She glanced over her shoulder at Edward, lying with his eyes closed in the chair. "You didn't tell me you had such good friends in Forks."
I cringed, and then moaned.
"What hurts?" she demanded anxiously, turning back to me. Edward's eyes flashed to my face.
"It's fine," I assured them. "I just have to remember not to move." He lapsed back into his phony slumber.
I took advantage of my mother's momentary distraction to keep the subject from returning to my less-than-candid behavior. "Where's Phil?" I asked quickly.
"Florida — oh, Bella! You'll never guess! Just when we were about to leave, the best news!"
"Phil got signed?" I guessed.
"Yes! How did you guess! The Suns, can you believe it?"
"That's great, Mom," I said as enthusiastically as I could manage, though I had little idea what that meant.
"And you'll like Jacksonville so much," she gushed while I stared at her vacantly. "I was a little bit worried when Phil started talking about Akron, what with the snow and everything, because you know how I hate the cold, but now Jacksonville! It's always sunny, and the humidity really isn't that bad. We found the cutest house, yellow, with white trim, and a porch just like in an old movie, and this huge oak tree, and it's just a few minutes from the ocean, and you'll have your own bathroom —"
"Wait, Mom!" I interrupted. Edward still had his eyes closed, but he looked too tense to pass as asleep. "What are you talking about? I'm not going to Florida. I live in Forks."
"But you don't have to anymore, silly," she laughed. "Phil will be able to be around so much more now… we've talked about it a lot, and what I'm going to do is trade off on the away games, half the time with you, half the time with him."
"Mom." I hesitated, wondering how best to be diplomatic about this. "I want to live in Forks. I'm already settled in at school, and I have a couple of girlfriends" — she glanced toward Edward again when I reminded her of friends, so I tried another direction — "and Charlie needs me. He's just all alone up there, and he can't cook at all."
"You want to stay in Forks?" she asked, bewildered. The idea was inconceivable to her. And then her eyes flickered back toward Edward. "Why?"
"I told you — school, Charlie — ouch!" I'd shrugged. Not a good idea.
Her hands fluttered helplessly over me, trying to find a safe place to pat. She made do with my forehead; it was unbandaged.
"Bella, honey, you hate Forks," she reminded me.
"It's not so bad."
She frowned and looked back and forth between Edward and me, this time very deliberately.
"Is it this boy?" she whispered.
I opened my mouth to lie, but her eyes were scrutinizing my face, and I knew she would see through that.
"He's part of it," I admitted. No need to confess how big a part. "So, have you had a chance to talk with Edward?" I asked.
"Yes." She hesitated, looking at his perfectly still form. "And I want to talk to you about that."
Uh-oh. "What about?" I asked.
"I think that boy is in love with you," she accused, keeping her voice low.
"I think so, too," I confided.
"And how do you feel about him?" She only poorly concealed the raging curiosity in her voice.
I sighed, looking away. As much as I loved my mom, this was not a conversation I wanted to have with her. "I'm pretty crazy about him." There — that sounded like something a teenager with her first boyfriend might say.
"Well, he seems very nice, and, my goodness, he's incredibly good-looking, but you're so young, Bella…" Her voice was unsure; as far as I could remember, this was the first time since I was eight that she'd come close to trying to sound like a parental authority. I recognized the reasonable-but-firm tone of voice from talks I'd had with her about men.
"I know that, Mom. Don't worry about it. It's just a crush," I soothed her.
"That's right," she agreed, easily pleased.
Then she sighed and glanced guiltily over her shoulder at the big, round clock on the wall.
"Do you need to go?"
She bit her lip. "Phil's supposed to call in a little while… I didn't know you were going to wake up…"
"No problem, Mom." I tried to tone down the relief so she wouldn't get her feelings hurt. "I won't be alone."
"I'll be back soon. I've been sleeping here, you know," she announced, proud of herself.
"Oh, Mom, you don't have to do that! You can sleep at home — I'll never notice." The swirl of painkillers in my brain was making it hard to concentrate even now, though, apparently, I'd been sleeping for days.
"I was too nervous," she admitted sheepishly. "There's been some crime in the neighborhood, and I don't like being there alone."
"Crime?" I asked in alarm.
"Someone broke into that dance studio around the corner from the house and burned it to the ground — there's nothing left at all! And they left a stolen car right out front. Do you remember when you used to dance there, honey?"
"I remember." I shivered, and winced.
"I can stay, baby, if you need me."
"No, Mom, I'll be fine. Edward will be with me."
She looked like that might be why she wanted to stay. "I'll be back tonight." It sounded as much like a warning as it sounded like a promise, and she glanced at Edward again as she said it.
"I love you, Mom."
"I love you, too, Bella. Try to be more careful when you walk, honey, I don't want to lose you."
Edward's eyes stayed closed, but a wide grin flashed across his face.
A nurse came bustling in then to check all my tubes and wires. My mother kissed my forehead, patted my gauze-wrapped hand, and left.
The nurse was checking the paper readout on my heart monitor.
"Are you feeling anxious, honey? Your heart rate got a little high there."
"I'm fine," I assured her.
"I'll tell your RN that you're awake. She'll be in to see you in a minute."
As soon as she closed the door, Edward was at my side.
"You stole a car?" I raised my eyebrows.
He smiled, unrepentant. "It was a good car, very fast."
"How was your nap?" I asked.
"Interesting." His eyes narrowed.
He looked down while he answered. "I'm surprised. I thought Florida… and your mother… well, I thought that's what you would want."
I stared at him uncomprehendingly. "But you'd be stuck inside all day in Florida. You'd only be able to come out at night, just like a real vampire."
He almost smiled, but not quite. And then his face was grave. "I would stay in Forks, Bella. Or somewhere like it," he explained. "Someplace where I couldn't hurt you anymore."
It didn't sink in at first. I continued to stare at him blankly as the words one by one clicked into place in my head like a ghastly puzzle. I was barely conscious of the sound of my heart accelerating, though, as my breathing became hyperventilation, I was aware of the sharp aching in my protesting ribs.
He didn't say anything; he watched my face warily as the pain that had nothing to do with broken bones, pain that was infinitely worse, threatened to crush me.
And then another nurse walked purposefully into the room. Edward sat still as stone as she took in my expression with a practiced eye before turning to the monitors.
"Time for more pain meds, sweetheart?" she asked kindly, tapping the IV feed.
"No, no," I mumbled, trying to keep the agony out of my voice. "I don't need anything." I couldn't afford to close my eyes now.
"No need to be brave, honey. It's better if you don't get too stressed out; you need to rest." She waited, but I just shook my head.
"Okay," she sighed. "Hit the call button when you're ready."
She gave Edward a stern look, and threw one more anxious glance at the machinery, before leaving.
His cool hands were on my face; I stared at him with wild eyes.
"Shhh, Bella, calm down."
"Don't leave me," I begged in a broken voice.
"I won't," he promised. "Now relax before I call the nurse back to sedate you."
But my heart couldn't slow.
"Bella." He stroked my face anxiously. "I'm not going anywhere. I'll be right here as long as you need me."
"Do you swear you won't leave me?" I whispered. I tried to control the gasping, at least. My ribs were throbbing.
He put his hands on either side of my face and brought his face close to mine. His eyes were wide and serious. "I swear."
The smell of his breath was soothing. It seemed to ease the ache of my breathing. He continued to hold my gaze while my body slowly relaxed and the beeping returned to a normal pace. His eyes were dark, closer to black than gold today.
"Better?" he asked.
"Yes," I said cautiously.
He shook his head and muttered something unintelligible. I thought I picked out the word "overreaction."
"Why did you say that?" I whispered, trying to keep my voice from shaking. "Are you tired of having to save me all the time? Do you want me to go away?"
"No, I don't want to be without you, Bella, of course not. Be rational. And I have no problem with saving you, either — if it weren't for the fact that I was the one putting you in danger… that I'm the reason that
"Yes, you are the reason." I frowned. "The reason I'm here — alive."
"Barely." His voice was just a whisper. "Covered in gauze and plaster and hardly able to move."
"I wasn't referring to my most recent near-death experience," I said, growing irritated. "I was thinking of the others — you can take your pick. If it weren't for you, I would be rotting away in the Forks cemetery."