Alice managed to wait until the end of the school day before mentioning her “brilliant” idea to Bella. We were walking to the car when she suddenly stopped and closed her eyes.
“I have foreseen…” she began, sounding like a psychic you’d reach on a 900 line. I attempted to elbow her in the ribs to get her to cut it out, but she saw it coming and dodged it. “Fine. Edward is making me do this. But I did foresee that you would be more difficult if I surprised you.”
Bella was staring at her blankly. “In English?”
“Don’t be a baby about this. No tantrums.”
Bella’s eyes widened. “Now I’m scared.”
“So you’re – I mean we’re – having a graduation party. It’s no big thing. Nothing to freak out over. But I saw that you would freak out if I tried to make it a surprise party –“even though I should have done it anyway,she thought, and I reached over to mess up her hair. She dodged me again. “—and Edward said I had to tell you. But it’s nothing. Promise.”
Bella was quiet a moment, then sighed. “Is there any point in arguing?”
“None at all.”
“Okay, Alice. I’ll be there. And I’ll hate every moment of it. Promise.”
Wow…that was much easier than I thought it was going to be. “That’s the spirit! By the way, I love my gift. You shouldn’t have.”
“Alice, I didn’t!” Bella exclaimed, exasperated.
“Oh, I know that. But you will.” She smiled sweetly. I saw the vision through her mind. Bella was buying all of us tickets to a concert that we had wanted to see. A perfect, thoughtful gift.
Bella’s forehead was creased in concentration; probably trying to figure out what Alice had seen her buying.
“Amazing. How can someone so tiny be so annoying?” I asked.
“It’s a talent,” Alice replied, and laughed.
“Couldn’t you have waited a few weeks to tell me about this? Now I’ll just be stressed that much longer,” Bella mused.
I frowned, and looked at Alice. She had on the same face as I did. What is she talking about? Graduation is next week. “Bella,” she started slowly. “Do you know what day it is?”
“Monday?” Bella asked, and I had to smile.
Alice just rolled her eyes. “Yes. It is Monday…the fourth.” She grabbed Bella’s arm and spun her around to face a calendar behind her.
Bella stared at the date for a long moment. “It’s the fourth? Of June? Are you sure?”
She seemed genuinely surprised by this, though I didn’t know why. I raised my eyebrows questioningly at her.
“It can’t be! How did that happen?
Alice and I watched quietly as she stared at the calendar, a frown on her face. Her heart was pounding in her chest, her pulse racing. She seemed to be panicking. I doubted that this reaction was entirely in reference to Alice’s party plans.
Alice was thinking the same thing. Edward, she thought, and I glanced at her. I don’t think she’s ready to be changed. Alice had been the most impatient member of our family when it came to Bella becoming a vampire. She was only too excited to make Bella a permanent member of our family, and would have done it herself long ago if she had the self restraint. So to hear my sister admit that she didn’t think Bella was ready only reinforced my belief that she remain human after graduation. As much as I wanted her to be mine for eternity, I needed her to be sure this was what she wanted.
Eventually I led Bella out of school and to the car. Her eyes were distant and unfocused, and I ‘m not sure she knew we were there anymore. Her face was even more pale than usual, and her heart was still erratic. Alice got in the backseat and started talking, wanting to distract Bella from whatever she was thinking that was making her so upset. She chattered all the way to our driveway, where we dropped her off. Bella hadn’t said a word the entire way. Alice said a hasty goodbye, and I drove us to Charlie’s house. He would still be at work, and I would have a better chance of finding out what was on Bella’s mind there than a house filled with my family.
I didn’t try to snap Bella out of her trance on the ride to Charlie’s, nor when I helped her out of the car and into the house, onto the couch. I sat beside her and let her collect her thoughts as she stared out the window into the rain. I thought I was prepared to wait it out, and let her speak when she was ready, but as the minutes ticked by and the sky grew darker with the storm, I could take her silence no more.
I put my hands on either side of her face, forcing her eyes to meet mine. Her breathing stopped. “Would you please tell me what you are thinking? Before I go mad?” She stared at me, but didn’t answer. “Your lips are white. Talk, Bella.”
She exhaled sharply and whispered, “The date took me off guard. That’s all.” I frowned. I knew there was more to this then just the date. She continued after a long moment, “I’m not sure what to do…what to tell Charlie…what to say…how to…”
“This isn’t about the party?” I asked, although Alice and I both knew it wasn’t.
She frowned. “No. But thanks for reminding me.”
I stared into her eyes, trying to read the emotions there. She wanted to put on a brave face, but her eyes deceived her. She was scared.
“You’re not ready,” I whispered.
“I am,” she replied too quickly, but her voice was flat. “I have to be.”
“You don’t have to be anything.”
Her eyes became wilder as she listed the reasons, “Victoria, Jane, Caius, whoever was in my room…!”
“All the more reason to wait,” I told her.
“That doesn’t make any sense, Edward!”
I tightened my hold on her face, willing her to understand. “Bella. Not one of us had a choice. You’ve seen what it’s done…to Rosalie especially. We’ve all struggled, trying to reconcile ourselves with something we had no control over. I won’t let it be that way for you. You will have a choice.”
“I already made my choice.”
“You aren’t going through with this because a sword is hanging over your head. We will take care of the problems, and I will take care of you. When we’re through it, and there is nothing forcing your hand, then you can decide to join me, if you still want to. But not because you’re afraid. You won’t be forced into this.”
“Carlisle promised. After graduation.” She said the words, but her tone was monotonous, and I knew that she knew I was right.
“Not until you’re ready. And definitely not while you feel threatened.” I was confident that Carlisle would be on my side, promise or no promise. Even Alice saw the uncertainty now. Nobody wanted her to give up her life if she wasn’t positive.
She didn’t answer me, just stared with a resigned look in her eyes. “There,” I said, and kissed her lightly on the forehead. “Nothing to worry about.”
She laughed, but it wasn’t genuine. “Nothing but impending doom.”
“I do,” she replied sincerely. We sat in silence for a moment, but her face was still tense. “Can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” I promised.
She studied my face for a moment, biting her lip. Then she blurted, “What am I getting Alice for graduation?”
That wasn’t what she wanted to ask me. I laughed quietly. “It looked like you were getting us both concert tickets –“
“That’s right!” she cut me off, almost smiling through her relief. “The concert in Tacoma. I saw an ad in the paper last week, and I thought it would be something you’d like, since you said it was a good CD.”
“It’s a great idea,” I reassured her. “Thank you.”
“I hope it’s not sold out.”
“It’s the thought that counts. I ought to know,” I joked, and she sighed. “There’s something else you meant to ask.”
“You’re good,” she said, letting another frown crease her forehead. I had seen too many of those today, and I deeply missed her smile.
“I have lots of practice reading your face. Ask me.”
She closed her eyes and leaned forward, burying herself in my chest to hide her face. “You don’t want me to be a vampire,” she accused.
“No, I don’t,” I said, and waited for her to continue. After a moment, I added, “That’s not a question.”
“Well…I was worrying about…why you feel that way.”
“Worrying?” I asked, surprised by the choice of words. She wasn’t just curious, she was worried.
“Would you tell me why? The whole truth, not sparing my feelings?” she begged, her face still hidden.
I didn’t understand what exactly she was worried about, but I knew she wouldn’t tell me until I answered her first. “If I answer your question, will you then explain your question?”
She nodded, so I decided it was time to tell her the whole truth.
“You could do so much better, Bella,” I started after taking a deep unnecessary breath for strength. “I know that you believe I have a soul, but I’m not entirely convinced on that point, and to risk yours…” I trialed off. I was going to let her give up her chance at Heaven so that I could keep her for eternity. That wasn’t fair to her, and I wasn’t convinced that she realized what she was willing to do. “For me to allow this – to let you become what I am just so that I’ll never have to lose you – is the most selfish act I can imagine. I want it more than anything, for myself. But for you, I want so much more. Giving in – it feels criminal. It’s the most selfish thing I’ll ever do, even if I live forever. If there were any way for me to become human for you – no matter what the price was, I would pay it.”
We sat in silence for a moment, as I let my words sink in. Bella was very still, but I felt the smile forming on her face against my chest.
“So…it’s not that you’re afraid you won’t….like me as much when I’m different – when I’m not soft and warm and I don’t smell the same? You really do want to keep me, no matter how I turn out?”
I exhaled a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “You were worried I wouldn’t like you?” I asked. The thought of me not loving Bella, no matter what she was, was ridiculous. Not being able to help myself, I started laughing. “Bella, for a fairly intuitive person, you can be so obtuse!” I thought she might be angry that I was laughing at her, but to my surprise she seemed to finally relax a bit.
“I don’t think you realize how much easier it will be for me, Bella,” I continued after regaining my composure. “when I don’t have to concentrate all the time on not killing you. Certainly, there are things I’ll miss. This for one…” I trailed off, bringing her face to meet mine. I looked deeply into her eyes, and stroked her cheek softly, and the beautiful blush I loved so much colored her face. I laughed softly. “And the sound of your heart. It’s the most significant sound in my world. I’m so attuned to it now, I swear I could pick it out from miles away. But neither of these things matter.” I took her face between my hands again. “This. You. That’s what I’m keeping. You’ll always be my Bella, you’ll just be a little more durable.” She sighed again, this time in contentment, and relaxed her face against my hand. “Now will you answer a question for me? The whole truth, not sparing my feelings?” I asked.
Her eyes widened as she answered. “Of course.”
“You don’t want to be my wife.”
I watched as her face again paled; her heart stopping completely before pounding wildly in her chest. She didn’t answer me at first, and when she did her voice was small. “That’s not a question.”
I took my hand away from her face and picked up her left hand. I stared at her fingers, her ring finger in particular, and tried to imagine my mother’s ring placed there. It was one of the few possessions I still had from my human life. I could picture how exquisite it would be on her hand, and how proud I would feel when she wore it.
“I was worrying about why you felt that way,” I continued.
“That’s not a question, either,” she whispered, her breathing shallow. Marriage was never one of Bella’s favorite subjects.
“The truth?” she asked, her voice disappearing altogether.
“Of course. I can take it, whatever it is.”
This time it was she that took a deep breath for courage. “You’re going to laugh at me.”
I looked at her eyes, confused. I couldn’t imagine laughing at her during a conversation such as this. “Laugh? I cannot imagine that.”
“You’ll see,” she muttered, more to herself than me. She sighed, and her face turned red with embarrassment. “Okay, fine! I’m sure this will sound like some big joke to you, but really! It’s just so…so…so embarrassing!” she exclaimed, and hid her face again in my chest.
I had no idea what could be causing this kind of reaction to my simple question. “I’m not following you,” I said simply.
She lifted her head to look at me, a glare on her face. Embarrassment often put her on the offensive. “I’m not that girl, Edward. The one who gets married right out of high school like some small-town hick who got knocked up by her boyfriend! Do you know what people would think? Do you realize what century this is? People don’t just get married at eighteen! Not smart people, not responsible, mature people! I wasn’t going to be that girl. That’s not who I am…” she trailed off as her tirade ended.
I watched as her face returned to its normal color and her pulse slowed. I had wondered the true reasons for Bella refusing to marry me since I had suggested it when we arrived home from Italy. Although I knew she cared about me deeply, her reluctance to marry me had made me feel that she liked the idea of being a vampire more than she liked the idea of being with me forever. I had assumed that if she couldn’t commit herself to me in marriage, there was no possible way she was ready to be changed for eternity.
“That’s all?” I asked finally.
“Isn’t that enough?”
“It’s not that you were…more eager for immortality itself than for just me?”
Suddenly the idea sounded laughable, and I couldn’t believe I had let it cross my mind. Bella apparently had the same idea, for she was suddenly in hysterics laughing.
“Edward!” she managed out between laughing fits. “And here…I always…thought that…you were…so much…smarter than me.”
I couldn’t hold it back after that, and took her in my arms as I began laughing with her. I held her until her giggles died down, and she pulled away slightly.
“Edward, there’s no point to forever without you. I wouldn’t want one day without you.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” I sighed.
“Still…it doesn’t change anything.”
“It’s nice to understand, though. And I do understand your perspective, Bella, truly I do. But I’d like it very much if you’d try to consider mine.” She looked into my eyes and nodded, and I attempted to explain my feelings to the best of my ability. “You see, Bella, I was always that boy. In my world, I was already a man. I wasn’t looking for love – no, I was far too eager to be a soldier for that; I thought of nothing but the idealized glory of the war that they were selling prospective draftees then –but if I had found…” I trailed off. The thought of loving anyone but Bella was impossible for me to comprehend. “I was going to say if I had found someone, but that won’t do. If I had found you, there isn’t a doubt in doubt in my mind how I would have proceeded. I was that boy, who would have – as soon as I discovered that you were what I was looking for – gotten down on one knee and endeavored to secure your hand. I would have wanted you for eternity, even when the word didn’t have quite the same connotations.”
I smiled at her, and realized she had stopped breathing again at some point in my speech. “Breathe, Bella,” I reminded her, and she inhaled deeply. “Can you see my side, Bella, even a little bit?”
She got a far-away look in her eyes, and I know she was trying to picture what I had explained to her. She shook her head slowly, clearing her head. “The thing is, Edward, in my mind, marriage and eternity are not mutually exclusive or mutually inclusive concepts. And since we’re living in my world for the moment, maybe we should go with the times, if you know what I mean.”
“But on the other hand, you will soon be leaving time behind you altogether. So why should the transitory customs of one local culture affect the decision so much?”
She took on a concentrated look for a moment, and then replied, “When in Rome?”
I laughed. “You don’t have to say yes or no today, Bella. It’s good to understand both sides, though, don’t you think?”
“So you’re condition…?” she trailed off.
“Is still in effect. I do see your point, Bella, but if you want me to change you myself…”
“Dum, dum, dah-dum,” she hummed the wedding march grimly, and I smiled, wishing she would want this as much as I did.
The rest of the evening passed quietly, without even the sleep-talking I was accustomed to from Bella. I didn’t push her to talk anymore; knowing how much was already weighing on her mind. On top of everything, we had finals coming up. I wasn’t worried, as I’d been through the same types of tests multiple times, but Bella needed to study.
I left Bella in the morning to change clothes and get my car, with Emmett standing guard outside while I was gone. I knocked on the front door when I returned, so as not to startle Bella with my sudden reappearance. She still wasn’t entirely used to our speed, and it sometimes made her uncomfortable. Usually it took her under a minute to fling open the door, but she didn’t answer. I knocked again, a little louder, but still no answer. This, of course, made me assume she had gotten hurt so I let myself in. Bella was in the kitchen, reading the paper. A look of horror was on her face, and she didn’t notice my entrance.
“Bella?” I asked quietly. She gasped, turning to meet my gaze. I had frightened her. I ran to her side and took her shaking hand in mine. “Did I startle you? I’m sorry. I did knock…”
“No, no. Have you seen this?” she asked, pointing to the paper.
I scanned the article quickly. Things in Seattle were becoming much worse as the days progressed. No wonder Bella looked so scared. “I hadn’t seen today’s news yet. But I knew it was getting worse. We’re going to have to do something…quickly.”
“What does Alice say?” she asked, her brows furrowing in worry.
“That’s the problem,” I said, frowning. “She can’t see anything…though we’ve made up our minds half a dozen times to check it out. She’s starting to lose confidence. She feels like she’s missing too much these days, that something’s wrong. That maybe her visions are slipping away.”
“Can that happen?” she asked, her eyes widening.
“Who knows?” I shrugged. “No one’s ever done a study…but I really doubt it. These things tend to intensify over time. Look at Aro and Jane.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“Self-fulfilling prophesy, I think,” I explained. “We keep waiting for Alice to see something so we can go…and she doesn’t see anything because we won’t really go until she does. So she can’t see us there. Maybe we’ll have to do it blind.”
A shudder racked her body. “No.”
I wanted to talk to my family as soon as possible, particularly Jasper. “Did you have a strong desire to attend class today? We’re only a couple of days from finals; they won’t be giving us anything new.”
“I think I can live without school for a day. What are we doing?”
“I want to talk to Jasper.”
She seemed surprised. Bella didn’t know a lot about Jasper, and I avoided most of her questions. Like I had said before, my family’s stories are not mine to tell. But Jasper had the most experience with newborns, and he was going to be our best bet for making a solid plan of what to do about them.
When we arrived at the house, Esme, Carlisle, and Jasper were watching the news intently, listening to experts weigh in on the trouble in Seattle. Alice was sitting on the stairs with her head in her hands, not bothering to look up as we entered. She was getting more and more frustrated as the days went on and she still couldn’t see anything concrete. Emmett was the only completely calm.
“Hey, Edward. Ditching, Bella?” he grinned. You’re a bad influence, bro.
“We both are,” I told him.
“Yes, but it’s her first time through high school. She might miss something.” He laughed, and I rolled my eyes at him.
I turned to Carlisle, tossing him the morning’s newspaper. “Did you see that they’re considering a serial killer now?”
“They’ve had two specialists debating that possibility on CNN all morning,” he replied.
“We can’t let this go on,” I said.
“Let’s go now. I’m dead bored,” Emmett chimed in. Rosalie let out a hiss from upstairs, and Emmett recoiled. “She’s such a pessimist.”
I actually agreed with Emmett. “We’ll have to go sometime.”
Rosalie entered the room, her mind furious with the idea, though she kept a calm façade. She couldn’t stand the thought of Emmett doing something stupid and getting hurt, and out of all of us, he would be the one to get carried away.
Carlisle shook his head. “I’m concerned. We’ve never involved ourselves in this kind of thing before. It’s not our business. We aren’t the Volturi.”
“I don’t want the Volturi to have to come here,” I stated. “It gives us so much less reaction time.”
“And all those innocent humans in Seattle. It’s not right to let them die this way,” Esme mused.
“I know,” Carlisle said quietly.
Jasper’s thoughts suddenly jumped out at me.This is all so familiar. Newborns, many of them, running around. People getting killed. Almost like before in the South. But why would someone create a newborn army here? What is there to gain?
“Oh,” I said, looking towards him. “I didn’t think of that. I see. You’re right, that has to be it. Well, that changes everything.”
We had been looking at the situation as a group of newborns gone crazy, but we hadn’t really considered a newborn army was being created. It made much more sense than any other explanation we had come up with.
“I think you’d better explain to the others. What could be the purpose of this?” I started pacing, trying to understand why someone would need a newborn army here. In the South, where Jasper had been created, it was for power, and for control of human “hunting grounds” as it was, all things that didn’t make sense here and now.
“What is he rambling about?” Alice asked, finally joining the conversation. “What are you thinking?”
Jasper looked around, suddenly realizing that every pair of eyes was on him. He never was comfortable in the spotlight, and he was hesitant to speak his thoughts. He paused when his eyes met Bella’s. “You’re confused.”
“We’re all confused,” Emmett said, rather sarcastically. Stupid mind readers and psychics. I never know what’s going on.
“You can afford the time to be patient. Bella should understand this, too. She’s one of us now.”
Bella looked genuinely surprised at Jasper’s comment, and I’m sure she was pleased that he considered her a part of the family as much as the rest of us.
“How much do you know about me, Bella?” Jasper asked her, and Emmett groaned. He wanted to go to Seattle immediately, not sit through Jasper’s story. He dramatically threw himself on the couch, grumbling.
“Not much,” Bella admitted.
Have you told her about my history at all, Edward? he thought.
“No. I’m sure you can understand why I haven’t told her that story. But I suppose she needs to hear it now.”
He nodded at me, and started rolling up his sweater. Bella watched, confused, until he held his wrist up to the lamp and a scar that matched Bella’s hand appeared.
“Oh. Jasper, you have a scar exactly like mine,” she observed.
He smiled at her. “I have a lot of scars like yours, Bella.” He pushed his sleeve up higher, revealing hundreds of bite marks, all similar to Bella’s.
It took her a minute to process what she was seeing, but when she did, she gasped. “Jasper, what happened to you?”