In the two hundred-and-some-odd years I've been walking the earth, I had never been forced to attend any school. I grew up during a time when poor girls such as I just didn't go to school. In the years after my turning, I was far too busy dealing with hunting, feeding, hiding and struggling against the creature who turned me to really care much about arithmetic and reading. And when my life had finally calmed down and I achieved some semblance of peace, I decided that private tutoring would suit me more than attending any school with prey.
So now I was baffled as to how I had let myself be convinced to attend a tiny public high school in the nowhere town of Forks, Washington.
I mean, I can easily recall how Ana, my companion and something like a sister, argued with me over enrolling. I remember she mentioned something about reconnecting with humanity and making friends. As if a vampire could befriend a human.
“I'm not going to play around with humans,” I snapped, scoffing at the idea. “Humans hardly befriend chickens and cows, do they?”
“I knew a couple of humans that kept chickens as pets,” Ana said with a cheeky smile. I scowled at her as she relaxed in her big La-Z-Boy, her booted feet up on the oaken coffee table. “Just because we feed off humans doesn't mean we can't get along.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “I don't want to attend a silly human school,” I growled. “I can do so many better things with my time.”
Ana raised a well-shaped eyebrow at me, and even before she spoke, I knew what she was going to say. “You can do many better things with your time, but you don't. Apart from cleaning the house and checking on our blood supply, you just sit around and sulk.” She got to her feet at last and leapt to my side, moving faster than any mortal could even dream. She was almost a head taller than me, and she took my chin in her strong hand, making me look up into her almond-shaped crimson eyes. “I do worry about you, Bella. It seems like you're getting bored with life, and so soon.”
I moved my chin out of her hand and sighed. “I get it. You want me out and about, but why at a high school? Why can't I just get a job?” I shook my head. “And why, of all places on this planet, in this dinky town?”
Ana's thin lips just curved into her usual little grin that generally meant she was up to something mischievous. She never gave me any answers to my questions after that, and yet, here I was, in front of Forks High.
I shook my head at the recollection, gazing at the school that sprawled out in front of me. I glanced over the teenagers slowly meandering towards the buildings, meeting with friends, laughing, talking. It was the middle of winter, and everyone was bundled up for the cold and snow. I was too, but only so as to fit in. I didn't feel the chill in the air anymore. I could have stepped out in a bikini and felt fine, but I figure that would have attracted some weird looks.
I fell into step behind some kids, not rushing to get to my first class. I didn't see why Ana couldn't have waited until the new school year to enroll me in the school rather than in the middle of the term. It's not like I would look any older next September. It almost seemed like Ana had shoehorned me into this year's junior class as fast as possible. She was up to something, and I wondered what that could possibly be.
I was not unaware of the glances I was getting from the humans around me. In this tiny town, where everyone knew everyone, I was definitely the stranger. All these children probably grew up together, had known each other for all their short seventeen-or-so years. And out of the blue, in the middle of the school year, comes this new girl to make some ripples in this perfect little pond. I could almost hear the nervous thoughts in every head, wondering who I was, what I was like, if I would upset the balance of the school. Maybe I'd steal someone's boyfriend, or turn out to be a terrible influence on the freshman. Small towns like these were very close-knit and protective, distrusting outsiders and strangers.
I was certainly a novelty. I was supposed to be from Phoenix, Arizona (Ana's idea for a cover story, but who would believe I'd be from the desert with my pale skin?), an exotic land of cacti and actual sunshine. I glanced up at the clouded sky. I could see one reason why Ana may have picked this place for me to mingle with humans. It rained for most of the year, and when it didn’t it snowed. That meant no sun to shine on my skin. Otherwise I'd start sparkling like a disco ball, and I'd have a lot of trouble on my hands if any mortals saw me.
I stepped up a small flight of outdoor steps, careful not to slip on the snow and ice that had settled there. In my mortal life, I had been clumsy and accident-prone, and that flight of stairs would probably have been enough to take me down for a little while. Evidently being turned vampire had improved my sense of balance, and now I was as graceful as a ballerina, or other something else equally silly.
“Hey, new girl!” I heard someone call behind me, and I figured that was meant for me. I fought the urge to ignore the call – Ana did want me to make friends, after all – and turned around, glancing for the source of the call. My gaze was drawn to a tall boy with shaggy blond hair and eager blue eyes waving over to me with a gloved hand. He stood by one of the school's buildings with two other girls. Even from the distance of about twenty feet, I could see the fine details of his boyish face.
I approached the threesome, forcing myself to smile politely at the children. Though we all looked the same age, it was hard for me not to consider these three children – I was, after all, probably twice as old as their grandparents.
“Hey,” the boy said in greeting with a friendly grin. He reminded me of those really nice but kind of unsettling boys on old TV shows from the 1950s and '60s, the type to say “Golly!” and “Isn't that swell?”
“I'm Mike Newton, and this is Jessica and Angela,” he announced and vaguely gestured to his female companions, not bothering to really specify which girl was which. I noticed they both were looking at me with apprehension, and I felt a bit like the wild animal they got to see up close.
I nodded at Mike, my smile unwavering. It had been quite a while since I had negotiated making new acquaintances, and I felt the words coming out of my mouth were someone else’s. “Nice to meet you,” I said with acceptable politeness. “I'm Bella. Bella Swan--” Before I could finish saying my current last name (I had had many over the centuries), a horrid and jarring ringing sound came from the halls of the school. I nearly jumped out of my skin at the sound, but the children in front of me seemed completely unfazed. They did, however, seem to automatically turn toward the school doors, as if they were conditioned to do so.
“Do you need help finding your first class?” Mike asked me as his female friends began to walk away.
I bit down on my tongue before I gave him the terse and snappy “No, thank you” that threatened to leave my lips, remembering once again my promise to Ana. “That would be nice, thank you,” I told Mike, and my voice still sounded strange in my ears, like it was obvious I was trying to fake my friendly tone. I could only hope I was imagining it, but from the dark look one of the girls shot at me, I felt my hopes were in vain.
Still, Mike seemed infinitely happy to lead me to my first class. He chatted the whole time we walked together, though I honestly couldn't remember whatever it was he was saying. As we entered a hall and began to weave around bodies, I became increasingly distracted by the smell of human.
I could almost see the supplies healthy blood pumping through veins on necks as I passed by them, and I could feel my teeth shifting in my mouth. I hadn't fed that morning, and my body was eager to feed now. Because of my diet, my eyes tended to be a bright red. This was hardly a natural human eye color, though, and Ana had forbade me to feed that morning before school, so that now my eyes seemed to look darker and closer to a more natural brown in the right kind of light.
Being a vampire in the human world was incredibly inconvenient and uncomfortable. I wanted to get away from it as soon as I possibly could, but I was still looking at several hours of this torture ahead of me and with no way out. I did have to admit, though, that it was marginally more exciting than staying home where the hours bled into days which blurred into weeks, and months would fall by without my even noticing.
That thought immediately reversed itself the moment I stepped into my first class, a literature class. The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming scent of people – and young people, at that. Teenagers had all sorts of chemical and hormonal changes coursing through them, making their scents more pungent than that of adults. And I was to be trapped with thirty of them in a small room for an hour, with hunger pains cramping in my stomach.
It was too much, and I made myself stop breathing. It's not like I needed oxygen to go through my body anymore, but breathing regularly allows me to smell the environment. This was very helpful if I were outside, where I may find prey or sense some kind of impending danger. In this warm classroom, though, with thirty warm bodies giving off thirty delicious scents, it was best I just didn't take anything in.
With the distraction of human fluids out of my way, I could more easily focus on what was going on. To my dismay, that wasn't much. The instructor was droning on about some novel which I had not heard of, although apparently it was some sort of classic from the twentieth century. Some kids tried to talk to me – let's try to get to know the exotic new girl! - but I have to admit, I mostly ignored them. They all asked me the same tiresome questions, the answers to which I was exhausted of answering after the third time.
This same situation was repeated three more times before there was a lunch break. Ana even packed me an adorable little sack lunch for me to gnaw on so that I wouldn't seem weird not eating. Vampires could eat, after all, but there was no point to it. We no longer needed the nourishment such food provided. Some younger vampires would still eat out of habit or to pursue some memory of mortal pleasure, but quickly realize that food no longer seemed as desirable in comparison to the sweetness of human blood.
All I could think of was that I wanted to pull some poor random kid into a darkened classroom and suck him dry. Or, alternatively, go home and sink my teeth into a nice, cool bag of blood. Certainly not make a show of eating a ham sandwich and a green apple.
So I didn't. Instead, I headed to the library, where I might find myself a place of quiet solitude.
There were children in there, of course: children on computers, children at tables, eating (even in the library! What kind of place allows that?), children sitting in the narrow aisles of the bookshelves, reading, probably not caring that people may want to get past them. But, even with all this chaos, the library was still relatively quiet. Occasionally there'd be a quiet chuckle or hushed word exchanged between friends, but it was peaceful enough. I found myself a small, empty table, dropped down into a chair and pretended to read one of the three magazines I found on it until the bell rang.
When I walked into my fifth class directly after lunch, I was asking myself why I didn't just leave. After all, what consequences would there be to my leaving? I'd get detention? Ana would bug me until the end of time? Surely there were worse fates.
Still I found myself shuffling to this next class, my mind utterly blank. It was a biology class, and that was not something that I had learned much of, even in my long life. I was aware of general knowledge—I could even remember when Charles Darwin had first published his evolution theory—but I had never been educated in the finer ideas of the hard sciences.
I dropped down into my assigned seat. I glanced about the room, noting that this room was much different than the other classrooms. It looked more like a science room, with wide, black tables filling the open space. On each table sat a covered microscope, and I have to admit, I felt a small tinge of excitement as getting the chance to use one. Then I reminded myself that these microscopes were probably of poor quality and as old as I was, and my excitement faded back into the void of my silent mind.
I did notice a few children in this class who were in other classes. I recognized Mike, the puppy-like boy who had greeted me this morning, and he grinned over at me the moment he saw me looking at him. I forced myself to return the smile and quickly turned away. I could tell he found me attractive, and I didn't need him pursuing me. I was certainly not going to have a relationship with a mortal!
I focused on pulling my biology textbook out of my backpack – a bright pink, flimsy article that Ana had purchased for me the previous week, much to my dismay – and as I waited for class to begin, I flipped through the pages, glancing at diagrams and photos of various scientific concepts. I was struck with how ironic it would be for me, a creature frozen and unchanging for two hundred years, to study the science of the living.
Beside me, the chair pulled out and a student slid in, dropping his green backpack on the floor between us. I glanced over at him, noting it wasn't anyone I had seen in any of my classes yet – or at least, no one I had noticed. He wasn't anything special to look at – he was tall, a little overweight, his face covered in pimples and eyes covered with glasses.
“Hello,” he said to me quietly, and I could tell he was sizing me up. I returned the greeting almost mechanically. “You must be Bella Swan.”
“Bella Swanson,” I corrected, figuring Mike must have been talking about me to everyone who would listen. The kid only nodded and looked toward the front of the class, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He said nothing more: no introduction, no inquiry as to my background. Perhaps my tone was icier than I had realized, yet I found myself grow irritated with his lack of response. I clenched my jaw and stared at the teacher as he began to lecture, trying to quash my irritation.
My final class was gym, and that was the most difficult class of all. Besides having to undress in a public locker room, I was forced to carefully play volleyball with several other humans. After all, if I were to play with my full vampire strength, I could easily kill a few people by simply hitting the ball to them. So instead, I could only lightly tap the ball over the net, or purposely missed it altogether. The warm-up run was more like a power walk for me. And, once again, people wanted to talk to me.
I was so relieved when the final bell rang. I didn't stop for anyone who looked like they wanted to talk to me. I made a bee line for my car, a modest little sedan I had bought some years back, and peeled out of the parking lot like my house was on fire. I'm sure that attracted some undue attention, but I didn't care. I was out of school, and I resolved never to go back to that nightmare.