‘So, what exactly is going on with you and the Cullens? I mean, did they adopt you or something?’
I quirked my eyebrow, momentarily forgetting about the notes I was taking or the fact that I had promised myself to pay more attention in class. ‘What do you mean?’
‘They walk you from class to class, sit with you at lunch and wait for you after school just to bring you home.’
My eyebrow rose even further, threatening to disappear behind my ginger fringes. ‘We’re friends. Don’t friends spend time with each other?’
Derek sighed and fidgeted with his pen, clearly trying to put his thoughts into words. ‘It’s like, ever since the accident in PE they won’t let you out of their eye sight. It just doesn’t feel right, you know?’
‘We are friends, like I already said. The way we act around each other really isn’t anybody’s business.’ It had come out ruder than I had meant it to and his face reddened. It was at this moment that the bell rang, though, and so I wouldn’t have to think about it for at least one period, since it was lunch break.
Quickly throwing my stuff into my bag, I was out of the room before anyone else had even started packing. I was a professional.
Outside of the classroom, I was met with the sight of Alice and Jasper, who smiled at me as I stepped into the hallway. I suppose I could see Derek’s point: I was always in the company of one of the Cullens. And then he didn’t even know about how I would spend my afternoons at their house doing homework, or how Edward would come to my room every night to talk. In contrast to him, though, I didn’t mind. I enjoyed having friends, having the feeling that I belonged somewhere. Because for someone like me, someone who had never fitted in anywhere, not even at home, that was something big. For someone who was always left out, that was something special.
And although I would never admit it out loud – or think about it if he was in mind reading proximity – I enjoyed the nights Edward spent with me even more than I did the rest. I liked how we could talk about virtually anything and everything, how we could one moment talk about the beginning of his life as a vampire when he’d killed people and the next could joke about the “we-hate-Dalia-club”. I liked how we could connect on a deeper level, but could still joke around on the surface without things becoming uncomfortable.
It was in these moments, too, that I realized that I liked Edward a lot more than I had allowed myself to. I didn’t think he knew, though, and even if he did, he never showed it. It was probably easier this way, otherwise things would just get awkward between us.
But there were moments when I was convinced he liked me, too, but then the sun would come up and reality would set in. And in that reality, in which I would wake up to the sound of my alarm, I always woke up alone. It was hard and it was painful, but it kept me from getting my hopes up.
‘Do you want to spend Christmas at our house this year?’
I looked bewildered at the small pixy, realizing that I had zoomed out once again. Sneaking a glance at her better half, I noticed he was eying me with a look of interest – probably wondering what had caused the whirlpool of emotions inside of me. ‘I’m not sure. We normally spent Christmas with my mother’s mother, but well.. now that we’re here in Forks and she’s in Los Angeles, I don’t really know what we’ll do.’
‘Your parents will go to LA with Veronica, but you don’t want to. Something about your grandmother being a crazy old lady,’ Alice practically beamed and I didn’t doubt her. She was right about my mother’s mother – I refused to call her my grandmother – though, for I had no desire to see her. Ever again.
She was a woman with the same interests as her only daughter: beauty, gossip and drinking tea while talking about the other two. She also had a terrible habit of putting her nose in other people’s business, complaining about and criticizing anyone but herself. If that wasn’t enough to scar me for life, she was dead set on not looking “old”, which was the reason behind her horribly failed blonde hair with even blonder streaks. Besides being a mean person in general – who had dumped my grandfather after getting her knocked up, apparently – she seemed to invest extra time in making my life miserable. What a sweetheart. ‘That my family is dysfunctional doesn’t mean you guys have to take me in out of pity, Alice. I mean, Christmas is a family thing, I get that.’
’We want you to spend it with us,’ Jasper said, a feeling of warmth and assurance rushing through me. I hated it when they used their gifts on me.
‘I’ll think about it, okay? It’s still like a month or so until Christmas anyway.’
Alice giggled, shaking her head. ‘It’s December, Dalia! Esme and I are already deciding on what we’re going to make for the dinner.’
‘No pressure of course,’ Jasper added, laughing and I couldn’t help but join in.
‘Why didn’t you agree on spending Christmas at our house?’ Edward asked from his place at my desk as I nestled under the covers comfortably. I had just come back from my evening routine, which included taking a shower, brushing my teeth and putting on the ugliest pajamas I could find, to find him already waiting for me. As usual. I thought about that. I guess I did want to spend Christmas at the Cullens house, if only because I knew it would actually be nice. There would be no fighting family members, no conveyed disappointment about how I live my life, no nothing. And yet that made me feel uncomfortable, because I’d be the guest who’d long overstayed their welcome. I already spent most of my time there as it was and I didn’t want them to realize just how little they got out of it. I didn’t want them to think of me only as a burden.
‘That’s what this is about? Of being a burden?’
I shrugged my shoulders, suddenly overwhelmed by emotion. Why couldn’t things be simple, why couldn’t I just feel like I deserved even an inkling of the friendship they gave me. ‘I don’t deserve you guys. I don’t deserve you.’
He was beside me in a second, leaning down to meet my eyes ‘Don’t, for even a moment, think that you don’t deserve us again. You might not realize, but you don’t know how happy Alice is to finally have a friend, how wonderful it is for Jasper to converse with someone without wanting to rip their throats out. You have no idea how much you make me feel alive, how you make me feel as if I am just a boy. You have no idea how good it feels to not feel like a monster for once.’
I have no idea what came over me in that moment. Perhaps it was the pain in his caramel eyes, perhaps it was the way in which we both needed each other, perhaps it was both. Slowly, uncertainly, I reached out to him, putting my hand over his, my warm skin against his cold.
My head screamed, the chaos ensued, but looking into Edward’s eyes, I knew that I would live through the end of the world if it meant that I could keep him close. ‘You were never a monster to me.’
He didn’t say anything, but his silence told me all I needed to know. It was filled with acceptance, with something that I’d never had and had never known I’d missed until I came to Forks: a home.
We stayed like this for minutes, hours perhaps. Time seemed meaningless as Edward and I sat there in my bed, his hand in mine. Somehow his touch was worth the chaos, his attention worth the uncertainty. He was worth it all.
‘Will you take me to the prom? Just as friends..’ I added, my mind hazy, my attention unfocused. ‘I’ve never been to a prom before.’
He gave my hand a squeeze ‘We will go.’
Content, I shifted further under the covers, pulling Edward down with me. I did not care that he had to put his legs on my bed, or that he was resting his head against the headboard, looking down on me. I wanted him to stay with me for a lifetime, longer if that was possible. I wanted to spend each moment in his company, knowing that I was liked and valued.
‘Will you stay until the morrow?’
Brushing some of the hair out of my face, he smiled at me endearingly. ‘I promise.’