Disclaimer: "Twilight" belongs to Smeyer.
Thanks to Camilla10 and Mr. Price for reading, to robsjenn for her sharp eyes, and to the talented Rochelle Allison for her rec.
A reminder to my non-American readers: The idea behind AP classes is that you can earn college credits for taking them and doing well on the tests at the end of the year, and thus pay less tuition and even graduate from college more quickly. The College Board rakes in a lot of money for administrating the tests.
Chapter 3: Ne peux-tu freiner un peu ?
You will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James. – Mark Twain, "The Story of the Bad Little Boy."
The next day dawned sunny and cooler, and I rode to work – it was not a bad ride, little traffic and mostly as flat as Tucson – and navigated my bike around a parking lot of beaters and Ford pickups. There had been a Volvo here yesterday, but I didn't see it this time. I did see a lot of people staring at me as I locked my bike to the rusting rack next to the school office.
I couldn't stop thinking of my troublesome student. After a night's sleep, I had decided that Edward Cullen couldn't hate me – he didn't even know me. There must be something I was missing … a diagnosis, an unusual circumstance. So I used my morning prep period to re-examine my file of IEPs, the individualized education plans for students who needed extra help or special accommodations. There weren't many, and they were standard: extra time for tests, mandated counseling sessions.
The search merely confirmed what I remembered, that there was nothing on Edward Cullen, or for that matter, Eliza Teague. I picked up the IEP file and headed to the admin building.
Roxanne Stevens, the school's plump, bespectacled guidance counselor, was alone in her office, so I closed the door, laid the file on her desk and took a seat. We chatted idly for a few minutes about the weather and my bike – word of my means of transit had traveled fast, it appeared – before she asked, "I assume from that file folder that you need to see me about something?"
I nodded. "Okay," I started, "'The Prince of Tides' was the summer reading for the seniors, and it has a scene where three prison escapees attack a family. So one of my students wrote about something that had happened to her, and I wondered – ''
She held her hand up for me to stop, then said, "And this student was …"
She pursed her lips, not surprised. "What happened is so well-known here, I can actually tell you," she said, pushing her purple glasses further up the bridge of her nose and leaning her elbows on her desk. "It was about seven years ago. It was a huge, huge news story at the time. The Teagues lived north of town, no neighbors around, just Eliza and her older sister, Erin, and their parents. Eliza was coming home from ballet class with her father one Saturday, and they heard screaming. There was an intruder - three intruders, in fact, from the footprints - in the house attacking her sister. Erin was a junior here.
"Her father told Eliza to stay in the car and went in. He was thrown into the living room wall with such force that it crumbled – he was a big, big man - and Eliza got out and looked into a window of the house and was so horrified that she ran and hid in the garage behind the garbage cans until her mother came back from visiting her sister in Sequim. By then Erin and her father had vanished … carried through the back door, the police think. Their bodies were found in the forest, but by then animals had gotten to them."
"My God, that's horrible," I said, suddenly glad I had a neighbor, even if it was Justin Stanley. "Did the police find the killers?"
"No, and the weird thing was that there was a lot of damage to the house, but no blood, and the attackers didn't leave any evidence behind. And Eliza was the only witness, and she was just 10, and obviously traumatized. All she could remember of the one man she saw was that he had 'red eyes like the devil"' – Roxanne Stevens made air quotes with her fingers – "which isn't going to help the police identify anyone. We were all terrified around here for a while, lemme tell you. Nobody was ever arrested, but thankfully there weren't any more attacks."
"Sheesh. Surely Val Berty knows this. Why would he assign that book to Eliza?"
The guidance counselor pursed her lips again. "Is it really so bad?" she asked. "Maybe it's good for her, to think about this trauma and come to grips with it. Isn't that one of the points of fiction, you know, catharsis?"
I knew the conventional wisdom was that people who suffered a terrible event should talk about it, not suppress their feelings, try to find closure or whatever. But I was more inclined to believe the studies I'd read in psych class that showed that not dwelling on something horrible was actually better, that you would get over your trauma more quickly without reliving it.
I sure would have liked to suppress things – I think I would have been good at it. But unfortunately, I had a reminder of my own trauma every day when I was growing up back home in Laconia. And I didn't think I was a better person for it.
"Maybe," I answered absently, thinking I definitely wasn't going to have my AP students read "In Cold Blood," with its own traumatic home invasion (albeit much better written than "The Prince of Tides").
"Anyway, I'll check in with Eliza today," Roxanne said. "Besides, I want to see if I can get her to think about college."
"Thanks." After all the damage was done, the wound was reopened now. Maybe it would be good for Eliza to talk to someone. "Is there anyone else with stories I should know about?" I asked, hoping Roxanne might bring up Edward Cullen without my mentioning him.
She shook her head. "Nothing I can tell you. And it's just the usual: divorces, unemployed parents. Lots of drinking and driving since we're in the middle of nowhere. Ethan Yorkie's one of your students, right? His older brother died the same year Erin Teague did. Minor drugs. Some immigration problems. Nothing you wouldn't find in Arizona."
"Immigration problems, I know plenty about," I agreed, hiding my disappointment as we went on to discuss some details in the IEPs. Maybe Edward Cullen had a phobia or sensory processing disorder that wasn't a recognized disability and that Roxanne didn't know about? Maybe there was some noise or smell in my classroom that disturbed him?
I would just have to ask the boy.
But I didn't see even the top of Edward Cullen's distinctive hair in the cafeteria, and neither he nor his sister appeared for AP English – they had excused absences, but I couldn't help looking frequently at their empty desks, just far enough away from the windows to be beyond the reach of the sun that was pouring in, as if they might suddenly materialize.
Their absence perhaps was just as well, since much of the class discussion centered not on the role of hubris and fate in Greek drama as exemplified by "Oedipus Rex," but on how someone could have married his own mother.
"Oedipus didn't know that Jocasta was his mother," Gracie Alvarez pointed out.
"Okay, but she would have been a lot older than him, right?" Brett Banner said, disgust on his face.
"Does anyone know?" I asked the class. More shrugs. I answered my own question. "In ancient Greece, women married very young. Jocasta could have been only 14 years older than Oedipus."
"Gross," Brett said, getting some nods in agreement.
"Hey, it's young for a MILF," Andy Marks (Amer. Eagle) said, snorting at his own wit as the other students groaned.
"Mr. Marks," I said coldly.
"Sorry," he mumbled.
I went on as if there had been no interruption. "And those 14-year-old girls were typically married to men more than twice their age," I said.
Silence. Apparently nobody was grossed out by that.
To repay her for her hospitality, I had invited Angela to my house for dinner. She came after supervising detention, and I immediately handed her a glass of wine.
"Thanks!" she said after taking a gulp. "You wouldn't expect that many kids to get in trouble on the second day of school, but I had plenty."
"In that case, I'll top you off," I said, going to fetch the bottle.
"What great paintings!" she said as I poured more wine. "This one is really lovely," she added, moving to stand in front of Renee's portrait. "Did you do it?"
"No, I don't have that kind of skill. It's by my friend Raquel."
"Who's it of?"
"My mom." I took a swig of my own wine.
"Does she live back in Arizona?"
I looked away from Angela, knowing I was going to make her uncomfortable with my answer. "She's dead," I said.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she said, sounding, to her credit, actually sorry.
"Thanks. It was a long time ago. Can you eat in a few minutes?"
Angela was enough of a pastor's daughter to know to just say yes and not pry.
I served pasta with vegetables, and an apple crumble – if there was anything that the Port Angeles farmers' markets had plenty of right now, it was apples. Angela relaxed as we ate and drank, and while she was not a rumor-monger and seemed to have a natural disinclination to think badly of anyone, she proved to be informative, having lived in Forks for so long.
She knew which of our colleagues were lifers here, and which were passing through. Jeff Mason was a little of both. He had been close to our age now when he was Angela's teacher, aiming to stay in Forks just a few years, but he had fallen in love with a local girl several years younger than himself.
"He must have been her teacher too?" I asked, calculating, and Angela nodded.
"Ashley was in my year, and they got married the summer after she graduated." When I raised my eyebrows at her, she went on. "Sure, there was a little talk about it, but it's pretty common in a small town – the dating pool's shallow, you know? Nobody thinks about it anymore."
"Yeah, but if a female teacher did that, nobody'd forget about it," I said, and told her about my encounter with Justin Stanley.
"Eeek," she said when I had finished. "I guess you better be careful. I went to school with Jessica, but I don't really know him – he moved here while I was away at college. His family broke up, and Jessica's mom took him in, in between buying up all the empty houses in town." She waved her hand around to indicate the house we were in.
I barely paid attention to that because I saw an opportunity. "Ah," I said. "Like the Cullens' family took them in?"
"Maybe." Angela scrunched up her face before taking another bite of the crumble. "I don't know their story, just that Alice and Edward and Emmett are adopted and the other two are foster children, twins. I think they're niece and nephew to Mrs. Cullen? Or something like that. All I know is that Dr. Cullen works at the hospital and that he and his wife are quite young."
"Oh," I said, disappointed in my investigation yet again. "Well, you're right, Alice and Edward are incredibly smart. I haven't had a chance to see how they are in class, though – they weren't here today."
"Yeah, they go off hiking when it's sunny," Angela said as if that was the most ordinary thing in the world, and she snickered at my expression. "Hey, Tucson girl, calm down, it's not sunny that often during the school year. Just wait until you go for an entire month without a ray of sunshine. Besides, they're such good students it's hard to complain that they're not in class for a day."
"Fine, fine. So how are they when they are actually in class?"
She laughed. "Believe me, you and I will never have the Cullens in detention. Always polite. I gotta admit, Alice and Edward sometimes looked a little bored in bio, but when nobody else knows the answer you can count on them to have it."
So what was wrong with me, with my classroom? "Huh," I said aloud. "I guess I'll find out."
The days continued to be dry and sunny, and my attendance sheets continued to show excused absences for the Cullens. It made me both relieved and oddly depressed. Still, my life fell into a routine: work, run, cook, work, Skype with Raquel, sleep. On Friday, Ethan Yorkie, the boy whose brother had died, came to interview me for the school newspaper, The Spartan Spokesman. If I'd been a student I would have refused, but as a teacher I couldn't say no to him. Fortunately, his questions were neither specific nor probing, and I was able to obfuscate my way out of any big revelations. At the end he asked me what superpower I'd most like to have, and I could answer that one honestly without getting in trouble.
"I'd like the ability to learn any language easily," I told him. Who needed superspeed and strength if you could manage to speak French fluently?
The clouds returned on Monday, and so did Alice Cullen, but not her brother. Another excused absence for him. Alice sat in her desk, wearing what appeared to be the world's softest cardigan, pearl-gray cashmere, and regarded me with her feline golden eyes. Such a strange contrast with her dark hair. I was glad to see that she didn't look bored, even if she had a right to. And as Angela had promised, she volunteered to answer the questions nobody else could.
When the period ended, Alice came up to drop her accumulated homework on my desk. "Ms. Swan," she said in her lovely voice as the classroom emptied behind her.
"Welcome back, Ms. Cullen," I answered, and paused. Alice looked up at me expectantly, and I succumbed to my curiosity. "Your brother is still out?"
"Yes, but he is recovering from what ails him," she said, tilting her head and gazing over my shoulder a second before meeting my eyes again.
"And I think he'll be back tomorrow. In fact," she went on, more cheerfully, "I'm sure of it." She gave me a sudden, dazzling smile, and practically skipped out of my classroom, pale legs whirling under a black pleated skirt.
"Tomorrow" was my birthday, and I greeted the fateful day with a scowl, only mildly cheered by the knowledge that none of my colleagues, even Angela, knew the significance of the date for me. It was drizzling, but lightly, and I told myself I had to show some fortitude and get used to biking on wet roads. I didn't have gas money to burn. My two wheels were drawing fewer stares now, but Bruce Clapp chose this day to hold forth at lunch on the dangers of bicycles.
"The roads in this country were built for cars," he declared, wagging a finger at me. "It's not safe for bikes to be on them."
"In the words of Mayor Bloomberg," I countered, "the roads were built to get people where they want to go."
He grunted around a mouthful of hamburger. "Maybe in New York, maybe in Portland, but not Forks."
As he spoke, there was a flash of auburn in my peripheral vision, and my eyes darted to the other side of the cafeteria, to that table half-obscured by the salad bar, where the Cullens sat. Edward Cullen was here today, or at least his hair was. The Clapp cleared his throat, and I realized he was waiting for a response from me, but I was too distracted now to argue with him.
"Just don't run me over when you see me on the road, Bruce," I said absently, and the other teachers laughed.
So Edward Cullen was back, but he didn't seem much more comfortable in my classroom than he had a week ago. Alice looked uneasy, her brother stared motionless at his desk the whole period, and their classmates once again ignored them both.
When the bell rang, Edward came up to my desk with his late homework, Alice hovering at his side. He nodded at me, but said nothing as he nudged the papers across my desk and turned to leave.
"Mr. Cullen?" I said, stopping him in his tracks. "May I speak with you a moment?"
He didn't look at me, but at Alice, who considered him a second before saying, "I'll wait for you outside, Edward." He turned toward me slowly, reluctantly, as his sister left, his eyes on the ground.
"Are you all right?" I asked, and from what I could see of his face he seemed puzzled by my question. "You were out for several days," I reminded him.
"I'm fine," he mumbled, and fell silent. He didn't fidget, but just stood like a perfectly proportioned statue that happened to be wearing black jeans, a green button-down and expensive-looking boots.
"Thank you for the homework," I said. "You know, I can talk to Mr. Banner if you want to go to the community college. You shouldn't be forced to stay here if you are uncomfortable."
"That's not necessary," he said, still staring at the floor. Seeing the tension in his jaw, I was sure he was lying.
I forged on. "Is there something else I can do? Do you need a new seat? Is there an odor or -"
I sighed in frustration. What did it take to get through to this guy? "AP is a scam anyway," I muttered, more to myself than to him.
He finally looked at me, startled. "You're saying that your class is a scam?" he asked.
"Not my class-" I said, then hesitated, because for him and his sister, it was worthless "-necessarily. But there's no guarantee that you'll end up with credits from the test, since so many colleges don't give any." Especially not the colleges you're likely to attend. "For the vast majority of students, AP's just $90 down the drain, or rather in the pockets of the College Board."
"That's an unusual way of looking at it," he said, and for the first time, I saw the hint of a smile on Edward Cullen's face. A lovely, lovely face with those golden catlike eyes -
"Did you get contacts?" I blurted out. "Your eyes are a different color."
He shoved his hand through his hair and shrugged. "I have hazel eyes. They change depending on the light, and what I'm wearing," he said, but I couldn't help squinting at him skeptically. Hazel eyes didn't go black.
Which I was about to say, but then his face hardened, and he spat out, "Don't go to any effort on my account." Without waiting for a response, Edward Cullen turned and vanished out the door.
Once again I was rattled for the final period, which made me less circumspect than I should have been. As I distributed the thick Everbinds of "The Canterbury Tales," Justin Stanley whined, "We're going to have to read all this?"
"Oh, no, we're not going to read the salacious ones," I assured him.
Next to him, the pretty blond Lindsey Mallory tittered, while Justin Stanley looked at me in bewilderment. Nonetheless, I was sure now he would read the whole book, or at least skim it ... once he'd asked Lindsey what "salacious" meant. He was going to be disappointed because, yes, the bawdiest stories weren't in this high-school-approved edition.
Still, it wasn't professional, and I was berating myself as I hopped on my bike. The morning's drizzle had mutated into a mix of fog and mist that I wasn't sure had a name. As I headed through the teachers' row of cars, I looked left and like a compass finding north, my eyes met those of Edward Cullen across the emptying student lot, standing next to a silver car, holding the passenger door open for his sister. Ah, so he was the driver of that Volvo. A tree-hugger's car in a logging town, what an odd choice –
- and there was honking, and where the hell had that van come from? The van that was about to hit me? I leaned sharply right to get out of the way, but I overbalanced and started skidding on the wet asphalt, heading into and under the wheels of that damn van that was still coming, hurtling toward me from the fast turn it had made into the lot. And then I was being swung around and away, my bike spiraling to the ground, the van veering left and crashing to a stop, its front end intimately nestled into the back end of Bruce Clapp's Chevy Tahoe.
Somehow I was on my feet, all in one piece, and Edward Cullen was holding me up with arms that felt like steel rods. There was roaring in my ears and I felt disconnected from reality, as if I were watching a movie.
"You're in the teachers' parking lot," I said faintly.
"I can't be here," Edward Cullen answered, looking down at me appalled. I was about to explain that no, it wasn't the rules I was talking about, it was the fact that he had been across the lot two seconds ago, and I couldn't understand how he had gotten here.
But he didn't give me a chance, because he looked sickened and dropped his hands from me so quickly I wobbled. I didn't get it. I didn't use perfume or fruity lip gloss or even strawberry-scented shampoo, and yet something about me made him want to vomit.
"I can't be here," he said again, more urgently, eyes boring into mine, breath on my face.
And suddenly he was gone as he always was, my eyes not registering his path, and the roaring in my ears sharpened into running feet and shouts. The driver of the crumpled van – I saw now that it had the name of a food service company on the door; he must have been meaning to make a delivery to the cafeteria but taken a wrong turn - was able to roll down his window.
"Qué coño ha acaba de pasar?" he yelled. What the fuck just happened?
One small part of my brain automatically noted that based on his accent and choice of expletive, the driver was probably from northern Mexico. But the much bigger part was trying to figure out how what the fuck that had just had happened had happened, and how to keep Edward Cullen out of it.
"Are you all right?" I asked the driver quietly in Spanish. "Did you hit your head?"
"Where's that guy?" he said instead. "He wasn't there, then I saw him, and now he's gone."
Irritation jerked me from my haze. "Well, you obviously didn't see me, and yet here I am," I snapped at the driver with all the indignation of a cyclist who had been nearly clipped. He started to say something more, but we were now surrounded by students, some of them mine, who had finally managed to maneuver around the lip-locked vehicles.
"Has anyone called an ambulance?" I said to the small crowd that had formed. "This guy needs to be looked at."
"I have," Bruce Clapp said, panting as he jogged up. "Students, go home, you're not needed here," he barked, and they shuffled away to their part of the lot, still close enough to watch what passed for excitement here, if not hear. The driver pushed aside the airbag that had deployed in the impact, climbed out of the van, leaned against it, and pulled out a cellphone. Bruce looked on the verge of asking him a question, but I cut him off, "He speaks Spanish," I said, tilting my head at the driver.
The coach shrugged and stared at his damaged S.U.V. "Now I'm going to have to deal with the stupid insurance company." He sighed.
"I'm sorry your car got hit. That guy drove into here way too fast."
"Are you all right?" Bruce asked.
Yes, I was – flown out of danger by a stone body that appeared out of nowhere. "I'm fine," I told him. In fact, I was being a lot more honest than Edward Cullen had been when he had said the exact same two words to me after class earlier. "I was able to get my bike out of the way. The van didn't touch me."
"Yeah, but look at that - proof that bikes are dangerous," the Clapp said sententiously, pointing at my downed wheels.
"I think what this shows is that vans are dangerous," I retorted, hauling up my bike and putting down the kickstand. I wasn't damaged, and neither was my bike, aside from a scrape along the front fork and mud on the pannier. It was a sturdy, heavy old girl's bike that I'd found used in Tucson, and it wouldn't crumple easily – at least, not as easily as I would have under the van's wheels. I could have died, while at most the van driver would have a minor concussion.
It was Bob Banner's turn to jog onto the scene, looking fretful about a lawsuit. "Why aren't you wearing a helmet?" he scolded me. I didn't bother to explain to him that a helmet wouldn't have saved me in this case because he immediately turned to the driver, who was murmuring into his phone and rubbing his head. "And you," he went on, "What in heaven's name were you doing in the teachers' lot?"
I intervened again. "He's a Spanish-speaker," I said.
Bob Banner huffed in exasperation and ordered Bruce, "Go fetch Barbara to translate."
"Mr. Banner?" a voice I recognized trilled out. "I think Señora Goff has left. But I can help."
We all turned to face Alice Cullen, all bright smile and eagerness. "Of course you can, Ms. Cullen," Bob Banner mumbled, looking dazed. I'd bet that he had a little crush on Alice. That family sure had an effect on school administrators.
Alice was already talking with the driver. I could hear him grumble, "I can speak English fine," but Alice whispered something to him that shut him up. When a police car and ambulance pulled up, I eavesdropped on Alice while Bruce moaned to Bob about the damage to his Tahoe. The driver didn't complain even when Alice's interpretation differed materially from his story … meaning that as far as Forks's finest was concerned, her brother played absolutely no role in the Great Teachers' Parking Lot Collision of 2011. By the end, I'd bet, even the driver was convinced that he had hallucinated my savior.
The driver was loaded onto a stretcher because Alice told the EMT's that he had hit his head – which was true; she didn't lie about that part – and the younger of the two police officers headed toward Bob, Bruce and me in our little huddle. He had a nametag on his blue uniform shirt that said "Crowley."
"Tyler," Bob and Bruce greeted him.
"Coach, Mr. Banner," the officer answered, shaking their hands. He was tall and dark-haired and tan, as if he had exclusive access to some secret sunny beach in Forks.
"Are you okay?" Bob asked, and I realized that Tyler Crowley looked a little green under his remarkable tan.
"This is not my favorite situation, but yeah, I'm okay." He looked at my bike, then me. "You saw the crash, I understand, Ms…?"
"Bella Swan," I responded to his cue, and launched into my own Edward-free story of the accident. As I talked I could see Alice Cullen back at the silver Volvo, sliding into the driver's seat, alone. Where the hell had her brother gone?
Even with my mind elsewhere, my story seemed to satisfy Officer Crowley, and at the end he offered me a ride, in case I was too shaken up to use my bike. I turned him down, and headed home. It was my day to do sprint intervals, and the focus needed for that kept me from obsessing over my unlikely rescue. For a few minutes, at least.
But when I had stripped off my running gear and started dinner, I discovered that while I had been able to escape birthday comments at work, I wasn't going to be so lucky at home. I got calls and texts from Tucson – even a rendition of "Happy Birthday" from a couple of guy friends who were in a Tex-Mex/indie rock/Calexico-ish band and probably didn't know that I had slept with both of them (I had a weakness for musicians). I immediately suspected that Raquel had instigated this outpouring.
I even had a short, awkward conversation with my father, but I didn't think Raquel was involved in that.
Nor could I escape retelling the story of the accident, since amid all the birthday wishes, Angela called. She hadn't seen the crash, because she was running volleyball practice, but she'd heard about it.
After I had told her the story and assured her I was all right she asked, "Was Tyler there?"
"Tyler Crowley?" I asked, absentmindedly marking spelling tests as we talked. "Yeah, he talked to me."
"He's an old classmate. He and I and another friend have dinner nearly every week together, at the diner. Why don't you join us next time?"
"Sure," I said. I could start my wash at the coin laundry before dinner. "So, your friend seemed a little freaked out being there?"
"Oh, poor Tyler, I'll give him a call," Angela said.
"Yeah, Bob Banner seemed a little worried about him."
"Our junior year, he was in an accident in the parking lot where someone died," she said. Jeez, this place was full of people having to relive their trauma. "Maybe he'll tell you about it at dinner."
My last call of the night was from Raquel. "You know, I really don't need to be reminded that I'm turning 24," I complained to her.
"Oh, come on, I thought getting Gabriel and Aidan to sing to you together was a stroke of genius," Raquel said, snickering.
"I knew you would be all touchy and bitchy about it, but isn't it better than brooding about your birthday?"
"I guess," I conceded, though what I really thought was that it was better than brooding about what didn't add up in my near-death experience. "So, thanks?"
"That's the spirit!" She paused, then went on more seriously, "You're all alone out there, and I know that this is a tough birthday for you."
"Yeah," I answered. "It was a tough day all around. A food-service van nearly hit my bike today at school."
"Fuck, no! Really?" Raquel exclaimed. "Tell me all about it."
But even with Raquel, my best friend I always told everything, I found I couldn't talk about my mysteriously fast, strong-armed student. It felt like a little tear in our friendship, but I just couldn't do it, and I gave her same story as I had to Angela.
We hung up, and even though I didn't like to drink alone, I poured a glass of red wine and gave myself a toast: "To surviving 24 unscathed," I muttered, and swallowed.
I had made it through today thanks to Edward Cullen, but he wouldn't be able to save me from everything that threatened me.
Chapter title: "Can't you slow down?," from "Camions sauvages" by Amadou & Mariam
A/N : I always wear a helmet, but there's a lively debate among cyclists about whether it's necessary, or even smart. Bella has her own reasons for not wearing one. Thanks for reviewing!