“Bitch,” Jessica says, not three seconds after I step out of my truck and onto the pavement of the Forks student parking lot, “why the hell didn’t you tell me you were getting chunky highlights over break?”
I turn around to shoulder my backpack and lock my car, taking the moment to roll my eyes while my back is facing Jess. It’s not that I’m not happy to see her, because I am, but I forgot how ear-splittingly loud she can be at seven forty-five in the morning. Mom doesn’t wake up until noon, and for the past several weeks I’ve spent with her in Arizona, she’s gotten me into the habit.
It was a hard one to shake this morning, still jetlagged and eyes nearly crusted shut with the remnants of yesterday morning’s chunky mascara, and I barely feel awake now. Still, when I turn back around to face Jessica, a patient smile is plastered on my face, eyes forced wide open so I won’t betray how exhausted I still feel.
“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” I tell her, leaning against the door of my truck. “My mom already had an appointment scheduled with her hair stylist the day before I got back home, so I just ended up doing it with her. You like?”
“I love,” Jessica gushes, bouncing up and down on her heels, and my smile becomes a little more genuine. I didn’t really have enough time to miss her while I was with Mom, considering she jam-packed our days with approximately five thousand mommy-daughter activities to do, but I am truly happy that she’s here now. To make up for my previous annoyance, I sling my arm over her shoulders a la Mom and guide us towards the entrance to school, where a large throng of kids are milling about.
I hear my name being called on multiple sides as we pass, and I use the hand that’s not preoccupied to wave at a few familiar faces before Jessica and I pass by and into the atrium. Mrs. Cope and the rest of the staff were busy in the past few days- the walls are littered with various posters and signs, welcoming incoming scrubs and the rest of us to a happy 2006 school year.
“As if,” I mutter, and Jess shoots me a quizzical look. I shrug my shoulders, unwilling to go into detail about how much I’d begged Mom to let me stay with her, finish off the last two years of high school in Arizona. Her response was predictable- family court ruled years ago that I’d have to stay in Charlie’s backwater town, and it doesn’t make sense to drag him to court all over again for just two more years, and blah-blah-blah-, but I’d still held out hope beyond hope that she’d finally concede my point.
And now I’m back here, just as I have been for the past seventeen years of my life. The fact that I now know that won’t change anytime soon doesn’t really help my agitation.
“-just wish you would’ve told me so we could match, or whatever,” Jessica’s complaining, and I snap back to the present, rolling my eyes flagrantly when my brain finally processes what she’s saying.
“We would look like total dumbasses if we both had chunky highlights,” I point out. “Besides, you wouldn’t be able to find anyone in Forks who’d do them for you.”
Jessica grumbles something unintelligible under her breath. I sigh, removing my arm from her shoulders when we get to the point where the atrium narrows into the A building hallway. I don’t know how to tell her that even if Forks had a hair stylist under the age of fifty in residence, I would’ve hated it if she tried to imitate what I’d done with my hair- and it’s not entirely because we would’ve looked like prepubescent twins whose parents dressed them up identically.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, considering I’ve been the instigator of the vast majority of every trend that both Forks High and Forks Middle ever experienced, but this trend in particular feels more intimate than the others. It’s something that Mom and I did together, something that, at the risk of sounding over-saccharine, feels far more intimate than chunky highlights usually feel.
And while I want it to remain something that only Mom and I share, I know that it’s only a matter of weeks before most of the girls in our grade head over to Port Angeles to get their own highlights done there. They might even take pictures of me on the down-low to show to their hairstylists, I think to myself, amused.
“Let’s go to the bathroom before the bell rings,” I tell Jessica. “I want to make sure my mascara hasn’t smudged.”
She nods in response, and we both veer to the left, where the one and only girl’s bathroom is in the entire building. That’s another thing I tried to tell Mom- what kind of backwards school only has one student bathroom in the main building? But while she commiserated with me, she just repeated what she’s been repeating for nearly two decades now: Just a few more years, and you’ll be able to move home, where you belong.
It's never been more clear how little I belong here when Jess and I step inside the bathroom to find it crawling with freshies in Old Navy cardigans and high-waisted, soccer mom jeans. Probably not even actual Old Navy ware- Forks isn’t big enough to have an Old Navy. We have crappy secondhand shops and tiny department stores run by women with beehive hairdos, that’s it. They scatter when they see us, which is gratifying, and leave the mirror free for us to scrutinize our reflections.
“I literally want to take sandpaper and scrub my pores off,” Jessica complains, pulling the skin of her cheeks taut with her thumb and forefinger. “Why the hell are they so big?”
“You look good, Jess,” I sigh, fishing out a Juicy Tube from my pocket and pursing my lips. I never feel comfortable getting ready at home. Charlie doesn’t complain about it to my face (not since I caught him talking on the phone with Billy last year and complaining about Mom’s efforts to turn me into a clown), but he makes his discomfort known in other ways. Like, say, sighing wistfully about where his innocent little girl went, and not-so-subtly hinting that I’m ruining my skin by putting four pounds of makeup on it every day, which is completely absurd. It’s closer to two pounds.
“Easy for you to say,” Jessica whines. “I’d literally have to steal Mr. Banner’s microscope to see your pores.”
“I’d like to see you try,” I say, smirking at her. “Is it possible to fail his class twice?”
Jessica opens her mouth to respond, but before she can say anything, the bathroom door squeals open, and Lauren Mallory strides in. My jaw drops as I catch her reflection in the mirror, and from my peripheral vision, I see Jessica’s doing the same.
“Holy shit,” she breathes, staring at Jessica with huge eyes. “What happened to your hair?”
Lauren’s face colors in record time, but I can’t even fully appreciate how quickly the alabaster white of her skin replicates the exact shade of an overripe tomato- my eyes are glued to the top of her head, unable to do so much as blink.
I never thought Lauren was especially pretty, but I’ve envied her hair since we were kids, a waist-length, cornsilk blonde that would gleam almost white in sunlight. Now it reaches her ears, and only just. And though the color remains the same, the overall effect is so much duller, especially since she doesn’t have any other claims to beauty.
“Who did this to you?” I gasp, taking a step forward, and she immediately steps back, scowling at me.
“No-one,” she says, tone sullen. “I did it to myself.”
Jessica and I exchange a solemn look.
“Lauren,” I say carefully, approaching her with the slow, measured movements of a farmhand with a spooked horse, “I know the past year’s been hard on you, but depression isn’t something you have to go through alo-“
“Oh, would you fuck off?” Lauren snaps, and my back stiffens. I don’t know what the expression on my face looks like, but hers turns suddenly fearful, her bottom lip trapped between her teeth.
“I didn’t mean that,” she says, lowering her eyes to the grout-filled tile floor beneath us. “Sorry, Bella.”
“It’s fine,” I say, even though it’s not. Sometimes you just have to cut people some slack- especially when they’re expressing suicidal tendencies.
As though overhearing my thoughts, Lauren says, “I’m not depressed.”
Jessica scoffs beside me, and though she flushes when we both turn our heads to look at her, her chin juts forward as she says, “Come on, Lauren. Cutting your hair into a pixie cut is, like, the first sign that you’re about to hang yourself from the rafters.”
“It wasn’t my idea,” Lauren mutters, and I watch with fascination as she curls into herself, arms crossed tightly against her chest and head hung low. I’ve never seen her this down before, not even when we were seven and she accidentally suffocated the roly-poly we found on the playground by leaving him in her backpack for too long. “I was scouted at the mall over the summer, and that stupid fucking agent promised me that if I cut my hair into something edgy-“
“Edgy!” Jessica scoffs.
“-and paid his guy fifteen thou’ to take headshots of me, I’d be on America’s Next Top Model,” Lauren continues glumly. “It was a scam, obviously. I haven’t heard back since. Now my mom’s trying to sue him, but he gave us a fake name and the studio we did the headshots at doesn’t have it either, so now I have to work at Mike’s store to get the money back.”
“Oh, Lauren…” Jessica murmurs, stepping forward with her arms outstretched. Lauren shrugs her off like an irritating fly, moving backwards until her back hits the stall door.
“Stop it,” she snaps, scowl deepening further. “It’s over now, and that’s besides the point. I came in to tell you guys the news.”
“What news?” Jessica asks immediately, a little crease between her brows, and I have to suppress a smile. Even the mere implication that there’s gossip Jessica hasn’t gotten to first sends her into heart palpitations.
“There’s new kids,” Lauren says, voice dropping into a whisper despite nobody else being in the bathroom. “And they’re hot.”
“Fuck off,” Jessica responds immediately, brow smoothing out. “There’s no new kids. I would’ve heard about it, like, at least two weeks in advance.”
“Their dad moved the family into town as a spur-of-the-moment decision, apparently,” Lauren says. The discontent from before is rapidly transforming into something gleeful and sly; she knows, like we all do, that she can hold this over Jessica’s head for a while. “And they’re not his actual kids- he’s only, like seven years older than us, but he’s their foster dad.”
“And he’s a doctor?” Jessica repeats, eyes nearly popping out of their sockets. “Is he single?”
“Ha! You wish. He has a wife- I think they’re Mormon or something; they got married super young, and there’s five kids. I’m pretty sure two of them are his wife’s niece and nephew, though.”
Jessica narrows her eyes suddenly.
“Where did you hear all this, anyway?” she asks, tone suspicious, and Lauren shrugs her shoulders.
“Mike’s dad overheard it from some guys at the shop,” she says, and then, pointedly, adds, “You guys would’ve heard this first, you know, if you weren’t skulking in the bathroom.”
I make a derisive little noise in the back of my throat, and Jessica and Lauren give me inquisitive looks. I lean back against the sink, crossing my arms over my chest as I speak.
“It’s not like it’s much news,” I explain, drawing the word out. “We have five more Mormon kids than we did before. Big deal. If they were Amish, that’d be another story.”
It isn’t much of a joke, but Jessica and Lauren’s laughter follows me out of the bathroom anyway.
The first half of our first day back is kind of a blow, honestly. I get put into a separate homeroom from Jessica and Lauren, and while Mike and Tyler are in Mrs. Stevenson’s classroom, it’s not much of a consolation. Both of them are in varying degrees of infatuation with me, and while I’d ordinarily alternate between ignoring or preening under the attention (it depends on how my last date went, honestly), it’s a little uncomfortable, especially now that I know Jessica’s crush has evolved into a full-blown obsession over the summer.
I dodge his advances as much as I can, paying close attention to Tyler, but that comes at the drawback of him somehow misconstruing my polite laughter for us going to homecoming in a month. I’m still struggling to find a nice way to tell him that hell would freeze over before I agreed to go with him, when the door suddenly swings open during the middle of Mr. Mason’s lecture, and in comes the most stunningly beautiful twins I’ve ever laid eyes on.
At least, I’m pretty sure they’re twins- their hair colors are in varying degrees of blonde, but they share the same dark circles under their eyes, which are mirroring shades of amber. The boy is handsome enough, with his honey-blonde hair curling at his shoulders and causing every single girl in class (and some of the boys) to swoon, but the girl is in an entirely different league of her own. She has a jawline sharp enough to cut glass and a statuesque frame that has every single person in class, gender regardless, to drop their jaws in unison.
I hate them immediately.
It’s not that I’m jealous of the sudden lack of attention from Tyler- it’s a blessing in disguise, honestly. What concerns me is the fact that my hair stood up on end the second they walked in the door, and the boy said, in a Southern drawl that caused the freshie next to me to squeak out loud, “Sorry we’re late, sir. We had to get our schedules from the main office.”
They don’t look like Mormons, I think to myself, absurdly. That’s the problem. If they looked like Mormons, I wouldn’t be so weirded out right now.
Because it is objectively weird that the girl is wearing the shortest miniskirt I’ve ever seen in my life, and the boy in a low-cut white shirt that can only be described as sensuous, if they truly are staunch believers in the words of Joseph Smith. Doesn’t Mormonism say something- a lot of things- about sluthood? And do Mormons even live in the South, anyway?
I’m mulling over these questions when I realize that the entire class has gone quiet, every eye in the room pointed at me. For one mortifying second, I think I’ve spoken out loud without realizing it, but then Mr. Mason says, “Bella Swan, are you present?” in a voice that implies he’s had to ask more than once.
The entire class bursts into titters, and I feel my skin flush crimson red. Somehow, I manage to pull myself together long enough to drawl, “Obviously,” and have the class redirect their giggles at Mr. Mason, who mutters something about an attitude problem before moving on to the next people in roll call.
There’s no empty seats near me, which I regret as Mr. and Mrs. God-Knows-Who sit down towards the back of the classroom. It wouldn’t ordinarily stop me- every single person around me, including Mike and Tyler, are twisting in their seats to get a good look at the twins-, but I’m still humiliated from my lapse back there. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I was thinking about the new kids, and though I’m not so insecure in my position that I feel threatened by a couple of newbies who think coffee will damn their souls to hell, it’s fairly irritating to know that the reason Mike’s eyes are pointed so low is because he’s staring at Mrs. God-Knows-Who’s tits, and not mine.
“If we were to go to homecoming…” I begin, making my voice purposefully hesitant, and both Tyler’s and Mike’s attentions are immediately directed back at me.
“You’re seriously going to go with this asshole, Bells?” Mike asks, annoyed enough to be loud, and I bite the inside of my cheek to avoid smiling. That Tyler’s (supposedly) going to be taking me out to homecoming, and that Mike is very obviously pissed about it, is going to be circulating around school like wildfire. Nobody’ll care about a bunch of un-Mormon-like Mormons come lunchtime.
Come lunchtime, the un-Mormon-like Mormons are all anyone’s talking about.
Even though Mr. and Mrs. God-Knows-Who (whose names are Jasper and Rosalie Hale, because evidently their parents not only hated them enough to abandon them with their aunt, but also decided it would be a good idea to name them after religious geriatrics) didn’t speak to anybody the entire period, that didn’t deter people from trying to approach them. I watched a particularly painful occurrence happen with Mike, as he attempted to saunter up to Rosalie in the hallway and then tripped over his own feet, bringing two freshmen down with him.
It's ridiculous, and it gets even more ridiculous when I get to the cafeteria and see that the Mormons from hell have more than doubled. I’m already in a bad mood because I had to argue with Mrs. Cope for nearly the entire class period to put me in Mr. Molina’s chemistry class instead of Mr. Banner’s biology, and this just exacerbates it even further.
“But Bella,” Mrs. Cope had said, her smudged eyeliner made all the more apparent under the ugly fluorescents of the main office, “you passed both chemistry and biology one. I can’t have you repeat the class just because you want to hang out with your friends.”
“Then put me in environmental science,” I had responded, undeterred. “I know there’s a class fourth period.”
I also knew that Lauren used the back of that classroom to roll joints, and that Mr. Harbor was too blind and deaf to care, but what Mrs. Cope didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
We had argued back and forth until she finally conceded, worn down by my efforts, and though I was initially happy to have wrangled my way out of Mr. Banner’s class (and his God-awful attempts to try to play Freedom Writer and let me know that I could excel if I only put in an effort), I only realized after I came inside Mr. Harbor’s classroom that he had been assigned a student teacher, one who was all-too-serious about his role and decided to make a seating chart for the remainder of the semester. I was assigned to the front, Lauren to the back, and, as luck would have it, the student teacher was part bloodhound- she spent ten minutes lecturing a boy in the back row for spraying Axe in class.
So it’s in this dark state of mind that I finally sit down at my seat in the center table of the cafeteria, only to realize that every single inhabitant’s gaze is focused on something in the back row. Dread rises up my throat like bile as I turn to look, too.
Sure enough, Rosalie and Jasper Hale have been joined by the rest of their siblings, all sitting on the same side of the table like the last fucking supper. There’s a huge linebacker type sitting in the leftmost seat, his curly black hair falling boyishly over his forehead. Next to him sits Rosalie, somehow even more devastatingly beautiful in the dim light streaming in through the window, and beside her Jasper, who has a slightly constipated expression on his face. Beside him is a fae-like girl, black hair coiffed in a pixie cut that puts Lauren’s to shame, and next to her, a boy with tousled auburn hair and an angular jaw. Apparently, the lack of pigmentation and amber eyes isn’t just limited to the twins- despite being foster siblings, all of the inhabitants of the table share those particular features, though there’s something especially frightening about the last boy’s, whose eyes pierce through mine.
“What the fuck?” I ask out loud. His expression is downright murderous- bizarre, considering I’ve never seen him until now, and that look is usually exclusive to people I spent eighth grade with.
“What’s up?” Eric asks, not taking his eyes off Pixie Girl, and I feel the dread turn into something darker, more hateful.
“Looks like we have another Columbine on our hands,” I say, nodding over to the redhead, and the boys at the table choke out a surprised laugh, while Angela shoots me a dark look beside me, which I ignore. I like Angela, but she reminds me of Mr. Banner in the best of times- always so righteous, so vanilla. She didn’t want to come with Jessica and Lauren and I to get belly button piercings in Port Angeles in the summer because she was worried about getting an infection, even though belly button piercings are, like, the least likely piercings to give you infections. She just chickened out because she was worried her parents would find out, nevermind the fact that she exclusively wears Peter Pan-collared shirts.
“He does look pretty pissed,” Jessica notes, tilting her head upward to get a better look. “He’s cute, though. Do you think he’d shoot me if I asked for his number?”
“He’s not cute,” I sneer, forcing myself to break eye contact with him. “None of them are cute. Didn’t you say they were Mormons, Lauren?”
“I don’t know,” she says doubtfully. “I’ve never seen a Mormon wearing a Juicy tracksuit before.”
“Maybe these are special types of Mormons,” Mike butts in helpfully, his words only half-coherent because of the food in his mouth. I wince, looking away, but even the sound of half-chewed syllables causing a frisson of disgust to lance up my spine. “Southern Mormons, or something.”
“Only Jasper is Southern,” Angela says shyly. At the unimpressed look I give her, she defensively adds, “What? Alice and Edward were in my AP Literature class, and they spoke normally. I mean- not Southern. Not that Southerners aren’t normal, I just-“
“We should go up to them,” Jessica interrupts excitedly, turning to me. “Or you should, anyway. I mean, because, you know…”
The words you’re you goes unsaid, probably because it wouldn’t be tasteful to say the words out loud, but I can hear them anyway. To a certain extent, I agree with her, much as I’m loathe to admit it. Someone has to get a greeting committee together for new kids (which are such a rare occurrence that people still talk about Ben Cheney moving here in fifth grade), and it might as well be me. No- it has to be me.
I get up from the table with a sigh, and everyone immediately stiffens, looking at me expectantly.
“Jessica,” I say immediately- I don’t see the point in tormenting her. She gets up with a squeal, clapping her hands together, and I survey the rest of the table. Eric’s a definite no- his acne’s gotten worse over summer-, and Angela is out of the question for obvious reasons. Mike and Tyler are the most attractive guys at the table, but both of them are too obvious in their tit-gazing, so they’re also nos.
It would’ve been better if Lauren still had her long hair, but there’s no help for it. I say her name lightly, aware of the fact that she’s more sensitive than usual lately, and she gets up with a frown.
“I hate it when you do that,” she mutters. “Call our names like dogs. It’s demeaning.”
I smile without humor. “Come fetch.”
She says something unintelligible underneath her breath- no doubt a curse-, but follows alongside me and Jessica without further protest as we trasverse the floor of the cafeteria. I’m hyperaware of the fact that everyone’s eyes are on us- including the new kids. Redhead leaves the second he sees me coming, so hasty that his chair squeals across the floor as he gets up and walks out in a near blur, and though I frown- it’s obvious that he left because of me-, I can’t help but feel relief at his absence. One less Mormon to deal with is always nice.
“Hi,” I say when we finally arrive in front of the table, tone bright and artificial. “I think some of us met during homeroom, but we didn’t get the chance to say hi. I’m Isabella Swan, but you can call me Bella. This is Jessica and Lauren.”
“Hi,” Jessica says, though her eyes aren’t focused on the pale faces before us- she’s staring at the chair that Redhead just vacated, expression noticeably crestfallen. Lauren, beside me, doesn’t so much as wave, instead crossing her arms over her chest and staring blankly at Alice’s pixie cut. Ugh. She’s for sure going to develop a complex about this, and it’s for sure going to get nasty.
“Hi,” Alice says brightly, after a beat. “I’m Alice, and this is Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper. And our brother- the one who just left-, his name is Edward. It’s so nice to meet you guys!”
I just barely bite back the urge to say wish I could say the same out loud, and instead force my smile to grow even wider.
“Did your brother leave because of me, or…?” I ask, trailing off with a purposefully innocent lilt in my voice. It doesn’t stop them from glancing at each other, Emmett visibly gnawing the inside of his cheek before saying, “Nah. He just had to use the bathroom. He has, um- he can’t eat milk. I mean drink! Drink milk. Can’t do that, sadly.”
Jasper mutters something that sounds suspiciously like, “Oh my God.”
“He and my second cousin have that in common,” Jessica jumps in. A beat passes in silence, and then she says, “I don’t know why I said that. I’m not really close with my second cousin. Unless you mean in, like, the biblical sense.”
Another beat, even more painful than the last.
“I don’t know why I said that, either,” she confides, and that’s when Rosalie finally speaks.
“Thank you for the introduction,” she says, tone high and stiff. There’s an apple held in her hands that I’m faintly worried is going to be crushed; it makes a concerning crunching sound between her palms, and when she sets it down, the curves of it are slightly flattened- not enough to be truly brow-raising, but enough that I’m slightly creeped out. The feeling only intensifies when she adds, “You can go back to your table, now.”
Lauren scoffs at the obvious dismissal.
“What, you think you’re better than us?” she asks, though her eyes are still focused on the top of Alice’s head. “Just because you’re Mormons?”
“I was raised Protestant,” Emmett offers, though he’s cut off when Rosalie elbows him in the ribs without looking, gaze still fixated challengingly on mine. “What? It’s true.”
“Forgive my sister,” Jasper says smoothly, though his words are accompanied by a glare in Rosalie’s direction. “She has a hard time with social situations.”
“She and my first cousin have that in common,” Jessica says, before a thoughtful look comes over her face. “I think he takes Zoloft now, though, so I guess he doesn’t have it anymore. At least, I hope whatever was in that bottle was Zoloft.”
“Sorry, Bella,” she murmurs, looking like a hit dog, and I can’t tell whether I want to laugh or cry. Instead of doing either, I force myself to look back at Jasper, who’s staring at me with a vaguely curious expression on his face, brows slightly furrowed and chin tilted upwards as if trying to parse through a question.
“Just tell your brother to stop with the serial killer act,” I say, all pretenses of warmth gone. “It’s seriously creepy.”
For some reason, this, more than anything else, causes Jasper to stiffen. His eyes are cold when he says, “I’ll do that, s’long as you make sure to tell your friends to stop ogling my sister’s chest.”
“I don’t have control over what Tyler and Mike do,” I shoot back. “Maybe you and your sister should stop wearing matching tops.”
Silence, so loud you could hear a pin drop, descends on the table. Jasper’s eyes darken as I glare at him- literally darken, as in, the pupils expand until I can barely make out a faint ring of amber-, and my heartbeat suddenly races in my chest as some primal fear takes hold of me. The sense of wrongness I felt earlier intensifies, enough that I have to fight the urge to run away as fast as my legs can take me.
Then, just as quickly as the feeling came, it goes away, as if smoothed over by some unseen hand. Jasper, taking audible breaths in through his mouth, says in a tight voice, “It was nice to meet y’all. Now kindly do us a favor and leave us alone,” before he gets up and leaves through the exit Edward did just moments before. As if on cue, Rosalie and Emmett get up and follow, the latter casting an inquisitive look at me over his shoulder before disappearing from view.
All that’s left at the table is Alice. An agonized expression flits over her pixie-like features, looking from us to the glass door still swinging shut, before she gets up, too. Standing at full height, she barely reaches my shoulder, and the helplessness emanating from her feels potent as she gives a quick “sorry” before following her siblings’ footsteps, moving so quickly she’s almost a blur.
Jessica, Lauren, and I are left standing like idiots in front of the table, staring at the door closing shut behind them. Vaguely I register the classroom behind us falling silent, the weight of dozens of eyes pinned on my back- witnesses to the palpable failure that’s just unfurled.
“Do you think I can still get his number?” Jessica asks, voice dropping into a whisper, and I close my eyes. I wish I was still in Arizona.