Chapter 17

Playlist selection: Higher – by Creed

Edward POV

I tear out of Bella’s apartment like my goddamn ass is on fire. What the fuck is wrong with me? Why am I running like a pansy-assed bitch? She was my fiancée—the woman I was supposed to marry, have babies with, grow old with...


I'm not paying attention to where I'm going when I hear footsteps toward my right, approaching quickly. They run parallel to me through the forest, far enough away that I can't see them, but I can hear the faint crushing of moss and leaves beneath their feet. I'm upwind from them, so I don't know if it's one of my family members or some renegade nomad looking for a fight. Picking up speed as I reach the Elwah River, I cross and turn back to Sourdough Mountain—my favorite thinking spot.

The footsteps fade off in the distance, but I continue to the rocky outcrop near the top. I sprawl out on the largest boulder and stare up in to the clear night sky, trying to sort this shit out. I'm so lost in my head that I don't hear him approaching.

“Don't think so hard, son. You'll start growing brain cells back,” Carlisle chuckles from a rock set further above me on the ridge.

“Hey, Carlisle.”

He's quiet for a few moments, gathering his thoughts I guess. “You want to talk about it?”

I shake my head and shrug my shoulders. “What's there to talk about?” It's a cop-out, but I'm at a fucking loss for words.

“Hmm.” He nods his head and looks out over the valley below. “I just wanted to tell you how proud Esme and I are of you." I raise an eyebrow at him, wondering where the fuck he's going with this conversation. "You are a very smart, caring, and compassionate young man, son."

Son. He's called me this since the first time we met after Alice, Esme, and Emmett brought me home from Arizona. It's sad that I don't remember my human father, but I couldn't have asked for a better man as my father-figure for this life...or non-life. Whatever.

“Um, thanks, Carlisle.” I appreciate the compliments, but I'm still thrown for a loop here.

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

“Ha! I hate to break this to you, Carlisle, but I'm pretty damn sure I've already had the 'birds and the bees' talk." I laugh and roll my eyes, silently begging for him to drop this nonsense.

"No, Edward, relax. I just wanted to tell you that we love you very much, and regardless of the road you choose for your life—with or without Bella—we are all here for you, son."

Well, shit. What does one say to that?

"I, uhh... I mean, umm, thanks, Carlisle. That really means a lot." I stare up at him in confusion. What's with all the sentimental shit? "Uhh, 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 come to be."

Suddenly, I get a sense of déjà vu. I swear I've had this same conversation before.

We sit in silence on neighboring boulders for a while, me thinking about a possible future with Bella and him mindlessly chiseling shards of granite with his fingernail. I glance out over the valley, imagining Bella and I sitting up here together, admiring the view, holding her in my arms, and instantly knowing that she's my purpose in this fucked-up existence we vampires call a life.

I spring to my feet quickly, thank Carlisle for his encouraging words, and take off at top speed back to Forks.  The sun is approaching the horizon--dawn is breaking over the mountains--and I need to get back to Bella's before she wakes up. I can't let her think I've left her again, especially after my dumb ass didn't even leave her a note. What if she woke up in the middle of the night to find me gone? Jesus, what if she cried herself to sleep because I'm an idiot and didn't tell her I'd be back?


I plunder through the forests north of Forks, hurdle over the Calawah River, and eventually dart between the houses of the town, desperate to get back to her apartment. I don't even care if someone sees me whizzing by them.  Fuck them.  The only thing that matters right now is getting to Bella.

The moment I round the corner of her street, the familiar scents of Alice, Jasper, Esme, and Carlisle hit me. I remember they were perched nearby last night, ready to help me if I needed them, before I sent them away to hunt. As I near Bella's apartment, I suddenly notice a new scent.  It's sweet, like brown sugar and honey, and I recognize it immediately as vampire, but not from anyone I've met in the past.  I came across this particular scent in the forest outside of Port Townsend a few months ago, but it was faint at the time, the owner already long gone from the area.

But now he or she is back in our territory, near my Bella, and I'm not fucking having it!

I follow the scent directly up to Bella's house, panic setting in immediately, and I scope out the perimeter. The scent is concentrated by the front door, but it wraps around the side of the house near her window.  I check for any signs that the vampire may have gotten inside, but find nothing except for the slow, steady beat of Bella's heart thrumming away inside the apartment.  I smile to myself, knowing she's still asleep.

I quietly open the front door and slip inside, thankful that the scent isn't in her apartment too.  The bird is still covered in her cage, so I speed past it to Bella's bed, kneel bedside her on the floor, and lightly run my hand over her hair.

"Good morning, beautiful," I whisper so low she doesn't hear it. I smile as she hums in her sleep, and I trail my finger around her ear and revel in the new memory that floods through my mind.

A school-aged Bella is sitting on the floor in front of a ratty palm tree, decorated as a Christmas tree, and she hands me a medium-sized package wrapped in Scooby Doo holiday paper. Her cheeks are pink, and she focuses her attention to the dark green corduroy dress she has on, playing with the button like it's the most fascinating thing she's ever seen. I toss a red and green gift bag into her lap and focus my attention on my own present. Tearing open the paper, I discover my first insect specimen collection kit. Cool!

Bella knew me so well, even as a little kid.

She stirs a bit more in her sleep and rolls away from me toward the wall. Instinctively, I crawl up behind her, laying my body along hers and wrap my arm across her waist, over the blanket. She lightly settles back against my chest, her breathing slow and even as she sleeps snuggled in my arms.

Being this close to Bella for more than a few seconds has got to be the most delightful fucking torture I've ever experienced. The venom is flowing in my mouth like a goddamn river, but it's not like I can really control it. I hold my breath, but the burning in my throat is still there. It doesn't matter, because as long as she's in my arms, my whole body can catch on fire for all I care. Well, no, that wouldn't work either...

Suddenly, her fucking alarm clock starts blaring and she's startled awake, quickly whipping her head around to look at who's in her bed in a panic. “What the...?”

“Morning, Bella,” I say softly, smiling at her sheepishly. I know she never invited me into her bed, and I would have been freaked out, too, to wake up to someone snuggled around me, but deep fucking down I know I belong here...and I know she feels the same way too. “Oh, Edward, you stayed...” She smiles at me and blushes deeply before turning toward the bedside table and silencing the alarm.

“Class today, right?” It's not like I really forgot that she has school this morning, but I don't want her to think I'm some sort of fucking stalker that knows her schedule better than she does.

She nods and rolls out of bed. “Yeah. I have to meet Jake at the diner before class.” She looks nervously at me over her shoulder from the bathroom doorway, her thoughts worried that I would be pissed about her meeting another guy for breakfast. Her heartbeat doubles as she hurries through her explanation. “I mean, we discuss our research for our ecology class and stuff. He's married. He and his wife, Leah, are really good friends of mine and, um...”

I roll off the far side of the bed, not wanting to seem like a perv all coiled up in her blankets, ready to strike and drag her back in—preferably naked, of course. Although, that's not a bad idea... I shake my gutter thoughts and smile at her, already knowing all about this Jake douche, of course, but wanting to calm her fears. I can't have my girl thinking I'm the jealous type.

Oh, right...because I really am. Ha!

“I'd love to meet your friends sometime, Bella. That is, if you'd like to introduce them to me.” Fuck. Why did my voice actually crack when I finished that sentence? It's like I'm fucking nervous to meet these humans.

Anyway, I walk into her kitchen, thinking I could start some coffee for her while she's getting dressed or whatever she's doing in the bathroom. I smile as I hear the coffee maker automatically kick on, and I prop myself up against the counter, waiting for it to finish brewing.

I chuckle as I hear Bella mumbling to herself in the bathroom, chastising herself for having to meet Jake today of all days and considering canceling their plans so she can spend a bit more time with me before class, but I don't want to outstay my welcome since I “stayed” all night.

I wonder if I should tell her that I left for a bit while she slept? I glance back at the bathroom door, smiling smugly as I hear her thinking about my voice whispering in her ear when she woke up, and how it turned her on... Nah.

The moment her small pot of coffee is finished brewing, she shuffles out of the bathroom, apologizing for hogging it while she got ready for her day. I smile and wave off worry but decide to keep up normal human appearances and make a quick trip to the bathroom to pretend to take a piss.

Just like any other visitor, I fucking snoop. I peek into her shower, taking note of the shampoo and body wash she uses. I scope out the various bottles and packages of random over-the-counter medications for colds and flus and notice a package of birth control pills. Yeah, like she's going to need those...

Wait a fucking minute! Did she need them over the last few years? Suddenly, I see red, but I shove that shit down. Don't jump to fucking conclusions, Edward. For Christ's sake, she thought you were dead. The old, metal faucet handle buckles slightly under my grasp. I take in a deep breath, only to torture myself more by filling my lungs with Bella's alluring scent, and I let it out harshly, letting my possessive emotions go.

I meet her back in the kitchen as she mixes a bowl of grits and smiles up at me as she passes, heading into the dining room.

“Morning, Carrumba,” she coos as she pulls the sheet from over the cage. The bird shakes its feathers, sending tiny motes of dander and fluff all over the place. I watch as Bella reaches inside, collects the bird, and brings it to stand at the far end of the dining room table. “Breakfast time.”

Bella looks up at me with a small smile, and I can't help but forget any thoughts completely and smirk back at her. Fuck! She's got me whipped and I haven't even gotten back in her pants yet... I mean again... whatever. I laugh lightly at myself and sit in one of the chairs across the table from where the bird is cautiously watching me. Bella scoots the bowl closer to the bird and lifts a spoon with some of the grits in it, and Carrumba gobbles it up.

'I wish he remembered Carrumba. I wonder if...” Bella pushes the bowl closer to me, glances at me quickly before scooping the bird in her hands, and moving it closer to the bowl... and me. Carrumba starts squawking and flapping her wings as she hobbles back toward Bella.

“I don't think she likes me, Bella.”

She laughs and walks back into the kitchen. “She's probably not used to you being around anymore, Edward. You two were best buddies.” Bella looks over her shoulder at me as she reaches into a cabinet. “Talk to her.”

I look at my beautiful girl like she's lost her mind for a moment before turning back to the bird at the far end of the table. Thankfully, it's chilled the fuck out and is perched quietly on the top of the chair back. I mumble under my breath, “This bird's going to have a heart attack.” I take a deep, unnecessary breath to gather enough machismo to make small talk with the pea-brained animal. “Hello.”

Of course it doesn't talk back. It just tilts its head at odd angles, getting a better look at me. Bella returns to the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee, and I continue with my one-sided conversation.

“Hi, Carrumba.”


I reach for the small bowl and stir the clumpy contents with the spoon. “You want some, uhh, grits?”

“ cute.” Bella chuckles quietly in the kitchen, but of course I can still hear her.

The stupid bird just keeps quirking its head, watching my movements but not making a goddamn peep. I turn toward Bella as she comes to stand next to me, observing my major fail at animal-whispering. “I told you, babe. I don't think she likes me.”

“Keep trying. I'm going to get ready real quick.” She glances over her shoulder at the clock on the stove and turns toward the tiny closet near the bathroom. I keep my eyes glued to her as she walks away, scanning her body shamelessly, paying a bit more attention on her nice little ass. What? I'm a man, for fuck's sake.

When she closes the bathroom door, I turn my attention back to the bird and notice it has moved closer, standing next to the bowl, eying the contents hungrily. I hold still, not wanting to spook it, and I start talking to it softly.

“Hey, sweet bird. I know you recognize me, but I'm sorry I don't remember you.” I sigh and close my eyes for a moment, trying to think of something to say. “You see, something tragic happened when I was human, and I don't even know where to begin.” Carrumba cautiously leans into the bowl, takes a beak full of the pasty grits and mulls it around with her tongue. I continue with my monologue. “I'm not the same guy you remember. I mean, well, I am, but I'm not. I'm dead. The living dead. Kind of like a zombie, but way fucking cooler.”

I turn my head to peek at the bathroom door, ensuring it's still closed. I already know it is, but I guess it's a human action that just seems natural to do before spilling a major secret to someone, err, something for the first time. “I'm a vampire.”

Unfazed by my admission, Carrumba takes another bite of grits and then wipes her beak off on the woven placemat on the table. I smirk at her, thankful she doesn't really understand a goddamn thing I've just said, but grateful that I'm able to actually say those words to another living being without it being my family members or the dead carcass of an elk or bear.

The bathroom door handle jiggles and I keep up the façade of having a meaningful conversation with Carrumba and that I don't notice Bella approaching us. “I'm going to teach you animal sounds, Carrumba. Maybe we can make it into a game...”

“She already knows some. You taught them to her,” Bella says from next to me as she lightly places her hand on my shoulder. “Jesus, he's even cold through his clothes...”

I turn my face up to her, smiling brightly as if I just realized she's standing next to me. “Oh yeah? Which ones does she know?”

Bella gives my shoulder one more slight squeeze before she trails her hand down my arm. “And hard. He's like a solid mass of stone.” She clears her throat and turns her attention to Carrumba before she speaks. “Well, she knows the sounds kitty cats, dogs, chickens, roosters, pigs, and donkeys make.”


“Yep. Peter taught her that one.” Bella shakes her head and laughs. She notices my apparent blank stare and clarifies. “Peter was your best friend, Edward. He was going to be your best man in the wedding. He and Angela lived in the house between ours. I'll show you a picture.” Of course I remember who Peter is from our conversation last night, but I don't say anything as she leaves the table, grabs a photo album from the bookshelf, and brings it back, flipping through the insert pages until she finds one of him. “Here. This was taken on our way to our Senior Prom. Our parents all pitched in and rented us a limo for the night. Peter had stolen another case of beer from his dad's liquor stash. We were a bit tipsy before we got to the prom.”

I glance down at the picture, skipping right over the dark-haired boy she was pointing to and staring at the snapshot of my profile. My human profile. Not that I look any different, really, but it just brings back the reality of what I am now. A cold, hard, pale, lifeless person. A far cry from the warm-blooded, fragile, tan-skinned, living being I was then.

My inner musings are quickly interrupted by Bella's sudden cursing.

“Oh shit!” “Oh, shit!”

“What's wrong?” I'm on my feet and standing beside her before she turns to look at me. My sudden appearance at her side startles her and she looks at me, confused, and then back to the couch where I was a second ago.

“How the hell...?” She shakes her head quickly “Um, I'm late! I'm sorry, Edward, I need to leave.”

“Okay,” I say simply. A million and one thoughts run through my head: Should I just say goodbye and leave her? Should I ask to drive her to class? No, that wouldn't work—I don't have my car. Should I kiss her before I leave? Or maybe just a hug? Should I ask her if I can come back to visit later when she's out of school? I glance outside and notice the sun is shining brightly. Fucking hell. How can we leave at the same time and her not notice my goddamn shimmery skin?

Bella is scrambling around the apartment, putting the bird in its cage, and gathering her school supplies. I take this opportunity to head outside before her. “So, um, Bella, I'm gonna head home. Would it be okay if maybe I stopped by later this afternoon?”

She looks up from rummaging in her backpack, a small smile on her lips. “Yeah, that would be wonderful. Um, maybe I can make dinner tonight.” Her cheeks turn pink and she looks away from me and toward the television. “Maybe I'll make him his favorite meal from back home...”

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuck. How can I get out of this? I can't let her know I don't eat human food anymore. Think quick, fucker.

“Oh, yeah, that sounds...awesome.” How is that thinking on your feet, dumbass? It definitely doesn't come out very convincingly. Fuck. “Or maybe we could go out to dinner? I could take you to this great place in Port Angeles.” There are nice restaurants in Port Angeles, right? How the fuck would I know? Shit! I don't want to have to eat human food again. Having to do that after losing a bet to Emmett and Jazz was torture enough... Ugh.

She smiles and nods her head slowly; her thoughts waffle between going out or staying in. “Okay. How about we go out tonight? Meet me back here around four o'clock?”

“Sounds perfect, ladybug.”

“Oh my God...” Bella gasps and stares at me with an open mouth. What? What did I say? She recovers from her shock, blushes, and then whispers, ”Okay.”

I offer a small smile and nod, still not really knowing why the sudden freak out, but whatever. “Okay, cool.” I stare at her for a moment, wanting to kiss her before I leave, but thinking maybe I should wait until later after our date. This is a date, right? I make my way over to the door, thankful that it faces north and it's not in the direct line of the rising sun. “I'll see you later on, Bella.”

Slipping out the front door casually, I turn back to Bella and wave as I pull the door closed. Trying to keep calm and collected is usually pretty easy for me, but I have to work twice as hard to keep a game face on and not alert Bella to my anxiety. Inside, I'm freaking the fuck out. The moment the door closes behind me, I make a quick circle around the house's perimeter, smelling the air to see if any more vampires have been around her apartment. The only scent I notice is the fading one from earlier. Good.

I sprint back to my house, dutifully avoiding being seen by humans, to find Emmett sitting on the front porch steps. We do the manly half hand slap/half hand shake thing, and I sit down on the step next to him.

“Have a nice night, Edward?” He smirks, giving me a sidelong glance. What the fuck does he think happened?

“Wouldn't you like to know, jackass...” Childish, yes, but it's none of his fucking business that nothing happened.

“I thought maybe... y'know... got a little... y'know...” He jabs me in the ribs with his elbow and wiggles his eyebrows.

“No, Emmett. I didn't get any pussy, okay? And if Bella and I do anything in the future, I'm not telling you.”

“Aw, c'mon, man. I just wanna know what it's like to be with a human. I bet it's like fucking a warm pillow...” He stares off toward the forest surrounding our property. Jesus Christ...I don't want to visualize the thoughts flashing through his mind right now.

I leave Emmett to his musings and head inside, calling out to the rest of the family. They need to know about the stranger in Forks.

Alice meets me in the living room with a slight smile on her face. “Morning, brother. Carlisle is in his study, and the others will be back in approximately eight minutes.”

“Thanks. I'll just go grab a-”

“Yeah, yeah.” She waves her hand in a shoo-ing motion. “See you back here in seventeen minutes.” Alice winks as she plops down on the sofa and curls her feet under her.

I laugh and shake my head, not even bothering to reply to her. I climb the stairs to my bedroom and lay down on my chaise lounge, locking my hands together behind my head. My eyes close for a few moments while I think about Bella and try to wrap my head around the enormity of our situation. So many things can go wrong: Bella could expose us to the public if she ever finds out the truth about us or she could be hurt or killed because of our secret, for starters. However, if there's a chance in Hell, I may be able to have someone who fulfills my life, a lover... a mate. So many unknowns. I sigh loudly into my empty room and get up, heading back downstairs to meet the family... exactly seventeen minutes later.

Once in the living room, I'm instantly bombarded with questions about my night with Bella. Alice just sits with a slight smile on her face, already having seen this and knowing what really happened last night. I give the rest of the family the highlights of the night: finally speaking to Bella, the photo albums, the scorpion in the glass box, the bird, and her falling asleep. I skip over the part about my minor freakout and tell them that I was bored and went for a run while Bella slept. Alice's lips twitch minutely and I give her a pointed glare. I know she wouldn't call me out for being a pussy about stuff last night. Carlisle gives me a slight nod, letting me know my secret is safe with him.

I go into more detail about the memory flashes and being able to only hear Bella's thoughts. Carlisle, Alice, and Jasper break off and discuss this new phenomenon amongst themselves. Emmett and Rosalie are too busy eye-fucking each other to give a shit, and Esme is mooning over the thought of Bella being my possible mate.

To bring everyone back to the whole reason why I called the family meeting in the first place, I raise my voice to get their attention. “Oh, and there's a new vampire in Forks.”

All six heads whip around to look at me with shocked expressions on their faces.


I shrug. “I don't know. I've never smelled this one before.”

“So, you've only smelled them, but have never seen them?” Carlisle looks to Esme and then back to me.


“Where, sweetheart?” Esme reaches out to place her hand on my knee comfortingly and motherly-like.

“Around Bella's apartment.”

Rosalie scoffs. “That's it? Nowhere else in town?“

“No. When I got back from my, er, run, I caught the scent right at her apartment. It had faded, so it had been a few hours since whoever it was was there. I just wanted to get inside her home and see that she was okay.”

“Aww.” Esme gushes quietly. I ignore her.

Rosalie waves off my worry. “They probably picked up on your scent, followed it to her place, and then took off, not wanting to get caught in another vampire's territory. I wouldn't worry about it.”

“I haven't smelled any new visitors.” Emmett says and turns to Jasper. “Have you?”


“Well, let's not jump to conclusions that this visitor is here to prey on Bella. Maybe Rose is right, and they had been passing through town and it was a coincidence that they wound up by her place.” Carlisle, always the voice of reason.

We all vow to be vigilant on our hunts and runs around town and to keep each other informed of any news. I endure a few teases from Jasper and Emmett about not playing with my food. I flip them off and tell them I'm headed to find Bella... and to not expect me home again tonight. Alice just chuckles. Bitch.

I take a quick shower, making sure to scrub the goods nice and well, because you just never know what will happen. I chuckle to myself at the ridiculous thought of the possibility of Bella and I getting it on tonight. Not that she probably wouldn't want to; I can still smell her arousal from last night.

I can hear as Alice barges into the bedroom and starts rummaging through my closet on the other side of the wall. This puts a sudden kibosh on my dirty thoughts of Bella, and I turn off the water to the shower.

The bedroom door shuts quietly with a soft click, and I exit the bathroom to find the clothes Alice has picked out for me to wear—a white button-up shirt and dark jeans. Nice choice. I grab some black boxer briefs out of the dresser drawer and finish getting ready.

The keys to the Volvo are twirling around Alice's finger as she waits in the hall outside my bedroom door, and I snatch them as I pass by.

“Have a great night, brother.” She giggles. “And don't order the fish special.” Her face scrunches up as if something smells horrific, and I laugh.

“No problem.” I turn back to look at her. “Anything else?”

She stares off into space for a moment and then snaps back to the present and smiles brightly. “Nope!”

With that, she skips off down the stairs, and I head out to the garage. Esme is standing in the kitchen, her hands covering her mouth like she's trying to hold in a sob or some shit. Jesus, I'm just taking a girl out to dinner, not going to war! She needs to get a grip. Carlisle is behind her, his arms wrapped around her waist tightly—probably to keep her from tackling me with a hug.

“Have a nice time, son.”

“Thanks, Carlisle. I'll see you two later.”

Esme just squeaks.

I make a stop at Leppell's Flowers and JT's Sweet Stuffs for some chocolate before I head over to Bella's. I don't know if she likes that kind of shit, but it's my first date—that I can remember—and I want to do it right.

By the time I make it to Bella's place, she has just arrived home. I pull up next to her/my truck in the driveway and sit quietly, listening to her putz around her apartment. She talks to the bird, carrying on a conversation with it as if it were human. The bird squawks and chirps here and there, but Bella keeps talking. She seems nervous about our date. I'm glad I'm not the only one.

After listening for about fifteen minutes, I decide to get out and knock on her door. I know it's too early for dinner, but maybe we could just hang out and walk around the shops in Port Angeles before our reservation.

“Shit! He's early!” “How do I look, Carrumba?”

I chuckle to myself as I hear her ask the bird what it thinks of her outfit and then laugh loudly when it wolf-whistles at her.

When Bella answers the door, I nearly drop the candy and flowers. She's absolutely breathtaking in a light yellow dress that ties behind her neck—giving me a fucktastic view of her cleavage. Nice.

“You look amazing, Bella.” I adjust myself as she takes the gifts from me.

“Thank you... and thank you.” She blushes, looks down at her dress, and then nods to the flowers and candy.

“No problem. So, uhh, you ready to go? I know I'm early.”

She grabs her purse and keys, locks up the apartment, and we set off to Port Angeles. I have to keep my speed at a reasonable level, so it takes us a good hour to get to the center of town. We browse a few of the boutiques, and I convince Bella to let me buy her a silver butterfly charm and bracelet. She tries to tell me it's too expensive, but I tell her that we are having our first date all over again—including her in a yellow dress—so it seems fitting that butterflies be included somehow.

That seems to convince her, and I proudly slip the sales person my black AmEx card and help clasp the bracelet around Bella's wrist while she holds her arm out to me. My eyes instinctively seek out the artery pulsing away in her wrist, and I swallow the venom down.

It's now that I suddenly realize how wrong this whole thing with Bella really is. She's human, and I'm vampire. My natural instinct is to attack and feed. No...we shouldn't be doing this, being together. I shouldn't date my prey. Fuck. I should have hunted earlier today.

It's in this moment that I'm lost in my own thoughts as Bella spins around and wraps her arms around me.

“Thank you, Edward,” she whispers against my chest.

I stand motionless, still trying to get a grip on my urge to sink my teeth into her, and just as I gather my resolve and move to enclose her in my arms, she pulls away.

“Ready to eat?” Bella smiles at me and grabs my hand, pulling me toward the restaurant. She briefly considers my cold, hard skin, but I'm too caught up in the new images flooding my head.

This one is of Bella sitting on the sidewalk, crying, while I and a younger Peter jump off our bikes and run over toward her. He and I had been attempting wheelies on our bikes, and Bella wanted to try it too and ended up being tossed to the concrete, scraping her knees.

I grin at her and answer her question, “Yeah, let's go. I'm starved.” I'm such a fucking idiot.

We make it to the restaurant and the hostess seats us in a round corner booth. The waitress is at our table immediately to take our drink orders and brings us bread with dipping oil. Bella's excited about the bread, and I watch as she rips it and smears the herb and oil concoction. It smells revolting. We place our orders and sit quietly, stealing casual glances at each other, and I smirk each time as Bella starts to blush.

We talk about safe topics: how school is going, her desire to travel to Europe once she graduates, and how I liked living in San Francisco. When the food arrives, Bella dives into her pasta, practically shoveling it into her mouth and moaning with each bite. My dick stirs as I watch her lick the sauce from the side of her lip. Fuuuuuck.

I shake myself of the dirty thoughts and pretend to be happily enjoying my scrumptious meal of mushroom ravioli. This shit smells like soggy moss tossed in garlic. It's absolutely disgusting. Why couldn't I have taken her to a steakhouse? I could have ordered a rare steak and maybe it would have been somewhat palatable. I'll have to remember that shit next time...

Bella notices my hesitance while eating. She even tries to get me to taste her pasta, thinking I don't care for the ravioli, but I just lie and tell her that I'm a little bit nervous and my stomach's upset. Which isn't far from the truth.

The waitress comes back around and asks if we want dessert; I look to Bella and she requests the crème brulee. “Two forks, please,” she asks bashfully.

Once the waitress leaves, I turn to Bella again. “Really, Bella, I don't think I'll be able to eat any of that. I'm fucking stuffed.”

“C'mon, Edward. Please?” She looks at me with sad puppy-dog eyes. Dammit. “Y'know, the last time we shared a crème brulee was at the restaurant we went to for Valentine's Day.”

I smile sadly and slide around the booth to sit closer to her. She meets me near the center of the bench, and I take her hand, holding the delicate fingers lightly in my grasp. “I'm sorry, I don't remember.” I stare down at her fingers, smirking at the chipped peach-colored nail polish and the new memory that invades my head.

I had taken the liberty of decorating her locker at school for her birthday. Her friend, Angela, helped by distracting her that morning before school – saying she needed a “girl's morning” and drove them to grab a coffee before class. I got to school a half hour earlier than normal and tied a bundle of balloons to Bella's locker handle and taped a little sign and paper flowers to the door. She was mad the whole day. She's fucking sexy when she's pissed and feisty.

My dick twitches again. Shit.

The dessert is horrendous. It smells like charred sugar and eggs. Bella smiles brightly and takes a heaping spoonful of this custard crap and aims it toward my face. “Open up, babe.”

Somehow—and I don't fucking have a goddamn clue as to how—I make it through two bites of the dessert and start feeding Bella the remainder. She keeps thinking about how erotic it is for me to feed her, but I just really want to shovel the revolting treat into her mouth in one gigantic fucking bite and be done with it.

Finally, we leave the restaurant, and I wrap my arm around her waist as we stroll along the sidewalk back to the Volvo. Bella rests her head on my shoulder, and I want nothing more than to scoop her up in my arms and take her somewhere quiet and private and get inside those pretty purple panties she has on underneath that cotton dress. Yeah, I can see though that flimsy material she's wearing. The smell of her arousal is driving me crazy, but I need to talk to Carlisle about some shit before we move things to another level. Shit! I really should have fed earlier today...

We pull up at her apartment, and before she has her seatbelt unbuckled, I open her car door, holding out my hand to help her out. The perfect gentleman. We walk to her front door quietly—verbally—but the thoughts running through Bella's head are loud and clear.

“I hope he kisses me. Shit! My breath probably smells like garlic!”

“It's still early; maybe he'll want to come inside for a bit.”

“I wonder if he'll stay again tonight.”

As much as I'd love to stay with her, I think it's best that I don't put myself into any potentially dangerous situations with her. Well, dangerous for her.

She unlocks her door and steps inside, turning to look at me hesitating on the porch. My body suddenly freezes and nostrils flare. That vampire has come back while we were gone. I lean in the doorway and inhale deeply but don't catch the scent inside her apartment.

“What the hell? Does my apartment stink?” Bella has a slightly panicked look in her eye but tries to cover up her anxiety with a smile.

We both speak at the same time.

“Do you want to--”

“I should probably--”

We laugh, and I wave my hand for her to speak first.

“Do you want to come in? We can open a bottle of wine and talk...” She bites her bottom lip and looks up at me, hopeful.

“I would love nothing more than to spend some time with you tonight, Bella, but I need to get back to my family.”

“Family...” She scoffs mentally.

I continue. “Yeah, uh, Carlisle likes to have family game night. You know, Yahtzee, Scrabble, Pictionary.” I know it's total bullshit, but it was the first thing I could think of. Alice has probably already jumped online and ordered the games within the last twelve seconds.

“Well, okay.” Bella nods slowly, looking a bit disappointed. “Will I be able to see you again tomorrow? I only have a lab at eleven in the morning, but after that, my schedule is free.” She smiles shyly, and I just want to kiss her senseless. She has no idea how fucking whipped I am.

“Yeah, that'd be great. I'll meet you back here around noon?”

Her smile gets wider and she steps closer to me. Her thoughts scream her intent to kiss me, but I swiftly grab her hand and lift it to my lips, placing a gentle kiss to her palm.

“I'll be here, my butterfly.” I smirk as she blushes and brings her other hand up to touch the dainty bracelet on her wrist.

“Oh, and thank you for a wonderful evening, Edward... and for my bracelet.”

“You are most definitely welcome, Bella. Goodnight.” I grin and take a few slow steps backwards toward my car, watching as she closes and locks the door. The second it's latched, I zip around the perimeter of the house, searching for this lurking vampire. When I can't find anyone in the immediate vicinity, I hop back into the car, quickly sending a text to Alice.

I need backup. Now! ~E

Chapter 16

Playlist selection: Iris by GooGoo Dolls

Edward POV

There are sudden flashes of color and sound in my head as my hand grips the warm flesh of Bella's wrist. The images are cloudy and vague, but it's definitely something I've never noticed before. My mind is hit with a barrage of new emotions: shock, hope, and a touch of fear as to what these visions could mean. Could these be memories?

“Oh my God!” Bella shrieks, but it's the look of horror on her face that jars me from my musings. She twists her arm away from my grasp and staggers a few steps away, panic and worry rushing through her thoughts. I hear her heart thrumming away in her chest, a result of the adrenaline surge in her veins, as she compares my differences to normal humans. She knocks into the coffee table with her calves as she tries to move away from me. Her wide, brown eyes glisten in the dim light from the living room lamp. “Ed-Edward, w-what happened to you?” she whispers shakily. “What the fuck is going on? Why is he so cold?”

I try to soothe her, knowing how the shock of my icy skin has freaked her out. “Shhh, Bella. Calm down. I know it's different, but it's okay. I'm okay.” I don't know if I say that last part for her sake or mine. “I told you there was an ac-”

“Accident. Yeah, I got that part,” she snaps, quickly shaking off her fear and shifts back to annoyance again. She moves around the table and settles in the farthest spot on the couch, drawing her legs close to her chest, and looks away from me. “Why won’t he tell me?”

She asks more questions in her head, but doesn't voice them yet. I stare blankly at her beautiful face and replay the instant visions that flooded my head when we touched--blurred shapes of bright colors: a deep royal blue, a creamy white, a warm brown, a fern green. Flashing lights and whirs of sound float all around me. There's softness and happiness and laughing.

I hone in on the laughing, recognizing it almost instantly as Bella's, and the rest of the vision clears into a perfect picture. Bella's standing in front of me, wearing a low-cut dress that I remember telling her how fucking sexy it made her look. I teased her about the white grandma-sweater she wore as a cover up and laughed when she told me that Charlie wasn't letting her out of the house without it. The warm brown was her hair, pinned up with the occasional ringlet falling around her face, and the green was the leaves of the corsage tied around her wrist. I held her close to me – in my arms – as we swirled and danced at our Senior Prom...

I was there.

With her.


I felt like crying, discovering this memory from my past, knowing that I was happy at some point before this life. Happy with her. “I remember...” I say, letting the words trail off in the air.

Bella lifts her head and stares at me with wide eyes. “What do you remember?” she asks, repositioning herself up on her knees on the cushion between us.

“Prom.” She gasps, and a small smile crosses her face. “I remember dancing with you at prom. You had on a blue dress, and I was making fun of the sweater you were wearing.”

She nods, and her smile grows wider. “You asked me if I stole it from a nursing home.”

I smile, recalling that was why she was laughing in my memory. “Yes.”

“What else do you remember?”

I root around in my head for a moment, searching for another new memory, but find nothing. Well, that's disappointing. “That's it, I'm afraid.”

We are both quiet for a few moments. She stares at me intently from her side of the couch, gnawing on her lip and wringing her hands together. “How can that be the only memory he has? There has to be more...”

“I promise you, that's all I remember.”

“Edward,” she says exasperatedly, “how can you claim to have no memories and then poof, all of a sudden, you remember our senior prom?”

“I. Don't. Know!” I snarl and lurch from the couch to pace across the room. The bird squawks at my outburst, but I just ignore him.

“I don't believe you, Edward.” She lets the words hang in the air for a few moments as she steels herself for more arguing. Her thoughts flit from one subject to another, each of which are milestones in her life that I was apparently involved in. Sometimes, I wish I could just see the images in her head instead of only hearing her thoughts. That would make this a lot easier. “If you don't remember anything, how do you explain bringing me a goddamn book about Arizona National Parks, huh?” She stands and stalks across the room to where I'm pacing, her hands perched firmly on her hips.

How do I explain that? Surely, I can't tell her that I plucked it out of her brain and saw her cacti collection while I was playing creepy stalker guy, looking through her windows. I don’t even know what I was thinking when I purchased that. What a fucking idiot!

She continues her rant. “If you don't remember anything about your life before the big, mysterious accident, what made you think that book would be a nice gift for me? And on another note, how do you know where the fuck I live? I didn't leave my address on the card with the cookies...only my phone number. Have you been stalking me?”

Fuck me. This is not how I want this interaction to go between us, but I can't just come out and tell her I'm a vampire and I've been watching her for the last six months. I doubt that would go over very well. The castrating look in her eyes tells me I’m probably right with that assumption.

“Bella,” I say softly. “I don't want to argue with you. This is a huge breakthrough in my amnesia, or whatever you want to call it, and I just want to find out more about my hum-, uh, my life, and only you can give me that.”

She takes in a sudden breath and tears begin to form in her softening eyes. “I want to believe you, Edward, but I’m confused and scared. What if you never remember us? I don’t think I can handle that kind of heartbreak all over again. I’ve only just found you...”

I wish she’d voice these thoughts out loud; my reply would make so much more sense. “I know.”

“Shit! Did I say those things out loud?”

My cell phone is buzzing incessantly in my pocket, and I look away from Bella toward the clock on the wall. I turn back to her and offer a small smile. “It’s late, Bella. I don’t want to keep you up. I should go.”

“NO! Please, don’t go.” “Don’t you ever leave me again.”

I won’t deny it. The quickened pace of her heart and the sudden anxiety in her voice makes me a bit giddy. I don’t want to leave her either. Her eyes are imploring, and her thoughts are begging for me to stay and never disappear. I know I can’t make that promise, but the second she gently touches my arm, the flood of blurry images invades my brain again, and my feet are fucking glued to the wood floor.

“Bella?” I rasp, and clutch her hand as another memory comes into view. “You...”

“Me, what?”

“I remember...”

She gasps and pulls me back to the couch, and I sit down without hesitation, staring blankly into space as I put the pieces of the vision together.

“What do you remember, Edward?” “Tell me!”

“You...and me, in a, a truck. We’re driving down a highway. I can feel the warm wind on my skin and your hair’s blowing all over the place...”

“That’s a little vague.” “Okay. What else?” She laughs lightly and sits next to me on the arm of the couch, gently leaning her body against my shoulder. I would have expected that this would freak me out--having a human touch me like this--but it just seems so natural, comfortable, natural, with Bella, and I fucking like it.

Her thoughts are focused on identifying this memory from her own bank and not on what her body is doing. I look at her smiling face, knowing she’s just as excited to hear this as I am for her to confirm it.

“Um, you seemed a bit nervous and you kept fiddling with the seatbelt strap. I remember teasing you about it. You’re wearing a light yellow dress and singing a song. It was from some movie you liked.”

“Oh, my God, yes!” Her smile gets bigger, and she laughs gently. “Iris. The name of the song was Iris.”

I smile back at her as I recall the title. “Yeah, you loved that song. You were singing it at the top of your lungs.”

She laughs, her cheeks darkening from her blush. “Yeah, I still do. It’s one of my all time favorites.” She’s quiet as she watches me, hoping I’ll recall more memories, but nothing else comes to mind. “What else?”

“Nothing.” I frown. God, this is so fucking frustrating.

She sighs, disappointed, but then she offers to help fill in the holes of my memories. “It was our first date. You were taking me to the butterfly exhibit as a surprise. I was nervous because it was the first time we were together as a couple instead of as friends. I was worried I’d screw everything up.”

I smile at her insecurity. She’s so damn cute. I had figured out we’d been a couple, even before the Prom memory, but this was the first confirmation. I had loved this girl. And from the tiny tweak in my chest at that thought, it seems as if that feeling is still there, buried in the frozen trenches of my body. “You couldn’t have screwed anything up if you tried, Bella. You’re perfect.” I whisper, the words softly tumbling from my mouth without me even thinking about them. Where the hell did that come from?

She flinches slightly, shocked by the tenderness of my words, and then notices our proximity to each other. Straightening her shoulders, she glances toward the bird cage, cursing herself in her thoughts. “I’m such a fucking idiot. What if he never really remembers me and what we had together?” Releasing a shaky breath, she turns back to me, a tight smile on her lips.

Not wanting to dwell on this awkward moment, I stand and walk toward the bookshelf and recall something she mentioned earlier. “You said this was mine?” I ask, pointing at the enclosed scorpion.

She moves to stand beside me and picks up the grotesque creature, smiling softly at it like it was a cherished pet. “Yes. It was your prized possession.” She laughs and then sighs. “I couldn’t get rid of it after you die-, uh, left.” “It was a part of you that I couldn’t leave behind. I missed you so much, Edward.”

“I know you did,” I mutter, and she looks up at me, squinting.

“How does he...?”

Smiling down at her, I nod once and turn to sit down on the couch again. “So, you finally believe that I’m not lying to you? That I really don’t remember things before the, uh, accident?”

“Accident. I hate when he calls it that. Why won’t he tell me what happened?”

“Some other time, Bella. I don’t really want to talk about it. It was, uh, traumatic.”

“It’s like he keeps answering the questions I’m not actually asking. Can he read my thoughts? God, I hope not...”

I redirect our conversation back to the insect. “So, why would that thing be special to me?” It is a rather impressive specimen... How the hell do I know that?

She looks fondly at the display box from across the room and then back to me. “You loved bugs, Edward. You wanted to be an entomologist ever since you were a little kid.”

“Get the fuck out,” I scoff. “You’re shitting me, right?” Right?

“No,” she says, looking at me as if I’ve suddenly grown a third eye. “You were the biggest bug geek I knew.”

She has got to be joking... Bugs? Fucking bugs? I fucking hate those things. They fly around, buzzing their wings in my ears, annoying the shit out of me. How the hell could I have liked them? They’re disgusting. Okay, well, maybe just the flying ones are a nuisance, and that scorpion is pretty interesting looking, but I still find it hard to believe I had wanted to study them. However, the look on her face and the thoughts in her head only seal her conviction that I, Edward Cullen, was a former insect lover. Who’da thunk it?

I laugh disbelievingly and shake my head. “Well, that’s something you’ll never hear about me again. I don’t do bugs now, Bella. I’m not the same guy you knew back then.”

She nods and looks down at her hands in her lap, disappointment marching through her thoughts. “Understatement of the century...” “Yeah, I noticed a difference in you from the moment I saw you in the library.”

“Yeah?” I already know the answer, remembering her thoughts from that day six months ago like it just happened this morning.

“It was your tattoo that sealed the deal, you know?” I glance down at my wrist as her fingers reach out to sweep across the script. “You got that for me...”

It’s in this moment when her fingers connect with my skin that I realize I get these surges of images or memories in my head when she touches me. Not when there’s a barrier of clothing like when our shoulders were touching earlier, but when there’s direct skin-on-skin contact. This time there’s a sensation of pain, directly where she touched me on my wrist, and images of a man in a police uniform and a white gazebo.

She continues, “...and I got this one for you.” Bella turns her back toward me and points to the partially hidden tattoo on her shoulder. I had seen it before, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it at the time.

Ever so gently, I pull the fabric away to expose the art on her soft skin. I may or may not have run my finger against her on purpose, instigating another memory to hit me. This one is of Bella and I at a pool party with other people our age. I shake the vision off and refocus back on her explaining the tattoo. “Ever since our first date, Monarch butterflies held a special meaning to us. That’s why you had it inked into your skin. When I thought you had died, I wanted something that represented how much you meant to me.”

I take in the delicate design of the butterfly on her shoulder, noticing how it’s hovering above the intricate initials. “E-A-M?” I ask in a small voice, suddenly realizing those initials as my own.

“Edward Anthony Masen.” She looks over her shoulder at me quizzically, silently asking if I don’t even remember my own name.

“I didn’t remember my full name after the accident. I’m just Edward Cullen now.”

Bella bristles at my new last name and gets up to stalk into the kitchen. “You’ll always be Edward Masen to me. I don’t care what those people tell you your name is.” “Fucking kidnapping weirdos...”

“Don’t hate them, Bella. They’re really good people and helped me so much over the past couple of years. I’d like for you to meet them sometime.” I offer an encouraging smile, hoping she’ll lighten up and agree, but the death glare she gives me says I’ve got some convincing to do. “They are eager to meet you, too, you know. I know you already met Esme when you came to bring me the cookies...”

“Yeah, she seemed nice, but I-”

“She is,” I interrupt. ”She’s kind of like the matriarch of our little family or some shit.”

“Family,” she scoffs. Rooting around in the fridge, she grabs several items, sets them onto the counter, and huffs in annoyance. “I don’t get it, Edward. If they found you after your accident, and you didn’t remember anything about your life before it, why didn’t they contact the police? Your missing person’s report was all over the news and in the papers. Someone would have recognized you from all the photos.” “I need to tell my dad...”

Of course, I use this moment to reach my hand out and touch her arm, offering her some comfort and gain a new memory for myself. What can I say? I’m a vampire, and I’m selfish by nature. This new memory is of me and Bella around the age of seven or eight, dressed up for Halloween. She was the cutest lady bug I’d ever seen. I was a bug catcher with a net.

By now she’s unloaded half of the fucking refrigerator’s contents onto the counter and is staring blankly at all the food. “Look, Bella, I know the circumstances seem, uhh, weird, but I promise that the Cullens did nothing wrong when they found me. Please, just...believe me. Trust me. Just, shit...just let me tell you everything in my own time. Okay? Please don’t tell anyone back home about finding me yet. Can you just help me remember who I am, err, was? I’m not ready to answer everyone’s questions about where I’ve been and what happened to me.”

Her thoughts are wavering, but I reach out again to gently touch her cheek. She flinches slightly, but her mind only registers the cold from my skin, and then she turns her face toward me. More images invade my mind, but as I’m focusing on those, my cell phone buzzes again. At the same moment, she lunges toward me, throws her arms around my neck, and buries her face against my chest.

“Oh, my God, Edward! I’ve missed you so so much,” she cries, drenching my shirt with her warm tears. “Please, promise me you won’t disappear again?” Her sobs shake her body as she clutches the shoulders of my shirt and pulls me against her. “Jesus, it’s like hugging an iceberg, but I don’t care!”

I smile nervously as I tentatively rest my chin on top of her head. Holding her gently--I hope--in my arms, my hand grazes her skin near her waist, and I revel in the tidal wave of new memories that hit me all at once. We’re riding in that truck again, headed to school. Bella has her backpack in her lap and is rifling through it for her Trig homework.

The next one is of me lounging on a couch with her bird--my bird, apparently--standing on my stomach and stealing potato chips from the bowl resting on my lap. There’s a baseball game on the TV in the background.

Then there’s an older woman with Bella’s eyes, patching up my scraped knee. Bella and I had been riding our bikes in the street, and I tried to impress her and fell, injuring myself. The woman pats the bloody wound with a gauze, and suddenly, venom pools in my mouth. I swallow that shit down as my cellphone goes off again.

Bella finally collects herself and pulls away from me enough to look up into my eyes. “I miss your beautiful green eyes.”

I’m not going to lie, that shit makes me feel fucking smug as hell. But the wistfulness of her voice grounds me. “Green, huh? Yeah, I guess they are a bit different now, aren’t they?” I smile sadly at her and stare down into her warm brown eyes.

“Yeah, they’re different, but not necessarily in a bad way.” Reiterating her words from earlier, that’s the ‘understatement of the century’; she doesn’t know how bad they really are. “But I had always thought our kids would have your green eyes,” she says softly.

Jesus, there isn’t much that could bring a vampire to his knees, but the weight of that comment definitely hits below the belt.

“I’m sorry.” It’s all I can offer her now.

We stare at each other for a few seconds longer before she remembers something she wants to show me. Gathering all the food from the counter and haphazardly tossing it back into the fridge, she leads me back into the living room and sits me down on the couch.

“I have something that might help you remember.” She crosses the tiny living room and digs in a cabinet at the base of the bookshelf. “Where is it? I know it’s here... Aha!” She waves a DVD in her hand. “I’ve never watched this. I don’t even know how long it is.”

“What is it exactly?”

“Well, my parents bought me, uh, us a video camera for graduation. I only used it a couple of times before we discovered you were missing.” She looks down at the disk in her hand and turns to put it in the player next to the TV. “Here goes nothing...”

Returning to her place next to me on the couch, she reaches for the remote with a shaky hand and presses PLAY. I gulp the rush of venom in my mouth--more out of nervousness than thirst, I think-- and slowly wrap my arm around her shoulders. Hesitantly, I pull her against my side and rub my finger against the soft flesh of her arm. I don’t know what I’m fucking doing!

The first sound we can hear is of Bella’s voice, laughing, as she tries to figure out the camera. After a moment, the lens cap is removed and the same woman from my earlier memory is on the screen; Bella’s mom.

“Your mother’s name is Renee,” I say confidently.

“Yes!” she practically squeals. “And that’s Charlie, my dad.” A dark-haired man in a police uniform sits at a kitchen counter, sipping coffee. I don’t remember him.

We’re quiet for the next couple minutes as we watch the video. I smile as a younger Bella gets ready for school, leaves her home, and walks two houses down. She stops to talk to another man in uniform as he’s pulling out of the driveway in his squad car. I do remember him.

“That’s my dad,” I whisper. “Our dads were on the same police force?”

Bella looks up at me with tear-filled eyes, nodding. “Yep, for about twenty years. Ed was awesome. He was so proud of you.” The tears are now streaming down her cheeks as she turns her gaze back to the video. “Your parents were awesome, Edward. I wish you’d remember them.”

I nearly puke when my human-self appears on the screen. I look the exact same as I do now, except I was pretty fucking tan, and my eyes really were a bold green. Bella moans lightly next to me as I throw flirty innuendos at her on screen. There’s a surge of warmth from her, and I glance down to notice a rosy blush has spread across her skin.

“Oh, my God! I hope he didn’t hear me moan.”

I pretend not to notice anything and turn back to the video, deciding to keep that little tidbit for myself to evaluate later on. I can’t help the smirk on my face, though.

Further into the video, there’s a scene of us in the truck that I had remembered, and I suddenly recognize it as the same piece of shit that’s in front of Bella’s apartment. “That’ truck in your driveway?”

Bella smiles sheepishly and nods as she wipes her tears against my shirt. I pull her close to me and she fists my shirt and nuzzles her face into the crook of my shoulder. I kiss the top of her head just as my damn cellphone buzzes in my pocket again.

Bella notices the vibration and pulls away, but I tell her to ignore it and pull her against me once again. God, she’s so warm. It’s like snuggling up to an electric blanket. I might need to get one for my house...

There are a few more clips of our friends and classmates, but I don’t remember them and decide to ask about them later. The video lasts a total of fifteen minutes and then the screen turns blue. We sit in silence for a moment until the bird makes a little peep and startles us from our thoughts.

“Oh, shit. I need to cover her cage.” Bella jumps up and grabs a sheet from a shelf under the cage and tosses it over the gigantic contraption. “Night night, Carrumba.”

“Nigh-nigh,” the bird says.

“Holy shit! That thing sounds just like me!”

Bella turns and smiles at me, giving me a well, duh kind of look. “You did teach her that, Edward.”

“I did?”

“Yeah. She mimicked everything you said. You two were best buddies.” She laughs. I smile, remembering my triggered memory from earlier with the potato chips.

Bella turns off the TV and puts the DVD away and then reaches into the cabinet again, this time she pulls out a large photo album. Oh, fucking hell.

Bracing it against her chest like it’s a fucking shield of armor she comes back to the couch and plops down beside me, settling the book in her lap. “Okay, um, I haven’t looked at this book since the first anniversary of your death. And I know that’s kind of morbid and weird thinking that you were dead, because you’re here now, but just keep in mind that that is what we all thought at the time, okay?”

“Okay,” I whisper, getting really fucking nervous as to what I’m going to find in this album. I angle my body toward hers and put my arm around her shoulder again. She smiles and exhales loudly, then starts to open the front cover, but slams it shut again as worry laces her thoughts.

“I wonder what he’s going to think about this. Maybe this is too soon to show it. Maybe it’s too soon for me to see it. It’s gotta be strange for him to hear that we felt he was dead all this time...”

“I don’t mind you saying that I had died, Bella.” I laugh humorlessly. “In a way, I did.” You have no idea how true it is...

Tentatively, she opens the front cover again. “Okay, um, I think I’m going to need some tissues for this.” She jumps up and darts into the bathroom and returns with an entire roll of toilet paper. “All right, let’s do this.” She sighs as she settles against me and puts the book between our laps. “It’s in chronological order, so this may take while.”

She looks up at me, unsure, but I nod and pull open the front cover to reveal two baby shower invitations--one blue, one pink.

The weight of our history hits me like a freight train, and suddenly I feel like I want to sob--break down like a little bitch and cry my fucking eyes out. Page after page of photos of birthday parties, family vacations, riding bikes in the street, trick-or-treating on Halloween where my parents seemed to always be wearing vampire costumes, ironically. Interesting.

After looking through nearly the entire book, I notice that Bella has started to doze off against my shoulder. The thought that she’s comfortable enough with me to fall asleep in my arms, allowing me to be this close to her at her most vulnerable state, is indescribable and really stupid. This girl has no sense of self-preservation at all.

In a sick and twisted way, sitting like this with Bella is like a human snuggling a T-bone steak, but I don’t see it that way. I don’t think I really have thought of her that way. From the moment I first registered her thoughts in the library, I was intrigued--in awe of her--but I don’t think of her as a meal. Of course, if she goes and pricks her finger, allowing her luscious blood to pool against her soft skin, all fucking bets are off. I’ll just have to make sure I’m in control of any sharp objects. Immediately, I glance around the apartment and take a quick inventory of all potential weapons that could cause her to bleed.

My damn cell phone hasn’t stopped buzzing in my pocket, and I know it’s Alice making sure I’m alright. I still don’t answer the fucking thing.

I squeeze her against my chest, burying my face in her hair. Humming my appreciation of her warm, soft body against mine, I turn my face back to the photo album in our laps. I pull it over to rest on my legs and tug the afghan from the back of the couch across Bella’s body.

Flipping through more pages, I can easily see the progression of our relationship from platonic friends to romantic love. There are a few snapshots of her with googly eyes staring at me, and many more of me looking at her like she’s the most beautiful creature on earth.

Jesus, I was whipped. Maybe I still am. Emmett is going to have a blast torturing me with this. I wonder how long I can keep it from him?

The last few pages seem to be from our senior year, and I gloss over the unfamiliar faces until I come across a large envelope near the back of the album. Careful not to wake her, I open the metal clasp and pull out several pieces of paper: newspapers clippings, a folded copy of a MISSING flyer, police reports, and a death certificate.

My death certificate.

The phone goes off again, this time I answer it, talking in a vampire whisper so I don’t wake Bella.

“We’re fine, Alice.”

“I know, but we just wanted to let you know that we’re outside if you need us.”

“You’re here?” My voice escapes at a normal human level, and Bella shifts beside me. I shush her softly and place a gentle kiss against her hair, settling her once again.

Alice squeals, “Oh my God, he just kissed her!” The shocked, muted voices of Jasper, Esme, and Carlisle can be heard discussing this in the background.

“Good night, Alice. Tell them they can all go home. I don’t need them here right now.” Honestly, I don’t want any of them to eavesdrop on my moments with Bella. As each second passes, I feel more grounded and whole when I’m with her. Like...I was meant to be here.

“But wait, Edward! Don’t you think we should stick around in case something happens?”

I glance down at the fragile, beautiful human in my arms and shake my head. “No, I don’t. Good night. I’ll meet you all back at the house later.”

“But, but-”

“And don’t wait up.” Smirking to myself, I power down the phone and rest my cheek against Bella’s head. I’ve waited four fucking years to say that to them..

Glancing down at the contents from the envelope, I read the details of the flyer and cringe at the dumb picture of me. It was one that I had seen in the album, but I guess it was the most recent photo at the time. I read over the death certificate, noting my cause of death as ‘homicide by animal’. Again, how fucking ironic.

As I unfold the multiple pages to the police report and newspaper clippings, the reality of what had happened weighs heavily on my mind.

Bella was there. She worried for days when she didn’t hear from me, and I never came home. She went to the cabin to look for me, only to find remnants of my parents’ bodies and suspecting mine had suffered the same violent end. It was a violent death, my dear Bella, but not like you imagined. She mourned for me, cried her eyes out, for losing her boyfriend--me--so tragically.

I can’t imagine ever going through something like that. I mentally tell her how sorry I am that she suffered such heartbreak because of me and kiss her hair once again.

Stuffing the articles back into the envelope, I replace it in the album and turn over the last pages in the book. What the fuck is this?

On the left side, torn pieces of notebook paper are lined up side-by-side in the photo pockets, my chicken scratch handwriting written across it. My eyes follow to the bottom of the pages, and I read the final pieced-together paragraph:

“So, Isabella Marie Swan, I take you to be my wife from this time onward, to join with you
and to share all that is to come, to be your faithful husband, to give and to receive,
to speak and to listen, to inspire and to be inspired.

From this day forward, you shall not walk alone. My heart will be your shelter and my arms
 will be your home. As I have given you my hand to hold, I give you my life to keep.
This is my commitment to you - made in love, kept in faith, and cherished for eternity."

What the..? Wedding vows?!

To the right, a crinkled page is folded and stuffed into another pocket. Bella’s elegant script written across the page.

Bella’s vows.

I wasn’t just her boyfriend. I was her fiance.

At the very bottom of the album page, a small poem about a butterfly’s journey is printed on a piece of heavy card stock. My name, dates of birth and death, and the date of a memorial service are written below the poem.

Again, I press her tightly against me, this time whispering my regrets out loud, “I’m so sorry I left you, Bella. I’m so fucking sorry I put you through all of that.”

I feel so damn guilty.

She shifts again, and I glance down at her peaceful face and know that I have to go. I need time to absorb this. I wasn’t some acquaintance she knew from Arizona or a weaselly little boyfriend. We were best friends and lovers, and we had promised to spend the rest of our lives with each other.


I need to think. I need to go.

Gently cradling her in my arms, I carry her toward her bed and lay her down. I pull the afghan around her and lean in to kiss her forehead.

“I’m so sorry,” I say again and turn toward the front door.

And then I run.
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.