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5. 4. Invitations
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In my dream it was very dark, and what dim light there was seemed to be radiating from Edward's skin. I couldn't see his face, just his back as he walked away from me, leaving me in the blackness. No matter how fast I ran, I couldn't catch up to him; no matter how loud I called, he never turned. Troubled, I woke in the middle of the night and couldn't sleep again for what seemed like a very long time. After that, he was in my dreams nearly every night, but always on the periphery, never within reach.
The month that followed the accident was uneasy, tense, and, at first, embarrassing.
To my dismay, I found myself the center of attention for the rest of that week. Tyler Crowley was impossible, following me around, obsessed with making amends to me somehow. I tried to convince him what I wanted more than anything else was for him to forget all about it — especially since nothing had actually happened to me — but he remained insistent. He followed me between classes and sat at our now-crowded lunch table. Mike and Eric were even less friendly toward him than they were to each other, which made me worry that I'd gained another unwelcome fan.
No one seemed concerned about Edward, though I explained over and over that he was the hero — how he had pulled me out of the way and had nearly been crushed, too. I tried to be convincing. Jessica, Mike, Eric, and everyone else always commented that they hadn't even seen him there till the van was pulled away.
I wondered to myself why no one else had seen him standing so far away, before he was suddenly, impossibly saving my life. With chagrin, I realized the probable cause — no one else was as aware of Edward as I always was. No one else watched him the way I did. How pitiful.
Edward was never surrounded by crowds of curious bystanders eager for his firsthand account. People avoided him as usual. The Cullens and the Hales sat at the same table as always, not eating, talking only among themselves. None of them, especially Edward, glanced my way anymore.
When he sat next to me in class, as far from me as the table would allow, he seemed totally unaware of my presence. Only now and then, when his fists would suddenly ball up — skin stretched even whiter over the bones — did I wonder if he wasn't quite as oblivious as he appeared.
He wished he hadn't pulled me from the path of Tyler 's van — there was no other conclusion I could come to.
I wanted very much to talk to him, and the day after the accident I tried. The last time I'd seen him, outside the ER, we'd both been so furious. I still was angry that he wouldn't trust me with the truth, even though I was keeping my part of the bargain flawlessly. But he had in fact saved my life, no matter how he'd done it. And, overnight, the heat of my anger faded into awed gratitude.
He was already seated when I got to Biology, looking straight ahead. I sat down, expecting him to turn toward me. He showed no sign that he realized I was there.
"Hello, Edward," I said pleasantly, to show him I was going to behave myself.
He turned his head a fraction toward me without meeting my gaze, nodded once, and then looked the other way.
And that was the last contact I'd had with him, though he was there, a foot away from me, every day. I watched him sometimes, unable to stop myself— from a distance, though, in the cafeteria or parking lot. I watched as his golden eyes grew perceptibly darker day by day. But in class I gave no more notice that he existed than he showed toward me. I was miserable. And the dreams continued.
Despite my outright lies, the tenor of my e-mails alerted Renée to my depression, and she called a few times, worried. I tried to convince her it was just the weather that had me down.
Mike, at least, was pleased by the obvious coolness between me and my lab partner. I could see he'd been worried that Edward's daring rescue might have impressed me, and he was relieved that it seemed to have the opposite effect. He grew more confident, sitting on the edge of my table to talk before Biology class started, ignoring Edward as completely as he ignored us.
The snow washed away for good after that one dangerously icy day. Mike was disappointed he'd never gotten to stage his snowball fight, but pleased that the beach trip would soon be possible. The rain continued heavily, though, and the weeks passed.
Jessica made me aware of another event looming on the horizon — she called the first Tuesday of March to ask my permission to invite Mike to the girls' choice spring dance in two weeks.
"Are you sure you don't mind... you weren't planning to ask him?" she persisted when I told her I didn't mind in the least.
"No, Jess, I'm not going," I assured her. Dancing was glaringly outside my range of abilities.
"It will be really fun." Her attempt to convince me was halfhearted. I suspected that Jessica enjoyed my inexplicable popularity more than my actual company.
"You have fun with Mike," I encouraged.
The next day, I was surprised that Jessica wasn't her usual gushing self in Trig and Spanish. She was silent as she walked by my side between classes, and I was afraid to ask her why. If Mike had turned her down, I was the last person she would want to tell.
My fears were strengthened during lunch when Jessica sat as far from Mike as possible, chatting animatedly with Eric. Mike was unusually quiet.
Mike was still quiet as he walked me to class, the uncomfortable look on his face a bad sign. But he didn't broach the subject until I was in my seat and he was perched on my desk. As always, I was electrically aware of Edward sitting close enough to touch, as distant as if he were merely an invention of my imagination.
"So," Mike said, looking at the floor, "Jessica asked me to the spring dance."
"That's great." I made my voice bright and enthusiastic. "You'll have a lot of fun with Jessica."
"Well..." He floundered as he examined my smile, clearly not happy with my response. "I told her I had to think about it."
"Why would you do that?" I let disapproval color my tone, though I was relieved he hadn't given her an absolute no.
His face was bright red as he looked down again. Pity shook my resolve. "I was wondering if... well, if you might be planning to ask me." I paused for a moment, hating the wave of guilt that swept through me. But I saw, from the corner of my eye, Edward's head tilt reflexively in my direction.
"Mike, I think you should tell her yes," I said.
“Did you already ask someone?" Did Edward notice how Mike's eyes flickered in his direction?
"No," I assured him. "I'm not going to the dance at all."
"Why not?" Mike demanded. I didn't want to get into the safety hazards that dancing presented, so I quickly made new plans.
"I'm going to Seattle that Saturday," I explained. I needed to get out of town anyway —it was suddenly the perfect time to go.
"Can't you go some other weekend?"
"Sorry, no," I said. "So you shouldn't make Jess wait any longer — it's rude."
"Yeah, you're right," he mumbled, and turned, dejected, to walk back to his seat. I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples, trying to push the guilt and sympathy out of my head. Mr. Banner began talking. I sighed and opened my eyes.
And Edward was staring at me curiously, that same, familiar edge of frustration even more distinct now in his black eyes.
I stared back, surprised, expecting him to look quickly away. But instead he continued to gaze with probing intensity into my eyes. There was no question of me looking away. My hands started to shake.
"Mr. Cullen?" the teacher called, seeking the answer to a question that I hadn't heard.
"The Krebs Cycle," Edward answered, seeming reluctant as he turned to look at Mr. Banner.
I looked down at my book as soon as his eyes released me, trying to find my place. Cowardly as ever, I shifted my hair over my right shoulder to hide my face. I couldn't believe the rush of emotion pulsing through me — just because he'd happened to look at me for the first time in a half-dozen weeks. I couldn't allow him to have this level of influence over me. It was pathetic. More than pathetic, it was unhealthy.
I tried very hard not to be aware of him for the rest of the hour, and, since that was impossible, at least not to let him know that I was aware of him. When the bell rang at last, I turned my back to him to gather my things, expecting him to leave immediately as usual.
"Bella?" His voice shouldn't have been so familiar to me, as if I'd known the sound of it all my life rather than for just a few short weeks.
I turned slowly, unwillingly. I didn't want to feel what I knew I would feel when I looked at his too-perfect face. My expression was wary when I finally turned to him; his expression was unreadable. He didn't say anything.
"What? Are you speaking to me again?" I finally asked, an unintentional note of petulance in my voice.
His lips twitched, fighting a smile. "No, not really," he admitted.
I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly through my nose, aware that I was gritting my teeth. He waited.
"Then what do you want, Edward?" I asked, keeping my eyes closed; it was easier to talk to him coherently that way.
"I'm sorry." He sounded sincere. "I'm being very rude, I know. But it's better this way, really."
I opened my eyes. His face was very serious. "I don't know what you mean," I said, my voice guarded.
"It's better if we're not friends," he explained. "Trust me."
My eyes narrowed. I'd heard that before.
"It's too bad you didn't figure that out earlier," I hissed through my teeth. "You could have saved yourself all this regret."
"Regret?” The word, and my tone, obviously caught him off guard. "Regret for what?"
"For not just letting that stupid van squish me." He was astonished. He stared at me in disbelief. When he finally spoke, he almost sounded mad.
"You think I regret saving your life?"
"I know you do," I snapped.
"You don't know anything." He was definitely mad.
I turned my head sharply away from him, clenching my jaw against all the wild accusations I wanted to hurl at him. I gathered my books together, then stood and walked to the door. I meant to sweep dramatically out of the room, but of course I caught the toe of my boot on the door jamb and dropped my books. I stood there for a moment, thinking about leaving them. Then I sighed and bent to pick them up. He was there; he'd already stacked them into a pile. He handed them to me, his face hard.
"Thank you," I said icily. His eyes narrowed. "You're welcome," he retorted. I straightened up swiftly, turned away from him again, and stalked off to Gym without looking back. Gym was brutal. We'd moved on to basketball. My team never passed me the ball, so that was good, but I fell down a lot. Sometimes I took people with me. Today I was worse than usual because my head was so filled with Edward. I tried to concentrate on my feet, but he kept creeping back into my thoughts just when I really needed my balance.
It was a relief, as always, to leave. I almost ran to the truck; there were just so many people I wanted to avoid. The truck had suffered only minimal damage in the accident. I'd had to replace the taillights, and if I'd had a real paint job, I would have touched that up. Tyler's parents had to sell their van for parts.
I almost had a stroke when I rounded the corner and saw a tall, dark figure leaning against the side of my truck. Then I realized it was just Eric. I started walking again.
"Hey, Eric," I called.
"What's up?" I said as I was unlocking the door. I wasn't paying attention to the uncomfortable edge in his voice, so his next words took me by surprise.
"Uh, I was just wondering... if you would go to the spring dance with me? " His voice broke on the last word.
"I thought it was girls' choice," I said, too startled to be diplomatic.
"Well, yeah," he admitted, shamefaced. I recovered my composure and tried to make my smile warm.
"Thank you for asking me, but I'm going to be in Seattle that day."
"Oh," he said. "Well, maybe next time."
"Sure," I agreed, and then bit my lip. I wouldn't want him to take that too literally. He slouched off, back toward the school. I heard a low chuckle. Edward was walking past the front of my truck, looking straight forward, his lips pressed together. I yanked the door open and jumped inside, slamming it loudly behind me. I revved the engine deafeningly and reversed out into the aisle. Edward was in his car already, two spaces down, sliding out smoothly in front of me, cutting me off. He stopped there — to wait for his family; I could see the four of them walking this way, but still by the cafeteria. I considered taking out the rear of his shiny Volvo, but there were too many witnesses. I looked in my rearview mirror. A line was beginning to form. Directly behind me, Tyler Crowley was in his recently acquired used Sentra, waving. I was too aggravated to acknowledge him.
While I was sitting there, looking everywhere but at the car in front of me, I heard a knock on my passenger side window. I looked over; it was Tyler. I glanced back in my rearview mirror, confused. His car was still running, the door left open. I leaned across the cab to crank the window down. It was stiff. I got it halfway down, then gave up.
"I'm sorry, Tyler, I'm stuck behind Cullen." I was annoyed — obviously the holdup wasn't my fault.
"Oh, I know — I just wanted to ask you something while we're trapped here." He grinned.
This could not be happening. "Will you ask me to the spring dance?" he continued.
"I'm not going to be in town, Tyler." My voice sounded a little sharp. I had to remember it wasn't his fault that Mike and Eric had already used up my quota of patience for the day.
"Yeah, Mike said that," he admitted.
"Then why —" He shrugged. "I was hoping you were just letting him down easy." Okay, it was completely his fault.
"Sorry, Tyler," I said, working to hide my irritation. "I really am going out of town."
"That's cool. We still have prom." And before I could respond, he was walking back to his car. I could feel the shock on my face. I looked forward to see Alice, Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper all sliding into the Volvo. In his rearview mirror, Edward's eyes were on me. He was unquestionably shaking with laughter, as if he'd heard every word Tyler had said. My foot itched toward the gas pedal... one little bump wouldn't hurt any of them, just that glossy silver paint job. I revved the engine.
But they were all in, and Edward was speeding away. I drove home slowly, carefully, muttering to myself the whole way.
When I got home, I decided to make chicken enchiladas for dinner. It was a long process, and it would keep me busy. While I was simmering the onions and chilies, the phone rang. I was almost afraid to answer it, but it might be Charlie or my mom.
It was Jessica, and she was jubilant; Mike had caught her after school to accept her invitation. I celebrated with her briefly while I stirred. She had to go, she wanted to call Angela and Lauren to tell them. I suggested — with casual innocence — that maybe Angela, the shy girl who had Biology with me, could ask Eric. And Lauren, a standoffish girl who had always ignored me at the lunch table, could ask Tyler; I'd heard he was still available. Jess thought that was a great idea. Now that she was sure of Mike, she actually sounded sincere when she said she wished I would go to the dance. I gave her my Seattle excuse.
After I hung up, I tried to concentrate on dinner — dicing the chicken especially; I didn't want to take another trip to the emergency room. But my head was spinning, trying to analyze every word Edward had spoken today. What did he mean, it was better if we weren't friends?
My stomach twisted as I realized what he must have meant. He must see how absorbed I was by him; he must not want to lead me on... so we couldn't even be friends... because he wasn't interested in me at all.
Of course he wasn't interested in me, I thought angrily, my eyes stinging — a delayed reaction to the onions. I wasn't interesting. And he was. Interesting... and brilliant... and mysterious... and perfect... and beautiful... and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.
Well, that was fine. I could leave him alone. I would leave him alone. I would get through my self-imposed sentence here in purgatory, and then hopefully some school in the Southwest, or possibly Hawaii, would offer me a scholarship. I focused my thoughts on sunny beaches and palm trees as I finished the enchiladas and put them in the oven.
Charlie seemed suspicious when he came home and smelled the green peppers. I couldn't blame him — the closest edible Mexican food was probably in southern California. But he was a cop, even if just a small-town cop, so he was brave enough to take the first bite. He seemed to like it. It was fun to watch as he slowly began trusting me in the kitchen.
"Dad?" I asked when he was almost done.
"Um, I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to Seattle for the day a week from Saturday... if that's okay?" I didn't want to ask permission — it set a bad precedent — but I felt rude, so I tacked it on at the end.
"Why?" He sounded surprised, as if he were unable to imagine something that Forks couldn't offer.
"Well, I wanted to get few books — the library here is pretty limited — and maybe look at some clothes." I had more money than I was used to having, since, thanks to Charlie, I hadn't had to pay for a car. Not that the truck didn't cost me quite a bit in the gas department.
"That truck probably doesn't get very good gas mileage," he said, echoing my thoughts.
"I know, I'll stop in Montesano and Olympia — and Tacoma if I have to."
"Are you going all by yourself?" he asked, and I couldn't tell if he was suspicious I had a secret boyfriend or just worried about car trouble.
"Seattle is a big city — you could get lost," he fretted.
"Dad, Phoenix is five times the size of Seattle — and I can read a map, don't worry about it."
"Do you want me to come with you?" I tried to be crafty as I hid my horror.
"That's all right, Dad, I'll probably just be in dressing rooms all day — very boring."
"Oh, okay." The thought of sitting in women's clothing stores for any period of time immediately put him off.
"Thanks." I smiled at him.
"Will you be back in time for the dance?" Grrr. Only in a town this small would a father know when the high school dances were.
"No — I don't dance, Dad." He, of all people, should understand that — I didn't get my balance problems from my mother. He did understand.
"Oh, that's right," he realized. The next morning, when I pulled into the parking lot, I deliberately parked as far as possible from the silver Volvo. I didn't want to put myself in the path of too much temptation and end up owing him a new car. Getting out of the cab, I fumbled with my key and it fell into a puddle at my feet. As I bent to get it, a white hand flashed out and grabbed it before I could. I jerked upright. Edward Cullen was right next to me, leaning casually against my truck.
"How do you do that?" I asked in amazed irritation.
"Do what?" He held my key out as he spoke. As I reached for it, he dropped it into my palm.
"Appear out of thin air."
"Bella, it's not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant." His voice was quiet as usual — velvet, muted.
I scowled at his perfect face. His eyes were light again today, a deep, golden honey color. Then I had to look down, to reassemble my now-tangled thoughts.
"Why the traffic jam last night?" I demanded, still looking away. "I thought you were supposed to be pretending I don't exist, not irritating me to death."
"That was for Tyler 's sake, not mine. I had to give him his chance." He snickered.
"You..." I gasped. I couldn't think of a bad enough word. It felt like the heat of my anger should physically burn him, but he only seemed more amused.
"And I'm not pretending you don't exist," he continued.
"So you are trying to irritate me to death? Since Tyler 's van didn't do the job?" Anger flashed in his tawny eyes. His lips pressed into a hard line, all signs of humor gone.
"Bella, you are utterly absurd," he said, his low voice cold. My palms tingled — I wanted so badly to hit something. I was surprised at myself. I
was usually a nonviolent person. I turned my back and started to walk away. "Wait," he called. I kept walking, sloshing angrily through the rain. But he was next to me, easily keeping pace. "I'm sorry, that was rude," he said as we walked. I ignored him. "I'm not saying it isn't
true," he continued, "but it was rude to say it, anyway."
"Why won't you leave me alone?" I grumbled.
"I wanted to ask you something, but you sidetracked me," he chuckled. He seemed to have recovered his good humor.
"Do you have a multiple personality disorder?" I asked severely.
"You're doing it again." I sighed.
"Fine then. What do you want to ask?"
"I was wondering if, a week from Saturday — you know, the day of the spring dance
—" "Are you trying to be funny ?" I interrupted him, wheeling toward him. My face got drenched as I looked up at his expression. His eyes were wickedly amused.
"Will you please allow me to finish?" I bit my lip and clasped my hands together, interlocking my fingers, so I couldn't do anything rash. "I heard you say you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wondering if you wanted a ride." That was unexpected.
"What?" I wasn't sure what he was getting at.
Do you want a ride to Seattle ?"
"With who?" I asked, mystified.
“Myself, obviously." He enunciated every syllable, as if he were talking to someone mentally handicapped. I was still stunned.
"Well, I was planning to go to Seattle in the next few weeks, and, to be honest, I'm not sure if your truck can make it."
"My truck works just fine, thank you very much for your concern." I started to walk again, but I was too surprised to maintain the same level of anger.
"But can your truck make it there on one tank of gas?" He matched my pace again.
"I don't see how that is any of your business." Stupid, shiny Volvo owner.
"The wasting of finite resources is everyone's business."
"Honestly, Edward." I felt a thrill go through me as I said his name, and I hated it. "I can't keep up with you. I thought you didn't want to be my friend."
"I said it would be better if we weren't friends, not that I didn't want to be."
"Oh, thanks, now that's all cleared up. "Heavy sarcasm. I realized I had stopped
walking again. We were under the shelter of the cafeteria roof now, so I could more easily look at is face. Which certainly didn't help my clarity of thought.
"It would be more...prudent for you not to be my friend," he explained "But I'm tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella." His eyes were gloriously intense as he uttered that last sentence, his voice smoldering. I couldn't remember how to breathe. "Will you go with me to Seattle ?" he asked, still intense. I couldn't speak yet, so I just nodded. He smiled briefly, and then his face became serious. "You really should stay away from me," he warned. "I'll see you in class." He turned abruptly and walked back the way we'd come.
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