6. Blood Type
I followed her all day through other people's eyes, barely aware of my own surroundings.
Not Mike Newton's eyes, because I couldn't stand any more of his offensive fantasies, and not Jessica Stanley's, because her resentment toward Bella made me angry in a way that was not safe for the petty girl. Angela Weber was a good choice when her eyes were available; she was kind - her head was an easy place to be. And then sometimes it was the teachers who provided the best view.
I was surprised, watching her stumble through the day - tripping over cracks in the sidewalk, stray books, and, most often, her own feet - that the people I eavesdropped on thought of Bella as clumsy.
I considered that. It was true that she often had trouble staying upright. I remembered her stumbling into the desk that first day, sliding around on the ice before the accident, falling over the low lip of the doorframe yesterday... How odd, they were right. She was clumsy.
I didn't know why this was so funny to me, but I laughed out loud as I walked from American History to English and several people shot me wary looks. How had I never noticed this before? Perhaps because there was something very graceful about her in stillness, the way she held her head, the arch of her neck...
There was nothing graceful about her now. Mr. Varner watched as she caught the toe of her boot on the carpet and literally fell into her chair.
I laughed again.
The time moved with incredible sluggishness while I waited for my chance to see her with my own eyes. Finally, the bell rang. I strode quickly to the cafeteria to secure my spot. I was one of the first there. I chose a table that was usually empty, and was sure to remain that way with me seated here.
When my family entered and saw me sitting alone in a new place, they were not surprised. Alice must have warned them.
Rosalie stalked past me without a glance.
Rosalie and I had never had an easy relationship - I'd offended her the very first time she'd heard me speak, and it was downhill from there - but it seemed like she was even more ill-tempered than usual the last few days. I sighed. Rosalie made everything about herself.
Jasper gave me half a smile as he walked by.
Good luck, he thought doubtfully.
Emmett rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Lost his mind, poor kid.
Alice was beaming, her teeth shining too brightly.
Can I talk to Bella now??
"Keep out of it," I said under my breath.
Her face fell, and then brightened again.
Fine. Be stubborn. It's only a matter of time.
I sighed again.
Don't forget about today's biology lab, she reminded me.
I nodded. No, I hadn't forgotten that.
While I waited for Bella to arrive, I followed her in the eyes of the freshman who was walking behind Jessica on his way to the cafeteria. Jessica was babbling about the upcoming dance, but Bella said nothing in response. Not that Jessica gave her much of a chance.
The moment Bella walked through the door, her eyes flashed to the table where my siblings sat. She stared for a moment, and then her forehead crumpled and her eyes dropped to the floor. She hadn't noticed me here.
She looked so...sad. I felt a powerful urge to get up and go to her side, to comfort her somehow, only I didn't know what she would find comforting. I had no idea what made her look that way. Jessica continued to jabber about the dance. Was Bella sad that she was going to miss it? That didn't seem likely...
But that could be remedied, if she wished.
She bought a drink for her lunch and nothing else. Was that right? Didn't she need more nutrition than that? I'd never paid much attention to a human's diet before. Humans were quite exasperatingly fragile! There were a million different things to worry about...
"Edward Cullen is staring at you again," I heard Jessica say. "I wonder why he's sitting alone today?"
I was grateful to Jessica - though she was even more resentful now - because Bella's head snapped up and her eyes searched until they met mine.
There was no trace of sadness in her face now. I let myself hope that she'd been sad because she'd thought I'd left school early, and that hope made me smile. I motioned with my finger for her to join me. She looked so startled by this that I wanted to tease her again.
So I winked, and her mouth fell open.
"Does he mean you?" Jessica asked rudely.
"Maybe he needs help with his Biology homework," she said in a low, uncertain voice. "Um, I'd better go see what he wants."
This was another yes.
She stumbled twice on her way to my table, though there was nothing in her way but perfectly even linoleum. Seriously, how had I missed this before? I'd been paying more attention to her silent thoughts, I supposed... What else had I missed? Keep it honest, keep it light, I chanted to myself.
She stopped behind the chair across from me, hesitating. I inhaled deeply, through my nose this time rather than my mouth.
Feel the burn, I thought dryly.
"Why don't you sit with me today?" I asked her.
She pulled the chair out and sat, staring at me the whole while. She seemed nervous, but her physical acceptance was yet another yes.
I waited for her to speak.
It took a moment, but, finally, she said, "This is different."
"Well..." I hesitated. "I decided as long as I was going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly."
What had made me say that? I supposed it was honest, at least. And perhaps she'd hear the unsubtle warning my words implied. Maybe she would realize that she should get up and walk away as quickly as possible...
She didn't get up. She stared at me, waiting, as if I'd left my sentence unfinished. "You know I don't have any idea what you mean," she said when I didn't continue.
That was a relief. I smiled.
It was hard to ignore the thoughts screaming at me from behind her back - and I wanted to change the subject anyway.
"I think your friends are angry at me for stealing you."
This did not appear to concern her. "They'll survive."
"I may not give you back, though." I didn't even know if I was trying to be honest now, or just trying to tease her again. Being near her made it hard to make sense of my own thoughts.
Bella swallowed loudly.
I laughed at her expression. "You look worried." It really shouldn't be funny... She should worry.
"No." She was a bad liar; it didn't help that her voice broke. "Surprised,
actually.... What brought this on?"
"I told you," I reminded her. "I got tired of trying to stay away from you. So I'm giving up." I held my smile in place with a bit of effort. This wasn't working at all - trying to be honest and casual at the same time.
"Giving up?" she repeated, baffled.
"Yes - giving up trying to be good." And, apparently, giving up trying to be casual. "I'm just going to do what I want now, and let the chips fall where they may." That was honest enough. Let her see my selfishness. Let that warn her, too.
"You lost me again."
I was selfish enough to be glad that this was the case. "I always say too much when I'm talking to you - that's one of the problems."
A rather insignificant problem, compared to the rest.
"Don't worry," she reassured me. "I don't understand any of it."
Good. Then she'd stay. "I'm counting on that."
"So, in plain English, are we friends now?"
I pondered that for a second. "Friends..." I repeated. I didn't like the sound of that. It wasn't enough.
"Or not," she mumbled, looking embarrassed.
Did she think I didn't like her that much?
I smiled. "Well, we can try, I suppose. But I'm warning you now that I'm not a good friend for you."
I waited for her response, torn in two - wishing she would finally hear and understand, thinking I might die if she did. How melodramatic. I was turning into such a human.
Her heart beat faster. "You say that a lot."
"Yes, because you're not listening to me," I said, too intense again. "I'm still waiting for you to believe it. If you're smart, you'll avoid me."
Ah, but would I allow her to do that, if she tried?
Her eyes tightened. "I think you've made your opinion on the subject of my intellect clear, too."
I wasn't exactly sure what she meant, but I smiled in apology, guessing that I must have offended her accidentally.
"So," she said slowly. "As long as I'm being...not smart, we'll try to be friends?" "That sounds about right."
She looked down, staring intently at the lemonade bottle in her hands. The old curiosity tormented me.
"What are you thinking?" I asked - it was a relief to say the words out loud at last.
She met my gaze, and her breathing sped while her cheeks flushed faint pink. I inhaled, tasting that in the air.
"I'm trying to figure out what you are."
I held the smile on my face, locking my features that way, while panic twisted through my body.
Of course she was wondering that. She wasn't stupid. I couldn't hope for her to be oblivious to something so obvious.
"Are you having any luck with that?" I asked as lightly as I could manage. "Not too much," she admitted.
I chuckled in sudden relief. "What are your theories?"
They couldn't be worse than the truth, no matter what she'd come up with. Her cheeks turned brighter red, and she said nothing. I could feel the warmth of her blush in the air.
I tried using my persuasive tone on her. It worked well on normal humans. "Won't you tell me?" I smiled encouragingly.
She shook her head. "Too embarrassing."
Ugh. Not knowing was worse than anything else. Why would her speculations embarrass her? I couldn't stand not knowing.
"That's really frustrating, you know."
My complaint sparked something in her. Her eyes flashed and her words flowed more swiftly than usual.
"No, I can't imagine why that would be frustrating at all - just because someone refuses to tell you what they're thinking, even if all the while they're making cryptic little remarks specifically designed to keep you up at night wondering what they could possibly mean...now, why would that be frustrating?"
I frowned at her, upset to realize that she was right. I wasn't being fair. She went on. "Or better, say that person also did a wide range of bizarre things - from saving your life under impossible circumstances one day to treating you like a pariah the next, and he never explained any of that either, even after he promised. That, also, would be very non-frustrating."
It was the longest speech I'd ever heard her make, and it gave me a new quality
for my list.
"You've got a bit of a temper, don't you?"
"I don't like double standards."
She was completely justified in her irritation, of course.
I stared at Bella, wondering how I could possibly do anything right by her, until the silent shouting in Mike Newton's head distracted me.
He was so irate that it made me chuckle.
"What?" she demanded.
"Your boyfriend seems to think I'm being unpleasant to you - he's debating whether or not to come break up our fight." I would love to see him try. I laughed again. "I don't know who you're talking about," she said in an icy voice. "But I'm sure you're wrong anyway."
I very much enjoyed the way she disowned him with her dismissive sentence.
"I'm not. I told you, most people are easy to read."
"Except me, of course."
"Yes. Except for you." Did she have to be the exception to everything?
Wouldn't it have been more fair - considering everything else I had to deal with now - if I could have at least heard something from her head? Was that so much to ask? "I wonder why that is?"
I stared into her eyes, trying again...
She looked away. She opened her lemonade and took a quick drink, her eyes on the table.
"Aren't you hungry?" I asked.
"No." She eyed the empty table between us. "You?"
"No, I'm not hungry," I said. I was definitely not that.
She stared at the table her lips pursed. I waited.
"Could you do me a favor?" she asked, suddenly meeting my gaze again.
What would she want from me? Would she ask for the truth that I wasn't allowed to tell her - the truth I didn't want her to ever, ever know?
"That depends on what you want."
"It's not much," she promised.
I waited, curious again.
"I just wondered..." she said slowly, staring at the lemonade bottle, tracing its lip with her littlest finger. "If you could warn me beforehand the next time you decide to ignore me for my own good? Just so I'm prepared."
She wanted a warning? Then being ignored by me must be a bad thing... I smiled.
"That sounds fair," I agreed.
"Thanks," she said, looking up. Her face was so relieved that I wanted to laugh with my own relief.
"Then can I have one in return?" I asked hopefully.
"One," she allowed.
"Tell me one theory."
She flushed. "Not that one."
"You didn't qualify, you just promised one answer," I argued.
"And you've broken promises yourself," she argued back.
She had me there.
"Just one theory - I won't laugh."
"Yes, you will." She seemed very sure of that, though I couldn't imagine anything that would be funny about it.
I gave persuasion another try. I stared deep into her eyes - an easy thing to do, with eyes so deep - and whispered, "Please?"
She blinked, and her face went blank.
Well, that wasn't exactly the reaction I'd been going for.
"Er, what?" she asked. She looked dizzy. What was wrong with her?
But I wasn't giving up yet.
"Please tell me just one little theory," I pleaded in my soft, non-scary voice, holding her eyes in mine.
To my surprise and satisfaction, it finally worked.
"Um, well, bitten by a radioactive spider?"
Comic books? No wonder she thought I would laugh.
"That's not very creative," I chided her, trying to hide my fresh relief.
"I'm sorry, that's all I've got," she said, offended.
This relieved me even more. I was able to tease her again.
"You're not even close."
"And no radioactivity?"
"Dang," she sighed.
"Kryptonite doesn't bother me either," I said quickly - before she could ask about bites - and then I had to laugh, because she thought I was a superhero.
"You're not supposed to laugh, remember?"
I pressed my lips together.
"I'll figure it out eventually," she promised.
And when she did, she would run.
"I wish you wouldn't try," I said, all teasing gone.
I owed her honesty. Still, I tried to smile, to make my words sound less threatening. "What if I'm not a superhero? What if I'm the bad guy?"
Her eyes widened by a fraction and her lips fell slightly apart. "Oh," she said. And then, after another second, "I see."
She'd finally heard me.
"Do you?" I asked, working to conceal my agony.
"You're dangerous?" she guessed. Her breathing hiked, and her heart raced.
I couldn't answer her. Was this my last moment with her? Would she run now? Could I be allowed to tell her that I loved her before she left? Or would that frighten her more?
"But not bad," she whispered, shaking her head, no fear in her clear eyes. "No, I don't believe that you're bad."
"You're wrong," I breathed.
Of course I was bad. Wasn't I rejoicing now, that she thought better of me than I deserved? If I were a good person, I would have stayed away from her.
I stretched my hand across the table, reaching for the lid to her lemonade bottle as an excuse. She did not flinch away from my suddenly closer hand. She really was not afraid of me. Not yet.
I spun the lid like a top, watching it instead of her. My thoughts were in a snarl. Run, Bella, run. I couldn't make myself say the words out loud.
She jumped to her feet. "We're going to be late," she said, just as I'd started to worry that she'd somehow heard my silent warning.
"I'm not going to class."
Because I don't want to kill you. "It's healthy to ditch class now and then." To be precise, it was healthier for the humans if the vampires ditched on days when human blood would be spilt. Mr. Banner was blood typing today. Alice had already ditched her morning class.
"Well, I'm going," she said. This didn't surprise me. She was responsible - she always did the right thing.
She was my opposite.
"I'll see you later then," I said, trying for casual again, staring down at the whirling lid. And, by the way, I adore you...in frightening, dangerous ways. She hesitated, and I hoped for a moment that she would stay with me after all. But the bell rang and she hurried away.
I waited until she was gone, and then I put the lid in my pocket - a souvenir of this most consequential conversation - and walked through the rain to my car.
I put on my favorite calming CD - the same one I'd listened to that first day - but I wasn't hearing Debussy's notes for long. Other notes were running through my head, a fragment of a tune that pleased and intrigued me. I turned down the stereo and listened to the music in my head, playing with the fragment until it evolved into a fuller harmony. Instinctively, my fingers moved in the air over imaginary piano keys.
The new composition was really coming along when my attention was caught by a wave of mental anguish.
I looked toward the distress.
Is she going to pass out? What do I do? Mike panicked.
A hundred yards away, Mike Newton was lowering Bella's limp body to the sidewalk. She slumped unresponsively against the wet concrete, her eyes closed, her skin chalky as a corpse.
I almost took the door off the car.
"Bella?" I shouted.
There was no change in her lifeless face when I yelled her name.
My whole body went colder than ice.
I was aware of Mike's aggravated surprise as I sifted furiously through his thoughts. He was only thinking of his anger toward me, so I didn't know what was wrong with Bella. If he'd done something to harm her, I would annihilate him. "What's wrong - is she hurt?" I demanded, trying to focus his thoughts. It was maddening to have to walk at a human pace. I should not have called attention to my approach.
Then I could hear her heart beating and her even breath. As I watched, she squeezed her eyes more tightly shut. That eased some of my panic.
I saw a flicker of memories in Mike's head, a splash of images from the Biology room. Bella's head on our table, her fair skin turning green. Drops of red against the white cards...
I stopped where I was, holding my breath. Her scent was one thing, her flowing blood was another altogether.
"I think she's fainted," Mike said, anxious and resentful at the same time. "I don't know what happened, she didn't even stick her finger."
Relief washed through me, and I breathed again, tasting the air. Ah, I could smell the tiny flow of Mike Newton's puncture wound. Once, that might have appealed to me. I knelt beside her while Mike hovered next to me, furious at my intervention. "Bella. Can you hear me?"
"No," she moaned. "Go away."
The relief was so exquisite that I laughed. She was fine.
"I was taking her to the nurse," Mike said. "But she wouldn't go any farther." "I'll take her. You can go back to class," I said dismissively.
Mike's teeth clenched together. "No. I'm supposed to do it."
I wasn't going to stand around arguing with the wretch.
Thrilled and terrified, half-grateful to and half-aggrieved by the predicament which made touching her a necessity, I gently lifted Bella from the sidewalk and held her in my arms, touching only her clothes, keeping as much distance between our bodies as possible. I was striding forward in the same movement, in a hurry to have her safe - farther away from me, in other words.
Her eyes popped open, astonished.
"Put me down," she ordered in a weak voice - embarrassed again, I guessed from her expression. She didn't like to show weakness.
I barely heard Mike's shouted protest behind us.
"You look awful," I told her, grinning because there was nothing wrong with her but a light head and a weak stomach.
"Put me back on the sidewalk," she said. Her lips were white.
"So you faint at the sight of blood?" Could it get any more ironic?
She closed her eyes and pressed her lips together.
"And not even your own blood," I added, my grin widening.
We were to the front office. The door was propped an inch open, and I kicked it out of my way.
Ms. Cope jumped, startled. "Oh, my," she gasped as she examined the ashen girl in my arms.
"She fainted in Biology," I explained, before her imagination could get too out of hand.
Ms. Cope hurried to open the door to the nurse's office. Bella's eyes were open again, watching her. I heard the elderly nurse's internal astonishment as I laid the girl carefully on the one shabby bed. As soon as Bella was out of my arms, I put the width of the room between us. My body was too excited, too eager, my muscles tense and the venom flowing. She was so warm and fragrant.
"She's just a little faint," I reassured Mrs. Hammond. "They're blood typing in biology."
She nodded, understanding now. "There's always one."
I stifled a laugh. Trust Bella to be that one.
"Just lie down for a minute, honey," Mrs. Hammond said. "It'll pass."
"I know," Bella said.
"Does this happen often?" the nurse asked.
"Sometimes," Bella admitted.
I tried to disguise my laughter as coughing.
This brought me to the nurse's attention. "You can go back to class now," she said.
I looked her straight in the eye and lied with perfect confidence. "I'm supposed to stay with her."
Hmm. I wonder... oh well. Mrs. Hammond nodded.
It worked just fine on her. Why did Bella have to be so difficult? "I'll go get you some ice for your forehead, dear," the nurse said, slightly uncomfortable from looking into my eyes - the way a human should be - and left the room.
"You were right," Bella moaned, closing her eyes.
What did she mean? I jumped to the worst conclusion: she'd accepted my warnings.
"I usually am," I said, trying to keep the amusement in my voice; it sounded sour now. "But about what in particular this time?"
"Ditching is healthy," she sighed.
Ah, relief again.
She was silent then. She just breathed slowly in and out. Her lips were beginning to turn pink. Her mouth was slightly out of balance, her lower lip just a little too full to match the top. Staring at her mouth made me feel strange. Made me want to move closer to her, which was not a good idea.
"You scared me for a minute there," I said - to restart the conversation so that I could hear her voice again. "I thought Newton was dragging your dead body off to bury it in the woods."
"Ha ha," she said.
"Honestly - I've seen corpses with better color." This was actually true. "I was concerned that I might have to avenge your murder." And I would have.
"Poor Mike," she sighed. "I'll bet he's mad."
Fury pulsed through me, but I contained it quickly. Her concern was surely just pity. She was kind. That was all.
"He absolutely loathes me," I told her, cheered by that idea.
"You can't know that."
"I saw his face - I could tell." It was probably true that reading his face would have given me enough information to make that particular deduction. All this practice with Bella was sharpening my skill at reading human expressions.
"How did you see me? I thought you were ditching." Her face looked better - the green undertone had vanished from her translucent skin.
"I was in my car, listening to a CD."
Her expression twitched, like my very ordinary answer had surprised her somehow.
She opened her eyes again when Mrs. Hammond returned with an ice pack. "Here you go, dear," the nurse said as she laid it across Bella's forehead. "You're looking better."
"I think I'm fine," Bella said, and she sat up while pulling the ice pack away. Of course. She didn't like to be taken care of.
Mrs. Hammond's wrinkled hands fluttered toward the girl, as if she were going to push her back down, but just then Ms. Cope opened the door to the office and leaned in. With her appearance came the smell of fresh blood, just a whiff.
Invisible in the office behind her, Mike Newton was still very angry, wishing the heavy boy he dragged now was the girl who was in here with me.
"We've got another one," Ms. Cope said.
Bella quickly jumped down from the cot, eager to be out of the spotlight. "Here," she said, handing the compress back to Mrs. Hammond. "I don't need this."
Mike grunted as he half-shoved Lee Stevens through the door. Blood was still dripping down the hand Lee held to his face, trickling toward his wrist.
"Oh no." This was my cue to leave - and Bella's, too, it seemed. "Get out to the office, Bella."
She stared up at me with bewildered eyes.
"Trust me - go."
She whirled and caught the door before it had swung shut, rushing through to the office. I followed a few inches behind her. Her swinging hair brushed my hand... She turned to look at me, still wide-eyed.
"You actually listened to me." That was a first.
Her small nose wrinkled. "I smelled the blood."
I stared at her in blank surprise. "People can't smell blood."
"Well, I can - that's what makes me sick. It smells like rust...and salt."
My face froze, still staring.
Was she really even human? She looked human. She felt soft as a human. She smelled human - well, better actually. She acted human...sort of. But she didn't think like a human, or respond like one.
What other option was there, though?
"What?" she demanded.
Mike Newton interrupted us then, entering the room with resentful, violent thoughts.
"You look better," he said to her rudely.
My hand twitched, wanting to teach him some manners. I would have to watch myself, or I would end up actually killing this obnoxious boy.
"Just keep your hand in your pocket," she said. For one wild second, I thought she was talking to me.
"It's not bleeding anymore," he answered sullenly. "Are you going back to class?"
"Are you kidding? I'd just have to turn around and come back."
That was very good. I'd thought I was going to have to miss this whole hour with her, and now I got extra time instead. I felt greedy, a miser hording over each minute. "Yeah, I guess..." Mike mumbled. "So are you going this weekend? To the beach?"
Ah, they had plans. Anger froze me in place. It was a group trip, though. I'd seen some of this in other students' heads. It wasn't just the two of them. I was still furious. I leaned motionlessly against the counter, trying to control myself.
"Sure, I said I was in," she promised him.
So she'd said yes to him, too. The jealousy burned, more painful than thirst.
No, it was just a group outing, I tried to convince myself. She was just spending the day with friends. Nothing more.
"We're meeting at my dad's store, at ten." And Cullen's NOT invited.
"I'll be there," she said.
"I'll see you in Gym, then."
"See you," she replied.
He shuffled off to his class, his thoughts full of ire. What does she see in that freak? Sure, he's rich, I guess. Chicks think he's hot, but I don't see that. Too...too perfect. I bet his dad experiments with plastic surgery on all of them. That's why they're all so white and pretty. It's not natural. And he's sort of...scary-looking. Sometimes, when he stares at me, I'd swear he's thinking about killing me... Freak...
Mike wasn't entirely unperceptive.
"Gym," Bella repeated quietly. A groan.
I looked at her, and saw that she was sad about something again. I wasn't sure why, but it was clear that she didn't want to go to her next class with Mike, and I was all for that plan.
I went to her side and bent close to her face, feeling the warmth of her skin radiating out to my lips. I didn't dare breathe.
"I can take care of that," I murmured. "Go sit down and look pale."
She did as I asked, sitting in one of the folding chairs and leaning her head back against the wall, while, behind me, Ms. Cope came out of the back room and went to her desk. With her eyes closed, Bella looked as if she'd passed out again. Her full color hadn't returned yet.
I turned to the secretary. Hopefully Bella was paying attention to this, I thought sardonically. This was how a human was supposed to respond.
"Ms. Cope?" I asked, using my persuasive voice again.
Her eyelashes fluttered, and her heart sped up. Too young, get a hold of yourself!
That was interesting. When Shelly Cope's pulse quickened, it was because she found me physically attractive, not because she was frightened. I was used to that around human females...yet I hadn't considered that explanation for Bella's racing heart. I rather liked that. Too much, in fact. I smiled, and Mrs. Cope's breathing got louder.
"Bella has gym next hour, and I don't think she feels well enough. Actually, I was thinking I should take her home now. Do you think you could excuse her from class?" I stared into her depthless eyes, enjoying the havoc that this wreaked on her thought processes. Was it possible that Bella...?
Mrs. Cope had to swallow loudly before she answered. "Do you need to be excused, too, Edward?"
"No, I have Mrs. Goff, she won't mind."
I wasn't paying much attention to her now. I was exploring this new possibility. Hmm. I'd like to believe that Bella found me attractive like other humans did, but when did Bella ever have the same reactions as other humans? I shouldn't get my hopes up.
"Okay, it's all taken care of. You feel better, Bella."
Bella nodded weakly - overacting a bit.
"Can you walk, or do you want me to carry you again?" I asked, amused by her poor theatrics. I knew she would want to walk - she wouldn't want to be weak. "I'll walk," she said.
Right again. I was getting better at this.
She got up, hesitating for a moment as if to check her balance. I held the door for her, and we walked out into the rain.
I watched her as she lifted her face to the light rain with her eyes closed, a slight smile on her lips. What was she thinking? Something about this action seemed off, and I quickly realized why the posture looked unfamiliar to me. Normal human girls wouldn't raise their faces to the drizzle that way; normal human girls usually wore makeup, even here in this wet place.
Bella never wore makeup, nor should she. The cosmetics industry made billions of dollars a year from women who were trying to attain skin like hers.
"Thanks," she said, smiling at me now. "It's worth getting sick to miss Gym."
I stared across the campus, wondering how to prolong my time with her.
"Anytime," I said.
"So are you going? This Saturday, I mean?" She sounded hopeful.
Ah, her hope was soothing. She wanted me with her, not Mike Newton. And I wanted to say yes. But there were many things to consider. For one, the sun would be shining this Saturday...
"Where are you all going, exactly?" I tried to keep my voice nonchalant, as if it didn't matter much. Mike had said beach, though. Not much chance of avoiding sunlight there.
"Down to La Push, to First Beach."
Damn. Well, it was impossible, then.
Anyway, Emmett would be irritated if I cancelled our plans.
I glanced down at her, smiling wryly. "I really don't think I was invited." She sighed, already resigned. "I just invited you."
"Let's you and I not push poor Mike any further this week. We don't want him to snap." I thought about snapping poor Mike myself, and enjoyed the mental picture intensely.
"Mike-schmike," she said, dismissive again. I smiled widely.
And then she started to walk away from me.
Without thinking about my action, I reached out and caught her by the back of her rain jacket. She jerked to a stop.
"Where do you think you're going?" I was almost angry that she was leaving me.
I hadn't had enough time with her. She couldn't go, not yet.
"I'm going home," she said, baffled as to why this should upset me.
"Didn't you hear me promise to take you safely home? Do you think I'm going to let you drive in your condition?" I knew she wouldn't like that - my implication of weakness on her part. But I needed to practice for the Seattle trip, anyway. See if I could handle her proximity in an enclosed space. This was a much shorter journey.
"What condition?" she demanded. "And what about my truck?"
"I'll have Alice drop it off after school." I pulled her back to my car carefully, as I now knew that walking forward was challenging enough for her.
"Let go!" she said, twisting sideways and nearly tripping. I held one hand out to catch her, but she righted herself before it was necessary. I shouldn't be looking for excuses to touch her. That started me thinking about Ms. Cope's reaction to me, but I filed it away for later. There was much to be considered on that front.
I let her go beside the car, and she stumbled into the door. I would have to be even more careful, to take into account her poor balance...
"You are so pushy!"
I got in on my side and started the car. She held her body rigidly, still outside, though the rain had picked up and I knew she didn't like the cold and wet. Water was soaking through her thick hair, darkening it to near black.
"I am perfectly capable of driving myself home!"
Of course she was - I just wasn't capable of letting her go.
I rolled her window down and leaned toward her. "Get in, Bella."
Her eyes narrowed, and I guessed that she was debating whether or not to make a run for it.
"I'll just drag you back," I promised, enjoying the chagrin on her face when she realized I meant it.
Her chin stiffly in the air, she opened her door and climbed in. Her hair dripped on the leather and her boots squeaked against each other.
"This is completely unnecessary," she said coldly. I thought she looked embarrassed under the pique.
I just turned up the heater so she wouldn't be uncomfortable, and set the music to a nice background level. I drove out toward the exit, watching her from the corner of my eye. Her lower lip was jutting out stubbornly. I stared at this, examining how it made me feel... thinking of the secretary's reaction again...
Suddenly she looked at the stereo and smiled, her eyes widening. "Clair de Lune?" she asked.
A fan of the classics? "You know Debussy?"
"Not well," she said. "My mother plays a lot of classical music around the house - I only know my favorites."
"It's one of my favorites, too." I stared at the rain, considering that. I actually had something in common with the girl. I'd begun to think that we were opposites in every way.
She seemed more relaxed now, staring at the rain like me, with unseeing eyes. I used her momentary distraction to experiment with breathing.
I inhaled carefully through my nose.
I clutched the steering wheel tighter. The rain made her smell better. I wouldn't have thought that was possible. Stupidly, I was suddenly imaging how she would taste. I tried to swallow against the burn in my throat, to think of something else.
"What is your mother like?" I asked as a distraction.
Bella smiled. "She looks a lot like me, but she's prettier."
I doubted that.
"I have too much Charlie in me," she went on. "She's more outgoing than I am, and braver."
I doubted that, too.
"She's irresponsible and slightly eccentric, and she's a very unpredictable cook. She's my best friend." Her voice had turned melancholy; her forehead creased.
Again, she sounded more like parent than child.
I stopped in front of her house, wondering too late if I was supposed to know where she lived. No, this wouldn't be suspicious in such a small town, with her father a public figure...
"How old are you, Bella?" She must be older than her peers. Perhaps she'd been late to start school, or been held back...that wasn't likely, though.
"I'm seventeen," she answered.
"You don't seem seventeen."
"My mom always says I was born thirty-five years old and that I get more middleaged every year." She laughed again, and then sighed. "Well, someone has to be the adult."
This clarified things for me. I could see it now...how the irresponsible mother helped explain Bella's maturity. She'd had to grow up early, to become the caretaker. That's why she didn't like being cared for - she felt it was her job.
"You don't seem much like a junior in high school yourself," she said, pulling me from my reverie.
I grimaced. For everything I perceived about her, she perceived too much in return. I changed the subject.
"So why did your mother marry Phil?"
She hesitated a minute before answering. "My mother...she's very young for her age. I think Phil makes her feel even younger. At any rate, she's crazy about him." She shook her head indulgently.
"Do you approve?" I wondered.
"Does it matter?" she asked. "I want her to be happy...and he is who she wants." The unselfishness of her comment would have shocked me, except that it fit in all too well with what I'd learned of her character.
"That's very generous...I wonder."
"Would she extend the same courtesy to you, do you think? No matter who your choice was?"
It was a foolish question, and I could not keep my voice casual while I asked it.
How stupid to even consider someone approving of me for their daughter. How stupid to even think of Bella choosing me.
"I-I think so," she stuttered, reacting in some way to my gaze. Fear...or attraction?
"But she's the parent, after all. It's a little bit different," she finished. I smiled wryly. "No one too scary then."
She grinned at me. "What do you mean by scary? Multiple facial piercings and extensive tattoos?"
"That's one definition, I suppose." A very nonthreatening definition, to my mind. "What's your definition?"
She always asked the wrong questions. Or exactly the right questions, maybe. The ones I didn't want to answer, at any rate.
"Do you think that I could be scary?" I asked her, trying to smile a little. She thought it through before answering me in a serious voice. "Hmm...I think you could be, if you wanted to."
I was serious, too. "Are you frightened of me now?"
She answered at once, not thinking this one through. "No."
I smiled more easily. I did not think she was entirely telling the truth, but nor was she truly lying. She wasn't frightened enough to want to leave, at least. I wondered how she would feel if I told her she was having this discussion with a vampire. I cringed internally at her imagined reaction.
"So, now are you going to tell me about your family? It's got to be a much more interesting story than mine."
A more frightening one, at least.
"What do you want to know?" I asked cautiously.
"The Cullens adopted you?"
She hesitated, then spoke in a small voice. "What happened to your parents?" This wasn't so hard; I wasn't even having to lie to her. "They died a very long time ago."
"I'm sorry," she mumbled, clearly worried about having hurt me.
She was worried about me.
"I don't really remember them that clearly," I assured her. "Carlisle and Esme have been my parents for a long time now."
"And you love them," she deduced.
I smiled. "Yes. I couldn't imagine two better people."
"You're very lucky."
"I know I am." In that one circumstance, the matter of parents, my luck could not be denied.
"And your brother and sisters?"
If I let her push for too many details, I would have to lie. I glanced at the clock, disheartened that my time with her was up.
"My brother and sister, and Jasper and Rosalie for that matter, are going to be quite upset if they have to stand in the rain waiting for me."
"Oh, sorry, I guess you have to go."
She didn't move. She didn't want our time to be up, either. I liked that very, very much.
"And you probably want your truck back before Chief Swan gets home, so you don't have to tell him about the Biology incident." I grinned at the memory of her embarrassment in my arms.
"I'm sure he's already heard. There are no secrets in Forks." She said the name of the town with distinct distaste.
I laughed at her words. No secrets, indeed. "Have fun at the beach." I glanced at the pouring rain, knowing it would not last, and wishing more strongly than usual that it could. "Good weather for sunbathing." Well, it would be by Saturday. She would enjoy that.
"Won't I see you tomorrow?"
The worry in her tone pleased me.
"No. Emmett and I are starting the weekend early." I was mad at myself now for having made the plans. I could break them...but there was no such thing as too much hunting at this point, and my family was going to be concerned enough about my behavior without me revealing how obsessive I was turning.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, not sounded happy with my revelation.
"We're going to be hiking in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, just south of Rainier."
Emmett was eager for bear season.
"Oh, well, have fun," she said halfheartedly. Her lack of enthusiasm pleased me again.
As I stared at her, I began to feel almost agonized at the thought of saying even a temporary goodbye. She was just so soft and vulnerable. It seemed foolhardy to let her out of my sight, where anything could happen to her. And yet, the worst things that could happen to her would result from being with me.
"Will you do something for me this weekend?" I asked seriously.
She nodded, her eyes wide and bewildered by my intensity.
Keep it light.
"Don't be offended, but you seem to be one of those people who just attract accidents like a magnet. So...try not to fall into the ocean or get run over or anything, all right?"
I smiled ruefully at her, hoping she couldn't see the sadness in my eyes. How much I wished that she wasn't so much better off away from me, no matter what might happen to her there.
Run, Bella, run. I love you too much, for your good or mine.
She was offended by my teasing. She glared at me. "I'll see what I can do," she snapped, jumping out into the rain and slamming the door as hard as she could behind her.
Just like an angry kitten that believes it's a tiger.
I curled my hand around the key I'd just picked from her jacket pocket, and smiled as I drove away.