Disclaimer: "Twilight" belongs to SMeyer.

Recap: Last chapter, Esme persuades Bella, despite her better judgment, to keep running with Edward, who begins quizzing her about her literary likes and dislikes; the two also discuss the hypothetical drawbacks of mind-reading. Jacob and Bella cook together, and he invites her to La Push for Thanksgiving so she can pitch her idea to Billy and Sue for a research project. Thanks to Alice, Bella figures out that the apples that keep appearing on her desk are being provided by Edward.

Thanks for your patience. I had a lot going on the last couple of months. And thanks to Camilla10 and Mr. Price.

Also thanks to Nic for nominating this story for fic of the week at the Lemonade Stand. You can check it out the voting here: tehlemonadestand. net

Chapter 8: Chu jie

I picked up Raquel from the bus stop in Port Angeles, taking the opportunity while I was there to shop the holiday farmers market. I had consulted with Sue Clearwater, hostess for the Thanksgiving dinner Raquel and I were attending, on what to contribute to the menu, and she had laughed wearily into the phone and said, "Whatever you bring, and however much you bring, it will be eaten, so don't worry."

Raquel was initially resistant to visiting La Push - "I didn't leave the reservation in Sells just to go hang out at some other reservation," she complained. "Besides, you said you'd make me lasagna for Thanksgiving" - but had relented when I explained about the tribal council members being at Thanksgiving and the field linguistics project I hoped to do … and after I promised that I would indeed make a pan of lasagna for her.

Now we were at the Forks Diner with my usual Wednesday dining companions. At five, we were too numerous to fit comfortably in the back booth we favored, so we had to take a table in the middle of the restaurant, in the line of sight of everyone. The diner was bustling, full of Forks High students getting their last chance to hang out with friends before spending the next few days in the boring bosom of their family, and people picking up cobblers and pies for their holiday meals.

Mike and Tyler were typically, and suitably, impressed with Raquel's various charms, and were competing with each other to charm her in turn as Angela and I watched in amusement. As the boys bantered, my mind wandered to the day before. I had had my last chance to run with Edward Cullen before Raquel's visit, and my post-workout question of the day involved logistics, not literature.

"What are you going to do for Thanksgiving?" I had asked as I sat on the porch steps and dried off my right calf with a towel, my puddle-soaked running shoes tossed to the side. Edward's own shoes were, somehow, as pristine as they had been when he had set out.

"Hmm?" he said, sounding uncharacteristically distracted, and I looked up to find that he was gazing at my legs. The day was unseasonably warm, and I was wearing shorts.

"Thanksgiving," I reminded him. I considered covering my legs, but decided against it. I was pretty sure that Edward Cullen no longer worried about me harassing him. And as long as he didn't touch me and I didn't touch him, it was safe for him to look.

I hoped.

"We go off camping for the holiday," he answered me, and I let out a sigh of disappointment mixed with relief.

Relief, because I hadn't wanted to ask him not to run with us, but considering Raquel's reaction to the Cullens, I was certain that she'd be uncomfortable going into the forest with Edward. And to be honest, I was worried about what she would say about my spending so much time with a student. I might have the Cullens' approval, but Raquel would think I was crazy … and to be even more honest, I didn't want to give her a chance to persuade me she was right.

And disappointment because, damn, I wouldn't have even the possibility that I might run into him in town and get a glimpse of his beautifully sculptured face. Because it was okay for me to look, too, right?

"And what are you doing for Thanksgiving, Miss Swan?"

I draped the towel over my discarded shoes and stood up. "You remember my friend Raquel? She's visiting, and she and I have been invited to have dinner over in La Push."

He stared out into the woods a moment before saying, "Be careful out there."

There was an odd shading to his voice, and I asked, "What do you mean?"

He hesitated again. "It's a long drive on a narrow road to La Push. And some of the young men of the tribe have a reputation for being volatile."

The young men. He sounded like such an old guy sometimes. Jacob had talked about "thuggy" teenagers, but I couldn't imagine that the bad boys of La Push would be any scarier than my students in Tucson. Some people worried too much.

"Um, okay, thanks. I'll keep that in mind," I said, then smirked at my perpetual savior. "And you, don't get eaten by any cougars on your camping trip."

I thought he would laugh at that, but instead he responded, with dead seriousness, "Don't worry about me. Just stay safe."

A vaguely familiar voice from behind me ended my reverie with a "hey, guys!" It was Ben, the graphic novelist from Raquel's artsy commune, who came to stand next to our table, a couple of boxed pies in his hands. Mike, Tyler and Ben exchanged the usual bro-greetings, and Angela gave him a sweet, shy smile. I realized that Ben was the right age to have gone to school with them.

"Ben, congratulations on your book deal," Raquel said, and he did a double take as he noticed his neighbor from Seattle.

"Raquel, what are you doing here?" he asked before his eyes slid over to me. "And Bella!" he said. I could see the light bulb going on in his brain. He turned back to Raquel. "You never told me that your girlfriend got her new job in Forks."

I could have sworn that the entire diner went silent, but it was probably just the customers in the two red vinyl booths next to us.

Raquel shrugged. "Yeah, well, I didn't know you were from Forks, so why would I have?" She draped her arm around my shoulders. "Anyway, it's sad that Bella lives so far away. Long-distance relationships are tough."

Okay, maybe it was the entire diner listening, because Raquel's voice seemed awfully loud in the sudden quiet. Shit.

"Yeah, I've heard that," said Ben. He now seemed aware that everyone was staring at us, and shifted uneasily. "Um, so, I gotta go pay for these pies. Raquel, let me know if you want a ride back to the city. See you around, guys."

The noise level in the diner began to ascend again as Ben moved away. Mike and Tyler looked stunned.

Raquel pulled her arm away. "I ought to give you a big wet kiss right now, Bella," she said, laughing. I smiled weakly at her.

"Wait," Mike said, his ears reddening as his eyes darted between me and Raquel. "Really?"

"No," Raquel said. Lowering her voice and leaning forward, she explained how she had led the commune board to believe that she and I were a couple so I could share her apartment, a subterfuge that was, obviously, coming back to bite me in the ass. "That means you have to keep it a secret," she went on, "so when Bella comes back to Seattle, she can move in. Though it's too bad I've got a 'girlfriend' -" she made quote marks with her fingers "- otherwise I'd ask Ben out."

I looked at her, surprised. "You should, but I thought you thought he was too short."

She started laughing again. "Who cares? He's a sweetheart, and he's got a sweet book contract!"

Angela bolted from her seat and headed to the cash register.

"It's just like high school - she still has it bad for him," Tyler said, shaking his head and looking at Angela talking to Ben, and Angela's comment when I first met her that she liked nerdier types suddenly had a new dimension. "And Ben still has it for her," he went on casually.

"Ben and Angela had crushes on each other in high school?" I asked. Raquel made a strangled noise next to me.

"Oh, yeah," Mike said. "Ben was always pining for her, and Jess said Angela was always pining for Ben."

I narrowed my eyes at him. "And you didn't think you could, you know, facilitate the process?"

"Whaddya want, that I'd carry notes between them?" Mike said, scowling.

"No, but you could tell Ben, 'I think she feels the same about you.'"

He shrugged, and then our food came, and Angela returned to join us, so that closed off that topic. A secretive little smile curved her lips from time to time, so I wondered if her talk with Ben had been a productive one. Maybe her law student boyfriend in Seattle was on his way out.

Meanwhile, I was antsy and uncomfortable for the rest of dinner, paying attention to the conversation only when Tyler started complaining about the Border Patrol agents who were horning in on his traffic stops in search of Mexicans without visas. Otherwise, I couldn't help notice the glances being thrown my way, and considering what a common topic my doings were in this town, I suspected that my sexual orientation was on the gossip menu now.

As we drove away from the diner after dinner, I burst out, "I can't believe that we ran into Ben! My 'hot Seattle girlfriend' is going to be the talk of the town by the morning."

Raquel sounded baffled. "What's the big deal? It didn't bother you before."

"That was in Seattle!" I hit my steering week with a fist. "You realize, don't you, that Seattle is not really part of Washington, and Forks is definitely not in Vermont. You saw all those red bumper stickers on the cars in the parking lot. Everybody's a Republican here."

"Do you really think it'll cause you problems?"

"I don't know," I conceded, sighing. "It certainly would have back in Laconia, but I don't know this place well enough." Maybe I wasn't giving my neighbors sufficient credit for their tolerance. And the truth was, there was really only one person I worried about thinking that I batted for the other team.

"Well, I'm sorry," Raquel said, but there mischief in her voice. "Because now Tyler and Mike will be mooning over you even more." I snorted, but she went on, "You're 24, you have fantastic legs, and you might be willing to put on a show with another girl. What straight man isn't into that?"

I grimaced in the dark at this description of my appeal, a generic appeal based on fleeting youth and health. I would certainly never be Edward Cullen's special snowflake.

And while I wasn't interested in Mike and Tyler that way, I felt compelled to defend them. "They're really nice guys, Raquel. Responsible. I could do a lot worse."

"C'mon, you had more chemistry with that creepy boy-genius student of yours, that Edward kid, than you ever will with Mike and Tyler." I looked at her in alarm. "It's true. I can totally see you two sitting around and discussing French literature and phomorphs together." I jerked my eyes back to the road so she couldn't see how right she was.

"Phonemes and morphemes," I murmured.

"Whatever. You know, when he's old enough to drink. Though he'll still be really creepy."

I made a noncommittal noise in my throat. "He'll still be a genius."

"I'm more concerned that your friend Angela probably thinks I'm an asshole, talking about Ben like that," Raquel said, cringing at the memory.

"She'll forgive you – she's one of the least judgmental people I've ever met," I told her, and lapsed back into my own thoughts. By the time I got home, I had decided that my fellow Forksians might be okay with my being a (pretend) lesbian, but they would definitely not be okay if I turned out to a real pedophile.

With Edward's plea that I be safe in mind, I drove carefully out to La Push the next afternoon.

"Poverty looks the same everywhere," Raquel said, gazing out the passenger side window at the reservation's trailers, tiny houses and rusting cars on blocks.

"I didn't realize there were a lot of salmon-drying racks in Sells," I said, tilting my head toward a wooden framework draped with strips of fish.

Raquel huffed, not in the mood to appreciate teasing.

Sue Clearwater's house was a red-painted wood frame of indiscernible vintage, but was what was really eye-catching about it was the pack of guys – Sue's son, Seth, and his thuggy friends, I assumed - playing a shirts-and-skins game of football in the yard in front despite the brisk temperature. Both shirts and skins were muddy, and I understood why when I saw a big, skidding tackle leave a furrow in the ground.

"Christ, it's a Kennedy family Thanksgiving football game on steroids," Raquel mumbled as we got out of the car with our cooler bags of food. Steroids was right, based on the beefy bodies on display.

"Bella!" Jacob Black stepped out of Sue Clearwater's front door.

"Hey, Jacob," I gave him a hug and looked up at him. He seemed taller than before, and I remembered reading once about how guys continue to grow until they turn 25. "This is my friend Raquel -"

"Oh, I've heard all about her," Jacob said, nodding to her, then looking back at me before putting his hand on his heart dramatically and feigning insult. "The secret girlfriend from Seattle. I am pierced to the core knowing that you didn't want to share this important aspect of your personality with me." He started laughing, and it was obvious that Jacob didn't believe the gossip. Nor did I think it would bother him if it were true.

"Fuck off," I said half-heartedly. "I just can't believe you heard that already."

"We get smoke signals from the Forks Diner, you know," he said, grinning. "'Course, I can make that joke, and you can't."

"But I can," Raquel said, and Jacob gave her a high five before looking over our heads. There was some sort of commotion behind us, and I turned around to see three of the football players struggling with a fourth whose neck and shoulder muscles strained impressively against their restraint.

"Is he going to turn into the Hulk?" Raquel asked. She wasn't joking.

"Um, why don't you two come in and meet my dad," Jacob said instead of answering, and taking our cooler bags, he ushered us inside.

Billy Black was a very large man in his 50s, so large his wheelchair seemed barely able to contain him; though diabetes had ravaged him, I could see hints of where his son got his good looks. Sue, I discovered, was a nurse and a widow, and her kind face was framed by a short crop of black hair shot through with gray. Also inside were Sue's gorgeous pregnant daughter, Leah, who was a little older than me and did office work at a casino, and her taciturn husband, Sam, a commercial fisherman.

As Jacob had promised, there was no turkey, but instead an impressively sized salmon laid out on a folding table. My contributions joined the huge collection of side dishes around the fish, and a few minutes after Sue called in the football players, all the food was gone, disappearing almost as quickly as it did at the food pantry at church. There was a lot of conversation and joking around, a welcome contrast to my stilted Thanksgivings with Charlie. Or with Charlie and his occasional girlfriends.

There were too many people for a sit-down dinner, so I found a perch near Billy and Sue, hoping to establish my bona fides and win their permission for my project.

"Do you know any Quileute yourself?" Billy asked around a mouthful of salmon after he had quizzed me about the fieldwork I had done with Professor Robles at the University of Arizona.

"No. I mean I've looked at it enough to see that there are eight kinds of Ks and a bunch of glottal stops and pharyngeal consonants that I'd never be able to say – "

"Huh?" he interrupted, understandably confused by my linguistics geekiness.

"Um, a glottal stop is sort of like, well, try to say "bottle" with saying the two T's in the middle, like a Cockney." I paused as Billy Black said "bo-el" experimentally. "And a pharyngeal has no equivalent in English." Here I made a sound that was reminiscent of a cat coughing up a hairball, and Billy and Sue flinched. "And that probably doesn't even come close to how it should sound. Anyway, what about you two, do you have much Quileute?"

"I don't, but some of the kids know more, like my boy, Seth," Sue said, pointing across the room to the huge football player who was being restrained earlier. He looked much more comfortable now, chatting to Raquel, crouched by her chair, his face happy and eager. He was making her laugh, which was interesting. It was the way to Raquel's heart.

"From school, right?" I said. "That's great, but my preference is someone who grew up speaking Quileute. Someone elderly, who maybe has some old-fashioned vocabulary?"

Billy and Sue looked at each other. "Old Quil," Billy said. "Let me talk to - "

A "What the hell?!" interrupted him. It was from Seth. His amused expression had been replaced by a glare – a glare directed at me. "You got in a car with the Cullens?"

Just as the diner had gone silent last night, so now did Sue Clearwater's living room.

I looked at Seth, mystified. "Yeah, they took me to Seattle. It was really nice of them. Raquel met them, too."

Seth leapt up from the floor then, hands clenching, and two of his buddies were hurriedly pulling him outside. "What's going on?" I asked Jacob, who had moved to stand in front of me.

He shrugged. "There's a history –" he started to say, but one of Seth's muscle-bound friends – what was his name? Not Paul, but Patrick, maybe - cut him off.

"The Cullens' property abuts the reservation, and we've had some arguments with them over boundary lines," he said, his voice hard. As he spoke, an animal outside howled about something. A deep-lunged dog, I guessed, since wolves had long ago disappeared from the Olympic Peninsula.

I stared at not-Paul skeptically. His tone was flat, as if he was reciting: I was pretty sure this guy had never naturally used "abut" in a sentence before. So, Edward Cullen was uncomfortable with the Quileute, and they returned the favor – why?

"Well!" Billy Black interrupted my thoughts. "As I was saying, Bella, Sue and I'll talk to the rest of the council and to Old Quil for you, and we'll see what happens from there." He smiled slyly. "It's the least I can do after Jake brought back so much delicious food from your kitchen."

Seth returned shortly afterward, clad in a new T-shirt, and headed straight to Raquel, leaving her side only when Sue ordered him and his friends to start cleaning up. But he joined Raquel and me as we were at the door, saying our goodbyes to Jacob and getting ready to return to Forks.

"What are you doing tomorrow, Raquel?" Seth asked, twisting a dishtowel in his large hands and grinning. It was as if he hadn't been dragged out of the house in a fury not so long ago.

"Volatile," Edward Cullen had said of the young Quileute men, and it rang true for me now.

"We're going to go hiking - what's the name of the trail, Bella?" Raquel answered.

"Kloshe Naniche," I said, sure I was mispronouncing it.

"You should come here instead - we've got the best virgin forest in the area," Jacob said, managing to make "virgin forest" sound dirty. "And our views are just as good as from the lookout at Kloshe Naniche." Huh, I wasn't that far off.

"Yeah!" Seth said. "We'd go with you and show you the trail." His boyish enthusiasm was such a contrast to his muscular frame.

I looked at Raquel, letting her know with my silence that it was up to her whether she wanted to spend several more hours with a moody teenager who had a crush on her.

Me, obviously, I had no problems with that sort of scenario, I thought ruefully.

"Sure," Raquel said, "if it's okay with Bella."

We made plans to meet the next day, and the minute I got my Civic onto the road, I burst into song. "And they call it puppy loooooooo—ve," I screeched.

"Nooooo. He's only 19," Raquel moaned, hiding her face in her hands. "And he's in high school, the horror."

My glee dissipated at her words. "Why are you being so close-minded? He's legal," I said, trying to hide my envy. She didn't know how lucky she was.

When we got home, I poured glasses of wine and Raquel and I sat at the kitchen table and talked about friends – my might-have-been hookup, Riley, hadn't sold much at the art show but was "keeping it posi" like the Portland-raised boy he was, she told me – and work.

"Do you need to write letters of recommendation for your seniors?" Raquel asked.

"Nah. My kids all seem to be looking at places that don't want recs," I said. Alice and Edward Cullen should be applying to the kind of colleges that required letters, but they hadn't asked me for any, so I guessed they were sticking to Udub. Which meant that next year Edward would be in Seattle, and maybe I would be too, and … no. The girls here might not suit him, but in college he'd be surrounded by intelligent, attractive women his own age. I'd be old news.

But Raquel's question reminded me of some research I had been meaning to do, so I opened up my laptop and started typing. "Your curator, Bree, told me about this local foundation that gave her a full scholarship," I explained to Raquel, "and I'm trying to see if the people there might be willing to help a couple of my students. One's the daughter of an immigrant salal harvester here, and the other saw her father murdered. I don't think they'll manage college without a lot of help."

I found the Pacific Northwest Trust website, which had impressive graphics but little information beyond a contact name. "Hey," I said, interrupted Raquel as she texted on her phone, "what was the name of the lawyer guy who bought my nudie painting?"

I had to specify which painting because everything Raquel had on display had sold, one red "sold" dot prompting a cascade of other red dots.

"Jenks. Jason Jenks. Fapping to your portrait as we speak." I flipped her off, and she went on, "Why?"

Because Jason Jenks was the contact name. And he must have known about Raquel's show because of Bree, I realized. I didn't want to spoil Raquel's pleasure in her big sale by telling her that it might have started out as an act of charity. "Just wondering," I said, and started to compose a note to Mr. Jason Jenks.

The morning brought sun and the promise of good views on our hike. Even the marine layer had burned off by the time we met Jacob and Seth at the trailhead. Seth greeted Raquel as if she had personally brought the sun to La Push. The kid had it bad.

It was easy to see the difference between the virgin forest and the scrubbier, denser second-growth by my house. This was like walking through a cathedral, with the pillars made of centuries-old spruce trunks and the ceiling provided by the forest canopy 30 floors above us. Rays of green and gold landed around us, the leaves acting as stained glass windows.

And it was almost noisy here – when Edward and I ran, not even birds disturbed the silence. Apparently they preferred the mighty trees of this coastal strip when the weather turned cold.

We chatted easily, the guys telling stories of their escapades in these woods, Raquel and I describing the sky islands we'd hiked in the mountains around Tucson, those microclimates with their unique animal and plant life. We paused only when the elevation rose and we found ourselves on a cliff high above the Pacific, waves crashing on the rocks below, sea stacks in the distance.

"This is amazing," Raquel said, and Seth beamed at her approval. He bragged that he could jump off and land safely in the ocean, but Raquel begged him not to, and he shut up about it.

We settled on the cliff to eat the lunches we'd packed, and enjoyed the sun until it was too uncomfortable to sit anymore. Or too uncomfortable for Raquel and me – growing up here had apparently made the guys impervious to the damp cold.

The hike back was easier because of the descent but as we neared the end Jacob seemed to be struggling.

"Are you all right?" I asked him as he stumbled and lurched into Seth.

"Hey, man, what's going on?" Seth turned and held Jacob upright.

"My stomach," Jacob groaned.

I reached up and touched his cheek. "You're burning up, Jacob."

"Maybe you've got that flu that's being going around, the one I had," Seth said. Jacob glared at him, then doubled over in pain.

Seth grabbed Jacob's arm and slung it around his neck. "C'mon, we're not far from the car," he said, adding some words of Quileute that Jacob seemed to understand because he grunted out a "no."

Too bad Edward Cullen's not here, I thought, remembering how easily he transported me through the woods.

Still, Seth seemed comfortable supporting Jacob's bulk, and was able to guide the sick man into the VW Rabbit they'd driven. Jacob collapsed into the back seat and curled into a fetal position, poor guy. Seth pulled Raquel away to talk, probably to ask when he could see her again

"We'll take you home and put you in bed," I told Jacob.

"No," he muttered. "Go back to Forks, Bella. Seth will do it."

I guessed he didn't want to puke in front of me. I could understand that. I never wanted to puke in front of anyone myself. "At least call and let me know you're okay," I said, but Jacob only moaned again.

By Sunday, Jacob hadn't called. I phoned his house, but Billy answered and would say only that his son was fine but couldn't talk right now. Billy was so short with me that I didn't dare ask if he and Sue had met with Old Quil about my project.

In the afternoon, Ben came by to give Raquel a ride back to Seattle. Sharon Stanley managed to be in her driveway next to her shiny new Escalade – fruit of what Charlotte Gerandy had told me was Sharon's profitable ventures as a Forks landlord - and was watching avidly as Raquel and I hugged goodbye.

In a flare of irritation, I warned Raquel as Ben waited inside his car, "I'm going to give you a big wet kiss and shock the sensibilities of my annoying landlady." Yeah, I was a stupid straight girl willing to put on a show – good thing Mike and Tyler weren't here.

I positioned my hands on Raquel's face so they hid our lips and giggles from Sharon Stanley's view and we faux smooched for a few moments. When I peeked at Sharon afterward, I could have sworn her jaw had dropped.

"Oh, kill me," I groaned, opening my eyes to a Monday in Forks. It was too early – the sun wasn't even up, just a promise of a bleary light behind a wall of clouds – but I didn't want to go back to sleep. The dream that had woken me up was too disconcerting.

It was also risibly literal. I was at the school, in my classroom. Which was empty except for me and Edward Cullen. Who had me backed against my apple-laden desk, his lips moving on my neck, his fingers moving up my inner thigh, bare under a pleated skirt that gave him plenty of maneuverability. And then his hands were on my sex, stroking me just the way I liked, as if in my dreams he really could read my mind, sending me closer, if he would just move faster and harder … there, there, almost –

And then Bob Banner walked into my classroom, Edward Cullen had vanished, and I was trying to explain to my boss why I was sprawled on my desk with my underwear twisted around my knees and golden apples rolling on the floor. But the dream wasn't over. Bob wandered off, Edward reappeared, but our positions changed. He began thrusting into me, and just as once more I was on the edge, Barbara Goff showed up, looking censorious. Then it was Jeff Mason and his child-bride as Edward had his head buried between my legs. Every time, he disappeared as I was about to come, leaving me abandoned and in disarray. Finally, we were interrupted by my 11th graders, with Justin Stanley making catcalls. That was enough to yank me out of sleep.

Great. My guilty conscience had given me a dream that wasn't at all difficult to interpret. I pulled on my robe and went downstairs to make coffee.

The irony was that while I was dreaming of being indecent with Edward Cullen, everyone at school, Angela excepted, thought it was Raquel who was getting me off. Even the teachers' table at lunch went quiet a moment when I sat down in my usual chair, and Bruce Clapp seemed to have trouble looking me in the eye. But nobody said anything to me related to the subject until my last class.

"What do you think of gay marriage, Ms. Swan?" It was Justin Stanley, of course, lolling about in his chair and smirking.

The other students snapped to attention, expecting a declaration, perhaps, or a slapdown. They were going to be disappointed. "It's interesting that you bring that up," I told Justin, regarding him thoughtfully. "A little later in the year we'll be working on the persuasive essay, and that might be a topic you want to explore, if you're enthusiastic about same-sex marriage."

Justin seemed about to choke. "I'm not, not – I'm not enthusiastic about it," he said.

"Oh, that's fine," I chirped. "You can be conflicted about it. In fact, that might make a better essay, a more passionate essay, talking about your feelings –"

"I'm not conflicted," Justin ground out. "I'm against it." Lindsey Mallory was staring at him as if she had just learned something distasteful about him. Good for her.

"Okay," I said blandly. "Anyway, as I said, it's a topic for later in the year. For now, let's go back to the Van Helsings …"

My annoyance with Justin Stanley had faded by the time Edward and I started our cooldown that afternoon. A good run can clear your head, so instead of dallying by asking Edward how his camping vacation had gone, I decided to confront the gossip head on.

"Um, you might have heard something about me in the last few days that isn't true -"I hesitated, kicking the bottom step of my porch and trying to figure out how to put it.

"You mean, that you're an invert?" His voice had a smile in it, and I looked up at him to see it.

"Invert?" An even more archaic word than "icebox," probably.

He nodded. "Or do you prefer sister of Sappho? Daughter of Bilitis?"

I started snickering. "You make me sound like I'm from that Radclyffe Hall novel from the 1920s, what's its name - "

"'The Well of Loneliness.' You've been quite the subject of conversation at school. You would have been astonished to hear what Justin Stanley was -"

"Don't I know it," I interrupted him, and slumped against the porch railing, relieved by his nonchalance.

"Everyone thinks I'm gay too, and that's not true either," he announced after a beat, and I gawked at him. "Everyone's" gaydar was really off.

"Do people say that to your face?" I said, indignant. The folks here were so fucking nosy.

"No, but I can read their minds, remember?" he said, tapping his temple.

"Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten that." I sighed. "Well, I guess I'll find out if the 'news' causes me any trouble."

"Don't worry. Times really have changed, even in Forks." Edward hesitated, considering. "Except perhaps for Justin Stanley."

The fateful day had come: the Saturday of the Holiday Hop. I started the evening at Angela's house, where she updated me on her nascent romance with Ben while she and I had a couple of glasses of red to gear up for our chaperoning duties – at this supposedly alcohol-free event, the kids would no doubt be drinking more than the adults - and then we walked in the rain over to the Forks High gym.

It was seasonably festooned with handmade snowflakes and lots of sparkly tinsel … none of which could disguise the underlying odor of unwashed gym socks and teenage hormones. Ethan Yorkie was the DJ, trying out the sound system as Angela and I entered. "You make me feel like I'm losing my virginity the first time every time when you touch me," Katy Perry sang as if that were a good thing. Ouch.

"Not so loud, Mr. Yorkie," Bob Banner called out, drawing a line across his throat with a finger, and proceeded to give the teachers on duty for this dance our orders.

The students came in a trickle, and then a great clump, the girls in short tight dresses and cruel heels, the guys in jeans, sneakers, and, in a concession to "dressing up," buttoned shirts. The girls danced with each other at first, the established couples followed, and finally a brave boy approached an unattached girl, and the dance floor became crowded. Then the teachers had to start policing it, so Bob and Jeff Mason spun me around a few times as the students snickered at the sight of old folks like us dancing to LMFAO.

I was just returning from the girls' locker room – where I had confiscated a couple of suspicious-smelling Solo cups from Shelby Wells and Tiffany Crowley, giving them a useful lesson in discretion - when Alice Cullen popped up in front of me. She was wearing a venomous green dress with asymmetric seaming that no high school girl should have been able to pull off. With her was a tall young man with a cascade of blond curls, pale like her, though it was hard to be sure under the glitter provided by the disco ball.

"Ms. Swan, I'd like to introduce you to the love of my life, Jasper. I'm sorry he didn't have the chance to take your class, but he graduated last year," she said.

I automatically reached to shake his hand, but Jasper gave me a little old-fashioned bow instead, then said, "How do you do, Ms. Swan."

"You're old enough to call me Bella, I think, unlike Ms. Cullen," I told him, a little dazed. Yet another gorgeous, golden-eyed member of the Cullen household in a really nice suit.

"Yes, because he's decades older than me," Alice said sarcastically before adding with a small gasp as she pointed at my outfit, "That's a New-Look Dior! I have one just like it!"

I looking down at my black dress, with its high neckline, fitted waist and full skirt. Maybe someone in the '50s would have found it alluring, but by current standards it was a nun's habit – perfect for my role at this dance. "I doubt it," I said. "I got it at a second-hand shop in Tucson, and it doesn't have a label."

Circlingg me, Alice ignored that. "If I adjusted the seams in the back, it would fit you perfectly, but the fabric's probably deteriorated by now …"

"I'm told that you have a gift for accents, Bella," Jasper said as Alice continued to survey my dress. "Can you guess mine?"

I was about to object that I couldn't do this when music was playing, but Ethan Yorkie turned down the volume just then at Bob's insistence, so I asked Jasper to tell me about college. He was taking classes at Udub and had plenty to say about them, but I had to concede defeat after a while.

"Southern, maybe?" I guessed. "I can't tell you more."

"Texas," he said, sounding pleased.

"Really, where?"

"Houston." He gave me a charming smile that was so contagious that I grinned back despite my failure. Oh, well, the Houston accent was mild as Texas went.

"You stumped me, congratulations," I said, realizing that I should move on. "Um, I'll let you and Ms. Cullen enjoy the rest of the dance."

"A pleasure to meet you, Bella," Jasper said, giving me another little bow.

"See you later, Ms. Swan!" Alice added.

By the time I made my way to Angela and the other teachers in our little ghetto in the corner, Alice and Jasper were twirling together in an actual dance with actual steps. And next to them was Edward Cullen … dancing with a 1940's pinup model.

"Who's the Vargas girl with Edward Cullen?" I asked Angela. His partner's red silk wrap dress was long-sleeved and knee-length, but it flowed so seductively over her curves that she put the girls in their strapless microdresses to shame. Blond and ivory-skinned, she looked made for someone as handsome as Edward.

"Rosalie Hale, one of the Cullens," Angela said as the girl in question started laughing in Edward's ear. "The one I wanted on the volleyball team."

"Of course," I murmured.

I watched as the two couples danced in their own bubble, the other students afraid to trespass upon their aura of beauty and grace. There was something otherworldly about them. If someone had told me right then that the Cullens were supernatural creatures or aliens from another planet, I'd have believed it.

They belonged in their own universe, a universe that precluded someone with faulty genes and limited prospects.

"Aw, dammit, Bob's waving at me. It's my turn to walk through the parking lot," Angela grumbled.

"I'll go for you," I said. "I could use a break from this awful music."

I pushed open the gym doors and immediately smelled smoke. There was a group of students out of sight around the side of the building whose conversation stopped as the doors slammed shut behind me. I paused at the top of the stairs and zipped up my jacket. Pot I'd have to do something about, because of the risk of a car crash. I sniffed again. Tobacco. It might ultimately be more lethal, but I could ignore it for tonight.

The outdoor lights reflected off a giant puddle the rain had left at the foot of the short flight of stairs to the gym, and I sighed and jumped, splashing my pumps in the process. Ugh. I began walking along a row of cars, dodging more puddles and hoping not to find anyone, but no such luck. Somebody was stumbling around the next row over, and I cut between two pickups to see who.

Fuck me; it was Justin Stanley, now next to the family Escalade and fumbling with his keys. I didn't know if he was out here to get a refill for his flask, or was planning to drive off, but I had to find out his state of inebriation.

"Mr. Stanley," I barked. He stopped short, and then turned around slowly, his face twisting as he recognized me.

"Isabella," he slurred, as he staggered toward me. Drunk as a skunk, so fuck me twice.

"Give me your keys, please," I said, holding out my hand. "We'll have your aunt come pick you up."

He ignored my request. "Do you like sex, Isabella?" he said, close enough now that I could smell the liquor on his breath.

Yes, but with the wrong dream lovers. "It's Ms. Swan. No, because I'm an English-speaker," I said to put him off balance, and his smirk turned into a look of bafflement. "You know, English has very few gender markers, so I find it annoying to study languages that assign genders to nouns that don't need it."

I could see Justin trying to figure out how to respond, and I had to suppress the urge to snort. "You haven't answered my question," he finally said, obviously thinking he was being clever.

"And you haven't given me your keys," I pointed out.

His eyes darted over my shoulder before returning to mine. "Aw, shit," he mumbled, and the keys fell from his fingers onto the asphalt, into yet another puddle – out of drunkenness, not defiance, I thought. Before I had time to decide whether I should make Justin pick them up or just get them myself, a pale hand snatched the keys from the ground.

"I have them, Ms. Swan," Edward Cullen said.

"Thank you," I said. "Go inside, Mr. Stanley."

After glancing at Edward, Justin Stanley, to my astonishment, headed toward the gym without a word. If I was lucky, Justin would have forgotten this whole encounter by the morning. I probably wouldn't be.

"I was going to get something from my car when I heard your conversation," Edward said after Justin lumbered off. The suit tonight was a fine charcoal wool, worn with a white shirt open enough so I could see the notch of his throat. He and Alice must have closets the size of a small house to accommodate their expensive suits and vintage Diors. "I was little worried that Stanley was going to embarrass himself."

"I think he's beyond embarrassment," I said unthinkingly. Dammit, I was badmouthing a student to another student. I winced as I looked up at Edward. "Um, forget I ever said that, please."

The side of his mouth lifted. "I can't do that. But I can promise you that I won't repeat it."

"Fair enough," I said, and we began walking back to the gym. "Are you enjoying the dance?" I asked after a few moments.

"Much more than I expected," he said. "And yourself?"

Well, since you're here… "Same for me," I answered.

We had arrived at the puddle lying in wait before gym stairs. "Oh, this again," I muttered.

"I'll carry you," Edward said. "I've done it before, after all."

"Too bad you don't have your cape," I said, a little giddy at the idea of Edward holding me. I scanned the area for observers.

An odd sound came from Edward's direction, but when I looked at his face, it was simply puzzled. "A cape like Dracula's?" he asked.

"No!" I said. "Believe me, I try not to think about 'Dracula' outside of class. No, I mean Sir Walter Ralegh, you know, putting his cape on the puddle so Queen Elizabeth won't get her feet wet."

"Of course," he said. "I should have realized. Here, I've got you."

Edward lifted me up in his arms, but unlike last time, he held me pressed against his chest, the hard chest of someone who could run like the wind and leap over a giant puddle with a heavy weight clinging to his neck.

Which is exactly he did, so that we arrived squarely on the landing next to the gym door. He let me down, and I laughed in exhilaration. "Of course, who needs a cape when you can fly like a bat, Count?" He looked perturbed, and I said, "Hey, you're the one who mentioned Dracula. Anyway, thank you."

He held the outside door open for me. "You're welcome," he said, but didn't follow me inside. Flashes of light bled from the other set of doors.

"You're not coming in?" I asked, even as I realized that it was probably best that he didn't.

"I still have to go to my car," he reminded me. "But first –" he took my hand in his, still cold from the puddle, then closed my fingers around Justin's keys. "You'll need these."

My hand tingled as I hung up my jacket and took the keys to Bob. He cursed under his breath when I told them whom they belonged to. "Sharon Stanley is going to screech at me," he complained.

"Just tell her it's my fault," I said. "She dislikes me anyway."

Bob went off to corral Justin, and I returned to Angela's side to give her an edited account of my encounter with Justin Stanley.

"That guy is going to cause one of us trouble some day," Angela said. Her disapproving head shake ended with a jerk as the real guy who was going to cause me trouble appeared in front of us.

"Good evening. Ms. Weber," Edward Cullen said. "Ms. Swan, may I have this dance?"

I gaped at Edward and his lovely suit for a moment, thinking that it was a really bad idea to dance with the student my best friend said I had obvious chemistry with … then realized that it didn't matter because everyone thought I was gay. Even more, apparently a good proportion of the student body thought that Edward was gay too. As long as I didn't make Angela suspicious, I'd be safe.

"Of course, Mr. Cullen," I said, smirking at the knowledge that the person it was most dangerous for me to touch was on the surface the safest.

The song was slow, and the couples on the floor were pressed up to each other like limpets; I pretended not to notice Andy Marks's hands on Shelby Wells's ass. I prudently put one hand on Edward's shoulder and he took up my right hand with his left. His right hand curved around my waist, and I inhaled sharply – we were touching only at four, safe, points yet that contact felt more intimate than all of the groping going on around us.

I closed my eyes against the feeling, against the urge to brush my lips against the ones so tantalizingly near mine. The thought made my heart race. This was the last place I should lose control.

"Do you like this song, Miss Swan?" I heard Edward ask.

"Hmm?" I blinked up at him. "I don't know. I don't even know what it is."

"Who's your favorite musician?" he asked.

Ah, we were returning to our post-run 20 questions. Most recently, we'd been discussing "Bel-Ami," and I'd once asked him about the translation of a sentence I couldn't figure out. I wouldn't make that mistake again: he had smoothly explained the meaning, but I couldn't follow it because hearing him speak French had made my knees weak.

"That's a tough question," I said, grateful to have something to concentrate on besides how close I was to the inappropriate man I had fallen for. "My mom could have told you that her favorite band was Depeche Mode. My grandmother could have told you it was the Beatles –"

"Your grandmother's favorite band was the Beatles?" Edward sounded incredulous. Come on, kids now were snotty about the Beatles?

I shrugged. "Or José Feliciano, more likely. I don't know, I never met either of my grandmothers. The point is, they bought albums and listened to them over and over again. And I get free downloads of songs, and have a computer full of singles by hundreds of different bands. How could any of them be my favorite? So I don't know. Maybe the National. Maybe Bomba Estéreo. Maybe the xx. Maybe my friends' band back in Tucson. What about you?"

"Bach," he answered promptly.

"Ooooh, you've definitely trumped me on the cultural pretension scale," I said.

"I don't know. The National is certainly pretentious. Besides, you like Philip Glass."

I eyed him. "Why do you say that?"

"I've heard you play him when I've walked past your classroom."

The boy was lying, because I played Glass only at home. But it was the reminder of my classroom, of my role as a teacher, that made me freeze in Edward's arms. I automatically glanced toward Angela, and then let out a sigh of relief: Alice and Jasper were talking with her, so she was too busy ogling Jasper to pay attention to Edward and me. Still, I shouldn't press my luck.

"Thank you for the dance, Mr. Cullen," I said and stepped back out of his grasp.

He stepped closer to me. "You don't have to run away from me, Miss Swan," he said quietly. "Don't run."

Oh, yes, I do, I thought. But it was becoming more and more obvious to me that I wouldn't. One day I would fall off the precipice of proper behavior, and Edward would be there to catch me. Then disaster would follow.

Not acknowledging his words – because I shouldn't acknowledge them – I scurried to the safety of the teachers' corner.

Chapter title: "Borderlands," from "Tchu djie," by Mars.

A/N: Historical linguists say that Texan accents as we know them today didn't develop until decades after the Civil War, thus Bella's inability to identify Jasper's.

I am also wildly overstating the amount of Quileute being spoken at La Push.

Washington State approved same-sex marriage in 2012, shortly after the events of this chapter.

As for Raquel and Seth, I think that under the rules of SMeyer's universe, the wolves would imprint only on genetically similar women – ie, women who are Quileute or from closely related tribes - and therefore Raquel wouldn't qualify. On the other hand, Jacob thinks he can imprint on a random girl at the mall in "Breaking Dawn," so I decided Seth can fall for Raquel in my story.

My apologies to fans of Katy Perry, who is quite good in concert. But that song is moronic. And redundant.

Thanks for reading and reviewing!