Author's Note: Here's my new story, which I'll be posting on Fridays. For those who read my other story, Hero, don't worry! I'll still be updating that regularly as well. Each chapter of this story will have a header containing funeral terminology. The definition for these terms comes from the Death and Funeral Glossary, which was created by the University of Tampere in Finland. Also, these characters don't belong to me. They belong to Stephenie Meyer.

Warning: This story contains teenage drug use and sex.

Chapter One: Final Rites

Final Rites: The funeral service.

The Cullens and Hales are a novelty in the town of Forks, despite the fact they moved there over fives years ago. Forks, Washington is a small town; it is a boring town. There is not much else to do but gossip.

As the Cullens and Hales sit at their lunch table in the Forks High School Cafeteria, people surreptitiously sneak glances at them. It can hardly be helped. They do make for a striking quintet.

The boys are classically handsome and the girls are equally as stunning. One only has to look at their parents to see where such good genes were derived from.

Rosalie Hale and her younger brother, Jasper, both have golden hair that is the envy of men girls and boys alike at Forks High. Rosalie, with her cape of golden hair and statuesque figure, is the girl that every other girl wishes they could be.

Alice Cullen is not quite as beautiful as Rosalie, but she stands out even more so. Recently, she chopped her black locks into a wild pixie cut. It suits her, along with the dark clothing she loves to don. She stands out amongst the falsely bright colors that the people of Forks enjoy wearing.

Her brothers, the twins, are polar opposites. Emmett has curly black hair and twinkling blue eyes. He almost always sports a mischievous grin. Edward, on the other hand, has a wild mop of reddish brown hair and is rarely seen smiling. He's the only one in the group that may be even easier on the eyes than Rosalie—something that she greatly resents.

By all rights, they should be the most popular kids in the school. Emmett, Rosalie and Edward, as seniors, should be ruling the school with an iron fist, with Alice and Jasper ready to take over next year. Instead, they are outcasts, ostracized by even the bottom of the social hierarchy.

The denizens of Forks High decided long ago that the Cullens and Hales were, to be frank, freaks. From the moment they found out back in middle school what their parents' chosen profession was, people were creeped out by the Cullens and Hales.

They own a funeral parlor. It was (and is) the cause of many rumors.

Some say Alice goes into the caskets and sleeps with the corpses at night. Others say that Rosalie takes her make up styling tips from mortician magazines. The worst rumor is, perhaps, that Edward likes to "enjoy" the company of the bodies they keep at the Cullen Family Funeral Home.

(Rosalie may have started that particular rumor. She will neither confirm nor deny her involvement. )

As if the Cullen and Hale clan don't have it hard enough, they also have two other strikes against them. The first being that their parents, Carlisle Cullen and Esme Hale, are living together, but are not legally wed. This fact is quite upsetting to the people of the small town of Forks, with their conservative values and mindsets.

Carlisle and Esme have both been married before, though and neither feels the need to do so again. Perhaps what is even more outrageous to the people of Forks is that they are letting their children from their previous marriages date one another.

Emmett and Rosalie, and Jasper and Alice have both been couples since they began their high school years. Edward is the odd man out and, frankly, likes it that way.

These three strikes against the Cullens have caused them to be, quite simply, pariahs. (It doesn't stop people from using the Cullen Family Funeral Home, though. No one holds a better funeral than Carlisle Cullen and Esme Hale.)

This is why, right at this very moment, many people in the Forks High School Cafeteria are looking at the Cullen/Hale clan and talking about them, but no one is talking to them. No one would ever say what they were gossiping about to any of the Cullen's or Hale's faces, though. People are a bit too terrified of them.

Bella Swan isn't afraid of them, though. Not even a little bit. She's found them to be fascinating ever since she first met them in middle school. Each and every one of them is mysterious to her, but none more so than Edward Cullen. She has always been intrigued by him, but has never acted on that interest. Her fear of losing her friends eclipses her need to know more about him.

Truth be told, Edward Cullen makes her uncomfortable. Not in a bad way, necessarily. She often catches him staring at her with hooded eyes and a heated gaze. She catches him because she likes to stare at him, too. They don't talk, though. That would be far too intimate for Bella.

Bella has no desire to get too attached to anyone in Forks. She doesn't plan on staying there. Her destiny lies in New York, or, at least, she hopes it does. She's in the middle of applying to several colleges, but her top choice is Columbia University. Getting in will be tough, but she will be valedictorian of her class at Forks.

If Edward Cullen doesn't manage to snatch it all away, that is. They ended their junior year in a tie. Both of them had a 3.989 GPA. This year Bella is determined to best him, though. It's the first day of their last year of high school and she can feel it in her bones that she's going to come out on top.

She can't help but to join in the other onlookers and glance over at the Cullen's table. Thinking about Edward all too often leads to her looking at Edward. She's lucky none of her friends have picked up on it. Her curtain of brown hair does wonders to hide the direction of her gaze.

Her friends may not take notice, but Edward certainly does. She watches him as he sits quietly, listening to his siblings. Occasionally he spares them a small laugh, but he never joins the conversation. Even amongst the outcasts he is an outsider.

She knows she should stop looking, but she can't. She looks for long enough that Edward eventually looks up to meet her gaze. Startling green eyes meet boring brown. Edward cocks a brow at her.

Normally, Bella would look down and blush, but she readied herself for the new school year with a plan. She will do anything she can to throw Edward Cullen off balance.

She stares right back at him and winks.

Edward's brow continues it's lone climb up his forehead. She's trying to think of a response when she's interrupted.

"Watchya doing, Bells?"

She rips her gaze from Edward's to find her boyfriend, Jacob, sitting down next to her.

Despite his large size, there is nothing intimidating about Jacob. Everything about him is nice. His russet skin and bright smile are cute and nice. His company is nice. Being in a relationship with him is nice. Having sex with him is nice.

Everything about him is just too damn nice sometimes.

Most days, Bella likes spending time with him. His easygoing attitude is usually a good foil for her less than sunny demeanor. Today is one of those odd days, though, where she can't wait to be out of Forks and away from Jacob.

"Nothing," she grumbles back to him. "I'm doing nothing."

Jacob looks to see what Bella was looking at just moments ago. He catches sight of something that makes his gaze darken. "You shouldn't let that freak Cullen bother you, Bells. Staring him down will only make it worse."

Thankfully Jacob has never clued in on her little obsession with Edward Cullen. He, like everyone else, thinks that Edward has an unrequited crush on her. Bella does nothing to dispel this notion, even though she knows she should.

She leans over to peck Jacob on the lips, knowing that it will distract him. When he deepens the kiss, she allows it. He's a good kisser.

After a minute, she pulls away and gives him a small smile. Despite her complaints, Jacob is a good boyfriend and they do have a certain chemistry together. A part of her will miss him when she leaves for college.

She still plans to break up with him come August, of course. It will upset her father, Charlie, who is good friends with Jacob's father. It won't really matter too much, though. She'll be too far away to reap the consequences of her father's sure to be ruffled feathers.

Jacob flashes her his white teeth. "Happy birthday," he murmurs. "I'm trying to keep things contained this year. I know you don't like people knowing that it's your birthday."

Bella can't help but to chuckle at that. "Jake, this is Forks. Everyone knows that it's my birthday."

He laughs with her. "I guess you're right. So you shouldn't be too reluctant to go to the surprise party that Jessica and Lauren are having for you tonight."

Bella rolls her eyes. "I'd really rather not, but I know those two. No way am I getting out of it. Thanks for letting me in on the surprise." He knows her well enough to know that she hates surprises.

"You're welcome. Think of it this way: people will be too busy celebrating the first day of school to remember it's your birthday," he says. He waggles his eyebrows. "So the big one-eight . . . how's it feel to be an adult?"

Bella shrugs. "Meh. I still live under my parents' roof. My mom still made me breakfast this morning. My dad will probably still pretend to clean his gun any time you so much as stare at the doorway to my room."

Jake snorts. "I really wish he'd stop doing that."

Two of her friends, the unwanted surprise party planners, Lauren and Jessica, sit down with them.

"Happy birthday, Bella!" Jessica says, tone cheerful. Everything about her is cheerful. She's even a cheerleader; a fact she flaunts with pride by wearing her curly brown hair in a high ponytail and donning her uniform on a daily basis.

Lauren is also a cheerleader, but she's always less than cheerful. A kind person would describe her as prickly. Bella would just say that she's a bitch. She and Bella are the kind of friends that don't really get along, but somehow manage to remain friends. Bella is certain that once she leaves Forks, her friendship with Lauren will leave right along with her.

"Happy birthday," Lauren mutters, clearly reluctant to allow anyone else to be the center of attention.

"Thanks, Jessica." Bella's tone is warm, genuine. "Lauren." Not so warm. Not so genuine.

"Cullen's been staring at our Bells again," Jacob tells the girls. Although he'll never admit it, he's a terrible gossip.

"Can we talk about something else, please?" Bella begs, already knowing what the answer will be.

"Nope." A predatory gleam enters Lauren's eyes as she says it. "Maybe you two can share a coffin together."

"Hey now. The only coffin Bells will be sharing is mine," Jacob jokes.

Bella punches him in the arm, but doesn't put any force behind it.

Lauren barks out a laugh, but Jessica frowns. "That's kind of mean, Lauren. Edward is really nice."

"Pshhhhhh. Yeah right." Bitterness creeps into Lauren's tone. She famously once asked Edward out only to be turned down with a, "No. Never going to happen." Ever since, she's made an effort to tear him down any chance she gets.

"It's my birthday," Bella says. "And this birthday girl desperately wants a change of subject." Bella doesn't feel the need to listen to one of Lauren's anti-Cullen tirades. It only serves to give her a headache.

"So, Bella," Jessica says, tone just a tad too innocent, "any big birthday plans for tonight?"

Bella plays along, only for sweet, simple Jessica's sake. "Jake's taking me to a movie in Port Angeles. It'll probably be a pretty early night."

"But it's not even a school night!" Jessica protests dramatically. She will not be winning the Oscar for Best Actress anytime soon.

"Got to get my beauty sleep. Someone has to beat out Edward Cullen for valedictorian." She accidentally lets slip a mention of Edward. It's as if his name was just waiting to roll of her tongue. She really needs to learn to control her brain-to-mouth filter better.

"No one wants to hear Edward Cullen give a speech at graduation," Lauren agrees.

Jacob joins in. "What would he even say? 'My life has been filled with doom and gloom. And now yours shall be too. A pox upon ye all'?"

"Stop it, you guys," Jessica groans, trying to smother her laughter behind her hand.

Bella is the only one not laughing. Jake's sense of humor is a bit . . . dumb. She glances up at the clock. Only twenty more minutes of having to endure their high school lunchtime idiocy.

Tall, mousy Angela Webber sits down and takes the vacant seat next to her. Bella thanks every deity she can think of for Angela's timing.

"Angela!" Bella exclaims. "So nice to see you. It seems like it's been forever."

Angela's brow furrows. "You just saw me in AP English. That was only two periods ago."

"Two periods too long!" Bella retorts. "Tell me, how excited are you to be reading Hamlet this year?"

Angela visibly brightens. "I can't wait! I love Shakespeare."

Jacob, Jessica and Lauren all give them looks of disgust. To them, academic discussions at the lunch table are the height of uncool. They ignore the two girls and continue on gossiping and cracking jokes about various classmates.

Bella and Angela continue their discussion of their senior year reading list. Once Angela sees that their friends are suitably distracted, she drops all pretenses.

"Edward has been staring at you for the entire lunch period," she says, tone matter of fact.

Angela, despite seeming quiet and meek, does not like to beat around the bush. Bella is usually much the same. Talking about Edward Cullen is the exception.

"Shhhhh!" Bella hisses.

Angela's eyes nearly roll into her skull with the force of her eye roll. "They're too busy debating whether or not Mike Newton will be asking Jessica to Homecoming."

"But it's only the first day of school!" Bella protests.

"It's never to early to find a Homecoming date, apparently." Angela glares at her. "So. Edward Cullen."

Bella stabs her fork into what the fine cafeteria workers liked to call "mashed potatoes". "White goo" would be a more appropriate title. "What about Edward Cullen?"

Angela's mouth twitches, belaying her annoyance. "Like I said: he's been staring at you. More than usual."

Bella tries to will away the heat that she can feel rise in her face. "I may have stared back at him. I may have winked."

Angela's eyes widen. "Why in the world would you do that?"

"Because I'm tired of him staring at me. I don't know why he does it, but I'm not just going to let it slide anymore. He needs to know who the real alpha dog is around here. I can't let him get cocky and think that he's actually going to become valedictorian."

"Riiiiiight," Angela drawls. "That's totally why you did it."

Bella pales. She knows that Angela suspects that she may have a thing for Edward. No one can know, though. No one. Not if she wants to leave Forks unscathed, at least. "It's part of my senior year plan," she insists. "Winning mind games against Edward Cullen is an integral part of that plan!"

Angela clearly doesn't believe her, but lets it go. "Fine. Whatever. So . . . what are you doing for your birthday later?"

Bella glares. "I think you know what I'm doing."

Angela's smile can only be deemed evil. "I told Lauren and Jessica that I thought that a surprise party was a great idea," she cheerfully whispers.

Before Bella can respond, the bell rings, signaling the end of their lunch period.

Bella heaves out a sigh. "Off to AP Bio."

Jacob returns his attention to her and gently kisses her cheek. "I'm sorry, babe. You could always join us peons in the general section of Bio."

"Hey!" Angela protests. "We smarties have to stick together. Don't try to steal Bella from me!"

As Jessica and Lauren pack up their books and wave goodbye, Jacob puts up his fists and jabs at the air. "I'll fight you for her."

Bella can't help but to smile at the silliness of her best friend and boyfriend. "No one's fighting over me. C'mon, Ange, let's get to class." She gives Jacob a tight hug. "See you at my car after school?"

"You betcha!"

Before her and Angela leave the lunchroom, Bella spares a quick glance for the Cullen table. All of them are gone already.

Bella tries to ignore the disappointment stirring within her.


The usual suspects are in their AP Bio class, including three of the Cullens. Rosalie and Emmett share a table, while Edward sits alone. No one seems eager to go sit next to them, although many of the girls give him some speculative glances. No matter how strange they may think him, they can't help but to find him attractive. He is the most attractive boy in their grade (in the school, really) after all.

Bella tries hard to ignore Edward's presence as she enters the classroom, but she finds her eyes immediately latching onto his. The corner of his mouth lifts up in an almost-smile. It's clearly not a smile, though. Edward Cullen doesn't smile at anyone, especially not her. Mostly, he just stares her down.

She looks away before she can decide if he's really smiling or not. There's no need for her to get into two staring contests with him in one day. She wants to throw him off balance, but she doesn't want to give him the wrong idea. She doesn't want him to think that she's interested (even if she is).

Bella turns to Angela and gestures to a seat with two empty tables. "Partners?"

Angela nods with a small smile, back to being meek now that she can feel the attention of others on her. "Sure."

Angela is a logical choice for a lab partner. She's not only Bella's friend, but she's the smartest person in their grade next to Edward and her. And Bella certainly has no plans to partner up with Edward.

Bella scribbles in her notebook as their teacher writes his name on the board. He's new to the school. Mr. Banner retired at the end of the previous year. Mr. Molina, his replacement, appears to be young and eager.

His newness makes Bella a bit apprehensive. New teachers love to change things up. Bella is perfectly happy sticking with the status quo. She lives and breathes the status quo. It's all part of being a happy citizen of Forks. Those who try to change things always end up burned.

It only takes one minute into Mr. Molina's introduction to see that her fears are indeed coming true.

"I see that you all haven chosen seats already," he says. "I hate to inconvenience anyone, but I'm going to be moving people around." He ignores the class' audible groan. "The person I put you next to will be your lab partner for the rest of the year. I've placed you all according to your academic performance in your previous science classes. Please move to the seat where I place you when I call your name."

Dread creeps into Bella's spine.

"Angela Webber and Ben Cheney," he calls.

Angela gives Bella an apologetic smile and moves to the front of the room. She knows that Angela is secretly excited, though. She's had a crush on Ben since their sophomore year. Bella hopes that now maybe she'll finally act on it.

"Michael Newton and Rosalie Hale."

"Emmett Cullen and Allison Smythe."

"Isabella Swan and Edward Cullen."

Oh no, oh no, oh no, Bella chants to herself. She looks at Edward and finds a slow smile taking over his face. Somehow, she has a feeling that he orchestrated this whole thing.

She gets up from her seat and carefully sits down in the seat that Mr. Molina guides her to. It's the seat right next to Edward. As she sits down, she does everything in her power to avoid turning her head towards him.

The sound of his voice forces her to look at him.

"Howdy, partner!"