Chapter 1: Prologue
I'd had good reason to contemplate my death before, but I generally tried to not be so morbid. If I had imagined how I might die, it certainly wouldn't have been like this. I would have been older, for one thing. And I would have hoped for a painless death. But it wasn't so bad to die for someone I loved. It was certainly nobler than anything else I had done in my life.
My skin crawled in revulsion as the hunter smiled at me, baring his white teeth. His clenched fist twitched. I repressed a shudder and lifted my jaw defiantly, refusing to let him see my fear. The room seemed to stretch out to infinity, though I knew it was just an illusion. I was trapped. I would die here. I had nothing with which to defend myself – and I wasn’t deluded enough to believe that I stood a chance against him.
None of this would have happened if I hadn't moved to Forks, but I couldn't bring myself to regret that. I had made friends in Washington, created a place for myself. My life might not have been very long, but I thought it had been pretty good.
The hunter took a step towards me, still smiling. I stood my ground and waited to fight for my life.
Chapter 2: Chapter One
My mom flung the door open of our house when she saw me coming up the path. "Bella!" she cried, looking slightly frantic. "You're home early!"
"It was my last day; the staff threw me a party and let me go." I slung my diner uniform over my shoulder and frowned at her. "What's going on?"
People always told me that my mom and I looked alike. We had the same light hazel eyes and the same heart-shaped face. When we smiled, we looked like the same woman transplanted in time, although there were some noticeable differences. My mom liked to keep her dark hair long while I cropped my hair short -- not to mention the fact that it was currently purple, the result of a bet with my soccer teammates. I brushed a greasy lock of hair of my eyes and raised my eyebrows at my mom.
"Nothing's going on!" she exclaimed, waving her hands. "But – do you want to, I don't know, get some ice cream? Maybe get a coffee?"
"No," I said slowly, eying her. There were two spots of hectic color on her cheeks. "Mom, are you all right?"
"I'm fine!" she insisted, but there was an edge of desperation in her voice. "Really, Bella, I'm fine –"
I pushed past her to get inside the house, hoping to figure out what was wrong with her, and was immediately assaulted by the sound of at least twenty people shouting variations on, "Surprise, Bella!" I froze in the doorway, staring at the grinning crowd of my friends that were standing in our entry hall.
My mom scurried up next to me and grabbed my bag and uniform out of my hands. "Surprise, sweetie," she whispered, kissing my cheek. “We weren’t really ready for you to be here so early, but oh well. Go on.” She gave me a light push.
I tottered forward a few steps, totally stunned. Eliza, my best friend, came forward and wrapped me in a huge hug. "Bella, baby, the soccer team is going to miss you."
I hugged her back, some of her red hair getting in my mouth as I said, "I'm going to miss you!"
"You're going all the way to Washington," she said mournfully, releasing me. "How will I ever survive without you?"
"Well, Eliza," I said dryly, "There's this nifty invention called the internet and you can use it to send me messages. I think it works in Washington."
She laughed and wiped at her damp eyes. "Very funny, Bella." She linked her arm through mine. "Come, everyone wants to say goodbye."
The girls from the soccer team had bought me a brand new soccer ball and they presented it to me with a flourish. "Can't let that kick go to waste," our goalie told me earnestly. I grinned and tossed it to my mom, who promptly fumbled it before going to put it with my suitcase.
“They won’t know what hit them,” I promised my team, and we indulged ourselves into one last repetition of our team chant before high-fiving each other.
A minute later Eliza tugged me aside and leaned in, looking sheepish. "So look, I let your mom do invitations –"
"Oh no," I said, my eyes widening. "Who did she invite?"
"Hey, Bella," said a male voice, and I looked up to see my ex-boyfriend Nate. "Uh, sorry that you're moving."
Eliza, traitor that she was, detached herself from me and scurried off, though she had the decency to look apologetic. I glared after her, then looked back at Nate, who was smiling awkwardly, his hands shoved deep into his jeans pockets.
"Hi," I said a little brusquely, crossing my arms. "Thanks for coming."
"Yeah, of course." He bit his lip. "Can we – can we talk in private?" He gestured vaguely toward the yard.
I eyed him warily and said, "Fine, okay." I led him outside to the backyard and shut the French doors behind us. I leaned against the glass pane and looked at him. "Talk."
Nate fidgeted, a lock of blond hair flopping down across his forehead. "I'm sorry about the way things turned out," he said after a moment. "I know it didn't end well, but I really liked you, Bella."
I sighed and rubbed at my temple. "Nate –"
"No, hear me out." He spread his hands apologetically. "I liked you a whole lot. You made me really happy. And I didn't deserve you."
"Come on, Nate," I said softly. I wanted to be annoyed by his sudden remorse, but he sounded genuinely sincere. "Don't be like that."
He shook his head, smiling slightly. "I'll miss you, Bella." He stepped closer and gently slid his hand around to cup the nape of my neck. When he leaned forward to kiss me, I didn't turn my head away, though I thought about it.
The kiss was mercifully brief, just a brush of dry lips. I patted his chest as he pulled away and lied, "I don't blame you."
He smiled then, for real, and I remembered why I had dated him. I smiled in return, then headed back into my house to continue saying goodbye to my friends.
After the last of my friends had gone home, my mom and I packed up the last few items I would need up north. Charlie had promised he would take me shopping for weather-appropriate clothes once I got to Forks, so I was traveling fairly light. I carefully placed the soccer ball in my suitcase and patted it fondly before zipping my luggage closed.
The house was almost entirely boxed up; Mom was flying out to Florida the next week. Her new fiancé was already there, setting up their house while he trained with his team. There were a few boxes of clothes that were to go to Goodwill, but most of it was moving with her.
"I'm sorry you have to move like this," she told me as we lugged a box out to the car. "You're still welcome to come to Florida with me and Phil. I'm gonna set up a room for you there no matter what. Just say the word and I’ll call Charlie to tell him I’m keeping you."
I widened my eyes playfully at her and said innocently, "But Mom, I don't want to ruin your honeymoon bliss."
She swatted me, grinning, and said, "Get in the car, silly girl."
The weather was unseasonably gorgeous outside; the sky was a perfect blue, not a cloud in sight. I leaned against the door of my mom's battered Ford and tapped my fingers against the window. The glass was cool to the touch. I heard my mom make a small, choked noise. I straightened up in my seat and glanced over at her, concerned.
My mom was looking at me, her eyes shiny with tears. "Oh, Bella," she said sadly, and she reached out to brush my cheek. I leaned into her touch for a second, then reminded her to keep an eye on the road. She let out a watery chuckle and turned back. "Did you enjoy your going-away party?"
"I kinda wish you hadn't invited my ex-boyfriend," I said, but I smiled at her to let her know it had gone all right. She giggled and wiped at her eyes.
"I'm sorry you're getting shipped off like this," Mom said after a moment. "When Charlie and I worked out the custody, the idea was that you'd live with me and see him over summer. It wasn’t supposed to -- I mean, you don't even know him all that well. The last time you went to Forks was, what, five years ago?"
"That's only because we go to LA for the summer instead," I pointed out reasonably. "I know Charlie well enough. I mean, what's there to know? He's a sheriff, he gets pretty good vacation time, and he's my dad. I'm sure we'll figure things out."
Mom didn't look particularly reassured by this and, honestly, I didn't blame her. I had no great love for Forks, and I didn't try to hide it. It wasn't that Forks was in the middle of nowhere, though that didn't help. It just wasn't home to me; it never had been.
"If you're sure," Mom said dubiously. "If you change your mind, you can always tell me. Remember, you're coming down to Florida in May for the wedding."
"I'm the maid of honor, how could I forget?" I smiled at her and waggled my eyebrows. "I have to throw you the bachelorette party. I’m thinking Chippendales.”
"Oh God," she groaned, palming her face. "I have not raised you right."
Mom almost wouldn't let me go when I was checking into my flight. "I'm going to miss you, baby," she whispered in my ear.
I squeezed her and said, "I'll call."
"You'd better." We separated, and she rubbed away a few stray tears. "Say hi to Charlie for me."
"Yeah, okay." I shouldered my duffel bag and headed to the security line. "I'll call you when I land," I called back over my shoulder.
"Bye!" she called, waving. I waved back until I lost sight of her in the crowds of people heading home from winter break.
The flight was fairly uneventful, with a typically crappy film and even worse food. The teenage boy sitting next to me spent most of the flight watching episodes of television on his very tiny laptop. I tried to nap and managed to grab a few snatches of sleep, but I’d never had much luck with sleeping on airplanes.
I had to take a transfer plane from Seattle to get to Forks. The flight was only an hour long though, not long enough for a film or even a quick snack. Charlie was waiting for me at luggage claim when I landed, standing in his street clothes rather than his uniform. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his ancient jeans; it, along with his faded blue parka, was a familiar sight.
"Hey, Bella," he greeted me, wrapping me in a slightly stilted one armed hug. I patted his back awkwardly with my free hand. "Nice hair,” he added, tugging at a strand.
I winced in embarrassment and explained, “I lost a bet.”
Charlie just gave me an amused look. “Let me take your bag." He hefted my duffel bag over his shoulder. I shifted my backpack so that it settled more evenly against my back. "Did you check anything?"
"Yeah. Carousel 1." I pointed to where the thirty or so people from my flight were standing. "I have two bags."
"All right." Charlie set off in the direction I had indicated. "I got you all registered for school," he called over his shoulder. "You're taking pretty much the same schedule you were at home, except it’s too late for you to try out for the soccer team, so you're in regular Phys Ed."
I winced again. As good as I was at soccer, I wasn’t very gifted at any sport that required the use of my hands. "Great."
"Yeah, I know." He stopped at the edge of the carousel and looked at me.. "You're gonna have to tell me which bags are yours."
"Mmm." I glanced out the doors and saw that it was drizzling lightly. "Can I grab that duffel?"
He handed it over, and I pulled out a sweatshirt that I belatedly recognized as one of Eliza's. I smiled fondly and tugged it over my head. It was a little too big -- Eliza had three inches on me and never let me forget it -- and smelled like her house. I inhaled deeply and bit my lip to stave off the sudden sharp pang of homesickness.
"How's Renee?" he asked after an awkward pause. The carousel's light lit up, and the first suitcase came sliding down the ramp. "Is she doing all right?"
"Yeah, she's doing just fine. She says hi, by the way." I pointed as a battered green suitcase slid down the ramp and was carried towards us. "That's mine."
He hefted it up and over the edge of the carousel. "Jesus, Bella, what've you got in this thing?" he grunted. "Cement?"
"Books." I reached out and snagged my second suitcase before it could pass us. "Okay. We're good, we can go."
"I thought you were gonna buy stuff out here," Charlie said as we headed out the doors into the cool air. "What's all this?"
"Stuff from Phoenix. Mom's moving, she can't take all my crap with her." Charlie stopped in front of a green hybrid car and unlocked it. "Nice car."
“I guess." He opened the trunk and helped me lift my things into the back. "It's certainly gained me a lot of points around town."
I snorted. From what I remembered, people in Washington were very eco-friendly. "Sure."
"Speaking of which, your car." He shut the trunk and opened the driver's side door. "I found a good one for you."
I raised my eyebrows; a 'good one for me' was not necessarily a good car. "Yeah? What is it?"
"A Chevy pick-up truck. I bought it off Billy Black from La Push."
"He used to go fishing with us. He's from the reservation?" Charlie looked at me hopefully, but it had been a long time since I’d been to Forks, let alone La Push, the reservation on the coast.
“No, sorry.” I climbed into the passenger seat and waited for Charlie to get in. “It’s been a long time.”
Charlie nodded, though he gave me a slightly reproachful look, as though he was disappointed I didn’t remember. “Billy’s in a wheelchair now, so he can’t drive the car anymore. When I mentioned that you were moving here, he offered to sell it to me.”
“How does it run?” I asked as Charlie started up the little car. He didn’t look at me as he answered, his expression turning a little sheepish.
“He’s done a lot of work on the engine, but he bought it in 1984.” He fell silent, and I waited, sensing that there was more. Finally, he admitted, “It was probably built in the late fifties, early sixties. But –“ and here he held up his hand to hold off my complaints, “it’s a solid car. It was cheap, and I’ll pay for any mechanical problems you run into.”
“I could probably do a little of the work myself,” I told him. “One of my friends back ho -- in Phoenix worked on cars.” I realized a second later that he had probably been expecting a different response. “Thank you,” I added belatedly. “I appreciate it.”
“You’re my daughter,” Charlie said in an attempt to brush off my thanks, but he turned a little red. The conversation lagged at that. I leaned against the glass of the window, staring out at the gorgeous landscape. One of the things Forks had going for its sheer beauty; as much as I loved Phoenix, the endless desert did get rather depressing sometimes.
As awkward as the silence was, I found it impossible to break it. I couldn’t think of what to say to him; I didn’t even really know what we had in common. When I’d visited Charlie in LA, we had mostly gone to the beach and visited tourist places. It was beginning to occur to me that my mom had been right to say that I didn’t know my own father.
Neither of us spoke for the remainder of the journey to Charlie’s home which was the same house he’d always had – a grey, two-storey building with a blue front door. Parked in the driveway was a monstrous red pick-up truck, the kind that can get into a horrible four-car accident and emerge unscathed.
“That’s gorgeous,” I breathed, forgetting my earlier concerns as Charlie pulled into the driveway next to it. I clambered out as soon as he hit the park button. The paint was faded, patches of rust here and there, but it was beautiful and it was mine. I laid a hand against the side and smiled.
“You like it?” Charlie sounded pleased. “Because we can always find you a new one.”
“No,” I insisted, turning to face him. “No, I love it. Thank you.”
Charlie smiled then, awkward on his thin face. “Come on,” he said gruffly. “Let’s get your stuff upstairs.”
He helped me lug my things up to my usual room, across a narrow hallway from his. My bed was already made, the desk set up. Once he was sure I had everything – including keys – he left me alone to unpack, for which I was grateful. I needed some time to gather my thoughts and adjust. For all my insistence that I was fine, I was beginning to feel the first stings of homesickness.
I shelved my books first, then unpacked my clothing and laid down on top of my new bed. I looked around the room thoughtful. It wasn’t anything like my room in Phoenix; but maybe that would be a good thing.
“I can do this,” I said out loud, and I went downstairs to see what Charlie was up to.
It rained particularly loudly that night, and I lay awake from a combination of nerves and restlessness. I wasn’t used to the noise and it was a constant reminder that I wasn’t at home. I finally managed to drift off around two in the morning, when the rain lessened and ceased pounding on the roof.
When I awoke the next, a thick fog had replaced the rain. I clattered down the stairs after showering and getting dressed. Charlie was already eating breakfast in the kitchen, dressed in his uniform. He looked up when he saw me and tried a smile. It came out pretty well.
“Hey, Bella,” he said. “Did you sleep well?”
I shrugged and sat down at the tiny table. “The rain kept me up.”
“Oh.” Charlie took a sip of coffee. “I can give you some earplugs, if you think that might help.”
“That’d be great,” I admitted. I pulled the cereal box towards me and poured out a bowl for myself. “You gotta get to work soon, don’t you?”
Charlie glanced at the clock and muttered something under his breath. “Yeah,” he agreed, louder. “You’ll be okay getting to school on your own? Put your fog lights on.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled at him. “I did take driver’s ed.”
Charlie ducked his head, embarrassed. “I know, I just – worry.” He stood up and said, “I’m gonna go now. Good luck today.”
“Thanks,” I said, waggling my fingers. He waved awkwardly before taking his hat and exiting through the front door. I picked up my cereal bowl and wandered around the house while I ate. The kitchen was small, with green-painted cabinets and wood floors. I remembered it seeming a lot bigger when I was a child; now, I thought that if I held out both arms, I’d hit a wall.
I headed into the living room and stared. It looked exactly the same as it had when I was a kid, down to the furniture and photographs on the mantle. Mom and Charlie’s wedding picture was in the middle, flanked by photos of me as a baby. I touched the photograph from their wedding; they had gotten married on a beach in California, near where they had gone to college. They both looked so happy; I wondered if that was why Charlie had kept it.
I had always known in a vague, abstracted way that Charlie hadn’t really gotten over my mom. He had always asked about her when I came to visit and had seemed sad when I told him she was getting remarried. Being in his house only made it more obvious that he was holding on.
I finished my breakfast and grabbed my backpack before running out to the car. The air smelled strange to me, moist and rich rather than dry and arid. I climbed into the driver’s seat and took stock. The leather seats had clearly been recently reupholstered, and there was a fairly modern entertainment system in the dash, but the car smelled faintly of tobacco and gasoline. It was actually oddly comforting.
I started the engine, and it roared to life, startling me. I fiddled with the radio, and found that both the tape deck and the radio worked fine, although the CD player seemed to be on the fritz. I made a mental note to find an iPod hook up as I guided the car out onto the street.
The local high school was just off the highway, like most things in Forks, and it didn’t take me long to find it. It was much different from the one I’d gone to in Phoenix – much more homey, built with red bricks rather than institutional cement. It was surrounded by a small forest of shrubs and trees; the sign that read ‘Office’ was nearly hidden by the foliage.
I parked in front of the office and walked up the path into the building. Inside, it was warm and brightly lit, made comfortable with several cheerful paintings of animals and warmly colored furniture. A bulletin board covered in notices dominated the right wall. The left hand side of the office was taken up by a tall wooden counter, beyond which were several desks that were currently unoccupied. A moment after I entered, a woman came in from a door at the of the office. She saw me loitering awkwardly by the door and smiled.
“Hi,” she said brightly, coming up to the counter. “Can I help you?”
“My name’s Isabella Swan,” I told her. Her eyes lit up with recognition. I stifled a sigh; I hoped that she only knew my name because I was new and not because I was Charlie’s daughter, but it was a faint hope. Forks was a small town with only about three thousand people and my dad was the sheriff – I was doomed to be a curiosity for at least the first month. I had resigned myself to that. Simply being the new girl would have made me interesting. The fact that I was the daughter of the sheriff meant that people would want to gossip about me.
“Yes, I’ve been expecting you.” She reached down for a small stack of papers with a small spiral bound planner sitting on top. “This is your schedule, your locker number and combination, some guidelines, a school calendar, your planner, and a map of the school. Would you like me to show you how to get around?”
“Please,” I said, surprised at the offer. She smiled and bent to highlight the best route to each class, explaining as she did so. Then she passed over another sheet of paper that I needed each teacher to sign and bring back to her at the end of the day.
“If you want to change a class, you’ll need to get the signature of both your current teacher and the teacher of the class you want to switch into before I can do anything.” She smiled again and said, “Good luck.”
I thanked her absently and headed back out to my car, looking at the map. The student parking lot was a little further down, so I drove my car about half a block to where the other students were arriving. No one gave me a second glance, which I found mildly reassuring. I shoved all the papers the receptionist had given me into my backpack and slid out onto the damp asphalt. Students milled around me, talking and laughing with friends as they headed into school. I took a deep breath and reminded myself that they were teenagers just like me. I had nothing to worry about.
I followed the crowd into the locker hall, where I located my locker and managed to get it open without issue. I shoved my coat and my extra belongings into it, then consulted my schedule for where to go next.
I found my first classroom easily enough and handed my slip to the teacher, who signed it without comment before sending me to the back of the class with a reading list in my hand. I sat down at an empty desk and scanned the list quickly. It was mostly books I had already read – Shakespeare, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, some other miscellaneous authors. I debated printing out and fixing up some of my old essays from Phoenix, but decided that I’d just wait to see how the teachers at Forks High taught.
I zoned out while the teacher – Mr. Carson – gave a lecture on the symbolism in Hamlet, occasionally soliciting input from the students. I kept my head down and didn’t raise my hand, taking only minimal notes in my notebook.
When the bell rang, the boy sitting in front of me turned around and beamed. He had a wide, friendly face and a shock of white-blond hair. He was cute, in a kind of a boyish way. “Hey,” he said warmly. “You must be Isabella Swan.”
The people near us shot me curious looks. I stared them down until they turned away. I glanced back at the boy as I gathered up my things. “I go by Bella,” I told him a little frostily, annoyed that he’d called attention to my presence.
Unperturbed, he continued smiling. “I like your hair. Why’d you dye it?”
I blinked and reached up to run my hand through the short strands. “Thanks,” I said after a beat. “It's kind of a long story and it involves some dubious moral decisions.”
He laughed and held out his hand. “I’m Eric Somberg,” he said, shaking my hand. “Do you need any help finding your next class?”
“Uh,” I said, wondering how I should react. After a moment of hesitation, I decided it couldn’t hur tto take Eric up on his offer. “Sure?”
“Great. I’m on student council,” he explained as we walked out of the room. “The principal told me you’d be coming and that since I was in your first period, I should show you around.” He winked conspiratorially and added, “Plus, now I have an excuse to be late to class.”
Involuntarily, I smiled, and he crowed in success.
“I got a smile!” he cried. A couple people turned to stare. He waved enthusiastically at them and their faces relaxed, grinning back at him. He turned back to me, eyes bright and curious. “You’re from Phoenix, right?”
“Yeah. Born in Forks, though.”
“Sucks,” he pronounced. “Forks is totally boring, I’m so sorry you got stuck here.” He patted my shoulder in a vaguely comforting manner. “By the way, where are we going?”
“Uh, US History,” I said, pulling my already crumpled schedule out of my pocket. “With Patterson.”
He nodded and steered me left towards a slightly newer looking building. “Okay,” he announced when I had spotted the room number that I wanted. “We got here safely. My mission is complete. See you later?”
I looked at him and his hopeful smile, then said, “Yeah, sure.”
He grinned and said, “Find me at lunch!” before heading off towards the building on the far end of campus. I watched him go, feeling slightly overwhelmed by his forceful enthusiasm, then went inside the classroom, smiling to myself.
Most of my classes were pretty uneventful. The history curriculum was behind my class in Phoenix by about a week, so I was safe for the time being. My Pre-Calculus class was the only one where I actually had to introduce myself, and I felt incredibly awkward the entire time. The preppy redheaded girl at the front stared at my band shirt and ripped jeans as though I’d offended her personally. I made a point of giving her a wide smile before I was allowed to go to the last empty desk.
There were a couple of kids who were in more than one of my classes. One of them, a girl with jet black hair and neat red glasses, offered to walk me to lunch. “I’m Kaitlyn,” she said, flicking her hair over her shoulder. “You like The Smiths?” She nodded to my shirt.
I said, “Nah, I’m just wearing this shirt for the hell of it,” and she laughed.
“Yeah, whatever,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Should have known you were just a poseur.”
I decided that I liked her. “I figured this was the best way to get all the boys,” I said dryly. “I mean, doesn’t everyone like Morissey?”
“Wrong team,” she said, smirking.
She walked me to the cafeteria and waited with me in line, where I got a rather dull-looking salad. When I mentioned my promise to Eric, she grinned, walking quicker through the cafeteria.
“Eric? You mean this kid?” She pointed at the boy in question, who was sitting at a lunch table with several other students – two boys and a girl. Eric looked up at the sound of Kaitlyn’s voice and broke into a wide grin.
“Bella!” he cried excitedly. “The exotic Phoenix flower, come to grace us with her perfume.”
“You’re such a weirdo,” the other girl at the table said, rolling her eyes. She waved at me and added, “I’m Marlena. Ignore Eric, he’s in one of his moods today.”
I smiled at her and placed my tray across from her. “Good to know.”
“How dare you malign me, Marlena!” Eric exclaimed, clutching at his chest dramatically. “Care to take your knife out of my back?” He mimed dragging a knife from his back, and Marlena flicked a grape at him.
The other two boys introduced themselves as Dave and Lucas, and they quickly returned to a conversation about a computer game that I only knew a little about. Kaitlyn leaned in and asked something about mods that went completely over my head, so I tuned them out in favor of eating. It was while I was eating my salad and half-listening to Eric and Marlena bicker that I noticed them.
There were five of them sitting at a table by themselves. None of them was sneaking glances at my table, which was a welcome change from the glances from curious students at the tables around me. They seemed to be talking quietly amongst themselves, and they had left their food completely untouched – not that I blamed them. Some of the food had looked pretty dire.
They were odd-looking, pale and sickly under the harsh cafeteria lights. While there was certainly a variety of looks among them, there was also a bizarre unity to their appearance. I squinted at them, trying to figure out what it was. One of the girls reach out to poke the blond boy in the arm, and I suddenly realized that they all moved the same way – a little too fluidly, a little too quickly.
“Are you looking at the Cullens?” Eric asked, interrupting my thoughts. “Or, shall I say, the Cullens and the Hales?”
I glanced at them and saw that he was staring dreamily at the table, his chin propped on his hands. “What?”
Kaitlyn leaned towards me and explained, “They’re this sort of makeshift family. The two blonds are Rosalie and Jasper Hale, the dark-haired ones are Emmett, Edward, and Alice Cullen. They all live with Dr. Cullen and his wife.” She nodded discretely. The one I took to be Alice was drumming her fingers impatiently on the table while the blond boy – Jasper – tried to soothe her by stroking her hair. Rosalie, who was devastatingly beautiful with softly rounded features and a plush mouth, had her head bent towards a veritable bear of a man – Edward or Emmett.
“And they’re all together,” Marlena put in, affecting a tone of moral outrage. “Rosalie and Emmett, Alice and Jasper. Not Edward, though, he’s never dated anyone.”
“Damn shame, too,” Eric said dreamily. He gave me a look, as if he had just remembered I was there. I just shrugged at him, and he visibly relaxed.
“Which one’s Edward?” I asked, looking back at the table.
“Uh, the gorgeous one?” Eric suggested. “The one with dark hair who doesn’t look like he could destroy a car in his fist?”
I immediately saw who he meant. The boy in question was angled slightly away from the rest of them. His eyes moved restlessly over the students in the cafeteria as he absently shredded the lone bread roll on his tray. I guessed I could see why Eric thought he was beautiful; there was something oddly compelling about him, though his eyes were a little too closely set, his mouth a little too wide, and his features just a little too sharp for him to be called conventionally handsome. His hair was an odd coppery color – not quite red, but not quite brown either. Just as I looked at him, his eyes met mine for a sharp instant, and then dropped away almost instantly.
I frowned, something tugging at my thoughts, but was distracted by Kaitlyn saying, “They’re all adopted. Dr. Cullen and his wife are both really young, but they took in the Hales anyway – they’re, like, her sister’s kids or something – and then they adopted the others. Foster kids. Edward and Alice are our age, the others are a year ahead.”
“That’s nice of them,” I said absently. I racked my brain for memories of any Cullens when I visited before, but nothing came to mind. “Have they always lived in Forks?”
Eric shook his head. “Moved here from Alaska about two years ago.”
Suddenly, the dark-haired girl – Alice – leaped to her feet in an uncannily graceful movement before darting for the door. Jasper hauled himself up with a resigned expression and followed her outside. The other three, seeming to take this as a signal, rose to their feet and took their untouched lunches to the trash.
“Alice is a bit…odd,” Marlena said unnecessarily. “I think she might be a little…” She twirled her finger next to her temple in the universal sign for ‘crazy’.
On her other side, Lucas broke off the conversation to groan, “Are you talking about the Cullens again?” Marlena flapped her hand at him to tell him to shut up; they were walking past us on their way out.
As they passed, Edward Cullen gave me another sharp glance, as though he was trying to figure something out. I raised my eyebrows at him and he looked away hurriedly, as though embarrassed to be caught looking.
It was then that I realized what had been bothering me – his eyes were black, with no trace of any color around the pupil.
Marlena was in my Biology class and she walked with me, babbling cheerfully on about the spring musical, which apparently Eric had the lead in.
“You don’t care that he’s gay, right?” she asked suddenly, giving me a hard look. I stared.
“Did I give you that impression?” I inquired, somewhat perturbed. “Of course not!”
“No,” she said, relaxing. “Just checking. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t okay with it.”
“Well,” I muttered, “I don’t know about surprised.”
She opened her mouth to speak, but we had reached our classroom. She went to her seat while I went to get my paper signed by the teacher. Edward Cullen was sitting by himself at one of the lab tables, staring at the smooth black surface. As I passed him, he started, looking up. When he saw whom it was, his expression changed to a bizarre mix of fury and curiosity. I glared back at him.
The teacher signed my slip and told me to take the empty seat – the one next to Edward Cullen. I sighed, but did as he said. I sat down on the stool next to him and he flinched away, as though I’d raised a hand to him. I wanted nothing more than to demand what the hell was wrong with him, but I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I turned my back on him while the teacher started talking.
I glanced over at him a couple of times during the period, but he didn’t relax once. His muscles were tensed to the extreme and he was gripping onto the edge of the lab table so tightly that his knuckles were white.
Finally, I grew tired of pretending that nothing was happening and hissed, “Is something wrong?”
It took him a moment to register that I had said anything and then he offered something that might have been a smile. “Just stomach cramps,” he said, but his voice was tight with anger and something like revulsion. He had a slight accent to his voice, the way people in old movies always seemed to have an English accent.
I snorted. “Whatever you say,” I muttered, and proceeded to ignore him for the rest of class.
When the bell finally rang, Edward was up and practically out the door before I’d even gathered up my notebook. I shook my head; it seemed like Alice Cullen wasn’t the only crazy one in that family.
“Man,” Marlena said, materializing at my shoulder. “What the hell did you do to Edward? I’ve never seen him act like that.”
I shrugged. “Hell if I know. What do you have next?”
“Same.” I shouldered my bag and walked with her from the class. “So he’s not usually like that?”
Marlena shrugged. “He never really talks to anyone, if that’s what you mean. He’s kind of – private. Like people around here aren’t good enough for him. The whole family is kind of stuck up – except Alice, but you know. She’s strange.” She changed the subject to tell me some ridiculous story about the gym teacher and a raccoon that I protested couldn’t be true, but she swore it was. I knew she was probably changing the subject to make me feel better about Edward giving me the cold shoulder and I appreciated the thought.
The gym teacher found me a uniform and assigned me a locker. “We’re playing volleyball this week,” he told me and I winced.
“I’m better with my feet,” I told him and he laughed, clapping me on the shoulder.
“I feel you, Miss Swan. We’re getting to soccer in a week, don’t worry.” He let me sit out for the day and I watched as Marlena kicked ass with her team. Luke was in our class as well, and he repeatedly called foul on Marlena, who just stuck her tongue out at him.
After class, I waved goodbye to Marlena before heading back to the office to return the paper my teachers had signed. The wind had picked up and I wrapped my arms around myself. I was grateful to go inside the office - until I saw that Edward Cullen had gotten there first.
He was arguing with the receptionist about changing his fifth period class – the one he had with me. “Please,” he said, his voice soft and persuasive. “I cannot be in that class any longer.”
“Unless you give me a reason, Mr. Cullen, I’m afraid I cannot transfer you,” the receptionist said, frustrated. The door to the office opened and an underclassman came in to hand the receptionist a note. A gust of wind came with it, knocking my hair into my eyes. Edward Cullen stiffened and turned around, his face gone even paler.
We stared at each other for a minute. I wasn't sure sure what he saw on my face, but I saw fear and anger and disgust on his – all of which completely mystified me. I lifted my chin and met his gaze evenly, trying to tell him I wasn’t intimidated him.
He turned back to the receptionist and said in that smooth, carefully modulated voice, “Clearly it is impossible. I am sorry to have wasted your time.” Then he turned and left, carefully angling his body so that he didn’t brush any part of me. I resisted the childish urge to stick out my foot and trip him, telling myself that it was beneath me. I settled for rolling my eyes.
I stepped forward to give the receptionist my sheet. She took it with a smile.
“How was your day, Miss Swan?” she asked as she filed it. “Good?”
I shrugged. “Informative,” I said, and then I headed out to my car, ready to put all thoughts of Edward Cullen from my mind.
Chapter 3: Chapter Two
Charlie was still out when I got home, so I made myself a snack to eat while I looked over my homework. I was working my way through the Pre-Calculus assignment when Eliza called, demanding to know how my first day had gone.
“I have to live vicariously through you, Bells, I’ve never been the new kid,” she explained. “Was it dramatic? Did you make any friends?”
“A couple, I think.” I put my pencil down and sandwiched my cell phone between my ear and shoulder. “It’s probably too soon to tell. But there is one thing.” I explained to her what had happened with Edward Cullen and she made little tutting noises.
“What an asshole,” she said matter-of-factly. “If he doesn’t want to be your friend, fuck him.”
Despite myself, I giggled and felt a little tension seep out of my shoulders. Eliza laughed and began telling me about soccer practice that day.
After talking to Eliza, I finished my homework and gave my mom a call. She didn’t pick up, which wasn’t all that surprising. She was terrible at answering the phone. I left a quick message telling her I’d gotten in okay and that school had been all right.
Charlie came home not long after that and we ate dinner – spaghetti and meatballs – mostly without talking. The extent of our conversation was that he asked me how my day went, I supplied a nondescript answer, and he told me a little about a strange animal mauling he had seen on the beach earlier in the day.
“Never seen anything like it,” he said, buttering a slice of white bread. “Dr. Cullen said he was pretty sure it was an animal -”
“Wait, wait,” I said, holding up my hand. “Dr. Cullen? Is he the adoptive father of all those kids?”
“Yeah, that’s him,” Charlie nodded, mouth full. He swallowed and eyed me. “You meet the kids?”
“In a manner of speaking,” I muttered. I waved my hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it, just wondering.”
Charlie looked like he wanted to say something, but he mercifully decided to leave me alone and even did the dishes. I headed up to bed not long after, even though I wasn’t actually all that tired. I lay awake listening to the sound of the wind outside and wished I had taken Charlie up on his offer of earplugs until I finally fell into a dreamless sleep.
The next day was a good. I woke up later and had myself a nice, leisurely breakfast, Charlie having already left for work. On the fridge, he had pinned a note asking me to pick up some groceries, a wad of money taped to the note. I grinned; at least I wouldn’t have to remind Charlie to buy food, unlike Mom, who’d forget to eat if I wasn’t there to nag her about it.
I started out school with Eric, who came and sat next to me. Whenever the teacher had his back turned, he passed me a note detailing the lurid sex lives of our classmates, complete with stick figure illustrations.
Kaitlyn walked with me to lunch again, chattering about the upcoming spring formal. When we entered the cafeteria, I reflexively glanced over at the Cullens’ table only to see that they were missing their fifth member – Edward was nowhere to be seen.
I felt a little bubble of relief rise in my chest and I slid across the table from Dave and Lucas with a little more energy. Dave asked me about Phoenix and when I mentioned having been on the soccer team, the three of us got to talking about sports until lunch was over. I felt oddly elated by the success of our interaction, as though I’d passed some sort of test; I’d been accepted by all the members of the group.
Edward wasn’t in Biology, either. Marlena giggled when she saw my pleased expression.
“Luckily for you, I guess, the Cullens as a whole tend to miss a lot of school.” She shrugged. “Who knows why, we don’t tend to ask. So you won’t have to worry about him snapping and trying to kill you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Somehow,” I deadpanned, “I don’t find that very reassuring.”
She slapped my shoulder playfully. “Come on, Bella, you need to lighten up. You know what, we’re going to the beach in a couple weeks and having a bit of a party. You should come.”
“Will the weather be like this?” I asked, glancing out the window to the misty sky.
Marlena grinned. “If it is, so what? We can still have fun.” She bumped my shoulder on the way to her seat and I ducked to hide my smile.
Even volleyball couldn’t dim my happiness. I managed not to hit anyone, though the insides of my arms were sore by the end of class – I hadn’t quite gotten the knack of hitting the ball with the soft part of my arms.
I started up my car with a deafening rumble. I couldn’t help but wince a little; when it was just me around, it was charming. When other people were turning to stare, my car’s idiosyncrasies were a little more embarrassing. I waved cheerfully at Lucas, who was passing by. He mouthed, ‘Nice car!’ and gave me thumbs up.
I went to back out, but was cut off by a slick silver Volvo. I glared at it, annoyed, and met the eyes of the beautiful Rosalie Hale. She glared right back at me, then gunned the car out of the parking lot at practically light speed. Jasper, Emmett, and Alice were riding with her, I noticed. As they passed, Alice pressed her face to the window and stared at me, her eyes wide and a little odd. I stared back, confused, and then I lost sight of her as their car rounded the corner out of the lot.
I shook my head in disgust and backed out. When I thought back, I remembered seeing the quality of their clothes - not particularly flashy, as such, but certainly expensive. It seemed a little unfair that the kids in that family had gotten both money and looks, but I knew better than to believe that the world was fair. The only consolation, as such, was that they didn’t seem to be well-liked even with those not inconsiderable assets.
But then, I reasoned as I turned down the highway towards the grocery store, maybe people had tried to befriend them and had been rebuffed. I had seen first-hand how Edward Cullen reacted to people, or at least to me. If they acted even half as rudely – and bizarrely – as he had, then it was no wonder they were ostracized.
I wandered through the store with my headphones on, picking out enough food to last us a couple weeks. There was something soothing about being in a supermarket; pretty much no matter where you go, all supermarkets are the same. It was almost like being home again.
I headed back to Charlie’s place and did my best to unload all the groceries in the correct places, though I wasn’t sure of Charlie’s organization method. I had bought a few ready-made meals and I put one in the oven so that I could do my homework.
Just as I was settling in to start my essay on Hamlet, my cell phone rang. I picked up and my mom said, “Oh my god, Bella, I’m so sorry I missed your call! We were still in the process of moving and I -”
“Relax, Mom,” I said soothingly. “Don’t worry about. I’m fine, the flight was good, and school is just fine.”
“Oh, good.” She let out a breath. “So things are okay? You’re getting along with Charlie?”
“Yeah, things are just fine. I have a car, my classes are fine, I’ve made a few friends. Don’t worry about me, Mom, you just concentrate on being happy.”
I heard her saying something quietly to someone else and then she said, “Phil says hi. You’re still coming down for the bachelorette party?”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course, Mom. Tell him I say hi back.”
“Is it cold?” she asked worriedly. “I know that February can be kind of cold up there -”
“Mom, seriously, I’m fine. Charlie’s treating me well. If I need anything, he’ll get it for me.” I paused and then said, “He says hi.”
“Oh,” my mom muttered distractedly. “I’m so sorry, Bella, I have to go. The movers put some of our things in the wrong room.” She sounded kind of frazzled and I decided to let her go.
“Go, sort it out.” We exchanged goodbyes and I hung up. I was almost done with the first draft of my essay when Charlie came home. He sniffed the air cautiously as he hung up his gun belt. When I was little, he used to always remove the bullets from his gun before he’d hung it up, I remembered suddenly. I looked down at my papers and swept them up, getting up to grab plates.
“What’s that smell?” Charlie asked, taking off his jacket. “Something you picked up at the grocery store?”
“Yeah, I’m not so great at cooking,” I admitted. “I can do a few things, but you know what I’m really great at? Heating up premade meals.”
Charlie smiled wryly and said, “Like father, like daughter,” and let me serve him a helping of the store-made lasagna.
Unfortunately, he then decided that we needed to chat about my day. I’d always disliked that parental tradition, even with my mom. What made it worse was that Charlie wasn’t particularly good at it.
“So, uh, you make any friends?” he asked hesitantly. “Meet any nice kids?”
I looked at him over the top of my soda can and answered cautiously, “Yeah, a few.”
“Like who?” he asked, not looking at me. I sighed and set my can down.
“Eric Somberg,” I said. “A girl named Marlena, another girl named Kaitlyn, a couple guys named Dave and Lucas.”
“Kaitlyn Sasaki?” he asked. “Her family’s very nice. Her father’s a lawyer, a damn good one at that.”
“They’ve all been nice,” I said, wondering what he was trying to get at. “Eric especially.”
“The Sombergs are awfully nice,” he said, picking at his food. “A little – misguided at times, I think. Eric is a good boy. Sometimes I think they’re a little too hard on him.”
“What do you mean?” I set my fork down and frowned at him.
“Oh, nothing.” Charlie shook his head. “They just have a hard time accepting Eric. A few people around here did, we had to stop him from getting assaulted a couple times.”
I stared at him, shocked. “Are you kidding me?” I demanded, horrified. “That’s sick!”
“That’s Forks,” my dad muttered. “Take the Cullens. Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon. He could go anywhere in the world and make five times as much as he makes here. We’re lucky that his wife was willing to live here. Those kids, they may be adopted but he treats them like his own. I’ve never had any trouble out of them and the way they stick together should be an example to families out there. But just because they’re outsiders and a little odd, people have to talk.” He came to a stop and took a breath.
“Wow,” I said after a beat. “That’s the most I’ve ever heard you speak in one go.”
Charlie looked at me and then started to chuckle. I couldn’t help but join in. We ate the rest of the meal in a companionable silence before taking the dishes to the sink. He washed and I dried. He looked like he wanted to say something, so I waited him out. Finally, he broke and said, “I think it’s because they’re such an attractive family.”
“And maybe because they’re rich,” I suggested. Charlie inclined his head in acknowledgement.
“That too. From what I understand, Dr. Cullen has to work hard to keep the nurses at the hospital from throwing themselves at him.” He chuckled. “Too bad for them, his wife is a beautiful, kind woman. He’s a lucky man.”
I shook my head and clapped Charlie on the shoulder. “They seem nice enough,” I told him, only partially lying. “They just keep to themselves. Maybe that’s why people don’t like them.”
Charlie looked at me. “You’re a smart kid, Bella,” he said after a moment. He ruffled my hair, ignoring my aggrieve squawk. “Go, do whatever. I’ll finish up here.”
I headed up to my room and surfed the web for a while. On an impulse, I searched Cullen on Google, but the only results were for people that had died centuries ago. Frustrated, I exited Firefox and picked up a book, curling up on my bed to read. I reached over to turn on the light and knocked against something soft. I looked over.
On my bedside table was a pair of earplugs, sitting on top of a note from Charlie – Sorry, almost forgot you wanted these. Sleep well. I smiled and popped them in, dimming the noise from the weather outside and the television from downstairs.
I was beginning to think this whole Forks thing might work out.
I wasn’t sure what to say to Eric about what Charlie had said, so instead I mentioned it to Marlena during Biology. She shook her head when I told her what he had said.
“It’s not a big deal, it was just a couple of older kids who graduated already.” She patted my arm. “Thanks for worrying. Please don’t mention it to Eric, he’s a little sensitive about it.”
“Yeah, no problem,” I agreed. The seat next to me was still empty.
The week was mostly uneventful. Edward Cullen didn’t return to school, though I occasionally caught Alice or Rosalie looking at me oddly. One time, Alice smiled and waggled her fingers in greeting only to be shuffled away by Jasper. I shook my head and decided Marlena was right in calling Alice a little strange.
Most of the week was spent by Dave waxing lyrical about his plans to go to the beach at La Push Ocean Park. I was repeatedly assured that it would be a ‘blast’, and I in turn assured them that I wouldn’t miss it.
As grateful as I was that Edward wasn’t around, his absence niggled at me the way a loose tooth would. Stupidly, I half-wondered if he’d left because he hated me so much; when he hadn’t been able to switch out of Biology, maybe he’d dropped out of school just to avoid me. When I related the theory to Eliza, she laughed at me and told me I was being ridiculous.
The weekend was uneventful. Kaitlyn came over and we watched a movie before working on homework together. It turned out that she had an almost photographic memory, which was both incredibly cool and incredibly helpful. I read some more, curled up on my bed as it rained outside. Now that I was more used to it, the soft sound of the rain against the roof was actually kind of soothing.
I drove by the local library, but it was pretty small. I decided to drive to Seattle as soon as possible to check out some bookstores; maybe Marlena or Eric would want to go. I made a note to ask Charlie for a credit card or something so I would be able to pay for gas – I winced when I imagined how much gas the truck would need.
When I came into school on Monday, I was surprised to find Eric waiting for me. He grabbed my arm and said, “Bella, please tell me you read the assignment for English.”
“Yeah, why?” I gave him a look and he grinned guiltily.
“I heard we have a quiz today,” he confessed. “Could you give me a quick rundown? I forgot to read.”
I rolled my eyes, grinning, but gave him an abbreviated summary of what he had missed. As we got to class, he clapped my shoulder and whispered, “Thank you,” before heading to his seat.
The quiz was pretty easy; even Eric seemed happy after it was done. I zoned out for the rest of class, doodling little illustrations of the play in my notebook. When we left the classroom, little white flakes were falling from the sky. One landed on my nose and melted. I yelped and rubbed at my nose, wishing I had gloves.
“Hey,” Eric said delightedly. “Snow!”
“It doesn’t look like how I pictured,” I said, looking up. “Man, I wish I’d dressed warmer.”
“You’ve never seen snow?” Eric shook his head. “Never mind, of course you haven’t. You moved from Phoenix.”
I grinned and leaned down to scoop up a handful of snow. “Doesn’t mean I don’t know how to use it,” I said, and I threw it at him, smacking him in the middle of the chest.
“Oh, no you did not,” Eric said excitedly. I waggled my hands and ducked his snowball a moment later, running to my next class before he could get me.
On the way to lunch, Kaitlyn and I were bombarded in a stealth attack from Dave and Lucas. I whacked Dave with my notebook when he came over to laugh. Kaitlyn rubbed a handful of snow into Lucas’s hair and pushed him into the cafeteria ahead of Dave and me.
“Gross,” I muttered as we entered the cafeteria. I plucked at my wet jacket in disgust. “I wish I had a spare.”
I looked up then and froze. There were five people sitting at the Cullens’ table.
I looked away almost instantly and took my lunch from the server, nodding and muttering my thanks. I followed the others to our customary table, wondering what I would do in Biology. I thought maybe I should skip – then reconsidered. I didn’t want to be a coward and I hadn’t done anything wrong. I didn’t want Edward Cullen to think he intimidated me.
I glanced back at their table, and saw that they were smiling and laughing. Emmett was shaking out wet hair while Rosalie giggled. The expression changed her entire face, making her even more extraordinarily good-looking. Alice was picking snowflakes out of Jasper’s hair with a slightly creepy single-mindedness, but Jasper was indulging her by sitting perfectly still.
Edward was watching them, a smile on his face. He looked different, somehow - a little healthier, a little less pale. There was something else that I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but I didn't want to stare. I shook my head and looked back at my lunch, resolving to figure it out later.
Marlena looked past me, wringing out her hair, and giggled. “Bella,” she said quietly, “Edward Cullen is staring at you.”
I blinked at her, confused. “What?”
She raised her eyebrows and jerked her head towards their table. “Edward. He’s staring at you.”
“Does he look angry?” I asked worriedly. “Like in Bio the other day?”
She snuck a glance and shook her head. “No. He just looks – curious.”
I glanced back over my shoulder and saw him jerk his head away hurriedly. I rolled my eyes and muttered to Marlena, “What a creep.”
She snickered and dug into her rather frightening looking pasta.
Dave announced that he wanted to have snowball fight in the parking lot after school. “It’s going to be such a blast,” he told us. “I’m thinking teams.”
I bowed out as politely as I could. “Maybe another time,” I suggested, “like when I’m wearing warmer clothes.”
“Wuss,” Eric said mockingly. I threw a breadcrumb at him, grinning.
Unfortunately for Dave’s snowball fight plans, the snow had been replaced with rain, washing away all the snow. I made a face and pulled up the hood of my jacket, sprinting with Marlena until we were under the roof’s overhang.
We got to class ahead of mostly everyone else and I shucked off my jacket so it could dry. Mr. Lewis handed me a small stack of slides along with the assignment paper and told me to get the microscope out from underneath the lab table. I reached down and pulled it out, setting it on the lab table.
“Hello,” a low, musical voice said from my right side.
I let out an involuntary gasp, my heart rate spiking, and looked over. Edward Cullen was sitting in his seat, an amused sort of smile on his face. I noticed that he had pushed his stool as far away from me as he could, but he was sitting angled towards me. His hair was wet, plastered against his pale forehead. “Jesus Christ,” I muttered, slamming my notebook down on the desk. “Scare the hell out of me, why don’t you?”
He eyed me carefully, then laughed politely. “I apologize. Allow me to introduce myself, as I did not have the manners to do so last week. I’m Edward Cullen.”
“So I heard,” I said, wondering what the hell was going on. “I’m Bella Swan.”
“So I heard,” he mimicked. “Charlie told my father you were moving to town. It’s nice to finally meet the girl behind all the stories.”
“That’s a little creepy,” I informed him. “I can’t say I particularly like the idea of you knowing things about me.”
He looked surprised. “I’m sorry; what I meant is that Charlie is very fond of you and has on occasion spoken about you to my father, since we are of the same age. I didn’t mean to imply –”
I held up my hand to stop him. “Whatever, Cullen. Let’s just do the lab, okay?” I bent over the paper Mr. Lewis had passed out, skimming the instructions quickly.
According to the paper, the slides he had given us were out of order. We were supposed to sketch them out and determine which stage of mitosis it was. I couldn’t quite restrain a small smile; we’d done mitosis before winter break back in Phoenix and I was pretty sure I could do it.
When I was through, I passed the paper to Edward, who read it just as quickly, then nodded. “Ladies first?” he suggested, sweeping out his arm in a mock bow.
“And they say chivalry is dead,” I deadpanned. I switched the microscope on and slid the first slide into place. I focused it and began to sketch it out quickly onto the back of the lab sheet. “It’s prophase,” I told him.
“Do you mind if I take a look?” he asked politely. I raised my eyebrows at him, a little insulted.
“You doubt me?” I inquired. He smiled and shook his head. The smile helped his looks out, making him seem truly handsome. I thought he should probably do it more often.
“Never hurts to double check.” He held his hand out expectantly and I pushed the microscope towards his side of the lab table. His fingers brushed against mine as he steadied it and I jerked away; his hands were freezing cold, as though he, too, had been throwing snowballs.
I looked down and finished sketching out the drawing of the slide. A moment later, he murmured, “Yes, prophase. Would you like me to draw the next one?”
I passed the sheet over without comment and he drew an almost perfect circle in one go, smiling a little smugly. God, he was insufferable. “Anaphase,” he pronounced after a look at the next slide. “Care to check my judgment?”
And so it went, us passing the lab sheet back and forth while we double-checked each other’s work. Between the two of us, we were done before the period was half over. He went up to hand the paper to Mr. Lewis and sat down, still smiling that vaguely creepy smile.
It was then that I realized what was different about him – his eyes were no longer black, but a hazel color, almost golden in the light. I frowned. “Did you get contacts?”
He blinked, surprised. “I beg your pardon?”
I gestured towards my eyes. “Your eyes – they, are they a different color?”
He hesitated for a mere instant before answering, “No.” I glanced down and saw that his hands were curled into fists on the desktop.
So, I thought a little triumphantly, you aren’t as Stepford as you seem. Just then, Mr. Lewis came over to us, our lab clutched in his hands.
“Did you cheat?” he asked us, frowning. “This work is impeccable. I can’t fault any of it.”
“Just simple teamwork, Mr. Lewis,” Edward said, honeyed voice carefully modulated to be the right mix of subservient and insulted. “Bella here identified three out of the five.”
“Hmm.” He eyed me for a moment and then nodded tersely. “I suppose you covered this at your old school.”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “Just not with an onion root.”
“Very good,” he said. “Maybe you’ll consider tutoring, Miss Swan? I think there are a few students who could benefit from your knowledge.”
I shrugged. “Sure. If anyone needs help, direct them my way.”
Mr. Lewis nodded thoughtfully and wandered off down the aisle. Next to me, Edward shifted uncomfortably, then blurted out, “Shame about the snow, huh?”
“For you, maybe,” I said dryly. “I hear you’re from Alaska, the snow must make it feel like home.”
“You don’t like snow?” he asked curiously, ignoring my comment about Alaska.
“Dude, I’m from Phoenix,” I pointed out. “If I had been a little more prepared for it, maybe I would have enjoyed it. As it is, I am freezing my ass off every time I go outside. It was cool for like the first ten minutes and now I’m ready to go home and dry off.”
“Why did you come to Forks?” he asked bluntly. He folded his long, elegant hands on his lap as though he couldn’t decide what to do with them. He seemed oddly nervous, which sat in contrast to his smooth voice and cool composure.
“Wow, nosey much?” I turned off the microscope and began packing away the equipment. “It’s kind of a long story and really none of your business.”
“I apologize. You’re right, it’s none of my business. It’s just – your father said that you sent yourself here, but why would you bring yourself here if you didn’t like it here?” Edward sounded genuinely interested and I sighed, relenting a little.
“Short story? My mother remarried and I wanted her to enjoy being with her husband. Plus he moves around a lot for his job.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” he observed. “You sacrifice your happiness for your mother’s?”
“There’s nothing wrong with that,” I snapped, “and frankly, who are you to question my motives?”
Edward tilted his head to the side thoughtfully and I turned away, assuming the conversation was over. Suddenly he asked, “Am I irritating you?”
“My goodness,” I said sarcastically, shooting him an incredulous look, “whatever gave you that impression?”
He raised his hands defensively. “It’s just, I’m usually very good at reading people, but you – I can’t seem to get a handle on you at all.”
“I think I prefer it that way,” I informed him. He stared at me with an unreadable expression on his handsome face for a long moment, and then he burst into laughter. People near us turned to stare; I didn’t think Edward was particularly well-known for laughing.
“Alice was right about you,” he said, mystifyingly. “You really are an interesting girl, Bella Swan.”
Mr. Lewis interrupted our conversation by switching the lights off and turning on the slide projector. I slid my seat over a few more inches to be away from Edward. When I chanced a glance to the side, I saw that he was back to gripping the edge of the lab table as though his life depended on it.
Yep, I decided, Edward Cullen was still weird.
Edward, once again, was out of the door practically before the bell was finished ringing and Marlena fell into step beside me as we exited the class.
“Man, I suck at Biology,” she groaned mournfully. “I don’t suppose you could help me out? I heard Lewis asking you if you could tutor.”
“Yeah, of course.” A thought occurred to me. “You didn’t happen to overhear me and Edward, did you?”
Marlena grinned. “Nah, you guys weren’t that loud. It looked like you were telling him off, though. What did he do?”
“He was being nosy,” I said loftily, tossing my hair. She laughed, as I had intended her to, and she dropped the subject.
Gym was uneventful, save for the fact that I made a spectacularly successful serve, which took everyone – including me – by surprise. Soccer had been put off because of the snow, but the coach promised me after class that we would get to it.
After classes were over, I headed out to my car and sat in the driver’s seat with the heater blasting until my hair was dry and I could feel my fingers again. The rain had lightened up, but it was still cold outside and the wind had picked up a little. I fingered a strand of hair and decided it was time for a change; I would ask Marlena to help me dye it in exchange for tutoring help.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the familiar silver Volvo. Edward Cullen was leaning against the back bumper, staring at me. I glared at him and gave him the finger before throwing my car into reverse. As I drove out of the parking lot, I thought I saw him laughing. I ground my teeth and tightened my hands on the wheel. What a bastard, I thought, somewhat murderously, and pressed my foot harder against the accelerator.
Chapter 4: Chapter Three
In which there is a car accident and Bella discovers that the Cullens are hiding something.
When I woke up the next morning, it had stopped raining, and there wasn’t a trace of fog. Instead, there was a thick blanket of snow covering the ground, my car, and the road. The whiteness was so shockingly bright that it almost hurt my eyes to look at it. The rain from the previous day had frozen in interesting patterns on the trees; I wished Eliza – an avid photographer – could see it. Out in the distance, I could see a snowplow traveling down the street, behind which there was several miles of cleared road.
It looked like Charlie had shoveled the driveway before he’d left, I noticed, which was good news for me. I stretched luxuriously, relishing the crack of my spine, and got dressed, taking care to dress warmly. I’d never worn more than two layers before, and it took some trial and error to see how things would fit over one another.
I ate slowly, knowing I would have to wait for the snowplow to finish clearing the road before I could get to school. When I had called Mom the night before, she had sounded jealous of our weather. “Oh, that sounds beautiful,” she had said wistfully. “I do miss the snow sometimes.”
Eliza had been more interested in the continuing saga of Edward Cullen. She drank in my description of our conversation and, when I was finished, gasped, “I can’t believe you said that!”
“If you’d been in my position,” I had defended, “you would have had the same reaction.”
“Probably,” she admitted. “Make sure he doesn’t try to steal a lock of your hair or something.”
I had laughed, but the truth was that, as stupid as it seemed, Edward Cullen was still bothering me. He had lied about his eyes changing color, though I didn’t for the life of me know why. He had apologized for his strange behavior, but he hadn’t offered an explanation for his rudeness or his subsequent absence. I resolved to press him for an answer during Biology and finished breakfast before heading down to the truck.
Charlie had, in addition to clearing the driveway, put snow chains on my tires. They were shiny and new; he must have bought them recently, just for me. I made a note to thank him when I saw him later. Mom never would have remembered to do anything like that.
The snowplow had cleared my block, and my path to school was free of snow. I managed to make it to school without incident while I ran over my classes in my head to reassure myself I’d done all my work the night before. I parked in my spot and braced myself to leave the warmth of my car. I could see Eric heading in my direction, grinning, so I let out a sigh and opened the door.
“Isn’t it fabulous?” he asked as I got out of the car. “It’s so cool that you got snow in your first month here!”
“Yeah,” I said dryly, “freezing to death is something I've always wanted to try.”
“Oh, stop being so whiny,” Eric groaned, shoving at me good-naturedly. We walked across the parking lot towards the building, talking about our homework assignment from the night before. We were drawing even to the next row of cars when I heard a strange sort of screeching noise. A second later, someone shouted something that sounded like my name.
I turned my head to the right and saw several things in a single, crystal clear instant. Edward Cullen was standing at his car parked six spaces down. His eyes were wide with horror – he was the one who had shouted. Marlena and Kaitlyn were standing not too far away with their mouths open in shock; several other students were staring with stunned expressions. But what I saw clearest of all was the blue van careening across the icy asphalt towards Eric, who was a couple steps ahead of me and completely oblivious to the danger.
I shouted his name and leaped forward to push him out of the way, throwing all of my weight behind the shove. He went stumbling forward and a split second later, something hit me with astonishing force and slammed me into a white Honda. I stared up at the cloudy sky, struggling to breathe. Something heavy and cold was lying across my chest.
In the next moment, I saw the bumper of the blue van in my line of vision – it was still coming towards me. Someone swore – and I recognized the voice, of course I did, because it was Edward Cullen. He sat up from where he had landed on me and thrust his arms out, skinny white forearms and pale hands slamming into the hood of the car before it could hit us. I gasped, unable to believe it, but he didn’t cry out and his arms didn’t snap. Instead, the metal of the car crumpled like paper, and the van momentarily slowed.
Before I could wrap my head around this, he had put his arm around my waist and dragged me clear, just as the blue van hit the poor white Honda with a sickening crunch. With a groan of metal, the van fishtailed over where we had been lying, hitting another car before finally coming to a stop. There was a horrible noise of shattering glass, and then the engine cut off, leaving us all in total silence.
Then someone screamed, and all hell broke loose.
Someone – it sounded like Eric – was yelling my name. “Bella!” he shouted, sounding frantic. "Bella, are you okay?" I tried to get up, but Edward was still keeping me in place with his arm, his pale face hovering over mine.
“Are you all right?” he asked urgently, frowning at me worriedly.
“I’m fine. Is Eric all right? Let me see Eric.” I was startled to hear how strained and hoarse my voice sounded. I struggled to sit up, my back already protesting.
“Don’t sit up too quickly, I think you hit your head.” He helped me, hand gentle on my back. I had to swallow down a sudden wave nausea. I reached up and touched the back of my head, finding a spot that was already a little tender.
“Ouch,” I murmured. Edward, unbelievably enough, laughed. I frowned and tried to tug away from him, but he tightened his grip on my waist.
“We have to get you to the hospital,” he told me in a patronizingly pedantic way. “You could have a concussion.”
“Let me go,” I said, pushing at him ineffectually. “I want to see Eric, is he okay?”
“Don’t worry about him,” Edward said dismissively. I felt a little bubble of anger expand inside my chest. “Just stay here, I’ve got you.”
“Let me see my friend, asshole!” I snapped. The little group of people that had gathered about three feet away from us fell silent. Edward released me immediately, looking shocked, and I struggled to my feet before stalking away from him.
Eric was sitting up on the edge of the sidewalk, with Marlena and Kaitlyn holding him up. “Hey,” he said weakly, waving. There was a thin rivulet of blood running down his arm. “You saved my life.”
I crouched down and took his hand in mine, ignoring the sick feeling in my stomach as the blood rushed from my head. “You owe me big time,” I said teasingly. “Come on, let’s get you up.”
The three of us managed to get him on his feet; he had clearly hit the ground a bit harder than I had, but he was alive and conscious, so I considered that a win. Edward was staring at us, ignoring the people around him that were helping the driver from the van. I heard a siren, and a trail of ambulances appeared a moment later, followed closely by the sheriff’s car.
“Dammit,” I muttered, seeing Charlie’s worried face through the window. I was going to get hell for this. I looked at Eric and sighed. "Let's get him to an ambulance."
Edward grabbed my upper arm as we came closer. “You shouldn’t be up and moving,” he hissed, gold eyes bright with frustration. Past him, I saw the rest of his family looking on with disapproving expressions with the exception of Alice, who seemed terrified. Her mouth was moving as though she was saying something, but none of them was paying her any attention. "You hit your head -"
“You shouldn’t have been able to shove the car away from us,” I said in a sharp undertone, “but you don’t see me bothering you about it.” I could see the imprints of Edwards hands on the front bumper of the van as they shifted it away from the white Honda, though I knew no one would believe me if I said something about it.
“What?” he asked in a fearful tone, eyes going wide. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t try that with me, Cullen,” I hissed. “You weren’t anywhere near me, and then suddenly you were shoving me away and thrusting the car away from us. There is no way you should have been able to do that. And don’t tell me that it’s because I hit my head, I know what I saw.”
He regarded me expressionlessly for a moment, then nodded tersely. “Fine. Whatever you say. But please, just drop it for now.”
“Promise me you’ll explain later,” I ordered him. “Promise me,” I added, seeing him about to protest.
He gritted his teeth. “I promise,” he said, voice pained. “Now will you please just allow the nice people to take you to the hospital?”
“Fuck you,” I responded promptly and helped Eric walk towards the ambulances.
The EMTs collected the boy from the van first, and then came to take Eric. I tried to duck away, but Edward shoved me forward and said, “She hit her head, you might want to take her as well.”
Charlie got out of the car and started forward. “She what?” he demanded of Edward. “Bella, are you all right?”
“She saved Eric’s life and put herself in danger,” Edward said as though I couldn’t answer for myself. “I got her out of the way in time. No, I’m all right,” he added as an EMT tried to touch him.
“Come with me and explain what happen,” Charlie said to Edward, and they got into the squad car, leaving me to be herded into the back of an ambulance with Eric.
He leaned heavily against me; he was clearly a little out of it. The hair at the back of his head was a sickly reddish color from where he had hit his head on the curb. I rubbed his shoulder gently and stared at nothing, trying to come up with a sane, rational explanation for how Edward had pushed the car away from me, or for how quickly he had moved towards me.
We were brought into the emergency room after a short ride. Eric and the boy from the van were hustled into rooms immediately, their injuries being much worse than mine. A nurse came after a few minutes and ushered me back into the emergency room and one of the curtained off areas, but not before I’d caught a glance of the boy from the van; his name was Tyler and he was in my History class. He was unconscious, and the doctors around him were hurriedly examining him.
The nurse sat me down on the bed and had me undress before taking my vitals. She shone a light into my eyes, humming under her breath, then sent me in for an x-ray to check for broken bones. The table was cold through the thin hospital gown, and I stared blankly at the ceiling while the machine moved over me. They wheeled me back and the nurse let me get dressed, writing something on her clipboard
“The doctor will be around in a moment to talk to you,” she told me. “I’ll open the curtain if you want to see your friends.”
“Please,” I said, nodding, and she pulled the curtains open. In the bed next to me, Eric was sitting up, bandages on his face and arms from where he’d hit the ground. He smiled when he saw me.
“Bella!” he exclaimed happily. “You’re all right?”
“I’m fine, just a little bruised. How’s Tyler doing?” I peered across the room and saw that Tyler had been taken away.
“They told me that he hit the steering wheel pretty hard when he crashed. His brakes cut out.” Eric tilted his head thoughtfully. “How did you get out of the way in time? If you shoved me out of the way, you would have been right there, wouldn't you?”
I hesitated for a moment before deciding to lie. “Edward Cullen ran over and pushed me out of the way,” I said. “Well, really, it was more like a tackle.”
“Really? Perhaps I should take up football,” came the quietly amused voice of Edward Cullen from behind me. I whipped around and saw him lounging against the wall as though he thought he was some sort of model.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, my tone coming out ruder than I had intended. “And how did you get out of being checked up?”
“The answer to both of your questions is that my father is a doctor here. I have connections.” He smirked, raising his eyebrows. “You should be glad that they didn’t let your father in.”
“Oh god,” I sighed, picturing it. “Did he harangue the nurses?”
“Only a little,” Edward said with that little secret smile he always seemed to have on his awful, smug face. “Then my father reassured him that he’d take care of you.” He shifted upright suddenly, his face lighting up. “Speaking of whom –”
I turned to see what he was looking at and saw an astonishingly handsome man who I presumed to be Dr. Cullen talking to the nurse that had done my x-rays. He looked to be in his early thirties, with very pale skin and hair. His looks were more classically handsome than Edward’s, but his movements had the same strangely fluid quality as his children’s. He headed over to Eric and me when he finished speaking the nurse, offering us a tired smile. Up close, I saw that he had slight lines around his eyes and mouth, as though he smiled often. His nose was slightly crooked, like he had broken it when he was younger, and his eyes were the same strangely golden shade of hazel as his son’s.
“I understand you two have had quite an exciting morning,” he said in a warm baritone. His accent was even more pronounced than Edward’s, bending his words in a pleasant way. “How are you feeling?”
“Fine,” Eric and I chorused. Dr. Cullen raised his eyebrows skeptically at Eric, who blushed.
“Considering that you have a concussion, Mr. Somberg, I find that a little hard to believe.” He checked Eric’s bandages and then patted his shoulder paternally. Eric looked a little starry-eyed, not that I blamed him; Dr. Cullen was certainly very handsome, like an old movie star. “You’ll have to stay here until your parents arrive, but I think you’ll be fine.”
“What about Bella?” asked Edward, an edge of laughter in his voice. “She hit her head.”
“Well, no broken bones according to the x-rays, and it doesn’t look like she has a concussion, either.” Dr. Cullen gave Edward a look that I couldn’t quite read before turning back to me. “Bella, let me see your head.”
I obediently let my head drop down, and he probed at the back of my head until I let out a hiss as his fingers encountered the bump. “Hmm,” he said thoughtfully. “I don’t think it’s serious, but if you have any severe headaches or vision problems, you’d best come back here.”
“So I can go?” I asked eagerly.
“As long as Charlie says it’s all right, I have no problem with it.” Dr. Cullen signed my chart and handed to a nurse who was staring at him worshipfully. “You’re a very lucky girl, Bella.”
“Yes,” I said dryly, watching him closely. “Lucky that Edward was right there.”
Dr. Cullen coughed, abruptly looking a bit cornered. “Yes, I suppose. I’m going to go speak with your father.” He high-tailed it out into the waiting room, and I knew then that Dr. Cullen knew exactly what had happened in the parking lot.
I slid off the bed and grabbed Edward’s arm. “Come on, Cullen,” I muttered, shooting a glance back at Eric, who was being fussed over by one of the nurses. “You owe me an explanation.”
I towed him out to the waiting room, past Charlie and Dr. Cullen, and into an empty hallway leading to the main part of the hospital. I had the distinct impression that Edward was allowing me to drag him along; after his stunt with the car, I knew full well that he could easily get free if he wanted to.
“What is it that you want explained?” Edward asked when I released him. His voice was deceptively pleasant, but he looked frightened, his eyes wider than usual.
“Explain to me,” I said in as calm and clear a voice as I could muster, “how you managed to travel at least two hundred feet in a matter of seconds. Explain how you were able to shove that car away and get us to safety in a second.”
“You’re mistaken,” he replied frostily, but it sounded forced. “I was at the next car over.”
“No,” I hissed. “I saw you. You were standing at your car, which is parked six down from where we were.”
“You counted how many there were?” Edward asked, sounding surprised.
“Not the point!” I exclaimed. “You’re lying to me and I want to know why.”
“No one will believe you,” he said instead of answering me. “If you try and tell anyone about this, I mean. It’s ridiculous. How could I have pushed a moving car away?”
“The imprints of your hands on the front bumper present a pretty compelling argument.” I crossed my arms. “I’m not going to tell anyone, if you’re going to be that precious about it. I just want to know for my own curiosity.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he insisted, somewhat desperately. “Bella, please. Stop asking.”
I raised my hands in defeat. “Fine. I’ll drop it. For now. I’ll even lie for you so that people don’t ask how you got over to me so quickly. Are you satisfied?” I stalked away without waiting for his answer, irritated by his persistence in maintaining the lie.
“No,” Edward called after me. I stopped and turned to stare at him in disbelief. “I saved your life,” he continued. “Surely I get more than that.”
I stared at him for a long moment. “Fine,” I said eventually and a little grudgingly. “Thank you, Edward.”
He nodded once, curtly. “You’re welcome.”
I almost turned to go when a thought occurred to me. “Why did you do it?” I asked him. “You hated me the first time we met, or at least it seemed like you did. I don’t think I’ve exactly endeared myself to you since then.”
He smiled then, and answered, “You’re wrong there. I don't hate you, not in the least.” He let me digest that for a moment before adding, “As to your first question – I honestly don’t know.”
I groaned and threw up my hands in disgust before stalking back into the waiting room. Charlie rose awkwardly to his feet when he saw me. “Bella,” he said, sounding relieved. “I was so worried. Dr. Cullen said you’re all right, but are you?”
“I’m fine, Ch – Dad.” I didn’t duck his arm as he reached out to pull me into a one-armed hug. It was actually kind of nice to get a hug; I was feeling a little shakier than I wanted to admit. “Honestly. Nothing wrong.”
“Edward told me what you did, shoving Eric out of the way.” He smiled fondly. “I’m proud of you.” He squeezed my shoulder gently, then released me. “Let’s get you back to school. I’ll call your mother, but you’ll need to talk to yourself once you get home.”
I sighed, nodding. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dr. Cullen talking to a nurse. “Hold up, I want to talk to Dr. Cullen,” I told Charlie. I headed over to the doctor, who smiled wanly when he saw me approaching.
“Bella, you’re free to go,” he said to me. “Unless you want to know something?”
“I just wanted to ask how Tyler’s doing.” I resisted the urge to lock my hands behind my back like a nervous child. “Is he all right?”
“He has a couple broken ribs, a concussion, and he's covered in contusions and abrasions, but he’ll be fine.” Dr. Cullen gave me a slightly forced smile. “Goodbye, Miss Swan.”
I took the hint and let Charlie drive me back to school. I got back in time for fourth period, sliding into my seat just as the bell rang. Kaitlyn shot me a curious glance, then tossed me a note that asked, everyone okay?
I caught her eye and nodded. She smiled, looking relieved. Our classmates kept glancing over at me curiously during class. I ducked my head and tried to avoid making eye contact with any of them. The moment class let out, Kaitlyn grabbed my arm and hustled me out of the classroom before any of them could work up the courage to ask me about what had happened.
“Come on,” Kaitlyn said, glancing over her shoulder. “Let’s get away from the jackals.”
I snorted and allowed her to tow me to the cafeteria. Marlena waved enthusiastically and grabbed my hands when I sat down.
“Oh my god,” she breathed, eyes wide. “I can’t believe that happened! Are you okay? Is Eric okay?” She took a deep breath. “And is Tyler okay?”
“Yeah,” Dave put in, leaning across the table. Lucas, next to him, looked only slightly interested; he was more preoccupied with staring at a girl across the cafeteria. “Will he be okay for track? He’s our best hurdler.” Kaitlyn rolled her eyes at him.
“Dr. Cullen said that they both should be fine, but Tyler broke a couple ribs.” I took a bite of the salad, but I wasn’t feeling all that hungry. There was a headache building between my eyes. “I don’t know if that affects anything.”
“Dr. Cullen treated you?” Marlena put in, eyes widening. “Oh my god, I bet Eric loved that. He’s gorgeous.”
Lucas suddenly looked back and scowled spectacularly. “He’s not that good looking,” he complained.
“Yes, he is,” Kaitlyn said in a bored tone of voice, picking at her lunch. “You’re just jealous." They started jokingly arguing, which degenerated in ‘your mom’ and ‘that’s what she said’ jokes. I tuned them out and looked over at the Cullens’ table, wondering how they were dealing with the day’s excitement. I was startled to see that none of them were there; their usual table was empty.
I turned to Marlena and asked quietly, “Do you have any aspirin?” I was starting to feel the bruises. She nodded and rummaged in her bag before producing a bottle. She tipped two pills out onto my hand, then held her finger to her lips. “Shhh,” she teased. “Don’t tell anyone.”
I grinned and excused myself to go find a water fountain. There was one set into the wall of the building adjacent to the cafeteria in between the bathrooms. I bent down to drink some water and heard the soft voice of a woman. She sounded angry, a slight growl in her otherwise pleasant voice.
“I can’t believe you, Edward!” the woman snapped; she sounded like she was around the corner of the building. “You risked everything for that girl and you don’t even know her!”
“Calm down, Rosie,” rumbled a deep male voice. “Let’s hear what Edward has to say.”
There was an expectant pause, and then Edward’s familiar voice responded, almost too quietly for me to hear, “I don’t know why I did it.”
“Great!” cried Rosalie, sounding infuriated. “So you risked exposing -”
“I didn’t see it.” This voice was also female, but higher and almost singsong. “I didn’t see it coming. I have seen so little of her, yet I know she is important and Edward, I am so sorry I – she’s -”
“Shhh,” said a fifth voice – Jasper. “Alice, it’s not your fault. You can’t know everything.”
“But there’s something important about her and I can’t see it!” Alice sounded frustrated. “Edward -”
“I don’t care how damn important she is, Edward was stupid!” There was a sound like Rosalie was stomping her foot. “And she’s not an idiot, she knows something is going on -”
“Should I have just let her die, Rosalie?” Edward’s voice was icy. “Should I have just let that van hit her?”
“Maybe. It would have been the safer option.” Rosalie’s response was immediate and completely devoid of emotion.
There was a brief silence. I stood there, frozen in shock, and waited to hear what Edward say.
“Fuck safety,” Edward said crisply, and there was the sound of footsteps coming in my direction. I swallowed my water and darted into the girls’ bathroom, closing the door as quietly as I could. I watched through the crack of the door as Edward stalked past, his expression stormy. I took a step back and forced myself to breathe normally, even though my hands were shaking.
The Cullens were hiding something; I knew that for sure now. What they were hiding was another matter. I wished I could tell someone without sounding crazy, but I knew this was something I would have to keep to myself.
Once I was sure Edward was gone, I stepped back out of the bathroom and returned to the cafeteria as though nothing had happened. Unsurprisingly, Edward wasn’t in Biology, but the class was a lecture anyway, so I wouldn't have been able to interrogate him anyway. Afterwards, I went to gym, but the coach told me just to go home.
"You were in an accident and you might have gotten a concussion," he said. "Go home. I'm not risking you getting more hurt."
I drove home as slowly as I could, a little more paranoid about hitting ice. When I called Mom, she answered in a panic; Charlie, apparently, hadn't been reassuring enough when he'd called to tell her I was fine. It took me fifteen minutes to calm her down and convince her that, yes, I really was all right. Finally, she asked, “How on earth did you avoid getting hit?”
I hesitated before lying, “A classmate pulled me out of the way. We hit the ground pretty hard, but we're all right.”
“I’m almost tempted to say screw Forks and have you come live with me and Phil,” Mom said in response, sounding a little huffy. “But if you say you’re all right –”
“I am,” I insisted. I carefully omitted the fact that I wanted to figure out what was up with the Cullens before I came home, knowing she wouldn’t believe or understand me. I knew Eliza would get it – like me, she had a healthy curiosity – but I had decided to honor Edward’s unspoken request to keep what had happened a secret. I just called her to let her know that everything was okay and that I wasn’t dead.
“If you died, Bella Swan, I would bring you back and then kill you myself,” Eliza promised. “You’re not allowed to die until we’re both old biddies telling kids to get off our lawn.”
I laughed, but she persisted. “Promise me, Bells. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself,” she insisted.
“I promise,” I said solemnly. After hanging up, I took another aspirin and headed up to bed, setting my phone to wake me in an hour (even though Dr. Cullen had told me I didn’t have a concussion, I wanted to be sure – plus I had just promised Eliza I wouldn’t die just yet, and I didn’t want to break that promise so soon).
I slept until Charlie came home, then ate a quiet dinner with him. He promised to wake me every couple of hours, just to be safe, and I went back up to bed where I slept and didn’t have any dreams that I could remember.
Chapter 5: Chapter Four
In which Bella gets severely irritated at Edward and turns down an invitation.
Edward wasn’t at school the next day, which was a mixed blessing. While it meant I didn’t have to see him, it also meant I couldn’t try to glean more information from him. His siblings were still there, though, and Rosalie made a point of giving me a truly nasty look when I passed by their table in the cafeteria.
Eric was back, a little banged up, but mostly all right. People kept coming up to us and asking us about the accident. I let Eric field most of the questions. He seemed to thrive on the attention, coming up with ever more absurd stories of how he’d seen his life flash before his eyes, or that everything had slowed down in the instant before I shoved him. When I casually mentioned Edward pushing me out of the way, people frowned and said they hadn’t even seen him, only confirming my suspicion that Edward was full of crap.
The day was mostly uneventful, and after school I returned home, did homework, and went to sleep.
That was when I had my first nightmare about Edward.
In my dream, he was crushing cars with his hands, a strange look on his face. I watched without saying anything and then he suddenly turned and looked at me.
“I shouldn’t have saved you,” he said clearly, and his eyes were black as coal. I took a step backwards just as I heard the squeal of tires and looked straight into the headlights of an oncoming car.
I woke up, breathing hard, and scrubbed at my face with the corner of my blanket. I squinted at my clock and saw that I still had an hour before my alarm was due to go off. I sighed and threw off my blankets, knowing I wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep.
I took a longer than usual shower, hoping the hot water would help wash away the strangeness of the dream. By the time I got out, I was feeling a little better, though I was a bit tired, and I clattered down the stairs in time to catch Charlie before he left for work.
“Hey, Bella,” he said with an only slightly awkward smile. “How are you feeling? You’re up earlier than usual, is your head bothering you?”
“Had a weird dream,” I said, sitting across from him and reaching for the cereal box. “I’m feeling a lot better, thanks.”
“That’s good.” He finished his toast and poured himself a cup of coffee. “Let me know if you need anything.”
I looked around for the milk and found that it was by my right hand. I poured myself a glass and set the carton back down on the table. “I’m sure I’m fine.”
“I know, just.” He took a sip of coffee and glanced at the clock. “I’d better get going.” He reached out as if to pat my shoulder and then dropped his hand a moment before he touched me. “See you tonight.”
I raised my hand in farewell as he took his gun and hat and headed outside. I took my time with breakfast and scavenged the remainder of the coffee for myself. I found a thermos in one of the cupboards and poured the coffee into it. I sipped at the hot liquid gingerly as I collected my things for school. By the time I was ready to head to school, I was feeling slightly more alert and I had almost completely forgotten the dream.
Eric met me as usual, hair blowing in the light breeze. “So people are already chatting about the Spring Formal in March,” he told me conversationally as if we were in the middle of a discussion. “Marlena spent most of last night telling me how much she wants Lucas to ask her.”
I raised my eyebrows, grinning. “Should you be telling me this?”
“It’s not as if it’s a secret,” Eric pointed out. He leaned in closer and whispered, “Tyler Crowley’s back at school.” He nodded and I followed his look to see Tyler limping into school, his good looks marred by a black eye and scratches across his cheek. “He apologized to me five times in two minutes,” Eric continued, sounding oddly excited.
“Is he all right?” I asked him as we started towards our class. “Should he be back at school?”
“Well, he’s here,” Eric pointed out, grinning. He looped his arm through mine and led me into the classroom. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Edward Cullen staring at us, his expression unreadable. I resisted the urge to glare at him and let Eric drag me into the classroom.
Tyler cornered me in history and started apologizing profusely the moment I walked through the door. “I’m so sorry Bella, my brakes just gave out and I couldn’t stop, the emergency brake only made me skid -”
I let him continue for a bit before I held up my hand and said, “Tyler, don’t worry about it.” I paused, then added, “Edward pushed me out of the way in time. I’m fine.”
“Edward Cullen?” Tyler frowned in confusion. “I didn’t see him. Was he there too? Oh god, I suck, I’m so sorry -”
He went on in this vein for a bit until the teacher called the class to attention, which allowed me to time to smirk smugly to myself. Edward Cullen’s ‘oh I was right there beside you’ explanation was utter crap. Now I just needed to know why he was lying.
Lunch was notable only because Dave started a conversation with me about soccer, and we argued about who would win the next World Cup. Tyler had decided to sit with us, as though it would help him get over what he did, and he joined in every so often to add his two cents. I decided that I liked him, which was good because Eric kept grinning at Tyler sort of unconsciously before catching my look and turning red.
Marlena kept throwing longing glances at Lucas, who ate his lunch obliviously. I supposed I could see his appeal; he wasn’t unattractive, with good features and dark blue eyes. He was wearing glasses, which he would shove up his nose every so often, and every time he did, Marlena sighed a little.
After lunch, Marlena was unusually silent, playing with the end of her long brown braid as we walked to class. Finally, she burst out, “I just don’t get him, sometimes.” She looked at me plaintively, as though I could offer any sort of enlightenment. When I didn’t say anything, she sighed. “He acts jealous when I talk about other guys, and he seems to like me, as a friend at the very least, but sometimes -”
She broke off, frustrated. I patted her shoulder as we entered the classroom. “Dudes are weird,” I quipped, hoping to lighten the mood. It worked; she giggled and whispered, “Thanks,” before heading to her seat.
I turned my gaze towards my seat and met Edward Cullen’s gaze. He was staring at me with strange, disturbing intensity. “Take a picture,” I said, a little nastily. “It’ll last longer.”
He narrowed his eyes and looked down.
That was the extent of our interaction for the rest of the week. I ignored him, and he ignored me right back. I would occasionally catch Rosalie or Jasper giving me an odd look, but that was all.
Dave started to flirt with me in earnest when it became apparent that Tyler hadn’t joined our table for my sake. I did my best to discourage him; my relationship with Nate back home had sort of soured me on dating, and I preferred Dave as a friend, even if he was kind of cute.
Tyler continued to sit with us, and I noted that he spent most of his time talking to Eric, who continued to be pleased by this development. The snow melted later in the week, although it remained mostly overcast, and I finally got to play some soccer. Once the kids in my class realized that I was actually pretty good, I was the first one picked for teams every day. Talks about a beach trip started up again, and I said I was game for anything.
The weekend came, and Marlena came over to help me dye my hair back to its normal brown. “I like the purple, though,” she said sadly, tugging at the end of a lock. “It looks so cool.”
“It’s time for a change,” I said firmly and bent my head over the sink so she could work the dye through the strands.
Another week passed uneventfully and we sailed right into February. People started going Valentine’s Day crazy, panicking over cards and flowers and candy. When the day came, I was surprised to find cards from Marlena, Dave, Eric, and Tyler in my locker. Kaitlyn had announced firmly the day before that she didn’t give out Valentines. Kaitlyn instead had bought everyone chocolate bars – a most welcome substitution. Lucas said that he didn’t believe in Valentine’s Day and went off in a rant about commercialism that left Marlena looking incredibly depressed.
“Sometimes,” Kaitlyn said when Lucas had finished, “you’re a real dumbass.” He gaped as she rose to her feet and swatted him across the head. Marlena followed a moment later and the two disappeared out of the cafeteria.
“What did I do?” he asked plaintively. Eric and I snorted in unison and spent the rest of lunch gossiping while Dave and Tyler tried to explain to Lucas what he had done wrong.
When I got to Biology, Marlena looked as though she was feeling better. “I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised,” she said fatalistically. “I know he’s a dick sometimes without thinking about it.”
“He just reads too much and mistakes pretension for intelligence,” I said soothingly. I heard a snort and glanced back to see Edward turning away quickly. I frowned; he was too far away to have heard us, but I didn’t know who else it could have been.
I headed back to my seat and rummaged for a pencil. When I looked back up, I found Edward staring at me and for once, no peppy comeback sprang to mind. I just stared back, frozen, until the bell rang, signaling the start of class.
I turned away hurriedly, confused. It was as though something – some power – had been holding me in place. I filed that thought away with my other observations about Edward’s strangeness and took notes for the rest of class without looking up.
I high-tailed it out of class as quickly as I could, but I had barely gone three feet when Edward called, “Bella, wait.”
I turned and pursed my lips when I saw him drawing closer. Marlena shot me a questioning glance as she passed and I waved my hand to tell her not to worry. She nodded and headed to class, leaving Edward and I staring at each other in silence.
I broke the silence first. “So are you acknowledging my existence again?”
“I never denied it,” Edward said, sounding a little surprised.
“You know what I mean.”
Edward tilted his head in acknowledgement. “Yes.” He paused, then said, “This is not an overture or an apology.”
“Then what do you want?” I readjusted my bag on my shoulder and resisted the urge to walk away. Curiosity – one of these days it would kill me.
“I realize I’m being incredibly rude,” he started, and I snorted before I could stop myself. “I do,” he insisted, a little petulantly. “It’s just – it’s better this way. Really.” His expression was utterly serious.
“What do you mean?” I demanded.
“It’s better that we aren’t friends.” He shifted a little, adjusting his grip on his textbook. “Really. It is.”
I had heard similar things in the past, just not quite phrased in that way. Nor had it ever come from someone like Edward – as in someone I had never considered a friend. “I hadn’t realized we were friends.”
I felt unreasonably insulted by that. “Then why are you even bringing this up?” I hissed. “I was perfectly content to go on pretending that you don’t exist. What, do you dislike me that much, that you have to tell me we can’t be friends because it’s better that way?”
“I don’t dislike you,” Edward said in an exhausted voice.
“Then why have you been avoiding me like I have leprosy? Not that I mind, understand. Just – enlighten me.”
“I can’t explain it.” His usual smooth, calm tone was strained, as though he was exerting great effort not to yell. “Really, Bella.”
“Is it because you regret saving me?” The words flew out of my mouth before I could stop myself, and I clamped my mouth shut.
Edward took a step back as though I had slapped him. “I – what?”
I sighed and admitted, “I heard you talking to your – sister – after the accident. She said you shouldn’t have done it. Do you agree with her?”
Edward was silent for a long moment. Then he said, “Rosalie didn’t know what she was saying.”
“She sounded pretty damn sure to me,” I snapped. We glared at each other for a moment.
Finally, Edward shook his head. “I don’t know how you could believe that I could regret saving your life,” he said softly. “What kind of person do you think I am?”
“I don’t know anymore,” I confessed. He looked at me with an inscrutable expression on his face, then made to brush past me. His shoulder brushed against mine, and he dropped his book.
He muttered a curse under his breath and knelt to pick it up. Just as he reached for it, the book slid a few centimeters along the ground to bump against his fingertips. We both froze, staring at th ebook.
“What the hell?” I whispered, staring. He looked up at me, his eyes wide in shock
“Did you do that?” we asked simultaneously. I frowned and pinched the bridge of my nose; I could feel a headache starting.
“You know what, Cullen, fine. We’ll play it your way. We’re not friends. Happy?” I turned away from him and hurried away from him.
The coach let me sit the class out because of my headache. By the time school let out, it had become a full-blown migraine and I was considering going to a doctor. I headed out to the parking lot, ready to just go home and maybe take a nap. Just as I was pulling out, a familiar silver Volvo pulled out of the space two ahead of me, blocking my way. I leaned on my horn, but Edward just waggled his fingers.
“Great,” I muttered, glaring at him. He had effectively blocked the whole aisle, and in my rearview mirror, I could see a line forming. A few people started honking, and I rolled down my window to yell at Edward, but Dave came jogging up before I could.
“Bella!” he said breathlessly, smiling widely. “Hey! So, I was wondering, since it’s Valentine’s Day – do you want to go to the Spring Formal with me?”
Valentine’s Day, I decided, was the worst holiday ever. “Dave, I -” Inspiration struck. “I’m going into Seattle that day.” Not totally a lie, since I had been planning to go soon anyway. “I’m sorry.”
Dave frowned. “Can’t you postpone the trip?”
“No,” I said flatly, giving up any pretense of civility. “Dave, look, I’m just not – I’d prefer to be friends, okay?”
“Oh,” he said despondently. “I’m – god, this is embarrassing.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said comfortingly. “We can pretend this never happened if it makes you feel better.”
Dave rolled his eyes. “Thanks,” he said sarcastically. He patted the side of the truck. “But – maybe we could go to prom? As friends,” he added hurriedly.
“If you still want to go with me in May and neither of us have other plans, then sure.” His face lit up, and I tried not to feel guilty for getting his hopes up. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Dave.”
“Okay. Bye!” He waved and headed back to his car. I looked back at the Volvo and saw Rosalie, Emmett, Jasper, and Alice sliding into the car. I met Edward’s eyes in the rearview mirror and I gave him the finger. He laughed and I tightened my hands on the wheel, resisting the urge to rear end his pretty, pretty car.
He sped away before I could even take my foot off the accelerator and I drove out of the parking lot in a rage, trying very hard not to go over the speed limit.
I vented by calling Eliza and telling her the events of the day, except for the bit about the book moving. She laughed at the story of Dave asking me to the dance and shyly confessed that her crush – a girl named Rachelle – had asked her out for a date that weekend.
“That’s great!” I exclaimed, grinning. “I guess Valentine’s Day went all right for you, then.”
“I didn’t have creepy boys telling me that they didn’t want to be friends with me, so I guess it’s better than yours.”
“It was certainly a unique experience,” I said dryly. The memory of our conversation still bothered me; I just didn’t know what to make of Edward.
“So you aren’t going to your Spring Formal?” she asked, changing the subject. “Why not?”
“It’s just – you know.” I shrugged, even though she couldn’t see me. “Nate kind of…put me off all of that. I just want to make friends right now.”
“You can go with someone as friends,” she pointed out, not unreasonably. “Or just go by yourself.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I told Dave I was going to Seattle instead. If I show up alone or with someone else, he’ll be insulted.”
“True,” Eliza admitted. She sighed. “I just hope you aren’t alienating your friends, Bella.”
“I’m trying not to.” I listened to her breathe, the muffled sounds of her younger siblings trickling through the phone line. “I miss you,” I said finally.
“I miss you too,” she told me and I could hear the smile in her voice.
By the time Charlie got home, I had heated up some frozen dumplings from the freezer and made rice from a box in attempt to keep myself from brooding over the day. He had brought cookies from a bakery nearby.
“Happy Valentine’s day,” he said when he came in, sliding the box across the kitchen table. “Anything exciting happen?”
“Not really.” I sat down across from him and poured myself a glass of water. “So I’ve made plans to go into Seattle on the Saturday of the first week of March. Is that okay?”
“Why?” he asked, digging into his food. “What do you need?”
“Books, mostly. The selection is pretty limited out here. Also, I was hoping to pick up some more weather-appropriate clothing.” I held my breath, waiting for his reaction.
“Hmm.” He swallowed. “Do you think the truck can make it?”
“I can stop off for gas,” I pointed out. I winced mentally at the thought of the expense, but just smiled and passed him the rice.
“Are you going by yourself?” He sounded a little suspicious, though I wasn’t sure why. Maybe he thought I had a boyfriend I wasn’t telling him about.
“So far, yes.”
“Are you sure you’ll be okay? Do you want me to come with you?” Charlie looked at me earnestly.
“You don’t want to come with me,” I told him. “I’ll be in dressing rooms or bookstores most of the time. And don’t worry, I’ll go during the day, and I can take care of myself.”
“Will you be back in time for the formal?” he asked, taking another bite of rice.
I stared at him. “How did you hear about that?”
He shrugged. “A couple guys at the station have kids who go to your school.” He set his fork down. “You aren't going?”
I winced, not wanting to tell him about Nate and my ‘issues’. “I just – it’s not my thing.”
“Fair enough,” he conceded, and he offered me the box of cookies.
The next day, I parked as far away from the Cullens’ silver Volvo as I could, in hopes of avoiding the temptation to bump it – just a little, I told myself, eyeing its pristing bumper longingly.
I slid out of my car and fumbled with my keys. They fell into a puddle at my feet, and I sighed, leaning down to pick them up. A pale hand flashed into my line of vision just before my hands closed around the key ring. I straightened and glared at Edward, who was leaning against the hood of my car nonchalantly.
“Give me my keys,” I said, holding out my hand. He held out his hand and there was a moment where it seemed like they flew from his fingers. The keys landed neatly on my palm with a soft jingle. I frowned at him. A startled expression flashed across his face to be quickly replaced by a smirk. “And stop doing that,” I added, moving past him.
“Doing what?” he asked, falling into step beside me.
“Appearing out of thin air,” I snapped. “If you’re gonna pretend to be normal, you should really try harder.”
“I can’t help it if you’re just exceptionally unobservant, Bella,” he replied smoothly, more than a hint of amusement in his voice. His eyes were a lighter hazel than before, I noticed, more gold than anything else.
“Sure, whatever,” I muttered. “Why’d you create that traffic jam yesterday? I thought you were going back to ignoring me, not trying to irritate me into murdering you.”
“I was helping out your friend Dave,” Edward said, as though it was obvious. “He wasn’t going to work up the courage otherwise.” He smiled thoughtfully up at the cloudy sky.
“I saw that he was having trouble getting the chance to ask you to the formal.” He shrugged elegantly, a smooth, liquid motion that was somewhat unnerving. “And I didn’t say I was going to ignore you.”
“Then what the hell is your deal?” I demanded. “I don’t get it. First, you say you don’t want to be friends with me, but then you try to help me get a date? What exactly is that you want, Cullen?”
“You’re so demanding,” he muttered. “Bella, I don’t – I don’t know how to deal with you.”
“The feeling is mutual,” I assured him. “Will you please just leave me alone?”
“Bella, I want to ask you something.” He grabbed my arm. I yanked away as fast as I could. He held up his hands. “Sorry. What's wrong with you?”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I snapped, walking quickly away from him. He kept pace beside me. “From day one you have acted strangely around me. First you act like a total freak when we meet, then you apologize. You save my life, then tell me we can’t be friends.” I stopped and stared at him suspiciously. “Do you have some sort of mental illness?”
“Don’t be absurd,” he scoffed.
I rolled my eyes. “What exactly am I supposed to think, Cullen?”
“Whatever you like.” He shook his head. “I didn’t mean to argue, Bella. I wanted to ask you – the first week of March, you know, that Saturday?”
“The day of the dance?” I asked dryly. “Yeah? What about it?”
“I heard you were going to Seattle -”
“How did you hear that?” I broke in, startled. Unless Dave or Charlie had gone around telling people what I’d said – which I doubted – there was no way Edward could know that.
“I hear things,” Edward said evasively. “I was just wondering if you would like a ride.”
That was so unexpected that I actually took a step back. “Excuse me?”
“I was wondering if you would like a ride to Seattle,” he repeated patiently.
“With you?” I asked incredulously.
“I was planning on going to Seattle anyway and I’m not sure if your car can make it on just one tank of gas. We might as well carpool.”
“How eco-friendly of you. Nice of you to worry, but no thanks. I’d rather not be stuck in a car with you.” I tried to walk away, but he called me back.
“Bella, I’m trying here. Let me take you to Seattle.” He looked at me pleadingly.
“Honestly, Cullen. I thought we weren’t going to be friends. What the hell is going on with you?”
“I said it would be better if we weren’t friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be.” He tucked his hands into his pockets and smiled. It was charming, I had to admit it, but I was still suspicious.
“You can maybe understand why I misunderstood.” I gave him a nasty look, and he flinched. I smiled slightly, pleased with my success. “Please, explain the difference to me?”
“It would be more prudent for us to not be friends.” He smiled, then. “But I’m tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella. You’re too fascinating to ignore.” He put an odd sort of emphasis on the word fascinating that made me feel vaguely on edge.
I stared at him in disbelief. “Fascinating.”
He smiled again. “Yes. Now will you go to Seattle with me?”
I considered my options. I could say no and undoubtedly deal with Edward bugging me about it, or I could say yes and maybe get the opportunity to figure out what his secret was.
Ultimately, my curiosity was too much to ignore. “Fine,” I said grumpily. “I’ll go to Seattle with you.”
He flashed me another quick smile. “You really should stay away from me, Bella,” he advised me. “See you in class.”
He started walking away from me, and I shouted, “I would love nothing more, but you won’t leave me alone!”
“Whoa,” Eric said, coming up from behind me. “What was that about?”
“Nothing,” I muttered crabbily. “Let’s get to class.”
Chapter 6: Chapter Five
In which Edward tries to be friends, Bella does not faint, and a male nurse makes an appearance.
Eric took my word about the conversation with Edward and didn’t pester me about it. I had another headache, not as strong as before, but still persistent. When Eric started talking about the beach trip again, I barely managed to mumble in response.
Kaitlyn offered me Advil as soon as she saw me, which I accepted gratefully. I dry-swallowed it, too eager for relief to go to the water fountain. The pain receded to a more manageable level after about fifteen minutes, and I was able to concentrate on class, even though it was predictably dull.
When we went to lunch, Marlena was waiting for us, a big grin on her face. She bounced on the balls of her feet lightly, practically vibrating with excitement.
“Guess what?” she exclaimed brightly when we joined her. “Lucas asked me to the formal!”
“Congratulations,” I said with a smile. She grabbed my arm and towed me into the cafeteria, only letting me go so I could grab a sandwich. “Was he nice about it?”
Marlena launched into a hurried, whispered description of how, exactly, Lucas had asked her to formal. I tried to concentrate, but my headache was back, a little more insistent this time.
We headed over to our table where I sat down next to Kaitlyn. I sipped at my water, hoping that it would help with the headache. Eric leaned forward after a minute.
“Honestly, what did you say to Edward?” he asked, raising his eyebrows. “He’s staring at you again.”
I rolled my eyes in exasperation and turned to look at Edward. He was sitting alone at his usual table, only an apple in front of him. When he saw me look his way, he smiled and beckoned.
I huffed out an irritated sigh and turned back only to find the whole of my little group staring at me.
“What?” I asked, a little freaked out.
“Is he beckoning you?” Marlena asked in disbelief. “I thought you hated each other!”
“What does he want?” Dave demanded harshly.
“I think he wants Bella to sit with him,” Kaitlyn said matter-of-factly. She speared a piece of lettuce on her fork. “Well?” she said, raising her eyebrows at me. “Don’t you want to see what he wants?”
“Go,” Eric urged. “And then tell us all about it.” He grinned and winked.
I sighed and stood up, taking my sandwich and water with me. I stalked across the cafeteria and settled across the table from Edward. “Desperate for company?” I asked dryly.
“Mmm. I must confess, my family’s absence has more than a little to do with my invitation today. But, as I said,” he added, propping his chin on his hand, “I find you fascinating.” He contemplated me thoughtfully. “I have to admit, I miss the purple hair.”
“So much for ‘prudence’,” I muttered and dropped my head into my hand. My headache intensified; it felt as though someone was reaching inside my head and rearranging my brains. I massaged my temples gently.
“Are you all right?” Edward asked.
“Just a headache,” I said dismissively. I flapped a hand at him. “Now, why this change?”
“I just thought that I’m already going to hell; I might as well do it spectacularly.” He leaned back in his chair and picked up the apple in one hand, playing with the stem.
“You sound like a serial killer,” I informed him.
He gave me a totally creepy smile. “My apologies. I didn't intend to frighten you.”
The pressure behind my eyes increased. I pushed my lunch away from me; the headache was making me nauseous. “You still haven’t answered my question, though. What brought on this bout of friendliness?”
“Like I said, I’ve given up trying to stay away from you, despite my better judgment.” He tossed the apple from one hand to another absently. “I’m just going to stop worrying so much and do what I want.” He sounded a little belligerent at the tail end of his statement, glaring at the table.
“Your sister read you the riot act?” I guessed, remembering the way Rosalie had chewed him out.
Edward arched an eyebrow, but he didn’t seem surprised. “You see – and hear – too much. That’s one of the problems.”
Another one of those lightning fast smiles flickered across his face. “I talk too much around you.”
“Hmph.” I eyed him warily. “You realize you don’t make any sense half the time anyway?”
“To you, maybe.” He smiled condescendingly.
“Is this your way of making friends?” I demanded incredulously. “If so, it’s really no wonder everyone thinks your family is weird.”
“I’m not a very good friend.” His voice was warning. “It’s too dangerous.”
“For you or for me?” I asked.
He smiled thinly and leaned forward, a lock of hair falling across his forehead. “Both.”
“Look,” I snapped, frustrated. “If you want me to stay away from you, why do you keep approaching me?”
Edward smiled bleakly. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “It’s entirely my fault and I shouldn’t be so contradictory, I realize that.”
That silenced me for a moment. Then I regrouped and asked, “What are you?”
His head jerked up, pale eyes wary. “What do you mean?”
“Right now, I’m gunning for genetic experiment. Maybe Dr. Cullen broke you out of some government facility where you were grown from a test tube. Is that why you’re so bad at making friends?”
He gritted his teeth for a second, then forced a laugh. “My,” he said stiffly. “You have quite a vivid imagination.”
“Occam’s razor?” I suggested. He rolled his eyes.
“That’s far from the simplest explanation,” he remarked, quite correctly.
“Then give me a better one,” I suggested.
Edward didn’t say anything for a moment, his head cocked to the side. “Dave is wondering if he should come over and interrupt us.”
I blinked, startled by the non sequitur. “What?”
“I read people.” He nodded at my table. “Your friend is staring at us, and he looks like he wants to come save you. He’s easy, more than most.”
“But I’m not,” I said, remembering our first conversation in Biology.
“No,” he said, sounding oddly annoyed. “No, you’re not.” He toyed with the apple a bit, and then abruptly asked, “Aren’t you going to eat?”
I shook my head. “No, I have a headache. Why, you want it?”
Edward laughed as if at some private joke. “No, I’m not hungry.”
I decided not to mention the fact that I had never seen him – or his siblings – eat anything. “So how long is this going to last?”
“How long is what going to ask?” he asked pleasantly.
I gestured between the two of us. “This. You being – friendly. Because last time, it lasted two days.”
“I’m hoping it will last as long as you allow it to.” He looked down, then glanced up through is eyelashes in a way that was probably meant to make me melt into a puddle.
I couldn’t give him that satisfaction, so I changed the subject. “So if you’re not a genetic experiment, then what’s the deal? Radioactive spider? Mutant?”
“No, and I’m not allergic to kryptonite either,” he said.
“What about a magic green ring?” I asked, faux-hopefully.
“Bella, I’m not a superhero,” he said tiredly. I shrugged, switching gears.
“Fine, not a superhero. So then, acid? Nah,” I said thoughtfully. “You strike me as more the Lex Luthor type, but he isn’t actually super-powered, is he?”
“This isn’t a joke,” Edward snapped. “You don’t get it, do you?”
“Oh, I get it,” I replied. “You’re trying to tell me that you’re dangerous, which I kind of already figured out considering that you crushed an oncoming car with your bare hands.”
“No, that’s not it,” he said. “Well. Yes, it is. But I’m also trying to tell you that I’m not a good guy.”
The bell rang. I rose to my feet, grabbing my food so I could throw it out. “As much as I dislike you, Edward, I find that hard to believe.”
He raised his eyebrows skeptically. “Oh? May I ask why?”
“You may be an annoying, pretentious, condescending know-it-all who alienates himself from others, but you risked yourself and your secret, whatever it may be, to save my life. That’s not the kind of thing a truly evil person does.” I jerked my head towards the door. “Now come on, we’re gonna be late for class.”
Edward stared at me for a long moment, his expression completely unreadable. Then he said quietly, “You go ahead. I’ll be there in a minute.”
I lingered a moment longer, then decided not to wait. I headed for the door, where Marlena caught my arm as I headed out into the hall.
“What did you talk about?” she asked excitedly.
I hesitated, then said, “Superheroes,” and headed to class. Marlena let out a surprised laugh.
“That’s weird,” Marlena said from behind me. “I wouldn’t have expected that.”
I chuckled and swung into the classroom. Mr. Lewis was sorting through a box of slides at the head of the classroom, another box sitting beside it. He looked up as the bell rang and set the boxes aside.
“Carly, could you come pass these out?” he asked a girl at the front of the classroom. She leapt to her feet and bounced forward to grab the boxes off the table. “Okay, class. There are some things you have to take from here.” He pulled on a pair of latex gloves, snapping them loudly. “First, an indicator card.” He held one up; it was a square card with four boxes marked on it. “A four-pronged applicator,” this looked a bit like a fork, “and a sterile micro-lancet.” He opened a small plastic tube and the lights overhead glinted off the metal of a needle.
“I’ll be coming around with water to prepare your cards with, so don’t do it yourself,” he said over the murmurs breaking out over the classroom. He gestured a boy from the front row forward. “You’re going to carefully prick your finger,” he said, pricking the boy’s finger, “put a drop of blood on each of the prongs, and apply it to the card.” He demonstrated and held up the card, bright red blood stark against the whiteness of the card. I was suddenly hit by the smell of blood, rich and coppery. I swallowed hard, nausea rising in my stomach. My head throbbed, and I swayed a little.
Carly dropped the supplies on my desk and gave me a look. “Are you feeling all right?” she asked quietly.
I didn’t say anything, just tried nodding. She seemed to take this as a sign that I was all right, as she moved on without saying anything else. I laid my head against the cool surface of the lab table, breathing deeply, but it seemed like all of my senses had intensified. I could hear every tiny sound in the room, from the sick sound of flesh splitting under a needle to the whispers and giggles of the other students. Each breath brought the thick, heady scent of blood.
Mr. Lewis was still talking. His voice sounded too loud to my ears. “The Red Cross is having a blood drive in Port Angeles next week, so I thought all of you should know your blood type.” He continued speaking, but I couldn’t pay attention any longer. I took another breath, this time taking care to breathe through my mouth.
“Bella?” Mr. Lewis said suddenly, much closer. “Are you all right?” He sounded alarmed.
“I already know my blood type,” I told him without opening my eyes. My voice sounded weak even to my own ears. “Can I step out?”
“Are you feeling ill?” Mr. Lewis stepped away and called out, “Can someone please escort Bella to the nurse?”
Marlena said something and a moment later, she was at my desk, hooking her arm under my elbow and helping me rise to my feet. She wrapped an arm around my waist and said, “Dang, Bella, you look awful.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, opening my eyes to slits so I could see. The colors around me seemed too bright, as though someone had turned the saturation up. We stepped out of the classroom, and I drew in a deep breath of cool, clear air. I immediately felt a little better, and I straightened up. I could still hear too much – the other teachers’ lessons, the questions of other students – and the colors still seemed a little too bright, but at least I wasn’t being bombarded by the cloying smell of blood. Marlena helped me down the hall, mercifully remaining quiet.
“Bella?” came the stupidly familiar voice, and I groaned in annoyance. “What’s wrong, are you hurt?”
“I think the blood upset her,” Marlena said in an undertone.
I shook my head, wanting to contradict her – blood had never bothered me before. I had been smashed in the face with a soccer ball just four months ago, and I’d had a bloody nose for almost an hour, but it hadn’t bothered me in the slightest. The movement reminded me of my headache, and I raised my hand to pinch the bridge of my nose.
“Bella?” Edward asked quietly. He moved into my line of vision, a pale blur against the vivid rusty red of the brick walls. I blinked and focused on him as he reached forward to tilt my chin up. “Can you hear me?”
“Unfortunately,” I muttered. He laughed lightly.
“That’s my girl,” he said fondly. I resisted the impulse to smack him – for one thing, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to hit him in the state I was in.
“I’m not your girl,” I said heatedly, but Marlena was already telling him, “I was taking her to the nurse.”
“I’ll take her,” Edward said immediately. “You can go back to class.”
“Only if Bella says it’s okay,” Marlena said, and she gave my elbow a gentle squeeze. I blinked again and shrugged.
Edward seemed to take this as unqualified acquiescence, as he then scooped me up as though I was no heavier than a child to him – which, given what I knew about his uncanny strength, was probably the case. He held me slightly away from his body, as though he was afraid to bring me too close to him.
“Must you be so dramatic?” I demanded as he began to walk. Each step jarred me a little, making my stomach slosh uncomfortably. “You couldn’t just escort me?”
“This way is faster,” Edward pointed out. “You don’t like blood?”
“I’ve never had a problem with it before,” I snapped. “Did you notice me fainting after the accident?”
Edward inclined his head to concede the point. “So why did you faint this time?”
“I didn’t faint, I just – I suddenly felt really sick.” He stopped and let me slide out of his arms to land gently on my feet. “Thank you,” I added grudgingly.
He nodded and opened the door to the nurse’s office, helping me inside. I must have looked pretty bad, because the nurse leapt to his feet and said, “What happened?”
“She fainted in Biology,” Edward said, flashing a sly grin at me. I rolled my eyes as the nurse took my arm and helped me over to one of the brown cots. “They’re blood-typing today.”
“There’s always one,” the nurse – whose name was Peter, according to the nametag on his desk – and he made me sit on the edge of the cot. “Lie down.”
“She didn’t eat lunch earlier,” Edward continued, “and she had a headache. Do you still have it?”
I looked up, startled, and said, “Yes,” without thinking. The nurse pushed at my shoulders again, and I obediently lay down, the pillow pleasantly cool against my face.
“I’ll go get you some crackers and juice,” Peter said, and he bustled off. Edward sat on the edge of the cot, eyeing me thoughtfully.
“This has never happened before?” he asked, a little suspiciously.
“I never even used to have headaches like this before I came here,” I complained. My hearing and vision was slowly returning to normal; I could only faintly hear Peter’s footsteps as he went off to get me food.
Edward was silent for a moment. Then he said, in a low voice, “I was frightened there, for a moment. You looked so pale.” There was an edge of an emotion I couldn’t identify in his words.
“Why didn’t you come to class?” I asked suddenly. “Did you know we were doing blood-typing today?”
“Someone told me,” he said easily. “And I don’t particularly enjoy that experiment, so I thought I’d bow out.”
“Where were you?”
Edward hesitated before admitting, “In my car, listening to a CD.” It was such a normal response that I was actually taken aback. Before I could think up a reply, Nurse Peter was back with a small bottle of grape juice and some saltine crackers. He dropped an Advil into my hand.
“Do you need anything else?” he asked politely and I shook my head. “If you need anything, just let me know,” he added and he headed back to his desk. I opened the juice and swallowed the pill before slowly opening the crackers and nibbling at one.
I heard the door open, and Marlena’s voice said apologetically, “We have another one.” I breathed in and nearly choked as the smell of blood hit me again. I looked over and saw that Edward was sitting very still.
“We should move,” he suggested, and he helped me to my feet. We hurried out as Marlena herded Sam Winters past us, his face pasty and a little sweaty. Both Edward and I flinched as the blood scent wafted towards us. Edward wrapped his arm around my shoulders and pushed me out of the nurse’s office.
We both leaned against the brick wall, breathing in the fresh air. “I hate that smell,” I said eventually. Edward looked over at me, a questioning look on his face. “Blood,” I elaborated. “Or at least, now I do.”
“You smelled it?” Edward sounded surprised. “You must have good senses.”
I shrugged. “It made me feel – odd.”
“Odd how?” Edward asked, a little sharply.
I stared at him, then said slowly, “It was like all my senses were on overdrive. Why?”
Edward pursed his lips and didn’t answer me. I huffed out an annoyed breath, but tried to calm myself. The headache was finally receding, and I didn’t feel nauseous any more, which was a blessing.
The door banged open a moment later, and Marlena came out. “You look better,” she said, seeing me. “You gonna go home?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I’m feeling better, but who knows?”
Marlena smiled, darting a curious glance at Edward. “You still coming to the beach this weekend?”
“As long as I’m still invited,” I said agreeably. She smiled brightly.
“Of course you are,” she giggled, poking my arm. “We’re going to meet at Lucas’s house at ten, okay?”
“Sounds good,” I agreed.
Marlena hesitated, then turned to Edward. “You’re welcome to come too, if you want,” she said tentatively. “I mean, if you and Bella are going to be friends, then we should be too, right?”
Edward looked at her for a moment without speaking, making her twitch nervously. He shook his head. “No, but I appreciate the offer, Marlena. The beach…isn’t really my ‘scene’.” He smiled sarcastically on the last word; I could practically hear the quote marks.
Marlena threw me a wry look. I stifled a laugh. “No hard feelings. See you later, Bella, Edward.” She nodded to him and headed back to class.
I turned to Edward and raised my eyebrows incredulously. “Not your ‘scene’?” I asked, trying to repress a grin. “Who are you trying to kid?”
“Not you, apparently,” Edward muttered, clearly not intending for me to hear. “Are you seriously going to go to gym?”
I shrugged. “I feel better,” I pointed out. “Plus we’re playing soccer.”
“You’re going home,” Edward told me firmly. “You’re not well. Hold on, I’ll go talk to Peter.”
I opened my mouth to stop him, but he was already through the door. I groaned and stomped my foot on the cement childishly, just to get my frustration out. I opened the door and followed him in.
“- I just don’t think Bella should go back to class,” Edward was saying earnestly. Peter looked ridiculously charmed, his blue eyes wide as he nodded in agreement.
“Yes, of course,” Peter said, already scribbling a note. “And what about you, Edward?”
“My teacher won’t care,” he said dismissively. “I’ll drive Bella home.”
“I can damn well drive myself home,” I snapped, crossing my arms. Behind the desk, a picture frame fell off the wall and shattered on the ground.
“Just let him take you home,” Peter said exhaustedly. He knelt down to clean up the glass. “Go on, you can leave.”
“Can you walk?” Edward asked, widening his eyes in false concern. “Or do I need to carry you again?”
“I’m just fine, thanks,” I said irritably, pushing past him back out into the cool outside. He caught up to me with a couple long strides.
“Most people would be glad to get out of school,” he remarked, a little accusingly.
“I’m not most people,” I informed him.
“I’ve noticed.” He kept pace with me easily as I headed towards the locker hall to grab my things.
I came to a stop in front of my locker and opened it up. “So why aren’t you coming with us this weekend?” I asked. “Too good for us ordinary mortals?”
“What exactly are you doing?” he asked. “Marlena simply said the beach, but I’m afraid that could mean any number of things.”
“La Push,” I said, slamming my locker shut and putting my books in my bag. “First Beach.” If I hadn’t been watching him closely, I would have missed the way his eyes narrowed slightly at the name.
“I don’t think I would be welcome,” he said vaguely, looking down.
“Marlena invited you,” I pointed out.
“I didn’t think you liked me,” he observed. “Why are you trying to get me to come with you?”
“I’m not. I’m just wondering why you have to keep acting like you’re so much better than us.”
“I don’t think I am,” Edward said after a pause. “Not in the slightest. I turned Marlena down simply because I didn’t think the invitation was sincere.”
“How so?” I demanded as we headed out towards the parking lot.
“She invited me because I was there and it would have been rude to exclude me. I don’t think that you – or your friend Dave – would be too pleased to have me there.” He sounded a little self-deprecating, which grated on my nerves more than it should.
“I don’t hate you,” I told him. “I just wish you’d act like a normal person. You don’t seem to have the first clue about how to deal with other people.”
“I don’t,” Edward said. I sighed and veered off in the direction of my truck. He caught my arm just before I got out of range and said, “No, I’m driving you home. I promised.”
“What about my truck?” I asked.
“I’ll have Jasper drop it off after school.” He tugged me in the direction of his car. I yanked my arm free and fell into step beside him.
“You’re really pushy, you know that?” I grumbled. He flashed a bright grin and pulled out his keys, unlocking the doors. “I can drive myself home!”
“Just get in the car, Bella,” he sighed, sliding into the driver’s side. “Your father will be upset if I let you drive yourself home after your little sickness incident today.”
He had a point. I opened the passenger side door and perched on the slick leather seat. “This is unnecessary,” I told him.
He shrugged carelessly and began fiddling with the knobs on the front. He finally got it set to whatever specifications he wanted and he pulled out of the parking lot as the soft strains of music started up.
I blinked in recognition. “Is this Sigur Rós?” I asked, startled. I had half been expecting classical – Tchaikovsky or maybe some Mozart. Something pretentious and old-fashioned, anyway.
He glanced over at me in surprise. “You know Sigur Rós?”
“They’re one of my favorite bands,” I said, sliding back a little on the car seat. “My mom really likes them.”
Outside, the scenery was whooshing past; a quick glance at the speedometer told me we were going well over the speed limit, not that Edward seemed to care. I tried not to wince as he took a curve at roughly three times the speed I usually went.
“What is your mother like?” he asked me.
“Flighty,” I said after a moment. “But she’s smart, really smart. She’s just really bad at showing it. She’s nicer than I am. But much less practical.”
“How old are you?” he asked suddenly. I turned and raised my eyebrows.
“Why are you asking?” I wanted to know.
“You just – you seem older than you probably are.”
“I’m seventeen,” I told him, “but people usually think I’m in my twenties.” I eyed him and said, “It’s not like you act like a typical high school junior.”
He changed the subject. “Why did she get remarried?”
“Because she’s in love?” I said, frowning. “Frankly, I don’t know. And it’s none of your business.”
“I keep prying, I apologize. It’s not my place to ask.” He tilted his head to the side and glided to a stop in front of Charlie’s house. “Do you approve, though?”
“He makes her happy,” I said honestly. “And he’s kind to her. They – they make each other better people.”
“That’s very generous of you,” Edward remarked. “Do you think your mom would do the same?”
“She has,” I said. “She didn’t like the idea of me having a boyfriend, but Nate made me feel so – alive, in a way I hadn’t really before. We were good together.”
Edward frowned. “Nate?”
“My ex.” I waved my hand dismissively. “I think she’d only object if she thought if I was in real danger.”
Edward looked at me, and I remembered what he had said about being dangerous. “Do you think she would approve of me?”
“If you’re trying to ask me out, this is a really crappy way of doing it,” I informed him, a little annoyed. “Let’s talk about your family, why don’t we?”
His face closed up, but he asked, “What do you want to know?”
“Dr. Cullen and his wife adopted you?”
I hesitated a moment before asking, “What happened to your parents?”
“They died when I was a child,” Edward replied easily.
“I’m sorry.” I fiddled with the strap of my bag for a second. “But they’re good to you?”
“Yes. I don’t really remember my parents,” Edward said without looking at me, “but I can’t imagine two better people than Carlisle and Esme. They’re my parents in every possible way except biologically.”
“And you love them.” There was a deep warmth in the way he spoke his parents’ names that told me that he did, but I wanted to hear him say it.
“I do. I’m very lucky.”
“And your siblings?” I prompted, hopefully.
He looked at the dashboard clock and said, “Are going to be annoyed if I don’t pick them up from school on time.”
“Where were they during lunch?” I asked, frowning. I had thought that they were absent.
He smiled. “I asked them to eat elsewhere for the day.”
“So you could talk to me?” I hazarded.
“Indeed.” He looked at me again. “I won’t see you later this week; Emmett and I are taking an early weekend up at Mount Ranier. Hiking.”
“Fine,” I said, opening the car door to get out.
“And Bella?” he called. I looked back in and he grinned. “Have fun at the beach. And – be careful. You seem to attract trouble.”
“And you’re always right there when it happens,” I pointed out, irritated. “So I should be safe, if you’re not there.” The car door slammed shut and I stepped back onto the sidewalk as Edward sped away.
I stood there for a little longer after he’d left. Then I felt stupid and went inside, locking the door firmly behind me.
Chapter 7: Chapter Six
In which Bella goes to the beach, meets Jacob Black, and learns the truth about Edward's family.
Special Note: My information regarding the creation myth Jacob tells Bella comes from the Quileute Nation homepage as well as being, obviously, largely adapted from the version espoused in the original novel. I will try to be as sensitive as possible in my portrayal of the Quileute characters; if there are any problems, please let me know and I will do my best to fix them.
I settled in my room to read Hamlet, though I kept an ear out for the sound of my truck. I heard the familiar rumbling about half an hour after school let out, and I looked out my window in time to see Jasper Hale get out of the driver’s seat – and I really should find out how he was able to drive my car, I realized, as I hadn’t given Edward my keys. I scowled. I was going to have to have a very serious talk with him about boundaries.
I glanced away for a moment, and when I looked back, Jasper was gone. I craned my neck so I could see down the street, but he was nowhere in sight. I sat back in my seat, frowning; it seemed increasingly likely that Edward’s siblings shared whatever strange gifts he possessed.
I added that to the list of things to talk to Edward about. It was starting to get very long.
As soon as I got to school the next day, Eric said, “So what happened with you and Edward yesterday? Marlena would only talk about how you fainted in Biology.”
“I didn’t faint,” I grumbled in annoyance. “I just felt sick, is all.”
“Like that’s any better,” Eric scoffed, grinning. He patted my back. “Don’t worry, I hate blood too.”
I couldn’t think of a way to describe what had happened that wouldn’t make me sound crazy, so instead I said, “Edward kind of rambled on about nothing in particular, and then we talked about superheroes.”
“That is so not exciting,” Eric said with a dramatic sigh. “If you’re going to tell that story you need to add some more drama to it. Some pizzazz!”
“If it happens again, I promise I’ll lie and make it interesting.” I followed him down the hall, holding in my grin. “Happy?”
“Delighted.” Eric was quiet for a moment before he said, “You know, I’ve never seen Edward sit with anyone but his family before.”
“I’m not surprised. He doesn’t have very good people skills.” I pushed open the door to our class and gestured him in.
Eric sighed and flounced inside. “It’s such a tragedy,” he said petulantly. “Anyone that beautiful should be charming as well.”
“I don’t doubt he could be if he tried,” I remarked, recalling the way he had gotten the nurse to do what he wanted. “I think he just doesn’t know how to deal with me.”
“Because you’re so fantastic and unique,” Eric agreed, kissing my cheek. I laughed and swatted him away as the bell rang.
Edward hadn’t lied; when I got to lunch that day, he and Emmett were nowhere to be seen. Jasper looked up when I came in and met my gaze solidly before nodding once, curtly. Alice seemed confused for a moment, then she grinned widely and waggled her fingers at me before Rosalie grabbed her hand, throwing me a glare over her shoulder.
“Wow,” Kaitlyn said softly from behind me. “What the hell is that about?”
“I don’t get it either,” I told her, sliding in to sit next to Marlena. She bumped shoulders with me gently. “Rosalie just really doesn’t like me or something.”
“Sorry I told everyone that you fainted in Bio,” Marlena whispered, but she was grinning. “Just, you know. You don’t seem like the type to faint at the sight of blood.”
“I didn’t faint,” I groused, but I couldn’t stay mad at her. “So,” I said changing the subject. “What’s the plan for tomorrow?”
Dave lit up and started expounding on how the weatherman said the next day would be warm and sunny. “At least,” he added, “it’s supposed to be in the low seventies.” I had to resist the urge to laugh.
“Sounds like fun,” Eric said, glancing sidelong at Tyler. “You coming too?”
Tyler shrugged, clearly going for nonchalant but falling far short. He was trying to hide his grin, but he was obviously pleased by the invitation. “I’d love to.”
Lucas wrapped his arm around Marlena’s waist and said, “We’ll pick up some food along the way. And don’t forget beach towels, we’ll need somewhere to sit.” Marlena immediately started bickering with him about what food we should bring. I tuned them out and ate my lunch. For the first time in what seemed like ages, I didn’t have a headache, and it felt great.
Charlie was oddly excited about my trip to La Push, more than I thought was strictly warranted. I suspected he felt guilty about leaving me to my own devices most of the time. He had become accustomed to bachelorhood in the years Mom and I had been out of the house and didn't really know what to do with me. He knew all the kids going, of course, and probably their entire families as well. He was slightly less enthusiastic when he learned that Tyler was going (“Bella, he almost killed you!” “Dad, it was an accident.”) but he accepted it after I distracted him with take-out menus.
During dinner, I asked, “Hey, so I heard some kids talking about camping on the foot of Mount Ranier.”
Charlie put his fork down. “Please tell me you don’t want to do that too.”
I shook my head. “No, nothing like that. I was just wondering – is it safe?”
Charlie nodded, looking relieved that I didn’t have an interest in it myself. “Sure, as long as you stay in the right areas. There are some areas that are really meant only for hunting – lots of bears and stuff.”
“Oh,” I said, filing this away with my many other questions about the Cullens.
Charlie and I watched Die Hard on TV – though to be honest, the TV-friendly editing kind of ruined the magic of the film – and then I went to sleep, intending to sleep in a little. I was woken earlier than I wanted by sunlight streaming in through my bedroom window and across my face. I sat up and went to the window, staring at the clear blue sky and the vast expanse of brightly lit landscape. I slid the window open and tilted my face up towards the sun, enjoying the warmth on my face for the first time since I had arrived in Forks. I took in a deep breath and smiled.
Lucas’s family lived on the north side of town in a gorgeous house that made me sigh in envy. A young girl, about eight or nine, answered the door when I rang and asked, very prettily, “May I help you?”
“Hi,” I said, smiling. “I’m Lucas’s friend Bella. Is he here?”
“Yes he is,” she answered, and she turned, yelling, “Lucas! Bella’s here!”
Lucas arrived at the door a moment later, looking a little mussed. “You’re early!” he exclaimed, a little wild-eyed.
“Yeah, I woke up early. Is that a problem?” I hunched my shoulders a little, embarrassed. Lucas shook his head, though he still looked a little dazed.
“No, not a problem. Come in.” He shut the door after I stepped inside and turned to the girl. “Clara, go upstairs.”
“Lucas has a girlfriend,” Clara told me, widening her eyes up at me. “I like her. She’s nice.”
“Clara!” Lucas cried, turning red. “Go upstairs!” Clara, with all the gravity of an eight year old, sighed and rolled her eyes before turning and heading up the wide wooden stairs.
“Little sister?” I asked, amused, and Lucas rolled his eyes.
“She gets worse every year, I swear,” he muttered. “Come on, Marlena’s already here.”
He led me to the den where Marlena was straightening her hair and shirt, trying to look like they hadn't been fooling around before I had barged in. She blushed when she saw me.
“Did I interrupt something?” I asked, waggling my eyebrows suggestively at Marlena. She pressed her hands to her cheeks and giggled. Lucas flopped onto the sofa next to her and pulled her into his lap. She shrieked and batted him away, laughing.
“Oh my god, don’t!” she said. “You’re gonna give Bella the wrong idea!”
“So you’re dating now,” I said, and they exchanged rueful looks. “Good,” I told them. “I’m happy for you.”
“Really? Thank you so much,” Marlena said and she grinned so wide I thought her head might split in half.
Eric, Tyler, Dave, and Kaitlyn showed up in Katilyn’s car about ten minutes later, followed by another car of some people I didn’t know all that well. There was a girl with red hair who kept glancing at me, and I heard her say, “Edward Cullen and her?” in a snotty voice to one of the girls from my Biology class.
I rolled my eyes, resisting the urge to correct her misunderstanding, and instead followed Marlena and Lucas out to Lucas’s car. “I told you it would be sunny,” Dave hissed as I passed him, grinning triumphantly. I rolled my eyes and flapped my hand at him.
"It still isn't Phoenix warm," I told him, and he shook his head in disappointment.
A couple of people I recognized from around school joined us and introduced themselves as Paul and Olivia. They were both friendly and apparently knew Marlena from some kind of theatre group. Olivia had a gorgeous camera with her, and she took pictures of the greenery as we drove to La Push. I rolled down the window and let the sun stream in. Olivia snapped a picture of me, and I groaned, covering my face while she laughed.
I had been to La Push before, back when I used to spend my summers in Forks, so the mile-long crescent of First Beach was familiar to me. The water looked gorgeous, but I knew better than to think it would be pleasant to go in; even in summer, it was pretty cold. The beach was mostly rocky until it turned into sand a few yards from the water, but the rocks gleamed under the sunlight and I couldn't help thinking it was beautiful in a way LA beaches weren't. Driftwood littered the beach, from small pieces to large trunks that were clearly used as seating by groups like ours. Dave led the way, picking his way across the rocks to where we could sit or lie out depending on our preference.
There was a light breeze coming off the ocean, bringing in the fresh sea-salt smell, and I breathed in deeply – one of the few things I’d missed about Forks was that smell. Behind me, Lucas and one of the other boys started working on setting up a fire pit, bickering companionably about Boy Scout training.
“Have you ever seen a driftwood fire?” Olivia asked, suddenly at my shoulder.
“I don’t think so,” I admitted, watching as Eric tossed a lighter to Lucas.
“You’ll like it – watch the colors.” She raised her camera to her face as Lucas lit a smaller piece of wood, setting against the others. The wood reluctantly caught flame, then seemed to burst, flaring blue and green.
“Wow,” I breathed, stepping closer. “It’s gorgeous.”
“The salt does it.” Olivia sounded just as awed as I, though she must have seen it at least a dozen times before. “Gorgeous.”
Marlena looked up and gestured me closer when she saw me standing off to the side. I sat between her and Eric on their piece of wood. They were gossiping about someone I hadn’t met, so I just watched the flames lick at the air.
A bag of marshmallows were passed around and I took some along with a coat hanger skewer. Eric’s promptly caught fire and he blew at them frantically, trying to get the fire out and moaning over the loss of his marshmallow. Tyler doubled over in laughter before finally blowing them out for Eric. I popped one of mine in my mouth and smirked at them.
After a while, Dave announced that he was going to the tide pools. Kaitlyn and Olivia immediately volunteered to join, as did some of the boys.
“Come on, Bella,” Kaitlyn wheedled, holding out her hand to help me up. I laughed and allowed her to haul me up. I hadn’t seen tide pools since the last time I’d been at La Push – years ago – and I remembered loving them. Dave grinned and slapped my back companionably.
The hike wasn’t very long, through the lush green woods, rich in color and scent. Though it was sunny, it still smelled damp and strangely alive. I breathed in deeply, the richness of the woods and the crisp ocean scent mingling together. Olivia was taking pictures practically every other step, her face alight with fascination and wonder.
When we stepped out into the sunlight again, the few remaining clouds had dissipated. It was low tide, but the tide pools were still full. Ahead of me, Dave let out a wild whoop and leaped over one in a graceful motion.
“Track stars,” Katilyn muttered to me, rolling her eyes. She delicately picked her way around the first tide pool, gazing into it. I wandered through them, catching glimpses of bright anemones, pastel shells, green algae, all beautiful. There was a nicely placed rock by the largest of the tide pools, and I sat cross-legged on it, gazing into the shallow depths as tiny crabs traversed their tiny world and tiny fish darted around the pool, waiting for the tide to come back in and take them back out to sea.
Olivia joined me after a while, sitting next to me and taking pictures with a practiced eye. We spent about half an hour there, the boys leaping over the pools and jumping from rock to rock, but eventually they tired and announced it was time to head back for lunch, so I slid from the rock and followed them back to the campsite.
Our group had acquired some more people – it looked like kids from the reservation, all dark hair and smooth, tanned skin. Eric introduced us to them as we returned, saying, “And this is Olivia Winters and Bella Swan.”
At my name, a handsome boy with long hair looked up curiously, but didn’t say anything. The oldest of the visitors introduced them, though I only caught the name of one particularly pretty but forbidding girl - Leah - and the boy who’d looked up at my name - Jacob.
Food was being passed around now, and I ate one of the ham sandwiches quietly, watching everyone else. Eric and Tyler were in their own little world, talking quietly to each other and ignoring everyone else. Kaitlyn had gotten into an enthusiastic conversation with one of the reservation kids, and Olivia was taking pictures of everyone.
People started drifting off as they ate lunch – a few of the boys headed down closer to the water to skip rocks, and some others headed back to the tide pools. Marlena and Lucas went up to the village to ‘shop’, though I suspected they just wanted a little alone time. I sat, lost in thought, and didn’t notice that Jacob had sat next to me until he cleared his throat.
I jumped and looked over at him. “Sorry,” I said, offering a smile. “I was kind of lost in my head.”
Jacob smiled, flashing even, white teeth. He was remarkably good-looking, his cheekbones high and eyes warm. I thought he was maybe a year younger than me, though I couldn’t say for sure. “It’s not a problem. You’re Bella Swan?” He had a pleasant, husky voice, warm and rich.
“Yeah,” I confirmed, a little wary. “Why?”
“You bought my dad’s truck,” he told me with a smile. He held out a slim hand. “Jacob Black.”
“Oh,” I said, taking his hand with an answering smile. His palm was cool and dry against mine. “You’re Billy’s kid? I’m sorry, I probably should remember you.”
Jacob shrugged, still grinning. He released my hand, and I dropped it back to my side, feeling strangely bereft. “I didn’t expect you to. You hung out more with my older sisters when you used to come here – Rachel and Rebecca?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, suddenly remembering the two quiet girls. They were nice enough, but they were shy, and we hadn’t really had all that much in common. By the time I was eleven, I had put up enough fuss about fishing that Charlie stopped taking me, and I hadn’t seen them since. “Are they here?”
“Nah,” Jacob said, reaching up to tuck a rogue strand of hair behind his ear. “They’re both in college – Rachel went to Reed College and Rebecca headed out to Hawai’i.”
“Wow,” I said, a little jealous. “That’s pretty great.”
He nodded, still smiling. “How are you liking the truck?”
“It’s great,” I enthused. “It’s just right for me.”
He leaned in, lowering his voice. “I was so glad when Charlie bought it,” he confided. “Dad wouldn’t let me start building another car until we got rid of that one.”
“Hey, don’t be mean to my baby,” I warned him. “That there is fightin’ talk.”
He laughed and held up his hands. “Didn’t mean to offend you. I just want something that goes a little faster. Though, in its defense, it’s a tank. No way you’ll die in that thing.”
“I hope not,” I said. “So you build cars?”
Jacob nodded. “When I have the time. And the parts. I don’t suppose you know where I could find some?” He didn’t sound particularly hopeful.
“Sorry,” I said. “I wish I could help.”
He flashed another bright grin at me. From across the fire, Eric called, “Bella, who is your friend?”
“Jacob Black,” I told him, smiling at Jacob. “We go way back.”
Jacob rolled his eyes, laughing. “Something like that.”
“It’s too bad the Cullens couldn’t come,” the redhead girl from earlier said in a sly voice. “Don’t you think? Marlena said she invited them.”
“Do you mean Carlisle Cullen’s family?” the oldest of the boys from the reservation asked. He was really closer to a man, probably in his early twenties. He had a rich, deep voice that rumbled like distant thunder.
“Yeah,” she said, arching her eyebrows snidely. “Why, do you know them?”
“We know of them,” the man said, forbiddingly. “The Cullens do not come here.”
I thought it was an odd way to put it and opened my mouth to say something, but the boy stood up to leave, effectively ending the conversation. I frowned; there was something more to that story, I could tell. I glanced over at Jacob, but he was looking down at his feet pensively. I wondered idly if I could convince him to tell me why the other boy had seemed so upset by the mention of the Cullens and decided to give it a shot.
“Jacob,” I said, touching his arm gently. He looked up, startled. I smiled carefully. “You want to walk down the beach with me?”
“Sure.” He clambered to his feet, sweeping his hair off to the side. He fell into step beside me as I jammed my hands into the pockets my worn black hoodie. “So what’s up?”
“You’re, what, sixteen?” I asked curiously, looking up at him. He nodded, smiling.
“Just a week ago, actually.”
“Happy birthday, then,” I said, smiling. He ducked his head shyly. “Do you come up to Forks much?”
“Not as much as I’d like to,” he confessed, “but once I get the car I’m working on up and running, I’ll probably come to town more often.”
“Cool.” I fell silent for a moment, contemplating how to phrase my next question. “So,” I said carefully, “who was that boy who left? The older one.”
“That’s Sam. He’s going to a local college,” he said.
“What was he saying about the Cullens?” I asked innocently, looking up through my eyelashes in a way that had always worked on my ex-boyfriend.
“The Cullens? Oh, they’re just not allowed to come to the reservation,” he said, and then he tripped over a rock. I grabbed his arm, steadying him. He looked at me guiltily. “I’m not really supposed to say anything about that.”
I smiled as charmingly as I could. “I promise I won’t tell,” I wheedled, hopeful.
The corner of his mouth twitched, and he sighed, lifting his eyes heavenward. “Do you like scary stories?”
“Love them,” I said.
“Come on,” he said, taking my hand. I obediently fell into step and went with him to another collection of driftwood, a pale tree like a beached whale on the sand. He sat on the trunk, patting the spot next to him. I sat, and he turned to me, eyes serious. “This is a story about my tribe, the Quileutes. This area is sacred to us. That island -” he pointed out to the dark shape far out in the water, “- is a burial place for our chiefs. We are careful about who we allow here.”
“You let us here,” I pointed out, gesturing back towards the kids from school. Jacob nodded.
“Because you pose no threat.” He paused for a moment and then asked, “Did my dad ever tell you any of our old stories, about where we came from?”
“Not that I can remember,” I admitted.
“Well, there are a lot of legends. One story goes that there was a flood that sent our only kin away, south of here, and we were surrounded by strangers, the other tribes in this area. But our creation story – that is what is important.
“It is said we were once wolves, turned into humans by a wandering Transformer. They are our brethren. It is against tribal law to kill a wolf. That is our birthright, our heritage. And our natural enemies are the cold ones.” His voice dropped at this last, and I shivered involuntarily. A rock at my feet abruptly broke loose and tumbled down the shore, landing at the edge of an oncoming wave.
“The cold ones?” I asked, almost in a whisper.
Jacob smiled, but it had little humor in it. “The stories of the cold ones go back as far as ours, perhaps even further. And there are some that are much more recent. According to our tribal legend, my great-grandfather knew them and made a treaty that would keep them off our land.”
“Yes. He was a tribal elder, like my father. They – the cold ones – are our enemies, because we are – changed wolves. What I suppose you could call werewolves.”
“Werewolves.” I didn’t bother trying to hide my disbelief; I could hear it echoed in his own voice. “Really.”
He grinned. “I know. But that’s the story. Anyway, the cold ones are traditionally our enemies, but the pack that came here during my great-grandfather’s time was different. They – chose to be different than the rest of their kind. They didn’t hunt the same way; they weren’t as dangerous. So my great-grandfather made the treaty with them – if they promised to stay off our land, we promised not to expose them to the – to you.”
“But if they weren’t dangerous,” I said, trying to stall him while I worked through the implications, “then why ban them?”
“Humans are always at risk around the cold ones,” Jacob said matter-of-factly. “Even the special kind.”
“What?” I asked. “Special?”
“There’s are other stories,” he explained, “about witches. Mages. They can withstand the cold ones; they have special abilities. But they died out a long time ago, though sometimes humans show flashes of that old gift. We kept the cold ones away to protect everyone – you never know if they’ll get too hungry to be ‘civilized’.” He spat out the word ‘civilized’ as though it offended him, and I jerked back involuntarily.
“What do you mean?” I said slowly. “Civilized?”
“They claim they don’t hunt humans. They prey on animals instead.” Jacob wasn’t looking at me anymore, which I was grateful for. The pieces were lining up for me, but I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t even think the word; I was willing to accept genetic experiments and radioactivity, but magic?
“And how do the Cullens fit in?” I asked as calmly as I could. “Are they like the cold ones your great-grandfather met?”
“No,” Jacob said, turning to look at me. “They are the same ones.”
I shuddered, my mind shrinking from the evidence he was unknowingly laying out in front of me. He continued on, clearly interpreting my reaction as disgusted fascination. “There are more of them now, a new male and a new female, but the others are all the same. There are legends in my tribe of their leader, Carlisle – he’d been here long before your people came and settled the west.”
“So the cold ones,” I said. “They’re -” I stopped, unable to bring myself to say it. It was ridiculous.
“Vampires,” Jacob filled in. “They are what your people would call vampires, yes.”
Vampires. “You’re a good storyteller,” I said faintly, rubbing at my arms.
“Pretty crazy, though, right?” Jacob said, smiling. “You can probably see why they tell us not to talk about it. It makes us sound like a bunch of superstitious natives.”
“I’ll take it to my grave,” I said solemnly. Jacob laughed.
“I guess I just violated the treaty,” he remarked. “Oh well. Just – please don’t mention it to your dad? He was already pretty mad when he heard that some of us weren’t going to the hospital any more when Dr. Cullen started working there.”
“I promise,” I repeated. I looked down and saw that my hands were trembling. I slowly curled my hands into fists. Another rock dislodged and rolled down to join the other.
“Bella!” Marlena called from behind us. We jumped and turned to see her and Lucas clambering down the rocks. “There you are, I think we’re gonna be going soon!”
“Hold on just a minute,” I called back, then I turned to Jacob. “Thanks, Jacob. When you get your license, you should come to Forks. We’ll hang out or something.”
“I’d like that.” He smiled, and I was struck again by how handsome he was - a more natural, real beauty than any of the Cullens’, and far more friendly.
I impulsively pulled him into a quick hug. His hair smelled strangely woody and musky, a heady combination. I stood and shoved my hands back into my pockets. “And when Charlie comes to visit Billy, I’ll join, okay?”
“Yeah. Bye, Bella.” He waved, and I hesitated for a moment before nodding awkwardly and running up to join Marlena and Lucas. Marlena hooked her arm through mine, beaming.
“Oh my god, he’s cute!” she exclaimed in a hushed voice. “Who is he?”
“An old friend,” I said, smiling. “He was just telling me some local legends.” Marlena giggled and fell silent, for which I was grateful. I could feel another headache coming on, and I was still reeling from Jacob’s story.
By the time we got back to the cars, everyone else had finished packing up. I climbed into the back with Paul and Olivia and leaned my head against the glass, allowing myself to acknowledge what Jacob had told me. Edward and his family were vampires.
Chapter 8: Chapter Seven
In which nothing much happens except that Bella does some internet research and bonds with her dad.
When I got home, I told Charlie that I’d had fun, but that I had a lot of homework. He was preoccupied by a basketball game on television, so he just nodded, waving me on. I went upstairs to my room and pulled out my iPod. I curled up on my bed and listened to it on shuffle, cycling through David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Britney Spears, any number of artists and songs.
For a while it worked, driving all thoughts of vampires and werewolves and magic from my mind, allowing me to lose myself in beats and rhythms and melodies. Then a song from Sigur Rós came on and I remembered Edward driving me home in the rain.
Frustrated, I yanked the headphones from my iPod and made myself go to sleep, concentrating as hard as I could on just breathing, steady and constant.
I dreamed, then, of the forest by the beach. The light streamed through the leaves, green, warm, and full of life. I could hear the crash of waves past the trees, steady and insistent. I made to go out onto the sand, but Jacob was there, taking my arm and pulling me deeper into the trees.
The woods changed, then, darkening to black. I twisted out of Jacob’s grip, slipping out hands together instead, and I asked, “Where are we going, Jacob?”
He looked at me, his face dark with an emotion I couldn’t read – a little anger, maybe even fear. “Away. You aren’t safe here.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded, frightened. “Jacob, what’s wrong? What’s going on?”
He released my hand and shoved me forward, sending me tripping over the roots. “You have to run, Bella!” he shouted and deep in the forest, out of the darkness, someone called, “Bella, come on!” It sounded like Eliza.
“What’s going on?” I demanded. “I can help! Jacob, I can stand up for myself!”
Jacob shook his head and shivered, a full-body shudder that sent him falling to the ground. I tried to move towards him, but I was frozen in place. “Jacob!” I shouted and he screamed, throwing his head back. He shuddered again and, in that instant, transformed. There was no way to describe it; one moment he was there, and in the next he had vanished, a wolf standing in his place.
The wolf was beautiful, all red and grey fur, but it was growling at something I couldn’t see yet. Eliza’s voice called my name again, but I didn’t go, because something was coming. I could feel it thrumming in my bones, rattling me down to my core.
And then from the beach came Edward, the light refracting off him oddly. He smiled first at me, then at the wolf at my feet. His canines were longer than in reality, sharp and pointed. He opened his hands and said, “Please. Trust me.”
“Jacob,” I whispered, and I reached forward, burying my hand in his fur. “Jacob, don’t do anything you’ll regret.”
Edward’s smile widened, and then he reached out one hand to me. I placed my free hand in his and Jacob’s growling slowly faded. Edward seemed to relax incrementally and he said, “This is truth, Bella,” and then I woke up just as my light bulb shattered.
I slowly pushed myself up, staring at the shattered glass that littered the floor at the foot of my bed. “What the fuck,” I said blankly. My head ached, and my stomach rumbled uncomfortably, angry about me not having eaten dinner.
I glanced at the clock; it was five twenty in the morning. I groaned and slid out of bed, kicking off my shoes and my jeans, pulling on a pair of sweatpants instead. I knew that I had no hope of getting back to sleep. Instead, I went to my computer and started it up. While it booted, I went to the bathroom and scrubbed my face, sighing.
I padded downstairs and rummaged through the stuff in the garage until I found a broom and a dustpan. I went back to my room and carefully swept the broken pieces of light bulb into the dustpan, dumping it out into the trashcan. That task completed, I sat down at my desk and opened up my internet browser. A quick glance out the window told me Charlie had already left, probably fishing. I stared at my Google homepage, the blinking cursor in the search box telling me I had to make a choice.
I stared at it for a long moment, then got back up. I wasn’t quite ready to I headed downstairs and looked in the refrigerator for something to eat and found a pie that Charlie must have bought the night before. On top of it was a note, reading, Bella – didn’t want to wake you up. Here’s some apple pie you can eat for breakfast. Love, Dad.
I smiled and pulled it out, carefully slicing off a piece and putting on a plate. There was coffee already brewed, and I poured myself a mug, taking it and the pie upstairs with me. I set them down on the desk next to my computer, opened up iTunes, and chose something innocuous.
Then I switched to my web browser, took a deep breath, and typed vampire into the search bar. Unsurprisingly, the first link was to Wikipedia. I browsed through it, but only saw stuff I had read about when I’d read Dracula in seventh grade. I had watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer religiously when I was in elementary school; I guess it was suitably ironic that I was now faced with vampires of my own.
I pulled off a post-it note and wrote down, stake, garlic. Just in case, I thought, and I scrolled down the Wikipedia page, reading through the list of beliefs by culture.
The first appearance of vampires appeared to be in Persia, I read, where images of blood-drinking demons appeared on pottery. The most interesting part to me, though, was the mention of Slavic beliefs. According to them, vampires could have children, who would have special powers that allowed them to become vampire hunters.
Many of the beliefs were strange and incredibly varying, and none of them were particularly helpful. Perhaps, I thought, I was reading too much into everything. Vampires didn’t – couldn’t – exist.
I ran through the checklist of things that I’d noticed about the Cullens: super strength, seeming indestructibility, changing eye color, unnatural paleness, and possibly some kinds of other powers. Not entirely out of the realm of vampires, I acknowledged. Drusilla in Buffy had visions; maybe that was what Alice meant when she said she couldn’t see me.
Christ, I was accept Joss Whedon’s word as gospel.
I could hardly believe I was simply accepting it as truth, but Occam’s Razor applied. No other explanation seemed forthcoming, though this one forced me to accept things I’d previously assumed to be mere fantasy. I wondered idly if werewolves and the “witch-gifted” were real as well, then shoved the thought from my mind. I had enough on my plate working out the truth about the Cullens.
It could very well be that vampires were real, I decided, though that raised a whole slew of new questions. Why could the Cullens go out in daytime? Admittedly, I’d never seen them in direct sunlight, but Buffy and Dracula had been very adamant on the idea that vampires could not go out during the day.
I sighed and put my computer on standby. It was too much to think about. I finished off my coffee, then went to take a shower. When I got out, it was raining again. I stood at my window, staring out at the wet landscape, and decided that I would go out anyway. Better than sitting in my room and brooding.
I grabbed my iPod and headed downstairs after getting dressed. I got in my truck, the engine coughing to life asthmatically. I had no particular destination in mind, so I just headed down the highway. Few people were out this early on a Sunday morning, and I mostly had the road to myself.
The highway wound through heavily tree-lined areas, beautiful and lush, but a too-present reminder of my dream from the night before. I still didn’t know what to think about it – why had I accepted Edward’s hand? Why had Eliza been calling to me?
Eliza, I remembered with a start. What on earth was I going to tell her next time I called? I couldn’t very well tell her that I thought Edward might be a vampire. At best, she would think I was joking. At worst, she’d think I’d gone crazy. Neither response would be particularly helpful.
And I still didn’t know that he was, though the more I thought about it, the more likely it seemed. He and his siblings never ate, as far as I could tell, and all of them moved with a strangely restrained swiftness, as though they were trying to hide how fast, how fluidly they could really move. It could explain why they only came here recently, because they likely didn’t age – which also explained Edward’s ready knowledge of high school curriculum. He ditched class during the blood test, though that could just mean he didn’t like blood. He spoke oddly, as well, with that hint of an accent and the phrasing of someone slightly out of his time. He kept warning me that he was dangerous, that it would be dangerous for us to be friends. And when I’d mentioned La Push, he’d reacted ever so slightly.
What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t exactly tell anyone my suspicions, or they’d think I was nuts. I could avoid him, I supposed, that would be easy enough. Except he made it hard to avoid him and I still wanted to know the truth, for once and for all.
As annoying as I found him, I couldn’t bring myself to think of him as something necessarily evil. At the very most, there was a disturbing tendency within him that had the potential to harm many people and he kept it in check. That was something to be admired. And he had saved my life. Even if he had been kind of a dick about it.
“This sucks,” I said out loud, clutching my hands around the steering wheel. “This sucks.”
Morrissey went on singing through my speakers, uncaring. I sighed and pulled off the road so I could turn around. I had been driving for almost an hour, I noticed, looking at the clock. It was nearing seven in the morning, and the morning commuters were starting to fill up the road. I got back on the highway headed back towards the house and forced myself to think about the essay I had due in English instead of the freak show that my life had become.
I worked on homework for a few hours, and then started cleaning up the house for lack of anything better to do. Charlie came home around noon with a fish that he made me help him clean and gut. It was disgusting, but strangely soothing at the same time. It was very straightforward work, and I apparently had a real knack for it.
“So what are your plans for Seattle next week?” Charlie asked me as he slid the fish into the frying pan. I jumped, startled; I had almost forgotten my promise to Edward.
“Nothing as of yet,” I said, going to the refrigerator to grab a soda. “How was fishing?”
Charlie made a face and for an instant, I could see the man my mom had fallen in love with. Charlie wasn’t bad looking; he’d aged well, with dignified salt and pepper as opposed to unattractive patches of gray. I wondered why he’d never remarried – had he ever even dated? I didn’t know, I realized. I didn’t know anything, really, about my own father.
“It was fine until it started raining,” he grumbled, somewhat playfully. “I still got a nice catch, though.”
“Yeah.” I opened the refrigerator and looked inside. “What should we eat with it?”
“We have potatoes,” Charlie said, reaching past me and pulling out a Tupperware. “Should go well together.”
I shrugged, not really knowing anything about it. “Sure.”
Dinner was ready after about fifteen minutes and we ate mostly in silence, punctuated only by the clink of cutlery and glasses. I thought about what I wanted to ask Charlie and when we had finished eating, I helped him carry the plates and glasses to the kitchen.
“What do you like to do?” I asked him as he passed a plate to me to dry. “Besides fishing, I mean.”
Charlie looked at me sidelong and shrugged. “Watching sports, I guess. I like my job. I like figuring things out. Why do you ask?”
“I just don’t know much about you,” I said, looking down at the plate I was drying. I set it aside carefully and accepted the next one. “It’s weird.”
“I don’t know much about you,” Charlie pointed out. “This is a learning experience for both of us.”
I smiled at him and asked, “Do you want to watch another movie?”
We settled on an old film showing on TV, and I curled up next to him on the sofa as the opening credits played. About halfway through, he wrapped an arm around me, and I settled into him, smiling. He wasn’t anything like Mom, but he was still my dad.
“You know you can talk to me about anything, right?” Charlie asked as the credits rolled. “Even if you think it’ll make me feel uncomfortable.”
“Yeah, I know,” I assured him. “But it’s nice to hear you say it anyway.”
He laughed and clapped me on the back. “Go to bed. You have school tomorrow.”
I mock-saluted him and headed upstairs, making a brief detour to grab some cold meds. I downed them in one swallow, and fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
When I woke the next morning, the rain had cleared back up and the sun was shining brightly. I thought about the soccer ball Eliza had given me and decided that if the weather stayed nice, I’d go kick it around behind Charlie’s house.
I showered and dressed, clambering down the stairs in time to catch Charlie before he left. “Good morning,” I said cheerfully, going to the cupboard and grabbing a mug. He poured me a cup of coffee and nodded.
“Nice day out,” he remarked. “You gonna do anything today?”
“I was thinking I might kick around my soccer ball,” I said, reaching into the cupboard for some cereal. “If it stays nice, that is.”
“Sounds like fun,” Charlie said. He glanced at his watch and muttered something under his breath. “I have to go. See you later.” He leaned forward and kissed my forehead. “Bye.”
“Bye, Dad,” I said, waving. He smiled and headed out, leaving me alone. I ate breakfast at a leisurely pace, basking in the sunlight coming in through the kitchen windows. When I was finished, I went outside and lifted my head up so I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face.
I got to school earlier than usual. Eric wasn’t there to meet me, so I sat on one of the benches outside, pulling a book out of my bag to read. I had read half a chapter by the time I heard Eric calling my name.
“Bella, isn’t it great?” he asked cheerfully. He was wearing a thin white t-shirt and shorts, even though it wasn’t all that warm. “It’s gorgeous out today.” He offered me a hand and I accepted, letting him pull me upright.
“It’s the nicest it’s been since I got here,” I agreed, shouldering my bag. “You look cute.”
He grinned and struck a pose. “I know,” he said brightly. “So what did you do yesterday?”
“Worked on that essay,” I told him as we headed towards class. “I’m writing it on the portrayal of women in Hamlet.”
“Ooh, that’s a good topic,” Eric said jealously. “I’m writing it on sanity versus insanity. Kind of cliché, right?”
“Probably, but I’m sure it’s good,” I said reassuringly, clapping him on the back. “What did you do yesterday?”
Eric grinned a little guiltily. “Uh, I hung out with Tyler. We went to a movie.”
“Ooh,” I teased. “Anything exciting happening there?”
“Not yet.” Eric perched on the edge of my desk as I sat down. “A boy can dream, though, right?”
“Go on, dream,” I said with a smile. He beamed and headed to his seat as the bell rang. My smile slid off my face and I sighed. I had never been one of those girls who needed a boyfriend to feel worthy, but it did feel kind of lonely to be the third wheel to Lucas and Marlena or Tyler and Eric. At least Kaitlyn and Dave were still single, I thought to myself, and I shook my head. There was no use feeling sorry for myself; I had been the one to decide that I wasn’t ready for another relationship so soon after Nate.
“Hey, I know you aren’t going to the dance, but Marlena and I were thinking of going to Port Angeles tomorrow night to shop for dresses. You want to come?” Kaitlyn leaned against my desk, her long, dark hair brushing the surface of my desk. “It’ll be fun,” she pressed.
I shrugged. “I’ll have to ask my dad, but sure. It’ll be nice to get into a city.”
“Yeah,” Kaitlyn agreed. “Okay, well let me know as soon as you’ve figured out. I’ll drive, Marlena’s crap at driving.”
She started telling me stories about Marlena’s nightmarish experiences with driving and I remembered suddenly that I might have to see the Cullens. It was sunny, though; if they weren’t there, would that mean they were vampires? I wasn’t sure what I wanted – for them to be there and disprove my crazy, insane theory or for them to be there and prove that I wasn’t insane, that my theory wasn’t crazy.
My gaze instinctively slanted over towards their table. It was empty and I noticed that the other students were giving it a wide berth, as though it were cursed. I shivered and jerked my eyes away, taking a seat next to Marlena, who was chattering happily about the proposed trip to Port Angeles.
Edward wasn’t in Biology either, which didn’t particularly surprise me. It was one more item on the list of reasons that Edward Cullen might be a vampire, but I was still far from proving anything. But who would I prove it to? No one would believe me. If I said something to Edward, who knew what he might do?
We played more soccer in gym. By this time, everyone in the class had figured out that I was actually pretty good at it, so I was the first one picked. There was something refreshing about sprinting through the slightly damp grass, the sun shining down on the back of my head. I kicked the ball hard, sending it curving into the opposing team’s goal. Marlena shouted enthusiastically and jumped on my back, pumping her fist in the air. I grinned, laughing. I had missed this, the thrill of just playing, of doing something I knew I was good at.
I headed home and kicked around my soccer ball for almost an hour, working through my old drills from my team back home. By the end, I was sweaty and breathing hard, my legs shaky with exhaustion. I trekked upstairs for a shower, washing the sweat and grime off.
When I came back down, Charlie was home. “You’re home early,” I remarked, rubbing at my damp hair. “What’s the occasion?”
“I thought we’d try something,” Charlie said, and he lifted a bunch of grocery bags onto the kitchen table. “We’re both pretty bad at cooking, so I thought we’d try maybe cooking something together? Pasta?”
He’d found a recipe somewhere as well, and he read off the instructions carefully as we proceeded through. We managed, through much trying and muttered swear words, to make a passable, if not particularly attractive pasta sauce.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m proud of us,” I said, looking down at the saucepan. Charlie grinned and wrapped his arm around my shoulders, squeezing gently.
Charlie asked about my day, and I told him about soccer, which then segued into stories about my soccer team back in Phoenix. When we finished eating, I got up to help him wash the dishes, but he waved me away. “Go, do homework or whatever.”
“Okay,” I said after a pause. I turned to go, but then remembered Kaitlyn’s invitation. “Oh, Kaitlyn and Marlena wanted to know if I could go to Port Angeles with them tomorrow after school.”
“What are you guys going for?” Charlie asked, scraping the leftover food into a container.
“They’re shopping for dresses and I’m consulting.” I leaned against the wall and waited.
Charlie nodded sagely. “Ah. Girl time. I get it. Sure, of course. Just don’t get back too late, okay?”
“Yeah, of course.” I hesitated, then took a few steps forward to peck his cheek. “This was fun, Dad.”
Charlie smiled at me, his face softening, and I grinned back before heading upstairs. A quick email check told me that I should call my mom, so I did.
“Bella,” she said brightly. “How is Forks? What have you been up to recently?”
I told her about our trip to the beach – leaving out the part about vampires and werewolves – and my upcoming trip to Port Angeles. She sounded excited that I had made some friends and told me to pick up a dress for the bachelorette party while I was up there. She chattered a little bit about wedding plans, and then had to go – it was nearing ten o’clock in Florida.
Eliza was eager to hear about what had happened at the beach and we spent almost an hour gossiping about people we knew back home and the people I had met in Forks. She had gone on her first date with Rachelle and said it had gone really well.
“I really like her, Bella,” she moaned despairingly. “What if I ruin it all by being stupid? What if I screw it up?”
“Just don’t be stupid, then,” I said, very unhelpfully, and she laughed.
“So what’s going on with that guy, Edward? He still being a creeper?” She giggled again. “I bet he has a crush on you and that’s why he’s been acting so weird.”
“I doubt it,” I told her. “He just – he’s weird. He hasn’t been at school for the past few days, actually. It’s kind of nice.”
Eliza laughed. “Damn, girl, you are heartless.”
I didn’t say anything for a long moment, and then I said something meaningless and playful so that she’d change the subject. Heartlessness wasn’t something I particularly wanted to discuss at the moment.
The next morning, I dressed in lighter clothes that I hadn’t been able to wear since I’d arrived in Forks. Eric whistled when he saw me. “You look nice, Bella. Taking advantage of the sun?”
I tilted my head up and grinned. “Damn right.”
The Cullens weren’t at school again; I was growing increasingly convinced that my theory was right, but at the same time, I was convinced that I was going crazy. Marlena was bubbling with plans for our night out to Port Angeles, which only reminded me that I was supposed to be going to Seattle with Edward at the end of the next week. I had been trying to avoid the thought as long as possible.
I went through the rest of my classes mechanically, and then headed home to shower off the sweat from gym. Kaitlyn and Marlena showed up at my house around three thirty and we headed out of Forks.