Bella looked up at the wooden sign, squinting against the afternoon sunlight, trying to make out the faded and barely legible Italian. It could be wishful thinking, but she thought she could make out "Academia" somewhere up there.
As it was, Bella wasn't entirely sure she was on the right street, looking at the right building number, or even in the right city.
Bella, in other words, had messed up.
It wasn't that complicated of a story.
Bella had been spending the past three months studying abroad in Italy.
Now, unlike many, Bella really didn't have a legitimate excuse to be here. She wasn't an art history major, not an art major either, not a history major, and definitely not an Italian major. It'd really been a tossup between England, an excellent choice given her love of Jane Austen as well as her English major, and Italy.
But England was cold, wet, and dark. After having resigned herself to living in Forks and then attending university in Seattle for the past five years, Bella was not about to send herself to Forks 2.0. Even if it was the land of Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and Austen. Mr. Darcy would forgive her, but Bella wanted a tan.
Italy had won out because sunshine, food, wine, hot European men, and the flimsy excuse of "connecting with her Italian roots." (To Bella's knowledge, no one in the family was remotely Italian. Charlie's family came from England way back when and Renee's was Polish. They just liked the name Isabella.)
And so far, it'd been working out for her.
Sure, her Italian medieval literature class might have been in actual Italian, reading Dante in his original actual Italian.
(Having to sit in the lecture that first day before she dropped the class, pretending she understood what the hell anyone was saying, might have been the most embarrassing moment of her life. Right up there with nearly getting hit by a van then asked to Tolo by the guy who almost crushed her. Then having that guy show up at her house to take her to Prom… Then going with him to Prom because she didn't have a date.)
Sure, finding classes that were actually in English might have been a little… more difficult than Bella had anticipated. Hell, navigating the registration website alone had been an adventure and a half with her English-Italian dictionary. But it'd worked out, she was taking courses that vaguely related to her major or else counted for some general education requirement that she hadn't gotten out of the way yet.
But then registration for her second semester had happened. Specifically, it had happened on the morning after Bella had decided to partake in just a little too much red wine and Bridge Jones' Diary binging. Which meant that every single class Bella could reasonably take, i.e. not in Italian and nowhere near the science department, was filled. And after sobbing desperately for an hour, praying to the god she didn't believe in to send her a miracle, she'd stumbled across the sad little lifeboat he sent her way.
Bella was only going to be taking one course her final semester in Italy. Which was fine, she was good on the credits, it was a little less than Bella would have liked but that was fine. In fact, this gave her plenty of time to sight see. Being in Florence, or Firenze as she later learned it was called by the locals after sounding like a dumbass for weeks, she'd only really had a chance to tour around Tuscany and taking just one course would give her a chance to get out of the region or even the country itself.
Even if that course was for some reason five days a week.
Bella could have her tourism, her sunshine, and her wine. So, the one course life wasn't such a bad idea.
It was also an art course, which would be fun, and hopefully easy. Bella would draw a few faces, work really hard, and walk out with a decent grade. And she could finally get that art requirement out of the way. She'd been avoiding that one for a while now, as the last of Bella's artistic adventures had been her successfully playing "hot cross buns" on the piano when she was eight.
It was… not in Florence though. Evidently, the reason this course hadn't been filled to the brim, was because it wasn't directly through the university. Instead, it was offered through some small art academy associated with the university, located in a small medieval town a relatively short bus ride away.
Which, sure, whatever, Bella could take a bus.
But when Bella had read "picturesque medieval town" she hadn't realized that this meant there was no grid structure, no house numbers, no signs anywhere, and not even a sign telling you if you were in the right city.
(Bella frantically asking, "Volterra?!" and pantomiming her despair to the bus driver had undoubtedly been amusing for him but terrifying for her.
As it was, she still had no idea if this was Volterra.)
Still, Bella was willing to take that "Academia" as a good sign. And if it wasn't, well, then she'd just missed her first day of lecture.
With a deep sigh she pushed open the door.
It was an old building. The entire town was old, a place that had kept its medieval walls and cobblestone streets that long predated the renaissance. This place though, while renovations had obviously been done on the inside, had kept most of its structure intact.
The floors were black and white marble, scuffed and worn down by age and centuries of foot traffic. Artwork from several different periods lined the walls, each with some scribbled signature at the bottom.
It looked like it should be a museum.
Except, it was also a very strange building.
There was practically no natural light coming through on the inside. Maybe the windows had been redone, or something, but everything instead was lit by garish fluorescent lights. It could be to protect the paintings, that made sense, but it also felt a bit extreme.
There was also no one inside.
"Hello?" Bella called out, then, wincing, and corrected, "Bonjourno?"
She probably should say good afternoon, given the time of day, but the exact words for that were slipping her mind. Which, really, was pretty pathetic given she'd been here for three months now but Bella was not a polyglot.
There wasn't a receptionist at any desk, no desk even, just the empty building with its empty hallways.
Frowning, Bella dug out the parchment she'd written her schedule information down on.
Right, Academia de Volterra, Room 104b, Monday-Friday 2-5 pm, lecture and studio. The sign had said Academia, Bella thought she was in Volterra…
Time to look for Room 104b.
Seeing nobody stopping her, Bella hesitantly made her way through the building, just waiting for someone to pop out and scream at her in Angry Italian for defiling this… whatever this place was.
A small amount of wandering later though, Bella arrived unmolested at Room 104b. Bella wasn't sure if it was encouraging or not, but there was a sign taped to the door. In the most elegant handwriting Bella had ever seen it declared, "Anatomica Artistica".
Bella looked down at her schedule. Well, that matched the title of her class. Whatever the hell it even meant. When Bella had registered for it beyond the last minute, all she'd seen was the word "artistica" and figured that was good enough.
Which probably meant this was the right Room 104b, the right Academia, and the right Volterra.
Well done, Bella.
With a deep breath she opened the door and stepped inside only to stop immediately. Only shock and a feeling of growing dread kept Bella from slamming the door shut and screaming, "Sorry, wrong room!" in very loud English for the entire city to hear.
There were no other students. She had wondered about that on the bus. When she couldn't spot any like aged peers, she figured either other students were leaving earlier or later than she was. When she'd seen nobody at the bus stop in Volterra she'd gotten a little nervous, but again, figured she'd wasted time getting lost and everyone else understood what they were doing. Plus, it was probably a small class anyway.
But there was no one else in here. There wasn't even a sign of any other student in here. No backpacks, no purses, no jackets, no sign of any casual student life at all. Most damningly of all, only one canvas had been set up, a sad lonely easel dwarfed by the wide-open space.
There was, however, one other person in the room.
If you could, in fact, even call him a person.
The man she assumed must be her professor could have told her he was an alien, come down to Earth to spread pace, goodwill, and hotness to mankind.
And when Bella said 'hotness' she meant that she was staring at the most alienly beautiful person she'd ever seen in her life.
It was like… Until this moment, until Bella had looked at his face, she hadn't understood what 'beautiful' was. Beautiful was the people you saw in the movies, it was covers on magazines touched up by photoshop. This man blew them all out of the water and Bella couldn't even tell you why. It wasn't any particular feature just… this was a face that God had made.
And the strange thing was that the longer she stared at him the more she didn't think he should be this attractive.
First, there was no natural lighting in the room, all the windows had the blinds fully down and he was under harsh electric lights that did no one any favors. Somehow, it did nothing to detract from him.
Second, he was unnaturally pale. Bella had thought her milk-white, translucent, skin was bizarre. Even in Forks, she'd easily been the palest kid in school, and in Florence she was straight up Yikes. This guy was easily, somehow, paler than she was.
But he didn't look sickly or like he'd just escaped an underground maze. His skin had this… glow to it. That wasn't the right word, but it was the best thing she had. His skin was cool, clear, and almost seemed to refract the light coming down on him.
There were dark shadows beneath his eyes, easily noticeable against his pale skin, but in a way, they just helped to sharpen his features. They drew attention to his dark, ruddy, eyes and his dark, curly, hair.
Third, his face was… it was almost too perfect. It was symmetrical in a way that felt unreal, like you were staring at artwork meant to portray something masquerading as a human. He looked like a walking work of art, not someone who could actually open his mouth and talk.
She wanted to call him baby-faced, but that wasn't the right word. There was no real softness in his face, but he looked young, like he was around her age if not younger. Except, given the oddly smooth texture of his skin, the stillness with which he held himself, and his worn suit that no one her age would be caught dead in, it seemed as if age wasn't even a concept for him.
He stared across at her with absolutely no expression. There was no dubiousness, no suspicion, no mockery, no curiosity, nothing. He just stared, his head slightly tilted, dark eyes boring into hers with an intensity that wasn't natural.
"Ghieagojsoegh," was the unintelligible stream of babbling that exited Bella's mouth.
She closed her mouth abruptly, eyes wide, face flushing.
He didn't even blink, didn't so much as twitch, and instead kept staring at her.
"Ah, is this—" Bella stopped, laughed awkwardly, and desperately tried to Italian her way through this, "I mean—that is—Anatomica Artistica? With Signor…"
Bella fished through for her schedule, glanced down at the name of the lecturer, "Marcus de Volterra?"
"Si," he said simply.
And nothing else.
Bella looked to the left, then to the right. No other students and no other "Marcus de Volterra" miraculously appeared. He was still staring.
"Um," Bella said.
She could leave.
It'd be rude, but she could turn around, leave right now, and they could pretend this never happened. Renee would laugh at her, probably tell her she should have shut up and asked Hottie Mc Professor Hottie Pants on a date, but in a few days Bella would probably laugh too.
Except, she really had no other course she could sign up for.
And if she left now, with him just staring at her, she'd feel like she kicked someone's puppy then threw it in front of a six-wheeler.
"I'm Bella Swan," Bella said, trying and failing to smile, completely forsaking Italian for English, "Am I—on your roster? I mean am I—in the right place?"
Please, say no.
"Yes," he said, without even a hint of an accent.
"Oh," Bella said slowly.
They continued to stare at each other.
Was he going to invite her in? That easel was clearly for her right? Was he going to say anything? Any opening remarks? Make some joke about how unpopular his class was? Maybe introduce himself and whatever planet of pale beautiful people he came from? Ask her to introduce herself?
Apparently, he wasn't.
Well, Bella could leave now and cry, or she could get her credits and suffer through the next three months of class.
At least she'd be painting, painting should be fun. Bella had always wanted a chance to learn anyway.
Bella slowly made her way inside, ignoring his dark eyes trained on her, and sat in front of the easel. The man didn't move, Bella didn't dare turn to look at him, she just stared at her easel. She was sure his eyes were boring into the back of her head.
Three hours. It was only three hours of her life, five days a week. Bella was young and her whole life was ahead of her, she could do this.
A minute passed.
"Um," Bella said slowly, not quite sure how to put it, "Is—uh—lecture starting soon?"
There was a flicker of—something—in his face.
Surprise, maybe. The guy, Professor de Volterra, was proving very difficult to read. He lingered for a moment longer, still staring at her with that indecipherable expression, and slowly made his way to the front of the room.
"Would you prefer lecture in English or Italiano?" he asked, not even sparing a glance for her as he wrote the course's title on the black board. His handwriting matched the one that had been on the sign.
"English!" Bella said desperately, "Please, English, thank you."
Oh, praise Jesus.
Bella had never been given a choice before. Either the course was in English or else it wasn't. Even when it was in English, well, she usually managed to understand most of it but some of her professors (and especially her classmates) weren't the best at English.
Certainly, better than her Italian, but it wasn't exactly a walk in the park.
The way Professor de Volterra spoke, the crisp unaccented enunciation of each word, Bella was willing to bet he spoke perfect English.
He might just become her new favorite professor.
And just like that, he'd stopped writing, and started speaking, "In this class we will be primarily studying the anatomy of the human body. Translating our understanding into drawing and painting. Our studies will consist primarily of figure drawings, replications of famous pieces, and—"
Bella desperately opened her bag, drew out her notebook, and started taking furious notes.
There was something… really distracting about his voice. It… It didn't sound like a normal voice. It was beautiful, but in a mesmerizing and ethereal way. The tenor of his voice almost sounded like one of those ringing wineglasses. If she didn't focus on the words, on what he was saying, they became lost in just the tone of his voice.
"To start with today—"
Bella realized she'd missed whatever he said.
"Wait!" Bella said desperately, "Um, sorry, but can you—"
He blinked at her, as if he'd only just remembered she was there, that she was in fact the only other person in the classroom. On remembering her existence, he suddenly didn't seem to know what to do anymore.
He stood listlessly at the front of the room, staring at her, as if waiting for her to take charge of the class.
"It was a little fast?" Bella said hesitantly, flushing furiously.
He just kept staring.
She shouldn't have said anything.
There was another, subtle, flicker on his face. Once again, it was impossible to tell what it might be. It could be annoyance he was smothering, that seemed likely, or maybe surprise at her American gall.
Regardless, he didn't comment on it, instead he said slowly, as if even he was uncertain of his words, "Perhaps a bit about yourself, Ms. Swan."
She hated introducing herself in front of the class. She thought she left that behind her in Forks. She supposed this was more like introducing herself to a person except… well… This professor seemed insistent on pretending this was a normal lecture consisting of more than just one person.
Which meant Bella was introducing herself to an empty classroom.
"Right," Bella said slowly, "My name is Bella, I'm American, from a town so small no one's ever heard of it. I attend the University of Washington and am currently here abroad. I—uh—study literature and I guess I'm excited to try art for a bit?"
He kept staring. He didn't even blink.
"I don't exactly have much—any—art experience," Bella confessed sheepishly, her face burning, "I sort of signed up for this class on—a whim I guess you'd call it. But I think it'll be fun, and I'll try really hard. So… yay art?"
After a very long pause he said, "Define art experience."
"… I have never had an art class before."
The last time Bella had done anything artistic was elementary school.
"You have never had any instruction," the professor clarified, neither looking particularly dismayed nor pleased by this.
But she was starting to get the feeling that Marcus de Volterra had the world's greatest poker face.
"No?" Bella asked. She saw "art" in the title and assumed that meant it was at least some level of introductory. To be honest, she'd been so desperate that she'd just signed up anyway.
He stared for a moment longer, and she had the feeling he was trying to decipher how serious she was about this. Which, unfortunately, was very serious.
Finally, he asked, "Are you familiar with the egg exercise?"
Bella was sure her face spoke her answer for her.
Without a word, the man walked out of the room, leaving Bella sitting at her easel. Was she—had she just been fired? Was that him telling her to get the hell out of his class? Couldn't they negotiate?
She stood, made to take after him, only to end up tripping on her own feet.
Looking up she saw Professor Marcus back in the doorway, holding a carton of eggs.
"Why are you on the floor?" he asked as he stared down at her, his head cocked to the side like a bird's, as if this were a perfectly legitimate question.
Bella giggled hysterically, "I'm fine, really, I just… Tripped, over my own feet… It happens."
She picked herself up and sat back down. He hesitated in the doorway, staring for a moment longer, before making his way to a table in front of her. He set down the carton and drew out a single egg.
"I would like to gain an understanding of where we're starting," he said as he placed the egg in a wire stand, "Today, I would simply like you to draw this egg."
"Just the egg?" Bella asked.
He nodded solemnly.
She stared at it, dubious. That… couldn't be it. There had to be some trick, right? Or maybe he thought she really was that bad, had to see whether or not she was capable of drawing an egg or if they were starting with stick figures.
An egg, that was vaguely circley, Bella could do an egg.
She wasn't sure why she needed three hours to draw one egg but—well, maybe this was just what they were doing first and they'd move on from here.
"Drawing the egg?" Bella asked, "Not painting?"
"We always draw first," he explained, as if that explained anything at all. Bella just nodded as if she had some idea what he was talking about.
She picked up one of the many pencils that had been arranged for her. She looked at her canvas and then looked around to find a stack of thick paper. Right, that was probably for the drawing.
She glanced over at the egg, checked that it was still egg shaped, set her pencil to the paper and drew an egg.
She looked up at the professor, waiting for some sign that this really was it, she'd just passed the first step. He just kept staring, his dark eyebrows raised ever so slightly, and the oddest though still unreadable expression on his face.
Bella looked back down at her egg.
It looked like an egg, but it clearly wasn't drawn by a professional. It was the lines; they were probably a bit too wobbly.
Bella looked around for an eraser but couldn't find any. Instead, she started on Egg 2.0, carefully and deliberately making her egg. This time, there were no wobbles, but it was a little—spherical to be an egg. This was a mutant egg you didn't buy at the store.
Bella drew a scary face on it, a pair of fangs, and a speech bubble declaring, "I am a very scary egg. Take me to your leader, mortal fools!" Then, because she'd already come this far, she drew a chick in a wizard's hat with a staff saying, "You shall not pass!"
Alright, Egg 3 then.
Egg 3 she felt was pretty damn good. It was egg shaped, the lines were smooth, and it was probably the best she was going to do. All in all, Egg 3 was a very solid egg.
She looked up at the professor only to find him missing.
She nearly fell out of her seat when she realized he was hovering over her shoulder, staring down at her paper with the world's blankest expression on his face. God, how had he gotten there so fast? And how had she not seen him move?
"This is not good," he finally said.
There was no menace in it, no criticism, but just the blunt way he said it felt so insulting.
"Sorry," Bella blustered, blushing desperately, "I told you I've never had—"
He motioned towards the egg, "Look at the egg, Bella, what do you see?"
"… An egg?" Bella asked, not sure what she was supposed to answer, and certain that she was getting the answer somehow wrong.
He spared her a glance with those dark, unreadable, eyes, "Do you see any lines?"
"Yes?" Bella said.
"No," he corrected, "What you see is an abrupt change of texture, of lighting. You see the shape of the egg through the shadows the light casts upon it. You do not see any lines. Draw what you see, Bella, not what your mind is convinced is there."
… Bella just saw an egg.
She nodded as if she understood and moved her pencil back to the paper, preparing herself mentally to draw three hours' worth of eggs.
"And not that pencil," Marcus said as he stalked away from her again, "That pencil is too hard, use one of the softer ones."
Right, Bella understood what that meant.
Bella made to draw the outline of the egg, only to pause. The professor wasn't glaring at her, per se, but he was staring… intently. Clearly watching her every move from across the room. Right, no lines, just… shadow.
Bella squinted at the egg and could make out how it started brighter at the top then became darker at the bottom until it merged with its dark shadow.
Bella started drawing black squiggles, the shadow, and made them progressively lighter as she extended upwards in a vaguely oval direction. Frowning at it, she made the darker parts darker, trying to fill in all the little white gaps.
Eventually, she got a round thing that looked sort of like an egg without any eyes. It also looked kind of like a shadow monster.
It ended up being the best egg Bella made that night.
Later, standing out in the darkened street, she watched as the professor locked up the building behind him. He spared her the slightest, most hesitant, of nods as he began quickly walking down the street and towards the heart of the city. She just stared after him.
She felt curiously numb. Like, instead of class she'd just attended a very odd dream, and any second now she'd wake up back in the real world. She didn't. Instead, she made her way to the bus stop, wondering if she'd get used to it if she showed back up at the same time tomorrow.
Author's Note: Be a responsible person and wait at least for "Blue Moon" to finish? Why? When we can have Marcus as the world's most unnerving professor? It'll be fun.
Thanks for the Italian help from Vinelle, and also for drawings of Bella's beautiful eggs on tumblr (I too, drew Bella's eggs on tumblr)
Thanks for reading, reviews are much appreciated
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight