A/N: I'm sure that variants of this story have been done before, but don't tell me their titles – I don't want to be tempted to read them yet. Also, I'm doing my best to use characters that SMeyer mentioned (including some in "Midnight Sun") but as you'll see, I've had to expand their families.
N.B. for my non-American readers: AP stands for Advanced Placement. These are high-school classes that are theoretically college-level, and at the end of the year, the students take an AP test. If they score high enough, they can get college credit.
Thank yous to Camilla10, Madeline4994, and Mr. Price.
Chapter 1: Ein neuer Lauf beginnt
As I drove into the parking lot, I peered though my streaked windshield at the clutch of unconnected modular buildings that made up Forks High. There was something wrong with this town, too cheap or too shortsighted to build a school suitable for a rainy climate even when it was surrounded by the raw material for it. Instead, Forks had decided to throw up vinyl-sided boxes and force students to get wet as they went from one class to the next.
I pulled in a few spots away from a navy S.U.V. from which a beefy man with a buzz cut was alighting. Under his sports coat he had the look of someone who had been muscular 25 years ago.
"Hey!" he called to me as I got out in turn. "Hey, miss, this is the teachers' parking lot. Students' is next one over. Are you here to register?" I looked around, confused, not seeing any distinction between the row of spaces he and I were in, and the next row over.
"I'm good," I told him as he walked closer, seeming not to even notice the drizzle falling on us.
He stared at the "Title IX Rules" emblazoned on my long-sleeved T-shirt, at my jeans, at my old red Civic as if they were personal affronts, and then his face cleared.
"Oh, you're the new English teacher," he said. "I should have guessed from the Arizona tags." He tilted his head toward the cactuses on my license plate.
"Bella Swan," I said, offering my hand. I wasn't offended – with my ponytail and scrubbed face, I was probably destined to be carded at every bar until my dying day.
"Bruce Clapp. Welcome to Forks," he responded, shaking. His fingers were fleshy and damp.
"So, can I make a guess about you?" I asked, and he shrugged.
"It's only fair, I suppose."
"Gym teacher?" He nodded. "College football player?" He nodded again, pleased. "What position?"
"Tight end. For Whitworth University." His smile faded as he saw my blank expression. "It's in Spokane."
"Oh, okay. I'm sorry, I haven't been much out of Arizona." I decided not to add that I made an effort to avoid football. I opened the back of the Civic and started pulling out a mop and bucket.
Bruce Clapp shook his head at me. "You won't need those," he said.
"But it's Teachers' Work Day. I have to clean my classroom." It had been a necessity in my school in Tucson during the teachers' prep week. Even in the short break between summer school and the start of the new academic year, grit coated everything.
"Nope. The custodial crew does a good job here." He cast a critical eye on my clothes again. "You might want to cover up that shirt. We do have a dress code."
"Oh, I didn't know, thanks," I said, grimacing, grabbing a black cardigan from the car and buttoning it over my offending T-shirt. When I finished, Bruce Clapp tilted his head again, this time toward the other end of the parking lot.
"We're all meeting in the gym," he explained, and I followed him to one of the beige modular buildings, feeling as if I had already started my new job on the wrong foot.
This was not what I had expected.
And it certainly wasn't what I had planned. It was less than two weeks ago that I had set off from Tucson with Raquel, my roommate, teammate and best friend, in the Civic that Bruce Clapp glared at, our bikes on top and most of the rest of our belongings – most crucially, Raquel's paintings and my cooking equipment - being shipped up to our new home in Seattle.
Raquel had a job funded for a year, maybe two, at a nonprofit arts education group and had landed a cheap apartment in a sort of artists' commune in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. To get in, you had to be pretty serious about your art, and nonartistic nonromantic roommates weren't allowed. So I was going to be sharing it with her as her fake girlfriend, a subterfuge I had objected to, but only for the ethics of it. I didn't mind being a lesbian for a while – it wasn't as if I thought some great romance was awaiting me in Seattle. If either of us was going to slip up, it would be Raquel, with her lithe figure and spark, who attracted men like an open soda can attracts wasps.
As for me, I had a job too, teaching ninth-grade English at a large school in the Central District, an easy ride from Capitol Hill. What I didn't have yet was a contract, but my new principal, Janine Varner, told me that was typical for the slow-moving Seattle School District.
So I pushed aside my worries about that and Raquel and I had a blast driving along the California coast. We swam in Malibu and shopped at the Hollywood farmers' market – oh, my brown eyes turned green with envy at the spreads of berries and citrus and nuts, the oysters and the slushies - and shouted along to that Robyn Hitchcock song skewering our new home: Viva Seattle-Tacoma, viva viva Sea-Tac/They've got the best computers and coffee and smack/Hendrix played guitar just like an animal/Who's trapped inside a cage/And one day he escaped…
Didn't matter that Hendrix hated Seattle. I was thrilled to be leaving Arizona, leaving behind sandstorms and heat and my dad, police chief of my dusty tiny hometown in the desert. Chief Charlie Swan, who kept me stuck in Arizona because even a prime candidate like me – a bilingual cross-country team captain and school newspaper editor from Nowheresville with good SATs and a sad backstory - can't afford to go out of state for college if her father won't complete the financial aid forms.
Just to see if I could do it, I filled out the Common App and the Dartmouth supplement. A few months later, I put the acceptance letter under a magnet on the refrigerator. Charlie didn't say a word to me about it, and I went to the University of Arizona, where I could qualify as a teacher in four years.
UA wasn't all bad: I met Raquel on the cross-country team, and I was quickly drawn into the circle of art and music students that she had gathered around herself. We became such good friends that I was willing to cool my heels teaching in Tucson for a year while she finished up college, and more than willing to follow her wherever she found a job.
And it was because of Raquel that I discovered what I really wanted to do with the time allotted me on earth, and it sure as hell wasn't teaching high school. But that would have to wait a couple of years.
In the meantime, I was looking forward to living in Seattle, with its concerts and water views and busy sidewalks. When we arrived, we dropped our luggage off in our new apartment and took advantage of the dry August night, walking up to Molly Moon's for ice cream, eating salted caramel scoops and watching bearded guys playing bike polo in the park across the street.
We even ran into the graphic novelist who was on the commune admission committee, a sweet Chinese-American guy our age named Ben, when we strolled in front of the gay bars on Pike Street. As he welcomed us to town Raquel wrapped her arm around my waist.
"You're going to be sorry when you develop a wild passion for Ben, but he ignores you because you have a girlfriend," I teased her when Ben went on his way.
"Nah, he's too short for me," she said.
"You are so picky."
"Yeah, I'm going to take relationship advice from you." Raquel snorted before adding with mock pretentiousness, "Besides, I need to concentrate on my art."
"Okay, Motherwell, let's go home," I said, knowing how much she hated that painter. "We're going to have a lot of boxes to unpack tomorrow."
But I never got a chance to unpack even my suitcase. My cellphone's ring woke me up the next day, and as soon as I heard Janine Varner's voice, I knew it was bad news. The contract wasn't coming, she told me, because the district had belatedly decided to close a school, and she was going to have to give my job to one of the displaced teachers. Which was how it should be, but even so I was feeling screwed over.
"I do have some good news, though," she said as I sat up in my sleeping bag and tried to figure out how my checking account would absorb this blow. "Or possibly good news, depending on how invested you are in living in Seattle. I just got a call from my old high school, and the new principal there is looking for an English teacher. One of his suddenly walked into his office and retired."
"Your old high school?" I asked, uncertain what she meant.
"The one I graduated from. My uncle teaches math there, actually. It's in Forks – do you know it?" she asked. When I told her no, she went on, "It's about three hours away, on the Olympic Peninsula. Forks itself … well, Forks is not the prettiest town in the world, but the ocean and mountains around it are beautiful. The school is about 300, 350 students, mostly white, but more and more Latinos. Let me look up some data here …."
A computer keyboard clicked in my ear. "Okay, a lot of subsidized lunches - the casinos just don't pay enough. What else … oh, about half the kids sign up for college, mostly for Peninsula, the community college around there. Huh, they had a good year last year - three got into University of Washington, one got into Western Washington. Your class size will be smaller than here in Seattle, so that's something. I mean, it's probably better than going on the subs list, which is pretty much your only other option at this point."
"Yeah, you're right," I said, shuddering, as Raquel, awake now, mouthed, "What's going on?" from the other sleeping bag. Substitutes, God bless 'em, had the worst jobs. And what other way was I going to support myself in Seattle?
"Great," Janine Varner said briskly. "I'll fax your documents to Forks, and you'll get a call."
An hour and a conversation later with Forks High's novice principal, I had a job in a town I had never heard of, much less seen.
I followed Coach Clapp to the gym, where folding chairs had been set out for the 30 or so staffers. The man who hired me, Bob Banner, looking serious in his khakis and navy blazer, narrowed his eyes at my jeans before introducing me to my new colleagues. The inspection finished, I gratefully dropped out of sight and into a chair next to Janine's uncle, Jerry Varner, and another young teacher. Banner went over rules and procedures I was too new to know – the honor code, the use of honorifics and last names even for students, the schedule for lunchroom duty and, of course, the dress code, which barred both jeans and T-shirts for teachers.
The young teacher next to me was Angela Weber, a soft-spoken brunette with long legs peeking from her dress-code-approved skirt. She was a local girl and Forks High grad who was taking over Banner's spot in the science department. And, it turned out, the daughter of a minister.
"Oh, yeah? What kind?" I asked as she started showing me around the school, my designated tour guide
"We're Lutherans," Angela said. "In Forks, it's either us or the Pentecostals."
Lutherans I could probably deal with. "When's the service?"
"Ten. Oh, Bella, would you like to teach Sunday school? We could use some help with the kinder –"
"No," I cut her off.
"Really? You don't want practice for the future?"
I crossed my index fingers as if I was warding off evil. "No kids for me. High schoolers are bad enough. Don't you have a food pantry or something instead?"
"We do," she said with a smile. "Though why don't we wait to see if you can stand listening to my dad before we sign you up?"
By now, the sun had succeeded the drizzle, producing a sort of steamy miasma I had never seen in Arizona. I followed Angela to the administrative building, where she led me to the teachers' lounge, a luxury that my crowded school in Tucson didn't have. There was a coffee maker and a refrigerator, and bulletin boards that were covered with union notices and district announcements, as well as a yellowing newspaper clipping that caught my eye. I stepped closer to read it.
It was a story from a tabloid about a teacher in New York who had fallen for a student in her 11th-grade remedial math class, a student who happened to be an underwear model. She had lost her job because of their affair.
There was a picture of the young man in question taking out the garbage, biceps on display, and yelling at the reporters gathered outside the house he shared with his older lover and their baby. I scrunched up my face in distaste. This teacher may not have been as reprehensible as, say, Mary Kay Letourneau, preying on a sixth grader in her class, but still …
"Ugh, I didn't like 17-year-old boys even when I was 17," I said. "Why would you want to be with one when you're 30?"
Angela looked wistful for a moment, then shrugged. "I'm told the Clapp put that up after hearing Mrs. Cope rhapsodize one too many times about the Cullens," she said.
"They're what counts for exotica in Forks. They came from Alaska a couple of years ago, and they're amazingly smart. I saw their work when I was student teaching here last year." Angela considered this a moment, shifting in her flat shoes. "Three of them just graduated, but you'll have Edward and Alice in your AP class."
"They're twins?" I asked, trying to figure out five kids in two years.
"Well, those two aren't, but it's a mix of foster kids and – oh, Mrs. Cope, what timing! You're an angel!" Angela exclaimed as the lounge door opened and a middle-aged red-haired woman walked in carrying a stack of papers. The school secretary, I recalled from the introductions.
"Shelly, remember?" she corrected Angela, and started to pin up sheets of paper.
"Sorry, it's hard to break the habit," Angela said. "When I was in school here, all the teachers seemed so old, but I realize that some of them were the same age I am now, and it's difficult to believe that I'm like them. I feel so young and inexperienced, and they looked so grown-up."
I nodded, knowing how she felt. Shelly Cope finished her task, and I could read the headings on the four sheets of paper she'd put on display: Homecoming Dance said the first one. Prom said the last. But Angela was writing her name on the second sheet, and the third.
"I'm signing up to chaperone the holiday dance and the girls' choice one," she said, and Shelly Cope hummed in approval. "They tend to be less rowdy than homecoming. And definitely less of a pain than prom. Do you want me to put your name down too? You really don't want to be assigned to prom."
I was still focused on the girls' choice idea. "You guys have a Sadie Hawkins dance here?" I asked. "Did I get caught in a time warp?"
"Yeah, we do," Angela said. "It's a goofy tradition. But it's the easiest dance to police, since the girls are in charge and tend to be less stupid than the boys."
"Fine, sign me up," I sighed. There had been no dances in my old school. My students were too busy working at jobs licit and illicit to have time for such frivolity.
That done, we started to head toward Building 3, which housed the English classrooms. On the way out I stopped at a display case in the hallway next to the main office that held the usual photographs of kids who'd died while they were students here and old trophies and a picture of last year's graduates lined up on the bleachers of the football field, smiling broadly and squinting against the sun.
"Are the Cullens here?" I asked Angela, my voice quiet. Shelly Cope had only just stepped into the office.
She scanned the photo and shook her head. Next to it was another picture, of a shyly smiling girl, labeled "Our Valedictorian – Hope Weber."
"Is she related?" I asked, pointing.
"My cousin. She's starting at Western Washington next week."
"Good for her. So none of the brilliant Cullens got good enough grades to be valedictorian?"
Angela laughed. "Oh, no, they have perfect grades, perfect SATs. The problem for them is that gym is included in the G.P.A., and they don't do well in gym."
My hazy image of the Cullens sharpened to a group of clumsy ectomorphs, but then Angela added, "Bruce Clapp was so furious that the big one, Emmett, wouldn't go out for football. He looked like someone who could break an opposing lineman like a twig. I've never seen them in gym class, but all of them are so graceful I can't imagine that they're not good at sports. I mean, I coach the volleyball team, and I would have loved to have had Rosalie – I bet she would have had a vicious spike. Anyway, the Clapp probably marks them down out of spite. So, almost perfect grades, I should say. You'll see."
A few minutes later Angela and I were contemplating my new classroom, the former center of operations for one Val Berty, absconding 12th grade English teacher. It was like countless classrooms across the country: industrial vinyl floors, light strips, pale wood desks, whiteboards, a line of windows along one side, a complete absence of architectural interest. A faded yellow raincoat hung from one of the hooks in the back of the room.
"It's not much, but here it is," Angela said, sounding almost embarrassed at its plainness.
I snickered. "You know, I had to share a classroom in Tucson. So this is a step up for me."
"Huh. I think Val Berty had these pictures up when I was in AP English," she said, shaking her head as she surveyed the walls, decorated with black and white film stills.
"Based on their age, he probably had them up when your parents were in his class," I said. There was Marlon Brando and Richard Burton as Mark Antony, Laurence Olivier as Hamlet, as Henry V, as Richard III, as Mr. Darcy, as that jerk Heathcliff.
"Yah!" she said, in that Pacific Northwest way I'd been noticing. "I bet he did! I always wondered why he didn't at least put up someone we'd recognize, like Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo." She sighed a little.
I wondered too, since I was beginning to suspect that Val Berty was a confirmed bachelor, but I didn't say that. "Eh, he's too boyish looking," I said instead, responding to her admiration of young Leo, realizing I sounded a bit like Raquel. "Maybe I can find a picture of Idris Elba to put up. He's done Shakespeare, I think."
"Not bad, though I have a weakness for nerdier types," Angela said as I walked over to Val Berty's old desk. The wall calendar behind it still said June 2011. I ripped off the bygone months until September appeared.
"Berty was really in a hurry to leave town, it looks like," she went on.
"Yeah, what happened there?" I dropped the paper into the recycling bin by the desk.
"We don't know!" Her hands waved around in emphasis. "I would have guessed he'd die teaching here, but no. He got some sort of sudden inheritance – a house in England, near Shakespeare's hometown, I think?"
"Stratford Upon Avon?"
"That's it. And off he went. It threw Bob Banner in a panic, he's so nervous about taking over from our old principal, Mr. Greene. He was really relieved to find you." She winked at me. "Seattle's loss is our gain, I guess."
"I guess," I said, though I wasn't at all sure that it was my gain as I looked around this unprepossessing room again. But as Bruce Clapp promised, it was clean. And it was all mine.
My fellow English teachers were in their late 20s or early 30s and looked exhausted even before the start of the year. They had kids at home, and second jobs to help pay for them – Jeff Mason, tall and prematurely balding, did the books for his wife's childcare business; Natalie Marshall made sea-glass jewelry for Etsy. Not for the first time, I was grateful to be child-free.
"Why isn't one of you taking over 12th grade?" I asked them as we met in Jeff Mason's classroom, sitting in student desks arranged in a little circle, looking over the class rosters, discussing the troublemakers. After all, the senior-year classes were smaller and the students presumably more mature.
Jeff, who taught half the juniors and all of the sophomores, winced a little. "I probably will pull seniority on you next year and take the 12th grade," he said. "But Val left so late this year, and I don't have the time to put together a whole new set of lesson plans." I could understand that – even unfettered as I was, I was going to have difficulty getting ready to teach two regular 12th grade classes, plus AP, plus two 11th grade classes.
"And with the new Common Core standards coming up, we'll all have to revamp our lesson plans anyway," Natalie added. "I wouldn't mind a change myself. So you can do ninth next year."
"But in the meantime," Jeff Mason slid two stacks of file folders onto my desk, "you can get started with this. Here are copies of my 11th grade material," he said, tapping one, "and that's Val's." I opened that folder to see a sheaf of worksheets and lesson plans, most of them creased and soft with age.
"Thank you so much," I said, giving him a relieved smile. Since I had spent my summer preparing a ninth-grade curriculum, I had a crapload of work ahead of me, and this would be an immense help. I glanced at Berty's syllabus and looked up at Jeff in surprise. "The 12th graders do 'Romeo and Juliet'? They haven't read it already?"
Jeff shrugged. "Val was the head of the department, and he liked to keep most of the Shakespeare for himself." Maybe that explained why the man had rushed off so eagerly to England to claim his inheritance. "Have you taught any?"
"Not really. My students at New Arrivals High usually didn't have enough English to tackle it. We mostly did grammar and read 'Of Mice and Men.' So do you want to add more Shakespeare for the juniors, spread it out?"
Jeff and I talked about our shared 11th grade curriculum while Natalie went off to her own classroom. One of early units, I saw, was on folklore, with a section on local myths and legends. "Who do you get to talk about local folktales?" I asked.
"I'll take care of that. Somebody from the Quileute reservation comes every year," he said.
"Oh, I didn't really realize there were reservations here," I said, feeling stupid since I came from a state full of reservations, including the one Raquel's family lived on. "I should have figured that out – I saw all those casino billboards with totem poles when I drove here."
"Yeah, the Quileutes are the closest," Jeff said, handing me a list of the Everbind Classics books in the English department storage closet.
"Do they speak a tribal language?"
Jeff gave me a dubious look. "No, they speak English," he said, as if I were little dim.
"Um, I meant, are the people on the reservation fluent in Quileute or whatever their tribal language is?" I asked.
"Dunno. Never heard anyone speak it."
I nodded, but the seed of an idea started growing in my mind. Maybe my stay in this town could be useful.
When Work Day was over, I headed west out of town to my newly rented house, the barren prairie of Forks ceding to forest. I remembered to turn right after the trailer that had a stuffed spotted owl hanging from a noose, legacy of some battle between loggers and conservationists.
There was a guy in my front yard with a lawn mower when I pulled into my driveway. "Hello?" I called out as I stepped out of my car, eying the stranger in confusion. He had short, wavy blond hair, and jeans but an unbuttoned plaid shirt, as if it were 20 degrees warmer than the thermometer said. Also, when she'd shown me the house, Jessica Stanley hadn't mentioned anything about a yard service.
My visitor cut off the engine of the mower.
"Yo!" he said as if he had every right to be on my weedy lawn, and sauntered over to me. I thought he might be flexing his pecs, which were, to be honest, considerable. "I'm Justin. I figured it was time to give this a trim."
I stared a him a moment. "Justin … Stanley?" I asked.
His cocky expression slipped a little, as if he were worried that I had already heard of him, because whatever I had heard, it couldn't have been good. "Yeah?"
"You're Jessica Stanley's … brother?" I asked, trying to make connections. Jessica hadn't mentioned a brother either. On the other hand, she hadn't talked about much of anything besides herself.
"Uh, no, a cousin. I live across the street." He jerked his head toward a McMansion with pillars and a Juliet balcony attached to a squat box, lipstick on a pig. "And I hear that you're Isabella." The cockiness returned, joined by a smarmy smile. "Or do you use Bella? Or –"
"Ms. Swan," I interrupted him. "I use Ms. Swan. And you're in my 11th-grade English class, Mr. Stanley." I had seen his name on my roster, and had been informed that he was the best player on the football team and thus was protected by the Clapp, but I had failed to ask how he was related to my new landlady.
Whoever had told him my name hadn't told him my job, and I could see him visibly try to process the news that the new neighbor he was trying to hit on would be grading him for the next 10 months. Hoping that his embarrassment wouldn't turn into resentment and defiant behavior, I seized my chance to escape my inappropriate proximity to his hairless chest.
"See you in class next week, Mr. Stanley," I said, and marched to my front door.
Ugh. Seventeen-year-old boys.
Chapter title: "A new run begins," from the song "Ein Neuer Tag," by Juli.
Another A/N: In my other stories, I put BxE in real places – ie, real hotels, real restaurants, real college buildings, real streets, even though I often don't name them. In this one, though, a lot of what I write about the Olympic Peninsula will be true true, some of it will be SMeyer-universe true, and some of it will be made up.
Also, I've never taught high school, so I'm getting guidance from my sister, who's a teacher in Seattle. What happens to Bella here is inspired by something that happened to one of her colleagues last year. But if the teachers out there see something horribly unrealistic, let me know.