-| Glitch |-

Summary: Maybe there really is a glitch in Bella's brain. After all, she knows he's out there. She knows he's been watching her ever since she can remember. She's *not* crazy. Why won't anyone believe her? Dark humor.

Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight; it owns me. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the properties of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

See the promo video for Glitch here: www . youtube . com / watch?v=xSBnDSm1w_o (remove the spaces)

Bella said: "Sometimes I wondered if I was seeing the same things through my eyes that the rest of the world was seeing through theirs. Maybe there was a glitch in my brain." (Twilight, page 11)

Quothme thought: Maybe there is, Bella. Maybe there is.

And this story was born.


I stand in the middle of a forest far from home, lost and alone, screaming at the top of my lungs.

With my face lifted to an overcast sky only partially visible through grasping tree limbs, I scream and scream variations on a theme. It goes something like this:

"I know you're out there! I know you are. I know. Please show yourself."


I scream for a while about the fact that I know he can hear me. I scream about the fact that I'm utterly lost and that, if he doesn't help me, I'm not going to be able to find my way home. I scream until my vocal chords are a raspy, bloody mess and I'm coughing up globules of blood. I scream until I'm sure I'm driving myself crazy—if I'm not already.

Despite what my parents think, despite the long stream of psychiatrists and their theories that I suffer from this, that, and the other—you name it—they are all wrong.

I know it.

I know him.

I know he's out there. I know he's been watching me my whole life, ever since I can remember. I know he's the reason why the woods around me have gone completely still and silent. Why the birds have stopped chirping and the squirrels have stopped scolding and the bunnies have stopped burrowing.

I'm not crazy.

And I will prove it.

But for now, I just raise my head and scream.

Chapter 1: Shifting sand

I'm about to have one of those moments.

You know, one of those moments when you realize that something you think you know, something you've believed in your entire life, is not exactly true. You've never thought to question this belief, as every sign points to you being right, so you've just gone with it.

Sometimes, it's a minor thing. Maybe you've regularly mispronounced the word façade. Or you've thought this whole time that the Pledge of Allegiance actually says, "…and to the republic where witches dance." Or that China is part of the Middle East. When someone notices your moment, you get a weird look and a laugh. A surreptitious Google search later, you're left with a lingering feeling of stupidity.

Sometimes, the moment is more…momentous. Like finding out you're adopted. Or that your parents, who you've never even seen raise their voices to each other, are getting a divorce. Or that no, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

These moments are harder to recover from. In these moments, you feel betrayed, angry, disillusioned with life. Google's customary quick fix cannot fix this. You haven't merely misunderstood the words of a garbled song; someone has purposefully misled you. Perhaps even lied to your face.

But you do recover. You recover because millions of little kids across the globe recover from learning the truth behind the Tooth Fairy. You recover because you can talk to your friends about how they got through their parents' divorce. You recover because other people before you have recovered, so why can't you?

This is my moment. The moment when I realize that something I've believed in my entire life is completely, horribly wrong.

And I'm not sure if I will ever recover.

The genesis of my moment is an ordinary summer's day in Forks—75 degrees and cloudy with a 99.9% chance of rain. Indoors forecast similarly includes the usual: sitting in the upstairs bedroom of my father's house, doing the same thing I do every day.

Try to take over the world.

I kid; I'm reading.

I lack the imagination to do anything as interesting with my free time as plan nefarious plots for world domination. Instead, I immerse myself in others' imaginations.

I'm your ordinary girl—ordinary brown hair, ordinary slender-yet-soft build, ordinary size seven feet. And the ordinary cascades from there through all facets of my life. I live in an ordinary small town with my ordinary father in our ordinary white house. I like reading books about romance, hate math and science, and am ambivalent toward sports.

And my favorite ice cream flavor is vanilla.

I even have your ordinary sense of morality. I've always considered myself an honest person. I don't cheat on tests. I don't let other people cheat off me on tests. I report Lauren whenever I notice her cheating on tests. I've never pocketed so much as a piece of gum without paying for it.

And, most importantly, I don't lie.


That's why, after Charlie calls me downstairs for pizza, I answer him honestly when he asks me to whom I've been speaking up in my room.

"Oh, just Edward," I say.

Charlie looks at me.

I continue eating my pizza.

"Edward who?"

"It's just Edward, actually."

"From school?"

"No." I look at Charlie oddly. "He doesn't go to my school."

It occurs to me right then that Charlie and I have never talked about Edward before. It hasn't really come up. I mean, I always assumed it was a given that he knew about Edward, but we've never expressly discussed him.

Charlie goes back to eating his pizza, and I think the conversation is over.

I couldn't be more wrong.

Later that evening, I go downstairs for my nightly drink of water before bed. I stand at the sink for a long moment before my brain's slow-moving filter at last informs me that something's different. The murmur of voices that I'm hearing is not, in fact, from the TV.

Because the TV isn't on.

The living room is currently dark and murky, and the murmur that I'm hearing is Charlie talking to someone on the phone.

I assume.

I have to make an assumption because Charlie usually talks on the phone sitting either in his leather recliner or at the dining room table. He'd installed one of those extra-long spirally cords on the wall phone in the kitchen so that it would stretch wherever he needs it to go.

Although the wall phone is off its hook, Charlie isn't sitting in any of his usual perches. I super-sleuth the cord around the corner and see it disappear into the seam of the closed front door. Charlie is apparently talking on the phone on the front porch, of all places.

I shuffle up to the door, the better to hear Charlie's muffled voice. The conversation seems to be winding down, and his side is going like this:

"…just wanted to make sure. She tells you things."

The person on the other end seems to talk for a long time. The person seems to be providing a lot of details. Perhaps asking a lot of rhetorical questions.

"Okay, I will," is all Charlie says in response. "Talk to you soon."

Suddenly, the front door flies open, and Charlie and I stand staring at each other across the foyer.

"What did Mom want?" I say, sipping my glass of water. I have a fifty-fifty chance of correctly guessing the identity of the caller. Charlie talks to two people—Renee and Billy. And I don't tell Billy things.

"I, uh, called her. Just a little matter we needed to discuss."

"Okay," I say and go back into the kitchen to tip my remaining water into the sink. I never can finish that full glass.

Unbeknownst to me then, the matter is anything but little. In fact, after that one little phone call, my life will never be the same.

The next day is a Sunday, and I fully expect to have the house to myself for the morning while Charlie goes to the tackle store with Billy. It's fishing season. Fishing is one of the few stereotypically male activities that Charlie and Billy can enjoy together on equal footing, as it were, after Billy's accident.

Because I'm expecting not to have an audience, I don't comb my hair, change out of my pajama shirt, or put on a bra. Instead, I roll out of bed and go downstairs to grab a bowl of cereal.

I'm feeling a little coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs.

When I pull my head out of the refrigerator, someone is leaning against the doorway to the kitchen, watching me.

I scream and drop the carton of milk.

"Bells!" Charlie says, putting a hand over his heart, as though I am the one who scared him. "It's just me."

I glare at him and run a hand uselessly through my hair, trying to tame it back from my eyes.

"The TV's not on," I accuse. "How was I supposed to know you were here?"

The spoken words sound a lot worse than I mean. Charlie's eyes go all soft, and I know I've hurt his feelings.

"I just thought that maybe we could spend the day together."

The milk container on the floor burbles.

I scoop it up before the unnecessary pressure of the milk against the cap causes a huge mess that I will have to clean up carefully. Spilled milk tends to go everywhere, leaving little rancid pockets that you discover months later.

"I thought you and Billy had plans," I say nonchalantly, turning away to put the finishing touches on my bowl of cereal. The milk starts turning a satisfying chocolate brown before my very eyes.

"He, uh, wasn't feeling well."

Charlie is a terrible liar. Which is one of the reasons why I don't lie, as I'm sure that we'd be firmly "like father, like daughter" in this instance.

"Okay. What do you want to do?"

Charlie blinks, like he hasn't really thought that far ahead.

"How about we go for some ice cream?"

Ice cream? We haven't gone out for ice cream since I was six.

"Yes, please."

I bid adieu to my unfortunate bowl of Cocoa Puffs. Who am I to turn down ice cream for breakfast?

So that's how Charlie and I end up sitting outside the ice cream parlor in Port Angeles over an hour later. The parlor occupies a prime location in the downtown strip. It's decorated inside and out like an old-timey mom-and-pop soda shop with red vinyl and chrome seating and an oversized fake cone sign outside.

Unfortunately, I am not yet availing myself of the cute red and chrome seating options. I am still sitting in the passenger's cab of Charlie's truck. Who would have guessed ice cream parlors don't open until after 11:00 a.m.?

Our drive had been utterly silent. After Charlie ascertained that the only things on the radio this early on a Sunday morning were a screaming Joel Osteen and a screaming gospel choir, he flipped it off.

I don't mind the silence. I've always found silence comfortable. Of course, I would not remain comfortable once I realized that our trip had absolutely nothing to do with ice cream.

After we watch a teenager unlock the front door, we give it five minutes before we get out of the car. Then we wait five more minutes in front of the counter until the teenager looks up from sweeping the floor in the back room and notices that he has customers.

He's apparently attributed the little jingling door noise this early in the morning to his imagination.

"So," Charlie says as we sit down at a booth in the corner, our bowls overflowing with ice cream and toppings. And that is all he says. Sometimes it takes him a while to spit things out.

We carefully sculpt off pieces of our ice cream for a while. I make a miniature snowman, replete with a candy corn nose.

"How is this summer treating you?" he finally asks.

A dripping spoonful hovers millimeters from my mouth. I lower my spoon regretfully back down to my bowl.

An open-ended question.

My specialty.

"Fine," I say, putting my spoon in my mouth as the period of my sentence.

"You haven't been going out much."

That one isn't even a question.

"No," I answer anyway. Summers tend to involve me, my bed, and a mountain of books artfully positioned an arm's-length away.

"Have you thought about getting a job?"

My spoon freezes again. I'm only a junior; I hadn't been planning on getting a job until my senior year at the earliest. Is this the infamous father-daughter chat about my future?

"I've thought about it," I say cautiously.

That's probably an overstatement on my part; I may have spent less than five minutes in ninth grade pondering the topic. The options for underage employment in Forks are not merely options for employment. They are also options for torture in various forms.

Bagging groceries at the Forks Thriftway, I would have to make small talk with every old lady and man who has known me—and Charlie, for that matter—since I was in diapers. Candy-striping at the hospital, I would have to watch Lauren and Tyler groping in what they think is a surreptitious fashion. Finally, assisting hikers and hunters at Newton's Outfitters, I would have to fight off Newton's blatantly non-surreptitious attempts to grope me. Not to mention the added bonus of having to avoid Jealous Jessica trying to claw my eyes out about the fact that Newton isn't groping her.

My options aren't really options at all.

"Do you guys need any help at the police station?" I ask hopefully. "I could make copies and do computer stuff."

"Having families work together is frowned on at the station," Charlie says.

In an instant, my carefully laid plan to approach Charlie about this job is foiled. It was all in my premature execution, I'm sure. I'd planned to soften him up by suggesting a steak dinner at the Lodge. Then pop the question later as he was watching the most pivotal baseball game of the season. Preferably after he was well on his way to being drunk.

(That's about the extent of my nefarious planning; see how well it turned out?)

"So, where did you meet this Edward?"

This time, more than just my spoon freezes. Have I misunderstood the question?


"Edward. I've never heard you mention him before. Your mother hasn't either." Charlie doesn't quite meet my eyes as he obliquely reveals what his conversation with Renee had been about after all.

"I've been talking to him for a while now," I say carefully, my eyes glued to my spoon, which is decapitating my snowman.

"Does he call you?"


I can't tell if it's the question or the ice cream that is making me a little queasy. Maybe I shouldn't have gone with a spoonful of every available topping, particularly this early in the morning when my stomach clearly isn't used to it.

"Do you call him then?" Charlie's looking increasingly perplexed.

I just frown down at my ice cream, feeling as baffled as Charlie looks.

Surely he understands.

Apparently not—he takes my silence for assent.

Charlie shifts uncomfortably in his seat, as though he is not at all looking forward to his next question.

"How do you feel about this boy?"

Obviously, he doesn't understand at all.

"He's my friend."

Charlie's eyes are glued to his melting ice cream. Compared to mine, his mound is practically the Himalayas—he's hardly put a dent in it.

He takes a deep breath and blurts out, "Do you want to be more than friends?"

I start to get this sneaking suspicion that I know where he's going with this. It's a father-daughter chat, alright. Just not the one about my future.

"Uh," I say.

Charlie presses on, speaking rapidly to his bowl of ice cream, "Because I just want you to know that this is perfectly natural at your age. Wanting to be more than friends with boys, I mean. And I want you to know that you can talk to me or your mom about anything. Especially your mom; she knows what you're going through. She would be happy to talk to you at any time. Particularly before you try anything…new."

I stare at him.

I have never heard Charlie say so many words in a row in his life. And I can't believe that my father is giving me The Talk in an ice cream parlor. Particularly about Edward.

None of this is making any sense.

"Uh," I say.

"Well," I say.

"Okay," I say.

Charlie's cop training kicks in; he can't resist asking a clarifying question to my very vague answers. "Okay, as in you'll talk to your mom about this sometime soon?"

For some reason, this is all starting to get very irritating.

"Yes, that okay."

We stare into our ice cream together. My snowman is looking very sad and droopy, as if he's aware that I'm not going to be able to finish him now.

"Should I be expecting a call from Mom the minute we get home?" I say.

"Probably," Charlie says, his eyes apologetic.

There went my somnolent Sunday.

"Okay," I say again. I'll explain things to Renee—my parents obviously have the wrong idea here—and then I can get back to my blissfully lazy summer.

Clearly, I'm very, very wrong.

My conversation with Renee starts well enough.

"How's summer going, baby?"

"Good. I'm getting a lot of reading done."

"That's great," Renee says, although I can hear her exuberance dim. She doesn't really get the whole reading thing. True to form, she changes the subject.

"Let's talk about boys," she says.

I'm used to her rapid shifts in gear and so am easily able to follow.

"What about them?"

"I hear you have one who's a friend."

"Uh…yeah. Yes."

Renee squeals, "My little girl is becoming a woman!"

I frown. "He's just my friend, Mom." The situation does not deserve such overwhelming enthusiasm, even though it is Renee.

"What is he? Jock? Indie?"


"C'mon, Bella, you can tell me!" I can practically see Renee bouncing with the phone, as though we're in the middle of a pajama party. She and I don't get a lot of opportunities to "dish," as it were.

"I don't know what he is, actually," I answer honestly.

"Hard to classify, is he? A mystery man?"

"You could say that." Edward is about as mysterious as it gets.

"Maybe I can help. What does he do for fun?"

My parents and their weird questions nowadays.

"I don't know," I say slowly. "Watches me?"

Renee is silent for a second. "I'm sorry?"

"I don't know what he does for fun, Mom."

"You said he watches you?" For once, I can't place Renee's tone. She's gone from excited to enigmatic.

"Yeah, I think so."

"Is he one of those guys who you're sure is watching you at school, but then when you look over, you can never quite catch him in the act?"

"No," I say, although the image she paints is oddly fitting. "He doesn't go to my school."

"Bella," Renee snaps, "you're being intentionally cryptic. You know I hate it when you do that."

And I hate it when she starts criticizing me for something that I'm not actually doing.

"Uh," I say.

"Where did you meet him?"

I'm starting to get irritated now.

"We've never actually met."

This is the point in the slumber party where everyone is getting tired and cranky and just really needs to go find themselves a place to sleep and get to it before friendships are ruined.

Another long pause.

"So you've never met this Edward."


"You've never seen him."


"Yet he's your friend."


"And you think he watches you."


There is an even longer pause—a Renee record, I'm sure.

Then, "Honey, how would you feel about me coming up there to visit?"

Never have I been more grateful for her ability to dance through topics of conversation like they're in a conga line. I've never really liked talking about Edward.

I'm used to her spur-of-the-moment vacations, although it's usually Renee buying me last-minute plane tickets to see her. Therefore, the real question is: How will she feel about coming to Forks to visit?

Come to think of it, she hasn't been back to Forks in thirteen years. Not since she ran screaming for the hills, leaving Baby Bella and Charlie to fend for themselves.

We hang up after Renee establishes that yes, I will be around next week and no, I don't have any nefarious plots to take over the world between now and then.

Like I said.

My moment is coming.

Wait for it.

I decide that the reason my parents are responding so oddly about Edward is because we've never discussed him before. I tend not to discuss a lot of things with my parents, so leaving Edward off the list wasn't really intentional.

My parents, however, have obviously decided that now is a good time to make up for all my years of non-discussion of Edward.

After Renee's phone call, it's apparently Charlie's turn to approach me next. I'm starting to feel like a ping-pong ball being bounced from parent to parent. I've heard this is a common way for the kids of divorced parents to feel. But my parents have been divorced for more than a decade, and this is the first time I've ever felt this way.

It must be me.

Also another very common thing for a child of divorce to feel.

But I think that, in this case, my feeling is correct.

This is very much about me.

Well, me and Edward, for some unfathomable reason.

Charlie approaches me while I'm outside washing my truck. I think at first that he's coming out to chastise me for wearing his favorite flannel shirt while getting wet and soapy. I like wearing it around the house because it makes me feel small, like I'm four years old again, but I had forgotten to take it off in my excitement over the sun coming out. You have to take advantage of the sun while it's out, and what better way to do so than to wash your car?

Charlie gets right to the point. "Your mother is under the notion that you've never actually seen this Edward."

He smiles at me across the truck bed, bristling his mustache a bit, and I smile back. I know exactly what he's thinking; Renee does get some awfully funny ideas sometime. But this time, her funny idea is correct.

"That's right."

As I wipe my rag across the bulbous bumper, the smile wipes right off Charlie's face. After a while, he grabs a spare rag and helps me towel off the rest of the truck in silence.

Later that night, I hear Charlie talking to someone out on the porch again. This time, I listen to his side of the conversation from the window of my room.

"Renee, we're talking about the girl who has been responsible enough since she was ten years old to cook her father's meals and do her father's laundry. And never once complain about it."

Charlie's voice is getting a bit loud; I can hear every word he speaks very clearly.

"No, that does not make her weird," Charlie bites out, and my stomach clenches oddly at the fact that he is clearly defending me to my mom. "She's always been sensible and willing to do whatever necessary to make those around her happy."

What is weird is hearing me described that way. I cook the meals and do the laundry because there's something satisfying about each task. I get pleasure out of eating what I cook. I get pleasure out of sorting the clothes into perfectly color-coordinated piles. I don't know if I would say that I do those things to make other people happy.

"I didn't say that," Charlie snaps, and I can just imagine what Renee had thought he said. I'm sure she'd thought his comment about me being sensible was actually a barb about her. You can't really say anything about me without Renee mentally twisting it into a negative comment about her. Charlie should have known better.

"Alright," he says in his I'm-backing-down-now voice. "Alright. I'll make her an appointment to see someone next week."

See someone?

See someone about what?

Almost there.

Just like that, everything about my life, my normal, boring life, gets a little weird. Renee takes to calling me every day, even though she's going to see me soon. She tends to call only when the spirit moves her each day, so I never quite know when to expect a burst of her particular brand of cheer, cheer that involves questions like these:

"Why do you spend so much time reading books?" Perhaps to be smart. To get into college. To avoid working at the Thriftway for the rest of my life.

"Why don't you have any friends?" I don't think it wise to mention Edward as a proof point here. And I decide not to bring up Alice, either, as she isn't exactly a fount of well-adjusted normalcy herself.

"Why don't you go out with boys?" And here I thought that my parents had been jumping down my throat in the first place because they thought I was going out with a boy.

Renee has so many questions that I feel like she's almost been waiting for something like this to happen to me. Although I'm still not completely clear on what this is.

Charlie starts to hover as well, which drives me crazy because he never hovers. He turns down a weekend fishing trip with Harry Clearwater. He starts going in to work late and coming home on time. He starts asking me to go eat with him at the diner every night, something we haven't done since before I was ten and decided that I'd prefer the variety of my own cooking.

And Edward…


What does Edward think about all this, you ask?

That's a very good question. A question that I really can't answer because Edward doesn't exactly talk much.

Okay, ever.

He doesn't talk ever.

But maybe he will now. I mean, he has to see that he's causing this huge problem in my life, just by existing.

All I want is for this to go away, for everything to go back to exactly the way it was. I want to continue reading down the tower of books currently crumbling from lack of proper maintenance in my room. And I want to talk to Edward whenever I darn-well please.

Although I'm starting to feel like he doesn't deserve it.

After all, I talk, but he never talks back.

My life is spiraling out of control, my previously firm foundation turning to quicksand beneath my feet.

I need my rock.

I need Alice.

So to Alice's house I go.

Hopefully, she can shed some light on the upside-down world that I'm all of a sudden living in. I have faith in Alice.

I have faith in Alice because Alice has been my best friend since the crib. Because Alice is practically a genius when it comes to getting out of the messy situations that she's also a genius at getting us into. But the number one reason that I know she'll be able to help is that, like me, Alice has her own friend.

His name is Jasper.

Granted, I've only heard her say his name once. We were talking along one day in the sixth grade about school and boys when we both began to realize that there was something we weren't saying. We realized that there was someone else in each of our lives, someone who we were sort of alluding to but whom we weren't flat-out talking about.

We just looked at each other.

We clicked.

We knew.

Alice asked me, "What's his name?"

"Edward," I said in little more than a whisper.

"Jasper," she said with an emphatic nod.

And we were cool.

Now, I need a little more than just a name. I need to know more about her Jasper.

Alice is lying on the floor of her room when I walk in, doodling on a sketchpad she's holding aloft at arm's length. She once told me that the position helps her focus on making perfect circles. If she can make perfect circles with her pencil and paper upside down, she can make them anytime, anywhere. Apparently, being able to draw perfect circles without a compass is a pre-requisite to getting into the fancy art school in Seattle that she hopes to attend some day.

"Alice," I say without preamble, "tell me about Jasper."

I expect her to squeal in delight, grab my hands, and propel us onto her bed, where we will sit cross-legged with our knees touching while sharing secrets about our respective men. Instead, I watch her pencil slip across the page, no doubt creating an imperfect bulge in her previously perfect circle. Her dark eyes lock with mine.

"What do you want to know?"

I've never before seen Alice Brandon look uncomfortable, scared, or wary.

I do now.

"Everything. I want to know everything," I say and sit myself on the edge of her bed since she doesn't seem inclined to offer me a seat. I draw my knees up to my chest and wait.

Alice lowers her sketchpad to the floor with one hand and stares through the ceiling with unfocused eyes.

"I'm not supposed to talk about him," she finally says.

My heart quickens as I imagine Jasper cautioning her to silence, her swearing to never reveal his existence to another soul. I wonder if he actually speaks to her. I wonder if she's seen him.

"Says who?" I try to keep my tone light, but inside, I'm burning.

Alice turns her face toward the opposite wall so that I can no longer see her eyes.

"No one."

And it's like I answered the question myself, about Edward. Alice and I, we are truly kindred spirits.

"Alice, I know," I say, my voice trembling with emotion and excitement. "I know exactly what you're talking about. This is me, remember?"

It's enough to get her looking at me again, but her eyes are dead, her forehead crinkled in an uncharacteristic frown. She clearly isn't on the same emotional plane that I am.

"Bella, what's this about?" she says with a sigh, like she's very tired. I'm starting to get a little annoyed. I want my bright-eyed, daredevil friend to come to the rescue here. I want us to start gushing and clicking and bonding and laughing about the fact that our parents think that our friends don't really exist.

"This is about the fact that my parents found out about Edward."

That gets a reaction, but not the one I expect. I expect her to be sympathetic. Instead, the fear and doubt in her eyes changes to hope.

"Edward?" she exclaims, sitting up abruptly and snapping her fingers. "That's right! I knew I had been forgetting something."

This is more like it. I lean forward onto my knees, eager to hear the thoughts that are racing through her pretty little head.

"I'm not the only one. Those psychiatrists had me so confused and twisted and tied into knots that I could barely remember my own name. I should never have let them give me the drugs."

Now it's my turn to be alarmed, to not understand what she's talking about.

"Alice, what…?" I start, but she knows me so well that she can respond to my question before I finish it.

"Oh Bella, don't you see?" Her eyes are finally bright, and she's bouncing up and down on her knees. "My parents found out about Jasper last year, over the summer. Remember how I went on that three-month 'vacation' before school started?"

I nod, unsure what her glamorous trek through Italy has to do with this.

"Well, the trip wasn't just for fun. My parents are firm believers in Old World medicine and the therapeutic benefits of the Italian countryside. They rented a suite in a medieval Italian castle for us while I saw some of the premier European psychiatrists."

"But why would they go to so much trouble about Jasper?" I'm bewildered.

Alice's eyes and mouth go round.

"Oh," she says.

"I get it," she says.

"You don't know," she says.

"Know what?" I snap. Alice is the queen of melodrama, and she's working it today.

"People consider Edward to be your imaginary friend."

I blink at her.


Since when has anyone said anything about anyone being imaginary?

"Imaginary?" I echo.

"You know, like wizards and werewolves and six-foot pink bunnies. Imaginary."

"I know what imaginary means," I snap again. "Edward is not imaginary."

"Oh, of course not. I know that," she says, flipping her hair in the way that she says drives the boys wild. "But most people don't."

"What do you mean?" I say through clenched teeth. Although I love it when Alice is coy with our teachers, when she brings her devastating intellect to bear to make them look stupid or to get the class out of a dumb homework assignment, I like it much less when she uses her smarts against me.

"I mean," she draws out the word, "that most kids have imaginary friends. But normal kids grow out of them."

I had come to Alice's room to pick my way back to solid ground again, to find a bulwark upon which I can rest my bruised and aching mind. Instead, I feel my world spinning faster and faster until I'm sure that my mind is spinning in one of Alice's perfect circles.

This is my moment.

The moment when I realize for the first time what this all means.

Wait for it.

My parents think that Edward is nothing more than a figment of my imagination. My parents are sending me to see a shrink. My parents think I'm coo-coo—sans the Cocoa Puffs.

There it is.

"You're wrong," I say. "All kinds of people have non-imaginary friends like Edward."

Alice just flips her hair again, her eyes darkening in familiar challenge.

"You're wrong," I repeat stubbornly, "and I'm going to prove it."