I shifted again, pencil tapping against my leg, Mr. Varner's voice, young and a little uncertain, echoing from the front of the class. But he wasn't the reason for my unease. No, it was the boy sitting directly behind me that had me unsettled, like a bad omen, or maybe a bad thought.
Edward Cullen. The new student. Perfectly polite, perfectly attentive, and quite the talk amongst the girls giggling in front of me. An odd guy, but not someone whose presence I would find so ominous, if it weren't for Billy's voice running through my head like a broken record.
"Charlie, listen to me. You have to stay away from them. The Cullens―they're not all they seem." It had been a demand dealt in its flattest form.
More than his words, it was the way his face had been drained of all expression, the planes of his face flat with jagged edges. And an anger that burned in his eyes so terrible, I couldn't help but doubt the snarky remark I'd said in turn.
"Quit trying to freak me out, Billy. What have you been smoking?" My attempt to lighten the mood had only served to piss Billy off. And although I had mostly ignored his prejudiced warning, a single day attending school with the Cullen siblings had me second guessing myself.
There was something about them―something abnormal.
I jolted, knee slamming painfully against my desk. I hissed, cursing below my breath.
"Are you quite alright?"
I nearly toppled from my seat at the sight of Cullen looming beside my chair.
"Shit―no. I'm fine." I scrambled to my feet, as though that would somehow dispel the feeling of unease, and nearly stumbled. I gripped the back of my seat and straightened. I'd shot up nearly a foot over summer, but even at my lanky height, Cullen still held an inch or two above me.
"If you're sure," he smiled a bland, polite smile. "I'm Edward Cullen. My family and I just moved here over the summer."
"Oh, that's nice man. I'm Charlie." I couldn't fathom why he was talking to me. From what I'd heard, they'd kept everyone at a distance all day. Behind him, the girls who'd been giggling earlier, were now turned in their seats, watching us closely with open fascination.
"A pleasure." Suddenly, he dropped his voice and murmured, "Listen, it hasn't been an easy transition for my sister and I. I hope you'll be a friendly face around here?"
It was definitely an odd way of asking to be friends. Even stranger, was the lack of uncertainty that a new student like him would carry. For someone who claimed to be struggling, he was weirdly confident. And from what little I'd seen of him today, that had been the case all day.
"Would that be alright?" he asked again. I observed the way his pleasant smile softened into something warmer and a little more believable.
"Sure, I guess." I could feel the echo of Billy's warning settling on me with a leadened weight.
"Edward, are you ready to go?" a high, chiming voice called from across the classroom and drew nearer. "Oh! Who's your new friend?"
The other Cullen―a tiny, fairy-sized girl who barely surpassed my elbow. Unbelievably gorgeous, and to quote some of the girls, unjustly petite. If she weren't so distracting, I would've likely spent more time wondering why the hell my classmates were still lingering, instead of rushing from campus, as was the norm.
"This is Charlie Swan," Cullen took the liberty of introducing me, even though I was positive I'd made no mention of my last name. Then again, in a town this small, it's unlikely he hadn't already known who I was beforehand. "Charlie, this is my sister, Alice."
"Hello, Charlie! It's a pleasure to meet you," she smiled brightly.
For one, blissful second, I became dazed.
Until I realized they were both staring at me expectantly. I flushed a bright, splotchy red. "Um, hey," I managed lamely, and the sight of their identical grimaces had me burning with humiliation so intense, it felt like nausea.
I ducked my head before I could get caught up in Alice's stunning smile again, leaned over to haul my backpack onto my shoulder, and began to head from the classroom, pushing around my loitering classmates.
By now, the halls were nearly deserted, which was how the Cullen siblings were able to easily sandwich me between them.
"You're in a hurry! Are you going somewhere?" Alice piped up, somehow easily keeping up with my long strides without losing breath. I slowed down regardless,
"Uh, I'm not sure, actually," I admitted, and her concerned eyes somehow caused me to spill my guts. "My friend was supposed to pick me up, but we had a bit of a disagreement last time we hung out."
After working his ass off all summer, Billy had finally been able to buy the truck he'd wanted for so long and restore it to its full worth. Since the school on the reservation let out an hour earlier than mine, the plan had been to come pick me up―make a show of it.
"What about?" she pressed.
"Well, about―" The biting air hit my face the moment we stepped through the doors, and the sight of a gleaming, red truck shocked me into necessary silence. Well, about you, was what I had been going to say, until I locked eyes with Billy's horrified gaze.
I turned and took a stumbling step back. "Um, never mind. Looks like he's here. Gotta go, bye!" I nearly face-planted, but somehow managed to keep my feet underneath me until I reached Billy's side.
"Not here," I hissed, shoving him towards the driver's side.
The admiring gazes of the other students on Billy's truck were completely lost to him. Instead, he drilled holes into me until he made sure I was climbing into the passenger side.
Near reckless, Billy sped from the parking lot, face twisted with fury.
"I'm going to kill them."
I turned to face him, a rebuke on the tip of my tongue, until I noticed just how much his terracotta-brown skin had paled. And I finally realized the emotion hidden beneath Billy's anger and hate.
It was fear. Billy was afraid.
"What's going on?"
He glanced towards me, face stone-like. "I can't tell you," he spat, "But you should already know."
Admittedly, Billy was starting to scare me a little. But more than that, I was aggravated. Why on earth did the Cullens elicit this sort of reaction from Billy?
Billy, who was normally so fun and easygoing, was now anything but.
We suddenly screeched to a stop and I realized we hadn't been heading to the reservation at all. Instead, Billy was dropping me off at my house.
"Look, just think about it! Remember when we were kids―all those bonfires we used to go to?"
I stared, baffled. "...Um, yeah, the ones I technically wasn't supposed to attend," I faintly recalled. Billy and I had thought we'd been pretty sneaky about it. It wasn't until we were older and the elders had put a stop to it, that we realized we hadn't been sneaky at all.
"The legends. Remember the legends," he urged me. "I need to go talk with dad. Think about it. I'll come pick you up later."
"Uh, sure okay…"
As soon as I'd slid from the passenger seat and shut the door behind me, Billy sped off.
I lingered by the road, feeling off-kilter, before finally making the trek across the driveway and up the steps. "Mom, I'm home," I called as soon as I'd stepped through the door.
"In the kitchen," she shouted.
I dropped my bag and hung my parka, before following the sound of her voice. I found her seated at the kitchen table, mail scattered before her and wire-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. "Hi honey, how was your day?"
I dropped into the seat across from her. "Uh, that's a good question… Billy has been acting a little strange."
She tutted, "Oh, I hope it has nothing to do with the new family in town."
I shot up in my seat. "You know about that too?"
"Well, yes," she said, lips twisted in a perplexed frown. "Judith and Molly have been quite adamant in their dislike any time I mention the good doctor."
"Wait, that's the guy you always bring up?"
"That 'guy's' name is Dr. Cullen―please show some respect," she shot me a quelling look and removed her reading glasses. "Unfortunately, they're quite set in their judgement, although it seems William and your Uncle Quil are the ones behind their superstitions."
I couldn't help but lean closer. "What kind of superstitions?" Unintentionally, my voice dropped to a whisper.
But mom wasn't the least bit phased. "None of that in this house, Charles."
I grumbled, but knew better than to press her. Instead, I slouched back and watched as she shuffled all the opened mail back into a neat stack. "I'm taking a volunteer shift for the next few hours, but I should be finished in time for dinner. We'll be going to your Aunt Molly's, so I expect you to be here once I'm done," she said, pushing herself to her feet.
"Oh, is dad taking you?"
Mom huffed. "He should be… Geoffrey, are you quite done in there?" she called, pitching her voice in the direction of the family room.
"Almost done with episode four!" dad shouted back distractedly.
I snickered. "What's he watching?"
"They're rerunning that show they released earlier this year―hitchhiker-something?"
I perked up. "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?"
"Oh no, you don't! I've already lost your father to that blasted television," mom sniffed, making her way to the front hall. "Come along, Charlie. I'm already late as it is!"
I heaved a sigh. "Coming!"
Mom hated driving, and ever since I'd gotten my license last fall, she'd been using me as her personal chauffeur.
I went and picked up the keys and my parka, before following her out. It had started drizzling once more, so I hurriedly let her into the car.
"You're volunteering in the children's ward again?" I asked idly, once we began the short drive to Forks General.
"Oh yes," she gushed quietly as she began chatting about the little tykes. Once she got going like this, I wasn't forced to contribute much, other than the occasional nod to show her I was listening. It was rare that I ever interrupted her, but it seemed that no matter what I did today, I couldn't escape a single mention of the infamous Cullens.
"―I'm hoping I'll meet her soon. It seems I always just miss her at the hospital," she lamented, in reference to the doctor's wife.
I frowned. Although Billy's attitude made me more curious and frustrated than afraid, I would rather keep my mom far from them until I could decide for myself if Billy's fear had any merit.
Which would be annoyingly difficult, considering mom had been volunteering at the hospital ever since she'd retired from her nursing career. It would be next to impossible to keep her away from that place.
"Maybe she just doesn't like hospitals," I pointed out, hoping she would drop whatever intentions she had of meeting Mrs. Cullen.
"Yes, Dr. Cullen did say something along those lines," she sighed. "But one quick chat isn't so much to ask for, I think. At least, to thank her for all her hard work."
I hummed in reply and slid the car into a parking spot near the main entrance. "I'll walk you," I offered.
"Thanks, sweetheart!" she beamed, "Maybe you'd like to stay and chat with some of the kiddos."
I had a feeling I'd be volunteering more often in the near future.
Despite her hurry, it was easy to keep up with her short strides. Which was fortunate. If I had to walk any faster, I wasn't sure I could keep myself upright. Although I had a near miss when the elevator reached the children's ward, and we stepped out to meet who I knew, at a single glance, was Dr. Cullen.
The resemblance was uncanny.
"Dr. Cullen, don't tell me I missed your wife again," mom tutted, stepping forward to meet the doctor halfway.
"Oh, not at all. Esme was busy meeting one of her clients today, so she was unable to stop by," Dr. Cullen cast a soft, charming smile that had my mom turning red in the cheeks.
"But I see you still have today's treats!"
Mom carefully moved to retrieve a wide, glass container brimming with brightly decorated cookies and brownies from his arms.
"Yes! And I noticed you wrangled in another volunteer," Dr. Cullen chuckled, observing me curiously.
Something about his gaze felt premeditated, as though he'd expected my appearance.
"Yes! This is my son, Charlie. I believe I've mentioned him before."
"So you have. It's a pleasure to meet you, Charlie," Dr. Cullen held out a hand towards me.
I carefully grasped his hand and nearly flinched at the ice-cold temperature, hairs on the back of my arm standing on end. "Hi, Dr. Cullen." I quickly withdrew my hand.
"We'll be out of your way now! Send Esme my regards!" mom chirped, before heading further down the hall, likely expecting me to follow after her.
I stayed rooted to my spot, eyes locked with Dr. Cullen's alien eyes.
"Is there something I can do for you, Charlie?" His voice was soft with understanding. Understanding of what, I had no idea.
I stared for a second longer, knowing Billy would likely blow a gasket if he knew what I was up to.
"Sure," I finally released a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding. "We need to talk."