"You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hope, as old as your despair." - Douglas MacArthur
"I don't like this." My father shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his back rigid.
My mother and I shot him simultaneous glares. "It'll be fine," Mom told him. They seemed to be having this conversation a lot lately.
He sighed and switched lanes to bypass a comparatively slow-moving Saab. "Are you sure you want to do this? You don't have to, you know. You have the rest of eternity to go to high school. We don't have to go this year."
I rolled my eyes. "Dad, will you calm down already? We have already talked about this at least a million times. You seriously have to stop worrying. You are going to somehow manage to give yourself a heart attack."
His brow furrowed even deeper. He took his anxiety out on the gas pedal. "This is a bad idea," he muttered.
"I think Nessie should go if she wants to go," Mom interjected.
"Yeah," Jacob, my oldest and best friend (who also happened to be a werewolf) agreed from beside me. "She can do this." He squeezed my hand with a grin.
I smiled back.
There was a tense silence in the car for a few moments. It was finally interrupted by Jacob. He yawned loudly. "Are we there yet?"
I saw Dad's eyes roll in the rear-view mirror.
We arrived at Point Grey Secondary School moments later.
"Nessie?" Dad's voice was anxious as he looked at me in the rear-view mirror. "I can take you home now if you want."
I gave him a look. "No thank you," I said tersely, getting out of the car. I sighed and looked around the campus. Dad's Volvo was a definitive stand-out in the parking lot. None of the other cars looked like they'd been made later than the 1990's. The school was large, white and gothic-styled, complete with matching towers. I smirked as I realized that it probably looked like the sort of school that teenaged vampires would go to. Students were already milling about the schoolyard in droves. I swallowed, suddenly gripped with anxiety. Rationally, I knew that I had nothing to fear from the students. I was protected by six vampires and a werewolf, and I had abilities of my own. No, it was not a fear of the students or even the work. It was a fear of the unknown. I had never been so close to so many humans before. It only took only seconds of observation to realize that I had much to learn about the social dynamics of their world.
"Nessie?" Jacob said, waving a hand in front of my eyes.
I blinked and glanced at him. I started as I felt a strange jolt when I looked at him. It felt like someone had jump-started my heart. What was that about? I wondered. "Yes, J-Jacob?" I stuttered.
I was silent for a moment as I tried to piece together what was making my stomach feel like it was restraining a swarm of butterflies. I forced a smile. "I'm great." I looked around again. As I did, I saw Uncle Emmett, Uncle Jasper, Aunt Alice and Aunt Rosalie drive up, Uncle Jasper driving. I tried to squelch my emotions quickly. I didn't need him ratting me out to Dad.
Mom came to stand beside me as Jacob and Dad got out of the Volvo. "Nervous?"
I lied and shook my head.
"Just like your mother," Dad said exasperatedly.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Mom asked, crossing her arms.
"Well, she seems to have inherited your ability to react in a manner completely opposite to that of a normal being."
"He's got a point, Bella," Jacob said.
I didn't hear her reply. I concentrated on taking deep breaths to calm myself. I refused to cave. I would not let Dad have this one. He would never let me out of the house again if I folded now. It had taken me years to get him to agree to go to school at all. He had insisted that home-schooling would have been far more practical for me. However, after a considerable amount of badgering, pestering, whining, sulking and arguing, I had managed to talk him into it. I would not wimp out now.
I felt a wave of calm creep over me. I realized as then that I had been fidgeting. I mouthed my thanks to Uncle Jasper. He winked at me. "They're really not as scary as they look, you know," he said, nodding to the humans.
"I know," I said. I'd known some humans. Grandpa Charlie, for one, and I'd once met Grandma Renée and my step-grandfather Phil, although according to what we'd told them, I was Dad's niece, which he and Mom had adopted. I knew most of the humans around La Push, as well. But they were all in on "the secret". There was no need to be secretive around them. That wasn't a luxury that I would have here.
According to the cover story that Aunt Alice had created for me, I was a sophomore, and we had just moved to Canada from Virginia. Dad was my brother, apparently, and we were Grandma and Grandpa Cullen's adopted niece and nephew. Our parents had died in a car crash when we were young. Aunt Alice had been absolutely ecstatic when Grandpa Carlisle had asked her to develop our cover stories. He knew how fond she was of manufacturing evidence.
Mom had visited J. Jenks in Uncle Jasper's stead to pick up our IDs and passports since, in my mother's words, Uncle Jasper "creeped the heck out of him". Uncle Jasper had been incredibly disappointed that he had been "fired from his only amusing job". I still wasn't sure whether he meant the IDs, or scaring J. Jenks. Mom, Uncle Emmett and Aunt Alice were also Cullens and Aunt Rosalie and Uncle Jasper were the Hale twins again.
I was incredibly grateful that Jacob had chosen to move with us. I knew how hard it must have been for him to leave his family and his home, but I was selfish enough to want him with me anyway. His story was that he was Grandma and Grandpa's godson. Aunt Rosalie had suggested that he masquerade as the family's mutant-size huge husky dog. He didn't find it nearly as funny as Uncle Emmett did.
Jacob nudged me suddenly. "You're nervous," he stated.
For some reason that not even I could explain, this declaration made me blush. "Am not," I retorted.
"Aw, you're such a bad liar," he said, poking me again.
"Well you're such a bad…something," I finished lamely.
He laughed. "Nice one, Nessie. That really cut me deep."
I stuck my tongue out at him.
"It's almost time for classes to start. I think we should get going," Aunt Alice said.
"We'll see you at lunch," said Mom, touching my shoulder. "You'll be fine."
"I know," I said as Dad gave me a smile. He and Mom left for their first class hand-in-hand, followed by Uncle Jasper, Uncle Emmett and Aunt Rosalie. Aunt Alice began to drag me along. I paused and glanced at Jacob over my shoulder.
"Good luck, kiddo," he said, smiling reassuringly at me. "You've got this."
I gave him my best attempt at a nonchalant thumbs-up.
Aunt Alice sighed and pulled on my arm impatiently. "Come on, Nessie! I want to get a good seat!"
I yielded and let her direct me towards our first class. We arrived in the small room well before class started and took seats near the back. Aunt Alice had explained the day before that the back was ideal for us. We had fewer people staring at us that way.
Every face in the room turned to look at us as we made our way to the far side of the room. I suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious. It was reflected in my second blush of the morning. Why did I have to blush at the drop of a hat?
After we took our seats, I scanned the room out of the corner of my eye. The majority of the class was still gawking at us. I saw several guys smirking at Aunt Alice and me as they whispered to each other.
I saw Aunt Alice grimace suddenly. I glanced at her with a mild frown. "What is it?"
She winced again. "Edward."
"He was listening?"
She nodded sheepishly. "He didn't like the way those boys were thinking about you."
It was my turn to grimace. "What has he decided to do?"
"Do you mean before or after he kills them?"
The look on my face must have betrayed the shock and fear that washed over me.
"I was being sarcastic, Nessie. He's not going to kill them. He's just going to make a point of remembering their faces for the next few decades or so."
"You're a little tense this morning," she noted as she studied my face.
She rolled her eyes. Everyone seemed to be doing that today. "Why must you be so Bella-like? What's going on? I saw–"
"What?" I asked quickly.
She looked at me strangely. "All right, Nessie, seriously. What's going on?"
I paused. "It's…school jitters. It's nothing, it's nothing." I hoped that it really was nothing.
"Ha!" she crowed a little more loudly than was appropriate. I went red again as several people turned around to look at us. "I knew it! I knew it!"
"Shhh!" I said earnestly.
She bit her lip and then smiled. "Sorry. I just like being right."
I half-smiled at her. "I know you do."
"So," she said, folding her hands and laying her chin on top of them. "What is it really?"
I blinked and internally cursed her intuition. "Uh…w-what're you t-talking about?" I stuttered again, flustered. It surprised me how bad I was at lying today. I was usually much better at it than this. In a family like mine, skills in the art of deception were crucial.
I sighed and said nothing for several moments as I tried to weigh whether or not what had happened this earlier was too weird to tell her about. "Okay, so, earlier…I sort of…might have…felt something…something I've been starting to feel for a while now but I probably shouldn't, especially not for Jacob."
Aunt Alice hesitated for a moment. She looked away quickly. "Really?" she asked in a strangely strained tone.
I looked at her. "What's with the shockingly-calm reaction?"
"Well," she said, recovering at last. "This is sooner than expected is all."
My jaw almost fell off of my face. "You've been expecting this? How the heck would you predict something like that? You can't see us."
"Well, I didn't see anything, but I knew it was coming eventually. We all have. Especially after Jacob –" she stopped. "It's not a bad thing, Ness," she said, reading my mind.
I frowned. "Especially after Jacob what?"
She shook her head. "Nothing."
I crossed my arms. "Alice."
She shook her head. "It's not mine to tell."
I knew by the look on her face that she wasn't going to budge. I reluctantly let it pass with every intention of bringing it up later. I'd wear her down. Slowly. "Aunt Rose won't like this. She hates Jacob."
"Rosalie will be happy as long as you're happy."
I gave her a look.
"Okay, eventually she'll be happy with it."
My expression remained doubtful.
Our conversation was interrupted as the class was called to order. Our teacher introduced himself as Sean Wickham. He was a short, balding man in his mid-thirties with a distinctively pointy nose and ill-suiting glasses. He wore a half-tucked blue cotton shirt and baggy tan-coloured pants. Aunt Alice shuddered visibly as she took in his decidedly unfashionable appearance.
"He should start with his hair…" she began. She spent the rest of the period muttering about giving him a makeover. She was so enveloped in her muttering that she was completely oblivious to the creepy, lengthy stare he gave her at the beginning of the period. It raised the hairs on my arms just to see it. It was interrupted when one of the girls in the first row cleared her throat loudly. It was my turn to shudder. If this is how he reacted to Aunt Alice's super-human beauty, I could only imagine how he'd react to Aunt Rose. I smirked as I imagined what Uncle Jasper would do to him if he'd caught him ogling her like this.
Aunt Alice rushed us off to science next. Apparently Dad – or Edward, as I'd have to get used to calling him – had managed to convince the female guidance counsellor to put us in all of the same classes. Dad had a way of doing that to human women. Mom called it being "dazzled".
"R-Ren-Ruh-nee-es-mee? Is there a Ruh-nee-es-mee Cullen here?" the teacher asked as she took attendance.
"Renesmee," I corrected. "Here."
"Interesting name," she commented, looking me over.
I shrugged and dug out the binder full of paper Aunt Rose had gotten ready for me the night before and the pen that Dad had given me for my third birthday. It was black with the letters "RC" engraved into the side in Dad's fluid lettering. As hard as I tried to concentrate, I couldn't stop thinking about Jacob and the incident in the car this morning. I caught Aunt Alice looking at me several times.
Lunch finally arrived. Aunt Alice guided me to a table that our family had claimed near the western wall. Jacob had a massive collection of food in front of him. Everyone else had their usual trays of prop-food. I took seat between Jacob and my father as Aunt Alice took a seat across from me.
"I saved some cake for you," Jacob told me with his trademark grin. It was difficult not to notice the chewed food in his wide-open mouth.
"Disgusting," I heard Aunt Rose mutter disdainfully from across the table. Jacob made a face at her.
I looked at the plate of food that he'd slid in front of me. It was a large slice of chocolate cake on a paper plate.
"How were your classes, Nessie?" Dad asked, his arm around Mom.
"Fine," I said as I picked up a fork and began to toy with the cake.
"Did you like it?" Mom asked.
"Yeah, it was okay. It was easier than I expected."
"I knew you could do it," Mom smiled.
I returned her smile and tried to think of something to further the conversation. "I have a really creepy English teacher, though," I remembered after a beat of silence.
"Really?" Mom said. "How so?"
"I think he kind of has a thing for Alice," I said.
Uncle Jasper sat up straighter. "What's his name?"
"Jazz," Aunt Alice said, shaking her head.
"So you had English and science this morning?" Aunt Rose asked. "Did we do enough review?" Aunt Rose had been coaching me for the past few weeks in my studies so I would be up to the sophomore level. Not much preparation had been needed since I'd known most of it since I was a child, but of course we had to maintain our "human" appearance.
"Yeah, they're just starting ecosystems."
She nodded. "Good."
Dad shook his head with a sigh. "I cannot quite believe the education system these days."
"You realize that it makes you sound old when you say that, don't you?" Mom teased him.
"I am old," he pointed out.
Jacob had been silent until this point, as he'd been too busy eating. He glanced at my mother's tray. "You going to eat that, Bella?"
"Of course she's not going to eat it," Aunt Rose snapped.
Mom looked at her and then at Jacob. "You're really finished already?" Sure enough, his mountain of spoils was now just an array of food wrappers, crushed soda cans and dirty paper plates. "Do you ever stop eating?" she asked incredulously.
He grinned again.
Aunt Alice chuckled suddenly. Everyone glanced in her direction. "Edward, those blondes at the third table to your left are going to come and ask for your number in forty-seven seconds."
Sure enough, three blonde girls made their way over, giggling incessantly. They stopped in front of my father. "Hi there. What's your name?" asked the tallest of the three.
He glanced at them with a friendly smile. "Edward."
They glanced at each other and burst into giggles all over again. Mom growled very softly.
I nearly gagged. Having my father hit on right in front of me was definitely an experience that I would have gladly foregone.
"Are you new here, Edward?" asked the second.
"Yes, I am."
"Well, could we have your number?" asked the tall one. "Maybe we could show you around some time?"
I shuddered and glanced at Jacob. He exchanged a disgusted glance with me. I caught Uncle Emmett laughing silently. Aunt Rose and Aunt Alice were smirking while Uncle Jasper merely looked at them with a raised eyebrow.
Dad chuckled. "Sorry, ladies, I'm taken," he said, gesturing to Mom.
Their faces fell. "Oh," the third said. She glanced at the rest of us before the three left the table. They were barely out of earshot when Uncle Emmett roared with laughter. Uncle Jasper and Jacob joined him, attracting the gazes of several other tables.
Everyone at the table froze suddenly.
I frowned, confused, waiting for someone to speak.
"Do you smell that?" Dad murmured.
"Impossible," Aunt Rose breathed, scanning the room.
I looked around as well. "What? What is it?"
"Can you smell that?" Dad asked.
I inhaled deeply. Sure enough, there was a familiar scent in the air – but it wasn't a human one. I gasped quietly. "Vampires?"