I walked through the front door and found Charlie sitting on the couch, his hand contentedly upon his belly with a beer in his other hand. His eyes were glued to the television, some sports program or other. I shut the door behind me and hung up my jacket before meandering into the living room behind the couch.
"Bells! How was your night?" He turned slowly, clearly not wanting to miss his show but feeling a fatherly responsibility.
"It was all right. Just went to an early dinner with a friend. We had Thai." Charlie nodded, peering at the screen through his peripheral vision.
"That's good, that's good." I took the hint.
"Okay, Dad. Well, I think I'm going to go up and get around for bed. I'm kinda beat."
"All right, Bells. Good night."
I walked up the stairs slowly, careful not to reveal any eagerness to be in my room. I gathered up my bathroom stuff and headed down the hall. Turning the hot water on in the shower, I brushed my hair out and slowly and hopped in. The shower was wonderful. The hot water ran across my skin soothing all my muscles and easing out the anxious feeling that was overwhelming me. I washed my hair leisurely, massaging my scalp and prolonging the shower. It would be a few hours before Charlie went to bed, so I could afford to waste some time. I mulled over everything I had spoken to James about throughout the day. He hadn't gone into a whole lot of detail about what being an ancient really was and I was curious. He'd mentioned "pure blood" and the concept was a bit confusing to me. Did he mean something similar to a bloodline untouched by, say, another race? That sparked a different idea entirely. Edward had said that everyone smells differently, and I began to wonder if it was something like a mixture of spices. And if the different races were a certain spice that a vampire could smell in a persons blood. That sort of made sense. It would be a reason that everyone smelled differently. It would also be a method of an ancient being able to tell who was a pure blood. "For the first few hundred years I was alive, I drank nothing except pure blood. Pure, original, blood." Pure original blood? He drank the blood of other vampires? The thought struck me as odd, perhaps because I'd never considered drinking the blood of vampires to be a way to survive. Maybe it wasn't. Maybe that's what made the ancients so different from the rest of the vampires. And since they were so different, it occurred to me that everything might be different. Did James struggle to refrain from killing me? Was he capable of the things some of the Cullens had been capable of? Could he read minds or see the future? I realized I still had quite a few questions.
I began to think about how long he'd been alive. Every time I thought about it, the sheer endlessness of it made my head hurt. One day I would have to sit down and calculate how long he has been alive. Just to satiate my curiosity. I rinsed off, noting that the water was cooling down rapidly, and shut the water off. I brushed my teeth and finished up in the bathroom, wrapping the towel around me tightly and slipping into my room to change. Pulling on my typical pajamas, I grabbed a book from the pile beside my bed and laid down, opening up to a bookmarked page to read.
I was sitting on a branch a few yards into the woods beside the Swan house, my legs dangling idly off the branch, when I saw movement in Bella's bedroom window. I knew she had just exited the shower, I could hear the water running and the sports show still on downstairs, so I made sure I was looking in the other direction when I became aware of the towel wrapped around her tightly. Don't need to add peeping tom to my list of creepy things I instinctively do around Bella Swan. I let the back of my head rest against the trunk of the tree and peered up between the branches to the cloud-shrouded night sky. Focusing in on one point in the sky, I felt my eyesight intensify and then it happened, one of my favorite parts about being what I was. I could see through the clouds. Not the way people say Superman can see through walls or anything, it was simply a matter of looking hard enough. The clouds were still there, thick and heavy with un-shed moisture, but the same way you can see what is hiding inside a shadow I could see the stars hiding behind a mask of rain clouds. I wondered if Bella had ever thought about joining her old friends in the lives they had. Admittedly, I could not understand why Edward hadn't changed her. She would be so much safer. The thought alone had been nearly enough to have me reveal myself to her weeks ago, despite Victoria. However, it wasn't my choice. And clearly Edward hadn't taken it upon himself for a reason, perhaps Bella simply did not want to become a vampire. She had every right to decide that. That, put simply, was the only reason I didn't reveal myself so I could offer. If she hadn't wanted it, then I would have fouled up the entire secret watchman plan.
I remained in the tree, staring up at the stars until I heard her fathers heavy footsteps go up the stairs, into the bathroom and then into his own room. I heard rustling that could only be clothing before I heard him stomp "quietly" down the hallway to peer into Bella's room. Soft murmurs of goodnights came from the house and he walked back down the hall to his own room, the squeaking of the mattress informing me he was in place. I dropped myself carefully from the tree, the last thing I needed was to leave a aperture in the ground that Charlie wouldn't be able to explain. I bolted across the yard quickly, stopping directly beneath Bellas window. I flicked the smallest of pebbles delicately up towards her window and waited with my hands clasped behind my back. I made a decision to not frighten her with my enthusiasm to be around her just before she appeared at the window, flinging it open. There was a dainty smile tugging at her lips as she leaned out the window, her hair falling into her face. I caught wind of her scent and I was done for. Her smile, her hair, her scent. The grin erupted on my face and there simply was no hiding it. I was ecstatic to see her and she couldn't possibly ignore it. I leaped up to her window, grabbing the top of the frame to keep myself there as I planted my feet on the bottom. I remained in my crouched position until she processed that I was there, waiting for her to step aside so I could come in.
"Bella." My voice sounded breathless, though I certainly had no reason to be.
"James." The amount of willpower she had to use was clear in her voice, she was just as enthused as I was. I chuckled to myself and stepped inside. She was only a foot or two away from me, completely within arms reach. I debated for a moment how she would react if I swept her up into my arms and crushed her to me. I watched her face closely as I stepped towards her by a few inches. Her eyes lit up as they lifted from my shirt to my face and that was all the encouragement I needed. I wrapped my arms around her small frame and lifted her off her feet as I hugged her to me, even going so far as to let my fervor take over and spin us both around in the middle of her bedroom. It was silly and stupid and I felt like an idiot instantly. Then she giggled quietly into my neck. I did it again.
Bella was laying on the bed on her side, facing me as I mimicked her position. There was about a foot and a half of space between us on the bed and every inch of my skin ached for me to close the distance. While Bella's reactions to my presence elicited nothing short of euphoria in me, I knew she didn't mean them the way I meant mine. She was grateful to me, she sought friendship with me, even protection, but there was nothing else. I knew that, my body however didn't quite understand. We had a small chess board between us and I was watching her carefully as she tried to make a move that would not lose her the game. So far she hadn't had much luck. I was enjoying this game, though, because every time I took her piece she had to answer one of my questions. I had already taken four of her pawns. We had figured out a system of what questions were appropriate for what piece you took.
Pawns were simple questions. I asked the following:
"What's your favorite color?" She sighed to herself when she answered this and I regretted asking. She stated it used to be topaz. It wasn't hard to figure out why.
"Can you ride a bike?"
She'd chuckled and said "Can or should?"
"What's your favorite American holiday?" She said she wasn't one for celebration but she did enjoy Christmas eve because it was simple and warm. And it usually didn't involve gifts yet.
"Hamburgers or hot dogs?" Hamburgers.
She took two of my pawns. Her questions were much the same. Her first was my favorite color. Which is blue. Her second was my favorite human food. Pizza.
I had acquired one of her rooks and both Knights. Each of those was worth a slightly more complex question. Things such as most embarrassing moment or, if I wanted to make her less uncomfortable, her proudest moment. I asked both. Embarrassing first. She told me that it was when she was fourteen and had her first co-ed gym class. Phoenix had a swimming pool and certain gym classes required you to participate. In short, she'd somehow gotten stuck on the water volleyball net and ended up ripping the whole thing down and taking it underwater with her. Her proudest moment was when she let her mother stay with Phil, even though it meant she come here to Forks, the last place in the world she had wanted to be. It was plain on her face that the sentiment about this town had returned. Then I asked what was her single most relaxing moment in her life, the moment she would go back to at all costs when she was upset. She looked taken aback and thought for a moment, then sighed to herself. "Anything I would have said has been tainted by... not so recent events. I have to say this, right now. It's been a very long time since I was just at peace with things." I offered her a smile that didn't show nearly the pride that was suffocating my brain.
Since the bishop ended up being our mutual favorite piece for reasons neither of us could really explain, we decided that it was worth a question about ideal lives. Neither of us had been able to swipe the others yet. Kings were questions about our person, things we would change, things we loved, etcetera. Queens were the most delicate topics. Such as past relationships. As I watched her move carefully, I realized as she stole my King, that she very nearly had me in check. My brow knitted in confusion. How had this happened?
"What is the biggest thing you would change about yourself?" She really didn't beat around any bushes, did she? I suppose I wouldn't either, considering that her piece was on the chopping block as soon as I was done answering her question. I thought quietly for a moment, staring at the chess board. I wanted her to be honest with me during this entire game, not being held back by some kind of worry that I was holding back the truth. So I told her. "There's two things that tie. I wish I did not need to feed off of the living in order to survive. And I wouldn't, if I thought it would change anything. But I won't die if I don't feed. I couldn't if I tried. The need will take over eventually. It will rot my logical, reasonable brain down to nothing except instinct. And then I will feed. Like a savage without any understanding of being full. I will simply feed until I regain control of my rational mind." I looked into her eyes then as she studied me carefully, her face guarded so as not to show me how afraid she actually was. "I've tried that, to get myself to stop needing blood. It was the worst decision I have ever made. I'm more careful now, I never suck a living thing dry. I never kill. I.. I'm more careful now." The last of it all came out in a whoosh and I peered up at her face through the shield of my eyelashes. "And the second," I continued, "is simply that I do not think I am compassionate enough towards others. Not just humans, but vampires alike. Throughout my lifetime, I have seen so many people die. I find myself disconnected from them. It happens so often that I have this deep knowledge that it is bound to happen no matter what I do. I struggle with the idea that I would not risk or give my own life to save another, because eventually they will die anyway. Despite my efforts. It sounds like a hollow thing to do for someone when you look at it that way. I want to be able to overcome that pessimism. To see giving myself in the place of someone else as something worthwhile."
Her eyes never left mine as I spoke and her face softened with every word. I could see her sharing my pain and I felt horrible. I reached out and cupped her small hand in my own. "But that is not for you to mourn, Bella. I will find a way to conquer my selfishness."