I wrote chapters 1-9 (I have up to 11 now) while my grandmother was in the hospital in January. Either it was my brain's way of cheering itself up, or it just finally lost its key inhibitions lol. Anyway hhhh I didn't expect anyone to actually read this much, let alone within the first DAY, so here's chapter two as a thank you. Happy Holidays!


Chapter 2

Impressions

Lily didn't sleep well that night. The wind howled around the little house, but that should have been the best lullaby on earth. It reminded her of stormy Southern nights, and it made her snuggle down and appreciate how cozy a bed could be. This time, however, the noise was oddly irritating, startling her awake every time she was just about to drift off.

That wasn't the only thing that irritated her. Edward Cullen's dark eyes and inexplicable enmity kept her tossing and turning more than anything else. In person, he had frightened her. In hindsight, he just made her mad. She was going to confront him about it tomorrow, no matter how painful the interaction would be. If she smelled bad, fine...just so long as he came out and told her—instead of acting like he was offended by her very existence, geez.

She went to school tired but determined. Even with her sleep deprivation, the day seemed to go pretty well. Eric talked with her in English, Mike walked with her to Government, and Jessica passed notes with her all through the next two classes. Having friends was really wonderful, even if it meant not paying as much attention to the lessons as she should. She would have to ask Angela if she could borrow her notes. She also debated whether or not to ask her about keeping an eye out in Biology today—just a little—so she could get an insight into her lab partner's body language. Lily was terrible at things like that.

She was grateful that Jessica hadn't heard about the stare-down debacle with Edward Cullen yet; Lily wasn't sure how she would react. But even so, it might be nice to get her friend's take on the situation. Maybe this was a normal thing that Edward did to girls, and that was why Jess had seemed a little off about him and his family. Then again...maybe she would be upset that he had given Lily any attention at all, even if it was so negative….

Or was that just petty paranoia? After all, it wasn't fair of her to assume how Jessica would feel—no more than it was for her to decide how Edward felt. Lily had to give him a chance and just talk to him, at least so she could find out what had ticked him off so badly.

She would use lunch as a time to gauge his mood, she decided...although he had seemed mellow enough at lunch the day before. Hm. That might not help her so much after all. If only she'd been better at reading people, ugh. When she walked into the cafeteria, Lily was still trying to figure out a good game plan.

But it turned out that she didn't need to worry about Edward at all. There were four at his family's table today, not five. The youngest Cullen was nowhere to be seen.

When lunch passed in a blur and Biology rolled around, he still wasn't there. The seat next to her remained empty all through the class.

Lily's stomach had shifted to a different sort of dread by then. Had she been so unbearable, he skipped school just to avoid her? No, that was ridiculous. Everything's not about you, Lily. Geez.

If anything, she should have been grateful for another day to gather her thoughts and practice being tactful. Instead, she was worrying about a guy who had looked at her like she was a cockroach. Or maybe a stink bug.

Mike came over to her during Biology and talked about a beach trip he was planning, and that was fun. Angela was cheerful on the way to choir and talked about her little brothers, and that was fun too. None of it had mattered though. Not really. Her thoughts kept going back to the Cullen boy.

Lily ended up spending half of the day sulking and trying to act like she wasn't. She was grumpy when she finally got to her truck that afternoon. She climbed in and slammed the door with more force than was necessary. Not that it mattered when her engine was so darn loud. She would either have to get a job and start saving up for a mechanic, or sacrifice a chunk of her existing stash. Right now, however, the only cash she had on her person was for groceries. It came straight out of a jar labeled FOOD MONEY which Charlie had in the cupboard; there wasn't anything else in there besides a few plates and things, no real food at all. Canned tomatoes, a jar of olives, a box of vanilla wafers, and SPAM. If she hadn't decided to order pizza last night, Lily would have been hard-pressed to scrape a meal together. Anyway, shopping would be a nice distraction from more frustrating issues she could do nothing about.

While she was thinking through the list in her head and waiting to pull out of the parking lot, the angels appeared. Two Hales and two Cullens. They slid into their car—a blemishless Volvo, of course. It matched their clothes, all pristine and expensive. Lily might have been envious at any other time, but all she could feel right now was awe. What were the odds of having looks and money? Although the two did often seem to go hand in hand, if you thought about it…. Ugh, some people had all the luck.

She was still staring when she pulled past them and nearly rear-ended the guy in front of her. She hit the breaks, and the car behind her blared its horn. They all looked at her then, along with the rest of the parking lot. Lily wished that she could sink down in the seat and disappear. It wasn't fair—nobody had a right to be so eye-catching. They probably obstructed traffic everywhere they went.

Lily's face still hadn't calmed down by the time she got to the Thriftway, but it wasn't very far from school, just a few streets south and off the highway. Back in Phoenix, she and her mom had taken turns shopping. It used to be fun going together, laughing at silly products and pining over expensive ones. Mostly they just bickered when she got older, until Lily finally snagged a license and suggested taking solo trips. That was more economical anyway.

By now, she was used to shopping alone like any other adult and found some comfort in the familiar solitude. She appreciated the unspoken social contract which dictated that everybody pretend not to see anybody else at the store. Like an elevator. Even small town businesses seemed to respect that.

It was the easiest thing in the world to be polite to strangers. Not a single one of them glared at her, even when she almost ran into another buggy with her own. No silent, burning stares; she smiled, they smiled—it was as easy as breathing. Amazing that some people couldn't manage such a simple thing.

At home again, Lily stuffed the groceries wherever she could fit them. It would have driven her mother crazy. Renée might have been as scatterbrained as her daughter, but she could be surprisingly OCD too. The pantry, the fridge magnets, the living room bookshelf. It was random little things like that. The rest of the house could be a wreck and she wouldn't bat an eye, but mix the Campbells in with the canned vegetables, and she was all over you. Lily hoped Charlie would be more laid back, at least about his groceries.

It was a lot easier not to bicker with her mother over email. While the spaghetti sauce was heating up and the noodles were simmering, Lily went up to her room to message her. One of these days, she would have to give in and buy a cell phone; Renée had sent five emails that sprinted across the paranoia spectrum from anxious to furious.

Lily wondered if her mom would have been this worried if she'd had a responsible daughter instead. She sighed, fixed a smile on her face, and got cracking.

Her email was long enough to placate the maternal rage that had Renée promising to call Charlie and have him chew Lily's ear off if she didn't respond before tomorrow. She spent the first paragraph apologizing and the second telling her how much she missed home. For better or worse, it was also a lot easier to lie over email. She tried to feel more guilty about that than she actually did.

At least the next paragraph was fib-free. It detailed how much she loved being back in Forks, although it was partly for fear of her mom suddenly changing her mind about letting her stay. It was amazing that Renée had okayed her coming here in the first place, and Lily didn't neglect to thank her for that.

As for the rest of the email, she talked about the truck Charlie had given her, the sad state of the cupboards—that ought to please her mom—and the spaghetti she was making tonight, as well as the new friends she had made at school today. She did not mention her lab partner. As a young teen, Lily had quickly learned not to talk about boys to her mother. She acted like the entire gender was out to accost her daughter even though not a single one had ever shown any interest. Well, not any interest that had interested Lily. Her mother had labeled them "toadies," the boys who always seemed to like Lily the most. She didn't agree with such a mean term, of course, and nobody in their right mind would ever have compared Edward Cullen to an amphibian...even if "poison dart" did describe his glare pretty well. Besides, the only interest he had in her was probably that of a clean freak meeting a stain, the jerk. ...Oops, but she wasn't supposed to be jumping to conclusions, was she? Lily reminded herself once again that there could be a thousand reasons why he'd glared at her. Reasons that had nothing to do with the way she looked, or smelled, or whatever.

She was still thinking about his abyssal stare when Charlie pulled up. The sound of his cruiser broke Lily out of her pensive reverie. Crap, she never hit send on the email. Double crap, the food!

Her father was just hanging up his gun belt as she ran down the steps, taking them two at a time.

He sniffed and made a pleased sound.

"What smells—" he started to ask, and it sounded like he was going to finish it with "good," but Lily tripped on the fourth step from the top and slid the rest of the way down on her rear. "Lily!"

"I'm fine, Dad." Her butt was bruised, but, otherwise, she was okay. "I'm more worried about the spaghetti."

She shooed away his helping hands and hurried to the kitchen.

"Aw, man."

The bottom of the pasta sauce had a burned layer, and the noodles were all mushy now. Some cook she was.

"Still smells good," her dad said.

Lily smiled at him and began salvaging their supper. Half of his optimism probably came from a relief that Lily's cooking was less experimental than her mother's. Charlie was a steak and potatoes kind of guy, and Renée was a "salad casserole" kind of lady. Their daughter was somewhere in between—brave enough to put bacon in her ramen, but not to order anything but tacos anytime she ate Mexican.

The top layers of the sauce were usable, at least, and the noodles weren't one hundred percent mush. Lily waited to see if her father would like it. He hummed his approval and dug in. She grinned.

"How was work today? Catch any bad guys?" she asked after he'd gulped down a few more bites.

He shrugged. "Just Mr. Lunsford trying to drive again."

"Wow, he's still alive? I thought he turned one hundred the last time I came down."

"Ninety-seven, but yeah. We picked him up going two miles per hour down the wrong side of the highway."

She laughed and said, "I hope he had his seatbelt on, at least."

Charlie grunted. After a few minutes of comfortable silence, and much to Lily's surprise, he picked up the conversation again.

"So, uh...how did you like the school? Have you made any friends yet?"

"Yeah, I actually did—four of them! I have two classes with a girl named Jessica Stanley, and there's this super sweet girl named Angela Webber—she's in my Biology and Choir too. We stand near each other and everything. ...Um, also…." She wasn't sure how her father might react to boy talk; it had never come up before now. With any luck, the worst case scenario would be awkwardness, and at least that wouldn't be the storm of Renée's overprotective anger. "I made friends with two guys, Eric and Mike."

Charlie hummed through his mouthful of spaghetti, swallowed, and asked, "Mike Newton?"

Lily nodded cautiously. "I think so." She knew so, in fact, but it was better to act casual just in case.

Her dad's face relaxed in something close to a smile. "He's a nice kid—nice family. His dad owns the sporting goods store just outside of town. He makes a good living off all the backpackers who come through here."

"Oh. Yeah. I remember that place. Cool."

They sat in silence for another minute while Lily stewed. He'd reacted so well, not even a hint of awkwardness or anger. Maybe…. "Dad, do you know the, uh…the Hales and Cullens?"

"Dr. Cullen's family? Sure. The doctor's a great man."

Lily's nod was encouraging this time, even though she had no idea about Dr. Cullen apart from his propensity for kindness towards teenage foster kids.

"Well, um…. Do you know anything about their son—um, Edward? If there's anything...strange about him?"

All of a sudden, she found the anger she had been dreading, but it wasn't the kind she had expected.

"Why? Are kids calling him strange?"

"No, no. I mean, well, I guess he doesn't fit in much, actually. I don't think any of them do. At all, really. But that's not it. I mean, uh…."

Charlie shook his head and muttered, "Can't believe this town." He stabbed at his spaghetti. "Those kids are some of the most respectable young people in Forks. I haven't had one bit of trouble from any of them—not a single speeding ticket, even with those fancy sports cars. And Dr. Cullen is as nice as can be. He's a brilliant surgeon who could probably work in any hospital in the world, make ten times the salary he gets here…." His voice was getting louder and more heated as he went, but as long as it wasn't directed at her, Lily could look serious and attentive without the teenage fight-or-flight instinct kicking in.

"We're lucky to have him—lucky that his wife wanted to live in a small town at all. He's an asset to this community. I had my doubts when they first moved in, all those adopted teenagers…." He trailed off with a shake of his head, took a bite, swallowed ferociously, and then started right back up again. "But nope, not one speck of trouble. And that's a lot more than I can say for the children of some folks who've been living here for generations. And they stick together the way a family should, too—camping trips every other weekend and everything…. But just because they're newcomers, people have to talk."

Lily had gone from nodding along to staring in awe. This had to be the most she'd ever heard Charlie say at one time in her entire life. His ears and cheeks had turned pink in either anger or embarrassment. Without another word, he put his head down and began aggressively devouring the rest of the spaghetti.

It took Lily another minute just to find her voice again after such an astonishing speech.

"Dad, I wasn't bad-mouthing them or anything," she assured him, and it was true. Just because one of the Cullens acted like a crazy person, it didn't mean the rest of them were batty too. "You know I'm the last one on earth who'd judge someone by—well…." She paused and took it in a direction more relevant to Charlie's rant with, "For being new to a place. I was just asking because, uh…. Um." She trailed off. It would be too risky to try explaining her experience. The last thing Lily wanted was for her dad to think she was judgmental. But she didn't want to lie to him either, so she just went on and hoped he wouldn't notice the jump in conversation. "Um, so you're friends with Dr. Cullen then?"

"Not really," he answered with a shrug. The red was starting to fade from his ears a bit now. "But everybody knows what a great guy he is. Pretty popular with most folks. Especially the nurses at the hospital. It's a good thing he's happily married."

"Heh. Yeah, they sounded like good people to me. Jessica told me how he and his wife adopted their kids even though they're pretty young themselves. They sound very nice."

He grunted, but not unhappily.

She wanted to ask more about the town's reactions to Dr. Cullen's family, and more about Dr. Cullen himself, but she didn't want to step on her dad's toes. Lily was lucky he got angry over small town prejudice and not the fact that she had mentioned three different boys in one conversation. She knew which topic her mom would have cared about.

After dinner, she tried to wash the dishes. Charlie had no dishwasher, and he insisted that he could do the cleaning up himself whenever she cooked for them. She said it was fine, but he wouldn't let it go—probably concerned she'd break a plate.

"Dad, if you don't get out of here this minute, I'm gonna start telling you how much I love and appreciate you," Lily threatened with a villainous smile.

Charlie's face screwed up in consternation.

"I love you so much," she gushed, all sappy-voiced and kissy-faced. "You gave me a truck and a house, and you're just the bestest, sweetest, most handsomest—"

"All right, cut it out!" He threw his hands in the air and turned around to leave the kitchen. "You play dirty, kid."

She stuck her tongue out at his retreating figure and finished cleaning up with a smile.

Their talk had a big effect on her. She hadn't been thinking of the Cullen family except in terms of their physical beauty and oddness against the backdrop of the quiet town. How did that make her any different than everybody else? It hadn't occurred to her that they might encounter persecution—and all thanks to her original bias: wow, they're so beautiful, they must not have any problems. It might have been relatively unconscious, but one look at their clothes and their car and their perfect faces, and it was an inevitable one.

Well, awareness was the bane of ignorance...or at least a good start. Lily was going to make sure she stopped looking at them as angels in designer clothing and tried getting to know them for the people they were, even if that was only from afar. And the next time she saw Edward Cullen, instead of confronting him for his bizarre behavior, she was going to have an open mind and a friendly conversation.

Unfortunately, it didn't look like that was about to happen anytime soon.

All the rest of that week, most things got better and better. She learned her schedule, she didn't lose her way to class, she wasn't late, and she remembered everybody's names. There was just one thing wrong. Edward Cullen never came back.

Every day, she would walk into the cafeteria with her eyes glued to his table. Edward's chair would be empty though, and Lily would resign herself to another afternoon of vague but insistent discontentment—a feeling which only grew stronger as the week wore on. The daily conversation at her table was mostly pleasant and often centered around Mike's beach trip in two weeks. She would smile and try to focus on the cheerful talk, all while going back over that first day when Edward caught her looking at him...when he glared at her for walking past him...when she found him desperately trying to transfer out of Biology.

There was no doubting it, insane as the idea might have sounded—Edward Cullen was gone because of her. She had no firm idea why, no way to justify it beyond circumstance, but that's what Lily was betting on.

Other than that, the week went pretty well. She didn't have any more majorly embarrassing incidents. She was getting along really well with her friends too. Angela turned out to have a lot in common with her, including a love of reading. She was the one who recommended Lily visit the library when she had some spare time, and she was looking forward to it. House cleaning and homework weren't enough of a distraction, and rereading one of her own books for the hundredth time held little appeal with her present mood. This thing with Edward Cullen was bothering her more than it should have, considering how far-fetched it seemed—she went back and forth between calling herself crazy and wondering if she'd triggered some terrible episode in him that made the boy flee Forks forever.

Try as she might to put him out of her mind, she couldn't.

A trip to the library Saturday yielded disappointing results, but she got a library card all the same. She should have been reading Wuthering Heights anyway. It wasn't her fault that she hated unhappy stories, even if they were classics. To her surprise, however, when Lily settled down Saturday evening to catch up on the most recently assigned chapters, she found the reading kind of...cathartic. It suited her gloomy, frustrated state of mind, a mood which lasted all the way to Sunday.

"Dad," she said to Charlie on Sunday morning, "do I smell bad?"

He slowly lowered his newspaper with a reluctant crinkle. Even on Sundays and even in Forks, the police chief rose early, so he was there at the table in his crisp officer's uniform when Lily came down with her hair in a towel.

"No," he replied and immediately ducked back behind his paper.

"Dad," she groaned.

"What're you asking me for? How should I know?"

"Would you even tell me if you thought I smelled bad?"

"Of course I wouldn't."

She whined again, stomping her foot a little. "Da-a-ad, come on." After unwinding the towel from her hair, she walked over to him and leaned across his paper. "Sniff me."

"Ugh, geez," Charlie grumbled, but he still bent forward and gave her head a quick, reluctant sniff. "There. You smell fine."

"Are you sure?"

Her father leaned back and threw down his paper with a sigh. "What's this all about, Lills? Did someone at school say you stink?"

Lily smiled at the ominous frown on his face. It warmed her heart. "No, not really. It's just...well…." She hadn't intended to say anything about it—especially after his big speech—but, at this point, she was worried enough to cave.

"So, um, on the first day of school, I sat by Edward Cullen in Biology, and he kind of, uh…." Glared like he wanted to kick her through a window? Acted like she was the most offensive thing on God's green earth? "He seemed like he didn't like me much. I thought maybe I just smelled bad or something, but he hasn't been back to school since."

"Well...that could be anything. Maybe you were just imagining it—about him not liking you, I mean."

"No, Dad—I'm absolutely positive about that part. I think. He definitely acted like he didn't like me…."

She was prepared to dish out specifics if he didn't believe her, but Charlie just nodded. Lily's heart warmed up again; proving things to her mother was often an uphill battle.

Her father rubbed his chin thoughtfully before taking a big bite out of his toast and thinking some more. He looked up at her with an expression of surprisingly intense concentration and asked, "Did you act like a snob?"

"Dad!"

"I'm just asking." He held his hands up like he was the offender and she was the cop.

"How could you think I would—is this because I asked you if people thought he was strange?"

"You asked if he was strange."

"Ugh, never mind. I've decided everybody is strange equally. All across the board. Especially cops who put mustard on their toast."

Charlie took another bite of his breakfast in defiant protest. "Where are you going?" he asked when she left the room in a sudden hurry. The clock on the old stove read 8:13.

"Service," Lily called as she ran up the stairs. So much for getting there early.

Her father's voice carried up to the second floor as he asked, "St. Anne's?"

"Of course," she shouted back and then shut the bathroom door to dry her hair.

Twenty minutes later, she was finished getting dressed and ready to run out the door. She wore the burgundy sweater from her first day in school, this time with a dark brown skirt. No idea whether the colors went with each other, much less the fabrics—the skirt was stretchy but warm with unassuming ruffles down the sides—but it would have to do. She didn't have many dress clothes that were suited to the climate...at least not that would fit her anymore.

Just as she was about to shout goodbye to an empty house, she saw a plate of toast on the kitchen counter. The bread was covered in a generous amount of butter, no mustard. Yet again, she felt her heart warm up a little. Thanks, Dad.

St. Anne's was relatively close, just over by the hospital—again, like everything else. She wouldn't be late for the 8:45 service, but she wouldn't be early either. Oh well. Hopefully she could find a spot in the back. That was her preferred seating.

Apparently it was too wet and cold for most folks, or too early. There was hardly any traffic. Everybody was snuggled deep in their beds, hitting snooze on their alarms, maybe waking up slowly to the smell of bacon and pancakes…. It made her a tad envious, especially as she stepped out of the warm truck and into the freezing wind. The rain had stayed soft so far that weekend. It was only misting as Lily hurried into the angular little building with gray walls and a pair of red double doors. They had been black the last time she came. The rest of the facade looked unchanged, however, and it made her smile.

In spite of the cold, Lily felt a surge of nostalgic comfort. Early mornings in church hadn't always been a given with her father's schedule, small and quiet though Forks was, but he had still made a point of taking her as often as he could. Those sleepy Sunday mornings may have felt boring at the time, but she was anticipating a peaceful start to the day now. She needed some peace after such an uncomfortable, anxious week. Maybe it would help her figure out what the heck to do about Edward Cullen.

The paint on the doors might have changed since she'd last attended, but the inside of the cathedral was very much the same. Cream colored walls, warm wooden paneling on the lofty ceiling, and hard green carpeting on the floors. There was even a potted plant between the two doors—some kind of small, frond-y tree—just like there had been the last time she was there. As always, the pews were full up front, but not in the back, and the soft music that played could have been the same they'd used when she was five years old. Familiar and comforting, just like she had hoped it would be. Her visit to the town's library may have been a disappointment, but St. Anne's wasn't.

The back left-hand pew was occupied by just three other people: an elderly couple sitting towards the middle, and a woman sitting by herself on the outside. Good, she wouldn't even have to set foot in the main aisle. The young lady moved over for her, and Lily smiled as she sat down, intending to be brave and introduce herself. Instead she felt her jaw drop and her eyes bug out of their sockets.

The woman to her right had a warm smile. Her eyes did nothing to detract from that, even though their irises were almost black—almost, because compared to Edward Cullen's, these were a lighter shade, maybe a very dark brown. Lily wouldn't have noticed the difference if she hadn't been picturing a coal-dark glare all this past week. Beneath her eyes lay lavender shadows that were, once again, not as dark as Edward Cullen's had been. Her skin was as white as his though, and her face was just as impossibly beautiful. It was a round, heart-shaped face, and the hair that billowed around it in gentle waves was the color of caramel. She looked young, but not as young as Lily had thought at first. Could she be…?

"Good morning," the woman said. Her voice was the same color as her hair, light but rich.

Instead of saying good morning like a normal person would, Lily snapped her mouth shut, blinked hard a couple of times, and then blurted out, "Are you related to Edward Cullen?"

The woman laughed quietly. It had to be the most beautiful sound the little church had ever held, a bubbling melody fit for any cathedral.

"No, but Edward is my son nonetheless. My name is Esme Cullen."

Lily just nodded silently. It was all she could do to keep her mouth from falling open again. The look on her face had to be as awkward as anything, but Mrs. Cullen's warm expression didn't falter.

"Do you go to school with Edward?"

She managed to answer audibly this time. "Yes ma'am," she said, and then added, "Uh, it's nice to meet you, Mrs. Cullen. I've heard such good things about you and your husband—uh, not that I haven't also heard good things about your kids, of course. Them too."

Esme laughed again, and Lily felt her face heat up.

"There's no need for such formality. Please, call me Esme. It's a pleasure to meet you as well…."

The silence at the end of her sentence had an expectant sound to it. That was where Lily should have been polite and said her name, but she was still gawking at Mrs. Cullen—and at the fact that someone completely unrelated to Edward could look so much like him. It was unsettling, really.

"And what's your name, dear?"

"Oh!" Lily winced when her voice echoed a little. "Oh," she amended more quietly, only to feel stupid for repeating herself. Was she doomed to look like a fool in front of every Cullen on earth? "I'm Lily—um, Lillian Swan. But you can call me Lily. If you want to."

"That's a lovely name," Mrs. Cullen said, and it looked like she meant it. Her expression was warmer than ever. She looked way too young to be a mother, yet somehow she radiated maternal energy. If Lily hadn't been so thrown off her rhythm, she might have felt homesick. As it was, all she could think about was the woman's dark brown eyes and the shadows below them, and how closely her face resembled Edward's even though they looked nothing alike otherwise….

"Oh!" Lily said, and once again it was way too loud. She didn't care this time, and she didn't stop to question what she was about to ask either. "Is Edward okay? I mean, he's been gone all week and all...uh, not that it's any of my business, actually...sorry…."

She would have volunteered to disappear through a crack in the ground at that moment, no matter where it led.

Mrs. Cullen's smile shifted, and if Lily hadn't been so bad at reading people, she might have hazarded to call the expression pained. It was probably just discomfort from being asked something so personal by a complete stranger.

"I'm sorry," Lily apologized again. "I didn't mean to be so nosy. Forget I asked—please. I hope he's doing well. Not that I'm asking what's wrong or anything. Sorry."

"It's all right," Mrs. Cullen reassured in her genteel voice. "You aren't being nosy. It's very kind of you to ask after Edward. He's out of town at the moment."

"Oh, sorry."

Mrs. Cullen's smile grew a little sadder and a little warmer at the same time.

"Thank you. I do miss him."

"Will he be back soon?" Lily's ears began to burn in immediate regret. "Agh, sorry, I'm being nosy again."

"No, not at all; it's quite all right." Mrs. Cullen shook her head. Waves of caramel shifted over her round shoulders, soft as a summer breeze. "You're very sweet. Edward is quite well, but I'm afraid he might be away for some time."

"Oh. I'm sorry."

"Thank you. We all miss him dearly, but I know he's capable of looking after his own affairs without a mother hovering over him, much as I might want to do that."

Mrs. Cullen laughed at herself a little while Lily just marveled at her.

"Wow, that's really...open-minded of you. I've stayed in Forks literally almost every summer, and my mom still doesn't like that I'm here without her."

The maternal energy in her perfect smile multiplied tenfold. "I understand completely. It's a mother's duty to worry over her children, even if they might not need her to. Your mother lives in Arizona, doesn't she?"

Of course the Cullens wouldn't be exempt from hearing all the local gossip. Was there anyone in Forks who didn't know her backstory?

"Yes ma'am."

Mrs. Cullen's voice was sweeter than ever when she said, "She must miss you terribly. Still, I'm sure she's also very proud of you for having the courage to pick up and move the way you've done"

Lily wasn't sure about that, but she wasn't about to correct such a pleasant lady either, so she settled for a lame, "Heh, I hope so."

They didn't have another chance to talk for a long while after that, but for some reason, Lily didn't feel anxious. Her head should have been full of what she might say to Mrs. Cullen when the service was over, how much she could get away with asking before she neared the line of nosiness again, etcetera.

Instead, she felt more at peace than she had in a long while, even with Edward Cullen's mother sitting right beside her. Mrs. Cullen had the most beautiful singing voice Lily had ever heard in her entire life. It was like sitting beside an actual angel; her trilling vibrato reminded Lily of a Disney Princess...or maybe that was just Mrs. Cullen herself. She was sweet and warm and at ease. The exact opposite of Lily's one-time neighbor in Biology.

She wanted to ask about that. She wanted to share what had happened and make sure she hadn't done something terrible without knowing it. The thought of having accidentally driven Edward away was more awful than ever, now that she had met his mother. Hurting a lady as nice as this would be a cardinal sin, and if it really was Lily's fault that her son was gone….

That awful consideration gave her the courage she needed to speak up before it was too late.

"Mrs. Cullen?" she asked as they walked out of the building after the service. It had gone from a light mist to an earnest drizzle outside. Lily took a few steps away from the gradual flow of attendants, and Mrs. Cullen followed her.

"Yes, dear?"

Her ears began to turn pink, but it wasn't just from being called "dear."

"The last time I saw Edward…." Lily cleared her throat a little, pulled at the bottom of her sweater, and said, "Um, this might sound a little weird, and I can't quite explain it, but the last time I was with him, uh...he looked kind of...mad? At me? We were in Biology, and, uh...um…."

Mrs. Cullen's warm smile was the smallest Lily had yet to see it. Her face was attentive, her dark eyes fathomless; some emotion shone behind them that Lily couldn't decipher. She knew how crazy she sounded, and it suddenly felt so pointless to bring this up, but the conversation had too much momentum to drop off there.

"He just looked really upset, and I'm not sure why—or what I did—but I think it had to be something I did. Maybe? I just wanted to make sure—I mean, I know it sounds silly and all, but I can't help but feel like, um…. Well, if there was something I did to make him leave, or if there's anything I can do to, uh…well…."

Lily gave up. She was never going to try talking to anyone ever again. It was too much to even meet Mrs. Cullen's eyes anymore. She didn't want to see her expression fade to bemusement or unease. Maybe it would upset her to hear a crazy girl accusing her absent son of acting strangely. Maybe she thought this was some weird attempt at gossip or something. And after the lady had been so nice and patient and everything….

Geez. Why did she always have to screw up every time something good happened?

"Please don't trouble yourself, dear," came Mrs. Cullen's dulcet voice. It was all crisp consonants and mellow vowels, like the kind of voice you would hear over an old-fashioned radio. "It isn't your fault, truly, and I hope you can forgive Edward if any of his behavior has caused you concern or offense. I'm absolutely certain he didn't mean it to. He's a very sweet boy."

With her pale golden dress, her caramel hair, and her sunbeam smile, Edward's mother made the rest of the world look gloomier than ever. Even if Lily still wasn't satisfied—actually, she had more questions now than what she'd started off with—she felt grateful for having sat by such a wonderful woman…someone who could be kind in spite of an awkward first impression. Amazing how absolutely inverted that was from Lily's first interaction with her son.

She meant it when she said, "Don't worry, Mrs. Cullen. I know everybody has off-days. …I hope he comes back soon."

"Call me Esme," she reminded her warmly. "It was wonderful meeting you, Lily."

Mrs. Cullen got into a car that was as petite and elegant as her, and Lily bumbled her way into the cab of her bubble-butt truck, her foot slipping off the running board as she climbed up. Her knee hurt where she bashed it, but she didn't think about it much.

She drove home through the gray day, head full of questions but heart set on resolving things peacefully with Mrs. Cullen's son. Anyone with a mother like that just had to be a good person. Sure appearances could be deceiving, but she had a really positive feeling about Esme Cullen. Lily was more than willing to give her boy the benefit of the doubt.

It was only when she got home that she remembered what Mrs. Cullen had said about Edward being away for an indefinite amount of time. Lily laid her head against the steering wheel and groaned.


My grandma died in March, and we've basically spent every Christmas of my life with her (she lived with us since I was a baby), so my mom and I are going on a trip for Christmas this year. Just a small town an hour or so north, nothing going on there or anything, but it has a river and some old houses, so yeet! I hope you peeps have a super happy holiday, or at least a peaceful one. See you next year!

P.S. Is it weird to post the date you published a chapter? I mean, 12-23-21 is a pretty cool date, practically 12321.