A Day in the Life (College 101)
I twisted a lock of brown hair between my fingers, contemplating the stack of books on my dorm room floor. I looked up from the stack to the slab of plywood above my desk that was masquerading as a bookshelf. My dictionary and thesaurus had already taken up half the shelf, and I had at least a dozen more books I needed to shelve.
I bent down and picked up Jane Eyre, wondering if I could squeeze it between The Importance of Being Earnest and The Bell Jar.
"Bella, the shelf isn't made of titanium steel," Alice's voice trilled from the other side of the room. "If you put it there, the shelf will collapse."
I groaned in defeat.
"Just put them under your bed for now," Alice said cheerfully.
I bent down again and shoved the books underneath my bed, muttering about the hassle of unpacking the day before classes began. Orientation had taken all of yesterday, so last night I'd fallen into bed before bothering to actually make it. Alice, Jasper, and Edward had gone out hunting.
"You're not still mad that Edward made you come, are you?" Alice said, dropping the cheerful tone of voice. I looked up from my position squatting beside my bed to see her looking at me sadly, the corners of her mouth drooping into a heartbreaking frown.
"No, I'm not mad," I sighed, pushing the hair out of my face as I sat cross-legged on the floor. "Edward's right… one semester of college isn't going to kill me." I looked down at my left hand, where my engagement ring sparkled. "In fact, it's prolonging my life."
Alice laughed, springing back into her good mood easily. "I'm so glad you let me decorate our room—I think it looks great!"
Alice had made my bed for me while I was fighting with my bookshelf. The honey-colored throw pillows were piled at the headboard, and the dark blue comforter seemed to absorb the sunlight streaming through the window. Above the bed Alice had hung a poster of my favorite van Gogh. She had offered to buy me the original, but I was mostly sure she was joking.
"It really does look amazing," I admitted, glancing over to see Alice's side of the room. She had chosen a simple black comforter, but had paired it with zebra-striped throw pillows. Somehow, the effect of our two sides was complementary instead of clashing, and made the dorm room look cozy rather than cramped.
"Have you ever thought about going into interior design?" I said, shaking my head. "Or high fashion?"
"Nope," Alice said. "But maybe I will. I don't think the University of Alaska offers fashion classes, though. There're only so many ways to wear snow boots."
"True," I said. My suitcase lay open by my dresser, nearly exploding with wool sweaters, scarves and heavy coats. "At least you can go out in the sunlight now. All your skin will be covered up."
Alice wrinkled her nose. "As long as I don't have to wear a ski mask. I think my sunglasses will do the trick," she said, putting on a pair of ridiculously large frames to demonstrate. The square lenses touched her cheekbones and nearly covered up her eyebrows, but did so in a way that screamed Vogue.
"Edward!" I said, jumping up and throwing myself into his arms. For once he didn't feel like a block of ice when I hugged him—he was wearing a thick down jacket and gloves, so instead he felt like a very squashy snowman. He didn't look like one though—even bundled up Edward managed to look chic and gorgeous.
Alice smiled at us. "I'll go find Jasper."
"He's unpacking next door," Edward said, though it was only for my benefit. Of course Alice already knew where he was.
"We're neighbors," Edward explained, grinning impishly at my surprised expression. He tightened his arms around me and put his forehead against mine, so that he was looking down into my eyes, our noses almost touching. "What, you think I could stand to be away from my wife?"
I grinned at him, heat flooding my cheeks. Even if Edward and I were together for a hundred years—which, I reflected, was pretty likely—I would still feel like blushing when he gazed at me like this, tender and possessive all at once.
"Shhh. Someone might hear," I said. I leaned forward to kiss him on the tip of his nose. "We're still engaged, remember?"
"No one can hear us," Edward said, and his voice had deepened. He unzipped his parka and shrugged out of the heavy coat. Underneath he was wearing only a white T-shirt.
"The jackets do get a little cumbersome," he said after seeing my expression of bemusement. Of course, it would look odd if he walked around without a jacket when it was already freezing outside, although I knew he could walk around naked and not feel the slightest discomfort from the snowy weather.
He drew his hands away from me and reached up to his neck, attracting my attention to a thin gold chain I'd never noticed him wearing before. Still looking into my eyes, he slowly lifted the necklace out from under the T-shirt.
There, on the end of the gold chain, was his wedding band—a simple band of gold representing eternity.
"Oh," I breathed.
"Even if you don't want to let the world know we're married, I'm never going to forget for an instant," he said. He fingered the ring briefly before tucking it back underneath his shirt.
"I put mine in my jewelry box," I admitted sheepishly. I felt a little guilty for asking him to keep up the charade that we were only engaged, but he'd agreed with me when I pointed out it wouldn't exactly be a typical college experience if I were a married freshman.
"Don't worry," Edward grinned. "I won't let you forget you're a married woman. In fact, I plan to spend several hours each night reminding you."
"And how am I supposed to benefit from a college education if you're keeping me from studying?" I said, fruitlessly willing my blush to subside as I looked up at him.
"Didn't you know? Half the things you learn in college aren't from professors." Edward looked thoughtful for a moment, then grinned. "Well, not usually, anyway."
"Edward!" I said, shaking my head as he chuckled. "You're incorrigible."
"I think I've said the same thing about you, oh, maybe three hundred times."
"I'm not," Edward said, and faster than my eyes could follow he swept me into his arms and carried me to my newly-made bed. "I have a perfect memory, remember?"
I giggled as he dropped me from his arms onto the springy mattress. "Just you wait until I can say the same thing!"
He looked down at me, a wistful expression on his face. "I wish you'd let me wait longer."
The smile slid from my face. "I already agreed to wait a whole semester, Edward. I don't want our age difference to be any bigger than it already is!"
He sighed, stretching out next to me on the bed. He buried his cold face into my neck and spoke against my skin. "I would wait to turn you until you were a hundred years old and on your deathbed, Bella, just so you could have the full human experience I never had."
I shuddered. "You've just described my worst nightmare."
He pulled away from me and looked into my eyes. "Is it really your worst nightmare?"
He shook his head, but didn't say anything.
I scowled at him. "You think I'm naïve, don't you?"
"Not naïve," Edward said. "It would be impossible for you—for anyone—to understand when they haven't experienced time the way vampires have." His amber eyes stared steadily into mine, as if he could communicate his thoughts to me if he just looked hard enough. Or, more likely, he was hoping for the opposite—that, for once, he'd be able to read mine.
"As a human, every day is measured in minutes or hours," Edward continued. "Every year is measured in weeks, months. But some days seem to fly past you, and others drag. Humans have a very—subjective experience of time, but those experiences are limited."
"What does this have to do with my not looking like a grandmother before you turn me?" I said, impatient. Edward was deliberately obscuring the matter.
"Bella, I'm trying to explain," Edward said. His eyebrows knitted together in frustration. "You don't know what time feels like for a being that doesn't age. Can you comprehend a day that feels like a minute? Or a year that feels like an hour?"
I tried to imagine an entire year passing by in what might feel like an hour, and shook my head.
"Or how about an hour that feels like a year?" Edward persisted. Again, I shook my head.
"I just want to prepare you for eternity," Edward said, reaching out with one hand to brush my hair away from my face. "I wish I could make you understand what you're giving up."
"It wouldn't make any difference," I said stubbornly. "I would give up everything to be with you."
"I know," Edward sighed. He was quiet for a moment, but then he looked at me, a small smile on his lips. "And that's why you're incorrigible," he said softly.
There was a knock at the door. I looked over at Alice, who was getting ready to go out hunting in the undeveloped acres of land nearby. She smiled at me before calling out, "Come in!"
A squat girl with long black hair opened the door and greeted us with a loud cheery voice. "Hi Alice, hi Isabella! I'm your Resident Assistant, Joanna!"
"Hi," I said, a little taken aback. "Um, I go by Bella, actually."
"Oh, shoot!" she said, looking down at a stack of papers in her hand and scribbling that in the margins. "When I printed out your ID photos I just assumed… well, let me try that again. Hi, Alice! Hi, Bella!"
Alice raised her eyebrows, and I smiled weakly.
"Well, the long and short of it is, I'm here for you if you need me—if your toilet gets clogged, or you can't find your way to classes, or if you're lonely or homesick! I'm your girl! You can knock on my door anytime, day or night, and I'll be there for you."
"Oh, that's great," I said, edging away from the door.
"And if those boys next door give you any trouble at all, you let me know," Joanna said, frowning for the first time. "That Edward sure is rude. I don't like the look of them—probably frat boys."
"Edward is my fiancé," I said, narrowing my eyes.
Joanna's brown eyes went wide with shock as she glanced automatically at my left hand. "Oh," she said. "I didn't realize…"
"It's okay," I said. "Edward has that effect on people sometimes. He's not a frat boy, though. You won't have any trouble from us."
"You're aware of our policy on overnight guests, right?" Joanna said, sounding suddenly stern. It was easy to see why she'd applied to be an RA; she was the type who got off on the power trip.
"No boys allowed overnight," Alice said, joining in the conversation. She sounded pleasant enough, but there was a steel note of warning in her tone. "Don't worry. There won't be any boys in here."
"Okay," Joanna said, turning around and heading back out the door. She looked a little unsettled, and I guessed that on a subconscious level her body was aware of the danger of an annoyed vampire nearby. "Well, if you need anything…" she trailed off, and the door shut behind her. Then there was a scream.
I started for the door but Edward was already there, opening it again.
"No need for alarm. I accidentally startled her," he said, closing the door behind him. He looked at Alice and his lips twitched into a smile, doubtlessly responding to whatever she was thinking.
"Joanna's probably already mad that there's a boy in here," I said glumly, not at all looking forward to Edward-less nights and a suspicious RA monitoring our every move.
"There aren't," Edward said, smiling. "I'm over a hundred years old, and a vampire. I don't think I'm a boy by any stretch of the imagination."
I giggled. "Well, whatever you are, you're stealthy. As long as we're not caught. I don't want to be kicked out of college on my first night."
"You won't be," Alice said. She slipped on a coat she didn't need and walked to the door. "Don't wait up—I'll go to Jasper's when I'm done," she said, winking as she walked out.
I sat down on my bed and tilted my head to the side, letting my dark hair fall over my shoulder. I stared up at Edward, and bit my lower lip until I could taste a coppery drop of blood.
Edward gave me a predatory smile and locked the door.
"Good morning," Edward said.
"What? Oh. Good morning. Wait," I said, setting down my fork. "Haven't you already said that?"
"Oh, you've noticed," Edward said, grinning at me from across the table. The sounds of clattering silverware and rustling newspapers filled the dining hall, and I blinked before I fully understood what he'd said.
"Sorry, I guess I'm just tired. And nervous," I apologized, picking my fork back up and scooping up some scrambled eggs. I took a bite, concentrating on chewing instead of just swallowing them compulsively.
"Well, it's my fault if you're tired, but you have no reason to be nervous," Edward said. "It can't be worse than your first day in Forks, at any rate. You won't have a vampire after you today." Edward smiled. "At least, he won't be after you for evil purposes."
"You must really be nervous," Edward said, amused. "I can think of at least five witty things you could have said in response, and you went with 'hmm.'"
"Let's hope I improve before our first class," I said, reaching to put my fork in my glass of orange juice before catching myself and putting it down on the plate. "I don't think I can eat anymore—I've forgotten how to use cutlery."
"All right," Edward said, acknowledging the truth of my statement as self-evident. He picked up my tray for me and carried it to the conveyer belt that took all trays to the kitchen.
"So, we're off to the philosophy building," I said, pulling out a campus map from my jacket pocket. I had tried to memorize the layout of the campus before arriving, but with everything covered in snow it made it more difficult to navigate. I peered at the buildings on the map, trying to orient myself. I was studiously not thinking of Jacob and his compass.
"Hmm. I don't think we can get there from here directly," I said, turning the map upside down in my gloved hands. I looked up to study my surroundings; students in brightly-colored jackets were following trails heading off in different directions, but with the mountains surrounding us on all sides, it was hard to tell which direction was which.
"This way," Edward said, gesturing towards the path to our right. Two students in heavy down jackets and boots were heading that way too.
I folded the map back up and put it in my pocket, resolving to study it more closely tonight. "How can you tell, anyway? Every direction looks the same to me."
Edward raised his eyebrows at me, then tapped his temple with one finger. "I have my sources," he said.
Of course—the two girls on the path must be heading to philosophy too.
Once we set off on the trail we walked for five minutes before we came to a modern-looking building with the words "Department of Philosophy" on the doorway in gold lettering.
"Looks like we made it," I said, shrugging out of my jacket. For an instant I looked around for a coat hanger, like the cubby-hole system used in kindergarten. I noticed everyone else hang their coats on the back of their chairs, and I did the same before sitting down.
I was wearing a green woolen sweater underneath, along with dark-wash jeans tucked into my brown snow boots. I hadn't been sure what to wear in the cold weather, having avoided it at all costs while living in Phoenix and dealing mostly with rain in Forks. But as I looked around at my classmates, I could see similar fashions—apparently jeans, T-shirts and sweaters were the standard fare at any college campus, regardless of the weather.
Edward took a seat beside me in the circle of desks I recognized as a Socratic Circle. I relaxed; at least if I had to speak in class, so would everyone else. Edward reached out and squeezed my hand. His cool skin felt pleasant because my hands were slightly sweaty from the leather gloves I'd had to wear.
I smiled at him before releasing my hand and pulling out my notebooks, noticing that the two girls who'd been walking ahead of us on the path to class were staring at me in unflattering disbelief. One of the girls—a curly red-head wearing heavy eyeliner—whispered something to her blonde friend, and they both giggled. I had a strong feeling that the joke was at my expense.
Before I could start feeling too sorry for myself the professor walked in, and the class of about twenty students fell silent. He was a tall, balding man wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a cardigan. He gave an impression of absent-mindedness, and I immediately liked him.
"Welcome, students, to Philosophy of Ethics. As most of you have already deduced, I am Professor Lichtenstein—yes, like the country," he said, taking a seat in the circle and spreading out a few papers on the desk. "Today we'll start with a general discussion of our first topic. Now don't panic, I don't expect you to be familiar with the readings yet. This is more of an exploratory discussion."
A black student in a thick red sweater raised his hand. "Are you going to go over the syllabus?"
"No, I'm not going to waste our time with that," Professor Lichtenstein said. "And I'm not going to insult your intelligence by assuming you can't read it for yourselves. Now, any more questions? No? Great! Let me start by asking a general question: How many people here feel that, as Americans, we are overly-judgmental of other cultures?"
I raised my hand along with nearly everyone in the room.
"Okay. Now, in the Socratic method, there is no hand raising. Feel free to speak, just don't interrupt each other. Here's what I'd like to address today: Can an American—or any foreigner, for that matter—pass moral judgment on another culture's customs?"
There was a beat of silence before the same black student answered. "No, we can't," he said, pushing up the sleeves of his red sweater as he talked. "We aren't a part of their culture, and just because it's different from ours doesn't mean we can decide if it's better or worse. We have to respect people's differences."
The redhead who'd been staring at me before nodded her agreement. "We have to be tolerant of other cultures, even if their customs are totally different from ours," she said, glancing at Edward as she spoke. I gritted my teeth, and reminded myself that it was ridiculous to feel jealous—Edward was wearing his wedding band around his neck, after all. "I mean, historically, Americans have barged in on other people and taken over. Look at imperialism in Africa. We sent over missionaries to 'educate' and 'enlighten' the people we described as primitive. Now we know that was wrong."
There was general agreement from the class, and I had to admit to myself that she had a point. She smiled at Edward, a triumphant look in her eye.
But her smile disappeared as soon as Edward started to speak.
"But let's consider a culture that practices cannibalism. By your reasoning, we should be accepting of that choice and not say that it's morally wrong, correct?"
The girl hesitated, pushing back her red curls and looking like a deer caught in the headlights for a few moments before she recovered. "I mean, maybe they use it for religious purposes, or because they have to in order to survive," she said.
"So you think it's okay to eat people?" Edward raised his eyebrows and quirked his lips, apparently amused.
"Well, personally I think cannibalism is wrong. I mean, who are we to judge a culture that thinks it's okay?" she retorted.
"How about a society that thinks slavery is okay?" Edward said. The students who had been nodding along in agreement with the redhead moments before suddenly looked unsure. "If you say that morals are relative to cultures, then it would be permissible for slavery to exist in other countries. In fact, you couldn't even call slavery wrong, because there is no universal 'right' or 'wrong' to judge by."
The redhead flushed and did not reply. Instead, her blonde friend took up the argument.
"But there is no such thing as a universal 'right' or 'wrong,'" she said. Her small, blue eyes were focused on Edward as she spoke. "Our culture can condemn slavery and be tolerant of a country that practices it."
"So then you're arguing that tolerance is more important than basic human freedoms," Edward said. "But consider this: What about a society that does not see tolerance as a virtue? What about a society in which the people are in agreement with a dictatorship that tortures and murders people, and is intolerant of any society that thinks torturing and murdering is wrong? What then?"
"You're raising many of the main criticisms against moral relativism," Professor Lichtenstein interrupted. "Usually I don't interrupt until after everyone has spent the first thirty minutes of class agreeing that it's wrong to pass judgment on other cultures, but I think it's clear there are some basic philosophical problems with claiming that. Let's end here for today and resume the discussion after reading the first chapter in the textbook on the arguments for and against moral relativism. Class dismissed."
The redhead and her blonde friend hurried out of the room, avoiding Edward and me as we filed out.
"You were never such a show-off in high school," I joked, reaching out to hold his hand. Edward smiled at me and clasped my hand in his.
"She had some opinions that needed to be modified," was all he said before leaning down to kiss me on the forehead. "Besides, the difference between showing off in high school and showing off in college is relative. You can't pass judgment on me."
I laughed, and squeezed his hand in mine.
"So, how was organic chemistry?" I said to Edward, sitting down at the dining hall table where he, Alice, and Jasper sat with full but untouched trays.
"The teacher is competent," Edward said indifferently, resting his chin in his hand as he looked at me from across the table. "That looks positively inedible. I didn't think cafeteria food could be any worse than what they had in Forks."
"Hey, it's not that bad," I lied, taking a bite of the mushy pasta and forcing it down. I was hungry and not all that picky.
"Well, at least it'll make giving up human food a bit easier," Alice said. She was sitting next to me and looking at my tray with a similar expression of distaste.
"All right, that's it. I need some metabolic friends," I joked.
"That's a good idea," Edward said earnestly. "You should meet new people and get the full college experience."
"I am," I said, slightly offended. "I'm taking different classes from you and everything. You make me sound like I'm clingy or something."
Edward shook his head. "No, you don't understand. I'm the clingy one. I should have let you go off for a semester on your own… I'm already making the college experience different." He shook his head in self-disgust. "I'm the one who can never let go."
I put down my fork, my appetite forgotten as the familiar conversation dredged up painful memories from the last time Edward left. "That's not true," I said quietly, reaching out a hand and grabbing his cold palm in mine. "I would be miserable if you weren't here with me, Edward. I would miss you all so much," I said, looking at Alice and Jasper too.
Jasper grinned at me, and suddenly I felt much more cheerful. Edward looked up too, smiling in an annoyed but amused sort of way.
"Thanks, Jazz," Alice giggled. "Now Bella can finish eating."
"Yum," I said, forcing another forkful of limp farfalle pasta into my mouth. I swallowed and turned to Jasper. "I never found out what classes you had today," I said, remembering it was Jasper's first day in college, too. He'd never gone before since he had a harder time than the rest of the Cullens controlling his appetite, but my near-constant presence had helped build his resistance. It felt good to know I wasn't the only one at the table without a Ph.D.
"It was… interesting," Jasper said. He was wearing a black sweater, and the contrast between the dark color and his pale hair and skin was beautiful. I could see several girls eyeing him and Edward with interest, but no one but me seemed to notice this. "I took a class about the history of the Civil War," Jasper continued. "After I was turned I wasn't too interested in following General Lee's orders, but now I can finally learn how the war played out. I really want to see the battle plans," he finished thoughtfully.
"That's great," I said. "And how about you, Alice?"
"Well, I'm taking anthropology for the first time," she said. "You know, the study of humankind. I thought it would be interesting."
"And you, Bella?" Jasper asked.
"Well, I had a literature class," I said, and everyone laughed.
"Of course," Alice said. "What's on the reading list?"
"A little of everything. Shaw, Wilde… Stoker."
"Bram Stoker?" Edward said with an incredulous laugh. "You're reading Dracula"?
"Hey! It's a classic," I said, grinning.
"It's a sign," Alice said, widening her eyes and doing her best impression of a spooky psychic. Edward rolled his eyes.
I laughed along with them as I finished my lunch, suddenly optimistic about the semester, if not the food.
Edward caught my eye and he smiled as if he had heard my thoughts. His beautiful amber eyes, expressive lips and bronze hair disarmed me as much as they ever did.
Some things, I reflected, would never change. And that knowledge made me optimistic about eternity, too.