I woke to find Edward gone, my bed unusually warm where he normally lay beside me.
Gone, gone... I sat bolt upright, the sudden movement making me dizzy as the last vestiges of sleep fled. Gone hunting, I remembered. Sure enough, a note lay on the pillow.
I'll be close, it said. Take care of my Bella. I couldn't help the smile that sprung to my lips as I flipped the note over, not expecting to see anything so surprised when there was more writing. Alice is coming over later, and it was almost as though I could hear the chuckle in his voice. She wants to take you shopping.
A groan escaped my lips. Shopping with Alice! I glanced hopefully out of the window, but although the sky was overcast it didn't look like a storm was going to hit. Which, I knew, would be just about the only thing to stop Alice dragging me through shop after shop for hours on end. If it was a really bad storm. As in, flooding and lightning, the entire storm deal. Besides, if that was going to happen she'd know already, and the family would have gone hunting earlier so that they could play baseball.
I gave an involuntary shudder as the memory of the last baseball game hit me. James, Victoria...but they were both dead now. It was over and I was safe - which meant my wedding was drawing closer every day. This second shudder was greater than the first.
Trying to push aside the thought, along with the headache that was beginning to press on my temples, I hurried through my morning routine, wondering if there was any possible way I could escape before Alice arrived. Even as I considered the appealing idea, the phone rang downstairs.
"Are you awake, Bells? Alice is on the phone for you," Charlie called.
I hurried down the stairs, holding back my damp hair with one hand and trying not to yawn as Charlie passed me the phone. "Hi, Alice."
"Don't even consider it, Bella." Her voice was all sweetness and light, but I knew there was steel behind it.
I sighed as my hopes sunk. "I wasn't really serious."
"Good. Are you up yet? I want to come over."
"Doesn't normally stop you," I grumbled. Charlie, still hovering, frowned at me and I shooed him away. "Yeah, sure. Come over any time."
"Thanks." There was a short pause. "Is Charlie still there?"
"Yes. Why?" I was startled.
"No reason. Look, Bella, promise me you won't leave the house before I get there." Something about her request, her voice, made me hesitate. I glanced around to check that Charlie had disappeared into the kitchen, lowering my voice.
"What's the matter, Alice?" My heart caught in my throat. "Edward -?"
"Nothing. I'll be over soon, see you then. Please don't leave the house. I'm driving. Bye, Bella." She hung up, leaving me staring at the phone in my hand. What was going on? What had happened?
"Is Alice all right, Bells?" Charlie wandered back out of the kitchen, a muffin in one hand, mug of coffee in the other.
I turned quickly, guiltily, replacing the receiver. "She's fine. We're going shopping." I couldn't quite help wincing.
"Shopping?" His expression matched mine.
I shrugged helplessly. "It's Alice, isn't it?" I changed the subject quickly, uncomfortable with the idea of shopping. "You're going out?"
He nodded. "Yeah." He glanced at his watch, drained his mug in one gulp. "Got to go. See you later, Bells."
I glanced about the room after he'd gone, oddly unsettled. What was wrong with Alice? Why had she insisted I sat at home until she arrive? A thought struck me, and I felt goosebumps run along my skin. What had she seen? What if -
My gaze fell on Charlie's discarded mug, and I bent to pick it up, noticing the envelope underneath. Seeing the address I remembered he'd wanted to post it and hurried after him, skidding through the porch and having to seize the doorframe to stay upright. I straightened in time to see Charlie's cruiser disappear around the corner.
Trust me. I examined my thumb, resigned to see the splinter buried in it, and turned to go back into the house. I stopped dead as something caught my eyes, swivelled slowly back.
A dark shape beneath my truck, a shadow among shadows. I shrunk back, for some inexplicable reason filled with fear, the hairs on the back of my neck prickling and my breath catching. I was frozen for a moment that seemed to last hours, but gradually my breathing returned to normal. The - what? - thing beneath my truck didn't move.
I could feel my heart pounding, hoped that whatever it was couldn't hear. For some reason I found myself gifting whatever it was with sentience, my mind flickering from one possibility to the next. An animal? A tramp? But the prickling unsteadiness of my heartbeat told me it was perhaps something more. Was this what Alice had seen?
Where was Alice? When was she going to arrive? She'd said she was driving, but that simply meant she'd be a little slower than if she'd decided to run. How much slower? my brain demanded.
It still hadn't moved. Playing dead? But I couldn't see why it would. There was no reason for it to hide, assuming it was actually some sort of creature and not a mound of rubbish somehow swept under my truck. Although I knew that it wasn't.
The wind whistled through the tops of the trees, setting them whispering among themselves as the envelope slipped from my nerveless fingers. My eyes were drawn to the sky where the clouds ruffled and stirred, beginning to race across the sky as though pursued by some great beast, like an ocean tide fleeing back down the beach. I could see spots of sky as the clouds whirled past them, opening peepholes which cast quickly moving shadows across the earth. As suddenly as it had begun, the wind slowed, sending a fresh wave of ominous premonition through me.
I looked back towards my truck, almost fearful that it would have moved - would have gone - would still be there. The fear gathered in my stomach once more as a finger of sunlight crept across the ground, straight for the shadows. I knew it would cast them aside, show me what was hiding there, and for some reason that terrified me as much as the idea of not being able to see it. I didn't look up at the sound of tyres screeching to a halt in the road, unable to tear my eyes away as the shadows began to fall away.
A girl was curled up underneath my truck. She was fast asleep.
A blur flashed across my vision and before I could even turn to see what it was, my back thudded into the wall as Alice crouched in front of me, the strands of dark hair drifting down to her shoulders the only sign that she'd moved at all. I realized with a start that the threatening growl I could hear was issuing from her.
"I told you to stay in the house," she snarled.
"Alice, it's a girl," I protested. I could see now that the girl was no more than thirteen, a child with all the vulnerability and innocence that entailed across her face as she slept. Dark hair, black in the shadows, lifted in the breeze that swirled around the tyres of my truck, but the girl did not move. Lashes as dark as her hair brushed her cheeks in crescents, utterly still; but for the slight flutter of the wind in her hair, she could have been carved from stone. "She's just a little girl," I whispered again.
"So am I." Alice's voice was hard as steel.
I stared at her unmoving back, unable to speak for a moment. "She can't be a..." I choked over the word, swallowed and tried again. "She can't be a vampire. She's sleeping."
"She could be pretending," Alice pointed out, but she sounded doubtful. Edward's sister rose with slow gracefulness so that she stood in front of me, stance still wary and defensive but less obviously about to attack. "Her smell..." Alice's face flickered towards me for a second, long enough for me to register the absolute confusion in her gold eyes. "I don't know what she is."
Her admission set a chill in me, fear rising once more in my throat. "Is she what you saw this morning?" I asked, forcing my voice to remain level and quiet.
Alice's head turned more slowly. "Bella, I didn't see anything this morning."
"But you -"
"I didn't see anything."
The cold knot in my stomach tightened, registering what was going on long before my mind could follow. I shoved at my hair with one hand. "I don't -" And stopped. Because something had glittered at my wrist, drawing my eyes, and I saw the bracelet I wore, the one Jacob had -
"Werewolf?" I whispered. My heart began to race, and I took an involuntary step forward. Alice blocked me with a glare.
"Not a werewolf. I'd have smelt it." Alice reminded me more of a predator now than she ever had, circling slowly towards my truck like the hunting tigers I had seen once on the TV. "She smells...strange. Go inside and call Carlisle, Bella." I looked again towards the sleeping girl, torn by indecision. She was a child. I glanced between her and Alice, struck by the dreadful difference between hunting predator and defenceless child, and made my decision.
"Alice, please." I took a few steps forward and Edward's sister spun, something akin to fury in her beautiful face.
"What do you think you're doing, Bella?" Her hands caught my arms as I came closer, and despite the gentleness of her grip I knew it was as solid as steel.
"What are you going to do to her?" My heart was fluttering, terrified of the sleeper even as I tried to protect her. I didn't think Alice would hurt her, but I'd never seen such a look in her eyes before either. "You'd have seen if she was anything bad."
Alice's tone was coloured bright with frustration. "Bella, I couldn't see anything."
"Which points to her being a werewolf," I pointed out. "In which case, Sam wouldn't let her do anything. I doubt there's more than one pack in one area," I added quickly. A sudden hope I tried not to let grow had begun to swell in my heart, but I struggled to hide it from my face.
She stared at me, exasperation written across her perfect features. "You know, I always wondered how you constantly manage to get in so much trouble," she sighed. "But now I see that it's your complete obliviousness to danger."
For some reason that made me feel strangely insulted.
"You look at her and you see a child," Alice murmured. "Don't you remember Bree, Bella?" She must have seen the flash of horror that crossed my face at the mention of the newborn, because she nodded with something like satisfaction. "Age is deceptive, Bella. Can't you feel how dangerous she might be?"
I tried to go for a nonchalant shrug. "I'm terrified," I admitted under her piercing, disbelieving gaze, knowing that she'd see through any lie. "But I'm not going to hide inside. That did a whole lot of good last time, didn't it?" I remembered again that awful day, the battle with Victoria and Riley; the plumes of thick, acrid smoke that had hung above the forest for such a terribly long time. "In any case, what are you going to do?" I asked her. "Edward and the others are too far away to help."
"I'm not entirely helpless, Bella."
"Implying that I am?" Her face was absolutely blank, which gave me all the answer I needed. I sighed. "Look, if we're going to wait much longer she's going to wake up and answer the matter for us anyway. I want to talk to her," I pleaded. "I want to know what she is, and why she's here."
I sensed her resolve wavering. "Edward won't be very happy if anything happens," she warned.
"Nothing's going to happen," I replied with a confidence I didn't feel, but began to move closer to the truck.
I could feel Alice roll her eyes. "And this is why she gets in so much trouble," she muttered, barely loud enough for me to hear, but she stepped in front of me, shielding me with her body. "He'd never forgive me," she told me firmly.
The sleeping girl didn't stir even when we crouched down beside her, as close as we could get to her with the truck in the way. I peered over Alice's shoulder - she was still insisting on remaining firmly between us - and noticed the pallor of the girl's face under her golden skin, the black circles beneath her eyes. She must be exhausted, I decided, but another possibility hit me. I glanced at Alice, although I already knew how pale she was. I'd seen her with dark circles under her golden eyes, too, and I wondered exactly what the girl was. I was startled by a new idea.
"She...she's not dead, is she?"
Alice shook her head with absolute certainty. "I can hear her heartbeat," she murmured. I heard an odd note in her voice that I could only describe as tenderness, but that was impossible, ridiculous.
Unease flooded through me, and the chill set in even deeper than before. She looked like a vampire, I was almost certain. But there were several indisputable facts which told me that every one of my instincts was wrong. Firstly, she was asleep, and secondly, Alice could hear her heart beating. I knew, perhaps better than anyone, that it was impossible.
"Bella, I want you to stay very still." Alice's voice was calm, even as she reached out one slender white hand to touch the sleeping girl's shoulder.