Chapter Two: Cortege
CORTEGE - The funeral procession.
It takes Bella a few moments to respond to her new biology partner's greeting, mostly because she can count the number of times that Edward Cullen has spoken to her on one hand. For all his staring, he's never been very verbose with her. He's not exactly a Chatty Cathy.
She expected to be the one to make first contact, so to speak. Now, she's thrown off balance, unsure of what to do. Her reply is less than witty.
"Uh, hey," she says, her cheeks reddening.
He looks her up and down, eyes lingering on her face and chest. "Happy to be lab partners?" he asks, tone sarcastic.
Her wits finally return to her. "I couldn't be any more ecstatic." His gaze dips down to below her neck again and she snaps her fingers in front of his face. "Hey, my face is up here."
He doesn't even bother to look embarrassed. "I'm quite aware of where your face is. I wouldn't be tied with you for valedictorian if I couldn't tell the difference between a pair of eyes and a pair of breasts."
"Lovely," she spits out. "I can't wait to have to deal with this all year."
He laughs, but there's a bitter edge to it. "I'm just trying to unsettle you. Like you did with me at lunch when you decided to wink at me. Not that it worked, mind you. I know you have that boyfriend. What's his name? Jonsie? I hardly expect you to be flirting with little ol' me, Sullen Cullen."
Bella's jaw clenches. "His name is Jacob. And I don't play games."
"Sure you do. Everyone does. It's all part of being in high school."
"You don't seem to be playing the game very well then," Bella retorts. She regrets her words the instant she says them.
Edward doesn't appear to be hurt, though. Instead, he's giving her that little half-smile he gave her when Mr. Molina partnered them up. "Some of us are playing a very different game with a very different desired outcome."
Before Bella can ask him what he means, Mr. Molina takes notice of their spat.
"Mr. Cullen. Ms. Swan. Do you need to take your little lover's quarrel outside?"
"No, sir," Bella chirps, sure that she looks like a tomato in that moment.
Mr. Molina turns to Edward and looks him over. "What about you Mr. Cullen? Do you think that you can contain yourself?"
Edward bares his teeth in a facsimile of a smile. "I shall endeavor not to disrupt class any further, Captain."
Bella slyly covers her mouth with her hand, hiding her laughter. When she isn't the target of his humor, Edward Cullen can be pretty damn funny.
Mr. Molina merely levels Edward with a flat stare. "No need to call me Captain. Mr. Molina will be just fine."
Edward shrugs his shoulders, as if to say, 'have it your way.'
After a brief stare down with Edward, Mr. Molina finally begins his lecture. Bella and Edward both taught themselves the AP Bio coursework over the summer and zone off as he begins to speak. Each chooses their own unique manner of distraction. Edward does so by staring openly at Bella. Bella does so by studiously ignoring Edward and doodling in her notebook.
Their lab partnership is clearly a match made in heaven.
Mr. Molina unintentionally ends their stalemate at the end of class. Both perk up when they hear him mention a "final project."
"Your final project for the year will be done with your lab partner. It's quite simple: I want you to raise some sort of being from infancy to adulthood. It can be a fish. It can be a snail. It could even be a dog or cat. Right now, I want you all to focus on what it will be and come back to me with a list of ideas next week."
The class is so quiet that a pin drop could be heard. "Alright," Mr. Molina says, clapping his hands together. "I'll take your silence as a sign of excitement. I look forward to seeing you all next Monday. Class is dismissed."
No one bothers telling the new teacher that he has another five minutes until the bell rings.
Bella packs up her belongings, while Edward makes no effort to move. His attention is not on moving to the next class, but instead, staring holes into the side of Bella's head.
"Why aren't you packing up your stuff?" Bella asks. "This'll probably be the first and only time he ever lets us out early."
"We haven't decided when to meet yet," Edward tells her, not really answering her question.
Bella's brow furrows. "Meet for what?"
Edward rolls his eyes. "About the project, of course. You can come over my house at noon tomorrow."
Bella drops her backpack before she can sling it over her shoulders. "What? It's my birthday. I'll be busy."
"No you won't. You hate your birthday." His tone is matter-of-fact.
Bella is taken aback. "How do you know that?"
"I pay attention. You should really open your eyes to the world around you, Isabella Swan."
Any response she may have made is interrupted by the fierce glare that he throws over her shoulder. She turns around to find Rosalie Hale dramatically tapping her foot. Emmett Cullen stands beside her, completely unbothered, his mouth stretching into a grin when he catches Bella's eye.
The beautiful blond taps her watch with a sigh. "Tick tock, Eddie. If you want to have a smoke before gym, you'd better hurry it up."
Edward remains stoic in the face of his stepsister's antics. "I'll meet you outside in the hall in a moment."
Rosalie sneers at him. "Hurry it up, lover boy."
With that, she takes hold of Emmett's hand and steers him out of the classroom. Emmett winks at Bella as he's being dragged away.
Edward returns his attention to Bella and acts as if his family's interruption has never happened. "I'll see you at my house at noon tomorrow. You know where it is. It's the one with the sign that says, 'Cullen Family Funeral Home'. You know, the one on the other side of the woods behind your house?"
Bella hates that he mentions how close she lives to him. She's never made the trek through those woods to his house, though. It's too creepy. There's also far too much wildlife for her to deal with.
"I know where you live," she responds. "I'm not going over to your house tomorrow morning. I already told you that."
He smiles in response. "Happy birthday, Bella. I'll see you tomorrow." In a matter of moments, he's gathered his belongings and swept out of the room.
Bella picks up her backpack from the floor, wiping the dust off it with a bit too much force.
Angela walks over and taps her gently on the arm. "Not happy with your partner, huh?"
Bella shakes her head. "You can say that again."
Edward takes a drag of his cigarette, closing his eyes as he exhales. He puts the cigarette back between his lips and lets it dangle there. This is the most relaxed he's felt all day.
His peace is short lived, though. The cigarette is snatched from his lips. He opens his eyes to find his "beloved" stepsister, Rosalie, passing it along to Emmett.
"Learn to share," she reprimands him. Her personality is quite complicated. She's two parts motherly and one part bitchy. There are days Edward wants to strangle her and there are days where she is his greatest ally. Today appears to be the former.
"It's my cigarette," he complains.
"Bought with Mom and Carlisle's money. Therefore, it is our cigarette." Rosalie grabs said cigarette from Emmett, smoking it in a fashion that's clearly supposed to imitate the movie stars of old.
Emmett takes his girlfriend's side in their little spat. He almost always does. Rosalie is intimidating, while Edward is not. He and Edward shared a womb together. It's difficult to find someone scary after that.
"Rose is right. You shouldn't be smoking anyways, Ed," Emmett says.
"Whatever," Edward mutters in return.
Rosalie decides that a change of subject is much needed before the always-reticent Edward closes up again.
"So," she begins, "how'd you convince the new guy to let you partner with Bella Swan?"
Edward smirks. "It was easy, really. I met with him before school started today. I told him that I was concerned that both Bella's grades and mine would suffer if we were to be paired with anyone else. He thought that was a great idea and seemed to think he should do something similar for the rest of the class."
Rosalie looks put out. "You couldn't have told him just to do it for you and Bella? Now I'm going to be stuck with Michael 'Creepy Eyes' Newton for the rest of the year."
Edward shrugs innocently. "It'll help you build character."
Emmett is also a bit peeved with Edward. "How am I supposed to cheat off Rose if I'm not even allowed to partner with her?"
"Maybe you can charm your new partner into letting you coast."
Emmett snorts. "Allison Smythe? That girl was practically cowering in fear for the entire class. She seems to have really bought in to the rumors about us."
They all chuckle at that. The tales people tell about them have always been a source of amusement for them.
Edward scrapes his toe against the tree he's leaning on. "So, uh, how would you guys feel about starting some rumors of our own? I'm thinking of going to Bella's surprise party tonight."
Rosalie and Emmett stare at him, slack-jawed. Neither is quite sure what to say.
Rosalie is the first to find her words. "Really? I thought we all agreed that it'd be better if we just coasted by, not attracting any attention. Going to Swan's little party would be the complete opposite of that."
"I think it's time we shake this town up, don't you?"
Emmett grins. "You know, brother, I think you might be right."
Rosalie looks back and forth between the two boys. She shakes her head with a reluctant smile. "Fine, we'll go to that little party. We've got to okay it with Jasper and Alice first, though."
In a rare gesture of affection, Edward scoops her up in a hug. "Just leave it to me," he tells her, already intending to skip gym to get things done.
Just like that, his plan is in full swing.
Bella spends the rest of the school day thinking about Edward Cullen. During gym, she gets hit in the head with a volleyball. Luckily, she didn't sustain any injuries.
She heads out to the parking lot as the final bell rings, keeping her head down so that she won't be noticed. Unfortunately, her efforts are for naught. She smells Jacob's musky boy-smell before he throws her over his shoulder with a whoop.
"Jake," she squeaks out, trying to smother her laughter. His joy is contagious. Times like these she wishes she were in love with him.
"Hells Bells," Jacob says, carrying her with ease, "I'm taking you home for an afternoon delight."
Most girls would be elated by that prospect. Jacob is one of the most handsome boys in school. He also has, Bella must admit, a rather talented pair of hands. Sex with him is always good—it's just never out of this world.
She wonders why today of all days she finds herself craving more. Karma sees fit to answer her when she sees Edward Cullen glaring at her and Jake from across the parking lot. She's fairly certain he's glaring, at least. It's hard to read facial expression when you're hanging upside down. She's also wondering what he's still doing at school, seeing as how he hadn't shown up for gym.
He transfers his glare to his siblings as they walk up to his car and get in. Before he slides into the driver seat, he shoots Bella a mocking wink, reminiscent of her very own cafeteria wink earlier that day.
That one small non-interaction with Edward causes question up question to spurt up in Bella's mind. Where were he and his siblings during gym? Why did he choose this of all years to start playing mind games with her? How much better would it feel to have his hands on her instead of Jake's?
That last, unintentional question causes her heart to skip a beat. She can hardly believe that she'd think such a thing while being carried by her devoted boyfriend. It's wrong.
She vows not to think of Edward Cullen for the rest of the day. Instead, she decides she'll focus her attentions on Jacob and making sure that his afternoon is very delightful indeed.
Luckily, when Bella and Jake reach her house, Bella's mother, Renee, is home. Bella is silently relieved that she won't have to have sex with Jacob now. Her house is too small and the walls are too thin to even think about doing it with her parents home.
Jacob, on the other hand, is visibly disappointed. "Oh hey, Renee. I thought you were working at the hospital this afternoon." His tone is innocent, but Bella can tell that he is fishing to see if her mother, a hospital nurse, will be going in for a shift in the very near future.
With her response, Renee dashes Jacob's hopes. "Oh no, dear. I took today off. It's my baby's eighteenth birthday! I thought that I might take her on a shopping spree before you two do whatever it is that you have planned tonight." Renee sends a sly wink in Bella's direction. It's obvious that she knows about the "surprise" party and isn't doing much to keep it a secret.
Bella rolls her eyes, keeping her pleasure at having an excuse to be away from Jacob a secret. She makes sure to act the part of displeased girlfriend to Jake, though. She pats him on the chest with a frown. "Guess I'll just have to see you later, then."
Jake gives her a sad smile and pecks her on the lips. "I'll pick you up at seven." He leans in to whisper in Bella's ear, his warm breath tickling her neck. "Hopefully we can have some alone time at Lauren's place."
Bella gives him a fake smile. "Sure thing, cowboy."
After Jake leaves, Bella flops down next to her mom on the couch.
Renee gives her a look of concern. "Things not going well with Jacob?"
Bella rubs a hand over her face. "They are . . . it's just . . . sometimes I feel like it's not enough, you know?"
Renee puts her arm around her daughter and Bella snuggles into her mother's embrace. "Charlie and I adore Jake," Renee tells her, "but we love you even more. You deserve to be happy. Part of being a grown up is discovering your happiness."
"Jake does make me happy, but it's like a part of me knows there's something more for me out there." Bella sighs in frustration.
Gently, Renee strokes Bella's hair. "Is there another boy? It would be okay if there was, you know. I know you don't want to be tied to this town—that you have big dreams. That doesn't have to mean that life might not surprise you by dropping a great guy in your lap right here in ol' Forks."
Bella's mind goes straight to Edward. "There is someone that does intrigue me, per se. He's kind of off limits, though. I don't want to stir the pot here in Forks any more than I have to. I'll be leaving in a few months anyways."
Renee pulls back to take a good look at her daughter. "It's Edward Cullen, isn't it?"
Bella stiffens in shock. "How'd you know?"
A laugh escapes Renee. "Honey, every Sunday in church for as long as I can remember that boy has stared you down. And try as you might, you haven't done as good a job of ignoring him as you think."
Bella can feel her cheeks heat up. "Is it that obvious to everyone? I mean, I don't even know if I like the guy. He's a royal pain in the ass."
"I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who noticed. I'm your mother, after all. It's my job to know these things."
Bella feels herself relax. If her friends thought she had a thing for Edward Cullen, they would have said something. A sense of sadness creeps into her tone as she says, "Mom, even if I was interested in him, there's no way I could be with him."
Ire enters Renee's eyes. "Is it because of what people say about the Cullens and Hales? I'll have you know that Carlisle Cullen and Esme Hale are two of the nicest people that I've ever met. The way the people in this town treat them is absolutely shameful. I thought you better than that, Bella."
Bella can't help but to feel ashamed. "You're right, Mom. I just don't want to rock the boat, I guess."
Renee's anger recedes. "I think a good boat rocking is exactly what this town needs," she says, tone sly.
Bella gives her mother a half-nod, eager for a change of subject. "So when are you taking me shopping?"
The look Renee gives her lets her know that she's only temporarily off the hook. "Let's go now. Time to get the birthday girl something pretty for her 'surprise' party."
Mother and daughter both chuckle, the seriousness of their talk left behind.
Bella's wearing a flirty red dress and flats when Jake comes to pick her up. He clearly appreciates the effort that she's made if the wolf whistle he lets loose is anything to tell by.
"You look amazing," he tells her, sweeping her up in a hug.
"You better not be touching my baby," Charlie's gruff voice calls from the living room.
His chief-of-police act would scare most guys, but Jake's known Charlie since he was in diapers and knows when the man is making a joke. "She's an adult now, Charlie. She's hardly a baby."
Charlie snorts loud enough for them to hear. "She'll always be my little girl."
Charlie's not usually so sentimental—something that Bella appreciates. His unusual works of sentiment put Bella in a rush to get out of the house. "Alright, we're leaving now. Bye!"
Charlie gets the last word in. "Be back by two!" He's made her curfew later on purpose. It's his version of a joke. He knows that Bella hates parties and would use any excuse to be home early. Usually, that excuse is her curfew.
"Thanks, Dad," she mutters.
Jake doesn't hear her. "Let's get this party started!" he cheers.
Bella wishes that felt a tenth of his enthusiasm.
The drive to the party is uneventful. Jacob rests his hand on Bella's bare knee and they chat a bit about their first day classes. It's comfortable. For Bella, it's a bit too comfortable.
She finds herself daydreaming a bit during their conversation. The part of her that longs to escape the monotony of her daily life seems to grow bigger day by day. If she's not careful, it'll get her into trouble.
When they pull up to Lauren' Mallory's large colonial home, she finds herself wishing once again that she could have a quiet night in for her birthday. She can clearly hear music coming from the house and splashes coming from the pool. This is not her scene.
"Do we have to go inside?" Bella knows she's whining. She doesn't care.
Jake laughs. "If you go inside, I'll be sure to reward you later."
Bella perks up a bit. She may have not wanted to have sex with Jake earlier, but after a few drinks and some inane partying, she knows that she'll need the release. Besides, Jake really does know how to use his hands.
"Okay," she agrees.
They walk into the party amidst a clamor of catcalls and birthday wishes. Bella is relieved to see that Lauren and Jessica at least tried to bother inviting people that she actually knows. She has to give them credit for that.
She catches Lauren in the kitchen, a scowl on her face. "I was about to thank you for inviting people who might even know my name, but not if you've got that look on your face."
Lauren picks up a shot glass and fills it with vodka. "I'm not sure if you'll be thanking me in a minute. There's definitely people who know you here, but I didn't invite some of them. It appears that we have party crashers."
Bella feels a sense of unease creep up her spine. "Who?" she asks.