Lunch could not come fast enough. I fidgeted through most of the period, which earned me a scowl from the kid sitting next to me.
Angela would only be able to stall Jessica for so long. She would probably ask her about Friday, though I suspected Angela didn't want her there any more than I did. I especially didn't want her there if Edward agreed to come along.
If we went out to eat first, would that make him uncomfortable? Would he just not order? Order but not eat it? Would the others notice? Would it add to the rumors?
Would the movie bore him to non-tears? What movie were we even going to see? God, what if it was a vampire flick? I struggled to think if there were any due out, but I couldn't remember.
I was so caught up in my racing thoughts that I jumped a foot when the dismissal bell rang. The scowling kid next to me laughed. I couldn't think of his name. I had too much going on inside my head to care.
I gathered my stuff, then rushed out the door. Angela was obviously successful in her mission, because it was a clear shot, straight to the forest. I dropped my backpack by my favorite tree, then spun around a few times, trying to locate Edward.
"You were fidgeting in class."
I smiled at the sound of his voice, even though I had no idea where he was.
I glanced up in the tree I was near, but still didn't see him.
"What were you thinking?"
My smile grew. "That I couldn't wait to see you," I answered. "I still can't wait to see you."
I heard him laugh, and then, suddenly, he was right in front of me. I took a tentative step towards him, but when he opened his arms to me, I sprinted. It was like hitting a forgiving rock, but nothing had ever hurt so good.
"This morning…" It came out like words on a breath. Just remembering it made my voice fail.
"Yes. I'm sorry for adding to your troubles with Jessica."
Did he think I was upset with him? I wasn't. Far from it. "I wasn't talking about that. Boy, when you say you can 'lure', you're not kidding."
I meant it a little like a joke, but it was absolutely the wrong thing to say. He tensed, almost to the point of literally being a rock in my arms.
"Edward, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
"But it is like that. You might not care for me, if not for this ability."
"You think that's why I like you? Because you lured me into it?" He didn't answer. "People like people for lots of reasons. Some like jocks – their ability in sports. Some like nerds – their ability to understand rocket science. Some like musicians – their ability to strum a guitar. I don't care what your abilities are, Edward. It doesn't change how I'm feeling. And I wouldn't change how I'm feeling for anything else on this planet or others. You can keep on luring me all you want."
He softened, and then he pulled back and stared straight into my soul. "You have a question to ask me?"
Did I? I couldn't hear myself think. The pounding of my heart in my ears was deafening.
He grinned. He might not have liked the idea that he could lure me before, but he apparently had changed his mind after my little speech. He seemed thrilled, almost cheeky, that he could turn me into a liquefied mess.
"Something about Friday?" he said, reminding me.
Oh! Right! "Um, yeah, you caught that?"
"So, what do you think? I kinda have to, after Angela's help today, but I could make an excuse—"
"Bella," he interrupted, whispering, "I would love to go on a date with you."
A date. An actual, honest-to-God date. I smiled back at him, but it dropped when I remembered why I had been fidgeting.
"What if they want to go out to eat first?"
"I can eat. Getting rid of it is unpleasant, but I will survive the experience."
"In what way do you get rid of it?"
"It would be impolite to use the term. Let's just say… it takes a reverse journey."
Oh! I had to really force myself not to laugh. He would need to hurl it back up. Which wasn't funny in and of itself, but the way he phrased it was.
"I'm not sure what movie they'll choose. It might suck."
"I won't be going because I care what movie we will be seeing."
I could just imagine it. Sitting in a dark theater, holding hands, watching the screen blankly as we only paid true attention to each other. It sounded like a pretty good evening to me.
"My friends might be annoying. Jessica will probably be there. They might be… a little too curious about you."
"I have avoided detection for over eighty years. I think I can handle your friends."
I gasped. I couldn't help it. That was the first time he had indicated his true age.
His smile faltered slightly. "Is something wrong?"
"When were you changed?" I asked. I had to know now, and math was impossible in that moment. "What year?"
My reaction made sense to him then. His eyes showed understanding.
He started to pull away, but I fought to stay with him. If he really wanted to, he could have gotten away from me. He obviously didn't really want to.
"Sorry. I'm just a little surprised. I didn't know. I had wondered…"
It made sense, though. Four years of high school ten times. College. Composing hundreds of songs. Some of his compositions sounded like they were from a different time period. His speech seemed that way, too, sometimes. Even his manners and chivalry indicated an earlier era.
Oh. Right. Spanish Influenza. I should have realized from that. We had learned about that in class last year. I guess History isn't my best subject.
I directed our conversation back to our date. He was happy when we had been discussing that. Now he just looked concerned.
"I'll get all the details from Angela, as soon as she has them, so that we'll know what we're facing. I'll tell her I called you from my cell during lunch, and you said you were free."
He relaxed a little, which I was grateful for.
"Angela is a good friend. Her thoughts are very honest."
I smiled at that. It didn't surprise me. She had a way about her, where you could just tell she was genuine. Unlike…
"What are Jessica's thoughts like?"
He scowled a little. "They are rarely what she actually says."
I pulled away from him, which he allowed, then I took his hand and led him towards my tree, which he also allowed. When I sat, he sat. Him with controlled grace, me like a ten pound sack of potatoes being dropped on the floor.
"I don't want to know anything that isn't my business," I said, prefacing what I was about to ask of him, "but what does she really think of me?"
He hesitated. If he didn't want to tell me, I wouldn't press for him to. But then he answered me, in what seemed like careful choices of words.
"She thinks she is better than you. She doesn't understand why people like you. She is only your friend because they do."
There was more to it than that, I was sure of it, but it was enough to confirm what I had already suspected. There always seemed to be something there. An odd look, a jealous glare, a comment slipped.
"Did I upset you? Should I not have told you?"
"I'm fine. You didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know."
"She's wrong, you know. You are worlds, galaxies, better than her. Her thoughts alone make her a very ugly person."
I shrugged in response.
"You don't believe that?"
"It makes me uncomfortable to think of it like that. I don't know what happened to make Jessica like how she is, I just know that I'm not anyone special. I'm not better than her. She is who she is and I am who I am."
"You think too little of yourself."
It was a serious conversation, and yet I smiled.
"Why is that humorous?" he asked.
"I could say the same thing about you."
He smiled then, too, though his following words held solemnity in them. "I don't think it, I know it. I am who I am as well."
Our time was precious, so I didn't want to start that debate right then. We had time for that later. I was bound and determined to get him to see the truth about himself.
Instead of responding, I just crawled over to him, slowly, on my hands and knees. My jeans would be wet and probably muddy because of that, but I didn't care. His smile seemed to be encouraging me. Luring me. When I reached him, I settled myself into his lap, into the safe and comfortable position we had spent most of Sunday in.
He seemed to be doing better with me in close proximity, while in my condition. We were outside, which I'm sure helped, but it still seemed a bit easier for him than it had been previously. He was talking. He was breathing.
I didn't ask him about it, though. Mentioning it would bring it to the forefront of his mind, and then maybe it would become harder for him again.
"Jessica is very angry. You will be receiving a text message in less than a minute."
Oh, joy. I didn't even want to move to answer it. "What will the message say?"
"'Where are you this time? You can't tell me you're not avoiding me. Is it true you're bringing Edward with us on Friday? Get your…' expletive '… to the cafeteria now.' All surrounded by multiple exclamation marks."
I laughed, then rolled my eyes. "Yeah, the woman loves her exclamation marks. Did Angela tell her about you?" It was okay if she had. If she did, it wasn't for malicious reasons. I was just curious.
"No. Well, not exactly. She only mentioned her conversation with you about it. Jessica arrived at her own conclusions."
Just then my text message ringtone started sounding. Originally, I had planned to ignore it, but curiosity got the better of me. I struggled to fish it out of my pocket due to the position I was in, then pulled up the message and read through it.
Yep, word for word, except the expletive was the word 'ass'. And there were an insane amount of exclamation marks. About seven or eight after every sentence.
I rolled my eyes, clicked out of text message mode without replying, then moved to put my cell back in my pocket. But Edward stopped me. He took hold of my wrist, bringing the phone to back in front of me.
"I would like you to have my cell phone number. If you would like to have it."
I didn't think my fingers could fly over a keypad so fast. I pulled up my address book, established him as a new contact, then waited eagerly for him to give me the number. I would have to find a special ringtone to assign to him.
I gave him my number, too, then I tucked my cell away and snuggled into him once again.
"This is a much better lunch period," I whispered, content.
I melted a little. His hum was lulling. Soothing.
"Can you still be here on Wednesday, even though you can't drive me to school?"
"I hate state testing. The schedule is all screwed up, and everyone gets weird. Tense."
He would be my anchor through those two days. My thirty-three minutes of sanity.
For the final eighteen minutes remaining, we sat in silence. Well, not complete silence. He hummed to me. My lullaby. He had perfect pitch and tone, of course. His musical talents obviously extended beyond the piano. It made me wonder what other instruments he could play.
I had to force myself to go back to class. I didn't want to leave him. But he just stared at me, in that stern way he did when I would attempt to shirk my responsibilities. I couldn't argue after that.
Mike Newton was twelve kinds of excited about the Friday trip, when I got to Biology. Angela sure was efficient. She had probably made the rounds at lunch.
"Where have you been lately?" Mike asked me, whispering so Mr. Molina wouldn't hear. "Jessica thinks you're avoiding her, but where do you go?"
"I'm not avoiding her," I whispered back. I ignored the other part of his question. Jessica had probably put him up to asking.
"Is it true you're bringing Edward Cullen along on Friday?"
That didn't take long to get around. "Yes."
"Wow. Is he even allowed out in public?"
Anger seethed, but I held it in, and held my tongue. "He's not a prisoner. Of course he's allowed out in public."
"No, I mean, can he be out in public? Doesn't he have a weird skin condition? Isn't that why they're all homeschooled?"
If Jessica thought she would get the answers to her questions by having Mike ask them for her, she was sadly mistaken.
"Obviously he can be out in public, if he's coming along on Friday. Shhh," I hissed. "Listening."
He seemed a little taken aback by my shushing him, but at least he stopped pestering me.
Gym wasn't much better. Well, in the locker room before Gym.
"Where do you keep going? You can't tell me you're not avoiding me!"
I was set to dress out, but decided against it at that very moment. Dressing out meant subjecting myself to her for however long it took to change.
"I'm not avoiding you. I'm avoiding everyone. I just wanted some alone time. It's not personal."
I grabbed my stuff and walked away after that, before she could argue or question me further.
I had the perfect excuse for not participating in class. A lot of girls used it during their time of the month. I never did, so I was due to be excused. I sat aside on the bleachers and read a book, all while Jessica shot me dirty looks. She even missed a pass, because she was so busy insulting me with her eyes, she hadn't been paying attention.
Since I didn't have to revisit the locker room to change after class, I was able to successfully avoid Jessica before English. During that period – the final period of the day, thank God – she texted me three times, demanding I wait for her after class.
I wondered how badly I would injure myself if I ran to Edward's car after the dismissal bell. Knowing Jessica, she would probably track me down. Run after me. Chase me. Scream questions and accusations at me.
But all those considerations became moot.
I had my crap at the ready, set to sprint for the door the moment the bell sounded, but as the seconds ticked down, I glanced towards my route of escape. And then my heart stopped beating.
There was Edward, standing just beyond the doorjamb, staring at me. When our eyes caught, he smiled at me – the sweetest sight in the world – and my heart raced to life again.
Unfortunately, Jessica saw him, too. Her final class of the day was just down the hall.
I was out the door and steps away when she came running up, trying to get to him first.
"Edward, hi! I hear you're coming with us on Friday!"
Edward was not pleased. He was glaring at her for her little stunt – she had literally bumped me out of the way, knocking me slightly off balance – but then his eyes narrowed further as she stood in front of him.
I knew that look. I was actually surprised he didn't growl.
I couldn't see Jessica's face, but I knew she was scared. Or at least unnerved. She stumbled backwards a little, and her entire body tensed, like she was on alert.
I could see then what Edward had been talking about. The sense of self-preservation. The thing I supposedly lacked.
Maybe I did, because I still wasn't afraid. Of course, it wasn't directed at me. Maybe I would have felt differently if it had been.
He side-stepped around her without responding, then his eyes softened as they locked with mine.
"Bella." He said this like a greeting, in a smooth, almost husky voice that made me want to melt. And then he extended his hand to me like an offering.
We were halfway down the hall when I heard Jessica call out, "Well, okay, Bells, I'll see'ya tomorrow!"
Edward did growl then, but it was so quiet, I doubted anyone heard it but me.
It wasn't until we were out of the parking lot that I asked. A part of me didn't want to know, but the curious part of me ruled over it.
"What was she thinking?"
He didn't answer. He just shook his head. So I dropped it.
"I think I need to go to the store," I said, changing the subject. "If I keep spending lunch in the forest, I'm going to starve to death."
Edward tensed. "You have been skipping meals?"
"Well, yeah, but only because Jessica is set to ambush me as soon as I walk into the cafeteria. I can pack a lunch, but I need to buy the stuff to do that."
He made an illegal U-turn, right then and there.
"Wait, Edward, I need to go to my house first. I don't have the money on me. I need to get into the grocery fund—"
"I have money, Bella."
"But it's not your responsibility…" I trailed off when he smirked and scoffed while shaking his head.
I needed to learn to pick my battles, so I dropped that, too.
It was a very domestic outing. An errand Edward seemed out of place participating in. I had to wonder when the last time was that he had even stepped foot inside a grocery store. It wasn't like he had a reason to, what with his dietary needs being what they were.
He pushed the cart behind me, investigated every item I placed in it, poked at the loaf of bread, wrinkled his nose as we passed the butcher counter… he even moved to bag the groceries himself, until the bagboy politely told him: I have it, sir.
And through it all – like earlier, when I had been driving his car – he seemed amused. That was when I realized… my very boring life was actually fascinating to him. I couldn't see how it would be, but maybe that was how he felt about my interest in his world.
The realization comforted me. It made me feel like we were a little more equal, at least in that sense. Our worlds were vastly different but similarly intriguing to the other. Yeah, he had been human once, but that was over eight decades ago. Times change, and it seemed as if he hadn't changed much with them. Like he had been playing catch up with the entire world and was continuously falling short of the era he actually lived in. He had picked up some things – enough to get by in the human world undetected, maybe – but not enough to satisfy the curiosity.
There's only so much one can get from books. And, yeah, he could read minds, but that probably only confused him. Like he had said of Jessica, people rarely say what they're thinking. And their actions don't always make sense.
What must it be like to hear every thought, but then witness contradicting comments and actions? The frustration must be maddening.
It wasn't like he could have asked for help. All he could do was watch human behavior from afar and try to emulate what he saw.
But I had been so caught up in learning about him – asking question after question in an attempt to understand him better – that he hadn't gotten a chance to understand me. Clearly – or at least it was clear to me then, as we left the store and headed for his car – he was as curious about me as I was about him.
"What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking there's something I'd like to share with you, if you're interested."
There was an eagerness to his tone. I had been right!
He opened my door for me, but before I slipped into my seat, I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket. Ignoring his arched eyebrow – well, I wasn't ignoring it so much as trying not to laugh because of it – I dialed the number I knew by heart and waited for the pick-up.
"Angela, hey. I was wondering, could I borrow your photo printer again? I have a few pics I'd like to put in my scrapbook."
Of course she said yes, but she actually seemed really excited about it, too. It had been a while since we had just hung out.
"Um, Edward is with me. Is that okay?"
She seemed surprised, but excited about that as well.
We said our goodbyes, and only then did I get into the car.
We were both quiet as we drove back to my house to put the groceries away and grab my digital camera. He didn't seem upset, though. I could sense a little tension, but mostly, he just seemed intrigued.
As I went to grab my camera from my room, he put the groceries away. I almost wished I had been there to witness the simple task, because apparently, it wasn't that simple of a task for Edward.
When I entered the kitchen, he was staring at the jar of jam I had just purchased, looking perplexed.
"It says 'refrigerate after opening'. Logic would dictate that one would then wait to place this item into the refrigerator until after doing so, but…"
"But…?" I could not hide my amusement. He scowled.
"Why store it in one location, just to then move it to another later?"
"They stock it on a shelf at the store. They're just letting you know that you can't do that once it's been opened." His scowl grew. "Not everyone uses common sense, Edward. Some people have to be told that it's not safe to make toast while bathing."
I took the jar from him, threw it in the fridge, then took his hand and led him – almost dragged him – towards the door.
This was going to be an interesting afternoon.
To be continued…
Okay, here's where we stand right now. Thirty-five chapters total for this fic, the thirty-fifth chapter being an epilogue. Couldn't help myself. The ideas bombarding my brain were just too tempting.
My beta-reader was just way too busy, so this chapter is brought to you without a safety net. Hopefully, the mistakes are minimal.
The reviews have been awesome, guys! Thanks so much!
GoldenBeliever: LOL! Awesome! Glad you're enjoying it!
I will be continuing with the Monday-Wednesday-Friday updates. Once I finish the epilogue, I might even up it to more often. We'll see how it goes.
Please, keep the reviews coming! And MTLBYAKY