She has seen enough of death to understand. Life has beaten the lesson into her like gravity.
The humans. The vampires. The hunters.
Everyone can die.
Psycho bitch, Mike whispers venomously to Jessica.
Jessica giggles behind her hand, her eyes quickly darting to Bella’s face and back like she means to be discreet about it, but it is too deliberate to be accidental.
Bella feels the blood drain from her face. She grits her teeth and grips the plastic white spoon so tight she hears it snap. More whispers start up behind her but she doesn’t dare look now.
She pushes the food around her tray with her broken spoon, willing herself, as always, to become invisible.
But the feeling of eyes on her face never leaves her.
Bitch Bella! Bitch Bella! Bitch Bella!
The jeers sing through the hallways from every direction.
That fucking pyro bitch.
The whispers follow her throughout the corridors of Forks High School.
One year ago, it might have mattered to her. She would have hunched over, her face burning, and cried in her truck on the way home. But then, there were a lot of things that mattered to her a year ago.
Now? She’s a rabid dog that people get some sick satisfaction from by prodding it with a stick every once in a while. Forks can be boring.
Small town murder is sure to get the blood pumping.
People used to ignore her completely. Now they avoid her with the added benefit of pointing and staring. And whispering. Always with the whispering.
Do you really think she killed her whole family?
She shivers on the way to class. For once, it has nothing to do with the freezing rain that soaks her all the way down to her bones.
PYRO BABY KILLER
The words are Sharpied in all caps across her locker.
They flash like sirens in front of her eyes.
(KILLER KILLER KILLER)
People have gathered around her locker, eyes wide and excited as they take in her reaction. She has no idea what expression is on her face right now.
The bell rings and she is still staring like a statue frozen in a perpetual state of tragedy. But eventually they get bored with their game like they always do, and they chatter disappointedly amongst themselves as they drift off to their classes. Her next class is in the room just across from her locker, but she can’t seem to move her feet.
Out of the corner of her eye, Tyler Crowley tosses something small and thin in the air. He spins it in between his fingers as he passes her on his way to Trigonometry with Mr. Varner.
Right before he enters the classroom, she sees what he’s holding.
The air goes out of her lungs.
Tyler tosses the Sharpie into the air and catches it as he spins on his heels to face her. He grins widely.
Really, she doesn’t know how it happens.
She just sees the flashing words behind her eyes, the words that would be screaming if it had a sound. The words that blur out everything but the stupid face of Tyler-fucking-Crowley.
(KILLER! KILLER! KILLER!)
She finds herself stomping into the classroom with her trig textbook in her hands, her mind somehow registering in the back of her head that she automatically grabbed the thickest book she owns.
She doesn’t remember seeing the shocked faces of her classmates as she slams the door open, she doesn’t remember the dumbfounded expression on Mr. Varner when he cuts off mid-lecture.
She remembers slamming her book right into the face of a gawking Tyler Crowley.
She slams the book right into his jeering fucking grin— with enough force to hear the satisfying crunch of his nose and the thud when his chair crashes backward and he hits the ground.
It doesn’t even slow her down. She pins him down and throws the book away, choosing instead to pummel her fists into his bleeding face, over and over. She can’t see— she can’t even breathe, she’s so fucking gone.
Killer Bella. Psycho Bella. Isn’t it true she killed her parents and her little sister? Just burned the whole fucking house down to the ground, can you imagine?
People say later that the sound that came out of her throat was like something animal, like something dying. Like something dying from a gaping, bleeding hole right in the dead center of her that no one else can see.
Psycho Bella. Mike may be right about that, she thinks.
Edward can’t stop thinking.
It’s pretty impossible not to think about the events of Mr. Varner’s fourth period trigonometry class, not when everyone within a 100-mile radius is thinking about it. And talking about it. Word travels fast in a small town. And being able to read everyone’s mind in said 30-mile radius doesn’t hurt either.
Bella Swan, town pariah, has snapped.
Really, he can’t comprehend why she showed up to school today at all.
He had spent the day in a perpetual haze of unfocused apprehension, his mind on the date. The anniversary of their deaths. A year ago today, to be exact.
It had been on the local news this morning— the announcement of the “In Memoriam” wake the small police station of Forks would be hosting tonight, weather conditions be damned. The entire elementary school where Renee Swan taught and Nessie Swan went to school would be in attendance, along with over half the population of Forks.
Would Bella be there?
The Cullens would be in attendance, of course. Carlisle insisted on it, though his insistence was unnecessary. They all felt guilty. Especially Alice. Her guilt-ridden face was watching the planning for the wake on the news this morning and he can’t quite get that nagging anxiety out of his mind. His sister’s guilt plays on a loop in his head, right next to the tortured face of Bella Swan.
The incessant question plagued him all day. Why did she brave the angry mob of ignorant, gossiping teenagers instead of staying home?
Why did he even care?
He knows, of course, as do the rest of the Cullens, that Bella Swan had absolutely nothing to do with the tragic deaths of her family.
So why doesn’t she ever offer up one word to defend herself?
If he could read her mind like everyone else, this mindless obsession would vaporize in smoke. That’s what he tells himself.
He watches through the minds of the ignorant, vicious children. He watches as they jeer, accuse, and whisper. Always the whispers.
He watches her when she sits alone at the back corner of the cafeteria. He watches as her back stiffens and her face turns white as that wretched Mike Newton whispers to that dimwitted Jessica Stanley. He hears what they call her, of course. He knows what they always call her.
He watches her as she stands up, dumps her tray full of untouched food, and shuffles like a zombie to her next class. He watches one thin, shaking hand (thinner than it was two weeks ago, he thinks with an irrational panic-) sweep a stand of hair behind her ear, tucking it forcefully into her messy plait. She hasn’t washed her hair in a while.
He watches her when she stands speechless in front of her vandalized locker for a long time. Just as he is about to go and make a show of just happening to walk by her on the way to his locker (just happened to forget a book, that’s what he’ll tell himself-), the bell rings and her trance is broken.
He sees her shock morph into rage as she sees Tyler Crowley wink at her.
Tyler’s mind is cruel and shallow, filled with glee at the obvious reaction he managed to get from the school outcast. He doesn’t seem to register the danger he is in until he sees Bella Swan launching all 90 pounds of herself straight at him.
He feels the pain of Tyler’s broken nose echo in his own mind, but he is so satisfied in hearing it crack under Bella’s fury that he doesn’t even flinch, not even in the middle of the shock he feels at seeing Bella Swan giving a 6-foot, 180-pound teenage boy the beating of his lifetime.
It isn’t until he hears that sound through Tyler’s mind and the minds of 30 other children that his body goes cold, something beyond the ice-cold temperature it already is.
He hears Bella’s animalistic shriek, full of pain and fury and grief.
He sees the class erupt into chaos like a car crash through Jessica Stanley’s eyes.
He sees students jumping from their seats and screaming as the short and frail Mr. Varner struggles to pull Bella off of Tyler--she’s exerting so much force in beating his face to a bloody pulp that the sudden wrenching movement throws her off balance and she falls backward hard— catching the side of her face on the edge of a desk.
She goes out cold.
He jumps up from his seat.
His chair clatters behind him, the only sound in a room suddenly full of 30 pairs of wary eyes and an irritated English teacher.
“Mr. Cullen?” Mr. Mason frowns, personally offended at being interrupted mid-sentence. “Do you mind finding your way back to your seat, so I can continue with my lecture?”
For the first time in a hundred years, he feels like he can’t breathe.
“I do mind, actually,” is all he can manage.
With that, he sweeps up his things and is out the door in the same second. Slightly too fast for human comfort but passable enough. He simply can’t be bothered with appearances at the moment.
Although the chess-club boy who sits next to him can’t seem to shut his stupid, gaping mouth.
Bella’s scream, as she broke the face of that mindless infant, haunts him.
He heard it once before, in the memories of a grief-weary Carlisle. How could he ever forget it?
(Bella, writhing on a hospital bed, burned halfway to hell.)
(“Miss Swan… I am so sorry. Your family did not make it.”)
(He would have to live another thousand years to understand the pain in the scream that followed.)
In the middle of his rush to the front office, he detours sharply.
A quick scan around the parking lot shows that the lot is mainly deserted. Students are still in their fourth period classes.
For reasons he doesn’t want to look at too closely, he slashes the four tires of Tyler Crowley’s dark blue SUV with a quick sweep of his fingernails.