The closer we got to Angela's house, the more nervous I became. It felt a little like a test of sorts, to get an idea for how things might go on Friday.
"Wear your gloves," I whispered, as we pulled up in front. "She might want to shake your hand."
Wearing gloves wouldn't raise any questions. She would probably just think he was cold, or that he really did have a skin condition. Better that than to have her wonder why his hands were so frigid.
Angela greeted us warmly, but I could tell she was forcing her eyes not to shift over to Edward. She probably thought it would be rude. Like she was staring.
I introduced them, because it was the polite thing to do, and because I wanted to give her relief from the effort. "Angela, this is Edward. Edward, Angela."
She did shake his hand. Good thing I had suggested the gloves.
"It's nice to meet you, Edward."
He repeated her sentence right back to her, using her name instead of his own, very formally.
"Well, come on in! I'm babysitting my little brothers until Mom gets home," she said as she led the way into the house, "so we'll have to stay downstairs. But I have everything set up and ready."
Edward didn't seem tense so much as on alert. Not in a way that indicated danger, but in a way that showed he was out of his element. Much like the way I had been when first arriving at his house five days ago.
Angela gestured for me to hand over my camera, so I did, ever mindful of Edward as he stood in the center of the room and glanced around.
"Which pics do you need printed?" she asked as she pulled the memory card from its slot.
"The last three." Truthfully, I didn't care at all about the first two, but I thought it would be weird if I just asked her to print out the picture of me and Edward that Alice had taken.
She pulled the pictures up on the screen and scrolled through to the last three. Then she gasped.
"Wow, Bella, this is an amazing pic of you!"
I immediately looked to the floor, embarrassed. "Um, yeah. Alice – Edward's sister – she kind of pinned me down and gave me a makeover."
It would have been the perfect opening for anyone else to start fishing for information, but Angela, being who she was, didn't take it. She didn't even look like the idea had crossed her mind.
"This is a great shade of blue on you. New dress?"
"A borrow," I answered.
Just as I had said this, a ball went whizzing by me, straight towards Edward. I followed its path, but couldn't get words out of my mouth fast enough to warn him. It bounced off his head, then went flying off, askew.
He noticed it, of course, but acted like it hadn't affected him directly. Like it was something that had just happened around him.
"Josh! Isaac! That wasn't very nice! You can bounce the ball off each other's heads all you want, but not my friends' heads! And not in the house. If you break another one of Mom's knickknacks, you know you'll get grounded again!"
As Joshua ran up to retrieve their ball – or at least I assumed it was Josh; with them being twins, it was hard to tell sometimes – Angela leaned in to whisper something to me.
I tensed, wondering if she had noticed Edward's odd reaction, but apparently, she hadn't.
"I'd probably get grounded, too." She smirked, and it put me at ease. "Apologize to Edward," she instructed her brothers.
Joshua rolled his eyes a little. "Sorry," he muttered, then off he ran.
"Sorry about that, Edward," Angela said. "They get a little stir crazy sometimes. You can sit if you want. Make yourself comfortable."
He was obviously far from comfortable, but he smiled politely and took a seat on the couch. Then he folded his hands in his lap and just stared off into space.
That time, Angela did notice that something was off.
"We'll make this quick," she whispered. "I think Edward is bored."
I knew he wasn't. He was just uncertain of how to act. Decades of reclusiveness had affected his ability to blend in.
Yeah, Friday could be a problem. No one would be paying attention to him during the movie, but before and after… And if we went to dinner first…
"You can visit," he said.
Angela smiled at him, then at me, then she went back to her task.
"The swim team pic turned out great." She pointed towards it, so I stepped over to get a better look. "Check out Kirk. He knew what the article was about. It's like he's flaunting it."
Suddenly, Edward was behind me, peering over my shoulder.
"Oh, here, Edward," Angela said, snatching the paper that went with the picture from off the computer desk, "this is the article we're talking about. Give it a read. Let me know what you think."
She was trying to include him.
He read it too fast, faster than any human could, but that didn't seem to register with Angela. Probably because she was sidetracked printing out my pictures for me.
"This is good. It is informative and humorous."
"Thanks." She was beaming again, like when I had complimented her earlier at school. "Journalism is kind of my thing. I'm hoping to get into the journalism program at Seattle U after high school."
"You will," I said encouragingly. I believed that, too. She had been the first freshman in the history of Forks High to get on the school paper.
She smiled at me, hopefully, maybe even a little wistfully, then she turned towards Edward again. "Did you want a copy of this last pic, too, Edward? Since you're in it? It's no bother."
"Yes. Thank you."
It was obvious to me that I was going to have to coach Edward before Friday night. Angela was forgiving of people's personality traits – she could tolerate Jessica better than most – but the rest of the kids in our group…
They would think him odd. Dwell on the little things that made Edward unique, and stand out. Maybe even make fun of him.
That thought irritated me, so I moved on.
I could just give him a few pointers. Relax his body a little. Use more slang. Not stare at me so much… like he did for the rest of my visit with Angela.
"Hope that wasn't too miserable for you," I said as we drove back to my house.
Yeah, I needed to loosen him up a bit before Friday. It's not that I really cared if my friends and somewhat friends liked him, I just didn't want him to be the topic of jokes or more rumors. I guess I felt protective of him, too.
"I know how I want to spend the evening."
He quirked an eyebrow. "I'm listening."
"The trip to Angela's was helpful. It gave me some ideas."
"This is not an insult," I prefaced, "but… you're too formal. Too stiff. The kids we're going with on Friday, they'll notice. I don't want you to be the butt of jokes, or be the subject of more gossip. I don't want to be the reason why your family is looked at more carefully. They're already a little too curious about you. I don't want you to stand out more than you already do."
"Are you suggesting that you would rather I not accompany you?"
"No!" God, it did sound like that, didn't it? "No, I just… I think I can help. Help you to blend in a little better. When was the last time you've been out. You know, in public, mingling with humans?"
Before I was even born. That was a weird thought. "I believe it. And they'll notice it. I'm not trying to change you," I assured him. And I wasn't. He was perfect as far as I was concerned. "But just a few little things here and there might make a difference. If you're willing."
I literally sighed with relief. Not because he agreed to let me teach him, but because he wasn't angry at me for offering to.
"Let's start with your speech," I suggested. It was the easiest thing to work on while we were in a car. "You're too formal. Too clipped in your responses. Yes. No. Thank you. Most people don't speak like that. Especially teenagers. It's: yeah. Nah or nope. Thanks. Just a few slang words here and there will make you sound more like a seventeen year old and less like a ninety-something year old. See what I mean?"
He smirked over at me, and I busted up laughing. He was enjoying this!
"There'ya go! Now, your physical demeanor. Again, too stiff. You look like you're made of rock, and you don't want that. People usually slouch a little. Most people don't care too much about good posture, especially teenagers. Just, relax your body a little."
He did, but he looked a little uncomfortable doing so. Well, it was a start.
"Good. Now, your eyes."
"Yeah. They're too intense. Jessica's already noticed, and she isn't known for being very observant of subtle things. That means it's too noticeable. And… well, you stare at me too much." I was reluctant to tell him that. I actually liked it when he stared at me.
"Does it bother you?"
"No. Not at all. But the others, they'll think it's… odd."
He caught that. I was about to say 'creepy', but had changed my mind. It sounded too insulting.
It wasn't. It wasn't creepy. Sure, that first night at his house, when we both weren't watching the TV, and I sensed that he was staring at me, I had been a little unnerved. But that was before we had said more than a few words to each other. After that, even before I learned his secret, I had just accepted that it was a part of who he was. From pretty early on, I had actually found it endearing. Flattering.
"I was just trying to find the right word. When we're alone, you can stare at me for days on end. But on Friday… look around more. Look at other people."
God, I sounded like I was harping. He shouldn't have to change, and I didn't want him to. Maybe it was a bad idea, trying to include him in my world. A world stuffed to the guild with narrow minded people.
"Sorry." I was, too. I almost wished I hadn't brought it up. "I was just trying to be helpful."
"I know. Thanks."
I looked up at him as the slang word slipped so easily off his tongue. He was grinning. Then he offered me his hand. And of course, I took it.
"It just started sounding a bit like I was trying to change you," I said, explaining my apology. "I don't want you to change. I like you just the way you are, Edward. I mean that."
When he gave mine a little squeeze, like he was thanking me for my words, I brought our clasped hands up to my face and pressed the back of his to my cheek.
I was becoming quite fond of the electricity that always seemed to flow through us during moments of physical contact. But as I caressed his cold skin in a nuzzling manner, something shifted.
There was a pull in my stomach, a warmth spread through me, a need so strong that I held his hand against my cheek for the remainder of the car ride home. It wasn't until Edward called my name, that I realized we had actually arrived.
"Sorry," I muttered, suddenly embarrassed.
He smiled, but I could only see that he had out of my peripheral vision, because I was staring at my lap by that point. And then he left the car and rounded it to my side. He opened my door and helped me out, but he didn't move so that we could walk towards and enter the house. Instead, he hovered in such a way that I felt I was almost pinned to the car behind me, even though our bodies weren't touching.
My stomach pulled harder and the warmth intensified. And then every inch of my skin burst into flames.
He raked his hand into my hair, starting at the temple, and then he just held it there, his thumb brushing my cheek as he stared deep into my soul.
I felt myself being lured that time. Knowledge is like that. It makes you more aware.
The world stopped spinning. Life in every embodiment froze. The only things left in existence were me and Edward, and this overwhelming urge to kiss him.
I slid my hands up his chest until my arms wrapped around his neck, and then I pulled myself into him.
But then suddenly, the world jolted, and life around us thawed.
Taking my arms at the wrists, gently, he removed them from their position and dropped them to our sides. It felt like my body had taken a physical blow. Loss, pain, emptiness, rejection, embarrassment, all rolled up into one emotion that didn't have its own name.
His eyes softened as an unnamable expression – which was caused by the unnamable emotion I was feeling – settled onto my face. I felt him release one of my wrists, and then he placed his hand over my heart.
The relief was so abrupt it was almost jarring. Don't ask me how I knew, but somehow, I just did. I could read it in his stare. Feel it in his touch.
He wasn't saying 'no', he was saying 'not yet'.
"You need to eat now, Bella." The reverence on my name made me feel even more at ease. "I will call Esme."
Hearing Alice at the door when she brought the meal made me realize how much I had missed her. It was strange how close I felt to this family within such a short period of time.
She didn't feel she was strong enough to be near me until after my condition had passed, so she called out to me from the front steps.
"Miss you, Bella! I'll see you soon! Wednesday!"
She missed me, too, apparently. But before I could even open my mouth to respond, she was gone, and Edward was standing in my kitchen with a plate of food. God, it smelled good. Skipping lunch obviously affected me more than I had thought.
"Mediterranean eggplant with wild rice. Esme hopes you enjoy it."
I was sure I would. And I did. I ate every last morsel on the plate, and near about licked it after I had. That amused Edward greatly.
After cleaning up after myself – I was gaining quite the collection of Esme's plates in my dish drainer – we went up to my room. I showered right away, wanting to get it over and done with. Then we just sat – him in the chair by the window, me on my bed – and talked for hours.
I shared every little boring, semi-significant moment of my life. I had been right… it didn't take long. I told him about every broken bone. Every trip to the hospital. Every serious scrape and bruise. The ones that weren't so serious remained unmentioned, of which there were probably millions.
I told him about my very unsuccessful attempt at playing softball when I was nine. They asked me to leave the team when I almost killed a girl. It was an accident, of course. The bat slipped out of my hand. But it was the straw that broke the camel's back, as the saying goes. Before that, I had pegged four girls while trying to be a pitcher, tripped two when I tried to play first base, and knocked the umpire off his feet when I tried to be a catcher. The ball went astray, and in my clumsy attempt to save it, I stumbled right into him.
Yeah, sports are like dancing… not a good thing for me.
Bedtime happened in much the same way as it had the night before.
Edward tucked me in, then sat beside me until I finally fell asleep. Just having him near, I felt safe and protected in a way I had never felt before. It's not that I didn't feel safe with my parents – nobody messed with the police chief's daughter – but this seemed to be on a whole new level. It was so comforting, it seemed I was asleep within moments of when my head hit the pillow.
My dreams had been pleasant ones. Very pleasant. Starring Edward, and the kiss I had been denied the day before. I was grateful, as I awoke to the feeling of him brushing my hair from my face, that he couldn't read my mind. Could someone who reads minds also read dreams? They're kind of like thoughts. Subconscious ones, yeah, but still.
"Can you read dreams?" I asked him, as I started to pull myself into reality.
"Yes. What do you dream about? You were enjoying the one you had last night."
My cheeks flushed instantly. My heart rate accelerated. I knew he could hear it.
"Nothing all that interesting, usually." That wasn't a lie. Usually, my dreams weren't interesting. Last night had been an exception.
"You said my name."
Oh, God. Has anyone ever actually died of embarrassment? If not, I was about to be the first.
"Interesting," I muttered, then I grabbed my blankets and threw them over my head, hiding myself from him.
That would have been the perfect time for a natural disaster to strike. Not one that killed or hurt anyone, but something that could have taken the attention away from me.
But, of course, I wasn't that lucky.
No, instead, my luck went in the other direction. My cell phone started ringing, forcing me to leave my cocoon of semi-safety to answer it.
I tried to avoid Edward's eyes, but a brief glance happened anyway. He was smirking. He knew.
I didn't even look to see who was calling me. Whoever it was, they would be my diversion for as long as I could manage to keep them talking.
Mom. Good. Okay, I could buy myself a few minutes, talking to Mom.
"Hey, Mom, what's up?"
I barely listened to her babblings. Not only because I was still irritated over what she was planning to do, but because I was too aware of Edward, sitting on the bed beside me, looking a little too pleased.
"Bella? You still there?"
"Um, yeah, sorry, zoned out there for a sec."
"I asked if you were nervous about the state testing today."
"Not really. I'll be glad when it's over though, so classes can get back to normal. We're doing a celebratory thing on Friday. We're all going out to eat, and then to the show. That's okay, right?"
"Sure it is. Who's driving?"
Saying his name had never been so difficult. "Edward."
"Ah! So you two are getting along."
Her knowing, singsong voice made me blush deeper, if that were even possible.
"Yeah, we're getting along," I said, trying to force a normal tone. I failed. Edward's smirk grew.
Okay, talking to my mom was not the diversion I had been hoping for. It was making things worse.
"Look, Mom, I have to get ready for school now. I'll talk to you later, okay?"
The moment she said okay, I disconnected the call, cutting off the rest of whatever she had been planning on saying. I would have to apologize later.
I fully expected an interrogation. I expected he would ask me again about my dream, and not let me dodge the question. But he surprised me. Again.
"Your breakfast will be waiting for you."
My breath caught as he leaned into me, almost hovering over me, then released in a shuddery exhale as his lips touched my forehead. He lingered there for a moment only, and then he was gone.
I stared at my ceiling for eleven years after that. I heard Alice come and go with my breakfast, and still I stared. I almost couldn't move. And I didn't want to move. I didn't want to break my concentration by doing so.
When I concentrated, I could still feel his lips on me. That alone was enough to keep me in my bed a little longer. But it had also triggered a memory. A hazy one, not at all fully formed, but insistent.
It took me all of those eleven years of lying there for it to finally hit me. Friday night, after our long staring session, when I was so sleepy I couldn't manage to keep my eyes open, or comprehend anything going on around me…
He had kissed my forehead before tucking me into bed.
It's a humbling experience to realize how much another being truly loves you, even if you love them back in exactly the same way.
"Bella? Your breakfast is here, and you are not yet dressed."
I blinked several times, then turned my head only to see Edward standing in my bedroom doorway. He smirked at me, his eyebrow quirked, and it was then that it dawned on me…
I was wearing the goofiest smile in the whole wide world. I tried to force it off my face, but a hint of it remained. I just couldn't get it to leave.
"What are you thinking?"
I wasn't even embarrassed, but I wasn't about to tell him, either.
"Good things. I'll be right down."
He gave a subtle nod, then left.
I got ready as quickly as I could, then ran down the stairs into the kitchen. This time, he was sitting at the table, across from where I usually sat. My breakfast was waiting for me.
I took my seat, then immediately started shoveling.
"It doesn't seem to be as difficult for you now," I mentioned between bites. "Being near me, I mean."
Ah. The longer he was around me, the less he noticed it. Like when you're in the hospital, and the smell of clean almost burns your nose at first, but after a while, you become less and less aware of it.
I gave a nod, then crammed another spoonful of oatmeal into my mouth. It was the simplest meal Esme had made me so far, but even then it wasn't so simple. It seemed to be sweetened with honey, and it had raisins, dried cranberries, and almond slivers in it. And, of course, it was the perfect consistency. I would never be able to eat packaged oatmeal again.
"Can I drive your car again this morning?" I asked.
He smirked, then nodded. "Would you like me to buy you one?"
I almost dropped my spoon. "What? No! That's way too much money!"
He scowled a little. "Money means nothing. Your happiness and safety means everything."
What does one say in response to something like that? I took another bite of my breakfast, stalling for a reply.
"Thank you," I finally said, "but it wouldn't feel right to me. Besides," I added, "my dad wouldn't like that too much. He would think it was weird." Like Edward was trying to buy my love. I left that unsaid, though.
His scowl deepened. "Would he think it… weird… if I were to help you repair your truck?"
I had to think about that for a second. "Maybe a little, but if it meant my safety, he would probably be okay with that."
"I will ask Emmett, after I take you to school this morning. He is an excellent mechanic."
"Oh, Emmett would be fixing it?" I asked. That was different. "My dad wouldn't have a problem with that, then. He would just see it as being neighborly. Jacob works on it all the time."
His eyes tightened. "Jacob?"
There was a deep-seated tension in the way Edward had said his name. Jealousy, maybe? He didn't need to be jealous. Jacob was like a brother to me, and I wasn't keen on incest.
"Yeah, Jacob Black. We've been friends since we were toddlers. He lives down on the reservation."
His tension just seemed to grow. Maybe he didn't get what I meant.
"He's like a brother to me," I added, trying to make it clear to him that he had no reason to be concerned. I had just never felt anything romantic towards Jake, ever. Though I suspected he had a bit of a crush on me.
He relaxed a little, but I could tell that something was still bothering him.
"Interesting," he said, then he glanced down at my bowl of perfect oatmeal.
Yeah, I did need to hurry, or I was going to be late. The school was less tolerant of that during state testing.
To be continued…
Okay, once again, this chapter is being brought to you without a safety net, so I hope the mistakes are minimal. My beta-reader has just been really busy.
She has a life, and she's writing her own fic right now. You should check it out! The fic is: 'You Found Me', and she goes by the penname: Kristylized.
She also made me an awesome banner pic for this story, which can be seen on my personal website, and on the popular Twilight fanfiction site, Twilighted.
In the next chapter, Jacob makes an appearance.
The epilogue chapter is coming along great! I'm really enjoying writing it! I'd been itching to do a particular scene for a while now, and I finally got to! I think it turned out pretty great. We'll see what you all think when we get to the end of this journey.
GoldenBeliever: I know, right? Confused Edward is a blast to write! Thanks for the continued support!
As always, I ask that you please review. To those who have, thank you!