Chapter 6

Playlist selection: Wicked Woman by Coven

Edward POV

"Hey, Mom!" I yank the minivan's door open, climbing into the passenger seat. "Where's Dad?"

"He's running a few minutes late, so we're going to meet him at the house."


"Actually, I need to pick up a few more snacks for Carrumba, so we're going to run to the grocery store on the way."

I nod and shove my backpack to the floorboard as she pulls out of the school's parking lot. The minivan is loaded down with our camping gear, or what my mother considers camping gear; a portable hammock, lounge chairs, fashion magazines, and a handful of DVDs. Our cabin is fully furnished; complete with two bedrooms, equipped kitchen, and basic satellite service. Mom can't 'camp' without a television. Give Dad and me a couple of fishing poles and two sleeping bags, and we're good.

Several moments later, we pull into the shopping plaza and she parks the car at the far end of the lot. I give her a confused look, silently asking why the hell we parked out in B-F-E when there are plenty of open spaces closer to the store.

Answering my silent question, she says, "I don't want anyone to break into the car and steal our stuff, Edward."

I scoff and shake my head. She's a fucking nut-job sometimes. Who would want to steal our crap?

Once inside, Mom grabs a hand basket and turns toward the produce section.

"Oh, I almost forgot! Your dad wants to take some cereal with us. Can you grab him a box, and I'll grab the fruit and veggies?"

"Yeah, okay, sure. I'll just meet you back here at the check outs in a couple minutes."

She smiles and scurries over to the opposite side of the store as I head in the other direction, scavenging for breakfast items.

I haven't eaten cereal in years. Breakfast consists of eggs and bacon or sausage, maybe a few pancakes, if Bella's around. But cereal is for kids and grandparents. I grimace as I stroll down the aisle, fingering boxes of all the various kinds; plain flakes, toasted oats, fruity wheels... Jesus! Why couldn't there be one box of cereal, dressed in nondescript, white cardboard with black lettering, stamped with ACME on the label? Shit! I don't know what the hell kind of cereal my dad eats. I snag the first box of fiber enhanced squares and snicker at all the 'old man' comments I can tease him with. Turning to head back to the check outs, a familiar, childhood character catches my eye. Mom used to buy it all the time, and I remember seeing Dad sneak a few bowls in once in a while, so I know he'll enjoy it. I toss the box of wheaty oats back onto the shelf, and snatch up the kids' cereal.

Mom is already in line at the check out, placing her bags of produce on the conveyor belt. "Hey, hon. What did you find?" She takes the cereal box from me and glances at the cartoon face on the box.

"Count Chocula?" She looks at me incredulously, then bursts into a loud guffaw.

"What?" I chuckle along with her. "You guys love vampires."

"Very funny, Edward," she chides and pats my hand condescendingly. "Your father will enjoy that. Oh! Speaking of vampires, have you seen this?"

She passes me a black book with a picture of arms and fruit on the cover. "What's this? Another trashy romance novel?"

Smacking my arm lightly, she steals the book from my grip, handing it to the checkout girl. "No, it's not a trashy romance novel, Edward. It's about a vampire and his struggles to not kill his human girlfriend. It's the hottest book out there nowadays. It's called Tonight. Haven't you heard of it?"

I shake my head 'no'.

"Well, Bella's probably heard of it. Maybe I'll lend it to her when I'm done reading."

"Whatever, Mom." I roll my eyes and take the plastic bag of groceries, heading toward the exit door. Women...

At home, I unload the food onto the kitchen counter so Mom can pilfer through the items and pack them into the ice chest. I grab my backpack and head toward the stairs. A flash of sunlight is reflected off a passing car's windshield and through the living room. "Mom, Dad's home!" I yell, watching as his cruiser pulls into the driveway.

I take the stairs two at a time and plow through my bedroom door, tossing my backpack into the corner unceremoniously. I grimace as I survey my room, cursing myself for being such a fucking slob. Bella will have a field day with this mess. A twinge of guilt bubbles inside me, knowing once she sees the chaos in here, she'll spend all weekend cleaning it. I can't have that. She should be partying her ass off this weekend at someone's graduation party, not washing my underwear.

Stepping over several articles of dirty clothes, I make my way toward my desk and tear out a page from an old spiral notebook. Scribbling a quick note for Bella, I tack it to the mirror above my dresser and turn to meet my parents downstairs.

As I reach the door, I stop as I get a sense that I've left something important behind for this trip. I make a quick, mental inventory of my packed supplies; solar lantern, fishing poles, my latest copy of American Entomologist magazine, and my favorite 'spank-bank' picture of Bella in a bikini from our trip to Florida last summer. Yep... everything I need is packed.

I glance around my room, looking for anything that I may have missed. When my eyes fall upon my mirror, I smile at my love note.

I know you miss me.
Quit cleaning!!
See you Sunday.

I trip over my old gym shoes as I stumble toward the dresser. Placing a kiss to my fingertips, I reach my hand toward the paper and press my fingers to the message, transferring my love to my little BellaButterfly.

Leaving my room, I plunder down the stairs and spend a few moments with Carrumba, rehearsing some new words I've been teaching her.

Unlatching the door to her cage, I reach into the opening and raise my hand for her to climb onto. I bring her out and place a quick peck to her beak as she mimics the sound of a chaste kiss. She ruffles her bright green feathers and yawns widely.



"C'mon... BEL-LA. BEL-LA." She quirks her head at me, then leans down to pull on a loose string on my shirt sleeve.


"Alright, Edward. Let's get a move on! I want to get there before dark," Dad yells from the kitchen as he's hauling the ice chest out to the minivan.

"Yeah, okay. I'm coming." I give Carrumba a quick smooch on her beak again, tell her to be a good girl for Bella this weekend, and place her back in her cage. I give her a brief wave as I exit the living room, heading into the garage.

"BUH-BYE!" she squawks.


A few hours into the drive, we pull off the highway and into a truck stop. Mom rushes inside to use the facilities, Dad pumps the gas, and I decide to send Bella a little text message, just a tiny reminder that I love her and I'll miss her. Not that there's a chance in Hell that she'd ever forget me, or vice versa. We'll never be apart anyway, so it's a moot point.

A moment later, she replies with a snarky comment, telling me she doesn't miss me, but I know she does. She always tells me how lonely she is when we're apart. I counter her text with another sappy, lovey-dovey one, imagining the sparkle in her eyes and the way she bites her lower lip to prevent her wide grin from spreading. She's so beautiful when she smiles.

My parents pile back into the car, and we set out onto the highway again. I send Bella one last text before I lose cell phone service, telling her to have fun this weekend and that I'll see her on Sunday. I kiss the picture of her on the screen of my phone before I power down and slide it into my dufflebag.

Just before sunset, we arrive at the ranger's station, and Dad checks us in. He chats with one of the guys at the desk for a moment or two before we are back on the road, heading toward the cabin.

We pull up in front of the rustic-looking cottage and Mom hops out, making a beeline for the front door. She makes quick work of opening all the windows and doors, airing out the place, while Dad and I bring in our luggage and supplies.

Mom directs us with a wave of her hand as she holds the screen door open. "Just put the food cooler in the kitchen, guys. I'll work on putting stuff away and get started on dinner."

"Awesome! I'm starved. What are we having?" I smile and rub my belly eagerly.

"Well, Charlie gave us a couple of packages of ground bear meat, so I thought I'd make some chili?" She vollies a look between my father and I, gauging our reaction.

I shrug, not really caring what we eat. "That's fine. Just let me know when it's ready."

I turn and drag my dufflebag toward my room and toss it on the bed. Carefully opening the drawers to the dresser, I keep a watchful eye for any bugs hiding out inside. Not that I mind the bugs at all, but I just don't want to unload my underwear on top of a venomous scorpion. I can't have one of those things attacking my junk. Seeing that the coast is clear, I fill the drawers with my clothes and toss the empty bag in the closet. Remembering my picture of Bella stuffed inside my AE magazine, I flip through it's colorful pages quickly and retrieve the photo, smiling as I notice it was resting on an advertisement for an entomology convention in Albuquerque. I toss the magazine onto the bed to read later, and stuff Bella's picture under my pillow to, err, look at tonight.

Readjusting my crotch, I turn off the light to my bedroom and amble out to help Mom in the kitchen.


Thursday morning, I stir awake to the alluring aroma of bacon and the sound of someone clanking pans in the kitchen. I flop over onto my stomach, covering my head with the pillow to block out the early morning sun as it filters in through my window, but I leave a little gap for my nose to relish the smell of pan-fried pork. YUM! A few moments later, my stomach growls and I shrug out of the blankets, and stretch like a cat. I glance in the mirror, running a hand through my hair and grimacing at the nightmare of locks on top of my head. Grabbing a pair of basketball shorts and tank top, I shuffle out of my room and into the bathroom down the hall to take care of my morning ritual.

Freshly showered and hungry as a motherfucker, I make my way to the kitchen and find Dad sitting at the table alone.

"Hey, Dad."

He quickly glances up from his latest issue of Field & Stream and back down, turning the page. "Morning."

I stack my plate with bacon, scrambled eggs, and toast, and plop down in the seat across from my father. Halfway through my breakfast, Dad asks if I want to join him fishing this morning. I agree, of course, anxious to try out my new fishing equipment my parents got me for graduation.

After breakfast, we fill a bag with sandwiches, drinks, and Bella's fuckawesome cookies, and pack up the minivan. We send a quick wave to my mother, lounging in her hammock under the shade of the trees, reading her vampire-nonsense novel, as we speed down the rocky, dirt path toward the lake.

The windows are open, and the wind is gusting through my hair, making it more of a disaster zone. I don't give a shit. It's just me and my dad - the boys club, as we used to call the times he and I would hang out alone. These are the times that I can belch and scratch myself as needed and not have to say 'excuse me' or try to be discreet when I have to take a piss. I can just turn my back and whiz. We talk about manly stuff like cars and fishing, or guns and sports; none of the emotional lovey-dovey stuff. Not that I hate the sweet romantic things, not at all. I love doing that shit with Bella, but it's more like when a woman says she just needs a 'girl's day' with her friends. Well, this is a 'guy's day', and I'm fucking stoked.

Dad pulls into the open space near the lake, and we unload the back of the van, sprawling our supplies over the tiny beach. As we prep our lines to cast out into the water, my dad suddenly grows a vagina.


"Yeah, Dad?" I move further toward the shore, finagling with the pole's reel.

"I just wanted to tell you how proud your mother and I are of you."

I whip my head around to look at him as if he's just admitted he's pregnant. "Uh, thanks?" For some reason, my response to his praise comes out in the form of a question.

"You have grown into a very smart, caring, and compassionate young man, son."

I swallow thickly. Edward A. Masen Senior is not the type of man to get all soft and heartfelt for no reason.

He continues, "And I hope you continue to grow and become the strong, responsible, and loving husband that Bella will need you to be."

"Oh, Dad! You're not going to give me the 'birds and the bees' talk again, are you?" I roll my eyes at him, silently begging for him to drop the discussion.

"No, no. I just wanted to tell you that I love you very much, and I am honored to be your father, Edward."

Well, shit. What does one say to that?

"I, uhh... I mean, umm, thanks, Dad. That really means a lot." I stare at him in shock, or disbelief, or confusion... I don't know. He's never been the kind of guy to give a sentimental speech. Honestly, I'm in awe of what just happened. Fuck! I hope he's not about to drop a bomb on me. "Uhh, Dad? Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, everything is fine. I just thought that I should tell my son how I feel, to let you know how much of a wonderful man you've grown up to be."

I nod my head, acknowledging all that he's saying, but still a little weirded out about the entire conversation. After a moment of testing the line on the fishing pole and mulling over all the things he's said, I peer over my shoulder at him, watching as he situates his lounge chair in the sand. I put my pole down on the beach and touch his shoulder as he turns to face me.

"Thanks, Dad. I love you, too." I wrap my arms around my father's shoulders in a man-like hug, clapping him a few times on the back.

Seconds later, once the hug-fest is over and our vags have disintegrated, I snatch my pole from the ground, press the release lever, and cast the lure far out into the lake. Now, let the boy's day begin... bring on the fish!


On Friday, I spend the morning hiking the trails above the cabin, searching for spruce aphids or loopers, insects that are blamed for the destruction of the beautiful fir trees of the White Mountains. Wandering off the cleared paths, I scrounge the underbrush of the forest; uprooting fallen logs, over turning stones, and stabbing at loose soil clumps in the earth. Not satisfied with my discovery of a small mound of termites and a few black widow spiders, I continue my quest, finally managing to snaggle two bark beetles and an elusive, wooly aphid. I was excited as hell about that last one.

The sudden squeal of the two-way radio attached to my hip causes me to trip and stumble against a pine tree, and I drop one of my specimen cups.


Thankfully, the lid was on securely and I didn't lose my tiny, winged prisoner.

I snap the walkie-talkie from my waistband and mash the button, screaming into the mic, "Jesus! You scared the crap out of me, Mom! Quit hitting the whistle and just talk into it instead, okay?" Fucking-A!

"Sorry, sweetheart. I didn't mean to startle you. I just wondered if you were on your way back for lunch? Your father wants to go into town and get a chicken salad sandwich from the deli, and wondered if you want one too. Over."

I roll my eyes at the absurdity of her questioning me about chicken salad. I fucking hate that mushy shit.

"No, Mom. I'll just make a sandwich with the cold cuts you brought to the cabin, alright?"

"Okay, dear. So, are you on your way back yet? Over."

I glance down at my watch, surprised it's already a quarter 'til one in the afternoon. "Yeah, I'm on my way."

"I'll tell your dad to go ahead without you. Okay. Copy that, my little leech lover. Over and out."

I can't help but to roll my eyes and chuckle at my silly nickname. Leave it to my parents to combine my love for bugs and their fascination with blood-sucking vampires, making it a term of endearment.

Starting down the trail, I estimate it will take about forty-five minutes to get to the cabin, so I decide to take a shortcut through the forest, hopefully cutting my time in half. A half mile down the hill, I spot two deer in a small clearing. I silently creep toward them, careful to not make any noise to scare them. As soon as my foot touches down on the edge of the tree line, the mother fucking walkie talkie blares into the peaceful wilderness again.

"Oops! Sorry, dear! I was just wondering if you were almost back at the cabin? Over."

The deer leap off into the brush on the other side of the meadow, leaving me to contemplate throwing the damn electronic device against a nearby tree stump. I take a deep breath, reeling in my aggravation and let it out slowly through my mouth.

Once I've beaten down my frustration, I respond back in the most pleasant voice I can muster, "I will get there in another ten minutes or so, Mom."

"Okay, darling. I'll set up the picnic table and make you some lemonade."

"Fine. See you in a few."

I switch off the power and reclip it to the waistband of my shorts. Tentatively stepping into the small meadow, I survey the fringe, looking for any more deer lurking in the shadows. At the far end of the clearing, there's an outcropping of boulders, large and gray, with portions covered in soft-looking moss. I stride over to check it out and notice a conveniently situated stone, about hip high, and flat enough that I can imaging Bella's beautiful, naked body sprawled across it, her skin practically glowing in the bright Arizona sun. I can't wait to bring her back here, as my wife, and make love to her in the middle of nature. God, what an awesome idea.

I turn to leave the meadow and notice partial view of the lake at the base of the mountain. A gentle breeze whips around me, carrying the scent of pine and grass with it. There is something magical about the forest. Now, living in the arid desert around Phoenix is nice, but I've always wanted to live some place filled with ferns pelted by rain, white-capped mountains in the distance, and the ocean nearby. That would be Heaven to me, as long as Bella was by my side, too.

I spend the rest of the day with my parents watching DVDs and talking about all the changes happening this summer; my wedding, moving to Tucson, starting college. Mom gets a bit misty-eyed a few times, but thankfully manages to keep her emotions under control. I go to bed early, claiming the heat of the day and my long hike have worn me down, but really I just want to be alone with my girl. Uhh, well, with the picture of my girl, I mean.

Saturday starts off the same as Friday, a delicious breakfast - courtesy of Mom - and a hike in the woods. This time Dad comes with me while Mom snuggles in her hammock, book in hand, sipping some lemonade. We are gone for most of the day, trekking to Mogollan Rim and back, when we radio to Mom, letting her know we'll be home shortly for dinner. She yells at Dad for going so far out of walkie talkie range, and he calms her down with apologies and promises to buy a longer ranged set next time. Then she turns her nagging toward me, bitching about my clothes all over the place, and how Bella will not be my personal maid in Tucson. I tease her about her new, teenage book fetish, and we all laugh. Typical Masen family behavior: Mom complains, Dad kisses her ass, and I make a smartass comment to break the tension.

We make it back to the cabin just as Mom is setting the table. We enjoy a quiet evening together, recalling the fish we caught yesterday and the herd of elk we spotted on the hike today. Mom listens with rapt attention, living vicariously through our adventures and shuddering at the mention of the four foot rattle snake we crossed paths with near the lake. I turn in early for the night, eager for tomorrow morning to arrive and start our trip home, and back into the arms of my wife-to-be.


" lovely. "

A sweet voice whispers in my ear, but I'm not sure if it's part of a dream or reality. I haven't climbed back into consciousness yet, so it must be a disembodied voice in my dream. Laying still, I wait for the sound to return, but it doesn't. The only thing I notice is the faint scent of vanilla and bergamot, sweet and fruity, and wonder if I'm remembering Bella's body lotion, or if Mom is trying to infuse the house with potpourri again.

I slip back into deep sleep easily, returning to my dream of surfing in Hawaii, but now I'm being circled by man-eating sharks, swirling faster and faster, creating a maelstrom that sucks my surf board down it's vortex.

"Whaddya say, handsome? Wanna come home with me?" the voice giggles from farther away.

Now, there's a woman standing on the ocean floor at the bottom of the whirlpool, smiling at me with outstretched her arms, inviting me to her. It looks like Bella, but I'm not sure. Her hair is long and wavy like Bella's but her voice is different and it's too dark at the bottom of the sea to tell. The woman reaches out to me, touching my cheek softly. Her skin is cold and hard, not like the soft and warm skin of my fiancée. My heart rate picks up, and I feel uneasy, but I can't seem to tell why. The woman seems happy to see me, wanting me closer, luring me in with a wiggle of her finger.

"Who are you?" I ask, my voice mumbled.

Her smile gets wider as she takes a step toward me. Sharks are still circling around us, snapping their teeth at me as they come closer.

"Me? Well, I'm your creator, sweetness," she coos, reaching closer to me and gripping my chin firmly with her frozen fingers, forcing me to look in her eyes. "And you will be my mate."

I look at this crazy, undersea woman as if she's spoken Japanese with a German accent. Surely, she knows I am engaged to be married. There is no other woman for me than Bella.

"You're absurd. Bella is my 'mate', and there's nothing you can do to change that. We're getting married in a couple of weeks." I glower at her as the wall of water starts to close in on us, the razor-sharp teeth of the sharks coming closer.

"You're wrong, my precious," she says, slowly dragging her fingers down my neck and chest, hooking into the waistband of my shorts and pulling me against her body. "You belong to me."

My breathing increases, and I feel a strange sense of unease wash across me as I stare at this crazy woman. Suddenly, she narrows her eyes at me, contemplating something and then vanishes, leaving me at the base of the vortex alone. The sharks have vanished too, and I wonder if this is my one chance to escape. I pick up my surfboard and head toward the wall of water, hoping that I can ride the upswing toward the surface when I hear a loud, blood-curdling scream.

But it's not the dream woman's high pitched voice, nor is it Bella's. It sounds like... it sounds like Mom.

I am jolted awake by another ear-piercing screech, but it's quickly cut off as a loud thud is heard from my parents' room.

"Mom? Dad?"


I ask again, louder, "MOM?! DAD?!"

The only sound from my parents room is a muted, childish chuckle.

I toss my blankets to the side and scramble out of bed and toward the hallway. My door is open, which is odd, because I know I closed it when I went to bed. I take a few steps into the hallway, ready to knock on my parents' door to make sure everything is okay, when their door swings open and something grabs me by my throat.

"Where do you think you're going, sweetness?" A woman's shrill echoes throughout the cabin. It's too dark for me to get a good look at her, because all I can concentrate on is the iron-grasp around my neck. She's strong, holding me captive with one hand, and walks me backwards toward my room.

"Wha-Wh-..." I can barely breathe, much less speak.

"Shhhhh," she tries to soothe me. "No questions yet, my precious, there will be plenty of time for that later."

I struggle to breathe and remain upright as she easily lifts my body higher, leaving only my toes touching the floor. As we cross the threshold into my room, I grab the door jamb, halting her briefly. She sighs, letting go of my throat, allowing me to practically fall to the floor, but she scoops me into her arms.

"I wouldn't let you fall, sweetness. I won't let anything hurt you... for all eternity," she snickers at her own joke.

I claw at the door jambs, knocking my dresser mirror off kilter, desperate to escape her clutches. She pulls me closer against her chest, inhales a deep breath, and releases a low, feral-sounding growl from her throat. Suddenly, I'm tossed onto my bed and she's straddling my lap.

"Don't try to fight me, sugar. You will only hurt yourself." She runs her hand gently along my cheek and jaw, leaning down to place a few kisses against my lips. Her mouth is cold and hard like icicles; her long, wavy hair shrouding her face from the moonlight streaming in from the window.

I wrench my face away from hers, and she sits up, annoyed. "I told you not to fight me, boy." She scoots down further, straddling my thighs. Cupping her hand firmly against my junk, she snarls, "I'll take what's mine, if you won't give it up willingly. You'll end up like your parents if you can't behave."

"MOOOOOM!! DAAAAAD!!" I scream.

"Don't waste your breath, sweetness. They were collateral damage," she shrugs and encircles my wrists with her hands, pinning them to the pillow. "Well, actually, they were kind of like my appetizer... so I wouldn't kill you, my precious." She smiles innocently, as if what she's said makes perfect sense.

What the hell is she talking about? She's fucking psycho!

"Who the fuck are you?" I roar, struggling under her tight grasp.

"I told you who I am, but you don't have to worry about any specifics for a few days, sweetpea." She grinds her pelvis against my crotch. "You'll be my mate, and we will have all the time in the world for talking and, uhh, other things." She giggles.

I continue to struggle against her grip, but she just smiles at me, patiently waiting for my acquiescence. Once I'm exhausted, I give in. I'm never going to escape from this woman... this thing. She's alien, unhuman, and for some stupid reason, I need to know what she is.

"What are you?" I whisper in defeat.

Relishing my surrender, she leans toward my ear and whispers seductively, "I'm a vampire, sweetness, but you can call me Victoria."

Chapter 5

Playlist selection: Anxiety by Black Eyed Peas & Papa Roach

Bella POV
I toss the covers to the foot of the bed and throw my arms out to grasp onto Edward's body.  I'm so happy he's finally home, and I just want to cradle him to me, kiss his mouth, and breathe in his scent.  But, the body that sits next to me on the bed is not my fiance's, but my father's.  My sudden movements practically knock him to the floor. 
Charlie? What's he doing here? 
“Whoa!  Got a hot drink in my hands, Bells!”  My father scolded as he lurched from the bed, holding the mug away from his body.
I look at Charlie, confused. “Dad?  Wh-Where’s Edward?”
He sighs. “He’s not here, honey.  We haven’t heard from them yet.”  He sits the ceramic cup on the nightstand and wipes the spilled liquid from his hands onto his pants. Clearing his throat, he continues, “I take it that you didn’t hear from them last night either, huh?”
“No,” I whisper, shaking my head slowly. He will be there, I tell myself. He has to be there. 
Tears collect in my eyes again, and I furiously blink, attempting to keep them from spilling.  I slump down onto the mattress, inhaling deeply and praying that I can muster enough control to prevent a break down. 
After a moment of awkward silence, Charlie says, "C'mon, honey.  Your mom is making breakfast... and you need to get ready for graduation."  I nod, but don’t offer a reply, afraid if I open my mouth, I will scream or cry.
I find my cell phone tangled within the blankets of the bed and notice there’s no response from Edward.  I send him a quick text, begging for a reply, a phone call, a fucking smoke signal… anything!  Slapping my phone shut, I reach for the mug of tea and shuffle toward the bedroom door.
Downstairs, Carrumba is causing a ruckus in her cage.  She has upturned her metal water bowl and is dragging it across the bars of the enclosure like a prisoner in from an old movie.
“…GWAAAWWK! Hel-lo. Doo-doo-DOOOO!...”
“Mornin’, Carrumba,”  I mumble as I pass her cage, heading for the kitchen.  She stops squawking and eyes me through the bars as I gather her food, a wooden cutting board, and a knife. 
The silence in the house is deafening, so I resort to talking to her while I’m assembling her snacks.
“What’s going through that little bird brain of yours, huh?  Are you wondering where your family is? Are you missing your beloved Edward as much as I am?” 
As I am slicing through an apple, I inadvertently cut my finger. “Mother fucking cock-monkey!”
Shut up, bird.
Sucking the drop of blood from my finger, I grimace at the metallic taste and wonder how wild animals can relish the flavor of a fresh kill.  I couldn’t do it.  I’d be the only vegetarian lioness on the prairie. 
I replenish Carrumba’s food dishes and clean up my mess in the kitchen.  Glancing at the clock, I notice that it’s nine o’clock and I have to be at the graduation venue at 11:30. 
Slipping on my flip flops, I wave good-bye to Carrumba and exit through the front door, locking the dead bolt.  As I trudge across the front lawn, I attempt a call to Edward’s phone.  The connection rings once and then his voicemail picks up.  My chin quivers at the sound of his silky voice and I dab my eyes, ridding them of the collected moisture.
I turn to see Angela, her hair in curlers and barefoot, calling me from the front door of her house.  She asks if I've heard from the Masens yet and I tell her 'no' and that I am extremely worried. Tightly wrapping me in a hug, she says a prayer for their safe return, and gives my shoulders one final squeeze before holding me at arms length and looking into my eyes. "He'll be here, Bella. I just know it."
Giving her a small smile, I tell her that I will see her later and turn to continue through the yard and over to my house.
Our classmates are gathered in the backstage area of the US Airways Center in Phoenix - the venue for our graduation ceremony.  With nearly eight hundred seniors in our class, we needed a large arena to accommodate the graduates and their families. 
During rehearsal yesterday, we were instructed to pair up with a "walking buddy" for the processional as we enter the arena and take our seats on the main floor.  Angela paired up with Ben, and Peter chose Charlotte, of course.  Naturally, Edward would be my buddy, but I have a sinking feeling that I will be walking alone.  And to make matters worse, the school administrators have opted to allow buddies to sit together throughout the entire event, instead of separating us into alphabetic order.  Now, it seems I will be sitting by myself too.  
"...going to Andy's party tonight?"
"My parents got me a..."
"...heard back from ASU..."
The lively voices of my classmates drone on like a distant thunderstorm.  Their words rumble around me, muted, and don't make much of an impression.  I can't concentrate on any of their conversations.  My thoughts are distracted by a boy with emerald eyes, a wicked case of bed head, and the softest lips on the planet.   
"...and I are staying at the..."
"Cancun, here we..."
"...plans for the summer?"
I look up at the boy standing behind me.  He smiles, then redirects his attention to his blue graduation gown.  His long fingers press against the polyester fabric, trying to iron out the wrinkles.  I watch as they travel back up toward his head and adjust the tassel.
At the sound of his name, I whip my head to look at the squinty-eyed girl to the boy's left... his walking buddy.  I think her name is Christine.
"I said, 'Where's Edward?' I haven't seen him."
"I, uhh, I don't know."
"I thought I saw him over by the refreshment table," the boy said.  "He's friends with Peter Weber, right?"
"YES!" I shout, turning to frantically look for Edward in the direction of the reception area.  I sprint from the group I was standing near toward the lobby doors and spot Peter as he nibbles on snack mix from the refreshment table. "Pete!"
"Hey, Bells.  You ready for this?" he asks, gesturing to our caps and gowns.
"Yes and no," I shrug.  He nods, popping a pretzel into his mouth.
"Uh, Pete? Where did Edward go?"
Peter furrows his brows. "Edward...? He's here? Where?" He cranes his neck around, looking for his best friend.
"Someone told me that they saw you and Edward talking a few minutes ago..." 
"No. I haven't seen him since last week, Bella.  You know that."
He still isn't here.  The roller coaster of emotions was really starting to mess with my head.  Elation, disappointment, anxiety, and overwhelming dread have been wreaking havoc on my heart the last few days, leaving me feeling exhausted and weak. 
I practice deep breathing, trying to calm my fears, as I return to my position near the end of the line of students.  My hands are shaking slightly, and the sense of foreboding is threatening to overtake my body.  Deep breath in... Deep breath out...
One of our teachers claps her hands to gain our attention and instructs us to get into formation.  As the first sounds of Pomp and Circumstance begin, my chin begins to tremble, and I lose the battle to control my tears as one slips down my cheek.  Christine notices my silent sob and envelopes me in a hug, assuming that I'm emotional over the significance of the day.  Glancing toward the front of the line, I notice Angela staring at me as I try to regain my composure.  She breaks away from Ben and runs to me, gripping me in a quick hug and whispering, "He'll be here," and runs back to her place in line.
As the class of 2010 walks through the doors to the main floor of the arena, I can barely focus on my surroundings.  Shouts and whistles from family members can be heard from every direction, but I mindlessly follow the couple in front of me.  As we walk down the aisle and break off to our assigned rows, Christine slides into the seat next to me.
"NOOO!"  I slap my hand down on the metal chair, preventing her from sitting down. "This is Edward's seat... he'll be here."  Christine furrows her brow, shrugs, and sits in the next seat." 
The school's principal scampers onto the stage and introduces the panel of guest speakers behind him.  The Salutatorian and Valedictorian deliver their generic speeches, claiming this time as the beginning of our lives and all the opportunities that are in our future... blah, blah, blah.  I can't pay attention to their incessant babbling.  Nervously looking around, I pray that I will spot Edward sneaking into the arena and searching for me.  But my prayers go unanswered.
Lifting the skirt of my graduation gown, I rummage in the pocket of my dress slacks and pull out my cell phone.  Christine notices my fidgeting and I glance at her, seeing her frowning at me.  I roll my eyes, muttering that she should mind her own fucking business as I type out a quick text to Edward.
The house lights dim and a slide show of pictures of students and events from our senior year is projected onto the oversized screen above the stage.  Ushers stand at the end of the rows of students, signalling our turn to stand and exit the main floor to maneuver backstage.  Before my row is called, I climb onto the seat of my chair, surveying the stands for my parents... and hopefully, Ed Senior and Elizabeth.  No luck.  I make a slow circle on the seat, nearly losing my balance, as I search the exit doorways and dark recesses all around the main floor for any sign of Edward. 
Nothing.  Dammit!
"C'mon, Edward, please!" I say to myself, not caring if anyone around me hears my desperate plea. 
As my row is escorted toward the backstage area, my hands begin to shake and I feel the prickling of tears forming in my eyes again. Where the fuck is he?  I clench my jaw, grinding my teeth and tap down the threatening emotions.  Deep breath in... Deep breath out...
I vaguely notice the voice of our principal booming over the mic, announcing the graduates' names. 
"...Janet S. Chandler..."
"...Ryan B. McCormick..." 
"...Aaron J. Parcovich..."
Maybe they are stuck in traffic, or can't find a parking spot... 
"...Allison M. Nelson..."
"...Benjamin S. Cheney..."
Maybe Edward is rushing through the arena's lobby, looking for the best entry onto the main floor. 
"...Angela J. Weber..."
"...Andrew B. Castillo..."
Maybe he's standing next to the stage, waiting until his name is called to rush to the podium and receive his diploma.
The line begins to move forward, and I mindlessly follow the person in front of me, winding around the backstage area in an S-formation.  Peter and Charlotte peer back at me from their place in line with sad smiles.  I return their smile and wring my hands together, fighting off the shakes again.  Something is wrong, I just know it.
My stomach is twisting, and I swallow the sudden reflux of bile in my throat.   
Maybe he's... maybe he's dead.  
"...Charlotte J. Keane..."
"...Peter W. Weber..."
No. No, he's not dead.  He can't be dead.  He's just... late.   
"...Christopher M. Yochem..."
"...Lindsey A. Thompson..."
My sandals clang against the metal stairs that lead to the stage.  The red-haired girl standing in front of me steps around the curtain and into the spot light, crossing in front of the podium.
"...Isabella M. Swan..."
There's a nudge at my back and I whip around to jump into Edward's arms, but find myself staring into Christine's blue eyes.
"That's you, Bella." She waves her hand toward the stage. "They just called your name."
I slowly turn toward the curtain opening, moving one foot in front of the other, and come out onto the stage.  Glancing at the panel of school administrators and guest speakers, suddenly I feel dizzy.  The combination of my overwhelming emotions and the blinding spotlight causes me to lose my direction, and I stall midway to the podium.  I look behind me, momentarily, hoping to see Edward next in line... but he's not there.  I whirl around and scan the perimeter of the stage, but I don't see him anywhere.  Tears spring into my eyes, and my chin begins to tremble.  Principal Adams is smiling brightly at me and holds out his hands; one with a scroll, tied with a blue ribbon, and the other for me to shake.
"Congratulations, Miss Swan."
Robotically, I reply, "Thank you."
I continue to the opposite side of the stage as the tears fill and blur my vision, my stomach knots and my heart begins to pound in my chest.
"...Edward A. Masen..."
His name forces the tears to fall, and I stop at the top of the descending stairs, turning to look behind me.  Is he here?  Has he shown up?
Principal Adams repeats, "Edward A. Masen?"
No Edward.
He continues, "...Christine J. Brightman..."
I stumble to the bottom step, gripping the handrail to steady my suddenly weakened knees.  With my vision impaired, nausea coming in waves, and legs threatening to give out on me, I stagger to the first row of students, clutching the chair backs as I try to return to my seat.
He didn't make it.   
Sobs erupt from my chest as I fight to return to my chair.  My legs give away, causing me to collapse against the cool, concrete floor.  My fellow classmates are probably wondering what the fuck is wrong with me, but I don't care.  The only thing that matters is Edward, but he didn't show up.  How could he do this to me? 
Paranoia rises in me, once again.  Did he beg his parents to allow him to skip graduation because he didn't want to see me?  Did he meet someone else while they were camping?  He wouldn't do that to me, would he?
Voices are shouting, and confetti and graduation caps are falling around me, but I can't seem to give a damn.  My whole world is fading away, and these dumb, teenage dip-shits are celebrating? 
"Noooooo!" I yell, or whisper... I can't even tell anymore.  How could he do this to me?  If he wanted to leave me, why would he humiliate me at graduation?  Couldn't he wait until afterward, when we were alone, to break my heart and destroy my soul?
Unless something horrible has happened.
"Bella?" Angela's panicked voice rings through my ear. "BELLA!"
"I've got her, Ang."  Charlie's voice is closer and eerily calm.  His strong arms pull me to my feet and hoist me into his arms, bridal-style. "It's going to be okay, Bells.  Let's get you home."
I punch the button on the car door handle to roll down the backseat window.  The warm breeze is soothing.  My father raises his voice to speak over my loud sobs, "I'm going to drive to Apache County and meet up with one of my friends from the sheriff's office.  I'll call him on the way and ask if he'll meet me at the national forest's ranger station.  We've got to figure out what's going on."
"I- I- I'm going w-with you."
"No, Bella.  I want you to stay with your mother in case they call... or come home."
My shaky voice is stronger now. "No, Dad.  I'm going with you."
He ignores my declaration and turns to my mother, "Renee, when we get home, help Bella upstairs and get her into a bath or something.  Get her to calm down somehow."
"Bella, I need you to help your mom call hospitals, and someone needs to stay home in case they show up."
Now I'm getting angry.  The love of my life is missing, and he wants me to sit at home and make phone calls?  No fucking way.
I've gone from hysterically crying to screaming, "Would you want to sit around and make phone calls if it was your wife missing?  Would you want to wait for someone to call or show up?  No.  You wouldn't.  Well, neither do I.  I am NOT sitting here waiting.  I am going with you to find my fiancé, Dad."  I huffed and crossed my arms across my chest, stubbornly refusing to give in.  No. Fucking. Way. "Besides, if I don't come with you, then I will just take Edward's truck to go look for him."
Charlie stews over my outburst, glaring at me in the rearview mirror with narrowed eyes. "Fine."
We arrive home, and I dash into the house, making a quick trip to the bathroom, and then to my room, packing an overnight bag.  When I get downstairs, Renee is sitting at the computer in the kitchen, pen and paper in hand, and writing down hospital names and phone numbers on a legal pad.
"Bella, you guys be careful.  Do you have your phone charger for the car?  Can you call me as soon as you get there?"
"Of course, Mom.  Thank you for not making me stay here.  You know I would go insane."
She smiles and kisses my forehead. "I love you, babydoll."
"Love ya, too."
I enter the garage and find Charlie rummaging through his gadgets, tossing items into his daunting, yellow tackle box... knives, rope, and flashlights.  I climb into the passenger seat of the truck as he runs into the house for a moment and returns with two gun cases - one containing a .45mm Glock and the other, his sharp-shooter rifle.
"Don't you think that's a little extreme, Dad?"
"You never know," he mutters, more to himself than to me. "Now, let's get on the road."
Renee wears a sad smile as she steps outside, waving goodbye, as we pull out of the driveway.
An hour or so into our journey, and I'm fed up with the country music station blaring in the car; I reach for the volume knob and twist it.  Charlie cocks me an eyebrow, silently asking,  "What's up?"
"Yeah, Bells?"
"Um... What do you think is going on?"
He releases a heavy sigh and grips the steering wheel tighter. "I don't know, hon."
Silence ensues as we sift through the scenarios in our heads.  Could they be injured and in a hospital?  Maybe a gang of gypsies kidnapped them, holding them for ransom... or maybe they are lost in the wilderness of the national forest.  Oh, God!  What if they went hiking, and they all slipped and fell into a hidden cave, and they are screaming out for help!?  What if Renee calls to tell us that they've returned home, each wearing embroidered Mickey Mouse ears from Disney World, and they simply lost track of time, forgetting all about graduation today!?
Yeah, I know that last thought was ridiculous, but fuck it... I'm starting to lose my mind!
Charlie flips the turn signal on and exits the highway, decelerating on the exit ramp.  He pulls into a gas station and hands me a twenty dollar bill, asking me to get him a combo meal from the fast food restaurant next door while he pumps the gas.  I return several minutes later, juggling super-sized sodas and a large bag of fatty, greasy goodness and slip into the passenger seat of his car.
"...uh huh... right... We'll be there in another two hours... No... Just meet us at the ranger's station... Okay... great... Yeah, thanks, Randy."
"Who was that?  Your deputy friend?"
"Yeah, uhh, he's going to meet us at the ranger's station."
I nod, situating the food bag between us on the center console of the car and securing my seat belt.  Charlie exits the gas station and turns onto the on ramp of the highway.  As he merges into traffic, he clears his throat nervously.
"So, um, Bella? I, uh... I filed a missing persons report for them."
The muscles of my neck fail, and my head falls forward.  Tears form in my eyes again, and suddenly the chicken sandwich in my hand has lost all it's appeal.  I wrap it up, shove it back into the bag and turn to gaze out of the passenger side window.  Rolling it down, I rest my elbow on the sill and prop my head up with my hand.  My left hand is clawing into the fabric of the seat as I try to ward off another round of inconsolable crying. 
Charlie pats my knee awkwardly, unsure of how to handle delicate situations, especially when it comes to me.
"I'm sure there's a logical explanation as to what's going on, Bella.  I just thought we should do it because this is unusual behavior for any of them."
"Yeah..." My voice is meek and muffled by my hand.
He turns up the music again, using it as a distraction for himself, but it doesn't matter to me.  My mind is a whirl of torment.  So many questions, so many possibilities, and one overwhelming sense of dread.
Two hours later, we arrive at the ranger's station of the Apache National Forest.  Charlie helps me out of the car, wrapping his arm around my shoulders and pulling me against his side for support.  Escorting me into the building, he leads me to a wooden bench against the wall, then turns to the reception desk.
A young blonde man, wearing a muted green uniform shirt and dark pants, approaches my father at the desk. "Can I help you, sir?"
"I'm Charlie Swan.  I spoke with Ranger Tomlinson this morning, and I'm meeting an Apache County Sheriff's Deputy here."
The young man nods as two muscular men emerge from a glass-walled office.
"Hey, Charlie!"  the taller man calls from behind the reception desk as he walks to greet my dad.  They shake hands and Charlie turns to introduce me to Officer Randy Baker.  I offer an unenthusiastic, sad smile from my bench. Someone clears his throat, and Randy snaps his head to the other man. "Oh! And this is Ranger Tomlinson."  He points to the short, balding gentleman behind him and Charlie exchanges introductions again.
"So, uh..." My dad looks warily over his shoulder at me, probably judging my current emotional breakdown level. "Can we talk in your office?"
"I'm coming too!"
Ranger Tomlinson and Randy appear shocked at my sudden outburst, and Charlie sighs.
"Bells, why don't you wait here, while we discuss-"
"I said I'm coming with you.  We are looking for my fiancé and his family.  You will NOT leave me out of the loop!" I fold my arms across my chest and march up to the reception desk. "Well?  Are we going to talk in the office, or not!?"
Charlie looks into the amused faces of the two gentlemen and shrugs his shoulders. "You heard the woman... let's all talk."  He waves his hand toward the office and ushers me around the desk, holding me close to his side with his arm around my shoulders again.
Ranger Tomlinson flops down into his worn office chair as Charlie and Randy sit in the metal folding chairs across the desk.  I stand out of the way, leaning against a bookcase near the corner of the room, and admire a detailed map of the national forest that hangs on the wall behind me.  The three discuss the entry logs from the station, as well as strange occurrences in the area.
Randy points to a map underneath the plexiglass on the desk. "We've received reports of a mauled auto mechanic from Eager and a handful of break-ins noted in Springerville within the last week.  That's really unusual in these little towns."
"Yeah, uhh..." Randy briefly glances in my direction, but proceeds with his statement. "Like he was attacked by some kind of wild animal... or a vicious murderer. "
"Whoa," Ranger Tomlinson replies. 
"Really?" Charlie looks a little excited. "What kind of animal?  A bear?!"
Randy shakes his head and glances at me again. "Um, no. Well, he wasn't hiking or hunting, actually... He was in his living room."
Collective gasps echo throughout the room as the four of us contemplate the possibilities of wild animals breaking into a house to eat the inhabitants.  There is silence for a few moments before Ranger Tomlinson interrupts our musings.
"There wasn't any evidence of an animal in the house?  No tracks?  Fur?"
Randy shakes his head. "The strangest thing was that the body sustained such horrific injuries - a missing arm, flesh ripped from his neck, a crushed leg - but there wasn't any blood.  It was like it all evaporated or... was sucked out."
"Huh," Charlie replies, ever the articulate one.
Ranger Tomlinson bows his head to stare at his boots. "Damn."
A few more moments of silence ensues until Ranger Tomlinson looks up quickly at Randy, and then to my dad. "You know... now that you mention there wasn't any blood on the scene, we had an incident over the weekend with a few of our deer being killed, but no blood was found near the bodies, either.  One of the rangers found a small grouping of them in a meadow near one of the camp grounds. They weren't mutilated like that poor guy up in Eager, thank God, but the four of them had large tears in their necks - right through the jugulars - but it was like they were drained and the carcasses left to rot.  What kind of animal would do that?"
I have had enough of this talk about savage animal attacks and am desperate to get to the bottom of why we were here.  Edward.
"Dad?  Can we revisit this thrilling conversation at another time?  We have to get up to the cabin."  My legs are bouncing uncontrollably, and I am biting my nails, anxious to get to to bottom of our situation.
Ignoring me, they continue the discussion for a few more minutes before Charlie confirms the route to the Masen's cabin.  He continues to try to persuade me to stay at the ranger station while he and Randy "go have a look see".  Being the stubborn female that I am, I refuse to be left alone while they traipse around the trails, looking for my fiancé.
After standing my ground for what seemed like an eternity, I declare that they are wasting precious daylight arguing with me about going up to the cabin.  I have been there several times throughout the years with the Masens and know it is a long drive along the trails.
Finally, Charlie, Randy, and I climb into Randy's SUV and set out to search for our friends.
For the next twenty minutes, I'm tossed around the backseat of the vehicle, thanks to the rough terrain and Randy's unfamiliarity of the roads.  We emerge from the tree covered dirt path and pull up into the open front yard of the Masens' cabin.   
The sun is fading in the sky, and the shadows of the trees surrounding the clearing creep across the grass, shading most of the property.  Elizabeth's hammock is still sitting on the far side of the lawn.
"Dad..." My voice wavers as I point toward the lawn furniture and miscellaneous camping equipment that are sitting in their typical places.
"I see 'em, honey," he replies grimly. "I don't see their minivan.  Maybe they left to get more supplies and will be back in a little bit.  Why don't you sit here by the SUV while Randy and I check things out, okay?"
He doesn't wait for my response and leaves to join Randy as he walks up to the front porch of the cabin.  They chat for a minute, and Randy walks out toward the perimeter of the clearing, flashlight in hand.  Charlie starts toward the opposite side of the cabin, peering in windows and then checking out the equipment sprawled across the property - a gas grill, lawn chairs, two ice chests.  Feeling completely useless sitting here and twiddling my thumbs, I decide to head into the cabin.
Maybe there's a note, or some clue. 
While my dad is around the back of the cabin, I sneak onto the porch and use my t-shirt to twist the door knob - just in case they have to dust for fingerprints or something.  Suddenly the weight of that thought registers in my head, and my chest begins to ache.  That heavy sense of foreboding descends upon me, and I fight to swallow the bile again. 
I push the door open, noticing a slight musky scent, but it's not overpowering. "Hello?" I whisper into the empty living room. "Hellooo?"
No answer.
The cabin is sparsely decorated, so I don't notice anything missing or out of the ordinary.  As I creep further into the room, heavy footsteps are pounding on the front porch.
"I thought I told you to wait by the car!"  Charlie yells, standing with his hands on his hips.
"I have to do something, Dad.  But I promise, I haven't touched a single thing!"
That seems to appease him somewhat.  He nods and heads off toward the small kitchen area.  I move in the opposite direction, heading for Edward's room. 
I push open the door, immediately noticing the sweet smell of Edward.  I inhale deeply, quickly feeling a sense of calm wash over me. Basking in his tiny room, I wrap my arms around my body, wishing they were his strong arms squeezing me tight as he places a tender kiss to my temple.  
I open my eyes and notice the dresser mirror hanging unhinged from one side.  That's odd.  The wood around the disconnected piece is smashed and splintered, and on the wall next to it, there seems to be scratch marks and a dried smear of something. Huh?
Not giving it another thought, I back away from the mirror, bumping my thighs into the bed.  I sit down on the mattress and smile to myself, remembering the tryst Edward and I had in this room when I joined the Masens on a camping trip two months ago.  Bouncing a few times, I recall how squeaky the springs were that night and how we had to keep very quiet, as to not wake up his parents.
Looking at the rumpled bedding, I whimper, remembering the way he held the sheet around his naked body as he walked me to the bedroom door, kissing me goodnight, before I tiptoed back to the open sofa-bed in the living room.  God, Edward is sexy wrapped up in a sheet.
Running my hands over the soft fabric, I can never forget the texture of it on my skin as I gripped it tightly during my orgasms that night... all three of them.
Finally, I reach up toward the pillow, recalling Edward having to bite it during his climax, to prevent himself from groaning too loudly.  My memories are halted by a dark stain down the side of the pillow and onto the fitted sheet below.  I stand and pull the pillow closer to me, trying to get a better glimpse of it in the fading light streaming through the windows. After a moment of deciphering, a realization hits me and I gasp, wide-eyed, and toss the pillow back to the bed roughly.
Things happen so fast after that - a loud, panicked wail comes from the room beside Edward's, Randy hollers from outside the cabin, and I release a piercing scream...

Chapter 4

Playlist selection: Lonestar by Norah Jones

Bella POV
I'm pulled into consciousness by the piercing light of the Arizona sun shining through my window.  My mouth is parched and the sheets cling to my body like a second skin.  Why the fuck is it so hot in here?  Blindly reaching toward the bedside table, I sweep my arm across its surface, searching for the ceiling fan remote control.  I knock over a little bud vase, spilling water and the flower that Edward picked from his mom's flower garden to the floor.
I grab a discarded t-shirt from the floor beside my bed and mop the mess quickly.  Tossing the soaked shirt in the general direction of my closet, I climb out of bed, peeling the sheets off and stripping the mattress.  Finding a hair tie on my dresser, I pull my hair into a loose bun on top of my head and slip on a pair of denim shorts and my bathing suit top.  I stagger to the door of my room and open it swiftly, praying that a cool gust of wind from the hallway will hit me square in the face and squelch this ridiculous heat.  No such luck.
"Mom?!" I yell from the landing at the top of the stairs. "MOOOOM!"
"WHAAAAT?" Her voice echoes from downstairs.
"What's wrong with the A/C?"
No shit.  Queue eye roll.
"Is someone coming to fix it?"
"Nope.  Do you know how much they charge for weekend emergencies?  Your father is working on it."  Great.  That means that it's not going to be fixed anytime today, and he'll break some crucial piece that costs more than the damn weekend fees. 
I dart down the stairs and through the kitchen, hoping to stop the madness before it truly starts. "Who gave him tools?  You know he's not allowed to have any work tools!" 
Charlie, also know as 'The Great Destructo', has been banished from using ordinary shop gadgets to fix anything. He's a genius with weaponry and spackle, but he's a danger to himself with power tools and screwdrivers.
"He borrowed them from Ed this morning.  You know that I can usually convince him to call a professional before he gets going on a project, but he was already working on it when I got up this morning, so..."
Ed? They're back?
"They're back!?" My face breaks out into a face-splitting grin as I jog out of the garage, hoping to see their minivan in their driveway.
"No. He just used the spare key and went into their garage," she yells from the kitchen. 
My smile is quickly replaced by a deep frown as I notice no recent vehicular activity at the Masen's home.  I turn and shuffle back into the kitchen, heading straight for the fridge.  After pouring myself a glass of orange juice, I stand in front of the kitchen window and make plans to occupy my time today.  Feed Carrumba, check out a few florists with my mother, and finish my laundry.  Speaking of laundry... Renee is mumbling to herself and rustling around in the laundry room, probably cursing the washing machine again. 
"Mom!  I'm going over to feed the bird, then we can go to the flower shops this afternoon.  Okay?"
"Yeah, sure," she says, yelling over the loud clanking of coins being tossed around in the dryer. "Anything to get out of this sweatbox."
I head up the stairs to find some flip flops and a t-shirt and grab my discarded bed sheets from the floor, shoving them in the laundry chute.  "Look out below!"  I shout, listening for them to hit the basket at the bottom and laughing when Renee starts cussing again.
It's late morning and the intense sun is blaring down on my skin as I walk through the Weber's front yard, heading to the Masen's.  Pausing at the front porch, I notice a faint sound coming from inside.  No. No, it's not just a sound, but a voice.  Edward's voice.  The hell?
I quickly wrangle the keys and burst through the door, startling Carrumba as she is perched in her cage. 
"Sorry, bird." I scramble through the first floor, searching for the owner of that velvety voice I would know anywhere. "Edward?"
"Hello?  Anyone home?"
Convincing myself I was hearing things, I shake my head quickly and enter the kitchen, looking for Carrumba's food supply.  The house is quiet other than the sounds of my washing and chopping of fruits and veggies for the bird and occasional sounds of it clambering around in it's cage.  I've always wanted to have a pet, but was always shut down by my parents.  Renee is allergic to cats, Charlie doesn't want to deal with the dog poop in the backyard, and I refuse to clean the grime and sediment in a fish aquarium.  The one pet we never considered was a bird until the Masens got one, and then we decided we could come over to visit it whenever we wanted to get our pet-fix and didn't have to deal with the care and clean up. 
Carrumba is a very quiet bird, at least when I'm around.  I've only heard her make a few sounds, but Edward tells me she hardly shuts up.  Maybe I frighten her.  Hell, I'm more scared of her - what with the strong beak and sharp talons...
Placing the slices of apple and a handful of whole peanuts in her bowl, I carry them over to her cage.  She sits on the highest branch of her enclosure, eyeing me warily.  I try not to pay much attention to her, not wanting to create a dive-bomb situation because she's annoyed by the sound of my voice or whatever.  I replenish her water bottle and head back to the kitchen, cleaning up my mess.
I find a pad of paper and pen in the junk drawer next to the pantry and write a quick note, letting them know that Carrumba was fed this morning and the dishes in the dishwasher are clean.  Leaving my message on top of the counter, I slip past Carrumba as she loudly cracks the shell of a peanut.  Just as I'm pulling the door closed, I hear the voice again. 
I stop in my tracks for a moment and peek my head back inside the house, looking for anything that could explain the disembodied voice of Edward.
"Hello?" I call out into the empty house, waiting for a response.
Carrumba.  Of course!  She's a damned parrot, for fuck's sake!   
I walk over to her cage and watch her as she wipes the remnants of an apple slice from her beak onto her branch. "Bye-bye, Carrumba."
She says nothing, watching me retreat back to the door and closing it behind me as I step onto the front porch.  I twist the key in the lock and hear a faint murmur from the other side.
At the dinner table, Renee passes the casserole to my dad and they argue about future home improvement projects. "I don't understand you sometimes, Renee. We live in the desert. Why would we need rain gutters?"
I tune out the majority of their conversation, quietly sulking because I have not heard from Edward yet today.  Usually they are home in the late afternoon, but I haven't even gotten a text message letting me know they are enroute.
I interrupt their banter without a care. "Have either of you heard from the Masens today?"  I look up from the chicken and rice mush on my plate and into the blank faces of my parents.
"Usually Edward calls or texts me when they are on their way home, but I haven't heard from him yet.  Neither has Peter."  I had called Peter this afternoon to see if he'd gotten word of their departure time, but he said he hadn't talked to him since Wednesday at lunch in the school's courtyard.
They shake their heads and my dad mumbles that they probably stayed at the cabin a bit later since Edward doesn't have school tomorrow.  I nod slowly, trying to convince myself that his suggestion is the most logical.   
I excuse myself from the table and stumble upstairs, looking for my shoes and wedding bouquet brochures from the florists we stopped by earlier in the day.  My parents are still bickering at the table when I return downstairs.
"I'm going to feed the bird again, since we don't know what time they'll be home."
"Okay, honey," my mom replies, carrying her dinner plate to the sink. 
"I may hang around over there for a bit, in case they show up before it gets too late.  I'll just watch a DVD or something."
She waves her hand dismissively and I leave through the garage door and scamper through the lawns to the Masen's front porch just as the sun is starting to set in the western sky.  I listen quietly and smile as I hear Edward's beautiful voice emulated by Carrumba as she talks to herself in her cage.
"Hel-lo. Good girl. Step up. Waahka doohoo boo GAWWWK!"
She shuts up the moment I enter the living room.  I slip her bowls from the cage's trap doors and replenish the apples and peanuts, tossing in a hand full of dried chili peppers.  I hand her a long, green bean pod through the slats of the cage.  She extends one creepy claw and grasps it with the talons.  She tears into the flesh of the pod with determination, rooting out the tender beans inside. 
I leave Carrumba to her dinner and flop down on the leather couch.  Opening the folder of brochures, I spread them out across the coffee table and separate them into piles.  After making my selection of the perfect wedding bouquet, I collect all the piles and put the winning brochure on top and wrap a rubber band around the stack.  I toss the bundle back into the folder and leave it on the table as I make my way to their DVD collection.  Snuggling into the soft leather cushions, I pull Grandma Masen's quilt from the back of the couch to cover my legs as I hit 'play' on the remote control.
I'm startled awake by an awful sound and I bolt up from the couch in alarm.  It's Carrumba, and she's going ape-shit in her cage.  Suddenly, I realize there's bright sunlight shining in through the living room window.  Is it morning, already?  Did the Masens come home last night?  Why didn't Edward wake me up?  I hurry up the steps to his room... nothing. I knock on the door to the master bedroom... nothing.  Down to the garage... no minivan.  Where are they?
I grab my cell phone and try calling him but it goes straight to voice mail.  Getting the same result with calls to Liz and Ed Senior's cell phones, I frantically call my mother at home.
"Mom! Have you heard from them yet?"
"Bella?  Why are you calling me from your bedroom?  Come downstairs.  I made some muffins this morning."
"No, mom.  I'm still at the Masens.  I fell asleep on the couch, but they never came home last night.  Have you heard from them?"  My voice registers an octive higher with each spoken word. 
"Uhh, no, babydoll.  Not yet.  You want me to call Liz?  Maybe they-"
"No.  I already tried."  I let out a shuddering breath and asked the one question that I didn't want to have confirmed. "Do you think something happened to them?  An accident?"
"I doubt it, sweetie.  Liz is scheduled off from the salon today, but I don't know if Ed took off as well.  Maybe you should ask your dad if he requested a vacation day or something.  Maybe they decided to spend and extra day since school is out."  She was quiet on the other end of the line for a moment as her comments tumbled around in my brain, attempting to make sense of it all.  "Look, I'm about to head into work.  Why don't you call me later when you hear something, okay?"
We say our goodbyes and I hang up the phone.  I swiftly feed Carrumba and sprint back to my house, forcefully dodging the increasing anxiety I feel.
Busying myself by scrubbing floors and dusting the tchotchkes, I try to fight off the panic that something terrible has happened to them until I can’t take it anymore.  I snatch my cell phone from the confines of my bag and dial Edward’s number again.
It’s Edward… I’m busy!  Leave a message.   BEEP!
“Baby?  I’m starting to get worried.  I thought you were going to be home yesterday, but I haven’t heard from you.  Call me as soon as you get this message, okay?”  I pause, battling the overflow of tears. “I love you.”
Hesitantly, I close my phone and grip it tightly to my chest as a renegade tear escapes and speeds down my cheek.  God, please, let him be okay.
The rest of the day is spent aimlessly pacing the house and mumbling little prayers to God, asking for Him to protect Edward and keep him safe.  I call my father in the afternoon and beg him to contact the ranger’s station to investigate. 
“Bella, honey, I will call tomorrow if we haven’t heard from any of them.”
“NO, DAD!  THIS IS NOT NORMAL! Use your policeman investigative skills or something!  Put out an A.P.B.!”
“Look, Ed had already taken today off, so maybe they plan to come home later today or in the morning.  He’s on the evening patrol tomorrow, so I’m not going to file a missing person’s report because you can’t get a hold of your boyfriend, ” He reprimands in his ‘Officer Swan’ voice.
“Fiancé,” I quietly correct, picking at an imaginary thread on my shorts.
“Whatever,” he huffs.  “They’ll be back before the graduation ceremony.  There’s no way Ed and Liz are going to miss it.”
“Yeah…” I whisper, defeated.
“Why don’t you spend some girl-time with Angela until you hear from him?  You know… get a pedicure or go see a movie or something.” 
I know I’m probably overreacting.  There haven’t been any visits by highway patrolmen, delivering bad news; no solemn three A.M. phone calls from a hospital’s emergency department.  Liz and Ed had apparently scheduled off work today and maybe they had something special planned for Edward as a surprise graduation gift.  While these thoughts help to alleviate my worry, the nagging feeling that something has gone amiss continues to smolder in the pit of my stomach.
“Okay, Dad,” I sigh, resigned. “Do you promise to call tomorrow if we don’t hear from them?”
“Yes, now I’ve got to get back to work.  I’ll see you around dinner time, Bells.”
For the next twenty-four hours, Angela hardly leaves my side.  She understands my anxiousness can reach epic proportions when Edward is away, and now that he seems to have gone off the radar, it’s reaching a cataclysmic level.  We spend time between the three houses watching movies, teaching cuss words to Carrumba, and trying out hair styles and make-up for the graduation ceremony, anything to keep my mind distracted... it doesn't help.  The unmistakable, gut-feeling of misfortune continues to burn inside of me.
When Charlie arrives home from work on Tuesday evening, his face bears a slight panic as he maneuvers through the kitchen door and into the living room.  He glances at me briefly, but diverts his eyes over to my mother as she chews on her fingernail.  She’s been sitting on the couch, staring out the front window for the last three hours, not once does she pay attention to the television.
“Uhhh, Renee?  Can I talk to you for a minute?”  My dad nervously skirts around my chair to grab her hand, pulling her to stand, and leads her to the kitchen.  I strain to listen to their conversation from my spot in the recliner in the living room.
“…called… station… no records...”
“…Sunday afternoon…”
“…no signs… tell her… at graduation…”
After a few silent minutes, my parents return to the living room, wearing identical worried looks.  My stomach plummets and I have the sudden urge to hurl all the pizza that Angela and I had earlier today.  My mother gently sits on the arm of the recliner and drapes her arm across the back, ready to offer emotional support.  Charlie stands awkwardly in front of me, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Oh God, no.  No. No. NO!  Tears fill my eyes and my dad’s tall figure blurs into a ripply form.
He continues, “I called the ranger’s station this evening.  They said they haven’t seen the Masens in a couple days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean something has happened.”  He hurried through that last sentence, hoping to reassure me before the dams holding back my tears explode. 
“Okay…” I reply meekly, letting him know I understand and am still in the conversation.  Sometimes I get lost in my own head when I start to panic.
“There was an entry in their gate log that indicated their van left the national park on Sunday afternoon, but there were no entries for them returning.  The ranger I spoke with said that sometimes they miss logging vehicles as they come or go because they get a phone call or are out running patrol on the public park facilities.”
“Alright, that makes sense… but where have they been for the last two days?!”
“I don’t know, honey.  I called the Apache County Sheriff’s office, and they haven’t gotten any reports of them.  Maybe they planned a secret side trip before coming back home.”
I nod my head slowly.  This was the same conclusion I came to, but it just doesn’t feel right.  I know something is wrong.
“What if we’re wrong, Dad?” My wavering voice betrays my stoic façade. “What if something terrible has happened to them?  You know they would have told you or mom if they had a surprise for Edward and wanted to keep it from me!”
“Sweetheart,” Renee interjects softly, “Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and not stress any more about it until tomorrow.  We know they would never miss Edward’s graduation… or yours, for that matter. When they show up before the ceremony, you will see that all this worry and anxiety was for nothing.”  The hand that was lounging across the back of my chair moves to run through my hair.  It’s soothing, but doesn’t squelch my worry.  She stares deeply into my eyes and offers a motherly smile, willing me to accept her rationale as truth and that all my anxiety is unnecessary.
My father bends to place a rare kiss on my hair and squeezes my shoulder, then retreats to the kitchen, scavaging for leftovers.  Renee offers a lingering, one-armed hug and rises from the arm of the recliner to return to her post on the couch, staring out the window. I can tell my parents are starting to get worried.  It's unusual for their best friends to not tell them about their plans, regardless if they were trying to keep it a secret from Edward or me.  It just doesn't make sense. 
Trying to heed my parents' advice, I attempt to focus on anything and everything that won't remind me of Edward.  I look to the floor and notice a discolored spot next to the stairs -  a stain made by Edward when he accidently spilled grape juice on the carpet four years ago.  Over to the photo collage frames above the entertainment center - pictures of the Masens and my family at Disney World when Edward and I were eight.  Down to the discarded pile of mail, laying on the coffee table - a utility bill, Renee's attempted crossword puzzle from the Sunday newspaper... and a bridal magazine. 
Fuck! I can't take this anymore.
"I gotta get outta here, Mom."  A tear escapes and runs down my cheek as I lurch from the recliner and out the front door.  "I'll be at the Masens!"
I run through our front yards, stumbling over Mrs. Weber's garden decor and plowing through Liz's flower beds, my vision clouded by the rampant stream of moisture flowing from my eyes.  Crashing into the front door with a loud 'thud', I faintly hear Carrumba reciting her nightly ritual - practicing her human vocabulary and mixing the words with her birdly squawking.  I smile internally, hearing her sounds mimic Edward's voice.  It's heart-wrenching, but still somewhat comforting. 
The key slides into the lock easily and I quietly open the door, not wanting to startle her.  Tip-toeing through the foyer, I peek around the wall and watch her climb around her tall, steel cage.  She jingles the tiny bell that's attached to the rope toy hanging from the roof. "Hel-lo. Tank yooo.  Powaah wahh boo GAWWW!  Car-rum-ba good girl."  I giggle at her last statement and she whips her yellow-headed, green-feathered body toward my hiding place. "Hel-looo."
I slowly approach her cage, smiling, hoping she will continue her rambling. "Hi, Carrumba."
Stupid bird.
The sunlight has faded, and shadows of the tall shrubbery  in the backyard dance across the windows.  I close the blinds to the dining room and kitchen windows, and pull the shades in the living room.  Settling into Ed's favorite spot on the sectional sofa, I click on the television, hoping to occupy my thoughts with a cheeky sitcom or brainless reality show.  An hour later, I huff in frustration because there's nothing to watch and turn off the t.v., making my way up the stairs to Edward's bedroom.
His laundry piles are still scattered across the floor, blocking the path to his desk.  Stepping over them, I slide into his desk chair and hit the power button on his computer.  It whirrs and wheezes to life, revealing a picture of a hairy caterpillar on the login page.  Typical. I type in his password and drum my fingers on the keypad, waiting for his desktop to appear.  I laugh loudly when I see the image of he and I at the county fair last year, arguing over whether to get separate bumper cars, or ride together.  I complained because I couldn't reach the pedals, so I wanted to ride together.  He agreed that that was the same reason he wanted to ride in different cars... so he could ram into mine.  Ass.  Angela had secretly taken the picture as we were standing in line for funnel cakes. Edward and I didn't even realize she had snapped the camera and captured us in our usual banter until she taped a 4x6 glossy print to my locker the following Monday at school.
I don't even realize I'm crying again until I feel a drop of something hit my hand.  Glancing down at my skin, I notice the tear drop resembles a lopsided heart and I frantically wipe away it's existence .  From anger? Worry? Sadness? I don't have a clue, but I'm tired and I need to relax and try to get some sleep before the graduation ceremony tomorrow.
I climb into Edward's bed, pulling his dingy, blue-plaid comforter up to my face and inhaling his scent.  It's musky, maybe from sweat and who knows when he last washed the sheets, but I don't care.   It's just so him, and to me... it smells like Heaven. 
"...Bella?" A deep voice croons softly in my ear. 
"Bella? C'mon, get up."  I feel a dip in the bed as someone sits next to me.
"Baby... please?  At least let go of the blanket."
"No, I'm too comfy.  Snuggle with me?"  It's so early in the morning that my brain is fuzzy as I pout to that familiar voice.  My face is buried in Edward's pillow, and my words come out muffled.
He gently laughs, "You're going to strangle yourself with them. C'mon..."  A warm hand gently grasps my fist, trying to loosen my grip on Edward's comforter from around my neck.  Fingers are softly running through the matted locks of my hair and a waft of fruity fragrance permeates my senses. 
"I brought you some Earl Gray to help wake you up."
"With cream and two sugars?"
"Mm-hmm."  Edward always knows how much I love my English Breakfast teas in the morning, especially if I've had a long night. 
I smile widely into the bed linens and whirl myself out of bed toward him, wanting to either hug him fiercely for coming back to me or beat him senseless for keeping me worried for days... maybe both.

Chapter 3

Playlist selection: Passenger Seat by SheDaisy

Bella POV

I am standing alone inside of a dressing room, wearing a strapless bra and a scratchy petticoat as my mother and future mother-in-law browse the racks of gowns for my perfect dress.  Apparently, the bride's opinion is unnecessary.  This is the ninth store today, and I am getting really fucking tired of shopping.  I've been dragging my feet about this particular scavenger hunt, simply because I want to pick something on display at the store and have it hemmed or altered, if needed.  No custom, designer gown.  No several thousand dollar price tag.  Just an off-the-rack wedding dress with a penny-pincher's sales price.  There's no sense in spending so much money on something I am going to wear once.  It's ridiculous  how much weddings cost.  Maybe I could forego my perfect wedding and Edward and I can get hitched at the courthouse.  At least there I could wear a tee shirt and shorts while we say our vows.   
"Try this one on, Bella."  Elizabeth's voice calls through the door as the sales associate, Gianna, slinks in to help me put it on.  I roll my eyes at the sight of the bulky contraption of lace and rhinestones.
My mother shouts from farther away, "What do you think about cathedral trains?"  I ignore her question; due to the fact I have told her three times today that I don't want a train on my wedding dress.
Gianna makes quick work of all the little buttons up the back of the dress and turns me around so that I can see myself in the dressing room mirror.  I grimace as I look from my reflection to her face and I see her smirk.
"Just remember this is your day.  Don't let them dictate anything.  Moms can be wickedly manipulative when it comes to their daughter's wedding," she whispers conspiratorially.
"Yeah, try having two moms." 
She offers a smile in understanding.
"What style are you looking for?  Maybe I can save you from trying on more tacky gowns." She looks down at the dress and tugs on the skirt as she smiles at me in the mirror.
I try to describe the style that I've always imagined as perfect for me and tell her what I did like about the dresses that I had already tried on through out the day.  She winks at me and walks out of my fitting room, and I follow her, feeling like she is going to lead me to a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
"Oh, don't you just look like a princess!" my mother exclaims, clapping her hands in delight.  Immediately, I growl at her and spin on my heels, tredging back into the dressing room to rid my body of the offending garment.  I refuse to wear anything that makes me look like a princess...especially on my wedding day.  I hate being called that.
Gianna returns from the cavern of gaudy dresses with an ivory gown - strapless, light embroidery, and no train.  She helps me into it and at first glance, my eyes well with tears.  This is the one.  It's perfect.  A small smile plays at my lips as I look at Gianna's reflection in the mirror and mouth my thanks.  She nods and offers a tiny, smug smile and exits the room, allowing me to present myself to my mothers.
I hear simultaneous gasps as their eyes fill with moisture and wide smiles spread across their faces.
"Bella, it's beautiful," my mother whispers.  Elizabeth nods, speechless.
I turn to Gianna. "I'll take it."
Gianna schedules me for my next fitting and bags up my dress as the cashier rings up our purchase.  Elizabeth argues with my mom about paying for half of the cost of the gown, insisting that I am the daughter she never had.  Renee finally agrees after convincing Elizabeth to allow her to pay for Edward's tux.
We scamper back to Renee's car, stuffing my dress in the trunk, and head home.  After dropping Elizabeth off at her house and a quick "hello-goodbye" to Edward, we pull into our driveway as my dad meets us in the garage.
"Hey, ladies!  How was your trip?"  He smiles brightly, dropping a kiss on Renee's cheek.
"Productive," I say as I pull my oversized garment back from the trunk. "I'm glad we're home, though."
"Hungry!" My mother chimes in, exaggeratedly rubbing her belly.
"Oh, yeah? Well, that's good to hear.  I'm going to throw some steaks on the grill."
"Sounds good, Dad.  What else are we having?"
"I don't know.  What goes well with bear meat?"
Ugh. Fucking great. 
I ace through two final exams and at the end of the day, I clean out most of the junk from my locker.  School will be over in two days, and I don't want to have to bother with it on my last day.  Edward meets me after school and helps cram my stuff into both of our backpacks.  I never realized how much crap one can acquire during a school year. 
We meet up with Angela, Peter and Charlotte at Dairy Queen and discuss summer plans over ice cream and chili dogs. We talk about the milestone of graduation, some wedding plans for Edward and I, and Charlotte's up-coming trip to France.     
Edward and I climb into his truck and drive home so we can study for our next round of finals.
"What exams do you have tomorrow?"
"English Lit and Calculus.  You?"  He scrunches his nose when I mention my literature class.  He doesn't understand my interest in books.  If it's not science or bugs, it's of no interest to him.
"American History and Spanish," he grimaces.
I nod my head in acknowledgement, but don't keep up the conversation, feeling the impending depression seep in, knowing he's leaving for a trip without me.  It's stupid, I know, but I am just so lonely when he's away.  I kiss him goodnight on the cheek when he drops me off at my house and watch as he pulls into his driveway, shutting off the engine.  I blow him a kiss and a wave and head into the house to hit the books. 
Taking a break from studying, I recruit my mom to come with me to the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients for the Masens' cookies.  We return a while later, Renee heading to the living room to watch American Idol while I trudge up the stairs and flop down on my bed amidst my school notes and books.
I'm startled awake in the wee hours of the morning by a nightmare.
Edward had disappeared and I got a ransom note from his captors.  They were keeping him hostage deep within a forest, threatening to turn him into a monster if I didn't give them Elizabeth's recipe for chicken gumbo.  I started crying because I didn't know where Elizabeth kept her recipes.  I ran from my room and through the living room - which was a tropical beach - and down the street to the Masen's house.  I tore through their kitchen - which resembled my high school cafeteria - searching for her recipe book when I found nothing but packages of frozen bear meat.  I screamed out Edward's name, knowing that I have failed and he will be turned into a monster and collapsed onto the kitchen floor next to the stove and cried.   
Catching my breath and wiping away the escaped tears, I notice that I'm still in my jeans and t-shirt, at the wrong end of my bed.  My textbooks are spread around me and my lecture notes are crumpled and tangled in my bedspread.  I scan the room for my alarm clock and find it on the floor next to the nightstand.  I must have kicked it off the tabletop in my sleep.  I pick it up and notice it's 4:23am.  There's no way I am going to fall asleep again, knowing I would normally have to wake up in two hours.  Resigned, I stagger into the bathroom and shower, allowing the hot water to loosen the kinks in my neck from my awkward sleeping position. I dry off and dress for the day, gathering my school stuff and relocating to the kitchen table. 
I toss some frozen waffles into the toaster, and as I wait for them to crisp, I reorganize my study guidelines into piles. I settle into a chair and review my notes for today's exam.  An hour later, Charlie staggers into the kitchen to make himself a pot of coffee. 
"Morning, Dad."
"Exams today?"
He doesn't make any further comments but nods his head as he measures the coffee grounds and pours them into the filter.  He heads back up the stairs to get ready for work. Charlie's not a morning person.  Renee comes downstairs in a flurry a few moments later, frantically searching for her work smock.  I point to the laundry room and begin to pack my stuff up and prepare to meet Edward for our daily ride to school.
School is uneventful today.  Exams, goofing-off, lunch, more goofing-off.  Edward hangs out at my house after school and we make out on the couch for a little while in the middle of the afternoon. He's laying on top of me, kissing my neck and chest as his hands swiftly unbutton my denim shorts.  I buck my hips to gain some friction against his hand as he slides his fingers inside my panties and into my wet folds.  I can feel his hardness grinding against my leg, and I reach to untie the drawstrings of his basketball shorts.  He raises his hips so that I can get a firm grip on his gloriously rigid cock, and we begin moving in tandem, creating the sensations that can propel us into ecstasy.  The sound of Renee's car pulling into the driveway thwarts our plans, and I laugh as Edward grumbles about being cockblocked by my mother.  I straighten my hair and clothes as he pulls me to sit on his lap to help hide his raging boner.  We snuggle for a while until he decides to head home and study for the last of his finals.  I walk him to the front door, kissing him goodbye and telling him I'll call him later.
After a dinner of pizza delivery and soda, I decide now is a good time to make the cookies. 
"Jesus fucking Christ.  Why can't people stop moving shit around in here?" I grumble to myself as I shift items around in the kitchen pantry.  "Come out, come out wherever you are..."
"Bella, what are you doing?"
"Looking for the bottle of vanilla extract that I bought last night and put it on this shelf, but now it's gone."  I rise to my tippy-toes to look over the top of the various boxes of stuffing mix and Hamburger Helper on the shelf in front of me, but don't find what I'm looking for.
"You mean this?"  I crane my neck to find my dad holding up a small box and giving it a little shake, rattling the tiny bottle inside.
"Yeah. Where was it?"
"Next to the flour."  He nods towards my baking paraphernalia spread across the countertop.
"Oh. Thanks."
Charlie stands quietly, watching me as I mix the ingredients from memory.  I've been making these cookies for years and it takes me only a few moments to toss them together and scoop onto a cookie sheet.  I slide the metal pan in to the preheated oven and set the timer on the stove. 
"So," he draws out, "tomorrow is the last day of high school, eh?"
I don't say anything, just nod my head as I dunk the mixing bowl into the sink, cleaning the remnants of the cookie mixture from the sides and place it in the drying rack.  The kitchen is silent other than the sounds of splashing water.
A few minutes pass, and my mother enters the kitchen to join us, sliding a chair across the linoleum. "Bella, we have a little graduation gift for you."
I turned to face my parents, finding they both look sheepish, knowing I don't particularly care for gifts and surprises.  Renee outstretches her arm towards me, in her hand sits a box wrapped in Class of 2010 paper.
"Just open it," Charlie complains. "We thought you could take it to school tomorrow and get some pictures or whatever."
"It's not a camera, Charlie," my mother corrects.  "It's a camcorder, Bella.  Open it!" Her eyes dancing with excitement.
I smile and hug them, thanking them for the very thoughtful gift.  Charlie suggests I take it to any graduation parties I may go to, to thwart any illegal activities amongst the party-goers. Renee slaps his shoulder and tells me to get some footage of my friends, and then she will record the graduation ceremony next week with it.  I smile to myself as I think of things that Edward would like to use it for and quickly shake my head to dispel those thoughts, especially as I am standing in front of my parents.
Later on, I take a quick shower, throw on my pj's, and duck under my covers.  I grab my cell phone and make a quick call to Edward.
"Hey, lover boy."
"Hey, sexy beetle," he purrs into the phone.  "You ready for tomorrow?  This is it... our last day!" 
"I know," I reply wistfully.
We are quiet for a few seconds, both of us lost in our own thoughts.  I suddenly remember my parent's graduation gift and I tell Edward about the camcorder.  He teases me about all the videos we will be making once we move to Tucson.  I quickly change the subject, and we talk about his camping trip tomorrow and the plans for me to feed the Masen's bird while they are gone.
After a few minutes, we make lovey-dovey kissing noises in the phone at each other, and I tell him I will meet him in the morning. 
The alarm blares, and I dart out from under my blankets as if my bed was on fire.  I feel excited...thrilled...ecstatic that today is our last day.  I dress quickly and tumble down the stairs, practically running into Renee in the kitchen.
"Looks like someone's excited to go to their last day of high school." Renee is smiling brightly, small tears forming in her eyes. "My little girl is all grown up!"
"Aw, mom, don't cry," I choke out as she squeezes me in a hug.  We stand in front of the refrigerator as she starts to sway slightly, like she's rocking a baby.
"I'm a proud mother, Bella.  Let me have my moment." She embraces me tighter and relents with a sigh as I feel a warm drop of wetness on my arm.
Thankfully, she releases me and shoves me toward the front door, pushing the camcorder and a large container of cookies into my hands, and tells me tonight we will go out for a celebratory dinner.  I smile and nod, afraid if I speak I would cry along with her, and exit the house. 
I fumble with the video equipment as I amble over to Edward's house.  As I reach their driveway, I finally get the signal that it's recording, and I aim the lens towards their garage.  Ed Senior is stealing a kiss from Elizabeth just before climbing into his police cruiser.  He rolls down the window and waves at the camcorder as he drives away, and I pan back to Elizabeth as she closes the door to her minivan, headed out for last minute errands.
"He's in the kitchen, Bella," she informs.  "Go on in."  
I waltz into their house and find Edward bent over in the kitchen, his head in the refrigerator.
"Hey, mom, where's the sliced turkey?  I want to take a sandwich for lunch?"  He doesn't notice that it's me who walked into the house, and I quickly activate the camcorder again, zooming in on his glorious behind as his head is inside the fridge.  He looks up quizzically, wondering why his mother didn't answer him, and smiles once he realizes it's me...with the camcorder.
"You know, Bella," he lowers his voice seductively, "if you wanted to stay at home all day and make videos, I would gladly skip school."
"Not a chance, Romeo.  I want to get some footage of our friends acting crazy and stuff today.  So, hurry up with your turkey sammich and let's get a move on!"  I toss the plastic container of cookies onto the counter and turn toward the front door.
He shrugs his shoulders passively. "Okay... your loss."
We've climbed into his truck when I power-up the camcorder again.  I shoot video of the front of his house as we pull out of the driveway - the blue, country style shutters on the front and the colorful flowerbed by the mailbox.  I pan the view to include the interior of Edward's truck - the dashboard, ancient stereo, and torn vinyl seats.  Finally, I aim the lens at the beautiful, young man sitting to my left and I smile uncontrollably.  His face is serious as he concentrates on his driving, but a small grin plays at the corner of his mouth as he tries to ignore me watching him through the view finder.  After a moment, I pan down his body, and zoom in on the tattoo on his wrist.  The skin there is still healing, but the image of the letters stand bold against his flesh.  I reach my hand out and pull his wrist toward my lips and plant a tender kiss there. 
I continue shooting footage as we drive, passing the park at the end of our street, the convenience store on the corner where we used to get slurpees as kids, and our elementary school.  As we sit at a stop light, Edward leans over to kiss me, and I attempt to angle the camcorder toward our heads, as it makes noises, trying to automatically refocus.  I make a mental note to check it later to see if I got a good shot of our kiss, or if I inadvertently zeroed in on my forehead or his nostrils.  The light turns green, and Edward turns into the parking lot of our high school, pulling into his usual parking space.  I hit the power button, wanting to save battery life, and cram the device into its protective bag.
Edward wraps his arm around my shoulders, pulling me to sit next to him on the bench seat of the Chevy and kisses my hair tenderly.
"I love you, lovebug."
"Love you too, pookie." 
"I hate it when you call me that," he whines.
"I know. That's for calling me 'princess' the other day."  I stick my tongue out at him and smile, exiting the truck.  He meets me at the back of the truck and walks me to my first class, as he has everyday since our first day of school together - twelve years ago. 
Angela and I reach the courtyard and spot our friends sitting at the same patio table during lunch that we've sat at all year.  Edward's back is to us and Peter is across from him, talking to Charlotte.  I sneak up behind Edward and wrap my arms around his head, covering his eyes with my hands.
"Guess who?" I ask in a creepy, deep voice.
He laughs and pulls me around to sit on his lap, kissing my lips and telling me he always knows it's me.  Angela strategically sits next to Charlotte so she can get a better view of her life long crush, Ben, who sits at a nearby table.  We tease her every day about her stalking tendencies, but she denies it vehemently.  Edward pulls the camcorder from it's bag and films our friends - and in Ang's case - the object of her obsession.  We pass it around, giving each of us a few moments to play with it, recording various people and views of the school from our usual place in the courtyard. 
"Oh!" Edward exclaims. "Before I forget... here, Bella." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his set of keys. "My mom is picking me up after my final exam next period, so you'll have to drive yourself home."
"Oh, yeah," I mumble, the depression already setting in. 
"Don't forget to feed Carrumba tonight."
The Masens bought an Amazon parrot several years ago.  Edward Senior refused to allow Elizabeth to get a cat, and they both denied Edward's suggestion of a terrarium for his beloved bugs, so when I piped up and suggested they get a bird, it seemed like the perfect solution.  Ironically, the bird has, for lack of a better term, fallen in love with Edward and gets angry when Elizabeth or Ed Senior tries to get near her.  She occasionally tolerates me, but only when Edward isn't around.  Thankfully, when I come to their house to feed her when they are camping, she stays quiet in her cage and I can clean it and replenish her water and food supply unscathed. 
"Yeah, sure.  You guys are coming back on Sunday, right?"  Lord knows I don't want to deal with that crazy bird for very long.
The sound of the bell ringing signals the end of our lunchtime.  Edward packs my camcorder into its bag, holding the handle out for me.  He gives me a tight bear hug and kisses me breathless before whispering that he will miss me and to take good care of his baby - his truck.  I roll my eyes and smile, kissing him one more time before heading toward my fifth period class.
"I LOVE YOU, BELLA BUG!" Edward shouts across the courtyard as he enters the science building.  I smile and shake my head at his silliness and make my way to English class.
The final bell of the day sounds and an explosion of students enter the halls, cleaning out their lockers and hugging friends, wishing them a great summer.  I escape to where Edward's truck is parked and hurl myself up into the cab.  I've driven it before, but I'm always nervous.  It's so large and bulky and the clutch is very sensitive.  I crank the key in the ignition and pull out of the space, nearly clipping the car next to me and running over two freshmen. 
I make it home without any further incidents and settle into Charlie's favorite recliner, turning on the television.  A while later, I hear the faint chirp of my cell phone indicating an incoming text.  I fish it out of my bag and find that it's from Edward...
Miss me yet? ;)
Nahh. =P  
U miss me yet?
Even when u r with me.
I smile and press the phone to my chest, clutching it close to my heart.  He always knows exactly what I need to hear.
Almost to cabin - so no service.
Love you. See you Sun.
Love you too.
Have fun.
I power down my phone and snuggle into the recliner, lifting the footrest and pulling the afghan off the back to cover my body.  I imagine it's Edward's arms wrapping around me, holding me against his chest as we both inhale deeply, breathing in each other's scent.  I close my eyes to revel in my daydream and drift off into a late afternoon nap. 
An hour or so later, Renee wakes me up as she clambers into the house, returning home from work.  We plan to meet up with Charlie at my favorite restaurant for dinner, and then the three of us will go bowling, much to my dad's disappointment.  Charlie sucks at bowling.  Renee, on the other hand, bowls a near perfect game every time.  The woman may not be able to figure out the washing machine cycles, but she's a genius with an eight pound ball and ten pins.
On Thursday, I spend part of the day talking with a realtor in Tucson, scouting rentals for when Edward and I start at the University of Arizona in the fall.  In the afternoon, I spend a few minutes at the Masens' house feeding their bird, washing the few remaining dishes in the sink, and tidying up Edward's room, separating his worn clothes into color piles for the laundry.  I chuckle to myself as I pull his socks from the pant legs of his jeans.  This is a wifey thing to do.  I'm going to be someone's wife in a few short weeks.  Edward's wife. 
The thought both thrills and terrifies me.  What if one day he wakes up and doesn't recognize me as the same Bella he's known all his life?  What if he decides that he doesn't want me anymore?  A sharp pain stabs me in the chest as my worry starts to escalate into paranoia again.  That's when I glanced up at the mirror above his dresser and notice a small piece of paper taped to the reflective surface.
I know you miss me.
Quit cleaning!!
See you Sunday.
Edward  =) 
I smile uncontrollably, knowing how well he understands me.  I clean when I'm anxious, worried, or have something on my mind.  It doesn't surprise me that he's picked up on that after all these years, and he knew I'd be contemplating a complete over-haul on his messy bedroom while he was away.
Saturday evening, I find myself in my bedroom, standing in my underwear and wavering between the flowery sundress and the blue one, when Angela knocks on my bedroom door.
"Yo, ho!  You ready to go?" 
"Gimme one minute!" 
I can hear her theatrically tapping her toes against the hardwood floors, pretending she's getting impatient for me to exit my room.  I snatch the blue dress, fling it over my head, slide into my favorite sparkly flip flops - for added flair - and meet Angela in the hallway.
"Let's get this party started!"  She whoops as we speed past Renee and Charlie in the kitchen.
"Bella!" My dad calls from the pantry closet. "Don't forget to take your camcorder. And keep it clean... no convicting evidence, ok?  And no drinking and driving!"
I smile at Charlie's attempt at a PSA, kiss him on the cheek, and grab my video recorder's bag from the countertop. Angela and I climb into the car, where Peter waits in the backseat with a case of beer under a blanket.
"Where'd you get the beer?"  I ask, eyeing the neighborhood pastor's children warily.
"Stole it from our dad's not-so-secret-anymore secret hiding place under the stairs.  He's got about twenty cases in there!"  Peter's eyes light in excitement at his newly discovered treasure.
We arrive at Charlotte's house, an adobe-style two story in a fancy, gated community, and hear the music thumping through all the open windows and squeals and splashes coming from the pool area of the backyard.  We walk through the house, surveying the debauchery, while Peter confiscates my camcorder and films our classmates as they enthusiastically wave at the camera in their inebriated states.  Angela and I make our way out to the back patio, finding a few of our fellow students jumping from the low rooftop of the house into the pool below. 
"Those dumb fuckers are nuts!" I thumb over my shoulder in the direction of the jumpers.
"What do you expect, Bella?  They're jocks," she deadpans.
We find a couple of lounge chairs and settle in to watch the morons do "cannon balls" and "nut-crackers" into the pool, and I notice a few classmates snuggled together around the patio - kissing and groping, blissfully unaware of others around them.  I sure wish Edward was here with me.  His warm arms would be holding my body close to his as his soft, wet lips travelled down my neck, placing tender kisses against my skin.   
I must have groaned out loud, lost in my own thoughts of Edward and me, because Angela abruptly asks what's wrong.  Before I can even form an answer to express the emptiness I feel when he's not around, she concludes that I miss him and tells me to look at the bright side: he'll be home tomorrow and we'll never have to be separated again.  Her kind words break through my emo-ness, and I make it my goal for the rest of the night to enjoy myself.
An hour or so later, a shit-faced Peter passes off the camcorder to Angela, and she and I squish onto the loveseat in Charlotte's living room, watching the footage on the small video screen.  Keg stands, horrific Karaoke attempts, roof-jumping jocks, and public gropings are mostly the evidence filmed of the party, but one part in particular hits me like a ton of bricks.  It was a shot of me, from across the pool.  My face was slightly blank, my lips turned downward in a frown, as I was thinking of Edward and missing him terribly.  This evidence has me feeling so completely alone - even when surrounded by fifty drunk and disorderly people - seeing myself so down and sad, knowing Edward was spending time with his family away from me.  I know it's childish and extremely selfish to want him all to myself, but I just wish he was here with me tonight to celebrate our high school graduation with our friends and not slumming it in a cabin with who-knows-what lurking in the woods.
We leave the party a half hour later, pouring Peter into the backseat of Ang's car and rolling the windows down in case he decides to hurl on the way home.  He sings Pour Some Sugar on Me at the top of his lungs and rubs his hands up and down his body like he's washing himself in the shower.  I can't deny it, it's some funny shit, and I pull out the camcorder to document his foolishness.  Ang and I are encouraging his hilarious, drunk behavior by playing DJ with the stereo and joining in on the singing.
Angela pulls into her driveway and shuts off the car, turning to look in my direction.
"What are we going to do?"  she asks, nodding her head towards a passed-the-fuck-out Peter in the backseat of the car.
"I say... leave his ass here."
"We can't leave him in the car, he'll suffocate or something."
"Ang, it's warm outside with no chance of rain. We'll leave the windows down."
So that's what we decide to do.  We roll the windows down, cover him up with his beer case blanket and close the doors.  Smirking at each other, knowing that he will be pissed and confused when their father finds him asleep in Angela's car the next morning before church.  I say good night  to Angela, offer a quick, longing glance at the dark Masen house, and amble over to my house, next door.  Once inside, I scramble up to my room, slip in to my pj's, and tuck myself into bed, relishing the thought of being in Edward's arms again tomorrow.   
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or it's character names - those belong to Stephenie Meyer. Bittersweet Irony and it's characterizations, backgrounds, and plot lines belong to SweetVenom69. No copying, translation, or reproduction is allowed without my written authorization.
© 2010 SweetVenom69.