Chapter 6: Edward

I hurried through Friday trying as hard as I could to avoid more vampire stuff to process. I stuck to my human friends, finding someone to walk with between each class and sitting with them at lunch. During lunch I made homework buddy plans with Angela that involved me driving her to my house immediately after school. (Angela lived near enough to walk between school and home, and wouldn't leave a car behind that she'd have to fetch later.) When I met up with her right after gym, it successfully deterred Edward from catching up with me (I caught a glimpse of him in the parking lot, and his expression said that he certainly would have).

Angela hopped into my truck and we rumbled down the highway and to my house. I fixed us celery sticks and plopped some dip into a bowl, and then it was several hours solid of homework. At least ostensibly. Angela subscribed to the "work next to each other" theory of group studying, and didn't look over my shoulder. I finished everything that was due on Monday so it wouldn't hang over my head on the weekend. But after that, I pulled out my personal, non-school notebook, and thought in plain sight.

I had reasonably strong evidence that vampires "mated for life", so to speak. I didn't know if they ever engaged in casual friends-with-benefits arrangements, but from what Edward had said, if they actually went so far as to fall in love, there they stayed. Alice had said only that Edward "liked" me. But she had a strong motive to avoid spooking me and sending me out of Forks on the next plane. She'd asked me to promise not to stop speaking to her brother, and she'd approached me before I'd made any mental threats to go to Charlie about the family - she'd approached me at the first available opportunity after I'd decided to treat Edward's staring as a harassment issue. (Well, she had also saved me from Tyler's van, but that was the sort of thing that would have likely turned up in any future-peeking she did about me.)

I wasn't sure if this particular aspect of vampirism "worked" with humans like me. But... If I would be easy for Edward to forget about, if I were just an arbitrary human who caught his fancy, there was no reason for the vampires to have any collective interest in me at all. There would be no reason for Edward to follow Alice's guidelines about what would set me off. There would be no reason for him to put himself through the ordeal of being around my super-yummy self. There would be no reason for his family to trouble themselves to welcome me. There would be no reason for Alice to see me eventually becoming a vampire. He would have every motivation in the world to go chew on elephants in Kenya or otherwise be not-here until I graduated and went off to college.

If Alice saw me as her future sister-in-law, though... eternally and vampirically bound to Edward...

Yes, then I could see Edward's family rallying around him, glad that the odd one out of their number had at last found his eternal bride - just add venom. I could see them graciously agreeing to satisfy my curiosities - which would have been dismissible at best and a death sentence at worst for anyone else. I could see Alice focusing on me, thinking of what I would do if Edward pursued me any of a hundred ways, coaching him...

I uttered a quiet curse. Angela looked up and I thwacked my trig book in plausible annoyance. She politely told me that her father was a minister and she'd be much obliged if I didn't swear at triangles around her, then looked back at her English essay.

I was suddenly reminded of something I'd written - at least a year and a half ago, I thought. That meant it would be in my computer, with my compiled and archived older thoughts, not in my notebook. I got up and fetched it; Angela wasn't curious, and I supposed she expected I'd be typing up my essay.

I tried a few too-generic keywords, searching through my logs and turning up a lot of redundancy. Finally I typed the phrase "romance novel", and my word processor took me directly to the correct section. A little under two years previously, I'd been the beneficiary of my great-aunt's sudden conversion to Catholicism and her disposal of her "sinful" book collection. She'd actually given the volumes to Renée, but Renée left them lying about, and I'd been bored one afternoon.

At a first glance, it was bewildering that women read the things. The formula, at least of the type my great-aunt had preferred, was not one that my fifteen-year-old self had found appealing. My first writings about the novels complained that they all put their heroines in helpless situations - often, they were chased by some relentless hero who could not, if it came down to it, be deterred. My great-aunt had liked fantasy romances in particular, and it was not at all uncommon for the male leads to be various types of supernatural creature with unusual mating habits such that they were committed to attaining the heroine from the moment they spotted her.

My original notes about this trend were scoffing, contemptuous. I'd thought the women in those books were all idiotic ninnies for "giving in". I thought the authors were backwards and sexist for writing situations like that.

My next relevant entry was about a month and a half afterwards. I'd happened to acquire the soundtrack to "The Beauty and the Beast" (I had a soft spot for the story due to name similarities), and noticed that there was a similar pattern. Belle was, of course, trapped in the Beast's castle. If she annoyed him, he certainly had the capacity to do her immense harm, and he frightened her with this power.

What he couldn't do was exercise this option one iota more than she cared to forgive, without sabotaging himself.

Beauty and the Beast was an unusual story of the pattern in that there was an explicit result the Beast wanted and had to earn by getting Belle to love him. The romance novels tended to leave that embedded in a way that was too subtle for me to get at first. In the fairy tale (as retold by Disney with singing tea services, of course), love was the prerequisite for the Beast to be debeastified. In the novels, love was the goal itself.

What Belle and the other heroines had was absolute power over whether their romantic interests got to win the prizes they were after.

The only way the Beast could get what he wanted - and it wasn't even a sure thing - was to throw himself into becoming who Belle wanted and doing what Belle wanted. He needed her; she was merely under his power. If there had been no time limit, if he could have kept her stuck in his castle forever, all the roaring and destruction he could bring to bear wouldn't become any more effective. He couldn't win by coercing her into saying certain words or performing certain acts; he had to win by making her feel a certain way.

As a romance trope, where the entire point of the book was for the couple depicted on the cover art to be together in the end, this pattern was subject to a certain condition. Specifically, there could not be any non-personal reason for the heroine to reject her suitor. His personality was malleable - she could ask for whatever she liked, holding all the cards as she did - but if he happened to be poor or ugly or otherwise objectionable in some less readily addressable way, the book would a) make a worse wish-fulfillment story for the target audience, and b) feel implausible.

It was a very strange feeling, to have landed in a romance novel.

Because unless I was very much mistaken, I had acquired for myself a vampire who had one chance at love, inexplicably me; who knew that he could only get what he wanted if I was happy; and who was most definitely not poor, ugly, or otherwise objectionable.

Angela completed her essay, and asked to be driven home. I closed my laptop and managed to get her to her house without driving us into any trees, despite my mind's insistence on continuing to reel. I thought I knew the situation; I just didn't know what I wanted out of it, and that was a very uncomfortable thing to not know.

I drove home alone, frowning at the road.

Charlie had returned from work by the time I pulled into the driveway. I blew into the house, put a pot of water on the boil, and made spaghetti; I didn't have the energy for anything complicated. There were meatballs in the freezer and jars of sauce in the pantry. I threw everything together once the pasta had cooked, brought Charlie his plate in the family room, and ate mine at the kitchen table.

Exactly one minute after I'd finished my helping of food, the doorbell rang.

"I got it," I called to Charlie, and I went to answer the door, expecting one or another of the vampires. I was right. It was Alice.

"Your future went all dizzy," she said, accusation in her voice. She spoke softly enough that there was no way for Charlie to hear her over the television. "I have an awful headache. Can I come in?"

"Fine," I said, standing aside. They weren't going to let me think alone very much, were they? I supposed that was why Alice saw me going "dizzy". My only plans right now were to make up my mind. But that was exactly what muddied her visions.

I showed Alice up to my room, and sat on my bed. She took my desk chair, spun it around to face me, and planted her elbows on her knees. "Edward's going out of his mind," Alice said baldly.

"You know," I said, "until yesterday I didn't think he knew you'd told me that he "liked" me."

Alice winced. "He didn't, until yesterday. I'm usually fairly good at avoiding thoughts I don't want him to catch. I slipped up."

"I do need time to think things through, and make decisions," I complained. "I don't like to issue snap judgments about anything important. I have to figure out what I want, and make sure that I approve of the reasons I have for wanting it, and pick the best way available to get it, and I prefer to do this in writing, but I don't like to write too much with anybody around, and so I have to wait until I'm alone or near somebody who thinks I'm taking some other kind of notes and won't look. I was going to block out all Saturday to do it. You couldn't wait?"

"Edward couldn't wait. He begged me to talk to you," said Alice. "Begged. Bella, I think he would have given you lots of time, all the time you wanted, he probably would have told us all to stay away from you and give you plenty of space, but - oh, you should have seen him the day you switched lab partners!" she exclaimed. "He was practically in a panic. He thought he could take off for a week and you'd be right where he left you, waiting for him to sort his thoughts out. But you didn't. He went back to school and found out that you were trying to get away from him and couldn't stand it - you're smart, I know you've figured this all out, I saw you writing it." She waved a hand.

With a sharp shock, I realized that Alice's power wasn't necessarily more ethically innocuous than Jasper's or Edward's. "Alice," I started hotly.

She shook her head, causing her short black hair to fly around. "No. Sorry to interrupt, but no. Later. Later, we will have that conversation. Promise. Right now, we will talk about Edward. You figured it out, you're very smart, be proud of yourself, please don't run away someplace inaccessible just because the situation is horribly awkward."

"Am I allowed to say anything, or are you just here to plead for Edward's sanity?" I asked, perturbed.

"I just want to stick to the topic. You can talk," Alice huffed.

"What do you - or Edward, or anybody - expect me to do?" I inquired, spreading my hands helplessly. "Does he really think it's going to speed things up to not give me Saturday to get my head straight?"

"No. I don't think he even knows what he wants to happen here. He thinks I'm going to pick magic words that will magically make you magically decide that you're magically in love with him. Jasper was on edge all through lunch today, picking up Edward's mood when you didn't sit with us, it was awful." Alice shook her head disgustedly. "I told him, I told him, that he needed to go slow."

I took a very deep breath. "What's it like?" I asked. My voice came out soft and earnest where I'd been expecting exasperation - that was interesting.

"I don't think I'm typical there," Alice frowned. "I'd been a vampire for almost twenty-eight years when I started seeing Jasper in my visions. I knew just what to expect. I waited for him in a diner, and he showed up, and I walked right up to him and said "You've been keeping me waiting a long time," and he ducked his head like a good Southern gentleman and said, "I'm sorry, ma'am." And then I held out my hand and he took it and we were... whole. Emmett has a better story," she said. "I think he'd prefer to tell it himself, though."

"I'm right, then," I said, "that it doesn't matter if I'm a human or a vampire, it works the same way?"

"It works the same on Edward," Alice said. "You're still human in every way." She paused. "You know, if you get turned, it will work on you. It'd be very convenient," she pleaded.

"If I get turned? I thought you were sure about that?"

"You were about to figure out the part where as soon as you turn, the falling in love part is symmetrical," grumbled Alice. "That'd unmake your mind right there until you figured out Edward, and that could go any which way as far as I can see."

"But when I'm turned, I had the impression that there was an adjustment period. I probably shouldn't do it on a school night, for example," I said wryly. "I was thinking maybe summer - I could tell Charlie I'm going to tour Europe or something while I work on conquering my baser impulses."

"Well, the adjustment period is usually longer than that," said Alice. "Although, when I did see you crystal-clear as a vampire, you had newborn colored eyes and there were a couple of images of you being around humans. Carlisle thinks you might adjust better because you're expecting to be turned, can go in a little prepared, and none of us were. So a summer might work for you - but you might need a backup story about having suddenly been accepted to early college somewhere."

"But upon being turned, I'll be just as smitten with Edward as he is with me?" I asked.

"Right," said Alice. "I mean, if not before - but yes, at least by then."

I drew my knees up to my chest and rested my chin on them. "I don't know what to think about that."

"I know," grumbled Alice. "It's making my head hurt to keep looking at it."

"I'm sorry," I mumbled. I liked Alice, and didn't want to give her headaches, but I didn't see how I could think any faster.

"I saw you and Edward together after you turned," cooed Alice coaxingly. "You looked so happy. I saw Jasper following you around all the time, just to soak it up, he likes to be around happy people."

I turned my face down, hiding it against my jeans. "I barely know Edward," I whispered.

"He's not going to push you to get turned," Alice said, surprising me. "He still thinks you'd be better off as a human. Even with the lack of fated togetherness. He just wants... he wants you around. You know, I think he might even settle for it if you just wanted to be his friend - as long as he got to spend time with you. He can't tolerate being away from you for long before he starts getting very annoying. He paces." She wrinkled her nose. "I mean... given that he thinks you should stay human and that you are very, very fragile, his best-case scenario probably looks like being just friends from a spectator's perspective anyway."

Right. Man of steel, woman of Kleenex.

"You still don't see me dead?" I checked. "I mean, not of unnatural causes?"

"Still don't see you dead," Alice confirmed. "With a heartbeat or without, you're walking around as far as I can see."

I considered this. It was not that much to ask. I didn't have any spite for Edward, let alone enough to drive him up the wall when the remedy was easily enough at hand. "I will," I said, "be Edward's friend, for the time being. And I will think."

Alice nodded. "I'll let him know." And she got up and glided out of my room to let herself out.

On Saturday, Edward visited.

He arrived shortly after Charlie and I had split the last of breakfast's blueberry pancakes. Charlie answered the bell and seemed pleasantly surprised to find Edward on the doorstep. He invited the vampire in without even consulting me, though Edward mentioned that he was here to see me ("to study for Biology", he said).

"It's a pity you weren't here in time for breakfast," Charlie remarked as Edward strolled into our house. Of course Edward had probably been parked outside, listening to Charlie's thoughts until the food was all gone. Or hiding far away, someplace with a direct line of vampirically-enhanced sight in through our window.

"I had breakfast earlier," Edward said smoothly. His eyes were still gold, so I supposed that was probably true. "Bella? Where is the best place to study?" He lifted his prop of a knapsack and tilted his head inquiringly.

"My room," I said shortly, and I showed him up the stairs.

"I'm going to go fishing, Bells," Charlie called as I went up the stairs. "I'll be home late."

"Okay," I hollered back.

I sat on my bed. Edward took my chair, as Alice had during her visit.

"I somehow don't think you really want to study Biology," I told him.

"You're right," he grinned. I wasn't sure if he could tell that I was in a poor mood and was trying to fix it, or hadn't noticed.

"I do that sometimes." I had questions pending, anyway - I might as well ask the one applicable to Edward while he was around. "So... want to tell me the story of how you became a vampire?"

"If you like," he said, although it sounded like he didn't prefer to tell the story. "It was in 1918. I was seventeen, dying of the Spanish influenza. My parents were already dead - Carlisle could change me without anyone noticing, there were so many victims of the outbreak. I was the first one he added to the family..." - I'd guessed that, from the portraits - "but he found Esme soon after. She'd... fallen from a cliff."

I frowned. "So he saved your life. You don't have to be mortally ill or injured to turn, do you?" Of course, this was the obvious impetus to turn someone - clearly it could save an otherwise unsalvageable life. But if it was necessary...

Edward shook his head. "That's the only way Carlisle does it. He wouldn't take anyone's mortal life from them if they had one to live. But no, it's not strictly necessary."

"So Rosalie and Emmett, too? They were dying?"

"Yes," said Edward. Then he looked puzzled. "I know Alice told you about how she doesn't know what happened to her when she was human, and I guess if Carlisle had turned her it would be reasonable that he'd have told her something about where she came from, but how did you know that Carlisle didn't turn Jasper?"

"I'm guessing," I said. "From the portraits on the second floor of your house - Jasper and Alice arrived together, didn't they? If Carlisle turned Jasper and not Alice, it would be a huge coincidence for her to show up close enough to his turning that they'd show up in the same picture. Also, it would be peculiar for him to turn up at the diner full of humans where he met her, if he were new at the time."

Edward nodded. "Perceptive."

"Thank you."

I heard the door to Charlie's car slamming, and I leaned to look out the window. He pulled out of the driveway and headed out - presumably to pick up a fishing buddy or two before going to try and catch dinner.

"My turn," said Edward lightly, and my head turned back towards him automatically.

"Your turn?" I asked, confused.

"For a story," he said, smiling faintly. "Why don't you tell me about how you came to move to Forks?"

I was briefly nonplussed by this request. It wasn't a particularly interesting story. "My mother remarried," I said. Edward, to his credit, didn't interrupt me with some guess about my not getting along with Phil. "He's fine," I said, in case he was thinking it, "but he plays baseball for a living, and has to move around a lot. Renée couldn't travel with him because she had to be home with me most of the time, and that made her unhappy, so I decided to come and live with Charlie."

"You care about her a lot," he murmured.

"She's my mom," I said.

"Tell me about her," Edward invited.

"She looks a lot like me, but with shorter hair..." I began.

There was no further pretense of taking turns - the conversation proceeded organically. Edward was fascinated by the smallest details about me (he wanted to know about my decision to do yoga instead of conventional gym; he wanted to hear all about the classes I'd taken in Phoenix; he wanted to learn about my extended family; he wanted to memorize my favorite color; he was curious about my taste in movies).

I didn't get caught up in quite so many minutiae about him - but that was largely because Edward was more than a hundred years old. He knew his birthdate, unlike Alice - they were probably the same chronological age, though she'd been turned two years later - and also unlike Alice, he remembered being human. That added up to more than a century of material, and once he caught the trend of what interested me, he catered to it - there was no need to dwell on tiny things like favorite color with all that to talk about. From his vast available supply, he handpicked the very best stories of traveling around the country and the world, offering as topics learning everything from how to fly a plane to foreign languages. At first, he seemed hesitant to go on talking as long as was necessary to do justice to some of his memories, but I made every effort to look as rapt as I felt. He still asked me questions when something he was curious about came up - wanted to know what my favorite flowers were when he mentioned a botanical garden, things like that - but he did more of the talking than I did, overall.

It really should have occurred to me that Edward would be interesting.

He hadn't just seen and done dozens of amazing things - he had a wonderful way of telling them. Apparently his pre-turning ability to read people had not been completely supplanted with mindreading and made rusty from disuse, and he rapidly picked up on what had me on the edge of my seat and what left me cold, adjusting accordingly. By the time my rumbling stomach announced that it was time for lunch, rather than a continued description of the Great Barrier Reef around which a vampire could safely dive free of equipment, Edward had figured out how to have me hanging off his every word. His beautiful voice didn't hurt - but I was pretty sure I'd have been thrilled to read his stories in an e-mail, too.

"You're hungry," he said, pausing in the middle of explaining how little octopi cared to be near vampires.

"A bit. I'll just go down and get some carrots and ranch; I'm sure Charlie will bring home more fish than I know what to do with and I should make sure I have an appetite for dinner."

Edward let me finish my sentence, although as soon as I said carrots it looked like it was very hard for him to do so. "You could let me take you out to lunch," he said quietly.

"You don't think it would look a bit odd for us to walk into a restaurant and have only one of us eat?" I asked. I didn't bring up the financial imposition. (It would be ridiculous and probably insulting. If they hadn't already thought of sending Alice and a spare thousand dollars to toy with Wall Street, they should all have been set on fire for stupidity: they had to be many times richer than they looked. Also, Edward was from 1901, and accordingly I felt no obligation to haul out modern rights and responsibilities for my gender that didn't happen to suit me.) I didn't protest the suspiciously datelike nature of the invitation, either. I'd agreed to be his friend, and friends sometimes had lunch together; and five solid hours of continuous, un-awkward conversation had done a lot to push me towards the "okay, give it a shot" plan.

"Not enough to cause a problem," he assured me. "If you're worried about it, we can order two things, and you can have half of each and bring the rest home. I can always take a bite or two if the waitstaff do get suspicious, but it's unlikely. You really have to act a lot stranger than what passes for normal to get serious attention."

That was a good plan. My stomach gurgled again. "I don't know any good restaurants around here."

"What kind of food do you like?" Edward asked. Oh - right. Perfect recall. He didn't need to eat to know what was to be had, he only needed to have heard of the choices, in speech or in thought.

"All kinds," I said, "but right now I think I'm in the mood for Italian."

"There's nothing worthwhile in Forks," Edward said, "but there's a nice place in Port Angeles."

"That's an hour away," I said.

"Not if you let me drive," Edward said, "in a car other than your truck, fast."

I gritted my teeth. "Let me think," I said.

He nodded, and watched me; I shut my eyes.

What were my real reasons for preferring not to speed, and did they apply?

Well, Charlie would be scandalized. Why did that matter to me? I trusted Charlie's judgment in general... he was level-headed, not rash, those seemed like good qualities. "Don't speed" was the essence of being unrash. But only because it was dangerous, physically and legally - when a human was behind the wheel. A human who couldn't psychically detect things like road rage and didn't have extranormal reflexes. Charlie didn't know that Edward wasn't one of those, and I didn't know how that knowledge would change his reaction. It was still illegal. But the only good reason to have a speeding law was the danger. It was... not very dangerous with a vampire behind the wheel, and not very likely to get us in trouble with the law with his mindreading. But...

"What," I asked, "would you do if, in spite of everything, we did crash?"

"Claw open the roof of the car, grab you, jump out, and then bang up the car enough that no one would notice the suspicious part of the damage," he told me at once. "It would actually be safer for you not to wear a seatbelt. I could snap one, but it'd take me an extra moment."

The people who skipped seatbelts in the expectation of being "thrown clear" were morons. But Edward's scenario seemed plausible. Any others involved in the crash would probably be too distracted to see anything unusual about our departure from the car.

My only good reasons to say no to the driving part were not applicable. Accordingly, if I were to say no, it would have to be for other reasons, and I had none.

"Fine, then, lunch in Port Angeles," I said.

"Really?" Edward asked.

"Really. Are you going to just run to your house and get a fast car?" I asked.

"I can do that," he said slowly. I wondered why the reluctance, and then he answered my unspoken question. "Or we could run there, and then you wouldn't need to wait for me to bring it here to pick you up."

"All right," I said. That transportational issue had already been resolved to my satisfaction. "Hold your breath if you need to." I got up and exited the house, hearing his quiet footsteps behind me as I went.

Once we were outside and I'd locked the door, Edward looked at me questioningly - to make sure I was ready, I guessed - and I nodded to him. He picked me up very carefully, the same way Esme had. "Comfortable?" he asked.

"I'm fine," I breathed. I was not uncomfortable, but I had underestimated how I would react to Edward picking me up. Maybe he'd been hesitant to suggest it and had asked Esme to carry me on Thursday because he was trying to follow Alice's instructions about going slow with me...

And then he took off, and the colors around me became lightning streaks retreating into the distance.

Esme had been jogging. This was a run.

I turned my face into Edward's chest and tucked my arms in close to my body, trying to reduce the surface area exposed to the whistling, humid wind. I didn't believe he was running flat-out. I'd watched him practically teleport across the vampires' baseball field, and I didn't think I was quite sturdy enough to deal with that much safely. But it was very fast.

In an odd way, it was pleasant to be so securely held at such a high speed. It was poking some subconscious reptile-brain piece of me, I guessed, some part that wanted a protector and wanted to be sure that protector would suffice in extreme circumstances. The reptile-brain piece did not have the sophistication to realize that its would-be protector was also causing the extremity of the circumstances. It just noticed that I was going abnormally fast, and that a person it had other reasons to like was holding me nice and tight, preventing the speed from bringing me to harm.

And this was accompanied by a nice, warm feeling that quite compensated for the whooshing wind.

In only a few minutes we were at the Cullen house - or rather, in the forest near it. A white outbuilding, painted to match the main house, was nestled among the trees, with a smooth dirt track leading from it to the road connecting their driveway to the highway. I estimated that it would hold a dozen cars - there were three doors, each with room for the adjacent passage of two cars, but the building was deep enough that it could be the same on the other side. Edward put me down on my feet, and let me hang on his arm for a moment while I reassured myself that my legs were not too wobbly to work. Upon confirming that they functioned normally - which is to say, that I was only four or five times more likely than a normal human to fall on my rear - I stood up unsupported.

Edward reached into his pocket and presumably pressed a remote for one of the doors. The middle one on our side peeled open to reveal the familiar Volvo that the Cullens drove to school. Beside it sat another silver car, bearing a logo with wings - a vampire would have been able to read its text from my vantage point, but I couldn't, and I didn't know cars. "Volvo, or the other one?" I asked Edward.

"The other one," he said, sounding amused by my designation. I approached the car, and he appeared at the driver's side door in the blink of an eye to unlock it and get in before I arrived. I sat down, closed the door gently to avoid harming the likely-valuable car, and consciously reminded myself not to fasten my seatbelt. The interior was comfortable and fancy.

I closed my eyes for most of the ride, and brushed out the running-induced tangles from my hair with my fingers. Once Edward was done accelerating, and when we were not in the middle of a curve, I couldn't feel the speed much; I didn't want to see it either. On the highway, he picked up storytelling right where he'd left off with the coral reef.

Edward got us to Port Angeles in twenty minutes without crashing or even having to swerve. I didn't hear any sirens, which was good (it hadn't occurred to me to ask whether his policy was to stop for cops or to simply outrace them) and he found a parking space immediately, possibly with the help of mindreading.

The restaurant was an intimate, warmly decorated establishment. Awnings sheltered the interior from what little sunlight filtered through the clouds, and it was mostly illuminated by candles. I wondered if this was the nicest Italian place in town or just the one Edward most wanted to take me to.

We received our menus after we'd sat down at our little table in the back corner. I scanned it, trying to pick two things - I eventually decided on a pasta primavera entrée and minestrone soup. I thought I could probably finish the whole bowl of soup and a third of the pasta, which would have to do for alleviating odd looks. Edward received my whispered ordering instruction with a nod, and faithfully reported my soup request as though it were his own when the waiter wandered by.

My bread basket and glasses of water for each of us arrived promptly, and I took a sip from mine. Then I glanced around the restaurant; it wasn't very crowded. "I know you don't like food," I murmured to Edward, "but what about drinks - water?"

He blinked. "You know, it never occurred to me to try drinking water?" he said wryly. He picked up his glass and took a swallow, then set it down again, smacking his lips thoughtfully.

"Verdict?" I asked. "You know your usual diet is ninety-five percent water."

"Somewhat warmer water," said Edward, a little absently, looking at the glass. "It doesn't taste like anything. It doesn't seem to affect my thirst either way. I suppose it'd contribute to the disguise if we were seen drinking water occasionally."

"Considerably," I speculated. "It never occurred to any of you?"

"I'm sure at least one of "us" in general tried it at one time," he said, avoiding the word "vampire" - either he'd noticed someone listening, or thought there might be a spectator with my same mental opacity. "I don't know about my family, but I doubt it."

"Huh." I wondered what other things they'd simply not tried. "Do you want to taste the broth of my soup?"

"No, the soup is for you," he said. "If it seems appropriate to try more liquids I can do it without helping myself to your lunch."

I shrugged and took a roll, which I buttered. "Tell me what happened after you found the shark," I said encouragingly, trying to get him to pick up his story where he'd been at the end of the drive.

"You don't think I've talked too much about myself for an entire year?" he asked wryly.

"It's interesting," I said. "You've got fewer constraints and more time than... than most people, and you use it well."

"Well," said Edward, "why don't you tell me what you would want to do with all that time and without all those constraints?"

I bit into my roll. "Why don't you want me to have that?" I asked quietly, after I swallowed it.

He looked pained. "This is a bad place, I think," he said. "I'm - I'm trying not to keep secrets. But this is a bad place."

It really was, I supposed. "In the car, then," I said.

"All right," Edward replied, softly.