*by Stephenie Meyer*
TWILIGHT - chapter 12 - BALANCING
I slept better that night, too tired to dream again. When I woke to the pearl gray morning, my mood was blissful. The tense evening with Billy and Jacob seemed harmless enough now; I decided to forget it completely. I caught myself whistling while I was pulling teh front part of my hair back into a barrette, and later again as I skipped down the stairs. Charlie noticed.
"You're cheerful this morning," he commented over breakfast.
I shrugged. "It's Friday."
I hurried so I would be ready to go the second Charlie left. I had my bad ready, shoes on, teeth brushed, but even though I rushed to the door as soon as I was sure Charlie would be out of sight, Edward was faster. He was waiting in his shiny car, windows down, engine off.
I didn't hesitate this time, climbing in the passenger side quickly, the sooner to see his face. He grinned his crooked smile at me, stopping my breath and my heart. I couldn't imagine how an angel could be any more glorious. There was nothing about him that could be improved upon.
"How did you sleep?" he asked. I wondered if he had any idea how appealing his voice was.
"Fine. How was your night?"
"Pleasant." His smile was amused; I felt like I was missing an inside joke.
"Can I ask what you did?" I asked.
"No." He grinned. "Today is still mine."
He wanted to know about people today: more about Renee, her hobbies, what we'd done in our free time together. And then the one grandmother I'd known, my few school friends - embarrassing me when he asked about boys I'd dated. I was relieved that I'd never really dated anyone, so that particular conversation couldn't last long. He seemed as surprised as Jessica and Angela by my lack of romantic history.
"So you never met anyone you wanted?" he asked in a serious tone that made me wonder what he was thinking about.
I was grudgingly honest. "Not in Phoenix."
His lips pressed together in a hard line.
We were in the cafeteria at this point. The day had sped by in the blur that was rapidly becoming routine. I took advantage of his brief pause to take a bite of my bagel.
"I should have let you drive yourself today," he announced, apropos of nothing, while I chewed.
"Why?" I demanded.
"I'm leaving with Alice after lunch."
"Oh," I blinked, bewildered and disappointed. "That's okay, it's not that far of a walk."
He frowned at me impatiently. "I'm not going to make you walk home. We'll go gte your truck and leave it here for you."
"I don't have my key with me," I sighed. "I really don't mind walking." What I minded was losing my time with him.
He shook his head. "Your truck will be here, and the key will be in the ignition - unless you're afraid someone might steal it." He laughed at the thought.
"All right," I agreed, pursing my lips. I was pretty sure my key was in the pocket of a pair of jeans I wore Wednesday, under a pile of clothes in the laundry room. Even if he broke into my house, or whatever he was planning, he'd never find it. He seemed to feel the challenge in my consent. He smirked, overconfident.
"So where are you going?" I asked as casually as I could manage.
"Hunting," he answered grimly. "If I'm going to be alone with you tomorrow, I'm going to take whatever precautions I can." His face grew morose... and pleading. "You can always cancel, you know."
I looked down, afraid of the persuasive power of his eyes. I refused to be convinced to fear him, no matter how real the danger might be. It doesn't matter, I repeated in my head.
"No," I whispered, glancing back at his face. "I can't."
"Perhaps you're right," he murmured bleakly. His eyes seemed to darken in color as I watched.
I changed the subject. "What time will I see you tomorror?" I asked, already depressed by the thought of him leaving now.
"That depends... it's a Saturday, don't you want to sleep in?" he offered.
"No," I answered too fast. He restrained a smile.
"The same time as usual, then," he decided. "Will Charlie be there?"
"No, he's fishing tomorrow." I beamed at the memory of how conveniently things had worked out.
His voice turned sharp. "And if you don't come home, what will he think?"
"I have no idea," I answered cooly. "He's knows I've been meaning to do the laundry. Maybe he'll think I fell in the washer."
He scowled at me and I scowled back. His anger was much more impressive than mine.
"What are you hunting tonight?" I asked when I was sure I had lost the glowering contest.
"Whatever we find in the park. We aren't going far." He seemed bemused by my casual reference to his secret realities.
"Why are you going with Alice?" I wondered.
"Alice is the most... supportive." He frowned as he spoke.
"And the others?" I asked timidly. "What are they?"
His brow puckered for a brief moment. "Incredulous, for the most part."
I peeked quickly behind me at his family. They sat staring off in different directions, exactly the same as the first time I'd seen them. Only now they were four; their beautiful, bronze-haired brother sat across from me, his golden eyes troubled.
"They don't like me," I guessed.
"That's not it," he disagreed, but his eyes were too innocent. "They don't understand why I can't leave you alone."
I grimanced. "Neither do I, for that matter."
Edward shook his head slowly, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling before he met my gaze again. "I told you - you don't see yourself clearly at all. You're not like anyone I've ever known. You fascinate me."
I glared at him, sure he was teasing now.
He smiled as he deciphered my expression. "Having the advantages I do," he murmured, touching his forehead discreetly, "I have a better than average grasp of human nature. People are predictable. But you... you never do what I expect. you always take me by surprise."
I looked away, my eyes wandering back to his family, embarrassed and dissatisfied. His words made me feel like a science experiment. I wanted to laugh at myself for expecting anything else.
"That part is easy enough to explain," he continued. I felt his eyes on my face but I couldn't look at him yet, afraid he might read the chagrin in my eyes. "But there's more... and it's not easy to put into words - "
I was still staring at the Cullens while he spoke. Suddenly Rosalie, his blond and breathtaking sister, turned to look at me. No, not to look - to glare, with dark, cold eyes. I wanted to look away, but her gaze held me until Edward broke off mid-sentence and made and angry noise under his breath. It was almost a hiss.
Rosalie turned her head, and I was relieved to be free. I looked back at Edward - and I knew he could see the confusion and fear that widened my eyes.
His face was tight as he explained. "I'm sorry about that. She's just worried. You see... it's dangerous for more than just me if, after spending so much time with you publicly..." He looked down.
"If this ends... badly." He dropped his head into his hands, as he had that night in Port Angeles. His anguish was plain; I yearned to comfort him, but I was at a loss to know how. y hand reached toward him involuntaryily; quickly, though, I dropped it to the table, fearing that my touch would only make things worse. I realized slowly that his words should frighten me. I waited for that fear to come, but all I could seem to feel was an ache for his pain.
And frustration - frustration that Rosalie had interrupted whatever he was going to say. I didn't know how to bring it up again. He still had his head in his hands.
I tried to speak in a normal voice. "And you have to leave now?"
"Yes." He raised his face; it was serious for a moment, and then his mood shifted and he smiled. "It's probably for the best. We still have fifteen minutes of that wretched movie left to endure in Biology - I don't think I could take any more."
I started. Alice - her short, inky hair in a halo of spiky disarray sround her exquisite, elfin face - was suddenly standing behind his shoulder. Her slight frame was willowy, graceful even in absolute stillness.
He greeted her without looking away from me. "Alice."
"Edward," she answered, her high soprano voice almost as attractive as his.
"Alice, Bella - Bella, Alice," he introduced us, gesturing casually with his hand, a wry smile on his face.
"Hello, Bella." Her briliant obsidian eyes were unreadable, but her smile was friendly. "It's nice to finally meet you."
Edward flashed a dark look at her.
"Hi, Alice," I murmured shyly.
"Are you ready?" she asked him.
His voice was aloof. "Nearly. I'll meet you at the car."
She left without another word; her walk was so fluid, so sinuous that I felt a sharp pang of jealousy.
"Should I say 'have fun', or is that the wrong sentiment?" I asked turning my back to him.
"No, 'have fun' workd as well as anything." He grinned.
"Have fun, then." I worked to sound wholehearted. Of course I didn't fool him.
"I'll try." He still grinned. "And you try to be safe, please."
"Safe in Forks - what a challenge."
"For you it is a challenge." His jaw hardened. "Promise."
"I promise to try to be safe," I recited. "I'll do the laundry tonight - that ought to be fraught with peril."
"Don't fall in," he mocked.
"I'll do my best."
He stood then, and I rose, too.
"I'll see you tomorrow," I sighed.
"It seems like a long time to you, doesn't it?" he mused.
I nodded glumly.
"I'll be there in the morning," he promised, smiling his crooked smile. He reached across the table to touch my face, lightly brushing along my cheekbone again. Then he turned and walked away. I stared after him until he was gone.