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Midnight Sun (Twilight #1.5)(3)
Stephenie Meyer

If I could last an hour, could I last two?

I flinched at the pain of the burning.

She would go home to an empty house. Police Chief Swan worked a full day. I knew his house, as I knew every house in the tiny town. His home was nestled right up against thick woods, with no close neighbors. Even if she had time to scream, which she would not, there would be no one to hear.

That would be the responsible way to deal with this. I'd gone seven decades without human blood. If I held my breath, I could last two hours. And when I had her alone, there would be no chance of anyone else getting hurt. And no reason to rush through the experience, the monster in my head agreed.

It was sophistry to think that by saving the nineteen humans in this room with effort and patience, I would be less a monster when I killed this innocent girl. Though I hated her, I knew my hatred was unjust. I knew that what I really hated was myself. And I would hate us both so much more when she was dead.

I made it through the hour in this way - imagining the best ways to kill her. I tried to avoid imagining the actual act. That might be too much for me; I might lose this battle and end up killing everyone in sight. So I planned strategy, and nothing more. It carried me through the hour.

Once, toward the very end, she peeked up at me through the fluid wall of her hair. I could feel the unjustified hatred burning out of me as I met her gaze - see the reflection of it in her frightened eyes. Blood painted her cheek before she could hide in her hair again, and I was nearly undone.

But the bell rang. Saved by the bell - how cliché. We were both saved. She, saved from death. I, saved for just a short time from being the nightmarish creature I feared and loathed.

I couldn't walk as slowly as I should as I darted from the room. If anyone had been looking at me, they might have suspected that there was something not right about the way I moved. No one was paying attention to me. All human thoughts still swirled around the girl who was condemned to die in little more than an hour's time.

I hid in my car.

I didn't like to think of myself having to hide. How cowardly that sounded. But it was unquestionably the case now.

I didn't have enough discipline left to be around humans now. Focusing so much of my efforts on not killing one of them left me no resources to resist the others. What a waste that would be. If I were to give in to the monster, I might as well make it worth the defeat.

I played a CD of music that usually calmed me, but it did little for me now. No, what helped most now was the cool, wet, clean air that drifted with the light rain through my open windows. Though I could remember the scent of Bella Swan's blood with perfect clarity, inhaling the clean air was like washing out the inside of my body from its infection.

I was sane again. I could think again. And I could fight again. I could fight against what I didn't want to be.

I didn't have to go to her home. I didn't have to kill her. Obviously, I was a rational, thinking creature, and I had a choice. There was always a choice.

It hadn't felt that way in the classroom...but I was away from her now. Perhaps, if I avoided her very, very carefully, there was no need for my life to change. I had things ordered the way I liked them now. Why should I let some aggravating and delicious nobody ruin that?

I didn't have to disappoint my father. I didn't have to cause my mother stress, worry...pain. Yes, it would hurt my adopted mother, too. And Esme was so gentle, so tender and soft. Causing someone like Esme pain was truly inexcusable.

How ironic that I'd wanted to protect this human girl from the paltry, toothless threat of Jessica Stanley's snide thoughts. I was the last person who would ever stand as a protector for Isabella Swan. She would never need protection from anything more than she needed it from me.

Where was Alice, I suddenly wondered? Hadn't she seen me killing the Swan girl in a multitude of ways? Why hadn't she come to help - to stop me or help me clean up the evidence, whichever? Was she so absorbed with watching for trouble with Jasper that she'd missed this much more horrific possibility? Was I stronger than I thought? Would I really not have done anything to the girl?

No. I knew that wasn't true. Alice must be concentrating on Jasper very hard.

I searched in the direction I knew she would be, in the small building used for English classes. It did not take me long to locate her familiar 'voice.' And I was right. Her every thought was turned to Jasper, watching his small choices with minute scrutiny.

I wished I could ask her advice, but at the same time, I was glad she didn't know what I was capable of. That she was unaware of the massacre I had considered in the last hour.

I felt a new burn through my body - the burn of shame. I didn't want any of them to know.

If I could avoid Bella Swan, if I could manage not to kill her - even as I thought that, the monster writhed and gnashed his teeth in frustration - then no one would have to know. If I could keep away from her scent...

There was no reason why I shouldn't try, at least. Make a good choice. Try to be what Carlisle thought I was.

The last hour of school was almost over. I decided to put my new plan into action at once. Better than sitting here in the parking lot where she might pass me and ruin my attempt. Again, I felt the unjust hatred for the girl. I hated that she had this unconscious power over me. That she could make me be something I reviled.

I walked swiftly - a little too swiftly, but there were no witnesses - across the tiny campus to the office. There was no reason for Bella Swan to cross paths with me. She would be avoided like the plague she was.

The office was empty except for the secretary, the one I wanted to see.

She didn't notice my silent entrance.

"Mrs. Cope?"

The woman with the unnaturally red hair looked up and her eyes widened. It always caught them off guard, the little markers they didn't understand, no matter how many times they'd seen one of us before.

"Oh," she gasped, a little flustered. She smoothed her shirt. Silly, she thought to herself. He's almost young enough to be my son. Too young to think of that way... "Hello, Edward. What can I do for you?" Her eyelashes fluttered behind her thick glasses.

Uncomfortable. But I knew how to be charming when I wanted to be. It was easy, since I was able to know instantly how any tone or gesture was taken.

I leaned forward, meeting her gaze as if I were staring deeply into her depthless, small brown eyes. Her thoughts were already in a flutter. This should be simple. "I was wondering if you could help me with my schedule," I said in the soft voice I reserved for not scaring humans.

I heard the tempo of her heart increase.

"Of course, Edward. How can I help?" Too young, too young, she chanted to herself. Wrong, of course. I was older than her grandfather. But according to my driver's license, she was right.

"I was wondering if I could move from my biology class to a senior level science? Physics, perhaps?"

"It there a problem with Mr. Banner, Edward?"

"Not at all, it's just that I've already studied this material..."

"In that accelerated school you all went to in Alaska, right." Her thin lips pursed as she considered this. They should all be in college. I've heard the teachers complain. Perfect four point ohs, never a hesitation with a response, never a wrong answer on a test - like they've found some way to cheat in every subject. Mr. Varner would rather believe that anyone was cheating than think a student was smarter than him... I'll bet their mother tutors them... "Actually, Edward, physics is pretty much full right now. Mr. Banner hates to have more than twenty-five students in a class - "

"I wouldn't be any trouble."

Of course not. Not a perfect Cullen. "I know that, Edward. But there just aren't enough seats as it is..."

"Could I drop the class, then? I could use the period for independent study."

"Drop biology?" He mouth fell open. That's crazy. How hard is it to sit through a subject you already know? There must be a problem with Mr. Banner. I wonder if I should talk to Bob about it? "You won't have enough credits to graduate."

"I'll catch up next year."

"Maybe you should talk to your parents about that."

The door opened behind me, but who ever it was did not think of me, so I ignored the arrival and concentrated on Mrs. Cope. I leaned slightly closer, and held my eyes a little wider. This would work better if they were gold instead of black. The blackness frightened people, as it should.

"Please, Mrs. Cope?" I made my voice as smooth and compelling as it could be - and it could be considerably compelling. "Isn't there some other section I could switch to? I'm sure there has to be an open slot somewhere? Sixth hour biology can't be the only option..."

I smiled at her, careful not to flash my teeth so widely that it would scare her, letting the expression soften my face.

Her heart drummed faster. Too young, she reminded herself frantically. "Well, maybe I could talk to Bob - I mean Mr. Banner. I could see if - "

A second was all it took to change everything: the atmosphere in the room, my mission here, the reason I leaned toward the red-haired woman... What had been for one purpose before was now for another.

A second was all it took for Samantha Wells to open the door and place a signed tardy slip in the basket by the door, and hurry out again, in a rush to be away from school. A second was all it took for the sudden gust of wind through the open door to crash into me. A second was all it took for me to realize why that first person through the door had not interrupted me with her thoughts.

I turned, though I did not need to make sure. I turned slowly, fighting to control the muscles that rebelled against me.

Bella Swan stood with her back pressed to the wall beside the door, a piece of paper clutched in her hands. Her eyes were even wider than usual as she took in my ferocious, inhuman glare.

The smell of her blood saturated every particle of air in the tiny, hot room. My throat burst into flames.

The monster glared back at me from the mirror of her eyes again, a mask of evil. My hand hesitated in the air above the counter. I would not have to look back in order to reach across it and slam Mrs. Cope's head into her desk with enough force to kill her. Two lives, rather than twenty. A trade.

The monster waited anxiously, hungrily, for me to do it.

But there was always a choice - there had to be.

I cut off the motion of my lungs, and fixed Carlisle's face in front of my eyes. I turned back to face Mrs. Cope, and heard her internal surprise at the change in my expression. She shrank away from me, but her fear did not form into coherent words.

Using all the control I'd mastered in my decades of self-denial, I made my voice even and smooth. There was just enough air left in my lungs to speak once more, rushing through the words.

"Nevermind, then. I can see that it's impossible. Thank you so much for your help."

I spun and launched myself from the room, trying not to feel the warm-blooded heat of the girl's body as I passed within inches of it.

I didn't stop until I was in my car, moving too fast the entire way there. Most of the humans had cleared out already, so there weren't a lot of witnesses. I heard a sophomore, D.J. Garrett, notice, and then disregard...

Where did Cullen come from - it was like he just came out of thin air... There I go, with the imagination again. Mom always says...

When I slid into my Volvo, the others were already there. I tried to control my breathing, but I was gasping at the fresh air like I'd been suffocated. "Edward?" Alice asked, alarm in her voice.

I just shook my head at her.

"What the hell happened to you?" Emmett demanded, distracted, for the moment, from the fact that Jasper was not in the mood for his rematch.

Instead of answering, I threw the car into reverse. I had to get out of this lot before Bella Swan could follow me here, too. My own person demon, haunting me... I swung the car around and accelerated. I hit forty before I was on the road. On the road, I hit seventy before I made the corner.

Without looking, I knew that Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper had all turned to stare at Alice. She shrugged. She couldn't see what had passed, only what was coming. She looked ahead for me now. We both processed what she saw in her head, and we were both surprised.

"You're leaving?" she whispered.

The others stared at me now.

"Am I?" I hissed through my teeth.

She saw it then, as my resolve wavered and another choice spun my future in a darker direction.

"Oh."

Bella Swan, dead. My eyes, glowing crimson with fresh blood. The search that would follow. The careful time we would wait before it was safe for us to pull out and start again...

"Oh," she said again. The picture grew more specific. I saw the inside of Chief Swan's house for the first time, saw Bella in a small kitchen with the yellow cupboards, her back to me as I stalked her from the shadows...let the scent pull me toward her...

"Stop!" I groaned, not able to bear more.

"Sorry," she whispered, her eyes wide.

The monster rejoiced.

And the vision in her head shifted again. An empty highway at night, the trees beside it coated in snow, flashing by at almost two hundred miles per hour.

"I'll miss you," she said. "No matter how short a time you're gone."

Emmett and Rosalie exchanged an apprehensive glance.

We were almost to the turn off onto the long drive that led to our home. "Drop us here," Alice instructed. "You should tell Carlisle yourself."

I nodded, and the car squealed to a sudden stop.

Emmett, Rosalie and Jasper got out in silence; they would make Alice explain when I was gone. Alice touched my shoulder.

"You will do the right thing," she murmured. Not a vision this time - an order. "She's Charlie Swan's only family. It would kill him, too."

"Yes," I said, agreeing only with the last part.

She slid out to join the others, her eyebrows pulling together in anxiety. They melted into woods, out of sight before I could turn the car around.

I accelerated back toward town, and I knew the visions in Alice's head would be flashing from dark to bright like a strobe light. As I sped back to Forks doing ninety, I wasn't sure where I was going. To say goodbye to my father? Or to embrace the monster inside me? The road flew away beneath my tires.

2. Open Book

I leaned back against the soft snow bank, letting the dry powder reshape itself around my weight. My skin had cooled to match the air around me, and the tiny pieces of ice felt like velvet under my skin.

The sky above me was clear, brilliant with stars, glowing blue in some places, yellow in others. The stars created majestic, swirling shapes against the black universe - an awesome sight. Exquisitely beautiful. Or rather, it should have been exquisite.

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