Chapter 28: Ashes

"I hear the guard now except for Addy," Edward signed to me. We were just barely more than one mile from the field. Only the fact that nobody was raising their voice kept us from being able to listen directly to their conversation. Only thick tree cover kept us from being able to see them, up to and including the whites of their eyes. And vice versa. I held very still, moving only my hands to reply.

"And?" I asked.

"They don't want to kill me..." he signed. "Aro's still hoping to recruit me. They haven't gotten to the subject of you yet."

"Well, if they're hoping to recruit you, then that does limit what they can do to me," I answered. A hot flare of hope lit somewhere in my chest.

Edward nodded, a guarded grin spreading across his face. Then it disappeared.

"What?" I signed, alarmed.

"Run," he whispered, his hands unavailable to communicate silently because he was grabbing my hand and pulling me away. I couldn't keep up with his top speed, but he wasn't about to leave me behind.

"I'm slowing you down, we should split up, he can't track me and can't catch you -" I started to say. I didn't know why we were running, what he'd heard, but before I'd had a chance to try to convince Edward to let go of my hand and take off in another direction, we were tackled from behind.

I snapped my head around enough to recognize Leah's wolf form. She was the fastest wolf, faster than me, maybe not faster than Edward but he'd been trying to keep pace with me, and we could have fought off one wolf together but the others caught up almost at once.

Leah and at least one other wolf snapped their heads towards me and I flung out my one free hand to try to defend myself. I couldn't tell if I'd done any damage because I was in pieces an instant later. My ears stopped working. My eyes were unresponsive. I couldn't inhale to see if my nose was working. That was just as well because I couldn't have processed any sensory input through the shattering pain.

The pain, all by itself, wasn't as bad as turning, although it was in the same class. But it wasn't only pain: my proprioception was desperately confused. It was insisting that every direction was down. I sort of thought that I might be able to move some of my muscles, but the input from them was unclear, fuzzed out in comparison to the sharp awareness of the damage - I could try to twitch a finger but I didn't know whether I'd managed it or what the finger might be touching. I couldn't do anything, couldn't help -

Edward - was he okay - had he gotten away? - he could outrun them if only he'd leave me behind, but he never would...

The sensations apart from the pain were impossible to interpret, and my sense of time was shot to hell. I could have been in a heap moments later or scattered across a football field the following week, still in the mouths of several wolves or -

There was a sensation I recognized: I was on fire.

That was as bad as turning.

I couldn't scream. Couldn't flail around. There was only pain and dizziness and terror and I was going to die and what kind of shield could represent itself as protection for my mind if it was going to let my mind cease to exist, the mind was not safe without the body -

I felt something - something that wasn't pain. I couldn't be healing, not shattered into a hundred fragments and burning, but I felt something, like I was under a blanket that hugged my surface - my shield? Manifesting in some form I could detect only now, when it would die with me?

I tried to pull it in, willed it to put out the fire, come on, shield, if you want my mind safe you have to let it have someplace to live - the mind is not safe without the body -

The shield sucked in closer to me and the fire was out and I was violently rearranged into my normal shape. The pain didn't fade at once. I was still broken along all the original fracture points, though the shards of my body had been forced flush with their neighbors. My eyes and ears didn't return to me immediately. But those wounds knitted, though they went sluggishly. A lot of the venom had burned out of me. There was enough left that I could heal, though.

I didn't try to move. I didn't want to dislodge the rearrangement my shield had provided. But I could look around when my vision came back. I was in a deep pit, on top of a heap of ashes. Harry and Sue, I guessed.

Maybe Edward. Maybe he'd been killed first and I was lying on top of his ashes. I recoiled from the thought. They hadn't planned to kill him; perhaps they truly hadn't, perhaps he'd only pulled us away from the field because they were going to kill me, he might be alive -

One of my ears started working. Sounds echoed crazily between the walls of the pit, reaching my ear in a distorted timbre. "- my matches," grumbled a man's voice I hadn't heard before. "Damn wet climate. Go ask Jane if she has a lighter, will you?"

"Didn't think we were going to kill this one," said an unfamiliar woman.

"Doesn't surprise me. You'd get it if you had a mate," said the man. There were footsteps, receding and then approaching again.

Edward thought I was dead - they all thought I was dead - reasonable enough given that I'd been broken into a hundred pieces and set on fire - they'd wanted to control him but that plan had been shot to hell when they'd killed me -

I tried to move, I had to do something, I had to save him, he had no shield.

I dragged my left arm close to me, and felt the snug blanket of my shield shift with it, but I was fragile. Deep fissures ran along my skin; if I applied any pressure to the limb it would break again. I was dangerously low on venom; it might not be able to get me whole even if I didn't worsen the injuries. I couldn't even get out of the ash pit.

"Here's your lighter," said the woman.

"Thanks, Addy, you're a peach," said the man.

There was a crackling noise. My Edward, on fire, I couldn't move - "In the pit?" asked Addy.

"Pit was to keep the smoke away from the wolves, they're gone now, no point," he said. I didn't know whether to be glad of that or not; I couldn't bear to watch him die but I couldn't bear that he was alone, that he thought I was dead. I might as well be. Edward, Edward -

"Dunno how well the wolf thing'll work," Addy said skeptically. I wanted them to shut up. I didn't want to listen to this, I wanted the silence back, I wanted to have no idea what was going on around me when what was going on was that Edward was dying -

"Don't think you and Chelsea did a good job of it?"

"We did a fine job. She's fun to work with," Addy replied. "And the wolves are interesting material - so interwoven; tweak one thing and they all change. But I mean things like the way that black one passed out when it smelled the smoke from those newborns. Biological stuff. Are they worth the complications?" My lungs regained their integrity; I was sure I could have taken a breath. I didn't. They'd hear me. They'd probably only ignored the sound of my arm moving because it could have been part of the fire that was supposed to be consuming me. I willed it back. Willed the flames to spring into existence again, trade this pain for that one. But I wasn't a pyrokineticist, I was a shield. That was the only reason I was alive.

Edward would have wanted me to live.

The cracks in the arm I could see were getting shallower. The physical pain, at least, was at a manageable level. The hollow, dead feeling in my chest wasn't the sort of thing the venom would ever heal.

But Edward would have wanted me to live.

I lay there, inert, listening to the crackling and popping of the fire as it widowed me. Listening to Addy and whoever the man was make small talk over his smoldering remains.

"Aro thinks so," the man said.

"Of course. And he knows more about the matter than I do," Addy said. "Still, it seems to present a logistical challenge."

I wanted her to die. I wanted whoever she was talking to, to die. I wanted Aro dead and his "brothers" dead and their wives dead and every person who had ever peaceably wandered the halls of their compound dead including me because Edward was gone and I couldn't stand it and if I were dead I wouldn't have to.

He would have wanted me to live.

"Do you think the coven will be a problem?" the man asked.

"No, I doubt it -" Addy began. "Coming, boss!" Some gesture of Aro's I hadn't been able to hear, maybe, calling them away.

Footsteps receded.

There was silence.

Edward would have wanted me to live.

I remained still.

The visible damage, at least, healed.

My thirst did not care that I was alone. It came anyway, the insistent burn in my throat.

I watched the sun rise, and watched little diamonds dance across my smoothed-over skin. All that, and the only scar on me was the bite mark on my wrist. But the trauma and recovery, if it could be called "recovery", had taken a lot out of me. If I didn't get blood soon I wasn't sure exactly what would happen, but it wouldn't be conducive to my health.

I hadn't heard anything, all night. The Volturi had been and gone, the wolves with them. No one had even looked into the ash pit. I could safely climb out and hunt, now.

Edward would have wanted it.

I pulled myself into a sitting position. I felt brittle, but not achy or tired. I could move around. I was in adequate shape to kill an animal.

I climbed out of the hole, slower than I needed to go. I looked around at the dewy field, down into the pit where Harry and Sue had been carelessly dumped. Any humans who wandered through this place and found the greasy ashes would think it was from a barbecue or something. No one would mistake it for a grave.

I kicked a little dirt over the ash, but couldn't muster any enthusaism for a serious burial. "Harry," I said. "Sue." Just their names. Acknowledging that I knew they were there, or that the transformed matter that they'd once inhabited was there, anyway.

Then I dared to turn around.

There was a heap of ashes in the middle of the field, indistinguishable from the ones I'd been lying on.

I couldn't say his name. It wouldn't come to my lips.

I approached the pile, silently, and touched the ash. It wasn't even warm anymore; I'd been waiting for nothing in the hole in the ground long enough that they'd cooled. I picked up one sliver of charcoal gently.

I wanted to put it in my locket. I didn't have my locket anymore - or my rings, or my bracelet, or my clothes, or my wallet, or my hair. My shield had saved me from the fire, but not my possessions, and hair didn't heal as flesh did. The jewelry at least might have fallen off when I was originally tackled. I wandered in that direction, cradling the piece of ash in my palm.

I actually did find the necklace. The clasp was broken, but the chain was mostly intact and the charm was fine. I tied the chain around my neck, and opened the locket to put the ash between the pictures.


I wanted to look for the rest of my jewelry. The rings, at least, the physical evidence that Edward had existed, that he'd loved me, that he'd been mine. But finding the locket had taken long enough and I was unbearably thirsty.

I listened. The forest was relatively clear of wildlife - sensible, given how many vampires had been swarming around the place over the last who-knew-how-long. I didn't know what day it was. I'd lost all the cues of time when I'd been in fragments. It was still autumn, at least. But I heard some elk, at the borders of my hearing, and I chased them down and killed three and drank them dry. The taste of herbivores was rancid but I was past caring. I needed the burn soothed. Strength flowed back into my limbs as I absorbed the blood. Too little, too late, but I was physically back to normal apart from being bald.

I noticed, when I'd filled up, that I could still feel my shield. It hadn't ranked as a significant sensation when I'd been thirsty, but now that I thought of it there was a definite layer of something wrapped around me. I touched my arm, but my fingers didn't detect anything - it was some second layer of "feeling", then, like the second channel of hearing Edward had...

My train of thought derailed at once. I made an involuntary choking noise and coughed up a droplet of sour blood. Would it be like that forever? Every thought leading to Edward, every thought of Edward throwing me into fresh grief? I couldn't function that way. That wouldn't have mattered - but Edward would have wanted me to live, to be alive, not just to fail to be a heap of ashes. I knew he would.

"I won't let you die..." I could remember his voice so clearly. So honeyed and certain.

I wished with all my heart that he'd loved me less, enough that he could have run without me. He could have gotten away. They hadn't planned to kill him, he'd said. They wouldn't have needed to if he hadn't been too distraught over me to ever be recruited. The fact that I had been able to survive the attack only made it more appalling that he'd lost his life that way. But even if I'd been completely burnt, he could have been fine. If he'd loved me less.

I went back and looked for my rings. I found the bracelet first; one of its diamonds poked out from under a leaf. Some of the silver pieces were slightly munched. It was less flexible than it had been. But I put it on anyway, and kept looking.

I found my engagement ring first. The ring part had been bent out of shape but the lattice of gems was all right. The wedding band was nearby and looked fine; I put that on, but didn't dare try to tap the other ring into shape. I'd find a way to get it repaired professionally. For the time being I threaded it onto the locket's chain.

I couldn't find Edward's ring anywhere. I searched every inch of the forest in a plausible radius of where we'd been caught, I followed the path from there to the field, I shut my eyes and forced myself to feel through the pile of ashes. It wasn't there, even in the form of a melted lump of gold. I didn't know what could have happened to it. Had one of the Volturi bothered to steal it while leaving mine untouched? Why? What would they want with it? I retraced all my steps, looking for disturbed soil where it could have been stomped into the ground, going through heaps of discarded foliage one needle at a time. Nothing.

While I probably could have paced back and forth stark naked in the woods looking for the ring for the rest of my life, it didn't seem like the kind of living Edward would have wanted me to do. I was beginning to think that I was forever going to have to motivate myself to do anything that way. That I would never be able to accomplish tasks that I couldn't somehow make about Edward, about what Edward would have wanted.

What about Elspeth?

Everyone thought I was dead - or if they didn't now, they would soon enough, when the news got out. That gave me a measure of safety. And her as well. No one would be looking for me, and she would not be sought as bait for a trap intended for a dead woman. She was safe in Denali.

If I went to get her, then my in-laws would know I wasn't dead. That would eventually get back to the Volturi. Then, I wouldn't just need to lie low, I'd need to run, and Elspeth could be in danger. I had ample evidence that my protections weren't worth a damn for anyone else. It hadn't done anything for Edward.

I wanted her, I wanted to try to fill the hole Edward's death had left in me with our daughter, I wanted to cradle her close and let her warm me up, I wanted to stroke the hair that was so much like his, I wanted to see her father's face in her dreams again. I wanted her to know that she was only half-orphaned.

But I needed her to be safe.

I had lost more than I could stand to lose. If Elspeth died, I didn't know if I would be capable of going on, even given what I knew Edward would have wanted. She was the last living part of him, and she had to go on breathing.

I wandered towards the village, where supposedly everyone was dead or kidnapped and everything burned. Everything was. Charred husks of homes crumbled around me as I walked through the deserted reservation. I went farther, towards Harry's shack. It was intact, or at least as intact as it had ever gotten to be from its original tumbledown state. There were some clothes inside. I took an outfit of Sue's. She wouldn't need it and no one would miss it. She had a small collection of scarves. I wrapped one around my hairless scalp. Between the baldness and the now-constant feel of my shield clinging to my skin, I felt terribly strange.

I wondered why the village wasn't crawling with cops, suspecting arson. Charlie should have been there, prowling the area, trying to figure out what had happened. Maybe the Volturi had intervened with some police connection and the destruction was officially a natural disaster. Maybe I'd been in bite-sized chunks for a few weeks and all of the detective work had been and gone. Maybe Charlie was dead.

Charlie didn't approach the importance of Edward or Elspeth, but I could check on him. He wouldn't notice me if I hid well enough. I could stake out his house for a while and see if he was going about his life normally.

I wondered if Carlisle and the others would bother to tell my father I was dead. Would it make him safer or less safe to believe that? I couldn't keep in touch with him; if there were actual evidence in his inbox or phone call history that I was alive then that could be found one day. But if he simply thought I was alive, on the grounds that no one had told him otherwise, that might be fine. Unless he started digging around to find out why I wasn't answering my phone or my e-mail.

Renée was probably in less danger than Charlie either way. She wasn't a cop and couldn't get the same kind of attention if she became inquisitive. I supposed I could go to Florida and skulk around her house, to see if she went on crying jags or otherwise indicated that she believed me dead.

Such a trip turned out to be unnecessary. At nightfall, I went into Forks and climbed Charlie's next-door neighbor's chimney. I hid behind it, pressed between the bricks and the shingles and leaning just enough to see Charlie's house. His cruiser wasn't there. I didn't see my old truck, either. I didn't particularly care. It'd be noticed if it went missing, so I couldn't exactly take it. I'd travel faster on foot anyway.

I waited several hours, half an eye on Charlie's empty house. The rest of my mind was on Edward. On my memories of him. It was like chewing on broken glass to think of them, but I couldn't stop myself. I needed Edward, and if all I could have were memories, then that was what I'd take.

"Edward, do you trust me?"


I bit my lip, almost hard enough to pierce the skin. I considered doing that on purpose - it would be distracting, at least, and my own venom wouldn't scar - but then Charlie's police car pulled onto the street. He was driving it, so he was alive, at least for the time being. He did look bereaved... but then, Billy and Harry were dead. They'd been his best friends. Their deaths alone could do that.

He parked in the driveway and went inside. I heard him put something in the microwave. Then he picked up the phone and dialed it. I could faintly hear the beeps; by their pitch, I knew it was Renée's number.

I wasn't close enough to make out Renée's half of the conversation; I jumped lightly from the neighbor's roof onto the ground and darted immediately into a shrub with a good angle to his window, so I could see what Charlie was doing as well as hear. I was wearing long sleeves and dark colors, but that didn't mean nobody could see me if they were looking the wrong way while I wasn't behind cover.

"Anything?" Charlie asked.

"No, she didn't answer the phone today either," Renée said. "What makes you think she was in the fire? She didn't say anything to me about visiting you - did she just not mention it or -"

"It... might have been a surprise visit," Charlie said carefully. "There are friends of the family in La Push she might have stayed with so she could surprise me." He was trying to convince Renée that I was dead without going into the evidence. He'd evidently not looked at the field with the vampire ashes, because he could have seen me in the pit, but even I hadn't known what vampire ashes looked like until I saw them. So the absence of the correct kind of ash in La Push proper wouldn't necessarily have tipped him off. But the sheer destruction, my lack of contact, and the fact that he knew I was up to my neck in the mess with the wolves would have.

"Do you know yet who might have set the fire? It was arson, wasn't it?" Renée asked.

"I think so - but the scope of it was - well, the case has gone federal. I'm not supposed to touch it. Even if the feds hadn't taken over, since Bella might have been in it, I might have been considered too close to the case."

"How can our little girl be gone?" asked Renée in a small voice.

"Well, we can't be sure," said Charlie. There was no hope in his voice, he was just trying to calm Renée. "Can't be sure at all. There's nothing recognizable in the ashes. But..."

"And you haven't been able to get in touch with our son-in-law? Or his family?" asked Renée, and I almost wailed aloud from the stab of loss at hearing Edward mentioned, but I held my tongue.

"He's as impossible to get hold of as she is," Charlie said. "I tried his sister, Alice, I had her number, but there's no answer from her either. I don't know how to call anyone else."

"Bella was pregnant," wailed Renée.

"One second," said Charlie in an unstable voice, and he put my mother on hold and turned away from the phone and brought both fists down on his kitchen table, a scream of rage boiling up from somewhere deep in his chest. He lifted his hands and curled them into fists in his hair, then struck the table again, making noises of frustration and grief. He knew Elspeth had been born already. He'd seen her baby pictures. He knew he was a grandfather. He'd never be able to tell Renée that she was a grandmother already, that she hadn't lost that chance when I'd "died". He had no way to get in touch with his granddaughter. He didn't know if she was alive.

I was a little tempted to show myself. But oddly, Charlie's pain didn't strike me as deeply as it would have a month ago. I didn't like it, but it was safer this way. The impulse to comfort him was shallow. The need to prevent more of my family from dying was deep. My parents had to think I was dead. Everyone did.

Charlie exhausted his need to yell and hit things. He took several deep breaths, picked up the phone again, and said, "Sorry about that."

"You'll call me if you hear anything else, won't you?" Renée said.

"Of course. Of course," said Charlie. "I have to go. Goodbye." He hung up without waiting for her to answer, and stood as still as a human could, swaying faintly and staring into space.

He swore under his breath, got his dinner out of the microwave, and started forcing food down his throat.

I crept out of the shrubbery and disappeared into the woods.

I had nowhere in particular to be. Nothing in particular to do. I could go anywhere except a few hazardous locations. It was a pity that those were the only places I wanted to be - Denali, where my daughter was. Volterra, where a lot of people I wanted to kill were.

I walked toward Chicago. Edward's birthplace. I didn't bother running - there was no hurry. On sunny days I stayed put in uninhabited areas, to reduce the odds of being noticed as too glittery by some human. I took in a lot of scenery. I ate animals unfortunate enough to cross my path. I happened to pass through a town one evening and notice costumed children wandering door-to-door for candy; thereafter I was aware of the date, irrelevant though it was.

I thought of Edward several times a minute, flipping through every memory I had of him, as though I could fix them more securely in my heart by rehearsing them. I forced more detail out of the fuzzy human recollections than I'd bothered with when I'd first gone through my notes. Every last time he'd touched me. Every single kiss. Every word he'd spoken. Every expression that had crossed his face.

Elspeth occupied my thoughts, too, but I did less remembering and more speculating: what would Rosalie feed her today? Where would Carlisle take her on her one-month "birthday"? Did she talk yet or was her witchcraft slowing her down? What was her voice like, when she uttered words? Did Emmett toss her into the air to make her laugh? What would Esme see now, if she watched her dream? Did she get along with Tanya and Kate and Carmen and Eleazar and David? Was Irina still there, or had she broken off from the coven? Which house was she living in, which room held my baby when she slept...?

I needed money to get my ring repaired and to replace the chain of my locket and repair the bracelet. It was also limiting my movement that I didn't have any shoes; I didn't need them for comfort, but their absence did attract attention. That made the shoes a more urgent problem than the ring. The lack of hair - new growth just barely fuzzing back into existence - was already more oddness than would be ideal; I was glad for Sue's scarf.

It was November. Anyone would remark on my lack of shoes. I found a five dollar bill on the ground in a town in Idaho that I passed through, and used it to buy cheap boots from a thrift store.

A week later, I stopped at a random, medium-sized town in Montana, on a snowy afternoon. I knocked on a few doors in a suburb, offering to shovel driveways and sidewalks. I looked seventeen; it was a plausible occupation, requiring no ID, as long as I didn't knock when I "should have been in school". One old lady worried over my lack of a coat. I told her I didn't need one, that I'd keep warm doing the shoveling, but she insisted that I take her granddaughter's old parka, and I did, not wanting to argue or get more attention over my unseasonable attire. I shoveled snow until it got dark and people stopped answering their doors, accumulating just under a hundred dollars in the process.

At the very end of November, I got to Chicago. I didn't know exactly where in the city Edward had grown up. I walked up and down every street, half-expecting one block to feel different, like him, but it was all just unfamiliar urban landscape. Eventually I'd covered everything that could reasonably be called "Chicago". No place felt unusual.

I shoveled more snow. I didn't visit any home twice. I picked a jeweler's when I'd saved up enough money. They replaced the chain, and were able to slightly improve the bracelet. The ring wasn't as good as new when they finished with it, but at least it was wearable. I had both of my rings back, the rings he'd given me. My hand felt better.

I walked to Florida. As I went south, I had to be more careful about when I was in public - there was more sun - but I got there eventually. I was in Jacksonville by Christmas.

I went to my mother's address, in the middle of the night, but there was no car in the driveway and I couldn't hear anyone breathing inside. They were probably visiting Phil's family for the holiday, or maybe some of my extended relations. That was good. She should be with family.

Renée had e-mailed me all the information I'd need to get into the Jacksonville house when she'd moved there. "Just in case," she'd written. I took the spare key out from under the flowerpot, let myself in, disarmed the security system, and wandered around in the dark.

Renée had a desktop computer and hadn't brought it along on her Christmas vacation. I knew the password to her e-mail - it was "Isabella!!", always had been, she wasn't security-conscious at all and didn't care if I could see her messages anyway. Especially now that she thought I was dead. I logged in and looked at all her correspondence with Charlie over the last couple months. Apparently Carlisle had eventually gotten in touch with Charlie. That was good; that meant that Carlisle was okay. The Volturi hadn't killed everyone I'd ever associated with out of spite. Renée didn't get the real story, naturally. But she'd been thoroughly convinced that I was dead. Apparently they'd held a funeral for me in Forks, and Renée and Phil had gone, but no Cullens had attended. Charlie thought it was disgraceful that they hadn't shown up. I couldn't blame them, though.

I wondered if they'd had a funeral for Edward.

I shut down the computer, turned the alarm back on, locked the door behind me, put the key away, and walked north.

I had no other locations I wanted to visit at all. I wandered completely aimlessly. I hunted when I was thirsty, and just like Edward had said I would, I got neater over time. I shoveled driveways when I needed money to replace my clothes, and to save extra cash in case I couldn't think of any replacement work for warmer months. Mowing lawns would do on cloudy days, but unlike snow, grass wasn't persistently accompanied by cloud cover.

I remembered Edward and wondered about Elspeth.

It occurred to me in mid-January that I didn't really know what Elspeth might be doing. She might not be in Denali anymore. Carlisle was unharmed by the Volturi, or he wouldn't have been able to contact Charlie. They could probably move around freely. Maybe they were living in one of their own houses by now. I'd only seen Norway, Québec, and Forks, but there were more. I knew where they were. I supposed I'd need to steer clear of those towns. They could buy a new house, but I was unlikely to stumble on it.

I walked up the east coast. There was a Cullen house in Maine, but it was in Farmington, not close to the ocean; I felt safe enough wandering along the beach. I ate a number of killer whales. Edward had shared the first orca I'd ever eaten.

I walked into Canada. It was easier to cross the border unnoticed on foot than in a car, or rather, it was easier to do it without Edward looking out for me and pulling strings to make the border agents ignore me. I crossed Québec without getting too near the house there.

I was in Winnipeg when I noticed I was drifting very definitely northwest. The direction of Alaska.

I was cold all the time. My shield, hugging me day and night without pause, was not comforting; it was just a reminder that I was alive while Edward was not. I wanted my warm child. A reminder that he'd left something behind.

But I couldn't have her. I shouldn't let myself even get close to Denali, not when it could put her in danger even if she wasn't there. I turned south and took a meandering route towards Dallas.

I got to Dallas in late March. I was starting to be able to think about things other than my dead husband and lost daughter for more than a few seconds at a time. I went into libraries and bookstores when I passed them, flipped through and memorized random books and newspapers and magazines. I people-watched. I window-shopped, and gingerly doled out the cash I'd saved from shoveling snow - I acquired a nice, durable backpack and slowly filled it with spare clothes, and a canteen to fill with water. I agreed to take photos for strangers. I visited landmarks and eavesdropped on conversations and wished Edward was with me.

I allowed myself four hours per day of dwelling on him and our child, and other than that, I just traveled and tried to be alive. Like Edward would have wanted.

I was passing through Tennessee when I found Jasper.