Happy Birthday, Sleepwalker1!

You all know that Stephenie Meyer owns everything to do with the Twilight universe, right? Good.

I feel myself coming apart at the seams, unraveling around the edges, and a thousand other overused clichés. The hard plastic of the steering wheel presses a cold arc into my forehead, my knuckles white, my breathing shallow and harsh. I focus on that first, trying to regulate the in and out, in and out. Slower. Deeper. Try to keep from drowning, from strangling on the moisture-laden air as it draws deep into my lungs before spewing back out. Slow the pounding throb of the blood as it pulses through my body. I need to move. I can't be late again, one more unexcused tardy and it's Saturday detention.

My hands are shaking as I slam the door on the old red truck I have to drive until mid-November, at the very least. I used to love my old beater. Now I hate it. Well, not necessarily the truck, but everything it has come to symbolize.

Tossing my bag over my shoulder, I shove my hands deep into coat pockets and hurry toward the main building. Normally I would watch the ground, vigilant against potholes, stray rocks, and any other prospective stumbling blocks. But today there are more important things to look for, and my eyes sweep the parking lot…but the warning bell has already rung, and there are only a few other figures in sight, scurrying towards their first classes of the day.

I slide into my seat as the tardy bell rings, exhaling a shuddering breath as relief wars with disappointment. I can't focus on the lesson, and halfway through the hour I get a glare from Mr. Mason when I have to ask him to repeat the question. Luckily, I have read this book a dozen times, and he moves on quickly after I give the correct answer. I shoot out of my seat the second the bell rings, racing to my locker and spilling the contents all over the hallway as I try to exchange books. I stand still for several seconds, fighting back tears as I realize that I will barely have time to clean up the mess and make it to my next class. There's just no time for anything else.

Government drags on endlessly, with most of my attention focused on staying quiet and still. Building six is right next to the gym, and I'm so close. I can almost feel the electricity humming and crackling in the air around me. I can't tell which is more prevalent, the anticipation or the apprehension. The second hand drags itself across the bold white face of the clock, seeming to stand still at each mark before slowly jerking forward once more. Mr. Jefferson drones on in the background, but I might as well be stuck in a Peanuts comic for all the sense he is making. I watch the minute hand move backward, the only sound I hear the pounding in my head.

Finally, I realize that everyone else is moving toward the door. I didn't even hear the bell. My eyes are busy as I round the corner of the gym, darting from face to face. I speed up, my stomach dropping. Did I take too long getting out; am I too late? Where, where, where?

Despair. I can feel my lip beginning to tremble, my vision hazing over as I blink back the tears that threaten to fall. I can't let them—

I feel it then, the pull, and my eyes flick ahead and to the right. There. Pale. Sunrise. Emeralds.

Bodies rush and hurry past, voices carry on the breeze. Gazes catch, skip away, return. I can feel the desperation in mine, the glassy sheen that makes everything shimmer and vibrate. One second. Two. Then it's gone, and I die. Body whispers in time with my thumping heart. I need, I need, I need. My eyes close, I swallow against the lump that tries to choke me. Then I feel it again, tingling across my skin, and my lips form a soundless 'please.' I'm so pathetic, so broken, but I can't help myself. I need.

The sensation passes, and I open my eyes again. Raise them. Carefully; so careful now. Slide my gaze over just a bit. Not far enough to find the green, only catching the pale at the very edge of my vision. So sharp it could cut glass. I watch through the corner of my eye as it raises and falls, ever so slightly. Then it's past, moving away, and I'm once more watching the ground pass under my feet.

Sometimes I wonder if they can see. Do they notice the shallow breaths, the sheen of perspiration on sallow skin? Can they feel the electricity that pulses deep inside, sizzles along nerves and escapes out into the cool, damp air? Do they observe the shaking hands, the twitching leg, all of the telltale signs of an addict desperately seeking the next fix?

But I know they don't. Maybe they would, under other circumstances. Perhaps they might notice, and gossip, and care, if it were one of them. But it isn't, so they don't. I have never been one of them, although we have lived in the same town, gone to the same schools, breathed the same air for the last eighteen years. They know me, but they don't. Nobody really sees me; I'm invisible. Not disliked; not singled out, or ridiculed, or tormented. Just…unimportant. I don't matter, so their eyes skip over without ever truly seeing. And that…that is my salvation.

So nobody notices that I don't follow the herd to the cafeteria after trig. Nobody sees, nobody cares, because it doesn't matter where I go, or what I do, or whether I eat or not. But they would. Oh, if they only knew where I was going, what I was about to do, then they would sit up and take notice. I would be invisible no longer. The thought thrills and terrifies at the same time. Some small part of me wants that—wants them to know. But that part is nothing but a speck, a tiny insignificant little mote, compared to the vast majority of my mind that knows my inconsequentiality is what makes everything possible. It is my very insignificance that allows me the freedom to feed this craving. If anybody ever found out, I know that what tiny little bit of satisfaction I might gain would pale in comparison to the sheer enormity of everything I would lose.

Back across campus, past the gym, once again skirting around building six, but this time along the other side. I'm not headed for a classroom. I round the far corner, and the dense canopy of forest rises up to greet me. Nothing between us but 30 feet of stubby green grass. Behind me the blank windowless rear wall protects my movements. I know exactly how wide my safe passage is, where the ability of prying eyes to spy my getaway ceases. Things like this are important to remember if you don't want to get caught. You can't always walk the same path; let the worn and trampled grass give away your secrets.

I melt into the tree line, slip around the trunk of a giant spruce and turn to sweep my gaze in a long arc around the perimeter. Nobody in sight who could have caught my retreat. I'm close now, so close and I can feel my heart thumping, the breath shivering inside my lungs. I need, so badly that my knees try to buckle, don't want to carry me the rest of the way. But they have to, because this is still too close. Farther in, and there it is.

I'm shrugging out of my bag even as I round the trunk, adrenaline making my fingers stupid as they fumble the strap. Before I can get it free, before it has a chance to tumble to the ground, before I even have time to look up—

Fingers hard around my upper arm, yanking me the rest of the way around and shoving me up against the rough bite of the bark. Another hand in my hair, pulling back and down, forcing my neck to arch unnaturally as lips crash into mine, as a body forces me even harder against the tree at my back.

Straps tangled around my elbows keep my arms twisted behind me, bag hanging behind my legs throwing me off balance as my center of gravity shifts backward. Long legs straddle mine as hips, stomachs, chests press close together, sandwiching me between hard and harder.

A groan. Or a growl. Don't know. Don't care. Don't know anything but tongue in my mouth. Don't care about anything except the throbbing ache that has driven me insane all morning. All week. All—

Suddenly it's gone. Tongue. Mouth. Hands. All of it. Gone.

My mournful, whimpering cry sticks in my throat as the sound of a zipper rips through the heavy air. Then it all comes back. Mouth on my neck, tongue licking a path up to my ear. Hands shoving the sides of my heavy coat apart, ice-cold as they slide under my shirt. Pushing my bra out of the way, drawing my nipples up into hard little pebbles as they cup and knead and pinch.

My head is spinning, my eyes tightly shut to keep the world away. All I can hear is the thrumming beat of my own heart, my entire body vibrating along with each pulsing thud as the blood roars in my ears. My teeth clamp tightly around my lip to keep the cries locked inside. Silence is impossible, but quiet is essential.

Warm, wet heat envelops one breast, followed by a rush of freezing air as the warmth moves to the other side. He isn't gentle. Teeth scrape, fingers press deeply, harsh suction leaves what I know will be deep red and purple bruises across my chest. Marking me, here where nobody can see.

Mouth back against mine for a moment, just long enough for hands to reach around and free my arms, toss the offending bag off to the side. Then it drops back down to my chest as long fingers go to work on my jeans. I want it back. Want to nibble, and suck, and drown in it. But I know better. Lips stay swollen too long. They'll see his. And maybe mine, if anybody takes the time to look. They won't. They never do. But they might. And that tiny little part of me that wants them to is as nothing compared to the need to keep it secret, keep it safe.

Rough denim scrapes down my legs, jeans and panties shoved and yanked as far out of the way as they will go. Knees pushing mine apart, harsh seams rubbing against the sensitive skin inside my thighs as he steps over the tangle of denim hobbling my ankles together. Another zipper. The crinkle of foil.

I gasp as hands, rough against the backs of my legs, suddenly yank my knees high and wide. Mine fumble as they blindly search for purchase. Shoulders. Hair.

I see stars as the back of my head cracks against the tree, the force of entry slamming my entire body so roughly into the trunk that for a moment I lose my breath. Everything stills. Then rustling, jerky movements as hands disappear from my body.

I tighten arms and legs when I feel him take a step back, the movement causing me to clench down around the invading appendage spearing up into me. Something heavy and soft falls over my head, across my shoulders, down my back, before I once again find myself pinned and breathless.

The first movements are slow and deep as hands guide my arms into sleeves that are miles too long, then slide under my shirt once more to circle around my back. One cups the back of my head, while the other wraps itself around my shoulder—holding me close at the same time as it pulls me more tightly down onto him. Keeping me steady as his hips pick up speed and force.

Harsh breaths panting into my ear almost drown out my own noises, the grunts and whimpers that his body is beating out of mine. I can't stop them, can't hold them inside, and for a while forget why I need to try.

The tingling starts in my toes, moving quickly up my legs until my thighs are shaking and twitching around him, muscles quivering with the stress of trying to hold their position. A soft curse as I start to slip, and I'm sobbing now, shaking with need and want and desperation. I would beg if I could, but speech—even coherent thought—is far beyond my abilities by this point. I feel it coming, the waves growing stronger as I become weaker, my body at once numb and yet at the same time hyper-sensitive.

Arms disappear from behind me, just in time to snake underneath my knees as my legs lose the last bit of strength left in them and slip from his hips. There is nothing holding me steady now as the relentless pounding becomes impossibly harder, faster. Nothing between my back and the rough bark of the tree except for his coat and mine, and some dim part of me realizes that there will be bruises tomorrow. But it doesn't matter, because I'm there, and every last bit of reason and control I have left is solely focused on not screaming.

So high. Floating. Shooting. Flying away and apart and it's everything and everywhere and the only thing I want and the only thing I need and I want to stay here forever and ever and never come back down.

But mortal enemy time cares nothing for my needs and wants, blithely passing by as if she doesn't realize she should be standing still. Breathless panting and sweaty bodies holding each other up over almost before it begins, replaced with rushed fumbling and hasty disengagement.

Eyes closed, still trying to will strength back into drugged limbs, I feel hands working with mine to pull my clothing back into position, cover all the parts that have been laid bare and open. Wrap me back up into my armor, and divest me of his. More zippers, more rustling, and my hands are hot and tingling as they are pressed together, clasped tightly around something hard and smooth.

Then nothing but the near-silent sound of retreat. Deep breathes. One. Two. Three. No time for four. Open my eyes and glance around. Alone. No sign, no clue that I was ever anything but. I blink down at the object I have to pull one hand away from so that I can grab for my bag. Almost smile.

Stop at the tree line to check that the coast is clear. First a quick sweep. Then a slower, more thorough one, before stepping out from the cover of the trees.

Measure twice, cut once.

Walk quickly, with purpose. Being sneaky, acting like you have something to hide, is the quickest way to arouse suspicion. Move like you have every right to be exactly where you are, even when you don't think anybody is around to see. Never, ever get careless.

Getting careless gets you caught.

The swirling, suffocating feeling from earlier is gone, and I revel in the aching, satisfied soreness that suffuses my body. I relish the weak trembling in my legs as I pick up the pace rounding the corner of the gym, the dull throbbing of the bruises I can already feel rising to the surface of my back and chest, the slight burn as the insides of my thighs rub against my jeans with every step. I raise my hand, smiling against polished red skin as my teeth bite deeply.

I barely make it to class on time, tossing the nibbled remains of the apple core into the garbage on the way to my seat—once again slipping in just as the tardy bell rings. Mrs. Goff tries to glare, but it is no more than a half-hearted effort. This is the period right after lunch, and she has been a teacher long enough to know which battles to pick and which ones to pass on.

The rest of the day passes easily, and not even gym class can succeed in killing my buzz. I linger in the locker room after, waiting until everybody else has dressed and escaped to make their way home before I slip under the warm shower spray. Deep purple splotches are already making themselves visible across the expanse of my chest, joined by the arcing indentations left as teeth pressed into the flesh near the base of one breast. Eyes close as one fingertip traces across the bumpy surface, lips parting as a slight shudder works its way through my body.

I stand in the parking lot and contemplate the giant red monster before me, some of my residual high fading away at the sight. The deafening roar of the engine settles around me like a weight, forcing my shoulders back down into the same defeated slump they held when I arrived. I search fruitlessly for the affection that I know I still hold for the rusted old behemoth as I wrestle it toward home, but it is buried too deeply to be unearthed. Everything about it is wrong; all the little quirks that make it unique now grate instead of comforting. Too big. Too loud. Too old, and red, and slow.

Too empty.

The front door closes more harshly than I intended, and I flinch as the slam reverberates through the house.

"Bella, is that you, sweetie?"

I roll my eyes even as the hint of a smile tugs at my mouth. Who else would be landing a helicopter in the driveway?

"Yeah," I call out as I make my way through the living room. Prop one shoulder against the doorframe and watch the slender figure at the counter for a moment or two. She glances over—eyes bright, smile wide. Irresistible and infectious, and I can't help but smile back, some of the tightness constricting my chest loosening up under the warm affection.

"How was school?"

The shoulder not holding me upright lifts in a careless half-shrug, because none of the words I have to describe my day are suitable or appropriate. For half a second my mind plays out the reaction should I tell her how my day really went, and the familiar combination of horror and amusement has me holding back both a smile and a grimace.

"It was fine. Is there anything I can help with?"

Another glance up. Another smile. Another bloom of calming warmth that unfurls in my stomach, smoothing and easing the twisted mass of nerves that seem to be my constant companion.

"No, I've got this. Dinner should be about seven, so you might want to grab a snack." She ignores my frown as reality descends once again, throwing one last smile may way as I reach past her to grab a banana out of the fruit bowl and head up to my room.

Seven. That gives me a little over 3 hours. Homework. Maybe a nap.

Three hours to myself, to remember and revel alone here where nobody can see. Then the mask goes back on.

So. I wasn't going to start this new adventure until Blood Play was all finished up, but when I found out it was Sleepwalker1's birthday, I just HAD to give her something. :)

Updates will not be frequent or regular, nor will they follow a linear timeline-the next chapter will pick up where this one left off, but after that some will be set in the past and others will be set in the future. Blood Play will continue to be my main focus until it is finished, but in the meantime I may update this now and then when BP is giving me trouble (like, EVERY SINGLE CHAPTER).