Disclaimer: I do not own the characters and concepts of the Twilight series. They are the sole creation and property of Stephenie Meyer.
This kind of reaction could only happen in a small town. The turning and craning heads, the stares, the speculative whispering though I hadn't yet left the cab of the truck and couldn't possibly hear--none of it would have happened in a big city. I tucked my chin as I gazed across the lot, appalled and resigned at the same time to being the object of interest. The day hadn't even started.
Sighing, I pulled the hood of my rain coat over my hair, sliding from the cab and crossing the lot towards the campus. My eyes were trained on the duck shoes on my feet, one of the many items purchased in the weeks leading up to the move, a necessity here on the Olympic peninsula. I didn't want to see the crowd part as I approached the building and tried to block the intensifying whispers as I came to the front steps. Pushing into the main office, I forced a smile to my face as the secretary greeted me.
"Isabella Swan!" The woman behind the counter clearly knew me though I could be pretty sure I'd never met her in my life.
"Bella," I corrected automatically.
"We've been so excited for your first day!"
"I bet." My frustration with that fact was lost on the secretary, who personified the word 'bustle' as she gathered my schedule and a map of the campus. Handing me the papers, she nearly glowed as she wished me a great first day. "Sure," I replied, not wanting to burst her bubble.
The Forks High student body was roughly the same size as the graduating class at my last school. That meant a new student, even one who'd spent summers in Forks and really shouldn't have been such a novelty, was like an urban legend come true. Somewhere between the math teacher getting dosed with acid and the cheerleader having her stomach pumped for reasons I'd rather not know about, it'd get endlessly discussed until the next big thing came along. Being that this was Forks, the next big thing probably wouldn't happen for a year and a half.
I knew it was partly my fault. If I wasn't such a recluse when I visited my dad in the summers, some of these faces might be familiar and I might not seem like such a freak to be gawked at. I kept my head deep in my hood as I found my first class, making my way to the back of the room and trying to ignore the sudden hush that greeted my arrival. I shook my hood from my hair only when the teacher started talking, glad all eyes were trained on the front when I looked up.
"Ms. Swan! Welcome to Forks High!" Clearly, the Spanish teacher was not aware of my plan to remain anonymous. I wondered if I would have scared her by approaching her before class and suggesting she act like I wasn't there. I guess that would have been taking it too far...
"Thanks." I hoped my smile didn't look forced.
"Would you like to tell us where you came from?" The eyes behind her glasses were expectant. I briefly thought about saying I'd come from the future, or from Hogwarts, or that I was really a mermaid who'd come to the wettest place on land I could find.
I finally said, "I lived in Phoenix." The Spanish teacher continued to look expectant but I couldn't think of anything else to say and ducked my head, feeling the blood surge to my cheeks as the silence awkwardly lapsed. Belatedly realizing she couldn't out-silence me, the Spanish teacher finally started the lesson. I exhaled in relief. I was the queen of awkward silences and no one was going to take my crown.
When the bell rang, I gathered my messenger bag and trailed after the students leaving the class room. I glanced at my schedule and the map, the pages already wrinkled with damp, when I was startled from my thoughts by an eager voice. "You're from Phoenix, right?"
"Uh, yeah." I vaguely recognized the girl with a riot of curly hair from Spanish.
"I'm Jessica." She held out her hand and I shook it, smiling. "Which class are you headed to now?"
"Math, I think..." She peeked at the papers in my hands and confirmed it.
"I can walk you there! I have history and it's on the way!" She seemed friendly if a little overwhelming with her energy level. Luckily, she filled the short walk to the next class with a blur of chatter that I felt like I should pay attention to. There was no way I was going to fly under the radar at this place and given the number of people Jessica was waving to as we walked along, she seemed like the person to help me figure things out.
She apparently had the same idea, grabbing me after math got out and walking me to my next class. Her hands gestured wildly as she pointed at the out buildings, the picnic tables behind the campus where people had lunch on rare nice days, and the giant boulders not far from there that marked the border between school and public property; this was where some students could be found smoking during lunch. "You don't smoke, do you?" she asked, her snub nose wrinkling.
"Oh, no," I replied, confused. Did I look like someone who smoked? I licked my teeth behind my lips, wondering if they were yellow.
Not noticing my momentary insecurity, Jessica exclaimed, "I'll grab you for lunch! You can sit with us and meet the whole gang!"
I had flashes of the gangs that had gone to my last school, colored bandanas hanging from their back pockets, and stifled a laugh. There was no way that's what she meant. I later felt a brief surge of doubt as the halls flooded with students, all streaming towards the cafeteria. I tried to remember my dad mentioning any drive by shootings and shook my head, knowing no such thing had happened in Forks. Jessica grabbed my arm just as I made it to the double doors. "I'm so excited!" she squealed. I tried to smile at her enthusiasm.
The cafeteria seemed small compared to the giant dining hall I was used to. Fluorescent lights did little to dispel the gray gloom beyond the windows, the perpetual drizzle on the roof drowned out by the shouting, flurried conversation, and sound of clattering silverware inside. I barely looked at the food I piled on my tray, following Jessica's weaving figure through the tables to the center of the room. "Hey guys!" she nearly cheered. I was starting to feel like something she'd caught, brought back as some kind of drooled-on trophy. I blushed, realizing I was unfairly thinking of her as a retriever. "This is Bella Swan," Jessica grinned at me. "The new student," she added needlessly.
There was a rattle of names, the six faces around the table all friendly and eager as I sank into my seat and tried to will the blood from my cheeks. "So how do you like Forks?" The guy on my left, blond with bright blue eyes, smiled welcomingly.
"Oh, I used to come here summers," I avoided answering his question, not wanting to be rude.
"Right, you're Chief Swan's daughter."
"Right." Charlie Swan, unlike his ex-wife, had never wanted to leave his home town.
"Why haven't we seen you before then?" the blond guy asked. I thought his name was Mike but I wasn't sure.
"I was probably trapped on a boat watching my dad gut fish the whole time," I explained.
"Oh, gross!" A thin girl at the end of the table tossed aside her sandwich with disgust at my words. I felt my cheeks flame again but ignored her.
"That might be worse than having to work!" Mike laughed. I laughed with him, relieved.
"Or babysit your little brothers," the dark haired girl across the table sighed. Her eyes were partly concealed by glasses, her face softened by a smile.
"Oh my God, tell me about it." Jessica, on my right, launched into a diatribe about her little sister. I was able to eat as she went on, my eyes drifting around the room. The underclassmen clustered near the entrance doors, clearly terrified as they wolfed down their food. I gave thanks that even though I had to start at a new school, at least I was a senior and would have only one year as a transfer. In the opposite corner, near the emergency exit, a group of five students at one table caught my eye.
"Who are they?" I couldn't help asking.
Maybe-Mike's eyes followed my gaze, flickering over the table in the corner before turning back to me with a wry grin. "That's the Cullens and the Hales."
Jessica stilled, somehow hearing Maybe-Mike over her own voice. She leaned forward to get my attention, her brown eyes wide. "The rich kids," she hissed. I hid a smile, thinking of the luxury cars that had dotted the parking lot at my old school. There had been entire competing cliques in Phoenix--though they might as well have been on Mars for how little their world touched mine. It was strange to think that world was now limited to these five students. I glanced back at the table. The two dark haired boys looked as if they were arguing, one slender with wild hair, his features intent, the other bulky like a football player, his dimples flashing as he listened, occasionally rolling his eyes. "Dr. Cullen is the chief of surgery at the hospital. He's like, super hot--"
"Isn't he kind of--old?" I asked, turning back to Jessica with a frown. To have teenagers, he couldn't be younger than forty. Maybe Jessica had a thing for older guys--but old enough to be her dad?
"No, they're all adopted," Maybe-Mike explained, rolling his eyes at Jessica. "Emmett, Alice and Edward. They moved here from Seattle four years ago."
Despite my attempts not to convey my disappointment with Forks, my surprised expression gave me away. Why would anyone voluntarily move here? "The boys got expelled from, like, every school there," Jessica explained in a hushed voice.
"They're weird," Maybe-Mike added in an uncomfortable voice. I turned back to the table where the slender boy was now flinging his half-eaten apple away, his expression annoyed. The blonde across the table from him thrust her middle finger in his direction as the apple narrowly missed her own plate of food. Her anger couldn't conceal the beauty of her features, full lips, wide eyes fringed in thick lashes, rounded cheekbones, and the kind of nose I imagined plastic surgeons got a lot of requests for. "The blonds are Rosalie and Jasper, the Hales. Their dad is a lawyer." I imagined he was the only lawyer for miles and reminded myself to ask my dad about them later.
"And they're all together!" Jessica hissed. She was nearly in my lap, leaning so far forward in her excitement that I realized I'd nearly scooted into Maybe-Mike on the bench.
"What do you mean 'together'?" I asked. There were five of them, how could that possibly work? Did they switch off? Was it some kind of commune or sect where everyone shared? I'm sure I looked slightly appalled, trying not to feel grossed out.
"Emmett and Rosalie, Jasper and Alice!" Jessica answered. "I've heard they even get to stay the night!" I felt my face relax. That wasn't as bad as taking turns. I really needed to stop reading about cults.
"That's just a rumor, Jess. You don't know if that's true," Maybe-Mike's voice was exasperated. "Though with the other stuff I've heard," he muttered as an afterthought.
I didn't get to ask him what that meant and wasn't sure I was interested. The bell rang and I sprang from my seat, relieved that lunch had actually been kind of pleasant. I was used to eating by myself, headphones blaring as I read a book, but Jessica and Maybe-Mike seemed nice--as did the dark-haired girl. She caught up to me as I reached the double doors of the cafeteria, her slight hand on my arm. "Jessica said you have A.P. English next," she explained. I nodded. "I'm headed that way. I'm Angela, by the way." I flushed, relieved she'd introduced herself again but apologetic that it was necessary. "It's okay. Jessica talks fast sometimes, and I wouldn't expect you to remember so many names on your first day."
"I'm terrible with names anyway. I think it's some kind of short term memory brain damage."
"It's probably the same part of the brain where calculus is understood," Angela said wryly.
"And where birth dates go to die," I added.
We were laughing when we walked into the class. I was surprised to see a nearly empty room, hesitating as I approached a desk. "There are only ten students in the advanced placement class," Angela explained at my confusion. "Last year there weren't enough people who scored high enough to justify it. Anyways, you should sit towards the front--Miss Bloch insists on it." I nodded, taking a seat.
I felt a mixture of dread and anticipation. Most of my classes so far that day had covered a lot of material I'd already studied at my last school. It would be nice to actually have a class that was challenging, especially in my favorite subject. But with such a small class size, there would be no opportunity to fade into the background. I kept my eyes trained on my notebook, doodling in the margin while the rest of the students trickled in. I didn't even look up when someone paused next to my desk and then sank into the seat on my right.
"Welcome back, class!" Miss Bloch's voice was warm. I hoped she wouldn't make me introduce myself. "It looks like we have a new student. Miss Swan, do you want to come to the front and say a few words?" My doodling pen froze.
Crap. No such luck.
My cheeks were immediately afire. I gripped the edge of my desk impulsively, then forced my hands to relax, knowing it would be childish and stupid to refuse. I slowly rose, glancing at Miss Bloch as I crossed the few feet to the front of the room. I turned around quickly and felt the words die on my lips, my brain abruptly empty.
Rosalie Hale sat nearest the door, her beautiful features vaguely annoyed as she twirled a long blond tendril around her pencil. Her brother sat at her side, his face turned to his left, where Alice Cullen sat with a brightly manic smile. I felt a momentary fear that she was going to jump on me, irrational and illogical, my cheeks somehow filling with more blood as I realized I still hadn't spoken. Alice sat next to her brother, who sprawled in his seat, his green eyes watching me with a mixture of boredom and disdain. My empty desk was at his left.
"Bella. Um. Bella is my name," I finally stuttered. I closed my eyes. Everyone knew that. Use your words! "I was born in Forks, but I lived in Phoenix and now I'm back." Oh my God, I had to stop using my words. "I like books," I finished with a weak whisper. This had to stop now. I jerked back to my desk, nearly falling into my seat, certain my cheeks had never felt hotter.
"Um, thank you." Miss Bloch clearly did not have my mixture of caveman talk and babble in mind when she asked me to introduce myself.
I didn't know what had happened. Turning to see those strangely intimidating people from the cafeteria had sucked all of the intelligence right out of my head. I never fared well when asked to speak in front of people but that was by far the worst it had ever been.
By the time I'd stopped berating myself, class was half finished. Copies of Pride and Prejudice had been distributed and I managed to focus long enough to copy down the reading assignment as well as the few points Miss Bloch pointed out about the time period and the author. The heat in my cheeks had died away by the time the bell rang. With a sigh of relief, I got up, grabbing my messenger bag and rain coat with one hand.
A seam in the bottom of the bag abruptly gave away and books thudded to the floor followed by a cascade of shuffling paper. I gasped, blood flooding my face as I uselessly grasped at the torn halves of the bag. I couldn't look up, mortified and angry as I kneeled to the ground and grabbed at textbooks and hand outs, trying to stack them into some kind of pile. "Excuse me." My head jerked up but the face attached to the voice was already turned to the door, trying to get away from the constant accident that was my life. He stepped around the papers that had fluttered towards the exit, putting a hand on his sister's shoulder. "Alice, her cardigan is exactly like my grandmothers." His stage whisper easily reached my ears but I looked away, pretending like it hadn't, biting my lip to staunch the angry tears that suddenly flooded my eyes.
"Ignore him." Angela was at my side, kneeling on the ground as she stacked papers and gathered books. "Edward Cullen is a miserable jackass." She wasn't looking at me and I was grateful, not wanting anyone to witness the dampness in my eyes. "And I like your cardigan," she added quietly. I laughed weakly.
The day finished nicely with gym, the class I hated most. Only two years had been required at my school in Phoenix but my bad luck was holding out and I had no choice but to take it here. Because I didn't have clothes, I was at least allowed to sit it out. I spent the entire time trying to find a song on my iPod that matched the anger and embarrassment still making my blood pound in my ears.
When the last bell rang, I shot out of the gym as if my pants were on fire, books and folders clasped to my chest, my messenger bag uselessly swinging from my shoulder. I jumped into the cab of my truck, uncaring of the pile of schoolwork that slid over the seat, tumbling from my arms. Gunning the engine, I wrenched the wheel, the first student off the lot.