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(Twilight #2) New Moon Author: Stephenie Meyer

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发表于 2016-8-5 10:45 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

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本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-8-18 16:05 编辑

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PREFACE

I FELT LIKE I WAS TRAPPED IN ONE OF THOSE TERRIFYING nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can't make your body move fast enough. My legs seemed to move slower and slower as I fought my way through the callous crowd, but the hands on the huge clock tower didn't slow. With relentless, uncaring force, they turned inexorably toward the end - the end of everything.

But this was no dream, and, unlike the nightmare, I wasn't running for my life; I was racing to save something infinitely more precious. My own life meant little to me today.

Alice had said there was a good chance we would both die here. Perhaps the outcome would be different if she weren't trapped by the brilliant sunlight; only I was free to run across this bright, crowded square.

And I couldn't run fast enough.

So it didn't matter to me that we were surrounded by our extraordinarily dangerous enemies. As the clock began to toll out the hour, vibrating under the soles of my sluggish feet, I knew I was too late - and I was glad something bloodthirsty waited in the wings. For in failing at this, I forfeited any desire to live.

The clock tolled again, and the sun beat down from the exact center point of the sky.

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发表于 2016-8-5 10:56 | 显示全部楼层
本帖最后由 慕然回首 于 2016-8-10 15:43 编辑

Chapter 1  PARTY

I WAS NINETY-NINE POINT NINE PERCENT SURE I WAS dreaming.

The reasons I was so certain were that, first, I was standing in a bright shaft of sunlight - the kind of blinding clear sun that never shone on my drizzly new hometown in Forks, Washington - and second, I was looking at my Grandma Marie. Gran had been dead for six years now, so that was solid evidence toward the dream theory.

Gran hadn't changed much; her face looked just the same as I remembered it. The skin was soft and withered, bent into a thousand tiny creases that clung gently to the bone underneath. Like a dried apricot, but with a puff of thick white hair standing out in a cloud around it.

Our mouths - hers a wizened picker - spread into the same surprised half-smile at just the same time. Apparently, she hadn't been expecting to see me, either.

I was about to ask her a question; I had so many - What was she doing here in my cream? What had she been up to in the past six years? Was Pop okay, and had they found each other, wherever they were? - but she opened her mouth when I did, so I stopped to let her go first. She paused, too, and then we both smiled at the little awkwardness.

"Bella!"

It wasn't Gran who called my name, and we both turned to see the addition to our small reunion. I didn't have to look to know who it was; this was a voice I would know anywhere - know, and respond to, whether I was awake or asleep... or even dead, I'd bet. The voice I'd walk through fire for - or, less dramatically, slosh every day through the cold and endless rain for.

Edward.

Even though I was always thrilled to see him - conscious or otherwise - and even though I was almost positive that I was dreaming, I panicked as Edward walked toward us through the glaring sunlight.

I panicked because Gran didn't know that I was in love with a vampire - nobody knew that - so how was I supposed to explain the fact that the brilliant sunbeams were shattering off his skin into a thousand rainbow shards like he was made of crystal or diamond?

Well, Gran, yon might have noticed that my boyfriend glitters. It's just something he does in the sun. Don't worry about it...

What was he doing? The whole reason he lived in Forks, the rainiest place in the world, was so that he could be outside in the daytime without exposing his family's secret. Yet here he was, strolling gracefully toward me - with the most beautiful smile on his angel's face - as if I were the only one here.

In that second, I wished that I was not the one exception to his mysterious talent; I usually felt grateful that I was the only person whose thoughts he couldn't hear just as clearly as if they were spoken aloud. But now I wished he could hear me, too, so that he could hear the warning I was screaming in my head.

I shot a panicked glance back at Gran, and saw that it was too late. She was just turning to stare back at me, her eyes as alarmed as mine.

Edward - still smiling so beautifully that my heart felt like it was going to swell up and burst through my chest - put his arm around my shoulder and turned to face my grandmother.

Gran's expression surprised me. Instead of looking horrified, she was staring at me sheepishly, as if waiting for a scolding. And she was standing in such a strange position - one arm held awkwardly away from her body, stretched out and then curled around the air. Like she had her arm around someone I couldn't see, someone invisible...

Only then, as I looked at the bigger picture, did I notice the huge gilt frame that enclosed my grandmother's form. Uncomprehending, I raised the hand that wasn't wrapped around Edward's waist and reached out to touch her. She mimicked the movement exactly, mirrored it. But where our fingers should have met, there was nothing but cold glass...

With a dizzying jolt, my dream abruptly became a nightmare.

There was no Gran.

That was me. Me in a mirror. Me - ancient, creased, and withered.

Edward stood beside me, casting no reflection, excruciatingly lovely and forever seventeen.

He pressed his icy, perfect lips against my wasted cheek.

"Happy birthday," he whispered.

I woke with a start - my eyelids popping open wide - and gasped. Dull gray light, the familiar light of an overcast morning, took the place of the blinding sun in my dream.

Just a dream, I told myself. It was only a dream. I took a deep breath, and then jumped again when my alarm went off. The little calendar in the corner of the clock's display informed me that today was September thirteenth.

Only a dream, but prophetic enough in one way, at least. Today was my birthday. I was officially eighteen years old.

I'd been dreading this day for months.

All through the perfect summer - the happiest summer I had ever had, the happiest summer anyone anywhere had ever had, and the rainiest summer in the history of the Olympic Peninsula - this bleak date had lurked in ambush, waiting to spring.

And now that it had hit, it was even worse than I'd feared it would be. I could feel it - I was older. Every day I got older, but this was different, worse, quantifiable. I was eighteen.

And Edward never would be.

When I went to brush my teeth, I was almost surprised that the face in the mirror hadn't changed. I stared at myself, looking for some sign of impending wrinkles in my ivory skin. The only creases were the ones on my forehead, though, and I knew that if I could manage to relax, they would disappear. I couldn't. My eyebrows stayed lodged in a worried line over my anxious brown eyes.

It was just a dream, I reminded myself again. Just a dream... but also my worst nightmare.

I skipped breakfast, in a hurry to get out of the house as quickly as possible. I wasn't entirely able to avoid my dad, and so I had to spend a few minutes acting cheerful. I honestly tried to be excited about the gifts I'd asked him not to get me, but every time I had to smile, it felt like I might start crying.

I struggled to get a grip on myself as I drove to school. The vision of Gran - I would not think of it as me - was hard to get out of my head. I couldn't feel anything but despair until I pulled into the familiar parking lot behind Forks High School and spotted Edward leaning motionlessly against his polished silver Volvo, like a marble tribute to some forgotten pagan god of beauty. The dream had not done him justice. And he was waiting there for me, just the same as every other day.

Despair momentarily vanished; wonder took its place. Even after half a year with him, I still couldn't believe that I deserved this degree of good fortune.

His sister Alice was standing by his side, waiting for me, too.

Of course Edward and Alice weren't really related (in Forks the story was that all the Cullen siblings were adopted by Dr. Carlisle Culler and his wife, Esme, both plainly too young to have teenage children), but their skin was precisely the same pale shade, their eyes had the same strange golden tint, with the same deep, bruise-like shadows beneath them. Her face, like his, was also startlingly beautiful. To someone in the know - someone like me - these similarities marked them for what they were.

The sight of Alice waiting there - her tawny eyes brilliant with excitement, and a small silver-wrapped square in her hands - made me frown. I'd told Alice I didn't want anything, anything, not gifts or even attention, for my birthday. Obviously, my wishes were being ignored.

I slammed the door of my '53 Chevy truck - a shower of rust specks fluttered down to the wet blacktop - and walked slowly toward where they waited. Alice skipped forward to meet me, her pixie face glowing under her spiky black hair.

"Happy birthday, Bella!"

"Shh!" I hissed, glancing around the lot to make sure no one had heard her. The last thing I wanted was some kind of celebration of the black event.

She ignored me. "Do you want to open your present now or later?" she asked eagerly as we made our way to where Edward still waited.

"No presents," I protested in a mumble.

She finally seemed to process my mood. "Okay... later, then. Did you like the scrapbook your mom sent you? And the camera from Charlie?"

I sighed. Of course she would know what my birthday presents were. Edward wasn't the only member of his family with unusual skills. Alice would have "seen" what my parents were planning as soon as they'd decided that themselves.

"Yeah. They're great."

"I think it's a nice idea. You're only a senior once. Might as well document the experience."

"How many times have you been a senior?"

"That's different."

We reached Edward then, and he held out his hand for mine. I took it eagerly, forgetting, for a moment, my glum mood. His skin was, as always, smooth, hard, and very cold. He gave my fingers a gentle squeeze. I looked into his liquid topa2 eyes, and my heart gave a not-quite-so-gentle squeeze of its own. Hearing the stutter in my heartbeats, he smiled again.

He lifted his free hand and traced one cool fingertip around the outside of my lips as he spoke. "So, as discussed, I am not allowed to wish you a happy birthday, is that correct?"

"Yes. That is correct." I could never quite mimic the flow of his perfect, formal articulation. It was something that could only be picked up in an earlier century.

"Just checking." He ran his hand through his tousled bronze hair. "You might have changed your mind. Most people seem to enjoy things like birthdays and gifts."

Alice laughed, and the sound was all silver, a wind chime. "Of course you'll enjoy it. Everyone is supposed to be nice to you today and give you your way, Bella. What's the worst that could happen?" She meant it as a rhetorical question.

"Getting older," I answered anyway, and my voice was not as steady as I wanted it to be.

Beside me, Edward's smile tightened into a hard line.

"Eighteen isn't very old," Alice said. "Don't women usually wait till they're twenty-nine to get upset over birthdays?"

"It's older than Edward," I mumbled.

He sighed.

"Technically," she said, keeping her tone light. "Just by one little year, though."

And I supposed... if I could be sure of the future I wanted, sure that I would get to spend forever with Edward, and Alice and the rest of the Cullens (preferably not as a wrinkled little old lady)... then a year or two one direction or the other wouldn't matter to me so much. But Edward was dead set against any future that changed me. Any future that made me like him - that made me immortal, too.

An impasse, he called it.

I couldn't really see Edward's point, to be honest. What was so great about mortality? Being a vampire didn't look like such a terrible thing - not the way the Cullens did it, anyway.

"What time will you be at the house?" Alice continued, changing the subject. From her expression, she was up to exactly the kind of thing I'd been hoping to avoid.

"I didn't know I had plans to be there."

"Oh, be fair, Bella!" she complained. "You aren't going to ruin all our fun like that, are you?"

"I thought my birthday was about what I want."

"I'll get her from Charlie's right after school," Edward told her, ignoring me altogether.

"I have to work," I protested.

"You don't, actually," Alice told me smugly. "I already spoke to Mrs. Newton about it. She's trading your shifts. She said to tell you 'Happy Birthday.'"

"I - I still can't come over," I stammered, scrambling for an excuse. "I, well, I haven't watched Romeo and Juliet yet for English."

Alice snorted. "You have Romeo and Juliet memorized."

"But Mr. Berty said we needed to see it performed to fully appreciate it - that's how Shakespeare intended it to be presented."

Edward rolled his eyes.

"You've already seen the movie," Alice accused.

"But not the nineteen-sixties version. Mr. Berty said it was the best."

Finally, Alice lost the smug smile and glared at me. "This can be easy, or this can be hard, Bella, but one way or the other - "

Edward interrupted her threat. "Relax, Alice. If Bella wants to watch a movie, then she can. It's her birthday."

"So there," I added.

"I'll bring her over around seven," he continued. "That will give you more time to set up."

Alice's laughter chimed again. "Sounds good. See you tonight, Bella! It'll be fun, you'll see." She grinned - the wide smile exposed all her perfect, glistening teeth - then pecked me on the cheek and danced off toward her first class before I could respond.

"Edward, please - " I started to beg, but he pressed one cool finger to my lips.

"Let's discuss it later. We're going to be late for class."

No one bothered to stare at us as we took our usual seats in the back of the classroom (we had almost every class together now - it was amazing the favors Edward could get the female administrators to do for him). Edward and I had been together too long now to be an object of gossip anymore. Even Mike Newton didn't bother to give me the glum stare that used to make me feel a little guilty. He smiled now instead, and I was glad he seemed to have accepted that we could only be friends. Mike had changed over the summer - his face had lost some of the roundness, making his cheekbones more prominent, and he was wearing his pale blond hair a new way; instead of bristly, it was longer and gelled into a carefully casual disarray. It was easy to see where his inspiration came from - but Edward's look wasn't something that could be achieved through imitation.

As the day progressed, I considered ways to get out of whatever was going down at the Cullen house tonight. It would be bad enough to have to celebrate when I was in the mood to mourn. But, worse than that, this was sure to involve attention and gifts.

Attention is never a good thing, as any other accident-prone klutz would agree. No one wants a spotlight when they're likely to fall on their face.

And I'd very pointedly asked - well, ordered really - that no one give me any presents this year. It looked like Charlie and Renee weren't the only ones who had decided to overlook that.

I'd never had much money, and that had never bothered me. Renee had raised me on a kindergarten teacher's salary. Charlie wasn't getting rich at his job, either - he was the police chief here in the tiny town of Forks. My only personal income came from the three days a week I worked at the local sporting goods store. In a town this small, I was lucky to have a job. Every penny I made went into my microscopic college fund. (College was Plan B. I was still hoping for Plan A, but Edward was just so stubborn about leaving me human...)

Edward had a lot of money - I didn't even want to think about how much. Money meant next to nothing to Edward or the rest of the Cullens. It was just something that accumulated when you had unlimited time on your hands and a sister who had an uncanny ability to predict trends in the stock market. Edward didn't seem to understand why I objected to him spending money on me - why it made me uncomfortable if he took me to an expensive restaurant in Seattle, why he wasn't allowed to buy me a car that could reach speeds over fifty-five miles an hour, or why I wouldn't let him pay my college tuition (he was ridiculously enthusiastic about Plan B). Edward thought I was being unnecessarily difficult.

But how could I let him give me things when I had nothing to reciprocate with? He, for some unfathomable reason, wanted to be with me. Anything he gave me on top of that just threw us more out of balance.

As the day went on, neither Edward nor Alice brought my birthday up again, and I began to relax a little.

We sat at our usual table for lunch.

A strange kind of truce existed at that table. The three of us - Edward, Alice, and I - sat on the extreme southern end of the table. Now that the "older" and somewhat scarier (in Emmett's case, certainly) Cullen siblings had graduated, Alice and Edward did not seem quite so intimidating, and we did not sit here alone. My other friends, Mike and Jessica (who were in the awkward post-breakup friendship phase), Angela and Ben (whose relationship had survived the summer), Eric, Conner, Tyler, and Lauren (though that last one didn't really count in the friend category) all sat at the same table, on the other side of an invisible line. That line dissolved on sunny days when Edward and Alice always skipped school, and then the conversation would swell out effortlessly to include me.

Edward and Alice didn't find this minor ostracism odd or hurtful the way I would have. They barely noticed it. People always felt strangely ill at ease with the Cullens, almost afraid for some reason they couldn't explain to themselves. I was a rare exception to that rule. Sometimes it bothered Edward how very comfortable I was with being close to him. He thought he was hazardous to my health - an opinion I rejected vehemently whenever he voiced it.

The afternoon passed quickly. School ended, and Edward walked me to my truck as he usually did. But this time, he held the passenger door open for me. Alice must have been taking his car home so that he could keep me from making a run for it.

I folded my arms and made no move to get out of the rain. "It's my birthday, don't I get to drive?"

"I'm pretending it's not your birthday, just as you wished."

"If it's not my birthday, then I don't have to go to your house tonight..."

"All right." He shut the passenger door and walked past me to open the driver's side. "Happy birthday."

"Shh," I shushed him halfheartedly. I climbed in the opened door, wishing he'd taken the other offer.

Edward played with the radio while I drove, shaking his head in disapproval.

"Your radio has horrible reception."

I frowned. I didn't like it when he picked on my truck. The truck was great - it had personality.

"You want a nice stereo? Drive your own car." I was so nervous about Alice's plans, on top of my already gloomy mood, that the words came out sharper than I'd meant them. I was hardly ever bad-tempered with Edward, and my tone made him press his lips together to keep from smiling.

When I parked in front of Charlie's house, he reached over to take my face in his hands. He handled me very carefully, pressing just the tips of his fingers softly against my temples, my cheekbones, my jawline. Like I was especially breakable. Which was exactly the case - compared with him, at least.

"You should be in a good mood, today of all days," he whispered. His sweet breath fanned across my face.

"And if I don't want to be in a good mood?" I asked, my breathing uneven.

His golden eyes smoldered. "Too bad."

My head was already spinning by the time he leaned closer and pressed his icy lips against mine. As he intended, no doubt, I forgot all about my worries, and concentrated on remembering how to inhale and exhale.

His mouth lingered on mine, cold and smooth and gentle, until I wrapped my arms around his neck and threw myself into the kiss with a little too much enthusiasm. I could feel his lips curve upward as he let go of my face and reached back to unlock my grip on him.

Edward had drawn many careful lines for our physical relationship, with the intent being to keep me alive. Though I respected the need for maintaining a safe distance between my skin and his razor-sharp, venom-coated teeth, I tended to forget about trivial things like that when he was kissing me.

"Be good, please," he breathed against my cheek. He pressed his lips gently to mine one more time and then pulled away, folding my arms across my stomach.

My pulse was thudding in my ears. I put one hand over my heart. It drummed hyperactively under my palm.

"Do you think I'll ever get better at this?" I wondered, mostly to myself. "That my heart might someday stop trying to jump out of my chest whenever you touch me?"

"I really hope not," he said, a bit smug.

I rolled my eyes. "Let's go watch the Capulets and Montagues hack each other up, all right?"

"Your wish, my command."

Edward sprawled across the couch while I started the movie, fast-forwarding through the opening credits.

When I perched on the edge of the sofa in front of him, he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me against his chest. It wasn't exactly as comfortable as a sofa cushion would be, what with his chest being hard and cold - and perfect - as an ice sculpture, but it was definitely preferable. He pulled the old afghan off the back of the couch and draped it over me so I wouldn't freeze beside his body.

"You know, I've never had much patience with Romeo," he commented as the movie started.

"What's wrong with Romeo?" I asked, a little offended. Romeo was one of my favorite fictional characters. Until I'd met Edward, I'd sort of had a thing for him.

"Well, first of all, he's in love with this Rosaline - don't you think it makes him seem a little fickle? And then, a few minutes after their wedding, he kills Juliet's cousin. That's not very brilliant. Mistake after mistake. Could he have destroyed his own happiness any more thoroughly?"

I sighed. "Do you want me to watch this alone?"

"No, I'll mostly be watching you, anyway." His fingers traced patterns across the skin of my arm, raising goose bumps. "Will you cry?"

"Probably," I admitted, "if I'm paying attention."

"I won't distract you then." But I felt his lips on my hair, and it was very distracting.

The movie eventually captured my interest, thanks in large part to Edward whispering Romeo's lines in my ear - his irresistible, velvet voice made the actor's voice sound weak and coarse by comparison. And I did cry, to his amusement, when Juliet woke and found her new husband dead.

"I'll admit, I do sort of envy him here," Edward said, drying the tears with a lock of my hair.

"She's very pretty."

He made a disgusted sound. "I don't envy him the girl - just the ease of the suicide," he clarified in a teasing tone. "You humans have it so easy! All you have to do is throw down one tiny vial of plant extracts..."

"What?" I gasped.

"It's something I had to think about once, and I knew from Carlisle's experience that it wouldn't be simple. I'm not even sure how many ways Carlisle tried to kill himself in the beginning... after he realized what he'd become..." His voice, which had grown serious, turned light again. "And he's clearly still in excellent health."

I twisted around so that I could read his face. "What are you talking about?" I demanded. "What do you mean, this something you had to think about once?"

"Last spring, when you were... nearly killed..." He paused to take a deep breath, snuggling to return to his teasing tone. "Of course I was trying to focus on finding you alive, but part of my mind was making contingency plans. Like I said, it's not as easy for me as it is for a human."

For one second, the memory of my last trip to Phoenix washed through my head and made me feel dizzy. I could see it all so clearly - the blinding sun, the heat waves coming off the concrete as I ran with desperate haste to find the sadistic vampire who wanted to torture me to death. James, waiting in the mirrored room with my mother as his hostage - or so I'd thought. I hadn't known it was all a ruse. Just as James hadn't known that Edward was racing to save me; Edward made it in time, but it had been a close one. Unthinkingly, my fingers traced the crescent-shaped scar on my hand that was always just a few degrees cooler than the rest of my skin.

I shook my head - as if I could shake away the bad memories - and tried to grasp what Edward meant. My stomach plunged uncomfortably. "Contingency plans?" I repeated.

"Well, I wasn't going to live without you." He rolled his eyes as if that fact were childishly obvious. "But I wasn't sure how to do it - I knew Emmett and Jasper would never help... so I was thinking maybe I would go to Italy and do something to provoke the Volturi."

I didn't want to believe he was serious, but his golden eyes were brooding, focused on something far away in the distance as he contemplated ways to end his own life. Abruptly, I was furious.

"What is a Volturi?" I demanded.

"The Volturi are a family," he explained, his eyes still remote. "A very old, very powerful family of our kind. They are the closest thing our world has to a royal family, I suppose. Carlisle lived with them briefly in his early years, in Italy, before he settled in America - do you remember the story?"

"Of course I remember."

I would never forget the first time I'd gone to his home, the huge white mansion buried deep in the forest beside the river, or the room where Carlisle - Edward's father in so many real ways - kept a wall of paintings that illustrated his personal history. The most vivid, most wildly colorful canvas there, the largest, was from Carlisle's time in Italy. Of course I remembered the calm quartet of men, each with the exquisite face of a seraph, painted into the highest balcony overlooking the swirling mayhem of color. Though the painting was centuries old, Carlisle - the blond angel - remained unchanged. And I remembered the three others, Carlisle's early acquaintances. Edward had never used the name Volturi for the beautiful trio, two black-haired, one snow white. He'd called them Aro, Caius, and Marcus, nighttime patrons of the arts...

"Anyway, you don't irritate the Volturi," Edward went on, interrupting ray reverie. "Not unless you want to die - or whatever it is we do." His voice was so calm, it made him sound almost bored by the prospect.

My anger turned to horror. I took his marble face between my hands and held it very tightly.

"You must never, never, never think of anything like that again!" I said. "No matter what might ever happen to me, you are not allowed to hurt yourself!"

"I'll never put you in danger again, so it's a moot point."

"Put me in danger! I thought we'd established that all the bad luck is my fault?" I was getting angrier. "How dare you even think like that?" The idea of Edward ceasing to exist, even if I were dead, was impossiblypainful.

"What would you do, if the situation were reversed?" he asked.

"That's not the same thing."

He didn't seem to understand the difference. He chuckled.

"What if something did happen to you?" I blanched at the thought. "Would you want me to go off myself?"

A trace of pain touched his perfect features.

"I guess I see your point... a little," he admitted. "But what would I do without you?"

"Whatever you were doing before I came along and complicated your existence."

He sighed. "You make that sound so easy."

"It should be. I'm not really that interesting."

He was about to argue, but then he let it go. "Moot point," he reminded me. Abruptly, he pulled himself up into a more formal posture, shifting me to the side so that we were no longer touching.

"Charlie?" I guessed.

Edward smiled. After a moment, I heard the sound of the police cruiser pulling into the driveway. I reached out and took his hand firmly. My dad could deal with that much.

Charlie came in with a pizza box in his hands.

"Hey, kids." He grinned at me. "I thought you'd like a break from cooking and washing dishes for your birthday. Hungry?"

"Sure. Thanks, Dad."

Charlie didn't comment on Edward's apparent lack of appetite. He was used to Edward passing on dinner.

"Do you mind if I borrow Bella for the evening?" Edward asked when Charlie and I were done.

I looked at Charlie hopefully. Maybe he had some concept of birthdays as stay-at-home, family affairs - this was my first birthday with him, the first birthday since my mom, Renee, had remarried and gone to live in Florida, so I didn't know what he would expect.

"That's fine - the Mariners are playing the Sox tonight," Charlie explained, and my hope disappeared. "So I won't be any kind of company... Here." He scooped up the camera he'd gotten me on Renee's suggestion (because I would need pictures to fill up my scrap-book), and threw it to me.

He ought to know better than that - I'd always been coordinationally challenged. The camera glanced off the tip of my finger, and tumbled toward the floor. Edward snagged it before it could crash onto the linoleum.

"Nice save," Charlie noted. "If they're doing something fun at the Cullens' tonight, Bella, you should take some pictures. You know how your mother gets - she'll be wanting to see the pictures faster than you can take them."

"Good idea, Charlie," Edward said, handing me the camera.

I turned the camera on Edward, and snapped the first picture. "It works."

"That's good. Hey, say hi to Alice for me. She hasn't been over in a while." Charlie's mouth pulled down at one corner.

"It's been three days, Dad," I reminded him. Charlie was crazy about Alice. He'd become attached last spring when she'd helped me through my awkward convalescence; Charlie would be fore'ter grateful to her for saving him from the horror of an almost-adult daughter who needed help showering. "I'll tell her."

"Okay. You kids have fun tonight." It was clearly a dismissal. Charlie was already edging toward the living room and the TV.

Edward smiled, triumphant, and took my hand to pull me from the kitchen.

When we got to the truck, he opened the passenger door for me again, and this time I didn't argue. I still had a hard time finding the obscure turnoff to his house in the dark.

Edward drove north through Forks, visibly chafing at the speed limit enforced by my prehistoric Chevy. The engine groaned even louder than usual as he pushed it over fifty.

"Take it easy," I warned him.

"You know what you would love? A nice little Audi coupe. Very quiet, lots of power..."

"There's nothing wrong with my truck. And speaking of expensive nonessentials, if you know what's good for you, you didn't spend any money on birthday presents."

"Not a dime," he said virtuously.

"Good."

"Can you do me a favor?"

"That depends on what it is."

He sighed, his lovely face serious. "Bella, the last real birthday any of us had was Emmett in 1935. Cut us a little slack, and don't be too difficult tonight. They're all very excited."

It always startled me a little when he brought up things like that. "Fine, I'll behave."

"I probably should warn you..."

"Please do."

"When I say they're all excited... I do mean all of them."

"Everyone?" I choked. "I thought Emmett and Rosalie were in Africa." The rest of Forks was under the impression that the older Cullens had gone off to college this year, to Dartmouth, but I knew better.

"Emmett wanted to be here."

"But... Rosalie?"

"I know, Bella. Don't worry, she'll be on her best behavior."

I didn't answer. Like I could just not worry, that easy. Unlike Alice, Edward's other "adopted" sister, the golden blond and exquisite Rosalie, didn't like me much. Actually, the feeling was a little bit stronger than just dislike. As far as Rosalie was concerned, I was an unwelcome intruder into her family's secret life.

I felt horribly guilty about the present situation, guessing that Rosalie and Emmett's prolonged absence was my fault, even as I furtively enjoyed not having to see her Emmett, Edward's playful bear of a brother, I did miss. He was in many ways just like the big brother I'd always wanted... only much, much more terrifying.

Edward decided to change the subject. "So, if you won't let me get you the Audi, isn't there anything that you'd like for your birthday?"

The words came out in a whisper. "You know what I want."

A deep frown carved creases into his marble forehead. He obviously wished he'd stuck to the subject of Rosalie.

It felt like we'd had this argument a lot today.

"Not tonight, Bella. Please."

"Well, maybe Alice will give me what I want."

Edward growled - a deep, menacing sound. "This isn't going to be your last birthday, Bella," he vowed.

"That's not fair!"

I thought I heard his teeth clench together.

We were pulling up to the house now. Bright light shined from every window on the first two floors. A long line of glowing Japanese lanterns hung from the porch eaves, reflecting a soft radiance on the huge cedars that surrounded the house. Big bowls of flowers - pink roses - lined the wide stairs up to the front doors.

I moaned.

Edward took a few deep breaths to calm himself. "This is a party," he reminded me. "Try to be a good sport."

"Sure," I muttered.

He came around to get my door, and offered me his hand.

"I have a question."

He waited warily.

"If I develop this film," I said, toying with the camera in my hands, "will you show up in the picture?"

Edward started laughing. He helped me out of the car, pulled me up the stairs, and was still laughing as he opened the door for me.

They were all waiting in the huge white living room; when I walked through the door, they greeted me with a loud chorus of "Happy birthday, Bella!" while I blushed and looked down. Alice, I assumed, had covered every flat surface with pink candles and dozens of crystal bowls filled with hundreds of roses. There was a table with a white cloth draped over it next to Edward's grand piano, holding a pink birthday cake, more roses, a stack of glass plates, and a small pile of silver-wrapped presents.

It was a hundred times worse than I'd imagined.

Edward, sensing my distress, wrapped an encouraging arm around my waist and kissed the top of my head.

Edward's parents, Carlisle and Esme - impossibly youthful and lovely as ever - were the closest to the door. Esme hugged me carefully, her soft, caramel-colored hair brushing against my cheek as she kissed my forehead, and then Carlisle put his arm around my shoulders.

"Sorry about this, Bella," he stage-whispered. "We couldn't rein Alice in."

Rosalie and Emmett stood behind them. Rosalie didn't smile, but at least she didn't glare. Emmett's face was stretched into a huge grin. It had been months since I'd seen them; I'd forgotten how gloriously beautiful Rosalie was - it almost hurt to look at her. And had Emmett always been so... big?

"You haven't changed at all," Emmett said with mock disappointment. "I expected a perceptible difference, but here you are, red-faced just like always."

"Thanks a lot, Emmett," I said, blushing deeper.

He laughed, "I have to step out for a second" - he paused to wink conspicuously at Alice - "Don't do anything funny while I'm gone."

"I'lltry."

Alice let go of Jasper's hand and skipped forward, all her teeth sparkling in the bright light. Jasper smiled, too, but kept his distance. He leaned, long and blond, against the post at the foot of the stairs. During the days we'd had to spend cooped up together in Phoenix, I'd thought he'd gotten over his aversion to me. But he'd gone back to exactly how he'd acted before - avoiding me as much as possible - the moment he was free from that temporary obligation to protect me. I knew it wasn't personal, just a precaution, and I tried not to be overly sensitive about it. Jasper had more trouble sticking to the Cullens' diet than the rest of them; the scent of human blood was much harder for him to resist than the others - he hadn't been trying as long.

"Time to open presents," Alice declared. She put her cool hand under my elbow and towed me to the table with the cake and the shiny packages.

I put on my best martyr face. "Alice, I know I told you I didn't want anything - "

"But I didn't listen," she interrupted, smug. "Open it." She took the camera from my hands and replaced it with a big, square silver box.

The box was so light that it felt empty. The tag on top said that it was from Emmett, Rosalie, and Jasper. Selfconsciously, I tore the paper off and then stared at the box it concealed.

It was something electrical, with lots of numbers in the name. I opened the box, hoping for further illumination. But the box was empty.

"Um... thanks."

Rosalie actually cracked a smile. Jasper laughed. "It's a stereo for your truck," he explained. "Emmett's installing it right now so that you can't return it."

Alice was always one step ahead of me. "Thanks, Jasper, Rosalie," I told them, grinning as I remembered Edward's complaints about my radio this afternoon - all a setup, apparently. "Thanks, Emmett!" I called more loudly.

I heard his booming laugh from my truck, and I couldn't help laughing, too.

"Open mine and Edward's next," Alice said, so excited her voice was a high-pitched trill. She held a small, flat square in her hand.

I turned to give Edward a basilisk glare. "You promised."

Before he could answer, Emmett bounded through the door. "Just in time!" he crowed. He pushed in behind Jasper, who had also drifted closer than usual to get a good look.

"I didn't spend a dime," Edward assured me. He brushed a strand of hair from my face, leaving my skin tingling from his touch.

I inhaled deeply and turned to Alice. "Give it to me," I sighed.

Emmett chuckled with delight.

I took the little package, rolling my eyes at Edward while I stuck my finger under the edge of the paper and jerked it under the tape.

"Shoot," I muttered when the paper sliced my finger; I pulled it out to examine the damage. A single drop of blood oozed from the tiny cut.

It all happened very quickly then.

"No!" Edward roared.

He threw himself at me, flinging me back across the table. It fell, as I did, scattering the cake and the presents, the flowers and the plates. I landed in the mess of shattered crystal.

Jasper slammed into Edward, and the sound was like the crash of boulders in a rock slide.

There was another noise, a grisly snarling that seemed to be coming from deep in Jasper's chest. Jasper tried to shove past Edward, snapping his teeth just inches from Edward's face.

Emmett grabbed Jasper from behind in the next second, locking him into his massive steel grip, but Jasper struggled on, his wild, empty eyes focused only on me.

Beyond the shock, there was also pain. I'd tumbled down to the floor by the piano, with my arms thrown out instinctively to catch my fall, into the jagged shards of glass. Only now did I feel the searing, stinging pain that ran from my wrist to the crease inside my elbow.

Dazed and disoriented, I looked up from the bright red blood pulsing out of my arm - into the fevered eyes of the six suddenly ravenous vampires.
发表于 2016-8-5 11:03 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 2  STITCHES

CARLISLE WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO STAYED calm. Centuries of experience in the emergency room were evident in his quiet, authoritative voice.

"Emmett, Rose, get Jasper outside."

Unsmiling for once, Emmett nodded. "Come on, Jasper."

Jasper struggled against Emmett's unbreakable grasp, twisting around, reaching toward his brother with his bared teeth, his eyes still past reason.

Edward's face was whiter than bone as he wheeled to crouch over me, taking a clearly defensive position. A low warning growl slid from between his clenched teeth. I could tell that he wasn't breathing.

Rosalie, her divine face strangely smug, stepped in front of Jasper - keeping a careful distance from his teeth - and helped Emmett wrestle him through the glass door that Esme held open, one hand pressed over her mouth and nose.

Esme's heart-shaped face was ashamed. "I'm so sorry, Bella," she cried as she followed the others into the yard.

"Let me by, Edward," Carlisle murmured.

A second passed, and then Edward nodded slowly and relaxed his stance.

Carlisle knelt beside me, leaning close to examine my arm. I could feel the shock frozen on my face, and I tried to compose it.

"Here, Carlisle," Alice said, handing him a towel.

He shook his head. "Too much glass in the wound." He reached over and ripped a long, thin scrap from the bottom of the white tablecloth. He twisted it around my arm above the elbow to form a tourniquet. The smell of the blood was making me dizzy. My ears rang.

"Bella," Carlisle said softly. "Do you want me to drive you to the hospital, or would you like me to take care of it here?"

"Here, please," I whispered. If he took me to the hospital, there would be no way to keep this from Charlie.

"I'll get your bag," Alice said.

"Let's take her to the kitchen table," Carlisle said to Edward.

Edward lifted me effortlessly, while Carlisle kept the pressure steady on my arm.

"How are you doing, Bella?" Carlisle asked.

"I'm fine." My voice was reasonably steady, which pleased me.

Edward's face was like stone.

Alice was there. Carlisle's black bag was already on the table, a small but brilliant desk light plugged into the wall. Edward sat me gently into a chair, and Carlisle pulled up another. He went to work at once.

Edward stood over me, still protective, still not breathing.

"Just go, Edward," I sighed.

"I can handle it," he insisted. But his jaw was rigid; his eyes burned with the intensity of the thirst he fought, so much worse for him than it was for the others.

"You don't need to be a hero," I said. "Carlisle can fix me up without your help. Get some fresh air."

I winced as Carlisle did something to my arm that stung.

"I'll stay," he said.

"Why are you so masochistic?" I mumbled.

Carlisle decided to intercede. "Edward, you may as well go find Jasper before he gets too far. I'm sure he's upset with himself, and I doubt he'll listen to anyone but you right now."

"Yes," I eagerly agreed. "Go find Jasper."

"You might as well do something useful," Alice added.

Edward's eyes narrowed as we ganged up on him, but, finally, he nodded once and sprinted smoothly through the kitchen's back door. I was sure he hadn't taken a breath since I'd sliced my finger.

A numb, dead feeling was spreading through my arm.

Though it erased the sting, it reminded me of the gash, and I watched Carlisle's face carefully to distract me from what his hands were doing. His hair gleamed gold in the bright light as he bent over my arm. I could feel the faint stirrings of unease in the pit of my stomach, but I was determined not to let my usual squeamishness get the best of me. There was no pain now, just a gentle tugging sensation that I tried to ignore. No reason to get sick like a baby.

If she hadn't been in my line of sight, I wouldn't have noticed Alice give up and steal out of the room. With a tiny, apologetic smile on her lips, she disappeared through the kitchen doorway.

"Well, that's everyone," I sighed. "I can clear a room, at least."

"It's not your fault," Carlisle comforted me with a chuckle. "It could happen to anyone."

"Could" I repeated. "But it usually just happens to me."

He laughed again.

His relaxed calm was only more amazing set in direct contrast with everyone else's reaction. I couldn't find any trace of anxiety in his face. He worked with quick, sure movements. The only sound besides our quiet breathing was the soft plink, plink as the tiny fragments of glass dropped one by one to the table.

"How can you do this?" I demanded. "Even Alice and Esme..." I trailed off, shaking my head in wonder. Though the rest of them had given up the traditional diet of vampires just as absolutely as Carlisle had, he was the only one who could bear the smell of my blood without suffering from the intense temptation. Clearly, this was much more difficult than he made it seem.

"Years and years of practice," he told me. "I barely notice the scent anymore."

"Do you think it would be harder if you took a vacation from the hospital for a long time. And weren't around any blood?"

"Maybe." He shrugged his shoulders, but his hands remained steady. "I've never felt the need for an extended holiday." He flashed a brilliant smile in my direction. "I enjoy my work too much."

Plink, plink, plink. I was surprised at how much glass there seemed to be in my arm. I was tempted to glance at the growing pile, just to check the size, but I knew that idea would not be helpful to my no-vomiting strategy.

"What is it that you enjoy?" I wondered. It didn't make sense to me - the years of struggle and self-denial he must have spent to get to the point where he could endure this so easily. Besides, I wanted to keep him talking; the conversation kept my mind off the queasy feeling in my stomach.

His dark eyes were calm and thoughtful as he answered. "Hmm. What I enjoy the very most is when my... enhanced abilities let me save someone who would otherwise have been lost. It's pleasant knowing that, thanks to what I can do, some people's lives are better because I exist. Even the sense of smell is a useful diagnostic tool at times." One side of his mouth pulled up in half a smile.

I mulled that over while he poked around, making sure all the glass splinters were gone. Then he rummaged in his bag for new tools, and I tried not to picture a needle and thread.

"You try very hard to make up for something that was never your fault," I suggested while a new kind of tugging started at the edges of my skin. "What I mean is, it's not like you asked for this. You didn't choose this kind of life, and yet you have to work so hard to be good."

"I don't know that I'm making up for anything," he disagreed lightly. "Like everything in life, I just had to decide what to do with what I was given."

"That makes it sound too easy."

He examined my arm again. "There," he said, snipping a thread. "All done." He wiped an oversized Q-tip, dripping with some syrup-colored liquid, thoroughly across the operation site. The smell was strange; it made my head spin. The syrup stained my skin.

"In the beginning, though," I pressed while he taped another long piece of gauze securely in place, sealing it to my skin. "Why did you even think to try a different way than the obvious one?"

His lips turned up in a private smile. "Hasn't Edward told you this story?"

"Yes. But I'm trying to understand what you were thinking..."

His face was suddenly serious again, and I wondered if his thoughts had gone to the same place that mine had. Wondering what I would be thinking when - I refused to think if - it was me.

"You know my father was a clergyman," he mused as he cleaned the table carefully, rubbing everything down with wet gauze, and then doing it again. The smell of alcohol burned in my nose. "He had a rather harsh view of the world, which I was already beginning to question before the time that I changed." Carlisle put all the dirty gauze and the glass slivers into an empty crystal bowl. I didn't understand what he was doing, even when he lit the match. Then he threw it onto the alcohol-soaked fibers, and the sudden blaze made me jump.

"Sorry," he apologized. "That ought to do it... So I didn't agree with my father's particular brand of faith. But never, in the nearly four hundred years now since I was born, have I ever seen anything to make me doubt whether God exists in some form or the other. Not even the reflection in the mirror."

I pretended to examine the dressing on my arm to hide my surprise at the direction our conversation had taken. Religion was the last thing I expected, all things considered. My own life was fairly devoid of belief. Charlie considered himself a Lutheran, because that's what his parents had been, but Sundays he worshipped by the river with a fishing pole in his hand. Renee tried out a church now and then, but, much like her brief affairs with tennis, pottery, yoga, and French classes, she moved on by the time I was aware of her newest fad.

"I'm sure all this sounds a little bizarre, coming from a vampire." He grinned, knowing how their casual use of that word never failed to shock me. "But I'm hoping that there is still a point to this life, even for us. It's a long shot, I'll admit," he continued in an offhand voice. "By all accounts, we're damned regardless. But I hope, maybe foolishly, that we'll get some measure of credit for trying."

"I don't think that's foolish," I mumbled. I couldn't imagine anyone, deity included, who wouldn't be impressed by Carlisle. Besides, the only kind of heaven I could appreciate would have to include Edward. "And I don't think anyone else would, either."

"Actually, you're the very first one to agree with me."

"The rest of them don't feel the same?" I asked, surprised, thinking of only one person in particular.

Carlisle guessed the direction of my thoughts again. "Edward's with me up to a point. God and heaven exist... and so does hell. But he doesn't believe there is an afterlife for our kind." Carlisle's voice was very soft; he stared out the big window over the sink, into the darkness. "You see, he thinks we've lost our souls."

I immediately thought of Edward's words this afternoon: unless you want to die - or whatever it is that we do. The lightbulb flicked on over my head.

"That's the real problem, isn't it?" I guessed. "That's why he's being so difficult about me."

Carlisle spoke slowly. "I look at my... son. His strength, his goodness, the brightness that shines out of him - and it only fuels that hope, that faith, more than ever. How could there not be more for one such as Edward?"

I nodded in fervent agreement.

"But if I believed as he does..." He looked down at me with unfathomable eyes. "If you believed as he did. Could you take away his soul?"

The way he phrased the question thwarted my answer.

If he'd asked me whether I would risk my soul for Edward, the reply would be obvious. But would I risk Edward's soul? I pursed my lips unhappily. That wasn't a fair exchange.

"You see the problem."

I shook my head, aware of the stubborn set of my chin.

Carlisle sighed.

"It's my choice," I insisted.

"It's his, too." He held up his hand when he could see that I was about to argue. "Whether he is responsible for doing that to you."

"He's not the only one able to do it." I eyed Carlisle speculatively.

He laughed, abruptly lightening the mood. "Oh, no! You're going to have to work this out with him."But then he sighed. "That's the one part I can never be sure of. I think, in most other ways, that I've done the best I could with what I had to work with. But was it right to doom the others to this life? I can't decide."

I didn't answer. I imagined what my life would be like if Carlisle had resisted the temptation to change his lonely existence... and shuddered.

"It was Edward's mother who made up my mind." Carlisle's voice was almost a whisper. He stared unseeingly out the black windows.

"His mother?" Whenever I'd asked Edward about his parents, he would merely say that they had died long ago, and his memories were vague. I realized Carlisle's memory of them, despite the brevity of their contact, would be perfectly clear.

"Yes. Her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth Masen. His father, Edward Senior, never regained consciousness in the hospital. He died in the first wave of the influenza. But Elizabeth was alert until almost the very end. Edward looks a great deal like her - she had that same strange bronze shade to her hair, and her eyes were exactly the same color green."

"His eyes were green?" I murmured, trying to picture it.

"Yes..." Carlisle's ocher eyes were a hundred years away now. "Elizabeth worried obsessively over her son. She hurt her own chances of survival trying to nurse him from her sickbed. I expected that he would go first, he was so much worse off than she was. When the end came for her, it was very quick. It was just after sunset, and I'd arrived to relieve the doctors who'd been working all day. That was a hard time to pretend - there was so much work to be done, and I had no need of rest. How I hated to go back to my house, to hide in the dark and pretend to sleep while so many were dying.

"I went to check Elizabeth and her son first. I'd grown attached - always a dangerous thing to do considering the fragile nature of humans. I could see at once that she'd taken a bad turn. The fever was raging out of control, and her body was too weak to fight anymore.

"She didn't look weak, though, when she glared up at me from her cot.

"Save him!' she commanded me in the hoarse voice that was all her throat could manage.

"I'll do everything in my power,' I promised her, taking her hand. The fever was so high, she probably couldn't even tell how unnaturally cold mine felt. Everything felt cold to her skin.

"You must," she insisted, clutching at my hand with enough strength that I wondered if she wouldn't pull through the crisis after all. Her eyes were hard, like stones, like emeralds. 'You must do everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward."

"It frightened me. She looked it me with those piercing eyes, and, for one instant, I felt certain that she knew my secret. Then the fever overwhelmed her, and she never regained consciousness. She died within an hour of making her demand.

"I'd spent decades considering the idea of creating a companion for myself. Just one other creature who could really know me, rather than what I pretended to be. But I could never justify it to myself - doing what had been done to me.

"There Edward lay, dying. It was clear that he had only hours left. Beside him, his mother, her face somehow not yet peaceful, not even in death."

Carlisle saw it all again, his memory unblurred by the intervening century. I could see it clearly, too, as he spoke - the despair of the hospital, the overwhelming atmosphere of death. Edward burning with fever, his life slipping away with each tick of the clock... I shuddered again, and forced the picture from my mind.

"Elizabeth's words echoed in my head. How could she guess what I could do? Could anyone really want that for her son?

"I looked at Edward. Sick as he was, he was still beautiful. There was something pure and good about his face. The kind of face I would have wanted my son to have.

"After all those years of indecision, I simply acted on a whim. I wheeled his mother to the morgue first, and then I came back for him. No one noticed that he was still breathing. There weren't enough hands, enough eyes, to keep track of half of what the patients needed. The morgue was empty - of the living, at least. I stole him out the back door, and carried him across the rooftops back to my home.

"I wasn't sure what had to be done. I settled for recreating the wounds I'd received myself, so many centuries earlier in London. I felt bad about that later. It was more painful and lingering than necessary.

"I wasn't sorry, though. I've never been sorry that I saved Edward." He shook his head, coming back to the present. He smiled at me. "I suppose I should take you home now."

"I'll do that," Edward said. He came through the shadowy dining room, walking slowly for him. His face was smooth, unreadable, but there was something wrong with his eyes - something he was trying very hard to hide. I felt a spasm of unease in my stomach.

"Carlisle can take me," I said. I looked down at my shirt; the light blue cotton was soaked and spotted with my blood. My right shoulder was covered in thick pink frosting.

"I'm fine." Edward's voice was unemotional. "You'll need to change anyway. You'd give Charlie a heart attack the way you look. I'll have Alice get you something." He strode out the kitchen door again.

I looked at Carlisle anxiously. "He's very upset."

"Yes," Carlisle agreed. "Tonight is exactly the kind of thing that he fears the most. You being put in danger, because of what we are."

"It's not his fault."

"It's not yours, either."

I looked away from his wise, beautiful eyes. I couldn't agree with that.

Carlisle offered me his hand and helped me up from the table. I followed him out into the main room. Esme had come back; she was mopping the floor where I'd fallen - with straight bleach from the smell of it.

"Esme, let me do that." I could feel that my face was bright red again.

"I'm already done." She smiled up at me. "How do you feel?"

"I'm fine," I assured her. "Carlisle sews faster than any other doctor I've had."

They both chuckled.

Alice and Edward came in the back doors. Alice hurried to my side, but Edward hung back, his face indecipherable.

"C'mon," Alice said. "I'll get you something less macabre to wear."

She found me a shirt of Esme's that was close to the same color mine had been. Charlie wouldn't notice, I was sure. The long white bandage on my arm didn't look nearly as serious when I was no longer spattered in gore. Charlie was never surprised to see me bandaged.

"Alice," I whispered as she headed back to the door.

"Yes?" She kept her voice low, too, and looked at me curiously, her head cocked to the side.

"How bad is it?" I couldn't be sure if my whispering was a wasted effort. Even though we were upstairs, with the door closed, perhaps he could hear me.

Her face tensed. "I'm not sure yet."

"How's Jasper?"

She sighed. "He's very unhappy with himself. It's all so much more of challenge for him, and he hates feeling weak."

"It's not his fault. You'll tell him that I'm not mad at him, not at all, won't you?"

"Of course."

Edward was waiting for me by the front door. As I got to the bottom of the staircase, he held it open without a word.

"Take your things!" Alice cried as I walked warily toward Edward. She scooped up the two packages, one half-opened, and my camera from under the piano, and pressed them into my good arm. "You can thank me later, when you've opened them."

Esme and Carlisle both said a quiet goodnight. I could see them stealing quick glances at their impassive son, much like I was.

It was a relief to be outside; I hurried past the lanterns and the roses, now unwelcome reminders. Edward kept pace with me silently. He opened the passenget side for me, and I climbed in without complaint.

On the dashboard was a big red ribbon, stuck to the new stereo. I pulled it off, throwing it to the floor. As Edward slid into the other side, I kicked the ribbon under my seat.

He didn't look at me or the stereo. Neither of us switched it on, and the silence was somehow intensified by the sudden thunder of the engine. He drove too fast down the dark, serpentine lane.

The silence was making me insane.

"Say something," I finally begged as he turned onto the freeway.

"What do you want me to say?" he asked in a detached voice.

I cringed at his remoteness. 'Tell me you forgive me."

That brought a flicker of life to his face - a flicker of anger. "Forgive you? For what?"

"If I'd been more careful, nothing would have happened."

"Bella, you gave yourself a paper cut - that hardly deserves the death penalty."

"It's still my fault."

My words opened up the floodgate.

"Your fault? If you'd cut yourself at Mike Newton's house, with Jessica there and Angela and your other normal friends, the worst that could possibly have happened would be what? Maybe they couldn't find you a bandage? If you'd tripped and knocked over a pile of glass plates on your own - without someone throwing you into them - even then, what's the worst? You'd get blood on the seats when they drove you to the emergency room? Mike Newton could have held your hand while they stitched you up - and he wouldn't be righting the urge to kill you the whole time he was there. Don't try to take any of this on yourself, Bella. It will only make me more disgusted with myself."

"How the hell did Mike Newton end up in this conversation?" I demanded.

"Mike Newton ended up in this conversation because Mike Newton would be a hell of a lot healthier for you to be with," he growled.

"I'd rather die than be with Mike Newton," I protested. "I'd rather die than be with anyone but you."

"Don't be melodramatic, please."

"Well then, don't you be ridiculous."

He didn't answer. He glared through the windshield, his expression black.

I racked my brain for some way to salvage the evening. When we pulled up in front of my house, I still hadn't come up with anything.

He killed the engine, but his hands stayed clenched around the steering wheel.

"Will you stay tonight?" I asked.

"I should go home."

The last thing I wanted was for him to go wallow in remorse.

"For my birthday," I pressed.

"You can't have it both ways - either you want people to ignore your birthday or you don't. One or the other."

His voice was stern, but not .is serious as before. I breathed a silent sigh of relief.

"Okay. I've decided that I don't want you to ignore my birthday. I'll see you upstairs."

I hopped out, reaching back in for my packages. He frowned.

"You don't have to take those."

"I want them," I responded automatically, and then wondered if he was using reverse psychology.

"No, you don't. Carlisle and Esme spent money on you."

"I'll live." I tucked the presents awkwardly under my good arm and slammed the door behind me. He was out of the truck and by my side in less than a second.

"Let me carry them, at least." he said as he took them away. "I'll be in your room."

I smiled. "Thanks."

"Happy birthday," he sighed, and leaned down to touch his lips to mine.

I reached up on my toes to make the kiss last longer when he pulled away. He smiled my favorite crooked smile, and then he disappeared into the darkness.

The game was still on; as soon as I walked through the front door I could hear the announcer rambling over the babble of the crowd.

"Bell?" Charlie called.

"Hey, Dad," I said as I came around the corner. I held my arm close to my side. The slight pressure burned, and I wrinkled my nose. The anesthetic was apparently losing its effectiveness.

"How was it?" Charlie lounged across the sofa with his bare feet propped up on the arm. What was left of his curly brown hair was crushed flat on one side.

"Alice went overboard. Flowers, cake, candles, presents - the whole bit."

"What did they get you?"

"A stereo for my truck." And various unknowns.

"Wow."

"Yeah," I agreed. "Well, I'm calling it a night."

"I'll see you in the morning."

I waved. "See ya."

"What happened to your arm?"

I flushed and cursed silently. "I tripped. It's nothing."

"Bella," he sighed, shaking his head.

"Goodnight, Dad."

I hurried up to the bathroom, where I kept my pajamas for just such nights as these. I shrugged into the matching tank top and cotton pants that I'd gotten to replace the holey sweats I used to wear to bed, wincing as the movement pulled at the stitches. I washed my face one-handed, brushed my teeth, and then skipped to my room.

He was sitting in the center of my bed, toying idly with one of the silver boxes.

"Hi," he said. His voice was sad. He was wallowing.

I went to the bed, pushed the presents out of his hands, and climbed into his lap.

"Hi." I snuggled into his stone chest. "Can I open my presents now?"

"Where did the enthusiasm come from?" he wondered.

"You made me curious."

I picked up the long flat rectangle that must have been from Carlisle and Esme.

"Allow me," he suggested. He took the gift from my hand and tore the silver paper off with one fluid movement. He handed the rectangular white box back to me.

"Are you sure I can handle lifting the lid?" I muttered, but he ignored me.

Inside the box was a long thick piece of paper with an overwhelming amount of fine print. It took me a minute to get the gist of the information.

"We're going to Jacksonville?" And I was excited, in spite of myself. It was a voucher for plane tickets, for both me and Edward.

"That's the idea."

"I can't believe it. Renee is going to flip! You don't mind, though, do you? It's sunny, you'll have to stay inside all day."

"I think I can handle it," he said, and then frowned. "If I'd had any idea that you could respond to a gift this appropriately, I would have made you open it in front of Carlisle and Esme. I thought you'd complain."

"Well, of course it's too much. But I get to take you with me!"

He chuckled. "Now I wish I'd spent money on your present. I didn't realize that you were capable of being reasonable."

I set the tickets aside and reached for his present, my curiosity rekindled. He took it from me and unwrapped it like the first one.

He handed back a clear CD jewel case, with a blank silver CD inside.

"What is it?" I asked, perplexed.

He didn't say anything; he took the CD and reached around me to put it in the CD player on the bedside table. He hit play, and we waited in silence. Then the music began.

I listened, speechless and wide-eyed. I knew he was waiting for my reaction, but I couldn't talk. Tears welled up, and I reached up to wipe them away before they could spill over.

"Does your arm hurt?" he asked anxiously.

"No, it's not my arm. It's beautiful, Edward. You couldn't have given me anything I would love more. I can't believe it." I shut up, so I could listen.

It was his music, his compositions. The first piece on the CD was my lullaby.

"I didn't think you would let me get a piano so I could play for you here," he explained.

"You're right."

"How does your arm feel?"

"Just fine." Actually, it was starting to blaze under the bandage. I wanted ice. I would have settled for his hand, but that would have given me away.

"I'll get you some Tylenol."

"I don't need anything," I protested, but he slid me off his lap and headed for the door.

"Charlie," I hissed. Charlie wasn't exactly aware that Edward frequently stayed over. In fact, he would have a stroke if that fact were brought to his attention. But I didn't feel too guilty for deceiving him It wasn't as if we were up to anything he wouldn't want me to be up to. Edward and his rules...

"He won't catch me," Edward promised as he disappeared silently out the door . . and returned, catching the door before it had swung back to touch the frame. He had the glass from the bathroom and the bottle of pills in one hand.

I took the pills he handed me without arguing - I knew I would lose the argument And my arm really was starting to bother me.

My lullaby continued, soft and lovely, in the background.

"It's late," Edward noted. He scooped me up off the bed with one arm, and pulled the cover back with the other. He put me down with my head on my pillow and tucked the quilt around me. He lay down next to me - on top of the blanket so I wouldn't get chilled - and put his arm over me.

I leaned my head against his shoulder and sighed happily.

"Thanks again," I whispered.

"You're welcome."

It was quiet for a long moment as I listened to my lullaby drift to a close. Another song began. I recognized Esme's favorite.

"What are you thinking about?'" I wondered in a whisper.

He hesitated for a second before he told me. "I was thinking about right and wrong, actually."

I felt a chill tingle along my spine.

"Remember how I decided that I wanted you to not ignore my birthday?" I asked quickly, hoping it wasn't too clear that I was trying to distract him.

"Yes," he agreed, wary.

"Well, I was thinking, since it's still my birthday, that I'd like you to kiss me again."

"You're greedy tonight."

"Yes, I am - but please, don't do anything you don't want to do," I added, piqued.

He laughed, and then sighed. "Heaven forbid that I should do anything I don't want to do," he said in a strangely desperate tone as he put his hand under my chin and pulled my face up to his.

The kiss began much the same as usual - Edward was as careful as ever, and my heart began to overreact like it always did. And then something seemed to change. Suddenly his lips became much more urgent, his free hand twisted into my hair and held my face securely to his. And, though my hands tangled in his hair, too, and though I was clearly beginning to cross his cautious lines, for once he didn't stop me. His body was cold through the thin quilt, but I crushed myself against him eagerly.

When he stopped it was abrupt; he pushed me away with gentle, firm hands.

I collapsed back onto my pillow, gasping, my head spinning. Something tugged at my memory, elusive, on the edges.

"Sorry," he said, and he was breathless, too. "That was out of line."

"I don't mind," I panted.

He frowned at me in the darkness. "Try to sleep. Bella."

"No, I want you to kiss me again."

"You're overestimating my self-control."

"Which is tempting you more, my blood or my body?" I challenged.

"It's a tie." He grinned briefly in spite of himself, and then was serious again. "Now. why don't you stop pushing your luck and go to sleep?"

"Fine," I agreed, snuggling closer to him. I really did feel exhausted. It had been a long day in so many ways, yet I felt no sense of relief at its end. Almost as if something worse was coming tomorrow. It was a silly premonition - what could be worse than today?' Just the shock catching up with me, no doubt.

Trying to be sneaky about it, I pressed my injured arm against his shoulder, so his cool skin would sooth the burning. It felt better at once.

I was halfway asleep, maybe more, when I realized what his kiss had reminded me of: last spring, when he'd had to leave me to throw James off my trail, Edward had kissed me goodbye, not knowing when - or if - we would see each other again. This kiss had the same almost painful edge for some reason I couldn't imagine. I shuddered into unconsciousness, as if I were already having a nightmare.
发表于 2016-8-5 11:21 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 3 THE END

I FELT ABSOLUTELY HIDEOUS IN THE MORNING. I HADN'T slept well; my arm burned and my head ached. It didn't help my outlook that Edward's face was smooth and remote as he kissed my forehead quickly and ducked out my window. I was afraid of the time I'd spent unconscious, afraid that he might have been thinking about right and wrong again while he watched me sleep. The anxiety seemed to ratchet up the intensity of the pounding in my head.

Edward was waiting for me at school, as usual, but his face was still wrong. There was something buried in his eyes that I couldn't be sure of - and it scared me. I didn't want to bring up last night, but I wasn't sure if avoiding the subject would be worse.

He opened my door for me.

"How do you feel?"

"Perfect," I lied, cringing as the sound of the slamming door echoed in my head.

We walked in silence, he shortening his stride to match mine. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but most of those questions would have to wait, because chey were for Alice: How was Jasper this morning? What had they said when I was gone? What had Rosalie said? And most importantly, what could she see happening now in her strange, imperfect visions of the future? Could she guess what Edward was thinking, why he was so gloomy? Was there a foundation for the tenuous, instinctive fears that I couldn't seem to shake?

The morning passed slowly. I was impatient to see Alice, though I wouldn't be able to really talk to her with Edward there. Edward remained aloof. Occasionally he would ask about my arm, and I would lie.

Alice usually beat us to lunch; she didn't have to keep pace with a sloth like me. But she wasn't at the table, waiting with a tray of food she wouldn't eat.

Edward didn't say anything about her absence. I wondered to myself if her class was running late - until I saw Conner and Ben, who were in her fourth hour French class.

"Where's Alice?" I asked Edward anxiously.

He looked at the granola bar he was slowly pulverizing between his fingertips while he answered. "She's with Jasper."

"Is he okay?"

"He's gone away for a while."

"What? Where?"

Edward shrugged. "Nowhere in particular."

"And Alice, too," I said with quiet desperation. Of course, if Jasper needed her, she would go.

"Yes. She'll be gone for a while. She was trying to convince him to go to Denali."

Denali was where the one other band of unique vampires - good ones like the Cullens - lived. Tanya and

her family. I'd heard of them now and again. Edward had run to them last winter when my arrival had made Forks difficult for him. Laurent, the most civilized member of James's little coven, had gone there rather than siding with James against the Cullens. It made sense for Alice to encourage Jasper to go there.

I swallowed, trying to dislodge the sudden lump in my throat. The guilt made my head bow and my shoulders slump. I'd run them out of their home, just like Rosalie and Emmett. I was a plague.

"Is your arm bothering you?" he asked solicitously.

"Who cares about my stupid arm?" I muttered in disgust.

He didn't answer, and I put my head down on the table.

By the end of the day, the silence was becoming ridiculous. I didn't want to be the one to break it, but apparently that was my only choice if I ever wanted him to talk to me again.

"You'll come over later tonight?" I asked as he walked me - silently - to my truck. He always came over.

"Later?"

It pleased me that he seemed surprised. "I have to work. I had to trade with Mrs. Newton to get yesterday off."

"Oh," he murmured.

"So you'll come over when I'm home, though, right?" I hated that I felt suddenly unsure about this.

"If you want me to."

"I always want you," I reminded him, with perhaps a little more intensity than the conversation required.

I expected he would laugh, or smile, or react somehow to my words.

"All right, then," he said indifferently.

He kissed my forehead again before he shut the door on me. Then he turned his back and loped gracefully toward his car.

I was able to drive out of the parking lot before the panic really hit, but I was hyperventilating by the time I got to Newton's.

He just needed time, I told myself. He would get over this. Maybe he was sad because his family was disappearing. But Alice and Jasper would come back soon, and Rosalie and Emmett, too. If it would help, I would stay away from the big white house on the river - I'd never set foot there again. That didn't matter. I'd still see Alice at school. She would have to come back for school, right? And she was at my place all the time anyway. She wouldn't want to hurt Charlie's feelings by staying away.

No doubt I would also run into Carlisle with regularity - in the emergency room.

After all, what had happened last night was nothing. Nothing had happened. So I fell down - that was the story of my life. Compared to last spring, it seemed especially unimportant. James had left me broken and nearly dead from loss of blood - and yet Edward had handled the interminable weeks in the hospital much better than this. Was it because, this time, it wasn't an enemy he'd had to protect me from? Because it was his brother?

Maybe it would be better if he took me away, rather than his family being scattered. I grew slightly less depressed as I considered all the uninterrupted alone time. If he could just last through the school year, Charlie wouldn't be able to object. We could go away to college, or pretend that's what we were doing, like Rosalie and Emmett this year. Surely Edward could wait a year. What was a year to an immortal? It didn't even seem like that much to me.

I was able to talk myself into enough composure to handle getting out of the truck and walking to the store. Mike Newton had beaten me here today, and he smiled and waved when I came in. I grabbed my vest, nodding vaguely in his direction. I was still imagining pleasant scenarios that consisted of me running away with Edward to various exotic locales.

Mike interrupted my fantasy. "How was your birthday?"

"Ugh," I mumbled. "I'm glad it's over."

Mike looked at me from the corners of his eyes like I was crazy.

Work dragged. I wanted to see Edward again, praying that he would be past the worst of this, whatever it was exactly, by the time I saw him again. It's nothing, I told myself over and over again. Everything will go back to normal.

The relief I felt when I turned onto my street and saw Edward's silver car parked in front of my house was an overwhelming, heady thing. And it bothered me deeply that it should be that way.

I hurried through the front door, calling out before I was completely inside.

"Dad? Edward?"

As I spoke, I could hear the distinctive theme music from ESPN's Sports Center coming from the living room.

"In here," Charlie called.

I hung my raincoat on its peg and hurried around the corner.

Edward was in the armchair, my father on the sofa. Both had their eyes trained on the TV. The focus was normal for my father. Not so much for Edward.

"Hi," I said weakly.

"Hey, Bella," my father answered, eyes never moving. "We just had cold pizza. I think it's still on the table."

"Okay."

I waited in the doorway. Finally, Edward looked over at me with a polite smile. "I'll be right behind you," he promised. His eyes strayed back to the TV.

I stared for another minute, shocked. Neither one seemed to notice. I could feel something, panic maybe, building up in my chest. I escaped to the kitchen.

The pizza held no interest for me. I sat in my chair, pulled my knees up, and wrapped my arms around them. Something was very wrong, maybe more wrong than I'd realized. The sounds of male bonding and banter continued from the TV set.

I tried to get control of myself, to reason with myself.

What's the worst that can happen? I flinched. That was definitely the wrong question to ask. I was having a hard time breathing right.

Okay, I thought again, what's the worst I can live through? I didn't like that question so much, either. But I thought through the possibilities I'd considered today.

Staying away from Edward's family. Of course, he wouldn't expect Alice to be part of that. But if Jasper was off limits, that would lessen the time I could have with her. I nodded to myself - I could live with that.

Or going away. Maybe he wouldn't want to wait till the end of the school year, maybe it would have to be now.

In front of me, on the table, my presents from Charlie and Renee were where I had left them, the camera I hadn't had the chance to use at the Cullens' sitting beside the album. I touched the pretty cover of the scrapbook my mother had given me, and sighed, thinking of Renee. Somehow, living without her for as long as I had did not make the idea of a more permanent separation easier. And Charlie would be left all alone here, abandoned. They would both be so hurt...

But we'd come back, right? We'd visit, of course, wouldn't we?

I couldn't be certain about the answer to that.

I leaned my cheek against my knee, staring at the physical tokens of my parents' love. I'd known this path I'd chosen was going to be hard. And, after all, I was thinking about the worst-case scenario - the very worst I could live through.

I touched the scrapbook again, flipping the front cover over. Little metal corners were already in place to hold the first picture. It wasn't a half-bad idea, to make some record of my life here. I felt a strange urge to get started. Maybe I didn't have that long left in Forks.

I toyed with the wrist strap on the camera, wondering about the first picture on the roll. Could it possibly turn out anything close to the original? I doubted it. But he didn't seem worried that it would be blank. I chuckled to myself, thinking of his carefree laughter last night. The chuckle died away. So much had changed, and so abruptly. It made me feel a little bit dizzy, like I was standing on an edge, a precipice somewhere much too high.

I didn't want to think about that anymore. I grabbed the camera and headed up the stairs.

My room hadn't really changed all that much in the seventeen years since my mother had been here. The walls were still light blue, the same yellowed lace curtains hung in front of the window. There was a bed, rather than a crib, but she would recognize the quilt draped untidily over the top - it had been a gift ROM Gran.

Regardless, I snapped a picture of my room. There wasn't much else I could do tonight - it was too dark outside - and the feeling was growing stronger, it was almost a compulsion now. I would record everything about Forks before I had to leave it.

Change was coming. I could feel it. It wasn't a pleasant prospect, not when life was perfect the way it was.

I took my time coming back down the stairs, camera in hand, trying to ignore the butterflies in my

stomach as I thought of the strange distance I didn't want to see in Edward's eyes. He would get over this. Probably he was worried that I would be upset when he asked me to leave. I would let him work through it without meddling. And I would be prepared when he asked.

I had the camera ready as I leaned around the corner, being sneaky. I was sure there was no chance that I had caught Edward by surprise, but he didn't look up. I felt a brief shiver as something icy twisted in my stomach; I ignored that and took the picture.

They both looked at me then. Charlie frowned. Edward's face was empty, expressionless.

"What are you doing, Bella?" Charlie complained.

"Oh, come on." I pretended to smile as I went to sit on the floor in front of the sofa where Charlie lounged. "You know Mom will be calling soon to ask if I'm using my presents. I have to get to work before she can get her feelings hurt."

"Why are you taking pictures of me, though?" he grumbled.

"Because you're so handsome," I replied, keeping it light. "And because, since you bought the camera, you're obligated to be one of my subjects."

He mumbled something unintelligible.

"Hey, Edward," I said with admirable indifference. "Take one of me and my dad together."

I threw the camera toward him, carefully avoiding his eyes, and knelt beside the arm of the sofa where Charlie's face was. Charlie sighed.

"You need to smile, Bella," Edward murmured.

I did my best, and the camera flashed.

"Let me take one of you kids," Charlie suggested. I knew he was just trying to shift the camera's focus from himself.

Edward stood and lightly tossed him the camera.

I went to stand beside Edward, and the arrangement felt formal and strange to me. He put one hand lightly on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arm more securely around his waist. I wanted to look at his face, but I was afraid to.

"Smile, Bella," Charlie reminded me again.

I took a deep breath and smiled. The flash blinded me.

"Enough pictures for tonight," Charlie said then, shoving the camera into a crevice of the sofa cushions and rolling over it. "You don't have to use the whole roll now."

Edward dropped his hand from my shoulder and twisted casually out of my arm. He sat back down in the armchair.

I hesitated, and then went to sit against the sofa again. I was suddenly so frightened that my hands were shaking. I pressed them into my stomach to hide them, put my chin on my knees and stared at the TV screen in front of me, seeing nothing.

When the show ended, I hadn't moved an inch. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward stand.

"I'd better get home," he said.

Charlie didn't look up from the commercial. "See ya."

I got awkwardly to my feet - I was stiff from sitting so still - and followed Edward out the front door. He went straight to his car.

"Will you stay?" I asked, no hope in my voice.

I expected his answer, so it didn't hurt as much.

"Not tonight."

I didn't ask for a reason.

He got in his car and drove away while I stood there, unmoving. I barely noticed that it was raining. I waited, without knowing what I waited for, until the door opened behind me.

"Bella, what are you doing?" Charlie asked, surprised to see me standing there alone and dripping.

"Nothing." I turned and trudged back to the house.

It was a long night, with little in the way of rest.

I got up as soon as there was a faint light outside my window. I dressed for school mechanically, waiting for the clouds to brighten. When I had eaten a bowl of cereal, I decided that it was light enough for pictures. I took one of my truck, and then the front of the house. I turned and snapped a few of the forest by Charlie's house. Funny how it didn't seem sinister like it used to. I realized I would miss this - the green, the timelessness, the mystery of the woods. All of it.

I put the camera in my school bag before I left. I tried to concentrate on my new project rather than the fact that Edward apparently hadn't gotten over things during the night.

Along with the fear, I was beginning to feel impatience. How long could this last?

It lasted through the morning. He walked silently beside me, never seeming to actually look at me. I tried to concentrate on my classes, but not even English could hold my attention. Mr. Berty had to repeat his question about Lady Capulet twice before I realized he was talking to me. Edward whispered the correct answer under his breath and then went back to ignoring me.

At lunch, the silence continued. I felt like I was going to start screaming at any moment, so, to distract myself, I leaned across the table's invisible line and spoke to Jessica.

"Hey, Jess?"

"What's up, Bella?"

"Could you do me a favor?" I asked, reaching into my bag. "My mom wants me to get some pictures of my friends for a scrapbook. So, take some pictures of everybody, okay?"

I handed her the camera.

"Sure," she said, grinning, and turned to snap a candid shot of Mike with his mouth full.

A predictable picture war ensued. I watched them hand the camera around the table, giggling and flirting and complaining about being on film. It seemed strangely childish. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for normal human behavior today.

"Uh-oh," Jessica said apologetically as she returned the camera. "I think we used all your film."

"That's okay. I think I already got pictures of everything else I needed."

After school, Edward walked me back to the parking lot in silence. I had to work again, and for once, I was glad. Time with me obviously wasn't helping things. Maybe time alone would be better.

I dropped my film off at the Thriftway on my way to Newton's, and then picked up the developed pictures after work. At home, I said a brief hi to Charlie, grabbed a granola bar from the kitchen, and hurried up to my room with the envelope of photographs tucked under my arm.

I sat in the middle of my bed and opened the envelope with wary curiosity. Ridiculously, I still half expected the first print to be a blank.

When I pulled it out, I gasped aloud. Edward looked just as beautiful as he did in real life, staring at me out of the picture with the warm eyes I'd missed for the past few days. It was almost uncanny that anyone could look so... so... beyond description. No thousand words could equal this picture.

I flipped through the rest of the stack quickly once, and then laid three of them out on the bed side by side.

The first was the picture of Edward in the kitchen, his warm eyes touched with tolerant amusement. The second was Edward and Charlie, watching ESPN. The difference in Edward's expression was severe. His eyes were careful here, reserved. Still breathtakingly beautiful, but his face was colder, more like a sculpture, less alive.

The last was the picture of Edward and me standing awkwardly side by side. Edward's face was the same as the last, cold and statue-like. But that wasn't the most troubling part of this photograph. The contrast between the two of us was painful. He looked like a god. I looked very average, even for a human, almost shamefully plain. I flipped the picture over with a feeling of disgust.

Instead of doing my homework, I stayed up to put my pictures into the album. With a ballpoint pen I scrawled captions under all the pictures, the names and the dates. I got to the picture of Edward and me, and, without looking at it too long, I folded it in half and stuck it under the metal tab, Edward-side up.

When I was done, I stuffed the second set of prints in a fresh envelope and penned a long thank-you letter to Renee.

Edward still hadn't come over. I didn't want to admit that he was the reason I'd stayed up so late, but of course he was. I tried to remember the last time he'd stayed away like this, without an excuse, a phone call... He never had.

Again, I didn't sleep well.

School followed the silent, frustrating, terrifying pattern of the last two days. I felt relief when I saw Edward waiting for me in the parking lot, but it faded quickly. He was no different, unless maybe more remote.

It was hard to even remember the reason for all this mess. My birthday already felt like the distant past. If only Alice would come back. Soon. Before this got any more out of hand.

But I couldn't count on that. I decided that, if I couldn't talk to him today, really talk, then I was going to see Carlisle tomorrow. I had to do something.

After school, Edward and I were going to talk it out, I promised myself. I wasn't accepting any excuses.

He walked me to my truck, and I steeled myself to make my demands.

"Do you mind if I come over today?" he asked before we got to the truck, beating me to the punch.

"Of course not."

"Now?" he asked again, opening my door for me.

"Sure," I kept my voice even, though I didn't like the urgency in his tone. "I was just going to drop a letter for Renee in the mailbox on the way. I'll meet you there."

He looked at the fat envelope on the passenger seat. Suddenly, he reached over me and snagged it.

"I'll do it," he said quietly. "And I'll still beat you there." He smiled my favorite crooked smile, but it was wrong. It didn't reach his eyes.

"Okay," I agreed, unable to smile back. He shut the door, and headed toward his car.

He did beat me home. He was parked in Charlie's spot when I pulled up in front of the house. That was a bad sign. He didn't plan to stay, then. I shook my head and took a deep breath, trying to locate some courage.

He got out of his car when I stepped out of the truck, and came to meet me. He reached to take my book bag from me. That was normal. But he shoved it back onto the seat. That was not normal.

"Come for a walk with me," he suggested in an unemotional voice, taking my hand.

I didn't answer. I couldn't think of a way to protest, but I instantly knew that I wanted to. I didn't like this. This is bad, this is very bad, the voice in my head repeated again and again.

But he didn't wait for an answer. He pulled me along toward the east side of the yard, where the forest encroached. I followed unwillingly, trying to think through the panic. It was what I wanted, I reminded myself. The chance to talk it all through. So why was the panic choking me?

We'd gone only a few steps into the trees when he stopped. We were barely on the trail - I could still see the house.

Some walk.

Edward leaned against a tree and stared at me, his expression unreadable.

"Okay, let's talk," I said. It sounded braver than it felt.

He took a deep breath.

"Bella, we're leaving."

I took a deep breath, too. This was an acceptable option. I thought I was prepared. But I still had to ask.

"Why now? Another year - "

"Bella, it's time. How much longer could we stay in Forks, after all? Carlisle can barely pass for thirty, and he's claiming thirty-three now. We'd have to start over soon regardless."

His answer confused me. I thought the point of leaving was to let his family live in peace. Why did we have to leave if they were going? I stared at him, trying to understand what he meant.

He stared back coldly.

With a roll of nausea, I realized I'd misunderstood.

"When you say we - ," I whispered.

"I mean my family and myself." Each word separate and distinct.

I shook my head back and forth mechanically, trying to clear it. He waited without any sign of impatience. It took a few minutes before I could speak.

"Okay," I said. "I'll come with you."

"You can't, Bella. Where we're going... It's not the right place for you."

"Where you are is the right place for me."

"I'm no good for you, Bella."

"Don't be ridiculous." I wanted to sound angry, but it just sounded like I was begging. "You're the very best part of my life."

"My world is not for you," he said grimly.

"What happened with Jasper - that was nothing, Edward! Nothing!"

"You're right," he agreed. "It was exactly what was to be expected."

"You promised! In Phoenix, you promised that you would stay - "

"As long as that was best for you," he interrupted to correct me.

"No! This is about my soul, isn't it?" I shouted, furious, the words exploding out of me - somehow it still sounded like a plea. "Carlisle told me about that, and I don't care, Edward. I don't care! You can have my soul. I don't want it without you - it's yours already!"

He took a deep breath and stared, unseeingly, at the ground for a long moment. His mouth twisted the tiniest bit. When he finally looked up, his eyes were different, harder - like the liquid gold had frozen solid.

"Bella, I don't want you to come with me." He spoke the words slowly and precisely, his cold eyes on my face, watching as I absorbed what he was really saying.

There was a pause as I repeated the words in my head a few times, sifting through them for their real intent.

"You... don't... want me?" I tried out the words, confused by the way they sounded, placed in that order.

"No."

I stared, uncomprehending, into his eyes. He stared back without apology. His eyes were like topaz - hard and clear and very deep. I felt like I could see into them for miles and miles, yet nowhere in rheir bottomless depths could I see a contradiction to the word he'd spoken.

"Well, that changes things." I was surprised by how calm and reasonable my voice sounded. It must be because I was so numb. I couldn't realize what he was telling me. It still didn't make any sense.

He looked away into the trees as he spoke again. "Of course, I'll always love you... in a way. But what happened the other night made me realize that it's time for a change. Because I'm... tired of pretending to be something I'm not, Bella. I am not human." He looked back, and the icy planes of his perfect face were not human. "I've let this go on much too long, and I'm sorry for that."

"Don't." My voice was just a whisper now; awareness was beginning to seep through me, trickling like acid through my veins. "Don't do this."

He just stared at me, and I could see from his eyes that my words were far too late. He already had.

"You're not good for me, Bella." He turned his earlier words around, and so I had no argument. How well I knew that I wasn't good enough for him.

I opened my mouth to say something, and then closed it again. He waited patiently, his face wiped clean of all emotion. I tried again.

"If... that's what you want."

He nodded once.

My whole body went numb. I couldn't feel anything below the neck.

"I would like to ask one favor, though, if that's not too much," he said.

I wonder what he saw on my face, because something flickered across his own face in response. But, before I could identify it, he'd composed his features into the same serene mask.

"Anything," I vowed, my voice faintly stronger.

As I watched, his frozen eyes melted. The gold became liquid again, molten, burning down into mine with an intensity that was overwhelming.

"Don't do anything reckless or stupid," he ordered, no longer detached. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

I nodded helplessly.

His eyes cooled, the distance returned. "I'm thinking of Charlie, of course. He needs you. Take care of yourself - for him."

I nodded again. "I will," I whispered.

He seemed to relax just a little.

"And I'll make you a promise in return," he said. "I promise that this will be the last time you'll see me. I won't come back. I won't put you through anything like this again. You can go on with your life without any more interference from me. It will be as if I'd never existed."

My knees must have started to shake, because the trees were suddenly wobbling. I could hear the blood pounding faster than normal behind my ears. His voice sounded farther away.

He smiled gently. "Don't worry. You're human - your memory is no more than a sieve. Time heals all wounds for your kind."

"And your memories?" I asked. It sounded like there was something stuck in my throat, like I was choking.

"Well" - he hesitated for a short second - "I won't forget. But my kind... we're very easily distracted." He smiled; the smile was tranquil and it did not touch his eyes.

He took a step away from me. "That's everything, I suppose. We won't bother you again."

The plural caught my attention. That surprised me; I would have thought I was beyond noticing anything.

"Alice isn't coming back," I realized. I don't know how he heard me - the words made no sound - but he seemed to understand.

He shook his head slowly, always watching my face.

"No. They're all gone. I staved behind to tell you goodbye."

"Alice is gone?" My voice was blank with disbelief.

"She wanted to say goodbye, but I convinced her that a clean break would be better for you."

I was dizzy; it was hard to concentrate. His words swirled around in my head, and I heard the doctor at the hospital in Phoenix, last spring, as he showed me the X-rays. You can see it's a clean break, his finger traced along the picture of my severed bone. That's good. It will heal more easily, more quickly .

I tried to breathe normally. I needed to concentrate, to find a way out of this nightmare.

"Goodbye, Bella," he said in the same quiet, peaceful voice.

"Wait!" I choked out the word, reaching for him, willing my deadened legs to carry me forward.

I thought he was reaching for me, too. But his cold hands locked around my wrists and pinned them to my sides. He leaned down, and pressed his lips very lightly to my forehead for the briefest instant. My eyes closed.

"Take care of yourself," he breathed, cool against my skin.

There was a light, unnatural breeze. My eyes flashed open. The leaves on a small vine maple shuddered with the gentle wind of his passage.

He was gone.

With shaky legs, ignoring the fact that my action was useless, I followed him into the forest. The evidence of his path had disappeared instantly. There were no footprints, the leaves were still again, but I walked forward without thinking. I could not do anything else. I had to keep moving. If I stopped looking for him, it was over.

Love, life, meaning... over.

I walked and walked. Time made no sense as I pushed slowly through the thick undergrowth. It was hours passing, but also only seconds. Maybe it felt like time had frozen because the forest looked the same no matter how far I went. I started to worry that I was traveling in a circle, a very small circle at that, but I kept going. I stumbled often, and, as it grew darker and darker, I fell often, too.

Finally, I tripped over something - it was black now, I had no idea what caught my foot - and I stayed down. I rolled onto my side, so that I could breathe, and curled up on the wet bracken.

As I lay there, I had a feeling that more time was passing than I realized. I couldn't remember how long it had been since nightfall. Was it always so dark here at night? Surely, as a rule, some little bit of moonlight would filter down through the clouds, through the chinks in the canopy of trees, and find the ground.

Not tonight. Tonight the sky was utterly black. Perhaps there was no moon tonight - a lunar eclipse, a new moon.

A new moon. I shivered, though I wasn't cold.

It was black for a long time before I heard them calling.

Someone was shouting my name. It was muted, muffled by the wet growth that surrounded me, but it was definitely my name. I didn't recognize the voice. I thought about answering, but I was dazed, and it took a long time to come to the conclusion that I should answer. By then, the calling had stopped.

Sometime later, the rain woke me up. I don't think I'd really fallen asleep; I was just lost in an unthinking stupor, holding with all my strength to the numbness that kept me from realizing what I didn't want to know.

The rain bothered me a little. It was cold. I unwrapped my arms from around my legs to cover my face.

It was then that I heard the calling again. It was farther away this time, and sometimes it sounded like several voices were calling at once. I tried to breathe deeply. I remembered that I should answer, but I didn't think they would be able to hear me. Would I be able to shout loud enough?

Suddenly, there was another sound, startlingly close. A kind of snuffling, an animal sound. It sounded big. I wondered if I should feel afraid. I didn't - just numb. It didn't matter. The snuffling went away.

The rain continued, and I could feel the water pooling up against my cheek. I was trying to gather the strength to turn my head when I saw the light.

At first it was just a dim glow reflecting off the bushes in the distance. It grew brighter and brighter, illuminating a large space unlike the focused beam of a flashlight. The light broke through the closest brush, and I could see that it was a propane lantern, but that was all I could see - the brightness blinded me for a moment.

"Bella."

The voice was deep and unfamiliar, but full of recognition. He wasn't calling my name to search, he was acknowledging that I was found.

I stared up - impossibly high it seemed - at the dark face that I could now see above me. I was vaguely aware that the stranger probably only looked so tall because my head was still on the ground.

"Have you been hurt?"

I knew the words meant something, but I could only stare, bewildered. How could the meaning matter at this point?

"Bella, my name is Sam Uley."

There was nothing familiar about his name.

"Charlie sent me to look for you."

Charlie? That struck a chord, and I tried to pay more attention to what he was saying. Charlie mattered, if nothing else did.

The tall man held out a hand. I gazed at it, not sure what I was supposed to do.

His black eyes appraised me for a second, and then he shrugged. In a quick and supple notion, he pulled me up from the ground and into his arms.

I hung there, limp, as he loped swiftly through the wet forest. Some part of me knew this should upset me - being carried away by a stranger. But there was nothing left in me to upset.

It didn't seem like too much time passed before there were lights and the deep babble of many male voices. Sam Uley slowed as he approached the commotion.

"I've got her!" he called in a booming voice.

The babble ceased, and then picked up again with more intensity. A confusing swirl of faces moved over me. Sam's voice was the only one that made sense in the chaos, perhaps because my ear was against his chest.

"No, I don't think she's hurt," he told someone. "She just keeps saying 'He's gone.' "

Was I saying that out loud? I bit down on my lip.

"Bella, honey, are you all right?"

That was one voice I would know anywhere - even distorted, as it was now, with worry.

"Charlie?" My voice sounded strange and small.

"I'm right here, baby."

There was a shifting under me, followed by the leathery smell of my dad's sheriff jacket. Charlie staggered under my weight.

"Maybe I should hold on to her," Sam Uley suggested.

"I've got her," Charlie said, a little breathless.

He walked slowly, struggling. I wished I could tell him to put me down and let me walk, but I couldn't find my voice.

There were lights everywhere, held by the crowd walking with him. It felt like a parade. Or a funeral procession. I closed my eyes.

"We're almost home now, honey," Charlie mumbled now and then.

I opened my eyes again when I heard the door unlock. We were on the porch of our house, and the tall dark man named Sam was holding the door for Charlie, one arm extended toward us, as if he was preparing to catch me when Charlie's arms failed.

But Charlie managed to get me through the door and to the couch in the living room.

"Dad, I'm all wet," I objected feebly.

"That doesn't matter." His voice was gruff. And then he was talking to someone else. "Blankets are in the cupboard at the top of the stairs."

"Bella?" a new voice asked. I looked at the gray-haired man leaning over me, and recognition came after a few slow seconds.

"Dr. Gerandy?" I mumbled.

"That's right, dear," he said. "Are you hurt, Bella?"

It took me a minute to think that through. I was confused by the memory of Sam Uley's similar question in the woods. Only Sam had asked something else: Have you been hurt? he'd said. The difference seemed significant somehow.

Dr. Gerandy was waiting. One grizzled eyebrow rose, and the wrinkles on his forehead deepened.

"I'm not hurt," I lied. The words, were true enough for what he'd asked.

His warm hand touched my forehead, and his fingers pressed against the inside of my wrist. I watched his lips as he counted to himself, his eyes on his watch.

"What happened to you?" he asked casually.

I froze under his hand, tasting panic in the back of my throat.

"Did you get lost in the woods?" he prodded. I was aware of several other people listening. Three tall men with dark faces - from La Push, the Quileute Indian reservation down on the coastline, I guessed - Sam Uley among them, were standing very close together and staring at me. Mr. Newton was there with Mike and Mr. Weber, Angela's father; they all were watching me more surreptitiously than the strangers. Other deep voices rumbled from the kitchen and outside the front door. Half the town must have been looking for me.

Charlie was the closest. He leaned in to hear my answer.

"Yes," I whispered. "I got lost."

The doctor nodded, thoughtful, his fingers probing gently against the glands under my jaw. Charlie's face hardened.

"Do you feel tired?" Dr. Gerandy asked.

I nodded and closed my eyes obediently.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with her," I heard the doctor mutter to Charlie after a moment. "Just exhaustion. Let her sleep it off, and I'll come check on her tomorrow," he paused. He must have looked at his watch, because he added, "Well, later today actually."

There was a creaking sound as they both pushed off from the couch to get to their feet.

"Is it true?" Charlie whispered. Their voices were farther away now. I strained to hear. "Did they leave?"

"Dr. Cullen asked us not to say anything," Dr. Gerandy answered. "The offer was very sudden; they had to choose immediately. Carlisle didn't want to make a big production out of leaving."

"A little warning might have been nice," Charlie grumbled.

Dr. Gerandy sounded uncomfortable when he replied. "Yes, well, in this situation, some warning might have been called for."

I didn't want to listen anymore. I felt around for the edge of the quilt someone had laid on top of me, and pulled it over my ear.

I drifted in and out of alertness. I heard Charlie whisper thanks to the volunteers as, one by one, they left. I felt his fingers on my forehead, and then the weight of another blanket. The phone rang a few times, and he hurried to catch it before it could wake me. He muttered reassurances in a low voice to the callers.

"Yeah, we found her. She's okay. She got lost. She's fine now," he said again and again.

I heard the springs in the armchair groan when he settled himself in for the night.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again.

Charlie moaned as he struggled to his feet, and then he rushed, stumbling, to the kitchen I pulled my head deeper under the blankets, not wanting to listen to the same conversation again.

"Yeah," Charlie said, and yawned.

His voice changed, it was much more alert when he spoke again. "Where?'" There was a pause. "You're sure it's outside the reservation?" Another short pause. "But what could be burning out there?" He sounded both worried and mystified. "Look, I'll call down there and check it out."

I listened with more interest as he punched in a number.

"Hey, Billy, it's Charlie - sorry I'm calling so early... no, she's fine. She's sleeping... Thanks, but that's not why I called. I just got a call from Mrs. Stanley, and she says that from her second-story window she can see fires out on the sea cliffs, but I didn't really... Oh!" Suddenly there was an edge in his voice - irritation... or anger. "And why are they doing that? Uh huh. Really?" He said it sarcastically. "Well, don't apologize to me. Yeah, yeah. Just make sure the flames don't spread... I know, I know, I'm surprised they got them lit at all in this weather."

Charlie hesitated, and then added grudgingly. "Thanks for sending Sam and the other boys up. You were right - they do know the forest better than we do. It was Sam who found her, so I owe you one... Yeah, I'll talk to you later," he agreed, still sour, before hanging up.

Charlie muttered something incoherent as he shuffled back to the living room.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

He hurried to my side.

"I'm sorry I woke you, honey."

"Is something burning?"

"It's nothing," he assured me. "Just some bonfires out on the cliffs."

"Bonfires?" I asked. My voice didn't sound curious. It sounded dead.

Charlie frowned. "Some of the kids from the reservation being rowdy," he explained.

"Why?" I wondered dully.

I could tell he didn't want to answer. He looked at the floor under his knees. "They're celebrating the news." His tone was bitter.

There was only one piece of news I could think of, try as I might not to. And then the pieces snapped together. "Because the Cullens left," I whispered. "They don't like the Cullens in La Push - I'd forgotten about that."

The Quileutes had their superstitions about the "cold ones," the blood-drinkers that were enemies to their tribe, just like they had their legends of the great flood and wolf-men ancestors. Just stories, folklore, to most of them. Then there were the few that believed. Charlie's good friend Billy Black believed, though even Jacob, his own son, thought he was full of stupid superstitions. Billy had warned me to stay away from the Cullens...

The name stirred something inside me, something that began to claw its way toward the surface, something I knew I didn't want to face.

"It's ridiculous," Charlie spluttered.

We sat in silence for a moment. The sky was no longer black outside the window. Somewhere behind the rain, the sun was beginning to rise.

"Bella?" Charlie asked.

I looked at him uneasily.

"He left you alone in the woods?" Charlie guessed.

I deflected his question. "How did you know where to find me?" My mind shied away from the inevitable awareness that was coming, coming quickly now.

"Your note," Charlie answered. surprised. He reached into the back pocket of his jeans and pulled out a much-abused piece of paper. It was dirty and damp, with multiple creases from being opened and refolded many times. He unfolded it again, and held it up as evidence. The messy handwriting was remarkably close to my own.

Going for a walk with Edward, up the path, it said. Back soon, B.

"When you didn't come back, I called the Cullens, and no one answered," Charlie said in a low voice. "Then I called the hospital, and Dr. Gerandy told me that Carlisle was gone."

"Where did they go?" I mumbled.

He stared at me. "Didn't Edward tell you?"

I shook my head, recoiling. The sound of his name unleashed the thing that was clawing inside of me - a

pain that knocked me breathless, astonished me with its force.

Charlie eyed me doubtfully as he answered. "Carlisle took a job with a big hospital in Los Angeles. I guess they threw a lot of money at him."

Sunny L.A. The last place they would really go. I remembered my nightmare with the mirror... the bright sunlight shimmering off of his skin -

Agony ripped through me with the memory of his face.

"I want to know if Edward left you alone out there in the middle of the woods," Charlie insisted.

His name sent another wave of torture through me. I shook my head, frantic, desperate to escape the pain. "It was my fault. He left me right here on the trail, in sight of the house... but I tried to follow him."

Charlie started to say something; childishly, I covered my ears. "I can't talk about this anymore, Dad. I want to go to my room."

Before he could answer, I scrambled up from the couch and lurched my way up the stairs.

Someone had been in the house to leave a note for Charlie, a note that would lead him to find me. From the minute that I'd realized this, a horrible suspicion began to grow in my head. I rushed to my room, shutting and locking the door behind me before I ran to the CD player by my bed.

Everything looked exactly the same as I'd left it. I pressed down on the top of the CD player. The latch unhooked, and the lid slowly swung open.

It was empty.

The album Renee had given me sat on the floor beside the bed, just where I'd put it last. I lifted the cover with a shaking hand.

I didn't have to flip any farther than the first page. The little metal corners no longer held a picture in place. The page was blank except for my own handwriting scrawled across the bottom: Edward Cullen, Charlie's kitchen, Sept. 13th.

I stopped there. I was sure that he would have been very thorough.

It will be as if I'd never existed, he'd promised me.

I felt the smooth wooden floor beneath my knees, and then the palms of my hands, and then it was pressed against the skin of my cheek. I hoped that I was fainting, but, to my disappointment, I didn't lose consciousness. The waves of pain that had only lapped at me before now reared high up and washed over my head, pulling me under.

I did not resurface.
发表于 2016-8-5 11:43 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 4 WAKING UP

TIME PASSES. EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE. EVEN when each tick of the second hand aches like the pulse of blood behind a bruise. It passes unevenly, in strange lurches and dragging lulls, but pass it does. Even for me.

CHARLIE'S FIST CAME DOWN ON THE TABLE. "THAT'S IT, Bella! I'm sending you home."

I looked up from my cereal, which I was pondering rather than eating, and stared at Charlie in shock. I hadn't been following the conversation - actually, I hadn't been aware that we were having a conversation - and I wasn't sure what he meant.

"I am home," I mumbled, confused.

"I'm sending you to Renee, to Jacksonville," he clarified.

Charlie watched with exasperation as I slowly grasped the meaning of his words.

"What did I do?" I felt my face crumple. It was so unfair. My behavior had been above reproach for the past four months. After that first week, which neither of us ever mentioned, I hadn't missed a day of school or work. My grades were perfect. I never broke curfew - I never went anywhere from which to break curfew in the first place. I only very rarely served leftovers.

Charlie was scowling.

"You didn't do anything. That's the problem. You never do anything."

"You want me to get into trouble?" I wondered, my eyebrows pulling together in mystification. I made an effort to pay attention. It wasn't easy. I was so used to tuning everything out, my ears felt stopped up.

"Trouble would be better than this... this moping around all the time!"

That stung a bit. I'd been careful to avoid all forms of moroseness, moping included.

"I am not moping around."

"Wrong word," he grudgingly conceded. "Moping would be better - that would be doing something. You're just... lifeless, Bella. I think that's the word I want."

This accusation struck home. I sighed and tried to put some animation into my response.

"I'm sorry, Dad." My apology sounded a little flat, even to me. I'd thought I'd been fooling him. Keeping Charlie from suffering was the whole point of all this effort. How depressing to think that the effort had been wasted.

"I don't want you to apologize."

I sighed. "Then tell me what you do want me to do."

"Bella," he hesitated, scrutinizing my reaction to his next words. "Honey, you're not the first person to go through this kind of thing, you know."

"I know that." My accompanying grimace was limp and unimpressive.

"Listen, honey. I think that - that maybe you need some help."

"Help?"

He paused, searching for the words again. "When your mother left," he began, frowning, "and took you with her." He inhaled deeply. "Well, that was a really bad time for me."

"I know, Dad," I mumbled.

"But I handled it," he pointed out. "Honey, you're not handling it. I waited, I hoped it would get better." He stared at me and I looked down quickly. "I think we both know it's not getting better."

"I'mfine."

He ignored me. "Maybe, well, maybe if you talked to someone about it. A professional."

"You want me to see a shrink?" My voice was a shade sharper as I realized what he was getting at.

"Maybe it would help."

"And maybe it wouldn't help one little bit."

I didn't know much about psychoanalysis, but I was pretty sure that it didn't work unless the subject was relatively honest. Sure, I could tell the truth - if I wanted to spend the rest of my life in a padded cell.

He examined my obstinate expression, and switched to another line of attack.

"It's beyond me, Bella. Maybe your mother - "

"Look," I said in a flat voice. "I'll go out tonight, if you want. I'll call Jess or Angela."

"That's not what I want," he argued, frustrated. "I don't think I can live through seeing you try harder. I've never seen anyone trying so hard. It hurts to watch."

I pretended to be dense, looking down at the table. "I don't understand, Dad. First you're mad because I'm not doing anything, and then you say you don't want me to go out."

"I want you to be happy - no, not even that much. I just want you not to be miserable. I think you'll have a better chance if you get out of Forks."

My eyes flashed up with the first small spark of feeling I'd had in too long to contemplate.

"I'm not leaving," I said.

"Why not?" he demanded.

"I'm in my last semester of school - it would screw everything up."

"You're a good student - you'll figure it out."

"I don't want to crowd Mom and Phil."

"Your mother's been dying to have you back."

"Florida is too hot."

His fist came down on the table again. "We both know what's really going on here, Bella, and it's not good for you." He took a deep breath. "It's been months. No calls, no letters, no contact. You can't keep waitingforhim."

I glowered at him. The heat almost, but not quite, reached my face. It had been a long time since I'd blushed with any emotion.

This whole subject was utterly forbidden, as he was well aware.

"I'm not waiting for anything. I don't expect anything," I said in a low monotone.

"Bella - ," Charlie began, his voice thick.

"I have to get to school," I interrupted, standing up and yanking my untouched breakfast from the table. I dumped my bowl in the sink without pausing to wash it out. I couldn't deal with any more conversation.

"I'll make plans with Jessica," I called over my shoulder as I strapped on my school bag, not meeting his eyes. "Maybe I won't be home for dinner. We'll go to Port Angeles and watch a movie."

I was out the front door before he could react.

In my haste to get away from Charlie, I ended up being one of the first ones to school. The plus side was that I got a really good parking spot. The downside was that I had free time on my hands, and I tried to avoid free time at all costs.

Quickly, before I could start thinking about Charlie's accusations, I pulled out my Calculus book. I flipped it open to the section we should be starting today, and tried to make sense of it. Reading math was even worse than listening to it, but I was getting better at it. In the last several months, I'd spent ten times the amount of time on Calculus than I'd ever spent on math before. As a result, I was managing to keep in the range of a low A. I knew Mr. Varner felt my improvement was all due to his superior teaching methods. And if that made him happy, I wasn't going to burst his bubble.

I forced myself to keep at it until the parking lot was full, and I ended up rushing to English. We were working on Animal Farm, an easy subject matter. I didn't mind communism; it was a welcome change from the exhausting romances that made up most of the curriculum. I settled into my seat, pleased by the distraction of Mr. Berty's lecture.

Time moved easily while I was in school. The bell rang all too soon. I started repacking my bag.

"Bella?"

I recognized Mike's voice, and I knew what his next words would be before he said them.

"Are you working tomorrow?"

I looked up. He was leaning across the aisle with an anxious expression. Every Friday he asked me the same question. Never mind that I hadn't taken so much as a sick day. Well, with one exception, months ago. But he had no reason to look at me with such concern. I was a model employee.

"Tomorrow is Saturday, isn't it?" I said. Having just had it pointed out to me by Charlie, I realized how lifeless my voice really sounded.

"Yeah, it is," he agreed. "See you in Spanish." He waved once before turning his back. He didn't bother walking me to class anymore.

I trudged off to Calculus with a grim expression. This was the class where I sat next to Jessica.

It had been weeks, maybe months, since Jess had even greeted me when I passed her in the hall. I knew I had offended her with my antisocial behavior, and she was sulking. It wasn't going to be easy to talk to her now - especially to ask her to do me a favor. I weighed my options carefully as I loitered outside the classroom, procrastinating.

I wasn't about to face Charlie again without some kind of social interaction to report. I knew I couldn't lie, though the thought of driving to Port Angeles and back alone - being sure my odometer reflected the correct mileage, just in case he checked - was very tempting. Jessica's mom was the biggest gossip in town, and Charlie was bound to run into Mrs. Stanley sooner rather than later. When he did, he would no doubt mention the trip. Lying was out.

With a sigh, I shoved the door open.

Mr. Varner gave me a dark look - he'd already started the lecture. I hurried to my seat. Jessica didn't look up as I sat next to her. I was glad that I had fifty minutes to mentally prepare myself.

This class flew by even faster than English. A small part of that speed was due to my goody-goody preparation this morning in the truck - but mostly it stemmed from the fact that time always sped up when I was looking forward to something unpleasant.

I grimaced when Mr. Varner dismissed the class five minutes early. He smiled like he was being nice.

"Jess?" My nose wrinkled as I cringed, waiting for her to turn on me.

She twisted in her seat to face me, eyeing me incredulously. "Are you talking to me, Bella?"

"Of course." I widened my eyes to suggest innocence.

"What? Do you need help with Calculus?" Her tone was a tad sour.

"No." I shook my head. "Actually, I wanted to know if you would... go to the movies with me tonight? I really need a girls' night out." The words sounded stiff, like badly delivered lines, and she looked suspicious.

"Why are you asking me?" she asked, still unfriendly.

"You're the first person I think of when I want girl time." I smiled, and I hoped the smile looked genuine. It was probably true. She was at least the first person I thought of when I wanted to avoid Charlie. It amounted to the same thing.

She seemed a little mollified. "Well, I don't know."

"Do you have plans?"

"No... I guess I can go with you. What do you want to see?"

"I'm not sure what's playing," I hedged. This was the tricky part. I racked my brain for a clue - hadn't I heard someone talk about a movie recently? Seen a poster? "How about that one with the female president?"

She looked at me oddly. "Bella, that one's been out of the theater forever."

"Oh." I frowned. "Is there anything you'd like to see?"

Jessica's natural bubbliness started to leak out in spite of herself as she thought out loud. "Well, there's that new romantic comedy that's getting great reviews. I want to see that one. And my dad just saw Dead End and he really liked it."

I grasped at the promising title. "What's that one about?"

"Zombies or something. He said it was the scariest thing he'd seen in years."

"That sounds perfect." I'd rather deal with real zombies than watch a romance.

"Okay." She seemed surprised by my response. I tried to remember if I liked scary movies, but I wasn't sure. "Do you want me to pick you up after school?" she offered.

"Sure."

Jessica smiled at me with tentative friendliness before she left. My answering smile was just a little late, but I thought that she saw it.

The rest of the day passed quickly, my thoughts focused on planning for tonight. I knew from experience that once I got Jessica talking, I would be able to get away with a few mumbled responses at the appropriate moments. Only minimal interaction would be required.

The thick haze that blurred my days now was sometimes confusing. I was surprised when I found myself in my room, not clearly remembering the drive home from school or even opening the front door. But that didn't matter. Losing track of time was the most I asked from life.

I didn't fight the haze as I turned to my closet. The numbness was more essential in some places than in others. I barely registered what I was looking at as I slid the door aside to reveal the pile of rubbish on the left side of my closet, under the clothes I never wore.

My eyes did not stray toward the black garbage bag that held my present from that last birthday, did not see the shape of the stereo where it strained against the black plastic; I didn't think of the bloody mess my nails had been when I'd finished clawing it out of the dashboard.

I yanked the old purse I rarely used off the nail it hung from, and shoved the door shut.

Just then I heard a horn honking. I swiftly traded my wallet from my schoolbag into the purse. I was in a hurry, as if rushing would somehow make the night pass more quickly.

I glanced at myself in the hall mirror before I opened the door, arranging my features carefully into a smile and trying to hold them there.

"Thanks for coming with me tonight," I told Jess as I climbed into the passenger seat, trying to infuse my tone with gratitude. It had been a while since I'd really thought about what I was saying to anyone besides Charlie. Jess was harder. I wasn't sure which were the right emotions to fake.

"Sure. So, what brought this on?" Jess wondered as she drove down my street.

"Brought what on?"

"Why did you suddenly decide... to go out?" It sounded like she changed her question halfway through.

I shrugged. "Just needed a change."

I recognized the song on the radio then, and quickly reached for the dial. "Do you mind?" I asked.

"No, go ahead."

I scanned through the stations until I found one that was harmless. I peeked at Jess's expression as the new music filled the car.

Her eyes squinted. "Since when do you listen to rap?"

"I don't know," I said. "A while."

"You like this?" she asked doubtfully.

"Sure."

It would be much too hard to interact with Jessica normally if I had to work to tune out the music, too. I nodded my head, hoping I was in time with the beat.

"Okay..." She stared out the windshield with wide eyes.

"So what's up with you and Mike these days?" I asked quickly.

"You see him more than I do."

The question hadn't started her talking like I'd hoped it would.

"It's hard to talk at work," I mumbled, and then I tried again. "Have you been out with anyone lately?"

"Not really. I go out with Conner sometimes. I went out with Eric two weeks ago." She rolled her eyes, and I sensed a long story. I clutched at the opportunity.

"Eric Yorkie? Who asked who?"

She groaned, getting more animated. "He did, of course! I couldn't think of a nice way to say no."

"Where did he take you?" I demanded, knowing she would interpret my eagerness as interest. "Tell me all about it."

She launched into her tale, and I settled into my seat, more comfortable now. I paid strict attention, murmuring in sympathy and gasping in horror as called for. When she was finished with her Eric story, she continued into a Conner comparison without any prodding.

The movie was playing early, so Jess thought we should hit the twilight showing and eat later. I was happy to go along with whatever she wanted; after all, I was getting what I wanted - Charlie off my back.

I kept Jess talking through the previews, so I could ignore them more easily. But I got nervous when the movie started. A young couple was walking along a beach, swinging hands and discussing their mutual affection with gooey falseness. I resisted the urge to cover my ears and start humming. I had not bargained for a romance.

"I thought we picked the zombie movie," I hissed to Jessica.

"This is the zombie movie."

"Then why isn't anyone getting eaten?" I asked desperately.

She looked at me with wide eyes that were almost alarmed. "I'm sure that part's coming," she whispered.

"I'm getting popcorn. Do you want any?"

"No, thanks."

Someone shushed us from behind.

I took my time at the concession counter, watching the clock and debating what percentage of a ninety-minute movie could be spent on romantic exposition. I decided ten minutes was more than enough, but I paused just inside the theater doors to be sure. I could hear horrified screams blaring from the speakers, so I knew I'd waited long enough.

"You missed everything," Jess murmured when I slid back into my seat. "Almost everyone is a zombie now."

"Long line." I offered her some popcorn. She took a handful.

The rest of the movie was comprised of gruesome zombie attacks and endless screaming from the handful of people left alive, their numbers dwindling quickly. I would have thought there was nothing in that to disturb me. But I felt uneasy, and I wasn't sure why at first.

It wasn't until almost the very end, as I watched a haggard zombie shambling after the last shrieking survivor, that I realized what the problem was. The scene kept cutting between the horrified face of the heroine, and the dead, emotionless face of her pursuer, back and forth as it closed the distance.

And I realized which one resembled me the most.

I stood up.

"Where are you going? There's, like, two minutes left," Jess hissed.

"I need a drink," I muttered as I raced for the exit.

I sat down on the bench outside the theater door and tried very hard not to think of the irony. But it was ironic, all things considered, that, in the end, I would wind up as a zombie. I hadn't seen that one coming.

Not that I hadn't dreamed of becoming a mythical monster once - just never a grotesque, animated corpse. I shook my head to dislodge that train of thought, feeling panicky. I couldn't afford to think about what I'd once dreamed of.

It was depressing to realize that I wasn't the heroine anymore, that my story was over.

Jessica came out of the theater doors and hesitated, probably wondering where the best place was to search for me. When she saw me, she looked relieved, but only for a moment. Then she looked irritated.

"Was the movie too scary for you?" she wondered.

"Yeah," I agreed. "I guess I'm just a coward."

"That's funny." She frowned. "I didn't think you were scared - I was screaming all the time, but I didn't hear you scream once. So I didn't know why you left."

I shrugged. "Just scared."

She relaxed a little. "That was the scariest movie I think I've ever seen. I'll bet we're going to have nightmares tonight."

"No doubt about that," I said, trying to keep my voice normal. It was inevitable that I would have nightmares, but they wouldn't be about zombies. Her eyes flashed to my face and away. Maybe I hadn't succeeded with the normal voice.

"Where do you want to eat?" Jess asked.

"I don't care."

"Okay."

Jess started talking about the male lead in the movie as we walked. I nodded as she gushed over his hotness, unable to remember seeing a non-zombie man at all.

I didn't watch where Jessica was leading me. I was only vaguely aware that it was dark and quieter now. It took me longer than it should have to realize why it was quiet. Jessica had stopped babbling. I looked at her apologetically, hoping I hadn't hurt her feelings.

Jessica wasn't looking at me. Her face was tense; she stared straight ahead and walked fast. As I watched, her eyes darted quickly to the right, across the road, and back again.

I glanced around myself for the first time.

We were on a short stretch of unlit sidewalk. The little shops lining the street were all locked up for the night, windows black. Half a block ahead, the streetlights started up again, and I could see, farther down, the bright golden arches of the McDonald's she was heading for.

Across the street there was one open business. The windows were covered from inside and there were neon signs, advertisements for different brands of beer, glowing in front of them. The biggest sign, in brilliant green, was the name of the bar - One-Eyed Pete's. I wondered if there was some pirate theme not visible from outside. The metal door was propped open; it was dimly lit inside, and the low murmur of many voices and the sound of ice clinking in glasses floated across the street. Lounging against the wall beside the door were four men.

I glanced back at Jessica. Her eyes were fixed on the path ahead and she moved briskly. She didn't look frightened - just wary, trying to not attract attention to herself.

I paused without thinking, looking back at the four men with a strong sense of déjà vu. This was a different road, a different night, but the scene was so much the same. One of them was even short and dark. As I stopped and turned toward them, that one looked up in interest.

I stared back at him, frozen on the sidewalk.

"Bella?" Jess whispered. "What are you doing?"

I shook my head, not sure myself. "I think I know them..." I muttered.

What was I doing? I should be running from this memory as fast as I could, blocking the image of the four lounging men from my mind, protecting myself with the numbness I couldn't function without. Why was I stepping, dazed, into the street?

It seemed too coincidental that I should be in Port Angeles with Jessica, on a dark street even. My eyes focused on the short one, trying to match the features to my memory of the man who had threatened me that night almost a year ago. I wondered if there was any way I would recognize the man, if it was really him. That particular part of that particular evening was just a blur. My body remembered it better than my mind did; the tension in my legs as I tried to decide whether to run or to stand my ground, the dryness in my throat as I struggled to build a decent scream, the tight stretch of skin across my knuckles as I clenched my hands into fists, the chills on the back of my neck when the dark-haired man called me "sugar."...

There was an indefinite, implied kind of menace to these men that had nothing to do with that other night. It sprung from the fact that they were strangers, and it was dark here, and they outnumbered us - nothing more specific than that. But it was enough that Jessica's voice cracked in panic as she called after me.

"Bella, come on!"

I ignored her, walking slowly forward without ever making the conscious decision to move my feet. I didn't understand why, but the nebulous threat the men presented drew me toward them. It was a senseless impulse, but I hadn't felt any kind of impulse in so long... I followed it.

Something unfamiliar beat through my veins. Adrenaline, I realized, long absent from my system, drumming my pulse faster and fighting against the lack of sensation. It was strange - why the adrenaline when there was no fear? It was almost as if it were an echo of the last time I'd stood like this, on a dark street in Port Angeles with strangers.

I saw no reason for fear. I couldn't imagine anything in the world that there was left to be afraid of, not physically at least. One of the few advantages of losing everything.

I was halfway across the street when Jess caught up to me and grabbed my arm.

"Bella! You can't go in a bar!" she hissed.

"I'm not going in," I said absently, shaking her hand off. "I just want to see something..."

"Are you crazy?" she whispered. "Are you suicidal?"

That question caught my attention, and my eyes focused on her.

"No, I'm not." My voice sounded defensive, but it was true. I wasn't suicidal. Even in the beginning, when death unquestionably would have been a relief, I didn't consider it. I owed too much to Charlie. I felt too responsible for Renee. I had to think of them.

And I'd made a promise not to do anything stupid or reckless. For all those reasons, I was still breathing.

Remembering that promise. I felt a twinge of guilt. but what I was doing fight now didn't really count. It wasn't like I was taking a blade to my wrists.

Jess's eyes were round, her mouth hung open. Her question about suicide had been rhetorical, I realized too late.

"Go eat," I encouraged her, waving toward the fast food. I didn't like the way she looked at me. "I'll catch up in a minute."

I turned away from her, back to the men who were watching us with amused, curious eyes.

"Bella, stop this right now!"

My muscles locked into place, froze me where I stood. Because it wasn't Jessica's voice that rebuked me now. It was a furious voice, a familiar voice, a beautiful voice - soft like velvet even though it was irate.

It was his voice - I was exceptionally careful not to think his name - and I was surprised that the sound of it did not knock me to my knees, did not curl me onto the pavement in a torture of loss. But there was no pain, none at all.

In the instant that I heard his voice, everything was very clear. Like my head had suddenly surfaced out of some dark pool. I was more aware of everything - sight, sound, the feel of the cold air that I hadn't noticed was blowing sharply against my face, the smells coming from the open bar door.

I looked around myself in shock.

"Go back to Jessica," the lovely voice ordered, still angry. "You promised - nothing stupid."

I was alone. Jessica stood a few feet from me, staring at me with frightened eyes. Against the wall, the strangers watched, confused, wondering what I was doing, standing there motionless in the middle of the street.

I shook my head, trying to understand. I knew he wasn't there, and yet, he felt improbably close, close for the first time since... since the end. The anger in his voice was concern, the same anger that was once very familiar - something I hadn't heard in what felt like a lifetime.

"Keep your promise." The voice was slipping away, as if the volume was being turned down on a radio.

I began to suspect that I was having some kind of hallucination. Triggered, no doubt, by the memory - the deja vu, the strange familiarity of the situation.

I ran through the possibilities quickly in my head.

Option one: I was crazy. That was the layman's term for people who heard voices in their heads.

Possible.

Option two: My subconscious mind was giving me what it thought I wanted. This was wish fulfillment - a momentary relief from pain by embracing the incorrect idea that he cared whether I lived or died. Projecting what he would have said if A) he were here, and B) he would be in any way bothered by something bad happening to me.

Probable.

I could see no option three, so I hoped it was the second option and this was just my subconscious running amuck, rather than something I would need to be hospitalized for.

My reaction was hardly sane, though - I was grateful. The sound of his voice was something that I'd feared I was losing, and so, more than anything else, I felt overwhelming gratitude that my unconscious mind had held onto that sound better than my conscious one had.

I was not allowed to think of him. That was something I tried to be very strict about. Of course I slipped; I was only human. But I was getting better, and so the pain was something I could avoid for days at a time now. The tradeoff was the never-ending numbness. Between pain and nothing, I'd chosen nothing.

I waited for the pain now. I was not numb - my senses felt unusually intense after so many months of the haze - but the normal pain held off. The only ache was the disappointment that his voice was fading.

There was a second of choice.

The wise thing would be to run away from this potentially destructive - and certainly mentally unstable - development. It would be stupid to encourage hallucinations.

But his voice was fading.

I took another step forward, testing.

"Bella, turn around," he growled.

I sighed in relief. The anger was what I wanted to hear - false, fabricated evidence that he cared, a dubious gift from my subconscious.

Very few seconds had passed while I sorted this all out. My little audience watched, curious. It probably looked like I was just dithering over whether or not I was going to approach them. How could they guess that I was standing there enjoying an unexpected moment of insanity?

"Hi," one of the men called, his tone both confident and a bit sarcastic. He was fair-skinned and fair-haired, and he stood with the assurance of someone who thought of himself as quite good-looking. I couldn't tell whether he was or not. I was prejudiced.

The voice in my head answered with an exquisite snarl. I smiled, and the confident man seemed to take that as encouragement.

"Can I help you with something? You look lost." He grinned and winked.

I stepped carefully over the gutter, running with water that was black in the darkness.

"No. I'm not lost."

Now that I was closer - and my eyes felt oddly in focus - I analyzed the short, dark man's face. It was not familiar in any way. I suffered a curious sensation of disappointment that this was not the terrible man who had tried to hurt me almost a year ago.

The voice in my head was quiet now.

The short man noticed my stare. "Can I buy you a drink?" he offered, nervous, seeming flattered that I'd singled him out to stare at.

"I'm too young," I answered automatically.

He was baffled - wondering why I had approached them. I felt compelled to explain.

"From across the street, you looked like someone I knew. Sorry, my mistake."

The threat that had pulled me across the street had evaporated. These were not the dangerous men I remembered. They were probably nice guys. Safe. I lost interest.

"That's okay," the confident blonde said. "Stay and hang out with us."

"Thanks, but I can't." Jessica was hesitating in the middle of the street, her eyes wide with outrage and betrayal.

"Oh, just a few minutes."

I shook my head, and turned to rejoin Jessica.

"Let's go eat," I suggested, barely glancing at her. Though I appeared to be, for the moment, freed of the zombie abstraction, I was just as distant. My mind was preoccupied. The safe, numb deadness did not come back, and I got more anxious with every minute that passed without its return.

"What were you thinking?" Jessica snapped. "You don't know them - they could have been psychopaths!"

I shrugged, wishing she would let it go. "I just thought I knew the one guy."

"You are so odd, Bella Swan. I feel like I don't know who you are."

"Sorry." I didn't know what else to say to that.

We walked to McDonald's in silence. I'd bet that she was wishing we'd taken her car instead of walking the short distance from the theater, so that she could use the drive-through. She was just as anxious now for this evening to be over as I had been from the beginning.

I tried to start a conversation a few times while we ate, but Jessica was not cooperative. I must have really offended her.

When we go back in the car, she tuned the stereo back to her favorite station and turned the volume too loud to allow easy conversation.

I didn't have to struggle as hard as usual to ignore the music. Even though my mind, for once, was not carefully numb and empty, I had too much to think about to hear the lyrics.

I waited for the numbness to return, or the pain. Because the pain must be coming. I'd broken my personal rules. Instead of shying away from the memories, I'd walked forward and greeted them. I'd heard his voice, so clearly, in my head. That was going to cost me, I was sure of it. Especially if I couldn't reclaim the haze to protect myself. I felt too alert, and that frightened me.

But relief was still the strongest emotion in my body - relief that came from the very core of my being.

As much as I struggled not to think of him, I did not struggle to forget. I worried - late in the night, when the exhaustion of sleep deprivation broke down my defenses - that it was all slipping away. That my mind was a sieve, and I would someday not be able to remember the precise color of his eyes, the feel of his cool skin, or the texture of his voice. I could not think of them, but I must remember them.

Because there was just one thing that I had to believe to be able to live - I had to know that he existed. That was all. Everything else I could endure. So long as he existed.

That's why I was more trapped in Forks than I ever had been before, why I'd fought with Charlie when he suggested a change. Honestly, it shouldn't matter; no one was ever coming back here.

But if I were to go to Jacksonville, or anywhere else bright and unfamiliar, how could I be sure he was real? In a place where I could never imagine him, the conviction might fade... and that I could not live through.

Forbidden to remember, terrified to forget; it was a hard line to walk.

I was surprised when Jessica stopped the car in front of my house. The ride had not taken long, but, short as it seemed, I wouldn't have thought that Jessica could go that long without speaking.

"Thanks for going out with me, Jess," I said as I opened my door. "That was...fun." I hoped that fun was the appropriate word.

"Sure," she muttered.

"I'm sorry about... after the movie."

"Whatever, Bella." She glared out the windshield instead of looking at me. She seemed to be growing angrier rather than getting over it.

"See you Monday?"

"Yeah. Bye."

I gave up and shut the door. She drove away, still without looking at me.

I'd forgotten her by the time I was inside.

Charlie was waiting for me in the middle of the hall, his arms folded tight over his chest with his hands balled into fists.

"Hey, Dad," I said absentmindedly as I ducked around Charlie, heading for the stairs. I'd been thinking about him for too long, and I wanted to be upstairs before it caught up with me.

"Where have you been?" Charlie demanded.

I looked at my dad, surprised. "I went to a movie in Port Angeles with Jessica. Like I told you this morning."

"Humph," he grunted.

"Is that okay?"

He studied my face, his eyes widening as if he saw something unexpected. "Yeah, that's fine. Did you havefun?"

"Sure," I said. "We watched zombies eat people. It was great."

His eyes narrowed.

"'Night, Dad."

He let me pass. I hurried to my room.

I lay in my bed a few minutes later, resigned as the pain finally made its appearance.

It was a crippling thing, this sensation that a huge hole had been punched through my chest, excising my most vital organs and leaving ragged, unhealed gashes around the edges that continued to throb and bleed despite the passage of time. Rationally, I knew my lungs must still be intact, yet I gasped for air and my head spun like my efforts yielded me nothing. My heart must have been beating, too, but I couldn't hear the sound of my pulse in my ears; my hands felt blue with cold. I curled inward, hugging my ribs to hold myself together. I scrambled for my numbness, my denial, but it evaded me.

And yet, I found I could survive. I was alert, I felt the pain - the aching loss that radiated out from my chest, sending wracking waves of hurt through my limbs and head - but it was manageable. I could live through it. It didn't feel like the pain had weakened over time, rather that I'd grown strong enough to bear it.

Whatever it was that had happened tonight - and whether it was the zombies, the adrenaline, or the hallucinations that were responsible - it had woken me up.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't know what to expect in the morning.
发表于 2016-8-5 11:48 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 5  CHEATER

"BELLA, WHY DON'T YOU TAKE OFF," MIKE SUGGESTED, his eyes focused off to the side, not really looking at me. I wondered how long that had been going on without me noticing.

It was a slow afternoon at Newton's. At the moment there were only two patrons in the store, dedicated backpackers from the sound of their conversation. Mike had spent the last hour going through the pros and cons of two brands of lightweight packs with them. But they'd taken a break from serious pricing to indulge in trying to one-up each other with their latest tales from the trail. Their distraction had given Mike a chance to escape.

"I don't mind staying," I said. I still hadn't been able to sink back into my protective shell of numbness, and everything seemed oddly close and loud today, like I'd taken cotton out of my ears. I tried to tune out the laughing hikers without success.

"I'm telling you," said the thickset man with the orange beard that didn't match his dark brown hair. "I've seen grizzlies pretty close up in Yellowstone, but they had nothing on this brute." His hair was matted, and his clothes looked like they'd been on his back for more than a few days. Fresh from the mountains.

"Not a chance. Black bears don't get that big. The grizzlies you saw were probably cubs." The second man was tall and lean, his face tanned and wind-whipped into an impressive leathery crust.

"Seriously, Bella, as soon as these two give up, I'm closing the place down," Mike murmured.

"If you want me to go..." I shrugged.

"On all fours it was taller than you," the bearded man insisted while I gathered my things together. "Big as a house and pitch-black. I'm going to report it to the ranger here. People ought to be warned - this wasn't up on the mountain, mind you - this was only a few miles from the trailhead."

Leather-face laughed and rolled his eyes. "Let me guess - you were on your way in? Hadn't eaten real food or slept off the ground in a week, right?"

"Hey, uh, Mike, right?" the bearded man called, looking toward us.

"See you Monday," I mumbled.

"Yes, sir," Mike replied, turning away.

"Say, have there been any warnings around here recently - about black bears?"

"No, sir. But it's always good to keep your distance and store your food correctly. Have you seen the new bear-safe canisters? They only weigh two pounds..."

The doors slid open to let me out into the rain. I hunched over inside my jacket as I dashed for my truck. The rain hammering against my hood sounded unusually loud, too, but soon the roar of the engine drowned out everything else.

I didn't want to go back to Charlie's empty house. Last night had been particularly brutal, and I had no desire to revisit the scene of the suffering. Even after the pain had subsided enough for me to sleep, it wasn't over. Like I'd told Jessica after the movie, there was never any doubt that I would have nightmares.

I always had nightmares now, every night. Not nightmares really, not in the plural, because it was always the same nightmare. You'd think I'd get bored after so many months, grow immune to it. But the dream never failed to horrify me, and only ended when I woke myself with screaming. Charlie didn't come in to see what was wrong anymore, to make sure there was no intruder strangling me or something like that - he was used to it now.

My nightmare probably wouldn't even frighten someone else. Nothing jumped out and screamed, "Boo!" There were no zombies, no ghosts, no psychopaths. There was nothing, really. Only nothing. Just the endless maze of moss-covered trees, so quiet that the silence was an uncomfortable pressure against my eardrums. It was dark, like dusk on a cloudy day, with only enough light to see that there was nothing to see. I hurried through the gloom without a path, always searching, searching, searching, getting more frantic as the time stretched on, trying to move faster, though the speed made me clumsy... Then there would come the point in my dream - and I could feel it coming now, but could never seem to wake myself up before it hit - when I couldn't remember what it was that I was searching for. When I realized that there was nothing to search for, and nothing to find. That there never had been anything more than just this empty, dreary wood, and there never would be anything more for me... nothing but nothing...

That was usually about when the screaming started.

I wasn't paying attention to where I was driving - just wandering through empty, wet side roads as I avoided the ways that would take me home - because I didn't have anywhere to go.

I wished I could feel numb again, but I couldn't remember how I'd managed it before. The nightmare was nagging at my mind and making me think about things that would cause me pain. I didn't want to remember the forest. Even as I shuddered away from the images, I felt my eyes fill with tears and the aching begin around the edges of the hole in my chest. I took one hand from the steering wheel and wrapped it around my torso to hold it in one piece.

It will be as if I'd never existed. The words ran through my head, lacking the perfect clarity of my hallucination last night. They were just words, soundless, like print on a page. Just words, but they ripped the hole wide open, and I stomped on the brake, knowing I should not drive while this incapacitated.

I curled over, pressing my face against the steering wheel and trying to breathe without lungs.

I wondered how long this could last. Maybe someday, years from now - if the pain would just decrease to the point where I could bear it - I would be able to look back on those few short months that would always be the best of my life. And, if it were possible that the pain would ever soften enough to allow me to do that, I was sure that I would feel grateful for as much time as he'd given me. More than I'd asked for, more than I'd deserved. Maybe someday I'd be able to see it that way.

But what if this hole never got any better? If the raw edges never healed? If the damage was permanent and irreversible?

I held myself tightly together. As if he'd never existed, I thought in despair. What a stupid and impossible promise to make! He could steal my pictures and reclaim his gifts, but that didn't put things back the way they'd been before I'd met him. The physical evidence was the most insignificant part of the equation. I was changed, my insides altered almost past the point of recognition. Even my outsides looked different - my face sallow, white except for the purple circles the nightmares had left under my eyes. My eyes were dark enough against my pallid skin that - if I were beautiful, and seen from a distance - I might even pass for a vampire now. But I was not beautiful, and I probably looked closer to a zombie.

As if he'd never existed? That was insanity. It was a promise that he could never keep, a promise that was broken as soon as he'd made it.

I thumped my head against the steering wheel, trying to distract myself from the sharper pain.

It made me feel silly for ever worrying about keeping my promise. Where was the logic in sticking to an agreement that had already been violated by the other party? Who cared if I was reckless and stupid? There was no reason to avoid recklessness, no reason why I shouldn't get to be stupid.

I laughed humorlessly to myself, still gasping for air. Reckless in Forks - now there was a hopeless proposition.

The dark humor distracted me, and the distraction eased the pain. My breath came easier, and I was able to lean back against the seat. Though it was cold today, my forehead was damp with sweat.

I concentrated on my hopeless proposition to keep from sliding back into the excruciating memories. To be reckless in Forks would take a lot of creativity - maybe more than I had. But I wished I could find some way... I might feel better if I weren't holding fast, all alone, to a broken pact. If I were an oath-breaker, too. But how could I cheat on my side of the deal, here in this harmless little town? Of course, Forks hadn't always been so harmless, but now it was exactly what it had always appeared to be. It was dull, it was safe.

I stared out the windshield for a long moment, my thoughts moving sluggishly - I couldn't seem to make those thoughts go anywhere. I cut the engine, which was groaning in a pitiful way after idling for so long, and stepped out into the drizzle.

The cold rain dripped through my hair and then trickled across my cheeks like freshwater tears. It helped to clear my head. I blinked the water from my eyes, staring blankly across the road.

After a minute of staring, I recognized where I was. I'd parked in the middle of the north lane of Russell Avenue. I was standing in front of the Cheneys' house - my truck was blocking their driveway - and across the road lived the Markses. I knew I needed to move my truck, and that I ought to go home. It was wrong to wander the way I had, distracted and impaired, a menace on the roads of Forks. Besides, someone would notice me soon enough, and report me to Charlie.

As I took a deep breath in preparation to move, a sign in the Markses' yard caught my eye - it was just a big piece of cardboard leaning against their mailbox post, with black letters scrawled in caps across it.

Sometimes, kismet happens.

Coincidence? Or was it meant to be? I didn't know, but it seemed kind of silly to think that it was somehow fated, that the dilapidated motorcycles rusting in the Markses' front yard beside the hand-printed FOR SALE, AS IS sign were serving some higher purpose by existing there, right where I needed them to be.

So maybe it wasn't kismet. Maybe there were just all kinds of ways to be reckless, and I only now had my eyes open to them.

Reckless and stupid. Those were Charlie's two very favorite words to apply to motorcycles.

Charlie's job didn't get a lot of action compared to cops in bigger towns, but he did get called in on traffic accidents. With the long, wet stretches of freeway twisting and turning through the forest, blind corner after blind corner, there was no shortage of that kind of action. But even with all the huge log-haulers barreling around the turns, mostly people walked away. The exceptions to that rule were often on motorcycles, and Charlie had seen one too many victims, almost always kids, smeared on the highway. He'd made me promise before I was ten that I would never accept a ride on a motorcycle. Even at that age, I didn't have to think twice before promising. Who would want to ride a motorcycle here? It would be like taking a sixty-mile-per-hour bath.

So many promises I kept...

It clicked together for me then. I wanted to be stupid and reckless, and I wanted to break promises. Why stop at one?

That's as far as I thought it through. I sloshed through the rain to the Markses' front door and rang the bell.

One of the Marks boys opened the door, the younger one, the freshman. I couldn't remember his name. His sandy hair only came up to my shoulder.

He had no trouble remembering my name. "Bella Swan?" he asked in surprise.

"How much do you want for the bike?" I panted, jerking my thumb over my shoulder toward the sales display.

"Are you serious?" he demanded.

"Of course I am."

"They don't work."

I sighed impatiently - this was something I'd already inferred from the sign. "How much?"

"If you really want one, just take it. My mom made my dad move them down to the road so they'd get picked up with the garbage."

I glanced at the bikes again and saw that they were resting on a pile of yard clippings and dead branches. "Are you positive about that?"

"Sure, you want to ask her?"

It was probably better not to involve adults who might mention this to Charlie.

"No, I believe you."

"You want me to help you?" he offered. "They're not light."

"Okay, thanks. I only need one, though."

"Might as well take both," the boy said. "Maybe you could scavenge some parts."

He followed me out into the downpour and helped me load both of the heavy bikes into the back of my truck. He seemed eager to be rid of them, so I didn't argue.

"What are you going to do with them, anyway?" he asked. "They haven't worked in years."

"I kind of guessed that," I said, shrugging. My spur-of-the-moment whim hadn't come with a plan intact. "Maybe I'll take them to Dowling's."

He snorted. "Dowling would charge more to fix them than they'd be worth running."

I couldn't argue with that. John Dowling had earned a reputation for his pricing; no one went to him except in an emergency. Most people preferred to make the drive up to Port Angeles, if their car was able. I'd been very lucky on that front - I'd been worried, when Charlie first gifted me my ancient truck, that I wouldn't be able to afford to keep it running. But I'd never had a single problem with it, other than the screaming-loud engine and the fifty-five-mile-per-hour maximum speed limit. Jacob Black had kept it in great shape when it had belonged to his father, Billy...

Inspiration hit like a bolt of lightning - not unreasonable, considering the storm. "You know what? That's okay. I know someone who builds cars."

"Oh. That's good." He smiled in relief.

He waved as I pulled away, still smiling. Friendly kid.

I drove quickly and purposefully now, in a hurry to get home before there was the slightest chance of Charlie appearing, even in the highly unlikely event that he might knock off early. I dashed through the house to the phone, keys still in hand.

"Chief Swan, please," I said when the deputy answered. "It's Bella."

"Oh, hey, Bella," Deputy Steve said affably. "I'll go get him."

I waited.

"What's wrong, Bella?" Charlie demanded as soon as he picked up the phone.

"Can't I call you at work without there being an emergency?"

He was quiet for a minute. "You never have before. Is there an emergency?"

"No. I just wanted directions to the Blacks' place - I'm not sure I can remember the way. I want to visit Jacob. I haven't seen him in months."

When Charlie spoke again, his voice was much happier. "That's a great idea, Bells. Do you have a pen?"

The directions he gave me were very simple. I assured him that I would be back for dinner, though he tried to tell me not to hurry. He wanted to join me in La Push, and I wasn't having that.

So it was with a deadline that I drove too quickly through the storm-darkened streets out of town. I hoped I could get Jacob alone. Billy would probably tell on me if he knew what I was up to.

While I drove, I worried a little bit about Billy's reaction to seeing me. He would be too pleased. In Billy's mind, no doubt, this had all worked out better than he had dared to hope. His pleasure and relief would only remind me of the one I couldn't bear to be reminded of. Not again today, I pleaded silently. I was spent.

The Blacks' house was vaguely familiar, a small wooden place with narrow windows, the dull red paint making it resemble a tiny barn. Jacob's head peered out of the window before I could even get out of the truck. No doubt the familiar roar of the engine had tipped him off to my approach. Jacob had been very grateful when Charlie bought Billy's truck for me, saving Jacob from having to drive it when he came of age. I liked my truck very much, but Jacob seemed to consider the speed restrictions a shortcoming.

He met me halfway to the house.

"Bella!" His excited grin stretched wide across his face, the bright teeth standing in vivid contrast to the deep russet color of his skin. I'd never seen his hair out of its usual ponytail before. It fell like black satin curtains on either side of his broad face.

Jacob had grown into some of his potential in the last eight months. He'd passed that point where the soft muscles of childhood hardened into the solid, lanky build of a teenager; the tendons and veins had become prominent under the red-brown skin of his arms, his hands. His face was still sweet like I remembered it, though it had hardened, too - the planes of his cheekbones sharper, his jaw squared off, all childish roundness gone.

"Hey, Jacob!" I felt an unfamiliar surge of enthusiasm at his smile. I realized that I was pleased to see him. This knowledge surprised me.

I smiled back, and something clicked silently into place, like two corresponding puzzle pieces. I'd forgotten how much I really liked Jacob Black.

He stopped a few feet away from me, and I stared up at him in surprise, leaning my head back though the rain pelted my face.

"You grew again!" I accused in amazement.

He laughed, his smile widening impossibly. "Six five," he announced with self-satisfaction. His voice was deeper, but it had the husky tone I remembered.

"Is it ever going to stop?" I shook my head in disbelief. "You're huge."

"Still a beanpole, though." He grimaced. "Come inside! You're getting all wet."

He led the way, twisting his hair in his big hands as he walked. He pulled a rubber band from his hip pocket and wound it around the bundle.

"Hey, Dad," he called as he ducked to get through the front door. "Look who stopped by."

Billy was in the tiny square living room, a book in his hands. He set the book in his lap and wheeled himself forward when he saw me.

"Well, what do you know! It's good to see you, Bella."

We shook hands. Mine was lost in his wide grasp.

"What brings you out here? Everything okay with Charlie?"

"Yes, absolutely. I just wanted to see Jacob - I haven't seen him in forever."

Jacob's eyes brightened at my words. He was smiling so big it looked like it would hurt his cheeks.

"Can you stay for dinner?" Billy was eager, too.

"No, I've got to feed Charlie, you know."

"I'll call him now," Billy suggested. "He's always invited."

I laughed to hide my discomfort. "It's not like you'll never see me again. I promise I'll be back again soon - so much you'll get sick of me." After all, if Jacob could fix the bike, someone had to teach me how to ride it.

Billy chuckled in response. "Okay, maybe next time."

"So, Bella, what do you want to do?" Jacob asked.

"Whatever. What were you doing before I interrupted?" I was strangely comfortable here. It was familiar, but only distantly. There were no painful reminders of the recent past.

Jacob hesitated. "I was just heading out to work on my car, but we can do something else..."

"No, that's perfect!" I interrupted. "I'd love to see your car."

"Okay," he said, not convinced. "It's out back, in the garage."

Even better, I thought to myself. I waved at Billy. "See you later."

A thick stand of trees and shrubbery concealed his garage from the house. The garage was no more than a couple of big preformed sheds that had been bolted together with their interior walls knocked out. Under this shelter, raised on cinder blocks, was what looked to me like a completed automobile. I recognized the symbol on the grille, at least.

"What kind of Volkswagen is that?" I asked.

"It's an old Rabbit - 1986, a classic."

"How's it going?"

"Almost finished," he said cheerfully. And then his voice dropped into a lower key. "My dad made good on his promise last spring."

"Ah," I said.

He seemed to understand my reluctance to open the subject. I tried not to remember last May at the prom. Jacob had been bribed by his father with money and car parts to deliver a message there. Billy wanted me to stay a safe distance from the most important person in my life. It turned out that his concern was, in the end, unnecessary. I was all too safe now.

But I was going to see what I could do to change that.

"Jacob, what do you know about motorcycles?" I asked.

He shrugged. "Some. My friend Embry has a dirt bike. We work on it together sometimes. Why?"

"Well..." I pursed my lips as I considered. I wasn't sure if he could keep his mouth shut, but I didn't have many other options. "I recently acquired a couple of bikes, and they're not in the greatest condition. I wonder if you could get them running?"

"Cool." He seemed truly pleased by the challenge. His face glowed. "I'll give it a try."

I held up one finger in warning. "The thing is," I explained, "Charlie doesn't approve of motorcycles. Honestly, he'd probably bust a vein in his forehead if he knew about this. So you can't tell Billy."

"Sure, sure." Jacob smiled. "I understand."

"I'll pay you," I continued.

This offended him. "No. I want to help. You can't pay me."

"Well... how about a trade, then?" I was making this up as I went, but it seemed reasonable enough. "I only need one bike - and I'll need lessons, too. So how about this? I'll give you the other bike, and then you can teach me."

"Swee-eet." He made the word into two syllables.

"Wait a sec - are you legal yet? When's your birthday?"

"You missed it," he teased, narrowing his eyes in mock resentment. "I'm sixteen."

"Not that your age ever stopped you before," I muttered. "Sorry about your birthday."

"Don't worry about it. I missed yours. What are you, forty?"

I sniffed. "Close."

"We'll have a joint party to make up for it."

"Sounds like a date."

His eyes sparkled at the word.

I needed to reign in the enthusiasm before I gave him the wrong idea - it was just that it had been a long time since I'd felt so light and buoyant. The rarity of the feeling made it more difficult to manage.

"Maybe when the bikes are finished - our present to ourselves," I added.

"Deal. When will you bring them down?"

I bit my lip, embarrassed. "They're in my truck now," I admitted.

"Great." He seemed to mean it.

"Will Billy see if we bring them around?"

He winked at me. "We'll be sneaky."

We eased around from the east, sticking to the trees when we were in view of the windows, affecting a casual-looking stroll, just in case. Jacob unloaded the bikes swiftly from the truck bed, wheeling them one by one into the shrubbery where I hid. It looked too easy for him - I'd remembered the bikes being much, much heavier than that.

"These aren't half bad," Jacob appraised as we pushed them through the cover of the trees. "This one here will actually be worth something when I'm done - it's an old Harley Sprint."

"That one's yours, then."

"Are you sure?"

"Absolutely."

"These are going to take some cash, though," he said, frowning down at the blackened metal. "We'll have to save up for parts first."

"We nothing," I disagreed. "If you're doing this for free, I'll pay for the parts."

"I don't know..." he muttered.

"I've got some money saved. College fund, you know." College, schmollege, I thought to myself. It wasn't like I'd saved up enough to go anywhere special - and besides, I had no desire to leave Forks anyway. What difference would it make if I skimmed a little bit off the top?

Jacob just nodded. This all made perfect sense to him.

As we skulked back to the makeshift garage, I contemplated my luck. Only a teenage boy would agree to this: deceiving both our parents while repairing dangerous vehicles using money meant for my college education. He didn't see anything wrong with that picture. Jacob was a gift from the gods.
发表于 2016-8-5 11:54 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 6 FRIENDS

THE MOTORCYCLES DIDN'T NEED TO BE HIDDEN ANY further than simply placing them in Jacob's shed. Billy's wheelchair couldn't maneuver the uneven ground separating it from the house.

Jacob started pulling the first bike - the red one, which was destined for me - to pieces immediately. He opened up the passenger door of the Rabbit so I could sit on the seat instead of the ground. While he worked, Jacob chattered happily, needing only the lightest of nudges from me to keep the conversation rolling. He updated me on the progress of his sophomore year of school, running on about his classes and his two best friends.

"Quil and Embry?" I interrupted. "Those are unusual names."

Jacob chuckled. "Quil's is a hand-me-down, and I think Embry got named after a soap opera star. I can't say anything, though. They fight dirty if you start on their names - they'll tag team you."

"Good friends." I raised one eyebrow.

"No, they are. Just don't mess with their names."

Just then a call echoed in the distance. "Jacob?" someone shouted.

"Is that Billy?" I asked.

"No." Jacob ducked his head, and it looked like he was blushing under his brown skin. "Speak of the devil," he mumbled, "and the devil shall appear."

"Jake? Are you out here?" The shouting voice was closer now.

"Yeah!" Jacob shouted back, and sighed.

We waited through the short silence until two tall, dark-skinned boys strolled around the corner into the shed.

One was slender, and almost as tall as Jacob. His black hair was chin-length and parted down the middle, one side tucked behind his left ear while the right side swung free. The shorter boy was more burly. His white T-shirt strained over his well-developed chest, and he seemed gleefully conscious of that fact. His hair was so short it was almost a buzz.

Both boys stopped short when they saw me. The thin boy glanced swiftly back and forth between Jacob and me, while the brawny boy kept his eyes on me, a slow smile spreading across his face.

"Hey, guys," Jacob greeted them halfheartedly.

"Hey, Jake," the short one said without looking away from me. I had to smile in response, his grin was so impish. When I did, he winked at me. "Hi, there."

"Quil, Embry - this is my friend, Bella."

Quil and Embry, I still didn't know which was which, exchanged a loaded look.

"Charlie's kid, right?" the brawny boy asked me, holding out his hand.

"That's right," I confirmed, shaking hands with him. His grasp was firm; it looked like he was flexing his bicep.

"I'm Quil Ateara," he announced grandly before releasing my hand.

"Nice to meet you, Quil."

"Hey, Bella. I'm Embry, Embry Call - you probably already figured that out, though." Embry smiled a shy smile and waved with one hand, which he then shoved in the pocket of his jeans.

I nodded. "Nice to meet you, too."

"So what are you guys doing?" Quil asked, still looking at me.

"Bella and I are going to fix up these bikes," Jacob explained inaccurately. But bikes seemed to be the magic word. Both boys went to examine Jacob's project, drilling him with educated questions. Many of the words they used were unfamiliar to me, and I figured I'd have to have a Y chromosome to really understand the excitement.

They were still immersed in talk of parts and pieces when I decided that I needed to head back home before Charlie showed up here. With a sigh, I slid out of the Rabbit.

Jacob looked up, apologetic. "We're boring you, aren't we?"

"Naw." And it wasn't a lie. I was enjoying myself - how strange. "I just have to go cook dinner for Charlie."

"Oh... well, I'll finish taking these apart tonight and figure out what more we'll need to get started rebuilding them. When do you want to work on them again?"

"Could I come back tomorrow?" Sundays were the bane of my existence. There was never enough homework to keep me busy.

Quil nudged Embry's arm and they exchanged grins.

Jacob smiled in delight. "That would be great!"

"If you make a list, we can go shop for parts," I suggested.

Jacob's face fell a little. "I'm still not sure I should let you pay for everything."

I shook my head. "No way. I'm bankrolling this party. You just have to supply the labor and expertise."

Embry rolled his eyes at Quil.

"That doesn't seem right," Jacob shook his head.

"Jake, if I took these to a mechanic, how much would he charge me?" I pointed out.

He smiled. "Okay, you're getting a deal."

"Not to mention the riding lessons," I added.

Quil grinned widely at Embry and whispered something I didn't catch. Jacob's hand flashed out to smack the back of Quil's head. "That's it, get out," he muttered.

"No, really, I have to go," I protested, heading for the door. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jacob."

As soon as I was out of sight, I heard Quil and Embry chorus, "Wooooo!"

The sound of a brief scuffle followed, interspersed with an "ouch" and a "hey!"

"If either of you set so much as one toe on my land tomorrow..." I heard Jacob threaten. His voice was lost as I walked through the trees.

I giggled quietly. The sound made my eyes widen in wonder. I was laughing, actually laughing, and there wasn't even anyone watching. I felt so weightless that I laughed again, just make the feeling last longer.

I beat Charlie home. When he walked in I was just taking the fried chicken out of the pan and laying it on a pile of paper towels.

"Hey, Dad." I flashed him a grin.

Shock flitted across his face before he pulled his expression together. "Hey, honey," he said, his voice uncertain. "Did you have fun with Jacob?"

I started moving the food to the table. "Yeah, I did."

"Well, that's good." He was still cautious. "What did you two do?"

Now it was my turn to be cautious. "I hung out in his garage and watched him work. Did you know he's rebuilding a Volkswagen?"

"Yeah, I think Billy mentioned that."

The interrogation had to stop when Charlie began chewing, but he continued to study my face as he ate.

After dinner, I dithered around, cleaning the kitchen twice, and then did my homework slowly in the front room while Charlie watched a hockey game. I waited as long as I could, but finally Charlie mentioned the late hour. When I didn't respond, he got up, stretched, and then left, turning out the light behind him. Reluctantly, I followed.

As I climbed the stairs, I felt the last of the afternoon's abnormal sense of well-being drain from my system, replaced by a dull fear at the thought of what I was going to have to live through now.

I wasn't numb anymore. Tonight would, no doubt, be as horrific as last night. I lay down on my bed and curled into a ball in preparation for the onslaught. I squeezed my eyes shut and... the next thing I next I knew, it was morning.

I stared at the pale silver light coming through my window, stunned.

For the first time in more than four months, I'd slept without dreaming. Dreaming or screaming. I couldn't tell which emotion was stronger - the relief or the shock.

I lay still in my bed for a few minutes, waiting for it to come back. Because something must be coming. If not the pain, then the numbness. I waited, but nothing happened. I felt more rested than I had in a long time.

I didn't trust this to last. It was a slippery, precarious edge that I balanced on, and it wouldn't take much to knock me back down. Just glancing around my room with these suddenly clear eyes - noticing how strange it looked, too tidy, like I didn't live here at all - was dangerous.

I pushed that thought from my mind, and concentrated, as I got dressed, on the fact that I was going to see Jacob again today. The thought made me feel almost... hopeful. Maybe it would be the same as yesterday. Maybe I wouldn't have to remind myself to look interested and to nod or smile at appropriate intervals, the way I had to with everyone else. Maybe... but I wouldn't trust this to last, either. Wouldn't trust it to be the same - so easy - as yesterday. I wasn't going to set myself up for disappointment like that.

At breakfast, Charlie was being careful, too. He tried to hide his scrutiny, keeping his eyes on his eggs until he thought I wasn't looking.

"What are you up to today?" he asked, eyeing a loose thread on the edge of his cuff like he wasn't paying much attention to my answer.

"I'm going to hang out with Jacob again."

He nodded without looking up. "Oh," he said.

"Do you mind?" I pretended to worry. "I could stay..."

He glanced up quickly, a hint of panic in his eyes. "No, no! You go ahead. Harry was going to come up to watch the game with me anyway."

"Maybe Harry could give Billy a ride up," I suggested. The fewer witnesses the better.

"That's a great idea."

I wasn't sure if the game was just an excuse for kicking me out, but he looked excited enough now. He headed to the phone while I donned my rain jacket. I felt self-conscious with the checkbook shoved in my jacket pocket. It was something I never used.

Outside, the rain came down like water slopped from a bucket. I had to drive more slowly than I wanted to; I could hardly see a car length in front of the truck. But I finally made it through the muddy lanes to Jacob's house. Before I'd killed the engine, the front door opened and Jacob came running out with a huge black umbrella.

He held it over my door while I opened it.

"Charlie called - said you were on your way," Jacob explained with a grin.

Effortlessly, without a conscious command to the muscles around my lips, my answering smile spread across my face. A strange feeling of warmth bubbled up in my throat, despite the icy rain splattering on my cheeks.

"Hi, Jacob."

"Good call on inviting Billy up." He held up his hand for a high five.

I had to reach so high to slap his hand that he laughed.

Harry showed up to get Billy just a few minutes later. Jacob took me on a brief tour of his tiny room while we waited to be unsupervised.

"So where to, Mr. Goodwrench?" I asked as soon as the door closed behind Billy.

Jacob pulled a folded paper out of his pocket and smoothed it out. "We'll start at the dump first, see if we can get lucky. This could get a little expensive," he warned me. "Those bikes are going to need a lot of help before they'll run again." My face didn't look worried enough, so he continued. "I'm talking about maybe more than a hundred dollars here."

I pulled my checkbook out, fanned myself with it, and rolled my eyes at his worries. "We're covered."

It was a very strange kind of day. I enjoyed myself. Even at the dump, in the slopping rain and ankle-deep mud. I wondered at first if it was just the aftershock of losing the numbness, but I didn't think that was enough of an explanation.

I was beginning to think it was mostly Jacob. It wasn't just that he was always so happy to see me, or that he didn't watch me out of the corner of his eye, waiting for me to do something that would mark me as crazy or depressed. It was nothing that related to me at all.

It was Jacob himself. Jacob was simply a perpetually happy person, and he carried that happiness with him like an aura, sharing it with whoever was near him. Like an earthbound sun, whenever someone was within his gravitational pull, Jacob warmed them. It was natural, a part of who he was. No wonder I was so eager to see him.

Even when he commented on the gaping hole in my dashboard, it didn't send me into a panic like it should have.

"Did the stereo break?" he wondered.

"Yeah," I lied.

He poked around in the cavity. "Who took it out? There's a lot of damage..."

"I did," I admitted.

He laughed. "Maybe you shouldn't touch the motorcycles too much."

"No problem."

According to Jacob, we did get lucky at the dump. He was very excited about several grease-blackened pieces of twisted metal that he found; I was just impressed that he could tell what they were supposed to be.

From there we went to the Checker Auto Parts down in Hoquiam. In my truck, it was more than a two hour drive south on the winding freeway, but the time passed easily with Jacob. He chattered about his friends and his school, and I found myself asking questions, not even pretending, truly curious to hear what he had to say.

"I'm doing all the talking," he complained after a long story about Quil and the trouble he'd stirred up by asking out a senior's steady girlfriend. "Why don't you take a turn? What's going on in Forks? It has to be more exciting than La Push."

"Wrong," I sighed. "There's really nothing. Your friends are a lot more interesting than mine. I like your friends. Quil's funny."

He frowned. "I think Quil likes you, too."

I laughed. "He's a little young for me."

Jacob's frown deepened. "He's not that much younger than you. It's just a year and a few months."

I had a feeling we weren't talking about Quil anymore. I kept my voice light, teasing. "Sure, but, considering the difference in maturity between guys and girls, don't you have to count that in dog years? What does that make me, about twelve years older?"

He laughed, rolling his eyes. "Okay, but if you're going to get picky like that, you have to average in size, too. You're so small, I'll have to knock ten years off your total."

"Five foot four is perfectly average." I sniffed. "It's not my fault you're a freak."

We bantered like that till Hoquiam, still arguing over the correct formula to determine age - I lost two more years because I didn't know how to change a tire, but gained one back for being in charge of the bookkeeping at my house - until we were in Checker, and Jacob had to concentrate again. We found everything left on his list, and Jacob felt confident that he could make a lot of progress with our haul.

By the time we got back to La Push, I was twenty-three and he was thirty - he was definitely weighting skills in his favor.

I hadn't forgotten the reason for what I was doing. And, even though I was enjoying myself more than I'd thought possible, there was no lessening of my original desire. I still wanted to cheat. It was senseless, and I really didn't care. I was going to be as reckless as I could possibly manage in Forks. I would not be the only keeper of an empty contract. Getting to spend time with Jacob was just a much bigger perk than I'd expected.

Billy wasn't back yet, so we didn't have to be sneaky about unloading our day's spoils. As soon as we had everything laid out on the plastic floor next to Jacob's toolbox, he went right to work, still talking and laughing while his fingers combed expertly through the metal pieces in front of him.

Jacob's skill with his hands was fascinating. They looked too big for the delicate tasks they performed with ease and precision. While he worked, he seemed almost graceful. Unlike when he was on his feet; there, his height and big feet made him nearly as dangerous as I was.

Quil and Embry did not show up, so maybe his threat yesterday had been taken seriously.

The day passed too quickly. It got dark outside the mouth of the garage before I was expecting it, and then we heard Billy calling for us.

I jumped up to help Jacob put things away, hesitating because I wasn't sure what I should touch.

"Just leave it," he said. "I'll work on it later tonight."

"Don't forget your schoolwork or anything," I said, feeling a little guilty. I didn't want him to get in trouble. That plan was just for me.

"Bella?"

Both our heads snapped up as Charlie's familiar voice wafted through the trees, sounding closer than the house.

"Shoot," I muttered. "Coming!" I yelled toward the house.

"Let's go." Jacob smiled, enjoying the cloak-and-dagger. He snapped the light off, and for a moment I was blind. Jacob grabbed my hand and towed me out of the garage and through the trees, his feet finding the familiar path easily. His hand was rough, and very warm.

Despite the path, we were both tripping over our feet in the darkness. So we were also both laughing when the house came into view. The laughter did not go deep; it was light and superficial, but still nice. I was sure he wouldn't notice the faint hint of hysteria. I wasn't used to laughing, and it felt right and also very wrong at the same time.

Charlie was standing under the little back porch, and Billy was sitting in the doorway behind them.

"Hey, Dad," we both said at the same time, and that started us laughing again.

Charlie stared at me with wide eyes that flashed down to note Jacob's hand around mine.

"Billy invited us for dinner," Charlie said to us in an absentminded tone.

"My super secret recipe for spaghetti. Handed down for generations," Billy said gravely.

Jacob snorted. "I don't think Ragu's actually been around that long."

The house was crowded. Harry Clearwater was there, too, with his family - his wife, Sue, whom I knew vaguely from my childhood summers in Forks, and his two children. Leah was a senior like me, but a year older. She was beautiful in an exotic way - perfect copper skin, glistening black hair, eyelashes like feather dusters - and preoccupied. She was on Billy's phone when we got in, and she never let it go. Seth was fourteen; he hung on Jacob's every word with idolizing eyes.

There were too many of us for the kitchen table, so Charlie and Harry brought chairs out to the yard, and we ate spaghetti off plates on our laps in the dim light from Billy's open door. The men talked about the game, and Harry and Charlie made fishing plans. Sue teased her husband about his cholesterol and tried, unsuccessfully, to shame him into eating something green and leafy. Jacob talked mostly to me and Seth, who interrupted eagerly whenever Jacob seemed in danger of forgetting him. Charlie watched me, trying to be inconspicuous about it, with pleased but cautious eyes.

It was loud and sometimes confusing as everyone talked over everyone else, and the laughter from one joke interrupted the telling of another. I didn't have to speak often, but I smiled a lot, and only because I felt like it.

I didn't want to leave.

This was Washington, though, and the inevitable rain eventually broke up the party; Billy's living room was much too small to provide an option for continuing the get-together. Harry had driven Charlie down, so we rode together in my truck on the way back home. He asked about my day, and I told mostly the truth - that I'd gone with Jacob to look at parts and then watched him work in his garage.

"You think you'll visit again anytime soon?" he wondered, trying to be casual about it.

"Tomorrow after school," I admitted. "I'll take homework, don't worry."

"You be sure to do that," he ordered, trying to disguise his satisfaction.

I was nervous when we got to the house. I didn't want to go upstairs. The warmth of Jacob's presence was fading and, in its absence, the anxiety grew stronger. I was sure I wouldn't get away with two peaceful nights of sleep in a row.

To put bedtime off, I checked my e-mail; there was a new message from Renee.

She wrote about her day, a new book club that rilled the time slot of the meditation classes she'd just quit, her week subbing in the second grade, missing her kindergarteners. She wrote that Phil was enjoying his new coaching job, and that they were planning a second honeymoon trip to Disney World.

And I noticed that the whole thing read like a journal entry, rather than a letter to someone else. Remorse flooded through me, leaving an uncomfortable sting behind. Some daughter I was.

I wrote back to her quickly, commenting on each part of her letter, volunteering information of my own - describing the spaghetti party at Billy's and how I felt watching Jacob build useful things out of small pieces of metal - awed and slightly envious. I made no reference to the change this letter would be from the ones she'd received in the last several months. I could barely remember what I'd written to her even as recently as last week, but I was sure it wasn't very responsive. The more I thought about it, the guiltier I felt; I really must have worried her.

I stayed up extra late after that, finishing more homework than strictly necessary. But neither sleep deprivation nor the time spent with Jacob - being almost happy in a shallow kind of way - could keep the dream away for two nights in a row.

I woke shuddering, my scream muffled by the pillow.

As the dim morning light filtered through the fog outside my window, I lay still in bed and tried to shake off the dream. There had been a small difference last night, and I concentrated on that.

Last night I had not been alone in the woods. Sam Uley - the man who had pulled me from the forest floor that night I couldn't bear to think of consciously - was there. It was an odd, unexpected alteration. The man's dark eyes had been surprisingly unfriendly, filled with some secret he didn't seem inclined to share. I'd stared at him as often as my frantic searching had allowed; it made me uncomfortable, under all the usual panic, to have him there. Maybe that was because, when I didn't look directly at him, his shape seemed to shiver and change in my peripheral vision. Yet he did nothing but stand and watch. Unlike the time when we had met in reality, he did not offer me his help.

Charlie stared at me during breakfast, and I tried to ignore him. I supposed I deserved it. I couldn't expect him not to worry. It would probably be weeks before he stopped watching for the return of the zombie, and I would just have to try to not let it bother me. After all, I would be watching for the return of the zombie, too. Two days was hardly long enough to call me cured.

School was the opposite. Now that I was paying attention, it was clear that no one was watching here.

I remembered the first day I'd come to Forks High School - how desperately I'd wished that I could turn gray, fade into the wet concrete of the sidewalk like an oversized chameleon. It seemed I was getting that wish answered, a year late.

It was like I wasn't there. Even my teachers' eyes slid past my seat as if it were empty.

I listened all through the morning, hearing once again the voices of the people around me. I tried to catch up on what was going on, but the conversations were so disjointed that I gave up.

Jessica didn't look up when I sat down next to her in Calculus.

"Hey, Jess," I said with put-on nonchalance. "How was the rest of your weekend?"

She looked at me with suspicious eyes. Could she still be angry? Or was she just too impatient to deal with a crazy person?

"Super," she said, turning back to her book.

"That's good," I mumbled.

The figure of speech cold shoulder seemed to have some literal truth to it. I could feel the warm air blowing from the floor vents, but I was still too cold. I took the jacket off the back of my chair and put it on again.

My fourth hour class got out late, and the lunch table I always sat at was full by the time I arrived. Mike was there, Jessica and Angela, Conner, Tyler, Eric and Lauren. Katie Marshall, the redheaded junior who lived around the corner from me, was sitting with Eric, and Austin Marks - older brother to the boy with the motorcycles - was next to her. I wondered how long they'd been sitting here, unable to remember if this was the first day or something that was a regular habit.

I was beginning to get annoyed with myself. I might as well have been packed in Styrofoam peanuts through the last semester.

No one looked up when I sat down next to Mike, even though the chair squealed stridently against the linoleum as I dragged it back.

I tried to catch up with the conversation.

Mike and Conner were talking sports, so I gave up on that one at once.

"Where's Ben today?" Lauren was asking Angela. I perked up, interested. I wondered if that meant Angela and Ben were still together.

I barely recognized Lauren. She'd cut off all her blond, corn-silk hair - now she had a pixie cut so short that the back was shaved like a boy. What an odd thing for her to do. I wished I knew the reason behind it. Did she get gum stuck in it? Did she sell it? Had all the people she was habitually nasty to caught her behind the gym and scalped her? I decided it wasn't fair for me to judge her now by my former opinion. For all I knew, she'd turned into a nice person.

"Ben's got the stomach flu," Angela said in her quiet, calm voice. "Hopefully it's just some twenty-four hour thing. He was really sick last night."

Angela had changed her hair, too. She'd grown out her layers.

"What did you two do this weekend?" Jessica asked, not sounding as if she cared about the answer. I'd bet that this was just an opener so she could tell her own stories. I wondered if she would talk about Port Angeles with me sitting two seats away? Was I that invisible, that no one would feel uncomfortable discussing me while I was here?

"We were going to have a picnic Saturday, actually, but... we changed our minds," Angela said. There was an edge to her voice that caught my interest.

Jess, not so much. "That's too bad," she said, about to launch into her story. But I wasn't the only one who was paying attention.

"What happened?" Lauren asked curiously.

"Well," Angela said, seeming more hesitant than usual, though she was always reserved, "we drove up north, almost to the hot springs - there's a good spot just about a mile up the trail. But, when we were halfway there... we saw something."

"Saw something? What?" Lauren's pale eyebrows pulled together. Even Jess seemed to be listening now.

"I don't know," Angela said. "We think it was a bear. It was black, anyway, but it seemed... too big."

Lauren snorted. "Oh, not you, too!" Her eyes turned mocking, and I decided I didn't need to give her the benefit of the doubt. Obviously her personality had not changed as much as her hair. "Tyler tried to sell me that one last week."

"You're not going to see any bears that close to the resort," Jessica said, siding with Lauren.

"Really," Angela protested in a low voice, looking down at the table. "We did see it."

Lauren snickered. Mike was still talking to Conner, not paying attention to the girls.

"No, she's right," I threw in impatiently. "We had a hiker in just Saturday who saw the bear, too, Angela. He said it was huge and black and just outside of town, didn't he, Mike?"

There was a moment of silence. Every pair of eyes at the table turned to stare at me in shock. The new girl, Katie, had her mouth hanging open like she'd just witnessed an explosion. Nobody moved.

"Mike?" I muttered, mortified. "Remember the guy with the bear story?"

"S-sure," Mike stuttered after a second. I didn't know why he was looking at me so strangely. I talked to him at work, didn't I? Did I? I thought so...

Mike recovered. "Yeah, there was a guy who said he saw a huge black bear right at the trailhead - bigger than a grizzly," he confirmed.

"Hmph." Lauren turned to Jessica, her shoulders stiff, and changed the subject.

"Did you hear back from USC?" she asked.

Everyone else looked away, too, except for Mike and Angela. Angela smiled at me tentatively, and I hurried to return the smile.

"So, what did you do this weekend, Bella?" Mike asked, curious, but oddly wary.

Everyone but Lauren looked back, waiting for my response.

"Friday night, Jessica and I went to a movie in Port Angeles. And then I spent Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday down at La Push."

The eyes flickered to Jessica and back to me. Jess looked irritated. I wondered if she didn't want anyone to know she'd gone out with me, or whether she just wanted to be the one to tell the story.

"What movie did you see?" Mike asked, starting to smile.

"Dead End - the one with the zombies." I grinned in encouragement. Maybe some of the damage I'd done in these past zombie months was reparable.

"I heard that was scary. Did you think so?" Mike was eager to continue the conversation.

"Bella had to leave at the end, she was so freaked," Jessica inserted with a sly smile.

I nodded, trying to look embarrassed. "It was pretty scary."

Mike didn't stop asking me questions till lunch was over. Gradually, the others were able to start up their own conversations again, though they still looked at me a lot. Angela talked mostly to Mike and me, and, when I got up to dump my tray, she followed.

"Thanks," she said in a low voice when we were away from the table.

"For what?"

"Speaking up, sticking up for me."

"No problem."

She looked at me with concern, but not the offensive, maybe-she's-lost-it kind. "Are you okay?"

This is why I'd picked Jessica over Angela - though I'd always liked Angela more - for the girls' night movie. Angela was too perceptive.

"Not completely," I admitted. "But I'm a little bit better."

"I'm glad," she said. "I've missed you."

Lauren and Jessica strolled by us then, and I heard Lauren whisper loudly, "Oh, joy Bella's back."

Angela rolled her eyes at them, and smiled at me in encouragement.

I sighed It was like I was starting all over again.

"What's today's date?" I wondered suddenly.

"It's January nineteenth."

"Hmm."

"What is it?" Angela asked.

"It was a year ago yesterday that I had my first day here," I mused.

"Nothing's changed much," Angela muttered, looking after Lauren and Jessica.

"I know, I agreed I was just thinking the same thing."
发表于 2016-8-5 11:58 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 7 REPETITION

I WASN'T SURE WHAT THE HELL I WAS DOING HERE Was I trying to push myself back into the zombie stupor? Had I turned masochistic - developed a taste for torture? I should have gone straight down to La Push I felt much, much healthier around Jacob This was not a healthy thing to do.

But I continued to drive slowly down the overgrown lane, twisting through the trees that arched over me like a green, living tunnel My hands were shaking, so I tightened my grip on the steering wheel.

I knew that part of the reason I did this was the nightmare, now that I was really awake, the nothingness of the dream gnawed on my nerves, a dog worrying a bone.

There was something to search for. Unattainable and impossible, uncaring and distracted... but he was out there, somewhere. I had to believe that.

The other part was the strange sense of repetition I'd felt at school today, the coincidence of the date. The feeling that I was starting over - perhaps the way my first day would have gone if I'd really been the most unusual person in the cafeteria that afternoon.

The words ran through my head, tonelessly, like I was reading them rather than hearing them spoken:

It will be as if I'd never existed.

I was lying to myself by splitting my reason for coming here into just two parts. I didn't want to admit the strongest motivation. Because it was mentally unsound.

The truth was that I wanted to hear his voice again, like I had in the strange delusion Friday night. For that brief moment, when his voice came from some other part of me than my conscious memory, when his voice was perfect and honey smooth rather than the pale echo my memories usually produced, I was able to remember without pain. It hadn't lasted; the pain had caught up with me, as I was sure it would for this fool's errand. But those precious moments when I could hear him again were an irresistible lure. I had to find some way to repeat the experience... or maybe the better word was episode.

I was hoping that déjà vu was the key. So I was going to his home, a place I hadn't been since my ill-fated birthday party, so many months ago.

The thick, almost jungle-like growth crawled slowly past my windows. The drive wound on and on. I started to go faster, getting edgy. How long had I been driving? Shouldn't I have reached the house yet? The lane was so overgrown that it did not look familiar.

What if I couldn't find it? I shivered. What if there was no tangible proof at all?

Then there was the break in the trees that I was looking for, only it was not so pronounced as before. The flora here did not wait long to reclaim any land that was left unguarded. The tall ferns had infiltrated the meadow around the house, crowding against the trunks of the cedars, even the wide porch. It was like the lawn had been flooded - waist-high - with green, feathery waves.

And the house was there, but it was not the same. Though nothing had changed on the outside, the emptiness screamed from the blank windows. It was creepy. For the first time since I'd seen the beautiful house, it looked like a fitting haunt for vampires.

I hit the brakes, looking away. I was afraid to go farther.

But nothing happened. No voice in my head.

So I left the engine running and jumped out into the fern sea. Maybe, like Friday night, if I walked forward...

I approached the barren, vacant face slowly, my truck rumbling out a comforting roar behind me. I stopped when I got to the porch stairs, because there was nothing here. No lingering sense of their presence... of his presence. The house was solidly here, but it meant little. Its concrete reality would not counteract the nothingness of the nightmares.

I didn't go any closer. I didn't want to look in the windows. I wasn't sure which would be harder to see. If the rooms were bare, echoing empty from floor to ceiling, that would certainly hurt. Like my grandmother's funeral, when my mother had insisted that I stay outside during the viewing. She had said that I didn't need to see Gran that way, to remember her that way, rather than alive.

But wouldn't it be worse if there were no change? If the couches sat just as I'd last seen them, the paintings on the walls - worse still, the piano on its low platform? It would be second only to the house disappearing all together, to see that there was no physical possession that tied them in anyway. That everything remained, untouched and forgotten, behind them.

Just like me.

I turned my back on the gaping emptiness and hurried to my truck. I nearly ran. I was anxious to be gone, to get back to the human world. I felt hideously empty, and I wanted to see Jacob. Maybe I was

developing a new kind of sickness, another addiction, like the numbness before. I didn't care. I pushed my truck as fast as it would go as I barreled toward my fix.

Jacob was waiting for me. My chest seemed to relax as soon as I saw him, making it easier to breathe.

"Hey, Bella," he called.

I smiled in relief. "Hey, Jacob," I waved at Billy, who was looking out the window.

"Let's get to work," Jacob said in a low but eager voice.

I was somehow able to laugh. "You seriously aren't sick of me yet?" I wondered. He must be starting to ask himself how desperate I was for company.

Jacob led the way around the house to his garage.

"Nope. Not yet."

"Please let me know when I start getting on your nerves. I don't want to be a pain."

"Okay." He laughed, a throaty sound. "I wouldn't hold your breath for that, though."

When I walked into the garage, I was shocked to see the red bike standing up, looking like a motorcycle rather than a pile of jagged metal.

"Jake, you're amazing," I breathed.

He laughed again. "I get obsessive when I have a project." He shrugged. "If I had any brains I'd drag it out a little bit."

"Why?"

He looked down, pausing for so long that I wondered if he hadn't heard my question. Finally, he asked me, "Bella, if I told you that I couldn't fix these bikes, what would you say?"

I didn't answer right away, either, and he glanced up to check my expression.

"I would say... that's too bad, but I'll bet we could figure out something else to do. If we got really desperate, we could even do homework."

Jacob smiled, and his shoulders relaxed. He sat down next to the bike and picked up a wrench. "So you think you'll still come over when I'm done, then?"

"Is that what you meant?" I shook my head. "I guess I am taking advantage of your very underpriced mechanical skills. But as long as you let me come over, I'll be here."

"Hoping to see Quil again?" he teased.

"You caught me."

He chuckled. "You really like spending time with me?" he asked, marveling.

"Very, very much. And I'll prove it. I have to work tomorrow, but Wednesday we'll do something nonmechanical."

"Like what?"

"I have no idea. We can go to my place so you won't be tempted to be obsessive. You could bring your schoolwork - you have to be getting behind, because I know I am."

"Homework might be a good idea." He made a face, and I wondered how much he was leaving undone to be with me.

"Yes," I agreed. "We'll have to start being responsible occasionally, or Billy and Charlie aren't going to be so easygoing about this." I made a gesture indicating the two of us as a single entity. He liked that - he beamed.

"Homework once a week?" he proposed.

"Maybe we'd better go with twice," I suggested, thinking of the pile I'd just been assigned today.

He sighed a heavy sigh. Then he reached over his toolbox to a paper grocery sack. He pulled out two cans of soda, cracking one open and handing it to me. He opened the second, and held it up ceremoniously.

"Here's to responsibility," he toasted. "Twice a week."

"And recklessness every day in between," I emphasized.

He grinned and touched his can to mine.

I got home later than I'd planned and found Charlie had ordered a pizza rather than wait for me. He wouldn't let me apologize.

"I don't mind," he assured me. "You deserve a break from all the cooking, anyway."

I knew he was just relieved that I was still acting like a normal person, and he was not about to rock the boat.

I checked my e-mail before I started on my homework, and there was a long one from Renee. She gushed over every detail I'd provided her with, so I sent back another exhaustive description of my day. Everything but the motorcycles. Even happy-go-lucky Renee was likely to be alarmed by that.

School Tuesday had its ups and downs. Angela and Mike seemed ready to welcome me back with open arms - to kindly overlook my few months of aberrant behavior. Jess was more resistant. I wondered if she needed a formal written apology for the Port Angeles incident.

Mike was animated and chatty at work. It was like he'd stored up the semester's worth of talk, and it was all spilling out now. I found that I was able to smile and laugh with him, though it wasn't as effortless as it was with Jacob. It seemed harmless enough, until quitting time.

Mike put the closed sign in the window while I folded my vest and shoved it under the counter.

"This was fun tonight," Mike said happily.

"Yeah," I agreed, though I'd much rather have spent the afternoon in the garage.

"It's too bad that you had to leave the movie early last week."

I was a little confused by his train of thought. I shrugged. "I'm just a wimp, I guess."

"What I mean is, you should go to a better movie, something you'd enjoy," he explained.

"Oh," I muttered, still confused.

"Like maybe this Friday. With me. We could go see something that isn't scary at all."

I bit my lip.

I didn't want to screw things up with Mike, not when he was one of the only people ready to forgive me for being crazy. But this, again, felt far too familiar. Like the last year had never happened. I wished I had Jess as an excuse this time.

"Like a date?" I asked. Honesty was probably the best policy at this point. Get it over with.

He processed the tone of my voice "If you want. But it doesn't have to be like that."

"I don't date," I said slowly, realizing how true that was. That whole world seemed impossibly distant.

"Just as friends?" he suggested. His clear blue eyes were not as eager now. I hoped he really meant that we could be friends anyway.

"That would be fun. But I actually have plans already this Friday, so maybe next week?"

"What are you doing?" he asked, less casually than I think he wanted to sound.

"Homework. I have a... study session planned with a friend."

"Oh. Okay. Maybe next week."

He walked me to my car, less exuberant than before. It reminded me so clearly of my first months in Forks. I'd come full circle, and now everything felt like an echo - an empty echo, devoid of the interest it used to have.

The next night, Charlie didn't seem the smallest bit surprised to find Jacob and me sprawled across the living room floor with our books scattered around us, so I guessed that he and Billy were talking behind our backs.

"Hey, kids," he said, his eyes straying to the kitchen. The smell of the lasagna I'd spent the afternoon making - while Jacob watched and occasionally sampled - wafted down the hall; I was being good, trying to atone for all the pizza.

Jacob stayed for dinner, and took a plate home for Billy. He grudgingly added another year to my negotiable age for being a good cook.

Friday was the garage, and Saturday, after my shift at Newton's, was homework again. Charlie felt secure enough in my sanity to spend the day fishing with Harry. When he got back, we were all done - feeling very sensible and mature about it, too - and watching Monster Garage on the Discovery Channel.

"I probably ought to go." Jacob sighed. "It's later than I thought."

"Okay, fine," I grumbled. "I'll take you home."

He laughed at my unwilling expression - it seemed to please him.

"Tomorrow, back to work," I said as soon as we were safe in the truck. "What time do you want me to come up?"

There was an unexplained excitement in his answering smile. "I'll call you first, okay?"

"Sure." I frowned to myself, wondering what was up. His smile widened.

I cleaned the house the next morning - waiting for Jacob to call and trying to shake off the Litest nightmare. The scenery had changed. Last night I'd wandered in a wide sea of ferns interspersed with huge hemlock trees. There was nothing else there, and I was lost, wandering aimless and alone, searching for nothing. I wanted to kick myself for the stupid field trip last week. I shoved the dream out of my conscious mind, hoping it would stay locked up somewhere and not escape again.

Charlie was outside washing the cruiser, so when the phone rang, I dropped the toilet brush and ran downstairs to answer it.

"Hello?" I asked breathlessly.

"Bella," Jacob said, a strange, formal tone to his voice.

"Hey, Jake."

"I believe that... we have a date" he said, his tone thick with implications.

It took me a second before I got it. "They're done? I can't believe it!" What perfect timing. I needed something to distract me from nightmares and nothingness.

"Yeah, they run and everything."

"Jacob, you are absolutely, without a doubt, the most talented and wonderful person I know. You get ten years for this one."

"Cool! I'm middle-aged now."

I laughed. "I'm on my way up!"

I threw the cleaning supplies under the bathroom counter and grabbed my jacket.

"Headed to see Jake," Charlie said when I ran past him. It wasn't really a question.

"Yep," I replied as I jumped in my truck.

"I'll be at the station later," Charlie called after me.

"Okay," I yelled back, turning the key.

Charlie said something else, but I couldn't hear him clearly over the roar of the engine. It sounded sort of like, "Where's the fire?"

I parked my truck off to the side of the Blacks' house, close to the trees, to make it easier for us to sneak the bikes out. When I got out, a splash of color caught my eye - two shiny motorcycles, one red, one black, were hidden under a spruce, invisible from the house. Jacob was prepared.

There was a piece of blue ribbon tied in a small bow around each of the handlebars. I was laughing at that when Jacob ran out of the house.

"Ready?" he asked in a low voice, his eyes sparkling.

I glanced over his shoulder, and there was no sign of Billy.

"Yeah," I said, but I didn't feel quite as excited as before; I was trying to imagine myself actually on the motorcycle.

Jacob loaded the bikes into the bed of the truck with ease, laying them carefully on their sides so they didn't show.

"Let's go," he said, his voice higher than usual with excitement. "I know the perfect spot - no one will catch us there."

We drove south out of town. The dirt road wove in and out of the forest - sometimes there was nothing but trees, and then there would suddenly be a breathtaking glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, reaching to the horizon, dark gray under the clouds. We were above the shore, on top of the cliffs that bordered the beach here and the view seemed to stretch on forever.

I was driving slowly, so that I could safely stare out across the ocean now and then, as the road wound closer to the sea cliffs. Jacob was talking about finishing the bikes, but his descriptions were getting technical, so I wasn't paying close attention.

That was when I noticed four figures standing on a rocky ledge, much too close to the precipice. I couldn't tell from the distance how old they were, but I assumed they were men. Despite the chill in the air today, they seemed to be wearing only shorts.

As I watched, the tallest person stepped closer to the brink. I slowed automatically, my foot hesitating over the brake pedal.

And then he threw himself off the edge.

"No!" I shouted, stomping down on the brake.

"What's wrong?" Jacob shouted back, alarmed.

"That guy - he just jumped off the cliff! Why didn't they stop him? We've got to call an ambulance!" I threw open my door and started to get out, which made no sense at all. The fastest way to a phone was to drive back to Billy's. But I couldn't believe what I'd just seen. Maybe, subconsciously, I hoped I would see something different without the glass of the windshield in the way.

Jacob laughed, and I spun to stare at him wildly. How could he be so calloused, so cold-blooded?

"They're just cliff diving, Bella. Recreation. La Push doesn't have a mall, you know." He was teasing, but there was a strange note of irritation in his voice.

"Cliff diving?" I repeated, dazed. I stared in disbelief as a second figure stepped to the edge, paused, and then very gracefully leaped into space. He fell for what seemed like an eternity to me, finally cutting smoothly into the dark gray waves below.

"Wow. It's so high." I slid back into my seat, still staring wide-eyed at the two remaining divers. "It must be a hundred feet."

"Well, yeah, most of us jump from lower down, that rock that juts out from the cliff about halfway." He pointed out his window. The place he indicated did seem much more reasonable. "Those guys are insane.

Probably showing off how tough they are. I mean, really, it's freezing today. That water can't feel good." He made a disgruntled face, as if the stunt personally offended him. It surprised me a little. I would have thought Jacob was nearly impossible to upset.

"You jump off the cliff?" I hadn't missed the "us."

"Sure, sure." He shrugged and grinned. "It's fun. A little scary, kind of a rush."

I looked back at the cliffs, where the third figure was pacing the edge. I'd never witnessed anything so reckless in all my life. My eyes widened, and I smiled. "Jake, you have to take me cliff diving."

He frowned back at me, his face disapproving. "Bella, you just wanted to call an ambulance for Sam," he reminded me. I was surprised that he could tell who it was from this distance.

"I want to try," I insisted, start ing to get out of the car again.

Jacob grabbed my wrist. "Not today, all right? Can we at least wait for a warmer day?"

"Okay, fine," I agreed. With the door open, the glacial breeze was raising goose bumps on my arm. "But I want to go soon."

"Soon." He rolled his eyes. "Sometimes you're a little strange, Bella. Do you know that?"

I sighed. "Yes."

"And we're not jumping off the top."

I watched, fascinated, as the third boy made a running start and flung himself farther into the empty air than the other two. He twisted and cartwheeled through space as he fell, like he was skydiving. He looked absolutely free - unthinking and utterly irresponsible.

"Fine," I agreed. "Not the first time, anyway."

Now Jacob sighed.

"Are we going to try out the bikes or not?" he demanded.

"Okay, okay," I said, tearing my eyes away from the last person waiting on the cliff. I put my seat belt back on and closed the door. The engine was still running, roaring as it idled. We started down the road again.

"So who were those guys - the crazy ones?" I wondered.

He made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. "The La Push gang."

"You have a gang?" I asked. I realized that I sounded impressed.

He laughed once at my reaction. "Not like that. I swear, they're like hall monitors gone bad. They don't start fights, they keep the peace." He snorted. "There was this guy from up somewhere by the Makah rez, big guy too, scary-looking. Well, word got around that he was selling meth to kids, and Sam Uley and his disciples ran him off our land. They're all about our land, and tribe pride... it's getting ridiculous. The worst part is that the council takes them seriously. Embry said that the council actually meets with Sam." He shook his head, face full of resentment. "Embry also heard from Leah Clearwater that they call themselves 'protectors' or something like that."

Jacob's hands were clenched into fists, as if he'd like to hit something. I'd never seen this side of him.

I was surprised to hear Sam Uley's name. I didn't want it to bring back the images from my nightmare, so I made a quick observation to distract myself. "You don't like them very much."

"Does it show?" he asked sarcastically.

"Well... It doesn't sound like they're doing anything bad." I tried to soothe him, to make him cheerful again. "Just sort of annoyingly goody-two-shoes for a gang."

"Yeah. Annoying is a good word. They're always showing off - like the cliff thing. They act like... like, I don't know. Like tough guys. I was hanging out at the store with Embry and Quil once, last semester, and Sam came by with his followers, Jared and Paul. Quil said something, you know how he's got a big mouth, and it pissed Paul off. His eyes got all dark, and he sort of smiled - no, he showed his teeth but he didn't smile - and it was like he was so mad he was shaking or something. But Sam put his hand against Paul's chest and shook his head. Paul looked at him for a minute and calmed down. Honestly, it was like Sam was holding him back - like Paul was going to tear us up if Sam didn't stop him." He groaned. "Like a bad western. You know, Sam's a pretty big guy, he's twenty. But Paul's just sixteen, too, shorter than me and not as beefy as Quil. I think any one of us could take him."

"Tough guys," I agreed. I could see it in my head as he described it, and it reminded me of something... a trio of tall, dark men standing very still and close together in my father's living room. The picture was sideways, because my head was lying against the couch while Dr. Gerandy and Charlie leaned over me... Had that been Sam's gang?

I spoke quickly again to divert myself from the bleak memories. "Isn't Sam a little too old for this kind of thing?"

"Yeah. He was supposed to go to college, but he stayed. And no one gave him any crap about it, either. The whole council pitched a fit when my sister turned down a partial scholarship and got married. But, oh no, Sam Uley can do no wrong."

His face was set in unfamiliar lines of outrage - outrage and something else I didn't recognize at first.

"It all sounds really annoying and... strange. But I don't get why you're taking it so personally." I peeked over at his face, hoping I hadn't offended him. He was suddenly calm, staring out the side window.

"You just missed the turn," he said in an even voice.

I executed a very wide U-turn, nearly hitting a tree as my circle ran the truck halfway off the road.

"Thanks for the heads-up," I muttered as I started up the side road.

"Sorry, I wasn't paying attention."

It was quiet for a brief minute.

"You can stop anywhere along here," he said softly.

I pulled over and cut the engine. My ears rang in the silence that followed. We both got out, and Jacob headed around to the back to get the bikes. I tried to read his expression. Something more was bothering him. I'd hit a nerve.

He smiled halfheartedly as he pushed the red bike to my side. "Happy late birthday. Are you ready for this?"

"I think so." The bike suddenly looked intimidating, frightening, as I realized I would soon be astride it.

"We'll take it slow," he promised. I gingerly leaned the motorcycle against the truck's fender while he went to get his.

"Jake..."I hesitated as he came back around the truck.

"Yeah?"

"What's really bothering you? About the Sam thing, I mean? Is there something else?" I watched his face. He grimaced, but he didn't seem angry. He looked at the dirt and kicked his shoe against the front tire of his bike again and again, like he was keeping time.

He sighed. "It's just... the way they treat me. It creeps me out." The words started to rush out now. "You know, the council is supposed to be made up of equals, but if there was a leader, it would be my dad. I've never been able to figure out why people treat him the way they do. Why his opinion counts the most. It's got something to do with his father and his father's father. My great-grandpa, Ephraim Black, was sort of the last chief we had, and they still listen to Billy, maybe because of that.

"But I'm just like everyone else. Nobody treats me special... until now."

That caught me off guard. "Sam treats you special?"

"Yeah," he agreed, looking up at me with troubled eyes. "He looks at me like he's waiting for something... like I'm going to join his stupid gang someday. He pays more attention to me than any of the other guys. I hate it."

"You don't have to join anything." My voice was angry. This was really upsetting Jacob, and that infuriated me. Who did these "protectors" think they were?

"Yeah." His foot kept up its rhythm against the tire.

"What?" I could tell there was more.

He frowned, his eyebrows pulling up in a way that looked sad and worried rather than angry. "It's Embry. He's been avoiding me lately."

The thoughts didn't seem connected, but I wondered if I was to blame for the problems with his friend. "You've been hanging out with me a lot," I reminded him, feeling selfish. I'd been monopolizing him.

"No, that's not it. It's not just me - it's Quil, too, and everyone. Embry missed a week of school, but he was never home when we tried to see him. And when he came back, he looked... he looked freaked out. Terrified. Quil and I both tried to get him to tell us what was wrong, but he wouldn't talk to either one of us."

I stared at Jacob, biting my lip anxiously - he was really frightened. But he didn't look at me. He watched his own foot kicking the rubber as if it belonged to someone else. The tempo increased.

"Then this week, out of nowhere, Embry's hanging out with Sam and the rest of them. He was out on the cliffs today." His voice was low and tense.

He finally looked at me. "Bella, they bugged him even more than they bother me. He didn't want anything to do with them. And now Embry's following Sam around like he's joined a cult.

"And that's the way it was with Paul. Just exactly the same. He wasn't friends with Sam at all. Then he stopped coming to school for a few weeks, and, when he came back, suddenly Sam owned him. I don't know what it means. I can't figure it out, and I feel like I have to, because Embry's my friend and... Sam's looking at me funny . . and..." He trailed off.

"Have you talked to Billy about this?" I asked. His horror was spreading to me. I had chills running on the back of my neck.

Now there was anger on his face. "Yes," he snorted. "That was helpful."

"What did he say?"

Jacob's expression was sarcastic, and when he spoke, his voice mocked the deep tones of his father's voice. "It's nothing you need to worry about now, Jacob. In a few years, if you don't... well, I'll explain later." And then his voice was his own. "What am I supposed to get from that? Is he trying to say it's some stupid puberty, coming-of-age thing? This is something else. Something wrong."

He was biting his lower lip and clenching his hands. He looked like he was about to cry.

I threw my arms around him instinctively, wrapping them around his waist and pressing my face against his chest. He was so big, I felt like I was a child hugging a grown-up.

"Oh, Jake, it'll be okay!" I promised. "If it gets worse you can come live with me and Charlie. Don't be scared, we'll think of something!"

He was frozen for a second, and then his long arms wrapped hesitantly around me. "Thanks, Bella." His voice was huskier than usual.

We stood like that for a moment, and it didn't upset me; in fact, I felt comforted by the contact. This didn't feel anything like the last time someone had embraced me this way. This was friendship. And Jacob was very warm.

It was strange for me, being this close - emotionally rather than physically, though the physical was strange for me, too - to another human being. It wasn't my usual style. I didn't normally relate to people so easily, on such a basic level.

Not human beings.

"If this is how you're going to react, I'll freak out more often." Jacob's voice was light, normal again, and his laughter rumbled against my ear. His fingers touched my hair, soft and tentative.

Well, it was friendship for me.

I pulled away quickly, laughing with him, but determined to put things back in perspective at once.

"It's hard to believe I'm two years older than you," I said, emphasizing the word older. "You make me feel like a dwarf." Standing this close to him, I really had to crane my neck to see his face.

"You're forgetting I'm in my forties, of course."

"Oh, that's right."

He patted my head. "You're like a little doll," he teased. "A porcelain doll."

I rolled my eyes, taking another step away. "Let's not start with the albino cracks."

"Seriously, Bella, are you sure you're not?" He stretched his russet arm out next to mine. The difference wasn't flattering. "I've never seen anyone paler than you... well, except for - " He broke off, and I looked away, trying to not understand what he had been about to say.

"So are we going to ride or what?"

"Let's do it," I agreed, more enthusiastic than I would have been half a minute ago. His unfinished sentence reminded me of why I was here.
发表于 2016-8-6 11:01 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 8  ADRENALINE

"OKAY, WHERE'S YOUR CLUTCH?"

I pointed to the lever on my left handlebar. Letting go of the grip was a mistake. The heavy bike wobbled underneath me, threatening to knock me sidewise. I grabbed the handle again, trying to hold it straight.

"Jacob, it won't stay up," I complained.

"It will when you're moving," he promised. "Now where's your brake?"

"Behind my right foot."

"Wrong."

He grabbed my right hand and curled my fingers around the lever over the throttle.

"But you said - "

"This is the brake you want. Don't use the back brake now, that's for later, when you know what you're doing."

"That doesn't sound right," I said suspiciously. "Aren't both brakes kind of important?"

"Forget the back brake, okay? Here - " He wrapped his hand around mine and made me squeeze the lever down. "That is how you brake. Don't forget." He squeezed my hand another time.

"Fine," I agreed.

"Throttle?"

I twisted the right grip.

"Gearshift?"

I nudged it with my left calf.

"Very good. I think you've got all the parts down. Now you just have to get itmoving."

"Uh-huh," I muttered, afraid to say more. My stomach was contorting strangely and I thought my voice might crack. I was terrified. I tried to tell myself that the fear was pointless. I'd already lived through the worst thing possible. In comparison with that, why should anything frighten me now? I should be able to look death in the face and laugh.

My stomach wasn't buying it.

I stared down the long stretch of dirt road, bordered by thick misty green on every side. The road was sandy and damp. Better than mud.

"I want you to hold down the clutch," Jacob instructed.

I wrapped my fingers around the clutch.

"Now this is crucial, Bella," Jacob stressed. "Don't let go of that, okay? I want you to pretend that I've handed you a live grenade. The pin is out and you are holding down the spoon."

I squeezed tighter.

"Good. Do you think you can kick-start it?"

"If I move my foot, I will fall over," I told him through gritted teeth, my fingers tight around my live grenade.

"Okay, I'll do it. Don't let go of the clutch."

He took a step back, and then suddenly slammed his foot down on the pedal. There was a short ripping noise, and the force of his thrust rocked the bike. I started to fall sideways, but Jake caught the bike before it knocked me to the ground.

"Steady there," he encouraged. "Do you still have the clutch?"

"Yes," I gasped.

"Plant your feet - I'm going to try again." But he put his hand on the back of the seat, too, just to be safe.

It took four more kicks before the ignition caught. I could feel the bike rumbling beneath me like an angry animal. I gripped the clutch until my fingers ached.

"Try out the throttle," he suggested. "Very lightly. And don't let go of the clutch."

Hesitantly, I twisted the right handle. Though the movement was tiny, the bike snarled beneath me. It sounded angry and hungry now. Jacob smiled in deep satisfaction.

"Do you remember how to put it into first gear?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Well, go ahead and do it."

"Okay."

He waited for a few seconds.

"Left foot," he prompted.

"I know," I said, taking a deep breath.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" Jacob asked. "You look scared."

"I'm fine," I snapped. I kicked the gearshift down one notch.

"Very good," he praised me. "Now, very gently, ease up on the clutch."

He took a step away from the bike.

"You want me to let go of the grenade?" I asked in disbelief. No wonder he was moving back.

"That's how you move, Bella. Just do it little by little."

As I began to loosen my grip, I was shocked to be interrupted by a voice that did not belong to the boy standing next to me.

"This is reckless and childish and idiotic, Bella," the velvet voice fumed.

"Oh!" I gasped, and my hand fell off the clutch.

The bike bucked under me, yanking me forward and then collapsing to the ground half on top of me. The growling engine choked to a stop.

"Bella?" Jacob jerked the heavy bike off me with ease. "Are you hurt?"

But I wasn't listening.

"I told you so," the perfect voice murmured, crystal clear.

"Bella?" Jacob shook my shoulder.

"I'm fine," I mumbled, dazed.

More than fine. The voice in my head was back. It still rang in my ears - soft, velvety echoes.

My mind ran swiftly through the possibilities. There was no familiarity here - on a road I'd never seen, doing something I'd never done before - no deja vu So the hallucinations must be triggered by something else... I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins again, and I thought I had the answer. Some combination of adrenaline and danger, or maybe just stupidity.

Jacob was pulling me to my feet.

"Did you hit your head?" he asked.

"I don't think so." I shook it back and forth, checking. "I didn't hurt the bike, did I?" This thought worried me. I was anxious to try again, right away. Being reckless was paying off better than I'd thought. Forget cheating. Maybe I'd found a way to generate the hallucinations - that was much more important.

"No. You just stalled the engine," Jacob said, interrupting my quick speculations. "You let go of the clutch too fast."

I nodded. "Let's try again."

"Are you sure?" Jacob asked.

"Positive."

This time I tried to get the kick-start myself. It was complicated; I had to jump a little to slam down on the pedal with enough force, and every time I did that, the bike tried to knock me over. Jacob's hand hovered over the handlebars, ready to catch me if I needed him.

It took several good tries, and even more poor tries, before the engine caught and roared to life under me. Remembering to hold on to the grenade, I revved the throttle experimentally. It snarled at the slightest touch. My smile mirrored Jacob's now.

"Easy on the clutch," he reminded me.

"Do you want to kill yourself, then? Is that what this is about?" the other voice spoke again, his tone severe.

I smiled tightly - it was still working - and ignored the questions. Jacob wasn't going to let anything serious happen to me.

"Go home to Charlie," the voice ordered. The sheer beauty of it amazed me. I couldn't allow my memory to lose it, no matter the price.

"Ease off slowly," Jacob encouraged me.

"I will," I said. It bothered me a bit when I realized I was answering both of them.

The voice in my head growled against the roar of the motorcycle.

Trying to focus this time, to not let the voice startle me again, I relaxed my hand by tiny degrees. Suddenly, the gear caught and wrenched me forward.

And I was flying.

There was wind that wasn't there before, blowing my skin against my skull and flinging my hair back behind me with enough force that it felt like someone was tugging on it. I'd left my stomach back at the starting point; the adrenaline coursed through my body, tingling in my veins. The trees raced past me, blurring into a wall of green.

But this was only first gear. My foot itched toward the gearshift as I twisted for more gas.

"No, Bella!" the angry, honey-sweet voice ordered in my ear. "Watch what you're doing!"

It distracted me enough from the speed to realize that the road was starting a slow curve to the left, and I was still going straight. Jacob hadn't told me how to turn.

"Brakes, brakes," I muttered to myself, and I instinctively slammed down with my right foot, like I would in my truck.

The bike was suddenly unstable underneath me, shivering first to one side and then the other. It was dragging me toward the green wall, and I was going too fast. I tried to turn the handlebar the other direction, and the sudden shift of my weight pushed the bike toward the ground, still spinning toward the trees.

The motorcycle landed on top of me again, roaring loudly, pulling me across the wet sand until it hit something stationary. I couldn't see. My face was mashed into the moss. I tried to lift my head, but there was something in the way.

I was dizzy and confused. It sounded like there were three things snarling - the bike over me, the voice in my head, and something else...

"Bella!" Jacob yelled, and I heard the roar of the other bike cut off.

The motorcycle no longer pinned me to the ground, and I rolled over to breathe. All the growling went silent.

"Wow," I murmured. I was thrilled. This had to be it, the recipe for a hallucination - adrenaline plus clanger plus stupidity. Something close to that, anyway.

"Bella!" Jacob was crouching over me anxiously. "Bella, are you alive?"

"I'm great!" I enthused. I flexed my arms and legs. Everything seemed to be working correctly. "Let's do itagain."

"I don't think so." Jacob still sounded worried. "I think I'd better drive you to the hospital first."

"I'mfine."

"Um, Bella? You've got a huge cut on your forehead, and it's gushing blood," he informed me.

I clapped my hand over my head. Sure enough, it was wet and sticky. I could smell nothing but the damp moss on my face, and that held off the nausea.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Jacob." I pushed hard against the gash, as if I could force the blood back inside my head.

"Why are you apologizing for bleeding?" he wondered as he wrapped a long arm around my waist and pulled me to my feet. "Let's go. I'll drive." He held out his hand for the keys.

"What about the bikes?" I asked, handing them over.

He thought for a second. "Wait here. And take this." He pulled off his T-shirt, already spotted with blood, and threw it to me. I wadded it up and held it tightly to my forehead. I was starting to smell the blood; I breathed deeply through my mouth and tried to concentrate on something else.

Jacob jumped on the black motorcycle, kicked it to a start in one try, and raced back down the road, spraying sand and pebbles behind him. He looked athletic and professional as he leaned over the handlebars, head low, face forward, his shiny hair whipping against the russet skin of his back. My eyes narrowed enviously. I was sure I hadn't looked like that on my motorcycle.

I was surprised at how far I'd gone. I could barely see Jacob in the distance when he finally got to the truck. He threw the bike into the bed and sprinted to the driver's side.

I really didn't feel bad at all as he coaxed my truck to a deafening roar in his hurry to get back to me. My head stung a little, and my stomach was uneasy, but the cut wasn't serious. Head wounds just bled more than most. His urgency wasn't necessary.

Jacob left the truck running as he raced back to me, wrapping his arm around my waist again.

"Okay, let's get you in the truck."

"I'm honestly fine," I assured him as he helped me in. "Don't get worked up. It's just a little blood."

"Just a lot of blood," I heard him mutter as he went back for my bike.

"Now, let's think about this for a second," I began when he got back in. "If you take me to the ER like this, Charlie is sure to hear about it." I glanced down at the sand and dirt caked into my jeans.

"Bella, I think you need stitches. I'm not going to let you bleed to death."

"I won't," I promised. "Let's just take the bikes back first, and then we'll make a stop at my house so I can dispose of the evidence before we go to the hospital."

"What about Charlie?"

"He said he had to work today."

"Are you really sure?"

"Trust me. I'm an easy bleeder. It's not nearly as dire as it looks."

Jacob wasn't happy - his full mouth turned down in an uncharacteristic frown - but he didn't want to get me in trouble. I stared out the window, holding his ruined shirt to my head, while he drove me to Forks.

The motorcycle was better than I'd dreamed. It had served its original purpose. I'd cheated - broken my promise. I'd been needlessly reckless. I felt a little less pathetic now that the promises had been broken on both sides.

And then to discover the key to the hallucinations! At least, I hoped I had. I was going to test the theory as soon as possible. Maybe they'd get through with me quickly in the ER, and I could try again tonight.

Racing down the road like that had been amazing. The feel of the wind in my face, the speed and the freedom... it reminded me of a past life, flying through the thick forest without a road, piggyback while he ran - I stopped thinking right there, letting the memory break off in the sudden agony. I flinched.

"You still okay?" Jacob checked.

"Yeah." I tried to sound as convincing as before.

"By the way," he added. "I'm going to disconnect your foot brake tonight."

At home, I went to look at myself in the mirror first thing; it was pretty gruesome. Blood was drying in thick streaks across my cheek and neck, matting in my muddy hair. I examined myself clinically, pretending the blood was paint so it wouldn't upset my stomach. I breathed through my mouth, and was fine.

I washed up as well as I could. Then I hid my dirty, bloody clothes in the bottom of my laundry basket, putting on new jeans and a button-up shirt (that I didn't have to pull over my head) as carefully as I could. I managed to do this one-handed and keep both garments blood-free.

"Hurry up," Jacob called.

"Okay, okay," I shouted back. After making sure I left nothing incriminating behind me, I headed downstairs.

"How do I look?" I asked him.

"Better," he admitted.

"But do I look like I tripped in your garage and hit my head on a hammer?"

"Sure, I guess so."

"Let's go then."

Jacob hurried me out the door, and insisted on driving again. We were halfway to the hospital when I realized he was still shirtless.

I frowned guiltily. "We should have grabbed you a jacket."

"That would have given us away," he teased. "Besides, it's not cold."

"Are you kidding?" I shivered and reached out to turn the heat on.

I watched Jacob to see if he was just playing tough so I wouldn't worry, but he looked comfortable enough. He had one arm over the back of my seat, though I was huddled up to keep warm.

Jacob really did look older than sixteen - not quite forty, but maybe older than me. Quil didn't have too much on him in the muscle department, for all that Jacob claimed to be a skeleton. The muscles were the long wiry kind, but they were definitely there under the smooth skin. His skin was such a pretty color, it made me jealous.

Jacob noticed my scrutiny.

"What?" he asked, suddenly self-conscious.

"Nothing. I just hadn't realized before. Did you know, you're sort of beautiful?"

Once the words slipped out, I worried that he might take my impulsive observation the wrong way.

But Jacob just rolled his eyes. "You hit your head pretty hard, didn't you?"

"I'm serious."

"Well, then, thanks. Sort of."

I grinned. "You're sort of welcome."

I had to have seven stitches to c lose the cut on my forehead. After the sting of the local anesthetic, there was no pain in the procedure. Jacob held my hand while Dr. Snow was sewing, and I tried not to think about why that was ironic.

We were at the hospital forever. By the time I was done, I had to drop Jacob off at his home and hurry back to cook dinner for Charlie. Charlie seemed to buy my story about falling in Jacob's garage. After all, it wasn't like I hadn't been able to land myself in the ER before with no more help than my own feet.

This night was not as bad as that first night, after I'd heard the perfect voice in Port Angeles. The hole came back, the way it always did when I was away from Jacob, but it didn't throb so badly around the edges. I was already planning ahead, looking forward to more delusions, and that was a distraction. Also, I knew I would feel better tomorrow when I was with Jacob again. That made the empty hole and the familiar pain easier to bear; relief was in sight. The nightmare, too, had lost a little of its potency. I was horrified by the nothingness, as always, but I was also strangely impatient as I waited for the moment that would send me screaming into consciousness. I knew the nightmare had to end.

The next Wednesday, before I could get home from the ER, Dr. Gerandy called to warn my father that I might possibly have a concussion and advised him to wake me up every two hours through the night to make sure it wasn't serious. Charlie's eyes narrowed suspiciously at my weak explanation about tripping again.

"Maybe you should just stay out of the garage altogether, Bella," he suggested that night during dinner.

I panicked, worried that Charlie was about to lay down some kind of edict that would prohibit La Push, and consequently my motorcycle. And I wasn't giving it up - I'd had the most amazing hallucination today. My velvet-voiced delusion had yelled at me for almost five minutes before I'd hit the brake too abruptly and launched myself into the tree. I'd take whatever pain that would cause me tonight without complaint.

"This didn't happen in the garage," I protested quickly. "We were hiking, and I tripped over a rock."

"Since when do you hike?" Charlie asked skeptically.

"Working at Newton's was bound to rub off sometime," I pointed out. "Spend every day selling all the virtues of the outdoors, eventually you get curious."

Charlie glared at me, unconvinced.

"I'll be more careful," I promised, surreptitiously crossing my fingers under the table.

"I don't mind you hiking right there around La Push, but keep close to town, okay?"

"Why?"

"Well, we've been getting a lot of wildlife complaints lately. The forestry department is going to check into it, but for the time being..."

"Oh, the big bear," I said with sudden comprehension. "Yeah, some of the hikers coming through Newton's have seen it. Do you think there's really some giant mutated grizzly out there?"

His forehead creased. "There's something. Keep it close to town, okay?"

"Sure, sure," I said quickly. He didn't look completely appeased.

"Charlie's getting nosy," I complained to Jacob when I picked him up after school Friday.

"Maybe we should cool it with the bikes." He saw my objecting expression and added, "At least for a week or so. You could stay out of the hospital for a week, right?"

"What are we going to do?" I griped.

He smiled cheerfully. "What ever you want."

I thought about that for a minute - about what I wanted.

I hated the idea of losing even my brief seconds of closeness with the memories that didn't hurt - the ones that came on their own, without me thinking of them consciously. If I couldn't have the bikes, I was going to have to find some other avenue to the danger and the adrenaline, and that was going to take serious thought and creativity. Doing nothing in the meantime was not appealing. Suppose I got depressed again, even with Jake? I had to keep occupied.

Maybe there was some other way, some other recipe... some other place.

The house had been a mistake, certainly. But his presence must be stamped somewhere, somewhere other than inside me. There had to be a place where he seemed more real than among all the familiar landmarks that were crowded with other human memories.

I could think of one place where that might hold true. One place that would always belong to him and no one else. A magic place, full of light. The beautiful meadow I'd seen only once in my life, lit by sunshine and the sparkle of his skin.

This idea had a huge potential for backfiring - it might be dangerously painful. My chest ached with emptiness even to think of it. It was hard to hold myself upright, to not give myself away. But surely, there of all places, I could hear his voice. And I'd already told Charlie I was hiking...

"What are you thinking about so hard?" Jacob asked.

"Well..." I began slowly. "I found this place in the forest once - I came across it when I was, um, hiking. A little meadow, the most beautiful place. I don't know if I could track it down again on my own. It would definitely take a few tries..."

"We could use a compass and a grid pattern," Jacob said with confident helpfulness. "Do you know where you started from?"

"Yes, just below the trailhead where the one-ten ends. I was going mostly south, I think."

"Cool. We'll find it." As always, Jacob was game for anything I wanted. No matter how strange it was.

So, Saturday afternoon, I tied on my new hiking boots - purchased that morning using my twenty-per-cent-off employee discount for the first time - grabbed my new topographical map of the Olympic Peninsula, and drove to La Push.

We didn't get started immediately; first, Jacob sprawled across the living room floor - taking up the whole room - and, for a full twenty minutes, drew a complicated web across the key section of the map while I perched on a kitchen chair and talked to Billy. Billy didn't seem at all concerned about our proposed hiking trip. I was surprised that Jacob had told him where we were going, given the fuss people were making about the bear sightings. I wanted to ask Billy not to say anything about this to Charlie, but I was afraid that making the request would cause the opposite result.

"Maybe we'll see the super bear," Jacob joked, eyes on his design.

I glanced at Billy swiftly, fearing a Charlie-style reaction.

But Billy just laughed at his son. "Maybe you should take a jar of honey, just in case."

Jake chuckled. "Hope your new boots are fast, Bella. One little jar isn't going to keep a hungry bear occupied for long."

"I only have to be faster than you."

"Good luck with that!" Jacob said, rolling his eyes as he refolded the map. "Let's go."

"Have fun," Billy rumbled, wheeling himself toward the refrigerator.

Charlie was not a hard person to live with, but it looked to me like Jacob had it even easier than I did.

I drove to the very end of the dirt road, stopping near the sign that marked the beginning of the trailhead. It had been a long time since I'd been here, and my stomach reacted nervously. This might be a very bad thing. But it would be worth it, if I got to hear him.

I got out and looked at the dense wall of green.

"I went this way," I murmured, pointing straight ahead.

"Hmm," Jake muttered.

"What?"

He looked at the direction I'd pointed, then at the clearly marked trail, and back.

"I would have figured you for a trail kind of girl."

"Not me." I smiled bleakly. "I'm a rebel."

He laughed, and then pulled out our map.

"Give me a second." He held the compass in a skilled way, twisting the map around till it angled the way he wanted.

"Okay - first line on the grid. Let's do it."

I could tell that I was slowing Jacob up, but he didn't complain. I tried not to dwell on my last trip through this part of the forest, with a very different companion. Normal memories were still cangerous. If I let myself slip up, I'd end up with my arms clutching my chest to hold it together, gasping for air, and how would I explain that to Jacob?

It wasn't as hard as I would have thought to keep focused on the present. The forest looked a lot like any other part of the peninsula, and Jacob set a vastly different mood.

He whistled cheerfully, an unfamiliar tune, swinging his arms and moving easily through the rough undergrowth. The shadows didn't seem as dark as usual. Not with my personal sun along.

Jacob checked the compass every few minutes, keeping us in a straight line with one of the radiating spokes of his grid. He really looked like he knew what he was doing. I was going to compliment him, but I caught myself. No doubt he'd add another few years to his inflated age.

My mind wandered as I walked, and I grew curious. I hadn't forgotten the conversation we'd had by the sea cliffs - I'd been waiting for him to bring it up again, but it didn't look like that was going to happen.

"Hey... Jake?" I asked hesitantly.

"Yeah?"

"How are things... with Embry? Is he back to normal yet?"

Jacob was silent for a minute, still moving forward with long paces. When he was about ten feet ahead, he stopped to wait for me.

"No. He's not back to normal," Jacob said when I reached him, his mouth pulling down at the corners. He didn't start walking again. I immediately regretted bringing it up.

"StillwithSam."

"Yup."

He put his arm around my shoulder, and he looked so troubled that I didn't playfully shake it off, as I might have otherwise.

"Are they still looking at you funny?" I half-whispered.

Jacob stared through the trees. "Sometimes."

"AndBilly?"

"As helpful as ever," he said in a sour, angry voice that disturbed me.

"Our couch is always open," I offered.

He laughed, breaking out of the unnatural gloom. "But think of the position that would put Charlie in - when Billy calls the police to report my kidnapping."

I laughed too, glad to have Jacob back to normal.

We stopped when Jacob said we'd gone six miles, cut west for a short time, and headed back along another line of his grid. Everything looked exactly the same as the way in, and I had a feeling that my silly quest was pretty much doomed. I admitted as much when it started to get darker, the sunless day fading toward a starless night, but Jacob was more confident.

"As long as you're sure we're starting from the right place..." He glanced down at me.

"Yes, I'm sure."

"Then we'll find it," he promised, grabbing my hand and pulling me through a mass of ferns. On the other side was the truck. He gestured toward it proudly. "Trust me."

"You're good," I admitted. "Next time we bring flashlights, though."

"We'll save hiking for Sundays from now on. I didn't know you were that slow."

I yanked my hand back and stomped around to the driver's side while he chuckled at my reaction.

"So you up for another try tomorrow.'" he asked, sliding into the passenger seat.

"Sure. Unless you want to go without me so I don't tie you down to my gimpy pace."

"I'll survive," he assured me. "If we're hiking again, though, you might want to pick up some moleskin. I bet you can feel those new boots right now."

"A little," I confessed. It felt like I had more blisters than I had space to fit them.

"I hope we see the bear tomorrow. I'm sort of disappointed about that."

"Yes, me, too," I agreed sarcastically. "Maybe we'll get lucky tomorrow and something will eat us!"

"Bears don't want to eat people. We don't taste that good." He grinned at me in the dark cab. "Of course, you might be an exception. I bet you'd taste good."

"Thanks so much," I said, looking away. He wasn't the first person to tell me that.
发表于 2016-8-6 11:22 | 显示全部楼层
Chapter 9 THIRD WHEEL

TIME BEGAN TO TRIP ALONG MUCH MORE QUICKLY than before. School, work, and Jacob - though not necessarily in that order - created a neat and effortless pattern to follow. And Charlie got his wish: I wasn't miserable anymore. Of course, I couldn't fool myself completely. When I stopped to take stock of my life, which I tried not to do too often, I couldn't ignore the implications of my behavior.

I was like a lost moon - my planet destroyed in some cataclysmic, disaster-movie scenario of desolation - that continued, nevertheless, to circle in a tight little orbit around the empty space left behind, ignoring the laws of gravity.

I was getting better with my bike, which meant fewer bandages to worry Charlie. But it also meant that the voice in my head began to fade, until I heard it no more. Quietly, I panicked. I threw myself into the search for the meadow with slightly frenzied intensity. I racked my brain for other adrenaline-producing activities.

I didn't keep track of the days :hat passed - there was no reason, as I tried to live as much in the present as possible, no past fading, no future impending. So I was surprised by the date when Jacob brought it up on one of our homework days. He was waiting when I pulled up in front of his house.

"Happy Valentine's Day," Jacob said, smiling, but ducking his head as he greeted me.

He held out a small, pink box, balancing it on his palm. Conversation hearts.

"Well, I feel like a schmuck," I mumbled. "Is today Valentine's Day?"

Jacob shook his head with mock sadness. "You can be so out of it sometimes. Yes, it is the fourteenth day of February. So are you going to be my Valentine? Since you didn't get me a fifty-cent box of candy, it's the least you can do."

I started to feel uncomfortable. The words were teasing, but only on the surface.

"What exactly does that entail?" I hedged.

"The usual - slave for life, that kind of thing."

"Oh, well, if that's all..." I took the candy. But I was trying to think of some way to make the boundaries clear. Again. They seemed to get blurred a lot with Jacob.

"So, what are we doing tomorrow? Hiking, or the ER?"

"Hiking," I decided. "You're not the only one who can be obsessive. I'm starting to think I imagined that place..." I frowned into space.

"We'll find it," he assured me. "Bikes Friday?" he offered.

I saw a chance and took it without taking time to think it through.

"I'm going to a movie Friday. I've been promising my cafeteria crowd that I would go out forever." Mike would be pleased.

But Jacob's face fell. I caught the expression in his dark eyes before he dropped them to look at the ground.

"You'll come too, right?" I added quickly. "Or will it be too much of a drag with a bunch of boring seniors?" So much for my chance to put some distance between us. I couldn't stand hurting Jacob; we seemed to be connected in an odd way, and his pain set off little stabs of my own. Also, the idea of having his company for the ordeal - I had promised Mike, but really didn't feel any enthusiasm at the thought of following through - was just too tempting.

"You'd like me to come, with your friends there?"

"Yes," I admitted honestly, knowing as I continued that I was probably shooting myself in the foot with my words. "I'll have a lot more fun if you're there. Bring Quil, and we'll make it a party."

"Quil's gonna freak. Senior girls." He chortled and rolled his eyes. I didn't mention Embry, and neither did he. I laughed, too. "I'll try to get hin a good selection."

I broached the subject with Mike in English.

"Hey, Mike," I said when class was over. "Are you free Friday night?"

He looked up, his blue eyes instantly hopeful. "Yeah, I am. You want to go out?"

I worded my reply carefully. "I was thinking about getting a group" - I emphasized the word - "together to go see Crosshairs." I'd done my homework this time - even reading the movie spoilers to be sure I wouldn't be caught off guard. This movie was supposed to be a bloodbath from start to finish. I wasn't so recovered that I could stand to sit through a romance. "Does that sound like fun?"

"Sure," he agreed, visibly less eager.

"Cool."

After a second, he perked back up to near his former excitement level. "How about we get Angela and Ben? Or Eric and Katie?"

He was determined to make this some kind of double date, apparently.

"How about both?" I suggested "And Jessica, too, of course. And Tyler and Conner, and maybe Lauren," I tacked on grudgingly. I had promised Quil variety.

"Okay," Mike muttered, foiled.

"And," I continued, "I've got a couple of friends from La Push I'm inviting. So it sounds like we'll need your Suburban if everyone comes."

Mike's eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"These are the friends you spend all your time studying with now?"

"Yep, the very ones," I answered cheerfully. "Though you could look at it as tutoring - they're only sophomores."

"Oh," Mike said, surprised. After a second of thought, he smiled.

In the end, though, the Suburban wasn't necessary.

Jessica and Lauren claimed to be busy as soon as Mike let it slip that I was involved in the planning. Eric and Katie already had plans - it was their three-week anniversary or something. Lauren got to Tyler and Conner before Mike could, so those two were also busy. Even Quil was out - grounded for fighting at school. In the end, only Angela and Ben, and, of course Jacob, were able to go.

The diminished numbers didn't dampen Mike's anticipation, though. It was all he could talk about Friday.

"Are you sure you don't want to see Tomorrow and Forever instead?" he asked at lunch, naming the current romantic comedy that was ruling the box office. "Rotten Tomatoes gave it a better review."

"I want to see Crosshairs" I insisted. "I'm in the mood for action. Bring on the blood and guts!"

"Okay." Mike turned away, but not before I saw his maybe-she's-crazy-after-all expression.

When I got home from school, a very familiar car was parked in front of my house. Jacob was leaning against the hood, a huge grin lighting up his face.

"No way!" I shouted as I jumped out of the truck. "You're done! I can't believe it! You finished the Rabbit!"

He beamed. "Just last night. This is the maiden voyage."

"Incredible." I held my hand up for a high five.

He smacked his hand against mine, but left it there, twisting his fingers through mine. "So do I get to drive tonight?"

"Definitely," I said, and then I sighed.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm giving up - I can't top this one. So you win. You're oldest."

He shrugged, unsurprised by my capitulation. "Of course I am."

Mike's Suburban chugged around the corner. I pulled my hand out of Jacob's, and he nude a face that I wasn't meant to see.

"I remember this guy," he said in a low voice as Mike parked across the street. "The one who thought you were his girlfriend. Is he still confused?"

I raised one eyebrow. "Some people are hard to discourage."

"Then again," Jacob said thoughtfully, "sometimes persistence pays off."

"Most of the time it's just annoying, though."

Mike got out of his car and crossed the road.

"Hey, Bella," he greeted me, and then his eyes turned wary as he looked up at Jacob. I glanced briefly at Jacob, too, trying to be objective. He really didn't look like a sophomore at all. He was just so big - Mike's head barely cleared Jacob's shoulder; I didn't even want to think where I measured next to him - and then his face was older-looking than it used to be, even a month ago.

"Hey, Mike! Do you remember Jacob Black?"

"Not really." Mike held out his hand.

"Old family friend," Jacob introduced himself, shaking hands. They locked hands with more force than necessary. When their grip broke, Mike flexed his fingers.

I heard the phone ringing from the kitchen.

"I'd better get that - it might be Charlie," I told them, and dashed inside.

It was Ben. Angela was sick with the stomach flu, and he didn't feel like coming without her. He apologized for bailing on us.

I walked slowly back to the waiting boys, shaking my head. I really hoped Angela would feel better soon, but I had to admit that I was selfishly upset by this development. Just the three of us, Mike and Jacob and me, together for the evening - this had worked out brilliantly, I thought with grim sarcasm.

It didn't seem like Jake and Mike had made any progress towards friendship in my absence. They were several yards apart, facing away from each other as they waited for me; Mike's expression was sullen, though Jacob's was cheerful as always.

"Ang is sick," I told them glumly. "She and Ben aren't coming."

"I guess the flu is making another round. Austin and Conner were out today, too. Maybe we should do this another time," Mike suggested.

Before I could agree, Jacob spoke.

"I'm still up for it. But if you'd rather to stay behind, Mike - "

"No, I'm coming," Mike interrupted. "I was just thinking of Angela and Ben. Let's go." He started toward his Suburban.

"Hey, do you mind if Jacob drives?" I asked. "I told him he could - he just finished his car. He built it from scratch, all by himself," I bragged, proud as a PTA mom with a student on the principal's list.

"Fine," Mike snapped.

"All right, then," Jacob said, as if that settled everything. He seemed more comfortable than anyone else.

Mike climbed in the backseat of the Rabbit with a disgusted expression.

Jacob was his normal sunny self, chattering away until I'd all but forgotten Mike sulking silently in the back.

And then Mike changed his strategy. He leaned forward, resting his chin on the shoulder of my seat; his cheek almost touched mine. I shifted away, turning my back toward the window.

"Doesn't the radio work in this thing?" Mike asked with a hint of petulance, interrupting Jacob mid-sentence.

"Yes," Jacob answered. "But Bella doesn't like music."

I stared at Jacob, surprised. I'd never told him that.

"Bella?" Mike asked, annoyed.

"He's right," I mumbled, still looking at Jacob's serene profile.

"How can you not like music?" Mike demanded.

I shrugged. "I don't know. It just irritates me."

"Hmph." Mike leaned away.

When we got to the theater, Jacob handed me a ten-dollar bill.

"What's this?" I objected.

"I'm not old enough to get into this one," he reminded me.

I laughed out loud. "So much for relative ages. Is Billy going to kill me if I sneak you in?"

"No. I told him you were planning to corrupt my youthful innocence."

I snickered, and Mike quickened his pace to keep up with us.

I almost wished that Mike had decided to bow out. He was still sullen - not much of an addition to the party. But I didn't want to end up on a date alone with Jacob, either. That wouldn't help anything.

The movie was exactly what it professed to be. In just the opening credits, four people got blown up and one got beheaded. The girl in front of me put her hands over her eyes and turned her face into her date's chest. He patted her shoulder, and winced occasionally, too. Mike didn't look like he was watching. His face was stiff as he glared toward the fringe of curtain above the screen.

I settled in to endure the two hours, watching the colors and the movement on the screen rather than seeing the shapes of people and cars and houses. But then Jacob started sniggering.

"What?" I whispered.

"Oh, c'mon!" he hissed back. "The blood squirted twenty feet out of that guy. How fake can you get?"

He chuckled again, as a flagpole speared another man into a concrete wall.

After that, I really watched the show, laughing with him as the mayhem got more and more ridiculous. How was I ever going to fight the blurring lines in our relationship when I enjoyed being with him so much?

Both Jacob and Mike had claimed the armrests on either side of me. Both of their hands rested lightly, palms up, in an unnatural looking position. Like steel bear traps, open and ready. Jacob was in the habit of taking my hand whenever the opportunity presented itself, but here in the darkened movie theater, with Mike watching, it would have a different significance - and I was sure he knew that. I couldn't believe that Mike was thinking the same thing, but his hand was placed exactly like Jacob's.

I folded my arms tightly across my chest and hoped that both their hands fell asleep.

Mike gave up first. About halfway through the movie, he pulled his arm back, and leaned forward to put his head in his hands. At first I thought he was reacting to something on the screen, but then he moaned.

"Mike, are you okay?" I whispered.

The couple in front of us turned to look at him as he groaned again.

I could see the sheen of sweat across his face in the light from the screen.

Mike groaned again, and bolted for the door. I got up to follow him, and Jacob copied me immediately.

"No, stay," I whispered. "I'll make sure he's okay."

Jacob came with me anyway.

"You don't have to come. Get your eight bucks worth of carnage," I insisted as we walked up the aisle.

"That's okay. You sure can pick them, Bella. This movie really sucks." His voice rose from a whisper to its normal pitch as we walked out of the theater.

There was no sign of Mike in the hallway, and I was glad then that Jacob had come with me - he ducked into the men's bathroom to check for him there.

Jacob was back in a few seconds.

"Oh, he's in there, all right," he said, rolling his eyes. "What a marshmallow. You should hold out for someone with a stronger stomach. Someone who laughs at the gore that makes weaker men vomit."

"I'll keep my eyes open for someone like that."

We were all alone in the hallway. Both theaters were halfway through the movie, and it was deserted - quiet enough for us to hear the popcorn popping at the concession counter in the lobby.

Jacob went to sit on the velveteen-upholstered bench against the wall, patting the space beside him.

"He sounded like he was going to be in there for a while," he said, stretching his long legs out in front of him as he settled in to wait.

I joined him with a sigh. He looked like he was thinking about blurring more lines. Sure enough, as soon as I sat down, he shifted over to put his arm around my shoulders.

"Jake," I protested, leaning away. He dropped his arm, not looking bothered at all by the minor rejection. He reached out and took my hand firmly, wrapping his other hand around my wrist when I tried to pull away again. Where did he get the confidence from?

"Now, just hold on a minute, Bella," he said in a calm voice. "Tell me something."

I grimaced. I didn't want to do this. Not just not now, but not ever. There was nothing lett in my life at this point that was more important than Jacob Black. But he seemed determined to ruin everything.

"What?" I muttered sourly.

"You like me, right?"

"You know I do."

"Better than that joker puking his guts out in there?" He gestured toward the bathroom door.

"Yes," I sighed.

"Better than any of the other guys you know?" He was calm, serene - as if my answer didn't matter, or he already knew what it was.

"Better than the girls, too," I pointed out.

"But that's all," he said, and it wasn't a question.

It was hard to answer, to say the word. Would he get hurt and avoid me? How would I stand that?

"Yes," I whispered.

He grinned down at me. "That's okay, you know. As long as you like me the best. And you think I'm good-looking - sort of. I'm prepared to be annoyingly persistent."

"I'm not going to change," I said, and though I tried to keep my voice normal, I could hear the sadness in it.

His face was thoughtful, no longer teasing. "It's still the other one, isn't it?"

I cringed. Funny how he seemed to know not to say the name - just like before in the car with the music. He picked up on so much about me that I never said.

"You don't have to talk about it," he told me.

I nodded, grateful.

"But don't get mad at me for hanging around, okay?" Jacob patted the back of my hand. "Because I'm not giving up. I've got loads of time."

I sighed. "You shouldn't waste it on me," I said, though I wanted him to. Especially if he was willing to accept me the way I was - damaged goods, as is.

"It's what I want to do, as long as you still like to be with me."

"I can't imagine how I could not like being with you," I told him honestly.

Jacob beamed. "I can live with that."

"Just don't expect more," I warned him, trying to pull my hand away. He held onto it obstinately.

"This doesn't really bother you, does it?" he demanded, squeezing my fingers.

"No," I sighed. Truthfully, it felt nice. His hand was so much warmer than mine; I always felt too cold these days.

"And you don't care what he thinks." Jacob jerked his thumb toward the bathroom.

"I guess not."

"So what's the problem?"

"The problem," I said, "is, that it means something different to me than it does to you."

"Well." He tightened his hand around mine "That's my problem, isn't it?"

"Fine," I grumbled. "Don't forget it, though."

"I won't. The pin's out of the grenade for me, now, eh?" He poked me in the ribs.

I rolled my eyes. I guess if he felt like making a joke out of it, he was entitled.

He chuckled quietly for a minute while his pinky finger absently traced designs against the side of my hand.

"That's a funny scar you've got there," he suddenly said, twisting my hand to examine it. "How did that happen?"

The index finger of his free hand followed the line of the long silvery crescent that was barely visible against my pale skin.

I scowled. "Do you honestly expect me to remember where all my scars come from?"

I waited for the memory to hit - to open the gaping hole. But, as it so often did, Jacob's presence kept me whole.

"It's cold," he murmured, pressing lightly against the place where James had cut me with his teeth.

And then Mike stumbled out of the bathroom, his face ashen and covered in sweat. He looked horrible.

"Oh, Mike," I gasped.

"Do you mind leaving early?" he whispered.

"No, of course not." I pulled my hand free and went to help Mike walk. He looked unsteady.

"Movie too much for you?" Jacob asked heartlessly.

Mike's glare was malevolent. "I didn't actually see any of it," he mumbled. "I was nauseated before the lights went down."

"Why didn't you say something?" I scolded as we staggered toward the exit.

"I was hoping it would pass," he said.

"Just a sec," Jacob said as we reached the door. He walked quickly back to the concession stand.

"Could I have an empty popcorn bucket?" he asked the salesgirl. She looked at Mike once, and then thrust a bucket at Jacob.

"Get him outside, please," she begged. She was obviously the one who would have to clean the floor.

I towed Mike out into the cool, wet air. He inhaled deeply. Jacob was right behind us. He helped me get Mike into the back of the car, and handed him the bucket with a serious gaze.

"Please," was all Jacob said.

We rolled down the windows, letting the icy night air blow through the car, hoping it would help Mike. I curled my arms around my legs to keep warm.

"Cold, again?" Jacob asked, putting his arm around me before I could answer.

"You're not?"

He shook his head.

"You must have a fever or something," I grumbled. It was freezing. I touched my fingers to his forehead, and his head was hot.

"Whoa, Jake - you're burning up!"

"I feel fine." He shrugged. "Fit as a fiddle."

I frowned and touched his head again. His skin blazed under my fingers.

"Your hands are like ice," he complained.

"Maybe it's me," I allowed.

Mike groaned in the backseat, and threw up in the bucket. I grimaced, hoping my own stomach could stand the sound and smell. Jacob checked anxiously over his shoulder to make sure his car wasn't defiled.

The road felt longer on the way back.

Jacob was quiet, thoughtful. He left his arm around me, and it was so warm that the cold wind felt good.

I stared out the windshield, consumed with guilt.

It was so wrong to encourage Jacob. Pure selfishness. It didn't matter that I'd tried to make my position clear. If he felt any hope at all that this could turn into something other than friendship, then I hadn't been clear enough.

How could I explain so that he would understand? I was an empty shell. Like a vacant house - condemned - for months I'd been utterly uninhabitable. Now I was a little improved. The front room was in better repair. But that was all - just the one small piece. He deserved better than that - better than a one-room, falling-down fixer-upper. No amount of investment on his part could put me back in working order.

Yet I knew that I wouldn't send him away, regardless. I needed him too much, and I was selfish. Maybe I could make my side more clear, so that he would know to leave me. The thought made me shudder, and Jacob tightened his arm around me.

I drove Mike home in his Suburban, while Jacob followed behind us to take me home. Jacob was quiet all the way back to my house, and I wondered if he were thinking the same things that I was. Maybe he was changing his mind.

"I would invite myself in, since we're early," he said as we pulled up next to my truck. "But I think you might be right about the fever. I'm starting to feel a little... strange."

"Oh no, not you, too! Do you want me to drive you home?"

"No." He shook his head, his eyebrows pulling together. "I don't feel sick yet. Just... wrong. If I have to, I'll pull over."

"Will you call me as soon as you get in?" I asked anxiously.

"Sure, sure." He frowned, staring ahead into the darkness and biting his lip.

I opened my door to get out, but he grabbed my wrist lightly and held me there. I noticed again how hot his skin felt on mine.

"What is it, Jake?" I asked.

"There's something I want to tell you, Bella... but I think it's going to sound kind of corny."

I sighed. This would be more of the same from the theater. "Go ahead."

"It's just that, I know how you're unhappy a lot. And, maybe it doesn't help anything, but I wanted you to know that I'm always here. I won't ever let you down - I promise that you can always count on me. Wow, that does sound corny. But you know that, right? That I would never, ever hurt you?"

"Yeah, Jake. I know that. And I already do count on you, probably more than you know."

The smile broke across his face the way the sunrise set the clouds on fire, and I wanted to cut my tongue out. I hadn't said one word that was a lie, but I should have lied. The truth was wrong, it would hurt him. I would let him down.

A strange look crossed his face. "I really think I'd better go home now," he said.

I got out quickly.

"Call me!" I yelled as he pulled away.

I watched him go, and he seemed to be in control of the car, at least. I stared at the empty street when he was gone, feeling a little sick myself, but not for any physical reason.

How much I wished that Jacob Black had been born my brother, my flesh-and -blood brother, so that I would have some legitimate claim on him that still left me free of any blame now. Heaven knows I had never wanted to use Jacob, but I couldn't help but interpret the guilt I felt now to mean that I had.

Even more, I had never meant to love him. One thing I truly knew - knew it in the pit of my stomach, in the center of my bones, knew it from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, knew it deep in my empty chest - was how love gave someone the power to break you.

I'd been broken beyond repair.

But I needed Jacob now, needed him like a drug. I'd used him as a crutch for too long, and I was in deeper than I'd planned to go with anyone again. Now I couldn't bear for him to be hurt, and I couldn't keep from hurting him, either. He thought time and patience would change me, and, though I knew he was dead wrong, I also knew that I would let him try.

He was my best friend. I would always love him, and it would never, ever be enough.

I went inside to sit by the phone and bite my nails.

"Movie over already?" Charlie asked in surprise when I came in. He was on the floor, just a foot from the TV. Must be an exciting game.

"Mike got sick," I explained. "Some kind of stomach flu."

"You okay?"

"I feel fine now," I said doubtfully. Clearly, I'd been exposed.

I leaned against the kitchen counter, my hand inches from the phone, and tried to wait patiently. I thought of the strange look on Jacob's face before he drove away, and my fingers started drumming against the counter. I should have insisted on driving him home.

I watched the clock as the minutes ticked by Ten. Fifteen. Even when I was driving, it took only fifteen minutes, and Jacob drove faster than I did. Eighteen minutes. I picked up the phone and dialed.

It rang and rang. Maybe Billy was asleep. Maybe I'd dialed wrong. I tried again.

On the eighth ring, just as I was about to hang up, Billy answered.

"Hello?" he asked. His voice was wary, like he was expecting bad news.

"Billy, it's me, Bella - did Jake make it home yet? He left here about twenty minutes ago."

"He's here," Billy said tonelessly.

"He was supposed to call me." I was a little irritated. "He was getting sick when he left, and I was worried."

"He was... too sick to call. He's not feeling well right now." Billy sounded distant. I realized he must want to be with Jacob.

"Let me know if you need any help," I offered. "I could come down." I thought of Billy, stuck in his chair, and Jake fending for himself...

"No, no," Billy said quickly. "We're fine. Stay at your place."

The way he said it was almost rude.

"Okay," I agreed.

"Bye, Bella."

The line disconnected.

"Bye," I muttered.

Well, at least he'd made it home. Oddly, I didn't feel less worried. I trudged up the stairs, fretting. Maybe I would go down before work tomorrow to check on him. I could take soup - we had to have a can of Campbell's around here somewhere.

I realized all such plans were canceled when I woke up early - my clock said four thirty - and sprinted to the bathroom. Charlie found me there a half hour later, lying on the floor, my cheek pressed against the cold edge of the bathtub.

He looked at me for a long moment.

"Stomach flu," he finally said.

"Yes," I moaned.

"You need something?" he asked.

"Call the Newtons for me, please," I instructed hoarsely. "Tell them I have what Mike has, and that I can't make it in today. Tell them I'm sorry."

"Sure, no problem," Charlie assured me.

I spent the rest of the day on the bathroom floor, sleeping for a few hours with my head on a crumpled up towel. Charlie claimed that he had to work, but I suspected that he just wanted access to a bathroom. He left a glass of water on the floor beside me to keep me hydrated.

It woke me up when he came back home. I could see that it was dark in my room - after nightfall. He clumped up the stairs to check on me.

"Stillalive?"

"Sort of," I said.

"Do you want anything?"

"No, thanks."

He hesitated, clearly out of his element. "Okay, then," he said, and then he went back down to the kitchen.

I heard the phone ring a few minutes later. Charlie spoke to someone in a low voice for a moment, and then hung up.

"Mike feels better," he called up to me.

Well, that was encouraging. He'd only gotten sick eight hours or so before me. Eight more hours. The thought made my stomach turn, and I pulled myself up to lean over the toilet.

I fell asleep on the towel again, but when I woke up I was in my bed and it was light outside my window. I didn't remember moving; Charlie must have carried me to my room - he'd also put the glass of water on my bedside table. I felt parched. I chugged it down, though it tasted funny from sitting stagnant all night.

I got up slowly, trying not to trigger the nausea again. I was weak, and my mouth tasted horrible, but my stomach felt fine. I looked at my clock.

My twenty-four hours were up.

I didn't push it, eating nothing but saltine crackers for breakfast. Charlie looked relieved to see me recovered.

As soon as I was sure that I wasn't going to have to spend the day on the bathroom floor again, I called Jacob.

Jacob was the one who answered, but when I heard his greeting I knew he wasn't over it.

"Hello?" His voice was broken, cracking.

"Oh, Jake," I groaned sympathetically. "You sound horrible."

"I feel horrible," he whispered.

"I'm so sorry I made you go out with me. This sucks."

"I'm glad I went." His voice was still a whisper. "Don't blame yourself. This isn't your fault."

"You'll get better soon," I promised. "I woke up this morning, and I was fine."

"You were sick?" he asked dully.

"Yes, I got it, too. But I'm fine now."

"That's good." His voice was dead.

"So you'll probably be better in a few hours," I encouraged.

I could barely hear his answer. "I don't think I have the same thing you did."

"Don't you have the stomach flu?" I asked, confused.

"No. This is something else."

"What's wrong with you?"

"Everything," he whispered. "Every part of me hurts."

The pain in his voice was nearly tangible.

"What can I do, Jake? What can I bring you?"

"Nothing. You can't come here." He was abrupt. It reminded me of Billy the other night.

"I've already been exposed to whatever you have," I pointed out.

He ignored me. "I'll call you when I can. I'll let you know when you can come down again."

"Jacob - "

"I've got to go," he said with sudden urgency.

"Call me when you feel better."

"Right," he agreed, and his voice had a strange, bitter edge.

He was silent for a moment. I was waiting for him to say goodbye, but he waited too.

"I'll see you soon," I finally said. "Wait for me to call," he said again. "Okay... Bye, Jacob."

"Bella," he whispered my name, and then hung up the phone.

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