stumbled my way bedward.