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Chapter 4 Invitations

Chapter 4 Invitations

  In my dream it was very dark, and what dim light there was seemed to beradiating from Edward's skin. I couldn't see his face, just his back ashe walked away from me, leaving me in the blackness. No matter how fast Iran, I couldn't catch up to him; no matter how loud I called, he neverturned. Troubled, I woke in the middle of the night and couldn't sleepagain for what seemed like a very long time. After that, he was in mydreams nearly every night, but always on the periphery, never withinreach.

  The month that followed the accident was uneasy, tense, and, at first,embarrassing.

  To my dismay, I found myself the center of attention for the rest of thatweek. Tyler Crowley was impossible, following me around, obsessed withmaking amends to me somehow. I tried to convince him what I wanted morethan anything else was for him to forget all about it — especially sincenothing had actually happened to me — but he remained insistent. Hefollowed me between classes and sat at our now-crowded lunch table. Mikeand Eric were even less friendly toward him than they were to each other,which made me worry that I'd gained another unwelcome fan.

  No one seemed concerned about Edward, though I explained over and overthat he was the hero — how he had pulled me out of the way and had nearlybeen crushed, too. I tried to be convincing. Jessica, Mike, Eric, andeveryone else always commented that they hadn't even seen him there tillthe van was pulled away.

  I wondered to myself why no one else had seen him standing so far away,before he was suddenly, impossibly saving my life. With chagrin, Irealized the probable cause — no one else was as aware of Edward as Ialways was. No one else watched him the way I did. How pitiful.

  Edward was never surrounded by crowds of curious bystanders eager for hisfirsthand account. People avoided him as usual. The Cullens and the Halessat at the same table as always, not eating, talking only amongthemselves. None of them, especially Edward, glanced my way anymore.

  When he sat next to me in class, as far from me as the table would allow,he seemed totally unaware of my presence. Only now and then, when hisfists would suddenly ball up — skin stretched even whiter over the bones— did I wonder if he wasn't quite as oblivious as he appeared.

  He wished he hadn't pulled me from the path of Tyler's van — there was noother conclusion I could come to.

  I wanted very much to talk to him, and the day after the accident Itried. The last time I'd seen him, outside the ER, we'd both been sofurious. I still was angry that he wouldn't trust me with the truth, eventhough I was keeping my part of the bargain flawlessly. But he had infact saved my life, no matter how he'd done it. And, overnight, the heatof my anger faded into awed gratitude.

  He was already seated when I got to Biology, looking straight ahead. Isat down, expecting him to turn toward me. He showed no sign that herealized I was there.

  "Hello, Edward," I said pleasantly, to show him I was going to behavemyself.

  He turned his head a fraction toward me without meeting my gaze, noddedonce, and then looked the other way.

  And that was the last contact I'd had with him, though he was there, afoot away from me, every day. I watched him sometimes, unable to stopmyself— from a distance, though, in the cafeteria or parking lot. Iwatched as his golden eyes grew perceptibly darker day by day. But inclass I gave no more notice that he existed than he showed toward me. I was miserable. And the dreams continued.

  Despite my outright lies, the tenor of my e-mails alerted Renée to mydepression, and she called a few times, worried. I tried to convince herit was just the weather that had me down.

  Mike, at least, was pleased by the obvious coolness between me and my labpartner. I could see he'd been worried that Edward's daring rescue mighthave impressed me, and he was relieved that it seemed to have theopposite effect. He grew more confident, sitting on the edge of my tableto talk before Biology class started, ignoring Edward as completely as heignored us.

  The snow washed away for good after that one dangerously icy day. Mikewas disappointed he'd never gotten to stage his snowball fight, butpleased that the beach trip would soon be possible. The rain continuedheavily, though, and the weeks passed.

  Jessica made me aware of another event looming on the horizon — shecalled the first Tuesday of March to ask my permission to invite Mike tothe girls' choice spring dance in two weeks.

  "Are you sure you don't mind… you weren't planning to ask him?" shepersisted when I told her I didn't mind in the least.

  "No, Jess, I'm not going," I assured her. Dancing was glaringly outsidemy range of abilities.

  "It will be really fun." Her attempt to convince me was halfhearted. Isuspected that Jessica enjoyed my inexplicable popularity more than myactual company.

  "You have fun with Mike," I encouraged.

  The next day, I was surprised that Jessica wasn't her usual gushing selfin Trig and Spanish. She was silent as she walked by my side betweenclasses, and I was afraid to ask her why. If Mike had turned her down, Iwas the last person she would want to tell.

  My fears were strengthened during lunch when Jessica sat as far from Mikeas possible, chatting animatedly with Eric. Mike was unusually quiet.

  Mike was still quiet as he walked me to class, the uncomfortable look onhis face a bad sign. But he didn't broach the subject until I was in myseat and he was perched on my desk. As always, I was electrically awareof Edward sitting close enough to touch, as distant as if he were merelyan invention of my imagination.

  "So," Mike said, looking at the floor, "Jessica asked me to the springdance.""That's great." I made my voice bright and enthusiastic. "You'll have alot of fun with Jessica.""Well…" He floundered as he examined my smile, clearly not happy with myresponse. "I told her I had to think about it.""Why would you do that?" I let disapproval color my tone, though I wasrelieved he hadn't given her an absolute no.

  His face was bright red as he looked down again. Pity shook my resolve.

  "I was wondering if… well, if you might be planning to ask me."I paused for a moment, hating the wave of guilt that swept through me.

  But I saw, from the corner of my eye, Edward's head tilt reflexively inmy direction.

  "Mike, I think you should tell her yes," I said.

  "Did you already ask someone?" Did Edward notice how Mike's eyesflickered in his direction?

   "No," I assured him. "I'm not going to the dance at all.""Why not?" Mike demanded.

  I didn't want to get into the safety hazards that dancing presented, so Iquickly made new plans.

  "I'm going to Seattle that Saturday," I explained. I needed to get out oftown anyway — it was suddenly the perfect time to go.

  "Can't you go some other weekend?""Sorry, no," I said. "So you shouldn't make Jess wait any longer — it'srude.""Yeah, you're right," he mumbled, and turned, dejected, to walk back tohis seat. I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples, tryingto push the guilt and sympathy out of my head. Mr. Banner began talking.

  I sighed and opened my eyes.

  And Edward was staring at me curiously, that same, familiar edge offrustration even more distinct now in his black eyes.

  I stared back, surprised, expecting him to look quickly away. But insteadhe continued to gaze with probing intensity into my eyes. There was noquestion of me looking away. My hands started to shake.

  "Mr. Cullen?" the teacher called, seeking the answer to a question that Ihadn't heard.

  "The Krebs Cycle," Edward answered, seeming reluctant as he turned tolook at Mr. Banner.

  I looked down at my book as soon as his eyes released me, trying to findmy place. Cowardly as ever, I shifted my hair over my right shoulder tohide my face. I couldn't believe the rush of emotion pulsing through me —just because he'd happened to look at me for the first time in ahalf-dozen weeks. I couldn't allow him to have this level of influenceover me. It was pathetic. More than pathetic, it was unhealthy.

  I tried very hard not to be aware of him for the rest of the hour, and,since that was impossible, at least not to let him know that I was awareof him. When the bell rang at last, I turned my back to him to gather mythings, expecting him to leave immediately as usual.

  "Bella?" His voice shouldn't have been so familiar to me, as if I'd knownthe sound of it all my life rather than for just a few short weeks.

  I turned slowly, unwillingly. I didn't want to feel what I knew I wouldfeel when I looked at his too-perfect face. My expression was wary when Ifinally turned to him; his expression was unreadable. He didn't sayanything.

  "What? Are you speaking to me again?" I finally asked, an unintentionalnote of petulance in my voice.

  His lips twitched, fighting a smile. "No, not really," he admitted.

  I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly through my nose, aware that I wasgritting my teeth. He waited.

  "Then what do you want, Edward?" I asked, keeping my eyes closed; it waseasier to talk to him coherently that way.

  "I'm sorry." He sounded sincere. "I'm being very rude, I know. But it'sbetter this way, really."I opened my eyes. His face was very serious.

  "I don't know what you mean," I said, my voice guarded.

   "It's better if we're not friends," he explained. "Trust me."My eyes narrowed. I'd heard that before.

  "It's too bad you didn't figure that out earlier," I hissed through myteeth. "You could have saved yourself all this regret.""Regret?" The word, and my tone, obviously caught him off guard. "Regretfor what?""For not just letting that stupid van squish me."He was astonished. He stared at me in disbelief.

  When he finally spoke, he almost sounded mad. "You think I regret savingyour life?""I know you do," I snapped.

  "You don't know anything." He was definitely mad.

  I turned my head sharply away from him, clenching my jaw against all thewild accusations I wanted to hurl at him. I gathered my books together,then stood and walked to the door. I meant to sweep dramatically out ofthe room, but of course I caught the toe of my boot on the door jamb anddropped my books. I stood there for a moment, thinking about leavingthem. Then I sighed and bent to pick them up. He was there; he'd alreadystacked them into a pile. He handed them to me, his face hard.

  "Thank you," I said icily.

  His eyes narrowed.

  "You're welcome," he retorted.

  I straightened up swiftly, turned away from him again, and stalked off toGym without looking back.

  Gym was brutal. We'd moved on to basketball. My team never passed me theball, so that was good, but I fell down a lot. Sometimes I took peoplewith me. Today I was worse than usual because my head was so filled withEdward. I tried to concentrate on my feet, but he kept creeping back intomy thoughts just when I really needed my balance.

  It was a relief, as always, to leave. I almost ran to the truck; therewere just so many people I wanted to avoid. The truck had suffered onlyminimal damage in the accident. I'd had to replace the taillights, and ifI'd had a real paint job, I would have touched that up. Tyler's parentshad to sell their van for parts.

  I almost had a stroke when I rounded the corner and saw a tall, darkfigure leaning against the side of my truck. Then I realized it was justEric. I started walking again.

  "Hey, Eric," I called.

  "Hi, Bella.""What's up?" I said as I was unlocking the door. I wasn't payingattention to the uncomfortable edge in his voice, so his next words tookme by surprise.

  "Uh, I was just wondering… if you would go to the spring dance with me?"His voice broke on the last word.

  "I thought it was girls' choice," I said, too startled to be diplomatic.

  "Well, yeah," he admitted, shamefaced.

  I recovered my composure and tried to make my smile warm. "Thank you forasking me, but I'm going to be in Seattle that day." "Oh," he said. "Well, maybe next time.""Sure," I agreed, and then bit my lip. I wouldn't want him to take thattoo literally.

  He slouched off, back toward the school. I heard a low chuckle.

  Edward was walking past the front of my truck, looking straight forward,his lips pressed together. I yanked the door open and jumped inside,slamming it loudly behind me. I revved the engine deafeningly andreversed out into the aisle. Edward was in his car already, two spacesdown, sliding out smoothly in front of me, cutting me off. He stoppedthere — to wait for his family; I could see the four of them walking thisway, but still by the cafeteria. I considered taking out the rear of hisshiny Volvo, but there were too many witnesses. I looked in my rearviewmirror. A line was beginning to form. Directly behind me, Tyler Crowleywas in his recently acquired used Sentra, waving. I was too aggravated toacknowledge him.

  While I was sitting there, looking everywhere but at the car in front ofme, I heard a knock on my passenger side window. I looked over; it wasTyler. I glanced back in my rearview mirror, confused. His car was stillrunning, the door left open. I leaned across the cab to crank the windowdown. It was stiff. I got it halfway down, then gave up.

  "I'm sorry, Tyler, I'm stuck behind Cullen." I was annoyed — obviouslythe holdup wasn't my fault.

  "Oh, I know — I just wanted to ask you something while we're trappedhere." He grinned.

  This could not be happening.

  "Will you ask me to the spring dance?" he continued.

  "I'm not going to be in town, Tyler." My voice sounded a little sharp. Ihad to remember it wasn't his fault that Mike and Eric had already usedup my quota of patience for the day.

  "Yeah, Mike said that," he admitted.

  "Then why —"He shrugged. "I was hoping you were just letting him down easy."Okay, it was completely his fault.

  "Sorry, Tyler," I said, working to hide my irritation. "I really am goingout of town.""That's cool. We still have prom."And before I could respond, he was walking back to his car. I could feelthe shock on my face. I looked forward to see Alice, Rosalie, Emmett, andJasper all sliding into the Volvo. In his rearview mirror, Edward's eyeswere on me. He was unquestionably shaking with laughter, as if he'd heardevery word Tyler had said. My foot itched toward the gas pedal… onelittle bump wouldn't hurt any of them, just that glossy silver paint job.

  I revved the engine.

  But they were all in, and Edward was speeding away. I drove home slowly,carefully, muttering to myself the whole way.

  When I got home, I decided to make chicken enchiladas for dinner. It wasa long process, and it would keep me busy. While I was simmering theonions and chilies, the phone rang. I was almost afraid to answer it, butit might be Charlie or my mom.

  It was Jessica, and she was jubilant; Mike had caught her after school toaccept her invitation. I celebrated with her briefly while I stirred. Shehad to go, she wanted to call Angela and Lauren to tell them. I suggested— with casual innocence — that maybe Angela, the shy girl who had Biology with me, could ask Eric. And Lauren, a standoffish girl who had alwaysignored me at the lunch table, could ask Tyler; I'd heard he was stillavailable. Jess thought that was a great idea. Now that she was sure ofMike, she actually sounded sincere when she said she wished I would go tothe dance. I gave her my Seattle excuse.

  After I hung up, I tried to concentrate on dinner — dicing the chickenespecially; I didn't want to take another trip to the emergency room. Butmy head was spinning, trying to analyze every word Edward had spokentoday. What did he mean, it was better if we weren't friends?

  My stomach twisted as I realized what he must have meant. He must see howabsorbed I was by him; he must not want to lead me on… so we couldn'teven be friends… because he wasn't interested in me at all.

  Of course he wasn't interested in me, I thought angrily, my eyes stinging— a delayed reaction to the onions. I wasn't interesting. And he was.

  Interesting… and brilliant… and mysterious… and perfect… and beautiful…and possibly able to lift full-sized vans with one hand.

  Well, that was fine. I could leave him alone. I would leave him alone. Iwould get through my self-imposed sentence here in purgatory, and thenhopefully some school in the Southwest, or possibly Hawaii, would offerme a scholarship. I focused my thoughts on sunny beaches and palm treesas I finished the enchiladas and put them in the oven.

  Charlie seemed suspicious when he came home and smelled the greenpeppers. I couldn't blame him — the closest edible Mexican food wasprobably in southern California. But he was a cop, even if just asmall-town cop, so he was brave enough to take the first bite. He seemedto like it. It was fun to watch as he slowly began trusting me in thekitchen.

  "Dad?" I asked when he was almost done.

  "Yeah, Bella?""Um, I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to Seattle for the daya week from Saturday… if that's okay?" I didn't want to ask permission —it set a bad precedent — but I felt rude, so I tacked it on at the end.

  "Why?" He sounded surprised, as if he were unable to imagine somethingthat Forks couldn't offer.

  "Well, I wanted to get few books — the library here is pretty limited —and maybe look at some clothes." I had more money than I was used tohaving, since, thanks to Charlie, I hadn't had to pay for a car. Not thatthe truck didn't cost me quite a bit in the gas department.

  "That truck probably doesn't get very good gas mileage," he said, echoingmy thoughts.

  "I know, I'll stop in Montesano and Olympia — and Tacoma if I have to.""Are you going all by yourself?" he asked, and I couldn't tell if he wassuspicious I had a secret boyfriend or just worried about car trouble.

  "Yes.""Seattle is a big city — you could get lost," he fretted.

  "Dad, Phoenix is five times the size of Seattle — and I can read a map,don't worry about it.""Do you want me to come with you?"I tried to be crafty as I hid my horror.

  "That's all right, Dad, I'll probably just be in dressing rooms all day —very boring.""Oh, okay." The thought of sitting in women's clothing stores for any period of time immediately put him off.

  "Thanks." I smiled at him.

  "Will you be back in time for the dance?"Grrr. Only in a town this small would a father know when the high schooldances were.

  "No — I don't dance, Dad." He, of all people, should understand that — Ididn't get my balance problems from my mother.

  He did understand. "Oh, that's right," he realized.

  The next morning, when I pulled into the parking lot, I deliberatelyparked as far as possible from the silver Volvo. I didn't want to putmyself in the path of too much temptation and end up owing him a new car.

  Getting out of the cab, I fumbled with my key and it fell into a puddleat my feet. As I bent to get it, a white hand flashed out and grabbed itbefore I could. I jerked upright. Edward Cullen was right next to me,leaning casually against my truck.

  "How do you do that?" I asked in amazed irritation.

  "Do what?" He held my key out as he spoke. As I reached for it, hedropped it into my palm.

  "Appear out of thin air.""Bella, it's not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant." Hisvoice was quiet as usual — velvet, muted.

  I scowled at his perfect face. His eyes were light again today, a deep,golden honey color. Then I had to look down, to reassemble my now-tangledthoughts.

  "Why the traffic jam last night?" I demanded, still looking away. "Ithought you were supposed to be pretending I don't exist, not irritatingme to death.""That was for Tyler's sake, not mine. I had to give him his chance." Hesnickered.

  "You…" I gasped. I couldn't think of a bad enough word. It felt like theheat of my anger should physically burn him, but he only seemed moreamused.

  "And I'm not pretending you don't exist," he continued.

  "So you are trying to irritate me to death? Since Tyler's van didn't dothe job?"Anger flashed in his tawny eyes. His lips pressed into a hard line, allsigns of humor gone.

  "Bella, you are utterly absurd," he said, his low voice cold.

  My palms tingled — I wanted so badly to hit something. I was surprised atmyself. I was usually a nonviolent person. I turned my back and startedto walk away.

  "Wait," he called. I kept walking, sloshing angrily through the rain. Buthe was next to me, easily keeping pace.

  "I'm sorry, that was rude," he said as we walked. I ignored him. "I'm notsaying it isn't true," he continued, "but it was rude to say it, anyway.""Why won't you leave me alone?" I grumbled.

  "I wanted to ask you something, but you sidetracked me," he chuckled. Heseemed to have recovered his good humor.

   "Do you have a multiple personality disorder?" I asked severely.

  "You're doing it again."I sighed. "Fine then. What do you want to ask?""I was wondering if, a week from Saturday — you know, the day of thespring dance —""Are you trying to be funny?" I interrupted him, wheeling toward him. Myface got drenched as I looked up at his expression.

  His eyes were wickedly amused. "Will you please allow me to finish?"I bit my lip and clasped my hands together, interlocking my fingers, so Icouldn't do anything rash.

  "I heard you say you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wonderingif you wanted a ride."That was unexpected.

  "What?" I wasn't sure what he was getting at.

  "Do you want a ride to Seattle?""With who?" I asked, mystified.

  "Myself, obviously." He enunciated every syllable, as if he were talkingto someone mentally handicapped.

  I was still stunned. "Why?""Well, I was planning to go to Seattle in the next few weeks, and, to behonest, I'm not sure if your truck can make it.""My truck works just fine, thank you very much for your concern." Istarted to walk again, but I was too surprised to maintain the same levelof anger.

  "But can your truck make it there on one tank of gas?" He matched my paceagain.

  "I don't see how that is any of your business." Stupid, shiny Volvo owner.

  "The wasting of finite resources is everyone's business.""Honestly, Edward." I felt a thrill go through me as I said his name, andI hated it. "I can't keep up with you. I thought you didn't want to be myfriend.""I said it would be better if we weren't friends, not that I didn't wantto be.""Oh, thanks, now that's all cleared up." Heavy sarcasm. I realized I hadstopped walking again. We were under the shelter of the cafeteria roofnow, so I could more easily look at his face. Which certainly didn't helpmy clarity of thought.

  "It would be more… prudent for you not to be my friend," he explained.

  "But I'm tired of trying to stay away from you, Bella."His eyes were gloriously intense as he uttered that last sentence, hisvoice smoldering. I couldn't remember how to breathe.

  "Will you go with me to Seattle?" he asked, still intense.

  I couldn't speak yet, so I just nodded.

  He smiled briefly, and then his face became serious.

  "You really should stay away from me," he warned. "I'll see you in class." He turned abruptly and walked back the way we'd come.