Thanks to Dolly Reader, "There's a Word for It" is up for fic ot the week at The Lemonade Stand: tehlemonadestand dot net. Also, lots of other interesting fics are up for consideration, so check it out.
It was great to hear all your reactions to Bella's choice of birth control last chapter. While I hope that you will find that her reasons are interesting and plot-productive, I'd like to say here that any answer to "Why don't you want children?" – including "It's none of your business" – is a good one.
It was also a kick to hear from other members of Team Diaphragm! There are more of us that I expected.
BTW, there really is a trail-racing series at Cougar Mountain near Seattle.
Recap: Last time, Edward told his teacher to leave him alone, and Bella came to the realization that she had a crush on her student. Sadly, Mike Newton and Tyler Crowley, nice as they were, proved to be no substitute. Raquel invited Bella to Seattle for the weekend, and Esme and Carlisle Cullen showed up for parent-teacher night, much to Angela's surprise.
Thanks again to Camilla10 and Mr. Price. And to reve2 for a great Lingala song.
n.b.: Spoiler alert for "The Count of Monte Cristo." (And if you read the English-language version you missed all the dirty parts.)
Chapter 5: Realno i vŭlshebno
The guy standing at the classroom door after my AP English class had straight black hair, dark eyes, skin to rival Tyler Crowley's tan, and a smile to make a girl melt.
"Jacob Black?" I said, beckoning him in. The 11th graders were doing the folklore unit – the Brothers Grimm, the tale-type classification system, etc. – and this was the day for the representative from the Quileute tribal center to make a presentation.
"Isabella Swan?" he asked, his smile broadening. What a cutie.
"Bella, yes. Thanks so much for doing this for us," I said, shaking his callused hand when he reached my desk. His navy tie was crumpled and his white dress shirt still had the wrinkles from being folded in its packaging. "You were just in Jeff Mason's class, right? How did it go?"
"Good, I think. This is the first time I've done this, so I was a little –-"Jacob wrinkled his nose. "What is that smell?" he said, suddenly looking queasy.
How familiar, I thought. Though unlike Edward Cullen, this guy didn't look as if he was about to become a werewolf.
"I don't smell anything. What's it like?" I asked eagerly. Maybe Jacob Black too had a supersensitive sense of smell, or whatever Edward Cullen had.
"Something too sweet? Or rotten? Or both?" He waved his hand in front of his face as if to dispel the odor, and I went to crank open a window, letting in a rush of damp air scented with wood smoke.
"I hope it's not me," I said, striving to hide how serious my question was.
"No," he said distractedly. "It's not you." He wandered into the back of the room and looked up at the ceiling. "Maybe there's a dead mouse in one of the panels up there?"
I was surprised, because the janitors here really did do a good job. It seemed unlikely they would have missed a decaying rodent, or for that matter, that I would have. But it was a promising idea, especially since the panels he was scrutinizing were right above the Cullens' desks. "I'll have the maintenance people take a look, thanks," I said.
Students were coming in now, and Jacob and I returned to the front of the room. The girls - especially Lindsey Mallory, junior homecoming queen - were whispering and eyeing our visitor appreciatively. Justin Stanley looked mulish as Lindsey giggled with Shelby Wells.
I introduced Jacob, reminded my students to look for differences and similarities with the other folk tales we had studied, then moved to the back of the room so I could keep an eye on Mr. Stanley, my least favorite student.
"Long ago when people were animals and animals were people…" Jacob started. Like many of their neighbors, the Quileute had a story cycle centering on a trickster/creator/transformer character. Kwa'iti changes himself into a salmon and captures a girl to marry. He gives women bees that sting them. As he is being chased by enraged wolves, he drops pinecones that become promontories along the coast that the wolves have to climb.
There were other stories too. A woman falls in love with a dog and gives birth to puppies that can transform into humans by shedding their pelts. The Quileute are scattered and form other tribes when a great flood covers the mountains and carries their canoes to other parts of the Olympic Peninsula (the students took notes furiously on this, since the parallels with the biblical, Hindu and Inca stories were so obvious). Forks has no trees because Whale and Thunderbird uprooted all of them during an epic battle.
Through it all were hints of how the Quileute once lived – meals of whale and seal and fish eggs, boats made into houses, war and slavery, women grinding fern roots into flour.
I led the applause when Jacob finished. This might have been one of his first times making such a presentation, but he was a great storyteller, whether it was because it was something the Quileute did a lot, or because he was a natural. I complimented him as the 11th graders rushed out to the parking lot and sports practice, and he blushed a little.
"Hey, would you like to come over for dinner sometime?" I asked once I knew my students were out of earshot. I had a double motive: I wanted to thank him for his presentation, of course, but I also had a favor to ask of him.
He looked surprised, and pleased. "Sure," he said cheerfully. "The weekends are best for me, because I can find coverage pretty easy."
"My dad's in a wheelchair. I just need to make sure someone's around in case he needs help."
"Oh, okay," I said, my estimation of Jacob rising by the second. "I'm going to Seattle this weekend, but how about the next Saturday?"
"I'll be there."
The Thursday of the same week found me pacing around my classroom desk, on my cellphone with Dowling's, the local garage. I'd taken in my Civic before the long drive to Seattle. I was now regretting it.
"I just don't understand how an oil change could go so wrong," I said into the phone. The school day was over, and a freshman straggler who passed by in the hallway glanced at me curiously as I complained. "Do you have a loaner car, maybe? No? … No, never mind. If I can get my own car back on Monday … yeah, I'll figure something out."
I hung up and punched in the numbers for Raquel. Voice mail. "Hey, sweetie," I said, giving a wave to Alice Cullen as she strolled into the room. Damn, she had great clothes – today she was wearing a cozy-looking cream and gray knitted dress and tights that were easy for her to carry off with her slender figure. "Listen, my car's out of commission, but I'm definitely coming tomorrow. I'll just take the bus to SeaTac and then the train from there. I might be late. And maybe you can figure out another way to get to the race? Call me."
By the time I hung up, Alice was talking on her own cell, and holding her finger up in a signal for me to hold on a minute. Students weren't supposed to have cellphones in school, but since it was after hours, I couldn't be bothered to care. As I waited I glanced over at the ceiling panel above hers and Edward's desks. The maintenance crew hadn't found any vermin, dead or alive.
"… I think that will be fine. Hold on, I'll ask her." Keeping her phone to her ear, Alice looked at me and said, "I came by to ask you about our assignment, and I couldn't help overhearing about your car, Ms. Swan. But listen, my mom and I are driving to Seattle tomorrow. It wouldn't be any trouble to take you too. Esme's on the phone right now, and she said I should ask you."
I gaped at her, uncertain what to do. It'd certainly be more convenient to get a ride to the city, and not to have to ask Mike or Angela to drive me to the bus in Port Angeles, but I had to make sure her brother wasn't part of the excursion.
"Um, are you certain you have enough room?" I asked warily.
"We have plenty!" Alice's tone turned cajoling. "Really. It's just Esme and me having a little quality time, going to the opera and such. She'll be glad there's someone else for me to talk to on the drive in. I get 'overly loquacious' sometimes, as she says." Alice shoved her cell toward me so I could hear Esme's laugh. Even over the phone it was entrancing.
"Actually, I would need to do some work in the car," I warned Alice.
"I promise, I won't bother you when you need to correct the vocabulary quiz," she said, drawing a halo in the air above her head. "Come on, Esme wants to talk to you and set everything up."
I gave in, and reached for her phone.
The next afternoon, a gleaming black Mercedes with tinted windows pulled up into my driveway. Such an expensive car had probably never been so close to my little house.
I was walking onto my porch when Alice Cullen bounded out of the passenger side of the Mercedes. She met me as my boot squelched into my sodden lawn. "Hi, Ms. Swan, is that all you're bringing?" she asked.
I glanced down. I had an overnight bag in one hand, and a cooler bag filled with food for Raquel in the other. "Why? Am I missing something?"
"What about your bike?"
When my car was working, I had indeed planned to take my bike with me, but I had given up the idea. "Uh, no, how would I transport -" I stopped as Alice pointed to the Mercedes. There was a bike rack on the roof. Surely this was the only Mercedes sedan in existence with a bike rack. "Oooookay. But I don't want to –"
The driver's side door opened, and Alice's mother stepped out. "It won't be a bother," Esme Cullen said in her soothing voice. "Give us your bags and go fetch your bike."
I was hauling it over the porch steps when I heard a familiar voice shouting from across the street. Oh, give me a break.
"Yo," Justin Stanley, wearing an A&Fitch hoodie, called out, "do you want help with that?" An instant later, the back door of the Mercedes opened and Edward Cullen stepped out of it.
My heart dropped. Damn, I was going to have to back out of this trip.
"I've got it," Edward told Justin, who was still making his way toward us, unheeding of the coldness in his older classmate's voice – a coldness I remembered well.
"Edward decided at the last minute to join us," Alice said quietly to me when I had pushed my bike up to her and Esme.
"Did he know that I was coming with you?" I said just as quietly.
"Of course," Esme said. She shrugged gracefully, and ducked back into the car. I exhaled in relief, then tensed up again. Edward might be okay with my presence now that I had stayed away from him for all these weeks, but I still had to control myself and not betray my infatuation. I was suddenly grateful for all the homework I had to grade on the ride.
I looked over to see that Edward and Justin were staring at each other, and they both seemed like such stereotypical would-be alpha males that I shook my head.
Then I winked at Alice and she seemed to sense what I had in mind, because she grinned. "One two three," she whispered, and we hoisted my bike into the wheel tray of the roof rack. With Alice's help it was surprisingly easy. Justin's head whipped around and a flash of annoyance crossed his face. And Edward Cullen's, too.
"Thanks, guys," Alice sang out as I snapped the locks on the wheels closed. "We've got it all covered."
"See you in class, Mr. Stanley," I said as Justin started slouching back to the Stanley McMansion, probably pissed off at me again.
Once we were settled in the car, me keeping a prudent distance from Edward in the back seat, Alice turned around to her brother. "What was with the testosterone display, chum?"
"Justin Stanley is a loathsome boy and I don't want his hands touching anything of mine," he said, staring down at his laptop as he typed. He exuded tension.
"Don't hold back your feelings," Alice said, smirking.
"Besides, dear, this is my car," Esme said. "And Ms. Swan's bike."
"Yes, but—" he stopped abruptly. "Never mind."
There was silence a moment as Edward opened his window and then closed it, and Alice asked what my plans were for the weekend.
"They're my friend Raquel's plans, and I'm not sure about all of them," I said. "But I know that tonight I'm going to the opening of her show –"
"A play? Or an art show?" The question came from Esme.
"An art show. She's a painter." Esme hmmed in encouragement and I went on. "It's at some place called the Statler warehouse."
"In Georgetown?" It was a reasonable guess - Georgetown, an industrial neighborhood turned artist hangout, was known for its open studios and art walks.
"No," I said, adjusting the jacket covering my lap. I had dressed for Raquel's opening, and my outfit was shorter and tighter than anything I would wear to school. I didn't want to harass Edward Cullen with my exposed thighs. "I think most of the others in the show do have studios in Georgetown but you know how artists are – if everyone's doing one thing, they decide it's time to go do something else. So the curator found a real estate developer who's letting her use this space for the weekend in Pioneer Square near a bunch of established galleries. She's hoping for spillover, I think."
"That's not far from our hotel. What is your friend's work like?" Esme asked as we made the first of Highway 101's many crossings of the Sol Duc River. She actually seemed interested, which I hadn't expected. Esme seemed to sense my surprise because she added, "I do interior decorating work, so I'm often in the market for art."
"Oh. Well, she does portraits of her friends, mostly. Her stuff reminds me a lot of Elizabeth Peyton's, do you know it?"
"Yes!" Alice burbled. She might have been bouncing in her leather seat a bit, too. "We saw a show of her work at the New Museum in New York. I remember the Kurt Cobain portrait."
I was taken aback for a moment, then mentally shook myself. The Cullens were, it seemed, operagoers and art lovers too, and I needed to get used to it.
"Well, don't tell Raquel I said that, because of course she resents being compared to Peyton," I said.
"That sort of thing also sounds familiar," Esme said. "And what else are you doing this weekend?"
"Raquel signed us up for a trail race on Sunday morning in a park outside of Seattle, Cougar Mountain."
"Don't you need a ride?" Esme asked, her eyes meeting mine in the rearview mirror.
I shook my head. Ben from the commune had a car, but he was out of town meeting a publisher, and Raquel had charmed the potter who lived down the hall from her into taking us.
"Raquel's getting some guy to drive us there," I said. In my peripheral vision, I saw Edward jerk his head up.
"Oh, you'll have good weather for the race," Alice said. "I read that it's going to be sunny on Sunday."
Huh, the forecast must have changed, but that was good, because maybe I'd be less likely to dirty this pristine car with muddy trail shoes. Next to me, Edward's head was bowed again, and his hands were moving on the keyboard with astonishing speed. I couldn't help glancing at the screen of his computer. It was covered in fever charts and ticker symbols.
"Oh, is there an investment club at school?" I asked, even though as I said it I realized that the idea was unlikely. Edward looked up, startled, but Alice answered for him.
"At Forks High? C'mon. But Edward plays around with stocks on his own," she said. "He has quite the knack for it. And sometimes I give him advice."
Christ, so the Cullens had enough money to set up a brokerage account for their teenage son to fool around with. Even aside from their beauty, brains and unexplainable speed, they obviously lived in a different world from me. I sighed and reached into my bag for those vocabulary quizzes, then tucked in the jacket around my legs more securely. Edward had opened his window again, and chilly air whistled into the car loudly enough to make conversation difficult. But I didn't want to complain, so I turned to my work. Can you use "inscrutably" in a sentence, Mr. Stanley? Ah, I see that you can't.
Unfortunately, Justin Stanley's sentences –"She was inscrutably shaking her hips" – weren't enough to distract me from the physical presence of the silent, tense boy next to me. If I could, if I was stupid enough, uncontrolled enough, to touch his jaw, it would feel like a rock under my fingers, I was certain.
Once we reached the bridge over the Hood Canal to the Kitsap Peninsula, we had to wait for a naval ship to navigate the drawspan. As soon as we stopped in the line of cars, Edward bolted. As I had watched him do before.
From the back window, I could see him slumping against the trunk, running his hand through hair that must have been getting damp in the drizzle.
"Poor guy," Alice told me. "He sometimes gets overwhelmed on long trips."
And in my classroom. And in the school parking lot when he's next to me. And now in the car next to me. "Huh," I said.
The scene was repeated in the ferry line on Bainbridge Island, but this time I looked away, my hair shielding me from the sight of Edward Cullen's discomfort. I didn't need to see this yet again.
Edward opted not to even return to the car, walking onto the ferry instead and disappearing inside. I hadn't made this trip enough to be jaded by the view, and Alice and Esme joined me at the railing for the half-hour crossing as we watched nighttime Seattle come closer, lights twinkling in the skyscraper forest of downtown.
It was a short drive from the ferry to Raquel's vernissage. We pulled up to the old brick warehouse, and this time Edward got to show off his manly bike-hauling skills. I spaced out for a moment at the sight, reminded of how he had seized my bike and pulled me out of the path of the food-service van.
"Would you like me to lock up your bike? Ms. Swan?" he asked, his question yanking me back to the present.
"Um, yeah, thanks," I mumbled, dropping the key for my U-lock into his outstretched palm, careful not to touch him. He wheeled my bike to an iron railing along the sidewalk, next to what I recognized as Raquel's own bike, and I turned away to thank Esme for the ride.
"I can't believe that Dowling's didn't have the part my Civic needed," I added apologetically. "Civics are the most common car in the country."
"Not in Forks," Alice pointed out.
The Cullens seemed to be waiting for me to go inside, so we said goodbye until Sunday and I made my way down a half flight of metal steps to the open door of the temporary gallery. A murmur of voices spilled out.
"Bella!" Raquel called to me immediately, breaking away from the clutch of guys around her. She was wearing a cream leather minidress that she had picked up at a secondhand store in Ballard. The color complemented her tan skin and the asymmetric hem showed off her lean runner's legs.
"You look amazing," I told her after we hugged. "So, where are the arty musicians? And the wine?"
"I've got some of both for you, but patience," she said, snickering. "Let's go find Bree so we can stash your bags someplace safe."
I started to follow her toward the back of the long, narrow room, scanning the stark white walls as we went, then stopped short.
"You didn't," I breathed out. Raquel spun around, and I could see on her face that she knew what I was talking about.
"Bree was looking through what I had, and she really, really liked it," Raquel said.
"She said it was a great picture," Raquel went on.
"And it'll be up just for the weekend. I knew if I told you it was here you'd try to skip this."
I glared at my best, betraying friend. "If it sells, you owe me a really expensive dinner. Someplace French."
My eyes flashed back to the wall. The paintings in Raquel's section of the show were all familiar to me – friends, members of her family, even a couple of me - but one made my stomach twist. The woman in it was lying on her right side, one arm above her head, dark hair spilling around her. She was mostly under a white sheet, obviously naked, a crescent of blush areola peeking out, lines of her body clear under the thin material. Her eyes were closed though she wasn't asleep, but stretching luxuriously.
I knew that not because of Raquel's figurative skill, but because the model was me.
"You redid the background. And the blanket," I said. Raquel hadn't shown this in public before because she was unhappy with the look of the red blanket that draped over my legs. I didn't really mind the painting being on display – I had posed for it after all, so I knew what I was getting into - but it was unsettling to be here, clothed, in the same room as it.
"Yeah, Bree convinced me to finish it … hey, Bree!" Raquel waved at a small woman with blue-streaked dark hair who was approaching us, dressed in mandatory Curator Black and carrying a small sheet of adhesive red dots. "This is my friend Bella."
"Bree Tanner," the woman said, taking my hand. She was younger than us and almost as short as Alice Cullen. "I love Raquel's picture of you."
I managed to suppress my eye roll. "It's great that you were able to put this show together," I said politely instead. "Your professor should be impressed."
"Bree, can Bella put her things in the closet?" Raquel asked.
Bree nodded, gave me a key, and pointed me in the right direction. On the way back, I stopped by the makeshift drinks table. Bree had left a folder with a pricelist resting on top of the table, next to the magnum of Trader Joe red that had been my goal. I scanned the list for Raquel's paintings, and forgetting all about pouring myself a glass, marched over to where my friend was now talking with a tall, good-looking blond guy. I pulled her aside.
"If you get that much money for my naked painting, you're taking me to dinner in Paris," I hissed at her.
"If I get that much money, I can afford to take you to Paris." She grinned, then shrugged. "Bree figured that pricing that piece so high would make the other ones look like a steal. Here, meet Riley."
Riley was the good-looking blond guy. I found out that he had started out at Oregon State, then followed a teacher here to Udub, and was now working on his M.F.A. He did vaguely political assemblage and collage.
"This guy looks familiar," I said in front of one collage after Raquel went off to get drinks.
"It's Robert La Follette, " Riley said, and the name clicked from high school history class. The turn-of–the-last century Progressive governor of Wisconsin. Riley started talking about how his work was a comment on the union-busting tactics of the current Wisconsin governor, but I kept staring at La Follette's hair in the appropriated photograph. I had thought of the men of that era having slicked down, pomaded hair, but this guy had a lion's mane, wild and untamed. Familiar indeed.
Bree came by to put a red Sold dot on the title card, giving Riley a wink.
"Congratulations," I told him.
"My parents," he said wryly.
Raquel came back, with, finally, a glass of wine for me, and took me around the rest of the show. There was a floor installation of little scraps of velvet and plasticine dribbles; a group of canvases that had been coated in silver so that the viewer could see herself hazily reflected in the surface; taxidermied rats sitting down for meals at dollhouse tables.
A video installation was in a corner, all blue light, groans and a blindfolded guy with his jeans around his calves as the text of 2008 Republican Party platform scrolled over his image. I took a peek and retreated hastily, mouthing, "What the fuck?" at Raquel.
She wrinkled her nose in disdain. "Yeah, I know, so 'transgressive,' huh?" she whispered. "Or rather, so '90s."
"Or maybe he just likes whacking off in front of a camera," I whispered back.
"Or maybe his professor liked him whacking off in front of a camera."
I shuddered. "Okay, that's much more disturbing." Compared to that, my nip slip was G-rated.
The vernissage wound down, prompting Raquel to get Riley and some other people together to go to a low-key bar nearby. So I found myself sitting at a table surrounded by grad-student artists snarfing up fries, and bitching about other artists and their day jobs. My own day job left them baffled.
It was a relief when Bree, who had stayed behind to close up the temporary gallery for the night, came in and pulled a chair up next to me. She was on a high from the opening, and the sales, and chatty.
And she had an interesting story. She had run away from her violent father in Coeur d'Alene and lived on the streets in Seattle before landing in foster care; she aged out and faced being on her own again. Then a miracle happened.
"When you're in foster care, and you turn 18, that's it for you, the state has no more responsibility for you, you know?" Bree said.
I nodded. "Yeah, some of my students are foster kids," I said.
"Right. So there you are with no family, no money, no skills, and you're on your own. But this foundation contacted me and offered to pay my way through college – it's some sort of pilot program, with its own social workers. And I'll graduate without any loans. I'm so fucking lucky. I'd write a thank-you letter to Mr. Pacific Northwest Trust if I knew who he was." She plunked her empty beer bottle on the table. "Where's the waiter?"
"I'll go get you another," I said. "I need one myself."
I made my way to the bar. From a speaker nearby came music I knew – a song from the Raveonettes album that had been released earlier in the year. I hummed along idly as I waited to order before remembering the lyrics:
And I need you/ and I forget that you're young/ and I please you/ and I know that you're so young./and I hurt you/ and I forget that you're young.
I so did not need to hear this. I abandoned the bar and went outside to the sidewalk. The drizzle had stopped, and a half-moon glowed above, reflecting off the wet street. A couple walked by, tipsy and amorous. I watched them with envy.
"Bella? You okay?" a voice said behind me. Riley.
"Uh, yeah," I said. He was close enough to me that I had to look up at him. "I just need to clear my head for a moment. What about you?"
"Eh, I need to go soon." Riley scratched his stubble. "I have band practice in the morning."
"Really? What do you play?" I asked. Damn, the arty musician Raquel had promised me. And if he played ….
Yeah, that was it. Drummers had a certain, um, athletic appeal. I was suddenly reminded of the advantages of getting laid in Seattle.
"And what do you guys sound like?"
"A bad imitation of every band Jack White's been in."
"Nice," I said, laughing. A fine-looking guy who knew how to poke fun at himself. That was good.
We talked about music a while, and while we didn't agree on everything, we were close enough. I was properly admiring of his getting to go to the sold-out M83 concert the next night. And with his adorable fidgeting, he was like a textbook example of a guy flirting. Bree inside had probably given up my getting her a beer.
"Listen," he said after a while, reaching over to brush a strand of my hair over my shoulder. "I really do need to go. Um, I left my car over by the warehouse. Do you need a ride?"
The corner of my mouth lifted. Oh, could I use a ride.
Just then, an old VW bus ground its gears as it lumbered up the hill, catching my attention. My eyes met those of Edward Cullen on the sidewalk across the street. Then I blinked against the glare of the VW's lights and he was gone.
He was always gone.
I scowled. Not only was an imaginary Edward Cullen blocking my efforts to get myself off, he was blocking my efforts to get myself off with other people.
Fuck my life. Sex for sex's sake, I had no problem with. Sleeping with one guy while being unable to stop thinking of another, though … that was pathetic.
My mood deflated, I turned back to Riley. "Hey, that's really nice of you, but Raquel and I have our bikes here, so that doesn't make sense for us," I said, answering his literal question instead of the one he was really asking: do you want me to show you my drumming?
The flash of rejection on his face was succeeded by indifference, and he shrugged. "Sure."
I went back into the bar to get Raquel and go home and to bed. At least I could cuddle up with my fake girlfriend tonight.
Two days later, Raquel and I walked to Elliott Bay Book Company, which wasn't far from her apartment. We had run our race that morning – under sunny skies, just as Alice Cullen had said – but now it was dark, and soon I would be heading back to little, bookstore-less Forks.
Once inside, Raquel headed to the art books, and I to literature. There was a sizable collection of Penguins here; I was willing to pay a little more for them because the annotations were so good. I picked out a few, setting them down as I pulled out a Guy de Maupassant novel, "Bel-Ami," incorrectly shelved among the D's. I had studied French in college, and knew I should try to read more of it so I wouldn't forget it. I skimmed the novel for a few minutes, noting that the writing was relatively simple, then put it back with a sigh.
"Not a fan of Maupassant?" a smooth voice murmured next to me. I jumped. Edward Cullen, but this time indisputably in the flesh. His silent approach, and then his proximity, made my pulse speed up.
"Hi. Um, no, I thought I should try reading it in the original. Maybe I can find a used copy online," I replied, taking in my student's lean form in dark jeans and a plain long-sleeved blue T-shirt that was too closely fitted for my comfort. I turned away to stare at the black and orange spines of the books in front of me. Dante. Dickens, Dostoyevsky. Dumas père and Dumas fils, father and son. A misplaced Honoré de Balzac.
"It's not a difficult book. I can lend you my copy," he said absently, his eyes also on the shelves. I froze. Do not act as if that is out of the ordinary, I told myself. Just talk normally. Don't scare him off.
"What about Dumas?" I said, touching "Camille."
"Quite easy as well. Not as convoluted as his father. Still, I loved "The Count of Monte Cristo" as a boy. Such a satisfying revenge fantasy. I even foolishly envied the count's ability to forgo eating and sleeping."
"I always felt sorry for Mercédès," I said, thinking of the count's first sweetheart, who is forced by circumstances to marry someone she doesn't love, who does nothing wrong except grow old.
"True. The count loved her, he undertook that elaborate plot for her, and then … he barely makes an effort to persuade her to be with him before he takes off with Haydée."
"Maybe it's more realistic, though," I said. "A younger woman and all that."
"It's not what I would –''
"Ms. Swan! Hello!" It was Alice's chiming voice coming from the end of our row. She skipped up to us. "We were on our way to your friend's place and I had a hunch you'd be here."
"Hi, Alice! How was your weekend?" I asked, as I leaned down to gather up the paperbacks I had chosen. Alice looked at them in malicious delight.
"Oooh, I can't believe my English teacher hasn't read 'Middlemarch!'" she said gleefully.
I affected indignation. "I'm merely replacing my copy, since it has disintegrated from being paged through so much," I said.
Alice giggled. "You are a bad liar, Ms. Swan."
"I know," I said ruefully. "Eliot's not even a dead white male, and I somehow managed to miss her. Don't tattle on me, please."
"I think you're safe from scorn at Forks High." She snorted. "I suspect Mr. Berty hadn't read most of the books he assigned to us. 'Prince of Tides,' really?"
She was probably right about that, but I was duty-bound as teacher to give Alice a reproving look. "Hey, a little respect, Ms. Cullen," I said. "Is your mother here too?"
"She's probably buried in the art books," Edward said.
"Oh, then Raquel will right next to her," I said. Edward suddenly looked impatient to leave, and I was disappointed that once more he seemed to want to get away from me.
As I had predicted, Esme and Raquel were at a long table of expensive art books, oblivious to each other, Raquel off to the side looking at her phone. Alice called to her mother, I to my friend, and they looked up simultaneously.
I made the introductions. "Esme, this is my friend Raquel Salcedo. Raquel, Esme Cullen, Alice and Edward."
Raquel seemed to freeze in shock for a few seconds, just as Eliza Teague's mother had, at the sight of the Cullens, and I could just imagine her thinking holyshitholyshitholyshit in a loop as everyone waved hello. I chanced a glance at Edward and saw the frustrated expression that he wore so often as he looked at me. Maybe he just found everyone outside his family lacking in some way.
"How was the race?" Esme asked me.
"It was fun," I said.
"What she means to say-" Raquel had recovered her power of speech "-was that we won our age group, but we got geezered."
Esme looked confused, and Raquel went on, "Guys say when a woman passes them in a race that they got chicked. We got geezered by a 45-year-old."
I rolled my eyes. "That's not uncommon at distance," I pointed out.
"Ah, yes," Esme said, smirking. "I've heard that older people have more stamina."
Alice seemed to find this hilarious. It was actually reassuring to see her acting immature. Edward continued to look frustrated.
"You're a painter, Bella tells us," Esme said to Raquel.
"Yeah," Raquel answered, and she pointed at me, "and I'm taking Bella to France!"
I inhaled sharply. "Are you serious?"
She waved her phone. "Bree just texted me. Some guy just bought the big painting and four others."
"That's wonderful," Esme said. "I buy a bit of art myself. Maybe I know the collector?"
"I doubt it, because Bree hadn't heard of him. And he didn't even ask for the discount. Someone named Jenkins, Jenks, something like that. A lawyer."
"Ugh, he's going to hang it in his office?" I asked.
Raquel snickered. "Would you rather he hang it in his bedroom?" she asked, raising an eyebrow at me.
"Fine. Both ideas are icky."
"Maybe he's just starting a collection," Esme suggested. "Why do you owe Bella a trip to Europe?"
Raquel grinned at me. "Because that big painting was of her, and I embarrassed her monumentally by hanging it in the show. I promised I'd make it up to her."
"You're embarrassing me right now," I muttered.
"Oh, come on. You look beautiful in it, if I say so myself. And you're pretty well covered, even if you are nak -"
"Raquel!" I hissed.
"All right, all right," Raquel said, and turned to Esme. I could see how giddy Raquel was about the sales. "It's a painting of Bella, but it's sort of a take on Manet's 'Olympia,' you know the kept-woman picture? Which has all sorts of problems of racism and sexism, but the way he contrasts Olympia's pale skin with the white sheets on her bed, I love. So I tried that, though Bella's less naked."
I groaned, and Raquel barreled on, "Hey, you should be grateful my inspiration wasn't 'The Origin of the World.'" Oh no, there was no chance that my freakishly cultivated students didn't know Courbet's infamous 19th-century crotch shot. I wanted to sink into the ground.
"I need to buy these," I muttered, lifting my load of books slightly in emphasis.
"We'll drive you two over to Raquel's apartment so you can pick up your things," Esme said, and I mumbled an okay, not sure I wanted Raquel and the Cullens in the same car discussing my painted alter ego.
As we left the store, Edward offered to take my bag of books, and I wondered if Esme had ordered him to do so, whispering as parents do to their children to do something polite. No, she was still talking with Raquel. I thought about refusing –I'd run 10 miles that day, and well, and didn't need any help - but I didn't want to rebuff him when he was willingly interacting with me. I handed the bag over.
The Mercedes was just across the street. Raquel sat in the front passenger seat, and Alice between me and Edward in the back, her tiny body close to mine. It was like sitting alongside an icicle, a function, I guessed, of her having like 5 percent body fat.
Something seemed to come over Raquel as we drove the few blocks to her apartment. She started answering Esme's remarks with monosyllables, and this time it wasn't Edward but Raquel who sprang from the car as soon as it stopped, mumbling a goodbye to the Cullens.
"Are you going to be okay?" I asked as I joined her on the sidewalk.
"Yeah, I just felt claustrophobic in the car for some reason." She looked a little nauseated. "Or maybe I'm wiped out from the race this morning."
"Or maybe luxury cars have that effect on you. C'mon, I gotta get my stuff."
"Are you going to be all right going back with them?" Raquel asked when we reached her apartment.
"Sure," I answered, puzzled. "Why wouldn't I be? Esme's great, isn't she?"
"Yeah, she's really nice, but …" Raquel trailed off. "There's something very odd about them."
"Like oddly attractive and polite and well-spoken?" I picked up my overnight bag and the cooler bag, now heavy with stuff I'd bought from the farmers' market we had visited yesterday and the food co-op down the street. Lucky Raquel, surrounded by so many choices, and she didn't even cook much. "As far as oddities go, I can live with it."
"I suppose. All right, get home safe," she said, and gave me a fierce hug. "And I'll see you soon! You know what I want when I come for Thanksgiving, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I said, and smiled at her mischievously. "And after a weekend in Forks, you'll probably want to move there."
"Um, I doubt it," she said, her eyes flickering to her living room window, which overlooked the street where Edward Cullen was hoisting my bike atop his mother's car.
As we headed toward downtown Seattle and the ferry, Alice told me about the opera she'd seen, "The Makropulos Affair," a Janacek work that I hadn't heard of. It involved a talented, beautiful singer who had an elixir for immortality, but then decided after a few hundred years that living forever, alone, wasn't worth it.
"Did you go, Edward?" I ventured, since he hadn't opened his ever-present laptop yet.
"No." He grimaced. "I wasn't in the mood for Janacek."
"You don't like his music?"
"I don't like that libretto. I hope Raquel is feeling better," he said, with an abrupt change of subject. "Have you known her a long time? Is she from Arizona too? Did you go to college together?"
I had a sudden inappropriate flare of jealousy – this was an inordinate amount of interest, wasn't it, in my gorgeous best friend? But I tried to answer casually, and fully, because again, Edward Cullen was actually talking.
"She was looking better when I left her. And yes to all three questions. She's why I moved to Seattle. And her background is really interesting. She's Tohono O'odham, and she grew up on the reservation in Arizona – her name's Salcedo because a grandfather was from the Sonoran branch of the nation. Her first language is Tohono O'odham, or rather an unusual dialect of it. She became quite a darling of the linguistics department at the university… "
His face seemed to clear as I spoke, and I suddenly noticed how close we were to each other. I slid on the black leather seat closer to the window. Edward flipped open his laptop and started typing, and he didn't say a word more until we reached the ferry to Bainbridge.
This time, all four of us walked out onto the deserted deck to watch Seattle get smaller, but after a few minutes both Esme and Alice complained that they were cold and went inside the cabin. I should have gone with them, but I wasn't ready to say goodbye to Seattle, the city of arty musicians who wanted to show me their drumming, the city Fate apparently didn't want me to live in. Instead she wanted me to live in a bald spot in the middle of the forest and pine for a boy I couldn't touch and whom I made uncomfortable.
I leaned over the railing, getting a last glimpse of the pyramid top of the Smith Tower, and shivered. "Take my jacket," Edward Cullen said, and had it draped over my shoulders before I could answer.
I bit back an automatic objection, and the wool collar of the jacket brushed my cheek as I turned to thank him, and I breathed in. My God, it smelled … not at all like teenage boy. Considering how sensitive he seemed to be to odors, I had to think that it wasn't cologne, but him. I breathed in again, and realized that he was gazing at me curiously.
No, this was wrong.
I shrugged off the jacket and pressed it into his hands. "Thanks," I said, "but you should keep it. I need to go back inside anyway."
I scurried to the cabin, but I couldn't resist glancing at him I opened the door. The jacket was still in his hands, but at his face. I could have sworn he was sniffing it. Depressed at the sight, I stepped into the light and the noise of the cabin.
Chapter title: "Real and magical," from "Black Cat" by Ladytron. (If you have a better translation, let me know!)
Since I shamelessly appropriated all the works in the chapter, art links on my profile page.
Thanks for reading and reviewing!