Sunday, January 17, 2010

Amnesia, Chapter 6 - Tricks and Treats

This photo is for wardrobe illustration purposes only. Well, and a few other obvious purposes, too. There is no fur rug in this chapter. But there is a frustrated lumberjack in red plaid. Now if you are at all able to tear your eyes away from that furry little manbelly and happy trail and extremely enticing hipbone "V," enjoy chapter 6.


“All right, Edward Masen, you can do this.”

I stared hard at my reflection in the mirror as if daring it to refute me. At least I had a reflection, so another vampire myth was put to rest, I reminded myself. The human-looking face staring back at me could continue to fool people, couldn’t it? I’d been doing just that at Jake’s Place for the past two weeks, though admittedly the dim lighting and the generally inebriated state of the customers helped put me at ease on that score. The Cullen Halloween party tonight shouldn’t be any different. But the knot in my stomach refused to untie, and I knew why. I would soon see Bella again.

I had already passed the test I’d feared most---meeting her face to face in the daylight. I had tried to stay away from her after she was released from the hospital, but failed miserably. As soon as I figured out where she lived, I lurked outside the house several times a day, listening for something, anything, to tell me how she was. At night I climbed the tree outside her window and watched her sleep, telling myself I was just checking on her. One day I caught her father using a key he’d hidden in the eaves to let himself in the house, and it was all I could do to stop myself from entering the dwelling at night to sit at Bella’s bedside. I decided that if I crossed that line, there was really no going back. So I waited until the Saturday that she got in her rusted red truck and drove to the sporting goods store where she worked, then spent an hour outside the place working up the courage to face my victim and whatever consequences I had coming to me.

I arrived just in time to save her from a moment of clumsiness, and I was glad she hadn’t hurt herself. I rushed to catch the packing box she nearly dropped, and when my eyes met hers, I was stunned senseless. I wasn’t prepared to see her so close like this---healthy, vibrant, glowing. Images of her pale, drawn face in the rain and in her hospital bed as she slept were etched deeply in my mind. The sight of her, pink-cheeked and alive, in form-fitting jeans and a thermal shirt, took my breath away. I was sure I was staring at her relentlessly, but it seemed she did the same to me in return. I could feel her big green eyes piercing me the few times I could bear to look away from her. I kept waiting for that dreadful moment to arrive---the moment I sparked a memory, that moment when she looked at me in terrible recognition. But it never came. Instead, she appeared to be as infatuated with me as I was with her. At least, I desperately wanted to think so. She was nowhere near as obvious as the irritating blonde girl who kept ingratiating herself upon me. I’d had enough females flirt with me at the bar to realize that something in my vampire make-up lured them in, like a Venus flytrap drawing in its unsuspecting prey. And humans’ tedious thoughts had become clearer to me with each passing day, their unspoken voices registering in my brain as easily as the words they said aloud.

But Bella was different. She wasn’t transparent like most humans. I couldn’t hear her thoughts; at times I couldn’t read her eyes. She was sensible rather than silly. When I asked her opinion, she gave it honestly. I couldn’t stop testing her once I’d started. I was perfectly capable of picking out my own clothes, but I wanted to know what she thought, what she liked, what she disliked. I shamelessly bought everything she approved of and discarded anything she didn’t. I had no reason and no will to play games with her. I didn’t care how obvious I was, which was ironic considering the disdain I’d shown the blonde girl, Lauren, for the same behavior. I couldn’t bring myself to be anything but upfront with Bella, as if that brief bit of honesty could somehow balance the unbearable weight of the secrets I kept from her.

It certainly didn’t help matters when that idiot blond boy, Mike, knocked all those skis off the shelf right over Bella’s head. There was no way I’d ever let any harm come to this girl again if I could help it, and obviously I could. Bella was no dummy, and she knew something was suspect about my effortless snagging of a half-dozen oblong boxes before they hit the floor. I had deflected her questions, but I knew that the next time I saw her, I wouldn’t be so lucky.

I couldn’t, in good conscience, plan for a “next time.” I couldn’t ask for her phone number since I had no phone. I had no legitimate identity, address or social security number now that Edward Masen was “dead.” And I certainly had no right to pursue a friendship with an innocent human girl, especially one whose life I had nearly ended, now that I was as inhuman as they come. But my weakness for Bella overtook me again when Emmett mentioned her name in passing; it turned out she was a friend of his sister Alice. Bella was helping Alice plan the annual Cullen Halloween party, and apparently no effort was being spared to turn the grounds into a spooky backdrop for all the local teenagers to haunt. I found that amusing, considering that I was pretty sure Emmett was a bloodsucker like me, or some other superhuman freak of nature. I still hadn’t confronted him about it, though his thoughts often belied that he was waiting for me to do so. I was still wary of coming out in the open with what had happened to me, when I wasn’t even sure how or why I had been turned. And I didn’t know what Emmett wanted from me, either.

So it was with misgivings that I accepted his offer to change the bar schedule around so that I could attend his party. I had the feeling that he had some ulterior motive for wanting me there, but the knowledge that I would see Bella again outweighed any other consideration.

I ran my hands nervously through my hair, watching it spring up in frenetic cowlicks all over my head as I studied my reflection in the Forks High boys’ locker room mirror. I had taken to sneaking into the school or the library in the evenings. I kept my new clothes in a couple of unused lockers at the far end of the locker room, swam in the pool to relax and used the showers to clean up. I filled most nights with books and music, since sleep never came. I loved listening to CD’s in the library, and I discovered after tinkering around in the school’s band room that I had a prodigious talent for playing the piano. I was never sure if the music that flowed out of my fingers came from my own imagination, or if they were songs learned from lessons long forgotten. All I knew was that it soothed my soul and passed the lonely nighttime hours until it was time to hunt again, usually before dawn.

Tonight I was wearing clothes that Bella had picked out for me, a red and black color -block plaid shirt, white tee-shirt and button-fly jeans. I couldn’t bring myself to don a Halloween costume, since I could think of nothing scarier than what I had already become---a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I took a deep breath and set out for the Cullen house, which, though several miles from town, would take me mere minutes to locate.

I heard the party before I ever came upon the massive two-story house in the forest. A huge sound system cranked rock music out to the unsuspecting woodland creatures, while string after string of orange lights bathed the grounds in an eerie, ambient glow. The Cullens, and Bella, had gone all out with this one. A make-shift tunnel shrouded in black fabric and lined with various stuffed or animated mummies, monsters and ghouls led guests from the long driveway to the back yard. The yard was partly taken up with a large orange and black tent, its canopy dripping cobwebs, spiders and bats, and a large disco ball at its center, spinning crazy patterns on the canvas floor below. More giant likenesses of Frankenstein and his brethren were strategically placed around the tent and the yard outside. A life-sized stuffed witch riding a broom hung from the massive bough of a catalpa tree near the edge of the adjacent woods, seeming to keep watch over her little haunted village below.

I caught Bella’s scent before I ever saw her. Dozens of teenagers filled the Cullen yard, yet her unique essence seemed to waft above the rest to assault my senses. My eyes combed the crowd for her, to no avail. I wondered if hers was one of the many faces hidden behind a mask. If so, it would be a disgrace to her beauty, not to mention making it difficult, though not impossible, to find her.

As I began wandering through the sea of costumed kids, I suddenly caught sight of Emmett and my jaw dropped. He strode purposefully toward me wearing a classic Dracula costume, of all things, replete with fake fangs and blood dripping down his chin. What the hell was he thinking?

This ought to shake him up, his silent message answered my question. So he was trying to get me to tip my hand. Was this why he had invited me to the party? To bring the past few weeks of unspoken suspicions to a head?

I wasn’t biting. “Interesting costume,” I commented.

“Gooood eeeee-vening,” he drawled in a campy Transylvanian accent. “You like? I’ve always had an affinity for vampires,” he grinned. A gorgeous blonde in similar period dress sidled up to Emmett, and he put his arm possessively around her. “Meet my significant other, Rosalie Hale. Rosalie, this is Edward Masen, the guy from work I told you about.”

“Charmed,” she smiled somewhat haughtily, extending a gloved hand to me. Her pale, preternatural beauty gave her away instantly as being another of our kind. She cocked her head to one side and flipped her blonde curls back, revealing several large, fake gashes with red rivulets running down the side of her neck…in the exact spot where Bella Swan’s scars now resided.

Look at him squirm, her thoughts taunted me. It was worse than I thought. Not only did they know what I was, they clearly suspected me as Bella’s attacker. They had cooked up this little scenario to goad me into admitting what I had done. Fear prickled through my body. What, exactly, where they after? Did they think I was encroaching on their territory? I hadn’t heard stories of any homicides around Forks, but maybe Emmett and his paramour traveled to larger surrounding cities to feed on the derelicts and crooks who wouldn’t be missed. I had pondered doing that very thing myself---inflicting my own brand of vigilante justice on those who deserved it, since I could weed out a criminal mind from a normal one with little effort.

I took Rosalie’s hand and shook it gently, not wanting to provoke Emmett’s ire by planting a kiss on his girlfriend’s gloved fingers. “Nice to meet you,” I said evenly, careful not to give anything away.

“You are good-looking,” she said frankly after giving me a quick once-over. “Emmett’s been complaining that you’re stealing away all his tips. And poor Bella’s blood rushes to her face every time your name is mentioned.”

I ignored her deliberate choice of words and tried not to show any reaction to that bit of news, though I felt a thrill of elation inside. “Bella… the girl that works at the sporting goods place?” I feigned nonchalance. “She seems sweet.”

“Oh, she’s perfectly delicious,” Rosalie smiled, her attempts to bait me now bordering on the ridiculous. “I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to know you’re here.” And vice-versa, she added mentally.

I smiled politely. “Maybe I’ll run into her.”

“Well, she’s surrounded by a swarm of hormonal boys over there,” she said, gesturing over to the buffet. “That devil costume of mine does it every time.”

Devil costume? I followed Rosalie’s eyes to the group of kids, but I couldn’t find her at first. I finally spotted a pair of flashing red horns between the backs of several werewolves, pirates and superheroes. There was my angel, playing dress-up as her alter-ego. Her pretty face was painted heavily with smoky eye shadow and ruby-red lipstick. Her hair fell in loose, lustrous curls below her shoulders, and her gaudy red dress and heels played up her slender curves and long legs to perfection. She was stunning. For the first time, my bloodlust was getting serious competition from plain old teenaged lust. I was actually a bit relieved to realize that certain body parts hadn’t lost their functionality during my transformation from man to vampire.

I watched her, transfixed, for a moment. She looked a little flushed, a little giddy, probably from all the male attention. My eyes narrowed slightly in irritation. I felt the irrational desire to be the only one who made her react that way. I stared relentlessly until she felt my eyes on her and looked up at me. She appeared surprised, then the corners of her mouth turned up in a smile. I couldn’t help but give her one in return. I excused myself from Emmett and Rosalie, who both raised an eyebrow and secretly wondered what my agenda was concerning Bella. If they only knew how infatuated I was with her, they would probably think I was either the craziest or most pathetic vampire who had ever walked. I didn’t care.

Before I could close the 50-odd feet between us, I felt a warm hand grab the flannel of my shirt sleeve. “Hey, Edward!” a familiar voice gushed. I looked down into the vapid blue eyes of Lauren, the girl from the store last week. She was dressed as some sort of genie, her costume pushing her half-naked breasts up toward my face. “Remember me? Lauren Mallory, from Newton’s store last weekend. That shirt you bought looks hot on you!”

I sighed wearily. “Yeah, I remember. Thanks. Bella has good taste,” I told her, wondering if she would get the hint that easily. She didn’t surprise me by continuing her prattle. “So, are you new around here? I never see you in school, but somebody said they thought they saw you at Jake’s. I love to play pool---we should play some time!”

I looked at her blankly. “Yeah, I’m new to Forks. I graduated already,” I lied. “I work at Jake’s…I don’t think Billy would appreciate me playing pool during work hours.”

“Oh, that’s cool. Maybe we could meet up sometime after school, before you go to work.” She squeezed my arm and smiled up at me expectantly. I could tell she was used to getting her way with guys, and that few wouldn’t look this gift horse in the mouth. I was one of the few. I did momentarily wonder what her blood might taste like, as her scent was far more appealing than her personality. I pushed the monstrous thought aside, then gently pushed her aside as well. “I’m sorry, I need to speak with someone, please excuse me.”

Un-fucking-believable! Her brain could not register my rejection. I grinned in spite of myself, turning back to Bella again. She was still entertaining three boys, one of whom was the annoying Newton kid. Her eyes were locked on mine as I approached, and she no longer looked happy. Was she actually jealous of my brief attention to Lauren? I balked a bit at her expression, and instead of interrupting her and her friends, I strode past them to the large buffet table and pretended to check out the snacks. I could feel her eyes on me, and I hoped she would come speak to me. I wandered further down to a giant punch bowl and filled a glass, noticing the pungent aroma of rum mixed in with the fruit punch. I pretended to take a sip, and wondered if the Cullens were aware that someone had spiked the drinks. I couldn’t imagine that the doctor had knowingly allowed alcohol at a party filled with minors.

Suddenly the air warmed next to me, and the familiar torment of Bella’s scent filled my nostrils. I felt a sharp jab in my side, and looked down in surprise to find a plastic three-pronged pitchfork poking me. Bella brandished the fake weapon against me for a moment, grinning impishly. “I’d like a refill, please,” she said, holding her empty glass out to me.

I turned and looked at her, the side of my mouth turning up in a grin. “Your wish is my command,” I said, taking her glass and filling it. “Be careful, though, I think somebody spiked the punch.”

“Oh, I know, Tyler did it,” she affirmed, shrugging back to one of the pirates she’d left behind. “How else do you think I’d make it through the night in this get-up? Liquid courage!” She raised her glass and took a few big swallows, then giggled giddily. I realized that she was already tipsy.

“Well, it does seem a little out of character for you,” I conceded.

“Oh, no! This is me all right… a horny little devil.” Her eyes rolled up toward the blinking horns atop her head, and she began giggling again. Then her eyes met mine and she flushed deeply, biting her lip. I was seized with the overwhelming desire to kiss her.

“Hmmm, I don’t know,” I told her. “I think maybe a halo and angel wings would be more appropriate.”

She scowled up at me. “What makes you say that?”

I brushed the knuckles of my hand along her pink cheekbone. “Your blush just gave you away.”

Her face reddened again, and I heard her heartbeat quicken. I realized I was too close, and I took a step back. Never again did I want to lose myself in the beat of her heart, knowing where it had led me that terrible night.

“Where’s your costume?” she asked, her voice cracking a little. Did I make her nervous? Why couldn’t I read her like I could other humans?

“What do you mean? This is it. I’m a lumberjack,” I said, popping the collar of my red flannel shirt. “I guess I forgot my axe, though.”

“Aahh, so that’s why you bought this outfit at the store,” she played along. “You were about to go chop down trees with your bare hands.”

“What, you don’t think I could do it?” I joked. If she only knew the truth.

“Maybe,” she said, the teasing tone leaving her voice. “I think you might be able to do whatever you set your mind to. Like, for instance, catching a bunch of randomly falling boxes of skis at the speed of light.”

I inhaled pensively and looked away. I should have known she wouldn’t forget about that. “It was a lucky break,” I tried to convince her. “I used to work in a packing plant. I got used to thinking quick on my feet when things like that happened.” Who knows? Some of that may have been true.

“Huh.” She clearly didn’t believe me. “And now you work in a bar. How do you like that?”

“I like it fine. The tips are good. I’m saving up to get a car, and a place of my own.” The words surprised me as they came out of my mouth. I hadn’t actually articulated that before, even to myself. But it sounded like I had a plan, at any rate, instead of just living moment to moment.

“So, you never wanted to go to college after high school?” she asked, taking another hefty swig of punch.

“Maybe. I….” I trailed off, looking deeply into her eyes. I wanted to trust her with the truth. At least more than I had so far. “The truth is, I don’t remember,” I said softly.

She looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t really remember much of my life before I came here,” I admitted. “I guess I have amnesia.”

Her eyes grew round. “You’re serious.” I nodded, giving her a wary sideways look. “I woke up in the woods around here a few weeks ago, not knowing what happened to me or what I was doing here.”

She shook her head incredulously. “What happened?”

I looked around for a place to sit and talk, but the tent was filled with dancing, drinking kids. “Do you want to go find someplace to sit down for a minute?” I suggested.

“God, I thought you’d never ask,” she groaned. “Do you have any idea what it’s like to stand around on these stilts?” She pointed down at her killer heels.

I laughed and assured her, “They’re pretty ridiculous. Very sexy though, I must admit.”

“Alice insisted. I cannot, repeat, canNOT wear high heels. It’s a miracle I haven’t killed myself in them yet.” She took a few steps and, as if on cue, her ankle wobbled and she nearly went down. I caught her easily by the elbow and tried not to laugh as she cursed her shoes.

“Here, I have a solution,” I grinned, setting down my untouched drink. I put one arm around her shoulders, bent down and placed the other behind her knees, then scooped her up in my arms. “Where to, my little devil?”

Her mouth gaped open in surprise, and her breath in my face made my mouth water. I took a hard look at the bandages still covering her neck and fought back the thirst.

“Can you take me to my truck? I have Plan B there,” she said mysteriously.

I carried her back through the spooky tunnel, while she drunkenly described how she and the Cullens had constructed and decorated it. I assured her it was very cool and very scary. She punched me in the arm in reply, so apparently my sincerity was questionable.

Her vintage Chevy was parked close to the garage in front of the house, opposite the noise and lights of the back yard. She insisted I set her down outside the truck, and she unlocked the passenger door, giving me a tantalizing rear view as she bent over and fished around the floor of the vehicle. She spun around, chuckling and waving a pair of red Converse sneakers in her hand. “Plan B. I knew I’d need ‘em.”

I laughed at how cute she was as she plopped herself on the raised passenger seat, legs dangling out the side, facing me as I leaned against the open truck door. She set the sneakers on her lap and her face grew serious. “Now tell me what happened to you,” she demanded.

“That’s the thing…I don’t know, exactly,” I began slowly. I told her the story of my first day in the woods, leaving out the vampire part, of course. I also told her that I had tried to find information about my former life on the internet, and discovered that I had no family to go back to. “So I decided to start over here, since I can’t recall any other place or any other life.”

Her face was somber, thoughtful. “I’m so sorry about your family. Even if you don’t remember them, that’s awful,“ she said earnestly, then paused for a moment. “Why didn’t you go to the police and try to recover your driver’s license? My dad is the Police Chief here. He can help you. You might have inherited some money or something. I mean, surely you had a home in Iowa. Even if you didn’t want to live there anymore, you could sell the property and have some cash in hand. Maybe you could even think about college then.”

I stared at her lovely face, wracking my brain for some kind of plausible excuse for not going through the obvious channels to get my life back. I could think of none. “I don’t know, “ I finally shrugged. “Part of me just wants to start over entirely. Make it on my own merits. I can’t explain it… it just feels like something I need to do.”

She still looked puzzled. “I guess I get that. It’s kind of a guy thing, wanting to conquer the world. It just seems like you’re going about it the hard way.”

I let out a rueful laugh. “You’re right, I am. I guess it’s kind of like wearing these skyscrapers on your feet when you could just take them off---” I punctuated my words by lifting her feet, one at a time, and removing the shiny red sling-backs, “and put on something you can walk in instead.”

She laughed a little, but I didn’t miss her sharp intake of breath when my hand gripped her calves. I hoped my touch didn‘t repulse her, and that she’d assume being outdoors in the cool night had made my hands cold. I set the stiletto heels down next to her on the floor of the truck, and then took one of the sneakers and gently eased her foot inside. She watched me intently, biting her lip, making me think of kissing her again.

“I’m curious,” I said, pulling the laces snug and tying them in a neat bow. “If this outfit was so uncomfortable for you, why did you wear it tonight?”

She gazed at me with big, glassy eyes, and I began to wonder how much she had really drunk before I got here. I could faintly smell the alcohol in her blood as it pumped through her. “It was Alice’s idea. She said that on Halloween, you should try something different, be someone opposite of who you are. She said it was freeing, or something like that,” she frowned as if trying to remember.

“So, was it?” I asked, placing the second shoe on her other foot. “Freeing? Do you feel free?”

Suddenly her face seemed closer to mine, and I realized we were both leaning toward one another. I finished tying her shoe while she replied, “A little. I do feel… different. I wanted to be sexy.” The blush claimed her cheeks again, and the sight of that blood dancing under he skin cried out to me like a drug. I knew I should move away from her, but I felt tangled in her intoxicating web.

“You are sexy, “ I assured her softly. “You look beautiful tonight. But you don’t need any of this stuff.” I removed the silly flashing devil horns from atop her head and set them next to her discarded shoes. I ran my fingers through the messy curls of her deep chestnut hair, then moved them gently down the side of her face. My thumb rubbed along the glossy red tint of her mouth, and her lips parted at my touch. “You looked just as sexy in your jeans last week as you do tonight. Maybe sexier.”

Her green eyes glistened and the air escaped her lips in short, quick breaths against my thumb. She moved her hands up to the sides of my face, and I flinched slightly, afraid she would cringe at the feel of my cold, marble skin. Instead, she stroked my cheeks and jaw with her warm fingers, her face leaning dangerously close to mine.

“Why do you smell so good?” she whispered. My eyebrows raised in surprise. In all the time I had fought the madness her scent evoked, I had never dreamed that I smelled equally irresistible to her. “And why is your skin so cold?”

I inhaled sharply, my brows knitting, ready for her to comprehend my alien nature and recoil from me at any moment. I removed my hand from her face, but she wouldn’t let me go. She held my face firmly in her hot little hands and murmured, “Why are you so beautiful?” before she leaned in and pressed her lips to mine.

I moaned involuntarily at the feel of her warm, wet mouth opening against mine. I had imagined this moment more times than I cared to admit, always rejecting the absurd idea before it went any further. But none of my fantasies prepared me for the sensation of her tongue tentatively licking my lips, searching for mine. The shock of her forwardness wore off quickly as instinct took over. I kissed her slowly at first, savoring the feel of her lips, the taste of her tongue. The hunger for more began to build and my lips pressed harder against hers, my tongue exploring every wet corner of her mouth. I couldn’t stop the groans of pleasure that vibrated in my throat, and with each one she responded in kind, twisting her fingers through my hair, pressing her body closer and entwining her legs with mine. I pulled her tightly to me, one hand tangling in her thick hair, the other sliding down her body, grasping her hip and pulling her against the hard knot of the erection throbbing in my jeans. She let out a soft, low moan and wrapped her arms and legs around me, yielding to me. The sound of her racing heart hammered against my chest and throbbed in my head. My kisses wandered from her sweet mouth and down the soft skin of her jaw to her neck.

My lips froze at the feel of the plastic bandage tape they found there. I panted heavily, my mouth mere inches from the very spot where I had nearly taken this beautiful girl’s life a few scant weeks ago. Panic stabbed through me as I realized how close I had just come to getting carried away again. What if I would never be able to separate sexual lust from the blood lust? It seemed they were far too dangerously linked.

Bella sensed my tension and leaned back, instinctively putting her hand up to the Band-Aids. “I’m sorry,” she whispered in a mortified tone, pulling away from me.

“No, Bella, it’s not what you think,” I said desperately, even though it was exactly what she thought, only a hundred times worse. “I’m not turned off by this,” I insisted, my fingers gently touching the bandages below her jaw. “I just don’t think that the front seat of your truck in the Cullen driveway during a raging party is the best place for this.”

She let out a small half-laugh and admitted, “You’re right, I suppose. “It’s just… I don’t know when I’m going to see you again. I’m afraid you’re going to disappear.” Her hands wandered to my face again, and the hairs on my body prickled at her touch.

“I’m not going anywhere,” I promised her. “I couldn’t even if I tried.” She would never know how strongly I was bound to her, and to what lengths I’d go to protect her. I would spend the rest of my existence trying to earn penance for a crime I hoped she’d never remember I committed.

“Come on, let’s go back. You can introduce me to your friends,” I suggested, taking her hands and pulling on them gently as I stepped backward, so she’d scoot off the seat of the truck. She jumped down with a sigh and replied, “Okay. But I’d rather just stay here with you.”

I almost wished she’d stop saying things like that…things that made me hope for some kind of future that I would never be able to share with her. But mostly I felt an irresistible warmth in my cold, dead heart, and a few other places as well. If I was going to eventually crash and burn, I might as well enjoy the ride before it happened.

The party was still going strong, the kids getting drunker, louder and less inhibited. Bella made a bee-line for the spiked punch again even though I advised her against it. I made her get some hors d’oeuvres to go along with it, which she inhaled quickly, pouting at me the entire time and asking me why I wasn’t eating anything. I told her I had a late dinner, which wasn’t exactly a lie. I’d fed on a large, angry mountain lion before I’d gotten ready for the party. I found I enjoyed the challenge and taste of predators more than prey, and I figured I’d better quench my thirst before I surrounded myself with the appetizing smells of humans all night.

“Bella, there you are, where have you been?” I turned to see a short, curvaceous brunette in some sort of sexy nurse uniform and hat coming toward us. I recognized her as the girl who’d been with Mike Newton outside the hospital the first time I went to check on Bella. Another tall, slender girl in Princess Leia buns and a drapey robe was right behind her. They both stopped short at the sight of me, staring dumbly up at me with round eyes. Leia was enjoying what she considered to be my “gorgeous face,” and wondering who I was. The nurse was doing the same, but with the caveat, What’s a hot guy like that doing with Bella? My eyes narrowed at her snide, jealous thoughts.

“Jessica, Angela!” Bella slurred, hugging them both and accidentally dripping punch down the back of their white outfits. I was tempted to help Bella spill the entire glass on Jessica, but I refrained.

“Who’s your friend?” Jessica gushed, smiling hugely up at me. I gave a perfunctory smile in return.

“This is Edward Masen,” Bella said with what sounded like a smidge of pride. “Edward, this is Jessica Stanley and Angela Weber.” They both grinned sweetly, but only one of the girls’ thoughts matched. I nodded at both and said I was glad to meet them.

“Oh, you’re the guy that Bella met at Newton’s last week!” Jessica exclaimed. So Bella had told her friends about me. I grinned sideways at her, and she looked a bit embarrassed. Her chagrin increased exponentially as Jessica continued, “She wasn’t lying, you are seriously, like, the best-looking guy I’ve ever seen in this Podunk town. So what are you doing here, anyway?”

I gave the abbreviated version of my “wanting to start over” story that I had originally told Bella. Unlike Bella, I knew it would be enough to satisfy Jessica’s short attention span.

“Oh wow, that’s cool! We’ll have to come play darts at Jake’s sometime, right Bella?” Jessica beamed. Bella looked up at me hesitantly.

“I’d like that,” I said, glancing at Bella’s friends, but my eyes settling on hers. A slow smile crept over her face and she said, “Name the time.”

“I’ll check my schedule and let you know,” I replied with a grin. She looked a bit miffed. When her friends excused themselves to get more drinks, I leaned over and whispered, “I work most days from 3 p.m. to closing. You can come see me every day if you want.”

“What, and just sit around watching you mix drinks for hours?” she snorted. I quirked an eyebrow and shrugged. She sighed and admitted, “I’d probably do it. You look good doing most anything. It’s kind of annoying.”

I laughed and told her, “You know, it may be a good thing that you probably won’t remember much of this tomorrow. But if you don’t, I might really enjoy reminding you at inopportune moments.”

“What makes you think I won’t remember tonight?” she demanded archly.

“Because you’ve had too much to drink, and if you don’t stop, I think you may be sorry.”

“I’m fine,” she insisted, even though she was beginning to have trouble focusing her eyes on mine for long. “Trust me, I will never forget the things you said to me tonight. And the way you kissed me.” She leaned closer and lifted her face up to me, and I wanted to cover her lips with mine again.

You kissed me,” I reminded her. “I was perfectly innocent until you threatened me with a pitchfork and seduced me in your truck.”

“You’re such a liar!” she accused, punching me in the arm. “Ouch, geezus!” she cried out, shaking her hand in pain. Hitting me must have been like hitting a brick wall. I grabbed her hand and rubbed it gently, making sure all her fingers were still in working order.

“Please don’t do that again,” I begged her in a low whisper. She stared at me in disbelief.

“Who are you?” she said slowly. I understood what she was asking, but I was unwilling to give the answer she sought.

I shook my head. “Let it go for tonight, okay?” I asked quietly. I kissed the top of her hand gently, my eyes pleading.

Before she could answer, I felt something sharp pierce my side, and I briefly wondered if Bella was wielding her pitchfork again. But a low male voice demanded, “Unhand her at once.” Standing next to me was a tall blond guy in a very realistic Confederate uniform, brandishing what looked to be a real sword. Our eyes met, and his mind said, Touch her again and I will end you myself.

I stared at him in shock. Even in the shifting light patterns thrown about by the disco ball, I could see that he was covered in white, cobwebby scars all over his neck and face. They were probably imperceptible to human eyes, I realized. But my vampire sight perceived them as bite marks, and his pallid, handsome face was eerily similar to my own.

“Oh, stop it, Jasper,” Bella joked, giving the guy a shove. He was no more moved by her feeble gesture than I had been when she’d playfully punched me. How many vampires are in this crazy town? I wondered. In answer, an adorable, elfin counterpart to the soldier swirled up to us in massive Southern-belle hoop skirts. Her unnatural beauty matched Rosalie’s, but her expression and thoughts were the opposite.

“Jasper, is that any way to treat our guests?” she said in exasperation. She pushed him away from me, and this time, it worked. She turned her sable eyes on me and gave me a huge grin. “YOU must be Edward. I’m so excited to meet you!” With that, she threw her arms around me in a bear hug that nearly knocked me backward. I was instantly reminded of Emmett’s brute strength. “I’m Alice Cullen,” she trilled. “I can’t even tell you how thrilled I am to finally meet the guy who can give my flirty brother a run for his money.”

I couldn’t help but laugh and tell her I was glad to meet her in return. Her mind seemed to be filled with vague thoughts that I was already like a brother to her, and I felt nothing but warmth from her, even though her skin was the same temperature as mine. She introduced the Confederate as her boyfriend, Jasper Hale, and though he put on a courteous smile, he still secretly distrusted me completely.

“Bella!” Alice suddenly yelled, pointing at Bella’s Converse sneakers. “WHAT happened to my platforms?”

Bella grinned sheepishly and told Alice they were in her truck. “I didn’t want to kill myself in them, and it was only a matter of time.”

Alice shook her head and rolled her eyes in exasperation. Then she leaned in and whispered, loud enough for my preternatural ears to hear, “And what happened to your lipstick?”

Bella looked alarmed. “What do you mean?” she asked guiltily.

“It’s gone, that’s what I mean.” Alice gave me an arched eyebrow and a look out of the corner of her eye. I wiped my mouth involuntarily, wondering if I was still wearing any telltale signs of our little tryst in the truck.

“I’m sure it just came off all over my plastic cup, see?” Bella offered lamely, showing her the lipstick-stained glass.

“Mmm-hmmm,” Alice answered skeptically.

“Well, Bella, looking a little worse for wear, I see,” came a voice over my left shoulder. Rosalie Hale stood looking down her nose at my angel, and I was very tempted to strangle her with her own hair. “Edward doesn’t seem to mind though,” she added with a smirk.

“Some of us aren’t impressed with superficial stuff like costumes and war paint,” I told her quietly but firmly. I held my hand out to Bella. “Come on, you want to go for a walk? It feels a little crowded in here.”

Bella bit her lip self-consciously, considering which of her vampire friends she wanted to displease the least. I felt almost angry at the ludicrous situation she’d unknowingly gotten herself into, trusting creatures who might snap at any moment and end her life. Somehow she didn’t sense the danger staring her right in the face, me included. She took my hand and gave Alice an apologetic look as I pulled her away.

“Real nice, Rosalie,” I heard Alice snipe as we walked out of the tent and onto the damp grass of the back yard. “I’m sorry about that, Bella,” I told her, rubbing my thumb against the palm of her hand as we walked. I didn’t want to let go of her hand, and she didn’t seem to mind.

“It’s not your fault!” she said. “Rosalie has never liked me, and I’m not sure why.”

“She seems like the type who doesn’t like anyone,” I told her. “I wonder why Emmett puts up with her.” We wandered toward the tree at the end of the lawn where the giant witch hung pendulously from one thick bough, and I found her likeness very similar to Rosalie’s at that moment.

Bella thought otherwise. “Well, look at Rosalie, Edward. It’s pretty obvious!”

“Exactly. ‘Obvious’ equals ‘uninteresting’ in my book. I like someone with a little more mystery. Someone more complex, who keeps me guessing,” I said. I looked in her eyes as if willing her to reveal her thoughts to me, but per usual, I could discern nothing.

“That’s funny…you’d think that having amnesia, you’d rather figure out who someone is. You know, have something or someone in your life that you’re sure of,” Bella said, stifling a yawn. I could see that the alcohol was starting to wear her down. “So why me, then?” she asked shyly. “There’s nothing out of the ordinary about me.” She stopped and looked down at her Converse sneakers. I gently lifted her chin with my hand until she looked into my eyes.

“You have integrity. You’re not shallow. You make me think,” I informed her. She regarded me for a long moment.

“That’s so boring,” she finally sighed. I couldn’t help but burst into laughter.

“Okay, will it help if I tell you that you’re the hottest girl at his party? In this town? That I’ve ever seen?” I said truthfully, though I was still amused.

“Well, considering you don’t remember anyone before you came to Forks, that’s not such a high compliment,” she teased. Then her face grew serious. “No…really, everything you’ve said to me tonight is going to be imprinted on my brain forever, no matter what you think about my state of drunkerness…er, drunkenness.” She scowled when I chuckled at her inebriated slip.

“That’s it, no more punch for you,” I commanded.

“Ugh, I don’t want any more,” she made a face. “Hey, you know what? I just realized we have something in common. We both have amnesia.” She pointed to the telltale bandages. “I still don’t remember a thing about what happened to me. I think those woods are cursed! First you, then me…we both got injured there.”

“You’re right,” I said softly. “I guess fate was cruel to both of us. I’m just glad you don’t remember the worst of it.”

“I’m not sorry it turned out the way it did, though,” she whispered. “I mean, I hate that you lost your family, and your life before. But I’m glad you’re here now.”

A wan smile flitted across my lips. “I’m sorry for a lot of things, but being here with you right now is not one of them.” Her green eyes and pink lips were beginning to blur in my vision as our faces drifted inexorably toward one another. I was about to give in and claim her lips in a kiss when I saw something flash by out of the corner of my eye, followed by a loud cracking noise overhead. I whipped my head up just in time to catch Emmett Cullen in the tree above us. Stunned, I watched him pull the huge, witch-festooned branch of the catalpa tree free from its massive trunk with his bare hands. The branch broke free easily with a sickening crunch and plummeted straight down over our heads, while Emmett jumped away and ran a few steps back to meet Jasper Hale, whose eyes burned with eagerness to see my reaction.

I had no time to do anything but push Bella roughly out of the way, then deflect the falling limb with my hands. I gave it a huge shove when it hit my arms, and it flew a good 50 feet away before crashing noisily to the ground. I was only sorry it hadn’t hit the two grimacing vampires on its way down, and I glared at them in uncontained fury. Their mouths twisted in matching ugly, self-satisfied smiles, their minds triumphant that they’d finally made me reveal my true nature to them. I realized with surprise that they had thought I was going to attack Bella again, and they exulted in the idea that they had just saved her from me.

“You fucking idiots!” I exploded at them, incensed at their stupidity. “You could have killed her!” I rushed to Bella, who had fallen to the ground and was rubbing her head as she slowly sat up.

“What happened?” she asked woozily, her brow furrowed in confusion.

“The branch broke. I’m so sorry, Bella, I had to get you out of the way before it hit us. Did I hurt you? Are you okay?” Her blood smelled especially pungent, and I looked her over for the telltale scrape. A twig or branch had apparently raked a scratch down her shin, and the blood beaded up in a horribly delectable trail on her pale skin. I ignored the burning in my mouth and pulled her to me, smoothing her hair and telling her everything would be all right.

I heard a noise behind me, and whirled to see Emmett and Jasper dragging the branch back under the tree at vampire speed, even as several of the human teens began to look to see what had made such a ruckus. Of course; it had to appear as if the branch had fallen of its own accord and landed directly underneath the majestic catalpa. I shot them a venomous glare. Emmett looked confused, and Jasper looked…ravenous.

I barely had time to think as he rushed me, his nostrils flaring, his eyes fixated on the thin stream of blood that oozed from Bella’s scrape. I flung him away with my arm, a gutteral growl rising from deep within me. I felt Bella’s hand grip my arm tightly, and I turned to see her staring at me with fear in her eyes, a sight I’d hoped to never endure again after that first night.

I sensed Jasper lunging at me again, but this time Emmett grabbed him and held him back as he snarled and bucked against Emmett’s superior strength. Rosalie and Alice were now running across the lawn toward us at a human pace, since the teenagers had begun to follow them.

“Bella, are you okay?” Alice called as she rushed up to us, crouching down and checking on her human friend. Bella nodded and pointed to her leg, saying that she’d probably need some band-aids. “Story of my life,” she winced, missing Alice’s momentary bewitchment at the blood scent that fogged the air. Alice closed her eyes and stood up, facing her brother and boyfriend.

“You had to go and test him, didn’t you?” she whispered angrily in a high, odd register. I quickly realized that she was speaking in a tone that humans likely couldn’t decipher. “When are you going to trust my visions? I told you he‘s no threat!”

“I do trust you,” Jasper insisted in the same timbre. “But you didn’t see him. He was about to do it again!”

The four vampires turned and looked at me. I shook my head incredulously, not sure if I could speak in the tone that would escape human ears. “You’re all crazy,” I muttered, turning back to Bella. “I’m getting her out of here.” I scooped her up easily in my arms and headed for the front of the house. Emmett blocked my way.

“Our dad will take a look at her,” he insisted, giving me a dark look. Outnumbered, I nodded and conceded, “Fine. But I’m staying with her.”

I was glad for Bella’s alcohol-induced grogginess as her head fell against my chest, her eyes closing. I desperately hoped she wouldn’t remember this part of the evening. If she did, I had no idea how I’d ever explain myself. I hated the fact that again I was forced to wish for the double-edged sword of amnesia to fall and obliterate my dark secrets.

A crowd of kids surrounded us as we made our way to the house, Mike Newton chief among them, trying to get to Bella and looking more concerned than the rest. The Cullens assured everyone that she was fine, and that unbeknownst to them, the catalpa tree had apparently been rotten. The weight of the witch figure hanging on it had made the bad branch snap like a twig, they guessed. I ground my teeth together to keep from interjecting. After all, the lie was as much mine as theirs. As much as I hated it, we were all in this together.

I followed the Cullens and Hales into the modern, spacious residence. Alice raced ahead to alert Dr. Cullen, who had apparently just arrived home from dinner with his wife, or so they told the humans who peered in the door after us. I set Bella down on the nearest couch, and she blinked at me sleepily.

“I’m so tired, Edward,” she yawned, her head drooping toward mine as I kneeled next to her. Her hand was warm on my shoulder, and it seemed she didn’t want to let go of me. I gently held the side of her face, stroking her cheek with my thumb.

“It’s the alcohol, Bella,” I whispered. “Don’t worry, we’ll get you plenty of water and some aspirin.” I glanced over at the three pairs of vampire eyes staring at me in confusion. “You realize somebody spiked the punch, right?” I asked them, staring balefully at Emmett. “You’ve got a bunch of drunk teenagers on your hands here. Or was that part of your plan?” I gave them a knowing look. Their minds told me they comprehended me perfectly, and they seemed outraged.

“Is that true, Emmett?” a stern voice shot out from across the room. I looked up to see the approach of what had to be another vampire, with his perfectly pale and young-looking visage. He was carrying a small doctor’s bag, which he opened on the coffee table as he kneeled on the other side of Bella. He glanced at me in surprise. Evidently these vampires at been at it a lot longer than I had, because he comprehended my true nature instantly.

“I don’t know, Carlisle. I’ve been trying to keep an eye on the guests, but I’m sure one of those jackass guys out there might have dumped a bottle of booze in there when I wasn’t looking,” Emmett said a bit sheepishly.

“Hi Dr. Cullen,” Bella slurred. “I managed to hurt myself again. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be silly, it’s not your fault,” Dr. Cullen smiled warmly at Bella as he wiped the blood off her leg with a gauze pad. My mouth watered painfully, and I felt the same reaction from Emmett, Rosalie and especially Jasper, whose eyes were half-wild with thirst. Alice, who had followed Dr. Cullen back to the great room, put her arms around her boyfriend and gave him a meaningful look, her thoughts willing him to control himself. I realized with a start that not only had I stumbled upon an entire coven of vampires here in Forks, I had actually found others who had chosen not to live as
parasites. Each one of their minds belied their struggle to ignore the intoxicating scent of Bella’s blood as Carlisle Cullen gently wiped it from Bella’s pale shin. He applied some antiseptic and covered the wound with thick white gauze bandages.

“Thanks, Dr. Cullen. You’re always coming to my rescue. You and Edward,” Bella sighed. She gazed at me with beautiful but bleary eyes. I crooked the corner of my mouth in a smile for her, though I could scarcely accept such an erroneous compliment coming from her lips. She missed Emmett’s snort of derision as he stood, cross-armed, a few feet away. He couldn’t wait to get me alone to confront me. As it was, I was more than ready to have some words with him.

Dr. Cullen’s wife Esme appeared at the bottom of the staircase across the room, announcing that she’d made a bed for Bella, and that she could stay the night with the Cullens. I eyed her warily, but her thoughts belied nothing but genuine concern for my angel. Bella squeezed my hand before getting up and limping after Esme.

“Will I see you soon?” she asked me before she left.

“Of course. I’ll call you,” I promised, cringing at how lame the words sounded. I squeezed her hand back, as firmly as I dared, and gave her a look that I hoped would tell her what I couldn’t say in front of our vampire audience. She nodded and smiled a little, then disappeared with Esme to the second floor.

“All right, Eddie. It’s way past time for some answers.” Emmett stood in front me, hands on hips, shooting daggers through me with his eyes.

I glared back at him from under rigid brows. “What kind of answers do you want?”

“Come on, man,” Jasper interjected. “We know you were the one who attacked Bella. What the hell are you doing trying to get close to her now? Did you think you’d play with your prey for awhile before you finish her off for good?”

I could barely contain my anger, my voice shaking with rage as I answered him. “I would never, ever hurt Bella. I’d let you all tear me to pieces before I would ever lay a hand on her.”

“It’s not your hands we’re worried about,” Emmett said.

Alice came closer, looking up at me with plaintive eyes. “We know you did it,” she said softly. “I saw it. I just didn’t see it in enough time to stop it from happening.”

I gave her an incredulous stare. “What do you mean, you saw it?” I knew no one had been witness to what I had done. I would have seen Alice, felt her presence, heard her brain accusing me. But in her head, I saw a hazy picture of myself bent over Bella’s body, inflicting the damage that nearly killed her. I flinched at the sight through her mind’s eye.

“Alice sees things,” Carlisle Cullen explained quietly, regarding me carefully with his sky-blue eyes. “She has visions. Premonitions, if you will. She’s rarely wrong. When I saw Bella’s wounds, I knew what kind of creature had made them. It was only a matter of time before we found you.”

Unease filled me as I sifted through their thoughts. Emmett and Jasper were considering taking my suggestion and ripping me apart with their bare hands. Rosalie seemed mostly indifferent, and was wondering when she could be alone with Emmett so they could….I shut that thought off and turned to Alice, who was entertaining some strange vision of me playing the piano, with a smiling Bella sitting next to me. If that was a premonition, it was a welcome one. Carlisle was merely curious, wondering the who and why of my existence.

I sighed in defeat. “Okay. I admit it. I was the one who attacked Bella,” I whispered hoarsely, my voice a mere crumb as I uttered the dreaded words. “It was the worst day of my life. I could barely stop myself before I killed her. I’m just glad that I managed to get a grip on myself in time. And I’m grateful to you, Dr. Cullen, for saving her.”

The vampires all stared at me, dumbstruck. None of them could believe I had the will to stop. They wondered how on earth I did it.

“I don’t know how I did it,” I told them. “I just looked down at her, covered in blood, and when I realized what I had done, I was completely horrified. Then the cops came, and I ran.”

Their eyes bugged even more now that I’d answered questions they had never spoken aloud. How did you do that? was their prevailing thought.

“What do you mean, how did I do that? Stop myself from killing her, or read your minds?” I asked them in exasperation.

They let out a collective gasp, eyes round as saucers. Then a huge smile broke over Alice’s face. “Of course. Of course!” she said excitedly. “I knew there was something special about you, something unique that you would bring to us. I could never quite get a handle on it, or on you. You read minds? That’s incredible! My God, you’ll always be one step ahead of us. Well, everyone except me, of course,” she grinned.

“Something I’d ‘bring to you?’” I asked her. “What is this crazy idea you have that I’m going to become part of your weird little coven? Your brother here put Bella’s life at risk just to prove a point,” I growled. I turned to Emmett. “You could have just asked me, you know. I knew you wanted to.”

“I never would have let anything happen to Bella. It was the perfect way to get you to show yourself. And if I‘d been wrong, I would have caught the branch before it ever hit her. Shit, Edward, if you knew what I was thinking this whole time, why the hell didn’t you just come out with the truth?” Emmett asked in frustration.

“Because I wasn’t sure what you wanted from me,” I told him warily. “I wasn’t even absolutely sure that you were…the same as me. I just figured out what I am a few weeks ago. It’s been a lot to process. I wasn’t ready to just come out with this insanity, in case I was wrong about you.”

The vampires all looked a bit baffled. Dr. Cullen turned to me and asked, “Are you saying you didn’t know you were a vampire? Where was your maker?”

I shook my head. “I have no idea. I don’t know who did this to me, or how, or even when.” I went on to tell him, and the others, the full tale of my experiences, and how I had discovered my peculiar talents, and the weakness of my thirst, in that long and fateful day. “There’s one thing you have to believe, and that’s how sorry I am that Bella stumbled upon me at the worst possible time. I had no idea what I was about to do to her. I’ve never been so horrified with myself, before or since. Well, that I can remember,” I conceded.

Carlisle gave me a sympathetic look. “It’s a miracle that you stopped yourself from killing her. Few vampires can do such a thing, let alone a newborn. You have incredible strength of character, son,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder. Though he wasn’t old enough to be my father, this was the first time I‘d felt something akin to a familial bond that I could remember, and I was surprised at how grateful I was for his empathy.

Alice drew close to me and grabbed my hand in hers. It felt comfortable instead of fiery hot, like human skin felt to me. “Oh, Edward,” she sighed softly. “I don’t remember how I got this way, either. Our makers were cowards. They left us to wander alone and confused, to become murderers. If I hadn’t had a vision of meeting the Cullens, I would have become a savage, I’m sure of it.”

I gave her a perplexed look. “You mean, you aren’t really related to Carlisle?”

Carlisle smiled and gave my shoulder a pat before removing his hand. “None of us are blood relations. We’re a family brought together by our beliefs, our purpose. We’re all determined to live as normally as possible, and to spare human life. There aren’t many vampires with consciences, you’ll find,” he told me.

I shook my head in bewilderment. “I didn’t know there were any other vampires, period, until I came across Emmett in the bar,” I said, looking at the big guy, whose malevolent thoughts toward me had done a 180. “And even then I wasn’t absolutely sure. I feel like all my instincts are suspect. Like I’m still figuring out who and what I am. I had no idea there were others of our kind freely roaming among humans. I was shocked. I guess I was afraid to come out in the open with my questions,” I admitted to him.

Emmett gave me an easy grin and chucked me on the shoulder. “It’s okay, man. I liked you right away, but when Alice figured out that you had to be the one who nearly killed Bella, I wanted to find out more about you before we decided to confront you. You didn’t seem like the usual nomad vamp who comes around here making trouble for us. But I couldn’t figure out what your agenda was. I had to convince Jasper to wait before we ripped you to shreds.”

I glanced at brooding Jasper and let out a small laugh. “I don’t have an agenda. Just to survive, and not kill anyone. And I admit, I feel incredibly protective of Bella. I don’t think I can ever do enough to make it up to her. But I feel like that‘s my job. It‘s the least I can do.” I wondered if my true feelings for her were seeping out around the edges of my stoic statement.

A surprisingly easy smile spread across Jasper’s face. “You spared her life…that’s pretty amazing, given your true nature. Our true nature. I’m the newest member of the Cullen clan,” he went on. “It’s still incredibly difficult for me to resist human blood. I feel like I have to work so hard at maintaining this lifestyle, but I’m determined to do it, because I’ve lived the other way, and it leads to nothing but paranoia and misery. I wasn’t about to let some rogue vampire come along and mess up this new life I have,” he explained.

“Well, no worries there,” I assured him. “I’ve felt the same way from the moment I hurt Bella. I’m the last person to give away your secrets, or inflict any more damage than I already have. Like I said, I’m grateful to all you’ve done for Bella,” I reiterated, turning to Dr. Cullen. “If she had died, I’m not sure what I would have done. I might have gone down a very dark path.”

Alice squeezed my hand and smiled at me brightly. “No, you wouldn’t,” she said confidently. “You’re going to be very happy. You and Bella. Trust me.” I saw a faint image in her mind of Bella and I, hand in hand, looking blissful.

I couldn’t help but smile back. “I don’t see how that’s possible, but I like the idea,” I admitted.

“So Edward,” Carlisle addressed me, “where have you been staying at night? Just wandering the town, or the forest?”

I shrugged and listed a few of the places I’d been sneaking into overnight.

“Well, if you get tired of looking for distractions, you’re welcome to stay with us,” Carlisle offered. “We have plenty of rooms here, and a library full of books and movies. We know how long the sleepless nights can be.” He smiled at his “children,” and they all returned his easy grin, though Rosalie secretly added that she‘d give up her room to the new guy over her undead body.

Before I could answer, I looked up to see Esme Cullen descending the stairs, her face grim. “How is Bella?” I asked her anxiously.

“Well, she’s a little better now that she threw up. Twice.” She gave us all a warning look. “ She’s asleep now. I don’t care how the alcohol got served at this party, but I expect you to make sure all those children get home safely to their parents.” She gestured to the noisy throng outside. “It’s late. I suggest you find out which ones have been drinking, and start taking them home in shifts.” She turned to me. “Edward, would you stay a moment? I‘d like to have a word with you.”

The four younger vampires nodded silently and headed outside to dispatch their guests safely home. Esme asked Carlisle and I to fill her in on what had happened, and she smiled warmly at me when we were finished. “Sit down, would you?” she suggested, seating herself on the couch and motioning to me to do the same. I joined her and looked over at her cautiously.

“I’m relieved to hear that you’re not the threat I thought you might be,” she told me. “Not just for our sake, but for Bella’s, too. She thinks very highly of you, do you realize that?”

I shifted uncomfortably. “Well, Mrs. Cullen, I don’t know if I would go that far. She doesn’t really know me that well.”

“I’m sure she doesn’t,” Esme agreed, cocking one eyebrow. “She’s been singing your praises to me for the past fifteen minutes. She seems to think you’re her hero, always coming to her rescue. Of course she doesn’t know that you’re the cause of most of her troubles in the first place.”

I hung my head in shame. “I know that,” I whispered. “But I can’t tell her the truth. It would give me away…it would give all of us away. And wouldn’t it be better to spare her such horrible memories?”

“Better for her, or for you?” she asked pointedly. Then she seemed to relent a little, sighing thoughtfully. “I agree that it’s best for everyone if the past stays there. But I worry about what will happen if she does remember. It’s not a good idea for you to become any closer to her, Edward. It can only lead to heartache for the both of you. I don’t want to see you hurt her any more than you already have.”

An ache throbbed in my chest at her words. “I know you’re right,” I admitted quietly. “I’ve tried to stay away. I do want what’s best for her, you have to know that. But it’s hard. She’s the only thing that’s mattered to me since that night. She’s different from anyone else I’ve encountered. She’s special. Her blood sings to me like no one else’s, and it’s torture to be near her…but it’s worse NOT being near her. I can’t explain it.” I realized how pathetic that sounded, but I didn’t know how to articulate what Bella meant to me.

Esme and Carlisle both looked a bit shocked. “She’s your ‘singer?’” Carlisle mused. “La tua cantante. No wonder you are drawn to her. It happens to every vampire at one time or another…the scent of a particular human is so irresistible that it‘s maddening. Bella is this for you, and yet you still managed to spare her life. You have no idea how extraordinary you are, Edward. And on top of it you can read our thoughts?” He shook his head in amazement. “You are a force to be reckoned with. I don’t think you even realize it.”

I didn’t know what to say. My mind was spinning with all that had happened this evening. I had finally found other vampires, and not only did they have the same unlikely life-sparing philosophy I did, they were telling me that I had special gifts that they did not, save for Alice’s clairvoyance.

Esme gently touched my arm. “I heard my husband offer to let you stay here for awhile, and I just want to extend the same invitation. It would be nice to have some new company to talk to. You’re more than welcome.”

The offer was tempting, especially considering that Bella was safely ensconced upstairs. “Thank you, I appreciate it,” I told her. “But I’m kind of overwhelmed here. I think I’d like to be alone for awhile… to kind of digest everything, if that’s okay.” I felt like I was asking my parents for permission to go out for the evening. It was odd, considering I’d just met them.

“Of course,” Esme smiled, giving me a brief hug. “Please think about what I said, Edward. And don’t hesitate to come to us for help with anything. You must have a million questions about what’s happened to you. We’ll help you if we can.”

I nodded and thanked her and Carlisle again. I glanced toward the upstairs bedrooms, and the Cullens silently assured me that Bella would be safe with them. I looked at their faces and knew that it was true.

I left the house and made my way through the sulking teenagers who were being herded into the numerous Cullen vehicles that were parked inside and outside the 3-car garage. It seemed they all had their own cars, each flashier than the last. I wondered where they got their money, which was clearly more than Dr. Cullen‘s small-town doctor‘s salary. I might have to take the Cullens up on their offer to answer some of my questions about how to live this new life.

But for now, I retreated to the tiny cabin in the woods. I lay on the rickety cot, staring up at the wooden slats in the ceiling for hours, replaying the events of the evening and considering Esme’s admonitions. I knew she was right. I knew what I should do. But how on earth could I stay away from Bella Swan?


  1. I am really enjoying this story that I started on Twilighted and had to continue.

  2. So glad you found it here on the blog, and that you are liking it! It's also available on Happy reading! :)