Wednesday, December 26, 2012 | By: Jenny

Haunted Angel Chapter 30

Chapter 30
BELLA
Tha-thump, tha-thump, tha-thump...
Caroline's rhythmic heartbeat was calm, slow, and told that she was in a deep sleep. The house was quiet, though there were several different conversations going on at one time at a volume that the sleeping human would've never heard. Carlisle and Esme were outside on the back deck, speaking in low tones about Archie and Caroline and what the future may hold for them – Edward and I were brought up quite often in comparison. Alice and I were in Edward's and my room. She was flipping through a magazine while I read a book. The boys were playing a video game in the living room with the sound down low.
We were – for Archie's sake – trying to maintain a calm, controlled atmosphere. Jasper was helping, but most likely, it was the gentle heartbeat that was keeping us in check.
Tim Dixon had emailed his itinerary. He wouldn't be arriving until Thursday afternoon, due to a work meeting he couldn't get out of and flight schedules. Most flights that he'd checked were booked, others had long layovers in Atlanta, and I could imagine some were just damned expensive. He took what he could. And that meant we'd have Caroline in our home for three days. Four...if you counted the day before when she'd knocked on our door.
It was a little bit before three o'clock in the morning – the middle of the night. Caroline had fallen completely asleep not long after Archie's self-discovery that she was indeed his mate. It had taken Jasper and Carlisle both to stop him from going into his room simply to see her. Edward said nothing about watching the poor girl sleep – something that made me catch some hellacious giggles. Edward said her sleeping wasn't nearly as fascinating as mine because she didn't talk in her sleep. Silly, handsome thing looked rather proud of that declaration.
But it was Esme that said for Archie to wait until the next day. So...he was waiting. Impatiently, at that.
Alice dropped her magazine to her lap, and I looked over at her on the chaise from my bed. Her sad smile was soft, her eyes meeting mine.
"He reminds me so much of Edward," she said softly, getting up to plop down beside me. "The rapid decisions, the panic, the doubt in himself." She leaned over and kissed the side of my head. "I tried to tell Edward back then – even show him – just how wonderful it would turn out, but he wasn't convinced. I wanted to shake the shit out of him."
Grinning, I shook my head. "Yes, well... Didn't we all? But he eventually saw reason. Archie will, too."
"I can't narrow anything down anymore," she sighed, her nose wrinkling. "That scares me. We were working with a touchy future to begin with."
"What do you see now?" I asked, sitting up, and we both shifted so that we were cross-legged, knees to knees, in the middle of my bed.
She frowned, letting out a deep breath. "I still see the same end result," she said cryptically, and I nodded in understanding that she still saw Caroline as one of us. "I also see her father coming. And I see two very important conversations. One is later...just before she leaves, and it's...tough. The other..." She stopped, staring at my wall with a blank expression. "The other conversation will happen in five minutes and twenty-three seconds. She's about to wake up. She's going to wander into the kitchen."
She said the last part just loud enough so that everyone in the house heard her. Carlisle and Esme came in from deck, telling the boys that they'd be in their room if needed. Jasper and Edward both gave Archie calm reassurance that he'd be fine, that he should just feign insomnia for now. Unfortunately, we had to maintain that the entire house was asleep, aside from Archie, so he had no choice but to brave a moment with Caroline on his own.
Jasper and Edward walked into the room. Edward dropped a heavy kiss to my lips before sitting down behind me. Jasper took the chaise, and Alice joined him. We wanted to be able to hear Archie, make sure he was okay. If he truly needed us, then we'd go to him.
Caroline's heartbeat sped up and then sputtered. She gasped awake, and I could imagine that she was a little out of sorts as to where she was. Her footsteps were tentative, but she made her way up out of Archie's basement bedroom and through the library. When she reached the living room, she gasped.
"Oh, I didn't think anyone would be up," she said.
"Did the TV wake you? I'm sorry..." Archie started, but she interrupted him.
"No, no... Not at all. I had a dream."
I frowned, wondering what she was dreaming that woke her up in the middle of the night. I certainly could relate. My dreams as a human were...colorful, at best.
"She was dreaming of this house," Edward told us.
"Makes sense," Jasper stated with a shrug.
"I just wanted some water," she murmured.
I heard the shifting around downstairs, and the TV went silent.
"I'll get it for you. Please, sit," he offered.
"Slower, Archie," Edward advised softly, knowing Caroline couldn't hear.
I covered my mouth when a soft curse hissed out of our really nervous friend downstairs, but at least it was coming from the kitchen as he pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge. God, he was so damned nervous, but he was doing really well.
When he made it back into the living room, she thanked him and then asked, "Can't sleep?"
"I don't sleep much," he lied smoothly, huffing a laugh at himself.
Edward hid his smile against my shoulder but otherwise stayed quiet as his fingers slowly turned my wedding ring. The living room was so very quiet, except for the sound of Caroline's nervous heart.
"Where..."
"Why'd you..."
They both spoke at the same time, and Alice and I grinned at each other from across the room.
"Please, go ahead," Archie urged. "I didn't mean to interrupt."
His manners, his soft tone, and his gratefulness to her for starting a conversation sounded so much like Edward that I giggled softly, squeaking when my husband's teeth met the side of my neck.
"Shut it, beautiful," he growled low, which caused our siblings to laugh.
"Well, I was going to ask where you were from. You know, before you joined this family," she told him softly.
"I was...alone for a long time," he told her. "But I'm from here. Umm, Maine."
"Was it hard going from being alone to being with..." She huffed a laugh. "I still can't believe there's nine of you."
Archie chuckled, and it was real and sweet. It showed that some of his nerves had left him. "It was...an adjustment. But this family is extraordinary. There's nothing they wouldn't do for me."
I curled into Edward, hearing the complete and utter truth in Archie's words. Strong arms wrapped around me as we continued to listen.
"You'll meet the rest tomorr... Um, later today," he told her. "They'll be back around noon, I think."
That part was true. Carlisle had called Emmett to let him know that the initial meeting went okay between Caroline and Archie and that they could come home.
"That's cool," Caroline said softly. "I'm sorry. What were you going to ask me?"
Archie inhaled anxiously, but he spoke quickly. "I was going to ask why you ran away."
"I didn't..." She huffed harshly and then groaned. "Okay, maybe I did run away. It's just that... Did you ever get the feeling that you were being lied to? Like nothing about your own life is real?"
"Sometimes," he answered carefully, slowly.
"I feel like I wear a mask every day," she sighed, taking a sip of her water. "I don't remember this house much, but I remember when my mother disappeared. My dad was convinced that she'd left...or was taken. He wasn't sure, but I do remember that much. The police thought he'd done something to her, because they asked me a million questions. Then...one night...he just yanked me up out of bed, packed a few things, and then we left. We didn't take a thing with us, and we were in Ohio by the next day. My aunt and uncle live there. And I was happy there...until my dad started drinking. My uncle tried to help him, but nothing worked until Aunt Trish threatened to take me away from him. All of a sudden, we moved across the country."
"Maybe he was scared?" Archie suggested, and I wondered just how hard this conversation was for him. "Maybe he didn't want to lose you, too?"
"No, I get that, but he became irrational. He almost didn't let me go to school. He refused to live in any house – he insisted on apartments. He wanted people around. I wasn't allowed to do anything after school – no movies with friends, no trips to the mall...nothing. I felt..."
"Caged?" Archie supplied.
"Yeah. And I'm tired of it. Nothing he's ever told me was the truth – my mom, this house, why we moved...twice. I remember my mom being very mad at us. My dad and I were always close. Well, I was closer to him back then than her. I remember being slightly afraid of her because nothing I did was good enough. I'd hide when she and my dad started to fight. She was not happy about moving here. She liked Columbus." She paused for a few seconds, taking another sip of water. "But when my dad started to protest my going to college, that's when I couldn't take it anymore. I needed to see this place for myself. I needed to see what he was so afraid of, what made him practically scream at the poor police woman on the phone. It just never made any sense to me."
"Are you scared? Now? Here?" he asked her.
There was a heartbeat of a pause, but she huffed a laugh. "No. Why would I be? You guys have been great, considering I just...showed up on your doorstep like a lunatic."
Alice snickered. "I like her. She's...spunky."
"Seriously," I agreed with a nod.
Both boys chuckled at us, but it was Edward that piped up softly. "I honestly think that Archie was protecting that girl. He was just...going on blind instinct." We all nodded, but he went on. "And I truly think there's more to that day than even Archie remembers. He mentioned a phone call and threats of time out. I'd really love to know Tim's thoughts on that..."
"Are you worried about your dad coming?" Archie asked, and I could hear the protectiveness kick in again.
"No," she sighed. "Not really. Soon, he'll have no choice but to let me go. He'd never hurt me, if that's what you're asking. It's not like that. He'll yell, he'll ground me, but he's smothering me. I can't wait to move away."
"Won't you miss your home? Your friends? B-Boyfriend?" he asked her.
"Holy shit!" Alice and I squeaked together.
"Did he really just ask her if she was single?" Jasper asked, a tone of awe in his voice. "Fuckin'-A, Archie!"
Edward's head fell back with his silent laughter that shook us both and the bed.
"Shut up, Edward," I hissed, smacking at him. "He simply wanted to know where he stood."
"Sorry, baby," my Edward snorted, holding up his hands in order to fend off my not-so-punishing smacks to his chest.
"California doesn't feel like home to me," she answered, and we shut up in order to listen. "All my friends are going off to college, and no, no boyfriend. What about you?" Her heartbeat picked up just a little, but I could hear the insecurity in her voice.
"What about me...what?"
"Oh, Archie," Alice and I groaned together, smacking our foreheads. "She's flirting with you," we told him in unison, which simply pushed Jasper and Edward over the edge and started their silent laughter all over again.
"Oh!" Archie gasped, and I wasn't so sure that wasn't in answer to Alice and me. "Um...no. There's no one, and I have no plans for college right away."
I glared at the two boys in my room through narrowed eyes. If these two couldn't behave themselves, then Emmett and Kevin were going to be out of control. I sighed, poking Edward.
Caroline stifled a yawn, and I heard her finish her water and stand up from the sofa. "Thanks for the water."
"Anytime," Archie murmured. Before she'd taken four steps away from him, he called her back. "Hey, um...Caroline?"
"Hmm?" she hummed.
"What if... What if your dad had been right? What if there was something wrong with this house when you guys were living here?" he asked her, causing all of us to freeze. "I mean, stranger things have happened..."
Caroline laughed a little. "I don't know. I guess I'd need to see it to believe it. I'd be okay with it, I suppose. I miss having faith in him. He used to be my hero."
I frowned, looking to Jasper when sadness swept throughout the room. He grimaced, pushing out something lighter to counteract it.
"He really needed that answer," Alice whispered so very softly, looking to Edward, who was nodding slowly.
"Good night, Archie," she told him.
"Good night."
All four of us left the bedroom and made our way downstairs once Caroline had closed herself up in Archie's room again. Alice and I fell down onto the sofa on either side of Archie, wrapping him up in a hug. Carlisle and Esme emerged from their bedroom. The pride we had for Archie was practically another entity in the room.
"Way to go, Mack Daddy," Jasper teased with a laugh, but Archie shot him a scathing look.
"Shut up," I snapped, turning to Archie. "How you doing, buddy?"
"I'm okay," he answered softly. "Does she feel this, too?"
"Yes," Edward, Jasper, and I answered at the same time.
"You feel it more...intensely than she does, but for her, it's overwhelming because humans can't process that many feelings all at once," I explained. "I imagine she's about to crawl out of her own skin right about now because you asked if she was single."
Edward chuckled, kissing the back of my head. "She's right, Archie. Right now, she's thinking of a million more questions for you."
Archie groaned, putting his face in his hands, and Alice and I rubbed his back sympathetically.
"You should hunt, Arch," Jasper advised.
"I just hunted a few days ago," Archie argued, glancing up at him.
"You should go again," Edward told him. "You can never be too careful, first of all. And second, you've been through an emotionally wild ride. It will help you stay clear-headed around her."
"Come, son," Carlisle told him. "We'll go with you."
Esme turned to the rest of us. "We'll be back in time to make Caroline some breakfast." We all groaned, knowing we had to pretend to eat, and she smirked. "I'm fairly certain that you'll all live."
I grimaced at the mere thought of having to get rid of whatever she planned on making. "Just...no milk, okay?" I requested as the nightmarish memory of Truth or Dare came back to me of having to down a gallon of the putrid substance.
Esme shot me a wink before she turned to leave. "We'll see."
The muttered complaints aimed her way went ignored because she had already left us.
~oOo~
I stared glassy-eyed at the computer screen. Alice and I were pretending to do school work in the library. Jasper and Edward were playing softly on their guitars – also an attempt to feign school, but it was simply the extra-curricular music portion. It wasn't fair, but since neither Alice nor I played a single instrument, we were stuck writing an essay on ancient Egyptian myths.
Once Esme, Carlisle, and Archie had returned from their hunt, Esme had kicked into mother mode. She'd made a fairly large, though easy enough breakfast to fake eating, and then told us to start our home-school work. Caroline had been intrigued, but she sat with Esme and Carlisle for a bit as they talked about her father's flight information.
My gaze slipped slowly from the boring story behind the god Horace to the magnificence of Edward lost in his music. He was sitting on the edge of the piano bench with the acoustic guitar he'd bought for himself while he was away from me on his lap. Long, talented fingers worked out a soothing melody that harmonized perfectly with whatever Jasper was playing. It most likely was being made up right there on the spot, and as always, it was beautiful. A dark curl fell to the middle of his forehead as he concentrated, his tongue flickered out to drag across his bottom lip, and the muscles in his forearms flexed with every string plucked.
Darkening honey eyes snapped to meet mine. I half-expected him to tease me about daydreaming, but his face was sympathetic.
I miss touching you, I thought to him with a frown and a deep sigh, forcing my gaze back to the computer. Sorry, Edward. That sounds selfish, doesn't it? Archie needs us.
My eyes flickered to the opposite side of the room, where Archie was on his e-reader, though I was damn certain he wasn't processing a single word, because Caroline was pacing outside on her phone. She was having a long chat with her cousin, Tiffany, and poor Archie was the top subject. Caroline was currently telling her cousin that Archie was cute and sweet, that he was so very shy. And that maybe pissing her dad off had been worth it.
Locking gazes with Edward again, I thought, Dear God...how did you not go crazy at Forks High?!
Edward grinned, shook his head, and then shrugged his shoulders. He looked amused yet so very proud. I drank in the delicious sight of his neck that peeked out the collar of his button-down shirt and sloped gracefully up to his sharp jaw line. I licked my lips, wanting to taste that small bit of skin and sighing that I couldn't do a thing about it. He shifted in his seat a little, still playing the damn guitar without missing a note, but his eyes swirled darker and darker as my thoughts got away from me.
When I focused on his hands and all the carnal knowledge that they contained, a loud zinging pop echoed through the room.
Oops! I gasped, my mouth hanging open as Edward glared at the broken string of his guitar. Shit, baby... I'm so sorry...
With that last thought to him, I slammed my shield down around me. It was probably for the best – at least until I could clear my mind.
"Dammit," Edward groaned, but there was a chuckle laced in there at the same time.
Jasper laughed. "Want me to fix it?"
"No, I'll do it," my husband sighed, shooting me a fierce yet adorable look. "Dangerous creature," he muttered before getting up to get a pack of spare strings from the cabinet.
As cute as he was when he was irritated, the sound of Caroline's voice called all of our attention out the window.
"No, no! I don't want to talk to your mom, Tiff!" She groaned, rolling her eyes. "Hey, Aunt Trish," she sighed in defeat, her shoulders slumping.
We all flinched at the sound of a woman's voice echoing through the phone. She yelled about irresponsibility, stupid decisions, scaring the living shit out of people, and the possibility of her getting killed. In all reality, Aunt Trish was right; anything could've happened to Caroline on her trip to Maine. The tirade continued at a steady pace, not allowing the poor girl to say a word, and I could smell her tears beginning to well up, even from where I was sitting.
"Aw, damn," I sighed, frowning at her bravely wiping them away. "You know, it's kinda not fair... She survived the entire trip here without a single incident. If that had been me..." I snorted, rolling my eyes. "I couldn't even go to a Port Angeles bookstore without getting into trouble."
Alice, Jasper, and Edward laughed, but Archie stayed quiet. His smile curled the corners of his mouth, but I could tell he was itching to go to her. Caroline's crying was getting to him as she tried to plead her case to her aunt.
"I'm sorry, Aunt Trish!" she sobbed, trying to take a deep breath. "I'm so tired of it. He's been lying to me my whole life. I just... I needed to know!"
"You could've talked to me about it, kiddo," her aunt said on the other end, but all the wind had left her sails. The sympathy was coming through her voice loud and clear. "We could've gone. I'd have taken you. We could've made it a girls weekend while you were here. We're not all against you."
Caroline didn't say anything to that but hung her head as she kept the phone up to her ear.
"Ah, Carrie...you have to hang in there," she continued softly. "It's just a couple more months of school, and then you'll head off to college. I know you can do this. Your dad is frantic that you're all grown up, but to be honest, it's time for him to move on. He's been so focused on you all these years that he's forgotten how to live his own life."
Caroline nodded but stayed quiet.
"You're his whole world, kiddo," she sighed.
"I know. But there's more out there than just me."
"That's very true. Is he still pushing that poor woman away?" Aunt Trish asked.
"Mel? Melanie's great. Yeah, he won't even consider it," Caroline told her. "And she likes him a lot."
Aunt Trish let out a deep breath over the line. "Look, Carrie, I'll see if your Uncle Jack can talk to him about lightening up a bit once you're back home, but this... This thing you did... You have to face the consequences. You still live under his roof. He still clothes you, feeds you, keeps you safe, and he's about to put you through school. Understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Caroline muttered, her brow furrowing.
Caroline stood still right off the deck after she ended the call with her aunt. Once she'd shoved her phone into the pocket of the jeans I'd loaned her, she made her way back inside. My eyes glanced over to Archie, who was staring blindly at the e-reader in his hand. However, there was nothing going to stop him from looking up at Caroline once she made it into the library.
"You okay?" he asked her because her eyes were still a little red from crying.
She huffed humorlessly. "I'm in trouble with everyone in my family."
"You are five states away from where you should be," Alice pointed out with a sly grin. "And you didn't tell anyone anything."
Caroline grimaced but nodded, taking a seat in the chair across from Archie. "I know. It was stupid, but I don't think anyone gets it."
"I used to think that way," Archie said softly, shrugging a shoulder. "I've found that no matter how strange something sounds in your head, there's always someone that...gets it. Even if they don't completely understand, they at least won't judge you on it."
My eyebrows shot up, and I tossed a quick glance to Edward, who was looking at our quiet friend with sympathy and warmth. Caroline's face blushed crimson as she gazed at Archie, her heartbeat picking up a bit, and she nodded once before giving the library a long, slow glance.
She got up from her chair, trailing a finger along the many spines of books that lined the walls. "I remember this room," she said softly. "I remember liking the smell of it and how comfortable it was. The furniture is different, of course, but still... The smell is the same."
"Like old leather and paper," I added with a smirk, because I felt the same way about that room...or any room Carlisle stored his many books.
"Yeah, I love that smell," Caroline mused, turning just enough so that I could see her grin.
"Ugh, you and Bella..." Alice scoffed, waving a hand at both of us. "Give me the smell of the mall any day."
"Shut up," I snorted, shoving my grinning sister a bit.
"Oh, I like the mall, too," Caroline said with a giggle. "But this room...it always seemed to calm me when my parents were fighting. I felt...protected."
My eyes shot to Archie, who was watching her quietly from his chair. I wondered briefly if Caroline had felt the calm back then simply because Archie was residing in the room right below it. I wondered if they'd had a small connection even back then. And from the look on Edward's and Jasper's faces, I would say my guess was the same as theirs.
Caroline continued to move throughout the room, her eyes grazing over Emmett's drums, Edward's piano, and finally, all the guitars on the wall. She turned to look at the two boys that still had two of those guitars in their hands, though Edward was slowly restringing his.
Edward looked up at her as he turned the tuner on the end. "Do you play?"
Caroline snorted, shaking her head with a furrowed brow. "No, not at all. I had a friend try to teach me once, but I was terrible. I couldn't get my hands to work right," she said, trailing a finger along the smooth wood of Edward's blue acoustic hanging on the wall. It was the one I'd made him buy in New York. "These are really pretty, though."
"Thank you. And playing guitar is unnatural for your hands, anyway," Edward stated. I fought my smile, because he couldn't resist talking music...with anyone. He picked a few notes on the one on his lap, looking up at her. "It's not a normal position to put them in. And it seems backwards. If you're right handed, you'd think that would be the hand you'd use to make the chords, but it's the opposite, actually. Most every other instrument is easier."
"Ed says that because he plays more than one instrument," Jasper teased, shoving his brother's shoulder. "Show off..."
"I'm not showing off!" Edward snapped, rolling his eyes. "I was simply agreeing with her!"
"Well, you should show off, Edward. You're very talented," I said calmly, though my smile at the two of them could not be contained. When he glanced up at me, I pointed to the piano, letting him in my thoughts again. Play for me, baby. Please?
Edward looked defeated, but he wove his pick through three strings of his guitar, sliding it all the way up to the neck so it stayed there. After hanging the natural wood instrument back up on the wall in its correct space, he sat back down in front of the piano.
I couldn't stop my proud smile if I tried as the notes wafted throughout the room. He started with "Fur Elise." I wasn't sure Beethoven himself could've played it better, and I giggled silently when Edward's amused face turned my way. The words, "You're so biased, Bella," were written all over his face as he continued to play flawlessly. His fingers flew over the keys, and Caroline sat down next to me to listen.
"Wow," she breathed, looking between Alice and me.
I laughed softly. "Yeah."
The sound of a car's engine met my ears, which meant the rest of our siblings were back home. Just as Edward ended the song, the front doors blew open, causing Caroline to jump.
"Ooh, she's a little runaway!" Emmett sang loudly. "Daddy's girl learned fast...all those things he couldn't say... Oooh-ooh...she's a little runaway!"
"Emmett, shut up!" Edward and Jasper snapped at the same time.
"So where is she?" our biggest brother boomed, stepping into the room with an arm around Rose's shoulders. Right behind him were Kevin and Adrian – hand in hand.
Suddenly, Archie was up and out of his chair, though luckily, he remembered to move slower. But he walked to Emmett, wearing a scowl. "Well, if you'd settle down and quit scaring her, you'd see she's right there. Damn!"
My family froze, but Emmett swung his grinning face to Edward, who was extremely amused. Archie was protecting her.
"You have to be Emmett," Caroline said, laughing a little, but I watched as she noted his arm draped across Rose's shoulders.
"My reputation precedes me, yeah?" he asked her, wearing his biggest grin.
"You could say that," she shot right back at him. "Carlisle told me to ignore anything you say, that your mouth has a tendency to write checks your butt can't cash."
The whole room exploded into laughter.
"Nice!" I laughed, placing a hand on her shoulder as Emmett muttered something about having a conversation with Dad. "Caroline, this is the rest of us. Emmett, obviously. Then there's Rosalie, Kevin, and Adrian."
Rose smiled tightly, not because she didn't like the girl, but she was always a little standoffish when it came to meeting new people. Adrian waved and greeted her calmly as he took a seat across from us. But Kevin came and plopped down on my other side.
"It's nice to meet you," Kevin said politely, eying the girl up, but she smiled at him. He turned to me. "Did you miss me, Goddess?" he asked sadly, though dramatically.
"I did," I told him, leaning into his kiss to my cheek. "Did you guys have fun?"
"The band was okay," Adrian murmured, shrugging a shoulder.
"Yeah, Heavy E and the boys are better and a helluva lot sexier," Kevin said, jerking a thumb behind him toward Edward and our brothers. He grinned, shooting Edward a big grin and a wink.
I could've kissed Kevin. Honestly. He had a way of outing himself without saying the words, without making it an issue. And he did it most times daring someone to have a problem with it, but usually just to answer that unasked question. Realization crossed over Caroline's features, and she smirked as she watched Kevin. I liked that she wasn't stupid or shy. And I really loved to watch that no matter who was in the room, her eyes always made their way right back to Archie, who was shifting nervously from one foot to the other.
"And the fact that you play with them now..." Alice said with a giggle.
"Increases the sexy factor ten-fold, Princess," Kevin snorted. "You should know these statistics. Damn!"
"As you can see, Kevin is our modest one," I told Caroline.
"Pfft, whatever," Kevin scoffed, getting up to sit beside Adrian.
I could see Caroline working it out because her eyes flickered around the room one more time.
My eyes locked with Edward's. She knows, right? Or she thinks she knows. That we're all coupled off. Did we forget to tell Emmett?
Edward nodded once but turned to the doorway when Esme walked in.
"Ah, you're all back," she said, kissing Rose's cheek and then Emmett's. She walked to Kevin and Adrian and did the same, but asked, "Did you guys have fun? And did you meet Caroline?"
"We did," Adrian answered her. "Both."
"Good, but I missed you," she told them firmly before kissing their foreheads.
I smiled but caught sight of Caroline watching Esme with an unreadable expression on her face. There was an underlying sadness in her blue eyes, and my heart went out to her. Esme was the epitome of Mom. It oozed from her, seeped out into the room like a comforting blanket. It wrapped around all of us, making us feel welcomed, wanted, loved. For Caroline, I could imagine that it was a shock to the system. It had been for me, coming from living with Renee, who wasn't exactly the motherly type. Caroline, having no mother at all, must've been in shock or jealous. I couldn't tell which.
The girl jumped a little when Esme turned her eye on her. "Sweetheart, if you're hungry, I can make you something."
The vampires in the room grumbled at a volume that poor Caroline couldn't hear, and it made me smile.
"I should check in with my dad," she replied softly and nervously. "He wanted to hear from me..."
"Go ahead." I nudged her, smiling a little. "I'll make lunch. Spaghetti, okay?" I offered because I knew that whoever had to sit with us at the table could push spaghetti around to make it look like it was disappearing.
"Whatever is fine. Beggars can't be choosers," she said with a snort.
Esme scoffed, rolling her eyes. "You are no beggar, Caroline. Come, we'll call your dad from Carlisle's office. It'll give you some privacy – something I imagine you haven't had much of in this house."
Caroline laughed, but her eyes fell to Archie. "It's okay. I like the company."
"Trust me, you'll be begging for silence by the time your dad gets here." I grinned, ducking pillows and wadded up papers aimed my way when I stood up. "Whatever!"
Caroline giggled and followed Esme into the master bedroom. I was right behind them, rolling my eyes at the razzing poor Archie was taking from Emmett and Kevin about the girl's last statement. Poor things, both of them.
Once I was in the kitchen, I suddenly found myself lifted and planted on top of the counter with a dark-eyed Edward pressing himself between my legs with a finger up to his lips.
"You were killing me in there earlier," he barely breathed, pressing his forehead to mine, but his eyes closed, those long, dark, beautiful eyelashes resting against his skin.
Then shut the hell up and kiss me, Edward! I thought to him as my hands slipped up his neck and into his hair while I couldn't help but lick my lips.
With a deep, guttural, masculine moan, Edward's lips met mine in a frenzy. It was sweeps of wet lips, swirling, desperate tongues, and light scrapes of teeth. Edward turned his head, deepening the kiss, but also pressing his hips harder against mine. My legs wrapped around his waist, digging my heels into that rock-hard ass of his, simply to bring him that much closer. We both moaned softly at the contact.
Fuck, baby...you're hard already! I panted, pulling back to look at him.
He could only nod as his eyes squeezed closed and his breathing was heavy. His eyes opened to reveal black fire and want and a barely controlled need. His beautiful face was pained, but a smile curled his lips up at the corners.
"I can't help it," he whispered almost silently as his lips met the soft skin just behind my ear.
I know, handsome. And believe me, I want to take care of you, but...
He groaned, his whole body wrapping around me in defeat. "I know," he sighed as his forehead fell to my shoulder. His hard grasp on my hips left me so that he could brace his hands on either side of my legs on the counter.
Pulling back, he nuzzled my nose with his own, up one side and down the other. "I love you."
I smiled like I always did when he said those words. "I love you, too, Edward. But I have to get started on lunch."
He grinned, huffing a frustrated laugh. "Thanks for that, by the way, my beautiful girl. You're a lifesaver. Esme was thinking salad and just...no. It's like chewing grass or leaves or something."
Giggling, I leaned in and kissed his exposed neck, that part of his skin that I'd been eying earlier. "You'll have to owe me one, Cullen."
He chuckled, and it vibrated against my lips. "A debt I'd gladly pay."
He became very still, turning his head just a little. The sound of a heavy, human heartbeat entered the room, and his hands went to my waist to help me down. His lips pressed to my forehead as I realized we were being watched.
So I'm assuming it's okay to be more than...siblings, I teased him with a poke to his chest.
"Yes," he breathed against my skin. "And...I have to...do something outside for a minute."
He grinned, but his face was a touch embarrassed as I noticed my sweet, loving Edward was still very much aroused. Muttering under his breath, "Dangerous creature," he walked out the back deck doors.
Glancing up briefly, I saw Caroline standing there, but I reached for the sauce pan and started to make lunch.
"Sorry," she whispered, giving the back door a curious look.
I laughed. "Don't be."
"You're together," she stated. "I noticed in there..." She jerked a thumb behind her. When I nodded, she asked, "Do your parents know?"
"Yeah," I sighed, starting a pot of water for the pasta. "It's not something we advertise, but yeah. I know it seems strange, but it is what it is. We can't help it," I told her honestly with a shrug and a smile. "And it simply worked out that way."
"No, no... I'm... I mean, I don't care," she corrected quickly. "I think it's great. You get to be together all the time."
I laughed, giving her a glance. Her face was open and honest. "We do. And he's my best friend, too, so it's great."
I stirred the sauce as she leaned against the counter, twisting her fingers together.
"And Archie?" she asked in a whisper, meeting my gaze nervously.
"No...he's alone." I smiled at her. "You like him," I stated, noting that her heartbeat had picked up a bit. Plus, I was hoping my shy friend was listening.
"He's really sweet...and shy." She looked at her hands and back up to me. "And cute!"
Giggling, I nodded. "He is all of those things."
"He doesn't talk much," she said with a frown.
"No, he's nervous. You'll have to forgive him that. It is a result of his...history," I explained as carefully as I could. "I imagine he'll start to relax around you soon. Maybe we can do something as a group to take the edge off. Not that there's a lot to do around here."
Her eyes widened, but she merely nodded. "So where are you from?"
I smiled, continuing to make sure my sauce wasn't sticking. "Washington State. A small town called Forks. That was where I met this family. Though, Archie, Kevin, and Adrian weren't with us yet. Alice, Edward, and I were in some of the same classes. Edward and I... Well, we were instantly inseparable."
I didn't want to go into the whys and details of how I became a member of the family. The explanation for the public were mostly lies that was laced with a touch of truth. Caroline deserved the real story, but not just yet.
"Everyone here has their own story," I told her simply, shrugging a shoulder. "Carlisle and Esme have been amazing to us."
"I can see that," Caroline replied. "Here, let me help you."
We worked silently in the kitchen for a few minutes. She drained the pasta while I pulled down plates. I knew Edward and my siblings were dreading this, but they had no choice at all. We couldn't not eat in front of her. There were several "teenage" boys in the house that looked to the outside world like they could eat a horse. Caroline didn't need to know that they'd actually prefer a damn horse to spaghetti.
The thought caused me to snort, especially when Edward's deep laughter met my ears from the front door as he came back inside.
Once I called everyone to the table, Emmett sat down with a grin. Smacking his hands onto the table, he boomed, "So...let's talk movies tonight!"
~oOo~
EDWARD
Edward Cullen!
I flinched at the sound of my full name, and if it hadn't sounded so damned desperate, I would've laughed. I couldn't help it; I wanted my wife. And after having been denied her for the past few days, I was going to go crazy if something didn't give. Soon. Between staying up to keep Archie company overnight and pretending that we were siblings in front of Caroline, there had been no alone time for just the two of us.
It didn't help that we were in a dark, cool theater, that we were huddled down in our seats, and that I'd lifted the armrest between us. Closer. I needed her closer, but I knew I was throwing kerosene onto an already large fire. I'd touched, kissed, teased, and finally, pushed Bella too far.
I groaned, my head falling back to the headrest behind me. Rubbing my face with both hands, I sank my fingers into my hair in frustration.
Edward, baby...look at me, Bella thought to me. Rolling my head to face her, I saw that she was mirroring my position. I'm so sorry. Not here. Not now. Please? We have to pay attention. Archie's counting on us.
I knew all of that, of course. And I knew that on top of that, Bella didn't want anything to happen in a disgusting movie theater. Neither did I, really, but it was hard to resist her smell, her reactions to everything I did, and it was nearly impossible to keep my hands off her, especially when she nonchalantly trailed her fingers along the skin of my arm. It set me on fire, though I was pretty sure it wouldn't have taken much.
I'd watched as Carlisle had lost himself to Esme so many years ago. He'd honestly thought he'd never see her again, but she'd showed up, nearly dead, and he had to have her. I remembered Rose pleading, sobbing, begging for Carlisle to save the large man she'd barely saved from a grizzly. She'd practically ripped me apart during Emmett's change. And the day that Alice and Jasper had joined us... There was a connection between those two that was so deep, so pure that it was impossible not to see. I remembered my mated family through a haze of jealousy and confusion.
And then came my Bella. She flashed into my life like a shooting star, and through ups, downs, victories, horrible mistakes...she was mine, and she was mine forever. I was aware that all the decisions I'd made concerning her were made through the same haze of confusion. That I'd never truly understood just what finding my mate meant. Those were my mistakes. And my sweet girl never gave them much thought – something that made me love her that much more.
I'd barely paid that much attention to Kevin and Adrian's mating. We'd been at war with Tanya at the time, and despite how I'd counseled Kevin along his journey, the two of them made their own way without much trouble once Kevin had become immortal. Despite Kevin's love for us, he and Adrian had learned to lean on Marcus for their beginnings.
But watching Archie was amazing to me. I wasn't sure if it was the fact that we were practically the same immortal age, that we'd been born during the same era, or that he was just as insecure and worried as I'd been, but something about it all was interesting to me. And humorous, if I were to be honest. I'd been through it, suffered the heartache, and struggled to find the words to say when that one girl looked at you like you hung the moon. And Caroline had a strength inside of her that I wasn't even sure she was aware of because she guided him in the smallest of ways, even after only knowing him for two days.
Archie had been unsure about the movies, but then again, he didn't want to miss out. Caroline had merely asked him if he was joining us, and he gave in. There was no panic, no balking, no wavering. She was just outgoing enough to keep him talking, and that was a feat in and of itself. He was used to staying quiet, but she wouldn't let him. After Bella had explained to her that it was Archie's past that made him introverted, Caroline had made the decision to keep him talking. She was unsure of the future, but she knew that once college started, she'd be close enough to do something about the feelings that had come on so strongly about the beautiful, quiet boy she was trying so hard to get to know. That was her goal.
Unfortunately, Alice's vision, no matter what decisions were made, stayed strong and true: Caroline would be one of us by the summer.
I sighed deeply, ignoring the end of the movie on the large screen. My eyes were only on my Bella. All of this, and the memories that came with it, made me want her with a need that I couldn't stop. I wanted to worship her, thank God for her, and beg her to never, ever stop touching me. I needed it more that I'd ever needed anything. And I wasn't sure why. There was a part of me that found it ironic. We couldn't be together like that, so therefore, the denial made the need stronger. Like reverse psychology.
Bella didn't say anything. She simply ran her fingers through my hair, her deep, fathomless brown eyes drinking in every inch of my face, but they were filled with understanding. Her mind was a soothing chant of vows and promises of "soon" and "not long," along with calming mantras of sympathy and so, so much love. But laced between all of that were her own desires. I'd seen them in the library earlier, and they'd only increased as the hours had ticked away.
"I want you," I barely said aloud through gritted teeth. "I can't apologize for that."
She smiled, soft and sweet. Nor would I ever want you to. Maybe when we get home, we'll go for a hunt, hmm?
I was nodding fervently before the thought ever finished, which made my girl giggle softly.
"It's a date, handsome. Hang in there, okay?" she asked, glancing up as the credits finally rolled on whatever hellacious romantic comedy we'd been forced to watch. "Thank God that's over."
Laughing, I stood up, offering her my hand as the lights came up a bit in the theater. The large group of us had taken up almost two rows in the theater. Thankfully, Emmett had been at the opposite end of the row. Otherwise, he would have never let me live it down that I couldn't keep my hands to myself. I'd hate to see Bella ruin him in public.
We made our way out into the main corridor of the multi-screen cinema and out toward the front doors.
"I'll be right out," Caroline told us, gesturing to the restroom.
"We'll come with you," Bella offered, leaning into the kiss I placed against her temple before letting go of her hand.
"We'll be outside, love," I told her, smiling when she nodded.
Bella, my sisters, and Caroline disappeared into the very busy ladies' room, but Emmett led us outside into the drizzly night, past large groups of teens gathered here and there, and down several steps to the sidewalk, where we leaned against a concrete planter to wait.
Jasper was quiet, though he kept shooting glances toward Archie, Emmett was people watching, Kevin and Adrian were deep in a conversation about the actors in the movie we'd just seen, but my hand landed on Archie's shoulder.
"You okay?" I asked, because his eyes were locked onto the theater's front doors and his mind was filled with worry.
"Is it crazy that I'm worried about being just this far away?" he asked me, but all of us answered him.
"No."
Adrian gazed at him with sympathy. "It doesn't help that she's human, buddy. You're worried even more. It's okay. They're so fragile," he said, smiling Kevin's way.
I huffed a laugh through my nose. "That's very true. Plus, your need to protect her at all costs doesn't help. It only makes it worse."
Emmett chuckled, but it wasn't at Archie, just simply at the situation due to its familiarity. "Eddie here was convinced that Bells would get struck by lightning or a meteor would suddenly crash down on Earth...right on top of her. Bears, wolves, a wet spot on the floor. It all posed a threat. It was funny, but then...it wasn't. You know what I'm sayin', pal? We tried to help him out, but in reality, it's a true fear – something happening to your mate. And by the way, you're doing awesome, dude."
We all nodded in agreement, but Jasper spoke up softly, saying, "Your control around her impresses me, Arch. Well done."
Archie gazed down at his feet in embarrassment of the praise but nodded twice.
"I'm not so sure that's not a part of mating with a human," Adrian mused, rubbing his chin as his brow furrowed. "I mean, I was only a year old when I met Kev. His blood didn't bother me as much as some others."
"I wasn't so lucky," I sighed, smiling sadly. "Bella's blood was...strong. It called to me at first. Not until I came back to her was I able to ignore it."
"But you'd accepted everything by then, Heavy E," Kevin added, though his voice was soothing. "Maybe there are several factors we're not accounting for when it comes to finding your mate while they're still human." He held up his fingers, ticking off his points. "No fear, slightly more observant, and the blood doesn't seem as strong."
"Maybe," Jasper mused, his eyes faraway as he thought it over. When he looked to me, he asked, "What about Carlisle? You ever ask him what Esme's blood did to him? You know...that first time?"
I shook my head. "No. But I suppose we could ask him. He'd find this conversation fascinating."
"Hey!" Bella sang as she, Alice, and Rose stood with three girls I recognized.
Tara, Lacey, and Faith smiled at Bella and my sisters. It seemed they were there to see the next showing of the movie we'd just watched, so the girls were giving them a rundown on it – the actor was cute, but the story was just okay. The big kiss was amazing, but the humor was silly.
Chuckling, I shook my head. Caroline was introduced, but she said she was going to join us down the stairs, and Alice told her they'd be right behind her. By the time Alice saw what was coming, it was too late, because it had nothing to do with decisions.
The steps were wet, and luckily, the area was mostly clear of movie goers. But Caroline lost her footing just about halfway down the twenty steps. Alice yelled at me via thoughts to stop Archie, but that was impossible, considering he'd moved way too fast, using his invisibility to get to Caroline.
"Aw, shit!" Emmett hissed, watching as Archie suddenly reappeared with his arms securely around Caroline before her head could come near the concrete.
It was the skidding van at Forks High all over again because I watched as Caroline's eyes narrowed in on Archie, her thoughts centered around how he'd been nowhere near her, but he was there, holding her. He'd saved her. And then there was sheer and utter panic at what he'd done that was coming from Archie. I sighed, seeing what was coming next as I took the steps at a human pace. Archie's panic turned into anger – mostly at himself.
"How'd you do that?" she whispered to him.
"Do what?" he snapped through gritted teeth.
"You... You were down there. Now you're here."
I groaned, shaking my head at him, because Alice saw it all. Caroline was just about figure out there truly was something different about us – mainly, Archie. I tried to tell him silently to just shut up, but he couldn't take his eyes off her. He eyed her warily, his nostrils flaring at how he'd messed up. The lie he was about to spew wouldn't work. And I should know.
"I was standing right here." He pointed to the ground, but she was already shaking her head.
Bella, Alice, and Rose made their way to us, wrapping Caroline up.
"You okay?" Bella asked her, her eyes locking with mine. Oh fuck, she thought in a panic.
I wanted to laugh at her language, but I couldn't. I was thinking the same damn thing.
"Yeah, Archie stopped me from getting hurt," Caroline stated, but she frowned when Archie wouldn't meet her gaze.
"Well, you were very lucky," Alice soothed, looking to me. He withdraws, Edward. You have to talk to him!
Nodding that I'd heard her, I sighed deeply, running a hand through my hair. Turning to Emmett, I said, "Call Carlisle. This is... He'll need to know this. Tell him to meet us at the house," I told him, knowing that Carlisle had been working at the local hospital because one of his patients had given birth. "This will have huge consequences. Alice has seen it."
"Sure, bro. Got it," Emmett said seriously, pulling out his phone.
Squeezing Archie's shoulder, I led him to the parking lot. "Calm down. You did the right thing, you hear me?"
Archie nodded, but his thoughts were frantic and disbelieving. I glanced across everyone to meet Bella's gaze, sighing in frustration and sympathy, because I knew this was going to be a long night.

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