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The Twilight Saga 5: Midnight Sun 12. Complications

“Complications,” Jacob read.“I don’t like the sound of that.”

“I’m sure it’s not as bad as it sounds,” Bella shrugged.

Bella and I walked silently to biology.I was trying to focus myself on the moment, on the girl beside me, on what was real and solid, on anything that would keep Alice’s deceitful, meaningless visions out of my head.

“It’s not meaningless,” Jacob muttered, “don’t underestimate it.”

We passed Angela Weber, lingering on the sidewalk, discussing an assignment with a boy from her Trigonometry class.

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I scanned her thoughts perfunctorily, expecting more disappointment, only to be surprised by their wistful tenor.

Ah, so there was something Angela wanted. Unfortunately, it wasn’t something that could be easily gift-wrapped.

“She must like the guy,” Bella said.

“This should be interesting,” Jacob chuckled.

“It will only work if the guy likes her back though,” Bella said.

“But Angela is cool… who wouldn’t like her,” Jacob said.

I felt strangely comforted for a moment, hearing Angela’s hopeless yearning. A sense of kinship that Angela would never know about passed through me, and I was, in that second, at one with the kind human girl.

“What does he mean by that… your yearning isn’t hopeless, Edward!” Bella huffed.

It was oddly consoling to know that I wasn’t the only one living out a tragic love story. Heartbreak was everywhere.

“Argh,” Bella groaned. “Only if you keep thinking that way.”

In the next second, I was abruptly and thoroughly irritated. Because Angela’s story didn’t have to be tragic. She was human and he was human and the difference that seemed so insurmountable in her head was ridiculous, truly ridiculous compared to my own situation. There was no point in her broken heart. What a wasteful sadness, when there was no valid reason for her not to be with the one she wanted.

“Yeah, wasteful,” Bella muttered, thinking that Edward’s was wasteful too, though he did have more of a reason to be so cautious.

Why shouldn’t she have what she wanted? Why shouldn’t this one story have a happy ending?

I wanted to give her a gift?? Well, I would give her what she wanted. Knowing what I did of human nature, it probably wouldn’t even be very difficult. I sifted through the consciousness of the boy beside her, the object of her affections, and he did not seem unwilling, he was just stymied by the same difficulty she was. Hopeless and resigned, the way she was.

“Come on, people, have faith in yourselves,” Jacob said.

Bella, however, was thoughtful. She wondered if this was a mirror of how she and Edward felt… both of them not fully realizing what they other felt. She was sure that her book self couldn’t have known how much he loved her… there was no possible way for her to know that. And she could see clearly that Edward didn’t understand how much she lo… er… however she felt about him.

She stopped that train of thought as something else seemed to go through her. She was wondering how strongly did she feel about this guy that she had yet to meet… and she longed for that meeting to happen already. Jacob started reading then, drawing her concentration back to the book.

All I would have to do was plant the suggestion??

The plan formed easily, the script wrote itself without effort on my part. I would need Emmett’s help??getting him to go along with this was the only real difficulty.

Human nature was so much easier to manipulate than vampire nature.

“You’ve got to watch out for this guy, Bells, he’s definitely a speciesist,” Jacob said.

“Whatever,” Bella rolled her eyes.

I was pleased with my solution, with my gift for Angela. It was a nice diversion from my own problems. Would that mine were as easily fixed.

My mood was slightly improved as Bella and I took our seats. Maybe I should be more positive. Maybe there was some solution out there for us that was escaping me, the way Angela’s obvious solution was so invisible to her. Not likely?? But why waste time with hopelessness? I didn’t have time to waste when it came to Bella. Each second mattered.

Mr. Banner entered pulling an ancient TV and VCR. He was skipping through a section he wasn’t particularly interested in??genetic disorders??by showing a movie for the next three days. Lorenzo’s Oil was not a very cheerful piece, but that didn’t stop the excitement in the room. No notes, no test-able material. Three free days. The humans exulted.

“It sounds kind of boring to me,” Bella mumbled and Jacob looked at her oddly.

It didn’t matter to me, either way. I hadn’t been planning on paying any attention to anything but Bella.

I did not pull my chair away from hers today, to give myself space to breathe.

Instead, I sat close beside her like any normal human would. Closer than we sat inside my car, close enough that the left side of my body felt submerged in the heat from her skin.

“I get it! She’s hot!” Jacob said and laughed when Bella blushed and glared at him.

It was a strange experience, both enjoyable and nerve-racking, but I preferred this to sitting across the table from her. It was more than I was used to, and yet I quickly realized that it was not enough. I was not satisfied. Being this close to her only made me want to be closer still. The pull was stronger the closer I got.

I had accused her of being a magnet for danger. Right now, it felt like that was the literal truth.

Bella rolled her eyes but chuckled at this.

I was danger, and, with every inch I allowed myself nearer to her, her attraction grew in force.

And then Mr. Banner turned the lights out.

It was odd how much of a difference this made, considering that the lack of light meant little to my eyes. I could still see just as perfectly as before. Every detail of the room was clear.

“That’s cool,” Jacob said. “I wish I could see in the dark like that.”

So why the sudden shock of electricity in the air, in this dark that was not dark to me?

“Shock of electricity?” Bella raised an eyebrow. What was he talking about and why did that make her think of the first time he touched her in the second chapter (the first time he talked to her in the books)?

Was it because I knew that I was the only one who could see clearly? That both Bella and I were invisible to the others? Like we were alone, just the two of us, hidden in the dark room, sitting so close beside one another??

My hand moved toward her without my permission. Just to touch her hand, to hold it in the darkness. Would that be such a horrific mistake? If my skin bothered her, she only had to pull away??

I yanked my hand back, folded my arms tightly across my chest and clenched my hands closed. No mistakes. I’d promised myself that I would make no mistakes, no matter how minimal they seemed. If I held her hand, I would only want more??another insignificant touch, another move closer to her. I could feel that. A new kind of desire was growing in me, working to override my self-control.

Jacob and Bella were thinking the complete opposite thing here.

No mistakes.

Bella folded her arms securely across her own chest, and her hands balled up into fists, just like mine.

“You feeling this too, aren’t you?” Jacob questioned, “and I know it didn’t happen…”

“Yeah, I think I am feeling this,” Bella answer before he could say any more. “I wonder what it means.”

“It seems like you’re calling to each other somehow,” Jacob said, and then he bit his lip. It seemed like some kind of instinctual reaction that went way beyond human… whatever that means.

What are you thinking? I was dying to whisper the words to her, but the room was too quiet to get away with even a whispered conversation.

The movie began, lightening the darkness just a bit. Bella glanced up at me. She noted the rigid way I held my body??just like hers??and smiled. Her lips parted slightly, and her eyes seemed full of warm invitations.

Or perhaps I was seeing what I wanted to see.

I smiled back; her breathing caught with a low gasp and she looked quickly away.

That made it worse. I didn’t know her thoughts, but I was suddenly positive that I had been right before, and that she wanted me to touch her. She felt this dangerous desire just as I did.

Between her body and mine, the electricity hummed.

Bella blushed, still not sure what this all meant, but had a good idea. She was also wondering what would happen if he did touch her.

She didn’t move all through the hour, holding her stiff, controlled pose as I held mine. Occasionally she would peek at me again, and the humming current would jolt through me with a sudden shock.

“Um… stop looking at him,” Jacob said.

“I doubt I can help it,” Bella said. “Besides, he’s looking at me nonstop… I should be allowed to look too.”

The hour passed??slowly, and yet not slowly enough. This was so new, I could have sat like this with her for days, just to experience the feeling fully.

“So the electricity was pleasant,” Jacob said.

“Apparently,” Bella said evenly, but she was still blushing.

I had a dozen different arguments with myself while the minutes passed, rationality struggling with desire as I tried to justify touching her.

Finally, Mr. Banner turned the lights on again.

In the bright fluorescent light, the atmosphere of the room returned to normal.

Bella sighed and stretched, flexing her fingers in front of her. It must have been uncomfortable for her to hold that position for so long. It was easier for me??stillness came naturally.

“So now you’re trying to mimic the vampires,” Jacob said shaking his head, trying to laugh.

“Well, they are the coolest thing around,” Bella smiled when he made a face at that.

I chuckled at the relieved expression on her face. “Well, that was interesting.”

“Umm,” she murmured, clearly understanding what I referred to, but making no comment. What I wouldn’t give to hear what she was thinking right now.

“I would like to know that too,” Bella said.

“I wouldn’t have guessed that by your smug expression,” Jacob chuckled.

I sighed. No amount of wishing was going to help with that.

Both Bella and Jacob were chuckling at that.

“Shall we?” I asked, standing.

She made a face and got unsteadily to her feet, her hands splayed out as if she were afraid she was going to fall.

I could offer her my hand. Or I could place that hand underneath her elbow??just lightly??and steady her. Surely that wouldn’t be such a horrible infraction??

No mistakes.

“How would that be a mistake?” Bella questioned.

“Even with hearing his thoughts, I can’t really understand most of his thinking,” Jacob shrugged. “Though it’s clear that he’s afraid of touching you.”

She was very quiet as we walked toward the gym. The crease was in evidence between her eyes, a sign that she was deep in thought. I, too, was thinking deeply.

One touch of her skin wouldn’t hurt her, my selfish side contended.

I could easily moderate the pressure of my hand. It wasn’t exactly difficult, as long as I was firmly in control of myself. My tactile sense was better developed than a human’s; I could juggle a dozen crystal goblets without breaking any of them; I could stroke a soap bubble without popping it. As long as I was firmly in control??

“And you’re always in control, so it will be fine,” Bella said.

“He’s not always in control… we’ve seen him out of control,” Jacob said anxiously.

Bella just frowned at that and Jacob read on.

Bella was like a soap bubble??fragile and ephemeral. Temporary.

How long would I be able to justify my presence in her life? How much time did I have? Would I have another chance like this chance, like this moment, like this second?

She would not always be within my arm’s reach??

Bella turned to face me at the gym’s door, and her eyes widened at the expression on my face. She didn’t speak. I looked at myself in the reflection of her eyes and saw the conflict raging in my own. I watched my face change as my better side lost the argument.

“Who’s to say what the better said is, Edward?” Bella mumbled to herself but Jacob heard.

My hand lifted without a conscious command for it to do so. As gently as if she were made of the thinnest glass, as if she were fragile as a bubble, my fingers stroked the warm skin that covered her cheekbone. It heated under my touch, and I could feel the pulse of blood speed beneath her transparent skin.

Enough, I ordered, though my hand was aching to shape itself to the side of her face. Enough.

“He doesn’t sound too controlled now,” Jacob muttered.

“He’s touch is gentle… it’s not hurting me,” Bella said.

“But his mind doesn’t seem to have control over his actions,” Jacob countered. “His instincts do.”

“And what instinct is he following now?” Bella raised her eyebrows. “It’s not to hurt me.”

“Right,” Jacob mumbled, “but there still is an instinct in him that wants to hurt you… don’t forget that.”

“I won’t,” Bella sighed. “But that isn’t the only instinct he has towards me now.”

It was difficult to pull my hand back, to stop myself from moving closer to her than I already was. A thousand different possibilities ran through my mind in an instant??a thousand different ways to touch her. The tip of my finger tracing the shape of her lips. My palm cupping under her chin. Pulling the clip from her hair and letting it spill out across my hand. My arms winding around her waist, holding her against the length of my body.

Enough.

I forced myself to turn, to move away from her. My body moved stiffly?? unwilling.

I let my mind linger behind to watch her as I walked swiftly away, almost running from the temptation. I caught Mike Newton’s thoughts??they were the loudest??while he watched Bella walk past him in oblivion, her eyes unfocused and her cheeks red. He glowered and suddenly my name was mingled with curses in his head; I couldn’t help grinning slightly in response.

“Too bad Mikey,” Jacob said, trying to chuckle again.

My hand was tingling. I flexed it and then curled it into a fist, but it continued to sting painlessly.

No, I hadn’t hurt her??but touching her had still been a mistake.

It felt like fire??like the thirsting burn of my throat had spread throughout my entire body.

The next time I was close to her, would I be able to stop myself from touching her again? And if I touched her once, would I be able to stop at that?

“Yes,” Bella answered, there was no doubt in her, though Jacob wasn’t totally convinced.

No more mistakes. That was it. Savor the memory, Edward, I told myself grimly, and keep your hands to yourself. That, or I would have to force myself to leave??somehow. Because I couldn’t allow myself near her if I insisted on making errors.

I took a deep breath and tried to steady my thoughts.

Emmett caught up to me outside the English building.

“Hey, Edward.” He’s looking better. Weird, but better. Happy.

“Ah… and him being happy is weird,” Jacob chuckled.

“Hey, Em.” Did I look happy? I supposed, despite the chaos in my head, I felt that way.

Way to keep your mouth shut, kid. Rosalie wants to rip your tongue out.

“I like to see her try… and then get beaten down,” Jacob chuckled.

“That’s not very nice,” Bella glared at him and he shrugged.

I sighed. “Sorry I left you to deal with that. Are you angry with me?”

“Naw. Rose’ll get over it. It was bound to happen anyway.” With what Alice sees coming??

“Don’t mention that,” Jacob flinched.

Alice’s visions were not what I wanted to think about right now. I stared forward, my teeth locking together.

As I searched for a distraction, I caught sight of Ben Cheney entering the Spanish room ahead of us. Ah??here was my chance to give Angela Weber her gift.

“Ben Cheney,” Bella mumbled and got out her year book to look at him. He was cute enough, though not her type at all. Still she studied the picture, if Angela and Ben liked each other she wanted them to be together in this reality, too. She thought that things might be different now that she knew what Edward was thinking about her, so she might have to be the one to help Ben and Angela out… argh… that wasn’t really her strong point. Oh well, it will have to happen someway.

I stopped walking and caught Emmett’s arm. “Hold on a second.”

What’s up?

“I know I don’t deserve it, but would you do me a favor anyway?”

“What is it?” he asked, curious.

Under my breath??and at a speed that would have made the words incomprehensible to a human no matter how loud they’d been spoken??I explained to him what I wanted.

He stared at me blankly when I was done, his thoughts as blank as his face.

“That sound interesting,” Jacob chuckled.

“So?” I prompted. “Will you help me do it?”

It took him a minute to respond. “But, why?”

“C’mon, Emmett. Why not?”

Who are you and what have you done with my brother?

Bella and Jacob both chuckled at this.

“Aren’t you the one who complains that school is always the same? This is something a little different, isn’t it? Consider it an experiment??an experiment in human nature.”

He stared at me for another moment before he caved. “Well, it is different, I’ll give you that?? Okay, fine.” Emmett snorted and then shrugged. “I’ll help you.”

I grinned at him, feeling more enthusiastic about my plan now that he was on board. Rosalie was a pain, but I would always owe her one for choosing Emmett; no one had a better brother than mine.

“Aw,” Jacob said in teasing voice but Bella smiled at what Edward had just said.

Emmett didn’t need to practice. I whispered his lines to him once under my breath as we walked into the classroom.

Ben was already in his seat behind mine, assembling his homework to hand in.

Emmett and I both sat and did the same thing. The classroom was not quiet yet; the murmur of subdued conversation would continue until Mrs. Goff called for attention.

She was in no hurry, appraising the quizzes from the last class.

“So,” Emmett said, his voice louder than necessary??if he were really speaking only to me. “Did you ask Angela Weber out yet?”

“Oh… I get it,” Jacob said laughing. “This should work.”

The sound of papers rustling behind me came to an abrupt stop as Ben froze, his attention suddenly riveted on our conversation.

Angela? They’re talking about Angela?

“Hm… it definitely makes it easy that Edward knows what he’s thinking,” Bella muttered.

Good. I had his interest.

“No,” I said, shaking my head slowly to appear regretful.

“Why not?” Emmett improvised. “Are you chicken?”

I grimaced at him. “No. I heard that she was interested in someone else.”

Edward Cullen was going to ask Angela out? But?? No. I don’t like that. I don’t want him near her. He’s??not right for her. Not??safe.

“You got that right,” Jacob chuckled and Bella glared at him. “What? You want him to go out with Angela?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bella rolled her eyes and Jacob laughed louder.

I hadn’t anticipated the chivalry, the protective instinct. I’d been working for jealousy. But whatever worked.

“You’re going to let that stop you?” Emmett asked scornfully, improvising again.

Jacob laughed even more at that.

“Not up for the competition?”

I glared at him, but made use of what he gave me. “Look, I guess she really likes this Ben person. I’m not going to try to convince her otherwise. There are other girls.”

The reaction in the chair behind me was electric.

“Who?” Emmett asked, back to the script.

“My lab partner said it was some kid named Cheney. I’m not sure I know who he is.”

“That’s rude… the guy’s right behind you,” Jacob muttered.

“Um… Jake, that’s the point,” Bella said.

“I know,” Jacob rolled his eyes. “I’m just saying it makes him sound like a stuck up…”

“Whatever,” Bella rolled her eyes.

I bit back my smile. Only the haughty Cullens could get away with pretending not to know every student at this tiny school.

Ben’s head was whirling with shock. Me? Over Edward Cullen? But why would she like me?

“Edward,” Emmett muttered in a lower tone, rolling his eyes toward the boy.

“He’s right behind you,” he mouthed, so obviously that the human could easily read the words.

“Oh,” I muttered back.

Jacob and Bella were laughing at this again.

I turned in my seat and glanced once at the boy behind me. For a second, the black eyes behind the glasses were frightened, but then he stiffened and squared his narrow shoulders, affronted by my clearly disparaging evaluation. His chin shot out and an angry flush darkened his golden-brown skin.

“Huh,” I said arrogantly as I turned back to Emmett.

He thinks he’s better than me. But Angela doesn’t. I’ll show him??

“Well, there’s that problem solved,” Jacob chuckled.

Perfect.

“Didn’t you say she was taking Yorkie to the dance, though?” Emmett asked, snorting as he said the name of the boy that many scorned for his awkwardness.

“That was a group decision apparently.” I wanted to be sure that Ben was clear on this. “Angela’s shy. If B??well, if a guy doesn’t have the nerve to ask her out, she’d never ask him.”

“You like shy girls,” Emmett said, back to improvisation. Quiet girls. Girls like??hmm, I don’t know. Maybe Bella Swan?

Jacob laughed at this line of teasing as Bella blushed.

I grinned at him. “Exactly.” Then I returned to the performance. “Maybe Angela will get tired of waiting. Maybe I’ll ask her to the prom.”

No, you won’t, Ben thought, straightening up in his chair. So what if she’s so much taller than me?

“Oh… it’s because he’s short… poor guy,” Jacob chuckled.

“I suppose that’s not a problem you have to deal with,” Bella said, Jacob seemed pretty tall for his age.

“Not at all,” Jacob said. “I think I might even have grown an inch since yesterday.”

“Sure you did, Jake,” Bella rolled her eyes.

If she doesn’t care, then neither do I. She’s the nicest, smartest, prettiest girl in this school?? and she wants me.

I liked this Ben. He seemed bright and well-meaning. Maybe even worthy of a girl like Angela.

“Well, it looks like there’re three humans that he might think highly of,” Jacob chuckled.

I gave Emmett a thumbs up under the desk as Mrs. Goff stood and greeted the class.

Okay, I’ll admit it??that was sort of fun, Emmett thought.

I smiled to myself, pleased that I’d been able to shape one love story’s happy ending. I was positive that Ben would follow through, and Angela would receive my anonymous gift. My debt was repaid.

How silly humans were, to let a six inch height differential confound their happiness.

“That is a pretty big difference,” Jacob said. “That guy must be a midget.”

“Jake!” Bella reprimanded him.

“Sorry,” Jacob sighed.

My success put me in a good mood. I smiled again as I settled into my chair and prepared to be entertained. After all, as Bella had pointed out at lunch, I’d never seen her in action in her gym class before.

“No,” Bella groaned and Jacob laughed in anticipation.

Mike’s thoughts were the easiest to pinpoint in the babble of voices that swarmed through the gym. His mind had gotten far too familiar over the last few weeks. With a sigh, I resigned myself to listening through him. At least I could be sure that he would be paying attention to Bella.

I was just in time to hear him offer to be her badminton partner; as he made the suggestion, other partnerings ran through his mind. My smile faded, my teeth clenched together, and I had to remind myself that murdering Mike Newton was not a permissible option.

“Hm… I’m not so sure about that,” Jacob laughed.

“It’s not,” Bella said firmly.

“Thanks, Mike??you don’t have to do this, you know.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep out of your way.”

They grinned at each other, and flashes of numerous accidents??always in some way connected to Bella??flashed through Mike’s head.

Jacob started chuckling and Bella groaned.

Mike played alone at first, while Bella hesitated on the back half of the court, holding her racket gingerly, as if it was some kind of weapon. Then Coach Clapp ambled by and ordered Mike to let Bella play.

“Why?” Bella moaned, didn’t the coach understand yet?

Uh oh, Mike thought as Bella moved forward with a sigh, holding her racquet at an awkward angle.

Jennifer Ford served the birdie directly toward Bella with a smug twist to her thoughts. Mike saw Bella lurch toward it, swinging the racket yards wide of her target, and he rushed in to try to save the volley.

I watched the trajectory of Bella’s racquet with alarm. Sure enough, it hit the taut net and sprung back at her, clipping her forehead before it spun out to strike Mike’s arm with a resounding thwack.

Jacob was howling with laughed and Bella turned bright red and held her head in her hands. That was a new all time low for her.

“You really are awful,” Jacob choked out some time later.

“Yeah, yeah, now can you continue reading,” Bella tried to sound as if this wasn’t bothering her, but she was still red and her voice was too weak to pull that off.

Ow. Ow. Ungh. That’s going to leave a bruise.

“Good,” Jacob said, his dying laughter starting again.

Bella was kneading her forehead. It was hard to stay in my seat where I belonged, knowing she was hurt. But what could I do, if I were there? And it didn’t seem to be serious?? I hesitated, watching. If she intended to continue to try to play, I was going to have to manufacture an excuse to pull her out of class.

“Overreaction,” Bella rolled her eyes.

The coach laughed. “Sorry, Newton.” That girl’s the worst jinx I’ve ever seen. Shouldn’t inflict her on the others??

More laughter for Jacob, but Bella was pleased that the coach seemed to get it better now.

He turned his back deliberately and moved to watch another game so that Bella could return to her former spectator’s role.

Ow, Mike thought again, massaging his arm. He turned to Bella. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, are you?” she asked sheepishly, blushing.

“I think I’ll make it.” Don’t want to sound like a crybaby. But, man, that hurts!

“Crybaby,” Jacob laughed.

Mike swung his arm in a circle, wincing.

“I’ll just stay back here,” Bella said, embarrassment and chagrin on her face rather than pain. Maybe Mike had got the worst of it. I certainly hoped that was the case.

At least she wasn’t playing anymore. She held her racquet so carefully behind her back, her eyes wide with remorse?? I had to disguise my laugh as coughing.

What’s funny? Emmett wanted to know.

“You know… if you were in Emmett’s Gym class, I bet he would have liked you from the first day,” Jacob teased.

“Shut up,” Bella hissed at him.

“Tell you later,” I muttered.

Bella didn’t venture into the game again. The coach ignored her and let Mike play alone.

I breezed through the quiz at the end of the hour, and Mrs. Goff let me go early. I was listening intently to Mike as I walked across the campus. He’d decided to confront Bella about me.

Jessica swears they’re dating. Why? Why did he have to pick her?

He didn’t recognize the real phenomenon??that she’d picked me.

“Don’t go overboard with that,” Bella rolled her eyes, it was more of a phenomenon that he had picked her after a hundred years after all.

“So.”

“So what?” she wondered.

“You and Cullen, huh?” You and the freak. I guess, if a rich guy is that important to you…

Bella was glaring at the book, she didn’t like this assumption at all, but what was really getting to her was how very wrong Mike was… Edward was so much more than just a rich guy.

I gritted my teeth at his degrading assumption.

“That’s none of your business, Mike.”

Defensive. So it’s true. Crap. “I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to,” she snapped.

Why can’t she see what a circus sideshow he is? Like they all are.

Bella was glaring more at the book than before, not liking his way of thinking at all.

The way he stares at her. It gives me chills to watch. “He looks at you like??like you’re something to eat.”

Bella and Jacob both tensed a little at that… it wasn’t good that Mike was able to notice that.

I cringed, waiting for her response.

Her face turned bright red, and her lips pressed together like she was holding her breath. Then, suddenly, a giggle burst through her lips.

“You laughed?” Jacob looked at her incredulously.

“Um… the irony of that must have gotten to me,” Bella said. “I’m sure it was a nervous laugh if that makes you feel any better.”

“It doesn’t,” Jacob said and then started reading again.

Now she’s laughing at me. Great.

Mike turned, thoughts sullen, and wandered off to change.

I leaned against the gym wall and tried to compose myself.

How could she have laughed at Mike’s accusation??so entirely on target that I began to worry that Forks was becoming too aware?? Why would she laugh at the suggestion that I could kill her, when she knew that it was entirely true? Where was the humor in that?

What was wrong with her?

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” Bella huffed.

“I beg to differ,” Jacob chuckled, though he was giving her an odd look, too.

Did she have morbid sense of humor? That didn’t fit with my idea of her character, but how could I be sure? Or maybe my daydream of the giddy angel was true in the one respect, in that she had no sense of fear at all. Brave??that was one word for it.

“I’m not brave,” Bella mumbled.

Others might say stupid,

“So I guess you’re stupid then,” Jacob chuckled and Bella glared at him.

but I knew how bright she was. No matter what the reason, though, this lack of fear or twisted sense of humor wasn’t good for her. Was it this strange lack that put her in danger so constantly? Maybe she would always need me here??

Just like that, my mood was soaring.

If I could just discipline myself, make myself safe, then perhaps it would be right for me to stay with her.

When she walked through the gym doors, her shoulders were stiff and her lower lip was between her teeth again??a sign of anxiety. But as soon as her eyes met mine, her rigid shoulders relaxed and a wide smile spread across her face. It was an oddly peaceful expression. She walked right to my side without hesitation, only stopping when she was so close that her body heat crashed over me like a tidal wave.

“Hi,” she whispered.

The happiness I felt in this moment was, again, without precedent.

“Hello,” I said, and then??because with my mood suddenly so light I couldn’t resist teasing her??I added, “How was gym?”

“Argh… did he have to mention that?” Bella groaned.

“Yep,” Jacob chuckled. “Besides, isn’t it better that you know he’s watching you… not as creepy that way at least.”

“Whatever,” Bella shrugged.

Her smile wavered. “Fine.”

She was a poor liar.

“True,” Jacob and Bella both said.

“Really?” I asked, about to press the issue??I was still concerned about her head; was she in pain???but then Mike Newton’s thoughts we so loud they broke my concentration.

I hate him. I wish he would die. I hope he drives that shiny car right off a cliff. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone? Stick to his own kind??to the freaks.

“What does he mean, his own kind?” Jacob asked. “He doesn’t know that Edward is a vampire.”

“I suppose he means rich?” Bella said slowly, not sure of the answer herself. “That or he instinctively knows that Edward is different.”

“What?” Bella demanded.

My eyes refocused on her face. She looked at Mike’s retreating back, and then at me again.

“Newton’s getting on my nerves,” I admitted.

Her mouth fell open, and her smile disappeared. She must have forgotten that I’d had the power to watch through her calamitous last hour, or hoped that I hadn’t utilized it.

“More likely the latter,” Bella said, after all he had demonstrated that gift quite well during their last few encounters.

“You weren’t listening again?”

“How’s your head?”

“You’re unbelievable!” she said through her teeth, and then she turned away from me and stalked furiously toward the parking lot. Her skin flushed dark red??she was embarrassed.

“You got that right,” Jacob said.

“Well, no one asked him to watch me in Gym,” Bella grumbled, her clumsiness was always a sore spot for her.

I kept pace with her, hoping that her anger would pass soon. She was usually quick to forgive me.

“You were the one who mentioned how I’d never seen you in Gym,” I explained. “It made me curious.”

She didn’t answer; her eyebrows pulled together.

She came to a sudden halt in the parking lot when she realized that the way to my car was blocked by a crowd of male students.

I wonder how fast they’ve gone in this thing??

Look at the SMG shift paddles. I’ve never seen those outside of a magazine??

Nice side grills??

Sure wish I had sixty thousand dollars laying around??

“Um… Jacob do you want me to leave,” Bella chuckled as Jacob was practically drooling at the description of the car.

“No, but I want you to get me into the Cullen garage sometime in the future,” Jacob said.

“You do realize that’s Rosalie’s car…” Bella said smirking.

“Argh,” Jacob groaned. “Why did you have to remind me of that?”

This was exactly why it was better for Rosalie to only use her car out of town.

I wound through the throng of lustful boys to my car; after a second of hesitation, Bella followed suit.

“Ostentatious,” I muttered as she climbed in.

“What kind of car is that?” she wondered.

“An M3.”

She frowned. “I don’t speak Car and Driver.”

“Come on, Bella!” Jacob groaned. “You should know that at least.”

“Sorry,” Bella shrugged, chuckling at his behavior.

“It’s a BMW.” I rolled my eyes and then focused on backing out without running anyone down. I had to lock eyes with a few boys that didn’t seem willing to move out of my way. A half-second meeting my gaze seemed to be enough to convince them.

“Is that car really that special?” Bella rolled her eyes.

Jacob just stared at her incredulously.

“I guess it is,” Bella mumbled.

“Are you still angry?” I asked her. Her frown had relaxed.

“Definitely,” she answered curtly.

I sighed. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought it up. Oh well. I could try to make amends, I supposed. “Will you forgive me if I apologize?”

She thought about that for a moment. “Maybe??if you mean it,” she decided.

“And if you promise not to do it again.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” Jacob chuckled.

“I know… that’s never going to happen,” Bella chuckled too.

I wasn’t going to lie to her, and there was no way I was agreeing to that. Perhaps if I offered her a different exchange.

“How about if I mean it, and I agree to let you drive this Saturday?” I cringed internally at the thought.

“Oh… that works,” Bella said.

The furrow popped into existence between her eyes as she considered the new bargain. “Deal,” she said after a moment of thought.

Now for my apology?? I’d never tried to dazzle Bella on purpose before, but now seemed like a good time.

“Oh great,” Bella mumbled, blushing already. The thought of him actually trying to dazzle her was too much for her.

I stared deep into her eyes as I drove away from the school, wondering if I was doing it right. I used my most persuasive tone.

“Then I’m very sorry I upset you.”

Her heartbeat thudded louder than before, and the rhythm was abruptly staccato.

Her eyes widened, looking a little stunned.

I half-smiled. It seemed like I’d gotten it right. Of course, I was having a bit of difficulty looking away from her eyes, too. Equally dazzled. It was a good thing I had this road memorized.

“What?” Bella said, snapping out of her daze… she liked thinking of them both being dazzled by each other… but still, “He’s not even looking at the road!”

“But he has it memorized… that’s just as good,” Jacob laughed at her expression.

“That is not good at all!” Bella snapped, note to self, no dazzling in the car… um… while it’s moving at least.

“And I’ll be on your doorstep bright and early Saturday morning,” I added, finishing the agreement.

She blinked swiftly, shaking her head as if to clear it. “Um,” she said, “it doesn’t help with the Charlie situation if an unexplained Volvo is left in the driveway.”

“He’s not going to take his car,” Bella said, how little she understood him in this book.

Ah, how little she still knew me. “I wasn’t intending to bring a car.”

Bella blinked at that and then smiled, it was nice knowing they could think alike.

“How??” she started to ask.

I interrupted her. The answer would be hard to explain without a demonstration, and now was hardly the time. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll be there, no car.”

She put her head on one side, and looked for a second like she was going to press for more, but then she seemed to change her mind.

“Is it later yet?” she asked, reminding me of our unfinished conversation in the cafeteria today; she’d let go of one difficult question just to return another that was more unappealing.

“Yeah, isn’t that nice of her,” Jacob chuckled.

“I suppose it is later,” I agreed unwillingly.

I parked in front of her house, tensing as I tried to think of how to explain??without making my monstrous nature too evident, without frightening her again. Or was that wrong? To minimalize my darkness?

She waited with the same politely interested mask she’d worn at lunch. If I’d been less anxious, her preposterous calm would have made me laugh.

“And you still want to know why you can’t see me hunt?” I asked.

“Well, mostly I was wondering about your reaction,” she said.

“Did I frighten you?” I asked, positive that she would deny it.

“No.”

I tried not to smile, and failed. “I apologize for scaring you.” And then my smile vanished with the momentary humor. “It was just the very thought of you being there??while we hunted.”

Jacob shivered at that.

“That would be bad?”

The mental picture was too much??Bella, so vulnerable in the empty darkness; myself, out of control?? I tried to banish it from my head.

“Well, you don’t have to send it our way,” Jacob snapped.

“Extremely.”

“Because???”

I took a deep breath, concentrating for one moment on the burning thirst. Feeling it, managing it, proving my dominion over it. It would never control me again??I willed that to be true. I would be safe for her. I stared at the welcome clouds without seeing them, wishing I could believe that my determination would make any difference if I were hunting when I crossed her scent.

“When we hunt??we give ourselves over to our senses,” I told her, thinking through each word before I spoke it. “Govern less with our minds. Especially our sense of smell. If you were anywhere near me when I lost control that way??”

Jacob and Bella both shivered at that. No, she could definitely never see him hunt.

I shook my head in agony at the thought of what would??not what could, but what would??surely happen then.

I listened to the spike in her heartbeat, and then turned, restless, to read her eyes.

Bella’s face was composed, her eyes grave. Her mouth was pursed just slightly in what I guessed was concern. But concern for what? Her own safety? Or my anguish? I continued to stare at her, trying to translate her ambiguous expression into sure fact.

“Your anguish, I’m sure,” Jacob mumbled. “She puts others before herself.”

“You don’t have to make it sound like a bad thing,” Bella sighed.

She gazed back. Her eyes grew wider after a moment, and her pupils dilated, though the light had not changed.

My breathing accelerated, and suddenly the quiet in the car seemed to be humming, just like in the darkened biology room this afternoon. The pulsing current raced between us again, and my desire to touch her was, briefly, stronger even than the demands of my thirst.

“Um… this really is pretty freaky,” Jacob muttered and Bella rolled her eyes, curious to know what this really meant.

The throbbing electricity made it feel like I had a pulse again. My body sang with it. Like I was human. More than anything in the world, I wanted to feel the heat of her lips against mine. For one second, I struggled desperately to find the strength, the control, to able to put my mouth so close to her skin??

Bella froze in place… waiting in anticipation… heart hammering.

Jacob shifted uncomfortably and was wary about how dangerous that would be.

She sucked in a ragged breath, and only then did I realize that when I had started breathing faster, she had stopped breathing altogether.

I closed my eyes, trying to break the connection between us.

No more mistakes.

Bella sighed sadly.

Bella’s existence was tied to a thousand delicately balanced chemical processes, all so easily disrupted. The rhythmic expansion of her lungs, the flow of oxygen, was life or death to her. The fluttering cadence of her fragile heart could be stopped by so many stupid accidents or illnesses or??by me.

I did not believe that any member of my family would hesitate if he or she were offered a chance back??if he or she could trade immortality for mortality again. Any one of us would stand in fire for it. Burn for as many days or centuries as were necessary.

“But you can’t go back,” Bella said sadly, which meant that if they were ever going to be equal she would have to change…

Most of our kind prized immortality above anything else. There were even humans who craved this, who searched in dark places for those who could give them the blackest of gifts??

Not us. Not my family. We would trade anything to be human.

“Right,” Jacob said, and he believed what Edward was saying, it really did explain why they did what they did.

But none of us had ever been as desperate for a way back as I was now.

I stared at the microscopic pits and flaws in the windshield, like there was some solution hidden in the glass. The electricity had not faded, and I had to concentrate to keep my hands on the wheel.

My right hand began to sting without pain again, from when I’d touched her before.

“Bella, I think you should go inside now.”

She obeyed at once, without comment, getting out of the car and shutting the door behind herself. Did she feel the potential for disaster as clearly as I did?

“Um… I’m sure I felt the electricity… and noticed that you don’t want to touch me,” Bella sighed, “I’m probably just following your lead.”

Did it hurt her to leave, as it hurt me to let her go? The only solace was that I would see her soon. Sooner than she would see me. I smiled at that, then rolled the window down and leaned across to speak to her one more time??it was safer now, with the heat of her body outside the car.

She turned to see what I wanted, curious.

Still curious, though she’d asked me so many questions today.

“Oh there’re so many more questions I have for you,” Bella said.

My own curiosity was entirely unsatisfied; answering her questions today had only revealed my secrets??

“It looks like he’s thinking the same thing,” Jacob chuckled.

I’d gotten little from her but my own conjectures. That wasn’t fair.

“Oh, Bella?”

“Yes?”

“Tomorrow it’s my turn.”

Her forehead puckered. “Your turn to what?”

“Ask the questions.” Tomorrow, when we were in a safer place, surrounded by witnesses, I would get my own answers. I grinned at the thought, and then I turned away because she made no move to leave. Even with her outside of the car, the echo of the electricity zinged in the air. I wanted to get out, too, to walk her to her door as an excuse to stay beside her??

No more mistakes. I hit the gas, and then sighed as she disappeared behind me. It seemed like I was always running toward Bella or running away from her, never staying in place. I would have to find some way to hold my ground if we were ever going to have any peace.

“Well, that’s most definitely true,” Bella said. “I wonder what he’s going to ask me.”

“Well, it looks like you’re going to have to wait a long time to figure out,” Jacob said putting the book down.

“Why?” Bella said looking at the clock, it was nine. “We still have some time.”

“That’s not why,” Jacob chuckled. “It’s because that was the end of the book.”

“What?” Bella said. “That can’t be the end… there so much more… I don’t know what happens!”

“Sorry, Bells, that’s it,” Jacob shrugged.

“Is there at note or anything like that?” Bella asked, picking up the book and noticing a small note and read:

I’m sorry that this was all that I could give you, but this was all I could write before you got to school. But there is no need to worry; your story goes on for a long time after this.

Bella frowned as she read this, how could this person end the book here but promise that there is a lot more for her to find out? “Who is this SM person?”

“Um… I’m not sure, but it’s the person that left me the note in the first place,” Jacob said.

“Yeah, I figured,” Bella rolled her eyes.

“So… um… what do we do now?” Jacob asked.

“I’m not sure,” Bella said.

“But you’re planning on meeting this Edward guy for real, aren’t you,” Jacob said.

“Of course,” Bella looked at him suspiciously. He had promised at one time that he wouldn’t let that happen. She hoped he had changed his mind because there was no way she would allow that.

“And how do you plan on meeting him at first?” Jacob questioned.

“Um…” Bella said, she didn’t think of that but he was right… the first meeting really was something that she had to think about… Edward was, after all going to be deathly attracted to her. “I suppose we’ll just have to think of something.”

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