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Seducing Ms Swan

Summary:
AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...


Notes:
Thankyou to twike for beta work. Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.


5. Lullabies

Rating 3.7/5   Word Count 6549   Review this Chapter

*~*~*
No, I don't hate you
don't want to fight you
know I'll always love you
but right now I just don't like you
cause you took this too far
*~*~*


My encounter with Edward in the classroom had proved many things; most importantly that I was incapable of being in his presence without completely losing my head. It was blatantly obvious that because of my embarrassing lack of self-control, any contact whatsoever between us was unwise. Therefore I had to make the only logical decision available to me in order to keep my job, sanity and integrity; I had to keep as far away from Edward as possible.


And so began the first of several weeks of purposefully avoiding Edward. Whereas before I had rarely entered the staffroom, preferring to spend my breaks outside, it soon became my refuge as the only place I could be sure of not seeing Edward. When I was forced to leave my sanctuary to attend lessons I took unpredictable routes across the school, sticking to the corridors which I suspected Edward was least likely to use. I even went so far as to procure a copy of Edward's schedule, surreptitiously downloaded from the school system, so that I could plan my journeys around his location on campus.


If I was determined to steer clear of Edward, however, it was nothing compared to his apparent yearning to get me alone again. Despite all my carefully planned movements, he attempted to corner me on several occasions in between classes. Each time I managed to get away- usually by darting into the staffroom or surrounding myself by people, rendering all real conversation impossible- but my escapes were getting narrower with each passing day.


I was even cautious at home. I wasn't sure if Edward's determination to contact me would extend to cornering me outside of school, but I took extra precautions nevertheless. I ensured that my windows were permanently kept locked and shut, and I rarely went out of the house except for absolute essentials, such as groceries. I spent a lot of time sitting in my living room peering out of the window, diving for cover if I saw the glint of a silver car turn the corner onto my street. More often than not it turned out to be nothing more than your usual run-of-the-mill businessman on his way for work, but a couple of times I thought that I saw the flash of an exceptionally shiny sports car as it charged, extraordinarily fast, past my apartment and down the road.


And then there were the phone calls. The first time it happened was at ten thirty at night, after a blissfully Edward-free sunny day at school. I was in the shower when the phone rang and by the time I had gotten out, almost falling and cracking my head open against the hand basin in the process, the call had clicked on to the answering machine. At first I thought the machine had broken; the red light was flickering, indicating that a message was being left, but there was no voice coming from the speakers. When I listened harder, however, I realized that I could hear the tell-tale sounds that signified a person on the other end. The machine continued to record for about five minutes until the caller eventually hung up. I tried to tell myself not jump to conclusions and decided that it could just have been a malfunction… until it happened again and again; every single night at the same time, the phone would ring and ring, finally clicking onto the answering machine. The caller never spoke or left any real message, he just waited in silence.


Of course, I had no real way of knowing that it was Edward. It could have been anybody and, had I been anybody else, I would have been slightly freaked out by the silent messages. For all I knew they could have been from a prospective burglar trying to find out if the apartment was empty. And yet I wasn't afraid. I actually got some comfort out of thinking that Edward rang me every night; if I tried hard enough I could even delude myself that he was ringing for reasons other than the fact that he wanted to re-break up with me.


My powers of delusion were not quite strong enough to persuade me to speak to Edward, however, and I didn't once pick up the phone. I got into the habit of always letting it go to the answering message before I answered it, something which drove Jacob to absolute distraction. Since Edward's return he had taken to ringing me three or four times a day. He tried to convince me otherwise, but it was transparently obvious that he was checking that I wasn't reengaging in a passionate love affair with Edward Cullen. Indeed, after the first couple of days he even stopped bothering to provide phony reasons for the incessant calls and began to ask straight-out whether I had spoken to Edward.


About two and a half weeks after the start of term, on a Monday night on the thirty-eighth time this happened, I finally lost my temper. "Jacob Black, I swear if you ask me that question ONE MORE TIME I'm going to come back to Forks and ram this phone-"


"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Jacob replied hastily, "Sheesh woman, I'm just looking after you!"


"I don't need looking after!" I growled, moodily kicking the wall and then regretting it as pain shot up my leg. "I'm twenty..four..years…old," I gasped, wincing against the pain, "and I don't need to be baby-sat, least of all by an overgrown puppy-dog who lives thousands of miles away!"

There was a silence and I immediately felt a pang of guilt. "Sorry Jake," I mumbled, "that was harsh, but for once I just want you to let me fight my own battles. This is just Edward we're talking about-"

"-Yeah, a bloodthirsty, deserting, heart-breaking, life-ruining vampire-"

"-who has never been a danger to me," I completed, choosing to forget about our first ever meeting in Biology. Jacob snorted; clearly he didn't agree. "Please Jacob," I sighed, "my life is stressful enough without having this same argument ever single day. Just trust me when I tell you that I'm staying well clear of Edward, okay?"

He grumbled some more but finally agreed to "tone down the phone-calling; Embry reckons I'm a stalker," and hung up. I sighed exhaustedly and turned away from the phone, massaging my temples as I headed for my room.

Before I had moved three steps however, the phone rang me. I swore loudly as I lunged for the handset. "SERIOUSLY Jacob, I wasn't joking about the phone! WHAT DO YOU WANT N-" I froze, mid-sentence. My eyes had just fallen on the digital clock on the answering machine-10:30.

Oh no.

A feeling of absolute horror wound itself in an icy grip around my throat as I heard a velvety voice speak startled, from the other end.

"Bella?"

Without thinking, I slammed the phone down on the hook with such force that the machine fell to the floor, nearly ripping the plug from the wall. Shakily, I bent down to replace the handset to its original place and took a couple of steps backwards, my eyes never leaving the phone. Well at least you know it isn't a burglar, a voice inside of my head said. I was slightly shocked by my own reaction; my body had acted as though by reflex. As I stared at the phone, it began to ring again. I backed away from it, stopping only when my path was obstructed by the sofa, which I fell on with relief. After what felt like an eternity, the ringing stopped and the red RECORDING light flashed on. I waited with baited breath, unsure whether he would speak again or just continue to breathe. I strained my ears, searching for some sort of sound.

And then I heard it. Playing very faintly in the background was a familiar piece of piano music… I gasped in shock and fell forward off of the sofa onto my knees, transfixed, as I stared at the small black answering machine. Strains of a melody I had not heard for years came filtering from the box and suddenly I was transported through miles and years to a cold, misty day and a beautiful boy with a piano…

The music slowed, transforming into something softer, and to my surprise I detected the melody of his lullaby weaving through the profusion of notes. "You inspired this one," he said softly. The music grew unbearably sweet.

I felt a sob rip from my chest as the tears I had not noticed build began to fall down my cheeks in earnest. My lullaby, he's playing my lullaby. I couldn't believe it; it was like I had wandered into a dream. The notes spiralled from the speakers and blossomed into the room, simultaneously ripping apart my heart and soothing my pain. I hadn't heard my lullaby since I had listened to the CD he had made me for my 18th birthday, just hours before he had left me forever. Yet here I was sitting on the cold floor of my apartment as the music filled every corner of the otherwise silent room with its sweet tones. I felt a sudden yearning to hear Edward's voice again, to speak to him and tell him how much I loved him. I tentatively leant forward to take the phone, but just as my fingertips brushed the cord the song came to an end, breaking me from my trance. I stayed still, barely daring to breathe, waiting for him to say something, anything, which might explain his actions. There was a long pause, before the answering machine finally clicked off.

I sat there in the sudden screaming silence. Edward played my lullaby. What did it mean? Why, of all the songs in the world, did he play my lullaby to me? Could it mean… but no, I didn't even dare to let myself think the words. I couldn't bear to, not after the way he had shirked from my embrace two weeks ago. He did not care for me; that much was certain. But then why was he going to such lengths to imply the otherwise? Why does he have to make this so hard? Perhaps Edward had no idea of the significance the lullaby held for me; perhaps it was just another song to him among thousands of such compositions. That must be the explanation; none other made sense. My mind was full of questions as I undressed for bed and, when I finally got to sleep, I slept troubled dreams that were haunted by music and gleams of topaz.

*~*~*

Tuesday morning dawned bright and sunny, which was a comfort to my nerves, which were already in tatters after the events of the previous night. I made my way into school feeling more confident than usual; I had high hopes of the sun lasting right through to the afternoon and thus eliminating the chance of an awkward meeting with Edward. By fourth period, however, it became clear that this particular Tuesday was not destined to be my lucky day when the sunshine was replaced by fat, grumbling thunder clouds.

Fantastic, I thought resentfully as I walked across campus to my lesson with the juniors, using my folder to shield myself from the rain. It was clear that there was to be no evading Edward today and, sure enough, I reached class to find him and most of the other students already present. I ignored the inevitable pain in my chest that the sight of Edward incurred and, in a sequence that had become numbingly familiar over the last couple of weeks, I did not pay him anymore attention whilst I set the class their work. Today they were doing a timed essay on the character of 'Lady Catherine De Bourgh' and her importance in the novel- a task which, considering the amount of preparation they had had, should have been simple. However, judging by their frantic looks and panic-stricken expressions, most of the class did not share my view. I was sure that Edward would be an exception, but I did not allow myself the luxury of surveying his face to check. Instead, I cleared my throat to silence the outbreak of anxious chattering and addressed the class. "Alright everybody, settle down. You have one hour to complete this task, after which I will collect your essays for grading, so give it your best shot and no talking please. There's paper on the front desk if you need it; you may start now." There was a feverish rustle as pens were uncapped, notepads recovered and texts thumbed through. Then the room fell silent except for the scratch of pens and occasional cough.

I settled into my chair and prepared myself for a quiet lesson of marking homework assignments. Then, from the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw someone move. I looked up to see Edward getting to his feet and pushing his chair underneath his desk before he padded towards me, silent as a cat. I stiffened in my chair, my pen freezing in mid air, the ghost of a 'B' grade hanging from the nib as it hovered over the paper. I drew a deep breath and tore my eyes from Edward, jerkily beginning to write again. Perhaps he's just getting some paper, I thought hopefully, ignoring the unopened notepad sitting on his desk. I kept staring at the paper, not really seeing a word as I waited for something to happen. I could feel Edward focus his eyes on me as he positioned himself with his back to the rest of the class and leant forwards in the pretence of taking a sheet of paper from my desk. In the process his hand brushed mine and I recoiled, again feeling the familiar surge of electricity that signified his touch. I had to fight my hands as they attempted to reach out and touch him, as though magnetized. With great effort, I pushed my chair away from the desk in the futile attempt to create distance between us. There was nowhere for me to run now; I was truly cornered. My only hope lay in the twenty silent working students before us. Surely Edward would not be so crazy as to create a scene in front of so many witnesses?

I suddenly felt extremely uneasy. "What are you doing?" I hissed, internally praying that none of the students would look up from their work.

"I need to talk to you," Edward replied in a purr so low it was barely comprehensible. I looked at him incredulously. Had he never heard the phrase 'time and place'? Apparently not.

"Not now, Edward," I whispered frantically, failing to keep the panic out of my voice. If I wasn't careful I would start hyperventilating.

He looked at me angrily. "Then when? You've been ignoring me in class, you haven't answered my phone calls and you run away every time I approach you. When am I supposed to talk to you?"

I looked at him, wordlessly; I could not believe we were having this conversation. We had already talked, and look how that had turned out. He had run away from me, not the other way around. "There's nothing more for us to talk about," I finally managed to choke out. I had already said that I wouldn't pursue his affections, what more could he possibly want from me?

"Yes there is Bella, if you would just listen to me!" His voice got louder as he finished the sentence and I noticed a few students glance up at us. This bad situation was about to become horrendous; I had to take control.

"Sit down, Edward," I said, attempting to keep my tone to that of a teacher reproaching a student.

"No," he said, equally calmly, his eyes unflinching. They were darker than usual- a toffee brown as opposed to light honey; he obviously hadn't been hunting as much as he should have been.

"I said, sit down," I spoke through gritted teeth as I felt my hands clench into fists.

Edward looked me straight in the eyes, his gaze unflinching and said slowly, as though relishing each letter, "N-O." I felt my cheeks flash an angry red with a mixture of shock and embarrassment. I was hyper-aware that our conversation had got progressively louder with each reply and that we now had an audience of at least half the class. The meager power that I had originally had was slipping right through my fingers.

"Mr Cullen, if you don't sit down right now-" I began, clutching at straws.

Edward laughed and the sound shocked me; it was not the seductively rich sound I had come to love. This laugh was cold and bitter and it sent shivers up my spine. "What are you going to do?" he asked, the mirthless laughter ringing in his voice, "give me detention?" There was an outbreak of guffaws and gasps as the class processed his words. None of them were even pretending to work now; they were all far too absorbed in the drama unfolding before them.

As my eyes darted from my students' entertained faces to Edward's unsympathetic one I felt something change inside of me and a new emotion gripped my heart. For the first time since Edward's return, I was mad. This was not just anger; no, I was more than just angry, I was royally pissed. How dare he come into my classroom and challenge my authority like this? What right did he have to come strolling back into my life at all, if it was only to rip any kind of happiness I had built for myself to pieces? As if it wasn't enough that I had to go through the excruciating agony of seeing him every single day and knowing that he didn't love me, he had to make things even harder by actively trying to get me fired. Just when I had thought I was through the dark, just when I was beginning to recover from Edward's rejection he had to come back and make everything a hundred times worse. I was seething; I would not let him get away with this. I stuck out my chin and looked him squarely in the face, my eyes blazing with cold fury.

"Leave the room please," I said quietly.

"What?" Edward asked, although we both knew he had heard perfectly.

"Please leave, now."

Edward rolled his eyes and lowered his voice so that the rest of the class could not hear, "Come on Bella, don't be so-"

I cut across him in a loud, carrying voice. "You do not have the right to undermine my authority Mr Cullen; it is not up to you to dictate how I run my class and I will not tolerate you making a mockery of my lesson. Now, I suggest that you leave my classroom and report to Mr Delaney's office before I send for someone to forcibly remove you." A stunned silence followed my words as the class stared, shell shocked at me; I had never got so angry at a student before. I lowered my voice so only Edward could hear. "I don't know what your game is, but for the record- I'm not playing. I-" I felt my breath catch slightly as the next words got stuck in my throat. I considered swallowing them down, and then decided against it. What more did I have to lose? I looked up through my eyelashes into his shocked eyes. "I won't be one of your 'distractions', Edward."

He stared at me for a few more impossibly long moments and then turned slowly to leave, not bothering to retrieve his things. I wasn't surprised to see him go (after all, what choice did he have?) but I still felt a sore sense of loss as he disappeared through the door. I turned back to a classroom of silent students, all of whom were eyeing me half excited, half wary as they waited to see who I would turn on next. I left them disappointed, however, when I sat down in my seat and pulled my work towards me, glancing up only to give them a time-check. "You have 45 minutes left to complete your essays."

*~*~*

I knew that my handling of Edward would not go without comment, especially seeing as I had actually sent him to Patrick's office, but I could not have anticipated the level of curiosity it generated among the students. My colleagues' reactions were mildly sympathetic if they heard of the incident at all- they had all dealt with an overly cocky student in their time- but they generally found the news that I had ejected Edward Cullen from my classroom as underwhelmingly uninteresting. With the students, on the other hand, it was a completely different matter. They all appeared fascinated by the fact that I had reprimanded Edward Cullen, with his 4.0 G.P.A. and model good-looks. The subject became a regular topic for hallway gossip. I felt like I was followed by their whispers whenever I ventured out of the safe haven of the staffroom and it was incredibly unnerving.

"-Yeah, Ms Swan and Edward Cullen, that's what I heard-"

"-they HATE each other-"

"-You should've seen it Kate, I swear I thought she was gonna KILL him-"

Perhaps I was just being paranoid- after all, teachers punished students all the time and nobody batted an eyelid- but there did seem to be an extraordinary amount of interest surrounding my apparent dislike of Edward. Maybe it was down to his newness in the school (and, in the case of the female students, his devastating good looks) or maybe owing to my famous aversion to conflict, but for several days it really did seem that the only thing anyone could talk about was our quarrel. Luckily for me, the brief sunny spell was set to continue until the weekend when extreme storms were suspected and Edward was not present in class over the next couple of days, something which considerably eased the tension. By the time I got to Friday, however, I had more pressing things to worry about.

At Sycamore Grove High School, it was school policy for teachers to hold a progress meeting with new students and their parents several weeks into their first term. This semester, it was to be held Friday evening in this, the third week of January, a scheduling decision that won the office no friends amongst the teaching staff. Personally, I was not really bothered by the loss of my Friday evening- it wasn't like I had a social life to miss- but I still wasn't looking forward to three hours of talking to parents in the school hall. Progress evenings were usually something I dreaded; my lack of confidence, while not a hindrance in the classroom, became woefully disadvantageous when addressing parents. So it was with a pervading sense of gloom, therefore, that I collected my list of assigned students and their parents from the school office at six o' clock on Friday. As I walked towards the hall where the meetings were to be held, my eyes scanned down the list of standard questions we had to ask parents. They were all pretty general; I would not be appearing as an English teacher tonight, but as a representative of the school. After the instructions were the names of the new students with whose families I would be conversing. There were about eight on the list, from all four grades. I read the names carelessly in my head, linking names to faces as I went. When I got to the eighth name, I almost choked on thin air. Oh you have to be kidding me. But no, there it was, printed in bold, black ink.

EDWARD CULLEN

Either it was just an extremely unlucky coincidence, or someone in the office, having heard of the incident with Edward earlier in the week, was playing a rather amusing joke at my expense. Either way, I was dismayed. Why did the whole world seem to be conspiring to force me to see Edward on a regular basis?

For a few moments I debated whether to just skip the meeting altogether, but I knew that wasn't a feasible option. After the events of Tuesday's class with Edward, I was keen not to draw any more unnecessary attention to myself and our questionable relationship. Purposely missing an appointment with his parents would most definitely come under that category.

That said, I wasn't sure if Carlisle and Esme would even come. It wasn't like Edward's progress needed to be discussed; he had gone through High School countless times and had flawless grades. I was certain that he would not want to see me, not after Tuesday's lesson, so I was doubtful to whether the Cullen family would even show up. I took my seat in the school hall, where I was joined by a dozen other teachers, all doing the same thing. The evening inched by agonizingly slowly, frequented by my glances at the door and the clock. 8 p.m., the Cullens allotted time slot, finally rolled around with no sign of them. I sat on edge at my desk, pretending to be sipping a cup of coffee but really searching the room for a sign of Edward and his parents. Then as my eyes swept over the door for what felt like the hundredth time, I saw them.

They looked exactly the same as they had done six years ago. Still beautiful, still impossibly young; I realized with a jolt that I was now a year older than Carlisle had been when he was changed. They were standing hesitantly in the doorway of the hall, unsure of whether to go. Carlisle's hand rested lightly on the small of Esme's back and he murmured something into her ear which made her incline her head in agreement as she surveyed the room, taking in the little clusters of teachers and parents dotted around it. Then her eyes fell upon me. There was a pause in which we just looked at each other, and then a slow, warm smile spread across her face, causing her soft eyes to light up. I wasn't aware of making the decision to go to her, or even beginning to move, but in no time at all I had crossed the room in several quick, long strides and thrown myself into her waiting arms. They wrapped around me tightly in an embrace that vibrated with affection as I leant my cheek against her shoulder, breathing in her delightfully familiar scent. I felt safe and content for the first time in ages; it was like coming home. "Oh my child," she whispered as she stroked my hair caringly, "how I've missed you."

"I've missed you too," I replied quietly as I eased myself from her arms and stepped back, smiling, "both of you." I looked up at Carlisle who was beaming genially down at me in a smile which made his face look more attractive than ever; I rather thought I heard some of the teaching assistants several tables away swoon at the very sight.

"Hello Bella," he murmured, shaking my hand amiably, "it's good to see you."

"And you," I grinned back at them both. It was true; I had missed Edward's family almost as much as I had him. Carlisle and Esme were as good as parents to me, albeit much younger and better-looking than convention would dictate. As my eyes moved between their faces, I saw a third figure emerge from where he had been lurking in the door. Edward. I was not surprized to see him, the evening was for parents and students after all, but it was an awkward moment nonetheless. I cleared my throat, forcing myself to keep up pretences for the benefit of any humans who may be watching. "Good evening Edward," I said formally, nodding my head slightly at him before I looked back to Carlisle and Esme. They were watching us with identical expressions of wary concern on their faces- something I was determined to get rid of. "So," I said brightly, plastering a mask of fake cheeriness on my face, "I suppose we better get back to business."

Carlisle quickly glanced from Esme to me before hastily interjecting in a low voice, "That isn't necessary Bella, you don't have to do anything if-"

I shook my head firmly. "Yes I do Carlisle, it's my job; this way please." I indicated towards my desk and walked towards it swiftly before anyone could object again. I sat down and watched expectantly as Carlisle and Esme exchange brief looks, before slowly seating themselves opposite me, Edward following closely in their wake. He still hadn't spoken save for a curt "Hello", but I knew it was only a matter of time before the onslaught began. Sure enough, he opened his mouth just as I began to speak.

"Bel-"

"So," I said loudly, cutting him off before his lips had even formed my name, "I'm here with you this evening to discuss Edward's progress here at Sycamore Grove," I looked innocently at Esme and Carlisle, completely ignoring Edward. "Before I start, do either of you have any issues you'd like to talk about?" Esme did not reply but surveyed me with a pained expression as Carlisle shook his head, a faint smile struggling to mask the worried furrows in his brow.

"No, there haven't been any problems with his classes; his English teacher is excellent."

I smiled briefly at the joke, weak as it was, and moved briskly on to the next point, ignoring Edward's protestations.

"This is getting utterly ridicul-"

"So," I said loudly, "I presume Edward hasn't had any trouble settling in academically? I see that he was an honor student back in San Francisco."

Carlisle's smile had faded by now as he looked at me with a frown. "No, he's settled in fine," he said slowly, looking sideways at Edward, who was now swelling with frustration.

"Dammit Bella!" Edward growled threateningly "Stop talking about me like I'm not even here, I-"

"In terms of his grades, he has been doing remarkably well," I continued as though deaf to Edward's words, "we usually expect a slight fall in our new students' achievement in the first couple of weeks owing to their having to familiarize themselves with new surroundings, but your son has proved to be a notable exception to the rule; he has been getting consistently high grades in all of his classes. Would you like to see some of his results?" Esme just shook her head, her expression sorrowful. It hurt me to cause her pain, but I still could not bring myself to look at Edward who had begun to hiss at me again.

"Are you finished now? Are you ready to act like a mature adult again?"

"We have had a few problems with Edward's discipline-" I continued, my voice getting louder with every word in an attempt to drown him out.

"Why won't you even listen to me?!" Edward raised his tones accordingly until we were practically shouting at each other across the table.

"- but he has had talks with Mr Delaney and I hope that we can iron out those matters without too much trouble. Meanwhile-"

"You're being absolutely pathetic Bella, do you realize that?"

"-I hope that he'll involve himself in some of the many extra-curriculars that our education enrichment program has to offer-"

"FOR GOD'S SAKE!" Edward exploded, kicking his chair back and moving forward, fast as lightning, until his face was level with mine. His eyes were absolutely terrifying; they were jet black and alive with passionate rage. "Won't you even listen to yourself? What the HELL is your PROBLEM?" I sat frozen from shock, my mind barely registering the staggered hush that had fallen upon the room as I stared at Edward in alarm.

"Edward." I was startled out of my fear as a foreign voice broke into mine and Edward's highly charged bubble. It was Carlisle, and he looked ominously steely as he addressed his adoptive son. "I will not tolerate you speaking to Ms Swan in that manner; please step outside and cool down."

Edward glared at him incredulously. "Is this some kind of joke, Carlisle? Did you hear the way she was speaking to-" he broke off as he noticed the way that the entire hall was now watching him in shock. Reluctant understanding crossed his face and he begrudgingly straightened up. "Yes, father," he said stiffly, turning to leave the room. As he went his eyes held mine for one final glance of hard to read emotions. There was resentment and anger there, to be sure, but there was something else which was harder to interpret. Was it regret? Before I could decide he had stormed from the room, leaving a ringing silence in his wake. After a few moments, however, the noise level gradually began to pick up as the witnesses to our little drama put their heads together to gossip unashamedly.

I suddenly realized that my body was trembling as though I had been punched and I shakily put my head in my hands, my breathing shuddering and slow. I could feel Esme and Carlisle's eyes on me and I felt sick at the thought of their pity; I didn't deserve it. I had asked for that reaction; I had willingly sought it, provoking Edward until breaking point. He was right, I should be ashamed of myself; even as a girl of seventeen I had been above inciting public spats.

"You'll forgive my son," Carlisle's soft words seeped through my despair, "he doesn't always comprehend the effects of his actions." The sorrow in his voice was resonated in the empty space around us and I knew he was referring to more than just Edward's preceding behaviour. I forced myself to look up into the faces of the parents I had once been so close to having. There was so much I wanted to say, but I couldn't find the right words.

"I- I'm sorry Carlisle," I whispered. My throat felt constricted and tight as it ejected the admission of guilt and I could feel tears burning the backs of my eyes.

He shook his head. "No, it is I who should apologize; we never should have left. I should have stepped in in the first place. Maybe if I had none of this would have ever happened." I didn't see how that would have made much of a difference; Edward would have gotten bored of me eventually, no matter what Carlisle did, but I did not want to talk anymore; it was too painful.

Carlisle sighed, getting up to leave. He looked down at Esme, but she didn't budge, instead putting her hand on his arm and saying quietly, "I'll join you in a second. Go and find Edward; he'll probably need someone to calm him down. I want to speak to Bella." Carlisle nodded, patting her hand tenderly before gracefully leaving the room, causing besotted sighs from the still-watching TAs.

I looked warily back at Esme. As much as I loved her and respected her opinion, I had no desire to talk about Edward, especially after the evening's disastrous events. She studied me with motherly concern, worry etched across her flawless features. "Are you really okay?" My first instinct was to lie, fully aware that Edward would be able to read whatever I said from her thoughts. Esme seemed to understand my reluctance to tell the truth and she grimaced.

"Listen to me, I promise that I won't let Edward hear what you say. I'll do whatever it takes to block my thoughts from him; even if I have to recite Einstein's theory of relativity in my head, so help me I'll do it." Even in my tearful state, I had to crack a wan smile at her fierceness; she was like a lioness guarding one of her cubs. It melted my heart that she was still so protective towards me, even though all obligations between us had gone.

I decided I owed it to her to tell the truth- or, at least, part of it. "No," I said sadly, "I'm not really okay. How could I be?"

Esme narrowed her eyes, her suspicions confirmed. "I knew it; I could tell from the way you reacted to him, though of course he," her voice grew angry, "is currently being too typically pig-headed to see it. I told him so many times; we all pleaded for him not to leave Forks, but did he listen?" She paused for breath crossly, her caramel curls bouncing on her shoulders. I watched her in confusion for a second, until it dawned on me that she had misunderstood my words.

"No wait," I said hastily, eager to correct her, "when I said that I wasn't okay, I only meant because of that argument with Edward. That's all." It was all lies of course, but she didn't have to know that. I couldn't let her believe that I was still in love with Edward, regardless of her promises to keep my words secret. It was too risky to divulge the extent of my feelings to anyone, least of all to someone with a mind so vulnerable from invasion.

Esme looked at me taken aback. "That's… all?" she asked, the look of distressed anxiety creeping back into her eyes.

"Yes," I said firmly, hoping against hope that she would not see through my assurances. I felt a pang as I took in her growing expression of stricken disappointment and I looked away, hurriedly changing the subject. "Look, I, uh, still have some more parents to see tonight, so I'm afraid I…" I let my words trail off, ignoring the uncomfortable ache of guilt I felt as I prayed that she would get the message and leave. Luckily for me it wasn't a complete lie; there was a small queue of patiently waiting parents forming a polite distance away from my desk.

"Oh! Of course, I'm so sorry to keep you Ms Swan," Esme said, adopting her most gracious voice as she too eyed the parents. "I… I hope to see you again," she said levelly, turning back to face me. I let my eyes flicker to hers for a fraction of a second, before I looked away again, ashamed. She paused for a second longer and then turned to leave; as she went I could just detect the dissatisfied expression on her face. I looked down at my papers uncomfortably, not even bothering to look up as the next student and his parents came to sit in front of me. As I again reeled off the standard questions about progress, the only thing that really registered in my mind was a question of my own:

What have I just done?