2. Open Book
I leaned back against the soft snow bank, letting the dry powder reshape itself around my weight. My skin had cooled to match the air around me, and the tiny pieces of ice felt like velvet under my skin.
The sky above me was clear, brilliant with stars, glowing blue in some places, yellow in others. The stars created majestic, swirling shapes against the black universe - an awesome sight. Exquisitely beautiful. Or rather, it should have been exquisite.
Would have been, if I'd been able to really see it.
It wasn't getting any better. Six days had passed, six days I'd hidden here in the empty Denali wilderness, but I was no closer to freedom than I had been since the first moment that I'd caught her scent.
When I stared up at the jeweled sky, it was as if there were an obstruction between my eyes and their beauty. The obstruction was a face, just an unremarkable human face, but I couldn't quite seem to banish it from my mind.
I heard the approaching thoughts before I heard the footsteps that accompanied them. The sound of movement was only a faint whisper against the powder.
I was not surprised that Tanya had followed me here. I knew she'd been mulling over this coming conversation for the last few days, putting it off until she was sure of exactly what she wanted to say.
She sprang into sight about sixty yards away, leaping onto the tip of an outcropping of black rock and balancing there on the balls of her bare feet.
Tanya's skin was silver in the starlight, and her long blond curls shone pale, almost pink with their strawberry tint. Her amber eyes glinted as she spied me, halfburied in the snow, and her full lips stretched slowly into a smile.
Exquisite. If I'd really been able to see her. I sighed.
She crouched down on the point of the stone, her fingertips touching the rock, her body coiled.
Cannonball, she thought.
She launched herself into the air; her shape became a dark, twisting shadow as she spun gracefully between me and the stars. She curled herself into a ball just as she struck the piled snow bank beside me.
A blizzard of snow flew up around me. The stars went black and I was buried deep in the feathery ice crystals.
I sighed again, but didn't move to unearth myself. The blackness under the snow neither hurt nor improved the view. I still saw the same face.
Then snow was flying again as Tanya swiftly disinterred me. She brushed the powder from my unmoving face, not quite meeting my eyes.
"Sorry," she murmured. "It was a joke."
"I know. It was funny."
Her mouth twisted down.
"Irina and Kate said I should leave you alone. They think I'm annoying you." "Not at all," I assured her. "On the contrary, I'm the one who's being rude - abominably rude. I'm very sorry."
You're going home, aren't you? she thought.
"I haven't...entirely...decided that yet."
But you're not staying here. Her thought was wistful now, sad.
"No. It doesn't seem to be...helping."
She grimaced. "That's my fault, isn't it?"
"Of course not," I lied smoothly.
Don't be a gentleman.
I make you uncomfortable, she accused.
She raised one eyebrow, her expression so disbelieving that I had to laugh. One short laugh, followed by another sigh.
"All right," I admitted. "A little bit."
She sighed, too, and put her chin in her hands. Her thoughts were chagrined.
"You're a thousand times lovelier than the stars, Tanya. Of course, you're already well aware of that. Don't let my stubbornness undermine your confidence." I chuckled at the unlikeliness of that.
"I'm not used to rejection," she grumbled, her lower lip pushing out into an attractive pout.
"Certainly not," I agreed, trying with little success to block out her thoughts as she fleetingly sifted through memories of her thousands of successful conquests. Mostly Tanya preferred human men - they were much more populous for one thing, with the added advantage of being soft and warm. And always eager, definitely.
"Succubus," I teased, hoping to interrupt the images flickering in her head. She grinned, flashing her teeth. "The original."
Unlike Carlisle, Tanya and her sisters had discovered their consciences slowly. In the end, it was their fondness for human men that turned the sisters against the slaughter. Now the men they loved...lived.
"When you showed up here," Tanya said slowly. "I thought that..." I'd known what she'd thought. And I should have guessed that she would have felt that way. But I hadn't been at my best for analytical thinking in that moment.
"You thought that I'd changed my mind."
"Yes." She scowled.
"I feel horrible for toying with your expectations, Tanya. I didn't mean to - I wasn't thinking. It's just that I left in...quite a hurry."
"I don't suppose you'd tell me why...?"
I sat up and wrapped my arms around my legs, curling defensively. "I don't want to talk about it."
Tanya, Irina and Kate were very good at this life they'd committed to. Better, in some ways, than even Carlisle. Despite the insanely close proximity they allowed themselves with those who should be - and once were - their prey, they did not make mistakes. I was too ashamed to admit my weakness to Tanya.
"Woman troubles?" she guessed, ignoring my reluctance.
I laughed a bleak laugh. "Not the way you mean it."
She was quiet then. I listened to her thoughts as she ran through different guesses, tried to decipher the meaning of my words.
"You're not even close," I told her.
"One hint?" she asked.
"Please let it go, Tanya."
She was quiet again, still speculating. I ignored her, trying in vain to appreciate the stars.
She gave up after a silent moment, and her thoughts pursued a new direction.
Where will you go, Edward, if you leave? Back to Carlisle?
"I don't think so," I whispered.
Where would I go? I could not think of one place on the entire planet that held any interest for me. There was nothing I wanted to see or do. Because, no matter where I went, I would not be going to anywhere - I would only be running from.
I hated that. When had I become such a coward?
Tanya threw her slender arm around my shoulders. I stiffened, but did not flinch out from under her touch. She meant it as nothing more than friendly comfort. Mostly. "I think that you will go back," she said, her voice taking on just a hint of her long lost Russian accent. "No matter what it is...or who it is...that is haunting you. You'll face it head on. You're the type."
Her thoughts were as certain as her words. I tried to embrace the vision of myself that she carried in her head. The one who faced things head on. It was pleasant to think of myself that way again. I'd never doubted my courage, my ability to face difficulty, before that horrible hour in a high school biology class such a short time ago.
I kissed her cheek, pulling back swiftly when she twisted her face toward mine, her lips already puckered. She smiled ruefully at my quickness.
"Thank you, Tanya. I needed to hear that."
Her thoughts turned petulant. "You're welcome, I guess. I wish you would be more reasonable about things, Edward."
"I'm sorry, Tanya. You know you're too good for me. I just...haven't found what I'm looking for yet."
"Well, if you leave before I see you again...goodbye, Edward."
"Goodbye, Tanya." As I said the words, I could see it. I could see myself leaving. Being strong enough to go back to the one place where I wanted to be. "Thanks again."
She was on her feet in one nimble move, and then she was running away, ghosting across the snow so quickly that her feet had no time to sink into the snow; she left no prints behind her. She didn't look back. My rejection bothered her more than she'd let on before, even in her thoughts. She wouldn't want to see me again before I left.
My mouth twisted with chagrin. I didn't like hurting Tanya, though her feelings were not deep, hardly pure, and, in any case, not something I could return. It still made me feel less than a gentleman.
I put my chin on my knees and stared up at the stars again, though I was suddenly anxious to be on my way. I knew that Alice would see me coming home, that she would tell the others. This would make them happy - Carlisle and Esme especially. But I gazed at the stars for one more moment, trying to see past the face in my head. Between me and the brilliant lights in the sky, a pair of bewildered chocolate-brown eyes stared back at me, seeming to ask what this decision would mean for her. Of course, I couldn't be sure if that was really the information her curious eyes sought. Even in my imagination, I couldn't hear her thoughts. Bella Swan's eyes continued to question, and an unobstructed view of the stars continued to elude me. With a heavy sigh, I gave up, and got to my feet. If I ran, I would be back to Carlisle's car in less than an hour...
In a hurry to see my family - and wanting very much to be the Edward that faced things head on - I raced across the starlit snowfield, leaving no footprints.
"It's going to be okay," Alice breathed. Her eyes were unfocused, and Jasper had one hand lightly under her elbow, guiding her forward as we walked into the rundown cafeteria in a close group. Rosalie and Emmett led the way, Emmett looking ridiculously like a bodyguard in the middle of hostile territory. Rose looked wary, too, but much more irritated than protective.
"Of course it is," I grumbled. Their behavior was ludicrous. If I wasn't positive that I could handle this moment, I would have stayed home.
The sudden shift from our normal, even playful morning - it had snowed in the night, and Emmett and Jasper were not above taking advantage of my distraction to bombard me with slushballs; when they got bored with my lack of response, they'd turned on each other - to this overdone vigilance would have been comical if it weren't so irritating.
"She's not here yet, but the way she's going to come in...she won't be downwind if we sit in our regular spot."
"Of course we'll sit in our regular spot. Stop it, Alice. You're getting on my nerves. I'll be absolutely fine."
She blinked once as Jasper helped her into her seat, and her eyes finally focused on my face.
"Hmm," she said, sounding surprised. "I think you're right."
"Of course I am," I muttered.
I hated being the focus of their concern. I felt a sudden sympathy for Jasper, remembering all the times we'd hovered protectively over him. He met my glance briefly, and grinned.
Annoying, isn't it?
I grimaced at him.
Was it just last week that this long, drab room had seemed so killingly dull to me? That it had seemed almost like sleep, like a coma, to be here?
Today my nerves were stretched tight - piano wires, tensed to sing at the lightest pressure. My senses were hyper-alert; I scanned every sound, every sight, every movement of the air that touched my skin, every thought. Especially the thoughts. There was only one sense that I kept locked down, refused to use. Smell, of course. I didn't breathe.
I was expecting to hear more about the Cullens in the thoughts that I sifted through. All day I'd been waiting, searching for whichever new acquaintance Bella Swan might have confided in, trying to see the direction the new gossip would take. But there was nothing. No one noticed the five vampires in the cafeteria, just the same as before the new girl had come. Several of the humans here were still thinking of that girl, still thinking the same thoughts from last week. Instead of finding this unutterably boring, I was now fascinated.
Had she said nothing to anyone about me?
There was no way that she had not noticed my black, murderous glare. I had seen her react to it. Surely, I'd scared her silly. I had been convinced that she would have mentioned it to someone, maybe even exaggerated the story a bit to make it better. Given me a few menacing lines.
And then, she'd also heard me trying to get out of our shared biology class. She must have wondered, after seeing my expression, whether she were the cause. A normal girl would have asked around, compared her experience to others, looked for common ground that would explain my behavior so she didn't feel singled out. Humans were constantly desperate to feel normal, to fit in. To blend in with everyone else around them, like a featureless flock of sheep. The need was particularly strong during the insecure adolescent years. This girl would be no exception to that rule.
But no one at all took any notice of us sitting here, at our normal table. Bella must be exceptionally shy, if she'd confided in no one. Perhaps she had spoken to her father, maybe that was the strongest relationship...though that seemed unlikely, given the fact that she had spent so little time with him throughout her life. She would be closer to her mother. Still, I would have to pass by Chief Swan sometime soon and listen to what he was thinking.
"Anything new?" Jasper asked.
"Nothing. She...must not have said anything."
All of them raised an eyebrow at this news.
"Maybe you're not as scary as you think you are," Emmett said, chuckling. "I bet I could have frightened her better than that."
I rolled my eyes at him.
"Wonder why...?" He puzzled again over my revelation about the girl's unique silence.
"We've been over that. I don't know."
"She's coming in," Alice murmured then. I felt my body go rigid. "Try to look human."
"Human, you say?" Emmett asked.
He held up his right fist, twisting his fingers to reveal the snowball he'd saved in his palm. Of course it had not melted there. He'd squeezed it into a lumpy block of ice. He had his eyes on Jasper, but I saw the direction of his thoughts. So did Alice, of course. When he abruptly hurled the ice chunk at her, she flicked it away with a casual flutter of her fingers. The ice ricocheted across the length of the cafeteria, too fast to be visible to human eyes, and shattered with a sharp crack against the brick wall. The brick cracked, too.
The heads in that corner of the room all turned to stare at the pile of broken ice on the floor, and then swiveled to find the culprit. They didn't look further than a few tables away. No one looked at us.
"Very human, Emmett," Rosalie said scathingly. "Why don't you punch through the wall while you're at it?"
"It would look more impressive if you did it, baby."
I tried to pay attention to them, keeping a grin fixed on my face like I was part of their banter. I did not allow myself to look toward the line where I knew she was standing. But that was all that I was listening to.
I could hear Jessica's impatience with the new girl, who seemed to be distracted, too, standing motionless in the moving line. I saw, in Jessica's thoughts, that Bella Swan's cheeks were once more colored bright pink with blood.
I pulled in short, shallow breaths, ready to quit breathing if any hint of her scent touched the air near me.
Mike Newton was with the two girls. I heard both his voices, mental and verbal, when he asked Jessica what was wrong with the Swan girl. I didn't like the way his thoughts wrapped around her, the flicker of already established fantasies that clouded his mind while he watched her start and look up from her reverie like she'd forgotten he was there.
"Nothing," I heard Bella say in that quiet, clear voice. It seemed to ring like a bell over the babble in the cafeteria, but I knew that was just because I was listening for it so intently.
"I'll just get a soda today," she continued as she moved to catch up with the line. I couldn't help flickering one glance in her direction. She was staring at the floor, the blood slowly fading from her face. I looked away quickly, to Emmett, who laughed at the now pained-looking smile on my face.
You look sick, bro.
I rearranged my features so the expression would seem casual and effortless. Jessica was wondering aloud about the girl's lack of appetite. "Aren't you hungry?"
"Actually, I feel a little sick." Her voice was lower, but still very clear. Why did it bother me, the protective concern that suddenly emanated from Mike Newton's thoughts? What did it matter that there was a possessive edge to them? It wasn't my business if Mike Newton felt unnecessarily anxious for her. Perhaps this was the way everyone responded to her. Hadn't I wanted, instinctively, to protect her, too? Before I'd wanted to kill her, that is...
But was the girl ill?
It was hard to judge - she looked so delicate with her translucent skin... Then I realized that I was worrying, too, just like that dimwitted boy, and I forced myself not to think about her health.
Regardless, I didn't like monitoring her through Mike's thoughts. I switched to Jessica's, watching carefully as the three of them chose which table to sit at. Fortunately, they sat with Jessica's usual companions, at one of the first tables in the room. Not downwind, just as Alice had promised.
Alice elbowed me. She's going to look soon, act human.
I clenched my teeth behind my grin.
"Ease up, Edward," Emmett said. "Honestly. So you kill one human. That's hardly the end of the world."
"You would know," I murmured.
Emmett laughed. "You've got to learn to get over things. Like I do. Eternity is a long time to wallow in guilt."
Just then, Alice tossed a smaller handful of ice that she'd been hiding into Emmett's unsuspecting face.
He blinked, surprised, and then grinned in anticipation.
"You asked for it," he said as he leaned across the table and shook his iceencrusted hair in her direction. The snow, melting in the warm room, flew out from his hair in a thick shower of half-liquid, half-ice.
"Ew!" Rose complained, as she and Alice recoiled from the deluge.
Alice laughed, and we all joined in. I could see in Alice's head how she'd orchestrated this perfect moment, and I knew that the girl - I should stop thinking of her that way, as if she were the only girl in the world - that Bella would be watching us laugh and play, looking as happy and human and unrealistically ideal as a Norman Rockwell painting.
Alice kept laughing, and held her tray up as a shield. The girl - Bella must still be staring at us.
...staring at the Cullens again, someone thought, catching my attention.
I looked automatically toward the unintentional call, realizing as my eyes found their destination that I recognized the voice - I'd been listening to it so much today. But my eyes slid right past Jessica, and focused on the girl's penetrating gaze. She looked down quickly, hiding behind her thick hair again.
What was she thinking? The frustration seemed to be getting more acute as time went on, rather than dulling. I tried - uncertain in what I was doing for I'd never tried this before - to probe with my mind at the silence around her. My extra hearing had always come to me naturally, without asking; I'd never had to work at it. But I concentrated now, trying to break through whatever shield surrounded her.
Nothing but silence.
What is it about her? Jessica thought, echoing my own frustration.
"Edward Cullen is staring at you," she whispered in the Swan girl's ear, adding a giggle. There was no hint of her jealous irritation in her tone. Jessica seemed to be skilled at feigning friendship.
I listened, too engrossed, to the girl's response.
"He doesn't look angry, does he?" she whispered back.
So she had noticed my wild reaction last week. Of course she had.
The question confused Jessica. I saw my own face in her thoughts as she checked my expression, but I did not meet her glance. I was still concentrating on the girl, trying to hear something. My intent focus didn't seem to be helping at all.
"No," Jess told her, and I knew that she wished she could say yes - how it rankled inside her, my staring - though there was no trace of that in her voice. "Should he be?" "I don't think he likes me," the girl whispered back, laying her head down on her arm as if she were suddenly tired. I tried to understand the motion, but I could only make guesses. Maybe she was tired.
"The Cullens don't like anybody," Jess reassured her. "Well, they don't notice anybody enough to like them." They never used to. Her thought was a grumble of complaint. "But he's still staring at you."
"Stop looking at him," the girl said anxiously, lifting her head from her arm to make sure Jessica obeyed the order.
Jessica giggled, but did as she was asked.
The girl did not look away from her table for the rest of the hour. I thought - though, of course, I could not be sure - that this was deliberate. It seemed like she wanted to look at me. Her body would shift slightly in my direction, her chin would begin to turn, and then she would catch herself, take a deep breath, and stare fixedly at whoever was speaking.
I ignored the other thoughts around the girl for the most part, as they were not, momentarily, about her. Mike Newton was planning a snow fight in the parking lot after school, not seeming to realize that the snow had already shifted to rain. The flutter of soft flakes against the roof had become the more common patter of raindrops. Could he really not hear the change? It seemed loud to me.
When the lunch period ended, I stayed in my seat. The humans filed out, and I caught myself trying to distinguish the sound of her footsteps from the sound of the rest, as if there was something important or unusual about them. How stupid.
My family made no move to leave, either. They waited to see what I would do.
Would I go to class, sit beside the girl where I could smell the absurdly potent scent of her blood and feel the warmth of her pulse in the air on my skin? Was I strong enough for that? Or had I had enough for one day?
"I...think it's okay," Alice said, hesitant. "Your mind is set. I think you'll make it through the hour."
But Alice knew well how quickly a mind could change.
"Why push it, Edward?" Jasper asked. Though he didn't want to feel smug that I was the one who was weak now, I could hear that he did, just a little. "Go home. Take it slow."
"What's the big deal?" Emmett disagreed. "Either he will or he won't kill her. Might as well get it over with, either way."
"I don't want to move yet," Rosalie complained. "I don't want to start over. We're almost out of high school, Emmett. Finally."
I was evenly torn on the decision. I wanted, wanted badly, to face this head on rather than running away again. But I didn't want to push myself too far, either. It had been a mistake last week for Jasper to go so long without hunting; was this just as pointless a mistake?
I didn't want to uproot my family. None of them would thank me for that.
But I wanted to go to my biology class. I realized that I wanted to see her face again.
That's what decided it for me. That curiosity. I was angry with myself for feeling it. Hadn't I promised myself that I wouldn't let the silence of the girl's mind make me unduly interested in her? And yet, here I was, most unduly interested.
I wanted to know what she was thinking. Her mind was closed, but her eyes were very open. Perhaps I could read them instead.
"No, Rose, I think it really will be okay," Alice said. "It's...firming up. I'm ninety-three percent sure that nothing bad will happen if he goes to class." She looked at me inquisitively, wondering what had changed in my thoughts that made her vision of the future more secure.
Would curiosity be enough to keep Bella Swan alive?
Emmett was right, though - why not get it over with, either way? I would face the temptation head on.
"Go to class," I ordered, pushing away from the table. I turned and strode away from them without looking back. I could hear Alice's worry, Jasper's censure, Emmett's approval, and Rosalie's irritation trailing after me.
I took one last deep breath at the door of the classroom, and then held it in my lungs as I walked into the small, warm space.
I was not late. Mr. Banner was still setting up for today's lab. The girl sat at my - at our table, her face down again, staring at the folder she was doodling on. I examined the sketch as I approached, interested in even this trivial creation of her mind, but it was meaningless. Just a random scribbling of loops within loops. Perhaps she was not concentrating on the pattern, but thinking of something else?
I pulled my chair back with unnecessary roughness, letting it scrape across the linoleum; humans always felt more comfortable when noise announced someone's approach.
I knew she heard the sound; she did not look up, but her hand missed a loop in the design she was drawing, making it unbalanced.
Why didn't she look up? Probably she was frightened. I must be sure to leave her with a different impression this time. Make her think she'd been imagining things before.
"Hello," I said in the quiet voice I used when I wanted to make humans more comfortable, forming a polite smile with my lips that would not show any teeth.
She looked up then, her wide brown eyes startled - almost bewildered - and full of silent questions. It was the same expression that had been obstructing my vision for the last week.
As I stared into those oddly deep brown eyes, I realized that the hate - the hate I'd imagined this girl somehow deserved for simply existing - had evaporated. Not breathing now, not tasting her scent, it was hard to believe that anyone so vulnerable could ever justify hatred.
Her cheeks began to flush, and she said nothing.
I kept my eyes on hers, focusing only on their questioning depths, and tried to ignore the appetizing color of her skin. I had enough breath to speak for a while longer without inhaling.
"My name is Edward Cullen," I said, though I knew she knew that. It was the polite way to begin. "I didn't have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan."
She seemed confused - there was that little pucker between her eyes again. It took her half a second longer than it should have for her to respond. "How do you know my name?" she demanded, and her voice shook just a little.
I must have truly terrified her. This made me feel guilty; she was just so defenseless. I laughed gently - it was a sound that I knew made humans more at ease. Again, I was careful about my teeth.
"Oh, I think everyone knows your name." Surely she must have realized that she'd become the center of attention in this monotonous place. "The whole town's been waiting for you to arrive."
She frowned as if this information was unpleasant. I supposed, being shy as she seemed to be, attention would seem like a bad thing to her. Most humans felt the opposite. Though they didn't want to stand out from the herd, at the same time they craved a spotlight for their individual uniformity.
"No," she said. "I meant, why did you call me Bella?"
"Do you prefer Isabella?" I asked, perplexed by the fact that I couldn't see where this question was leading. I didn't understand. Surely, she'd made her preference clear many times that first day. Were all humans this incomprehensible without the mental context as a guide?
"No, I like Bella," she answered, leaning her head slightly to one side. Her expression - if I was reading it correctly - was torn between embarrassment and confusion. "But I think Charlie - I mean my dad - must call me Isabella behind my back. That's what everyone here seems to know me as." Her skin darkened one shade pinker.
"Oh," I said lamely, and quickly looked away from her face.
I'd just realized what her questions meant: I had slipped up - made an error. If I hadn't been eavesdropping on all the others that first day, then I would have addressed her initially by her full name, just like everyone else. She'd noticed the difference. I felt a pang of unease. It was very quick of her to pick up on my slip. Quite astute, especially for someone who was supposed to be terrified by my nearness.
But I had bigger problems than whatever suspicions about me she might be keeping locked inside her head.
I was out of air. If I were going to speak to her again, I would have to inhale. It would be hard to avoid speaking. Unfortunately for her, sharing this table made her my lab partner, and we would have to work together today. It would seem odd - and incomprehensibly rude - for me to ignore her while we did the lab. It would make her more suspicious, more afraid...
I leaned as far away from her as I could without moving my seat, twisting my head out into the aisle. I braced myself, locking my muscles in place, and then sucked in one quick chest-full of air, breathing through my mouth alone.
It was genuinely painful. Even without smelling her, I could taste her on my tongue. My throat was suddenly in flames again, the craving every bit as strong as that first moment I'd caught her scent last week.
I gritted my teeth together and tried to compose myself.
"Get started," Mr. Banner commanded.
It felt like it took every single ounce of self-control that I'd achieved in seventy years of hard work to turn back to the girl, who was staring down at the table, and smile. "Ladies first, partner?" I offered.
She looked up at my expression and her face went blank, her eyes wide. Was there something off in my expression? Was she frightened again? She didn't speak. "Or, I could start, if you wish," I said quietly.
"No," she said, and her face went from white to red again. "I'll go first."
I stared at the equipment on the table, the battered microscope, the box of slides, rather than watch the blood swirl under her clear skin. I took another quick breath, through my teeth, and winced as the taste made my throat ache.
"Prophase," she said after a quick examination. She started to remove the slide, though she'd barely examined it.
"Do you mind if I look?" Instinctively - stupidly, as if I were one of her kind - I reached out to stop her hand from removing the slide. For one second, the heat of her skin burned into mine. It was like an electric pulse - surely much hotter than a mere ninety-eight point six degrees. The heat shot through my hand and up my arm. She yanked her hand out from under mine.
"I'm sorry," I muttered through my clenched teeth. Needing somewhere to look, I grasped the microscope and stared briefly into the eyepiece. She was right.
"Prophase," I agreed.
I was still too unsettled to look at her. Breathing as quietly as I could through my gritted teeth and trying to ignore the fiery thirst, I concentrated on the simple assignment, writing the word on the appropriate line on the lab sheet, and then switching out the first slide for the next.
What was she thinking now? What had that felt like to her, when I had touched her hand? My skin must have been ice cold - repulsive. No wonder she was so quiet. I glanced at the slide.
"Anaphase," I said to myself as I wrote it on the second line.
"May I?" she asked.
I looked up at her, surprised to see that she was waiting expectantly, one hand half-stretched toward the microscope. She didn't look afraid. Did she really think I'd gotten the answer wrong?
I couldn't help but smile at the hopeful look on her face as I slid the microscope toward her.
She stared into the eyepiece with an eagerness that quickly faded. The corners of her mouth turned down.
"Slide three?" she asked, not looking up from the microscope, but holding out her hand. I dropped the next slide into her hand, not letting my skin come anywhere close to hers this time. Sitting beside her was like sitting next to a heat lamp. I could feel myself warming slightly to the higher temperature.
She did not look at the slide for long. "Interphase," she said nonchalantly - perhaps trying a little too hard to sound that way - and pushed the microscope to me. She did not touch the paper, but waited for me to write the answer. I checked - she was correct again.
We finished this way, speaking one word at a time and never meeting each other's eyes. We were the only ones done - the others in the class were having a harder time with the lab. Mike Newton seemed to be having trouble concentrating - he was trying to watch Bella and me.
Wish he'd stayed wherever he went, Mike thought, eyeing me sulfurously. Hmm, interesting. I hadn't realized the boy harbored any ill will towards me. This was a new development, about as recent as the girl's arrival it seemed. Even more interesting, I found - to my surprise - that the feeling was mutual.
I looked down at the girl again, bemused by the wide range of havoc and upheaval that, despite her ordinary, unthreatening appearance, she was wreaking on my life. It wasn't that I couldn't see what Mike was going on about. She was actually rather pretty...in an unusual way. Better than being beautiful, her face was interesting. Not quite symmetrical - her narrow chin out of balance with her wide cheekbones; extreme in the coloring - the light and dark contrast of her skin and her hair; and then there were the eyes, brimming over with silent secrets...
Eyes that were suddenly boring into mine.
I stared back at her, trying to guess even one of those secrets.
"Did you get contacts?" she asked abruptly.
What a strange question. "No." I almost smiled at the idea of improving my eyesight.
"Oh," she mumbled. "I thought there was something different about your eyes." I felt suddenly colder again as I realized that I was apparently not the only one attempting to ferret out secrets today.
I shrugged, my shoulders stiff, and glared straight ahead to where the teacher was making his rounds.
Of course there was something different about my eyes since the last time she'd stared into them. To prepare myself for today's ordeal, today's temptation, I'd spent the entire weekend hunting, satiating my thirst as much as possible, overdoing it really. I'd glutted myself on the blood of animals, not that it made much difference in the face of the outrageous flavor floating on the air around her. When I'd glared at her last, my eyes had been black with thirst. Now, my body swimming with blood, my eyes were a warmer gold. Light amber from my excessive attempt at thirst-quenching.
Another slip. If I'd seen what she'd meant with her question, I could have just told her yes.
I'd sat beside humans for two years now at this school, and she was the first to examine me closely enough to note the change in my eye color. The others, while admiring the beauty of my family, tended to look down quickly when we returned their stares. They shied away, blocking the details of our appearances in an instinctive endeavor to keep themselves from understanding. Ignorance was bliss to the human mind.
Why did it have to be this girl who would see too much?
Mr. Banner approached our table. I gratefully inhaled the gush of clean air he brought with him before it could mix with her scent.
"So, Edward," he said, looking over our answers, "didn't you think Isabella should get a chance with the microscope?"
"Bella," I corrected him reflexively. "Actually, she identified three of the five." Mr. Banner's thoughts were skeptical as he turned to look at the girl. "Have you done this lab before?"
I watched, engrossed, as she smiled, looking slightly embarrassed.
"Not with onion root."
"Whitefish blastula?" Mr. Banner probed.
This surprised him. Today's lab was something he'd pulled from a more advanced course. He nodded thoughtfully at the girl. "Were you in an advanced placement program in Phoenix?"
She was advanced then, intelligent for a human. This did not surprise me.
"Well," Mr. Banner said, pursing his lips. "I guess it's good you two are lab partners." He turned and walked away mumbling, "So the other kids can get a chance to learn something for themselves," under his breath. I doubted the girl could hear that. She began scrawling loops across her folder again.
Two slips so far in one half hour. A very poor showing on my part. Though I had no idea at all what the girl thought of me - how much did she fear, how much did she suspect? - I knew I needed to put forth a better effort to leave her with a new impression of me. Something to better drown her memories of our ferocious last encounter. "It's too bad about the snow, isn't it?" I said, repeating the small talk that I'd heard a dozen students discuss already. A boring, standard topic of conversation. The weather - always safe.
She stared at me with obvious doubt in her eyes - an abnormal reaction to my very normal words. "Not really," she said, surprising me again.
I tried to steer the conversation back to trite paths. She was from a much brighter, warmer place - her skin seemed to reflect that somehow, despite its fairness - and the cold must make her uncomfortable. My icy touch certainly had...
"You don't like the cold," I guessed.
"Or the wet," she agreed.
"Forks must be a difficult place for you to live." Perhaps you should not have come here, I wanted to add. Perhaps you should go back where you belong.
I wasn't sure I wanted that, though. I would always remember the scent of her blood - was there any guarantee that I wouldn't eventually follow after her? Besides, if she left, her mind would forever remain a mystery. A constant, nagging puzzle. "You have no idea," she said in a low voice, glowering past me for a moment.
Her answers were never what I expected. They made me want to ask more questions.
"Why did you come here, then?" I demanded, realizing instantly that my tone was too accusatory, not casual enough for the conversation. The question sounded rude, prying.
She blinked her wide eyes, leaving it at that, and I nearly imploded out of curiosity - the curiosity burned as hot as the thirst in my throat. Actually, I found that it was getting slightly easier to breathe; the agony was becoming more bearable through familiarity.
"I think I can keep up," I insisted. Perhaps common courtesy would keep her answering my questions as long as I was rude enough to ask them.
She stared down silently at her hands. This made me impatient; I wanted to put my hand under her chin and tilt her head up so that I could read her eyes. But it would be foolish of me - dangerous - to touch her skin again.
She looked up suddenly. It was a relief to be able to see the emotions in her eyes again. She spoke in a rush, hurrying through the words.
"My mother got remarried."
Ah, this was human enough, easy to understand. Sadness passed through her clear eyes and brought the pucker back between them.
"That doesn't sound so complex," I said. My voice was gentle without my working to make it that way. Her sadness left me feeling oddly helpless, wishing there was something I could do to make her feel better. A strange impulse. "When did that happen?"
"Last September." She exhaled heavily - not quite a sigh. I held my breath as her warm breath brushed my face.
"And you don't like him," I guessed, fishing for more information.
"No, Phil is fine," she said, correcting my assumption. There was a hint of a smile now around the corners of her full lips. "Too young, maybe, but nice enough." This didn't fit with the scenario I'd been constructing in my head.
"Why didn't you stay with them?" I asked, my voice a little too curious. It sounded like I was being nosy. Which I was, admittedly.
"Phil travels a lot. He plays ball for a living." The little smile grew more pronounced; this career choice amused her.
I smiled, too, without choosing to. I wasn't trying to make her feel at ease. Her smile just made me want to smile in response - to be in on the secret.
"Have I heard of him?" I ran through the rosters of professional ball players in my head, wondering which Phil was hers...
"Probably not. He doesn't play well." Another smile. "Strictly minor league. He moves around a lot."
The rosters in my head shifted instantly, and I'd tabulated a list of possibilities in less than a second. At the same time, I was imagining the new scenario.
"And your mother sent you here so that she could travel with him," I said.
Making assumptions seemed to get more information out of her than questions did. It worked again. Her chin jutted out, and her expression was suddenly stubborn.
"No, she did not send me here," she said, and her voice had a new, hard edge to it. My assumption had upset her, though I couldn't quite see how. "I sent myself."
I could not guess at her meaning, or the source behind her pique. I was entirely lost.
So I gave up. There was just no making sense of the girl. She wasn't like other humans. Maybe the silence of her thoughts and the perfume of her scent were not the only unusual things about her.
"I don't understand," I admitted, hating to concede.
She sighed, and stared into my eyes for longer than most normal humans were able to stand.
"She stayed with me at first, but she missed him," she explained slowly, her tone growing more forlorn with each word. "It made her unhappy...so I decided it was time to spend some quality time with Charlie."
The tiny pucker between her eyes deepened.
"But now you're unhappy," I murmured. I couldn't seem to stop speaking my hypotheses aloud, hoping to learn from her reactions. This one, however, did not seem as far off the mark.
"And?" she said, as if this was not even an aspect to be considered.
I continued to stare into her eyes, feeling that I'd finally gotten my first real glimpse into her soul. I saw in that one word where she ranked herself among her own priorities. Unlike most humans, her own needs were far down the list. She was selfless.
As I saw this, the mystery of the person hiding inside this quiet mind began to thin a little.
"That doesn't seem fair," I said. I shrugged, trying to seem casual, trying to conceal the intensity of my curiosity.
She laughed, but there was no amusement the sound. "Hasn't anyone ever told you? Life isn't fair."
I wanted to laugh at her words, though I, too, felt no real amusement. I knew a little something about the unfairness of life. "I believe I have heard that somewhere before."
She stared back at me, seeming confused again. Her eyes flickered away, and then came back to mine.
"So that's all," she told me.
But I was not ready to let this conversation end. The little V between her eyes, a remnant of her sorrow, bothered me. I wanted to smooth it away with my fingertip. But, of course, I could not touch her. It was unsafe in so many ways.
"You put on a good show." I spoke slowly, still considering this next hypothesis.
"But I'd be willing to bet that you're suffering more than you let anyone see." She made a face, her eyes narrowing and her mouth twisting into a lopsided pout, and she looked back towards the front of the class. She didn't like it when I guessed right. She wasn't the average martyr - she didn't want an audience to her pain.
"Am I wrong?"
She flinched slightly, but otherwise pretended not to hear me.
That made me smile. "I didn't think so."
"Why does it matter to you?" she demanded, still staring away.
"That's a very good question," I admitted, more to myself than to answer her.
Her discernment was better than mine - she saw right to the core of things while I floundered around the edges, sifting blindly through clues. The details of her very human life should not matter to me. It was wrong for me to care what she thought. Beyond protecting my family from suspicion, human thoughts were not significant.
I was not used to being the less intuitive of any pairing. I relied on my extra hearing too much - I clearly was not as perceptive as I gave myself credit for.
The girl sighed and glowered toward the front of the classroom. Something about her frustrated expression was humorous. The whole situation, the whole conversation was humorous. No one had ever been in more danger from me than this little girl - at any moment I might, distracted by my ridiculous absorption in the conversation, inhale through my nose and attack her before I could stop myself - and she was irritated because I hadn't answered her question.
"Am I annoying you?" I asked, smiling at the absurdity of it all.
She glanced at me quickly, and then her eyes seemed to get trapped by my gaze.
"Not exactly," she told me. "I'm more annoyed at myself. My face is so easy to read - my mother always calls me her open book."
She frowned, disgruntled.
I stared at her in amazement. The reason she was upset was because she thought I saw through her too easily. How bizarre. I'd never expended so much effort to understand someone in all my life - or rather existence, as life was hardly the right word.
I did not truly have a life.
"On the contrary," I disagreed, feeling strangely...wary, as if there were some hidden danger here that I was failing to see. I was suddenly on edge, the premonition making me anxious. "I find you very difficult to read."
"You must be a good reader then," she guessed, making her own assumption that was, again, right on target.
"Usually," I agreed.
I smiled at her widely then, letting my lips pull back to expose the rows of gleaming, razor sharp teeth behind them.
It was a stupid thing to do, but I was abruptly, unexpectedly desperate to get some kind of warning through to the girl. Her body was closer to me than before, having shifted unconsciously in the course of our conversation. All the little markers and signs that were sufficient to scare off the rest of humanity did not seem to be working on her. Why did she not cringe away from me in terror? Surely she had seen enough of my darker side to realize the danger, intuitive as she seemed to be.
I didn't get to see if my warning had the intended effect. Mr. Banner called for the class's attention just then, and she turned away from me at once. She seemed a little relieved for the interruption, so maybe she understood unconsciously.
I hoped she did.
I recognized the fascination growing inside me, even as I tried to root it out. I could not afford to find Bella Swan interesting. Or rather, she could not afford that. Already, I was anxious for another chance to talk to her. I wanted to know more about her mother, her life before she came here, her relationship with her father. All the meaningless details that would flesh out her character further. But every second I spent with her was a mistake, a risk she shouldn't have to take.
Absentmindedly, she tossed her thick hair just at the moment that I allowed myself another breath. A particularly concentrated wave of her scent hit the back of my throat.
It was like the first day - like the wrecking ball. The pain of the burning dryness made me dizzy. I had to grasp the table again to keep myself in my seat. This time I had slightly more control. I didn't break anything, at least. The monster growled inside me, but took no pleasure in my pain. He was too tightly bound. For the moment.
I stopped breathing altogether, and leaned as far from the girl as I could.
No, I could not afford to find her fascinating. The more interesting I found her, the more likely it was that I would kill her. I'd already made two minor slips today. Would I make a third, one that was not minor?
As soon as the bell sounded, I fled from the classroom - probably destroying whatever impression of politeness I'd halfway constructed in the course of the hour. Again, I gasped at the clean, wet air outside like it was a healing attar. I hurried to put as much distance between myself and the girl as was possible.
Emmett waited for me outside the door of our Spanish class. He read my wild expression for a moment.
How did it go? he wondered warily.
"Nobody died," I mumbled.
I guess that's something. When I saw Alice ditching there at the end, I thought...
As we walked into the classroom, I saw his memory from just a few moments ago, seen through the open door of his last class: Alice walking briskly and blank-faced across the grounds toward the science building. I felt his remembered urge to get up and join her, and then his decision to stay. If Alice needed his help, she would ask...
I closed my eyes in horror and disgust as I slumped into my seat. "I hadn't realized that it was that close. I didn't think I was going to...I didn't see that it was that bad," I whispered.
It wasn't, he reassured me. Nobody died, right?
"Right," I said through my teeth. "Not this time."
Maybe it will get easier.
Or, maybe you kill her. He shrugged. You wouldn't be the first one to mess up. No one would judge you too harshly. Sometimes a person just smells too good. I'm impressed you've lasted this long.
"Not helping, Emmett."
I was revolted by his acceptance of the idea that I would kill the girl, that this was somehow inevitable. Was it her fault that she smelled so good?
I know when it happened to me..., he reminisced, taking me back with him half a century, to a country lane at dusk, where a middle-aged women was taking her dried sheets down from a line strung between apple trees. The scent of apples hung heavy in the air - the harvest was over and the rejected fruits were scattered on the ground, the bruises in their skin leaking their fragrance out in thick clouds. A fresh-mowed field of hay was a background to that scent, a harmony. He walked up the lane, all.