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Beta'd by Kherisma

It started with a pen. My pen, to be precise, a beautiful and ordinary fountain pen Esme had given me for my birthday earlier in the year. While my family doesn't formally celebrate human birthdates, it is rare for those anniversaries to pass without the sharing of small sentiments. A letter, a loving embrace, the odd token; little things to let each other know that the significance of the date has not been forgotten.

Back to the pen. Had it not been a gift from Esme, I'm not sure I would have noticed it was missing or turned out the contents of my bag searching for it. I waited a day for the pen to turn up and when it did not, gave it up for lost, knowing the sentiment behind the gift was more important than the pen itself.

I was in sixth period biology class several days later when I saw the pen again. Through the thoughts of another, I saw the blue barrel against slim fingers that traced the initials engraved in the steel: E.A.M.C.

Interested for the first time since the morning homeroom bell had sounded, I watched through the other's thoughts as the pen was carried through an empty school corridor. I saw long banks of orange lockers slide by, stopping at last in a far corner on the second floor. Number 6134. Fingers deftly spun the combination lock and I heard the numbers in the other's head, 44... 15... 32, before the door popped open. My brow creased as I watched the fingers run over the pen gently, almost tenderly, before placing it inside the locker. The locker door and the train of thoughts closed with a snap, leaving me with Mike Newton's nauseatingly vivid thoughts of masticated taco meat. Ugh.

What's going on with you, Edward? Alice wondered on the way home that afternoon. We were in the car with our siblings, slowly making our way out of the parking lot with the daily student exodus. Something's certainly got your brain in a knot.

I shrugged one shoulder minutely as we idled, knowing the others wouldn't notice; Rose, Emmett, and Jasper were immersed in a discussion of the plans we had drawn up for the weekend's hunting trip in Oregon.

But Alice is a persistent sister and despises being left out of a secret. Gazing through the windshield, she narrowed her eyes as she thought. What is so interesting about the second floor, anyway?

That settled any ideas I'd been entertaining about a trip to locker 6134 tomorrow morning.

I didn't stop wondering about the hands that carried my pen and to whom they belonged. What did I know about those hands and their owner? It was a girl, I was sure of that. The hands were fine boned with long, ringless fingers and nails that bore a faint sheen of pink glitter nail varnish. Judging from the placement and color of the locker, the girl was an underclassman; eleventh and twelfth grade students used the white lockers on the third floor, while ninth and tenth grade students used the yellow and orange lockers on floors one and two, respectively. Other than these details, I had little. No name, no face, and certainly no idea why this girl had my pen.

More objects filtered into the orange locker on the second floor as the days passed. Scraps of paper with a few scribbled words or musical notes. A discarded notebook missing most of its pages. A pair of black Wayfarer sunglasses. Small things really, discarded items ready for the rubbish bin, all of them at one time in my possession. Each was carried delicately by those hands to locker 6134 and arranged around the fountain pen.

More often than not, I was in biology class when thoughts of the locker filtered into my head. Obeying long buried instincts that told them to avoid me, the human children surrounding me had paired up, leaving me without a lab partner. Sitting alone, I had ample opportunity to think undisturbed about the locker and its owner.

With nothing else to go on, I thought of her simply as The Girl. As the days wore on, I found myself reluctantly intrigued by her behavior. There was a rigid discipline about her thoughts, focused intently on the object in her hands, always sharply defined and nearly impossible to ignore. Not that I wanted to ignore them. When I caught her thoughts, I would catalog my movements of that day, trying to determine when I lost track of the object she carried and where. I tried to determine if there was some kind of systemic order to the way she arranged the objects.

Before long, I was spending biology class in a strange state of mixed anticipation and discomfort, wondering if I'd hear anything from The Girl that day. On the occasional days when there were no thoughts of locker 6134, I was both relieved and oddly deflated. And I found my ambivalence about the entire... thing with The Girl troubling in itself. I had made no real progress in discovering who she was and yet, I watched each day with fascination as she decorated the inside of her locker with my belongings.

Driving home from school one afternoon, I concluded grimly that my behavior must be a sign of my increasing detachment from my lost humanity. Shouldn't I be concerned that a young, human girl appeared to be fixatedon me? Shouldn't I have at least made an effort to learn her identity? What reaction would a human boy have to The Girl?

The photos began appearing shortly after the Thanksgiving break. They were low-resolution candid shots, obviously taken with a cell phone, and usually cropped to cut out whoever was around me. At first, they were simple printouts on photo paper. As the weeks wore on, they became more elaborate, framed with metallic pen curlicues or bejeweled with tiny sparkling stones.

I wondered idly how The Girl would react to seeing my skin under sunlight, outshining the little paste jewels in the corners of the photos. My self-loathing climbed to monumental heights when I heard my own thoughts.

With the introduction of the photos, I began to hear thoughts I suspected were The Girl's with greater frequency. They were indistinct and fleeting, easily lost in the cacophony of thoughts floating around the high school. Adding to the difficulty were the many layers of romantic and unsettlingly sensual thoughts entertained by my female classmates about me. Jessica Stanley's thoughts were particularly vivid and imaginative, leading me to understand that hormones trump instinct at every turn.

One afternoon in early January, a photo in The Girl's hands gave me pause. Previously, any photo I had glimpsed through her thoughts had been taken on school grounds: the parking lot, the cafeteria, the picnic area outside. This photo, however, had been taken away from the school. In it, I stood by my car at the fueling station in downtown Forks, with Alice in the background. I had stopped at the station the day before to fill the gas tank and, on a whim, Alice had climbed out of the car to use the squeegee to clean the windshield, chatting with me as we performed our endearingly mundane human tasks.

The photo made me wonder. Had The Girl followed my car from school? Or had she simply been at the fueling station when we had pulled in? I began to wonder how much she had noticed about me and my family. Had she observed that we consistently disappeared on the rare sunny days in Forks? Perhaps, that we filled our lunch trays each day but didn't actually eat any of the food? Did she know where I lived? Had she been watching my family and me when we were at our most free?

The next day, I paid very specific attention as I made my way around the school, sifting through the thoughts around me and searching for The Girl's. I caught flashes of awareness I knew were hers, but they were ephemeral and led me in no real direction. By lunchtime, I was frustrated and resigned to the idea that it was time to pay a visit to the orange locker.

Alice, of course, was intrigued by my decision. All through our silent lunch period, she peppered me with her thoughts, wheedling, cajoling, and finally demanding that I tell her why I was planning to pay a visit to the second floor. I did not respond, spending most of the time staring out the window at the rain, ignoring the curious stares of our three siblings as they watched Alice's energy level and irritation climb.

What's going on? Emmett asked, frowning when I made no effort to acknowledge him. Whatever it is, you need to get a handle on Alice; you guys are stressing Jasper out.

I glanced at Jasper and felt immediately guilty at the strain I detected in his expression. Jasper felt everyone's emotions keenly but none more so than Alice's; her most subtle negative emotion was like an avalanche of angst for him. Her current state of heightened tension with me wore on him.

"Sorry, Jasper" I murmured, meeting his eyes when they flicked to mine.

He gave a small shrug before rubbing his forehead with his fingers, looking as though he was groping for words. Rosalie looked at Jasper closely and sighed before turning her sharp gaze on me. Rosalie's thoughts were not complimentary and I nodded slowly to acknowledge her silent harangue. While Rosalie's criticisms of me were all too frequent, at that moment she was entirely within her rights.

I felt Alice's attention on us then and saw her face fall. "Give it a rest, Alice," I murmured, with a small smile that asked her forgiveness. "I'll tell you about it sometime, but for now -"

"Okay, I'll let you do whatever it is you need to do," she cut me off softly, in a tone that was peevish but resigned. Alice would do anything for Jasper, even when it meant being forced to wait. Don't make me wait forever, she thought, grinning impishly when I rolled my eyes in reply.

Ten minutes after the end of the lunch period, I was waiting between the first and second floors in the east stairwell. I didn't want to frighten The Girl and suspected that confronting her outright would end badly. I determined I would wait for her thoughts and then simply pass by the bank of lockers that included 6134. In this way, I would get a glimpse of her while appearing to be en route from one classroom to another. I hoped, too, that catching her by surprise might loosen the discipline she exercised over her thoughts and shake details loose, starting with her name.

The image of her hands carrying a photograph filled my head. It showed a study period in the library and, judging from the clothes I was wearing, had been taken earlier in the week. In the photo, I sat gazing at the fog outside the windows, the fingers of one hand pressed against my chin. The Girl had used an editing program to add text to the photo, overlaying my initials on the window in a spiky, gothic script.

I remembered now that I had caught a few unusually vivid thoughts that afternoon but that they had been too brief to hold. Had the more meandering musings of my fellow students drowned her out? Or was the acuity of my gift becoming dull after so many years of purposefully ignoring so many thoughts around me?

Swiftly, I climbed the rest of the stairs to the second floor and pushed my way into the quiet corridor. I passed closed classroom doors, the low murmur of teacher and student voices audible even as I heard The Girl's thoughts. She approached the locker as I turned the corner, her fingers spinning the lock. I could see her with my eyes now, and knew from her posture that she was unaware of my presence.

She was tall, perhaps as tall as Rosalie, and lanky. Her head drooped atop a slender neck like a tired flower blossom, and she held her slim shoulders crookedly under a bulky backpack. She was dressed plainly, in jeans, a striped T-shirt, and wore black tennis shoes with white capped toes.

I was about twenty feet away when I heard the locker door close and she turned. An average-looking human girl faced me, neither unattractive nor beautiful, her grey eyes widening with surprise in her pale, oval face. She had auburn hair, similar in color to my own, that was pulled into a careless plait falling over her right shoulder. Light freckles dusted the bridge of her nose and she licked her lips nervously, the flash of braces or a retainer on her top front teeth catching my eye.

Her thoughts were very distinct now and, for once, completely undisciplined.

Edward Cullen... Edward freaking-Cullen, OH MY GOD.
What is he doing up here? Look at those long legs, he is so gorgeous.
He didn't see inside my locker, did he? OH. Please, no, I will DIE.
I should say something to him... but what can I say?
Hi there, Edward, I have that blue pen you lost, NO.
Uggggggh, you are blowing this, Sara!

I'm not sure what I had expected, but I confess that a small part of me was disappointed by the utter banality of her thoughts in that moment. I reminded myself that she was, after all, a human child and such thoughts were quite standard. I also reminded myself that I had a name: Sara.

I kept my face blank as I passed the girl and saw seeing myself retreating through her thoughts. I fought a grimace as her eyes moved boldly over my body, lingering on the back pockets of my jeans. Pushing through the stairwell door easily, I realized that her thoughts were closing again, shutting neatly away.

Stop thinking about him, stop stop stop. GOD.
He'll figure it out, he'll see you sneaking around if you're not careful and then he'll know.
That's enough, STOP.
Okay. Chessboard. White. Opening strategy, Ruy Lopez.

I spent the rest of the period in my car, listening to music and thinking about the girl, Sara. As I had hoped, exposure to her unguarded thoughts enabled me to understand her more easily, as well as how she tuned me out. By turning her thoughts to chess strategy, Sara concealed herself quite efficiently. My siblings employed similar methods of distraction when they wanted to hide something from me or simply get a little privacy.

Knowing Sara's name and face, however, and having heard her thoughts more clearly, I felt confident I would now find her more consistently. If she got too close, following me outside of school grounds or getting anywhere near our house in the woods, I would recognize her thoughts. I cast about experimentally, sifting through the morass of audible thoughts around me. I found Sara's with little difficulty and chuckled to hear her engaged in a debate with herself over the admittedly dubious benefits of high school gym class.

Outside of keeping an eye on her proximity to my family, I would allow her go about her strange business. She was of no real danger to us if I was vigilant in ensuring that she did not overstep the bounds that kept both her and my family safe. And she wasn't harming anyone with her... Edward-centric project.

"Naughty, Edward, skipping class," Rosalie said as she slid into the passenger seat, her lovely eyes dancing with amusement. "Shall we call the whole afternoon a wash and just go home?"

I glanced at her, unable to stop myself from smirking at the clear delight she felt in catching me flaunting the rules for a change. "Sorry, Rose. Senora Goff's expecting me in seventh period Spanish. And I rather think the others would appreciate the ride home, for appearances sake."

Rosalie pouted, leaning back against the seat with a dramatic sigh that made me laugh. "You're so, so boring, Edward. I honestly think a little bad behavior and rule breaking would be good for you."

"There's just no pleasing you." I gave her a cheeky wink as I let myself out of the car. "Let's be thankful, once more, that it's Emmett's job and not mine."

That weekend, I debated telling Alice about Sara and her collection of what I had begun calling objets d'Edward. After all, if Alice knew, she could help monitor Sara's movements and cut her off if she got too close to the dangerous aspects of our life.

On the other hand, I was strangely reluctant to give away the girl's secrets. After all, Sara's admiration of me and the motley collection enshrined in her locker was of no consequence to either of us. The more time that passed, the more unlikely it became that she would look back on the moments during her tenth grade year when she spent time on this personal project. And in much less time than even she suspected, she would outgrow her crush and forget me, moving on as humans always do. Perhaps she would harbor fond memories of this first rush of romantic feelings and think of me with a winsome smile and flush of embarrassment. And perhaps she would forget me altogether.

Was it a little strange that Sara picked up my discarded bits of trash and treasured them? Certainly. Was it perhaps odd that she surveilled me around school, snapping photos when I was, to the best of her knowledge, unawares? Undoubtedly. Had I been a human boy, I might have been repulsed by the contents of the orange locker on the second floor, even frightened by her fixation. But I was not a human boy. I was a predator and more than capable of cheerfully killing the girl if the whim struck me or I lost control.

By late Sunday evening, Alice sought me out in my room as I listened to John Coltrane's recordings. I had been writing in my journal, but my attention had wandered and I sat gazing through the glass wall of my room while the dusk darkened the sky.

"You should know better than to try to keep secrets from me," Alice said with a smile as she sat at my side on the leather couch.

"I'm not keeping secrets," I replied, tucking my journal under the couch for the time being. "Not really. I'm just... not sharing. At the moment, anyway. Besides, I'm sure you've figured everything out already."

Alice shook her head reassuringly. "Not at all. I only know that you're wavering between telling me about whatever it is on the second floor that has you so interested and keeping it to yourself. Neither choice will have any great impact, from what I have seen. There's a human involved, I believe... but I'm not sure. Beyond that, it's hazy, to be honest."

"It's really nothing." I sighed, running a hand over my hair. "Just a mundane little thing. And, if you don't mind, I'm going to continue keeping it to myself for a while longer."

Alice crept closer on the couch, winding her slim arms around me. She smiled when I wrapped her up in my own arms with a chuckle. "I don't mind too terribly. There are so few secrets in this house; how can I blame you for needing to keep one to yourself?"

"Thank you for understanding," I murmured into her hair. Still, I couldn't help teasing her just a bit. "Not knowing is killing you, isn't it?"

"You have no idea," she agreed with a little groan and we laughed together.

Monday at school, I found myself distracted from any thoughts of Sara and her locker by the uproar over the imminent arrival of a new student, one Isabella Swan, daughter of the Chief of Police. I endured with silent exasperation the deluge of thoughts about the new student from both students and teachers. What would she look like, what social circle would she claim or be claimed by, was she smart enough or too smart, would she play a team sport or cheerlead, who would she date or spurn? It was excruciatingly boring.

By the time sixth period rolled around, I would have welcomed the distraction of Sara's thoughts about locker 6134, anything to break the monotony of chatter, both verbal and nonverbal, centering on Isabella Swan. But even this was denied me; it seemed that Sara was not in school and no matter how hard I listened, I heard nothing.

The next day everything and anything else fell by the wayside. Because Tuesday, January 18, was the day I met Isabella Swan, who called herself Bella, and everything in my world crashed down around me.

At first sight, I was intrigued by the thick silence covering Bella's thoughts. I thought she, like Sara, was another puzzle in the form of a teenage girl, one I'd eventually figure out. Then I smelled her and the facade of humanity I had carefully cultivated for almost ninety years fell away in an instant. In its place remained the slavering monster demanding I feed on this fragile, human child that fate had so unfortunately been placed in my path.

Clinging to control by the thinnest of threads, I managed to flee the school. Squirming under the concerned eyes of my siblings, I dropped them along the road near our home, unable even to say goodbye to Esme before I ran further, leaving Washington altogether for Alaska and the temporary shelter of Denali.

Days passed as I struggled to understand what to do. Nothing I had learned in the years of my immortal life prepared me for Bella Swan and the devastation she unknowingly wrought on me and, by extension, my family. On occasion I found my thoughts drifting to the orange locker on the second floor. I saw the poignant collection of found objects and stolen portraits through new eyes. The small photos Sara had taken showed a man who no longer existed, a man who had arrogantly thought he had control over his world. I now knew how wrong I had been and that I had been profoundly changed.

I couldn't go back, couldn't face Bella Swan knowing that every second of her existence was shadowed by my overwhelming compulsion to drain her dry. I resolved to stay away for as long as it was necessary, anything to get away from the luscious blood zinging through her veins and undoing me in every way possible.

But I did go back. I returned to Forks within a few days, having devised a plan to inure myself to Bella's mouthwatering smell. Part of me took smug satisfaction in my determination to be strong, to triumph over the thirst, and prove to the red-eyed monster inside me that I could and would be more human out of choice. Another part of me thought I was completely mad.

And so I found myself once more in Forks High School on a Monday: attending classes, answering the teachers' questions, enduring banal homework assignments, acting like an average human boy. I also waited for Sara's thoughts, clinging to the idea of them in a way I hadn't previously; I no longer needed her fixation on me to stave off boredom but to anchor myself to the reality I knew before Bella Swan upended my life.

I made myself talk to Bella, breathing her scent and letting it coat my tongue, intent on remaining in control through the pain of my thirst. When Sara's thoughts finally surfaced during sixth period, I closed my eyes with a sigh, grateful for the distraction. Her thoughts showed a new photo for the locker, framed with a border of stylized skulls and roses that would have amused me only the week before. My relief became frustration as I realized the scant thoughts from this strange, lurking girl spoke volumes more than anything I had from Bella; her mind remained silent as stone behind her wide brown eyes.

Through every hour of that day and the next, I fought against the excruciating pull I felt toward Bella. As it became marginally easier to tolerate her scent, I found myself more and more intrigued by her. So much so, I lost my head. Not even the certain knowledge that Sara was photographing me and my family in the parking lot after school distracted me when Tyler's van slid across the ice toward Bella. Without a second thought, I saved her from being crushed in front of nearly the entire school. I risked the exposure of both myself and my family and led Bella to suspect that we were not normal.

In the weeks that followed, I attempted to ice Bella out, to no avail. Not speaking with her or having access to her thoughts meant I had more opportunity to observe her surreptitiously. During that painful time, I overheard Sara's sixth period thoughts with relief, understanding her quiet fixation on me while failing miserably to cope with the almighty disruption Bella Swan caused in my life. I welcomed the moments in Sara's head looking over her collection as a respite from the torture of Bella's presence to my right at the biology lab table. It felt right to watch slim fingers arranging the photographs and lingering on a dog-eared copy of Tennessee Williams' plays with my notes in the margins.

I waged a battle against myself; whether I was winning or losing depended on the moment of the day. But the more I tried to ignore Bella, the more intrigued I became, my fixation for her flowering in dark silence, much as Sara's interest had for me. Did I notice that Sara's thoughts about me mirrored my own growing fixation with Bella Swan? Did I realize I was becoming as much a lurker and a creeper around Bella as Sara was to me? No. Unable to drink Bella's blood, I instead drank deeply from the cup of denial. And drunk on denial, I didn't count on falling in love with Bella Swan, despite Alice's warnings.

It was a gradual process, quiet and so subtle I didn't fully realize what was happening. Amusingly enough, it was the interest of three ordinary human boys angling for a date to the spring dance that spurred me to act. I spent that night in Bella's bedroom while she slept unawares, watching her, and listening to her dreaming murmurs. And when my name dropped from Bella's lips with a whispered plea to stay, all other reality faded and my fate was decided; like Icarus, I soared and fell, burning. My love for Bella incapacitated me in much the same way her blood did. By sunrise, I would do anything to have her and protect her. And if she loved me in return... I would know true bliss.

I was able to both protect and pursue Bella in the days that followed, making friendly overtures at school while keeping watch at night. When sunny weather kept me from attending classes, I used the thoughts of others to observe her, noting with surprise that Sara's disciplined mind often touched on Bella. As they were not in the same grade, it seemed Sara was going out of her way to cross paths with Bella, and I wondered how I might somehow unobtrusively reward the young girl for her attention to my beloved.

Following Bella into Port Angeles one evening, I had no idea our fates would change so completely in the blink of an eye. I found myself once more on the razor's edge of control, facing Bella's would be attackers, the monster inside me begging to be allowed free reign. Even more surprisingly, I found myself with her in a restaurant, confessing my secrets over her dinner. Something soft and familiar like a murmuring voice tugged at the edge of my thoughts several times during the short time we sat at that table. But I could see and hear nothing beyond my Bella. The world as I knew it fractured the day I first smelled her blood; the pieces crumbled around me that night when I confessed the truth and she replied that she still wanted me.

I was still dazed but pleased by the previous evening's events as I sat at Bella's side while Mr. Banner's video droned at the front of the darkened sixth period classroom. Bella and I had continued our game of getting to know one another and I felt confused, awkward, and immeasurably happy. There was nothing beyond Bella's warm brown eyes and shy smile that held my interest and I heard little past her soft voice and husky laughs.

When the familiar trail of thoughts told me Sara was on her way to locker 6134, I smiled to myself and made to brush them away. But I realized something was different. This time, Sara's wasn't thinking of the Edward objets at all.

Bella Swan, I heard.

I felt myself freeze when I saw that Sara's memories were of the restaurant in Port Angeles. Through a window, I saw myself seated by Bella's side as she ate her ravioli and shook the foundations of my world. I saw myself escorting Bella to my car after dinner, the Volvo's taillights flashing as I drove back toward Forks. Sara had been a stone's throw from us last night as I'd ignored her murmuring thoughts.

I felt sick. Through my inattention, I had unwittingly exposed Bella to this secret, the one I had kept even from Alice. In a school this small, Sara had already known Bella's face and name and probably even where she lived. Now she knew that Bella and I were friends.

My fingers ground into the wood of my desk as I forced myself to stay seated, overwhelmed with the instinct to protect Bella. I wanted to race through the school toward locker 6134 so I could tear Sara into tiny... distantly, my mobile phone buzzed in my pocket. I knew Alice was watching my struggle.

I watched through Sara's thoughts as she opened the lock and swung the door open to reveal... nothing. The locker was empty, utterly clean of the objects she had been collecting and constructing for months. No trace of my discarded belongings or the photographs she'd taken remained. The slips of paper and the fountain pen gone, all surfaces wiped free of the little gemstones that slowly peeled off the photos. I felt my jaw go slack with surprise. In my peripheral vision, I saw Bella's brow furrow as she watched me, and gave her a reassuring glance.

There was a new object in Sara's hand; a well worn Mariner's cap, the dark blue fabric faded by many washings and exposure to the sun. Sara's fingers placed the cap inside the emptied locker and I saw them linger for a moment on the logo, petting it.

Just before the locker door closed, I heard Newton mutter from across the aisle, "Where in the hell is my Mariner's hat?"

I smiled. Good girl.

A/N "Drink from the cup of denial" is a lyric from Metallica's Dirty Window