I should've noticed something off about the evening we moved in. Maybe in the way mom didn't try to unpack any of her baggage, or that she went to bed at night without brushing her teeth.

All I know is some time between Sandman's Hour and my second round of tap water, my mom had picked up her luggage and left.

I braced myself for the worst, but Phil hadn't budged an inch from his spot on the couch. By the time the morning light starting seeping through the dirty windowpanes, I was already too worked up to even consider catching sleep.

Contrary to popular belief, thinking and daydreaming are two entirely different abilities. Right now, I had to think—logically and objectively.

Reasoning was not my strong point. Bella, you're right brained and an emotional basketcase. It runs in the family.

Baby steps, then.

Fact one: My mom wouldn't leave me. Especially given Phil's murky history. But somehow, she wasn't at home, hours after moving into a new locale. I wasn't sure what to make of that. This wasn't the first time she picked up and left me alone with a boyfriend—but never like this, in this particular situation. The moving boxes were still sitting primly against the garage door, waiting to be recycled or built into time machines by imaginative neighborhood kids.

Fact two: I was supposed to register at the school today. Forks High School, home of the Spartans. Phil was supposed to drive me. It didn't seem like he was going to get around to it.

Fact three: There was a considerable dent in our liquor cabinet supply, meaning that Phil was going to be on a crash when he woke up.

To be safe, I got up extra early and slipped out so he could deal with his hangover in solitude.

Final fact: It was drizzling.

I loved the rain as a little girl. Before my mother started dating Phil, we used to sit outside on Billy Black's front porch with our faces tilted to the sky, waiting for the droplets to hit the backs of our throats.

Lying against the patio steps, I rested my head against my arm and stared up at the medley of brooding storm clouds until my eyes stung. The drizzle was starting to darken my jeans in small sprinkles, and I could feel my shirt clinging limpidly against my body like a second skin. If I were allowed, I'd lie there until the sky broke.

I could've stayed like that for hours.

A shiver pricked the back of my neck. From the corner of my eye, I could see Edward making his way across his lawn, lighter in hand—coaxing it into a spark.

So the doctor's son was a smoker. How very paradoxical.

I stretched my legs and started to stand up. He must've caught the movement because his eyes were suddenly on me. I was ridiculously aware of the way the rain was making my shirt stick very, very intimately against my skin. Miss Manners would not approve of the way I was about to meet my neighbor.

His eyes ran over my figure once before he met my face and nodded towards his Camaro. Come here.

Well okay then. He had already ducked into his car and managed to tease a light to his cigarette when I opened the car door to let myself in.

I tried not to wince as the black tip of the Marlboro glowed an angry red. Lung cancer in a box. Phil went through packs of them a day. Cigarette burns and beer. The smell always made me sick—like the searing reek of Phil's cigarette against mom's palm.

Edward must've caught my discomfort. He put it out after just one drag. Perceptive boy.

"So you're Phil's girl?"

And here I thought he wasn't going to be much of a conversationalist. "Actually, I'm Renee's girl. Phil's my step-dad."

The line of his jaw seemed to move ever-so-slightly. Amusement. "The evil step-father and the emotionally unavailable mother. I can't decide if it's a classic or a cliche." He tilted his face towards mine. "What did you say your name was?"

"Bella. Bella Swan."

"Bella Swan." He tasted my name—languidly rolling the syllables under his tongue. All I could think was that he must've gotten a lot of girls into his backseat this way. "That's classic."

My gaze dropped from his lips, and for the first time in days, I started to feel the week's exhaustion catching up to me. I was pathetic when it came to facing off against fatigue—mom and I both crash and burn like no other.

Edward hadn't turned his windshield wipers on, and the windowpane was speckled with feather-light water beads. I was counting them when I felt my eyelids thicken and close into darkness.


There was fire in my throat—a slow, heavy burn. I tried to slide away.

It tightened. A scream ripped through my gut, caught inside my esophagus, squirming for release. There were hands around my neck. Red, scarlet hands—crushing my throat.

I'm being strangled.

My limbs flailed, my legs kicked the air. Nothing but air. Clear, California skies.

Bella, I thought I told you to put some clothes on.

The hands press—harder and harder. I scratch the blackness in front of me, trying to scream, unable to open my eyes. I can't wake up. I can't wake—


I was very literally jerked back into consciousness.

The first things I noticed were eyes—eyes then Edward. His hands were on my face, pressed against my cheeks, gaze fixed fast to mine.

I realized then that I'd been hyperventilating. My pulse throbbed painfully against my chest. There was a thick weight against my shoulders—his jacket. When did he put that there?

His thumb grazed my lip. Innocently. But too slowly to be an accident. "I'll take you home."

"Wait…" I tried to sit up. "School…"

"You missed it."


He shook his hair out of his eyes, something that was probably required of him every couple seconds. Mom calls it sex hair. I didn't have any trouble believing what the doctor insinuated yesterday about the girls in his office. "You were still asleep when I pulled up, so I thought I'd let you get some rest instead. It's a quarter past three right now. I registered for you, so...."

"Oh." My voice sounded small even to my own ears. "Thank you."

There were other kids in the parking lot. Forks Washington's teenage wasteland. A few of them lingered off to the side, watching our interaction. Girls. Girls with identical side-swept bangs, and they were giving me dirty looks.

A trio of boys—seniors, I guessed—passed by Edward's side and, seeing me, for whatever reason nudged each other and started hooting obscenities.

I looked down at myself, and it became clear why the girls had been giving me the stink-eye. Edwards jacket. More specifically, the way it'd been zipped up made it look like I wasn't wearing anything underneath.

Shouldn't have worn a V-neck.

Anyone within hearing distance was now, if they weren't before, looking towards the racket. Our direction. My eye caught a familiar body slamming his door shut and starting towards our car.

Phil. His face was calm, but the tell-tale flush of his face gave away his anger.

I grimaced, pushing myself against the seat, trying to be as invisible as I possibly could at this point. Edward looked at me intently, then followed my line of vision to Phil. Panicking, I started to take his jacket off.

He stopped me. "It's thirty degrees outside."

I pushed his hand away, harder than I intended to. "I can't wear this. It's giving off the wrong impression. And it makes me look like a lumberjack's wife."

He only looked peeved for a second. "You're going to fucking freeze. Just take it, your step-dad will underst—"

The door clicked open, and I was abruptly yanked out the car, narrowly twisting my ankle as I stumbled to regain my footing against the pavement. I didn't have time to be surprised, or register that all the kids within the parameter were now fixated on the scene.

Phil's grip strained against my wrist, and he was walking too fast for me to keep up at an even pace. His fingers were hard against my skin. Stiff. I tried to mediate his temper, "Phil—"

Without a word, he slung me into the passenger's seat. Reflexively, I stuck my elbow out to catch my fall against the side door, my chin colliding solidly against the dashboard.

He climbed in, and we drove off amidst a parking lot of alight with a dull buzz. Gossip mills would be running tomorrow for sure. New girl gets manhandled by step-daddy…wearing Cullen's jacket—draw your own conclusions.

Phil didn't say a word the entire trip home. I pulled Edward's jacket tighter against my body, feeling a chill wrack down my spine that wasn't entirely from the cold.

He pulled up to the driveway, and wrenched the keys from the ignition.

I opened my mouth to apologize, never quite getting around to it.

Before I could register what had happened, there was a dull warmth stinging my cheek. My head had snapped to the side from the impact. When I came to, Phil's chest was still heaving, his breath coming out in short pants. I turned my gaze to his key, still gripped tight between his fingers—the only difference was that the brass teeth were now lined in blood.

My blood.

His hands were in my hair now—yanking, slamming me against the windshield. His voice vibrated against my ear.

"You filthy-fucking cunt—just like your fucking whore of a mother! Where the fuck is she? Where did she run off to?" His grip tightened, shooting pain spasmed across my scalp. Black dots danced across my vision as Phil's face moved before me in a blur. "Did she go to Charlie? Did she go to your fucking father? I gave up my life for her! Do you know how much I've sacrificed? I could be playing ball in the leagues, that fucking…"

Slowly, the throb of Phil's voice broke into a low hum. I pretended he was mom. I imagined Renee's fingers combing softly through my hair, fingers stroking in a smooth, soothing lullaby. Sleep, baby girl, sleep…

For the second time that day, I blacked out.