A/N: *waves* Thanks for giving my story a shot! Read on to (eventually) discover how it's a crazy blend of Twilight and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Big thank you to Idealistic4ever and Britney for beta reading this initially, as well as CapriciousC and tiffanyanne3 for helping with a later revision. And no, I do not have the Twilight-ownage power to make things turn out my way for real.
Here's an extended summary: Six-year-old Nessie has led a life so sheltered that her first day of high school is cause for giddiness, her rapid aging so far having kept her confined to her family circle. But just when she's starting to worry that her strangeness will keep her cloistered up forever, she witnesses a tragic event and starts to accumulate life experience fast. The event forces Leah to come home from a stint as a ranger up in the Yukon, and she and Nessie click as freaks who wish they could be more normal. Their mutual understanding quickly starts evolving into something more, but the problem is that each considers Jake to be her best and oldest friend. Nessie knows that Jake is powerfully attached to her, though she doesn't know just how powerfully, and neither she nor Leah knows how to keep him from getting badly hurt.
"The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody'd move. You could go there a hundred times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving that same blanket. Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you." - J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
"That bad, huh?"
Please let me be, Jake. I shoot him a concerted little shrug-smile and duck around to the passenger's side, opening my door before he can finish heaving his body out of his own. I dunno why, really, but I don't want Jake to hug me in the parking lot. Not in front of everyone on my very first day of high school. Luckily for me, he doesn't seem to mind and drives off without further ado. Unluckily for me, he doesn't get the message that I'm not in a talking mood.
"Ness, hon, I'm sorry you didn't like it. You were all excited, and it was so cute…I just really hoped you'd have fun. That's why I wanted to pick you up today, so the 'rents couldn't drag you down with all their jadedness crap."
I have to giggle when Jake breaks out his impression of Dad- erm- Edward. "Condemning you to this eternity, Bella…unforgivable, I say! The bloodsucking builds character, but high school? Ai me!"
He finishes with a brow-wiping gesture that would usually put me in stitches, but I'm just not in the mood to make fun of my weirdo parents right now. Truth be told, I'm more in the mood to sit and slouch, hiding in my hair as best I can. I haven't worn it down like this since the last time Alice dressed me, given how itchy curls distract the vamp senses like no other, but the hair came down after first period today, just after I stopped having fun.
Unfortunately, a part of me is not feeling the slouch routine- my twitching left hand that I have to smack down when it tries to reach across my body. The things Jake wants to know about are needling my mind, begging me to share them with anyone and everyone around me. The problem is that I know giving in would just make me feel worse. I feel exposed and dirty when my brain goes and flashes my friend, showing him how touchy I am and how little there is to me in general.
I wait to touch Jake's cheek until I know I'm in control, then give him a long look at his own concerned, puppyish expression. I make sure he notices the less-than-flattering flare of his nostrils, and that he doesn't notice that parts of me that want to relax and be babied. Jake doesn't need to know how little it took to upset me today of all days; all he needs to know is that his prying is pathetic and annoying.
He pushes my hand away more gently than my bratty behavior deserves, squeezing it to show me that he isn't mad or anything.
"Geez, Ness, do I really look like that? Guess I'm lucky I have you to be honest with me." He gives a theatrical wince, but I can tell he meant what he said. "Don't get me wrong, Ness. I hated high school as much as the next guy, but you've been dying to go…for years, really."
Jake's right, of course. He's pretty much always right. I twist my fingers through his and rest my head in the hollow beneath his shoulder. The car veers right, and the force nestles me tightly against his side. We're hurtling through the fog along the windiest highway in state, but you'd never know it with Jake driving as smoothly as you please. My Jacob takes such good care of me….maybe he would understand. At least if I open up with words instead of a too-revealing picture dump.
"Jake… did you ever read The Catcher in the Rye?"
"Uhh, does SparkNotes count?" Right. That's why he hated high school. I slouch limply against him and mumble my next words at the floor.
"So there's this boy who thinks that grownups are incredibly fake and stupid. He likes to look at statues of Eskimos in a museum. The statues are really pretty, and they're telling this perfect story about life up north, but all he can think about when he looks at them is that nothing remotely alive could ever be like that, staying pretty forever and telling the same story over and over."
I know the book by heart of course, but I still slipped it into my school bag. I poked my hand under the bag flap at least a hundred times today, feeling for the worn-out place in the binding. The lines on that page are the only proof I have that some humans wish they were like us… beautiful and motionless with one purpose in the world. One purpose forever. I thought after today that I might have a different kind of proof… a friend maybe, or at least a loser who wanted to be my friend.
Jacob is smirking, definitely making fun of me. Not for the right reasons though, I think- thank God.
"Right. You've spent your whole life cooped up in a house with the biggest library in the state, and now you don't like high school 'cause you thought it'd have a better reading list."
I squirm away from the concern that's threatening to well up in his face again. Unfortunately for both of us, he doesn't get the hint.
"Don't worry if you haven't made any friends yet. Their eyes just need a bit of time. To adjust to your gorgeousness, ya know?"
Great. This is exactly the conversation I was hoping not to have. "Jake, you know perfectly well that vampires don't make friends. Bella was the only human in a zillion years of high school whose eyes ever 'adjusted' to their 'gorgeousness.' Ever." I cower behind two pairs of big, obnoxious air quotes, then hurry to clench my arms against another spasm of images.
It's true that Bella always wanted to become a vampire for Edward, but that's not the same as Holden wanting to be like the statues in the museum. He knew that they were different from him, inside and out, but Bella has always been like them on the inside.
According to Renee, Bella was born thirty-five, and I can see it in the pictures that march from left to right along Charlie's mantlepiece. The face gets thinner and older, but the expression never changes much at all. Bella looks like she's waiting for them to stop taking her picture so her life can get started already, a look that doesn't go away even in the very last picture of the bunch. The one where Bella's in her wedding dress, about to walk down the aisle. That last picture seems like it completes and explains all the others, telling you what she was waiting for all that time. Weaving the line of pictures into a story I know better than I know myself.
Our mantlepiece at home sports a different timeline of photos, a timeline spanning half as many years and a much more varied set of expressions. They don't seem to tell a story though; they just show me getting bigger. It's hard for me to decide who I understand less, really, between the princess dress-bedecked toddler and the face I see in the mirror nowadays.
The story on Charlie's mantlepiece is beautiful and perfect, but one day I stared at it and realized it wasn't complete. I couldn't put my finger on what sort of picture was missing, and my parents, when questioned, said that of course it was the whole story, what was I talking about? Bella said her life had been boring and ordinary, not like mine, and that it stopped being either of those things when Edward came along. One day though, Renee asked Bella whatever had happened to some old scrapbook. She brought it down, but started flipping much too fast for Renee to follow.
As soon as I saw the missing picture, I knew what it was and grabbed it. Not what it was, exactly, but just that it needed to go on Charlie's mantlepiece. Funny I thought that, seeing how it looked like a picture of Edward all by himself. But Bella was practically screaming out of the negative space, like how some people look at that picture of two faces and see the 'vase' between them instead.
Sure enough, Bella was there when I smoothed the picture flat. Standing next to Edward in the middle of Charlie's living room, the two of them wedged apart by a narrow sliver of carpet, wall, and sofa.
I shoved the creased photo in Bella's face, in Edward's face, knowing that this was the missing story piece and wanting them to tell me why. They shied away and told me not to worry, that it was nothing. Then Bella buried her face in Edward's neck for an hour, lifting her shield to show him things they wouldn't show to me. Renee knew a little about what the picture meant, how Edward's family had left for L.A. and he and Bella had split for a while. Alice told me the rest of it later as she braided my hair out on the porch.
Neither Bella nor Charlie wanted the missing picture on the mantlepiece where it belonged. I had to content myself with knowing that it existed and looking for others that seemed to flesh out the dark side of the story. I found pictures of Bella in Phoenix, looking pale and fidgety in the sunshine, not seeming to care whether she's standing next to other girls or not. When other girls are nearby, they stretch away from my mom toward the sunshine, confused by her indifference to sunlight and their smiles. I saw that sort of confusion a lot in real life today, on the faces of students when they looked at Bella and also when they looked at me.
Jake is trying to comfort me still…I'll just bet he knows that people thought I was weird like the rest of them today. That they lumped me in with the rest of the family and didn't get me at all.
"Your folks didn't make any friends because they don't really care about people, Nessie. That's not you at all; you're half human and you're interested in humans. You've been wanting to see how the other half lives since before you knew that your folks weren't technically alive."
I cringe at the tasteless wordplay and let my head smack hard against the headrest. But then hot, rough fingers start to ghost over my skin, and I melt in response to the heat above my cheekbones. The fingers move gently to the bones around my eyes, then butterfly-kiss my lips and jaw like a hot desert breeze.
I'll never feel the winds that parch Phoenix or the Grand Canyon in the daytime. I've lived near the coast all my life and have never seen the beach on a proper sunny day; maybe my sparkling isn't that bad, but it could damange our family's reputation like a straw on a very fragile camel's back. My Jacob is the brightest sun I'll ever be allowed to know, and I guess I should try harder to appreciate him like he deserves. Appreciate him for probably knowing I'd have a lousy first day of school, which may very well be the reason he suggested we drive to the seashore.
He rubs the tip of his nose along the ridge inside my ear, and I bask in the heat of the breath that tickles my skin. I marvel, incidentally, at how his driving stays perfectly steady, not feeling a single jolt or hiccup as he comforts me.
"You've never been as weird as the rest of them. They smell like they just took a bath in cologne, but you smell like a person, just… better. Also, you really walk, like the ground is something that matters. You're pale, but-"
"If snow be white, why then my breasts are dun.
You love to hear me speak, yet well you know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound."
"You know, you're not gonna make any friends by being a smart ass all the time."
"You couldn't even get through Shakespeare's Sonnets? They're like, fourteen lines long!"
"That's a love poem? Why's he being so mean?"
"You're the one who reminded me of it."
"Whatever… you know what I was trying to say."
I look out the window to see the overcast ocean far below us, glittering from the slivers of afternoon light that get through the clouds. Jacob turns off the engine and scrambles out of the truck, darting around to offer me his hand. I turn up my nose at him and scramble out on my own. Being half human does not make me as clumsy as Grandpa Charlie.
As I leave our cliffside parking space, I try to lean through every heel-to-toe weight shift, moving my hips in a way that shouldn't give people the wrong idea about how gravity works. But Jacob's low whistle tells me he's definitely getting the wrong idea about something. I shoot him a glare and try to moderate my hip movements. Why is it so hard to get away from the dorky astronaut walk that makes me just about die when one of them does it in public?
"So you're ropin' them in with a sexy new walk!" Jacob's grin has become annoying as hell, and I lapse into a more efficient stride. It may look dorky, but at least it'll get me to where I can hit him already.
"It is not a sexy walk! It's a normal human walk that Alice'll have to practice 'til she can stop embarrassing me at school! Even Bella's already forgotten how to move like a normal human. They look like they're fresh off a spaceship from Mars, and I'm the semi-freak cousin who's helping them apply to be citizens of Earth!"
At lunch today, there was a brown-skinned freshman who stared at us for an hour, gawking even as he hid something furtively beneath his lunchbox flap. He should really thank his lucky stars that packing weird food is the worst way his parents can embarrass him at school. How would he like to have his parents sit next to him, wafting spices through the room like they're God's freaking gift to humanity or something? And every girl who gaped at Edward needs to thank her lucky stars that her father has to go to work all day. I'm actually glad Edward bothered to glare at every guy who noticed me, because each of those glares meant five whole seconds when he couldn't give Bella a look that was way more disgusting than anything those guys could've been thinking. Why on earth can't my parents just sneak gropes all day, like Rose and Emmett and all normal teenagers do? At least they'd have to hide that from the vice principal. The only reason they're allowed to stare like that in public is that normal people don't do that, period!
Jake pokes me, forcing me back to the present, and I gear up to swing at him in earnest.
"Nessie, trust me when I say that your mom never knew how to move like a normal human. She was never all that interested in what normal humans do. Seriously; I wonder where you get it from."
Jacob fends off my attack easily and pulls me onto the ground, settling me in his big, warm lap. I nuzzle his chest, soothed by his warmth once again.
"From you, of course. You've always been my human half… you and Renee and Charlie and Seth. Why can't I start visiting La Push when you go? They all know what I am… I just want to know them too."
I've asked the same question at least a hundred times before. Every time he answers with the exact same words, but he always seems to mean something different, something weird. His arms seem to stiffen around the air that touches my body; he feels a little like Jasper felt all those years ago, when I threw my arms around him for the first and last time and everyone in the room got so scared they stopped breathing. For the record, I'm definitely less breakable than Jacob is.
"Your mom doesn't want you spending time at La Push yet. Maybe… I hope she'll let me bring you there soon."
Maybe if I knew what he was really trying to say, the words might start to make a tiny bit of sense. I know the Quileutes are prejudiced against vampires, and I know they wanted to kill me before I was born, but the reason they couldn't do it is that Jacob is an alpha wolf, and as long as his orders protect me I'll be perfectly safe in La Push! Some Quileutes might hate me the way Jake hates Rose, but one of them might become the friend it looks like I'm not likely to make at school. It's so stupid, now that I think about it, that I thought I'd ever fit in at school. Maybe I look less weird than my mom, but at least she has a childhood to remember. She knows what it means to hate stuff like middle school dances, but for me, when kids refer to stuff like that? I draw a blank and have to go away.
Edward and Bella give humans way too little credit, and Jacob didn't stand for that crap when it came to Charlie and Renee. He didn't even consider letting them keep me away from my grandparents, and I don't see why he's caving on the La Push issue. I've tried throwing tantrums, and I've tried being adorable… maybe I need to pool the force of those two weapons. I stick out my lower lower lip, and try not to let my normal tirade distort my face.
"Bella knows better than anyone what it's like to hate being different. I know how she felt when Edward made her stay human for so long… all I want is a place where I can be human without it being weird! She's the one who gave up everything to be a monster… I never wanted to give up sunshine or childhood or any of it, and it's not fair for her to make me give up anything extra now. Besides, Alice told me how you used to sneak Bella to La Push behind Edward's back. It's completely hypocritical for you and Bella to take Edward's side now!"
"I know, Ness, but it's a different situation. It's really complicated, and I'm sorry it has to be this way."
Jake covers his eyes with the heels of his hands, and he really does look sorry. It kills me whenever he stops being his cheerful self. I'm sorry I always have to do this to him, but I just wish I knew why he won't take me to La Push.
I breathe a sigh of relief when he snaps out of it pretty quickly, flashing me a grin and giving me a playful squeeze.
"Speaking of things Bella snuck around to do with me, I thought you wanted to try cliff diving!"
I'd almost forgotten what we drove out here to do. The sea looks perfect… just bubbly enough to be interesting, and streaked with tawny trails of the light that colors at dusk.
The reds and oranges are brighter here than in Forks, but not bright enough to touch the exciting parts of the scene. U-shaped cliffs take big chunks out of my vision, and the water crashing against them could hide anything at all… murky forests of kelp, slippery tide pool shallows, maybe something scarier than werewolves and vampires put together.
At the back of my mind, I know that Jake must have done his research, picking a spot that hangs over clear, boring ocean. All the same, I squeak with terrified delight when I see tide pools glinting at the base of a nearby cliff.
I close my eyes to block out what the waning light is telling me, then throw myself off the cliff with a shriek. The chafing air overflows my senses before surf clamps down on them hard. My capillaries shiver closed, and my core blood throbs against every inch of my insides.
I know the other Cullens can swim better than I do, faster and much more gracefully. All the same, none of them's done it in years. The bubbling cold could never make their bodies thrill like this. They detect and measure cold to the tenth of a degree, but they'll never really know it without blood to clench and beat against it.
Jacob makes a deafening splash and comes up grinning hugely. We revel in the water the way only half-breeds can; Jake says a human would get instant hypothermia, and we both know the vamps would just get bored. He and Seth live right on the coast expressly so they can dive in the mornings. Seth was supposed to come with us today, but he canceled at the last minute to hang out with a human friend.
I launch myself like a dolphin and tackle Jake from behind. Stray kelp tangles our tense limbs together, and nothing is quite real besides our bodies and the salt and the wet and the cold. We tangle in a realm that has no place for humans, and no place for vampires either. There's only room for us, which is only fair since we don't fit in anywhere else.
Jake gets out of the water while I'm on the downward swing of a backflip. I spread my arms out wide and arc around 'til I surface, laughing and spluttering.
I'm about to head up the cliff when something moves at the top edge of my vision. Something slow but deliberate, out of place in this mostly empty seascape.
I slow down and turn in order to make out what it is: a small, pale woman with long black hair standing near the edge of the cliff that skirts the tide pools. With her hair flying in the wind like that, she reminds me of a flagpole, standing perfectly still with her eyes closed and her arms wrapped around her middle.
The woman looks sad, I think; very sad. Also a little familiar-I know I've seen her before, but where? My legs kick me forward before I can decide how I know her; also before I can decide whether I'm brave enough to come much closer.
At the sound of my leg-kick, her eyes fly open. Staring, but not staring at me. I wonder if I should say something but then she moves and I hear Jake yell.
"Lily! Fuuuck, noooo!" Jake yells, and I whip around without thinking. He stands, mouth agape, on the edge of our cliff, but then shakes off the paralysis and jumps as far out as he can. That's when I look to the far cliffs again and see that Lily's jumped too. Jumped, or simply fallen-it's hard to tell which- and about to hit the deadly shelf of shallows. I don't think I hear the noise she makes, not over the pounding in my ears. Suddenly, I know where I've seen her before-when Seth and Jake are at home together, she's sometimes about to leave their house.
My spinning head decides that it should swim instead of sink, so I move. I stop moving when my knees drag on rocks and Jake catches me around the middle. "Who?" I squeak, closing my eyes and turning away from the air that smells like blood.
"Lily is Seth's… friend, if you remember. They fell in love real…suddenly when we moved here. Sometimes…sometimes that happens. She was already married, with a three-year-old kid. Uh, sometimes that happens too. So she and Seth've been sneaking around ever since, and the guilt's been tearing them up. It's just…you can't stay away, not from that kind of love. But I guess it all got to be too much for her."
Jake's eyes are strangled with pity and fury. Suddenly, the fury gets control of his whisper. "How could she be such an idiot? Doesn't she know what's going to happen now?"
My own head is spinning with the pity and fury too. I have no idea what Jake means, what any of this means. I love Seth, but Lily's bones are poking jaggedly; her body is in pieces and I have no idea how loving Seth could do that to somebody. A part of this story is missing, a part that's deadlier than the hidden tidal shallows. I just don't get the type of love that seems to have death following it around all the time, and I really don't get why everyone thinks that kind of love is the highlight of existence or something.
Jacob is talking to himself now. He's thinking up a plan for burying Lily in secret, convincing Seth that Lily wanted to run away from her husband. He's planning to forge love letters, hide the fact that love for Seth has destroyed a human being.
I wish Jake wouldn't lie to Seth… if loving Nessie Cullen could break and kill a person, I think I'd want to know about it. I'd start dance-walking like a ballerina toy, make kids at school watch while I drank their pet cats, make them know I'm a monster to be feared, not loved. I wonder if love could break me, the way it somehow broke Lily, but I know love for Seth couldn't do that, not to me. I don't even think love for Bella could break me like that. But I think about the picture that I pulled from Bella's scrapbook, how Alice explained that love for Bella almost killed Edward. I don't understand, don't really believe it could happen, but when I look at the picture, I know that it must be true.
I've asked all the Cullens to tell me that story in turn, and Esme can't tell it without trembling in sadness and awe. I think awe wins, but does it win because Edward lived? Because Bella's love saved him or because love for Bella could have killed him? I don't think I'm fragile, not killable-by-love fragile, but what would it mean if I'm wrong? Trying to figure it out is making my head spin like crazy. I'm less breakable than Lily, I reason; more breakable than Edward. Jacob called her an idiot, so are you safe if you're not an idiot? Do you know if you're that kind of idiot? Could love destroy my Jacob?
I open my mouth to ask Jake one these questions. They swirl around my head, and nothing comes out, so I warm up with a less important query.
"Why didn't you tell me about her before, Jake?"
"The way Seth and Lily loved each other… it's a powerful kind of love. Powerful enough to hurt and kill people. That kind of love can be the best thing in the world, when other things don't get in the way. It's dangerous, though, Ness… I guess I don't have to tell you that now. Your parents thought you were too young to deal with that kind of love. They asked me and Seth not to have you over when Lily was around."
Jake looks down guiltily, but then his head jerks up. I look up too and I want to yell, Seth, it's a trap! I still don't know why Lily is dead, not really, and I wish Seth would get somewhere safer. That's when Seth looks down a little and I get a glimpse of his eyes. And I know without knowing how I know that Seth is already dead.
I look down for the first time, away from Seth's empty eyes, and see a strand of Lily's long black hair twist gracefully around a jutting shoulder bone. Then Jake's arms are buckling under a greater weight than Lily's, and I reach out, eyes still down, to try to help him support the falling body. Our arms are full of smooth bronze skin; our skin more bruised than his post-impact. The face and hair are perfect and still, with no new blood burning the air.
The burning must have happened already somehow; Seth's eyes look like day-old fire pits. His chest skin is smooth because his heart is perfectly still. More fragile-or more noble, is it-than hearts that don't die of love.
A/N: Review and tell me what you think? I always reply and everything :)