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Bella has always felt alone, but that was fine. She's always had her books, her dreams.
She tends to blame herself, even for things that aren't her fault. Especially when things aren't her fault.
Which makes it harder to get to know people, really. Which is why she turns to stories, to dreams, and to those who reside within them.
What would happen if Bella faced herself? What would happen if the Cullens had more to their histories than a vague sense of compassion and an impossible biology?
Many thanks to Timekeeper101 for beta'ing this chapter!
Disclaimer: Fanfic is a fickle friend, Reader. SMeyer is as SMeyer does. Remember that.
The sun was sinking into the horizon at an alarming rate. Soon, they would be upon us. Behind me, I heard a quiet murmur: "Dun dun dunn." This would have been sufficiently annoying, but continuing to the tune of Nocturne in E Flat was just silly.
Chapter One: First Smite (AKA: Smitten)
I'm not much a fan of airports. Actually, I'm not a fan of people in airports. Well, okay, I have nothing against people in general. Crowds of people in a rush? Downright horrific.
I managed to stay away from a decent part of the crowd after a trolley lunged into me. I spent the majority of my time in line at the help desk, hoping for a bandage.
(I bled everywhere, a janitor gave me a sour look, and I used laser vision to cauterise the wound. Fantastically, one of these anecdotes is true.)
This occurred on the second leg of my trip; I'd be at my new home soon.
My mother recently married a man named Phil, who travels around playing minor-league baseball. I'm a minor, so she had to stay with me in Arizona.
After running through my options, I came to a conclusion and acted accordingly. My biological father in Washington happened to have an empty bedroom and a pleasant disposition. Therefore, off I went!
It took a lot of convincing on my part before my mom would allow it. Eventually I found the right argument, which was an honest one. I explained how I had spent nearly my entire childhood with her. The past few years, it had gotten to the point where I wasn't even visiting my dad at all. Besides, I'd be going off to college soon, and it would be nice to spend a year or two with him.
It wasn't a fun truth to face. I'd started that part of life where you really begin to focus on all of your past mistakes. "Neglect of a parent" sounds weird if you say it out loud, but it's how I felt. I just couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it until mom started getting serious with Phil.
My dad... I just can't call him that. I started calling him "Charlie" a few years ago, and while it would be nice to call him "Dad", it'd be too forced. Well, it's not like he calls me "Daughter". Even my mother uses my first name. (Except when I've been mistakenly accused of wrongdoing, in which case I am "Isabella Marie Swan!")
Though Charlie is a police officer, the car he picked me up in wasn't his cruiser. As we loaded my luggage into the back seat, he explained. "Strictly speaking, I'm not supposed to use it when I'm off-duty... Ah, but that's not a rule anyone really cares about much around Forks, so long as we keep the cars fueled ourselves."
We finished packing up and slid into the sheltered interior of the car, where Charlie had the heater blasting. High above us, thunder rumbled.
He allowed me to put down my window. I'd forgotten how nice the rain smelled; it was so clean. I let myself soak into the cool humidity. I was sure I'd get sick of the weather eventually, but it was amazing after so long in the dry heat of Phoenix.
After being assured I was safely buckled in, he continued his explanation ("I just didn't like the slow traffic, you know?"), then told me of an instance where someone stopped at a stop-sign for a full thirty seconds; if that didn't seem long, sit still and count to thirty.
"That's ridiculous," I stated after thirty seconds.
"It was ridiculous, but he got there first, so I had to wait it out."
His "happy traffic" car was a gritty, old, red truck. He liked talking about his truck: its rust, its inability to start when the weather's cold, its torn seats, and the lingering smell of tobacco. Apparently, he got the truck from Billy Black, an old family friend. "Sorry, Bells. I'm sure you want your own car to get to school while I'm at work, but it's easier to use one insured under my name. Unless you've made a fortune in stocks while I wasn't looking?"
I laughed and recounted my extreme success during a stocks project for computer class, then assured him of my willingness to share joint-custody of the truck. "That is, unless you don't mind me saving up for a GSX-R."
"Gee-a-sex what? What's that?"
"A motorbike. A gorgeous motorbike." I grinned in the most manic way I could manage, hoping for a reaction.
Charlie was too busy concentrating on the road to see my expression, but still groaned. "Get yourself a small car, like your mother. I'm sure you can find a good used one in Port Angeles. It'd be a good investment. You'd live long enough to drive it more than once."
As much fun as it was to tease him, I let up on the motorbike. I really did want one someday, and wanted him to take me seriously when the time came. I filed the idea away for my eighteenth birthday. If he didn't change his mind by then, it could wait until college.
Instead, I brought up a different tricky subject: my usage of his first name. He never minded being called "Charlie" before, but he might not feel the same way while I'm living with him.
He furrowed his brow for a moment, before letting out a snort of laughter. "Only if I can call you Isabella Marie."
"Ha! You won't do it. It's a long name. You've got a deal, Charlie."
"Hey now, I didn't say you could show disrespect toward your father, Isabella Marie." His voice was stern, but a wide, toothy grin let me know he was joking.
The rest of the drive went on with the same banter, until we both ran out of things to say. It wasn't uncomfortable, and the radio was having a good night. Thus far, Forks was treating me well.
Charlie seemed to be enjoying the radio as well, so we sat in the car for a few moments until a song ended. At least, that's what I thought we were doing. He glanced at the house, hand hesitantly resting on the car keys. That was confusing. I've been here before, was he was worried I wouldn't like it any more?
Turning to look at the house, I noticed something was... off.
"Lost a bet against Harry Clearwater. Don't bring it up again, Isabella Marie." He exited the car, grabbed my luggage, and walked with dignity into the house.
His pretty, pretty, pink house.
Forks was seeming more and more like a good idea every second.
Morning was rough. We had gotten home late, and with me being unused to the sound of rain, I was kept up even later.
When I made the way down the stairs, Charlie was eating breakfast. I yawned a "good morning", digging into the cupboards for a mug.
He returned the greeting, then waved to a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon. He must have cooked while I was in the shower. It was a good thing; I'm normally not the type to eat breakfast, but a full stomach would probably be a good idea on the first day in my new school.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and started in on the food.
"Since when do you drink coffee, Isabella Marie?" I had to check his face to see if his voice was rough in consternation or from waking.
"Since I was fourteen, and if you keep calling me that, I'll never take you seriously when I'm really in trouble."
His laughter took a good three years off him and added three hours of sleep. He chatted a bit while cleaning his plate; he had sorted my papers out with the school earlier in the week. Directions and the car keys were by the door when I was ready to leave, along with an umbrella. (The latter turned out to be Sherlock Holmes themed, which, while unexpected, was delightful.)
The directions were concise and well-written. Perhaps being a police officer involved giving directions often, especially when a major highway ran through the town. Kind of like a gas station. I made a mental note not to apply for work at a local gas station until I was well-acquainted with the geography.
This line of thought continued and derailed fantastically during my drive to the school. By the time I got out of the truck and wielded my umbrella of True Justice, I was contemplating a degree in medicine with a minor in chemistry. (In case I met someone who accidentally ingested a dangerous chemical and needed emergency care.)
I was up to Sulphuric Acid jokes by the time I reached the main office.
The secretary had friendly brown eyes, a matronly smile, and a purple shirt. She introduced herself as Ms. Cope, handed me a map, a list of classes, and an attendance slip. We chatted for a little while, talking about the general layout of the school. It turned out that it had separate buildings, like my old school in Arizona. I had worried it would all be in one building; I knew a lot of high schools didn't have an actual campus. When I asked her about it she said that most single-building schools were toward the eastern part of the country. I nodded thoughtfully, and asked her about parking.
"Now you parked in the wrong lot, but don't worry, dear." Ms. Cope pointed to the map. "Here's the student parking lot. Most kids either take the bus or their parents drive them. It shouldn't be too difficult to find a spot." We went over my list of classes, "Sorry, you'll have to wait until next year if you want moved into Chemistry."
By the time I exited the office and drove into the parking lot, other students had started to arrive. I once again brought forth my umbrella of Justice, and found my way to Building 3, English. (It was relatively easy to find, due to my map, prior instructions, and the giant black "3" painted on the corner.)
Two girls hung up their coats on a row of pegs lining the wall. I copied them with my umbrella (which I would rebelliously continue to use, even if parkas and raincoats were all the rage here).
A casually dressed man named Mr. Mason was the teacher. He accepted my slip of paper, signing it with a flourish. I was given a reading list and pointed to the back of the class.
I only half-listened to the teacher tear apart a chapter of Jane Eyre. I wasn't fond of English classes. I loved reading more than any other activity, but to turn it into a science was a sin in my book. (I could make a few puns here that would make you giddy as a drunk, but I'll abstain.) I took a few notes if it sounded important enough to be on a test, and spent the rest of my time sketching.
At the end of class, a boy sitting next to me leaned over. His hair was black, and looked as though it had been gelled and run through a hair straightener. The effect would have been cool, but it made his hair look somewhat oily. "Isabella Swan, right?"
"Bella, unless you'd prefer to call me Isabella Marie. Miss Swan is acceptable, though, as is Bella Donna."
He adopted businesslike tone and held out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Prima Donna. I'm Eric Yorkie, but you can call me Professor Rick-Rock or Yorkie-Dog, if you'd like."
I nodded seriously and shook his hand. "Pleasure to meet you, Yorkie-Dog."
He finally let out a wide grin. "Darn, no one ever goes with Rick-Rock. Where's your next class?"
As our relative buildings for period two were right across from each other, he offered to walk me to my next class. It was a bit further than I would have liked so early in the morning. I made a mental note to invest in a coffee thermos.
Classes went by in more or less the same manner, however I didn't learn anyone else's name until lunch. While in line, a wildly curly-haired brunette introduced herself as Jessica. I vaguely recalled her from a previous class. When she asked if I'd like to sit at her table, I accepted happily enough, but regretted it somewhat upon noticing Yorkie sitting across the room.
Jessica and Lauren, a girl with platinum blonde hair, were the general conversationalists at our table. Another girl named Angela sat with us, but spent most of her time engrossed in comics. I couldn't blame her. I didn't dislike the girls, but their only topics of conversation seemed to revolve around bad haircuts, bad relationships, and bad clothing.
I let my gaze wander about the room and stopped cold.
In a corner of the room, sitting away from everyone else, were the poster children of Uncanny Valley. They were pale as snow with perfectly clear complexions, without any sign of cosmetics. Bruise-like shadows framed dark eyes. Perfectly still, perfectly clear, they were marble statues; out of place in a high-school cafeteria, out of place...
A memory cropped up from my childhood. I was in Kindergarten on my first field trip. We had gone to a play park, and I was having fun on the swings until the other children arrived. I wasn't used to seeing a lot of people then, I only knew the children in my class.
Each and every one of those new children looked the same to me, somehow. It was frightening, being surrounded by these strangers. After a few minutes, the initial shock wore off, and I could differentiate the children by hair and clothing. For the next several years I still had trouble recognising new friends, and that technique really helped me avoid embarrassment.
I thought I'd grown out of that years ago. It was depressing to have to resort to my old method. It was useful though; I was presented with a change both immediate and jarring. It seemed strange that they had appeared so alike to me. One of the boys looked like a body builder, with closely cropped, curly hair. Another boy had dark golden hair; he was dressed business casual, somehow with a business casual way of lounging in his seat. The third boy had hair like copper. He was smaller than the others and dressed similarly to the golden-haired boy, only wearing more beige tones.
(A statistic showing beige tones to seem friendlier entered my mind, and I wondered briefly if he'd adopted the colour on purpose.)
One of the girls looked... Well, like she had just come from a photoshoot, but there was something off about that thought. Models usually wore a lot of make-up; all of these teenagers were clearly cosmetic-free. She was simply beautiful, with a curvy figure and gently wavy blonde hair. The other girl was tiny, with dark black hair in a pixie-cut. Like the others, she was dressed very fashionably.
Just as the thought crossed my mind, the pixie-girl rose swiftly. She walked quickly and gracefully to empty her tray― her food was untouched. I looked back toward the others, and they too had not eaten their food.
Too-perfect features, and they don't eat food.
Robots? Artificial intelligence?
I turned to the nearest gossip, conveniently sitting right next to me. "Hey, uh... Jessica?" Please be the right name. "Who are they?" I nodded casually over to the table, only to be embarrassed: the copper-haired boy looked up just as Jessica did, and caught us staring.
He looked away even more quickly than I did; that split-second was enough time for me to see him doing so. I was so disturbed by the quick motion that I didn't blush; I could feel the blood draining from my face.
Jessica giggled, turning back to the table. "That's Edward and Emmett Cullen, and Jasper and Rosalie Hale! There's another Cullen, Alice, but she already left." The embarrassment fled away as she grasped the gossip; the hushed words gushed forth. "They all live with Doctor Cullen and his wife, who adopted them. They're gorgeous, obviously, but get this! They're all together. Like, together, together. Alice and Jasper, Emmett and Rosalie. And they live together!" Her voice climbed in a barely restrained squeal; her eyes were bright and joyous with condemnation.
Mental note: Do not get on Jessica's bad side.
Adopted children? I supposed that Doctor Cullen could be a scientist... Could robots be romantic, at least toward one another? Or they could be Aliens. Clearly, the other teenagers here translated Uncanny Valley into attractiveness. I swiftly glanced over to the table again. Okay. I can see it.
"What about the other one?" I asked.
"Edward?" She scoffed. "No, but there aren't any girls here good enough for him."
Maybe he's only into other robots or aliens?
"Have they always lived here?" I think I'd have noticed them on my visits.
"No, they moved down two years ago from Alaska."
I frowned, distracted from my imaginings. There was something wrong with that statement. They have lived here for a full two years. If people thought they were so pretty... "They look like they keep to themselves." I pointed out. (How did they all end up in the same lunch period, anyway?)
She shrugged, "I don't know, I guess so. Besides, they're kind of... well... intimidating, I guess."
Maybe their isolation was self-imposed. More likely, the other kids were either disconcerted by their too-perfect features, or simply less confident around pretty people. Most people prefer to be around those they consider to be equals.
Once more I looked to the table. This time the boy with copper hair was already staring in our direction. His expression was curious. Had he realised we were speaking about him?
"Who's the boy with the reddish hair?" I asked, still meeting his gaze. He'd already seen me, and it's not like he could have heard us.
"Edward. The one who doesn't date, so don't get your hopes up." She rolled her eyes.
The boy started to smile and turned away.
Whoa. Did he hear us? Super hearing? Is it part of his robot-programming?
I mentally kicked myself. I was now beyond carried away; I had already floated half-way through the stratosphere. There was no way― well, nearly no way― that they were robots. He could just be friendly. Or, perhaps...
Nervous. He may not like the attention, he may feel embarrassed. Just because he had flawless features and smiled at us, didn't mean he wasn't worried about what we were talking about.
I was being rude on every level and I felt it. I could have ruined someone's day. I needed to check, needed to reassure him, just in case...
"I think I'm going to go talk to them." I stated, turning back to Jessica.
She gawked. "What?"
I smiled brightly, stood up, and started toward the table. Edward was already facing in my direction, as were the rest of his family. They all wore the same politely puzzled expression.
My shyness fought my New-Town-New-Life courage, screaming things about immanent humiliation. I ignored the feeling; I deserve a bit of humiliation or worry. Once is once, tit for tat; all transactions must be equivalent.
"Hi, I'm Bella Swan, but I'm open to insulting nicknames," I smiled, mentally cringing. I really need to stop relying on bad humour for comfort. "I'm new here. I was just talking to another girl and she said you were somewhat new as well."
I paused, trying to figure out how to continue without being insulting.
[I noticed that you don't seem to have friends]?
[Don't worry, your beauty doesn't threaten me]?
[I didn't want my excessive staring to put you ill at ease. I'm sure you are very cool, and possibly robots, which would be cooler]?
I simply smiled. Safe enough.
Three hideous seconds ticked by.
Then the honey-blonde boy stood up and offered his hand. "Ah, yes, Bella Swan? Nice to meet you, Miss. I'm Jasper Hale." The soft, melodic tone of his voice put me at ease instantly. As I shook his hand, I noticed his palm was pleasantly cool. "This is my sister, Rosalie," the blonde girl nodded once, unsmiling. "And my two foster brothers, Emmett and Edward Cullen."
The bodybuilder stood up with a grin and walked around the table to shake my hand. How old were these kids, forty?
My robot theory seems― Wait, no, rude. Bad. Okay.
"Emmett Cullen, nice to meet you." Before I could reply, there was a great grinding of metal on linoleum.
The other boy, Edward, had pushed away from the table. His smile had been replaced with a blank, cold expression. He rose and turned in a swift motion that made me flinch. In the next breath, he made a beeline for the door, emptied his tray, and left.
"Don't mind him. He's a stickler for getting to class on time," Jasper said. This was comforting; I had been worried that I'd offended Edward.
"Oh, that makes sense. Is class starting soon?" I dug out my schedule.
"Hey Jasper, we're taking off. Nice to meet you, Bella." Emmett pulled back the chair for the blonde girl, and they left. (No, seriously, how old are these people?)
"What class do you have next?" asked Jasper.
"Uh..." I glanced over my schedule. "Biology II with Banner."
His smile seemed a little fixed. "Ah. Edward's there now. Too bad he left so soon. I'll walk you there. It's not far from my next class."
As I followed him, I noticed Jessica and Lauren staring in my direction with wide eyes. They were whispering frantically.
Ah. This was going to be a long, awkward year... entirely by my fault.