It was very hard, in the morning, to argue with the part of me that was sure last night was a dream. Logic wasn't on my side, or common sense. I clung to the parts I couldn't have imagined - like his smell. I was sure I could never have dreamed that up on my own.
It was foggy and dark outside my window, absolutely perfect. He had no reason not to be in school today. I dressed in my heavy clothes, remembering I didn't have a jacket. Further proof that my memory was real.
When I got downstairs, Charlie was gone again - I was running later than I'd realized. I swallowed a granola bar in three bites, chased it down with milk straight from the carton, and then hurried out the door. Hopefully the rain would hold off until I could find Jessica.
It was unusually foggy; the air was almost smoky with it. The mist was ice cold where it clung to the exposed skin on my face and neck. I couldn't wait to get the heat going in my truck. It was such a thick fog that I was a few feet down the driveway before I realized there was a car in it: a silver car. My heart thudded, stuttered, and then picked up again in double time.
I didn't see where he came from, but suddenly he was there, pulling the door open for me.
"Do you want to ride with me today?" he asked, amused by my expression as he caught me by surprise yet again. There was uncertainty in his voice. He was really giving me a choice - I was free to refuse, and part of him hoped for that. It was a vain hope.
"Yes, thank you," I said, trying to keep my voice calm. As I stepped into the warm car, I noticed his tan jacket was slung over the headrest of the passenger seat. The door closed behind me, and, sooner than should be possible, he was sitting next to me, starting the car.
"I brought the jacket for you. I didn't want you to get sick or something." His voice was guarded. I noticed that he wore no jacket himself, just a light gray knit V-neck shirt with long sleeves. Again, the fabric clung to his perfectly muscled chest. It was a colossal tribute to his face that it kept my eyes away from his body.
"I'm not quite that delicate," I said, but I pulled the jacket onto my lap, pushing my arms through the too-long sleeves, curious to see if the scent could possibly be as good as I remembered. It was better.
"Aren't you?" he contradicted in a voice so low I wasn't sure if he meant for me to hear.
We drove through the fog-shrouded streets, always too fast, feeling awkward. I was, at least. Last night all the walls were down... almost all.
I didn't know if we were still being as candid today. It left me tongue-tied. I waited for him to speak.
He turned to smirk at me. "What, no twenty questions today?"
"Do my questions bother you?" I asked, relieved.
"Not as much as your reactions do." He looked like he was joking, but I couldn't be sure.
I frowned. "Do I react badly?"
"No, that's the problem. You take everything so coolly - it's unnatural. It makes me wonder what you're really thinking."
"I always tell you what I'm really thinking."
"You edit," he accused.
"Not very much."
"Enough to drive me insane."
"You don't want to hear it," I mumbled, almost whispered. As soon as the words were out, I regretted them. The pain in my voice was very faint; I could only hope he hadn't noticed it.
He didn't respond, and I wondered if I had ruined the mood. His face was unreadable as we drove into the school parking lot. Something occurred to me belatedly.
"Where's the rest of your family?" I asked - more than glad to be alone with him, but remembering that his car was usually full.
"They took Rosalie's car." He shrugged as he parked next to a glossy red convertible with the top up. "Ostentatious, isn't it?"
"Um, wow," I breathed. "If she has that, why does she ride with you?"
"Like I said, it's ostentatious. We try to blend in."
"You don't succeed." I laughed and shook my head as we got out of the car. I wasn't late anymore; his lunatic driving had gotten me to school in plenty of time. "So why did Rosalie drive today if it's more conspicuous?"
"Hadn't you noticed? I'm breaking all the rules now." He met me at the front of the car, staying very close to my side as we walked onto campus. I wanted to close that little distance, to reach out and touch him, but I was afraid he wouldn't like me to.
"Why do you have cars like that at all?" I wondered aloud. "If you're looking for privacy?"
"An indulgence," he admitted with an impish smile. "We all like to drive fast."
"Figures," I muttered under my breath.
Under the shelter of the cafeteria roof's overhang, Jessica was waiting, her eyes about to bug out of their sockets. Over her arm, bless her, was my jacket.
"Hey, Jessica," I said when we were a few feet away. "Thanks for remembering." She handed me my jacket without speaking.
"Good morning, Jessica," Edward said politely. It wasn't really his fault that his voice was so irresistible. Or what his eyes were capable of.
"Er... hi." She shifted her wide eyes to me, trying to gather her jumbled thoughts. "I guess I'll see you in Trig." She gave me a meaningful look, and I suppressed a sigh. What on earth was I going to tell her?
"Yeah, I'll see you then."
She walked away, pausing twice to peek back over her shoulder at us.
"What are you going to tell her?" Edward murmured.
"Hey, I thought you couldn't read my mind!" I hissed.
"I can't," he said, startled. Then understanding brightened his eyes. "However, I can read hers - she'll be waiting to ambush you in class."
I groaned as I pulled off his jacket and handed it to him, replacing it with my own. He folded it over his arm.
"So what are you going to tell her?"
"A little help?" I pleaded. "What does she want to know?"
He shook his head, grinning wickedly. "That's not fair."
"No, you not sharing what you know - now that's not fair."
He deliberated for a moment as we walked. We stopped outside the door to my first class.
"She wants to know if we're secretly dating. And she wants to know how you feel about me," he finally said.
"Yikes. What should I say?" I tried to keep my expression very innocent. People were passing us on their way to class, probably staring, but I was barely aware of them.
"Hmmm." He paused to catch a stray lock of hair that was escaping the twist on my neck and wound it back into place. My heart spluttered hyperactively. "I suppose you could say yes to the first... if you don't mind - it's easier than any other explanation."
"I don't mind," I said in a faint voice.
"And as for her other question... well, I'll be listening to hear the answer to that one myself." One side of his mouth pulled up into my favorite uneven smile. I couldn't catch my breath soon enough to respond to that remark. He turned and walked away.
"I'll see you at lunch," he called over his shoulder. Three people walking in the door stopped to stare at me.
I hurried into class, flushed and irritated. He was such a cheater. Now I was even more worried about what I was going to say to Jessica. I sat in my usual seat, slamming my bag down in aggravation.
"Morning, Bella," Mike said from the seat next to me. I looked up to see an odd, almost resigned look on his face. "How was Port Angeles?"
"It was..." There was no honest way to sum it up. "Great," I finished lamely. "Jessica got a really cute dress."
"Did she say anything about Monday night?" he asked, his eyes brightening. I smiled at the turn the conversation had taken.
"She said she had a really good time," I assured him.
"She did?" he said eagerly.
Mr. Mason called the class to order then, asking us to turn in our papers. English and then Government passed in a blur, while I worried about how to explain things to Jessica and agonized over whether Edward would really be listening to what I said through the medium of Jess's thoughts. How very inconvenient his little talent could be - when it
wasn't saving my life.
The fog had almost dissolved by the end of the second hour, but the day was still dark with low, oppressing clouds. I smiled up at the sky.
Edward was right, of course. When I walked into Trig Jessica was sitting in the back row, nearly bouncing off her seat in agitation. I reluctantly went to sit by her, trying to convince myself it would be better to get it over with as soon as possible.
"Tell me everything!" she commanded before I was in the seat.
"What do you want to know?" I hedged.
"What happened last night?"
"He bought me dinner, and then he drove me home."
She glared at me, her expression stiff with skepticism. "How did you get home so fast?"
"He drives like a maniac. It was terrifying." I hoped he heard that.
"Was it like a date - did you tell him to meet you there?"
I hadn't thought of that. "No - I was very surprised to see him there."
Her lips puckered in disappointment at the transparent honesty in my voice.
"But he picked you up for school today?" she probed.
"Yes - that was a surprise, too. He noticed I didn't have a jacket last night," I explained.
"So are you going out again?"
"He offered to drive me to Seattle Saturday because he thinks toy truck isn't up to it - does that count?"
"Yes." She nodded.
"Well, then, yes."
"W-o-w." She exaggerated the word into three syllables. "Edward Cullen."
"I know," I agreed. "Wow" didn't even cover it.
"Wait!" Her hands flew up, palms toward me like she was stopping traffic. "Has he kissed you?"
"No," I mumbled. "It's not like that."
She looked disappointed. I'm sure I did, too.
"Do you think Saturday... ?" She raised her eyebrows.
"I really doubt it." The discontent in my voice was poorly disguised.
"What did you talk about?" She pushed for more information in a whisper. Class had started but Mr. Varner wasn't paying close attention and we weren't the only ones still talking.
"I don't know, Jess, lots of stuff," I whispered back. "We talked about the English essay a little." A very, very little. I think he mentioned it in passing.
"Please, Bella," she begged. "Give me some details."
"Well... okay, I've got one. You should have seen the waitress flirting with him - it was over the top. But he didn't pay any attention to her at all." Let him make what he could of that.
"That's a good sign," she nodded. "Was she pretty?"
"Very - and probably nineteen or twenty."
"Even better. He must like you."
"I think so, but it's hard to tell. He's always so cryptic," I threw in for his benefit, sighing.
"I don't know how you're brave enough to be alone with him," she breathed.
"Why?" I was shocked, but she didn't understand my reaction.
"He's so... intimidating. I wouldn't know what to say to him." She made a face, probably remembering this morning or last night, when he'd turned the overwhelming force of his eyes on her.
"I do have some trouble with incoherency when I'm around him," I admitted.
"Oh well. He is unbelievably gorgeous." Jessica shrugged as if this excused any flaws. Which, in her book, it probably did.
"There's a lot more to him than that."
"Really? Like what?"
I wished I had let it go. Almost as much as I was hoping he'd been kidding about listening in.
"I can't explain it right... but he's even more unbelievable behind the face." The vampire who wanted to be good - who ran around saving people's lives so he wouldn't be a monster... I stared toward the front of the room.
"Is that possible?" She giggled.
I ignored her, trying to look like I was paying attention to Mr. Varner.
"So you like him, then?" She wasn't about to give up.
"Yes," I said curtly.
"I mean, do you really like him?" she urged.
"Yes," I said again, blushing. I hoped that detail wouldn't register in her thoughts.
She'd had enough with the single syllable answers. "How much do you like him?"
"Too much," I whispered back. "More than he likes me. But I don't see how I can help that." I sighed, one blush blending into the next.
Then, thankfully, Mr. Varner called on Jessica for an answer.
She didn't get a chance to start on the subject again during class, and as soon as the bell rang, I took evasive action.
"In English, Mike asked me if you said anything about Monday night," I told her.
"You're kidding! What did you say?!" she gasped, completely sidetracked.
"I told him you said you had a lot of fun - he looked pleased."
"Tell me exactly what he said, and your exact answer!"
We spent the rest of the walk dissecting sentence structures and most of Spanish on a minute description of Mike's facial expressions. I wouldn't have helped draw it out for as long as I did if I wasn't worried about the subject returning to me.
And then the bell rang for lunch. As I jumped up out of my seat, shoving my books roughly in my bag, my uplifted expression must have tipped Jessica off.
"You're not sitting with us today, are you?" she guessed.
"I don't think so." I couldn't be sure that he wouldn't disappear inconveniently again.
But outside the door to our Spanish class, leaning against the wall - looking more like a Greek god than anyone had a right to - Edward was waiting for me. Jessica took one look, rolled her eyes, and departed.
"See you later, Bella." Her voice was thick with implications. I might have to turn off the ringer on the phone.
"Hello." His voice was amused and irritated at the same time. He had been listening, it was obvious.
I couldn't think of anything else to say, and he didn't speak - biding his time, I presumed - so it was a quiet walk to the cafeteria. Walking with Edward through the crowded lunchtime rush was a lot like my first day here; everyone stared.
He led the way into the line, still not speaking, though his eyes returned to my face every few seconds, their expression speculative. It seemed to me that irritation was winning out over amusement as the dominant emotion in his face. I fidgeted nervously with the zipper on my jacket.
He stepped up to the counter and filled a tray with food.
"What are you doing?" I objected. "You're not getting all that for me?"
He shook his head, stepping forward to buy the food.
"Half is for me, of course."
I raised one eyebrow.
He led the way to the same place we'd sat that one time before. From the other end of the long table, a group of seniors gazed at us in amazement as we sat across from each other. Edward seemed oblivious.
"Take whatever you want," he said, pushing the tray toward me.
"I'm curious," I said as I picked up an apple, turning it around in my hands, "what would you do if someone dared you to eat food?"
"You're always curious." He grimaced, shaking his head. He glared at me, holding my eyes as he lifted the slice of pizza off the tray, and deliberately bit off a mouthful, chewed quickly, and then swallowed. I watched, eyes wide.
"If someone dared you to eat dirt, you could, couldn't you?" he asked condescendingly.
I wrinkled my nose. "I did once... on a dare," I admitted. "It wasn't so bad."
He laughed. "I suppose I'm not surprised." Something over my shoulder seemed to catch his attention.
"Jessica's analyzing everything I do - she'll break it down for you later." He pushed the rest of the pizza toward me. The mention of Jessica brought a hint of his former irritation back to his features.
I put down the apple and took a bite of the pizza, looking away, knowing he was about to start.
"So the waitress was pretty, was she?" he asked casually.
"You really didn't notice?"
"No. I wasn't paying attention. I had a lot on my mind."
"Poor girl." I could afford to be generous now.
"Something you said to Jessica... well, it bothers me." He refused to be distracted. His voice was husky, and he glanced up from under his lashes with troubled eyes.
"I'm not surprised you heard something you didn't like. You know what they say about eavesdropners," I reminded him.
"I warned you I would be listening."
"And I warned you that you didn't want to know everything I was thinking."
"You did," he agreed, but his voice was still rough. "You aren't precisely right, though. I do want to know what you're thinking - everything. I just wish... that you wouldn't be thinking some things."
I scowled. "That's quite a distinction."
"But that's not really the point at the moment."
"Then what is?" We were inclined toward each other across the table now. He had his large white hands folded under his chin; I leaned forward, my right hand cupped around my neck. I had to remind myself that we were in a crowded lunchroom, with probably many curious eyes on us. It was too easy to get wrapped up in our own private, tense little bubble.
"Do you truly believe that you care more for me than I do for you?" he murmured, leaning closer to me as he spoke, his dark golden eyes piercing.
I tried to remember how to exhale. I had to look away before it came back to me.
"You're doing it again," I muttered.
His eyes opened wide with surprise. "What?"
"Dazzling me," I admitted, trying to concentrate as I looked back at him.
"Oh." He frowned.
"It's not your fault," I sighed. "You can't help it."
"Are you going to answer the question?"
I looked down. "Yes."
"Yes, you are going to answer, or yes, you really think that?" He was irritated again.
"Yes, I really think that." I kept my eyes down on the table, my eyes tracing the pattern of the faux wood grains printed on the laminate. The silence dragged on. I stubbornly refused to be the first to break it this time, fighting hard against the temptation to peek at his expression.
Finally he spoke, voice velvet soft. "You're wrong."
I glanced up to see that his eyes were gentle.
"You can't know that," I disagreed in a whisper. I shook my head in doubt, though my heart throbbed at his words and I wanted so badly to believe them.
"What makes you think so?" His liquid topaz eyes were penetrating - trying futilely, I assumed, to lift the truth straight from my mind.
I stared back, struggling to think clearly in spite of his face, to find some way to explain. As I searched for the words, I could see him getting impatient; frustrated by my silence, he started to scowl. I lifted my hand from my neck, and held up one finger.
"Let me think," I insisted. His expression cleared, now that he was satisfied that I was planning to answer. I dropped my hand to the table, moving my left hand so that my palms were pressed together. I stared at my hands, twisting and untwisting my fingers, as I finally spoke.
"Well, aside from the obvious, sometimes..." I hesitated. "I can't be sure - I don't know how to read minds - but sometimes it seems like you're trying to say goodbye when you're saying something else." That was the best I could sum up the sensation of anguish that his words triggered in me at times.
"Perceptive," he whispered. And there was the anguish again, surfacing as he confirmed my fear. "That's exactly why you're wrong, though," he began to explain, but then his eyes narrowed. "What do you mean, 'the obvious'?"
"Well, look at me," I said, unnecessarily as he was already staring. "I'm absolutely ordinary - well, except for bad things like all the near-death experiences and being so clumsy that I'm almost disabled. And look at you." I waved my hand toward him and all his bewildering perfection.
His brow creased angrily for a moment, then smoothed as his eyes took on a knowing look. "You don't see yourself very clearly, you know. I'll admit you're dead-on about the bad things," he chuckled blackly, "but you didn't hear what every human male in this school was thinking on your first day."
I blinked, astonished. "I don't believe it..." I mumbled to myself.
"Trust me just this once - you are the opposite of ordinary."
My embarrassment was much stronger than my pleasure at the look that came into his eyes when he said this. I quickly reminded him of my original argument.
"But I'm not saying goodbye," I pointed out.
"Don't you see? That's what proves me right. I care the most, because if I can do it" - he shook his head, seeming to struggle with the thought - "if leaving is the right thing to do, then I'll hurt myself to keep from hurting you, to keep you safe."
I glared. "And you don't think I would do the same?"
"You'd never have to make the choice."
Abruptly, his unpredictable mood shifted again; a mischievous, devastating smile rearranged his features. "Of course, keeping you safe is beginning to feel like a full-time occupation that requires my constant presence."
"No one has tried to do away with me today," I reminded him, grateful for the lighter subject. I didn't want him to talk about goodbyes anymore. If I had to, I supposed I could purposefully put myself in danger to keep him close... I banished that thought before his quick eyes read it on my face. That idea would definitely get me in trouble.
"Yet," he added.
"Yet," I agreed; I would have argued, but now I wanted him to be expecting disasters.
"I have another question for you." His face was still casual.
"Do you really need to go to Seattle this Saturday, or was that just an excuse to get out of saying no to all your admirers?"
I made a face at the memory. "You know, I haven't forgiven you for the Tyler thing yet," I warned him. "It's your fault that he's deluded himself into thinking I'm going to prom with him."
"Oh, he would have found a chance to ask you without me - I just really wanted to watch your face," he chuckled, I would have been angrier if his laughter wasn't so fascinating. "If I'd asked you, would you have turned me down?" he asked, still laughing to himself.
"Probably not," I admitted. "But I would have canceled later - faked an illness or a sprained ankle."
He was puzzled. "Why would you do that?"
I shook my head sadly. "You've never seen me in Gym, I guess, but I would have thought you would understand."
"Are you referring to the fact that you can't walk across a flat, stable surface without finding something to trip over?"
"That wouldn't be a problem." He was very confident. "It's all in the leading." He could see that I was about to protest, and he cut me off. "But you never told me - are you resolved on going to Seattle, or do you mind if we do something different?"
As long as the "we" part was in, I didn't care about anything else.
"I'm open to alternatives," I allowed. "But I do have a favor to ask."
He looked wary, as he always did when I asked an open-ended question. "What?"
"Can I drive?"
He frowned. "Why?"
"Well, mostly because when I told Charlie I was going to Seattle, he specifically asked if I was going alone and, at the time, I was. If he asked again, I probably wouldn't lie, but I don't think he will ask again, and leaving my truck at home would just bring up the subject unnecessarily. And also, because your driving frightens me."
He rolled his eyes. "Of all the things about me that could frighten you, you worry about my driving." He shook his head in disgust, but then his eyes were serious again. "Won't you want to tell your father that you're spending the day with me?" There was an undercurrent to his question that I didn't understand.
"With Charlie, less is always more." I was definite about that. "Where are we going, anyway?"
"The weather will be nice, so I'll be staying out of the public eye... and you can stay with me, if you'd like to." Again, he was leaving the choice up to me.
"And you'll show me what you meant, about the sun?" I asked, excited by the idea of unraveling another of the unknowns.
"Yes." He smiled, and then paused. "But if you don't want to be... alone with me, I'd still rather you didn't go to Seattle by yourself. I shudder to think of the trouble you could find in a city that size."
I was miffed. "Phoenix is three times bigger than Seattle - just in population. In physical size -"
"But apparently," he interrupted me, "your number wasn't up in Phoenix. So I'd rather you stayed near me." His eyes did that unfair smoldering thing again.
I couldn't argue, with the eyes or the motivation, and it was a moot point anyway. "As it happens, I don't mind being alone with you."
"I know," he sighed, brooding. "You should tell Charlie, though."
"Why in the world would I do that?"
His eyes were suddenly fierce. "To give me some small incentive to bring you back."
I gulped. But, after a moment of thought, I was sure. "I think I'll take my chances."
He exhaled angrily, and looked away.
"Let's talk about something else," I suggested.
"What do you want to talk about?" he asked. He was still annoyed.
I glanced around us, making sure we were well out of anyone's hearing. As I cast my eyes around the room, I caught the eyes of his sister, Alice, staring at me. The others were looking at Edward. I looked away swiftly, back to him, and I. asked the first thing that came to mind.
"Why did you go to that Goat Rocks place last weekend... to hunt? Charlie said it wasn't a good place to hike, because of bears."
He stared at me as if I was missing something very obvious.
"Bears?" I gasped, and he smirked. "You know, bears are not in season," I added sternly, to hide my shock.
"If you read carefully, the laws only cover hunting with weapons," he informed me.
He watched my face with enjoyment as that slowly sank in.
"Bears?" I repeated with difficulty.
"Grizzly is Emmett's favorite." His voice was still offhand, but his eyes were scrutinizing my reaction. I tried to pull myself together.
"Hmmm," I said, taking another bite of pizza as an excuse to look down. I chewed slowly, and then took a long drink of Coke without looking up.
"So," I said after a moment, finally meeting his now-anxious gaze. "What's your favorite?"
He raised an eyebrow and the corners of his mouth turned down in disapproval. "Mountain lion."
"Ah," I said in a politely disinterested tone, looking for my soda again.
"Of course," he said, and his tone mirrored mine, "we have to be careful not to impact the environment with injudicious hunting. We try to focus on areas with an overpopulation of predators - ranging as far away as we need. There's always plenty of deer and elk here, and they'll do, but where's the fun in that?" He smiled teasingly.
"Where indeed," I murmured around another bite of pizza.
"Early spring is Emmett's favorite bear season - they're just coming out of hibernation, so they're more irritable." He smiled at some remembered joke.
"Nothing more fun than an irritated grizzly bear," I agreed, nodding.
He snickered, shaking his head. "Tell me what you're really thinking, please."
"I'm trying to picture it - but I can't," I admitted. "How do you hunt a bear without weapons?"
"Oh, we have weapons." He flashed his bright teeth in a brief, threatening smile. I fought back a shiver before it could expose me. "Just not the kind they consider when writing hunting laws. If you've ever seen a bear attack on television, you should be able to visualize Emmett hunting."
I couldn't stop the next shiver that flashed down my spine. I peeked across the cafeteria toward Emmett, grateful that he wasn't looking my way. The thick bands of muscle that wrapped his arms and torso were somehow even more menacing now.
Edward followed my gaze and chuckled. I stared at him, unnerved.
"Are you like a bear, too?" I asked in a low voice.
"More like the lion, or so they tell me," he said lightly. "Perhaps our preferences are indicative."
I tried to smile. "Perhaps," I repeated. But my mind was filled with opposing images that I couldn't merge together. "Is that something I might get to see?"
"Absolutely not!" His face turned even whiter than usual, and his eyes were suddenly furious. I leaned back, stunned and - though I'd never admit it to him - frightened by his reaction. He leaned back as well, folding his arms across his chest.
"Too scary for me?" I asked when I could control my voice again.
"If that were it, I would take you out tonight," he said, his voice cutting. "You need a healthy dose of fear. Nothing could be more beneficial for you."
"Then why?" I pressed, trying to ignore his angry expression.
He glared at me for a long minute.
"Later," he finally said. He was on his feet in one lithe movement. "We're going to be late."
I glanced around, startled to see that he was right and the cafeteria was nearly vacant. When I was with him, the time and the place were such a muddled blur that I completely lost track of both. I jumped up, grabbing my bag from the back of my chair.
"Later, then," I agreed. I wouldn't forget.