A cool grey mist hung over the Olympic Peninsula like a curtain from the ceiling of thick clouds above.
A lone figure stood in the highway just south of Forks, Washington, balancing a motorcycle underneath her while she looked up at the overcast sky in satisfaction. The faintly falling spray of moisture was comforting on her pale face as she gazed into the heavens and prepared herself mentally for the discomfort that she knew lay ahead of her. Unblinking coal-coloured eyes took in the slow moving river on one side of the wide road and then flicked over to the other where she knew the Pacific Ocean lay hidden by the obstruction of trees. So peaceful.
With a sigh and a snap of her visor, she kicked her bike back into motion, her gloveless hands pale on the black handlebars and icy cold, though not from the wind. Had she known how quickly that sense of peace she had just experienced would be shattered, she might have lingered a moment longer to enjoy the idle serenity.
Then again, maybe not.
Motoring quietly through the peaceful town, she glanced down at the map she did not need to ensure that she had the correct address. Her route confirmed, she sped down the lonely road at the end of town and pulled into the broad driveway of a tiny house right at the edge of the forest on the perimeter of the Olympic National Park.
Cutting the engine, she approached the small establishment. Thin with two stories and lots of windows. Perfect.
Running a thin white hand along the casement over the door, her fingers found a cold metal key, just as she had been told. She forced it through the sticky lock with ease and entered without removing her coat or shoes.
A thin layer of dust coated the flat surfaces of the little home. She walked through the front living area into the kitchen at the back and then climbed the stairs to explore the upper floor. Two bedrooms and a full bath were all she found, completely furnished. Upon re-inspection she found that the cupboards in the kitchen were full of chipped and mismatched dishes.
Satisfied that the place would suit her needs, the figure went back outside, pausing only to deposit a large duffel inside the front door and to remove the FOR RENT sign from the front window. A moment later, boot marks and the abandoned bag were the only sign that there had been anyone there at all.
The school was just off the highway (as everything seemed to be in this town) and the motorist pulled into a half-empty lot which seemed to be reserved for staff. There was no one about, it being a Wednesday afternoon and classes being in session, but this was just as she had planned.
She removed her helmet revealing a pale, dark-eyed face with full lips and a pointed chin. Dark chestnut-brown hair was braided and pinned up with a few strays escaping to frame high cheekbones adorned with violet bags. The black helmet went into a slot at the back of the bike next to its unused twin, but the brown leather jacket (more for show than for purpose, it was too thin to be of any use except style) stayed on.
Walking swiftly and gracefully to the building labeled OFFICE, the figure paused only a moment at the threshold. A quick inhalation preceded a light frown before she disregarded a notion with a shake of her head and proceeded.
A pudgy woman with flat brown eyes and dyed hair sat behind a desk bearing a small plaque which read MS. COPE – RECEPTIONIST.
"Can I help you, dear?" she asked pleasantly.
"Yes," a most melodious voice returned. It was high and smooth like a glittering brook. The woman's eyes widened slightly. "I am a new student just moved in from out of town. I've come to pick up my schedule for tomorrow."
"And your name?" Ms. Cope asked, though there could have been only one. How many new students could Forks High be receiving a month after school had already started? But she answered patiently none the less.
The paperwork had taken longer than Bella anticipated and by the time she had been supplied with a schedule and maps of the campus and town, school had already let out.
The principal, Mr. Greene, offered to walk her to her bike. She accepted, having no interest in speaking to other students just yet and knowing that his presence would act like an amulet against even the boldest of approachers.
Mr. Greene blathered on of classes and the town's history and Bella nodded at the appropriate times, her mind wandering to the town she had just left on the opposite side of the continent and how incredibly similar they were. Just as she was gloomily contemplating the monotony that would no doubt accompany the following years and reflecting that maybe she should've taken that job in Louisiana after all, she caught sight of a group of five teenagers walking through the neighbouring lot.
They were beautiful. All pale skinned and graceful, they wore expensive, tailored clothing and were approaching what was easily the nicest car in the lot, a shiny silver Volvo.
In the briefest of moments, Bella catalogued them: one, tall blonde female, very beautiful; one, tall blonde male, severely scarred; one, monster-sized male, neck the width of Bella's thigh; one, bronze-haired male, young and slender but extremely good-looking; and one tiny, pixie-like female, by far and away the most graceful creature that Bella had ever seen. They were grouped together with a small space surrounding them as though the other rushing teenagers unconsciously wanted to keep a buffer zone between them.
A cool October breeze gusted unexpectedly from behind Bella and she watched the group as they stiffened, then turned as one as they caught her scent, all of them moving in precise synchrony as though dancers in a musical chorus. They stared at her, eyes wide, nostrils flared, and postures tense. It was their eye-colour, however, that caught her attention. They were all of them gold.
"Ah, I see you've noticed the Cullens," said Mr. Greene genially. "Yes, all A-track students, they were in an advanced school up in Alaska, I think. They're new students as of two years ago, just like you."
Bella tore her eyes away from the five statue-like figures across the lot. She realized that Mr. Greene was waiting for some kind of response and that she had been unmoving for an unnaturally long time. "The Cullens?"
"Yes," he said, his voice becoming a little uneasy as he looked from their unmoving gazes to hers. "Do you know them?"
Bella thought quickly. "Yes, I think I might," she said slowly, aware that they must be hanging on her every word. "My step-father moves so often for his work, you see, that it is not uncommon for me to run across someone I know. I believe we were in Alaska several years ago. Perhaps I met them then."
"That must be it," said Mr. Greene, sounding relieved. "Well, that will be nice for you, to know some kids already!"
"Yes," she replied clearly. "Perhaps I'll drop by their house this evening to reintroduce myself. It would only be polite."
"Excellent, excellent," the principal agreed jovially and walked on until they reached the bike, where he frowned. "Now, I'm not sure if I approve of –"
"It was a gift from my step-father," Bella cut him off as she put her helmet on. "I think he feels bad for leaving me alone so much."
"Yes, well –"
"Thank you, Mr. Greene," Bella continued hurriedly as she put her bike in gear.
"Yes, welcome again to Forks High," he said as she turned the bike around.
As she left the lot and tuned back onto the highway to head towards her new home, Bella took a last glance at the student lot, eyes searching for the silver Volvo.
But it had already disappeared.
Instead of going back to an empty house, Bella stopped at the post office to inform them that she would have several packages arriving the next day and to expect her by after school to pick them up.
Next she went to the nearest grocery store to pick up what most humans would consider the essentials. Props, of course, for she did not eat this kind of food, but necessary. While there, she also got a whole load of cleaning supplies. She was going to be doing some furious thinking that afternoon, she knew; she may as well keep her hands busy.
After putting away the perishables, Bella got right to work. Going at vampiric speed, she figured that she could vacuum, dust, scrub out the cupboards, clean the dishes, wash the windows and bathroom, and give the bedding a good run through the machine in three hours. By that time, it would be seven o'clock and a perfectly acceptable time to go over to these 'Cullens' place.
Not that she knew where they lived. Not that she knew what she'd do when she got there. Not that she knew if she'd even survive the encounter. Vibrating with nervousness, she pulled on rubber gloves and got to work. Gold. Their eyes were gold!
Their house was actually extremely easy to find once she got to the north end of town. Keeping the visor on her helmet up and riding slowly, she was able to follow the ever-increasing concentration of their scents.
She paused at the entrance to a driveway that most would have gone by without noticing due to the thick trees on either side and took a last breath. Thick and sweet on the air, their combined scents were strong and unmistakeable. She didn't know how she had dismissed it at the school earlier, despite it being overlapped by hundreds of others and also being quite old.
Turning onto the narrow, windy drive, the rumbling of her bike sounded like thunder in the encroaching silence. After several minutes of slow but steady progress, a break in the trees became visible and the shape of a large white house emerged in the fading light.
It was magnificent. Ancient but beautifully restored, it stood three stories high with a picturesque wrap-around porch.
It was also silent.
Feeling evermore like a mouse crawling into a lion's den, Bella brought her bike around, parking it in the gravel drive facing the exit. Moving at human speed both to stall for time and so as not to startle any of the occupants that she was sure lay just beyond those white walls, Bella removed her helmet once more and undid her hair, letting it fall in dark waves around her shoulders.
Each of her footsteps echoed up the steps as she strode to the door. In an uncharacteristically human gesture, she rubbed her hands on her jeans as though to remove sweat (though she had none) and raised her fist to knock once on the door.
Her knuckles had barely touched the wood when it opened smoothly and before her stood yet another golden-eyed creature; this one appeared slightly older than the ones she had seen at the school. Bella was surprised to find yet another in their coven. This had to be the biggest she had ever come across, and by quite a margin.
It took only the briefest of moments for her to take in his golden-blonde hair and dark ochre eyes. "Hello," said Bella nervously, her tones echoing like bells into the open room beyond.
The male vampire smiled a genuine smile at her opening and she suddenly was considerably less nervous than before.
"Please come in," he intoned and opened the door wider. "We are all eager to meet you."
Smiling in surprise and anticipation, Bella took a step inside, the door swinging shut behind her.
She was in a large open space – it looked as though almost all the walls of the first floor had been knocked out to make one big room. On the left on a slightly raised platform stood a beautiful grand piano (her eyes lingered there for a brief second with interest). Just beyond it was a grand staircase presumably leading to the upper floors and the entire back wall was made of glass. On the right was an enormous flat screen with couches, chairs and coffee tables scattered around it.
It was in this comfortable area that the Cullens were spaced about, all watching Bella in silence.
There was an awkward pause.
"Hello," said Bella again, looking around at them all. There were seven in total including the one from the door and another female of about the same age with warm caramel-coloured hair and an easy smile. "My name is Bella Swan."
"Welcome to Forks," said the one from the door. He appeared to be the head of the coven through he was not at all the largest. She wondered how he had won such a position among so many.
"My name is Carlisle Cullen. This is my wife Esme," he indicated the other female Bella had not seen at the school as she flitted to his side. "And this is my family (Bella's eyes widened at the word), Emmett (the big one waved from the couch) and Rosalie (the blonde female next to him looked on neutrally), Jasper (the other blonde male stood tensely behind them), Alice (the pixie girl with short spiky black hair flashed a blindingly-white smile which Bella returned automatically), and Edward (the bronze-haired boy stood next to Alice's chair and his face was creased in a slight frown).
While he spoke, Bella noticed that the vague pressures she'd felt against her mental shield ever since she entered their property increase and individualize. From the petite girl came the most curious echoing sensation, like waves being sent out and absorbed by her shield. She felt other waves brush by her and then bounce back to the girl who looked on curiously.
From the blonde male she felt an overwhelming, wrap-around feeling of warmth. It was pleasant, and though his stance indicated otherwise, she determined that he meant no harm.
The most obvious was the last one being sent by the bronze-haired boy, the youngest, she thought. It felt like steady gusts of air were blowing in and out of him from all directions, but he was focusing a particularly sharp stream or spray at her head. It was not uncomfortable, but it was a little distracting and she felt that he was being a bit rude. Like he was burrowing at her defences, but not violently. Just nosily or intrusively. She was, though, a stranger to his coven and so she did not think too badly of him for it, but she thought she might say something soon if he did not let up.
"What brings you to the Olympic Peninsula?" Carlisle asked.
Bella turned to him quickly her nervousness coming back to her in full force.
"The rain," she answered, then quickly went on. "I'm so sorry to enter your territory unannounced, I had no idea there was an established coven here or I would never have dreamt of –"
"It's quite alright," he responded calmly. "Do you plan to stay long?"
Bella swallowed. "I've leased a house at the other end of town for two years, but if you think my presence will risk your cover then it's no trouble to move on. I can leave as soon as my things arrive; I'm expecting them by post tomorrow –"
"No need, no need. Goodness," he said with a little chuckle. "Are we really so intimidating?" His face was so kind and open and Bella felt herself calm a little.
She grinned sheepishly at him. "Well, there are a lot of you."
The big one, Emmett, laughed a great roaring laugh and the tiny one, Alice, giggled brightly. Bella's head turned at the lovely sound and she found herself relaxing further when Alice winked at her. She went on.
"And I am not eager to intrude upon you. You see, I've never met anyone else who… well, you know," she indicated her unusual diet by pointing at her eyes.
"Is vegetarian?" It was the blonde female who spoke drily; she was extremely beautiful in the classic sense of the word. She was looking at Bella approvingly, as though she had passed some sort of test. Well that was good.
Bella grinned at her. "In a manner of speaking. Are there many others?"
"We know of only one other family," Carlisle replied, speaking for the group. "Three sisters and a couple in Denali. We are quite close."
"Ah yes, Mr. Greene mentioned that you used to live in Alaska. I would love to meet them – unh." Her shield rippled with the force of a particularly strong blast from her right and she actually jerked back a little.
Intense irritation flashed across her face as she whipped around to face Edward. "Do you mind?" she asked him hotly. "That's really annoying."
His face registered shock for a moment, as did everyone else's, before he suddenly scowled and sent her a stabbing blow.
A vicious snarl broke through Bella's clenched teeth and she sank automatically into a crouch. "Back off or I will box you in, don't think I won't," she whispered in a deadly voice.
"What –" Carlisle started to say. Bella felt the warm-bath sensation from Jasper intensify, but that only put her more on edge.
Edward's only response to her warning was to set himself into a lower stance and stab again. Big mistake.
"You asked for it," Bella spat and sent her shields flying out to surround him in a bubble of solitude. Edward's face went blank with shock and a moment later, he actually fell back onto his behind.
The response was immediate.
There was a flurry of movement and suddenly Jasper was right in her face, every inch of his long body exuding menace.
"Please release him," came Carlisle's pained voice. Edward was still sitting on the floor staring straight ahead and shaking his head back and forth. He put his hands to his temples.
"Do it," Jasper commanded in a deep baritone that she found a little surprising for his fair face.
Bella glared around him unrepentantly at Edward's still figure. "Alright," she conceded, but wasn't about to let him off so easy. "But if he can't learn to keep his hands to himself I'll do it again and this time I'm not holding back," she warned them.
Bella straightened up at the same moment that she retracted her shields back to their regular elastic layer around her body.
Edward immediately let out a breath of relief and stood up. Esme was at his side in an instant, her hand on his back, her face worried. "Edward."
"It's alright Esme, I'm fine." He looked up at Bella's aggravated face and her crossed arms clearly saying, 'right, act the martyr,' and his expression turned apologetic. "I did deserve it," he added.
The last of the tension drained out of Bella at his admission to be replaced by contrition. "I warned you not to push it," she reminded him, her arms uncrossing themselves.
"You did," he agreed conciliatorily.
She sighed a little, finding it impossible to stay made when he acted like that. Her brow now contorted in worry. Way to make a good first impression. "Are you alright? Most people feel quite vulnerable after the first time."
"Would somebody please explain what's going on?" Emmett grumbled in a loud voice.
Bella looked at him, and then back at Edward. You explain. It wasn't as though Bella knew what he'd been trying to do exactly, anyway. There was a short silence before…
"I can't read her mind," Edward finally admitted. Ah. So that's what he'd been up to. Cheeky bastard. No wonder he'd been so confused.
"No way! That's awesome! You have to fight him – finally, a match where Edward can't cheat."
Edward rolled his eyes. Bella notice that Rosalie looked highly amused by Edward's consternation. Interesting.
"Edward's not the only one who's having a tough time getting a hold on her," Jasper rumbled next to Bella, looking at her out of the corner of his eye.
"You as well?" came Alice's glittering voice. She floated over to where he stood like a leaf on a stream and looked Bella up and down. "Thank goodness. For a second there, I thought I was losing my touch." She let out another sparkling laugh that caused Bella's shy, self-conscious demeanour to break back into a smile.
"Fascinating," said Carlisle with intense interest. "I wondered why Alice never said anything."
"What do you mean?" Bella asked.
Alice considered her. "I see future possibilities based on present decisions. Normally, I would have been able to spot you coming the moment you chose to come to Forks."
"Wow." Bella stared at her in shock. "So that's what the waves were."
Alice cocked her head. Explain.
"My talent is to block others'. I could feel you sending out waves and echoes coming back to you – except the ones that hit me. My shield absorbed those ones."
Alice's face cleared with understanding. "That's why I couldn't see you – it's like there's a void where you are."
"But what happened to Edward?" Esme asked, obviously still anxious for him despite his assurances.
Bella looked down in shame. "I overreacted. I could feel his…"
"Assault?" Edward asked with a wry twist to his lips.
"I was going to say advances, but… anyway. They were becoming more and more vehement. I panicked." She looked up at him. "I really am sorry. I should have just explained right away when I felt you trying to get through."
"No." Edward shook his head. "I didn't stop when you asked me to. I got a little over-zealous in trying to get past your block. I sort of… started stabbing at it." He looked ashamed of himself.
"Edward." Carlisle's voice was chastising. "Is that how we treat guests in our home?"
He looked repentant, but said, "I was curious."
Bella smiled at him wryly. "You were not the only one." She glanced at Jasper who had backed up to lean against the arm of the couch.
"I can feel and influence emotions," he explained calmly. "I was trying to calm you."
"But what did you do to Edward after?" Emmett said eagerly.
Rosalie agreed. "I don't think I've ever seen Edward stumble before – you seem to have swept him right off his feet," she finished slyly.
If Bella could have blushed, she would have. Alice giggled at the expression on her face while Esme admonished her, "Rosalie," but her heart did not seem to really be in it.
Bella elaborated. "There is more to my gift than just protecting myself from mental probing; I can extend my shield to cover others as well. On one or two occasions, however, simple defence has not been enough… so I've turned my shield into a sort of weapon. I block off everything around the person in question, leaving them isolated. Like in a bubble, or a box. Usually, the shock of having a power disabled is so traumatizing that it is enough."
Edward nodded fervently. "I've never felt so vulnerable. It was like suddenly going deaf. It could see you all, so I knew you were still here, but I couldn't hear any of your thoughts. It was…" he trailed off in awe. "It was so quiet."
"You said usually," Jasper pointed out shrewdly. Bella grinned. Damn. Caught.
"On occasion, pursuers have needed more extreme measures to persuade them to stop."
He raised his eyebrows. Continue.
"I squeeze them," Bella said abashedly. "It's sort of like mental strangulation." She shifted uncomfortably. "I dislike doing it."
"If it teaches Edward some manners, maybe you wouldn't mind," Esme said, now glaring at him, though her hand was still at his elbow.
Alice giggled again. "That is a cool trick."
And just like that, the tension was broken. Carlisle invited her to sit and the rest of the Cullens settled in as well.
"So Bella," Carlisle began. "Tell us about yourself."
"What do you want to know?"
"How old are you?"
Bella smiled. "I'm hurt; can't you tell?"
The Cullens laughed softly. Vampires are ageless, as they all knew.
Bella answered him seriously. "I was changed in 1926." She saw Alice look up, but no one said anything, so she carried on uninterrupted. "So that's eighty-three years ago this fall. I was eighteen. I am claiming seventeen so that I can spend two years here. I'm basically just killing time until I can go back to the work I was doing before without being recognized. High school is no fun on your own, but it means you can stick around for a while without raising suspicion."
Carlisle looked like he understood. "Have you always been on your own?"
"Yes," Bella answered without inflection. "I have never met anyone worth staying with, and like I said, no one who shares my dietary habits."
"You said you worked…" Esme said, tactfully changing the subject.
Bella smiled. "Yes. Once I'd learnt enough control, I put myself through college, studying languages. I worked for many years as a translator so that I could travel."
"Which languages?" Edward asked interestedly.
"English, French, Italian, German, and Russian were my strongest."
"But you know others?"
Bella smiled modestly and said nothing.
"Edward, too, has a passion for languages," Carlisle explained while Esme looked at him indulgently.
"So you're a junior?" Rosalie prompted her.
"Yes," Bella picked up her story again. "I've said that my step-father is a photographer so he travels a lot with his work and brings me with him. I've been home-schooled mostly, which is why I'm ahead of the curriculum. Now Graham has taken on a large project on the West Coast of Washington, so he's based me here to give me some semblance of stability. I'll go see him most weekends and he'll come to me as often as he can get away, which is to say almost never. He's also on a small budget, so I model for him whenever the weather is good." Bella finished with an innocent expression.
Rosalie nodded seriously. "We're obsessed with hiking."
Bella wrinkled her nose. "Wow. That would've been an easier explanation, wouldn't it?"
The beautiful blonde vampire laughed softly. "Maybe. But it would've looked a little suspicious. We all happen to go hiking on the same days…"
Bella nodded. "So has your – family – been together for a long time?" She had to consciously not use the word coven. How bizarre. How… nice, actually.
Carlisle outlined his own history briefly, how he worked as a doctor and had created Edward then Esme shortly after and Rosalie and Emmett close together and how they had all adopted his 'vegetarian' philosophy. "Jasper and Alice came to the same conclusions on their own, though separately. Edward ran into Jasper in the late 40s and helped him adapt to this lifestyle. Alice actually found us not long after that."
He turned to her.
"I saw them, in a vision," she explained. "I was looking for them for ages before I finally tracked them down at Tanya's place in Denali."
Bella glanced at Carlisle and brought something up that she'd noticed about him right away. "I noticed that you've got a faint accent…"
He smiled. "I seem to be unable to rid myself of it entirely. Yes, you're right, I'm originally English though I've lived in North America for many, many years."
Bella glanced around. "Are you all from there?"
"Just Carlisle," Edward answered. "The rest of us are originally American. I'm from Chicago."
"Tennessee," Emmett said.
"Ohio," said Esme.
"Rochester, New York." Rosalie.
"Mississippi," sang Alice.
"Oh really, I'm from there as well," Bella said. "Where in particular?"
Alice looked intrigued. "Biloxi was where I was changed."
Bella's brow wrinkled. "That's such a coincidence. I was changed in Jackson but I was born in Biloxi and lived there until I was eight." She watched as all the Cullens seemed to freeze at her words and glance quickly at Alice before looking back at her.
Alice swallowed and when she spoke next she sounded extremely nervous. "That's actually a really big coincidence. See, I was changed the same year as you as well."
Bella stared at her in shock. "September?"
Alice nodded. "I awoke on the fifteenth."
Bella swallowed. "The sixteenth." She stared into Alice's dark golden eyes. "It must be the same person."
Alice breathed out quietly, as though she had been holding it in, waiting for someone else to say it before she dared to. "Yes, I think so." There was a pause. "Do you remember it?"
Silence descended on the household as Bella closed her eyes and averted her head. The sudden darkness. The pain. The blood. The shame.
"Yes, I remember," she whispered.
"Would you tell me?" Bella, eyes still closed, did not see the expression of earnestness on her face.
"I would rather not, if you don't mind. It's not exactly a fun memory for me." Bella's voice was still soft to mask her pain. She drew her feet up under her and rested her head on her knees, staring into nothing.
"Please." The desperation in Alice's voice was enough to make her open her eyes and glance over. She saw Alice in the exact same position as her, a mirror. Her eyes were full of longing, so different from the mirth she had seen earlier. That alone would have been enough to change her mind, but Alice went on before she could speak.
"Please. I don't remember anything. I woke up alone. I didn't even know who I was. The only thing I remember from before that moment is that my name was Alice."
Bella stared at her, then past her through the glass wall beyond. She had often wished that she could not remember that day and all the horror it entailed, but now faced with someone who actually couldn't and the sense of loss and unbelonging that it obviously brought her, she realized that that would be far worse. At least she had good memories from her human life to balance them out, however hazy. At least she knew who she was. It wasn't a choice, really, to tell her.
"It was my birthday," she began abruptly, but if any of the Cullens were startled they did not show it. "My parents had gone out to get me my gift. A special surprise, they said, because your eighteenth year was a special one. I was a little surprised that my mother was going out, that she was involved in the secret. She had been ill for almost three years, too depressed to go out, to work, to do much of anything. But ever since Dr. Oakley had started treating her, she had been doing so much better. Dr. Darius Oakley."
She looked at Alice's attentive face briefly, then back out the window.
"He was a strange man, so pale and quiet, but he was kind and he always knew just what mother needed. Every day that she improved, I was glad we'd run into him that day we went to visit our old house in Biloxi and mother had fainted from the sun. We never wanted anyone else and he was so obliging, coming all the way to Jackson just to visit her every two weeks.
It was strange; when we first met him I remember that his eyes were black. But whenever he came to Jackson, they were red. Dark red. I never said anything, of course. He made mother better – I wasn't about to complain about something that didn't matter and risk offending him.
When he came that day, he was early and he was acting so strange. I invited him to come sit in the parlour and wait for mother and father to get back, they wouldn't be long. He seemed so nervous but he accepted. His eyes were black again. We were just sitting and making small talk. He was congratulating me on my birthday when suddenly he looked at the back door. He looked terrified. I asked him what the matter was, but he never answered. He came towards me and reached towards my face, like he was going to pat me on the head. Everything went dark.
I never really regained consciousness. The pain – I'd never felt anything like it. I couldn't focus on anything because of it. I remember my parents screaming near the end though, as I thrashed around on the floor."
Bella closed her eyes, feeling the familiar ache behind them that meant that she would have been crying if she could have. She wrapped her arms around herself more tightly and closed her eyes, concentrating on her shield, wrapping it layer after layer around her like a protective blanket.
There was a flutter of wind and footsteps and then she felt the warm weight of an arm going around her shoulders. Esme. She recognized her scent already.
"Was he there?"
Bella looked up at Alice's tight face to see her similarly wrapped up by Rosalie on one side and Edward on the other. Jasper's hand rested on her shoulder from behind. She could feel him practically submerging the room in warmth. It must have been comfort, she thought, and unwrapped her shield a little.
"Was he there for you when you awoke?" Alice asked again. "This Darius Oakley?"
"No," replied Bella quietly. "I never saw him again after that day."
"And your parents?" Carlisle asked in a very gentle voice.
A strange keening whimper of pain escaped Bella's throat at the thought and she felt Esme's arm tighten and Jasper try vainly to get through her many-layered block. She really wished he wouldn't. His intentions were good, but it only made it worse that she couldn't feel what he wanted her to.
"Dead," she eventually got out in a strangled voice.
"I'm sorry," Carlisle said sincerely. "It's always hard to lose your family, no matter the circumstances."
Bella let out a terrible high-pitched laugh that echoed hollowly about the room. He thought that they'd been killed by her creator. He thought that she'd lost them.
"How quaint of you to assume that he killed them."
She laughed that horrible laugh again and this time there was a slightly hysterical edge to it. She saw the Cullens looking at each other in alarm. She stood, brushing Esme's arm off very gently and going to the window-wall to look out at the moonlit night. She could see another river from here, the water glistening with silver.
"No, that honour was all mine," she said quietly. She looked at Alice's reflection in the glass. "You said you woke alone? You have no idea how lucky you are. I awoke to the sight of my parents' broken bodies lying in the carnage that used to be our parlour. My father –" her voice cracked and she leaned her forehead into the glass, her arms wrapped back around herself.
"My father's arms had been pulled out of their sockets and his neck had been snapped. My mother's throat had been slit, just a little, and a large pool of blood had gathered around her."
She closed her eyes. "It smelled so good. And I was so thirsty. I didn't even think about it, I just put my lips to the floor and began to suck it all in. It was so soothing on my burning throat and the taste…" she trailed off, remembering.
"Once the pool on the floor was gone I wanted more and reached for her to pull her closer. And then I saw my hand, dripping with her blood, and felt her cold skin under my fingers and I realized what I was doing. What I had done. I was so horrified with myself, so consumed with guilt, that I fled. And from then on I could not imagine hurting another human without thinking of her.
I learned control. I grew strong on the blood of animals I caught in the park where I had hidden. One night I just left, deciding to start a new life, to give what I could back to the world using what I was best at. I never went back, too afraid I would be recognized by someone I once knew. And too afraid of the memories it would bring back, ones that I try not to think about most of the time. And usually I manage not to. I've always been good at repressing unpleasant things, moving past them. Maybe that's why I've never returned. Because some part of me recognizes that this is not something I should ever move past if I want to maintain any level of decency."
She trailed off and continued staring into the dark for a moment before looking at the reflections of the Cullens watching her again. She turned to face them and addressed Carlisle. "So now you know. The Deep Dark Secret of Bella Swan. I am my parents' murderer. That's probably something you want to take into account before you agree to let me stay and associate with your family."
There was a long pause.
Here it comes, Bella thought. The first people I ever meet worth knowing and they're going to hate me.
"Well that's not so bad."
Bella whirled around to face Rosalie in a vampire-quick movement, shock written all over her face. "What do you mean 'it's not that bad?' I killed my parents!"
Rosalie shrugged. "You didn't do it consciously. And most people here have done worse. I personally assassinated six men, all on purpose." Bella thought she looked a little smug about it, actually. "Granted, they were all personal matters. No thirst involved; all business. But it's not like none of us have never slipped before." She shrugged again.
"As much as I hate to admit it, Rosalie's right." Edward grimaced. "I chose to go feral for about ten years before going back to vegetarianism. And Jasper was born into a non-vegetarian coven," he added glancing at the tall, cool vampire.
"It's true," Jasper admitted in his deep voice. "I took countless lives before joining Carlisle's family."
Emmett frowned; an expression which Bella thought looked out of place on his normally cheerful face. "I slipped up fourteen times when I first started out." He grinned suddenly. "I was a little hard to handle," he said, holding up a bulging bicep as evidence.
Bella felt herself start to smile a little almost in spite of herself.
Esme spoke up. "Three. Three mistakes," she said, looking down at her hands in shame. Carlisle went to her side and picked up one of her hands in both of his. They shared a smile.
"One," Alice said quietly from her place on the couch. "A little boy who got lost in the woods."
"And Carlisle's too nice to not forgive us all," said Emmett with another grin. "Even if his record's clean."
Bella looked at the leader uncertainly. "You really don't mind?" she asked timidly.
He smiled gently at her. "We all have troubled pasts."
Bella looked around at this motley group of people who did, indeed, all have troubled pasts. You could not be a vampire and not have one. But they had each found it in themselves to rise above them and were better people for it. And she determined right then that she would be damned if she didn't do the same.
Her eyes landed back on Alice's curled figure and a frown graced her perfect pale features. Flitting back to the couch next to Esme, she addressed the pixie-like girl.
"I'm sorry that I said you were lucky." Alice looked up at her. "It was insensitive and untrue; I can't imagine what it must be like, not knowing who you are." She paused hesitantly. "If you'd like, I could try and remember what I can of my time in Biloxi. Who knows, maybe we were even friends." She smiled nervously at the little vampire.
Alice was staring at her, wide-eyed. "Really? You'd do that?"
Bella nodded, then decided that she could do one better.
"Tell you what, if you want, we could even go back at the winter break and we could try and find some record of Dr. Oakley. There must be some record of his being there. Maybe it'll help us figure out who you were."
Alice stared at her for another second, as though to make sure she wasn't just kidding, then broke into the widest smile Bella had ever seen and launched herself across the coffee table between them to hug her enthusiastically.
Bella giggled, and this time her laugh was not wild but its usual tinkling self, and wrapped her arms around Alice's small, hard body in return. Maybe this Forks plan hadn't been such a bad idea after all.
"Well, now that we've revealed all of our deepest, darkest secrets…" Bella said hesitantly after a while.
Carlisle smiled. "Yes?"
"I was wondering if –"
Bella was cut off by the sound of her cell phone going off. She whipped it out and looked at the screen.
"Excuse me, but I'd better take this call," she said apologetically and got to her feet. Within a second she was out the door and partway down the driveway to speak a polite distance away (one where she could still be heard, but was quiet enough to not be too disturbing).
Glancing at the caller ID again, she scowled before hitting the TALK button and lifting the phone to her ear.
"What do you want, Chaucer?"
"Bella baby! How are you? I'm just calling to settle the last details of our little rendezvous in… Forks, is it?"
"Yes," said Bella shortly. "You will come to the high school on Friday afternoon as though you are surprising me. I'll get the money to you once the afternoon has gone without hitch or suspicion."
"Fabulous! And you're absolutely sure that you don't want me to pose as the over-protective boyfriend instead of the neglectful but well-meaning step-dad? Because you know, I think that we could do really well togeth –"
"Chaucer, let me make this very clear. If you stray one inch away from the role I have given you, not only will you not receive a penny but I also have several friends who would love to have a chat with you."
"Whoa, hey, whatever you say babe! This is your gig. I'm just saying –"
"Oh, and if I introduce you to anyone as an old acquaintance, just act as though you remember them very vaguely. Don't volunteer any details."
"You got, babe! I'll see you on Friday?"
"Yes. Oh, and Chaucer?"
"Don't call me babe. You're supposed to be my step-father. And that means you keep your hands, eyes, and words to yourself – and that goes for the other high school girls as well. If you cannot be appropriate, I will teach you how myself and I doubt you will appreciate my methods."
"Aw, don't be like that babe –"
Bella snapped her phone shut and lifted a hand to cover her eyes, shuddering slightly.
Pulling herself back together, she shot back up the steps to the house. The Cullens were all still milling around the living room, talking quietly. They turned to look at her when she entered.
"My step-dad is a sleaze," she said with a grimace.
Carlisle raised his eyebrows. "Your step-father?"
Bella explained. "Graham Chaucer, a hired actor. He really is quite good in character. It's out of it that he is unbearable."
"Is that really necessary? Hiring an impersonator?"
Bella frowned thoughtfully. "That's the trouble with claiming to be underage, especially in a small town. If people don't see physical evidence of a parent or guardian around, they start to ask questions. He won't have to come often – I'll probably have Graham make a reappearance around Thanksgiving. That combined with my frequent absences should be enough to appease the most inquisitive."
"I suppose you found this out the hard way?"
"Yeah," said Bella sheepishly. "Child services were almost called when I was in Nova Scotia."
"East Coast?" Emmett asked. "What is there good to hunt up there? Moose?" He looked doubtful, but Bella smiled a sly smile.
"I don't suppose you've ever tried orca?"
Emmett's eyes widened. "Seafood? Really?"
Bella nodded and leaned back against the door, reminiscing. "The Native Canadians call them the wolves of the water. Except these wolves weigh up to 20, 000 pounds, are 25 feet long, and have got teeth as long as my arm and as thick around as my waist."
Emmett smiled dreamily. "Now that's a fight."
Bella grinned at him. "If you like a challenge, you would enjoy that tremendously, I think."
Edward chuckled at the look on Emmett's face. "I think you just gave him a new goal."
Emmett didn't pay him any attention. "A water fight, Rose! I can't believe we never thought of it. It opens up a whole other world of possibilities. Can you imagine…?"
"I don't know." Rosalie looked dubious. "Wouldn't that involve… getting wet?"
Jasper laughed but looked like he, too, was keen on the idea. "We've never had an off-land challenge before… Would the water, especially with the salt, dampen the flavour of the blood though?"
He and Emmett settled in front of the television, discussing possibilities.
"What were you going to say before, Bella?" Alice asked her, still shiny with Bella's offer.
"Oh." Bella's unconscious smile flickered. "Well…"
Alice cocked her head in that same cute way she had before. Bella thought she looked adorable when she did that. "What is it?" she asked in that high trilling voice. Like a waterfall.
"I hate to bring up something so gauche," she glanced up at Carlisle who was watching her. "But I did have another purpose in coming here tonight, other than just to meet you."
"Well, I was hoping to hunt tonight to prepare myself for school tomorrow, but your cov-family is so large I'm guessing your territory must extend quite far… I'm not sure if I'll have time to get outside the stretch of your borders and back in time –"
"Oh, but surely you don't think we'd make you go all that way. You must hunt here, of course."
Bella sighed in relief. She had really let herself get far thirstier than was responsible. "I was hoping you'd say that. I'll just grab something small in the park to tide myself over and then tomorrow I can go properly –"
"You misunderstood me," Carlisle said kindly. "I meant that you may hunt anywhere you'd like. So long as you stick to your usual, of course. We are concerned with staying inconspicuous, but beyond that…"
Bella smiled widely. "Thank you very much."
"Not at all," Carlisle replied, then looked around the room at his family. "So who else is going?"
"I will," said Alice cheerfully.
"Hold on," Bella said, her hand already on the doorknob.
Alice turned to look at her, her eyes slightly hurt.
"You… you hunt together?" Bella asked wondrously. What a notion.
Alice's face cleared like clouds flitting across the sun. "Oh yes. It's such fun, you'll see."
Bella looked apprehensive. "It's… safe?" She'd never been so close to someone else while given over to her senses and instincts.
"Yes, you'll love it. Don't worry." She glanced around. "Anybody else?"
Emmett and Jasper were still deep in conversation and Rosalie replied that she had just been. This did not seem to be stopping Alice, Bella thought; their eyes were almost the same shade of gold. She noticed Carlisle glance quickly at Edward, then away as though thinking.
"I'll go too," said Edward innocently a moment later. Bella thought it was cute that he pretended, but said nothing.
"Let's go! Come on Bella," Alice chirped and grabbing her chilly hand pulled her out the back door into the dark beyond, Edward at their heels.
Alice released her hold on Bella's hand (to her faint and inexplicable sense of loss) so that they could run properly, their skin glowing in the moonlight, gusting between the trees like wraiths on a wind. They did not speak though they were far from being winded. The night was just too beautiful to be filled with words.
Bella could hear Edwards' steady breathing on her right, his ease palpable. It was obvious that he was built to run and it lulled him. Alice, on the other hand, was all dance and movement up ahead. Bella didn't think she'd ever seen someone so graceful and full of energy and light. Her scent led the way through the brush, sweet and delicious. Esme smelled like comfort, Bella thought, and Rosalie like musk, Edward like lavender and sunlight on a patio in the afternoon. But Alice. Alice smelled like the wind, like moonlight on the water, like sun kissed dew. So lovely, making her a delight to follow through the shadowy world. Bella felt as though she could do this forever. It had been so long since she'd had someone to share something with comfortably. It was heaven.
Soon enough Bella could pick up the sound of several heartbeats ahead, slow and steady and deliciously wet. She guessed Alice would have foreseen them having luck in this direction. That would take some getting used to. She would make a formidable opponent, Bella thought, as they ghosted closer to what she could now smell was a herd of deer, five in total.
They slowed at the edge of a small clearing around a stream, Alice on her left, Edward on her right. Now there's a dangerous fighter too, she thought. She wondered vaguely who would win that competition. It would be close, she was sure.
She looked left, then right, then left again, never having done this before.
"Guests first," Alice offered.
"Thank you," she replied politely, but then was distracted from further interaction by the flight of the deer at the sudden break of the silence.
With a growl of pleasure she sprang after them, her senses automatically locking onto the strongest beating heart, a large buck. She gave in to the chase with relish and soon caught up to him, delighting in the heat she could feel emanating from his heaving flanks. Reaching out as she ran right up next to him, she snapped his neck in a moment and lowered his hot body to the earth. She took only a moment to glance up and see Alice watching her from the clearing, Edward bent over a doe that they were sharing.
She could feel the delight flicker across her face and shiver through her body at the idea of being watched as she fed before bending her own head and lowering her lips to the buck's throat and letting her teeth sink ever-so gently into the flesh, like dipping a finger into melted butter. Ecstasy as the hot blood trickled down her burning throat. So soothing. When she had drunk her fill, she tossed her head back, hair flinging over her shoulder and put a finger to the corner of her lips to collect the little dribble that had escaped.
Straightening up, she looked to see Edward and Alice now politely waiting for her off to the side, their eyes a glowing gold.
"Are you finished?" she asked them.
Edward glanced at Alice, who put a hand to her stomach in answer. "Yes, but we went only a few days ago. Please take your time."
"That's alright. He was large; I will need only one more I think."
"Lead on, then," Edward said, gesturing with his hand that she should go first.
Bella closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, trying to reach past the overwhelming smell of the dead deer. Her ears picked up the three other deer in one direction but she was in the mood for something different.
Setting off in the opposite direction without any clear aim, she flew like a ghost through the trees, enjoying the sensation of having two whispers behind her. She came to a small cliff and paused in the shadows at the top to gaze out into the ocean-scented starts.
She was constantly stunned by the beauty of this West Coast anomaly, the strange clash of mountains and ocean and forest appealing to her. It was as though the Earth, young and raw, had forced every bit of nature it could into this one ridge-like space, forming a crowded, angular environment filled with edges and shadows perfect for hiding. The world was young here. Untamed. Wild and unwizened unlike the great plains, deserts, and canyons of the interior or the ancient rolling hills of Europe. It was intoxicating.
She focused back on the hunt, aware that the two vampires behind her must be wondering what she was waiting for.
Very near she could hear two heartbeats side by side. In fact, they were so close together that they seemed to be occupying the same space. One was slightly larger than the other. A pregnant doe, she realized suddenly.
A breeze ruffled her hair and she caught its scent combined with another that was at the same time much more sinister and much more appealing. Her eyes snapped open and she peered into the silver-dipped trees, seeking the predator that was after the vulnerable mother.
There, waiting in the branches of a large noble fire, a beautiful female lynx was perched, her fur thick and luscious. It would almost be a shame. Almost. The venom flowed swiftly into her mouth, pooling on her tongue and she sank into a crouch, preparing for the leap.
A breath later and she was flying among the starlit breezes, she was one with the obscurity of the sky, another shiny smudge mark against the great canvas of black and then she was descending, falling like a raindrop, like a sugar granule, like a plum-fairy, and like a plum-fairy, she landed so lightly and delicately on the neighbouring branch that the lynxess only looked over involuntarily at the baby ruffle of noise and the tiny shimmery shuddering the tree had made at her joining.
Bella's clear pealing laughter masked the screech of surprise the feline let loose as she launched herself forwards and they were falling once more, entangled in a glittering, snarling mass of fur. They both landed on their feet and Bella reached out a light-quick hand to grab the lynx's attacking, razor-filled paw before it could touch her leather jacket. She only had so many changes of clothes with her, after all. A hiss escaped the cat's furious jaws, but it was cut off because in that brief space of time, Bella had gathered its other paw into that same hand, flipped it onto its back and touched her venom-slick lips to the fur of its neck. Her left hand gently, almost lovingly held its head away, giving her clear access to the thickest arteries.
This blood was so much more delicious than the herbivore's, the blood of a hundred other animals running through it already. Bella was purring with pleasure by the time it had run out, all too soon in her opinion. A sigh of satisfaction escaped her as she turned the drained feline onto its side and wondered vaguely what had become of the fawn-carrying doe. She hoped it made it. Another day, another meal, no doubt.
A twig snapped and she looked up to see the luminescent figures of Alice and Edward emerging from the shade of a nearby thicket of coniferous trees.
She arose and brushed a couple of stray needles out of her hair. She felt oddly self-conscious suddenly and forced herself to look up and meet their friendly eyes.
"All done," she said lightly and then laughed at herself. She couldn't believe she was feeling embarrassed. Like she'd suddenly got stage-fright or something.
"What?" Edward said, smiling, like he wanted to be in on the joke.
"It's just curious," Bella replied. "Not hunting alone… I've never done this before. It's just different, I suppose." She giggled again. Stage-fright for hunting? It was like having stage-fright for breathing.
"But good different, no?" Alice said, her white teeth glistening in the dark, reflecting the light of the moon. Her graceful face was beautiful with its happiness, like she knew the answer that was coming even if Bella was the one person she could not foresee. Bella found that she like this about her very much. Her certainty, her conviction. It was like having faith in yourself. Bella thought that that was something she could use more of and stiffened her resolve to help this mystical pixie-creature if only to see her smile again in her presence.
"Yes. Good different. Very good different."
They shared another golden-eyed smile and Bella felt sure, somewhere deep inside some hidden part of her being where her assurance was kept locked away like a dainty bird in a cage, that she had made a friend.
It was the following day and Bella was sitting with the Cullen 'kids' for lunch. This alone would have been enough to draw the stares of most of the cafeteria's occupants. Add on top of it Bella's intriguing shiny newness and the student population of Forks High had great difficulty looking away. While somewhat used to the standard ogling all vampires put up with because of their perfect inhuman beauty, Bella still found the whole situation unnerving. No matter how many years she lived she was sure that she would never enjoy that aspect of immortality – it made it impossible to melt into the background.
Alice had explained after their hunt the night before the complicated lie that the Cullens told the good people of Forks in order to not arouse suspicion with so many people of the same age living together.
The story went that Carlisle was a doctor whose wife liked living in a small town and they had taken in (out of the goodness of their still hearts) three adoptive children (Edward, Alice, and Emmett, all of whom had also taken their name) as well as Esme's niece and nephew (the foster twins, Rosalie and Jasper Hale).
At the same time, they had hashed out the agreed upon story about how Bella's step-father's work had taken him into Alaska for a few weeks several years before, culminating in a brief meeting between the Cullen children and herself. This made her immediate acceptance by them much more plausible, though it was still a matter of intense gossip.
In Bella's first morning of classes she had been latched onto by several humans of the annoying variety – she did not actually think that they were naturally irritating people, it was just that their enthusiasm for her was quite overwhelming and in some cases painfully obvious in its insincerity. For example, the puppy-like Mike Newton had quickly ousted chess club Eric Yorkie as her eager tour guide, an attachment which involved the jealousy and consequential 'friendship' of Jessica Stanley, a loud gossip-loving individual who Bella had the feeling was operating under the old adage 'keep you friends close and your enemies closer.' Indeed, Jessica had literally grabbed onto her sleeve as they neared the cafeteria in order to ensure her as a lunch-mate.
This all changed, however, when as soon as they entered, they heard Alice's cheerful trilling voice call, "Bella! Over here!" That coupled with Emmett's wave and the others' welcoming smiles were enough to make poor Jessica's jaw drop. Bella actually felt a little worried about the girl – it seemed that her entire universe had suddenly been turned inside out. She sighed. She was sure she would never understand the complicated workings of these human teenagers' minds. Again and again she tried to unravel the mysterious meanings of their curious interactions and rituals, only to fail and marvel at their seeming ambiguity. Ah well.
"You – you know the Cullens?" Jessica finally squeaked out.
"Yes, don't you?" Bella asked with confusion. Surely in these small towns everybody at least knew everyone's names?
"Well, yeah, everybody knows them, but nobody knows knows them, you know?" Jessica explained, still staring at Bella in shock and envy.
"Oh. Right," Bella responded intelligently. In reality, she hadn't a single clue what the girl was talking about. She could hear Jasper and Emmett chuckling softly to themselves while Rosalie buried her face in her husband's sleeve to stifle her golden laughter as they listened to her conversation across the room. Thanks a lot.
Some of Bella's puzzlement must have shown on her face, because Jessica elaborated confidentially, some of her earlier confidence apparently returning with the act of imparting her superior knowledge.
"The Cullens normally keep to themselves; they're not exactly friendly. I mean, I don't think I've ever seen any of them outside of school. And even then, they're gone half the time."
"Really? I've found them to be very welcoming." This time Bella's air of perplexity was forced. It was standard for vampires interacting with humans to act stand-offish. Not only did close interaction increase the risk of exposure, it also increased the risk of the human becoming a meal. Not exactly the grounds for a lasting friendship.
Jessica appeared less than satisfied with her answer and leaned in for another approach as they loaded their plates in the lunch line, Bella looking dismally at the unappealing array and trying not to think of last night's meal and how good Jessica's blood smelled so close to her (thank god for the cheap perfume she wore to help mask the scent).
"You know the oldest two, Rosalie and Emmett, they're together."
Bella frowned down at her lunch tray. Honest observations were one thing, but this sounded a little meaner than before. It was like Jessica was trying to turn her off them for some reason.
"Yes, I know." At Jessica's meaningfully raised eyebrows, she felt she had to speak up.
"They're not actually related you know."
Jessica's lips pursed, but her brows remained near her hairline. "Yes, but they live in the same house."
Bella's brow wrinkled in confusion. They had the same guardians. Where else would they live?
When Bella continued to look unimpressed, Jessica dropped the big bomb.
"And there are rumours," she said in a hushed voice. Bella's right eyebrow rose extremely slowly. This was getting beyond ridiculous. Not to mention ridiculous.
"Rumours about whom?"
"About Jasper and Alice. You know."
"Really?" Bella was hoping that her intense amusement would pass off as intrigue because she felt like she might rupture any second with the amount of pent-up laughter she was keeping in. There was something about Jasper that Jessica was very evidently unaware of, or she most certainly would not be speaking in this way.
"Mmhm," Jessica said with an assertive nod, happy that her information had finally incited an appropriate reaction. "But personally, I don't put any stock in it."
"Oh no? You don't think Jasper's that bad looking?"
Bella struggled to keep a straight face as she heard Edward snicker, Jasper huff, and Alice join her sister in hiding her face in Emmett's sleeve. Bella didn't think she'd ever had so much fun talking to a human being. High school was no question infinitely more fun when not on your own.
Jessica carried on, unaware that her words seemed to have caused Emmett to have an aneurism from keeping in his bellowing laughter.
"It's not a question of his being good-looking. I was thinking more of the height difference. Can you imagine?"
I'm trying not to, Bella thought, but she grinned. "I suppose that would create… difficulties," she agreed. She heard Emmett snort loudly and noticed a passing pair of sophomores gaze over at him, scandalized.
Jessica looked satisfied. "No, I'm certain that if any of them are secretly together then it's Alice and Edward. I mean, why else would he refuse to date, with his looks? He could have any girl in the school. I know for a fact that he's turned down more than one worthy candidate."
Ah. So that was it. She'd been snubbed by the youngest Cullen and was now taking her vendetta against the whole family. How unsporting.
"Well, I'll have to ask Alice and find out the truth," Bella said lightly, taking her change from the lunch lady and seizing her opening to rid herself of Jessica's company. "Are you coming? I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you joined us."
"Oh." Jessica looked taken aback by the suddenness of the invitation and for a horrible second Bella thought she might accept. She was sure that the Cullens would mind, Rosalie especially.
"No, that's okay. I promised Lauren…"
Bella sighed in silent relief. But really, she didn't see how else she could have left without seeming rude. "I'll see you around then."
"Yeah, see you in trig," Jessica replied and hurried off to join her table where the other kids all immediately bent their heads to hers to hear any juicy news about the new girl. She smile at Angela's friendly face, a quiet girl she'd met in the second period who had offered to lend her her first month's worth of Government notes. She'd been nice, and not at all on Jessica's level of inquisitive.
She noticed Mike trying to catch her eye, however, and hurried (well, what a human would consider hurrying) over to the Cullen table at the far corner of the room.
"So who is it Alice," Emmett asked as Bella sat down next to Jasper and across from the petite girl in question, leering at her.
"Yes, do tell," Rosalie added, smirking.
Alice looked at Jasper and Edward gamely, as though sizing them up. "You know, the Stanley girl may have a point. It'll have to be Edward. Jasper and I have almost a two foot difference in height… can you imagine the sex?" She shuddered as Emmett and Rosalie went off again and then winked at Bella who was smiling at her.
Jasper threw a casual arm over Edward's shoulder who was shaking his head. "You'll have to fight me for him."
Bella smirked at him. Really. Did he not see how easily he'd just set himself up? And sure enough…
"That'll be over quick," Rosalie said immediately.
Jasper growled at her, but did not refute the point. Bella filed that bit of information away for later examination. From what little she had seen of Jasper, he was very cool and collected most of the time, and was covered in the pale white half-moon scars that indicated extreme battle experience. To have survived so many close encounters he must be a very talented fighter. For him to be so resigned to a defeat by the smallest Cullen, her talent must give her a very big advantage. She must be untouchable, uncatchable, or she would be toast.
"So how has your first day been, Bella?" Alice asked her, pulling her out of her musings.
"To tell you the truth, I'm starting to feel a little violated." She glanced back up at the table where most of her acquaintances from today's classes were sitting in time to catch Eric staring at her. He looked away quickly.
"The stares are getting to you?" Alice asked with a grimace of sympathy.
Bella nodded. "And apparently saying that my step-father's a photographer was a hugely bad idea. I've already had one girl ask me if I can get her an in to the modeling world with my 'connections,'" she said, wiggling her fingers up in the air to indicate the quotations marks. "She did not seem pleased when I told her that he does mostly landscapes and I only model for him because I do it for free. What a nightmare."
"Ooh, your first enemy," said Rosalie with relish. "Who was it?"
Bella smiled at her in spite of herself. "Lauren Mallory."
The blonde grinned venomously. "Excellent choice. Very acidic."
Bella couldn't help herself and started giggling, Alice joining in a minute later. Bella didn't think she'd ever laughed so much as in the past twenty-four hours.
"Don't worry Bella, it'll calm down pretty quickly," Edward said comfortingly from around Jasper. "Look at Jessica. She only hates me passive aggressively now."
"Fantastic," Bella replied, but she was considerably less concerned by the fact than she had been.
"So Bella," Rosalie started again, and Bella noticed Edward smirk at her, obviously finding something in her thoughts amusing, but he said nothing and looked like he was actually quite interested in the coming conversation. Alice, too, looked up with interest, no doubt foreseeing the coming conversation and looking forward to it. This was so weird.
Rosalie continued as though nothing had happened. Bella supposed she was used to it by now. "I noticed that you ride a Ducati 848."
"Yes I do," Bella said, a note of pride making its way into her voice. She was very fond of her bike. "Giselle."
Edward rolled his eyes but Rosalie and Alice grinned. "Nice name. When did you get it?"
"A little while ago, when I was still staying in Canada." She grinned. "Riding across the continent was fun."
"Hm." Rosalie looked speculatively down at her own untouched lunch.
She looked back up. "Have you done any major overhauling of the engine since you took such a long trip?"
Bella frowned. "No, I haven't. Truthfully, I'm not much good beyond basic maintenance." She gazed at the blonde across the table, wondering where this line of questioning was leading. "Why do ask?"
Rosalie's lips twisted to the side, as though reluctant to answer. Edward spoke up for her. "Rosalie's dying for a chance to tinker away. She hasn't had anything new to play with for ages - you can only tune the same cars so many times."
Rosalie scowled at her brother, but said nothing.
Bella was a little surprised (not to mention impressed) by this news. The most beautiful girl in school is an expert mechanic. How droll. She doubted that any of the human boys knew that about her but didn't imagine that any of them would have the courage to ask her for a tune-up if they did. Much too intimidating, not to mention humiliating. Their poor fragile egos probably would not survive such an encounter, she thought, then felt bad for being so harsh. Most weren't really that bad. Rosalie was waiting for her response, however, so Bella cut off yet another internal monlogue and smiled at her. It was a very generous offer, even if it was a particular interest of hers, and Bella was not one to look a gift-horse in the mouth. "I'd actually really appreciate it if you'd take a look."
The blonde returned her smile. "I'd love to. If you'd let me, I could also re-vamp it a little. With a bit of work, I could really give her a boost."
Bella grinned hugely at her. "Be my guest. It'll have to wait until at least this evening though, I'm afraid," she went on with a little frown. "I've got to pick up those packages from the post office this afternoon and get them over to my house."
"Tell you what," said Alice, speaking up for the first time. "Why don't you follow us home after school. You can drop Giselle off at our house for Rose and Edward to ogle and we can take Regan to get your things. That way you'll only have to make one trip."
Bella raised an eyebrow. "Regan?"
Edward scowled and Alice smiled sneakily. "That's Edward's Volvo. He refuses to believe that she's a girl, but I've seen under her hood and I know better."
Bella giggled as Edward started to protest indignantly on his car's behalf, trying vainly to defend its 'manhood'. She sat back in her seat and watched the siblings banter comfortably, basking in their casual affection for one another. She had never had anything like this since she had been turned. There were always the obvious bars between any proper interaction with humans, though she had made some loose friends. It was easier not to because they had to be left behind so frequently. But this. This was so much of what she had lost. And it was so much to potentially regain.
"Hey Bella, where do these boxes go?"
Alice's clear voice came floating down the stairs to where Bella sat cross-legged on the living room floor sorting through the piles of books she had unpacked and was trying to decide how to organize. By author? Title? Genre? Year? Alphabetically by the author's last name within the genre, she decided finally and then went scooting upstairs to see what Alice wanted.
True to her word, Alice had gone with Bella to the post office after dropping off her bike at the Cullens' place (Rosalie and Edward had it in pieces about twenty seconds after she'd cut the engine while Emmett and Jasper looked on, debating the pros and cons of motorcycles versus four-wheeled vehicles. Those two really did love to argue and debate. It seemed Jasper had taken a shine to the whole bike idea as very cool, while Emmett felt the need to defend his jeep. Bella was given a quick tour of the garage and its many occupants before she and Alice had hopped back into the Volvo and left them to it.
As expected, having an extra pair of hands plus a trunk and back seat large enough to fit all the boxes with a little juggling made the whole process much quicker.
What Bella had not expected, however, was Alice's insistence on helping her to unpack. Bella had tried to refuse, but somehow a few minutes later, Alice was opening boxes and recommending furniture arrangements. And she had to admit, Alice was a very efficient organizer. She had barely decided how to sort her miniature library and it seemed Alice was already finished with all her clothes.
Entering the bedroom next to the bathroom, Bella saw the open closet door filled with clothes hanging in chromatic sequence. Opening one of the dressers that had been brought in here, she saw neat piles of jeans laid out according to wash. It seemed Alice knew what she was doing.
"You don't have nearly enough clothes," came Alice's voice from behind her.
Bella spun slowly on the spot to face the spikey-haired girl. She raised one eyebrow. "Oh no?"
"Nope," Alice said matter-of-factly. "We're going shopping this weekend. You're severely lacking in the jackets department and don't even get me started on shoes."
"What's wrong with my shoes?" Bella demanded indignantly.
There's nothing wrong with the ones you've got. It's the horrific lack of them that's the problem. Hardly any variety at all." She shuddered at the thought. "I don't know how you've survived up 'til now. Thank heavens that you're here now. Don't worry, I'll set you right in no time."
Bella's lips turned up into a smirk of their own volition. The girl was very amusing.
"You had a question?" She reminded her. Alice seemed pleased that she was not putting up a protest, but Bella was pretty certian that it would have made no difference if she had anyway.
"Yeah, over here."
Alice beckoned her across the hall to the other bedroom. The shelving units from the clothes bedroom had been moved into this one, replacing the bureaus and wardrobe that had been here before. This was being turned into the music room. Alice had pushed the bed against the wall under the window and the little desk that had been there was next to its foot. The shelves had been placed around the other three walls, lining the room. Boxes covered the floor, open to the titles of countless CDs and records. On the desk chair were two unmarked boxes that Bella had brought in last. Alice had already set up the speaker system around the room and was obviously waiting for Bella's recommendation on how to shelve the CDs to her taste before starting. She pointed at the two unopened ones on the desk. "Those two. What do I do with them?"
Bella shrugged casually. "Oh those. Don't worry about them Alice, I'll take care of them later." She turned to the opened boxes and the scattered tape. "I think I'll do these the same as the books," she decided, pretending not to notice Alice's gaze and the palpable curiosity about the unmarked mystery boxes. She was grateful that she had not opened them. "By genre and by artist within that category.
"Okay," said Alice easily as though nothing had happened. Bella smiled at her in relief. She was very intuitive. But she supposed that came with seeing the future. Perhaps she saw Bella telling her what was in them one day. Bella shook her head a little, breaking out of her thoughts. This was too complicated to contemplate all the time.
"Thanks. Feel free to put anything on," she added as she went back downstairs to get a proper start on those books. She definitely couldn't have Alice unpacking two rooms worth of things before she'd even finished one.
She smirked to herself as she heard an upbeat song come on with the bass turned way up so that the window were practically shuddering from its depth. She hoped the neighbours weren't home. She hoped that the neighbours would not be home a lot the next two years.
Once the last of the flattened cardboard had been stuffed into the recycle bin out on the driveway and Bella's laptop had been set up at the kitchen table and her cell phone switched to a local number, Alice and Bella got back into the silver Volvo and drove back to the Cullen place, stopping only once at the foodbank box behind the grocery store so Bella could drop off the groceries she'd picked up the day before.
They sped off into the gathering darkness like a sleek minnow through the water, leaving the speed limits well behind once they'd passed through the town.
"You have so much different music," Alice commented.
"There's not a lot I don't like," Bella agreed as they drove by the last of the residential areas, entering the wood-lined area preceding their driveway.
"Edward's like that," Alice continued. "He's got everything that you've got except the opera I think. He's got a bit but not a lot. Just his favourites, I think."
"What do you like?" Bella asked, changing the subject subtly.
"Oh that's easy," said Alice with a white grin. "Anything with a beat. Anything you can dance to."
Bella smiled to herself. "That sounds right."
Alice looked at her.
"You look like the dancing type," Bella explained. She was too graceful not to be.
Alice's smile matched hers. "And you?"
Bella's nose wrinkled. "Very rarely."
They pulled into the Cullens' garage to see Giselle still in pieces and Rosalie and Edward still at work.
"How's it coming?" Bella asked.
"Nicely," was Rosalie's response as she put her hand out and Edward placed a wrench in it while holding the bike upside down with one hand. "But it'll be a couple days before its really ready and I've got some replacement parts coming. You'll have to ride with us tomorrow."
Bella bit her lip. "Is there room?"
She felt a little uncomfortable about letting the Cullens do so much for her but Rosalie had insisted that if she be given free reign over Giselle's innards that she carry the cost. They were loaded after all. Doctor's salary plus an uncanny good-luck with predicting the stock market.
Rosalie grinned at her. "I guess we'll have to take Dominique." Edward made an indistinct but clearly derisive sound at the back of his throat and indicated the bright red M3 convertible nestled next to his Volvo.
"The one beside Regan," he said sarcastically.
Alice smiled at him. "You're learning."
He snorted and they carried on into the house. They greeted Carlisle and Esme who were reading in the living room and informed them that Emmett and Jasper had gone out to play 'catch'. Alice informed Bella as they climbed the stairs that that was code for 'gone to have a fight'. Alice led her on a tour of the upper floors.
They paused for a long while in Carlisle's office so that Bella could look through his fantastic book collection (bigger than even her small library and filled with gems of unnameable value from ages past) and admire his paintings briefly.
Next was Rosalie and Emmett's room with an absolutely enormous white bed and then Alice's room.
They went inside and it was not a huge surprise to find that together her bathroom and closet were bigger than the two bedrooms in Bella's house combined. Row after row of hangers and an entire wall dedicated to shoes. The bedroom part was much more reasonable. There was a smallish bed next to a table of the same size which was covered in handbags, wallets and purses, and across the carpet was a colossal desk covered in art supplies, sketch books, tape measures and pencils. It seemed Alice had a passion for fashion.
"What do you think?" Alice asked Bella eagerly.
"Um," said Bella trying to think of a delicate way of expressing her feelings. "You have lots of shoes."
Alice beamed at her as though she had just payed her the best compliment imaginable. She heard Esme and Carlisle chuckling on the floor below.
Bella flitted over to the desk and picked up the top sketch. It was a sweater dress and there was the detailing of a belt and boots along the margin.
"You designed this?" Bella asked, impressed.
"Mm," Alice said while eyeing Bella speculatively. "For Esme. She had a tea party to go to," she said absently as though people had outfits designed for them to go to tea parties every day. "What are your measurements?"
"Why?" asked Bella warily. Alice had this glint in her eye that simultaneously made her very excited and very nervous.
"I told you. Your wardrobe needs more overhauling than Giselle."
"And I have no say in this," Bella said, resigned. Alice did not seem the type to take no for an answer. And Bella was starting to realize that she'd have difficulty saying no to her anyway. There was just something about this girl that made Bella want to make her happy.
"None," said Alice happily, clapping her little hands together. "Shall we carry on with the tour?"
Bella nodded quickly, worried that if she stayed in this room much longer she would not be able to leave it in the clothes she was wearing.
They drifted up a second flight, Bella trailing her hand up the polished banister, to Jasper's study which was not too different from Carlisle's except that it was smaller and filled with more books on philosophy and history than literature and medicine.
Last was Edward's room, the walls hung with gold curtains to trap sound. It seemed he, too, was a music enthusiast, to say the least. There were enough CDs here to fill a music store and they were organized seemingly randomly. Bella wandered about the room, reading titles here and there.
A very familiar one caught her eye and she pulled it off the shelf to look at the cover. There was a picture of a pretty woman with a heart-shaped face and slender bones standing alone in a long gown in front of an enormous orchestra. Her hair was straight brown and her mouth was open, her arms extended dramatically as she involved herself in the piece. Bella's fingers traced here face and figure before she looked up to see Alice not a foot away, staring curiously at her enrapture with the case.
"My mother," she said, a little brusquely, extending her arm and handing Alice the cover.
Alice's eyes widened dramatically and then flicked down to examine the photograph with the same intensity that Bella had just shown.
"Your mother was Elisabeth Grey?" she asked softly.
Alice looked up at her. "Can we listen to her?"
Bella smiled. "I was hoping to, yes. I haven't heard this one in a while."
Alice walked delicately over to the CD player and popped it in. A moment later and violins filled the room, the warm-up. Bella closed her eyes as the first note was sung in her mother's voice, steady and familiar. She could remember her best this way. What human memories she had were weak, hazy and vague. The music helped her to remember - it always did, the notes jogging memories and helping to recall forgotten things like nothing else could. Music had, after all, been an integral part of her childhood, of her whole human life. It was in creating and appreciating music that those human emotions felt closest, that the animalistic portion of her nature was most easily quelled.
As the concerto came to an end and Bella listened to the last fading notes of her mother's sweet voice, she opened her eyes to find Alice's golden gaze locked directly on her face. She smiled faintly in reassurance and then darted forwards ot hit the STOP button on the CD player with a quiet 'click'.
She turned to face the solemn girl at the room's entrance. "Shall we go for a run," she suggested, implying 'let's get out of here so I can talk to you privately'. Alice nodded.
"Sure. Come on, I'll show you this great place with a view of the ocean."
They flitted side by side back down the two flights of stairs to the french doors in the glass wall, their paces gentle and equal, Bella a little more quietly, Alice a little more gracefully.
"We're going running to the point," Alice called back to her parental figures. Carlisle nodded at her and Esme's eyes hinted at her sympathy. Bella smiled at them and then they were out the door, sliding into the night.
Running with Alice was very comforting. Bella hadn't realized how much she'd been craving contact, friendship with another. And Alice seemed such an eager friend, spending the whole afternoon with her. She did not want it to end.
And so that was how she decided that she would tell her about everything. Not just about Biloxi, but everything. She wanted Alice to know her. Not just anyone, but Alice, who deserved it. Who was probably craving any connection that could be formed with her past. Who better to tell her than someone from her past herself, albeit loosely, and who was so eager to tell. It was like they were made to be friends.
She smiled to herself as she slowed to match Alice's decreasing speed. There was that certainty she'd been talking about.
The trees ended very abruptly and suddenly they were bathed, dipped, frosted, powdered in moonlight on the open rock ledge that jutted out to the sea. A brisk wind ruffled their hair and clothes bringing with it the brine of the sea and the faint metallic taste of the stone.
Bella looked out on the frothing waves, how they caught and released the light from above, always moving, changing, restless. Looking further out to the horizon, though, the water appeared steady, almost still, its movements large and gradual.
It was like time, Bella thought. Up close, the individual undulations were so chaotic and all-consuming that it was hard to make any sense of it. But if you had enough perspective, if you could stand back and see it for what it was as a whole, you could watch the major currents, see them for what they were.
Which was the better way, she wondered. For in comparison to that great sweeping tide, a single crest meant so little. But without the individual waves, there would be no ocean to begin with, just a flat expanse of unmoving water. She looked over at her pale-faced companion and thought that for her it must be hardest. Seeing what lay ahead but having to sit tight and live it again for real. Would it get annoying, doing everything twice? But then, some things she might see but they would never happen. Was that worse? Was the knowing a curse or a blessing?
"Do you spend your whole life waiting," she asked eventually, not knowing how else to say it.
"No," said Alice as though she'd been expecting the question (had she?). "I spend my life living, knowing that it is leading somewhere. Because there can be no future without a present."
Bella nodded. "And the past?"
Alice turned to her. "Does not make you who are. Unless you let it. I am evidence enough of that."
Bella nodded again and they both turned back to the magnificent crash of earth and water and air, both of them watching and trying very hard not to wait.