But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
Thou shalt not eat of it:
For in the day that thou eatest thereof
Thou shalt surely die.
I'd never given much thought to how I would die – though I'd had reason enough in the last few months – but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
I stared without breathing, into the dark eyes of the hunter, and a hint of a smile crept onto his face.
Surely it was a good way to die, to do it for someone else, someone I loved. Some might call it noble, even. Did that count for nothing?
I knew that if I'd never gone to Forks, I wouldn't be facing death now. But, terrified though I was, I couldn't bring myself to regret it. When life offers you possibility so far beyond any of your expectations, it's not reasonable to lose sight of the risk; to be angry when it comes to an end.
The hunter stood over me, the pleasant smile still in place. He flowed forward to kill me.
My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix. The sky was a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace – as a farewell gesture. I'd packed my parka in the carry-on.
Forks. A small town in the Olympic Peninsula in the northwest of Washington State. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was the town my mother fled from, with me in tow, when I was only a few months old. It was the town I'd been compelled to spend a month in every summer, until I was fourteen. Even still the gloomy, seemingly endless cover of clouds comes to mind when I think of Forks, though it means something different to me now. It's strange now to think of the fact that there was a time, between my eighth grade summer and this year, where I refused to come back to Forks, forcing my father Charlie to come south to visit me.
Yet it was to Forks that I exiled myself, an action I took with great horror.
I detested Forks; for its weather, its geography, and most of all for its isolation. I hadn't been there for longer than a few weeks at a time since I was three months old. I didn't know the people there, I didn't have friends there – except for the few that I'd played with when I was still little, and those sorts of friends didn't count – and every year that I visited I desperately missed my friends from home.
Phoenix, on the other hand, I loved. I loved the sun and the blistering heat. I loved the vigorous, sprawling city. It was what home felt like, the spirit I'd come to think of as intrinsic to my life. It was everything familiar and constant for my seventeen years. I couldn't imagine what living in Forks –lonely, soggy, grey Forks – would be like.
"Bella," my mother said to me – the last thing she said – before I got on my plane. "You don't have to do this."
My mom looks like me, except that her finely-textured brown hair is shorter than mine, and her dark eyes are framed with laugh lines. I felt a spasm of regret as I looked into her wide eyes. How could I leave my loving, hare-brained, tender mother to fend for herself? How could I hurt her by leaving? I pushed the thought away. She had Phil now, so the bills would get paid, there would be food in the pantry, fuel in her car, and someone to call up when she got lost on the road. Still, it was hard to let go of those feelings of responsibility after so many years.
"I want to go," I lied. I'd always been a bad liar, but I'd been saying this one so much lately that I didn't think my mother was looking to be convinced anymore. She just didn't know what else to say. She didn't know how to make it right to herself that I was really leaving.
"Tell Charlie I said hi."
"I'll see you soon," she added as I looked toward the gate. The line through security was getting longer. "You can come home whenever you want. I'll come right back as soon as you need me."
I could see the intention behind the promise in her eyes, but I knew it would be far too steep a sacrifice for her if I tried to take her up on it.
"Don't worry about me," I said. "It'll be great. Mom… I love you."
She hugged me tightly for a minute, and then I left.
It's a four hour flight from Phoenix to Seattle, another hour in a small plane up to Port Angeles, and then an hour drive to Forks. A lot of people get nervous before they fly, but air safety was not the reason I was worried. I was worried about the hour in the car with my dad.
Dad had really been nice about the whole thing. He seemed genuinely pleased that I was coming to live with him. I hadn't even been to his house in over three years, but so far he hadn't seemed concerned with the 'why' behind it. He'd just been excited at the idea of me coming to see him with any degree of permanence. He'd already gotten me registered for high school, and had promised to help me get a car.
But I knew enough about my father to know that it was sure to be awkward once I got there. Neither of us was much good for talking, and even if we were, I didn't know what there was to say. I knew he was bound to be confused by my decision – like my mother, I'd never kept my distaste for the rainy town a secret – and it would be easier to broach the subject when I was confined with him in the car. I'd avoided the topic entirely until now, trying not to upset him with talk about Phil, but eventually it would come out.
My father met me at the luggage claim, holding a metallic green balloon on the end of a ribbon. It floated meekly in the fluorescent sheen of the terminal. Bright yellow letters read, 'WELCOME HOME!'
I was embarrassed, but I shot my father a smile. I walked forward to hug him and saw that his hair and jacket were sprinkled with water. Of course it was raining.
Usually I'd roll my eyes at someone who talked about omens, but this time I found myself thinking that the rain in Dad's hair was a sign. The universe was telling me to say goodbye to the sun.
We walked to the parking lot together, and I spotted the police cruiser. I'd expected it, but it still gave me a little thrill to climb into the passenger seat. My dad's known as Police Chief Charlie Swan to most of the people living in Forks. One of the only things I'd missed about Forks was the cruiser; I couldn't tell you how many times, during the summers I spent there growing up, my father indulgently blared the siren for me. However, like most things in life it was a double-edged sword. The excitement of a 'siren-ride' (as I'd called it when I was little) was heavily countered by the fact that when the siren was off, nothing slowed traffic down like a police vehicle. That's why I'd made the agreement with my dad to get a car of my own once I got there.
Dad gave me an awkward, one-armed hug before we got into the car. "It really is good to see you, Bells." He said, smiling. "You haven't changed much. How's Renee?"
"Mom's fine. It's good to see you, too, Dad." The last time we'd visited, frustrated with his over-protectiveness, I'd spent our entire vacation calling him by his first name. He'd hated it, which made that visit even tenser than they usually were. Now, unsure of myself in this scary new situation, I took comfort in knowing that he was Dad. He would look out for me if I needed it.
He smiled at me, and I knew he was remembering our last visit, too. I supposed it couldn't hurt that he was already feeling more hopeful about our immediate future together, and he helped me pack my few bags into the car.
I didn't bring much. Most of my Arizona clothes weren't heavy enough for Washington. My mom and I had pooled our resources to get a good, practical addition to my winter wardrobe, but we didn't have much to spend. All my belongings fit easily into the trunk of the cruiser. It was strange, seeing my whole life in the back of that car.
"I found a good car for you, really cheap." He announced when we were strapped in.
"What kind of car?" I asked, suspicious. Although my dad didn't say much, he had a surprisingly diplomatic side. He knew how to say things in the way you'd want to hear them. He might mean that he found a good car for a reasonable price, or he might mean that he found a good car for me, also known as a 'fixer upper'.
"Well, it's a truck, actually. A Chevy."
"Where'd you find it?"
"Do you remember Billy Black, my buddy down at La Push?"
It took me a moment to place the name, but within a few seconds I remembered that La Push was the tiny Indian reservation on the coast.
"I don't think I do," I admitted. It had been several years, after all, and I'd only ever been there for short periods before that.
"He used to go fishing with us, remember?" Dad said, looking over at me.
That was why I didn't remember. I found fishing to be a painful, unnecessary ordeal. When I was younger my father had usually been able to convince me to join him. He'd say 'you always say no, but then we have a good time.' Each time, 'we have a good time'. When I was still little I got it in my head that my father might be lonely. I always felt too guilty to refuse when he suggested it, thinking of him on the water alone. He'd spend most of the day enjoying the water with his fishing buddies, and I'd spend it imagining I was somewhere else. I didn't remember much from those trips. When I was old enough to notice that there was always at least one fishing buddy with us, I found the resolve to stop going with him.
"Billy's in a wheelchair now. Diabetes." Charlie continued when I didn't respond. "He can't drive anymore, and he offered us the truck."
I wanted to ask more about Dad's friend, but I wasn't sure if it was the sort of thing he'd be comfortable talking about with me. "What year is it?" I said instead. I could see from the change in his expression that he'd been hoping I wouldn't ask.
"Well, Billy's done a lot of work on the engine, so really it's only a few years old."
I knew a dodged question when I heard one, but I wasn't going to give up so easily. "When did he buy it?" I clarified.
"I think he got it in 1984."
"Did he buy it new?"
"I think it was new in the early sixties – " he admitted sheepishly. "Or late fifties, at the very earliest."
"Dad, I don't know anything about cars. If something went wrong, I don't know if I could fix it. Until I get a job I can't afford a mechanic…"
"You're going to get a job?" My father said, trying to throw me off my line of questioning.
"I have to pay for gas somehow." I said firmly. "But I'm serious, Dad. I don't know if I'll be able to take care of such an old car,"
"It's vintage." My dad said, as if the word alone made the car reliable. "The thing runs great, they don't build machines like that anymore."
The thing, I thought to myself. That would probably turn into a nickname.
"Well, how cheap is 'cheap'?" I asked. That was one thing that I didn't have much flexibility over. I only had so much to spend.
"Honey, I already bought it for you." Dad shot me a hopeful expression. "As a homecoming gift."
Wow. A gift. Though it was so generous, I still felt denial at the concept that Forks could ever be my home. I covered my immediate reaction to protect my father's feelings.
"You didn't need to do that, Dad. I was going to pay for it myself."
"I don't mind!" He said quickly. "I want you to be happy here." He'd always had trouble expressing his emotions out loud, something I inherited from him. As if talking to himself, he'd shared his affection for me while staring straight ahead at the road. I did the same.
"That's really nice, Dad. Thanks. Really." I was still cynical of how I would fare in Forks, but every effort helped. I was touched by how badly my dad wanted me to be happy, and I didn't need him to struggle through the assimilation process with me. It was a big gift to accept, though. Most of my life I'd been shown that it's more honorable to graciously refuse such a big present, but Charlie Swan was my father. Even though our relationship was distant, I was pretty sure it wasn't greedy to accept a car from my dad. And it seemed as though this was something Dad needed partly for himself; to make it feel more like I was there to stay. I didn't want to hurt his feelings by refusing, even if the car turned out to be a lemon.
"You're welcome." He said gruffly, embarrassed by my thanks.
The rest of the drive was uneventful. I've always found it rather hard to make small talk, and unfortunately, that's all I knew to do. My dad isn't a total stranger to me, really, but I only see him a few weeks a year, and we're both pretty close-mouthed. It's hard for two people to get to know each other when neither of them says much. I didn't know what he really enjoyed talking about, and I was consumed with my own thoughts about Forks.
We stared out the windows in silence.
I don't know if it was just an abnormally pleasant day, or if my mind was just trying to see the glass as half-full, but for whatever reason I was surprised at how beautiful everything looked. Everything was green: the tree trunks covered in damp moss, the leaves dark and dripping softly, the ferns spread across the earth. Even the air seemed tinted green by the surroundings. We were surrounded by the earth in its natural state, unsullied. Years ago I saw it as an alien planet – certainly alien to a city girl like me – but now it seemed different. It seemed like a place where magic lived.
The world began to show signs of civilization as we got closer to Dad's place. He still lived in the small, two-bedroom house that he'd bought with my mother when they were newlyweds. As we approached the house from the back, I was caught up at how it looked exactly the same. But once we rounded the corner I saw it. My truck. It was faded red, with big, rounded fenders and a bulbous cab. There was an obvious dent in the hood and a shining place in the passenger door, where the paint had been scraped off by another vehicle, or maybe a pole.
I loved it.
I didn't know if it would run, but I would do whatever it took. From the moment I laid eyes on it, I could see myself driving it. Who cared what other people thought? It was beautiful in its own way – in the way that somehow makes your memories stir – and it was one of those solid iron affairs that never gets damaged. It looked sturdy. It looked reliable.
"Dad," I breathed, suddenly wishing I knew how to properly thank him. "I love it. Thank you."
Falling in love makes the future seem so much brighter, and I was in love with that car. I knew already that driving myself to school the next day would be easy, surrounded by that indestructible beast of a vehicle, and I would have something to look forward to as I left class at the end of the day. I might not have anyone to talk to after school, but at least I could drive around in this old tank. What could be better?
"I'm glad you like it." My dad said, embarrassed again.
It only took us one trip to get all my things upstairs. I got the west bedroom that faced out over the front yard. The room was familiar, of course. I'd stayed there every time I'd visited since I was born. But I was surprised at how strange it felt, even so. It was full of the relics of my childhood, but I'd lived with my mother for my entire life. When I'd come here over the summers, it had always been temporary. It had never really felt like my room. My room was in Phoenix. This was my vacation house.
Charlie never changed it. There was a bed in the center of the room, but the crib I'd slept in as a baby still sat in front of the window. The desk against the wall had crayon marks on it from when I'd used it as a little kid, and there was a plastic army man still stuck to the corner where, five years ago, I had melted it with a magnifying glass and been unable to remove it.
My mother had insisted that my father install a computer in the house, so that we could stay in contact more easily. There was a secondhand monster of a machine on the top of the desk, a modem line stapled along the floor. I realized that the chair at the desk was the rocking chair my parents had used to put me to sleep when I was a baby.
One of the best things about my father is that he doesn't hover. I've never been able to figure out whether he knows when I want to be alone or if he just avoids interactions where he's uncomfortable, which include most of the ones involving me. He left me alone to unpack and get settled, a feat that would be almost impossible for Mom. Since I was alone, I let a few tears escape. I already missed her. I didn't want to get into a real crying fit, though. I had a lot to get done before school in the coming day, and I could have a good cry later.
Forks High School had a total of only three hundred and fifty-seven students, before me. There were more than seven hundred people in just my class back home in Phoenix. On top of that, all the kids here had grown up together. Their parents had grown up together. Their grandparents had grown up together. I wasn't expecting much inclusion from them. Most of them would see me as the new girl, and those few that might remember me from summers when we were children would already know I hated Forks, so they probably wouldn't want to bother with me.
If I'd looked like a girl from the southwest should, maybe it would be easier. If I were tan, sporty, blonde… a volleyball player, or a cheerleader, or even a rodeo girl, maybe they would be friendly. I laughed at myself. Yes, Bella. If you were a different person they might be friendly.
But I wasn't, I was myself. I was pale skinned. I freckled easily. I didn't have the fair colorings that usually complemented fair skin, no blue eyes or red hair to soften the look, instead dark hair and eyes that only set off my skin tone.
I was slender but physically weak, and it was clear I was no athlete. I didn't have the hand-eye coordination, balance, or strength to go through the day without knocking at least one thing over, much less play sports. I had tried. I'd tried to play volleyball for the school team, and was hopeless at it. I'd tried to learn ballet, and found ways to hurt myself during the classes, and always was placed in the back. I'd given up on anything involving coordination while I was still young.
I didn't like to go to dances or run for school office. I couldn't play an instrument or sing. I wasn't good at meeting people. I wasn't good at knowing what to say. Basically, I had no idea how to make new friends.
When I finished unpacking, I took a shower in the one small bathroom I was to be sharing with my father. I put my bath things in the small cubby my dad had always kept there for me, which had 'ISABELLA' on it in glittery stickers. The only thing in the cubby was a half-empty bottle of strawberry scented children's shampoo.
I looked at my face in the mirror as I brushed through my tangled, damp hair. Maybe it was just the light, but I thought I looked sallow, unhealthy. Did my skin really look like that? Stretched and pallid? It was as though I depended on Phoenix's sunshine to survive, and the life was being slowly eaten away in this dark place. I had no color here.
I suddenly missed my friends with a vile desperation. I'd had three friends back home. Amber, Maggie and Roy. If I'd been honest with myself, the four of us had never had all that much in common. But we'd all struggled to find a niche – even in a school of over three thousand – and we'd taken comfort in having someone to call when we were lonely or go out with when we were bored. When I'd told them I was moving, they'd had questions. They'd asked if my mother was moving, asked if I was running away, asked if my parents were forcing me. When I'd told them that it was my decision, they acted like I had betrayed them. Like I was abandoning them. They'd stopped talking to me weeks before the moving day had finally come, except for one text message from Maggie that morning. It had said nothing more than 'goodbye'.
If I couldn't fit in at my old school, ten times larger than Forks High School, how would I ever fit in here?
Sometimes I wondered if I was seeing something different through my eyes than the rest of the world was seeing through theirs. It would explain why I seemed to be unable to relate to people, even those my own age. Maybe it was just my problem.
But the cause didn't matter, I decided. The effect was the same. I just had to survive high school, and then… I didn't know what I'd do. I only knew it had to be better than this.
The sound of the rain kept me up until I was exhausted to tears. I'd already been on the brink of breaking down, as the reality of the move hit me hard, and the inability to fall to sleep made me feel that much more hopeless. When I'd cried my fill, I finally drifted off, though the sound of rain seemed to infiltrate my restless dreams.
In the morning, I woke to darkness. Thick fog pressed the windows, making the whole world feel claustrophobic. You could never see the sky, here. Even if the clouds didn't make you feel trapped, there was fog, rain, and trees to ensure that you never saw anything but what was right in front of your face.
Breakfast with my dad was a quiet event. He wasn't used to sharing his meals, at least not with family. He'd been an only child and his parents were dead, and I was almost certain he hadn't dated another woman since my mother had left him. I didn't mind, though. I wasn't in the mood to talk that morning. He wished me good luck at school, and I thanked him, though I knew not to expect much from my classmates.
He had to leave before I did, so I spent a few minutes in the kitchen. I always think of a kitchen as a family place – it's somewhere that many of my best memories are – but this one was different. I had memories with my dad here, but they weren't ones I thought of fondly. I knew he loved me, and I loved him too, but we saw so little of each other. And this kitchen. It was my kitchen now, even though it didn't feel that way. But maybe it would, if I tried.
It was a good kitchen; an old square oak table with three mismatched chairs sat in the center. Dark paneled walls held up bright yellow cabinets, and the white linoleum curled up in one corner. Nothing had changed in this room, either. My mom had painted those cabinets eighteen years ago. I think she was trying to bring sunshine into the house, but it was a futile effort. Now the paint was flaking in places. The kitchen was adjoined to the tiny family room, where the fireplace was. Photos of my parents' life together were still propped up on the ledge over the fireplace. My eyes stayed on my mom and dad's wedding photo in Las Vegas.
It was impossible to ignore that my dad had never gotten over my mom. It made me uncomfortable, but I felt sorry for him. Mom asked me once if I thought she should be worried that he was still in love with her, but I told her not to be. He'd never tried to stop her from leaving, he'd never tried to turn me against her, and he'd never been anything but polite about Phil.
I knew that I was needlessly upsetting myself before a day that was sure to be upsetting all on its own, so I forced myself to get up. It was time to go to school. I didn't want to be early, but I couldn't stay in the house anymore. I donned my jacket, which was too bulky for my comfort, and headed out into the drizzle that had started coming down.
I reached for the house key that was always hidden under the eaves and put it on my ring. Now that I was here, my dad wouldn't need to keep his spare key where anyone could find it, because I could let him in if he got locked out. I made a mental note to tell him I'd taken the key.
In spite of the light rain, I felt a small burst of happiness at the sight of my truck. I barely noticed the damp hair that was clinging to my neck from the mist.
Inside the truck, it was warm and dry. Someone had obviously cleaned the interior up, but the tan upholstery still smelled faintly of tobacco, gasoline, and peppermint. The engine started immediately, to my relief, but was very loud. It roared to life and idled out at top volume. It was a small flaw for such an old car, although it made listening to music difficult. To my surprise, the antique radio still worked.
Finding the school wasn't difficult, though I found myself wishing the drive were longer. The school was, like most things in this town, right off the highway. It wasn't obvious that it was a school, blending in with the dreary surroundings, and I nearly drove past it before I spotted the sign. It looked more like a collection of matching brick houses, with so many trees and shrubs that it was hard to see its size at first. I found myself missing the unlikeliest thing, the feel of the institution. There were no chain-link fences, no metal detectors. It didn't feel like any school I'd ever gone to.
I parked in front of the first building, which had a small sign over the door reading FRONT OFFICE. My heart was pounding, I was far more nervous than I'd expected. No one else was parked in front of the office, but I decided I would get directions inside instead of trying to find my classes in the rain. I stepped out of the truck, barely keeping my footing as I miscalculated the distance to the ground, and walked down a stone path lined with little hedges. I put my hand on the icy doorknob and took a deep breath.
I stepped into a brightly lit room, which filled me with warmth. The office was small, only a waiting area with padded folding chairs, orange-flecked commercial carpet, and the usual bulletins and awards that every school office seemed to have. A woman sitting behind a long counter in the middle of the room looked up.
"Can I help you?"
"Isabella Swan. I'm new." I said. I saw a flash of recognition on her face. I was expected, of course, maybe even a topic of gossip in town. The Chief's daughter, raised by his flighty ex-wife, come to stay with him after refusing to so much as visit for three years. They may not have noticed my absence, but I guessed that they noticed their Chief was suddenly leaving town on vacation for weeks at a time every summer.
"Of course." She said. She dug through a precarious-looking stack of documents on her desk. She pulled a folder from a seemingly random position in the pile. "I have your schedule right here, and a map of the school."
After she handed them to me, she went through my schedule with me and highlighted on the map the best route to take for each class. She gave me a slip to have each teacher sign, which I was to bring back at the end of the day. As I turned to leave the office, she smiled at me and wished me good luck, just like Dad. I smiled as convincingly as I could. These two, at least, seemed to think I could be happy in Forks. I hoped they were right.
When I went back out to my truck, other students had started to arrive. I found my nervousness flaring back up, but was determined not to show it. I followed the flow of traffic around the school, glad to see that my car didn't seem to be attracting attention. Lots of students here were driving older cars, so it didn't stand out. At home I'd lived in one of the few lower-income neighborhoods in the Paradise Valley District. It was common to see Mercedes and Porsches in the student lot. The nicest car I could see here was a shiny Volvo, and rather than seeming fairly normal, it stuck out. Still, I cut the engine as soon as I was in a spot. My truck's appearance didn't attract attention, but its volume would if I left it long enough.
I tried to memorize the route to my first class. I didn't want to have to walk around with the map stuck in front of my nose all day, especially since I wasn't good at reading and walking at the same time. When I was satisfied that I'd remember it, I stuffed all my school things in my bag and stepped out of the truck.
I kept my hood up as I walked to the sidewalk, crowded with teenagers. I wanted to make friends, but I didn't know how. I was scared, and my first impulse was to avoid being noticed by anyone. I told myself it would be easier later, in class, when there would be only ten or twenty of them around me, instead of… everyone.
Building three came into view as I walked around the cafeteria, the number painted on a white square in one corner. I hadn't thought I could be more aware of my heartbeat, but as I propelled myself toward the building I began to feel overwhelmed. I made myself breathe evenly as I followed two people in raincoats through the door.
The classroom was small. I watched the two students in front of me as they hung their raincoats on pegs by the door, following their lead. They were two girls, a porcelain-skinned blonde and a pale brunette. At least my fair skin wouldn't seem so unusual here.
I walked up to the balding teacher, Mr. Mason. It surprised me when he seemed to recognize me, reaching out for my slip before I'd even pulled it from my bag. "The new student, right?" He asked. "They told me to expect one. Charlie Swan's daughter, aren't you?"
I flushed, nodding.
"You're shy, huh? Like father, like – well… daughter, I guess!" He smiled at me. I knew he was trying to be friendly, but for some reason his comment about my Dad had embarrassed me.
I forced a smile and he directed me to the empty desk at the back. That was a kindness, at least. It would be harder for my new classmates to stare at me in the back. Still, somehow, they managed.
I kept my eyes down on the reading list the teacher had given me. It was fairly basic, all things I'd read last year in my advanced placement class. That was somewhat comforting – I knew I could keep up with the other students in class, maybe even do better than them. But it was boring, too. I wondered if my mother would send my folder of essays from my old class, or if she'd think it was cheating. I didn't have much time to settle on a good argument in my defense before the teacher started class.
After the bell rang, I began to gather my belongings. A gangly boy with shaggy black hair leaned across the aisle to talk to me.
"You're Isabella Swan, aren't you?" He said, after waving off a few of his friends. Although he struck me as sort of geeky, he was obviously well-liked. He seemed like the sort of person who was so friendly that everyone liked him, even if he was a skinny kid wearing a video game t-shirt.
"Bella." I corrected. A few people around looked over to us, and I could tell that all of the other students around were listening too.
"Where's your next class?" The boy asked.
"Um… Government, I think?" I checked my list. "Building six, with Jefferson."
I kept my eyes on the schedule, rather than acknowledging the increasing number of eyes watching me.
"I'm headed to building four. I could show you the way." He held out his hand. "I'm Eric."
I smiled tentatively and shook it. "Thanks." I said.
We got our jackets and headed out into the rain, which was falling harder now. I could have sworn a few people behind us were walking unusually close, probably to eavesdrop. I wondered if I was getting paranoid.
"So, Phoenix is a lot different from here, huh?" Eric asked.
"Very different." I agreed.
"It doesn't rain much there, does it?"
"Three or four times a year. Usually it's sunny."
"Wow! I'd think you'd be tanner," he grinned.
Eric studied my face for a moment before he laughed. I felt embarrassed again, since I usually kept those sorts of comments to myself. But his laughter did reassure me, which made me like him a little more.
We walked back down the path I'd taken around the cafeteria. Eric walked me all the way to the door, even though I'd seen the sign long before.
"Good luck," he said. "Maybe we'll have some other classes together."
"Maybe." I smiled and went inside.
The rest of the morning passed without consequence. My Trigonometry teacher, Mr. Varner, was the only teacher who made me stand in front of the class and introduce myself. I stammered, blushed, and stumbled over my own bootlace on the way to my seat. I could tell I wasn't going to like him.
After two classes, I began to recognize a number of faces in each of my classes. There was always someone who was braver than the others, who would introduce themselves and help me find my classes. They asked me questions about how I liked Forks, and I tried to be diplomatic with my answers even though it was too soon to tell whether I would fit in here.
One girl sat next to me in both Trig and Spanish, and she walked with me to the cafeteria for lunch. She was tiny, several inches shorter than me, with wild, curly dark hair. She'd introduced herself to me when we first met, but I couldn't remember what her name was and was too embarrassed to ask her again. She talked about teachers and classes and I tried to keep up. She seemed sweet, even though she was almost as awkward as I was socially.
We sat at the end of a full table with several of her friends, who she introduced to me. I tried in vain to keep track of all their names. I felt a little guilty for being surprised that she had so many friends. They all seemed impressed with her bravery in speaking to me. The boy from English, Eric, waved at me from across the cafeteria.
It was then, after waving back to Eric, that I first saw them. Seven curious strangers tried to maintain an open conversation for my sake, but my attention was captivated elsewhere.
They were sitting in the corner, as far from where I sat as possible. There were five of them. Though they were talking, they weren't eating, each one with a tray of untouched food in front of them. They weren't looking at me – though that wasn't surprising in such a crowded room – so it was safe to stare at them without fear of meeting their eyes.
It was like they were a unique breed of their own. Though they looked nothing like each other in feature, there was some quality to them that seemed exactly alike. I couldn't place my finger on what it was.
Of the three boys, one was big. He was muscled like a wrestler or a weight lifter, with dark, curly hair. He seemed to smile more than the others, and he moved with a fraternal attitude like a member of a team. The second boy was taller and leaner, though he still had an athletic look to him, with honey blond hair. Though his features were refined and delicate, he had the look of a strong, serious person. The third was different. He was lankier, more boyish looking. The other two could have passed for college students, but he seemed younger. He had untidy, bronze-colored hair and long dark eyelashes. Where his blond neighbor seemed serious-minded, the younger looking boy simply seemed quiet. He looked absorbed in thought, paying little attention to his tablemates.
The two girls sitting with them were opposites of one another. The taller one was statuesque. She had the perfect figure, the kind you saw in magazines. She was the kind of flawless beauty that every girl grows up seeing, believing it to be unattainable. Her hair was golden, flowing halfway down her back and her facial expression was bored and aloof. The short girl next to her was small and pixielike. She had deep black hair, cropped short and pointing in every direction. She seemed more dynamic than her blonde friend, gesturing and smiling as she talked with the curly-haired boy. Enthusiastic. I thought.
But as I looked at them, I realized what was so similar. They were all chalky pale, the palest of everyone in the room. Paler than me, the half-albino. There didn't even seem to be any variation in their skin tones. As I compared their varying features, it shocked me to realize they all also had unusually dark eyes, which was especially striking on the fair-haired ones. Beneath those eyes, they wore dark circles, as though they'd suffered a sleepless night. And something about the way their faces were structured seemed unusually straight, perfect and angular.
And though I didn't understand how they could look this way – or why no one else seemed to notice – that wasn't why I couldn't look away.
I stared because, although their faces looked different in some ways and unsettlingly similar in others, they were all devastatingly beautiful. They were faces that you would see in magazines and movies, perfection maintained by constant care. Or the faces painted by an old master as the face of an angel. It was impossible to determine who was the most beautiful, they so wholly embodied different types of loveliness, but I couldn't tear my eyes from the bronze-haired boy.
Though the pixielike girl and the curly-haired boy seemed to be having an engaging conversation, the others were quiet, looking at their table rather than each other. As I watched, the small girl rose with her tray –unopened soda, untouched apple –and walked away from the others in her group. I watched, drawn in by her lithe dancer's step, until she dumped her tray and glided through the back door, faster than I would have thought possible without running. My eyes found their table again.
"Who are they?" I asked one of the girl's friends, who I recognized from our Spanish class.
As she looked up to see who I meant – though she seemed to already know, from my tone – the boyish one suddenly looked up, directly at us. His eyes flickered almost imperceptibly between my neighbor and me. When his eyes caught mine, they held my gaze for an uneasily long moment. The moment broke abruptly; he dropped his eyes more quickly than I could, even in my flush of embarrassment. In that brief flash of a glance, his face had been blank, holding no real interest. It was as though she'd called his name and he'd looked up automatically.
My neighbor giggled in embarrassment, looking down at the table along with me.
"That's Edward and Emmett Cullen, and Jasper and Rosalie Hale. They all live with Dr. Cullen and his wife. There's another one of them too, Alice Cullen." She said this under her breath, as though trying to keep her friends from noticing who we were talking about.
I glanced sideways at the bronze-haired boy, who was now picking a bagel apart over his lunch tray. His long, pale fingers made quick work of it. His mouth moved very quickly, lips barely opening. The other three continued to look at each other as if nothing were happening, but I felt he was speaking quietly to them.
Strange, unpopular names, I thought. The kind of names you heard more in a nursing home, or in families of old nobility who carried names through the generations. But maybe that was a naming practice they did here, too. Small-town names? Then I remembered that the girl talking to me was called Jessica, and that seemed a fairly normal name to me. Maybe her family was from somewhere else originally.
"They're… really nice-looking." I said.
"Yes!" Jessica agreed with another giggle. "They're all together, though. Emmett and Rosalie are together, and Alice and Jasper. And they live together, so… you know." She seemed scandalized by the idea, and I supposed even in Phoenix a living situation like that would cause gossip.
"Which ones are the Cullens?" I asked. "They don't really look related."
"Oh, they're not. Dr. Cullen and his wife are really young, he was probably fourteen or something when Emmett would've been born. All the kids are adopted. The Hales actually are brother and sister, twins. They're the blonde ones, foster kids."
"They look a little old to be foster kids."
"They are now." Jessica said. "Jasper and Rosalie are both eighteen. But I think Mrs. Cullen is their aunt or something, someone told me they've been with her since they were eight."
"That's kind of nice, that they take care of so many kids like that. Especially when they're so young. That probably doesn't happen very often."
"I guess so," Jessica admitted. I got the impression that she didn't like the family for some reason. Judging by the glances she shot toward their table, they seemed to unsettle her. "I think Mrs. Cullen can't have kids." She added, as if that lessened their kindness.
I continued to watch the family, though I tried to be discreet. They continued their subdued conversation, their food still uneaten.
"Have they always lived in Forks?" I asked. I was certain I'd have remembered meeting them on my summers here, but that didn't really mean anything. Maybe their family went on vacation every summer, or maybe their parents didn't let them go out much. They seemed cut off from the rest of the student body, and it seemed unlikely that they would keep so much to themselves if they'd grown up in contact with the community.
"No," she said in a voice that implied it should be obvious. I brushed aside a pang of irritation at her tone – what did she expect? I was new. "They just moved down two years ago from somewhere in Alaska."
I felt a strange relief at the idea that I wasn't the only newcomer here, even though they'd been here quite a bit longer. But I didn't let myself feel too relieved; there was clearly something strange about them. They were outsiders, and it appeared they were outsiders by choice. Why would they want to be alone?
As I mulled this thought over, the youngest boy looked up and met my gaze, this time with evident curiosity in his expression. I looked away quickly, though I noticed in the brief moment our eyes met that he seemed to be puzzled, as though he'd been expecting something from me.
"Which one is the boy with the reddish hair?" I asked. I could see through my peripheral vision that he was still watching me. I glanced nervously at him, taking in his frustrated expression, before looking back to my new friends.
"That's Edward. He's gorgeous, but don't get your hopes up. He doesn't date anyone around here. He doesn't do much of anything with people around here, actually. He acts like we're not worth his time, so if I were you, I wouldn't waste mine."
I bit my lip. That didn't sound good, but I didn't want to judge the boy I hadn't even met before. Maybe Jessica was just jealous of the family, or maybe he had turned her down.
I glanced back at the table to see that Edward had turned his face away, though from the looks on the faces of his siblings, they were laughing over something together. After a few minutes, the four of them left their table. They all seemed light on their feet – even the big one – moving with the same fluid gait as the girl that had left earlier. It was unsettling to watch. Edward didn't look at me again.
Even after the bell rang, I stayed with Jessica and her friends longer than I would have if I'd been sitting alone. I was anxious not to be late to classes, but I didn't want to just leave the group that was being friendly to me. I didn't know anyone else. I had Biology II in the next hour, along with the curly-haired girl from my two other classes. She considerately reminded me that her name was Angela, without me even having to ask. We walked to class together in silence, since she seemed to have run out of ideas for conversation. I knew it was probably my fault; I hadn't contributed much to the previous talk to clue her in on my interests.
When we entered the classroom, Angela went to sit at a black-topped lab table like the ones my old school had. She already had a partner. In fact, all the tables were filled except for one. Next to the center aisle, I recognized Edward Cullen. It would be hard not to, after I spent the whole of lunch watching him. He sat next to the only open seat.
As I walked down the aisle to see the teacher about signing my slip, I watched him through the corner of my eye. Just as I passed, he went rigid in his seat. He stared at me again, meeting my eyes with the strangest expression on his face – panic. I looked away quickly, shocked. I stumbled over a book someone had left on the floor, catching myself on the table. I heard a few soft chuckles at my expense and willed myself not to blush.
His eyes weren't dark brown, as I'd assumed before. There was no color to them at all. They were black.
Mr. Banner signed my slip and handed me a book without making me introduce myself. I could tell we were going to get along when he didn't insult my intelligence by trying to guide me through the instructions, instead telling me to ask him if I needed help and directing me to have a seat for the lecture.
Of course, there was no place for me to sit except for next to Edward. As I turned and caught his eyes again, I saw that his panicked look had been replaced by outright hostility. Bewildered by the antagonistic stare he'd given me, I slid into the open chair.
I didn't look up as I set my bag on the table and opened my notebook, but I saw his posture change through the corner of my eye. He was leaning away from me, sitting on the extreme edge of his hair and averting his face like he smelled something disgusting. I tried to be inconspicuous as I sniffed softly at my hair. It smelled like the strawberry children's shampoo I'd used the night before. It couldn't be that, could it? I let my hair fall over my shoulder, cutting Edward off from my peripheral vision and tried to pay attention to the teacher.
Unfortunately, the lecture was on cellular anatomy. I'd already studied it at my old school, which made it hard for me to keep my mind on the class rather than the discomfort I felt at sitting next to Edward Cullen. I took meticulous notes to try and distract myself from him.
But try as I might, I couldn't stop myself from looking at the strange boy occasionally. During the whole class, I never saw him relax his stiff position on the edge of the chair, sitting as far from me as possible. I could see that his hand was clenched to his left knee, tendons standing out beneath his pale skin. This, too, never relaxed. He had the long sleeves of his white shirt pushed up to his elbows, and his forearm was surprisingly sturdy and toned beneath his skin, which looked somehow too smooth. He was slighter than his brothers, but it was clear he was strong.
The class seemed to drag forever, since I got more and more alarmed by Edward's behavior as time wore on. I was waiting the entire hour for his fist to loosen. It never did; he continued to sit so still it looked like he wasn't breathing. What was wrong with him? Was this his normal behavior? It made me wonder if this was what Jessica had been talking about – but it was different than she'd described it. He didn't act like I wasn't worth his time, he acted like he wanted to hurt me.
It couldn't be somehow my fault, could it? I hadn't even spoken to him, how could I have caused it?
I peeked up at him one more time, but instantly regretted it. He was staring at me again, his black eyes full of something animal that made my hands clammy. I shrank away from him almost involuntarily, now knowing what 'if looks could kill' really meant.
At that moment, the bell rang. I jumped, startled. Edward Cullen was standing before I even had a chance to look. He rose – much taller than I'd thought – and turned his back to me. He was out the door before anyone else was out of their seat.
I sat frozen at the table, staring after him in shock. What kind of a person behaved that way, with such open disgust? How could he treat a stranger that way? I had a visceral feeling of shame and rejection that I'd never experienced before. It wasn't fair, I thought, and I wished I could feel angry about it instead of feeling gutted. I would be humiliated if I cried on my first day of school.
"Aren't you Isabella Swan?" a voice asked.
I looked up to see a handsome, broad-faced boy. His pale blond hair was gelled into carefully disheveled spikes, and he was smiling at me in a friendly way. He obviously didn't think I was disgusting. What was wrong with Edward Cullen?
"Bella," I corrected him, smiling.
"I'm Mike." He said. "Do you need any help finding your next class?"
"I'm headed to Gym, actually. I think I can find it." I wasn't sure I could handle trying to be social when I was so shaken up about what had just happened.
"That's my next class too," he said, and I felt my stomach sink. Well. There was nowhere to go but up, I supposed.
We walked to class together. He was a chatterer, which I was thankful for at the moment. He supplied most of the conversation for me. He'd moved from California when he was ten, so he knew how I felt about the sun. It was nice to hear someone who understood where I was coming from, even if I wasn't a very good conversational partner. He reminded me that he was in my English class, too, although I didn't remember him. I wish I had – he was the nicest person I'd met that day.
As we were entering the gym, he asked. "So, did you stab Edward Cullen with a pencil or what? I've never seen him act that way before."
I tried to conceal my surprise. Of course other people had noticed his behavior… it wasn't normal. Even if Edward acted that way all the time, it wasn't how normal people acted. But apparently it wasn't Edward Cullen's usual behavior, which brought back my unhappy feelings.
"The boy I sat next to, you mean?" I asked.
"Yes." He said. "He looked like he was having a nervous breakdown or something."
"I don't know why he was like that." I said. "I never even spoke to him."
"He's a weird guy." Mike lingered by me instead of heading to the dressing room. "No one else would have done that if they were sitting next to you. I would have talked to you." He gave a smarmy arch of his eyebrow at his last comment, and I wasn't sure how to take it. It was hard to tell if he was joking or if he was really trying to flirt. Either way, he had far more confidence than I did, which made me feel distinctly out of place, although it was flattering.
I smiled at him before walking through the girls' locker room door. He was friendly and clearly wanted to reassure me. It didn't completely erase the feelings that lingered from Edward's reaction, but it did help.
The Gym teacher, Coach Clapp, found a uniform for me but didn't make me dress down for today's class. At home, only two years of P.E. were required. Here you had to take it all four years. It was like the world wanted to make my first day as humiliating as possible.
I watched four volleyball games running simultaneously. I'd wished when I was younger that I could be on a school team of some sort, and had spent a few years trying to play volleyball. Eventually the injuries and blows to my self-esteem had become too much, and I'd quit. Now I felt anxious and faintly nauseated, being forced to relive childhood humiliations on my first day. I hoped fervently that they would be playing something different tomorrow.
The final bell rang at last. I gathered my things and left the class as quickly as possible, driving to the front office to turn in my signed slips so that I could go home. The rain had stopped, but the wind was strong and cold, and as I walked from the lot to the office, I wrapped my arms around myself.
When I entered the bright room, I nearly walked back out.
Edward Cullen stood at the desk in front of me. I somehow recognized him before I even saw the tousled bronze hair peeking out from beneath his knit cap. He didn't appear to notice my entrance and I pressed against the back wall, waiting for him to leave so I could talk to the receptionist.
He was arguing her with a low, attractive voice. It annoyed me that he was so attractive physically, when he was apparently so unpleasant in personality. I didn't hear all of what they were saying, but I picked up enough of it. He was trying to switch out of our Biology class to another time. Any other time.
I felt denial rising in my chest, at the same time that I felt my stomach drop at the idea that this was about me. It had to be something else, didn't it? Something that happened before I'd entered the room? How could this stranger have taken such an intense, sudden dislike to me? But what else could it have been? Mike's comments had made it clear that he thought Edward's behavior was directed to me, too. Could we both be wrong?
The door opened again, and the wind gusted forward into the room, rustling the papers on the desk and swirling my hair around my face. The girl who came in was only dropping off a note, but the energy in the room had changed. Edward Cullen's back stiffened, and he turned slowly to look at me. I couldn't read the expression on his face, but it frightened me. He looked at me only for a moment before he turned back to the receptionist.
"Never mind, then," he said hastily, his voice suddenly rough. "I can see that it's impossible. Thank you so much for your help." He turned on his heel and disappeared out the door, not so much as looking at me as he left.
I went meekly to the desk, my face white, and handed her my signed slip.
"How did your first day go, dear?" The receptionist asked, seeming to notice that I looked shaken up. She looked slightly ruffled herself over the argument she'd had with Edward.
"Uh, fine." I lied, my voice thin. She didn't seem convinced, but didn't push the issue.
When I got to the truck, it was one of the last cars in the lot. It seemed like a haven already, the closest thing to a feeling of home I had in this dark, damp place. It was one of the only places I felt safe: I wasn't surrounded by my father's home, feeling like a guest; I wasn't trying to navigate a social situation; and Edward Cullen wasn't here. I sat inside while the car warmed up, staring blankly out the window. Finally giving up on trying to work through the events of the day here, I headed back to my dad's house, managing to fight back tears until I got there.