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Sweet Cantata

Summary:
Irondale: the Cullens' new home. Population: 15,000. Old, plain, boring; even the town's motto is "Time will find a way." However, Jasper couldn't be happier with the way things were... but things always to change right when you don't want them to. Main pairing: JasperxOC.


Notes:
Yep, the Cullens moved again. This happens after Breaking Dawn, so it's canon up to that point. Jacob tagged along to be with Ness, but doesn't go to school with the Cullens. Rosalie and Emmett are seniors, Jasper and Alice are juniors, and Edward and Bella are sophomores. Ness is in middle school. Also, this is written in omniscient (3rd person) point of view; however, the marks *E* and *J* indicate the change of perspective. Eva and Jasper, respectively.


1. Day One: Thursday

Rating 0/5   Word Count 9270   Review this Chapter

*~ Sweet Cantata ~*

Day One: Thursday

*J*

Jasper Whitlock was quite content.

As content as a animal-hunting vampire could be when surrounded by its natural food source, that is.

His golden eyes lingered on the juvenile students in the hall as they rushed past to get to their classes on time. The blood-pumping hearts beat relentlessly around him... some varying in speed or consistency... but there, nevertheless. He inhaled deeply through his nose, testing himself. All seemed to be under control, he determined. Alice had been trusting him to be alone more and more. Like now, when she was staying at home "out sick" from school, while Jasper was waiting outside the classroom for Algebra II.

His eyes stopped when he saw a girl trip over her own feet, her books flying in random directions. She straightened the glasses perched on her small nose, and groveled around, gathering her strewn belongings. Most of her peers walked by without noticing, some of them scoffed or laughed, but none stopped to help her.

It was a pitiful display of human impertinence.

This made Jasper fortunate that Bella had lost most of her clumsiness in the change. When she had been human, she also had had the unique talent of tripping over flat surfaces.

The third hour bell interrupted his thoughts. Shaking his head slightly, he pushed off the locker he was leaning on, and made his way for room 18A. He was the first one there, besides a girl up front who was speaking with the teacher.

"But Mr. Collins, I –"

"Miss Forest, I must insist that you take a seat."

"Listen, you don't know what this grade means to me! Please, I'm –"

"Miss Forest, there is no belt curve in my class. There is no extra credit. Either you flunk, or you fly."

The girl gawked in insult and turned away, marching to the back corner of the class and slamming her books on the desk there. Jasper entered quietly and approached the front. Alice had missed her class yesterday, and had asked him to get the homework for her.

"Excuse me –"

"Yes?" The flustered teacher turned his bloodshot eyes to the student disturbing him and squinted. Roger Collins was not the young man he used to be, and whinny students were going to be the death of him in his old age. This "Jasper Cullen" had come in mid-year with no transcripts whatsoever, and had mouthed off in class more than once. (As, Mr. Collins' definition of "mouthing off" was correcting his flawed teaching during class.)

Jasper chose his words carefully, honey coating each one. "Mr. Collins, my sister Alice Cullen missed her fourth period yesterday, and she'll be missing today, as well. She asked me to get her homework for her. If you don't mind giving her some back work, that is."

"Ah, yes." Mr. Collins smiled at the term "back work" and pulled yesterday's homework from his desk. He scribbled down an extra assignment for Miss Cullen, who had been slacking since she transferred, and handed the paper to Jasper.

Jasper took it with a charming smile, and a very Southern, "Thank you, sir." By the time he turned around, two thirds of the class had already arrived. There were about seven free seats towards the back. Jasper honed in on the farthest one from the front, and was just about to put his books down when –

"Hey, Jazz!"

Jasper cringed when he heard the voice. His brother, Emmett – posing as a senior in high school – was "behind" a year in math, and had "happened" to be in Jasper's same class. Emmett had always had the aptitude to embarrass him in public somehow. Point and case – cutting in front of him to take his seat in Algebra II.

"Bye, Emmett," he said in monotone, turning to find another desk. Of course, all other seats were taken besides the one next to the crybaby girl. With a mental sigh, Jasper slugged over to the free desk and sat awkwardly, slipping his books underneath.

"They should make these bigger, hu?"

Gritting his teeth, Jasper nodded stiffly to the girl.

"Actually, they shouldn't make them at all. This class is retarded."

A foolish human. "Then why did you take it?" he snapped, instantly regretting it. He had not meant to speak at all.

Just then, the girl unbuttoned her sweater and took it off. This sent a wave of spicy mint in his direction. For the past several years that Jasper had been practicing the "vegetarian" lifestyle, he had been refining his sense of smell. He was only just becoming sensitive to the unique scents of the humans around him, and most the time didn't really notice a difference between them. However, as venom pooled on the back of his tongue, Jasper confirmed that this girl's scent was definitely peppermint and spice.

The girl's eyes flashed at his words, and she suddenly decided then and there that Jasper was, indeed, an asshole. "It's none of your business!" the girl shot off, crossing her arms.

For the next hour, Jasper tried his hardest to ignore the girl. She was a failure at Algebra, and was an overall annoying person. Halfway through class (while Mr. Collins was writing a l o n g third root equation on the board), a crumpled up piece of paper hit the side of his head. Shooting a glare to his adopted sibling, he flicked it off his desk. Seconds later, another ball of paper hit his forehead. Sighing, he resigned to pretend to read it, as Emmett would surely never stop otherwise. Unfolding it discreetly, he scanned the scribbled writing:

That girl's hot hu?

Rolling his eyes, he shoved the scrap of paper into his binder, and sent a warning look to Emmett, who grinned mischievously. The minty girl was indeed hot, but nothing as Jasper would prefer. She had girlishly pouty lips, a sharp chin, an unusually pointy nose, nicely arched dark eyebrows, and big hazel eyes with the kind of eyelashes that make large eyes appear even larger. Her dark, strawberry blond hair was cut in several different lengths, the longest only coming to her chin.

He noticed absently that there was a dark rim of blue around her hazel orbs, and small flecks of amber spiked around her pupils. They held the appearance of an eclipsed sun. With a certain amount of amusement, he also noted that the girl had a light scatter of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

She looked half-starved, with her sunken cheeks and cut chin, in his expert opinion. Her tight pink shirt, loose brown sweater, and holey jeans only amplified this. She had red around her eyes, and slight grey just beneath them. She looked half-dead as well. The longer he studied her, the more he began to see why most girls use makeup to hide such blemishes. On the other hand, he appreciated the subtle confidence that this fact portrayed. Obviously, she had felt no need to hide behind some kind of mask…

Mr. Collins cut the class short by ten minutes, and assigned the class some extra work while they waited for the bell. Slipping out of the classroom door into the quiet hallway, Mr. Collins straightened his tie. Ms. Bell should be in the break room right about now… I'm not missing this opportunity again.

Two rooms away, Edward Cullen cringed at the unfettered thoughts of the teacher in the hall. Bella gave him a concerned look from her seat adjacent him, but he smiled slightly to ease her worry. Raising her shield for half a second, she thought, Love you, Edward. He smiled the way she loved, and gave her hand an affectionate squeeze from beneath the desk.

"And it's not like I'm just taking this class to take it," the girl rambled as she violently shoved her Algebra II text into her book bag.

Jasper sighed, trying to focus on his quadratic equation. The class was full of laughing and talking now that the teacher had left. Only the dedicated and the geeky were actually doing the work the teacher had assigned before he left. The lead on the tip of his pencil ground into fine dust the next time he heard her nagging voice, making a 150-page hole in his workbook.

"It's for my sister, Eva. She was all, 'You can't take Consumer Math! Idiots take that class!' Yeah, she was a real nerd in high school… all A's and advanced placement and crap. She's putting me to too high of a standard, you know? Just because Mom's not home doesn't mean that she can just boss me all –"

The girl jumped when she heard the sound of a hand smacking a desktop. She carefully looked over at the young man beside her, and gauged the expression of pure anger on his face. His strangely gold eyes were trained on her homework sheet, and his pale lips formed a line. His shoulders were square and tense, as if he was trying to push something very heavy. "I really don't care," he muttered, tearing his eyes away from her desk.

She shifted, uncomfortable.

Jasper felt like smacking himself. Alice was probably already on her way there. One. Simple. Thought. One passing notion lead to his almost losing control. But he wouldn't… he couldn't. He wasn't even thirsty; he had just hunted earlier that morning. But that call… that siren… that sweet cantata of human blood that sang to him endlessly. He did not have to encounter his singer to be overcome so easily by the bloodlust. Each and every human in that school was equally as appealing. Jasper cringed away from the peppermint-scented human, whose heart had sped up from his outburst.

The girl scoffed, securing her self-confidence. "Whatever."

Even through it all, Jasper could not tear his eyes away the multiple wrong answers slopped over the girl's homework sheet. From the numbers and letters that he could actually distinguish, over two thirds of them were wrong by just the slightest bit. In a simple equation, she had added 2 and 4 instead of multiplying them. In her binomial theorem, she had listed the exponents in descending order, rather than ascending. These trivial errors irked Jasper to the core, but subconsciously lowered his imminent thirst for the blood pulsing around him.

The human girl began writing out the formula to find the rth term of a polynomial. She left off the factorial sign in the denominator. This could be trouble.

"Excuse me," he said in a silky smooth voice. The girl turned haughtily to her strange neighbor.

"Can I help you, sir?" she demanded sarcastically. Irritation was in not only her voice, but also flowing off her in quick, powerful bursts.

Jasper smirked slightly before responding, "I couldn't help but notice that –"

A slow blush worked up the girl's neck and cheeks, and she moved her elbow to cover her pencil work.

"– you have quite a few – "

Jasper quickly realized that it was not a blush of shyness, but of rage.

"– errors…?"

Her eyes burned with what Jasper could only describe as blatant offense mixed with ultimate contempt. He was amazed how she managed to fit all these words in one breath, "Just because we aren't all giftedandtalented in this class doesn't mean that we have to bow down our superiors like thankful little dweebs, thank you very much."

She turned her affronted eyes back to her paper, and hunched over it like a troll guarding a bridge. Jasper – becoming slightly annoyed himself with the amount of frustration he was receiving from her – sighed and returned to his work. If she would not accept his help, then he was more than willing to never offer it again. The bell sounded for next period, and the girl popped up so quickly that her knee nicked the underside of her desk loudly. Pain shot through the rest of her leg, but she paid no mind, gathering her books hastily.

"By the way, Gifted and Talented," she said harshly, zipping up her backpack with such force that it gave a high pitch squeak as though hurt somehow, "The name's Emmeline. Emmeline Forest. Don't forget it."

The human stormed from the room with her nose held high in the air, her oversized, overweight book bag dangling precariously on the edge of her small shoulder. Jasper smirked after her, and Emmett shot him a smug look, clicking his tongue and winking.

Jasper sighed once more and collected him books. He got exactly what he deserved for even trying to interact with a human. It was an impossible thing to do, really: maintain a normal relationship between his kind and theirs. Edward and Bella's situation was rare indeed. Nevertheless, as he walked from the classroom 18A into the crowded hall, Jasper couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't noticed Emmeline Forest before today…

*J*

"You made her cry?"

Jasper turned away from Edward's reproachful glare, just to be met by Bella's. He should have known that Emmett would go blowing it out of proportion to the family at the lunch hour he decided to miss. A refreshing jog though the city's densely-treed park had cleared his senses. "No, I did –" he began to say "not," but was cut off by Edward's accusing, "Ah-ha!"

"So you admit it!" he declared triumphantly.

Rain blurred the windshield of Edward's car, distorting buildings and figures as they pass on the way out of the high school parking lot. Quickly catching himself, he flicked on the windshield wipers. Any normal person wouldn't be able to see properly out of the water-drenched window.

Bella gave a weary sigh, turning around to face forward in the passenger seat again. She gave Edward a pointed look, addressing Jasper, "I believe you, Jasper. It was just a misunderstanding."

Now, being in a car with his angry siblings wasn't the worst thing that was bothering Jasper at the moment. Not at all. It was the talk he would no doubt be receiving from his darling wife, upon arriving at their residence.

Rosalie and Emmett had taken their own car to school that day. They were masquerading as seniors at the high school, and were planned to get "married" (for at least the fiftieth time) after graduation. They had been branching out more as a couple lately, getting people used to the idea.

Edward turned onto the road leading to the elementary school, expecting to see Renesmee waiting in her usual spot out front.

At that precise moment, a certain, choppy-haired, frail-looking high school junior happened to be traipsing past Renesmee's school. The hybrid stared at the girl strangely, out from under her hot pink umbrella, bewildered by the angry scowl etched across the human's face. Said human looked up at her briefly, grimacing at something in her own mind. Renesmee watched the girl walk away down the sidewalk, but lost interest when a familiar silver Volvo approached. Hi, Daddy!

*E*

To say that Emma was irritated… was a dire understatement. Her fingertips dug almost painfully into the strap of her bag, trying to offset some of the weight pulling down on her shoulder. She grumbled incoherently to herself as she took a right turn after the elementary school. A few more blocks, and one more turn found her squarely in front of the large, glass storefront of Forest's Antiques.

The store was the first shop one would come to, when entering the one-way cul-de-sac of Irondale's shopping stores. A roundabout of merchants, if you will. Most of the stores were privately owned (Nancy's Fancy – a consignment store, Butler's Suits – the name says it all, Unique Finds: Antique Mall – the Forests' competition), and had not been remodeled since they were built in the early 20th century. A small, circular grass area made up the center of the road, some rusting park benches shaded by several dogwood trees. The only disadvantage of this setup was the fact that the road was one-way. Some people would circle the grass ten times before finding a parking space by the storefronts.

Irondale was a slow, humble town – only consisting of 20,000 people in population – that cherished their time-old history. The mayor himself was nearly as old as the town, and wasn't keen on "changing what was already good and fine."

Now, Forest's Antiques – open Monday thru Saturday, 9am to 4pm – it was a modest shop, to say the least. However, Emma's parents had promised to pass it down to her, so… she wasn't complaining about living in the apartment above it or anything. Emma stomped up to the glass double doors, angrily yanking open the right one. The irritating bell on the door rang shrilly.

"Welcome to – ! Oh… it's just you, Emma…"

The cashier's eyes fell back to his register in disappointment. The shop hadn't had a steady flow of customers all day, with the weather the way it was. However, the over-eager 20-year-old was always on the watch for possible patrons.

Emma shook her untidy hair, sending drops of water all over the polished cherry-wood floors and the spotless glass windows. The inside of Forest's was much like the outside – plain. An oak counter – the kind you see in old theater houses – sat in the fore-section of the long, drab room. Upon this counter were several uncategorized items, as well as an old, non-computerized cash register. Long, dusty shelves lined the walls, each holding hoards of historic treasures. Where there weren't shelves, there were tall, oak bookshelves, piled and filed with hundreds of aged books. Several ancient tables and desks were strewn across the red-carpeted room, equally loaded with goods. Two plain ceiling fans – evenly spaced – lined the ceiling, and a great, crystal chandelier hung between them. A wooden door stood closed on the left wall (with the red sign – "DO NOT ENTER"), and a glass door – propped open by a decades-old garden gnome – lead to a small office on the right. Several heater vents blew in a fruitless attempt to raise the chill from the giant room. The only success the heating system achieved was stirring up the stale, musty atmosphere. In short, the ambiance was unfitting for any hyper-allergenic victim who may pass the threshold.

"Hey, Ron." The girl's voice had an edge to it as she greeted the one and only employee. "Nice weather out, wouldn't you say?"

The young man's eyebrows rose as Emma dropped her heavy (now soaking wet) book bag to the floor with a thud. He watched as she began to ring out the drenched hem of her flannel sweater.

"First, I forget my lunch this morning, so I had to spend $10 in the cafeteria. Then, Ms. friggin' Thompson failed me on this stupid paper in English – honestly, who reads Jane Austen anymore! Then, Mr. Collins hands me back my term exam with a big fat F on it! I swear to God, if that man didn't live so close to the police department –"

"Emma, I can see you're upset, but – um – can't you…" Ron trailed off; he jerked head to the couple huddled in the corner of the huge room, who was closely scrutinizing a crystal "Star of David" vase.

Emma scoffed, glaring at the couple as she took hold of the handle of her bad and proceeded to drag it toward the door on the left. "Send Eva up if she ever decides to show her face," she snarled as she flung the door open. Swinging her bag in before herself with a colossal clunk, Emma stalked in and slammed the door so hard that the "DO NOT ENTER" sign knocked against the door several times, emitting a pitiful 'Tink!'

Her bag thudded on each step as she dragged it up the narrow stairwell to her place of residence. The close walls in this passage had always made her feel slightly claustrophobic. Rain could be seen pounding on the tiny, pained window above the small, square landing. If one were to peer out this window, they would perhaps become dizzy by the view of the dark alley between Forest's Antiques and Liz's Bakery. To the left, and one more step up found her stepping on the soft, butter cream bur-bur carpet of the small apartment living room.

The house was silent – not a trace of life – just the same as it had been for two months.

She flicked on the light switch, and three of the four lights from the ceiling fan flickered on. The fourth bulb had been out for several weeks. She plopped her bag onto the old, coffee-colored cashmere couch, running a hand through her damp hair before unbuttoning her drenched sweater. She shook it a few times before hanging it on the old-style hat stand just inside the doorway. Her dark purple puddle-hoppers made damp marks of the carpet as she crossed the small room into the smaller kitchen.

The neon-yellow linoleum floor of the galley kitchen always reminded Emma of potato salad. She took half a plastic-wrapped sugar cookie from her pocket and set it on the mustard-yellow counter, opening an equally yellow antique fridge. There was some leftover pasta, a bag of carrots, half a gallon of milk, and a case of Coke.

She groaned.

The Forest's apartment was comfortable – comfortable being one-step-up from crowded, that is. The living room was only slightly larger than the bedrooms, which were just as crowded with stuff. A 1930's coffee table had been made into a makeshift entertainment center, where a large 500-pound television sat. The screen flickered and pixilated whenever in use, so it was rarely called upon. The walls of this room were paneled pine, nailed into place at least 30 years prior.

A door-less entry branched from the right side of this room, leading a very small hallway – two doors on the left side, and one on the right. The two doors exactly opposite each other were bedrooms; the other, closer door to the left was the only bathroom in the house. The tiny ½ bath was wedge right in between the kitchen and the girls' room. A shower stall was crammed in with a toilet and a sink, with one small, mirrored cabinet above the sink. The two bedrooms were almost identical in size, and fully endowed with mismatched antique furniture. The door on the right had not been opened in approximately two months. However, the door on the left was the girls' room, which had a lovely view of the roundabout down below.

A small window above the porcelain kitchen sink also faced the street, though this one was opaque, due to the poor glasswork of the late 19th century. The cabinets flanking this window were simply white walled pine, with knots in the wood showing through the white every now and again. A half-filled dish strainer sat to the left of the sink, and a black stovetop/oven was on the right – nearly the only 21st century appliance in the house.

Last, but not least, a narrow oak door lead from the left side of the living room, which was usually left cracked open a fraction of an inch. Mr. Forest's study was strewn with papers and trinkets, waiting indefinitely for signatures or repair. The loud ticking of a grandfather clock could be heard coming from the small room.

Emma pulled the tab on a Coke and took a long swig. She had piles of Algebra homework to do, and needed the extra brain power that the caffeine of the drink would provide. The cold weather, plus the freezing can of Coke, didn't bother her. She was so used to it, having lived in the same place her entire life. This was the house she was born in (literally – Mrs. Forest went into early labor), this was the house where she took her first step, where she said her first word ("Coke" – ironically)...

She slunk off down the hallway. She always hated how it came to such an abrupt halt after the doors. A circular end table sat at the dead-end, bearing one single item. Emma gritted her teeth when she saw it – a picture of her parents on their wedding day.

"Edgar Forest and Eloise Grey – United 1971" the words ran along the copper-and-gold frame. Her parents had eloped at an early age, and waited several years to have their two girls – Evangeline and Emmeline. Her mother's young face was beaming up at her new husband, seeming not to notice the photographer. Edgar, too, only had eyes for the beautiful woman he held tightly in his arms.

With a soft, irritated growl, Emma took the top of the frame and slammed it face down again. "Stupid Eva," she grumbled, jerking the second left-hand door open with more force than necessary. It slammed behind her, causing the frame to tremble.

The rain continued to pour.

*E*

The steady beeping of the monitor was comforting, in a way, to Evangeline Forest. The electronic chart of the heart meter read the same thing over and over again, almost as if promising to continue indefinitely. She couldn't tell what the other numbers and lines on the screen were, however, they hadn't changed at all – very much like the heartbeat. The dry, cold hand she held in hers tensed slightly, and Eva startled, searching the face of her mother in a vain attempt to find life.

Her mother sighed, as if troubled by a dream, and her hand relaxed in Eva's hold. The 21-year-old sighed too, discouraged, and resumed her vigilant study of the monitor screen above the medical cot. It read the same as before – the same as it had for the past two months.

"Oh, Miss Forest, I hadn't realized…"

Eva's eyes lifted from her mother's pale face, meeting the dark figure poised halfway through the door. She felt an all-too-familiar pang in her chest at the well-known face. "It's all right. I need to go home, anyway."

The girl stood from her mother's bed, adjusting the strap of her still-shouldered purse, and met the doctor at the foot of the bed. She frowned. "I thought you promised not to let me go past three hours again."

The doctor smiled sadly. "My apologies. Though I'm afraid you'll have to brave the rain if you leave now…"

Eva could hear the rain pelting the curtained window of the hospital room – just the same as when she first arrived. "I suppose I will…," she trailed off, shivering. She thought about striking up some small talk, but decided against it. The young doctor always threw her off-balance.

Then, remembering, "Oh, I'd meant to ask you." She caught the doctor's arm, leaning close as if asking about a secret. "Has anything changed?" Her voice was soft and pleading, her eyes trained on woman in the bed.

Though her mother's hair was snow-white, her face held the youth of her younger days. You could see her kind, honest spirit in the soft wrinkles of her face. Eva hadn't missed how those age lines had become more pronounced with each passing day…

The doctor's brow furrowed and he repeated what he had been telling her for two long months. "Your mother's coma has not changed, Evangeline."

Eva nodded curtly, putting on a brave face. She did not speak, for fear her voice would falter. However, she did not forget her manners. "Thank you, Dr. Cullen. I'll… see you next week." She turned away from the man, biting her lip, fighting a frown. She slowly lowered her coat from the hook on the wall near the door.

"Enjoy your evening, Miss Forest."

She nodded silently, closing the door softly behind her. The sounds of the hospital were routine and ordinary to Eva by now… phones ringing, nurses chattering, wheelchair tires squeaking on the waxed linoleum… the friendly nods that familiar people gave her in passing. She exited from the west wing, having traveled two flights of stairs and several corridors, out into the crisp, wet air. A large onning covered several benches and potted plants near the hospital entrance, an old lady or two out enjoying the rain-scented afternoon.

Eva pulled up the hood of her heavy winter coat over her long hair, keeping the rest of it pinned down her back and waist. Soon, the ends of it would stick out of the hem of most jackets… Mrs. Forest always cherished her long hair – Eva had sworn not to cut it until her mother returned to her.

The young woman dashed through the rain, puddles soaking through the bottom of her jeans and the felt of her Wal-Mart boots. She dug the keys of an '87 Grand Am out of her coat pocket with her stiff, chilled fingers. She stuck them in the door of the emerald green (well, half-emerald green, half-grey primer) compact, turning them swiftly. Her fingers slipped on the wet handle three times before she successfully opened the driver's door. Teeth chattering, she turned the keys in the ignition and rubbed her hands together.

The ride from the hospital back to the shop was short; Eva didn't bother attempting to use the heating system. Besides, she had to conserve the half-tank of gas as long as she possibly could. She pulled into one of the slanted parking spots in front of the store, waiting for the windshield wipers to finish their swipe before cutting the engine.

She sighed heavily – her breath condensing in the extreme cold air of the vehicle – before opening the door to the rain again. She jumped across the river of water running between the road and the sidewalk curb, narrowly escaping an embarrassing fall. The moldy, warmish air of the shop was much preferable to the cold, dank outside. She used to love the rain, as her mother did, up until a few months ago…

"Welcome to Forest's Ant – ! Oh… hey, Eve."

Those who respected her called her Miss Forest, acquaintances called her Evangeline, friends called her Eve. But only – only her sister, Emmeline, called her Eva. The shop was completely empty, and the whirr of the exhausted heater was heard like the echo of a scream through a tunnel. The familiar smell of the past greeted Eva, and she took a deep breath of it with familiarity and satisfaction.

"Hello, Ron. Slow day?" she asked, unwinding a flannel scarf from around her neck.

He shrugged. "No more than normal. And you?"

Eva sighed, a common occurrence as of late, and started undoing the loops of her coat. "Oh, the time just flew away from me…"

"Is that why you forgot to pick up Emma?" he asked tentatively.

Her eyes flew wide open, and her wrist jutted up to her nose. School had been let out at least 45 minutes ago. "My goodness! I need to –!"

Ronald Cooper hated seeing his employer so wound up. He signed. "She's already been in, Eve. She's upstairs…"

Eva dropped her hands, crestfallen. "I even promised her," she mumbled to herself, scowling at the ground. Their mother had taught them the importance of keeping their word, no matter what the fray. She strived endlessly to be like Eloise, but Eva could never quite see how her mother had done it all so well. She came back to herself after a moment. "Well… thank you, Ron. You can close up early, if you like. I don't think this weather will help with sales much…"

The young man nodded, tapping some paper on the counter to staple them. "Awesome. I agree. Have a good night, then," he called after her as she walked towards the apartment door. The foam soles of her boots made funny squishing sounds as she went.

"Thanks, you too."

There was a terrible draft in the stairwell, causing Eva to shutter as she closed the door behind herself. The rain still thundered on the roof – she could hear it better on the second floor – and she had half a mind that it was hail at this point. The house was ominously quiet as Eva placed her things on the hat rack. She frowned again when she saw Emma's coat already there.

She combed her long, golden hair with her fingers as she stepped into the kitchen. She stood there for a long time, picking at a rat's nest at the nape of her neck, with no significant thought passing through her mind. The shades of yellow in the kitchen were familiar and comforting to her, after the troubled day she'd had. She had recently invented this numb state of mind, to cope with…

"Eva! Where have you been?"

Her sister – obviously upset – stood on the hallway/living room threshold. Eva couldn't help but smile at her younger sister, though she was so angry. "I'm so sorry, Em. I forgot –"

"Yeah, you forgot," Emma fumed, stepping around Eva like an angry tigress. "And in the rain, too!" Emma folded her arms crossly, but her voice turned soft. "How's Mom?"

Eva shook her head, leaning back against the kitchen counter. "Nothing new."

The words hung between them for three long seconds, and fell only when a clap of thunder rattled the glass in the kitchen window. Eva jumped, and whirled around towards the window. Water was seeping through the bottom of the sill, staining the wooden shelf there. "Oh," she sighed, tearing a paper towel from the roll to dry it. She stuck an extra piece along the sill just in case it got worse.

"So, besides the rain, how was your day, Em?"

But there was no answer.

When Eva turned around, Emma had already left the room. She sighed and followed her trail down the hallway. She immediately noticed the picture on the end table had been turned down again. Eva's fingers brushed the tarnished metal of the frame, feeling her heart plummet and the numbness lift from her thoughts. Emma had been a mess those past few months – Eva could plainly see that. However, she could find no solution to her sister's depression, because she herself was suffering from it also.

If only their mother were well…

She gingerly sat the frame upright, gazing at the photo within for a long moment. She sighed, finally pulling her attention to the bedroom door. She didn't need to knock, for it was her room as well. Neither of the girls had dared to open the door to the room across the hall… ever since…

Emma was hunched over the small writing desk in the corner, scribbling rapidly on a spiral notebook. Eva had always scolded her about how close she kept her eyes to the paper, how her back arched when she did her work. Eva sat on the closer of the two twin beds, watching her sister contemplatively. She'd neglected her tutoring as of late, and Emma's grades were suffering because of it. She decided to stay home during the coming weekend (it was Thursday), to help Emma with her homework during that time. It would be difficult on Saturday – as that was her day to watch the shop, along with Monday and Wednesday – but at least they would have Sunday to themselves.

"I went to visit Dad today."

Emma's monotone voice brought Eva back from her thoughts. A deep sadness compressed her chest. "Really?"

"During lunch… I finished eating early."

The cemetery was a short walk from Irondale High. It hadn't surprised Eva that Emma actually went to their father's grave, for she did so often. What had surprised her was that she'd gone in the rain and cold, which she'd always detested. Emma had been closer to Mr. Forest – a daddy's girl. Closer, in some ways, than even Eva was to their mother.

Eva's mind strayed to earlier days as Emma's Pink Pearl eraser squeaked across her paper hastily.

A few seconds later, a paper airplane hit Eva right in the nose. "Ow." She unfolded it, not fazed by her sister's usually strange behavior, and looked over the page. There were so many red pen marks; it looked as though blood had splattered across the Algebra test. "Emmeline!" The grade in the corner, however, did faze her. "I thought you knew your quadratic equations!"

Emma scoffed. "Don't try to sound like Mom. And, it's hard to excel when you have a hard-ass for a teacher…" She rolled her eyes. "He sprang this on us in the middle of our factoring chapter."

Eva's temper flared, and her voice turned stern, hard, distant. "Do not blame this on some high school teacher. It's not like he wrote any of this; he's just presenting this foundational algebra to you in his class."

"Yeah, well, we can't all pass the college entrance exam in 10th grade, Eva." Eva's lips formed a line; Emma always sprung that one on her in discussions like these. "Besides, it not like I'm going to college, anyway…"

"Don't say that. That's what I always said in high school, and now –"

"Now you can't even go back to college."

The silence grew thicker and thicker as the seconds ticked on. Eva's face was hard, as it usually was when she felt any strong emotion, and Emma's was fiery hot as she matched and surpassed her sister's glare. After an immeasurable moment, Eva stood, breaking the connection. "I'm going to pick up some groceries. Do you want to come?"

Emma bent back over her work. "No," she bit harshly.

"Do you want anything?"

"No."

Eva sighed, half-closing the door behind her. She walked back to the living room, put on her coat and scarf, and made sure her checkbook was in her purse. Descending the steps, she began a mental checklist of items to get at the store.

Ron had closed the shop – the lights were off, the thermostat turned down for the night. Eva shivered as she crossed the room and unlocked the storefront door, ducking back out into the rain…

*J*

Alice blinked out of distant stare, a small pucker between her eyebrows. She was all alone on the porch, waiting for the others to return from school. The swinging bench swayed slightly in the breeze, but Alice didn't seem to notice as she sat upon it, frozen as a statue. The heavy rain thundered on the roof of the house; the wind caused a chilly mist to blow across the open porch of the Cullen's current residence.

But the cold wasn't what was bothering the tiny girl.

She wore no sweater; no goose bumps appeared on her smooth, porcelain skin. Whatever was bothering the statue seemed to be generated within, by her own strange mind. It was the third time, she determined, that she'd had the same vision. Edward had seen it too, just once, the first time, but he had insisted that it would change. That the future she saw was impossible. It was vague, cloudy, and distant – as if the person in it had only considered the idea, or perhaps, the person's subconscious had conjured the plan.

Nevertheless, the statue frowned.

Rosalie's most recent purchase then rolled into the driveway. A sleek, black Eclipse purred along the cement driveway and stopped in front of the giant garage to the right of the house. The garage door opened automatically, and Alice heard the engine cut only seconds before Emmett and Rosalie were standing on the porch, not a drop of water on their coats.

"Hello, Alice. Did you stay there all day?" Rosalie asked, recalling that that very spot was where they'd said their most recent goodbye.

Alice nodded absently, ignoring Emmett's booming laugh. She'd seen this very scene earlier that afternoon. "Edward's home." Seconds later, the sounds of an approaching car reached Rosalie's and Emmett's ears.

Emmett shuttered. "Eerie."

The back door of the Volvo opened and closed in half a second, even before the car had began to slow for the garage. Alice was suddenly in Jasper's arms – her feet dangling inches above the planks of the porch, her cheek pressed against his chest.

"How's the cold, darlin'?" he whispered conversationally.

"I think I broke my fever," she replied playfully, twisting her fingers in his silky, blond hair.

Jasper paused a moment, startled by the mix of emotions suddenly bombarding him. "Alice…" He pulled back, throwing Edward a strange look as he passed him to enter the house. "Did you have a good day?"

She forced the smile, as well as the burst of joy. "Yes, Jasper. Esme stayed home with me all day."

Jasper nodded, holding his wife by the waist as they followed Edward and Bella into the living room. Ironically, a happy fire crackled in the hearth. The entire two story, 3,500-square-foot, six bedroom, three bathroom house was done in warm, rustic colors – a brave new design approach that Esme took when they moved there not so long ago.

Esme sat on one of the three dark brown leather couches that faced the hearth, rapidly thrusting and pulling a sewing needle through Emmett's favorite jacket. He'd gotten a little too excited during the last Cullen family baseball game, and had begged Esme to add it to the clothes repair queue.

She smiled pleasantly at her children. "Hi, everyone. How was school?"

"Boring," sighed Edward.

"I met a new girl in General Science," said Bella, smiling.

"This really popular girl remembered my name at lunch," Renesmee gushed.

"I brought a frog into Ms. Thompson's class – freaked her out." Emmett smirked.

"I caught the frog and threw it out the window," droned Rosalie, throwing a glare at Emmett.

Everyone then looked at Jasper.

He shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny. "Um, not much happened today… Er, got a good grade back in Algebra…?" he added hopefully.

Emmett laughed. "I think everyone got wind of your little antic in Collins' hellhole," he snickered.

Bella frowned, and Edward narrowed his eyes at Jasper. His empathic brother had made a very good effort of keeping the incident from his thoughts. Everyone but Esme seemed to be well informed on the matter.

Jasper felt a surge of concern from the couch. "What happened, Jasper?" she asked curiously, dropping her sewing onto the couch next to her.

Jasper shrugged, but felt how tense Alice was at his side. "Nothing bad," he explained. "Just talked to a girl in Algebra, that's all."

Esme's eyes flickered to Alice, silently asking her something. Then – as she saw no hint of disquiet on Alice's face – she smiled at Jasper. "That's good, Jasper. You know how talking seems to distract them…," she trailed off, stepping forward to embrace her granddaughter.

"Is Jake back yet?" asked the girl hopefully.

Bella put a comforting hand on her daughter's back. "Sorry, dear. Seth hasn't heard a word, but Jacob did promise to phase within the next few days. I'm sure everyone back at La Push is just keeping him extra-busy."

Jasper felt a gentle tug on his hand, and looked down to meet Alice's imploring eyes. No one seemed to notice as the couple slipped from the room, and up to the second floor. Alice pulled her husband to sit on their bed when they arrived in their room. Alice sighed, deep in thought, and absently stroked Jasper's cold cheek.

He was cautious. Things were never well when Alice was quiet. Pulling her into his lap, he kissed her temple lovingly, burying his nose in her spiky, black hair. "What's wrong, Alice?" he whispered tenderly, "You can't lie to me, you know…"

She leaned into his touch, sighing when she knew he was right. "She's lived here in town her whole life. She has an older sister who takes care of her as a mother would. Her father is dead; her mother is hospitalized – terrible car accident about two months ago."

Jasper's face hardened. This wasn't an uncommon thing for Alice to do. If she ever sensed that his control was slipping, that he'd been tempted, she'd remind him how precious the human's life was. They would discuss the particular human's experiences – their futures – and that usually put it in enough perspective for Jasper to resist. He didn't mind that she was doing it now… he just didn't want to talk about the minty-fresh little girl in Algebra. However, if he didn't go along with Alice, she would know how much the girl affected him, then she would tell Edward or Carlisle, then he would have to endure a long lecture, and probably be banished to the animal-filled forest for a week. He didn't want that at all… however tempting it may sound…

"What's wrong with her mother?"

"Coma. Carlisle is the one taking care of her at the hospital. I haven't seen how it will turn out… as though the woman must make up her mind to live. That will determine if she recovers – if she has the will to live."

"And the sister? Is she at school, too?"

"No. She's already graduated and left for college. However, she returned to Irondale when her father died, and has stayed since. She visits her mother at least four times a week."

Jasper pulled back to see her eyes. She had a mix of sadness and sincerity coming off her, and he could plainly see it in her gentle, golden eyes as well. "You've seen a lot about these humans," he remarked softly.

She nodded, leaning up to brush his lips with hers. He felt a surge of regret shoot off her as she pressed her lips more urgently to his. He returned her kiss, holding her tiny frame closer to his marble body. He sensed she was hiding something, but didn't press it.

They made love.

*E*

The Grand Am sputtered along, coming home from an expensive trip to Win-Dixie. Just three paper bags bounced in the trunk, and Eva's checking account was considerably lower. She nervously watched the yellow line on the road, worried about the blurry windshield and darkening sky. She had always been an anxious driver.

She parked in her usual spot in front of the store, but this time entered the shop next to hers – Liz's Bakery. Lizelle Pirelli herself was behind the glass counter of the bakery, pounding mercilessly on a ball of bread dough. The middle-aged woman looked up when the sound of the rain became worse through the open door. The Italian's face lit up like Christmas.

"Evy, darling! What a surprise!" Ms. Pirelli stopped her work and dusted her flour-covered hands on her white apron. She circled around the counter to Eva.

"Hi, Ms. Pirelli. Something smells really good…"

The baker gave her half a hug, avoiding her powdery hands and front. "Grâzie! Grâzie! It's so good to see you… so pretty!" She brushed Eva's flushed cheek with the back of her hand affectionately. "I haven't seen you since…," she trailed off, the smile washing away from her face.

Edgar Forest's funeral had not only drawn Eva away from her second year of college, but also the entire town away from their personal business. The Forest family was highly respected in Irondale, and everyone came to pay their grief. Edgar's grandfather's father helped settle Irondale after all – the whole Forest family was apart of the town's heritage. Even Liz – a first generation Italian immigrant to Irondale – came to mourn the great man.

Eva smiled awkwardly. "Well, I just came by to see what's new… I heard people in the Win-Dixie bakery complimenting how much better your Danishes are than theirs…"

"Oh!" Liz's hand flew to her heart, making a palm-shaped print of powder on the red, wool sweater there. "They say that about me, Eve? Sono felice!"

Liz and Eva exchanged some small talk as the latter sampled the cook's new recipe for butterscotch fudge. Behind the vast, glass display counter was a multitude of desserts, breads, delicates, and many other mouth-watering things that came from Liz's gigantic kitchen. The shop was constantly warm – almost hot – from the unstoppable working of the ovens and stoves. Eva lost track of time and spent about half an hour there, in the comforting warmth.

"Oh, I completely forgot." Eva rose from the seat she had taken with Liz. About five wooden tables were crammed into the small waiting area in front of the counter. "I wanted to get Emma her favorite…" she cut off, stepping forward to scrutinize the display case. The selection hadn't changed a bit in the two years she'd been gone. "Ah, the Boston cream streusel… Is it still popular?" she asked her companion as Liz swept around to fetch it for her.

"Ah, yes. Everybody always tries it once… and twice." Liz smiled as she picked the most streusel-covered one and sealed it in a pastry box. She handed it to Eva. "No charge," she whispered, winking.

Eva flushed and babbled her thanks, waving as she departed. Fortunately, the eave of the shop roofs overlapped across the alleyway, sheltering Eva from the cold rain that continued to fall. She glanced at the Grand Am; she'd have to come back for the groceries if she wanted to keep the streusel dry. She quickly unlocked the glass door to the shop and closed it, shivering at the difference in temperature.

She smelt the bacon halfway up the stairs.

The three paper bags were on the kitchen counter, empty and neatly folded. The bacon in the pan on the stove popped and hissed as Emma flipped each piece. With the other hand, she poured a tablespoon of milk into a pan of scrambled eggs, leaning over to replace the jug in the refrigerator. "'Bout time! It's breakfast-dinner!" she called, slamming the fridge closed with her hip. She began whipping the eggs with a whisk.

With what skill she lacked in higher math, Emma made up with her ability to cook. Their father had been the chief of the family, so it was natural that Emma had inherited his skills. Eva took after their mother – a practical hazard in the kitchen, but with more brains than the best of them.

Eva clutched her pitiful pastry box, feeling guilty all over again. "Sorry, Em… I could've gotten that…" There was nothing worse than hauling grocery bags through the rain.

Emma shrugged, pointing to a cupboard with her elbow as she started removing the strips of bacon from the pan and onto a plate. "Just set the table and we're even."

The Forest's home lacked a proper eating area. The strip of linoleum that made up the kitchen could barely fit two people sideways, much less a table. Thus, the fold-up table and chairs that were leaned against the wall by the door to the office came into play.

Eva wrestled with the spring-loaded table legs before retrieving two plates from the cupboard. There were indentions in the living room carpet from those very table legs – evidence that this ritual had been in practice for many years. Eva folded down two of the four chairs, poured two glasses of milk, and help Emma place the food on the table.

"What is that?" Emma motioned to the white box in the middle of the table, as she swallowed half a piece of bacon.

Eva sipped her 1% milk and answered. "It's a box, silly."

"What's in the box, Eva?" she asked playfully.

Eva smiled. Things seemed to have returned to normal in her absence. "Why don't you look for yourself?"

Emma sniffed the air with her nose held high. "Oh, I know now." She smirked.

Eva scoffed, scooping up some fluffy scrambled eggs. "You can't smell it from way over there…"

"Oh, yes I can. I detected the Boston cream with my superior senses."

Eva laughed easily, some happiness coming back into her bright, hazel eyes. "Well, since we're related, shouldn't I have superior senses as well?"

"Oh, no," Emma said matter-of-factly. "Because the government did weird experiments on me when you were at college. Really horrible stuff…"

The sisters laughed together at the inside joke. Their grandfather on their mother's side always explained away strange behavior by saying it was caused by government conspiracies. No one ever knew if it was just a joke, or if he was being dead serious. He took the mystery to his grave.

"Which reminds me strangely," Emma continued. "There was this weird boy at school today."

"Is that so?" Eva asked, eager to share some of her sister's life with her. "Is he a new student?"

Emma sighed, pushing her eggs around on her plate. "No… He's been in my Algebra class for a while now… but he talked to me today."

Eva's jaw set. She didn't like how this sounded one bit. "What did he say?" she asked warily.

"Er, well," Emma stuttered, catching her sister's edge. "He didn't actually talk to me, he just kind of… responded."

Eva narrowed her eyes. "Responded how?"

"Well, at first he insulted my intelligence. Then, he got mad at me for no reason and almost broke his desk… then he insulted me again."

Eva was relieved, but she didn't let it show on her face. "How rude," she said primly, nibbling the end of her bacon. "And in class too…"

"Ye-ah," Emma agreed eagerly, taking advantage of Eva's compassion. "Right in class!"

"What's his name?"

"Jasper Cullen."

"Oh," Eva deadpanned. She had only heard good things about the Cullen children. "You know, his father is Mother's doctor."

Emma's brow furrowed. "No kidding? And here I thought he was just another rich snob." She grunted sarcastically.

Eva frowned. "Dr. Cullen is a very good man, Em. I'd be surprised that his son –" Eva stopped abruptly, suddenly befuddled. "How old is Jasper? Is he in your grade?"

Emma forked a pile of eggs. "Yeah. Junior. Why?"

"You haven't met Dr. Cullen, have you?" she asked suspiciously. It dawned on her than that Emma had not been to visit their mother at the hospital at all. She made a note to take her there one day… soon. "Fresh out of med school, as I hear it. He couldn't possibly be out of his twenties. How could he have a child in high school?"

Emma shrugged, shaking more salt on her eggs. "Dunno. Nobody knows much about those Cullen's anyway."

Eva pursed her lips in thought. People around town had told her about the doctor's family before, but they never mentioned how old his children were. Apparently, they had moved here just a few months ago from somewhere up North. They were definitely not in town when Eva went to college two years ago. She filed the information away for later.

"Never mind. Let's clean up dinner. I bet you have a load of homework, don't you?"

Emma groaned, knocking back the last of her milk and gathering her dishes.

No light came through the window above the sink, and the rain still poured. Eva watched the occasional flashes of lightning as she did the dishes; she half-listened to Emma's enraged complaints about her English teacher.

The rain stopped sometime in the night, far after the two sisters fell to sleep.