I'm sorry, I wanted to see what would happen if Renée and Charlie had a different kind of daughter. More extroverted, less responsible. More awkward and flawed and relatable lol.


Preface

Everybody has to die at some point.

The thought wasn't a stranger to her. There's not a person alive who hasn't thought about what kind of death they'd prefer, right? Personally, she never cared much about the specifics. She had always just hoped that it would be peaceful, painless, and a long way off in the future.

That she might meet a violent end here in Forks had never occurred to her before, but as she looked into the golden eyes of the boy in front of her now, she could feel it: death looming oh so near.

It wasn't a bad way to go, all things considered. Dying in a sunlit meadow, in the arms of someone you loved? Pretty idyllic, aside from the potential bloodshed. If this really was the end, she could find no regrets for her final moments. Not when all the others were too wonderful to trade away.

The boy leaned in slowly. His lips parted—to kiss her or to kill her, she didn't know.

Lily closed her eyes and smiled.


Chapter 1

Changes

Phoenix is a beautiful place. Ask almost anyone who lives there, and they'll tell you how the freedom of the open blue skies, the life and tough love of the city, and the breathtaking, ancient shapes of the land can't be beat. Least of all by a rainy, gloomy place like Washington—are you crazy? What's the point of an ocean when it's too cold to do anything with it? Soggy trees and constant cloud cover, no thank you. Forks? Never heard of it.

That's how her classmates reacted. Her mother too, but that was normal. Every summer, it was the same thing. "Lily, wouldn't you rather stay here this time? Charlie could easily fly down instead. He needs some sun anyway."

Renée might have named her daughter after a flower, but she was the one who really needed the sun. Lily wasn't about to make her choose between the two, even when her mom offered to spend the next summer up north if it kept her only child from making the seasonal move permanent.

It didn't matter that she would have moved out soon anyway. It didn't matter that the near-constant bickering was making everyone miserable—poor Phil, having to sit through all those silent suppers. It didn't even matter that this was finally a chance for Renée to follow her dreams, to follow the man she loved and run off with him into the sunset. Freedom, adventure, all the things she had constantly denied herself for Lily's sake. Renée was willing to give all of that up, just to keep her daughter close.

And that was exactly why it had to be done.

"I'm just worried about you, baby," her mother said for the hundredth time as they drove to the Phoenix airport.

"It's gonna be okay, Mom," Lily said—also for the hundredth time. "Dad was literally going over your notes on the last call. He probably has them memorized at this point."

She was only half joking. Charlie seemed as nervous about this move as his ex-wife was, and they had collaborated over the phone for at least an hour, making out a list of parental duties. Lily could picture it hanging scroll-like down the front of her dad's fridge. They were both acting pretty ridiculous, as if their daughter was five months old and allergic to strong drafts of air.

Her mother gripped the steering wheel and made a high-pitched, anxious sound in her throat. Her fingers tapped. "You know I love Charlie, but that man is the least qualified person on the planet to take care of a child."

Lily sucked on her lips and counted down from ten. This was an old argument by now, so it shouldn't have gotten her goat anymore—least of all when they were so close to saying goodbye. "That's not true, Mom. ...And even if it was, I would still be fine. I'm practically an adult."

"Well, you hardly act like it! You can't keep your room clean, you can't keep your laundry white—"

"You don't either!"

"We're not talking about me. We're talking about you." Renée's voice began to climb the mountain. "You're just seventeen, Lily, and not a responsible seventeen either. You barely even know how to drive, and you think you can move across the country on your own? With no one but Charlie there to help you?"

Lily felt the back of her neck turning read as she matched her mother's tone. "Oh, so it's my fault that I learned to drive so late? At least Dad wouldn't have refused to teach me after one little—"

"All right, all right. Don't make this into a spat, okay? I don't want to fight," her mom said in that infuriatingly saintly tone. That was all part of their usual dog and pony show: act like she was the bigger person diffusing the conflict when she had been the one to start it. Even if it came from a place of motherly concern, it drove Lily nuts. Why did she have to act like her flaws all came out of nowhere when mother and daughter were a mirror image?

She almost said it then. This is why I'm leaving. Her mom had asked over and over again, and Lily had sworn it was just to get closer to Charlie. After all, she'd only spent a few months with him every year. It was his turn to be the main parent, and Lily thought his laid-back approach might be a sight better than her mom's, but…it would be too mean to say that, even for her. So she lied instead. Lying and a cruel tongue—the two flaws she didn't actually get from her mother; Lily had discovered those all on her own. If only she'd been more gentle like Charlie instead of so emotional like Renée. Someone level-headed who could actually take care of her mother instead of just fighting with her every time one of them got into some ridiculous situation….

But she wasn't, and all she could do to fix it was to run away.

The minutes of silence stretched on until Lily had finally stored up enough remorse to apologize. Part of her hated to when it still didn't feel like her fault, but they were so close to saying goodbye.

"I'm sorry, Mom."

And that was all she had to say before an arm went around her shoulders and pulled her close. At least her mother was never one to sneer at an apology. Renée's forgiveness was as reliable as her temper was flighty.

"I am too, baby. I don't want to fight with you when we're...about to…."

There was a sniffle, and suddenly Lily was awfully close to sniffling herself. "I know," she said. "Me neither."

She felt her mom kiss the side of her head and the car swerve slightly to the right.

"I'm just...I'm going to be so worried about you, sweetie. You're too much like me."

Lily nuzzled her head against her mom's shoulder and laughed a little as she said, "I can't argue with that, heh…. But Dad's—"

"I know, I know." Her mom huffed, kissed her head one last time, and reluctantly withdrew her arm; Lily's chest tightened a little when she did. "You just have a lot more confidence in him than I do. I mean, the man can hardly cook for himself! How is he supposed to take care of my baby?"

"He's done pretty good so far," Lily reminded her gently. She added an obligatory, "And, again—not a baby. I have your independent spirit, remember?" Some of it, anyway...less and less as the years went by and insecurity set in.

"Yeah," Renée sighed. "Maybe it would've been better if you didn't."

"I can't imagine any child of yours without it," Lily teased, smiling bigger when her mother laughed.

"Never knowing when to quit, that's us Dwyers. Well, mostly. I at least knew to cut my losses and get us the heck out of Forks."

Any time her mom mentioned Lily's birthplace, she said the word like it was a curse. She probably saw it that way too, a curse she couldn't escape. Almost every summer of her life, Lily returned to the sleepy little town a young Renée had fled from—and sometimes she even managed to drag Renée along with her, but never for very long. To her mother, Forks was everything wrong with the world, Charlie notwithstanding.

"Any time you ever want to leave," she repeated now, "I'm here for you. We can go to counseling again, or I could get you your own apartment, or—"

"Mom," Lily begged. This too was an old argument. "I'm not gonna let you pay for an apartment, and besides! You can go off into the sunset with Phil now, wherever the wind may take you. No more office jobs for you, no more lonely trips for him. And one day you two can settle down in a big hot city somewhere, and you can become a teacher and work at whatever school he coaches for. Wouldn't that be the bomb?"

"I would love to finally use my degree," Renée reluctantly admitted.

"Right? But first you've gotta get all that wanderlust out of your system. Go see a real mountain, join another playhouse, the works! And no antisocial daughter keeping you stuck in one place anymore."

Renée frowned.

Oops. That last bit was a tad too honest. Her mom breathed in deeply, and Lily could practically hear the protests word for word, so she rushed to beat her to it. "I know, I know—you wouldn't mind staying behind with me, but you know the two of us are too alike in one other way." Lily grinned and flapped her hands like a bird. "Free spirits. Caw caw! Divide and conquer, that's us Dwyer women, right?"

Renée smiled, placated by such a positive point of view. She really was a lot like a bird. Eyes full of the sky and a heart that longed to soar. The only thing that kept her from flying away was a clingy, problematic kid and the burdens of too many bills. With a level-headed but fun-loving Phil at her side, those shackles were finally gone. She was free to fly away to wherever the wind blew warmest. Even so, the smile on her face looked a little sad as she smoothed her daughter's flat brown hair, eyes only halfway on the road. The car swerved a bit, but Lily didn't care.

"That's right, kiddo. So don't let anyone tether you down. Caw caw."

"I won't, Mom." Her smile stayed happy in spite of the fib; Renée was one of the few people she had a knack for lying to. Once upon a time, Lily had been every bit as daring and free-spirited as her mother—singing with her in public places, wearing whatever she wanted, being whoever she wanted to be no matter what anyone thought. A plus sized waist and acne-covered face had put an end to that freedom years ago. Now she was adventurous without the confidence to back it up. A vicious cycle of spontaneity and regret. Disaster didn't roll off her back the way it did with Renée, and that was yet another reason for moving to Forks—nothing bad ever happened there. A quiet, small town life was just the thing for her.

Soon enough, they were standing inside the airport, the goodbye finally at hand. "Are you sure you won't change your mind?" Renée asked one last time. Her youthful blue eyes were glassy as she pulled the knapsack off Lily's shoulder and started going through it. The unshed tears in her mother's eyes quelled all sparks of irritation. What child could be heartless enough to pick a fight now of all times? They were at the foot of an escalator where Renée would go no further; even Lily could spare her mother one last neurotic invasion of privacy.

"Tampons, where are your tampons?" she muttered frantically.

"I've got them. They're in the pocket with—Mom, cut it out. Please? I've got everything. I double checked." Lily pulled the bag out of her mother's hands.

"With my list or yours? What about—"

Lily's huff turned into a long, pleading, "Mo-o-om!"

Renée tucked her hands behind her back like a guilty kid and gnawed her bottom lip. She always looked so young when she got in trouble. Sometimes it felt like Lily had an older sister in place of a parent. No wonder the two of them were forever finding new messes to get into.

"Sorry, sorry," her mother muttered, and then, "Oh!" She wrapped her arms around Lily and pulled her in for one last super duper hug. "I love you so much, baby." Her voice was thick with tears, and the force of the embrace squeezed a few out of Lily as well.

"I love you too, Mom—bunches and bunches." She blinked the lingering moisture away so her mother wouldn't see. "I'll come back and visit real soon, okay? And I'll call you as soon as I can when I get home."

"Okay, I'll be listening for it. No later than three, all right? Tell Charlie I say hi, and Phil says hi, and I'll be calling him soon."

"I will. ...I've gotta go. Love you."

Lily pulled away, kissed her mom on the cheek, and stepped onto the escalator. Renée continued to talk as it slowly carried her away.

"I'll see you soon. Remember, you can come home whenever you want—any time at all—and I'll come right back as soon as you need me."

"Don't worry, I won't," she promised with a smile.

"Don't lose your bag," Renée called, "and don't talk to any men who aren't with the airport!"

"Okay," she called back, ears burning with embarrassment.

"I love you!" Her mother was shouting now. "Be careful!"

Lily stepped off the escalator, a thumbs-up held high above her head. It would have been too much of a tear-jerker to look back or wave goodbye. She could cry all she wanted when she got on the plane, and she did. Her tears made the desert disappear out the small, grimy window. Soon there was nothing but clouds...but Lily didn't mind that. Before Phoenix, she and her mother had lived in the second rainiest city in the US. Lily liked rain. She would have been out of luck if she hadn't.

Forks was just as cold and wet as she remembered from her rare Christmas visits. It was January now, but she'd still been hoping for a snowy welcome. The wind sure felt cold enough for it. But nope, not so much as a flurry. Wasn't that just her luck?

Oh well. Even without any snow, the familiar sight of clouds and trees put a great big smile on her face the minute she stepped off the plane. She would change into her jacket as soon as she could, but for now, she savored the chill in the air. Home. It was only for a few months out of the year, but it was home nonetheless, and Lily was happy to be there.

She was even happier when someone called her name. A head of slightly curly, dark brown hair caught her eyes. Chief Charlie Swan waved one hand timidly in contrast to his loud baritone; the other hand was hidden behind his back.

"Dad!"

Without a care for her age, her size, or her momentarily abandoned luggage, Lily sprinted past the small herd of airport seats and practically jumped into his arms. He grunted when he caught her.

"Who gave you permission to fly alone, young lady?" His stern voice juxtaposed the welcoming embrace. He glared down at her as his arms squeezed her tight. Her dad was a show-don't-tell sort of guy when it came to affection.

Lily tried to mimic his sternness. "Officer, I'll be honest with you. I'm running away from home. My dad says it's okay though."

"Guess it's okay then." He gave her a rare smile which she matched with her own.

She went back to retrieve her orphaned luggage and then to pick up the rest from the airport's one conveyor belt. When she returned, her dad was holding out a package with stiff arms and a solemn expression.

"Here you go," he said gruffly.

Lily tried to minimize her grinning as she took the poorly wrapped box from his hands. It looked like he'd had a rough time with it. The shiny blue and white wrapping paper was a patchwork of scotch tape and ragged corners, cardboard showed through here and there, and the poor smiling snowmen were cut in half all over the place. She loved it.

"A-a-aw, thank you," Lily oozed. Red spots started to show on her dad's cheeks.

"Open it up."

"Right now?"

He grunted, rubbed the back of his neck, and turned his face away, eyes on the ceiling. She saw him watching closely, however, as she tore through the snowman wrapping paper—it fluttered to the floor in hopeless pieces like a quilt coming apart at the seams—and took off the lid of the shoebox. That fell to the floor too as she picked up a pair of gloves the color of a blue jay. Underneath them was a hat and a folded scarf, both in matching blues. They looked as soft as the gloves felt and so much better than her raggedy red and white set. Charlie didn't often pick winners with his gifts, but these were the absolute perfect way to christen a new era.

"Aw, Dad! You shouldn't have. My old ones are just fine—but, geez, these are so pretty, it's not a very difficult choice! And they're so soft. I love the color. I hope it snows real soon."

"Look under," he said. His expression was back to being just on the edge of stern, but his brown eyes were twinkling.

Lily scooted the clothing aside and saw nothing. When Charlie continued to stare at her, she picked up the hat and pulled back the layers of scarf. Beneath that, in one corner of the box, there was a battered black car key on a ring.

She looked back up at him, and his face broke into a smile.

"Dad?"

"Come on," was all her father said as he grabbed her luggage. He walked at a brisk pace through the parking lot. The rain was starting to pick up—meaning it had reached the intensity of a mild drizzle. Rain in Forks wasn't like the torrential downpours of her last real home, but it sure was better than no rain at all. Lily wedged the shoebox under one arm and tried to put on her new hat; she almost dropped the box twice and nearly ran into a van while she did so. She was so distracted with fixing her staticky hair and keeping up with Charlie's impressive pace—and looking at the sky and the trees while not dropping the box or setting off anyone's car alarm—that when they finally came to a stop, it took her a moment to realize his cruiser was nowhere in sight.

Instead, her father stood in front of an old red pickup, the kind you see outside of antique shops or farmer's markets.

"Dad?" This time Lily couldn't say the word without grinning. Grinning? She was about to burst into song and dance, if this was what she thought it was!

Charlie slapped a hand on the roof of the truck and, with a great big smile, announced, "Surprise."

She practically knocked him over in her enthusiasm.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you! Oh my gosh, it's beautiful!"

"Don't know about that," he said in his usual, gruff-ish way. "I'm sure you'd like something a bit snazzier. But it's all yours, no strings attached."

"Dad, you know I love vintage things! Even if it is a car, heh. What year—wait a minute. Strings? ...Oh, Dad, you didn't."

Her father looked gruffer than ever. He crossed his arms like he expected an argument, and he was right.

"You said you'd help me get a car, not…. Did you pay the whole thing yourself?"

He grunted, shrugged, and said, "It's just easier this way, that's all."

"Oh, Dad," Lily whined—or at least she tried to. It came out more like a whisper. She put her hand on the truck's bulbous, ice-cold hood in awe. Her father did an awkward two-step shuffle. "You shouldn't have, for real. Aw man. This is, like…. Ugh. You're literally the best dad ever. May future generations look upon your likeness in the Dad Hall of Fame with utmost reverence." Lily closed her eyes and shook her head in overdone solemnity. She had to kid around a little or she might start crying, but she was dead-serious at the same time. Best. Dad. Ever.

"Aw, come on now," he pleaded adorably. She looked up, and his ears were turning pink; hers were too, and not from the cold. "It's just a truck, Lills."

"Okay," she acquiesced, letting the rivers of gratitude go unspoken for her bashful father's sake. "Thank you, for real. ...But now I'm definitely gonna pay you rent."

She brushed past him, opened the door—she knew it would be unlocked—and swiftly hopped up inside the truck before Charlie could voice any protests. She cranked the window down and could hear him grumbling to himself as he put her luggage in the bed.

"We're not through with this argument, young lady," he told her when he got in.

She rolled her eyes and said, "You do realize that when most parents and kids have this argument, it's the other way around, right?"

He mumbled something about her not being like most kids, and she laughed; the sound was covered up by the engine's roar as it turned over. Geez, that was loud.

"You're not like most parents," she shot back as she backed out, more careful than a squirrel on a telephone wire. "And thank goodness for that!"

"Eyes on the road," was all he said, but it made her grin grow wider anyway. He had already said he missed her over the phone, and he probably wouldn't say it again in person. She had already told him how much she missed him too, especially after the last couple of years without her usual summers here. He would just get embarrassed and all bristly if she repeated that sentiment now. Didn't stop her from thinking it though.

Love you, Dad.

After two separate flights and with an hour's drive ahead of her, Lily should have been at least a little winded. Her license wasn't even a year old yet, and her driving experience when it came to precipitation was limited. On top of that, the first drive home with her dad was always a little awkward until he got used to her again—and he'd never seen her drive before, either….

Even with all of that, it was the best ride of her life.

The difference between her parents was clear from the first moment she hit the road. No nagging, no yelling or freaking out, not even any nitpicking—and all this from a cop! It was blissful. She talked her father's ear off up until the first gas station, where she somehow convinced him to let her pay. If Charlie's love language was acts of service, hers was quality time, and even though they were doing nothing but sitting in relative silence the rest of the way home—silence apart from the roaring engine, that is—it was wonderful just to have him there. He might not have been the most outgoing or entertaining kind of dad, but she'd missed him as hard as anything. Even the sadness of leaving one parent couldn't dampen the joy of spending so much time with the other. Sure, it wouldn't be exactly like all those summer vacations; she knew that. But whatever changes came, she was confident they wouldn't be bad ones.

Charlie's cruiser was in the driveway when they finally got home. Lily pulled up alongside the old house and got out without preamble. Everything was the way she remembered it, even the damp, earthy smell of the air. It was a given that the house too would be completely unchanged. An old, small, triangular two-story with the same old, pale blue paint. She smiled at the faded color and the shaded porch and her gabled window overlooking the street. The tall forest rose up behind the back yard. The same firs—some squat, others towering. The same slender trees like pines and maples. The same cool green shadows beckoning her to misty, fern-fringed paths…. If there was anything worth waxing poetic over in Forks, it was the ancient boreal forest against which the town nestled, and having it right by her house had been one of the highlights of Lily's childhood. That treeline backdrop made such a nostalgic sight for her now. More nostalgic than anything ever could have been in Phoenix, even if she'd lived there thirty years instead of three.

Charlie reached over the side of the truck bed and began gathering up her things; she jumped a tiny bit and exited her reverie when the big black suitcase scraped against metal. Lily smiled. She knew better than to thank him for the concierge service, let alone ask to do it herself.

"Where did you get this truck, Dad?" she asked instead.

"From Billy Black. Remember him?"

"Oh, that's great! Yeah, of course I do."

Billy's kind tan face and warm smile were an integral part of her vision of Forks, especially in her younger days. He had always been patient with her, even when she was bad, and she used to be fast friends with his kids. She hadn't seen any of them in a while, however, especially with her recent repeated absence from Forks.

"How's he doing?"

Charlie grunted peevishly. Uh oh.

"He's in a wheelchair now."

"Oh no—is he okay?"

"Yeah, far as I know."

Lily frowned. "What do you mean? You haven't talked to him lately? Are you two fighting or something?"

Her father sighed as he opened the front door. "Something like that."

She let the subject drop. He wouldn't say anymore, and she didn't want to press him...even if she was terribly curious. Billy and her father had always seemed like such good friends.

Lily refused to let him take her stuff up to the second floor all by himself, even with him grumbling, "I'm not an old man." After that...he left her alone. That was nostalgic too though—the only downside to all those lovely rainy summers. Charlie was a bonafide introvert, unlike his wife and daughter. He had been selfless enough not to complain when a younger Lily insisted on spending as much time together as possible, but she had eventually learned better. Her dad's method of "recharging his batteries'' was sitting in front of the television or reading a newspaper without any chatter. She had gotten old enough to not ask for so much of his time anymore, even though she knew he'd sacrifice it if she did. Alone time had never been her favorite—and maybe that had played a small part in her not coming up these last couple years—but things had gotten to where she could do with some alone time now.

Lily sat on her bed and took in the peace and quiet of her room. It had always been hers, just like it had always had calm blue walls and cute lacey curtains. The grain of the floorboards and the shadows of the steepled ceiling were familiar patterns to her. As familiar as her face in the mirror. More familiar, probably; they hadn't become something unpleasant to look at….

But that was no way to think. Lily had come to Forks for the sake of change. She needed to start viewing herself...differently. More positively. When she went to the single bathroom to freshen up before unpacking and thinking about dinner, Lily forced herself to look at the vaguely blue-tinted mirror and make an honest and positive assessment of the reflection she saw.

Her face wasn't so bad, apart from the acne which a world of products had never been able to keep away. Her nose was inoffensive, and her mouth was pretty normal. Her eyes weren't anything too interesting—just a messy, unassuming hazel—but hey, that was practically green, right? Her hair was...well, she wasn't going to think of it as boring and flat. It was manageable and the color of chocolate, yum. Plus, her mom often said it looked like "a silk river," even with the perennial touch of friz.

Altogether, it wasn't a bad reflection. Not a pretty one, especially with the unmistakable double chin and sans any makeup...but she was too lazy to do anything about either of those, so she needed to get used to things as they were. She needed to appreciate a normal looking nose and not-bad lips and stop thinking about how much nicer she'd look if she was slender and acne-free….

She splashed water on her face and used hand soap as a cleaner, too pooped to go unpack and find her bottle of Neutrogena. She left the bathroom pretending to feel better about herself than she actually did, pulled the rocking chair over to her window, and plopped down with a big huff. It was a familiar seat, and the square window gave her a familiar view of the front yard. Friendly and familiar, even if it wasn't much to look at...just like her.

Lily sighed. Change was going to be harder than she'd thought.

Dinner with her dad cheered her right up. She wasn't the best cook, but she was still better at it than Charlie—even with her unfortunate talent for starting fires. She would definitely be doing the dinners around here. Good thing the fire department was just five minutes away, like everything else. Despite the risk of stovetop combustion, cooked food was the least of what she owed her dad. No matter what she got wrong, it would be better than just a plain old bowl of Cheerios, right?

One food that was impossible to get wrong, however, was pizza, especially when somebody else made it for you. Forks had gotten a new pizza place since she'd last visited, which was a pretty momentous thing in those parts. Charlie wasn't any more a fan of new things than the rest of Forks was, judging from the suspicion he'd given the food at first. He stared at it and sniffed it and kept his face scrunched up as he chewed it...but then he took another bite, and another and another. It turned out to be so tasty, he didn't even complain about her paying for it. She hoped the place would stay open despite the town's habit of rejecting change. Lily liked that about Forks though, even if it meant the same old pizza year in and year out. Sometimes no change wasn't so bad either...a sentiment which her dad seemed to second, as far as pizza flavors went. At least he was keeping an open mind.

"I haven't had buffalo ranch in years," he said, pulling off a cheesy bite.

"Really?" Lily asked through hers. "Why not?"

"Pepperoni's cheaper," he mumbled and then added, "I'll pay for the next one."

"Dad, don't worry. You've got me now. I'll be doing the cooking-slash-ordering, okey-dokey? Consider it part of the rent." When he opened his mouth to protest that point, she cut him off with a well-timed, "Hey, wanna take this to the couch and see what's on?"

Apart from the obligatory football knowledge which was required in the Deep South, Lily knew very little about sports. Her dad, however, was nuts about them. He would rather watch a game than talk to anyone, anytime, about anything—even fishing. The two of them sat in comfortable, pizza-filled silence while a blue team and a white team played basketball. This was another familiar ritual, only it had been Nickelodeon instead of sports when Lily was younger. The biggest way her parents were alike was in their self-sacrifice for the happiness of their daughter. She was happy to return the favor now. More than happy, actually. Maybe it was just the comfort of nostalgia or the tastes of good pizza, but it felt like she was way, way happier than she had been in a long time.

That night, it was surprisingly hard to go to sleep. The gentle thrum of wind and rain on the roof was so soothing, and her bed was so comfortable and cozy with its faded old quilt, but Lily was either too nervous or too excited to doze off easily. Probably both. A whole new school, a chance to make new friends...changes for the better. Tomorrow, she had to make sure nothing went wrong….

It started going wrong the minute she woke up—five minutes past eight.

"Crap!"

She had put off unpacking last night, and, in her laziness, Lily had neglected to retrieve her alarm clock; it was giving her muffled screams from somewhere at the bottom of the suitcase now. She tore through her bag, looking for something warm and relatively unwrinkled to wear. Her knit burgundy sweater, perfect. Her light colored blue jeans, perfect. Her raggedy grey Keds and no socks, well…. As long as her arms were warm, nothing else mattered. She grabbed her rain jacket, rain boots, borrowed an umbrella from the downstairs closet, and ran out the door with a slice of pizza in her mouth. Charlie's cruiser was gone. He had probably been afraid to wake her up or just figured she would do it herself, like any remotely responsible young adult would.

The drive to school would take only five minutes or so, according to her dad, and yet, somehow, Lily managed to get completely, impressively lost. So much so, she ended up in the more run down streets to the southeast. Or was it the southwest? She knew the school was pretty much at the center of town. If she could just find the hospital—the school was close to it, right? Or was it just off the highway? Or was that the same thing? Ugh. Spending nearly all her summers in a city the size of a Blockbuster apparently did nothing to improve her sense of direction.

It took her forever to find the campus, and when she did, Lily realized she had actually driven past it at least twice on this ill-fated maiden voyage. In her defense, it didn't look much like a high school at all. More like a village on a BBC murder mystery, all shrubbery and trees and quaint little dark red cottages. It was kind of cute, until she met the parking lot. It took another eternity just to find a spot; she kept driving the main circuit, hoping to see a place she had simply overlooked. Nobody was in the spaces in front of what looked to be the main office, but that probably just meant it was off limits or something. After parking as far away from there as humanly possible, ugh, she hurried to get out of the truck, tripped on the way down, and fell knees-first into a puddle. Lily half expected to get struck by lightning on her way across the parking lot. What a great start to the day.

Once she was inside the office, she began to feel a little better. It was warm and bright and cheerful, with colorful things on the pale brownish counter that divided the room, and lots of shiny green potted plants everywhere. In spite of her soaked shins and her tardiness, Lily found herself smiling as she walked up to the office lady, a cheerful looking woman in a purple shirt.

The red haired secretary looked up as she approached and asked with pleasant indifference, "How may I help you?"

"Hi, my name's Lily. Uh, Lillian Swan," she said, and the lady—Ms. Cope, a little rectangle on the counter read—smiled over her glasses. Her brown eyes looked a little brighter, ready to receive and comfort an anxious new student, no doubt. Lily had been trying not to let her nerves show, but she always did have a terrible poker face.

"Of course." Ms. Cope glanced at a big wall clock and began to sort through some papers. Her voice was kind when she asked, "You didn't have trouble finding the place, did you?"

Lily felt her ears turning red. Her laugh came out as a nervous sort of cough. "Yes ma'am, a little."

"I won't take too much of your time then. I have your schedule here, and a map of the school."

Ms. Cope was kind enough to not only go through Lily's classes, but also to show her all the best routes to them; each cottage was its own separate classroom, like the portables at her old school in Phoenix. Even though this campus was a lot smaller, she probably wouldn't remember any of the helpful directional information. She still appreciated the thoughtful gesture—finally, something nice happening in her day. In addition to the map, Lily was given a little printed schedule and a slip that needed to be returned after school with all her teacher's signatures. When she finished explaining it all, Ms. Cope said she hoped Lily would have a good day and that she would like Forks. Lily said she would, and she meant it. At least she could be sure of the part about liking Forks, if not the rest.

She found her way to her first class without any trouble, but only by pure luck. Her memory could make a goldfish look like Einstein. It was gonna take a night of studying just to memorize the map, let alone all the teachers' names, her class order—and then the things that wouldn't be written down, like her classmates' names and the different places she would sit….

Suddenly everything felt very daunting. Lily hesitated outside the building's door as her stomach churned a little. This would have been a cinch for a younger Lily, but she had grown up into a bonafide social coward. She could change that, though. Being brave started with one foot in front of the other. And anyway, what did she have to be afraid of, really? These were high schoolers, not monsters.

Lily squared her shoulders, walked inside...and froze when the door slammed shut behind her. It felt like everybody turned to look as she took off her pale purple raincoat and hung it on one of the pegs along the back wall. She slunk to the nearest empty seat and pulled off her hat, hair all messy and frizzy, only for the teacher to clear his throat and call her up to the front before she could really fix it.

When she told him her name, his eyes widened—they didn't look as friendly as Ms. Cope's had, but maybe she was just feeling her embarrassment—and he asked for the slip she'd been given. After signing it with "Mr. Mason," he told her not to be late again and sent her back to the desk she'd picked. At least he hadn't made her introduce herself to the class or anything. All she wanted to do was stick her face in some classwork and hide.

She put her hat on the desk, pulled out a notebook, and stared at the reading list he'd given her without comprehending what it said for a good five minutes. Lily's skin was crawling too hard with the imagined stares of her neighbors for her to focus. Eventually, she noticed the names on the sheet of paper—Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner—and couldn't help but smile. It would be nice to become more familiar with such lofty authors. She had read only a few things from the first three and nothing from the last. Her last English class had been advanced placement, but the teacher...less so. She hoped Mr. Mason enjoyed teaching the classics as much as she would enjoy learning them.

After the bell rang, or rather buzzed, Lily's neighbor leaned across the aisle to talk. He had black hair and black-rimmed glasses. He looked like a nice guy, the sort that might like literature the way she did, if she was going by stereotypes. She couldn't deny his resemblance to a basic nerd, and it put her at ease. Birds of a feather.

"You're Lillian Swan, right?"

"Well, um...Lily, if you want, but yeah," she answered, hardly daring to correct him when everyone seemed to be turning around to look at her. She pulled on her hat so that it hid her reddening ears. She felt a silly urge to yank it down over her eyes, too. Of course new kids would be something of a novelty in any school, especially one in a small town like Forks...but she hadn't really thought about getting any attention for it until now—thank goodness, or she would have lost even more sleep last night.

"What's your name?" she asked the friendly boy.

"It's Eric. Where's your next class?"

She hadn't taken Ms. Cope's stack of papers off her desk yet. She pulled out the one with her list of periods on it and said, "It looks like, uh...oh, Government."

"That's in building six with Jefferson," Eric replied and then didn't say anything else. He stared at her. It felt like everyone in the room was lingering behind to do that. They must have been really bored if she was worth gawking at. Or maybe they thought she looked weird, or that she was acting weird. She shouldn't have put her hat on so soon—she must have looked like a dork.

"Well," she said to fill the awkward pause, "he's got a pretty good name for the subject, I guess. Like, uh, Jefferson Davis, Thomas Jefferson. Lotta Jeffs." She sounded ridiculous, but it made him smile, at least.

"Ha, yeah. You want me to show you where building six is? I'm walking towards four."

Lily smiled at him in genuine relief. She wouldn't get lost on her way like a lemming now, yay. What a helpful guy. "That would be awesome, thank you."

"I like your jacket," he said when they stopped at the back of the room. "That's a good brand." A significant number of people who had been lingering in their desks were getting up now. Lily wondered if they had really been listening in, or was she just that paranoid?

"Thank you," she answered Eric. "I didn't get much use from it before. I mean, when I lived in Phoenix. Clouds don't do much there." Not like their thick northern cousins currently hanging overhead. The rain had picked up significantly—still just a drizzle compared to the downpours she'd been used to in the southeast—and it cheered her even as it chilled her.

Eric pulled his hood tighter around his head as they walked. He asked her, "So, this is a lot different than Phoenix, huh?"

She laughed a little and answered, "Definitely."

"It never rains there at all?"

"Yeah. I mean, no, it doesn't. Just about four or five times a year, I think."

"Wow, what's that like?"

"Too hot for me, blech. I love rain. I used to live in Mobile, so I missed it a bunch."

"Wow. Isn't that the second rainiest city in America?"

"Yeah, it is! Cool, I thought I was, like, the only person who knew that."

"It has the highest rainfall, but Seattle has the highest amount of rainy days."

"Oh. Well, guess I gotta move to Seattle then, heh."

"You must really like rain."

"Heh, yeah, definitely. I'd be in trouble if I didn't, huh? Living in Forks and all."

"...Is it Mobile, or Mo-bile?" he asked when the silence stretched on; Lily hadn't been able to think of anything else to say, and was grateful for the superficial conversation.

"Mo-beel. Like, 'put it on my bill, Lucile,'" she answered with an accent heavy enough for the last two words to rhyme. Eric blinked at her owlishly. "Not Mobile like, um...stomach bile or...a mobile phone."

Eric blinked at her some more. She couldn't tell whether he was amazed by the simple revelation or by the stupidity of her explanation.

"Oh," he said, and it still didn't tell her anything at all.

After they had made it around the cafeteria and reached the building near the gym to the south, building six finally came into view. Lily's escort politely walked her all the way up to the door. Eric may have been a little awkward, but at least he was nice. Probably just because he could tell that she was awkward too. She certainly didn't have any illusions about being the beautiful, mysterious new student her classmates might have been hoping for.

When she opened the door to go inside, Eric wished her luck and said, "Maybe we'll have some more classes together."

"I hope we do," she said, and she meant it. He seemed like a nice guy.

A lot of other people were nice to her too, coming over to her and asking her about Phoenix and stuff like that. A whole lot of people. A whole, who-o-ole lot of people. Never in her entire life had Lily talked to so many kids all at once. It was like a scene from a show on Teen Nick, full of an over-the-top friendliness she would have called cheesy and unrealistic, if it hadn't been happening to her. She knew Forks was a friendly place in general, but there was no way it could be that friendly—this was high school, after all. She also knew that Forks wasn't anyone's definition of exciting, objectively speaking, but it couldn't be boring enough to make someone like her seem interesting to so many people, could it? Had there just never been any transfer students here before? Lily was all for making friends, but even an extrovert couldn't appreciate so much attention on their first day.

She hoped it would die down quickly once everyone realized how little there was to her. She wasn't some flashy blonde athlete or perfectly tanned model or whatever sort of person one expected Phoenix to export. It surprised her that they weren't already too disappointed with her appearance to bother talking to her, but the students of Forks were either astonishingly welcoming or incredibly bored.

There was one girl who fit the former without a doubt. She had introduced herself as Jessica Stanley in Trigonometry after Mr. Varner forced Lily to tell the class who she was and where she came from—as if they didn't already know. Apparently the entire school knew all that and then some, everything except her preferred name. Jessica was one of the only people so far who'd made Lily feel like she wasn't just interested in getting her backstory, because she was the first person to actually share anything about herself. It was a welcome change from not just the twenty questions, but from Lily's usual interactions in general; she almost never succeeded at friendship on the very first try. Awesome! Jessica whispered to her until Mr. Varner came over and stood between their desks. Lily felt her ears and the back of her neck turning red, but at least she had made a friend.

It turned out they had Spanish together too. They sat beside each other, and Jessica talked to her again until Mrs. Goff cleared her throat. After that, she passed Lily notes with questions about Phoenix and the guys there and things like that. Lily was happy—nobody had ever passed notes to her before—even if it took extra concentration to listen to the teacher and answer Jessica at the same time. It was worth it for a new friend. On the way to lunch, the girl told her all about the school and the teachers and the students…. Quite a lot to take in, but Lily did her best to listen.

It wasn't until they sat down that she realized how short Jessica was and how much her incredibly curly brown hair made up for the height difference. Lily wished her hair was half as interesting. Jessica's mop of curls bobbed like an animated storm cloud as she introduced the other people at their table with energetic nods and rapid-fire names. Soon after that, Eric came and sat down with them. He seemed to know everyone there too. It made Lily realize, to her horror, that Jessica's, Angela Webber's, and Eric's names were the only ones she could remember. Five minutes of chatter, and she had already forgotten the rest. Geez.

She was just trying to figure out how to fix this faux pas without admitting it…when she saw them.

For a moment, she forgot all about everybody else's names. Heck, she forgot her own name. She forgot how to breathe and how impolite it was to stare at someone like a gaping goldfish.

They were sitting as far away as possible, in a corner of the cafeteria, but the distance hardly lessened the effect. There were two girls and three boys, and all of them were stunningly, impossibly, heartbreakingly beautiful. They weren't talking or eating or looking at each other. For one silly moment, she thought they might be mannequins. A collection of perfect, unearthly mannequins.

The tallest boy had dark curls and could have been a wrestler, or maybe a miniature giant. The second tallest had honey colored hair and a face as somber as a soldier. The third boy had rather wild reddish hair, a boyish face, and a lankier build than the other two. He looked like the youngest, apart from the short girl sitting next to him. She had hair as wild as his, jet black and sticking out in every direction. She looked like a pixie, and not just because of her short hair; she was as slender as a child and had the most delicate features Lily had ever seen. The other girl was a Grecian goddess and arguably the most breathtaking one at the table. She was built like a photoshopped model with long golden hair and a face more heavenly than any Renaissance angel ever painted. Lily's self esteem took a minus ten just looking at her, not to mention the damage it incurred taking them in as a whole.

They were all too beautiful to be real, and they all looked nothing alike—a mismatched set of priceless teacups—apart for their incredible paleness, their dark eyes, and the shadows beneath those eyes. The shadows were the only imperfection, if it could be called that; their flawless features made the dark smudges inconsequential. Maybe they all had insomnia? The five of them could've had chicken pox and they still would be the most breathtaking people anyone had ever seen.

The tiny dark-haired girl stood up from the table with her tray of food. The sudden movement broke the spell and made Lily realize she was staring, only for the grace of those movements to mesmerize her all over again. She gaped as the beautiful stranger practically pirouetted out the door, and then, a few seconds after it had shut behind her, Lily put her face in her hands and groaned. It was enough to make any pimple-faced, overweight girl like her wear a brown bag over her head. So much for those positive thoughts. How was she supposed to learn to feel better about herself with an eclectic display of inhuman perfection sitting across the cafeteria everyday? Who the heck were they, and what were they doing in Forks? This was a place for people like her, not them. Their presence here was the equivalent of an LA mansion on a backroad in Mississippi.

"What's wrong?" she heard Angela Webber ask.

"Headache?" Eric joined in.

"No, I'm fine," Lily said. She took her apple off the tray and fiddled with it so that she wouldn't have to look at everyone staring at her—or at the quadruple embodiment of beauty across the lunchroom, for that matter.

When everyone had gone back to eating and talking, she leaned close to Jessica and asked very quietly, "Hey, not to be weird or anything, but...who are those kids over there in the corner?" It felt wrong to call them kids, but she didn't want to sound odd and call them angels either.

Jessica looked over at them with her. When she did so, the boy with messy reddish hair looked up. His dark eyes flickered unmistakably between the two of them. Before Lily could even look away, his eyes had turned elsewhere with utter disinterest—thank goodness. For a moment, it had almost seemed like he knew they were talking about him.

Lily looked at Jessica and, in a knee-jerk reaction of pure nerves, started to giggle like a fool. A moment later, they were both laughing in mutual embarrassment, but at least Jessica's face wasn't flushed like hers. Hopefully the boy wouldn't think anything of it, if he looked over again—that is, if he'd even been looking at them to begin with, which was unlikely.

In a hushed voice, as though the group of cherubs would overhear her, Jessica said, "That...is Edward and Emmet Cullen, and Rosalie and Jasper Hale. The one who left was Alice Cullen; they all live together with Dr. Cullen and his wife."

Lily dared to throw a look at the slender boy and his two brothers. The blonde girl was too pretty to look at again, if her already dwindling self-esteem was going to remain intact. For a few moments, it had almost looked like the bronze-haired boy was saying something, but none of his siblings turned to look at him, so she must have been imagining it. Getting shot in the face with such inordinate beauty probably induced mild hallucinations. Lily looked back down at her tray and started putting dents in the red apple with her thumbnail.

"Pretty names," she remarked absently.

"They sound kind of funky to me. Nice faces though," Jessica said wolfishly. Lily's face heated up, but she grinned. She had never talked about boys with another girl before. "Unfortunately, they're all together—Emmet and Rosalie, and Jasper and Alice—oh, and they live together too. Did I mention that?"

"Uh-huh. Geez, they're so...pretty."

"I think you mean drop-dead gorgeous."

"Yeah," she sighed, picturing the blonde girl's brush-stroke cheekbones and the lanky boy's tousled hair. They were probably the two most beautiful of the group, if it were possible to determine such a thing. She couldn't decide which one was more of a heart-stopper….

Lily frowned and shook her head a little when she realized how superficial she was being. Determined to move on from such vanity-related thoughts, she said, "They don't look very much like brothers and sisters at all, or maybe I just can't tell."

"Oh, they aren't. Dr. Cullen is really young, in his twenties or early thirties. They're all adopted. The Hales are brother and sister, twins—the blonde ones—and they're foster children. But the rest—"

"Wow, they're all adopted?"

"No, Mrs. Cullen is Jasper and Rosalie's aunt or something like that. They've been with her since they were kids, but apparently Edward and Alice were adopted when they were older. Like, a lot older."

"Aw, that's so nice!"

"What do you mean?"

Jessica's nose was scrunched up. Lily tried to make her voice a little calmer.

"Just that...they must be really kind to take in so many kids. Especially if they're only in their twenties or thirties. I can't imagine that. I mean, you never see anyone adopting teenagers, just young kids and babies, right? They must be really nice people."

"Yeah, well, they have enough money to adopt, like, twenty kids probably," Jessica said. Her nose was still wrinkled a tiny bit; Lily wondered if she had said something weird to make it do that. "Anyway, I think Mrs. Cullen can't have any kids or something. That's all."

"Oh…."

Jessica didn't sound very nice all of a sudden. Or maybe Lily was just jumping to unfair conclusions, or had misunderstood her somehow. She shook her head and moved on to other thoughts, like how the Cullens and Hales hadn't eaten or spoken all throughout the current conversation. If they weren't blinking and moving every so often, she would have thought they were a still life painting. Maybe incredible beauty made you sit incredibly still. It made sense why Lily was always fidgeting, in that case.

"When did they move to Forks? Do you know?"

She might have been here only during the summers, and not for the last couple either, but surely Lily would have noticed this strange family at some point. They were too lovely not to notice. Each of them had perfect haircuts and perfect figures and perfect complexions. Even at a distance, she could see that they had the kind of pale, flawless skin you might imagine on someone like Snow White. Lily's opinion of her physical self had been going down pretty steadily over the last four or five years, but it would have sent her self image into an absolute nosedive straight away if she had ever come across someone like Rosalie Hale.

"They moved down two years ago from somewhere in Alaska," said her neighbor.

"Ah, that explains it."

Jessica's head tilt was big enough to take Lily's attention away from the far table.

"Uh, I just mean…." Suddenly she changed her mind about saying how she'd been here every summer and all that. For whatever reason, a part of her didn't want to share that with Jessica. Probably too much to explain anyway. "They're, um...so pale. I wish my skin was that nice, heh. They look like...if Snow White had kids, right?"

Jessica frowned a little. Lily's stomach sank even further. She tried not to frown herself as she looked back at the table of beautiful strangers again—strangers the way she suddenly felt.

One of the Cullens looked up without warning, right when she was staring dead at him and his wild tangle of red-bronze hair. She couldn't turn away fast enough to hide from his curious expression. He had probably seen her face bursting into flames. After a long enough minute of methodically eating her lunch, Lily looked back up at him, half expecting to see him still staring at her. And he was, much to her mortification. He looked unhappy now. He must have known she'd been gawking at him. ...But geez, could anyone blame her?

She turned to Jessica and said, with a smile she hoped was convincingly disinterested, "Hey, don't look, but who is the boy with the red hair? Well, reddish. Red-bronze? Is that even a color?"

Jessica snickered and Lily felt her face turn redder than ever. She smiled sheepishly and added, "Just curious."

"That's Edward Cullen. Let me tell you—he's gorgeous, yeah, but he isn't worth the time. He doesn't date, like, anyone. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him."

"Oh, I wouldn't—I would never—right, no. Right."

Jessica flipped her hair out and turned back to Angela. Lily went back to looking at Edward, and, when she did, she got the strangest feeling that he was smiling, even though his face was turned away, his cheek cupped in one equally white hand.

Lily tried to stop staring at them after that. She still noticed when, a little while later, the Cullens and the Hales all rose from their table, dumped their trays, and sauntered out of the lunchroom with the same kind of grace the little black-haired girl had displayed. It was hypnotic. Edward Cullen didn't look over as he passed across the way, and she breathed a sigh of relief.

"They sure are something," she remarked to Angela when they were walking to class together. The two of them had Biology and then Choir right after that.

"Who?" Angela asked her.

"The Cullens and the Hales."

"Ah." The girl's dark eyes widened in understanding.

"I've never seen anyone so…."

"I know what you mean."

They shared the same kind of bashful smile and kept walking.

"Um, if you don't mind me asking," Lily began, but then she looked up at the taller girl again and thought better of it. Angela seemed shy. She might not like a stranger asking personal questions about her friends, and Lily wanted Angela to like her. Besides, she didn't really need to know if Jessica had dated Edward Cullen. That would just be meaningless gossip. Instead she asked, "What do you think of the choir here?"

Angela's face lit up. "It's wonderful."

Her soft-spoken classmate talked about choir and music and singing until she realized how much she was talking, and then Lily couldn't get her to talk at all anymore. They were almost to Biology anyway, though.

"I love singing too," she said to fill the conversation void, "although I'm not super good at it or anything, especially not solo."

"Me neither," Angela finally responded, ducking her head a little. She was so shy! It made Lily smile.

"I can't wait to see what a smaller choir is like. Ours was too big not to be intimidating. I'm gonna miss going to All State though. Oh, unless y'all do that here too?"

"No, sorry."

"Oh. Oh well. What about solo and ensemble or, uh, competitions and things like that?"

"Not really."

"Ah. Well, it's nice not to have to stress, right? Only focus on concert music and stuff—a lot more laid back, I bet. It must be fun to just sing in a group with your friends, versus worrying about—oh, hey, wanna stand by each other? Are you a second? Uh, soprano, I mean?"

"I'm a...first alto," Angela murmured and ducked her head even further.

Lily laughed and bumped her arm a little.

"Perfect, we'll meet in the middle."

Angela smiled sweetly and walked into the classroom; she took her place up front at one of the black-topped lab tables while Lily lingered by the door. She took her time hanging up her jacket, folding her hat and stuffing it in the pocket, smoothing down her staticky hair...procrastinating. Assessing the seating situation with a pit in her stomach. Sadly, Angela already had a neighbor. The only open seat was one in the back, right on the outside, which was just the way Lily liked it. However, there was an insurmountable problem with that seat, and he was sitting in the chair beside it.

Edward Cullen. She recognized him by his tangle of uncommonly colored hair—her ears immediately began heating up when she did—and began to ask herself, What do I do? What do I do?

Could she sit beside someone so devastating without making a fool of herself? What if he asked what her name was and she opened her mouth and drooled like an idiot? What if he said, "Hi, I'm Edward Cullen," and she said, "Hi, you're incredibly handsome," and then spontaneously combusted? What if he looked at her and just started to gag? ...Hold up, she was being way too superficial again. Who cared what either of them looked like? It didn't matter when you were making friends. Come on, Lily—it's what's inside that counts, right?

Lily squared her shoulders and walked down the aisle to hand the teacher her slip. She was resolved not to judge Edward Cullen by how gorgeous he was...but that didn't mean she couldn't look at him just a tiny bit as she walked by; his hair was mesmerizing, and he wouldn't notice one little look if she was quick. That's what she was thinking when, without any warning or reason she could see, he went rigid in his seat. Not even an instant later, he turned his face to look at her, and the motion was so sharp and sudden, she thought his neck might snap. His eyes….

Two thoughts hit her at the same time: Wow, he's beautiful, and, Wow, he's going to attack me.

A loud, high-pitched "sorry" fell out of her mouth as she stumbled to a stop. She was side by side with him now. He stared at her with the most hostile expression she had ever seen, and it froze her to the floor...but then he looked away from her, and she was free. Lily blinked and glanced around, realizing she had stopped mid-aisle and wondering if anyone else had noticed the boy's sudden, unspoken burst of hostility.

Everyone was staring, but it was at her, not him. It was like a horror movie, all of them completely silent and turned around in their seats to look at her, even Angela. It was terrifying enough to make her forget that haunting, jet black glare for just a few moments. She could actually feel the blood draining from her cheeks—it made her skin cold and itchy—as she scurried up to the front of the class to give her slip to the teacher. At least her face wouldn't be a big red beet when she sat back down.

When she handed the teacher her slip, he asked if she was feeling well. It was kind of him, but she could only nod. She didn't even introduce herself to him or catch his name.

On her way back to her seat, she tried so hard not to look at Edward Cullen that she ended up bashing her hip into the corner of one of the tables. The boy sitting there asked if she was okay, and the girl beside him giggled. She sputtered out an apology and slunk to the back of the room, where her lab partner was waiting with his sharp black eyes.

Not just dark brown. Black. Complete darkness and burning anger. Lily felt the hair raise on her arms as she considered the image.

What the hell?

Her thoughts formed a tangled, helpless loop. If she hadn't gotten such a good look, she would've been sure it was just some super convincing trick of the light, or a really vivid hallucination even. But she had stared long enough to absorb the flat black gaze 100%. Pitch black—like a starless sky. And so angry, too. What the hell…?

He wasn't staring at her anymore, at least. He leaned away from her when she sat down, face turned out towards the aisle. He looked for all the world like he'd smelled something awful. Lily had to resist an inconspicuous sniff of her armpits, because imagine her mortification if he caught her doing that. She hadn't forgotten to wear deodorant, she was certain, and her shampoo was the usual pomegranate one…. What could be so repulsive that it would have Edward Cullen gripping the table and slanting his body as far away from her as possible? She sneaked a peak, and he was literally on the edge of his seat.

Or maybe she had it all wrong, and there was something wrong with him? That was probably a very negative way to put it—maybe he had a condition. Something that caused him to arbitrarily tense up and stay still as a statue, or something that gave him mood swings and made him stare at random strangers like he hated them, or that made her smell unbearably bad to him, or, or….

She spent the rest of the class wondering. She shivered a couple of times when she pictured the hatred in his frightening eyes...but soon the mystery of that hatred outweighed everything else. She replayed the day in her mind but couldn't find anything that stood out, except maybe the two moments at lunch when he caught her staring. But that wasn't enough to suddenly hate somebody, was it?

Reminding herself to pay attention to the Biology lecture didn't help much. It was hard to focus on anything when she kept seeing a pair of piercing midnight eyes in her mind and drifting off in anxious thought. No, focus on cellular anatomy, Lily. This was interesting stuff, oh boy, the powerhouse of the cell, mm-hm.

...It didn't work. By the end of class, her notes were incredibly weak-looking things, her head ached from the circles her brain had run, and her back hurt from trying to lean away from the boy beside her. She had hoped that if she gave him enough physical space, whatever was wrong would clear up. That hadn't worked either. Edward Cullen never once relaxed his rigid posture during the entire hour. His hand had stayed clenched on his thigh, the tendons in his pale forearm standing out starkly with tension. He was a lot more muscular than he'd looked next to his brothers. Also, he was furious. There was no other explanation for his behavior. Actually, there was no explanation at all—what on earth had she done to make him upset, let alone furious? Lily felt lost. She remembered Jessica's odd tone at lunch and wondered if Edward treated all the girls like this.

Lily had looked up from her notes at that point and began staring at him without realizing it. That was a big mistake. All of a sudden, as if he had somehow felt her stare, she found herself head-on with a resentful black gaze. His eyes were deep as pits—they looked like holes in a snowbank against such pure white skin, sans the deep shadows below them. Even that skin was still flawless...but all the flawless beauty in the world couldn't detract from the unfiltered hatred smoldering in his gaze. He looked like he was about to either scream or be sick.

A wave of terror washed through Lily's gut, cold and sickening. Which would be worse? Edward Cullen vomiting on her, or opening his mouth and shouting at her? But why would he? He didn't know her from a pile of dirt! Why did he look like he despised her enough to...to….

Never had the phrase "saved by the bell" been so true. Her neighbor lifted himself out of his seat and towered over her for one brief instant as the bell buzzed. Then he was out the door. Nobody else had even stood up yet, he was so fast, and yet he moved with the grace of a dancer. What an elegant, terrifying person.

Lily's heart was still hammering too hard for her to stand without trembling, so she slowly gathered her things and gave herself a minute to calm down. Nobody was looking at her anymore, so she took the chance to sniff her arm. Nope, nothing.

"Aren't you Lillian Swan?"

She jumped at the sound of the boyish voice and looked up to see an equally boyish face; hers was turning a deep red from being caught checking her pits like a hobo on the streets. The boy smiled like he hadn't noticed. He had a cute, babyish sort of face and spikey blonde hair.

"Oh, uh, it's Lily, actually," she corrected him as politely as she could.

"I'm Mike."

"I'm Lily...but I just said that, sorry."

"No worries," he reassured her and flashed an adorable smile. "Do you need help finding your next class?"

Lily looked towards the door. Angela Webber was waiting there patiently.

"Thanks a bunch, but it's okay. My friend's walking with me."

"Oh. Where to?"

"Choir, in, uh, building…."

"Oh. I have gym." He seemed disappointed for some reason. Maybe he didn't like gym class.

"Sorry," Lily said. "Gym sucks. It's where choir kids go to die."

"Oh. Yeah." Mike looked like he didn't quite get whatever joke she had just tried to make—she didn't either—but he smiled anyway. He seemed very nice. "We have English together anyway. I'll see you there."

"Oh, okey-dokey," she said as he walked away with a wave. "Okey-dokey? Why did I...ugh." Lily shook her head forcefully in an effort to de-fluster.

"Are you okay?" a kind voice asked.

Lily smiled up at her friend. The smile wasn't very genuine, she could feel it. Angela's brow furrowed.

"Yeah, just a little discombobulated is all."

"Mike is a really nice guy."

"Oh! Oh, yeah, no. Not about him." She stood up carefully and walked with Angela to get their coats.

The quiet girl's voice was quieter than ever when she asked, "Was it…. I don't mean to pry, but...was Edward upset about something?"

The air left Lily's lungs in a whoosh. "So you noticed that?"

"He looked…."

She shrugged with feigned nonchalance and suggested, "Furious?"

Angela blinked at her.

"I was going to say upset, actually. I thought maybe his stomach was hurting."

"Oh. Yeah. Um. Weird question, but does he have mood swings or anything like that?"

"No, not to my knowledge. He's always been standoffish, but he's nice. He stopped to help me pick up my books once."

"Well, he sure looked angry to me. I don't have any clue why. Maybe I smell bad," Lily muttered as they walked into the arts building. It was a bit larger than a lot of the little red cottages, a reassuring detail. She couldn't imagine anything worse than a claustrophobic choir room, especially on a day where she wasn't sure she didn't smell like road kill.

"Oh, you don't!" Angela insisted. She didn't ask anything else about the weirdness in Biology after that, and Lily was grateful for it.

Angela, Jessica, Eric, Mike…. Somehow, Lily suddenly had friends. Four of them on the very first day of school, more than she had ever had all at the same time in her whole life. Even if Edward Cullen glared at her for no good reason—and even if she really did smell like something rotten without realizing it—she couldn't call this a bad day.

Especially not when she saw how nice and big the choir room was. Not nearly as big as the one in Phoenix, of course. But it had clean floors, cute little laminated music posters on the walls, and even a baby grand; she had expected an upright piano at most.

After a typical introductory lesson to voice parts and placements, the director had each of them sing either "Jingle Bells" or "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Everyone chose Jingle Bells, so she did too. The choir was very small, maybe about thirty students. That was nice too. Most of the class was placed by the end of the period, and Angela and Lily did end up almost right beside each other after all. Lily was in the center of the middle bleacher, and Angela was at the top with the rest of the taller students. It was easy to turn around and share a smile and a quiet word with each other, more than she had ever gotten in her other choir. Things were looking up, enough so that Lily forgot all about Edward Cullen and his black eyes until the bell rang and Mr. McCormick dismissed them for the day.

Angela had to leave quickly to pick up her little brothers, leaving Lily to walk the long-ish trek back to the front office alone. The rain was gone now, but the wind was sharper than ever. It wasn't so pleasant anymore. She pulled her hat out of one of the coat's zippered pockets and tugged it down over her cold ears. Thank goodness for her father's taste in practical presents.

The office was warm and cozy. It was a relief to stand inside the brightly lit room...until she saw who else was there.

He stood at the counter, speaking with Ms. Cope in a low, sultry voice. Lily stood petrified in front of the door. She wanted to turn around and walk back out, but it was like a nightmare where she couldn't move. She could only stand there and wait for Edward Cullen to notice her, not even breathing as she did so.

The pounding heartbeat in her ears made it difficult to hear anything, but suddenly, as if the other sounds had just caught up to her, she realized that the boy was trying to trade his sixth-hour Biology for something else, "anything at all." That was the class he was in with her! Anger boiled up, strong and unexpected and as familiar as the rain. Lily marched forward a few steps and cleared her throat.

The bronze-haired boy froze. Ms. Cope seemed to flinch when he did. Slowly he turned his face towards Lily, eyes wide. The burst of anger she had felt instantly melted away under that coal black gaze. When the door opened behind her, the icy wind that filled the room might as well have come from the opposite direction, straight out of Edward Cullen's terrifying expression. His face was ridiculously handsome, all perfect angles and angel's proportions, but that couldn't cover for the hatred in his abyssal eyes.

Maybe a minute later, or maybe a second...and the look was gone.

He turned back to the receptionist and murmured quickly, "Never mind, then; I can see that it's impossible. Thank you so much for your help." The words were rapid but smooth as silk. When he had finished speaking, he spun around with enough grace to grieve Baryshnikov himself and left the room. She had squeezed away from the door, making herself as small as possible while he walked by. He hadn't looked at her again.

After handing Ms. Cope her slip and telling her that yes, she did have a very nice day, Lily slipped away to her truck. It felt like a miniature sanctuary, and she was suddenly reminded of all the times she had borrowed the car to get away from her mother after a fight. She sighed. The steering wheel was freezing cold, but it felt nice against her forehead.

Maybe she was sick and had just imagined all that nonsense. Maybe Edward Cullen had one of those resting grump faces, or an upset stomach, like Angela had said.

Or maybe he just hated her.

The thought shouldn't have stung so badly, let alone enough for her to start crying on the steering wheel. Lily had made more friends today than she'd ever had in a lifetime. What did it matter if one guy hated her guts for no good reason? Was it just because he was so good looking? That couldn't be it. Was it because it was her first day? She had expected much, much worse, especially with the way it had started, so no. What was it then?

Maybe it was the fact that he knew literally nothing about her. She didn't know anything about him either—except that they were both relative strangers here. Maybe it hurt so much because she had thought about having that in common with him. It should have been a point of solidarity, as different as they were. She should have gotten along great with him. It was so unfair. How could he hate her? What could she have done differently? She just wanted to fit in, like everybody else. Why couldn't she manage that, even here?

With too many thoughts in her head and too many tears in her eyes to drive safely, Lily rumbled slowly on home.


...Hhhhh this was never going to see the light of day, but today is 12-22-21 and the date was too cool to pass up. :"/

EDIT 1-9-22: YO, Google says Renée has brown eyes, but I checked the Official Illus. Guide, and she's got BLUE EYES, TAKE THAT!