The train was crowded that morning. I was glad to exit and push through the crowd of businessmen waiting to get on it and be off to their jobs in the city. The town where Saint Anselm's Academy was located was a small one. I passed by the post office where the harried postmistress was trying to get her little girl's sweater on. Her thoughts were a tangled mass of frustration as she knelt in the doorway wondering what was taking her useless husband so long to come downstairs from the office and walk their child to school.
Mr. Green was sweeping the wooden walkway in front of his general store next door. His thoughts were more soothing, concentrating on the small pile of dust he'd collected, until he saw me.
'Another one of them; those kids are like ants. Red ants swarming about all the time.'
I glanced ruefully down at my jacket-clad arms and sighed. The school uniform was more burgundy than red, but I understood his point. The school building and mass of students tended to dominate the surrounding area. Carlisle and I had many conversations about the tensions between 'town and gown' in an academic town since I started coming to the academy. Townsfolk liked the extra income afforded by students who came to their shops to buy things, but there was also some resentment because teenagers weren't always the staid, respectable citizens the adults wished them to be. Mr. Green had lost many a stick of candy or pack of gum to the wandering hands of a Saint Anselm Academy student with a sweet tooth but no coins on them at the time.
I did my best to block out the thoughts of the other town folk I passed them by and climbed the rising lane to the school with its stone wall and imposing gate. The gate with its intricate rococo design of loops, fleur de lis, and circles, was open now to admit day students like myself.
'There he is. He's so dreamy.'
'Those eyes, like melted honey…'
'It's him! He's here today! And I get to sit next to him in math class. I'm so lucky! If only he'd notice me.'
'I'd be Cathy to his Heathcliff any day of the week.'
'It's Edward Cullen…wait, is he looking at me? How do I look? Are my stockings straight?'
The usual mass of female thoughts washed over me as I entered the gates of the academy and drew near a clump of girls loitering outside the main building by the rosebushes. The boys' and girls' dorms flanked the main edifice, creating a large U shape configuration with a broad graveled drive down the center with flowerbeds and trees on either side.
Clara Spencer, a freckle faced red head, leaned her head back over her shoulder to view the back of her legs where her stocking seams were, in fact, crooked, and walked right into the back of Louisa Maynard who was chatting with Yvonne Briscoe
The Maynard girl turned, scowling, her straight black hair swinging forward to briefly obscure her face before settling back at its usual place at her jaw line. I didn't like the new hairstyles for women. It made them look boyish. Even the expression they used to describe it, "bobbing" their hair, had a masculine sound to it.
"Omigosh Louisa! I'm so sorry. I…I didn't see you there," Clara stuttered.
"If you'd look where you were going you would have," Louisa shot back and stalked off in a swirl of burgundy skirts.
As we passed each other on the main drive she noticed my eyes on her and flushed, her light olive complexion darkening in embarrassment.
'Did he hear me snap at Clara?' she wondered. 'Stupid girl! She's made me look like a shrew in front of the handsomest boy in school.'
I kept my expression neutral and kept walking. Louisa couldn't possibly know that it was her blood and not her personality that attracted my attention. The infusion of blood in her face resulting from her embarrassment rendered the girl more enticing, not less. I was still uncomfortably aware of the blood in every student I passed by. After nearly six years of being a vampire, my control was a lot better though not perfect. I credited Carlisle's guidance with that, but I was a predator at heart and being surrounded by my natural prey was always a challenge in self-control.
I'd been attending school for the past month, eager to be out of the house in order to give Carlisle and Esme a little privacy. As a day student at Saint Anselm's Academy, I endured an hour-long train ride and a twenty minute walk at human speed through the town and up the lane to the school each day.
Much as I cared for Esme, her thoughts about Carlisle and her continuing struggle with newborn bloodlust made it difficult at times to be around her. She had at least another year before she'd be ready to reintegrate fully into human society. She made Carlisle happy in a way that I never could, but there were only so many long walks I could take to let their romance develop. When I suggested enrolling in school to finish my education, Carlisle gave me his blessing.
"Edward, hey, Edward!"
Ned Shelton, brash, blonde, and easily the most tactless student in the academy, came running up to me, forcing me to stop before the broad stone steps leading up to the front door of the main school building.
"I caught you," he stated triumphantly.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. Everything was a competition to Ned Shelton.
"Did you finish the biology homework?"
Why wouldn't I have? Not having to sleep had its advantages. Despite the long commute to and from school, there was always time to complete assignments. My enhanced memory skills made studying in the traditional sense a moot point, but there were still textbooks to be read, notes to be taken, essays and assignments to be written.
"Show me, will you?"
I searched Ned's thoughts and found not the slightest indication that he realized giving him the answers was at all dishonest. To Ned, sharing answers was a friend's obligation, rather like loaning out a pencil.
"Aw come on. Please?" Ned wheedled, consciously scrunching his face into what he fondly imagined was an expression of irresistible appeal.
I could see in his thoughts that he wasn't about to give up until I said yes, so I removed myself, dodging around him to make my way up the steps, taking them two at a time.
"Good morning, Miss Lucey," I said politely to the willowy brunette teacher standing in the entry hall.
She wrenched her thoughts from the Shakespearean sonnets she was planning to teach us that day and smoothed her severe black skirt with one hand as she noticed me.
Wonderful. Even women twice my biological age became self-conscious in my presence. I didn't think I'd ever get used to the effect I had on my prey. My memories of my original high school were foggy, but I doubt I'd attracted this much notice when I was human.
'Oh, it's that lovely new boy. What's his name again?' she thought to herself.
"Good morning, Mr. Cullen," she beamed, pleased that she remembered the name I'd taken when I enrolled a month ago mid-term. It seemed simpler to take Carlisle's last name since he was posing as my uncle and guardian.
'Gotta get those answers,' thought Ned as he barreled up the steps behind me.
"Hey Edward, I want…"
Ned stopped short as he saw me standing with Miss Lucey.
"Er, I mean, I want..um," he trailed off uncertainly, beginning to realize that perhaps asking a fellow student for his biology homework right in front of another teacher wasn't the smartest move he could make.
'Such an odd child,' Miss Lucey thought as Ned stood hemming and hawing.
'I wonder if he's capable of reading Hotspur's part when we get to Henry IV? He looks the part but his reading skills leave much to be desired.'
Noticing Miss Lucey's interested gaze, Ned laughed nervously and put his hand to the back of his head, mussing up his already tousled hair and becoming even more tongue-tied. Taking advantage of his distraction, I slipped away and headed toward my first class of the day.
I'd enrolled as a third year student, the same as I'd been in 1918 when my high school career was cut short by the Spanish influenza epidemic.
I'd forgotten exactly how annoying high school could be with its petty dramas and mundane procedures. It was worse at lunchtime. The dining hall with its crisp white tablecloths and regimented rows with rigid social pecking orders wasn't for me, so I sat outside in the garden patio area where upper classmen where allowed to eat if they didn't feel like eating cooped up indoors.
Unfortunately, Ned decided to adopt me as a friend, despite the fact that I never gave him any encouragement. So, more often than not I found myself in his company of misfits. Humans liked routine, so to fit in I had to establish my own routines. I couldn't just disappear during each lunch hour. Ned enjoyed being the leader of his group and didn't require much interaction from me. That suited me just fine.
"Gee Edward, you sure eat fast," Ned stated, eyeing the empty plate on my food tray.
He sat cross-legged on the grass with his own tray balanced precariously on his knees, attended by his two best friends, Steve and Gordon. They were a study in contrasts. Steve was painfully thin and tall and walked with a limp due to a bout with polio as a child. Gordon was short and decidedly plump with glasses that made his eyes look over large. They were all third year students like me.
Beyond them seated on a cast iron bench were Clara, the little red head with crooked stocking seams, and her roommate Dorothy. They weren't really part of Ned's group. Instead they hovered on the periphery.
Dorothy, the curly haired brunette, often removed her jacket to show off the white blouse under her school jumper because someone once told her white was 'her color'. Their friend Harriet sat next to them. She was a small girl with intense grey blue eyes and dull dishwater blonde hair.
Other students sat in groups around the patio area and grass verges, but these were the ones I usually spent lunch with.
"Yeah, you sure do," sighed Gordon, looking at the food piled high on his own plate, and thinking dolefully of how short the lunch period was.
Gordon fascinated me, not because his thoughts were anything exceptional, but because of his weight. With all that extra body mass, surely he had more blood in him than Steve or Ned. Steve's limp made him a natural choice for prey, but Gordon would be a much more satisfying kill, if I were so inclined. Which I wasn't, I reminded myself whenever the thirst burned in the back of my throat.
"Perhaps I'm just an efficient eater."
Gordon blinked and Steven stifled a laugh. They had no idea how much I wanted to feast on them. I wasn't reduced yet to sneaking out of class to catch and drain a few of the rabbits or gophers who were the lucky recipients of the lunches I threw over the hedges as I walked to the patio area each day, but it was touch and go at times.
Clara and Dorothy burst into giggles at the look on Gordon's face, while Harriet scowled at her food and tried to pretend she wasn't eavesdropping.
Ned shot them a look, realizing they were responding to what I'd said and turned a critical eye on me. I sighed inwardly at his thoughts. He was getting jealous again. He did that whenever I became the focus of attention. I wasn't particularly happy about it either. I was supposed to be blending in unobtrusively as Carlisle suggested, not calling attention to myself.
Time to get to work.
"How did you do on the science assignment?" I asked Ned.
"I got a B!"
Not surprising since I'd already seen from his thoughts that Gordon allowed Ned to copy his answers before biology class began. Gordon scowled down at his food, shoveling forkfuls into his mouth as he seethed over the grade, certain that he, and by extension Ned, deserved an A and not a B.
"I had a feeling you didn't need my help."
Ned thrust aside his slight inkling that I was being sarcastic and threw back his head to laugh.
"Me? Naw, I can do biology with one hand tied behind my back."
Letting my attention wander as Ned continued to brag about his imaginary scholarly prowess, I honed in on Harriet's thoughts. She interested me. While Clara and Dorothy's minds tended to jump about disjointedly, reacting to inconsequential things, Harriet's were concise, and often surprising.
'Lunch will be over soon,' she thought, glancing at her watch. 'I wonder if Miss Lucey will start on the sonnets today. She really ought to have covered them before we read Romeo and Juliet. How can she expect us to understand a tragic love story if we don't go over the sonnets first?'
To my surprise, Harriet launched into a mental recitation of My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun while simultaneously carrying on a conversation with Clara and Dorothy about the apple cobbler served at lunch.
Thankfully the school bell rang before Harriet could summon up another sonnet and we left to go turn in our lunch trays before I was off to math class and the admiring glances of my seatmate, Yvonne. I had a feeling she'd still be in that class next year since she never thought of math while in the class, only of me. It was really distracting trying to concentrate on the teacher while a teenaged girl fantasized about you. If her parents only knew her thoughts they'd have sent her to an all girls convent school instead of a coed academy.
"So, how was your day?" Carlisle asked when I entered the spacious Victorian farmhouse he'd rented out in the country when Esme joined our family.
"Yes please, tell us everything," Esme entreated. She was reclining on the stuffed horsehair chaise lounge, practicing her human mannerisms.
I brushed a few leaves from the shoulders of my school uniform jacket before taking it off and hanging it up in the wardrobe by the front door. Running home from the train station at vampiric speed was a joy after having to slow myself down at the academy and town, but it tended to leave bits of foliage stuck to my clothing due to the force of my passage through the woods surrounding the isolated farm house.
"It was just the usual," I told them and recounted what I'd learned in the classes. Carlisle was especially interested in science class. When I told him that we'd have to do a laboratory experiment project in the spring he had all sorts of suggestion and we talked them over with Esme.
I did my best to make school sound more interesting than it was, for Esme was still struggling to see humans as anything other than food, so I presented Ned's antics as humorously as possible, and acted out Harriet's ability to quote Shakespeare while discussing cobbler in a way that made her smile.
We spent the evening analyzing the sonnets I'd been assigned to read for homework, then I played the piano for my adopted parents before tackling my biology, math, French, and history homework. As usual we went for a walk to greet the dawn. Esme never tired of seeing the play of light on Carlisle's skin as the sun crept over the mountains. She admired it on me as well, but not in the same way.
Carlisle planned to ask her to marry him as soon as she completed the newborn phase of her transformation. I knew that she was waiting for him to ask, anxious for it, but I kept that knowledge to myself. Some things should stay private.
Then I was shrugging back into my school uniform jacket and back off to school again.
My first indication that all wasn't right came when I made my way through Saint Anselm's gates and saw two of the first year boys whispering together.
"Did you hear?"
"The postmistress. She's been murdered."
"My uncle is a policeman and he said it was awful. There was blood everywhere. Pools and pools of it."
The other boy looked sick but slightly gleeful.
"I'm going to tell Julius," he said. "You tell Arnold." Then he was off like a shot across the graveled path to a cluster of boys hanging about at the entrance of the boys' dormitory.
I knew Julius. He was a room and board student in my French class, a first year who'd been moved up to second level French. I hoped the poor kid didn't faint at the news. He was a timid one who jumped whenever the teacher called on him.
My mind dwelled on the thought of pools and pools of blood. I didn't realize I'd stopped walking until I saw the first boy staring at me and read his thoughts.
'He's scary. Why's he looking at me like that?'
I forced a smile on my face, said "Good Morning," and walked on, leaving the first year boy slightly dazed behind me.
'Why did I think he was scary? He talked to me! A third year talked to me!'
I made my way past knots of students all whispering about the murder. I'd just seen the postmistress yesterday morning fussing over her child. Come to think of it, the post office had been closed when I walked past it from the train station.
Mr. Green's argument with an early morning customer distracted me, but the 'closed' sign was definitely on the post office door when I passed by. There'd been no scent of blood, so the woman must have been killed somewhere else.
There was a cluster of girls standing square in the middle of the main drive, not caring that they were blocking the way.
"Must we discuss this? It's distasteful."
Marjorie Van Houten, beautiful and very aware of that fact, smoothed back her short honey blonde hair and curled her lip at her sycophants, all fourth years like herself save for her frizzy haired third year cousin Yvonne, my nemesis in math class.
"But isn't it just too awful Marjorie?"
"We could be murdered in our beds."
Marjorie began to nod her agreement with her friends' words, then caught sight of me and decided to raise her voice so I'd be sure to hear it.
"Don't be silly. We're students at Saint Anselm's Academy, not some middle class woman from town who was probably no better than she should be. Why would anyone want to harm one of us?"
The incredible thing was that the girl thought comparing the postmistress unfavorably to herself and her friends would make her seem attractive.
"We're perfectly safe here," she went on, turning slightly to face her cousin, who looked unconvinced. "I'll protect you, Yvonne."
Lillian Gish would've been green with envy at the performance Marjorie was giving. As a matter of fact, Marjorie was consciously emulating Miss Gish's performances in the movie theater in the way she reached an arm out gracefully towards her relative.
Yvonne's surprised thoughts proved to me that Marjorie's performance was for my benefit and not her little cousin. I considered the girl. Her flyaway hair was at shoulder level, growing out from the sort of bobbed cut her cousin sported. She stared at Marjorie's outstretched hand before taking it gingerly after pausing long enough to incite Marjorie's ire.
'Useless. Yvonne is completely useless,' Marjorie thought as she smiled at the girl and clasped her hand briefly before letting it drop.
"Oh, Edward. I didn't see you there," Marjorie lied as she turned around and turned her smile on me. "Have you heard the dreadful news? I was just comforting my cousin. She's so upset."
Yvonne didn't look upset, just confused. I could see from her thoughts that her older cousin had never expressed any concern over her before.
The girl yelped softly as Marjorie kicked the back of her ankle, than placed an arm around her shoulders in false sympathy.
"Is that so?" I asked Yvonne.
"Yes, yes it is!" she said quickly as Marjorie tightened her grip.
"Then I'd best walk you to class," I said, and pulled Yvonne gently away from her astonished cousin and escorted her up the stairs.
"I…you…don't have to if you don't want to," she sputtered. "I'm fine."
I hid a smile as I caught Marjorie's furious thoughts. Any one of the words she was thinking would get her expelled from school if she said them out loud.
"I know," I said then winced inwardly.
I couldn't very well explain that I knew because I'd read her thoughts.
"I just thought you could help me with the first question of our homework last night," I continued. "I'm not sure if I got it right."
'Edward Cullen is asking me for help??'
I caught the girl's arm as she tripped on the first step up to the school building. After five minutes of fumbling around in her satchel for her homework and staring at the first question, it became clear that Yvonne needed more help in math than I did.
When class began, she resolved to pay better attention from then on in case I ever asked her for help again. If nothing else, it made her thoughts less distracting.
As the day progressed more and more teachers heard the news and couldn't help thinking about it in class. They were under the mistaken impression that none of the students knew about the murder and they'd been told to carry on as normal.
Miss Lucey found it especially hard to do so. She'd been acquainted with the postmistress and kept choking up at the thought of the motherless little girl left behind. All the adults were distracted. Even the librarian was far more lax than usual, allowing whispering during the study period. Carlisle had convinced the school that I was recovering from an illness, hence my pallor, and couldn't be expected to have a physical education class this year. We both thought it best to wait until next year before placing me in any sort of physically competitive environment. There were still times when I forgot my own strength. It wouldn't do to break a tennis racket or crushed a basketball in front of witnesses.
I shouldn't have been surprised that Ned's friend Gordon had all the details of the murder and regaled us with them at lunch.
"Spill it," Ned commanded. "I want to know everything."
Gordon looked longingly at the remaining food on his plate, but complied.
"According to Arnold who got it from Peter whose uncle is a policeman, Mrs. Douglas' body was found in the side yard of her house. Her head was bashed in and she was lying in a pool of blood."
Clara, Dorothy and Harriet all exclaimed in disgust from their perch on the bench. Gordon looked their way and lowered his voice as he continued.
"He used a baseball bat on her. There were brains left on the bat when they found her."
"He?" Ned yelled. "He who? Do they know who it is yet?"
In his mind's eye he was hunting down an escaped convict wearing black and white stripes and a bandit's mask. Ned thought in the most simplistic forms imaginable.
"I think Gordon just meant that it was probably a man if they used a bat," Steve said conciliatorily.
"Yeah, because if it had been a girl it would've been a…tennis racket," Gordon supplied as he caught sight of Louisa Maynard stalking towards him.
"It's more a girls' thing, isn't it?" he whispered as she came closer.
Louisa was the captain of the girls' tennis team.
'I wouldn't put it past Louisa to bash Gordon's head in if she heard him imply tennis was a girly sport,' he thought, turning innocent eyes on the black haired girl standing over he and his friends, hands on her hips.
I was leaning against a tree, so she hadn't noticed me yet.
Ned tilted his chin combatively, reacting instinctively to her challenging stance.
"Hey Louisa, what do you want?"
Her black eyes lighted on him, assessing him as one leader to another.
"You've heard, right? We've got to do something."
"About what?" Ned asked, not liking the way Louisa was towering over him.
"About the murder, of course. We've got to be ready in case something happens here."
She caught his interest, and Ned was instantly fixated on the idea of action.
"What do you have in mind?"
"Patrols, of course. There are lots of baseball bats around here. Anyone could pick one up, and at night asleep in our dorms we're sitting ducks. We're not even allowed to have locks on our dorm room doors," she finished in disgust.
"Patrols," echoed Ned, his face lighting up at the thought. "Sign me up! I'll lead a patrol, no problem."
"Won't the teachers object?" Steven offered timidly.
"We aren't supposed to be out of our beds at night," Clara reminded her. "Unless we need to use the powder room."
Gordon pushed his glasses back up his nose. "She's right, they'll never go for it."
"They will if we sign a petition and submit a proposal to the Headmaster and Headmistress!" Louisa countered. "That's how we got permission to start a drama club last year."
"Patrols are a bit different than clubs, don't you think?" Dorothy said. "Isn't it dangerous for students to be out patrolling?"
Louisa rounded on her, stepping forward to scold her. "It's thinking like that which gets people killed. There's a dangerous murderer on the loose and I intend to do something about it."
"Me too," yelled Ned enthusiastically, his mind enacting a scene where he tackled the stripe suited bandit who was carrying a bat while lurking down the hall of the boys' dorm.
"Then be ready to sign the petition at dinner tonight. All of you."
Louisa shifted to glare around at everyone threateningly and finally caught sight of me.
"I won't be at dinner," I reminded her. "I'm just a day student."
'I can't believe I didn't see him there,' she wailed mentally. 'Why does he always have to see me at my worst?'
"That's OK, you can sign it tomorrow, before class."
Flustered, she left suddenly to go pounce on another group of students eating over by the flowerbeds.
"Patrol, that's the ticket," Ned muttered.
Steven sighed. "I don't know what good it'll do to ask. There's no way the Headmaster or Headmistress are going to let us roam around at night. Besides, it was probably someone from town who hated her. Isn't it usually the husband who murders the wife for her money?"
Gordon smiled. "It couldn't have been him. He was in the local saloon all night long. He was still there when the milk man found the body the next morning."
"What was he doing in a saloon that early in the morning?" wondered Clara out loud.
"Passed out drunk," Gordon answered. "Or so Peter says and his uncle is a policeman."
I closed my eyes and leaned back against the tree. Humans murdered each other. It didn't have anything to do with me. I was just grateful I hadn't smelled the blood. The postmistress's house must have been far from the main road leading through town. I'd be careful to stick to my usual route on my way home.
'Mama. Where's mama? I want mama.'
The little girl's thoughts repeated themselves over and over as she sat on the boardwalk in front of the post office. Her sweater was on inside out, and I could smell the salty residue of tears wafting off her cheeks.
It was the postmistress's daughter. I recognized her from before.
"Douglas, I'm so terribly sorry. Lavinia was a good woman."
The crisp tones of the town doctor, Dr. Bryce, came from behind me. I stopped and glanced back to see him place his hand on Mr. Douglas' shoulder.
The postmistress's husband was looking haggard and distracted, his cheeks unshaven and his collar askew.
"What? Oh, thank you. Have you seen my daughter?"
An expression of disgust crossed the good doctor's face and was gone in an instant. I could see from his thoughts that he concluded that Mr. Douglas had been drinking. He hadn't, he was merely distracted by thoughts of his missing child.
I realized that I was blocking his line of sight to the post office where his wife had worked, so I moved over a few steps, pretending to be engrossed by something in the window of the local apothecary. As if I needed hoarhound cough drops or headache powders.
'There she is,' thought Mr. Douglas.
"I'm sorry," he muttered to the doctor. "I have to go," he said and pulled away from the doctor's hand, brushing past me to stand over his daughter.
"Papa? Where's Mama? I want my Mama."
I clenched my teeth and reminded myself that little girls were not food. The child's cry had all my hunting instincts blazing as venom began to pool in my mouth. Predatory animals are drawn to sounds of distress in the wild. It signals the presence of easy prey. I would not be an animal.
Pulling away from the shop window, I forced myself to walk past the post office at a normal pace.
Mr. Douglas had pulled the little girl into his arms, gripping her tightly.
"She's not coming back, sweetheart. I told you."
"She says wait here outside for her after school. She always says to wait outside and not bother the customers. I'm waiting, where is she?"
At that, Mr. Douglas broke down and began to sob. His thoughts were a mass of self-loathing and recriminations over having been out drinking all night when his wife was killed. Despite that, the most prominent thought in his mind was the desire for yet another drink. He was as addicted to liquor as I was to blood.
Putting my head down, I walked past and pretended not to notice the grief stricken man clutching an equally grief stricken little girl, and walked to the train station. It had nothing to do with me. It was just another human tragedy, a pointless crime. I had to get home to Carlisle and Esme.