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The Twilight Saga 2: New Moon

The Twilight Saga 2: New Moon: Page 34

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I wasn't really listening to his warnings; I was much more upset by the situation with Jacob than by the possibility of being eaten by a bear.

I was glad that Charlie was in a hurry. He didn't wait for me to call Jessica, so I didn't have to put on that charade. I went through the motions of gathering my school-books on the kitchen table to pack them in my bag; that was probably too much, and if he hadn't been eager to hit the holes, it might have made him suspicious.

I was so busy looking busy that the ferociously empty day ahead didn't really crash down on me until after I'd watched him drive away. It only took about two minutes of staring at the silent kitchen phone to decide that I wasn't staying home today. I considered my options.

I wasn't going to call Jessica. As far as I could tell, Jessica had crossed over to the dark side.

I could drive to La Push and get my motorcycle��an appealing thought but for one minor problem: who was going to drive me to the emergency room if I needed it afterward?

Or�� I already had our map and compass in the truck. I was pretty sure I understood the process well enough by now that I wouldn't get lost. Maybe I could eliminate two lines today, putting us ahead of schedule for whenever Jacob decided to honor me with his presence again. I refused to think about how long that might be. Or if it was going to be never.

I felt a brief twinge of guilt as I realized how Charlie would feel about this, but I ignored it. I just couldn't stay in the house again today.

A few minutes later I was on the familiar dirt road that led to nowhere in particular. I had the windows rolled down and I drove as fast as was healthy for my truck, trying to enjoy the wind against my face. It was cloudy, but almost dry��a very nice day, for Forks.

Getting started took me longer than it would have taken Jacob. After I parked in the usual spot, I had to spend a good fifteen minutes studying the little needle on the compass face and the markings on the now worn map. When I was reasonably certain that I was following the right line of the web, I set off into the woods.

The forest was full of life today, all the little creatures enjoying the momentary dryness.
Somehow, though, even with the birds chirping and cawing, the insects buzzing noisily around my head, and the occasional scurry of the field mice through the shrubs, the forest seemed creepier today; it reminded me of my most recent nightmare. I knew it was just because I was alone, missing Jacob's carefree whistle and the sound of another pair of feet squishing across the damp ground.

The sense of unease grew stronger the deeper I got into the trees. Breathing started to get more difficult��not because of exertion, but because I was having trouble with the stupid hole in my chest again. I kept my arms tight around my torso and tried to banish the ache from my thoughts. I almost turned around, but I hated to waste the effort I'd already expended.

The rhythm of my footsteps started to numb my mind and my pain as I trudged on. My breathing evened out eventually, and I was glad I hadn't quit. I was getting better at this bushwhacking thing; I could tell I was faster.

I didn't realize quite how much more efficiently I was moving. I thought I'd covered maybe four miles, and I wasn't even starting to look around for it yet. And then, with an abruptness that disoriented me, I stepped through a low arch made by two vine maples��pushing past the chest-high ferns��into the meadow.

It was the same place, of that I was instantly sure. I'd never seen another clearing so symmetrical. It was as perfectly round as if someone had intentionally created the flawless circle, tearing out the trees but leaving no evidence of that violence in the waving grass. To the east, I could hear the stream bubbling quietly.

The place wasn't nearly so stunning without the sunlight, but it was still very beautiful and serene. It was the wrong season for wildflowers; the ground was thick with tall grass that swayed in the light breeze like

ripples across a lake.

It was the same place�� but it didn't hold what I had been searching for.

The disappointment was nearly as instantaneous as the recognition. I sank down right where I was, kneeling there at the edge of the clearing, beginning to gasp.

What was the point of going any farther? Nothing lingered here. Nothing more than the memories that I could have called back whenever I wanted to, if I was ever willing to endure the corresponding pain��the pain that had me now, had me cold. There was nothing special about this place without him. I wasn't exactly sure what I'd hoped to feel here, but the meadow was empty of atmosphere, empty of everything, just like everywhere else. Just like my nightmares. My head swirled dizzily.

At least I'd come alone. I felt a rush of thankfulness as I realized that. If I'd discovered the meadow with Jacob�� well, there was no way I could have disguised the abyss I was plunging into now. How could I have explained the way I was fracturing into pieces, the way I had to curl into a ball to keep the empty hole from tearing me apart? It was so much better that I didn't have an audience.

And I wouldn't have to explain to anyone why I was in such a hurry to leave, either. Jacob would have assumed, after going to so much trouble to locate the stupid place, I would want to spend more than a few seconds here. But I was already trying to find the strength to get to my feet again, forcing myself out of the ball so that I could escape. There was too much pain in this empty place to bear��I would crawl away if I had to.

How lucky that I was alone!

Alone. I repeated the word with grim satisfaction as I wrenched myself to my feet despite the pain. At precisely that moment, a figure stepped out from the trees to the north, some thirty paces away.

A dizzying array of emotions shot through me in a second. The first was surprise; I was far from any trail here, and I didn't expect company. Then, as my eyes focused on the motionless figure, seeing the utter stillness, the pallid skin, a rush of piercing hope rocked through me. I suppressed it viciously, fighting against the equally sharp lash of agony as my eyes continued to the face beneath the black hair, the face that wasn't the one I wanted to see. Next was fear; this was not the face I grieved for, but it was close enough for me to know that the man facing me was no stray hiker.

And finally, in the end, recognition.

"Laurent!" I cried in surprised pleasure.

It was an irrational response. I probably should have stopped at fear.

Laurent had been one of James's coven when we'd first met. He hadn't been involved with the hunt that followed��the hunt where I was the quarry��but that was only because he was afraid; I was protected by a bigger coven than his own. It would have been different if that wasn't the case��he'd had no compunctions, at the time, against making a meal of me. Of course, he must have changed, because he'd gone to Alaska to live with the other civilized coven there, the other family that refused to drink human blood for ethical reasons. The other family like�� but I couldn't let myself think the name.

Yes, fear would have made more sense, but all I felt was an overwhelming satisfaction. The meadow was a magic place again. A darker magic than I'd expected, to be sure, but magic all the same. Here was the connection I'd sought. The proof, however remote, that��somewhere in the same world where I lived�� he did exist.

It was impossible how exactly the same Laurent looked. I suppose it was very silly and human to expect some kind of change in the last year. But there was something�� I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

"Bella?" he asked, looking more astonished than I felt.

"You remember." I smiled. It was ridiculous that I should be so elated because a vampire knew my name.

He grinned. "I didn't expect to see you here." He strolled toward me, his expression bemused.

"Isn't it the other way around? I do live here. I thought you'd gone to Alaska."

He stopped about ten paces away, cocking his head to the side. His face was the most beautiful face I'd seen in what felt like an eternity. I studied his features with a strangely greedy sense of release. Here was someone I didn't have to pretend for��someone who already knew everything I could never say.

"You're right," he agreed. "I did go to Alaska. Still, I didn't expect�� When I found the Cullen place empty, I thought they'd moved on."

"Oh." I bit my lip as the name set the raw edges of my wound throbbing. It took me a second to compose myself. Laurent waited with curious eyes.

"They did move on," I finally managed to tell him.

"Hmm," he murmured. "I'm surprised they left you behind. Weren't you sort of a pet of theirs?" His eyes were innocent of any intended offense.

I smiled wryly. "Something like that."

"Hmm," he said, thoughtful again.

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