8. PORT ANGELES
Jess drove faster than the Chief, so we made it to Port Angeles by four. It had been a while since I'd had a girls' night out, and the estrogen rush was invigorating. We listened to whiny rock songs while Jessica jabbered on about the boys we hung out with. Jessica's dinner with Mike had gone very well, and she was hoping that by Saturday night they would
have progressed to the first-kiss stage. I smiled to myself, pleased. Angela was passively happy to be going to the dance, but not really interested in Eric. Jess tried to get her to confess who her type was, but I interrupted with a question about dresses after a bit, to spare her. Angela threw a grateful glance my way.
Port Angeles was a beautiful little tourist trap, much more polished and quaint than Forks. But Jessica and Angela knew it well, so they didn't plan to waste time on the picturesque boardwalk by the bay. Jess drove straight to the one big department store in town, which was a few streets in from the bay area's visitor-friendly face.
The dance was billed as semiformal, and we weren't exactly sure what that meant. Both Jessica and Angela seemed surprised and almost disbelieving when I told them I'd never been to a dance in Phoenix.
"Didn't you ever go with a boyfriend or something?" Jess asked dubiously as we walked through the front doors of the store.
"Really," I tried to convince her, not wanting to confess my dancing problems. "I've never had a boyfriend or anything close. I didn't go out much."
"Why not?" Jessica demanded.
"No one asked me," I answered honestly.
She looked skeptical. "People ask you out here," she reminded me, "and you tell them no." We were in the juniors' section now, scanning the racks for dress-up clothes.
"Well, except for Tyler," Angela amended quietly.
"Excuse me?" I gasped. "What did you say?"
"Tyler told everyone he's taking you to prom," Jessica informed me with suspicious eyes.
"He said what?" I sounded like I was choking.
"I told you it wasn't true," Angela murmured to Jessica.
I was silent, still lost in shock that was quickly turning to irritation. But we had found the dress racks, and now we had work to do.
"That's why Lauren doesn't like you," Jessica giggled while we pawed through the clothes.
I ground my teeth. "Do you think that if I ran him over with my truck he would stop feeling guilty about the accident? That he might give up on making amends and call it even?"
"Maybe," Jess snickered. '"If that's why he's doing this."
The dress selection wasn't large, but both of them found a few things to try on. I sat on a low chair just inside the dressing room, by the three-way mirror, trying to control my fuming.
Jess was torn between two - one a long, strapless, basic black number, the other a knee-length electric blue with spaghetti straps. I encouraged her to go with the blue; why not play up the eyes? Angela chose a pale pink dress that draped around her tall frame nicely and brought out honey tints in her light brown hair. I complimented them both generously and helped by returning the rejects to their racks. The whole process was much shorter and easier than similar trips I'd taken with Ren¨¦e at home. I guess there was something to be said for limited choices.
We headed over to shoes and accessories. While they tried things on I merely watched and critiqued, not in the mood to shop for myself, though I did need new shoes. The girls'-night high was wearing off in the wake of my annoyance at Tyler, leaving room for the gloom to move back in.
"Angela?" I began, hesitant, while she was trying on a pair of pink strappy heels - she was overjoyed to have a date tall enough that she could wear high heels at all.
Jessica had drifted to the jewelry counter and we were alone.
"Yes?" She held her leg out, twisting her ankle to get a better view of the shoe.
I chickened out. "I like those."
"I think I'll get them - though they'll never match anything but the one dress," she mused.
"Oh, go ahead - they're on sale," I encouraged. She smiled, putting the lid back on a box that contained more practical-looking off-white shoes.
I tried again. "Um, Angela..." She looked up curiously.
"Is it normal for the... Cullens" - I kept my eyes on the shoes - "to be out of school a lot?" I failed miserably in my attempt to sound nonchalant.
"Yes, when the weather is good they go backpacking all the time - even the doctor. They're all real outdoorsy," she told me quietly, examining her shoes, too. She didn't ask one question, let alone the hundreds that Jessica would have unleashed. I was beginning to really like Angela.
"Oh." I let the subject drop as Jessica returned to show us the rhinestone jewelry she'd found to match her silver shoes.
We planned to go to dinner at a little Italian restaurant on the boardwalk, but the dress shopping hadn't taken as long as we'd expected. Jess and Angela were going to take their clothes back to the car and then walk down to the bay. I told them I would meet them at the restaurant in an hour - I wanted to look for a bookstore. They were both willing to come with me, but I encouraged them to go have fun - they didn't know how preoccupied I could get when surrounded by books; it was something I preferred to do alone. They walked off to the car chattering happily, and I headed in the direction Jess pointed out.
I had no trouble finding the bookstore, but it wasn't what I was looking for. The windows were full of crystals, dream-catchers, and books about spiritual healing. I didn't even go inside. Through the glass I could see a fifty-year-old woman with long, gray hair worn straight down her back, clad in a dress right out of the sixties, smiling welcomingly from behind the counter. I decided that was one conversation I could skip. There had to be a normal bookstore in town.
I meandered through the streets, which were filling up with end-of-the-workday traffic, and hoped I was headed toward downtown. I wasn't paying as much attention as I should to where I was going; I was wrestling with despair. I was trying so hard not to think about him, and what Angela had said... and more than anything trying to beat down my hopes for Saturday, fearing a disappointment more painful than the rest, when I looked up to see someone's silver Volvo parked along the street and it all came crashing down on me. Stupid, unreliable vampire, I thought to myself.
I stomped along in a southerly direction, toward some glass-fronted shops that looked promising. But when I got to them, they were just a repair shop and a vacant space. I still had too much time to go looking for Jess and Angela yet, and I definitely needed to get my mood in hand before I met back up with them. I ran my fingers through my hair a couple of times and took some deep breaths before I continued around the corner.
I started to realize, as I crossed another road, that I was going the wrong direction. The little foot traffic I had seen was going north, and it looked like the buildings here were mostly warehouses. I decided to turn east at the next corner, and then loop around after a few blocks and try my luck on a different street on my way back to the boardwalk.
A group of four men turned around the corner I was heading for, dressed too casually to be heading home from the office, but they were too grimy to be tourists. As they approached me, I realized they weren't too many years older than I was. They were joking loudly among themselves, laughing raucously and punching each other's arms. I scooted as far to the inside of the sidewalk as I could to give them room, walking swiftly, looking past them to the corner.
"Hey, there!" one of them called as they passed, and he had to be talking to me since no one else was around. I glanced up automatically. Two of them had paused, the other two were slowing. The closest, a heavyset, dark-haired man in his early twenties, seemed to be the one who had spoken. He was wearing a flannel shirt open over a dirty t-shirt, cut-off jeans, and sandals. He took half a step toward me.
"Hello," I mumbled, a knee-jerk reaction. Then I quickly looked away and walked faster toward the corner. I could hear them laughing at full volume behind me.
"Hey, wait!" one of them called after me again, but I kept my head down and rounded the corner with a sigh of relief. I could still hear them chortling behind me.
I found myself on a sidewalk leading past the backs of several somber-colored warehouses, each with large bay doors for unloading trucks, padlocked for the night. The south side of the street had no sidewalk, only a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire protecting some kind of engine parts storage yard. I'd wandered far past the part of Port Angeles that I, as a guest, was intended to see. It was getting dark, I realized, the clouds finally returning, piling up on the western horizon, creating an early sunset. The eastern sky was still clear, but graying, shot through with streaks of pink and orange. I'd left my jacket in the car, and a sudden shiver made me cross my arms tightly across my chest. A single van passed me, and then the road was empty.
The sky suddenly darkened further, and, as I looked over my shoulder to glare at the offending cloud, I realized with a shock that two men were walking quietly twenty feet behind me.
They were from the same group I'd passed at the corner, though neither was the dark one who'd spoken to me. I turned my head forward at once, quickening my pace. A chill that had nothing to do with the weather made me shiver again. My purse was on a shoulder strap and I had it slung across my body, the way you were supposed to wear it so it wouldn't get snatched. I knew exactly where my pepper spray was - still in my duffle bag under the bed, never unpacked. I didn't have much money with me, just a twenty and some ones, and I thought about "accidentally" dropping my bag and walking away. But a small, frightened voice in the back of my mind warned me that they might be something worse than thieves.
I listened intently to their quiet footsteps, which were much too quiet when compared to the boisterous noise they'd been making earlier, and it didn't sound like they were speeding up, or getting any closer to me. Breathe, I had to remind myself. You don't know they're following you. I continued to walk as quickly as I could without actually running, focusing on the right-hand turn that was only a few yards away from me now. I could hear them, staying as far back as they'd been before. A blue car turned onto the street from the south and drove quickly past me. I thought of jumping out in front of it, but I hesitated, inhibited, unsure that I was really being pursued, and then it was too late.
I reached the corner, but a swift glance revealed that it was only a blind drive to the back of another building. I was half-turned in anticipation; I had to hurriedly correct and dash across the narrow drive, back to the sidewalk. The street ended at the next corner, where there was a stop sign. I concentrated on the faint footsteps behind me, deciding whether or not to run. They sounded farther back, though, and I knew they could outrun me in any case. I was sure to trip and go sprawling if I tried to go any faster. The footfalls were definitely farther back. I risked a quick glance over my shoulder, and they were maybe forty feet back now, I saw with relief. But they were both staring at me.
It seemed to take forever for me to get to the corner. I kept my pace steady, the men behind me falling ever so slightly farther behind with every step. Maybe they realized they had scared me and were sorry. I saw two cars going north pass the intersection I was heading for, and I exhaled in relief. There would be more people around once I got off this deserted street. I skipped around the corner with a grateful sigh.
And skidded to a stop.
The street was lined on both sides by blank, doorless, windowless walls. I could see in the distance, two intersections down, streetlamps, cars, and more pedestrians, but they were all too far away. Because lounging against the western building, midway down the street, were the other two men from the group, both watching with excited smiles as I froze dead on the sidewalk. I realized then that I wasn't being followed.
I was being herded.
I paused for only a second, but it felt like a very long time. I turned then and darted to the other side of the road. I had a sinking feeling that it was a wasted attempt. The footsteps behind me were louder now.
"There you are!" The booming voice of the stocky, dark-haired man shattered the intense quiet and made me jump. In the gathering darkness, it seemed like he was looking past me.
"Yeah," a voice called loudly from behind me, making me jump again as I tried to hurry down the street. "We just took a little detour."
My steps had to slow now. I was closing the distance between myself and the lounging pair too quickly. I had a good loud scream, and I sucked in air, preparing to use it, but my throat was so dry I wasn't sure how much volume I could manage. With a quick movement I slipped my purse over my head, gripping the strap with one hand, ready to surrender it or use it as weapon as need demanded.
The thickset man shrugged away from the wall as I warily came to a stop, and walked slowly into the street.
"Stay away from me," I warned in a voice that was supposed to sound strong and fearless. But I was right about the dry throat - no volume.
"Don't be like that, sugar," he called, and the raucous laughter started again behind me.
I braced myself, feet apart, trying to remember through my panic what little self-defense I knew. Heel of the hand thrust upward, hopefully breaking the nose or shoving it into the brain. Finger through the eye socket - try to hook around and pop the eye out. And the standard knee to the groin, of course. That same pessimistic voice in my mind spoke up then, reminding me that I probably wouldn't have a chance against one of them, and there were four. Shut up! I commanded the voice before terror could incapacitate me. I wasn't going out without taking someone with me. I tried to swallow so I could build up a decent scream.
Headlights suddenly flew around the corner, the car almost hitting the stocky one, forcing him to jump back toward the sidewalk. I dove into the road - this car was going to stop, or have to hit me. But the silver car unexpectedly fishtailed around, skidding to a stop with the passenger door open just a few feet from me.
"Get in," a furious voice commanded.
It was amazing how instantaneously the choking fear vanished, amazing how suddenly the feeling of security washed over me - even before I was off the street - as soon as I heard his voice. I jumped into the seat, slamming the door shut behind me.
It was dark in the car, no light had come on with the opening of the door, and I could barely see his face in the glow from the dashboard. The tires squealed as he spun around to face north, accelerating too quickly,
swerving toward the stunned men on the street. I caught a glimpse of them diving for the sidewalk as we straightened out and sped toward the harbor.
"Put on your seat belt," he commanded, and I realized I was clutching the seat with both hands. I quickly obeyed; the snap as the belt connected was loud in the darkness. He took a sharp left, racing forward, blowing through several stop signs without a pause.
But I felt utterly safe and, for the moment, totally unconcerned about where we were going. I stared at his face in profound relief, relief that went beyond my sudden deliverance. I studied his flawless features in the limited light, waiting for my breath to return to normal, until it occurred to me that his expression was murderously angry.
"Are you okay?" I asked, surprised at how hoarse my voice sounded.
"No," he said curtly, and his tone was livid.
I sat in silence, watching his face while his blazing eyes stared straight ahead, until the car came to a sudden stop. I glanced around, but it was too dark to see anything beside the vague outline of dark trees crowding the roadside. We weren't in town anymore.
"Bella?" he asked, his voice tight, controlled.
"Yes?" My voice was still rough. I tried to clear my throat quietly.
"Are you all right?" He still didn't look at me, but the fury was plain on his face.
"Yes," I croaked softly.
"Distract me, please," he ordered.
"I'm sorry, what?"
He exhaled sharply.
"Just prattle about something unimportant until I calm down," he clarified, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger.
"Um." I wracked my brain for something trivial. "I'm going to run over Tyler Crowley tomorrow before school?"
He was still squeezing his eyes closed, but the corner of his mouth twitched.
"He's telling everyone that he's taking me to prom - either he's insane or he's still trying to make up for almost killing me last... well, you remember it, and he thinks prom is somehow the correct way to do this. So I figure if I endanger his life, then we're even, and he can't keep trying to make amends. I don't need enemies and maybe Lauren would back off if he left me alone. I might have to total his Sentra, though. If he doesn't have a ride he can't take anyone to prom..." I babbled on.
"I heard about that." He sounded a bit more composed.
"You did?" I asked in disbelief, my previous irritation flaring. "If he's paralyzed from the neck down, he can't go to the prom, either," I muttered, refining my plan.
Edward sighed, and finally opened his eyes.
I waited, but he didn't speak again. He leaned his head back against the seat, staring at the ceiling of the car. His face was rigid.
"What's wrong?" My voice came out in a whisper.
"Sometimes I have a problem with my temper, Bella." He was whispering, too, and as he stared out the window, his eyes narrowed into slits. "But it wouldn't be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those..." He didn't finish his sentence, looking away, struggling for a moment to control his anger again. "At least," he continued, "that's what I'm trying to convince myself."
"Oh." The word seemed inadequate, but I couldn't think of a better response.
We sat in silence again. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was past six-thirty.
"Jessica and Angela will be worried," I murmured. "I was supposed to meet them."
He started the engine without another word, turning around smoothly and speeding back toward town. We were under the streetlights in no time at all, still going too fast, weaving with ease through the cars slowly cruising the boardwalk. He parallel-parked against the curb in a space I would have thought much too small for the Volvo, but he slid in effortlessly in one try. I looked out the window to see the lights of La Bella Italia, and Jess and Angela just leaving, pacing anxiously away from us.
"How did you know where... ?" I began, but then I just shook my head. I heard the door open and turned to see him getting out.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm taking you to dinner." He smiled slightly, but his eyes were hard. He stepped out of the car and slammed the door. I fumbled with my seat belt, and then hurried to get out of the car as well. He was waiting for me on the sidewalk.
He spoke before I could. "Go stop Jessica and Angela before I have to track them down, too. I don't think I could restrain myself if I ran into your other friends again."
I shivered at the threat in his voice.
"Jess! Angela!" I yelled after them, waving when they turned. They rushed back to me, the pronounced relief on both their faces simultaneously changing to surprise as they saw who I was standing next to. They hesitated a few feet from us.
"Where have you been?" Jessica's voice was suspicious.
"I got lost," I admitted sheepishly. "And then I ran into Edward." I gestured toward him.
"Would it be all right if I joined you?" he asked in his silken, irresistible voice. I could see from their staggered expressions that he had never unleashed his talents on them before.
"Er... sure," Jessica breathed.
"Um, actually, Bella, we already ate while we were waiting - sorry," Angela confessed.
"That's fine - I'm not hungry." I shrugged.
"I think you should eat something." Edward's voice was low, but full of authority. He looked up at Jessica and spoke slightly louder. "Do you mind if I drive Bella home tonight? That way you won't have to wait while she eats."
"Uh, no problem, I guess..." She bit her lip, trying to figure out from my expression whether that was what I wanted. I winked at her. I wanted
nothing more than to be alone with my perpetual savior. There were so many questions that I couldn't bombard him with till we were by ourselves.
"Okay." Angela was quicker than Jessica. "See you tomorrow, Bella... Edward." She grabbed Jessica's hand and pulled her toward the car, which I could see a little ways away, parked across First Street. As they got in, Jess turned and waved, her face eager with curiosity. I waved back, waiting for them to drive away before I turned to face him.
"Honestly, I'm not hungry," I insisted, looking up to scrutinize his face. His expression was unreadable.
He walked to the door of the restaurant and held it open with an obstinate expression. Obviously, there would be no further discussion. I walked past him into the restaurant with a resigned sigh.
The restaurant wasn't crowded - it was the off-season in Port Angeles. The host was female, and I understood the look in her eyes as she assessed Edward. She welcomed him a little more warmly than necessary. I was surprised by how much that bothered me. She was several inches taller than I was, and unnaturally blond.
"A table for two?" His voice was alluring, whether he was aiming for that or not. I saw her eyes flicker to me and then away, satisfied by my obvious ordinariness, and by the cautious, no-contact space Edward kept between us. She led us to a table big enough for four in the center of the most crowded area of the dining floor.
I was about to sit, but Edward shook his head at me.
"Perhaps something more private?" he insisted quietly to the host. I wasn't sure, but it looked like he smoothly handed her a tip. I'd never seen anyone refuse a table except in old movies.
"Sure." She sounded as surprised as I was. She turned and led us around a partition to a small ring of booths - all of them empty. "How's this?"
"Perfect." He flashed his gleaming smile, dazing her momentarily.
"Um" - she shook her head, blinking - "your server will be right out." She walked away unsteadily.
"You really shouldn't do that to people," I criticized. "It's hardly fair."
"Dazzle them like that - she's probably hyperventilating in the kitchen right now."
He seemed confused.
"Oh, come on," I said dubiously. "You have to know the effect you have on people."
He tilted his head to one side, and his eyes were curious. "I dazzle people?"
"You haven't noticed? Do you think everybody gets their way so easily?"
He ignored my questions. "Do I dazzle you?"
"Frequently," I admitted.
And then our server arrived, her face expectant. The hostess had definitely dished behind the scenes, and this new girl didn't look disappointed. She flipped a strand of short black hair behind one ear and smiled with unnecessary warmth.
"Hello. My name is Amber, and I'll be your server tonight. What can I get
you to drink?" I didn't miss that she was speaking only to him.
He looked at me.
"I'll have a Coke." It sounded like a question.
"Two Cokes," he said.
"I'll be right back with that," she assured him with another unnecessary smile. But he didn't see it. He was watching me.
"What?" I asked when she left.
His eyes stayed fixed on my face. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," I replied, surprised by his intensity.
"You don't feel dizzy, sick, cold... ?"
He chuckled at my puzzled tone.
"Well, I'm actually waiting for you to go into shock." His face twisted up into that perfect crooked smile.
"I don't think that will happen," I said after I could breathe again. "I've always been very good at repressing unpleasant things."
"Just the same, I'll feel better when you have some sugar and food in you."
Right on cue, the waitress appeared with our drinks and a basket of breadsticks. She stood with her back to me as she placed them on the table.
"Are you ready to order?" she asked Edward.
"Bella?" he asked. She turned unwillingly toward me.
I picked the first thing I saw on the menu. "Um... I'll have the mushroom ravioli."
"And you?" She turned back to him with a smile.
"Nothing for me," he said. Of course not.
"Let me know if you change your mind." The coy smile was still in place, but he wasn't looking at her, and she left dissatisfied.
"Drink," he ordered.
I sipped at my soda obediently, and then drank more deeply, surprised by how thirsty I was. I realized I had finished the whole thing when he pushed his glass toward me.
"Thanks," I muttered, still thirsty. The cold from the icy soda was radiating through my chest, and I shivered.
"Are you cold?"
"It's just the Coke," I explained, shivering again.
"Don't you have a jacket?" His voice was disapproving.
"Yes." I looked at the empty bench next to me. "Oh - I left it in Jessica's car," I realized.
Edward was shrugging out of his jacket. I suddenly realized that I had never once noticed what he was wearing - not just tonight, but ever. I just couldn't seem to look away from his face. I made myself look now, focusing. He was removing a light beige leather jacket now; underneath he
wore an ivory turtleneck sweater. It fit him snugly, emphasizing how muscular his chest was.
He handed me the jacket, interrupting my ogling.
"Thanks," I said again, sliding my arms into his jacket. It was cold - the way my jacket felt when I first picked it up in the morning, hanging in the drafty hallway. I shivered again. It smelled amazing. I inhaled, trying to identify the delicious scent. It didn't smell like cologne. The sleeves were much too long; I shoved them back so I could free my hands.
"That color blue looks lovely with your skin," he said, watching me. I was surprised; I looked down, flushing, of course.
He pushed the bread basket toward me.
"Really, I'm not going into shock," I protested.
"You should be - a normal person would be. You don't even look shaken." He seemed unsettled. He stared into my eyes, and I saw how light his eyes were, lighter than I'd ever seen them, golden butterscotch.
"I feel very safe with you," I confessed, mesmerized into telling the truth again.
That displeased him; his alabaster brow furrowed. He shook his head, frowning.
"This is more complicated than I'd planned," he murmured to himself.
I picked up a breadstick and began nibbling on the end, measuring his expression. I wondered when it would be okay to start questioning him.
"Usually you're in a better mood when your eyes are so light," I commented, trying to distract him from whatever thought had left him frowning and somber.
He stared at me, stunned. "What?"
"You're always crabbier when your eyes are black - I expect it then," I went on. "I have a theory about that."
His eyes narrowed. "More theories?"
"Mm-hm." I chewed on a small bite of the bread, trying to look indifferent.
"I hope you were more creative this time... or are you still stealing from comic books?" His faint smile was mocking; his eyes were still tight.
"Well, no, I didn't get it from a comic book, but I didn't come up with it on my own, either," I confessed.
"And?" he prompted.
But then the waitress strode around the partition with my food. I realized we'd been unconsciously leaning toward each other across the table, because we both straightened up as she approached. She set the dish in front of me - it looked pretty good - and turned quickly to Edward.
"Did you change your mind?" she asked. "Isn't there anything I can get you?" I may have been imagining the double meaning in her words.
"No, thank you, but some more soda would be nice." He gestured with a long white hand to the empty cups in front of me.
"Sure." She removed the empty glasses and walked away.
"You were saying?" he asked.
"I'll tell you about it in the car. If..." I paused.
"There are conditions?" He raised one eyebrow, his voice ominous.
"I do have a few questions, of course."
The waitress was back with two more Cokes. She sat them down without a word this time, and left again.
I took a sip.
"Well, go ahead," he pushed, his voice still hard.
I started with the most undemanding. Or so I thought. "Why are you in Port Angeles?"
He looked down, folding his large hands together slowly on the table. His eyes flickered up at me from under his lashes, the hint of a smirk on his face.
"But that's the easiest one," I objected.
"Next," he repeated.
I looked down, frustrated. I unrolled my silverware, picked up my fork, and carefully speared a ravioli. I put it in my mouth slowly, still looking down, chewing while I thought. The mushrooms were good. I swallowed and took another sip of Coke before I looked up.
"Okay, then." I glared at him, and continued slowly. "Let's say, hypothetically of course, that... someone... could know what people are thinking, read minds, you know - with a few exceptions."
"Just one exception," he corrected, "hypothetically."
"All right, with one exception, then." I was thrilled that he was playing along, but I tried to seem casual.
"How does that work? What are the limitations? How would... that someone... find someone else at exactly the right time? How would he know she was in trouble?" I wondered if my convoluted questions even made sense.
"Hypothetically?" he asked.
"Well, if... that someone..."
"Let's call him 'Joe,'" I suggested.
He smiled wryly. "Joe, then. If Joe had been paying attention, the timing wouldn't have needed to be quite so exact." He shook his head, rolling his eyes. "Only you could get into trouble in a town this small. You would have devastated their crime rate statistics for a decade, you know."
"We were speaking of a hypothetical case," I reminded him frostily.
He laughed at me, his eyes warm.
"Yes, we were," he agreed. "Shall we call you 'Jane'?"
"How did you know?" I asked, unable to curb my intensity. I realized I was leaning toward him again.
He seemed to be wavering, torn by some internal dilemma. His eyes locked with mine, and I guessed he was making the decision right then whether or not to simply tell me the truth.
"You can trust me, you know," I murmured. I reached forward, without
thinking, to touch his folded hands, but he slid them away minutely, and I pulled my hand back.
"I don't know if I have a choice anymore." His voice was almost a whisper. "I was wrong - you're much more observant than I gave you credit for."
"I thought you were always right."
"I used to be." He shook his head again. "I was wrong about you on one other thing, as well. You're not a magnet for accidents - that's not a broad enough classification. You are a magnet for trouble. If there is anything dangerous within a ten-mile radius, it will invariably find you."
"And you put yourself into that category?" I guessed.
His face turned cold, expressionless. "Unequivocally."
I stretched my hand across the table again - ignoring him when he pulled back slightly once more - to touch the back of his hand shyly with my fingertips. His skin was cold and hard, like a stone.
"Thank you." My voice was fervent with gratitude. "That's twice now."
His face softened. "Let's not try for three, agreed?"
I scowled, but nodded. He moved his hand out from under mine, placing both of his under the table. But he leaned toward me.
"I followed you to Port Angeles," he admitted, speaking in a rush. "I've never tried to keep a specific person alive before, and it's much more troublesome than I would have believed. But that's probably just because it's you. Ordinary people seem to make it through the day without so many catastrophes." He paused. I wondered if it should bother me that he was following me; instead I felt a strange surge of pleasure. He stared, maybe wondering why my lips were curving into an involuntary smile.
"Did you ever think that maybe my number was up the first time, with the van, and that you've been interfering with fate?" I speculated, distracting myself.
"That wasn't the first time," he said, and his voice was hard to hear. I stared at him in amazement, but he was looking down. "Your number was up the first time I met you."
I felt a spasm of fear at his words, and the abrupt memory of his violent black glare that first day... but the overwhelming sense of safety I felt in his presence stifled it. By the time he looked up to read my eyes, there was no trace of fear in them.
"You remember?" he asked, his angel's face grave.
"Yes." I was calm.
"And yet here you sit." There was a trace of disbelief in his voice; he raised one eyebrow.
"Yes, here I sit... because of you." I paused. "Because somehow you knew how to find me today... ?" I prompted.
He pressed his lips together, staring at me through narrowed eyes, deciding again. His eyes flashed down to my full plate, and then back to me.
"You eat, I'll talk," he bargained.
I quickly scooped up another ravioli and popped it in my mouth.
"It's harder than it should be - keeping track of you. Usually I can find someone very easily, once I've heard their mind before." He looked at me anxiously, and I realized I had frozen. I made myself swallow, then stabbed another ravioli and tossed it in.
"I was keeping tabs on Jessica, not carefully - like I said, only you could find trouble in Port Angeles - and at first I didn't notice when you took off on your own. Then, when I realized that you weren't with her anymore, I went looking for you at the bookstore I saw in her head. I could tell that you hadn't gone in, and that you'd gone south... and I knew you would have to turn around soon. So I was just waiting for you, randomly searching through the thoughts of people on the street - to see if anyone had noticed you so I would know where you were. I had no reason to be worried... but I was strangely anxious..." He was lost in thought, staring past me, seeing things I couldn't imagine.
"I started to drive in circles, still... listening. The sun was finally setting, and I was about to get out and follow you on foot. And then -" He stopped, clenching his teeth together in sudden fury. He made an effort to calm himself.
"Then what?" I whispered. He continued to stare over my head.
"I heard what they were thinking," he growled, his upper lip curling slightly back over his teeth. "I saw your face in his mind." He suddenly leaned forward, one elbow appearing on the table, his hand covering his eyes. The movement was so swift it startled me.
"It was very... hard - you can't imagine how hard - for me to simply take you away, and leave them... alive." His voice was muffled by his arm. "I could have let you go with Jessica and Angela, but I was afraid if you left me alone, I would go looking for them," he admitted in a whisper.
I sat quietly, dazed, my thoughts incoherent. My hands were folded in my lap, and I was leaning weakly against the back of the seat. He still had his face in his hand, and he was as still as if he'd been carved from the stone his skin resembled.
Finally he looked up, his eyes seeking mine, full of his own questions.
"Are you ready to go home?" he asked.
"I'm ready to leave," I qualified, overly grateful that we had the hour-long ride home together. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to him.
The waitress appeared as if she'd been called. Or watching.
"How are we doing?" she asked Edward.
"We're ready for the check, thank you." His voice was quiet, rougher, still reflecting the strain of our conversation. It seemed to muddle her. He looked up, waiting.
"S-sure," she stuttered. "Here you go." She pulled a small leather folder from the front pocket of her black apron and handed it to him.
There was a bill in his hand already. He slipped it into the folder and handed it right back to her.
"No change." He smiled. Then he stood up, and I scrambled awkwardly to my feet.
She smiled invitingly at him again. "You have a nice evening."
He didn't look away from me as he thanked her. I suppressed a smile.
He walked close beside me to the door, still careful not to touch me. I remembered what Jessica had said about her relationship with Mike, how they were almost to the first-kiss stage. I sighed. Edward seemed to hear me, and he looked down curiously. I looked at the sidewalk, grateful that he didn't seem to be able to know what I was thinking.
He opened the passenger door, holding it for me as I stepped in, shutting it softly behind me. I watched him walk around the front of the car, amazed, yet again, by how graceful he was. I probably should have been used to that by now - but I wasn't. I had a feeling Edward wasn't the
kind of person anyone got used to.
Once inside the car, he started the engine and turned the heater on high. It had gotten very cold, and I guessed the good weather was at an end. I was warm in his jacket, though, breathing in the scent of it when I thought he couldn't see.
Edward pulled out through the traffic, apparently without a glance, flipping around to head toward the freeway.
"Now," he said significantly, "it's your turn."