Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sub for another teacher and spend some time with underclassmen. I primarily teach seniors, and it was an interesting experience to observe what a difference just a few years makes in adolescence. On that same day, as I was driving home, the song The Sweater by Meryn Cadell came on my ipod. The lyrics of the song combined with my observations of young teens in my weird little brain, and this story was born.
Twilight and all its associated characters, plotlines, settings, etc are the property of Stephenie Meyer. The Sweater is the property of Meryn Cadell. No copyright infringement is intended.
The song The Sweater can be found on YouTube. It's lots of fun, and worth a listen or two.
Thank you to VixenLittleStella and Marlena516 from Project Team Beta for their help.
"He's so beautiful. I love him."
Edward rolled his eyes. "You don't love him. You've never even talked to him." His voice was thick with sarcasm and not a little bitterness, but Bella was too entranced by the sight of the boy across the cafeteria to notice.
"I have too! He totally talked to me last week!"
"Bella, buying a homecoming ticket from you doesn't count as talking."
"Does too!" Bella narrowed her eyes and glared at him, then turned her attention back to the crowd of people on the other side of the room.
Specifically, she turned her attention to one specific person in the group across the room.
Bella sighed, her face a study in dreamy bliss. "He's just...just so perfect." She smiled dreamily and rested her cheek on her hand.
"Nobody's perfect, Bella."
Edward rolled his eyes again. "Are you going to eat your pudding?"
Bella shook her head, pushing the container toward him.
Edward was pulling up the foil top when another chair at the table scraped across the floor. Bella's friend Alice placed her tray on the table and plopped down.
"Hi, guys! What are we talking about?" She popped the top off her salad and liberally added croutons and ranch dressing.
"What do you think?" Edward asked, gesturing to Bella before putting a spoonful of chocolate pudding in his mouth.
Alice took in Bella's posture and dazed expression, then followed the direction of her gaze.
"Oh. Of course." Alice giggled. "He is awfully cute. You have to admit that, Edward."
"I have to do no such thing." Edward scowled at the two girls, neither of whom really noticed due to their focus on the boy across the room.
Jacob held court at a table surrounded by people - mostly other jocks and pretty girls. The boys were mainly seniors, with a few juniors mixed in, but there were girls of all ages. The group included Bella's sister, Rosalie, a senior, and her boyfriend, Emmett. Jacob smiled at one of the girls, a blonde that Bella recognized from her history class. The smile showed a flash of perfectly straight white teeth that contrasted with the dark skin of his face. The sight sent a shock of feeling to Bella's stomach. The girl laughed in response to whatever he said next, and Bella huffed in jealousy.
"That dumb Jessica. Why is he talking to her?"
"Um, because she's a simpering moron with big fake boobs?" Alice replied, causing both girls to giggle.
"Do you really think they're fake? I mean, she's like, fifteen. Do they even do boob jobs that young?" Bella turned back toward the table. "Edward, do you know?"
Edward choked, nearly spitting milk across the table. He sputtered for a moment before he was able to speak. "How would I know if her...you know...if they're real or fake?" His face was bright red, and Bella laughed at his discomfiture.
"Not that, silly! Do you know if they can do boob jobs on girls that young?"
"How would I know?" he demanded.
"Your dad's a doctor, isn't he?" Bella raised her eyebrows as she asked, and shot another glance at Jacob's table, frowning when she saw he was still talking to Jessica.
"Bella, my dad's a podiatrist. He works on people's feet."
"I have no idea," he interrupted, his face disgusted.
Bella turned once again to look at Jacob, then asked Alice, "Do you think he'd notice me if I had bigger boobs? I doubt my parents would let me have surgery, but I could maybe get a water bra or something..."
"I think that's my cue to leave," Edward said, standing abruptly and picking up his tray. "See you in Biology, Bella?"
"Like I could get out of it," she replied. "Hey, you've got lettuce or something in your braces."
"Thanks," he mumbled in reply, flushing with embarrassment. Bella didn't hear him; she had gone back to discussing various non-surgical methods of breast enhancement with Alice.
"Hey, Mom. Hey, Squirt." Rosalie swept into the kitchen after school, speaking her usual greeting. She draped her bag over the back of one of the kitchen chairs and opened the refrigerator, pulling out a bottle of water.
"Don't call me squirt," Bella protested indignantly.
"Sorry, Midget, didn't mean to offend." She swept her long hair back with one hand as she lifted the bottle to her lips with the other.
"You're just jealous 'cause you're an Amazonian freak."
Rosalie laughed at her sister's response. "Yep, that's it. I'm so totally jealous of you, little sister. Emphasis on little." She smirked at Bella's pout and jumped back out of the range of the hand Bella swiped at her.
"Mom, Bella tried to hit me!" she exclaimed as their mother entered the room.
"Bella, don't hit your sister. Rose, stop picking on Bella about her height," Renee said dryly. "Can't you two at least come up with something new to fight about?"
"Apparently not. I think Rose's brain cells have been damaged. Oxygen deprivation from the altitude, you know."
"Bella, that's enough," Renee interrupted before Rosalie could reply. "How about we try for five minutes of peace, please?"
"Whatever," Bella mumbled. Her mother ignored her, speaking instead to Rose.
"Sweetheart, I got a call this afternoon from your Aunt Carmen. Your uncle fell off a platform and broke his ankle today. She asked if I could come for a couple of days to help out with the kids while he is in the hospital. Your father has to be gone too. He has that gang training thing. Will you girls be alright here on your own this weekend?"
Rosalie swallowed the last of her water before she replied. "I'm going camping this weekend, remember? You said yes, like, two weeks ago."
"Oh dear, no, I had forgotten. Can you reschedule the trip? I'm not comfortable leaving Bella here on her own all weekend. I'll only be a couple of hours away, but since I'll be with your cousins I don't know how easily I could come home if something happened."
"Hey!" Bella interrupted indignantly. "Don't talk about me like I'm not here! I'm fourteen years old. I think I can stay here by myself for two days!"
Renee turned to face her younger daughter. "Bella, you've been fourteen for less than a month. I know you would probably be fine, but I would rather you not be here alone for that long. Rose, what do you think? Could you reschedule?"
"Not really, there are a bunch of people going. Can't she go somewhere else?"
"How about it, Bella?" Renee asked. "I'm sure Alice's mom would be happy to have you..."
"Nope. They have company this weekend."
Renee looked back at Rose, who looked irritated. "I'm sorry, sweetheart, but it looks like you'll have to cancel - unless you want to take Bella with you?"
"Um, no," Rose replied, at the same time Bella said, "I'm not going camping with her!"
"Come on, girls. Can you please work with me here? Rose, I'm sorry, but you only have two options - you can stay home, or you can take Bella with you."
"I don't want to go!" Bella exclaimed.
Rose sighed. "There are a couple of other sophs coming, I think. But she's so much younger than everyone else in her class...I don't know if it's a good idea, Mom."
"You know your friends better than I do, Rose. It's your trip. I'm trusting you to take care of her."
"I suppose she could go." Rose sighed again. "She'll need a sleeping bag."
Bella continued to pout. When Renee left the room, she asked, "Who's coming on this stupid camping trip, anyway?"
"Oh, you know...Emmett, Lauren, Angela, Ben, Jake..."
"Jake? As in...Jacob Black?" Bella's eyes were alight with excitement. "I'm totally in."
"Oh Lord." Rosalie sighed, rolling her eyes. "Here we go."
"Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!" Bella shrieked, when she found her way to the table at lunch the next day. "Alice, where were you this morning? You weren't in math!" she asked, her voice accusatory.
"Dentist appointment," Alice answered, shrugging. "What's up?"
"Ohmygosh, only the most awesome thing ever! You'll never, like, ever believe what I get to do this weekend!"
The corners of Alice's mouth quirked up in amusement at Bella's hyperactivity. "And what do you get to do this weekend, little miss excitement?"
Bella's voice dropped low, and she said dramatically, "I get to go on a camping trip…with Jacob Black!" If it were possible to squeal and whisper at the same time, Bella's voice did it.
"Wait, what? How? Bella, are you confusing your dreams with real life again?"
"Shut up! It's totally for real! My uncle fell and broke his leg or something, so my mom's gotta go to Raleigh to help out, and my dad has this gang seminar thing in Charlotte, and they were going to leave Rose and me by ourselves, but Rose had this camping thing planned for like, ever, and Mom felt bad and didn't want her to have to cancel, so she talked her into taking me with her! And Jacob Black is totally going! I'm going camping with Jacob Black!" Bella did a squirmy little happy dance in her seat before remembering that he might be watching her, so she sat still and tried to look cool.
Edward had sat silently through her story, but now he spoke. "I thought you were supposed to come over this weekend and work on our science fair project." Disappointment weighted his voice, but Bella was too focused on her exhilaration to notice.
"Oh, I forgot. We've got, like, weeks to get that finished though, don't we?"
"Yes, but it will take some time to get everything set up and collect our data – we really need to get started soon."
"I'm sorry, Edward, but there really isn't anything I can do; my mom said she didn't want to leave me home alone all weekend, and besides…it's Jacob Black!"
Edward sighed. "I know, it's Jacob Black." He sighed again, the sound heavier this time. "I can get everything set up on my own, I guess."
"I know! I'll call my mom and see if I can go over to your house this afternoon, and we can get some stuff done then. Will that work?"
A smile spread across his face, showing the silver of his braces. "Sure."
The three of them sat and chatted for a few more minutes as they finished their lunch, then collected their trash and trays to throw away and head to class. Edward offered to take the trays so that they did not all have to battle the crowds around the trashcans. As he walked away, Alice shot her friend a sharp look.
"You know, I think he likes you, Bella."
"Edward? No way. You think?"
"I do," Alice replied, a shrewd expression on her pretty face.
"No way. "
"I think so. Have you noticed how he gets all weird every time you talk about Jacob? I think he's jealous." Alice nodded, emphasizing her words.
Bella shook her head. "He's not jealous; he just doesn't like Jacob. I don't know why, though."
"I don't know, Bella, I think-"
Bella cut her off abruptly. "Shut up, here he comes!" Edward came back to the table to retrieve his bag and looked back and forth at their guilty faces.
"What?" He put his hand up over his mouth. "Do I have something in my teeth again?"
Bella blushed. "It's nothing," she mumbled, suddenly very occupied with her backpack. "See you in biology?
"Wouldn't miss it."
That afternoon found Bella sitting on Edward's bedroom floor, surrounded by library books. Biology class had been a challenge. Edward had been much quieter than usual, and Bella knew he wanted to ask what she and Alice had been talking about, but was too embarrassed to ask. By now the awkwardness had mostly dissipated, but Bella could still feel the tension there, like a little vibration just under the surface.
"Why did you check out all these books? Can't we just use the internet?" Bella whined.
"Yes, we can, but we have to have three print references too, remember?" Edward asked, indicating the directions page of their project handout. "Besides, I like books."
"Obviously," Bella said, looking around the room at the multiple packed bookshelves. "I can't believe you've really read all these. Hey, I gave you this one!" She pulled The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy off one of the shelves. "That was what, seventh grade? Did you like it? My mom picked it out."
"Yeah, it's one of my favorites. I've read it a few times since then. You can borrow it if you want."
"Maybe. What's it about?" She flipped the book over and began reading the back cover.
"This guy finds out his best friend is an alien, and then he escapes the Earth right before it's destroyed. All this crazy stuff happens to them. It's really funny."
Bella reached over and opened her bag, putting the book inside. "Would you still be my friend if you found out I was an alien?"
Edward considered for a moment. "Probably. I mean, you don't have tentacles and you smell good, not weird like an alien would, so yeah, I think so."
"You think I smell good?"
"Are you blushing?" Bella laughed, then leaned over and sniffed at his shoulder. "Well, I think you smell good too, like spicy soap and laundry detergent."
"Thanks." He started to say more but was cut off by Bella's next question.
"I wonder what Jacob smells like? I bet he smells awesome."
Edward sighed. "What do you see in that guy, Bella? He's an ass."
"He is not! He's nice."
"How would you know? You've never even talked to him!"
"I just know, okay?" Bella's voice rose on the last syllable.
"Whatever, Bella. Just be careful." Edward reached over and began flipping through one of the books.
"Don't worry, Edward, I'll be fine."
He stopped rifling through the book and looked hard at her. "I'm serious, be careful. I can't believe your mom is letting you go camping alone with all those guys. They're not as nice as you think they are, Bella."
"They're Rose's friends; they can't be that bad."
"I hope you're right." Edward shifted his focus back to his book. "So how do you want to split this up?"
Rose brought her car to an abrupt stop. Bella could see Rose's friends in a field a few hundred feet away, setting up what looked like a canopy. Several of the guys were carrying coolers from their vehicles. She had not spotted Jacob yet, but Bella knew he had to be there somewhere, and she was nearly vibrating in excitement.
Rose unbuckled her seat belt, but she did not open the door. She turned to face her sister. "Bella, listen. I know you're excited, but you have got to calm the hell down. Be cool, alright? Don't embarrass me, and try not to be such a baby. Don't make me regret agreeing to this. Not that I already don't regret it already."
"I'll be good, Rose, I promise. I won't embarrass you."
"You better not. I've been looking forward to this all summer; you better not screw it up." Rose took a deep breath and opened her door.
Bella grabbed her bag from the trunk and followed Rose over to where the group had gathered. The setup she encountered was quite elaborate. There was a large canopy in the middle of the campsite, with tents radiating out around it. There were lounge chairs scattered around, some under the canopy and some situated in the sun, and a folding table loaded with food and surrounded by coolers.
Bella detected the unmistakable scent of burning charcoal and lighter fluid, and when she looked around for the source of the smell, she found not only the grill, but the object of her affection as well. Jacob stood with another guy Bella had seen but didn't know, wearing only a pair of cutoff cargo shorts and sunglasses. Bella nearly fainted with glee, but she managed to hold it together except for a small squeal.
The squeal must have been louder than Bella thought, because Rose turned and glared at her. Bella immediately dropped her eyes to the ground.
"Sorry," she muttered.
"God help us all," Rosalie grumbled, then resumed her walk toward the campsite.
It wasn't so bad. Bella sat around the campfire with everyone that night, and while no one talked to her much, they didn't snub her either; she was just kind of there. She ate s'mores and laughed at the stories being told and admired Jacob across the campfire. Some of the girls were actually nice to her. When it came time to sleep, she had a moment of panic - she couldn't find Rose and she wasn't sure what she should do. A girl named Angela noticed her distress and walked over to where she stood, gripping her back and looking around wildly.
"Is your name Bella?" Her voice was gentle. "You okay? You look upset."
"I can't find my sister." Bella fought hard to keep the tremble out of her voice. She didn't want this girl to think she was a baby.
"Rosalie's your sister, right?" Bella nodded.
Angela pursed her lips. "I think Rose and Emmett are in that tent over there." She pointed to one of the smaller tents, which already had its flap zipped up. Seeing Bella's hesitation, she said, "a bunch of us are sharing the big one over there - there should be plenty of room for you if you want to join us."
Bella thought for a moment, but it wasn't a hard decision. She had a feeling that intruding on Rose's time with Emmett would definitely qualify as screwing up the trip, so she followed Angela over to the largest tent and entered behind her. She was right, there was plenty of space, and Bella laid her sleeping bag down near one of the walls. She found herself surrounded by people she vaguely recognized; she realized as she looked around that she knew a few names. Angela smiled encouragingly at her as she slid into the sleeping bag. Just before she closed her eyes, one more person stumbled into the tent.
She woke in the middle of the night and was unable to go back to sleep. She was not accustomed to sleeping on the ground, and the noises, both from inside and outside the tent, were distracting. She shuffled around a bit, trying to get comfortable, when she saw in the faint moonlight coming through the fabric of the tent that somehow Jacob's sleeping back had wound up next to hers. She lay in the dark and watched him as he slept. But the light quickly faded, as if a cloud had moved over the moon, until she was unable to see him anymore. She could pick out his breathing though, as he snored faintly, and she lay there and listened, wondering if her heart might burst.
Saturday passed pleasantly enough. Bella once again experienced the benign neglect of Rose's friends. She read a book for a while and sat by the fire listening to the conversations around her. Angela invited her to go on a walk with several other girls, and she tagged along and admired the colors of the changing leaves. Rose checked on her a few times to make sure she was alright, but other than that, she was left largely on her own. Bella had never been one to crave company, so she was content. Besides, it gave her plenty of opportunity to engage in her favorite activity: Jacob-gazing.
It was one thing to watch him from afar in the hallways and cafeteria at school; being so close was a different experience altogether. Bella was hard-pressed to keep her promise to Rose and stay calm around him. The bulge of his muscles when he lifted a cooler made her heart flutter. The flash of his straight white teeth that showed itself so often surpassed the smile of any movie star whose poster Bella had ever taped to her bedroom wall, even the one who had starred in all those vampire movies and the one about elephants. The sight of him dancing a mock war dance around the fire, hopping on one leg and singing woo-woo-woo sounds with his hand flapping over his mouth, rivaled the grace and euphony of a ballet troupe or a choir of angels. She had never seen, heard or imagined anything so perfect or desirable.
And sleeping in the same tent, his sleeping bag close to hers, the sound of his snores...Bella was certain she could live on just those things for the rest of her life. Nevermind food, or water, or air. He was like oxygen. On the one occasion when that breathtaking smile was directed at her, she feared for a moment that her heart might actually stop.
It didn't bother her that she spent much of the weekend alone, or that Rosalie rolled her eyes anytime she spotted her little sister. It was enough just to be close to him.
Despite the warmth of the sun, the autumn evenings were chilly, and mornings positively cold. Bella crawled out of her sleeping bag on Sunday morning and stood in the tent, shivering. She hadn't thought to bring anything warmer than a long-sleeved t-shirt. She was considering getting back in her sleeping bag to warm up when she felt something hit her arm.
"Here kid, you look cold. Put this on."
Standing just a few feet from her, holding out a plain brown sweater, was none other than Jacob Black. Bella stared at him, unable to speak.
"You want it?" He shook the sweater at her. She nodded dumbly and pulled it on.
"You're Rose's sister, right? Betty or something? You're cute."
"B-B-Bella," she stuttered out, frantically hoping he would blame her uneven words on her teeth chattering, which they actually were, a little.
Bella nodded silently.
"Well, keep warm. See ya later." He pushed open the tent flap and walked out into the early sunlight.
Bella stood there, stunned, for more than a few minutes. She looked down at the fabric in her hands. He had given her his sweater. She had Jacob Black's sweater. Not only that, he had talked to her. He had been nice to her.
Bella's heart soared.
She pulled the sweater over her head. It was warm and the edges were worn, but she didn't care; it was the most wonderful item of clothing she'd ever had on her body. She pulled it up over her nose and sniffed. It didn't smell good, exactly - more like campfire, sweat and something sickly sweet that Bella couldn't identify, but she didn't care. All that mattered to her was that it was his sweater, and he had given it to her. She hugged herself and did a happy little dance alone in the tent before exiting in search of breakfast.
Even after the sun was high in the sky and the day had warmed up, she kept it on. She wore it until they began packing up to leave that afternoon, when she removed it and carefully laid it in her bag. She kept her secret all the way home, holding it tightly to her heart like a teddy bear. When she returned home ,she rushed upstairs and laid it on her bed. Until that moment, she had hardly believed it was real. But it was; it was. There lay proof of his feelings, right there on the bed. She collapsed blissfully down next to it and spent a happy hour dreaming about what it all meant, only leaving the sweater when her mother called her downstairs for dinner for the third time. She tucked it carefully under the duvet before leaving; she was sure that if anyone else saw it there would be questions. They would try to make her give it back. They wouldn't understand.
"Okay, if you are going to do this, you have to do it right." Bella nodded in agreement with Alice's words, although she knew Alice would not be able to see her through the phone.
"Two things. Be calm, look cute."
"I can do that," Bella replied, nodding again.
"Whatever you do, don't gush. Don't tell him about how you want to marry him or have his babies, and don't tell him about the place the two of you will share when you get older, just be yourself. The best, cutest, quietest version of yourself."
"Alice," Bella huffed, "I do have some social skills!"
"I know you do, sweetpea, but you have to admit, when you get excited you get...effusive."
"Definitely wear lipgloss."
She arrived at school on Monday after having gotten up a full hour early to get ready. Her hair was straightened and her makeup was perfect, including the required lipgloss. She wore ballet flats, skinny jeans, and an oversized brown sweater.
His brown sweater.
It still smelled like him a little, but Bella was too excited to notice the slightly sour odor of stale sweat. She was wearing his sweater. He had given her his sweater.
She wondered if he would notice and like the way it looked on her. She contemplated how she would tell Alice and Edward that she wouldn't be sitting with them at lunch anymore, since she would be at his table. She worried briefly about whether the news would upset Edward, but she shook off the thought. She replayed Alice's advice in her head, and did her very best to walk into school being calm, looking cute.
She went to her locker and checked her reflection in the small mirror she kept there, and headed toward the stairwell where she knew he hung out every morning with his friends.
She came around the corner and there he was. He wore jeans and a gray henley that showed off his perfect muscles, and he was so, so beautiful. He was talking to Tyler and Embry, laughing at something one of them said. Bella was about to walk over when Jessica appeared and approached him, pushing herself up against him. He gave her a hug and resumed talking to the guys.
Bella hesitated halfway across the hallway, frozen and unsure, when he looked in her direction and noticed her.
He looked at her for a moment, a puzzled expression on his face, as if he were trying to solve a difficult equation in his head. Then his face relaxed, and he looked away, greeting several new people who had approached the group. He never acknowledged her.
She lost her nerve and went straight to her first period class.
First period English was luckily uneventful. Bella sat and pretended to read The Great Gatsby and pondered what had happened that morning. Surely he hadrecognized her. She decided that he didn't want to talk to her in front of a big group like that; he probably wanted to wait until they could be somewhere more private. Bella ignored the squirming uncertainty in her belly and tried to focus on the assignment.
The whispering started during second period, in geometry. Alice sent her a quizzical look, but Mrs. Cope quickly put an end to any conversations by handing out a pop quiz. They only had time for a quick hello before Bella had to leave to get to Spanish.
There were more whispers in Spanish and some strange looks, but Bella was the only sophomore in a class of mostly juniors, so she didn't really know anyone well enough to ask what was going on. Halfway though class, she asked for a pass to the bathroom and examined herself from every angle in the mirror there. When she saw nothing out of place, she returned to class, dismissing her suspicions as paranoia and getting excited about lunchtime, which was right after fourth period history. She would see him at lunch, and they would talk, and maybe he would compliment her on how she looked in his sweater.
There was the usual giggling and muffled talking from Jessica, Lauren, and the other sophomore girls who sat in the back of the room. Bella had long ago learned to tune it out, but today it was more obnoxious than usual and she strained to hear what they were saying. She thought she heard the name Billy several times, often followed by poorly-contained laughter, and although she felt sorry for whatever Billy they were laughing at, she was glad that they weren't talking about her.
Halfway through the period, the girl behind her tapped her on the shoulder and surreptitiously handed her a note. Bella opened it up to read it.
Hey, do you think you could give my sweater back? I forgot you put it on in the tent on Sunday and I've been looking for it. Jessica said you could just give it to her and she'll get it to me.
Bella's face burned, and her eyes felt like they were on fire. Buzzing filled her ears until she could hear nothing but the sounds of the girls behind her, sounds that had changed from giggles to full-blown laughter that spread through the classroom with the story.
"Miss Swan? Are you alright?" She shook her head at the teacher's voice. Her face was soft with concern. "Do you need to go to the nurse?" Bella nodded dumbly and took the pass the teacher offered her. She did her best to walk from the classroom, to maintain some level of composure, but she didn't succeed. She ran into the hallway and around the nearest corner before she collapsed against a locker and sank to the floor, shaking and sobbing.
She didn't know how long she'd been sitting there when she felt tentative fingers on the top of her head. She jerked and looked up to see a blurry but familiar face above her.
"Bella? Bella, what's wrong?" She could only shake her head in response.
"Come on, the bell's about to ring." He pulled her into an empty classroom, away from the window in the door and guided her to a chair.
"Bella, what happened? Do you want to me to go get Alice? Please, come on, you're scaring me."
Bella drew a deep, shuddery breath, and handed him the note that was still clutched in her hand.
He read silently before looking at her and taking in her clothing for the first time. "Oh."
She didn't reply; she just choked out another sob.
She gasped for breath and managed to speak. "Jessica...he gave it to Jessica...and she read it...the whole class...laughing..." She trailed off into another fit of crying.
He stood there, bewildered, and watched as she cried. Finally he sat down in the chair next to hers and put his arms around her shoulders. She leaned against him until the storm had subsided into a few sniffles and an occasional tear traveling down her face. He pulled away reluctantly as she began to stir.
She dug through her bag until she found a pack of tissues and a hand mirror. She looked at her reflection and chuckled mirthlessly. "God, I look like death."
"No, you don't," he replied, reaching out to wipe away a tear that had escaped. She leaned into his touch for just a few seconds, then began wiping at her face with the tissues.
"I can't go back out there."
"I can't. You think my mom will come and get me?" Bella began fumbling in her bag again, looking for her phone, when Edward's hand on her wrist halted her movements. It crossed her mind briefly that he had touched her more in the past half hour than in the entire time they had been friends.
"Bella, you can't leave. That'll just make it worse. You have to go out there and act like nothing happened, or they'll keep laughing at you forever. Trust me, I know. Jake and his group are brutal."
"What happened with you and him, anyway?" Bella had wondered for a while why Edward was so down on Jacob and his friends.
"Nothing specific," he answered, "but you know I used to play baseball...I'm not very good, but I was good enough to make the B team a couple of years, and I saw how he and his friends treated other people. There was this kid, Mike, who they took a particular...interest in, I suppose. It was awful, Bella. It was like they just decided they didn't like him and decided to make his life hell. I felt really bad for him. Finally his parents pulled him out and he changed schools."
Bella considered his words. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
Edward smiled ruefully. "I tried, a little bit, but you were so, kind of, blinded, I guess, by him that you never heard it."
"Oh." She sniffed again before she spoke.
"I still think I should go home. If nothing else, I obviously can't wear this," she indicated the brown sweater with a look of disgust, "the rest of the day, and I only have a cami underneath. I can't walk around all day in just that."
Edward laughed a little. "I don't really know what a cami is, but I'll take your word for it."
"So what other choice do I have?"
"I know," Edward said, tugging at the hem of the yellow sweater he wore. "You can wear this one." He turned it right side out and held it out to her. He wore a plain white t-shirt underneath it.
"Won't you be cold?"
"I'm okay," he replied, still holding out the sweater. "Go ahead, put it on."
"Um..." She looked down, blushing.
"Oh! Sorry!" He turned around and stood in front of the window in the classroom door, facing out into the hallway. He heard quiet rustling behind him for a few minutes.
"Okay, you can turn around now."
His sweater was much smaller than Jacob's and fit her better, although it was still a little baggy. She had rolled up the cuffs a little to free her hands. The color was a nice contrast to her dark hair and eyes. She smiled shyly and fingered the hem.
"You're welcome. It looks nice on you."
They stood there for a few more minutes until Edward swallowed thickly and began to speak, but his words were cut off by the shriek of the bell.
"Oops, we missed lunch." Her voice was apologetic. "I'm sorry."
"It's no big deal. We'd better get to class, though."
"Okay." She picked up Jacob's sweater and draped it over her arm. Edward held the door open for her and followed her into the hallway.
Bella showed up at Edward's house two days later, bearing homemade cookies and the yellow sweater. His mother opened the door and ushered Bella inside, where she sat stiffly on a chair in the kitchen until Edward appeared. She stood as he entered the room.
"Hi." She looked down and traced a pattern in the wood of the table.
Esme brought two glasses of lemonade over and set them on the table. "I'll be in the living room if you kids need me." She smiled gently at the pair, then turned and left the room.
They sat in awkward silence for a few minutes until Bella spoke. "I brought you cookies."
"Thanks." Edward reached over and pulled the foil off the plate, then picked up a cookie. He bit into it and made a face, hiding it a bit too slowly to escape notice.
"Is it not good? I followed the recipe."
"You made them yourself?" Edward quickly swallowed the first cookie and took a gulp of lemonade before he grabbed another.
"You don't have to eat them if they aren't good." Bella reached for a cookie, but Edward grabbed her wrist, stopping her.
"No, they're mine. You made them for me." Bella glared at him, and he released her wrist with a sigh.
She took a tentative bite, then made a face and attempted with some difficulty to swallow.
"What the heck? I did it just like the recipe said!" Bella's face fell.
"Um...it tastes like maybe you used salt instead of sugar. Is that possible?"
"I suppose." Bella sighed. "I suck." She sniffed, and a tear escaped the corner of her eye. She wiped at it frantically and turned her face away.
"Bella, you don't suck. You just messed up some cookies. That's not a big deal."
She sniffed again. "I screw up everything. I suck at life." She hiccupped and desperately fought back a sob.
Edward reached out and patted her shoulder awkwardly until she got her tears under control. Finally she turned back toward him, wiping her face on her napkin.
"Anyway...I brought your sweater back. Sorry about the cookies."
"You can keep it," Edward said, pushing it across the table toward her. "It's kind of a funny color on me. It looks better on you."
"I don't think it's the sweater that's a funny color. It's that weirdo hair of yours." Bella smirked up at him.
"Whatever. At least I know the difference between salt and sugar."
Another little hiccup escaped from Bella, and Edward looked immediately contrite. But instead of a sob, this one turned into a giggle, which turned into full-blown gasps of laughter.
"I put...salt...in the...cookies!" she managed to choke out between guffaws.
Edward was laughing along with her, and he could only nod in assent at her words.
Eventually they both calmed down, and an odd silence fell, full of energy that Bella couldn't quite label. She stood to leave.
"So, um...thanks for the sweater, and sorry again about the cookies."
He stood as well. "Don't worry about it. Um...I'll walk you out."
They went to the door and stood there for a moment, not looking at one another. Finally, Bella broke the stalemate.
"So...I'll see you Monday?"
It seemed as if he might hug her, as if he wanted to hug her, but instead he reached out and patted her shoulder, and she turned and walked down the steps. She waved as she traveled down the driveway on her bike.
The days grew colder. Indian summer gave way to real autumn, and winter wardrobes began appearing. One particularly chilly day, Bella arrived at school wearing a denim mini, white tights, and a sweater that some might describe as a funny shade of yellow.
"Nice sweater," Edward said by way of greeting, as he slid into a seat in the cafeteria. He tried without success to hide the smile that crossed his face at the sight of her.
Bella seemed very engaged in stirring her vegetable soup, but anyone watching would have seen the corners of her mouth move into a tiny smile. Edward was watching.
Alice appeared a few minutes later, bringing with her a tall, gangly boy Bella had never seen. She looked between the Edward and Bella, already seated at the table, and smirked but did not comment.
"Y'all, this is Jasper. He just moved here from Asheboro. Mind if he sits with us?"
Both Bella and Edward shook their heads, and the new boy sat down next to Edward. Soon the two boys were discussing the merits of various video game systems, and Bella felt Alice kick her under the table. She looked up to see Alice, who was gazing at her quizzically. She looked emphatically over at Edward, then back at Bella, and raised her eyebrows.
Bella shrugged and fought to control the smile that appeared on her lips. Then she mimicked Alice's patterns, looking pointedly at Jasper and back at Alice, smirking as she did.
Alice shrugged as well, but made no attempt to hide her broad smile.
Bella was distracted by Edward's voice. "Hey, you gonna eat your pudding?"
She handed it over and watched as he peeled up the foil. He noticed her perusal and asked, "What? Do I have food on my face or something?"
"Nope," she replied. "Your face is perfect."
They finished up lunch, Bella taking the trays to the trash this time. She returned to find Alice and Jasper already gone, and Edward holding her bag out to her.
As she swung it over her shoulder, she heard him ask, "Walk you to biology?"
They walked side by side out of the cafeteria into the hallway, and they had gone a few yards when she felt his hand brush against hers. She felt it again, a few seconds later, and felt his pinky hook past hers. She curled hers up so that they linked together, and they walked like that all the way to biology.
And when she walked past Jacob Black standing at his locker, laughing his loud laugh and flashing his perfect white teeth, she didn't even see him.
Thank you for reading! I hoped you enjoyed my little foray into the world of high school!