"Getting older," I answered anyway, and my voice was not as steady as I wanted it to be
Beside me, Edward's smile tightened into a hard line.
"Eighteen isn't very old," Alice said. "Don't women usually wait till they're twenty-nine to
get upset over birthdays?"
"It's older than Edward," I mumbled.
"Technically," she said, keeping her tone light. "Just kwa one little year, though."
And I supposed… if I could be sure of the future I wanted, sure that I would get to spend
forever with Edward, and Alice and the rest of the Cullens (preferably not as a wrinkled little
old lady)… then a mwaka au two one direction au the other wouldn't matter to me so much. But
Edward was dead set against any future that changed me. Any future that made me like
him–that made me immortal, too.
An impasse, he called it.
I couldn't really see Edward's point, to be honest. What was so great about mortality? Being
a vampire didn't look like such a terrible thing–not the way the Cullens did it, anyway.
"What time will wewe be at the house?" Alice continued, changing the subject. From her
expression, she was up to exactly the kind of thing I'd been hoping to avoid.
"I didn't know I had plans to be there."
"Oh, be fair, Bella!" she complained. "You aren't going to ruin all our fun like that, are you?"
"I thought my birthday was about what I want."
"I'll get her from Charlie's right after school," Edward told her, ignoring me altogether.
"I have to work," I protested.
"You don't, actually," Alice told me smugly. "I already spoke to Mrs. Newton about it. She's
trading your shifts. She alisema to tell wewe 'Happy Birthday.'"
"I–I still can't come over," I stammered, scrambling for an excuse. "I, well, I haven't watched Romeo and Juliet yet for English."
Alice snorted. "You have Romeo and Juliet memorized."
"But Mr. Berty alisema we needed to see it performed to fully appreciate it–that's how
Shakespeare intended it to be presented."
Edward rolled his eyes.
"You've already seen the movie," Alice accused.
"But not the nineteen-sixties version. Mr. Berty alisema it was the best."
Finally, Alice Lost the smug smile and glared at me. "This can be easy, au this can be hard,
Bella, but one way au the other–"
Edward interrupted her threat. "Relax, Alice. If Bella wants to watch a movie, then she can.
It's her birthday."
"So there," I added.
"I'll bring her over around seven," he continued. "That will give wewe zaidi time to set up."
Alice's laughter chimed again. "Sounds good. See wewe tonight, Bella! It'll be fun, you'll see."
She grinned–the wide smile exposed all her perfect, glistening teeth–then pecked me on the
cheek and danced off toward her first class before I could respond.
"Edward, please–" I started to beg, but he pressed one cool finger to my lips.
"Let's discuss it later. We're going to be late for class."
No one bothered to stare at us as we took our usual seats in the back of the classroom (we
had almost every class together now–it was amazing the favors Edward could get the female
administrators to do for him). Edward and I had been together too long now to be an object
of gossip anymore. Even Mike Newton didn't bother to give me the glum stare that used to
make me feel a little guilty. He smiled now instead, and I was glad he seemed to have
accepted that we could only be friends. Mike had changed over the summer–his face had lost
some of the roundness, making his cheekbones zaidi prominent, and he was wearing his pale
blond hair a new way; instead of bristly, it was longer and gelled into a carefully casual
disarray. It was easy to see where his inspiration came from–but Edward's look wasn't
something that could be achieved through imitation.
As the siku progressed, I considered ways to get out of whatever was going down at the
Cullen house tonight. It would be bad enough to have to celebrate when I was in the mood
to mourn. But, worse than that, this was sure to involve attention and gifts.
Attention is never a good thing, as any other accident-prone klutz would agree. No one
wants a spotlight when they're likely to fall on their face.
And I'd very pointedly asked–well, ordered really–that no one give me any presents this year.
It looked like Charlie and Renee weren't the only ones who had decided to overlook that.
I'd never had much money, and that had never bothered me. Renee had raised me on a
kindergarten teacher's salary. Charlie wasn't getting rich at his job, either–he was the police
chief here in the tiny town of Forks. My only personal income came from the three days a
week I worked at the local sporting goods store. In a town this small, I was lucky to have a
job. Every penny I made went into my microscopic college fund. (College was Plan B. I was
still hoping for Plan A, but Edward was just so stubborn about leaving me human…)
Edward had a lot of money–I didn't even want to think about how much. Money meant next
to nothing to Edward au the rest of the Cullens. It was just something that accumulated
when wewe had unlimited time on your hands and a sister who had an uncanny ability to
predict trends in the stock market. Edward didn't seem to understand why I objected to him
spending money on me–why it made me uncomfortable if he took me to an expensive
restaurant in Seattle, why he wasn't allowed to buy me a car that could reach speeds over
fifty-five miles an hour, au why I wouldn't let him pay my college tuition (he was ridiculously
enthusiastic about Plan B). Edward thought I was being unnecessarily difficult.
But how could I let him give me things when I had nothing to reciprocate with? He, for
some unfathomable reason, wanted to be with me. Anything he gave me on juu of that just
threw us zaidi out of balance.
As the siku went on, neither Edward nor Alice brought my birthday up again, and I began to
relax a little.
We sat at our usual meza, jedwali for lunch.
A strange kind of truce existed at that table. The three of us–Edward, Alice, and I–sat on the
extreme southern end of the table. Now that the "older" and somewhat scarier (in Emmett's
case, certainly) Cullen siblings had graduated, Alice and Edward did not seem quite so
intimidating, and we did not sit here alone. My other friends, Mike and Jessica (who were in
the awkward post-breakup friendship phase), Angela and Ben (whose relationship had
survived the summer), Eric, Conner, Tyler, and Lauren (though that last one didn't really
count in the friend category) all sat at the same table, on the other side of an invisible line.
That line dissolved on sunny days when Edward and Alice always skipped school, and then
the conversation would swell out effortlessly to include me.
Edward and Alice didn't find this minor ostracism odd au hurtful the way I would have. They
barely noticed it. People always felt strangely ill at ease with the Cullens, almost afraid for
some reason they couldn't explain to themselves. I was a rare exception to that rule.
Sometimes it bothered Edward how very comfortable I was with being close to him. He
thought he was hazardous to my health–an opinion I rejected vehemently whenever he
The afternoon passed quickly. School ended, and Edward walked me to my truck as he
usually did. But this time, he held the passenger door open for me. Alice must have been
taking his car nyumbani so that he could keep me from making a run for it.
I folded my arms and made no songesha to get out of the rain. "It's my birthday, don't I get to
"I'm pretending it's not your birthday, just as wewe wished."
"If it's not my birthday, then I don't have to go to your house tonight…"
"All right." He shut the passenger door and walked past me to open the driver's side. "Happy
"Shh," I shushed him halfheartedly. I climbed in the opened door, wishing he'd taken the
Edward played with the radio while I drove, shaking his head in disapproval.
"Your radio has horrible reception."
I frowned. I didn't like it when he picked on my truck. The truck was great–it had personality.
"You want a nice stereo? Drive your own car." I was so nervous about Alice's plans, on top
of my already gloomy mood, that the words came out sharper than I'd meant them. I was
hardly ever bad-tempered with Edward, and my tone made him press his lips together to keep
When I parked in front of Charlie's house, he reached over to take my face in his hands. He
handled me very carefully, pressing just the tips of his fingers softly against my temples, my
cheekbones, my jawline. Like I was especially breakable. Which was exactly the
case–compared with him, at least.
"You should be in a good mood, today of all days," he whispered. His sweet breath fanned
across my face.
"And if I don't want to be in a good mood?" I asked, my breathing uneven.
His golden eyes smoldered. "Too bad."
My head was already spinning kwa the time he leaned closer and pressed his icy lips against
mine. As he intended, no doubt, I forgot all about my worries, and concentrated on
remembering how to inhale and exhale.
His mouth lingered on mine, cold and smooth and gentle, until I wrapped my arms around his
neck and threw myself into the kiss with a little too much enthusiasm. I could feel his lips
curve upward as he let go of my face and reached back to unlock my grip on him.
Edward had drawn many careful lines for our physical relationship, with the intent being to
keep me alive. Though I respected the need for maintaining a salama distance between my skin
and his razor-sharp, venom-coated teeth, I tended to forget about trivial things like that when
he was kissing me.
"Be good, please," he breathed against my cheek. He pressed his lips gently to mine one more
time and then pulled away, folding my arms across my stomach.
My pulse was thudding in my ears. I put one hand over my heart. It drummed hyperactively
under my palm.
"Do wewe think I'll ever get better at this?" I wondered, mostly to myself. "That my heart
might someday stop trying to jump out of my chest whenever wewe touch me?"
"I really hope not," he said, a bit smug.
I rolled my eyes. "Let's go watch the Capulets and Montagues hack each other up, all right?"
"Your wish, my command."
Edward sprawled across the kitanda while I started the movie, fast-forwarding through the
When I perched on the edge of the sofa in front of him, he wrapped his arms around my
waist and pulled me against his chest. It wasn't exactly as comfortable as a sofa cushion
would be, what with his chest being hard and cold–and perfect–as an ice sculpture, but it
was definitely preferable. He pulled the old afghan, afghanistan off the back of the kitanda and draped it
over me so I wouldn't freeze beside his body.
"You know, I've never had much patience with Romeo," he ametoa maoni as the movie started.
"What's wrong with Romeo?" I asked, a little offended. Romeo was one of my favorite
fictional characters. Until I'd met Edward, I'd sort of had a thing for him.
"Well, first of all, he's in upendo with this Rosaline–don't wewe think it makes him seem a little
fickle? And then, a few dakika after their wedding, he kills Juliet's cousin. That's not very
brilliant. Mistake after mistake. Could he have destroyed his own happiness any more
I sighed. "Do wewe want me to watch this alone?"
"No, I'll mostly be watching you, anyway." His fingers traced patterns across the skin of my
arm, raising goose, bata bukini bumps. "Will wewe cry?"
"Probably," I admitted, "if I'm paying attention."
"I won't distract wewe then." But I felt his lips on my hair, and it was very distracting.
The movie eventually captured my interest, thanks in large part to Edward whispering
Romeo's lines in my ear–his irresistible, velvet voice made the actor's voice sound weak and
coarse kwa comparison. And I did cry, to his amusement, when Juliet woke and found her new