Author's Note: Many thanks to my terrific beta, Rainpuddle13!
It had started as the vast majority of all days do – by waking up. I groaned as I rolled over and slapped the alarm clock with more violence than was necessary, and then lay in my bed, trying to rub the sleep from my eyes.
"Aren't you out of bed yet?" I cracked open an eye and glared pointedly at my roommate with it. Angela laughed and began shoving books into her backpack. "I always knew you weren't much of a morning person, but come on, Bella. It's our first day of class; I thought you'd at least be excited for that."
I sighed and sat up slowly. As much as I hated to admit it, Angela had a point. I'd been looking forward to this day for nearly a year. The start of my college career! I allowed myself a small smile when my friend wasn't looking, and threw the comforter off. I had just finished getting dressed and was in the middle of brushing my hair when my stomach growled.
"Did you eat breakfast without me?" I asked, turning in time to see Angela stifle a grin.
"No, but if we want to make it to class on time, we'd better get going." I hadn't had time to brush my teeth, but my stomach wasn't going to let me make any excuses that would keep me from my breakfast. I grabbed my messenger bag (which I'd packed the night before, due to my excitement), and followed Angela out of the room.
"Do you remember where the dining hall is?" I asked doubtfully, glancing around. The buildings all looked the same to me – except for the library, which was three stories tall and had more windows than any other building I'd seen. It didn't hurt that the library was also smack dab in the center of campus, either – I would have to learn my way around by memorizing what surrounded it.
"Did you even hear me, Bella?" Angela asked, exasperated. I turned back to her and smiled sheepishly.
"I'm sorry, I was looking at the library." She giggled. "What?"
"Leave it to you to find the library before anything else! I was just asking if you knew how to get to Koch after we left here," she said, leading me through a set of glass double doors. The aromas wafting towards me were heavenly, and I was thoroughly embarrassed when my stomach protested again – loudly – that it had not yet been appeased.
"Koch, right," I said, shifting my weight from one foot to the other as we stood in line. "That's…" I turned and looked out the window, frowning. Was it to the East entrance, or had it been to the West? And which door had we come in, again? "Uh, it's over…"
She rolled her eyes and picked up a tray. "I don't see how you plan to make it back to the dorm today if you can't even find your way to your first class."
"I hadn't planned on hiking all over campus today," I grumbled, spooning some scrambled eggs onto my plate. "Two of my three classes today are in Koch. There's a computer lab in there, too."
"What about your last class?" Angela prodded, grabbing a carton of milk. She gave the cashier her student meal card and waited as I did the same. "Where is your last class, anyway?"
"Shermer Hall." I followed her to an empty table and sat down. She eyed me skeptically before opening her milk.
"Shermer, huh? You do know that Shermer is on the edge of the campus, right? It's the farthest building away from our dorm."
"Like that means anything," I laughed. "This campus is small, remember? My number one reason for choosing it – less chances of getting lost."
Angela snorted. "Bella, please. You're already lost. I'd be willing to bet that if I asked you to find your way back to the dorm right now you couldn't do it, and we've only just come from there."
"Shut up and eat your breakfast," I grumbled. She had a point – I had no clue where I was going. How was I going to get around today?
Thirty minutes later, I was wandering around the courtyard in front of the chapel, hopelessly lost. I sat down next to the fountain and dug a small map out of my messenger bag. I had flipped it over several times, trying to figure out what side of the courtyard I might be on, when a shadow fell over me.
"Need some help?"
I looked up, shading my eyes with my hand, and felt my cheeks warm. He was tall, and he had long, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail.
"Um, no, I'm-" I sighed. I'd never make it to class if I didn't ask for help. "Yes, I need help. I am hopelessly lost." He grinned.
"Where are you going?"
"What a coincidence, I was just on my way there. Come on, I'll show you where it is." He jerked his head, motioning for me to follow him. I shoved the map into my bag and stood quickly, losing my balance and nearly knocking him over in the process. He gripped my upper arms firmly, and I could feel my face burning with embarrassment.
"Are you all right?" I could hear the laughter in his voice.
"I'm fine," I said, staring at my feet. It was a lie – I was mortified beyond belief. I hadn't known this guy more than a minute, and already I'd shown him how clumsy I was!
"If you say so. My name's Jacob, by the way." I fell into step beside him, and glanced up. He was still smiling, and it put me at ease.
"Bella," I said, fidgeting with the strap of my bag.
"Freshman, right?" he asked, his grin widening. I winced.
"Is it that obvious?" He laughed, and the volume of it startled me.
"Well, yeah. I mean, you were sitting there with your nose up against the map."
"Right." I glanced around, trying to note all of the buildings we were passing, so I could find my way back if I needed to.
"Aren't you going to ask what year I am?" he asked, a note of disappointment in his voice.
"What year are you?" I asked, turning back to him.
"I can tell you're so interested," he replied, laughing as he shook his head. "This is my second year. And before you ask, yes, I was just as confused as you at the beginning of my first year."
"I doubt that that's possible," I said, smiling. His good mood was infectious.
"Trust me, I was extremely lost. I come from a small town, so I thought that picking a small college was a good idea – I didn't want to get lost on a huge campus." I blinked at him. "What?"
"That's one of the reasons I chose this place, too."
"Really? Where are you from?"
"That's not a small town," he said, laughing.
"I lived in Phoenix until I was a Junior in high school, then I moved to Forks, Washington." He blinked at me.
"I'm from that area."
"Really? I don't remember ever seeing you at school." And I felt sure I would have remembered this guy – tall, dark hair, dark eyes – no, I definitely wouldn't have forgotten him.
"Did you go to Forks High?"
"That explains it. I went to school on the reservation."
"Oh," I said, after a moment's thought. "La Push, right?"
"Yeah," he said, obviously pleased at something. "Well, here we are – Koch Hall." I hadn't realized it, but we were standing on the steps of a building. I frowned and looked around, belatedly trying to figure out what path we'd taken to get here. He laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"You just look so lost."
"I'm just… I guess I'm really unobservant today," I admitted. "I can't really remember how we got here."
"I mesmerized you that much, huh?" I bristled, and then looked up at him. There was a mischievous sparkle in his eyes that made me relax, and I returned his smile.
"I guess so." He started to lead the way into the building, and I tripped on one of the stairs. He caught me before I could smack my head on the railing, and laughed as he helped me steady myself.
"Should I walk you to the classroom and help you sit down, too?"
"I can make it fine by myself, thanks," I said acidly, trying to fight back the heat I could feel rising in my face.
"I'm not too sure about that," he retorted, amused. "You seem determined to give yourself a concussion this morning. It's only the first day; too early to be trying to get out of class." I couldn't help myself, and I laughed at him.
"This is me," I said, pointing to the door ahead of us. "Thanks for the help, Jacob."
"No problem," he said. He hesitated for a moment, and then flashed another brilliant smile at me. "I'll be around here all day, if you need help finding another building."
"Thanks," I said, returning his smile and giving him a small wave before disappearing into the classroom.
~*~ ~*~ ~*~
Class had passed uneventfully. I was glad that the Professors seemed to want to get us started as quickly as possible and had jumped straight into lecturing, rather than making us do something potentially humiliating – like introducing ourselves. Ugh. Just the thought of it made me grimace; I hated those "get-to-know-each-other" activities. I'd had to endure a few of them during orientation three weeks ago, and I was desperate to never, ever have to do that again.
Thankfully the three morning classes I'd had were all more or less in the same hallway, so I hadn't had to worry about getting too lost. All of the false confidence that that had inspired was out the window now, though. It was noon, and my breakfast was long gone, as evidenced by the quiet rumbling of my stomach. I had no idea how to find my way back to the dining hall, where I was supposed to meet Angela for lunch.
I had been wandering the corridors for nearly fifteen minutes when I saw Jacob again. He was standing outside of a classroom, talking to another guy with short, blonde hair, and using his hands animatedly as he spoke. I was hesitant to bother him, but my stomach would not be denied. I really needed help, and since he was the only person I knew here…I'd just have to bug him and hope he didn't get too mad.
"Jacob?" I called quietly, trying not to disrupt any of the classes that had open doors. He turned in the direction of my voice, and when his eyes fell on me, he smiled. He motioned me over, and I went, stumbling as I did so.
"Bella! Hey, this is Mike, Mike, this is Bella."
"Hey, Bella," Mike said, holding his hand out. I shook it awkwardly, barely glancing up enough to notice that he had really pretty blue eyes.
"Hi," I said, fidgeting with the strap of my bag. I looked up at Jacob. "Listen, I'm really sorry to bother you, but I was wondering, if you're not busy…could you tell me how to get to the dining hall? I'm supposed to meet my roommate there."
His grin threatened to split his face in two. "Only if I can stay and eat with you."
"Um… sure," I said, nodding. I paused for a minute, and then looked at Mike. "You're welcome to come too."
"Cool." Jacob turned and I followed, staying slightly behind him and Mike as they walked. He slowed his steps, and Mike moved so that I was between the two of them. "So Bella, Jake tells me that you're from Washington, like him."
"Yeah," I murmured, surprised that Jacob had mentioned me at all. "Where are you from?"
"Kentucky." Jacob snickered, and Mike rolled his eyes. He leaned toward me slightly to speak softly in my ear. "Jake makes jokes about me being a redneck and being inbred, but at least I went to a real school with real teachers."
"Hey," Jacob protested, holding the door open for me. "My dad was a real teacher."
"And I'll bet you're going to try and tell us that he never let you get away with not doing your homework, or anything like that?" Mike prodded. Jacob's cheeks turned slightly pink, and I couldn't stop my smile.
"Your dad was your teacher?"
"Only for a little while," he said, nodding. He shifted his backpack from his left shoulder to his right. "I had lots of other teachers. But he was completely qualified."
"Yeah, whatever, man," Mike said, dismissing him. They bantered back and forth a bit more, and then suddenly I found that we had reached the dining hall.
"Man," I breathed. Jacob looked at me as he opened the door.
"I really need to start paying attention to where I'm going." He laughed and led the way through the line. After we'd gotten our food, I searched the tables for Angela. I finally saw her, sitting at a corner table, her nose buried in a book as she ate. "That's my roommate," I said, nodding towards her. When we got to the table, she looked up, and a slow smile spread across her face.
"Hey, Bella," she said, closing her book. "Looks like you've had a productive morning." I felt my cheeks burn, and I shot her a warning look before sitting down.
"Angela, this is Jacob, and that's Mike. Mike, Jacob, this is my roommate, Angela." She smiled and nodded at them.
"Nice to meet you guys. Do you have classes with Bella?"
"No, Jacob helped me find Koch this morning," I said, my eyes focused on my plate.
"That was very nice of you, Jacob," Angela said, her smile widening. He grinned back at her and picked up his sandwich. "What year are you guys?"
"We're both second year," Mike said. "I'm guessing you're a freshman like Bella, right?"
I blinked. Had Jacob told him everything I'd said?
"Yes, I am."
"What's your major?"
"Psychology." Mike smiled.
"Really? Mine, too."
"Oh, ugh," Jacob said, rolling his eyes. "Like I don't have to listen to his psychobabble enough already!"
"What's your major?" I asked, turning to him.
"Undeclared," he answered, smiling. "I like to keep my options open."
"What's yours, Bella?" Mike asked, taking a drink of his soda.
"Um, English." I took a bite before they could ask me to elaborate more. Thankfully, Angela answered them for me.
"So, what? You want to be a teacher?" Mike asked.
"No, she wants to be a writer," Angela said, smiling at me.
"That's cool," Jacob said encouragingly. I smiled weakly and finished my lunch while the three of them talked. I glanced down at my watch. It was already quarter after one. Angela and Mike were just getting into a heated discussion about the University going green when Jacob looked over at me and rolled his eyes. "Are you done for the day?"
"No, I have one more class at two."
"Need help?" I laughed softly.
"I'll walk you over there," he said, standing up.
"I'll come over there and walk you home, okay, Bella?" Angela offered.
"Great, thanks, Ang," I breathed in relief. I stood and picked up my tray. "I'll see you later."
"So," Jacob began, flashing a grin at me.
"So," I answered, smiling back.
"What class are we going to now?" I blinked at his use of the word we.
He gave a low whistle. "Why are you taking Trig if you're an English major?"
"It sounded interesting."
"Let me guess: you didn't test out of your freshman math class?" I shrugged. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was an upper level course, and I had an uncanny knack for all things mathematical. It was the one subject in school that I hadn't had to work overly hard at. "Aw, it won't be so bad." I hid my smile behind my hair and nodded solemnly.
Before we could talk too much, we had reached the building. He opened the door for me, but before he could follow me inside, I turned and smiled at him. "I can make it from here. Thanks, Jacob. I really appreciate your help. Maybe I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
"Sure," he said, smiling at me, though the smile didn't really seem to reach his eyes. "See ya around."
I watched as he walked away, and then went into the building to find my class. It didn't take long (only one lap around the circular corridors), and I found the room. To my chagrin, it was almost empty, save for six other people. That was a bad omen for me. Bigger classes didn't have time for introductions, and anonymity was easily maintained. I could feel my heart speed up nervously.
I sat in the back of the room and dropped my messenger bag on the floor. My bad luck reared its ugly head, and of course the latch on my bag snapped open, spilling the bag's contents onto the floor. I scrambled to gather everything up, even getting out of my chair and kneeling under my desk to claim some errant pens. I was reaching for the last one when a pale, slender hand grabbed it instead. I lifted my head to look up, forgetting that I was under a desk, and slammed the top of my head against the underside of it. My hand flew up to cradle the spot that I could already feel swelling, and I winced.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah," I gasped, pulling my hand away to inspect it for blood. Thankfully there was none, but I was obviously going to have a very nasty bump there.
"That sounded like it really hurt," the voice continued, concerned. "Maybe you should go to the wellness center and have it checked out."
"Look, I'm fine," I insisted. "I'm used to this kind of –" My words died on my lips. I had made the mistake of looking up, and I was now staring into a pair of the clearest green eyes I had ever seen. I could feel my mouth opening and closing stupidly in my surprise. His smooth forehead wrinkled, and the corners of his mouth turned down.
"It's worse than I thought," he said quietly. "Why don't you go ahead and go to the wellness center, and I'll tell Professor Cleary what's happened."
It was my turn to frown as I staggered to my feet, careful to avoid hitting my head on the corner of my desk. My head began to spin, and I gripped the back of the chair to steady myself.
"Good afternoon, every- my goodness, what's happened here?"
"She's just hit her head," the green-eyed boy answered. "She's going to go to the wellness center – I think she's hit it pretty good."
"You must be Miss Swan," the other voice stated. "Do you know where the wellness center is?" I shook my head and had to bite the inside of my cheek so I wouldn't vomit. "Why don't you escort her over there, Edward?" I heard him swear softly under his breath, but he did as he was told. He gathered his things, slung his messenger bag over his shoulder, and did the same with mine. We were out of the classroom before I thought to protest.
"No, really – if you just tell me where…" My voice trailed off as I stopped and swayed on my feet. He put an arm around my waist to help hold me up, and I shivered. With him so close, I could smell him. He smelled like soap and cologne and…
"Could you at least try to walk on your own?" he snapped. I frowned, but said nothing – I was too afraid I'd be sick all over him if I opened my mouth. "Here." I felt him leading me to the left, and then I was sitting down. "Put your head between your legs." I did as I was told, and took several shallow breaths.
"Of all the…" he muttered to himself. After a few minutes, I was able to breathe more deeply, and the ground eventually stopped spinning. I kept my head down, but peeked sideways through the thick curtain of my hair. His jaw was rigid as he watched me. "Feeling better?" he asked acidly.
"Yes, you can go now," I breathed, grateful that the urge to vomit seemed to have passed. "Thanks."
"Don't be stupid," he shot back, still frowning. "I was told to take you to the wellness center, and that's what I intend to do."
"Just tell me where it is, and I'll go myself," I said, starting to feel irritated.
"Why do you not already know how to get there? Why was I even instructed to babysit you in the first place?"
I rankled at the word babysit. "I am a freshman. Forgive the heck out of me if I didn't bother to commit the campus map to memory before today," I snapped. He blinked, the anger gone so abruptly from his features that it startled me.
"A freshman?" he repeated. I nodded. "Why didn't you leave the class when you realized you were in the wrong room?"
"Excuse me?" I asked, my eyes narrowing.
"You were obviously in the wrong room," he explained, his voice sounding as though he were speaking to a toddler. "That was a 300 level course. Perhaps you should memorize the map, so you can make it to the right room next time." I lifted my head and shoved my hair away from my face. I could feel the angry flush that burned my cheeks.
"Yes, since I'm a lowly freshman, not to mention a girl, I can't possibly have been in the right room, is that it? I can't be smart enough to take such a high level course, right? If I was in the wrong room, Edward, then why did the Professor know exactly who I was?"
He had no answer to that. His brow knit together, and he stared at me, his mouth slightly open. "Er… I seem to have offended you," he began uncertainly.
"Really?" I snapped. "How could you tell?" I stood up and started to stalk away. Belatedly, I realized that my messenger bag was still on the ground next to him, where he'd dropped it when we sat down. I turned and, ignoring him, bent to grab it. Apparently he'd been about to pick it up, too, because he bent over at the same time I did – and our heads bumped. Hard.
"Oh," I moaned, clutching my head. Of course it had to be the same spot that I'd hit on the desk! I plopped down on the concrete, and pain shot through my rear.
"You know," he said smartly, rubbing his head once, "if you hadn't tried to run off like that, this wouldn't have happened."
"If you hadn't assumed that I was a stupid girl, it wouldn't have happened, you mean," I retorted. My eyes were squeezed shut against the throbbing. "You know what they say about people who assume."
To my great surprise, I heard him chuckle. I opened my eyes and saw him giving me a lopsided grin. "You're very…" His voice trailed off as he searched for a word.
"What?" I dared him.
"…feisty," he finished, his grin widening.
"I just don't like double standards," I answered, wincing as I clambered to my feet.
"Explain, please," he said, handing me my bag. I frowned as he stood and slung his own bag over his shoulder.
"What are you doing?"
"Taking you to the wellness center."
"Why?" I blurted. He blinked, and then frowned slightly.
"Because you're a damsel in distress, naturally," he replied. I looked at him through narrowed eyes, and he chuckled again. "I'm only teasing. Look, I promised Cleary I'd take you over there, and since your feeble female mind couldn't handle memorizing the campus, I'd say I'm obligated to follow through with my promise."
"You can't seriously be this asinine," I hissed, shaking my head disbelievingly.
"You can't seriously be this gullible," he replied, his eyes dancing with silent laughter. I sighed and rolled my eyes. "Can you just show me how to get back to Hughes Hall?"
"Is that where you live?" he asked, starting to walk. I followed slightly behind him, and he slowed his steps so that we were even. Was that something that all of guys here did? I frowned.
"Yes. I just want to go home. I'd really appreciate it if you could show me how to get there – or better yet, just tell me how to get there."
"What's wrong?" he asked, still amused. "Don't want to be around me anymore?"
"Not really, if I can help it," I snapped, tired of his teasing. His smile faltered a bit, and he turned his eyes to look straight ahead. "Hey, look – I'm sorry, okay? I just – I don't like it when people assume that I'm an idiot just because I'm accident prone."
"You did," I said flatly. "You thought I was in the wrong class."
"That wasn't because you hit your head," he insisted, stopping to look at me. I stopped and shrugged before folding my arms over my chest defensively.
"Okay, then why?"
"You said you were a freshman," he said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I'm in my third year, and I've never heard of a freshman just jumping into a 300 level course – especially not something so complicated as-"
"Yeah, yeah," I sighed, rolling my eyes. "Girls aren't usually good at math, I get it." He smiled.
"Fine," I sighed again, hitching my bag higher on my shoulder. "So are you going to tell me how to get back?"
"That all depends."
"On whether or not you'll forgive me."
"For what?" I asked, surprised.
"For assuming." I blinked in surprise and stared at him for a moment.
"Oh…okay." He watched me for several moments before he turned and began walking again.
"This way, then."
I followed him in silence, puzzling over the sudden change in his attitude. We were nearly in front of the building before I realized that he actually had led me back to my dorm, and I stopped and turned to him. "Thanks for your help, I think I can make it from here."
He tilted his head slightly and smiled. "Are you sure you don't need help? Those front steps look rather treacherous." I couldn't help myself, and I laughed.
"No, thanks." I watched as he nodded and turned, and after a moment, I called out, "Sorry for making you miss class." He stopped, half-turned, and nodded before he walked away. I watched until he was completely out of sight, and then went inside the building.