Jessica was watching for us again, but not in her usual location. She was back by the steps, almost shrinking herself as if she was trying to hide amongst the other students.
Yeah, she shouldn't ever go into the field of espionage. She sucked at spying.
I got out from behind the wheel, and just as he had yesterday, Edward was waiting for me on the sidewalk.
He gave me a little smile, and then he wrapped his arms around me. I melted against him, taking in shuddery breaths as I reminded myself to oxygenate my lungs. I was really beginning to crave the dizzying effect he had on me. He was like my own personal brand of heroin, and I was hooked.
"Don't go to the forest today," he whispered.
What? Why? I tried to pull back to look at him, but he held me firmly to him, effortlessly.
"She plans on following you. Go to the cafeteria. I will meet you there."
He loosened his hold on me then.
When I looked up at him, I was met by the sweetest of smiles. It dissolved my concerns instantly. And then he did that thing again, where he slipped his hand into my hair and brushed my cheek with his thumb.
Drug Edward coursed through my veins anew.
I felt the loss of contact before I even realized he was walking away. I had been too caught up in my lala land of bliss.
It wasn't until I felt a nudge that I snapped out of it. There was Angela, smiling over at me.
"He likes you. You can tell."
From her, the comment didn't bother me. I smiled back.
"I like him, too," I admitted. It felt nice to acknowledge that to someone other than to myself.
"I'm so glad he decided to come with us on Friday. He seems so shy."
Shy! Sure! That's what it would seem like to others.
"Yeah, he kinda is." She wouldn't spread that rumor, though. She was too kind for that. But Jessica on the other hand…
We started walking towards our first period class, and as we passed Jessica – she was still trying to hide herself amongst others lingering about – I said, "Yeah, he's shy, but he's looking forward to Friday, too, I think."
That would get the news circulating. Hopefully, she wouldn't warp that tiny bit of gossip to make it juicier. She tended to do that.
Guilt soared as I gave that thought. Maybe I should have just kept my big mouth shut.
The schedule on state testing days was weird. You stayed in your first period class for the length of three periods, then you went to lunch, then you attended your last three periods like normal. The second day of testing, it flipped. You went to your first three periods like normal, then after lunch, you stayed in your fourth period class for the duration of three periods.
It was annoying. You never realize how grateful you are for the change of scenery, and for the chance to stretch your legs, until you're stuck in the same room, in the same chair, for hours on end. They allowed you a fifteen minute bathroom break, but with the lines being as long as they were, it was almost better to hold it. Which I did. I just sat in my chair and stared off into the nothingness in front of me, deep in thought.
Edward had said that he would meet me in the cafeteria. There would be restrictions for what we could do while surrounded by the rest of the school, but the idea of it still thrilled me. Any chance to see him in any surroundings thrilled me.
Others would undoubtedly stare at us – Jessica specifically – but I couldn't bring myself to care. It was like when, as a child, your parents went to your school for open house. The excitement of sharing that world with them. That was what it felt like for me. I was about to share another piece of my world with him.
When I entered the cafeteria, I immediately began scanning for him. Edward. I knew he was there. It was like I could sense his presence.
Finally, my eyes landed upon him. He was saving a table towards the back, near the last window in the row of them, watching me. He smiled, and I could feel my legs threaten to buckle just a little.
I started moving towards him, but then Jessica's voice broke into my concentrated strides.
I stumbled to a stop, then shifted my eyes around the room until I found her. She smiled at me like I was her bestest friend in the world, and then she pushed the chair next to her out in an invitation for me to join her.
Maybe she hadn't seen Edward? Maybe she didn't know he was there? Seemed unlikely, but before I could puzzle through it further, I felt a pair of hands on my shoulders.
Edward. He turned me slightly away from where Jessica still sat, guiding me to the table he had saved for us. I could just make out Jessica scowling as I turned away.
"Her thoughts are very ugly right now," he whispered as he leaned into me just a little. "Ignore her."
He held my chair out for me, and I sat. In front of me, was a beautiful lunch, compliments of Esme.
"She hopes you enjoy it," he said, his smile growing.
My smile matched his. "She knows I will."
It was similar to the sandwich she had made for me on Saturday, but with a hint of Mediterranean influence. Something in the mayonnaise. No fries, but with fruit, still with the grapes cut in half. That time, I did laugh.
"Your mom doesn't need to cut the grapes. They're bite size as they are."
He just smiled back at me. It was then that I noticed… he was wearing a name sticker. At the top, 'Edward Cullen', below that, 'Bella Swan', in the bottom left hand corner, 'Lunch Period'. Don't ask me why, but I found that to be adorable.
"Hey, guys, sorry to interrupt."
It was Angela, so I didn't mind the interruption.
"Just hammering out the final details for Friday. Diner at five, as always, but I'm taking movie requests. Majority rules. Romantic comedy, or zombie flick?"
Zombie flick? Um, no. "I vote romantic comedy."
Edward's eyes never left mine. "Romantic comedy," he repeated.
"Yeah, that's where everyone seems to be leaning. Except for Mike and Tyler," she added with a laugh. "Okay, carpools. You got a ride, right?" she asked, then I saw her eyes flicker just slightly in Edward's direction.
"Yeah, I got it covered," I answered.
"Okay, great! I'll let you guys finish your lunch in peace." Then she looked over at Edward. "It was nice to see you again, Edward."
His eyes finally left mine. He looked Angela straight into hers, smiled, and then very casually said, "Thanks. Nice to see you again, too."
It was perfect. Still Edward, but very seventeen-ish. I nodded my approval after Angela walked away.
"I like Angela. Her thoughts are very kind. She's happy for you."
"She thinks you're shy," I mentioned, then took another bite of my sandwich.
"Yes. I know. Jessica thinks this as well. She overheard you."
"I meant for her to," I admitted. "I thought it might help on Friday."
"Friday will not be a problem, Bella. Alice has seen this."
That made me feel a lot better. I scarfed my sandwich, then moved on to my fruit, all while Edward watched.
"What do you know of Jacob Black's tribe?"
That was random. Was he still worried about him? Did he see him as competition?
"Not much. He told me once they were descended from wolves, but then he laughed it off. He likes messing with me. Usually, when we hang out, we just talk about music, or cars and motorcycles. He's restoring some ancient piece of crap right now."
His eyes turned serious. I had been hoping to ease his concerns, but apparently, my benign account of my friendship with Jacob didn't help at all.
"What is it?" I asked. "What's wrong?"
He didn't answer. Instead, he asked, "May I ask for a favor?"
"Sure." The curiosity was almost suffocating.
"Limit your association with Jacob."
Was he really that jealous, that he didn't even want me to spend time with him? "Edward, you have no reason to be jealous."
"I'm not jealous. I'm concerned."
"Why? Jacob would never hurt me." I was sure of that. He was almost childlike at times.
"Please?" was all he said in response.
I didn't know what to say. I'd known Jake for a million years. I didn't want to just cut him out of my life. But the concern on Edward's face was indisputable.
"Define 'limit'," I said.
"Don't be alone with him."
So he was jealous. "Nothing's going to happen between me and Jake, Edward. Relax, okay?"
He sighed heavily, his scowl growing as he dropped his gaze to the tabletop.
"If you would just tell me what the problem is, maybe I could help ease your mind a little."
He shook his head, in that almost imperceptible way he was capable of, and then he shifted his stare to my fruit before looking up at me.
I smiled as I rolled my eyes. It was comforting the way he looked out for me. How protective he was of me, on every level. My parents didn't care what I ate. I could have had an eating disorder, for all they knew.
I often ate in my room, since the atmosphere at the dinner table was usually stifling. How would they know if I'd actually eaten? I could have flushed it down the toilet. They never asked. Never asked if it was good, or if I'd had enough. They were always too busy trying to get through their own meals in uncomfortable silence.
"Will it be safe to go back to the forest tomorrow?" I asked as I finished the last of the grapes, the last of my lunch.
I felt my stomach twitch with disappointment. "But, if you can't be… out tomorrow…"
"I know," he whispered.
"Will you at least call me? Or text me?"
The sadness in his eyes lifted a little. "Yes."
When the bell rang, signifying the end of lunch, Edward took my plate and bowl – the same kinds that had been amassing in my dish drainer at home – and placed them on top of the stack of trays.
I almost laughed, wondering what the cafeteria staff would think when they came out to collect the trays, and saw dishes of fine china and crystal sitting there.
He walked me to my class, holding my hand, which allowed me to soak up every last ounce of him I could before dealing with the mundane again. At least the last three periods were 'normal periods'. I wouldn't have to worry about testing again until tomorrow.
Jessica stalked us the entire time, but I only knew she was because I heard Edward growl ever so quietly.
I thought he would leave me at the door, but, nope. He walked me straight to my desk, giving Mr. Molina a polite nod as we walked by him, then he held my chair out for me.
The entire class became deathly silent. It was never that quiet, even when the teacher was talking and demanded our attention. Everyone was staring.
"May I help you?" Mr. Molina asked. He didn't sound upset. He just seemed confused.
"No, sir. I apologize, but I was just seeing Bella to her seat."
His eyes lingered on mine for several long seconds. I briefly considered that he would kiss my knuckles again, because my hand was still in his, but he didn't. Maybe he sensed it would have embarrassed me. I would have lived through it, though.
He shifted his eyes over to Mike for just the flash of a second, a slight glare present, and then he calmly walked out of the classroom.
Everyone started murmuring after that.
"Dude is intense," Mike muttered as he finally sat. "Guess it's a chick flick on Friday. Tyler and I were outvoted. We need more guys in our group," he added with a sigh.
"Edward voted for a chick flick," I mentioned. Then I wondered why I had.
He seemed surprised. "Intense and weird," he said, adding to his previous assessment.
I almost growled. Edward was rubbing off on me. "A lot of guys like romantic comedies. Doesn't make them weird."
Mike shrugged. "Just sayin'."
Then the bell rang, and Mike left me alone.
I was able to get out of Gym again. Barely. The coach's eyes narrowed on me suspiciously when I asked to sit out. Jessica didn't glare at me once… that I saw.
English was tolerable. A light lesson, no homework. There never was during the week of state testing.
And just like the day before, right before the final dismissal bell was set to ring, I saw Edward, standing outside the classroom, feet from the door. It made the seconds drag on like minutes.
But unlike the day before, instead of waiting for me to exit the classroom, as soon as the bell rang, he walked in and straight to me.
Like in Biology, everyone froze. You could have heard a pin drop in the silence.
He reached for my backpack, slung it onto his shoulder, and then offered me his hand. Nobody else mattered in that moment. The whole world could have been staring at us, for all I cared.
We were almost to the door that led to the outside, at the end of the hall, when we spotted Jessica, watching us from just inside a classroom that wasn't hers.
"Ignore her," he whispered as we passed by.
I did. I kept my eyes forward and matched his stride.
"She's not going to stop, is she?" I asked, once we were out of the building.
"No. Not for a while."
"I don't get why she cares so much." It seemed to extend beyond her need for gossip.
"She cares for malicious reasons. You needn't be concerned."
Those seemed like contradicting sentences, but I let it drop. Mostly because I didn't even want to think about what her reasons could be. But then, as we arrived at his car, instead of opening the passenger door for me, he opened the driver's door. That shot any curiosity about it straight out of my head.
He was letting me drive home!
I'm seriously not a materialistic person, but I can still appreciate nice things when I see them. Or drive them.
He grinned as I hopped over and slid into the seat.
"Say the word, and I will buy you—"
I didn't even let him finish. "We've been through this, Edward. I could never accept such an extravagant gift. Just you letting me drive yours is gift enough."
He nodded, but waited to respond until he had gotten into the passenger seat. "Then you may do so any time you wish."
The open-ended invitation made me smile.
"Do not be alarmed when we arrive at your house," he said as we pulled out of the parking lot. "Your truck is at my house. Emmett is working on it."
Good thing he said something. I might have had a moment of concern, thinking it had been stolen.
We were a minute from the house – the drive had been a pleasant one, which made it all the weirder – when Edward stiffened.
"What's wrong?" I asked. I slowed down reflexively.
"Complication. Please forgive me for what's about to happen."
My heart lurched. "What's about to happen?" I asked. And then I saw him.
Jacob was standing where my truck usually sat, his arms crossed, looking… well, angry. But why?
I parked, cut the engine, and then was out of the vehicle before Edward even had the chance to open his door.
"Jake! Hey! What's up?"
His eyes softened a little, but not by much.
"Your dad asked my dad to check on the house. But when I got here, I saw that your truck was gone."
Oh, he thought it had been stolen!
"Oh, no, it's fine, Jake. Edward's brother is just making a few repairs on it for me."
His eyes shifted past mine. I could sense Edward behind me, and just knew that was where Jacob was looking. Glaring, actually. When I turned towards Edward, he was glaring, too.
They seemed like mortal enemies!
"Whoa! Guys! What's going on?"
"You shouldn't be friends with him, Bella. I told my dad this was a mistake! You should have just stayed with us! But it was farther to school. And then Dr. Cullen offered…"
He said their name with such disdain. Who could possibly hate Dr. Cullen?
"What has gotten into you, Jake? Seriously! I can be friends with whoever I want to be friends with!"
"He's not safe, Bella. You don't know…"
He stopped himself, and then he just looked lost. What didn't I know? What did he know? Did he know Edward was a vampire? That all the Cullens were?
"He's perfectly safe, Jake. The Cullens have been very hospitable."
His glare returned. "Then why are you here instead of over there?"
Before I could even think of a lie, Edward spoke up.
"My brother is ill. We didn't want her to catch it."
Jacob scoffed. "Yeah, ill. There's a word for it!"
Okay, what did he know? It wasn't like I could ask him!
"What would you call the flu?" I asked, playing along with Edward's excuse. It wasn't a lie. It was a question.
"Bella, please, you should just come home with me, okay? Or send him away and I'll stay with you."
"Jake, you're being ridiculous. You're younger than I am! And there's no need to change up the arrangements. I'm going back over there tomorrow, anyway. Dr. Cullen says Jasper won't be contagious anymore by then."
Wow, that was the fastest I had ever thought up a lie. Probably because I rarely lied.
"This is a mistake. I can't leave you like this. With him."
He seemed genuinely tortured by the mere thought of it.
"What do you think is going to happen?" Edward asked. Calmly. But I could hear the slight edge to his tone. I wondered if Jake could.
"You know damn good and well what I think, Cullen."
Whoa! Okay, so, he knew Edward could read minds?
"You know I would never," Edward said.
"No, I don't know that!" Jake was absolutely furious, but then he looked to me, and he seemed like a lost little boy again. "Bella, I can't explain it to you. I'm asking you to trust me. I'm asking you to come home with me. Now. Please."
"I'm sorry, Jake, but no."
"She gave you her answer," Edward interrupted. "I think you should leave now."
"You stay out of this!" Jake shouted, and then Edward growled.
It was about to get ugly. I stood between them, hands out to both of them to stop whatever was about to happen.
"Stop! I mean it! Jake, go home," I said to him, firmly. "Whatever you think the problem is here, you're wrong. Just… go home."
Jacob sighed, and slumped a little, defeated. "Fine. But I'm calling you later, to make sure you're okay."
When he had said the word 'okay', he emphasized it, while staring straight at Edward.
He then jumped on his bike – the one he had been restoring – and took off. Fast. I was surprised the thing could even run, let alone speed.
"What the hell?" I asked Edward. The adrenalin was hurting, it was so extreme.
"In the house," he whispered, then he shifted his eyes to his left.
Our neighbors were outside, watching.
I followed him in, slammed the door, then repeated my earlier question. "What the hell, Edward?"
To be continued…
The reviews have been very encouraging. Thank you! I'm glad people are enjoying this.
Once again, this chapter is brought to you without a safety net. And once again, I hope the mistakes are minimal.
I'm still working on the epilogue. Here's the problem… it's starting to run long. If I keep going, at this rate, it will be about the size of two and a half to three chapters. And I'm stuck on a scene I was initially excited to do, but finding difficult to execute now that I'm there. It's very frustrating.
So, let me just ask… I could back up and cut it in a particular spot, which would make the size of the chapter just a bit longer than a typical one within this story. It's a good place to stop it, but a lot of really cool stuff would get lost if I do that.
So, the question is – and I know it's early on in the fic for you all, but – would you be interested in or annoyed by reading a very long epilogue chapter? 'Cause if people are just going to be annoyed by its length, I'll back up, cut it off, and stop trying to write this one scene.
Your call, guys. Let me know.
As always, please review, and MTLBYAKY