Everyone watched us as we walked together to our lab table. I noticed that he no longer angled the chair to sit as far from me as the desk would allow. Instead, he sat quite close beside me, our arms almost touching.
Mr. Banner backed into the room then - what superb timing the man had - pulling a tall metal frame on wheels that held a heavy-looking, outdated TV and VCR. A movie day - the lift in the class atmosphere was almost tangible.
Mr. Banner shoved the tape into the reluctant VCR and walked to the wall to turn off the lights.
And then, as the room went black, I was suddenly hyperaware that Edward was sitting less than an inch from me. I was stunned by the unexpected
electricity that flowed through me, amazed that it was possible to be more aware of him than I already was. A crazy impulse to reach over and touch him, to stroke his perfect face just once in the darkness, nearly overwhelmed me. I crossed my arms tightly across my chest, my hands balling into fists. I was losing my mind.
The opening credits began, lighting the room by a token amount. My eyes, of their own accord, flickered to him. I smiled sheepishly as I realized his posture was identical to mine, fists clenched under his arms, right down to the eyes, peering sideways at me. He grinned back, his eyes somehow managing to smolder, even in the dark. I looked away before I could start hyperventilating. It was absolutely ridiculous that I should feel dizzy.
The hour seemed very long. I couldn't concentrate on the movie - I didn't even know what subject it was on. I tried unsuccessfully to relax, but the electric current that seemed to be originating from somewhere in his body never slackened. Occasionally I would permit myself a quick glance in his direction, but he never seemed to relax, either. The overpowering craving to touch him also refused to fade, and I crushed my fists safely against my ribs until my fingers were aching with the effort.
I breathed a sigh of relief when Mr. Banner flicked the lights back on at the end of class, and stretched my arms out in front of me, flexing my stiff fingers. Edward chuckled beside me.
"Well, that was interesting," he murmured. His voice was dark and his eyes were cautious.
"Umm," was all I was able to respond.
"Shall we?" he asked, rising fluidly.
I almost groaned. Time for Gym. I stood with care, worried my balance might have been affected by the strange new intensity between us.
He walked me to my next class in silence and paused at the door; I turned to say goodbye. His face startled me - his expression was torn, almost pained, and so fiercely beautiful that the ache to touch him flared as strong as before. My goodbye stuck in my throat.
He raised his hand, hesitant, conflict raging in his eyes, and then swiftly brushed the length of my cheekbone with his fingertips. His skin was as icy as ever, but the trail his fingers left on my skin was alarmingly warm - like I'd been burned, but didn't feel the pain of it yet.
He turned without a word and strode quickly away from me.
I walked into the gym, lightheaded and wobbly. I drifted to the locker room, changing in a trancelike state, only vaguely aware that there were other people surrounding me. Reality didn't fully set in until I was handed a racket. It wasn't heavy, yet it felt very unsafe in my hand. I could see a few of the other kids in class eyeing me furtively. Coach Clapp ordered us to pair up into teams.
Mercifully, some vestiges of Mike's chivalry still survived; he came to stand beside me.
"Do you want to be a team?"
"Thanks, Mike - you don't have to do this, you know." I grimaced apologetically.
"Don't worry, I'll keep out of your way." He grinned. Sometimes it was so easy to like Mike.
It didn't go smoothly. I somehow managed to hit myself in the head with my racket and clip Mike's shoulder on the same swing. I spent the rest of the hour in the back corner of the court, the racket held safely behind my back. Despite being handicapped by me, Mike was pretty good; he won three games out of four singlehandedly. He gave me an unearned high five
when the coach finally blew the whistle ending class.
"So," he said as we walked off the court.
"You and Cullen, huh?" he asked, his tone rebellious. My previous feeling of affection disappeared.
"That's none of your business, Mike," I warned, internally cursing Jessica straight to the fiery pits of Hades.
"I don't like it," he muttered anyway.
"You don't have to," I snapped.
"He looks at you like... like you're something to eat," he continued, ignoring me.
I choked back the hysteria that threatened to explode, but a small giggle managed to get out despite my efforts. He glowered at me. I waved and fled to the locker room.
I dressed quickly, something stronger than butterflies battering recklessly against the walls of my stomach, my argument with Mike already a distant memory. I was wondering if Edward would be waiting, or if I should meet him at his car. What if his family was there? I felt a wave of real terror. Did they know that I knew? Was I supposed to know that they knew that I knew, or not?
By the time I walked out of the gym, I had just about decided to walk straight home without even looking toward the parking lot. But my worries were unnecessary. Edward was waiting, leaning casually against the side of the gym, his breathtaking face untroubled now. As I walked to his side, I felt a peculiar sense of release.
"Hi," I breathed, smiling hugely.
"Hello." His answering smile was brilliant. "How was Gym?"
My face fell a tiny bit. "Fine," I lied.
"Really?" He was unconvinced. His eyes shifted their focus slightly, looking over my shoulder and narrowing. I glanced behind me to see Mike's back as he walked away.
"What?" I demanded.
His eyes slid back to mine, still tight. "Newton's getting on my nerves."
"You weren't listening again?" I was horror-struck. All traces of my sudden good humor vanished.
"How's your head?" he asked innocently.
"You're unbelievable!" I turned, stomping away in the general direction of the parking lot, though I hadn't ruled out walking at this point.
He kept up with me easily.
"You were the one who mentioned how I'd never seen you in Gym - it made me curious." He didn't sound repentant, so I ignored him.
We walked in silence - a furious, embarrassed silence on my part - to his car. But I had to stop a few steps away - a crowd of people, all boys, were surrounding it.
Then I realized they weren't surrounding the Volvo, they were actually circled around Rosalie's red convertible, unmistakable lust in their eyes. None of them even looked up as Edward slid between them to open his door. I climbed quickly in the passenger side, also unnoticed.
"Ostentatious," he muttered.
"What kind of car is that?" I asked.
"I don't speak Car and Driver."
"It's a BMW." He rolled his eyes, not looking at me, trying to back out without running over the car enthusiasts.
I nodded - I'd heard of that one.
"Are you still angry?" he asked as he carefully maneuvered his way out.
He sighed. "Will you forgive me if I apologize?"
"Maybe... if you mean it. And if you promise not to do it again," I insisted.
His eyes were suddenly shrewd. "How about if I mean it, and I agree to let you drive Saturday?" he countered my conditions.
I considered, and decided it was probably the best offer I would get. "Deal," I agreed.
"Then I'm very sorry I upset you." His eyes burned with sincerity for a protracted moment - playing havoc with the rhythm of my heart - and then turned playful. "And I'll be on your doorstep bright and early Saturday morning."
"Um, it doesn't help with the Charlie situation if an unexplained Volvo is left in the driveway."
His smile was condescending now. "I wasn't intending to bring a car."
He cut me off. "Don't worry about it. I'll be there, no car."
I let it go. I had a more pressing question.
"Is it later yet?" I asked significantly.
He frowned. "I supposed it is later."
I kept my expression polite as I waited.
He stopped the car. I looked up, surprised - of course we were already at Charlie's house, parked behind the truck. It was easier to ride with him if I only looked when it was over. When I looked back at him, he was staring at me, measuring with his eyes.
"And you still want to know why you can't see me hunt?" He seemed solemn, but I thought I saw a trace of humor deep in his eyes.
"Well," I clarified, "I was mostly wondering about your reaction."
"Did I frighten you?" Yes, there was definitely humor there.
"No," I lied. He didn't buy it.
"I apologize for scaring you," he persisted with a slight smile, but then all evidence of teasing disappeared. "It was just the very thought of you being there... while we hunted." His jaw tightened.
"That would be bad?"
He spoke from between clenched teeth. "Extremely."
He took a deep breath and stared through the windshield at the thick, rolling clouds that seemed to press down, almost within reach.
"When we hunt," he spoke slowly, unwillingly, "we give ourselves over to our senses... govern less with our minds. Especially our sense of smell. If you were anywhere near me when I lost control that way..." He shook his head, still gazing morosely at the heavy clouds.
I kept my expression firmly under control, expecting the swift flash of his eyes to judge my reaction that soon followed. My face gave nothing away.
But our eyes held, and the silence deepened - and changed. Flickers of the electricity I'd felt this afternoon began to charge the atmosphere as he gazed unrelentingly into my eyes. It wasn't until my head started to swim that I realized I wasn't breathing. When I drew in a jagged breath, breaking the stillness, he closed his eyes.
"Bella, I think you should go inside now." His low voice was rough, his eyes on the clouds again.
I opened the door, and the arctic draft that burst into the car helped clear my head. Afraid I might stumble in my woozy state, I stepped carefully out of the car and shut the door behind me without looking back. The whir of the automatic window unrolling made me turn.
"Oh, Bella?" he called after me, his voice more even. He leaned toward the open window with a faint smile on his lips.
"Tomorrow it's my turn."
"Your turn to what?"
He smiled wider, flashing his gleaming teeth. "Ask the questions."
And then he was gone, the car speeding down the street and disappearing around the corner before I could even collect my thoughts. I smiled as I walked to the house. It was clear he was planning to see me tomorrow, if nothing else.
That night Edward starred in my dreams, as usual. However, the climate of my unconsciousness had changed. It thrilled with the same electricity that had charged the afternoon, and I tossed and turned restlessly, waking often. It was only in the early hours of the morning that I finally sank into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
When I woke I was still tired, but edgy as well. I pulled on my brown turtleneck and the inescapable jeans, sighing as I daydreamed of spaghetti straps and shorts. Breakfast was the usual, quiet event I expected. Charlie fried eggs for himself; I had my bowl of cereal. I wondered if he had forgotten about this Saturday. He answered my unspoken question as he stood up to take his plate to the sink.
"About this Saturday..." he began, walking across the kitchen and turning on the faucet.
I cringed. "Yes, Dad?"
"Are you still set on going to Seattle?" he asked.
"That was the plan." I grimaced, wishing he hadn't brought it up so I wouldn't have to compose careful half-truths.
He squeezed some dish soap onto his plate and swirled it around with the brush. "And you're sure you can't make it back in time for the dance?"
"I'm not going to the dance, Dad." I glared.
"Didn't anyone ask you?" he asked, trying to hide his concern by focusing on rinsing the plate.
I sidestepped the minefield. "It's a girl's choice."
"Oh." He frowned as he dried his plate.
I sympathized with him. It must be a hard thing, to be a father; living in fear that your daughter would meet a boy she liked, but also having to worry if she didn't. How ghastly it would be, I thought, shuddering, if Charlie had even the slightest inkling of exactly what I did like.
Charlie left then, with a goodbye wave, and I went upstairs to brush my teeth and gather my books. When I heard the cruiser pull away, I could only wait a few seconds before I had to peek out of my window. The silver car was already there, waiting in Charlie's spot on the driveway. I bounded down the stairs and out the front door, wondering how long this bizarre routine would continue. I never wanted it to end.
He waited in the car, not appearing to watch as I shut the door behind me without bothering to lock the dead-bolt. I walked to the car, pausing shyly before opening the door and stepping in. He was smiling, relaxed - and, as usual, perfect and beautiful to an excruciating degree.
"Good morning." His voice was silky. "How are you today?" His eyes roamed over my face, as if his question was something more than simple courtesy.
"Good, thank you." I was always good - much more than good - when I was near him.
His gaze lingered on the circles under my eyes. "You look tired."
"I couldn't sleep," I confessed, automatically swinging my hair around my shoulder to provide some measure of cover.
"Neither could I," he teased as he started the engine. I was becoming used to the quiet purr. I was sure the roar of my truck would scare me, whenever I got to drive it again.
I laughed. "I guess that's right. I suppose I slept just a little bit more than you did."
"I'd wager you did."
"So what did you do last night?" I asked.
He chuckled. "Not a chance. It's my day to ask questions."
"Oh, that's right. What do you want to know?" My forehead creased. I couldn't imagine anything about me that could be in any way interesting to him.
"What's your favorite color?" he asked, his face grave.
I rolled my eyes. "It changes from day to day."
"What's your favorite color today?" He was still solemn.
"Probably brown." I tended to dress according to my mood.
He snorted, dropping his serious expression. "Brown?" he asked skeptically.
"Sure. Brown is warm. I miss brown. Everything that's supposed to be brown - tree trunks, rocks, dirt - is all covered up with squashy green stuff here," I complained.
He seemed fascinated by my little rant. He considered for a moment, staring into my eyes.
"You're right," he decided, serious again. "Brown is warm." He reached over, swiftly, but somehow still hesitantly, to sweep my hair back behind
We were at the school by now. He turned back to me as he pulled into a parking space.
"What music is in your CD player right now?" he asked, his face as somber as if he'd asked for a murder confession.
I realized I'd never removed the CD Phil had given me. When I said the name of the band, he smiled crookedly, a peculiar expression in his eyes. He flipped open a compartment under his car's CD player, pulled out one of thirty or so CDs that were jammed into the small space, and handed it to me,
"Debussy to this?" He raised an eyebrow.
It was the same CD. I examined the familiar cover art, keeping my eyes down.
It continued like that for the rest of the day. While he walked me to English, when he met me after Spanish, all through the lunch hour, he questioned me relentlessly about every insignificant detail of my existence. Movies I'd liked and hated, the few places I'd been and the many places I wanted to go, and books - endlessly books.
I couldn't remember the last time I'd talked so much. More often than not, I felt self-conscious, certain I must be boring him. But the absolute absorption of his face, and his never-ending stream of questions, compelled me to continue. Mostly his questions were easy, only a very few triggering my easy blushes. But when I did flush, it brought on a whole new round of questions.
Such as the time he asked my favorite gemstone, and I blurted out topaz before thinking. He'd been flinging questions at me with such speed that I felt like I was taking one of those psychiatric tests where you answer with the first word that comes to mind. I was sure he would have continued down whatever mental list he was following, except for the blush. My face reddened because, until very recently, my favorite gemstone was garnet. It was impossible, while staring back into his topaz eyes, not to remember the reason for the switch. And, naturally, he wouldn't rest until I'd admitted why I was embarrassed.
"Tell me," he finally commanded after persuasion failed - failed only because I kept my eyes safely away from his face.
"It's the color of your eyes today," I sighed, surrendering, staring down at my hands as I fiddled with a piece of my hair. "I suppose if you asked me in two weeks I'd say onyx." I'd given more information than necessary in my unwilling honesty, and I worried it would provoke the strange anger that flared whenever I slipped and revealed too clearly how obsessed I was.
But his pause was very short.
"What kinds of flowers do you prefer?" he fired off.
I sighed in relief, and continued with the psychoanalysis.
Biology was a complication again. Edward had continued with his quizzing up until Mr. Banner entered the room, dragging the audiovisual frame again. As the teacher approached the light switch, I noticed Edward slide his chair slightly farther away from mine. It didn't help. As soon as the room was dark, there was the same electric spark, the same restless craving to stretch my hand across the short space and touch his cold skin, as yesterday.
I leaned forward on the table, resting my chin on my folded arms, my hidden fingers gripping the table's edge as I fought to ignore the irrational longing that unsettled me. I didn't look at him, afraid that if he was looking at me, it would only make self-control that much harder. I sincerely tried to watch the movie, but at the end of the hour I had no idea what I'd just seen. I sighed in relief again when Mr.
Banner turned the lights on, finally glancing at Edward; he was looking at me, his eyes ambivalent.
He rose in silence and then stood still, waiting for me. We walked toward the gym in silence, like yesterday. And, also like yesterday, he touched my face wordlessly - this time with the back of his cool hand, stroking once from my temple to my jaw - before he turned and walked away.
Gym passed quickly as I watched Mike's one-man badminton show. He didn't speak to me today, either in response to my vacant expression or because he was still angry about our squabble yesterday. Somewhere, in a corner of my mind, I felt bad about that. But I couldn't concentrate on him.
I hurried to change afterward, ill at ease, knowing the faster I moved, the sooner I would be with Edward. The pressure made me more clumsy than usual, but eventually I made it out the door, feeling the same release when I saw him standing there, a wide smile automatically spreading across my face. He smiled in reaction before launching into more cross-examination.
His questions were different now, though, not as easily answered. He wanted to know what I missed about home, insisting on descriptions of anything he wasn't familiar with. We sat in front of Charlie's house for hours, as the sky darkened and rain plummeted around us in a sudden deluge.
I tried to describe impossible things like the scent of creosote - bitter, slightly resinous, but still pleasant - the high, keening sound of the cicadas in July, the feathery barrenness of the trees, the very size of the sky, extending white-blue from horizon to horizon, barely interrupted by the low mountains covered with purple volcanic rock. The hardest thing to explain was why it was so beautiful to me - to justify a beauty that didn't depend on the sparse, spiny vegetation that often looked half dead, a beauty that had more to do with the exposed shape of the land, with the shallow bowls of valleys between the craggy hills, and the way they held on to the sun. I found myself using my hands as I tried to describe it to him.
His quiet, probing questions kept me talking freely, forgetting, in the dim light of the storm, to be embarrassed for monopolizing the conversation. Finally, when I had finished detailing my cluttered room at home, he paused instead of responding with another question.
"Are you finished?" I asked in relief.
"Not even close - but your father will be home soon."
"Charlie!" I suddenly recalled his existence, and sighed. I looked out at the rain-darkened sky, but it gave nothing away. "How late is it?" I wondered out loud as I glanced at the clock. I was surprised by the time - Charlie would be driving home now.
"It's twilight," Edward murmured, looking at the western horizon, obscured as it was with clouds. His voice was thoughtful, as if his mind were somewhere far away. I stared at him as he gazed unseeingly out the windshield.
I was still staring when his eyes suddenly shifted back to mine.
"It's the safest time of day for us," he said, answering the unspoken question in my eyes. "The easiest time. But also the saddest, in a way... the end of another day, the return of the night. Darkness is so predictable, don't you think?" He smiled wistfully.
"I like the night. Without the dark, we'd never see the stars." I frowned. "Not that you see them here much."
He laughed, and the mood abruptly lightened.
"Charlie will be here in a few minutes. So, unless you want to tell him that you'll be with me Saturday..." He raised one eyebrow.
"Thanks, but no thanks." I gathered my books, realizing I was stiff from sitting still so long. "So is it my turn tomorrow, then?"
"Certainly not!" His face was teasingly outraged. "I told you I wasn't done, didn't I?"
"What more is there?"
"You'll find out tomorrow." He reached across to open my door for me, and his sudden proximity sent my heart into frenzied palpitations.
But his hand froze on the handle.
"Not good," he muttered.
"What is it?" I was surprised to see that his jaw was clenched, his eyes disturbed.
He glanced at me for a brief second. "Another complication," he said glumly.
He flung the door open in one swift movement, and then moved, almost cringed, swiftly away from me.
The flash of headlights through the rain caught my attention as a dark car pulled up to the curb just a few feet away, facing us.
"Charlie's around the corner," he warned, staring through the downpour at the other vehicle.
I hopped out at once, despite my confusion and curiosity. The rain was louder as it glanced off my jacket.
I tried to make out the shapes in the front seat of the other car, but it was too dark. I could see Edward illuminated in the glare of the new car's headlights; he was still staring ahead, his gaze locked on something or someone I couldn't see. His expression was a strange mix of frustration and defiance.
Then he revved the engine, and the tires squealed against the wet pavement. The Volvo was out of sight in seconds.
"Hey, Bella," called a familiar, husky voice from the driver's side of the little black car.
"Jacob?" I asked, squinting through the rain. Just then, Charlie's cruiser swung around the corner, his lights shining on the occupants of the car in front of me.
Jacob was already climbing out, his wide grin visible even through the darkness. In the passenger seat was a much older man, a heavyset man with a memorable face - a face that overflowed, the cheeks resting against his shoulders, with creases running through the russet skin like an old leather jacket. And the surprisingly familiar eyes, black eyes that seemed at the same time both too young and too ancient for the broad face they were set in. Jacob's father, Billy Black. I knew him immediately, though in the more than five years since I'd seen him last I'd managed to forget his name when Charlie had spoken of him my first day here. He was staring at me, scrutinizing my face, so I smiled tentatively at him. His eyes were wide, as if in shock or fear, his nostrils flared. My smile faded.
Another complication, Edward had said.
Billy still stared at me with intense, anxious eyes. I groaned internally. Had Billy recognized Edward so easily? Could he really believe the impossible legends his son had scoffed at?
The answer was clear in Billy's eyes. Yes. Yes, he could.