I'll only post this disclaimer once; it applies for all subsequent chapters:
Stephenie Meyer owns any Twilight characters that may appear in this story. No copyright infringement is intended . The remainder is my original work. Please do not post it elsewhere without my express permission.
I am a lucky girl.
I tell myself this all the time—I remind myself to be grateful for everything I've been given. It would be so easy to be angry; to be sad; to be a mess. I could have nothing, and instead, I have everything. So I'm not allowed to be any of those things, and I remind myself every day that I'm so, so lucky.
I'm standing by my locker, in the hallway of Spencer Academy, and I'm watching the undulating sea of navy wool and black watch tartan sweep past me between classes. There are crisp white Thomas Pink shirts, and artfully loosened rep ties, and gold bullion school crests on breast pockets, and six hundred dollar highlights, and seven thousand dollar nose jobs, and phones so new they aren't even sold in stores yet, and everywhere there is money. Loads of it. All of them— all of us— awash in a sea of unfathomable wealth.
Because I'm standing here at my locker, clutching the strap of my shoulder bag and watching like I'm on the outside, but really, I'm kind of one of them, even if I don't feel that way. And I am so lucky to be one of them. I can't ever forget that.
I turn my head and look down the hall, through the bodies, for Rose. She said she'd meet me here to walk with me to Calc, but it's almost the bell and there's no sign of her. Then I see her, all ease and self-satisfaction, as she swings down the hall. Rose has been beautiful and blessed for so long that it's part of her bones, not just something on the outside of her. She's a little bit ignorant about that fact, but it's hard to hold it against her, since she really does have no clue about how fortunate she is. This is the only reality she knows.
I feel lucky that Rose is my friend. I don't have to remind myself to feel that way; I just do. She may be sheltered and oblivious, but she means well. And her friendship smoothed my entry into this world in a way the money never could have. The money made everyone tolerate me; Rose's stamp of approval made them accept me.
As I watch her glide down the hall, her eyes studiously unfocused, the boys around her part and come back together in her wake, their eyes appreciating everything Rose has so carefully offered up for admiration. Royce Harrison brushes past me and saunters slowly towards her. Like Rose, his attention is everywhere and nowhere and pointedly not on Rose. As they draw abreast of each other, his left hand snakes out a matter of inches to connect with her right hand, also unobtrusively extended. Her fingers quickly close around what he's pressed there and the only acknowledgement that either of them makes is a tiny curl of Rose's lips, directed at the crowded hall, not at Royce.
She continues towards me, an easy sway to her hips, and I see her pocket the tiny baggie Royce pressed into her hand. I roll my eyes, because now she's going to want me to come home with her to use it up, and I'm trying to stay away from all that shit.
For the first few years of high school, I just wanted to hang out with friends and blend in. I wanted to belong and have fun, and in our crowd, fun is had with expensive liquor and drugs. So I did my share, too. But it never made me feel any happier. I felt the same, no matter how much I partied, no matter what I bought with all this money. So I quit all that. I'm trying to stay away from all the rich kid indulgences: the blow, the pills, the booze, the reckless spending.
Rose thinks I'm ridiculous. Maybe I am, but I don't know how to have fun that way anymore. I don't know how to have fun any other way, either, so it's been a pretty boring year. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing with all this wealth and privilege. No one else seems to be working so hard to find answers— just me, which makes me think that maybe I'm missing something.
"Hey," she says, coming to a stop next to me and leaning on the locker. She taps the hip pocket of her blazer. "Come over?"
She rolls her eyes. "Isabella. Come on. We'll get Alice to come. And maybe some of the guys."
"Then no," I say, pushing off the lockers and making my way down the hall. Rose huffs and falls in behind me. It would be bad enough to spend all afternoon getting messed up with just her and Alice. Invite a bunch of guys and before I know it, I'm alone in some bedroom being pinned to the bed by some arrogant, entitled prick, sticking his hands up my skirt and drooling all over my neck like it's supposed to turn me on. No thanks. Again, I've been there and done that and I don't want to do it anymore.
"I have a lot of homework to do. I can't," I protest.
"It's not like anyone will care if you don't do it," she says, and I suck in a breath. She's right. She doesn't say it to be hurtful, it's just the truth. Whether I stay home and do my homework or go over to Rose's and get completely fucked up will matter to absolutely no one but me. And Rose. But she's rooting for me to get fucked up, so she doesn't count.
"I think my mom is home this afternoon," I mutter. Rose sighs, but refrains from saying anything else, which I'm grateful for. She can be kind, when she wants to be.
At the door to Calculus, I peel off and wave goodbye to her, as she continues on to World History. Emmett jogs past me to catch her, falling into step beside her. He whispers something in her ear that makes her duck her head and smile.
Calculus is purgatory; it always is for me. I have such a hard time focusing on this stuff. It doesn't help that the school year is more than halfway over, so any incentive the rest of the seniors in my class had to knuckle down and pay attention is now gone. Early admissions have all gone out; college is decided for everybody. Now they're just marking time until freedom.
Alice is in Calc with me, though. Halfway through, she slides her notebook towards me. In the bottom left corner, in purple ink, it says "Rose's house?"
I give her a tiny shake of the head. Her shoulders fall and her head tips sideways. Her disappointment is comical in its dramatic flair. I try not to laugh at her and the big Bambi eyes she's giving me.
I like Alice. I've been friends with Rose since freshman year, and my loyalty is always with her, since she bestowed the gift of her friendship on me when she didn't have to. Alice has started to hang around with us sometimes during this past year and she's great. In some ways, she's easier to be around than Rose. It's more natural with her. Rose, and her dedication to having fun at any cost, can wear a person out. Sometimes I think I'd like to be closer with Alice, and do stuff with just the two of us, without the pressure of Rose and the temptation that she's always waving under my nose. But I'd never cut Rose out like that, so we only hang out in a group. I think she might be nervous about being alone with Rose, without the buffer of me there.
But I can't do this stuff anymore. I just don't want to. So I stand firm. I shrug my shoulders helplessly and shake my head again, as if there are higher powers at work and I have to just go along. Alice doesn't push, which is another thing I like about her.
After school, Alice and I walk towards the front, where the students are all emptying out onto 77th street. The older kids are hanging on the stone steps, lighting up cigarettes, making plans on phones. There is a sea of black town cars at the curb, each waiting to pick up their appointed wealthy spawn and squire them back home, or to tutoring, or dance class, or tennis lessons, or whatever the next event might be.
Rose is leaning on the stair rail. Emmett is standing in front of her, legs splayed, one foot on either side of Rose's. They've fooled around some in the past. Emmett's fooled around with a lot of girls, and Rose has had her fair share of guys. But I always get the feeling Emmett's fond of Rose— that he might like her a little as a person. I hope he's going over to her place with her. I won't worry about leaving her messed up in a house full of people if Emmett's there. Nobody will mess with Rose when he's around, except maybe him.
"You sure you won't come, Iss?" Alice says. She's fidgeting with her ribbon headband, making sure the bow is precisely positioned, before she smooths down the inky black curtain of her hair.
I shake my head. "No, you guys have fun. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Maybe I'll call you later?" Alice asks. I hear the tentative, hopeful note in her voice. She's reaching out to me, wanting to be closer to me, and it makes me feel warm inside.
"Sure," I laugh. "If you're in any shape to call anybody."
She rolls her eyes and chuckles, before turning to join Rose and Emmett on the steps.
I weave through the sea of navy uniforms, checking names in car windows, until I spot mine: Dwyer. I open the back door and throw my bag across the seat before sliding in after it.
"Hey, Felix," I say, smiling.
"Miss Isabella," Felix says, also smiling. He's already turning off his Christian talk radio and turning it to the alternative satellite station for me.
It's ridiculous that a car is sent for me every day. Our apartment is only twelve blocks from Spencer; an easy walk. But I'm not supposed to walk so every morning and every afternoon, a black town car drives me the twelve blocks, usually taking longer than it would have if I'd walked. I don't argue anymore. Anyway, I like Felix and he gets paid for driving me.
At our building, I greet Santiago, the day doorman, and he calls the elevator for me. Inside, I use my key to access our penthouse, the 23rd and 24th floors, at the top of the building. The elevator opens directly into the foyer on 23, all cream and gold and crystal. The flowers in the vase on the little side table are a vibrant explosion of purples and scarlet. They're fresh and they're changed daily. I like today's.
I pass right through the foyer and the gallery, past the living room and the formal dining room, to the staircase leading to the upper floor. At the end of the long cream-carpeted hall is my room. It's small; smaller than every other bedroom in the house. When I first came to live here, I was put in one of the larger guest rooms, but it was too cavernous after the tiny room under the eaves that I had grown up in. So I asked to move to the little room. It was just the right size, and no one cared how I kept it.
After I deposit my book bag on a chair and trade out my uniform for a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt, I head back downstairs for some water and something to eat. I wasn't lying to Rose; I do have homework.
My mother, when she speaks behind me, scares the life out of me. I thought I was home alone. I spin and flatten myself against the refrigerator, one hand pressed to my chest as I wait for my heart rate to slow down. My mother doesn't seem to notice that she startled me, because she doesn't mention it; she just starts talking, as if we've been in the middle of a long conversation. We haven't crossed paths in three days.
"Your Art Appreciation seminar starts tomorrow."
Renee blinks once at me, her face expressionless. As she gets older, and the procedures stack up, she's more and more expressionless. I can never read her now. Is she displeased or is that just the way she looks now?
"Art Appreciation," she repeats slowly. Displeased.
"I don't take Art Appreciation."
"It's a special seminar, Isabella," she says. "With this fabulous young artist Mimi Weigert discovered in some gallery in the Meatpacking District. She had to move heaven and earth, but she's got him doing this…" Renee waves her hand absently in the air to indicate that she has no idea what she's talking about, nor does she care. "…seminar of some sort. Ten weeks."
"But….I can't draw."
"It's appreciation, Isabella. He'll teach you to appreciate it."
"The semester's already started. My schedule is set," I protest again, although I don't know why I bother. This has already been decided.
"They said you'd miss study hall and gym three days a week."
That doesn't sound so bad, actually.
Renee fixes me with her hardest look, and I know I can't argue any more. "Mimi Weigert and Cynthia Tidwell have both got their kids in this thing. There were only ten slots. Do you know how many asses I had to kiss and how long I had to spend on the phone shouting at those Spencer idiots to get you into it? But I managed, so you're going."
I nod mutely. This isn't about me anyway, so nothing I have to say about it would matter. Amongst people like my mother— like Mrs. Weigert and Mrs. Tidwell— the education of their children is a blood sport. There's no advantage they'll willingly pass up, no perceived edge they don't want for their offspring. My mother has zero interest in me gaining an appreciation for art. But this seminar— this shiny new toy Mrs. Weigert has managed to procure for a chosen few— is too tempting for my mother to pass up. If Mimi Weigert's daughter is taking it, then by God, Renee Dwyer's daughter will, too. If I didn't get in, it would be seen as a failing on my mother's part. It would reflect badly on her. So she did what she had to do to make it happen; not for me— for her.
After another moment, I shrug and nod my acquiescence. After all, I'll get out of study hall and gym three times a week, and I like art enough.
Renee misses my nod; she isn't waiting for it. She's scowling at one of her nails, no doubt just noticing a chip that will have to be dealt with.
"Phil and I are going out tonight," she mutters, eyes still on her nails. "We have dinner with some people. You can manage."
She's not asking me if I can, she's telling me that I will. I roll my eyes, because I spend most nights alone. Having her around would be weirder than having her gone. The first two years I was here we had a nanny, but Maria has been long gone and our housekeeper doesn't live in, so most nights, it's just me. I'm fine with that.
Renee is still wearing her workout clothes, so she must have just come from the gym downstairs. Her body is enviable; that's hard to deny. She pays her personal trainer a fortune, and it shows in every tight, toned inch of her. She's still really pretty. People say I look like her, but I don't see it. Maybe in the bone structure, but hers is getting lost under the procedures. I wish she wouldn't get so much work done. She's only thirty-seven. But she feels like she has to pull out all the stops to live up to her role as the wife of Phillip Dwyer, so once a year, she will say she's going on vacation for a couple of weeks to Ibiza, when really, she's recovering from her latest procedure at Lenox Hill. I suppose I might see the resemblance more if we still shared the same dark brown hair, but Renee has been blonde for years.
I'm not stupid; I've heard what people say about her. They still talk and wonder about how she landed Phillip Dwyer. Her money has bought her a certain standing, but the whispers will never go away entirely. After all, she was just a little nobody from the sticks, dating her way through investment bankers and mid-level corporate executives. But she had a plan and she wasn't aiming low. Those men were just practice, so she'd know how to act and what to talk about. And they provided entry to the places where the really big prizes were; parties and gatherings where men like Phillip Dwyer, president of The Dwyer Fund spent time. Looking at it from the outside, it's rather impressive that she managed to snag his interest at all, just being some uneducated small-town girl. But Renee possesses a talent for reinvention to rival Madonna's, and what she is now bears very little resemblance to what she was then. Or so I can surmise; I don't remember her from back then. I was too young when she left us.
If it was no small feat to catch the eye of a man like Phillip Dwyer, it's nothing short of a miracle that she managed to bust up his marriage to his first wife and actually marry him. And now that she's got the prize of prizes, she works like hell to hang onto him. Phil, and keeping Phil happy, are the center of her life. That's the reason for the endless work-outs and the surgery. She needs to stay as young and beautiful as she once was if she wants to avoid getting swapped out for the next younger, hotter model. I don't get it, but I see what she's up against every day. My classmates all have young step-mothers. Some of them are on their second or third.
Renee stands there a few more minutes, but her attention is diverted by her messed-up manicure. She's forgotten I'm even here. I stand across from her, not sure if she has anything else to say. Then, after a moment, she turns and leaves the kitchen without another word. I take my water and an apple and head back up to my room.
I'm on my way into the lunchroom the next day, when Jane Weigert swings into step beside me, which is a little odd. We know each other, of course. Spencer is small; we operate in the very tight circles of the extremely wealthy. But we're not exactly friends. I don't trust her or like her, but mostly, I ignore her and she ignores me.
"I hear your mom got you into Art Appreciation."
"Yeah. You, too?"
"Well," I say, to be polite. "At least we'll get out of gym twice a week. And art's not so bad."
Jane snorts and flips her long blonde hair over her shoulder. "Yeah, like that's the appeal."
"What do you mean?"
"You haven't seen him yet?" she asks, a sly smile spreading across her face.
I shake my head. "Who? The teacher? Is he good-looking?"
Jane smiles wider and rolls her eyes. "Young and so fucking hot. Why do you think he's here? My mother got one look at him and nothing was going to stop her from getting her fill."
I nod in understanding. He's probably sleeping with one of the moms. That makes sense. Why else would Spencer suddenly add some random Art Appreciation seminar after the semester has started? It's gross, but I'm still getting out of Study Hall and Phys Ed, so I'll deal. It's Jane's mom, anyway, not mine. Not that it would matter. Renee would probably sleep with him, too, given half a chance. Maybe that's why she wanted me in the class so badly.
Jane's news has piqued my interest, and I'm actually kind of eager to get to the class that afternoon so I can get a look at him. I get stopped in the hall by some guy in my American Government class. He says he wants to borrow my notes, but I know what he's really after. Last year, I sort of liked him. I thought he was cute. I don't know what's changed, but I don't care anymore. He's just another horny high school boy who will take me to some club and buy me one drink with his fake I.D., then think it entitles him to a blowjob afterward. I'm done with all that. It takes me forever to get free of him, though, and I'm one of the last ones to get to the class. Jane and Chelsea Tidwell are already there, as are Marc, Corin and a couple of other guys who are all on the lacrosse team together. I slide into a chair in the back just as the door up front opens and he comes in.
I feel my face flush just looking at him, and something funny happens in my chest. Jane told me he was hot, but that doesn't even begin to describe him. He is young; not that much older than us. Actually, he can't be very far out of college—early twenties. He's tall and a little bit lanky, but well-built. Nice shoulders. Long legs. He has his head down as he comes in. He's nearly late and he looks preoccupied and a little distracted. Plus he's carrying a lot of stuff; books and folders full of paper. At first, all I notice is his body and the hair— thick and almost too long; somewhere between auburn and brown and all messy. Not artfully messy, like the boys I go to school with, every angle carefully and expensively razored. Messy, messy. Like he hasn't had a haircut in too long and he doesn't own a brush.
He spends a second setting all his stuff down on the desk and I notice all the girls around me have stopped talking and turned to look at him. The boys are still murmuring, but I can hear the dismissive scoffs starting. They're jealous already, and they should be. The poser rich boys at Spencer can't hold a candle to this guy, and it's obvious. Even with all their money, they can't touch what he has; this natural magnetism that radiates off his skin.
He finally looks up at us with a polite smile already on his face. I can't breathe for a second. He's sort of pale, but it looks good on him. And he's got these crazy cheekbones. His face would almost be pretty, if not for the strong jawline and his thick eyebrows. His eyes are a tiny bit angled; a little exotic. He is, without a doubt, the most amazing man I've ever laid eyes on in real life.
"Are you Mr. Cullen?" Jane is, predictably, the first one to speak. She's leaning forward on her elbows, and if I could see the front of her, I'm sure I'd see that she's popped open an additional button on her shirt to show off her cleavage.
His polite smile grows wider and genuine. I catch my breath at how it transforms his face. His eyes crinkle up in the corners and his angular face becomes warm and glowing, almost boyish. He lays a hand across his chest in mock-pain.
"Please…" he says. "Not Mr. Cullen. I can't take it. It's Edward."
And I'm undone. By all of it. His voice…low and vibrating at a frequency that I can feel in my fingertips; his artless demeanor; his name…Edward. I don't want to swoon. I can feel every girl in the room already doing it. But I can't help it. He's remarkable and every nerve in my body is reaching out towards him.
There is a low, nervous laugh from the girls in the room in response to his words. I'm silent. I can't laugh. I can't move. I curl my fingers around the edge of my desk and press my knees together, unable to do more than stare at him and record every tiny detail.
He's wearing a grey t-shirt under a beat-up blue plaid flannel shirt and loose fitting jeans. I don't know how he gets away with that at Spencer. He reaches up and runs a hand through his thick hair, smiling as the giggles die down. His hands are beautiful.
"So," he continues. "I'm Edward. Your turn."
He looks expectantly at Jane, who is front and center, and forcing herself into his field of vision.
She ducks her chin and makes a show of being caught off-guard. "Me? Oh…Jane. Jane Weigert."
Edward smiles that genuine smile again, and I hate Jane a little bit. I hate that the cheap act she's selling might work. But just as quickly, Edward's attention slips away from her, to Chelsea at her side.
Chelsea lets out a nervous giggle and manages to spit out her name. And so it goes on. The girls are simpering, giggling messes; the boys are hostile, dismissive and arrogant. Edward responds to them all the same; the same glowing, warm smile. He seems oblivious to both the male hostility and the female adoration.
When the introductions move to the back row, I see his eyes scan past me and then momentarily flit back and really look at me. Before I can even register it, his eyes are gone again, on Gianna, two seats down from me. My heart starts beating a mile a minute anyway.
I wonder if I imagine it that when it's my turn to say my name, he doesn't look directly at me. I'm looking at him, but his eyes seem to be focused at a spot just over my right shoulder. Maybe it was like this for everyone. Maybe that warm connection he seemed to make with each of them was just in my imagination.
"Um. Isabella Dwyer," I say. I'd be surprised if he can even hear me, my voice is so low and soft. But at least I didn't squeak or stutter.
Once everyone has introduced themselves, he starts to talk about the class. A handout is distributed. I smooth it flat on my desk as if I'm poring over every word, but really, I'm watching the easy shift of his body as he moves around the desk; as he leans over to open a book; as he gestures with one hand. I want to pay attention to what he's saying, but all I can hear is the rise and fall of his voice, the rumble of his chuckle when he makes a little joke.
He's talking about art, about its role in history and its role in society. How it defines our humanity, and sets us apart from animals. He talks about how art is the record civilizations leave in history; about how we know ancient cultures through their art; about how it's the true window to the soul. I only register about every third word and somehow it still makes an impact on me. In our world, art is all around us. It's a commodity and another way to display the wealth, so everyone has some. I don't think I've ever given any of it more than a passing glance. Edward's words make me want to go back and stare for an hour at every painting I've ever seen. I feel like I've missed everything; every detail and nuance that he would have seen and I'm blind to. Renee told me he was an artist, too, and I wonder what his art looks like. Is he a sculptor or a painter? Maybe a photographer. I want to see his work, and I wonder if he's still got that show up in the Meatpacking District.
Edward distributes a book called Art and Life. I thumb through it as he talks about our first assignment. I let my fingertips skim past the glossy color photos on each page and feel a flare of anticipation. None of it would have meant much to me at all just an hour ago, but Edward holds the keys to this undiscovered world. I can't wait to dig in and figure it all out, because it feels like I'm figuring out some part of him, too.
He lets us go with another warm smile and a casual goodbye.
Jane finds a reason to approach him— some pretence of a question. He leans back on the edge of his desk, arms crossed over his chest, one ankle crossed over the other. I take my time packing up my stuff, trying to steal glances at him through the curtain of my hair. Jane is asking about his show in the Meatpacking District. Of course. That's how her mother "discovered" him. I remember my earlier suspicion—that he was sleeping with one of the moms—and I wonder if it's Jane's mother. It makes me feel sick to think about it. He doesn't seem like that. I don't know him, but he seems genuine and real; not like he'd sleep with some high society cougar to curry favor. I don't want to think he could be like that.
When I've packed my bag and I can't stall any longer, I straighten and turn, swinging it up on my shoulder. Jane has just retreated to her desk to get her books, and when I move, he looks up at me. Really looks. Our eyes meet for a moment and I feel like I know him. It feels like we know each other—like we've known each other for years. It's like that feeling I had all through class, that I could see him better than anyone else, wasn't just product of my sudden crush and my overactive imagination. He's not smiling. That warm, boyish expression that he was so free with all through class is nowhere to be seen. In fact, he almost looks angry. His face is frozen, his eyes wide and alert.
I should say something or smile and flirt in some way. But I don't do anything. I just stare at him like the love-struck girl that I am, feeling speechless, slow and stupid. Finally, because I can feel the heat rising in my pale skin and I don't want him to see me blush like a child, I drop my eyes to the floor and duck my head. I can't look up at him again as I make my way down the steps and out of the room. Jane's saying some other pointless thing to him and laughing as the door swings shut behind me.
I'm sitting cross-legged on my bed, leafing through Art and Life, working on my first assignment for Art Appreciation. I'm a good student, and I'd be working on it no matter what, but because it's for Edward, I'm spending extra time.
The assignment is to choose a work from the book that we feel says something about our lives, then we have to write five hundred words about why. As far as assignments go, it's not very hard. Spencer has high academic standards, and I'm used to producing thousands of words. But five hundred words for Edward— five hundred words about my life— feel like the most important words I might ever write.
I already found the painting; that part was surprisingly easy. But it's what to say about it that's leaving me stuck.
The moment I flipped past the picture, I knew. It's called Ophelia, and it was painted by somebody named John Everett Millais. It's supposed to be Ophelia from Hamlet, when she drowns herself in the river in Act Four. But the moment I saw it, I thought 'That's me'.
Her face is placid; on the surface, she seems peaceful. But the water is sucking her under and the trees are closing in around her. There are little white flowers all around her, but they don't looks sweet or pastoral; they are like eyes, always on her. She's laying there, floating, oblivious to the fact that she's already dying. The water is sucking her down and under, and there's nothing she can do about it, so she just floats and stares at the sky.
But I can't say that. You say shit like that and the next thing you know, you're in the guidance counselor's office and your parents are shipping you off to some hospital in Canada for a "rest".
I spend two hours looking at other paintings, willing one of them to leap out at me, trying to read something about my life in the colors and shapes, but nothing comes. I keep finding myself flipping back to Ophelia. I look at her vacant face and her beautiful dress being inexorably sucked down into the water. I look at all the details of the painting, done so carefully. It should be pretty, but all that intricacy just feels smothering. Finally, I can't think of anything else to say, so I write the truth. It's bleak and a little maudlin, but I don't want to lie and give Edward some generic happy-faced line. For some reason, I feel the need to be honest with him. For some reason, I feel like he'll get it.
The next day, we each deposit our assignment on the desk as we come in the classroom. Edward is sitting behind the desk, leaning back in his chair, his right ankle propped on his left knee. He picks up each paper as they land in front of him and scans briefly to see which artwork we've chosen. I get the sense that he's doing it because he's genuinely curious; like this is how he understands people. He's so young—this is probably the first time in his life he's ever taught anything. He's not jaded and bored with it yet.
I steal one quick glimpse of him as I set my paper down. His eyes are still on Gianna's, so he doesn't catch me doing it. I haven't gotten close enough to him yet to be sure, but I think his eyes are green. As I head up the three shallow steps to my seat, I see him reach out and snag my paper. He pulls it into his lap and his eyes skim. His thick, dark eyebrows draw together and he reads. Two more people pass his desk and deposit papers and he doesn't make a move to look at them. He's still reading mine.
Corin enters the room and makes some loud joke about being late, and that snaps Edward out of it. He sits up abruptly and glances at the room, which has filled while he's been distracted. He smiles absently at everyone as he stacks the papers and places mine carefully on top. Then his eyes dart right up to me and he pins me. One long, intense look. I feel my face flushing, but I force myself to keep looking. He looks away first and I can exhale.
Edward starts to talk about the assignment, asking for volunteers to share. It's not hard at Spencer. We've been taught to be good students; always prepared and willing to participate. The girls are especially eager to share. They name the artworks they chose, and they say some nice, generic things about why. I don't say anything. I watch Edward as he watches them.
I'm obsessed with memorizing every little detail about him, but somehow, his words manage to reach me as well. I listen as he talks about art and how it can speak for us where words fail. I think about that—about how I felt when my book fell open to Ophelia and I couldn't look away. I think about the way that artist, Millais, managed to paint how I feel, and he did it over a hundred years ago. For the first time, art is something more to me than a way to display wealth, another commodity. It's a person's soul, up there on the wall. And when things all line up right, it's your soul up there too.
When class is finished, I gather up my things again in slow motion, wanting to drag out the time that I'm in the same room with Edward. Jane and Chelsea have the same plan, so I can't stick around to be the very last one without being really obvious. I won't sink that low, so I shoulder my bag and make my way down to the front and cross the room towards the door. Edward has been packing up his things into a beat-up nylon messenger bag, only answering half the flirtatious comments thrown at him by Jane and Chelsea. When I'm passing in front of his desk, I hear his voice, low, meant just for my ears.
I stop and half-turn to look at him. He's facing his chair, not me. His head is down, but he's turned to look at me over his shoulder. His face is a little amused, a little curious—but he's not teasing.
"Ophelia," I say, uncertain where he's going with the comment. My heart starts beating double-time.
"Should your parents be worried about that choice, Isabella?" He cocks an eyebrow at me and one corner of his mouth curls up. He's keeping it light, but there's a serious edge to his voice as well. The fact that he remembers my name and just said it makes me feel light-headed, even though there are only ten of us in the class and it would be hard for him to forget it.
I force a smile, trying to keep it light myself. "No, I'm not cutting myself or anything. It's a metaphor. I'm fine."
"Fine," he repeats evenly.
I make myself keep looking him in the eye, even though talking to him this way leaves me so unsettled that I'm suppressing the urge to flee the room. I'm pretty certain that his eyes are green. They're fringed by dark lashes so thick that they cast little shadows under his eyes.
"It just seems like a sad outlook for someone whose life is so…." He pauses and searches for the right word. "Fortunate," he finally says.
"I'm very lucky," I say. I've said this so many times that it's rote.
"Are you?" he says.
And he's giving me that same intense stare again; the one from earlier that I can't read at all. I don't know what he wants. I can't tell what he sees when he looks at me that way.
"I am," I whisper, then I turn and go.
A/N: I don't plan for this to be very long— somewhere between twelve and fifteen chapters.
Giant thanks for WhatsMyNomDePlume, who's beta'ing this for me.
More thanks to MsTallulahBelle for making me a lovely banner for this story. Link on my profile.
You can find a link to Millais' Ophelia on my profile as well.
I was inspired to write this by the Rufus Wainwright song of the same title. Link on my profile.