Summary: Renesmee Cullen is sixteen years old, and starting high school for the first time in Rochester, New York. The Cullens (plus their favorite werewolf) have moved away from Forks. But their quiet forever after is complicated by the rising romantic tension between Nessie and Jacob, and a sinister puzzle that could have implications for the entire vampire world.
Canon-compliant sequel to Breaking Dawn.
Author Notes: This is my version of what happens next to the Twilight characters. The themes and plot are taking off from the sci-fi-ish theme that SMeyer seemed to have going a little bit in the last book, but there's lots of Cullen family dynamics, too.
Disclaimer: The Twilight saga and all characters therein are the creation of Stephenie Meyer. No profit is being made from this fanfiction and no copyright infringement is intended.
The creature had caught up with me. I call him a creature because he was not human. Humans have compassion and rationality. This thing had neither.
It was all my fault, really. I'd brought this upon myself. The only painful thing about it was the devastation it would cause my family. I'd been irresponsible with myself and now they would suffer the most by surviving my death. They would live forever remembering me. Their cold lives would go on without me, their warm one. As for my most beloved… I was quite sure that he wouldn't go on living at all.
So I was responsible for two deaths, not just one. That's what happens when you're one half of a whole.
I clenched my hands into fists, and the only sound in the world was the whisper of sandy footsteps as the creature moved toward me… each step closer to my death.
I was terrified to start high school.
As I stared into my fogged-up bathroom mirror, I felt like I was gazing into my future, clouded and unsure. The life I'd known for sixteen years was left behind, and I was facing the real world for the first time.
It was silly. There was no reason to be nervous and yet my stomach did a somersault every time I thought about tomorrow. I had nothing to fear physically: I was immortal. I was beautiful. I had a family that adored me. Every day was filled with fairy-tale wonder. My days were made of sparkling creatures, hunting, best friend shapeshifters, jumping across lakes and playing baseball with boulders.
Yet, that perfection felt like a burden on me. I knew I was blessed, and I'd seen enough teen movies to know that perfection was resented by everybody else.
Would they like me?
Would I fit in?
Questions I'd never had to ask before. Not until we moved from Forks, Washington, the only home I'd ever had.
I made a face at myself and continued braiding my wet hair. It would dry while I slept and I would wake up with crinkled hair, which was all the fashion. I hoped it would help me blend in, make me look like any teenager trying to conform to the other teenagers, who were also trying to conform. It was more than fitting in, it was survival. For a family like mine, standing out too much could be a fatal mistake.
I thought about what Aunt Rosalie had said – that girls my age hated other girls, especially beautiful ones. Rosalie would know all about that.
"Bleh," I muttered, tying off the pigtail braid. My hair was dark when wet; once dry it would be a noticeable bronze, like my father's.
Brother, I tried to remind myself of his alias. My "brother" Edward Cullen. It felt weird to think of Dad as Edward. Disrespectful, somehow.
"Ready?" Aunt Alice poked her head in the bathroom door. "I've got clothing options all laid out for tomorrow!"
"Yep, thanks!" I said as cheerily as I could. At least I wouldn't have to think about my wardrobe.
"Ness!" I heard my mom call me from downstairs. From the echo and direction, and the way her words were muffled by thick curtains, I could tell she was in the music room.
"Coming!" I twisted my braids into loops, like Princess Leia, and giggled at myself I skipped downstairs.
When she saw me, Mom giggled at me, too. "If you're Leia, and he's your brother," she said, pointing at Dad, who was playing the piano, "does that make him Luke Skywalker?"
Dad bridged the song into the Star Wars theme.
Our music room had a grand piano, a huge stereo system, and a small wood parquet floor for dancing. They built Victorian houses that way, from back in the days when piano-playing was one of the few forms of home entertainment. My mother (Bella, I reminded myself to call her) lounged on the velvet chaise in jeans and a t-shirt, her elbow propping up her head, as she listened to my father play. A soft lamp made her skin glow rosy-pale. My parents' eyes were a well-fed bright gold; we'd had a family hunting trip yesterday.
The music room was the only darkly elegant room in the house. The rest was lightly elegant, decorated in Cullen style, with pale furniture and white walls and big wide windows. It was set back on thirty acres in the thick woods outside Rochester, New York. It had been in the family for a hundred years. This was the house where Rosalie first woke up as a vampire. It was a twelve-bedroom mansion, painted white with dark brown trim and blue accents, and frothy wooden carvings on the porch, a stained glass window on the stairs, and a tower.
The tower bedroom was mine, and I loved it. Since I was the only one of us with hair that could grow, I got the Rapunzel room.
Well, Jacob's hair could grow, too, but he didn't live with us.
Sighing as I thought of Jacob Black, my best friend in the world, I turned to Bella. "What is it, Mom?"
"Just wanted to make sure you're all ready for tomorrow," she said. "It's my first time back at high school, too, so we can be nervous together."
My dad – I mean, Edward – laughed softly. "Bella, I can't imagine why you'd be nervous. You have control to rival Carlisle, and you're beautiful and sweet and everyone will love you. Oh, and you too, Nessie."
I rolled my eyes. "Thanks."
Grinning at me, he shifted the music into something new. It had a perky, autumn-y tempo that I found annoying. Sometimes Edward was too good a musician, the way he picked up on the exact feeling of a thing through music.
The song he'd composed for Jacob was particularly… eloquent. He'd somehow coaxed "disapproving" out of the piano keys.
"Okay, well, I'm going to bed," I said.
"Good night, honey!" said Bella, speaking to me but gazing at Edward.
"Night…" I trailed off, leaving them to their sleepless love-fest.
"It'll go fine, I think," Alice whispered to me on my way up the stairs. She still couldn't see Jacob or me in her visions, but she'd gotten pretty good at anticipating our futures by seeing the reactions of those around us.
"Thanks," I said back, and she winked at me.
I'd changed into my new pink silk pajamas – I always had new clothes, thanks to my doting relatives – when my phone beeped. I glanced at the paper-thin screen that told me I had one new text message.
For the first time in my life, my stomach did a little flip when I saw his name. My fingers were a little too eager as I pressed the key to open his message. It said, "See you at school tomorrow, Rapunzel."
I grinned. Jake might not live with us, but he was close by. He'd been declared "legally independent" and was also "age seventeen" according to the state of New York, and he rented a room in a boarding house in town. We Cullens could get away with being related to each other, but Jake's six-foot-five, obviously American Indian self would be a stretch, even for us.
My grin faded as I thought about Jacob. He was my other half, my best friend in the world… he'd always been there for me, whatever I needed. Teaching me how to tie my shoes. Buying me ice cream. Building elaborate sand castles on First Beach. A firm part of our tranquil family life.
So it didn't make sense that I felt a twinge of anxiety at the thought of seeing him tomorrow. It didn't make sense that he wasn't here with me right now. It was like some invisible force had come between us…
Jacob would be starting school with me as a junior. Maybe that was why I was freaked out: not seeing Jake, but the rest of my family all at the same time. This is going to be so weird. Jake, me, both my parents, and Alice in the same grade. Jasper, Emmett, and Rosalie as seniors. Carlisle working as a doctor. Esme restoring a decrepit old house on a hill, abandoned since the nineteen-fifties. It was, my mother said, almost like when she'd met my father, almost twenty years ago now.
"Ugh," I groaned, flopping down onto my bed and switching off the light. I was suddenly tired as I thought about Jake and my dad, sitting in homeroom together. No matter what Alice said, tomorrow was going to be awkward.
"Rose, your hair's fine, let's go!" Emmett bellowed. "We're going to be late."
"It's not my hair, it's Nessie's!" Rosalie shouted back. She was with me in my bathroom, tweaking my hairstyle, a fond smile on her face. "I'm glad you're with us this time. I graduated from Brighton High School, you know, back in 1936. As a human." A shadow passed across her flawless face.
I got it. Unpleasant memories. "Things are a lot different now, huh?"
"That's for sure. For one thing, we didn't have mongrels posing as students back in the thirties… Sorry," she said half-heartedly, a tiny smirk on her face.
"Tease me all you like," I said, grabbing my bag and flouncing out the door, my red hair flying out behind me like a crinkled sheet. "But love me, love my dog!"
We raced down the stairs and out the front door, where my dad – I mean, Edward – waited in the silver Volvo for Emmett to get in. The boys were taking Edward's car, a brand-new model but the same color silver as always.
We girls would be taking Rosalie's candy-red BMW M3. In Forks, we'd had to be inconspicuous; in Rochester, there were plenty of other rich families, fancy cars on the road, and we wouldn't stand out as much.
The sky above us was deep in clouds – a perfect first day. Rochester had at least two hundred days of cloud cover annually, the main requirement for our family.
Rosalie dropped into the driver's seat of the open convertible. I settled in the backseat with my mom – I mean, Bella – who turned to me and said, "Buckle your seat belt."
"Mom! I'm as indestructible as you are."
Lips pursed, she conceded the point. Besides, overprotective behavior was more my father's specialty.
"Call her Bella," Rosalie reminded me as she closed the top to preserve our hair. She revved the engine. "Race us, Edward!"
"No reckless driving!" Bella said, more to Edward than to Rosalie. He could hear her through our thoughts. "Fitting in, remember?"
Rosalie drove a tad fast, but within ten of the speed limit.
When we arrived at the school, I gulped audibly. Brighton High School looked like every teen movie I'd ever seen. Imposing brick walls, great lawn in front, flagpole, stairs leading up to a triple front door, a big statue on the roof. Students were converging in a stream toward the doors, the boys swaggering, the girls fidgeting with their first-day-of-school outfits.
I just knew there would be a clique of mean, popular girls, and my fast heart kicked into overdrive.
When I got out of the car, I couldn't help fussing with my skirt, making sure it was straight. I was not as tall as Rosalie, but taller than Bella. Way taller than Alice. The weather was cool beneath the clouds, and so I wore black diamond tights beneath a denim skirt, slouchy suede boots, and a thin oyster-grey sweater. It was neutral and hopefully unassuming, except that the denim skirt was Galliano and the boots from Joan and David and the sweater from Barney's.
Having New York City so close (at our driving speed) meant a fashion smorgasbord for Alice.
I'd let Alice choose my clothes, but my earrings were my own: antique microchips on silver posts. My nails were painted midnight blue. On my wrist I wore the intricate bracelet from Jake that I'd worn since I was a baby. He'd always been my friend, my Jacob, and now my eyes scanned the crowd for him. I hoped we had lots of classes together.
My fingers ghosted around Bella's wrist, wondering.
"I don't smell him yet," she said, smiling at me. "Maybe he's running late, too."
I pulled out a lip gloss, touching up my lips. There were some very pretty girls at this school. I saw a pack of them walking together, all sassy postures and flipping hair and shirts tucked into wide, colorful leather belts. So fashionable. I noticed Alice's eagle gaze admiring one of their handbags.
"Excellent," she said, "we'll fit in nicely here."
I thought, Not so excellent. Girls seemed to flirt with Jacob wherever we went, and for some reason, this bothered me. I hoped I wasn't like Rosalie, upset whenever I wasn't the center of everyone's attention.
Taking a deep breath, smelling the rich medley of human and cut grass and just-turning tree leaves and the familiar perfume of Bella, Alice, and Rosalie, I squared my shoulders and started walking.
I wondered if it wouldn't be more comfortable walking alone. People were staring at us, boys especially, and at Rosalie especially. Also, this was my first day at high school… in fact, at any school… and I had to go with my mom. I hoped she didn't embarrass me by fawning over my dad too much.
That was the only difficult thing about being the unwed Cullen. I had to tolerate everyone else's lovey-dovey moments. Rose and Emmett, and my parents, were the absolute worst.
Where was Jacob?
Sighing as I ascended the front steps, I remembered that this was a big high school, over two thousand students, in an actual city. It wasn't like tiny Forks where I knew everyone and their entire families.
I was inside, and I stopped in my tracks.
People everywhere. I was overwhelmed. The halls were packed with moving bodies, and the smell of hair products and cologne and new clothes and old backpacks. The nervous, young blood pulsing beneath skin made my mouth water. I felt suddenly sorry for Jasper, appreciating now the difficulty he must face in going to school like the rest of us. This was a vampire buffet.
"What am I supposed to do?" I asked Bella, who looked a bit overwhelmed herself.
"Ugh, school," she said.
"We go to our homeroom," Alice said, handing us our schedules. They'd been mailed to the house a couple weeks ago, while we were still unpacking. I saw that I had Chemistry first, Room 12, with a teacher called Morris. Great, a roomful of chemical fumes to greet me every morning.
"I have Chem with you," said Alice, pointing. "Come on, I know just where it is!"
She linked arms with me and I waved feebly back at Bella and Rosalie. They were soon lost in the swarm of students.
"Chemistry's important," Alice was saying. "Especially when it comes to dying clothes. And hair." She eyed my head. "Oh, don't worry! We could never improve on your gorgeous color. Besides, there's such risk with red hair that it might turn green. That's a tricky base shade."
I took her word for it.
"Room 12," said Alice, pushing the door open to a room with glistening countertops and shining equipment. Brighton was one of the best public schools in the nation, and well-funded. My grandfather Carlisle had been hopeful that I might be challenged here. I didn't see it, personally; I'd been tutored in every subject by veritable experts, my family combined. But whatever makes us normal, I guess.
A pair of boys started whispering as soon as we walked in the room. "Hot damn," one of them said. "I'd like to tap that," said the other. I couldn't tell which one of us they were discussing, or both of us. I blushed and followed Alice to a seat at the back of the room.
Beside me, Alice got the familiar look of concentration that meant she was peering into the future. Watching out for Jasper, most likely.
All the seats were filled and a middle-aged man walked in the room – our teacher, Mr. Morris. He activated the wide screen-board at the front of the classroom and it glowed blue for a minute, and then the logo of BHS flipped across the screen. A perky girl with blond hair sat at a studio table and said, "Welcome to the new year at Brighton High School!"
I knew what this was. Morning announcements. Yawning, I reached into my handbag to make sure my phone was on silent. Then, seeing that the teacher was occupied with his computer at the front, my lightning-fast fingers texted Jake. "Where are you?"
Two minutes later, the screen flashed. "Lost."
I whispered to Alice. "Jake's lost."
"Lost where?" I wrote back.
"In the hallways. Where the hell is Room 13?"
"I'm in Room 12! Left hallway from the front door, and then first right hall, almost the end."
"Noob," I wrote back.
A few seconds later I heard his familiar footsteps approaching at a jog down the hallway, and then the door to the next classroom opened. The squeak of the door was the very sound of embarrassment. I nudged Alice and nodded meaningfully, and we both snickered this time. I pictured him late for his first class and touched Alice's wrist with the mental image. I wouldn't have given Edward or Rosalie this kind of ammunition, but Jake and Alice were on great terms.
The announcements ended and then I learned what high school was really about: boredom. The teacher droned on about syllabi and lab work. The spotty-faced kid across the aisle from me was picking his nose, and the two girls in front of us were already passing notes back and forth.
I was reminded of what Jasper always said about combat: long periods of excruciating dullness punctuated by a few moments of extreme terror. I passed the thought to Alice and she grinned in agreement.
"That was fun," I said to Alice on my way out the door. "Not."
"Welcome to high school!" she chirped.
I left Alice and joined up with my parents – I mean, Edward and Bella – for my next two classes, History and English. That was fine; Edward knew all about history, and Bella knew all about literature. She'd even been talking about writing something of her own, under a pen name, of course.
On the way, I ducked into a bathroom to check my hair. I wanted to look my best when I walked into that lunchroom. The entire student body of my new school would be anxious to judge the new kids. I wanted to look good. And I told myself it had nothing to do with the fact I'd be seeing Jake… provided he didn't get lost on the way.
My hair's stylish crinkles had relaxed into mere glossy waves, I noted with disappointment. At least the rest of me was all right… chocolate-colored eyes, a healthy flush on my cheeks, long eyelashes and full lips.
Then I noticed the pair of girls staring at me.
They were "popular". I knew what that was from films. I'd never encountered popular girls in real life, however, and I turned to them with some fascination. "Hi," I said.
They stared back at me. One had blond hair, and the other was dark. They wore an identical shade of pink lip gloss, and both wore earrings of solid gold – a way of bragging about their wealth. After the end of the Second Depression ten years ago, the dollar was put on a gold standard, and gold jewelry was like wearing a hat made of dollar bills. I suddenly felt a little shabby with my neutral clothes and homemade microchip earrings.
I noticed how the other girls in the bathroom gave these two wide berth, never getting in their way. The blond girl was clutching a cell phone decorated with charms and her nails were perfectly manicured, painted a shining pink.
The silence had grown awkward and I looked down, ready to leave. Looking down is a sign of weakness, I thought, too late, thinking of the wild animal behavior I was so accustomed to reading on our family hunts.
"What's your name?" asked the dark girl, a tone of ownership in her voice.
I looked back up. "Renesmee. It's nice to meet you."
"Renes-muh-what?" Her lip curled, as though sensing a vulnerability. "What kind of name is that?"
The blonde giggled.
I waited for her to give me her name in return, but she didn't. Instead the two girls linked arms and, tilting their noses forward, walked out. Gulping, I shoved the strap of my bag onto my shoulder and pushed toward the door.
"Peyton and Abby," said a voice to my right, belonging to a girl with brown hair and small features. "Those two girls. They're like… the most popular girls in school."
"Oh," I said.
"Peyton's the dark one, Abby's the blonde. They've been best friends since third grade." She sighed as if she envied them.
"What's your name?" I asked her.
"Hi, Megan. I'm Nessie." I decided to avoid another mispronunciation.
"Hey," Megan said, looking shy all at once. "Uh, see you around." She scurried ahead of me toward the cafeteria.
Just then, I was glad that I had my entire family waiting for me. I felt freakish – not because I was half-vampire, but because I didn't understand how I was supposed to act. Normal people were difficult to make friends with.
I followed the unappetizing aromas of cafeteria food to their source, a large room supported by fat pillars. Large round tables were scattered around with pale green mesh chairs. A wall of windows oozed grey light from outside.
It was my nose, not my eyes, that detected his presence: that familiar scent of woods, of fur, of musk, of male. I turned around and he was there, looking at me. I broke into a helpless grin as Jacob crossed the room. Any thoughts of awkwardness melted away. I must have imagined it.
"Hey, you," Jake said, reaching his big hands out to grasp mine.
"Hi!" I laughed at his outfit and reminded myself to speak aloud in public. One-sided conversations looked strange to humans. "You playing a bad boy?"
Jake wore a leather jacket over a white t-shirt, with jeans and boots. His glossy dark hair was cropped in a messy short cut. "How about Danny Zuko?"
"That fits," I said. Grease was one of my favorite movies. "But blond Sandy would have to be… Rosalie!"
"Please, no!" Jake said, clapping a hand to his broad chest and looking horrified.
"All you need is some cigarettes to complete the look," I said. Cigarettes had been outlawed five years ago.
"Yeah, right! Even if I could find some, your dad would murder me. He'd love the excuse."
"He would never, because then I would murder him." I laughed, nodding at the table where the rest of my family now gathered. "Let's get some lunch."
"Finally, I'm starving."
"Why don't you start coming over more? I bet you didn't eat breakfast."
"Esme does make some mean Belgian waffles," said Jake wistfully.
"That's right." Any reason for Jake to be around was good for me. Ever since we moved from Forks over the summer, he'd been sort of distant, but I chalked it up to the stress of moving. It was the first time he'd been away from his pack for an extended period of time and I knew how hard it was.
What Jake felt, I felt, and vice versa. And right now, as we went through the lunch line together, I felt complete, like a puzzle solved.
"We've gotta compare schedules," he said. "I didn't pick mine up until this morning."
"Lazy," I teased.
Jake loaded his tray with a large basket of fries, two hamburgers, an Eskimo sandwich, a large bottle of juice (soda had been outlawed from schools years ago), a banana, and a piece of apple pie.
I chose a can of tomato juice. I still felt sloshy from the buck deer I'd taken down yesterday. A small glass of juice I could handle; a full human meal I could not.
As we paid for our lunches by swiping our cash cards, I noticed several other girls with choices similar to mine. Rosalie had also said that many high school girls ate next to nothing, trying to stay thin.
Buoyant now with Jake beside me, I waltzed across the room to where my family was already pretending to eat.
"Hey, Nessie! How's the first day? You two made out in a closet yet?" Emmett nodded between Jake and me, waggling his eyebrows.
"Emmett…" Edward growled.
I blushed. Strangely, so did Jake. Normally he joined in Emmett's teasing of me.
Bella placed her hand on Edward's shoulder and looked at me apologetically. Her touch made Edward smile down at her. Rosalie was primping, hand mirror open. Jasper was looking uncomfortable around all these humans, and Alice had her chin propped between her hands, her eyes narrowed as she scanned the future.
"So far, so good," Alice said.
"I'll need a note from Carlisle to get out of swimming in PE," said Rosalie. She never took chances on her fair hair being chlorine-tinged; it was the only hair she would ever have.
Jake was busy stuffing his face. I watched fondly as he snarfed an entire hamburger in under three minutes. "You should enter one of those Japanese eating contests," I said.
"Disgusting," Rosalie muttered.
"What do you bet he can eat a hundred hot dogs?" Emmett said to Jasper. If there was a bet to be placed, one of them would suggest it.
"In what time frame?" Jasper asked.
"Mmm… under two hours."
"Better make it one hour," suggested Bella. She opened her eyes wide and stuck her tongue out at Jake, managing to contort her face, and, laughing, he almost choked on a French fry. I pounded him on the back.
"Child's play, hot dogs," said Jake. "Don't I get a stake in this?"
"I can cook you a steak," I said. It was one of the few human foods I truly enjoyed – extra rare, of course.
"How about a wasabi contest?" Edward suggested, a wicked gleam in his eye.
Emmett and Jasper perked up.
"That's not food, that's pure spice!" Bella protested. "It'll give him a heart attack."
"I laugh at your challenge," said Jake, "and happily accept."
"There's a Japanese restaurant in town, I see Emmett with a delivery from there…" Alice mused.
I loved my family.
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