A/N: I did not die, in case you were wondering. Thank you to StruckUponAStar for making this better.

It has been two weeks since the 'etcetera' conversation. This is noted in a vague way, but I wanted to clarify here.

Chp. 10 Cadavers and Cookies

"Isabella Swan please report to the guidance counselor's office."

I take back every cruel thing I've ever said or thought about Geography. Right now, Geography is where I want to be. The classroom I normally despise somehow taking on the role of safe haven in my mind.

I don't want to go to the guidance counselor's office.

I have been herded in the educational system long enough to know I don't have a choice. Despite the please attached to the announcement, it is a directive all the same. In this moment I feel akin to the first cow led up the slaughterhouse shoot, being corralled to my torment.

As a junior, I have the thrill of being subjected to a meeting discussing my goals for the future and plans for college. This shouldn't bring the flip of dread to my belly that it does, but this meeting brings together two of my most hated passions: obligatory conversation and talk of the future.

I take my time collecting my belongings from the floor and amble through the halls playing a silent game that involves touching every locker door. Ten minutes later I make my way into the school office.

The school secretary, Mrs. Cope, is hunched at her desk, glassy eyed and inattentive. Her yellow shirt is the same color as the manila envelopes stacked on the shelves behind her desk, as if she could blend in with her office surroundings at any moment.

Mrs. Cope is one Forks resident that I never see outside of the school. It is almost as though she is only able to survive in the presence of a filing cabinet and a stock of Bic fine point black ink pens. Apart from this she doesn't exist, blending into the seventies print carpet when the final bell tolls each day. Her two snippets in my classification system are based on her preference of classic yellow post-its and her ability to utilize a pencil down to a mere stub.

Before I am forced to engage her, Mr. Stark's voice beckons me into his office.

I drag my feet along, only pausing to push his office door open the entire way before taking the designated seat in front of his pricey mahogany desk. I am placing trust in Mrs. Cope to intervene if I try to murder Mr. Stark, and want the sound of his screams to travel unobstructed to her.

Mr. Stark stands when I enter, offering his palm across the desk to where I am seated. He is shades of neutral through and through, brown on brown plaid and khaki pants wrapping a man of average height, average weight, and average intelligence. The only thing that stands out about Mr. Stark is the size of his nostrils. I am confident a nickel would easily fit into the twin caverns on his face. I grasp the ends of his hand and pump our fingers minutely, conceding at least to this small contact.

When he is seated once again he props his elbows on the arms of his chair, tenting his fingers to meet in front of his chin where he taps them lightly. He sighs loudly, creasing his brow in what I'm sure is meant to be a look of compassionate concern. In reality, it conveys that he is constipated.

"I know you have been going through a difficult time, Isabella," he reaches out to tap my hand in what is meant to be a formal gesture of comfort. I promptly remove my limbs from the desk and press myself further into my chair, trying desperately to gain a few centimeters of distance.

"Teenage years can be trying, but you will get through it. Soon this incident will be a distant memory you can draw strength from."

I'm assuming the 'incident' he's referring to my suicide attempt. However, he speaks as though there are still 'Get Well Soon' balloons losing helium in my bedroom, wafting until they slowly hit the worn carpet with their silent demise.

I wonder how well informed guidance counselors are kept and I'm beginning to question my earlier assessment of average intelligence. He must not realize that over a year and a half has passed since my 'incident'.

He pulls a note card from off the desk, holding it up so close to his face that it nearly taps the end of his nose. I half expect some sort of troll to emerge from his giant nostril and gobble it. My eyes drift away from his nose, taking in the words on the back of the card.

It is important to connect with compassionate people to support you during this difficult time. Make goals to achieve ordinary tasks and maintain daily routines.

Mr. Stark begins reading the card to me, "You should build relationships with positive influences and treat each day as a new opportunity." He flips it over and begins on the back sentences that I have already read; the front now visible to me. Along with the words he has already spoken I see the top clearly labeled 'Suicidal Student'.

I interrupt and speak the last sentence over him, "Make goals to achieve ordinary tasks and maintain daily routines."

"Well, I see that you are perusing ways to lead a healthy life and taking positive steps to correct your mindset." He is taking my tandem lines as like-mindedness and it seems as though the easiest option is to let him keep his assumption.

Mr. Stark smiles and returns the card to one of his drawers. I peek over the desk to see that it is full of similar notes. I imagine headers of 'Teenage Pregnancy', 'Discovering Sexual Identity', and 'Family Member Death' all have their rightful place in his drawer of guidance. Perhaps he has an index to cross-reference a multitude of teen issues.

He reaches down and crosses my name off a yellow post-it-note Mrs. Cope has undoubtedly provided. Drawing a line clear through the letters that designate me as if a simple 3 x 5 is all it takes to counsel someone.

This is the person who is meant to advise my future, to direct how I will make my next set of major life choices. My lack of confidence in the educational system of Forks has hit a new all time low, scraping depths never before imagined.

"So, Isabella, let's talk about your future," he raises his eyebrows excitedly and moves forward in his chair, obviously glad to be past what he felt would be the most difficult part of our conversation.

The rest of our time is spent with me concocting an elaborate lie about my dreams of becoming a mortician and developing new methods to utilize spray on tans on the dead to make them seem more lifelike.

"Because we all know no one wants their dead relative to look pasty. If I could find a way to incorporate a few tanning sessions for corpses after their embalming, I just might find a niche in the death market and be wildly successful."

Mr. Stark is nodding his head encouragingly, swallowing the shit I'm sending his way with delight.

"I'll get back to you with some pamphlets on the closest mortuary colleges."

While twisting this lie far past the realm of acceptable career pursuits, I can't help but think of the one thing I can admit to wanting in my future. It's strange to want something, to feel like I have something to look forward to.

When heading towards the office my stomach was knotted in dread, but upon leaving my heart is pumping and full of possibilities. After this meeting I can attest that Mr. Stark fails as a guidance counselor, yet somehow has put me in a mood that can be classified as nothing less than giddy.

Images of Edward in a well tailored navy suit standing amid a stock of caskets and reeking of embalming fluid carry me back to my class.

As I gaze over the lunch table strewn with pudding cups, half sandwiches, and Emmett's Twizzlers, I lock onto Eric Yorkie seated a few tables away.

Eric is greasy.

There is no denying it. Coating his face resulting in acne, seeping from his scalp resulting in stringy hair, there is oil oozing from his every pore.

People don't want to run their fingers through his oily, slick hair.

Right now this makes him appealing to me.

I watch as Lauren runs her hand through Edward's hair, his lion's mane of free standing locks. I find myself wanting to cut her with my plastic cafeteria issued knife. I want to slice her hand clean off her body with my dull, easily bent utensil. It would probably be difficult to actually separate the limb, but I would enjoy the extra pain inflicted by using such an inappropriate tool.

Edward leans away from her touch and says something dismissing to get her to leave her perch between us at our lunch table.

She slides off in a motion that makes her already too short skirt ride up even higher on her thighs. My inner slur of "whore" almost makes it through my clenched jaw. I actually whistle through my teeth a little in my repression.

Edward's eyes are searching my face for my response, but I'm not looking at him. I'm looking past to greasy Eric and wondering why I couldn't be infatuated with someone easy.

No one wants to run their hands through Eric's hair. If I wanted that right, I could own it solely, without worry over who else would attempt to stake a claim.

With Edward, however, it seems like everyone with a uterus wants to be touching him all the time.

This is absolutely an exaggeration, but the basic point is true.

"Tell me what you're thinking," he asks as he begins to drum his fingers across the table's edge.

I think of replying that he has dashed my dreams of owning a funeral home. There is no way grieving widows could keep their hands off him.

"Maybe you should stop showering," I murmur. In my head his rhythm beats out not-mine not-mine not-mine over and over.

In the past few weeks I have learned that if I were to accurately fill in a featured quiz in Teen Beat I would definitely qualify as a 'jealous person'.

Why yes options b, c, d, d, and a; I do clearly lean towards a possessive personality.

He sighs and slides his chair slightly closer. The linoleum fights against the metal, rewarding his effort with an unpleasant screech. The shrill noise makes me shudder and still leaves us at least two feet apart.

We're always at least two feet apart.

Still, I reward him with a smile and offer to share my pudding cup. Because I know he's trying, and I believe what he said a few weeks ago when I sat on the cold curb. He obliges and digs in with his own spoon and I enjoy the stolen moment.

A giggle erupts from the right, the sound tumbling from Alice's lips as Jasper brushes his finger tips against her ribs.

They always touch. Always.

Not necessarily in a lewd or indecent way, although the current 'tickle fest' that's developing is a bit much. Rather, a hand pressed to the small of her back or fingers tracing the hair line at the nape of his neck. A point of physical connection is maintained. A beacon declaring exclusivity.

I am incredibly annoyed.

I only notice the physical connection because of my own deficit of touch. Where Alice and Jasper are all hands and feet intertwining, Edward and I exist without contact.

Everyone knows that they are an item; they have melded into one entity in the view of the student body. When Rose asks Jasper what time he'll be somewhere, it is understood that his arrival will include Alice.

They are a given.

As for me and Edward…

People wouldn't guess that he declared his intention to capture me based on our two foot separation at all times. Sharing pudding does not translate to a romantic match.

Most of the time, I don't mind this. I don't generally give off the 'tickle me' vibe. However, if Edward was running his fingertips over my ribs, chances are Lauren wouldn't be able to fit between us in order to spread her pheromones all over his head.

While I'm making my way to Biology I realize that if I were entwining my fingers in his mane Lauren wouldn't have ample room to squeeze between us either. Or I could rub my hands across his shoulders, or straddle him in his metal folding chair. I could have given into any of the strange late night television inspired impulses I've been having lately and this would probably no longer be an issue.

However, over the past two weeks Edward has given no opportunity for touch. Aside from gripping his hand to escape from Emmett's birthday, I have not felt one inch of skin against my own.

He gives me his words, spending time discussing favorites. I can name his top five favorite films, movies, and CDs; his favorite type of hot sauce; what label of black t-shirts he prefers; and even his toothpaste brand.

He is a Crest man, through and through.

But he has yet to give me his skin.

I am trying to follow his lead, allowing him to set some form of pace. Without any prior relationship experience and an already loose hold on regular interaction, I am out of my depth. My desire to feel and caress is rivaled only by my fear of ruining something I want so much. I feel as if this whole thing is so tentative it could literally pull away from my fingertips with one wrong move.

Jasper insists that if I initiate Edward will follow, claiming that no boy would resist a girl he has so obviously shown interest in. He says that no one will be touching at all if one of us doesn't make the first move.

My doubts on Edward's desire to touch have escalated in direct proportion to the time that passes from his confession. I fear he thinks of me broken, afraid to handle me with anything but kid gloves, but I can't spit out the question to clarify his distance.

A thousand words can be shared over dozens of conversations, but I can't seem to ask why he won't touch me.

I'm chicken shit.

"You ready?" Jasper questions as he wipes his palms across his jeans in an attempt to quell his nervous sweat. He reaches into his glove box to obtain a small bottle and I barely manage to escape before he begins to cloud the vehicle with the beach inspired scent.

Jasper has started wearing cologne.

His once earthy boy musk has been replaced with a bottled spray that brings to mind advertisements featuring blonde surfers in board shorts displaying tan abs and carefully sculpted windswept hair.

Jasper can't swim, and I don't think he owns a hairbrush. Also, his skin is as white as the t-shirts he favors, just like the rest of us inhabiting the town the sun has forgotten.

After I escape the Vega, I find myself graced with a view of the Cullen home. It is all hard lines and crisp white, and its order and pallor make it a disparity against the surrounding chaotic greens and browns of the forest.

The steadily falling afternoon rain has left a protective wet shine over the driveway. Gray mirrors gray, the reflective puddles on the ground echoing back a wetter version of the cloudy sky. It is the type of day that makes me want to spin in circles, to see if my reality can be further disrupted by the mirror image.

My own reflection is cast down from my feet, blurry and detached. I wish I could escape with it into this upside down world.

Instead Jasper is ushering me onto the front porch and ringing the doorbell before I can run away and hide in the woods. He must have known I was thinking of fleeing.

"You can't run. Don't think you're the only one who is not looking forward to this whole meet-the-parents experience," he whispers as we wait for the inevitable opening of the giant white door.

Jasper has been a wreck every time this dinner has been mentioned. Alice informed us that her parents were forcing a meet and greet once they realized she was dating again. Being privy to how her last relationship was revealed to the family, I wasn't surprised that they insisted on meeting Jasper. The not so optional get-together has been hanging over us for two weeks. As for how I got lumped into the whole thing is unclear, but I am standing on the porch nonetheless when the door swings wide.

"Welcome!" We are greeted by the modern version of June Cleaver, and when I cross the threshold into the oversized foyer I can't help but feel like I'm stepping into one of the many reruns on TV Land that Rose and I have been watching for the last year. Her meticulous blue cardigan and shell combo matches the blue flowers of the apron she is wearing perfectly and I feel like she is an alien.

"Hello, I am Mrs. Cullen but you must call me Esme," she shakes Jasper's hand and leans in to hug me awkwardly. I wasn't expecting the maneuver and therefore only mange to bring one mostly trapped arm up to pat her forearm as she pulls away. The smell of vanilla is eclipsing even Jasper's overdose of sea and sand.

"Hello," Jasper and I both murmur in sync, and I begin to let my eyes wander in an effort to find Alice and Edward.

Jasper has frozen and become useless, leaving me to fend for us both in front of the most intimidating housewife I have ever encountered. I try to search my brain for a customary phrase to throw out that suits the occasion. All I can come up with is please, thank you, or pardon me; the only polite sayings that willingly spring to mind. Realizing that none of them works, I settle for trying to smile sweetly and elbowing Jasper in the ribs.

"Ouch," he grunts, but springs to life as I had intended.

"You have a lovely home Mrs. Cullen," he offers, filling in the expression that I could not, charming her with his slightly dimpled smile.

A wave of thankfulness washes over me that somehow the fates concocted a scenario where I am here with my best friend. If I were facing Esme alone I would surely have accidently said something offensive and been banished.

"Thank you dear, don't forget it's Esme," she smiles at him and begins to lead us deeper into the house. As we walk I notice her hair is coiled upon her head into a French twist without a single flyaway in sight. While this is meant to convey order and perfection, the resulting flawlessness just makes me curious if she is wearing a wig.

We are led through a sitting room, a formal living room, and a family room on our way to the great room. Once we arrive Esme directs us towards an over stuffed sofa and motions with her outstretched arm that we are to sit down. Immediately I start picking at the seam of my jeans, my hands beginning their awkward anxious habit in an attempt to calm my nerves.

Edward and Alice have yet to make an appearance, and I'm starting to wonder if we somehow ended up at the wrong house. Perhaps this is an elaborate ploy to lure unsuspecting victims into a serial killer's clutches. However, it seems unlikely that a murderer would be so color coordinated, even donning the perfect shade of crimson lipstick.

"I'll be right back with some cookies while we wait. I just sent Edward and Alice to the store with their father for one last ingredient," Esme offers the explanation and glides gracefully from the room.

Jasper takes the opportunity to wipe the accumulated sweat from his brow before relaxing against the couch.

"Do you think that's a wig?" I whisper.

"What? No, they would've tipped us off about a wig so we wouldn't stare. Some people just appreciate conditioner, Bella," Jasper snips back. I forgive his snide tone because I know it comes from his nerves.

Esme slips back in with a tray full of Oreos and Nutter Butters, a scrumptious offering marred only by the confusing detail of an oven mitt.

"Thank you so much, these look delicious," Jasper charms.

He elbows me with extra force so my addition of, "Thanks," comes out as a croak.

"You're welcome. I just pulled them from the oven a few minutes ago so they should still be warm," she picks up a Nutter Butter and blows on it before taking a dainty nibble.

"What?" The question slips from my lips before I can help it, because I'm pretty sure Esme just suggested that she cooked what is obviously a store bought cookie.

Jasper covers my question with a grand display of 'oos' and 'ahs' while rubbing his tummy.

Thankfully, the front door opens before the issue can be further discussed. The sound of the rest of the dinner party can be heard entering the house. Esme leaves the room once more to help Carlisle carry bags to the kitchen.

"Jasper!" Alice squeaks as she enters the room, rushing over to the couch and bouncing on the balls of her feet as he stands.

He smiles at her and goes in for a hug, but Alice dodges and grabs one of his hands instead in an awkward shake. It seems that no one is able to handle greetings in the right way tonight. In preparation for this dinner Alice not only chose Jasper's current attire, but also drilled into him the need to maintain adequate distance to calm her parents' fears. Her track record of blatant physical displays is something she's trying to prove she's past. It is worth noting that I managed not to make a comment suggesting that she follows Edward's lead.

"Oh, right. Sorry," Jasper mutters and wipes his brow yet again, patting his palms against his jeans.

Edward is close behind, his presence bringing immediate comfort. Once again I find myself wishing I was the kind of girl who could run up and envelop him. At least I am able to still my fingers from their attempts to wear through my denim as I rise and cross to him.

He offers me a crooked smile. "Sorry we weren't here, please tell me you didn't say anything about the cookies."

"You should have mentioned that your mom is…well, is how she is. I almost blew it, but Jasper covered with a performance worthy of a commercial spot for Nutter Butters."

He sighs in relief, shaking his head slightly, "It's not everyday you can slip into conversation that your mother passes store bought items as her own. Yeah, I have no way of explaining that. But hang in there, we'll make it through."

Worrying about others' feelings feels foreign, like wearing someone else's skin stretched across my frame. I know that making a good impression is important since I've decided I want to keep Edward, but it has been so long since I've attempted to be socially acceptable. This is yet another bizarre step along the path to my reemergence into the world of the living. I am unsure of how to react and respond; calculating what I say and where I stand, and it just doesn't fit me.

His easy manner is contagious but I can't help but caution, "I just want you to know there is no way I'm not going to mess up this family dinner."

"I'm actually looking forward to how this plays out," he chuckles.

Edward extends his hand towards my own before catching himself and returning it safely to his pocket.

The movement appears in slow motion, sending a shock through me. It suddenly becomes clear that Edward wants to touch me but is refraining. I avoid contemplating his reason, and focus on the desire that I have just witnessed. With the realization that Edward will not shrink away from my skin, I am emboldened. This is my golden moment and I will seize it despite the less than ideal circumstances.

My feet carry me closer, breaking our two foot bubble until my chest is mere inches from Edward's, the tips of our sneakers now touching. He peers down at me with wide eyes at our new proximity, and I am close enough to see the spread of faded freckles across the bridge of his nose, close enough to smell his sweet exhalation as his breath picks up.

This is the most inopportune time to decide that I am going to touch Edward. We are about to sit down for dinner with his bat shit crazy parents and all I want to do is press myself into him, forsaking any need to be proper.

He is standing with his hands at his sides, but his body leans closer to my own. This is all the additional confirmation I need. I bring my fingertips to drag up his arms, following the lines of his muscles beneath his long-sleeved t-shirt as I trace my way to the top of his shoulders. My jagged nails catch on the threads of his shirt, but I will not be deterred. I am able to bring my eyes away from his well sculpted arms to his face, rewarded with an honest, sweet smile on the lips I have been watching for so long. Encouraged, I splay my hands against his shoulders, applying pressure in my fingertips as I draw them closer around his neck. He seems so tall when I am this close.

At last, I am where I want to be.

My fingers curl into the unruly bronze at his nape, and Edward smiles a little wider. He closes the last inch between us and finally moves his arms up to encircle me. I buzz with the contact, elation seeping through my veins, and all I want is more.

"Edward, I won't break," I whisper, wanting to encourage him.

He grips my lower back and squeezes slightly as he draws me closer. I turn my head and lay my cheek across his chest, greeted with warmth and the bass tones of his heartbeat pumping out a quick rhythm that matches my own. His breath stirs my hair and I watch the strands jump in my line of view, in sync with his inhalation. Edward moves his hands to rub my back, paying attention to every vertebrae of my spine before looping his fingers into my hair.

My awareness of each miniscule movement is absurd. I respond to a mere hug as if an entire pool has been offered to someone so thirsty they were craving only a droplet. Yet the contact sooths and satiates, and I am far from complaining.

"Dinner time!" Esme calls from the dinning room, interrupting with her call to a meal that will be anything but dull.

A/N: What is your favorite cookie?