But oh my dear, I am getting tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful? It is. Only I do get tired.
- Alice Pleasance Hargreaves
War loses a great deal of its romance after a soldier has seen his first battle. I have a more vivid recollection of the first than the last one I was in.
- John Singleton Mosby
Chapter 1: You're Not Here
My story started when my eyes met theirs. I'd known all along that this was a new chapter in my life, but before that instant there had been no moment of clarity to make it real. My story could just as well have started in Phoenix with my decision to move to Forks and let my mother's whims take her where she wanted to go. It could have started when I got off the plane and embraced Charlie again, realizing that weirdly enough I was home. It could have even started with my first day at a new school where all eyes were on me. Except of course it couldn't have. My eyes met theirs across the lunchroom and that was the moment.
The small girl with the spiky black hair from the next table over had turned in her chair and had stared back at me for a long moment with a blank questioning look on her face before suddenly becoming animated again and breaking out in a friendly smile. This caught the attention of the tall boy with the honey blond hair that she was sitting next to and he turned a pained face towards me with vague curiosity as well. They were both too perfect; it was eerie, like something out of a commercial.
At just that moment a girl I didn't know stopped by my lunch table. That's silly to say, that I didn't know her, everyone was a stranger here. That girl said hi to the girl from my Spanish class whose name I couldn't quite remember and who was my sole point of familiarity in a sea of unfamiliar faces. That girl standing there between my table and theirs is a little detail that I wouldn't have otherwise remembered with any clarity, except that adrenaline and white hot panic flooded through me in that instant and the whole scene is etched into my mind in such vivid detail.
At the time I didn't know what had changed, just that something was suddenly extremely wrong. The boy who was staring at me had shifted his head slightly, like he'd just got a whiff of perfume off of the girl who had walked by, but he never broke eye contact with me. He didn't move beyond that little tilt of his head or give himself away, but his eyes were now staring at me with this horrible black intensity that I couldn't shake off. I was the hare, frozen as I gazed into the snarling mouth of the hound.
He was going to kill me. That was the only thing I could think. I couldn't have articulated what had changed in his eyes, just that it terrified me on some deep primal level. It was a feeling that I recognized and trusted with total certainty. He didn't want to scare me or hurt me or fuck me, he wanted to kill me.
I was dimly aware of the pixie like girl beside him. My eyes flicked across her face and I saw panic starting to spread across her pretty features. She knew! Quickly her features smoothed out into cheerful nonchalance, like a stone mask sliding into place over her face, but her eyes never left mine. They were just as black, but softer. I imagined that they held pity for me.
I was alone in the room with these two. There were plenty of people around, but I saw only them and they saw only me. The boy hadn't moved an inch but just the same my instincts told me I'd never make it to the door in time. I had a fork clutched in my right hand ready to swing but I might as well have been holding an apple for all the good I'd thought it would do me.
Maybe she would pull him off of me in time. Maybe I could push the nameless girl seated beside me into his path and buy a few moments to run.
I was going to die.
It was my first day at a new school and I was going to be killed in the lunchroom for no goddamn reason whatsoever and I didn't understand anything.
A lanky boy at their table kicked the leg of the chair of my would-be aggressor and like that the spell was broken. The man dropped his head in shame and the tiny girl looked away in guilty relief. The lanky boyish one with the messy metallic bronze hair leaned in with a few sharp whispers to the two of them. I look around but no one else seemed to have even noticed. The really big guy and the blond bombshell at their table didn't so much as twitch.
"Who are they?" I asked the table around me in a choked whisper.
It had only been a moment ago that I'd made up my mind to go talk to the little sprite of a girl and introduce myself. It was a split second decision. There was just something about her. Maybe she seemed cool. Maybe Forks wasn't Phoenix and I wanted to pick my own friends for once instead of letting chance smush me together with people I didn't really connect with. Maybe I'd caught sight of her and hoped there might be that connection.
I had planned to take five deep breaths, walk over to her and introduce myself as Bella, tell her that her ruffled brown gothy sorta dress was impossibly cute, and then hope I didn't get too tongue tied after that to think on my feet or at least to make a non-awkward escape.
Honestly I probably would have chickened out if I'd been given the chance to consider it further, but she looked over at me as soon as I'd made up my mind and then that whole freaky thing had happened.
"Those are the Cullens," the girl next to me jarred me out of my thoughts, "they moved here a couple of years ago, but seriously, don't even bother."
The girl across the table leaned into the conversation, she was tall and quiet with a gentle smile, "What Jessica means is that those five stick to themselves. They're Doctor Cullen's kids. Well, technically, three of them are Cullens and two of them are Hales. All of them are nice enough but pretty standoffish."
"Oh whatever," Jessica snapped, "they act like they're too good for everyone, throwing money around and always having to get their way. Take Edward Cullen for instance, he doesn't date since he can't find a girl prettier than he is. Well, he can take his stupid perfect face and stuff it!" I got the impression from her sudden outburst that she was personally invested in this subject.
I looked over at the five strangers at the other table again. The thin lanky one with the bronze hair was looking over at us like he'd overheard Jessica's rant. Actually, given her volume, maybe he had. He had a slight crooked smile and the same pale good looks as all his siblings; it was easy to tell they were related. He really was pretty, in a boyish way, and in a year or two he might even end up being devastatingly handsome once he had a chance to grow into it.
"That's the one you were talking about, right?" I said to Jessica, nodding towards the boy. Did my voice sound weird? My heart was still racing.
He turned his attention on me and our eyes met. Any other day and I'd have looked away in a blush, but my head was still swimming from whatever the hell had just happened and my knees had started to shake from all the adrenaline in my system. It seemed to me he was looking at me with something akin to disdain or frustration. The more I stared at his perfect features the less perfect they seemed. He had big ugly dark circles under his eyes and his pale skin was alarmingly white, like, if I saw that tone on a person in distress I'd think they were about to vomit or pass out, but even thinking about it logically like that he still seemed weirdly gorgeous.
The tiny girl near him got up and she really was petite. Alarmingly thin with cheerful features and short raven black hair that was spiked out like she'd spent the last hour with a stylist in order to perfect her look in time for lunch.
She dumped her full tray of food in the trash, unopened soda and all, and stacked her tray with a flourish. I hadn't been prepared for how graceful she was. The whole thing looked choreographed. It was unreal. Then she turned and—there is no way to say this without it sounding like hyperbole instead of a literal statement of fact—she goddamn waltzed to the door. One two three. One two three. Spin. Before dashing away she turned, made sure I was looking at her, and fluttered her fingers in a subtle wave.
Then she was gone. No one else was staring at the door in shock, so I assume the student body had long ago decided to ignore the Cullens acting weird as shit.
I didn't dare take another look at the man who had glared at me. Wishing I could go hide out in the bathroom or something I forced myself to tune back into the conversation and try to salvage the rest of the lunch period.
Jessica was in her element, "…and the big one is Emmett. Next to him is…" I couldn't focus on this right now and she was apparently going over it for my benefit since the two guys nearest to us at the table were still tuned out and talking about their plans to go climbing or hiking or something. The far end of the table beyond them was laughing about something and had been practically ignoring us anyway after my novelty value had worn off.
"Dude, wait, stop," I begged her, putting my hands up in mock surrender, "no more new names please. I haven't remembered basically anyone's name so far today and listing off more people I haven't met yet isn't going to help that."
The girl across the table held out her hand and shook mine. Her movements were crisp and measured.
"Hi, Angela Weber, we met a few minutes ago when you sat down," her tone was teasing but held no hint of maliciousness. "And don't worry about it, I was going to remind you what my name was anyway. I know it's all a lot to take in on your first day."
"Well, pleasure to meet you. I'm Bella Swan, girl of the hour and hopefully not a feature article in the school paper next week," I replied, then I turned to the girl beside me and grabbed her hand, "and you must be Jessica. You might not 'out-pretty' Mr. Pretty Boy over there, but your tan is a hell of a lot better." I pumped her arm in comical fashion and she honestly laughed. It was the first time she'd seemed to be enjoying herself unaffectedly since I'd met her earlier in the day.
Eventually the two boys rejoined our conversation and introduced themselves again. I forgot one of their names again almost right away, but the other one, a handsome darker skinned boy named Tyler, tried to invite me to some kind of beach party this weekend on the La Push reservation.
We didn't talk about the Cullens. I tried to make a point of it to not look over there again, but when the remaining four of them all got up to leave together as a group I couldn't help myself. The big one with the muscular physique turned out to be massive once he actually stood up, like a good foot taller than me. The blond supermodel girl turned out to be supermodel tall as well. Those two didn't really seem like teenagers even. I'd have bought it if I'd been told they were in college. I was staring again, I couldn't help it.
I chanced a look at the man who had terrified me. Thankfully he was looking away. He carried himself like a fighter, loose and coiled at turns. He didn't look particularly happy. He was so smooth—confident and collected in his motions; they all were. Had they been trained to be so graceful? I wondered where their background lay between the admitted extremes of having attended some kind of finishing school or having survived a cult. There was something else too. Boys and girls alike, their faces were all unsettlingly attractive, but they all had different hair colors, and no two noses or jaw lines were quite the same shape. How could they look so uniform but different all at once?
Angela got my attention and let me know it was time for us to go too. She shared Biology II with me the next hour. Once we were away from the table, and from Jessica, we fell into a comfortable silence while we walked next to each other. I looked over at her and smiled. She laughed quietly in response. I couldn't help but think we'd both been trying our hardest at lunch.
Honestly, I'd be glad if she turned out to be shy like me. I could hold my own well enough in a group but reaching out to people or opening up to them were not things I did. I could fake it well enough but the effort left me feeling thin afterwards. We grabbed our coats and headed out across the quad to the next building.
My last school had been nothing like this. Forks was tiny compared to the endless suburban sprawl of Phoenix, and this school seemed like a diminutive collection of brick huts compared to the impassive majesty of my previous educational gristmill. The matching numbered buildings here were cute to look at, but the buildings themselves were cold and damp. I had thought it would be just another school, but nothing felt familiar at all.
I was used to being invisible and uninteresting, but I was big news here. I guess Forks itself was bland and uneventful on a level far beyond what I'd been used to. I'd had a quiet High School career; I was too busy being a real fucking adult and dealing with grocery shopping and making sure all the bills got paid. I was so seriously dull that my two best friends were my scatterbrained mother, Renée, and my childhood friend, Jacob Black, who lived right near Forks anyway. I'd never really been a teen before. I'd never had a chance.
We got to the Biology classroom right before the bell rang and Angela went over to her table to talk to her lab partner. I went to the teacher and introduced myself as Bella and had him sign my sheet from the office that I'd been given at the start of the day. Mr. Banner simply gave me a textbook and told me to find a seat.
I'd been doing pretty well with avoiding big introductions today. Only the Trigonometry teacher so far had made a big fuss about calling me Isabella and making me introduce myself to the class. As if me being a blushing stuttering mess at the front of the room was any decent way to let people know who I was.
I turned around to find that all the desks were full. Except for the one with Edward Cullen staring straight ahead like a goddamn Greek statue.
"You've got to be kidding me," I muttered under my breath, and his black eyes flicked towards me. This should be interesting at least. Maybe he could tell me what the hell had happened during lunch.
I pulled out my stool next to him at the big lab table and he stiffened suddenly. The stool dragged on the floor with a horrible grating sound. I flushed at the commotion and gingerly sat down.
I turned to introduce myself and pulled up short. His once noble features were contorted with ugly white hot rage. Tendons taut, his eyes tiny furious abysses of hate, full lips pulled back in a ghoulish scowl. Comical horrifying rage. Because of-fucking-course that's how my day was going to play out.
Author's Note: Originally I only started doing chapter notes as of Chapter 9, but since these notes are generally well received and since I'm going back and doing some light editing anyway, I might as well add some extra notes now.
The chapter title comes from one of the tracks from Silent Hill 3, which is no coincidence. This is a story that wears its influences on its sleeve and that's the same reason that chapter 3 has a song title from Twin Peaks. Most often I write the chapter first and then pick the title, but in this case I went in with the certainty that I wanted this song about intertwining love and stress to kick things off.
The chapter titles are something of a game but the easiest way to imagine them is as something like a mixed tape that Bella could have conceivably put together from music she had access to. A full list of the tracks is available on YouTube and can be found with a bit of googling.
The incident that happens here, Jasper nearly lashing out in the lunch room, is canon to Midnight Sun, though in that case he only focuses on the girl near the table, Whitney, instead of fixating on Bella as well. I'm absolutely tickled by the implied image of Bella bashing Jasper in the side of the head with an apple, mealy red delicious pulp clinging to his ear and slushing into his hair.