I FELT ODDLY BUOYANT AS I WALKED FROM SPANISH toward the cafeteria, and it wasn't just because I was holding hands with the most perfect person on the planet, though that was certainly part of it.
Maybe it was the knowledge that my sentence was served and I was a free woman again.
Or maybe it wasn't anything to do with me specifically. Maybe it was the atmosphere of freedom that hung over the entire campus. School was winding down, and, for the senior class especially, there was a perceptible thrill in the air.
Freedom was so close it was touchable, taste-able. Signs of it were everywhere. Posters crowded together on the cafeteria walls, and the trashcans wore a colorful skirt of spilled-over fliers: reminders to buy yearbooks, class rings, and announcements; deadlines to order graduation gowns, hats, and tassels; neon- bright sales pitches - the juniors campaigning for class office; ominous, rose-wreathed advertisements for this year's prom. The big dance was this coming weekend, but I had an ironclad promise from Edward that I would not be subjected to that again. After all, I'd already had that human experience.
No, it must be my personal freedom that lightened me today. The ending of the school year did not give me the pleasure it seemed to give the other students. Actually, I felt nervous to the point of nausea whenever I thought of it. I tried to not think of it.
But it was hard to escape such an omnipresent topic as graduation.
"Have you sent your announcements, yet?" Angela asked when Edward and I sat down at our table. She had her light brown hair pulled back into a sloppy ponytail instead of her usual smooth hairdo, and there was a slightly frantic look about her eyes.
Alice and Ben were already there, too, on either side of Angela. Ben was intent over a comic book, his glasses sliding down his narrow nose. Alice was scrutinizing my boring jeans-and-a-t-shirt outfit in a way that made me self-conscious. Probably plotting another makeover. I sighed. My indifferent attitude to fashion was a constant thorn in her side. If I'd allow it, she'd love to dress me every day - perhaps several times a day - like some oversized three-dimensional paper doll.
"No," I answered Angela. "There's no point, really. Ren��e knows when I'm graduating. Who else is there?"
"How about you, Alice?"
Alice smiled. "All done."
"Lucky you." Angela sighed. "My mother has a thousand cousins and she expects me to hand-address one to everybody. I'm going to get carpal tunnel. I can't put it off any longer and I'm just dreading it." "I'll help you," I volunteered. "If you don't mind my awful handwriting."
Charlie would like that. From the corner of my eye, I saw Edward smile. He must like that, too - me fulfilling Charlie's conditions without involving werewolves.
Angela looked relieved. "That's so nice of you. I'll come over any time you want."
"Actually, I'd rather go to your house if that's okay - I'm sick of mine. Charlie un-grounded me last night." I grinned as I announced my good news.
"Really?" Angela asked, mild excitement lighting her always-gentle brown eyes. "I thought you said you were in for life."
"I'm more surprised than you are. I was sure I would at least have finished high school before he set me free."
"Well, this is great, Bella! We'll have to go out to celebrate."
"You have no idea how good that sounds."
"What should we do?" Alice mused, her face lighting up at the possibilities. Alice's ideas were usually a little grandiose for me, and I could see it in her eyes now - the tendency to take things too far kicking into action.
"Whatever you're thinking, Alice, I doubt I'm that free."
"Free is free, right?" she insisted.
"I'm sure I still have boundaries - like the continental U.S., for example."
Angela and Ben laughed, but Alice grimaced in real disappointment.
"So what are we doing tonight?" she persisted.
"Nothing. Look, let's give it a couple of days to make sure he wasn't joking. It's a school night, anyway." "We'll celebrate this weekend, then." Alice's enthusiasm was impossible to repress.
"Sure," I said, hoping to placate her. I knew I wasn't going to do anything too outlandish; it would be safer to take it slow with Charlie. Give him a chance to appreciate how trustworthy and mature I was before I asked for any favors.
Angela and Alice started talking about options; Ben joined the conversation, setting his comics aside. My attention drifted. I was surprised to find that the subject of my freedom was suddenly not as gratifying as it had been just a moment ago. While they discussed things to do in Port Angeles or maybe Hoquiam, I began to feel disgruntled.
It didn't take long to determine where my restlessness stemmed from.
Ever since I'd said goodbye to Jacob Black in the forest outside my home, I'd been plagued by a persistent, uncomfortable intrusion of a specific mental picture. It popped into my thoughts at regular intervals like some annoying alarm clock set to sound every half hour, filling my head with the image of Jacob's face crumpled in pain. This was the last memory I had of him.
As the disturbing vision struck again, I knew exactly why I was dissatisfied with my liberty. Because it was incomplete.
Sure, I was free to go to anywhere I wanted - except La Push; free to do anything I wanted - except see Jacob. I frowned at the table. There had to be some kind of middle ground.
Angela's voice yanked me from my reverie. She was waving her hand back and forth in front of Alice's blank, staring face. Alice's expression was something I recognized - an expression that sent an automatic shock of panic through my body. The vacant look in her eyes told me that she was seeing something very different from the mundane lunchroom scene that surrounded us, but something that was every bit as real in its own way. Something that was coming, something that would happen soon. I felt the blood slither from my face.
Then Edward laughed, a very natural, relaxed sound. Angela and Ben looked toward him, but my eyes were locked on Alice. She jumped suddenly, as if someone had kicked her under the table.
"Is it naptime already, Alice?" Edward teased.
Alice was herself again. "Sorry, I was daydreaming, I guess."
"Daydreaming's better than facing two more hours of school," Ben said.
Alice threw herself back into the conversation with more animation than before - just a little bit too much. Once I saw her eyes lock with Edward's, only for a moment, and then she looked back to Angela before anyone else noticed. Edward was quiet, playing absentmindedly with a strand of my hair.
I waited anxiously for a chance to ask Edward what Alice had seen in her vision, but the afternoon passed without one minute of alone time.
It felt odd to me, almost deliberate. After lunch, Edward slowed his pace to match Ben's, talking about some assignment I knew he'd already finished. Then there was always someone else there between classes, though we usually had a few minutes to ourselves. When the final bell rang, Edward struck up a conversation with Mike Newton of all people, falling into step beside him as Mike headed for the parking lot. I trailed behind, letting Edward tow me along.
I listened, confused, while Mike answered Edward's unusually friendly queries. It seemed Mike was having car troubles.
". . . but I just replaced the battery," Mike was saying. His eyes darted ahead and then back to Edward warily. Mystified, just like I was.
"Perhaps it's the cables?" Edward offered.
"Maybe. I really don't know anything about cars," Mike admitted. "I need to have someone look at it, but I can't afford to take it to Dowling's."
I opened my mouth to suggest my mechanic, and then snapped it shut again. My mechanic was busy these days - busy running around as a giant wolf.
"I know a few things - I could take a look, if you like," Edward offered. "Just let me drop Alice and Bella at home."
Mike and I both stared at Edward with our mouths hanging open. "Er . . . thanks," Mike mumbled when he recovered. "But I have to get to work. Maybe some other time."
"See ya." Mike climbed into his car, shaking his head in disbelief.
Edward's Volvo, with Alice already inside, was just two cars away.
"What was that about?" I muttered as Edward held the passenger door for me.
"Just being helpful," Edward answered.
And then Alice, waiting in the backseat, was babbling at top speed.
"You're really not that good a mechanic, Edward. Maybe you should have Rosalie take a look at it tonight, just so you look good if Mike decides to let you help, you know. Not that it wouldn't be fun to watch his face if Rosalie showed up to help. But since Rosalie is supposed to be across the country attending college, I guess that's not the best idea. Too bad. Though I suppose, for Mike's car, you'll do. It's only within the finer tunings of a good Italian sports car that you're out of your depth. And speaking of Italy and sports cars that I stole there, you still owe me a yellow Porsche. I don't know that I want to wait for Christmas. . . ."
I stopped listening after a minute, letting her quick voice become just a hum in the background as I settled into my patient mode.
It looked to me like Edward was trying to avoid my questions. Fine. He would have to be alone with me soon enough. It was only a matter of time.
Edward seemed to realize that, too. He dropped Alice at the mouth of the Cullens' drive as usual, though by this point I half expected him to drive her to the door and walk her in.
As she got out, Alice threw a sharp look at his face. Edward seemed completely at ease.
"See you later," he said. And then, ever so slightly, he nodded.
Alice turned to disappear into the trees.
He was quiet as he turned the car around and headed back to Forks. I waited, wondering if he would bring it up himself. He didn't, and this made me tense. What had Alice seen today at lunch? Something he didn't want to tell me, and I tried to think of a reason why he would keep secrets. Maybe it would be better to prepare myself before I asked. I didn't want to freak out and have him think I couldn't handle it, whatever it was.
So we were both silent until we got to back to Charlie's house.
"Light homework load tonight," he commented.
"Mmm," I assented.
"Do you suppose I'm allowed inside again?"
"Charlie didn't throw a fit when you picked me up for school."
But I was sure Charlie was going to turn sulky fast when he got home and found Edward here. Maybe I should make something extra-special for dinner.
Inside, I headed up the stairs, and Edward followed. He lounged on my bed and gazed out the window, seeming oblivious to my edginess.
I stowed my bag and turned the computer on. There was an unanswered e-mail from my mom to attend to, and she got panicky when I took too long. I drummed my fingers as I waited for my decrepit computer to wheeze awake; they snapped against the desk, staccato and anxious.
And then his fingers were on mine, holding them still.
"Are we a little impatient today?" he murmured.
I looked up, intending to make a sarcastic remark, but his face was closer than I'd expected. His golden eyes were smoldering, just inches away, and his breath was cool against my open lips. I could taste his scent on my tongue.
I couldn't remember the witty response I'd been about to make. I couldn't remember my name.
He didn't give me a chance to recover.
If I had my way, I would spend the majority of my time kissing Edward. There wasn't anything I'd experienced in my life that compared to the feeling of his cool lips, marble hard but always so gentle, moving with mine.
I didn't often get my way.
So it surprised me a little when his fingers braided themselves into my hair, securing my face to his. My arms locked behind his neck, and I wished I was stronger - strong enough to keep him prisoner here. One hand slid down my back, pressing me tighter against his stone chest. Even through his sweater, his skin was cold enough to make me shiver - it was a shiver of pleasure, of happiness, but his hands began to loosen in response.
I knew I had about three seconds before he would sigh and slide me deftly away, saying something about how we'd risked my life enough for one afternoon. Making the most of my last seconds, I crushed myself closer, molding myself to the shape of him. The tip of my tongue traced the curve of his lower lip; it was as flawlessly smooth as if it had been polished, and the taste - He pulled my face away from his, breaking my hold with ease - he probably didn't even realize that I was using all my strength.
He chuckled once, a low, throaty sound. His eyes were bright with the excitement he so rigidly disciplined. "Ah, Bella." He sighed.
"I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not."
"And I should feel sorry that you're not sorry, but I don't. Maybe I should go sit on the bed." I exhaled a little dizzily. "If you think that's necessary. . . ."
He smiled crookedly and disentangled himself.
I shook my head a few times, trying to clear it, and turned back to my computer. It was all warmed up and humming now. Well, not as much humming as groaning.
"Tell Ren��e I said hello."
I scanned through Ren��e's e-mail, shaking my head now and then at some of the dippier things she'd done. I was just as entertained and horrified as the first time I'd read this. It was so like my mother to forget exactly how paralyzed she was by heights until she was already strapped to a parachute and a dive instructor.
I felt a little frustrated with Phil, her husband of almost two years, for allowing that one. I would have taken better care of her. I knew her so much better.
You have to let them go their own way eventually, I reminded myself. You have to let them have their own life. . . .
I'd spent most of my life taking care of Ren��e, patiently guiding her away from her craziest plans, good- naturedly enduring the ones I couldn't talk her out of. I'd always been indulgent with my mom, amused by her, even a little condescending to her. I saw her cornucopia of mistakes and laughed privately to myself. Scatterbrained Ren��e.
I was a very different person from my mother. Someone thoughtful and cautious. The responsible one, the grown-up. That's how I saw myself. That was the person I knew. With the blood still pounding inmy head from Edward's kiss, I couldn't help but think of my mother's most life-altering mistake. Silly and romantic, getting married fresh out of high school to a man she barely knew, then producing me a year later. She'd always promised me that she had no regrets, that I was the best gift her life had ever given her. And yet she'd drilled it into me over and over - smart people took marriage seriously. Mature people went to college and started careers before they got deeply involved in a relationship. She knew I would never be as thoughtless and goofy and small-town as she'd been. . . . I gritted my teeth and tried to concentrate as I answered her letter.
Then I hit her parting line and remembered why I'd neglected to write sooner.
You haven't said anything about Jacob in a long time, she'd written. What's he up to these days? Charlie was prompting her, I was sure.
I sighed and typed quickly, tucking the answer to her question between two less sensitive paragraphs.
Jacob is fine, I guess. I don't see him much; he spends most of his time with a pack of his friends down at La Push these days.
Smiling wryly to myself, I added Edward's greeting and hit "send."
I didn't realize that Edward was standing silently behind me again until after I'd turned off the computer and shoved away from the desk. I was about to scold him for reading over my shoulder when I realized that he wasn't paying any attention to me. He was examining a flat black box with wires curling crookedly away from the main square in a way that didn't look healthy for whatever it was. After a second, I recognized the car stereo Emmett, Rosalie, and Jasper had given me for my last birthday. I'd forgotten about the birthday presents hiding under a growing pile of dust on the floor of my closet.
"What did you do to this?" he asked in a horrorstruck voice.
"It didn't want to come out of the dashboard."
"So you felt the need to torture it?"
"You know how I am with tools. No pain was inflicted intentionally."
He shook his head, his face a mask of faux tragedy. "You killed it."
I shrugged. "Oh, well."
"It would hurt their feelings if they saw this," he said. "I guess it's a good thing that you've been on house arrest. I'll have to get another one in place before they notice."
"Thanks, but I don't need a fancy stereo."
"It's not for your sake that I'm going to replace it."
"You didn't get much good out of your birthday presents last year," he said in a disgruntled voice.
Suddenly, he was fanning himself with a stiff rectangle of paper.
I didn't answer, for fear my voice would shake. My disastrous eighteenth birthday - with all its far- reaching consequences - wasn't something I cared to remember, and I was surprised that he would bring it up. He was even more sensitive about it than I was.
"Do you realize these are about to expire?" he asked, holding the paper out to me. It was another present - the voucher for airplane tickets that Esme and Carlisle had given me so that I could visit Ren��e in Florida. I took a deep breath and answered in a flat voice. "No. I'd forgotten all about them, actually."
His expression was carefully bright and positive; there was no trace of any deep emotion as he continued.
"Well, we still have a little time. You've been liberated . . . and we have no plans this weekend, as you refuse to go to the prom with me." He grinned. "Why not celebrate your freedom this way?"
I gasped. "By going to Florida?"
"You did say something about the continental U.S. being allowable."
I glared at him, suspicious, trying to understand where this had come from.
"Well?" he demanded. "Are we going to see Ren��e or not?"
"Charlie will never allow it."
"Charlie can't keep you from visiting your mother. She still has primary custody."
"Nobody has custody of me. I'm an adult."
He flashed a brilliant smile. "Exactly."
I thought it over for a short minute before deciding that it wasn't worth the fight. Charlie would be furious - not that I was going to see Ren��e, but that Edward was going with me. Charlie wouldn't speak to me for months, and I'd probably end up grounded again. It was definitely smarter not to even bring it up. Maybe in a few weeks, as a graduation favor or something.
But the idea of seeing my mother now, not weeks from now, was hard to resist. It had been so long since I'd seen Ren��e. And even longer since I'd seen her under pleasant circumstances. The last time I'd been with her in Phoenix, I'd spent the whole time in a hospital bed. The last time she'd come here, I'd been more or less catatonic. Not exactly the best memories to leave her with.
And maybe, if she saw how happy I was with Edward, she would tell Charlie to ease up.
Edward scrutinized my face while I deliberated.
I sighed. "Not this weekend."
"I don't want to fight with Charlie. Not so soon after he's forgiven me."
His eyebrows pulled together. "I think this weekend is perfect," he muttered.
I shook my head. "Another time."
"You aren't the only one who's been trapped in this house, you know." He frowned at me.
Suspicion returned. This kind of behavior was unlike him. He was always so impossibly selfless; I knew it was making me spoiled.
"You can go anywhere you want," I pointed out.
"The outside world holds no interest for me without you."
I rolled my eyes at the hyperbole.
"I'm serious," he said.
"Let's take the outside world slowly, all right? For example, we could start with a movie in Port Angeles. . . ."
He groaned. "Never mind. We'll talk about it later."
"There's nothing left to talk about."
"Okay, then, new subject," I said. I'd almost forgotten my worries about this afternoon - had that been his intention? "What did Alice see today at lunch?"
My eyes were fixed on his face as I spoke, measuring his reaction.
His expression was composed; there was only the slightest hardening of his topaz eyes. "She's been seeing Jasper in a strange place, somewhere in the southwest, she thinks, near his former . . . family. But he has no conscious intentions to go back." He sighed. "It's got her worried."
"Oh." That was nothing close to what I'd been expecting. But of course it made sense that Alice would be watching out for Jasper's future. He was her soul mate, her true other half, though they weren't as flamboyant about their relationship as Rosalie and Emmett were. "Why didn't you tell me before?"
"I didn't realize you'd noticed," he said. "It's probably nothing important, in any case."
My imagination was sadly out of control. I'd taken a perfectly normal afternoon and twisted it until it looked like Edward was going out of his way to keep things from me. I needed therapy.
We went downstairs to work on our homework, just in case Charlie showed up early. Edward finished in minutes; I slogged laboriously through my calculus until I decided it was time to fix Charlie's dinner. Edward helped, making faces every so often at the raw ingredients - human food was mildly repulsive to him. I made stroganoff from Grandma Swan's recipe, because I was sucking up. It wasn't one of my favorites, but it would please Charlie.
Charlie seemed to already be in a good mood when he got home. He didn't even go out of his way to be rude to Edward. Edward excused himself from eating with us, as usual. The sound of the nightly news drifted from the front room, but I doubted Edward was really watching.
After forcing down three helpings, Charlie kicked his feet up on the spare chair and folded his hands contentedly across his distended stomach.
"That was great, Bells."
"I'm glad you liked it. How was work?" He'd been eating with too much concentration for me to make conversation before.
"Sort of slow. Well, dead slow really. Mark and I played cards for a good part of the afternoon," he admitted with a grin. "I won, nineteen hands to seven. And then I was on the phone with Billy for a while."
I tried to keep my expression the same. "How is he?"
"Good, good. His joints are bothering him a little."
"Oh. That's too bad." "Yeah. He invited us down to visit this weekend. He was thinking of having the Clearwaters and the Uleys over too. Sort of a playoff party. . . ."
"Huh," was my genius response. But what could I say? I knew I wouldn't be allowed to hit a werewolf party, even with parental supervision. I wondered if Edward would have a problem with Charlie hanging out in La Push. Or would he suppose that, since Charlie was mostly spending time with Billy, who was only human, my father wouldn't be in danger?
I got up and piled the dishes together without looking at Charlie. I dumped them into the sink and started the water. Edward appeared silently and grabbed a dishtowel.
Charlie sighed and gave up for the moment, though I imagined he would revisit the subject when we were alone again. He heaved himself to his feet and headed for the TV, just like every other night. "Charlie," Edward said in a conversational tone.
Charlie stopped in the middle of his little kitchen. "Yeah?"
"Did Bella ever tell you that my parents gave her airplane tickets on her last birthday, so that she could visit Ren��e?"
I dropped the plate I was scrubbing. It glanced off the counter and clattered noisily to the floor. It didn't break, but it spattered the room, and all three of us, with soapy water. Charlie didn't even seem to notice. "Bella?" he asked in a stunned voice.
I kept my eyes on the plate as I retrieved it. "Yeah, they did."
Charlie swallowed loudly, and then his eyes narrowed as he turned back to Edward. "No, she never mentioned it."
"Hmm," Edward murmured.
"Was there a reason you brought it up?" Charlie asked in a hard voice.
Edward shrugged. "They're about to expire. I think it might hurt Esme's feelings if Bella doesn't use her gift. Not that she'd say anything."
I stared at Edward in disbelief.
Charlie thought for a minute. "It's probably a good idea for you to visit your mom, Bella. She'd love that. I'm surprised you didn't say anything about this, though."
"I forgot," I admitted.
He frowned. "You forgot that someone gave you plane tickets?"
"Mmm," I murmured vaguely, and turned back to the sink.
"I noticed that you said they're about to expire, Edward," Charlie went on. "How many tickets did your parents give her?"
"Just one for her . . . and one for me."
The plate I dropped this time landed in the sink, so it didn't make as much noise. I could easily hear the sharp huff as my father exhaled. The blood rushed into my face, fueled by irritation and chagrin. Why was Edward doing this? I glared at the bubbles in the sink, panicking.
"That's out of the question!" Charlie was abruptly in a rage, shouting the words.
"Why?" Edward asked, his voice saturated with innocent surprise. "You just said it was a good idea for her to see her mother."
Charlie ignored him. "You're not going anywhere with him, young lady!" he yelled. I spun around and he was jabbing a finger at me.
Anger pulsed through me automatically, an instinctive reaction to his tone.
"I'm not a child, Dad. And I'm not grounded anymore, remember?"
"Oh yes, you are. Starting now."
"Because I said so."
"Do I need to remind you that I'm a legal adult, Charlie?"
"This is my house - you follow my rules!"
My glare turned icy. "If that's how you want it. Do you want me to move out tonight? Or can I have a few days to pack?"
Charlie's face went bright red. I instantly felt horrible for playing the move-out card.
I took a deep breath and tried to make my tone more reasonable. "I'll do my time without complaining when I've done something wrong, Dad, but I'm not going to put up with your prejudices."
He sputtered, but managed nothing coherent.
"Now, I know that you know that I have every right to see Mom for the weekend. You can't honestly tell me you'd object to the plan if I was going with Alice or Angela."
"Girls," he grunted, with a nod.
"Would it bother you if I took Jacob?"
I'd only picked the name because I knew of my father's preference for Jacob, but I quickly wished I hadn't; Edward's teeth clenched together with an audible snap.
My father struggled to compose himself before he answered. "Yes," he said in an unconvincing voice.
"That would bother me."
"You're a rotten liar, Dad."
"It's not like I'm headed off to Vegas to be a showgirl or anything. I'm going to see Mom," I reminded him. "She's just as much my parental authority as you are."
He threw me a withering look.
"Are you implying something about Mom's ability to look after me?"
Charlie flinched at the threat implicit in my question.
"You'd better hope I don't mention this to her," I said.
"You'd better not," he warned. "I'm not happy about this, Bella."
"There's no reason for you to be upset."
He rolled his eyes, but I could tell the storm was over.
I turned to pull the plug out of the sink. "So my homework is done, your dinner is done, the dishes are done, and I'm not grounded. I'm going out. I'll be back before ten-thirty."
"Where are you going?" His face, almost back to normal, flushed light red again.
"I'm not sure," I admitted. "I'll keep it within a ten-mile radius, though. Okay?"
He grunted something that did not sound like approval, and stalked out of the room. Naturally, as soon as I'd won the fight, I began to feel guilty.
"We're going out?" Edward asked, his voice low but enthusiastic.
I turned to glower at him. "Yes. I think I'd like to speak to you alone."
He didn't look as apprehensive as I thought he should.
I waited to begin until we were safely in his car.
"What was that?" I demanded.
"I know you want to see your mother, Bella - you've been talking about her in your sleep. Worrying actually."
He nodded. "But, clearly, you were too much of a coward to deal with Charlie, so I interceded on your behalf."
"Interceded? You threw me to the sharks!"
He rolled his eyes. "I don't think you were in any danger."
"I told you I didn't want to fight with Charlie."
"Nobody said that you had to."
I glowered at him. "I can't help myself when he gets all bossy like that - my natural teenage instincts overpower me."
He chuckled. "Well, that's not my fault."
I stared at him, speculating. He didn't seem to notice. His face was serene as he gazed out the windshield. Something was off, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Or maybe it was just my imagination again, running wild like it had this afternoon.
"Does this sudden urge to see Florida have anything to do with the party at Billy's place?"
His jaw flexed. "Nothing at all. It wouldn't matter if you were here or on the other side of the world, you still wouldn't be going."
It was just like with Charlie before - just like being treated as a misbehaving child. I gritted my teeth together so I wouldn't start shouting. I didn't want to fight with Edward, too.
Edward sighed, and when he spoke his voice was warm and velvet again. "So what do you want to do tonight?" he asked.
"Can we go to your house? I haven't seen Esme in so long."
He smiled. "She'll like that. Especially when she hears what we're doing this weekend."
I groaned in defeat.
We didn't stay out late, as I'd promised. I was not surprised to see the lights still on when we pulled up in front of the house - I knew Charlie would be waiting to yell at me some more.
"You'd better not come inside," I said. "It will only make things worse."
"His thoughts are relatively calm," Edward teased. His expression made me wonder if there was some additional joke I was missing. The corners of his mouth twitched, fighting a smile.
"I'll see you later," I muttered glumly.
He laughed and kissed the top of my head. "I'll be back when Charlie's snoring."
The TV was loud when I got inside. I briefly considered trying to sneak past him.
"Could you come in here, Bella?" Charlie called, sinking that plan.
My feet dragged as I took the five necessary steps.
"What's up, Dad?"
"Did you have a nice time tonight?" he asked. He seemed ill at ease. I looked for hidden meanings in his words before I answered.
"Yes," I said hesitantly.
"What did you do?"
I shrugged. "Hung out with Alice and Jasper. Edward beat Alice at chess, and then I played Jasper. He buried me."
I smiled. Edward and Alice playing chess was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen. They'd sat there nearly motionless, staring at the board, while Alice foresaw the moves he would make and he picked the moves she would make in return out of her head. They played most of the game in their minds; I think they'd each moved two pawns when Alice suddenly flicked her king over and surrendered. It took all of three minutes.
Charlie hit the mute button - an unusual action.
"Look, there's something I need to say." He frowned, looking very uncomfortable.
I sat still, waiting. He met my gaze for a second before shifting his eyes to the floor. He didn't say anything more.
"What is it, Dad?"
He sighed. "I'm not good at this kind of thing. I don't know how to start. . . ."
I waited again.
"Okay, Bella. Here's the thing." He got up from the couch and started pacing back and forth across the room, looking as his feet all the time. "You and Edward seem pretty serious, and there are some things that you need to be careful about. I know you're an adult now, but you're still young, Bella, and there are a lot of important things you need to know when you . . . well, when you're physically involved with -"
"Oh, please, please no!" I begged, jumping to my feet. "Please tell me you are not trying to have a sex talk with me, Charlie."
He glared at the floor. "I am your father. I have responsibilities. Remember, I'm just as embarrassed as you are."
"I don't think that's humanly possible. Anyway, Mom beat you to the punch about ten years ago. You're off the hook."
"Ten years ago you didn't have a boyfriend," he muttered unwillingly. I could tell he was battling with his desire to drop the subject. We were both standing up, looking at the floor, and facing away from each other.
"I don't think the essentials have changed that much," I mumbled, and my face had to be as red as his.
This was beyond the seventh circle of Hades; even worse was realizing that Edward had known this was coming. No wonder he'd seemed so smug in the car.
"Just tell me that you two are being responsible," Charlie pled, obviously wishing a pit would open in the floor so that he could fall in.
"Don't worry about it, Dad, it's not like that."
"Not that I don't trust you, Bella, but I know you don't want to tell me anything about this, and you know I don't really want to hear it. I will try to be open-minded, though. I know the times have changed."
I laughed awkwardly. "Maybe the times have, but Edward is very old-fashioned. You have nothing to worry about."
Charlie sighed. "Sure he is," he muttered.
"Ugh!" I groaned. "I really wish you were not forcing me to say this out loud, Dad. Really. But . . . I am a . . . virgin, and I have no immediate plans to change that status."
We both cringed, but then Charlie's face smoothed out. He seemed to believe me.
"Can I go to bed, now? Please."
"In a minute," he said.
"Aw, please, Dad? I'm begging you."
"The embarrassing part's over, I promise," he assured me.
I shot a glance at him, and was grateful to see that he looked more relaxed, that his face was back to its regular color. He sank down onto the sofa, sighing with relief that he was past the sex speech.
"I just wanted to know how the balance thing is coming along."
"Oh. Good, I guess. I made plans with Angela today. I'm going to help her with her graduation announcements. Just us girls."
"That's nice. And what about Jake?"
I sighed. "I haven't figured that one out yet, Dad."
"Keep trying, Bella. I know you'll do the right thing. You're a good person."
Nice. So if I didn't figure out some way to make things right with Jacob, then I was a bad person? That was below the belt.
"Sure, sure," I agreed. The automatic response almost made me smile - it was something I'd picked up from Jacob. I even said it in the same patronizing tone he used with his own father.
Charlie grinned and turned the sound back on. He slumped lower into the cushions, pleased with his night's work. I could tell he would be up with the game for a while.
"See you in the morning!" I sprinted for the stairs.
Edward was long gone and he wouldn't be back until Charlie was asleep - he was probably out hunting or something to pass the time - so I was in no hurry to undress for bed. I wasn't in the mood to be alone, but I certainly wasn't going to go back downstairs to hang out with my Dad, just in case he thought of some topic of sex education that he hadn't touched on before; I shuddered.
So, thanks to Charlie, I was wound up and anxious. My homework was done and I didn't feel mellow enough for reading or just listening to music. I considered calling Ren��e with the news of my visit, but then I realized that it was three hours later in Florida, and she would be asleep.
I could call Angela, I supposed.
But suddenly I knew that it wasn't Angela that I wanted to talk to. That I needed to talk to.
I stared at the blank black window, biting my lip. I don't know how long I stood there weighing the pros against the cons - doing the right thing by Jacob, seeing my closest friend again, being a good person, versus making Edward furious with me. Ten minutes maybe. Long enough to decide that the pros were valid while the cons were not. Edward was only concerned about my safety, and I knew that there was really no problem on that count.
The phone wasn't any help; Jacob had refused to answer my phone calls since Edward's return. Besides, I needed to see him - see him smiling again the way he used to. I needed to replace that awful last memory of his face warped and twisted by pain if I was ever going to have any peace of mind.
I had an hour probably. I could make a quick run down to La Push and be back before Edward realized I had gone. It was past my curfew, but would Charlie really care about that when Edward wasn't involved? One way to find out.
I grabbed my jacket and shoved my arms through the sleeves as I ran down the stairs.
Charlie looked up from the game, instantly suspicious.
"You care if I go see Jake tonight?" I asked breathlessly. "I won't stay long."
As soon as I said Jake's name, Charlie's expression relaxed into a smug smile. He didn't seem surprised at all that his lecture had taken effect so quickly. "Sure, kid. No problem. Stay as long as you like."
"Thanks, Dad," I said as I darted out the door.
Like any fugitive, I couldn't help looking over my shoulder a few times while I jogged to my truck, but the night was so black that there really was no point. I had to feel my way along the side of the truck to the handle.
My eyes were just beginning to adjust as I shoved my keys in the ignition. I twisted them hard to the left, but instead of roaring deafeningly to life, the engine just clicked. I tried it again with the same results.
And then a small motion in my peripheral vision made me jump.
"Gah!" I gasped in shock when I saw that I was not alone in the cab.
Edward sat very still, a faint bright spot in the darkness, only his hands moving as he turned a mysterious black object around and around. He stared at the object as he spoke.
"Alice called," he murmured.
Alice! Damn. I'd forgotten to account for her in my plans. He must have her watching me.
"She got nervous when your future rather abruptly disappeared five minutes ago."
My eyes, already wide with surprise, popped wider.
"Because she can't see the wolves, you know," he explained in the same low murmur. "Had you forgotten that? When you decide to mingle your fate with theirs, you disappear, too. You couldn't know that part, I realize that. But can you understand why that might make me a little . . . anxious? Alice saw you disappear, and she couldn't even tell if you'd come home or not. Your future got lost, just like theirs.
"We're not sure why this is. Some natural defense they're born with?" He spoke as if he were talking to himself now, still looking at the piece of my truck's engine as he twirled it in his hands. "That doesn't seem entirely likely, since I haven't had any trouble reading their thoughts. The Blacks' at least. Carlisle theorizes that it's because their lives are so ruled by their transformations. It's more an involuntary reaction than a decision. Utterly unpredictable, and it changes everything about them. In that instant when they shift from one form to the other, they don't really even exist. The future can't hold them. . . ."
I listened to his musing in stony silence.
"I'll put your car back together in time for school, in case you'd like to drive yourself," he assured me after a minute.
With my lips mashed together, I retrieved my keys and stiffly climbed out of the truck.
"Shut your window if you want me to stay away tonight. I'll understand," he whispered just before I slammed the door.
I stomped into the house, slamming that door, too.
"What's wrong?" Charlie demanded from the couch.
"Truck won't start," I growled.
"Want me to look at it?"
"No. I'll try it in the morning."
"Want to use my car?"
I wasn't supposed to drive his police cruiser. Charlie must be really desperate to get me to La Push. Nearly as desperate as I was.
"No. I'm tired," I grumbled. "'Night."
I stamped my way up the stairs, and went straight to my window. I shoved the metal frame roughly - it crashed shut and the glass trembled.
I stared at the shivering black glass for a long moment, until it was still. Then I sighed, and opened the window as wide as it would go.