Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight, I just claim the way I have strung my words together. I also do not own Christmas. I just celebrate it and try to make it fun.

A/N: Thanks to Dinx for beta'ing, hand-holding, and the inspirational pictures. Thanks to nowforruin for beta'ing and responding to the great Title SOS of 2010. Thanks to Scorp112 for pre-reading parts of this, making suggestions, and calming my nerves when they were the most frazzled. And thanks to shelikesthesound for helping me with the title. You ladies are better than Christmas. :)


A Christmas Theory

Part I

The entire population of Forks – all four thousand one hundred and seventy-six souls – had been wondering about the Cullen family ever since the day they'd rolled into town with their two large moving vans and bright, cheery smiles. No one in Forks ever wore bright, cheery smiles. Suspicion rose immediately.

As the police chief's daughter, I was expected to go and greet new-comers. It was something my dad had expected of my mom, and when she left town to become a card dealer in Las Vegas, the task had fallen to me. Thankfully, it wasn't often that anyone moved to Forks. In fact, why anyone would want to was a question I still hadn't found the answer to. I was almost halfway through my senior year in high school, so if I was expected to learn before I left for greener college pastures, my teachers should have considered getting a move on. It was bound to be a complex and time demanding subject.

The Saturday after the Cullens arrived in Forks, I made a batch of brownies and loaded them up in my trusty, old truck that had been left behind as a parting gift from my mom. That, or she just didn't think it would carry her all the way to Nevada.

The truck's radio didn't work, so I sang along to my Sunny & Cheery playlist on my iPod on the way to the Cullens' house. I wasn't quite sure where I was going. They had bought the old Simmons house, and all I knew about its location was that it was somewhere in the forest outside of town. The vague directions my dad had given me before going to work that morning were not going to be the help I had hoped they would.

"Just turn after the old red oak, and when the lane splits, keep right. Well, or left. Hell if I remember. You'll know it when you see it, Bells," he'd assured me while hurrying out the door, late as usual.

My problem was that there was more than one red oak, and there were many small lanes – most of them probably made and used by lumberjacks. I tried one, but it just ended after about a quarter of a mile. So did the next one I tried. Finally, after driving back and forth seven times, I spotted a very well-hidden mail box next to one of the lanes. Lumberjacks didn't get mail at work.

I made a U-turn, happy that there were barely any cars on the road, and turned down the narrow lane. It seemed to go on forever, and when there was a split in the road, I was lost again. My dad's directions were still not doing me any good. I was half way through eeny, meeny, miny, moe when I caught sight of movement between the trees to my right. My eyes widened, and then narrowed.

Was that…?

I leaned closer to the window to get a better look. Either I was hallucinating, or a reindeer was standing a few yards away, looking right at me. I was pretty sure that I had not ingested any kind of mushroom or other thing that could make me hallucinate. On the other hand, I was also certain that there wasn't supposed to be reindeer in Washington, except maybe in a zoo somewhere. And there weren't any zoos around there.

The animal – hallucination or not – came out of the trees in front of my truck. It looked at me for a moment before taking off down the lane to the left. I didn't even worry about getting lost as I drove after it. I had to find out if my eyes or brain were somehow playing tricks on me, or if I was actually seeing a reindeer.

The lane kept turning slightly. I didn't dare drive very fast, so I only got glimpses of what I really hoped was a reindeer. If it wasn't, I was chasing hallucinations in the forest, and that was actually harder for my mind to process than the whole reindeer thing. I went around another turn, and the sight that met me made forget all about keeping my foot on the clutch. The truck spluttered, jerked, and died.

I just stared.

The first thought that hit me was that Clark Griswold was an amateur. The second was that it was October, so why was this big house in the middle of the forest decorated like it was Christmas? Or rather, decorated like it was Christmas a million times over? And since there were no other houses out here that I knew of, with the exception of the one the Cullen family. I was also at a loss for how they would have had the time to do this in the short time they had been in town. Who started decorating the outside with Christmas lights in October instead of unpacking the moving boxes inside? There were already crazy rumors flying around about the Cullens in town. This was definitely not going to help. It was unlikely that I was the only one stopping by to welcome them with something edible, so in a few days the town would be buzzing – as much as Forks ever buzzed, anyway.

I suddenly remembered the reindeer and looked around for it. It certainly fit in here in the Land of Christmas, but I couldn't see it anywhere. Starting the truck again, I moved away from the lane so I wasn't blocking it. I picked up the brownies and walked up to the porch while wishing that it wasn't the middle of the day. As out of place as this light display was, it was bound to look spectacular when it was dark.

When I was half-way up the porch stairs, the front door, decorated with a large wreath of boxwood tied with shiny, red ribbon, swung open. A young girl with bright eyes and a big smile waved at me. "Hello!"

"Hi," I said, smiling hesitantly.

When I came closer, it became clear that she wasn't as young as I had estimated her to be. She just wasn't very tall, unable to claim even five feet no matter how much she stood on her toes. Also, what she wore tipped me off that she was at least my age. Her dress was short, green, and looked like it was made of velvet. It hugged her body tightly, and striped, brightly colored knee-high socks covered her legs. It was not a combination I had ever seen before. Her dark hair was in a braid, and it swung over her shoulder as she bounced in the doorway.

"This is so exciting!" she squealed. "Hi, I'm D- um, Alice! You're our first guest!"

I kept a hold of the brownies with one hand and offered her the other. This girl sure was excitable. "I'm Bella. Welcome to Forks. My dad is the chief of police, so I'm the official welcoming party, though there will likely be some unofficial ones, too."

She grabbed my hand and shook it with all her might. Her hand was ice cold, and I couldn't help but wonder if they had been so busy decorating the house outside that they hadn't even turned on the heat inside.

"It's so nice to meet you, Bella! Come on inside, Mrs.- um, my mom would love to meet you, I'm sure!" Alice said excitedly, dragging me inside. She was surprisingly strong and barely gave me time to toe off my boots inside the door. I handed her the brownies, hoping to slow her down for a second. Even her speech was so hurried that she stumbled over her words.

"I hope you guys like brownies. I made them this morning," I said.

She hugged them to her chest and smiled widely. "I love brownies and so does S- um, my dad. Thank you, Bella."

She showed me around the house, talking the whole time. Occasionally she would ask me a question about the town, the school, or myself, and I suspected it was more because she needed to breathe than actually needing my input. I did my best to listen while I took in the house. There was no way they could have fixed it up so thoroughly since arriving in town. They had to have had done most of the work before moving in. I remembered old Mr. Simmons, and I knew for certain that he hadn't had his house decorated like this. It was very, very white. And…well, that was actually all there was to say about it.

Mrs. Cullen was in the kitchen, humming what sounded like Jingle Bells and kneading dough as if her life depended on it. She looked much younger than I had expected, and not at all like someone who had teenage kids.

"Mom, this is Bella," Alice introduced me, for some reason enunciating mom. Weird. "She brought brownies to welcome us to town."

"Hello, dear," Mrs. Cullen greeted me, pausing the kneading and sending me a smile. "That's so sweet of you, coming all the way out here."

Mrs. Cullen served us hot cocoa, and Alice chattered excitedly on and on…and on. She didn't even drink her cocoa. Half of what she said went in one ear and right out of the other. I did learn that she was excited to start school, that she had a brother, and that she really wanted to go to the school dance just before Christmas.

She questioned me about the people at school, and I saw no reason to lie. There were three decent people – including the teachers – and the rest I preferred in small doses. Rosalie Hale had been my best friend since we were toddlers. Angela Weber had moved here in the third grade, and it hadn't taken long for Rosalie and me to take her under our wing because she was getting picked on for wearing glasses. Kids were cruel. And finally there was Jasper Whitlock, another stray we had taken in. During the eighth grade he had suddenly discovered that science was more interesting than football, thus making his popularity drop significantly. About a month ago Angela had started dating Ben Cheney, and he had semi-joined our little group, but I was still wary of him. He used to be one of the idiots picking on Jasper, and I wasn't sold on his sudden personality change.

I spent most of the afternoon at the Cullens'. Listening to Alice talk made me a little out of breath, but she and Mrs. Cullen were, without a shadow of doubt, the two most happy and positive people I had ever met. It made me happy just to be around them. I didn't meet Mr. Cullen or Alice's brother. Apparently they were out hiking.

"So, how did it go at the Cullens'?" my dad asked over dinner. He'd come home late because of a fender-bender down in front of the grocery store. I imagined he wouldn't come home at all if anything serious actually happened in Forks.

"Good," I replied. "I brought them brownies. They have a girl around my age who seems very nice. I also met Mrs. Cullen."

"Carlisle Cullen bought the old burger place on Main Street. Jimmy down at the station says he's opening up a toy store or something. No wait, toy repair shop, I think it was," my dad said, attacking his steak with such eagerness that I knew he had skipped lunch again. "I'll give it three months. Then he'll be closing down shop again."

"Repairing toys? Doesn't he know we live in 2010? If something is broken, people just throw it away. They don't pay to have it repaired," I wondered out loud, absentmindedly stabbing a potato on my plate.

"That's what I said. Harry was out installing a phone line the other day, and he said that they were decorating the house for Christmas. Is that right?"

"Um, yeah. And then some. I've never seen a house with that many lights on it. The trees around the house are covered in lights, too. It looks like Christmas threw up out there."

"They sure are a funny bunch," my dad commented.

I nodded. Funny was right. I had never met anyone like Alice. She was sweet, and so was Mrs. Cullen, but something seemed off about them.

Alice and her brother started school the following Monday. The whole school was abuzz with whispers and rumors – as predicted I wasn't the only one who had gone out to welcome the Cullen family to Forks.

"Did you hear that the Cullens moved here because their kids got into all kinds of trouble back where they lived before?" Mike Newton, son of Forks' busiest gossiper asked me while I was putting books in my locker. I had done something awful in a past life to deserve the locker next to Mike's, and I really wished I knew what it was because it had to have been epic.

I glared at him. He knew exactly how I felt about gossip. His groin had suffered my knee back when he'd decided to spread rumors about the "real" reason my mom had left town.

"No, no. This is true. My mom heard it from one of the store's suppliers, and he knew becau-"

"I'm not interested, Mike," I interrupted him.

"Is the moron still trying to ask you out?" Rosalie asked, coming up behind us. She was not the least bit bothered by the fact that Mike was still standing there. She knew ignoring him was one of the few ways to shut him up.

"No, today he's just gossiping," I replied, dragging her away from Mike.

"The boy needs a life," she commented and glared at him. She was a fierce protector of everything and everyone she loved. I was glad I was included, although most of the time her focus was on animal rights. It was her big passion, and she often cornered unsuspecting people and lectured them on the subject. It was usually boys who stared too long at her breasts, but Rose mistook their staring for interest in the PETA t-shirts she always wore. If she thought about animal rights, why would anyone else be thinking about her breasts? I loved my naïve best friend.

"Hey, I saw the Cullen girl out in the parking lot. She was wearing a dress," Rose told me while we walked to our first class.

I giggled. Of course she was. I wondered if it was as short as the one I had seen her in, and if she was wearing knee-high socks, too. Wearing a dress to school in Forks was unusual to say the least. The standard uniform was jeans, t-shirt, and often a flannel shirt. If paired with boots and a rain coat, you were good to go. The last time I had seen someone in a dress at school was when the Stanley house had burned down, and Jessica'd had to wear donated clothes for a while. Apparently no one had any spare jeans or t-shirts.

"Is she nice?" Rose asked. "The Cullen girl, I mean. You met her, right?"

I never had the chance to reply before I was slammed into the wall with my airway nearly cut off.

"Bella!"

Alice.

How in the world could someone that small be that strong? I winced as Rose steadied me. I was going to have bruises on my back tomorrow. "Hello Alice," I rasped.

"It's not polite to choke your new friends, Alice," an unknown voice said. Alice's grip around my neck loosened immediately, and I gratefully took a deep breath. I was going to need to start carrying an oxygen mask in my book bag if this was how she always said hello to people she knew.

"I want you to meet my brother," Alice said when she was no longer holding me in a death grip. She turned to Rose. "And you must be Rose. Bella told me about you, and I've been looking forward to meeting you ever since!"

While she treated Rose to one of her vigorous handshakes, I looked up fully to see if there was a face to go with the deep, smooth voice that had saved me from severe oxygen deprivation. And just like in the trashy romance novels I ended up reading every summer because I ran out of decent books, the time stopped. The noise around me faded into silence, and the only thing I could hear was my own breathing.

Nothing could have prepared me for the first time I saw Alice's brother. He was gorgeous to the nth degree. I looked him over, in awe of his defined jaw and cheekbones, pale but perfect complexion that would've died to for, compelling green eyes that were looking straight at me, his tousled auburn hair, and lips so inviting that-

"Hi. You make killer brownies," he said, interrupting my ogling.

I blushed. Killer brownies? Oh, right. Brownies. As in the sweet treats I had welcomed his family to town with. It was a strange greeting, though. He winked at me, which did nothing to make me more coherent. I mumbled out what I hoped was "hi" and "thanks" before the bell rang and we all were forced to head in different direction for our respective classes.

Great. I mentally slapped my forehead. A hot guy finally appeared in Forks, and I made a fool of myself the first time I met him. The school needed to make "Make a Good First Impression 101" a mandatory class for hopeless cases like me.

Had it not been for Rose, I would have never made it to class in time. Not that it would have made a big difference if I had stayed away. I never heard a word as Mr. Stephens tried to teach us about the Civil War.

"What is wrong with you?" Rose asked me after class. "You're not seriously crushing on Alice's brother, are you? What's his name again…Edwin?"

"Edward," I muttered. "And no, I'm not. But Rose…did you look at him? Honestly, have you ever seen anyone as gorgeous as Edward Cullen?"

She looked at me, confusion on her face. "He is? Huh. I didn't notice." She rummaged through her book bag. "You know, I was thinking of recruiting him and Alice for PETA. They live in the forest, so they'd be interested in animal rights, right? It's an obvious assumption, don't you think?"

I gaped. "Um…sure? I don't know, Rose. No harm in asking, I guess." Rose and I had always been alike in not being interested in the poor selection of boys Forks had to offer. Edward Cullen seemed to have changed things for me, even if I'd only seen him once. Not so much for Rose apparently.

I arrived a little late for lunch, having been lost in thought by my locker for a while. The table I usually sat at with Rose, Jasper, Angela, and – as of recently – Ben, had two new occupants. Angela and Ben were in their own little world as usual, sharing deep, meaningful looks. Alice and Jasper were doing almost the same thing, which was a little disturbing considering I didn't even know they had met. I was embarrassingly relieved that Rose and Edward were just talking normally. Well, as normal as Rose gesturing wildly with her arms, and Edward listening while breaking a sandwich into little pieces was.

"Hey, guys," I greeted them and sat down in one of two empty seats. It was between Edward and Jasper, and I took it mostly to avoid sitting next to Ben.

Rose was on a roll, showing Edward PETA pamphlets and pulling out every argument she could think of to get him to join. She loved fresh meat. Edward listened politely, but it was obvious to everyone but Rose that he wasn't that interested. I would have to make sure he knew never to stare at her breasts, as that would just earn him the whole speech one more time.

Mike stopped by our table, sitting down on the edge of it and smiling at Alice in a way I'm sure he meant to be flirting. Unfortunately, it only made him look constipated. "Hi, I'm Mike."

She looked at him wide-eyed, as if trying to figure out what he was up to. "Hello. I'm D- um, Alice, and you're sitting on my fries."

He shot up and started smearing the ketchup further into his jeans than it already was. The whole table was openly laughing at him, and the tips of his ears were turning red. When he was finally done making a complete mess of himself, he looked at Alice again. "So, um, how about you and me go out on Friday? I'll show you Port Angeles – I promise that you won't find a better tour guide than me." He tried to wink, but failed, making Jasper laugh again and nearly choke on his soda.

Alice put all her energy into slapping Jasper's back while mustering a fake smile for Mike. "I'll tell you what. How about I put mistletoe in my back pocket, and you kiss my ass instead? I promise you won't find a better ass than mine."

Jasper was turning blue from choking, laughing, and all but getting beaten up at the same time while half the cafeteria was laughing, as Alice hadn't exactly been quiet. I didn't know how to stop giggling long enough to make sure that he was actually breathing, especially not when Mike stalked off with ketchup all over his ass.

Not much was said for the remainder of the lunch hour. Every time we looked at each other, we started laughing again, and even when we left for class, we were still snickering. I was also thoroughly distracted by Edward's laughter. It was a sound that resonated from deep within his belly, and it was the most infectious thing I'd ever heard. As everything else about it him, it had me transfixed.

My next class was biology, and so, I discovered, was Edward's. We walked next to each other down the hallway, our hands briefly touching when it got crowded and we had to walk closer to each other. His hand was cold, but managed to heat me up thoroughly. I glanced up at him each time to find him looking down at me, winking or smiling crookedly.

Yes, it was official. Edward Cullen had the ability to make me melt.

As the days and weeks passed, it became quite clear that I was indeed crushing on the new boy in town. Badly. Luckily, I still managed to teach myself how to form coherent sentences around him so that I could actually talk with him. All he had to do was smile and I'd melt completely, but I was still counting it as a success.

I spent a lot of time with Alice when she wasn't busy sneaking off with Jasper. I had stopped counting how many times a day they would be caught with their clothes out of order, out of breath, and with part-guilty, part-goofy smiles on their faces. The janitor had even started locking the doors to the broom closet and the supply room.

One day, in a weak moment, I confessed to Rosalie that I thought I had seen a reindeer the day I had gone to greet the Cullens.

"A reindeer? Bella, why didn't you tell me sooner? A reindeer in these parts is obviously out of its element. It might be sick or something. I need you to tell me exactly where you saw it. I'll go out and look for it first thing tomorrow morning," she said.

"Why?" I had to know.

"I just told you! I don't know if it got lost or if it escaped from somewhere, but it might need help. Poor dear, all alone out there with no idea how to get home," she said with a sigh.

"I'm not actually sure it was a reindeer…"

"But it might have been. That's good enough for me," she stated. She got a faraway look in her eyes, and I knew in her mind she was already out looking for Rudolf. I just hoped she wasn't planning tobring it home if she found it. She was fond of taking in strays, and the last time hadn't worked out so well. She was not allowed to bring animals into the house anymore.

The morning of December first had me slightly freaked out. My dad had cooked breakfast – at least that was what he called the burnt toast and the tar-like coffee that had been waiting on the table when I came downstairs. Charlie Swan never cooked. He had also been humming what I was pretty sure was "Silver Bells" while he tried to solve the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. Charlie Swan never hummed. And he certainly never did crossword puzzles. I asked him if he was feeling okay, and he claimed that he had never been better. I suspected Alzheimer's. That's when he told me that he hadn't really been working last night. He had been on a date.

I didn't stick around long enough to find out who he had been on the date with. It wasn't the fact that he was obviously seeing someone that had me freaked out – he was a grown man, he could do whatever he wanted. It was the humming thing that made me a little nauseous. Of course, it would have been worse if he had been whistling!

I arrived at school early. At some point since school had let out yesterday, the Christmas tree Mike Newton's parents sponsored every year had been put up. Each year it was bigger than the year before, and this year it dwarfed the school completely. It looked ridiculous.

"I chopped it down myself," Mike boasted when I joined him and a few others standing around looking at the guys putting on the lights.

I rolled my eyes. "Sure you did." Mike Newton couldn't lift a third of his own weight, let alone handle a tree that was taller than most of the buildings in town.

He blushed a little, but stubbornly tried to convince the others that he wasn't lying. He luckily followed them when they left. It was dry out today, and since I had arrived early, I was in no real hurry to go inside. I pulled out my iPod and found my newly crated Christmas playlist. It wasn't too early to try and get into the spirit.

I watched the guys putting the lights on the tree fumble while listening to "Santa Baby." If I didn't get too much homework, I was going to get the decorations out tonight. I usually put them up myself, except for the lights outside. I hoped my dad wasn't too busy with his new dating life to do it soon.

I scrolled through my playlist. God only knew why I had included "Last Christmas." A shadow caused me to look up, and my eyes met Edward's, who was standing on the opposite side of the big tree by the front entrance. I instinctively smiled at him, but he didn't smile back. Despite the distance, I could see terror on his face, and he started waving his arms. I frowned. What was he doing? He wasn't the only one waving his arms, but the increasing shadow distracted me from further pondering why.

When I looked up, I saw a very wobbly Christmas tree. The men who had been putting on the lights were trying to stop it from falling, but it was too large for them to handle. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. The fact that the tree was coming closer and closer made it obvious that it was going to fall in my direction. That was all I had time to register before I was yanked roughly out of the way.

The breath was knocked out of me when I hit the ground, but the back of my head was saved from meeting it with enough force to crack it open. I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping I wasn't about to be crushed to a pulp under the biggest Christmas tree Forks had ever seen. It was then I realized that something heavy was already lying on top of me, preventing me from catching my breath.

"You're okay," a familiar voice whispered in my ear. "I've got you."

I opened my eyes wide and tried to sit up, managing to bump my forehead with Edward's. He chuckled and steadied me as dizziness made my vision blurry for a moment.

"Easy. I'd really prefer if you didn't pass out on me," he said. "Are you hurt?"

"Um…no?"

"I need an answer, Bella, not a question. Does it hurt anywhere?" Cold fingers prodded the back of my head, and I shivered. Not because they were cold, but because that's what he did to me.

"Oh my God, Bella! Are you okay?"

"Shit, the tree almost hit you!"

"You're lucky to be alive, Bella."

All the voices of the people gathering around us blended together as I looked into Edward's eyes. I wasn't sure I could form a coherent sentence even if I'd tried, and I also didn't know if I was hurt or not. I didn't think so, but I couldn't really feel anything except confusion.

"How did you…?" I asked softly. "I mean, you were all the wa-"

"Please, Bella," he begged me, his eyes trying to tell me something other than his words. "You need to tell me if you're hurt."

"I…I'm not," I replied breathlessly, searching his face. "Thank you for pulling me out of the way." The tree had fallen right where I had been standing. Looking at it, and thinking about could have happened, made me a little nauseous.

Edward pulled me onto my feet, and I dusted myself off the best I could while the people around me fussed. No, I did not need to go to the ER no matter how many times they asked.

"I'm fine, I promise!" I said loudly to them. "Thank you. Just…give me a moment to breathe."

There was still a little time before class. I pulled Edward aside while everyone's attention shifted from me to the rather pathetic attempt at getting the tree to stand again.

"I should take you to the ER so you can get checked over. You hit the ground pretty hard. I'm sorry," Edward said, continuing to nag.

"I'm fine. Really. I just…how did you get to me in time? The tree was falling, and you were all the way over by the front entrance… I don't understand."

He shook his head. "I wasn't by the front entrance, Bella. I think you might have hit your head. Let's get you to the ER."

"I did not hit my head, Edward. You made sure my head didn't even touch the ground after you somehow got from the front entrance to where I was standing in less than two seconds. I saw you!" I was trying not to yell, but it was difficult because I knew I was right – I just didn't understand how I could be.

"Oh my God! Bella! Mike told us what happened!" Alice came running, dragging Jasper behind her like a puppy on a leash. He looked particularly rumpled today. But then, so did Alice. She stopped abruptly, making Jasper bump into her. "But you don't have a gushing head wound," she said. "Oh, thank God."

"Mike said that?" I asked.

She nodded vigorously. "He also said that you might have a broken arm, and that he had personally made sure that the tree didn't fall on you. He said he directed the guys who were working on it to pull it the other way or something."

Edward snorted. "I'm surprised he had time for that while he was so busy screaming bloody murder. That guy is much too interested in getting attention. There's nothing good in him."

"Yeah, I think we heard that, actually," Alice replied before looking back at me. "So nothing happened to you?"

"Edward yanked me out of the way when the tree fell, although I don't understand how. He was all the way over by the front entrance-"

"I was not by the front entrance," Edward interrupted me with a strained smile. "I was right next to Bella. I think she's a little bit in shock at the moment."

Alice eyed us carefully and nodded distractedly. "So, um…Edward, can I talk to you for a moment?"

He nodded, and they went ahead into the school building. Jasper looked at me, concerned. "Are you sure you're okay?"

I rolled my eyes. "Yes, I'm sure. I just had the wind knocked out of me, that's all. And I'll bitch slap the next person who asks me that question."

"Fair enough," he said, chuckling a little as he put an arm around my shoulders and led me toward our first class.

"By the way, you might want to wipe the lip gloss off the corner of your mouth," I suggested dryly and laughed when his hand flew up to his mouth.

I was not in shock as Edward had claimed. And my near-death experience was not the reason why I didn't pay attention in class. The fact that Edward didn't own up to how he had managed to save me from the Christmas Tree of Death was just one of many small clues that something suspicious was going on with the Cullens. But it was the clue that made me realize that I needed to figure out what it was. I felt like I was missing something obvious, and it was beginning to drive me crazy. The clues were there – I just had to figure out what they meant.

Like how Alice stumbled over the names of her family members. How Edward knew things he wasn't supposed to know. How both he and Alice had ice cold skin and never went out in sunlight. And that was without even touching upon the reindeer, the Christmas lights in October, and the fact that Mr. Cullen repaired toys. Not to mention how both he and his wife looked much too young to have teenage kids.

Later that day, the help for my little conundrum came from where I had least expected it. My dad's friend, Billy, came over for dinner, and he brought his son, Jacob. Jacob Black was a snotty brat who was a few years younger than me, but he acted like he had just gotten out of diapers. He whined like a baby when he didn't get his way, and when he did get his way, everything was left in ruins after he'd terrorized it. I had banned him from the kitchen when he and his dad came over, but that just made him try to set things on fire or break down doors instead.

He camped on the doorstep in protest while I cooked dinner, talking about a video game or something. I wasn't really listening.

"Don't you think?" he asked loudly, startling me from my thoughts while I cut the tomatoes for the salad.

I glared at him over my shoulder. I could have lost a finger. "What?"

"Dude, you're not listening!" he whined.

"I'm also not a dude," I told him, turning back to the cutting board.

"As I was saying…don't you think the old Quileute legends would make good video games?" he continued, unbothered. "Can't you just see it? Werewolves and vampires battling it out – body parts flying, and stupid little humans getting caught up in the middle. I mean, the sound effects alone would be out of this world!" He made an impressive and very loud series of noises that were probably meant to prove his point, ending with a drawn-out howl.

"Jake, shut up!" Billy yelled.

I snickered and put the tomatoes into the salad bowl. Then Jacob's words registered fully in my mind. "There are vampires in your legends?"

"Yeah. The legends say that my people descend from wolves, and the cold ones are our natural enemies," he replied and worked on his howling a little more quietly.

"The cold ones?" I questioned.

"Yes, vampires. Fuck's sake, Bella, keep up here!" he complained. "They are called the cold ones in the legends. Since they're not really alive, their skin is cold. Comprende?"

"Don't be a snot, I'm only asking," I huffed. "What else do the legends say about vampires?"

"The wolves are the cool ones," Jacob said, before making a snapping sound with his teeth. Brat. "The vampires are just a bunch of bloodsuckers. They might be fast and all that, but they're dead. How fun can you be when you're dead, huh? No going out in the sun, no eating pizza or cheeseburgers or anything. No nothing. Just running around drinking blood. Ugh. Now if you were a werewolf, on the other hand, you'd be cool as hell. If someone pissed you off, you could just literally bite their head off. Snap! And you could still go out in the sun and eat whatever you wanted."

"Where would these vampires live?" I asked.

"What? Aw hell, Bella! They're not real, you know. They're legends – as in…um, old shit that never happened. Comprende?" Jacob shook his head at me, moving reluctantly away from the doorstep when I stabbed my toe into his side.

Putting the food onto the table, I thought about what he had just said about vampires. Was I crazy for thinking that it sounded familiar? I remained deep in thought while we ate dinner. Jacob ate as much as he talked, and Billy told him several times not to talk with his mouth full.

I didn't get much sleep that night. Could the Cullens really be vampires? It would explain a lot, even if Jacob had said that the legends weren't real. When I did sleep, I dreamt about big wolves tearing Edward and Alice apart, but instead of blood, miniature toys oozed from their wounds.

When I got out of bed just after dawn, I was certain of two things. One, Jacob was an idiot, but once in a blue moon, he was a useful idiot. Two, I was going to confront the first Cullen I met that day, because the only thing that made sense in my head was that they were indeed vampires. Okay, maybe made sense was too strong a term for the jumbled mess in my head, but I was certain that there was something off about them. The answer that made the most sense was that they were Christmas-loving, undead bloodsuckers. I sighed as I dug around in my dresser for a pair of socks. I was either friends with a vampire, or I needed therapy - maybe hospitalization.

As fate would have it, I saw Edward the second I turned into the school parking lot. I had hoped I could corner Alice, but it seemed Edward would have to do. Of course, just the thought of accusing the hottest guy I had ever met of being a vampire was enough to make me want to vomit. The hot, maybe-vampire waved at me while I parked, nearly hitting Ben's car because I was so distracted. It was bright turquoise, so I didn't understand how I had missed seeing it.

"Good morning, Bella," Edward greeted me, appearing at my car as I stumbled out, getting caught up in the strap on my book bag.

"Morning," I mumbled, cursing the blush on my face as he had to steady me so I didn't face-plant right in front of him. The embarrassment was almost enough to make me abandon my plans, but when I felt his cold fingers on my arm, my resolve hardened. "Um, can I talk to you about something?"

He looked surprised, but nodded with a smile. "Of course. What's up?"

"Not here," I said and looked around. I walked ahead of him to a patch of trees behind the school. Adventurous couples went there to make out, but it was almost time for class, so no one would be there. Mr. Stephens and his history class would have to wait until I had found out if I needed a straightjacket or some garlic for Christmas.

As the trees closed around us, the silence grew. I could hear my own breath and my heart hammering in my chest. Edward walked silently behind me, but I could sense his presence. That was my crush speaking, though.

I stopped and took a deep breath without turning around. My voice was shaking when I spoke, but I needed to get it out before I lost my courage. "You're impossibly fast. Your skin is pale-white and ice cold. And sometimes you speak like…like you know things without anyone telling you. You never eat or drink anything. You don't go out in the old are you?"

"Eighteen." His voice was deeper and more somber than I had ever heard it. The fact that he hadn't started laughing or something scared me a little.

"How long have you been eighteen?" I asked.

He hesitated slightly. "A while."

"I know what you are," I said bravely, two seconds before it dawned on me that if the Cullens really were vampires, they were probably not going to appreciate me finding out their secret. Shit, what if they killed me or drank my blood or whatever vampires did to people who figured them out? Why the hell had I insisted that we talk away from other people? I was such an idiot, and maybe in a moment I'd be a dead idiot, killed by a vampire because I was too curious for my own good.

"Say it. Out loud," Edward demanded, interrupting my panic. "Say it!"

"Vampire." It was only a whisper, but my throat felt dry as if I had screamed it. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for my life to end.

"What? You think I'm a vampire?" Edward walked around so he was standing in front of me. I slowly opened my eyes. "Seriously?" he asked incredulously.

I shrugged helplessly.

"Um, no. I'm not a vampire," he said and cleared his throat uncomfortably.

"Oh." Why didn't he laugh it off or accuse me of being the most ridiculous girl he had ever met? I bit my lip and wondered if he was lying to me. "Then what?"


A/N: Thank you for reading. I hope – like really, really hope – that you withstood the silliness overload and are ready for the second and final part tomorrow. :) Until then, leave me some Christmas love. Happy Holidays!