Midnight Sun (8. Ghost)
The enforced absence from school had never been a trial like this before. But the sun seemed to make her happy, so I could not resent it too much. Anything that pleased her was in my good graces.
Monday morning, I eavesdropped on a conversation that had the potential to destroy my confidence and make the time spent away from her a torture. As it ended up, though, it rather made my day.
I had to feel some little respect for Mike Newton; he had not simply given up and slunk away to nurse his wounds. He had more bravery than I'd given him credit for. He was going to try again.
Bella got to school quite early and, seeming intent on enjoying the sun while it lasted, sat at one of the seldom used picnic benches while she waited for the first bell to ring. Her hair caught the sun in unexpected ways, giving off a reddish shine that I had not anticipated.
Mike found her there, doodling again, and was thrilled at his good luck.
It was agonizing to only be able to watch, powerless, bound to the forest's shadows by the bright sunlight.
She greeted him with enough enthusiasm to make him ecstatic, and me the opposite.
See, she likes me. She wouldn't smile like that if she didn't. I bet she wanted to go to the dance with me. Wonder what's so important in Seattle…
He perceived the change in her hair. "I never noticed before – your hair has red in it."
I accidentally uprooted the young spruce tree my hand was resting on when he pinched a strand of her hair between his fingers.
"Only in the sun," she said. To my deep satisfaction, she cringed away from him slightly when he tucked the strand behind her ear.
It took Mike a minute to build up his courage, wasting some time on small talk.
She reminded him of the essay we all had due on Wednesday. From the faintly smug expression on her face, hers was already done. He'd forgotten altogether, and that severely diminished his free time.
Dang – stupid essay.
Finally he got to the point – my teeth were clenched so hard they could have pulverized granite – and even then, he couldn't make himself ask the question outright. "I was going to ask if you wanted to go out."
"Oh," she said.
There was a brief silence.
Oh? What does that mean? Is she going to yes? Wait – I guess I didn't really ask.
He swallowed hard.
"Well, we could go to dinner or something…and I could work on it later." Stupid – that wasn't a question either.
The agony and fury of my jealousy was every whit as powerful as it had been last week. I broke another tree trying to hold myself here. I wanted so badly to race across the campus, too fast for human eyes, and snatch her up – to steal her away from the boy that I hated so much in this moment I could have kill him and enjoyed it.
Would she say yes to him?
"I don't think that would be the best idea."
I breathed again. My rigid body relaxed.
Seattle was just an excuse, after all. Shouldn't have asked. What was I thinking? Bet it's that freak, Cullen…
"Why?" he asked sullenly.
"I think…" she hesitated. "And if you ever repeat what I'm saying right now I will cheerfully beat you to death – "
I laughed out loud at the sound of a death threat coming through her lips. A jay shrieked, startled, and launched itself away from me.
"But I think that would hurt Jessica's feelings."
"Jessica?" What? But… Oh. Okay. I guess… So… Huh.
His thoughts were no longer coherent.
"Really, Mike, are you blind?"
I echoed her sentiment. She shouldn't expect everyone to be as perceptive as she was, but really this instance was beyond obvious. With as much trouble as Mike had had working himself up to ask Bella out, did he imagine it wasn't just as difficult for Jessica? It must be selfishness that made him blind to others. And Bella was so unselfish, she saw everything.
Jessica. Huh. Wow. Huh. "Oh," he managed to say.
Bella used his confusion to make her exit.
"It's time for class, and I can't be late again."
Mike became an unreliable viewpoint from then on. He found, as he turned the idea of Jessica around and around in his head, that he rather liked the thought of her finding him attractive. It was second place, not as good as if Bella had felt that way. She's cute, though, I guess. Decent body. A bird in the hand…
He was off then, on to new fantasies that were just as vulgar as the ones about Bella, but now they only irritated rather than infuriated. How little he deserved either girl; they were almost interchangeable to him. I stayed clear of his head after that. When she was out of sight, I curled up against the cool trunk of an enormous madrone tree and I danced from mind to mind, keeping her in sight, always glad when Angela Weber was available to look through. I wished there was someway to thank the Weber girl for simply being a nice person. It made me feel better to think that Bella had one friend worth having.
I watched Bella's face from whichever angle I was given, and I could see that she was sad again. This surprised me – I thought the sun would be enough to keep her smiling. At lunch, I saw her glance time and time again toward the empty Cullen table, and that thrilled me. It gave me hope. Perhaps she missed me, too.
She had plans to go out with the other girls – I automatically planned my own surveillance – but these plans were postponed when Mike invited Jessica out on the date he'd planned for Bella.
So I went straight to her home instead, doing a quick sweep of the woods to make sure no one dangerous had wandered too close. I knew Jasper had warned his one-time brother to avoid the town – citing my insanity as both explanation and warning – but I wasn't taking any chances. Peter and Charlotte had no intention of causing animosity with my family, but intentions were changeable things…
All right, I was overdoing it. I knew that.
As if she knew I was watching, as if she took pity on the agony I felt when I couldn't see her, Bella came out to the backyard after a long hour indoors. She had a book in her hand and a blanket under her arm.
Silently, I climbed into the higher branches of the closest tree overlooking the yard.
She spread the blanket on the damp grass and then lay on her stomach and started flipping through the worn book, as if trying to find her place. I read over her shoulder. Ah – more classics. She was an Austen fan.
She read quickly, crossing and recrossing her ankles in the air. I was watching the sunlight and wind play in her hair when her body suddenly stiffened, and her hand froze on the page. All I saw was that she'd reached chapter three when she roughly grabbed a thick section of pages and shoved them over.
I caught a glance of a title page, Mansfield Park. She was starting a new story – the book was a compilation of novels. I wondered why she'd switched stories so abruptly.
Just a few moments later, she slammed the book angrily shut. With a fierce scowl on her face, she pushed the book aside and flipped over onto her back. She took a deep breath, as if to calm herself, pushed her sleeves up and closed her eyes. I remembered the novel, but I couldn't think of anything offensive in it to upset her. Another mystery. I sighed.
She lay very still, moving just once to yank her hair away from her face. It fanned out over her head, a river of chestnut. And then she was motionless again. Her breathing slowed. After several long minutes her lips began to tremble.
Mumbling in her sleep.
Impossible to resist. I listened as far out as I could, catching voices in the houses nearby.
Two tablespoons of flour…one cup of milk…
C'mon! Get it through the hoop! Aw, c'mon!
Red, or blue…or maybe I should wear something more casual…
There was no one close by. I jumped to the ground, landing silently on my toes.
This was very wrong, very risky. How condescendingly I'd once judged Emmett for his thoughtless ways and Jasper for his lack of discipline – and now I was consciously flouting all the rules with a wild abandon that made their lapses look like nothing at all. I used to be the responsible one.
I sighed, but crept out into the sunshine, regardless.
I avoided looking at myself in the sun's glare. It was bad enough that my skin was stone and inhuman in shadow; I didn't want to look at Bella and myself side by side in the sunlight. The difference between us was already insurmountable, painful enough without this image also in my head.
But I couldn't ignore the rainbow sparkles that reflected onto her skin when I got closer. My jaw locked at the sight. Could I be any more of a freak? I imagined her terror if she opened her eyes now…
I started to retreat, but she mumbled again, holding me there.
"Mmm… Mmm." Nothing intelligible. Well, I would wait for a bit.
I carefully stole her book, stretching my arm out and holding my breath while I was close, just in case. I started breathing again when I was a few yards away, tasting the way the sunshine and open air affected her scent. The heat seemed to sweeten the smell. My throat flamed with desire, the fire fresh and fierce again because I had been away from her for too long.
I spent a moment controlling that, and then – forcing myself to breathe through my nose – I let her book fall open in my hands. She'd started with the first book… I flipped through the pages quickly to the third chapter of Sense and Sensibility, searching for something potentially offensive in Austen's overly polite prose.
When my eyes stopped automatically at my name – the character Edward Ferrars being introduced for the first time – Bella spoke again.
"Mmm. Edward." She sighed.
This time I did not fear that she had awoken. Her voice was just a low, wistful murmur. Not the scream of fear it would have been if she'd seen me now.
Joy warred with self-loathing. She was still dreaming of me, at least.
"Edmund. Ahh. Too….close…"
Ha! She wasn't dreaming of me at all, I realized blackly. The self-loathing returned in force. She was dreaming of fictional characters. So much for my conceit. I replaced her book, and stole back into the cover of the shadows – where I belonged.
The afternoon passed and I watched, feeling helpless again, as the sun slowly sank in the sky and the shadows crawled across the lawn toward her. I wanted to push them back, but the darkness was inevitable; the shadows took her. When the light was gone, her skin looked too pale – ghostly. Her hair was dark again, almost black against her face.
It was a frightening thing to watch – like witnessing Alice's visions come to fruition. Bella's steady, strong heartbeat was the only reassurance, the sound that kept this moment from feeling like a nightmare.
I was relieved when her father arrived home.
I could hear little from him as he drove down the street toward the house. Some vague annoyance…in the past, something from his day at work. Expectation mixed with hunger – I guessed that he was looking forward to dinner. But his thoughts were so quiet and contained that I could not be sure I was right; I only got the gist of them.
I wondered what her mother sounded like – what the genetic combination had been that had formed her so uniquely.
Bella started awake, jerking up to a sitting position when the tires of her father's car hit the brick driveway. She stared around herself, seeming confused by the unexpected darkness. For one brief moment, her eyes touched the shadows where I hid, but they flickered quickly away.
"Charlie?" she asked in a low voice, still peering into the trees surrounding the small yard.
The door of his car slammed shut, and she looked to the sound. She got to her feet quickly and gathered her things, casting one more look back toward the woods. I moved into a tree closer to the back window near the small kitchen, and listened to their evening. It was interesting to compare Charlie's words to his muffled thoughts. His love and concern for his only daughter were nearly overwhelming, and yet his words were always terse and casual. Most of the time, they sat in companionable silence.
I heard her discuss her plans for the following evening in Port Angeles, and I refined my own plans as I listened. Jasper had not warned Peter and Charlotte to stay clear of Port Angeles. Though I knew that they had fed recently and had no intention of hunting any where in the vicinity of our home, I would watch her, just in case. After all, there were always others of my kind out there. And then, all those human dangers that I had never much considered before now.
I heard her worry aloud about leaving her father to prepare dinner alone, and smiled at this proof to my theory – yes, she was a care-taker.
And then I left, knowing I would return when she was asleep.
I would not trespass on her privacy the way the peeping tom would have. I was here for her protection, not to leer at her in the way Mike Newton no doubt would, were he agile enough to move through the treetops the way I could. I would not treat her so crassly.
My house was empty when I returned, which was fine by me. I didn't miss the confused or disparaging thoughts, questioning my sanity. Emmett had left a note stuck to the newel post.
Football at the Rainier field – c'mon! Please?
I found a pen and scrawled the word sorry beneath his plea. The teams were even without me, in any case.
I went for the shortest of hunting trips, contenting myself with the smaller, gentler creatures that did not taste as good as the hunters, and then changed into fresh clothes before I ran back to Forks.
Bella did not sleep as well tonight. She thrashed in her blankets, her face sometimes worried, sometimes sad. I wondered what nightmare haunted her…and then realized that perhaps I really didn't want to know.
When she spoke, she mostly muttered derogatory things about Forks in a glum voice. Only once, when she sighed out the words "Come back" and her hand twitched open – a wordless plea – did I have a chance to hope she might be dreaming of me. The next day of school, the last day the sun would hold me prisoner, was much the same as the day before. Bella seemed even gloomier than yesterday, and I wondered if she would bow out of her plans – she didn't seem in the mood.
But, being Bella, she would probably put her friends' enjoyment above that of her own.
She wore a deep blue blouse today, and the color set her skin off perfectly, making it look like fresh cream.
School ended, and Jessica agreed to pick the other girls up – Angela was going, too, for which I was grateful.
I went home to get my car. When I found that Peter and Charlotte were there, I decided could afford to give the girls an hour or so for a head start. I would never be able to bear following behind them, driving at the speed limit – hideous thought.
I came in through the kitchen, nodding vaguely at Emmett's and Esme's greetings as I passed by everyone in the front room and went straight to the piano. Ugh, he's back. Rosalie, of course.
Ah, Edward. I hate to see him suffering so. Esme's joy was becoming marred by concern. She should be concerned. This love story she envisioned for me was careening toward a tragedy more perceptibly every moment.
Have fun in Port Angeles tonight, Alice thought cheerfully. Let me know when I'm allowed to talk to Bella.
You're pathetic. I can't believe you missed the game last night just to watch somebody sleep, Emmett grumbled.
Jasper paid me no mind, even when the song I played came out a little more stormily than I'd intended. It was an old song, with a familiar theme: impatience. Jasper was saying goodbye to his friends, who eyed me curiously.
What a strange creature, the Alice-sized, white-blond Charlotte was thinking.
And he was so normal and pleasant the last time we met.
Peter's thoughts were in sync with hers, as was usually the case.
It must be the animals. The lack of human blood drives them mad eventually, he was concluding. His hair was just as fair as hers, and almost as long. They were very similar – except for size, as he was almost as tall as Jasper – in both look and thought. A well matched pair, I'd always thought.
Everyone but Esme stopped thinking about me after a moment, and I played in more subdued tones so that I would not attract notice.
I did not pay attention to them for a long while, just letting the music distract me from my unease. It was hard to have the girl out of sight and mind. I only returned my attention to their conversation when the goodbyes grew more final.
"If you see Maria again," Jasper was saying, a little warily, "tell her I wish her well."
Maria was the vampire who had created both Jasper and Peter – Jasper in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Peter more recently, in the nineteen forties. She'd looked Jasper up once when we were in Calgary. It had been an eventful visit – we'd had to move immediately. Jasper had politely asked her to keep her distance in the future.
"I don't imagine that will happen soon," Peter said with a laugh – Maria was undeniable dangerous and there was not much love lost between her and Peter. Peter had, after all, been instrumental in Jasper's defection. Jasper had always been Maria's favorite; she considered it a minor detail that she had once planned to kill him. "But, should it happen, I certainly will."
They were shaking hands then, preparing to depart. I let the song I was playing trail off to an unsatisfying end, and got hastily to my feet.
"Charlotte, Peter," I said, nodding.
"It was nice to see you again, Edward," Charlotte said doubtfully. Peter just nodded in return.
Madman, Emmett threw after me.
Idiot, Rosalie thought at the same time.
Poor boy. Esme.
And Alice, in a chiding tone. They're going straight east, to Seattle. No where near Port Angeles. She showed me the proof in her visions.
I pretended I hadn't heard that. My excuses were already flimsy enough.
Once in my car, I felt more relaxed; the robust purr of the engine Rosalie had boosted for me – last year, when she was in a better mood – was soothing. It was a relief to be in motion, to know that I was getting closer to Bella with every mile that flew away under my tires.