Chapter 15: Epoch[/b]
Graduation day arrived at last. I couldn’t remember the last time I had been even remotely interested in a graduation ceremony, and yet today I was excited. Despite her reservations, Bella had done well on her exams, and I knew she was proud of herself, as I was of her. And although I knew she wasn’t looking forward to it, the graduation party was going to be a good experience for her, and I was going to make sure she ended up having a good time. I had wanted to get her a gift for graduation, but she had insisted that I not spend any money on her, and finally I gave in and promised her I wouldn’t. As I got ready to leave the house empty handed, I suddenly regretted that promise.
Charlie had been insistent that he be the one to drive Bella to the ceremony, and she had agreed. I was driving to the Swan residence beforehand to ride with them. Alice had left earlier in the day to help Bella get ready, and I was running uncharacteristically late. I pulled myself together in minutes, not particularly caring how I looked. To me, the day was all about Bella. I quickly drove to the Swans’, only slowing my speed when I was within a block of the house. As far as Charlie was concerned, I was a flawless driver, who faithfully observed all posted speed limits.
Bella looked lovely, as usual. I noticed that Alice had bought her a new outfit to wear, and it was the color blue I loved that made her skin look extraordinarily radiant. I smiled at her as I entered the house, and she attempted to smile back, but it came out more as a grimace. It was then I noticed the worry lines creasing her forehead, and her face looked more pale than usual. I was about to ask her what was wrong when Charlie ushered us out the door.
The ride to Forks High School was entertaining, to say the least. I sat in the back of the chief’s cruiser, behind the Plexiglas like a common criminal. Charlie’s thoughts as he glanced at me through the review mirror were jubilant.
This is even better than I pictured it would be. Now if only he’d do something wrong in real life that I could actually arrest him for. Hauling him down to the station, handcuffed…
I couldn’t hide the amused smirk on my face as his thoughts continued, and he didn’t bother hiding his wide grin. I’m sure Bella noticed, but she didn’t comment.
When we finally arrived at the ceremony, Charlie was reluctant to let me out. He was enjoying himself far too much. But he grudgingly opened the back door, and I went to help Bella out of the car.
“Are you all right?” I whispered too quietly for Charlie to hear.
“Nervous,” she answered. That made sense. Bella never liked large crowds, and I’m sure everything that could go wrong was flashing through her mind. It would be very much like Bella to trip over her robe while walking upstage.
“You are so beautiful,” I told her honestly. Even through the nerves, she was by far the most stunning creature I’d ever laid eyes on.
I was going to comment more, but Charlie very unceremoniously stepped between us, wrapping an arm around Bella’s shoulder.
“Are you excited?” he asked her in a voice conveying his own excitement.
“Not really,” she replied flatly.
“Bella, this is a big deal,” Charlie said. “You’re graduating from high school. It’s the real world for you now. College. Living on your own…” A new boyfriend, maybe…“You’re not my little girl anymore.”
“Dad,” Bella protested. “Please don’t get all weepy on me.”
“Who’s weepy? Now, why aren’t you excited?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I guess it hasn’t hit yet or something.” She replied.
“It’s a good thing that Alice is throwing this party,” Charlie mused. “You need something to perk you up.”
“Sure. A party’s exactly what I need.” Her tone suggested otherwise.
Charlie laughed at her, his thoughts filling with excitement and pride. We parted from him at the gym, and made our way to the front hall. It was much too noisy and overcrowded as two of the administrators attempted to get everyone lined up alphabetically.
“Up front, Mr. Cullen,” Mr. Varner, the math teacher, called to me as we entered.
“Hey, Bella!” Jessica Stanley was calling from the line. Bella looked slightly surprised, as they hadn’t been very close in recent months.
I sighed, not wanting to leave Bella and slightly annoyed at our lack of time for conversation thus far today. I kissed her quickly on the lips before heading toward my place in line. I was vaguely aware that Alice hadn’t arrived yet. I looked back toward Bella and saw Jessica babbling on, though Bella didn’t appear to be listening too attentively. Everyone donned their graduation attire -- horribly colored yellow robes and caps -- and then we were moving.
The whole event took far too long for my taste, with the principal and Eric Yorkie made unoriginal and generic speeches I had heard variations of hundreds of times. Alice still hadn’t shown up, and I was curious as to what had happened. I was sure that if it was something serious, someone would have let me know. I inconspicuously checked my phone, but found no messages.
The principal began calling names then, and being Cullens, Alice and my names were called close to the beginning. Just as her name was announced, Alice slipped into the line, her thoughts closely guarded on the Battle hymn of the Republic. She was trying to block me from her thoughts. We reached the stage and got our diplomas, and before I could stop her, she danced down the stairs and out the gym door. I was more than confused. Had she had a vision she didn’t want me to see? I decided not to dwell on it just yet. If she needed my help, she would let me know. I turned my attention to the stage where Bella’s name had just been called. I watched as she walked up and received her diploma seemingly in a daze, throwing a slight smile toward Charlie and the Blacks, who were also in attendance, then drifted back down to her place behind Jessica. After the last name was finally called, the principal said his congratulations, and the student body erupted into cheers and threw their caps in the air.
Families were pouring down from the bleachers, and it was like trying to swim against the current to get to Bella. She was standing on her toes, her neck craned, scanning the crowd. I finally made it behind her, grabbing her around the waist.
“Congratulations,” I whispered in her ear.
“Um, thanks,” she replied, eyes still scanning the crowd.
“You don’t look like you’re over the nerves yet,” I stated.
“Not quite yet.”
“What’s left to worry about?” I asked her. “The party? It won’t be that horrible.”
“You’re probably right.” She was distracted, and she still hadn’t met my eyes.
“Who are you looking for?” I wondered.
“Alice – where is she?”
“She ran out as soon as she got her diploma,” I explained, watching the door Alice had escaped from. It really was strange.
“Worrying about Alice?” she asked, in knowing tone.
“Er…” I trailed off.
“What was she thinking about, anyway? To keep you out, I mean.”
My gaze snapped back to her face. So she did know what was going on. My eyes narrowed in suspicion. “She was translating the Battle Hymn of the Republic into Arabic, actually. When she finished that, she moved on to Korean sign language.”
Bella laughed tensely. “I suppose that would keep her head busy enough.”
“You know what she’s hiding from me.”
“Sure. I’m the one who came up with it,” she smiled, but it wasn’t genuine.
I stared at her, waiting for her to explain, my confusion growing by the minute. She scanned the crowd quickly, and then turned her eyes back to me. Her voice was barely a whisper. “Knowing Alice, she’ll probably try to keep this from you until after the party. But since I’m all for the party being cancelled – well, don’t go berserk, regardless, okay? It’s always better to know as much as possible. It has to help somehow.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. My patience was wearing thin, and Charlie was approaching us through the crowd.
“Just stay calm, okay?”
I gave a solemn nod, but didn’t really think I would be able to commit to that. Anything she had to say that started with “stay calm” almost guaranteed I wouldn’t.
“I think you’re wrong about things coming at us from all sides. I think it’s mostly coming at us from one side…and I think it’s coming at me, really. It’s all connected, it has to be. It’s just one person who’s messing with Alice’s visions. The stranger in my room was a test, to see if someone could get around her. It’s got to be the same one who keeps changing his mind, and the newborns, and stealing my clothes – all of it goes together. My scent is for them.”
She explained it all so quickly, even I had a hard time keeping up. But as the words wound their way around my mind, I realized she was right. It made more sense than anything the rest of us had come up with.
But they were coming after Bella. They wanted to hurt her. They wanted to kill her. The beautiful woman standing in front of me; my soul mate. They wanted to destroy her. I had never felt rage as strong before in my entire existence then I did with that thought.
“But no one’s coming for you, don’t you see?” she continued when I didn’t respond. “This is good – Esme and Alice and Carlisle, no one wants to hurt them!”
I stared at her, completely horrified. She realizes that a newborn army is coming after her – her specifically – and she’s relieved that it’s her they’re after and not the others. It was her typical behavior, but that didn’t make it any less terrifying.
“Calm,” she commanded, placing a hand on my cheek.
I still couldn’t speak as Charlie made his way to us. “Bella! Congratulations, baby!” He swept her up in a hug, and I automatically reached toward her.
“Thanks,” she muttered, and I felt her gaze on me, gauging my reaction.
They were coming after Bella. The idea repeated itself over and over in my head. I could never really keep her safe. Suddenly, the room seemed too closed in. What had merely been an annoying amount of people before became unbearable. I needed to get control of my emotions, and I couldn’t do that with all of the noise, and the thoughts and the bodies that engulfed me. I couldn’t pull it together.
The disbelief passed quickly, and turned into pure fury. Whoever this someone was, they would never come near her. We were going to find out who was behind this, and I was going to destroy them. I briefly heard Charlie talking about the Blacks with Bella, but the pure fury I was feeling made it hard to concentrate.
“So where do you want to go out for dinner? The sky’s the limit.”
“I can cook,” she offered.
“Don’t be silly. Do you want to go to the Lodge?” he asked excitedly.
“Sure, the Lodge, cool,” she replied, sounding less than enthused.
Charlie let out a sigh. I better be nice today. “You coming too, Edward?”
He wasn’t looking at me, which was probably for the best. My face was still a mix of shock and anger. Bella’s gaze met mine, and she was pleading with her eyes for me to pull it together. I did my best, for her sake, as Charlie glanced my way.
“No, thank you,” I said. I couldn’t bring myself to lighten my tone, and Charlie was shocked by the aggression he heard.
“Do you have plans with your parents?” he asked politely.
“Yes. If you’ll excuse me…” I turned and stalked quickly through the crowd, not waiting for a reply.
I knew Charlie was bewildered at my rudeness, but I needed to leave the gym before I did something I would regret. The anger was consuming me, and hundreds of voices – other people’s minds – were not making it any easier to cope with my own thoughts. I burst through the side door to the parking lot at a slightly faster pace than any normal person would walk. I couldn’t care enough in that moment to act entirely human.
I waited until I was safely through the parking lot and into the forest behind the school before I called Alice. She was expecting me, answering on the first ring.
“I know you’re angry, but I had a perfectly good reason for blocking my thoughts from you,” she said, not bothering with a greeting.
“Which was?” I asked, tension dripping from my voice.
“Edward, you’re the one who wanted this day to be perfect for Bella. Do you really think graduation would have gone well if we had told you this beforehand?”
I couldn’t argue with that. I sighed, defeated. “Have you informed the others?”
“No, not yet…” she replied.
“Good, don’t. I want to talk to Carlisle and Jasper myself when I get home.”
She agreed to not say a word and we hung up. I still felt too tense, but decided I had better make my way to the Lodge to watch over Bella. I was glad I didn’t have my car to worry about, as I really needed to run. I kept to the forest and back roads as much as possible, letting the rush of the run soothe me slightly.
I kept to the shadows, making sure I had a clear view of the front windows. It was packed with people, but I spotted Bella and Charlie easily at the center of the restaurant. Bella’s back was turned toward me, but she stiffened slightly as I stared pointedly at her back.
I watched as the meal dragged on slowly. There was a festive mood in the air as families celebrated the graduation of their seniors. The thoughts flowing around me were filled with love, pride, and joy. It only made my own mood worse. Because I knew that Bella wasn’t celebrating. She was worrying about me. And she should be able to be happy and proud of her accomplishments, but she couldn’t, because she was also worrying that someone was going to try to kill her. I had successfully ruined another normal human experience for her, just by existing.
Bella kept shifting uncomfortably in her seat, glancing nervously at the clock every three minutes or so. She seemed as anxious as I was to be done with dinner. My hands twitched involuntarily as I ached to pull her close to me and never let go. The need to shield her from all the negativity in our lives was overpowering. I wanted to assure her that everything was going to be fine, and that she had absolutely nothing to worry about, even if I wasn’t so sure of that myself. Staring at her through the glass, I couldn’t understand why anyone would w ant to harm Bella. She was so trusting and caring; she didn’t deserve to be constantly in danger.
The time finally came for Charlie to pay the bill, and Bella jumped up from her seat a little too quickly. I could see Charlie’s furrowed brow at her reaction, but he didn’t press it as he started saying his goodbyes. Bella came out first, leaning against the passenger door of the cruiser. I chanced a glance inside to make sure Charlie was still occupied before emerging from the shadows.
Bella gasped, but it turned into a sigh of relief as she realized it was me. I wasted no time in taking her into my arms and lifting her chin up to press a soft kiss to her lips.
“How are you?” she asked me worriedly.
“Not so great,” I admitted. “But I’ve got a handle on myself. I’m sorry I lost it back there.”
“My fault. I should have waited to tell you.”
“No,” I said firmly. “This is something I needed to know. I can’t believe I didn’t see it!”
“You’ve got a lot on your mind,” she soothed.
“And you don’t?” I asked. I didn’t let her answer. It was so very Bella to try and reassure me when she was the one who should be reassured. So I crushed my lips to hers again, taking her breath away. But Charlie’s thoughts were growing closer, and I pulled away sooner than either of us would have liked. “Charlie’s on his way.”
“I’ll have him drop me at your house,” she said.
“I’ll follow you.”
“That’s not really necessary,” she said, but I had run back to my hiding place before she finished her sentence. I knew she thought I was being much too overprotective again, but at least now I had a justifiable reason.
As I predicted, Charlie sauntered out seconds later.
“Bella?” he called into the darkness.
“I’m out here,” she replied.
He walked toward the car, slightly annoyed about her impatience, and knowing it was related to seeing me. I had to smirk at that thought.
They pulled out of the Lodge and onto the highway, and I was able to keep to the forest beside them without Chief Swan noticing. This run wasn’t as exhilarating as the last one, because Charlie was a strict disciplinarian of the speed limits. It was more of a brisk walk than a run.
It was easy to see when we arrived at the house. Alice had lit up the entire driveway in white lights, so the guests wouldn’t miss it. And because Alice never did anything halfway, there were thousands of lights. I had to hand it to her, there was no way anybody would be missing our normally well-concealed driveway tonight. I knew Bella realized that too as she exited the car with a sigh, marching up the stairs of the front porch with a determined look on her face.