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 Eclipse / 16. Epoch

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MesajKonu: Eclipse / 16. Epoch   Ptsi Mart 08, 2010 1:04 pm

16. EPOCH
"IHAVE NOTHING TO WEAR!" I MOANED TO MYSELF.
Every item of clothing I owned was strewn across my bed; my drawers and closets were bare.
I stared into the empty recesses, willing something suitable to appear.
My khaki skirt lay over the back of the rocking chair, waiting for me to discover something
that went with it just exactly right. Something that would make me look beautiful and grown
up. Something that saidspecial occasion. I was coming up empty.
It was almost time to go, and I was still wearing my favorite old sweats. Unless I could find
something better here - and the odds weren't looking good at this point - I was going to
graduate in them.
I scowled at the pile of clothes on my bed.
The kicker was that I knew exactly what I would have worn if it were still available - my
kidnapped red blouse. I punched the wall with my good hand.
"Stupid, thieving, annoying vampire!" I growled.
"What did I do?" Alice demanded.
She was leaning casually beside the open window as if she'd been there the whole time.
"Knock, knock," she added with a grin.
"Is it really so hard to wait for me to get the door?"
She threw a flat, white box onto my bed. "I'm just passing through. I thought you might need
something to wear."
I looked at the big package lying on top of my unsatisfying wardrobe and grimaced.
"Admit it," Alice said. "I'm a lifesaver."
"You're a lifesaver," I muttered. "Thanks."
"Well, it's nice to get something right for a change. You don't know how irritating it is -
missing things the way I have been. I feel so useless. So . . . normal." She cringed in horror of
the word.
"I can't imagine how awful that must feel. Being normal? Ugh."
She laughed. "Well, at least this makes up for missing your annoying thief - now I just have
to figure out what I'm not seeing in Seattle."
When she said the words that way - putting the two situations together in one sentence -
right then it clicked. The elusive something that had been bothering me for days, the
important connection that I couldn't quite put together, suddenly became clear. I stared at
her, my face frozen with whatever expression was already in place.
"Aren't you going to open it?" she asked. She sighed when I didn't move immediately, and
tugged the top of the box off herself. She pulled something out and held it up, but I couldn't
concentrate on what it was. "Pretty, don't you think? I picked blue, because I know it's
Edward's favorite on you."
I wasn't listening.
"It's the same," I whispered.
"What is?" she demanded. "You don't have anything like this. For crying out loud, you only
own one skirt!"
"No, Alice! Forget the clothes, listen!"
"You don't like it?" Alice's face clouded with disappointment.
"Listen, Alice, don't you see? It's thesame ! The one who broke in and stole my things, and
the new vampires in Seattle. They're together!"
The clothes slipped from her fingers and fell back into the box.
Alice focused now, her voice suddenly sharp. "Why do you think that?"
"Remember what Edward said? About someone using the holes in your vision to keep you
from seeing the newborns? And then what you said before, about the timing being too
perfect - how careful my thief was to make no contact, as if he knew you would see that. I
think you were right, Alice, I think he did know. I think he was using those holes, too. And
what are the odds thattwo different people not only know enough about you to do that, but
also decided to do it at exactly the same time? No way. It's one person. The same one. The
one who is making the army is the one who stole my scent."
Alice wasn't accustomed to being taking by surprise. She froze, and was still for so long that
I started counting in my head as I waited. She didn't move for two minutes straight. Then her
eyes refocused on me.
"You're right," she said in a hollow tone. "Of course you're right. And when you put it that
way. . . ."
"Edward had it wrong," I whispered. "It was a test . . . to see if it would work. If he could get
in and out safely as long as he didn't do anything you would be watching out for. Like trying
to kill me. . . . And he didn't take my things to prove he'd found me. He stole my scent . . . so
thatothers could find me."
Her eyes were wide with shock. I was right, and I could see that she knew it, too.
"Oh, no," she mouthed.
I was through expecting my emotions to make sense anymore. As I processed the fact that
someone had created an army of vampires - the army that had gruesomely murdered dozens
of people in Seattle - for the express purpose of destroyingme, I felt a spasm of relief.
Part of it was finally solving that irritating feeling that I was missing something vital.
But the larger part was something else entirely.
"Well," I whispered, "everyone can relax. Nobody's trying to exterminate the Cullens after
all."
"If you think that one thing has changed, you're absolutely wrong," Alice said through her
teeth. "If someone wants one of us, they're going to have to go through the rest of us to get
to her."
"Thanks, Alice. But at least we know what they're really after. That has to help."
"Maybe," she muttered. She started pacing back and forth across my room.
Thud, thud- a fist hammered against my door.
I jumped. Alice didn't seem to notice.
"Aren't you ready yet? We're gonna be late!" Charlie complained, sounding edgy. Charlie
hated occasions about as much as I did. In his case, a lot of the problem was having to dress
up.
"Almost. Give me a minute," I said hoarsely.
He was quiet for half a second. "Are you crying?"
"No. I'm nervous. Go away."
I heard him clump down the stairs.
"I have to go," Alice whispered.
"Why?"
"Edward is coming. If he hears this . . ."
"Go, go!" I urged immediately. Edward would go berserk when he knew. I couldn't keep it
from him for long, but maybe the graduation ceremony wasn't the best time for his reaction.
"Put it on," Alice commanded as she flitted out the window.
I did what she said, dressing in a daze.
I'd been planning to do something more sophisticated with my hair, but time was up, so it
hung straight and boring as on any other day. It didn't matter. I didn't bother to look in the
mirror, so I had no idea how Alice's sweater and skirt ensemble worked. That didn't matter,
either. I threw the ugly yellow polyester graduation robe over my arm and hurried down the
stairs.
"You look nice," Charlie said, already gruff with suppressed emotion. "Is that new?"
"Yeah," I mumbled, trying to concentrate. "Alice gave it to me. Thanks."
Edward arrived just a few minutes after his sister left. It wasn't enough time for me to pull
together a calm façade. But, since we were riding in the cruiser with Charlie, he never had a
chance to ask me what was wrong.
Charlie had gotten stubborn last week when he'd learned that I was intending to ride with
Edward to the graduation ceremony. And I could see his point - parents should have some
rights come graduation day. I'd conceded with good grace, and Edward had cheerfully
suggested that we all go together. Since Carlisle and Esme had no problem with this, Charlie
couldn't come up with a compelling objection; he'd agreed with poor grace. And now
Edward rode in the backseat of my father's police car, behind the fiberglass divider, with an
amused expression - probably due to my father's amused expression, and the grin that
widened every time Charlie stole a glance at Edward in his rearview mirror. Which almost
certainly meant that Charlie was imagining things that would get him in trouble with me if
he said them out loud.
"Are you all right?" Edward whispered when he helped me from the front seat in the school
parking lot.
"Nervous," I answered, and it wasn't even a lie.
"You are so beautiful," he said.
He looked like he wanted to say more, but Charlie, in an obvious maneuver that he meant to
be subtle, shrugged in between us and put his arm around my shoulders.
"Are you excited?" he asked me.
"Not really," I admitted.
"Bella, this is a big deal. You're graduating from high school. It's the real world for you now.
College. Living on your own. . . . You're not my little girl anymore." Charlie choked up a bit
at the end.
"Dad," I moaned. "Please don't get all weepy on me."
"Who's weepy?" he growled. "Now, why aren't you excited?"
"I don't know, Dad. I guess it hasn't hit yet or something."
"It's good that Alice is throwing this party. You need something to perk you up."
"Sure. A party's exactly what I need."
Charlie laughed at my tone and squeezed my shoulders. Edward looked at the clouds, his
face thoughtful.
My father had to leave us at the back door of the gym and go around to the main entrance
with the rest of the parents.
It was pandemonium as Ms. Cope from the front office and Mr. Varner the math teacher
tried to line everyone up alphabetically.
"Up front, Mr. Cullen," Mr. Varner barked at Edward.
"Hey, Bella!"
I looked up to see Jessica Stanley waving at me from the back of the line with a smile on her
face.
Edward kissed me quickly, sighed, and went to go stand with the C's. Alice wasn't there.
What was she going to do? Skip graduation? What poor timing on my part. I should have
waited to figure things out until after this was over with.
"Down here, Bella!" Jessica called again.
I walked down the line to take my place behind Jessica, mildly curious as to why she was
suddenly so friendly. As I got closer, I saw Angela five people back, watching Jessica with
the same curiosity.
Jess was babbling before I was in earshot.
". . . so amazing. I mean, it seems like we just met, and now we're graduating together," she
gushed. "Can you believe it's over? I feel like screaming!"
"So do I," I muttered.
"This is all just so incredible. Do you remember your first day here? We were friends, like,
right away. From the first time we saw each other. Amazing. And now I'm off to California
and you'll be in Alaska and I'm going to miss you so much! You have to promise that we'll
get together sometimes! I'm so glad you're having a party. That's perfect. Because we really
haven't spent much time together in a while and now we're all leaving. . . ."
She droned on and on, and I was sure the sudden return of our friendship was due to
graduation nostalgia and gratitude for the party invite, not that I'd had anything to do with
that. I paid attention as well as I could while I shrugged into my robe. And I found that I was
glad that things could end on a good note with Jessica.
Because it was an ending, no matter what Eric, the valedictorian, had to say about
commencement meaning "beginning" and all the rest of the trite nonsense. Maybe more for
me than for the rest, but we were all leaving something behind us today.
It went so quickly. I felt like I'd hit the fast forward button. Were we supposed to march
quite that fast? And then Eric was speed talking in his nervousness, the words and phrases
running together so they didn't make sense anymore. Principal Greene started calling names,
one after the other without a long enough pause between; the front row in the gymnasium
was rushing to catch up. Poor Ms. Cope was all thumbs as she tried to give the principal the
right diploma to hand to the right student.
I watched as Alice, suddenly appearing, danced across the stage to take hers, a look of deep
concentration on her face. Edward followed behind, his expression confused, but not upset.
Only the two of them could carry off the hideous yellow and still look the way they did. They
stood out from the rest of the crowd, their beauty and grace otherworldly. I wondered how
I'd ever fallen for their human farce. A couple of angels, standing there with wings intact,
would be less conspicuous.
I heard Mr. Greene call my name and I rose from my chair, waiting for the line in front of me
to move. I was conscious of cheering in the back of the gym, and I looked around to see
Jacob pulling Charlie to his feet, both of them hooting in encouragement. I could just make
out the top of Billy's head beside Jake's elbow. I managed to throw them an approximation
of a smile.
Mr. Greene finished with the list of names, and then continued to hand out diplomas with a
sheepish grin as we filed past.
"Congratulations, Miss Stanley," he mumbled as Jess took hers.
"Congratulations, Miss Swan," he mumbled to me, pressing the diploma into my good hand.
"Thanks," I murmured.
And that was it.
I went to stand next to Jessica with the assembled graduates. Jess was all red around the
eyes, and she kept blotting her face with the sleeve of her robe. It took me a second to
understand that she was crying.
Mr. Greene said something I didn't hear, and everyone around me shouted and screamed.
Yellow hats rained down. I pulled mine off, too late, and just let it fall to the ground.
"Oh, Bella!" Jess blubbered over the sudden roar of conversation. "I can't believe we're
done."
"I can't believe it's all over," I mumbled.
She threw her arms around my neck. "You have to promise we won't lose touch."
I hugged her back, feeling a little awkward as I dodged her request. "I'm so glad I know you,
Jessica. It was a good two years."
"It was," she sighed, and sniffed. Then she dropped her arms. "Lauren!" she squealed, waving
over her head and pushing through the massed yellow gowns. Families were beginning to
converge, pressing us tighter together.
I caught sight of Angela and Ben, but they were surrounded by their families. I would
congratulate them later.
I craned my head, looking for Alice.
"Congratulations," Edward whispered in my ear, his arms winding around my waist. His
voice was subdued; he'd been in no hurry for me to reach this particular milestone.
"Um, thanks."
"You don't look like you're over the nerves yet," he noted.
"Not quite yet."
"What's left to worry about? The party? It won't be that horrible."
"You're probably right."
"Who are you looking for?"
My searching wasn't quite as subtle as I'd thought. "Alice - where is she?"
"She ran out as soon as she had her diploma."
His voice took on a new tone. I looked up to see his confused expression as he stared toward
the back door of the gym, and I made an impulse decision - the kind I really should think
twice about, but rarely did.
"Worrying about Alice?" I asked.
"Er . . ." He didn't want to answer that.
"What was she thinking about, anyway? To keep you out, I mean."
His eyes flashed down to my face, and narrowed in suspicion. "She was translating the Battle
Hymn of the Republic into Arabic, actually. When she finished that, she moved on to Korean
sign language."
I laughed nervously. "I suppose thatwould keep her head busy enough."
"You know what she's hiding from me," he accused.
"Sure." I smiled a weak smile. "I'm the one who came up with it."
He waited, confused.
I looked around. Charlie would be on his way through the crowd now.
"Knowing Alice," I whispered in a rush, "she'll probably try to keep this from you until after
the party. But since I'm all for the party being canceled - well, don't go berserk, regardless,
okay? It's always better to know as much as possible. It has to help somehow."
"What are you talking about?"
I saw Charlie's head bob up over the other heads as he searched for me. He spotted me and
waved.
"Just stay calm, okay?"
He nodded once, his mouth a grim line.
In hurried whispers I explained my reasoning to him. "I think you're wrong about things
coming at us from all sides. I think it's mostly coming at us from one side . . . and I think it's
coming at me, really. It's all connected, it has to be. It's just one person who's messing with
Alice's visions. The stranger in my room was a test, to see if someone could get around her.
It's got to be the same one who keeps changing his mind, and the newborns, and stealing my
clothes - all of it goes together. My scent is for them."
His face had turned so white that I had a hard time finishing.
"But no one's coming for you, don't you see? This is good - Esme and Alice and Carlisle, no
one wants to hurt them!"
His eyes were huge, wide with panic, dazed and horrified. He could see that I was right, just
as Alice had.
I put my hand on his cheek. "Calm," I pleaded.
"Bella!" Charlie crowed, pushing his way past the close-packed families around us.
"Congratulations, baby!" He was still yelling, even though he was right at my ear now. He
wrapped his arms around me, ever so slyly shuffling Edward off to the side as he did so.
"Thanks," I muttered, preoccupied by the expression on Edward's face. He still hadn't gained
control. His hands were halfway extended toward me, like he was about to grab me and
make a run for it. Only slightly more in control of myself than he was, running didn't seem
like such a terrible idea to me.
"Jacob and Billy had to take off - did you see that they were here?" Charlie asked, taking a
step back, but keeping his hands on my shoulders. He had his back to Edward - probably an
effort to exclude him, but that was fine at the moment. Edward's mouth was hanging open,
his eyes still wide with dread.
"Yeah," I assured my father, trying to pay enough attention. "Heard them, too."
"It was nice of them to show up," Charlie said.
"Mm-hmm."
Okay, so telling Edward had been a really bad idea. Alice was right to keep her thoughts
clouded. I should have waited till we were alone somewhere, maybe with the rest of his
family. And nothing breakable close by - like windows . . . cars . . . school buildings. His face
brought back all my fear and then some. Though his expression was past the fear now - it
was pure fury that was suddenly plain on his features.
"So where do you want to go out for dinner?" Charlie asked. "The sky's the limit."
"I can cook."
"Don't be silly. Do you want to go to the Lodge?" he asked with an eager smile.
I did not particularly enjoy Charlie's favorite restaurant, but, at this point, what was the
difference? I wasn't going to be able to eat anyway.
"Sure, the Lodge, cool," I said.
Charlie smiled wider, and then sighed. He turned his head halfway toward Edward, without
really looking at him.
"You coming, too, Edward?"
I stared at him, my eyes beseeching. Edward pulled his expression together just before
Charlie turned to see why he hadn't gotten an answer.
"No, thank you," Edward said stiffly, his face hard and cold.
"Do you have plans with your parents?" Charlie asked, a frown in his voice. Edward was
always more polite than Charlie deserved; the sudden hostility surprised him.
"Yes. If you'll excuse me. . . ." Edward turned abruptly and stalked away through the
dwindling crowd. He moved just a little bit too fast, too upset to keep up his usually perfect
charade.
"What did I say?" Charlie asked with a guilty expression.
"Don't worry about it, Dad," I reassured him. "I don't think it's you."
"Are you two fighting again?"
"Nobody's fighting. Mind your own business."
"Youare my business."
I rolled my eyes. "Let's go eat."
The Lodge was crowded. The place was, in my opinion, overpriced and tacky, but it was the
only thing close to a formal restaurant in town, so it was always popular for events. I stared
morosely at a depressed-looking stuffed elk head while Charlie ate prime rib and talked over
the back of the seat to Tyler Crowley's parents. It was noisy - everyone there had just come
from graduation, and most were chatting across the aisles and over the booth-tops like
Charlie.
I had my back to the front windows, and I resisted the urge to turn around and search for the
eyes I could feel on me now. I knew I wouldn't be able to see anything. Just as I knew there
was no chance that he would leave me unguarded, even for a second. Not after this.
Dinner dragged. Charlie, busy socializing, ate too slowly. I picked at my burger, stuffing
pieces of it into my napkin when I was sure his attention was somewhere else. It all seemed
to take a very long time, but when I looked at the clock - which I did more often than
necessary - the hands hadn't moved much.
Finally Charlie got his change back and put a tip on the table. I stood up.
"In a hurry?" he asked me.
"I want to help Alice set things up," I claimed.
"Okay." He turned away from me to say goodnight to everyone. I went out to wait by the
cruiser.
I leaned against the passenger door, waiting for Charlie to drag himself away from the
impromptu party. It was almost dark in the parking lot, the clouds so thick that there was no
telling if the sun had set or not. The air felt heavy, like it was about to rain.
Something moved in the shadows.
My gasp turned into a sigh of relief as Edward appeared out of the gloom.
Without a word, he pulled me tightly against his chest. One cool hand found my chin, and
pulled my face up so that he could press his hard lips to mine. I could feel the tension in his
jaw.
"How are you?" I asked as soon as he let me breathe.
"Not so great," he murmured. "But I've got a handle on myself. I'm sorry that I lost it back
there."
"My fault. I should have waited to tell you."
"No," he disagreed. "This is something I needed to know. I can't believe I didn't see it!"
"You've got a lot on your mind."
"And you don't?"
He suddenly kissed me again, not letting me answer. He pulled away after just a second.
"Charlie's on his way."
"I'll have him drop me at your house."
"I'll follow you there."
"That's not really necessary," I tried to say, but he was already gone.
"Bella?" Charlie called from the doorway of the restaurant, squinting into the darkness.
"I'm out here."
Charlie sauntered out to the car, muttering about impatience.
"So, how do you feel?" he asked me as we drove north along the highway. "It's been a big
day."
"I feel fine," I lied.
He laughed, seeing through me easily. "Worried about the party?" he guessed.
"Yeah," I lied again.
This time he didn't notice. "You were never one for the parties."
"Wonder where I got that from," I murmured.
Charlie chuckled. "Well, you look really nice. I wish I'd thought to get you something.
Sorry."
"Don't be silly, Dad."
"It's not silly. I feel like I don't always do everything for you that I should."
"That's ridiculous. You do a fantastic job. World's best dad. And . . ." It wasn't easy to talk
about feelings with Charlie, but I persevered after clearing my throat. "And I'm really glad I
came to live with you, Dad. It was the best idea I ever had. So don't worry - you're just
experiencing post-graduation pessimism."
He snorted. "Maybe. But I'm sure I slipped up in a few places. I mean, look at your hand!"
I stared down blankly at my hands. My left hand rested lightly on the dark brace I rarely
thought about. My broken knuckle didn't hurt much anymore.
"I never thought I needed to teach you how to throw a punch. Guess I was wrong about
that."
"I thought you were on Jacob's side?"
"No matter what side I'm on, if someone kisses you without your permission, you should be
able to make your feelings clear without hurting yourself. You didn't keep your thumb inside
your fist, did you?"
"No, Dad. That's kind of sweet in a weird way, but I don't think lessons would have helped.
Jacob's head isreally hard."
Charlie laughed. "Hit him in the gut next time."
"Next time?" I asked incredulously.
"Aw, don't be too hard on the kid. He's young."
"He's obnoxious."
"He's still your friend."
"I know." I sighed. "I don't really know what the right thing to do here is, Dad."
Charlie nodded slowly. "Yeah. The right thing isn't always real obvious. Sometimes the right
thing for one person is the wrong thing for someone else. So . . . good luck figuring that out."
"Thanks," I muttered dryly.
Charlie laughed again, and then frowned. "If this party gets too wild . . . ," he began.
"Don't worry about it, Dad. Carlisle and Esme are going to be there. I'm sure you can come,
too, if you want."
Charlie grimaced as he squinted through the windshield into the night. Charlie enjoyed a
good party just about as much as I did.
"Where's the turnoff, again?" he asked. "They ought to clear out their drive - it's impossible
to find in the dark."
"Just around the next bend, I think." I pursed my lips. "You know, you're right - it is
impossible to find. Alice said she put a map in the invitation, but even so, maybe everyone
will get lost." I cheered up slightly at the idea.
"Maybe," Charlie said as the road curved to the east. "Or maybe not."
The black velvet darkness was interrupted ahead, just where the Cullens' drive should be.
Someone had wrapped the trees on either side in thousands of twinkle lights, impossible to
miss.
"Alice," I said sourly.
"Wow," Charlie said as we turned onto the drive. The two trees at the entry weren't the only
ones lit. Every twenty feet or so, another shining beacon guided us toward the big white
house. All the way - all three miles of the way.
"She doesn't do things halfway, does she?" Charlie mumbled in awe.
"Sure you don't want to come in?"
"Extremely sure. Have fun, kid."
"Thanks so much, Dad."
He was laughing to himself as I got out and shut the door. I watched him drive away, still
grinning. With a sigh, I marched up the stairs to endure my party.
17. ALLIANCE
"BELLA?"
Edward's soft voice came from behind me. I turned to see him spring lightly up the porch
steps, his hair windblown from running. He pulled me into his arms at once, just like he had
in the parking lot, and kissed me again.
This kiss frightened me. There was too much tension, too strong an edge to the way his lips
crushed mine - like he was afraid we only had so much time left to us.
I couldn't let myself think about that. Not if I was going to have to act human for the next
several hours. I pulled away from him.
"Let's get this stupid party over with," I mumbled, not meeting his eyes.
He put his hands on either side of my face, waiting until I looked up.
"I won't let anything happen to you."
I touched his lips with the fingers of my good hand. "I'm not worried about myself so much."
"Why am I not surprised by that?" he muttered to himself. He took a deep breath, and then
he smiled slightly. "Ready to celebrate?" he asked.
I groaned.
He held the door for me, keeping his arm securely around my waist. I stood frozen there for a
minute, then I slowly shook my head.
"Unbelievable."
Edward shrugged. "Alice will be Alice."
The interior of the Cullens' home had been transformed into a nightclub - the kind that didn't
often exist in real life, only on TV.
"Edward!" Alice called from beside a gigantic speaker. "I need your advice." She gestured
toward a towering stack of CDs. "Should we give them familiar and comforting? Or" - she
gestured to a different pile - "educate their taste in music?"
"Keep it comforting," Edward recommended. "You can only lead the horse to water."
Alice nodded seriously, and started throwing the educational CDs into a box. I noticed that
she had changed into a sequined tank top and red leather pants. Her bare skin reacted oddly
to the pulsing red and purple lights.
"I think I'm underdressed."
"You're perfect," Edward disagreed.
"You'll do," Alice amended.
"Thanks." I sighed. "Do you really think people will come?" Anyone could hear the hope in
my voice. Alice made a face at me.
"Everyone will come," Edward answered. "They're all dying to see the inside of the reclusive
Cullens' mystery house."
"Fabulous," I moaned.
There wasn't anything I could do to help. I doubted that - even after I didn't need sleep and
moved at a much faster speed - I would ever be able to get things done the way Alice did.
Edward refused to let me go for a second, dragging me along with him as he hunted up
Jasper and then Carlisle to tell them of my epiphany. I listened with quiet horror as they
discussed their attack on the army in Seattle. I could tell that Jasper was not pleased with the
way the numbers stood, but they'd been unable to contact anyone besides Tanya's unwilling
family. Jasper didn't try to hide his desperation the way Edward would have. It was easy to
see that he didn't like gambling with stakes this high.
I couldn't stay behind, waiting and hoping for them to come home. I wouldn't. I would go
mad.
The doorbell rang.
All at once, everything was surreally normal. A perfect smile, genuine and warm, replaced the
stress on Carlisle's face. Alice turned the volume of the music up, and then danced to get the
door.
It was a Suburban-load of my friends, either too nervous or too intimidated to arrive on their
own. Jessica was the first one in the door, with Mike right behind her. Tyler, Conner, Austin,
Lee, Samantha . . . even Lauren trailing in last, her critical eyes alight with curiosity. They all
were curious, and then overwhelmed as they took in the huge room decked out like a chic
rave. The room wasn't empty; all the Cullens had taken their places, ready to put on their
usual perfect human charade. Tonight I felt like I was acting every bit as much as they were.
I went to greet Jess and Mike, hoping the edge in my voice sounded like the right kind of
excitement. Before I could get to anyone else, the bell rang again. I let Angela and Ben in,
leaving the door wide, because Eric and Katie were just reaching the steps.
I didn't get another chance to panic. I had to talk to everyone, concentrate on being upbeat, a
hostess. Though the party had been billed as a joint event for Alice, Edward, and me, there
was no denying that I was the most popular target for congratulations and thanks. Maybe
because the Cullens looked just slightly wrong under Alice's party lights. Maybe because
those lights left the room dim and mysterious. Not an atmosphere to make your average
human feel relaxed when standing next to someone like Emmett. I saw Emmett grin at Mike
over the food table, the red lights gleaming off his teeth, and watched Mike take an
automatic step back.
Probably Alice had done this on purpose, to force me into the center of attention - a place she
thought I should enjoy more. She was forever trying to make me be human the way she
thought humans should be.
The party was a clear success, despite the instinctive edginess cause by the Cullens' presence
- or maybe that simply added a thrill to the atmosphere. The music was infectious, the lights
almost hypnotic. From the way the food disappeared, that must have been good, too. The
room was soon crowded, though never claustrophobic. The entire senior class seemed to be
there, along with most of the juniors. Bodies swayed to the beat that rumbled under the soles
of their feet, the party constantly on the edge of breaking into a dance.
It wasn't as hard as I'd thought it would be. I followed Alice's lead, mingling and chatting for
a minute with everyone. They seemed easy enough to please. I was sure this party was far
cooler than anything the town of Forks had experienced before. Alice was almost purring -
no one here would forget this night.
I'd circled the room once, and was back to Jessica. She babbled excitedly, and it was not
necessary to pay strict attention, because the odds were she wouldn't need a response from
me anytime soon. Edward was at my side - still refusing to let go of me. He kept one hand
securely at my waist, pulling me closer now and then in response to thoughts I probably
didn't want to hear.
So I was immediately suspicious when he dropped his arm and edged away from me.
"Stay here," he murmured in my ear. "I'll be right back."
He passed gracefully through the crowd without seeming to touch any of the close-packed
bodies, gone too quickly for me to ask why he was leaving. I stared after him with narrowed
eyes while Jessica shouted over the music eagerly, hanging on to my elbow, oblivious to my
distraction.
I watched him as he reached the dark shadow beside the kitchen doorway, where the lights
only shone intermittently. He was leaning over someone, but I couldn't see past all the heads
between us.
I stretched up on my toes, craning my neck. Right then, a red light flashed across his back
and glinted off the red sequins of Alice's shirt. The light only touched her face for half a
second, but it was enough.
"Excuse me for a minute, Jess," I mumbled, pulling my arm away. I didn't pause for her
reaction, even to see if I'd hurt her feelings with my abruptness.
I ducked my way through the bodies, getting shoved around a bit. A few people were
dancing now. I hurried to the kitchen door.
Edward was gone, but Alice was still there in the dark, her face blank - the kind of
expressionless look you see on the face of someone who has just witnessed a horrible
accident. One of her hands gripped the door frame, like she needed the support.
"What, Alice, what? What did you see?" My hands were clutched in front of me - begging.
She didn't look at me, she was staring away. I followed her gaze and watched as she caught
Edward's eye across the room. His face was empty as a stone. He turned and disappeared
into the shadows under the stair.
The doorbell rang just then, hours after the last time, and Alice looked up with a puzzled
expression that quickly turned into one of disgust.
"Who invited the werewolf?" she griped at me.
I scowled. "Guilty."
I'd thought I'd rescinded that invitation - not that I'd ever dreamed Jacob would comehere,
regardless.
"Well, you go take care of it, then. I have to talk to Carlisle."
"No, Alice, wait!" I tried to reach for her arm, but she was gone and my hand clutched the
empty air.
"Damn it!" I grumbled.
I knew this was it. Alice had seen what she'd been waiting for, and I honestly didn't feel I
could stand the suspense long enough to answer the door. The doorbell peeled again, too
long, someone holding down the button. I turned my back toward the door resolutely, and
scanned the darkened room for Alice.
I couldn't see anything. I started pushing for the stairs.
"Hey, Bella!"
Jacob's deep voice caught a lull in the music, and I looked up in spite of myself at the sound
of my name.
I made a face.
It wasn't just one werewolf, it was three. Jacob had let himself in, flanked on either side by
Quil and Embry. The two of them looked terribly tense, their eyes flickering around the room
like they'd just walked into a haunted crypt. Embry's trembling hand still held the door, his
body half-turned to run for it.
Jacob was waving at me, calmer than the others, though his nose was wrinkled in disgust. I
waved back - waved goodbye - and turned to look for Alice. I squeezed through a space
between Conner's and Lauren's backs.
He came out of nowhere, his hand on my shoulder pulling me back toward the shadow by
the kitchen. I ducked under his grip, but he grabbed my good wrist and yanked me from the
crowd.
"Friendly reception," he noted.
I pulled my hand free and scowled at him. "What are youdoing here?"
"You invited me, remember?"
"In case my right hook was too subtle for you, let me translate: that was meun inviting you."
"Don't be a poor sport. I brought you a graduation present and everything."
I folded my arms across my chest. I didn't want to fight with Jacob right now. I wanted to
know what Alice had seen and what Edward and Carlisle were saying about it. I craned my
head around Jacob, searching for them.
"Take it back to the store, Jake. I've got to do something. . . ."
He stepped into my line of sight, demanding my attention.
"I can't take it back. I didn't get it from the store - I made it myself. Took a really long time,
too."
I leaned around him again, but I couldn't see any of the Cullens. Where had they gone? My
eyes scanned the darkened room.
"Oh, c'mon, Bell. Don't pretend like I'm not here!"
"I'm not." I couldn't see them anywhere. "Look, Jake, I've got a lot on my mind right now."
He put his hand under my chin and pulled my face up. "Could I please have just a few
seconds of your undivided attention, Miss Swan?"
I jerked away from his touch. "Keep your hands to yourself, Jacob," I hissed.
"Sorry!" he said at once, holding his hands up in surrender. "I really am sorry. About the other
day, I mean, too. I shouldn't have kissed you like that. It was wrong. I guess . . . well, I guess
I deluded myself into thinking you wanted me to."
"Deluded - what a perfect description!"
"Be nice. You could accept my apology, you know."
"Fine. Apology accepted. Now, if you'll just excuse me for a moment . . ."
"Okay," he mumbled, and his voice was so different from before that I stoppd searching for
Alice and scrutinized his face. He was staring at the floor, hiding his eyes. His lower lip
jutted out just a little bit.
"I guess you'd rather be with yourreal friends," he said in the same defeated tone. "I get it."
I groaned. "Aw, Jake, you know that's not fair."
"Do I?"
"Youshould. " I leaned forward, peering up, trying to look into his eyes. He looked up then,
over my head, avoiding my gaze.
"Jake?"
He refused to look at me.
"Hey, you said you made me something, right?" I asked. "Was that just talk? Where's my
present?" My attempt to fake enthusiasm was pretty sad, but it worked. He rolled his eyes
and then grimaced at me.
I kept up the lame pretense, holding my hand open in front of me. "I'm waiting."
"Right," he grumbled sarcastically. But he also reached into the back pocket of his jeans and
pulled out a small bag of a loose-woven, multi-colored fabric. It was tied shut with leather
drawstrings. He set it on my palm.
"Hey, that's pretty, Jake. Thanks!"
He sighed. "The present isinside, Bella."
"Oh."
I had some trouble with the strings. He sighed again and took it from me, sliding the ties
open with one easy tug of the right cord. I held my hand out for it, but he turned the bag
upside down and shook something silver into my hand. Metal links clinked quietly against
each other.
"I didn't make the bracelet," he admitted. "Just the charm."
Fastened to one of the links of the silver bracelet was a tiny wooden carving. I held it
between my fingers to look at it closer. It was amazing the amount of detail involved in the
little figurine - the miniature wolf was utterly realistic. It was even carved out of some
red-brown wood that matched the color of his skin.
"It's beautiful," I whispered. "Youmade this? How?"
He shrugged. "It's something Billy taught me. He's better at it than I am."
"That's hard to believe," I murmured, turning the tiny wolf around and around in my fingers.
"Do you really like it?"
"Yes! It's unbelievable, Jake."
He smiled, happily at first, but then the expression soured. "Well, I figured that maybe it
would make you remember me once in a while. You know how it is, out of sight, out of
mind."
I ignored the attitude. "Here, help me put it on."
I held out my left wrist, since the right was stuck in the brace. He fastened the catch easily,
though it looked too delicate for his big fingers to manage.
"You'll wear it?" he asked.
"Of course I will."
He grinned at me - it was the happy smile that I loved to see him wear.
I returned it for a moment, but then my eyes shot reflexively around the room again,
anxiously scanning the crowd for some sign of Edward or Alice.
"Why're you so distracted?" Jacob wondered.
"It's nothing," I lied, trying to concentrate. "Thanks for the present, really. I love it."
"Bella?" His brows pulled together, throwing his eyes deep into their shadow. "Something's
going on, isn't it?"
"Jake, I . . . no, there's nothing."
"Don't lie to me, you suck at lying. You should tell me what's going on. We want to know
these things," he said, slipping into the plural at the end.
He was probably right; the wolves would certainly be interested in what was happening.
Only I wasn't sure what thatwas yet. I wouldn't know for sure until I found Alice.
"Jacob, I will tell you. Just letme figure out what's happening, okay? I need to talk to Alice."
Understanding lit his expression. "The psychic saw something."
"Yes, just when you showed up."
"Is this about the bloodsucker in your room?" he murmured, pitching his voice below the
thrum of the music.
"It's related," I admitted.
He processed that for a minute, leaning his head to one side while he read my face. "You
know something you're not telling me . . . somethingbig ."
What was the point in lying again? He knew me too well. "Yes."
Jacob stared at me for one short moment, and then turned to catch his pack brothers' eyes
where they stood in the entry, awkward and uncomfortable. When they took in his
expression, they started moving, weaving their way agilely through the partiers, almost like
they were dancing, too. In half a minute, they stood on either side of Jacob, towering over
me.
"Now. Explain," Jacob demanded.
Embry and Quil looked back and forth between our faces, confused and wary.
"Jacob, I don't know everything." I kept searching the room, now for a rescue. They had me
backed into a corner in every sense.
"What youdo know, then."
They all folded their arms across their chests at exactly the same moment. It was a little bit
funny, but mostly menacing.
And then I caught sight of Alice descending the stairs, her white skin glowing in the purple
light.
"Alice!" I squeaked in relief.
She looked right at me as soon as I called her name, despite the thudding bass that should
have drowned my voice. I waved eagerly, and watched her face as she took in the three
werewolves leaning over me. Her eyes narrowed.
But, before that reaction, her face was full of stress and fear. I bit my lip as she skipped to my
side.
Jacob, Quil, and Embry all leaned away from her with uneasy expressions. She put her arm
around my waist.
"I need to talk to you," she murmured into my ear.
"Er, Jake, I'll see you later . . . ," I mumbled as we eased around them.
Jacob threw his long arm out to block our way, bracing his hand against the wall. "Hey, not
so fast."
Alice stared up at him, eyes wide and incredulous. "Excuse me?"
"Tell us what's going on," he demanded in a growl.
Jasper appeared quite literally out of nowhere. One second it was just Alice and me against
the wall, Jacob blocking our exit, and then Jasper was standing on the other side of Jake's
arm, his expression terrifying.
Jacob slowly pulled his arm back. It seemed like the best move, going with the assumption
that he wanted to keep that arm.
"We have a right to know," Jacob muttered, still glaring at Alice.
Jasper stepped in between them, and the three werewolves braced themselves.
"Hey, hey," I said, adding a slightly hysterical chuckle. "This is a party, remember?"
Nobody paid any attention to me. Jacob glared at Alice while Jasper glowered at Jacob.
Alice's face was suddenly thoughtful.
"It's okay, Jasper. He actually has a point."
Jasper did not relax his position.
I was sure the suspense was going to make my head explode in about one second. "What did
you see, Alice?"
She stared at Jacob for one second, and then turned to me, evidently having chosen to let
them hear.
"The decision's been made."
"You're going to Seattle?"
"No."
I felt the color drain out of my face. My stomach lurched. "They're coming here," I choked
out.
The Quileute boys watched silently, reading every unconscious play of emotion on our faces.
They were rooted in place, and yet not completely still. All three pairs of hands were
trembling.
"Yes."
"To Forks," I whispered.
"Yes."
"For?"
She nodded, understanding my question. "One carried your red shirt."
I tried to swallow.
Jasper's expression was disapproving. I could tell he didn't like discussing this in front of the
werewolves, but he had something he needed to say. "We can't let them come that far. There
aren't enough of us to protect the town."
"I know," Alice said, her face suddenly desolate. "But it doesn't matter where we stop them.
There still won't be enough of us, and some of them will come here to search."
"No!" I whispered.
The noise of the party overwhelmed the sound of my denial. All around us, my friends and
neighbors and petty enemies ate and laughed and swayed to the music, oblivious to the fact
that they were about to face horror, danger, maybe death. Because of me.
"Alice," I mouthed her name. "I have to go, I have to get away from here."
"That won't help. It's not like we're dealing with a tracker. They'll still come looking here
first."
"Then I have to go to meet them!" If my voice hadn't been so hoarse and strained, it might
have been a shriek. "If they find what they're looking for, maybe they'll go away and not hurt
anyone else!"
"Bella!" Alice protested.
"Hold it," Jacob ordered in a low, forceful voice. "Whatis coming?"
Alice turned her icy gaze on him. "Our kind. Lots of them."
"Why?"
"For Bella. That's all we know."
"There are too many for you?" he asked.
Jasper bridled. "We have a few advantages, dog. It will be an even fight."
"No," Jacob said, and a strange, fierce half-smile spread across his face. "It won't beeven ."
"Excellent!" Alice hissed.
I stared, still frozen in horror, at Alice's new expression. Her face was alive with exultation,
all the despair wiped clean from her perfect features.
She grinned at Jacob, and he grinned back.
"Everything just disappeared, of course," she told him in a smug voice. "That's inconvenient,
but, all things considered, I'll take it."
"We'll have to coordinate," Jacob said. "It won't be easy for us. Still, this is our job more than
yours."
"I wouldn't go that far, but we need the help. We aren't going to be picky."
"Wait, wait, wait, wait," I interrupted them.
Alice was on her toes, Jacob leaning down toward her, both of their faces lit up with
excitement, both of their noses wrinkled against the smell. They looked at me impatiently.
"Coordinate?" I repeated through my teeth.
"You didn't honestly think you were going to keep us out of this?" Jacob asked.
"Youare staying out of this!"
"Your psychic doesn't think so."
"Alice - tell them no!" I insisted. "They'll get killed!"
Jacob, Quil, and Embry all laughed out loud.
"Bella," Alice said, her voice soothing, placating, "separately we all could get killed.
Together -"
"It'll be no problem," Jacob finished her sentence. Quil laughed again.
"How many?" Quil asked eagerly.
"No!" I shouted.
Alice didn't even look at me. "It changes - twenty-one today, but the numbers are going
down."
"Why?" Jacob asked, curious.
"Long story," Alice said, suddenly looking around the room. "And this isn't the place for it."
"Later tonight?" Jacob pushed.
"Yes," Jasper answered him. "We were already planning a . . . strategic meeting. If you're
going to fight with us, you'll need some instruction."
The wolves all made a disgruntled face at the last part.
"No!" I moaned.
"This will be odd," Jasper said thoughtfully. "I never considered working together. This has
to be a first."
"No doubt about that," Jacob agreed. He was in a hurry now. "We've got to get back to Sam.
What time?"
"What's too late for you?"
All three rolled their eyes. "What time?" Jacob repeated.
"Three o'clock?"
"Where?"
"About ten miles due north of the Hoh Forest ranger station. Come at it from the west and
you'll be able to follow our scent in."
"We'll be there."
They turned to leave.
"Wait, Jake!" I called after him. "Please!Don't do this!"
He paused, turning back to grin at me, while Quil and Embry headed impatiently for the
door. "Don't be ridiculous, Bells. You're giving me a much better gift than the one I gave
you."
"No!" I shouted again. The sound of an electric guitar drowned my cry.
He didn't respond; he hurried to catch up with his friends, who were already gone. I watched
helplessly as Jacob disappeared.
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