Chapter 23: The Truth

Bella's point of view

On Monday, it was time to carry out my plan to ask one of my classmates if he by chance was a blood-drinking creature of nightmares and horror movies. I was not really thrilled about it, but I could not ignore what Jake had told me yesterday.

The victim of my planned confrontation would obviously have to be Jasper. I knew him the best-though that was hardly much-and he seemed to be more open-minded than his siblings. Also, he had already shared quite a few personal things with me in the last few weeks.

I knew that Jasper was in my English class, but as it wasn't yet Tuesday I had to catch him between lessons or corner him after lunch.

My mission proved to be much easier than anticipated. When I walked to my locker before first hour I saw him and his ex-girlfriend standing by a locker just at the last corner before my own. They were talking quietly among themselves and I could tell it was not a good moment to talk to either of them by the harsh whispers. Alice's smile seemed strained and Jasper's shoulders were tensed. I hesitated for a while, not wanting to disturb them, but then Alice spotted me and greeted me over Jasper's shoulder.

"Hello, Bella", rang out her cheery voice as Jasper turned around. "It is nice to see you. How are you today?"

"I'm okay, thanks. You're fine, too?" I asked, expecting a polite lie that promptly followed.

"Yes, thank you. I will leave you two to talk." Alice smiled at me and abruptly left. I hadn't expected her to tell me what was wrong (we weren't friends, so why would she?), but her behavior confused me a little. Jasper squinted after her, as if trying to figure something out and then turned to me.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you two. I was about to leave, but I was already here, so here I am" I awkwardly apologized.

"It's fine, Bella", Jasper calmed me down. "It's just that Alice is keepin' somethin' from me and she won't tell me what it is."

He seemed genuinely worried about this and his voice sounded different. I almost placed my hand on his arm in sympathy, but remembering our last talk, I stopped at the lst minute. I already knew that he didn't like being touched and that his skin would be cold.

"I'm sure she will come around. Us girls sometimes need to figure things out for ourselves before we feel comfortable discussing them with anyone. She might just feel bad over your breakup" I tried to offer advice.

Jasper sighed and smiled at me a little sadly. "Thanks for the pep-talk, but on to other matters. I shouldn't bother you with my drama."

"I came to find you because I was hoping to speak to you after school. There's something I really need to know regarding your family." I tried to stay vague with my request so I wouldn't immediately scare him off.

"Sure, I was in fact waiting for you to come to me with your questions." He smiled at my slightly puzzled expression and went on to explain.

"I figured if you really wanted to voice theories you would eventually go elsewhere than to Edward." He winked at me, then added "Don't let him bother you, it's a wonder he talks to you at all. I'll meet you after school in front of the gym and we'll talk then."

"Thanks, Jasper. I know you don't owe me any answers, but I have a few concerns that I hope you can put to rest for me" I told him.

We smiled at each other as the bell rang and we parted ways.

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After my last class for the day, Housing and Interior Design, I rushed to pack my things and get to the gym. Usually I lingered after class to ask the teacher questions and needed a long time to gather my things. I could really see myself starting a career as an architect after school and taking Interior Design and Physics in school was the closest I could get to this path right now.

While I waited for Jasper to arrive, I fidgeted nervously. I absolutely couldn't mess up this conversation. I didn't want to risk the tentative friendship I felt I had built with Jasper over the course of the last few weeks. I was also very aware of the fact that if our information was correct, I was about to meet one-on-one with someone who considered me a food source.

I calmed down a little, though, as I saw Jasper sauntering over to me with a slight smile on his lips.

"Let's take a walk, shall we?" he offered and we left the building into the crisp winter air.

After a few minutes of aimless wandering I started to speak. "Please don't take this the wrong way, okay?" I pleaded with him. "I think you are a nice person and I consider you a friend, but I am concerned."

Jasper didn't interrupt me, prompting me to keep speaking with a gesture. "Edward said something the other day. He mentioned being able to almost read the thoughts of someone else as if he had spoken them aloud. I'm puzzled about 95% of the things he says, but the mind-reading really irked me. Also, the whole of La Push considers your family to be hungry undead who are in a feud with their spirit-protectors. If the legends of the tribe are true, and I know that they are based in reality, how come no one has turned up dead yet?" I felt better now that the dreaded question was out of the way. It was phrased open enough to allow any kind of answer and wasn't limited on any one kind of topic. Now I only had to wait, hope and maybe prod a little more.

"I can neither confirm nor deny any of your theories for your own safety, Bella. But I think I will put your mind at ease by telling you a little bit about myself. If you should notice that I am leaving things out of the story, for I have no doubt that an observant person like you will see this, please accept it as it is for now. I don't mean to distrust you, but some things are simply not mine to share with anyone outside of the family." He briefly closed his eyes and then began to explain.

"I was born in Texas and had a quite happy childhood there. I was raised by my parents on a small farm together with my younger siblings, Anna and William. I had my own horse which I loved dearly and I used to ride around our land for hours. I helped arrange all our family's business deals even at a young age because I am able to accurately perceive others' emotions." He paused to take a breath.

I wasn't quite sure what this had to do with my question, but didn't dare to interrupt his tale when he continued speaking. "One day I was snatched up by three female gang leaders. I was going to offer them directions for they seemed to be lost on our land one evening, but they attacked me as soon as I got off of my horse and took me with them. For the next years I only knew the terrors and bloodiness of the gang wars and I almost forgot the idyll that I was born into. That is, until Alice found me unsupervised one day. I had become valuable to the gang-leader because I had a way with other people, so her goons hardly let me out of sight. This particular evening I had managed to get away to a local bar, though, and there Alice was waiting for me. She has a talent for knowing things and she knew where to find me."

"She convinced me that there was something other than the twisted games for power the gangs were playing. She showed me an alternative way to the blood-thirsty ways I had experienced with the gangs and I went with her to join the Cullens. I'm the newest addition to the - family - and sometimes it is hard on me to remember all that I have gone through in the past." He sighed and rubbed his temple.

I nodded at him in understanding.

What he was telling me sounded like a roundabout way of confirming that his family really was made up out of cold ones. Though he was obviously trying to make it a point that they had figured out a way to live without violence and blood-thirstiness. Which could only be code for 'yes, we are dangerous, but no, we chose not to act on it'. I felt greatly relieved, but couldn't help but ask another question.

"I have also been wondering: What do you guys eat? I get that with your allergies it wouldn't be cafeteria food" I tried to match his style of speaking in code.

"It is probably best described as an animal-based carnivorous diet" Jasper told me, smiling toothily at me. The expression looked a strange mixture of terrifying and goofy on his face. "Just because you don't see us eat at school doesn't mean we can live off of air and sunshine. Everyone has to eat."

Another question popped up in my mind. "So some of your family member seem to have hidden talents. The way you described it, you know a lot about other people's emotions, Alice knows where to find others and Edward knows other people's thoughts. Is that the usual way for things to be in a family banded together by lifestyle choices?"

Jasper raised an eyebrow at my question. "You are very perceptive, Bella" was all he said for a while. When I almost thought he wasn't going to answer, he finally spoke again. "You are half-right, but I cannot tell you much more. Just that hidden talents are rare in all types of people, be they adopted or not."

I only nodded in response and Jasper gave me a moment to mull over our conversation.

"The curious thing is that for a person who has led such a regular life up to now, you might actually have one of those rare hidden talents, Bella" he finally said, completely derailing my train of thought.

"What?" I was flabbergasted. What did he mean, was I a little 'extra', too?

"I'm not really sure about it. You are a mystery to my brother and I have some trouble getting a read on you, as does Alice. It might be a talent of yours." He genuinely seemed to mean his words.

"Our talents go a little further than yours, though. You could imagine mine a little like what eastern people might call aura-reading. I can see people's emotions and even reach out with my own" he struggled to explain.

"You see them?" I was surprised.

"Yes, it is a little like a soft glow of light emitting from the people and even animals surrounding me. It shows me their emotional and physical state even when I close my eyes. I can push out my own radiating emotions to calm down birds, for example. It sounds a little crazy, but it really is a wonderful thing. And not that unusual, a lot of Buddhist monks have written about it, which is why I can tell you about it."

Jasper seemed a little anxious of my reaction. I hurried to reassure him.

"It does seem strange if you never heard about it, but I don't think you are crazy. My mom Renee went through a Buddhist phase once and dragged me along to yoga classes so I'm familiar with the concept of auras. Don't the colors symbolize the emotions?" He nodded. "I just never knew that people other than ascetic monks could see them. Wow. You really are a special lot!" I exclaimed.

After a moment of thought I had another question for him. "Can the others do stuff like that, too?"

He laughed at my excited expression. "No, not exactly, but they are very special people in their own way. Esme and Carlisle are compassionate and understanding and devoted to those they love. Rose is beautiful and still able to repel any boy thinking of approaching her, have you noticed?"

I smiled and nodded.

"And Emmett, you could have guessed, is just about the strongest guy you will ever meet."

He took a breath and then answered my unasked question. "That does not tell you all the answers you want, but it hopefully helps to sort your worries out a little. We are all special people with difficult pasts and therefore we don't really mingle with the other students so much. We fear the discovery of our abilities by the others and we have others to fear, like the gangs I escaped from. It is like being in a witness-protection-program."

I had not really thought about what it meant to be a cold one, but it didn't sound pretty.

"Most of us have died to their original families. Some of our last names and relations were changed and it is of the utmost importance that no one knows the complete truth about us. It would be dangerous to us and to the person with the knowledge. For the public, Rosalie is my twin-sister, although she is from New York. It is the reason why I had to drop my accent. And that is just one example of what we have to do every day to ensure everyone's safety" he told me with conviction.

"Edward is right about this- associating too closely with our family might prove fatal. I cannot tell you anymore without putting your life and our existence at stake." He was very serious and completely honest with his words. His honey-colored eyes were boring intently into mine as he talked to me.

"It is very important that you understand this: You may under no circumstances talk to anyone outside of those in the know in La Push about us. We do not want to be in danger because of you and we don't want to endanger you or anyone else by dragging you into this. A slip-up would force us all to leave town and build new alibis for ourselves. At best." He was dead-serious with his words and I felt myself gulping.

Jasper had come to a full stop on the path we were walking and was facing me. He spoke to me imploringly "I trust you to protect our secret as though it were your own. The fact that you thought something was amiss with Edward's behavior was already reason enough to make us contemplate leaving, so don't take this lightly. Only my assessment of your emotions and Alice's ability kept us here."

I gasped at this revelation, feeling incredibly selfish and self-centered in my previous desire to dig into the Cullen family's secrets. "I didn't want you to have to leave!"

"You did not know at the time and Edward did not handle this ideally." He offered me a small smile. "No use crying over spilled milk, I'm actually quite impressed with your ability to stand up to Edward."

"I'm still sorry about this. I understand that you couldn't and can't tell me everything about this and I promise to honor and keep your secrets" I vowed.

"Thank you. That is all I wanted to hear. Did you realize that this vow includes not arguing publically with Edward anymore, though?"

Crap. I had not realized that before. I would just have to ignore his existence from now on.

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As soon as I got home after my talk with Jasper, I texted Jake and asked him to meet up in a private place. Only minutes later, my phone pinged with his answer:

If you wanted to get me alone, all you had to do was ask ;-)

I had to laugh a bit at his antics, but decided that we did not have time for flirting right now.

I talked to one of them today after school. Have to update you as soon as possible!

That was all that it took to sober him up and we agreed to meet up after dinner.

At our prearranged meeting spot, Jake was already waiting for me. He grabbed me up in a fierce hug and looked me over intently, before kissing me.

"Thank the spirits that you are okay. I was really worried about your plan to confront them" he confessed.

"So was I, to tell you the truth" I admitted. "But there was really no other way. We were already 99% sure that the information from your spirit-walk was correct by what your dad and Quil said. Still, we had to find out the other side of the story."

"And gauge how dangerous this particular group of cold ones is" Jake agreed. "So what did they say? Are we in any danger from them? Are you in danger at school?" he wanted to know.

I proceeded to tell him exactly what Jasper had told me and Jake took his coded way of speaking to mean the same thing I had already interpreted into it:

While this group of undead blood-drinkers were very dangerous and very much not human, they were more of a danger to the local wildlife than to the human population. But since we were in on their most coveted secret, we could still not allow ourselves to be completely worry-free. We could not afford to slip up and tell anyone else about the supernatural things happening in Forks and La Push. The consequences could end up being unthinkable.

As such, it was good to know that we were in this together. At least we could confide our suspicions, theories and fears in each other.

As long as we had each other, we would be okay.

"Do you still think you will be the next to become a spirit-wolf?" I couldn't help but voice my concern to Jake.

He could only shrug in response, no answer at hand.

I reminded myself again that as long as long as we faced this together, we were going to be fine. No matter if my best friend became a tribal protector or not, I would be there for him.

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On Saturday I gate-crashed the Black's family gathering just as I had previously announced to Jacob. I hadn't seen Rachel in far too long and if I didn't get over my fears of facing my childhood friend, maybe I never would.

Thankfully, seeing her again wasn't awkward at all.

When I rung the bell on the front door, Jake opened and hugged me to him before quietly pulling me inside the house.

He grabbed my hand and I followed him silently into the kitchen. As the kitchen wasn't separated by a wall or a door from the living room area, this was fairly easy to do. Rachel stood there with her back to us, working away on dinner while she was joking with a male who was hidden from sight by the stairs.

With as much stealth as we could muster we tip-toed up to her, signaling at the man now coming into sight to keep quiet. He nodded his head of brown hair and grinned at us. He seemed like a very friendly person and looked surprisingly exotic for someone who went to college at Washington State University. I could imagine him surfing on some southern island, but wasn't it Rebecca who was with the Hawaiian surfer?

I shook away my confusion, gave him a conspiratory smile and loudly cleared my throat just as I stood behind Rachel.

Rachel flinched and almost dropped the cutting knife, but caught herself. Even before she turned around she was yelling at me. "Leah Clearwater, at some time between second grade and now it stopped being funny to jumpscare me!"

When she saw me standing before her with a huge, but apologetic smile on my face, her angry face dropped and quickly moved from one of confusion to surprise and then to elation. She kept that expression as she went to fiercely hugged me. She didn't even notice that her younger brother was still holding my hand.

Later, we sat around the Blacks' big, round kitchen table and listened to each other's tales of the past years.

I had just finished telling them about my sunny years in Phoenix and about how much leaving had hurt me-it felt good to have told them all my side of the story so maybe they could forgive me-when Rachel officially introduced me to her boyfriend.

"While it was nice to know that I have reason to forgive you for your long absence from town, Bella, I also have quite the tale to tell. You surprised me so much earlier that I forgot to introduce my significant other. Bella, this is Akeela Finau, Akeela, this is my childhood friend Bella Swan."

We smiled at each other over the table and he winked at me.

"Finau? Isn't that the same last name as Rebecca's husband? Are you from Hawaii too?" I asked Akeela.

He smiled at my question - he had probably already answered it quite a few times over the course of the few hours he had spent in La Push since his arrival -and patiently explained. "We're distant relatives, actually, but that tends to happen on an island. His grandfather's cousin is my grandfather. We sometimes see each other at family gatherings. While he is a surfer I chose to leave Hawaii to study literature on the continent. The world is just a big village, after all."

"Do you miss the sun?" I immediately had to know.

"Yes, sometimes" he wistfully replied. "But it is worth the rain and the darkness" he said and shared a loving smile with Rachel.

"I can relate" I laughed.

"We met our second semester at university" Rachel continued to tell their tale. "He was sitting outside even though it should have been much too cold. Let alone for someone who looks like he just walked off a sunny beach. Akeela was reading a book with his wonderful nerdy reading glasses in front of my dorm at Washington State. When I saw the peaceful look on his face and his smile as he turned the pages of his old, worn book, I knew I was at home. He was so at ease with himself and his surroundings."

"I had actually stared at her quite a while before she noticed me sitting there" Akeela supplied and winked at Jacob. "I pretended to read when I saw her looking over and I had to smile because I caught her staring at me." He started to chuckle. "Women. They think they are so subtle."

Rachel elbowed him softly in the ribs, but smiled at him. "I'm glad though, or we wouldn't have met."

"Yes, and I'm afraid that my move to ask you out wasn't all that smooth, either" he agreed.

Our laughter filled the house as Rachel and Akeela told us of their road to today.

The couple would be staying in La Push for a few weeks while they wrote their term-papers and I was happy to get to know them more. Rachel had changed so much since I had last seen her. She was a completely new person.

And I wasn't the little girl with scraped-up knees anymore, either. I had lost a lot of the blinders I had had on in the past. I had been disillusioned about the safe haven I had lived in as a child, had lost my childhood home and been confronted with the hurt I had dealt to other people. I had lived through a lot more things than the bright-eyed little girl could have even imagined.

And now, I had glimpsed beyond the fa├žade of everyday life to discover a secret world of supernatural beings and powers. I squeezed Jake's hand under the table and thought to myself that despite all the frightening changes, I wouldn't change this moment for the world.

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