Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The Twitarded Head Bitches in Charge left me the keys to the castle while they are Forking it up. You know what that means...
Does anyone remember where I parked?
In the wee hours of this morning I got an e-mail from Snarkier Than You basically saying, “We’re going to FOOOORRRKKS! Watch the blog. Don’t fuck it up.” It may have been nicer than that, but I can’t remember the exact wording.
Since I have nothing prepared and closely resemble a chain-smoking chihuahua on crack when I don’t have an itemized To Do list in front of me, we are going to talk about me.
Here’s some Rob porn to ease the blow.
I like hearing about you, TK. I don’t know what those bitches’ problems are.
Let’s gather ‘round the Share Circle. I have the conch, so back the fuck off. (Yeah, I just threw out a William Golding reference on Twitarded. What of it?) I’m feeling nostalgic, so let’s talk about how we all fell down this trippy rabbit hole.
Twilight was so far outside of my literary sphere, it might as well have been on Pluto (may your planet status R.I.P.). I didn’t read much fiction. The little I did read was all classic literature. Favorite novel: Lord of the Flies. Favorite book in general:
You say weird. I say eccentric. Bite me.
Back in the Autumn of 2008 [cue the dream sequence music] I saw a preview for a little movie called Twilight. For reasons still unknown to me, I had to see this movie. Since it wasn’t hitting theaters within the next 30 seconds, I hit Google hard & heavy to learn everything I could.
Had I found this I probably wouldn’t be here today.
I am inserting the first ever e-mail I sent to Snarkier Than You, and by default, the first time I’d EVER contacted anyone I found online. I'm just lucky she wasn’t a 14 year-old boy.
To: Snarkier Than You
From: Texas Katherine
Date: May 13, 2009
Subject: I believe the term is “enabler.”
Curse you, Twitarded!! A pox on both of your houses. I was completely content in my delusion that I was simply conducting social research on the Twilight phenomenon since last Fall. I was an English major for Pete's sake! I don't read pedestrian novels like "Twilight.” But, my curiosity got the best of me one autumn day. So, I went down to Target & loaded my basket with God knows what & finally slid a copy of Twilight beneath it all. I believe my copy of the book set me back about $92. My husband questioned my new reading material when we got into bed that night. (He had already questioned the massive amounts of random shit I brought home from the Tar-jay earlier.) I pretty much just sputtered sentence fragments about previewing it in case we ever have a daughter, or some such nonsense.
Needless to say, I stopped reading when the alarm went off in the morning...for the third time. Of course, I took my "research" to work & panicked when I got to the last chapter. I drove like a maniac to the Barnes & Noble under the pretense of picking up lunch for the office...at 9am. The thought of finishing “Twilight” without my next fix readily available made my chest constrict. I convinced myself I was just being thorough in my research. I can quit whenever I want, right?
Fast forward at least a dozen full readings of the series & countless viewings of the movie, not to mention the daily "hits" of my favorite chapters. My husband & child are dangerously at risk of developing scurvy as I feed them cereal & frozen pancakes for every meal. And those are the nights that I "cook." I've gradually added to my list of blogs I check daily. Scratch that. Hourly. After much resistance, I finally clicked on Twitarded. In the space of time that it took to read your header, I was hooked. Fuck me. Now I had to admit that I might possibly be an addict. (I can still quit whenever I want. I just don't want to yet. It's not hurting anyone.)
I've read all of your archives & am slightly disturbed. Can you hear my thoughts halfway across the country? I could have written any one of those posts. I feel like less of a pariah for not being the only thirty-something incapable of purging this story from system & more of a freak for finally acknowledging the disturbing level to which I am addicted. I carry around my iPhone like a talisman. I have the “Twilight” movie & book downloaded, several blogs bookmarked & the “Midnight Sun” draft readily available in case I get that trademark hand tremble of a true addict when I am away from home. Then you had to go & add fanfiction links to your sight. Fuck me. Now I have another facet of this addiction to manage. What are you people doing to me? My husband is perturbed because I am yawning through regular porn. I haven't shared this new aspect of my addiction with him yet. I figure he should just be happy reaping the benefits.
THEN, like a drug pusher wanting me to progress from the gateway drugs, you had to taunt me with “Wide Awake.” I resisted, but I finally capitulated. I mean, I don't really have time to add anything else into my schedule. I thought I'd read one chapter a day & drag it out. Once again, fuck me. I've had to completely eliminate my 2 requisite hours of sleep in order to read & reread this new addiction. I haven't slept in days. My life is completely upside down. I would have eliminated personal hygiene altogether to free up some time if my libido wasn't through the roof. I hope you are happy with yourselves. I was perfectly content with my social research before. Now, I have to endure an 8 hour field trip with my first grader tomorrow and no way to take a Twilight / Wide Awake hit. Thanks a whole freaking lot.
Twitarded in Texas
The rest is history.
I’m going to FOOOORRRKK over the conch now. How did you find “Twilight?”
I hope to be able to say what I wanted to say sometime tomorrow/by tomorrow night (Wednesday. I think. Gah - what day is it?!) because dammit it's something that I have been thinking about for a while and I started a post about it months and months ago. You all know how I roll at this point but SHIT this is important and I wish I was more organized like Latchkey Wife who finished packing last week, watched Glee tonight, and went to bed (fucking show-off).
I will try to get myself together tomorrow before we head off in the evening to feed Jenny Jerkface salmon in Seattle (we were all threatened with bloodshed if JJ wasn't fed salmon within six hours of the plane setting down at SeaTac, and I don't think she was kidding).
P.S. Sleep?! I am TOO FREAKING EXCITED to sleep!!! See some of you soon - and will keep the rest of you abreast of our shenanigans as best as we can because we wish each and every one of you was going to be there with us!
P.S.S. Apologies for random typos and sentence (or entire paragraphs) that make no sense. It's almost 2 a.m. and my liver is in training for the next few days. Taking one for Team Twitarded. WOOT!
Monday, September 27, 2010
In case you had any doubt? Things are about to get pretty rocky. Feel like I should warn you of this here. I also feel like I should warn you, I am not sure when the hell I'm posting the end. This week, yes, but what day, I don't know. I have a whole ton of packing to do tomorrow, and I'm on an early flight Wednesday. And there are two, not one, chapters left now because there was a last minute editorial change on where the chapter breaks go. So...
Did I mention this is dark? BECAUSE IT IS. Commence anticipatory flailing in 5...4...3...2...1...
Here's the pdf.
As soon as I know when the last chapters are posting, I'll get the word out on Twitter (you can follow me at @Myg).
So, when we last left our pals Bella and Edward, Edward had a massive FAIL moment when he tried to give Bella immortality vamp-style. If there was such a thing as vampire viagra, I think TexasKatherine would have prescribed some for him. But like all disappointments in life and in stories, strong characters find a way to come to terms, and I think that's pretty much where Edward and Bella were when we finished Chapter 33. In Chapter 34, there are some new terms thrown at them. Some terms that are pretty impossible. I wonder how they'll do... okay, so I already know how they'll do, but you don't. Here' where you find out.
Love and warm cookies from the oven,
Ride your darkest fear
From Reckoner's bow I watched the waves as they rushed beneath her hull. It felt so good to move, to feel the wind at our backs, driving us forward into whatever future awaited. I would handle it, however it came down, I decided. I would stop crumbling in the face of my fear.
Know what's worse than dying on your spouse, Bella? Zack's voice was clear in my head.
No, I thought. I really don't.
Underestimating her. Or him, as the case may be.
I turned to look at Edward. He was pulling lines, concentrating on the angle of the sails against the wind. He didn't look forlorn, or lost or frightened. He looked content. Determined. Hopeful.
It would be a good sail to Maui, I thought. Plenty of down time with him. I smiled as I recalled our last sailing trip together and how much I loved having Edward all to myself. We would have a little time to plan our wedding, to think about starting a family, to dream about the places we'd go and the things we would do. I walked back to the cockpit with a smile on my face.
"Hey, beautiful." He reached for me and pulled me into a hug. "Feeling better now?"
"Yeah," I said. "Just thinking."
"About how lucky I am," I said.
Edward tightened his arms around me and kissed the top of my head. "I love you," he said. Then he let go and took the helm, adjusting our course a little. "We'll have to hug the coast for now, but we can't go in too close because the river bars can be hell."
"If we're sailing coastal, can we get cell reception?"
"We're not that close, but we've got a satellite connection. Do you want to call your father?"
"Yes," I said. "I want him to know that I'm okay. Otherwise he might come looking for you."
"Definitely call him then," he said with a small laugh. Edward locked the helm and disappeared below and came back in a moment with a phone.
"Hey—you had a satellite phone and didn't call me?" I said.
"I had no idea who might have your phone and I had no intentions of warning Jake I was coming."
"He knew you were coming," I said. "He was out looking for you."
"Well, he didn't find me, did he?"
Edward handed me the phone and I held it for several minutes. A certain dread filled me as I thought about La Push and that bear queen fate I'd just narrowly escaped. I had the strongest urge to avoid that call home, but I couldn't stand the thought of Charlie worrying, not knowing I was safe. As I pictured him with bags under his eyes from the lack of sleep he'd surely suffer if I let him wonder, I found my courage.
"Bella, thank God," he said, his voice breaking at the sound of mine. "You're alive."
"Of course I'm alive, Dad," I said, feeling sick with guilt. "I'm so sorry I made you worry."
"I thought you drowned," he said, choking up.
"I told you I would run with him."
"But how? Your clothes were on the beach and you were just gone. It made no sense. I thought you got desperate… I thought the worst."
"No, Dad," I said. "We're sailing to Maui. I'll send for you when we make landfall. We're going to get married."
"Bella… " Charlie paused. "Bella, there's a problem."
"What is it? Are you okay?"
"It isn't me," he said. "It's the Ani Tsa' gu hi…"
"Let them think I died. It's the only way I can escape them."
"Bella…" he said and paused. "They followed you."
"They swam out after you."
"Well, they didn't find me," I said, and then registered the alarm that crossed Edward's face as he listened to our conversation.
"I don't think you understand," he said. "They all—the whole tribe is out there, swimming out to sea, looking for you." He paused again, and then pulled out his strongest, most stoic cop voice and said, "There've been casualties."
I went cold. "What do you mean, casualties? People have died?"
"Yes, Bella, they're drowning," he said. "And more keep coming. We've got teams of hunters here with tranquilizer gus, but we can't keep up. We tried to block off the beach, but they're moving down the coast now. We've called the Coast Guard and there are some volunteers out there in boats, trying to coax them back to shore, but they won't go."
"How many?" I asked, feeling my heart constricting in my chest.
"We've lost count. Bella, it's… it's a nightmare."
"Hamani," I choked. "What about Hamani?"
"He's here, waiting for you," Charlie said. "He says you'll return."
"Tell him he has to stop them."
"He can't," Charlie said. "He's tried but he's just one man."
"What about Jake?"
"He's trying to round bears up with the pack, but they won't follow him anymore. I don't know what we're going to do…"
"Oh no," I whispered. "Dad, what have I done?"
"You didn't know," he said. "You can't blame yourself."
"It doesn't matter," I said. "Tell Hamani I'm on my way."
Horrified, confused, anguished, I hung up and dropped to my knees, shaking. But for once, Edward didn't rush to my side, didn't try to comfort me. Instead he sprang forward onto the deck, up to the bow and hung his head over the railing.
After a few moments, I collected myself and went to him. In his hands, Edward held the forward anchor, crushed into a ball like it had been tin foil. He turned to face me, his eyes fierce, black, hollow with rage. "I don't want you to see me like this," he said, his voice eerily calm.
I put my hand on his back, then my arm around his shoulders and he turned and embraced me so tightly I thought I'd have bruises around my rib cage. "Bella, I don't want to give you back," he whispered. "I know that makes me a monster, but I don't care."
"No Edward," I said. "It makes you human."
"I am seriously considering taking you to Maui anyway. Fuck the bears. I don't care if the entire species disappears at this point. Just say the word and I'll do it. I know that makes me an awful, selfish bastard but I can't help it."
I really had to think about what Edward was suggesting. It wasn't our fault that the bears mistook me for Hala, right? I tried to tell them the truth, but Hamani willfully ignored me. How dare he put this kind of responsibility on me? I was one small woman. All I wanted was to be with the man I loved, mind my own business and go on my way. How dare the Ani Tsa' gu hi hitch themselves to me in this way? I never asked for this. Didn't Edward and I deserve some happiness? For fucking once?
Then I imagined dozens and dozens of black bears, swimming out into the ocean, looking for me. I remembered how it felt to wear out in the water, to almost drown. I imagined this happening over and over and over, one bear after another. Because of me. Because of Edward. Because of us.
"I don't want to make this decision alone," I said. "It's too big."
"You're right, I'm sorry," he said. "But I need a minute to calm down so I can think, because right now if I go back, I'm going back with a shot gun and some bear traps."
"Okay," I said. "I'm going to change course and take us north."
"So your mind is already made up, then," he said. "We're going back."
I hadn't realized it until he said it. "Yes," I said, and wiped the tears streaming down my face. "I love you so much and I don't want this tragedy be our legacy. Imagine living the rest of our lives with this on our shoulders? I can't do it."
"I'll never forgive myself for doing this to you," he said. "Not for all of eternity."
"You didn't do this to me," I said, looking out over the waves. "It just happened."
"Everything I've done has put you in more danger," he said. "No matter my intention, I've only brought you misery."
"Stop it. Everything you did, you did out of love for me," I said. "And the happiness I've known with you has been so bright, it obliterates the darkest corner of my misery, Edward. It will always be that way. No matter what comes."
He pulled back from me, studied my face and lovingly brushed the hair out of my eyes. He gave me a sturdy nod and said, "Okay then, we're losing time."
"I know," I said.
He went back to the helm and called, "Prepare to come about."
I moved out of the way of the swinging mainsail as he turned the boat and headed us back to the tragedy unfolding at La Push. I went back to the bow and spotted the white head of Hala a full boat length ahead of us in the water, swimming home.
"Are you fucking happy now?" I yelled out into the sea.
But Hala never turned around. She just kept swimming.
We talked all night as Reckoner sailed us north. After every angle was looked at, inspected, turned over, considered and then reconsidered, our situation came down to two impossible, irreconcilable truths: the bears would kill Edward if he went near them, and if I ran, they would follow me. Even to tragic ends. So Edward and I were going to have to separate, at least for now. There was no way around it.
"Well, we don't know what the future holds, right?" Edward said. "We just have to deal with the situation in front of us right now."
In any case, it had become clear our immediate future could not include our wedding. My disappointment nearly broke me and probably would have if I didn't have an entire population of black bears to save from a watery death.
“Come here,” Edward said as he watched me brooding over this, my heart an iron weight in my chest. He put his arms around me, strong and resolved and we stood there quietly, looking out at the gloomy sea. Then he tilted my face to look me in the eye. “I want you to promise me something,” he said, quietly.
I did not like the way he was looking at me then. I knew he was going to ask me to promise him something impossible, something wretched. “No,” I said. “Please don’t...”
“I want you to marry Jacob,” he said.
He could have just slapped me across the face. “I don't know if that’s still an option,” I said.
“If you don’t marry him, they’ll take you away.”
“If I can’t be with you, I don’t care,” I argued. “I’ll wander in the woods with the bears.”
“No, Bella,” he said. “You’re not a bear. You’re not equipped to survive like that.”
“I'll get some outdoor gear, a satellite phone or something. I'll take some wilderness lessons.”
“No, absolutely not. You're not going to disappear into some world you don’t know, alone, frightened, away from your family and friends. I know what you’ll do out there.”
“No, you don’t,” I said.
“Yes, I do," Edward's patience slipped and he raised his voice. "You almost killed yourself today, and that’s far from the first time that’s happened.”
“That’s not what I was trying to do,” I said. “It was an accident.”
“You have a hell of a lot of accidents, don’t you?" He glared at me. "You accidentally overdosed drinking and taking pills? You offered me your blood after I nearly killed you in bloodlust? You fell out of a tree? That’s not a coincidence, Bella.”
“What exactly are you insinuating?” I asked, my heart pounding.
“Whether you’ll admit it to yourself or not, part of you is driven to self-destruct, and now I can't be there to protect you. It has to be Jake.”
Edward was right, and this pissed me off greatly. But I couldn't deny that in my worst moments, I could be, and had been, suicidally reckless. With all the pressure on me, facing another separation from Edward might trigger another depressive episode. If that happened while I was out in the wilderness with the Ani Tsa' gu hi, who knew how bad I might get? Edward knew the safest thing for me was to be surrounded by family and friends at La Push, even if it meant I had to marry Jake.
I sobbed into Edward's shoulder and he put his arms tight around me, smoothing my hair and whispering words of comfort, but it somehow just pissed me off more. I was so grateful for his love, his concern, his understanding. I felt safe encircled in his arms, in his love, but it was all going to be ripped away from me again, and now he was asking me to marry another man on top of it?
The angrier I got, the harder it was to be near him. I tried to push him away, but as I struggled he just held me tighter. I pounded his chest with my fists until it hurt, and then I hit him even harder. He finally held my arms to my side and I just screamed in his face.
“I hate this!” I screamed. “I fucking hate this!”
“So do I,” he said, sadly. "You'll never know how much."
"How can you ask me to marry Jake? Do you think he's going to marry me and then agree to sleep on the damned couch?"
"That's between you and Jake," he said, his eyes flickering with the rage he fought to contain.
"You can't be serious," I said, shuddering, imagining myself in bed with Jake again. "I don't want you to let me go that easily."
"Do you think this is easy for me, Bella? Really?" he said, his voice rising. "I am never going to let you go. Ever. But I need to know where you are and that you'll be safe. I need that much more than your fidelity."
"I don't want to marry Jake," I said, crying.
"It could be awhile before we can find a way to get you out of this position. If you marry him, you can stay at La Push and I know your father and Illeana will keep an eye on you. You said Hamani will let you stay there without interference, right?"
"Yes, but… " I said.
"Then you'll marry Jake and the bears can go back to whatever it is they were doing before all of this happened. When things settle down, I'll find a way to get you out of there."
"You want me to marry Jake and then leave him?"
"Yes," he said. "I do."
"That's fucked up," I said, exasperated.
"I don't care," he said. "I can't let you go where I can't follow. If you marry Jake, you'll be safe at La Push until we can get you out of this."
"I can't believe you're telling me to marry Jake!" I yelled. "And now you're fine with me sharing his bed? What the fuck?"
"Of course I'm not fine!" He backed me against the outer wall of the cabin and pressed his nose to my neck, then into my hair and inhaled deeply. "The thought of you with him makes me sick with rage," he seethed in my ear. "You are mine. You will always belong to me."
"That's right," I said, tears streaming down my face.
He kissed me then, his mouth urgent, opening onto mine, his tongue sweeping, tasting, claiming and I breathed into him my assent and my final capitulation. Then he pulled his face back and studied mine for a moment, his dark eyes shining and full of pain.
"Nothing will ever change that," he said, and then he ran his fingers along the bite mark on my neck. "Not even marrying Jacob Black."
Dawn rose insistently out of the east onto a crystal clear day. There would be no cloud cover, no fog to protect Edward from the invasion of television news crews and the growing crowd of onlookers that now filled the harbor. The sun would be fully up soon and our window of approach would close.
I had cried so much in the night I was empty of tears. I had prayed to every god I knew for forgiveness. For strength. I had plumbed the depths of my self loathing and arose empty of all desire, and all emotion except one. Resolve.
I would put this right.
As we came up the coast, we began to see the small black spots out bobbing in the water. Black bears struggled against the tide, on their way out to sea. They crowded the coastline, from Strawberry Bay all the way up to First Beach. There had to be over fifty boats along the coast and for each boat another bear fighting to get past it, a relentless procession of them following me to their doom. Every bear in Washington State, maybe even in the Pacific Northwest, must have made its way to this tragic circus.
As the sun rose higher in the sky, Edward started to reflect light under it like a beacon. He pulled his hood up, his sleeves down and donned a pair of sailing gloves.
“This isn't going to work,” I said. “You can't let them see you.”
He came about and headed back out to sea while we deliberated an approach. But I knew there was only one way in.
“Edward, I have to go.”
"I'm going with you," he said.
"No, you aren't," I said. "They'll kill you. You've got to stay out of sight."
"Look, I had a major role in causing this disaster and I need to do something about it. You came back here"
"Edward, you can't do anything about this right now without getting killed. This is something I have to do alone."
We continued the argument wordlessly for several minutes, his eyes locked on mine, and I know he was hoping I'd back down, but this time I did not. As much as I wanted him by my side, the threat of him being destroyed was too much. As though he'd finally reached the same conclusion, understanding that his presence would and another layer of distraction to the problem at hand, he finally let it go.
"So stubborn," he muttered, shaking his head. But then he kissed me on the forehead and hove to, Reckoner swinging gently left and then right in the breeze. He came and pulled me into his arms and held me. “Please, please be careful, Bella."
"I promise," I said.
"Whatever happens here, and whatever comes next, remember that I love you. And I will come for you."
"I know," I said.
In a regrettably painful moment, he looked down at the engagement ring on my hand and said, "Why don't you give that to me to hold onto for now?"
I took my engagement ring off and handed it to him and as he took it from my fingers, I started crying. "When will I see you again?" I asked.
"Soon," he said, brushing my tears away. His eyes glistened and his mouth turned to a small, sad smile. Then he kissed me, softly, on the forehead and took a slow, deep breath. I allowed myself to linger in the scent of him, one final time, that essence of all good things in the world, stowed safely in the vault of my memory. He touched his lips mine, a painfully tender goodbye.
“I’m really proud of you, Bella,” he said.
I smiled at him sadly as we said a silent goodbye to our happily ever after, but I turned before I choked up, for fear I'd lose my nerve. Then I climbed to the bowsprit and took off my shoes. I looked back at him one last time, my fantastic love, shining under the sun. He nodded, encouraging.
"Be safe," he said.
Then I leapt from Reckoner's bow and dove down into the water.
My limbs were strong, stronger than I remembered from the previous day. The new dose of Edward’s venom had invigorated me, had given me greater power and speed. I raced forward like an Olympic champion, into the harbor, never looking back to see what course Reckoner set.
I reached my first bear, a smaller female struggling way out ahead of the pack. She gave a low whimpering growl as she saw me and I swam right to her. I hooked my arm under her forelegs and started to swim on my back towards the shore. She rested against me wearily, dead weight in the water.
Another bear began to swim toward us, and then another. If that trend continued, I’d soon be overwhelmed with bears needing a rescue and I’d never be able to swim back with more than one, even as strong as I was. As though she sensed this, my passenger twisted and kicked herself free of me and began to power back to shore next to me like a relay partner.
There was another bear, treading the current right beside a small fishing boat, being coaxed by a diver. As we passed, it began to swim towards us.
"This way!" I called, and powered to the beach. Another bear saw us and followed, and then another, and then soon all of the bears were following us, a swift and certain escape.
I felt the sand beneath my feet and began to walk up onto the beach. A huge crowd had gathered, complete with camera crews from the national news outlets, government officials, tourists and nearly all of the Quileute Nation. Hamani stood in the middle of them all, the tears he shed obvious to me, even from a distance. Jacob stood next to him, arms crossed, face fixed in a scowl, his eyes trained on me. Charlie and his small militia of hunters paused with their tranquilizer guns to watch the strange spectacle.
I looked around me as I trudged out of the water. To my left, to my right, behind me, I was flanked by an army of black bears, one of the strangest looking processions in history.
We walked out of the water, onto the shore. The news teams and the government workers took several paces back from us, put off as they were by the bears who followed me. Teams of FEMA agents shooed the rest of the onlookers back behind a barrier.
I approached Hamani and he gripped me by the face and touched his head to mine, tears falling down from his eyes to the sand, mixing with my own. Then he wrapped his arms around me.
"I'm so sorry," I cried. "I didn't know, I didn't know."
Charlie came running over to where we stood, breaking through the crowd of bears that gathered around. Hamani released me and I was immediately enveloped by the reassuring embrace of my father. I sobbed until I crumpled in his arms.
"Dad, I'm so sorry," I cried.
"I know," he said. "I'm just glad you're okay."
Sue came and wrapped a warm blanket around my shoulders. "You're so cold, honey," she said. I nodded and then felt her arms warm around me, too.
Jacob walked over to the water's edge, and stared out at the ocean, scanning the horizon. He didn't say a single word to me. I tentatively approached him, his eyes were cold and distant.
“Where did you come from?” he demanded without the courtesy of looking at me.
“Edward brought me,” I said.
"Where is he?"
"He's at sea."
"Bullshit!" he snapped. "He needs to answer for what he's done!"
"He didn't do this—I did," I said. "And I'm here to answer for it."
“Bella, it's such a nightmare.” His voice was pained as he finally turned to face me.
"Show me," I said, touching his arm. "I need to see."
Jacob pointed to the tree line, where a two rows of dead bears were laid out, sixteen black mounds of damp, matted fur sprinkled with sand and strands of seaweed. The beach was littered with the tranquilized bears, who were now surrounded by the surviving bears who'd come back from the sea. We walked to the corpses, mortified at the sight.
"How many were lost at sea?" I asked.
"We lost count," Jacob said.
"Hala's brothers and sister?" I asked.
"They're gone. They were the first to drown."
I sank to my knees, overwhelmed by the devastation. Now Hamani had lost his entire family. They died because of me, along with how many others?
I thought about the members of the tribe who'd saved my life after I'd fallen from the tree. Thought about how they'd pursued me in the woods after Edward had found me. They thought they were trying to save me. Protect me. All because they believed I was something I wasn't.
Hamani and Anna Marie came over to us. Anna Marie, quiet for once, placed a warm hand on my shoulder, and Hamani placed his hand on my other shoulder. I reached up and held it.
Then I got to my feet and visited with every single dead bear and placed my hand into its wet fur and apologized. I knelt beside the last bear a long time, until finally Sue came and draped a towel around my shoulders. “Let’s get you some dry clothes, Bella,” she said.
The Quileute Tribal Council requested help for digging graves. According to custom, we had to get the bodies into the ground by sundown. I was grateful and surprised when every single volunteer came to the burial grounds to help with such a depressing task. After changing into dry clothing, I joined them at the clearing in the woods and began to dig.
For the rest of that day, Jacob avoided me. He did not speak to me. He did not dig with me. He didn't come anywhere near me. I didn’t try to approach him, either. I understood the injury I had caused him with my betrayal. I knew he needed some space, and I had no idea whether he would still agree to marry me. But I couldn't worry about it then.
When the graves were dug, we committed the bodies to the earth and then went down to the beach where a large fire was built. The elders led the gathering in several songs of mourning, low melodies that stretched across one hundred voices and floated out to sea as darkness filled the sky.
I stayed on that beach all that long, clear night tending the fire with Hamani and the remaining bears, who now meandered in a daze after waking up from their tranquilizer-induced slumber. Charlie tried to convince me to come to Sue's and get some sleep, but I wanted to stay with the bears, at least for that night. He gave up arguing and came back with three sleeping bags, a sandwich and a beer I didn’t drink. Hamani gave the sleeping bag a funny look, shrugged his shoulders and then lay down, resting his head on it like a pillow.
Charlie and I stared wordlessly into the fire for a long time until he finally fell asleep in his sleeping bag next to me. I listened to the steady rise and fall of his breath, the slight rattle at the back of his throat and felt grateful he was there. The beach was quiet other than the sound of the water and the crackling and snapping of the dying fire. I continued to watch the embers until they all burned out, small reminders of the mortality we shared. I fell asleep wondering how long I might yet burn.
In the very early morning, I heard soft footsteps in the sand and opened my eyes into the paling darkness. Jacob whispered something to Charlie, and he got to his feet groggily, looked at me, and then walked off towards the Black's house. Hamani stirred in his sleep but didn't wake as Jake came and handed me a cup of coffee. I caught its aroma, strong and forgiving.
“Let’s take a walk,” he said and gave me his hand.
Five black bears followed us. Three of them I remembered them from the swim home, and the others had turned up sometime in the night. We all strolled along the water’s edge back towards Jake's house. I sipped the hot drink and felt it warm my stomach.
“Jacob, I am really sorry,” I said. “You’ll never know how sorry I am.”
"I know," he said. He kept his eyes straight ahead but hooked his arm through mine.
“They still think you’re going to marry me, don’t they?” I asked. “Otherwise they would have taken me into the woods by now.”
“Yeah,” he said.
“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you don't want to marry me.”
“I never said that," he said. And then before I could brace myself, I found myself crying again. “Could you please not do that?” he asked. “Come on, Bella.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I feel so fucking bad for those bears—those people who died. I will never forgive myself.”
“You didn’t know,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “I let my own selfish desire blind me from everything else. I just couldn't see what was really at stake here. I will never let that happen again.”
“So what's the deal between you and Edward now?” he asked, glancing down at my naked ring finger.
"We obviously can't get married right now, with all that's happened," I said, my stomach clenching at the thought. "I need to deal with this bear issue.”
“Edward's at the house,” he said, studying my reaction. I flinched as I felt anxiety gripping my throat, choking me from the inside out.
"You didn't kill him?"
"Of course not," he said. "Bella, what kind of an asshole do you think I am?"
“He came to convince you to marry me, didn't he?"
"That wasn't the only reason," Jake said. "And he didn't have to convince me."
"Well, whatever Edward might have said, I don’t expect you to marry me. I have it all worked out. If you can just play along for now, we can pretend to postpone the ceremony and I can get some wilderness instruction so I can survive out there. I can get a GPS and a good satellite phone and a little solar generator so I can stay in touch with you guys, and I’ll get a decent packing tent. Then I'll live off the land. I just need the training. I’ll get good winter gear, come back for holidays, that sort of thing.”
“Loca,” he said. “No way are you doing that.”
“Jake,” I said, my eyes tearing up again. “You don’t want to marry me. I know you don’t.”
“You don’t know anything.” He stopped walking and took my hand in his. “I know you've been through hell and there's a lot of pressure on us. But I also know something else."
"I know that I love you," he said, and then pulled a beautiful little diamond ring out of his pocket. "And I'm not letting you get dragged off to Canada by a pack of bears, okay?"
"Bella, will you marry me?”
"Jake," I said, tearing up. "You deserve so much more than what I can give you right now."
"Do you love me?" he asked. "Even a little?"
"Of course I do," I said. "You know that."
"Well, that's something, right? We can come to an understanding, I think."
"You deserve more," I said.
"Stop saying that," he said. "It's annoying."
“Okay.” I hugged him. He pulled back to look at me and brushed a strand of hair out of my face.
“Is that a yes?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said.
"Okay, then." He nodded, a silent acknowledgement of the understanding we had. We would be husband and wife, knowing, but maybe never speaking, of the shadow that loomed in my heart. He slipped the ring on my finger and I tried not to wince.
"I can't believe you got me a rock," I said. "You didn't have to do that."
"Do you like it?"
"I love it," I said, my voice catching as I made a ridiculous attempt to sound upbeat. We started walking towards the house again and he held my hand, his fingers steady and warm as they intertwined with mine, cold and lifeless.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 1 from 2pm-4pm at The Twilight Lounge
Twitarded will be hosting a group viewing of Twilight. The Lounge is opening up for us special and the restaurant downstairs will be open if you need food and/or beverages for in-movie munching/imbibing. This is a private event for Twitards only and won't cost you anything to get in.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 2 from 7:30pm-Close at The Lodge Restaurant
This is the big shindig that Twitarded will be hosting. This event is in The Lodge restaurant - in the back with access to The Dungeon (a Volturi-themed bar.) You need to sign up for this one so we don't get any non-Twitarded stragglers trying to crash our party. If you haven't signed up yet, what are you waiting for??! Click here to get in on the fun! There will be karaoke from 9pm-11pm. And we just ask that you try to be there as by 8pm as we'd like to kick off the night with a few words and shit like that. Cost is $20 to get in. We'll provide appetizers and there will be items available to order ala carte if you're still really hungry.
And have you signed up for a Twilight Tour with the folks at Dazzled by Twilight? You should! Check out all the special movie-related places. Great photo ops! Click here to book your tour. And pssst... if you enter the Promotional Code TWITARDS, I think you may still be able to get the discount!
Saturday, September 25, 2010
You know what they say about good intentions, right?
When I was planning to post the final chapters of this today, I sort of forgot my parents would be here from out of town this weekend, that I had two days on the road last week, and that I wouldn't have enough time to work on it. So, well, I am really sorry to make you all wait two weeks and then give you just one chapter. But that's all I can serve up right now, because the others are still baking. And the last thing in the world we need is a half-baked Osa Bella chapter. Not after all this time.
Luckily, none of you are strangers to missed Osa Bella deadlines. (Unless you're new to Osa Bella, and if you are, Welcome! This isn't the first time I've botched the posting schedule, and even though there's little schedule left to botch, it probably won't be the last time.)
My intentions (uh oh) are to give you all of the chapters within the next week. I'm trying to have the final chapter posted before I get on the plane on Wednesday. If not, well, then it will post from you know where. (Hint: FFFOOORRRKKKSSSSS!)
If you want to follow this story on fanfiction.net, go here.
If you want to read from the beginning, go here.
If you'd like a .pdf of this chapter, click here.
Oh and dudes?
You totally rocked me in the Hidden Star Awards--I won for best author!!!! I couldn't honestly say if I am the best author out of those nominated, but I can definitely say I have the world's greatest supporters. Hand
So, when we last left our heroes Sailorward and Swimmerella, Bella had almost drowned chasing that silly Kermode out in the middle of the pacific. Okay, not the middle, but way too far from shore. This she did after she got tired of waiting for Edward to get his ass back to La Push to save her from marrying Jacob Black (Cue the: Ew! Gross! Retch!) in an attempt to appease what appears to be the entire North American population of black bears. Last I heard, he told her he'd had it--he was making her a vamp. I know you're all wondering how the hell that's going to work out, so let's take a look see.
See you hookers in the comments. And have I mentioned in this post yet how much I adore each and every one of you, and your comments? Because I really, truly do.
Edward fired up Reckoner's heater—probably the first time he'd ever used it. My head felt water-logged, my thoughts straying from relief to anxiety as I considered the painful transformation to immortality I was about to endure. I struggled to stay awake even though I was freezing cold. He came back to the berth where I lay shivering and held me in his arms, tucking the blankets up under my chin.
"Have you started healing yet?" he asked and then kissed my forehead. "You've got some hypothermia."
"It doesn't… matter now," I said, shaking so badly I could barely say the words.
"Try to concentrate, okay? Focus on your breath."
I inhaled deeply but that started a coughing fit so severe it made me retch. Edward held me up, over the side of the bed until it subsided.
"Try again," he said, his eyes intense with worry.
I took a shallow breath at first and when I managed that, I tried a deeper one and then a deeper belly breath. Edward placed his hands gently over my heart and closed his eyes in concentration.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Praying," he said.
I nodded and closed my eyes and cleared my mind of everything except for the rising and falling of my breath, even tides, my lungs channeling oxygen into my blood stream, out and around my body.
I felt a tingle beneath Edward's hands that spread through my torso, then up my neck and down my legs and out into my arms. That feeling started to intensify and spread through my nervous system, first giving me a chill and then a ripple of warmth went through me, and then a stronger ripple, warmer than the last. A pulse began in my toes, in my fingers, painful and insistent, and then waves of heat began to wash over me.
"It's working," I said, my throat dry. "I'm healing now."
"I know," he said. "I can feel it."
"I feel sick." I put my hand over my mouth and Edward grabbed the trash can and sat me up. I heaved again as he held me over the side of the bed, holding my wet hair away from my face. It subsided and I lay back down, feeling a little better.
Edward went into the galley and came back with a bottle of water. "Sip a little of this," he said, looking more confident. "Your color is back. Good."
"What difference does it make if you're going to change me?"
"Good circulation will carry my venom through your system more efficiently. Hopefully that will make it less painful."
I propped myself up on the pillows and drank. Edward sat down and took my hand, his eyes holding mine in a lock, searching for something, just like I remembered them searching that first time he held me on this berth, during that forbidden sail, after our first kiss.
"Can you ever forgive me, Bella?" he said before I could ask what worry lay behind those eyes. His mouth was a tight, concentrated line across his face, barely concealing his anguish.
"Forgive you for what?"
"For putting you in this terrible situation," he said. "If you'd never met me…"
"I'd be miserable, popping pills on my couch and married to Derek Banner. Don't even go there." The thought of it made me want to retch again. I winced and took another sip of water.
"I've put you through so much hell," he said. "I can't imagine how you feel."
"How I feel?" I looked at him, incredulous. How could he not understand how I felt? And how would I begin to express it?
Since Zack's death, my life had been vacant of any real happiness, void any real hope for finding any. The future felt like a series of countless moments to endure. Lifeless. Wonderless. The day Edward stepped into my life was the day I thought maybe there was hope for me. No—it was the day I knew there was. It was the day the future felt like it might offer me something more than a life sentence of emptiness.
"Edward, I feel saved," I said, my voice cracking.
"So do I," he said, taking my hands in his, running his thumb over my engagement ring. Then he bent and kissed the palm of my hand, and then the underside of my wrist.
"So then never think I'd be better off if I'd never met you," I said. "You know that's not true."
"Bella." He paused and looked away, then he leveled a serious look at me. "Tell me why you were swimming all alone out here," he said. "Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?"
"I'm sorry, Edward," I said. "But I just couldn't wait any longer."
"So you gave up?"
"No," I said. "Absolutely not. I was looking for you."
"You were looking for me way out here?"
"Hala led me out here."
"Hala, the Kermode," I said. "She appeared to me in the fog and I followed her out."
"She led you to drown?"
"No, Edward. She led me to you."
He nodded, wordless, intrigued. "You actually saw her?"
"Yes," I said. "It wasn't the first time."
I had never admitted my visions of Hala to Edward or anyone. That was partly because I wasn't certain I wasn't having a psychotic break, and I didn't want Edward to have Illeana arrange a psychiatric vacation for me. I was reassured when he took me quite seriously.
I told him what I now knew about Hala and her role for the Ani Tsa' gu hi—their belief that she was some kind of spiritual link for them. I talked about Anna Marie's claim that Hala's death created an epic spiritual crisis affecting the entire black bear population of North America.
"You're kidding me," he said. "She's claiming that all black bears are shape shifters?"
"That's what she said—they're all descendants of the tribe."
"They're all human?"
"Yes," I said. "Like a hidden human population."
Then I explained the story of Hala being the protector of the gateway to the next world, and how Hamani crafted a myth about Edward trying to gain entry to it by seducing her. I told him they believed I was Hala in human form, having forgotten my real identity and unable to phase back. And then I told him how Jake was being pressured to find him and kill him. "To steal my memories back," I said. "It's ridiculous. Like that would even be possible."
"But it's what they believe," he said. "You have to take it seriously, Bella."
"I know," I said. "But it's infuriating to me. I had no say in that, and I'm a central part of this new mythology."
"I suppose that's not how it works," he said.
"Edward, it doesn't even make sense. Just for the sake of argument, let's say Jake kills you and fulfills that prediction. How is he actually supposed to get my memories back? If you had them and you died, wouldn't my memories die too?"
"What did Jake say?"
"He said he wasn't going to kill you," I said. "But there's a lot of pressure on him."
"I'm sure," Edward said, looking grim. "We're going to have to stay away from La Push for awhile."
"Fine with me," I said. "I'm happy to just spend eternity in Maui if it comes to that."
"So you've been then?" He smiled. "It's a lovely place to spend eternity, I agree."
Spending eternity with Edward—that concept was beginning to sound real to me. I wanted to grasp it, hold it in my arms, take it inside myself and keep it forever. Not only was I going to marry Edward, I was going to be a vampire with him. Immortal. Forever young.
"I'm ready," I said. "I want to be a vampire now."
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"I feel okay," I said, and it was true. I felt normal. "I feel pretty good, considering." I shifted under the blankets and brought my arms out and hugged my knees.
"How much do you want to know about what's going to happen to you after I bite you?"
"Nothing," I said. "I know it will hurt. Just promise you'll stay with me."
"Always," he said, squeezing my hand. "And when it's over and you're immortal, I'll show you a whole new world."
"You already have." I gave him a brave smile, hoping it might take my anxiety down a notch.
Edward leaned over me, took my face in his hands and brushed his thumbs over my cheeks. He held my face and breathed gently, exhaling over me. I inhaled his breath, fresh like daybreak, his scent clearing my mind. Then he kissed me, his lips soft on mine, comforting and reassuring in the face of what I was about to endure.
"If only there was a way to spare you the pain," he said, his jaw tightening.
"I'm not afraid."
"You don't have to be so tough," he said. "This is going to hurt."
"I know," I said. "Bring it." He gave a small laugh.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you too."
Edward got up and drew the curtains. He pulled the blankets from me and lay me gently down and looked at my naked body for awhile, his eyes traveling slowly up and down, studying my human form for the last time. Then he lay next to me me and gave me one final, soft, loving kiss, stroking his tongue gently into my mouth, pulling my upper lip between his lips. He kissed my forehead, my eyelids, my nose and then he opened his eyes and looked directly into mine.
"Are you ready for me, Bella?"
He flipped me to my belly and moved my hair away from my neck and I began to shiver, not from the cold but from anticipation. Excitement. His lips strayed down along my spine and my skin responded to their touch with heat, radiating from each place they made contact. Warmth spread again from my core all the way out to my fingers and toes. I wanted him badly. I wanted him to fuck me, to eat me, to drink me, to take me.
"I need to make you feel good before I can stand to do this to you," he whispered in my ear. I began to moan quietly as he slid his hand between my legs and caressed me there. "Oh, my Bella," he said as his fingers slid over the slickness between my thighs. "How I love your fragile human body, but when I imagine the things I can do to you after…" I gasped as his lips pressed to the base of my spine, just above my tailbone. He dragged his tongue back up until he reached the bottom of my skull and gently sucked the skin at the base of my neck. He held me down, keeping me still as he slipped a finger inside of me, stroking into the damp heat between my legs. I moaned loudly into the berth.
"Drink me," I said, breathing heavily. "Drink my blood while I still have it."
He exhaled strongly and I felt his body tense. "No," he growled in my ear. "That's not safe."
"Please," I said. "I promise you can stop yourself."
"That's not your promise to make," he said. "Lie still now. We're getting close." Then I felt him slip another finger inside of me, sliding and turning, finding that rough spot along the front of me and then stroking deliberately until I was coming hard, all over his hand. "Edward," I called his name, groaning in pleasure.
"That's it, my love," he said. I felt his tongue snake down to where my neck meets my shoulder, cold and hard and deliberate in its touch, tracing a new point of entry for his venom. “You are mine now and forever."
"Yes," I said, breathless, tightening around his fingers. "Forever."
Then his teeth sank into my flesh, quick and deep, not so much tearing as piercing, each tooth a razor slicing into me. I felt my blood rushing to the site of the new wound and as his venom began to course through me, I braced myself for the intolerable pain.
But the pain didn’t come.
It was nothing like the first time he bit me. I could still move. I could still talk.
But I didn’t do these things.
Instead I just lay there on my belly, my eyes clenched shut, waiting. My head began to throb like I'd had a bottle of wine and enough amphetamines to kill a baby whale. I felt heat intensify in every part of my body, but no burn. My muscles contracted, released, expanded, constricted like I was working out. I felt my heart pounding and my blood flowing like a river in a rainstorm.
“Bella?” he asked, his voice tense. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” I cried, opening my eyes.
"What do you feel?"
"It feels like electricity," I said. "I feel like I'm surging or something."
"Your heart is pounding," he said, putting his hand over the middle of my back. "Are you in any pain?"
"No," I said. I rolled over saw the confusion on his face and began to worry. "I'm not in any pain. What does this mean?"
"I don't know," he said. "I've never heard of someone getting that much venom and not being in pain. At the very least you should be paralyzed."
I willed myself to feel pain. For the transformation to begin. "Is anything else changing? Do I look any different?"
"You look flushed," he said. "That shouldn't be happening." He paused, listening, his eyes wandering over my body. "You're in tachycardia."
"Your heart… it's racing."
"I know," I said. "I don't think it's working, Edward." I started to panic. How could he inject me with all that venom and it not transform me?
"No, it isn't," he said, gritting his teeth.
“Do it again,” I pleaded.
"I don't think it's a matter of more venom. That hit should have transformed a bison."
"Well, why isn't it working then?"
"Bella, I don't know," he said. "Maybe the first bite I gave you behaved like a vaccine and you developed a resistance."
"A vampire vaccine? Are you fucking kidding me?"
"It's just a theory, okay?" Edward scowled, his brow creased with worry. "We'll watch and see what happens. I need to talk to Carlisle and we'll send for Mercy when we get to Maui. She might be able to sort it out."
I pulled the pillow over my face and gave a frustrated yell into it. Tears began to stream down my face as a realization set in. If I wasn't becoming a vampire now, maybe then I couldn't become a vampire at all. My thoughts began to race along with my relentlessly pounding heart, straying into territory I didn't dare go. I was seeing myself again at Zack's funeral, the coffin, the mourners until it all shifted and it wasn't Zack, but me, dead and gone and Edward withering under the heavy burden of grief.
"Edward, I'm going to die," I said, nearing hysterics.
"What?" he asked. "What's going on? Is it your heart?"
"No, I can see it. I'm going to stay human and die and leave you for all of eternity." I felt like I was on a very bad trip. I gripped the bed until I felt my nails piercing the mattress cover. "God damn it!"
"Bella, calm down," he said, taking my hands in his. I pushed him away and sprang out of bed, away from him.
“Don't marry me,” I said, sobbing. “You need to find a mate that won't die on you," I choked out. "Mercy. You can marry Mercy.”
“Bella, what are you talking about?” he said. "I'm not marrying Mercy."
"Okay then, Tanya," I cried. "She had her fucking head torn off and she didn't die."
“Calm down,” he said. "You're not making any sense."
“I know what it’s like to lose a spouse, Edward,” I said, sobbing more. “I can't do that to you. I won't!”
“Bella, stop it, you're hysterical,” he commanded, now on his feet. He backed me into the wall and gripped my head in his hands, forcing me to look into his eyes. I closed mine. "Look at me," he said. I focused there until I started to breathe normally. Then I noticed my own heart, just the damned relentless beating of it. Edward placed his hand lovingly over it and then kissed me softly on the lips. "First of all, we don't know for sure that you can't be changed. And second? Your love will carry me through all of eternity, no matter how long we have.”
He kissed me again until my tears stopped, my breath deepened and my body went from rigid to soft beneath his touch.
"What are we going to do if I can't change?" I asked, weeping.
"We're going to get married," he said. "And we'll live our lives, just as we planned."
"We planned for me to become a vampire and spend eternity with you," I cried. "I feel like I've failed you."
It was the first time I ever thought I might see Edward cry, and truth is, I think the only reason he didn't is because he couldn't.
"Never," he said. "Don't ever say that, and don't ever think it. I love you exactly how you are and would never change a hair on your head if I wasn't so damned selfish. If you stay human, it will be better for you, and I won't have to worry about you being damned with the rest of us."
"Being damned? Are you insane?" I asked. "There's only one way I can be damned, and that's to be kept apart from you."
"Well, we'll just have to make sure that never happens again, won't we?"
"But it will happen!" I crumpled, curled into a defensive ball and pounded my own head with my fists. Edward knelt down and took me by the wrists and held me securely until I was screaming unintelligibly and heaving sobs so heavy I thought the boat might pitch from the force of my grief.
Edward held me on the floor until the surge of energy his venom had caused was all spent in agonized wails. He tensed around me, feeling my pain co-mingled with the weight of his own. However brave he was, I knew he was every bit as heartbroken that I might remain mortal.
"I'm so sorry," I said, once I felt calm enough to utter the words. I turned on my knees and stroked his face and placed a gentle kiss just below an eye where I imagined a tear might have fallen under different circumstances.
"Bella, if I get to love you, live with you, breathe with you, marry you and have a family with you, I can't ask for more than that. I won't ask for it. That will sustain me until the very end of days."
Edward brought me to my feet and led me back to the berth. He quickly disrobed and we slipped in between the covers and he held me, his hands exploring with a cool, gentle touch. He took me then, quietly, slowly, deliberately, until all I felt was his complete adoration, the totality of his devotion. He cherished me in the way only impermanent things like visions and dreams and memories can be cherished. He felt me everywhere with his hands, he laid his lips upon every inch of my skin, he inhaled me and spoke in soft words of the future he promised to give me.
"We'll sail down to San Diego and then head west until we hear ukeleles," he said, tracing the outline of my face with his index finger. "Then I'll send for your father and we'll get married right away. After that we can sail as long as you like while we have your storybook house built. How does that sound?"
"It sounds good," I said, stretching beneath him. He kissed me on the nose and smiled.
"Okay, let me make you something to eat and then we'll check the weather and see what kind of sail we're in for. Ready for a little open ocean cruising?"
"Yeah, I think so," I said.
As I thought about the adventure before us—the one that would culminate in my starlit wedding to Edward Cullen, my optimism began to rebound. In his careful, deliberate lovemaking, Edward reminded me that some things about love are eternal, reaching beyond the physical manifestations of our selves. He'd grounded me in that realization, and in the deepest part of my soul I knew this union tapped into something much greater than my small life, or his.
It was something that could not die.