Slowly thawing, I slid into a straight back chair and dumbly stared into the box on the table, not quite sure what I was looking at. And more importantly, why it'd been sent to me.
Either way, lit by the warm, yellow light from the fixture above, what I could only describe as someone's life gazed back at me.
Twin stacks of leather journals, worn and softened by countless touches.
A pile of tiny burgundy velvet boxes, scarred, scratched, and as old as the ones in Grandma Swan's secret drawer.
Fancy gilded picture frames, tarnished to nearly black at the edges.
A faded gray folio filled with newspaper clippings and other sorts of dog-eared papers.
Tied-up bundles of yellowed cards and letters.
A baseball, scuffed and dingy, missing half its stitching.
Age permeated the entire contents, along with something else I couldn't quite name, other than as I continued to look inside, waffling between closing the thing right back up and digging in, my chest tightened. This stuff had been important to someone at one time – stuff worth keeping and remembering and cherishing – but now, sitting here on a stranger's table, thrown together into some old box, it looked like it had been abandoned or worse, forgotten.
My pocket buzzed, breaking the spell.
"Hey, yourself." Jake made a little huffing sound. "It's been nearly thirty minutes. What happened?"
I rolled my eyes, because he was being, well, Jacob, and for some reason, he was always more Jacob when I was here in Forks than when I was out of town. "Yeah, I know. Sorry about that." My fingertip traced the lip of the box. "Hey, did you or Billy send me something?"
"No." He drew out the 'o', and I could just see his face all scrunched up and confused. "Why?"
Drawn by the curlicue edge of one of the frames, I finally made my choice and started to reach inside my mystery package. "Nothing, no big deal," I told him, propping the phone between my ear and shoulder. "I think my mom must have sent some of her mom's old stuff."
"Yeah, like what?"
I frowned at the creeping edge that I had to be imagining. "Meh, looks like it's just some old trinkets and keepsakes." Wedged between the journals, the frame took a few seconds of gentle tugging and sawing before it finally came free. "She and Phil are moving again, so she was probably just cleaning out the attic and forgot to tell me she'd sent it. You know how she is."
Jacob snorted. "Yeah, I do. Are they going to–"
I flipped the frame over in my lap, and the rest of Jake's words drowned in the white noise that abruptly crashed all around me. The kitchen took a dizzying spin, pulsing in and out of focus, and as my eyes traced the figure behind the glass, the strongest sense of déjà vu I'd ever experienced sucked the air right out of my chest.
Washed in shades of sepia faded by age and the sun, a young man of no more than twenty stared back at me.
Tall, lean, and meticulously suited in the style of the times, the boy in the portrait was striking, with a Hollywood face cut by strong, straight lines, bright, dancing eyes, and a pile of dark, rusty hair that resisted all pomade and combs' attempts at taming. His was a face that drew the eye and didn't let go.
As much as I appreciated a good-looking guy, that wasn't why my lungs stopped working.
No, I couldn't breathe because I knew this good-looking guy.
While I hadn't seen this face in at least six years, my mind recognized Edward Cullen the same as if I were right there, right now, sitting at that table in junior biology, wondering why he hated me so much when everything single thing he did fascinated me.
My chest tightened even more, making my heart thump loud enough I could hear it over the static still buzzing my ears.
Countless nights I'd thought about where Edward Cullen had gone and why he'd just… left like that, without a word or warning, leaving so many unanswered questions and what ifs.
So many nights after he'd supposedly, "gone back to Alaska," I'd huddled under the covers in my little bed upstairs, trying to figure out what super power he had that had let him stop Tyler's van from squishing me like it should have, wondering why he'd wanted me to forget everything I'd seen, and then deciding I didn't really care what he was or why he'd saved me… if he would just come back.
So many days I'd hated the empty chairs he left behind and spent far too many hours fooling myself into thinking that after so many weeks of conscious avoidance, there really had been something else there when he'd stared at me that final day. I'd never forgotten that – that look in his eyes when we argued over him saving my life. He'd said it was best that we weren't friends, but I'd replayed that moment a thousand times, and that wasn't what his eyes had said.
I shook my head, trying to physically wrench myself out of the quagmire of bittersweet teenage memory.
Because the boy in the photograph couldn't be Edward Cullen.
No way, no how.
It had to be some kind of weird coincidence – after all, didn't they say everyone had a doppelganger somewhere?
"Are you zoning out again?" Jake's voice cut through the lingering static.
"What?" Shaking my head again, I cleared my throat to buy some time. "Yeah, a little. Sorry, I think I'm getting a headache or something."
I didn't know why I lied to Jacob. Maybe it was because I was being silly and reminiscent. Or because I knew he wouldn't understand. Or maybe it was because Edward Cullen, however little interaction we'd actually had, had always been a secret treasure and ache kept locked away, something I'd never told a soul – a mystery I'd held onto just for me.
"Ah, sorry, babe. I should have figured. You seemed off before." Chimes tinkled and boards creaked, telling me he was pacing his porch. "It's probably good then that they're postponing the bonfire after all."
"What's going on?"
"They just updated the weather." Jake tsked like he always did when he was annoyed. "You were right. Looks like it's going to get really nasty tonight."
"That sucks." Guilt crawled in my stomach. "Do you still want to come over?"
In the background, his neighbor's dog kept howling. Another joined in. "I'd love to… but it looks like I need to stick around here and help dad with the pipes in case it freezes."
"Okay, tell your dad I said hi."
"I will." I could hear him grinning. "So I'll talk to you tomorrow?"
Staring down at the familiar stranger behind the glass, I swallowed, but when I glanced up, instantly drawn to the tied-up bundle of yellowed cards and letters sitting on top of the journals, a kind of mild electricity surged across my skin, making fingers literally itch to grab them.
"Yeah," I said, swallowing again, even as I reached for the letters. "Tomorrow."