A/N (01/02/19): Hi, all. So I've made a resolution to go back through what I've already written and try and perfect it a little. This chapter, in particular, has undergone some pretty significant changes—most notably, its extension.
I feel like much of this was rushed through the first time around—I was just so excited to get it all out—and so now I'm going back through and revising things, making them more my own—now that I understand Edythe a little better.
Hope you like it!
There had never been a period of time during the day where I had wished more for the ability to sleep—or, at the least, to be able to lapse into some form of mental inertness.
Perhaps I deserved the torture of these many hours of interminable, unforgettable ennui, a tantamount reparation for the sins and depravity I'd taken part of in my too-long life. When I thought of the so many transgressions I'd taken against humankind, I found it difficult to feel any modicum of self-pity at all.
Yes, I thought to myself, I did deserve the arduous monotony of small-town high school life, the four years of which I'd repeated more than a dozen times. If the many human lives I'd taken, if the depraved thoughts and behaviors of the demonic existence I'd allowed myself to assume for nearly half a century, were any indication of the vulgar life I'd led, then this, I conceded, was the beginning of my atonement.
For all the allowances and concessions my mother had made for me, the way I spent my days now were small change in exchange for the grueling effort it had taken her to allow my siblings and I to live in this way.
Now, I stared across the long, institutional dining hall, imagining elaborate patterns into the mundane cracks in the plaster walls—while always, always doing my best to ignore the influx of more than one hundred thoughts invading my own psyche.
I had had many years to hone and perfect this gift I'd discovered upon waking to my new life; most of the time, it was like the rush of a gurgling stream in the back of my mind. The majority of the inner voices I blocked out due to tedium—after all, with almost a century of life behind me, there was literally nothing I hadn't already heard.
But today, all of the thoughts revolved around a similar event: The new boy in school. In a hamlet this small, the arrival of a new student was at the forefront of every student, and every teacher's, mind.
From what I'd heard of their inner monologing, Beaufort Swan was an ordinary looking teenage boy—in my perspective. According to almost the entire female student body, and some of the male, this boy was like a model, or a movie star. He was tall, presumably close to six foot four, and surprisingly fair-skinned for the desert state from which he'd heralded. Against this curiously pale complexion was a shock of dark hair, and soft blue eyes that had appeared troubled in most of the students' thoughts.
Only four of the inner voices in the school were not entirely obsessed with this newcomer, and only the same four of them did I disregard due to cordiality. My two sisters, and my two brothers. I tried to block out their thoughts as best I could, but still… I knew.
Royal, as usual, was thinking about himself. My tall, blond brother had been the first of my siblings to join my family, many years ago, and at the time of our meeting, I had never heard a mind more narcissistic, more self-oriented, than Royal Hale's.
Eleanor, his mate and my sister, was feeling surly over the fight she'd lost to my other sister, Jessamine, last night. Losing never had, and I suspected never would, come easy to El. She was going to request a re-match as soon as we were home, out on the back lawn. Earnest didn't like it when we fought inside the house.
My other—and much more highly favored—brother Archie's mind was a blur of indistinct images, keeping an 'eye' on the immediate future, fingers woven firmly through his wife Jess's. Every once in awhile, he threw her a worried glance.
And Jessamine… I released an inaudible sigh, biting back my grimace of pain. Though I was not an Empath like my sister, I could read her thoughts clearly, and in turn, her discomfort automatically translated into my own. Jessamine was suffering, as per usual. She was the newest addition to our 'vegetarian' lifestyle, as we had titled it, half jokingly, almost five decades ago. The anecdote was humorous to us, because our coven chose to feed on animals instead of humans.
But Jessamine had spent decades feeding in just that habit, and she was still adjusting to the transition.
Though the majority of us could sympathize with her plight, we'd all had more time to adjust to this life of abstinence than she undoubtedly had.
Edy. I didn't respond to Archie's herald. My favorite brother and I had practiced the semantics of these silent conversations for many hours, and, as such, had found ourselves quite proficient. Even when such a thing wasn't necessary, we liked to communicate this way if only to aggravate Eleanor. How's she doing?
I let the corners of my lips just slightly turn down. My other siblings, who, due to our nature, rarely missed the obviousness of shifting facial expressions, would simply equate my frown to a disposition of boredom. Archie, however, would clearly translate this illustration into words of dissuasion and concern.
His mind lapsed into premonition, searching the proximate future with a hint of hysteria.
Do I need to take her away from here?
I turned my head to one side, sighed, and then turned it back the other way. An opposition.
My feral sister would be fine, but irritation and distress—neither of these emotions foreign to me in the slightest—sparked inside my abdomen. It was idiotically hazardous to go between feeds for this amount of time. This experimentation was dangerous. Jess would need to hunt as soon as school was out for the day. Not only for her throat's sake, but for the sake of all of us, and the town, too.
Thanks, Edythe. For doing this. Archie's mental tenor was much more his normal self, now that he saw nothing was going to happen.
I found it curious that, for all his confidence in his usual interpretations of the future, he'd never quite trusted this particular avenue of 'sight'. When it came to Jessamine and her sometimes wily musings, Archie had never been confident enough to handle her by himself. Of course, I knew this was due to the fact that, before they'd joined our family, there had been too many slip-ups, too many last minute snap decisions that he'd missed—after all, he wasn't perfect. But it had not been only for him that I'd lent a metaphorical shoulder.
I lifted just my eyes to the ceiling, and then back down. Only Archie knew I was nodding. What could I say, if I were required to answer aloud? 'My pleasure'? Hardly. Necessity, however, was far more important a thing than gratification.
At that moment, a boy stepped up to the end of our table, only feet from where Jess was sitting, pausing to talk with a few of his friends. He shifted his weight, hiking his backpack higher on his shoulder, and when he moved, he inadvertently put himself directly in the path of the school heaters, and his scent burst in our direction.
I had long ago become accustomed, and then, after a time, re-accustomed, to the way the scent of human blood affected me when it had been too long. The sudden, agonizing desiccation of my petrified throat, the ghostly twist of famine in the pit of my stomach, the automatic, instinctual coil of my muscles, the excess flow of venom that filled my mouth, the throbbing ache of my jaws… None of these instinctual reactions were out of the ordinary, or even not to be expected. Our kind, in our most rudimentary of establishments, were hunters and huntresses; and this was the way we reacted to the presence of our prey.
But it was an instinct that, while many of our kind did not bother to school—or even out rightly acknowledge as a separate entity—our acknowledgement of and effort to control set us apart from others of our species.
Jessamine was letting her imagination run a little too wild, paint too vivid an illustration. She was allowing her mind to crochet the picture: She would rise, gracefully and masterfully, from our table and walk over to the boy. She would lean close to murmur in his ear, feeling the hot pulse of his body heat touch her cold, granite skin, whisper an excuse about requiring his aid. She would exit the cafeteria with the boy happily in tow—we'd never encountered a problem in this attainment before—and lead him around back of the building, where it was secluded. She would push him up against the brick wall, none too gently, and press herself close to his warm, soft body, eyes focused on the thick, throbbing artery in the side of his throat. The venom would inundate, unprecedented, and her lips would part to reveal aching, razor sharp teeth—
I swung my leg out, the toe of my boot connecting solidly with the leg of her chair, jarring her abruptly from her fantasy.
"Sorry," she whispered, longing and hunger immediately replaced by self-castigation and penitence.
"Don't worry, babe," Archie soothed her, stroking her hand, "Nothing was going to happen."
For the second time in five minutes, I bit back my own uncomfortable grimace. Only he and I would know that this was a very flagrant fallacy. Archie and I had found immediate refuge in one another the moment we'd met, and we had to stick together, now. It wasn't easy hiding our differences from the world, and as outcasts, we had to lean on each other for support. We were both misfits in a world of misfits. Protecting each others' secrets was the least we could do.
"He's a good guy," Archie stipulated now in a low murmur, "It helps if you see their humanity. His name's Winston, he has a kid brother he lives for—"
"I know who he is," Jess cut him off, her tone sharp and cursory, effectively ending the conversation. She snatched her hand out from underneath his and turned minutely in her chair, toward the wall of windows across the room.
Archie watched her profile for a minute, brows knit tight with concern—he hated, more than anything, to see her suffer—and then, knowing nothing else he could think of to say would remedy the situation, rose sinuously from his seat.
He moved across the room, dumping his tray—a mere prop; our petrified bodies required no nourishment from anything other than blood—and then exited the cafeteria. Jess's thoughts were filled with remorse, self-hatred and humiliation. I wanted to comfort her, and attempted to form a procession of words that would help to ease her strife.
My head turned compulsorily, as if the person who'd thought my name had spoken aloud. My gaze fell on the face I assumed had silently spoken my name. He was tall, his shoulders angular, with bright blue eyes set in a stirring countenance, over a straight nose and plush, pink lips, underneath thick, dark brows and long, dark eyelashes. This was the new boy the entire school had been thinking of, certainly, the seventeen year old boy named Beaufort Swan. Or, Beau, as he had corrected everyone who had addressed him by the former. He'd moved from Phoenix, Arizona to live with his father, Chief Charlie Swan, on the east side of town. A new custody situation.
I turned my attentions away, glad that this sort of compulsory reaction had begun to lessen in frequency. As time had passed, my given name had invariably gone out of style. I rarely encountered an Edythe these days.
Good luck, bro, the first inner voice thought, and I realized belatedly that it had not been the new boy who had thought my name, As if you have a chance with any of them.
The mental voice was vaguely familiar to me, as were all the other internal voices in this school—but this particular voice had become, regrettably, slightly more familiar to me since we'd returned to Forks. Jeremy Stanley had finally seemed to have conquered his severely erroneous obsession with me. I would have liked to silence the many daydreams he'd wasted his time on. I would have liked to confide in him just what would have happened if my lips, or the whetted teeth beyond them, had come anywhere close to his skin… I almost smiled at the prospect of his reaction.
He was briefing the newcomer on our family situation now, speaking in hushed tones and purposefully avoiding looking in our direction, though I could see through his eyes that the new boy was still gaping raptly at our table.
"Jeremy Stanley is giving the new boy all the dirty laundry on the Cullen clan," I informed my family, speaking too quietly and too quickly for human ears to register. I still did not look at them.
Eleanor's laughter exited in a puff of breath through her nose. Pretty sort of boy, isn't New Kid? she observed almost yawningly, and then, Hope Stanley's making it good.
"Rather unimaginative, actually. Hardly the hint of indignity, or the drop of a scandal. I'm sure the new boy will be disappointed. What a bore, this inconsequential little town must be."
Eleanor smirked. Will he be packing his bags, then?
I listened for a moment, realizing I'd only assumed the manner of the boy's thoughts; I hadn't actually taken the time to assess them. I probed in his direction, funneling through the chatter of the mental atmosphere to focus on this tall, blue-eyed boy alone, and then… I focused harder.
Harder still, for there was a strange, open space from where he sat.
Discomforted and irritated, because having to do so was unfamiliar, I glanced toward him to check. I hoped my eyes on him would give me a better sense of my extra hearing.
Not only did I want to know the answer to El's question for whatever unseemly reason, but it was also my duty as resident telepathic, to know at all times what the humans around us were thinking, for security reasons. If any one of them were to suspect anything out of the ordinary about us, my warning would give my family more than enough time to relocate before trouble arose.
My eyes met Beau's now, and I could feel the unusual expression on my face: unsteady, irresolute, searching.
I was almost surprised to find that he was sitting in the exact same spot he had been, still listening to Jeremy's story. But there was absolute stillness from his mind, a total and complete non-calculation. Never before had I encountered something like this in a human, and I stared harder, beginning to grow frustrated and, if I was truthful, a little panicked.
Inviting color rose in the boy's face now as he jerked his eyes away, likely embarrassed at being caught staring. I was glad Jess's attentions were still diverted, ignoring the odd undercurrent of the unfamiliar sensation inside my chest: the clinch of defensiveness, almost… annoyance toward my sister, though she had done nothing wrong…
My gaze was still focused across the room, now on the boy's sharp profile.
The emotions in his clear blue eyes had been spelled out clear as day: surprise, and then curiosity… And… something more… Fascination? He was definitely interested—this much was clear from the turmoil in his eyes.
And yet, though the reflections had been so undeniably clear in his eyes, I could hear nothing from the place he was sitting. Nothing at all.
Palpable agitation twisted my insides, accompanied by the untried and terrifying sensation of self-doubt. I strained harder, concerned that my talent might be slipping through my grasp now.
The thoughts of every student clamored in my mind, at shouting volume now.
… wonder what music he likes… maybe I could mention that new CD, McKayla Newton was musing, two tables away. Her eyes were fixed on Beau, with a strange sort of ownership I immediately disapproved of. Apparently I wasn't the only one.
Look at her staring at him, like she practically owns him, Erica Yorkie thought sourly, Isn't it enough that she has half the boys in this school falling over her feet already?
…just nasty. You'd think he was the president's kid or something. Even Edythe Cullen staring... And Jeremy, showing off his new buddy like they're the best of friends… What a joke… Logan Mallory's mind, I noted, was in top form as always…
… wonder if he plays ball… Maybe I'll ask him to try outs… Andrew Dowling mused.
… maybe he'll be in my Spanish class… June Richardson hoped.
… loads left on my plate tonight—and work, too. That English test to study for, Trig questions to go over… I wonder if Dad will… Allen Weber, a boy whose thoughts were unerringly benevolent and refreshingly subdued, was the only one at the table not completely obsessed with this new boy.
I could hear them all, every insignificant, petty thought flaring through my mind with amazing volume. And yet, I focused harder still, eyes on this boy, because—from where he sat—there remained to be nothing at all.
Of course, I could hear his physical voice from across the room. I didn't need my mind-reading capabilities to achieve that. It was clear and gently baritone, and something about it distracted me, took me off guard for a singular moment. I wondered what else he'd say…
"Which one is the girl with the reddish brown hair?" he asked his neighbor now, plainly curious. He had propped his elbow on the table and was currently casting a blasé glance around the cafeteria, eyes lingering on me.
His voice, which I was sure would have given me aid to access his inner thoughts, was entirely new to me.
Oh, good luck, idiot! Jeremy guffawed inside his head before answering the boy. "That's Edythe. She's hot, sure, but don't waste your time. She doesn't go out with anyone. Apparently none of the guys here are good enough for her." He grunted, remembering the many times he'd tried his hand at me and failed.
I turned my face away to hide my smirk. Jeremy had no idea how lucky he was that I'd not felt a flicker of attraction toward the boy, and how dangerous it would be if I held any of the appeal for him that he held for me.
I hadn't realized how hard I'd been focusing on this new student, on the way he was obviously self-conscious and struggling to fit in with the students around him, how it was clearly uncomfortable for him to sit there as the center of attention. I could sense it from the way he sat with his sharp shoulders curled inward, eyes downcast as he picked at his lunch tray.
And yet, I could only garner a sense of it, a feeling, an instinct. I could only imagine what he was thinking, because there was absolutely nothing from this strange new human boy.
Why? It was incredibly frustrating!
"Shall we?" Royal murmured, interrupting my focus, and I jerked my head toward him, startled from my concentrated daze. I felt irritated at my own failure, embarrassed by my curious fixation. Of course, the absence of entry to his thoughts was unfamiliar, but why should the peculiarities of a single, simple human boy bother me so? Why should I be so intent on piecing together this puzzle? By all means, his mind must be just as unassuming, just as trivial, mundane, and self-centered as the rest of the student body around him.
"Is the pretty new boy scared of us yet?" Eleanor teased, not even really looking at me as she picked up her tray of uneaten food. She wasn't anymore interested in the boy than I should have been.
I only shrugged, not knowing what to say.
El, Royal and Jess were playing the rolls of seniors. I was pretending a roll younger than theirs, and so I headed off in the opposite direction than they, for my junior level biology class, bracing myself for the hour of absolute tedium. I knew more than the middle-aged teacher Mrs. Banner had gleaned in her entire lifetime. There was nothing she could tell me that I didn't already know. I sighed in resignation to the repetition, and stepped into the building.
Mrs. Banner was at her desk, readying the day's curriculum, and she barely noticed me enter. Perhaps I should have made my footfalls a little heavier.
As it was, I was already taking my seat. I set my books on the table and allowed them to spill across the blacktop. I was the only student in this class who had a table to herself. Though the humans didn't know why they were so inclined to sit as far away from the small, pretty redhead as possible, they did know that they should.
I shifted my hair over one shoulder, letting the long ginger locks pool on the black granite in front of me, and waited for class to start. Mrs. Banner's thoughts were just a hushed murmur in the back of my head; I paid them no mind, for I was still thinking about the new boy, about his strange lack of inner voice, about the odd strength of clarity in his bright cerulean eyes.
Little by little, students began to trickle into the room, their chatter androgynous and meaningless. I did not pay attention to any of it.
Beau Swan stepped into the room then—now that I knew him, his lack of voice stuck out like a sore thumb—, accompanied by Allen Weber, who was grasping at topics to discuss with the boy, but having trouble as an introvert himself. He would have liked to befriend the boy, but he wasn't sure what to say, what Beau hadn't already heard; and though Allen wasn't one of the students desperate to impress the boy, he did see something in him that he admired and appreciated.
I didn't have too much time to think about that, about what Allen had seen in Beau Swan, for they walked forward, Allen leaving Beau's side to take his seat beside Logan Mallory towards the front.
As Beau passed in front of the heater vent on the way to greet the teacher, his scent swirled through the air, a palpable crimson cloud, and engulfed me.
The scent of Beaufort Swan's blood was the sweetest I had smelled in my eighty years of existence, and in this moment, there was not a single thing I wouldn't do in order to taste it.
All inkling of coherent thought, any shred of dignity or self-denial I thought I'd claimed over the lesser parts of my being, were suddenly and inexorably lost to the flames of this single boy's life essence.
Venom flooded my mouth, my muscles wound to spring, my stomach panged hollowly… And for the first time in almost seventy-five years, I did nothing to try and stop it.
It no longer concerned me that I could not read his thoughts. This was inconsequential, a riddle I was content never to know the answer to. I could live with not knowing; I could not live without the taste of his blood.
It didn't concern me that there was a room full of people—nineteen other people—that I would also have to murder.
In that moment, I had become, totally and unalterably, the monster, the animal, I had always feared had hidden inside of me, prowling beneath the surface like a starved lioness, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce. She possessed me entirely now with her raw strength and her wild desires.
All of this happened in a single second of thought, all before Beau's boot touched the ground again, and he glanced down at me. I heard his heart rate pick up at the expression on my face—my entire body was aflame with famine and bloodlust, I did not possess enough control to disguise my face—and his skin flushed with color, the most beautiful color, splashes of red creeping up his neck… excreting the warm, syrupy smell of his life force even more strongly into the air between us…
I prepared to spring from my stool. If I moved fast enough—
It was then, as I leaned incrementally closer to the boy, that I caught sight of the reflection of my face in the clear mirror of his eyes, and the sight of her gave me pause, if only for a moment.
The face in the reflection of his eyes was not the girl I'd been looking at in the mirror for the past seventy years. In a single moment, I'd been teleported back to the worst years of my life; I was once again the monster I'd sworn to my mother and father, and myself, that I would never again become.
In that moment, there were two worlds at war inside my mind. One side was the lioness intent on destroying this boy, on ending his short life so I could taste the sweetest, most succulent blood I'd smelled in my eighty years of existence—and the other was, not a planet, not a world, not an army, but a voice. A single, quiet voice. A voice filled with wisdom and compassion and understanding.
I have faith in you, it said, and the auditory hallucination was so vivid, so convincing, I could have sworn my creator was in the room with me right at that moment.
Carine, my mother, in every sense of the word except for the minor inconsistency of organic etymology. We were similar only in appearance due to what we were. We shared the same porcelain skin because of the lack of pigmentation. We shared the same grace and composure because of the enhanced mental and physical capabilities that came with the change; and we shared the same eyes—black with thirst now, but… I wasn't sure we'd share that similarity much longer…
I saw her gentle face then, her honey eyes gentle with warmth and compassion. And then I saw the demonic monster's next to hers—was that really me?—her blood-red eyes the incarnation of the devil himself.
We choose what becomes of us, the hallucination said, and Carine's face stared at me, in my mind's eye, with complete and utter devotion. She loved me, so much, and she had always seen me in a much brighter light than I had ever seen myself.
She believed in me, when I did not.
She trusted me, when I could not trust myself.
She had known I would return to her, those many years ago when I'd gone off on a rebellious streak; her faith had never wavered, not for a moment.
And so it pained me, incomparably, to know that I would betray her trust, her unfailing faith, today. I knew she would not be angry that I would murder this entire room of students and one teacher, maybe more depending on how I went about it. She would look at me with the same love and understanding she always had, and she would forgive me for the unforgivable.
Beau Swan swung his long body into the chair next to mine, his movements slow and awkward, and I stiffened as the perfume of his blood surrounded me again, filled my lungs with its sweet aroma and burned down my throat.
I forced myself to acknowledge the fact that I would prove my mother wrong about me. I had worked so hard to please her, so hard to assume the kindness and composure she thought me capable of… But now, all of that had changed in a single instant.
I leaned away from the boy in revulsion—horrified by the lioness within me that was crazed with the scent of his blood, and averted my face as baseless animosity filled me. I wondered at that, why I should hate the boy so much… I'd hated all of my other victims, but they had been the lowest of the low, murderers, rapists and thieves… None of them were as clearly as innocent as this boy who sat next to me, oblivious to the danger he was in.
In all my years, I had never come across a human who unknowingly claimed such control over me. No one ever before had elicited such an immediate and authentic response from the monstrous nature inside of me, and I hated him for it. Immediate and unprecedented hatred for this unassuming human boy only fueled the flames of castigation inside of me.
As awash with humiliation as I was, a sob of undeniable frustration clenched in my burning chest. It wasn't my desire to murder a room full of innocent children! It wasn't my desire to so quickly snuff out all of the incredible effort I'd made over the years to beat back this side of my nature!
It was mere stubbornness that, in the next moment, made my decision for me: Who was he to control me in this way? What had I learned in the face of temptation over the years? There was reaction—emotional, physiological reaction—and then, there was response.
So then, I decided, I would respond to the temptation that gripped my every cell with something comparable to the flames of the change. I was too willful to consider another avenue—it was too painful.
He shifted in his seat then, shaking himself out of his jacket to hang it on the back of his chair, and his fragrance washed over me anew. I was harshly, humiliatingly reminded that stubbornness was no authority in the face of incomparable longing.
My tense and eager muscles pushed me partially out of my seat, the motion entirely involuntarily and ruled by the instinct I'd spoken of earlier, but I clung to the bottom of the table in an attempt to hold myself in my seat. The frail object, of course, held no chance of stopping me. I was much stronger than mere furniture. My nails, as strong as titanium, tore jagged holes into the pulpy wood.
In a last, unthinking grasp at sanity, I stopped breathing. Unlike the humans, the influx and release of oxygen wasn't a requirement to my species; the absence of it was merely uncomfortable, like being suddenly blindfolded and left without all of your available senses.
Of course, my kind also possessed perfect and total recall, and so the memory of his scent was nearly as torturous as actually smelling it had been, but still—it was marginally easier to cope with than it had been half a second ago, and I was able to relax my weight back into my seat.
With the clarity this lack of sensation brought me, it was suddenly clear to me, where it hadn't been before, that mass murder was not the only solution to this madness. I could wait an hour, and though the agitated lioness inside me rebelled at this, I knew that it was possible.
It would be torture to wait the hour, yes, but what was an hour in comparison to the near full century I'd already lived? I could approach him after class—Hello, my name is Edythe Cullen; can I show you to your next class?—and lure him away from prying eyes. He would follow—the details that made my kind so terrifying to the humans also made me futilely attractive; none of us had ever had trouble with acquiring human prey in the past at any rate. Our strength and speed were almost unnecessary in comparison to the perfume of our skin, the beauty of our faces, all of it drawing the human forward until it was too late to realize the dangers of their closeness…
The cover of the forest was closest to the school on the south western-most part of the parking lot. I could tell him I'd forgotten a book in my car. He wouldn't know which one was mine; I could lead him that way, toward the trees. It couldn't attract too much attention, two plain rain jackets walking away from the school.
No one would notice me.
But Beau Swan was the center of attention today, and surely someone would notice him leaving with me. McKayla Newton had not taken her eyes off his back this entire time. She noted every time he shifted in his seat, and when he put up an arm on the table between us—to put a wall up, to defend himself?
Frustrated with not knowing exactly, I frowned and tried not to stare at the soft, inner part of his wrist, which was turned up on the black countertop. I could see the web of veins weaving through the lean muscles, pulsing deliciously under that thin membrane of pale skin…
I forced my eyes away.
If I was able to gather the wherewithal to wait out this class period, would it be possible to extend my self-control over another hour?
The fire in my throat flared, the temptress within crying out in tortured impatience.
The boy would go home to an empty house, for Chief Swan worked a full day at the station. I knew his house, as I had effortlessly memorized every house in this tiny town. His home was nestled against thick woods, with no close neighbors. There would be no one to overhear, for I would not give Beau enough time to feel pain or fear.
That, of course, would be the punctilious way to deal with this most excruciating of dilemmas.
I reminded myself that I'd gone eight decades without human blood. If I held my breath, I could last two hours, no matter how much the temptress thrashed and whined with wanton abandon.
And when I had him alone, there would be no chance of anyone else getting hurt, nor any reason to rush through my meal—as I would be required to do if I lost control here, in this classroom.
I passed the time—had I ever considered this hour the most tedious of my day?—daydreaming about the best ways to kill him; humanly of course. I was very careful not to imagine any explicit elements, knowing I only grasped very transient, very tenuous threads of self-discipline.
However, I must have been stronger than I'd formerly believed, because I—and more importantly, they—did survive the hour.
Once, toward the very end of class, he glanced down at me from his seat. I could feel the unsubstantiated odium molding my expression as I met his gaze; I could see the reflection of it in his shocked eyes. Blood flush bloomed across his features once more, and the heat of it pulsed against my skin so deliciously, so palpably, that the fraying knot of my composure nearly unraveled.
But then the chime of the bell filled my ears, and I almost laughed aloud as the tired and clichéd saying entered my mind: Saved by the bell—he and the rest of the students from certain death, and I from the undisciplined, lurid murderess I'd tried so valiantly to bury behind more practiced, unfamiliar disciplines. Never far behind, however, was she?
I jerked my body from my seat, scooped my books into my arms, and strode from the room faster than I should have. If anyone had been watching me, surely they would notice that something was not quite human about my hurried and unnaturally graceful exit. But no one was watching me. Every other student remained focused on the boy with the delicious-smelling blood, the boy with the curious blue eyes, the boy with the silent mind, the boy who, by this time tomorrow, would be long departed.
I couldn't explain to myself why this idea pained me—other than knowing that finally doing so would dissolve the final vestiges of sheep's clothing this wolf had managed to cloak herself in for so many years. I was so distracted by this unexpected course of thought, this emotional anguish, that I found myself curled in the driver's seat of my car instead of sitting with El in Spanish class, where I should have been.
I started to gather my things so I could force myself in that direction, but quickly discovered it to be impossible. The fear and shame refused to unlock my panicked limbs, refused to allow my legs to uncurl from behind the steering wheel. Not only was I irrevocably insecure that any human now—not just Beau Swan—would be in grave danger in my presence, but I was not completely sure that I would not abandon Mr. Goff's intermediate second-language class to go find the boy.
I was not capable of tracking his thoughts—for whatever reason—, but I knew the other students' minds would give me enough clues about where he ought to be.
This idea was so tempting, so seductive, that I had to give my head a shake to clear it of the desire. How much had I worked in this last hour to ensure I didn't have to kill more than a dozen others in order to attain the meal I craved with extraordinary strength?
I felt ashamed when the realization that it simply wouldn't be worth it—and I wanted it to be, very badly—was the thought that stopped me from exiting the car, instead of what should have stopped me: the fact that, up until now, I'd been trying very hard to be a better 'person' than this.
Still half-crazed by the notes of his scent that obstinately clung to my long hair, I slipped a CD into the player—one that tended to pacify my rarely passionate emotions. Until today, there had not been much in this town, save for my blond-haired older brother, that was able to get a rise out of me.
But now, not even music could still my racing, obsessive thoughts.
I slid all four windows of the Volvo down, and gratefully swallowed huge gulps of the clean, damp air. I wished the cool rain of Washington could do the same for my memory as it did for the vestiges of Beau Swan's perfume that were easily banished from my hair and clothes. Alas, there would be nothing on this earth to ever overshadow or dim the impeccable lucidity with which I could remember the scent of his blood.
Despite the inescapable reality of this thought, I found that I was able to breathe more easily again within a matter of minutes. I had reached a tolerable level of intelligibility in my mind, and with the clearness this brought, I found I was able to rationalize again. And because I could rationalize, I was able to rebuild some of the fortress around me that had crumbled in this boy's presence.
It seemed silly to think that, just an hour ago, I'd seen no other way out of this, that the only possible solution had been to murder this innocent boy in cold blood. I could see now that there were so many other ways to escape the inducement of his blood.
If I just avoided him with enough vigilance, there would be no need to break my parents' hearts, no need to unleash the murdering temptress I'd kept checked for eighty years.
There was no reason to hate the boy who had done nothing at all but be born maddeningly and uncontrollably delicious. No reason to blame him for my own discrepancies.
Soothed by the steadily returning equanimity, I suddenly realized that I was alone—not that I hadn't known this before. But I was suddenly concerned by Archie's absence from my side. He was usually aware of any of my oppositions before I was. He had to have seen the death of Beau Swan by my hands. He had to have seen, if only briefly, the demise of an entire classroom of students.
I had considered these things with too much conviction to even entertain the thought that I never would have done them. I wasn't that strong.
So if he hadn't seen these most unswaying of eventualities, what was he seeing?
I searched for my brother's familiar voice in a sea of many, knowing he'd be sitting in the English building across campus, and immediately found the answer. Archie's physical body was lounging in his usual seat, his knee jerking up in down in its familiar, vibrating, undetectable-to-humans way, but his mind was entirely fixated in the future, watching his wife's every move, measuring the outcome of each of her smallest decisions, in her Advanced Chemistry class across campus. He was so invested in the conjectures of her choices that it was almost as if he were standing exactly next to her.
For an instant, I desired to cross the campus and pull him out of class, to heed his council. In the next instant, however, I was overcome with such a palpable gust of heart-wrenching mortification that it felt as though I'd been struck. My insides ached with the strength of the humiliation that incapacitated me when I considered telling any of my family what I'd been capable of in the last hour.
If none of them knew already, then why should I tell them now? I'd overcome my struggle on my own; if I could avoid shedding light on my monstrosity—and in turn opening myself to vulnerable judgment on my siblings' and parents' behalf—then I would do everything to achieve it.
Of course, my parents would not look down on me for my murderous inclinations. As always, they would approach me with nothing but love and acceptance. Imagining this—Earnest's open arms; Carine's gentle expression—twisted the dagger of torturous shame in my abdomen. How could their unthinking forgiveness, their unconditional love, make me even more ashamed than I already was?
Archie, too, would forgive me easily; Eleanor would see nothing to forgive. Her attitude was jarringly ho-hum in regards to these types of instances. Jessamine would understand my temptations all too well. Only Royal, however unfair his hypocritical prejudices were, would be the only one to feel justified abhorrence toward my actions and me.
So I wouldn't tell them, then. Immediately, the age-old adage—What they don't know can't hurt them—flitted through my mind.
And if my family didn't need to be aware of the lurid capabilities of the monster that lurked within the shadows of my mind—hissing, and pacing within its bars with slightly more sanity now—then why should anybody else? If I was able to elude this boy and his preposterously sweet-smelling blood, there would be no reason for anyone to find out.
I reminded myself that this had never been my goal—in fact, my ambitions had always been the exact opposite of the prowling lioness that lurked too prominently within my thought processes now. I had never wanted to be capable of the rewards she promised. I had never wanted to be a murderess.
Though the goal seemed as improbable as ever now, I reached for it again—as I had done many times over the past eighty years, but never, never struggling to this magnitude. But I had achieved it before, and there was no reason why I couldn't achieve the same again.
Though I hated to concede defeat in anything, I knew I must begin to make concessions now. Putting myself directly in the position I'd been in today would not only be needlessly valiant, but also incredibly reckless.
As I gathered my bag and timetable, hatred again swept through me, all of it targeting the boy who, without being aware of it, held more power over me than anyone else ever had. In this moment, I didn't believe I could despise anyone more than I despised Beau Swan and the incongruous power a weak mortal like himself held over a matchless immortal such as myself.
Before I rolled up the windows and opened the car door, I located the boy in the babble of student thought around me. Though I could not track his thoughts exactly, it was simple enough to find him through the thoughts of others. McKayla Newton, specifically, was paying more attention to him, where he sat on the sidelines in the school gym, than the lesson from Coach Clapp she should have been heeding.
Confident I would not cross paths with him again today, I headed in the opposite direction toward the main office, my purpose, and the thinly veiled hope that accompanied it, quickening my steps.
I was not paying as much attention to my self-possession as I should have been, but no matter. There were no witnesses.
Mr. Cope, the school administrator I'd been hoping to come across, was the only one behind the scratched and very outdated front desk. The room was noticeably warm, and swirled with the combined scents of more than three dozen people. But their combined scents barely touched my throat, even now, as starved as I was. I would wonder at that later.
The short, balding man hadn't noticed my silent entrance, as distracted as he was by the game of Solitaire he was playing on the desktop in front of him.
I stepped up to the long counter, which cut the room in half. "Mr. Cope?"
My voice, though quiet and gentle, startled the man from his very focused concentration on the game in front of him—a game I could have won in a little under five seconds if I'd been sitting where he was.
"Oh," he huffed, looking up into my face—and then quickly away—heart pounding. He didn't know why my sudden appearance had frightened him so, and he'd never been able to understand why, coupled with this not-so-irrational intimidation, he also felt so unreasonably attracted to a student half his age.
Stop it, Sheldon, he scolded himself, She's too young, just a girl. You'd be arrested if anyone even knew you thought about her this way…
Little did Sheldon Cope know that I, by every means, was more than old enough to be his grandmother.
"Hello, Mr. Cope," I said, using the tone of voice I often employed to make humans feel less threatened by my kind. It was something Carine had had a lot of time to master, and, in turn, had been able to teach the rest of us quite easily.
"Good afternoon, Edythe. What can I do for you?"
Assuming various roles in order to get what I wanted was easy for our kind, but especially easy for me, since I was able to decipher the landing point of any of my gestures immediately.
Already knowing where Mr. Cope's impressions of me laid, I twirled a lock of hair around my finger, and leaned toward him across the desk. His eyes, behind his thick-rimmed glasses, flashed between various parts of my anatomy, always attempting and failing to return to my face; though I wore nothing revealing, the material of my cashmere turtleneck was fashionably fitted, to keep with the current trends.
Stop it, he commanded of himself, Inappropriate… too young… Consequences…
"I was wondering if you could help me with my schedule?" I murmured, letting the edges of my lips pull up in a carefully flirtatious smile, vigilantly keeping my teeth hidden.
His face had gone strangely inattentive, though his heart rate had increased several tempos.
"Sure, Edythe. How can I help?"
I set my elbow on the countertop and rested my chin in my palm, fluttering my lashes. This particular gesture wouldn't be as well received as it would have been if I had fed recently, but it went over effectively enough.
"I was just wondering if there were any open spaces in a senior level science class? I was hoping I could switch out of my biology class."
"Are you and Mrs. Banner not getting along, Edythe?" he inquired concernedly.
I laughed softly, which made his heart stutter, and I was worried I'd shown too many of my teeth. "No, nothing like that," I assured him, "Mrs. Banner is lovely… But I've already studied all of her curriculum before—"
"Ah, in that accelerated school you attended in Alaska—of course." His sagging brow furrowed. All of them—the whole lot—on the fast track to the best universities in the country… Perfect GPA's, never an error on a test, always an immediate response to any of the teachers' questions… They've all been complaining, of course. Ms. Varner would rather believe that anyone was cheating than actually believe a student was smarter than she was… He refocused himself, bringing up a different screen on his computer. He quickly scanned the senior Biology register, and Chemistry.
"Physics, perhaps?" I urged when he found nothing available and before he could tell me no.
"Actually, Edythe, Physics is pretty much full right now—I'm sorry. Mrs. Banner doesn't like to have more than twenty-five students in a class—she says it divides her attention too much—"
"I wouldn't cause any trouble." I fluttered my lashes again.
Well, no—I wouldn't think so. Her sister hasn't, and neither has her foster brother and sister… But… "Of course you wouldn't, Edythe, I know that. But I'm afraid there wouldn't even be anywhere to put your things… There aren't enough seats in the class…"
I could see, no matter how much he would have liked to, Mr. Cope wouldn't be moved on this front. So I abandoned that possibility.
"Could I use the period for independent study, then?"
"Drop—" His mouth popped open. This was unheard of. He'd never encountered other students of this caliber, of course, but he couldn't understand why it should be so difficult for me to sit through a subject I already knew, rather than to drop a class altogether. "But… You wouldn't have enough credits to graduate, Edythe." Hard to believe she'd take a risk like that, especially with her four-point-oh average… She must be having a problem with Barb… Maybe I should talk to her…
"I'll make up for it next year," I cajoled. This was taking too long. The final bell had rung, and my siblings would grow impatient waiting for me.
"Is this something you've discussed with your parents, Edythe? They really should be involved in something like this."
Something in my expression must have cooled, grown intolerant, because Mr. Cope's heart skipped another beat, and he glanced past me to where the office door had opened to admit another student. I remained focused on the task at hand, not paying the new entrance any attention.
I corrected my mask with clear intentions now, widening my eyes and pulling my hair over one shoulder to play with the ends—disrupted after running my hands through it so many times in the car.
"Please, Mr. Cope?" I begged, "There has to be space somewhere—anywhere—else. Sixth hour biology just can't be the only alternative… Could you perhaps check again for me?" I smiled softly, encouragingly.
He swallowed loudly. "Well, um… For you… Er, I mean, I could try and talk to Barb—I mean Mrs. Banner. Maybe—"
At that moment, the door opened, and Samantha Wells stepped into the room to deposit a tardy slip in the basket by my elbow. Outside, the rain had stopped and the wind had increased. The open portal of the door allowed it to whip through the room, to stir up the papers and the scents of its occupants.
Samantha went back out, passing the person who had come in so quietly, so silently. I knew now why I'd barely registered their arrival.
It felt as if every part of me had been calcified, my very muscles relentlessly rigid, as I turned, very slowly, to glare at him.
Of course it was Beau Swan standing against the wall by the door, with his plain black jacket zipped to his softly yielding throat. One hand was in his coat pocket, the other long, pale fingers—musician's fingers, I thought mildly, somewhere in the distant basement of my mind—were clutching a piece of paper.
A single piece of paper. That was the turning point of this entire thing. Though it was impossible for my kind to forget, gone was the priority of the purpose I'd entered this building for. Now, as my entire body, but most prominently my throat, was consumed in flames, I felt a physical weight lift from my shoulders, a relief. Two lives, I reasoned, were much easier to justify than twenty.
Everything in me desired to launch myself across the room at him. Already, my body's unconscious instincts were taking over. I'd risen up on the toes of one foot to aim, the other heel was pressing into the worn orange carpet with enough force to put a dent into the floor.
Every inhale was like breathing in molten fire.
I wouldn't need to even tear my eyes from the terrified expression affixed to Beau Swan's face in order to rid the immediate area of the only other witness. It would be nothing to lift my hand and slam Mr. Cope's head into the desk with enough force to crush his skull.
I exhaled and inhaled the sweet, syrupy scent of Beau Swan before I even realized I was breathing. It was a reflexive, automatic response that had me stilling my diaphragm and lungs mid-exhale. Again, the cessation of scent cleared a tiny space of clarity inside my mind.
A choice, I reminded myself. I had a choice. Hadn't I just decided that I would not allow this human boy to claim anymore of my life than he'd already done?
With the same rigidity in my muscles as before, I forced my eyes away from Beau's—so wide, so blue—and turned back to Mr. Cope.
I could not control my expression now the same way I'd done before, and I knew my face must wear the mask of a monster, because Mr. Cope shrank back in his chair, too shocked and frightened to even form coherent thought.
"Never mind then," I said quickly, forcing my voice into submission, though I wanted to scream. I had just enough air left in my half-emptied lungs to get the remainder of the words out, "I can see that it's impossible. Thank you so much for your help."
I pivoted on my heel and, despite all of my resolve from before, bolted from the room. It said much of my barely-grasped control that I was able to feel the heat of the boy's body against my own as I was forced to pass him so closely.
I fled quickly down the little cobbled path and emerged onto the sidewalk. I knew I was walking too quickly, knew that I was opening our group up to reckless, avoidable speculation, but I continued that way until I arrived at the car on the opposite side of the parking lot, where my siblings were waiting for me.
I wrenched open the door, almost taking it off its hinges, and practically dove into the sanctuary of my car's uninfected, quarantined space, and gulped lungfuls of the unsoiled, fresh air. I pressed my forehead to the steering wheel, pulling my hair out of my face with my fingers, and practically sobbed in relief as the burning of my throat ceased.
Archie touched my arm, and I flinched, pulling my body upright so that I could look at him. "Edythe?"
I saw the alarm on his face, his black eyes wide with concern and dread as his sight shifted back and forth between the present and the future—formed from the cacophony of the recent past. Of course, he could not see the reason for the half-formed visions of tomorrow. After all, he couldn't see into the past, only the future. I saw the questions in his eyes as well, but could only shake my head at him.
"What the hell happened to you?" Eleanor probed from the backseat, voicing Archie's exact thoughts.
I didn't say anything to either of them; instead, I jammed the key into the ignition and slammed the car into reverse. In what would appear a reckless maneuver to the rest of the student body—but really, I was in perfect control all the while—I swung the car out of its parking space, and then jolted into drive.
We screeched out of the parking lot and fishtailed onto the main road. Before we'd hit the corner, I was going seventy.
I focused my eyes through the windshield, though it wasn't really necessary, but I could not block out the confusion of my siblings' thoughts as they all turned to stare inquiringly at Archie.
But he wasn't looking back at them. His physical gaze was fixed on my profile—I looked like a mad woman, hair wild, eyes on fire—while internally, he was forming his first coherent readings in minutes. I watched, too, just as surprised as he was when he saw it.
The monster inside clung with obstinate frustration, wanton longing, digging in with claws into the past, wailing as I left the school, and Beau Swan, behind. Its desire was so tangible, so alarmingly cognizant, that for an instant, my determination faltered and another image formed in my brother's mind.
We watched together as I would gain proximity on the Swan residence, lurking in the closely packed trees surrounding their property. In Archie's vision, I would slink sinuously across the lawn and enter the house for the first time. I wouldn't see the details, wouldn't see the procession of school photos on the mantel, or the cheerily painted yellow cabinets in the kitchen. I would only see Beau, his back turned as he did something at the counter, and I'd slink closer, entirely the huntress now, letting his blissful fragrance draw me in…
"Stop!" I begged, the word escaping my throat like a tortured gasp.
Archie didn't say anything as, again, the image shifted, Chief Swan's kitchen—and Beau's lifeless body in my arms—dissolving away, replaced by a long stretch of ink-black highway in the dead of night. On either side of the road, towering trees were coated in a heavy glossing of snow.
For the first time, he spoke. "I'll miss you."
These words were so ground shaking, so absolutely jarring, because never before had my brother accepted a course of action with such ease, especially for me. Archie had always had his opinions, had never been afraid to voice them. But now…
Eleanor and Royal shared a look. Jessamine's gaze rested on her husband's face. She would get the rest of the information later, when they were alone.
"Pull over," Archie said. We had almost reached the long gravel driveway, sheltered on either side by tall Cyprus trees, that led to our home. "We'll run the rest of the way. You should go talk to Carine first, before you leave."
I could see how it would be easier for my family if I were the one to deliver the news of my exodus, rather than me leaving my siblings to do it for me. I pressed my foot to the break, and the Volvo squealed to a stop on the side of the empty road.
Without a word, Royal, El and Jess got out of the car, but Archie stayed behind. I knew what he was going to say, and he knew that I knew, but he said the words out loud anyway, needing to say them for himself.
"You'll do the right thing. Beau is all Chief Swan has, his only son. You'd destroy him, too."
I couldn't make any promises just yet, could not guarantee that I would do the right thing. I only stared at him with what I thought was an even expression, but seeing myself through his eyes, my face was wracked with torture and indecision.
Knowing there was nothing he could do to stop me from making my final decision, but wishing he could, Archie got out of the car and took Jess's hand. They were gone before I'd turned the car around.
I sped back toward the interstate, pushing the speedometer all the way up to ninety, despite the fact that I still didn't know where I was going. When I reached the fork in the road, I would have to make my decision: To the hospital to bid my mother farewell, or… Not?
Like a freight train with no hope of stopping, I barreled toward my reckoning.