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Chapter Four: Belong
So morning comes and I'm nervously clad
in these sheets not my own and these hands where they don't belong.
And I'm all but a victim in my prison head.
I should run for my gun but I'm lying instead, in your hands.
I reached my arms over my head and stretched in the warm sunlight, unable to contain my smile even if I had wanted to. I had placed (or rather, let myself place) in the top 3 of the 4 events I had competed in. I even let myself win the 1,500 meter and it was such a thrill.
This was the most I'd ever be allowed to do – actually, it was surprising Dad and Grandpa let me even do this. National level attention was something vampires were supposed to shy away from. But, they had caved and for that I was grateful. My heart may have longed for the Olympics, but I'd take what I could get without jeopardizing myself and my family.
The 4 x 400 meter girls relay event was next and the team had decided that I should go last. And by that I mean that Coach Anderson had ordered it so, mustache bristling, and no one dared to argue.
I dropped my arms when Kaylie approached. She shook her head and tsked, a smile on her face. "Only you would bother with glittery lotion during a track meet."
Confused, I glanced at my skin. I didn't sparkle like my parents, but I did glow slightly in direct sunlight. I told people who asked that I used lotion with glitter, the kind that you could only find around Christmas time. I blushed and pulled my arms around my back, pretending to stretch.
"Yeah…sweat and…so," I mumbled, incoherent even to myself.
She laughed. "Ladies and gentlemen – the always eloquent Nessie Cullen!"
My blush increased. Fortunately, Coach Anderson chose that moment to yell at us that the relay was about to start and to take our places already.
Kaylie bumped into my arm, laughing as we walked towards Nicole and Chelsea.
All at once her laughter stopped and she covered her eyes with her palm.
She had made skin to skin contact with me again! And I had sent a thought her way again! But, maybe it wasn't of –
"I swear, I gotta stop watching American Choppers," Kaylie mumbled and I grimaced. "Or, eating Land-O-Lakes butter. Or something."
I laughed, ignoring Coach Anderson's glare. Kaylie just flashed me her most brilliant of smiles.
I sunk down to the bottom of the pool, watching tiny bubbles pass before my face. The meet had gone exceptionally well, and I was kind of the hero. I knew that Dad was going to freak when he found out that during the 4 x 400 meter girls' relay race, when I was the last contestant and we were down by over 100 meters, I somehow managed to pull ahead and win.
It was totally convincing and didn't look at all like I had superpowers.
Or, that was what I was going to tell him. When he got back. At the end of summer.
But until then I was just going to enjoy being the hero of the day, and having five other teenagers accept me into their group. Finally.
When I surfaced, "Single Ladies" by Beyonce was coming through the stereo system that surrounded that hotel pool. Mr. and Mrs. Franklin were eating at the little tiki hut by the hot tub that served various wares, and Chelsea was dancing the Single Ladies dance as if she was Beyonce herself. Finn and Evan were behind her, trying to imitate her. Kaylie and Nicole were in the water, laughing hysterically.
I swam over to get a better view.
Finn and Evan were hilarious – they tried to keep up with Chelsea's movements, but were failing horrendously, so they mostly just shook their hips and kept slapping each other on the butt. Chelsea, for her part, seemed to be completely oblivious.
Evan reached over and spanked Finn so loud the sound reverberated around the pool. Finn retaliated by shoving Evan into the water. Evan knocked Chelsea on his way in, and she fell to the cement, skimming her knees and palms.
And I really should have seen it coming. What's more, I should have dove under the water when I saw it coming. But I didn't. And the smell of Chelsea's blood overwhelmed me.
It had been several weeks since I had last hunted, as I was determined to be Vegan. My restraint was wearing thin. And I wanted Chelsea.
"Oh, are you okay?" Kaylie asked the fallen girl, swimming over to her side. Evan popped up out of the water and started apologizing right away. Nicole and Finn just kept laughing.
As fast as I could, I swam in the opposite direction. It would be a terrible thing indeed if I were to kill my teammate just as I was starting to fit in. I held my breath and practically ran to where the Franklins sat at the tiki hut.
"Chelsea fell," I stammered, trying to speak while not breathing. "Bleeding. She is."
Mr. Franklin stared at me. Mrs. Franklin seemed to realize what I was saying (and that I was not Yoda) first. She got a first aid kid from the man behind the tiki hut counter and the two of them made their way over to Chelsea. The man behind the counter was looking at me funny – maybe he thought I was actually about to morph into Yoda and didn't want to miss the show.
"Water," I choked out, trying as hard as I could not to breathe until Chelsea was properly bandaged. It was getting more and more difficult, considering I was part human.
He was an older man, with a big gut not quite hidden by a small, white apron. He was balding, but he made up for his lack of hair with a full, gray beard and great big bushy eyebrows. But as he produced a water bottle out of seemingly thin air, he was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
I chugged the water in just a couple big gulps. When the bottle was empty I took a deep breath.
And my throat burned. The water hadn't been enough. I wanted blood.
"You really shouldn't use plastic bottles," I told him, sitting down at the counter and trying to focus. "They're terrible for the environment. Do you recycle, at least?"
He looked at me as though I had really turned into a resident of the Dagobah system. "Uh. No."
"Food," I ordered, my head in my hands. "Please, do you have anything?"
"Uh, I've got some hotdogs."
I gagged. "Do you have anything vegan?"
"Do I have anything what now?"
"Vegan? Completely without animal products whatsoever?"
"Yeah, there's some grass over there." He jammed his thumb behind him, in the general direction of 'there'.
Though my throat was burning and I was holding on to the counter so tight my knuckles were turning white, I managed to give him the full force of me glare.
He was unimpressed.
"Or. I got some cookies."
"Oh yay! Cookies!" Kaylie exclaimed, suddenly occupying the stool next to me. "Yes, please."
He produced a tray of chocolate chip cookies, also seemingly from thin air, and all I could do was glare. Glare at the cookies for clearly being not Vegan, glare at the man for not being helpful, and glare at Kaylie for seeing me like this.
She smiled at me, taking a nibble of a cookie. "I never would have pegged you for the easily queased type."
I stared at the cookies, focusing as hard as I could at the delicious chocolate chips. I wanted those cookies. I wanted the chocolate chips. And the eggs that were sure to be used in the batter. But I also wanted Chelsea. I wanted to kill Chelsea – I wanted to drink her blood.
My throat was burning.
It was Chelsea or the cookies.
I was going to have to cave on my morals somewhere in order to survive this ordeal.
Growling, I grabbed a cookie and shoved it into my mouth. I moaned despite myself, feeling my eyes roll into the back of my head.
This was the best cookie in the world. That ever existed. Ever.
I savored it for several minutes before turning to Kaylie. The burn had subsided somewhat. I was going to have to figure out how to survive this vegan thing – I didn't want to cheat on my animal product free diet, but I also didn't want to kill any classmates. Dilemma.
"Queased?" I echoed her and she dimpled.
"Blood upsets you."
Ugh. Why did she have to say the word? I grabbed another cookie and tried to pretend like I didn't hear her.
She rubbed my back in a comforting way. "It's okay, I'll stop bringing it up."
"Bringing what up?" a new voice asked. I looked, still chewing, to see Finn walk to us. He sat at the stool on the other side of me, gladly accepting a bottle of water from the man behind the counter. "How incredibly good looking I am?"
I choked on my cookie.
Kaylie laughed and Finn looked offended. "But I am really, really good looking," he pouted, jutting out his bottom lip.
"Thanks Zoolander," the man behind the counter snorted.
Kaylie's laughter turned into hysterics. She clutched her sides and almost fell off her stool.
I smiled at him, swallowing my cookie. "Do you struggle with the inability to turn left?"
Finn joined Kaylie's laughter and for a moment, I could forget about the burn in my throat and pretend like I was a normal teenager – who hadn't just seriously considered murdering a fellow classmate.
He stopped laughing, but a smile still played on his lips. He rested his elbow against the counter and leaned over to me. "Not only am I an expert at turning left, I'm skilled in many other areas." He wriggled his eyebrows.
I was confused. "Huh?"
Kaylie snorted, her laughter dying instantly. Her eyes narrowed."Back off, Finn. Nessie is too innocent for you."
I was even more confused. "What?"
Finn leaned back on his elbow, looking both of us over, his dark eyes skeptical. "How innocent are we talking about here?"
Kaylie's blonde eyebrow arched high on her forehead. "Completely virginal."
Heat spread across my face. "Well, wait a minute-"
"Completely virginal?" Finn echoed, snorting. "Yeah right."
Kaylie crossed her arms against her chest, her eyebrow still arched in that intimidating, somewhat challenging way."She's never even been kissed."
"Hey!" I sputtered, the heat working its way down my neck. "Don't-"
"Never even been kissed? Wow that is really virginal." Finn whistled.
"I told you, Finn," Kaylie said, a sing song quality to her voice. "She wouldn't have the first idea what to do."
The heat was all the way down to my toes, I was sure. "That's really just speculation and-"
"Well," Finn's grin took on an almost wolfish quality. He leaned in close to me again, and I felt my heart speed up. "I'm a patient teacher. Or I could be. What do you think, Ness?"
His eyes were too dark, his smile too familiar. I swallowed hard but did not break eye contact. "A lot of that was offensive to me."
"Blah," Kaylie exclaimed, shoving away from the bar. She seemed annoyed. "Good luck. I'm going to go check on Chelsea."
He watched her walk away for a minute before turning his attention back to me. "So, you've never been kissed, huh?"
I was suddenly more defensive than embarrassed and I looked away from his dark, sparkling eyes. "Kaylie says it's nothing to be ashamed about."
"I bet she does," he grinned. "And she's right. It's kinda cute how a girl like you is innocent too."
"A-a girl like me?" I asked, glancing at him from the corner of my eyes. He was still leaning against the counter, still close to me, still smiling that too familiar smile.
I wished he was somebody else.
"Yeah, you know. A girl as beautiful as you. I wouldn't have expected that."
And I knew why he wouldn't have expected that. I knew the things a lot of the boys said about me in school. "Well, rumors are...you know, mean. And untrue."
The way his face lit up, like he had just won some sort of a prize, made me very nervous. I sat up straighter and looked him right in the eyes. "I have a very protective family."
"Ah," his grin grew and suddenly his face was even closer to mine. "But, they aren't here, are they?"
I could feel his warm breath on my face. Everything was so familiar, he was so familiar – I panicked. Blindly, I grabbed a handful of cookies and shoved them in my mouth.
He backed away from me quickly, surprised. I just smiled at him around my mouthful of five or six (definitely not vegan) chocolate chip cookies.
"Alright, everyone!" Coach Anderson called, appearing out of nowhere. I thanked God above for creating such a beautiful, wonderful, track coach with impeccable timing. "Out of the pool and into bed! We've got a long drive ahead of us tomorrow."
It was always hard for me to fall asleep in a new place.
The hotel room that I shared with Kaylie and Coach Anderson was not the largest, two beds and a small bathroom. And the noise of the air conditioner coming off and on, and the way Coach Anderson snored were both so unfamiliar that I couldn't relax. I put my mp3 player on and listened to the music my father loved, and even some of the pieces he had written for my mother and I.
If I closed my eyes, I could practically see him sitting at the piano. My mom would be on the bench next to him, Grandma Esme standing behind the both of them. Auntie Alice would be dancing by herself.
I smiled and felt my muscles start to relax. With a hand holding on to my locket, I slowly started to give in to sleep.
That is, until someone started shaking my whole body.
I quickly pulled out my earbuds, surprised and alarmed. Kaylie just smiled back at me before putting an index finger over her lips. She nodded her head at Coach Anderson's sleeping form.
"I just got a text from Chels," she whispered. "All the chaperons are asleep so we're heading out to the woods behind the hotel."
I could feel the muscles in my forehead tighten. There were so many ways I could reply to that sentence that I wasn't sure what to say. So, I settled on, "What? Why?"
"Why would a bunch of teenagers head out into the woods in the middle of the night after all the adults have fallen asleep?" She whispered, a bright smile on her face. "Duh. To do rebellious, teenage things. Filled with angst. And hormones."
I could hear my father's voice in my head saying, "Don't even think about it, Nessie. Just go to sleep." I was sorely tempted to obey.
"Please?" Kaylie whispered. "They're all going to pair off and I don't want to be alone. Please come with me?" She stuck her lip out and her vibrant blue eyes took on a doe like quality. Someone had been watching a few too many Disney princess movies.
I knew that I should listen to my father's voice in my head. That I should just go to sleep and be a good little girl and not do anything rebellious during my teenage years. Especially if it were to be filled with angst and hormones. But, Kaylie was my friend. My only human friend. And I liked that.
So, I smiled and whispered, "Okay." Because, after all, what's the worst that could happen?
I felt out of place almost immediately. The other girls had actually bothered to get dressed again. I had just stayed in my sweat pants, throwing an old t-shirt over my sports bra. We didn't walk very far into the woods, which was a good thing, considering Chelsea was wearing heels.
I questioned her sanity.
Chelsea stared at my t-shirt for a minute, the gears in her head turning so hard I could hear them. "'Save the Whales'?" She questioned. "What's that? A band, or something?"
I seriously questioned her sanity. It took me several minutes of staring in her general direction before I could answer. "No. Just, save the whales. The mammal. From extinction."
She looked at me like she was questioning my sanity before finally shrugging. "Whatever."
"Come on guys," Kaylie chirped. "There's a clearing over there. We can do some stargazing." She turned right and started walking and everyone followed after her because no one seemed to have a better idea of what rebellious teenage things to do in the woods in the middle of the night.
Finn grabbed my arm. "Hey, wait," he whispered and I did.
We stood there like that, him holding on to me, until our group disappeared behind the trees. "I just wanted to talk to you alone for a minute."
"Okay," I said, pulling my arm out of his grasp and turning to face him. "Well, we're alone."
He grinned. "Yes. We are."
He was very handsome, I noticed. Tall, but not too tall, and very tan. His lopsided grin was carefree and his dark eyes seemed to smolder in the moonlight. He stared down at me, with his smoldering eyes and his carefree grin and my heart raced in my chest.
"So," I managed I finally managed, my voice cracking.
He took a step towards me and I backed up. Right into a tree.
Did he do that on purpose?
"I really like you," he whispered, his face close to mine. He put his hands on the tree, on either side of my head, blocking any exit I had. "You're a little weird."
"Thank you?" I squeaked. "I-I get that a lot."
He grinned again and I automatically smiled back. His eyes moved to my lips. "You're the prettiest girl I've ever seen."
I could feel my face flush and I wanted to run away, but my feet were rooted to the ground. "I bet you say that to all the girls."
"No," he said, his eyes never leaving my lips. "Just you. I like you. I want you." His hand was on my face, his thumb caressing my cheek.
"It's not such a big deal, being kissed," he whispered, closing the distance between us. "It doesn't have to be such a big deal."
"But what If I want it to be?" I whispered back, unable to stop myself. "I want my first kiss to be special."
"It's no different," Finn said and I could feel his warm breath on my face. "You're no different."
What an odd thing to say.
But I didn't have time to think about it because his lips were on mine, soft at first, and then demanding, dominating. And more than anything in the world, I wanted the kiss to mean something. I wanted it to be with someone who meant something to me.
Finn pulled away all at once, a terrified look on his face. He backed away from me, looking like he had just seen a ghost.
"Finn?" I asked breathlessly, unable to walk away from the tree that seemed to be supporting my entire body weight.
He stared at me, long and hard, before finally blurting out, "I'm not gay!"
Did I...did I send him a thought while he was kissing me?
There was a rustling in the bushes behind us and our group emerged. "There you guys are!" Kaylie exclaimed. "What happened?" Her eyes narrowed and she looked us over like a surveyor.
"Evan managed to sneak a few joints here," Nicole said, her thumb lazily pointing at the other boy. "Do you want to smoke or are you just going to stand around all night?"
"Uh," Finn stammered. He raised a hand to wipe his face. "Yeah. Yeah, I could use a joint right about now."
Chelsea tilted her head and stared past all of us, a confused look on her face.
And I realized almost instantly why. Someone was coming.
A beautiful woman stepped into the moonlight, her long black hair billowing around her even though there was no breeze.
Panic seized me and I couldn't move away from the tree.
She didn't have a heartbeat.
She smiled, her white teeth glinting in the soft light. "Well, well," she spoke and her voice was like a song. "Look what I've found. A midnight snack."
End Notes: Yay, we're finally getting into some interesting stuff! *dance dance* So, won't you please review and tell me your opinions about just how much I need my beloved beta back? :)