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Chapter 7 Nightmare

Chapter 7 Nightmare

I told Charlie I had a lot of homework to do, and that I didn't wantanything to eat. There was a basketball game on that he was excitedabout, though of course I had no idea what was special about it, so hewasn't aware of anything unusual in my face or tone.

  Once in my room, I locked the door. I dug through my desk until I foundmy old headphones, and I plugged them into my little CD player. I pickedup a CD that Phil had given to me for Christmas. It was one of hisfavorite bands, but they used a little too much bass and shrieking for mytastes. I popped it into place and lay down on my bed. I put on theheadphones, hit Play, and turned up the volume until it hurt my ears. Iclosed my eyes, but the light still intruded, so I added a pillow overthe top half of my face.

  I concentrated very carefully on the music, trying to understand thelyrics, to unravel the complicated drum patterns. By the third time I'dlistened through the CD, I knew all the words to the choruses, at least.

  I was surprised to find that I really did like the band after all, once Igot past the blaring noise. I'd have to thank Phil again.

  And it worked. The shattering beats made it impossible for me to think —which was the whole purpose of the exercise. I listened to the CD againand again, until I was singing along with all the songs, until, finally,I fell asleep.

  I opened my eyes to a familiar place. Aware in some corner of myconsciousness that I was dreaming, I recognized the green light of theforest. I could hear the waves crashing against the rocks somewherenearby. And I knew that if I found the ocean, I'd be able to see the sun.

  I was trying to follow the sound, but then Jacob Black was there, tuggingon my hand, pulling me back toward the blackest part of the forest.

  "Jacob? What's wrong?" I asked. His face was frightened as he yanked withall his strength against my resistance; I didn't want to go into the dark.

  "Run, Bella, you have to run!" he whispered, terrified.

  "This way, Bella!" I recognized Mike's voice calling out of the gloomyheart of the trees, but I couldn't see him.

  "Why?" I asked, still pulling against Jacob's grasp, desperate now tofind the sun.

   But Jacob let go of my hand and yelped, suddenly shaking, falling to thedim forest floor. He twitched on the ground as I watched in horror.

  "Jacob!" I screamed. But he was gone. In his place was a large red-brownwolf with black eyes. The wolf faced away from me, pointing toward theshore, the hair on the back of his shoulders bristling, low growlsissuing from between his exposed fangs.

  "Bella, run!" Mike cried out again from behind me. But I didn't turn. Iwas watching a light coming toward me from the beach.

  And then Edward stepped out from the trees, his skin faintly glowing, hiseyes black and dangerous. He held up one hand and beckoned me to come tohim. The wolf growled at my feet.

  I took a step forward, toward Edward. He smiled then, and his teeth weresharp, pointed.

  "Trust me," he purred.

  I took another step.

  The wolf launched himself across the space between me and the vampire,fangs aiming for the jugular.

  "No!" I screamed, wrenching upright out of my bed.

  My sudden movement caused the headphones to pull the CD player off thebedside table, and it clattered to the wooden floor.

  My light was still on, and I was sitting fully dressed on the bed, withmy shoes on. I glanced, disoriented, at the clock on my dresser. It wasfive-thirty in the morning.

  I groaned, fell back, and rolled over onto my face, kicking off my boots.

  I was too uncomfortable to get anywhere near sleep, though. I rolled backover and unbuttoned my jeans, yanking them off awkwardly as I tried tostay horizontal. I could feel the braid in my hair, an uncomfortableridge along the back of my skull. I turned onto my side and ripped therubber band out, quickly combing through the plaits with my fingers. Ipulled the pillow back over my eyes.

  It was all no use, of course. My subconscious had dredged up exactly theimages I'd been trying so desperately to avoid. I was going to have toface them now.

  I sat up, and my head spun for a minute as the blood flowed downward.

  First things first, I thought to myself, happy to put it off as long aspossible. I grabbed my bathroom bag.

  The shower didn't last nearly as long as I hoped it would, though. Eventaking the time to blow-dry my hair, I was soon out of things to do inthe bathroom. Wrapped in a towel, I crossed back to my room. I couldn'ttell if Charlie was still asleep, or if he had already left. I went tolook out my window, and the cruiser was gone. Fishing again.

  I dressed slowly in my most comfy sweats and then made my bed — somethingI never did. I couldn't put it off any longer. I went to my desk andswitched on my old computer.

  I hated using the Internet here. My modem was sadly outdated, my freeservice substandard; just dialing up took so long that I decided to goget myself a bowl of cereal while I waited.

  I ate slowly, chewing each bite with care. When I was done, I washed thebowl and spoon, dried them, and put them away. My feet dragged as Iclimbed the stairs. I went to my CD player first, picking it up off thefloor and placing it precisely in the center of the table. I pulled outthe headphones, and put them away in the desk drawer. Then I turned thesame CD on, turning it down to the point where it was background noise.

   With another sigh, I turned to my computer. Naturally, the screen wascovered in pop-up ads. I sat in my hard folding chair and began closingall the little windows. Eventually I made it to my favorite searchengine. I shot down a few more pop-ups and then typed in one word.


  It took an infuriatingly long time, of course. When the results came up,there was a lot to sift through — everything from movies and TV shows torole-playing games, underground metal, and gothic cosmetic companies.

  Then I found a promising site — Vampires A—Z. I waited impatiently for itto load, quickly clicking closed each ad that flashed across the screen.

  Finally the screen was finished — simple white background with blacktext, academic-looking. Two quotes greeted me on the home page:

  Throughout the vast shadowy world of ghosts and demons there is no figureso terrible, no figure so dreaded and abhorred, yet dight with suchfearful fascination, as the vampire, who is himself neither ghost nordemon, but yet who partakes the dark natures and possesses the mysteriousand terrible qualities of both. — Rev. Montague SummersIf there is in this world a well-attested account, it is that of thevampires. Nothing is lacking: official reports, affidavits of well-knownpeople, of surgeons, of priests, of magistrates; the judicial proof ismost complete. And with all that, who is there who believes in vampires?

  — RousseauThe rest of the site was an alphabetized listing of all the differentmyths of vampires held throughout the world. The first I clicked on, theDanag, was a Filipino vampire supposedly responsible for planting taro onthe islands long ago. The myth continued that the Danag worked withhumans for many years, but the partnership ended one day when a woman cuther finger and a Danag sucked her wound, enjoying the taste so much thatit drained her body completely of blood.

  I read carefully through the descriptions, looking for anything thatsounded familiar, let alone plausible. It seemed that most vampire mythscentered around beautiful women as demons and children as victims; theyalso seemed like constructs created to explain away the high mortalityrates for young children, and to give men an excuse for infidelity. Manyof the stories involved bodiless spirits and warnings against improperburials. There wasn't much that sounded like the movies I'd seen, andonly a very few, like the Hebrew Estrie and the Polish Upier, who wereeven preoccupied with drinking blood.

  Only three entries really caught my attention: the Romanian Varacolaci, apowerful undead being who could appear as a beautiful, pale-skinnedhuman, the Slovak Nelapsi, a creature so strong and fast it couldmassacre an entire village in the single hour after midnight, and oneother, the Stregoni benefici.

  About this last there was only one brief sentence.

  Stregoni benefici: An Italian vampire, said to be on the side ofgoodness, and a mortal enemy of all evil vampires.

  It was a relief, that one small entry, the one myth among hundreds thatclaimed the existence of good vampires.

  Overall, though, there was little that coincided with Jacob's stories ormy own observations. I'd made a little catalogue in my mind as I'd readand carefully compared it with each myth. Speed, strength, beauty, paleskin, eyes that shift color; and then Jacob's criteria: blood drinkers,enemies of the werewolf, cold-skinned, and immortal. There were very fewmyths that matched even one factor.

   And then another problem, one that I'd remembered from the small numberof scary movies that I'd seen and was backed up by today's reading —vampires couldn't come out in the daytime, the sun would burn them to acinder. They slept in coffins all day and came out only at night.

  Aggravated, I snapped off the computer's main power switch, not waitingto shut things down properly. Through my irritation, I felt overwhelmingembarrassment. It was all so stupid. I was sitting in my room,researching vampires. What was wrong with me? I decided that most of theblame belonged on the doorstep of the town of Forks — and the entiresodden Olympic Peninsula, for that matter.

  I had to get out of the house, but there was nowhere I wanted to go thatdidn't involve a three-day drive. I pulled on my boots anyway, unclearwhere I was headed, and went downstairs. I shrugged into my raincoatwithout checking the weather and stomped out the door.

  It was overcast, but not raining yet. I ignored my truck and started easton foot, angling across Charlie's yard toward the ever-encroachingforest. It didn't take long till I was deep enough for the house and theroad to be invisible, for the only sound to be the squish of the dampearth under my feet and the sudden cries of the jays.

  There was a thin ribbon of a trail that led through the forest here, or Iwouldn't risk wandering on my own like this. My sense of direction washopeless; I could get lost in much less helpful surroundings. The trailwound deeper and deeper into the forest, mostly east as far as I couldtell. It snaked around the Sitka spruces and the hemlocks, the yews andthe maples. I only vaguely knew the names of the trees around me, and allI knew was due to Charlie pointing them out to me from the cruiser windowin earlier days. There were many I didn't know, and others I couldn't besure about because they were so covered in green parasites.

  I followed the trail as long as my anger at myself pushed me forward. Asthat started to ebb, I slowed. A few drops of moisture trickled down fromthe canopy above me, but I couldn't be certain if it was beginning torain or if it was simply pools left over from yesterday, held high in theleaves above me, slowly dripping their way back to the earth. A recentlyfallen tree — I knew it was recent because it wasn't entirely carpeted inmoss — rested against the trunk of one of her sisters, creating asheltered little bench just a few safe feet off the trail. I stepped overthe ferns and sat carefully, making sure my jacket was between the dampseat and my clothes wherever they touched, and leaned my hooded head backagainst the living tree.

  This was the wrong place to have come. I should have known, but whereelse was there to go? The forest was deep green and far too much like thescene in last night's dream to allow for peace of mind. Now that therewas no longer the sound of my soggy footsteps, the silence was piercing.

  The birds were quiet, too, the drops increasing in frequency, so it mustbe raining above. The ferns stood higher than my head, now that I wasseated, and I knew someone could walk by on the path, three feet away,and not see me.

  Here in the trees it was much easier to believe the absurdities thatembarrassed me indoors. Nothing had changed in this forest for thousandsof years, and all the myths and legends of a hundred different landsseemed much more likely in this green haze than they had in my clear-cutbedroom.

  I forced myself to focus on the two most vital questions I had to answer,but I did so unwillingly.

  First, I had to decide if it was possible that what Jacob had said aboutthe Cullens could be true.

  Immediately my mind responded with a resounding negative. It was sillyand morbid to entertain such ridiculous notions. But what, then? I askedmyself. There was no rational explanation for how I was alive at thismoment. I listed again in my head the things I'd observed myself: theimpossible speed and strength, the eye color shifting from black to gold and back again, the inhuman beauty, the pale, frigid skin. And more —small things that registered slowly — how they never seemed to eat, thedisturbing grace with which they moved. And the way besometimes spoke, with unfamiliar cadences and phrases that better fit thestyle of a turn-of-the-century novel than that of a twenty-first-centuryclassroom. He had skipped class the day we'd done blood typing. He hadn'tsaid no to the beach trip till he heard where we were going. He seemed toknow what everyone around him was thinking… except me. He had told me hewas the villain, dangerous…Could the Cullens be vampires?

  Well, they were something. Something outside the possibility of rationaljustification was taking place in front of my incredulous eyes. Whetherit be Jacob's cold ones or my own superhero theory, Edward Cullen wasnot… human. He was something more.

  So then — maybe. That would have to be my answer for now.

  And then the most important question of all. What was I going to do if itwas true?

  If Edward was a vampire — I could hardly make myself think the words —then what should I do? Involving someone else was definitely out. Icouldn't even believe myself; anyone I told would have me committed.

  Only two options seemed practical. The first was to take his advice: tobe smart, to avoid him as much as possible. To cancel our plans, to goback to ignoring him as far as I was able. To pretend there was animpenetrably thick glass wall between us in the one class where we wereforced together. To tell him to leave me alone — and mean it this time.

  I was gripped in a sudden agony of despair as I considered thatalternative. My mind rejected the pain, quickly skipping on to the nextoption.

  I could do nothing different. After all, if he was something… sinister,he'd done nothing to hurt me so far. In fact, I would be a dent inTyler's fender if he hadn't acted so quickly. So quickly, I argued withmyself, that it might have been sheer reflexes. But if it was a reflex tosave lives, how bad could he be? I retorted. My head spun around inanswerless circles.

  There was one thing I was sure of, if I was sure of anything. The darkEdward in my dream last night was a reflection only of my fear of theword Jacob had spoken, and not Edward himself. Even so, when I'd screamedout in terror at the werewolf's lunge, it wasn't fear for the wolf thatbrought the cry of "no" to my lips. It was fear that he would be harmed —even as he called to me with sharp-edged fangs, I feared for him.

  And I knew in that I had my answer. I didn't know if there ever was achoice, really. I was already in too deep. Now that I knew — if I knew —I could do nothing about my frightening secret. Because when I thought ofhim, of his voice, his hypnotic eyes, the magnetic force of hispersonality, I wanted nothing more than to be with him right now. Evenif… but I couldn't think it. Not here, alone in the darkening forest. Notwhile the rain made it dim as twilight under the canopy and pattered likefootsteps across the matted earthen floor. I shivered and rose quicklyfrom my place of concealment, worried that somehow the path would havedisappeared with the rain.

  But it was there, safe and clear, winding its way out of the drippinggreen maze. I followed it hastily, my hood pulled close around my face,becoming surprised, as I nearly ran through the trees, at how far I hadcome. I started to wonder if I was heading out at all, or following thepath farther into the confines of the forest. Before I could get toopanicky, though, I began to glimpse some open spaces through the webbedbranches. And then I could hear a car passing on the street, and I wasfree, Charlie's lawn stretched out in front of me, the house beckoningme, promising warmth and dry socks.

   It was just noon when I got back inside. I went upstairs and got dressedfor the day, jeans and a t-shirt, since I was staying indoors. It didn'ttake too much effort to concentrate on my task for the day, a paper onMacbeth that was due Wednesday. I settled into outlining a rough draftcontentedly, more serene than I'd felt since… well, since Thursdayafternoon, if I was being honest.

  That had always been my way, though. Making decisions was the painfulpart for me, the part I agonized over. But once the decision was made, Isimply followed through — usually with relief that the choice was made.

  Sometimes the relief was tainted by despair, like my decision to come toForks. But it was still better than wrestling with the alternatives.

  This decision was ridiculously easy to live with. Dangerously easy.

  And so the day was quiet, productive — I finished my paper before eight.

  Charlie came home with a large catch, and I made a mental note to pick upa book of recipes for fish while I was in Seattle next week. The chillsthat flashed up my spine whenever I thought of that trip were nodifferent than the ones I'd felt before I'd taken my walk with JacobBlack. They should be different, I thought. I should be afraid — I knew Ishould be, but I couldn't feel the right kind of fear.

  I slept dreamlessly that night, exhausted from beginning my day so early,and sleeping so poorly the night before. I woke, for the second timesince arriving in Forks, to the bright yellow light of a sunny day. Iskipped to the window, stunned to see that there was hardly a cloud inthe sky, and those there were just fleecy little white puffs thatcouldn't possibly be carrying any rain. I opened the window — surprisedwhen it opened silently, without sticking, not having opened it in whoknows how many years — and sucked in the relatively dry air. It wasnearly warm and hardly windy at all. My blood was electric in my veins.

  Charlie was finishing breakfast when I came downstairs, and he picked upon my mood immediately.

  "Nice day out," he commented.

  "Yes," I agreed with a grin.

  He smiled back, his brown eyes crinkling around the edges. When Charliesmiled, it was easier to see why he and my mother had jumped too quicklyinto an early marriage. Most of the young romantic he'd been in thosedays had faded before I'd known him, as the curly brown hair — the samecolor, if not the same texture, as mine — had dwindled, slowly revealingmore and more of the shiny skin of his forehead. But when he smiled Icould see a little of the man who had run away with Renée when she wasjust two years older than I was now.

  I ate breakfast cheerily, watching the dust moats stirring in thesunlight that streamed in the back window. Charlie called out a goodbye,and I heard the cruiser pull away from the house. I hesitated on my wayout the door, hand on my rain jacket. It would be tempting fate to leaveit home. With a sigh, I folded it over my arm and stepped out into thebrightest light I'd seen in months.

  By dint of much elbow grease, I was able to get both windows in the truckalmost completely rolled down. I was one of the first ones to school; Ihadn't even checked the clock in my hurry to get outside. I parked andheaded toward the seldom-used picnic benches on the south side of thecafeteria. The benches were still a little damp, so I sat on my jacket,glad to have a use for it. My homework was done — the product of a slowsocial life — but there were a few Trig problems I wasn't sure I hadright. I took out my book industriously, but halfway through recheckingthe first problem I was daydreaming, watching the sunlight play on thered-barked trees. I sketched inattentively along the margins of myhomework. After a few minutes, I suddenly realized I'd drawn five pairsof dark eyes staring out of the page at me. I scrubbed them out with theeraser.

  "Bella!" I heard someone call, and it sounded like Mike.

   I looked around to realize that the school had become populated while I'dbeen sitting there, absentminded. Everyone was in t-shirts, some even inshorts though the temperature couldn't be over sixty. Mike was comingtoward me in khaki shorts and a striped Rugby shirt, waving.

  "Hey, Mike," I called, waving back, unable to be halfhearted on a morninglike this.

  He came to sit by me, the tidy spikes of his hair shining golden in thelight, his grin stretching across his face. He was so delighted to seeme, I couldn't help but feel gratified.

  "I never noticed before — your hair has red in it," he commented,catching between his fingers a strand that was fluttering in the lightbreeze.

  "Only in the sun."I became just a little uncomfortable as he tucked the lock behind my ear.

  "Great day, isn't it?""My kind of day," I agreed.

  "What did you do yesterday?" His tone was just a bit too proprietary.

  "I mostly worked on my essay." I didn't add that I was finished with it —no need to sound smug.

  He hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. "Oh yeah — that's dueThursday, right?""Um, Wednesday, I think.""Wednesday?" He frowned. "That's not good… What are you writing yours on?""Whether Shakespeare's treatment of the female characters ismisogynistic."He stared at me like I'd just spoken in pig Latin.

  "I guess I'll have to get to work on that tonight," he said, deflated. "Iwas going to ask if you wanted to go out.""Oh." I was taken off guard. Why couldn't I ever have a pleasantconversation with Mike anymore without it getting awkward?

  "Well, we could go to dinner or something… and I could work on it later."He smiled at me hopefully.

  "Mike…" I hated being put on the spot. "I don't think that would be thebest idea."His face fell. "Why?" he asked, his eyes guarded. My thoughts flickeredto Edward, wondering if that's where his thoughts were as well.

  "I think… and if you ever repeat what I'm saying right now I willcheerfully beat you to death," I threatened, "but I think that would hurtJessica's feelings."He was bewildered, obviously not thinking in that direction at all.

  "Jessica?""Really, Mike, are you blind?""Oh," he exhaled — clearly dazed. I took advantage of that to make myescape.

  "It's time for class, and I can't be late again." I gathered my books upand stuffed them in my bag.

  We walked in silence to building three, and his expression was distracted. I hoped whatever thoughts he was immersed in were leading himin the right direction.

  When I saw Jessica in Trig, she was bubbling with enthusiasm. She,Angela, and Lauren were going to Port Angeles tonight to go dressshopping for the dance, and she wanted me to come, too, even though Ididn't need one. I was indecisive. It would be nice to get out of townwith some girlfriends, but Lauren would be there. And who knew what Icould be doing tonight… But that was definitely the wrong path to let mymind wander down. Of course I was happy about the sunlight. But thatwasn't completely responsible for the euphoric mood I was in, not evenclose.

  So I gave her a maybe, telling her I'd have to talk with Charlie first.

  She talked of nothing but the dance on the way to Spanish, continuing asif without an interruption when class finally ended, five minutes late,and we were on our way to lunch. I was far too lost in my own frenzy ofanticipation to notice much of what she said. I was painfully eager tosee not just him but all the Cullens — to compare them with the newsuspicions that plagued my mind. As I crossed the threshold of thecafeteria, I felt the first true tingle of fear slither down my spine andsettle in my stomach. Would they be able to know what I was thinking? Andthen a different feeling jolted through me — would Edward be waiting tosit with me again?

  As was my routine, I glanced first toward the Cullens' table. A shiver ofpanic trembled in my stomach as I realized it was empty. With dwindlinghope, my eyes scoured the rest of the cafeteria, hoping to find himalone, waiting for me. The place was nearly filled — Spanish had made uslate — but there was no sign of Edward or any of his family. Desolationhit me with crippling strength.

  I shambled along behind Jessica, not bothering to pretend to listenanymore.

  We were late enough that everyone was already at our table. I avoided theempty chair next to Mike in favor of one by Angela. I vaguely noticedthat Mike held the chair out politely for Jessica, and that her face litup in response.

  Angela asked a few quiet questions about the Macbeth paper, which Ianswered as naturally as I could while spiraling downward in misery. She,too, invited me to go with them tonight, and I agreed now, grasping atanything to distract myself.

  I realized I'd been holding on to a last shred of hope when I enteredBiology, saw his empty seat, and felt a new wave of disappointment.

  The rest of the day passed slowly, dismally. In Gym, we had a lecture onthe rules of badminton, the next torture they had lined up for me. But atleast it meant I got to sit and listen instead of stumbling around on thecourt. The best part was the coach didn't finish, so I got another dayoff tomorrow. Never mind that the day after they would arm me with aracket before unleashing me on the rest of the class.

  I was glad to leave campus, so I would be free to pout and mope before Iwent out tonight with Jessica and company. But right after I walked inthe door of Charlie's house, Jessica called to cancel our plans. I triedto be happy that Mike had asked her out to dinner — I really was relievedthat he finally seemed to be catching on — but my enthusiasm soundedfalse in my own ears. She rescheduled our shopping trip for tomorrownight.

  Which left me with little in the way of distractions. I had fishmarinating for dinner, with a salad and bread left over from the nightbefore, so there was nothing to do there. I spent a focused half hour onhomework, but then I was through with that, too. I checked my e-mail,reading the backlog of letters from my mother, getting snippier as theyprogressed to the present. I sighed and typed a quick response.

   Mom,Sorry. I've been out. I went to the beach with some friends. And I had towrite a paper.

  My excuses were fairly pathetic, so I gave up on that.

  It's sunny outside today - I know, I'm shocked, too - so I'm going to gooutside and soak up as much vitamin D as I can. I love you,Bella.

  I decided to kill an hour with non-school-related reading. I had a smallcollection of books that came with me to Forks, the shabbiest volumebeing a compilation of the works of Jane Austen. I selected that one andheaded to the backyard, grabbing a ragged old quilt from the linencupboard at the top of the stairs on my way down.

  Outside in Charlie's small, square yard, I folded the quilt in half andlaid it out of the reach of the trees' shadows on the thick lawn thatwould always be slightly wet, no matter how long the sun shone. I lay onmy stomach, crossing my ankles in the air, flipping through the differentnovels in the book, trying to decide which would occupy my mind the mostthoroughly. My favorites were Pride and Prejudice and Sense andSensibility. I'd read the first most recently, so I started into Senseand Sensibility, only to remember after I began three that the hero ofthe story happened to be named Edward. Angrily, I turned to MansfieldPark, but the hero of that piece was named Edmund, and that was just tooclose. Weren't there any other names available in the late eighteenthcentury? I snapped the book shut, annoyed, and rolled over onto my back.

  I pushed my sleeves up as high as they would go, and closed my eyes. Iwould think of nothing but the warmth on my skin, I told myself severely.

  The breeze was still light, but it blew tendrils of my hair around myface, and that tickled a bit. I pulled all my hair over my head, lettingit fan out on the quilt above me, and focused again on the heat thattouched my eyelids, my cheekbones, my nose, my lips, my forearms, myneck, soaked through my light shirt…The next thing I was conscious of was the sound of Charlie's cruiserturning onto the bricks of the driveway. I sat up in surprise, realizingthe light was gone, behind the trees, and I had fallen asleep. I lookedaround, muddled, with the sudden feeling that I wasn't alone.

  "Charlie?" I asked. But I could hear his door slamming in front of thehouse.

  I jumped up, foolishly edgy, gathering the now-damp quilt and my book. Iran inside to get some oil heating on the stove, realizing that dinnerwould be late. Charlie was hanging up his gun belt and stepping out ofhis boots when I came in.

  "Sorry, Dad, dinner's not ready yet — I fell asleep outside." I stifled ayawn.

  "Don't worry about it," he said. "I wanted to catch the score on thegame, anyway."I watched TV with Charlie after dinner, for something to do. There wasn'tanything on I wanted to watch, but he knew I didn't like baseball, so heturned it to some mindless sitcom that neither of us enjoyed. He seemedhappy, though, to be doing something together. And it felt good, despitemy depression, to make him happy.

  "Dad," I said during a commercial, "Jessica and Angela are going to lookat dresses for the dance tomorrow night in Port Angeles, and they wanted me to help them choose… do you mind if I go with them?""Jessica Stanley?" he asked.

  "And Angela Weber." I sighed as I gave him the details.

  He was confused. "But you're not going to the dance, right?""No, Dad, but I'm helping them find dresses — you know, giving themconstructive criticism." I wouldn't have to explain this to a woman.

  "Well, okay." He seemed to realize that he was out of his depth with thegirlie stuff. "It's a school night, though.""We'll leave right after school, so we can get back early. You'll be okayfor dinner, right?""Bells, I fed myself for seventeen years before you got here," hereminded me.

  "I don't know how you survived," I muttered, then added more clearly,"I'll leave some things for cold-cut sandwiches in the fridge, okay?

  Right on top."It was sunny again in the morning. I awakened with renewed hope that Igrimly tried to suppress. I dressed for the warmer weather in a deep blueV-neck blouse — something I'd worn in the dead of winter in Phoenix.

  I had planned my arrival at school so that I barely had time to make itto class. With a sinking heart, I circled the full lot looking for aspace, while also searching for the silver Volvo that was clearly notthere. I parked in the last row and hurried to English, arrivingbreathless, but subdued, before the final bell.

  It was the same as yesterday — I just couldn't keep little sprouts ofhope from budding in my mind, only to have them squashed painfully as Isearched the lunchroom in vain and sat at my empty Biology table.

  The Port Angeles scheme was back on again for tonight and made all themore attractive by the fact that Lauren had other obligations. I wasanxious to get out of town so I could stop glancing over my shoulder,hoping to see him appearing out of the blue the way he always did. Ivowed to myself that I would be in a good mood tonight and not ruinAngela's or Jessica's enjoyment in the dress hunting. Maybe I could do alittle clothes shopping as well. I refused to think that I might beshopping alone in Seattle this weekend, no longer interested in theearlier arrangement. Surely he wouldn't cancel without at least tellingme.

  After school, Jessica followed me home in her old white Mercury so that Icould ditch my books and truck. I brushed through my hair quickly when Iwas inside, feeling a slight lift of excitement as I contemplated gettingout of Forks. I left a note for Charlie on the table, explaining againwhere to find dinner, switched my scruffy wallet from my school bag to apurse I rarely used, and ran out to join Jessica. We went to Angela'shouse next, and she was waiting for us. My excitement increasedexponentially as we actually drove out of the town limits.