"How is it possible that we didn't know?" asked Uncle Jasper softly.
"I have no idea," Aunt Alice said with a frown. "I don't understand why I didn't see this."
Jacob drew in another deep breath. "Wait. Smell that again."
We all inhaled again, but it was evident that Aunt Rose resented being told what to do by a werewolf. Mom frowned. "You're right, Jacob, it's not just a vampiric smell. There's something different about it."
I frowned as I tried to place what it was that made the scent different from the normal vampire one. It was difficult to even catch the scent through the overwhelming cloud of other smells in the cafeteria.
"You know, it almost reminds me of…Nessie," Aunt Rose commented.
I blinked. Me?
"That's not possible," Dad said quickly, glancing at me. We were already speaking so quickly that no human would have understood. "Nessie, Nahuel and his sisters are the only half-breeds."
"That we know of," Jacob corrected. "We didn't know about Nahuel up until six years ago, either. Isn't it possible that there are more out there?"
"We should talk to Carlisle," Uncle Jasper suggested.
"Yes," Dad agreed. "As soon as possible."
"Let's talk about this outside," Uncle Emmet proposed, unusually serious. "We're attracting too much attention."
We were on our feet in an instant. Jacob looked remorsefully at his half-finished candy bar that he'd swiped from Uncle Jasper. He sighed and added it to the pile of garbage which he deposited in the black garbage can set up at the side of the room.
We made our way out of the cafeteria and to the back of the school. I looked around as we walked through the cafeteria. A group near the back caught my eye. There were four of them, and all four were an unnatural shade of beautiful.
"Ah," Dad said, reading my mind as we neared the door. "Yes, you've found them, Nessie."
When I glanced back at them, they were staring at us. The unnaturally handsome males had eyes the colour of topaz. One had brown hair, the other had jet-black, and both looked slightly too old to be trying to masquerade as high school studends. The female sitting adjacent the brown-haired vampire had remarkably piercing, icy-blue eyes. She was small in comparison, with long dark hair curtaining a lovely pale face. The female sitting beside the black-haired male was also impossibly beautiful, with eyes of rich emerald-green and wavy auburn hair. All four were dressed in impeccable designer outfits. I didn't need to hear Aunt Alice's thoughts to know how she pleased she was with their sense of fashion. They watched us with calculating expressions. There was a compelling similarity between the females. Perhaps they were somehow related.
So the females are the half-breeds, I thought.
"Ah, we could take 'em," Uncle Emmett said.
"Well, if they have half-breeds with them, that would explain why I didn't see them," Aunt Alice said quietly.
The lighter-haired man murmured something to his companions too softly for me to hear, and then all four rose, the males picking up the females' books. The light-haired male looked at us for a split second, and then did a double-take.
Both he and Uncle Jasper gasped as they looked at each other.
An inexplicable rage mingled with intense hatred and disbelief erupted in the man's eyes. The books fell from his arms as he took a step towards us, slipping into a half-crouch.
Uncle Emmett, Dad and Jacob all jumped up and began to move towards him in unison, their positions defensive, although they all looked profoundly confused.
The tall male grabbed him instantly, his astonished expression mirroring the way mine probably was about then. He quickly towed the light-haired male away. The females bent to pick up the books with equally jolted looks. I noticed now that the auburn-haired girl was much taller than the dark-haired one. All four disappeared from the cafeteria.
After I managed to stop gaping, I looked around quickly. Half of the cafeteria was staring after them while the other half stared at us with curious and surprised expressions.
Dad was openly gawking. His mouth opened and closed several times before he managed to say, "You must be mistaken," he said, although I didn't know to whom, as he was still looking at the others.
Uncle Jasper shook his head, answering my question. "I wish," he murmured, his eyes wide.
Aunt Alice touched his arm. "Jazz? What's going on?"
Uncle Jasper looked at her, and then back at the other family. He bit his lip and replied beneath his breath. "Emmett's right, we can't talk about this here."
Dad nodded. "Let's discuss this outside."
My mind raced as we left the school and made our way to the field. The light drizzle was keeping people indoors, luckily for us. I couldn't understand what have provoked such a violent reaction from the light-haired vampire. Uncle Jasper was second only to Grandpa Carlisle in being the least likely person I knew to inspire hatred, much less hatred like that.
Once we were outside, Uncle Emmett grabbed Uncle Jasper's arm and spun him around. "Talk."
Uncle Jasper sighed. "The shorter male…his name is Robin Stanton, but he goes by Rob. I know him; I turned him into a vampire one hundred and fifty years ago."
I felt my eyes widen.
"Come again?" Uncle Emmett gaped.
"Why?" Aunt Rose asked at the same time.
"Do you know who he was with?" Dad said urgently.
"I created him to join Maria's army," he replied with a mild grimace. He looked at Dad. "I have no idea who the others were. I thought I recognized him before, but I couldn't be sure. I remember him well. He was a very talented fighter. He actually managed to survive several decades, which was virtually unheard of. Then, he simply vanished one day. He was more resistant to my gift than any other being I've ever encountered in the entirety of my existence, mortal or immortal. He hated me dreadfully."
"But why?" asked Aunt Rose.
Uncle Jasper lowered his eyes. "There was a…complication with his transformation."
"What sort of complication?" asked Uncle Emmett.
Uncle Jasper cleared his throat. "It's almost time for class, I think." He walked back towards the school quickly, his shoulders hunched.
Aunt Alice hurried after him wordlessly.
I thought about Rob's reaction to him as I watched them walk away. Well that explained a lot. But that also made things more complicated – and more dangerous. "Now they have a personal reason to dislike us," I said with a sigh.
Dad nodded, his face tight with worry.
Uncle Emmett grimaced. "Yeah."
"And if they have a personal reason to dislike us, things may get…dicey," Aunt Alice added.
"According to Jasper's memories, Robin Stanton has quite a temper," Dad said.
I swallowed. I tried not to think about the ramifications of a war of covens. Grandpa Carlisle had told me about a few that he had seen. They never ended well. The Volturi often became involved, and we definitely did need them interfering in our lives again.
"What were they thinking?" Aunt Rose asked Dad.
"I don't know about the females," he told us. "But the males are wondering who we are. They didn't know we were here."
"Gees, I can't imagine what that feels like," Mom said sarcastically.
"They're worried that a coven of our size might be a potential threat."
"Did you notice that they were vegetarians?" Uncle Emmett said.
"Yes," Dad said. "Most intriguing. I hadn't known that there were others aside from us and the Denali."
"Great," Jacob sighed. "More vamps."
Lunch ended ten minutes later. I found Aunt Alice in the hallway. She escorted me to the sizable gymnasium on the other side of the school. We were handed gym uniforms in the school's colours by the male gym teacher who introduced himself Mr. Wilkes. He was a middle-aged man with wispy grey hair in a comb over, and a large stomach. He wore a white track uniform and carried a whistle. Aunt Alice sighed despondently as she examined the garments he'd given us. "It's like these people have never heard of Prada." Even I had to admit, it was hideous. They were the worst possible shades of blue and grey to ever be combined.
I was starting to get used to everyone staring at us as we joined the group congregating in the centre of gym. I surveyed the crowd of my classmates absentmindedly, waiting for the class to begin. I gasped as I recognized the females from lunch standing against the back of the gym, muttering to each other in voices to low for even me to hear.
"Alice," I whispered.
She glanced at me. "What is it, Nessie?"
"It's the half-breeds," I said, gesturing towards the females. They shot us the occasional glance, their beautiful eyes unreadable. Both stood perfectly straight, exuding tension. Apparently our presence had been duly noted.
"All right, we'll be starting with volleyball. Let's see…uh, Tara, Adelaide–" The half-breeds looked up at the sound of Mr. Wilkes's voice. "Why don't you pair up with uh…I'm sorry, I don't know your names," he said.
Aunt Alice and I looked in his direction. He was staring at us.
"Alice and Nessie," Aunt Alice told him.
He frowned. "Nessie? Like, Loch Ness Monster, Nessie?"
"No, like hippie parents with bizarre naming ideas," Aunt Alice said apologetically.
I smiled, trying to imagine my parents as hippies.
"Right," he said. "Well uh, you four take the far left court."
Aunt Alice and I made our way to the designated court. We took our positions on one side of the net.
"Hello," Aunt Alice said politely.
The females exchanged glances, and then nodded to us in unison.
I looked at them in fascination. The shorter one that Mr. Wilkes had referred to as Adelaide was clearly the elder of the two. I could see that she looked about twenty, despite the layer of make up that she wore to appear younger. The taller one he had called Tara looked to be about the same age as my parents, but was still young enough to pretend to be a sophomore. I wondered how old they really were.
"I'm Alice," Aunt Alice said pleasantly. "This is my sister, Nessie."
I smiled awkwardly, a blush colouring my face.
Tara looked at Adelaide. The latter smiled thinly. "Hello," she said in a light English accent as she served the ball perfectly. It sailed over the net to Aunt Alice, who bumped it back with equal dexterity.
"Have you been here long?" asked Aunt Alice.
"No," Adelaide replied, volleying the ball to me. "We haven't seen you here before," she said.
I didn't miss the wariness behind her words. Tara glanced at her.
"We've only just arrived," Aunt Alice said brightly. "Nessie's my cousin."
Adelaide nodded. "Where are you from?"
"Washington. We lived in small town called Forks," Aunt Alice said as she leaped into the air to perform a perfect spike.
I was surprised when it struck the ground on their side. Both had frozen in place, their jewel-like eyes wide with shock.
I looked at Aunt Alice in confusion. What could possibly be so shocking about Forks? It was the most un-shocking place imaginable.
"You're that family," Adelaide said after a moment, glancing around to make sure no one was listening. "The Cullens. You're allied with werewolves. You survived the Volturi. There was word that you'd created an immortal child. You know Nahuel, son of Joham."
I blinked. Immortal child? What on earth were they talking about? And how would they know about Nahuel, much less Joham?
"Yes and no," Aunt Alice replied calmly. "Yes, we are indeed allied with two packs of werewolves and yes, we did survive the Volturi, and yes, we are acquainted with Nahuel but no, we did not create an immortal child. The one that the Volturi mistook for an immortal child is Nessie. She's–"
"A mixed-breed," Adelaide said, as though she had suddenly come upon a horrible enlightenment. Her eyes tightened. She looked at Tara, her jaw going taut.
I was surprised to see Tara look at me with a strange sadness, as though she pitied me. No one had ever looked at me like that before, ever.
Adelaide's striking blue eyes hardened suddenly. "Excuse me," she said, passing the ball to Tara and storming away.
My jaw fell open.
Tara looked at her for a moment, and then apologized quietly before rolling the ball beneath the net to us and hurrying to catch up with Adelaide.
I stared after them, stunned. What had that been about? Were they offended by what I was? That seemed foolish, given that they were the same race as I was, but I couldn't come up with any other explanation as to what else I had done to offend them.
"That was interesting," Aunt Alice murmured.
I glanced at her, still floored by their reaction. "No kidding."
For the following days, the entire coven ignored us, despite our – well, my – ogling. I couldn't help myself. I'd only ever met one other half-breed in my life, and I had only been a few months old at the time. Additionally, I was still interminably curious about the others and their strange response to meeting us.
Naturally, Dad and Jacob became over-protective and insisted on escorting me to each class to "be on the safe side of things", as Dad had said. But I'd had to insist that Dad stop accompanying me everywhere after I'd overheard two girls in my first-period English class talking about the "gorgeous piece of man-candy" with whom I was double-timing Jacob, "the smouldering-hot muscle machine". After Dad had stopped laughing, he'd reluctantly agreed to allow Jacob to take over guard-duty.
"That's it," Uncle Emmett said one afternoon the following week. He slammed his prop-soda can down on the table top with unnecessary force. "I can't handle this weirdness. I'm going to talk to them."
"No," Dad and Aunt Rose said in unison, pulling him back down to his seat. "We don't know what their intentions are. Remember what Carlisle said, we cannot be the first to provoke action," Dad said.
"Who says I'd provoke action?" he asked innocently.
Aunt Alice sighed. "I'll go. Bella, you're coming."
Mom blinked. "Me? What'd I do?"
Aunt Alice rolled her eyes and yanked Mom to her feet.
"Why does she get to go?" Uncle Emmett asked.
"Because she's not as annoying," Jacob said.
Uncle Emmett laughed. "Good one, mongrel."
"I agree, Alice is definitely the more annoying of the two of you," Dad said.
"I heard that," Aunt Alice called over her shoulder.
Their teasing did nothing to ease my sudden anxiety. I bit my lip. "Is this really a good idea?"
"They couldn't attack us here, not even if they wanted to. There are far too many human witnesses," Aunt Rose told me.
"Plus, if they were going to jump us, they probably would've tried it by now," Jacob said, taking a massive, werewolf-sized bite out of his apple, a drop of apple juice rolling down his chin. He gave me a smile that sent another strange wave over me, only it was stronger this time.
I inhaled sharply with surprise and looked away. What was wrong with me? It had been days since I'd felt this weird around Jacob. It's just a school thing, I told myself. You're just adjusting and you're having weird side-effects. It's nothing. Everything is under control. Everything is entirely normal. There's no need to be making anything of this.
Dad choked suddenly.
I flinched and tried not to look at him. I didn't even want to know what he was thinking about what I was thinking.
"Augh," Aunt Rose said, throwing a wad of napkins at Jacob's face.
"Would it really be so difficult for you two to at least pretend to act like adults?" Dad asked coolly, snatching the apple core that Jacob had aimed at her head in reply out of the air.
"But I'm not an adult," Jacob smiled patronizingly. "I'm forever sweet sixteen, remember?"
"Yeah!" Uncle Emmett said. "What the mutt said! Besides, it's funny when Rose kicks his little furry butt."
Aunt Rose chuckled.
I closed my eyes. Why was it that lunch with my family always ended up as a brawl between my aunt (or my uncle) and my…friend? Because he is just a friend, I reminded myself. Right?
"That's a very good question," Dad muttered, although I wasn't sure which question he was responding to. That didn't help my blush reflex any.
I looked over my shoulder again to watch Mom, Aunt Alice and the over coven. Adelaide was the only one facing me. Her face was carefully arranged into a look of passivity, but her eyes were narrowed slightly with a look that seemed to me to be suspicion. She continually glanced at the brown haired male. I couldn't see his face, but his back was rigid as Aunt Alice spoke, Mom half-hiding behind her.
"Man," Jacob said. "If this does turn into a fight, I'd love to get a crack at the tall one," he said, gesturing to the huge black-haired vampire, who had his arm wrapped around the tall auburn-haired female in a protective gesture.
A ripple of fear passed through me. I didn't doubt his ability, but the idea of my Jacob fighting a vampire, especially one that big was more than slightly unsettling.
"Yeah," Uncle Emmett agreed. "It'd be nice to have a challenge, for a change."
I rolled my eyes. Here we go, I thought.
As was expected, Jacob gave a snort and replied, "I could whip you with my eyes shut and not even raise a sweat."
"Yeah?" Uncle Emmett laughed.
"Yep," Jacob replied, draining his third soda can.
"So why don't you?"
"All right," Dad interjected. "Clearly this vein of conversation isn't going anywhere good."
Uncle Emmett smiled menacingly. "Excellent."
Aunt Alice and Mom returned presently, mercifully ending the conversation. The atmosphere around the table sobered instantly. Even Uncle Emmett became serious.
"What happened?" Aunt Rose asked.
"Well, they don't appear to bear us any ill-will," Aunt Alice said. "I've invited them all to come by our house tomorrow so we can get to know them."
Dad was still nodding after she'd finished speaking. "Yes, that's a good thought."
Jacob sighed theatrically.
"Alice was thinking that it would be best if we got to know them. Just because they seem peaceful for now does not necessarily mean that it will always be so," Dad explained. "Learning about them can only play to our advantage."
I shuddered again and glanced at the tall male vampire. As I did so, he and the brown-haired one turned to look at us. I turned back quickly, a blush starting in my face.
"Who are they?" asked Uncle Jasper, speaking for the first time.
Aunt Alice replied. "The tall female is Tara Winter. The tall black-haired one is Ian, Tara's mate. The dark-haired female is Adelaide Winter. She's Tara's older sister and Rob's mate."
Dad frowned. "I still can't hear the females," he murmured.
"A shield?" Mom asked.
"I suppose so," he replied.
The majority of the cafeteria's occupants turned to stare as the coven rose to leave, Rob and Ian again picking up their mates' books. All four managed to ignore the scores of eyes trailed on them.
"Come on," Aunt Alice said. "We've got gym."
I picked up my bag and rose to follow Aunt Alice.
"See you after school," Jacob said, smiling at me.
I stumbled slightly. "R-Right. Bye."
He chuckled. "Mind your step."
"Will do," I muttered with a blush.
When we arrived at gym, the half-breeds were absent. We were paired up with two girls named Selene and Michaela.
"So we saw you talking to the Winters yesterday," said Selene.
I frowned and glanced at Aunt Alice.
"Yes," she smiled.
"Well, just as a heads-up, they don't make friends," Selene said.
Michaela shook her head and served the ball. "Not with anyone."
I snorted quietly. That much I'd been able to guess.
"They're usually pretty nice, just don't try to get too close," Selene cautioned us. "You'll get frostbitten.
I smiled at her careless choice of words.
"Adelaide's a total ice queen, and I don't think Tara can even talk," Selene said, sending them all into condescending giggles.
"Duly noted," Aunt Alice smiled pleasantly.
"Let's go, ladies, let's go!" Mr. Wilkes called.
Selene muttered something dark and then sighed. "Well, at least you guys are normal."
I almost laughed aloud.