I once went to Disney World to see what all the fuss was about. I was a skeptic, refusing to believe that the place was a modern day fairy tale land.
Everything changed when I walked through the ticket gates. I walked out of reality and straight into a land of make believe creatures, majestic castles, and thrill rides. The sheer joy of the place was what really affected me. All around me I saw little children being captivated by their favorite movie characters while their parents watched with a smile; happy if only because their children were happy.
While I was there I was a different person. I was a tourist, someone that Mickey Mouse loved to chase and hug, and someone that screamed bloody murder on the Tower of Terror. I didn't think about the fact that later that night I would have to drain some innocent animal, or the fact that every second I spent around the humans increased the glorious fire in my throat and made control all the more difficult.
For once, surrounded by princesses and creatures from someone's imagination, I didn't stand out. I didn't have to pretend.
Like all good things in life though, it didn't last forever. Reality came crashing down on me the moment I walked past the entrance gates. Humans swarmed towards their cars to head home and rejoin the real world, and I became an anomaly again.
Going back to school after coming home from Volterra is like coming home from Disney World. I am used to the adrenaline packed events of the weekend that the monotonous routines of the school day are going to make me crazy. I have no idea how I ever found it peaceful. I must have been delusional.
If not for the Cullens, I would probably be in a padded room wearing a straight jacket by now. I live for the time I spend at their house, no matter what we are doing. I haven't even been to my house for more than ten minutes since we got back a few days ago.
I'm feeling very lucky that there are only two weeks of school left before summer. I just can't make myself sit still. I either think about Aro and the Volturi and get antsy for action, or I think about Edward and get antsy to tell him that I love him. I still haven't told him yet. I'm surprised that it hasn't exploded out of me yet. It will soon though. Each day the words crawl closer and closer to the tip of my tongue, just waiting for the right moment to burst through my lips.
The problem is that I don't know when the right moment is going to be. I want to tell him when we're alone, but that just doesn't seem to be happening as of late. We're either at school surrounded my mind numbingly stupid gossipers or we're with the rest of his family.
It's my fault too. When we came back I suggested that we all stay together as much as possible because then I can have everyone under my shields.
Anyway, one night we all decide to go hunting together, and as Edward and I run hand in hand near the rest of the family it becomes nearly impossible not to shout those three little words at the top of my lungs.
So I tug on his hand and we slow to a stop. The rest of the Cullens look back, and I motion for them to keep going, but stay close. As they head off together I feel my mental shield being pulled along with them.
Ever since those fateful hours in Volterra, my shield has been laughably easy to manipulate. I can stretch it easily over miles, but none of us have ever experimented to find out the maximum distance.
The shield is shaped like a dome at the moment, in its natural state. Such a large dome would be rather ineffective though as it offers no physical resistance. All an attacker would have to do would be to walk under the dome. So I flex my mind and shape the shield exactly the way I want it. If it weren't invisible it would look something like a spider web. Edward and I would be the center of the web, with thin strands branching out in all directions. At the end of each strand is a different Cullen, each ensconced in his or her own bubble of protection.
Edward squeezes my hand and pulls me away from my thoughts. With one look into his ochre eyes the words are once again throwing themselves at my pursed lips, trying to break free. It's now or never. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Then I slowly lift my shield all the way off of my mind. Again, it's very easy to move, but it leaves me feeling terribly vulnerable and naked. It is surprisingly uncomfortable. I leave it away only long enough to think I love you with all the passion my mind can muster before letting it snap back to protect me again.
I breathe a sigh of relief both from finally telling Edward how I feel and from having my shield protecting me once again. I open my eyes and look back into Edwards gorgeous eyes.
He is rather frozen and I find it quite funny. I laugh a little bit and it seems to thaw him out.
"Bella?" he asks and stares deep into my eyes, as if trying to lift the truth right from my mind.
I lift the shield once again from my mind. It isn't nearly as uncomfortable this time, as I know exactly what to expect. Hi. I think in my mind. I love you.
His eyes widen and his mouth stretches into an impossible wide grin. "How di… Why ca… Wi…" he stops each sentence in its tracks, seemingly at a loss for words. Then he shakes his head and steps towards me so quickly his movements are a blur. He crashes his lips to mine and locks me in his iron grip. Fire erupts from each point of contact and settles low in my belly. He breaks his lips away from mine and leaves a line of open-mouthed kisses down my neck that makes me shiver. He starts to speak, and pauses between each word to kiss me into oblivion.
"I love you too," he says and I don't reply because my lips are suddenly occupied.
My fingers move through his mane of hair, probably making it stand up even more than usual, but I can't find it in me to care. He sweeps his tongue along my lower lip and I moan involuntarily. I match his movements with my own as I feel the need to become impossibly closer to him.
It seems he feels the same because he's pushing me forward until my back hits the trunk of a huge evergreen with enough force to dent the wood. He lifts me up swiftly so our eyes are at the same level and then presses his body flush against mine. His hands, his lips, his body- the sensations are almost too much for me to handle. Almost, but not quite.
Then, against my will, my thoughts are diverted away from the love of my life. I feel a small pounding against the physical shield that always, always surrounds Edward. I reluctantly break my lips away from his and look for the source of the interruption.
He looks confused for a moment before he follows my gaze and sees Emmett and Jasper crouched on the branch of a neighboring tree, each with a handful of acorns. Edward growls at them, but they just smile and throw a few more acorns, each of which hits a seemingly invisible wall a few inches away from Edwards back. They don't seem discouraged by the fact that none of their acorns hit the target, and instead throw even more.
Edward moves as if to charge them, but I hold him back and whisper in his ear that I'll take care of it. With a quick smirk aimed at the acorn throwers, I throw a shield at the branch they're perched on. It splinters with a deafening crack and they tumble towards the ground some twenty feet below. Of course they aren't hurt, but their egos seem to have taken a much needed hit as they stand up and brush themselves off.
Four other sets of laughter mingle with mine and Edwards and the rest of the family skids to a stop by our sides.
"Sorry about them, Bella," say Alice and Rosalie together. I smile and wave it off with a flick of my hand. I'm still riding the wave of my Edward induced high, and I don't think anything could pull me under.
I notice through the haze of emotions that Alice is bouncing and clapping and being happy even more so than she usually does. I watch Edward's face, looking to read his reaction to what is going on in her mind.
His face softens as he gazes at her. He looks down at me and his eyes are smoldering like molten lava. I am inches away from kissing him again when Alice's voice distracts me.
"I saw your future, Bella! Twice!" she trills and the dots connect in my mind. When I lifted away the mental shield to show Edward my thoughts, there would be nothing preventing Alice's gift from working on me. I have no doubt that Jasper would have been able to sense and manipulate my emotions had he been closer at the time. I am very wary of that fact as one of my worst fears is loosing control of my emotions.
"What did you see?" I ask Alice.
"Oh nothing really," she says nonchalantly. "Apparently you were rather focused on a penny-headed vampire. All I could see was your determination to tell said vampire that you love him." She sings the last two words and I bury my face in Edward's shirt.
A chorus of awes from the ladies and chuckles from the men surrounds me and I try unsuccessfully to disappear. Edward, being the smug vampire he is, drinks it all in without batting an eye.
Alice's high pitched voice resounds through the laughter. "You have to do it again, Bella! And this time for more than five seconds," she says with a roll of her eyes.
"Later," I say, "Edward and I need to hunt first."
"Looks like they have plenty of energy already," Emmett whispers to Jasper. I ignore them.
Alice looks huffy, but Jasper whispers something in her ear and she smiles hugely and begins to tug him towards the house.
The rest of the Cullens follow behind after promising me that they won't stray too far.
Edward and I stay relatively close to the house so that my mental shield isn't too strained. Edward hunts down a mountain lion while I am content with a few deer.
When he's done he trots over to me. His eyes are so light they look like sparkling white gold. My eyes, of course, stay purple, but Edward tells me that if they got anymore beautiful he wouldn't be able to look straight at them. I can't help but kiss him for a few minutes.
When we get back to the house we follow the noise towards the family room where Emmett and Japer are apparently locked in an intense chess match. Alice is standing off to the side with her arms crossed, I'm guessing because she was told not to interfere on Jasper's behalf. The rest of the family is huddled around the little table, enthralled by the game.
It's nothing like the long, tedious human matches; this one takes place at vampire speed. I estimate that it'll be over in a few minutes.
I watch the game for a moment and see instantly that Jasper has the upper hand. He's tricking Emmett into a corner and Emmett has no idea. In three moves Jasper will be able to checkmate Emmett with a pawn.
Sure enough, three moves later Emmett is looking at the board flabbergasted. Probably trying to figure out how he never saw it coming.
"Next time," Emmet growls at Jasper, but Jasper just smiles.
As Emmett gets up from the table Edward slides into his seat and they start to reset the pieces.
I can instantly tell that Edward is the better player. I can't tell if he truly is more skilled or if he's reading Jasper's mind. Jasper looks more concentrated than in his game with Emmett and I see his brow furrowing even when Edward only moves an insignificant piece. I gather that he is trying to block Edward out of his mind. Edward told me that Jasper's favorite technique is to scream Lady Gaga songs in his mind, so I wonder which one he chose this time.
A few moves into the game I see Japer setting Edward up for a knight fork that will surely loose Edward his queen. He doesn't see it. I can tell because he's focused on the other end of the board, trying to set up his attack. Whatever Jasper is doing to hide his thoughts, it's working.
I can't let Edward be tricked like that. I put my hand on his shoulder and slowly lift the shield from my mind.
I don't even have the chance to tell Edward to watch his queen. Jasper goes rigid in his seat and his hands come up to clutch his head- as if he is trying to hold himself together. His expression is horrifying, almost like when Edward was being tortured by Jane.
Then Edward stands up so fast that he knocks over the table. The pieces clatter to the floor and the sound breaks the sudden silence. Edward's hands grip my shoulders and his eyes move over my face frantically.
I don't know what is going on, but I quickly pull my shield back. Jasper's head snaps up instantly and he too studies my face.
The rest of the Cullen's are frozen as well so I look back and forth between Edward and Jasper.
After a moment, Jasper steps over to Alice and wraps her in a fierce hug. She looks bewildered, but still tries to comfort him.
I look back to Edward and he can tell from my expression that I am demanding answers.
"Bella, why are you in so much pain?" he asks. He spits the word pain as if it is a cuss word.
Then Jasper cuts in. His voice is harsh and ragged. "It's more than just pain though, it's guilt and self-hatred more intense than I've ever encountered."
And now I understand. When I lifted my shield to show Edward my thoughts, I didn't think about Jasper being able to read my emotions. I probably wouldn't have thought twice about it even if I did realize.
All those years ago, when I was a newborn vampire, I put up a wall to block out the most painful of my memories. It was the only way I could control my mind. I locked away all the suffering and guilt, and they have been locked away ever since.
What I didn't realize was that I can try as hard as I want to push these emotions to the recesses of my mind, but they will never go away. Emotions and feelings fade over time, but only if they have the chance to do so. I never gave myself a mourning period. I never suffered from my grief. I never even let myself think about my emotional pain, so it never had the chance to lessen. It's still there, locked away in my mind, as strong as it was that very first day.
Even though I don't feel the pain, Jasper does. The wall I put up doesn't keep him out. To him, guilt and pain is probably my most dominant emotion. It's understandable, too. The happiness I feel now is nothing compared to the grief I experienced.
I take a long look at the faces around me, and I know that it's time for them to know my darkest secret. The secret I keep hidden even from myself.
I usher them into the family room so we can sit while I talk. Before I leave the room my gaze falls on the chess pieces that lay forgotten. My eyes pick out the queen. Her face is cracked and her crown is chipped. She is the single most powerful player on the board, and here she is lying mangled on the floor.
I bend down and pick her up, being mindful of her cracks. I right the table and set her in the square where she belongs.
Then I join the Cullens in the family room and prepare to break down the wall that I have so carefully constructed over so many years.