I dragged the pencil along the paper, curving my lines to my liking before lifting it and holding it between my teeth. With my pinky finger, I smudged select parts of the sketch to shade it. I itched my nose. I could smell the charcoal suddenly, even after I moved my finger away. I kept working. I lifted my eyes and studied the seagull that stood a few feet away, staring out at the ocean in a curiously puzzled way. I'd never thought seagulls were thoughtful creatures.
I grabbed a different charcoal pencil, one with a smaller point, and began adding the details of the sand around it's feet. I heard James approach, the quiet rustling of sinking sand beneath his feet was the only clue. He wasn't trying to surprise me. He stopped a few feet away and I didn't bother looking up. He'd probably come out to see what I was doing and didn't want to disturb the bird.
I added some detail work on the feathers, my eyes darting up from the paper every half second or so as I worked. I saw a wave begin to build and I switched pencils again, grabbing a gray pastel one instead. I slid the small charcoal one behind my right ear. There were a selection of them stuck in my hair, another one behind my left ear. I still had the first one in my mouth.
I drew the wave as it crashed down on the sand, the sparkling water swirling around the seagulls feet before it pulled itself back into the ocean again. The seagull looked toward me and met my eyes for the shortest of moments. Then it took off in flight, it's wings beating steadily until it was hovering over the withdrawing waves a few yards away. I smirked to myself, finding humor in the bird's timing. I'd finished his section of the sketch.
"Bella." I'd heard the intake of breath before my name, but the quietness of his voice confused me.
"We need to talk." I felt a sudden ball of anxiety drop into my stomach and explode in waves of nervous energy and anticipation.
"All right." I set my notebook down on my leather laptop case. I didn't want to unzip it to put it away, every part of me just wanted to get on with the conversation. It couldn't be good.
I hated the phrase "we need to talk." Maybe because of Edward, maybe because it was common knowledge that it preceded negative conversations.
"I just received news."
No one had called, I knew that. There were no letters, no emails. I knew that phrase, too. It was his way of talking about his gift. Over the past two years, I'd figured it out. James was... brilliant. Genius didn't cover it. Everything that could be known, he knew. Anything. Everything. Any bit of information he wanted, all he had to do was think about it and he knew it.
Chemical engineering? Thirty seconds worth of concentration and he would be better than people who had studied it their entire lives. Astrophysics? Fifteen seconds.
And he was never wrong.
When I'd realized this, my first thought had been "And the Cullens thought Alice was a good bet."
I'd begun wondering if James was a god somehow, tossed down into the sort-of-mortal-realm of the world and had somehow forgotten his origins. I could ask, he could think about it. I'd have an answer, but it seemed like if he had forgotten, why remind him? James didn't forget things, so anything he may have forgotten seemed like it would be intentional.
"News about what?" I whispered, not because anyone in the world could hear us, but because my throat was closing up in fear.
I imagined my heart would have stopped. "What's wrong? Is he okay?" I jumped to my feet and scrambled towards James. He grabbed my shoulders and I met his eyes. The pain in his eyes sent me to my knees; my mind was reeling with worst-case scenarios. "Oh, God, no! James, no! He can't be dead!"
"Oh, Bella, please. Please, calm down." He sank to his knees beside me, his hands rubbing warm circles on my back. I began hyperventilating.
"What happened! What's going on?"
"He is having a heart attack."
My mind raced. "Is he going to survive it?"
Everything suddenly made sense. Of course James would know. He didn't need to be precognitive, he merely had to keep a single thought of Charlie in his mind in order to keep tabs on him. James would know what Charlie was doing less than a second after Charlie was doing it.
James was giving me the opportunity to save Charlie.
My thoughts spun madly, rushing around in my head at a speed only a vampire was truly capable of. Pros, cons, dos, don'ts. Every consequence and process and possible outcome.
I was standing before I realized my legs had moved. James was beside me. He watched my face carefully; a habit I always found strange because he could know what I was thinking or feeling any time he wanted - but he chose to do it the hard way. I began running.
My feet hit the sand hard at first, almost human-like; but within a second and a half, my feet barely touched the ground. I sped along the sand, through the city, over mountains and ducked around trees. I didn't need to hear him to know that James was behind me, hot on my tail at a speed that matched my own.
"Faster," he said. And I obeyed. I reached up and grabbed a tree branch, yanking myself up onto it until I was at the very top. My speed propelled me forward and I lunged myself violently off a thick tree branch.
I soared over hundreds of trees and landed on my feet outside of the forest. No longer having to dodge trees would shave off two to three seconds of the trip.
I ran until Forks was a whirling blur around me. I threw myself through my bedroom window, the shattering glass exploding around me and all over the floor. I sniffed the air as I moved. Charlie was downstairs.
I lept over the banister and almost instantly he was in my arms, I was gently (very gently) slapping his face to get him to open his eyes. His breathing was shallow, his heartbeat was worse.
"Dad! Look at me!"
His eyes snapped open and I watched the shock pass through his eyes. It was short lived, which surprised me. Acceptance was clear on his face.
Charlie thought he was dead.
"Dad." My throat was closing, tightening and restricting my breathing. "Explain it to him, James! Tell him what he needs to hear to understand." I was dry sobbing now, my throat was sore and my chest hurt. James leaned down so Charlie could see his face. Recognition clouded his acceptance, he was wondering what killed the gentle man behind me.
"Charlie, she offers you a terrible chance. You can continue to be, or you cannot. You will never live again, Charlie, but your daughter offers you an existence with her if you choose it."
The few seconds Charlie considered the offer were the most painful seconds of my life. I watched his skin pale, his eyes darken. I could smell the beginnings of decay in his veins. I choked on my tearless weeping.
Charlie's hand reached up to cup my face and I could see the pain it caused him. "Bella, Bella, Bella. I have been dead a long time." His voice was nothing except a grating whisper, I could hear the pain it caused him. "I have been waiting for this; I am grateful to have gotten to see you again."
James' hand was on my shoulder, he was attempting to offer comfort. I cried harder.
"Dad, no. Please don't do this to me!"
The hypocrisy of my words hit me with such force that the sobbing noise coming from my mouth was more of a scream.
"Shh, Bella." Pain tore across his face and I lifted him against me, hugging him weakly in fear of hurting him further. I continued to sob, burying my face into his neck. "I am ready for this, Bella. Do not mourn an old man finally getting his wish."
Five minutes later I was clinging to the corpse of my father and James had his arms wrapped around both myself and Charlie's body. He was rocking me, humming gently and making soft shushing noises into my hair as I wept.
I cried for days. It was a full three years before Charlie's face stopped haunting my every thought. I never stopped thinking about him, never stopped missing him in my own way. I began cooking dinner every night, as I had when I lived with Charlie, and James understood the habit. He never complained when I made Fish Fry every Saturday, even though even I would admit it got a little old. It was the only way I felt I could remember Charlie fairly, it became a sort of holiday for me. When I was feeling particularly depressed, James would take me out on a small fishing boat he purchased and we would fish all day on Saturday in memory of Charlie.
Those nights he would make the Fish Fry and he would turn on the Sports Channel and we would pretend Charlie was with us.
I never would have gotten through it if it weren't for James. The knowledge comforted me as much as it terrified me.
The stars cluttered the midnight sky and showered faintly glowing light down onto the beach and the dark ocean, illuminating the stillness in an almost eerie way. Eerie didn't really mean the same to me, anymore. There was music playing from the stereo in the house, soft and mellow and lulling our guests into a peaceful, relaxed state. The party had died down quite a bit, most of our friends had either split or were talking quietly in pairs of two and three down by the water. James walked up behind me and slid his arms around my waist. The smell of him assaulted my nose and instantly I felt myself nuzzling into his cheek. I smirked, realizing how natural everything between us had become.
Time passed slowly in our house. Routine was everything. I'd recently proposed the idea of changing routine simply to shake things up. He had chuckled and shrugged, kissing my forehead and telling me I could do whatever I wanted.
That was the first time I'd jumped his bones; nearly eight years ago now. He had teased me mercilessly afterward, picking on my literal translation of his statement. After that, everything had changed. James and I would spend hours in the bedroom together at least a few days a week; exploring and touching and tasting and drinking. He was usually a very gentle creature, in bed or otherwise, but occasionally I could draw out the animal in him. Usually if I wore lots of red.
Which I did whenever I thought I could get away with it. He had a tendency to make fun of me if I was too transparent about things.
"What are you thinking?" His voice felt like velvet on my skin, the heat of his breath shielding a few inches of my shoulder from the cool breeze of the ocean.
"You. Naked." I'd become quite confident. And crude. His laughter rumbled in his chest, vibrating softly against my spine. "I don't know why you bother asking."
"Because to find out the other way is rude." He rubbed his nose against my neck. Now it was my turn to laugh.
"That's not what I meant."
"I'm always thinking about you naked." His laugh was nearly a roar this time and the smirk on my lips was impossible to disguise. He kissed my cheek.
"You looked solemn; I'm not sure I want thoughts of my nudity to make you look solemn."
"I was thinking of our routine, if you must know."
"I must. What about it?"
I sighed lightly to myself. "It's been almost ten years since I've been changed. I feel like there's so much more that I should be doing."
James was silent for a long time. We'd had similar discussions before. They were the reason I had four college digress. But even college courses weren't enough anymore. I was restless.