This was the time of day when I most wished I were able to sleep.

High school.

Or was purgatory the right word? If there were any way to atone for my sins, this ought to count toward the tally in some measure. The tedium was not something I grew used to; every day seemed more impossibly monotonous than the last.

Perhaps this could even be considered my form of sleep—if sleep was defined as the inert state between active periods.

I stared at the cracks running through the plaster in the far corner of the cafeteria, imagining patterns into them that were not there. It was one way to tune out the voices that babbled like the gush of a river inside my head.

Several hundred of these voices I ignored out of boredom.

When it came to the human mind, I'd heard it all before and then some. Today, all thoughts were consumed with the trivial drama of a new addition to the small student body. It took so little to work them up. I'd seen the new face repeated in thought after thought from every angle. Just an ordinary human boy. The excitement over his arrival was tiresomely predictable—it was the same reaction as one would get from flashing a shiny object at a group of toddlers. Half the obsessive females were already imagining themselves infatuated with him, just because he was something new to look at. I tried harder to tune them out.

Only four voices did I block out of courtesy rather than distaste: my family, my two brothers and two sisters, who were so used to the lack of privacy in my presence that they rarely worried about it. I gave them what I could. I tried not to listen if I could help it.

Try as I may, still... I knew.

Royal was thinking, as usual, about himself—his mind was a stagnant pool with few surprises. He'd caught sight of his profile in the reflection off someone's glasses, and he was mulling over his own perfection. No one else's hair was closer to true gold, no one else's physique was quite so muscular, no one else's face was so flawless and symmetrical. He didn't compare himself to the humans here; that juxtaposition would have been laughable, absurd. He thought of others like us, none of them his equal.

Eleanor's usually carefree expression was crumpled with frustration. Even now, she ran one hand through her ebony curls, twisting the hair into her fist. Still fuming over the wrestling match she'd lost to Jessamine during the night. It would take all her limited patience to make it to the end of the school day to orchestrate a rematch. Hearing Eleanor's thoughts never felt intrusive, because she never thought one thing that she would not say aloud or put into action. Perhaps I only felt guilty reading the others' minds because I knew there were things inside that they wouldn't want me to know. If Royal's mind was a stagnant pool, then Eleanor's was a lake with no shadows, glass clear.

And Jessamine was... suffering. I suppressed a sigh.

Edythe. Archie called my name in his head and had my attention at once.

It was just the same as having my name called aloud. I was glad my given name had fallen out of style in the last few decades—it had been annoying in the past; anytime anyone thought of any Edythe, my head would turn automatically.

My head didn't turn now. Archie and I were good at these private conversations. It was rare that anyone caught us. I kept my eyes on the lines in the plaster.

How is she holding up? he asked me.

I frowned, just a small change in the set of my mouth. Nothing that would tip the others off. I could easily be frowning out of boredom.

Jessamine had been still for too long. She wasn't performing human ticks the way we all must, constantly in motion so as not to stand out, like Eleanor pulling at her hair, Royal crossing his ankles first one way then the next, Archie tapping his toes against the linoleum, or me, moving my head to stare at different patterns in the wall. Jessamine looked paralyzed, her lean form ramrod straight, even her honey hair seeming not to react to the air wafting from the vents.

Archie's mental tone was alarmed now, and I saw in his mind that he was watching Jessamine in his peripheral vision. Is there any danger? he searched ahead into the immediate future, skimming through visions of monotony for the source behind my frown. Even as he did so, he remembered to tuck one tiny fist under his sharp chin and blink regularly. He brushed a tuft of his short, jagged black hair out of his eyes.

I turned my head slowly to the left, as if looking at the bricks of the wall, sighed, and then turned to the right, back to the cracks in the ceiling. The others would assume I was playing human. Only Archie knew I was shaking my head.

He relaxed. Let me know if it gets too bad.

I moved only my eyes, up to the ceiling above, and back down.

Thanks for doing this.

I was glad I couldn't answer him aloud. What would I say? My pleasure? It was hardly that. I didn't enjoy tuning in to Jessamine's struggles. Was it really necessary to experiment this way? Wouldn't the safer path be to just admit that she might never be able to handle her thirst as well as the rest of us could, and not push her limits? Why flirt with disaster?

It had been two weeks since our last hunting trip. That was not an immensely difficult time span for the rest of us. A little uncomfortable occasionally—if a human walked too close, if the wind blew the wrong way. But humans rarely walked too close. Their instincts told them what their conscious minds would never understand: We were a danger that must be avoided.

Jessamine was very dangerous right now.

It did not happen often, but every now and then I would be struck by the obliviousness of the humans around us. We were all so accustomed to it, we always expected it, but occasionally it seemed more glaring than usual. None of them noticed us here, lounging at the battered cafeteria table, though an ambush of tigers sprawled in our places would be less lethal than we were. All they saw were five odd-looking people, close enough to human to pass. It was hard to imagine surviving with senses so incredibly dull.

At that moment, a small boy paused at the end of the closest table to ours, stopping to talk to a friend. He tossed his shaggy hair, combing his fingers through it. The heaters blew his scent in our direction. I was used to the way that scent made me feel—the dry ache in my throat, the hollow yearn in my stomach, the automatic tightening of my muscles, the excess flow of venom in my mouth.

This was all quite normal, usually easy to ignore. It was harder just now, with the reactions stronger, doubled, as I monitored Jessamine.

Jessamine was letting her imagination get away from her. She was picturing it—picturing herself getting up from her seat next to Archie and going to stand beside the boy. Thinking of leaning down and in, as if she were going to whisper in his ear, and letting her lips touch the arch of his throat. Imagining how the hot flow of his pulse beneath the weak barrier of his skin would feel under her mouth...

I kicked her chair.

She met my gaze, her black eyes resentful for a second, and then looked down. I could hear shame and rebellion war in her head.

"Sorry," Jessamine muttered.

I shrugged.

"You weren't going to do anything," Archie murmured to her, soothing her mortification. "I could see that."

I fought back the frown that would give his lie away. We had to stick together, Archie and I. It wasn't easy, being the freaks among those who were already freaks. We protected each other's secrets.

"It helps a little if you think of them as people," Archie suggested, his high, musical voice racing too fast for human ears to understand, if any had been close enough to hear. "His name is William. He has a baby brother he adores. His father invited Earnest to that Superbowl party, do you remember?"

"I know who he is," Jessamine said curtly. She turned away to stare out one of the small windows that were spaced just under the eaves around the long room. Her tone ended the conversation.

She would have to hunt tonight. It was ridiculous to take risks like this, trying to test her strength, to build her endurance. Jessamine should just accept her limitations and work within them.

Archie sighed silently and stood, taking his tray of food—his prop, as it were—with his and leaving her alone. He knew when she'd had enough of his encouragement. Though Royal and Eleanor were more flagrant about their relationship, it was Archie and Jessamine who knew each other's every need as well as their own. As if they could read minds, too—but only each other's.

Edythe.

Reflex reaction. I turned to the sound of my name being called, though it wasn't being called, just thought.

My eyes locked for half a second with a pair of large, sky-blue human eyes set in a pale, narrow face. I knew the face, though I'd never seen it myself before this moment. It had been foremost in every human head today. The new student, Beaufort Swan. Son of the town's chief of police, brought to live here by some new custody situation. Beau. He'd corrected everyone who'd used his full name.

I looked away, bored. It took me a second to realize that he had not been the one to think my name.

Of course he's already checking out the Cullens, I heard the first thought continue.

Now I recognized the "voice."

Jeremy Stanley—it had been a while since he'd bothered me with his internal chatter. What a relief it had been when he'd gotten over his misplaced fixation. It used to be nearly impossible to escape his constant, ridiculous daydreams. I'd wished, at the time, that I could explain to him exactly what would have happened if my lips, and the teeth behind them, had gotten anywhere near him. That would have silenced those annoying fantasies. The thought of his reaction almost made me smile.

Like it will do him any good, Jeremy went on. He's honestly kind of boring. I don't know why Erica is staring so much... or McKayla.

He flinched mentally on the latter name. His new obsession, the generically popular McKayla Newton, was completely oblivious to him. Apparently, she was not as oblivious to the new boy. Another child reaching for the shiny object. This put a mean edge to Jeremy's thoughts, though he was outwardly cordial to the newcomer as he explained to his the commonly held knowledge about my family. The new student must have asked about us.

This is the most McKayla has talked to me in months, though, Jeremy thought smugly. Maybe I should hang around this new kid for a while. I'll bet she will want to ask me what he's—

I tried to block the inane chatter out of my head before the petty and the trivial could drive me mad.

"Jeremy Stanley is giving the new Swan boy all the dirty laundry on the Cullen clan," I murmured to Eleanor as a distraction.

She chuckled under her breath. I hope he's making it good, she thought.

"Rather unimaginative, actually. Just the barest hint of scandal. Not an ounce of horror. I'm a little disappointed."

And the new boy? Is he disappointed in the gossip as well?

I listened to hear what this new boy, Beau, thought of Jeremy's story. What did he see when he looked at the strange, chalky-skinned family that was universally avoided?

It was my responsibility to know his reaction. I acted as a lookout, for lack of a better word, for my family. To protect us. If anyone ever grew suspicious, I could give us early warning and an easy retreat. It happened occasionally—some human with an active imagination would see in us the characters of a book or a movie. Usually they got it wrong, but it was better to move on somewhere new than to risk scrutiny. Rarely, extremely rarely, someone would guess right. We didn't give them a chance to test their hypothesis. We simply disappeared, to become no more than a frightening memory.

That hadn't happened for decades.

I heard nothing, though I listened close beside where Jeremy's frivolous internal monologue continued to gush. It was as if there were no one sitting beside him. How peculiar. Had the boy moved? That didn't seem likely, as Jeremy was still babbling at him. I looked up, feeling off-balance. Checking on my extra "hearing"—it wasn't something I ever had to do.

Again, my gaze locked onto those wide blue eyes. He was sitting right where he had been before and looking at us—a natural thing to be doing, I supposed, as Jeremy was still regaling him with the local gossip about the Cullens.

Thinking about us, too, would be natural.

But I couldn't hear a whisper.

Warm, inviting red stained his cheeks as he looked down, away from the embarrassing gaffe of getting caught staring at a stranger. It was good that Jessamine was still gazing out the window. I didn't like to imagine what that easy pooling of blood would do to her control.

The emotions had been as clear on his face as if they were spelled out in words: surprise, as he unknowingly absorbed the signs of the subtle differences between his kind and mine; curiosity, as he listened to Jeremy's tale; and something more... Fascination? It wouldn't be the first time. We were beautiful to them, our intended prey. Then, finally, the embarrassment.

And yet, though his thoughts had been so clear in his odd eyes—odd because of the depth to them—I could hear only silence from the place he was sitting. Just... silence.

I felt a moment of unease.

This was nothing I'd ever encountered. Was there something wrong with me? I felt exactly the same as I always did. Worried, I listened harder.

All the voices I'd been blocking were suddenly shouting in my head.

... wonder what music he likes... maybe I could mention my new CD..., McKayla Newton was thinking, two tables away—focused on Beau Swan.

Look at her staring at him. Isn't it enough that she has half the guys in school waiting for her to... Erica Yorkie's thoughts were caustic, and also revolving around the boy.

... so stupid. You'd think he was famous or something... Even Edythe Cullen staring... Logan Mallory was so jealous that his face, by all rights, should be dark jade in color. And Jeremy, flaunting his new best friend. What a joke... Vitriol continued to spew from the boy's thoughts.

... I bet everyone has asked him that. But I'd like to talk to him. What's something more original? Ashley Dowling mused.

... maybe he'll be in my Spanish..., June Richardson hoped.

... tons left to do tonight! Trig, and the English test. I hope my mom... Allen Weber, a quiet boy whose thoughts were unusually kind, was the only one at the table who wasn't obsessed with this Beau.

I could hear them all, hear every insignificant thing they were thinking as it passed through their minds. But nothing at all from the new student with the deceptively communicative eyes.

And of course, I could hear what the boy said when he spoke to Jeremy. I didn't have to read minds to be able to hear his low, clear voice on the far side of the long room.

"Which one is the girl with the reddish-brown hair?" I heard him ask, sneaking another look at me from the corner of his eye, only to glance quickly away when he saw that I was still staring.

If I'd had time to hope that hearing the sound of his voice would help me pinpoint the tone of his thoughts, I was instantly disappointed. Usually, people's thoughts came to them in a similar pitch to their physical voices. But this quiet, shy voice was unfamiliar, not one of the hundreds of thoughts bouncing around the room, I was sure of that. Entirely new.

Oh, good luck, idiot! Jeremy thought before answering the boy's question. "That's Edythe. She's hot, sure, but don't waste your time. She doesn't go out with anyone. Apparently none of the guys here are good enough for her." He snorted quietly.

I turned my head away to hide my smile. Jeremy and his classmates had no idea how lucky they were that none of them particularly appealed to me.

Beneath the transient humor, I felt a strange impulse, one I did not clearly understand. It had something to do with the vicious edge to Jeremy's thoughts that the new boy was unaware of... I felt the strangest urge to step in between them, to shield Beau Swan from the darker workings of Jeremy's mind. What an odd thing to feel. Trying to ferret out the motivations behind the impulse, I examined the new boy one more time, through Jeremy's eyes now. My staring had attracted too much attention.

Perhaps it was just some long-buried protective instinct—the strong for the weak. Somehow, this boy looked more fragile than his new classmates. His skin was so translucent it was hard to believe it offered him much defense from the outside world. I could see the rhythmic pulse of blood through his veins under the clear, pale membrane... But I should not concentrate on that. I was good at this life I'd chosen, but I was just as thirsty as Jessamine and there was no point in inviting temptation.

There was a faint crease between his eyebrows that he seemed unaware of.

It was unbelievably frustrating! I could easily see that it was a strain for him to sit there, to make conversation with strangers, to be the center of attention. I could sense his shyness from the way he held his slim frame, slightly hunched, as if he was expecting a rebuff at any moment. And yet I could only see, could only sense, could only imagine. There was nothing but silence from the very unexceptional human boy. I could hear nothing. Why?

"Shall we?" Royal murmured, interrupting my focus.

I turned my mind away from the boy with a sense of relief. I didn't want to continue to fail at this—failure was a rare thing for me, and even more irritating than it was uncommon. I didn't want to develop any interest in his hidden thoughts simply because they were hidden. No doubt when I did decipher them—and I would find a way to do so—they would be just as petty and trivial as any human's. Not worth the effort I would expend to reach them.

"So, is the new one afraid of us yet?" Eleanor asked, still waiting for my response to her earlier question.

I shrugged. She wasn't interested enough to press for more information.

We got up from the table and walked out of the cafeteria.

Eleanor, Royal, and Jessamine were pretending to be seniors; they left for their classes. I was playing a younger role than they. I headed off for my junior-level Biology lesson, preparing my mind for the tedium. It was doubtful Mrs. Banner, a woman of no more than average intellect, would manage to pull out anything in her lecture that would surprise someone holding two medical degrees.

In the classroom, I settled into my chair and let my books—props, again; they held nothing I didn't already know—spill across the table. I was the only student who had a table to herself. The humans weren't smart enough to know that they feared me, but their innate survival instincts were enough to keep them away.

The room slowly filled as they trickled in from lunch. I leaned back in my chair and waited for the time to pass. Again, I wished I were able to sleep.

Because I'd been thinking about the new boy, when Allen Weber escorted him through the door, his name intruded on my attention.

Beau seems just as quiet as me. I'll bet today is really hard for him. I wish I could say something... but it would probably just sound stupid.

Yes! McKayla Newton thought, turning in her seat to watch the boys enter.

Still, from the place where Beau Swan stood, nothing. The empty space where his thoughts should be vexed and unnerved me.

What if it all went away? What if this was just the first symptom of some kind of mental decline?

I'd often wished that I could escape the cacophony. That I could be normal—as far as that was possible for me. But now I felt panicked at the thought. Who would I be without what I could do? I'd never heard of such a thing. I would see if Carine had.

The boy walked down the aisle beside me, headed to the teacher's desk. Poor boy; the seat next to me was the only one available. Automatically, I cleared what would be his side of the table, shoving my books into a pile. I doubted he would feel very comfortable there. He was in for a long semester—in this class, at least. Perhaps, though, sitting beside him, I'd be able to flush out his thoughts' hiding place... not that I'd ever needed close proximity before. Not that I would find anything worth listening to.

Beau Swan walked into the flow of heated air that blew toward me from the vent.

His scent hit me like a battering ram, like an exploding grenade. There was no image violent enough to encompass the force of what happened to me in that moment.

Instantly, I was transformed. I was nothing close to the human I'd once been. No trace of the shreds of humanity I'd managed to cloak myself in over the years remained.

I was a predator. He was my prey. There was nothing else in the whole world but that truth.

There was no room full of witnesses—they were already collateral damage in my mind. The mystery of his thoughts was forgotten. His thoughts meant nothing, for he would not go on thinking them much longer.

I was a vampire, and he had the sweetest blood I'd smelled in more than eighty years.

I hadn't imagined that such a scent could exist. If I'd known it did, I would have gone searching for it long ago. I would have scoured the planet for him. I could imagine the taste...

Thirst burned through my throat like fire. My mouth felt baked and desiccated, and the fresh flow of venom did nothing to dispel that sensation. My stomach twisted with the hunger that was an echo of the thirst. My muscles coiled to spring.

Not a full second had passed. He was still taking the same step that had put him downwind from me.

As his foot touched the ground, his eyes slid toward me, a movement he clearly meant to be stealthy. His gaze met mine, and I saw myself reflected in the mirror of his eyes.

The shock of the face I saw there saved his life for a few thorny moments.

He didn't make it easier. When he processed the expression on my face, blood flooded his cheeks again, turning his skin the most delicious color I'd ever seen. The scent was a thick haze in my brain. I could barely think through it. My instincts raged, resisting control, incoherent.

He walked more quickly now, as if he understood the need to escape. His haste made him clumsy—he tripped and stumbled forward, almost falling into the boy seated in front of me. Vulnerable, weak. Even more than usual for a human.

I tried to focus on the face I'd seen in his eyes, a face I recognized with revulsion. The face of the monster inside me—the face I'd beaten back with decades of effort and uncompromising discipline. How easily it sprang to the surface now!

The scent swirled around me again, scattering my thoughts and nearly propelling me out of my seat.

No.

My hand gripped under the edge of the table as I tried to hold myself in my chair. The wood was not up to the task. My hand crushed through the strut and came away with a palmful of splintered pulp, leaving the shape of my fingers carved into the remaining wood.

Destroy evidence. That was a fundamental rule. I quickly pulverized the edges of the shape with my fingertips, leaving nothing but a ragged hole and a pile of shavings on the floor, which I scattered with my foot.

Destroy evidence. Collateral damage...

I knew what had to happen now. The boy would have to come sit beside me, and I would have to kill him.

The innocent bystanders in this classroom, eighteen other children and one woman, could not be allowed to leave, having seen what they would soon see.

I flinched at the thought of what I must do. Even at my very worst, I had never committed this kind of atrocity. I had never killed innocents. And now I planned to slaughter twenty of them at once.

The face of the monster in my reflection mocked me.

Even as part of me shuddered away from her, another part was planning what would happen next.

If I killed the boy first, I would have only fifteen or twenty seconds with him before the humans in the room reacted. Maybe a little longer if at first they did not realize what I was doing. He would not have time to scream or feel pain; I would not kill him cruelly. That much I could give this stranger with his horribly desirable blood.

But then I would have to stop them from escaping. I wouldn't have to worry about the windows, too high up and small to provide an escape for anyone. Just the door—block that and they were trapped.

It would be slower and more difficult, trying to take them all down when they were panicked and scrambling, moving in chaos. Not impossible, but there would be much more noise. Time for lots of screaming. Someone would hear... and I'd be forced to kill even more innocents in this black hour.

And his blood would cool while I murdered the others.

The scent punished me, closing my throat with dry aching...

So the witnesses first, then.

I mapped it out in my head. I was in the middle of the room, the row farthest from the front. I would take my right side first. I could snap four or five of their necks per second, I estimated. It would not be noisy. The right side would be the lucky side; they would not see me coming. Moving around the front and back down the left side, it would take me, at most, five seconds to end every life in this room.

Long enough for Beau Swan to see, briefly, what was coming for him. Long enough for him to feel fear. Long enough, maybe, if shock didn't freeze him in place, for him to work up a scream. One soft scream that would not bring anyone running.

I took a deep breath, and the scent was a fire that raced through my dry veins, burning out from my chest to consume every better impulse that I was capable of.

He was just turning now. In a few seconds, he would sit down inches away from me.

The monster in my head exulted.

Someone slammed shut a folder on my left. I didn't look up to see which of the doomed humans it was, but the motion sent a wave of ordinary, unscented air wafting across my face.

For one short second, I was able to think clearly. In that precious instant, I saw two faces in my head, side by side.

One was mine, or rather had been: the red-eyed monster that had killed so many people that I'd stopped counting. Rationalized, justified murders. I had been a killer of killers, a killer of other, less powerful monsters. It was a god complex, I acknowledged that—deciding who deserved a death sentence. It was a compromise with myself. I had fed on human blood, but only by the loosest definition. My victims were, in their various dark pastimes, barely more human than I was.

The other face was Carine's.

There was no resemblance between the two faces. They were bright day and blackest night.

There was no reason for a resemblance to exist. Carine was not my mother in the basic biological sense. We shared no common features. The similarity in our coloring was a product of what we were; every vampire was corpse-pale. The similarity in the color of our eyes was another matter—a reflection of a mutual choice.

And yet, though there was no basis for a resemblance, I'd imagined that my face had begun to reflect her, to an extent, in the last seventy-odd years that I had embraced her choice and followed in her steps. My features had not changed, but it seemed to me as though some of her wisdom had marked my expression, a little of her compassion could be traced in the set of my mouth, and hints of her patience were evident on my brow.

All those tiny improvements were lost in the monster's face. In a few moments, there would be nothing left in me that would reflect the years I'd spent with my creator, my mentor, my mother in all the ways that counted. My eyes would glow red as a devil's; all likeness would be lost forever.

In my head, Carine's kind eyes did not judge me. I knew that she would forgive me for this horrible act. Because she loved me. Because she thought I was better than I was.

Beau Swan sat down in the chair next to me, his movements stiff and awkward—no doubt with fear—and the scent of his blood bloomed in an inescapable cloud around me.

I would prove my mother wrong about me. The misery of this fact hurt almost as much as the fire in my throat.

I leaned away from him in revulsion—disgusted by the monster aching to take him.

Why did he have to come here? Why did he have to exist? Why did he have to ruin the little peace I had in this nonlife of mine? Why had this aggravating human ever been born? He would ruin me.

I turned my face away from his as a sudden fierce, irrational hatred washed through me.

I didn't want to be the monster! I didn't want to kill this roomful of harmless children! I didn't want to lose everything I'd gained in a lifetime of sacrifice and denial!

I wouldn't.

He couldn't make me.

The scent was the problem, the hideously appealing scent of his blood. If there was only some way to resist... if only another gust of fresh air could clear my head.

No, there was no helpful breeze. But I didn't have to breathe.

I stopped the flow of air through my lungs. The relief was instantaneous, but incomplete. I still had the memory of the scent in my head, the taste of it on the back of my tongue. I wouldn't be able to resist even that for long.

Every life in this room was in danger while he and I were in it together. I should run. I wanted to run, to get away from the heat of him next to me, and the punishing pain of the burning, but I wasn't one hundred percent sure that if I unlocked my muscles to move, even just to stand, I wouldn't lash out and commit the slaughter I'd already planned.

But perhaps I could resist for an hour. Would one hour be enough time to gain control to move without striking? I doubted, then forced myself to commit. I would make it enough. Just enough time to get out of this room full of victims, victims that perhaps didn't have to be victims. If I could resist for one short hour.

It was an uncomfortable feeling, not breathing. My body did not need oxygen, but it went against my instincts. I relied on scent more than my other senses in times of stress. It led the way in the hunt; it was the first warning in case of danger. I did not often come across something as dangerous as I was, but self-preservation was just as strong in my kind as it was in the average human.

Uncomfortable, but manageable. More bearable than smelling him and not sinking my teeth through that fine, thin, see-through skin to the hot, wet, pulsing—

An hour! Just one hour. I must not think of the scent, the taste.

I kept my hair between us, leaning forward so that it spilled across my folder. I couldn't see his face to try to read the emotions in his clear, deep eyes. Was he trying to hide those eyes from me? Out of fear? Shyness? To keep his secrets?

My former irritation at being stymied by his soundless thoughts was weak and pale in comparison to the need—and the hate—that possessed me now. For I hated this frail boy beside me, hated him with all the fervor with which I clung to my former self, my love of my family, my dreams of being something better than what I was. Hating him, hating how he made me feel—it helped a little. Yes, the irritation I'd felt before was weak, but it, too, helped a little. I clung to any thought that distracted me from imagining what he would taste like...

Hate and irritation. Impatience. Would the hour never pass?

And when the hour ended... he would walk out of this room. And I would do what?

If I could control the monster, make her see that the delay would be worth it... I could introduce myself. Hello, my name is Edythe Cullen. May I walk you to your next class?

He would say yes. It would be the polite thing to do. Even already fearing me, as I was sure he did, he would follow convention and walk beside me. It should be easy enough to lead him in the wrong direction. A spur of the forest reached out like a finger to touch the back corner of the parking lot. I could tell him I'd forgotten a book in my car...

Would anyone notice that I was the last person he'd been seen with? It was raining, as usual. Two dark raincoats heading in the wrong direction wouldn't pique too much interest or give me away.

Except that I was not the only student who was aware of him today—though no one was as blisteringly aware as I. McKayla Newton, in particular, was conscious of every shift in his weight as he fidgeted in his chair—he was uncomfortable so close to me, just as anyone would be, just as I'd expected before his scent had destroyed all charitable concern. McKayla Newton would notice if he left the classroom with me.

If I could last an hour, could I last two?

I flinched at the pain of the burning.

He would go home to an empty house. Police Chief Swan worked an eight-hour day. I knew his house, as I knew every house in the tiny town. His home was nestled right up against thick woods, with no close neighbors. Even had he time to scream, which he would not, there would be no one to hear.

That would be the responsible way to deal with this. I'd gone more than seven decades without human blood. If I held my breath, I could last two hours. And when I had him alone, there would be no chance of anyone else getting hurt. And no reason to rush through the experience, the monster in my head agreed.

It was sophistry to think that by saving the nineteen humans in this room with effort and patience, I would be less of a monster when I killed this innocent boy.

Though I hated him, I was absolutely aware that my hatred was unjust. I knew that what I really hated was myself. And I would hate us both so much more when he was dead.

I made it through the hour in this way—imagining the best ways to kill him. I tried to avoid imagining the actual act. That might be too much for me. So I planned strategy and nothing more.

Once, toward the very end, I peeked over at him through my curtain of hair. I could feel the unjustified hatred burning out of me as I met his gaze—see the reflection of it in his frightened eyes. Blood painted his cheek before I could look away again, and I was nearly undone.

But the bell rang. And we—how cliché—were saved. He, from death. I, for just a short time, from being the nightmarish creature I feared and loathed.

Now I had to move.

Even focusing all my attention on the simplest of actions, I couldn't walk as slowly as I should; I darted from the room. If anyone had been looking, they might have suspected that there was something not right about my exit. No one was paying attention to me; all thoughts still swirled around the boy who was condemned to die in little more than an hour's time.

I hid in my car.

I didn't like to think of myself as having to hide. How cowardly that sounded. But I didn't have enough discipline left to be around humans now. Focusing so much of my efforts on not killing one of them left me no resources to resist the others. What a waste that would be. If I were to give in to the monster, I might as well make it worth the defeat.

I played a CD that usually calmed me, but it did little for me now. No, what helped most was the cool, wet air that drifted with the light rain through my open windows. Though I could remember the scent of Beau Swan's blood with perfect clarity, inhaling this clean air was like washing out the inside of my body from its infection.

I was sane again. I could think again. And I could fight again. I could fight what I didn't want to be.

I didn't have to go to his home. I didn't have to kill him. Obviously, I was a rational, thinking creature, and I had a choice. There was always a choice.

It hadn't felt that way in the classroom... but I was away from him now.

I didn't have to disappoint my mother. I didn't have to cause my father stress, worry... pain. Yes, it would hurt my adopted father, too. And he was so gentle, so tender and loving. Causing someone like Earnest pain was truly inexcusable.

Perhaps, if I avoided this boy very, very carefully, there was no need for my life to change. I had things ordered the way I liked them. Why should I let some aggravating and delicious nobody ruin that?

How ironic that I'd wanted to protect this human boy from the paltry, toothless threat of Jeremy Stanley's snide thoughts. I was the last person who would ever stand as a protector for Beaufort Swan. He would never need protection from anything more than he needed it from me.

Where was Archie? I suddenly wondered. Hadn't he seen me killing the Swan boy in a multitude of ways? Why hadn't he come to my aid—to stop me or help me clean up the evidence, whichever? Was he so absorbed with watching for trouble with Jessamine that he'd missed this much more horrific possibility? Or was I stronger than I thought? Would I really not have done anything to the boy?

No. I knew that wasn't true. Archie must be concentrating vary hard on Jessamine.

I searched in the direction I knew my brother would be, in the small building used for English classes. It did not take me long to locate his familiar "voice." And I was right. His every thought was turned to Jessamine, watching her small choices with minute scrutiny.

I wished I could ask his advice, but at the same time, I was glad he didn't know what I was capable of. I felt a new burn through my body—the burn of shame. I didn't want any of them to know.

If I could avoid Beau Swan, if I could manage not to kill him—even as I thought that, the monster writhed and gnashed her teeth in frustration—then no one would have to know. If I could keep away from his scent...

There was no reason I shouldn't try, at least. Make a good choice. Try to be what Carine thought I was.

The last hour of school was almost over. I decided to put my new plan into action at once. Better than sitting here in the parking lot, where he might pass me and ruin my attempt. Again, I felt the unjust hatred for the boy.

I walked swiftly—a little too swiftly, but there were no witnesses—across the tiny campus to the office.

It was empty except for the receptionist, who didn't notice my silent entrance.

"Mr. Cope?"

The man with the red hair looked up and startled. It always caught them off guard, the little markers they didn't understand, no matter how many times they'd seen one of us before.

"Oh," he gasped, a little flustered. He smoothed his shirt. Silly, he thought to himself. She's almost young enough to be my daughter. "Hello, Edythe. What can I do for you?" his eyes blinked rapidly behind his thick glasses.

Uncomfortable. But I knew how to be charming when I wanted to be. It was easy, since I was able to know instantly how any tone or gesture was taken.

I leaned forward, meeting his gaze as if I were staring deep into his flat brown eyes. His thoughts were already in a flutter. This should be simple.

"I was wondering if you could help me with my schedule," I said in the soft voice I reserved for not scaring humans.

I heard the tempo of his heart increase.

"Of course, Edythe. How can I help?" Too young, too young, he chanted to himself. Wrong, of course. I was older than his grandmother.

"I was wondering if I could move from my Biology class to a senior-level science. Physics, perhaps?"

"It there a problem with Mrs. Banner, Edythe?"

"Not at all, it's just that I've already studied this material..."

"In that accelerated school you all went to in Alaska. Right." His thin lips pursed as he considered this. They should all be in college. I've heard the teachers complain. Perfect 4.0s, never a hesitation with a response, never a wrong answer on a test—like they've found some way to cheat in every subject. Mrs. Varner would rather believe that anyone was cheating in Trig than think a student was smarter than her. I'll bet their father tutors them... "Actually, Edythe, Physics is pretty much full right now. Mrs. Banner hates to have more than twenty-five students in a class—"

"I wouldn't be any trouble."

Of course not. Not a perfect Cullen. "I know that, Edythe. But there just aren't enough seats as it is..."

"Could I drop the class, then? I could use the period for independent study."

"Drop Biology?" His mouth fell open. That's crazy. How hard is it to sit through a subject you already know? There must be a problem with Mrs. Banner. "You won't have enough credits to graduate."

"I'll catch up next year."

"Maybe you should talk to your parents about that."

The door opened behind me, but whoever it was did not think of me, so I ignored the arrival and concentrated on Mr. Cope. I leaned slightly closer and stared as if I was gazing more deeply into his eyes. This would work better if they were gold today instead of black. The blackness frightened people, as it should.

My miscalculation affected the man. He flinched back, confused by his conflicting instincts.

"Please, Mr. Cope?" I murmured, my voice as smooth and compelling as it could be, and his momentary aversion eased. "Isn't there some other section I could switch to? I'm sure there has to be an open slot somewhere? Sixth-hour Biology can't be the only option..."

I smiled at him, careful not to flash my teeth so widely that it would scare him again, letting the expression soften my face.

His heart drummed faster. Too young, he reminded himself frantically. "Well, maybe I could talk to Rhonda—I mean Mrs. Banner. I could see if—"

A second was all it took to change everything: the atmosphere in the room, my mission here, the reason I leaned toward the red-haired man... What had been for one purpose was now for another.

A second was all it took for Sean Wells to enter the room, place a signed tardy slip in the basket by the door, and hurry out again, in a rush to be away from school. A sudden gust of wind through the open door crashed into me, and I realized why that first person through the door had not interrupted me with his thoughts.

I turned, though I did not need to make sure.

Beau Swan stood with his back pressed to the wall beside the door, a piece of paper clutched in his hands. His eyes were even larger than before as he took in my ferocious, inhuman glare.

The smell of his blood saturated every particle of air in the tiny, hot room. My throat burst into flames.

The monster glared back at me from the mirror of his eyes again, a mask of evil.

My hand hesitated in the air above the counter. I would not have to look back in order to reach across it and slam Mr. Cope's head into his desk with enough force to kill him. Two lives rather than twenty. A trade.

The monster waited anxiously, hungrily, for me to do it.

But there was always a choice—there had to be.

I cut off the motion of my lungs and fixed Carine's face in front of my eyes. I turned back to face Mr. Cope and heard his internal surprise at the change in my expression. He shrank away from me, but his fear did not form into coherent words.

Using all the control I'd mastered in my decades of self-denial, I made my voice even and smooth. There was just enough air left in my lungs to speak once more, rushing through the words.

"Never mind, then. I can see that it's impossible. Thank you so much for your help."

I spun and launched myself from the room, trying not to feel the warm-blooded heat of the boy's body as I passed within inches of it.

I didn't stop until I was in my car, moving too fast the entire way there. Most of the humans had cleared out already, so there weren't a lot of witnesses. I heard a sophomore, D. J. Garrett, notice and then disregard...

Where did Cullen come from? It was like she just came out of thin air... There I go, with the imagination again. Mom always says...

When I slid into my Volvo, the others were already there. I tried to control my breathing, but I was gasping at the fresh air as if I'd been suffocated.

"Edythe?" Archie asked, alarm in his voice.

I just shook my head at him.

"What the hell happened to you?" Eleanor demanded, distracted for the moment from the fact that Jessamine was not in the mood for her rematch.

Instead of answering, I threw the car into reverse. I had to get out of this lot before Beau Swan could follow me here, too. My own personal demon, tormenting me... I swung the car around and accelerated. I hit forty before I was out of the parking lot. On the road, I hit seventy before I made the corner.

Without looking, I knew that Eleanor, Royal, and Jessamine had all turned to stare at Archie. He shrugged. He couldn't see what had passed, only what was coming.

He looked ahead for me now. We both processed what he saw in his head, and we were both surprised.

"You're leaving?" he whispered.

The others stared at me now.

"Am I?" I snarled through my teeth.

He saw it then, as my resolve wavered and another choice spun my future in a darker direction.

"Oh."

Beau Swan, dead. My eyes, glowing crimson with fresh blood. The search that would follow. The careful time we would wait before it was safe for us to pull out of Forks and start again...

"Oh," he said again. The picture grew more specific. I saw the inside of Chief Swan's house for the first time, saw Beau in a small kitchen with yellow cupboards, his back to me as I stalked him from the shadows, let the scent pull me toward him...

"Stop!" I groaned, not able to bear more.

"Sorry," he whispered.

The monster rejoiced.

And the vision in his head shifted again. An empty highway at night, the trees beside it coated in snow, flashing by at almost two hundred miles per hour.

"I'll miss you," he said. "No matter how short a time you're gone."

Eleanor and Royal exchanged an apprehensive glance.

We were almost to the turnoff onto the long drive that led to our home.

"Drop us here," Archie instructed. "You should tell Carine yourself."

I nodded, and the car squealed to a sudden stop.

Eleanor, Royal, and Jessamine got out in silence; they would make Archie explain when I was gone. Archie touched my shoulder.

"You will do the right thing," he murmured. Not a vision this time—an order. "He's Charlie Swan's only family. It would kill him, too."

"Yes," I said, agreeing only with the last part.

He slid out to join the others, his eyebrows pulling together in anxiety. They melted into the woods, out of sight before I could turn the car around.

I knew the visions in Archie's head would be flashing from dark to bright like a strobe light as I sped back to Forks doing ninety. I wasn't sure where I was going. To say goodbye to my mother? Or to embrace the monster inside me? The road flew away beneath my tires.