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Civil Twilight

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This was not how life was supposed to go. Kids are supposed to outlive their parents but not by so many years. End of sophomore year of high school and I found myself planning a funeral. Well, Charlie is taking care of everything. My parents have been separated so long that I'll have to get used to calling him Dad again. Renee and Phillis have been married four years and their marriage lasted longer than Charlie's. Had been married.

And now my mom and step-mom are both gone. Died stopped at a traffic light when a drunk driver hit them full on. The funeral was full of people I barely met. All wanting to tell me how sorry they are and some intimate story or what a terrible loss it is to lose both of them so suddenly. All my friends and classmates don't know how to talk to me anymore. Not like I had many friends to begin with. I feel numb. The center of attention for all the wrong reasons.

It took a month to close down the house and for Charlie to get things out or in storage. I feel grateful that he gave me so much space to cry things out. I didn't want to talk through it yet. We both just did the work to get us moved out. Me, moved out.

The road trip from Arizona to Washington state was awkward to say the least. Seeing him on vacations and holidays is not the same as suddenly being thrown in together. Neither of us was what anyone would call verbose and I didn’t exactly know how to describe my feelings. I do believe I got that from Charlie. But the silence became companionable after about a state. Another whole state where I silently cried with my head pressed against them glass, staring out the window. The rest stop where we bought every single item in the vending machine and bonded over road trip junk food that I don't normally eat but secretly love.

"I had some friends eat the food that I left in the fridge so we wouldn't come home to a smell. We'll have to go shopping tomorrow. Hopefully they left us with enough for breakfast." Charlie said over the last couple of miles.

I had been staring at and judging my reflection in the side mirror for the last ten miles. My curly dark brown hair, now in tangles from the road trip, blurred into the trees as they whirled by. I looked too pale, a ghost in the dim light of the street lamps. The circles around my eyes are too dark, still puffy from crying and lack of sleep. When dad spoke, I refocused my eyes to actually notice the landmarks we were passing by.

"It's weird coming into town from this direction. I usually come in from the airport."

Charlie took in a deep breath and let out a sigh. "...yeah." He sounded tired. I should have been talking to him more on the drive to help him stay awake.

"It feels like any other summer when I come to visit. I haven't wrapped my head around it yet. Coming here knowing that I won't be leaving at the end of the summer.”

"I know, sweetie... It's going to be a lot to get used to. It's never going to be the same but we just have to keep... going,” Charlie said with lots of long pauses.

Charlie’s buddy must have left the porch light on for us. As we pulled into the drive near midnight, it lit the short walkway to the house. I had always thought it was weird that the front door was actually useful. Mom’s house has a side door off of the kitchen and the front door was only used for Halloween trick-or-treaters. Charlie’s house, my childhood house and now my new home was a two story, three bed, two bath, two acre that he bought with mom in the early days of their marriage. The outside was a pale yellow that mom said was a good luck charm for sunny days. But the sun only existed for a few months in the summer in this region. The town of Forks is situated right in between the ocean and a mountain on a peninsula that is classified as rain forest.

“Let's take the plants in and the essentials and leave the rest for the morning. I’ll need to take the trailer to the rental place in the afternoon,” said Charlie as we got out of the truck.

I grabbed a bag from the back and my favorite cactus plant and went up to my room. The walls were the same baby blue from when this was a nursery. Wooden floors with a homemade, braided rug by the side of the bed. Garish yellow curtains covered the two north facing windows currently showing utter darkness of the backyard. No more city lights or city noise.

I went back down to the kitchen to say goodnight to Charlie. He was standing in front of the fridge reading a note.

Charlie looked up as I went to the sink and got a cup of water. “Bill and Jaclyn Black restocked our fridge for us. And they left you a bouquet of flowers.”

Examining the vase on the small kitchen table, “These ones are not from the car? That’s too sweet. They didn’t have to do that.” I’m not used to people going so out of their way to take care of me.

“I think they want to make sure you feel welcome and settle in okay. They invited us to go fishing next weekend up near their farmhouse,” said Charlie as he examined the fridge.

“You missed the big reunion fishing trip, didn’t you?” I said, feeling guilty. Not a new feeling this past month.

“I guess everyone pitched in for the shopping trip. There’s a fish frozen in the freezer. I know fishing is not your thing but do you want to tag along anyway and see Jaclyn?” He said, looking hopeful. For the last two summer vacations, Charlie visited me in Phoenix and I lost touch with my old childhood friends here. Long distance doesn’t work out well when you’re in high school.

“Yeah why not. I can read on the dock or something. Go swimming and scare all the fish towards your boat. In the meantime, I am heading to bed. Goodnight dad,” I said with a big yawn.

“Good night Bella.”

Chapter Text

Charlie ended up unloading most of the trailer himself in the morning as I slept in. I offered him coffee as I walked out to see most of the boxes stacked in the garage already. I warmed my hands with my mug, the cream making clouds that matched the gloomy sky.

“I was just coming out to help. You could have woke me up earlier.”

“Coffee is helping. And you need more sleep anyway. There is still the back of the truck to do. I think the boxes with your blankets are in there,” he said as he signed into the first sips of the coffee I handed him. “Actually, we need to talk about the car situation.”

“Because I'll need something to get to school next month…” The public transit wasn’t as robust as what I was used to.

“The Blacks have a truck they have been trying to get rid of. Oh don’t make that face.”

“If they are trying to get rid of it, how well does it run? I wouldn’t know what to do if it breaks down. With everything, I was actually thinking of biking to school instead.”

“In the rain? These roads ain't the most bike friendly. It actually works fine and it's practically a tank so you will be perfectly safe. Worst case scenario, you can call triple AAA.” Charlie had clearly been thinking about this all morning and was talking faster than he normally did. “We can check it out next weekend.”

“I will begrudgingly oblige,” I said after a long sip of coffee.

I kept myself busy unpacking all week and my mind occupied with overly loud music while I worked. Some of my Arizona friends made a Spotify playlist for me and the bulk of it was stuff that I don’t normally listen to. Dad went back to work on monday while I squirreled myself away at home with no car to get anywhere. Police Chief Zwaan drove a cruiser during the day but he still needed a car to get to work and I didn’t feel like waking up at five am to drive him just so I had wheels. I didn’t feel exactly ready to see people in public yet. Small towns had the habit of gossiping and I was fairly sure everyone already knew about my reasons for moving here. It doesn’t help that my eyes are red from all my crying. To say the least, I feel self conscious of my puffy state.

Saturday morning dad and I drove up to a small lake in the foothills. We were sharing a thermos of coffee on the dock when the unmistakable sound of a very loud old truck drove up to park next to ours, disturbing the still sounds on the early morning water.

Staring incredulously, “You didn’t mention it was an antique.” It was a faded red color with big, rounded fenders and a bulbous cab. One of those solid iron affairs that never gets damaged in an accident.

Jaclyn bounded out of the car to give me a big hug. With morning person enthusiasm, “I am so glad to see you again! It’s been, what, three years?” Her bright smile showed so much in her eyes, it was hard not to like her. My childhood best friend whom time and distance and my parents divorce separated from me . And in that time apart, Jacob, the little boy I used to make sandcastles with at the beach became Jackyln. She now stood before me in cute overall cut-offs over a neon sports bra.

“It’s been awhile, yeah. Thank you for stocking the fridge. It was nice not having to worry about shopping on top of the move."

"My pleasure. The twins and I ate through what Charlie left anyway, so it was only fair." She beamed at me.

"How have you been?"

“Oh fine. Same old same old. Nothing much happens here," she said nonchalantly. "My brothers both graduated last year. One of them is starting at Washington State in the fall and the other twin is planning to take a year off to travel and go camping throughout canada. So it's soon to be quieter at home. How are you holding up?” She asked while pouring herself a cup of coffee from our thermos.

My mom and step mom both died and I just had to move cross country to a state where the sun shines twice a year to live with a dad I hardly know-Im fine...it's fine...

“I’m... unpacking,” I dodged. I am not ready to answer ‘how are you’ questions directly at the moment. I covered my moment of hesitancy by re-tying my hair, swooping it back into a ponytail. “It’s going to take me a minute to figure out how to arrange everything into the house. We are getting a storage unit and luckily there is an extra room that dad was using as an office.”

Charlie and Bill were currently arranging gear into a small boat. We saw them off at the dock and settled on blankets to read.

“Well, I’m glad that you are interested in the old truck. The thing is great but we got another truck that gets better mileage and there was no more room in the garage.” She saw me wince at the mention of its mileage. “It’s reliable! It's just a bit slow.”

“I don’t mind slow,” I said, defending it. I guess ‘the thing’ was already growing on me. “I do like antiques.”

"I wanna go fast. Dad is gonna let me get a motorcycle. Gotta take a second test for the license for that though."

"Charlie would kill me if he ever saw me on a motorcycle... I've been more anxious driving lately as it is." That said, after lunch we went for a test drive. It was a wider car than what I was used to but I could definitely see myself in it. Its solid construction and slowness felt comforting. "So if I'm taking this home how are you getting back to the farm?"

"So you'll take it then?" She asked excitedly. I didn't take my eyes off the road but I could tell in her voice that she had a huge grin.

"It's growing on me," retaining the smaller. "Parallel parking is going to be a bitch but I can avoid that for a while in a small town like Forks." And then losing the smile as I thought of something. "I just realized that I can’t share big news like this with mom anymore. I was arranging a text to mom in my head… How do you deal with all this? When does this feeling go away?"

Jaclyn was quiet for a minute, as we drove up to park next to Charlie's truck again. "My mom died when I was really little. I was an angry and confused kid for awhile... And you lost two moms at once, even if Phillis was only your mom for a little while. Those kinds of thoughts never really go away but the pain that happens with it does get...less. It's cliche, but it does just take time. And just… Keep doing things that make you happy." Her eyebrows knitted together in thought. "The things that made you happy before, that remind you of the good times with them might hurt, but they will make you happy again."

Like the tea that is now in storage or the garden that I left behind in Phoenix. All the things that sold in the estate sale because we wouldn’t have room for them here.

For the rest of the day, we talked about non-consequential things. We attempted to go for a swim in the chilly mountain lake and went for a small hike, but I couldn't keep up with Jaclyn's boundless energy and longer legs. It was warm out with rolling clouds but the temperature was mild compared to Arizona. For someone more used to the desert sun, I felt pale in comparison to Jackyln’s farm-girl tan.

Sadly, it turns out that Jacyln won’t be going to the same school as me like I previously thought. She lives closer to a different town by way of mountain roads so I’ll be going into Junior year knowing no one. It is nice hanging out with someone who understands what I am going through. We made a date to go back-to-school shopping together, with a promise to try to hang out more. She works on her family’s sheep farm and with her brothers leaving and her dad’s bad leg, she and her cousins would be doing a lot more of the work.

The rest of the summer was rough. I spent a lot of time ignoring my feelings by reading and keeping busy. Putting myself to tasks around the house with no real reason behind them: moving some boxes into storage, reorganizing the pantry, going through my backstock of books. Removing everything from my room and repainting so it no longer looked like a nursery. Jackyln helped me paint and redecorate with the assistance of the Hamilton soundtrack, bad movies, and chocolate.

Charlie had to catch up with things at work after being away, so he was fairly busy. I discovered that he is a great cook but only on a small range of dishes. Namely, eggs, steak and potatoes...and pizza. I actually did miss his homemade pizza. It’s not adventurous but it is reliably good. On the other hand, it is now my secret task to feed him some more vegetables, so I took over the task of grocery shopping. It’s one of those errands that got me out of the house and around other people with just enough fake, surface interactions to make me feel vaguely human again.

School started sooner than I thought linear time should allow. And with it, overcast skies. I tried to partake in sunshine while I could, but I still ended the summer too pale for someone used to Arizona heat.

Thinking ahead to the constant drizzle, dad gave me a present that was actually the most thoughtful gift anyone has given me. Telling me “I’m a weirdo who likes dry heat,” in the most loving way possible, he remodeled his old shed to be a sauna. It was actually half greenhouse, remodeled for mom during their marriage, so an angled glass wall fills one side, now benefiting my small collection of cactuses. It took him several consecutive weekends and evenings to refit it and I think he canceled on several more fishing trips. He might not be able to express his emotions to me with words but he very easily shows how glad he is to have me living here with his actions.

Chapter Text

Thick fog was all I could see out the window in the morning, and I could feel the claustrophobia creeping up on me. The cloud cover on overcast days is always so low, it feels like a padded room. I missed the open blue skies and dry air of the desert. The trees grow so dense here, with moss growing over every available surface, it seems like a filter of green over my eyes. I thought of the scene from the Wizard of Oz where the guard straps green glasses on anyone who enters the Emerald City.

Breakfast with Charlie was a quiet event. He wished me good luck at school with a new travel mug full of coffee. I was personally pessimistic about the subject of my luck. Charlie left first, off to the police station. After he left, I sat at the old round oak table in one of the three unmatching chairs, eating cereal and examined the small kitchen, with its dark paneled walls, bright yellow cabinets, and off-white linoleum floor. Charlie hadn’t changed any of the decor around the house since I was a kid. Over the small fireplace in the adjoining handkerchief-sized living room was a row of pictures of me at various ages. School pictures and vacation photos that were embarrassing to look at. I'm glad I grew out of my cubby cheeks phase of elementary school. And grew out my hair again from the unflattering pixie-cut of middle school. Some of the pictures of mom I put up recently. My favorite photo is of her, Phillis, and I at a sunny campground, three sunburnt brunettes with no idea how to build our borrowed tent. Today is another ‘first’ I won’t be able to share with them. I wondered if Charlie had any serious relationships over the years but if he did he never told me. There were hardly any pictures of him, besides a selfie with a freshly caught fish. I hope that he finds someone that makes him happy.

I didn’t want to be too early for school but I couldn’t stay in the house anymore. I donned my jacket and headed out into the rain. I’m not sure it could even be considered rain, more like a fog that clings and I was naive to think that an umbrella would be of any use at all here. My hair doesn't frizz in the rain but clings awkwardly to my jacket if I leave it down so my new default is twisting it into a loose bun and taking it down for longer bouts inside or else it will never dry. All the humidity made my hair wavy compared to the curls that I was used to dealing with. I made a mental note to buy a better rain jacket because most of my Arizona gear will be too permeable for the Pacific Northwest. Inside the truck was nice and dry. The heating worked but the thing had no air conditioning, which honestly wouldn’t be a problem.

First days of school are supposed to be easy. Being the new kid in a small town means I am suddenly the center of attention. Forks High School had a frightening total of four hundred and fifty-seven students; there were twice that in my class alone back home. And these are going to be kids that I probably went to early elementary school with and no longer remember. I don’t relate well to people my age. Maybe the truth is that I don’t relate well to people, period. Even my mother, who I was closer to more than anyone else, was never on exactly the same page as me. Sometimes I wondered if I was seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world was seeing through theirs.

The school was just off of the highway, like most other places in this town, and wasn’t a difficult drive. The school was one of those box-structure buildings that are often haisitly and cheaply built for schools. It had a painted wood sign near its parking lot that declared it to be the school and a vinyl banner hanging off its maroon-colored brick walls, welcoming back its students.

Well, I thought, at least there are no chain link fences and metal detectors.

I parked near the front of the building near the entrance that seemed most likely to have the office. It also helped that it was labeled Front Office. Though there were not many cars around yet, I could already tell that my old Chevy was not going to stand out in the mix. I stepped unwillingly out of the toasty cab and walked down the little sidewalk lined with dark hedges and ferns to the office. I took a deep breath before opening the door.

Inside was brightly lit in typical fluorescent and had orange-flecked commercial carpet. Notices and brightly colored flyers were filling the cork boards. I appreciated the sign that free tampons and feminine napkins could be obtained at the desk. The long counter was mostly empty except for wire baskets with stacks of paper and permission slips.

“Can I help you?” Asked the red-haired lady behind one of the office desks.

“HI. I’m Isabella Zwaan,” I said, seeing the immediate awareness in her eyes. “I was emailed my class schedule and was able to log onto Blackboard and all that but I could use a map of the school.” I felt like I was talking too fast though I really didn’t have a need to explain myself.

“Right. You are our new Junior. It’s very nice to meet you. I actually went to school with your mom and dad. It broke my heart to hear about your mom.”

“Thank you.” I really don’t want to have this conversation please just tell me where my classes are.

“I have a welcome packet for you,” she said after a pause where she tugged a folder out of a precariously stacked pile of documents on her desk. “There’s a map in there and some forms to fill out. If you are under 18, your dad will have to sign a few. You can return them any time this week. Do you have any questions about the schedule? I believe you are placed in senior anatomy since you were in an advanced class at your old school. We unfortunately can’t advance you in english due to requirement issues.”

“I saw that, that will be fine. I already looked up all the syllabi that were posted on Blackboard,” I shrugged it off as I flipped through the folder that she handed me. There was also a bumper sticker for ‘proud parents.’ I was personally disappointed that the mascot was an overplayed wildcat instead of a witty anthroportic fork.

She smiled at me, hoped that I would like it here in Forks and that I had a good first day. I smiled back as convincingly as I could.

I left the office eating a Hersey’s Kiss from the bowl on the counter and tried to orient myself on the map. I was already going to be the new kid but I didn’t have to be the lost new kid stereotype. I stuffed the folder in my bag, slung the strap over my shoulder and took in a slow deep breath.

I can do this, I lied to myself feebly. Class orientation bullshit only happens once, people will stop gossiping about me eventually. I can get through this week.

I kept my face pulled back into my hood as I walked up the sidewalk, now crowded with other students, to the main entrance. Apparently the school was three buildings connected by covered walkways. That mostly seemed to mean that water tracked everywhere in the main hallways, making everyones’ boots squeak on the waxed linoleum floors. With kids turning to greet each other after the summer break and the sound echoing off of the walls, it sounded like a flock of chatting birds.

I felt my breathing gradually creep towards hyperventilation as I approached my english classroom door. I tried calming my breath as I followed two unisex raincoats through the door. The classroom was small and I made a bee line to an open desk in the back. It was harder for my new classmates to stare at me in this location, but somehow, they managed it. I kept my eyes on the reading list that Mr. Mason had just handed me. All of it was already posted on the online classroom page but I could still pretend to read it. I had read everything on the reading list already which was comforting but … boring. I couldn’t advance to the senior class because of some dumb creative writing section.

Mr. Mason, as predicted, started the class by taking roll-call. Going through the names, students said a little about their summer. I was trying to remember names as they went but I was simultaneously dreading my turn. Mr. Mason gave a long pause before saying my name, I wondered if he recognized it.

“It’s pronounced Zw-haan, like the bird, except with a ‘z’,” trying to make my voice carry from the back of the class. “I go by Bella. She/her. I just moved to Forks this summer.” I did not elaborate and the teacher welcomed me and moved on to the next name on the list.

The class itself was mostly going over the expectations of the class and handing out books and Xeroxs of short stories. The boy sitting next to me, Eric, he/him, tried to have a quiet conversation with me throughout the whole class as worn-out copies of books were being distributed. First impression was that he was a board-game geek, based off of the punny pins on his backpack.

"How do you like Forks so far?" He asked.

“Oh so far it's been fine. Not looking forward to the weather.”

“Probably a lot more rain that you usually get in Phoenix, right?”

“That’s an understatement. Phoenix gets rains about a handful of days a year. Doesn’t Folks have a record for rainfall?”

“High up on the list for most number of rainy days but not the most inches of rain.” He seemed proud of this fact.

“The seasonal depression must be a real problem,” I retorted bitterly. I knew for a fact that this was one of the reasons why mom left the region. She hated it here.

“Yeah but we got so much green! And with the ocean so close we don’t get much snow so it's green all year. Makes for great hiking. Do you hike?”

“I’ve not done much yet...” I said without much enthusiasm.

I could tell by the whispered conversation around me that the girls at the neighboring table were listening in. One turned around and asked what my next class was. Government, apparently the same as hers so she offered to walk with me to the next class. Eric was disappointed.

The rest of the morning passed in about the same fashion. Government was predictably boring. Trigonometry was going to be a bit challenging. I knew some Spanish from living in Phoenix so I was going to have to talk to the office about moving up to the senior level for that class. After two classes, I started to recognize some of the other students' names. One or two students in every class would introduce themselves and as me questions about how I was liking Forks. I gave my same fuzzy and non-committal answers. The same conversation repeated throughout the day.

One quiet girl sat next to me in two classes. Angela was a short, Asian-american with shoulder length hair and cool-round glasses. Clearly the smarty type because she made sure to transfer important dates from each syllabus that we got into a color-coded day-planner. I liked her organization and made a mental note to buy a new day-planner myself. She suggested a brand and where she got hers. I could tell that we were going to get along well because instead of just talking about the weather she informed me on the different teachers' pedagogies and grading styles. All very helpful information for someone new in the school. She invited me to sit with her at lunch and I was introduced to some of her friends, all of which I had one class or another with.

Eric from English waved at me from across the room, inviting me with a gesture to sit at his table but I played dumb and just waved back. That was when I noticed the odd group of kids at a table furthest in the back.

There were four of them at a table that should seat ten but no other students were sitting with them. I make the distinction of other students and them because even from across the room I could tell that they were uncannily different. The group looked alike without them sharing features that would mark them as siblings. They were oddly perfect compared to the awkward teenagers around them. No pimples, no slouching. Like a group of kids you would see posed together on a college info packet. Like they had been photoshopped in but the lighting was different and the editor didn't think anyone would notice.

They all had trays of food in front of them but I don’t think I saw them eat. While I glanced at their table throughout the lunch period, the youngest one, a bright blond girl with fair skin was quietly picking apart at the bread on her sandwich. The black girl with short hair, around my age, was writing in a leather bound journal and occasionally holding up a Starbucks coffee cup to her lips but not actually drinking from it. The two other boys, one young who looked Chinese-american and one older, white with mousy brown hair and freckles, seemed to be having a quiet conversation together.

“Those are the Cullen kids.” Angela informed me. She must have seen me glance in their direction one too many times. When she said their name the eldest boy looked up in our direction. It was like his ears were burning and could tell she mentioned him. He looked at me for a second and then his dark eyes flickered to Anglia. I quickly looked away out of embarrassment and looked back to my neighbor. In that brief flash of a glance, his face seemed to look up in interest- It was as if she had called his name and he’d looked up in involuntary response, but quickly turned back to his own conversation.

“The older girl is Alice," said Anglia. "She and Edward are both seniors this year. I don't know the younger two. And Jasper but he graduated."

“Good riddance. That dude gave me the creeps,” said Mike, one of my newly introduced tablemates.

"I was in line with my little brother and them. Their names Rose and Emmett. They just started freshman year with my brother," one of our tablemates informed us. "I guess both were homeschooled before this."

I looked again at their table. The older boy, Edward, was concentrating on slowly picking apart the everything-bagel that sat on his plate.

"I’m assuming Cullen is their last name then. Unless you said Coven Kids and they're all witches," I said into my standard issue school lunch. I was gonna have to start packing my own, it was pretty terrible and over-salted.

"Edward, Rose, and Jasper are siblings from the mom's first marriage- I think he died from a heart attack or something. Alice is from the dad's first marriage. And Emmett is adopted." Said my neighbor, Jessica. “The family moved to town about two years ago, I think. From somewhere in Alaska.”

So they had a parent die too...I'm not the only one here. “They are all very… attractive.” I said, trying to change the subject in my head. Welp, now I sound shallow.

“Wow. You are not subtle,” Jessica giggled. “We all agree of course but don’t waste your time. They don’t date. I think it's a ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ Situation. They don’t really hang out with anyone else in school except themselves.” She paused and thought for a second. “Maybe the younger siblings will be different-they seem more social." And as a whisper, "I think my brother already has a crush. He is gonna have his naive little heart broken."

I wonder when she got turned down. Or how often she tried and had her brother tease her for it. Jessica moved on to gossiping about other people and the Cullens got up to go to their respective classes. I started to get nervous again about finding my own class. I sat at the table with Jessica and Anglia’s friends longer than I would have if I’d been sitting alone.

“Anyone got Anatomy next?” I asked the table, hoping to have someone show me to the classroom. I was answered with a variety that did not include the senior science elective. But I did get an offer from Mike to escort me to the class. He seemed a bit too eager in his offer.

"You know, I think we went to kindergarten together." He said as we walked over to the next building.

"I'm sorry, I really don't remember anything from back then." I apologized as I tried to study his face.

"That's probably for the best. I knocked down your block castle once and you wouldn't play blocks with me for the rest of the year."

"That sounds like me..." I laughed.

Mike, to my benefit, supplied most of the conversation. Turns out this family moved to California after preschool and then back during middle school to be closer to his grandparents. He was a head taller than me, blond hair, grey-blue eyed, and clearly an extrovert.

“How do you like our lovely weather?” asked Mike in get-to-know-you chit-chatter.

“It's very green. I'm not looking forward to all the rain,” I said as I slid on the wet floor and caught my balance on Mike’s arm.

“Why did you end up moving to Forks if you don’t like the rain?” He said, smiling at my stumble.

Nope, I don’t want to have this conversation. “I didn’t really have much choice in the matter,” I said as my throat tightened a bit. It's unfair that I let him have most of the conversation without supplying my own backstory. “This looks like the classroom. Thank you Mike.”

Chapter Text

"Hey, how's your first day so far?" I asked, taking up my assigned role as big brother. Rose and Emmett met me outside the door of the lunch room where I waited for their class to let out, leaning against the painted brick wall. We fell into the lunch cue together to begin our charade.

“So far so good. Thank you for waiting for us,” Rose beamed and took turns with Emmett to tell me about their morning classes. Their classmates behind us chimed in when the opinion of their math teacher was being discussed. Grumbling over the homework that they already had, we picked out a reasonable amount of food to share with our step-sister Alice who was holding our spot at an open table.

Rose and Emmett are both entering into Freshman year this year, after being "home-schooled" since moving to Forks two years ago. Rose is 14 and takes her role of introvert, moody teenage girl seriously. Emmett is 15 and will forever have the energy of one. He doesn't have to pretend the role- he just is. Being stuck in bodies so young is hard on them. It's hard to hide that you can't age when all the other teenagers around you are going through growth spurts and puberty. The progression of the four years of high school can be disguised through make up, fashion choices, and haircuts. Trying to fit in beats needing to move constantly. Four years of sitting through hell to pay for a few years of peace where we can pursue whatever we want.

I paid for our prop food and we sat with Alice at the table at the far end of the cafeteria. She was fake drinking a Starbucks coffee and writing in her journal as she waited for us. She is the extrovert of the group, more so than Emmett, and was tapping her foot in the frustration that she can’t go befriend everyone.

"So how was your first day of highschool? Did it live up to all your hopes and dreams?" She asked them, as we all settled into our seats. The question was really for the ears of the neighboring tables. Normal questions for the normal people that we are pretending to be. Rose and Em went into the same dialogue that they used during the lunch line conversation. I divided our food onto a second tray for Alice to faine eating.

Alice was more aloof than usual. She was sulking about the prospect of being away from Jasper for a school year. Jasper plays the role of older, cooler brother and graduated last year, “off to college” this year. In actuality, he is home, most likely reading a philosophy book. Or spinning yarn. Probably doing both at the same time. Or maybe Alice is glad to have an occupation away from him for a while so that their time apart would bring them closer together. She was currently daydreaming of coming home from a long day at "work" to Jasper in nothing but an apron.

That is one of the down sides of being psychic- I'm privy to everyone's fantasies. Another is the cacophony of noise from the hundreds of people currently around me. Teenagers are loud as it is, but the amount of things they leave unsaid are overwhelming. Petty jealousies and unnecessary anxiety spill out of their heads, washing over and coloring the things they decide to say out loud. Vivid images as one girl tries to remember a story to tell about her summer. The same story reimagined and words reverberating as the other people at her table listened. People struggling to be who they really want to be or lying to themselves about who they really are. Everyone’s thoughts overlapping, aligned or disjointed, and loud.

In a crowd like a highschool lunchroom, the psychic noise of everyone results as white-noise. Always there, very loud, but for the most part I can ignore it. Except for my sister Rose, whose inner voice is pointed and currently demanding of attention.

Edward, will you at least try to play along? She thought at me. She was diligently picking apart her school issue lunch. Moving things around on her plate with a plastic fork and pretending to drink an orange juice.

"What books are you reading this year in english?" I asked. Rose and Emmett went off again on their prompt. They are good at playing off of one another.

"Wait, how much reading do you have already?" Alice feigned surprise.

I was finding it hard to concentrate as it is. My job, as always, is to scan the crowd for any rumors or conversation about us. Rose's conversation was working on the neighboring tables- we were boring them and they were absorbed in catching up from summer. People noticing us is fine, we stand out with our preternatural looks. People paying attention to us is subtly different and potentially more dangerous. My eyes flit across the room involuntarily as a few people mentioned us.

“The table at the front is talking about us.” I whispered to my siblings.

“Any scandalous rumors?” Alice whispered excitedly.

“I think the new kid asked about us.” My siblings and I could hear the entire conversation at this range. It required a slight concentration, tuning out the other noise, and we all set to various tasks of fake eating while we eavesdropped onto their conversation.

“Aww, she thinks you’re pretty.” Emmett teased Rose.

“Oh shut up. She clearly thinks you are pretty,” retorted Rose in a faux angry tone, giving a smirk that showed off her dimples. She and Emmett were insufferable at times.

“You better watch out. Rose has half your grade infatuated with her.” I said to Emmett, in a serious tone.

“You know I love watching other people pine after my Rosey.” Responded Em with a sly smile.

“What about the new girl?” asked Rose, trying to bring our whispered conversation back to something more serious.

“She only has a half dozen classmates infatuated with her. But it's only her first day,” I responded back.

We are making light of the situation but rumors can be a risk. People pay attention on their first day. There's an adjustment period as students get their bearings, try to make new friends, slowly settle into a routine. New kids, like the freshmen and the new girl, who haven’t encountered us before stop to stare, trying to place what’s so odd. Old students see us again with minds already committed to the backstory we spread through gossip. Once things settle, we’ll drift into the background.

First days are hard for my family because after being away from the crowd of humans for so long, the scent of a delicious meal makes our thirst almost unbearable. My siblings and I had prepared ourselves in advance of course. Eaten our fill of animal blood so the hunger around the unsuspecting students of Forks High School will be mitigated. Playing the role of high school student is our cover, allowing us to remain in the same location for longer than we normally would be able to.

“I don’t see her making any fuss about us.” Alice informed us. This was the first time she chimed in. Louder, she said, “Now you two better find your way to class. We'll meet you at the car when school lets out." And again in a whisper to Rose and Emmett, "I know you two have fun with this but turn it down a notch with the flirting. Edward, just keep track of the talk."

My younger siblings and I tossed our trays of prop food and I publicly gave them directions to their class. They already knew where to go, of course- they had the whole place memorized. I slowly made my way to Mr. Banner’s science classroom.

I gathered the assignment sheets at the front of the classroom and wrote my school ID number on the book check-out list. I sat at an empty lab table at the back of the classroom. Mr. Banner is the type of teacher who assigns lab partners for the whole semester based on where we sit on the first day. Having been in classes together for the past two years, my classmates know to avoid me now. They know I am smart and any group project will result in a good grade but I don't share answers and go out of my way to help them find answers.

The new girl, Bella, walked in last, the name supplied from the minds of half the junior class. At first it seemed like she was in the wrong class but she signed her name in for a textbook. It wasn't too odd for a junior to be in a senior class. There were a few other students taking the senior math and Spanish classes. My siblings and I try to be average students. Except for Jasper. It's better for Jasper to excel and be assigned a free period to take online classes than for him to be stuck in a room full of food.

Bella scanned the room and though there were open seats, she kept her eyes down and made her way directly to the back of the room where I sat. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of dread. I am going to have to kill her.

Her scent washed over me as she sat down. Humans always smell good, something to do with pheromones helping us hunt and identify food. This was on a different level. Like nothing I ever smelled before in my century of life. Like a switch, I immediately began planning her death. I moved my hand, intending to turn to her but, just then, Mr. Banner called the class to order. I gripped the edge of the table, with a little too much force, as I made myself sit still. I’m going to have to kill everyone in the classroom. There can’t be witnesses.

Twenty-eight students in the classroom plus the teacher. I should probably lock the door first. That was enough people where some mental math was needed to coordinate. I glanced around the room, taking stock. Everyone had a cell phone nearby. If I start in the back of the room and make my way forward there might be enough confusion that no one would think to grab their phone and call out. But there would definitely be noise and that could attract neighboring classrooms or the school’s lone security guard. In any scenario, I'd want to kill the new girl last and savor the taste of her blood.

I glanced at the would-be-victim on my right. Bella had just taken her hair out of a messy bun and let her hair fall from behind her ear, making a dark curtain between us. The draft in the room shifted more of her scent my way and I could feel my mouth water. I forced myself to stop breathing. That was only going to be a temporary fix- if I ran out of air my body would try to heal itself from the starved oxygen and would only make me hungrier. The sharp intake of air needed sent my heart racing.

Bella shifted her position and we made eye contact. I could hear her own heart beating faster to almost match my own. In that brief second I could see myself in the reflection of her eyes. Was it fear? Did I really look that angry? This isn't me anymore.

I looked up to the classroom before me again. And instead of strategy for mass murder, I saw a room full of normal, oblivious people. Mr. Banner was still droning on about the syllabus. I got up, grabbed my bag off of the back of my chair, and left without a backward glance.

In the hallway, I was able to breathe again. Her scent still lingered in the air from when she paused outside the classroom. If I go back in, I might be able to convince her to leave with me, find somewhere with no witnesses.

I forced myself to walk down the hallway and leave the building. I took another deep breath of the rainy fresh air. My intention was to head to my car and leave. Alice was waiting for me at the front of the parking lot. It shouldn't be a surprise but it still was. The weight of what I was about to do hit me when I saw my sister. Of course Alice saw. She sees all our choices.

"Are you okay?" She said with concern in her voice.

I could have destroyed the lives of thirty people as well as my family and everything that my family stands for. "No." I responded slowly. "I'm not okay."

"This is not normally like you."

"No. I don't know what this was." My voice was flat and I couldn't look her in the eye.

"And you're okay now?"

"I can't go back to class." I finally looked up and we stared at each other. Because I could read her mind, I saw all the possible paths of my afternoon as she searched for a good option for me.

In a faux cheery voice she said, "Well then, we will meet you at the library...I've gotta head back to class. Mrs. Larson thinks I left for the bathroom."

"Okay." I said unsteadily.

“You made the choice to leave the situation, Edward. You gotta give yourself more credit.” Alice was sure of everything. She could always find a solution. Always find a bright side.

I watched her turn around the corner back to class. Already, I felt back to normal. Only slightly hungry from the memory of that girl.

Why didn’t I pretend to be better at science, then I could have had a free period instead and would never need to go back to that stupid classroom. I already have two degrees in STEM.

I aimed my path to take the long way around the parking lot so I wouldn't need to pass Bella’s truck. Alice’s vision had warned me that her scent lingered over it and I didn’t need the temptation to hide in the back. In the car, I connected the audio to my loudest playlist on my Spotify. I didn’t want to have these thoughts anymore and I know I couldn’t drown it out with music. That was exactly the reason why I was heading to the library. There would be just enough people at this hour where the thoughts of them reading to themselves could distract me.

The library receptionist was only mildly surprised to see a student at this hour. Apparently, another senior hopped in earlier to start a remote college class and had one of the quiet rooms booked. I already saw through Alice that I would go to the one at the northwest end of the building. The room was empty, smelled like new carpet and old books, and was blissfully quiet, blissfully loud with mental static.

I listened to the preschool class in the building next door read a book together, the story echoing and expanding in the kids' minds. I read the news along with the old man at a table near the library cafe. Counted stacks along with the librarians. It was all very soothing.

And I wondered why I had such a strong reaction to that girl and how I might avoid it. Avoid her. Drop out of school and move away. Our cousins in Alaska would love to have me for a few years. I don't want to disappoint Ellis. Or Esmond. I don't really want to move back to Alaska. We only moved away two years ago and it would confuse the story that our cousins set up for themselves.

School should be letting out soon. The librarian walked into the quiet room to collect a stack of books that was left on the table. I returned to my book, still thinking of the fiasco that happened this afternoon, when the memory of her smell returned to the forefront of my mind. I looked up and there she was, settling into one of the cozy chairs near the door. I didn't hear her come in...I can't hear her thoughts at all.

I held my breath again. Maybe not being able to hear her is a blessing. Back when I did hunt humans, being able to hear their dying thoughts is what made my life impossible to bear. Not being able to hear her thoughts will make killing her easier on me. No, that's not me.

"Ya know, I told Mr. Banner that you were sick and had run out of the classroom to throw up." She informed me as he rummaged her text book out of her bag. "You're supposed to read chapters 1-3 and the worksheets he passed out."

How did she know I was here. Alice didn't see this. "I saw that in the syllabus." I felt dumbfounded. We're alone in the room. No witnesses. I could lock the door…

"So, why did you skip?" She seemed genuinely interested, maybe even concerned.

So I wouldn't kill you. "It's healthy to ditch sometimes." I could lock the door…

"Yeah I hate first days too. Not many kids our age would choose the library as the alternative though."

I’m running out of air. I need to leave. I got up and went to the door which was unfortunately closer to Bella. I paused with my hand on the handle. I could turn the lock. The door was a thick pane of glass but Bella was sitting off to the side, out of sight. I turned the handle, left the room and walked purposely to the exit. Alice was just about to walk into the building.

"How did you get yourself in that situation again?" Alice was not often surprised and today she was twice.

"I couldn't hear her thoughts, Alice." We were outside the building, protected from the rain by the small awning.

What? That's not…. She thought at me, pausing for a beat. I can't see her future. But I can see when our path interacts with her. She made the decision to go and grab the backpack I left in the library and was able to see the whole interaction. Except maybe not the whole interaction- Alice couldn't predict what Bella would say or do. The vision was not exactly fuzzy, it just skipped past parts that might have predominantly featured Bella's decisions. Left holes in the future.

"Please don't go in there." I saw Alice enjoying the experience of not knowing everything that was about to happen. Her insight into the future suddenly skipped time to months and years ahead. Of her and Bella at her house, singing in the car together, getting ready for a graduation party.

"You will not deny me access to my future best friend," she said with a wide grin, before she hopped into the library.

I left and joined the others who were waiting by the car. They heard my exchange with Alice of course.

"Future best friend huh," Rose greeted me. She didn't like the idea.

"Alice said you had a bad day," stated Emmett. "She really wasn't kidding," he said after seeing my face.

"Can we talk about it when Ellis gets home. I really don't want to tell it more than once."

"Okay, okay," Emmett said, hands up in a pleating gesture. All I'm gonna say is that Ellis has a theory about this sort of thing.

Chapter Text

Well that was awkward. I had told Mr. Banner that my lab partner felt sick after he had stormed out of the classroom without a word. It was plausible that he was sick but he looked angry when he all but ran out.

My last class of the day was art and that's always a good subject to end on. I wasn't any good at it but it did help clear my mind. Today we drew portraits of our tablemates as a get-to-know-you-thing. The art and history classes are coordinating on a field trip next month so that will be something to look forward to. Phillis was a hobby painter and I kept all her sketchbooks and art supplies in storage. I wasn’t ready to look through everything yet but pilfering art supplies might be okay.

The art class was let out early but when I walked to the truck, I realized I didn't want to go home to an empty house. Charlie doesn't get off of his shift until six. I decided on going grocery shopping as my engine roared to life and put on an upbeat playlist. Half way through town, which was only three blocks because Forks is so small, I passed the public library and made a spur of the moment decision to check it out. It was high-time I got my library card.

The receptionist was a middle age woman with round glasses like from Harry Potter. I wonder if she got those classes because of the books. Did the librarian in the books have a name?.. Madam Pince.

Filling out the library card was overly simple but I had to have my picture taken. Luckily Ms. Lambert, aka Madam Pince, let me take three do-overs after I both didn't smile and smiled too much. I felt very appreciative that the school let us send in our own photo for our ID cards. I set the laminated key-ring barcode on my house keys as I started walking through the stacks.

The library seemed to share a wall with the coffee shop next door and there was a small open doorway that led to the cafe just off of the reception area. The place was small, to be expected for a town this size, but seemed to be well stocked. It was one of those buildings that was new construction added onto old architecture. The stone floor transitioned into the kind of carpet that you usually find at airports and office buildings- grey with large repeated blotches of color. I found my way to the back of the library where they had the quiet, study rooms. I entered one room as another librarian was leaving with a rolly-cart of books.

I was surprised to find Edward sitting there, recognized by his golden effortlessly tousled hair and eyebrows knitted together in frustration. Or concentration. He was reading a book at a sturdy oak table with one of those classic green reading lights. He looked like a model for a renaissance painting- lone scholar in study. Skips class but goes to the library to read poetry. Who was this kid?

I didn't want to bother him so I decided on the comfy chair right next to the door. I settled in, putting my bag on the side table, and started taking out my homework. When I glanced up, he was staring at me with the same expression on his face as before, posture tense like he was struck with pain.

"Ya know, I told Mr. Banner that you were sick and had run out of the classroom to throw up," I informed him, trying to sound nonchalant except for some reason he made me nervous. "You're supposed to read chapters 1-3 and the worksheets he passed out." But I'm not going to tell him about the pop-quiz Banner announced.

"I saw that in the syllabus." He said, as he glanced around the room. Was he expecting someone else? It looked like he was surprised to see me.

"So, why did you skip?" He does look pale, maybe he is sick.

"It's healthy to ditch sometimes," said in a flat tone.

So staying long enough to be marked as present was a planned thing? For the first day of school?

"Yeah I hate first days too. Not many kids our age would choose the library as the alternative though." Probably the same type of kid who would go to the library right after school.

As I said it he got and walked over to the door. He paused with his hand on the door, looking at me with hatred in his eyes again, then left without another word. In that instance, when our eyes, I was filled with a sense of genuine fear. Maybe I'm the problem after all.

I began to tackle chapter one and it's accompanying worksheet. With no one around, I slipped my shoes off and tucked them under me, sitting half sideways in the comfy chair. I was startled by the glass door opening again in a rush.

"Hi. You must be Bella. Sorry to startle you, I just came in to grab my brother's bag," said a girl who hurriedly walked in. She was black and had her hair in tight braids with pops of hot pink highlighting the tips. She had the same kind of supermodel perfection as Edward but not as intimidating.

"I didn't even realize he left it. Is he feeling okay?"

"Well he feels terrible but he'll live. How was your first day at Forks?" The way she emphasized that made it seem like she was talking emotionally. She also seemed genuinely excited to talk to me.

"Nerve wrecking. I'm glad they don't happen that often."

"But first days are always so entertaining! Not much happens in class and you can people watch all the summer drama."

"Not when you are the drama that everyone is talking about behind your back."

"Oh…well some people suck. And being new in town means that you can choose how you wanna move forward."

"I think I am still figuring that part out…" I said with a heavy sigh.

"I gotta go but let's hang out sometime, okay?" Her nose wrinkled a little bit like she was about to sneeze but shrugged it off.

"I don't know- your brother seems to hate me."

"We don't have to invite him," she said smugly.

So maybe he does hate me.

The rest of the afternoon was quiet and uneventful. Finished my homework. I picked up a few essentials at the grocery store- I had my mind set on making bacon pancakes this weekend. Charlie was sweet and brought me home flowers and Chinese take-out to celebrate my first day.

That evening, I couldn't fall asleep. The wind on the windows made a slight whistling noise and my tinnitus decided to be really annoying about it and mimic the tone. I made the executive decision to take half a benadryl at 2 am. It didn't help that I couldn't stop thinking about Mom not being here for my first day of school. The first of many firsts I would have without her or Phillis.

I slept in and only had time for toast before school. Dad, luckily, woke me up before he had to leave, filling my travel mug with coffee again. It wasn't raining today, which was a plus but the sky was impressively gloomy.

There was still a lot of hype around my being the new kid in town but the day seemed to go a bit smoother than yesterday. Maybe it was the establishment of a routine and structure that made me feel a little less lost. I remembered more of my classmates' names and was officially accepted into Anglia and Jessica's lunch group. I seemed to impress everyone with my leftover Chinese food while everyone else ate the standard school lunch fare. Mike was, as expected, very talkative and friendly. I really hoped he didn't have a crush on me. I had little experience dealing with overly friendly boys and I wasn't exactly tackfull. He was taking on the qualities of a golden retriever in my mind as he walked me to class again.

Edward was absent from our science class. I wasn't exactly surprised by this- he wasn't at the table with his siblings at lunch. That made me oddly tense as I was expecting him to show up, then dramatically walk out again. With a lab project assigned today, I was almost glad to have him missing. I was never good at group projects. Too much of a perfectionist to let part of my grade be in someone else's control.

Unfortunately, art class also had a group project. The abstract drawings we made in the first half of the class were collected, shuffled, and redistributed to be used as collage fodder for learning gestalt principles. I was a little sad to watch my work be unceremoniously cut up by the student across from me. But maybe someone else was equally sad to watch me cut up their work so I tried to let it go.

My truck may not have stood out amongst the other cars of the student lot but I did win the award for having the loudest. Heads turned as I waited in the line to make the turn out of the lot. A shiny, newer-looking Volvo turned into the lot as I was waiting. The driver was a college-age blond haired guy with high cheekbones, wearing a Black Lives Matter tee and looking like he could have just walked off a fashion photoshoot. He stopped in front of Alice and the younger Cullens. Alice waved at me when she hopped into the front seat and pointed me out to her brother. So all of them are just incredibly good looking? Eric from English class honked his horn behind me and I realized I missed the green arrow for my turn. After that, I kept my eyes trained forward and was relieved to finally be off the school grounds.

When I took my bag up to my room, I realized I had a missed phone call from while I was driving. Listening to the voicemail, it turned out to be a robo-call but it autoplayed one from Phillis from months ago. A simple "Sorry I missed you. I'm at the store and wanted to check if we still had eggs. I'm gonna get them anyway. Love you, see you at home." I couldn't help falling into a fit of crying. After a bit, I decided to warm up in the sauna and check on my cactus plants until Charlie got home.

"Bella?"

I had just walked into the house from the back door. He was just starting to plate some pasta and garlic bread for dinner.

"I was just starting the heater in the sauna. Looks like that lizard heat lamp is gonna work for the cactus but I think they are gonna need more sun." I said as I shrugged out of my raincoat.

"Well let's look into plant UV lights too...I was wondering if you had any plans for this weekend yet?" Dad asked cautiously.

"Well did you realize that the school requires forty hours of community service?

"Shit, I forgot to warn you about that didn't I?" He said apologetically as he set our plates on the small kitchen table.

"Some classmates invited me to do some hours at the community greenhouse this weekend."

"Oh good, so you made some friends then?"

"You sound surprised."

"I.. just know you are having a hard time, is all."

Changing the subject, I asked, "so do you have plans this weekend? Fishing, right?"

"Umm, sort of. If you are okay with it, I sort of have a date."

"Oh.. I.. um.. yes of course I'm okay with it. That's super great dad. Who is it?"

"Sue Clearwater, from the Quileute nation. She and some people are going out on the coast."

"Sea fishing. That sounds like the perfect date for you. Congratulations."

"I believe you met her a few summers ago, actually."

"I'm.. not sure if I remember. I'd probably remember her if I saw her. You're leaving early in the morning on Saturday then?"

"If that's alright with you. I'd hate to just leave you alone all day."

"No, that's fine. I'll go to the greenhouse in the morning. I'm glad you are happy dad."

That evening, I soaked in the sauna and tried not to let all the change in my life overwhelm me. I went to sleep early, exhausted from the lack of sleep the night before.
The rest of the week of school seemed to fly by as I reacquainted myself with the daily routine of high school. English would be boring for a while since I had read the books before. Art was going to get me out of my comfort zone a little. I started packing a lunch, supplementing my sandwiches and leftovers with a few things from the lunch options.

A rumor was circulating that Edward Cullen had mono. I didn't necessarily miss him as my lab partner since we never actually even shared a full class period yet. I was the only junior in anatomy so I was already the odd man out when it came to group lab projects.

After school on Friday, I went to the local sporting goods store to buy a better rain coat and ran into Mike. Apparently his family owns the store and he covers some shifts after school.

"It's a bummer that you end up having to work the Friday night shifts," I said, making conversation as I looked through the coats.

"I could get someone to cover me if you want to hang out sometime," he responded with a huge grin.

"I.. ah, am not really in the right place to date right now." Oh jeez, he does have a crush on me.

"Oh, I mean.. hang out all together as a group. We could all go to the beach or see a movie, or something." He was flustered but seemed to make a good recovery.

"A group hang would be fun. I'm gonna go try these on.."

I left with a new jacket, two different types of rain boots, gloves, and a knit hat. The rest of my conversation with Mike was not as awkward and he did help me find the stuff I wanted.

Saturday morning I put in a few volunteer hours at the community greenhouse along with Anglia, Jessica, Eric, and some others from the school. I got put in a group of other newbies for a tour of the grounds. The greenhouse itself was beautiful but I was not looking forward to working outside in the rain, even if it was just a drizzle. A constant drizzle. In a twist of luck, the newbie team was put on compost duty. Shifting the pile really wasn't all that bad- the work warmed me up a bit. I was really glad I had bought a better rain jacket. Anglia and the gang were set to harvesting carrots and were completely splattered with mud. Our plans to go out for lunch afterwards were dissolved as we all went our separate ways to take a shower.

People greeted me in the parking lot on Monday morning and felt the odd sensation of being popular. Maybe this is just what it's like in a small town. I'm too used to the social ambiguity of a large city. I didn't know everyone's name yet but I knew a few faces and smiled and waved like I knew the names of one's I didn't. All and all, I was feeling a lot more comfortable here than I thought I would. Except for the rain. You'd think I'd be happy to see rain after living in a place that only gets rain a few times a year.

At lunch, everyone was talking about some mushroom hike that the greenhouse was hosting. Maybe it was a rural thing: everyone being excited about hiking. The way Jessica looked at Mike made me think that she would agree to doing anything but, I'm sure, the extra credit for biology was a deciding factor. The mushroom identification part did sound interesting so I agreed to go with the group.

"Don't look, but..." whispered Jessica, "I think Edward Cullen is staring at you."

Of course I couldn't help but look. That is exactly why people shouldn't start sentences that way. Sure enough, my prodigal lab partner was sitting with the rest of his siblings at lunch. Alice looked like she just said a joke and the group was laughing. Emmett was making a tiny fort out of his food. But Edward was facing our table and sure enough he was looking in my direction.

"Why though." I whispered back, honestly confused at this point.

"You are still the new kid and he was gone for a few days. Everyone still has small town excitement over you hun," Jessica said with glee.

"I really wish you wouldn't." I responded with a grimace.

"Okay, Bartleby."

"That's not Bartleby's quote, you know."

"God dammit. That means I got it wrong in the quiz."

"Did you…not..read the story?"

When I walked into the anatomy classroom, I was still surprised to see my lab table occupied even though I knew Edward would be there. I idly wondered how long he would last in my presence this time. Which is silly, cause he was sick last week; that is a perfectly reasonable explanation.

"Hi," I said while I sat down and arranged my notebook.

"Hi. Bella, right?" It seemed like an automatic response. He was sitting as far away as the little desk allowed but his chair was angled slightly towards me. His hair was wet with little dew drops from the rain and perfectly tousled. His high cheekbones and angled jaw made him look like a classic movie star.

"Feeling better?" I said with a half smile. If he did have mono, that was a quick recovery.

"Yeah. Banner sent me the homework on Blackboard, though."

"How very thoughtful of him."

He gave a half laugh as Mr. Banner called the class to attention and started to explain the lab. Using the textbook and some larger laminated posters that were distributed, we were to label bones and muscle groups on corresponding worksheets. A plastic skeleton was wheeled into the room from the supply closet and it's arms and legs were removed, to be passed amongst the tables.

Edward was working quietly next to me while I tried to match the names of the muscle groups and bone attachments to the badly xeroxed pictures on my worksheet. He seemed to hardly look at the textbook in front of him as he filled his out. For good measure, he did flip through the posters every once and awhile. I tried my best to match his nonchalant attitude towards the activity yet also studiously color coded the related muscle groups with various highlighters. He said that was a good idea and asked to borrow my highlighters to do the same. His handwriting was a lot better than mine. In honesty, the worksheets were nearly the same as the labeled pictures, just with the name tag removed so that assignment wasn’t exactly difficult.

But then, the faux skeleton arm made it to my table and I found myself having a panic attack. On paper, seeing all of the disembodied parts were okay but a life sized arm, splayed out at an unhealthy angle reminded me, suddenly, of my moms' car wreck. Seeing them... after. Bones and flesh now two matching urns in my living room. My heart fluttered and it seemed like all my heat moved to my face. Taking sharp, shallow breaths, I forced myself to get up from the table and leave the classroom, keeping my eyes on my feet, away from anyone's table and the disjointed limbs throughout the room. In the hallway, I slumped against the cold wall, folding my knees up to my chest.

Half a minute later, Edward exited the classroom after me with my backpack and sat down next to me. His eyes showed full of concern as he looked into mine. I couldn't help but notice how the light brown of his eyes shone with flecks of lighter gold. Everything about him was gorgeous.

"God this is so embarrassing," I let out with a larger breath, eyes brimming with tears.

"I don't think many people saw you, if that helps. Just try to breathe. Slowly. Slowly."

"Thats.. a lot… easier said…" I let out between breaths.

After a few minutes I calmed down and was able to take a normal breath. Edward sat there with me. He said he told Mr. Banner that I felt sick and he was taking me to the office. The school is too small for a nurse but the office has aspirin and some other basics; I was better off going home.

"Do you want to talk about it at all?" He said slowly. He seemed unsure, hesitant.

"My parents just died." I said flatly, looking at the blank wall opposite me. "Well my mom. Moms."

"I...heard. I'm sorry…" There is not really much he could say.

"Sorry. You're probably the only here who knows what that's like, right." I turned my head to look at him. I couldn't help but notice that his own breathing was a little shallow.

He cocked his head a little, confused. "What?"

"Sorry, a classmate said that you lost your dad when you were little."

"Oh. Yes. I did." He looked down while he was thinking. It almost seemed like he didn't remember at all. "It was a very long time ago...Rosaline was a toddler."

"Wow. I don't know if having siblings makes it better or worse."

"I, umm..it's hard, at first. A lot changes all and once and you seem so lost at first. It both gets better and it doesn't; memories just seem to stack on top of it and it doesn't seem so bad." Edward said with a sad half-smile.

"Like the memory of me having a panic attack in class and embarrassing myself in front of everyone."

"Trust me, nobody noticed you were having a panic attack," he said with a grin. "Though maybe you should talk to someone about it."

"My grief counselor is not helping. And you noticed, that's embarrassing enough."

He looked towards the classroom for a second then back. "Do you want to go to your next class? People are going to be leaving soon…" He was giving me the heads up that class was finishing up.

With a last big sigh, I got up and grabbed my bag. "Maybe I should go to the office and go home early." I started off towards the main office and Edward followed.

His face brightened. Almost chipper, he asked, "Do you want me to drive you?"

"Nah. I would hate to deny you of your education after you just missed a week of school."

"Okay but I'm gonna start categorizing you as lawful good."

"Well, that's probably accurate. Bye, Edward," I said as he turned to head back to his next class.

"Feel better," he shouted after me.

"As you wish." Shit, why is it my instinct to quote Princess Bride.

Explaining that I had a panic attack to Mrs. Nguyen in the office was embarrassing but not as much as explaining to Charlie. He insisted that I eat ice cream and do more research into picking out a therapist.

The rest of the week went a little better. No recurring panic attacks in front of my peers and no one mentioned it to me. Maybe Edward was right and no one in anatomy noticed. Or everyone was being very polite and not talking about it. Actually, that could describe Edward too. Despite us working in close proximity together in class, he hardly spoke to me. Polite exchanges and the required pleasantries. I had the feeling that he was forcing himself to make small talk with me and resisting further conversation- his eyes always lingered on mine before I turned back to whatever task was at hand. When I asked him if he was planning on going to the greenhouse mushroom hike, he responded that he was going camping with his family.

Maybe I have been the one avoiding talking to him, since I was embarrassed about my panic attack. I tried to keep the conversation going. “Do you go camping often? It seems like everyone here is very outdoorsy.”

“Just when the weather is nice enough. Mom can’t always get off work. It’s a bit cliche that our dad likes camping.” He had a pleasant smile but a frustrated look in his eye. I suddenly realized the subtle difference I saw in them.

“Oh hey, I like your contacts. Are they new?” Monday, they were ochre. I remembered because they matched the bronzy color of his hair. Today it was an interesting combination of central heterochromia, with the golden color around the iris and a darker brown, almost black around the edges.

“No..” He seemed puzzled by my unexpected question.

“Oh, sorry,” I mumbled. “I thought there was something different about your eyes.”

“Oh, Um..” he thought a second. “Alice brought them for me because she thought it looked cool. I forgot I had them in today.”

“I always heard colored contacts were distracting. I had a friend in Phoenix who wore purple ones.”

When I looked back at him, it seemed his posture was tense. He went back to paying attention to Mr. Banner’s lecture. I spent the rest of the class wondering if I said something wrong. He seemed so hot and cold- totally engrossed in talking to me or completely ignoring me.

Mike, on the other hand, was all for giving me attention. During the hike on Saturday, he returned to his golden retriever ways and stuck near me the whole trail.

“Remember everyone!” shouted one of our greenhouse guides, “Every mushroom is edible once. If you are not sure of its identification, play on the safe side and let it alone.”

We had all carpooled from the greenhouse to the trailhead into Jessica’s minivan, despite my trepidation of letting other people drive. The trail itself was fairly pleasant- we had a sunny weekend for once. Jessica seemed to notice the attention Mike was giving me and was growing jealous. I tried my best to soak up the sun as our foraging took us further into shade where mushrooms prefer to grow. As our guides were explaining the identification of hen-of-the-woods and its various poisonous look-alikes, I decided the risk of mushroom hunting wasn’t for me. I had blisters on my heels by the time the day was done and scrapes on my palms from when I tripped over a root. Possibly, my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearing rather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress. Whatever the reason, Mike and Eric’s apparent rivalry over me was getting annoying as I was wedged in the middle of the backseat between them on the way back to town. But being in the middle I was able to observe Angela in the front seat secretly pining over Jessica. I was starting to be amazed at the quiet drama of people watching in a small town.

Sunday, I came down with a cold. It seemed unfair that I would be sick when the weather was so nice out. More unfair that I probably got sick walking around yesterday in the shady woods when the sun was actually out for once. I had to remember that the solar gain was not as strong here. Charlie made the decision to call me in sick on Monday and I spent the day drinking tea and reading the next book for English.

Mid-afternoon, I was startled by a knock at the door. It took me a minute to unearth myself from the mountain of blankets on the couch. When I opened the door I was surprised to find Alice standing there.

"Umm, Hi," I cleared my throat. "Umm, what's up?"

Chapter Text

"So what's the weather forecast today?" Emmett asked cynically.

 

"Jesus christ. Will you stop it with that!" I said, a little fed up now. He has been asking Alice this question everyday for a week. 

 

"Not even a Schrodinger. Our cat is still more dead than alive," stated Alice. She was mad at me. When she returned from the library after meeting Bella that day, she was afraid that she did something wrong. Bella’s future still read as her being friends with Alice but it was mixed in with her death. Bella dying in a multitude of ways and possibilities, often by my hand. My solution was to just never see her again. 

 

I had skipped school and drove up to Alaska to try to arrange living with our cousins again. Tanya Denali was elated. She was hoping that I would join their coven permanently. The Denali were Rosaline’s sisters and Tanya wanted to be more than just friends with me. It was… complicated, to say the least. I wasn’t happy with encouraging her fantasies by moving in with her again. 

 

Alice was the one who called me back to Forks. The more I cemented my decision to leave and stay away from Bella, the more permanent her early death became. Just my coming back to town improved her odds of living out the year. Now Alice was trying to convince me of returning to school. Alice usually got her way. It didn’t help that all of our siblings agreed with her. Emmett was a people-person; it didn’t matter that he couldn’t get as close to humans as he wanted, he just liked being around people. Rose was secretly in the camp of letting her die but outwardly agreed with her partner, Emmett. And Jasper will always bet on Alice. I would normally not trust anyone with an empath manipulation power like Jasper but I couldn’t doubt the depth of love he had for Alice. 

 

Ellis chimed in, "I think it shows the level of control you have to leave the room if her smell is too overwhelming for you." Said from the one with the most self control among us. They were a doctor at the local hospital and were around blood everyday. 

 

Esmond, Ellis's partner, was attempting to encourage me. "The more time you spend in her presence, the easier it will get over time. I think you should try it." Esmond just wanted everyone to be happy and hated the idea that this human girl was at risk of death if we didn’t do anything about it. 

 

Against my better judgement, I found myself at the highschool on Monday morning. My eyes roamed the student parking lot looking for her truck. We arrived at the school early to avoid running into her in the hallway, as per my request. Now I wish we would have gotten in late so I could catch her scent in the halls and be less caught off guard later. Morning classes were tense as I anticipated meeting her again. 

 

Lunch was actually entertaining. Even a week away and the school acquired secret drama amongst the students. An unrequited love triangle was brewing within the Junior class. Rose and Emmett caught me up on their people watching. It's fun for them to hear all of the hidden thoughts that went along with their observations. I never revealed anything that was too secret or embarrassing for anyone. It was unfair enough for me to be privy to everyone's innermost dialogue. Alice, though not knowing the thoughts behind every decision, also had plenty of insight into peoples' personalities. But you don't need to learn how to read someone's posture or mood when you know what they are going to do next anyway. She usually found the motions of daily life boring, knowing what everyone around her is going to say or do before it happens. Constant deja vu. Bella throws a wild card into the mix. Even from across the cafeteria I could tell that Bella's presence changed things enough for Alice that her mood brightened. 

 

I couldn't help looking at Bella's table during lunch. All morning I had picked up her scent around school, picking out her path amongst the hundreds of others. This exercise was only training me to find her more easily, be more attuned to it. Tuned to listen to the thoughts of her friends that might mention her. She still had the novelty of being new in town, with some of her crushes still working up the nerve to talk to her. 

 

Nervous, I left for my science class early and was the first one seated. I had to check in with Mr. Banner about missing the first week and I wanted that out of the way before I was distracted by Bella. 

 

I can get through this. I will not kill anyone. 

 

I tried my best to remain collected when she entered the classroom. 

 

“Hi,” she said as she sat down. The draft into the room from the other students finding their seats had helped push her overpowering scent towards me. I shouldn't be thirsty. Why do I want to kill her? I had eaten this weekend, a deer in the nearby forest. And another deer a week before that, before school started. I should not be this thirsty. 

 

“"Hi. Bella, right?" I said, trying to act casual.

 

I had already prepared a few nonchalant conversation tidbits. I didn’t actually introduce myself last week. But my plan was to remain quiet as much as possible. For this experiment of Alice’s, I didn’t need to become friends with her. I just needed to try to accustom myself to her overwhelming, mouthwatering scent to the point where I would not accidentally kill her. 

 

Halfway through the class, I had just about enough. I was about to excuse myself, pretending to need the bathroom so that I could have an escape, when something suddenly changed in Bella and she walked out the classroom without a word. I tried to scan the thoughts of the other students around me to see what had happened but everyone seemed to be concentrating on the dumb anatomy activity. 

 

I listened to her footsteps as the door closed behind her but from what I could tell, she stopped just outside of the classroom. Maybe now is a good time to lure away… From what I could hear of her breathing and heart rate she was scared of something. My own heart dropped, She knows! She knows I’m a vampire and want to kill her. No… She’s crying. Wait, a panic attack. Fuck, if she knows, we have to kill her anyway. And I wouldn’t have to hear her dying thoughts if I did...

 

I gathered the worksheets on our desk and arranged them best I could into Bella’s backpack. I forced myself to calm down. On my way out the door, I stopped to tell Mr. Banner that Bella left feeling sick and I was taking her to the office. Telling someone, a witness, that I was accompanying my would-be-victim somewhere was my assurance that I wouldn’t do anything stupid. Killing someone in the school would be stupid, with needing to move the body and destroy the evidence. Ugh , I hate thinking this way. I haven't killed anyone in decades. I'm better than this. 

 

I found Bella crumpled against the wall just outside the classroom. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes, breath in ragged gasps,"God this is so embarrassing." Not fear then…

 

"I don't think many people saw you, if that helps. Just try to breathe. Slowly. Slowly." There was not much that I could do besides sit with her and try to let her breathe. Say something reassuring. Try to control my own breathing. 

 

Watching her struggle against this uncontrollable anxiety made me feel helpless. Before I met Ellis and Esmond, when I still fed on humans, the panic my victims felt right before they died felt similar to this. Not the same thing, by far, but a similar flavor of fight-or-flight hormones. It's exactly why I hated needing to eat people to survive. Then I learned I didn't need to kill people and hated myself more. 

 

At the same time, not being able to hear what Bella was thinking was maddening to me. Whatever anxiety this is, it runs deeper than whatever I might have annoyed her about with my curt rudeness before. I could tell by her own attempts at calming her breathing that this was not her first panic attack. 

 

"Do you want to talk about it at all?" I asked her. She probably wouldn't tell me, a random boy she hardly knows but maybe the anonymity of me being a stranger might convince her. 

 

She took another deep breath and let it out as a long sigh. "My parents just died. Well, my mom. Moms." 

 

Plural. Two parents. And forced to move away from home. I've heard it through the thoughts of her classmates. It upset me that some of her admirers thought her having a mysterious dramatic backstory was cool. Dramatic and traumatic are vastly different and should not be romanticized. 

 

"I...heard. I'm sorry…" 

 

"Sorry. You're probably the only here who knows what that's like, right?" She turned and looked at me with those piercing dark eyes again, searching for something. I felt a little caught off guard by her question. I've been so distracted, trying to get my own conflicting feelings under control. 

 

To know what it's like to kill someone's parents? To know what it's like to kill someone? 

 

"What?" I asked. 

 

"Sorry, a classmate said that you lost your dad when you were little." 

 

"Oh. Yes. I did," finally remembering my chosen family's cover story. "It was a very long time ago...Rosaline was a toddler." I did lose my parents during the spanish flu. I almost died with them except I was "saved" by a vampire posing as a nurse. When I should have been mourning them, I was learning how to murder. 

 

"Wow. I don't know if having siblings makes it better or worse."

 

She wanted reassurance. She was grieving and lost. I've outlived everyone I knew from when I was human and should know enough advice, so why does this feel like new territory. It's better to not become attached to humans, as much as my siblings and I enjoy pretending to be them, we do it from the sidelines. An interactive soap-opera except the consequences are real. An immersive theater experience that we choose to relive every few years. This is the first time I found myself wanting to be part of someone's story. Part of me wants to drain her dry of blood and now another part of me cares about her emotional well-being. Conflicting feelings fighting for control. 

 

I could hear Mr. Banner winding down the day's lesson. In a few minutes, other students would be filling out into the hallway and I don't think Bella would want to be spotted in her puffy-eyed state. "Do you want to go to your next class? People are going to be leaving soon…" I informed her. She had an eyelash delicately clinging to one cheek and I found myself wanting to brush it away. Instead, I clenched my hands tighter and still at my sides. 

 

 "Maybe I should go to the office and go home early," She decided as she got up with another large sigh. I found myself following her, trying to remain with her enticing scent. I did tell that odious teacher that I would escort her to the main office.

 

What if she got another panic attack while driving home? "Do you want me to drive you?" I asked after a thought. Wait, I can't keep being seen with her. What if something goes wrong and I have no alibi. 

 

"Nah," She said without a moment's hesitation. "I would hate to deny you of your education after you just missed a week of school." 

 

She was giving me the out I needed but I was also slightly saddened. Of course, she wouldn't want to be alone with me. My kind are attractive, yes, but in an unnerving way. People notice us but just as quickly avoid us. It's part of the charm of being a creature of myth. We coast by with humans dismissing us, overlooking our uncanniness, them not knowing why and we monsters using it to our advantage. 

 

"Okay but I'm gonna start categorizing you as lawful good." I quibbed in return. 

 

"Well, that's probably accurate. Bye, Edward," she said as she walked away, not even turning her head to look back. 

 

"Feel better!" I honestly hoped she did. 

 

I couldn't concentrate for the rest of the day. When school let out, Alice was waiting by the car looking very smug. 

 

"Looks like the weather is clearing up," she said, hand out catching the light rain that fell steadily. 

 

I clenched my jaw, gritting my teeth together as she went through a series of scenarios in our head. This time, I was becoming friends with Bella along with Alice. The three of us watching a movie together at her house and looking happy. But there were equally possible alternative endings where I kill Bella and the police investigations always lead to me. Glimpses of our family moving away and trying to wipe clean my mistake but never fully succeeding. Of me trying to leave again on my own but Bella dying sooner and sooner in the timeline. All of this was hard to predict when Bella's involvement in them was fuzzy. 

 

"Sunny skies this weekend?" Emmett asked when he walked up, overhearing us. "Or are you referring to Edward's crush?"

 

"For the last time I do not have a crush." 

 

"Of course you do." Rose said, just behind Emmett. "Don't be an idiot." She was still mad at me and though I could read her mind it was still hard to figure out why. For some people, I could only read their internal dialogue, not dig deeper, and Rosaline was one of them. Like coming up with the answer to a math problem and not needing to walk through every laborious step to get there. Rosalie was mad at me and Alice for not seeing the obvious conclusion. 

 

After all of Alice's warnings, it seemed like the best course of action was no action; to go about my day, trying my best to ignore Bella. If she wants to be friends, sure I'll let her talk to me, but it does not seem to be in anyone's best interests for me to try to initiate it. I would not be good for her in the long run. 

 

Her scent still burned my throat every time I was near her. Because of it I felt pulled to her like gravity, constantly making notes in my mind of her schedule, where her footsteps lingered in the hall, changes in body chemistry- since she had one panic attack already. How she reacted to the overt flirting of her classmates. 

 

I was caught off guard when I blundered the explanation of my eye color. Most people don't notice it. Most people don't get close enough to notice, the color change being so subtle, or if they do they don't live long enough to see it again. My inability to hear Bella’s thoughts might be more detrimental than a mere inconvenience. It's my job in the family to keep an eye out for when someone starts to notice that something is off about me or my siblings. 

 

"People have noticed the eye thing in the past," Esmond said, after I told my family about it that weekend. "Honestly, this should have been expected since we are now trying to stay close to the girl to prevent her mysterious death." 

 

Ellis spoke up, "You should all start wearing contacts again. I will too, just in case." 

 

"Wait, wait, wait," Emmett interrupted. "Can I wear glasses instead?" He had a childish grin and looked way too excited about the prospect. He was thinking about Clark Kent. 

 

"That's not exactly gonna help but sure." Rose laughed at him. "But ya gotta wear both."

 

Jasper chimed in, "I feel like now is a good time to remind everyone that Peter and Charlotte are stopping by to visit in a few weeks." Frowning, "If y'all prefer, I can meet them in Seattle if you think they're related to Bella's ominous demise."

 

"More vampires in town is always a risk but from what I can tell nothing bad or unpredictable will happen with their visit." Alice said quickly, after him. 

 

Ellis thought for a moment, "They have been vegetarian longer than you correct? If I recall, I know they had some slip ups in the past.." After seeing my expression, they added "Edward, I don't think we should worry about them and Bella." 

 

Monday morning, we had arrived fashionably late to the school. I was surprised by the fact that I didn't see Bella's truck in the student lot. In any parking lot, not just the school's, I have started to scan the cars to see if hers was there. Not that I exactly paid attention during classes but this morning I was especially distracted. Though I didn't share any classes with Bella's friends, I tried my best to sort through the minds in the adjacent classes to listen for any news of her. Apparently, her and Mike Newton shared an intimate kiss against a tree during the group hike on Saturday. Or he had a very vivid imagination, one that I did not appreciate. According to her friend Jessica who was stewing with jealousy, that was entirely a possibility. None of it explained why she wasn't in school today. All of it just pushed me further into frustration. Apart, I needed to know that she was alright, yet every time I was close to her I wanted to murder her.

 

"Maybe she ate a poisonous mushroom on the hike and died," speculated Emmett to me at lunch. 

 

"Your sense of humor is not improving," I replied, staring at the table Bella would have shared across the cafeteria. 

 

"She is probably just sick. Humans get sick all the time," said Rose as she pretended to sip at a bowl of soup. 

 

"Alice?" I asked, voice pleading. She didn't need me to spell it out for her. In her head, she left to check on Bella but no one answered the door at her house. That gave me a momentary shock, my anxiety spiked, and I started tapping my foot on the floor. In another scenario, Alice checked on her later in the day and she was there, alive, sick with a common cold. The emotional whiplash of my feelings for Bella were entirely confusing for me. 

 

"You were the one who asked me to stay away from her until you got your shit under control." Alice was mad at me for that. 

 

"I know.."

 

"And do you have your shit under control?" Alice asked, tilting her head to the side. 

 

"Nope."

 

Rose interrupted, "Why exactly do you care so much again?" 

 

I didn't want to admit that Rosalie was right but she was right. I was thinking about her all the time now. Anxious about the remote possibility of Bella being somewhere in trouble, her death unavoidable. With it being sunny over the weekend, I hadn't been able to see Bella in three days and that somehow felt too long. What concerned me more was the fact that humans were so fragile that a common cold might incapacitate her and that was entirely out of my control. 

Chapter Text

Alice stood on the porch wearing a pink polkadot cloth face mask that matched the highlights in her short braids. She was holding a large black umbrella, despite the afternoon respite from the rain, and a wicker picnic basket covered in a quilted blanket. 

 

"Hi. I figured I'd check in on you since you weren't at school today." 

 

"We… don't have any classes together.." I had hardly talked to Alice since meeting her in the library that day. 

 

"Edward mentioned you were not in class today so I brought you a get-well basket."

 

I let her in and opened the basket she brought for me. Inside was a small stack of DVDs, a variety of tea, and some basic cold meds. 

 

"Thank you," I looked up at her. She had the same shade of light brown eyes as Edward did. I swallowed back the lump in my throat as I said, "this is too kind. You didn't have to do this, you know." I was not used to people trying to take care of me. When I got sick like this, I always felt like it was my own fault and I should take care of it myself. 

 

"It's really no problem, we wanted to do it," She said with a little smile that showed brightly in her eyes. 

 

"I, ah, I have a conscious awareness of my sinus cavities right now and pretty low energy, but do you, umm, want to stay and watch a movie? I think it's just a cold from the hike on Saturday."

 

Alice looked so pleased that I was immediately glad that I asked. "I would love to. Want me to make you some tea first while you pick out the movie?"

 

"Oh sure. Umm, I might need to find the better tea kettle though. Charlie, my dad, I mean, doesn't make tea very often." 

 

I dug through the box I stored at the bottle of the pantry. I love tea but that was something that I shared with mom and I hadn't had the heart to unpack all of her old tea things yet. I pulled out the stovetop gooseneck kettle and a glass teapot.

 

"Wow. Is that hand-blown glass?"

 

"Yeah we got it from an artist in Phoenix." 

 

Alice glanced at me for a second while she filled the gooseneck with water for the stove. "It's beautiful."

 

I think I surprised Alice by picking out an obscure film instead of something mind-numbing and predictable like I would normally pick for when I had a head cold like this. We sat at opposite ends of the couch, me with a mound of blankets, watching The City of Lost Children. It was nice being chill and not feeling like I had to entertain her or put on a happy face since she knew I was sick anyway. Charlie was just glad that I seemed to have made a friend. 

 

“This is my phone number in case you want to watch movies or hang out again.” Alice said as she handed my phone back to me. It registered in the back of my brain that she had memorized my screen-lock from watching me do it only once, earlier. 

 

“Thank you for coming over,” I said, opening the front door for her. “It was very sweet of you to bring me that get-well basket. I’ll return the movies as soon as I’m done with them.”

 

“Take your time. And thank you for having me over. G’night.” A car was waiting for her at the end of the driveway. She said she had texted someone earlier to pick her up and it looked to be Edward. I swear I could see his eyes glinting at me from a distance as a passing car’s headlights flashed across his face. 

 

Later, when I opened my phone to reset my alarm, I noticed that she had put in her brother’s number along with her own. Sneaky and scheming, I thought. 

 

The next day was sunny again. Turns out I already had a need for the number Alice gave me because she wasn’t at school, nor any of her siblings. 

 

“I didn’t get you sick did I?” I texted her when I didn’t see her at lunch.

 

“No. We just found out an uncle had died and we need to take the rest of the week off. Glad to hear that you are feeling better.” She had texted back.

 

“Oh no. I’m so sorry to hear that. Let me know if you need anything.” I replied, feeling a little miserable. Turns out I don’t really don’t know what to say when someone else has a death in the family either. 

 

The rest of the week was a blur, especially as I tried to catch up with the day of classes I missed. I wondered how the Cullen’s would get by with missing so many classes l but I suppose the school’s online portal had all of the lessons posted. Unlimited sick days but no excuses. I did run into Alice on Saturday morning after I did a volunteer shift at the community greenhouse. 

 

“Ya’know, the coffee tastes better if you actually drink it.” I said as I wandered over to her table at the coffee shop. She had her laptop open and a full cup of coffee in her hands. 

 

“I’m just letting it cool down. How are ya doing?” She said, resting the lid of the coffee cup on her lips. 

 

“Better. Muddy. Not-caffeinated,” I listed as I took my first sip of a matcha latte. “How come I have seen you at the greenhouse yet?” Several other rain soaked teenagers had walked into the coffee shop with me. 

 

“I’m waiting for when they start doing the poinsettias.” she said, assuming I would know anything about the greenhouse's growing schedule. The only fun fact I knew about the plant was that they needed dark to bloom properly. 

 

"I was hoping it would still be nice today. You missed a solid week of sunny skies. Apparently that’s a rare occurrence here for this time of year." 

 

Alice fake coughed, “Global warming. Ahem, grumble, grumble. Global warming.” I laughed back. 

 

When I glanced at her laptop, it looked like it was all in french. A friend from Phoenix had tried changing the default language on her computer to help her learn spanish but it did not go well for her. We had to ask for help from the spanish teacher to change it back. I decided not to say anything about it. Though her not mentioning that she spoke french when we recently watched a french movie together was a little weird.  

 

I sat across from her for a while, reading for history class, until her brothers walked. Edward had slightly rosy cheeks from the cold outside. It paired with his bronzy hair well. This was the first time I was meeting their eldest brother. Jasper was...somewhat intimidating but I couldn’t really figure out why. Intimidating and gorgeous. His posture was stiff and he held his hands behind his back. Now that I noticed it, Edward was also tense and had both his hands on his jacket pockets. I felt awkward and very self-conscious, sitting at a table next to these three gorgeous people. I don't know why I didn't notice it when it was just Alice sitting next to me. 'I ain't never seen two pretty best friends,'  I thought to myself from some dumb TicTok trend. I invited myself to sit at Alice's table earlier, maybe I shouldn’t have presumed she would want me to sit here.  

 

“I’m sorry to hear about your uncle.” I said after a polite introduction.

 

“Oh it was my uncle actually,” said Alice “Esmond's older brother.” She started to pack up her things. "My dad's older brother, I mean." So I'm not the only one to refer to a parent by their first name then. But I was under the impression that she was close to her dad. 

 

“Where did you guys have to go for the funeral?”

 

“Michigan, in the U. P.” said Jasper quickly. He seemed distracted though, staring at his phone with his forehead creased in concentration. 

 

There was an odd pause when I asked if they flew or drove and they all looked at each other for a second before answering. And when I asked if there was more family out there Alice went off on a short monologue, listing various places in Canada that I was never going to remember, who lived where and when. But if she didn't go into a long explanation I wouldn't have remembered that she already texted me that the funeral was in Montreal. 

 

"Sorry,” Edward interrupted. “We have to run." 

 

On her way out, I heard Alice’s nearly full cup of coffee hit the bottom of the trash can. Edward hardly looked at me at all. He looked anxious and uncomfortable; mad at Alice maybe. He had brought his text book in with him so I can only assume that I am the reason that they decided not to stay to study. 

 

Edward went on ignoring me. I occasionally texted with Alice but she didn’t have time to hang out in person again. I had a similar problem with trying to hang out with Angela, who was doing a lot of extra credit stuff for various classes. Whenever either of us wanted to hang out, the other was busy or emotionally exhausted, in my case.

 

“You don’t have to give them back if you don’t want to. I've already seen those films.” Alice said, when I tried to return the DVDs from the get-well basket. When she came over to my house she told me that they were all movies she hadn't seen yet. 

   

 “It was supposed to be a present," Emmett said while reading some sort of tech magazine. He didn't even look up. Sometime in the last few weeks he had started wearing glasses. He had a remarkable resemblance to Clark Kent with those chunky glasses and hair curly-que. A very young, asian Clark Kent. 

 

"It's rude to return gifts, you know," said Rose. Her hair was wavy from the french braid she wore yesterday. She had started hanging out at a table with a bunch of other freshman girls but she always began the lunch period with her siblings. I presumed it was so she could pretend to eat in peace because I still haven’t seen any of them eat. 

 

    Edward didn’t even look up from reading his book. He looked like he was studying for a test but he didn’t turn the page he was on the entire time I was at the table. 

 

I thanked Alice again and returned to my table feeling dejected despite the present. Jessica consoled me, thinking that I would approach the Cullen table for no other reason than to ask Edward out. She admired my bravery. Unfortunately, Mike picked up on her theme and was steaming with jealousy, expressing some not-so-nice opinions about the Cullen family. Angela was the only saving grace of the group. I let her borrow the movies cause she said that they were all on her Criterion Collection list. 

 

Fed up with whip-lash of warm-welcomes and cold-shoulders I decided to just ask. “Did I say something wrong to Alice?” I just sat down next to Edward for our science class. 

 

He looked up in concern. “No. No. She really likes you. She really does want to hang out with you more.” Edward looked pained somehow. 

 

“See, some people say that they want to hang out and then never do. I feel like I haven’t been very good at making friends here. She is the only one I’ve really clicked with.”

 

“What about all the friends you sit with at lunch? 

 

I gave a long sigh. “Angela is great but the guys in the group...they don’t want to be just friends.” I rolled my eyes. 

 

He made a face at me. “That’s a bit unfair of them, isn’t it.” Somehow, he made it sound sad and pitying, like it was his own fault. It did not help my situation or give me any answers. He turned back to the lecture, only talking to me when necessary. 

 

The next day, Mike followed me to my locker after lunch during which he was uncharacteristically quiet. The way he casually leaned against the locker next to mine made me feel boxed in.

 

“Hey, I was wondering. There is a Halloween thing coming up, a house party at Jessica’s. Do you want to go with me?”

 

I wonder how easily I can dodge this. “That’s cool,” I tried to make my voice bright and enthusiastic. “She mentioned she was gonna do a thing. We should all go together as a group.”

 

“Well,” Mike cleared his throat. “I was thinking maybe we could go together. As a possible.. date.. situation.” 

 

I closed my locker a bit too hard. In a conspiratorial whisper, “Just between you and me...You should ask Jessica. I know for a fact she likes you.” 

 

I had no idea if that was true, but it worked. I left him pondering that as I escaped to class. When I got to my table, Edward was staring at me curiously, with a familiar edge of frustration. My hands started to shake. I was so mad at Mike, hopefully he got the hint and would stop bothering me but it's highly possible I just made it worse. And Edward was still looking at me. Except why did he have to look at me now while I’m shaking mad, after ignoring me for weeks when all I wanted to do was have a lab partner that actually talked to me. 

 

Fuck. Maybe Jessica was right and I do have a crush on Edward. Is that why I’m mad right now? Because I have unwanted attention from every other person except the one I do like?

 

I was determined to have a better day and forced myself to smile the next day. Mike, as it turned out, took my suggestion and asked Jessica. I could tell that my whole lunch group was in a much better mood. I made plans to go costume shopping with Jessica and Angela this weekend. I thought, maybe, that my problem would be solved but then Eric followed me to my locker after lunch. 

 

"I thought your next class was in the other direction." I said as I opened my locker to switch books. 

 

Eric was nervous. "It is but I thought now might be a good time to ask you something."

 

"Shoot." I said curtly. 

 

"Well, I had an idea for a costume but it's really better if I had a second person.”

 

“Okay, Click-bait, what’s the idea.” 

 

    “Wanna go as Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas?” 

 

    “I love the movie. It’s just…” I let out a sigh as I closed my locker. “I have a problem with Sally’s character development in that movie.” 

 

    “Well, what about Princess Buttercup and the Dread Pirate Roberts?” Eric said hopefully, clearly ready with backup ideas. 

 

    “Those are both couple-costumes…”

 

    “Yeah I thought you mentioned at lunch that we should go together.”

 

    “We were talking about carpooling,” I tried to explain to him. I could feel myself becoming short tempered. Edward walked by with a curious expression. 

 

    “Oh, I don’t think I caught that…” He looked sad at the revelation. 

 

    “Ya know Eric,” I said in a rush to leave this conversation, “maybe you should ask Lauren. I gotta go to class.” 

 

    I rushed to catch up with Edward. 

 

    “I don’t appreciate you always overhearing my conversations. I know you overheard Mike yesterday too.” I said angrily at him. 

 

    He had slowed down to let me catch up. “I honestly can’t help it.” 

 

    “God I hate how much gossip there is in a small town.” We stopped just outside of our classroom.

 

    “You could use it to your advantage instead.” Edward said as we waited to let our classmates file in in front of us. “We could start the rumor that you and I are dating and then everyone else would leave you alone.”

 

    “A) I shouldn’t have to do that. I shouldn’t need to be attached to some male counterpart for people to see me as a person. B) People would just talk about me behind my back more, thinking I seduced my way into the mysterious Cullen family. C) You would have to actually talk to me for that to be convincing at all.” The other students around us were looking, turning in their seats as we took our own at the back of the class. Maybe my tone was a little too loud. 

 

    “I think that is the longest sentence you’ve said to me yet.”

 

    “I’ve been trying to start conversations with you this entire time. Don’t deny that you have been ignoring me.”

 

Edward took a long breath and spoke carefully, “It’s better if we were not friends. Please trust me.” 

 

His eyes looked sad, pleading, but he was gritting his teeth together, jaw clenched. And he was wearing his dumb contacts again. I wondered why he lied about them before. Or if he got them after I said something about his eyes, to make it true, because these ones looked more solid dull brown. Truthful after the fact and thus plausibly deniable. Behind the contacts, I could tell that the shade of his eyes were darker around the edges. 

 

I was quietly angry for the rest of the day. I took some of it out on dinner, using the meat mallet to make schnitzel and loaded potato wedges. Charlie loved it but I was still in a sour mood and didn’t sleep well. 

 

The next day, Tyler caught me in the parking lot before classes and asked me out. At this point, I was just emotionally exhausted.  

 

“I am thinking of not going at all, sorry.” I said as I watched Edward park just two spaces away from my truck. 

 

“Maybe you want to see a movie then?” Tyler said slyly, “I think the theater in Port Angeles is playing the classic version of Dracula.”

 

That was petty. He knew I was rereading Dracula cause we talked about it in english yesterday. Knew I loved watching the movie versions after the book because I liked to compare. Is every conversation I have with people gonna be used against me? 

 

“Why didn’t you mention that when we all talked about doing a monster movie thing yesterday?” I asked him

   

    “I thought it might be a nice date idea.” He said it with a hint of frustration. 

 

    “No. Sorry, no. I’m… gonna go to class now..” Why do I have to be the one who walks away looking rude.

 

    Maybe Jessica was right and people just thought they were infatuated with me because I am newish in town. And here I thought I was making friends. The boys were courteous but curt at lunch. The other girls were mad at me because they were second choice. They didn’t say it of course but their mannerisms and tone did. Only Angela was still nice to me. She admitted to me that she had a secret flame for Jessica and was sad about the Jess and Mike thing. I felt guilty that my playing matchmaker had left her as a casualty.  

 

    At least I made it safely to Anatomy without incident today, I thought as I took my seat next to Edward. 

 

    “I’m not pretending that you don’t exist.” He said, face serious, when I sat down.

 

    “Actions,” I made a motion of weight scales, “Words.” 

 

    “I said it would be better if we weren’t friends, not that I didn’t want to be.” 

   

    “So you asked your sister to stop talking to me? How very Mr. Darcy of you.”

 

    “If you knew me, you wouldn’t want to be my friend or with Alice.”

 

"You're right," I admitted. "I don't know you. You won't let me get to know you.”

Chapter Text

The rest of the week I spend my lunch period in the art classroom. I tried for the tiny school library but was kicked out because the librarian is strict about food. I was sick of people and all of the social cliches. Yet by the end of the week I felt dumb for avoiding everyone. 

 

Greenhouse volunteering on Saturday was enjoyable for the sake of labor that requires minimum talking. Plus it wasn't raining for once. The rolling clouds drifted along looking like they escaped a Bob Ross painting. We still had to flip compost piles, a never ending chore for the only place in town that accepts household compost. Then my team got to help sow some winter cover that apparently will be composted come spring. After, Angela and I went and got bubble tea and picked up some car snacks for our day trip. After a shower and a quick lunch, Jessica picked me up for the trip to Port Angeles. 

 

The talk about boys was aggravating and why I was avoiding people all week. Were this tv, Jessica and Lauren probably wouldn't pass the Bechdel test to save their life. I rescued Angela from a conversation about who her 'type' was. She was out but I knew about her crush so I thought steering the topic away would be appreciated. I did enjoy hearing the other girls’ Spotify playlists and added some to my ongoing music exchange with an old friend from Phoenix. 

 

    Port Angeles was a beautiful little tourist trap. A bit more polished and quaint than Forks, with a picturesque boardwalk by the bay. The other girls knew the town well and drove straight to the mini-mall, a few streets away from the bay area’s visitor-friendly face. First stop on the list was none other than the Spirit Halloween store that popped up in one of the vacant retail fronts. 

 

    “The party is being set up in my garage so we need the decor staples and then anything you think might creep the place up.” Jessica explained as a plan of attack. 

 

    We pooled some money together from various friends that wanted to chip in. Some had the stipulation of specific candy requests so we tried to find everything on the list. Angela was super organized and had arranged everything by category, hoping that would make things easier to find. 

 

    Next was costumes. I had resisted planning mine as long as I could, hoping that I would be inspired by something I saw or as a possible last minute excuse for not going. 

 

    “Hey Bella,” asked Lauren, as we were looking through the racks of slutty, gendered costumes. “Did you have a boyfriend in Phoenix?”

 

    “I’ve had boyfriends and girlfriends but I don’t really want to talk about it.”

 

    “Why not? Was there drama? You seem to have plenty of people lining up to date you here,” Lauren asked, wanting gossip.

 

    “The last guy I dated dumped me because my mom had died and he didn’t want to deal with me being depressed.” I said, talking a little too fast and too heated. I think that was the first time I said that out loud and not just to my therapist. 

 

    “Oh...I..I didn’t know,” returned Lauren. At least she wouldn’t talk to me anymore about dating after this, now that I made things awkward. 

   

The next stop was thrift stores and some general clothes shopping. I love thrift stores; you can always find something completely unique. My bad mood lifted some but at the same time I couldn’t help but think of mom. She would always go thrifting with me and convince me to buy the wildest grandma-knit sweaters. 

 

    “Would you guys mind if I go find a bookstore instead? I’m feeling a little overwhelmed in here.” I asked the group. 

 

    “Yeah, Of course. There’s one down the road. You know where the restaurant is?” said Angela. 

 

    “You sure you don’t want us to come with you?” chimed in Jessica. She was for us staying together as a group. But she also wanted to film a tick-tok video on the boardwalk and probably needed all of us working in tandem for whatever weird camera trick she wanted to try. I didn’t think I had the spoons for that. 

 

    I headed in the direction that Angela pointed out, enjoying the fresh cool air and lull in the rain. The sunset would be really pretty today since it’s not so overcast for once. I thought about going toward the boardwalk later to watch the sunset. I had no trouble finding the bookstore but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. It was a cute mom-and-pop place that sold records on one side of the store and used books on the other. It was still nice to go inside and smell the old books. Usually bookstores have a reverenced quiet to them, the carpet and volume of books enveloping you in a total lack of sound. This one had a different vibe, with rows of vinyl records and music playing. They had some cd’s too but I wasn’t in the mood to dig through them for something good. 

   

    I meandered through the streets filled with the weekend tourist traffic. I hoped that I was heading back downtown but misreading google-maps, I started off in the wrong direction and thought that I could take another sidestreet to get back on track. I honestly should have been paying more attention but mentioning that dumb breakup to Lauren had me upset. I stomped along in a south-westernish direction towards some glass-fronted shops that I thought I remembered seeing on the way through town. When I got to them, they were just a repair shop and a vacant space. Apparently the shop I clicked on in google maps moved recently. Going in the complete opposite direction had taken up all of my bookstore-perusing time. I texted Angela that I was going to be late and they should start dinner without me. I missed getting to see the pretty sunset on the water. 

 

    The stretch of street ahead was warehouses on one side and looked like a bar on the other. A group of four men were smoking outside the entrance. I wanted to cross the street but I would have to turn at the next block and if I really wanted to avoid them I would have to cross back anyway. I was already running late. As I approached them I realized that they weren't much older than I was. One was wearing a fraternity sweatshirt so they must be from one of the  nearby colleges. They were joking loudly among themselves, laughing raucously. I scooted as far to the outside of the sidewalk as I could give them room, trying my best to ignore their offer of a beer on them, or that I should smile, or whatever else they catcalled. 

 

    At the corner I thought it would be safe to look back, instead of relying on the shadows from the streetlamps to tell if they were following me. They were. My heart dropped in my chest. I suppose they could just be leaving and heading home. I could hear their laughter and conversation in the middle distance. 

 

    When I crossed the next street and looked again, only two were following and they were quiet. Maybe they are heading home. I did hear a car... I found myself on a dimly-lit sidewalk leading past the large loading-bay doors for the retail on the next street. Why did I trust google? The south side of the street had no sidewalk, only a chain link fence protecting a car repair lot. It was derelict in a way that showed aged beauty. A small tree swayed slightly in the wind, its leaves lit from a single wall sconce on the brick wall behind it. If I wasn’t running so late, this kind of chiaroscuro lighting would make a perfect photo.

 

I realized that the clouds were starting to come in, which meant more rain soon. Shit, I left my outer rain jacket in the car. The roads on these streets were empty, the only passer-by being a van on the last block. This was not the touristy part of town and it made me nervous. What was more nerve wrecking was the fact that those two guys were still following me. They kept a half block behind me and didn’t seem to get closer. I thought of calling someone so that I would have some sort of witness with me but I needed my phone to look at the map. 

 

I quickened my pace to make it the final stretch around the corner. There, about two intersections ahead, were the lights of the boardwalk. More cars, pedestrians, brighter street lamps, but still too far away. About twenty paces away were two people leaning against a car parked at the start of the alley. They became more alert when they saw me and I realized that the other two frat boys must have driven ahead and were waiting. 

 

Probably not hard to guess my route when you can select anything on the boardwalk on google and have it mapped out for you. Pick a spot in between to wait. I tried to walk across the street but since they were ahead of me they just walked across the street too. And when they did, I paused, no longer sure of how I could get out of this. 

 

I should have just called Jessica to pick me up. Stupid phone. Stupid map. Stupid stupid stupid. 

 

    The safest stop right now seemed like the middle of the road. An open space. Away from their car or any alleys. I could hear the footsteps behind me now. With four of them they didn’t have to run at me yet, they could just herd me until I was close. My steps felt too slow, unproductive with nowhere to go. I meandered in the street, trying to stay as far as I could while being boxed closer in. My mouth felt dry. Dad gave me pepper spray but I had never used it before and it was a small single use thing. Maybe, if everyone was close and I used it spinning in a circle?

 

    Headlights suddenly flew around the corner, the car almost hitting one of my stalkers behind me, forcing him to jump back towards the sidewalk. The silver car fishtailed around, skidding to a stop with the passenger door flinging open just a few feet in front of me. The same distance as my closest stalker to my left.  

 

    “Get in!” shouted a furious voice from the dark interior. 

 

 I hope to god I have better luck with mystery door number two, I thought as I jumped into the car, slamming the door behind me. 

 

    Being followed was a slow building dread. Learning that I was actually being herded was a gut-sinking feeling of adrenaline and panic. Jumping into a random car was both a sense of relief and a choking fear. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being cornered. 

 

    It was dark in the car, no light had come on with the opening of the door and I could barely make out Edward’s face in the glow of the dashboard. The tires squealed as the car spun back around to leave from the direction it came from. I caught a glimpse of one of the frat boys jumping back unto the sidewalk as we straightened out and sped away. 

 

    “Put your seatbelt on,” he demanded, his voice an angry quiet. 

 

    I had been clutching the doorhold, knuckles white, and my other arm braced against the dashboard in front of me. The loud snap of my buckle clicking closed felt too loud. The wheels on the road, accelerating too quickly and blowing through stop signs, seemed deafening.

 

    “Are you okay?” He asked, his voice stiff, like he was forcing the sound to come out. 

 

In my head I was repeating a mantra of reassurance. I'm safe now. I got away. I'm in a safe place. They can't get me. I'm fine. 

   

    “I’m fine.” I croaked out, after a long pause where I tried to take stock of what just happened. “Are you okay?” My throat was still dry and my voice sounded hoarse. 

 

    “No,” he said curtly, tone livid. 

 

    I sat in silence, watching his face while his blazing eyes stared straight ahead. I could hardly see the trees as they whizzed by, everything outside of the car a complete blur. 

 

    “Can we slow down,” I choked out. I was now more afraid of his driving than what just happened. My heart rate, which was just starting to slow, began accelerating again when I realized how fast we were going. 

 

    We slowed down to a crawl then pulled off at a scenic overlook at the side of the road. Even with the car stopped he was clutching the steering wheel so tight that his knuckles were white, shoulders tense. I couldn’t see much out the tinted windows but I could tell that the look over the bay would have been beautiful. A waning moon reflected on the water. 

 

    “I was supposed to meet my friends at the restaurant,” I said with my head partially leaning against the cool glass of the window. I wanted to bottle up all my fear and throw it in the bay. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to scream and hit something, myself for being so stupid. To forget everything that happened this evening. 

 

    “I can take you back..” He didn’t move his position from before, just sat there, gripping the steering wheel, still staring forward. 

 

    “What’s wrong?” I asked, now deeply concerned for him. He looked like he was miles away, still staring out the windshield. 

 

    “I’m having a problem with my anger right now,” He said as calmly as he could. “But it wouldn’t be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those…” He swallowed and took a calming breath. “Could you distract me? Or a minute?”

 

    “Umm..well, Tyler Crowley is spreading the rumor that I’m gay. Apparently a girl can’t turn down three guys in a row without damning the gender entirely.” I grinned at how funny it was.

 

    “You seem more amused than upset by that fact.” Edward’s voice was still tense. 

 

    “Well he took the work out of me telling people that I'm bi. Now the truth won't be the talk of the town.”

 

    “I thought you hated rumors.”

 

    “I thought you said I should start using rumors to my advantage,” I shrugged. “I’ve been letting a lot of shit worry me lately so I’ve been trying to flip the stories that I tell myself around in my head. So I might as well flip the stories other people say about me too.”

 

    Edward’s posture loosened and he started the car again. “I did hear that gossip actually.”

 

    “You did? I never see you talk to your classmates. How are you so on top of the small town rumor mill?”

   

    We drove back to town at a more reasonable pace. “Maybe I'm psychic,” he said with an air of casual conversation, quickly adding, "My younger siblings are very entertained by all the highschool drama." 

 

"Did they hate being homeschooled?" I said, knowing that to solve his mystery, I would have to solve his entire family. I had my guesses.

 

"Well we use our time better, for sure," he responded, always with vague answers. 

 

"So..Is that why you seem to know what restaurant I was supposed to meet Angela at?" I said as we slowed down by the boardwalk restaurants. It was a local burger place that apparently had fries you would kill for. 

 

"Why what again?” He said as he smoothly parallel parked into a spot that I was sure only fit the car by inches. 

 

"Because you are psychic." 

 

“There's not exactly a lot of restaurants in this town.” When he turned off the car he turned to look at me for a second, then over my shoulder.

 

"You should go stop Jessica before they start to wander off looking for you." He had a momentary look of anger again in his eyes. "Your assailants might still be nearby." I could tell there was a threat in his voice, like he was still thinking of driving off and running over those...guys.

 

"Hey Lauren! Jess!" I yelled after them, waving when they turned. We met halfway and they looked profoundly worried and relieved to see me.

 

"We were so worried when you didn't show up at the restaurant!" Angela hugged me. "Where did you go?"

 

"We tried texting you…" Jessica let that sentence hang when she saw Edward walk up behind me. 

 

"I have terrible signal here, sorry to worry you guys. I got lost and then I ran into Edward outside of the bookstore." It wasn't a lie. Everywhere not in the bookstore is technically outside of it. I didn't want to worry them about the incident yet. 

 

"Would it be alright if I join you for dinner?" He asked in a casual, polite voice that seemed to lure you in. 

 

"I thought you texted to eat without you," Lauren said, sounding put-out. I had the suspicion that they put off eating for a while hoping I would show up. 

 

"We ate but we could go back in and join you while you get something." Jessica was clearly looking for the solution that included her getting to spend more time with Edward. 

 

"I could just get something to go and eat in the car," I said. I didn't want to put anyone out either and I knew that Edward wouldn't actually eat in front of other people. 

 

Edward offered, "Maybe the easiest solution is that you and I get dinner and I drive you home after." It was a question but he didn't make it sound like a question. "If that's alright with everyone?" He glanced around the group and back at me.

 

"Yeah. Okay," I said, trying to make it sound like I didn't mind nor secretly hoping for it. 

 

"Great. And you," Jessica gestured at me, "You can tell us all about this impromptu date tomorrow." She smiled, good hearted. I could tell that comment was her trying to embarrass us and thus confirm if it was a date or not. I didn’t want to give her that satisfaction. 

 

"I'm glad you're safe. See you on Monday."

 

Our group parted ways and Edward and I walked back to the front of the restaurant. 

 

"Adrenaline sure works up an appetite," I said as we reached the door. "Except I don't know if I'm starving or want to throw up." 

 

"Well you wouldn't want to throw up on an empty stomach, would you?" He said cheerily, holding the door open for me.

 

Unfortunately, the hostess heard that comment when we walked in. She quickly changed her sharp look of disgust into a placating customer service smile. 

 

“A table for two?” Edward asked, politely waiting as she checked the floorplan and gathered menus. She led us to a table in the busiest and loudest area of the restaurant, complete with children crying and projector TV screen on the sports channel. 

 

“Hmm. Could we perhaps have a table somewhere more private?” He quietly insisted to the host. I saw her eyes flicker to me and then away. Was she satisfied by my obvious ordinariness? Or did the comment at the door convince her of an eating disorder and she couldn’t help but judge and look down on me. I supposed she was taller and her looking down at me could not be helped.

 

“Of course,” she said smoothly, then leading us to an empty section to a table that overlooked the bay. “It’s a little drafty in this section but how’s this?”

 

“Perfect.” He flashed his gleaming smile at her. 

 

“Umm,” she shook her head, blinking. “Your server will be right out and I will be back with waters for you both.”

 

“No ice,” I said quickly before she left. “Thank you.”

 

I turned to Edward. “You know, it’s hardly fair to use your attractiveness to get your way all the time.”

 

“But this is a far better view,” he gestured to the bay but was looking at me. 

 

Our server arrived, her face expectant. The hostess had definitely dished behind the scenes and this new girl did not look disappointed. Or maybe I am projecting and all waiters act with such warmth. Was his breathtaking beauty one of those things that only I notice?

 

“Hello. My name is Amber, I'll be your server this evening. Can I get any drinks started for you?” Now that I thought of it, she did look at me just as much as him. Maybe I am just feeling too self-conscious right now because of that whole ordeal.  

 

“I’ll have a sparkling lemonade.” I said, when Edward gestured to me.

 

“I’ll have one as well. And a basket of french fries for starters. ” He said.

 

“I’ll be right back with that,” she said, walking off writing in her notepad.

 

“Are you really going to be alright?” He asked when she left, eyes gazing into mine. He wasn’t wearing his colored contacts this time but his eyes were that shade of light brown that the contacts tried to mimic. 

 

“Well I'm going to buy some better pepper-spray but I don’t think that will make me feel much safer.” I said, trying to shrug it off. 

 

“Is there anything I could do?”

 

“You can stop bringing it up. I am actively trying to repress the memory right now so I can function as a human being on our fake date instead of having a panic attack.” 

 

He pressed his lips together, making a face. I made the motion of putting a cork in a bottle and throwing it over my shoulder. 

 

“I’m not sure that’s exactly healthy,” He said with a sad smile.

 

Our waitress reappeared with our drinks and a basket of fries. “Do you want time with the menu or are you ready to order?” She asked. We hadn’t actually looked at our menus at all. Did she catch that last comment? Did the hostess gossip about me potentially throwing up the meal? Ugh, I don’t care, I don’t care. Why do I have anxiety about stupid bullshit when I was almost attacked just half an hour ago. 

 

“Burger and fries will be fine. Medium.” I said, picking the first burger option on the list.

 

“I’ll have the mushroom ravioli,” said Edward, only glazing at the menu for a faction of a second. 

 

As she left, Edward pushed the basket of french fries towards me. “It will make me feel better if you ate something.” I obediently dug in. Food did make me feel better. 

 

“One thing that you could tell me though,” I began, “Is how you knew where to find me? How you knew I was in trouble at all, for that matter.” 

 

Edward was quiet or a second. He tried to pull it off as a natural lull in the conversation by pretending to take a sip of his lemonade. How do people not notice him not eating?

 

“What if I said I was stalking you,” He said, his eyes locking with mine. 

 

“I’d say that's pretty silly when we sit next to each other everyday for class and you ignore me the entire time.” I took a sip of my own lemonade to give me time to think. Why are social conversations always easier with props to hide behind?

 

“I don’t ignore you the entire time…”

 

“No. You quietly pay attention to me from a distance.” I nibbled on a fry while I talked. “And when you are around me, you can hardly say a word. It's not that I haven't been trying to start a conversation with you , I just got the hint and know when my advances are unwelcome.”

 

“I’ve been very unfair, I know,” He looked sad. “I have been trying to..not be friends with you. I’ve been afraid I’d...ruin everything I guess.” He said this last comment very quickly “I am sorry it has been so one-sided so far.”

 

Just then, our server walked around the partition with our order. I realized we’d been unconsciously leaning towards each other across the table. Our waitress approached and set down our food as we both straightened back up in our seats, aware of the presence of company. It seemed easy to forget that we were in a restaurant full of people. 

 

There is really not a polite way to eat a burger so I decided to just dig in. The fries were definitely good but I had better. I couldn't help but remember the pinball arcade mom would bring me to that had the best loaded fries. Edward methodically pushed around his mushroom stuffed ravioli on his plate. I suppose the evidence on his plate looked like he ate some. 

 

I wish he would just stop pretending. But who knows what's normal behavior for someone who is clearly a vampire. I paused in eating my burger, struck with sudden panic. Fuck he said he was psychic and now he knows I know. 

 

Edward! Edward! I screamed in my head. He was still looking down at his plate, eyebrows slightly furrowed in thought. 

 

“The ravioli is good,” he said looking up at me. “How’s the burger?” He had a slight smile on his face, like he was content to just sit there. 

 

“Oh, um.. It's fine,” I said. Maybe I was just taking what he said as truth because it seemed to explain so much. I didn’t know exactly how to prove he was a vampire besides the fact that he never eats real food and never goes in the sun. Being psychic wasn’t cannon. Being stupidly handsome wasn’t cannon either. I didn’t think it was safe to push the matter. As an avid reader of magical realism and fantasy books, this was the type of thing where if I knew too much, he would probably have to kill me. The curiosity also might kill me. 

 

I grabbed my fork and reached over to his plate to steal one of the ravioli. He seemed entertained and pleased by the assumption I could eat off of his plate. It’s not like he's gonna eat it anyway. 

 

“Let’s say, hypothetically,” I started, “that one is psychic. What exactly do you think the limitations are on that?”

 

“Oh I think it would be pretty annoying to hear all the thoughts around you all at once. Might drive you crazy after a while.” He said while holding his prop lemonade. 

 

“Right,” nodding my head slightly, hoping that he would play along. “Would probably be hard to focus on a single mind, right? Like if someone was in trouble and across the city, it would probably be too far away to hear them. And then probably even more difficult to find, like playing “hot or cold” or something,” I pondered aloud while nibbling on the fries. “Ya know, I think it's just lemon-pepper on these fries.”

 

He smiled wryly. “Maybe if your psychic had been paying attention, the timing wouldn’t have needed to be quite so exact.”

 

“We were speaking of a hypothetical case,” I reminded him frostily. 

 

“Okay...I’d suppose that once one reads a mind, or becomes more familiar to it, it becomes easier to find in a crowd. Like if a whole group is talking at once, you can still tune out other conversations and only focus on one voice.” He paused to look at me. 

 

“Oh I am very entertained, go on.” I took another bite of my burger.

 

“I would assume that once you are familiar with someone's inner voice, you might be able to pick that person out of a crowd, say, a mile away. Although, we have to keep in mind that some people don’t have a train-of-thought.” He looked at me like I might say something but I had just taken another bite. “And I’ve heard that some people think via written words. I would speculate that our imaginary psychic would have trouble reading those types of people.” 

 

“So what you're saying is, the mind and body philosophy, the ‘I think, therefore I am’ is a little more nuanced than just an inner-voice for everyone. Isn’t that other thing called something? The thing with not being able to visualize mental imagery?”

 

“Aphantasia,” he said, absently pushing the pasta around on his plate again. 

 

Is he asking about that because he can't read my mind?

 

Our waitress had walked up to refill our waters. Edward was ready with his credit card before I even had a chance to take out my own, before the bill was even presented. I protested but I let him have the win. 

 

“Could we have a box too? Thank you.” I asked the waitress. Edward raised his eyes at me, glazing at the single bite of a burger left of my plate. “I’m not gonna let the pasta go to waste,” I explained. "And what if I wanted dessert?"

 

"Do you want dessert?" He said with a huge grin, leaning closer to me from across the table. 

 

Putting my chin up in a defiant pout, I declared, "I want the option of dessert."

 

The server returned with Edward's card and a take-away box for me. I couldn't help glancing at Edward's signature while he signed the check in a flawless curling cursive. The tip was a generous fifty percent. Mom used to be a waitress for years growing up so I understood the pain of the service industry. The customer copy of the receipt had Amber's, the waitress, phone number. I wonder if she would still leave her number if she knew he was still in highschool. 

 

    As we left the restaurant, now facing the boardwalk and long rows of shops along the water’s edge, a sudden idea occurred to me.

 

    “Would you be up for a bookstore?” I said to him, with an air of scheming sweetness. He turned to me and laughed at my excited expression when I batted my eyelashes at him.

 

    “I thought you wanted dessert?” 

 

    “Let's count the bookstore as dessert.”

 

    It was no wonder that my friends thought I went to this one, it was only three blocks from the restaurant. The selection was a little touristy but fun to peruse through. The staff picks featured little handwritten reviews throughout the store. I selected one that looked promising, “A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet,” and went to find Edward again. I felt self-conscious that I might bore him in the bookstore so I sent him near the cafe near the front to get me a hot-chocolate. I haven’t found many friends that would quietly browse a bookstore with me, but I found him in the poetry section. As I approached from a few stacks over I was able to watch his face from over the bookcase before he noticed me. He has a resting-smile that I never saw at school, a small dimple only on one side. 

 

    “Here is your change,” he said as he handed me the drink.  

 

    “Find anything good?” I pocketed the receipt and coins and took a sip of the warm drink.

   

“Mh. You?” The non-committal noise was accompanied by a shrug. 

 

    “Found one that seems promising.” Gesturing with the book in my hand. I was well aware that our call and response could have a double meaning. 

 

“Ready to head home?” He asked, looking towards the que that was beginning to form at the cashier. 

 

“I already check-out.” Guys don’t normally like going to the bookstore with me so I’ve learned to keep my visits quick. 

 

I still have to check out.” He picked up a handbound zine from the shelf. It was a compilation of poetry from local Quileute teens, printed bi-yearly via risograph. Standing in line with him, we made small talk about books, bookstores, and boardgames. It was easy. It made the awkward conversational starts-and-stops since school started seem out of place. 

 

We walked back to the car in companionable silence. It felt as if he was always on the verge of asking me a question. Like he was nervous that this fake date of ours would end and things between us would return to an odd sort of distance. I’m projecting, all of it my own feelings with his impossible to read. 

 

"You sure drinks in the car are okay? This thing looks new." I asked as Edward held the passenger side door open for me. I wanted a prop so I wouldn't be so awkward in the car ride home but I declined getting a lid for the cup and was now nervous about spilling it. 

 

"Newish. It's fine. Also.." he started. "I'll have you know that Volvos have excellent safety ratings and I have never gotten in an accident before."

 

I made a sour face at him. "How do you know I'm a nervous driver?”

 

He smirked and tapped on the side of his head, "Psychic, remember."

 

I shut the door and watched him walk around to his side. When he got there, he paused at the handle. Too long of a pause. Long enough for me to get out and look at him from over the top of the car. His face was angry and the way his shoulders were tight made him look stressed. 

 

And then I heard it. From maybe a block or so away, I heard a tin-can or something get kicked down the street with a sharp clanging on the pavement, a glass bottle being shattered, laughing from afar. 

 

"Please don't." I pleaded with him. "Stay with me." My heart was suddenly racing again. The daggers in Edward's eyes looked like he meant murder. He did say 'hunt them down' before, maybe he really would kill them. 

 

"Please get back in the car." His expression changed again and now he seemed more concerned for me. 

 

"Only if you'll stay."

 

He opened his door and half got in, but didn't sit all the way in until I was back inside. We both closed our doors at the same time. 

 

"Okay." He took a breath. "What do you want to do?" 

 

I took a shaky breath myself. "Could you.." Another breath. My heart rate was still too stressed. "Could you call the police? I should have done that earlier but I was too shaky and I don't have a signal on my phone. I.. don't think I could keep calm enough to explain to the police." 

 

He seemed to relax some. He released some tension in his shoulders. "Okay. I'm gonna step outside. I'll be right outside the car."

 

He turned the car heater on for me and paced back and forth about ten feet away from the car, clearly on the phone but too far away for me to hear anything. Good. I don't want those guys to be able to attack anyone else. I tried my best to think of anything else. The sugar in the hot chocolate helped. 

 

Edward returned to the car by the time my drink was cold and empty. "Ready to go home." He said with a half smile. 

 

"They took your tip seriously and all that?" I asked. 

 

"I think so." He started the car and started drinking down the nearly empty streets. "Psychic abilities don't work over the phone though.."

 

"Ha. Nice callback." I said sleepily. 

 

I watched the lights of the town reflecting off the bay fade away into dark trees. Long minutes went by silently, just content in his company and ready for this night to be done with. I watch his driving, him steadily staring out the window, paying attention to the road, only just slightly above the speed limit. 

 

"Do you think I'm broken?" I said quietly. 

 

He glanced at me, eyes full of concern and confusion again. "Not at all. Why do you ask?" 

 

"You can't seem to read my mind." 

 

He took a long breath. "You're right. I cannot read your mind…I don't think that you are broken," he said half frowning, eyes still on the road. "I think… bad shit happens to people and you just have a couple of… critical misses right now." 

 

"Hmm." It would be easier to blame all my bad luck on some external source outside of my control. But I mean why do I notice all these weird things about you that no one seems to talk about. The obvious variable is me.

 

I let my eyes closed, head resting against my hand and watched the trees whirl by. Even in the dark and impending winter everything was green. 

 

Edward woke me as we were getting into town. He didn't seem to need my directions, always putting the blinker on a half second before I could say which way to turn. I said them anyway. I like putting Edward in that space of plausible deniability of the fact that he is a vampire and can read minds. If he finds out I know, he might either laugh at my gullibility or skip town, never to speak to me again. 

 

"Just behind the truck is fine," I yawned. It wasn't even that late. I feel guilty for falling asleep and not talking to him on the drive. 

 

"It's raining kind of hard now, do you want to borrow my jacket?"

 

"Shit, I left my overcoat in Jessica's car didn't I." I looked unhelpfully in the empty back seat. That explains why I was so cold earlier.

 

"You can return it to me on Monday," he said smugly. “You might need it for the rain tomorrow.”

 

"What about you?"

 

"I have another jacket at home. I'll be fine."

 

" I have another jacket at home. I'll be fine."

 

"Just borrow the dang jacket." He said jokingly.

 

"Okay okay. I'm putting on the jacket. Control freak." I gathered my things and hopped out. "Thank you for driving me home." I took a deep breath. "And the rescue."

 

"Let me know if you ever need me again. Goodnight Bella."

 

"G'night Edward." 

Chapter Text

I have to admit, I am starting to get nervous. Port Angeles was a small town, it shouldn't be this hard to find one girl. I'm usually able to glean enough information from a person's thoughts about their location plus the psychic pull of which direction they are in. Tracking Bella through the minds of her friends proved to be more difficult than it should have been. Their minds were full of lists and images of halloween decorations, glimpses of interactions with boyfriends or potential crushes, or schemes of securing the interest of said crushes. Mostly, they thought of Bella as an obstacle. 

 

Angela’s mind was easier to interact with than Jessica’s but at the same time harder because she kept a memory palace. When she deemed something important to remember, I got glimpses of her house. She would imagine some odd placement of a seemingly ordinary object and then suddenly that arbitrary information she wanted to remember was there. It was jarring but Angela had a kind heart and her thoughts had a softer voice than her friends. Jessica was loud. Lauren was judgey and no help at all in trying to keep track of Bella. 

 

    I noticed when Bella separated from her friends but I did not find her at the bookstore that Angela thought was her destination, the one on the pier. It was a possibility that Bella was lying to her friends about going to a bookstore but then I found her scent in the record shop. Maybe she is heading to the store I checked first and I just missed her. But her trail went in the complete opposite direction and double-backed at one point. It was like she was purposely trying to lose me. 

 

    I decided to go back to the first bookstore again, hoping to run into her, and saw her friends down the boardwalk just as they walked into a restaurant. It seemed like one of them received a text from Bella. She wanted them to eat without her? That is what Lauren interpreted the text as at least. 

 

    I broadened the range of the thoughts I could gleam, not focusing on any one person, in case something jumped out at me. There was an older lady looking for her cat, also named Bella, who had run outside when she brought in the mail. It was unlikely that anyone in town would be thinking of her by name except her friends at the restaurant. 

 

     I tried to think about what Bella was wearing. Why does everyone wear such similar black raincoats? When I spied her outside of the parking lot at that costume shop, she wasn’t wearing her rain jacket. There was a lull in the weather and the girls had left their coats in the car so they wouldn't have to deal with them in the dressing room. It was the same lull in the weather that forced me inside, stuck to tracking Bella by circuitous means. 

 

Just one more block ,” thought a hazy drunk kid. In his mind, he thought of it as a game and his prey was an unsuspecting toy. The other guy he was walking with was trying to remember the route in his head, how alleys met up to the street. Imaging the trap. Boxing in their play-thing. She wasn’t even a person to them. 

 

The closest minds belonged to two sharing a cigarette, leaning against a car in wait. Their minds were worse. One of them had done this before but this would be his first time hunting as a pack and he was excited with anticipation. Each of their minds had an image of a different girl, not noticing much when she had walked by their group earlier. Or not caring. To them, it did not matter what she looked like. She was alone and clearly lost. I could see her in their minds walking just ahead and getting unknowingly closer to the two around the corner. And, from what I could tell psychically, she wasn’t there at all, no mind to grab onto.

 

I immediately made a U-turn, flipping the car around to what I thought was the fastest route to that alley. A benefit to being a psychic is knowing when I can safely blow through all of the stop signs. I suppose that there might be another person with a shielded mind like Bella that I might crash into but I couldn't worry about that now. Future problems, I thought. I will not let them touch her. I will get there in time. I have to get there in time. 

 

I spun my car around the corner, angling the car so that the passenger side would be nearest to Bella. Cutting off the attack from one side at least. I was disappointed that I missed the one who was in my trajectory. Bella to safety first. Then I can kill them. No witnesses. Especially not her. 

 

With the door open and ready, I expected her to jump in but she hesitated like a deer caught in headlights. Bella’s closest attacker made a motion towards her and I shouted for her to get in. My heart calmed a little when she had the door closed behind her. I could hear the inebriated disappointment in the minds of the lowlifes we left behind on the pavement. But it also made it more exciting for them, which in turn made it worse. It was like they were witnessing an action movie and for their own part, their game had zero repercussions.

 

Get Bella to safety. Then I can go and kill them. My blood was pounding in my ears with anger and frustration. Except that wasn’t my heartbeat. Her scent was already overwhelming. It washed over me with every breath attempting to calm myself, only to make me more bloodthirsty. 

 

    “Are you okay?” I asked. Why hadn’t I asked that yet? She is the whole reason why I am here in the first place. My mind had been too busy, imagining tearing the throat out of those rapists to notice how terrified she still was. I am so used to the minds around me broadcasting their thoughts, I forgot that I’d actually need to read her body language. God, I’m treating her like an object too. 

 

    “I’m fine,” she said hesitantly, almost a whisper. “Are you okay?” 

 

    “No,” Why are you concerned about me? After that, I should be taking care of you, not the other way around. And I still want to murder everyone. No! I’m not okay. I haven’t killed anyone in decades. I want to eat you. I would kill for you. Kill any one who even thinks about hurting you. Oh god, Rosalie is right. I’m weirdly possessive because I like you. This is so unhealthy. 

 

    “Can we slow down,” she choked out. I tried to picture this scene from her point of view, harder to do when I can’t just psychically see from her perspective. Her hand was still gripping the door handle and she seemed to be bracing herself up with her other hand. I remembered her questioning Jessica’s driving history when she agreed to this shopping trip. Her parents had died in a car crash. Of course she would be more afraid of my driving than what just happened to her. Or maybe she was more afraid of me, radiating anger. I did, sort of, just kidnap her. 

 

There was a scenic overlook ahead and I pulled over. I needed to get my own breathing under control but every breath of her scent made me more thirsty. If I leave the car now to get air I’d be tempted to run back and find those attackers. 

 

    “I was supposed to meet my friends at the restaurant,” she said after my awkward moments of silence. She was leaning against the window, her breath barely fogging the glass. She seemed calm with attempted indifference. Or exhausted. 

 

    “I can take you back..” You’d be safe with your friends and then I could go hunt those four down. Even this far away, I could hear their thoughts polluting the calm streets of Port Angeles. They wouldn’t be hard to find, wouldn’t be hard to kill. Hide their bodies in the bay. I would have to be clean, no evidence. It's not like I could call the cleaners. 

 

    “What’s wrong?” she asked. I hadn’t moved so she was probably confused on why I wasn’t bringing her back to her friends already. 

 

If I killed those people I could never go back home again. Wouldn’t be able to face my family again. Never see her again. 

 

    “I’m having a problem with my anger right now,” I began to explain, not thinking straight. “But it wouldn’t be helpful for me to turn around and hunt down those…” I don’t want to be like that again. “Could you distract me? Or a minute?” I don’t have the right to ask you for anything right now. 

 

    “Umm..well, Tyler Crowley is spreading the rumor that I’m gay. Apparently a girl can’t turn down three guys in a row without damning the gender entirely.”

   

    A normal highschool thing. Nothing to do with blood and the best way to sink four bodies in the bay. 

   

“You seem more amused than upset by that fact.” Hmm, I am now more amused than upset. These new mood swings are going to be the death of me. 

 

    “Well he took the work out for me telling people that i’m bi. Now the truth won't be the talk of the town.” Bella looked smug.

 

    “I thought you hated rumors.” And I hate hearing rumors about you. I can’t not pay attention to them. I have no way to tell if they are true or not because I can’t read your mind and I want to know everything about you. 

 

    “I thought you said I should start using rumors to my advantage,” Bella replied and looked back out onto the lights of the bay. “I’ve been letting a lot of shit worry me lately so I’ve been trying to flip the stories that I tell myself around in my head. I might as well flip the stories other people say about me too.”

 

    “I did hear that gossip actually,” I said, starting the car again. Bella is the perfect distraction because I can’t seem to think when I’m around her. I made sure to drive the speed limit on the way back to town. It really did make more sense that I return her to her friends instead of bringing her straight home. I really should have asked where she wanted to go in the first place. 

 

    “You did? I never see you talk to your classmates. How are you so on top of the small town rumor mill all the time.” 

   

    “Maybe I'm psychic,” I responded with the truth. No one ever believes it, and why would they? Reflexive ignorance is part of the vampire curse. Trying to be more conversational, I added, "My younger siblings are very entertained by all the highschool drama." 

 

"Did they hate being homeschooled?"

 

"Well we use our time better, for sure." Still not a lie. 

 

"So..Is that why you seem to know what restaurant I was supposed to meet Angela at?" 

 

And here is where my lies need to kick in again. She seemed more observant than the average person. How do I tell her that I plucked it out of Angela’s brain? That I have been stalking her all day, all week, because of Alice’s vague premonition that something bad was going to happen. 

 

"Why what, again?” I asked while I parked, trying to delay my answer. 

 

"Because you are psychic." 

 

Bella believes me? Or is she trying to run with the joke? Just behind her I saw her friends pacing the shops on the boardwalk. Jessica was thinking of splitting up the group to go look for Bella. 

 

"You should go stop Jessica before they start to wander off looking for you. Your assailants might still be nearby." I could sense them down the pier, sharing another bottle of liquor and some take-out. 

 

Bella caught up to her friends before they split up. Angela was radiating worry and relief. Lauren was a mixture of annoyed and concerned. 

 

"We tried texting you…" Jessica started, her mind suddenly distracted when I walked up. ‘ Wait, she met up with Edward! Oh my god, she must of had this planned this whole time.’

 

The effect that vampires have on humans is always a bit different with people. Jessica forgets I exist when I am not around her often enough, then is totally enthralled when I am. Most people totally ignore us like uninteresting NPC's in a video game. Some people hold onto suspicion, convinced that we are up to no good, never finding evidence. I can't seem to figure out which camp Bella is in.

 

And then Bella lied to her friends. Of course she wouldn’t want to retell her close encounter so soon. Or maybe she didn't want to worry them. 

 

"Would it be alright if I join you for dinner?" I asked the group. I knew they had already eaten, but I wanted to give a subtle reminder that Bella should eat something before the long drive home. 

 

Before I knew it, plans shifted and I found myself offering dinner and a ride home to Bella. Via her last text to them, the girls all thought Bella had already eaten. Jessica was pissed at herself for being the deciding vote of ordering dinner without her. She wanted to stay now that I showed up but Jessica was the driver so if she stayed, everyone had to. 

 

Offering to drive seemed the most logical in this situation and the words slipped off my tongue before a second thought occured to me, which was that it would be a horrible idea. An hour alone in the car with my temptress. Just minutes ago, I started that drive without thinking about what I would have to endure. I had an out and I accidentally maneuvered it so I would be alone with her again. The other option would be to let Bella leave with her friends and I go kill four people. 

 

"Yeah. Okay," said Bella, agreeing with the plan. Did she just wink at Angela? It was a phenomenon that happened with close friends where one person silently asks their friend a question in their head and the other seemingly answers it, all with conspiratorial looks or tones of voice that recall applicable pop culture references. 

 

They said their goodbyes and Jessica wished us luck on our impromptu date. Was that what the wink was about? Did Bella like me? And why did I just experience a little swell of hope about that notion. 

 

"Adrenaline sure works up an appetite," Bella looked uneasy. 

 

We were at the door to the restaurant and I was distracted, mentally watching Bella's friends unlock their car and safely exit the scene with no incident. 

 

"Except I don't know if I'm starving or want to throw up." Bella paused outside the restaurant. I suppose that feeling is understandable. After watching her have a panic attack in the middle of our science class, I was worried this incident might result in another one. She seemed to be handling this very well. 

 

"Well you wouldn't want to throw up on an empty stomach, would you?" I said jokingly. I immediately realized that it was the wrong thing to say. The hostess just inside the door heard us and was surprised at the casual encouragement of an eating disorder. She was prepared to be pissed at me if it turned out that I was pressuring my girlfriend on an issue of weight loss. At the same time, I secretly enjoyed that she assumed we were a couple. 

 

“A table for two?” I said with a slight sigh. 

 

She led us to the busiest side of the restaurant. With limited wait staff she had limited sections to place us. I don't think I could handle the psychic tinnitus of everyone right now. I would still be able to hear them in the other room but I could tune out people more when I wasn't looking at them. 

 

“Hmm. Could we perhaps have a table somewhere more private?” I asked our hostess with the nicest smile I could muster. Smiles were another thing that my siblings and I had to limit around humans. Our smiles featured pronounced canines. 

 

 “Of course,” she responded forcefully. Apparently the other section was closer to the bathroom and just reinforced her theory. She led us to a narrow closed-porch space that overlooked the waterfront. The wide empty space of the bay, reflecting the lights of the city, was completely empty of mental jargon and soothing in its calmness. The draft from the window did little to cover Bella's scent but I wouldn't be wholly overpowered by it. 

 

“Perfect," I smiled genuinely. I didn't think Bella would want to be in a crowded noisy space after getting assaulted. Or maybe she would feel safer in numbers. I hoped the temperature on the covered porch wouldn't be too chilly for her. I wish I just knew her opinions about things without needing to awkwardly ask. 

 

“You know," Bella stated from across the table from me, "it’s hardly fair to use your attractiveness to get your way all the time.”

 

“But this is a far better view,” I gestured. She just said I was attractive. And manipulative, which is true. 

 

I heard our server approach from the kitchen after the hostess relayed her suspicions about me, that I seemed like an overbearing control freak. I tried to tune out her thoughts as best I could as I ordered a drink, mimicking Bella's order. 

 

“Are you really going to be alright?” I asked Bella as soon as we were out of earshot from our waitress again. Bella did look pale. She was always pale, with slight freckles sprinkling her cheeks and dark wavy hair framing her face. 

 

“Well I'm going to buy some better pepper-spray but I don’t think that will make me feel much safer.” She seemed to be putting on a brave face.  

 

“Is there anything I could do?”

 

“You can stop bringing it up," she said curtly. "I am actively trying to repress the memory right now so I can function as a human being on our fake date instead of having a panic attack.” 

 

Outwardly, she looked so calm and collected but the tenor of her voice sounded shaky. She pantomimed corking a bottle and tossed it behind her. Bottling emotions. 

 

I repressed a smile. “I’m not sure that’s exactly healthy,” but I understood the desire to set oppressive thoughts aside and go on living. I have to deal with so much daily psychic stress from the people around me that I constantly have to remind myself that I can’t fix everything.  

 

“Are you ready to order?” our waitress reappeared. I heard her footsteps coming but I was still surprised by how well I was able to tune her out, her mind sounded like she was further away. But, of course, now that I thought about it, her mind was as loud as ever and still investigating me for clues of what a terrible person I was. My mind was focused on Bella. 

 

Bella let out an exasperated sigh, opened her menu, making a quick decision about what to eat. I ordered something that I saw on someone's table in the main room. With all the anxiety of the night I wondered if Bella even wanted to eat, she did say she was nauseous. It looked like she didn’t care what she ordered. 

 

I pushed the basket of fries towards her. “It will make me feel better if you ate something.”

 

The salt would at least help. And the sugar from the lemonade. 

 

“One thing that you could tell me though," she asked, pausing to eat a french fry, adding dramatic effect, “is how you knew where to find me?” 

 

Because Alice said if I wasn't around you, you would die a mysterious death and she wants to be your friend except her hanging out with you right now increases the change of said death. 

 

“What if I said I was stalking you…" I said quietly, dreading her reaction. 

 

“I’d say that's pretty silly when we sit next to each other everyday for class and you ignore me the entire time,” she said bitterly. 

 

“I don’t ignore you the entire time…” I just don’t think it is wise that we become friends when that makes it more likely for me to kill you. 

 

“No. You quietly pay attention to me from a distance.” 

 

She's more observant than I thought. 

 

She continued, gesturing with the fries while she ate. “And when you are around me, you can hardly say a word. It's not that I haven't been trying to start a conversation with you , I just got the hint and know when my advances are unwelcome.”

 

Advances? Does she like me or hate me? I'm doing a good job making her hate me. I’m doing a good job hating myself. 

 

“I’ve been very unfair, I know,” I had to say this carefully. “I have been trying to..not be friends with you. I’ve been afraid I’d...ruin everything I guess.”

 

 She was staring at me from across the table, pausing in her attack on the fries. 

 

“I am sorry it has been so one sided so far.” The problem is, you are so easy to get along with that I see myself easily being good friends with you, not just Alice's vision of it. But Alice also saw me killing you in a hundred different ways. 

 

    It wasn’t a busy night at the restaurant so our order was up already. I had to remind myself to let Bella eat; let Bella lead the conversation. I didn’t want to dig myself into a conversation hole like Alice did in the coffee shop, trying to invent an elaborate backstory for our family history. I busied myself by pretending to eat the pasta on my plate. Moving the lumps of foodstuffs around was enough to trick humans into thinking I ate any. I don’t know how that magic works but humans seem to fill in the gaps to fit their assumption of normal.  

 

“The ravioli is good,” I said, trying to ease into conversation again. “How’s the burger?” 

 

“Oh, um..” she looked up at me confused, “It's fine.” 

 

Still looking at me, she reached over with her fork and plucked up one of my ravioli. Her movement seemed slow, like she was daring me to stop her. Please do, it's not like I’m going to eat it. 

 

“Let’s say, hypothetically,” she said, eating the food off my plate, “that one is psychic. What exactly do you think the limitations are on that?” 

 

“Oh I think it would be pretty annoying to hear all the thoughts around you all at once. Might drive you crazy after a while.” First few years, I thought my psychic gift was great. After the first decade I realized it was a curse. 

 

“Right,” she agreed, nodding her head a little. “Would probably be hard to focus on a single mind, right? Like if someone was in trouble and across the city, it would probably be too far away to hear them. And then probably even more difficult to find, like playing “hot or cold” or something.” She paused while eating a fry, like she was considering it for the first time. “Ya know, I think it's just lemon-pepper on these fries.”

 

Did she say that last thing to distract me from her chillingly accurate pondering? Or was she using this whole thought experiment as a cover for asking me why I was stalking her?

 

“Maybe if your psychic had been paying attention, the timing wouldn’t have needed to be quite so exact,” I replied, staying as close to the truth as possible. 

 

I wanted to tell her the truth. I wanted her to trust me. But was it me or the-monster-that-is-me that wanted to get closer to her. I feel like I can’t even trust myself right now, like my body is betraying me. 

 

She gave me a look, one eyebrow slightly raised. “We were speaking of a hypothetical case.”

 

“Okay…” I started hesitantly, “I’d suppose that once one reads a mind, or becomes more familiar to it, it becomes easier to find in a crowd. Like if a whole group is talking at once, you can still tune out other conversations and only focus on one voice...”

 

“Oh I am very entertained, go on,” she said when I paused. 

 

Maybe I can use this to figure out why none of our powers work on her.

 

“I would assume that once you are familiar with someone's inner voice, you might be able to pick that person out of a crowd, say, a mile away. Although, we have to keep in mind that some people don’t have a train-of-thought...” I was watching her for any reaction to that but she went on eating. 

 

“And I’ve heard that some people think via written words,” I went on “I would speculate that our imaginary psychic would have trouble reading those types of people.” 

 

“So what you're saying is, the mind and body philosophy, the ‘I think, therefore I am’ is a little more nuanced than just an inner-voice for everyone. Isn’t that other thing called something? The thing with not being able to visualize mental imagery?”

 

“Aphantasia,” I responded automatically. I met someone once with it and I could hardly read her mind at all. And someone with face-blindness who selectively couldn’t see vampires at all. But Bella seemed like she had something else going on entirely. 

 

Bella was nearly finished with her plate so I took the liberty of paying for our bill when the waitress stopped by our table. I knew Bella would protest but what’s the point of being secretly rich if I didn’t pick up people’s tabs? 

 

“Could we have a box too? Thank you.” Bella asked the waitress.

 

I was the only one with food left on my plate. Our fake eating of human food doesn’t do anything to get rid of the food, just a mental block on people thinking too much about it. No one ever pays attention to the leftovers. 

 

“I’m not gonna let the pasta go to waste,” She tried to explain. Which really only explains that she notices the fact that I don’t eat. Shit. Maybe none of the camouflage works. 

 

"And what if I wanted dessert?" she asked innocently, referring to my paying the bill before she even got the chance. 

 

"Do you want dessert?" I asked, trying not to show that I suddenly became nervous. 

 

"I want the option of dessert," she declared. Of course. I made a decision for her again. I really need to stop doing that. 

 

    I signed for the bill when the server came around again. I had been pointedly avoiding her mental accusations throughout the meal. She couldn’t find any evidence in my behavior that I was an emotional abusive boyfriend like she thought but she left me a number for a therapist on the receipt anyway. Tricks on her. I’m already seeing a therapist. 

 

    Leaving the restaurant, I was caught off guard when Bella stopped walking, her being a half pace behind me. Her expression was both guilty and excited. Her hand was framed around her face under her chin, exaggeratingly mimicking a person in thought. With a half smile, like she was trying to hide it, she asked if we could go to the bookstore. Part of me was astonished that I didn’t see this coming, afterall, she was trying to get to the bookstore all evening. 

 

    I thought that she had a particular book that she was searching for but when we finally got to the store, her pace slowed. She methodically worked her way through the stacks, reading the back of books and the little review placards. It was infuriating that I couldn’t hear her thought process as she rejected one book, picked up two more and replaced them as she found a third. 

All of this I saw from a distance because as soon as we entered she sent me on an unapologetic assignment to the cafe. That part seemed practiced. Like friends or exes in the past would be annoyed by her idle bookstore wandering. Or she liked wandering bookstores solo. If she didn’t want to feel pressured into leaving the store too soon, I could relieve that pressure by wandering the stacks too. It surprised me how normal all this felt. To get dinner with a friend then to lose each other in a bookstore. Not knowing their every thought and exact location. It was frustrating because I was so used to having it as a crutch, but also nice. Normal. 

 

Walking to the car, I watched her out of the corner of my eye as she cradled her hot cocoa. Part of me thought she just wanted something to warm her hands but it also seemed like something to do with her hands. She held her hands around it protectively yet it seemed like she was ready to splash the warm drink in the face of anyone who might run up to us. 

 

As we got back to the car, I heard them again.

 

The four lowlifes who attempted assault were now throwing bottles at a cat in an alley. One was urinating against a wall. They were more drunk than before.

 

Bella opened the door again on her side, got out and looked at me over the top of the car. She heard the men too. The moment of panic on her face made her look so vulnerable.

 

I wanted to protect her. I hated seeing all the possible futures of her death through Alice.

 

"Please don't." She said desperately. "Stay with me."  

 

"Please get back in the car." I was still debating what to do. It didn’t help that Bella’s scent made me hungry.  

 

"Only if you'll stay."

   

    This took me aback. It made me wonder more how much she guessed about me. 

 

"Okay." I should let her decide. "What do you want to do?" 

 

"Could you.." she paused.

 

I suddenly had a memory of myself as a new vampire. I was head over heels in love. Vic had saved me from the pandemic that was sweeping across the country. We were in an alley in Chicago. It was just starting to rain and the smell of petrichor was cleansing the city of its grime. 

 

Vic whispering in my ear, lips just barely brushing against me, “Could you.. Kill them for me? You could find the bad ones for us… we need to eat, so let’s make it worth it.”

 

 "Could you call the police?” I was shook back to the present by Bella’s voice. “I should have done that earlier but I was too shaky and I don't have a signal on my phone. I.. don't think I could keep calm enough to explain to the police." 

 

I took a breath and let myself relax. I appreciated Bella’s attractive scent, now enveloping me in the tight space of the car and knew that I didn’t need to eat her or any human. Bella was a good person. 

 

"Okay.” I said gently. “I'm gonna step outside. I'll be right outside the car."

 

I moved away from the car so she couldn’t hear the phone call but could still keep me in eyesight. I did call the police and anonymously tipped them off about the four. It is unfortunate that no one would care or act on a near sexual assault however. As it was, I would have to have Emmett hack into the street security cameras and remove any footage of my presence. No, I told the police about the animal abuse, public urination, and intoxicated driving. After the call, I psychically watched a nearby officer receive the dispatch. The four would probably be locked in a drunk tank overnight and let go. It solved the immediate issue but not the long term. It wouldn’t be hard to find the evidence needed to get them locked up longer. One was growing weed in the basement of their frat house but that was legal in this state. The worst of the group had some incriminating photos buried in their phone. Emmett and I could take care of that this evening. 

 

 "Ready to go home." I asked Bella when I returned to the car. 

 

"They took your tip seriously and all that?" she asked, unsure and eyebrows knit.  

 

"I think so,” I smiled back. “Psychic abilities don't work over the phone though.."

 

"Ha. Nice callback.” 

 

We started our way back. I psychically watched the streets behind me just as a police car was approaching the four and then I was too out of range. 

 

I wanted to ask if she was okay or feeling better but she already expressed her displeasure at those types of questions. I wanted to ask nonconsequential things but the more time when on the more awkward it felt like my questions would be. I wanted to ask her how much she knew about me or my siblings, what her theories were, but how do I ask ‘do you think  I am a supernatural creature of the night?’ without giving it away.

 

"Do you think I'm broken?" she asked, staring out of the window at the gloomy landscape. 

 

"Not at all. Why do you ask?" Is this because you are depressed or because you were attacked this evening?

 

"You can't seem to read my mind." 

 

A joke? A deflection? She seemed serious in her tone but that itself could be the joke. If you do believe that I can read thoughts, why feel weird about having a shield against that invasion of privacy? 

 

 "You're right. I cannot read your mind…I don't think that you are broken. I think…” that I am broken and bad for you. “Bad shit happens to people and you just have a couple of… critical misses right now." I can’t tell her that Alice prophesied her death. 

 

"Hmm." She made a dismissive noise like she’s heard this all before.

 

And then she fell asleep against the window.

 

It had been a long day for her. I was expecting the car ride to be full of the same tension I had upon first meeting her; thirst and a desire to kill, now with no witnesses. Anger at myself for my own reactions. But she fell asleep, at ease in a car with a vampire. 

 

Vampires only sleep for a few hours, just enough for a rem cycle. And when we sleep, we are out of it, dead to the world. People with partners, like my siblings, sleep in shifts, so they can protect each other while they sleep. Bella’s trust in me made me feel better about myself, however underserved it might be. And of course, her falling asleep in a friend's car wouldn’t mean the same thing to her as it would to me. 

 

Though I would rather let her sleep, I woke her as we reached the edge of town. I asked her for directions to her house, remembering the comment about knowing which restaurant to go to. 

 

    When we parked, I insisted that she take my jacket for the rain. It was a spur of the moment idea. I felt like I was coming on strong but the jacket might be enough to mask her scent for the next few days. Jasper’s boyfriend was picking him up for a trip and the idea of other vampires in town, however brief, had me on edge. 

   

    I waited until she entered her house before leaving. Two blocks away, I picked up Alice on the side of the road. She was very good at communicating psychically to me when she knew I was in range. She was checking on Bella’s house for me while we were out of town. Not all day, of course. Jasper’s other partner had arrived earlier in the day and she was giving them space to be alone together. 

 

    “Busy night?” Alice said, stretching out in the front seat and enjoying Bella’s lingering scent in the car.

 

    “You can say that again. I’ll have some hacking work for Emmett and Rose.” 

 

    “You did good.” She said, smirking at me. “We’ll have to make sure Peter and Charlotte don’t smell this car though.”

 

“So tonight wasn’t one of the deaths that you saw then?”

 

“Nope. That was a new one.”

 

“That doesn’t make me feel any better about this whole situation.”

 

“It should. You are now way less likely to kill her yourself.” Alice was beaming at me with one of her huge smiles.

 

“Ahem. That doesn’t make me feel any better about this whole situation.”

 

“I suppose that mood is for the best. Take a shower in the garage bathroom when we get home. I’ll have to change my clothes too after sitting in this car too.” 

 

“I thought Peter and Charlotte were vegetarians.” It was a joke, but a bad one. 

 

“They are. Let’s just be cautious. Low probability.” She waved her hand dismissively. 

 

“You are right about us becoming friends…” I said after a moment, knowing that it will make her happy to hear it out loud. 

 

“And soon, I'll actually be able to be her friend too.” Alice smiled back at me. 

Chapter Text

“Surprise!” Jacklyn was standing on the front porch. 

 

“To what do I owe the pleasure?

 

 I was just doing some homework at the kitchen table when she knocked at the door. I hadn’t gotten a text from her for at least a week so it was weird that she would drive to town out of the blue.

 

“I’m having a terrible weekend,” she said, coming into the living room and setting down her bags. “So I bought the stuff to make a cake and I thought it would be nice if someone helped me eat it. I couldn’t possibly do that alone, cause that would be sad, so I am gifting my sad presence onto you.”

 

“Wow. Okay. Umm, what do we preheat the oven to?”

 

“Muhahaha.” Exaggerating the evil laugh. “I knew you could be roped into my evil scheme.” She cleared her throat to a normal voice, “375.”

 

“I like your choice in sprinkles.” I said when the cake was finally in the oven. We made it from scratch and made a good mess in the process. The sprinkles were dutch chocolate, the kind that was actually chocolate and not mostly wax. 

 

“Thanks,” she said, eating the batter that stuck to the walls of the bowl. “I have good taste.”

 

“So why all this,” I asked, gesturing to our mess on the counter. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

Jaclyn let out a long sigh. “Stacy broke up with me.”

 

“Shit I’m sorry.”

 

“There is a curse that gets triggered around the fourth-month mark.”

 

“Yeah I heard that theory before.”

 

“I’ve been too busy to give her the attention that she needed. Wanted.”

 

“How’s the farm?”

 

“The sheep are fine. And boring. And a lot of work. I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“And the fam?

 

“Oh dad is as annoying as ever. The bro is coming home soon from his camping trip and dad is making a fuss about it.”

 

“How are you?”

 

“Ugh. I don’t know.” She was concentrating on measuring out the ingredients for the frosting. “I’m sick of people thinking I'm not fem enough,” she said, clearly fed up.

 

“You are literally baking a cake in a lacy apron right now.”

 

“You know what I mean.”

 

I sat down across from her at the kitchen table while she whisked up the frosting. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

“Well I still get some body dysphoria. Mostly I'm angry at and disappointed in all the folks that think I need a vagina to be a girl.”

 

"I'm sorry that people are jerks. Is there anything I can do?"

 

"Let me make a mess of your kitchen." She said matter of factly. 

 

"On it, boss."

 

The front door made its characteristic squeaking noise as Charlie got home. 

 

“What smells so good?” He shouted from the hall.

 

“We are having cake for dinner.” Jacklyn greeted him.

 

“As the adult in this house, I am totally fine with that arrangement. What were you guys just talking about?”

 

“Periods,” I smirked at him.

 

“Well I suppose that explains the cake.” He laughed as he took off his boots at the door.

 

“It cool that I have a sleepover tonight?” Jacklyn asked him.

 

“Umm.. It's a school night…”

 

“I have a free block Monday mornings.”

 

“I thought… um, you had a girlfriend.” 

 

“That's actually the reason for the cake,” I said, taking it out of the oven. The egg timer on the stove went off a second later. I checked it with a toothpick and put it back in, resetting the timer for five more minutes. 

 

“Sorry to hear that.” He sighed. “Sure. Don’t stay up too late.” He emphasized that last part. 

 

Charlie gave me a funny look behind Jacklyn's back, pointing quickly between Jacklyn and I. I shook my head at him and I saw him relax. He seemed happy that I had a friend over again and it helped that he already liked Jacklyn. But he also didn't know how to react to the idea of me dating anyone. Our 'talk' about it was short, awkward, and mostly about him starting to date Sue Clearwater. 

 

We did end up having real food for dinner also. Charlie cooked, since we made dessert. After dinner and two slices of cake, we watched an old chick flick, Jackyln’s pick of ‘Must love dogs.’

 

“I think in the genre of online dating rom-com, I like ‘You got mail’ better.”

 

“Maybe I’m a dog-person.” She mumbled into her cake. 

 

I looked over at her from across the couch with mock offense. “Maybe I’m a cat-person.”

 

“Ugh. You would be.” She threw the decorative cat pillow at me from across the couch. 

 

I didn’t want to talk about my own terrible weekend but I am glad that I was able to have Jacklyn over. I could tell that this breakup was hard on her and I didn’t want my worries to overshadow hers. 

 

“Want to go to my school’s Halloween party?” I had been thinking about this for the second half of the movie. I needed a buffer from my classmates and Jacklyn might need an escape from her own friend group. 

 

“Nah. I already have plans.” She looked bummed about it.

 

“I wish we could get away with trick-or-treating at our age.”

 

“But now we can just buy our own candy anytime we want.”

 

“Half of the fun is the surprise of getting those obscure toffees and shitty candy that you can’t seem to find any other time of year.”

 

“Whose jacket is this?”

 

We moved upstairs to my room, gathering all the extra blankets from the linen closet. She was looking at Edward’s jacket on the back of my desk chair. 

 

“Um, I left my jacket in a friend’s car and another classmate let me borrow it.” 

 

The story behind it is innocent, except why do I feel so self conscious about it? And why did it make me blush. 

 

“I thought maybe you stole it. Smells like guy.” She looked almost disappointed but her eyes lingered on the jacket more than I thought was necessary. Grinning, she asked, “So which side of the bed do I get?” 

 

    As I was falling asleep, I had a curious memory about the last halloween I had in Folks. I must have been around five, mom and dad were still married. Jacklyn, who still went by Jacob then, came over for trick-or-treating. Mom dressed me as a little vampire and Jacklyn started crying uncontrollably when she saw me. She was supposed to be Nala from Lion King and I remember her whisker face paint getting all smudged. She had started hitting me and tried to take off my baby-dracula-cape before we were separated and they went home early. It occurred to me now that her Mom had died a few months previous. Was she just a grieving kid or a grieving kid who specifically was afraid of vampires?

 

    “Hey Jacklyn? You awake?” I whispered.

 

    “Hmfp.”

 

    “How did your mother die?”

 

    “Oh sweetie.” She turned around in bed to look at me in the dim light. “I have been complaining all night and didn’t even ask how you have been doing with your mom stuff.”

 

    “It comes and goes. Totally overwhelming one minute and then I forget about it, then feel bad about forgetting.”

 

She hugged me for a long while in the dark. “It was a rock climbing accident.” She said after the long silence. “My mom, I mean.”

 

“And your dad hurt his leg like a year after that, right?”

 

“It was a different camping trip, yeah...But you don’t have to worry about anything happening to your dad.” 

 

    “Shit just happens, yeah I know.”

 

    “Yeah but It doesn’t do any good to catastrophize. I know how exhausting it is to be afraid of everything all the time.”

   

    “Sorry to wake you."

 

Chapter Text

"Sweetie?" Dad called with his head in the fridge. "What is this?"

 

He pulled out a large, knobby root vegetable that was about the size of his head. 

 

"Celeriac." 

 

"A condensed manifestation of a gluten allergy?" He asked, eyes narrowed. 

 

"It's a celery root. Acts like potato, tastes like celery. Want me to help make something with it tonight?" I explained. 

 

"So, like mashed potatoes?" He was still clearly skeptical.

 

"How about you prep the protein and I'll make something with this." I offered, grabbing the root from him. 

 

"Let's go all out and make biscuits too." I showed him how easy Phillis's biscuit recipe was and now he could not get enough of them. I turned him into a baker.

 

"Hey dad…" I asked tentatively while I chopped the celery root and potatoes. "Is Forks a safe town?" 

 

"As your chief of police, I'm gonna go with yes. Why do you ask?"

 

"Oh... um, I got freaked by some drunks breaking bottles by the pier in Port Angeles last weekend." 

 

"They didn't harass you or your girlfriends, right?" 

 

"No, no. But it had me thinking about crime stuff in the area.."

 

"Okay.."

 

"I don't know, are there, like, mysterious murders or missing persons?"

 

"A couple of break ins. My job is mostly petty crime and campers getting lost. I'm not going to lie to you but there was a domestic dispute recently that got ugly." 

 

"Yikes. Is she going to be okay?"

 

"He, actually. And we are doing everything in our power to help. Sometimes we can only do so much…" He trailed off in thought. "Remember that you can always ask for help and you deserve to be loved and cared for."

 

"I'm depressed but I understand my self worth. And I'm not dating anyone right now, dad."

 

"Oh it's okay if you date. It's great if you want to start dating again, honey. I don't mean to discourage you from dating."

 

"Jacklyn and I are not dating and I am not interested in anyone. I'm changing the conversation now." I threw all my chopped up root veggies in the boiling pot on the stove and started to clean up my side of the counter. "So, no long lasting mysterious illnesses in town?"

 

“No lead in the water, if that's what you mean. We have usual illnesses for small town with an aging population."

 

“I’m still gonna use the Brita filter i think…” I trailed off in thought, covering up my real question.

 

“In a somewhat related topic, I work Thursday night. You’re gonna have to pass out candy without me.”

 

“I figured you might need to work on Halloween. That’s okay.” I tried not to sound too disappointed. Mom always went all out for the holiday. Our porch black-light and neon plastic skeleton riding a bicycle seemed lazy in terms of decor. It was partly a public service announcement about bike safety. Chief Zwaan’s house is usually dark on Halloween but always had PSA themed decor. 

 

"So, very important question," he began ominously as he grabbed plates from the cupboard, "what board game do you want to play after dinner?"

Chapter Text

The real reason the Halloween party is at Jessica's, besides the fact that she has the extra space, is that she lives next to a cemetery. The small lot of aged gravestones butted up next to her yard, adding to the ambiance of the holiday and providing extra parking space. 

 

This will probably be the only reason for me to ever park at a church, I thought to myself as I pulled into the closest spot to her house I could find. There must have been twenty cars in the church’s lot. If people carpooled, and I know they did, then I was about to walk into a very crowded garage full of people in their most extroverted mood. I could hear the music and laughter from the party only slightly muffled by the distance.

 

There was a slight dip in the landscape with the stone markers dotting up a little ridge to the house, making it ominously backlit. The trees obscured the light close to the hill, making the last little stretch shaded in darkness until I suddenly arrived at the party.

 

The monster mash was playing over the speaker system when I entered the garage. Cliche songs were intermingled with dance music according to Eric's plan as DJ. 

 

"Looking good Rosie the riveter," Angela greeted me by the food table. I was wearing heavy canvas work coveralls and a red polkadot bandana artfully arranged with an antique pair of welding goggles on my head. 

 

"Nice to finally meet you Amelia. How was the flight in?" I started to fill my plate full of nachos.

 

"You just missed the Cha Cha Slide." She said over the noise. 

 

"Now I'm extra grateful that I decided to arrive fashionably late." 

 

"Wanna go eat this by the bonfire out back?"

 

"Lead the way." I had to shout over the music. 

 

Parties were much easier when there were props like food and drink in front of me. Angela was a darling and showed me around after we ate, dragging me onto the dance floor with Jessica. 

 

“I’m going to pass on this next one and go get a drink.” I said over the music at them.

 

Things have been weird with Jessica and I all week. On Monday she had asked about my impromptu date, thinking that I planned it ahead of time. 

 

"Are you guys keeping it a secret because the Cullens are not allowed to date? Why keep it secret from us if that was the case?" Jessica had asked, catching me in the parking lot Monday morning. 

 

"It was just dinner. Not a date. I don't think he would call it a date either." 

 

"I am begging for juicy details. I've had a crush on him forever and I need to live vicariously through you."

 

"Well...he paid for dinner. Didn't even give me the option to pay. And he ignored the cute waitress the entire time but tipped really well."

 

"Ahh it was totally a date. Oh my god, you should ask him to my party"

 

"Honestly I don't think he sees me that way."

 

"But you like him?"

 

I had stopped walking and Jessica turned in anticipation. "Yes," I begrudgingly admitted to her. I've been fascinated by the mystery that surrounds him. I had to admit that the more I learned about him, the more I liked him. 

 

Jessica wouldn't leave it alone after that. She wanted me to act, to know every detail. I was mortified by Edward's curious expression when I entered the science classroom, realizing then that he could probably listen in on all of my conversation with Jess. Out of spite for the lack of privacy I later told Jess that I asked him to the party but that he politely declined. Benefit, Jessica stopped only talking about dating. Con, Edward was politely distant all week. Con, I didn't invite Edward to this party with me. 

 

The food table was picked over by the time I got back to it. There were two punch bowl options. One was mostly full with a pale drink that seemed to be glowing under the nearby blacklight, the other one was bright red and nearly empty. I filled mine with the red but upon the first sip I had to spit it back out again.

 

“Jesus, what’s in that?” I asked Mike, who had just walked up laughing at my expression.

 

“Sprite, vodka, and like, a whole jar of maraschino cherries.” 

 

“A little warning on the spiked drink would have been nice.”

 

“There is a little sign.” He said pointing to a picture of a skull and crossbones taped to the side of the bowl.” 

 

“And here I thought that meant poison.”

 

“I'll take yours if you're not going to drink it." He offered, trading a new solo cup for mine. "I promise you we have sober drivers.” 

 

“What's the other one and why is it glowing.”

 

“It's tonic water but it's terrible. We didn’t spike that one.”

 

“Oh that’s not bad,” I said, trying a tentative sip. “Weird but not terrible.”

 

“You’re weird but not terrible.” He said joking at me. “Hey, wanna go sit by the fire for a little bit, it’s so noisy in here.”

 

A new song came on and someone had bumped into me in the shuffle on the dance floor. Mike used that excuse to stand closer to me.

 

“Sure,” trying to rescue my drink.

 

We made our way along the side and at the back of the garage there were two younger classmen throwing popcorn at each other on the beat-up couch. Before the exit, I got a clear shot of them and realized it was the younger two Cullens. They were sitting on opposite ends of the couch and throwing popcorn into eachothers mouths, seemingly to see how many in a row they could get. Except they weren’t catching any, just bouncing the popcorn off of their noses, the crowd of gawkers around them cheering them on as if they did.

 

“I thought they were freshmen,” I whispered to Mike as we inched past.

 

“Ugh. They’re party crashers. Jessica’s little brother invited some of his class.”

 

I wondered vaguely if that meant their other siblings were here too. One Cullen in particular.

 

We sat on the mossy logs by the fire and Mike was immediately greeted with a vape being passed around. I watched for a second as Mike exhaled a large puff, making a smoke ring that glowed backlit by the fire. He passed it to me and I passed it along. 

 

“Why is fire blue?”

 

“Cool, right?” Mike said excitedly “We just threw some copper wire in.”

 

“So probably not a good idea to make another s’more?” I asked to his non-apologetic face. I ate the marshmallow cold, which was not the best way to eat marshmallows in my opinion. 

 

I stared at the dancing blue-green flames. “I actually think I am going to call it a night,” I said after a second. I didn’t care that everyone was smoking or drinking but I cared about the ride home. “Let Angela know I left, yeah?” 

 

Mike looked disappointed but didn’t comment negatively about it. Maybe I declined socializing so often that he was just amazed that I stayed this long at the party. Since I was already outside, I skirted around the building and people making out in the shadows instead of going back through the party to say goodbye to people. 

 

Hearing the noise fade in the background as I was walking back to the truck was calming. But the truck in question had the inside cab light dimly glowing as I walked up to it. My driver’s side door was closed but not exactly latched. As a consequence, the truck wouldn’t start. I could hear the engine struggle to turn over as the battery failed to turn over. 

 

I stopped trying, resting my head on the steering wheel and taking in a calming breath. “I just want to go home and go to sleep.” 

 

I got out of the car, making sure the door closed this time, and drudged my way back up the hill to the noise, lights, and people. 

 

“Hey, you decided to stay.” Mike beamed up at me from his seat by the fire. 

 

“My battery died,” I said, slumping down next to him. 

 

“Oh, there is a charger by the sink in the back of the garage.”

 

“My truck battery died.”

 

“Shit. Do you want a ride home?”

 

“I guess I’ll have to unless you have jumper cables.”

 

“You might have to ask Jessica about that one.”

 

“Who are you getting a ride home with?”

 

“I’m catching a ride with Eric.”

 

“No you’re not. I just saw you smoking.” I said, turning to Eric. I had to admit that my tone was a little harsh at this point. 

 

“Chill. I’m a functional smoker. It’s fine," Eric responded defensively. 

 

“I’m gonna go ask Angela,” getting up and leaving them both by the fire. 

 

I found Angela by the snack table with Jessica.

 

“Actually, I offered to stay and help clean up,” Angela explained. 

 

‘You could crash on my floor too if you want. A couple people are staying so they can partake in the punch,” Jessica offered as she ate one of the cherries speared on the end of a tiny black drink-umbrella. 

 

“Do you know anyone who is heading out soon?” 

 

“Courtney just left, you might still catch her in the lot.”

 

“Okay. Thanks, I’ll go check.” I hugged them both and congratulated them on hosting a great party, and made my way back outside.

 

I saw lights turning out of the parking lot by the time I made it to the edge of the yard. Well, that wasn’t a sure plan for a ride home anyway.

 

At least it’s a clear night, I thought as I turned again, back to the crowd. The stars were out but there were too many lights nearby to see much of the night sky. The brightness of the bonfire glared out any night vision I would have had, making the rest of the surroundings edged in flickering shadows. 

 

This time, Emmett and Rose Cullen were sitting among the crowd at the bonfire. I slowed my pace, no longer sure if I wanted to join the group at the fire or escape inside again. 

 

Why are they even here? There were only a few younger classmen at the party. The seniors had their own party somewhere else in town, presumably the older Cullens were invited to that one. Stupid vampires. 

   

Then it suddenly occurred to me that the kids that I saw sitting there, dressed in their childish costumes of shark-onesie pajamas and buffy-cosplay, were not 14 year olds at all. If they were vampires, the main lore beside no-sunlight is not aging. They could be hundreds of years old. That means Edward could be hundreds of years old. 

 

Emmett made eye contact with me from across the fire as I stopped, just shy of its warmth. 

 

If they are hundreds of years old what are they even doing here? Hunting?

 

I turned around again. My head was swimming with over-thinking. I walked past the garage, all the people and booming music, now determined to walk home. A walk would clear my head.

 

I was only a mile-ish from home. A long stretch of the road had no sidewalk but a wide enough gravel shoulder that walking seemed safe enough. I still flinched when headlights came up from behind and a car zoomed past me on the other side of the divide. Besides the few passing cars, the streets were quiet. 

 

Halloween night was Thursday so there were no little kids running around the neighborhood. Very few porch lights lit. Dad was working tonight but I couldn’t exactly call a cop to a party with underage drinking and not be a social pariah at school after. Plus he was spending the night at Sue’s tonight so even if he was already done with work he’d be heading to the coast.  

 

A car slowed as it dove past then parked in a driveway on my side about a hundred feet ahead of me. I slowed down, deciding that now might be a good time to cross the road. I crossed and watched an old lady get out of the car, unloading groceries with a tiny dog running circles around her. 

 

I’m just being paranoid.

 

This side of the road had a sidewalk but was flanked by woods, dark with the streetlamps on the other side of the street. The neighborhood was not exactly designed for pedestrians. I was walking with traffic, the lights warned me that a car was approaching but I still jumped out of my socks when I realized the car stopped next to me instead of driving by. 

 

“Sorry to startle you,” said Edward, with his passenger side window down. 

 

“Jesus, I should really put a bell on you,” I chided at the open window.

 

“Would you like a ride home?” His voice was sweet, the tone of voice you hear in sleep-meditation tracks. Calming, with a hint of huskiness.

 

"It's a nice night, I don't mind walking." 

 

"You look like you're freezing."

 

I was. The jacket that went with the costume still wasn't enough for the night air. It rained this morning but the clear sky this afternoon meant colder air. That was one opposite from living in Phoenix that I was slow to get used to. 

 

"You win," I said as I climbed in, "You're right, I am freezing."

 

"How was the party, Rosie the Riveter?" 

 

I took the vintage goggles off my head. The elastic pinching on my head was giving me a headache. The bandana came with it and I did my best to stuff both articles in my pocket and salvage my staticy hair. It did not pass my notice that my quick gestures made Edward tense. 

 

"It was fun. Glad I convinced myself to go. Parties like that are just a little too extroverted for me. How was the senior's party?" 

 

"I.. didn't go. I'm kinda only in town cause Emmett wanted to crash the Junior's party."

 

"I don't get what you all are so entertained by." 

 

"All the highschool drama." Matter of factly and with flourish. 

 

"Why didn't you go to the party then?"

 

"Too loud, too much hormones in a poorly ventilated space." 

 

“Wha-”

 

He stopped the car abruptly halfway down the lane as two deer jumped into the street. The first two kept running but a third doe stopped in our path, staring at our headlights. Edward flashed the headlights on and off and that broke her trance and she ran after the others.

 

    “Well that was exciting. What were you going to ask?”

 

“What'd you do if you didn’t go to the party?" after I got my own train of thought back. 

 

"I found a nice quiet parking spot and listened to music,” He said simply. 

 

"Rachmaninoff?" I asked. It was playing quietly in the background.

 

"Good ear,” he said with a grin. “When am I going to see your Spotify library?"

 

"Ah, no, too embarrassing. How did you know I needed a ride home this time?"

 

"Emmett texted me," he said, pulling into the driveway. He kept his hands on the wheel, even after he stopped the car. He was not going to elaborate on this last comment.

 

"Now you have your siblings stalking me?" 

 

"Well, I can't be everywhere." 

 

"Right..and you're not gonna tell me why I warrant all this attention."

 

"You warrant it," he said with a sly smile.

 

"You think you're clever."

 

"Hhmm," still with that devious smile. 

 

"I'm gonna go inside now," I stated, returning his smile. 

 

"As you wish."

 

"See, you just gave the game away."

 

"I have no idea what you are talking about." 

 

 "This is why you haven't been talking to me for weeks," I wasn't sure if that was a question or a statement. "You only answer direct questions."

 

"Not always, I mix it up a bit." 

 

"When I said I wanted us to talk more I meant an actual conversation, not interrogation." 

 

"I just want to make sure you want the conversation," he said in a tone that was mock-pleading innocent. 

 

"Consider this an invite then. I’m over this whole ‘you shouldn't be friends with me’ thing,"  opening my door to leave. “Thank you again, for the ride home.” 

 

“Anytime.” 

 

Chapter Text

That evening I crashed hard into bed and fell asleep immediately. I don’t normally remember my dreams but woke up cocooned in my weighted blanket, startled awake by the uncanny feeling of falling. Those are the worst kinds of dreams because you wake so suddenly. I groaned in bed, not wanting to relinquish my warmth. The sun was streaming in through my window and I couldn’t fall back asleep. I dragged myself out of bed and got ready for the day. The sun was a lie. A brief break in the rolling rain clouds. Downstairs, Charlie had Dutch Babies and coffee ready for me. I thought he was home early from Sue’s and then realized I slept in for most of the morning. 

 

“Hangover from the party?”

 

“I’m not always a morning person,” I said in a grumpy mood. “Wait, you knew there was drinking last night?”

 

“Teenagers don’t always make the best choices,” He said with a shrug. “How was the party?”

 

“It was fine. The costumes were great. Jessica staged a monster mash choreographed tik-tok. I ate too many s’mores. And I left a light on in the truck and the battery died,” I said over my coffee.

 

“I’m glad that you were able to figure out how to jump it. Or found someone sober enough to help."

 

I was confused and looked through the window at the front of the house to see my truck sitting in the driveway. 

 

“Ye of little faith," I gently scolded him. "A friend had jumper cables” 

 

I didn't like having to lie to cover up my confusion. My keys must have fallen out of my pocket in Edward’s car. I was surprised that I didn’t hear the truck in the night. It's usually so loud.

 

“I think they make a rechargeable battery pack thing that lets you jump the car battery yourself. I’ll order one for your truck so if it happens again and you’re alone, you won't get stuck anywhere.” 

 

“That would be convenient. The cab light might need to be replaced too, I didn’t even realize it was on until it was too late.”

 

“I might have a replacement light bulb that would work. I’ll take a look this afternoon.”

 

“Thanks dad.” I said with a smile, still confused by the appearance of the truck in the night.

 

    On Monday, I asked Edward about it in class. 

 

“I am going to deflect answering that by insisting that you let me upgrade your stereo system. That thing is ancient.”

 

“The radio is the one thing that actually works in the truck.”

 

“You don’t even have any cassettes to play.” He scoffed at me. 

 

“You just want to know my musical tastes.”

 

“Yes. Inquiring minds want to know.” 

 

“Okay,” I shrugged. “You can upgrade it.” I told him with a smirk and he returned it with a huge grin and a few more prying questionings into my musical tastes.

 

“You’re just gonna have to wait and find out,” I smirked at him. "But, next time you do something like steal my car keys you should give me a warning text about it."

 

"Or work up the courage to ask directly? Absurd," he joked. 

 

Each day after that, Edward asked me questions. It started small, like favorite foods and which restaurants in Phoenix that I missed. He asked about my relatives and what I missed most about Mom and Phillis. Asked for opinions on religion and politics. About video games. Which books I was reading, which authors and genres were my favorites. He avoided my reciprocal questions about food but went on at length about certain authors, particularly Borges. And he suggested a book called “Roadside picnic.” He let me borrow it but I had to promise that I wouldn’t watch the movie without him. 

 

“Okay, feelsy subject now, and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. What is your earliest memory of your mom?”

 

We were sitting together in the library's quiet room, attempting to study but really just sitting and talking, both in the comfy chairs in the corner of the room. 

 

“Oh man, I don’t know about earliest, it's all kinda just bits and pieces. She always went all out for holidays so I remember decorating the tree with her really young, things like that.”

 

“Favorite early mom memory then?”

 

I thought for a second. “Okay, this is after we moved to Arizona, in with Grandma. We lived with her for a while. That summer they took me to Disneyland, I think to distract me from the fact that I just moved away from all my old friends. Mom had stepped out of the hotel room to grab breakfast downstairs. In the, like, ten minutes she was gone and Grandma distracted watching news, I covered myself head to toe in craft-glitter. Rubbed it all over my skin and hair.”

 

“Oh, no. Why did you decide to do that?” He actually smiled, showing off one cute dimple on his cheek.

 

“Well, mom always told me it was fairy-dust, like Tinkerbell. So I packed it cause Disneyland is where magic happens or dreams come true, whatever the advertising was at the time.”

 

“You wanted to fly?”

 

“I think I just wanted magic to be real.” Now, thinking about the story, I feel justified. I raised my eyebrow at Edward. “Anyway, instead of being mad, mom put a bunch on her face and hair too, so we matched. Walked through the entire park trailing glitter.” 

 

“I can’t decide if that equates to a bread-crumb trail or something like a slug.”

 

“Well I was sparkly for like a week after and got it all over the car for the trip home so probably more like the Midas-touch, turning everything gold.” 

 

 

Our friendship was not exactly secret but not exactly public. We would talk in our shared class or a few times in the parking lot, but most of our correspondence was through text or hidden messages. To continue a conversation after class, he left a note for me within the pages of my science book. It was his response about his favorite authors, written in a curling cursive so perfect that seemed out of place on the ruled page torn out of his notebook. When our conversation about movies was cut off, I answered his question in the most circuitous way I could think of: psychically. The last class I have of the day is art and my table-mate usually talks my ear off. This time I did better at reciprocating our conversation and steered the topic to favorite movies. After class, Edward met me in the parking lot. 

 

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, really?" He greeted me with one eyebrow raised. 

 

"Don't knock it till you try it. Favorite movies are hard to choose." Of course he is not going to say a thing about how he acquired that knowledge. The experiment proved that he really does listen in to my conversations throughout the day. 

 

"Ya know, I was starting to trust your tastes but now I'm not so sure. I'm going to require your full list of your top ten movies."

 

I had forgotten about the truck stereo thing until a new one mysteriously appeared, installed in the truck with a little paper bow on it. On the seat was a new travel CD case. Two of them. One empty and the other filled with Edward’s favorites, a mix of classical and modern, famous bands and obscure groups that I soon fell in love with. I filled the empty one with my own collection, knowing that Edward would most likely make a list of everything that was in there. Like a well trained algorithm, Edward began recommending me new artists that paired up perfectly to my tastes. 

 

The awkwardness that I was feeling with my friend group also subsided. Jessica and Mike started dating and were absorbed with each other. Though, he did still try to invite me to everything, making Jessica's date ideas into friend hangouts. Maybe I was reading too much into it, he did invite people to group things before he was dating Jessica. Angela got over her jealousy and now had a crush on a senior in her art class. Lauren was still snarky but her stress was more directed on looming exams and homework than particular persons. 

 

Jacklyn was texting me more often again and it was a blessing to have her to vent to. Charlie and I joined Jacklyn and her family for Thanksgiving and I finally got to see the farm. It was too cold for me to go exploring but there were lots of sheep. Seeing the dynamic of her with her siblings actually made me glad I was an only child. Her elder twin brothers are...extra. Sue Clearwater and her kids, Leah and Seth, joined us too. It was less awkward than the first time I met them, partially because they already were friends with Jacklyn from when she lived on the Quileute reservation.

 

 Alice started hanging out with me after we were paired together to work in the greenhouse one weekend. She was enthusiastic and extremely extroverted but we clicked on topics in a way that made us easy friends. She was also guarded and distant in the same way as Edward. She seemed to jump right in when chance put us in the same greenhouse team together or when we happened upon each other in the coffee shop but she didn't go out of her way to hang out. Text, yes, but she would be non-committal about making plans. 

 

I was still depressed but my good days were more often than the bad. School was getting into a good rhythm. I thought about getting a job but knew I wanted one for the wrong reasons. I wanted to be more busy. I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts so even when I finished with homework I found something else to make myself busy. I ate audio books and podcasts while I cleaned the house or worked out on the stationary bike. I did twice as much sketching for art assignments than I needed to. Dad wasn't pushing me on grades in the slightest but I still was kicking myself for dumb mistakes I made on tests. And then I would crash, caught between sleep-procrastination and sleeping too much on the weekend. 

 

I was reminded that not all was normal-as-usual in Forks, the day of the blood drive at school. The Cullen siblings skipped school that day. Apparently they all had that flu that was making its rounds through the student body. 

 

Of course they all would be absent during the blood drive.

 

It's not that I forgot about my theories about the Cullens, it all just became... unimportant. I saw them every day at their lunch table in the far corner, pretending to eat food to blend in. Friendly with everyone and friends with no one but each other. And whatever they were, they didn't seem to hurt anybody.

 

Edward, for all that he hides his psychic ability, seems to go out of his way to help people. One underclassmen in particular is always short on change for lunch. Edward, being the intimidating senior, cut in front of him at the vending machine only to run off without his change at the bottom of the machine. Or the less subtle time of dropping a bill near his sister's car in the parking lot.  

 

My appointment with the blood drive crew was just after English, my first class. It was a coveted sign-up slot since the earlier appointments in the day had the potential for missing the most amount of class. Angela volunteers in the front office compiling mailers, so she had early access to the digital sign-up sheet, putting down our names for adjacent slots. 

 

This was my first time donating blood so I was not prepared for all of the pointed questions on the chart I had to fill out. We were set up in an unused classroom that had previously been used as storage and now was empty except for the sun-bleached posters on the walls. Impressive for a place that got so little sun. I was given an apple juice and a stress ball and led to a portable cot covered in paper. Angela was already in a cot nearby and I watched and she winced at the ceiling as the nurse put the IV in her arm. 

 

Now I know not to watch them stick me. It was eerie watching the red flow so quickly down the tube.

 

My own turn seemed anti-climatic. The needle in the arm hurt but didn’t continue to hurt like I thought it would. I stared at the sun-bleached posters and out-of-date maps and squeezed my little stress ball. It was in the shape of a rubber duck and had the blood bank logo printed on the bottom. I grinned at myself stupidly, thinking of this same situation replaced with squeaking rubber chickens. The room seemed oddly cold with the blood loss but I was warned of that side effect. Then it was over. Angela and I watched cute puppy videos in the corner eating cookies until they said our wait-period was over and we could leave. 

 

Standing up I felt a little light headed but I was told that was normal also. The more I walked to my next class the more upset my stomach felt. 

 

“You should head back to the donation people,” Angela suggested. “They’re gonna want you to lay down again.” 

 

After a detour to the bathroom turning which I tried to throw up and Angela held my hair, I made it back to the donation area and chilled with my feet up for the rest of the morning. I watched as Jessica and Mike both took their turns. Mike flinched hard at the sight of the needle but was determined to follow through with the process. Jessica held her breath but watched the entire time as the nurse found her vein. 

 

Lunch, I nibbled on some cup-o-ramen and more orange juice, declared okay by the nurse, and was excused from classes for the rest of the day. 

 

The jog to the truck in the school parking lot actually required an umbrella for once. I was getting used to the constant rain but the colder months brought heavier rainfall. I wasn't even sure what to call this form of precipitation. Freezing rain? Sleet? A tiny version of hail? It was definitely not snow.

 

Safe in the dry cab of the truck, I took a minute to put in a different CD, an old Shins album that I hadn’t listened to since last winter. On the way home I stopped by the little mom and pop general store and picked up a sick-girl-starter-pack: OJ, saltines, and Campbell’s soup. Right when I got to the cash register, the power went out. 

 

“It has been flickering all morning,” said gentlemen behind the counter. 

 

“You guys probably can’t run cards then?” I asked tentatively. 

 

He looked at my small pile of goods. “Let’s call it a thank you for donating blood,” he pointed at the sticker on my jacket. 

 

“I don’t look that pale do I?” I said, holding the arm of my injection site. 

 

“It’s fine. I don’t know when the power will come back on.” He told me as he placed my few items in the reusable bag I brought. 

 

“Thank you. I appreciate it.” 

 

Keeping my hood down I hurried back to my truck. The rain was just as steady as before. I dropped my keys in a puddle and took a second to shake the mud off of them, taking a second to appreciate, again, the new pepper-spray keychain that magically appeared the morning when Edward returned the truck from the Halloween party. My hand was on the door latch to the truck when I heard a loud crash from behind me. The surprising noise immediately made my stomach drop in dread as I whipped my neck around to see where it came from. I didn’t have time to comprehend my situation, all I thought was panic as the minivan careened towards me. 

 

In that brief second, I was yanked to the side and to the ground immediately followed by the crash of glass and twisting of metal as the van hit the side of the truck in the exact spot I was standing not a moment before. I was wrapped suddenly and securely in Edwards arms, his body arranged around mine to shield me from the crash and the impact on the ground. I found that we were wedged in a space between the wreckage of warped metal. A large dumpster that got looped into the crash formed a third wall, making the space a narrow triangle with little view of the chaos beyond. 

 

Edward looked down into my eyes as he disentangled himself from me to access the situation. “Are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere?”

 

“Edward? My head,” I said as I brought by hand up to a cut on my forehead near my hairline. Seeing that it came away red, I clamped my hand to my forehead harder, trying to apply pressure. “Are you okay?” I could see Edward’s eyes swirl with black as he took in a breath then seemingly stopped breathing. 

 

“Try not to move,” he said curtly, his eyes darting from the cut on my head to the other various nicks from the broken glass that rained down on us and the road rash from the asphalt. 

 

The smell of metal overwhelmed the rain, the sound of the traffic suddenly quiet in the immediate aftermath then a cacophony of shouting and noise. 

 

“You’re bleeding,” I said through a lump in my throat. His entire sleeve was covered in a slick sheen of red. The rain did little to wash away what was now a dark puddle on the ground, if anything it spread it around, slightly diluted. 

 

He removed a shard of broken glass bottle and let it clatter to the floor. “It’s fine.” 

 

“This cut is serious, put pressure on it.” My voice was shaky. You’re not supposed to remove an embedded object, that would only make it worse. 

 

I reached out to assess his cut, wiping away some of the blood and dirt from around the hole in his sweater. It ran along most of the length of his forearm. And deep. I could feel my own stomach clench up at the sight of it and the rising panic of our situation. 

 

He put his own hand over the gash and with the other he gently held my face, trying to make eye contact again. 

 

“It’s fine. Please try not to move,” he said quietly amid rising noise. His eyes were furrowed and full of concern.

 

I could see blood seeping through his fingers on his arm. “We should wrap my scarf around that...Make a tourniquet,” I said as I dried to detangle the scarf from under my jacket. 

 

“It’s fine, see.” He showed me his arm again. 

 

The cut looked like it could have been a week old, well into the healing process. I wiped away more of the blood. The scar was bright pink. If it healed this fast, soon there would be no sign that his flesh was marred at all. I looked down at my hands, his stained clothes, the dark puddle underneath us. Edward’s jeans were ripped on one knee, the fabric also soaked in red. 

 

“There’s so much blood Edward,” I said with renewed panic. On the wall of the dumpster behind him I could see a dent in the metal, the exact height where his shoulder was. 

 

He took a small breath, his jaw tightening as he did. His eyes were burning into mine, now the darkest shade I’ve seen in them.  

 

My own mind was racing. Edward just saved my life. Even now, trapped between cars, I could hear people reaching the driver of the van and searching for anyone else, checking my truck. In a second, they would find us in a puddle of blood with only minor injuries. 

 

“You should leave Edward,” I told him, my own throat tightening in panic.

 

“But-” searching my eyes. 

 

“Now,” I said, seriously. 

 

Without another word, he slid under the dumpster that formed a wall on one side and out of sight. I was not sure if the bystanders knew if I was here yet but the person in the store would. I might have seconds. I could only hope that no one saw Edward. I didn’t even see him nearby before the crash. 

 

Under my truck I spied another piece of the broken bottle. Any of the pieces of window would be too small, the tempered glass breaking into a thousand miniscule pieces and hiding among the thin layer of sleet on the ground. With my hand around the bulk of it, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, imagining the quick bee sting of the needle from giving blood earlier. Then I raked the glass against my arm. Starting at a small hole in the fabric of my jacket near the elbow, then down along the outside of my arm, attempting to recreate the wound I saw on Edward, albeit shallower and accidentally longer. I had just leaned back against my truck again, within the small space allowed, when the paramedics found me. 

Chapter Text

    I woke up again in the emergency room. Turns out blood loss on top of donating blood makes you a little sleepy. The bright lights of the emergency room were harsh after staring up at the cloudy skies and ambulance ceiling. The paramedics immediately put me in a neck brace and I was doing my best to trust the hussle around me as I was immobilized. There was a flurry of hospital personnel working on a patient hidden behind the pastel-patterned curtains. I could only assume that it was the driver of the van who was taken in the first ambulance. I couldn’t tell the extent of his injuries but it sounded like he was in stable condition. 

 

    The cut on my arm was cleaned and stitched up. It was only marginally deep at the top, where I had to bite through the resistance of fabric, and shallow the rest of the way down. They wheeled me away for x-rays and while I was away Charlie arrived from the police station, frantically trying to find me. I think me not being in the room when he arrived gave him a panic attack. I had to reassure him that I would be okay. He sat in a chair next to me while the rest of my little cuts were cleaned. The one on my head only needed a buttery closure. The saline drip is apparently standard procedure for anyone who walks in the emergency room doors but with my blood loss I think it was more necessary. 

 

    From around the curtain, the doctor appeared with my x-ray results. I was momentarily speechless on their arrival, this person put the hot-doctor stereotype to shame. They had an asymmetrical haircut with one side buzzed short and the rest of their wavy dirty-blond hair layered to one side. Their eyes were strikingly light-grey behind a pair of trendy reading glasses. Their features were deceptively smooth as if their skin had never known a blemish or wrinkle, save for the few lines around their eyes that completed their gentle smile. My mind immediately mapped them as the-same-as-Edward and their introduction, when they stepped up next to my hospital bed, had proved me right. Dr. Ellis Cullen, she/ they. Charlie sat up straighter upon their introduction. 

 

I had forgotten that one of Edward’s parents worked in the hospital. Worse, I just realized that they are one of those insufferable families that share letter-themed names. Four out of seven ‘E’-names still count as a trend. Except they are not really related, are they? Unless those are not their real names and they all choose ‘E’ names. That made it worse. Shit, what did the doctor just say?

 

    "No broken bones," They said again when I asked them to repeat. "Though, you will have quite the bruise on the side you fell on. Your head looks alright but we should watch out for signs of a concussion. You are low on fluids so we are going to set you up with a second bag of saline while we have you under observation. I know you must be very tired but you will have to stay awake. Do you have any questions for me?"

 

"How long does she have to stay awake for?" Charlie asked.

 

"It's still before noon," they said looking at a watch on their wrist, "a normal bedtime this evening will be okay." 

 

After a few more concerns from dad about my condition, there was a pause during which the doctor looked at me intently. Dad had domineered the question-answer period. 

 

"One of your officers, Chief Zwaan, will be by if you are up for a few questions about the accident." The doctor looked from Charlie to me. 

 

"Hey boss," said a younger officer, peaking in from the open corner of my curtain stall behind the doctor.

 

"I'll let you give your statement and check on you when the saline drip is changed." Dr. Cullen said, leaving the room.

 

"For the sake of fairness, I'm going to step out as well and get you something from the cafeteria," Charlie stated after he introduced me to his officer and left so he wouldn't pepper my official statement. 

 

"I honestly don't remember much," I told the officer. 

 

"You were not in your vehicle at the time, correct?"

 

My dad is a cop, why am I suddenly nervous? 

 

"I was standing by my car door and turned when I heard a noise. It must have been when the van hit the dumpster. I threw myself on the ground half in surprise," I explained. Perfectly reasonable explanation. 

 

"Did you see anyone else involved in the crash? Besides the driver of the van?" The officer wrote a note on her notepad.

 

"No. Did someone else get hurt?" I said, hoping no one was Edward. 

 

"One of the paramedics thought they saw someone run past the scene into the woods around the back of the store."

 

"No. I couldn't see anything where I was trapped. When they got me out, there were a lot of people running and gawking." My heart rate increased, recorded and displayed for the world on an annoying, beeping monitor. 

 

I had answered the rest of Officer Laurier's questions half distracted by my own racing brain and in conscious awareness of my beeping heart. 

 

Dad returned with every variant of juice and two different kinds of soup from the cafeteria. We were moved to a private room for my second bag of saline. The wait was annoying but I'm glad I no longer had to wear a neck brace, it made the people watching a little easier. A nurse gave me a heated blanket and I felt a bit more comfortable. The pain meds helped with that too.

 

"I'm going to step out and make a call into work, okay? And then get this prescription filled." Dad said, not wanting to leave my side.

 

"I'll be fine by myself Dad." I tried reassuring him. 

 

Alone, the beeping of the monitor and white noise of the hospital was a temping background to fall asleep too. In an attempt to stay awake, I opened my phone and tried to answer all of the texts I kept getting from classmates. No texts from Alice or Edward. 

 

The doctor knocked on the frame of the open door. "How are you feeling?" They said with a smile.

 

"Still a little sleepy," I said, a little wary. “Cold.” Honestly, I felt sore all over and just wanted to go to sleep. 

 

    Dr. Cullen nodded. “If you feel up to it, I was wondering if I could talk to you about something.” They went over to a storage cupboard and retrieved a blanket for me. I couldn’t help but be distracted by the beige color scheme of hospital linen and room decor. Oddly it seemed to be the color scheme that mapped onto the Cullen kid’s clothes: off-whites, beige, sterile colors. 

 

    After they set the blanket over my feet and I adjusted it over my legs, the doctor sat down and addressed me further. 

 

    “I normally would be addressing something like this with your father in the room but it involves unusual circumstances...” they paused. “First off I wanted to talk about the cut on your arm.”

 

I held my arm gently over the bandages on the cut, knowing where this conversation might lead. They know I know. 

 

“The cut on your arm is self-inflicted.” I wasn’t sure if this was a question or a statement. And this was not how I thought this conversation would start. “On top of donating blood this morning.” 

 

When I didn’t respond, they went on, “I also saw in the questionnaire that you filled out that you are in therapy.” 

 

“Umm, yes. I have been seeing a therapist since.. this past summer.”

 

They nodded in thought. “Have you had other thoughts or attempts about suicide?” 

 

“No. I am depressed but I don’t think I am suicidal..” 

 

“You seem to have made some.. assumptions about my family, Edward, and the other kids. And now it seems that you not knowing in a definitive way has..may have made this situation more dangerous than it needed to be.”

 

 “I am not going to tell anyone. I haven’t told anyone…” Shit, that was like a line from a movie. The next thing that usually happens when a character says that is that they die… Edward could have just let me die. My heart sank. Maybe they would just disappear with no explanation and I would be left alone and in the dark again. 

 

“We appreciate that, we do. But what information I think you are missing is that Edward was very close to killing you today.” 

 

“I..Edward saved my life today. And in Port Angeles.” Why did I feel like now I was defending him. “I told him to leave today… before the paramedics got there.”

 

“I want to reassure you that we are very happy that you survived the accident. Today, and previously. And I appreciate you encouraging Edward to leave the scene. I think things would have ended up badly if he didn’t. But I also need you to know that Edward may have saved you today but he could still kill you.” Their words were so caring and encouraging until the emphasis on the last few words.

 

“On some level... I think I knew he was a danger,” I said thinking aloud. “But I feel safer around him than without him.” I also felt like I needed to defend him, or defend my wanting to have him around. 

 

“Hm,” Ellis paused in thought, “And you are not suicidal? No romantic ideas of letting Edward kill you?” I had a feeling that they meant ‘eat you’ in that last line. 

 

“I just wanted to be his friend.” Why did it seem like they are trying to discourage me?

 

“He likes you, you know.” They sounded almost sad saying it. 

 

“I know," I responded with a sigh. I like him too. 

 

All the times it seemed like Edward was pushing me away I now saw in a new light. Edward needed to distance himself from me so he wouldn't kill me.

 

“Okay,” They said, getting up from their rolly doctor’s chair. 

 

“Okay?” 

 

I looked up again to respond but they had already left. What a bizarre way to meet one of Edwards' parents. Chosen parent? Maybe vampire parent? 



Chapter Text

   

    I felt totally drained. I thought I felt okay by the time I left the hospital but, in hindsight, it was the adrenaline propping me up. I hadn’t realized that I have been holding onto so much stress and anxiety that, now that my body is forced to rest, I feel sick from it. With only minor cuts and bruises, I should be okay enough to go back to school, ignoring the one bad cut and the pain in my arm. Instead, I slept the whole day. Dad took off work, delivering me tea and food at regular intervals. I made Charlie suffer through a kid’s movie, My Neighbor Totoro, which was all my brain was up to pay attention to. All day, still no response from Edward. My text to him left on ‘read.’

   

    “That’s because my brother is an idiot,” Alice told me. I finally gave in and called her while dad was in the shower and couldn’t overhear our conversation. It felt weird asking her if Edward was avoiding me, as if that was the most pressing question and not the elephant. “He went hunting. Somewhere without a signal apparently.”

 

    “I was worried he would ghost me.” 

 

    “We’re not that kind of undead,” she said with a smoothly sarcastic voice. 

 

    “Ha. You’re being very open about it, now that the cat is out of the bag. I have so many questions for you.”

 

    “Edward would prefer to be the one who tells you more,” she said before I could get my full sentence out. 

 

    “That’s a little gatekeeper-y.”

 

    “Yup. It’ll work out better if he be the one to explain things.” 

 

    I took another day off, making myself an extra long weekend to recover. I had opened my school blackboard account long enough to read the well-wishes from the teachers and other classmates who didn’t have my number. My brain seemed slightly less exhausted but I wasn’t up for homework or recorded lectures. That was future self’s problem. My current problem involved a vampire who was afraid to get anywhere near me. 

 

     “This arrangement is a little awkward.”

 

    “Yeah, you’re not wrong. Sorry I can’t join you.”

 

    “Oh I understand it’s for the best.”

 

    “That’s a very polite way to phrase ‘thank you for not eating me.”

 

    We had arranged to meet face to face when Charlie was back at work. Except face to face meant we were both on the phone with each other while I sat in the sauna and Edward kept to the edge of the woods. My wounds were still too fresh for him to be in the same room as me. 

 

    I sighed, enjoying the warm, dry air of the sauna. I had to reassure Charlie that I would keep the temperature low while I recovered but it beat my heating pad. I wouldn’t be able to stay in for too long. 

 

    “So. Vampires exist,” I said. Straight and to the point. I wish I could see his face clearly. I could only just make out his silhouette at this distance. 

 

    “How long have you known?” Edward’s tone was hard to read. Was it sad? Exasperated? 

 

    “Basically since I met you?” I said. What did my own tone portray? That I am confused because it seemed obvious that his family was different than literally everyone else? “I reread Dracula. Watched some Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don’t understand why other people haven’t noticed before.”

 

    “You’ve known and never told this theory to anyone?” He said when I trailed off. 

 

    “And here is the moment of truth. Because you know I know your secret, now you're gonna have to kill me?” I posed it as a question. 

 

    “So you have been living in fear for months?” Now he did sound anguished.

 

    “I have been living in curiosity for months.” 

 

    “I really wish I could tell that you are thinking. So you are not afraid of me? Of us?”

 

    “Dr. Ellis told me I should be.” 

 

    “Ellis is usually right.” He said bluntly.

 

    “Alice said you went hunting.” I let that hang for a pause. There is a benefit to not being actually face-to-face. We could both take a moment to control our reaction and tone of voice. Edward took in a shaky breath before he responded, talking quickly like he had figured out what he was going to say, preparing for this conversation. 

 

    “Yes. A deer. Nearby, in the Olympic National Park. My family and I only eat animals. I’m sorry I had to leave the accident and didn’t leave a way for you to contact me.”

 

    “... That means there are others that don’t eat animals?” His family already seemed like a lot, with so many siblings. Part of me knew that meant there were others but the Cullens were my only sample to go off of. 

 

    “Yes. We are not like them. We don’t feed off of people.”

 

    “Is that a physical difference, different... species?”

 

    “It's a difference of … morality.” That last was blunt, dripping with more story. But I had too many questions as it was. 

 

    “How often do you need to eat?”

   

    “About once a month. More if I get hurt. More if I got caught in the sun. More often...since being around you.”

 

    I thought that would be an easy question but it only popped up more. 

 

    “I am going to need you to elaborate.”

 

    “I haven’t got a clue about the metaphysics but the fast healing takes up energy. Being in the sun hurts like your blood boiling. Both make us unbearably thirsty.” 

 

    “But...what did you mean by that last part. I make you need to eat more?”

   
    “Ellis says that it's rare but it happens. We normally hunt by the scent of pheromones. It makes our chosen diet sheep and deer unappetizing. With my added psychic ability and your natural psychic block, something about opposite immune systems....” He sighed into the phone, “I’m… attracted to you.”

 

    “... and that makes you want to kill me.”

 

    “Yup.” Such a simple answer.

 

    “That’s stupid.”

 

    “Yup.”

 

"How do I block your mind-reading mojo?" Everything he says just leads to more questions. I wanted to gloss over the fact he just said he liked me and delay my response. I could feel color rise to my cheeks.

 

"We don't know. None of us have come across a natural ability quite like it." 

 

"Natural ability? So not all of your siblings are psychic like you. Does that mean that you were psychic before you became a vampire? Wait, I am assuming lore from literature and I told myself I wasn't going to do that. How did you become a vampire? Or do y'all just grow really slowly and your family is multigenerational?"

 

"I suppose to answer most of that, I'll say I don't remember much from when I was human but Ellis thinks I must have had some psychic sensitivity. Good at guessing people's thoughts from body behavior and situation. Natural abilities are heightened when we get turned ." He paused on that last word.

 

"I.. think I'm too warm in here. I'm feeling a little light headed again." 

 

"I understand this is a lot to take in.”

 

    I got up from the bench and moved to the greenhouse part of the shed-turned-sauna. I slipped into my jacket and a pair of sandals that did little to warm my toes but were an easy option for crossing the yard. I had to use all my Arizona clothes for something. 

 

    “How old are you?” I asked into the phone. Avoiding the end to our conversation, I busy myself watering a few of the cactuses and adjusting their lighting set-up. I couldn’t run the heater for the sauna and all of the light set-up for the plants at the same time or it would trip a breaker. It was on a timer to turn off at night and it cast an eerie red-purple glow across the backyard, backlighting the shed at night. 

 

    “I am 17, same as you.”

 

    “Ha,” I laughed involuntarily, “I am 17 and 3 months, something tells me you are a little bit older.” 

 

    “17 and about a century.” Somehow he seemed bummed to reveal his age. I wondered if I crossed some sort of immortal-being-etiquette. “I was born in 1901, in Chicago.”

 

    “Can I ask how you became a umm, vampire?” Looking out the shed window at his silhouette leaning against a tree across the yard. He looked casual but his arms were crossed, I was still too far away to read his expression but I could see the soft reflection of the grow-lights in his eyes. 

 

    “Yes but we might want to leave it for another day. Charlie will be home from work soon.”

 

    We said an awkward goodbye and I watched him disappear into the trees. I walked through the light rain to the house, for once enjoying the cool air after the heat of the sauna. I had so many more questions but they would have to wait. I suppose after a hundred years, this kind of anticipation would feel trivial. 

 

I put on a playlist of background music and set myself the task of putting away dishes, one handed thanks to stitches and current arm mobility, while I waited for Charlie to get home. He arrived not long after with to-go bowls of Pho. My mind was distracted with brain-fog and a combination of too-much and too-little information. I settled with a decision that I didn’t have to know everything right away because it changes very little. I still liked Edward. He, apparently, liked me which meant a part of him wanted to devour me whole. His whole family seems to have trusted me with their secret and that learning more would just take time.         Maybe even a lifetime. 

 

Chapter Text

“Who’s driving you to school again this morning?”

 

“Alice. She’s a senior,” I responded. Charlie doesn’t remember but he asked me this already. Several times. He did remember that I arranged to carpool just not with whom. I doubt that it's an early sign of Alzheimer’s. He doesn’t remember Alice coming over to watch a movie but he did remember when Angela came over around the same time period. “I’m on her route to school so it’s not going out of her way.” It was technically not a lie but I only had a vague idea of where the Cullen’s house was located. 

 

Charlie was hesitant to leave and I had to assure him I would be fine. Dad had taken several days off of work while I was bedridden and though I appreciated it, I was over his hovering. 

 

As soon as he was out of the driveway, the Cullen’s car appeared. It was like she was waiting for Charlie to leave and replaced his spot in the drive not a minute later. Except Edward was driving, not Alice, and no younger siblings in tow. 

 

“I don’t like making a liar out of myself. I thought you said to tell Charlie that Alice was picking me up.” I said slightly confused, climbing in. 

 

“Alice predicted things would go more smoothly if Charlie didn’t think a boy was involved.” Edward said from the driver’s seat. “Plus, she’s not here. Not a lie.” 

 

“I brought you a coffee,” Alice beamed and handed me a travel mug. “I can’t actually drive.” She said it with the happy cadence of a morning person. 

 

Edward chuckled to himself when she said it and she made a face at him. 

 

“There seems to be a funny story there...” I said, taking a tentative sip of the coffee. It was a perfect drinking temperature and a delicious roast. Why did these people have to be so perfect all the time?

 

“Last time I drove, I crashed the car and fell down a cliff into a lake. Everyone else had to mourn my death and I had to leave that identity early.”

 

“Fuck,” I swore, having nearly breathed in the coffee, shocked by the news. “Wait, Edward said that you have heightened senses and reflexes, what made you crash?” 

 

“I thought that I passed the car ahead of me but I really just saw myself doing it. I sped up thinking it was clear and nearly ran into them.”

 

Why did everyone have to get into car accidents? 

 

“Well I’m glad you’re alright. Is that one of the abilities Edward mentioned?” 

 

“Prediction. Precognition. Future-sight. Fortune telling. It has some limitations but the lottery system’s got nothing on me.”

 

“So when you were human, you could predict the future?”

 

“Something like that. I don’t actually remember. But when I learned the word ‘deja vu’ I realized I had those all the time as a human.”

 

We pulled into the school parking lot and Edward parked in the shade of a tree on the edge of the lot.

 

“I gotta go to the office and reason with the secretary about all my absences,” I said. Being used to the heavy door of the truck I slammed the car door behind me with a little too much force. 

 

“I think you missed the deadline on signing up for electives for next semester.” Alice informed me. 

 

“My art class won’t just carry over to the next term?” I asked as Edward silently insisted on carrying my backpack for me. 

 

“I predict that you and I will be in gym together next term. Ain’t that great.” She said with a big smile. She and Edward were a half step ahead of me and I could tell that they slowed their pace to try to match mine. I couldn’t knock the feeling of me slowing them down. 

 

“No, that’s not great. I was hoping to avoid taking gym class ever again.” My school in Arizona was all about sports and mandatory pep rallies for said sports. 

 

“Will it help if I say that I predict you will eventually have fun in the class?”

 

“You...can’t actually see my future can you?” I paused before the short stretch of sidewalk that led away to the office. Edward relinquished my bag. I had a feeling that he would follow me around all day opening doors and holding things for me if I let him. 

 

“You caught me.” Alice said with a shrug.

 

“So this is either one elaborate LARP or I am immune to all your vampire wiles.”

 

“So far as we can tell, you seem to be immune to all of it.” Edward chimed in, flashing a small smile that showed off his dimple. 

 

“Well I suppose there has to be something that makes me interesting. I gotta go. Thank you for the ride this morning.”

 

"See you at lunch." Edward responded. It sounded automatic. Our gaze usually met throughout the lunch period as we sat with our separate friend groups but we have never sat together at lunch. 

 

When I opened the door to the office I was confronted by Angela doing her volunteer shift collating letters. I set down my bag and she gave me a big hug, exaggeratingly gentle for the sake of my bruises. 

 

"How are you feeling? I've missed you so much." 

 

"Bruised and battered and a little better." I responded. I idly wondered how many times I would have to go through this conversation throughout the day. “And a few stitches,” I held my arm up awkwardly. I wasn’t going to say how many stitches it was. 

 

"You liked our care package?" Angela had arranged with the friend group a box of treats and things for me. Tea, chocolate, flowers, and an elaborate coloring book. 

 

"Loved it. You'll have to come over and help me with that puzzle though." 

 

"Deal." She shifted to a conspiratorial tone, "So you got a ride from the Cullens, aye? What's the story there?" 

 

"Alice offered. My truck's door is caved in, remember?" I tried to shrug it off. 

 

"You just seemed awfully friendly is all."

 

"Except why do you have a concerned face?"

 

"You don't think they are a little stuck up? They seem friendly but they rebuff everytime people try to make friends with them. I've seen the younger two switch friend groups every other day. I just don't trust them, I guess." 

 

"I didn't know you had such an opinion about them." 

 

"I don't know. I guess I have been keeping that opinion to myself. I am not usually judge-y."

 

"From what I know, both sets of siblings had a parent die. One suddenly and one from cancer. I guess that's how Doctor Cullen met Esmond. He was the husband of a former patient in the same hospital they worked at. The Cullen kids are all really close because of it. I think that's why I really clicked with them."

 

Two lies and a truth. I did bond over what I thought was a similar loss. But that is really just their made-up backstory. I bonded over a lie but his real truth must have much more loss if he has been around for a century. And he did lose his parents around the same time he got turned into a vampire, during the spanish flu epidemic. Both truthful and a lie.

 

Angela's face crumpled a little bit at the story and she gave me another hug. I was saved from more by the appearance of the office secretary. 

 

"How are you feeling Bella? You gave everyone quite the scare." 

 

I let the conversation play out and fixed my schedule for next semester. I had to arrange one on one sessions with various teachers to figure out how to get back on track with my grades after missing a week so close to exams. I also missed the field trip with the art class and that was a bummer. 

 

I left the office eating a small handful of the complimentary penny-candy and contemplated the study schedule necessary to catch up for exams. I met up with Eric for english and I received a small stack of short-stories from Mr. Mason that were not yet added to the online blackboard page. Eric was supposed to share his in-class notes on the lectures but his handwriting was impossible to translate and what I could read was not helpful. Even more unhelpful, I missed the deadline for getting the creative-writing assignment peer-reviewed and could hardly participate in the day’s lesson. 

 

Government and Trig had a similar format. How was it so easy to fall behind after missing only a couple of days? The only bright side was that I missed watching a movie in Spanish class so there was very little new content. 

 

“Here, I grabbed a sparkling water for you.” Alice handed me the bottle as she sat down at our table. 

 

“You’re just trying to make sure I stay hydrated, aren't you?” I said as I opened the bottle and poured half of it into my lemonade. 

 

“Yes and my evil plan is working.” 

 

I set my half-empty bottle next to hers. In a minute, she would pick up my bottle and claim it as her own. To everyone else it would appear like she was eating her lunch like normal. I got an extra drink out of the deal. And her baggie of goldfish crackers. And half a sandwich. Alice had said she hated the food waste involved in her ‘human disguise’ and this shared lunch was my genius idea to avoid it. 

 

“Hey sis. Hey Bella,” Edward said coolly, sitting down at our table. Everyone else was surprised by the appearance. Jessica sat up straighter, blushing slightly as Mike narrowed his eyes in distrust at the newcomer. 

 

“Hey,” I said slightly confused. I wasn’t holding out hope that he’d want to actually sit with us at lunch. I was under the impression that we were keeping our friendship somewhat secret. I supposed I liked the thrill of passing secret notes to each other. Now, I knew that he was keeping it quiet in case he accidently killed me. Plausible deniability. Adjusting the meaning of ‘accidently’ to exclude all of the ways he was premeditatively preparing for that possibility.  

 

“I have the notes for last week’s science lectures xeroxed off for you.” He handed me a small packet of notes, maliciously organized with color coded post-it.

 

“Jesus, your handwriting is amazing.” Angela grabbed the notes and began to examine the cursive used for the headings. “Ugh, this is just with a ballpoint pen too. I’m so jelly.” 

 

“Um thanks. My grandmother kinda drilled it into me.”

 

“Hey don’t look at me. She wasn’t my grandma.” Alice responded when Angela tried to compare with the notes Alice was finishing.

 

“Bullshit. Your handwriting is great too,” Jessica chimed in from across the table.  

 

“I’m kind of a graphic design nerd. I’m doing my volunteer hours in the school office because they will pay for me to take a calligraphy course for doing the certificates in the spring,” Angela explained.

 

    “I’ll have to dig out my grandma’s old pen-nibs for you then. I think we have them in a box in the attic.” Edward beamed at her. 

 

    Angela absolutely loved that idea. And in one simple conversation Edward won over her opinion. Her earlier distrust abbaded and, after having so many repeated conversations with Charlie, I wondered how long it would take to magically resurface again. He did not, however, win over Mike, who was argumentative and grumpy for the rest of lunch. 

 

Both Mike and Lauren were 'joke-mean' at Edward's expense and whenever they said something embarrassingly rude, Edward nudged my foot with his own. The gesture sent a warm flutter in my stomach but my brain knew it was just a signal from him about the witchy deflection that was the vampires' disguise. Edward and Alice tried to explain how other people see them but I didn't know the response was so wide ranging and different for the both of them. Mike and Lauren seem to hate Edward but are totally cool with Alice. Lauren and Eric forget things about Alice but that has been occurring less with her visiting our lunch table more often. Jessica and Angela both really like Alice in a 'everything you say must be right' way. 

 

When lunch was almost over, Alice and Edward exchanged a significant look with each other. With a lingering glance at Edward, Alice asked me if they were still giving me a ride home. She must have seen something. To my knowledge nothing had changed so I responded in the affirmative. I raised my eyebrows at them. 

 

    “Everything is fine.” Alice said automatically.

 

    “No problem. Just a bit of a complication. Wanna start heading towards class?” Edward did little to clarify the matter but I let it pass. 

 

    Mr. Banner had me take a makeup quiz that I was totally unprepared for and I was behind in my sketchbook prompts for art class. I was definitely ready for this day to be over.

 

    In the parking lot, I met up with my ride home. I realized that I have become accustomed to scanning the crowd for Edward, that it has become a comfort to know that he is around and not just because he is giving me a ride home today. He and Alice were lingering near the two younger Cullens. 

 

    “Hey, Thanks for waiting. Y’all ready to go?” I asked when I walked up. I had the feeling like they just ended a conversation at my approach.

 

    “Nope. We are getting a ride from dad today.” Rose said bluntly, looking up at me with intense blue eyes. Huh, she’s wearing color contacts too. 

 

    “No offense, of course.” Emmett followed up, elbowing his sister in the arm. 

 

    “I’m.. sorry to put you guys out…” This was awkward. I thought it was weird that they weren't in the car this morning. 

 

    “Rose doesn’t like you.” Alice said cheerfully, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet. 

 

    “HI Bella!” Someone shouted from a car that pulled up next to us. 

 

    “I call shotgun.” Emmett darted to the front seat. 

 

    “Hi, umm, Esmond, right?” I bent a little bit and said hi to the driver as Emmett got in, giving a little awkward wave. Esmond was wearing plaid and looked to be covered in sawdust. A perfect curly-cue wood shaving clung to his wavy hair like a barrette and his beard had a little streak of white in it. When Rose sat in the seat behind him, she reached up and brushed some of the wood shavings off of him. 

 

    “Ellis and I would love to have you over for dinner once your exams are done.” 

 

    “I’m looking forward to it.” I responded. Edward mentioned that idea in the car this morning.

 

    “So why don’t they like me? Cause I’m human?” I asked once they left and we started walking to our own car.

 

    “Rose doesn’t think we should be encouraging you.” Alice said, just as cheerful as become. 

 

    Encouraging me to do what? 

 

    “Emmett likes you though. He likes everyone. He just sides with Rose whenever there is a fight.” Edward said as he opened the passenger side door for me. 

 

    I’m the cause of a fight.

 

    “Does this have to do with that thing at lunch?” I asked, storing some of this new information. 

   

    “Nope. You got a visitor at home is all.” Alice said from the back seat. 

 

    “Oh yeah. My friend is coming over and she is gonna haul my truck away to repair it.”

 

    “It’s not a problem. We just know that Jackyln doesn’t like us much.” Edward explained as he pulled out of the parking lot. I waved at Jessica as we drove by her van, she gave an enthusiastic wave back and made a motion with her hand to call her later. She wanted gossip and I had none I wanted to share. 

 

    “How do you guys know Jaclyn?” For some reason, the pit of my stomach dropped with dread, like something might be wrong. 

 

    “We.. know her family. Ellis had settled in this area before, before I was part of the family, actually.” Edward responded. 

 

    "Before I was part of the fam too. Jasper and I joined the family last.” She was in the middle seat in the back but leaned towards the front of the car as much as she could, seatbelts and personal space be damned. “Edward and I are actually the same age, which totally makes us twins,” she said with a wicked grin.

 

    “Twins yet I am eternally younger by a full year.” Edward said matter of factly. 

 

    “How old are Rose and Emmett?” I asked, curiously and slightly concerned about the matter. It's hard not to think of them as kids.  

 

    “Emmett and Jasper are around the same age. Jasper was born in 1844 in Texas and Emmett in 1848 in California,” Alice informed me. She had a pocket notebook out and was writing something down as we drove down the street to my neighborhood. Keeping notes about future possibilities. She never lets anyone read it and often burns out pages. 

 

 “Rose is about a century older from Switzerland.” Edward said. It was hard to imagine that that little girl was older than all of them. That must really suck. 

 

“Wait, so who is the youngest?” I asked. 

 

“Esmond,” “Dad,” They said together.

 

We turned around the final corner and sure enough, Jackyln was waiting for me on the porch. Her head was lowered, watching something on her phone, but she looked up when she heard the car approach. There was a moment of surprise and then she furrowed her eyebrows at the car when we stopped in front of the house.

Chapter Text

"Hey Bells," Jacklyn called from the porch. She got up from where she was lounging on the floor of the porch, dusting off her jeans. She was wearing the 'three wolf moon" shirt that we found last time we went to the thrift store together, now altered in it's neckline and bottom hem bunched together on one side. It was something that I might wear in the summer.

 

"You're early, I thought we weren't meeting till five." 

 

"School had a scheduled ‘teacher's planning day,’ that I forgot about, so I came up early."

 

"The spare key is just under the mat if you ever need to come inside and we're not home." I grabbed the key and opened the door with it to make sure it worked. "Not the best copy. Seems like you gotta wiggle this one but why don't you keep it." I handed it to her but she declined.

 

"Dad already has a key. I just forgot it. It just didn't seem wise to break into a cop's house." 

 

"Fair."

 

"So you got a ride from the Cullens huh?"

 

I sighed and wondered if this was going to play out like it did with Angela this morning.

 

"Alice offered since my truck is out of commission. Can you wait a minute, I super need to pee right now."

 

I shrugged off my shoes as quickly as I could and ran to the bathroom. It gave me about a minute to clear my head of the weirdness of this all. I wondered how she knew the Cullens. If she knew about them. I came back to her eating some of the chex mix from the cupboard mixed with my hidden stash of peanut butter m&ms. 

 

"You gotta hide your chocolate better."

 

"It's emergency chocolate." I said taking a small handful. 

 

"So how long have you been friends with the Cullens?" Her eyes were down when she asked and I had a hard time reading her expression.

 

"I don't know, a few months. I share a class with Edward." 

 

"Eww you have a crush on him? I saw that blush just now."

 

"He's nice and aesthetically pleasing." I threw a chex bit at her. "Why are you making that face? Why, what do you have against him?" 

 

"It's just… he hasn't always been 'nice,'" she made the air quotes. "I don't think you should trust him or his family." 

 

"What makes you say that? How do you know him?" 

 

"Well," she rubbed her eyes with the palm of her hand in frustration. "I can't say. They deal with the farm sometimes. Buying wool. I think Jasper spins. But they are stupid rich and rude about it. And..I just.. don't think you should trust them. They're not.. good people."

 

"I don't think they're bad people." I gave her a questioning eyebrow, which really just made my expression look concerned. 

 

"I'm sorry. Could we drop this? Could we just go get the truck?"

 

"No problem. I didn't mean to come home in a mood."

 

"School does that."

 

“Thanks for fixing up the truck.” I said while I put my shoes back on. 

 

“Thanks for bankrolling the project. I love that truck.” 

 

 

I leaned back on the cedar bench of the sauna, soaking in the heat and dry air after the literal soak of the afternoon rain. Charlie still wanted me to keep the temperature reasonable in here while I recovered so it wasn’t as hot as I wanted. The sweatshirt I was wearing to run across the backyard hung on the wall next to me to dry. I watched the steam rising up from it and thought it would make an interesting photo. I did have an umbrella for the rain but nothing beat the feeling of a shirt straight out of the dryer. 

 

“Long day?” I received a text from Edward. 

 

I thought about it for a second, thinking about all the questions that arose from hanging out with Jackyln this afternoon. She seemed unsettled and antsy the entire time we were loading the truck. Then back at the house, she declined to stay for dinner even though Sue Clearwater was over for dinner with her kids. I have never seen Jacklyn turn down food. 

 

"You're hanging out in the woods again aren't you?" I texted back. I had checked the woods after our first sauna talk and sure enough the ground behind several trees showed signs of wear, the grass trampled in specific spots of low visibility. 

 

"It's a weird passtime, I know." 

 

We already established that you are a stalker. For what I was sure was due to the denial of tonal cues, we switched to phone instead of instant message. I just hoped my phone didn’t overheat; I usually kept it in the greenhouse.

 

"You were right about Jacklyn hating you." I said when I answered.

 

"I'm sorry that it made things awkward between you."

 

"She said that you weren't always nice. She made it seem like you in particular. Why didn’t you tell me in the car that she knows about you and your family.”

 

“Jacklyn has her own reasons for being secretive.” He sounded resigned. I felt like I was getting better at reading in between the lines of everyone’s half-truths. Jacklyn is some sort of mythical creature too.

 

“So what did she mean then, that you were not always nice?”

 

He sighed and hung up the phone. I only had a second to be indignant at the action when a soft knock sounded at the shed door. 

 

“So this is a face to face conversation,” I said. We still had the glass door of the sauna between us, he in the greenhouse entrance and me in the warm.

 

“If you are comfortable with that.”

 

“I thought you said being in a confined space with my scent was a bad thing.”

 

“...I’ve been acclimating myself to it by hanging out in here once you go to bed.” He sounded and looked embarrassed. 

 

“In the sauna?” I supposed that was a good idea. A warm confined space full of the smell of my sweat. 

 

"Yeeeah." He made the word long and drawn out, like he wanted to change the word into something else but it was already too late. 

 

"Every night?" I asked. 

 

"Just about." He said awkwardly. 

 

"Edward, do you sleep?" I asked, cocking my head at an angle, my hair falling down my shoulder with the motion. I saw his eyes dart to the motion of my hair. 

 

"Not very much," he said reluctantly. "We don't need much sleep and when we do, we're a bit dead to the world." 

 

"No coffins?" I asked with a slight smirk. 

 

"No coffins. Holy water is a myth too." He was still standing at the far side of the greenhouse space, as far away from me as possible. He relaxed a little bit, leaning against the wall, but it still managed to look like he would dart out the door again at a moment's notice. I could imagine that the glass door between us did very little to buffer my scent from him. 

 

"So I've been worried about telling you my full history," he started. "I..like you and I don't want you to be afraid of me or think less of me but I also want you to know the truth." He was talking fast. “I only met Ellis and company in the 30’s. I didn’t know there was another way to live..Another diet. I’ve... killed lots of people.” That last sentence was said slowly, him staring unfocused at the floor near my feet. 

 

“Well I’m not going to be able to say anything that makes it better. I.. kinda guessed as much. You had reacted so strongly in Port Angeles.” 

 

He frowned at my mentioning Port Angeles then let out another slow sigh before he went on. 

 

“So I’m what they call a plague baby. I was c-”

 

“Wait wait wait. Plague baby?” This was a serious subject but I couldn’t help but suppress a laugh at that. He confesses to mass murder and the first thing I do is laugh, what the fuck is wrong with me.

 

“...I was turned during the spanish flu epidemic.” He finished with a look in my direction. “Apparently there is always an influx of new vampires during plagues. More people dying and easier to cover it up. The first people we ate were other victims of the flu. People on the verge of death like I was. I don't know why Vicki decided to turn me and not just eat me...Maybe she was just lonely. But once illness subsided in the region, she convinced me to find other people to kill for her." 

 

He took a long breath and let it go slowly. "And for myself." 

 

He paused for a while, staring at the floor. I was about to say something but he went on. "I convinced myself that if I found bad people, it would make it better. Hunting down murderers and rapists. But I could hear everyone. Everyone's final thoughts. And terror. I hated myself. I tried to get out of Chicago, get out of the city and around so many people but Vicki was...manipulative." 

 

"How did you find Ellis?" I asked during a long pause. 

 

"They were doing a residency at the hospital where Vicki liked to hunt. In the end, she couldn't stop me from leaving with them." 

 

"Well… I'm too warm and need to go inside." I turned off the heater but didn't move from my seat. There was a pause of us just looking into each other's eyes from across the small space. "Nothing I can say will make it better and I don't think you want me to forgive it for you. But I don't automatically hate you for your past." 

 

"Okay."

 

"I need some time to think." I put my sweater back on over my tank top. It was blissfully warm but in a way that would soon overwhelm me if I wasn’t about to run back out into the cold. 

 

"Okay."

 

"And Charlie forgot again about Alice giving me a ride so he offered to drive me to school tomorrow morning."

 

"Okay." 

 

"Okay." 

 

After another longing look at me, he left.

Chapter Text

"You look like shit." Angela greeted me in the parking lot. 

 

"Thanks, I didn't sleep well last night."

 

"Studying for the quiz today?" 

 

"Umm… no. I guess I'm cramming before class. Fuckles. I forgot that textbook." 

 

"It's on the two handouts."

 

I sighed. "Okay. Thanks." I took a sip of my tea. Today was not the day for cutting back on coffee

 

I was rereading the assignments on the floor of the hallway when a new tumbler of tea appeared beside me along with a Snickers.

 

"Thought you could use a pick-me-up." Alice said. 

 

"You are clairvoyant."

 

"Just a snack fairy." 

 

"Thank you. It's gonna be a long day." 

 

"Just remember you are still recovering and you should take care of yourself. In the long run, school exams and bullshit is less important."

 

"Why do y'all even go then? You don't seem that masochistic."

 

"We're in the building but we're not working on school. Okay, Edward is studying but studying medicine. I'm working on conserving dying languages and doing knitwear design. Emmett is coding when he can have his laptop out. We all got something. It's just important that we mostly show up cause we're all kids and expected to show up."

 

"And once you can't pass your age you'll move onto the next town?"

 

"Yup."

 

"...how many people have you killed?" I asked quietly. Her eyes searched my own. It was weird when all of them wore colored contacts, dull brown lenses over bright brown eyes tinged with black. 

 

"Not very school appropriate Bella. You sure you want to have this conversation right before you have to go into class."

 

"Yes."

 

"Seven. Two in the car accident and a few people who attacked me in the Jim Crow South when I was looking for Jasper."

 

"Edward said you didn't join the family until after him." I didn’t want to think how terrible it would have been for a black woman on her own in the south. 

 

"I was lucky and unlucky. I woke up knowing that I would join Ellis's family one day. But I saw myself joining them later and I didn't know what would happen if I found them before then. I also woke up alone with little idea how to function as a baby vampire. It could have gone badly if I didn't have a glimpse of the future. So I already knew that an animal diet would work and how to avoid humans." 

 

I was about to ask something but she held out her hand, index finger pointing up. The bell rang. 

 

"There's more to the story of course. But you should also ask Emmett sometime. He also woke up alone but it went very differently for him. And before you ask, very little murder was involved." 

 

I am not even sure what I am so nervous or upset about. I knew from the beginning that vampire probably meant murderer. Other lore about vampires mind controlling victims into forgetting they were bitten and leaving them with unexplained blood loss is not exactly much better. It would be at least better than murder. Psychic and precognition aside, the mind control lore goes unproven, from everything that Alice and Edward have been telling me. When they eat, they can't stop until the whole thing is drained. 'Thing.' I feel like I am slowly explaining away evil deeds. My ethics being chipped away. 

 

I'm upset because I'm afraid of death. I've been afraid of everything since Mom died. Afraid of driving because all I see when a car is driving a little too fast or stopping a little too quickly is the crumpled metal of mom's car. My own car. Afraid of getting hurt, emotionally, by another death, by another friend leaving me, by me leaving everyone behind. And it was nice, for that little while between assumption of there being vampires and actually knowing vampires exist, to day-dream about immortality. Not lingering too long on the subject of diet or what it might mean for a child to never grow up. 

 

The result of the forgone quiz was embarrassing. I had no confidence in any of my answers. I have no reason to let myself get sucked into all this new drama. The only thing that has really changed is that now I know for sure that vampires exist. Friends that were previously secretive are now opening up about their life. Yes, part of that is them admitting to murder. Murder from the 1920's and death by Spanish flu. I still have to pass high school and go on living my life regardless of the weirdness of theirs. So I will set it all aside while I am working on school and compartmentalize. Easy peasy. 

 

With that new mindset, I squirrelled myself away after school in a reading room of the library to catch up on all the missing homework from last week and upcoming exams. Charlie was set to pick me up when he got out of work and go out for dinner after. I made headway on the creative writing assignment for English class, working on a theme of classic fairy tale stories and wizard of oz. I wanted to write something fluffy and lighthearted to try to balance out my life. 

 

"Oh. Hi." I was just leaving the reading room to go wait for Charlie by the entrance. Edward was sitting at a table near the entrance of the reading room. I halted at his table. "You could have joined me if you wanted." 

 

"You seemed pretty intent on studying. I didn't want to interrupt."

 

"You didn't join our table for lunch either." 

 

"Alice said that you looked like you wanted some space. You asked for space."

 

"True." I sighed. I did want space. But I like it when you're around. Stupid conflicting feelings. 

 

"I don't think I met anyone but you who likes to study to Mongolian folk metal."

 

"What, you never heard of The Hu?” That got a laugh out of him. “It's an intense background music to focus to, I know. It helps me concentrate on maths. Phillis used to play it in her studio.”

 

“And the classical music was when you were working on your essay?”

 

“Mmhm. I’ll switch back to Rainbow Kitten Surprise to finish that weaving project for art class." 

 

“That’s the one that Jacklyn suggested to you, right?”

 

“You jealous that none of the music you suggested made the list today?” I said it as a joke but he momentarily made a face. 

 

“Wait, you’re jealous?”

 

He tilted his head. "Charlie is pulling into the parking lot. Walk you to the front?" Hrm, he changed that subject pretty quickly. 

 

"Sure." 

 

"Would you like me to hang out with you this evening again?"

 

"Hm. No, I've actually got to study this time." 

 

"Fair." he said, nodding. 

 

"Alice said you are studying medicine?"

 

"Yeah but I don't have the discipline to do what Ellis does. I'm working on an open source database for difficult or rare diagnoses. It connects patients with resources, specialist doctors, and information about clinical trials. It's mostly collating studies and potentially related articles. Emmett is helping me with programming and Rose is covering the front end of the platform. Those two help all of us realize all our pet projects." 

 

"That sounds more complex than what I was imagining."

 

"Yeah but we've got a lot of time on our hands." He shrugged.

 

"Hey dad." I greeted, opening the door to his truck. 

 

"Hey Bells. Who's this?" Charlie was leaning in his seat to get a better look at Edward. He looked wary.

 

“This is Edward Cullen. We’re in science class together and we’re... sort of dating.”

 

Edwards' face lit up with a big toothy grin at me. He then quickly looked to Charlie and said hi through the open window. 

 

“Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you, Mr. Zwann.” He said in a bright, polite voice, the kind of tone reserved for meeting parents for the first time. 

 

“It’s police chief Zwann. I feel obligated to intimidate you into never breaking my daughter’s heart. But that would be silly and embarrassing and an abuse of power so forget I just said that. It’s nice to meet you.” 

 

“Jesus, Daad.” I gave him a look as I climbed in. “I’ll text you later Edward.” The look on his face was very entertaining. For someone who could supposedly read minds, I am glad I have the ability to surprise him. 

 

He ended up texting me first. “I have to ask. Are we dating now? Was that you asking me out?”

 

                                                                        “I can’t very well explain to my cop dad that you’re stalking me”

 

“So just an explanation to your dad on why I am always around.”

 

                                                                         “Well, I wanted to have some sort of claim on you”

 

“Bella, would you like to go on a date sometime?” 

 

                                                                          “U mad that I asked you out first”

 

“I am not sure if you’re joking rn or not.”

 

                                                                          “That would be a mean joke”

 

“I’ve witnessed you turn down three different people when they asked you out.”

 

                                                                          “I wasn’t interested in then.”

                                                                          “*them”

 

“So you're interested in me?”

 

                                                                          "Yup”

                                                                          “I would like to clarify that I usually wouldn’t encourage a stalker like this”

 

“Glad to be the exception.”

 

                                                                          “Glad that’s all cleared up.”

 

Charlie, who couldn’t remember Alice to save his life, was perfectly fine in remembering Edward. He didn’t say anything about it but I got the clear impression that Charlie distrusted Edward. I could see it in the set of his eyes as he looked over the top of his newspaper when I mentioned him driving me to school. I couldn’t tell if it was vampy-deflection distrust or the common distrust of a father figure finding out his only offspring is dating someone. 

 

The lunch table was not at all surprised that Edward joined our table again along with the predicted reactions. Alice and I shared food, meaning I put my empty containers on her tray. I had the feeling that the Cullen siblings were tricking me into eating more, which I was okay with. 

 

Nothing really changed in the dynamic between Edward and I. Our relationship status wasn't public but it didn't need to be, it was for ourselves, not to be commented upon by other people. We sat closer together. He now carried my books whenever he had the opportunity. He lingered by my locker more. He insisted on keeping the charcoal still life drawing I made for an earlier art assignment which I was going to throw out because it was terrible. After school he sat with me in the library study room. I studied for winter exams. 

 

"Hi hi hi." There was a new addition to our morning carpool, and this time they were waiting outside their car for me. “We’ve met before but not very officially. I’m Jasper.” He had very light stubble on his face, blond like his hair but more filled in and even than what would be normal for a teenager. He also seemed to be wearing a gorgeous skirt, part pinstripe and part dark grey. The odd placement and design of pockets suggested that it was once two pairs of dress-pants, taken apart and stitched back together. Designer or handmade, it looked stunning. Last time he was wearing a long sleeved tee-shirt and I learned now that it was hiding scars. When he waved at me, I thought it looked like a self-inflicted scar but then I noticed that they go all the way around his wrist. There were more scars further up his arm. They were faint, the only indication being slight discoloration and the fact that hair doesn't grow on scar tissue. 

 

“Good morning. You’re back from visiting friends, right.”

 

“A partner of mine, Peter, and his partner Charlotte,” he said politely. 

 

“God it is so funny to hear the public story first and then the real. Do you go visit them often?” The public story was that Jasper was taking a gap year and visiting universities before applying. 

 

“For a couple of months, every year or so. They like to travel so it doesn’t always work out.”

 

“Umm, are they, um, vegetarian too?” What a weird way to ask. So do they kill people? 

 

There was a pause during which Jasper glanced at Alice. “Yes..I’m sorry, it's just weird for me to get that question from a human and no emotional cues behind it."

 

"Peter has been a vegetarian longer than Jasper. He helped get Jasper out of the war." Alice responded to my question, putting an arm through his affectionately. 

 

My mind clung to the phrase ‘out of the war,’ and for a second I had to stop myself from going down a different rabbit-hole of questions. A youtube-suggestion-algorithm of questions.

 

"And to explain Jasper's original answer, he’s empathic. So like I can read thoughts, he can read the subtle emotional responses of people and affect them." 

 

"The obvious question is, affect them how? But I am more curious that that implies that you can't read people's emotions."  I asked, turning to Edward. He grouped closer to my side during the conversation. It seemed so weird to be talking magic causally in my driveway over coffee.

 

"She's sharp." Jasper commented. 

 

Alice explained first, “All of our senses are more sensitive than a human’s so, overtime, you learn how to differentiate someone’s body chemistry. Adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins, etc. Reading facial expressions and posture.”

   

    “I don’t get emotions when I am reading someone’s mind but I can use all of those cues to guess more or less accurately. I also get everyone at once and can’t turn it off. Jasper here can target read individually or large groups at will. Read their mood and flip it. Make someone who is angry feel sad or disinterested instead. It's weird to watch from my psychic point of view.”

 

“I’m basically good at crowd control.” He said it shaking his head slightly like he was dismissing the others. 

 

    “Hmm.” I paused, “The weird deflection thing, how normal people react to you,” I gestured at the group of them, “how some people seem fixated or suspicious, you can quell that.” it was a statement but felt like more of a wandering question. 

 

“Yup. It makes the year when I tag along at school go a little bit easier.”

 

“You only pretend to go for a year?” 

 

“I don’t… do as well… around people.” Jasper admitted choppily. I suspected there was more to it than that. 

 

“Jasper does one year. Edward and I do two. And Rose and Emmett do three or four. It helps us stay in one place longer, to stagger it.” 

 

“Speaking of which, we gotta get going.” Edward turned to me, opening the passenger door. 

 

“You’re skipping today Alice?” I noticed she moved away from the car instead of towards it. 

 

“We’re gonna go home and have raucous sex all over the house while everyone is out.” She beamed a huge grin at me, arm and arm with Jasper. He couldn’t help but give a smile too with the accompanying blush at Alice.

 

“Oh. You're a couple.” I said, still hovering at the door to the car. 

 

“Since the 40’s.” Alice said, bouncing on her heels.

 

“Okay.” Nodding my head attempting to do the mental math. “Well, have a good day then?” 

 

“Oh we will. Nice meeting you officially Bella.” Jasper waved. As I buckled my seat belt, I just glimpsed them disappearing into the woods. Them running all the way back to their house seems more absurd than finding out they are a couple.  

 

“Thank you for dealing with my gregarious family.” Edward said as we pulled out of the driveway.

 

“My pleasure. Being an only child I was always jelly of friends with sibs. It’s like you got a built-in best friend. Or nemesis, I guess.”

 

“That's the good thing about a chosen family. We all get along really well.”

 

“So question.” I hesitated. “Rose and Emmett are a couple too?”

 

“Basically since they first met. There’s not exactly many vampires stuck at that age.” He had a hard time getting the v-word out.

 

I stared out the window thinking about that as we pulled into the school parking lot. When we parked, Edward did his usual run around the car to open the door for me before I attempted to open it myself. 

 

“Check-in. How are you doing right now? Can I hug you?” I said when I got out, putting the hood up on my jacket to avoid the light rain. As a response, he drew me close, arms enveloping me, cheek resting on the side of my head over my hood. I wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed against his chest. We stood there in the light rain and other students filled past our car on their way to the main building. 

 

“You’re stuck at a young age too.” I said quietly. 

 

“Eternal youth, Peter Pan style.” He responded. “You okay?” 

 

“Yeah. I guess. I should head to class.”

Chapter Text

    “As much as I like school, exam week can suck it.”

 

    “Tell us how you really feel, Bells.” Charlie responded. “Something about ‘if it hurts, it’s working.’” We were having dinner with Sue Clearwater again, a celebratory meal for the start of winter break. For my own guest, I invited Alice. 

 

    “So you two are having a sleepover this weekend?" Sue asked. 

 

    “We're stargazing.” I stated, matter of factly. There’s a meteor shower or something and Alice invited to take me camping with her fam.

 

    “There is not much in the way of clear skies here. Are you heading out of town?” Charlie said incredulously. 

 

    "My family has a cabin. It's in the foothills near the state park. Forecast says clear skies at night," Alice said brightly, eager to clear up our weekend plans with a cop who would come looking for me if I didn't check in. Alice might have predicted that scenario but she would neither confirm nor deny. "And the whole family is coming. Camping is a tradition we do when the semester ends."

 

"Well, glamping. I was assured there was a cabin." I clarified to dad, who raised an eyebrow at me at the mention of camping.

 

    “Is Edward going to be there?” Dad asked, with an odd tone. Sue was clearly going to stay out of this part of the conversation. She, at least, could remember the existence of the Cullens when they are not in the room.

 

    “Ellis and Dad will be there of course." Alice tried to sound reassuring. 

 

"I'll be rooming with the girls, dad" I gave him a significant look.

 

"Okay. Okay. Just checking. I'll stop being a nosy father figure. Though now that I know you are open to the idea of camping, I have a couple of ideas for fishing trips."

 

And now I get to blame Alice for any future camping trip woes I have to endure after this. Not that I am strictly opposed to the idea of camping. I just have nightmares from the time as a kid where I woke up and the tent was completely covered in stringy caterpillars. 

 

    “This reminds me, is there anything particular, clothes wise, that I need to pack?”

   

“Well we have a bunch of bloodsuckers in our woods..” Alice started, with a serious expression.

 

    I choked on the water I was drinking.

 

    “So wear light colored clothes and long socks.” Alice finished, hiding a smile. “Ticks are still around even in winter.”

 

   

 

"Good morning." Edward greeted me at the door. 

 

"Hi." I breathed, smiling dumbly up at him. I was excited all morning and had just begun pacing when Edward knocked. 

 

"You look great. You know you don't have to get dressed up to meet the family right." 

 

"I'm not dressed up. This blouse is the only light colored top I have, sans a bunch of my summery stuff from Arizona." I smoothed out a wrinkle.

 

He pulled me in for a hug, holding the small of my back and leaning his head on mine. "Alice was just pulling your leg. She said she had fun last night. And I like the outfit." He brushed his lips against ear. "Especially since you only seem to own dark colored bras."

 

"Teasing in a good way I hope."

 

"I'm into it." His eyes burned into mine, glancing down at my lips. "So, are you ready?"

 

Impulsively, I leaned forward and kissed him. His lips were warm and firm and I wanted more. But he pulled away as quick as it started, eyes still smoldering but leaning his whole body away and tense like he was willing his body not to move. 

 

"Too much? I'm sorry." Guilt washed through me, in two distinct waves. The first, for jumping into something that he clearly wasn't ready for after mistaking his question for an invitation. The second, for myself with the reminder that a wrong move could mean my death. 

 

He shook his head, clearing it, "I'm sorry. I think I was just taken off guard." 

 

I stood there, determined to wait as long as he needed. 

 

"Now you have a frowny face. I'm sorry." He reached out and smoothed out the crease between my eyebrows with the pad of his thumb. He pulled me in for another hug, gentler this time. "That was not a dejection. My hesitancy...my control is my own problem to deal with. You did nothing wrong. Thank you for being so patient with me." 

 

"I, at least, want to make it easier on you." 

 

"You only have to risk your life every second you're around me. Of course we shouldn't count that."

 

"I got a B in maths. I can at least count to 100." 

 

He grabbed my overnight bag from the chair in the living room. "I like you. I'm gonna try'n keep you alive."

 

"One ah ah ah," exclaimed in my attempt at a Sesame Street Count impression.

 

"Okay okay." He said sarcastically, opening the car door for me. 

 

"Oh my glob. What's your favorite pop-culture vampire?" I asked, once he got in.

 

"Well obviously Count Dracula was a real person so he's out."

 

"Have you ever met Vlad? Is he scary?"

 

"Nope, he died. And I don't like how vampires are portrayed in Buffy."

 

"Understandable."

 

"So I guess that just leaves me with Sesame Street." 

 

"You're lame. I like all the episodic melodrama. Rosalie was Buffy for Halloween. You think she would do a rewatch of her favorite episodes with me?"

 

"You might just win her over if you suggest that." 

 

“Hmm.” I pondered the library of CDs in Edward’s car and we drove further out of town. “How about Mountain Goats.”

 

“Love the band but the real thing tastes terrible.”

 

“From what Alice has told me, just about everything tastes terrible.”

 

We drove further and further out of town. I was surprised to find that he was taking the road towards Shuwah but turned east on a hidden sideroad. My only point of reference for this area is that Jacklyn lives a little south of Beaver, the next town over. I couldn’t decide if Beaver was a more stupid town name than Forks. 

 

"Isn't the national forest this direction?"

 

"We live really close to the park. That's by design so we can hunt with limited hikers in the area." 

 

"What happens if a hiker is in the area?"

 

His knuckles turned white gripping the steering wheel. "It's rare but accidents do happen. Last time was in the late 80's … not me," he added quickly, "I've not killed anyone since the 30's." He sighed. "Not that that makes it better. How.. how are you doing with all of this?"

 

"I… I feel like I'm starting to get desensitized with all the causal talk of murder."

 

"We tend to talk openly about everything amongst ourselves. Owning our actions, calling it how it is, recognizing that all those people had a life and a story."

 

"It's your actions now that I appreciate. All these rules and precautions you take. How you're trying to help others. You're a good person Edward." That explanation felt choppy like I couldn't put my thoughts clearly into words yet. 

 

“I keep thinking that at some point I’ll tell you something and it's going to be too much. That you’ll run away screaming.” He gave me a half-smile but his eyes were serious. “And if never seeing me again is what you want, then of course I’d let you go.”

 

“I’m not running anywhere,” I smiled back at him. “Plus running blindly through the woods is a bad idea,” I joked. 

 

“You know what I mean...I just...I want you to be safe. I wish I was more safe for you cause I want to be with you.” 

 

He took my hand and held it as we drove up the shady two-track road. There were shrubs covered in burlap, some in clusters that I could tell would be garden alcoves along a walking path that looped in and out of sight as we drove on. 

 

"What's normally in the planters? And there's a bunch of empty spots where it looks like you mulched over." I asked. I could feel my throat tighten as I listened to him talk about how much he likes me and I wanted to move the conversation to safer subjects. I like him and don’t feel good enough, like I’m bracing for him to realize how boring I am. He says something nice and I hear it as the opposite. That I am fragile. That it's work to be with me cause he has to fight against his cursed instincts. That he can’t read my mind and realize automatically how much I like him so I don’t have to find the words for it myself. A fear that I would lose him. 

 

"The planters usually contain annuals. The shrubs covered in cloth are roses. My favorite is the night scented tobacco. It's a flower, not actually smoking tobacco," he said quickly when he saw I made a face. "Rosalie plants a lot of night blooming flowers for us. We have them near the roads and spots that get the most light. We plant things that have a really strong scent so it helps cover our own. Much easier to do in spring and summer when there's more growing."

 

I wrinkled my nose at him. "I think you smell great. Are vampires supposed to smell funny? Wait, is this where that garlic myth comes from?"

 

He gave a short laugh. "We have a fairly strong sense of smell. The scent thing is hard to describe though. We do have a distinct smell but your cute little human nose probably couldn't smell it. Most vampires are solitary or live in small groups, pairs, trios. But if someone smells another vampire in the area, instinct says go check it out."

 

Alice and Jasper were hanging out near the garage when we pulled up. 

 

"As a warning, Alice is very excited." Edward said as we parked the car. 

 

"Wait, this building is just the garage." We were in a large open room and it was obvious that there was nothing but cars in the space. Some mechanic tools along one wall. A bathroom in a corner with a small utility shower. 

 

"There are seven of us and most of us like driving. It's not very environmentally friendly, I know." 

 

"I mean where's the house?" I said, closing the car door behind me. 

 

"Just behind the hill." Alice appeared at my side and pulled me into a tight hug, the beads in her hair clicking together in her rush. Her hair was done in a new style of braids today, the colored strands removed and now with cute beads throughout her beautiful locks.  

 

Jasper walked up at a reasonable pace. "There's technically a secret way under the hill to the garage but Alice wants you to see it from the front." 

 

Everything was shaded by towering trees covered in hanging moss. Not as much moss as the Hall of Mosses in the Olympic National park where Angela took me for a hike, but still an impressive amount of greenery for winter. 

 

      "You walk sooo sloooow." Alice said in an exaggerated way. 

 

"You walk so fast." I quibbed back. "Wait, is it snowing?"

 

Alice twirled a little bit in the falling flakes. The rain from this morning had slowed and now seemed to defy gravity as it gently drifted from the grey sky.

 

"For the next hour or so,” she forecasted. “Then rain, then fog. I still promise you clear skies tonight," 

 

"Oh." When I looked up again I realized the house was in view. "Is that timber frame construction?"

 

"Yeah, it's a remodel from the existing structure." Esmond emerged from a trail that led away from the house. "Sorry to startle you just now. I heard the car drive up. It is very nice to meet you again Bella." 

 

"It's a beautiful house." I responded.

 

The hand-hewn beams made a beautiful arch, topped with a chipped-slate roof. The bricks were natural stone with a lighter mortar and the beginnings of ivy climbing up it. Two large trees flanked the little porch, casting it and all the windows in shade. 

 

"Do you build a new house in every town you move to?"

 

"More or less. It's my pet project. I build furniture between moves and start blue-prints for the next build."

 

"I'd love to see more of your work." I smiled at him. He had a heavy canvas work apron on and clearly just walked out of his woodshop to say hello. 

 

Edward leaned in and whispered in my ear. "Just as a warning, Emmett is planning on spooking you."

 

"What does that mean-" I began to ask.

 

"No you don't." Esmond spoke sternly to the tree tops, looking straight up. 

 

Emmett dropped down on the path behind Esmond as if a fifty foot drop was nothing.  A blur, a slight bend of the knees, a pout about being caught. "You guys are no fun." 

 

"If you are mean to her, she's not gonna want to come back." Esmond chided. 

 

"There is still time to turn back if you just want to hang out at your house." Edward asked me in a low tone. No sense in whispering when everyone can hear you anyway. 

 

"I have a morbid curiosity to find out if y'all sleep in coffins." 

 

"Yeah we can nail you in if you want to try it out." Emmett responded in an equally playful jest. 

 

"That sounds like fun." Rose suddenly appeared behind Emmett, chin resting on his shoulder and arms wrapped around him and her long hair spilling off to the side. 

 

"Let's feed the human some breakfast first," Edward told the crowd.

 

"I packed some food," the topic reminded me of the bag I packed. I let go of Edward's hand to circle around him for my bag. He immediately responded by flipping around again, hands out stretched in a pleading gesture, but the whole movement faster than what I could respond to. 

 

"I know you said that you'd pack some food but I purposely distracted you at the door so you would forget to grab it from the fridge," he explained. 

 

I was aware that all of his siblings were around watching, probably highly entertained by this little drama. "I just didn't want you to go out of your way to cook when none of you eat."

 

"He bought you groceries." Emmett said from the sidelines. 

 

"And baked you something," Rose added immediately after. 

 

"How about let's go inside." Alice popped her head out of the doorframe. I didn't even notice that she and Jasper weren't behind me anymore. 

 

"I wanted to cook for you." Edward said, walking backwards a few steps to open the door for me. 

 

The house was airy, with bookshelves covering the walls and furniture arranged into little sitting and study areas. It lacked windows because of the angle of the roof, except for the ones at the front and rear ends of the house. The place was arranged like I was about to check into a bed and breakfast and or ski resort. Ellis was just closing their laptop at a standing desk near far end of the room. Behind them looked to be narrow shelves that used to be mail slots, now pottery display. Mirroring the desk of the left side of the room was a bar counter with an open view into the kitchen

 

"Good morning Bella. How are you? How is the arm?" asked Ellis warmly. 

 

"Hi Doctor Cullen...It twinges a bit but it's doing much better." I said.

 

"I can suggest a lotion if the skin is feeling tight. And please, you can call me Ellis," they said as they gathered up their pile of manilla folders. 

 

"That would be nice, thank you."

 

"You'll have to excuse me for a moment, I need to put these patient files away." Ellis left through the back hallway.

 

"I'm going to arrange something for you to eat," Edward kissed the side of my head and slipped into the kitchen.  

 

"So…" I turned to Alice and Jasper and rapped my knuckles on the counter twice. "How do I check in?" The younger Cullens never followed us in so I could only assume there were more buildings than this.

 

Jasper rushed to the other side of the counter then casually returned with a blank clipboard and pen in hand. "Ah. Ms. Zhwann. Your reservation is ready. If you would just flash your ID for confirmation, I can hand over your room key."

 

I just kept my ID in a small fold in my pocket so I pulled it out and slid it over the counter, interested to see where this little game went. Jasper glanced at it and slid a pair of old fashioned keys over the desk. 

 

"Your cabin is the last on the left, marked with frog on the door, the same as the keychain."

 

"Why a frog?" I looked at the little wood carved figure on the keychain. 

 

"Cause it's building 'F'," Alice said casually, coming back out of the kitchen with coffee grinder in hand. 

 

"I was making a joke about the layout of this building being like a lodge reception office, but this really is cabin rental?"

 

"It's a refurbished campground," Esmond said from a drafting table near the front windows. "This building was the main office. We saved the main foundation and reno-ed the rest. The cabins were all in bad condition so we tore them down and built new."

 

Edward stuck his head out from the kitchen. "We call this building 'the house' for appearances sake but technically each of us has a house." 

 

Alice unscrewed the lid off of the coffee grinder, smelling the fresh beans before pouring them into a chemex carafe. From a gooseneck kettle she began methodically pouring hot water over the grounds. 

 

"So you don't just build one house in every town you move to, you build several?" I asked. I seemed to be impressed at every turn.  

 

"We tend to places that encourage outdoor tourism. Campgrounds are perfect for more secluded spots near large preserves like this. The tiny house set-up makes more sense for our particular family dynamic anyway." 

 

"How many campgrounds have you started?" 

 

"A fair few at this point. I'm careful to change my architecture style so it can't be connected back to a single person designing them. Or change with the times. For example, geodesic dome communes popped up everywhere in the late 60’s."

 

"So I guess I wasn't lying to my dad about going to a cabin." 

 

"I'm sorry that you had to lie to your dad at all," said Edward. He presented me with a small ceramic plate with fresh baked croissants, cut fruit and fig jam. Technically, I never lied to Charlie; it's not my fault that he can’t remember everything when I mention the Cullens.

 

"Wow. Wait, these are from scratch? Croissants are so complicated. How much time did you spend planning food for me this weekend?" It was sweet that he wanted to cook for me but the more mental math I did about the time involved and me being the only one eating anything made me feel guilty. Mad at myself at the same time, for forgetting the couple of sandwiches and snacks I packed. Obstinately, I didn’t want to help with the cooking since he got himself into this mess but these simple croissants are way more than what I could pull off in the kitchen. 

 

"You're gonna be eating these for breakfast tomorrow too. Now take a bite and tell me now I did."

 

"Mmm." It was a perfectly fine example of a croissant. "A vehicle for butter just like God intended."

 

"We are gonna bombard you with food apparently," Alice said, gently placing a mug of coffee in front of me. "May I introduce to you my Lord and savior, single-origin, locally and lightly roasted, high altitude grown, and ethically sourced Ethiopian coffee,” said in one breath.

 

"For someone who doesn't drink coffee, you have a lot of feels about it," I said, taking a tentative sip of the brew. 

 

"A lot of how things taste are in the smell and my sense of smell is better than yours." 

 

"I thought you said that food smells don't smell like food anymore for you." 

 

"They don't smell like something I can eat but they still smell good. Just...not appetizing." She waved her hand in a gesture dismissing the human foodstuffs on my plate and emphasizing the last two words. 

 

"So you guys don't have any human food that you miss?" I asked. 

 

"I kinda feel like there's not much to miss." Edward explained. "All of it is still around. Smells might bring out nostalgia. But it is not something we really crave." 

 

"I swear I can get some of the caffeine from the smell." Alice said, hovering over my cup. I slowly slid it away from under her nose and took another sip. 

 

Jasper came around behind Alice and pulled her into a hug. "Maybe I have been messing with you this entire time. Giving you a slight mood boost every time I see you holding a cup of coffee." 

 

"See, and that's why I love you." She said, looking up and giving him a kiss. 

 

Edward leaned close to me conspiratorially. "I believe that's an example of Pavlov's dog."

 

"Yeah but who trained who." Jasper said while planting a kiss on Alice's forehead. 

 

After breakfast, I took my coffee for a walk, Edward pointing out the little houses and which one belonged to who. Emmett's was the closest to the main house for the wifi connection. We didn't go in but apparently he has an impressive collection of video games. Rose had her own place, one of the only cottages in a clearing and not tree cover. It was half underground on a hill, consisting of a windowless stone ground floor topped with a beautiful old greenhouse. It was the closest to my coffin theory as that's where the two sleep. Not the old barn vibe I guessed from a distance but more cottage-core, dried flowers on the rafters, handmade rug, and lit by candlesticks. 

 

Jasper and Alice also shared a place but used a second cottage as a sewing and fiber studio. Jasper showed off his spinning wheel and Alice attempted to explain knitwear patterns to me until I had a glazed look in my eyes, not understanding any of the shorthand terms for knitting. What really caught my eye was the treadle Singer sewing machine. When I first moved to Arizona, I remember that grandma had an old treadle Singer, sat unused in the living room. I assumed it was broken, that she kept it for sentimental reasons. When she died, we moved it to storage, the same storage I put some of mom's things. This Singer looked exactly the same except a sewing project sat on the table and an extra work lamp illuminated the area. 

 

"That sewing machine is as old as I am," Edward said after I sat before the machine to try the treadle. I could hardly hear the gears moving, it's action was so smooth. "Actually, my dad bought that original. I lost it for a few decades but I tracked it down and was able to buy it again as an antique. I wanted to have something from my parents."

 

"And these old machines still work," Alice said. "No power needed, just the treadle. Needs some oiling every once and a while. Winding the bobbin is annoying but it takes modern needles." 

 

"They were made before planned obsolescence was a thing." Jasper said, still spinning away on his spinning wheel. That, too, looked old. 

 

"You guys would be really fun to take antiquing." 

 

"Please please please let us go antiquing with you." Alice said. 

 

"Or to thrift stores," Jasper added. He didn't need to look at the yarn he was making but it came out as an even thin thread even as his attention was elsewhere. "Alice and I like to buy out a bunch of old clothes and upcycle them." 

 

"Our altered clothing label is in a couple of different boutiques around the country." She said pointing to neatly folded stacks of clothes on a shelf. I just assumed that it was part of her own wardrobe but now that I saw the labels on the shelves, it was sorted by size and style, with handmade tags already attached. 

 

"I thought you said you do knitwear." I asked. The shelves on the opposite side of the room were full of yarn and folded sweaters. 

 

"That's a different label." She shrugged. 

 

"And yet, when I see you in school, you guys only wear clothes that you see other students wearing." 

 

Like Edward has a sweatshirt nearly identical to one of Tyler's except it's in a different color. Jessica got a new top from a trip to Port Angeles and then Alice started wearing something similar soon after. Nothing they wore was new to the fashion eye of the student body. 

 

They looked at each other for a brief second before Edward answered. "It just helps us blend it. To take fashion cues from the people around us." 

 

"If we look too different, people start to be more suspicious of us." 

 

I thought for a moment. "Well, can I buy one of your knit sweaters? That way you can start wearing your own stuff." 

 

Alice got a big grin. "Buy, no," she said, shaking her head. "You'd be doing me a favor. I will gladly send you home with a bunch of clothes." 

 

The cabin tour continued to Esmond's woodshop. I felt like I was no longer on a parade of homes but a open-studio art hop. I walk in while the artist is mid project, they pause and talk about their work. The woodshop was twice as big as the rest of the cabins, a large chunk of square footage being taken up by lumber storage. A tree trunk was drying stacked in layers, like an assembled puzzle with little spacers between each section. There were some heavy duty machines that I only recognized by name: band-saw, table saw, miter saw. Part of one wall was meticulously organized hand-tools, a lot of them antiques and a lot of them repeats with slight variations. Esmond pointed out several that were older than him, found cheap at garage sales, craigslist and auctions.  

 

"These ones, in this section, are all planers." He said pointing to some similar looking tools. "Basically what you use to make a board flat. But, changing the blade shape," he pointed to another one, "this one would make decorative moulding like you'd see around a window frame." 

 

"Wow. I thought those were all machine tooled. I, like, thought it was made on a jig." 

 

"Well they have more industrial power tools now. Still called the same thing. Planer, router, etcetera."

 

"When did you start to learn woodworking?"  

 

"I was actually a cabinet maker when I was human. In New Orleans in the 40's."

 

"Oh wow. So that really does make you the youngest of the bunch."

 

"Hey now, and oldest too."

 

"Could I ask how you turned?" 

 

He directed me to a little seating area near a bookshelf. I chose the rocking chair for myself and the other two took a bench and a step stool to sit on. 

 

"Unlike the others, I had a wife and kid in my human life. They both got sick. Because we are black we didn’t have access to the best healthcare and medical knowledge wasn't anywhere near where it is today," He paused for a long moment and then went on. "Our daughter died first, of scarlet fever. While we were still mourning, Josephine fell ill and we thought she had the same thing but it turned out to be yellow fever. I was frantic to try and find something to save her. Our local doctors couldn't do anything. Being black, we didn’t have a lot of options. There was a lot of snake-oil being sold but of course nothing worked. I left like I had to try anyway. This last one seemed too good to be true but it was a literal crossroads deal. I gave all the money I had, sold every tool, everything we owned, to meet with someone who said they could give me a cure. Met him in the middle of nowhere outside of town and he gave me a vial. Looked like something I could pick up at an apothecary. Brought it back to Josie... It immediately made her worse, rolling around with pain." Edward had held my hand and was watching me for this part of the story. "It lasted days. I thought I had killed her. During the worst of it I drank the rest of the vial to try and kill myself but nothing happen for me. After that her pain grew less and less and she slept soundly for another whole day. Slept like she was dead, I couldn't wake her but eventually she woke up on her own… she looked better. She said she felt better, shaky, a migraine, but also better than she had in years. Except she was hungry… When we couldn't find anything in the house for her to eat, her instincts took over. I… I couldn't understand what was happening. I thought, somehow, she was rabid. She bit me and I passed out. I remember the pain growing and growing as I lost blood and then I don't remember anything. When I woke up again she was gone. I vaguely made the connection that whatever rabid infection she had, I must have gotten it with the bite. Same headache she described, things too loud and bright, muscles tense… she must have thought she had killed me and ran away. I tried to run after her but I was days late and I had no idea where she went. I realized with the...thirst, that I needed to stay away from people. I think the first thing I ate was an alligator and that was partially self defense. Eventually I ended up in the Appalachian mountains. I lived alone until Ellis found me."

 

"You never found her?" I asked. My brow was furrowed and it left like I had been making that expression for a while. 

 

"No. And logic says I should have gone back to New Orleans to see if she returned. But by the time I had my hunger under control I realized I stopped aging. If I went back I might be recognized."

 

"So no one taught you how, err, about all of this?"

 

"I did eventually come across some other nomads but they wanted me to hunt like they do… I killed people by mistake. I let myself get too hungry in the beginning trying to fight it. The nomads didn't believe me when I said deer do just as well."

 

"How did you meet Ellis?" 

 

Edward joined the story. "We spent a few winters in the Catskills and came across Esmond's hunting range. Actually, Emmett found him first. He was out trying to find a bear before they went into hibernation. But Emmett couldn't just go say hello, so Ellis was the one who made contact. They're our usual spokesperson. That was a couple of years before Alice and Jasper joined us."

 

Emmett Hunting for bears?

 

"Meeting Ellis was a pleasant surprise," Esmond responded to my question. "I didn't realize I was so starved of social contact. We talked for probably a week straight when they first made contact. It didn't take much convincing to join the family." He said with a big grin, putting a hand on Edward's shoulder. 

 

Edward smiled back at him but when he turned back to me, he seemed nervous. I had the impression that Esmond said something to him physically.  With hesitancy, Edward explained, "So, we normally have to ease new people into the idea of Rosalie and Emmett. Immortal children are against our rules. Some people might try to kill them on sight."

 

"Wait, why? Who's rules?"

 

"Kids don't have much impulse control. Whole town's have been destroyed before. Kid vampires tend to prey on other kids, it can get ugly fast. The Volturi are strict when it comes to it, more so than their rule of anonymity."

 

"My ears were burning." Ellis walked into the room. "How is the woodshop tour going?"

 

"We were just talking about how you and I met." Esmond greeted them. 

 

"That it was love at first sight and we hardly left your bed? I doubt that story is safe for guests." They said, making Esmond blush. 

 

"Thank you, I left that part out." He kissed them on the cheek as part of his response.

 

"So. Since it came up in conversation, you want to know about the Volturi.” 

 

“I feel like the more I know about all this, the better." 

 

"Okay. Let's go to my study. I have something that will help explain things." Ellis offered. 

 

"So that explains why Alice dropped off tea and cookies at your office." Edward said, dusting off some of the wood shavings from his pants. He tapped the side of his head when I gave him a quizzical look.

 

Ellis's study was cozy but felt more like an art gallery, the old fashion type that put paintings up in every available wall space. A few sculptures and a bust stood on a dresser. A metal spiral staircase leads to a small bedroom loft space. Where there might have been a small kitchen in a normal tiny house, was a small library. A feature that all the houses seemed to share was a bathroom immediately by the backdoor, more modern and minimalist than the rest of the decor. I tried not to focus on why they would need a shower so sterile looking. Ellis drew my attention to the art, pointing out a specific group portrait. 

 

“These three are the Volturi.” The painting in question was more ornately framed than the others with bright classical figures and swirling robes. The background was a dark interior with heavy curtains, three figures sitting around a table posing with books and quill, mid conversation. On the table between the figures sat a skull on a stack of books along with a bouquet of flowers. It was the type of still life that was supposed to show off the artist's skill with textures and the client's wealth and accomplishments. The figures themselves were fairly unremarkable, all dressed the same, same penetrating stare at the viewer. Renaissance men. 

 

“Oh, it’s specific people. Before it sounded like a ruling body or police or something.”

 

"They are exactly that. Aro, Marcus, and Caius. The rules that they came up with are designed to keep vampires undiscovered by humans, designed to keep us safe and fed but in actuality it keeps them rich and in power. Punished by death and enforced by a collection of gifted vampires." 

 

My expression must have flashed confusion because they added, "They collect vampires with abilities. That's actually how they collected me. They thought I had potential. That was during the start of the black plague, when it was still a rumor, slowly coming west. I was a healer, they 'collected' me and had me train their people on how to doctor so they could go into people's homes and prey on the already dying. I was naive to think they actually wanted to help people."

 

"Do you have a power like Edward?" In my head I could not stop thinking about the phrase 'plague baby' and how many centuries old that made Ellis.

 

"Nope. Just the normal supernatural vampire abilities."

 

"You know that's not true," Edward butt in. "You know that deflection thing?" He asked me. "Humans never find Ellis untrustworthy. It's subtle but it's definitely noticeable to a mind reader." 

 

"I work hard to gain that trust," Ellis defended, "and never break it." 

 

"What are the rules?" 

 

"Don't let humans discover you, basically." Ellis said, pouring me more tea. 

 

"With some exceptions," Edward added. 

 

"Don't leave a body trail. No witnesses," Ellis listed.

 

"That seems pretty obvious."

 

"Which means they offer a clean up and disposal service for favors to help along their drug and trafficking business." Edward said with a dark tone in his voice.

 

Ellis moved on quickly. "No images of yourself. That one is an immortality problem." 

 

I pointed to the painting.

 

"They gifted it to me as a gesture of goodwill. A blessing on my chosen vegetarian lifestyle. And...a sign of approval for Rosalie. The major rule is no children." 

 

There was a pause. "Did you.. create her?" I asked with a confused look. 

 

"Oh, no, I'd never. I did eat those on the edge of death during the black plague but once I learned what the others were doing, only posing as doctors for an easy meal, I reexamined my morals and made a vow to never eat a person again. I ate venison in my human and, after some desperation, I found I could live on venison again. I'm… going on a tangent. I vowed to never make another vampire myself. Rosaline was turned by her mother." 

 

"Her sisters as well. They live in Canada now and visit on occasion." 

 

"Her mother was put to death. I stepped in and stopped them from killing Rose too. The main concern is that children have no self control and go on killing trying to slate their thirst. I argued that I could teach her to live off my diet." 

 

 "Rosalie has never broken her diet." Edward said with awe. 

 

"Her sisters also. They did it out of solidarity at first but it's been a few hundred years and none of them have switched. They all traveled with me at first, then it was just the younger three, and then eventually everyone but Rose settled in Alaska." 

 

"Who was next to join the family?"

 

"Emmett," Edward said before Ellis could, "but would you like dinner before we go into another story."

 

"Oh. I could eat. I didn't realize it was already that late." 

 

"I need to get ready for my shift at the hospital soon. It was nice talking to you, Bella."