Disclaimer: "Twilight" belongs to SMeyer.
N.B. The literary opinions expressed in this chapter are those of the characters, not necessarily of the author. Though Heathcliff is a jerk.
Thanks to Camilla10 and Mr. Price, to HelloKoto for language help, RobsJenn for her rec and to Nic, Dolly Reader and Twific Crackmum for nominating this story at the Lemonade Stand.
Those of you who miss Mr. Price's comments from "The Bella Swan Scholarship Fund" have a treat at the end of this chapter. (Heh-heh, she said "end.")
Chapter 7: Tyngden i orden
I was sitting with Angela's family near the front of the church, waiting for Pastor Weber to appear, when I heard a rush of whispers behind me. I reflexively turned my head, and was arrested by what I saw: Esme and Edward Cullen, taking seats a few pews behind us. She smiled at me. Edward started leafing through the service book.
"Huh, I've never seen Cullens here before," Angela whispered. "And it's not even Christmas."
Pastor Weber made his entrance, and I forced myself not to peek at Edward again until after the sermon and the sharing of the peace. At this church, the peace was a time for hugs and socializing. As Angela's mom embraced me, I looked over her shoulder to see the Cullens isolated from all the handshaking and hellos, as if they were in a glass bubble.
"We can't have that," Angela murmured, looking in the same direction as I. Such a pastor's daughter she was. I headed to the Cullens' pew, and Angela followed.
"Peace be with you," I greeted them, shaking Esme's hand, and then, more hesitantly, Edward's. I startled a little at the feel of it, much warmer than I expected. Had I merely imagined how cold his skin was when he helped me up from the forest floor?
"And also with you," he answered in that impossibly smooth non-classroom voice of his.
A small squeak came from Angela, and I remembered her saying that Esme and Carlisle Cullen never visited the school. "Esme, this is Angela Weber, who teaches with me," I said.
"Peace be with you," Angela muttered as Esme took her hand. "Hello, Edward."
"Ms. Weber, good morning," he said softly, pulling his hand out of his pants pocket to shake hers.
"Bella," Esme said, beckoning me into the side aisle, near a stained-glass window with a jagged design that was probably supposed to represent tongues of fire, but they had little color in them on this foggy day. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "Edward told me what happened to you in the woods."
Oh no, I thought, my stomach lurching. She was going to tell me to stay away from her son. Not only was I going to be deprived of Edward's company, I would have the humiliation of knowing that Esme disapproved of what I had done.
"My word," Esme went on. "To think how horribly it could have turned out!"
I looked over at Edward. He was wearing a dark gray suit and pale blue shirt that made him look all kinds of …. not 17.
It was cruel, really.
"I'm so glad that Edward was there to help you," Esme said.
"Me, too," I said back, still looking at my student, and waiting for Esme's "but." Edward gave Angela a brief smile as they chatted, a flash of white teeth that made me think of what the cougar could have done to me.
"So it would really make me feel better if he kept running with you."
What? I turned my gaze back to Esme, startled. "In case something else goes wrong," she was saying, her light-hazel eyes intent on me. "I understand you're an experienced trail runner, but surely it's safer for there to be two of you."
"Don't you –" I flapped my hands awkwardly, struggling to come up with the right words, especially since right now Esme and Edward looked more like beautiful siblings than mother-son "—need him in the afternoons to do his homework or his chores or something?"
She shook her head. "He has plenty of time to do what he needs. So please, Bella, for my peace of mind."
"Um, okay," I found myself mumbling, my resolve disintegrating.
Esme lowered her voice even more. "And I'm so delighted that he has someone to talk to. I'm sure you've seen how isolated he is. You are making him open up. Besides Alice, he really has no one other than you at his level."
I blinked, because to describe me as at Edward and Alice's intellectual level was flattery in the extreme.
"He'll see you this afternoon. At two?" Esme asked. I nodded.
"Thank you, Bella," she said, then stepped aside as Angela approached.
"Bella, we gotta go," Angela said. "My dad's making shooing gestures at us."
Esme had so discombobulated me, I'd forgotten my duties. She returned to her pew, and Angela and I scurried to start the collection. I deliberately chose the other side of the church from the Cullens, and as the Lutherans of Forks dropped checks and bills into my collection plate, I tried to figure out what I had just agreed to.
Whatever it was, it involved questions, I discovered.
"So, you should know, Sunday is when I do my long run," I told Edward at the start of the trail. "Tell me if it's too much for you."
He smirked a little. "I think I can keep up," he said. And after what I had seen, I believed him. I motioned him in front of me, as he seemed to prefer, and we took off.
It had turned into a fine day by Forks standards. The fog had moved off, a shower had cleared away, and the air was less heavy than usual. The sun even made a brief appearance.
My long route took me through a particularly ugly patch of clear-cut, and as I approached it, I saw prisms landing on the bark of the thinning trees – the sun refracting through the raindrops resting on the needles, it must have been. When I looked back at the path, my running partner was gone.
"Edward?" I called, a little uneasily, as I stepped into the sunlight.
"I'm over here," he said from the shade on the other side of the clear-cut.
I jogged over to him, counting my strides, and asked, "Where'd you go?"
"I thought I'd try a sprint to break up the run," he said.
"If you were on the track team, your coach would be scolding you for messing up the tempo of your long run."
He gave me a half-smile. "It's a good thing that I don't do track, then," he said, and moved off.
It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him why not, he was so gifted, as he had just demonstrated yet again in his 100-yard dash across the clearing. But I stopped, thinking of his social phobia or whatever disability he had.
Christ, maybe he was uncomfortable undressing in front of other boys. I shuddered to think of the horrors that Justin Stanley could get up to in a locker room.
I returned to my back yard tired but pleased with my pace – running with Edward upped my game, it seemed.
"What's your favorite novel, Miss Swan?" he said abruptly as we walked to my porch. I nearly snickered at the awkwardness of his question, like a conversation starter on an uncomfortable first date, but then I remembered Esme's words: I'm sure you've seen how isolated he is. You're making him open up.
At least he didn't ask me about the weather.
"'Pride and Prejudice,'" I answered.
"A bit of a girl cliché, no?" he said, raising an eyebrow.
"And all the male literary critics naming "The Sun Also Rises" or Don DeLillo as favorites isn't a cliché?" I retorted.
"Touché," he said, laughing, and I realized that he was teasing me. And, more disturbingly, that he knew me well enough to know how to tease me.
All those weeks he had spent staring at his desk he had listened to me.
"Why do you like that novel so much?" he asked. I hesitated, trying to organize my thoughts, and he added, "I promise, I won't make you give me an AP-standard five-paragraph essay on it."
Yes, that is what we spent a lot of time in class on. "I'm sorry you're stuck listening to all that," I said, grimacing. "That's a hazard of having to teach to the test. So … I guess I like it the way every girl does. For the dialogue, and the dreamy hero – though he sounds as if he might be kind of unbearable in real life."
I waved that away. "But more important, it's because the clever, witty, strong woman succeeds - well, in a prefeminist manner of speaking - more than the beautiful, well-behaved one. And it's the beautiful, self-sacrificing women who 'succeed' in novels written by men, certainly 19th-century ones. Austen is a revolutionary, both in her view of women and her use of literary technique.
"But of course, because 'Pride and Prejudice' is a vision of love and family from a female perspective, it gets dismissed, and Austen doesn't get the credit she's due for how she advanced the English novel."
Austen's novel was, of course, also a vision of love and family and happily ever after that I never expected for myself. But I didn't need to tell my student that. Instead I looked at Edward and cocked my head. "Is that enough explanation for you?"
"For now, " he said. "I'll ask for the five-paragraph version next time."
On Monday, another apple was on my desk, and I still couldn't identify it. Some rare heirloom, perhaps, some Gravenstein-Spy-Topaz mystery. It was still delicious.
And after that afternoon's run, Edward seemed on the verge of asking me another first-date question. So I forestalled him. He was trying to get me to spill my guts without giving me anything in return.
"My turn, today," I said as we stepped into my back yard. The fog was back, and I wiped my damp face with my sleeve. "What's your favorite novel?"
I wasn't sure what I expected – there was something about the way he wrote that made me think he had read a lot of Orwell or Waugh – but his answer still surprised me.
"'The Beautiful and the Damned,'" he said.
I considered a moment, trying to remember what I could about Fitzgerald's least famous finished novel, about a couple descending into alcoholism for the lack of anything better to do. It was a depressing story, and I could see how that might appeal to a mopey teenager. The problem was, I was having more and more trouble seeing Edward Cullen as just a mopey teenager.
"Why?" I contented myself with asking.
"When it came out –" he stopped as he reached my porch and turned slightly away from me. "I mean, it's the first novel I remember that takes a realistic look at a certain kind of people. Nobody has any goals, any direction, and their lives seem to stretch out endlessly before them. How do you respond when that is the case?"
"You become an alcoholic." Which was a stupid, stupid way for Fitzgerald's characters to look at life. Life does not stretch out endlessly. My mother had endured a lot of pain and misery to make hers last just a little bit longer.
"Exactly," Edward said. "If you have no meaning to your life, why not lose yourself in alcohol? Or give yourself up to some other vice?"
"Do you feel you have no meaning in your life?" I asked, watching him carefully. I flexed my foot against the porch steps, feeling the pull in my Achilles tendon. And here I was gazing at my Achilles' heel, my gorgeous fatal flaw, I thought.
"No." He turned to look at me again. "Though there was a time when I didn't feel that way." He shrugged. "I guess that's a change that comes with growing older."
"My turn," Edward said on Tuesday. "What is the novel you dislike most?"
I laughed a little. That was a trickier first-date question: what if the novel you despised turned out to be your escort's favorite?
I sobered up. We weren't on a date.
"It used to be 'Wuthering Heights,"' I said. "The cruelty, the irrational behavior, Heathcliff's torment of his wife, all justified in the name of a love that is unbelievable and unpleasant. And then the ghosts, and the overheard and misconstrued conversation ... cheap novelist tricks. It's as if Brontë had never read Austen."
"You are in good company among literary critics - especially the male ones," Edward said, grinning. He was teasing me again.
"Sometimes they manage to be right," I said dryly.
"I have to agree with you. Heathcliff's treatment of your eponym is unforgivable."
"Yes. Fortunately, my mother didn't name me after Isabella Linton."
"Whom did she name you after?"
"A many-great grandmother from Spain named Isabel," I said, silently noting his use of the disappearing objective case. He must have had an old-fashioned teacher once. "I've got a good bit of Spanish in my background. But I think my mom also just liked the name - girly names like Isabella and Jessica were popular when I was born, way back when."
I said that last part with a certain degree of bitterness – to Edward Cullen, it probably was "way back when." He looked at me curiously, and I took a swig of water to escape his scrutiny and try to shake off my sudden bad mood.
"Anyway, Healthcliff," I went on. "He's a horrible person. But I have to admit, there's something about a man struggling with his inner demons, always on the line between evil and good, someone who can be dangerous, that is irrationally attractive."
Edward snorted. "I know the evolutionary biologists agree, but I've never understood that. The nice guy is always the better choice."
"Hmm. But boring, both in terms of evolution and as a matter of literature. The love that is illicit, forbidden, that's the one that's compelling ..." I trailed off, no longer thinking of Heathcliff. There was another reason that a forbidden love was compelling to someone like me – it was a love that didn't have to be acted on, that couldn't be acted on. It was, paradoxically, safer.
Edward was obviously thinking of something else, though. "Do you think that someone can change, that a person who has done horrible things can be redeemed? Or do you think it is impossible?" he asked.
"No, not at all. But he has to redeem himself. The romantic with a small 'r' notion that a troubled man can redeemed by the love of a good woman – I don't believe in that. What is more likely is that the troubled man will do something horrible to her, fail her when she most needs him," I said, my bitterness returning. Fucking Charlie.
We were silent for a few seconds before Edward observed, "You said 'Wuthering Heights' used to be the novel you disliked most. So what is it now?"
"'Dracula,'" I answered and saw a flash of something - surprise? dismay? - cross his face. Huh, maybe it was one of his favorites. "At least at the moment," I added. "I have to start teaching it to the 11th graders – you must have read it last year, right? – and I just don't see the point."
"You don't think it has any life lessons to impart?" He was smirking now, so I must have misread his expression before.
"About vampires?" I said, scoffing. I waved off the ridiculous notion. "I just think that 'Dracula' should be studied in college where everybody can talk about the sex freely. All I can do is go over the silly plot. And the treatment of the women is so … ugh, Victorian. All angel of the household and Madonna/whore. If I'm going to teach a Victorian potboiler to 11th graders, I'd much rather it be 'The Woman in White.'" I'd been introduced to Wilkie Collins's mystery at UA, and it had been a pleasant read.
"That's not surprising," he said, and I wasn't sure what he meant. "That you like 'The Woman in White,' I mean. Marian Halcombe is the less pretty, less kind one, and everyone who reads it falls in love with her, not her beautiful, dull half-sister."
"Got it in one," I said, and noticed how dark the sky was becoming. Arizona didn't have such short days. "Are you really going to get home before dark, Edward? Shall I drive you back?"
"No, I'll be home in no time. Good night, Miss Swan."
I had to wait through two days and a dinner with Angela, Tyler and Mike-the-guy-everyone-in-town-thought-I-was-dating Newton before I could return Edward's question.
"Okay, so what's the book you dislike most?" I shook my jacket out as we stood on the porch – a cloud had burst as we finished our run, and we had had to dash across my yard. Edward had politely matched my pace, and now his light gray T-shirt was splattered with rain. I tried to keep my eyes trained on his face, away from the wet fabric clinging to the lean lines of his torso.
"'Ulysses,'" he answered.
I couldn't hide my astonishment. Of everyone in my class – okay, of everyone I'd ever taught or been in school with, including my professors – I would have thought that Edward Cullen would have been the one to most appreciate the layers of wordplay in James Joyce's stream of consciousness.
"Joyce has no idea how people's minds work," Edward continued. He sounded annoyed.
"And you do?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Maybe I can read minds."
Wow, I thought. If such a thing were possible, that would explain so much about Edward. What would it be like to be constantly assaulted by others' thoughts? Especially if you were a particularly beautiful young man who attracted everyone's eyes? And then I thought of the humiliation that would be mine if the particularly beautiful young man next to me could read my thoughts.
"How horrible that would be," I blurted out.
"Yes," he agreed grimly, and I had a moment of irrational panic until he went on, "To hear everyone's thoughts would be difficult to bear. Unless you could read just certain people's thoughts …"
"Like Picasso's, say," I mused, and I could have sworn he flinched for a millisecond. "Or Mozart's. To hear the music in his head."
"Perhaps. Though I understand he was quite odd in some ways."
"Oh, you've seen 'Amadeus' too, huh?" I said, grinning at the memory of the manic laugh of the actor who played Mozart in that movie. The campus film society had shown it one night on the Mall.
He must have been thinking of the same thing, because he smiled also. "I have," he said.
"Well, in any case you're in luck on Joyce. 'Ulysses' isn't on the syllabus this year. Or probably any year at Forks High."
The rain had stopped as suddenly as it had started, and I noticed how close my student and I were on my small porch – close enough that I seemed to smell his delicious scent, heightened by the humidity. If I lifted my hand I could touch a drop of rain resting on his forearm.
The smile dropped from my lips and I stepped back. "Edward, you should go before the skies open again," I said.
His smile disappeared too, and he nodded.
On Saturday, I met Jacob in Port Angeles after yoga so he could have his knives sharpened, and then we hit the farmers' market on Front Street for supplies for our afternoon of cooking lessons. I looked for the apples that kept appearing on my desk, but none of the farmers, even the ones with the most obscure varieties, seemed to grow them.
A farm intern at one of the stands gave me a heavy sack of potatoes for the food pantry at church, and Jacob easily slung it over his shoulder like, well, a light sack of potatoes.
"Hey, you're actually useful to have around," I told him.
He shook his head in feigned dismay. "I try to impress you with my brains, but all you can think about are my muscles," he said, bouncing the potato sack in emphasis.
Once we were at my house, I started with showing him the most efficient way to chop an onion and peel a garlic clove, and how to make chicken stock. We made marinara sauce without sugar, and baked kale chips. We put a chicken in the oven to roast and took bottles of beer out to my back porch to get some fresh air.
Or not so fresh, apparently. Jacob screwed his face up in disgust after a moment and glared out into my yard. "What an awful stink," he said, leaping up from his seat on the steps to pace in front of the porch.
"Don't say it's my compost pile," I said. "No matter what Sharon Stanley says, it's not my compost pile." My landlady had indeed complained about it, and after I expressed my displeasure that she was prowling my back yard and noted that dropping garbage off at the town dump wasn't free, we had parted on less friendly terms.
"No, it's not," he said, glancing at my composter. "You might want to move it, though, so it's not in the drip line of the trees."
"Is it a dead animal?" I asked. I hoped it was a dead cougar.
"Skunk?" I suggested, though I smelled nothing but the usual damp earth around me.
He shook his head at me impatiently, and pulled at the collar of his T-shirt as if it chafed him.
"Um, so, any news on a Quileute speaker?" I asked, trying to draw his attention from whatever it was that was riling him up.
"Huh?" He stopped pacing. "Oh, yeah, come over for Thanksgiving dinner. You can meet my dad and Sue Clearwater, who's also on the council."
"You celebrate Thanksgiving?" Raquel's family did, but I knew that some Native Americans didn't.
"There's no turkey, and we hang a Pilgrim in effigy, but yeah, we celebrate it," he said, a smile briefly chasing away the disgust on his face.
"That's really sweet, but my friend Raquel will be staying with me –"
"Then bring her along," Jacob said promptly, before muttering, "We could use more women."
He blew out a loud sigh. "Sue's son, Seth – he's 19, and still in high school - he and his friends are, like, joined at the hip, and they travel in a pack together. Or maybe like a cloud of locusts. They're huge, and food just disappears around them. So they'll all be there."
They must be the Wolves who demolished the Spartans in the homecoming game, I realized. And if Jacob thought they ate a lot, they probably ate like literal wolves.
"I'll ask Raquel if she's okay with that. But –" I lifted a finger in warning "—if you're going to try to set her up with one of your musclebound buddies, you better be pretty subtle about it. She'll rip my head off otherwise."
"I won't try to set her up with any of Seth's loser thuggy friends, I promise. Even though I've never met her, I'm sure she deserves better than that. Now, could we go back inside?" He shot the forest one last glance. "Roasted chicken smells a million times better than whatever's coming from these woods."
Edward Cullen was in church again on Sunday, this time with Carlisle. They sat near enough to Angela and me that I could hear Edward.
"Let all mortal flesh keep silence," he sang. I loved this hymn, with its lovely, minor-key melody, but I stopped singing it to listen to his voice. It made me think of a silk wrap over bare skin. "And with fear and trembling stand…"
Again, Angela and I made a point of visiting the Cullens at the peace, and Carlisle winked at me. In approval, I had to think, but I couldn't ask, because this week other members of the congregation came to offer greetings as well.
"Everybody loves Carlisle," Edward murmured, but I nearly didn't hear, because he was holding my hand. He was wearing a different suit, a charcoal one with a barely noticeable pinstripe. The suit of an art expert at an auction house, I thought, reluctantly withdrawing my fingers.
After church, Charlotte Gerandy and I organized the week's donations for the food pantry in the parish hall. The sack of potatoes was already here – Jacob and I had dropped it off yesterday, along with the other donations from the farmers, since it would have been hard for me to haul it in on my own – and Charlotte and I carried in boxes of cans and bottles contributed by the Food Mart from her car.
We were arranging our meager bounty on the folding tables when Alice Cullen walked in, wearing a beautifully tailored raincoat cinched at her slender waist and carrying a large basket of apples … a large basket of familiar-looking apples.
"Alice, how wonderful!" Charlotte said to her, and I remembered that Charlotte's husband was a doctor at the hospital, a colleague of Carlisle Cullen.
"Mrs. Gerandy, Ms. Swan, hi. We've had a bumper crop from our little orchard this year, so Esme thought we should bring these by." She lowered the basket onto the table in front of us.
"What kind are these?" I asked, cradling one in my hand. "I've seen them around but I don't know what they are."
Alice shrugged. "Heirlooms of some kind. I don't know the name."
"They taste really good," I said.
"Really?" Alice seemed dubious. "I wouldn't know. Edward's always taking apples, but I don't like them."
"Too bad," Charlotte interjected. "You know an apple a day..."
Alice giggled. "All the apples in the world wouldn't keep the doctor away from our house, Mrs. Gerandy."
"An orchard, really?" I muttered after Alice left. In a few minutes, we'd open the doors for the food-pantry clients. A few minutes after that, all the food would be gone. To retirees struggling to stretch out Social Security, to men laid off from sawmills that would never reopen, to single moms like Eliza Teague's mother. The salal harvesters didn't come; they were too afraid to ask for help.
"The Cullens have quite a lot of land, I understand," Charlotte said. "And a beautiful house some miles north of town."
Some miles north of town. That's more than a few minutes' run away, I thought, then promptly forgot about that.
Because the real problem was that Edward Cullen was giving me apples. No. The real problem was that Edward Cullen … liked me, was infatuated with me, had the hots for me, whatever. I needed to stop that.
Yet how could I when I felt the same way? And worse, I felt even more for him than, I suspected, he could imagine or return. His crush on a teacher would pass, and he would move on, while I fell in love for the one time in my short life.
Chapter title: "The weight of words," from "Viljan" by Det Vackra Livet.
I meant to note in the last chapter that what Angela says about Social Security not being around when she retires isn't true. But it's a common perception.
Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Mr. Price here.
Readers of "The Bella Swan Scholarship Fund" may recall that I weighed in with the occasional comment, sometimes of a literary nature, more often along the lines of "when are they going to do it already?"
However much Mrs. Price has grown as a writer, Mr. Price remains fairly infantile, owing perhaps, to his being a "Mr." and not a "Ms." So I again ask, when do we get the lemons? Character development is all well and good, but let's get those fangs out and those clothes off.
Also, Mr. Price is disappointed to report that Mrs. Price is rejecting his suggestions to "kink it up." The repeated references to Bella's back door and back porch are neither metaphor nor foreshadowing, I am sad to tell you, but just a description of how she leaves her house to go for a run. Sigh. (Still, I must say this is a really good story so far, anyway.)