[I was trying to write something to go with "If Edward COULD read Bella’s mind…would he still be with her?" but the story got away from me and decided to run free in directions only tangentially related to the question.]
-The thoughts were too many and too powerful. Edward barely made it to his table, then collapsed into his chair. Sights, sounds, words, images, textures and tastes all cried out for attention. They tried to push his own perceptions out of the way until it was almost impossible to tell which way was up.
He closed his eyes and tried to impose some kind of structure on the information bombarding his mind. At first it was random and chaotic. Flashes of conversations, sensations, someone attempting to prepare for calculus class, a young novelist who was sure that her book would be the next bestseller considered names for her antagonist, Julie and James each thought the other was hot while believing they themselves were ugly, one student was convinced that everyone was thinking about something embarrassing he had done, which he simply called "it" in his mind with no indication of what "it" may have been, though no one else seemed to be thinking about "it". A stunning painting was taking shape in the mind of one girl, though she and Edward were both aware she lacked the skill to create it. Edward wished she'd practice more.
He managed to make his attention less scattered. He was able to hold onto threads of thoughts for longer. Conversations started to come into focus, and as he managed to get a handle on multiple viewpoints he began to get a feel for the shape of the room. Soon he was able to place the various viewpoints he was experiencing in their rightful places and use that structure to choose what he would pay attention to. He couldn't block it out, but he could chose which section dominated.
It was like a copy of the cafeteria in his mind, thoughts were grouped by where the thinkers were sitting and he could mentally walk from table to table, to hear them each in turn rather than being hit by them all at once. He'd tried simply not listening to any, but that never worked. They'd break through and then ... it never ended well. He knew from experience that he had to actively listen to something. The last serious attempt not to had gone less than well, and he hadn't been able to bear setting foot in Kansas since it happened.
Being able to direct the ability was the only thing that kept him sane. Yes, he still had other people's thoughts in his head, but somehow it wasn't as wrong when he could decide, "I'll drop in on Jacob right now, I'll steer clear of Alice today."
He also found the combined mental image of a crowded room to be impressive in itself. He could see things multiple people were looking at from more than one angle at a time, he could see all of the dead spots that were outside of everyone's line of sight. He could experience the room in three dimensions. Not the thing that passed for three dimensions in movie theaters, he could actually see all sides of an object at once, provided people were looking at it from the right angles.
Fitting together the viewpoints into such a coherent whole was his art form, and the result had never lost its wonder. Possibly because he was incapable of doing it on his own. He could remember it, could think about it, but to actually experience it he needed other people. Any attempt on his part to duplicate the experience in his own mind was as far from the original experience as listening to a description of a painting was from viewing the painting.
Edward steered clear of the usual helpings of sex and angst. There was one table where students were debating the relative merits of Marxism and capitalism. He'd heard the arguments before, but it was fascinating to see it play out in the teenager's minds for what appeared to be the first time. Each started convinced they knew everything... and ended the same way, but in the middle were impressive twists and turns of adaptive reasoning as they tried to understand and justify why the believed what they believed when they were faced with arguments and examples they had never before considered.
He was distracted when he realized that he was seeing himself from a new angle. Twice. One view curious, the other seemed terrified. The question, "Bella, what are you staring at?" filtered through from both viewpoints. Edward looked, actually looked with his own eyes, in the direction of the stares. It was the new girl and one of her friends. Apparently the new girl's name was "Bella," Edward hadn't known that.
He mentally moved to that table, for a moment the transition knocked him off balance and the thoughts threatened to explode from the careful order he had imposed on them and overwhelm him, but he regained control and the background noise returned to a calm murmur.
Jessica announced that he was still staring at the new girl, and Edward realized that he should probably return his attention to his own body long enough to point his head in a less creepy direction. Before he did Bella demanded Jessica look away. The way she did it, a threatening hiss, disturbed Jessica who tried to cover her discomfort with a laugh. Bella derisively thought of it as a snicker and then-
"'Contemplating violence'?" Edward said out loud, "Who thinks like that?"
[Only two fragments remain of the rest of the document (one with a lacuna), they appear to be from the chapter known as "Biology class".]
Edward said, "Hello," and heard back that it was, "musical." No it wasn't. I said the word 'Hello' I didn't sing the song Hello by Lionel Richie. When Bella looked up Edward was bombarded with more thoughts to which he didn't know how to respond. What does one look like after shooting a commercial for hair gel? Dazzling? Really? [...] I draw the line at 'flawless'. Seriously, I'm not flattered anymore, just stop.
He forced himself to continue, "My name is Edward Cullen, I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself last week. You must be Bella Swan."
No. That wasn't my enchanting laugh. That was my, 'Crap, I didn't realize that was privileged information and I hope to God I haven't blown my cover,' laugh. Nervousness is not enchanting. Can you please stop with the idol worship already? If I'm an ass for the rest of class will you stop thinking of me in ways that make me want to bash my head into a wall?
[Some scholars maintain that in the original text this paragraph ended with "already?" and that the last line is a later addition.]