Disclaimer: I don't own them. Ms. M does. If I did own them, I would be sunning myself on my private south Pacific island while sipping a mojito, not freezing my butt off in my sad apartment while a mid-Atlantic snowstorm rages outside.
Compassion Holding its Breath
Chapter 1: Déjà Vu
"Her parents were joking, right?!" was the first thing I heard after I got out of my truck.
Surely, my psychic skills must be blooming because as soon as I won the daily battle to get my key back from the truck's lock and started walking towards the gates of Hades (or what others call Forks High's front doors) I was struck by a profound sense of déjà vu.
The source of the voice and all-kinds of evil was, like she always was, sitting on the hood of her Styx-crossing ferry (or what normal humans call a 1999 Toyota Corolla).
I just knew what I would see if I looked. The owner of the nails-on-a-chalkboard voice, the queen bee, mean-girl herself in all her hoochy glory: Lauren.
How she manages to look like that at the ungodly hour of 7:30 every morning is one of the many mysteries of Forks. I mean, it must take hours to pile on that much make-up. And hair spray. Surely, there is a personal-size hole in the ozone right over the Mallory home.
"I know, right. What were they thinking? Bella Swan. Ha! More like Daffy Duck." That would be Jessica. Who is, without a doubt, the cliché to end all clichés. Really. It's March. In Forks. In the Pacific Northwest. Which accounts for her Ugg boots. And then accounts for nothing else. Okay, maybe the corduroy material of her micro, mini skirt. But nothing else. Case-in-point: Tank top, no bra, nipples on DEFCON 1, and not a coat or jacket in sight.
I'm pretty sure that if her vagina held up the town's convenience store, it could be identified from a police line-up by the entire varsity football team. And anybody with eyes.
The Daffy Duck comment is met with approval. Rousing appreciation that incites a bunch of commentary screamed across from the lot...with a lisp. I have to admit the lisp sound effect is a nice touch. I sigh as I study my second-hand, slip-on Vans.
Left, right, left, right.
I have to walk faster. I'm nowhere near the door and I really don't want to hear the rest of what's become part of my morning ritual: Wake up, wait for Charlie to leave for work, brush teeth, breakfast, drive to school, fight the truck door to get the sticky key unstuck, and suffer a bit of harassment by the school's "cool patrol" as I walk across the parking lot. Hence, the déjà vu. I've done this all before.
However, since walking faster exponentially increases the already high probability that I will find nothing to trip over and do a face plant, I don't increase my pace.
Left, right, left, right.
Wait for it...wait for it...
There it is and right on cue: "I just can't believe that as soon as you guys heard that the Chief's long-lost daughter was moving back you were all panting over that..." Behind the curtain of my hair, I steal a peak at Lauren. Yup, my psychic skills are definitely on an upswing. She is giving me a sneer and simultaneously giving one of the males around her the bitch-brow.
"Lauren, baby, how many times do I have to say it? We was broken up 'cause you wanted a break! Besides after seeing the fresh meat be not-so fresh, I changed my mind. You are still the hottest thing. My dick only wants to tap you, baby!" Of course. Tyler: Recipient of the Lauren bitch-brow. Mr. All-sports, all-conference, all-state. Letterman jacket, poser-OG, pants-on-the-ground, bling baby Jeebus, Nikes-sporting meat-heat, wannabe thug. His groveling gets interrupted by Lauren leaning over and sticking her tongue down his throat and...
"Duck, duck, Swan!...Forks High newest mascot!" That would be Mick. No. Mike. Right. Mike Newton: Blond, L.A. Looks hair gel, pink-Lacoste-wearing, collar-poppin', Axe body spray-smelling Mike. He has himself in stitches as he quacks my way: "Quack, quack, quack!"
"Oh my god, Mike would you like, shut it…" Jessica's dulcet tones plead; I'm sure that her coming to my aid has probably caused an apocalypse-inducing tilt of the Earth's axis, but then the universe rights itself: "Mikey, like seriously, ducks are super cute, and Swan is like, gross..."
Mike levels a contemplative look my way and ponders: "Swan the Goose, then." And I roll my eyes because I know he just about exhausted his entire brain capacity coming up with that dazzling riposte. Ever the wordsmith, he follows his own train to its predictable end.
And here it comes…wait for it….
"Honk, goose, hooooonk"
At this point the entire student population is staring at Mike, seemingly mesmerized by his comedic breakthrough. "Honk!" he hollers and points at me. As if it wasn't as obvious that I was the object of his attention.
Just follow the eyeballs.
Me. They point at and titter.
Mike. "Honk, Hoooooonnnnnkkkk!"
Me. More pointing and titters turn to laughs.
Today, I achieve a new low- the gross, pimply freshman that picks his nose in the cafeteria is sharing a snicker with his World of Warcraft compatriots. At my expense.
Mike's honking finally gets interrupted by Angela leaning over and telling him to stop.
Ah, yes. Angela: The preacher's daughter. Never seen without her phalange, Ben: the quiet, smart guy. They are both an oasis of 'nice' in a desert of evil. I don't understand why those two hang with my tormentors but I suppose in a school of 328 students, the available "friends"-options are slim. Or maybe Angela and Ben don't particularly care about the quality of people they share oxygen with.
Pondering the psychosocial reasons for that seemingly incompatible interpersonal association, I am able to distract myself enough to drown out the continuous taunting coming from across the lot. A tiny part of my brain notices that Tyler, who has retrieved his tonsils from Lauren's maw, has now rejoined the 'Torture Bella' vaudeville act (morning edition) and is quacking in syncopation to Mike's honking.
The other part of my brain is still focused on walking. Left, right, left, right the beat goes until finally, I see the front steps. Chariots of Fire theme music blares inside my head. I haven't tripped and I'm almost there. I mentally high-five myself.
But just like that, the masochistic sense of comfort I get from my Forks morning routine is shattered.
I've always thought that routines, no matter how terrible, are a comfort in on themselves. There is a certain kind of peace and security to be reaped from the reliability of a routine...even, a routine of clichéd-teenage hazing.
This morning's routine, however, the same routine that has swallowed me since my first day at Forks High, 3 weeks ago, is altered.
So focused I was in the act of walking without tripping and avoiding eye contact that could possibly trigger additional honking that I don't notice that today's vaudeville act has changed.
I don't realize that the source of the syncopated bird singing has gotten closer until it's upon me.
I don't see the hands that pull me back by the top strap of my backpack as I'm about to take that first step up.
I just feel myself fall backwards...
I don't hear Lauren snarling "Are you ignoring me bitch?"
I don't hear Jessica jeering "Yeah, like, who do you think you are, like, ignoring us when we talk to you."
I don't hear Mike and Tyler laughing like hyenas.
Or my bag ripping open.
Or my books falling everywhere, my pencil case clattering, my iPod bouncing on the pavement.
Or their footsteps as they walk over my belongings, making sure not to miss the folder labeled 'Homework' that now floats in a puddle. Of course. Thorough as always, they make an effort not to miss stepping on the case holding my glasses. I don't hear the crunch of plastic and paste as an Ugg boot grinds the gray case onto the pavement.
Or the bell ringing and the student body disappearing around me.
I don't hear anything.
The silence that follows is absolute...
That, or the roar in my ears is such that it drowns everything but my internal monologue, which goes something like this:
"Well, this is a change," says my butt.
"I agree," I respond to my butt. A face plant is my usual modus operandi, I note. Though typically, I manage falling on my own without need of Lauren's assistance.
So I sit there.
My now-wet ass tells me that this sucks and that I need to move. My face laughs at my butt and tells it to suck it up and that it is only fair to share the burden of my clumsiness. My butt counters by pointing out that I was doing remarkably well until Lauren decided that she was not inclined to let me climb the steps in peace and assisted gravity (or what others would call she pulled me down). My face reiterates that it is still not fair that I always seem fall forward. My hands second my face's rebuttal. Meanwhile, I can feel a raging blush spread like a brush fire from chest to hairline.
I am well aware that if I just continue to sit here I'm going to have some serious wet panty issues the rest of the day. And not the kind of wet panty issues that are in any way, good wet panty issues. Not that I would know. But still...
Five minutes later, I'm still sitting there. I know for a fact that it's been five minutes because the second bell just rang. So on top of a sore ass and wet panties, water-logged textbooks and soggy, ruined homework, I'm getting detention for being late.
Yet strangely I don't move. I'm frozen. Like my freezing cold lady bits. Lady bits that are throwing a hissy fit and warning about the dangers of frostbite and the dreaded trench foot syndrome. I correct my lady bits in that technically it wouldn't be considered trench foot, as it would be more of trench Punani syndrome. My face is still going on and on about the injustice of having to carry the brunt of my motor skill issues. My butt has gone from whining to telling me that there is something seriously wrong.
It suddenly strikes me that I'm refereeing an argument between body parts.
In my head.
Behind the curtain of my hair, I start to laugh. It bubbles up as a giggle; a little squeak that escapes my lips. Next thing I know I'm shaking. I'm laughing so hard it is causing ripples in the puddle water I landed on. I laugh and laugh because my thoughts are comedic and they serve as the one thing that tempers the inescapable fact that I am miserable. Humiliated. Pathetic. There is nothing funny about this.
As I'm trying to calm the highly inappropriate giggle-attack, a long-fingered hand comes into view, holding my ripped backpack in front of my face.
I take a look around me and notice that all my belongings have been collected. Looking inside my bag I see my books peaking through the ruined zipper. Even though I don't want to leave the refuge created by my hair, my eyes climb without consent.
I take in the pale fingers holding the backpack, a weathered black leather cuff, the sinuous line of a strong white forearm lightly dusted with tiny, red-gold hairs, square shoulders, strong column neck, razor-edge jaw line, pink lips, proud straight nose, heavy brows, and a riot of shiny, confusing-colored hair exploding everywhere atop his head.
I feel the residue giggles die down and my smile melt from my face. This must be the lost Cullen.
The one who is supposed to be my lab partner according to Mr. Banner. The one who is supposed to occupy the fifth chair at the Cullen table during lunch. The one that had been absent for the three weeks I've been in this hell-hole.
Looking over his shoulder, I gasp at the harsh pity held in the dark gold irises of his siblings. Everything in me screams that I can't, under any circumstances, meet Edward's eyes. I know instinctively that the pity, his pity for me, would cut me deeper than 1,000 years of Lauren's abuse. It makes no sense as he is a complete and total stranger. Yet, something tells me to escape his pity. For some reason, I can't stand the thought of those eyes, of him, seeing me like this.
I scramble up to my feet, mumble a perfunctory "thank you" as I grab my bag, and run back to my truck.
I fight the lock.
I get in.
I pull my beloved, first-generation iPod out of what's left from my backpack and see that while the screen is cracked it still plays my music. I send a quick prayer of thanks to the gods of music, revelry, and mp3 players. However, the rattling noise made by loose pieces of plastic currently making my glasses' case double as a 'maraca' tells me all I need to know about the condition of my ugly, albeit necessary, glasses. My only pair.
The ones I absolutely need if I am to read anything ever again.
I mentally calculate how much money I have left in my "college fund" even though I know it is nowhere enough to pay for a new pair. So I need a plan...
Option 1: I can tell Charlie. Maybe he won't get too mad. Maybe he'll be in a good mood and he'll understand. Maybe he'll even help replace them...and then that would mean that I've somehow crossed over into the Twilight Zone. I sigh. Realistically, there's a greater chance of me being struck by lightning where I stand. Twice. He won't care that I can't read without them. The Charlie-helping option is a no-go (at least not in this dimension).
Option 2: Maybe I can pawn some of Grammy Marie's jewelry, but just the thought of parting with any of it makes me feel like I'm drowning. No way. Can't do it. They are the only things I was able to salvage before things turned to shit back in Phoenix. So, nope…not doing it.
Option 3: Maybe I can ask Cora for an advance on my paycheck at the diner...she's super nice and she likes me. I think. But explaining why I need the cash might be a problem. The venerable Chief Swan would be mighty embarrassed if it were known that his darling baby girl is begging for money around town. This might threaten his Father-of-the-Year award and it would make him mad. Madder. Like he needs an excuse to be mad. Yet, this is the best option out of a bunch of crappy options. I'll have to risk it and ask. If the Chief finds out, I'll deal with that, after. No matter how mad Charlie gets. The thought of him finding out makes my bowels jiggle with anxiety. Yet I have no choice: I'll just deal.
And suddenly I'm so, so tired of dealing and weighing options and being scared and walking on eggshells and my head is so, so heavy I just have to lean forward and rest it against the steering wheel of the truck. My breath hitches. I don't want to, but I feel my eyeballs burn and my blurry sight becomes even blurrier and the world around me goes under water. And finally, I give up and give in to the feeling and cry.
In my head, I ask: why?
Why? Why? Why?
Why can't I get a moments peace? I just want a little bit...not a whole lot.
A little peace.
A tiny bit of happiness.
Why is that too much to ask?
And as I feel myself sink into despair, a voice I don't recognize seeps in and interrupts my internal ranting.
It is low, soothing, and steady:
You are alright, Isabella.
For a second, I am concerned that I'm hearing voices because early-onset schizophrenia is no joke and is the last thing I need; especially since I already have plenty of crazy to spread around. But the voice tells me I'm safe and I believe it. I trust it. It makes no sense. But I do.
Please breathe, Isabella. It says.
So, I take a hitching breath. And another. And another. I lean into the velvet.
Open your eyes, Isabella. It compels.
I have no option but to look up.
Bronze. His hair is not confused-colored; it's bronze.
And finally, I look into his eyes and I recognize the truth in them.
He is all I see.
I know him. Recognize him somehow.
He is all I know.
I feel something pulling from within. A tugging.
It is insistent.
Letting this happen feels vital, life-changing, and transcendent. So, I stop trying to hold onto whatever 'it' is and I let go.
Something inside me unravels and leaves me.
I swear I feel it move like a ribbon in the wind across the space between me and him.
And then I feel as that something comes back to me: reshaped and different. There is just more to it now.
Another piece has joined my 'it' and settled within me.
It's him, I think.
And I feel peace for the first time since I can remember.
I lose track of time and just sit and breathe it, him, in and out.
And then I blink and the moment, whatever that was, is over.
My butt crashes my party sending a firestorm of pain up my spine.
Resigned to another ER visit, I turn the key and the truck's engine roars. Then, as I'm about to take off in the direction of Forks General Hospital, I notice the totality of them.
Forks' biggest mystery: A mystery even bigger than Lauren's ability to look completely hoochy-fied every single day before the sun rises.
All five of them. Standing there. Staring at me with those eyes. Yellow eyes in a pearlescent skin canvas. Blond, black, blond, black. And bronze. Bronze.
Graceful. Still. Alien. Perfect.
Idling waiting for the heater to actually start heating the cab, I see Bronze bring his fist clutching a dark piece of cloth up to his face.
I see his broad chest expand as he inhales.
I watch mesmerized, as his terrible, beautiful eyes flutter closed.
From this distance it should be impossible for me to see how his eyelashes come to rest against his cheeks. But I do.
It should be impossible for me to feel his full-body shudder deep in my belly, as his entire body vibrates in torment and pleasure. And yet I do.
Unbidden, a moan crawls up from somewhere behind my belly button and escapes me. His eyes snap open. Like he heard me, which is impossible. And yet he does.
The moment is like a soap bubble in the sun. It shimmers and floats outside of time; swaying in the wind; settling on the grass softly, gently.
Then the moment is pricked by a blade and ends as swiftly as it started.
It is only later that I realize the only winter hat I own is nowhere to be found. Charlie is going to be pissed enough about the broken glasses and ER bills; there is no chance that I'm asking for money to get another stupid hat. I'll have to sit through yet another Charlie rant about being stupid and clumsy and useless and nothing but a money pit. Besides, even if I had the chance, my excuses won't fly. I mean, how do I explain that I don't have my cheap blue wool hat anymore because Edward Cullen kept it? And that he kept it so he could sniff it in the school parking lot. Ridiculous...