Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Amnesia, Chapter 11 - Homecoming


“Lauren Mallory is dead.”

I gaped at Jessica Stanley as if she’d just told me the world was flat.

“What are you talking about?” I demanded, putting my coat and books in my school locker. I was still so shell-shocked from last evening with Edward that I could barely register Jessica’s words. At first I had wanted to lie in bed all day and wallow in my misery, but then I realized that I might go completely mad if I had only my memories of last night to distract me. At least school would force me to concentrate on something other than the whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that mercilessly battered me from the inside out.

“They found her body in the woods by her house this morning,” she said tensely, her face a strange mixture of shock and excitement. “Her neck was all torn up like yours was. I can’t believe your dad didn’t tell you!”

I rubbed my forehead, the dull headache I’d awakened with now beginning to throb insistently. “Charlie had already left for work when I got up this morning,” I told her. Had he been called in early because of Lauren’s death? Was it really possible? And if so, who or what would have attacked her like that? It couldn’t have been…I shook my head as if to knock the notion out of my brain. “Are you sure it’s true?” I asked Jessica with a growing feeling of dread. “Are you sure it’s not just a rumor?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Tyler went to pick her up for school this morning and saw the ambulance and police cars.” Jessica grabbed my arm and leaned in to whisper, “Bella, you are not going to like what he heard them saying.” She bit her lip pensively.

“Why, what is it?” My stomach dropped as I realized there was only one thing she could possibly be talking about, considering the way Lauren had been killed.

“The last person Lauren was seen with was Edward Cullen. They left Jake’s together,” she said dramatically, practically salivating at being the bearer of this crushing piece of news.

I shook my head slowly. “That’s not possible,” I insisted, knowing damned well that it was. “He had last night off.”

“Well, for whatever reason, he showed up at the bar last night. He gave Lauren a ride home, or at least that’s what her brother told the cops. Tyler heard it himself!”

My stomach rolled violently and I thought I might be sick. I had already thrown up this morning after a half-hearted attempt at eating some breakfast, so there was nothing left to come up.

“Do they suspect Edward or something?” I asked weakly as I took out my English books and began walking with Jess to first period.

“Well, I doubt it, since it looks like she was attacked by a wild animal like you were. But he was the last person to see her alive, so you know they’re going to want to question him.”

I nodded silently, a wave of unwelcome panic washing over me. He couldn’t have done it, could he? Fool that I was, I still wanted to believe that he wasn’t capable of such violence, even after I had been the victim of it myself. Once the shock and hurt of Edward’s admissions last night had finally dulled, I realized that I believed him when he said he never meant to hurt me, and would never turn on another human being again. I must be an idiot to trust him, for what kind of vampire would show remorse for his actions? And yet his shocking tears of blood drove the truth home to me as nothing else could have. Edward Cullen couldn’t bear the thought of being a murderer. There was no way he could have done this.

I could scarcely concentrate in any of my classes all morning, my stomach knotted tensely as each teacher paid respects to Lauren and encouraged us all to visit the school clinic for grief counseling if we needed it. Most of the kids looked stunned, so my barely-concealed turmoil went unnoticed. So much for school being a welcome diversion to my troubled thoughts. I couldn’t even continue to be angry with Edward, because my fear for him overshadowed every other emotion.

The bell finally rang for lunch. I trudged slowly toward the cafeteria, wondering vaguely if I might be able to keep down a sandwich . The nonstop talk all around me of Lauren’s untimely demise felt like the final death knell on my already failing appetite.

“Bella, I need to talk to you.” Alice Cullen’s wind chime voice ringing suddenly in my ear nearly made me jump out of my skin. Once again, she had seemed to materialize next to me out of thin air. At least now I knew why.

“I don’t think you have anything to say to me that I want to hear,” I rebuffed her coldly, picking up my pace as I hurried down the hall. She matched my stride effortlessly, and with much more grace.

“Edward is missing,” she said a bit ominously.

“I don’t care where Edward is,” I retorted, but my traitorous heart began pounding uneasily.

“I don’t believe that,” Alice argued. “I think I know where he is, but I need your help.”

I stopped and whirled to face her. “Why on earth would I want to help you? Any of you?” I asked angrily. I tried to calm myself before the tears began to well up in my eyes again. I’d be damned if I’d let her see me cry over her and her brother’s deceit.

Alice entreated me with her best doe-eyed, imploring gaze and said, “Because I know you love Edward, despite everything that’s happened.”

I tried to make my mouth form words of denial, but they wouldn’t come. I shook my head uselessly as Alice gently grabbed my arm. “Come on, have lunch with me. We need to talk this out.”

“But you don’t eat,” I grumbled as I followed her to a secluded corner of the cafeteria. The room was eerily hushed, the somber mood seeming to encourage everyone to only whisper about what had happened to Lauren Mallory. No one paid any attention to Alice and me as we sat, lunchless, our heads bent close over the table.

“I’m worried about Edward,” she began. “He was furious with me last night, because I saw how things would end between you two, but I didn’t tell him. He followed after you to make sure you got home safely, and then went to talk to Emmett at the bar. He left with Lauren and we haven’t seen him since. And of course, now that he finally has a cell phone, he’s not answering it.”

“Wait a minute, back up,” I stopped her, having a déjà vu of my conversation with Edward. “What do you mean, you saw what was going to happen between us?”

“I see the future sometimes. It’s my thing,” Alice shrugged, as if clairvoyance were some hobby she had an aptitude for, like drawing or playing the trombone. I must have been staring at her like a half-wit because she clarified, “You know, like Edward can read minds. I see things before they occur, and if I’m lucky, I’m able to stop the bad ones from happening. If not, this is the result.” She gestured toward the fading scars on my neck.

I stared incredulously a moment before replying, “So you knew I would remember everything, and you didn’t warn Edward?” I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. On the one hand, I was glad she didn’t interfere and keep me in the dark any longer. On the other, it meant that Edward left feeling angry and betrayed by his new family. Even though he deserved it, my stupid heart ached for him all the same.

Alice nodded. “I’m sorry, Bella, but it needed to happen. We could all see it coming, and we knew it would hurt you both; but the lies were eating him up inside, and it wasn’t fair to you either. He loves you so much, Bella. He was so afraid of losing you that he just kept hanging onto the hope that you’d never remember, and the past could stay where it belongs.”

“But I trusted him, Alice,” I replied, my voice cracking. I could feel the hurt and anger stirring my blood and pricking my tear ducts. “I loved him unconditionally. I was ready to give him everything, and he ruined it with the biggest possible secret he could have kept from me. He should have trusted me with the truth, but he didn’t. And now…what if he was so upset that he actually….” I couldn’t bring myself to voice my worst fears.

“I don’t think he killed Lauren,” Alice whispered, so softly I could barely hear her. “It was just like the night he attacked you---it was so unexpected, I didn’t see it coming. All of a sudden I had a vision of a figure hovering over her, draining her, and then running; but I couldn’t make out his face. I just keep seeing the back of a dark jacket and jeans…it could have been anyone. I’ve tried to focus on the killer’s identity, but I can’t place him. If it had been Edward, I would have seen, I would have known. I’m almost sure of it.”

“’Almost’ sure isn’t sure enough,” I said worriedly.

“Bella, do you honestly think Edward is capable of killing someone? Even someone as irritating as Lauren was? Sorry, I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead,” she added guiltily.

“I don’t know, Alice. I hope he’s not capable of that.” Every fiber of my being desperately wanted to believe every word Edward uttered last evening. His words haunted me all night long, as did the fresh memories of what had happened all those weeks ago when he attacked me. When my initial horror subsided, I remembered that when his teeth were sunk into my flesh, a strange calm had come over me. I had been lulled into a trance by the sound of my blood pumping in Edward’s heart and rushing through his veins. I couldn’t conceive of how I’d been able to hear such a thing, but the steady pulse of it seemed to have permeated every cell in my body, as if we had somehow merged into one being. It was so surreal a memory that it seemed like only a vivid dream--except for the fact that I very nearly felt the same connection again with Edward last night. The way he touched me, the amazing things he did to me….he provoked such an intense response in me that I quivered at the mere memory. I felt totally out of control of my body’s responses, and it was strangely exhilarating. I wanted to give myself over to him completely and let him consume me, much like he had that night on the side of the road in the rain. The intensity of my desire for him shook me to the core, and I couldn’t let go of the yearning, no matter what mistakes he had made.

Alice interrupted my reverie. “Bella, you need to decide: do you believe in Edward or not?” She gently squeezed my forearm on the table, her eyes pleading.

I looked at her and gave her a resigned nod.

“Then help me find him,” she begged. Her eyes drifted up and away, as if she saw something fascinating on the cafeteria wall. “He’s thinking of leaving Forks, but he hasn’t decided where to go. I keep seeing him in some kind of little room…it looks like a cabin of some sort. Jasper knows where some of them are in the woods around here from our hunting expeditions, but we’re afraid that Edward will hear us coming and run.”

“Wait, ‘hunting expeditions?’” I asked blankly, until understanding dawned. “So you all live off of the blood of animals?”

Alice nodded impatiently. “Didn’t Edward tell you that? None of us is willing to take human life. None of us wanted this…we were all made into vampires against our will.”

I nodded and replied, “I’ve been so caught up in the craziness of the past 24 hours that I guess I hadn’t really worked out how you all were existing,” I admitted, feeling a bit foolish.

Alice squeezed my arm again sympathetically. “Of course. I’m sure you never even dreamed we existed at all until last night. It’s a lot to process, I know. But we don’t have much time. We need to find Edward before he runs. You’re the only one whose thoughts he can’t read---he won’t know you’re near until he picks up your scent. Besides, he won’t be able to run from you anyway, Bella.” She looked at me hopefully, the unspoken question in her eyes.

“I know where he is,” I admitted, picturing Edward in the deer stand that had been his only safe haven for the past few weeks. “If you point me in the right direction, I think I can find it.”

Alice sighed in relief. “Thank you. I don’t want to lose my new brother…I’ve grown pretty fond of him,” she said with a wink. “If anybody can talk him out of disappearing and give him a reason to stay, it’s you.”

I nodded silently. The thought of never seeing Edward again filled me with such dread that his past mistakes seemed insignificant, or at least forgivable. And I couldn’t entertain the thought that he might be guilty of killing Lauren. It simply couldn’t be true. If it were, I would have to ask some hard questions of myself that I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer.

“Meet me and Jasper after school, okay? We’ll take you out in the woods as far as we can,” Alice said.

“I’ll skip 8th period study hall so we can go sooner,” I suggested.

“Great. Meet us in the parking lot,” she replied as the bell signaled the end of lunch.

The next two periods dragged interminably as I worried about getting to Edward in time. What if he decided to disappear for good? Would he really leave Forks without so much as a good-bye to any of us? He would if he’s guilty. I silenced the unwelcome voice in my head and instead tried to think of what I would say to make him stay. Running would only make him look guilty, regardless of his innocence. I was sure there couldn’t be any real evidence tying him to the crime. And if it looked like another animal attack, there wouldn’t be any reason to keep him after questioning. I shuddered slightly at the idea that Charlie might be the one grilling Edward. If Dad had had any misgivings about Edward before, this was sure to push him over the edge and make him forbid me from ever seeing Edward again. Not to mention the niggling detail that the boy I loved was, in fact, a vampire. I wasn’t entirely sure how I intended to get past that one myself.

I practically ran to the parking lot after 7th period ended, heading straight for the shiny silver Volvo parked near the entrance of the school drive. Jasper already had the engine going, and I hopped in the back with barely a “hello” to either him or Alice.

“How are you holding up, Bella?” Jasper asked worriedly from the driver’s seat as we peeled out of the parking lot and headed for the outskirts of town.

“Okay, I guess,” I replied unconvincingly as I watched the trees outside zoom by at warp speed. Was it a vampire thing or just a guy thing to drive like a maniac?

“I’m really sorry we kept the truth from you for so long,” Jasper lamented, giving me a sympathetic glance over the back seat. “We try to keep our existence on the ultra D.L., if you know what I mean,” he said with a mirthless grin. “You could say our kind frowns upon being exposed to humans.”

“I know you were just trying to be loyal to Edward,” I told him. “That’s kind of nice, actually. He doesn’t have anyone else, other than your family.”

“And you,” Alice chimed in, giving me a meaningful look over the headrest.

I gave Alice a weak smile in reply, then gave Jasper directions to the trail that Edward and I had taken into the forest last weekend. Could it have been just a few days ago that I had been so happy? Edward had finally revealed his true self to me, or so I thought. What would I have done if he had admitted the entire truth, then and there? Would I have run away screaming? Could I have remained calm even if I’d wanted to? I begrudgingly had to admit to myself that there was no way Edward could have made this any easier on either of us. We met under the most absurdly horrifying circumstances possible. There was no way to sugarcoat the brutal truth.

Jasper pulled up next to the entrance of the trail and asked how far we needed to hike. I told him that it seemed like we had walked a half hour before we took a detour off to the southeast.

“We don’t have that kind of time,” Alice warned.

“Hop on, Bella,” Jasper encouraged as soon as we got out of the car. I jumped up, piggyback style, across Jasper’s wiry back and squeezed my eyes shut as he grabbed hold of me and began to run. The whirr of the brush speeding by, and Alice’s impossibly rapid footsteps right behind us, were all I could hear as Jasper sped deep into the woods. He slowed after a bit and asked me if we were close. I looked around, disoriented for a moment, and then recognized a large rocky outcrop ahead that had been the point where Edward had veered off the trail.

“Good guess,” Jasper chuckled, letting me down on solid ground again. “After awhile we get pretty good at the whole human-to-vampire speed conversion. A half-hour at your pace takes us about a minute.”

I shook my head, trying to get my bearings. I wasn’t sure I’d ever get used to “vampire speed.”

“Are you guys going to wait here?” I asked nervously, suddenly apprehensive about setting off into the forest alone.

“Of course! Check your cell, do you have service?” Alice said.

I looked at my phone and noticed with relief that I did. “I’ll call you if I get lost, okay?”

Jasper and Alice nodded. “Don’t worry, we’ll find you in a flash if you need us,” Jasper assured me.

“But you won’t,” Alice grinned. I suddenly got the feeling that she had just seen a glimpse of the future. If she had, she wasn’t spilling. Still, I felt a little more confident as I set out in the direction that seemed most familiar, trying to remember how long it had taken us to find the cabin. I realized with a sinking feeling that Edward had carried me most of the way there, and half the way back. I had no idea how long it would take at my clumsy, all-too-mortal pace. Worse yet, I wasn’t sure if I was even headed in precisely the right direction. I pushed eastward, looking for familiar landmarks and trying not to trip over the gnarled roots of the thickening trees in my path.

“Edward?” I called out uncertainly, hoping his hearing was as supernatural as the rest of his vampire skills. I wondered how far it was to the clearing, and if I was anywhere in the vicinity. I began to daydream about how shockingly beautiful Edward had been in the sunlight last Sunday, sparkling and chiseled like a masterfully sculpted Greek statue. As I’d stood there, timidly touching his shimmering skin, the texture of it suddenly made sense: smooth, cold and impervious as stone, yet incongruently pliant and supple, as normal skin would be. I longed to see him now, right in front of me, glimmering in the dim sun splashes that seeped through the latticework of evergreens and bare branches above.

I called his name again, my voice quickly carried away on the breeze. Only silence answered, along with the lilting song of a bird here and there, and the crunch of my boots trudging through the dead leaves and brush underfoot. My eyes were glued to the ground as I climbed carefully around the overgrown roots of the massive trees in my path, and that’s why I didn’t see it at first. Only when the menacing growl met my ears did I look up…into the beady black eyes of a large bear, crouching mere yards away.

A muffled scream caught in my throat, reduced to a tiny, ineffectual squeak. I was afraid to move, afraid to breathe. My heart pounded in panic as the black bear stared me down, apparently sizing up the potential threat. Surely it would comprehend that I was harmless, and hopefully far too big for an afternoon snack. Apparently the creature saw things differently. Suddenly it raised up on its haunches and roared its displeasure, sending a wave of terror from my scalp to my toes. I stood frozen, knowing that I would lose the race if I ran. My stomach dropped as the bear fell back on all fours and began to charge toward me.

“Edward,” I cried helplessly, my voice sounding small and pathetic to my own ears as I closed my eyes and waited for impending death.

The bear’s roar assaulted my ears again, terrifyingly close; but then it stopped abruptly, ending in a strange gurgling sound. My eyes flew open to see a blur of limbs and fur a dozen feet from me. A loud, sickening crack of bones breaking ripped through the air and the bear suddenly slumped lifelessly to the earth. Standing over its body, chest heaving, eyes blazing at me like burning coals, was Edward Cullen.

I gaped at him in grateful disbelief, still shaking with fear. It was one thing to know what Edward was capable of, but quite another to see it in action with my own two eyes. I wanted to throw my arms around him and thank him for saving me, but something in his expression stopped me. His eyes, seemingly frantic with concern at first, quickly darkened and he took a step back.

“What are you doing here, Bella?” he demanded. He sounded almost angry that I had found him. “You could have gotten yourself killed!”

“You…how did you….” my voice faltered as I searched for the words, staring in shock at the massive animal that Edward had easily, impossibly decimated in the literal blink of an eye.

He laughed bitterly. “What do you think I’ve been living off of for the past couple of months?”

“I…I don’t know,” I answered, shaking my head. “Thank you for saving me,” I added in a small voice.

Edward scowled in reply. “Why are you here?” he asked again in a low voice.

“The Cullens are worried about you,” I answered feebly, suddenly nervous as I stared at Edward’s sullen face.

“The Cullens?” he said with a skeptical laugh. “Why would they send you to do their dirty work?”

“Because they were afraid you’d run,” I told him quietly, stung by his gruffness. I hesitated, then added, “The police found Lauren Mallory’s body this morning. She’s dead.”

Edward didn’t look surprised, and my heart sank. “Do they know what killed her?” he asked warily.

“It looks like an animal attack again,” I answered cautiously, trying to gauge his reaction. His face remained impassive, so I pressed on. “Everyone’s saying that you were the last person seen with her last night.” The words almost got stuck in my throat, they were so painful to say out loud.

“I suppose I was,” he answered, his voice bereft of emotion. Silence fell heavily between us as we stared at one another. I kept searching his face for some clue as to what had happened; some guilt or remorse behind his gray eyes; but found only the same dull, flat stare. Was this the same Edward who had been so tender and emotional less than 24 hours ago? How could he have turned so cold and lifeless?

Finally he spoke. “Do you think I killed her?” His voice cracked slightly, and I thought I saw a hint of something in his eyes.

“I don’t know what to think anymore,” I answered truthfully. He winced slightly, and I finally saw the flicker of feeling that I’d been looking for. He still cared what I thought, even if nothing else touched him.

His face hardened again and he replied, “Why wouldn’t you think I was capable of murder? And lying afterward to cover it up.” His lips twitched slightly.

“I don’t want to believe it,” I whispered. “I want to believe everything you said to me last night.”

He looked stricken. “But you can’t?” he asked. The storm clouds began to form in his eyes, and I could see the Edward I fell in love with under the façade. I could feel his need, palpable and raw, seething under his stone surface.

I took a deep breath and said firmly, “If you tell me you didn’t kill Lauren, I’ll believe you.”

Edward’s stoic mask crumpled, his face collapsing in a contradictory mixture of worry and relief. “I didn’t kill her,” he insisted. “I did give her a ride home from Jake’s, which was more than I should have done, as it turned out.” He took a couple of tentative steps toward me, his eyes searching mine. “I wanted to kill her. You have no idea how close I came to going through with it. I thought I’d lost everything, so what did it matter if I gave in?”

“So what stopped you?”

He inched closer to me as if he were afraid I might run away. “You.” His eyes bored into mine, and I could see the desperation there. I suddenly realized just how frustrating it must be for my mind to be closed to him, when others were an open book. “I promised you I would never hurt you or any other human being again.” He said it as if it were fact, not wishful thinking, that he would keep his word.

I looked into his pleading eyes and felt nothing but trust, even though the rational part of my brain insisted it was madness to do so. “I believe you,” I told him, and I meant it.

Edward closed his eyes briefly and let out a long breath. “I don’t expect you to forgive me,” he said brokenly. “I don’t deserve it. I wish I had done things differently. I would give anything to never have hurt you.” His velvet voice was so heavy with sadness that the last vestiges of my anger seemed to crumble under the weight of it. “At least I won’t have the opportunity to make any more mistakes with you,” he added quietly, his eyes drifting to the ground between us.

“What do you mean?” I asked, anxiety seizing me.

His gaze rose to meet mine. “I’m leaving Forks.”

Panic swept over me and I shook my head in denial. “No. You can’t.”

“I have to, Bella. Can you imagine what would happen if the police--if your father--decided to hold me for questioning? Or fingerprint and book me? It can’t happen. I can’t live in the human world that way anymore.”

“They would only do that if they suspected you of killing Lauren,” I argued. “And they won’t find any evidence of that, will they?”

Edward stared at the earth for a moment. “They could find one of my hairs on her clothing, I suppose. Or my DNA in her saliva,” he added hollowly.

My eyes nearly popped out of my head at his last admission. “What are you saying? Did you…sleep with her?” I could barely choke out the words.

“No, of course not,” he denied. “But I let her kiss me. And I kissed her back.” His voice was barely audible, his face a perfect portrait of guilt. “I thought you’d never speak to me again. I didn’t care what I did, or what happened to me. Not until that final moment, when her blood was screaming out to me. I wanted it so badly I could taste it. But I couldn’t betray you any further, even if you wanted nothing more to do with me.” He let out a wry laugh. “A vampire with a conscience…I must be the biggest freak of nature who ever walked.”

I was still trying to wrap my mind around the idea that Edward had finally given in to Lauren’s come-ons. Had our intimacy meant nothing to him? Or had he been that convinced that there was no future for us?

“Bella, I’m so sorry, for all of it,” Edward continued in a defeated tone. “I’ve done nothing but hurt you from the moment we met. That’s why I have to leave, before this goes any further; before I ruin your life any more.”

I shook my head vehemently, the panic rising up in my chest again. “No. You can’t leave. If you run away, you’ll only look more guilty.”

“It doesn’t matter either way. Don’t you see that? I can’t live in your world, Bella. And I sure as hell don’t want to drag you into mine.”

“What about the Cullens?” I asked desperately. “You have a home here with them--a chance to be part of a family. They don’t want to lose you.”

The ghost of a smile passed over Edward’s lips. “They’ll be fine, I’m sure. They’ve got a good thing going here in Forks, at least for a few more years. Maybe in time I can meet up with them again. I’ve got loads of it, you know…time. It will probably pass in the blink of an eye.”

I fought back tears as I looked into his resolute face. I couldn’t find any more excuses. Pride and self-righteousness would be no comfort to me in a world without Edward. I swallowed them both and let my heart speak for me.

“I don’t want to lose you,” I whispered, my eyes beseeching his. “Don’t leave me.”

I finally saw the reaction I’d been hoping for. Edward’s expression was tortured. “Please don’t make this any harder, Bella. I’m no good for you.”

“I don’t care. I want to be with you.”

He shook his head. “How can you say that, now that you know the truth about me? I was fooling myself, thinking that it wouldn’t matter. Of course it matters. There’s nowhere for this to go. Nowhere good, anyway,” he added, clearly resigned.

I blinked back the tears that threatened to fall and managed to croak, “Where will you go?”

“I don’t know,” he sighed, his gaze wandering to the east. “I’m thinking about going to my hometown, just to see what I can find. Maybe visit my old house, if it hasn’t been cleaned out already. See if I can discover a little more about who I was…who my family was.” He shrugged casually, but his countenance was troubled. I knew that wanting to find out more about his human past was a turning point for him.

“Take me with you,” I blurted impulsively. His head jerked back toward mine in surprise. “You shouldn’t have to go through this alone,” I went on. “Let me be there for you.”

Edward seemed baffled. “Why do you want to help me, after everything I’ve done? I was sure you’d hate me.”

“I could never hate you,” I said softly. “You made a mistake. A really, really big one,” I added with a small laugh. I paused and looked deeply into his disbelieving eyes. “I forgive you.”

Edward’s eyes glistened, tinged with red, as he reached a tentative hand out to cradle the side of my face. His touch thrilled me to the marrow, as always. He drifted closer to me, and I reached out to grab the collar of his jacket, looking hopefully up into his haunted face. He sighed and leaned down to kiss me, his lips tenderly grazing mine before he buried his face in my hair and pulled me into his arms.

“I don’t deserve you,” he murmured the words he’d spoken several times before. “But I can’t fight you, either. I don’t want to.”

“Good,” I answered, wrapping my arms tightly around the thick blue coat I’d helped him pick out mere weeks ago. It seemed like much more time had passed. “You can’t get rid of me that easily. I won’t let you.” As if I could do anything to stop him.

He laughed and said as much. Then he grew serious. “There is one thing that worries me. I didn’t kill Lauren, but that begs the question, who did? It obviously wasn’t one of the Cullens. That means there’s another vampire prowling around here. Someone Alice hasn’t seen.”

“She has seen him, sort of,” I informed him. “She saw what happened last night, but she couldn’t make out his face. She was sure it wasn’t you, though. She believes in you completely.”

Edward gave a wan smile, but it quickly disappeared. “I think you should stay with her this weekend, Bella. The Cullens can protect you from whatever is out there. I have a sneaking suspicion that this vampire might be the one who made me, and I don’t know why it spared me and killed the others. Whoever he is, he hasn’t gotten close enough for me to read his thoughts, or even sense that he’s near. And yet he managed to rush in and kill Lauren in the minute or two it should have taken her to get into the house after I left. If only I’d stayed and made sure she got inside okay….”

“Edward, do you think he was trying to frame you? Make you look guilty?” I asked incredulously. Why would some unknown vampire have it in for Edward?

“I have no idea. I don’t know why he would, but it’s starting to look that way. If he’s trying to get to me, Bella, that’s just one more reason for you to stay as far away from me as possible. Maybe if I leave Forks, he’ll leave too.”

“None of this makes any sense,” I said. “Why would he wait until now to make his presence known? Maybe this has nothing to do with you. I mean, it’s been almost two months since you were turned, and there were no other fatalities until last week. It could just be some random vampire that wandered into this area, don’t you think?”

“I hope that’s all it is,” Edward said grimly. “Either way, I’ll feel safer if you spend this weekend with the Cullens. Will you do that for me?”

“No. No way. I’m coming with you. You can protect me just as well as they can,” I insisted, pouting like a small child. I couldn’t bear the thought of him leaving me behind. I was terrified that if I let him out of my sight, I would lose him forever.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea, Bella,” he disagreed. “You can’t leave school right now. What would you tell Charlie?”

“I don’t know,” I said, thinking furiously. “I’ll tell him I’m upset about Lauren’s death and I’m staying with Alice for a few days, like you suggested. We can be on a plane tonight and get there tomorrow morning, right? I don’t think you should be alone when you do this. You never know, your memory could come back---it could be traumatic. Or it could be wonderful.” I looked up plaintively into his pensive eyes. “Either way, I want to share it with you.”

He looked torn. “Maybe,” he conceded at last. I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling like I might actually win this battle.

“Come back with me,” I implored, grabbing his cold hands in mine. “Alice and Jasper are waiting back on the trail for us. I wasn’t kidding when I said they sent me. Of course, I would have come on my own, but Alice was the one who saw where you were. We make a pretty good team, your family and I,” I smiled.

A furtive grin stole across his face as he squeezed my hands in his. “I can’t fight the lot of you,” he sighed. “You ready to fly?” he asked, easily hoisting me up on his back. I nodded and squeezed my eyes shut, happy this time to feel the wind stinging my cheeks as Edward’s legs pumped effortlessly beneath me, carrying me back to the trail. When we arrived, Jasper and Alice were grinning expectantly, and the latter threw her arms around Edward the moment he relinquished me from his grip.

“We know you’re innocent,” she declared as she squeezed him in the kind of crushing hug that I could only dream of giving him. “We’re going to figure out what’s going on, don’t you worry.” She let go of Edward and continued breathlessly, “I’ve already called the airlines and got you both tickets on the red-eye tonight out of Seattle. You’ll have a layover in Denver, but it’s really short. And you’ll have to take a puddle-jumper from Des Moines to Burlington, but you should still be there before dawn, so even if it’s sunny in Iowa, no worries.”

Edward and I both laughed nervously at Alice’s rush of words. I still couldn’t get used to the fact that she could see things before they happened, even with proof like this staring me in the face.

“Emmett and I are going to canvas these woods for signs of whatever nomad vamp has been running amuck,” Jasper assured us. “We can’t afford to have him causing trouble for you, or for us.” He gave Edward a reassuring slap on the back. Edward looked bashfully pleased that his new siblings were looking out for him.

“Thanks,” he said quietly. “That means a lot to me. I don’t want any more innocent people to die.” His arm reached out to me, his hand touching my back. It seemed he did it unconsciously, and the protective gesture sent a surge of warmth through me.

“They won’t on our watch,” Jasper replied confidently.

“Let’s get going to pack some of Bella’s things,” Alice said excitedly. “Then we’ll head to the police station so we can explain to Charlie how much better you’ll feel about everything that’s happened if you can spend the weekend with a good friend.” She hooked her arm through mine and gave it a squeeze, grinning at me conspiratorially.

I couldn’t help but laugh a little, sensing as I looked in her eyes that the coming weekend with Edward would end up being a good one. Edward scooped me up and the four of us were off, seeming to ride the wind to the Volvo. No wonder my vampire friends all drove like race car drivers---next to their natural speed, man-made vehicles seemed hopelessly sluggish and clunky.

Our first stop was to the house, where Alice helped me pack a duffel bag with essentials for the weekend. I needled her about what she saw in store for my time with Edward, but she wouldn’t confess anything she’d envisioned. Her self-satisfied grin and assurances of “you’ll just have to wait and see” were exasperating, only heightening my anticipation.

We journeyed to the Forks Police Department next, where Charlie met me with haggard, sleep-deprived eyes and a bear hug. They’d spent the day combing the grounds around the Mallory house, cataloguing footprints and other clues to what had happened. Apparently there was no sign of struggle anywhere near the vehicle; only her lifeless body lying just inside the perimeter of the forest that backed the Mallory property.

“Have you seen Edward today?” Charlie asked me expectantly. “We could really use his help, since he was apparently the last one who was with Lauren.”

My stomach quivered nervously. “Why, Dad? Obviously she got attacked by a wolf or something like I did, right?”

“Well, it appears that way. But why would she have wandered into the woods? That’s what we want to know. There was no sign that she was dragged, so she must have gone out there willingly. Maybe your friend Edward can give us some clues.” He looked a bit sheepish as he said it. He saw how upset I had been when I came home last night; he knew Edward and I had had a fight, though I obviously didn’t elaborate. He probably thought Edward was a jerk who had gone out and hit on another girl as soon as I was out of the picture.

For the first time in my life, I told an outright lie to my father. “I haven’t seen him.”

“Hmmm.” His voice was hard. “Seems he’s been scarce since last night. No one seems to know his whereabouts.” He was already talking about Edward as if he were a suspect.

“Listen, Dad…this whole Lauren thing has kind of shaken me up,” I said truthfully, changing the subject. “Alice asked me to spend the weekend with her…maybe we can help keep each other’s minds off of what happened. Is that okay?” I looked at Charlie with trepidation as I awaited his reply.

“Well…sure, I suppose,” he finally agreed, looking a bit hurt that I hadn’t turned to him for comfort. “I have the feeling I’ll be working overtime this weekend anyway. It’s probably for the best that you’re surrounded with friends who can keep you company. This hits too close to home for you. For both of us,” he sighed.

“I know. Thanks, Dad,” I said gratefully, giving him a hug. “Don’t worry, I’ll check in often.” I waved my cell phone for emphasis, feeling a little guilty at pulling the wool over Charlie’s worried eyes. He nodded and assured me, “We’re going to find the animal responsible for this and make sure it doesn’t happen again, Bells.”

“I know you will, Dad. I’m not worried,” I lied. I was very worried. There was no escaping a vampire who wanted you dead. I was pretty sure that vampires with a conscience were few and far between. “Be careful, okay?” I warned him, suddenly afraid for him.

“Always am,” he replied, patting his gun. It didn’t make me feel any better. When I got back to the car, I begged Jasper to watch out for Charlie while I was gone. He promised to take turns with his siblings to make sure that whoever this rogue vampire was, he would stay far away from my father’s house.

We stopped at the Cullens’ place next so that Edward could pack a few things, and then we began the long trek east to Seattle in the trusty Volvo. Exhausted from the past 24 hours and my fitful sleep the night before, I dozed off, slumped against Edward’s shoulder. When I awoke, my stomach growled insistently, and I realized I hadn’t eaten anything yet today.

Edward chuckled and said, “Pull up to the next fast food place you see, will you, Jasper? Bella needs something to eat.”

“I thought you couldn’t read my mind,” I protested.

“I can’t. But I could hear that stomach rumbling from a mile away,” he grinned.

We procured a few things from In-n-Out Burger on the outskirts of Seattle, and I inhaled them hungrily before we arrived at the airport. Edward studied me the entire time, a tiny grin on his face, clearly entertained by the sight of me devouring a whole bag of junk food in one sitting.

“What are you staring it?” I demanded crankily as I popped another French fry in my mouth.

He laughed and replied, “You’re cute when you forget all your manners.” He mocked my resulting sneer, then added wistfully, “I miss cheeseburgers.”

It was nightfall by the time we reached the airport, and my sleepiness persisted. As soon as our first flight had taken off, I fell asleep against Edward again, the feel of his shoulder beneath my head more comforting than any pillow could be. He had to gently shake me awake when we landed in Denver, and in my groggy state, an unanswered question popped into my barely conscious mind.

“Edward, if you didn’t kill Lauren, then how did you already know she was dead when I found you yesterday?” I asked him, perplexed.

He replied without missing a beat. “After I left her---very much alive---I went to the school. I spent the night there. When I left in the morning, I heard the janitors talking about what had happened. Bad news travels fast in a town the size of Forks.”

Any news travels fast in Forks,” I agreed with a yawn.

“I went to the woods by her house, to look for clues; but the cops were swarming the place, so I couldn’t investigate it myself. I caught a strange vampire scent there, but it was so faint by that time that it wasn’t much to go on. I went back to the cabin and tried to work out what I was going to do. That’s when I decided it would be better if I just left Forks before things got any crazier.”

“My father wants to question you,” I sighed, grabbing his hand in mine.

“I’m sure he does,” Edward answered apprehensively.

I wanted to tell him he should come back to Forks with me because he didn’t have anything to hide, but I remained silent for the moment. After the flight attendant gave the okay, Edward grabbed our bags from the overhead bin and we descended the plane. It felt good to stretch my legs and walk around a bit. When I used the ladies’ room, he waited patiently outside the door for me. I smiled at his over-protectiveness, and wondered if I should be worried at how much I enjoyed it.

When we settled in for our next flight, I asked Edward if he knew where his old house was. He replied that he had looked up information about himself and his family on the internet awhile ago, and we would take a cab to the last known address he had found. Whether or not the house would still have any of the Masens’ belongings was another story. Edward suspected that family members may have already cleaned the place out and put it up for sale, depending on what his parents’ wills had stipulated. I hoped for Edward’s sake that we would find the place intact, so that he could get a glimpse into the human world he had been forced to forget and leave behind.

My exhaustion seemed to know no bounds, and I slept again on the plane ride. I wished that Edward could find the kind of peace that unconsciousness provided, instead of living perpetually with his troubled thoughts. When I awoke, I could see Edward’s growing apprehension, revealed in his tense posture. The muscles of his forearms and hands were stretched taut under his skin as he sat with his hands clasped tightly together. I gave his rock-hard bicep a gentle squeeze and a half-grin caught the corner of his mouth in acknowledgment.

Our third and last flight was short, but I was unable to sleep through it. Our plane was so small that it held less than two dozen passengers, and we could see the pilot clearly from our seats near the front cabin. Edward’s arm was planted firmly around me the entire flight, and he never seemed to tire of sitting still as a statue, moving only to occasionally rub my shoulder in reassurance.

“You realize that if this plane crashes, I’ll jump free of it at the last minute with you in my arms, right? You’re perfectly safe,” he whispered as the aircraft bobbled precariously through a patch of turbulent air.

I nodded uneasily, knowing that he was probably right, but nervous all the same. I was actually relieved when my stomach began to drop, signaling our impending landing. Once again Edward gathered our things, and I wearily followed him out of the plane and into the dusky dawn. A glint of light shone over the horizon, but was muted by a thick bank of clouds overhead.

“You ready to go do a little investigating?” he asked, one eyebrow quirked, as we made our way through the small terminal in Edward’s Iowa hometown.

“I’m ready if you are,” I answered, reaching out to place my hand reassuringly in his. He linked his fingers through mine, his palm unusually cold and clammy. I held his hand as firmly as I could, hoping my warmth would somehow seep into him.

Edward found a public phone and phonebook and called the only cab service in the small town. Burlington was nearly ten times the size of Forks, but was still not a large city by any stretch of the imagination.

“How are you going to get into your house?” I asked him as we sat on a stone bench out front, waiting for our taxi to arrive.

He gave me a teasing laugh. “Do you really think there’s any door or window that I can’t break into?”

“No….it just seems wrong to break into your own house, though,” I protested, then laughed a little at how absurd it sounded.

Edward grinned at me and then suddenly leaned over and kissed my temple. “I love you,” he whispered. “Thank you for coming with me.”

“Where else would I be?” I replied, feeling the heat of a blush burn through my cheeks.

The taxi arrived and took us several miles to the north side of town. Edward’s family had lived in a new housing development off of Irish Ridge Road, not far from the Burlington Country Club. He explained that his father had been a CPA, and his mother a piano teacher. These were things he knew from scouring the internet, not because he remembered them. He still sounded detached when he talked about his parents, as if he were speaking politely about casual acquaintances.

Even in the pale light of the rising sun, the Masen house was impressive. I stared at it in awe as we exited the taxi, Edward handing the driver a wad of bills and pulling our bags out of the back seat. We approached the sprawling Tudor slowly, and I couldn’t help but stare at Edward as he scrutinized his former home, clearly searching for a memory to come back to him. I could tell by his frustrated expression that the house had not struck any particular chord of recognition within him.

He walked up to the front door and gently tried to turn the knob, but it resisted. Unsurprisingly, the house was locked. Suddenly Edward turned and bent down into the nearby landscaping, pawing through a few loose stones under an evergreen shrub. He came up with a black rock in his hand, grinning in satisfaction. He turned the stone over, and sure enough, it was a key holder disguised as a common garden rock. He pulled the house key out and it fit easily into the keyhole.

My excited eyes met Edward‘s, and his smile was exultant. Instinct had taken over, and Edward had had his first memory. His face was suddenly more hopeful and expectant than I had ever seen it as we stepped into the foyer of the grand house.

Our eyes swept the dimly lit house in unison, taking in a formal dining room to the left, a large sunken family area with a loft ceiling to the right, and a staircase splitting them in two, presumably leading up to the bedrooms. The door to the kitchen was visible through the dining room, and seemed to connect to the living area behind the staircase. Some furniture and knickknacks remained, but large cardboard boxes were scattered everywhere in varying degrees of fullness. Someone was apparently in the middle of packing up the Masens’ belongings and readying the house for sale.

I studied Edward’s face, and found mostly frustration as his eyes searched the rooms. They finally fixed upon a large upright piano at the far end of the family room, and he began to walk toward it, drawn to it as if pulled by an invisible magnet. I followed him silently and watched as he pulled the bench out, sat down, and skimmed his fingers over the ivory keys. I stopped a few feet away and waited with bated breath as he stared at the instrument.

“My mother taught me to play here,” he whispered at last. “She had a terrible time trying to get me to read music, because I played by ear, from the time I was a child.” His eyes closed and his face was possessed for a moment, evidently reliving a memory. Then his fingers touched the keys gently, playing a melancholy chord. I listened, enraptured, as he began to pick out a haunting melody. The beauty of it brought tears to my eyes, as did the sight of him playing, his elegant hands drawing the most beautiful chords and melodies out of the instrument, his foot pumping the pedals and creating soft echoes that reverberated throughout the spacious room.

When Edward finished, I was afraid to speak and break the spell. He finally turned to me and gave me a sad smile. “I don’t remember anything else,” he said. “I just know this is where I spent a lot of my time. And my mother…she was my champion.”

“That was beautiful,” I said softly. “If she taught you to play like that, she was an amazing woman.”

He smiled and rose reluctantly from the bench, once again silently caressing the keys with his long fingers before he walked toward me. “I think she must have been,” he agreed with a small shrug of his shoulder. I could see that he was desperate for more than the hint of memory he’d just had.

“Let’s look around a little,” I suggested. “Maybe there are some photos here.” I grabbed the nearest box and began rifling through the contents, and sure enough, there were a few photos in frames, wrapped in newspaper that I quickly discarded. I recognized a young Edward in many of them, as well as two smiling adults who were obviously his parents, judging by their features. Other Masen look-alikes were in the pictures, evidently taken at family reunions and holidays. Edward’s eyes raked over each one with steely determination, and I could see his exasperation grow as the images failed to trigger any recognition.

He shook his head and his brows knitted angrily. “This was a waste of time. I never should have brought you here. I’m sorry,” he apologized.

“Don’t give up yet,” I told him, running my hand up and down his arm to calm him. “We’ve barely begun. Let’s go look at your room, okay?” I nodded toward the staircase and grabbed his elbow, steering him in that direction. Edward followed me up the steps, and we paused at the top to look around. The upper level appeared to have three bedrooms and a bathroom. A quick glance revealed a master bedroom to the left, and a guest bedroom to the right. Behind it was a second bedroom. Edward turned and headed for the door as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I followed, and stopped short in the doorway, observing Edward as he took in the room. I tried the light switch, and to my surprise, it worked. I would have thought the electricity had been shut off by now.

Startled, Edward glanced at me as the room was bathed in soft white overhead light, and then his attention was captured by his surroundings. Edward Masen’s room was decorated in deep shades of blue and gray with dark wood accents, masculine in its simplicity. There were no sports or girly posters on the walls. Instead, there were paintings: a river scene; an abandoned barn; a fruit basket still life. Two were oil, one was watercolor. Drawn to the river painting, I walked slowly toward it, captured by its meticulous brush strokes and vibrant colors. In the lower right-hand corner was the signature, “E.A. Masen.”

“Edward!” I exclaimed, quickly moving to the next piece of art to confirm its identical signature. “You did these paintings. You’re an artist!” I actually wasn’t surprised. Was there anything Edward couldn’t do, and do well?

A smile stole across his face as he regarded them one by one. “These were for art class,” he said, his face becoming animated. “I took a photo of the Mississippi and painted from that.” He moved down to the watercolor. “This still life was actually our final. We had forty-five minutes to complete it.” He let out a laugh and added, “That was the first and last time I ever mastered watercolor, because I didn’t have time to over-think it. I always overanalyzed everything. I guess I still do.”

“Edward, this is amazing,” I marveled, thrilled that memories were coming back to him. “If you hadn’t come here, you never would have remembered that you had artistic talent. Now you can pick up where you left off…sort of.” I studied his rendering of the dilapidated barn in its bucolic setting, amazed at the detail. “These are beautiful.”

“Thanks,” he said a bit bashfully. His gaze fell on the tall chest of drawers, the top of which was adorned with trophies. I stood alongside him and read the inscriptions. They were all track and field awards, the largest of which proclaimed him third place in the Hundred Meter Dash at a statewide tournament.

“Well, that explains why you’re so freakishly fast now,” I commented. An artist and a jock? Edward Masen, in human form, never would have given me the time of day. I didn’t know why he did now, for that matter. It was no surprise to see what kind of human he’d been…the impossibly good-looking, athletic and talented kind.

I wandered across the room to the dresser, whose mirror sported numerous photos stuck around its beveled edge. Edward looked younger in these pictures, somehow; his cheeks flushed pink, his smile carefree. A bevy of cute girls and handsome boys surrounded him in every photo. A pretty blonde showed up frequently, and a framed Junior Prom photo of her and Edward, posing hand-in-hand, sat atop the dresser.

“Edward, you had a girlfriend,” I said quietly. I felt a ridiculous stab of jealousy as I looked at her pert, perfect appearance. She reminded me of Lauren Mallory, but without the sour disposition. Edward looked dashing in his tuxedo, his unruly auburn hair groomed into submission for the occasion.

He suddenly appeared behind me in the mirror, dispelling the myth that vampires had no reflection. He leaned past me and picked up the prom photo, poring over it carefully, but without recognition. He frowned and set the frame back down, then peered over my shoulder at the photos around the mirror. Suddenly a huge grin broke over his face and he grabbed a picture out of the collage for a closer look.

“Oh, wow. This is my best friend. Best friend since second grade when he moved here from Indiana. Tim,” he smiled, showing me the grinning likenesses of himself and a blue-eyed brunet in a mutual headlock. “Tim Belden. We used to hang out all the time, playing videos, teaching ourselves the guitar.” His eyes danced for a moment, then grew sad. He said nothing for a long minute, then put the photo back in its former place.

“Don’t you want to keep that?” I asked him. “As a remembrance?”

Edward’s shoulders slumped. “What’s the use?” he said. “I’m dead to him. The friend he knew is dead.”

“You’re not dead,” I protested shakily. The truth was, I didn’t know what to call Edward. He was blessedly alive as far as I was concerned, but I knew what he was trying to say. He would have to stay “dead” to someone he once cared deeply about, and the pain of it was evident in Edward’s eyes. “You’re immortal,” I corrected him, knowing it was cold comfort when every human he loved was not. “You’re just…altered. Not good or bad. Just different.”

Edward turned to look at me, his head shaking in denial. “Why do you make excuses for what I’ve become? For what I’ve done?”

“I’m not making excuses. I know exactly who you are.” I met his defeated look with an emphatic one.

Edward’s lip raised in a bitter laugh. “And who is that?”

I took his chin in my hand, willing him to look into my eyes. “The boy I fell in love with.”

As I looked up into his beautiful face, I realized I had never said the words out loud. I had never told him how I really felt. And it had never felt more important than right now to be completely honest. “I love you, Edward. And when I say that, I mean I love you, standing here right now, exactly as you are. I’m in love with Edward Cullen. And that won’t change no matter how much you remember or don’t remember about the guy who lived in this room. I don’t know him. But I know you. And I love you.”

His face seemed filled with so many emotions that I couldn’t begin to name them; but I could feel them pulsing through me as his eyes searched mine. He stroked my hair and pulled me close, his lips parting as if to speak. Then he stopped short and his gaze shifted to the doorway.

“Someone’s coming,” he whispered. He was at the door in a flash, flicking off the ceiling light. “Come on,” he urged, making a beeline for the steps. I followed him quickly down the staircase and marveled at the blur he made as he grabbed our bags from where we’d left them by the front door. He dashed into the kitchen with me close on his heels, then pulled me down next to him on the floor behind a large granite-topped island. Sure enough, seconds later, a key turned in the front door and the sounds of footsteps in the foyer followed. Edward grabbed my hand tightly and whispered, “Be read to run out the back door.” He nodded toward the back of the room, where sliding glass doors led out to what looked like a large deck in the gray morning light.

“Check upstairs for me, will you, Max?” a woman’s voice wafted through the house. “I could have sworn I saw a light on up there when we pulled up. Probably just my mind playing tricks on me,” she ended with a mutter. The sound of boxes being moved, and packing papers being rustled, met our ears. Max’s quick footsteps pounded up the stairs and returned momentarily.

“Nobody’s up there, Mom,” a young man’s baritone said. “No lights on or anything. We need to get going on the upstairs today. Edward’s room hasn’t even been touched yet.” The boy’s voice was melancholy.

“I know, honey,” the woman sighed. “It was hard enough losing my sister and her husband so young…but Edward….” her voice trailed off in a sigh. “What a waste. So much potential.”

“Jazz band’s not the same without him,” Max said. “Nobody can improvise like he could. You should hear the girl we have on piano now---she sucks.”

“I’m sure she’s doing the best she can,” Max’s mother reprimanded gently. “Prodigies like Edward don’t come along every day.” The conversation paused while the sound of knickknacks being packed continued. “It’s such a shame he never got to perform in that Seattle competition,” the woman finally went on. “That would have been such a great opportunity for him to compete with musicians from all over the world. I still can’t believe the paper didn’t even mention it when they reported the accident.”

“Yeah, well, you know Edward,” Max opined. “He never talked about his music or art much. He just didn’t want to hear about it from the guys, you know? They liked to give him shit about it. He didn’t even tell anyone he was going to that piano competition---he just said the family was going on vacation.”

“Watch your language,” the woman chastised. “What’s wrong with kids these days, anyway? Edward should have been nothing but proud of his talent. It’s ridiculous that it was okay for him to be a track star but not a music star,” she grumbled.

“That’s ‘band geek’ to the rest of the world, Mom,” Max said with a laugh. “I’m fine with it, but not everybody is. Edward’s friends were jocks. They can be real assholes…er, sorry,” the boy finished guiltily. “But it’s true. I think Edward started learning guitar just because it looked cooler to everybody.”

“Well, I guess it’s all moot now,” the woman said quietly. “The world lost a very bright light when God took him home.” She sighed heavily. “Beth thought the sun rose and set in that boy. Ed did, too, for that matter. If we had to lose them, at least it’s a blessing that they’re all together, under God’s care.”

I looked at Edward in the shadows where we hid; his face was tormented. I reached out to touch his cheek, but he jerked away from my fingers. Without looking at me, he rose silently, peering over the kitchen island to make sure the coast was clear. He silently headed for the door and stealthily undid the latch. With a quick slide of the glass, he was outside, with me right behind him. As soon as we were on the deck, he quietly closed the door behind us and leapt effortlessly off the deck to the gently sloping lawn below. I had to tiptoe to the stairs and quietly sneak down them; by then, Edward had stuffed our bags under the deck and was halfway across the lawn, headed for the distant woods. I ran clumsily after him, calling out his name as softly as I could so that no one would hear.

“Edward, wait, damn it!” I finally yelled angrily. He halted, but didn’t turn to face me.

“I’m sorry,” I said breathlessly when I caught up to him. He refused to look at me. “Were those people family?” I asked tentatively. “Did you remember them?”

He stared off into the distance, unseeing. “That was my mother’s sister and her son,” he eventually replied. “Lydia and Max Hart. We used to spend a lot of time at their house when I was a kid.” His voice was raspy, like the rusty edge of a dull blade; and his eyes were just as lackluster. Then suddenly he laughed, a slightly unhinged sound that made my skin prickle uncomfortably. “Well, we both know the truth now, don’t we, Bella?”

“What truth?” I asked uneasily.

“That Edward Masen was a class-A jackass. A coward who was afraid to stand up for what was important to him.” He laughed some more, a mirthless, almost delirious sound. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you should be glad that I’m not him anymore. If I were, I probably would have taken someone like Lauren Mallory to Winter Formal and never even realized what a shallow, vain little twit she was. Or maybe I just wouldn’t have cared, as long as I was going to get laid at the end of the evening.”

“Edward, stop it,” I commanded, though it sounded more like a plea.

He let out a sudden loud guffaw. “I was Mike Newton!” he exclaimed, clawing his hands through his hair as he bent over with laughter. “I was fucking Mike Newton. No, wait, at least he had the good sense to want to date you. I was Tyler Crowley, dumbshit jock. Isn‘t that great? Fan-fucking-tastic,” he gasped, his laughter finally subsiding. He gave me a grin brimming with bitterness. “The truth will set you free, isn’t that what they say? Well, there you have it. Somewhere inside me, an idiot still lurks, I’m sure.” His lip curled in self-loathing. “Look at all the mistakes I made with you.”

“You’re not an idiot. I’m sure you never were. What you were was human,” I reminded him tersely. “You gave into a little bit of peer pressure, like tons of other teenagers. So what? Didn’t you hear all the good things your family said about you just now? Didn’t you see those beautiful paintings? Or hear the incredible music you make every time you sit down at a keyboard? You were a pretty amazing human. And you’re even more amazing now.” I stood closer to him, pushing my face toward his. “You realize that when you put yourself down like this, you insult my taste and my intelligence.”

Edward blinked at me in surprise, slack-jawed for a moment. Then his signature crooked grin greeted me and he said, “I would never dream of insulting you.”

“Good,” I replied. “I’m glad I made myself clear.” I tried to keep my stern glare intact, but it was no match for the crinkles of amusement etched around Edward’s eyes. “Come on, don’t be so hard on yourself,” I implored. “This has to be so difficult for you, trying to remember your past, and only having random bits and pieces come back to you. I mean, that’s what’s happening, isn’t it?”

He nodded slowly, then took my hands in his. “My head feels like a Swiss cheese right now. Mostly holes, at this point. I don’t know what I’d do without you. I’m glad you’re here,” he whispered, pressing his lips against my forehead.

“Me too,” I agreed, squeezing his cold white hands in assurance.

Edward sighed and looked back toward the house. “They’ll probably be there all day packing up our old things. You want to check out the town? Maybe I’ll remember some of my old stomping grounds as I go. The river is that way. I think,” he grinned, nodding toward the east.

“Sounds good,” I agreed. I was glad that a thick blanket of clouds was pulled tight over the sky, allowing Edward to walk freely beneath it. He said he thought it was several miles to the downtown, so I hopped on his back and allowed him to fly along the outskirts of town while I squeezed my eyes shut to keep from getting dizzy.

I had never seen the Mississippi River, and was amazed at how big it was, with islands scattered throughout its length north of the city. We spent some time at the marina, watching seagulls scavenge the muddy water that lapped up around the dock. Few boats were out on the water on this cool, gray November day; but we observed the slow progress of a barge as it made its way downstream. When I began to get chilly, we walked to a nearby restaurant and bar called Big Muddy’s, where Edward was again unduly entertained by the sight of me ingesting a large spinach salad with garlic breadsticks. Edward was clearly unfazed by the garlic. When I commented that another vampire myth had just been squelched, he replied with a grin that as long as I didn’t breathe on him, he should be fine.

We spent part of the afternoon in the newly built public library, while Edward looked up information about the Seattle International Piano Festival and Competition. Sure enough, it had begun on October 9th. There were three student categories, plus amateur, collegiate and professional competitions as well. Edward didn’t remember anything about his trip to Washington state, even after reading through the details for entering the piano contest. He could only surmise that his family had decided to take in some of the scenery with a side trip to Olympia National Park, where they had met their cruel and untimely end. A vampire must have found and carried Edward far from the scene of the car accident, because he awoke dozens of miles from the crash site, deep in the forest. There were no further clues to tell us how or why he was turned and then abandoned.

Frustrated, Edward suggested we do some more sight-seeing. Some brochures near the library entrance sparked another memory for Edward, of a park where he played as a child. It was situated overlooking the river, a couple of miles south of the downtown. We set out on foot and walked the distance at a human gait, Edward teasing me about my relative snail’s pace. I countered that I needed the exercise, and that I couldn’t let him carry me everywhere like a sack of potatoes across his back.

After a lengthy trek through a residential area, we were forced to cross a rather precarious-looking steel bridge that stood at least thirty feet above the gulley below. I tried to ignore the sight of the earth so far below me through the metal grate beneath my feet. Edward sensed my nervousness and placed his arm protectively on the small of my back as we walked. He informed me in another sudden recollection that there were trails throughout the area, snaking through two side-by-side parks, part of which we were now passing over.

Further up the hill was a municipal band shell on a bluff overlooking the river, where Edward remembered having performed with the high school band. He was excited to come upon a display of two disarmed World War II canons, covered over many times in layers of slate-gray paint so that none of their moving parts were operational. That didn’t stop children from climbing all over them and pretending to shoot canon balls across the mighty Mississippi into Illinois, Edward explained with a laugh.

Crapo Park itself was an arboretum of dozens of species of trees, with meticulously landscaped flowerbeds scattered throughout its gently sloping grounds. A small manmade lake hosted a large flock of geese, most resting on a treed island at the lake’s center; but many boldly approached walkers and joggers in hopes of being tossed a few bread crumbs. They honked indignantly at me when I showed them my empty hands; but they flapped quickly away from Edward, no doubt sensing the imminent danger.

We wandered through the playground, pausing so that Edward could push me on the swings for awhile. I could see that on a warm, sunny spring day, this park would be a beautiful place to relax and have a picnic. But today’s gloomy cold kept most humans away. Edward offered to call a cab when the wind picked up, worried that I would get a chill. It was late in the day, and he hoped that his family had finished their packing and left the Masen home.

Our timing turned out to be impeccable. Our taxi passed the Harts’ SUV on the street as we entered the subdivision, Edward quickly ducking so that he would not be spotted. When we entered the house, it was much emptier than we had arrived. Lydia and Max had removed numerous boxes of belongings from the downstairs, leaving a sparse few pieces of furniture that would presumably be auctioned off. Edward looked a little melancholy as his eyes took in the nearly empty rooms. After he went out back to retrieve our duffel bags from under the deck, I ran upstairs to check his bedroom. I was relieved to see that not everything had been removed. Half-full boxes of trinkets still remained, including his track trophies. His photos were removed from the mirror and stacked neatly on the dresser, along with a small photo album. I flipped through its pages, and a small pang of regret hit me as I saw the progression of Edward Masen’s life: from adorable tow-headed toddler to gawky adolescent to handsome young man. And at this last phase of life he would stay forever, frozen in time, as a teenager. There would be no photos of handsome adult Edward; loving father Edward; distinguished, gray-templed grandpa Edward.

I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I jumped when his voice sounded in my ear. “So they haven’t carted away all the mementoes yet, I see,” he commented, looking over my shoulder at a picture of himself and his father on a fishing boat, Edward proudly holding up a hideously ugly catfish in his hands. “I guess my dad used to take me fishing, huh?” he mused. He let out a caustic breath. “You’d think I’d remember that. Or the vapid-looking blonde I probably used to bone. Or at least the piano contest that was so important that I sacrificed my entire family to go compete in it.”

“You can’t force any of this,” I reminded him. “You’ve had so many breakthroughs today. Please don’t beat yourself up over what you can’t remember. Try to appreciate all the things you do remember.”

“I do,” he sighed dejectedly. “Honestly, I do, Bella. But in some ways, the few memories that have come back only make me more frustrated about all the ones that haven’t. It’s like they’re behind some locked door in my mind, and if I could only find the right key, they’d all be right here.” He touched his fingertips to his temples in emphasis. I rubbed his arm sympathetically, and he sighed in resignation. “Maybe it’s just as well. It hurts less this way. And it lets me concentrate on what’s important.” He gave me a half-smile and ran his hand gently down my cheek, his thumb grazing my lips. “I don’t know why you’re wasting your time with me. But I’m glad you are.”

“It’s not a waste, and I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. I’m with you because I love you,” I reminded him, touching his face in return.

“Part of me wishes you didn’t,” he replied. “But the selfish part keeps winning.”

“It’s so funny you say that, because your selfish part and my selfish part seem to want the same things,” I smiled. I continued to smooth my fingers over the sharp angle of his jaw, and suddenly it began to shimmer under my touch. The setting sun had finally broken through its prison of clouds, sending shards of golden light through the slats of the window shades. Edward’s already-poetic face now seemed positively ethereal in the sun’s glow.  A god among men, he was benevolently and foolishly offering himself up to the mere mortal before him. And this mortal wanted nothing more than to please him, to adore him the way he deserved to be adored.

“Will you do something for me?” I whispered, leaning toward him and entreating him with my eyes.

“Anything,” he replied.

“Just…sit down. Don’t move,” I ordered softly, pushing him in the direction of the bed. He sat down and looked at me quizzically. I quickly worked at the zipper on his coat, and he helped me remove it. I threw my own jacket on the floor next to his. I sat down on the bed beside him, leaning in and softly saying, “Let me show you how much I love you. The way you did for me the other night.” My lips grazed the cold, white skin of his earlobe as I spoke, my breath stirring the soft bronze tendrils of hair behind it.

A heavy breath escaped his lips as I kissed one side of his prominent jawbone while running my fingers lightly along the other. I let my lips travel down the side of his neck, then to the front, where I licked the swell of his Adam’s apple gently. His breathing was heavy as I began unbuttoning his soft flannel shirt, my mouth following my hands down his marble chest and taut stomach. After the last button fell open, I pushed the shirt over his shoulders and down his arms until it fell on the bed behind him. I marveled a moment at his skin’s sheen in the golden late-day sun that slanted through the window shades. Edward shook his arms free of the shirt and reached for my face, but I pulled back and shook my head.

“No, you don’t get to touch me yet,” I told him. He quirked one eyebrow in surprise. “It’s my turn right now.” I remembered the way he had stroked every inch of my body with his long, nimble fingers until my nerves were raw with desire, and I wanted to make him feel the same way. I scooted behind him on the bed and began to massage the tight muscles of his back, loosening them under my fingers as I worked my way slowly from his shoulder blades to his waist. My lips followed my fingers with sloppy wet kisses, delighting in the unusually sweet taste of his skin, my tongue tickling the somehow sexy moles and freckles that peppered his porcelain flesh.

“You’d better stop before I get used to this,“ he joked, ending with something between a sigh and a moan. I ran my fingers slowly up the backs of his hands, through the soft brown hair of his forearms, and over the hard round muscles of his biceps and shoulders. He let out a soft noise of pleasure, and I got up from the bed and stood in front of him. I looked down into eyes that shone darkly, hungrily into mine. I averted my gaze back to his beautiful torso as I worked my hands slowly over the light curls of hair on his chest, down the rippling muscles of his stomach, and through the thickening trail of fur that disappeared into the waistband of his button-fly jeans. I dropped to my knees between his legs, pushing them open. His breathing was quick and heavy, his eyes intense as he watched me. I undid the top button of his jeans, punctuating it with a kiss squarely on his belly button, my tongue probing the tiny hole suggestively. He moaned again and his hips moved involuntarily beneath my hands as I languidly undid each button, again moving my lips down his belly in tandem.

His breath caught as I brushed my fingers over the bulge in his jeans, then rubbed my hands firmly up and down his blue-jean-covered thighs. He leaned back slightly on his hands, his pelvis rocking gently upward. I took his cue and grasped the denim waistband in both hands, feeling grateful that it was impossible to hurt him as I roughly yanked the material down his hips. He raised his body off the bed so that I could finish the job, pulling the jeans down his legs and to the floor. His black boxer briefs came with them, and after a couple of swift pulls, they lay on the floor at his feet. I made quick work of his shoes and socks, and he helped me kick them aside.

My eyes drank in his glorious naked form, lean and graceful, pale and sparkling, as if hewn by Michelangelo’s hand. I looked up into his dark blue eyes, staring down at me heavily through thick lashes, and told him, “You are the most beautiful man I have ever seen.”

He shook his head slightly as if he couldn’t believe it, couldn’t accept such words. Before he could reply, my unquenchable fingers stroked the soft hair on his shins, squeezed the firm muscles of his calves, and journeyed up the thick, sinewy muscles of his thighs to their final destination. I paused as I drank in the sight of Edward’s perfect, pink erection; thick, long and pulsing slightly as it pointed straight at me. I remembered how amazing it had felt in my hand…how close it had been to plunging deep inside me, where it belonged. Edward’s breathing was ragged as I gently stroked the flesh all around his groin, massaging everywhere but directly where it would please him most. I wound my fingers in the tight curls of hair above his twitching cock, and he began to make frustrated, whimpering noises.

“God, Bella, what are you trying to do to me?” he whispered hoarsely, pleading, as I let my hands roam everywhere but on his now fully rigid member. I remembered when he had said those words to me in the pool those weeks ago. It made me feel exactly as sexy and powerful now as it had made me feel that night.

“Make you crazy,” I admitted with a wicked grin as I looked up into his desperate eyes. Before he could growl in protest, I took my tongue and pressed it at the base of his cock, licked it firmly up the stiff shaft, wrapped my lips around the tip, and took the length of him as deep in my mouth as I could.

A sharp cry of pleasure exploded from Edward‘s throat, and I might have laughed if my mouth weren’t otherwise engaged. I thought of nothing but making him feel the ecstasy he’d given me when he’d gone down on me so thoroughly less than 48 hours ago. I licked his dick up and down as if it were the last lollipop in the candy store, only frankly, it was better than that. The smell of his sex mixed with the smell of his skin was an aphrodisiac like no other, and he tasted even better than he smelled, which was simply too good to be true. The sounds of pleasure erupting from him only spurred me on as I pumped his cock with my hands and mouth in turn, swirling the thick, tender head in between my lips and tongue, and massaging his balls in between, until he begged me to stop.

“Bella, wait, please,” he gasped, grabbing my hair and pulling my head away. I looked up with confusion into his glassy eyes. “If you’re going to continue with this, will you do something else for me?”

“Of course,” I answered immediately, without thinking.

He looked at me hard. “Take off your clothes,” he ordered in his butterscotch voice.

His words shot an arrow of lust straight to my already-wet groin. I rose to my feet, my eyes locked with his. His penetrating look had already stripped me bare before my trembling fingers could undo the buttons and zippers that stood between my naked flesh and his. His clear desire for me made me brave, made me wanton. As my bra fell to the floor, I stroked my breasts with my fingertips until my nipples stood erect for him. I slid my hands suggestively down my body and into my panties, massaging myself, and then sliding down the front between my legs.

Edward’s lips parted, his breathing short and fast, while he watched me with eagle eyes. As I pushed my panties to the floor and stepped out of them, Edward began stroking himself. I watched, fascinated, as he pumped his cock slowly, then faster with his hand, his eyes never leaving my body and what I was doing to myself. Without even realizing it at first, I had slid my fingers into my wet opening as I watched him. I rubbed my clit in time with his strokes as he masturbated in front of me, then began plunging my fingers deeper inside my pussy, imagining his thick cock filling me instead.

A loud groan of frustrated desire ripped from Edward’s throat, and he suddenly reached out and grabbed my hand from between my thighs. He immediately took my fingers in his mouth and licked the fluid off, moaning as if it were the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted. Before I could even comprehend his swift movements, he had pulled me down on the bed, ripped back the covers and pushed me back onto the pillows. His mouth covered mine in a ravenous kiss as he pressed his body on top of me, moving in a thrusting rhythm that my body matched instantly.

He said my name over and over, an angel’s chorus, as his lips and hands caressed me, moving so fast over my skin that I felt only icy-cold yet fiery-hot tingles from head to toe. His tongue tickled and teased my nipples mercilessly as he began rapidly rubbing my clit, making the pressure build inside me. By the time he plunged his finger inside, I was thrusting my hips toward him eagerly, begging for the intrusion. He slid a second finger into me and I moaned like an animal in heat, my hips pumping against him, pulling him in deeper.

“Edward…please,” I begged him, my voice sounding shallow and desperate. He lowered himself down so that his shoulders were between my thighs, pushing them apart. He began tickling my clit with his tongue and I nearly screamed, the pleasure was so intense. His tongue and lips worked their wet magic on every surface between my thighs as he continued to fuck me with his fingers. I could feel the pressure building inside me as he worked, his fingers plumbing my g-spot over and over until the fire in my belly began to spread.

“Edward!” The sound that exploded from my mouth was his name as I came, the muscles contracting so hard and fast around Edward’s fingers that my hips bucked uncontrollably in response. My hands grasped his thick bronze hair for dear life as I rode the wave of my orgasm, panting and moaning madly, until it finally ebbed. I had never felt such an unbridled, unselfconscious moment of release in my life. Ecstasy… Edward.

I felt empty and cold when he removed his fingers from inside me, licking them clean once again. “You are incredible,“ he said softly, stealing the words I wanted to say to him. He kissed my stomach tenderly, small, baby kisses; then worked his way up to my breasts, where he tasted each one as if he’d never had them in his mouth before. My belly still ached with the feel of him, and his straining erection branded my thigh as he pressed his body against mine.

“No one has ever made me feel like you do,” I whispered, wondering how it was that all the most clichéd phrases I’d ever heard suddenly seemed appropriate and heart-felt in this moment. I ran my fingers through his thick hair and stared into his glorious face, glinting in the amber sunlight, his eyes focused only on me. He stroked my face and my hair and kissed me tenderly, his tongue probing gently, then hungrily, as our kiss became deeper, consuming. I wrapped my limbs around him and pulled him closer, his skin deliciously cold against my sweating body. We began moving together in a slow, sensuous rhythm, and I rubbed my thigh against his erection, making him moan into my mouth as he kissed me.

“Bella, I want you,” he said softly, a desperate tinge to his lilting voice.

“I’m yours. Take me,” I told him, tilting my hips upward, loving the feel of his hard shaft pressing against the soft folds between my legs. He moved sensuously against me, his swollen head rubbing up and down my clit, then pressing against my opening, feeling impossibly huge as I contemplated taking him in. I knew it was going to hurt when he finally pushed his thick length into me, but I was ready. I wanted it. I wanted him, like I’d never wanted anyone in my life. I needed to feel him inside me; I needed to make him a part of me. This last, physical connection was the only thing left unfulfilled between us, and I wanted to remedy the deficiency now.

“Are you ready?” he whispered hoarsely, pushing his cock harder against me. His face was torn between passion and anxiety. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t,” I assured him. “You couldn’t. It’s not possible.” I grabbed his shoulders and pushed my groin upward, ready for him. He gave me a gentle kiss, locked his eyes on mine, and with one smooth, slow thrust, he pushed his cock so deep inside me that it knocked the wind out of me.

A cry of pain burst from my mouth before I could stop it. It felt like I had just been impaled. Nothing could have prepared me for just how…full I’d feel with his cock stretching me painfully in every direction. Once the sharp stab of his initial thrust had subsided, I was left feeling merely uncomfortable instead. My face must have given away my discomfort, because Edward immediately began apologizing.

“I’m sorry, Bella,” he said, gently kissing me on the cheek. “I thought maybe it would be better if I just did it all at once…sort of like ripping off a bandage,” he said sheepishly.

I managed to laugh a little and stroked his face with my hands. “I’m fine, Edward,” I said, trying to sound convincing. “I just need to get used to it, that’s all. Don’t stop what you’re doing. I want you to feel as good as you just made me feel a few minutes ago.”

“But if I’m hurting you….” he trailed off uncertainly, his eyes faltering.

“Stop it,” I insisted, reaching up and giving him a long, searching kiss. “I want to feel you come inside me. Don’t disappoint me.”

He gave me a half-grin and kissed me back. Instinct took over and he began to move slowly inside me. I tried to relax and get in rhythm with him, and gradually, behind the discomfort, I began to feel something primitive stir deep inside as his cock slid gently in and out of me.

“You feel incredible,” he murmured. “I never dreamed….” his voice trailed off as he buried his face in my neck. I stiffened briefly as a flash of memory stabbed through me, then forced myself to relax again, realizing that when I did, the pleasure of Edward’s thrusts began to outweigh the pain. The phrase “hurts so good” popped into my head as he began to pump in and out of me a little faster, a little harder. His thrusts became longer, deeper, quicker; and the pressure of his pelvis grinding into mine sent a slow burn through my belly that made a sultry moan rumble in my chest.

Edward responded instantly, groaning loudly and peppering my neck and chest with kisses as he rammed me with his cock. I looked up at him in wonder, marveling that this beautiful creature was losing himself in me, his face rapt with passion, eyes closed, brows furrowed.

“Bella, I can’t hold back much longer,” he gasped. I felt him swell impossibly bigger inside me, and I moaned along with him at the exquisite mixture of pain and pleasure that it caused me. I ran my hands down his back and squeezed the firm cheeks of his ass as he moved rapidly inside me. Suddenly his muscles clenched under my hands and he cried out in release. I felt the viscous liquid shoot deep inside me as his cock unloaded, and he buried his face in the pillow next to my head, emitting guttural noises that were muffled in the thick down. His hands dug into the bed on either side of me, and I was shocked to see his fingers rip right through the mattress cover and into the coils below. His whole body shook, and his cock twitched inside me, the muscles and nerves spasming with the force of his climax.

I stroked his back gently as his body began to still; his breathing slowed, and he panted heavily, his breath stirring my hair. Several swirls of white caught the corner of my eye, and I looked to see that Edward had bitten right through the pillow my head was resting upon, sending a puff of tiny down feathers into his hair and mine. I couldn’t help but giggle a little as I reached up and pulled the white fluff from Edward’s damp locks.

Confused, he looked to see what I was laughing at, and then the crooked grin I loved so much spread across his lips. “Better that than you,” he whispered, and his face became serious again. He kissed me gently, reverently; I couldn’t close my eyes, and watched in a kind of trance as his long brown eyelashes blurred when he came closer. The nerves in his cock continued to twitch, and I could feel each tremor deep inside. The sensation was exquisite, and I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want him to pull out, or even move. He didn’t seem anxious to, either, and we lay wrapped in a cocoon of twisted sheets and damp skin, our limbs entwined, bodies joined together in the most intimate way possible. I caressed his face, tracing the lines of his sculpted cheekbones, his rugged jaw, his soft pink lips; and I knew that there would never be anyone else for me but him.

“I love you,” I whispered, the words seeming far too small for such a moment.

His hands combed through my hair, massaging my scalp, over and over as he rubbed his nose on mine and planted tender kisses on my swollen lips. “You are my life, Bella,” he replied. His eyes captured mine and held them hostage for a long moment. “This….this moment with you…it’s all I’m living for.”

Tears came to my eyes and slid down my temples before I could stop them. Edward looked alarmed. “Did I hurt you? Are you okay?”

“Of course,” I assured him quickly. “I’m fine. I am so much better than fine. There are no words for how I’m feeling right now,” I faltered, stroking his hair the way he had mine. “Words are nothing,” I whispered, unable to make my vocal chords work properly. “You…you are everything.”

Our eyes continued the rest of the conversation; our lips and hands and bodies were the punctuation. Finally Edward simply held me in his arms, pulling the covers between us to ward off the chill of his skin against mine. My eyes grew heavy as the sun set outside, the room gradually darkening into gray shadows. Enveloped in the heavy, sweet scent of Edward in my arms, I must have drifted into slumber. I was sure I was asleep, because I was suddenly in the woods again; the mossy, damp woods of Washington. I was lost, just as I had been the afternoon before; and I futilely called Edward’s name as I stumbled through the encroaching foliage.

Night was falling, and still I walked on. A deep, menacing growl pierced the silence ahead, and I cowered in fear, waiting to see another bear before me. But as my eyes adjusted to the shadows, I saw a much smaller creature than a bear hunched over in the distance. The gutteral rumble continued, and I quaked with fear as I peered at the creature’s face. I recognized the features instantly---they were Edward‘s. But his eyes were those of a stranger, glowing red hot as if the devil had possessed him.

“Edward…?” I called, bewildered. He looked like the boy I loved, but his face was twisted in a cruel mask I didn’t recognize. His grin was pure malevolence as he looked up at me from his crouching position. I finally averted my gaze down to see what he was clutching protectively; and there, hanging limply from his arms, was the bloodless body of Lauren Mallory. Her dead eyes were fixed upon me, but their gaze was sightless. Edward cackled like some kind of horror movie demon above her, and when I managed to look back up at his beautiful face, it was marred with streaks of red blood running from his mouth.

“Edward, what have you done?” I shrieked.

His eyebrow raised and sliced through his forehead like a dagger. “What makes you think I’m Edward?” he smirked.

I jerked awake, heart pounding, eyes snapping open in fright. “Edward?” I gasped, feeling for his body in the dark. My hands met nothing but cold, empty sheets.

Edward was gone.


  1. Ughhh... You are completely evil to leave us hanging like that. But this chapter was definitely worth the wait.

  2. Thank you honey! You know I like leavin' a little cliffhanger at the end. ;)

  3. Could not agree more Mandy ... was definitely well worth the wait! :)

  4. Mmm! I really enjoyed this. You're awesome at story-telling! Is Edward a Jekyl & Hyde character, with no memory of his evil alter ego? Tune in - when exactly? How long will you keep us on this cliff-hanger? I think you need to resign from your job and take up writing full-time. Don't worry about the bills, we want the next chapter.

  5. I am not sure whether to thank you for this chapter or find your phone number and call and yell at you for the ending, or just beg in the most unattractive way possible for you to PLEASE write the next chapter and SOOOOOONNNNNN!!!

  6. Aaahh, thank you my sorry about the cliff-hanger at the end! Well, not entirely sorry. ;) Don't worry, Bella's just having a bad dream. Right? *if I had a mustache, I'd twirl it evilly right about now!*

    I don't think the next chapter will take as long as this one did, if that's any consolation!

  7. GRRR! You evil, evil woman! :P

    I wish I could be mad at you but this chapter was so could & so worth the wait that I will forgive this gut-clenching cliffie.

    Seriously, soooo gooooood.

  8. Thank you auntapey, glad you liked! Don't worry too could Edward be Teh Evil? ;) I am already into the next chappy so I will try not to keep you hanging too long! Thanks for reading!

  9. Leann, you killing me softly withthis, no song, but the lowspeed updating. Please, please, hurry up, i'm very corious where is Edward ? And what will happen ....and so on.

  10. Aw, I'm sorry, twmmy! I wish I were a faster writer. I have a full-time job, and this is a hobby on the side. I get to it when I can, and when inspiration strikes. My chapters tend to be quite long too, and I end up waiting until they're finished before I post. Sorry about the delay! :( It will probably be another week or so...I hope to have Chapter 12 done by next weekend.

  11. Leann, sorry for my "impatience", totally understand you, i have no time for anything beside my child-my work-and Robsessed. Congrat for your BIC. Have you ever drunk Heineken, opened with it ?