Remember—crit is good, suggestions are good. We like it VERY MUCH, in the words of MST3K. Happy reading.
Well—at least two of Bella’s dire predictions came true first thing in the morning—and both were water-related. Sure enough, she was jolted out of a sound sleep even before her alarm when off by the bang and the roar of Charlie flushing the toilet and starting the shower.
And yes, it was raining.
But, to be fair, those two were hardly predictions—merely statements of fact. She burrowed down into her blankets, determined to catch as much shut-eye as she could before she just had to get up (and subsequently put this day off as long as possible).
She must have dozed back off, because she didn’t remember hearing Charlie shut off the water, and when her alarm went off with a horrible wailing that made her all but leap off of her pillow, it was forty-five minutes later than when she woke up the last time.
She blinked blearily around the dark room, rubbing at her eyes and yawning fit to split her head, and then just sort of sat there, trying to get the gears between her ears, creaky and gummed up with sleep, back to turning smoothly. She eventually rolled herself out of the warm bed and into the unpleasant chill of the morning air and lurched into the bathroom.
She felt a hundred percent better after brushing her teeth and washing her face (and really, when you felt about as rotten as you could get, there was only room for improvement), and she went back to her room to get dressed. She was never one to take too many pains with her appearance—she really didn’t have much to work with, in her opinion—but it was her first day, so she decided to wear something a bit nicer than a T-shirt. Her hair was pretty much a hopeless cause, but she did her best to pull it back into something other than a flat and lifeless sheet, and then trooped her way downstairs, dressed and ready to face the day (well, as much as she could be, anyway).
She stopped short in the hallway; it was already 7:15, but there was Charlie, sitting at the breakfast table with his paper, and he looked up at the sound of her shoes on the creaking floorboards. “Hey, Bells,” he said.
“What are you still doing here?” she asked, the early hour and her surprise making the question come out rather rudely.
Charlie cleared his throat and took a sip of his coffee. “Well—it’s your first day—I thought I’d see you off.” He gave her a little half-smile. “What’s the good of being the chief of police if I can’t take an hour or two off to wish my girl a good first day at school?”
Bella found she didn’t have much to say to that; all she could do was sort of look at the floor and smile a little. “Thanks, Dad—I appreciate it.”
Charlie just grunted, no more comfortable with talking about this sort of thing than she was, and retreated back behind her paper, while she busied herself with rustling up some breakfast. She sat across from him when she’d made her usual cereal and ate in quickly in the not at all uncomfortable silence between herself and Charlie’s paper.
“Well,” she said, when she’d finished, “I guess it’s time for me to head out.”
Charlie folded his paper and stood, going for his wallet. “Here—lunch money,” he said, thrusting a twenty at her. She thanked him, and he followed her to the door, where she wrapped herself up in her jacket and scarf and hauled her backpack up onto her shoulder. She looked up at Charlie, who didn’t seem to have any more idea what to say than she did, but he finally just said, “Well—you have a good day. I know you’ll be fine—you always are.”
“Thanks,” she said, smiling despite her doubts about either statement. “You too—I know things are gonna be exciting for both of us, all chained to our desks and all.”
Charlie chuckled, looked like he was thinking about giving her a hug but just settled on giving her arm a squeeze, and then went out the door. She took a deep breath and looked up at the sky; it wasn’t merely raining out, it was more that thick, soupy stuff that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be rain, fog, or even snow. She tugged her hood over her hair and plunged out into it, dashing for her truck and leaping inside where it may have still been cold, but at least it was dry.
There was a receding honk; she looked up to see Charlie flash his headlights as he backed out and pulled away, and she waved at him through her rear window. Then she cranked the engine; it roared like a tiger, throbbing beneath her feet, and she turned on the heat. She’d bought a car-kit yesterday on her foray into town, and so while the engine warmed up, she popped it in and plugged in her MP3 player, opting for something suitably upbeat in hopes of buoying her spirits (it wouldn’t work) and ending up listening to Oingo Bingo.
Finally deciding that she was stalling, just sitting there, she geared up both herself and the truck and pulled out of the driveway (only a little jerkily), and started to drive to school.
Her tires hissed over the wet pavement, and the slopping sounds of her wipers clearing the windshield kept time with “Weird Science” as she drove. The town was up and about, despite the fact that it was still pretty dark out (although much of that was due to the cloud cover). Still, she’d made it a point to leave a bit early; the parking lot at the school was still mostly empty when she turned in, so she got a good spot. She had to admit, whatever she may find that Forks High School lacked, it certainly had plenty of charm. It was one of those old brick buildings that had a feel of real craftsmanship around it, not some modern, sterile kind of place like her school back in Phoenix was.
She clambered out of the cab and jogged through the wet and into the front doors. The building wasn’t as warm inside as she’d have liked; they must have exchanged draftiness for all that character on the outside. The office was already open, and so she went inside. The secretary she’d spoken to on Friday—Mrs. Cope—was sitting at her computer, and looked up at the sound of her entrance.
“Hi,” Bella said, doing her best to be pleasant. “I’m Isabella Swan.”
“Yes, you came in last week,” Mrs. Cope said with the assurance of a woman whose job description included remembering the names and faces of hundreds of teenagers, swiveling her chair around to a rather dangerous looking stack of paper in the tray on her desk. Bella smiled and nodded in agreement as she approached the desk. Mrs. Cope had miraculously pulled a few papers from the precarious pile next to her without tipping it over and laid them out on the counter. “Here’s a copy of your schedule, and I’ll need you to get your teachers to sign this one,” she said, tapping the second one, “and bring it back to me at the end of the day.”
Bella supposed this was some kind of safety measure, to make sure she didn’t skip, but really, what was there in Forks to skip school for? But she just nodded and gathered them up and thanked her when she wished her a good day, and then escaped the office to go to her locker.
She didn’t remember the combination—she was horrible with numbers—but she had come prepared with a sticky note with the numbers written on it tucked in her backpack. Besides, all school lockers seemed to have the same pattern: right to some big number, back left to a smaller one, and then right again to an even bigger number, and open. Her fingers remembered the motions, even if she couldn’t remember where to stop. She dumped her papers and folders and whatnot inside, and knew that she’d have a pile of books by the end of the day—all nice and ready for her to make a disaster out of her currently pristine locker. It never failed; she’d have everything lined up and arranged, and then she’d just start willy-nilly throwing her junk in there, and before long she wouldn’t be able to find anything, and then she’d clean it up and the cycle would repeat. There was a comfortable familiarity about that, at least, so she didn’t mind.
Resigned to having her nose in her schedule, she pulled it out and looked for her first class. English III, with Mason, in building three. Honors English—but not AP. Bella had been very disappointed to find that Fork HS didn’t have nearly the complete AP program as did Central back in Phoenix. They had most of the advanced classes she planned on taking—U.S. History, Government, Calculus, and Spanish—but to her intense frustration, there was no AP English or Chemistry. Those two tests alone could have been worth sixteen hours of college credit, and she had to give up on them. That was a whole semester’s worth of classes that she’d had a chance to test out of—and wouldn’t have had to pay for after she graduated.
Oh, well—no use crying over spilt milk. And ultimately, moving up here have been her own suggestion, not Renee’s. Bella just told herself that in the long run it would be better for chemistry at least to be fresher in her mind, if she wanted a biochem degree. Now—on to English.
She already knew that she didn’t approve of having to go outside between every class—not with the weather being what it was (and what it always was here). The moisture in the air had apparently finally made up it’s mind what it wanted to be—and now it was raining, and pretty heavily. Bella stood by the door and wadded her hair up into a haphazard sort of pile that she held up with the alligator clip that she kept in her bag, and then put up her hood and went outside. The parking lot was filling up as she walked outside, a steady line of traffic flowing in, and there were students meandering into the buildings, chattering and laughing with that Forksian obliviousness to the perpetual rain.
The buildings were well marked, and she managed to find her way to Building 3 without too much trouble. Upon entering she found herself in a classroom—they all looked alike in the end, and she felt better because of it. Mrs. Mason was a roly-poly sort of woman with a short cap of dark hair and glasses; her desk was at the front of the room, and Bella went up to get her signature.
“Hello—I’m Bella Swan,” she said by way of introduction.
“Oh, yes.” Mrs. Mason’s desk was painfully neat, and her grade book was sitting precisely in the center. She flipped through it; Bella saw her name written at the bottom of the class roster. “Isabella Swan—Bella, you say?” she asked, looking up, and at Bella’s nod, jotted down a note to herself. “Well—we don’t have a textbook that we use regularly—if we need them, I’ll loan them out—but you’ll need to get a journal for a response log.” At Bella’s nod, she asked, “Were you in an honors class before?”
“AP, actually,” Bella told her.
Mrs. Mason smiled ruefully. “I’ve been trying to get the AP program extended to English here, but so far the board and the students think that we’re just fine with plain honors,” she said. “But, at any rate, if you were in an AP class, I’m sure you’re more than on track—here’s the syllabus,” she said, handing her a sheet of paper, “and if we run into any problems, I’m sure we can work it out. Now, one of my students dropped at semester, so there’s an open seat right there, fourth row from the right, third back—why don’t you take that one.”
“Okay, thanks—and could you sign this, please? For the office?” she asked, proffering her signature sheet. Mrs. Mason obliged, and then Bella escaped to her seat.
Junior year was American lit—goodie. Bella had never been one for modern literature; call her old-fashioned, but she liked the dead white guys who weren’t quite so in vogue these days. And she missed her Shakespeare; she honestly liked his plays, dense though they were, but he was noticeably absent from the American Lit roster. She scanned the reading list was relieved to see that her AP classes back in Phoenix had more than prepared her—she had already covered all the books that they’d done here last semester, and a few more besides. And she’d already read two of them slated for this semester.
Well—she wasn’t going to be behind in this class, at least. And they were starting off the semester with Nathaniel Hawthorne. She hoped it was a good omen—a dead white guy, first thing, just like she liked.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all.
And, truth was, it hadn’t been. English had been, well, English; things didn’t differ too much, she guessed, from one school to the next, not here in the days of standardized testing and national education programs. There was a brief moment of discomfort, when Mrs. Mason had introduced her to the class, and Bella had suddenly found herself the focus of some twenty-odd pairs of eyes as all heads swiveled in her direction. She managed a wan smile and a little wave to everyone, and then all eyes were once again front as Mrs. Mason opened up her lecture.
She talked about Hawthorne, and they were given his background and history, and Mrs. Mason passed out copies of The Scarlet Letter. Bella declined; she already had one that she’d written all over from last semester. She also had brought old her schoolwork with her; Renee always made fun of her for her compulsive rat-holing of all her old papers, but now, well—it was already her work, so it wouldn’t be cheating to get a little inspiration, now, would it?
The class passed fairly quickly, and the bell went off with a nasal whine that never failed to seek out the nerves in her spine and cause it to stiffen. She collected her things and slipped out the door, and made her way to Building 6 for U.S. History.
Mr. Jefferson was a square-jawed fellow—actually everything about him looked vaguely square, from his glasses and his moustache right down to the really horrible tie he was wearing. But he was very pleasant, signing her form and sending her to an empty seat. The desks here all faced away from the desk, instead pointing towards a podium at the other end of the room. He came to the back with her, and assigned her a massive tome of a textbook from the stacks in the cabinets, but assured her that it was more for studying for the tests, and that they rarely used it in class, so she shouldn’t worry about bringing it every day.
In History she found herself sitting behind the same girl she’d sat next to in English; she recognized her by her enormous mop of curly hair. Evidently Bella was recognized too, and when the other girl sat down, she turned a huge smile Bella’s way and said, “Hi! Bella Swan, was it?”
“Yeah,” Bella answered.
“I’m Jessica Stanley,” she said, her voice bright and her smile brighter.
“Hi,” Bella said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Oh, you too. What brings you to Forks?” she asked. “Most people move out, not in.”
“I moved up here to live with my Dad,” Bella answered, and she had a sneaking suspicion that she might have to repeat this particular Q&A session.
“Oh—you don’t mean the police chief, do you?” Jessica asked, her eyes lighting with recognition.
Bella smiled. “The same.”
Jessica giggled. “They make him come up every year when we’re having our drug-awareness week, and then again about drunk driving. Stu-Co always helps organize things, so I see him every year.”
Bella could only just imagine Charlie trying to deal with this whirling dervish. “Poor guy—he hates public speaking,” she said.
Jessica laughed again; she seemed prone to doing so. “I sort of got that feeling myself,” she said confidentially, and Bella smiled back at her.
The bell rang before the conversation could really go any further, and Mr. Jefferson started his lecture. Bella was a bit dismayed to find that they seemed to be ahead of her here—her class in Phoenix had stopped just after the Nullification Crisis, but before Christmas, but here they were already to the Panic of 1837. She wrote furiously—Mr. Jefferson had an almost conversational style of lecture that was nonetheless packed with information, and so Bella did her best to copy down every word, the quality of her already dubious penmanship declining drastically the faster she went.
When the bell rang, she asked Jessica if she might get a copy of her notes—which Bella saw over her shoulder were done in the typical loopy but neat high school girl writing—up to where she hadn’t studied, and Jessica had been more than happy to oblige, telling her to catch her some morning or at lunch and they’d run to the office. Bella thanked her sincerely, and then dashed back to the main building to deposit the first of her new textbooks.
The math building was nearby, and the rain had slowed somewhat, so she wasn’t too terribly wet (or, at least, any more wet than she already was from her last walk outside) during trigonometry. The teacher Mr. Varner was a short, round little man who had a delightfully informal rapport with his students. He gave Bella book and just told her to sit wherever, and then started the class with an insult-ridden dialogue with a pair good-naturedly smart aleck boys who sat up front before starting his lecture. Math had been the class that Bella was most worried about, as catching up there was never easy. She was intensely relieved to find that she was just about spot on, actually one lesson ahead in what was the same book that she’d used back home.
Her Spanish class was back in the main building; he rain had all but stopped by the end of Trig, back to a slow, misty drizzle, rather than the honest rainfall from earlier. Bella actually managed to dry off a little, letting her hair down from the messy knot that she’d clipped it in upon arriving this morning.
Mrs. Goff, the Spanish teacher, was a tiny, dark-haired fireplug of a woman. She introduced Bella to the class, but thank goodness didn’t make her choose a different Spanish name, simply Spanish-izing he own name and calling her Isabel. They were using a different book here, so Bella wasn’t quite sure if she was ahead or behind, since the lessons were all different, but in the end decided just to roll with it. Spanish had never been difficult for her, as it was ultimately all just memorization, so she wasn’t too worried about her ability to keep up. When they were paired off to do dialogues with their new round of vocabulary words, Bella found herself partnered with a pale, long-limbed girl with short hair. Her name was Angela, and Bella recognized her from Trig. They used their requisite number of new words in a stilted Spanish conversation, and then Angela smiled and introduced herself, and Bella (as she had suspected she would) re-related the fact that she was Chief Swan’s daughter and untruthfully assured her that Forks was really great and that she was looking forward to her time here.
The bell for the junior and senior lunch period rang at noon, and with a rattle of papers and the thump of books the other students went boiling out of the room. Bella was slow about leaving; she’d found herself dreading lunch as the day wore on, because in class she sort of had to sit next to people, which made her at least look like she belonged. At lunch she would have no such consideration.
Bella was glad, at least, that she didn’t have to walk outside to get to her locker again, but she would have to duck outside to get to the cafeteria. The halls of the main building were filled with the typical high school din of chatter and laughter and the crash of locker doors. Students went by in pairs and groups, weaving in and out of the crowds. The sound washed over Bella as she navigated the stream of students, and she suddenly found herself feeling very alone.
She shook herself and dropped off her two new books—thankfully neither as massive as History—and then, wallet in hand, migrated towards the cafeteria.
It was smaller than what she was used to, and there were definitely fewer students than back at Central—but it still sounded the same, the room packed near to capacity and the roar of the students echoing off the walls so that she could barely hear herself think. She’d dawdled enough that the lines had dwindled, and she maneuvered herself into the hot line for some pizza, and found herself behind Angela—Angela Webber, she reminded herself.
“Hi,” said Bella, when Angela looked around.
“Oh—hi, Bella. Making it through the day all right?”
Bella smiled dryly as the line inched forward. “Oh, as well as you can in a new place, I suppose.”
Angela’s face was sympathetic. “I bet. Must’ve been hard to leave all your friends,” she said, snagging a piece of pizza from the line and depositing it on her tray.
Shrugging her shoulders, Bella did the same and said, “Yeah, but all I can do is make the best of things.”
Angela scooted her tray down to the cash register at the end of the line and paid. Bella slid into her place when she’d finished and opened her own wallet to flash her ID to the lunch lady and pay for her pizza and lemonade, and looked up at Angela’s next words. “Well, do you want to come over and sit with us?” she said, tilting her head towards the many tables in the room.
A surge of rather pathetic gratitude filled Bella’s middle, and she nodded and said, “Sure!” hoping she didn’t sound too desperately eager. She fumbled her change and her ID back into her wallet in a haphazard wad and rushed over to where Angela was waiting patiently for her. Bella followed her as she wove through the round little tables, feeling a bit like a lost puppy but not caring at this point, and finally stopped at one near the middle of the room. It was mostly full, with one empty seat left.
“Hey, guys—is there room for two?” Angela asked.
“Sure thing!” A dark and particularly young-looking boy with square-framed glasses that Bella recognized as one of Varner’s antagonists from this morning hopped up and had dragged over an extra chair before Bella had a chance to say anything, and then he was back, and everyone scooted closer to make room before looking up at Bella expectantly.
Angela slipped into one of the chairs, and Bella followed. “Guys, this is Bella Swan.” There was a chorus of hellos, and then Angela went around the table, introducing everyone, “That’s Ben Cheney,” she said indicating the chair-fetcher, who gave a mock dashing look before smiling and waving, “Mike Newton,” a long, tall blond boy who turned out to be the other cutup in Trig and who grinned toothily.
“Eric Yorkie” was next, a slim Asian boy with long hair who said, “Hey-a, hon,” at her smile, and Angela rounded out the cast with, “Jessica Stanley.”
“Hey,” said Bella, waving back to Jessica’s seemingly ever-present 100-watt smile. “We’ve met. And thanks for squeezing me in.”
“Oh, no problem!” Jessica bubbled. “Say—after lunch we’ll have to run over to the copier, so you can get my history notes!”
“Thanks,” said Bella sincerely.
“Uh-oh—don’t tell me that that Phoenix schools have been surpassed by the bustling metropolis of Forks?” said Ben, raising an eyebrow.
Bella gave a wry grin. “Well, in that case, I’ll just have to say nothing at all—at least with regards to History.”
She actually got some smiles for that, and then afterwards she had to give the same answers to the same old questions: she was here with her dad, who was Chief Swan, yes, she missed Phoenix and all the sun, but yes, she liked Forks too. “Really, it’s not too huge of a change—I mean, it is,” she clarified, “but I’ve lived here for two or three months every year—just in the summers. It’s not like this is all totally new.”
They asked a few more questions, and Bella did her best to answer, but she wasn’t very good at being the center of attention, and the novelty of the new student wore off rather quickly. The conversation flowed around her, and she tried to keep up and offer input here and there, but truth was, she didn’t really know these people or what they were talking about. But she gamely listened anyway—they were nice enough to talk to her, and she thought that maybe she could at least sit with them at lunch, and maybe make an honest friend or two. They all seemed nice enough, and more her type, rather than the obnoxious bunch of Neanderthals with their vapidly giggling entourage of girls across the way—clearly the football team and the cheerleaders— or the brooding, dyed-haired bunch wearing all black as they slumped silently in the far corner.
Mike, as it turned out, was on the basketball team. Eric seemed to be big in the journalism department from his mentions of working on the school paper. Bella had gathered that Jessica was on the student council, and Angela was apparently in the color guard. Ben had an off-beat, quirky sense of humor, and he and Mike played off of each other much like they had when tag-teaming Varner this morning, and even though she didn’t have much to contribute, Bella found herself laughing along with them as she ate.
As she wasn’t talking much, Bella finished her lunch rather quickly and rose to take out her tray, grabbing her wallet with one hand and telling the air around the table that she’d be right back. She got a cursory smile from Jessica, and then they went back to Eric’s story of some drama that was apparently going on in the yearbook staff with someone named Lauren who Bella didn’t know but gathered was a bit of a prima donna.
She wove her way through the milling students and the raucous tables to the trashcan and tray return, dumping her paper plate and the empty lemonade jug and setting her tray down. She inched back around the line behind her, looking out the window—the rain hadn’t started back up, that was good—and then she turned—and abruptly stopped.
She blinked; her way was blocked by a wall of muscle, and she looked up. And up. And up.
Bella felt her mouth falling open, and she gaped helplessly at the mountain of a man that stood before her—and “man” was the only word that could describe him, this towering behemoth that would look more at home in the professional wrestling circuit than in high school, and who was looking down at her with a vaguely amused expression on his face.
His…startlingly attractive face. Bella felt her cheeks starting to heat up, but she was frozen in place, pinned by the almost frighteningly intense stare. She didn’t know how long she stood there, slack-jawed and trembling for no reason that she could possibly fathom, before he tilted his head a little at her, and a slow grin quirked one corner of his mouth, and he dropped her a sly wink.
Bella’s face had gone white at the sight of that disturbingly predatory smile, but then went stupidly, helplessly red at his wink—and then went white again when she saw the face that suddenly peered around his elbow.
It was a girl, and she was gorgeous. No, she was beautiful, with her cascade of golden hair and pouting red mouth and perfect complexion—just the sight of her made Bella feel like a complete frump. And there was no missing the obviously proprietary arm she slid through the crook of boy’s elbow. Any other time this odd bit of drama would have amused Bella—she didn’t know who these people were, didn’t have any interest in the boy (well, okay, he was good-looking—very good looking—like, really—there was no getting around that), and as if she was any sort of competition for the knockout who was with him—but at the warning flash of the girl’s eyes, Bella actually had to fight to keep from cringing.
And then the boy moved as if to go around her, and she jumped; the motion was so sudden she didn’t know it was coming, and she squeaked and her wallet fell from her nerveless fingers. She scrambled for it; her hands were shaking. A low chuckle sounded from above her, and when she looked up, the boy’s smile widened. “Excuse us,” he said, his voice low and rolling like the sea, and then the two of them sidestepped her with a liquid grace that was as mesmerizing as it was unsettling, the girl shooting her one last glare that nearly set her knees to shaking.
She stood, frozen, before all but bolting.
What in the hell had that been? Okay, so she bumped into someone, and he was big (and he was really handsome, some traitorous part of her whispered), and he had a pretty girlfriend. So why did she feel alternately cold and hot and shaky all over, like she’d just run a red light and narrowly avoided a head-on collision?
She fell back into her seat with a thump and clenched her hands under the table, squeezing her wallet tight. The others were laughing and thankfully didn’t notice what had to be the rather shell-shocked look on her face. Mike was loudly voicing his complaints about English—he was in the regular class, it seemed, and was in the middle of reading Faulkner and hated it. As I Lay Dying—Bella recognized it, and when he went off about “my mother is a fish,” she actually managed a shaky smile, starting to feel a bit more like herself.
At least until the shadow fell over the table. “Excuse me.”
The voice was a leonine rumble that seemed to shake Bella down to her shoes, and she twitched helplessly—but she wasn’t the only one. Mike and Ben stiffened in their seats, and then the entire table looked up as one.
He loomed over them, a great hulking golem with a mane of dark curls, dwarfing not only everyone at the table, but the table itself. His eyes roved the table, sharp and calculating, stopping on each occupant for an instant—before settling on Bella.
Her heart thudded in her chest, and her breath sped up as he spoke. “Miss Swan?”
“Yes?” She forced her throat to unlock, but her voice still croaked a little, and she coughed.
He smiled, his teeth white and sharp behind his lips. “I think you dropped this.” And in one massive hand he held out her student ID.
“Oh.” It must have fallen out when she dropped her wallet. “I—thanks.” He extended his arm, the muscles rippling tantalizingly beneath his pale skin, and it was with a trembling hand that she reached up and snatched her ID away as quickly as possible, grabbing it with the tips of her fingers so as not to touch him.
His smile grew wider, and he swept the table once more with his eyes. Bella tore her own away and tried to look inconspicuous—only to see near everyone else at the table watching him with a blank sort of expression, Ben and Mike’s obviously nervous, while Eric, Angela, and Jessica were looking up at him with a sort of breathless wonder.
“You’re welcome,” he said, and then he turned and flowed away, gliding over the floor with an ease that belied his size; the other students parted before him, as though shying away as he passed, even thought Bella could see them watching him covertly. He walked not to the table with the football players and the cheerleaders, as she might have expected, but towards one on the far side of the room that was pulled away from the others and, now that she was looking, was given a wide berth by the rest of the cafeteria.
When he left, it was as if a heavy, suffocating blanket had been pulled off of the entire table, and everyone there seemed to straighten, but no one seemed to have much to say any more. It was finally Mike who broke the uncomfortable silence. “Well—nice of him to drop in and liven up the conversation.”
The joke was weak, as was his voice, but the tension at the table broke with a nearly audible snap, and everyone smiled, even if it was a little forced.
“Who is that guy?” Bella wanted to know, casting a covert glance towards his table, glad to see that she wasn’t the only one who seemed to feel the strange, almost sinister air that he exuded from his otherwise stunning shape.
“Emmett Cullen,” said Mike, making a face, “and he gives me the creeps.”
“Just him?” asked Ben dryly.
“No—all of them,” Mike agreed, jerking his head in the direction of the isolated table.
Bella’s eyes flickered over in that direction again; there were five people clustered at the far table, one of which was clearly the stunning blonde. “All?” she asked.
Jessica seemed to shake herself. “Yeah—Dr. Cullen, over at the hospital, he and his wife apparently adopted all those kids.” She frowned. “They’re a bit snobby; they never talk to anybody.”
“Why would you want to?” Mike demanded.
Jessica flushed a little, and Mike looked disgusted as Eric said snidely, “Gee—I wonder—maybe because he’s gorgeous.”
“But they’re kind of weird—I think they’re all stoned half the time, really,” Angela said confidentially. “They always look kind of strung out—pale, dark circles under their eyes, and always…kind of spacey.”
“Especially Alice,” said Jessica. “She’s nuts. And just as creepy.” She seemed to shake herself, and then looked up at the clock. “Anyway—lunch is over in a few minutes—Bella, did you want to go—”
“Oh—to the office?” Bella finished for her. “Yeah—that’d be great.”
But they didn’t stand immediately, because just then a breath of cold air seemed to waft over them; all five occupants of the far table had risen as one and moved across the cafeteria and out, the students again clearing away before them as they stalked across the room and out of sight. But once they were gone, Jessica smiled, and Bella smiled back, and they got up and went to the office, the rain still holding off as they left the cafeteria and returned to the main building.
By the time they had copied Jessica’s notes over the years of history that Bella was missing, they were both back to themselves, Jessica prattling on about this, that, and the other thing, and Bella holding up her end by making all the right noises at the right times, courtesy of years of practice with Renee. They’d just finished by the time the bell signaling the end of lunch rang, and so Bella thanked her and went to drop the notes in her locker and get her backpack out and find her next class.
The halls were loud and full again, and she rummaged around in her bag until she found her schedule—Biology II. She wasn’t really looking forward to this one—it was one thing to come down to a regular honors class from AP, but here she was going from an honors class to a regular one. And call her an intellectual snob, but she did hate regular classes—she hated the slow pace, the endless repetition, and the complete idiots that always seemed to fill them.
But there was nothing for it, so she just shouldered her backpack and headed down the hall. She found the biology classroom, all the science labs tucked down at the end of one corridor. The building was old, but these rooms had the feel of being recently renovated, with rows of shiny black lab benches that seated two for a pair to partner in labs. The bright white walls were covered with posters of cells and drawings of animal and human cross sections, and a periodic table and diagrams of the three Kingdoms, and the shelves had stuffed animals and things in jars, and there was a glass tank on the far wall that looked to be holding something alive but she couldn’t see what it was.
Well—it looked like Mr. Banner at least tried to keep things interesting. And Bella saw Angela sitting near the front and waved, so she knew there was at least one student with a brain in here—although there was a big gorilla of a boy braying with laughter at his own apparent cleverness in having just kicked the chair out from under his skinny, sallow-faced neighbor, so the class clearly had its share of morons as well.
Mr. Banner was a long, thin fellow positively a-quiver with repressed energy, his eyes bright behind his glasses, and he gave every impression of being simply thrilled to have Bella in his class. “All right, Miss Isabella Swan!” he said, drumming on the edge of his desk and making a mark in his grade book before swiveling his chair toward the stack of textbooks behind him.
“I just go by Bella,” she said for the fifth time today.
“Okay—Miss Bella Swan it is,” he said, swinging back around with a book in hand, which he turned over to her after marking the number next to her name. Bella gave him her slip to sign, which he did with a flourish, and then looked up. “So, let’s see…there’s your book, and here’s your syllabus,” and he handed it to her, “and there’s an empty seat back there by the snake tank—back there next to Edward Cullen.”
Cullen? It was with a sinking feeling that she looked to the back of the room by the aquarium—and flushed. Sure enough, it was one of those Cullens—the abnormally pretty ones, which to her consternation she could see that he definitely was, even from across the room. And, if the way he was sitting easily in his chair with his eyes swinging slowly around the room as if waiting to strike was any indication, he was just as creepy. His eyes traveled briefly over her and then moved on, lingering for the briefest of moments, a tiny furrow creasing the smooth expanse of his forehead. She still let out a deep breath when his eyes finally passed over her and went back to lazily scanning the room. She swallowed once before wanly smiling at Mr. Banner and thanking him, and then squared her shoulders and made her way towards the back of the room.
She flicked her eyes from side to side as she walked down the aisle, smiling at Angela again, and oh, there was Mike too—apparently without an honors class to sequester the smart kids, the regular class didn’t consist of only the cretins—and she smiled at him, which he cheerily returned. She refused to acknowledge the fact that she was looking anywhere but where she was going to be sitting until she arrived at her destination and dropped her bag with a thump and plonked into her seat.
She found herself sitting right beneath the air vent, and it blew her hair—gone limp with the rain, of course—all over the place; with a huff of annoyance she bundled it up into a staticky mess on top of her head and clipped it back. And then, as it was either now or never, she straightened up and, despite her reddening cheeks at the thought of talking to him, turned to introduce herself to her new lab partner.
And she froze, her mouth hanging open, the words lodged in her throat.
Edward Cullen’s face—which was even more stunning at close range—was no more than a foot away from her own, his body tense and quivering and half out of his seat, nearly hovering over her. His eyes were huge black holes in his bloodless face, and they were trained on her. His lips were trembling, his tongue darting in and out of his mouth; his breathing was staccato and irregular, his muscles knotted and his fists clenched as he stared at her.
Bella shrank down in her seat, and to her horror, he seemed to follow the movement, leaning down and in, looming over her, and a low, almost animalistic growl seemed to bubble up from his chest. What—what was he doing?! Bella’s own heart was hammering wildly against her chest, so loudly she was sure he must be able to hear it. Dimly she heard the bell ring, but all she could see were the wide, burning eyes that pinned her to her seat, and all she could hear was the roar of her own blood in her ears.
Was he drooling?!
He was—a little runnel of saliva had dribbled down his chin, and she could see it, reflecting in the lights above her, and he was getting closer, and what was he going to do to her?!
“Okay, now, class—I know Christmas break was fun, and all—but now it’s time for science!”
Mr. Banner’s voice seemed to break something in Cullen’s eyes; they went even wider than they had been, to the point that Bella could see the whites all around—the pupils were so dilated that all she could see was a thin ring of color around them. And then, as if he had to fight for every inch, he turned, almost in slow motion, until his back was to her, and she saw him swing up his arm and clap it over his nose and mouth.
Bella couldn’t hear anything, just sat frozen in her seat. What—what?! What was that?! What in the hell was wrong with him?! She seemed to snap back to herself, and for a moment all she wanted was to run. While she squashed the impulse, she did put as much distance between herself and the freak next to her as possible, and she didn’t try to hide it, either. Cullen gave no sign that he saw her, didn’t move an inch, didn’t even appear to be breathing as he trembled where he sat.
Flushed and shaking, Bella gripped her pencil and tried to pay attention to the lecture, but how on earth could she when she was sitting next to a madman? A little spacey, Angela had said? Try psychotic! He wasn’t just stoned—he had to be strung out on acid or something!
Anger was crowding up around her fright, and her face flushed and her hands wouldn’t stop shaking. What did he think he was doing, anyway, pushing up in her face and—and panting at her—who did he think he was?
Bella clenched her pencil and took furious notes, determined not to look to her left. She tried to keep her head in the class, but the lecture topic wasn’t helping; she was over a month ahead in this class, already knew the process of cell division forwards and backwards—had since Biology I, even. She wrote anyway, not really paying much attention to anything except not paying attention to Cullen.
But she couldn’t help it when the cycling heater kicked on again and she shrugged off her coat; a sudden movement caught her eye, and before she could catch herself she looked—and there he was again, one hand clenched on the back of his seat, and all of Bella’s righteous anger fled in the face of his near murderous expression, and she thought she heard the wood beneath his fingers creak in protest, and he was leaning towards her again, leaning in, and his hand was moving, and her breath hitched—
“Hey, there in the back—want to pay attention up here? You can introduce yourselves later!”
The long-fingered hand that had been reaching for her stopped midway, and then Cullen jerked it back and swung around—but not before Bella saw him jam it into his mouth and sink his teeth into the meat between his forefinger and thumb.
The class crawled by; the slightest motion from next to her made her jump. She was all but hanging out in the aisle trying to get as far away from him as possible. She didn’t hear a word of lecture, rather devoting her time to watching for the slightest sign that he might try to—do whatever he was going to do—again.
She was poised to run, watching the clock with bated breath, and yet, when the bell finally rang and her heart leapt with relief—it was Cullen who moved. And he moved so fast that his chair was thrown backwards and away from him across the floor, and she jumped a mile at the sound as he flew around the bench and out of the room so fast that hardly anyone else had even managed to stand up yet.
Bella sat, blinking, and then a rush of relief so powerful that it left her weak in the knees surged through her. She was limp, and she gathered up her notes with shaking hands and lurched toward the door.
“Hey, Bella—what did Edward—hey, are you okay?” Angela had come up behind her, and her slightly amused tone quickly gave way to concern when she got a glimpse of Bella’s face.
Bella turned to her. “Dear God—what was he on?!” she demanded, rushing out of the classroom, Angela following close by.
“Who—Edward?” she asked, her brows furrowed.
“Yes! He was acting crazy!” Bella exclaimed, her nerves making her shrill.
Angela looked bewildered. “Well—I told you, the Cullens are all kind of weird, but they don’t bother anybody—”
“Don’t bother anybody?” Bella repeated incredulously. “Didn’t you see him? He was breathing down my neck!”
Angela’s dubious expression lifted a little bit. “Well, you know, there are a lot of girls who wouldn’t mind one of the Cullen boys breathing on them,” she joked.
Bella snorted derisively. “Well, I do! He was freaking me out!” she snapped.
Angela didn’t seem to know what to say. Bella was a bit indignant that she seemed to be trying to placate her, trying to gloss over Cullen’s spaz attack—didn’t she see that he looked like he was going to jump her?! Still shaken but getting angry again, Bella parted ways with Angela and went to her locker. She was so thoroughly rattled that she barely mustered up the outrage she’d felt last week upon finding out that she was going to have to take two more years of P.E., something that she’d thought she was done with.
She hurried out to the gym through the persistent drizzle, keeping her eyes peeled for that wacko and ready to run at a moment’s notice. She didn’t see him, thankfully—and he wasn’t in her gym class. Coach Clapp, the typical football coach-cum-teacher, scrounged her up a uniform that smelled of stale sweat and mothballs, but fate apparently decided to give her a break, because he didn’t make her dress down for class today, but said that she could wait to wash it and just sit this one out.
So Bella did, perching up in the stands and trying to regain her shattered equilibrium. Her eyes vaguely followed the four volley balls that were soaring over the four games that were going on at once, but she watched without seeing them.
And she had to sit by that nutjob again tomorrow—and for every day of the rest of the year! If it happened again, she was going to complain—get herself transferred out of the class or something—or maybe report him to Charlie and get him busted for possession of whatever he was taking to make him act like that. Something—she didn’t think she could take that again. It would have been bad enough to be stared at like that by anyone, but that it was Cullen made it worse—the thick aura of menace around him robbed her of her sense. She didn’t know what it was, but just being near him made her want to run, to dash into a hole in the ground like a mouse who just heard the rushing wings of a hawk above it.
Mercifully, the bell finally rang, and she fled the gym with her funky old uniform. She made it back to her locker in record time and gathered up her Trig and biology books and tossed them into her bag and then navigated the bustling hallways towards the main office. Mrs. Cope was still there, and she took her signed form and asked her how her day had gone.
“Great,” Bella lied. “Really great.”
She made her escape, out of the closeness of the press of people on all sides and out into the cool air; it was just starting to really rain again. There was her truck, and she made a beeline for it, glad now more than ever that she had a close parking place, because that just meant she was that much closer the dry haven of the cab.
She jogged across the parking lot, but stopped mid-step. Just one row away, she could see a group clustered around an SUV, leaning inside as if in a huddle, and she spotted Emmett Cullen’s massive bulk among them. And before she could look away, something inside moved—and she saw Edward Cullen lift his face from where he had it buried against the passenger-side dash, and he looked up, and he saw her.
There was a flash of something terrifying in his face that robbed her of breath and sent her heart into her throat; in the next instant, Emmett had launched himself inside, almost tackling Edward and cramming the both of them in the back seat. The other boy with them followed, vaulting into the back as well, and the tiniest one, a girl, looked around and seemed to stare right at Bella for a moment before slithering into the passenger seat. The blonde Bella saw earlier sprang into the driver’s seat and slammed the door; the engine roared to life, and Bella jumped as the car went pealing out of the lot with the screech of tires and the smell of burning rubber.
Bella stared after them, gaping—as were several others—before going to her truck and wrenching the door open. She threw her bag in, and then threw herself in after it, closing the door behind her. She took a deep breath, resting her head on the steering wheel.
Well. That was sure one hell of a first day.