"Look, it's another new girl. Too bad there's not another Cullen for her."
Grace Castleton kept her head down and ignored the whispers that circulated around her as she made her way down the hallway of Forks High School.
"I heard her parents both died."
"I heard she was there when it happened."
"She's weirder than Bella."
Frowning, Grace ducked into the lunchroom. A quick glance around the less-than-cafeteria-worthy space told her that everyone knew everyone, and she was obviously not included in the everyone. Meaning that, stereotypical as it was, she had nowhere to sit. She was about the leave the room, fully ready to skip lunch, when a hand touched her elbow.
Turning, she caught sight of a girl a few inches shorter than her with alabaster skin and mahogany hair. Brown eyes lit with warmth and understanding stared up at her.
"It's Grace, right?" the girl asked.
"I'm Bella Swan. This is Edward Cullen."
She gestured to the boy next to her, who was had skin as pale as death, hair the color of bronze, and a face handsome in the way you only saw on magazine covers. He hovered protectively by her shoulder, tawny eyes missing nothing as they took in the conversation.
"Nice to meet you," Grace said out of reflex, though the golden eyes watching her set her on edge.
"You're new here right?"
Bella laughed lightly, and the sound made Edward smile as he took her hand.
"Come on," she said. "Do you want to sit with us?"
Grace followed them to a table where three other people sat. They all looked up interest when they saw her, and she shifted uncomfortably. Introductions were made. Angela Weber, Ben Cheney, and Alice Cullen, Edward's younger sister, each nodded at her in turn as their names were said.
"How's your first day so far?" Angela asked.
"Fine I guess."
"Yeah, I know how the whole 'new girl' thing can be," Bella put in. "It's a bit…"
"It gets better though. Promise."
"People still haven't gotten over the fact that you're dating Edward."
Alice was just as pretty as Edward, both of them gorgeous in ways that defied reality. Their wind-chime voices and captivating eyes only added to the effect.
"You mean Mike hasn't gotten over the fact that she's dating Edward," Ben smirked.
Edward's lip curled at the name.
"I'm sure he hasn't," he murmured, his arm tightening around Bella's shoulders.
"I heard he's dating Jessica again," Ben commented.
Grace sighed, tuning them out as she looked out the window. Not that she wasn't grateful that someone had taken pity on her and let her sit with them, but idle chatter had always bored her. She was jittery, anxious to grab her sketchbook and get outside, despite the fact that it was pouring enough rain to float the Titanic. She had never been good at sitting still, and since the fire, she found herself unable to be confined in any area for long periods of time. It brought back too many memories, memories that threatened to drown her in their intensity, in the fear, in the-
"So," Edward cut in, his velvet voice floating easily above the conversation and pulling her from her pain-filled thoughts. "Grace. You're an artist?"
Grace's head jerked up.
"Yeah…how did you…"
"I saw your sketchpad."
She nodded, accepting his answer as the others started talking again. This time, she paid attention, not willing to let her mind stray back to places she never wanted to visit again. But part of her was still confused, focused on Edward.
Wondering just how he'd known to interrupt at just the right moment.
And how he'd known what she was thinking.
"I honestly don't think I've ever met anyone less coordinated than me," Grace said thoughtfully as she pulled her shirt back over her head.
"Yeah, well wait till you see me trying to walk and chew gum," Bella muttered.
Grace laughed. The two of them were changing back into their street clothes after gym, and she'd found that though she was quiet and seemed unsure of herself, Bella was one of the nicest people she'd met. They walked out of the locker rooms and-
"Bella," Edward murmured, pulling her into his arms as soon as they stepped into the hallway.
Grace sighed and turned the other way. However much she liked Bella, Edward was…odd. There was something not quite right about him or his sister. Though both were supposedly the same age as her, they seemed infinitely…older. They held a certain aura about them that told her they were a bit more than high school seniors.
"Hello Grace," he greeted, shooting her a curious look.
"Edward," she acknowledged.
He kept looking at her with his unnaturally topaz eyes, ad Grace shied away from him.
"Well, I should be going," she said.
"Do you need a ride home?"
How he'd known she was just thinking that…
"I just know that your aunt and uncle will be at work for a while yet. Small town. Everyone-"
Edward smiled and nodded, but it did nothing to alleviate the nervousness Grace was feeling. Nevertheless, she followed him and Bella outside to his silver Volvo and slid into the backseat, surprised when Bella joined her.
"Edward will survive five minutes in the front seat by himself," she said.
"You don't have to-"
"No, but I want to. It's not often I make friends. Edward can tell you how gifted I am in that particular arena."
"Yes, indeed," Edward answered dryly. "She has a deplorable sense of whom to associate with. Not to mention that she seems to attract those I can only categorize as…animals."
He and Bella exchanged looks in the rearview mirror as he pulled out of the parking lot.
"You're staying with your aunt and uncle, yes?" he asked, turning his gaze to her.
"Yeah. Do you-"
"Forgot. Small town."
"You'd be surprised how much Edward knows."
The rest of the ride was mostly silent as Edward sped through the after-school traffic with much more grace and speed than was normal. He left her on her driveway with an offer to pick her up for school, which she declined.
"My uncle drives me to school," she said.
"I see. Well then we'll see you tomorrow."
"Bye Grace," Bella added.
She waved, and then she and Edward were gone.
Grace watched their car disappear before turning and waking up the drive. She let herself into the empty house, climbed the stairs, and shut herself into her room. Her cousin's room actually. Alexandra had moved out long ago, and her room was now the guest room.
One more year Grace told herself as she collapsed onto the bed.
One more year until she graduated. One more year until she was no longer a dependent and could move out on her own. One more year until she could put everything behind her and move somewhere where there was nothing left to tie her to her parents.
Except the memories.
Those would haunt her forever.