1. Maybe a Mystery
Alice Cullen was transfixed.
She was surrounded by hundreds of American teenagers, filling the cafeteria with living noise and movement. But her hyper-tuned senses cut through all the matter, to the quietest corner of the room, and the girl who sat alone.
Her own name was being spoken close-by, but Alice pushed the information aside, her mind absorbed.
Pain flared through her ear, and the spell was broken. Alice's head snapped around, searching for the culprit. Only her brother Edward and sister Rosalie sat at the table with her. Rose was busy admiring her own manicure.
Alice's eyes narrowed on her brother. "Did you just flick my ear?"
"It's rude to stare at people," he said.
"Don't do that," Alice said as she rubbed the sting out of her ear. "And I'm not imagining it, Edward. There's something really… wrong about that girl."
That girl. Hers was one of the few faces turned away from them in a sea of prying eyes.
The Cullen siblings had only been at this school half a day and Alice was sick of the stares already. A town this small, it would take months for the student body to lose interest in her family.
Edward bullied his bagel around on his tray with a plastic fork.
For appearances sake, Alice plucked an apple from her own lunch tray and made a show of rubbing the shine off on her designer jeans. She glanced at the girl again, who didn't seem to be doing much eating either. She had pulled her roast beef sandwich apart, picking the meat out to nibble on and leaving the rest untouched.
"Just humour me," Alice said. "I know you, Edward, you're bored already. It'll be something to do at least. Keep your mind off of, well, this. High school. Again."
He drummed his fingers along the edge of the table, then sighed and leaned back in his seat. "It's all just so soul-destroying isn't it? Fine, tell me, what is it about this girl?"
The girl sat with her back to the corner of the room, her thin shoulders curled inwards, dark hair curtaining off her face. She was bundled up in thick layers and a scarf—not exactly unusual in Washington—but the cafeteria was well heated and most other students had taken their coats and outerwear off before sitting down.
She watched as the girl lifted another piece of meat to her lips and chewed softly.
Alice shivered. "I had English with her, first period. I tried to get a glimpse of her future. I'm not sure why—bored, I guess. And she just seemed so ... I didn't mean to ..."
Edward's brow furrowed. "Alice, what happened?"
"I don't know," she said. "It was barely comprehensible. Like my visions were being torn apart. I can tell you it was bad though. It was really bad, Edward."
Edward started, "That sounds—"
"I know, okay? But I swear I wasn't imagining it. There's something wrong with her." The apple Alice had been rolling against her thigh had turned bruised and squishy. She dropped it onto her tray.
"Obviously," Rosalie said, and Alice startled. She didn't think Rose had even been following their conversation.
"I mean, look at her," Rosalie continued. "Everything is wrong with her. My god, that jacket …"
"That's not exactly what I—" Alice paused, taking in the girl's old, suede Sherpa jacket once more. "Okay, yeah, it's not great."
"Whatever," Rosalie said, rising fluidly from her chair. "Bored now."
She picked up her tray and walked off like the sticky linoleum floor was a fashion runway, drawing most of the stares away with her.
Alice tried not to be too bitter about that.
The 'younger' siblings turned back to one another.
"Well, have you tried again, searching her future?" Edward said. "Just so we're sure it wasn't a once off?"
Alice shook her head. "No. And I don't really want to. I've still got a headache from the first time."
She could tell he was brushing against her thoughts, reliving the experience with her. She helped him, going over the visions again in as much detail as she could. The images were confused, slides of silence interrupted by slashes of violent noise.
Purple flowers—Stairs descending into a concrete room—Glass falling like rain—Laughter around a dining table—The door of a police cruiser slamming shut—Blood on bitumen—Wood splintering—Smoke and embers, rising into a night sky.
Then the rest dissolved into mess.
Edwards forehead was creased. "You're right, you're not imagining it. I'm going to take a look myself. If I experience the same difficulties you did, we'll know we've got something real."
"Edward, I don't think that's a good idea," Alice said.
He was already gone, his eyes focussing on some middle distance as his mind reached across the cafeteria. Alice saw it. She saw the girl stiffen in her seat. Her head lifted, started to turn towards them—
Edward gasped, snatching Alice's attention back to him. His eyes were squeezed shut, hands balled into fists on the tabletop, knuckles white.
Alice lay her hand on his forearm. "Brother?"
"I only brushed against the edge of her mind," he said. "I —I don't know what that was. You're right. Something's wrong with her."
Alice went to look for the girl again, but couldn't find her at the table. She scanned the cafeteria, caught a glimpse of her tan jacket, dark hair whipping behind her as she walked out.
Alice stared after her.
"What did you see?" she said, turning slowly back to her brother.
"Not the mind of your average high school girl, that's for sure," Edward said. "It's hard to explain, Al. It was like, I don't know, I got chased off by something."
"Something ... chased you?"
"Out of her head, yes," he said. "I'll catch Emmett before next period, find out if he's had any run ins with this girl. School this small, who knows? We may even have another class with her."
"And if we do?" Alice asked.
"We introduce ourselves."
Alice dumped her book bag into her locker. She had been using her ability to keep track of Edward over the last period. For a moment, skimming his future, she'd felt her visions split and tear again. A few minutes later it cleared up.
She'd been restless all through Social Studies after that, and Mr Jefferson had called her out on it. She'd appeased him by claiming it was just nerves, her first day in a new school after all. She'd do better.
He'd given her a pass, albeit begrudgingly, and had watched her closely for the rest of class. Too closely. He had watery little eyes.
She heard a boy stop in the hall behind her. His heart-rate spiked as he built up the courage to speak.
The thirst, always there, began burning its way up Alice's throat. She shoved it back down, slammed her locker, and turned to face him.
"Hey," she said, forcing a smile. "Tyler, right?"
His smile was as genuine as it was relieved.
"Yeah-yeah. I was, uh, two seats behind you. I wanted to say, sorry about Jefferson. I guess no one warned you."
"Not a problem," Alice said.
He nodded, kept glancing down at his shoes. "So, what's your next class? I could show you the way?"
Her family always thoroughly scouted out a town before relocating. The Cullens had lived here in Forks once before, several decades ago, before Alice had joined them. A lot can change in that time though. Alice and Edward had memorised Forks' entire layout weeks ago, including the school.
Even if that hadn't been the case, she was confident she could have found her way to the large gymnasium across campus.
"I'm okay," she told him. "Thanks for the offer though."
He tried to hide his disappointment. "Oh, sure. No worries. See you in class tomorrow then?"
Alice smiled. "Sure."
He glanced back only a few times as he walked off.
"New friend?" Edward said from next to her.
"Sneaky today, aren't you? That was Tyler from Social Studies."
"Tyler from Social Studies… Let him down gently?"
She grunted. "How about you?"
He grinned, impossibly sharp teeth glinting under the fluorescent lights. "Oh, you know. Five so far."
"Five?" she said, eyes widening. "You've already had to turn down five girls?"
"Four girls," he corrected. "One boy. He approached me in Government. Very confident."
"And all I've gotten is Tyler from Sosh." She resisted the urge to stamp her foot.
Edward always won. Rose was too intimidating, Emmett too frightening, and Alice was just too weird.
"There, there, Little Freak," Edward soothed. He offered his elbow. "Escort you to gym?"
She grumbled. "Fine."
It had started raining, and they pulled their hoods up as they stepped out of the main building.
"She was in biology," Edward said as they crossed the paved courtyard. "Your girl."
"I know," Alice said. "I saw your future go all squiggly for a few minutes. I wasn't sure if I should ditch class to come check on you. What happened?"
"I said hello. She was … quite rude." He frowned at that. "I did learn some things though. She doesn't appear to know what we are, so that's good. And she seems completely human. She's a sickly-looking thing, and smells a little odd, but that's about it. Oh, and her name's Isabella Swan. I snuck a peek at the teacher's roll."
"What, she didn't introduce herself?" Alice asked.
"No. Like I said, quite rude." Edward paused. "Wait … 'squiggly'?"
Alice huffed. "Well, we haven't exactly established a scientific vernacular for this stuff."
"Still," Edward said.
They glided through the stream of students, all eager to get to their last classes of the day. Freedom was in sight. Edward hummed to himself.
"What's got you so chipper?"
"Oh, just that you were right," he said. "This is less boring than our regular passes through high school."
Alice snorted. "Don't sound so pleased about it. This girl is starting to wig me out. I don't like being blinded. She could be a danger to us."
"I know. Isn't it grand?"
"Okay, we need to get you a girlfriend, Eddie. Something to keep you occupied." Alice's thoughts drifted to Alaska, and a certain strawberry blonde.
Edward cuffed the back of her head, knocking her hood forward over her eyes.
"Tanya's not the only blonde in Alaska you know," he said.
Thoughts of Jasper snagged in her mind.
"You're not alone in missing him," Edward said. "Emmett's gotten so desperate he was begging Esme for a sparring match last week."
"She'd crush him," Alice said. "Anyway, Jazz and I both need the space right now. And I think Alaska's good for him. The Denalis are less … stringent. He wasn't handling cold-turkey very well. Their methods should ease him through it a little better, and I know the girls would never let him actually kill somebody."
The gym was ahead of them. Edward bumped his shoulder against hers and broke off. It was too early for him to start ditching classes. He'd just have to suffer through last period with the rest of them.
Alice was already thinking about how they would bring up the Swan girl with Carlisle and Esme when they got home. This would probably warrant a family meeting.
Dark hair caught her eye as someone reached for the handle of the gym door just ahead of her. A cloying, sweet scent filled her nostrils. Like flowers, just beginning to decompose.
"Hi," Alice said. The girl froze, hand still on the handle, and turned slowly. "You're Isabella Swan, right?"
The girl glanced around, as if she thought Alice might be speaking to someone else, even though she'd addressed her by name.
"Hey," she finally said.
"I wanted to apologise on someone's behalf," Alice said. "I think my brother might have gotten off on the wrong foot with you in your biology class today. He has that effect on people. My name's Alice, by the way."
Isabella had no hood, and the rain had darkened her hair to black, sticking in strands to her forehead. She stared at Alice for a few seconds before glancing around again. "I have to go. In here. To gym."
Alice stepped forward. "Cool, me too. My siblings and I are new in town. Just transferred."
"I know," Isabella said. "Your dad's the new doctor."
Alice beamed. "That's right."
"Well, uh, see you. In class."
"Sure," Alice chirped.
The girl grimaced, then, after a beat, realised she was still blocking the door. Her pale face flushed pink and she tried to pull the handle but the door didn't budge. She pushed instead and hurried inside when it opened.
Alice was still grinning when she followed after her. The interaction had managed to dissolve most of the 'creepy' vibes she had been getting from her. The girl was still a mystery. Maybe a threat. Definitely a dork.