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21. FIRST HUNT "The window?" I asked, staring two stories down. I'd never really been afraid of heights per se, but being able to see all the details with such clarity made the prospect less appealing. The angles of the rocks below were sharper than I would have imagined them. Edward smiled. "It's the most convenient exit. If you're frightened, I can carry you." "We have all eternity, and you're worried about the time it would take to walk to the back door?" He frowned slightly. "Renesmee and Jacob are downstairs___" "Oh." Right. I was the monster now. I had to keep away from scents that might trigger my wild side. From the people that I loved in particular. Even the ones I didn't really know yet. "Is Renesmee... okay... with Jacob there?" I whispered. I realized belatedly that it must have been Jacob's heart I'd heard below. I listened hard again, but I could only hear the one steady pulse. "He doesn't like her much." Edward's lips tightened in an odd way. "Trust me, she is perfectly safe. I know exactly what Jacob is thinking." "Of course," I murmured, and looked at the ground again. "Stalling?" he challenged. "A little. I don't know how...." And I was very conscious of my family behind me, watching silently. Mostly silently. Emmett had already chuckled under his breath once. One mistake, and he'd be rolling on the floor. Then the jokes about the world's only clumsy vampire would start.... Also, this dress —2—that Alice must have put me in sometime when I was too lost in the burning to notice—2—was not what I would have picked out for either jumping or hunting. Tightly fitted ice-blue silk? What did she think I would need it for? Was there a cocktail party later? "Watch me," Edward said. And then, very casually, he stepped out of the tall, open window and fell. I watched carefully, analyzing the angle at which he bent his knees to absorb the impact. The sound of his landing was very low ——a muted thud that could have been a door softly closed, or a book gently laid on a table. It didn't look hard. Clenching my teeth as I concentrated, I tried to copy his casual step into empty air. Ha! The ground seemed to move toward me so slowly that it was nothing at all to place my feet —2—what shoes had Alice put me in? Stilettos? She'd lost her mind——to place my silly shoes exactly right so that landing was no different than stepping one foot forward on a flat surface. I absorbed the impact in the balls of my feet, not wanting to snap off the thin heels. My landing seemed just as quiet as his. I grinned at him. "Right. Easy." He smiled back. "Bella?" "Yes?" "That was quite graceful ——even for a vampire." I considered that for a moment, and then I beamed. If he'd just been saying that, then Emmett would have laughed. No one found his remark humorous, so it must have been true. It was the first time anyone had ever applied the word graceful'to me in my entire life... or, well, existence anyway. "T/?an/cyou,"i told him. And then I hooked the silver satin shoes off my feet one by one and lobbed them together back through the open window. A little too hard, maybe, but I heard someone catch them before they could damage the paneling. Alice grumbled, "Her fashion sense hasn't improved as much as her balance." Edward took my hand ——I couldn't stop marveling at the smoothness, the comfortable temperature of his skin—u—and darted through the backyard to the edge of the river. I went along with him effortlessly. Everything physical seemed very simple. "Are we swimming?" I asked him when we stopped beside the water. "And ruin your pretty dress? No. We're jumping." I pursed my lips, considering. The river was about fifty yards wide here. "You first," I said. He touched my cheek, took two quick backward strides, and then ran back those two steps, launching himself from a flat stone firmly embedded in the riverbank. I studied the flash of movement as he arced over the water, finally turning a somersault just before he disappeared into the thick trees on the other side of the river. "Show-off," I muttered, and heard his invisible laugh. I backed up five paces, just in case, and took a deep breath. Suddenly, I was anxious again. Not about falling or getting hurt —2—I was more worried about the forest getting hurt. It had come on slowly, but I could feel it now ——the raw, massive strength thrilling in my limbs. I was suddenly sure that if I wanted to tunnel under the river, to claw or beat my way straight through the bedrock, it wouldn't take me very long. The objects around me——the trees, the shrubs, the rocks... the house——had all begun to look very fragile. Hoping very much that Esme was not particularly fond of any specific trees across the river, I began my first stride. And then stopped when the tight satin split six inches up my thigh. Alice! Well, Alice always seemed to treat clothes as if they were disposable and meant for one-time usage, so she shouldn't mind this. I bent to carefully grasp the hem at the undamaged right seam between my fingers and, exerting the tiniest amount of pressure possible, I ripped the dress open to the top of my thigh. Then I fixed the other side to match. Much better. I could hear the muffled laughter in the house, and even the sound of someone gritting her teeth. The laughter came from upstairs and down, and I very easily recognized the much different, rough, throaty chuckle from the first floor. So Jacob was watching, too? I couldn't imagine what he was thinking now, or what he was still doing here. I'd envisioned our reunion ——if he could ever forgive me—p—taking place far in the future, when I was more stable, and time had healed the wounds I'd inflicted in his heart. I didn't turn to look at him now, wary of my mood swings. It wouldn't be good to let any emotion take too strong a hold on my frame of mind. Jasper's fears had me on edge, too. I had to hunt before I dealt with anything else. I tried to forget everything else so I could concentrate. "Bella?" Edward called from the woods, his voice moving closer. "Do you want to watch again?" But I remembered everything perfectly, of course, and I didn't want to give Emmett a reason to find more humor in my education. This was physical ——it should be instinctive. So I took a deep breath and ran for the river. Unhindered by my skirt, it took only one long bound to reach the water's edge. Just an eighty-fourth of a second, and yet it was plenty of time ——my eyes and my mind moved so quickly that one step was enough. It was simple to position my right foot just so against the flat stone and exert the adequate pressure to send my body wheeling up into the air. I was paying more attention to aim than force, and I erred on the amount of power necessary——but at least I didn't err on the side that would have gotten me wet. The fifty yard width was slightly too easy a distance___ It was a strange, giddy, electrifying thing, but a short thing. An entire second had yet to pass, and I was across. I was expecting the close-packed trees to be a problem, but they were surprisingly helpful. It was a simple matter to reach out with one sure hand as I fell back toward the earth again deep inside the forest and catch myself on a convenient branch; I swung lightly from the limb and landed on my toes, still fifteen feet from the ground on the wide bough of a Sitka spruce. It was fabulous. Over the sound of my peals of delighted laughter, I could hear Edward racing to find me. My jump had been twice as long as his. When he reached my tree, his eyes were wide. I leaped nimbly from the branch to his side, soundlessly landing again on the balls of my feet. "Was that good?" I wondered, my breathing accelerated with excitement. "Very good." He smiled approvingly, but his casual tone didn't match the surprised expression in his eyes. "Can we do it again?" "Focus, Bella —i—we're on a hunting trip." "Oh, right." I nodded. "Hunting." "Follow me... if you can." He grinned, his expression suddenly taunting, and broke into a run. He was faster than me. I couldn't imagine how he moved his legs with such blinding speed, but it was beyond me. However, I was stronger, and every stride of mine matched the length of three of his. And so I flew with him through the living green web, by his side, not following at all. As I ran, I couldn't help laughing quietly at the thrill of it; the laughter neither slowed me nor upset my focus. I could finally understand why Edward never hit the trees when he ran ——a question that had always been a mystery to me. It was a peculiar sensation, the balance between the speed and the clarity. For, while I rocketed over, under, and through the thick jade maze at a rate that should have reduced everything around me to a streaky green blur, I could plainly see each tiny leaf on all the small branches of every insignificant shrub that I passed. The wind of my speed blew my hair and my torn dress out behind me, and, though I knew it shouldn't, it felt warm against my skin. Just as the rough forest floor shouldn't feel like velvet beneath my bare soles, and the limbs that whipped against my skin shouldn't feel like caressing feathers. The forest was much more alive than I'd ever known —p—small creatures whose existence I'd never guessed at teemed in the leaves around me. They all grew silent after we passed, their breath quickening in fear. The animals had a much wiser reaction to our scent than humans seemed to. Certainly, it'd had the opposite effect on me. I kept waiting to feel winded, but my breath came effortlessly. I waited for the burn to begin in my muscles, but my strength only seemed to increase as I grew accustomed to my stride. My leaping bounds stretched longer, and soon he was trying to keep up with me. I laughed again, exultant, when I heard him falling behind. My naked feet touched the ground so infrequently now it felt more like flying than running. "Belial he called dryly, his voice even, lazy. I could hear nothing else; he had stopped. I briefly considered mutiny. But, with a sigh, I whirled and skipped lightly to his side, some hundred yards back. I looked at him expectantly. He was smiling, with one eyebrow raised. He was so beautiful that I could only stare. "Did you want to stay in the country?" he asked, amused. "Or were you planning to continue on to Canada this afternoon?" "This is fine," I agreed, concentrating less on what he was saying and more on the mesmerizing way his lips moved when he spoke. It was hard not to become sidetracked with everything fresh in my strong new eyes. "What are we hunting?" "Elk. I thought something easy for your first time ..." He trailed off when my eyes narrowed at the word easy. But I wasn't going to argue; I was too thirsty. As soon as I'd started to think about the dry burn in my throat, it was all I could think about. Definitely getting worse. My mouth felt like four o'clock on a June afternoon in Death Valley. "Where?" I asked, scanning the trees impatiently. Now that I had given the thirst my attention, it seemed to taint every other thought in my head, leaking into the more pleasant thoughts of running and Edward's lips and kissing and... scorching thirst. I couldn't get away from it. "Hold still for a minute," he said, putting his hands lightly on my shoulders. The urgency of my thirst receded momentarily at his touch. "Now close your eyes," he murmured. When I obeyed, he raised his hands to my face, stroking my cheekbones. I felt my breathing speed and waited briefly again for the blush that wouldn't come. "Listen," Edward instructed. "What do you hear?" Everything, I could have said; his perfect voice, his breath, his lips brushing together as he spoke, the whisper of birds preening their feathers in the treetops, their fluttering heartbeats, the maple leaves scraping together, the faint clicking of ants following each other in a long line up the bark of the nearest tree. But I knew he meant something specific, so I let my ears range outward, seeking something different than the small hum of life that surrounded me. There was an open space near us —u—the wind had a different sound across the exposed grass—u—and a small creek, with a rocky bed. And there, near the noise of the water, was the splash of lapping tongues, the loud thudding of heavy hearts, pumping thick streams of blood___ It felt like the sides of my throat had sucked closed. "By the creek, to the northeast?" I asked, my eyes still shut. "Yes." His tone was approving. "Now... wait for the breeze again and... what do you smell?" Mostly him —2—his strange honey-lilac-and-sun perfume. But also the rich, earthy smell of rot and moss, the resin in the evergreens, the warm, almost nutty aroma of the small rodents cowering beneath the tree roots. And then, reaching out again, the clean smell of the water, which was surprisingly unappealing despite my thirst. I focused toward the water and found the scent that must have gone with the lapping noise and the pounding heart. Another warm smell, rich and tangy, stronger than the others. And yet nearly as unappealing as the brook. I wrinkled my nose. He chuckled. "I know —4—it takes some getting used to." "Three?" I guessed. "Five. There are two more in the trees behind them." "What do I do now?" His voice sounded like he was smiling. "What do you feel like doing?" I thought about that, my eyes still shut as I listened and breathed in the scent. Another bout of baking thirst intruded on my awareness, and suddenly the warm, tangy odor wasn't quite so objectionable. At least it would be something hot and wet in my desiccated mouth. My eyes snapped open. "Don't think about it," he suggested as he lifted his hands off my face and took a step back. "Just follow your instincts." I let myself drift with the scent, barely aware of my movement as I ghosted down the incline to the narrow meadow where the stream flowed. My body shifted forward automatically into a low crouch as I hesitated at the fern-fringed edge of the trees. I could see a big buck, two dozen antler points crowning his head, at the stream's edge, and the shadow-spotted shapes of the four others heading eastward into forest at a leisurely pace. I centered myself around the scent of the male, the hot spot in his shaggy neck where the warmth pulsed strongest. Only thirty yards ——two or three bounds——between us. i tensed myself for the first leap. But as my muscles bunched in preparation, the wind shifted, blowing stronger now, and from the south. I didn't stop to think, hurtling out of the trees in a path perpendicular to my original plan, scaring the elk into the forest, racing after a new fragrance so attractive that there wasn't a choice. It was compulsory. The scent ruled completely. I was single-minded as I traced it, aware only of the thirst and the smell that promised to quench it. The thirst got worse, so painful now that it confused all my other thoughts and began to remind me of the burn of venom in my veins. There was only one thing that had any chance of penetrating my focus now, an instinct more powerful, more basic than the need to quench the fire ——it was the instinct to protect myself from danger. Self-preservation. I was suddenly alert to the fact that I was being followed. The pull of the irresistible scent warred with the impulse to turn and defend my hunt. A bubble of sound built in my chest, my lips pulled back of their own accord to expose my teeth in warning. My feet slowed, the need to protect my back struggling against the desire to quench my thirst. And then I could hear my pursuer gaining, and defense won. As I spun, the rising sound ripped its way up my throat and out. The feral snarl, coming from my own mouth, was so unexpected that it brought me up short. It unsettled me, and it cleared my head for a second ——the thirst-driven haze receded, though the thirst burned on. The wind shifted, blowing the smell of wet earth and coming rain across my face, further freeing me from the other scent's fiery grip ——a scent so delicious it could only be human. Edward hesitated a few feet away, his arms raised as if to embrace me —n—or restrain me. His face was intent and cautious as I froze, horrified. I realized that I had been about to attack him. With a hard jerk, I straightened out of my defensive crouch. I held my breath as I refocused, fearing the power of the fragrance swirling up from the south. He could see reason return to my face, and he took a step toward me, lowering his arms. "I have to get away from here," I spit through my teeth, using the breath I had. Shock crossed his face. "Can you leave?" I didn't have time to ask him what he meant by that. I knew the ability to think clearly would last only as long as I could stop myself from thinking of —i— I burst into a run again, a flat-out sprint straight north, concentrating solely on the uncomfortable feeling of sensory deprivation that seemed to be my body's only response to the lack of air. My one goal was to run far enough away that the scent behind me would be completely lost. Impossible to find, even if I changed my mind... Once again, I was aware of being followed, but I was sane this time. I fought the instinct to breathe —2—to use the flavors in the air to be sure it was Edward. I didn't have to fight long; though I was running faster than I ever had before, shooting like a comet through the straightest path I could find in the trees; Edward caught up with me after a short minute. A new thought occurred to me, and I stopped dead, my feet planted. I was sure it must be safe here, but I held my breath just in case. Edward blew past me, surprised by my sudden freeze. He wheeled around and was at my side in a second. He put his hands on my shoulders and stared into my eyes, shock still the dominant emotion on his face. "How did you do that?" he demanded. "You let me beat you before, didn't you?" I demanded back, ignoring his question. And I'd thought I'd been doing so well! When I opened my mouth, I could taste the air —2—it was unpolluted now, with no trace of the compelling perfume to torment my thirst. I took a cautious breath. He shrugged and shook his head, refusing to be deflected. "Bella, how did you do it?" "Run away? I held my breath." "But how did you stop hunting?" "When you came up behind me... I'm so sorry about that." "Why are you apologizing to me? I'm the one who was horribly careless. I assumed no one would be so far from the trails, but I should have checked first. Such a stupid mistake! You have nothing to apologize for." "But I growled at you!" I was still horrified that I was physically capable of such blasphemy. "Of course you did. That's only natural. But I can't understand how you ran away." "What else could I do?" I asked. His attitude confused me —2—what did he want to have happened? "It might have been someone I know!" He startled me, suddenly bursting into a spasm of loud laughter, throwing his head back and letting the sound echo off the trees. "Why are you laughing at me?" He stopped at once, and I could see he was wary again. Keep it under control, I thought to myself. I had to watch my temper. Just like I was a young werewolf rather than a vampire. "I'm not laughing at you, Bella. I'm laughing because I am in shock. And I am in shock because I am completely amazed." "Why?" "You shouldn't be able to do any of this. You shouldn't be so... so rational. You shouldn't be able to stand here discussing this with me calmly and coolly. And, much more than any of that, you should not have been able to break off mid-hunt with the scent of human blood in the air. Even mature vampires have difficulty with that —u—we're always very careful of where we hunt so as not to put ourselves in the path of temptation. Bella, you're behaving like you're decades rather than days old." "Oh." But I'd known it was going to be hard. That was why I'd been so on guard. I'd been expecting it to be difficult. He put his hands on my face again, and his eyes were full of wonder. "What wouldn't I give to be able to see into your mind for just this one moment." Such powerful emotions. I'd been prepared for the thirst part, but not this. I'd been so sure it wouldn't be the same when he touched me. Well, truthfully, it wasn't the same. It was stronger. I reached up to trace the planes of his face; my fingers lingered on his lips. "I thought I wouldn't feel this way for a long time?" My uncertainty made the words a question. "But I still want you." He blinked in shock. "How can you even concentrate on that? Aren't you unbearably thirsty?" Of course I was now, now that he'd brought it up again! I tried to swallow and then sighed, closing my eyes like I had before to help me concentrate. I let my senses range out around me, tensed this time in case of another onslaught of the delicious taboo scent. Edward dropped his hands, not even breathing while I listened farther and farther out into the web of green life, sifting through the scents and sounds for something not totally repellant to my thirst. There was a hint of something different, a faint trail to the east___ My eyes flashed open, but my focus was still on sharper senses as I turned and darted silently eastward. The ground sloped steeply upward almost at once, and I ran in a hunting crouch, close to the ground, taking to the trees when that was easier. I sensed rather than heard Edward with me, flowing quietly through the woods, letting me lead. The vegetation thinned as we climbed higher; the scent of pitch and resin grew more powerful, as did the trail I followed ——it was a warm scent, sharper than the smell of the elk and more appealing. A few seconds more and I could hear the muted padding of immense feet, so much subtler than the crunch of hooves. The sound was up—2—in the branches rather than on the ground. Automatically I darted into the boughs as well, gaining the strategic higher position, halfway up a towering silver fir. The soft thud of paws continued stealthily beneath me now; the rich scent was very close. My eyes pinpointed the movement linked with the sound, and I saw the tawny hide of the great cat slinking along the wide branch of a spruce just down and to the left of my perch. He was big ——easily four times my mass. His eyes were intent on the ground beneath; the cat hunted, too. I caught the smell of something smaller, bland next to the aroma of my prey, cowering in brush below the tree. The lion's tail twitched spasmodically as he prepared to spring. With a light bound, I sailed through the air and landed on the lion's branch. He felt the shiver of the wood and whirled, shrieking surprise and defiance. He clawed the space between us, his eyes bright with fury. Half-crazed with thirst, I ignored the exposed fangs and the hooked claws and launched myself at him, knocking us both to the forest floor. It wasn't much of a fight. His raking claws could have been caressing fingers for all the impact they had on my skin. His teeth could find no purchase against my shoulder or my throat. His weight was nothing. My teeth unerringly sought his throat, and his instinctive resistance was pitifully feeble against my strength. My jaws locked easily over the precise point where the heat flow concentrated. It was effortless as biting into butter. My teeth were steel razors; they cut through the fur and fat and sinews like they weren't there. The flavor was wrong, but the blood was hot and wet and it soothed the ragged, itching thirst as I drank in an eager rush. The cat's struggles grew more and more feeble, and his screams choked off with a gurgle. The warmth of the blood radiated throughout my whole body, heating even my fingertips and toes. The lion was finished before I was. The thirst flared again when he ran dry, and I shoved his carcass off my body in disgust. How could I still be thirsty after all that? I wrenched myself erect in one quick move. Standing, I realized I was a bit of a mess. I wiped my face off on the back of my arm and tried to fix the dress. The claws that had been so ineffectual against my skin had had more success with the thin satin. "Hmm," Edward said. I looked up to see him leaning casually against a tree trunk, watching me with a thoughtful look on his face. "I guess I could have done that better." I was covered in dirt, my hair knotted, my dress bloodstained and hanging in tatters. Edward didn't come home from hunting trips looking like this. "You did perfectly fine," he assured me. "It's just that... it was much more difficult for me to watch than it should have been." I raised my eyebrows, confused. "It goes against the grain," he explained, "letting you wrestle with lions. I was having an anxiety attack the whole time." "Silly." "I know. Old habits die hard. I like the improvements to your dress, though." If I could have blushed, I would have. I changed the subject. "Why am I still thirsty?" "Because you're young." I sighed. "And I don't suppose there are any other mountain lions nearby." "Plenty of deer, though." I made a face. "They don't smell as good." "Herbivores. The meat-eaters smell more like humans," he explained. "Not that much like humans," I disagreed, trying not to remember. "We could go back," he said solemnly, but there was a teasing light in his eye. "Whoever it was out there, if they were men, they probably wouldn't even mind death if you were the one delivering it." His gaze ran over my ravaged dress again. "In fact, they would think they were already dead and gone to heaven the moment they saw you." I rolled my eyes and snorted. "Let's go hunt some stinking herbivores." We found a large herd of mule deer as we ran back toward home. He hunted with me this time, now that I'd gotten the hang of it. I brought down a large buck, making nearly as much of a mess as I had with the lion. He'd finished with two before I was done with the first, not a hair ruffled, not a spot on his white shirt. We chased the scattered and terrified herd, but instead of feeding again, this time I watched carefully to see how he was able to hunt so neatly. All the times that I had wished that Edward would not have to leave me behind when he hunted, I had secretly been just a little relieved. Because I was sure that seeing this would be frightening. Horrifying. That seeing him hunt would finally make him look like a vampire to me. Of course, it was much different from this perspective, as a vampire myself. But I doubted that even my human eyes would have missed the beauty here. It was a surprisingly sensual experience to observe Edward hunting. His smooth spring was like the sinuous strike of a snake; his hands were so sure, so strong, so completely inescapable; his full lips were perfect as they parted gracefully over his gleaming teeth. He was glorious. I felt a sudden jolt of both pride and desire. He was mine. Nothing could ever separate him from me now. I was too strong to be torn from his side. He was very quick. He turned to me and gazed curiously at my gloating expression. "No longer thirsty?" he asked. I shrugged. "You distracted me. You're much better at it than I am." "Centuries of practice." He smiled. His eyes were a disconcertingly lovely shade of honey gold now. "Just one," I corrected him. He laughed. "Are you done for today? Or did you want to continue?" "Done, I think." I felt very full, sort of sloshy, even. I wasn't sure how much more liquid would fit into my body. But the burn in my throat was only muted. Then again, I'd known that thirst was just an inescapable part of this life. And worth it. I felt in control. Perhaps my sense of security was false, but I did feel pretty good about not killing anyone today. If I could resist totally human strangers, wouldn't I be able to handle the werewolf and a half-vampire child that I loved? "I want to see Renesmee," I said. Now that my thirst was tamed (if nothing close to erased), my earlier worries were hard to forget. I wanted to reconcile the stranger who was my daughter with the creature I'd loved three days ago. It was so odd, so wrong not to have her inside me still. Abruptly, I felt empty and uneasy. He held out his hand to me. I took it, and his skin felt warmer than before. His cheek was faintly flushed, the shadows under his eyes all but vanished. I was unable to resist stroking his face again. And again. I sort of forgot that I was waiting for a response to my request as I stared into his shimmering gold eyes. It was almost as hard as it had been to turn away from the scent of human blood, but I somehow kept the need to be careful firmly in my head as I stretched up on my toes and wrapped my arms around him. Gently. He was not so hesitant in his movements; his arms locked around my waist and pulled me tight against his body. His lips crushed down on mine, but they felt soft. My lips no longer shaped themselves around his; they held their own. Like before, it was as if the touch of his skin, his lips, his hands, was sinking right through my smooth, hard skin and into my new bones. To the very core of my body. I hadn't imagined that I could love him more than I had. My old mind hadn't been capable of holding this much love. My old heart had not been strong enough to bear it. Maybe this was the part of me that I'd brought forward to be intensified in my new life. Like Carlisle's compassion and Esme's devotion. I would probably never be able to do anything interesting or special like Edward, Alice, and Jasper could do. Maybe I would just love Edward more than anyone in the history of the world had ever loved anyone else. I could live with that. I remembered parts of this ——twisting my fingers in his hair, tracing the planes of his chest——but other parts were so new. He was new. It was an entirely different experience with Edward kissing me so fearlessly, so forcefully. I responded to his intensity, and then suddenly we were falling. "Oops," I said, and he laughed underneath me. "I didn't mean to tackle you like that. Are you okay?" He stroked my face. "Slightly better than okay" And then a perplexed expression crossed his face. "Renesmee?" he asked uncertainly, trying to ascertain what I wanted most in this moment. A very difficult question to answer, because I wanted so many things at the same time. I could tell that he wasn't exactly averse to procrastinating our return trip, and it was hard to think about much besides his skin on mine —4—there really wasn't that much left of the dress. But my memory of Renesmee, before and after her birth, was becoming more and more dreamlike to me. More unlikely. All my memories of her were human memories; an aura of artificiality clung to them. Nothing seemed real that I hadn't seen with these eyes, touched with these hands. Every minute, the reality of that little stranger slipped further away. "Renesmee," I agreed, rueful, and I whipped back up onto my feet, pulling him with me.

22. PROMISED Thinking of Renesmee brought her to that center-stage place in my strange, new, and roomy but distractible mind. So many questions. "Tell me about her," i insisted as he took my hand. Being linked barely slowed us. "She's like nothing else in the world," he told me, and the sound of an almost religious devotion was there again in his voice. I felt a sharp pang of jealousy over this stranger. He knew her and I did not. It wasn't fair. "How much is she like you? How much like me? Or like I was, anyway." "It seems a fairly even divide." "She was warm-blooded," I remembered. "Yes. She has a heartbeat, though it runs a little bit faster than a human's. Her temperature is a little bit hotter than usual, too. She sleeps." "Really?" "Quite well for a newborn. The only parents in the world who don't need sleep, and our child already sleeps through the night." He chuckled. I liked the way he said our child. The words made her more real. "She has exactly your color eyes —h—so that didn't get lost, after all." He smiled at me. "They're so beautiful." "And the vampire parts?" I asked. "Her skin seems about as impenetrable as ours. Not that anyone would dream of testing that." I blinked at him, a little shocked. "Of course no one would," he assured me again. "Her diet... well, she prefers to drink blood. Carlisle continues to try to persuade her to drink some baby formula, too, but she doesn't have much patience with it. Can't say that I blame her ——nasty-smelling stuff, even for human food." I gaped openly at him now. He made it sound like they were having conversations. "Persuade her?" "She's intelligent, shockingly so, and progressing at an immense pace. Though she doesn't speak —2—yet——she communicates quite effectively." "Doesn't. Speak. Yet" He slowed our pace further, letting me absorb this. "What do you mean, she communicates effectively?" I demanded. "I think it will be easier for you to... see for yourself. It's rather difficult to describe." I considered that. I knew there was a lot that I needed to see for myself before it would be real. I wasn't sure how much more I was ready for, so I changed the subject. "Why is Jacob still here?" I asked. "How can he stand it? Why should he?" My ringing voice trembled a little. "Why should he have to suffer more?" "Jacob isn't suffering," he said in a strange new tone. "Though I might be willing to change his condition," Edward added through his teeth. "Edward!" I hissed, yanking him to a stop (and feeling a little thrill of smugness that I was able to do it). "How can you say that? Jacob has given up everything to protect us! What I've put him through ——!" I cringed at the dim memory of shame and guilt. It seemed odd now that I had needed him so much then. That sense of absence without him near had vanished; it must have been a human weakness. "You'll see exactly how I can say that," Edward muttered. "I promised him that I would let him explain, but I doubt you'll see it much differently than I do. Of course, I'm often wrong about your thoughts, aren't I?" He pursed his lips and eyed me. "Explain what?" Edward shook his head. "I promised. Though I don't know if I really owe him anything at all anymore. . . ." His teeth ground together. "Edward, I don't understand." Frustration and indignation took over my head. He stroked my cheek and then smiled gently when my face smoothed out in response, desire momentarily overruling annoyance. "It's harder than you make it look, I know. I remember." "I don't like feeling confused." "I know. And so let's get you home, so that you can see it all for yourself." His eyes ran over the remains of my dress as he spoke of going home, and he frowned. "Hmm." After a half second of thought, he unbuttoned his white shirt and held it out for me to put my arms through. "That bad?" He grinned. I slipped my arms into his sleeves and then buttoned it swiftly over my ragged bodice. Of course, that left him without a shirt, and it was impossible not to find that distracting. 'Til race you," I said, and then cautioned, "no throwing the game this time!" He dropped my hand and grinned. "On your mark ..." Finding my way to my new home was simpler than walking down Charlie's street to my old one. Our scent left a clear and easy trail to follow, even running as fast as I could. Edward had me beat till we hit the river. I took a chance and made my leap early, trying to use my extra strength to win. "Ha!" I exulted when I heard my feet touch the grass first. Listening for his landing, I heard something I did not expect. Something loud and much too close. A thudding heart. Edward was beside me in the same second, his hands clamped down hard on the tops of my arms. "Don't breathe," he cautioned me urgently. I tried not to panic as I froze mid-breath. My eyes were the only things that moved, wheeling instinctively to find the source of the sound. Jacob stood at the line where the forest touched the Cullens' lawn, his arms folded across his body, his jaw clenched tight. Invisible in the woods behind him, I heard now two larger hearts, and the faint crush of bracken under huge, pacing paws. "Carefully, Jacob," Edward said. A snarl from the forest echoed the concern in his voice. "Maybe this isn't the best way ——" "You think it would be better to let her near the baby first?" Jacob interrupted. "It's safer to see how Bella does with me. I heal fast." This was a test? To see if I could not kill Jacob before I tried to not kill Renesmee? I felt sick in the strangest way ——it had nothing to do with my stomach, only my mind. Was this Edward's idea? I glanced at his face anxiously; Edward seemed to deliberate for a moment, and then his expression twisted from concern into something else. He shrugged, and there was an undercurrent of hostility in his voice when he said, "It's your neck, I guess." The growl from the forest was furious this time; Leah, I had no doubt. What was with Edward? After all that we'd been through, shouldn't he have been able to feel some kindness for my best friend? I'd thought —2—maybe foolishly—2—that Edward was sort of Jacob's friend now, too. I must have misread them. But what was Jacob doing? Why would he offer himself as a test to protect Renesmee? It didn't make any sense to me. Even if our friendship had survived... And as my eyes met Jacob's now, I thought that maybe it had. He still looked like my best friend. But he wasn't the one who had changed. What did I look like to him? Then he smiled his familiar smile, the smile of a kindred spirit, and I was sure our friendship was intact. It was just like before, when we were hanging out in his homemade garage, just two friends killing time. Easy and normal. Again, I noticed that the strange need I'd felt for him before I'd changed was completely gone. He was just my friend, the way it was supposed to be. It still made no sense what he was doing now, though. Was he really so selfless that he would try to protect me —2—with his own life—2—from doing something in an uncontrolled split second that I would regret in agony forever? That went way beyond simply tolerating what I had become, or miraculously managing to stay my friend. Jacob was one of the best people I knew, but this seemed like too much to accept from anyone. His grin widened, and he shuddered slightly. "I gotta say it, Bells. You're a freak show." I grinned back, falling easily into the old pattern. This was a side of him I understood. Edward growled. "Watch yourself, mongrel." The wind blew from behind me and I quickly filled my lungs with the safe air so I could speak. "No, he's right. The eyes are really something, aren't they?" "Super-creepy. But it's not as bad as I thought it would be." "Gee ——thanks for the amazing compliment!" He rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean. You still look like you ——sort of. Maybe it's not the look so much as... you are Bella. I didn't think it would feel like you were still here." He smiled at me again without a trace of bitterness or resentment anywhere in his face. Then he chuckled and said, "Anyway, I guess I'll get used to the eyes soon enough." "You will?" I asked, confused. It was wonderful that we were still friends, but it wasn't like we'd be spending much time together. The strangest look crossed his face, erasing the smile. It was almost... guilty? Then his eyes shifted to Edward. "Thanks," he said. "I didn't know if you'd be able to keep it from her, promise or not. Usually, you just give her everything she wants." "Maybe I'm hoping she'll get irritated and rip your head off," Edward suggested. Jacob snorted. "What's going on? Are you two keeping secrets from me?" I demanded, incredulous. "I'll explain later," Jacob said self-consciously —u—like he didn't really plan on it. Then he changed the subject. "First, let's get this show on the road." His grin was a challenge now as he started slowly forward. There was a whine of protest behind him, and then Leah's gray body slid out of the trees behind him. The taller, sandy-colored Seth was right behind her. "Cool it, guys," Jacob said. "Stay out of this." I was glad they didn't listen to him but only followed after him a little more slowly. The wind was still now; it wouldn't blow his scent away from me. He got close enough that I could feel the heat of his body in the air between us. My throat burned in response. "C'mon, Bells. Do your worst." Leah hissed. I didn't want to breathe. It wasn't right to take such dangerous advantage of Jacob, no matter if he was the one offering. But I couldn't get away from the logic. How else could I be sure that I wouldn't hurt Renesmee? Tm getting older here, Bella," Jacob taunted. "Okay, not technically, but you get the idea. Go on, take a whiff." "Hold on to me," I said to Edward, cringing back into his chest. His hands tightened on my arms. I locked my muscles in place, hoping I could keep them frozen. I resolved that I would do at least as well as I had on the hunt. Worst-case scenario, I would stop breathing and run for it. Nervously, I took a tiny breath in through my nose, braced for anything. It hurt a little, but my throat was already burning dully anyway. Jacob didn't smell that much more human than the mountain lion. There was an animal edge to his blood that instantly repelled. Though the loud, wet sound of his heart was appealing, the scent that went with it made my nose wrinkle. It was actually easier with the smell to temper my reaction to the sound and heat of his pulsing blood. I took another breath and relaxed. "Huh. I can see what everyone's been going on about. You stink, Jacob." Edward burst into laughter; his hands slipped from my shoulders to wrap around my waist. Seth barked a low chortle in harmony with Edward; he came a little closer while Leah retreated several paces. And then I was aware of another audience when I heard Emmett's low, distinct guffaw, muffled a little by the glass wall between us. "Look who's talking," Jacob said, theatrically plugging his nose. His face didn't pucker at all while Edward embraced me, not even when Edward composed himself and whispered "I love you" in my ear. Jacob just kept grinning. This made me feel hopeful that things were going to be right between us, the way they hadn't been for so long now. Maybe now I could truly be his friend, since I disgusted him enough physically that he couldn't love me the same way as before. Maybe that was all that was needed. "Okay, so I passed, right?" I said. "Now are you going to tell me what this big secret is?" Jacob's expression became very nervous. "It's nothing you need to worry about this second___" I heard Emmett chuckle again —p—a sound of anticipation. I would have pressed my point, but as I listened to Emmett, I heard other sounds, too. Seven people breathing. One set of lungs moving more rapidly than the others. Only one heart fluttering like a bird's wings, light and quick. I was totally diverted. My daughter was just on the other side of that thin wall of glass. I couldn't see her ——the light bounced off the reflective windows like a mirror. I could only see myself, looking very strange—d—so white and still——compared to Jacob. Or, compared to Edward, looking exactly right. "Renesmee," I whispered. Stress made me a statue again. Renesmee wasn't going to smell like an animal. Would I put her in danger? "Come and see," Edward murmured. "I know you can handle this." "You'll help me?" I whispered through motionless lips. "Of course I will." "And Emmett and Jasper —2—just in case?" "We'll take care of you, Bella. Don't worry, we'll be ready. None of us would risk Renesmee. I think you'll be surprised at how entirely she's already wrapped us all around her little fingers. She'll be perfectly safe, no matter what." My yearning to see her, to understand the worship in his voice, broke my frozen pose. I took a step forward. And then Jacob was in my way, his face a mask of worry. "Are you sure, bloodsucker?" he demanded of Edward, his voice almost pleading. I'd never heard him speak to Edward that way. "I don't like this. Maybe she should wait ——" "You had your test, Jacob." It was Jacob's test? "But ——," Jacob began. "But nothing," Edward said, suddenly exasperated. "Bella needs to see our daughter. Get out of her way." Jacob shot me an odd, frantic look and then turned and nearly sprinted into the house ahead of us. Edward growled. I couldn't make sense of their confrontation, and I couldn't concentrate on it, either. I could only think about the blurred child in my memory and struggle against the haziness, trying to remember her face exactly. "Shall we?" Edward said, his voice gentle again. I nodded nervously. He took my hand tightly in his and led the way into the house. They waited for me in a smiling line that was both welcoming and defensive. Rosalie was several paces behind the rest of them, near the front door. She was alone until Jacob joined her and then stood in front of her, closer than was normal. There was no sense of comfort in that closeness; both of them seemed to cringe from the proximity. Someone very small was leaning forward out of Rosalie's arms, peering around Jacob. Immediately, she had my absolute attention, my every thought, the way nothing else had owned them since the moment I'd opened my eyes. "I was out just two days?" I gasped, disbelieving. The stranger-child in Rosalie's arms had to be weeks, if not months, old. She was maybe twice the size of the baby in my dim memory, and she seemed to be supporting her own torso easily as she stretched toward me. Her shiny bronze-colored hair fell in ringlets past her shoulders. Her chocolate brown eyes examined me with an interest that was not at all childlike; it was adult, aware and intelligent. She raised one hand, reaching in my direction for a moment, and then reached back to touch Rosalie's throat. If her face had not been astonishing in its beauty and perfection, I wouldn't have believed it was the same child. My child. But Edward was there in her features, and I was there in the color of her eyes and cheeks. Even Charlie had a place in her thick curls, though their color matched Edward's. She must be ours. Impossible, but still true. Seeing this unanticipated little person did not make her more real, though. It only made her more fantastic. Rosalie patted the hand against her neck and murmured, "Yes, that's her." Renesmee's eyes stayed locked on mine. Then, as she had just seconds after her violent birth, she smiled at me. A brilliant flash of tiny, perfect white teeth. Reeling inside, I took a hesitant step toward her. Everyone moved very fast. Emmett and Jasper were right in front of me, shoulder to shoulder, hands ready. Edward gripped me from behind, fingers tight again on the tops of my arms. Even Carlisle and Esme moved to get Emmett's and Jasper's flanks, while Rosalie backed to the door, her arms clutching at Renesmee. Jacob moved, too, keeping his protective stance in front of them. Alice was the only one who held her place. "Oh, give her some credit," she chided them. "She wasn't going to do anything. You'd want a closer look, too." Alice was right. I was in control of myself. I'd been braced for anything —2—for a scent as impossibly insistent as the human smell in the woods. The temptation here was really not comparable. Renesmee's fragrance was perfectly balanced right on the line between the scent of the most beautiful perfume and the scent of the most delicious food. There was enough of the sweet vampire smell to keep the human part from being overwhelming. I could handle it. I was sure. "I'm okay," I promised, patting Edward's hand on my arm. Then I hesitated and added, "Keep close, though, just in case." Jasper's eyes were tight, focused. I knew he was taking in my emotional climate, and I worked on settling into a steady calm. I felt Edward free my arms as he read Jasper's assessment. But, though Jasper was getting it firsthand, he didn't seem as certain. When she heard my voice, the too-aware child struggled in Rosalie's arms, reaching toward me. Somehow, her expression managed to look impatient. "Jazz, Em, let us through. Bella's got this." "Edward, the risk ——," Jasper said. "Minimal. Listen, Jasper ——on the hunt she caught the scent of some hikers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time___" I heard Carlisle suck in a shocked breath. Esme's face was suddenly full of concern mingled with compassion. Jasper's eyes widened, but he nodded just a tiny bit, as if Edward's words answered some question in his head. Jacob's mouth screwed up into a disgusted grimace. Emmett shrugged. Rosalie seemed even less concerned than Emmett as she tried to hold on to the struggling child in her arms. Alice's expression told me that she was not fooled. Her narrowed eyes, focused with burning intensity on my borrowed shirt, seemed more worried about what I'd done to my dress than anything else. "Edward!" Carlisle chastened. "How could you be so irresponsible?" "I know, Carlisle, I know. I was just plain stupid. I should have taken the time to make sure we were in a safe zone before I set her loose." "Edward," I mumbled, embarrassed by the way they stared at me. It was like they were trying to see a brighter red in my eyes. "He's absolutely right to rebuke me, Bella," Edward said with a grin. "I made a huge mistake. The fact that you are stronger than anyone I've ever known doesn't change that." Alice rolled her eyes. "Tasteful joke, Edward." "I wasn't making a joke. I was explaining to Jasper why I know Bella can handle this. It's not my fault everyone jumped to conclusions." "Wait," Jasper gasped. "She didn't hunt the humans?" "She started to," Edward said, clearly enjoying himself. My teeth ground together. "She was entirely focused on the hunt." "What happened?" Carlisle interjected. His eyes were suddenly bright, an amazed smile beginning to form on his face. It reminded me of before, when he'd wanted the details on my transformation experience. The thrill of new information. Edward leaned toward him, animated. "She heard me behind her and reacted defensively. As soon as my pursuit broke into her concentration, she snapped right out of it. I've never seen anything to equal her. She realized at once what was happening, and then... she held her breath and ran away" "Whoa," Emmett murmured. "Seriously?" "He's not telling it right," I muttered, more embarrassed than before. "He left out the part where I growled at him." "Did ya get in a couple of good swipes?" Emmett asked eagerly. "No! Of course not." "No, not really? You really didn't attack him?" "Emmett!" I protested. "Aw, what a waste," Emmett groaned. "And here you're probably the one person who could take him —2—since he can't get in your head to cheat——and you had a perfect excuse, too." He sighed. "I've been dying to see how he'd do without that advantage." I glared at him frostily. "I would never." Jasper's frown caught my attention; he seemed even more disturbed than before. Edward touched his fist lightly to Jasper's shoulder in a mock punch. "You see what I mean?" "It's not natural," Jasper muttered. "She could have turned on you —2—she's only hours old!" Esme scolded, putting her hand against her heart. "Oh, we should have gone with you." I wasn't paying so much attention, now that Edward was past the punch line of his joke. I was staring at the gorgeous child by the door, who was still staring at me. Her little dimpled hands reached out toward me like she knew exactly who I was. Automatically, my hand lifted to mimic hers. "Edward," I said, leaning around Jasper to see her better. "Please?" Jasper's teeth were set; he didn't move. "Jazz, this isn't anything you've seen before," Alice said quietly. "Trust me." Their eyes met for a short second, and then Jasper nodded. He moved out of my way, but put one hand on my shoulder and moved with me as I walked slowly forward. I thought about every step before I took it, analyzing my mood, the burn in my throat, the position of the others around me. How strong I felt versus how well they would be able to contain me. It was a slow procession. And then the child in Rosalie's arms, struggling and reaching all this time while her expression got more and more irritated, let out a high, ringing wail. Everyone reacted as if ——like me——they'd never heard her voice before. They swarmed around her in a second, leaving me standing alone, frozen in place. The sound of Renesmee's cry pierced right through me, spearing me to the floor. My eyes pricked in the strangest way, like they wanted to tear. It seemed like everyone had a hand on her, patting and soothing. Everyone but me. "What's the matter? Is she hurt? What happened?" It was Jacob's voice that was loudest, that raised anxiously above the others. I watched in shock as he reached for Renesmee, and then in utter horror as Rosalie surrendered her to him without a fight. "No, she's fine," Rosalie reassured him. Rosalie was reassuring Jacob? Renesmee went to Jacob willingly enough, pushing her tiny hand against his cheek and then squirming around to stretch toward me again. "See?" Rosalie told him. "She just wants Bella." "She wants me?" I whispered. Renesmee's eyes ——my eyes——stared impatiently at me. Edward darted back to my side. He put his hands lightly on my arms and urged me forward. "She's been waiting for you for almost three days," he told me. We were only a few feet away from her now. Bursts of heat seemed to tremble out from her to touch me. Or maybe it was Jacob who was trembling. I saw his hands shaking as I got closer. And yet, despite his obvious anxiety, his face was more serene than I had seen it in a long time. "Jake —2—I'm fine," I told him. It made me panicky to see Renesmee in his shaking hands, but I worked to keep myself in control. He frowned at me, eyes tight, like he was just as panicky at the thought of Renesmee in my arms. Renesmee whimpered eagerly and stretched, her little hands grasping into fists again and again. Something in me clicked into place at that moment. The sound of her cry, the familiarity of her eyes, the way she seemed even more impatient than I did for this reunion ——all of it wove together into the most natural of patterns as she clutched the air between us. Suddenly, she was absolutely real, and of course I knew her. It was perfectly ordinary that I should take that last easy step and reach for her, putting my hands exactly where they would fit best as I pulled her gently toward me. Jacob let his long arms stretch so that I could cradle her, but he didn't let go. He shuddered a little when our skin touched. His skin, always so warm to me before, felt like an open flame to me now. It was almost the same temperature as Renesmee's. Perhaps one or two degrees difference. Renesmee seemed oblivious to the coolness of my skin, or at least very used to it. She looked up and smiled at me again, showing her square little teeth and two dimples. Then, very deliberately, she reached for my face. The moment she did this, all the hands on me tightened, anticipating my reaction. I barely noticed. I was gasping, stunned and frightened by the strange, alarming image that filled my mind. It felt like a very strong memory ——I could still see through my eyes while I watched it in my head—4—but it was completely unfamiliar. I stared through it to Renesmee's expectant expression, trying to understand what was happening, struggling desperately to hold on to my calm. Besides being shocking and unfamiliar, the image was also wrong somehow — —I almost recognized my own face in it, my old face, but it was off, backward. I grasped quickly that I was seeing my face as others saw it, rather than flipped in a reflection. My memory face was twisted, ravaged, covered in sweat and blood. Despite this, my expression in the vision became an adoring smile; my brown eyes glowed over their deep circles. The image enlarged, my face came closer to the unseen vantage point, and then abruptly vanished. Renesmee's hand dropped from my cheek. She smiled wider, dimpling again. It was totally silent in the room but for the heartbeats. No one but Jacob and Renesmee was so much as breathing. The silence stretched on; it seemed like they were waiting for me to say something. "What... was... that?" I managed to choke out. "What did you see?" Rosalie asked curiously, leaning around Jacob, who seemed very much in the way and out of place at the moment. "What did she show you?" "Srte showed me that?" I whispered. "I told you it was hard to explain," Edward murmured in my ear. "But effective as means of communications go." "What was it?" Jacob asked. I blinked quickly several times. "Um. Me. I think. But I looked terrible." "It was the only memory she had of you," Edward explained. It was obvious he'd seen what she was showing me as she thought of it. He was still cringing, his voice rough from reliving the memory. "She's letting you know that she's made the connection, that she knows who you are." "Butrtowdidshedothat?" Renesmee seemed unconcerned with my boggling eyes. She was smiling slightly and pulling on a lock of my hair. "How do I hear thoughts? How does Alice see the future?" Edward asked rhetorically, and then shrugged. "She's gifted." "It's an interesting twist," Carlisle said to Edward. "Like she's doing the exact opposite of what you can." "Interesting," Edward agreed. "I wonder___" I knew they were speculating away, but I didn't care. I was staring at the most beautiful face in the world. She was hot in my arms, reminding me of the moment when the blackness had almost won, when there was nothing in the world left to hold on to. Nothing strong enough to pull me through the crushing darkness. The moment when I'd thought of Renesmee and found something I would never let go of. "I remember you, too," I told her quietly. It seemed very natural to lean in and press my lips to her forehead. She smelled wonderful. The scent of her skin set my throat burning, but it was easy to ignore. It didn't strip the joy from the moment. Renesmee was real and I knew her. She was the same one I'd fought for from the beginning. My little nudger, the one who loved me from the inside, too. Half Edward, perfect and lovely. And half me —2—which, surprisingly, made her better rather than detracting. I'd been right all along. She was worth the fight. "She's fine," Alice murmured, probably to Jasper. I could feel them hovering, not trusting me. "Haven't we experimented enough for one day?" Jacob asked, his voice a slightly higher pitch with stress. "Okay, Bella's doing great, but let's not push it." I glared at him with real irritation. Jasper shuffled uneasily next to me. We were all crowded so close that every tiny movement seemed very big. "What is your problem, Jacob?" I demanded. I tugged lightly against his hold on Renesmee, and he just stepped closer to me. He was pressed right up to me, Renesmee touching both of our chests. Edward hissed at him. "Just because I understand, it doesn't mean I won't throw you out, Jacob. Bella's doing extraordinarily well. Don't ruin the moment for her." "I'll help him toss you, dog," Rosalie promised, her voice seething. "I owe you a good kick in the gut." Obviously, there was no change in that relationship, unless it had gotten worse. I glared at Jacob's anxious half-angry expression. His eyes were locked on Renesmee's face. With everyone pressed together, he had to be touching at least six different vampires at the moment, and it didn't even seem to bug him. Would he really go through all this just to protect me from myself? What could have happened during my transformation —g—my alteration into something he hated—2—that would soften him so much toward the reason for its necessity? I puzzled over it, watching him stare at my daughter. Staring at her like... like he was a blind man seeing the sun for the very first time. "No!" I gasped. Jasper's teeth came together and Edward's arms wrapped around my chest like constricting boas. Jacob had Renesmee out of my arms in the same second, and I did not try to hold on to her. Because I felt it coming ——the snap that they'd all been waiting for. "Rose," I said through my teeth, very slowly and precisely. "Take Renesmee." Rosalie held her hands out, and Jacob handed my daughter to her at once. Both of them backed away from me. "Edward, I don't want to hurt you, so please let go of me." He hesitated. "Go stand in front of Renesmee," I suggested. He deliberated, and then let me go. I leaned into my hunting crouch and took two slow steps forward toward Jacob. "You didn't," I snarled at him. He backed away, palms up, trying to reason with me. "You know it's not something I can control." "You stupid mutt\ How could you? My babyf He backed out the front door now as I stalked him, half-running backward down the stairs. "It wasn't my idea, Bella!" "I've held her all of one time, and already you think you have some moronic wolfy claim to her? She's mine" "I can share," he said pleadingly as he retreated across the lawn. "Pay up," I heard Emmett say behind me. A small part of my brain wondered who had bet against this outcome. I didn't waste much attention on it. I was too furious. "How dare you imprint on my baby? Have you lost your mind?" "It was involuntary!" he insisted, backing into the trees. Then he wasn't alone. The two huge wolves reappeared, flanking him on either side. Leah snapped at me. A fearsome snarl ripped through my teeth back at her. The sound disturbed me, but not enough to stop my advance. "Bella, would you try to listen for just a second? Please?" Jacob begged. "Leah, back off," he added. Leah curled her lip at me and didn't move. "Why should I listen?" I hissed. Fury reigned in my head. It clouded everything else out. "Because you're the one who told me this. Do you remember? You said we belonged in each other's lives, right? That we were family. You said that was how you and I were supposed to be. So... now we are. It's what you wanted." I glared ferociously. I did dimly remember those words. But my new quick brain was two steps ahead of his nonsense. "You think you'll be part of my family as my son-in-lawV I screeched. My bell voice ripped through two octaves and still came out sounding like music. Emmett laughed. "Stop her, Edward," Esme murmured. "She'll be unhappy if she hurts him." But I felt no pursuit behind me. "No!" Jacob was insisting at the same time. "How can you even look at it that way? She's just a baby, for crying out loud!" "That's mypointl" I yelled. "You know I don't think of her that way! Do you think Edward would have let me live this long if I did? All I want is for her to be safe and happy ——is that so bad? So different from what you want?" He was shouting right back at me. Beyond words, I shrieked a growl at him. "Amazing, isn't she?" I heard Edward murmur. "She hasn't gone for his throat even once," Carlisle agreed, sounding stunned. "Fine, you win this one," Emmett said grudgingly. "You're going to stay away from her," I hissed up at Jacob. "I can't do that!" Through my teeth: "Try. Starting now" "It's not possible. Do you remember how much you wanted me around three days ago? How hard it was to be apart from each other? That's gone for you now, isn't it?" I glared, not sure what he was implying. "That was her," he told me. "From the very beginning. We had to be together, even then." I remembered, and then I understood; a tiny part of me was relieved to have the madness explained. But that relief somehow only made me angrier. Was he expecting that to be enough for me? That one little clarification would make me okay with this? "Run away while you still can," I threatened. "C'mon, Bells! Nessie likes me, too," he insisted. I froze. My breathing stopped. Behind me, I heard the lack of sound that was their anxious reaction. "What... did you call her?" Jacob took a step farther back, managing to look sheepish. "Well," he mumbled, "that name you came up with is kind of a mouthful and ——" "You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?" I screeched. And then I lunged for his throat.

23. MEMORIES Tm so sorry, Seth. I should have been closer." Edward was still apologizing, and I didn't think that was either fair or appropriate. After all, Edward hadn't completely and inexcusably lost control of his temper. Edward hadn't tried to rip Jacob's head off —a—Jacob, who wouldn't even phase to protect himself——and then accidentally broken Seth's shoulder and collarbone when he jumped in between. Edward hadn't almost killed his best friend. Not that the best friend didn't have a few things to answer for, but, obviously, nothing Jacob had done could have mitigated my behavior. So shouldn't / have been the one apologizing? I tried again. "Seth, I —u—" "Don't worry about it, Bella, I'm totally fine," Seth said at the same time that Edward said, "Bella, love, no one is judging you. You're doing so well." They hadn't let me finish a sentence yet. It only made it worse that Edward was having a difficult time keeping the smile off his face. I knew that Jacob didn't deserve my overreaction, but Edward seemed to find something satisfying in it. Maybe he was just wishing that he had the excuse of being a newborn so that he could do something physical about his irritation with Jacob, too. I tried to erase the anger from my system entirely, but it was hard, knowing that Jacob was outside with Renesmee right now. Keeping her safe from me, the crazed newborn. Carlisle secured another piece of the brace to Seth's arm, and Seth winced. "Sorry, sorry!" I mumbled, knowing I'd never get a fully articulated apology out. "Don't freak, Bella," Seth said, patting my knee with his good hand while Edward rubbed my arm from the other side. Seth seemed to feel no aversion to having me sit beside him on the sofa as Carlisle treated him. "I'll be back to normal in half an hour," he continued, still patting my knee as if oblivious to the cold, hard texture of it. "Anyone would have done the same, what with Jake and Ness —2—" He broke off mid-word and changed the subject quickly. "I mean, at least you didn't bite me or anything. That would've sucked." I buried my face in my hands and shuddered at the thought, at the very real possibility. It could have happened so easily. And werewolves didn't react to vampire venom the same way humans did, they'd told me only now. It was poison to them. "I'm a bad person." "Of course you aren't. I should have ——," Edward started. "Stop that," I sighed. I didn't want him taking the blame for this the way he always took everything on himself. "Lucky thing Ness —u—Renesmee's not venomous," Seth said after a second of awkward silence. '"Cause she bites Jake all the time." My hands dropped. "She does?" "Sure. Whenever he and Rose don't get dinner in her mouth fast enough. Rose thinks it's pretty hilarious." I stared at him, shocked, and also feeling guilty, because I had to admit that this pleased me a teensy bit in a petulant way. Of course, I already knew that Renesmee wasn't venomous. I was the first person she'd bitten. I didn't make this observation aloud, as I was feigning memory loss on those recent events. "Well, Seth," Carlisle said, straightening up and stepping away from us. "I think that's as much as I can do. Try to not move for, oh, a few hours, I guess." Carlisle chuckled. "I wish treating humans were this instantaneously gratifying." He rested his hand for a moment on Seth's black hair. "Stay still," he ordered, and then he disappeared upstairs. I heard his office door close, and I wondered if they'd already removed the evidence of my time there. "I can probably manage sitting still for a while," Seth agreed after Carlisle was already gone, and then he yawned hugely. Carefully, making sure not to tweak his shoulder, Seth leaned his head against the sofa's back and closed his eyes. Seconds later, his mouth fell slack. I frowned at his peaceful face for another minute. Like Jacob, Seth seemed to have the gift of falling asleep at will. Knowing I wouldn't be able to apologize again for a while, I got up; the motion didn't jostle the couch in the slightest. Everything physical was so easy. But the rest... Edward followed me to the back windows and took my hand. Leah was pacing along the river, stopping every now and then to look at the house. It was easy to tell when she was looking for her brother and when she was looking for me. She alternated between anxious glances and murderous glares. I could hear Jacob and Rosalie outside on the front steps bickering quietly over whose turn it was to feed Renesmee. Their relationship was as antagonistic as ever; the only thing they agreed on now was that I should be kept away from my baby until I was one hundred percent recovered from my temper tantrum. Edward had disputed their verdict, but I'd let it go. I wanted to be sure, too. I was worried, though, that my one hundred percent sure and their one hundred percent sure might be very different things. Other than their squabbling, Seth's slow breathing, and Leah's annoyed panting, it was very quiet. Emmett, Alice, and Esme were hunting. Jasper had stayed behind to watch me. He stood unobtrusively behind the newel post now, trying not to be obnoxious about it. I took advantage of the calm to think of all the things Edward and Seth had told me while Carlisle splinted Seth's arm. I'd missed a whole lot while I was burning, and this was the first real chance to catch up. The main thing was the end of the feud with Sam's pack —2—which was why the others felt safe to come and go as they pleased again. The truce was stronger than ever. Or more binding, depending on your viewpoint, I imagined. Binding, because the most absolute of all the pack's laws was that no wolf ever kill the object of another wolfs imprinting. The pain of such a thing would be intolerable for the whole pack. The fault, whether intended or accidental, could not be forgiven; the wolves involved would fight to the death —2—there was no other option. It had happened long ago, Seth told me, but only accidentally. No wolf would ever intentionally destroy a brother that way. So Renesmee was untouchable because of the way Jacob now felt about her. I tried to concentrate on the relief of this fact rather than the chagrin, but it wasn't easy. My mind had enough room to feel both emotions intensely at the same time. And Sam couldn't get mad about my transformation, either, because Jacob ——speaking as the rightful Alpha——had allowed it. It rankled to realize over and over again how much I owed Jacob when I just wanted to be mad at him. I deliberately redirected my thoughts in order to control my emotions. I considered another interesting phenomenon; though the silence between the separate packs continued, Jacob and Sam had discovered that Alphas could speak to each other while in their wolf form. It wasn't the same as before; they couldn't hear every thought the way they had prior to the split. It was more like speaking aloud, Seth had said. Sam could only hear the thoughts Jacob wanted to share, and vice versa. They found they could communicate over distance, too, now that they were talking to each other again. They hadn't found all this out until Jacob had gone alone —u—over Seth's and Leah's objections——to explain to Sam about Renesmee; it was the only time he'd left Renesmee since first laying eyes on her. Once Sam had understood how absolutely everything had changed, he'd come back with Jacob to talk to Carlisle. They'd spoken in human form (Edward had refused to leave my side to translate), and the treaty had been renewed. The friendly feeling of the relationship, however, might never be the same. One big worry down. But there was another that, though not as physically dangerous as an angry wolf pack, still seemed more urgent to me. Charlie. He'd spoken to Esme earlier this morning, but that hadn't kept him from calling again, twice, just a few minutes ago while Carlisle treated Seth. Carlisle and Edward had let the phone ring. What would be the right thing to tell him? Were the Cullens right? Was telling him that I'd died the best, the kindest way? Would I be able to lie still in a coffin while he and my mother cried over me? tt didn't seem right to me. But putting Charlie or Renee in danger of the Volturi's obsession with secrecy was clearly out of the question. There was still my idea —2—let Charlie see me, when I was ready for that, and let him make his own wrong assumptions. Technically, the vampire rules would remain unbroken. Wouldn't it be better for Charlie if he knew that I was alive—2—sort of——and happy? Even if I was strange and different and probably frightening to him? My eyes, in particular, were much too frightening right now. How long before my self-control and my eye color were ready for Charlie? "What's the matter, Bella?" Jasper asked quietly, reading my growing tension. "No one is angry with you" ——a low snarl from the riverside contradicted him, but he ignored it——"or even surprised, really. Well, I suppose we are surprised. Surprised that you were able to snap out of it so quickly. You did well. Better than anyone expects of you." While he was speaking, the room became very calm. Seth's breathing slipped into a low snore. I felt more peaceful, but I didn't forget my anxieties. "I was thinking about Charlie, actually." Out front, the bickering cut off. "Ah," Jasper murmured. "We really have to leave, don't we?" I asked. "For a while, at the very least. Pretend we're in Atlanta or something." I could feel Edward's gaze locked on my face, but I looked at Jasper. He was the one who answered me in a grave tone. "Yes. It's the only way to protect your father." I brooded for a moment. "I'm going to miss him so much. I'll miss everyone here." Jacob, I thought, despite myself. Though that yearning was both vanished and defined —2—and I was vastly relieved that it was——he was still my friend. Someone who knew the real me and accepted her. Even as a monster. I thought about what Jacob had said, pleading with me before I'd attacked him. You said we belonged in each other's lives, right? That we were family. You said that was how you and I were supposed to be. So... now we are. It's what you wanted. But it didn't feel like how I'd wanted it. Not exactly. I remembered further back, to the fuzzy, weak memories of my human life. Back to the very hardest part to remember ——the time without Edward, a time so dark I'd tried to bury it in my head. I couldn't get the words exactly right; I only remembered wishing that Jacob were my brother so that we could love each other without any confusion or pain. Family. But I'd never factored a daughter into the equation. I remembered a little later ——one of the many times that I'd told Jacob goodbye——wondering aloud who he would end up with, who would make his life right after what I'd done to it. I had said something about how whoever she was, she wouldn't be good enough for him. I snorted, and Edward raised one eyebrow questioningly. I just shook my head at him. But as much as I might miss my friend, I knew there was a bigger problem. Had Sam or Jared or Quil ever gone a whole day without seeing the objects of their fixations, Emily, Kim, and Claire? Could they? What would the separation from Renesmee do to Jacob? Would it cause him pain? There was still enough petty ire in my system to make me glad, not for his pain, but for the idea of having Renesmee away from him. How was I supposed to deal with having her belong to Jacob when she only barely seemed to belong to me? The sound of movement on the front porch interrupted my thoughts. I heard them get up, and then they were through the door. At exactly the same time, Carlisle came down the stairs with his hands full of odd things —u—a measuring tape, a scale. Jasper darted to my side. As if there was some signal I'd missed, even Leah sat down outside and stared through the window with an expression like she was expecting something that was both familiar and also totally uninteresting. "Must be six," Edward said. "So?" I asked, my eyes locked on Rosalie, Jacob, and Renesmee. They stood in the doorway, Renesmee in Rosalie's arms. Rose looked wary. Jacob looked troubled. Renesmee looked beautiful and impatient. "Time to measure Ness —ä—er, Renesmee," Carlisle explained. "Oh. You do this every day?" "Four times a day," Carlisle corrected absently as he motioned the others toward the couch. I thought I saw Renesmee sigh. "Four times? Every day? Why?" "She's still growing quickly," Edward murmured to me, his voice quiet and strained. He squeezed my hand, and his other arm wrapped securely around my waist, almost as if he needed the support. I couldn't take my eyes off Renesmee to check his expression. She looked perfect, absolutely healthy. Her skin glowed like backlit alabaster; the color in her cheeks was rose petals against it. There couldn't be anything wrong with such radiant beauty. Surely there could be nothing more dangerous in her life than her mother. Could there? The difference between the child I'd given birth to and the one I'd met again an hour ago would have been obvious to anyone. The difference between Renesmee an hour ago and Renesmee now was subtler. Human eyes never would have detected it. But it was there. Her body was slightly longer. Just a little bit slimmer. Her face wasn't quite as round; it was more oval by one minute degree. Her ringlets hung a sixteenth of an inch lower down her shoulders. She stretched out helpfully in Rosalie's arms while Carlisle ran the tape measure down the length of her and then used it to circle her head. He took no notes; perfect recall. I was aware that Jacob's arms were crossed as tightly over his chest as Edward's arms were locked around me. His heavy brows were mashed together into one line over his deep-set eyes. She had matured from a single cell to a normal-sized baby in the course of a few weeks. She looked well on her way to being a toddler just days after her birth. If this rate of growth held... My vampire mind had no trouble with the math. "What do we do?" I whispered, horrified. Edward's arms tightened. He understood exactly what I was asking. "I don't know." "It's slowing," Jacob muttered through his teeth. "We'll need several more days of measurements to track the trend, Jacob. I can't make any promises." "Yesterday she grew two inches. Today it's less." "By a thirty-second of an inch, if my measurements are perfect," Carlisle said quietly. "Be perfect, Doc," Jacob said, making the words almost threatening. Rosalie stiffened. "You know I'll do my best," Carlisle assured him. Jacob sighed. "Guess that's all I can ask." I felt irritated again, like Jacob was stealing my lines ——and delivering them all wrong. Renesmee seemed irritated, too. She started to squirm and then reached her hand imperiously toward Rosalie. Rosalie leaned forward so that Renesmee could touch her face. After a second, Rose sighed. "What does she want?" Jacob demanded, taking my line again. "Bella, of course," Rosalie told him, and her words made my insides feel a little warmer. Then she looked at me. "How are you?" "Worried," I admitted, and Edward squeezed me. "We all are. But that's not what I meant." "I'm in control," I promised. Thirstiness was way down the list right now. Besides, Renesmee smelled good in a very non-food way. Jacob bit his lip but made no move to stop Rosalie as she offered Renesmee to me. Jasper and Edward hovered but allowed it. I could see how tense Rose was, and I wondered how the room felt to Jasper right now. Or was he focusing so hard on me that he couldn't feel the others? Renesmee reached for me as I reached for her, a blinding smile lighting her face. She fit so easily in my arms, like they'd been shaped just for her. Immediately, she put her hot little hand against my cheek. Though I was prepared, it still made me gasp to see the memory like a vision in my head. So bright and colorful but also completely transparent. She was remembering me charging Jacob across the front lawn, remembering Seth leaping between us. She'd seen and heard it all with perfect clarity. It didn't look like me, this graceful predator leaping at her prey like an arrow arcing from a bow. It had to be someone else. That made me feel a very small bit less guilty as Jacob stood there defenselessly with his hands raised in front of him. His hands did not tremble. Edward chuckled, watching Renesmee's thoughts with me. And then we both winced as we heard the crack of Seth's bones. Renesmee smiled her brilliant smile, and her memory eyes did not leave Jacob through all the following mess. I tasted a new flavor to the memory ——not exactly protective, more possessive—u—as she watched Jacob. I got the distinct impression that she was glad Seth had put himself in front of my spring. She didn't want Jacob hurt. He was hers. "Oh, wonderful,'71 groaned. "Perfect." "It's just because he tastes better than the rest of us," Edward assured me, voice stiff with his own annoyance. "I told you she likes me, too," Jacob teased from across the room, his eyes on Renesmee. His joking was halfhearted; the tense angle of his eyebrows had not relaxed. Renesmee patted my face impatiently, demanding my attention. Another memory: Rosalie pulling a brush gently through each of her curls. It felt nice. Carlisle and his tape measure, knowing she had to stretch and be still. It was not interesting to her. "It looks like she's going to give you a rundown of everything you missed," Edward commented in my ear. My nose wrinkled as she dumped the next one on me. The smell coming from a strange metal cup —4—hard enough not to be bitten through easily—2—sent a flash burn through my throat. Ouch. And then Renesmee was out of my arms, which were pinned behind my back. I didn't struggle with Jasper; I just looked at Edward's frightened face. "What did I do?" Edward looked at Jasper behind me, and then at me again. "But she was remembering being thirsty," Edward muttered, his forehead pressing into lines. "She was remembering the taste of human blood." Jasper's arms pulled mine tighter together. Part of my head noted that this wasn't particularly uncomfortable, let alone painful, as it would have been to a human. It was just annoying. I was sure I could break his hold, but I didn't fight it. "Yes," I agreed. "And?" Edward frowned at me for a second more, and then his expression loosened. He laughed once. "And nothing at all, it seems. The overreaction is mine this time. Jazz, let her go." The binding hands disappeared. I reached out for Renesmee as soon as I was free. Edward handed her to me without hesitation. "I can't understand," Jasper said. "I can't bear this." I watched in surprise as Jasper strode out the back door. Leah moved to give him a wide margin of space as he paced to the river and then launched himself over it in one bound. Renesmee touched my neck, repeating the scene of departure right back, like an instant replay. I could feel the question in her thought, an echo of mine. I was already over the shock of her odd little gift. It seemed an entirely natural part of her, almost to be expected. Maybe now that I was part of the supernatural myself, I would never be a skeptic again. But what was wrong with Jasper? "He'll be back," Edward said, whether to me or Renesmee, I wasn't sure. "He just needs a moment alone to readjust his perspective on life." There was a grin threatening at the corners of his mouth. Another human memory ——Edward telling me that Jasper would feel better about himself if I "had a hard time adjusting" to being a vampire. This was in the context of a discussion about how many people I would kill my first newborn year. "Is he mad at me?" I asked quietly. Edward's eyes widened. "No. Why would he be?" "What's the matter with him, then?" "He's upset with himself, not you, Bella. He's worrying about... self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose you could say." "How so?" Carlisle asked before I could. "He's wondering if the newborn madness is really as difficult as we've always thought, or if, with the right focus and attitude, anyone could do as well as Bella. Even now ——perhaps he only has such difficulty because he believes it's natural and unavoidable. Maybe if he expected more of himself, he would rise to those expectations. You're making him question a lot of deep-rooted assumptions, Bella." "But that's unfair," Carlisle said. "Everyone is different; everyone has their own challenges. Perhaps what Bella is doing goes beyond the natural. Maybe this is her gift, so to speak." I froze with surprise. Renesmee felt the change, and touched me. She remembered the last second of time and wondered why. "That's an interesting theory, and quite plausible," Edward said. For a tiny space, I was disappointed. What? No magic visions, no formidable offensive abilities like, oh, shooting lightning bolts from my eyes or something? Nothing helpful or cool at all? And then I realized what that might mean, if my "superpower" was no more than exceptional self-control. For one thing, at least I had a gift. It could have been nothing. But, much more than that, if Edward was right, then I could skip right over the part I'd feared the very most. What if I didn't have to be a newborn? Not in the crazed killing-machine sense, anyway. What if I could fit right in with the Cullens from my first day? What if we didn't have to hide out somewhere remote for a year while I "grew up"? What if, like Carlisle, I never killed a single person? What if I could be a good vampire right away? I could see Charlie. I sighed as soon as reality filtered through hope. I couldn't see Charlie right away. The eyes, the voice, the perfected face. What could I possibly say to him; how could I even begin? I was furtively glad that I had some excuses for putting things off for a while; as much as I wanted to find some way to keep Charlie in my life, I was terrified of that first meeting. Seeing his eyes pop as he took in my new face, my new skin. Knowing that he was frightened. Wondering what dark explanation would form in his head. I was chicken enough to wait for a year while my eyes cooled. And here I'd thought I would be so fearless when I was indestructible. "Have you ever seen an equivalent to self-control as a talent?" Edward asked Carlisle. "Do you really think that's a gift, or just a product of all her preparation?" Carlisle shrugged, 'it's slightly similar to what Siobhan has always been able to do, though she wouldn't call it a gift." "Siobhan, your friend in that Irish coven?" Rosalie asked. 1 wasn't aware that she did anything special. I thought it was Maggie who was talented in that bunch." "Yes, Siobhan thinks the same. But she has this way of deciding her goals and then almost... willing them into reality. She considers it good planning, but I've always wondered if it was something more. When she included Maggie, for instance. Liam was very territorial, but Siobhan wanted it to work out, and so it did." Edward, Carlisle, and Rosalie settled into chairs as they continued with the discussion. Jacob sat next to Seth protectively, looking bored. From the way his eyelids drooped, I was sure he'd be unconscious momentarily. I listened, but my attention was divided. Renesmee was still telling me about her day. I held her by the window wall, my arms rocking her automatically as we stared into each other's eyes. I realized that the others had no reason for sitting down. I was perfectly comfortable standing. It was just as restful as stretching out on a bed would be. I knew I would be able to stand like this for a week without moving and I would feel just as relaxed at the end of the seven days as I did at the beginning. They must sit out of habit. Humans would notice someone standing for hours without ever shifting her weight to a different foot. Even now, I saw Rosalie brush her fingers against her hair and Carlisle cross his legs. Little motions to keep from being too still, too much a vampire. I would have to pay attention to what they did and start practicing. I rolled my weight back to my left leg. It felt kind of silly. Maybe they were just trying to give me a little alone time with my baby ——as alone as was safe. Renesmee told me about every minute happening of the day, and I got the feeling from the tenor of her little stories that she wanted me to know her every bit as much I wanted the same thing. It worried her that I had missed things ——like the sparrows that had hopped closer and closer when Jacob had held her, both of them very still beside one of the big hemlocks; the birds wouldn't come close to Rosalie. Or the outrageously icky white stuff——baby formula——that Carlisle had put in her cup; it smelled like sour dirt. Or the song Edward had crooned to her that was so perfect Renesmee played it for me twice; I was surprised that I was in the background of that memory, perfectly motionless but looking fairly battered still. I shuddered, remembering that time from my own perspective. The hideous fire... After almost an hour ——the others were still deeply absorbed in their discussion, Seth and Jacob snoring in harmony on the couch——Renesmee's memory stories began to slow. They got slightly blurry around the edges and drifted out of focus before they came to their conclusions. I was about to interrupt Edward in a panic—u—was there something wrong with her?——when her eyelids fluttered and closed. She yawned, her plump pink lips stretching into a round O, and her eyes never reopened. Her hand fell away from my face as she drifted to sleep —4—the backs of her eyelids were the pale lavender color of thin clouds before the sunrise. Careful not to disturb her, I lifted that hand back to my skin and held it there curiously. At first there was nothing, and then, after a few minutes, a flickering of colors like a handful of butterflies were scattering from her thoughts. Mesmerized, I watched her dreams. There was no sense to it. Just colors and shapes and faces. I was pleased by how often my face —2—both of my faces, hideous human and glorious immortal——cropped up in her unconscious thoughts. More than Edward or Rosalie. I was neck and neck with Jacob; I tried not to let that get to me. For the first time, I understood how Edward had been able to watch me sleep night after boring night, just to hear me talk in my sleep. I could watch Renesmee dream forever. The change in Edward's tone caught my attention when he said, "Finally," and turned to gaze out the window. It was deep, purply night outside, but I could see just as far as before. Nothing was hidden in the darkness; everything had just changed colors. Leah, still glowering, got up and slunk into the brush just as Alice came into view on the other side of the river. Alice swung back and forth from a branch like a trapeze artist, toes touching hands, before throwing her body into a graceful flat spin over the river. Esme made a more traditional leap, while Emmett charged right through the water, splashing water so far that splatters hit the back windows. To my surprise, Jasper followed after, his own efficient leap seeming understated, even subtle, after the others. k The huge grin stretching Alice's face was familiar in a dim, odd way. Everyone was suddenly smiting at me ——Esme sweet, Emmett excited, Rosalie a little superior, Carlisle indulgent, and Edward expectant. Alice skipped into the room ahead of everyone else, her hand stretched out in front of her and impatience making a nearly visible aura around her. In her palm was an everyday brass key with an oversized pink satin bow tied around it. She held the key out for me, and I automatically gripped Renesmee more securely in my right arm so that I could open my left. Alice dropped the key into it. "Happy birthday!" she squealed. I rolled my eyes. "No one starts counting on the actual day of birth," I reminded her. "Your first birthday is at the year mark, Alice." Her grin turned smug. "We're not celebrating your vampire birthday. Yet. It's September thirteenth, Bella. Happy nineteenth birthday!"

24. SURPRISE "No. No way!" I shook my head fiercely and then shot a glance at the smug smile on my seventeen-year-old husband's face. "No, this doesn't count. I stopped aging three days ago. I am eighteen forever." "Whatever," Alice said, dismissing my protest with a quick shrug. "We're celebrating anyway, so suck it up." I sighed. There was rarely a point to arguing with Alice. Her grin got impossibly wider as she read the acquiescence in my eyes. "Are you ready to open your present?" Alice sang. "Presents," Edward corrected, and he pulled another key —u—this one longer and silver with a less gaudy blue bow——from his pocket. I struggled to keep from rolling my eyes. I knew immediately what this key was to ——the "after car." I wondered if I should feel excited. It seemed the vampire conversion hadn't given me any sudden interest in sports cars. "Mine first," Alice said, and then stuck her tongue out, foreseeing his answer. "Mine is closer." "But look at how she's dressed" Alice's words were almost a moan. "It's been killing me all day. That is clearly the priority." My eyebrows pulled together as I wondered how a key could get me into new clothes. Had she gotten me a whole trunkful? "I know —4—I'll play you for it," Alice suggested. "Rock, paper, scissors." Jasper chuckled and Edward sighed. "Why you don't you just tell me who wins?" Edward said wryly. Alice beamed. "I do. Excellent." "It's probably better that I wait for morning, anyway." Edward smiled crookedly at me and then nodded toward Jacob and Seth, who looked like they were crashed for the night; I wonder how long they'd stayed up this time. "I think it might be more fun if Jacob was awake for the big reveal, don't you agree? So that someone there is able to express the right level of enthusiasm?" I grinned back. He knew me well. "Yay," Alice sang. "Bella, give Ness —e—Renesmee to Rosalie." "Where does she usually sleep?" Alice shrugged. "In Rose's arms. Or Jacob's. Or Esme's. You get the picture. She has never been set down in her entire life. She's going to be the most spoiled half-vampire in existence." Edward laughed while Rosalie took Renesmee expertly in her arms. "She is also the most unspoiled half-vampire in existence," Rosalie said. "The beauty of being one of a kind." Rosalie grinned at me, and I was glad to see that the new comradeship between us was still there in her smile. I hadn't been entirely sure it would last after Renesmee's life was no longer tied to mine. But maybe we had fought together on the same side long enough that we would always be friends now. I'd finally made the same choice she would have if she'd been in my shoes. That seemed to have washed away her resentment for all my other choices. Alice shoved the beribboned key in my hand, then grabbed my elbow and steered me toward the back door. "Let's go, let's go," she trilled. "Is it outside?" "Sort of," Alice said, pushing me forward. "Enjoy your gift," Rosalie said. "It's from all of us. Esme especially." "Aren't you coming, too?" I realized that no one had moved. "We'll give you a chance to appreciate it alone," Rosalie said. "You can tell us about it... later." Emmett guffawed. Something about his laugh made me feel like blushing, though I wasn't sure why. I realized that lots of things about me —2—like truly hating surprises, and not liking gifts in general much more——had not changed one bit. It was a relief and revelation to discover how much of my essential core traits had come with me into this new body. I hadn't expected to be myself. I smiled widely. Alice tugged my elbow, and I couldn't stop smiling as I followed her into the purple night. Only Edward came with us. "There's the enthusiasm I'm looking for," Alice murmured approvingly. Then she dropped my arm, made two lithe bounds, and leaped over the river. "C'mon, Bella," she called from the other side. Edward jumped at the same time I did; it was every bit as fun as it had been this afternoon. Maybe a little bit more fun because the night changed everything into new, rich colors. Alice took off with us on her heels, heading due north. It was easier to follow the sound of her feet whispering against the ground and the fresh path of her scent than it was to keep my eyes on her through the thick vegetation. At no sign I could see, she whirled and dashed back to where I paused. "Don't attack me," she warned, and sprang at me. "What are you doing?" I demanded, squirming as she scrambled onto my back and wrapped her hands around my face. I felt the urge to throw her off, but I controlled it. "Making sure you can't see." "I could take care of that without the theatrics," Edward offered. "You might let her cheat. Take her hand and lead her forward." "Alice, I ——" "Don't bother, Bella. We're doing this my way." I felt Edward's fingers weave through mine. "Just a few seconds more, Bella. Then she'll go annoy someone else." He pulled me forward. I kept up easily. I wasn't afraid of hitting a tree; the tree would be the only one getting hurt in that scenario. "You might be a little more appreciative," Alice chided him. "This is as much for you as it is for her." "True. Thank you again, Alice." "Yeah, yeah. Okay." Alice's voice suddenly shot up with excitement. "Stop there. Turn her just a little to the right. Yes, like that. Okay. Are you ready?" she squeaked. "I'm ready." There were new scents here, piquing my interest, increasing my curiosity. Scents that didn't belong in the deep woods. Honeysuckle. Smoke. Roses. Sawdust? Something metallic, too. The richness of deep earth, dug up and exposed. I leaned toward the mystery. Alice hopped down from my back, releasing her grip on my eyes. I stared into the violet dark. There, nestled into a small clearing in the forest, was a tiny stone cottage, lavender gray in the light of the stars. It belonged here so absolutely that it seemed as if it must have grown from the rock, a natural formation. Honeysuckle climbed up one wall like a lattice, winding all the way up and over the thick wooden shingles. Late summer roses bloomed in a handkerchief-sized garden under the dark, deep-set windows. There was a little path of flat stones, amethyst in the night, that led up to the quaint arched wooden door. I curled my hand around the key I held, shocked. "What do you think?" Alice's voice was soft now; it fit with the perfect quiet of the storybook scene. I opened my mouth but said nothing. "Esme thought we might like a place of our own for a while, but she didn't want us too far away," Edward murmured. "And she loves any excuse to renovate. This little place has been crumbling away out here for at least a hundred years." I continued staring, mouth gaping like a fish. "Don't you like it?" Alice's face fell. "I mean, I'm sure we could fix it up differently, if you want. Emmett was all for adding a few thousand square feet, a second story, columns, and a tower, but Esme thought you would like it best the way it was meant to look." Her voice started to climb, to go faster. "If she was wrong, we can get back to work. It won't take long to ——" "Shh!" I managed. She pressed her lips together and waited. It took me a few seconds to recover. "You're giving me a house for my birthday?" I whispered. "Us," Edward corrected. "And it's no more than a cottage. I think the word house implies more legroom." "No knocking my house," I whispered to him. Alice beamed. "You like it." I shook my head. "Love it?" I nodded. "I can't wait to tell Esme!" "Why didn't she come?" Alice's smile faded a little, twisted just off what it had been, like my question was hard to answer. "Oh, you know... they all remember how you are about presents. They didn't want to put you under too much pressure to like it." "But of course I love it. How could I not?" "They'll like that." She patted my arm. "Anyhoo, your closet is stocked. Use it wisely. And... I guess that's everything." "Aren't you going to come inside?" She strolled casually a few feet back. "Edward knows his way around. I'll stop by... later. Call me if you can't match your clothes right." She threw me a doubtful look and then smiled. "Jazz wants to hunt. See you." She shot off into the trees like the most graceful bullet. "That was weird," I said when the sound of her flight had vanished completely. "Am I really that bad? They didn't have to stay away. Now I feel guilty. I didn't even thank her right. We should go back, tell Esme ——" "Bella, don't be silly. No one thinks you're that unreasonable." "Then what —4—" "Alone time is their other gift. Alice was trying to be subtle about it." "Oh." That was all it took to make the house disappear. We could have been anywhere. I didn't see the trees or the stones or the stars. It was just Edward. "Let me show you what they've done," he said, pulling my hand. Was he oblivious to the fact that an electric current was pulsing through my body like adrenaline-spiked blood? Once again I felt oddly off balance, waiting for reactions my body wasn't capable of anymore. My heart should have been thundering like a steam engine about to hit us. Deafening. My cheeks should have been brilliant red. For that matter, I ought to have been exhausted. This had been the longest day of my life. I laughed out loud ——just one quiet little laugh of shock—2—when I realized that this day would never end. "Do I get to hear the joke?" "It's not a very good one," I told him as he led the way to the little rounded door. "I was just thinking —4—today is the first and last day of forever. It's kind of hard to wrap my head around it. Even with all this extra room for wrapping." I laughed again. He chuckled with me. He held his hand out toward the doorknob, waiting for me to do the honors. I stuck the key in the lock and turned it. "You're such a natural at this, Bella; I forget how very strange this all must be for you. I wish I could hear it." He ducked down and yanked me up into his arms so fast that I didn't see it coming ——and that was really something. "Hey!" "Thresholds are part of my job description," he reminded me. "But I'm curious. Tell me what you're thinking about right now." He opened the door ——it fell back with a barely audible creak——and stepped through into the little stone living room. "Everything," I told him. "All at the same time, you know. Good things and things to worry about and things that are new. How I keep using too many superlatives in my head. Right now, I'm thinking that Esme is an artist. It's so perfect!" The cottage room was something from a fairy tale. The floor was a crazy quilt of smooth, flat stones. The low ceiling had long exposed beams that someone as tall as Jacob would surely knock his head on. The walls were warm wood in some places, stone mosaics in others. The beehive fireplace in the corner held the remains of a slow flickering fire. It was driftwood burning there ——the low flames were blue and green from the salt. It was furnished in eclectic pieces, not one of them matching another, but harmonious just the same. One chair seemed vaguely medieval, while a low ottoman by the fire was more contemporary and the stocked bookshelf against the far window reminded me of movies set in Italy. Somehow each piece fit together with the others like a big three-dimensional puzzle. There were a few paintings on the walls that I recognized ——some of my very favorites from the big house. Priceless originals, no doubt, but they seemed to belong here, too, like all the rest. It was a place where anyone could believe magic existed. A place where you just expected Snow White to walk right in with her apple in hand, or a unicorn to stop and nibble at the rosebushes. Edward had always thought that he belonged to the world of horror stories. Of course, I'd known he was dead wrong. It was obvious that he belonged here. In a fairy tale. And now I was in the story with him. I was about to take advantage of the fact that he hadn't gotten around to setting me back on my feet and that his wits-scramblingly beautiful face was only inches away when he said, "We're lucky Esme thought to add an extra room. No one was planning for Ness —i—Renesmee." I frowned at him, my thoughts channeled down a less pleasant path. "Not you, too," I complained. "Sorry, love. I hear it in their thoughts all the time, you know. It's rubbing off on me." I sighed. My baby, the sea serpent. Maybe there was no help for it. Well, /wasn't giving in. Tm sure you're dying to see the closet. Or, at least I'll tell Alice that you were, to make her feel good." "Should I be afraid?" "Terrified." He carried me down a narrow stone hallway with tiny arches in the ceiling, like it was our own miniature castle. "That will be Renesmee's room," he said, nodding to an empty room with a pale wooden floor. "They didn't have time to do much with it, what with the angry werewolves___" I laughed quietly, amazed at how quickly everything had turned right when it had all had looked so nightmarish just a week ago. Drat Jacob for making everything perfect this way. "Here's our room. Esme tried to bring some of her island back here for us. She guessed that we would get attached." The bed was huge and white, with clouds of gossamer floating down from the canopy to the floor. The pale wood floor matched the other room, and now I grasped that it was precisely the color of a pristine beach. The walls were that almost-white-blue of a brilliant sunny day, and the back wall had big glass doors that opened into a little hidden garden. Climbing roses and a small round pond, smooth as a mirror and edged with shiny stones. A tiny, calm ocean for us. "Oh" was all I could say. "I know," he whispered. We stood there for a minute, remembering. Though the memories were human and clouded, they took over my mind completely. He smiled a wide, gleaming smile and then laughed. "The closet is through those double doors. I should warn you ——it's bigger than this room." I didn't even glance at the doors. There was nothing else in the world but him again ——his arms curled under me, his sweet breath on my face, his lips just inches from mine——and there was nothing that could distract me now, newborn vampire or not. "We're going to tell Alice that I ran right to the clothes," I whispered, twisting my fingers into his hair and pulling my face closer to his. "We're going to tell her I spent hours in there playing dress-up. We're going to lie" He caught up to my mood in an instant, or maybe he'd already been there, and he was just trying to let me fully appreciate my birthday present, like a gentleman. He pulled my face to his with a sudden fierceness, a low moan in his throat. The sound sent the electric current running through my body into a near-frenzy, like I couldn't get close enough to him fast enough. I heard the fabric tearing under our hands, and I was glad my clothes, at least, were already destroyed. It was too late for his. It felt almost rude to ignore the pretty white bed, but we just weren't going to make it that far. This second honeymoon wasn't like our first. Our time on the island had been the epitome of my human life. The very best of it. I'd been so ready to string along my human time, just to hold on to what I had with him for a little while longer. Because the physical part wasn't going to be the same ever again. I should have guessed, after a day like today, that it would be better. I could really appreciate him now ——could properly see every beautiful line of his perfect face, of his long, flawless body with my strong new eyes, every angle and every plane of him. I could taste his pure, vivid scent on my tongue and feel the unbelievable silkiness of his marble skin under my sensitive fingertips. My skin was so sensitive under his hands, too. He was all new, a different person as our bodies tangled gracefully into one on the sand-pale floor. No caution, no restraint. No fear ——especially not that. We could love together—— both active participants now. Finally equals. Like our kisses before, every touch was more than I was used to. So much of himself he'd been holding back. Necessary at the time, but I couldn't believe how much I'd been missing. I tried to keep in mind that I was stronger than he was, but it was hard to focus on anything with sensations so intense, pulling my attention to a million different places in my body every second; if I hurt him, he didn't complain. A very, very small part of my head considered the interesting conundrum presented in this situation. I was never going to get tired, and neither was he. We didn't have to catch our breath or rest or eat or even use the bathroom; we had no more mundane human needs. He had the most beautiful, perfect body in the world and I had him all to myself, and it didn't feel like I was ever going to find a point where I would think, Now I've had enough for one day. I was always going to want more. And the day was never going to end. So, in such a situation, how did we ever stop? It didn't bother me at all that I had no answer. I sort of noticed when the sky began to lighten. The tiny ocean outside turned from black to gray, and a lark started to sing somewhere very close by —2—maybe she had a nest in the roses. "Do you miss it?" I asked him when her song was done. It wasn't the first time we'd spoken, but we weren't exactly keeping up a conversation, either. "Miss what?" he murmured. "All of it ——the warmth, the soft skin, the tasty smell... I'm not losing anything at all, and I just wondered if it was a little bit sad for you that you were." He laughed, low and gentle. "It would be hard to find someone less sad than I am now. Impossible, I'd venture. Not many people get every single thing they want, plus all the things they didn't think to ask for, in the same day." "Are you avoiding the question?" He pressed his hand against my face. "You are warm," he told me. It was true, in a sense. To me, his hand was warm. It wasn't the same as touching Jacob's flame-hot skin, but it was more comfortable. More natural. Then he pulled his fingers very slowly down my face, lightly tracing from my jaw to my throat and then all the way down to my waist. My eyes rolled back into my head a little. "You are soft." His fingers were like satin against my skin, so I could see what he meant. "And as for the scent, well, I couldn't say I missed that. Do you remember the scent of those hikers on our hunt?" "I've been trying very hard not to." "Imagine kissing that." My throat ripped into flames like pulling the cord on a hot-air balloon. "0/7." "Precisely. So the answer is no. I am purely full of joy, because I am missing nothing. No one has more than I do now." I was about to inform him of the one exception to his statement, but my lips were suddenly very busy. When the little pool turned pearl-colored with the sunrise, I thought of another question for him. "How long does this go on? I mean, Carlisle and Esme, Em and Rose, Alice and Jasper —u—they don't spend all day locked in their rooms. They're out in public, fully clothed, all the time. Does this... craving ever let up?" I twisted myself closer into him——quite an accomplishment, actually——to make it clear what I was talking about. "That's difficult to say. Everyone is different and, well, so far you're the very most different of all. The average young vampire is too obsessed with thirst to notice much else for a while. That doesn't seem to apply to you. With the average vampire, though, after that first year, other needs make themselves known. Neither thirst nor any other desire really ever fades. It's simply a matter of learning to balance them, learning to prioritize and manage___" "How long?" He smiled, wrinkling his nose a little. "Rosalie and Emmett were the worst. It took a solid decade before I could stand to be within a five-mile radius of them. Even Carlisle and Esme had a difficult time stomaching it. They kicked the happy couple out eventually. Esme built them a house, too. It was grander than this one, but then, Esme knows what Rose likes, and she knows what you like." "So, after ten years, then?" I was pretty sure that Rosalie and Emmett had nothing on us, but it might sound cocky if I went higher than a decade. "Everybody is normal again? Like they are now?" Edward smiled again. "Well, I'm not sure what you mean by normal. You've seen my family going about life in a fairly human way, but you've been sleeping nights." He winked at me. "There's a tremendous amount of time left over when you don't have to sleep. It makes balancing your... interests quite easy. There's a reason why I'm the best musician in the family, why —2—besides Carlisle——I've read the most books, studied the most sciences, become fluent in the most languages.... Emmett would have you believe that I'm such a know-it-all because of the mind reading, but the truth is that I've just had a lot of free time." We laughed together, and the motion of our laughter did interesting things to the way our bodies were connected, effectively ending that conversation.

25. FAVOR It was only a little while later that Edward reminded me of my priorities. It took him just one word. "Renesmee..." I sighed. She would be awake soon. It must be nearly seven in the morning. Would she be looking for me? Abruptly, something close to panic had my body freezing up. What would she look like today? Edward felt the total distraction of my stress. "It's all right, love. Get dressed, and we'll be back to the house in two seconds." I probably looked like a cartoon, the way I sprung up, then looked back at him —2—his diamond body faintly glinting in the diffuse light——then away to the west, where Renesmee waited, then back at him again, then back toward her, my head whipping from side to side a half dozen times in a second. Edward smiled, but didn't laugh; he was a strong man. "It's all about balance, love. You're so good at all of this, I don't imagine it will take too long to put everything in perspective." "And we have all night, right?" He smiled wider. "Do you think I could bear to let you get dressed now if that weren't the case?" That would have to be enough to get me through the daylight hours. I would balance this overwhelming, devastating desire so that I could be a good —2— It was hard to think the word. Though Renesmee was very real and vital in my life, it was still difficult to think of myself as a mother. I supposed anyone would feel the same, though, without nine months to get used to the idea. And with a child that changed by the hour. The thought of Renesmee's speeding life had me stressed-out again in an instant. I didn't even pause at the ornately carved double doors to catch my breath before finding out what Alice had done. I just burst through, intent on wearing the first things I touched. I should have known it wouldn't be that easy. "Which ones are mine?" I hissed. As promised, the room was bigger than our bedroom. It might have been bigger than the rest of the house put together, but I'd have to pace it off to be positive. I had a brief mental flash of Alice trying to persuade Esme to ignore classic proportions and allow this monstrosity. I wondered how Alice had won that one. Everything was wrapped in garment bags, pristine and white, row after row after row. "To the best of my knowledge, everything but this rack here" —u—he touched a bar that stretched along the half-wall to the left of the door—u—"is yours." "All of this?" He shrugged. "Alice," we said together. He said her name like an explanation; I said it like an expletive. "Fine," I muttered, and I pulled down the zipper on the closest bag. I growled under my breath when I saw the floorlength silk gown inside —2—baby pink. Finding something normal to wear could take all day! "Let me help," Edward offered. He sniffed carefully at the air and then followed some scent to the back of the long room. There was a built-in dresser there. He sniffed again, then opened a drawer. With a triumphant grin, he held out a pair of artfully faded blue jeans. I flitted to his side. "How did you do that?" "Denim has its own scent just like anything else. Now... stretch cotton?" He followed his nose to a half-rack, unearthing a long-sleeved white t-shirt. He tossed it to me. "Thanks," I said fervently. I inhaled each fabric, memorizing the scent for future searches through this madhouse. I remembered silk and satin; I would avoid those. It only took him seconds to find his own clothes ——if I hadn't seen him undressed, I would have sworn there was nothing more beautiful than Edward in his khakis and pale beige pullover—i—and then he took my hand. We darted through the hidden garden, leaped lightly over the stone wall, and hit the forest at a dead sprint. I pulled my hand free so that we could race back. He beat me this time. Renesmee was awake; she was sitting up on the floor with Rose and Emmett hovering over her, playing with a little pile of twisted silverware. She had a mangled spoon in her right hand. As soon as she spied me through the glass, she chucked the spoon on the floor —2—where it left a divot in the wood—2—and pointed in my direction imperiously. Her audience laughed; Alice, Jasper, Esme, and Carlisle were sitting on the couch, watching her as if she were the most engrossing film. I was through the door before their laughter had barely begun, bounding across the room and scooping her up from the floor in the same second. We smiled widely at each other. She was different, but not so much. A little longer again, her proportions drifting from babyish to childlike. Her hair was longer by a quarter inch, the curls bouncing like springs with every movement. I'd let my imagination run wild on the trip back, and I'd imagined worse than this. Thanks to my overdone fears, these little changes were almost a relief. Even without Carlisle's measurements, I was sure the changes were slower than yesterday. Renesmee patted my cheek. I winced. She was hungry again. "How long has she been up?" I asked as Edward disappeared through the kitchen doorway. I was sure he was on his way to get her breakfast, having seen what she'd just thought as clearly as I had. I wondered if he would ever have noticed her little quirk, if he'd been the only one to know her. To him, it probably would have seemed like hearing anyone. "Just a few minutes," Rose said. "We would have called you soon. She's been asking for you ——demanding might be a better description. Esme sacrificed her second-best silver service to keep the little monster entertained." Rose smiled at Renesmee with so much gloating affection that the criticism was entirely weightless. "We didn't want to... er, bother you." Rosalie bit her lip and looked away, trying not to laugh. I could feel Emmett's silent laughter behind me, sending vibrations through the foundations of the house. I kept my chin high. "We'll get your room set up right away," I said to Renesmee. "You'll like the cottage. It's magic." I look up at Esme. "Thank you, Esme. So much. It's absolutely perfect." Before Esme could respond, Emmett was laughing again —u—it wasn't silent this time. "So it's still standing?" he managed to get out between his snickers. "I would've thought you two had knocked it to rubble by now. What were you doing last night? Discussing the national debt?" He howled with laughter. I gritted my teeth and reminded myself of the negative consequences when I'd let my temper get away from me yesterday. Of course, Emmett wasn't as breakable as Seth___ Thinking of Seth made me wonder. "Where're the wolves today?" I glanced out the window wall, but there had been no sign of Leah on the way in. "Jacob took off this morning pretty early," Rosalie told me, a little frown creasing her forehead. "Seth followed him out." "What was he so upset about?" Edward asked as he came back into the room with Renesmee's cup. There must have been more in Rosalie's memory than I'd seen in her expression. Without breathing, I handed Renesmee off to Rosalie. Super-self-control, maybe, but there was no way I was going to be able to feed her. Not yet. "I don't know ——or care," Rosalie grumbled, but she answered Edward's question more fully. "He was watching Nessie sleep, his mouth hanging open like the moron he is, and then he just jumped to his feet without any kind of trigger——that I noticed, anyway—i—and stormed out. / was glad to be rid of him. The more time he spends here, the less chance there is that we'll ever get the smell out." "Rose," Esme chided gently. Rosalie flipped her hair. "I suppose it doesn't matter. We won't be here that much longer." "I still say we should go straight to New Hampshire and get things set up," Emmett said, obviously continuing an earlier conversation. "Bella's already registered at Dartmouth. Doesn't look like it will take her all that long to be able to handle school." He turned to look at me with a teasing grin. Tm sure you'll ace your classes... apparently there's nothing interesting for you to do at night besides study." Rosalie giggled. Do not lose your temper, do not lose your temper, I chanted to myself. And then I was proud of myself for keeping my head. So I was pretty surprised that Edward didn't. He growled ——an abrupt, shocking rasp of sound—2—and the blackest fury rolled across his expression like storm clouds. Before any of us could respond, Alice was on her feet. "What is he doing? What is that dog doing that has erased my schedule for the entire day? I can't see anything] No!" She shot me a tortured glance. "Look at you! You neec/meto show you how to use your closet." For one second I was grateful for whatever Jacob was up to. And then Edward's hands balled up into fists and he snarled, "He talked to Charlie. He thinks Charlie is following after him. Coming here. Today." Alice said a word that sounded very odd in her trilling, ladylike voice, and then she blurred into motion, streaking out the backdoor. "He told Charlie?" I gasped. "But —2—doesn't he understand? How could he do that?" Charlie couldn't know about me! About vampires! That would put him on a hit list that even the Cullens couldn't save him from. "No!" Edward spoke through his teeth. "Jacob's on his way in now." It must have started raining farther east. Jacob came through the door shaking his wet hair like a dog, flipping droplets on the carpet and the couch where they made little round gray spots on the white. His teeth glinted against his dark lips; his eyes were bright and excited. He walked with jerky movements, like he was all hyped-up about destroying my father's life. "Hey, guys," he greeted us, grinning. It was perfectly silent. Leah and Seth slipped in behind him, in their human forms —u—for now; both of their hands were trembling with the tension in the room. "Rose," I said, holding my arms out. Wordlessly, Rosalie handed me Renesmee. I pressed her close to my motionless heart, holding her like a talisman against rash behavior. I would keep her in my arms until I was sure my decision to kill Jacob was based entirely on rational judgment rather than fury. She was very still, watching and listening. How much did she understand? "Charlie'll be here soon," Jacob said to me casually. "Just a heads-up. I assume Alice is getting you sunglasses or something?" "You assume way too much," I spit through my teeth. "What. Have. You. Done?" Jacob's smile wavered, but he was still too wound up to answer seriously. "Biondie and Emmett woke me up this morning going on and on about you all moving cross-country. Like I could let you leave. Charlie was the biggest issue there, right? Well, problem solved.'7 "Do you even realize what you've done? The danger you've put him in?" He snorted. "I didn't put him in danger. Except from you. But you've got some kind of supernatural self-control, right? Not as good as mind reading, if you ask me. Much less exciting." Edward moved then, darting across the room to get in Jacob's face. Though he was half a head shorter than Jacob, Jacob leaned away from his staggering anger as if Edward towered over him. "That's just a theory, mongrel," he snarled. "You think we should test it out on Charlie? Did you consider the physical pain you're putting Bella through, even if she can resist? Or the emotional pain if she doesn't? I suppose what happens to Bella no longer concerns you!" He spit the last word. Renesmee pressed her fingers anxiously to my cheek, anxiety coloring the replay in her head. Edward's words finally cut through Jacob's strangely electric mood. His mouth dropped into a frown. "Bella will be in pain?" "Like you've shoved a white-hot branding iron down her throat!" I flinched, remembering the scent of pure human blood. "I didn't know that," Jacob whispered. "Then perhaps you should have asked first," Edward growled back through his teeth. "You would have stopped me." "You should have been stopped ——" "This isn't about me," I interrupted. I stood very still, keeping my hold on Renesmee and sanity. "This is about Charlie, Jacob. How could you put him in danger this way? Do you realize it's death or vampire life for him now, too?" My voice trembled with the tears my eyes could no longer shed. Jacob was still troubled by Edward's accusations, but mine didn't seem to bother him. "Relax, Bella. I didn't tell him anything you weren't planning to tell him." "But he's coming here!" "Yeah, that's the idea. Wasn't the whole let him make the wrong assumptions' thing your plan? I think I provided a very nice red herring, if I do say so myself." My fingers flexed away from Renesmee. I curled them back in securely. "Say it straight, Jacob. I don't have the patience for this." "I didn't tell him anything about you, Bella. Not really. I told him about me. Well, show is probably a better verb." "He phased in front of Charlie," Edward hissed. I whispered, "You what?" "He's brave. Brave as you are. Didn't pass out or throw up or anything. I gotta say, I was impressed. You should've seen his face when I started taking my clothes off, though. Priceless," Jacob chortled. "You absolute moronl You could have given him a heart attack!" "Charlie's fine. He's tough. If you'd give this just a minute, you'll see that I did you a favor here." "You have half of that, Jacob." My voice was flat and steely. "You have thirty seconds to tell me every single word before I give Renesmee to Rosalie and rip your miserable head off. Seth won't be able to stop me this time." "Jeez, Bells. You didn't used to be so melodramatic. Is that a vampire thing?" "Twenty-six seconds." Jacob rolled his eyes and flopped into the nearest chair. His little pack moved to stand on his flanks, not at all relaxed the way he seemed to be; Leah's eyes were on me, her teeth slightly bared. "So I knocked on Charlie's door this morning and asked him to come for a walk with me. He was confused, but when I told him it was about you and that you were back in town, he followed me out to the woods. I told him you weren't sick anymore, and that things were a little weird, but good. He was about to take off to see you, but I told him I had to show him something first. And then I phased." Jacob shrugged. My teeth felt like a vise was pushing them together. "I want every word, you monster." "Well, you said I only had thirty seconds ——okay, okay." My expression must have convinced him that I wasn't in the mood for teasing. "Lemme see... I phased back and got dressed, and then after he started breathing again, I said something like, 'Charlie, you don't live in the world you thought you lived in. The good news is, nothing has changed——except that now you know. Life'll go on the same way it always has. You can go right back to pretending that you don't believe any of this.' "It took him a minute to get his head together, and then he wanted to know what was really going on with you, with the whole rare-disease thing. I told him that you had been sick, but you were fine now ——it was just that you'd had to change a little bit in the process of getting better. He wanted to know what I meant by 'change,' and I told him that you looked a lot more like Esme now than you looked like Renee." Edward hissed while I stared in horror; this was headed in a dangerous direction. "After a few minutes, he asked, real quietly, if you turned into an animal, too. And I said, 'She wishes she was that cool!'" Jacob chuckled. Rosalie made a noise of disgust. "I started to tell him more about werewolves, but I didn't even get the whole word out ——Charlie cut me off and said he'd 'rather not know the specifics.' Then he asked if you'd known what you were getting yourself into when you married Edward, and I said, 'Sure, she's known all about this for years, since she first came to Forks.' He didn't like that very much. I let him rant till he got it out of his system. After he got calmed down, he just wanted two things. He wanted to see you, and I said it would be better if he gave me a head start to explain." I inhaled deeply. "What was the other thing he wanted?" Jacob smiled. "You'll like this. His main request is that he be told as little as possible about all of this. If it's not absolutely essential for him to know something, then keep it to yourself. Need to know, only." I felt relief for the first time since Jacob had walked in. "I can handle that part." "Other than that, he'd just like to pretend things are normal." Jacob's smile turned smug; he must suspect that I would be starting to feel the first faint stirrings of gratitude about now. "What did you tell him about Renesmee?" I struggled to maintain the razor edge in my voice, fighting the reluctant appreciation. It was premature. There was still so much wrong with this situation. Even if Jacob's intervention had brought out a better reaction in Charlie than I'd ever hoped for... "Oh yeah. So I told him that you and Edward had inherited a new little mouth to feed." He glanced at Edward. "She's your orphaned ward —2—like Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson." Jacob snorted. "I didn't think you'd mind me lying. That's all part of the game, right?" Edward didn't respond in any way, so Jacob went on. "Charlie was way past being shocked at this point, but he did ask if you were adopting her. 'Like a daughter? Like I'm sort of a grandfather?' were his exact words. I told him yes. 'Congrats, Gramps,' and all of that. He even smiled a little." The stinging returned to my eyes, but not out of fear or anguish this time. Charlie was smiling at the idea of being a grandpa? Charlie would meet Renesmee? "But she's changing so fast," I whispered. "I told him that she was more special than all of us put together," Jacob said in a soft voice. He stood and walked right up to me, waving Leah and Seth off when they started to follow. Renesmee reached out to him, but I hugged her more tightly to me. "I told him, Trust me, you don't want to know about this. But if you can ignore all the strange parts, you're going to be amazed. She's the most wonderful person in the whole world.' And then I told him that if he could deal with that, you all would stick around for a while and he would have a chance to get to know her. But that if it was too much for him, you would leave. He said as long as no one forced too much information on him, he'd deal." Jacob stared at me with half a smile, waiting. "I'm not going to say thank you," I told him. "You're still putting Charlie at a huge risk." "I am sorry about it hurting you. I didn't know it was like that. Bella, things are different with us now, but you'll always be my best friend, and I'll always love you. But I'll love you the right way now. There's finally a balance. We both have people we can't live without." He smiled his very most Jacob-y smile. "Still friends?" Try as hard as I could to resist, I had to smile back. Just a tiny smile. He held out his hand: an offer. I took a deep breath and shifted Renesmee's weight to one arm. I put my left hand in his ——he didn't even flinch at the feel of my cool skin. "If I don't kill Charlie tonight, I'll consider forgiving you for this." "When you don't kill Charlie tonight, you'll owe me huge." I rolled my eyes. He held out his other hand toward Renesmee, a request this time. "Can I?" "I'm actually holding her so that my hands aren't free to kill you, Jacob. Maybe later." He sighed but didn't push me on it. Wise of him. Alice raced back through the door then, her hands full and her expression promising violence. "You, you, and you," she snapped, glaring at the werewolves. "If you must stay, get over in the corner and commit to being there for a while. I need to see. Bella, you'd better give him the baby, too. You'll need your arms free, anyway." Jacob grinned in triumph. Undiluted fear ripped through my stomach as the enormity of what I was about to do hit me. I was going to gamble on my iffy self-control with my pure human father as the guinea pig. Edward's earlier words crashed in my ears again. Did you consider the physical pain you're putting Bella through, even if she can resist? Or the emotional pain if she doesn't? I couldn't imagine the pain of failure. My breathing turned to gasps. "Take her," I whispered, sliding Renesmee into Jacob's arms. He nodded, concern wrinkling his forehead. He gestured to the others, and they all went to the far corner of the room. Seth and Jake slouched on the floor at once, but Leah shook her head and pursed her lips. "Am I allowed to leave?" she griped. She looked uncomfortable in her human body, wearing the same dirty t-shirt and cotton shorts she'd worn to shriek at me the other day, her short hair sticking up in irregular tufts. Her hands were still shaking. "Of course," Jake said. "Stay east so you don't cross Charlie's path," Alice added. Leah didn't look at Alice; she ducked out the back door and stomped into the bushes to phase. Edward was back at my side, stroking my face. "You can do this. I know you can. Ill help you; we all will." I met Edward's eyes with panic screaming from my face. Was he strong enough to stop me if I made a wrong move? "If I didn't believe you could handle it, we'd disappear today. This very minute. But you can. And you'll be happier if you can have Charlie in your life." I tried to slow my breathing. Alice held out her hand. There was a small white box on her palm. "These will irritate your eyes —u—they won't hurt, but they'll cloud your vision. It's annoying. They also won't match your old color, but it's still better than bright red, right?" She flipped the contact box into the air and I caught it. "When did you —u—" "Before you left on the honeymoon. I was prepared for several possible futures." I nodded and opened the container. I'd never worn contacts before, but it couldn't be that hard. I took the little brown quarter-sphere and pressed it, concave side in, to my eye. I blinked, and a film interrupted my sight. I could see through it, of course, but I could also see the texture of the thin screen. My eye kept focusing on the microscopic scratches and warped sections. "I see what you mean," I murmured as I stuck the other one in. I tried to not blink this time. My eye automatically wanted to dislodge the obstruction. "How do I look?" Edward smiled. "Gorgeous. Of course ——" "Yes, yes, she always looks gorgeous," Alice finished his thought impatiently. "It's better than red, but that's the highest commendation I can give. Muddy brown. Your brown was much prettier. Keep in mind that those won't last forever ——the venom in your eyes will dissolve them in a few hours. So if Charlie stays longer than that, you'll have to excuse yourself to replace them. Which is a good idea anyway, because humans need bathroom breaks." She shook her head. "Esme, give her a few pointers on acting human while I stock the powder room with contacts." "How long do I have?" "Charlie will be here in five minutes. Keep it simple." Esme nodded once and came to take my hand. "The main thing is not to sit too still or move too fast," she told me. "Sit down if he does," Emmett interjected. "Humans don't like to just stand there." "Let your eyes wander every thirty seconds or so," Jasper added. "Humans don't stare at one thing for too long." "Cross your legs for about five minutes, then switch to crossing your ankles for the next five," Rosalie said. I nodded once at each suggestion. I'd noticed them doing some of these things yesterday. I thought I could mimic their actions. "And blink at least three times a minute," Emmett said. He frowned, then darted to where the television remote sat on the end table. He flipped the TV on to a college football game and nodded to himself. "Move your hands, too. Brush your hair back or pretend to scratch something," Jasper said. "I said Esme" Alice complained as she returned. "You'll overwhelm her." "No, I think I got it all," I said. "Sit, look around, blink, fidget." "Right," Esme approved. She hugged my shoulders. Jasper frowned. "You'll be holding your breath as much as possible, but you need to move your shoulders a little to make it /oo/clike you're breathing." I inhaled once and then nodded again. Edward hugged me on my free side. "You can do this," he repeated, murmuring the encouragement in my ear. "Two minutes," Alice said. "Maybe you should start out already on the couch. You've been sick, after all. That way he won't have to see you move right at first." Alice pulled me to the sofa. I tried to move slowly, to make my limbs more clumsy. She rolled her eyes, so I must not have been doing a good job. "Jacob, I need Renesmee," I said. Jacob frowned, unmoving. Alice shook her head. "Bella, that doesn't help me see." "But I need her. She keeps me calm.'7 The edge of panic in my voice was unmistakable. "Fine," Alice groaned. "Hold her as still as you can and I'll try to see around her." She sighed wearily, like she'd been asked to work overtime on a holiday. Jacob sighed, too, but brought Renesmee to me, and then retreated quickly from Alice's glare. Edward took a seat beside me and put his arms around Renesmee and me. He leaned forward and looked Renesmee very seriously in the eyes. "Renesmee, someone special is coming to see you and your mother," he said in a solemn voice, as if he expected her to understand every word. Did she? She looked back at him with clear, grave eyes. "But he's not like us, or even like Jacob. We have to be very careful with him. You shouldn't tell him things the way you tell us." Renesmee touched his face. "Exactly," he said. "And he's going to make you thirsty. But you mustn't bite him. He won't heal like Jacob." "Can she understand you?" I whispered. "She understands. You'll be careful, won't you, Renesmee? You'll help us?" Renesmee touched him again. "No, I don't care if you bite Jacob. That's fine." Jacob chuckled. "Maybe you should leave, Jacob," Edward said coldly, glaring in his direction. Edward hadn't forgiven Jacob, because he knew that no matter what happened now, I was going to be hurting. But I'd take the burn happily if that were the worst thing I'd face tonight. "I told Charlie I'd be here," Jacob said. "He needs the moral support." "Moral support," Edward scoffed. "As far as Charlie knows, you're the most repulsive monster of us all." "Repulsive?" Jake protested, and then he laughed quietly to himself. I heard the tires turn off the highway onto the quiet, damp earth of the Cullens' drive, and my breathing spiked again. My heart ought to have been hammering. It made me anxious that my body didn't have the right reactions. I concentrated on the steady thrumming of Renesmee's heart to calm myself. It worked pretty quickly. "Well done, Bella," Jasper whispered in approval. Edward tightened his arm over my shoulders. "You're sure?" I asked him. "Positive. You can do anything" He smiled and kissed me. It wasn't precisely a peck on the lips, and my wild vampiric reactions took me off guard yet again. Edward's lips were like a shot of some addictive chemical straight into my nervous system. I was instantly craving more. It took all my concentration to remember the baby in my arms. Jasper felt my mood change. "Er, Edward, you might not want to distract her like that right now. She needs to be able to focus." Edward pulled away. "Oops," he said. I laughed. That had been my line from the very beginning, from the very first kiss. "Later," I said, and anticipation curled my stomach into a ball. "Focus, Bella," Jasper urged. "Right." i pushed the trembly feelings away. Charlie, that was the main thing now. Keep Charlie safe today. We would have all night___ "Bella." "Sorry, Jasper." Emmett laughed. The sound of Charlie's cruiser got closer and closer. The second of levity passed, and everyone was still. I crossed my legs and practiced my blinks. The car pulled in front of the house and idled for a few seconds. I wondered if Charlie was as nervous as I was. Then the engine cut off, and a door slammed. Three steps across the grass, and then eight echoing thuds against the wooden stairs. Four more echoing footsteps across the porch. Then silence. Charlie took two deep breaths. Knock, knock, knock. I inhaled for what might be the last time. Renesmee nestled deeper into my arms, hiding her face in my hair. Carlisle answered the door. His stressed expression changed to one of welcome, like switching the channel on the TV. "Hello, Charlie," he said, looking appropriately abashed. After all, we were supposed to be in Atlanta at the Center for Disease Control. Charlie knew he'd been lied to. "Carlisle," Charlie greeted him stiffly. "Where's Bella?" "Right here, Dad." Ugh! My voice was so wrong. Plus, I'd used up some of my air supply. I gulped in a quick refill, glad that Charlie's scent had not saturated the room yet. Charlie's blank expression told me how off my voice was. His eyes zeroed in on me and widened. I read the emotions as they scrolled across his face. Shock. Disbelief. Pain. Loss. Fear. Anger. Suspicion. More pain. I bit my lip. It felt funny. My new teeth were sharper against my granite skin than my human teeth had been against my soft human lips. "Is that you, Bella?" he whispered. "Yep." I winced at my wind-chime voice. "Hi, Dad." He took a deep breath to steady himself. "Hey, Charlie," Jacob greeted him from the corner. "How're things?" Charlie glowered at Jacob once, shuddered at a memory, and then stared at me again. Slowly, Charlie walked across the room until he was a few feet away from me. He darted an accusing glare at Edward, and then his eyes flickered back to me. The warmth of his body heat beat against me with each pulse of his heart. "Bella?" he asked again. I spoke in a lower voice, trying to keep the ring out of it. "It's really me." His jaw locked. "I'm sorry, Dad," I said. "Are you okay?" he demanded. "Really and truly great," I promised. "Healthy as a horse." That was it for my oxygen. "Jake told me this was... necessary. That you were dying." He said the words like he didn't believe them one bit. I steeled myself, focused on Renesmee's warm weight, leaned into Edward for support, and took a deep breath. Charlie's scent was a fistful of flames, punching straight down my throat. But it was so much more than pain. It was a hot stabbing of desire, too. Charlie smelled more delicious than anything I'd ever imagined. As appealing as the anonymous hikers had been on the hunt, Charlie was doubly tempting. And he was just a few feet away, leaking mouthwatering heat and moisture into the dry air. But I wasn't hunting now. And this was my father. Edward squeezed my shoulders sympathetically, and Jacob shot an apologetic glance at me across the room. I tried to collect myself and ignore the pain and longing of the thirst. Charlie was waiting for my answer. "Jacob was telling you the truth." "That makes one of you," Charlie growled. I hoped Charlie could see past the changes in my new face to read the remorse there. Under my hair, Renesmee sniffed as Charlie's scent registered with her, too. I tightened my grip on her. Charlie saw my anxious glance down and followed it. "Oh," he said, and all the anger fell off his face, leaving only shock behind. "This is her. The orphan Jacob said you're adopting." "My niece," Edward lied smoothly. He must have decided that the resemblance between Renesmee and him was too pronounced to be ignored. Best to claim they were related from the beginning. "I thought you'd lost your family," Charlie said, accusation returning to his voice. "I lost my parents. My older brother was adopted, like me. I never saw him after that. But the courts located me when he and his wife died in a car accident, leaving their only child without any other family." Edward was so good at this. His voice was even, with just the right amount of innocence. I needed practice so that I could do that. Renesmee peeked out from under my hair, sniffing again. She glanced shyly at Charlie from under her long lashes, then hid again. "She's... she's, well, she's a beauty." "Yes," Edward agreed. "Kind of a big responsibility, though. You two are just getting started." "What else could we do?" Edward brushed his fingers lightly over her cheek. I saw him touch her lips for just a moment ——a reminder. "Would you have refused her?" "Hmph. Well." He shook his head absently. "Jake says you call her Nessie?" "No, we don't," I said, my voice too sharp and piercing. "Her name is Renesmee." Charlie refocused on me. "How do you feel about this? Maybe Carlisle and Esme could ——" "She's mine," I interrupted. "I want her." Charlie frowned. "You gonna make me a grandpa so young?" Edward smiled. "Carlisle is a grandfather, too." Charlie shot an incredulous glance at Carlisle, still standing by the front door; he looked like Zeus's younger, better-looking brother. Charlie snorted and then laughed. "I guess that does sort of make me feel better." His eyes strayed back to Renesmee. "She sure is something to look at." His warm breath blew lightly across the space between us. Renesmee leaned toward the smell, shaking off my hair and looking him full in the face for the first time. Charlie gasped. I knew what he was seeing. My eyes —u—his eyes——copied exactly into her perfect face. Charlie started hyperventilating. His lips trembled, and I could read the numbers he mouthed. He was counting backward, trying to fit nine months into one. Trying to put it together but not able to force the evidence right in front of him to make any sense. Jacob got up and came over to pat Charlie on the back. He leaned in to whisper something in Charlie's ear; only Charlie didn't know we could all hear. "Need to know, Charlie. It's okay. I promise." Charlie swallowed and nodded. And then his eyes blazed as he took a step closer to Edward with his fists tightly clenched. "I don't want to know everything, but I'm done with the lies!" "I'm sorry," Edward said calmly, "but you need to know the public story more than you need to know the truth. If you're going to be part of this secret, the public story is the one that counts. It's to protect Bella and Renesmee as well as the rest of us. Can you go along with the lies for them?" The room was full of statues. I crossed my ankles. Charlie huffed once and then turned his glare on me. "You might've given me some warning, kid." "Would it really have made this any easier?" He frowned, and then he knelt on the floor in front of me. I could see the movement of the blood in his neck under his skin. I could feel the warm vibration of it. So could Renesmee. She smiled and reached one pink palm out to him. I held her back. She pushed her other hand against my neck, thirst, curiosity, and Charlie's face in her thoughts. There was a subtle edge to the message that made me think that she'd understood Edward's words perfectly; she acknowledged thirst, but overrode it in the same thought. "Whoa," Charlie gasped, his eyes on her perfect teeth. "How old is she?" "Urn..." "Three months," Edward said, and then added slowly, "rather, she's the size of a three-month-old, more or less. She's younger in some ways, more mature in others." Very deliberately, Renesmee waved at him. Charlie blinked spastically. Jacob elbowed him. "Told you she was special, didn't I?" Charlie cringed away from the contact. "Oh, c'mon, Charlie," Jacob groaned. "I'm the same person I've always been. Just pretend this afternoon didn't happen." The reminder made Charlie's lips go white, but he nodded once. "Just what is your part in all this, Jake?" he asked. "How much does Billy know? Why are you here?" He looked at Jacob's face, which was glowing as he stared at Renesmee. "Well, I could tell you all about it —2—Billy knows absolutely everything——but it involves a lot of stuff about werewo—2—" "Ungh!" Charlie protested, covering his ears. "Never mind." Jacob grinned. "Everything's going to be great, Charlie. Just try to not believe anything you see." My dad mumbled something unintelligible. "Woo!" Emmett suddenly boomed in his deep bass. "Go Gators!" Jacob and Charlie jumped. The rest of us froze. Charlie recovered, then looked at Emmett over his shoulder. "Florida winning?" "Just scored the first touchdown," Emmett confirmed. He shot a look in my direction, wagging his eyebrows like a villain in vaudeville. "'Bout time somebody scored around here." I fought back a hiss. In front of Charlie? That was over the line. But Charlie was beyond noticing innuendos. He took yet another deep breath, sucking the air in like he was trying to pull it down to his toes. I envied him. He lurched to his feet, stepped around Jacob, and half-fell into an open chair. "Well," he sighed, "I guess we should see if they can hold on to the lead."

26. SHINY "I don't know how much we should tell Renee about this," Charlie said, hesitating with one foot out the door. He stretched, and then his stomach growled. I nodded. "I know, i don't want to freak her out. Better to protect her. This stuff isn't for the fainthearted." His lips twisted up to the side ruefully. "I would have tried to protect you, too, if I'd known how. But I guess you've never fit into the fainthearted category, have you?" I smiled back, pulling a blazing breath in through my teeth. Charlie patted his stomach absently. "I'll think of something. We've got time to discuss this, right?" "Right," I promised him. It had been a long day in some ways, and so short in others. Charlie was late for dinner ——Sue Clearwater was cooking for him and Billy. That was going to be an awkward evening, but at least he'd be eating real food; I was glad someone was trying to keep him from starving due to his lack of cooking ability. All day the tension had made the minutes pass slowly; Charlie had never relaxed the stiff set of his shoulders. But he'd been in no hurry to leave, either. He'd watched two whole games —2—thankfully so absorbed in his thoughts that he was totally oblivious to Emmett's suggestive jokes that got more pointed and less football-related with each aside——and the after-game commentaries, and then the news, not moving until Seth had reminded him of the time. "You gonna stand Billy and my mom up, Charlie? C'mon. Bella and Nessie'll be here tomorrow. Let's get some grub, eh?" It had been clear in Charlie's eyes that he hadn't trusted Seth's assessment, but he'd let Seth lead the way out. The doubt was still there as he paused now. The clouds were thinning, the rain gone. The sun might even make an appearance just in time to set. "Jake says you guys were going to take off on me," he muttered to me now. "I didn't want to do that if there was any way at all around it. That's why we're still here." "He said you could stay for a while, but only if I'm tough enough, and if I can keep my mouth shut." "Yes... but I can't promise that we'll never leave, Dad. It's pretty complicated___" "Need to know," he reminded me. "Right." "You'll visit, though, if you have to go?" "I promise, Dad. Now that you know/usf enough, I think this can work. I'll keep as close as you want." He chewed on his lip for half a second, then leaned slowly toward me with his arms cautiously extended. I shifted Renesmee —2—napping now——to my left arm, locked my teeth, held my breath, and wrapped my right arm very lightly around his warm, soft waist. "Keep real close, Bells," he mumbled. "Real close." "Love you, Dad," I whispered through my teeth. He shivered and pulled away. I dropped my arm. "Love you, too, kid. Whatever else has changed, that hasn't." He touched one finger to Renesmee's pink cheek. "She sure looks a lot like you." I kept my expression casual, though I felt anything but. "More like Edward, I think." I hesitated, and then added, "She has your curls." Charlie started, then snorted. "Huh. Guess she does. Huh. Grandpa." He shook his head doubtfully. "Do I ever get to hold her?" I blinked in shock and then composed myself. After considering for a half second and judging Renesmee's appearance ——she looked completely out—u—I decided that I might as well push my luck to the limit, since things were going so well today___ "Here," I said, holding her out to him. He automatically made an awkward cradle with his arms, and I tucked Renesmee into it. His skin wasn't quite as hot as hers, but it made my throat tickle to feel the warmth flowing under the thin membrane. Where my white skin brushed him it left goose bumps. I wasn't sure if this was a reaction to my new temperature or totally psychological. Charlie grunted quietly as he felt her weight. "She's... sturdy." I frowned. She felt feather-light to me. Maybe my measure was off. "Sturdy is good," Charlie said, seeing my expression. Then he muttered to himself, "She'll need to be tough, surrounded by all this craziness." He bounced his arms gently, swaying a little from side to side. "Prettiest baby I ever saw, including you, kid. Sorry, but it's true." "I know it is." "Pretty baby," he said again, but it was closer to a coo this time. I could see it in his face ——I could watch it growing there. Charlie was just as helpless against her magic as the rest of us. Two seconds in his arms, and already she owned him. "Can I come back tomorrow?" "Sure, Dad. Of course. We'll be here." "You'd better be," he said sternly, but his face was soft, still gazing at Renesmee. "See you tomorrow, Nessie." "Not you, too!" "Huh?" "Her name is Renesmee. Like Renee and Esme, put together. No variations." I struggled to calm myself without the deep breath this time. "Do you want to hear her middle name?" "Sure." "Carlie. With a C. Like Carlisle and Charlie put together." Charlie's eye-creasing grin lit up his face, taking me off guard. "Thanks, Bells." "Thank you, Dad. So much has changed so quickly. My head hasn't stopped spinning. If I didn't have you now, I don't know how I'd keep my grip on ——on reality." I'd been about to say my grip on who I was. That was probably more than he needed. Charlie's stomach growled. "Go eat, Dad. We will be here." I remembered how it felt, that first uncomfortable immersion in fantasy ——the sensation that everything would disappear in the light of the rising sun. Charlie nodded and then reluctantly returned Renesmee to me. He glanced past me into the house; his eyes were a little wild for a minute as he stared around the big bright room. Everyone was still there, besides Jacob, who I could hear raiding the refrigerator in the kitchen; Alice was lounging on the bottom step of the staircase with Jasper's head in her lap; Carlisle had his head bent over a fat book in his lap; Esme was humming to herself, sketching on a notepad, while Rosalie and Emmett laid out the foundation for a monumental house of cards under the stairs; Edward had drifted to his piano and was playing very softly to himself. There was no evidence that the day was coming to a close, that it might be time to eat or shift activities in preparation for evening. Something intangible had changed in the atmosphere. The Cullens weren't trying as hard as they usually did ——the human charade had slipped ever so slightly, enough for Charlie to feel the difference. He shuddered, shook his head, and sighed. "See you tomorrow, Bella." He frowned and then added, "I mean, it's not like you don't look... good. I'll get used to it." "Thanks, Dad." Charlie nodded and walked thoughtfully toward his car. I watched him drive away; it wasn't until I heard his tires hit the freeway that I realized I'd done it. I'd actually made it through the whole day without hurting Charlie. All by myself. I must have a superpower! It seemed too good to be true. Could I really have both my new family and some of my old as well? And I'd thought that yesterday had been perfect. "Wow," I whispered. I blinked and felt the third set of contact lenses disintegrate. The sound of the piano cut off, and Edward's arms were around my waist, his chin resting on my shoulder. "You took the word right out of my mouth." "Edward, i did it!" "You did. You were unbelievable. All that worrying over being a newborn, and then you skip it altogether.'7 He laughed quietly. "I'm not even sure she's really a vampire, let alone a newborn," Emmett called from under the stairs. "She's too tame." All the embarrassing comments he'd made in front of my father sounded in my ears again, and it was probably a good thing I was holding Renesmee. Unable to help my reaction entirely, I snarled under my breath. "Oooo, scary," Emmett laughed. I hissed, and Renesmee stirred in my arms. She blinked a few times, then looked around, her expression confused. She sniffed, then reached for my face. "Charlie will be back tomorrow," I assured her. "Excellent," Emmett said. Rosalie laughed with him this time. "Not brilliant, Emmett," Edward said scornfully, holding out his hands to take Renesmee from me. He winked when I hesitated, and so, a little confused, I gave her to him. "What do you mean?" Emmett demanded. "It's a little dense, don't you think, to antagonize the strongest vampire in the house?" Emmett threw his head back and snorted. "Please!" "Bella," Edward murmured to me while Emmett listened closely, "do you remember a few months ago, I asked you to do me a favor once you were immortal?" That rang a dim bell. I sifted through the blurry human conversations. After a moment, I remembered and I gasped, "Oh!" Alice trilled a long, pealing laugh. Jacob poked his head around the corner, his mouth stuffed with food. "What?" Emmett growled. "Really?" I asked Edward. "Trust me," he said. I took a deep breath. "Emmett, how do you feel about a little bet?" He was on his feet at once. "Awesome. Bring it." I bit my lip for a second. He was just so huge. "Unless you're too afraid... ?" Emmett suggested. I squared my shoulders. "You. Me. Arm-wrestling. Dining room table. Now." Emmett's grin stretched across his face. "Er, Bella," Alice said quickly, "I think Esme is fairly fond of that table. It's an antique." "Thanks," Esme mouthed at her. "No problem," Emmett said with a gleaming smile. "Right this way, Bella." I followed him out the back, toward the garage; I could hear all the others trailing behind. There was a largish granite boulder standing up out of a tumble of rocks near the river, obviously Emmett's goal. Though the big rock was a little rounded and irregular, it would do the job. Emmett placed his elbow on the rock and waved me forward. I was nervous again as I watched the thick muscles in Emmett's arm roll, but I kept my face smooth. Edward had promised I would be stronger than anyone for a while. He seemed very confident about this, and I felt strong. That strong? I wondered, looking at Emmett's biceps. I wasn't even two days old, though, and that ought to count for something. Unless nothing was normal about me. Maybe I wasn't as strong as a normal newborn. Maybe that's why control was so easy for me. I tried to look unconcerned as I set my elbow against the stone. "Okay, Emmett. I win, and you cannot say one more word about my sex life to anyone, not even Rose. No allusions, no innuendos ——no nothing." His eyes narrowed. "Deal. I win, and it's going to get a lot worse." He heard my breath stop and grinned evilly. There was no hint of bluff in his eyes. "You gonna back down so easy, little sister?" Emmett taunted. "Not much wild about you, is there? I bet that cottage doesn't have a scratch." He laughed. "Did Edward tell you how many houses Rose and I smashed?" I gritted my teeth and grabbed his big hand. "One, two —u—" "Three," he grunted, and shoved against my hand. Nothing happened. Oh, I could feel the force he was exerting. My new mind seemed pretty good at all kinds of calculations, and so I could tell that if he wasn't meeting any resistance, his hand would have pounded right through the rock without difficulty. The pressure increased, and I wondered randomly if a cement truck doing forty miles an hour down a sharp decline would have similar power. Fifty miles an hour? Sixty? Probably more. It wasn't enough to move me. His hand shoved against mine with crushing force, but it wasn't unpleasant. It felt kind of good in a weird way. I'd been so very careful since the last time I woke up, trying so hard not to break things. It was a strange relief to use my muscles. To let the strength flow rather than struggling to restrain it. Emmett grunted; his forehead creased and his whole body strained in one rigid line toward the obstacle of my unmoving hand. I let him sweat —2—figuratively—2—for a moment while I enjoyed the sensation of the crazy force running through my arm. A few seconds, though, and I was a little bored with it. I flexed; Emmett lost an inch. I laughed. Emmett snarled harshly through his teeth. "Just keep your mouth shut," I reminded him, and then I smashed his hand into the boulder. A deafening crack echoed off the trees. The rock shuddered, and a piece ——about an eighth of the mass——broke off at an invisible fault line and crashed to the ground. It fell on Emmett's foot, and I snickered. I could hear Jacob's and Edward's muffled laughter. Emmett kicked the rock fragment across the river. It sliced a young maple in half before thudding into the base of a big fir, which swayed and then fell into another tree. "Rematch. Tomorrow." "It's not going to wear off that fast," I told him. "Maybe you ought to give it a month." Emmett growled, flashing his teeth. "Tomorrow." "Hey, whatever makes you happy, big brother." As he turned to stalk away, Emmett punched the granite, shattering off an avalanche of shards and powder. It was kind of neat, in a childish way. Fascinated by the undeniable proof that I was stronger than the strongest vampire I'd ever known, I placed my hand, fingers spread wide, against the rock. Then I dug my fingers slowly into the stone, crushing rather than digging; the consistency reminded me of hard cheese. I ended up with a handful of gravel. "Cool," I mumbled. With a grin stretching my face, I whirled in a sudden circle and karate-chopped the rock with the side of my hand. The stone shrieked and groaned and ——with a big poof of dust——split in two. I started giggling. I didn't pay much attention to the chuckles behind me while I punched and kicked the rest of the boulder into fragments. I was having too much fun, snickering away the whole time. It wasn't until I heard a new little giggle, a high-pitched peal of bells, that I turned away from my silly game. "Did she just laugh?" Everyone was staring at Renesmee with the same dumbstruck expression that must have been on my face. "Yes," Edward said. "Who wasnt laughing?" Jake muttered, rolling his eyes. "Tell me you didn't let go a bit on your first run, dog," Edward teased, no antagonism in his voice at all. "That's different," Jacob said, and I watched in surprise as he mock-punched Edward's shoulder. "Bella's supposed to be a grown-up. Married and a mom and all that. Shouldn't there be more dignity?" Renesmee frowned, and touched Edward's face. "What does she want?" I asked. "Less dignity," Edward said with a grin. "She was having almost as much fun watching you enjoy yourself as I was." "Am I funny?" I asked Renesmee, darting back and reaching for her at the same time that she reached for me. I took her out of Edward's arms and offered her the shard of rock in my hand. "You want to try?" She smiled her glittering smile and took the stone in both hands. She squeezed, a little dent forming between her eyebrows as she concentrated. There was a tiny grinding sound, and a bit of dust. She frowned, and held the chunk up to me. Til get it," I said, pinching the stone into sand. She clapped and laughed; the delicious sound of it made us all join in. The sun suddenly burst through the clouds, shooting long beams of ruby and gold across the ten of us, and I was immediately lost in the beauty of my skin in the light of the sunset. Dazed by it. Renesmee stroked the smooth diamond-bright facets, then laid her arm next to mine. Her skin had just a faint luminosity, subtle and mysterious. Nothing that would keep her inside on a sunny day like my glowing sparkle. She touched my face, thinking of the difference and feeling disgruntled. "You're the prettiest," I assured her. Tm not sure I can agree to that," Edward said, and when I turned to answer him, the sunlight on his face stunned me into silence. Jacob had his hand in front of his face, pretending to shield his eyes from the glare. "Freaky Bella," he commented. "What an amazing creature she is," Edward murmured, almost in agreement, as if Jacob's comment was meant as a compliment. He was both dazzling and dazzled. It was a strange feeling ——not surprising, I supposed, since everything felt strange now—u—this being a natural at something. As a human, I'd never been best at anything. I was okay at dealing with Renee, but probably lots of people could have done better; Phil seemed to be holding his own. I was a good student, but never the top of the class. Obviously, I could be counted out of anything athletic. Not artistic or musical, no particular talents to brag of. Nobody ever gave away a trophy for reading books. After eighteen years of mediocrity, I was pretty used to being average. I realized now that I'd long ago given up any aspirations of shining at anything. I just did the best with what I had, never quite fitting into my world. So this was really different. I was amazing now ——to them and to myself. It was like I had been born to be a vampire. The idea made me want to laugh, but it also made me want to sing. I had found my true place in the world, the place I fit, the place I shined.

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