September 7

The three of us—Edward, my mother, and I—stood on his front porch, saying our goodbyes while Dad brought the car around. "It was really lovely to see you again, Edward," said Mom. "Thank you for everything. Really, we feel so much better knowing Bella has a friend here in town." I heaved a silent sigh. It's mortifying when your family thinks you need a nanny at nineteen...twenty in a few weeks. True, I'd just been through a rough year. But still. Delaying my start at college gave me the chance to get myself together. I was okay now.

I mean, I appreciated the effort my parents were making. I knew it wasn't easy for the two of them with their separate, busy lives to come all this way and see me off as I started school. But this wasn't us. The excess attention was weird and embarrassing. I tried to make myself feel better by remembering that, until recently, my folks didn't meddle. So, I would remain optimistic. When they reverted to form, which I expected any day now, I was pretty sure they wouldn't be exchanging daily text messages with Edward.

I had no idea why he had agreed to "keep an eye out for me" anyway. He definitely had better things to do, more interesting people to spend time with. It must have been from a sense of duty to my folks, although I was surprised the bond between our families was extending this far down the line. Our grandmothers had been lifelong best friends. My parents merely exchanged holiday letters with his. Edward and I weren't anything worth mentioning, as he'd inadvertently made clear years ago. I couldn't see that changing, despite how he'd been enlisted by my mom and dad.

Here's how I imagined things would unfold—Edward would smile and nod and let my parents feel like they weren't just dumping me off in Ann Arbor. He was going to shake our hands, wish my mom and dad safe travels, and then forget about me the moment the door closed. At best, he would remember who I was should I ever find myself in real trouble, with the need to throw myself on the mercy of an actual grown-up. But we weren't going to be friends.

Well. Time to wrap up this awkward situation. I drew myself up and held out my hand, trying to look as adult-like as possible. "Thanks for a great dinner, Edward. I really enjoyed it. It was nice seeing you again after so long." Oops. I tried to hold in the sigh of exasperation that desperately wanted to escape. I hadn't wanted to remind him of our last visit, when he was a charismatic college student on summer break and I was fifteen and awkward. When I learned what mortifying embarrassment felt like.

"It was my pleasure," Edward returned. His hand was warm and soft, and familiar. It seemed to grip mine a little longer than usual which made me look up. "Good luck with your classes. I hope you'll let me know how you're settling in." He gazed directly into my eyes as he said this. Impressive role-playing for Charlie and Renee, I had to admit. But I wasn't fooled. No contact info had been exchanged. A pang of regret bloomed in my chest before I could stop it. I think it was from his eyes—his beautiful, gold-flecked, emerald eyes—looking into mine with sincere feeling. The moment felt real until I remembered it wasn't. Edward wasn't interested in me, and wouldn't ever be.

"We need to get a move on if we want to drop Bella at her dorm and make your flight, Renee." Charlie placed a hand on my shoulder as he spoke to her. He was in Chief of Police mode now, issuing orders and taking care of business. "Edward, I'll be in touch."

"All right, Sir. Good night." Edward shook Charlie's hand and stepped aside to let us by. I turned to follow Renee down the steps but Edward reached out to touch my arm, stopping me. "I mean it, Isabella," he said quietly. "I'd like to hear from you." He held out a business card. Surprised, I looked up into his eyes for the second time and experienced that same honest gaze. Maybe it was my confusion or maybe I was arrested by the defenselessness I saw in his eyes. He was that college student again, asking me to play with him. Whatever it was, a moment passed in stillness until I heard Charlie's voice calling me. "Bella! Let's go, Honey." I took the card from Edward and managed to mumble out a few polite words. "Um, thanks Edward. Really. Good night." Then I was in the car and hiding behind my hair as Charlie pulled away from the curb.

My mind sifted through the last few disorienting minutes. It certainly seemed like he meant what he said. But why would Edward be interested in hearing my news? I was confident it would be bland, average stuff. Edward was anything but average. My glance landed on the card held in my slightly damp grasp. I let myself read the information I already knew. Edward Cullen, Co-Founder & Chief Software Engineer, oodles-dot-com.

I gave myself a shake and rejoined reality. It was only wishful thinking taking over for a moment. Edward wasn't interested in me personally. There was nothing between us. He was simply doing a kindness for my family, I told myself firmly. He happened to play his part extremely well. That was all.