Bring on the Vampires
“You act like spending your day like this is some sort of torture,” Edward commented, “yet you battle fearlessly against malevolent creatures intent upon your death.” ---
Alice and Edward want Bella to get her fill of Phoenix while she is there, regardless of a bulky cast as their baggage. She'd prefer to approach James again than go shopping, and after an old gym classmate - with a particularly good memory - shows up, Bella would much rather go off battling the vampires.
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I couldn’t have honestly picked a better week to ‘fall down the stairs’ and break my leg.
Although the Phoenix air was, as always, dry and unbearably hot for March, it was quickly approaching the ‘rainy’ portion of the year. Granted, that meant one or two showers between the months of March and April, but it had to count for something. Today only consisted of overcast skies and would stay (according to Alice) until sunset.
So, of course, Edward’s sister was elated when she saw the perfect opportunity to use our last day in Phoenix to her advantage.
Translation: we were going shopping.
I had given Alice hell about it all morning, but she was an expert at tuning me out. Not that I didn’t want to get my fill of the city, especially with Edward, but did I really have to go out in public looking the way I did on my last day here? My mother’s flight out of my beloved city was leaving the next morning at six AM sharp, and we would follow soon after. Though, we were driving home because the Cullen cars were still here in Phoenix.
“Oh, Bella, you don’t look that bad!” Alice pleaded, trying to rub some specialized scar-reducer lotion around my wrists. “Besides, I bet you’ve missed the mall here more than you let on!”
Truthfully, I really did miss going and shopping with Renee, but I didn’t want Alice and Edward to try and update my wardrobe with expensive clothes that I didn’t need. I already felt unbalanced with them – why submit myself to more stares from strangers due to my broken leg and wheelchair.
“Not really,” I lied, “and why can’t we just sightsee? In the car.” I hoped she would catch the ‘I don’t want to go out in public’ drift.
Alice rolled her eyes, “Because you need to get some jeans that will go around that thing,” she wrinkled her perfectly sloped nose towards my cast.
I had been let out of the hospital the day before with a bulky cast that covered my toes, ankles and lower thigh. I knew that I would have trouble dressing for it when I arrived home, but why couldn’t we just go when we arrived in Seattle, or even Port Angeles?
I decided against arguing once Edward entered my childhood bedroom.
Since I had been let out of the hospital, Renee had brought me home – so I wouldn’t be going back to any flights of hotel stairs – and let Alice stay with me until we returned to Forks. Edward and the rest of his family were still staying at the hotel, because our old house wasn’t big enough for everyone.
“Ready to go, beautiful?” His musical voice floated to my ear as he gripped the handles of my wheelchair.
Alice stepped back to look her work over and nodded her approval.
“I think she is,” she answered for me.
“You did a good job,” Edward commented from behind me, sounding slightly impressed.
“She gave me a hard time about the eyeliner,” Alice sent me a playful glare, as if telling on me was actually going to make something happen, “so I didn’t put it on.”
“She looks spectacular anyway,” I turned my head upwards to see the two conversing, and Edward winked at me, causing butterflies to erupt in my stomach. “Thanks again, Alice. Shall we go?”
“Of course!” Alice giggled and bounded out of my room. Edward was much more cautious with my wheelchair in his control, maneuvering it around the hallways in the house. I wiggled my toes poking out from under the cast; my nails painted a fiery red, presumably as some sort of joke towards what color my eyes could’ve been had Edward not saved me.
“You act like this is some sort of torture,” Edward commented, “yet you battle fearlessly against malevolent creatures intent upon your death.”
“Bring on the vampires,” I grumbled. “At least they don’t care what I look like. I’d rather not been seen today, thank you very much.” Maybe my self-containment would make Edward take some pity on me.
“You know, Bella,” he put one of his hands on my exposed shoulder from the only tank top I now owned and traced swirling patterns down my arm, raising goose bumps from his icy touch, “you really can’t see that many scars. And it would make Alice really happy if you let her get you a few things.”
“Still,” I muttered in defeat, avoiding looking in mirrors, “I look horrible.”
“You look remarkable from just recovering from falling down a few flights of steps and then through a window,” his light chuckle was carried out into the open Phoenix air when he opened the front door.
Like Alice had predicted, clouds shadowed out the sun that typically cast the blistering light over the area. Even though it was cloudy, the temperature was still a sweltering eighty-five in March – something that wouldn’t have bothered me two years ago, but after living in Forks, this weather was enough to provoke a sweat.
I took in how the overcast clouds were whiter than the gloomy gray that covered my ‘hometown’ back in Washington. There was also more sunlight filtering through the clouds here, but not enough to cause the Cullens any concern. I took in a deep breath of the dry air that I missed so much while Edward repositioned himself to the side of my wheelchair.
His stone arms gently lifted me and carried me down the steps and into Carlisle’s Mercedes, the car that Alice and Jasper had taken down here in the first place. His feet crunched softly under the dead grass in the yard and I leaned my head against Edward’s chest, feeling that small urge to have some sort of physical contact. The cool of his chest made the side of my face feel marginally better.
I seemed to be oblivious to Alice, who apparently had loaded the wheelchair into the backseat while Edward slid me into the passenger side. Before I was even buckled, Alice had plucked down behind me, fitting nicely into the tiny space that my folded mechanical aid allowed in the back. Of course, she was waiting rather impatiently.
Edward used his human pace to get to the driver’s side, mostly because he knew I wanted to prolong this trip as long as necessary.
He smirked at Alice (or her thoughts, I couldn’t tell) as he slowly climbed into the driver’s seat, adjusting his seat and mirror to accommodate his height, since Alice had been the last one driving. Even with the seat raised all of the way, she could barely see over the dash, but I knew Alice could probably drive blindfolded and any human passenger would remain in one piece; though I wasn’t going to volunteer to test this theory.
“You know you could go a little faster,” she hinted when Edward pulled out of the driveway.
“Just being safe,” his laughed dripped with irony, pressing a little harder in the accelerator as residential houses flickered by. Alice just grunted with a dissatisfied ‘humph’ and folded her arms across her chest. I doubted that the argument was over, but I’m sure Alice was giving Edward a hard time in her thoughts.
The trip to the mall didn’t take us that long with Edward driving, much to my dismay. Alice must have been persistent in her mind.
With grace that many drivers would kill for, Edward swerved the Mercedes into the nearest open parking spot. Alice was outside of the car before it had been shut off, and I just sighed loudly. She had superb hearing – I was sure that she heard it.
Edward chuckled at me once more and got out.
The building looming before us was just like I had remembered it – crowded, loud, and most of all, unnecessary. I made it my mission as I was being loaded into my wheelchair once again that I wouldn’t even try to look like I was having a good time.
I didn’t attempt to make much conversation as Alice whisked through the crowded parking lot, wheeling me along with much more enthusiasm than I was willing to return. I didn’t act grumpy – I just let it be known that this had not been my idea and I wasn’t going to have fun.
Well, okay, maybe that is the general definition of grumpy. Oh well.
It grew very difficult acting like this once we stepped into the cooled air of one of the bigger department stores adjacent to the parking lot. Edward walked along side me, and hand slipped into mine on the armrest, lightly brushing his fingers along mine until they were both threaded together. His cool touch felt really good after escaping from the sweltering heat outside.
It was around three in the afternoon, with the after school crowd just starting to trickle in. We had chosen the time carefully – it wouldn’t be too inconspicuous for three high-school aged teenagers to be walking around the mall in the middle of the school day. Well, nobody usually cared, but there were times when the Cullens had to be extra careful, and we had really pushed it during this trip.
“Oh! Bella, this shirt would look great!” Alice flitted through the racks of clothes along the sides of the walkway and pushed a shirt into my face, but then pulled it away quicker than before. “Nevermind, you’ll trip on the way out of school next week and rip it.”
Edward and I exchanged amused glances and just let Alice do her shopping. Eventually, Edward let go of my hand and took Alice’s former spot in pushing me around the stores, allowing his sister to shop freely. It also wouldn’t be very inconspicuous to anyone walking by to see tiny Alice – barely five feet tall – pushing my one hundred and ten pounds around while her brother strode alongside to hold my hand.
I found myself, despite my negativity, enjoying watching Edward and his sister shop. They didn’t just shop for me – Alice happened to be updating the family’s summer clothes – which, ironically, were found on the winter sales racks here. Shopping in one of the driest places in the continental US for clothes to wear in the wettest place in the continental US was difficult, but Alice pulled it off. I was sure her psychic abilities had something to do with it.
Before we were even halfway through the mall, my wheelchair was crowded with bags along the handles, plus a few that were nestled in my lap. I tried to ignore the designer labels on the stores we went into or on the bags – I simply did not want to know.
We walked – or in my case, rolled – down the crowded ways, receiving plenty of room once someone saw my bulky cast protruding out and propped up, just threatening to shove the person in front of me out of the way, if so desired. Most seemed awestruck at Alice and, particularly, Edward. As much as I just tried to ignore them, I couldn’t, and just ended up looking behind me, holding his angelic gaze.
“Are you hungry, Bella?” Edward casually asked a few minutes later, eyeing the food court as we were passing by. I could feel the color warm my cheeks when I realized he probably heard my stomach growl in protest at the smell of pizza thick in the air.
“You tell me,” I grumbled, my cheeks hot. Alice giggled, the shopping bags slung on her arms wavering in her dancing stride.
“Well, I guess you two could go eat and I’ll go take these to the car,” Alice reasoned, pulling a few bags from my lap. “I’m going to leave a few here, because if I carry too much, that guy over there is going to follow me out and ask if I need any help.” She spoke quickly. Then, she shook her head and I averted my eyes to a boy, looking to be in his early twenties, minutely watching Alice. When his face turned to me, I felt the color return to my cheeks.
Edward laughed at me for what seemed to be the hundredth time and turned away from his sister.
She waved quickly from behind and made her way into the mass of people, barely touching anyone as she, with astounding grace, dodged large purses and older women who refused to move out of the way.
“What would you like to eat?” Edward asked; his voice suddenly lined with a peculiar edge. I hadn’t heard it since the day Jessica had tried to eat lunch with us. It hadn’t gone over too well, but that odd quickness of his tone never left my mind.
“Whatever line is the shortest,” I replied, somewhat mystified by Edward’s voice. Looking around, I saw that the little pizza place that had first caught my attention was serving their customers quicker than any other fast food place, “I guess pizza sounds good.”
“You sure?” Edward slowly turned me and started off in that direction. “You eat pizza almost every day at school.”
I nodded, “I’m fine, really. I used to eat here a lot – that place is Renee’s favorite.”
This he seemed to accept, but he still was a little tense. I could almost hear the metal groaning in protest under his knuckles, so he couldn’t tell me that nothing was wrong. Had Alice seen something? The anticipation grew as we waited for my food, where we couldn’t discuss anything supernatural until we were off by ourselves again.
My itching curiosity peaked while the seconds ticked by at an unusually slow pace.
Once the food was out and paid for, Edward whisked me away to a corner booth, safely situated far from the center commotion. It wasn’t the place he chose that put me on high alert – it was the manner at which he brought us there. He was in a hurry, like human speed wasn’t quick enough for him in a room full of unsuspecting mortals.
Once we were out of earshot, I sent him a frantic look. He couldn’t read my mind, but he knew what I was thinking, and he reassured me with my favorite crooked smile. It couldn’t be that mad… His eyes hadn’t clouded over with black yet. His eyes were still that warm gold thanks to his and Alice’s recent scavenge of local wildlife.
He rolled me into a spot at the center of the booth, where I could eat from my wheelchair without getting up. I nodded a thanks and he slid into the seat of the booth beside me, tracing the line of my jaw with his thumb. Was he trying to reassure me? I couldn’t contain my string of worries.
“What’s going on?” I panicked. “Did something happen to Alice?” It was somewhat pointless to ask if something bad had happened to someone who could see it coming, but things like that bothered me. Edward seemed a little less tense, which indicated a better situation.
“No, no,” Edward quickly shook his head to disprove my anxiety. “But… She did see something.” His face grew thoughtful.
“What?” I hissed, frenzied at his relaxed posture. Were we in any more danger? I couldn’t be… could it? Were we truly safe among a crowd of humans?
Edward chuckled, “Calm down, Bella, it isn’t that bad.”
“Tell me,” I pleaded.
“Do you know anyone by the name of Nichole?” He crooked his head sideways.
What the heck was he talking about? Yes, I did know one, but what does the most prestigious girl back in Phoenix have anything to do with us? Her models face popped into my mind – tan, angular, blonde. She was the Phoenix version of Lauren Mallory, but with actual potential in a modeling career. It was hard not to remember her – she was one of the most desired girls back at my old high school. That, and her father was a big part of a local oil company. She had become talk of the town right before I left for Forks when she had received a custom colored Lexus sports car in celebration of her seventeenth birthday. Apparently, she hadn’t been too happy with the previous one that had come with her sixteenth birthday.
I tried to think of a way to word such an answer while Edward waited, his emotions unreadable.
“Well, yeah, I – ”
Before I could finish, I was cut off by a shrill, peppy voice.
“Bella! Is that you?”
I felt myself visibly wince as my mind instantly recognized the voice.
This was not happening.
I turned to see my fear confirmed – the very same Nichole stood before me. Time hadn’t really changed her. She was still impossibly skinny, wearing her well-known designer jeans, a low-cut top that showed part of her midriff to reveal a sparkling belly button ring that peeked out of the fabric.
“I can’t believe it is!” She squealed, sauntering towards me in her, no doubt, signature heels. I couldn’t imagine ever wearing such shoes; much less wear them to a day out at the mall. I covered up my surprised emotions by taking a large bite out of my pizza.
“Hello,” I replied cautiously. “You remember me?”
She smiled, but I realized it was more at Edward than anyone. That explained a lot – she would never associate with someone who moved away unless they brought back someone that could potentially boost social status.
“Of course!” Nichole giggled, flashing another peek at her gleaming teeth. “You helped me pass Gym. I just can’t believe you’re in another cast!”
I nearly choked on the food I was eating.
I had forgotten about that… I tried to not to remember those bad and/or embarrassing memories. Only Nichole ever had trouble passing gym, which was mostly because she refused to wear ‘unstylish’ tennis shoes. She had somehow gotten paired up with me (much to her obvious dismay), but then became my caretaker on the sidelines when I managed to break my arm while knocking out an entire croquet set up. Her participation grade consisted of helping pass out water with me to the others actually taking the class.
“Another cast?” Edward mimicked with an amused grin, the first time he’d spoken in front of Nichole. She seemed temporarily stunned, surely dazzled by his musical voice. I knew I wouldn’t ever grow used to his utter perfection, but sometimes I didn’t count others’ reactions to him. His gaze lingered on mine, which warned me of her thoughts. Maybe if I got introductions over with…
I glared playfully at his remark before I turned back to Nichole, who stood beside my wheelchair and leaning against the table, hinting to Edward to scoot over and make room for her. To my relief, he didn’t.
“Oh, this is Edward,” I introduced. “Edward, this is Nichole.”
“Nice to meet you,” she flipped her long hair behind her shoulder. I sort of wished Rosalie had come along – this girl surely wouldn’t have come over here if a prettier girl were near us. I was sure Edward was the main attraction here. I was just an entrance.
“You, too,” Edward responded politely, though I could tell it was strained. As if reacting to a thought, Edward reached out and took my hand from the armrest on my wheelchair. Nichole didn’t do a very good job at hiding her surprise at the action. I obviously hadn’t gotten the point across that Edward wanted me to – that he wasn’t into flirting.
“So this is one of your friends,” she stressed, “from… oh, where was it? Didn’t it have something to do with a spoon?”
Sometimes I wondered if this girl could really have the capacity to graduate from high school.
“No, it’s Forks, Washington,” I replied, wanting to smack my head on the table while Edward squeezed my hand. “Yes, he – we – live in Forks. We’re just here for a visit. I wanted to show him the place where I grew up.”
“How sweet,” she replied shortly, losing interest.
Just then, Alice’s voiced floated to my ears from the opposite direction.
“We better be careful with all of these bags! I don't know if we can fit your wheelchair in the back with all of them!” She giggled casually and sat down into the seat across from Edward at the table.
Nichole seemed genuinely surprised. Her critical eyes scanned over Alice – the pixie-like attributes, her precise features, and most of all, her unnatural beauty.
Alice looked over at me during the short silence and – so very quickly I wasn’t even sure it happened – she winced. Edward’s former tension and uneasy voice made sense now. Alice must’ve seen it coming. With the crowds here, I was sure her delay was from being reduced to moving at a humanly pace.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Alice replied, with her usual excitement, at me. Though, now that I knew her a little better, I could feel the fake tone that she cleverly hid. When I didn’t speak fast enough for her, Alice took it into her own hands, “I’m Alice.”
“Nichole,” she replied, still left bewildered by Alice. “Are you a friend of Bella’s, too?”
“Yes,” Alice nodded quickly. “I’m also Edward’s sister.”
“Oh.” Nichole seemed to be rendered speechless from that. Alice and Edward only shared their vampire features and it was hard to determine if they were really related. Over the past couple of months, I had started losing particular interest in strangers’ reactions to the Cullens. Most of them were all of the same, something that I had grown used to.
“Bella, don’t you think that we need to go look at summer dresses?” Alice returned the subject to me, and I visibly cringed. She then turned a playful glare my way; “I know Edward’s dying to see you in one.”
I tried not to laugh at the irony in that comment. I returned back to sulky when I tried to picture myself in a dress.
“Like Forks ever has anything remotely close to a summer,” I muttered, while Nichole was silently listening in.
“Let Alice have her fun,” Edward smiled my way and took my hand above the table this time.
“Fine,” I replied shortly, a little indecisive. I wanted to get far away from Nichole, someone who had first-hand memories of me in gym, but I didn’t want to actually have to shop afterwards, either.
“Well, we better be going,” Alice got up to take my plate. “Nice to meet you Nichole.”
“Yes, nice to meet you,” Edward offered, carefully unlocking the double safety brakes on my wheelchair – specially ordered after Alice’s ominous warnings – and rolling me away from the table.
“Same,” my former classmate nodded, turning away as quickly as possible to look in the opposite direction. I followed her gaze to a group of people just like her crowded into the center of the food court around multiple tables pulled together. They, no doubt, were in awe at either Edward or Alice alone, or how Edward hadn’t taken much interest in Nichole – a probable first in her history.
It took me a second to realize that their eyes were also on me, and color flooded my cheeks once more. I knew Edward sensed the blush, so he turned the wheelchair around to follow Alice, who had already started walking in the other direction.
He didn’t speak at first, and I grew curious as to what he actually heard…
“I hope her memory is like her grade point average…” I sighed. I bent my head back to see his reaction.
It seemed he was holding back laughter, his eyes filled with entertainment at whatever Nichole remembered. “An entire croquet set? And you never told me that you could take out an entire offensive line by tripping over a football.”
My stomach dropped, and I undoubtedly blushed again. Nichole remembered all of that. Edward now knew.
I would rather face James again than have Edward know of my former reputation as a klutz in Phoenix, which was exponentially greater than the one I had in Forks. I had been given a decade longer to build it up in my former hometown...Yes, bring on the vampires.