"Wait, Mom!" I interrupted. Edward still had his eyes closed, but he
looked too tense to pass as asleep. "What are you talking about? I'm not
going to Florida. I live in Forks."
"But you don't have to anymore, silly," she laughed. "Phil will be able
to be around so much more now… we've talked about it a lot, and what I'm
going to do is trade off on the away games, half the time with you, half
the time with him."
"Mom." I hesitated, wondering how best to be diplomatic about this. "I
want to live in Forks. I'm already settled in at school, and I have a
couple of girlfriends" — she glanced toward Edward again when I reminded
her of friends, so I tried another direction — "and Charlie needs me.
He's just all alone up there, and he can't cook at all."
"You want to stay in Forks?" she asked, bewildered. The idea was
inconceivable to her. And then her eyes flickered back toward Edward.
"I told you — school, Charlie — ouch!" I'd shrugged. Not a good idea.
Her hands fluttered helplessly over me, trying to find a safe place to
pat. She made do with my forehead; it was unbandaged.
"Bella, honey, you hate Forks," she reminded me.
"It's not so bad."
She frowned and looked back and forth between Edward and me, this time
"Is it this boy?" she whispered.
I opened my mouth to lie, but her eyes were scrutinizing my face, and I
knew she would see through that.
"He's part of it," I admitted. No need to confess how big a part. "So,
have you had a chance to talk with Edward?" I asked.
"Yes." She hesitated, looking at his perfectly still form. "And I want to
talk to you about that."
Uh-oh. "What about?" I asked.
"I think that boy is in love with you," she accused, keeping her voice
"I think so, too," I confided.
"And how do you feel about him?" She only poorly concealed the raging
curiosity in her voice.
I sighed, looking away. As much as I loved my mom, this was not a
conversation I wanted to have with her. "I'm pretty crazy about him."
There — that sounded like something a teenager with her first boyfriend
"Well, he seems very nice, and, my goodness, he's incredibly
good-looking, but you're so young, Bella…" Her voice was unsure; as far
as I could remember, this was the first time since I was eight that she'd
come close to trying to sound like a parental authority. I recognized the
reasonable-but-firm tone of voice from talks I'd had with her about men.
"I know that, Mom. Don't worry about it. It's just a crush," I soothed
"That's right," she agreed, easily pleased.
Then she sighed and glanced guiltily over her shoulder at the big, round
clock on the wall.
"Do you need to go?"
She bit her lip. "Phil's supposed to call in a little while… I didn't
know you were going to wake up…"
"No problem, Mom." I tried to tone down the relief so she wouldn't get
her feelings hurt. "I won't be alone."
"I'll be back soon. I've been sleeping here, you know," she announced,
proud of herself.
"Oh, Mom, you don't have to do that! You can sleep at home — I'll never
notice." The swirl of painkillers in my brain was making it hard to
concentrate even now, though, apparently, I'd been sleeping for days.
"I was too nervous," she admitted sheepishly. "There's been some crime in
the neighborhood, and I don't like being there alone."
"Crime?" I asked in alarm.
"Someone broke into that dance studio around the corner from the house
and burned it to the ground — there's nothing left at all! And they left
a stolen car right out front. Do you remember when you used to dance
"I remember." I shivered, and winced.
"I can stay, baby, if you need me."
"No, Mom, I'll be fine. Edward will be with me."
She looked like that might be why she wanted to stay. "I'll be back
tonight." It sounded as much like a warning as it sounded like a promise,
and she glanced at Edward again as she said it.
"I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, Bella. Try to be more careful when you walk, honey, I
don't want to lose you."
Edward's eyes stayed closed, but a wide grin flashed across his face.
A nurse came bustling in then to check all my tubes and wires. My mother
kissed my forehead, patted my gauze-wrapped hand, and left.
The nurse was checking the paper readout on my heart monitor.
"Are you feeling anxious, honey? Your heart rate got a little high there."
"I'm fine," I assured her.
"I'll tell your RN that you're awake. She'll be in to see you in a
As soon as she closed the door, Edward was at my side.
"You stole a car?" I raised my eyebrows.
He smiled, unrepentant. "It was a good car, very fast."
"How was your nap?" I asked.
"Interesting." His eyes narrowed.
He looked down while he answered. "I'm surprised. I thought Florida… and
your mother… well, I thought that's what you would want."
I stared at him uncomprehendingly. "But you'd be stuck inside all day in
Florida. You'd only be able to come out at night, just like a real
He almost smiled, but not quite. And then his face was grave. "I would
stay in Forks, Bella. Or somewhere like it," he explained. "Someplace
where I couldn't hurt you anymore."
It didn't sink in at first. I continued to stare at him blankly as the
words one by one clicked into place in my head like a ghastly puzzle. I
was barely conscious of the sound of my heart accelerating, though, as my
breathing became hyperventilation, I was aware of the sharp aching in my
He didn't say anything; he watched my face warily as the pain that had
nothing to do with broken bones, pain that was infinitely worse,
threatened to crush me.
And then another nurse walked purposefully into the room. Edward sat
still as stone as she took in my expression with a practiced eye before
turning to the monitors.
"Time for more pain meds, sweetheart?" she asked kindly, tapping the IV
"No, no," I mumbled, trying to keep the agony out of my voice. "I don't
need anything." I couldn't afford to close my eyes now.
"No need to be brave, honey. It's better if you don't get too stressed
out; you need to rest." She waited, but I just shook my head.
"Okay," she sighed. "Hit the call button when you're ready."
She gave Edward a stern look, and threw one more anxious glance at the
machinery, before leaving.
His cool hands were on my face; I stared at him with wild eyes.
"Shhh, Bella, calm down."
"Don't leave me," I begged in a broken voice.
"I won't," he promised. "Now relax before I call the nurse back to sedate
But my heart couldn't slow.
"Bella." He stroked my face anxiously. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be
right here as long as you need me."
"Do you swear you won't leave me?" I whispered. I tried to control the
gasping, at least. My ribs were throbbing.
He put his hands on either side of my face and brought his face close to
mine. His eyes were wide and serious. "I swear."
The smell of his breath was soothing. It seemed to ease the ache of my
breathing. He continued to hold my gaze while my body slowly relaxed and
the beeping returned to a normal pace. His eyes were dark, closer to
black than gold today.
"Better?" he asked.
"Yes," I said cautiously.
He shook his head and muttered something unintelligible. I thought I
picked out the word "overreaction."
"Why did you say that?" I whispered, trying to keep my voice from
shaking. "Are you tired of having to save me all the time? Do you want me
to go away?"
"No, I don't want to be without you, Bella, of course not. Be rational.
And I have no problem with saving you, either — if it weren't for the
fact that I was the one putting you in danger… that I'm the reason that
"Yes, you are the reason." I frowned. "The reason I'm here — alive."
"Barely." His voice was just a whisper. "Covered in gauze and plaster and
hardly able to move."
"I wasn't referring to my most recent near-death experience," I said,
growing irritated. "I was thinking of the others — you can take your
pick. If it weren't for you, I would be rotting away in the Forks
He winced at my words, but the haunted look didn't leave his eyes.
"That's not the worst part, though," he continued to whisper. He acted as
if I hadn't spoken. "Not seeing you there on the floor… crumpled and
broken." His voice was choked. "Not thinking I was too late. Not even
hearing you scream in pain — all those unbearable memories that I'll
carry with me for the rest of eternity. No, the very worst was feeling…
knowing that I couldn't stop. Believing that I was going to kill you
"But you didn't."
"I could have. So easily."
I knew I needed to stay calm… but he was trying to talk himself into
leaving me, and the panic fluttered in my lungs, trying to get out.
"Promise me," I whispered.
"You know what." I was starting to get angry now. He was so stubbornly
determined to dwell on the negative.
He heard the change in my tone. His eyes tightened. "I don't seem to be
strong enough to stay away from you, so I suppose that you'll get your
way… whether it kills you or not," he added roughly.
"Good." He hadn't promised, though — a fact that I had not missed. The
panic was only barely contained; I had no strength left to control the
anger. "You told me how you stopped… now I want to know why," I demanded.
"Why?" he repeated warily.
"Why you did it. Why didn't you just let the venom spread? By now I would
be just like you."
Edward's eyes seemed to turn flat black, and I remembered that this was
something he'd never intended me to know. Alice must have been
preoccupied by the things she'd learned about herself… or she'd been very
careful with her thoughts around him — clearly, he'd had no idea that
she'd filled me in on the mechanics of vampire conversions. He was
surprised, and infuriated. His nostrils flared, his mouth looked as if it
was chiseled from stone.
He wasn't going to answer, that much was clear.
"I'll be the first to admit that I have no experience with
relationships," I said. "But it just seems logical… a man and woman have
to be somewhat equal… as in, one of them can't always be swooping in and
saving the other one. They have to save each other equally."
He folded his arms on the side of my bed and rested his chin on his arms.
His expression was smooth, the anger reined in. Evidently he'd decided he
wasn't angry with me. I hoped I'd get a chance to warn Alice before he
caught up with her.
"You have saved me," he said quietly.
"I can't always be Lois Lane," I insisted. "I want to be Superman, too."
"You don't know what you're asking." His voice was soft; he stared
intently at the edge of the pillowcase.
"I think I do."
"Bella, you don't know. I've had almost ninety years to think about this,
and I'm still not sure."
"Do you wish that Carlisle hadn't saved you?"
"No, I don't wish that." He paused before continuing. "But my life was
over. I wasn't giving anything up."
"You are my life. You're the only thing it would hurt me to lose." I was
getting better at this. It was easy to admit how much I needed him.
He was very calm, though. Decided.
"I can't do it, Bella. I won't do that to you."
"Why not?" My throat rasped and the words weren't as loud as I'd meant
them to be. "Don't tell me it's too hard! After today, or I guess it was
a few days ago… anyway, after that, it should be nothing."
He glared at me.
"And the pain?" he asked.
I blanched. I couldn't help it. But I tried to keep my expression from
showing how clearly I remembered the feeling… the fire in my veins.
"That's my problem," I said. "I can handle it."
"It's possible to take bravery to the point where it becomes insanity."
"It's not an issue. Three days. Big deal."
Edward grimaced again as my words reminded him that I was more informed
than he had ever intended me to be. I watched him repress the anger,
watched as his eyes grew speculative.
"Charlie?" he asked curtly. "Renée?"
Minutes passed in silence as I struggled to answer his question. I opened
my mouth, but no sound came out. I closed it again. He waited, and his
expression became triumphant because he knew I had no true answer.
"Look, that's not an issue either," I finally muttered; my voice was as
unconvincing as it always was when I lied. "Renée has always made the
choices that work for her — she'd want me to do the same. And Charlie's
resilient, he's used to being on his own. I can't take care of them
forever. I have my own life to live."
"Exactly," he snapped. "And I won't end it for you."
"If you're waiting for me to be on my deathbed, I've got news for you! I
was just there!"
"You're going to recover," he reminded me.
I took a deep breath to calm myself, ignoring the spasm of pain it
triggered. I stared at him, and he stared back. There was no compromise
in his face.
"No," I said slowly. "I'm not."
His forehead creased. "Of course you are. You may have a scar or two…"
"You're wrong," I insisted. "I'm going to die."
"Really, Bella." He was anxious now. "You'll be out of here in a few
days. Two week at most."
I glared at him. "I may not die now… but I'm going to die sometime. Every
minute of the day, I get closer. And I'm going to get old."
He frowned as what I was saying sunk in, pressing his long fingers to his
temples and closing his eyes. "That's how it's supposed to happen. How it
should happen. How it would have happened if I didn't exist — and I
I snorted. He opened his eyes in surprise. "That's stupid. That's like
going to someone who's just won the lottery, taking their money, and
saying, 'Look, let's just go back to how things should be. It's better
that way.' And I'm not buying it."
"I'm hardly a lottery prize," he growled.
"That's right. You're much better."
He rolled his eyes and set his lips. "Bella, we're not having this
discussion anymore. I refuse to damn you to an eternity of night and
that's the end of it."
"If you think that's the end, then you don't know me very well," I warned
him. "You're not the only vampire I know."
His eyes went black again. "Alice wouldn't dare."
And for a moment he looked so frightening that I couldn't help but
believe it — I couldn't imagine someone brave enough to cross him.
"Alice already saw it, didn't she?" I guessed. "That's why the things she
says upset you. She knows I'm going to be like you… someday."
"She's wrong. She also saw you dead, but that didn't happen, either."
"You'll never catch me betting against Alice."
We stared at each other for a very long time. It was quiet except for the
whirring of the machines, the beeping, the dripping, the ticking of the
big clock on the wall. Finally, his expression softened.
"So where does that leave us?" I wondered.
He chuckled humorlessly. "I believe it's called an impasse."
I sighed. "Ouch," I muttered.
"How are you feeling?" he asked, eyeing the button for the nurse.
"I'm fine," I lied.
"I don't believe you," he said gently.
"I'm not going back to sleep."
"You need rest. All this arguing isn't good for you."
"So give in," I hinted.
"Nice try." He reached for the button.
He ignored me.
"Yes?" the speaker on the wall squawked.
"I think we're ready for more pain medication," he said calmly, ignoring
my furious expression.
"I'll send in the nurse." The voice sounded very bored.
"I won't take it," I promised.
He looked toward the sack of fluids hanging beside my bed. "I don't think
they're going to ask you to swallow anything."
My heart rate started to climb. He read the fear in my eyes, and sighed
"Bella, you're in pain. You need to relax so you can heal. Why are you
being so difficult? They're not going to put any more needles in you now."
"I'm not afraid of the needles," I mumbled. "I'm afraid to close my eyes."
Then he smiled his crooked smile, and took my face between his hands. "I
told you I'm not going anywhere. Don't be afraid. As long as it makes you
happy, I'll be here."
I smiled back, ignoring the ache in my cheeks. "You're talking about
forever, you know."
"Oh, you'll get over it — it's just a crush."
I shook my head in disbelief— it made me dizzy. "I was shocked when Renée
swallowed that one. I know you know better."
"That's the beautiful thing about being human," he told me. "Things
My eyes narrowed. "Don't hold your breath."
He was laughing when the nurse came in, brandishing a syringe.
"Excuse me," she said brusquely to Edward.
He got up and crossed to the end of the small room, leaning against the
wall. He folded his arms and waited. I kept my eyes on him, still
apprehensive. He met my gaze calmly.
"Here you go, honey." The nurse smiled as she injected the medicine into
my tube. "You'll feel better now."
"Thanks," I mumbled, unenthusiastic. It didn't take long. I could feel
the drowsiness trickling through my bloodstream almost immediately.
"That ought to do it," she muttered as my eyelids drooped.
She must have left the room, because something cold and smooth touched my
"Stay." The word was slurred.
"I will," he promised. His voice was beautiful, like a lullaby. "Like I
said, as long as it makes you happy… as long as it's what's best for you."
I tried to shake my head, but it was too heavy. "'S not the same thing,"
He laughed. "Don't worry about that now, Bella. You can argue with me
when you wake up."
I think I smiled. '"Kay."
I could feel his lips at my ear.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I know," he laughed quietly.
I turned my head slightly… searching. He knew what I was after. His lips
touched mine gently.
"Thanks," I sighed.
I wasn't really there at all anymore. But I fought against the stupor
weakly. There was just one more thing I wanted to tell him.
"Edward?" I struggled to pronounce his name clearly.
"I'm betting on Alice," I mumbled.
And then the night closed over me.
Edward helped me into his car, being very careful of the wisps of silk
and chiffon, the flowers he'd just pinned into my elaborately styled
curls, and my bulky walking cast. He ignored the angry set of my mouth.
When he had me settled, he got in the driver's seat and headed back out
the long, narrow drive.
"At what point exactly are you going to tell me what's going on?" I asked
grumpily. I really hated surprises. And he knew that.
"I'm shocked that you haven't figured it out yet." He threw a mocking
smile in my direction, and my breath caught in my throat. Would I ever
get used to his perfection?
"I did mention that you looked very nice, didn't I?" I verified.
"Yes." He grinned again. I'd never seen him dress in black before, and,
with the contrast against his pale skin, his beauty was absolutely
surreal. That much I couldn't deny, even if the fact that he was wearing
a tuxedo made me very nervous.
Not quite as nervous as the dress. Or the shoe. Only one shoe, as my
other foot was still securely encased in plaster. But the stiletto heel,
held on only by satin ribbons, certainly wasn't going to help me as I
tried to hobble around.
"I'm not coming over anymore if Alice is going to treat me like Guinea
Pig Barbie when I do," I griped. I'd spent the better part of the day in
Alice's staggeringly vast bathroom, a helpless victim as she played
hairdresser and cosmetician. Whenever I fidgeted or complained, she
reminded me that she didn't have any memories of being human, and asked
me not to ruin her vicarious fun. Then she'd dressed me in the most
ridiculous dress — deep blue, frilly and off the shoulders, with French
tags I couldn't read — a dress more suitable for a runway than Forks.
Nothing good could come of our formal attire, of that I was sure. Unless…
but I was afraid to put my suspicions into words, even in my own head.
I was distracted then by the sound of a phone ringing. Edward pulled his
cell phone from a pocket inside his jacket, looking briefly at the caller
ID before answering.
"Hello, Charlie," he said warily.
"Charlie?" I frowned.
Charlie had been… difficult since my return to Forks. He had
compartmentalized my bad experience into two defined reactions. Toward
Carlisle he was almost worshipfully grateful. On the other hand, he was
stubbornly convinced that Edward was at fault — because, if not for him,
I wouldn't have left home in the first place. And Edward was far from
disagreeing with him. These days I had rules that hadn't existed before:
curfews… visiting hours.
Something Charlie was saying made Edward's eyes widen in disbelief, and
then a grin spread across his face.
"You're kidding!" He laughed.
"What is it?" I demanded.
He ignored me. "Why don't you let me talk to him?" Edward suggested with
evident pleasure. He waited for a few seconds.
"Hello, Tyler, this is Edward Cullen." His voice was very friendly, on
the surface. I knew it well enough to catch the soft edge of menace. What
was Tyler doing at my house? The awful truth began to dawn on me. I
looked again at the inappropriate dress Alice had forced me into.
"I'm sorry if there's been some kind of miscommunication, but Bella is
unavailable tonight." Edward's tone changed, and the threat in his voice
was suddenly much more evident as he continued. "To be perfectly honest,
she'll be unavailable every night, as far as anyone besides myself is
concerned. No offense. And I'm sorry about your evening." He didn't sound
sorry at all. And then he snapped the phone shut, a huge smirk on his
My face and neck flushed crimson with anger. I could feel the
rage-induced tears starting to fill my eyes.
He looked at me in surprise. "Was that last part a bit too much? I didn't
mean to offend you."
I ignored that.
"You're taking me to the prom!" I yelled.
It was embarrassingly obvious now. If I'd been paying any attention at
all, I'm sure I would have noticed the date on the posters that decorated
the school buildings. But I'd never dreamed he was thinking of subjecting
me to this. Didn't he know me at all?
He wasn't expecting the force of my reaction, that was clear. He pressed
his lips together and his eyes narrowed. "Don't be difficult, Bella."
My eyes flashed to the window; we were halfway to the school already.
"Why are you doing this to me?" I demanded in horror.
He gestured to his tuxedo. "Honestly, Bella, what did you think we were
I was mortified. First, because I'd missed the obvious. And also because
the vague suspicions — expectations, really — that I'd been forming all
day, as Alice tried to transform me into a beauty queen, were so far wide
of the mark. My half-fearful hopes seemed very silly now.
I'd guessed there was some kind of occasion brewing. But prom! That was
the furthest thing from my mind.
The angry tears rolled over my cheeks. I remembered with dismay that I
was very uncharacteristically wearing mascara. I wiped quickly under my
eyes to prevent any smudges. My hand was unblackened when I pulled it
away; maybe Alice had known I would need waterproof makeup.
"This is completely ridiculous. Why are you crying?" he demanded in
"Because I'm mad!"
"Bella." He turned the full force of his scorching golden eyes on me.
"What?" I muttered, distracted.
"Humor me," he insisted.
His eyes were melting all my fury. It was impossible to fight with him
when he cheated like that. I gave in with poor grace.
"Fine," I pouted, unable to glare as effectively as I would have liked.
"I'll go quietly. But you'll see. I'm way overdue for more bad luck. I'll
probably break my other leg. Look at this shoe! It's a death trap!" I
held out my good leg as evidence.
"Hmmm." He stared at my leg longer than was necessary. "Remind me to
thank Alice for that tonight."
"Alice is going to be there?" That comforted me slightly.
"With Jasper, and Emmett… and Rosalie," he admitted.
The feeling of comfort disappeared. There had been no progress with
Rosalie, though I was on quite good terms with her sometimes-husband.
Emmett enjoyed having me around — he thought my bizarre human reactions
were hilarious… or maybe it was just the fact that I fell down a lot that
he found so funny. Rosalie acted as if I didn't exist. While I shook my
head to dispel the direction my thoughts had taken, I thought of
"Is Charlie in on this?" I asked, suddenly suspicious.
"Of course." He grinned, and then chuckled. "Apparently Tyler wasn't,
I gritted my teeth. How Tyler could be so delusional, I couldn't imagine.
At school, where Charlie couldn't interfere, Edward and I were
inseparable — except for those rare sunny days.
We were at the school now; Rosalie's red convertible was conspicuous in
the parking lot. The clouds were thin today, a few streaks of sunlight
escaping through far away in the west.
He got out and walked around the car to open my door. He held out his
I sat stubbornly in my seat, arms folded, feeling a secret twinge of
smugness. The lot was crowded with people in formal dress: witnesses. He
couldn't remove me forcibly from the car as he might have if we'd been
He sighed. "When someone wants to kill you, you're brave as a lion — and
then when someone mentions dancing…" He shook his head.
I gulped. Dancing.
"Bella, I won't let anything hurt you — not even yourself. I won't let go
of you once, I promise."
I thought about that and suddenly felt much better. He could see that in
"There, now," he said gently, "it won't be so bad." He leaned down and
wrapped one arm around my waist. I took his other hand and let him lift
me from the car.
He kept his arm tightly around me, supporting me as I limped toward the
In Phoenix, they held proms in hotel ballrooms. This dance was in the
gym, of course. It was probably the only room in town big enough for a
dance. When we got inside, I giggled. There were actual balloon arches
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