I. Maintaining the Status Quo

I fiddled with the bottle of water I'd bought, terribly missing the comfort of my iPhone. Around me, the dull roar of cafeteria chatter filled my ears, as new faces began to converge around the lunch table.

Eagerly, Jessica introduced me to all the girls sitting with us and I patiently listened, eyes glued to the surface of the table, shooting only the occasional glance towards the girls around me.

"So, what's Phoenix like?" Samantha asked.

"It's hot. And ugly," I said. "But the newer suburbs are pretty. It really depends on the area." Bella had been lucky enough to grow up in Scottsdale. How the hell Renée could afford to live there on a kindergarten teacher salary was anyone's guess. Frankly, the vampires in Twilight had been more believable than that.

"Wow, it's really that big?" Ashley gaped.

"Massive," I assured her. "A million and a half, and still growing."

"Living in the city did have its perks," Jessica pouted. "I still miss it sometimes."

"Jess, what do you even remember about city life?" Lauren scoffed. "You were like five when you moved out here."

"Nuh uh! I was seven," she protested. "And I remember plenty. Like having warm beaches and going to theme parks!"

Lauren rolled her eyes. "Whatever."

"How are you liking it here, Mar?" Angela asked me.

'Mar' was the name I'd chosen to go by, a shortened version of Bella's middle name 'Marie.' I thought it was quite pretty.

"It's beautiful," I said. "But inconvenient. There's no shops out here."

All of the girls groaned in agreement.

"Port Angeles is the closest town with shops," Jessica lamented. "But if you want, we could take you! It'd be so much fun!"

The girls erupted into anticipated planning before I could even respond.

I was congratulating myself on my successful social interactions towards the end of lunch, when Lauren brought me back into the center of attention.

"Hey, why are you wearing broken headphones?" she asked, gesturing towards the set hooked around my neck.

I blinked. "They're not broken."

"Oh no, she's right," Jessica gasped. "Where's the wire?"

"They're not for listening to music," I explained. "They're noise-canceling headphones. I use them when I get overstimulated."

Lauren curled her lip. "What? Are you like, retarded?"

"Yes," I said, unironically. "I have autism."

The chatter of those sitting at our lunch table abruptly died as they stared at me with varying levels of discomfort.

Jessica laughed nervously. "You're joking, right?"

I turned to stare somewhere above her shoulder. "No."

"Oh."

The bell rang.

"Um, I can show you the way to our class," Angela offered, as the other girls gathered their trash, avoiding looking in my direction.

"No, thank you," I said.

I stood to my feet, swinging my backpack over one shoulder and picking up the water bottle in my other hand, before turning and heading in the opposite direction.

Surprisingly enough, the subject of the strange Cullen family had never once come up in conversation.

Four of the Cullens were still congregated around their table, mimicking the same sluggish speed of students reluctant to return to class. And luckily, they sat near the exit doors at the other end of the cafeteria.

I didn't spare them a glance as I walked directly by them.

Though going by the sharp clatter of a chair hitting the ground, I assumed Edward had gotten a good whiff of me. I slipped outside, before I could hear anything else.

Walking so close to them had been a gamble. But a gamble best taken in a room full of witnesses.

Unsure if Edward would leave campus or brave the rest of the school day, I didn't bother attending class. It was one thing to be near him when his siblings could intervene. It was quite another to tempt him for a whole class period, with only his willpower alone to keep him under control.

I hid behind the cafeteria, until the tardy bell rang, before roaming around looking for a place to hang out. I didn't really want to sit in the old truck, but I would settle for it if it started raining again.

"Hey, you're that new girl? Isabella?"

A bench behind one of the buildings had been taken over by a couple of other kids.

"I go by Mar," I said to the girl.

"Cool," she said. "I'm Tara. You lost?"

I shook my head. "I was looking for a place to sit until next period."

She jerked her chin. "You can sit here," she said. "Brandon, move over."

Another kid, who'd been sprawled across nearly half of the bench reluctantly shuffled over, opening up a space on the opposite end of where Tara sat.

"Thank you," I said, moving over to the bench and sitting down. I slid the backpack strap off of my shoulder and clutched the backpack to my lap, leaning back against the brick wall of the building. Across from us, a wall of towering green firs edged the school walkways.

"That's Brandon," Tara said. From the corner of my eyes, I saw her waving her hand in the direction of the kid who sat beside me, before gesturing towards the other guy sitting on the ground between them, his head resting back against the bench. "And this is Sean."

"Nice to meet you," I said. "I'm Mar."

"Why are you ditching so soon, new girl?" Sean, who I thought had been napping, asked. His eyes remained closed.

"I'm not sure I'll survive biology," I said.

"Hah!" Tara snorted. "Amen, sister. Don't tell me―you have Banner?"

"I do."

"Unreal. I'd offer to be your lab partner, but Brandon here already has that honor," she said.

"Back luck," Brandon mumbled. "I think Creepy Cullen is the only one without a lab partner in that period."

"Oh."

"Don't scare her," Tara laughed. "It's okay, Mar. Edward may be a recluse, but he's a total nerd. He'll at least guarantee you an A on all your labs."

"If you say so," I said, hardly concerned about the grade itself.

"So, how are you finding our quaint little town?" Tara asked, with no small amount of disdain.

"I like the rain," I said.

Brandon snorted quietly. "Aren't you supposed to be from Arizona?"

"I never went outside."

"What? Were you homeschooled or something?" Tara asked.

"No. I never went outside if I could help it," I rephrased.

"Ah. A recluse. Maybe you and Edward will get along just fine."

I shrugged.

I spent the rest of the period answering random questions about city life. It wasn't much different from other interactions I'd had so far throughout the day.

When the bell rang, I stood and said, "Thank you for letting me sit with you."

"Sure thing, new girl."

I turned and headed off to the gym.


That night, before we went out to the diner to eat, Charlie sat down at the kitchen table and asked to chat with me.

"Is something wrong?" I asked once I'd taken the chair across from him.

"I heard some strange rumors today," Charlie admitted, arms folded tightly across the table. "Bella, are you being bullied?"

I blinked. "Why would you think that?"

"Because you're being called…"

"Retarded?" I offered, when he trailed off, clearly uncomfortable with using the word.

"Yes, that," he frowned.

"Oh. No, I wasn't bullied today," I said. "But I did tell some of the girls that I'm autistic."

Charlie gaped. "Why would you say that, Bella? That's not true!"

"…Because it is." I wrinkled my nose, already feeling tired. This wasn't an argument I was interested in having.

"But," Charlie struggled to speak. "Renée…she never said…"

"Renée doesn't know."

Charlie stared at me. "What."

"I haven't been medically diagnosed by a doctor, if that's what you're trying to get at."

"Then why are you making those things up about yourself?" Charlie demanded. "You're perfectly healthy!"

"Yes, I'm healthy, and yes, I have autism. The two aren't mutually exclusive."

"If this is how you feel, why not tell Renée? Why not ask to see a doctor?"

I held back a scoff at the thought of telling Renée. I hardly knew the woman, but I could easily see her becoming an autism mom (derogatory.)

"Because I'm not interested in talking about it with either Renée or a doctor."

Now, Charlie appeared frustrated. "Bella, you can't just choose to diagnose yourself with a serious mental disability."

"With all due respect, I don't need to justify my experiences as a human to you," I said. "I have autism, and whether you choose to believe it or not, does not change my reality."

"I…I'm sorry," he said, deflating. "I didn't mean to belittle your feelings."

"You're not belittling my feelings, you're denying my experiences because you think they need to be validated by a doctor," I said. "I assure you, they don't."

"I'm sorry," he said again. "If you don't want to see a doctor, what can I do to help?"

I didn't immediately reply, as I thought about what would make my living arrangement with Charlie the easiest for us both.

"Just, don't get offended, I guess," I settled on.

He frowned again. "Offended how?"

I gestured towards my face. "By my lack of facial expression. You probably can't tell, but I am very happy to be here."

I'd only spent a single week with Renée, but God knew I would never be going back to that. Not if I could help it.

Now, Charlie looked hopeful. "You are?"

"Very," I assured him.

"That's…that's great," he smiled. "Anything else?"

"I'm going by Mar now," I said. When he looked puzzled, I elaborated, "Short for Marie."

"Oh. That's different," he said. "Might take some getting used to."

I nodded. "Can we go eat now? I'm hungry."

"Of course," he said, pushing himself to his feet. "And what's this I hear about you ditching class?"

"Oh. That was a life or death situation," I said as I headed to the front hall to throw on my parka, Charlie at my heels. "It won't happen again."

"See that it doesn't," he said sternly.

"Okay."


The following morning, I was standing at my locker when I was suddenly cornered by the girls I'd sat with at lunch the previous day.

Lauren stood at the head of the clique.

"Can I help you?" I asked, when none of them immediately said anything.

Jessica elbowed Lauren and hissed, "Go on."

Lauren shot her a brief glare, before turning back to me, looking uncomfortable. "Um, sorry for what I said yesterday. Calling you the r-word, I mean."

I blinked, surprised. "Apology accepted." I hadn't actually cared that Lauren had called me that. It's not like she'd known.

For a brief moment, Lauren appeared as surprised as I felt. "Cool."

"And you're still welcome to sit with us at lunch," Jessica piped up.

"Okay, I will."

With that, the girls scattered, seeming appeased with the rather tame confrontation.

Only Angela stuck around.

"Your first class is English, right?"

"It is," I said.

"It's mine too," she smiled. "Do you want to walk together?"

"Sure."

The rest of the week, I got accustomed to my new routine. School was predictable―the same classes and teachers, the same lunch table, the same faces.

Home was comfortable, if a bit boring. Sometimes I braved the abysmally slow internet, sometimes I watched reruns of old (to me) shows on cable, and sometimes I actually got some writing done via Bella's empty notebooks. Writing by hand was awful and slow, but it was preferable to a lagging keyboard.

The rain was comforting and the endless forests felt like I was in a fairytale, rather than a horror novel. Overall, I found the setting much more agreeable than city life.

Monday came quicker than I expected, and before long, I was sitting at our lunch table with Jessica giggling in my ear.

"Mar," she whispered. "Edward Cullen is staring at you."

I blinked. "That's bizarre."

She giggled again. "Yes! Do you know each other?"

"I've never exchanged a word with him," I assured her.

"Hm," she hummed, looking over her shoulder. "Why do you think he's staring?"

"Because he thinks I'm annoying."

Jessica frowned, confused. "But you said you've never even talked to him!"

"I haven't," I said. "But sometimes, you don't have to talk to a person to dislike them."

"Ooh, totally," she agreed. "Though it's strange he even noticed you enough to dislike you. The Cullens tend to keep to themselves."

I changed the subject. "Did you understand anything in trig today?"

"God no," she scoffed.

At the end of lunch, I walked to biology with Angela.

Inside the classroom, I slid onto my stool and avoided Mr. Banner's gaze. He'd taken offense when he'd discovered that it was only his class I'd ditched on the first day, and occasionally liked to call me out.

"Miss Swan," Mr. Banner called. "Please pass out a box to each of the lab tables."

"Yes, Mr. Banner," I said, rising to my feet as Edward entered the classroom.

I took the box from Mr. Banner and walked around the classroom, dropping off the smaller boxes it held at each table.

When I was done and handed the box back to Mr. Banner, he called the class to attention and began explaining the lab we would be doing today.

I returned to my stool and sat, not acknowledging Edward's curious gaze.

When he was done with the instructions, Mr. Banner said, "Get started."

Edward took the opportunity to finally introduce himself. "My name is Edward Cullen. I was absent last week and didn't have a chance to introduce myself. You must be Mar."

"I am," I said, as I dragged the microscope close to me and retrieved the first slide out of the box. Once I'd adjusted the objective lense, I peered into the eyepiece.

It looked like a hapless blob.

I leaned back and said, "Prophase."

"Do you mind if I look?"

I shook my head and pushed the microscope in his direction. It's not like I was wrong. I had book canon on my side.

"Prophase," he agreed and wrote it on our worksheet.

We continued to take turns and finished the lab quickly after that. Not because I knew what I was doing, but because I remembered the answers from the first book. I wouldn't be so fortunate next time.

Edward stared at me while I stared at the board in front of the classroom.

I blinked and then Mr. Banner was standing next to our table, checking over our worksheet.

"So, Edward, didn't you think Isabella should get a chance with the microscope?" Mr. Banner asked.

"Mar," Edward corrected automatically. "Actually, she identified three of the five."

Mr. Banner turned to me, skeptical.

"Have you done this lab before?" he asked.

I stared at his ugly tie. "No."

"Right…"

When I didn't say anything more, he turned away and ambled off, peering over the shoulders of other students.

When he'd walked far enough away, Edward asked me quietly, "Is there a problem with Mr. Banner?"

This is off-script. I tapped my nails against the black top of the lab table. "No."

"Are you sure?"

I wondered what Edward had seen in Mr. Banner's thoughts, to make him so concerned.

"Please stop talking to me."

"I'm sorry, am I not permitted to speak to you?" Edward sounded confused.

I turned and looked at his disarray of red-brown hair, half-dry and sticking out a bit funny. "I'd prefer it if you didn't."

"If I've done anything to offend you…?"

"No, I just find your curiosity annoying."

"May I ask why?"

"No."

To my relief, he finally left well enough alone.

The next day, I stayed home from school with the simple hope that no one else would be a victim to Tyler's van.

I learned later from Charlie that only a couple of cars were casualties of the accident, but everyone lived, including Tyler himself.

And when Charlie asked me why I needed a lock for my bedroom window, I said, "To keep out the probable peeping Tom."

If Charlie was concerned about me acting paranoid, he didn't say anything. Instead, he did as I asked, and even threw in a new set of thick purple curtains that weren't lacy or see-through.

All was well.


A/N: So, back when I first published A Body of Water and Bones, I had various readers assuming that Isabella was my self-insert, rather an original character I came up with. Which I thought was hilarious, because if I were to ever end up in the plot of a storybook, it would be the most boring story ever.

And then I thought it'd be funny if I actually wrote it out x)

So, there it is everyone. Hope y'all liked my self-insert :3 And I let me know your thoughts! I always love reading reviews!