The next couple of weeks were fairly uneventful. I signed up for my classes for this semester, got a part-time job working three evenings a week at a sporting supplies store named Mac's that catered to people who wanted to go camping and maybe bag a trophy for the wall, and just for funsies I also tried out for the archery team at school. I thought I did well (no bull's-eyes but I managed to hit the inner rings) but the coach, Mr. Quinn, said he would post the new roster the following week so I resolved to check back then. Then came buying textbooks for all my classes (so expensive, but Charlie was paying for them). I hoped I would be able to make some friends here, but I knew from experience that it would take a bit for the New Kid smell to wear off.
During lunch period on my first day of classes, I noticed a bunch of older girls that seemed to congregate in a pack-all dressed in black fashions ranging from Hot Topic Standard to Elegant Gothic Victorian. Their hairstyles ranged from tight braids or loose, silky locks to sleek fashions like French rolls or chignons, and their makeup mainly consisted of bold eye shadow, heavy mascara, and lipstick that was a shade of red so dark it looked like fresh blood. Their nail polish-and all of them wore nail polish-was generally either black or that same shade of blood red, and a few of them wore lace gloves to show off how slender and elegant their fingers were. The ones who weren't already wearing high-necked shirts or blouses wore black or purple scarves. All in all they were pale, graceful, beautiful, and eye-catching. My stomach twisted with jealousy-I hadn't felt that beautiful since I was twelve, no matter how many times Renee told me I was. When again, what adolescent girl feels beautiful?
They breezed past me with the barest of glances-a dismissive "We have better things to do than breathe your air, peasant" kind of glance-and settled like down at what I would come to understand was their table.
I leaned over to a girl at my table that I'd recognized from Chemistry that morning. She was a pretty brunette with the delicate features of a china doll and her hair held back in a headband,
"Excuse me," I said, and she glanced over. Her face flickered with recognition.
"You're the new girl, right?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said, "We're in chemistry class. I'm Bella."
"Right," she said, nodding, "I'm Jessica." I filed this note away as she continued, "Isn't your dad the sheriff here?"
"He is," I confirmed, "Do you happen to know who those girls are over there?" I indicated the table where the painfully beautiful girls were even now chattering in their own private social bubble.
"Oh," Jessica smirked, "They call themselves the Shadow Girls. They like to prance about pretending they're vampires or something. That's why the scarves- to hide the 'bite marks'." She snorted. "I heard one of them telling the others how great it feels to be bitten. It's all a load of poser crap."
I snorted. "I'm surprised people believe in vampires up here," I said.
"Like I said, it's all poser crap. They want to be special snowflakes who all dress alike, so they make up this whole vampire thing so people won't bother them. I did see one of them faint during class last year, though. They say it's blood loss but I think the bitch's corset was just too tight."
I scanned the Shadow Girls and saw that one did indeed have her waist bound to waspish proportions with a corset over her clothing. I wondered how she breathed, let alone moved around, with that thing on.
I saw more of the Shadow Girls all through that first week-they weren't always together like a murder of crows or anything, but they were pretty easy to pick out in their individual classes. One of them sat next to me in English class, reading a copy of Interview with the Vampire under her desk while the syllabus was being explained. Judging by the taped-up condition of the paperback, it was clearly a favorite of hers. I'd only seen the movie, but Tom Cruise was pretty hot as a vampire. If vampires were real and they looked like that, I'd happily go home with one of them-but then, there was the whole blood-drinking thing, and the likelihood that Charlie would probably blow a vampire's head off with his shotgun.
None of the Shadows Girls talked to me that whole first week. If they acknowledged me at all, it was with a look that suggested I was something gross stuck on the bottom of their platform boots.
Other than that, the first week of classes was about what I expected: English looked like it would be easy, Chemistry looked like it would be hard, and everything else fell somewhere in between. My first week at Mac's was pretty much training and orientation, plus my introduction to the Wonderful World of Stocking. People at work were decently friendly, though, lacking the What Is A Girl Doing In A Sporting Goods Store attitude that I'd half expected, and I befriended one of the guys who went bow hunting in the fall over the course of a shift we shared in the archery section. To mollify my dad, my shift manager Jeff walked me out to my truck after closing each evening, which ultimately suited me just fine once I saw how quickly it got dark at night. By Friday I had a handful of classmates that I said hi to but still only shared my lunch table regularly with Jacob... or "Injun Jake", as I learned his local nickname was.
"Doesn't that bother you?" I asked one day over lunch.
He smirked slightly. "I'm used to it. I've lived with it for the past few years, and I've learned to shrug it off by now. Besides, I can run faster than anyone else on the track team, so I think they're just jealous."
I glanced around. A fair number of people were looking at the two of us, not with any real interest exactly, but also not with what I could identify as hostility. Curiosity, maybe. Most of the rest, though, just ate their lunch in silence. There was not much in the way of conversation around us-just a low scattering of voices and that was it. It was an eerie sort of quiet, especially compared to the post-summer chattering I'd been hearing all week. Only the Shadow Girls seemed to be animated, conversing at their Special Table with the hushed, conspiratorial tones that made me think of a chapter of the Illuminati trying to covertly meet at Denny's.
"It's really quiet today," I said to Jacob, who nodded.
"Someone went missing a couple days ago," he said.
"One of the students?"
"Mm-hm. It happens from time to time."
"What, do they get lost in the woods?"
He glanced around. "Nobody really knows," he said, "And the not knowing is what scares the hell out of people."
I glanced up at the other students, who largely looked like frightened rabbits. Jacob seemed pretty calm, though, even if it was only for my sake.
"Do you know anything?" I asked.
He looked awkward. "Nothing I want to tell you while you're eating," he hedged. "Look, I need to head to class soon, or I'll be late." He took my hand, in much the same way that he had in the café where I'd broken down. "Your dad has the best of intentions for you. Just... stay safe. Things aren't always as they seem."
With that, he released my hand, got up, and left. I glanced up at the clock and noticed he'd only been there for fifteen minutes-he still had tons of time before he had to be at his next class, the rat. I tried to put the whole conversation and everything it implied-mainly that Forks might be home to some sort of serial killer-to the back of my mind, figuring it would do no good to worry about what might or might not be happening in Forks all afternoon.
During a free period I tried to catch up with Jacob, but I wasn't familiar with the school or his schedule yet. As I searched, I happened to see the bulletin board outside the gym for the Archery team roster. Apparently a lot of other hopefuls had the same idea, because it took me a while to get to the front of the cluster of students. Well, as long as I was there, I figured I'd check to see if I made the team. It wasn't like Jacob was going to run off into the woods and abandon me just yet.
I gently elbowed my way to the front of the crowd-politeness was for people who didn't need to get to class on time-and ran a finger down the list of names looking for mine. There, towards the bottom of the S's, I found SWAN, ISABELLA. I'd made the team! I let out a whoop of victory and made my way back out of the crowd of hopefuls. I couldn't wait to tell Charlie and Jacob!
I stopped dead when I was out of the main crush-there, about five feet away, one of the Shadow Girls stood, giving me the sort of look that a wolf gives a rabbit when the wolf just happens not to be hungry. I froze, though whether it was from social awkwardness or base instincts I couldn't tell.
"He knows you," she said, in a voice that reminded me of melted chocolate. "He knows you and he'll be visiting you real soon." She smiled in a way that only touched her lips and swept off into the crowd.
"Hey!" I called after her. She didn't even turn. I followed, pushing through the sparse population of students in the hallway to keep her black-clad form in sight. I wove through the press of bodies like a snake through the trees in a forest until I caught up with her and grabbed her shoulder. She turned and hissed at me, baring fangs that I realized a startled moment later must have been caps. Had to be.
"What do you want, morsel?" she snarled, really playing into the I'm-a-bloodsucking-predator-and-you're-not thing. A little freaky, but I wasn't about to let her scare me. Overdramatic bitch.
"What the hell do you mean, he knows me? Who knows me?"
"Edward Cullen," she said with a purr, "The young prince of his family. He's chosen you as his own."
"Never heard of him," I said.
"You will," she said with a smirk, "And if you prove yourself worthy, he will make you eternally beautiful." She pulled free of my grasp and walked away, leaving me standing there with a lot of questions in my head.
Who exactly was Edward Cullen?
How could he know me already if I've only been back a month?
What was that girl smoking?
What secrets did Forks hold?
I couldn't reflect on them just then, as I realized when I glanced at the clock and realized I would have to run to get to my next class on time. So much for talking to Jacob. Especially now that I had so many more questions to ask him.
I put the whole thing to the back of my mind so I wouldn't be such a spaz at school, and I was relieved to not see any more of the Shadow Girls that day. Something about that last conversation just rubbed me the wrong way.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty busy, and by the time school let out for the day I was ready to go home and just hang out with Charlie. However, I found Jacob waiting for me next to my truck. Thank God-I didn't want to have to hunt him down.
"Hey," I said, "How'd your classes go?"
"Pretty good. Any word about the archery team?"
I grinned. "I got in!" I chirped.
That's great!" he said, hugging me. "I remember you were pretty good with the bow and arrow when we were kids-you'll do great this year."
"Thanks, Jacob." I paused, my mind returning to the creepy conversation I'd had with the Shadow Girl. Jacob must have sensed it, because his own smile faded.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
"Have you heard of some guy named Edward at school?"
He frowned. "Not specifically, why?"
"One of the Shadow Girls was talking about him. She said that he was a prince of the Cullen family and he'd be visiting me or something." I managed a laugh. "Sounds like some weird goth crap, doesn't it?" It was then that I noticed that his posture had changed, like a dog that had smelled a storm coming. "What?" I asked.
"I don't know anyone named Edward, but I have heard of the Cullen family. They're from Europe or something originally, but came here a couple hundred years ago. Been in Forks ever since. My dad says they're bad news."
"Bad news how? Like are they a bunch of serial killers or something?"
He shook his head. "Don't know. But my dad says that ever since the Cullens came to Washington, there's been a steady stream of disappearances… one or two every couple of months, maybe."
"But we're right up by the woods. People get lost there all the time, right?"
He shook his head. "Not like this. I just have a bad feeling about this. You should talk to your dad tonight. If anything weird is doing on, he'd know."
"Okay, I'll see if I can pry anything out of him tonight. Take care."
"You too." He reached up and touched my cheek, a tender gesture that relaxed me immediately. He turned and walked away while I was still basking in the tingly afterglow.
I drove home, mulling over what I'd learned-both the good and the bad-and decided to start with the good news first over dinner, and then broach the tough topics afterwards.
When I got home, the porch light was on, as expected, and the front windows radiated a warming, inviting yellow glow. I parked the truck, jogged up the porch steps, and let myself in-but stopped in the front hallway.
It was quiet.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Charlie was not one of nature's ninjas, as far as I knew, and if he was in the house certainly he'd be making some noise.
"Dad?" I called out.
"In here, honey," I heard his distant reply, and I exhaled in relief.
I found him just as he was coming out of the bathroom, buttoning the cuff on his uniform shirt.
"Hey, Bella," he said, "Good day at school?"
"Overall okay," I said, "But I did find out about the archery team." Excitement welled up and threatened to burst.
"What about the archery team?" he asked.
I only grinned, and the change in his expression when he got it was its own reward.
"That's great, Bella!" he said, hugging me. "I should have guessed, really."
"Why's that?" I asked. I'd been nervous the whole week about it, so it wasn't like either of us thought it was in the bag already.
"Somebody sent you a congratulatory gift. It's in the kitchen."
I frowned and glanced in that direction. As far as I knew, nobody at school knew where I lived yet-aside from Jacob. Maybe it was from him, but he'd only just learned himself. I shrugged and went to see what it was.
It was a bouquet of long-stemmed red roses, stuck in a tall glass emblazoned with the Superman insignia.
"I found them in a box on the porch," Charlie said behind me, "So I brought them in and stuck them in some water for you-I'll get a vase this weekend."
"Who are they from?" I asked, trying to think of anybody my age who could afford roses around here.
"Not sure," Charlie said, "But it looks like you must have a secret admirer already." He looked slightly amused. "Here's the card that was with them."
He offered me a card about the size of palm of my hand, and I opened it.
"Congratulations," it read, in elegantly pointed handwriting. Where a signature should go, I found only the initials "E. C."
The hair on the back of my neck stood up.