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He was arguing with her in a low, attractive voice. I quickly picked up the gist of the argument. He was trying to trade from sixth-hour Biology to another time — any other time. I just couldn't believe that this was about me.
It had to be something else, something that happened before I entered the Biology room. The look on his face must have been about another aggravation entirely. It was impossible that this stranger could take such a sudden, intense dislike to me. The door opened again, and the cold wind suddenly gusted through the room, rustling the papers on the desk, swirling my hair around my face.
The girl who came in merely stepped to the desk, placed a note in the wire basket, and walked out again. But Edward Cullen's back stiffened, and he turned slowly to glare at me — his face was absurdly handsome — with piercing, hate-filled eyes. For an instant, I felt a thrill of genuine fear, raising the hair on my arms. The look only lasted a second, but it chilled me more than the freezing wind. He turned back to the receptionist.
Thank you so much for your help. I went meekly to the desk, my face white for once instead of red, and handed her the signed slip. She didn't look convinced. When I got to the truck, it was almost the last car in the lot. It seemed like a haven, already the closest thing to home I had in this damp green hole. I sat inside for a while, just staring out the windshield blankly.
But soon I was cold enough to need the heater, so I turned the key and the engine roared to life. I headed back to Charlie's house, fighting tears the whole way there. It was better because it wasn't raining yet, though the clouds were dense and opaque.
It was easier because I knew what to expect of my day. Mike came to sit by me in English, and walked me to my next class, with Chess Club Eric glaring at him all the while; that was nattering.
People didn't look at me quite as much as they had yesterday. I sat with a big group at lunch that included Mike, Eric, Jessica, and several other people whose names and faces I now remembered. I began to feel like I was treading water, instead of drowning in it. It was worse because I was tired; I still couldn't sleep with the wind echoing around the house. It was worse because Mr. Varner called on me in Trig when my hand wasn't raised and I had the wrong answer.
It was miserable because I had to play volleyball, and the one time I didn't cringe out of the way of the ball, I hit my teammate in the head with it. And it was worse because Edward Cullen wasn't in school at all. All morning I was dreading lunch, fearing his bizarre glares. Part of me wanted to confront him and demand to know what his problem was. While I was lying sleepless in my bed, I even imagined what I would say. But I knew myself too well to think I would really have the guts to do it.
I made the Cowardly Lion look like the terminator. But when I walked into the cafeteria with Jessica — trying to keep my eyes from sweeping the place for him, and failing entirely — I saw that his four siblings of sorts were sitting together at the same table, and he was not with them.
Mike intercepted us and steered us to his table. Jessica seemed elated by the attention, and her friends quickly joined us. But as I tried to listen to their easy chatter, I was terribly uncomfortable, waiting nervously for the moment he would arrive. I hoped that he would simply ignore me when he came, and prove my suspicions false.
He didn't come, and as time passed I grew more and more tense. I walked to Biology with more confidence when, by the end of lunch, he still hadn't showed.
Mike, who was taking on the qualities of a golden retriever, walked faithfully by my side to class. I held my breath at the door, but Edward Cullen wasn't there, either. I exhaled and went to my seat.
Mike followed, talking about an upcoming trip to the beach. He lingered by my desk till the bell rang. Then he smiled at me wistfully and went to sit by a girl with braces and a bad perm. It looked like I was going to have to do something about Mike, and it wouldn't be easy.
In a town like this, where everyone lived on top of everyone else, diplomacy was essential. I had never been enormously tactful; I had no practice dealing with overly friendly boys. I was relieved that I had the desk to myself, that Edward was absent. I told myself that repeatedly.
But I couldn't get rid of the nagging suspicion that I was the reason he wasn't there. It was ridiculous, and egotistical, to think that I could affect anyone that strongly. It was impossible. And yet I couldn't stop worrying that it was true. When the school day was finally done, and the blush was fading out of my cheeks from the volleyball incident, I changed quickly back into my jeans and navy blue sweater.
I hurried from the girls' locker room, pleased to find that I had successfully evaded my retriever friend for the moment.
I walked swiftly out to the parking lot. It was crowded now with fleeing students. I got in my truck and dug through my bag to make sure I had what I needed. Last night I'd discovered that Charlie couldn't cook much besides fried eggs and bacon. So I requested that I be assigned kitchen detail for the duration of my stay. He was willing enough to hand over the keys to the banquet hall. I also found out that he had no food in the house. I gunned my deafening engine to life, ignoring the heads that turned in my direction, and backed carefully into a place in the line of cars that were waiting to exit the parking lot.
As I waited, trying to pretend that the earsplitting rumble was coming from someone else's car, I saw the two Cullens and the Hale twins getting into their car. It was the shiny new Volvo. Of course. I hadn't noticed their clothes before — I'd been too mesmerized by their faces. Now that I looked, it was obvious that they were all dressed exceptionally well; simply, but in clothes that subtly hinted at designer origins. With their remarkable good looks, the style with which they carried themselves, they could have worn dishrags and pulled it off.
It seemed excessive for them to have both looks and money. But as far as I could tell, life worked that way most of the time. It didn't look as if it bought them any acceptance here.
No, I didn't fully believe that. The isolation must be their desire; I couldn't imagine any door that wouldn't be opened by that degree of beauty. They looked at my noisy truck as I passed them, just like everyone else. I kept my eyes straight forward and was relieved when I finally was free of the school grounds. The Thriftway was not far from the school, just a few streets south, off the highway. It was nice to be inside the supermarket; it felt normal.
I did the shopping at home, and I fell into the pattern of the familiar task gladly. The store was big enough inside that I couldn't hear the tapping of the rain on the roof to remind me where I was.
When I got home, I unloaded all the groceries, stuffing them in wherever I could find an open space. I hoped Charlie wouldn't mind. I wrapped potatoes in foil and stuck them in the oven to bake, covered a steak in marinade and balanced it on top of a carton of eggs in the fridge.
When I was finished with that, I took my book bag upstairs. Before starting my homework, I changed into a pair of dry sweats, pulled my damp hair up into a pony-tail, and checked my e-mail for the first time. I had three messages. Tell me how your flight was. Is it raining? I miss you already. I'm almost finished packing for Florida, but I can't find my pink blouse.
Do you know where I put it? Phil says hi. I sighed and went to the next. It was sent eight hours after the first. What are you waiting for? The last was from this morning. Isabella, If I haven't heard from you by 5: I checked the clock. I still had an hour, but my mom was well known for jumping the gun.
Mom, Calm down. I'm writing right now. Don't do anything rash. I sent that, and began again. Mom, Everything is great. Of course it's raining. I was waiting for something to write about. School isn't bad, just a little repetitive. I met some nice kids who sit by me at lunch. Your blouse is at the dry cleaners - you were supposed to pick it up Friday. Charlie bought me a truck, can you believe it? I love it. It's old, but really sturdy, which is good, you know, for me.
I miss you, too. I'll write again soon, but I'm not going to check my e-mail every five minutes. Relax, breathe. I love you. I had decided to read Wuthering Heights — the novel we were currently studying in English — yet again for the fun of it, and that's what I was doing when Charlie came home. I'd lost track of the time, and I hurried downstairs to take the potatoes out and put the steak in to broil. Who else? I thought to myself. As far as I was aware, he'd never shot the gun on the job.
But he kept it ready. When I came here as a child, he would always remove the bullets as soon as he walked in the door. I guess he considered me old enough now not to shoot myself by accident, and not depressed enough to shoot myself on purpose.
My mother was an imaginative cook, and her experiments weren't always edible. I was surprised, and sad, that he seemed to remember that far back. He seemed to feel awkward standing in the kitchen doing nothing; he lumbered into the living room to watch TV while I worked. We were both more comfortable that way. I made a salad while the steaks cooked, and set the table. I called him in when dinner was ready, and he sniffed appreciatively as he walked into the room. It wasn't uncomfortable. Neither of us was bothered by the quiet.
In some ways, we were well suited for living together. Have you made any friends? I sit with her friends at lunch. And there's this boy, Mike, who's very friendly. Everybody seems pretty nice. Nice kid — nice family. His dad owns the sporting goods store just outside of town. He makes a good living off all the backpackers who come through here.
Cullen's family? Cullen's a great man. They don't seem to fit in very well at school. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon who could probably work in any hospital in the world, make ten times the salary he gets here," he continued, getting louder. He's an asset to the community, and all of those kids are well behaved and polite. I had my doubts, when they first moved in, with all those adopted teenagers. I thought we might have some problems with them.
But they're all very mature — I haven't had one speck of trouble from any of them. That's more than I can say for the children of some folks who have lived in this town for generations. And they stick together the way a family should — camping trips every other weekend… Just because they're newcomers, people have to talk. He must feel strongly about whatever people were saying.
I backpedaled. I just noticed they kept to themselves. They're all very attractive," I added, trying to be more complimentary. A lot of the nurses at the hospital have a hard time concentrating on their work with him around. He cleared the table while I started on the dishes. He went back to the TV, and after I finished washing the dishes by hand — no dishwasher — I went upstairs unwillingly to work on my math homework. I could feel a tradition in the making. That night it was finally quiet.
I fell asleep quickly, exhausted. The rest of the week was uneventful.
I got used to the routine of my classes. By Friday I was able to recognize, if not name, almost all the students at school. In Gym, the kids on my team learned not to pass me the ball and to step quickly in front of me if the other team tried to take advantage of my weakness.
I happily stayed out of their way. Edward Cullen didn't come back to school. Every day, I watched anxiously until the rest of the Cullens entered the cafeteria without him. Then I could relax and join in the lunchtime conversation.
Mostly it centered around a trip to the La Push Ocean Park in two weeks that Mike was putting together. I was invited, and I had agreed to go, more out of politeness than desire. Beaches should be hot and dry.
By Friday I was perfectly comfortable entering my Biology class, no longer worried that Edward would be there. For all I knew, he had dropped out of school. I tried not to think about him, but I couldn't totally suppress the worry that I was responsible for his continued absence, ridiculous as it seemed.
My first weekend in Forks passed without incident. Charlie, unused to spending time in the usually empty house, worked most of the weekend. I cleaned the house, got ahead on my homework, and wrote my mom more bogusly cheerful e-mail. I did drive to the library Saturday, but it was so poorly stocked that I didn't bother to get a card; I would have to make a date to visit Olympia or Seattle soon and find a good bookstore. I wondered idly what kind of gas mileage the truck got… and shuddered at the thought.
The rain stayed soft over the weekend, quiet, so I was able to sleep well. People greeted me in the parking lot Monday morning. I didn't know all their names, but I waved back and smiled at everyone.
It was colder this morning, but happily not raining. In English, Mike took his accustomed seat by my side. We had a pop quiz on Wuthering Heights. It was straightforward, very easy. All in all, I was feeling a lot more comfortable than I had thought I would feel by this point. More comfortable than I had ever expected to feel here. When we walked out of class, the air was full of swirling bits of white. I could hear people shouting excitedly to each other. The wind bit at my cheeks, my nose.
There went my good day. He looked surprised. That means it's too cold for rain. These just look like the ends of Q-tips. And then a big, squishy ball of dripping snow smacked into the back of his head. We both turned to see where it came from. I had my suspicions about Eric, who was walking away, his back toward us — in the wrong direction for his next class. Mike appatently had the same notion. He bent over and began scraping together a pile of the white mush.
Throughout the morning, everyone chattered excitedly about the snow; apparently it was the first snowfall of the new year. I kept my mouth shut. Sure, it was drier than rain — until it melted in your socks. I walked alertly to the cafeteria with Jessica after Spanish. Mush balls were flying everywhere.
I kept a binder in my hands, ready to use it as a shield if necessary. Jessica thought I was hilarious, but something in my expression kept her from lobbing a snowball at me herself. Mike caught up to us as we walked in the doors, laughing, with ice melting the spikes in his hair. He and Jessica were talking animatedly about the snow fight as we got in line to buy food.
I glanced toward that table in the corner out of habit. And then I froze where I stood. There were five people at the table. Jessica pulled on my arm. What do you want? I had no reason to feel self-conscious, I reminded myself. I hadn't done anything wrong. I waited for them to get their food, and then followed them to a table, my eyes on my feet. I sipped my soda slowly, my stomach churning.
Twice Mike asked, with unnecessary concern, how I was feeling. I told him it was nothing, but I was wondering if I should play it up and escape to the nurse's office for the next hour. I shouldn't have to run away. I decided to permit myself one glance at the Cullen family's table. If he was glaring at me, I would skip Biology, like the coward I was. I kept my head down and glanced up under my lashes.
None of them were looking this way. I lifted my head a little. They were laughing. Edward, Jasper, and Emmett all had their hair entirely saturated with melting snow. Alice and Rosalie were leaning away as Emmett shook his dripping hair toward them. They were enjoying the snowy day, just like everyone else — only they looked more like a scene from a movie than the rest of us.
But, aside from the laughter and playfulness, there was something different, and I couldn't quite pinpoint what that difference was. I examined Edward the most carefully. His skin was less pale, I decided — flushed from the snow fight maybe — the circles under his eyes much less noticeable. But there was something more. I pondered, staring, trying to isolate the change. At that precise moment, his eyes flashed over to meet mine.
I dropped my head, letting my hair fall to conceal my face. I was sure, though, in the instant our eyes met, that he didn't look harsh or unfriendly as he had the last time I'd seen him.
He looked merely curious again, unsatisfied in some way. I still felt queasy. I put my head down on my arm. But he's still staring at you. She snickered, but she looked away. I raised my head enough to make sure that she did, contemplating violence if she resisted. Mike interrupted us then — he was planning an epic battle of the blizzard in the parking lot after school and wanted us to join. Jessica agreed enthusiastically. The way she looked at Mike left little doubt that she would be up for anything he suggested.
I kept silent. I would have to hide in the gym until the parking lot cleared. For the rest of the lunch hour I very carefully kept my eyes at my own table.
I decided to honor the bargain I'd made with myself. Since he didn't look angry, I would go to Biology. My stomach did frightened little flips at the thought of sitting next to him again.
I didn't really want to walk to class with Mike as usual — he seemed to be a popular target for the snowball snipers — but when we went to the door, everyone besides me groaned in unison. It was raining, washing all traces of the snow away in clear, icy ribbons down the side of the walkway. I pulled my hood up, secretly pleased. I would be free to go straight home after Gym. Mike kept up a string of complaints on the way to building four. Once inside the classroom, I saw with relief that my table was still empty.
Banner was walking around the room, distributing one microscope and box of slides to each table. Class didn't start for a few minutes, and the room buzzed with conversation. I kept my eyes away from the door, doodling idly on the cover of my notebook. I heard very clearly when the chair next to me moved, but my eyes stayed carefully focused on the pattern I was drawing. I looked up, stunned that he was speaking to me. He was sitting as far away from me as the desk allowed, but his chair was angled toward me.
His hair was dripping wet, disheveled — even so, he looked like he'd just finished shooting a commercial for hair gel. His dazzling face was friendly, open, a slight smile on his flawless lips. But his eyes were careful. You must be Bella Swan. Had I made up the whole thing?
He was perfectly polite now. I had to speak; he was waiting. But I couldn't think of anything conventional to say. He laughed a soft, enchanting laugh. The whole town's been waiting for you to arrive. I knew it was something like that. I looked away awkwardly. Thankfully, Mr. Banner started class at that moment.
I tried to concentrate as he explained the lab we would be doing today. The slides in the box were out of order. Working as lab partners, we had to separate the slides of onion root tip cells into the phases of mitosis they represented and label them accordingly.
We weren't supposed to use our books. In twenty minutes, he would be coming around to see who had it right. I looked up to see him smiling a crooked smile so beautiful that I could only stare at him like an idiot.
I'd already done this lab, and I knew what I was looking for. It should be easy. I snapped the first slide into place under the microscope and adjusted it quickly to the 40X objective. I studied the slide briefly. My assessment was confident. His hand caught mine, to stop me, as he asked.
His fingers were ice-cold, like he'd been holding them in a snowdrift before class. But that wasn't why I jerked my hand away so quickly. When he touched me, it stung my hand as if an electric current had passed through us. However, he continued to reach for the microscope. I watched him, still staggered, as he examined the slide for an even shorter time than I had. He swiftly switched out the first slide for the second, and then glanced at it cursorily.
I kept my voice indifferent. I looked through the eyepiece eagerly, only to be disappointed. Dang it, he was right. He handed it to me; it seemed like he was being careful not to touch my skin again. I took the most fleeting look I could manage.
He took a swift peek, and then wrote it down. I would have written it while he looked, but his clear, elegant script intimidated me. I didn't want to spoil the page with my clumsy scrawl. We were finished before anyone else was close. I could see Mike and his partner comparing two slides again and again, and another group had their book open under the table. Which left me with nothing to do but try to not look at him… unsuccessfully.
I glanced up, and he was staring at me, that same inexplicable look of frustration in his eyes. Suddenly I identified that subtle difference in his face. He seemed puzzled by my unexpected question. In fact, I was sure there was something different. I vividly remembered the flat black color of his eyes the last time he'd glared at me — the color was striking against the background of his pale skin and his auburn hair. Today, his eyes were a completely different color: I didn't understand how that could be, unless he was lying for some reason about the contacts.
Or maybe Forks was making me crazy in the literal sense of the word. I looked down. His hands were clenched into hard fists again. Banner came to our table then, to see why we weren't working. He looked over our shoulders to glance at the completed lab, and then stared more intently to check the answers.
Banner asked. Banner looked at me now; his expression was skeptical. I smiled sheepishly. Banner nodded. After he left, I began doodling on my notebook again. I had the feeling that he was forcing himself to make small talk with me. Paranoia swept over me again. It was like he had heard my conversation with Jessica at lunch and was trying to prove me wrong.
I was still trying to dislodge the stupid feeling of suspicion, and I couldn't concentrate. He looked fascinated by what I said, for some reason I couldn't imagine. His face was such a distraction that I tried not to look at it any more than courtesy absolutely demanded. I paused for a long moment, and then made the mistake of meeting his gaze. His dark gold eyes confused me, and I answered without thinking. Too young, maybe, but nice enough. He plays ball for a living.
He doesn't play well. Strictly minor league. He moves around a lot. My chin raised a fraction. I sent myself. I sighed. Why was I explaining this to him?
He continued to stare at me with obvious curiosity. It made her unhappy… so I decided it was time to spend some quality time with Charlie. I laughed without humor. Life isn't fair. His gaze became appraising. I kept my eyes away, watching the teacher make his rounds.
However, after a few seconds of silence, I decided that was the only answer I was going to get. I sighed, scowling at the blackboard.
He sounded amused. I glanced at him without thinking… and told the truth again. I'm more annoyed at myself. My face is so easy to read — my mother always calls me her open book.
Banner called the class to order then, and I turned with relief to listen. I was in disbelief that I'd just explained my dreary life to this bizarre, beautiful boy who may or may not despise me. He'd seemed engrossed in our conversation, but now I could see, from the corner of my eye, that he was leaning away from me again, his hands gripping the edge of the table with unmistakable tension.
I tried to appear attentive as Mr. Banner illustrated, with transparencies on the overhead projector, what I had seen without difficulty through the microscope. But my thoughts were unmanageable. When the bell finally rang, Edward rushed as swiftly and as gracefully from the room as he had last Monday. And, like last Monday, I stared after him in amazement.
Mike skipped quickly to my side and picked up my books for me. I imagined him with a wagging tail. You're lucky you had Cullen for a partner.
I regretted the snub instantly. He didn't seem pleased about it. I tried to sound indifferent. Mike was on my team today. He chivalrously covered my position as well as his own, so my woolgathering was only interrupted when it was my turn to serve; my team ducked warily out of the way every time I was up.
The rain was just a mist as I walked to the parking lot, but I was happier when I was in the dry cab.
I got the heater running, for once not caring about the mind-numbing roar of the engine. I unzipped my jacket, put the hood down, and fluffed my damp hair out so the heater could dry it on the way home. I looked around me to make sure it was clear. That's when I noticed the still, white figure. Edward Cullen was leaning against the front door of the Volvo, three cars down from me, and staring intently in my direction. I swiftly looked away and threw the truck into reverse, almost hitting a rusty Toyota Corolla in my haste.
Lucky for the Toyota, I stomped on the brake in time. It was just the sort of car that my truck would make scrap metal of. I took a deep breath, still looking out the other side of my car, and cautiously pulled out again, with greater success. I stared straight ahead as I passed the Volvo, but from a peripheral peek, I would swear I saw him laughing.
It was the light. It was still the gray-green light of a cloudy day in the forest, but it was clearer somehow. I realized there was no fog veiling my window. I jumped up to look outside, and then groaned in horror. A fine layer of snow covered the yard, dusted the top of my truck, and whitened the road. But that wasn't the worst part. All the rain from yesterday had frozen solid — coating the needles on the trees in fantastic, gorgeous patterns, and making the driveway a deadly ice slick.
I had enough trouble not falling down when the ground was dry; it might be safer for me to go back to bed now. Charlie had left for work before I got downstairs. In a lot of ways, living with Charlie was like having my own place, and I found myself reveling in the aloneness instead of being lonely. I threw down a quick bowl of cereal and some orange juice from the carton. I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me. I knew it wasn't the stimulating learning environment I was anticipating, or seeing my new set of friends.
And that was very, very stupid. I should be avoiding him entirely after my brainless and embarrassing babbling yesterday. And I was suspicious of him; why should he lie about his eyes? I was still frightened of the hostility I sometimes felt emanating from him, and I was still tongue-tied whenever I pictured his perfect face. I was well aware that my league and his league were spheres that did not touch.
So I shouldn't be at all anxious to see him today. It took every ounce of my concentration to make it down the icy brick driveway alive. I almost lost my balance when I finally got to the truck, but I managed to cling to the side mirror and save myself.
Clearly, today was going to be nightmarish. Driving to school, I distracted myself from my fear of falling and my unwanted speculations about Edward Cullen by thinking about Mike and Eric, and the obvious difference in how teenage boys responded to me here.
I was sure I looked exactly the same as I had in Phoenix. Maybe it was just that the boys back home had watched me pass slowly through all the awkward phases of adolescence and still thought of me that way.
Perhaps it was because I was a novelty here, where novelties were few and far between. Possibly my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearing rather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress.
Whatever the reason, Mike's puppy dog behavior and Eric's apparent rivalry with him were disconcerting. I wasn't sure if I didn't prefer being ignored. My truck seemed to have no problem with the black ice that covered the roads. I drove very slowly, though, not wanting to carve a path of destruction through Main Street.
When I got out of my truck at school, I saw why I'd had so little trouble. Something silver caught my eye, and I walked to the back of the truck — carefully holding the side for support — to examine my tires. There were thin chains crisscrossed in diamond shapes around them. Charlie had gotten up who knows how early to put snow chains on my truck.
My throat suddenly felt tight. I wasn't used to being taken care of, and Charlie's unspoken concern caught me by surprise. I was standing by the back corner of the truck, struggling to fight back the sudden wave of emotion the snow chains had brought on, when I heard an odd sound. It was a high-pitched screech, and it was fast becoming painfully loud. I looked up, startled.
I saw several things simultaneously. Nothing was moving in slow motion, the way it does in the movies. Instead, the adrenaline rush seemed to make my brain work much faster, and I was able to absorb in clear detail several things at once.
Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me, staring at me in horror. His face stood out from a sea of faces, all frozen in the same mask of shock.
But of more immediate importance was the dark blue van that was skidding, tires locked and squealing against the brakes, spinning wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hit the back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them. I didn't even have time to close my eyes. Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around the truck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I was expecting.
My head cracked against the icy blacktop, and I felt something solid and cold pinning me to the ground. I was lying on the pavement behind the tan car I'd parked next to.
But I didn't have a chance to notice anything else, because the van was still coming.
It had curled gratingly around the end of the truck and, still spinning and sliding, was about to collide with me again. A low oath made me aware that someone was with me, and the voice was impossible not to recognize.
Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van's body.
Then his hands moved so fast they blurred. One was suddenly gripping under the body of the van, and something was dragging me, swinging my legs around like a rag doll's, till they hit the tire of the tan car. A groaning metallic thud hurt my ears, and the van settled, glass popping, onto the asphalt — exactly where, a second ago, my legs had been.
It was absolutely silent for one long second before the screaming began. In the abrupt bedlam, I could hear more than one person shouting my name. But more clearly than all the yelling, I could hear Edward Cullen's low, frantic voice in my ear.
Are you all right? I tried to sit up, and realized he was holding me against the side of his body in an iron grasp. I turned to sit up, and this time he let me, releasing his hold around my waist and sliding as far from me as he could in the limited space. I looked at his concerned, innocent expression and was disoriented again by the force of his gold-colored eyes. What was I asking him? And then they found us, a crowd of people with tears streaming down their faces, shouting at each other, shouting at us.
There was a flurry of activity around us. I tried to get up, but Edward's cold hand pushed my shoulder down. It surprised me when he chuckled under his breath.
There was an edge to the sound. I could hear the gruffer voices of adults arriving on the scene. But I obstinately held on to our argument; I was right, and he was going to admit it. The gold in his eyes blazed. I could hear the sirens now. It took six EMTs and two teachers — Mr. Varner and Coach Clapp — to shift the van far enough away from us to bring the stretchers in. Edward vehemently refused his, and I tried to do the same, but the traitor told them I'd hit my head and probably had a concussion.
I almost died of humiliation when they put on the neck brace. It looked like the entire school was there, watching soberly as they loaded me in the back of the ambulance. Edward got to ride in the front. It was maddening. To make matters worse, Chief Swan arrived before they could get me safely away. I tuned him out to consider the jumble of inexplicable images churning chaotically in my head. When they'd lifted me away from the car, I had seen the deep dent in the tan car's bumper — a very distinct dent that fit the contours of Edward's shoulders… as if he had braced himself against the car with enough force to damage the metal frame… And then there was his family, looking on from the distance, with expressions that ranged from disapproval to fury but held no hint of concern for their brother's safety.
I tried to think of a logical solution that could explain what I had just seen — a solution that excluded the assumption that I was insane. Naturally, the ambulance got a police escort to the county hospital. I felt ridiculous the whole time they were unloading me. What made it worse was that Edward simply glided through the hospital doors under his own power.
I ground my teeth together. They put me in the emergency room, a long room with a line of beds separated by pastel-patterned curtains.
A nurse put a pressure cuff on my arm and a thermometer under my tongue. Since no one bothered pulling the curtain around to give me some privacy, I decided I wasn't obligated to wear the stupid-looking neck brace anymore. When the nurse walked away, I quickly unfastened the Velcro and threw it under the bed. There was another flurry of hospital personnel, another stretcher brought to the bed next to me.
I recognized Tyler Crowley from my Government class beneath the bloodstained bandages wrapped tightly around his head. Tyler looked a hundred times worse than I felt. But he was staring anxiously at me. He ignored me. I was going too fast, and I hit the ice wrong…" He winced as one nurse started dabbing at his face. You were there, and then you were gone…" "Umm… Edward pulled me out of the way. I didn't see him… wow, it was all so fast, I guess. Is he okay? He's here somewhere, but they didn't make him use a stretcher.
What had happened? There was no way to explain away what I'd seen. They wheeled me away then, to X-ray my head. I told them there was nothing wrong, and I was right. Not even a concussion. I asked if I could leave, but the nurse said I had to talk to a doctor first.
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