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Chapter 3 Phenomenon

Chapter 3 Phenomenon

When I opened my eyes in the morning, something was different.

  It was the light. It was still the gray-green light of a cloudy day inthe forest, but it was clearer somehow. I realized there was no fogveiling my window.

  I jumped up to look outside, and then groaned in horror.

  A fine layer of snow covered the yard, dusted the top of my truck, andwhitened the road. But that wasn't the worst part. All the rain fromyesterday had frozen solid — coating the needles on the trees infantastic, gorgeous patterns, and making the driveway a deadly ice slick.

  I had enough trouble not falling down when the ground was dry; it mightbe safer for me to go back to bed now.

  Charlie had left for work before I got downstairs. In a lot of ways,living with Charlie was like having my own place, and I found myselfreveling in the aloneness instead of being lonely.

  I threw down a quick bowl of cereal and some orange juice from thecarton. I felt excited to go to school, and that scared me. I knew itwasn't the stimulating learning environment I was anticipating, or seeingmy new set of friends. If I was being honest with myself, I knew I waseager to get to school because I would see Edward Cullen. And that wasvery, very stupid.

  I should be avoiding him entirely after my brainless and embarrassingbabbling yesterday. And I was suspicious of him; why should he lie abouthis eyes? I was still frightened of the hostility I sometimes feltemanating from him, and I was still tongue-tied whenever I pictured hisperfect face. I was well aware that my league and his league were spheresthat did not touch. So I shouldn't be at all anxious to see him today.

  It took every ounce of my concentration to make it down the icy brickdriveway alive. I almost lost my balance when I finally got to the truck,but I managed to cling to the side mirror and save myself. Clearly, todaywas going to be nightmarish.

  Driving to school, I distracted myself from my fear of falling and myunwanted speculations about Edward Cullen by thinking about Mike andEric, and the obvious difference in how teenage boys responded to mehere. I was sure I looked exactly the same as I had in Phoenix. Maybe itwas just that the boys back home had watched me pass slowly through allthe awkward phases of adolescence and still thought of me that way.

  Perhaps it was because I was a novelty here, where novelties were few andfar between. Possibly my crippling clumsiness was seen as endearingrather than pathetic, casting me as a damsel in distress. Whatever thereason, Mike's puppy dog behavior and Eric's apparent rivalry with himwere disconcerting. I wasn't sure if I didn't prefer being ignored.

  My truck seemed to have no problem with the black ice that covered theroads. I drove very slowly, though, not wanting to carve a path ofdestruction through Main Street.

  When I got out of my truck at school, I saw why I'd had so littletrouble. Something silver caught my eye, and I walked to the back of thetruck — carefully holding the side for support — to examine my tires.

  There were thin chains crisscrossed in diamond shapes around them.

  Charlie had gotten up who knows how early to put snow chains on my truck.

  My throat suddenly felt tight. I wasn't used to being taken care of, andCharlie's unspoken concern caught me by surprise.

  I was standing by the back corner of the truck, struggling to fight backthe sudden wave of emotion the snow chains had brought on, when I heardan odd sound.

  It was a high-pitched screech, and it was fast becoming painfully loud. Ilooked up, startled.

   I saw several things simultaneously. Nothing was moving in slow motion,the way it does in the movies. Instead, the adrenaline rush seemed tomake my brain work much faster, and I was able to absorb in clear detailseveral things at once.

  Edward Cullen was standing four cars down from me, staring at me inhorror. His face stood out from a sea of faces, all frozen in the samemask of shock. But of more immediate importance was the dark blue vanthat was skidding, tires locked and squealing against the brakes,spinning wildly across the ice of the parking lot. It was going to hitthe back corner of my truck, and I was standing between them. I didn'teven have time to close my eyes.

  Just before I heard the shattering crunch of the van folding around thetruck bed, something hit me, hard, but not from the direction I wasexpecting. My head cracked against the icy blacktop, and I felt somethingsolid and cold pinning me to the ground. I was lying on the pavementbehind the tan car I'd parked next to. But I didn't have a chance tonotice anything else, because the van was still coming. It had curledgratingly around the end of the truck and, still spinning and sliding,was about to collide with me again.

  A low oath made me aware that someone was with me, and the voice wasimpossible not to recognize. Two long, white hands shot out protectivelyin front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, thelarge hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of thevan's body.

  Then his hands moved so fast they blurred. One was suddenly grippingunder the body of the van, and something was dragging me, swinging mylegs around like a rag doll's, till they hit the tire of the tan car. Agroaning metallic thud hurt my ears, and the van settled, glass popping,onto the asphalt — exactly where, a second ago, my legs had been.

  It was absolutely silent for one long second before the screaming began.

  In the abrupt bedlam, I could hear more than one person shouting my name.

  But more clearly than all the yelling, I could hear Edward Cullen's low,frantic voice in my ear.

  "Bella? Are you all right?""I'm fine." My voice sounded strange. I tried to sit up, and realized hewas holding me against the side of his body in an iron grasp.

  "Be careful," he warned as I struggled. "I think you hit your head prettyhard."I became aware of a throbbing ache centered above my left ear.

  "Ow," I said, surprised.

  "That's what I thought." His voice, amazingly, sounded like he wassuppressing laughter.

  "How in the…" I trailed off, trying to clear my head, get my bearings.

  "How did you get over here so fast?""I was standing right next to you, Bella," he said, his tone seriousagain.

  I turned to sit up, and this time he let me, releasing his hold around mywaist and sliding as far from me as he could in the limited space. Ilooked at his concerned, innocent expression and was disoriented again bythe force of his gold-colored eyes. What was I asking him?

  And then they found us, a crowd of people with tears streaming down theirfaces, shouting at each other, shouting at us.

  "Don't move," someone instructed.

  "Get Tyler out of the van!" someone else shouted.

   There was a flurry of activity around us. I tried to get up, but Edward'scold hand pushed my shoulder down.

  "Just stay put for now.""But it's cold," I complained. It surprised me when he chuckled under hisbreath. There was an edge to the sound.

  "You were over there," I suddenly remembered, and his chuckle stoppedshort. "You were by your car."His expression turned hard. "No, I wasn't.""I saw you." All around us was chaos. I could hear the gruffer voices ofadults arriving on the scene. But I obstinately held on to our argument;I was right, and he was going to admit it.

  "Bella, I was standing with you, and I pulled you out of the way." Heunleashed the full, devastating power of his eyes on me, as if trying tocommunicate something crucial.

  "No." I set my jaw.

  The gold in his eyes blazed. "Please, Bella.""Why?" I demanded.

  "Trust me," he pleaded, his soft voice overwhelming.

  I could hear the sirens now. "Will you promise to explain everything tome later?""Fine," he snapped, abruptly exasperated.

  "Fine," I repeated angrily.

  It took six EMTs and two teachers — Mr. Varner and Coach Clapp — to shiftthe van far enough away from us to bring the stretchers in. Edwardvehemently refused his, and I tried to do the same, but the traitor toldthem I'd hit my head and probably had a concussion. I almost died ofhumiliation when they put on the neck brace. It looked like the entireschool was there, watching soberly as they loaded me in the back of theambulance. Edward got to ride in the front. It was maddening.

  To make matters worse, Chief Swan arrived before they could get me safelyaway.

  "Bella!" he yelled in panic when he recognized me on the stretcher.

  "I'm completely fine, Char — Dad," I sighed. "There's nothing wrong withme."He turned to the closest EMT for a second opinion. I tuned him out toconsider the jumble of inexplicable images churning chaotically in myhead. When they'd lifted me away from the car, I had seen the deep dentin the tan car's bumper — a very distinct dent that fit the contours ofEdward's shoulders… as if he had braced himself against the car withenough force to damage the metal frame…And then there was his family, looking on from the distance, withexpressions that ranged from disapproval to fury but held no hint ofconcern for their brother's safety.

  I tried to think of a logical solution that could explain what I had justseen — a solution that excluded the assumption that I was insane.

  Naturally, the ambulance got a police escort to the county hospital. Ifelt ridiculous the whole time they were unloading me. What made it worsewas that Edward simply glided through the hospital doors under his ownpower. I ground my teeth together.

  They put me in the emergency room, a long room with a line of beds separated by pastel-patterned curtains. A nurse put a pressure cuff on myarm and a thermometer under my tongue. Since no one bothered pulling thecurtain around to give me some privacy, I decided I wasn't obligated towear the stupid-looking neck brace anymore. When the nurse walked away, Iquickly unfastened the Velcro and threw it under the bed.

  There was another flurry of hospital personnel, another stretcher broughtto the bed next to me. I recognized Tyler Crowley from my Governmentclass beneath the bloodstained bandages wrapped tightly around his head.

  Tyler looked a hundred times worse than I felt. But he was staringanxiously at me.

  "Bella, I'm so sorry!""I'm fine, Tyler — you look awful, are you all right?" As we spoke,nurses began unwinding his soiled bandages, exposing a myriad of shallowslices all over his forehead and left cheek.

  He ignored me. "I thought I was going to kill you! I was going too fast,and I hit the ice wrong…" He winced as one nurse started dabbing at hisface.

  "Don't worry about it; you missed me.""How did you get out of the way so fast? You were there, and then youwere gone…""Umm… Edward pulled me out of the way."He looked confused. "Who?""Edward Cullen — he was standing next to me." I'd always been a terribleliar; I didn't sound convincing at all.

  "Cullen? I didn't see him… wow, it was all so fast, I guess. Is he okay?""I think so. He's here somewhere, but they didn't make him use astretcher."I knew I wasn't crazy. What had happened? There was no way to explainaway what I'd seen.

  They wheeled me away then, to X-ray my head. I told them there wasnothing wrong, and I was right. Not even a concussion. I asked if I couldleave, but the nurse said I had to talk to a doctor first. So I wastrapped in the ER, waiting, harassed by Tyler's constant apologies andpromises to make it up to me. No matter how many times I tried toconvince him I was fine, he continued to torment himself. Finally, Iclosed my eyes and ignored him. He kept up a remorseful mumbling.

  "Is she sleeping?" a musical voice asked. My eyes flew open.

  Edward was standing at the foot of my bed, smirking. I glared at him. Itwasn't easy — it would have been more natural to ogle.

  "Hey, Edward, I'm really sorry —" Tyler began.

  Edward lifted a hand to stop him.

  "No blood, no foul," he said, flashing his brilliant teeth. He moved tosit on the edge of Tyler's bed, facing me. He smirked again.

  "So, what's the verdict?" he asked me.

  "There's nothing wrong with me at all, but they won't let me go," Icomplained. "How come you aren't strapped to a gurney like the rest ofus?""It's all about who you know," he answered. "But don't worry, I came tospring you."Then a doctor walked around the corner, and my mouth fell open. He was young, he was blond… and he was handsomer than any movie star I'd everseen. He was pale, though, and tired-looking, with circles under hiseyes. From Charlie's description, this had to be Edward's father.

  "So, Miss Swan," Dr. Cullen said in a remarkably appealing voice, "howare you feeling?""I'm fine," I said, for the last time, I hoped.

  He walked to the lightboard on the wall over my head, and turned it on.

  "Your X-rays look good," he said. "Does your head hurt? Edward said youhit it pretty hard.""It's fine," I repeated with a sigh, throwing a quick scowl toward Edward.

  The doctor's cool fingers probed lightly along my skull. He noticed whenI winced.

  "Tender?" he asked.

  "Not really." I'd had worse.

  I heard a chuckle, and looked over to see Edward's patronizing smile. Myeyes narrowed.

  "Well, your father is in the waiting room — you can go home with him now.

  But come back if you feel dizzy or have trouble with your eyesight atall.""Can't I go back to school?" I asked, imagining Charlie trying to beattentive.

  "Maybe you should take it easy today."I glanced at Edward. "Does he get to go to school?""Someone has to spread the good news that we survived," Edward saidsmugly.

  "Actually," Dr. Cullen corrected, "most of the school seems to be in thewaiting room.""Oh no," I moaned, covering my face with my hands.

  Dr. Cullen raised his eyebrows. "Do you want to stay?""No, no!" I insisted, throwing my legs over the side of the bed andhopping down quickly. Too quickly — I staggered, and Dr. Cullen caughtme. He looked concerned.

  "I'm fine," I assured him again. No need to tell him my balance problemshad nothing to do with hitting my head.

  "Take some Tylenol for the pain," he suggested as he steadied me.

  "It doesn't hurt that bad," I insisted.

  "It sounds like you were extremely lucky," Dr. Cullen said, smiling as hesigned my chart with a flourish.

  "Lucky Edward happened to be standing next to me," I amended with a hardglance at the subject of my statement.

  "Oh, well, yes," Dr. Cullen agreed, suddenly occupied with the papers infront of him. Then he looked away, at Tyler, and walked to the next bed.

  My intuition flickered; the doctor was in on it.

  "I'm afraid that you'll have to stay with us just a little bit longer,"he said to Tyler, and began checking his cuts.

  As soon as the doctor's back was turned, I moved to Edward's side.

   "Can I talk to you for a minute?" I hissed under my breath. He took astep back from me, his jaw suddenly clenched.

  "Your father is waiting for you," he said through his teeth.

  I glanced at Dr. Cullen and Tyler.

  "I'd like to speak with you alone, if you don't mind," I pressed.

  He glared, and then turned his back and strode down the long room. Inearly had to run to keep up. As soon as we turned the corner into ashort hallway, he spun around to face me.

  "What do you want?" he asked, sounding annoyed. His eyes were cold.

  His unfriendliness intimidated me. My words came out with less severitythan I'd intended. "You owe me an explanation," I reminded him.

  "I saved your life — I don't owe you anything."I flinched back from the resentment in his voice. "You promised.""Bella, you hit your head, you don't know what you're talking about." Histone was cutting.

  My temper flared now, and I glared defiantly at him. "There's nothingwrong with my head."He glared back. "What do you want from me, Bella?""I want to know the truth," I said. "I want to know why I'm lying foryou.""What do you think happened?" he snapped.

  It came out in a rush.

  "All I know is that you weren't anywhere near me — Tyler didn't see you,either, so don't tell me I hit my head too hard. That van was going tocrush us both — and it didn't, and your hands left dents in the side ofit — and you left a dent in the other car, and you're not hurt at all —and the van should have smashed my legs, but you were holding it up…" Icould hear how crazy it sounded, and I couldn't continue. I was so mad Icould feel the tears coming; I tried to force them back by grinding myteeth together.

  He was staring at me incredulously. But his face was tense, defensive.

  "You think I lifted a van off you?" His tone questioned my sanity, but itonly made me more suspicious. It was like a perfectly delivered line by askilled actor.

  I merely nodded once, jaw tight.

  "Nobody will believe that, you know." His voice held an edge of derisionnow.

  "I'm not going to tell anybody." I said each word slowly, carefullycontrolling my anger.

  Surprise flitted across his face. "Then why does it matter?""It matters to me," I insisted. "I don't like to lie — so there'd betterbe a good reason why I'm doing it.""Can't you just thank me and get over it?""Thank you." I waited, fuming and expectant.

  "You're not going to let it go, are you?" "No.""In that case… I hope you enjoy disappointment."We scowled at each other in silence. I was the first to speak, trying tokeep myself focused. I was in danger of being distracted by his livid,glorious face. It was like trying to stare down a destroying angel.

  "Why did you even bother?" I asked frigidly.

  He paused, and for a brief moment his stunning face was unexpectedlyvulnerable.

  "I don't know," he whispered.

  And then he turned his back on me and walked away.

  I was so angry, it took me a few minutes until I could move. When I couldwalk, I made my way slowly to the exit at the end of the hallway.

  The waiting room was more unpleasant than I'd feared. It seemed likeevery face I knew in Forks was there, staring at me. Charlie rushed to myside; I put up my hands.

  "There's nothing wrong with me," I assured him sullenly. I was stillaggravated, not in the mood for chitchat.

  "What did the doctor say?""Dr. Cullen saw me, and he said I was fine and I could go home." Isighed. Mike and Jessica and Eric were all there, beginning to convergeon us. "Let's go," I urged.

  Charlie put one arm behind my back, not quite touching me, and led me tothe glass doors of the exit. I waved sheepishly at my friends, hoping toconvey that they didn't need to worry anymore. It was a huge relief— thefirst time I'd ever felt that way — to get into the cruiser.

  We drove in silence. I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I barelyknew Charlie was there. I was positive that Edward's defensive behaviorin the hall was a confirmation of the bizarre things I still could hardlybelieve I'd witnessed.

  When we got to the house, Charlie finally spoke.

  "Um… you'll need to call Renée." He hung his head, guilty.

  I was appalled. "You told Mom!""Sorry."I slammed the cruiser's door a little harder than necessary on my way out.

  My mom was in hysterics, of course. I had to tell her I felt fine atleast thirty times before she would calm down. She begged me to come home— forgetting the fact that home was empty at the moment — but her pleaswere easier to resist than I would have thought. I was consumed by themystery Edward presented. And more than a little obsessed by Edwardhimself. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I wasn't as eager to escape Forks as Ishould be, as any normal, sane person would be.

  I decided I might as well go to bed early that night. Charlie continuedto watch me anxiously, and it was getting on my nerves. I stopped on myway to grab three Tylenol from the bathroom. They did help, and, as thepain eased, I drifted to sleep.

  That was the first night I dreamed of Edward Cullen.