AS I DROVE HOME, I WASN'T PAYING MUCH ATTENTION TO the road that shimmered wetly in the sun. I was thinking about the flood of information Jacob had shared with me, trying to sort it out, to force it all to make sense. Despite the overload, I felt lighter. Seeing Jacob smile, having all the secrets thrashed out . . . it didn't make things perfect, but it made them better. I was right to have gone. Jacob needed me. And obviously, I thought as I squinted into the glare, there was no danger.
It came out of nowhere. One minute there was nothing but bright highway in my rearview mirror. The next minute, the sun was glinting off a silver Volvo right on my tail.
"Aw, crap," I whimpered.
I considered pulling over. But I was too much of a coward to face him right away. I'd been counting on some prep time . . . and having Charlie nearby as a buffer. At least that would force him to keep his voice down.
The Volvo followed inches behind me. I kept my eyes on the road ahead.
Chicken through and through, I drove straight to Angela's without once meeting the gaze I could feel burning a hole in my mirror.
He followed me until I pulled to the curb in front of the Webers' house. He didn't stop, and I didn't look up as he passed. I didn't want to see the expression on his face. I ran up the short concrete walk to Angela's door as soon as he was out of sight.
Ben answered the door before I could finish knocking, like he'd been standing right behind it.
"Hey, Bella!" he said, surprised.
"Hi, Ben. Er, is Angela here?" I wondered if Angela had forgotten our plans, and cringed at the thought of going home early.
"Sure," Ben said just as Angela called, "Bella!" and appeared at the top of the stairs.
Ben peered around me as we both heard the sound of a car on the road; the sound didn't scare me - this engine stuttered to a stop, followed by the loud pop of a backfire. Nothing like the purr of the Volvo. This must be the visitor Ben had been waiting for.
"Austin's here," Ben said as Angela reached his side.
A horn honked on the street.
"I'll see you later," Ben promised. "Miss you already."
He threw his arm around Angela's neck and pulled her face down to his height so that he could kiss her enthusiastically. After a second of this, Austin honked again.
"'Bye, Ang! Love you!" Ben shouted as he dashed past me.
Angela swayed, her face slightly pink, then recovered herself and waved until Ben and Austin were out of sight. Then she turned to me and grinned ruefully.
"Thank you for doing this, Bella," she said. "From the bottom of my heart. Not only are you saving my hands from permanent injury, you also just spared me two long hours of a plot-less, badly dubbed martial arts film." She sighed in relief.
"Happy to be of service." I was feeling a bit less panicked, able to breathe a little more evenly. It felt so ordinary here. Angela's easy human dramas were oddly reassuring. It was nice to know that life was normal somewhere.
I followed Angela up the stairs to her room. She kicked toys out of the way as she went. The house was unusually quiet.
"Where's your family?"
"My parents took the twins to a birthday party in Port Angeles. I can't believe you're really going to help me with this. Ben's pretending he has tendonitis." She made a face.
"I don't mind at all," I said, and then I walked into Angela's room and saw the stacks of waiting envelopes.
"Oh!" I gasped. Angela turned to look at me, apologies in her eyes. I could see why she'd been putting this off, and why Ben had weaseled out.
"I thought you were exaggerating," I admitted.
"I wish. Are you sure you want to do this?"
"Put me to work. I've got all day."
Angela divided a pile in half and put her mother's address book between us on her desk. For a while we concentrated, and there was just the sound of our pens scratching quietly across the paper.
"What's Edward doing tonight?" she asked after a few minutes.
My pen dug into the envelope I was working on. "Emmet's home for the weekend. They're supposed to be hiking."
"You say that like you're not sure."
"You're lucky Edward has his brothers for all the hiking and camping. I don't know what I'd do if Ben didn't have Austin for the guy stuff."
"Yeah, the outdoors thing is not really for me. And there's no way I'd ever be able to keep up."
Angela laughed. "I prefer the indoors myself."
Angela rolled her eyes at me.
"See you at school," I said with a nervous laugh.
She sighed. "See you."
I was jumpy on the way out to my truck, but the street was empty. I spent the whole drive glancing anxiously in all my mirrors, but there was never any sign of the silver car.
His car was not in front of the house, either, though that meant little.
"Bella?" Charlie called when I opened the front door.
I found him in the living room, in front of the TV.
"So, how was your day?"
"Good," I said. Might as well tell him everything - he'd hear it from Billy soon enough. Besides, it would make him happy. "They didn't need me at work, so I went down to La Push."
There wasn't enough surprise in his face. Billy had already talked to him.
"How's Jacob?" Charlie asked, attempting to sound indifferent.
"Good," I said, just as casual.
"You get over to the Webers'?"
"Yep. We got all her announcements addressed."
"That's nice." Charlie smiled a wide smile. He was strangely focused, considering that there was a game on. "I'm glad you spent some time with your friends today."
I ambled toward the kitchen, looking for busy work. Unfortunately, Charlie had already cleaned up his lunch. I stood there for a few minutes, staring at the bright patch of light the sun made on the floor. But I knew I couldn't delay this forever.
"I'm going to go study," I announced glumly as I headed up the stairs.
"See you later," Charlie called after me.
If I survive, I thought to myself.
I shut my bedroom door carefully before I turned to face my room.
Of course he was there. He stood against the wall across from me, in the shadow beside the open window. His face was hard and his posture tense. He glared at me wordlessly.
I cringed, waiting for the torrent, but it didn't come. He just continued to glare, possibly too angry to speak.
"Hi," I finally said.
His face could have been carved from stone. I counted to a hundred in my head, but there was no change.
"Er . . . so, I'm still alive," I began.
A growl rumbled low in his chest, but his expression didn't change.
"No harm done," I insisted with a shrug.
He moved. His eyes closed, and he pinched the bridge of his nose between the fingers of his right hand.
"Bella," he whispered. "Do you have any idea how close I came to crossing the line today? To breaking the treaty and coming after you? Do you know what that would have meant?"
I gasped and his eyes opened. They were as cold and hard as night.
"You can't!" I said too loudly. I worked to modulate the volume of my voice so Charlie wouldn't hear, but I wanted to shout the words. "Edward, they'd use any excuse for a fight. They'd love that. You can't ever break the rules!"
"Maybe they aren't the only ones who would enjoy a fight."
"Don't you start," I snapped. "You made the treaty - you stick to it."
"If he'd hurt you -"
"Enough!" I cut him off. "There's nothing to worry about. Jacob isn't dangerous."
"Bella." He rolled his eyes. "You aren't exactly the best judge of what is or isn't dangerous."
"I know I don't have to worry about Jake. And neither do you."
He ground his teeth together. His hands were balled up in fists at his sides. He was still standing against the wall, and I hated the space between us.
I took a deep breath, and crossed the room. He didn't move when I wrapped my arms around him. Next to the warmth of the last of the afternoon sun streaming through the window, his skin felt especially icy. He seemed like ice, too, frozen the way he was.
"I'm sorry I made you anxious," I muttered.
He sighed, and relaxed a little. His arms wound around my waist.
"Anxious is a bit of an understatement," he murmured. "It was a very long day."
"You weren't supposed to know about it," I reminded him. "I thought you'd be hunting longer."
I looked up at his face, at his defensive eyes; I hadn't noticed in the stress of the moment, but they were too dark. The rings under them were deep purple. I frowned in disapproval.
"When Alice saw you disappear, I came back," he explained.
"You shouldn't have done that. Now you'll have to go away again." My frown intensified.
"I can wait."
"That's ridiculous. I mean, I know she couldn't see me with Jacob, but you should have known -"
"But I didn't," he broke in. "And you can't expect me to let you -"
"Oh, yes, I can," I interrupted him. "That's exactly what I expect -"
"This won't happen again."
"That's right! Because you're not going to overreact next time."
"Because there isn't going to be a next time."
"I understand when you have to leave, even if I don't like it -"
"That's not the same. I'm not risking my life."
"Neither am I."
"Werewolves constitute a risk."
"I'm not negotiating this, Bella."
"Neither am I."
His hands were in fists again. I could feel them against my back.
The words popped out thoughtlessly. "Is this really just about my safety?"
"What do you mean?" he demanded.
"You aren't . . ." Angela's theory seemed sillier now than before. It was hard to finish the thought. "I mean, you know better than to be jealous, right?"
He raised one eyebrow. "Do I?"
"Easily - there's nothing remotely humorous about this."
I frowned suspiciously. "Or . . . is this something else altogether? Some vampires-and-werewolves-are- always-enemies nonsense? Is this just a testosterone-fueled -"
His eyes blazed. "This is only about you. All I care is that you're safe."
The black fire in his eyes was impossible to doubt.
"Okay," I sighed. "I believe that. But I want you to know something - when it comes to all this enemies nonsense, I'm out. I am a neutral country. I am Switzerland. I refuse to be affected by territorial disputes between mythical creatures. Jacob is family. You are . . . well, not exactly the love of my life, because I expect to love you for much longer than that. The love of my existence. I don't care who's a werewolf and who's a vampire. If Angela turns out to be a witch, she can join the party, too."
He stared at me silently through narrowed eyes.
"Switzerland," I repeated again for emphasis.
He frowned at me, and then sighed. "Bella . . . ," he began, but he paused, and his nose wrinkled in disgust.
"Well . . . don't be offended, but you smell like a dog," he told me.
And then he smiled crookedly, so I knew the fight was over. For now.
Edward had to make up for the missed hunting trip, and so he was leaving Friday night with Jasper, Emmett, and Carlisle to hit some reserve in Northern California with a mountain lion problem.
We'd come to no agreement on the werewolf issue, but I didn't feel guilty calling Jake - during my brief window of opportunity when Edward took the Volvo home before climbing back in through my window - to let him know I'd be coming over on Saturday again. It wasn't sneaking around. Edward knew how I felt. And if he broke my truck again, then I'd have Jacob pick me up. Forks was neutral, just like Switzerland - just like me.
So when I got off work Thursday and it was Alice rather than Edward waiting for me in the Volvo, I was not suspicious at first. The passenger door was open, and music I didn't recognize was shaking the frame when the bass played.
"Hey, Alice," I shouted over the wailing as I climbed in. "Where's your brother?"
She was singing along to the song, her voice an octave higher than the melody, weaving through it with a complicated harmony. She nodded at me, ignoring my question as she concentrated on the music.
I shut my door and put my hands over my ears. She grinned, and turned the volume down until it was just background. Then she hit the locks and the gas in the same second.
"What's going on?" I asked, starting to feel uneasy. "Where is Edward?"
She shrugged. "They left early."
"Oh." I tried to control the absurd disappointment. If he left early, that meant he'd be back sooner, I reminded myself.
"All the boys went, and we're having a slumber party!" she announced in a trilling, singsong voice.
"A slumber party?" I repeated, the suspicion finally settling in.
"Aren't you excited?" she crowed.
I met her animated gaze for a long second.
"You're kidnapping me, aren't you?"
She laughed and nodded. "Till Saturday. Esme cleared it with Charlie; you're staying with me two nights, and I will drive you to and from school tomorrow."
I turned my face to the window, my teeth grinding together.
"Sorry," Alice said, not sounding in the least bit penitent. "He paid me off."
"How?" I hissed through my teeth.
"The Porsche. It's exactly like the one I stole in Italy." She sighed happily. "I'm not supposed to drive it around Forks, but if you want, we could see how long it takes to get from here to L.A. - I bet I could have you back by midnight."
I took a deep breath. "I think I'll pass," I sighed, repressing a shudder.
We wound, always too fast, down the long drive. Alice pulled around to the garage, and I quickly looked over the cars. Emmett's big jeep was there, with a shiny canary yellow Porsche between it and Rosalie's red convertible.
Alice hopped out gracefully and went to stroke her hand along the length of her bribe. "Pretty, isn't it?"
"Pretty over-the-top," I grumbled, incredulous. "He gave you that just for two days of holding me hostage?"
Alice made a face.
A second later, comprehension came and I gasped in horror. "It's for every time he's gone, isn't it?"
I slammed my door and stomped toward the house. She danced along next to me, still unrepentant.
"Alice, don't you think this is just a little bit controlling? Just a tiny bit psychotic, maybe?"
"Not really." She sniffed. "You don't seem to grasp how dangerous a young werewolf can be. Especially when I can't see them. Edward has no way to know if you're safe. You shouldn't be so reckless."
My voice turned acidic. "Yes, because a vampire slumber party is the pinnacle of safety conscious behavior."
Alice laughed. "I'll give you a pedicure and everything," she promised.
It wasn't so bad, except for the fact that I was being held against my will. Esme brought Italian food - the good stuff, all the way from Port Angeles - and Alice was prepared with my favorite movies. Even Rosalie was there, quietly in the background. Alice did insist on the pedicure, and I wondered if she was working from a list - maybe something she'd compiled from watching bad sitcoms.
"How late do you want to stay up?" she asked when my toenails were glistening a bloody red. Her enthusiasm remained untouched by my mood.
"I don't want to stay up. We have school in the morning."
"Where am I supposed to sleep, anyway?" I measured the couch with my eyes. It was a little short. "Can't you just keep me under surveillance at my house?"
"What kind of a slumber party would that be?" Alice shook her head in exasperation. "You're sleeping in Edward's room."
I sighed. His black leather sofa was longer than this one. Actually, the gold carpet in his room was probably thick enough that the floor wouldn't be half bad either.
"Can I go back to my place to get my things, at least?"
She grinned. "Already taken care of."
"Am I allowed to use your phone?"
"Charlie knows where you are."
"I wasn't going to call Charlie." I frowned. "Apparently, I have some plans to cancel."
"Oh." She deliberated. "I'm not sure about that."
"Alice!" I whined loudly. "C'mon!"
"Okay, okay," she said, flitting from the room. She was back in half a second, cell phone in hand. "He didn't specifically prohibit this . . . ," she murmured to herself as she handed it to me.
I dialed Jacob's number, hoping he wasn't out running with his friends tonight. Luck was with me - Jacob was the one to answer.
"Hey, Jake, it's me." Alice watched me with expressionless eyes for a second, before she turned and went to sit between Rosalie and Esme on the sofa.
"Hi, Bella," Jacob said, suddenly cautious. "What's up?"
"Nothing good. I can't come over Saturday after all."
It was silent for a minute. "Stupid bloodsucker," he finally muttered. "I thought he was leaving. Can't you have a life when he's gone? Or does he lock you in a coffin?"
"I don't think that's funny."
"I'm only laughing because you're close," I told him. "But he's going to be here Saturday, so it doesn't matter."
"Will he be feeding there in Forks, then?" Jacob asked cuttingly.
"No." I didn't let myself get irritated with him. I wasn't that far from being as angry as he was. "He left early."
"Oh. Well, hey, come over now, then," he said with sudden enthusiasm. "It's not that late. Or I'll come up to Charlie's."
"I wish. I'm not at Charlie's," I said sourly. "I'm kind of being held prisoner."
He was silent as that sunk in, and then he growled. "We'll come and get you," he promised in a flat voice, slipping automatically into a plural.
A chill slid down my spine, but I answered in a light and teasing voice. "Tempting. I have been tortured - Alice painted my toenails."
"Don't be. They're just trying to keep me safe."
He growled again.
"I know it's silly, but their hearts are in the right place."
"Their hearts!" he scoffed.
"Sorry about Saturday," I apologized. "I've got to hit the sack" - the couch, I corrected mentally - "but I'll call you again soon."
"Are you sure they'll let you?" he asked in a scathing tone.
"Not completely." I sighed. "'Night, Jake."
"See you around."
Alice was abruptly at my side, her hand held out for the phone, but I was already dialing. She saw the number.
"I don't think he'll have his phone on him," she said.
"I'll leave a message."
The phone rang four times, followed by a beep. There was no greeting.
"You are in trouble," I said slowly, emphasizing each word. "Enormous trouble. Angry grizzly bears are going to look tame next to what is waiting for you at home."
I snapped the phone shut and placed it in her waiting hand. "I'm done."
She grinned. "This hostage stuff is fun."
"I'm going to sleep now," I announced, heading for the stairs. Alice tagged along.
"Alice," I sighed. "I'm not going to sneak out. You would know if I was planning to, and you'd catch me if I tried."
"I'm just going to show you where your things are," she said innocently.
Edward's room was at the farthest end of the third floor hallway, hard to mistake even when the huge house had been less familiar. But when I switched the light on, I paused in confusion. Had I picked the wrong door?
It was the same room, I realized quickly; the furniture had just been rearranged. The couch was pushed to the north wall and the stereo shoved up against the vast shelves of CDs - to make room for the colossal bed that now dominated the central space.
The southern wall of glass reflected the scene back like a mirror, making it look twice as bad.
It matched. The coverlet was a dull gold, just lighter than the walls; the frame was black, made of intricately patterned wrought iron. Sculpted metal roses wound in vines up the tall posts and formed a bowery lattice overhead. My pajamas were folded neatly on the foot of the bed, my bag of toiletries to one side. "What the hell is all this?" I spluttered.
"You didn't really think he would make you sleep on the couch, did you?"
I mumbled unintelligibly as I stalked forward to snatch my things off the bed.
"I'll give you some privacy," Alice laughed. "See you in the morning."
After my teeth were brushed and I was dressed, I grabbed a puffy feather pillow off the huge bed and dragged the gold cover to the couch. I knew I was being silly, but I didn't care. Porsches as bribes and king- sized beds in houses where nobody slept - it was beyond irritating. I flipped off the lights and curled up on the sofa, wondering if I was too annoyed to sleep.
In the dark, the glass wall was no longer a black mirror, doubling the room. The light of the moon brightened the clouds outside the window. As my eyes adjusted, I could see the diffused glow highlighting the tops of the trees, and glinting off a small slice of the river. I watched the silver light, waiting for my eyes to get heavy.
There was a light knock on the door.
"What, Alice?" I hissed. I was on the defensive, imagining her amusement when she saw my makeshift bed.
"It's me," Rosalie said softly, opening the door enough that I could see the silver glow touch her perfect face. "Can I come in?"