Epic thanks to WhatsMyNomdePlume who beta'ed this and then graciously gave it another going-over when I got all neurotic about it.

*0*0*

Saturday morning, I decide I'm going out. Edward told us where his current show is in The Meatpacking District. He probably wouldn't have told us—he wasn't trying to make us go—but when Chelsea asked him point-blank, it would have been weird and awkward if he didn't tell us.

I debate all week about whether or not to go. But by Saturday, I know I can't stay away. He's been talking to us for two weeks about art and how it reflects the soul, and this is Edward's art— Edward's soul. I have to see it.

I get up and dress, thankful to be free of a uniform for a couple of days. Jeans, t-shirt, hoodie, boots. It's all very basic, but I still think I'm wearing nearly a thousand dollars worth of stuff. Nothing in the Dwyer family is ever cheap, even a t-shirt.

My mother is already out when I come downstairs, and I think Phil is in Switzerland. Lucy, our cleaning woman, is there when I pass through the kitchen. She smiles at me when I say 'good morning'.

Downstairs, I debate calling a car. My mother would insist, but I hate how obvious it makes me feel. I glance down at myself. I look completely ordinary, not worthy of notice at all, so I decide on the subway. I hit a Starbucks on my walk over to Lexington, and I feel so normal. It feels good to be one of the anonymous people filling the sidewalk all around me. When I'm out like this by myself, I could be anybody. I'm nobody.

I live on the Upper East Side and Edward's gallery is on the West side, in the teens. It takes me forever to get there by subway. It's one of those things that seemed like a good idea, but turns out to be a pain in the ass. Halfway there, after being pressed in tight against all the other nobodies for too long, I'm wishing I grabbed a cab. It's noon by the time I find the gallery in a narrow three-story brick building. The rest of it looks like any one of thousands of New York buildings, but the ground floor has been gutted out. It's all smooth white walls with a glass front and glowing light that seems to come from nowhere.

I take a deep breath and smooth my hair before pulling open the heavy glass door. Generally, I don't feel intimidated walking into places. The money makes that impossible. With my trust fund, I could buy this gallery, and the building housing it. Phil could buy the whole block. He could buy the surrounding five blocks, several times over. But I hate feeling young, and in this context, I really hate it. More than anything, I don't want to seem like some little high school girl, even though Edward's not even here. Now I'm wishing I wore something else. A hoodie? What was I thinking?

But I make myself go in and look like I belong; like an eighteen-year-old gallery-hopping alone on a Saturday is totally normal. I pick up a glossy, oversized postcard from the empty desk by the front door and skim the back. Besides Edward, two other artists are involved in this show. I make my way slowly around the periphery of the room, trying not to appear completely disinterested in the works by the other artists, even though I am.

When I finally get to one with Edward's name under it, I just stop and stare. It's big— five feet by seven feet, maybe. It's a vibrant battle of hot colors. At first glance, I think it's abstract, but the longer I look, the more I see. There are bodies— figures drifting in and out of focus. Sometimes it's just a hint of a person, sometimes it's a whole outline. Washed over the bodies, obscuring them, and then highlighting them, is all this color. The painting feels like a living, pulsing thing. The color— it feels sensual. It feels like it's wrapping around the figures. It feels alive and intimate. I think I feel my pulse pick up just looking at it. If this is Edward's soul, then he's even more fascinating than I thought. And I already thought he was pretty fascinating.

"See something you like?"

His voice, right next to my ear, makes me yelp and jump a foot in the air. Edward snaps upright and steps back to avoid getting hit by me as I startle. I feel the stupid blush immediately flood my face and I let out a nervous, huffing giggle. As I clamp a hand over my heart and try and slow my breathing down, he smiles, broad and genuine, and stuffs his hands in his pockets. It's not helping to slow my breathing.

"I can't believe you came by," he says in wonder.

I scramble in my head for a plausible lie, one that keeps me from looking like the sad stalker I really am. "You told us where it was, and Jane's mother said it was really good. I was passing by on my way to the Apple Store and I saw your name up front. Is this okay? That I stopped by? I didn't think you'd be here. "

"Yeah, it's fine. It's great, actually." Maybe it's my overactive imagination, but he seems slightly deflated at what I've said; which part, I'm not sure. "I'm not usually here. I needed to see the gallery owner about something. So, what do you think?"

"Um, this one is the first of yours I've seen. But it's amazing. Seriously, I'm so blown away that you did this."

Edward's delight is evident. "Thanks. I'm glad you think so. You want a private tour with the artist?" he says, the corner of his mouth curling up. He's joking when he says it, all fake pretentiousness, but something about what it implies makes me look at him and make eye contact. The energy I feel snapping between us makes me hold my breath. I think I see Edward's cocky grin falter ever so slightly. But he just tips his head to indicate I should follow him, and starts to guide me around the room.

"I probably shouldn't fish," he starts. "But do you like Art Appreciation so far?"

"Yes," I say, way too enthusiastically. But it makes him smile, so it's okay. "It's really… all this stuff about art—I never thought about it before, but now, it's like I can't stop thinking about it.

"That's… I'm really glad to hear that. You have a natural eye for art, Isabella. Your observations in your papers…" he shakes his head. "I wasn't that coherent when I was in college."

"Thank you," I murmur.

"So here's the first one in the series," he says, pointing to the painting on my left. "They're meant to be viewed in sequence, and there's a build up… like one leads into the next until…"

"That one," I point to a painting on the opposite wall, because now that he tells me they're related, it's plain as day that they all lead to a climax at that one.

"Right," he murmurs. "Very good."

"So when you say there's a build-up—a build-up of what? What do you mean?"

He grins and ducks his chin and I could swear he's embarrassed. "Well, I was trying to… I mean, it's an exploration of…"

"Oh, they're about sex." I finish for him, because now that I really look at them all together, I can see it. And I can feel it.

"Ah… well, not just sex. How sex… relationships, really… shape us and change us. How people use sex and get used by it. How it's not just about two people coming together; it's also about an exchange of power. All of that."

I just nod, because there's not a thing I can say that won't make me blush like crazy. And because, as I think about his words, they're really dark and not at all romantic. I don't like to think about the life experiences he's had that brought him to that place.

"Sorry," he continues after a minute. "That was probably too much to throw at you."

"No, it wasn't. When I look at your paintings, I can see exactly what you're talking about."

He laughs and rolls his eyes. "Great. And now I feel like a pervert."

It makes me laugh, too. "No, it's fine. What about all those frilly French paintings you showed us in class? You said they were all about sex, even though they looked so sweet and pretty."

"The Fragonards?"

"Yeah, those. You're just putting it a little more front and center than they did, right?"

He glances at me briefly. "I guess. It's a little intense for high school. I just forget…." He closes his eyes and shakes his head a little "As long as you don't feel like I just corrupted your youth or something."

I swallow hard and make myself not look away from him. "You're not doing that."

He looks back for a beat too long, but before things can get weird—well, weirder— he motions to another set of paintings. "Come look at these. I was doing something different with these."

As we look at his paintings, he talks about the work— he talks about themes and influences and intent, and a lot of it goes over my head but I hang onto every word anyway. He doesn't talk down to me because I'm just a student. He talks to me like I'm just anybody, or like I'm a friend, even.

I soak up every word like they're little drops of him which, in a way, they are. Every word he says about his art is a word about him, another very little piece of him that makes up the very big picture. I revel in it, marveling in this moment, him standing next to me, talking only to me about what goes on in his head and heart. It makes me feel special, not just another face in his class. I'm here sharing this with him, and no one else is. He seems to be enjoying talking to me. He's not trying to cut things short, or making excuses to leave soon. While I'm standing here with him, it's like there's no one else in the world. All his attention is on me.

As much as I like listening to him talk about art in our class, hearing him talk about his own work is a whole new thing. That boyish energy is vibrating out of him. His eyes are bright and he can't stop smiling as he tells me about brushwork and color theory. It's like the most exciting thing he can imagine and his enthusiasm is catching. Edward's art is the most exciting thing I've ever seen, partly because of him but also just because it is.

We're looking at the last one. He presses me again, "What does it make you think?" He must like that question. He asks it a lot.

"Um," I take a second to consider my words. "It doesn't actually make me think anything. It makes me feel."

Edward smiles at me. "Really? Well, what does it make you feel, then?"

"It's nothing as specific as 'happy' or 'sad'. It's just this feeling in my chest…all these colors, they make me feel uneasy and excited at the same time…" I close my eyes and shake my head. "I'm sorry. That makes absolutely no sense."

"No," he says quietly, touching my elbow. "What you just said is brilliant. It's exactly what I hoped for when I painted it."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really."

I look up at him and he's already looking at me. His face is so serious. There's nothing flippant or teasing about him. I'm getting butterflies as we look at each other, not saying anything.

I'm letting it flow over me and fill me, like a warm river, when I hear voices, too loud for this small, echoing space, over by the front door.

"This is the one I told you about, Tori, the artist. I swear, when you see him…"

Edward and I turn in unison to see. It's Jane's mother, talking to another woman I don't know. They're weighed down with shopping bags. Mimi Weigert is blonde, like Jane, but from a bottle, like my mother. She's wearing a long cream leather jacket and large diamond studs flash from her earlobes. She's very tan and I remember Jane saying she was just in St. Bart's. Her friend, "Tori", is tall and attractive, with long, straightened red hair. She's pushing her oversized Gucci sunglasses up into her hair and swiveling to look at the paintings around her as Mimi Weigert talks to her. I see Tori's eyes land on us; I see them zero in on Edward. Mimi turns to look and her face lights up.

"Speak of the devil!" she shrieks, still too loud. She starts charging across the room in our direction. "Edward!"

I chance a look at him. He's smiling awkwardly, extending a hand to her. "Hello again, Mrs. Weigert."

Mimi seizes his hand in one of hers. With her other, she reaches out and grabs his bicep, so he has to linger in the handshake with her. Her bags bang into his side, but she doesn't seem to notice because she doesn't let go. "Now, Edward, you know I told you to call me 'Mimi'."

"Mimi," he repeats obediently.

"I brought my friend, Tori, over to see your work. We never thought we'd get lucky enough to see the artist himself. This is a pleasant surprise."

Everything about this, the way she's still gripping his hand and his arm, the way she emphasizes her words, the predatory way her eyes are running all over Edward, makes me feel nauseous. Tori, another exquisitely-preserved cougar, has joined her, and she's having a hard time keeping herself from openly ogling him. She's smiling and standing with her feet just so, to show off her sculpted thighs and tight ass to perfection.

The whole time I've been here and Edward's been showing me his paintings, I didn't feel like a kid. I felt like just another person. It felt like Edward and I were just two friends talking about art. Now I feel like a child, invisible and overlooked. I want to run away. Just then, Mimi seems to notice me standing there. Her eyes meet mine and one eyebrow cocks in a silent question.

"Hi, Mrs. Weigert," I say. "I go to school with Jane. We're in Art Appreciation together."

Her surgically sculpted face freezes even more for a moment as she processes that. She remembers who I am, of course. I'm Phillip Dwyer's daughter, so I'm hardly a nobody. But I also see her wheels turning, trying to sort out what I'm doing here, with Edward. She clearly feels possessive of him. "Of course. Isabella, right?"

"Right. It was nice to see you again," I say, stepping back to go.

"You're going?" Edward says, reaching out to touch my elbow again. I see Mimi's eyes flicker down to the movement and I swallow around the lump in my throat.

"Yeah," I say, remembering my earlier lie. "I still need to get over to the Apple Store."

"Oh, yeah… right," he says, like he's just remembered that I didn't set out to come here originally. Which I did. But he doesn't need to know that. "I guess I'll see you in class."

"Yep. Class. Bye, Mrs. Weigert. It was nice seeing you again."

She smiles, her lips tight and her eyes hard. "Yes, nice to see you, Isabella. Please say hello to your mother for me."

I force a smile and nod, feeling small and young and entirely dismissed. I turn and leave without looking at Edward again. Outside on the sidewalk, I stop and take a few deep breaths, willing away the stinging behind my eyes. So stupid. It felt so good to talk to him alone like that, that I forgot about the rest. I forgot about his questionable arrival at our school. Mimi Weigert certainly didn't forget. I suppose I can't fault him. His art is amazing, but he can't possibly earn a living just off his paintings. So a rich woman wants to do him a few favors. It's certainly not the first time it's ever happened, and he wouldn't be the first handsome, penniless young man to accept. My mind flickers over Gianna's tennis instructor two years ago, and the guy who did the remodel of the Taylor's house last year. The stories circulate constantly. Edward is only the latest in a long line of them. Inexplicably, it still makes me feel like I've lost something precious. Something that was, apparently, never mine.

*0*0*

I'm walking towards Art Appreciation with Alice. She's telling me all about some party she went to this weekend and I'm really trying to pay attention, but all I can think of is that soon I'll be there, sharing the same space as him. Alice is preoccupied with her story and doesn't seem to notice how distracted I am.

"So then Rose was talking to this guy…"

"What guy?" I finally interrupt.

"Some guy. He goes to Horace Mann."

"Was she messed up?"

Alice shrugs, "A little. She didn't hook up with him, though. Emmett was there and he keeps her from doing anything too crazy."

I sigh in relief. Rose's partying is getting more out of hand as our senior year winds down. There are more drinks, more drugs and way more hook-ups. At first, I thought of it as just facets of her personality that were different from mine— a few things that we didn't have in common. But lately, I feel like she's transforming; she's in the process of becoming someone I don't know. I'm a little sad about it, but mostly, I'm worried, because this new Rose is reckless.

"I'm glad Emmett was there."

"Yeah," Alice agrees. "He's a total player, but I think he likes her. He looks out for her." I nod in agreement.

"So what are you doing today after school?" Alice says. She's trying to hide how eager she is. If possible, Alice sees less of her parents than I do. She's been raised almost entirely by a string of nannies and au pairs. I feel sorry for her. She's spent her whole life surrounded by these entitled rich kids. She is a rich kid, but somehow it didn't affect her. She's so nice—there's not a snobby, entitled bone in her body. She shouldn't be so lonely. She's the only person in New York that I feel like I could have been friends with before I came here.

"Homework. I have a paper I'm working on," I tell her honestly.

"You want to study together? I have a ton of chemistry homework."

I think about that for a minute, and I think about Rose. I have no idea where Rose is or what she's doing today. It occurs to me that we haven't really talked in days and I can't remember the last time she came to my house.

"Sure, Alice. That would be fun. My parents are gone. We can order dinner if you want."

Alice's face lights up with happiness and I feel good about this.

We're at the door to Art Appreciation, which is open. Gianna pushes past me to get inside. She stops at Edward's desk and launches into a loud, funny story about her weekend. I'm trying to be cool and listen to Alice, but my eyes travel to him of their own accord, trying to gauge his reaction to her.

"Hmm," Alice says.

"What?"

"The art teacher," she says.

"What about him?"

"You and the art teacher," she says, like that explains everything.

"Alice, he's my teacher."

She shrugs. "For a few more weeks. You're eighteen. And besides, I heard he's not really a teacher. He's a Guest Lecturer. Not the same thing."

"That's a technicality, and you're crazy."

"Maybe. But you should have seen your face when you looked at him."

I feel my color drain away and I look at the ground.

"Isabella, it's cool," Alice says quietly, stepping closer to me and laying a hand on my arm. "I'm not going to say anything about it. Just… you know you can talk to me about anything, right?"

I look back up at her. Her eyes are wide and sincere; her expression is solemn. "Thanks, Alice."

She relaxes and her smile is beaming. "See you after school?"

"Yeah, meet me out front and you can ride over in our car."

"Okay." And she's gone, skipping around people as she makes her way down the hall. I'm uneasy that someone has sensed my fixation on Edward, but if anyone has to know, I'm glad it's Alice.

*0*0*

Edward is showing us slides today. He's really excited about showing us these masterworks, exposing us to them for the first time. The AV department delivered a slide projector on a trolley before class started and it's pretty apparent that Edward has no idea how to work it.

He is talking to us about significant moments in art history, his lecture punctuated with loud grunts and pauses as he tries to get the slide carousel to engage properly. Spencer has so much money, and the latest technology in almost every respect—except slide projectors. I'm guessing that almost no one uses them anymore, so this thing they've delivered looks like it dates from the early seventies. It's an artifact that no one in the room seems at all familiar with. No one except me.

Finally, I can't take watching him struggle anymore and I raise my hand. "Excuse me, Mr. Cull….Edward?"

He swivels to look at me, and I feel suddenly shy, but I remind myself of talking to him at the gallery and pull my nerves together.

"Can I try?"

He looks at me for another moment, then his face cracks into a grin and he steps away from the projector, inviting me in with a flourish of his arm. I slide out of my desk and make my way over to it. Edward continues with his lecture, keeping one eye on me as I work. In a matter of minutes, the tray clicks and the glowing image of the first slide appears on the screen at the front of the room.

Edward looks from the picture to me.

"We had these in my old school," I shrug.

"Can you stay here and work it, Isabella?"

I nod and he smiles before going to the front to switch out the lights. He starts his lecture again, talking about great works of art and what makes them great. Every few minutes, he points at me to indicate I should advance to the next slide. I feel useful; closer to him this way. Which is pathetic and sad, but I can't help it.

Edward is an off-the-cuff lecturer. It's clear that he is prepared and has a plan, but frequently, he gets inspired, or remembers something that he just has to tell us, and then he's off on a tangent. The tangents are always interesting, and his enthusiasm is infectious, so no one ever seems to mind.

That's what happens today. I have up the slide of a Rembrandt portrait when suddenly Edward wants to talk about existentialism and landscapes. He hurries up the three shallow steps to the back of the room, where I am, to find the slide he wants us to see. Quickly, he leans in and in turn, I lean to the left to make room for him. There isn't time to step aside. He absently places a hand on the small of my back to steady me and himself as he searches. All I can feel, all I can think, is that he's touching me. I can feel the heat and weight of his hand, even through the wool of my blazer. I imagine I can feel every one of his fingertips, flared out across my skin. He's so close, leaning across me, the projector illuminating his face from underneath. I can smell him; I can feel him. I can imagine what it would feel like to be pressed against him and my face flushes, making me grateful for the dark.

He makes a satisfied little click with his tongue as he identifies the one he wants, and turns his face to me. He seems to realize all at once how close he is to me, and I see the nerves play across his face. His Adam's apple bobs as he swallows. I feel his fingers flex, almost imperceptibly, on my back.

"Can you advance it to this one?" he murmurs, low and rough. I nod. He straightens up and I can finally exhale. His hand drops away and he takes a step back. My hands are shaking as I press the buttons to advance the carousel.

Edward starts talking again, now about early nineteenth century landscapes, but I have no hope of following, because he hasn't moved away. He's not touching me anymore, but he's less than a foot away and the air in that space feels electrified. The hairs on the back of my neck rise as I listen to him, to my right and slightly behind me. My whole right side is tingling. He could reach out and touch me again so easily. Every nerve ending in my body feels primed for it, just waiting, anticipating the contact, even as I know he won't do it. I keep my eyes fixed on the illuminated image at the front of the room, even though none of my attention is there. It feels like the dark has closed in around us. There are still nine other people in the room, but they're in front of us, facing away. Back here, in the dark, there's only him and me, so close we could be touching, except that we're not.

"Now compare that to what you see happening in America at the same time," Edward is saying. He pauses, then I feel it: his hand on the back of my arm. "Can you advance to the next one, Isabella?" His voice is so low and soft, so different from his lecture voice. I tingle and can't breathe. I fumble my fingers up to the button and advance the slide. His hand lingers on the back of my arm. Now it's definitely there longer than it needs to be. I'm practically panting with nerves. Then his hand retreats and he keeps talking, back to his normal lecture voice. But it was there, I know it. His fingers touched me and stayed. I didn't imagine it.

He stays in the back of the room for the rest of the lecture, just a foot away from me, and I imagine that it's because he felt that too, and wants to stay close. The idea that he might be feeling the same intoxicating energy that I feel makes me giddy and overwhelmed. I don't know what to do with the knowledge. I can't even admit that I know it, because I might be wrong. Except that he touched me and lingered when he didn't have to. That was real.

Class ends and he finally moves back to the front of the room to turn on the lights. He stays, shuffling papers and books on his desk, while the rest of the class stretches and packs their bags. I busy myself shutting down the projector and packing it back up for him. By the time I'm done and I've collected my stuff, I'm nearly the last one there. Corin is still there, but he almost doesn't count, since he's only standing there while he finishes typing out his text. He's oblivious to anything else.

I make my way down to the front and start to cross to the door.

"Isabella?"

I stop I my tracks and turn to face him, heart pounding. He's looking at me with that same intense, unreadable face that I saw on the first day of class. Except now I imagine that I might be able to read it a little bit. I want to lick my lips, but I refrain and just press them together instead. He's pausing too long to say what he has to say. The silence is heavy and tense, and he hasn't looked away from my face.

"Thanks for your help with the projector," he finally says, with the same low, hoarse voice from before. "I appreciate it."

"No problem," I say, so softly that I might as well be whispering.

"See you next class."

I just nod. I'm not imagining this, the weight and the energy between us. I just don't know what, if anything, I can or should do about it. So I just tuck my hair behind my ear and smile a little. He seems to relax a tiny bit, and smiles back. It breaks the tension enough that I can finally turn and leave the room.

*0*0*

A/N:

To say that I'm overwhelmed by the response to the first chapter would be a gross understatement. I hope I don't disappoint you and thanks for the very enthusiastic welcome.

There's a link on my profile to the Fragonard painting they talked about in the gallery.