"I HAVE FORESEEN . . . ," ALICE BEGAN IN AN OMINOUS tone.
Edward threw an elbow toward her ribs, which she neatly dodged.
"Fine," she grumbled. "Edward is making me do this. But I did foresee that you would be more difficult if I surprised you."
We were walking to the car after school, and I was completely clueless as to what she was talking about.
"In English?" I requested.
"Don't be a baby about this. No tantrums."
"Now I'm scared."
"So you're - I mean we're - having a graduation party. It's no big thing. Nothing to freak out over. But I saw that you would freak out if I tried to make it a surprise party" - she danced out of the way as Edward reached over to muss her hair - "and Edward said I had to tell you. But it's nothing. Promise."
I sighed heavily. "Is there any point in arguing?"
"None at all."
"Okay, Alice. I'll be there. And I'll hate every minute of it. Promise."
"That's the spirit! By the way, I love my gift. You shouldn't have."
"Alice, I didn't!"
"Oh, I know that. But you will."
I racked my brains in panic, trying to remember what I'd ever decided to get her for graduation that she might have seen.
"Amazing," Edward muttered. "How can someone so tiny be so annoying?"
Alice laughed. "It's a talent."
"Couldn't you have waited a few weeks to tell me about this?" I asked petulantly. "Now I'll just be stressed that much longer."
Alice frowned at me.
"Bella," she said slowly. "Do you know what day it is?"
She rolled her eyes. "Yes. It is Monday . . . the fourth." She grabbed my elbow, spun me halfway around, and pointed toward a big yellow poster taped to the gym door. There, in sharp black letters, was the date of graduation. Exactly one week from today.
"It's the fourth? Of June? Are you sure?"
Neither one answered. Alice just shook her head sadly, feigning disappointment, and Edward's eyebrows lifted.
"It can't be! How did that happen?" I tried to count backwards in my head, but I couldn't figure out where the days had gone.
I felt like someone had kicked my legs out from under me. The weeks of stress, of worry . . . somehow in the middle of all my obsessing over the time, my time had disappeared. My space for sorting through it all, for making plans, had vanished. I was out of time.
And I wasn't ready.
I didn't know how to do this. How to say goodbye to Charlie and Ren��e . . . to Jacob . . . to being human.
I knew exactly what I wanted, but I was suddenly terrified of getting it.
In theory, I was anxious, even eager to trade mortality for immortality. After all, it was the key to staying with Edward forever. And then there was the fact that I was being hunted by known and unknown parties. I'd rather not sit around, helpless and delicious, waiting for one of them to catch up with me.
In theory, that all made sense.
In practice . . . being human was all I knew. The future beyond that was a big, dark abyss that I couldn't know until I leaped into it.
This simple knowledge, today's date - which was so obvious that I must have been subconsciously repressing it - made the deadline I'd been impatiently counting down toward feel like a date with the firing squad.
In a vague way, I was aware of Edward holding the car door for me, of Alice chattering from the backseat, of the rain hammering against the windshield. Edward seemed to realize I was only there in body; he didn't try to pull me out of my abstraction. Or maybe he did, and I was past noticing.
We ended up at my house, where Edward led me to the sofa and pulled me down next to him. I stared out the window, into the liquid gray haze, and tried to find where my resolve had gone. Why was I panicking now? I'd known the deadline was coming. Why should it frighten me that it was here?
I don't know how long he let me stare out the window in silence. But the rain was disappearing into darkness when it was finally too much for him.
He put his cold hands on either side of my face and fixed his golden eyes on mine.
"Would you please tell me what you are thinking? Before I go mad?"
What could I say to him? That I was a coward? I searched for words.
"Your lips are white. Talk, Bella."
I exhaled in a big gust. How long had I been holding my breath?
"The date took me off guard," I whispered. "That's all."
He waited, his face full of worry and skepticism.
I tried to explain. "I'm not sure what to do . . . what to tell Charlie . . . what to say . . . how to . . ." My voice trailed off.
"This isn't about the party?"
I frowned. "No. But thanks for reminding me."
The rain was louder as he read my face.
"You're not ready," he whispered.
"I am," I lied immediately, a reflex reaction. I could tell he saw through it, so I took a deep breath, and told the truth. "I have to be."
"You don't have to be anything."
I could feel the panic surfacing in my eyes as I mouthed the reasons. "Victoria, Jane, Caius, whoever was in my room . . . !"
"All the more reason to wait."
"That doesn't make any sense, Edward!"
He pressed his hands more tightly to my face and spoke with slow deliberation.
"Bella. Not one of us had a choice. You've seen what it's done . . . to Rosalie especially. We've all struggled, trying to reconcile ourselves with something we had no control over. I won't let it be that way for you. You will have a choice."
"I've already made my choice."
"You aren't going through with this because a sword is hanging over your head. We will take care of the problems, and I will take care of you," he vowed. "When we're through it, and there is nothing forcing your hand, then you can decide to join me, if you still want to. But not because you're afraid. You won't be forced into this."
"Carlisle promised," I mumbled, contrary out of habit. "After graduation."
"Not until you're ready," he said in a sure voice. "And definitely not while you feel threatened."
I didn't answer. I didn't have it in me to argue; I couldn't seem to find my commitment at the moment.
"There." He kissed my forehead. "Nothing to worry about."
I laughed a shaky laugh. "Nothing but impending doom."
He was still watching my face, waiting for me to relax.
"Can I ask you something?" I said.
I hesitated, biting my lip, and then asked a different question than the one I was worried about.
"What am I getting Alice for graduation?"
He snickered. "It looked like you were getting us both concert tickets -"
"That's right!" I was so relieved, I almost smiled. "The concert in Tacoma. I saw an ad in the paper last week, and I thought it would be something you'd like, since you said it was a good CD."
"It's a great idea. Thank you."
"I hope it's not sold out."
"It's the thought that counts. I ought to know."
"There's something else you meant to ask," he said.
I frowned. "You're good."
"I have lots of practice reading your face. Ask me."
I closed my eyes and leaned into him, hiding my face against his chest. "You don't want me to be a vampire."
"No, I don't," he said softly, and then he waited for more. "That's not a question," he prompted after a moment.
"Well . . . I was worrying about . . . why you feel that way."
"Worrying?" He picked out the word with surprise.
"Would you tell me why? The whole truth, not sparing my feelings?"
He hesitated for a minute. "If I answer your question, will you then explain your question?"
I nodded, my face still hidden.
He took a deep breath before he answered. "You could do so much better, Bella. I know that you believe I have a soul, but I'm not entirely convinced on that point, and to risk yours . . ." He shook his head slowly. "For me to allow this - to let you become what I am just so that I'll never have to lose you - is the most selfish act I can imagine. I want it more than anything, for myself. But for you, I want so much more. Giving in - it feels criminal. It's the most selfish thing I'll ever do, even if I live forever.
"If there were any way for me to become human for you - no matter what the price was, I would pay it."
I sat very still, absorbing this.
Edward thought he was being selfish.
I felt the smile slowly spread across my face.
"So . . . it's not that you're afraid you won't . . . like me as much when I'm different - when I'm not soft and warm and I don't smell the same? You really do want to keep me, no matter how I turn out?"
He exhaled sharply. "You were worried I wouldn't like you?" he demanded. Then, before I could answer, he was laughing. "Bella, for a fairly intuitive person, you can be so obtuse!"
I knew he would think it silly, but I was relieved. If he really wanted me, I could get through the rest . . . somehow. Selfish suddenly seemed like a beautiful word.
"I don't think you realize how much easier it will be for me, Bella," he said, the echo of his humor still there in his voice, "when I don't have to concentrate all the time on not killing you. Certainly, there are things I'll miss. This for one . . ."
He stared into my eyes as he stroked my cheek, and I felt the blood rush up to color my skin. He laughed gently.
"And the sound of your heart," he continued, more serious but still smiling a little. "It's the most significant sound in my world. I'm so attuned to it now, I swear I could pick it out from miles away. But neither of these things matter. This," he said, taking my face in his hands. "You. That's what I'm keeping. You'll always be my Bella, you'll just be a little more durable."
I sighed and let my eyes close in contentment, resting there in his hands.
"Now will you answer a question for me? The whole truth, not sparing my feelings?" he asked.
"Of course," I answered at once, my eyes opening wide with surprise. What would he want to know?
He spoke the words slowly. "You don't want to be my wife."
My heart stopped, and then broke into a sprint. A cold sweat dewed on the back of my neck and my hands turned to ice.
He waited, watching and listening to my reaction.
"That's not a question," I finally whispered.
He looked down, his lashes casting long shadows across his cheekbones, and dropped his hands from my face to pick up my frozen left hand. He played with my fingers while he spoke.
"I was worrying about why you felt that way."
I tried to swallow. "That's not a question, either," I whispered.
"The truth?" I asked, only mouthing the words.
"Of course. I can take it, whatever it is."
I took a deep breath. "You're going to laugh at me."
His eyes flashed up to mine, shocked. "Laugh? I cannot imagine that."
"You'll see," I muttered, and then I sighed. My face went from white to scarlet in a sudden blaze of chagrin. "Okay, fine! I'm sure this will sound like some big joke to you, but really! It's just so . . . so . . . so embarrassing!" I confessed, and I hid my face against his chest again.
There was a brief pause.
"I'm not following you."
I tilted my head back and glared at him, embarrassment making me lash out, belligerent.
"I'm not that girl, Edward. The one who gets married right out of high school like some small-town hick who got knocked up by her boyfriend! Do you know what people would think? Do you realize what century this is? People don't just get married at eighteen! Not smart people, not responsible, mature people! I wasn't going to be that girl! That's not who I am. . . ." I trailed off, losing steam.
Edward's face was impossible to read as he thought through my answer.
"That's all?" he finally asked.
I blinked. "Isn't that enough?"
"It's not that you were . . . more eager for immortality itself than for just me?"
And then, though I'd predicted that he would laugh, I was suddenly the one having hysterics.
"Edward!" I gasped out between the paroxysms of giggles. "And here . . . I always . . . thought that . . . you were . . . so much . . . smarter than me!"
He took me in his arms, and I could feel that he was laughing with me.
"Edward," I said, managing to speak more clearly with a little effort, "there's no point to forever without you. I wouldn't want one day without you."
"Well, that's a relief," he said.
"Still . . . it doesn't change anything."
"It's nice to understand, though. And I do understand your perspective, Bella, truly I do. But I'd like it very much if you'd try to consider mine."
I'd sobered up by then, so I nodded and struggled to keep the frown off my face.
His liquid gold eyes turned hypnotic as they held mine.
"You see, Bella, I was always that boy. In my world, I was already a man. I wasn't looking for love - no, I was far too eager to be a soldier for that; I thought of nothing but the idealized glory of the war that they were selling prospective draftees then - but if I had found . . ." He paused, cocking his head to the side. "I was going to say if I had found someone, but that won't do. If I had found you, there isn't a doubt in my mind how I would have proceeded. I was that boy, who would have - as soon as I discovered that you were what I was looking for - gotten down on one knee and endeavored to secure your hand. I would have wanted you for eternity, even when the word didn't have quite the same connotations."
He smiled his crooked smile at me.
I stared at him with my eyes frozen wide.
"Breathe, Bella," he reminded me, smiling.
"Can you see my side, Bella, even a little bit?"
And for one second, I could. I saw myself in a long skirt and a high-necked lace blouse with my hair piled up on my head. I saw Edward looking dashing in a light suit with a bouquet of wildflowers in his hand, sitting beside me on a porch swing.
I shook my head and swallowed. I was just having Anne of Green Gables flashbacks.
"The thing is, Edward," I said in a shaky voice, avoiding the question, "in my mind, marriage and eternity are not mutually exclusive or mutually inclusive concepts. And since we're living in my world for the moment, maybe we should go with the times, if you know what I mean."
"But on the other hand," he countered, "you will soon be leaving time behind you altogether. So why should the transitory customs of one local culture affect the decision so much?"
I pursed my lips. "When in Rome?"
He laughed at me. "You don't have to say yes or no today, Bella. It's good to understand both sides, though, don't you think?"
"So your condition . . . ?"
"Is still in effect. I do see your point, Bella, but if you want me to change you myself. . . ."
"Dum, dum, dah-dum," I hummed under my breath. I was going for the wedding march, but it sort of sounded like a dirge.
Time continued to move too fast.
That night flew by dreamlessly, and then it was morning and graduation was staring me in the face. I had a pile of studying to do for my finals that I knew I wouldn't get halfway through in the few days I had left.
When I came down for breakfast, Charlie was already gone. He'd left the paper on the table, and that reminded me that I had some shopping to do. I hoped the ad for the concert was still running; I needed the phone number to get the stupid tickets. It didn't seem like much of a gift now that all the surprise was gone. Of course, trying to surprise Alice wasn't the brightest plan to begin with.
I meant to flip right back to the entertainment section, but the thick black headline caught my attention. I felt a thrill of fear as I leaned closer to read the front-page story.
SEATTLE TERRORIZED BY SLAYINGS
It's been less than a decade since the city of Seattle was the hunting ground for the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history. Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, was convicted of the murders of 48 women.
And now a beleaguered Seattle must face the possibility that it could be harboring an even more horrifying monster at this very moment.
The police are not calling the recent rash of homicides and disappearances the work of a serial killer. Not yet, at least. They are reluctant to believe so much carnage could be the work of one individual. This killer - if, in fact, it is one person - would then be responsible for 39 linked homicides and disappearances within the last three months alone. In comparison, Ridgway's 48- count murder spree was scattered over a 21-year period. If these deaths can be linked to one man, then this is the most violent rampage of serial murder in American history.
The police are leaning instead toward the theory that gang activity is involved. This theory is supported by the sheer number of victims, and by the fact that there seems to be no pattern in the choice of victims.
From Jack the Ripper to Ted Bundy, the targets of serial killings are usually connected by similarities in age, gender, race, or a combination of the three. The victims of this crime wave range in age from 15-year-old honor student Amanda Reed, to 67-year-old retired postman Omar Jenks. The linked deaths include a nearly even 18 women and 21 men. The victims are racially diverse: Caucasians, African Americans, Hispanics and Asians.
The selection appears random. The motive seems to be killing for no other reason than to kill.
So why even consider the idea of a serial killer?
There are enough similarities in the modus operandi to rule out unrelated crimes. Every victim discovered has been burned to the extent that dental records were necessary for identification. The use of some kind of accelerant, like gasoline or alcohol, seems to be indicated in the conflagrations; however, no traces of any accelerant have yet been found. All of the bodies have been carelessly dumped with no attempt at concealment.
More gruesome yet, most of the remains show evidence of brutal violence - bones crushed and snapped by some kind of tremendous pressure - which medical examiners believe occurred before the time of death, though these conclusions are difficult to be sure of, considering the state of the evidence.
Another similarity that points to the possibility of a serial: every crime is perfectly clean of evidence, aside from the remains themselves. Not a fingerprint, not a tire tread mark nor a foreign hair is left behind. There have been no sightings of any suspect in the disappearances.
Then there are the disappearances themselves - hardly low profile by any means. None of the victims are what could be viewed as easy targets. None are runaways or the homeless, who vanish so easily and are seldom reported missing. Victims have vanished from their homes, from a fourth- story apartment, from a health club, from a wedding reception. Perhaps the most astounding: 30- year-old amateur boxer Robert Walsh entered a movie theater with a date; a few minutes into the movie, the woman realized that he was not in his seat. His body was found only three hours later when fire fighters were called to the scene of a burning trash Dumpster, twenty miles away.
Another pattern is present in the slayings: all of the victims disappeared at night.
And the most alarming pattern? Acceleration. Six of the homicides were committed in the first month, 11 in the second. Twenty-two have occurred in the last 10 days alone. And the police are no closer to finding the responsible party than they were after the first charred body was discovered.
The evidence is conflicting, the pieces horrifying. A vicious new gang or a wildly active serial killer? Or something else the police haven't yet conceived of?
Only one conclusion is indisputable: something hideous is stalking Seattle.
It took me three tries to read the last sentence, and I realized the problem was my shaking hands.
Focused as I was, Edward's voice, though quiet and not totally unexpected, made me gasp and whirl.
He was leaning in the doorway, his eyebrows pulled together. Then he was suddenly at my side, taking my hand.
"Did I startle you? I'm sorry. I did knock. . . ."
"No, no," I said quickly. "Have you seen this?" I pointed to the paper.
A frown creased his forehead.
"I hadn't seen today's news yet. But I knew it was getting worse. We're going to have to do something . . . quickly."
I didn't like that. I hated any of them taking chances, and whatever or whoever was in Seattle was truly beginning to frighten me. But the idea of the Volturi coming was just as scary.
"What does Alice say?"
"That's the problem." His frown hardened. "She can't see anything . . . though we've made up our minds half a dozen times to check it out. She's starting to lose confidence. She feels like she's missing too much these days, that something's wrong. That maybe her vision is slipping away."
My eyes were wide. "Can that happen?"
"Who knows? No one's ever done a study . . . but I really doubt it. These things tend to intensify over time. Look at Aro and Jane."
"Then what's wrong?"
"Self-fulfilling prophecy, I think. We keep waiting for Alice to see something so we can go . . . and she doesn't see anything because we won't really go until she does. So she can't see us there. Maybe we'll have to do it blind."
I shuddered. "No."
"Did you have a strong desire to attend class today? We're only a couple of days from finals; they won't be giving us anything new."
"I think I can live without school for a day. What are we doing?"
"I want to talk to Jasper."
Jasper, again. It was strange. In the Cullen family, Jasper was always a little on the fringe, part of things but never the center of them. It was my unspoken assumption that he was only there for Alice. I had the sense that he would follow Alice anywhere, but that this lifestyle was not his first choice. The fact that he was less committed to it than the others was probably why he had more difficulty keeping it up.
At any rate, I'd never seen Edward feel dependent on Jasper. I wondered again what he'd meant about Jasper's expertise. I really didn't know much about Jasper's history, just that he had come from somewhere in the south before Alice found him. For some reason, Edward had always shied away from any questions about his newest brother. And I'd always been too intimidated by the tall, blond vampire who looked like a brooding movie star to ask him outright.
When we got to the house, we found Carlisle, Esme, and Jasper watching the news intently, though the sound was so low that it was unintelligible to me. Alice was perched on the bottom step of the grand staircase, her face in her hands and her expression discouraged. As we walked in, Emmett ambled through the kitchen door, seeming perfectly at ease. Nothing ever bothered Emmett.
"Hey, Edward. Ditching, Bella?" He grinned at me.
"We both are," Edward reminded him.
Emmett laughed. "Yes, but it's her first time through high school. She might miss something."
Edward rolled his eyes, but otherwise ignored his favorite brother. He tossed the paper to Carlisle.
"Did you see that they're considering a serial killer now?" he asked.
Carlisle sighed. "They've had two specialists debating that possibility on CNN all morning."
"We can't let this go on."
"Let's go now," Emmett said with sudden enthusiasm. "I'm dead bored."
A hiss echoed down the stairway from upstairs.
"She's such a pessimist," Emmett muttered to himself.
Edward agreed with Emmett. "We'll have to go sometime."
Rosalie appeared at the top of the stairs and descended slowly. Her face was smooth, expressionless.
Carlisle was shaking his head. "I'm concerned. We've never involved ourselves in this kind of thing before. It's not our business. We aren't the Volturi."
"I don't want the Volturi to have to come here," Edward said. "It gives us so much less reaction time."
"And all those innocent humans in Seattle," Esme murmured. "It's not right to let them die this way."
"I know," Carlisle sighed.
"Oh," Edward said sharply, turning his head slightly to look at Jasper. "I didn't think of that. I see. You're right, that has to be it. Well, that changes everything."
I wasn't the only one who stared at him in confusion, but I might have been the only one who didn't look slightly annoyed.
"I think you'd better explain to the others," Edward said to Jasper. "What could be the purpose of this?" Edward started to pace, staring at the floor, lost in thought.
I hadn't seen her get up, but Alice was there beside me. "What is he rambling about?" she asked Jasper. "What are you thinking?"
Jasper didn't seem to enjoy the spotlight. He hesitated, reading every face in the circle - for everyone had moved in to hear what he would say - and then his eyes paused on my face.
"You're confused," he said to me, his deep voice very quiet.
There was no question in his assumption. Jasper knew what I was feeling, what everyone was feeling.
"We're all confused," Emmett grumbled.
"You can afford the time to be patient," Jasper told him. "Bella should understand this, too. She's one of us now."
His words took me by surprise. As little as I'd had to do with Jasper, especially since my last birthday when he'd tried to kill me, I hadn't realize that he thought of me that way.
"How much do you know about me, Bella?" Jasper asked.
Emmett sighed theatrically, and plopped down on the couch to wait with exaggerated impatience.
"Not much," I admitted.
Jasper stared at Edward, who looked up to meet his gaze.
"No," Edward answered his thought. "I'm sure you can understand why I haven't told her that story. But I suppose she needs to hear it now."
Jasper nodded thoughtfully, and then started to roll up the arm of his ivory sweater.
I watched, curious and confused, trying to figure out what he was doing. He held his wrist under the edge of the lampshade beside him, close to the light of the naked bulb, and traced his finger across a raised crescent mark on the pale skin.
It took me a minute to understand why the shape looked strangely familiar.
"Oh," I breathed as realization hit. "Jasper, you have a scar exactly like mine."
I held out my hand, the silvery crescent more prominent against my cream skin than against his alabaster.
Jasper smiled faintly. "I have a lot of scars like yours, Bella."
Jasper's face was unreadable as he pushed the sleeve of his thin sweater higher up his arm. At first my eyes could not make sense of the texture that was layered thickly across the skin. Curved half-moons crisscrossed in a feathery pattern that was only visible, white on white as it was, because the bright glow of the lamp beside him threw the slightly raised design into relief, with shallow shadows outlining the shapes. And then I grasped that the pattern was made of individual crescents like the one on his wrist . . . the one on my hand.
I looked back at my own small, solitary scar - and remembered how I'd received it. I stared at the shape of James's teeth, embossed forever on my skin.
And then I gasped, staring up at him. "Jasper, what happened to you?"