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New Moon (The Twilight Saga, Book 2)

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Shoot, I muttered when the paper sliced my finger; I pulled it out to examine the damage. A single drop of blood oozed from the tiny cut.It all happened very quickly then.Edward threw himself at me, flinging me back across the table...I tumbled down to the floor by the piano, with my arms thrown out instinctively to catch my fall, into the jagged shards of glass. I felt the searing, stinging pain that ran from my wrist to the crease inside my elbow. Dazed and disoriented, I looked up from the bright red blood pulsing out of my arm-into the fevered eyes of the six suddenly ravenous vampires.Legions of readers entranced by Twilight are hungry for more and they won't be disappointed. In New Moon, Stephenie Meyer delivers another irresistible combination of romance and suspense with a supernatural twist. The "star-crossed" lovers theme continues as Bella and Edward find themselves facing new obstacles, including a devastating separation, the mysterious appearance of dangerous wolves roaming the forest in Forks, a terrifying threat of revenge from a female vampire and a deliciously sinister encounter with Italy's reigning royal family of vampires, the Volturi. Passionate, riveting, and full of surprising twists and turns, this vampire love saga is well on its way to literary immortality.
1St Edition
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
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          NOT FOR SALE

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          New Moon by Stephenie Meyer


 1. PARTY 
 3. THE END 
 11. CULT 
 13. KILLER 
 14. FAMILY 
 16. PARIS 
 19. HATE 
 22. FLIGHT 
 24. VOTE 

      Text copyright © 2006 by Stephenie Meyer
 All rights reserved 

      Little, Brown ard Company Hachette Book Group USA

       1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020 Visit our Web site at www.lbteens com
 First Edition September 2006 The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author
 Meyer, Stephenie, 1973–New Moon a novel / b) Stepheme Meyer–1st ed p cm 

      Summary When the Cullens, including her beloved Edward, leave Forks rather than risk revealing that they are vampires, it is almost too much for eighteen-year-old Bella to bear, but she finds solace in her friend Jacob until he is drawn into a cult and changes in terrible ways 

      ISBN-13 978-0 316-16019-3 ISBN-10 0-316-16019-9

       [1 Vampires–Fiction 2 Werewolves–Fiction 3 High schools–Fiction 4 Schools–Fiction 5 Washington (State)–Fiction ] 1 Title
 PZ7 M; 57188New2006 [Fic]–dc22 2006012309 

      1098 7 6 5 43 2 1 Q-FF Printed in the United States of America

      For my dad, Stephen Morgan – No one has ever been given more loving and unconditional support than I have been given by you. I love you, too.

      These violent delights have violent ends And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, Which, as they kiss, consume.
 Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene VI

      I FELT LIKE I WAS TRAPPED IN ONE OF THOSE TERRIFYING nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can't make your body move fast enough. My legs seemed to move slower and slower as I fought my way through the callous crowd, but the hands on the huge clock tower didn't slow. With relentless, uncaring force, they turned inexorably toward the end–the end of everything.

       But this was no dream, and, unlike the nightmare, I wasn't running for my life; I was racing to save something infinitely more precious. My own life meant little to me today. 

      Alice had said there was a good chance we would both die here. Perhaps the outcome would be different if she weren't trapped by the brilliant sunlight; only I was free to run across this bright, crowded square.

       And I couldn't run fast enough. 

      So it didn't matter to me that we were surrounded by our extraordinarily dangerous enemies. As the clock began to toll out the hour, vibrating under the soles of my sluggish feet, I knew I was too late–and I was glad something bloodthirsty waited in the wings. For in failing at this, I forfeited any desire to live.

       The clock tolled again, and the sun beat down from the exact center point of the sky.

      The reasons I was so certain were that, first, I was standing in a bright shaft of sunlight–the kind of blinding clear sun that never shone on my drizzly new hometown in Forks, Washington–and second, I was looking at my Grandma Marie. Gran had been dead for six years now, so that was solid evidence toward the dream theory.

      Gran hadn't changed much; her face looked just the same as I remembered it. The skin was soft and withered, bent into a thousand tiny creases that clung gently to the bone underneath. Like a dried apricot, but with a puff of thick white hair standing out in a cloud around it.

       Our mouths–hers a wizened picker–spread into the same surprised half-smile at just the same time. Apparently, she hadn't been expecting to see me, either. 

      I was about to ask her a question; I had so many–What was she doing here in my cream? What had she been up to in the past six years? Was Pop okay, and had they found each other, wherever they were?–but she opened her mouth when I did, so I stopped to let her go first. She paused, too, and then we Goth smiled at the little awkwardness.


      It wasn't Gran who called my name, and we both turned to see the addition to our small reunion. I didn't have to look to know who it was; this was a voice I would know anywhere–know, and respond to, whether I was awake or asleep… or even dead, I'd bet. The voice I'd walk through fire for–or, less dramatically, slosh every day through the cold and endless rain for.


      Even though I was always thrilled to see him–conscious or otherwise–and even though I was almost positive that I was dreaming, I panicked as Edward walked toward us through the glaring sunlight.

      I panicked because Gran didn't know that I was in love with a vampire–nobody knew that–so how was I supposed to explain the fact that the brilliant sunbeams were shattering off his skin into a thousand rainbow shards like he was made of crystal or diamond?

      Well, Gran, yon might have noticed that my boyfriend glitters. It's just something he does in the sun. Don't worry about it…

      What was he doing? The whole reason he lived in Forks, the rainiest place in the world, was so that he could be outside in the daytime without exposing his family's secret. Yet here he was, strolling gracefully toward me–with the most beautiful smile on his angel's face–as if I were the only one here.

      In that second, I wished that I was not the one exception to his mysterious talent; I usually felt grateful that I was the only person whose thoughts he couldn't hear just as clearly as if they were spoken aloud. But now I wished he could hear me, too, so that he could hear the warning I was screaming in my head.

       I shot a panicked glance back at Gran, and saw that it was too late. She was just turning to stare back at me, her eyes as alarmed as mine.
 Edward–still smiling so beautifully that my heart felt like it was going to swell up and burst through my chest–put his arm around my shoulder and turned to face my grandmother. 

      Gran's expression surprised me. Instead of looking horrified, she was staring at me sheepishly, as if waiting for a scolding. And she was standing in such a strange position–one arm held awkwardly away from her body, stretched out and then curled around the air. Like she had her arm around someone I couldn't see, someone invisible…

      Only then, as I looked at the bigger picture, did I notice the huge gilt frame that enclosed my grandmother's form. Uncomprehending, I raised the hand that wasn't wrapped around Edward's waist and reached out to touch her. She mimicked the movement exactly, mirrored it. But where our fingers should have met, there was nothing but cold glass…

      With a dizzying jolt, my dream abruptly became a nightmare. There was no Gran. That was me. Me in a mirror. Me–ancient, creased, and withered. Edward stood beside me, casting no reflection, excruciatingly lovely and forever seventeen. He pressed his icy, perfect lips against my wasted cheek. "Happy birthday," he whispered.

       I woke with a start–my eyelids popping open wide–and gasped. Dull gray light, the familiar light of an overcast morning, took the place of the blinding sun in my dream. 

      Just a dream , I told myself. It was only a dream. I took a deep breath, and then jumped again when my alarm went off. The little calendar in the corner of the clock's display informed me that today was September thirteenth.

       Only a dream, but prophetic enough in one way, at least. Today was my birthday. I was officially eighteen years old. 

      I'd been dreading this day for months. All through the perfect summer–the happiest summer I had ever had, the happiest summer anyone anywhere had ever had, and the rainiest summer in the history of the Olympic Peninsula–this bleak date had lurked in ambush, waiting to spring.

       And now that it had hit, it was even worse than I'd feared it would be. I could feel it–I was older. Every day I got older, but this was different, worse, quantifiable. I was eighteen. And Edward never would be. 

      When I went to brush my teeth, I was almost surprised that the face in the mirror hadn't changed. I stared at myself, looking for some sign of impending wrinkles in my ivory skin. The only creases were the ones on my forehead, though, and I knew that if I could manage to relax, they would disappear. I couldn't. My eyebrows stayed lodged in a worried line over my anxious brown eyes.

      It was just a dream, I reminded myself again. Just a dream… but also my worst nightmare. 

      I skipped breakfast, in a hurry to get out of the house as quickly as possible. I wasn't entirely able to avoid my dad, and so I had to spend a few minutes acting cheerful. I honestly tried to be excited about the gifts I'd asked him not to get me, but every time I had to smile, it felt like I might start crying.

      I struggled to get a grip on myself as I drove to school. The vision of Gran–I would not think of it as me–was hard to get out of my head. I couldn't feel anything but despair until I pulled into the familiar parking lot behind Forks High School and spotted Edward leaning motionlessly against his polished silver Volvo, like a marble tribute to some forgotten pagan god of beauty. The dream had not done him justice. And he was waiting there for me, just the same as every other day.

       Despair momentarily vanished; wonder took its place. Even after half a year with him, I still couldn't believe that I deserved this degree of good fortune.
 His sister Alice was standing by his side, waiting for me, too. 

      Of course Edward and Alice weren't really related (in Forks the story was that all the Cullen siblings were adopted by Dr. Carlisle Culler and his wife, Esme, both plainly too young to have teenage children), but their skin was precisely the same pale shade, their eyes had the same strange golden tint, with the same deep, bruise-like shadows beneath them. Her face, like his, was also startlingly beautiful. To someone in the know–someone like me–these similarities marked them for what they were.

      The sight of Alice waiting there–her tawny eyes brilliant with excitement, and a small silver-wrapped square in her hands–made me frown. I'd told Alice I didn't want anything, anything, not gifts or even attention, for my birthday. Obviously, my wishes were being ignored.
 I slammed the door of my '53 Chevy truck–a shower of rust specks fluttered down to the wet blacktop–and walked slowly toward where they waited. Alice skipped forward to meet me, her pixie face glowing under her spiky black hair.

       "Happy birthday, Bella!"
 "Shh!" I hissed, glancing around the lot to make sure no one had heard her. The last thing I wanted was some kind of celebration of the black event.
 She ignored me. "Do you want to open your present now or later?" she asked eagerly as we made our way to where Edward still waited.
 "No presents," I protested in a mumble.
 She finally seemed to process my mood. "Okay… later, then. Did you like the scrapbook your mom sent you? And the camera from Charlie?" 

      I sighed. Of course she would know what my birthday presents were. Edward wasn't the only member of his family with unusual skills. Alice would have "seen" what my parents were planning as soon as they'd decided that themselves.

      "Yeah. They're great."
 "I think it's a nice idea. You're only a senior once. Might as well document the experience." "How many times have you been a senior?"
 "That's different."

      We reached Edward then, and he held out his hand for mine. I took it eagerly, forgetting, for a moment, my glum mood. His skin was, as always, smooth, hard, and very cold. He gave my fingers a gentle squeeze. I looked into his liquid topa2 eyes, and my heart gave a not-quite-so-gentle squeeze of its own. Hearing the stutter in my heartbeats, he smiled again.

       He lifted his free hand and traced one cool fingertip around the outside of my lips as he spoke. "So, as discussed, I am not allowed to wish you a happy birthday, is that correct?" "Yes. That is correct." I could never quite mimic the flow of his perfect, formal articulation. It was something that could only be picked up in an earlier century.
 "Just checking." He ran his hand through his tousled bronze hair. "You might have changed your mind. Most people seem to enjoy things like birthdays and gifts." 

      Alice laughed, and the sound was all silver, a wind chime. "Of course you'll enjoy it. Everyone is supposed to be nice to you today and give you your way, Bella. What's the worst that could happen?" She meant it as a rhetorical question.
 "Getting older," I answered anyway, and my voice was not as steady as I wanted it to be.

       Beside me, Edward's smile tightened into a hard line. "Eighteen isn't very old," Alice said. "Don't women usually wait till they're twenty-nine to get upset over birthdays?" 

      "It's older than Edward," I mumbled. He sighed. "Technically," she said, keeping her tone light. "Just by one little year, though."

      And I supposed… if I could be  sure of the future I wanted, sure that I would get to spend forever with Edward, and Alice and the rest of the Cullens (preferably not as a wrinkled little old lady)… then a year or two one direction or the other wouldn't matter to me so much. But Edward was dead set against any future that changed me. Any future that made me like him–that made me immortal, too.

       An impasse, he called it. I couldn't really see Edward's point, to be honest. What was so great about mortality? Being a vampire didn't look like such a terrible thing–not the way the Cullens did it, anyway. "What time will you be at the house?" Alice continued, changing the subject. From her expression, she was up to exactly the kind of thing I'd been hoping to avoid. 

      "I didn't know I had plans to be there."
 "Oh, be fair, Bella!" she complained. "You aren't going to ruin all our fun like that, are you?" "I thought my birthday was about what I want."
 "I'll get her from Charlie's right after school," Edward told her, ignoring me altogether. "I have to work," I protested.

       "You don't, actually," Alice told me smugly. "I already spoke to Mrs. Newton about it. She's trading your shifts. She said to tell you 'Happy Birthday.'"
 "I–I still can't come over," I stammered, scrambling for an excuse. "I, well, I haven't watched Romeo and Juliet yet for English."
 Alice snorted. "You have Romeo and Juliet memorized."
 "But Mr. Berty said we needed to see it performed to fully appreciate it–that's how Shakespeare intended it to be presented." 

      Edward rolled his eyes. "You've already seen the movie," Alice accused. "But not the nineteen-sixties version. Mr. Berty said it was the best."

       Finally, Alice lost the smug smile and glared at me. "This can be easy, or this can be hard, Bella, but one way or the other–"
 Edward interrupted her threat. "Relax, Alice. If Bella wants to watch a movie, then she can. It's her birthday." 

      "So there," I added.
 "I'll bring her over around seven," he continued. "That will give you more time to set up."

      Alice's laughter chimed again. "Sounds good. See you tonight, Bella! It'll be fun, you'll see." She grinned–the wide smile exposed all her perfect, glistening teeth–then pecked me on the cheek and danced off toward her first class before I could respond.

      "Edward, please–" I started to beg, but he pressed one cool finger to my lips. "Let's discuss it later. We're going to be late for class."

      No one bothered to stare at us as we took our usual seats in the back of the classroom (we had almost every class together now–it was amazing the favors Edward could get the female administrators to do for him). Edward and I had been together too long now to be an object of gossip anymore. Even Mike Newton didn't bother to give me the glum stare that used to make me feel a little guilty. He smiled now instead, and I was glad he seemed to have accepted that we could only be friends. Mike had changed over the summer–his face had lost some of the roundness, making his cheekbones more prominent, and he was wearing his pale blond hair a new way; instead of bristly, it was longer and gelled into a carefully casual disarray. It was easy to see where his inspiration came from–but Edward's look wasn't something that could be achieved through imitation.

      As the day progressed, I considered ways to get out of whatever was going down at the Cullen house tonight. It would be bad enough to have to celebrate when I was in the mood to mourn. But, worse than that, this was sure to involve attention and gifts.

       Attention is never a good thing, as any other accident-prone klutz would agree. No one wants a spotlight when they're likely to fall on their face.
 And I'd very pointedly asked–well, ordered really–that no one give me any presents this year. It looked like Charlie and Renee weren't the only ones who had decided to overlook that. 

      I'd never had much money, and that had never bothered me. Renee had raised me on a kindergarten teacher's salary. Charlie wasn't getting rich at his job, either–he was the police chief here in the tiny town of Forks. My only personal income came from the three days a week I worked at the local sporting goods store. In a town this small, I was lucky to have a job. Every penny I made went into my microscopic college fund. (College was Plan B. I was still hoping for Plan A, but Edward was just so stubborn about leaving me human…)

      Edward had a lot of money–I didn't even want to think about how much. Money meant next to nothing to Edward or the rest of the Cullens. It was just something that accumulated when you had unlimited time on your hands and a sister who had an uncanny ability to predict trends in the stock market. Edward didn't seem to understand why I objected to him spending money on me–why it made me uncomfortable if he took me to an expensive restaurant in Seattle, why he wasn't allowed to buy me a car that could reach speeds over fifty-five miles an hour, or why I wouldn't let him pay my college tuition (he was ridiculously enthusiastic about Plan B). Edward thought I was being unnecessarily difficult.

      But how could I let him give me things when I had nothing to reciprocate with? He, for some unfathomable reason, wanted to be with me. Anything he gave me on top of that just threw us more out of balance.

       As the day went on, neither Edward nor Alice brought my birthday up again, and I began to relax a little.
 We sat at our usual table for lunch. 

      A strange kind of truce existed at that table. The three of us–Edward, Alice, and I–sat on the extreme southern end of the table. Now that the "older" and somewhat scarier (in Emmett's case, certainly) Cullen siblings had graduated, Alice and Edward did not seem quite so intimidating, and we did not sit here alone. My other friends, Mike and Jessica (who were in the awkward post-breakup friendship phase), Angela and Ben (whose relationship had survived the summer), Eric, Conner, Tyler, and Lauren (though that last one didn't really count in the friend category) all sat at the same table, on the other side of an invisible line. That line dissolved on sunny days when Edward and Alice always skipped school, and then the conversation would swell out effortlessly to include me.

      Edward and Alice didn't find this minor ostracism odd or hurtful the way I would have. They barely noticed it. People always felt strangely ill at ease with the Cullens, almost afraid for some reason they couldn't explain to themselves. I was a rare exception to that rule. Sometimes it bothered Edward how very comfortable I was with being close to him. He thought he was hazardous to my health–an opinion I rejected vehemently whenever he voiced it.

      The afternoon passed quickly. School ended, and Edward walked me to my truck as he usually did. But this time, he held the passenger door open for me. Alice must have been taking his car home so that he could keep me from making a run for it.

       I folded my arms and made no move to get out of the rain. "It's my birthday, don't I get to drive?" 

      "I'm pretending it's not your birthday, just as you wished." "If it's not my birthday, then I don't have to go to your house tonight…"

       "All right." He shut the passenger door and walked past me to open the driver's side. "Happy birthday."
 "Shh," I shushed him halfheartedly. I climbed in the opened door, wishing he'd taken the other offer. 

      Edward played with the radio while I drove, shaking his head in disapproval. "Your radio has horrible reception."

       I frowned. I didn't like it when he picked on my truck. The truck was great–it had personality. 

      "You want a nice stereo? Drive your own car." I was so nervous about Alice's plans, on top of my already gloomy mood, that the words came out sharper than I'd meant them. I was hardly ever bad-tempered with Edward, and my tone made him press his lips together to keep from smiling.

      When I parked in front of Charlie's house, he reached over to take my face in his hands. He handled me very carefully, pressing just the tips of his fingers softly against my temples, my cheekbones, my jawline. Like I was especially breakable. Which was exactly the case–compared with him, at least.

       "You should be in a good mood, today of all days," he whispered. His sweet breath fanned across my face. 

      "And if I don't want to be in a good mood?" I asked, my breathing uneven. His golden eyes smoldered. "Too bad."

      My head was already spinning by the time he leaned closer and pressed his icy lips against mine. As he intended, no doubt, I forgot all about my worries, and concentrated on remembering how to inhale and exhale.

      His mouth lingered on mine, cold and smooth and gentle, until I wrapped my arms around his neck and threw myself into the kiss with a little too much enthusiasm. I could feel his lips curve upward as he let go of my face and reached back to unlock my grip on him.

      Edward had drawn many careful lines for our physical relationship, with the intent being to keep me alive. Though I respected the need for maintaining a safe distance between my skin and his razor-sharp, venom-coated teeth, I tended to forget about trivial things like that when he was kissing me.
 "Be good, please," he breathed against my cheek. He pressed his lips gently to mine one more time and then pulled away, folding my arms across my stomach.

       My pulse was thudding in my ears. I put one hand over my heart. It drummed hyperactively under my palm.
 "Do you think I'll ever get better at this?" I wondered, mostly to myself. "That my heart might someday stop trying to jump out of my chest whenever you touch me?" 

      "I really hope not," he said, a bit smug. I rolled my eyes. "Let's go watch the Capulets and Montagues hack each other up, all right?" "Your wish, my command."

       Edward sprawled across the couch while I started the movie, fast-forwarding through the opening credits. 

      When I perched on the edge of the sofa in front of him, he wrapped his arms around my waist and pulled me against his chest. It wasn't exactly as comfortable as a sofa cushion would be, what with his chest being hard and cold–and perfect–as an ice sculpture, but it was definitely preferable. He pulled the old afghan off the back of the couch and draped it over me so I wouldn't freeze beside his body.

       "You know, I've never had much patience with Romeo," he commented as the movie started. "What's wrong with Romeo?" I asked, a little offended. Romeo was one of my favorite fictional characters. Until I'd met Edward, I'd sort of had a thing for him. 

      "Well, first of all, he's in love with this Rosaline–don't you think it makes him seem a little fickle? And then, a few minutes after their wedding, he kills Juliet's cousin. That's not very brilliant. Mistake after mistake. Could he have destroyed his own happiness any more thoroughly?"

       I sighed. "Do you want me to watch this alone?"
 "No, I'll mostly be watching you, anyway." His fingers traced patterns across the skin of my arm, raising goose bumps. "Will you cry?" 

      "Probably," I admitted, "if I'm paying attention."
 "I won't distract you then." But I felt his lips on my hair, and it was very distracting.

      The movie eventually captured my interest, thanks in large part to Edward whispering Romeo's lines in my ear–his irresistible, velvet voice made the actor's voice sound weak and coarse by comparison. And I did cry, to his amusement, when Juliet woke and found her new husband dead.
 "I'll admit, I do sort of envy him here," Edward said, drying the tears with a lock of my hair.

       "She's very pretty." 

      He made a disgusted sound. "I don't envy him the  girl–just the ease of the suicide," he clarified in a teasing tone. "You humans have it so easy! All you have to do is throw down one tiny vial of plant extracts…"

       "What?" I gasped. 

      "It's something I had to think about once, and I knew from Carlisle's experience that it wouldn't be simple. I'm not even sure how many ways Carlisle tried to kill himself in the beginning… after he realized what he'd become…" His voice, which had grown serious, turned light again. "And he's clearly still in excellent health."

       I twisted around so that I could read his face. "What are you talking about?" I demanded. "What do you mean, this something you had to think about once?" 

      "Last spring, when you were… nearly killed…" He paused to take a deep breath, snuggling to return to his teasing tone. "Of course I was trying to focus on finding you alive, but part of my mind was making contingency plans. Like I said, it's not as easy for me as it is for a human."

      For one second, the memory of my last trip to Phoenix washed through my head and made me feel dizzy. I could see it all so clearly–the blinding sun, the heat waves coming off the concrete as I ran with desperate haste to find the sadistic vampire who wanted to torture me to death. James, waiting in the mirrored room with my mother as his hostage–or so I'd thought. I hadn't known it was all a ruse. Just as James hadn't known that Edward was racing to save me; Edward made it in time, but it had been a close one. Unthinkingly, my fingers traced the crescent-shaped scar on my hand that was always just a few degrees cooler than the rest of my skin.

       I shook my head–as if I could shake away the bad memories–and tried to grasp what Edward meant. My stomach plunged uncomfortably. "Contingency plans?" I repeated. 

      "Well, I wasn't going to live without you." He rolled his eyes as if that fact were childishly obvious. "But I wasn't sure how to do it–I knew Emmett and Jasper would never help… so I was thinking maybe I would go to Italy and do something to provoke the Volturi."

      I didn't want to believe he was serious, but his golden eyes were brooding, focused on something far away in the distance as he contemplated ways to end his own life. Abruptly, I was furious.

       "What is a Volturi?" I demanded. 

      "The Volturi are a family," he explained, his eyes still remote. "A very old, very powerful family of our kind. They are the closest thing our world has to a royal family, I suppose. Carlisle lived with them briefly in his early years, in Italy, before he settled in America–do you remember the story?"

       "Of course I remember." 

      I would never forget the first time I'd gone to his home, the huge white mansion buried deep in the forest beside the river, or the room where Carlisle–Edward's father in so many real ways–kept a wall of paintings that illustrated his personal history. The most vivid, most wildly colorful canvas there, the largest, was from Carlisle's time in Italy. Of course I remembered the calm quartet of men, each with the exquisite face of a seraph, painted into the highest balcony overlooking the swirling mayhem of color. Though the painting was centuries old, Carlisle–the blond angel–remained unchanged. And I remembered the three others, Carlisle's early acquaintances. Edward had never used the name  Volturi for the beautiful trio, two black-haired, one snow white. He'd called them Aro, Caius, and Marcus, nighttime patrons of the arts…

      "Anyway, you don't irritate the Volturi," Edward went on, interrupting ray reverie. "Not unless you want to die–or whatever it is we do." His voice was so calm, it made him sound almost bored by the prospect.

       My anger turned to horror. I took his marble face between my hands and held it very tightly. "You must never, never, never think of anything like that again!" I said. "No matter what might ever happen to me, you are not allowed to hurt yourself!"
 "I'll never put you in danger again, so it's a moot point." 

      " Put me in danger! I thought we'd established that all the bad luck is my fault?" I was getting angrier. "How dare you even think like that?" The idea of Edward ceasing to exist, even if I were dead, was impossibly painful.

      "What would you do, if the situation were reversed?" he asked.
 "That's not the same thing."
 He didn't seem to understand the difference. He chuckled.

       "What if something did happen to you?" I blanched at the thought. "Would you want me to go off myself?" 

      A trace of pain touched his perfect features.
 "I guess I see your point… a little," he admitted. "But what would I do without you?" "Whatever you were doing before I came along and complicated your existence." He sighed. "You make that sound so easy." "It should be. I'm not really that interesting."

      He was about to argue, but then he let it go. "Moot point," he reminded me. Abruptly, he pulled himself up into a more formal posture, shifting me to the side so that we were no longer touching.

       "Charlie?" I guessed. Edward smiled. After a moment, I heard the sound of the police cruiser pulling into the driveway. I reached out and took his hand firmly. My dad could deal with that much. Charlie came in with a pizza box in his hands. "Hey, kids." He grinned at me. "I thought you'd like a break from cooking and washing dishes for your birthday. Hungry?"
 "Sure. Thanks, Dad."
 Charlie didn't comment on Edward's apparent lack of appetite. He was used to Edward passing on dinner.
 "Do you mind if I borrow Bella for the evening?" Edward asked when Charlie and I were done. 

      I looked at Charlie hopefully. Maybe he had some concept of birthdays as stay-at-home, family affairs–this was my first birthday with him, the first birthday since my mom, Renee, had remarried and gone to live in Florida, so I didn't know what he would expect.

      "That's fine–the Mariners are playing the Sox tonight," Charlie explained, and my hope disappeared. "So I won't be any kind of company… Here." He scooped up the camera he'd gotten me on Renee's suggestion (because I would need pictures to fill up my scrap-book), and threw it to me.

      He ought to know better than that–I'd always been coordinationally challenged. The camera glanced off the tip of my finger, and tumbled toward the floor. Edward snagged it before it could crash onto the linoleum.

      "Nice save," Charlie noted. "If they're doing something fun at the Cullens' tonight, Bella, you should take some pictures. You know how your mother gets–she'll be wanting to see the pictures faster than you can take them."

       "Good idea, Charlie," Edward said, handing me the camera.
 I turned the camera on Edward, and snapped the first picture. "It works."
 "That's good. Hey, say hi to Alice for me. She hasn't been over in a while." Charlie's mouth pulled down at one corner. 

      "It's been three days, Dad," I reminded him. Charlie was crazy about Alice. He'd become attached last spring when she'd helped me through my awkward convalescence; Charlie would be fore'ter grateful to her for saving him from the horror of an almost-adult daughter who needed help showering. "I'll tell her."

       "Okay. You kids have fun tonight." It was clearly a dismissal. Charlie was already edging toward the living room and the TV.
 Edward smiled, triumphant, and took my hand to pull me from the kitchen. When we got to the truck, he opened the passenger door for me again, and this time I didn't argue. I still had a hard time finding the obscure turnoff to his house in the dark. Edward drove north through Forks, visibly chafing at the speed limit enforced by my prehistoric Chevy. The engine groaned even louder than usual as he pushed it over fifty. 

      "Take it easy," I warned him.
 "You know what you would love? A nice little Audi coupe. Very quiet, lots of power…"

       "There's nothing wrong with my truck. And speaking of expensive nonessentials, if you know what's good for you, you didn't spend any money on birthday presents." 

      "Not a dime," he said virtuously.
 "Can you do me a favor?"
 "That depends on what it is."

       He sighed, his lovely face serious. "Bella, the last real birthday any of us had was Emmett in 1935. Cut us a little slack, and don't be too difficult tonight. They're all very excited." 

      It always startled me a little when he brought up things like that. "Fine, I'll behave." "I probably should warn you…"
 "Please do."
 "When I say they're all excited… I do mean all of them."

      "Everyone?" I choked. "I thought Emmett and Rosalie were in Africa." The rest of Forks was under the impression that the older Cullens had gone off to college this year, to Dartmouth, but I knew better.
 "Emmett wanted to be here."

      "But… Rosalie?" "I know, Bella. Don't worry, she'll be on her best behavior."

      I didn't answer. Like I could just  not worry, that easy. Unlike Alice, Edward's other "adopted" sister, the golden blond and exquisite Rosalie, didn't like me much. Actually, the feeling was a little bit stronger than just dislike. As far as Rosalie was concerned, I was an unwelcome intruder into her family's secret life.

      I felt horribly guilty about the present situation, guessing that Rosalie and Emmett's prolonged absence was my fault, even as I furtively enjoyed not having to see her Emmett, Edward's playful bear of a brother, I did miss. He was in many ways just like the big brother I'd always wanted… only much, much more terrifying.

       Edward decided to change the subject. "So, if you won't let me get you the Audi, isn't there anything that you'd like for your birthday?"
 The words came out in a whisper. "You know what I want."
 A deep frown carved creases into his marble forehead. He obviously wished he'd stuck to the subject of Rosalie. 

      It felt like we'd had this argument a lot today.
 "Not tonight, Bella. Please."
 "Well, maybe Alice will give me what I want."

       Edward growled–a deep, menacing sound. "This isn't going to be your last birthday, Bella," he vowed. 

      "That's not fair!"
 I thought I heard his teeth clench together.

      We were pulling up to the house now. Bright light shined from every window on the first two floors. A long line of glowing Japanese lanterns hung from the porch eaves, reflecting a soft radiance on the huge cedars that surrounded the house. Big bowls of flowers–pink roses–lined the wide stairs up to the front doors.

       I moaned.
 Edward took a few deep breaths to calm himself. "This is a party," he reminded me. "Try to be a good sport." 

      "Sure," I muttered.
 He came around to get my door, and offered me his hand. "I have a question." He waited warily.

       "If I develop this film," I said, toying with the camera in my hands, "will you show up in the picture?"
 Edward started laughing. He helped me out of the car, pulled me up the stairs, and was still laughing as he opened the door for me. 

      They were all waiting in the huge white living room; when I walked through the door, they greeted me with a loud chorus of "Happy birthday, Bella!" while I blushed and looked down. Alice, I assumed, had covered every flat surface with pink candles and dozens of crystal bowls filled with hundreds of roses. There was a table with a white cloth draped over it next to Edward's grand piano, holding a pink birthday cake, more roses, a stack of glass plates, and a small pile of silver-wrapped presents.

       It was a hundred times worse than I'd imagined.
 Edward, sensing my distress, wrapped an encouraging arm around my waist and kissed the top of my head. 

      Edward's parents, Carlisle and Esme–impossibly youthful and lovely as ever–were the closest to the door. Esme hugged me carefully, her soft, caramel-colored hair brushing against my cheek as she kissed my forehead, and then Carlisle put his arm around my shoulders.

       "Sorry about this, Bella," he stage-whispered. "We couldn't rein Alice in." 

      Rosalie and Emmett stood behind them. Rosalie didn't smile, but at least she didn't glare. Emmett's face was stretched into a huge grin. It had been months since I'd seen them; I'd forgotten how gloriously beautiful Rosalie was–it almost hurt to look at her. And had Emmett always been so… big?

       "You haven't changed at all," Emmett said with mock disappointment. "I expected a perceptible difference, but here you are, red-faced just like always."
 "Thanks a lot, Emmett," I said, blushing deeper.
 He laughed, "I have to step out for a second"–he paused to wink conspicuously at Alice–"Don't do anything funny while I'm gone."
 "I'll try." 

      Alice let go of Jasper's hand and skipped forward, all her teeth sparkling in the bright light. Jasper smiled, too, but kept his distance. He leaned, long and blond, against the post at the foot of the stairs. During the days we'd had to spend cooped up together in Phoenix, I'd thought he'd gotten over his aversion to me. But he'd gone back to exactly how he'd acted before–avoiding me as much as possible–the moment he was free from that temporary obligation to protect me. I knew it wasn't personal, just a precaution, and I tried not to be overly sensitive about it. Jasper had more trouble sticking to the Cullens' diet than the rest of them; the scent of human blood was much harder for him to resist than the others–he hadn't been trying as long.

       "Time to open presents," Alice declared. She put her cool hand under my elbow and towed me to the table with the cake and the shiny packages.
 I put on my best martyr face. "Alice, I know I told you I didn't want anything–" "But I didn't listen," she interrupted, smug. "Open it." She took the camera from my hands and replaced it with a big, square silver box. 

      The box was so light that it felt empty. The tag on top said that it was from Emmett, Rosalie, and Jasper. Selfconsciously, I tore the paper off and then stared at the box it concealed.

       It was something electrical, with lots of numbers in the name. I opened the box, hoping for further illumination. But the box was empty.
 "Um… thanks." Rosalie actually cracked a smile. Jasper laughed. "It's a stereo for your truck," he explained. "Emmett's installing it right now so that you can't return it." 

      Alice was always one step ahead of me. "Thanks, Jasper, Rosalie," I told them, grinning as I remembered Edward's complaints about my radio this afternoon–all a setup, apparently. "Thanks, Emmett!" I called more loudly.

       I heard his booming laugh from my truck, and I couldn't help laughing, too. "Open mine and Edward's next," Alice said, so excited her voice was a high-pitched trill. She held a small, flat square in her hand.
 I turned to give Edward a basilisk glare. "You promised." Before he could answer, Emmett bounded through the door. "Just in time!" he crowed. He pushed in behind Jasper, who had also drifted closer than usual to get a good look. "I didn't spend a dime," Edward assured me. He brushed a strand of hair from my face, leaving my skin tingling from his touch. 

      I inhaled deeply and turned to Alice. "Give it to me," I sighed. Emmett chuckled with delight.

       I took the little package, rolling my eyes at Edward while I stuck my finger under the edge of the paper and jerked it under the tape.
 "Shoot," I muttered when the paper sliced my finger; I pulled it out to examine the damage. A single drop of blood oozed from the tiny cut. 

      It all happened very quickly then. "No!" Edward roared.

       He threw himself at me, flinging me back across the table. It fell, as I did, scattering the cake and the presents, the flowers and the plates. I landed in the mess of shattered crystal. Jasper slammed into Edward, and the sound was like the crash of boulders in a rock slide. There was another noise, a grisly snarling that seemed to be coming from deep in Jasper's chest. Jasper tried to shove past Edward, snapping his teeth just inches from Edward's face. Emmett grabbed Jasper from behind in the next second, locking him into his massive steel grip, but Jasper struggled on, his wild, empty eyes focused only on me. 

      Beyond the shock, there was also pain. I'd tumbled down to the floor by the piano, with my arms thrown out instinctively to catch my fall, into the jagged shards of glass. Only now did I feel the searing, stinging pain that ran from my wrist to the crease inside my elbow.

       Dazed and disoriented, I looked up from the bright red blood pulsing out of my arm–into the fevered eyes of the six suddenly ravenous vampires.
 CARLISLE WAS NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO STAYED calm. Centuries of experience in the emergency room were evident in his quiet, authoritative voice. 

      "Emmett, Rose, get Jasper outside."
 Unsmiling for once, Emmett nodded. "Come on, Jasper."

       Jasper struggled against Emmett's unbreakable grasp, twisting around, reaching toward his brother with his bared teeth, his eyes still past reason. 

      Edward's face was whiter than bone as he wheeled to crouch over me, taking a clearly defensive position. A low warning growl slid from between his clenched teeth. I could tell that he wasn't breathing.

      Rosalie, her divine face strangely smug, stepped in front of Jasper–keeping a careful distance from his teeth–and helped Emmett wrestle him through the glass door that Esme held open, one hand pressed over her mouth and nose.

       Esme's heart-shaped face was ashamed. "I'm so sorry, Bella," she cried as she followed the others into the yard. 

      "Let me by, Edward," Carlisle murmured.
 A second passed, and then Edward nodded slowly and relaxed his stance.

       Carlisle knelt beside me, leaning close to examine my arm. I could feel the shock frozen on my face, and I tried to compose it.
 "Here, Carlisle," Alice said, handing him a towel. 

      He shook his head. "Too much glass in the wound." He reached over and ripped a long, thin scrap from the bottom of the white tablecloth. He twisted it around my arm above the elbow to form a tourniquet. The smell of the blood was making me dizzy. My ears rang.

       "Bella," Carlisle said softly. "Do you want me to drive you to the hospital, or would you like me to take care of it here?"
 "Here, please," I whispered. If he took me to the hospital, there would be no way to keep this from Charlie. 

      "I'll get your bag," Alice said.
 "Let's take her to the kitchen table," Carlisle said to Edward.
 Edward lifted me effortlessly, while Carlisle kept the pressure steady on my arm. "How are you doing, Bella?" Carlisle asked. "I'm fine." My voice was reasonably steady, which pleased me. Edward's face was like stone.

      Alice was there. Carlisle's black bag was already on the table, a small but brilliant desk light plugged into the wall. Edward sat me gently into a chair, and Carlisle pulled up another. He went to work at once.

      Edward stood over me, still protective, still not breathing. "Just go, Edward," I sighed.

       "I can handle it," he insisted. But his jaw was rigid; his eyes burned with the intensity of the thirst he fought, so much worse for him than it was for the others.
 "You don't need to be a hero," I said. "Carlisle can fix me up without your help. Get some fresh air." 

      I winced as Carlisle did something to my arm that stung. "I'll stay," he said. "Why are you so masochistic?" I mumbled.

       Carlisle decided to intercede. "Edward, you may as well go find Jasper before he gets too far. I'm sure he's upset with himself, and I doubt he'll listen to anyone but you right now." 

      "Yes," I eagerly agreed. "Go find Jasper."
 "You might as well do something useful," Alice added.

      Edward's eyes narrowed as we ganged up on him, but, finally, he nodded once and sprinted smoothly through the kitchen's back door. I was sure he hadn't taken a breath since I'd sliced my finger.

       A numb, dead feeling was spreading through my arm. 

      Though it erased the sting, it reminded me of the gash, and I watched Carlisle's face carefully to distract me from what his hands were doing. His hair gleamed gold in the bright light as he bent over my arm. I could feel the faint stirrings of unease in the pit of my stomach, but I was determined not to let my usual squeamishness get the best of me. There was no pain now, just a gentle tugging sensation that I tried to ignore. No reason to get sick like a baby.

      If she hadn't been in my line of sight, I wouldn't have noticed Alice give up and steal out of the room. With a tiny, apologetic smile on her lips, she disappeared through the kitchen doorway.
 "Well, that's everyone," I sighed. "I can clear a room, at least."

      "It's not your fault," Carlisle comforted me with a chuckle. "It could happen to anyone." "Could" I repeated. "But it usually just happens to me." He laughed again.

      His relaxed calm was only more amazing set in direct contrast with everyone else's reaction. I couldn't find any trace of anxiety in his face. He worked with quick, sure movements. The only sound besides our quiet breathing was the soft plink, plink as the tiny fragments of glass dropped one by one to the table.

      "How can you do this?" I demanded. "Even Alice and Esme…" I trailed off, shaking my head in wonder. Though the rest of them had given up the traditional diet of vampires just as absolutely as Carlisle had, he was the only one who could bear the smell of my blood without suffering from the intense temptation. Clearly, this was much more difficult than he made it seem.

       "Years and years of practice," he told me. "I barely notice the scent anymore." "Do you think it would be harder if you took a vacation from the hospital for a long time. And weren't around any blood?" 

      "Maybe." He shrugged his shoulders, but his hands remained steady. "I've never felt the need for an extended holiday." He flashed a brilliant smile in my direction. "I enjoy my work too much."

      Plink, plink, plink . I was surprised at how much glass there seemed to be in my arm. I was tempted to glance at the growing pile, just to check the size, but I knew that idea would not be helpful to my no-vomiting strategy.

      "What is it that you enjoy?" I wondered. It didn't make sense to me–the years of struggle and self-denial he must have spent to get to the point where he could endure this so easily. Besides, I wanted to keep him talking; the conversation kept my mind off the queasy feeling in my stomach.

      His dark eyes were calm and thoughtful as he answered. "Hmm. What I enjoy the very most is when my… enhanced abilities let me save someone who would otherwise have been lost. It's pleasant knowing that, thanks to what I can do, some people's lives are better because I exist. Even the sense of smell is a useful diagnostic tool at times." One side of his mouth pulled up in half a smile.

       I mulled that over while he poked around, making sure all the glass splinters were gone. Then he rummaged in his bag for new tools, and I tried not to picture a needle and thread. 

      "You try very hard to make up for something that was never your fault," I suggested while a new kind of tugging started at the edges of my skin. "What I mean is, it's not like you asked for this. You didn't choose this kind of life, and yet you have to work so hard to be good."

       "I don't know that I'm making up for anything," he disagreed lightly. "Like everything in life, I just had to decide what to do with what I was given."
 "That makes it sound too easy." 

      He examined my arm again. "There," he said, snipping a thread. "All done." He wiped an oversized Q-tip, dripping with some syrup-colored liquid, thoroughly across the operation site. The smell was strange; it made my head spin. The syrup stained my skin.

      "In the beginning, though," I pressed while he taped another long piece of gauze securely in place, sealing it to my skin. "Why did you even think to try a different way than the obvious one?"

      His lips turned up in a private smile. "Hasn't Edward told you this story?" "Yes. But I'm trying to understand what you were thinking…"

      His face was suddenly serious again, and I wondered if his thoughts had gone to the same place that mine had. Wondering what I would be thinking when–I refused to think if–it was me.

      "You know my father was a clergyman," he mused as he cleaned the table carefully, rubbing everything down with wet gauze, and then doing it again. The smell of alcohol burned in my nose. "He had a rather harsh view of the world, which I was already beginning to question before the time that I changed." Carlisle put all the dirty gauze and the glass slivers into an empty crystal bowl. I didn't understand what he was doing, even when he lit the match. Then he threw it onto the alcohol-soaked fibers, and the sudden blaze made me jump.

      "Sorry," he apologized. "That ought to do it… So I didn't agree with my father's particular brand of faith. But never, in the nearly four hundred years now since I was born, have I ever seen anything to make me doubt whether God exists in some form or the other. Not even the reflection in the mirror."

      I pretended to examine the dressing on my arm to hide my surprise at the direction our conversation had taken. Religion was the last thing I expected, all things considered. My own life was fairly devoid of belief. Charlie considered himself a Lutheran, because that's what his parents had been, but Sundays he worshipped by the river with a fishing pole in his hand. Renee tried out a church now and then, but, much like her brief affairs with tennis, pottery, yoga, and French classes, she moved on by the time I was aware of her newest fad.

      "I'm sure all this sounds a little bizarre, coming from a vampire." He grinned, knowing how their casual use of that word never failed to shock me. "But I'm hoping that there is still a point to this life, even for us. It's a long shot, I'll admit," he continued in an offhand voice. "By all accounts, we're damned regardless. But I hope, maybe foolishly, that we'll get some measure of credit for trying."

      "I don't think that's foolish," I mumbled. I couldn't imagine anyone, deity included, who wouldn't be impressed by Carlisle. Besides, the only kind of heaven I could appreciate would have to include Edward. "And I don't think anyone else would, either."

       "Actually, you're the very first one to agree with me." "The rest of them don't feel the same?" I asked, surprised, thinking of only one person in particular. 

      Carlisle guessed the direction of my thoughts again. "Edward's with me up to a point. God and heaven exist… and so does hell. But he doesn't believe there is an afterlife for our kind." Carlisle's voice was very soft; he stared out the big window over the sink, into the darkness. "You see, he thinks we've lost our souls."

       I immediately thought of Edward's words this afternoon: unless you want to die–or whatever it is that we do. The lightbulb flicked on over my head.
 "That's the real problem, isn't it?" I guessed. "That's why he's being so difficult about me." 

      Carlisle spoke slowly. "I look at my… son. His strength, his goodness, the brightness that shines out of him–and it only fuels that hope, that faith, more than ever. How could there not be more for one such as Edward?"

       I nodded in fervent agreement.
 "But if I believed as he does…" He looked down at me with unfathomable eyes. "If you believed as he did. Could you take away his soul?"
 The way he phrased the question thwarted my answer.
 If he'd asked me whether I would risk my soul for Edward, the reply would be obvious. But would I risk Edward's soul? I pursed my lips unhappily. That wasn't a fair exchange. 

      "You see the problem."
 I shook my head, aware of the stubborn set of my chin.
 Carlisle sighed.
 "It's my choice," I insisted.

       "It's his, too." He held up his hand when he could see that I was about to argue. "Whether he is responsible for doing that to you." 

      "He's not the only one able to do it." I eyed Carlisle speculatively.
 He laughed, abruptly lightening the mood. "Oh, no! You're going to have to work this out with him." But then he sighed. "That's the one part I can never be sure of. I think, in most other ways, that I've done the best I could with what I had to work with. But was it right to doom the others to this life? I can't decide."

       I didn't answer. I imagined what my life would be like if Carlisle had resisted the temptation to change his lonely existence… and shuddered.
 "It was Edward's mother who made up my mind." Carlisle's voice was almost a whisper. He stared unseeingly out the black windows. 

      "His mother?" Whenever I'd asked Edward about his parents, he would merely say that they had died long ago, and his memories were vague. I realized Carlisle's memory of them, despite the brevity of their contact, would be perfectly clear.

      "Yes. Her name was Elizabeth. Elizabeth Masen. His father, Edward Senior, never regained consciousness in the hospital. He died in the first wave of the influenza. But Elizabeth was alert until almost the very end. Edward looks a great deal like her–she had that same strange bronze shade to her hair, and her eyes were exactly the same color green."

       "His eyes were green?" I murmured, trying to picture it. 

      "Yes…" Carlisle's ocher eyes were a hundred years away now. "Elizabeth worried obsessively over her son. She hurt her own chances of survival trying to nurse him from her sickbed. I expected that he would go first, he was so much worse off than she was. When the end came for her, it was very quick. It was just after sunset, and I'd arrived to relieve the doctors who'd been working all day. That was a hard time to pretend–there was so much work to be done, and I had no need of rest. How I hated to go back to my house, to hide in the dark and pretend to sleep while so many were dying.

      "I went to check Elizabeth and her son first. I'd grown attached–always a dangerous thing to do considering the fragile nature of humans. I could see at once that she'd taken a bad turn. The fever was raging out of control, and her body was too weak to fight anymore.

      "She didn't look weak, though, when she glared up at me from her cot.
 "Save him!' she commanded me in the hoarse voice that was all her throat could manage.

       "I'll do everything in my power,' I promised her, taking her hand. The fever was so high, she probably couldn't even tell how unnaturally cold mine felt. Everything felt cold to her skin. 

      "You must," she insisted, clutching at my hand with enough strength that I wondered if she wouldn't pull through the crisis after all. Her eyes were hard, like stones, like emeralds. 'You must do everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward."
 "It frightened me. She looked it me with those piercing eyes, and, for one instant, I felt certain that she knew my secret. Then the fever overwhelmed her, and she never regained consciousness. She died within an hour of making her demand.

      "I'd spent decades considering the idea of creating a companion for myself. Just one other creature who could really know me, rather than what I pretended to be. But I could never justify it to myself–doing what had been done to me.

       "There Edward lay, dying. It was clear that he had only hours left. Beside him, his mother, her face somehow not yet peaceful, not even in death." 

      Carlisle saw it all again, his memory unblurred by the intervening century. I could see it clearly, too, as he spoke–the despair of the hospital, the overwhelming atmosphere of death. Edward burning with fever, his life slipping away with each tick of the clock… I shuddered again, and forced the picture from my mind.

       "Elizabeth's words echoed in my head. How could she guess what I could do? Could anyone really want that for her son?
 "I looked at Edward. Sick as he was, he was still beautiful. There was something pure and good about his face. The kind of face I would have wanted my son to have. 

      "After all those years of indecision, I simply acted on a whim. I wheeled his mother to the morgue first, and then I came back for him. No one noticed that he was still breathing. There weren't enough hands, enough eyes, to keep track of half of what the patients needed. The morgue was empty–of the living, at least. I stole him out the back door, and carried him across the rooftops back to my home.

      "I wasn't sure what had to be done. I settled for recreating the wounds I'd received myself, so many centuries earlier in London. I felt bad about that later. It was more painful and lingering than necessary.

       "I wasn't sorry, though. I've never been sorry that I saved Edward." He shook his head, coming back to the present. He smiled at me. "I suppose I should take you home now." 

      "I'll do that," Edward said. He came through the shadowy dining room, walking slowly for him. His face was smooth, unreadable, but there was something wrong with his eyes–something he was trying very hard to hide. I felt a spasm of unease in my stomach.

       "Carlisle can take me," I said. I looked down at my shirt; the light blue cotton was soaked and spotted with my blood. My right shoulder was covered in thick pink frosting. 

      "I'm fine." Edward's voice was unemotional. "You'll need to change anyway. You'd give Charlie a heart attack the way you look. I'll have Alice get you something." He strode out the kitchen door again.
 I looked at Carlisle anxiously. "He's very upset."

       "Yes," Carlisle agreed. "Tonight is exactly the kind of thing that he fears the most. You being put in danger, because of what we are." 

      "It's not his fault." "It's not yours, either." I looked away from his wise, beautiful eyes. I couldn't agree with that.

      Carlisle offered me his hand and helped me up from the table. I followed him out into the main room. Esme had come back; she was mopping the floor where I'd fallen–with straight bleach from the smell of it.

      "Esme, let me do that." I could feel that my face was bright red again.
 "I'm already done." She smiled up at me. "How do you feel?"
 "I'm fine," I assured her. "Carlisle sews faster than any other doctor I've had." They both chuckled.

       Alice and Edward came in the back doors. Alice hurried to my side, but Edward hung back, his face indecipherable.
 "C'mon," Alice said. "I'll get you something less macabre to wear." 

      She found me a shirt of Esme's that was close to the same color mine had been. Charlie wouldn't notice, I was sure. The long white bandage on my arm didn't look nearly as serious when I was no longer spattered in gore. Charlie was never surprised to see me bandaged.

      "Alice," I whispered as she headed back to the door.
 "Yes?" She kept her voice low, too, and looked at me curiously, her head cocked to the side.

       "How bad is it?" I couldn't be sure if my whispering was a wasted effort. Even though we were upstairs, with the door closed, perhaps he could hear me. 

      Her face tensed. "I'm not sure yet."
 "How's Jasper?"

       She sighed. "He's very unhappy with himself. It's all so much more of challenge for him, and he hates feeling weak." 

      "It's not his fault. You'll tell him that I'm not mad at him, not at all, won't you?" "Of course."

       Edward was waiting for me by the front door. As I got to the bottom of the staircase, he held it open without a word. 

      "Take your things!" Alice cried as I walked warily toward Edward. She scooped up the two packages, one half-opened, and my camera from under the piano, and pressed them into my good arm. "You can thank me later, when you've opened them."

       Esme and Carlisle both said a quiet goodnight. I could see them stealing quick glances at their impassive son, much like I was. 

      It was a relief to be outside; I hurried past the lanterns and the roses, now unwelcome reminders. Edward kept pace with me silently. He opened the passenget side for me, and I climbed in without complaint.

       On the dashboard was a big red ribbon, stuck to the new stereo. I pulled it off, throwing it to the floor. As Edward slid into the other side, I kicked the ribbon under my seat. 

      He didn't look at me or the stereo. Neither of us switched it on, and the silence was somehow intensified by the sudden thunder of the engine. He drove too fast down the dark, serpentine lane.

      The silence was making me insane.
 "Say something," I finally begged as he turned onto the freeway.
 "What do you want me to say?" he asked in a detached voice.
 I cringed at his remoteness. 'Tell me you forgive me."
 That brought a flicker of life to his face–a flicker of anger. "Forgive you? For what?" "If I'd been more careful, nothing would have happened."
 "Bella, you gave yourself a paper cut–that hardly deserves the death penalty." "It's still my fault."
 My words opened up the floodgate.

      "Your fault? If you'd cut yourself at Mike Newton's house, with Jessica there and Angela and your other normal friends, the worst that could possibly have happened would be what? Maybe they couldn't find you a bandage? If you'd tripped and knocked over a pile of glass plates on your own–without someone throwing you into them–even then, what's the worst? You'd  get blood on the seats when they drove you to the emergency room? Mike Newton could have held your hand while they stitched you up–and he wouldn't be righting the urge to kill you the whole time he was there. Don't try to take any of this on yourself, Bella. It will only make me more disgusted with myself."

       "How the hell did Mike Newton end up in this conversation?" I demanded. "Mike Newton ended up in this conversation because Mike Newton would be a hell of a lot healthier for you to be with," he growled.
 "I'd rather die than be with Mike Newton," I protested. "I'd rather die than be with anyone but you." 

      "Don't be melodramatic, please." "Well then, don't you be ridiculous." He didn't answer. He glared through the windshield, his expression black.

       I racked my brain for some way to salvage the evening. When we pulled up in front of my house, I still hadn't come up with anything. 

      He killed the engine, but his hands stayed clenched around the steering wheel. "Will you stay tonight?" I asked. "I should go home." The last thing I wanted was for him to go wallow in remorse. "For my birthday," I pressed.

       "You can't have it both ways–either you want people to ignore your birthday or you don't. One or the other." 

      His voice was stern, but not .is serious as before. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. "Okay. I've decided that I don't want you to ignore my birthday. I'll see you upstairs." I hopped out, reaching back in for my packages. He frowned. "You don't have to take those."

       "I want them," I responded automatically, and then wondered if he was using reverse psychology.
 "No, you don't. Carlisle and Esme spent money on you." "I'll live." I tucked the presents awkwardly under my good arm and slammed the door behind me. He was out of the truck and by my side in less than a second. 

      "Let me carry them, at least." he said as he took them away. "I'll be in your room." I smiled. "Thanks." "Happy birthday," he sighed, and leaned down to touch his lips to mine.

       I reached up on my toes to make the kiss last longer when he pulled away. He smiled my favorite crooked smile, and then he disappeared into the darkness.
 The game was still on; as soon as I walked through the front door I could hear the announcer rambling over the babble of the crowd.
 "Bell?" Charlie called. 

      "Hey, Dad," I said as I came around the corner. I held my arm close to my side. The slight pressure burned, and I wrinkled my nose. The anesthetic was apparently losing its effectiveness.

       "How was it?" Charlie lounged across the sofa with his bare feet propped up on the arm. What was left of his curly brown hair was crushed flat on one side. 

      "Alice went overboard. Flowers, cake, candles, presents–the whole bit."
 "What did they get you?"
 "A stereo for my truck." And various unknowns.
 "Yeah," I agreed. "Well, I'm calling it a night."
 "I'll see you in the morning."
 I waved. "See ya."
 "What happened to your arm?"
 I flushed and cursed silently. "I tripped. It's nothing."
 "Bella," he sighed, shaking his head.
 "Goodnight, Dad."

      I hurried up to the bathroom, where I kept my pajamas for just such nights as these. I shrugged into the matching tank top and cotton pants that I'd gotten to replace the holey sweats I used to wear to bed, wincing as the movement pulled at the stitches. I washed my face one-handed, brushed my teeth, and then skipped to my room.
 He was sitting in the center of my bed, toying idly with one of the silver boxes.

      "Hi," he said. His voice was sad. He was wallowing. I went to the bed, pushed the presents out of his hands, and climbed into his lap. "Hi." I snuggled into his stone chest. "Can I open my presents now?" "Where did the enthusiasm come from?" he wondered. "You made me curious." I picked up the long flat rectangle that must have been from Carlisle and Esme.

       "Allow me," he suggested. He took the gift from my hand and tore the silver paper off with one fluid movement. He handed the rectangular white box back to me.
 "Are you sure I can handle lifting the lid?" I muttered, but he ignored me.
 Inside the box was a long thick piece of paper with an overwhelming amount of fine print. It took me a minute to get the gist of the information.
 "We're going to Jacksonville?" And I was excited, in spite of myself. It was a voucher for plane tickets, for both me and Edward.
 "That's the idea."
 "I can't believe it. Renee is going to flip! You don't mind, though, do you? It's sunny, you'll have to stay inside all day." 

      "I think I can handle it," he said, and then frowned. "If I'd had any idea that you could respond to a gift this appropriately, I would have made you open it in front of Carlisle and Esme. I thought you'd complain."

       "Well, of course it's too much. But I get to take you with me!"
 He chuckled. "Now I wish I'd spent money on your present. I didn't realize that you were capable of being reasonable."
 I set the tickets aside and reached for his present, my curiosity rekindled. He took it from me and unwrapped it like the first one. 

      He handed back a clear CD jewel case, with a blank silver CD inside.
 "What is it?" I asked, perplexed.

      He didn't say anything; he took the CD and reached around me to put it in the CD player on the bedside table. He hit play, and we waited in silence. Then the music began. I listened, speechless and wide-eyed. I knew he was waiting for my reaction, but I couldn't talk. Tears welled up, and I reached up to wipe them away before they could spill over.

       "Does your arm hurt?" he asked anxiously. "No, it's not my arm. It's beautiful, Edward. You couldn't have given me anything I would love more. I can't believe it." I shut up, so I could listen. 

      It was his music, his compositions. The first piece on the CD was my lullaby. "I didn't think you would let me get a piano so I could play for you here," he explained. "You're right." "How does your arm feel?"

       "Just fine." Actually, it was starting to blaze under the bandage. I wanted ice. I would have settled for his hand, but that would have given me away. 

      "I'll get you some Tylenol." "I don't need anything," I protested, but he slid me off his lap and headed for the door.

      "Charlie," I hissed. Charlie wasn't exactly aware that Edward frequently stayed over. In fact, he would have a stroke if that fact were brought to his attention. But I didn't feel too guilty for deceiving him It wasn't as if we were up to anything he wouldn't want me to be up to. Edward and his rules…

      "He won't catch me," Edward promised as he disappeared silently out the door . . and returned, catching the door before it had swung back to touch the frame. He had the glass from the bathroom and the bottle of pills in one hand.

       I took the pills he handed me without arguing–I knew I would lose the argument And my arm really was starting to bother me.
 My lullaby continued, soft and lovely, in the background. 

      "It's late," Edward noted. He scooped me up off the bed with one arm, and pulled the cover back with the other. He put me down with my head on my pillow and tucked the quilt around me. He lay down next to me–on top of the blanket so I wouldn't get chilled–and put his arm over me.

      I leaned my head against his shoulder and sighed happily.
 "Thanks again," I whispered.
 "You're welcome."

       It was quiet for a long moment as I listened to my lullaby drift to a close. Another song began. I recognized Esme's favorite.
 "What are you thinking about?'" I wondered in a whisper. He hesitated for a second before he told me. "I was thinking about right and wrong, actually."
 I felt a chill tingle along my spine. "Remember how I decided that I wanted you to not ignore my birthday?" I asked quickly, hoping it wasn't too clear that I was trying to distract him. 

      "Yes," he agreed, wary. "Well, I was thinking, since it's still my birthday, that I'd like you to kiss me again." "You're greedy tonight." "Yes, I am–but please, don't do anything you don't want to do," I added, piqued.

      He laughed, and then sighed. "Heaven forbid that I should do anything I don't want to do," he said in a strangely desperate tone as he put his hand under my chin and pulled my face up to his.

      The kiss began much the same as usual–Edward was as careful as ever, and my heart began to overreact like it always did. And then something seemed to change. Suddenly his lips became much more urgent, his free hand twisted into my hair and held my face securely to his. And, though my hands tangled in his hair, too, and though I was clearly beginning to cross his cautious lines, for once he didn't stop me. His body was cold through the thin quilt, but I crushed myself against him eagerly.

       When he stopped it was abrupt; he pushed me away with gentle, firm hands. I collapsed back onto my pillow, gasping, my head spinning. Something tugged at my memory, elusive, on the edges. 

      "Sorry," he said, and he was breathless, too. "That was out of line." "I don't mind," I panted. He frowned at me in the darkness. "Try to sleep. Bella." "No, I want you to kiss me again." "You're overestimating my self-control." "Which is tempting you more, my blood or my body?" I challenged.

       "It's a tie." He grinned briefly in spite of himself, and then was serious again. "Now. why don't you stop pushing your luck and go to sleep?" 

      "Fine," I agreed, snuggling closer to him. I really did feel exhausted. It had been a long day in so many ways, yet I felt no sense of relief at its end. Almost as if something worse was coming tomorrow. It was a silly premonition–what could be worse than today?' Just the shock catching up with me, no doubt.

       Trying to be sneaky about it, I pressed my injured arm against his shoulder, so his cool skin would sooth the burning. It felt better at once. 

      I was halfway asleep, maybe more, when I realized what his kiss had reminded me of: last spring, when he'd had to leave me to throw James off my trail, Edward had kissed me goodbye, not knowing when–or if–we would see each other again. This kiss had the same almost painful edge for some reason I couldn't imagine. I shuddered into unconsciousness, as if I were already having a nightmare.

      3. THE END

      I FELT ABSOLUTELY HIDEOUS IN THE MORNING. I HADN'T slept well; my arm burned and my head ached. It didn't help my outlook that Edward's face was smooth and remote as he kissed my forehead quickly and ducked out my window. I was afraid of the time I'd spent unconscious, afraid that he might have been thinking about right and wrong again while he watched me sleep. The anxiety seemed to ratchet up the intensity of the pounding in my head.

      Edward was waiting for me at school, as usual, but his face was still wrong. There was something buried in his eyes that I couldn't be sure of–and it scared me. I didn't want to bring up last night, but I wasn't sure if avoiding the subject would be worse.

      He opened my door for me.
 "How do you feel?"
 "Perfect," I lied, cringing as the sound of the slamming door echoed in my head.

      We walked in silence, he shortening his stride to match mine. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, but most of those questions would have to wait, because chey were for Alice: How was Jasper this morning? What had they said when I was gone? What had Rosalie said? And most importantly, what could she see happening now in her strange, imperfect visions of the future? Could she guess what Edward was thinking, why he was so gloomy? Was there a foundation for the tenuous, instinctive fears that I couldn't seem to shake?

      The morning passed slowly. I was impatient to see Alice, though I wouldn't be able to really talk to her with Edward there. Edward remained aloof. Occasionally he would ask about my arm, and I would lie.

       Alice usually beat us to lunch; she didn't have to keep pace with a sloth like me. But she wasn't at the table, waiting with a tray of food she wouldn't eat.
 Edward didn't say anything about her absence. I wondered to myself if her class was running late–until I saw Conner and Ben, who were in her fourth hour French class. "Where's Alice?" I asked Edward anxiously.
 He looked at the granola bar he was slowly pulverizing between his fingertips while he answered. "She's with Jasper." 

      "Is he okay?"
 "He's gone away for a while."
 "What? Where?"
 Edward shrugged. "Nowhere in particular."

       "And Alice, too," I said with quiet desperation. Of course, if Jasper needed her, she would go.
 "Yes. She'll be gone for a while. She was trying to convince him to go to Denali." 

      Denali was where the one other band of unique vampires–good ones like the Cullens–lived. Tanya and her family. I'd heard of them now and again. Edward had run to them last winter when my arrival had made Forks difficult for him. Laurent, the most civilized member of James's little coven, had gone there rather than siding with James against the Cullens. It made sense for Alice to encourage Jasper to go there.

      I swallowed, trying to dislodge the sudden lump in my throat. The guilt made my head bow and my shoulders slump. I'd run them out of their home, just like Rosalie and Emmett. I was a plague.

      "Is your arm bothering you?" he asked solicitously.
 "Who cares about my stupid arm?" I muttered in disgust.
 He didn't answer, and I put my head down on the table.

       By the end of the day, the silence was becoming ridiculous. I didn't want to be the one to break it, but apparently that was my only choice if I ever wanted him to talk to me again. "You'll come over later tonight?" I asked as he walked me–silently–to my truck. He always came over.
 It pleased me that he seemed surprised. "I have to work. I had to trade with Mrs. Newton to get yesterday off."
 "Oh," he murmured.
 "So you'll come over when I'm home, though, right?" I hated that I felt suddenly unsure about this.
 "If you want me to."
 "I always want you," I reminded him, with perhaps a little more intensity than the conversation required.
 I expected he would laugh, or smile, or react somehow to my words.
 "All right, then," he said indifferently.
 He kissed my forehead again before he shut the door on me. Then he turned his back and loped gracefully toward his car.
 I was able to drive out of the parking lot before the panic really hit, but I was hyperventilating by the time I got to Newton's. 

      He just needed time, I told myself. He would get over this. Maybe he was sad because his family was disappearing. But Alice and Jasper would come back soon, and Rosalie and Emmett, too. If it would help, I would stay away from the big white house on the river–I'd never set foot there again. That didn't matter. I'd still see Alice at school. She would have to come back for school, right? And she was at my place all the time anyway. She wouldn't want to hurt Charlie's feelings by staying away.

       No doubt I would also run into Carlisle with regularity–in the emergency room. 

      After all, what had happened last night was nothing. Nothing  had happened. So I fell down–that was the story of my life. Compared to last spring, it seemed especially unimportant. James had left me broken and nearly dead from loss of blood–and yet Edward had handled the interminable weeks in the hospital  much better than this. Was it because, this time, it wasn't an enemy he'd had to protect me from? Because it was his brother?

      Maybe it would be better if he took me away, rather than his family being scattered. I grew slightly less depressed as I considered all the uninterrupted alone time. If he could just last through the school year, Charlie wouldn't be able to object. We could go away to college, or pretend that's what we were doing, like Rosalie and Emmett this year. Surely Edward could wait a year. What was a year to an immortal? It didn't even seem like that much to me.

      I was able to talk myself into enough composure to handle getting out of the truck and walking to the store. Mike Newton had beaten me here today, and he smiled and waved when I came in. I grabbed my vest, nodding vaguely in his direction. I was still imagining pleasant scenarios that consisted of me running away with Edward to various exotic locales.

      Mike interrupted my fantasy. "How was your birthday?"
 "Ugh," I mumbled. "I'm glad it's over."
 Mike looked at me from the corners of his eyes like I was crazy.

      Work dragged. I wanted to see Edward again, praying that he would be past the worst of this, whatever it was exactly, by the time I saw him again. It's nothing, I told myself over and over again. Everything will go back to normal.

      The relief I felt when I turned onto my street and saw Edward's silver car parked in front of my house was an overwhelming, heady thing. And it bothered me deeply that it should be that way.
 I hurried through the front door, calling out before I was completely inside.

       "Dad? Edward?" As I spoke, I could hear the distinctive theme music from ESPN's SportsCenter coming from the living room. 

      "In here," Charlie called. I hung my raincoat on its peg and hurried around the corner.

       Edward was in the armchair, my father on the sofa. Both had their eyes trained on the TV. The focus was normal for my father. Not so much for Edward.
 "Hi," I said weakly. "Hey, Bella," my father answered, eyes never moving. "We just had cold pizza. I think it's still on the table."
 "Okay." I waited in the doorway. Finally, Edward looked over at me with a polite smile. "I'll be right behind you," he promised. His eyes strayed back to the TV.
 I stared for another minute, shocked. Neither one seemed to notice. I could feel something, panic maybe, building up in my chest. I escaped to the kitchen. 

      The pizza held no interest for me. I sat in my chair, pulled my knees up, and wrapped my arms around them. Something was very wrong, maybe more wrong than I'd realized. The sounds of male bonding and banter continued from the TV set.

       I tried to get control of myself, to reason with myself. What's the worst that can happen? I flinched. That was definitely the wrong question to ask. I was having a hard time breathing right.
Okay, I thought again,  what's the worst I can live through? I didn't like that question so much, either. But I thought through the possibilities I'd considered today. 

      Staying away from Edward's family. Of course, he wouldn't expect Alice to be part of that. But if Jasper was off limits, that would lessen the time I could have with her. I nodded to myself–I could live with that.

       Or going away. Maybe he wouldn't want to wait till the end of the school year, maybe it would have to be now. 

      In front of me, on the table, my presents from Charlie and Renee were where I had left them, the camera I hadn't had the chance to use at the Cullens' sitting beside the album. I touched the pretty cover of the scrapbook my mother had given me, and sighed, thinking of Renee. Somehow, living without her for as long as I had did not make the idea of a more permanent separation easier. And Charlie would be left all alone here, abandoned. They would both be so hurt…

      But we'd come back, right? We'd visit, of course, wouldn't we?
 I couldn't be certain about the answer to that.

      I leaned my cheek against my knee, staring at the physical tokens of my parents' love. I'd known this path I'd chosen was going to be hard. And, after all, I was thinking about the worst-case scenario–the very worst I could live through.

      I touched the scrapbook again, flipping the front cover over. Little metal corners were already in place to hold the first picture. It wasn't a half-bad idea, to make some record of my life here. I felt a strange urge to get started. Maybe I didn't have that long left in Forks.

      I toyed with the wrist strap on the camera, wondering about the first picture on the roll. Could it possibly turn out anything close to the original? I doubted it. But he didn't seem worried that it would be blank. I chuckled to myself, thinking of his carefree laughter last night. The chuckle died away. So much had changed, and so abruptly. It made me feel a little bit dizzy, like I was standing on an edge, a precipice somewhere much too high.

       I didn't want to think about that anymore. I grabbed the camera and headed up the stairs. 

      My room hadn't really changed all that much in the seventeen years since my mother had been here. The walls were still light blue, the same yellowed lace curtains hung in front of the window. There was a bed, rather than a crib, but she would recognize the quilt draped untidily over the top–it had been a gift ROM Gran.

      Regardless, I snapped a picture of my room. There wasn't much else I could do tonight–it was too dark outside–and the feeling was growing stronger, it was almost a compulsion now. I would record everything about Forks before I had to leave it.

       Change was coming. I could feel it. It wasn't a pleasant prospect, not when life was perfect the way it was. 

      I took my time coming back down the stairs, camera in hand, trying to ignore the butterflies in my stomach as I thought of the strange distance I didn't want to see in Edward's eyes. He would get over this. Probably he was worried that I would be upset when he asked me to leave. I would let him work through it without meddling. And I would be prepared when he asked.

      I had the camera ready as I leaned around the corner, being sneaky. I was sure there was no chance that I had caught Edward by surprise, but he didn't look up. I felt a brief shiver as something icy twisted in my stomach; I ignored that and took the picture.
 They both looked at me then. Charlie frowned. Edward's face was empty, expressionless.

       "What are you doing, Bella?" Charlie complained. 

      "Oh, come on." I pretended to smile as I went to sit on the floor in front of the sofa where Charlie lounged. "You know Mom will be calling soon to ask if I'm using my presents. I have to get to work before she can get her feelings hurt."

       "Why are you taking pictures of me, though?" he grumbled. "Because you're so handsome," I replied, keeping it light. "And because, since you bought the camera, you're obligated to be one of my subjects." 

      He mumbled something unintelligible. "Hey, Edward," I said with admirable indifference. "Take one of me and my dad together."

       I threw the camera toward him, carefully avoiding his eyes, and knelt beside the arm of the sofa where Charlie's face was. Charlie sighed. 

      "You need to smile, Bella," Edward murmured. I did my best, and the camera flashed.

       "Let me take one of you kids," Charlie suggested. I knew he was just trying to shift the camera's focus from himself.
 Edward stood and lightly tossed him the camera. 

      I went to stand beside Edward, and the arrangement felt formal and strange to me. He put one hand lightly on my shoulder, and I wrapped my arm more securely around his waist. I wanted to look at his face, but I was afraid to.

      "Smile, Bella," Charlie reminded me again. I took a deep breath and smiled. The flash blinded me.

       "Enough pictures for tonight," Charlie said then, shoving the camera into a crevice of the sofa cushions and rolling over it. "You don't have to use the whole roll now." Edward dropped his hand from my shoulder and twisted casually out of my arm. He sat back down in the armchair. 

      I hesitated, and then went to sit against the sofa again. I was suddenly so frightened that my hands were shaking. I pressed them into my stomach to hide them, put my chin on my knees and stared at the TV screen in front of me, seeing nothing.

      When the show ended, I hadn't moved an inch. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward stand. "I'd better get home," he said. Charlie didn't look up from the commercial. "See ya."

       I got awkwardly to my feet–I was stiff from sitting so still–and followed Edward out the front door. He went straight to his car. 

      "Will you stay?" I asked, no hope in my voice. I expected his answer, so it didn't hurt as much. "Not tonight." I didn't ask for a reason.

       He got in his car and drove away while I stood there, unmoving. I barely noticed that it was raining. I waited, without knowing what I waited for, until the door opened behind me. "Bella, what are you doing?" Charlie asked, surprised to see me standing there alone and dripping. 

      "Nothing." I turned and trudged back to the house. It was a long night, with little in the way of rest.

      I got up as soon as there was a faint light outside my window. I dressed for school mechanically, waiting for the clouds to brighten. When I had eaten a bowl of cereal, I decided that it was light enough for pictures. I took one of my truck, and then the front of the house. I turned and snapped a few of the forest by Charlie's house. Funny how it didn't seem sinister like it used to. I realized I would miss this–the green, the timelessness, the mystery of the woods. All of it.

       I put the camera in my school bag before I left. I tried to concentrate on my new project rather than the fact that Edward apparently hadn't gotten over things during the night. Along with the fear, I was beginning to feel impatience. How long could this last? 

      It lasted through the morning. He walked silently beside me, never seeming to actually look at me. I tried to concentrate on my classes, but not even English could hold my attention. Mr. Berty had to repeat his question about Lady Capulet twice before I realized he was talking to me. Edward whispered the correct answer under his breath and then went back to ignoring me.

       At lunch, the silence continued. I felt like I was going to start screaming at any moment, so, to distract myself, I leaned across the table's invisible line and spoke to Jessica. 

      "Hey, Jess?" "What's up, Bella?"

       "Could you do me a favor?" I asked, reaching into my bag. "My mom wants me to get some pictures of my friends for a scrapbook. So, take some pictures of everybody, okay?" 

      I handed her the camera. "Sure," she said, grinning, and turned to snap a candid shot of Mike with his mouth full.

      A predictable picture war ensued. I watched them hand the camera around the table, giggling and flirting and complaining about being on film. It seemed strangely childish. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for normal human behavior today.

       "Uh-oh," Jessica said apologetically as she returned the camera. "I think we used all your film."
 "That's okay. I think I already got pictures of everything else I needed." 

      After school, Edward walked me back to the parking lot in silence. I had to work again, and for once, I was glad. Time with me obviously wasn't helping things. Maybe time alone would be better.

      I dropped my film off at the Thriftway on my way to Newton's, and then picked up the developed pictures after work. At home, I said a brief hi to Charlie, grabbed a granola bar from the kitchen, and hurried up to my room with the envelope of photographs tucked under my arm.

       I sat in the middle of my bed and opened the envelope with wary curiosity. Ridiculously, I still half expected the first print to be a blank. 

      When I pulled it out, I gasped aloud. Edward looked just as beautiful as he did in real life, staring at me out of the picture with the warm eyes I'd missed for the past few days. It was almost uncanny that anyone could look so… so… beyond description. No thousand words could equal this picture.

       I flipped through the rest of the stack quickly once, and then laid three of them out on the bed side by side. 

      The first was the picture of Edward in the kitchen, his warm eyes touched with tolerant amusement. The second was Edward and Charlie, watching ESPN. The difference in Edward's expression was severe. His eyes were careful here, reserved. Still breathtakingly beautiful, but his face was colder, more like a sculpture, less alive.

      The last was the picture of Edward and me standing awkwardly side by side. Edward's face was the same as the last, cold and statue-like. But that wasn't the most troubling part of this photograph. The contrast between the two of us was painful. He looked like a god. I looked very average, even for a human, almost shamefully plain. I flipped the picture over with a feeling of disgust.

      Instead of doing my homework, I stayed up to put my pictures into the album. With a ballpoint pen I scrawled captions under all the pictures, the names and the dates. I got to the picture of Edward and me, and, without looking at it too long, I folded it in half and stuck it under the metal tab, Edward-side up.

       When I was done, I stuffed the second set of prints in a fresh envelope and penned a long thank-you letter to Renee. 

      Edward still hadn't come over. I didn't want to admit that he was the reason I'd stayed up so late, but of course he was. I tried to remember the last time he'd stayed away like this, without an excuse, a phone call… He never had.

       Again, I didn't sleep well. 

      School followed the silent, frustrating, terrifying pattern of the last two days. I felt relief when I saw Edward waiting for me in the parking lot, but it faded quickly. He was no different, unless maybe more remote.

       It was hard to even remember the reason for all this mess. My birthday already felt like the distant past. If only Alice would come back. Soon. Before this got any more out of hand. But I couldn't count on that. I decided that, if I couldn't talk to him today, really talk, then I was going to see Carlisle tomorrow. I had to do something.
 After school, Edward and I were going to talk it out, I promised myself. I wasn't accepting any excuses.
 He walked me to my truck, and I steeled myself to make my demands. "Do you mind if I come over today?" he asked before we got to the truck, beating me to the punch. 

      "Of course not." "Now?" he asked again, opening my door for me.

       "Sure," I kept my voice even, though I didn't like the urgency in his tone. "I was just going to drop a letter for Renee in the mailbox on the way. I'll meet you there."
 He looked at the fat envelope on the passenger seat. Suddenly, he reached over me and snagged it. 

      "I'll do it," he said quietly. "And I'll still beat you there." He smiled my favorite crooked smile, but it was wrong. It didn't reach his eyes. "Okay," I agreed, unable to smile back. He shut the door, and headed toward his car.

      He did beat me home. He was parked in Charlie's spot when I pulled up in front of the house. That was a bad sign. He didn't plan to stay, then. I shook my head and took a deep breath, trying to locate some courage.

      He got out of his car when I stepped out of the truck, and came to meet me. He reached to take my book bag from me. That was normal. But he shoved it back onto the seat. That was not normal.

       "Come for a walk with me," he suggested in an unemotional voice, taking my hand. I didn't answer. I couldn't think of a way to protest, but I instantly knew that I wanted to. I didn't like this. This is bad, this is very bad, the voice in my head repeated again and again. 

      But he didn't wait for an answer. He pulled me along toward the east side of the yard, where the forest encroached. I followed unwillingly, trying to think through the panic. It was what I wanted, I reminded myself. The chance to talk it all through. So why was the panic choking me?

       We'd gone only a few steps into the trees when he stopped. We were barely on the trail–I could still see the house. 

      Some walk. Edward leaned against a tree and stared at me, his expression unreadable. "Okay, let's talk," I said. It sounded braver than it felt. He took a deep breath. "Bella, we're leaving."

       I took a deep breath, too. This was an acceptable option. I thought I was prepared. But I still had to ask.
 "Why now? Another year–" "Bella, it's time. How much longer could we stay in Forks, after all? Carlisle can barely pass for thirty, and he's claiming thirty-three now. We'd have to start over soon regardless." 

      His answer confused me. I thought the point of leaving was to let his family live in peace. Why did we have to leave if they were going? I stared at him, trying to understand what he meant.

      He stared back coldly. With a roll of nausea, I realized I'd misunderstood. "When you say we–," I whispered. "I mean my family and myself." Each word separate and distinct.

       I shook my head back and forth mechanically, trying to clear it. He waited without any sign of impatience. It took a few minutes before I could speak. 

      "Okay," I said. "I'll come with you."
 "You can't, Bella. Where we're going… It's not the right place for you."
 "Where you are is the right place for me."
 "I'm no good for you, Bella."

       "Don't be ridiculous." I wanted to sound angry, but it just sounded like I was begging. "You're the very best part of my life." 

      "My world is not for you," he said grimly.
 "What happened with Jasper–that was nothing, Edward! Nothing!"
 "You're right," he agreed. "It was exactly what was to be expected."
 "You promised! In Phoenix, you promised that you would stay–"
 "As long as that was best for you," he interrupted to correct me.

      " No! This is about my soul, isn't it?" I shouted, furious, the words exploding out of me–somehow it still sounded like a plea. "Carlisle told me about that, and I don't care, Edward. I don't care! You can have my soul. I don't want it without you–it's yours already!"

      He took a deep breath and stared, unseeingly, at the ground for a long moment. His mouth twisted the tiniest bit. When he finally looked up, his eyes were different, harder–like the liquid gold had frozen solid.

       "Bella, I don't want you to come with me." He spoke the words slowly and precisely, his cold eyes on my face, watching as I absorbed what he was really saying.
 There was a pause as I repeated the words in my head a few times, sifting through them for their real intent.
 "You… don't… want me?" I tried out the words, confused by the way they sounded, placed in that order. 

 I stared, uncomprehending, into his eyes. He stared back without apology. His eyes were like topaz–hard and clear and very deep. I felt like I could see into them for miles and miles, yet nowhere in rheir bottomless depths could I see a contradiction to the word he'd spoken.

      "Well, that changes things." I was surprised by how calm and reasonable my voice sounded. It must be because I was so numb. I couldn't realize what he was telling me. It still didn't make any sense.

      He looked away into the trees as he spoke again. "Of course, I'll always love you… in a way. But what happened the other night made me realize that it's time for a change. Because I'm… tired of pretending to be something I'm not, Bella. I am not human." He looked back, and the icy planes of his perfect face were not human. "I've let this go on much too long, and I'm sorry for that."

       "Don't." My voice was just a whisper now; awareness was beginning to seep through me, trickling like acid through my veins. "Don't do this."
 He just stared at me, and I could see from his eyes that my words were far too late. He already had.
 "You're not good for me, Bella." He turned his earlier words around, and so I had no argument. How well I knew that I wasn't good enough for him.
 I opened my mouth to say something, and then closed it again. He waited patiently, his face wiped clean of all emotion. I tried again. 

      "If… that's what you want."
 He nodded once.
 My whole body went numb. I couldn't feel anything below the neck.
 "I would like to ask one favor, though, if that's not too much," he said.

      I wonder what he saw on my face, because something flickered across his own face in response. But, before I could identify it, he'd composed his features into the same serene mask.

       "Anything," I vowed, my voice faintly stronger.
 As I watched, his frozen eyes melted. The gold became liquid again, molten, burning down into mine with an intensity that was overwhelming.
 "Don't do anything reckless or stupid," he ordered, no longer detached. "Do you understand what I'm saying?" 

      I nodded helplessly.
 His eyes cooled, the distance returned. "I'm thinking of Charlie, of course. He needs you. Take care of yourself–for him."

      I nodded again. "I will," I whispered. He seemed to relax just a little.

      "And I'll make you a promise in return," he said. "I promise that this will be the last time you'll see me. I won't come back. I won't put you through anything like this again. You can go on with your life without any more interference from me. It will be as if I'd never existed."

       My knees must have started to shake, because the trees were suddenly wobbling. I could hear the blood pounding faster than normal behind my ears. His voice sounded farther away. He smiled gently. "Don't worry. You're human–your memory is no more than a sieve. Time heals all wounds for your kind."
 "And your memories?" I asked. It sounded like there was something stuck in my throat, like I was choking.
 "Well"–he hesitated for a short second–"I won't forget. But  my kind… we're very easily distracted." He smiled; the smile was tranquil and it did not touch his eyes.
 He took a step away from me. "That's everything, I suppose. We won't bother you again." The plural caught my attention. That surprised me; I would have thought I was beyond noticing anything.
 "Alice isn't coming back," I realized. I don't know how he heard me–the words made no sound–but he seemed to understand. 

      He shook his head slowly, always watching my face. "No. They're all gone. I staved behind to tell you goodbye." "Alice is gone?" My voice was blank with disbelief. "She wanted to say goodbye, but I convinced her that a clean break would be better for you."

      I was dizzy; it was hard to concentrate. His words swirled around in my head, and I heard the doctor at the hospital in Phoenix, last spring, as he showed me the X-rays. You can see it's a clean break, his finger traced along the picture of my severed bone. That's good. It will heal more easily, more quickly.

       I tried to breathe normally. I needed to concentrate, to find a way out of this nightmare. "Goodbye, Bella," he said in the same quiet, peaceful voic