To make up for the cliffhanger of last week, here is an extra-long chapter for you :).
Thank you for your patience and interest, guys. Also, your reviews are the best reward, so thank you endlessly for them!
Special thanks to these two wonderful ladies: CoppertopJ, my beta, and gabby1017, my pre-reader (gabby1017 is also a really talented author, so don't miss out on her works)!
Now let's pick up where we left off!
Staring was never polite, but it was also the only thing I was capable of right now. It felt as if the Earth itself had stopped spinning and the Sun had imploded, because the center of the universe was no longer where it was supposed to be, but here, under this canopy, wreaking havoc on my senses and turning everything I knew upside down. How many times had I fantasized about seeing her again? I had lost the count at the first million. She seemed distressed as she tried to avoid the men who were gawking at her, her eyes moving around without a precise pattern.
Until they stopped. Right on mine.
I should have looked away, but every muscle in my body was too awestruck to function properly. So instead of looking away, my gaze intertwined with hers and remained glued there, captive and content with its fate. Her eyes no longer had the uncertain shade they had when I last saw her: even in the dark, their caramel depth was obvious. I could not decipher the horde of emotions in them; it appeared that they were changing too rapidly for me to keep up. There was surprise in them, but also anxiety. And had I just seen relief in them, or was my imagination playing tricks on me?
"What the fuck, bro? I told you to move like three times now!"
I wouldn't have guessed that the raised, yet feeble voice was talking to me, if it weren't for its owner touching my shoulder and trying - in vain - to get me to step aside. I looked at him, ready to punch him through the roof for interrupting the most important moment in my life in three years. But then my ears picked up on a much more important sound, that seemed to cover everything else - the music, the thoughts, the water pouring from the sky: three voices, discussing under their breaths.
"I need him."
"How is it possible? Alice, you knew?"
"That's not important right now."
"I'll see you home."
"Are you sure?"
"Fine, but take care."
And, before I knew it, Bella was no longer at the entrance. She was making her way through the crowd. To me.
"Are you deaf or dumb, my guy? Move!"
The human nuisance made his presence known yet again - only this time I realized I should have been thankful to him from the beginning, because he was right: I had to move. I needed to move as quickly and as far away as possible, if I had any sense left in me. I risked another glance in the direction where Bella was, but I could no longer see her; she had managed to lose herself in the overwhelming crowd of dancing people, her scent being the only clue indicating that she was getting closer.
Trying to get myself together, I turned around and began to slide through the swaying mass of students. There was only one opening in this tent, and it was already impossible to head towards it if I wanted to avoid Bella, so I walked towards the back, set on tearing the canopy open with my bare hands if I needed to break free.
Everything inside me froze and melted at once when I heard my name rolling off her lips. It was the most decadent sound I had ever heard. In fact, it almost made it impossible to take another step, because my entire being wanted to turn back around and run to her, ignoring all the defenses I had built in the last years. But when another human bumped into me, I quickly reminded myself that I had no time to lose here, so I made more steps in the right direction.
"Edward, please wait!"
Once again, my resolve wobbled, ready to crumble. I tightened my fists and forced myself to advance, seeing that I was not that far away from the back. Just ten more feet and my hands would be ready to tear into the nylon of the tent. A few guys let out a creative string of swear words when I accidentally spilled their drinks on them in my rush. But then I encountered a most cursed blockage: an entire group of girls, dancing together in a tight circle.
Instead of bargaining with them to let me pass, I turned a sharp right, towards the eastern wall. It was further away and I had to get past the huge amplifiers that were lining it, as well as the guy who seemed to be, for all intents and purposes, the DJ of the party, if I wanted to get out, but it was a risk I was willing to take. More people complained when my haste translated into several more spilled drinks, and I focused my attention on their thoughts - anything but her voice.
"This is the best party ever!"
"God, I need to pee."
"What is it about guys with tattoos?"
"Blue balled three nights in a row, what a life…"
Soon enough, the crowd started dispersing, as I was getting closer to the amplifiers. I saw my exit, right there, behind the guy who was mixing music from the laptop. I said nothing as I approached him, hoping that he was too lost inside his task to observe the stranger ripping a hole in the wall. Alas, he was much more alert than the rest of the party-goers, his brain free from the clouds of alcohol, so when he felt the swift breeze brought upon my quick pace, he raised up from his chair in an instant.
"What are you doing to my amplifiers, dude?" he yelled over the music. "I can't afford to lose another one. What's with people these days?"
"Nothing," I assured him. "I just need to get out."
"The exit is that way," he shouted back, his hands gesturing in desperation towards it.
"I know, it's urgent."
And even if he was almost half my height and had no hints of muscles underneath his checkered shirt, he stretched one arm in front of him, and another one behind him, in an impressive attempt to protect his equipment. Had I not been in a hurry, I would have laughed at his foolishness.
"I don't want to hurt you," I said.
"You won't hurt him."
I forgot what I wanted to do next when I heard her words, loud and clear, close to my ear. Once again, my reason left me, leaving me incapacitated. The frail guy looked confused now, as he assessed the situation, trying to understand what was happening. He backed down when he reckoned that he was no longer the target of the argument.
Her voice was a soft wind chime against the background of obnoxious music, and it made me understand that I was downright trapped. I wasn't going to kill an innocent to evade. But there was also no way of escaping now, when Bella was standing right behind me - and several other dozens of people behind her. I breathed in deeply, praying for wafts of alcohol and blood, and receiving only her intoxicating essence. Somehow, it was even more enchanting now than it was minutes ago.
Defeated, I turned around, to face my fate.
"Hi," she managed with uncertainty when, once again, our eyes met.
There were many things I wanted to say to her - 'I missed you terribly', 'I love you even more than the last time I saw you' and 'So Heaven exists?' barely scratching the surface of all my unspoken musings. But I bit my tongue and went with the reasonable option… the one that would, hopefully, make her walk away. Because God knew the strength to do so on my own had left me.
"You're not supposed to be here."
Her serene face turned into a confused frown when she heard the asperity of my statement.
"Well, I live here now."
I shook my head in disbelief.
"You can't," I retorted. "I've been living here for over a year."
More confusion painted her face.
"I had no idea, I swear."
I needed to look somewhere else, to get my good judgement back. But how could I move my eyes away from everything that she had to offer? She was more beautiful than I remembered her to be, as she stood here, wearing a simple black dress that clung to her curves as if it had been painted on, her hair falling in chestnut waves over her shoulders. It was unfeasible to not notice the rest as well: the soft heart shape of her face, the stout charm of her lips, the creamy snowiness of her complexion... I felt compelled to bow down in front of such beauty, to worship it the way it deserved to be worshipped.
"Look, I don't know how else to say this," she began, clearly not having a clue of how wonderstruck I felt. "But do you think we can go for a walk? Right now?"
The question almost made my heart beat again. Yes! Please! God, yes! Still, I knew I had to make the smart choice for her sake, so I closed my eyes, smothering my enthusiasm and saying the right word out loud.
"No," I repeated, and the word itself was torture. "I should leave. Excuse me."
I stepped to the side, ready to pass by her, when I felt her hand grabbing the end of my jacket. Even if all logic told me to ignore it and walk away from this party, from this city, from this country, I found myself turning around, like the ultimate idiot that I was.
"It's been years since I last saw you… or talked to you," she uttered. "And I wanted to, so much, but you told me not to and then Alice insisted to respect your wish... I just… please, can't you spare a few minutes of your time?"
Her eyes were hopeful and I hated the idea of letting them down. Rationality and ardour battled within me, each of them praying for a winning spot.
"A few minutes?" I repeated out loud, in an attempt to estimate just how bad of an idea that could be. After all, I could not possibly mess things up in such a short span of time, that much I knew. Or could I?
"Maybe just a little more, but I'll leave you alone after, I promise. I really need to talk to you."
My less virtuous side was threatening to overthrow everything else - because that side wanted any extra second with Bella it could get, at whatever cost. I was aware of the risks: her pain, my unavoidable madness, a fight I was anything but ready for. Yet in the heat of the moment, the risks paled in comparison to the rewards.
And God, what rewards awaited…
Her voice, her eyes, her smell driving me wild with need even more. My inner battle subsided ever so slightly, leaving me even more disoriented than before. I wanted this, yet I didn't - or rather I could not afford it. But then again, her voice, her eyes, her smell… how could I ever be lunatic enough to say 'no'?
"Fine," I let out, stomping over my bewilderment. "Let's get out of here."
Reluctantly, she let go of my jacket and followed me through the crowd once I started moving. Even if the noise of the party was as thunderous as it was minutes ago, all I could hear now was the distinct cadence of her steps behind me. Soon enough, the massive clamour was behind us, as we stepped outside, into the heavy rain. I instantly realized how unprepared for this situation I was.
"Shall I go back and get an umbrella for you?" I asked.
"No, no, I don't mind it."
Despite her rushed answer, I could see the way the water was permeating right through her long sleeved dress, making it cling to her form even tighter, better. She might have not been cold by any stretch of imagination, but that didn't mean she had to get soaked like this. Besides, she looked appetizing enough without additional help from the weather. Without a word, I took off my jacket and handed it to her.
"Don't be ridiculous," she protested. "It's yours, keep it on."
"Just take it. And use the hood."
Bella looked as if she was ready to object again, but - for one reason or another - decided to accept my offering in the end. She slipped her arms through the sleeves and pulled the hood over her head. The jacket was obviously ridiculously oversized for her, as her hands had got lost somewhere in the sleeves and its length grazed the bottom half of her thighs, but in that moment, I decided she had never looked more alluring. Thinking about how her scent would imbue the fabric of the jacket for later stirred me further.
"Thank you," she mumbled, trying her best to turn up her sleeves and free her wrists.
We walked in silence, straying further and further away from the white canopy, past the sleeping halls, away from the old quadrangles, until we were out of the campus. I had no destination in mind, and neither did she, if I had to guess. The quietness hung heavy over our heads, as a mnemonic element of everything that once was. For me, the silence was a direct result of the fact that I had no idea how to act around Bella now. For years on end, she had been nothing but an imaginary recipient to my letters. It was easy to tell her every single thing on my mind when I knew she would never read my thoughts.
But now that she was as real as ever, my courage had left me. There was no way I could go back to touching her, not even a friendly hug - because there was no friendliness in me now. Only the rawest, most painful desire, that needed no feeding to grow.
Thankfully, Bella was the first to talk again.
"How come you were there?"
She started off with the worst question imaginable, no surprise.
"In a nutshell, curiosity," I answered. Curiosity for sinning again, like a rabid animal. "And you?"
"To be honest, Alice and Rose dragged me there. We were supposed to start college last week, but there had been a few delays at Carlisle's hospital, so we only got here on Friday. And… you know how Alice is, she said the party could help us blend in easier. But I really had no idea you were here too."
She spoke quickly, as if we were on borrowed time - and to some extent, we were, considering we only agreed on a few minutes of… this. Whatever this was. So Alice wanted to go to this party. But knowing her, she had to have seen this forbidden meeting in time to prevent it. In fact, she had to have seen, at one point or another, that I was living here, in Rochester. Why would she not alert our parents about it before they made a definite decision? Why would she do this, knowing my plea? Why would she bring Bella to the one place where I was, just to shatter both of our hearts?
The avalanche of new information gave birth to several questions at once, but I decided to go with the least threatening one.
"You're going to college… here?"
"Yes. I begged Carlisle and Esme to let us, as they were pretty adamant about the whole highschool thing, but we had to move anyway. The Brain & Cognitive Sciences program they have here sounded like what I needed."
I wanted to ask why exactly she needed that particular program, but I realized with bitterness that it was not my place to do so.
"Well, I go here too," I said. "I started last week. English - I wanted Music, but it was too late."
"And do you like it?"
"It's too early to tell," I shrugged, oversimplifying the actual answer. There was no way I could tell her that the only reason I even enrolled was to keep my mind occupied, so that I could think of other things - things that weren't directly related to her. Unfortunately, I was already failing at that task.
In the periphery of my vision, I noticed she was studying me, but I was too afraid to return the glance. Every nerve in my body was a stretched wire, ready to break if I made one wrong movement. Then, out of nowhere, her chuckle broke the new-fallen silence.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing is," she said. "I had almost no idea what you have been up to all this time, and… college was the last thing I expected to hear."
"What did you expect?"
It was her turn to shrug. I prepared myself for another round of quietness, but Bella spoke again, sooner than expected.
"I don't know, I figured you had your reasons for going to Denali…"
She trailed off, as if the rest was obvious. And for the first time in a long while, I remembered exactly why her muted mind was so frustrating.
"Sorry, but I'm not following."
I risked a quick glance her way, surprised to see her suddenly flustered mien beyond the hood. I turned back quickly, not knowing what to make of it. Had I pissed her off?
"When we visited the Denalis, Tanya told me you two were good friends," she added, her cadence so mellow it almost blended with the sound of rain.
While her statement sounded almost inoffensive, I began to understand its inner workings - slowly, as I was out of practice with her, but surely. Once understanding settled in, I tried to not appear too insulted at her wrong assumption.
"That is all that we are," I clarified. "Although we barely talk at this point."
A new question started to burn at the back of my mind, but I ignored it yet again. Not my place, not my place, not my place.
"How long have you been staying here?" she asked.
"A little over a year."
"And you moved here because…?"
Because I could not rely on other people to keep my mind off of you forever.
Because I could not bear to see so many happy couples around me, knowing I could never have that with you.
Because I needed to exist on my own.
A part of me wanted to offer Bella each and every one of these answers, but what purpose would it serve in the end? It was healthier to keep things light and not taint this unlikely encounter with the dark shades of my existence.
"It's a long story, one I'd rather not tell," I replied sincerely.
"Oh, I thought… I'm sorry if I overstepped."
I looked around, noticing a new set of trees surrounding us. Traversing the campus and crossing the street, we ended up on the Genesee Riverway Trail. I had often wandered on my own on this lonesome trail, always at night, to stare at the murky waters of the river until tuning out the voices in my head became easier.
"God, your shirt is soaking, you need to take this back!" Bella exclaimed suddenly, her hands working to get herself out of my jacket.
"We both know I'm fine," I intervened and pushed the jacket back on her shoulders and the hood over her head, before she could accomplish her task. I made sure that my fingers did not make direct contact with her body at any point, as much as they buzzed with desire to do exactly that. "Besides, no one is here to give me any strange looks."
She sighed, her gaze lingering on my chest a few seconds longer.
"Let's walk under the trees then," she suggested.
"Don't you want to see the river?"
"I'd rather have you as dry as possible, all things considered."
We both looked at my wet shirt and it was hard to contain my smile - especially when she rolled her eyes in an all too familiar way.
"You know what I mean," she jumped in.
Accepting her wish, we ventured into the spinney that adorned the river shore. The rain felt lighter from underneath the branches, dripping down without a clear pattern. Bella examined the trees and, seeing that she was silent for the moment, I took the chance and let out one of the many questions I had for her.
"Why did you move here?"
"You said you all had to move here. Why now? You still had a few years in Granite Falls."
My tone was involuntarily accusatory. Although deep down, a part of me did feel resentment; because her moving here meant several ominous things: my failure to keep away, unnecessary trouble for her, a new source of pain for me and, ultimately, the fact that I had to leave again, so that she could live a better life.
"That's… a complicated story," she dodged my question.
"You don't want to tell me?"
"I do, but I know we agreed on keeping this really short."
I took advantage of the fact that she was not looking at me and noticed the way her teeth were gnawing at her bottom lip, a most obvious - and excessively sultry - sign that she was unsettled.
"Do you have more than a few minutes?" she added carefully, staring at the wet ground.
At first, I wanted to say 'no'. It was the right thing to say, because the longer I lingered, the more dangerous everything got. My hedonistic layers were aching for more - more time, more conversations, more Bella. But my reason was trying to alert me once again of the consequences. However, their battle turned to dust when, once again, our eyes met, merigold on amber, making me forget everything else.
Damn, was I weak.
"I have all night, Bella."
Saying her name out loud felt like an avowal of how far gone I was at this point. There was surprise dancing in her irises, and a cluster of daydreams dancing in mine. Neither of us broke eye contact until a thunder boomed somewhere in the distance.
"It's getting worse," I noticed, staring up for a quick second. "But I am listening."
"Thank you for this. I mean it."
She breathed in the humid air, then breathed out, and I wondered why she seemed so scared, all of a sudden. I craved access into her mind more than anything. But knowing the impracticability of that wish, I tried not to dwell on it too much.
"So… these past few years have not been my best," she began.
If I multiplied her statement by an unreadable number, one that no mind could ever comprehend, the same could be said for me.
"I'm sorry," was all I could say.
She took yet another deep breath, seemingly more and more nervous.
"My family tried to keep my mind distracted though… with vacations and stuff."
I knew this, to an extent - Tanya told me, back when she and I were still keeping in touch. But hearing it coming from Bella was an entirely different thing, because it made her suffering real and excruciatingly commanding.
"Anyway, that's… an entirely different story. Back to the one I was telling you… Alice and Rose took me on a trip around Europe last year, for Christmas, and Paris was pretty much where the trip started and ended."
I knew it - except the last part.
"Why? What happened in Paris?"
Watching her troubled expression, I felt growing more restless myself. There was a new tension in the air, one that had nothing to do with the way my body hummed with an unbearable electricity, caused merely by the fact that she was only one foot away from me, and everything to do with something that only she knew.
"Paris is where I lost it," she answered softly.
My eyes instantly flew to her, and I was surprised to realize that she had stopped and she was already looking at me. I stopped straight away.
"Do you mean…"
"You know what I mean, Edward."
Even when her voice was riddled with pain, hearing her utter my name felt like a small wonder. But I could not allow myself to muse over this for too long, for something a hundred times more important was transpiring between us: she was opening up.
"How did it happen?" I whispered.
"It was all so stupid… Rosalie wanted late night pictures on some bridge and Alice offered to take them, while I stood by waiting for them to finish. And then, out of nowhere, the breeze brought on this smell… I can't even describe it. It was a blood I had never encountered until that point. Or after. And I was pretty much convinced that such a thing could not happen to me, not when everyone kept applauding me on my self control."
My heart sank somewhere deep in my stomach; I knew precisely the smell she was talking about, but I refused to think of the only time I felt such profuse hunger.
"No one else was around at that hour and… well, he didn't stand a chance. I... I attacked him right as Alice was having her vision."
Bella didn't continue, but her mouth remained open, as if the words were just dying to get out.
"I'm listening," I reminded her gently, moving just a half of a step closer to her.
She hesitated, but not for long, her own body seeming to move at its own accord towards mine when she spoke again. My judgement was growing foggy.
"He had kids, you know? A boy and a girl. I found out later, at his funeral, because Carlisle made me attend it, no questions asked. And he must have been a pretty damn good father and husband, because his family cried from start to finish."
Towards the end, the words became shaky, resonating with difficulty from her throat. She was no longer as eager to face me, but it was too late, because I was. For the life of me, I could not remember why I should have gone back to keeping the distance. All I wanted right now was to take her in my arms and assure her that she had no reason to be ashamed of her misdeeds in front of me - because I knew better than most what it meant to be weak and cave.
Taking an innocent life was a heavy burden to carry. For Bella, I was willing to bet that the burden was even heavier than for the average vampire, knowing how deeply she felt everything. I could console her - tell her that she was still so young when it happened, or that it mattered that deep down she regretted it - but I had no doubt she had heard it all before. And oddly enough, I felt that consoling was not what she needed.
"I'm sorry, Bella, I really am," I murmured. "Resisting something like this is…" I struggled to find the words, my mind juggling with terms like 'preposterous' and 'absurd', realizing they were not exactly what I was going for. In the end, I settled on the word that described my own experience the best. "Impossible."
"I know now."
For some reason, her words felt heavy, as if there was more to them than she let on.
"Are you okay?" I asked, afraid to think too deeply about whatever hidden meaning lied beneath what she had just said. Ignorance was bliss.
"I still think about him a lot, but… yes. It gets slightly better in time - not that it makes it any less forgivable. When we returned to Granite Falls, it all felt… different, somehow? Different in a bad way, even if no one but my family and I knew. Carlisle and Esme suggested moving somewhere else, to start fresh."
She smiled bitterly, but at least she was staring at me now, instead of the ground.
"Your eyes are golden," I observed, without adding all the other praising adjectives in my head. "So you didn't stray again."
"Yours are golden too," she replied hazily.
"I try my best." Except tonight, I admonished myself. I could not ignore the sole reason I even left the house - to taste human blood again, in a bid to forget about the unending torment.
"I like yours better though."
For a brief moment, I considered the possibility of my ears failing me. I did not want to be egocentric enough to think that Bella had just attempted to make a thinly veiled pass at me. It made no sense for her to do so, considering our history - and especially how that particular history ended in tragedy. Even if I wanted with all my might to respond to her statement, how could I be so reckless? After all, our paths were going to part once again, which meant that feeding the flame would have done all harm and no good.
Stupefied, I stepped back and started walking again, picking up my pace. She quickly followed me, mud splashing loudly at her feet as she matched her rhythm to mine.
"Back to what I was saying earlier, I had no idea how intense it can be," she chimed in.
She waited, clearly hoping for me to say something, anything. But my words got stuck somewhere on their way to coming out, because I was too terrified of having that conversation with her. She knew that the only time I had truly gone off track, forgetting all about right and wrong, was also the time her life ended. Years ago, when I was still selfish enough to keep on trying to bring up that night into our discussions, hoping that she would listen to my side all the way, it always ended badly. I learned my lesson then, I was not foolish enough to fall in the trap of hurting her twice.
"It's overwhelming, yes," I confirmed, perhaps too harshly, hoping she would drop it.
She must have noticed the harshness, because she decided not to push further. Once again, silence reigned as we walked, and I felt no inclination to break it. Maybe it was actually my cue to go, as much as everything inside me screamed to stay. Nevertheless, there was no going away when Bella was fighting to keep our exchange going.
"Tell me more about you," she demanded. "How has your life been after… you know?"
"There's not much to say."
Unless tales of mindless hallucinations, panic attacks, self mutilation, unsent letters and constant mourning were her cup of tea.
"You can tell me about the time you spent in Denali. Or your life here, in Rochester. Where do you live?"
"I've rented an apartment in Park Avenue, in an attic."
"An attic? That sounds magical."
"I suppose it is," I confirmed, although I could hardly see its magic when the place itself was an epitome of solitude. "You would like it. It has bookshelves everywhere. And a piano."
"And did you make friends here?" she continued her interrogation.
"I'd love to hear about them."
"There's no 'them'," I explained. "There's only one friend."
"What's his name then?"
"Her name is Louise. She's sixty-one and human."
I heard her small shocked gasp, but she quickly contained her surprise.
"All right, how did it happen?"
"She's my neighbour. I helped her decorate her apartment door for Christmas and she invited me in for tea. From that point on, it simply snowballed."
I wondered what Louise was doing now. I knew the doctors' prognosis was mostly positive when they let her out of the hospital that morning, but I could not rely only on that. Her dreams were vague and restless a few hours ago. Had something changed since then?
"A human friend," Bella muttered with a smile hidden in the background. "You're full of surprises tonight. So you have tea parties and stuff?"
Now she was simply teasing me, so I rolled my eyes.
"They're not parties. But yes, I have been drinking an awful lot of tea since I met her. I don't have the heart to refuse it."
"You poor thing! Is it as bad as I imagine?"
"I have to throw it up as soon as I am alone, so it is worse."
Bella laughed - a full, crisp, clear laugh - and, upon hearing her, I realized there was no holding back my own amusement, so I joined her. I could not pinpoint the exact moment I felt ready to tell her more about Louise, but it happened anyway, since those were the only stories I had that weren't entirely bleak and pessimistic. And she listened to them, absorbing every bit of new information I was giving her, asking more questions, smiling, laughing.
At some point, the rain stopped, the clouds above scattering in new directions, revealing the star-spotted canvas of the night sky. We stepped out of the cover of the trees, closer to the shore of the river, perusing it as we walked in the same direction it ran.
"She has all these habits," I explained to Bella. "She loves embroidery, but she never finishes her work. She says it's the journey that matters, not the destination."
We chuckled in tandem, and a part of me was still working to remind me why this was all kinds of wrong. But that part was getting weaker and weaker the more I ignored it and the more I focused on Bella.
"She collects so much china, but still uses her old cups, so as not to ruin the new ones. And lately, she's been weirdly obsessed with giving away her stuff. I think it's just a phase that people go through once they reach a certain age."
"Wow, stuff like what?"
"For instance, she donated some of her old jewels to a charity for victims of domestic violence. She sent her son her stamp collection from when she was young. Oh, and she gave me several first-edition books - apparently I'm the only person she knows who would appreciate them."
"First-edition books?" she burst in astonishment. "Which books?"
"Well, let's see: 'Ulysses', 'Lord of the Flies', 'Little Women', 'The Sun Also Rises', 'Animal Farm', 'In Cold Blood'..."
"Wow, stop right there. You've got an actual treasure in your apartment and you are only telling me now?"
I smiled and shrugged, amused by her choice of words. She was probably the only person I knew, apart from myself, who could describe a pile of old books as 'actual treasure'.
"God, are you lucky!"
"It's all about who you know," I joked.
I expected her to laugh again. Or to joke back. Or to simply change the subject. She had been following this pattern in the last hour. Instead, she did the polar opposite of what I thought she would do.
"Do you think I can see them?"
Her question caught me off-guard.
"Well, I don't have them with me," I responded, a little slow on the uptake. "But... I suppose I can bring you a few tomorrow, in between classes."
Yes, this worked. This way, I could find an excuse to see her once again right before leaving town. Because there was no way in hell I could remain here, so close to her - and, implicitly, to the possibility of breaking her heart again.
"Yes, or… you could show me now."
And just like that, my quick solution from earlier dissipated in front of my eyes, leaving me dumbfounded.
"They're all in my apartment, Bella."
"So? I don't think it's the best idea..."
For us to be alone. For her to be in such dangerous proximity to me, even more than she was now. For me to have no motivation to stop if my burning desire took the reins.
"Why? They're just books. Besides, you made me curious earlier, I'd like to see your place."
It seemed that even if years had passed, her hold over me had not diminished in the slightest. If anything, it had multiplied to such an incomprehensible extent, that I found it harder and harder to find the strength to do the right thing. In this case, the right thing was to call it a night and head home alone, to prepare myself for my unavoidable departure - and for the fact that, once again, I had to suffer through the most agonizing withdrawal.
My lucid side was all too ready to make the correct decisions; in fact, it had made plenty of those decisions tonight, whenever the conversation skewed towards dangerous territory. Regrettably, that side didn't hold nearly a fraction of the power that my enraptured side held right now. It felt easier to listen to the second, to let it take me wherever it wanted - because it was also where I wanted to go... home with Bella.
"Just a few minutes?" she tried again, and the déjà vu feeling was impossible to ignore.
"You said the same thing earlier."
"I mean it this time."
She confronted me with her eyes, but there was no sign of conflict in them. Just endless swirls of caramel, waiting to be explored and playing with my yearning to take her face in my palms and kiss her until the world ended.
"Fine, just a few minutes," I agreed in the end.
My reason cried alone in the background, defeated. But if this was wrong, I never wanted to be right.
To be continued :).
Were you happy to see Edward's attempt to run away failing?
What were your thoughts on Edward's and Bella's first interaction after the years they spent apart?
How do you think things will go once they reach his apartment?
I am super-curious to know your thoughts on this chapter! Reading and responding to your reviews is always a joy.
Until next Sunday, stay safe and happy!