I think I've said that before, but I really mean it this time.
Bella is plus-size. I had like a wayward musing at one point, wondering why Bella hadn't been written to be plus-size in the first place. And the more I thought about it, and the more it was talked about, I realized how much better it worked for Bella's character. Now there's something physical for her to feel awkward about, so her self-doubt around Edward has a deeper meaning.
Edward is a bit OOC. He does not have a good handle on his gift which is a huge burden for him. He is drawn to Bella because he cannot read her mind, and wants to be her friend. He's still going to be a sad, brooding boy around his family and strangers, but he will be a different person around Bella. Because around her, he's comfortable and feels like himself.
There was only one thing that made life in the rainiest region of the Pacific Northwest tolerable. It wasn't the musical pitter-patter of rain, nor the beauty of the dense, green landscapes, nor the ethereal magic of the fog that blanketed the earth.
No. The only thing that made life tolerable was a good cup of coffee. Brewed strong enough to soothe the soul. Served steaming hot to warm the body from the inside out. Mixed with enough vanilla creamer to remove the bitter notes from the drink, as well as the bitterness from the heart that came with another day without sun.
And yet, on my first day of college, it seemed that the world was preventing me from the one thing I needed to get through it. I felt like a stranger in my own kitchen, frantically searching through the cabinets for the coffee pot I knew existed yet could not locate.
After fifteen minutes, I gave up. "Dad! Where's the coffee maker?"
Charlie strolled into our small kitchen, pulling a yellow sweater that matched the color of our cabinets over his white button-down.
"It's right there," he gestured to the corner of the kitchen that was perpetually stuffed with a random assortment of objects. "Remember we were going to learn how to use that antique spiral siphon coffee maker we found at the fair this weekend?" Because of Charlie's recent obsession with antiquing, we had been slowly replacing all of our functioning, modern belongings with less-functional, but more visually interesting antiques.
"Yeah, I remember," I said, still opening and closing the same, few cupboards, hoping what I was looking for would magically appear, "But we don't know how to work that one yet, or if it works at all. Where's the old one?"
There was a long pause before Charlie answered. "Goodwill."
Still kneeling on the floor, I pressed my palm into my forehead. "You donated the old one before we figured out how to work the new one?"
I looked up at my father. He had the decency to look ashamed as he layered on excuses about Goodwill being on the way to the school, and the coffee maker taking up space, and this and that.
"It's fine," this was typical behavior of my hair-brained, erratic father. But, I loved him anyway. "I'll get coffee on campus."
"Oh," Charlie grinned, sly and satisfied, "Coffee on campus. How academic."
With a final, exasperated shake of my head, I finished packing my bag and slipped the backpack over my shoulders.
"What time do you think you'll be home?"
"My last class ends at three, so definitely before dinner."
"Well, if any plans for dinner or hanging out with your classmates arise, don't hold back on my account."
I looked at him, doubtfully. If there were plans being made, I surely would not be a part of them.
Charlie took in my sullen expression with a concerned frown of his own. "College isn't going to be like high school, Bells. Kids have matured. They're not going to have the same petty prejudices."
I couldn't see how that could be true. There was only one summer between senior year of high school and freshman year of college. Three months. The students at Washington State University couldn't be any different than the students at Forks High School. I would continue to be the butt of immature jokes and receive back-handed compliments. One summer wasn't going to change any of that.
I smiled and nodded anyway, only to get the worry lines off Charlie's forehead. I didn't want him to spend his entire day fretting over me. Kindergarteners could smell a distracted teacher and would absolutely use that to their advantage. My lie wasn't only for Charlie's sake, but for the sake of the lovely classroom he spent three weeks perfecting.
"I know, Dad."
Either my smile was more convincing than I thought, or Charlie wanted to believe his own theory enough to delude himself because the worry lines vanished. Charlie kissed my hair before I stepped away. "Have a good day."
"Only if you do, too."
Ducking from the chill of the morning, I hurried through the drizzle toward my truck. She was older than me, louder than me, and even consumed more than me, but I loved her. The old '67 red Chevy truck was what initially sparked Charlie's interest in vintage items. At the time of the initial purchase, she was the only thing we could afford. I heaved myself up and into the cab, managing not to flop onto the bench seat face-fist. With a thunderous roar, the truck started up and we began the commute we would take for the next four years.
Attending Washington State University had been an easy decision. Close enough to home to commute, good English program, in-state tuition. The brick academic buildings and clean-cut landscaping did not stand out from any other university in the country. Like everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, it was the surrounding views that made it special. Mountains towering in the distance, hazy with fog. Soft greenery sneaking between bricks and cracks in the sidewalk.
I parked in the commuter lot closest to the dining hall, assuming I would start and end my day with coffee. I ducked my head between my shoulders, trying my best to hide from the curious eyes that drifted in my direction, but it was hopeless. The thunderously loud, rusted, red truck and the girl who stumbled out of it made for an interesting sight. Or a joke for later.
The off-brand Starbucks nearby was one of many around campus. As I stood in the long line of students and faculty, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a halo of tight curls surrounding a pretty face with an open expression.
I tried to hide to confusion before I made it obvious I had no idea who she was, when she clearly knew who I was. However—as Charlie often pointed out—my face was an open book, and she caught on anyway. She placed a hand on her chest, "Jessica Stanley, remember? We were partnered up at orientation."
At freshman orientation, the upcoming class was given a partner and a scavenger hunt to learn about the campus. My partner—Jessica Stanley—had been hell-bent on winning the competition. She had us split up so we could divide and conquer. So, while the rest of the student body meandered around the school, enjoying their time, and making new friends, I ran across campus, alone and sweaty. After all that, Jessica and I ended up getting second place and winning a T-shirt that I couldn't wear.
Jessica and I had only said four things to each other that day. I was shocked she remembered me at all. Still, it was kind of her. I put on a brave face to return that kindness. "Oh yeah! Hey!"
Jessica smiled warmly and we chatted amicably in line. By the time our drinks had been ordered and prepared, I had been caught up on the drama on the floor of her dorm room that incredibly happened in one weekend.
"When's your first class?" she asked.
I arrived much earlier than my first class because I accounted for both traffic and getting lost, neither of which happened. I told Jessica as much, and she said she had a large block between her two morning classes. So, we decided to keep our impromptu coffee date going. Jessica wanted to take advantage of the break in the rain. We wandered outside to sit at one of the tables smartly equipped with a heater and an umbrella. She expressed her hope that it wasn't going to be this gloomy all the time. I didn't have the heart to break it to her that this was one of the nicer days here in the Pacific Northwest.
With no idea what to say, I complimented Jessica's pants, hoping that would spark something and she would continue to do most of the talking. It worked. She had an entire saga about the pants and the sale that was going on when she bought them. When she finished, without any prompting, she continued with stories about the rest of her ensemble. Pleased with my passive role in the conversation, I sipped my vanilla latte.
"I love your pants, too," she concluded. "Where'd you get them?"
I looked down to remind myself what I put on this morning. I usually stuck with sweaters and leggings, but for the first day of school, I selected one of my nice, new outfits. Good first impressions and all that. Under my raincoat, I wore my high-waited plaid pants paired with a navy-blue turtleneck. "Oh, they're vintage."
"Oh," she perked up, "Are you a big thrift shopper?"
"No. My dad is, I guess. He gets very invested in his hobbies, and bounces between them. It's dizzying, but to him, that's part of the fun. Over the summer, his obsession became antiquing and thrifting."
"Gotcha," Jessica nodded. "Did your dad buy them from a thrift shop here in Seattle? Which one? Lucky Dog? Cherry? Pioneer? Crossroads?"
I blinked. For someone who hadn't been in town long enough to realize it rained every day, Jessica already had a good grasp on the shopping scene.
"No, not quite. Charlie did drag me into all those shops. As well as estate sales, and vintage fairs, and flea markets. We found some really cool stuff. Like this gorgeous coffee maker. And a secretary with these hidden compartments. And—,"
"What about the pants?" Jessica pressed. Clearly, a woman with a one-track mind.
"Oh. No. We were never able to find clothes in my size at those stores."
I adjusted the band of my pants, the high waist nicely tucked in my round belly, and smoothed the fabric over my large thighs. Charlie loved this outfit on me. He claimed it highlighted my best features. As if I had any.
"I was fine not having any vintage clothes, but Charlie—being Charlie—needed me to be included. He contacted some expert, and she sent us everything in her collection that could be considered my size."
"Wow! Your dad bought you a custom wardrobe? My dad will make me read over the credit card bill with him every time I came home with a new cardigan."
"No, it wasn't anything close to a custom wardrobe. It was a suitcase of random, old clothes I would have never considered wearing if it wasn't for Charlie."
Instinctively, I pulled my plain, black raincoat tighter around myself. It was a kind gesture, and honestly so expensive that I didn't want to think about it. So, I dutifully dressed in the clothes. Most of the pieces were too nice to wear to school, but I had a few casual outfits like this one I could wear between lazier days. I had never been interested in fashion, but even I could tell the clothes were pretty. Unfortunately, it didn't matter how special or unique my clothes were. The body underneath them was still fat.
"He only did it because he hoped that owning clothes that belonged to people who were also my size would make me feel more comfortable with my body."
Tentatively, I looked up at Jessica, afraid that I had shared too much too soon too early in the morning.
Her smile was warm, her eyes soft. She wrapped her hand around my wrist. "Well, I love the whole outfit. I think you're super brave for wearing it."
I smiled back at Jessica, allowing her to think I took her sentiment as the compliment she intended it to be.
I sat at a red light in a line of students waiting to turn into the commuter lot. I had to turn off my music, for I could hear the music playing in the other cars around me, plus the songs stuck in the heads of those not driving. Even sitting alone in my own car was an overload of stimuli. If I focused, I was able to shove all the thoughts and sounds around me into the back of my mind until they melded into an incessant hum. Pushing the sounds this far back took a lot of effort, and other things would often slip through the cracks whenever I attempted to clear my mind like this.
Like the light that was now green. And the car horns blaring behind me.
Apologizing with a small wave in my rearview window, I zipped into the commuter lot of Washington State University.
Though I was attending college with the rest of my family, I drove to the first day of classes alone. The rest had gone for a hunt in the wee hours of the morning, but I had opted out. I knew it would have been better to satisfy my thirst like the rest of them before my first day at university. However, my piano had been playing so sweetly that evening, and I couldn't bear to tear myself away.
Besides, all three couples were happier without their seventh wheel.
A red M3 cut me off and pulled into the spot I was going for, forcing me to back up slightly—angering the driver behind me—so I could park in the spot beside it. Once parked, I stepped out and stood face-to-face with the driver of the car—my sister, Rosalie. Her husband cackled in the passenger seat. Emmett appreciated a prank in any shape or form, including one as petty as taking my parking spot.
"What are you doing here?' I asked. Rosalie preferred to take night courses, so the sun couldn't interfere with her studies.
Rosalie fluffed her hair, even though it already fell in perfect, golden ringlets down her back. "I was able to fudge former transcripts, so I get to skip the hundred-level science labs and start the three-hundred-level courses right away. Organismal Biology begins at eight this morning."
"Well, aren't you special?"
"I am! With all this extra time, I can bump my music minor up to a music major."
We exchanged tight smiles.
Rose and I did not get off to a good start, and we never tried to improve the relationship. She was constantly trying to one-up me, and always succeeded. She had one more degree than I did and was keen on getting more. The music interest was new, though. I supposed she decided to become a better musician than me, as well. Great.
From behind, Emmett hooked his elbow around my neck and pulled me in for a noogie. "Can't dodge me here, now can you?" Out in public, surrounded by students, I had to pretend to be trapped by him, and not pull his arms off like I would if we were at home. He laughed triumphantly and cheered, "We're human!" Then, he stuck his tongue out and shook his head in tandem with the noogie.
"If you're human, quit acting like such a beast," Rosalie's tone took a complete one-eighty as she addressed Emmett. Her sharp tongue dulled; the icy glare melted into a loving gaze.
Still laughing at his own childish humor, Emmett released me.
"You ready to go to class?" I asked, needlessly rubbing my neck. Emmett and I signed up for the same Spanish class. We were both already fluent, but we needed a language credit at this particular university, and it provided an opportunity for us to spend time together.
"He'll meet you there." Rosalie wrapped one hand around her husband's massive bicep and ran the other through his dark, curly hair. "He needs to walk me to class, first."
Emmett pumped his free hand in the air, "Hell yeah!" In his thoughts, I could see that his over-the-top excitement was genuine. After all these years, he loved Rosalie with the same schoolboy crush he developed when he first laid eyes on her. He waggled his eyebrows at me before turning away with Rosalie.
"See you, man," he communicated through his thoughts.
Without much else to do, I filtered into the crowd of bleary college students heading towards their first class of the semester. The thoughts around me were all cloudy with fatigue, most of them searching for their first cup of a hot beverage.
When I got to the Spanish room, there was only one other student waiting for class to begin. Their head was on their desk. Their thoughts cursing the brightness of the dim lights and the loudness of the quiet hum in the hall told me they were recovering from a hangover. I sat in a seat in the back, opposite of him, and reserved the spot next to me for Emmett by placing my bag in the chair.
The minutes ticked by; the class filtered in. I kept my nose in my book, trying my best to not draw attention to myself and not hear any of the thoughts slowly filling up in my head. Emmett arrived last, thoughts spinning from Rosalie's kisses. He practically had cartoon hearts spinning around his head. As soon as Emmett sat down, class began. The professor introduced herself, then asked us to stand up one by one and say our name, major, and one fun fact about ourselves all in Spanish.
I barely heard the first student. Everyone else was loudly thinking of what they were going to say and translating their facts in their heads, so it got lost in the midst. I didn't know anyone's voice, so I couldn't differentiate the speaker from the mental voices around me quite yet. I stared ahead, blankly, as the voices melded together into one, indistinguishable hum.
The only person's introduction I clearly heard was Emmett's, only because I knew his voice so well. "Emmett Hale. Construction Management Major. Taurus. That's right, Nance. I see that tattoo. You're a Virgo? You and I are going to get along just fine," he pointed and winked to the professor who decided she was more amused by this effervescent student than annoyed. "Fun fact about me? There are four gas stations in mid-State Wisconsin where I am no longer welcome."
It wasn't even a lie.
Emmett slapped me on the back, "I'll turn it over to my brother-in-law."
I only stood halfway—it was essentially a crouch—and muttered in the direction with the least number of students, "Edward Masen. Music. Um. Emmett is married to my sister."
"Ah, come on!" Emmett stood back up on my behalf. "This is Edward. Single..." he tilted his head toward a large cluster of girls towards the back, who immediately giggled. "He collects teapots in the shape of birdhouses and writes songs about Art Garfunkel."
I sculpted a clay birdhouse for Esme one Christmas and composed one song inspired by the ionic duo, but Emmett's exaggerations still had the class chuckling. I turned to give my brother an eyeful of hate that he blatantly ignored. In defiance, I tuned out every other thought—including Emmett's. I spent the duration of class fixated only on the professor's voice, even though her lecture contained nothing I didn't already know.
At the end of class, the girl sitting next to me placed a hand with almond-shaped nails painted in the school's colors on my desk. Her blonde hair was slicked back into a low bun and her face had a glossy sheen like she put in a lot of hard work to make herself look as effortlessly beautiful as she did.
"I was going to grab something to eat," she said in a voice that was both higher and more innocent than her current internal monologue. "Would you like to join me?"
"He'd love to," Emmett answered before I could say no.
I looked at my brother though my response was meant for the girl, "I'm so sorry, but I have other plans."
"Nope. Canceled." Emmett waved his phone in the air, like he had received a message about plans we never had. He smiled at the girl. "He's all yours."
"I already had breakfast," I countered.
Clearly rejected, the girl slowly removed her hand from my desk. "Maybe… some other time…"
I smiled at her as politely as I could manage. Again, Emmett spoke on my behalf. "Count him in. I'll monitor his breakfast consumption just for you."
Though my behavior was less than gentlemanly, the girl still smiled. Charmed, because she thought of me as shy, instead of rude. "It's a date!" she chirped before she, too, gathered her belongings and left for her next class.
"What's your problem?" I hissed, the moment she was out of earshot.
"What?" Emmett shrugged as he slipped his bag onto his back. Though he was turned while he attended college, he still looked out of place with a backpack on his back and a baseball cap over his curly hair. Possibly because the week before he had been drinking bear's blood in a tuxedo after a night out in town.
"I can be in charge of my social schedule, thank you very much."
"She wanted to hang out with you. We applied to college to make friends." He broadly gestured to the students around us as the halls filled.
"Wrong. We're here to get a degree. Besides, why on Earth do you think I would have any interest in becoming friends with that girl?"
"Didn't you hear her introduction? She's in the marching band and has season tickets to the Mariners. Music and baseball. Both things you're interested in. She would make a good friend for you."
"Her mind painted a different picture. If she could indulge in her thoughts, I would be naked and on my knees right now."
Emmett chuckled. "That's not a deterrent for friendship. Especially with a girl so pretty."
I snorted. "She's not pretty. She's Rosalie's twin."
"Yeah, so smokin' hot."
Before I could comment on that, Emmett stepped in front of me. We were outside, near the quad where we would split up for our next classes. The clouds had darkened since the morning fog, and it would rain any moment. People around me were already considering pulling out their umbrellas.
Emmett placed his large hand on my shoulder. He squeezed his fingers a bit, grounding me. The humor had faded from his golden eyes. "I can't lie, man, it hurts me to see you do this."
"I'm sorry, Emmett. You just don't understand…" how isolating it can be, I finished in my head. It wasn't just the dizzying chaos constantly buzzing around in my head, or the struggle to focus on an actual conversation. Knowing people primarily by their deepest, darkest thoughts, trying not to treat them differently based on those thoughts.
It was better for everyone else when I was alone.
"I know. I get it," he empathized. Even though I had the evidence to prove that he didn't, I let him keep speaking. "All I'm asking is that you try. Just one attempt. You fight so hard to abstain from feeding, and then reap none of the benefits. It's this…" He tapped his own chest, then mine, and gestured to the people around us like he would tap them as well. "…the connections we're able to make with the humans around us that make our struggles worth it. It's grounding—humanizing. Connecting makes it even easier to maintain our diet."
I closed my eyes. Along with ignoring the thoughts that didn't belong to me, I ignored the tantalizing scent of blood pumping through the veins in the students around me. I had a better hold on my instincts than my gift, but the physical battle to not pounce and feed was just as taxing as my mental battle. Had I needed to rest, I would be bone tired all the time.
"I bet if you tried to form any sort of relationship with a human, your control could get up to Carlisle's level." To Rosalie's level, he added internally.
"I'll see what I can do."
Neither of us believed me.