I was the only one who ate. They had made this elaborate dinner, just for me. It could have easily fed me and the seven of them, but not a one of them joined me. In eating, I mean. They all sat at the table, but they all just watched me.
"Am I the only one who's going to eat?" I finally asked. Everyone but Edward shared odd looks. Rosalie stiffened. Edward continued to stare at the table in front of him.
Okay, what had I just asked? Their reactions didn't fit the question, so I was left to assume that it came out of my mouth wrong. But then Dr. Cullen answered, and I realized it wasn't worded wrong at all.
"We're all on a special diet."
"Bella, after dinner, would you like to play dress up?"
Alice had asked me this. She looked positively giddy with excitement over the prospect. But, dress up? Like, how one might when they're eight and they get into an old trunk in the attic full of ancient formal clothes? The thought of me in a feather boa and a big out-of-date floppy hat almost made me laugh.
But she looked so hopeful, I couldn't find it in me to say no.
"Um, okay. Sure. For a little while, I guess. I have homework to do," I added in explanation.
"That should come first! We can play on the weekend!"
I was a little relieved when she said that, but then she added, "You should have Edward help you with your studies! He's very smart!"
Edward glared at her, but her bright smile remained. I wished they would stop asking him to babysit me. I didn't need a babysitter anyway, and he clearly didn't like the role.
"What's the subject?" he asked.
The subject? My mind drew a blank. I fought to remember… the classroom. Mike Newton sat next to me. Microscopes. We recently dissected a frog.
Okay, that didn't make me sound like a spaz at all. That excited revelation should have remained inside my head until I could have said the word without undeserved enthusiasm.
He quirked an eyebrow, and my heart started racing again.
"I can help, if you need any."
Struck stupid, I nodded.
I thanked Esme for the meal when I was finished, and offered to help clean up, but like with the making of dinner, she simply stated that I was their guest.
And then I went back up to Edward's bedroom, with him leading the way. He stood still as stone, almost hovering over me, as I opened my laptop and pulled it out of standby.
"What are you studying? What do you need help with?"
"Planaria. And I'm not sure if I do. Need help. It just seemed rude to decline your offer."
His eyes narrowed, but he wasn't angry. I knew he wasn't because I could see the edges of his mouth twitch. He was amused.
"I'm glad I amuse you," I muttered. I wasn't exactly annoyed, but I was something. I just couldn't put my finger on what.
"I apologize," he said. Then he knelt down next to the bed and turned the laptop towards him.
I watched as his graceful fingers scrolled the touchpad mouse to the end of the document.
"This is perfect."
I don't know why, but his compliment made me swell with pride. For some reason, his opinion of me seemed to matter.
"I really don't think you need my help, but I will stay in case you do."
He then gestured towards his rack of books, selected one, and settled in to read it.
Okay, yeah, him being in the room wasn't distracting at all. Luckily, I knew the subject well enough to finish my homework anyway, despite my constantly wandering thoughts.
I took in every detail. The way he held the book in his hands, how fast he finished a page and turned it, the little exhales of breath when he either agreed or disagreed with whatever he had read. I was hyperaware of him. Almost drawn to him.
I closed my laptop and sighed. "The window wall thing makes me nervous. Would you mind closing it?"
It was true, but it was a stall tactic. I just didn't want him to leave. I wanted to talk to him. I wanted him to talk to me.
He closed his book without saving his place first, set it back on the rack, then moved to shut the window. When he turned around to face me again, he had that same pained look on his face. The one he wore in the car earlier. It was haunting.
"It's just that, to be able to fall so easily to one's death… it's a bit frightening to the uncoordinated."
I was trying to lighten the mood – anything to get that haunting expression to ease – but it seemed to have the opposite effect. If anything, it seemed to make it worse. More intense.
He nodded, then tucked his hands in his pockets before starting for the door.
"Hey, wait, don't go."
He stopped but he didn't turn around. He also didn't speak. He just stood there, like he was waiting for me to say something further. So I did. Lame as it was, it was the only thing I could think of to say.
"We could just… hang out."
His shoulders squared a little. "Alice wanted to play with you."
There was that word again. Play. They seemed to be about my age, yet they used the word like eight-year-olds. Maybe it was because they were homeschooled? Maybe they didn't know how to act around people of their own age.
"I think that got rescheduled for the weekend," I said. Then I waited. For hours, it seemed. It felt like I was in some kind of time vortex. Time, when in his presence, while in this house, didn't make sense.
"I should really attend to my studies. Excuse me."
And then he was gone. Nothing about this guy made any sense. One moment he was gracious, then he seemed in pain, then he stared at me like I was a curiosity, then he was amused, then he was distant. It was dizzying.
Wanting to understand him better, I began to take stock of his room. What books he had. What music he liked. But that didn't give me any answers. His tastes were all over the map.
Frustrated, I grabbed my iPod out of my backpack and clicked it on, then stuffed the headphones in my ears and reclined on the bed. Within a few minutes, I closed my eyes and let the music soothe my rattled mind.
I didn't fall asleep, but I was so relaxed that, when I felt a touch to my shoulder, I bolted upright. Edward was standing over me, a smirk on his face. I grabbed the cord of my headphones and gave a yank.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to disturb your rest."
"I wasn't asleep," I offered lamely. His smirk grew, and then dropped.
"I just need to know when you would like to leave for school tomorrow morning."
"School starts at eight." Okay, not quite as lame, but still not very brilliant.
"Is seven-thirty acceptable?"
I nodded in that same bobble-head fashion, once again struck stupid.
"What are you listening to?"
A conversation starter. Okay, good. I held up the headphones, and he tentatively took them from my hand. His eyes never left mine as he raised one to his ear. Then he smiled. It was slight, but I could tell it was genuine.
"You like the classics?"
"Depends on my mood," I answered. He gave a little humming sound in response, and I nearly sunk into the stiff, brand new comforter on the bed. "I take it you approve?" I asked. Why did this guy's approval mean so much to me? I'd only known him a handful of hours!
He only smiled back at me, just a tad wider than before, then he walked over to his stereo. He clicked it on, clicked a second button, and then this Heavenly music filled the room. A lone piano, playing the most beautiful song I'd ever heard. Reminiscent of something classical, but it had a hint of modern influence. I closed my eyes to fully appreciate it.
"Do you like it?"
Eyes still closed, I answered, "It's beautiful. Who is it?" I would buy the song from iTunes the second I had the chance to.
"It's an original composition."
Wait. My eyes flew open, locking with his. This guy was beautiful, obviously intelligent, had a voice that could melt frozen butter, and he was an accomplished pianist?
"You wrote this?"
"Are you the one playing it?"
Again, he nodded.
"Are you like some kind of prodigy or something?"
His expression changed with the question. Maybe I was just imagining things – wishful thinking and all that – but it seemed he was as interested in my approval of him as I was of his.
"I have never heard anyone refer to me as such."
How could that be possible? "Your parents don't recognize how talented you are? Your siblings?"
His expression changed again, and his physical stance changed with it. It was like how someone might perk when hearing a distant sound, trying to determine what it was or where it came from.
"They have," he finally answered, "but they're family."
I knew what he meant by that. Parents will take a picture their child draws – something that looks like a mangled whale carcass surrounded by feces – and call it beautiful. Hang it on the fridge like it's a Picasso. Well, okay, people don't usually hang a Picasso on a fridge, but still.
"Well, trust me, they're not just paying you lip service. You should be playing Carnegie Hall!"
He rewarded my compliment with the brightest smile I had ever seen. Then he took a seat on the floor, like he had when I was doing my homework, and settled in. Okay, now we were making some progress.
"Where did you learn to play?"
He scowled. Uh oh. That was a step backwards, it seemed. But then he perked again like he was listening for something in the distance.
With his answer came a slight smile. Okay, we were back on track.
"Well, you either had a very good teacher, or you truly are a prodigy."
Okay, I was laying it on a little thick, but I wanted to see him smile again.
The song ended, and then another one began. It was as beautiful as the first.
"Another one of yours?"
"How many songs have you written?"
When I gasped, his scowl returned. One step forward, one step backward. I felt like we were just spinning in circles.
"Sorry," I said, "but that's just very impressive. How old are you?"
Maybe he wasn't my age after all, though he sure seemed to be. If I had to take a guess, I'd say he was no older than nineteen.
"Seventeen," he answered.
Okay, quick math check. Hundreds of songs – plural – so that would be at least two hundred. If he started playing at a very young age, he might get good enough to start composing by… what? Eight? Nine? I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. Nine years of composing, divided by two hundred songs… That was about twenty-two songs a year. Very impressive.
And he was my age, exactly, yet he acted much older. Almost as if he had grown up in a different era. I was going to figure this guy out or die trying.
"Is that why you're homeschooled?"
Shit. Another scowl. Well, if I was going to figure him out, I'd have to ask some questions that would likely gain me that reaction. Better get used to it.
"I don't understand your question."
"It's not like Forks High has much to offer the gifted. Their Honors program is barely a challenge for me, and I suspect you're smarter than I am."
Ah, a smile. Good. I liked the steps forward.
"One of the reasons, yes."
"What are some of the other reasons?" I asked. Maybe the rumors were true. Maybe he did have some kind of odd skin condition. His skin did seem a bit alabaster.
His mouth moved ever so slightly, like he was speaking, but no sound came out. Well, no, there was a sound, but no words came out. The sound was like a light breeze had just moved through the room. A breeze that couldn't be felt.
Suddenly, Dr. Cullen was at the door. "Son, may I speak with you for a moment?"
Edward almost seemed glad for this interruption. I couldn't say I felt the same.
Nodding, Edward stood, then very formally informed me, "I'll be ready at seven-thirty tomorrow morning, to drive you to school."
And then they were both gone. And, okay, I was probably just imagining things again, but it almost seemed as if Dr. Cullen was saving Edward. Saving him from what, I didn't know. Me? The conversation?
Another song was playing on his stereo then. Another beautiful composition, with an almost haunting melody. I set my iPod and laptop on the floor and climbed more fully onto the bed. I wasn't planning to sleep, so I didn't get under the covers. I just wanted to sink into the music before getting ready for bed.
Next thing I knew, my cell phone's alarm was going off.
To be continued…
Sorry for the time it took in posting this chapter. My beta-reader went MIA – she has a life and all, unlike me – and I was uncomfortable posting without a safety net. My 21 year old daughter helped me out this time. If she/we/I missed anything, I apologize.
This chapter is a bit shorter than the first. Sorry about that.
See, the thing is, when I first started writing this fic, I had no idea if I was going to be able to do anything with it. I'd tried writing 'Twilight' fics a few times, but couldn't make them work. I assumed the same would happen with this story, but I didn't want to ignore the possibility. So, I just started writing it for my own amusement. Within forty-eight hours, I had over twenty-five thousand words. Now, ten days later, I have almost sixty thousand words.
I never gave thought to chapter breaks initially, is my point. When I realized I had something worth posting, I went back through the story and created breaks the best I could. So, the chapters will all be various sizes, ranging from twenty-five hundred words to over four thousand words. Sorry for the inconsistency of that.
Thanks to those who reviewed, both here and in email. Remember, the more reviews I receive, the faster I post the next chapter. (smile)
I have written my first novel! 'The Mengliad' is available on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle versions, and the sequel, 'The Registry's Secrets', will be available soon!
"There are a lot of beliefs out there. Some people think we got here by spacecraft. Some think we evolved, like Humans, but in a slightly different direction. Some think we were created by God, after Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. However we came to be, the truth of the matter is, there are two species that are near-identical in every way that inhabit the Earth. One is Human, one is Mengliad."
What would you do if you learned that there was a separate Human-like species on the planet? Jessica Mitchell is about to be faced with that very question. The strange flu bug she seems to have caught quickly becomes the least of her worries. While on her way home from work, she passes out in Central Park, only to regain consciousness hours later, under the gaze of a kind but odd stranger. This Good Samaritan offers his assistance, and subsequently opens the gate to a world she knows nothing about.
Initially, Jessica is reluctant to believe what Craddock Daniels tells her, but after the unsettling reality sinks in, she feels she has no choice but to follow him and his friends. Changes are taking place, and she is now in danger because of them. Will Craddock be able to protect her? Does Jessica possess the strength to endure all that is happening to her? Can love really blossom under the direst of circumstances?
THE MENGLIAD is a romance adventure novel with a sci-fi flavor. At over 112,000 words, this story evokes a sense of how horrible it would be to have everything you knew pulled from under you.