Okay, dark room… someone had turned out the lights. Quiet iPod… someone had turned it off. Dead of night… Wow. The forest outside the clear walls had never looked so creepy.
And I was parched. Well, Esme had said to make myself at home. If I had been at home, I would have snuck downstairs to get a glass of water. So that's what I did.
It was hard to maneuver in the dark, but I didn't want to start hunting for light switches, so I managed best I could. Knowing my luck, I would somehow find a way to walk right out of some opened window wall I hadn't noticed before. But luck seemed to be on my side.
I entered the kitchen cautiously, like I didn't belong there, and then started my search for any kind of bottled water or a glass.
I nearly leapt out of my own skin when, suddenly, the darkness vanished. I spun around, my eyes struggling to adjust to the abruptness of light.
"Looking for something?"
"Edward." I exhaled sharply, almost relieved. "You scared the pants off of me!"
"You're still fully clothed."
I rolled my eyes, then answered his previous question. "I woke up thirsty. I was just looking for a glass of water."
He pointed to a cupboard to the right of the sink. Presumably, he was directing me to where they kept their glasses.
Yep. There they were, all neatly lined up in a row, looking as brand new as the pots, pans, and plates I'd seen them using, and had used myself.
I could feel his eyes on me as I filled a glass up at the tap and drank.
"Have fun with your snooping?" I asked. I fully expected him to deny it, and I had no intention of calling him on it. We both knew he had done it.
"I was curious to see what theories you were investigating."
Okay, that surprised me. He wasn't even bothering to lie about it.
"Well, as I'm sure you were able to deduce, I didn't get very far."
I set my glass in the sink and turned to face him.
He seemed surprised by that. No, not just surprised. Relieved? Confused? Had I missed something? Was the answer there all along and I overlooked it? Dismissed it as not possible? The tabs were still up. I would need to go back and check.
"Well, you saw," I answered. I wasn't about to let him know that he had just slipped up by implying what he had with his inflection.
"I apologize for using your computer without your permission. Curiosity got the better of me."
"I didn't mind that so much," I admitted. "I was more annoyed that you were trying to cheat at our game."
"Game?" He seemed a little irritated. "You think this is a game?"
Wasn't it? Now I was confused. If it wasn't a game, then what was it?
"It seemed like it was," I answered. "You threw down a challenge, I accepted."
I was really becoming fond of the way he did that. His hum was like music. It made me forget what we were talking about for a moment.
"You should go back to bed now. It's very late. Or early, I guess."
Almost as if in a trance, I nodded, then headed out of the kitchen and for the stairs. He followed.
He followed me all the way to his room, then he stood over me as I climbed back into bed.
"Would you like me to wake you in the morning?"
"I set my alarm," I answered. Okay, that was a stupid answer. If he wanted to wake me, I should let him.
"Dreadful things. Noisy. My way is much less harsh."
He didn't even wait for my response. He plucked my cell phone up from off my laptop, expertly navigated through my settings like he'd owned a phone just like it for years, then disabled the alarm.
"Is seven acceptable? Or do you need more than thirty minutes?"
"Six forty-five?" I asked in return.
He gave a nod, smiled, and then he was right beside me, hovering over me again.
"Sweet dreams, Bella."
There it was again. That reverence in his tone as he said my name. I was growing very fond of that, too.
"Thanks. You, too."
His smile widened, but there was amusement in it again. "Thank you."
I figured he would leave then, but he didn't. He just continued to stand there, watching me. Was I supposed to say something else? What was he waiting for?
I didn't ponder this for long. Two long blinks later and I was out.
"Bella? It's time to wake up."
I slowly opened my eyes, and was greeted by sunlight. And Edward.
He was standing over me, much like he had been in those wee early morning hours. I knew he hadn't been there all night, though. He was in different clothes.
"Hmm, much better than some stupid alarm."
He laughed, and a wide grin exploded across my face. I was more than just fond of his laugh. It seemed to brighten me from the inside out.
"Yes. Like I said." Then he sat on the bed beside me. "Breakfast will be ready soon. Esme hopes you're hungry."
"Your mom spoils me," I said, still grinning. "I think she thinks I'm royalty or something."
"She doesn't often get a chance to cook. She misses it, I think."
"So, you're all on the same liquid diet?" I asked. And this time, he didn't tense or flinch.
"She should get a job at a restaurant. Or is she your homeschool teacher?"
"Yes, Esme is involved in our education."
Two questions in a row, no adverse reaction either time. Okay, a little progress was being made.
"Your meal will be waiting for you when you're ready."
As he stood, gracefully, like there was zero effort in doing so, he brushed his hand down the length of my blanket.
I couldn't help but wonder why. Everything he did seemed to have meaning. Sometimes, it seemed there was more than one.
"When you're ready," he repeated, then he turned and left.
I made quick work of getting ready, but again, I saved brushing my teeth for after I was done with breakfast.
And again, breakfast was no small production. If possible, it was more elaborate than it had been the morning before. Blueberry pancakes with complementing syrup, cubed melon and strawberries, milk and orange juice, toast with butter and jam on the side. How much of this was I expected to eat? Again, I ate a little of everything.
And like yesterday morning, no one was in the room with me. I was fine with that. It was a little weird being watched while I ate. They looked at me with this sort of longing, like they wished they could join me but couldn't.
I brushed my teeth, cleaned up after myself, then ran to the room to put my crap away. My eye caught on my laptop.
What if Edward closed the tabs after he returned home from dropping me off? I wasn't sure if I could pull them all back up from memory, and it would be just my luck if the ones I couldn't remember were the ones with the clues.
My battery wouldn't last until lunch, but as long as it was closed, my teachers would probably be fine with me plugging it in during classes. It was worth a shot.
I slipped it into its bag, slung both it and my backpack onto a shoulder, then bolted for the stairs. I didn't almost die descending, which was a good start to the day.
I grabbed my jacket off the bench on my way out the door. And there was Edward, standing by the car, my door already open.
"You're taking your laptop with you today?"
I slipped into my seat, but waited until he was behind the wheel before answering.
"Yeah. Test day, and a few of the teachers allow you to use notes."
That was a blatant lie, but since he was homeschooled, what did he know of it? Not much, apparently, because he only nodded in response.
"You will find six new tracks on your iPod device. I hope you enjoy them."
"I'm sure I will, if you're the composer and pianist."
His smile grew. Okay, if he was in a good mood, maybe he wouldn't mind a few questions.
"Why were you up so late last night?"
"I couldn't sleep," he answered. He didn't sound angry, but the smile left his face.
"Where have you been sleeping, since I have your room?"
A twinge of guilt hit me. "I really wish you would just let me sleep on the couch. I hate that I've uprooted you."
"It's fine, Bella, I promise."
It didn't seem fine. He was losing sleep because of me.
"Maybe we could switch off? Like, the first week, I'm in the room, the second week, you are."
"No. I'm fine on the couch."
There was a finality to the way he had said that, so I changed the subject.
"If we're not playing a game, why did you challenge me?"
"I wasn't trying to extend a challenge, Bella. I apologize if I gave you that impression."
Okay, that was a lie. He had absolutely challenged me, and what's more, he knew that was what he was doing. I wasn't about to fight with him about it, though. That wouldn't get me anywhere.
His eyebrow quirked. "You're not going to let this go, are you?"
"Not so much," I answered.
I really expected him to be annoyed by that, but he didn't seem to be. He almost seemed… pleased. Maybe he wanted me to figure out his secrets. Maybe, if I put the time and effort into doing so, it would indicate to him that I liked him. And I did. I liked him. I was confused by him, but that was okay. I liked a challenge.
It seemed to take less time to get to school than it did yesterday. He was already pulling into the lot. And, oh joy. Jessica was waiting for me, in the same spot I had left her in last afternoon. I almost laughed at the idea that she had been standing there all night long. She was going to be especially annoying today, I just knew it.
"Tell her our skin falls off in chunks. That should keep her pondering for a while."
Then I did laugh. He might not know Jessica personally, but he obviously knew her type.
"I might just do that. Thanks for the idea."
"You're welcome. Three o'clock again?"
"Yeah, thanks." We pulled up to the curb, but I ignored Jessica as I stepped out of the car.
"Have a wonderful day, Bella."
He said that loudly, like he wanted my annoying somewhat friend to hear. I grinned.
"Thank you, Edward."
And then I shut the door and turned to face my nightmare head on. I heard the car leaving, but he was driving much slower than he ever had before.
"Okay, girl, I need some answers! No way are you getting out of it this time!"
"I would give you some if I had any," I told her. "What do you expect me to say?"
"You have an obligation!"
Oh, I did? I must have missed that memo. "An obligation? In what way am I obligated?"
"No one has ever been on the inside! You have the inside scoop! You have an obligation to spill!"
I glanced over, and saw that the silver Volvo had yet to leave the parking lot. What was he waiting for? Was he expecting me to run after him and beg for his assistance in escaping? An intriguing thought, but one I couldn't act upon, unfortunately.
"There's seriously nothing to spill, Jess. I can't help it if you refuse to believe that."
This did not deter Jessica, which was so unsurprising it was almost laughable.
"What's their house like? Is it really up that private road?"
"Yes, and it's a very nice house."
The Volvo was finally out of the lot, but instead of turning right and leaving, he had turned left and was now inching down the street in front of the school.
Jessica obviously assumed by my answer that I would share further with her, if the questions pertained to the Cullen's house.
"How big is it? Are they as rich as people say they are?"
"It's a three-story home, and I didn't ask to see their financial statements, so I have no idea how rich or not they are."
The Volvo was now back inside the parking lot, heading right for us. What the hell was he doing?
I ignored Jessica and gave him my full attention. He pulled back up in front of me, dropped the window, then leaned across the seat.
"You forgot your iPod," he said.
Oh. I thought it was in my jacket pocket. I checked, and sure enough, it wasn't there. Then he extended it towards me. I reached in through the window to grab it, but as soon as my hand wrapped around it, Jessica nudged her way in.
"Hi… Edward, right? I'm Jessica!"
I shot him an apologetic look, but his eyes were soft and understanding. Then they changed as he focused on Jessica. They almost seemed to darken.
"Hello, Jessica." This was said like a dismissal. Then he looked back to me. His eyes softened again. "I'll be back this afternoon to pick you up, Bella."
I loved how my name sounded, coming from him. I never much cared for it before, but I was starting to like it now.
Then he rolled up the window and sped off.
"Huh!" Jessica huffed. "He seems cold. I wouldn't get my hopes up, if I were you."
How many days of detention would I get if I smacked her? Too many, I decided. She was so oblivious. He wasn't cold to me at all. He was just cold to her. If I didn't have to see her five days a week, nine months out of the year, I would be cold to her, too.
I shrugged in response, then started for my first period class. And, as per usual, she followed.
"What are the other Cullen kids like? Are they as rude as he is?"
Ugh! Detention sucks. Detention sucks. Detention sucks.
"He wasn't being rude, and the rest of the family is very nice."
"You're impossible! You're not even trying!"
Unlike you, who is trying on every level. "I can't give you something I don't have. Let it go. You're barking up the wrong tree." Fitting, since she was acting like a pit bull at the moment.
"This isn't over!"
"I'll see you at lunch!"
Yeah, no you won't. I didn't care if it was pouring buckets. I would rather get drenched and catch pneumonia than spend a second more dodging her ridiculous questions.
"Four minutes till the tardy bell," I informed her, then I picked up my pace and left her behind me.
As I figured they would be, my teachers were fine with me plugging in my laptop during class… as long as I didn't open it up. At lunch time, the battery would still be fully charged, and I could spend the whole of the thirty-three minutes I had pouring over the info I had located last night.
There was a clue hidden in one of those internet windows, I was sure of it.
I knew Jessica would try to ambush me. She knew where my class was, and the usual route I took to get the cafeteria. So I asked the teacher if I could leave three minutes before the bell, claiming I had to use the restroom. I knew she would say yes. I never asked to go during class if I really didn't have to go, unlike a lot of other students, who used the free pass to skip out or goof around for a few minutes.
I had a head start. I would be well on my way to the forest's edge by the time the bell even rang.
I could hear the dismissal bell as I made my way up the knoll, and grinned to myself as I imagined Jessica's face. She would probably spend the entire lunch period trying to track me down, missing out on eating anything because of it. Served her right. The Cullens hadn't done anything to her. She shouldn't be trying to get dish on them.
I found my faithful tree friend and plopped down near it, eager to get started. I pulled the laptop from its bag and got it running, then maneuvered the mouse down to the task bar.
Wait. Where were my tabs? They were there last night, when I closed it up after realizing Edward had been messing with it!
Oh! That sneaky little game player! That's what he had been waiting for, after I got back into bed with a tummy full of water. He was waiting for me to fall asleep! Okay, Mr. We're Not Playing A Game! I can be sneaky, too!
I went to the internet history to relocate my tabs, a determined scowl on my face.
Click, click, click, and…
Oh, crap! He was one step ahead of me! He cleared my history!
"Son of a bitch!"
Okay, I did not just imagine that! There was a definite snigger.
I jumped up and looked around, but there was nobody there. I went a little deeper and peeked around a few trees, but still, no one.
Gathering my bravery, I called out, "Who's there?" Silence. "I heard you! You're a lousy stalker, whoever you are!" Again, silence.
Then my stomach sank. I was definitely being watched, but it didn't feel like it had yesterday. It didn't feel comforting. It felt… menacing.
Just then, my cell phone started to go off. Jessica. But it wasn't a text message, it was a live call. I was being offered a lifeline, so I took it.
"Hey, Jess," I said into the phone. I sounded scared, but of course she didn't pick up on that.
"Where are you?" Her shrieking hurt my ear, so I moved the phone away for a second before bringing it back.
"Sorry, I'm on my way."
And I was. I made it back to the tree, gathered up my crap, then moved quickly towards the school.
"Just, stay on the line with me, okay? Where are you at? The cafeteria?"
"Naturally! Where are you?"
"On my way," I repeated.
Jessica's annoying questions were better than death. I would have to seriously consider whether or not I was going to go back to the forest alone. I had never been worried about it before – Forks was a pretty safe place – but there was something very wrong going on now.
"How do you think you did on your math test?" It was a lame question, considering, but I wanted to keep her on the line until I was closer to the school.
"I don't care about some stupid math test, Bella! You're testing our friendship, you know!"
I rolled my eyes. "Sorry. Look, I'm almost there now, okay? We'll talk in a few."
I didn't wait for her response before hanging up. I was a good enough distance away from the forest to feel normal again, and the adrenalin started easing even more the further away from it I got.
I spotted her at our usual table when I walked through the doors. Yeah, she was pissed. I pulled up my best remorseful expression and sat down beside her.
"Sorry, I was having a bathroom issue."
Her anger seemed to fade a little. "I thought you were avoiding me!"
"Why would I do that?" It wasn't a lie, it was a question.
"You tell me!"
"There's nothing to tell."
"Fine," she huffed. Then she paused for a few seconds before starting in. "Why did your parents send you over there?"
Okay, this question was about me. I could handle that. "I'm not sure."
"Are your parents friends with them?"
"Well, my dad kinda is, I guess, with Dr. Cullen. They don't hang out or anything, though."
"If they don't have a skin condition, why don't they attend school?"
Ugh! Bitch needs to give it a rest!
Um, okay, the adrenalin come down was making me irritable.
"I don't know if they have a skin condition. I told you that."
"There's seven of them, right? Five kids? All adopted?"
Oh my God, this was going to be the longest twenty-two minutes of my life!
"I believe they're adopted, but I don't know for sure. I didn't ask," I added firmly.
She ignored my tone and continued.
"Where do you sleep? A guestroom?"
Okay, this seemed a benign enough question, but the answer would likely send Jessica fleeing to the PA system.
"One of them gave up their room for me."
She seemed positively giddy now. "Oooh! Which one? Edward?"
Shit, crap, hell!
"Does it really matter?"
"Of course it matters!"
Okay, I was not going to do this. As much as I hate lying, I was going to have to. "Her name is Alice."
Jessica seemed to deflate a little. "What kind of furnishings do they have?"
"Typical stuff. Couch, TV, dining table—"
"No, no!" she interrupted. "What kind? Like, are they expensive?"
Oh. She was fishing around the 'are they rich' question again. "I have no idea how much they paid for their home furnishings, Jess."
"You can tell if something cost a lot of money just by looking at it!"
Maybe, or maybe one shouldn't care because it doesn't really matter. "I can't."
This went on until the bell rang. Even beyond that, because she followed me halfway to my next class. She was in Gym with me later, but currently, the coach had us split into teams for basketball, and she wasn't on mine. I could avoid her during class, but after, I would have to make a beeline for my last period of the day. Maybe I could fake a minor injury and get sent to the nurse's office.
That turned out to be a good idea. Twelve minutes into class, I allowed the basketball to hit me in the head. It hurt a little, but not to the extent I made it out to be. The coach excused me, no problem.
I changed out of my gym clothes, grabbed my stuff, then headed for the office. The nurse – since she knew me so well – didn't even question me. She didn't even send me off to English after Gym. She just gave me an icepack, sat me in a chair, and then two minutes before the final bell rang, she said I could leave.
I walked slowly out of the office, but as soon as I was outside, I nearly ran to the parking lot.
To be continued…
Okay, the last chapter got beta-ed, so I made those corrections and replaced the file. This chapter was beta-ed before posting, so all should read well.
I can see that people are clicking on the story, but the reviews have been sparse. Not sure if this is because the fic sucks, or if people just don't feel like reviewing. If it sucks, someone needs to tell me so I can stop bothering to post it. I've put writing the sequel to my novel on hold for this, so if I shouldn't be bothering with this, I'd rather just stop now and move on.
To those who have reviewed… thanks!
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.