Thursday, October 8, 2015

All of Edith and Ben so far, or "The one true Edith Cullen"

So since Meyer decided to have Edythe Cullen, I figured I'd do something to remind everyone of Edith Cullen who I've been writing about since 1:57 PM Sunday, September 4th, 2011. (Earlier really since that was when the finished comment was posted to disqus at Ana Mardolls.) I figured I'd put the story all in one place. As one might imagine it's simultaneously huge for a post and fragmentary like whoa. This does not include the meta-posts, if you want them in a hurry here are links: To navigate this huge post:
* * *


When you're lying bleeding on the ground, realizing that the thing flowing from your body isn't so much blood as it is the hope that you'll live to see another day and trying desperately to control your heartbeat out of the silly belief that maybe, just maybe, if it weren't beating so hard and pushing the blood out of you so fast you'd live long enough to be rescued -because it might not be a realistic expectation but at times like these you grasp at whatever presents itself- you find that the situation is actually remarkably conducive to reflection.

It might not be the cleanest type of reflection ever, there are tangents and subordinate clauses that takeover entire paragraphs, the thinking might not always be strictly linear, and the leaps might not always make sense, but what else are you going to when lying bleeding on the ground if not think about how you got there? It's certainly more pleasant than thinking about the killer in the corner, ready to finish the job she so expertly started.

And so I found myself faced with a simple question: if I had known, if I had somehow impossibly known, what was going to happen going in, would I have gone to Forks? If just had a general idea, if it had been explained to me in the simplest terms and most convenient definitions, then of course I wouldn't. There's no chance in Hell, Dante's or otherwise.

But if I had understanding of what would go in Forks -if I knew what would happen to me and who I would meet and how I would feel- if I knew, in detail, how I would end up here, dying on this floor, then the answer is equally clear and completely opposite: I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

* * *

Chapter 1: Changing Homes

I come from a family where no one says what they mean, and consequently no one means what they say.  For my mother and I that's because we don't talk much, but for my father's side of the family it really does seem to be a complete aversion to saying what you mean.  This means nothing is ever taken at face value, or expected to be taken at face value.

This may work for some people, but it does not work for me.  It just doesn't.  I want to cut the point and speak plainly, not navigate the confusing social waters of double talk and hidden meanings.  That, I supposed, was one thing I wouldn't be missing.  I looked out the window at the perfect cloudless sky.  That was something I would be missing.  You can still get a sunburn through a cloud, but you can't see the dome of the sky, and I was headed to a place whose single defining feature was having the fewest clear days of anywhere in the US.

My mother's home.

It rains on this small town more than any other in the country, and my mother loved it there, still did as far as I knew.  My father disliked it as much as I did, and the differing communications styles between my mother and father probably played no small roll in their breakup, but as I said, no one ever says what they mean.  And so I have always been told that the reason my father left, taking me with him, was largely due to the climate.

A lie, almost certainly, but my father comes from a long line of liars.  And I'm next in that line, and a lie was my justification for going back to my mother's home in spite of the fact that I, like my father before me, am a desert creature.  Phoenix is my home, and if need be I have little doubt that I could walk without rhythm.

I do believe that climate played a role in the decision to leave, how could it not, but I don't believe that divorces are made based on climate.  There has to be more to it than that, I've just never been told what that more is.  Likely never will be.

When I was less than a year old was when the divorce took place, and getting the truth about the here and now out of my father is difficult enough, the past is lost.  Forks, my mother's home, was a place I remembered from the summers that came after.  One month of every year, in the summer, was spent with my mother.  And in the beginning that meant one month of every year was spent in Forks.

When I was fourteen I demanded that things change. I was young, I was stupid, and I was hurtful. I didn't think about the fact that I was telling my mother I cared more about the climate than I did about seeing her. I didn't think about how much it costs to pick up everything and stay for two weeks in Califorina every year. I didn't think about the fact that I had effectively cut the time I spent with my mother in half while increasing her financial burdens by who knows how much.

No. I didn't think about any of that. I thought that I was being an adult. I knew what was best and I was putting my foot down.

And in response my mother did the most amazing thing. She did what I asked, that summer, and the next two summers we spent two weeks together on the California coast. She taught me how to surf. I still don't fully understand how she was able to pay for it, but she never complained.

And so the time I spent with my mother had been cut in half, from one month to two weeks, and the time I spent in Forks had been cut to zero.  I'm sure, at the time, I meant to stay in contact with the few friends I had in the area, three children from the nearby reservation that happened to be the children of my mother's best friend.  I wondered idly if any of them would remember me, as I tried to take in everything I was leaving behind.

I loved Phoenix.  I loved the image of a fiery bird rising from its own ashes, I loved the heat, I loved the city life, I loved looking at the stars on a cloudless night.  I loved the desert.

I didn't much like the sunburns, but like I said you can burn through clouds too.

And I was leaving all of it.  And I couldn't say why.  I couldn't say why because I come from a family where no one ever says what they mean, and consequently no one ever means what they say.  So if I came out and said to my father, "I want you to be able to travel the country with your new girlfriend and having to stay here with me is preventing that, not to mention that having to keep a house you no longer need is a serious financial burden," it wouldn't be taken to mean... all those things I just said.  It would be taken to mean, "I want you to talk me out of this and am pissed off that you seem more interested in your girlfriend and finances than me," which a) isn't true and b) isn't true.

So I said I wanted to.  Which is an obvious lie.  And I stuck with that lie.  And I was grateful that my father was letting me ride in silence rather than pressuring me for reasons and thus making it so I had to choose between lying more and possibly screwing the whole thing up.

That blissful silence ended at the airport.  He said, "Ben, you don't have to do this."  Which was in fact true, I don't have to do anything.  I have free will, insofar as anyone does because I am not about to get derailed into a freewill vs. determinism debate.  But the problem was, he didn't mean that.  What he meant was, "I want you to do this but I don't want to feel guilty for exerting pressure on you so I'm giving you an out by pretending I'm trying to talk you out of it."  I come from a family where no one ever says what the mean, and consequently no one ever means what they say.

At this point I'd had almost, but not quite (three years short of quite), two decades of having to decode meaning from things said but not meant and, while it tripped me up still, something as simple as, "You don't have to do this," was well within my capabilities.

This was definitely on the list of things that I would not miss.  I tried to keep that in the front of my mind when I lied by saying, "I want to do this," looking my father straight in the eyes.  He looked like an older version of me and a younger version of my grandfather.  The men in my family look like a series of clones.  Where I took after my mother was in things mental, not things physical.

As I looked at him I worried about leaving him alone, I don't remember how he got by before I was old enough to help, my memory of years gone by is less than stellar, but I did remember that in the most recent years I'd been very much involved in keeping bills paid and food in the refrigerator.  It wasn't that he didn't have enough money to live on, it was that he didn't manage it.  Then I reminded myself that he had Phyllis now, she was clearly capable of taking care of her own finances, and add her income to whatever was gained by selling the house and the expenses shed by no longer having it and he'd be sure to do fine.

"Tell Charlize I said, 'Hi.'" he said.

"I will," I'm not sure if my relief came through in my voice now that I could say something that wasn't a lie.

"I'll see you soon," I somehow doubted that, "And if you change your mind that's fine."  More double talk. it did, at least, means some of what he was indicating.  If I were to change my mind he would be there for me, but the "fine" was something I new better than to take at face value.  It meant if I changed my mind he'd grudgingly do the things necessary to accommodate my return.  That's not what "fine" is supposed to mean, but it's what it meant here.

"Don't worry about me," I said.  A dangerously honest sincere request.  God knew what it would mean once put through my father's internal decoder.  "It'll be great," an outright lie and so therefore probably safe.  "I love you, dad."  True.

We shook hands, then I got on the plane.

* * *

It takes about three hours to get from Phoenix to Seattle, not counting airport security, the fact that half the time your bags have been mailed to Hawaii by mistake (didn't happen, thank all gods non-fictional and otherwise), and everything else that goes wrong.

Forks is, of course, on the corner of “no” and “where”. That's why you don't fly to it directly. You don't even fly to it indirectly. From Seattle you take a smaller plane, called a “puddle jumper” thus finally allowing me to get the joke in Stargate: Atlantis, to a smaller airport at Port Angeles, which is still not Forks.

Port Angeles bills itself as “The Authentic Northwest,” sorry rest of the Northwest, you're knock-offs, apparently. Then again, Forks bills itself as “The Logging Capital Of The World,” when I'm pretty sure it's not the capital of anything anywhere. So you can't judge things based on what they say about themselves.

More important is probably Port Angeles' official motto: The Center of it All on the Olympic Peninsula. The peninsula is mostly national park, which doesn't give a lot of opportunity to hit an airport and probably explains why “The Center of it All” happens to be located on the north shore. The point here being that “The Logging Capital” was located about an hour down 101 West from “The Center of it All”.

And that's how you get to Forks: take a big plane to a small plane; take a small plane to an hour long drive. Give or take. It depends on traffic conditions.

Three hours on one plane, another hour on a second one, that didn't bother me so much. An hour trapped in a car with my mother, Charlize, was another matter. I'd had no idea what to expect.

I'd only talked to her about this over the phone and via email. She'd been nice enough, even seemed genuinely pleased that I was going to be staying with her on a permanent basis for, basically, the first time in my life. But there had also been a lack of questions. Not a word wondering why I was leaving my entire life behind. No concern that my father's new girlfriend might be somehow abusive or otherwise bad for me.

There didn't seem to be any of the drama that should accompany such a major change in my life. A part of me was grateful. I didn't want the drama. I didn't want to be forced to offer explanations. But at the same time, part of me was wondering why it wasn't happening. Shouldn't Charlize, my mother, care enough that the drama would be inevitable and unavoidable. What did it mean that it apparently had been evited and avoided?

When we touched down in Port Angeles and I stepped out into the rain, I reminded myself that, while I might not be sure where she stood emotionally, Charlize had already started to help on the practical side of matters. She'd gotten me registered for high school and smoothed out the details involved in transferring schools in the middle of a term so that I wouldn't have to. She'd set up a bedroom for me in her house. She'd even promised to help me find a car.

That didn't stop my nagging feeling that things were going to suck, though.

Charlize was well aware that, like my father before me, I hated Forks. She had to be confused by my decision to come. She'd yet to bring that up. Not bringing it up at all would confuse me. If she brought it up inside the car that would be worse. The last thing I wanted was to be trapped in an awkward conversation because I was trapped inside a speeding car.

Not that Charlize was likely to be speeding, not too much at least. As the head cop in Forks she was outranked only by the mayor and even off duty and in her own car she tried to set a good, law abiding example.

My point is that as a passenger in a car I am always acutely aware of the fact that I'm trapped in an oddly shaped metal box that I cannot escape no matter how much the driver's actions or words might make me want to. An hour of going through that can be hell.

On the other hand, car rides can be not bad as well. Several hours of driving can be just fine.

* * *

The back and forth thinking ended when Charlize gave me an awkward, uncertain, one armed hug as I stumbled out into the rain.

“It's good to see you, Ben,” she said. She didn't mention it but I could feel her subtly adjusting the touch to keep me steady. Wet ground and I are not friends. She helped me with luggage and asked, “How's Ren?”

“Dad's fine,” I said. With Charlize I didn't have to lie, but I'm still not one into long explanations and I'm not sure how much Charlize wanted to know about Dad's new girlfriend. “It's good to see you too, mom.”

I never could get into the whole thinking of people as “mom” and “dad”. Add a “my” to it so it becomes clear which mom or dad you're talking about and I'm there, but without a qualifier it always struck me as impersonal and odd. And whenever I tried to explain to anyone I struck them as odd. Such is life I suppose.

That said, if Charlize liked me to call her “mom” rather than her name, I was capable of that. Thinking about her as mom, on the other hand, not so much.

Everything I had fit into the trunk of her car. I travel light.

* * *

As I said, Charlize and I aren't big on talking and car rides together tend to involve listening to the radio while I look out the window and she drives. It looked like this was going to be one of those rides, but then she said, "I got you a truck."

It took me a while to process that. It took me a while to notice that my mouth was actually agape. I looked at her. I looked at the road ahead of us. I looked out my window. I looked back at the road ahead. I still wasn't sure what to think about that. Finally I said, "I have no idea what to say about that."

There was a long moment of... well not silence because the radio was on, but not-talking.

Then she said, "Well, I could tell you what I was afraid you'd say and what I hoped you'd say. Maybe that would give you some ideas."


"I was afraid you'd say, 'A truck? What would I want with a truck? I hate trucks. You're the worst mother ever.' I hoped you'd say, 'Thanks.'"

"You are not the worst mother ever."

"That's high praise."

"Can I see the truck before I decide how I feel about it?"

"Of course."

I tried to go back to looking out the window and listening to the music, but now I was curious. "So how old is it?"

"Well... it's older than I am."

"How much?"

The way she said, "Eleven years," made it pretty clear that she wished I'd asked something else first. She quickly added, "But it's in good repair."

So it was a truck, in good repair, from the 1950s. Assuming that she was right about that, though as far as I knew she didn't know anything more about trucks than I did, I had to wonder how she came across a well maintained truck half a century old. So I asked, "Where did you find it?"

"You remember Billie Black?"

Billie Black was one of my mother's best friends, we used to go fishing with her. She didn't live in Forks, but instead lived with her tribe in a place called La Push about 12 miles to the left. I definitely remembered her so I said, "Of course."

"Well... well she didn't need her truck anymore, so she let me have it cheap."

I didn't remember her truck, but I did remember that she seemed to really understand mechanical things, so if it was her truck I figured Charlize was probably right about it being in good repair. That brought up an entirely unrelated question, "Why doesn't she need it anymore?"

Charlize took a moment, before answering. "She's in a wheelchair now, and... that makes a truck from the 50s not really fit her anymore."

I wasn't prepared for that. "Was there an accident?"

"No. Diabetes." Charlize sighed. "It's not like she stopped being herself, and I don't want to pity her, but she was always so..." she didn't seem to know what to say, but I knew what she meant. Billie could never sit still. On dry land she was always on her feet, seldom running but always walking or at least standing. The only time she wasn't was when she was fishing, or, presumably, when she was driving the truck that I still couldn't remember. It seemed almost unimaginable that she couldn't stand any more. Charlize interrupted my thoughts by saying, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be dumping all this on your first day here."

"No, it's ok. I had to hear it sooner or later." I hadn't been to Forks in four years. Hearing about Billie really drove home what that might mean. I wasn't sure I was ready for how things had changed. I didn't really remember all that much of how things were, but already such a big part of what I did remember had been overturned.

"The bright side, such as there is one, is that you're getting a truck that's spent the last 20 years in the hands of a really competent mechanic. Try to dwell on that for now, and leave the rest for later."

[stuff goes here]

Charlize checked that she had removed the clip from her gun and that the chamber was empty. Knowing her, this was the third time she'd done it since getting off duty. Once when she emptied it, once before getting the car to drive home, and now again to make sure she didn't leave a loaded gun lying around. When that was done she put the gun back into its holster and hung up the entire belt.

Then she turned to me, made introductions, “Ben, gun. Gun, Ben,” and finally asked, “Ben, rules?”

And I recited, “Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to kill. Do not use any gun unless you understand how to operate it. Always point the gun in a safe direction. Keep the gun unloaded when not in use. Treat the gun as if it is loaded unless the chamber is open and empty. Never pass the gun to someone unless the action is open and you can see it is empty. Do not put any body part anywhere near the trigger until you are ready to fire. The gun is our friend but it is an extremely dangerous and stupid friend. It will do whatever we tell it to do even if we don't really mean it. We must treat the gun with caution.”

Charlize smiled and said, “Do you have any problem with the gun being here?” I didn't so she told me, “The ammunition is in the drawer of little table in the hall. Remember that the werewolves are our friends.”

She sniffed a bit, "Do I smell food?" She seemed surprised.

I told her, "I like to cook."

[stuff goes here]

* * *

Chapter 2: Settling In

[stuff goes here]

"Do you wear contacts?" I asked her, not really thinking.

She smiled and said, "I'm glad you noticed. Sometimes I feel like I put all this thought into what color my eyes should be today and it's like they're invisible. No one ever seems to notice." She looked away for a moment, her tone dropped into a more tired place, "Which is probably why I'm down to two colors these days. I used to use all colors of the rainbow but now I just feel like, 'What's the point?'"

"So, what color are your eyes really?" I asked.


[stuff goes here]

* * *

Chapter Three: It is unconscionable that school was not canceled

[stuff goes here]

When I reached the school I was one of the first to arrive, the ice must have slowed everyone down. The parking lot was almost entirely empty, I pulled to the far side, reasoning that it would be easier to stay standing on the grass, transformed into an alien landscape by the ice coating every blade, than on the smooth surface of the ice covered parking lot. I wasn't the only one to have had this idea as the few other cars in the lot were all in a row where I had planed to park. I pulled into a space at the end of the row. When I was stopped and the engine was off I said a prayer of thanks to the gods of automobiles for allowing me to make it this far, then I stepped outside to figure out why the hell the ride over had sounded so strange.

It was a relief to see that it wasn't because there was something wrong with the truck, it was because something was right with it. Charlize had installed chains on my tires. I was grateful, especially since it seemed like she'd probably done it when the freezing rain was still falling. She should have asked me for help rather than doing it alone, but the fact that she'd done it, and apparently not wanted to inconvenience me by asking for help, was touching. I really appreciated it and it was one of the first times I felt truly good about something since arriving.

Then there was a high pitched sound that couldn't possibly be good. I turned to face it, keeping one hand on the truck to make sure I didn't loose my balance. A feeling of dread set in when I saw the few students already in the parking lot, Edith Cullen stood out among the faces, all looking at me. The disturbing thing wasn't that they were all looking at me, it was how they were all looking at me. A mixture of shock and horror. When I'd turned far enough to see the source of the sound I saw why.

The blue van had probably started it's screeching journey at the other side of the empty parking lot, but it had already closed much of the gap and it was headed straight for me.

There were any number of things I probably should have thought or done, but I didn't think anything, I panicked. I let go of the truck and tried to run. It was a bad idea, my feet slid right out from under me. I was falling, the van was coming, and I was convinced I was about to die.

My life didn't flash before my eyes. I didn't think about all the things I wished I'd done or said. I didn't reach any epiphanies. I just came to the conclusion, with an unexpected feeling of calm, that the van I was staring at would kill me.

Then something hit me from the left, I felt it latch on to my waist and the entire world spun. I was no longer looking at the van but instead staring up that the clouds. I wasn't falling straight down, but being carried by the impact and the grip on my waist in the direction that had been rightward, though as I twisted it became backward.

There was an ear rending sound that I knew must have been the van slamming into my truck.

I landed on my back. What I hit was hard and cold, but it wasn't smooth enough to be the ice and I wasn't sliding against it even though I was pretty sure I was still moving. People started calling my name.

When I stopped moving the grip on my waist released and I rolled off of what turned out to be Edith. I tried to stand up, at first I slipped on the ice, but I managed to avoid falling and I stood on the second try. I waved in the direction of the other students to let them know I was alive, offered Edith my hand to help her up, and tried to thank her for saving my life. "Thanks for-" was as far as I got. She when she took my hand there was something I couldn't help but notice. "You're freezing," I said just as she got to her feet.

She quickly pulled her hand away, "What?"

"Your hand is freezing."

"I'll be fine once I have a chance to warm up," she sounded almost defensive.

"Are you sure because-"

"Ben, have some perspective." She pointed in the general direction of the blue van, my truck, and the car I'd parked next to, which were now part of one big accident scene. "You were almost killed by a rampaging van; my hands are cold."

Obviously she was right that in context it seemed like an insignificant thing to focus on, but her hand really hand been as cold as ice. I didn't want the person who saved me to die of hypothermia. On the other hand, I didn't want to annoy the person who saved me. So I dropped it. "Yeah, I guess you're right. Thanks for saving me." She said I was welcome. Then I started to wonder something, "How'd you get to me so fast?"

"I ran really fast."

"But you were-"

"Really, really fast." There was a moment of silence and then she again gestured to the accident asked, "Shall we?" We started over to survey the damage. I slipped, but she caught my arm and steadied me before I could fall.

[stuff goes here]

Tricia looked up at me from the hospital bed. She was bruised, bandaged, apparently feeling very guilty. She didn't say anything and the silence was really awkward. Finally I broke it, "You wanted to see me?"

There was more silence, and then she spoke very, very fast, "I am so, so sorry. I don't know what happened. The cruise-control kicked in or something and it went out of control and when I tried to steer away it started spinning and I couldn't control it and I'm sorry."


"I'm sorry."

"I'm fine," I tried to be comforting and matter of fact at the same time, no idea if that worked at all.

"I almost killed you."

Now what do you say to that? No, no, I was never in any real danger. I just had two and a half tons of metal trying to squash me, no danger there. You defintely didn't nearly kill me. Somehow baldfaced lying didn't seem like the ideal solution. On the other hand, 'Yes, you did nearly kill me,' while true seemed less than ideal as well. I decided to go for honesty, lies never sat well with me. "I know, but Edith knocked me out of the way and I'm fine."


"Edith Cullen. Look, the important thing is that I'm fine, so you don't need to feel bad about me."

"But I nearly killed you."

She was right, and I understood why she felt like it was a big deal, but I didn't think it was worth dwelling on, so I told her why that was, "That's nothing. If I stressed out every time I've nearly killed myself I'd never be unstressed. Back in Phoenix I nearly killed myself because apparently staircases are too complicated for me."

"What happened?"

"I didn't even make it to the stairs before things went wrong. I didn't lift my foot high enough off the ground, stumbled mid step, this happened at just the right place to send me flying down the stairs where I promptly landed face first on a freshman girl. I'd have killed me long before you got the chance if she hadn't broken my fall. As far as I know she still hasn't forgiven me." I did my best to tell say it in a way that was much more along the lines of funny story than, 'Oh My God. He lives with death every day.' Not that the two are mutually exclusive, when you do nearly kill yourself from time to time humor is a very important companion to have. 'If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane,' is something to live by.

It seemed to work because I did get, well not a smile, but whatever you call a near smile from Tricia. The way I said, 'As far as I know, she still hasn't forgiven me,' seemed to break through a lot of the tension. Of course then she said, "I'm still really sorry."

"Try to have some perspective, you're in a hospital bed. I'm just visiting. You don't need to worry about me."

"All right. I'll see you around."

"See you," I said and started to leave.

"I'm sorry about your truck too."

"Yeah, that sucks."

[This scene is from an AU in which Edith, like Edward, demonstrated superhuman power and promised to explain. Ben just reminded her that she promised]
"Yes I did," Edith said, she looked around, "but not in a public place."

I didn't see anyone around us, but if she was concerned about being in public there seemed to be a simple solution, "Then let's go somewhere private."

"It's not quite that simple. There are some things I need to do first. I promised to tell you, I didn't promise I'd tell you today," which sounded a lot like, 'I'm not going to explain,' to me.

"A promise that's only fulfilled on the first of Octember is no promise at all."

That got a brief half smile, then she asked, "Can you keep a secret, Ben?"

I said, "Yes," warily, fully expecting her to respond with, 'So can I.'

"What if you couldn't? What if, for whatever reason, you had to tell my secret to someone else? Would you do it right away or, if you could, would you try to give me a heads up first?"

She paused and I thought she intended for me to answer, but she resumed before I was able to, "Because there are other people involved, whom I should warn. So unless you're planning on blackmailing me into telling you right now, I'd like to give them notice.

"I know it seems like I'm just being evasive right now but I promise you that-" her palm met her forehead with such force I thought she'd hurt herself. "Should not have used that word if you think I don't follow through on my promises. There are all kinds of secrets, some where if they're revealed the appropriate response is to ask, 'So what?' and some where the appropriate response is to pack up the moving van and skip town. Right now you don't know where on that scale this falls, when you do I think you'll understand why I wanted some time.

"I will explain. Just give me some time."

"I don't like lying," I told her.

And suddenly we were stopped. I didn't expect her to stop walking, and when I stopped to avoid walking past her it was ... less than graceful. I'm not entirely sure whether I would have fallen if she hadn't steadied me, but I was glad I didn't have to find out. By the time I had my balance back she was right in front of me looking me straight in the eyes.

"Then don't." She told me. "If you're not comfortable lying then don't lie. Tell the truth, just not the whole truth. If someone asks you what happened, tell it like it was. The details I don't want you to tell are details people are unlikely to ask about, and if they do there are any number of true things you can say." She quickly looked around to see if anyone was paying attention, "If they say, 'She was nowhere near you,' you can honestly say, 'That's what I thought,' and then point out that it doesn't make a lot of sense for me to be able to cover that much distance in that much time. No lie at all.

"And really it shouldn't come up if you don't bring it up so even that's more than you should ever have to to. Beguiling really doesn't require lies very often. Equivocate don't prevaricate.

"I know this is hard. I know it's uncomfortable. I'm sorry to have put you in this situation, and I really deeply appreciate what you're done for me so far. Please, trust me. I will explain everything. Just give me some time first." Maybe I shouldn't have, given that she was giving the the abridged version of lying 101, but I did trust her and I didn't want to let her down. I'd keep her secret, even though I didn't know what it was, on the faith that she would tell me and when she did I would agree it had been a secret worth keeping.
The eventual follow up to this scene would be:
Edith closed her eyes, I got the impression she was listening to something very carefully when she was satisfied she sat down in front of me cross legged, "I wanted to thank you for keeping your word first, so: thank you."

"How do you know I kept my word?" I asked.

"Because that chord never sounded in the cacophony -" she seemed to notice she'd lost me because she stopped and said, "Never mind. We'll get to that."

She paused a moment.

"So the truth is at once simple and complex and there's some question as to the best way to explain such that you'll believe me and I've decided to just cut to the central point and work backward from there."

She paused and looked at me.

"Ok..." I said, letting the word drag out and hopefully getting the confusion I was feeling into my voice where it belonged.

She looked nervous, or doubtful, or something. Then reached into a pocket and pulled out a bag. It was either intended for a hospital or evidence that Capri Sun had decided to start going with clear bags and V-8.

She bit a hole in the bag, near the top, and then swiped her finger across it to catch a drop. "It's human blood," she said, offering the finger to me, the red standing out against her impossibly white skin, some of it tracing the intricate patterns of her fingerprint. The skin was too white, as always, and I again looked to her face, her eyes and hair, to remind myself that the only reasonable explanation, albinism, wasn't the correct explanation.

"Do whatever you want with it if you don't believe me. Taste it, smell it, whatever." There was a short pause then she added, "It's perfectly safe, it's been screened for diseases and come up clean."

"I believe you," I said. And I did. But I ran my finger along hers anyway to pick up a sample anyway, and on tasting it said, "That's blood."

Another pause, an awkward silence, the kind I hate. "This relates to anything how?"

She sighed, and I could not, at all, place the emotion behind it. "Watch my eyes." She bit down on the bag and I watched her eyes as it began to drain. Their amber color became darker, less yellow, more red.  Somehow, without ever passing through orange, by the time the bag was empty, every drop of blood sucked out of it, her eyes had become as red as the blood in the bag had been.

"For some reason, one we haven't been able to work out yet, drinking the blood of one's former species makes the eyes turn the color of the blood, any other species and it's the color of tree resin..."

"And what makes black?" I asked, and then before she could answer it hit me and I asked, "Former species?"

"No easy way to say it. None at all." There was a sharp intake of breath on her part, and then she quickly said, "I'm a vampire." Shortly after she added, "And black is starvation. Go too long without eating and it's black.

"I was having some... digestion problems when you first met me and was just coming out of a fast. I'm sorry I wasn't the nicest, but it was sort of like being starving and looking around at your companions thinking of all the meat they represent. I never should have been in school but I was too stubborn and wouldn't listen to calmer voices." She didn't seem to know what say after that and for a time we just sat there.

"So," I said.


"You're a vampire."


"And that explains everything how?"

"It's a sort of package deal. Immortality, provided no one kills you, eternal youth provided you were still young when you became a vampire, incredible strength, impossible sprint speeds, improbable endurance, changing eye colors, colorless skin, that sort of thing."

"And the ability to maneuver on ice?" that was really the problem, that was the impossibility.  Even if someone could have closed the gap between us, without slowing down on a surface that gave no purchase I'd have been hit by as much force as the van on a smaller area. More PSI, I still die. I didn't die. Thus the problem.

"If you'd been less concerned about my cold hands and looked lower you'd have seen I was barefoot."

"That seems conspicuous."

"You would think so, but seriously--" that "seriously" had an intonation that wasn't Edith's. I knew where it came from so I finished the quote:

"--how often do you really look at a mans shoes?"

"Have you ever seen it in theaters?"

"No. I was six."

"That's a shame." A pause. "I was 91."

"And you said you're seventeen."

"Well there's this whole facade of normalcy that has to be-"

"I've heard a lot of people lie about their age, but never on that level."

"It gets easier with time," she said in the tone of a confession. "And it is true that I only lived seventeen years as a human."

There was a quiet. The kind of quiet kindergarten teachers dream of hunting down, taming, bonding with, and bringing into their classrooms as something somewhere between a friend and a pet. Or an attack dog I suppose. Definitely not a pack animal.

Anyway: quiet. I guess we had a lot on out minds.

It was finally broken by me when I remembered something earlier in the conversation and the word, "Cacophony?" escaped my lips as if it were a well thought out and reasoned question in spite of me having spent no time thinking it over and having no reason to expect an answer from a single word stated as if it were a question.

"It's what I call the sum total of everyone's internal voices. Not just voices, images too, and other things that there are not words for, they exist only as the stuff of thought. And for some people smells too ... and I've gotten ahead of myself again. You have no idea what I'm talking about."

"None whatsoever, but you seemed to be on a roll."

"One of the things that comes with being a vampire is... well we don't know what it is. We think that it's an enhancement of preexisting powers. Senses or abilities that barely manifest in ordinary humans and so can be dismissed as intuition or persuasiveness or tricks of perception.

"They tend to be different for every vampire, though some are extremely similar, and so we speculate that they're different for every human.

"When one becomes a vampire it goes from being something that's within the margin of error to a full blown... whatever it happens to be.

"For me it was telepathy. I can pick up on other people's thoughts the way most people can hear other people's conversations. It's like standing in a crowded cafeteria, except not just sound. All senses, and some things that aren't even senses.

"I call it the cacophony. The sum total of what everyone within sensing range is thinking. Mostly it all blends together into this background..." She seemed at a loss for words.

"Noise?" I offered.

"Thanks, but no. That's too limiting. It's just this thing. Noises yes, but also images, ideas, the stuff dreams are made of, things without words, aches and pains, smells and tastes, feelings after a fashion--"

"After a fashion?"

"I can't sense feelings, but thoughts about feelings, including --notably-- memories of feelings, those I can sense."

"So you know what everyone is thinking."

"No. No, no, no." Short pause. "No." Long pause. "I've learned to tune it out. I don't think my sanity could survive everyone else's voices in my head. Though not everyone thinks in voices. It's mostly just white noise to me, sometimes something rises above the murmur and makes itself known. But for the most part I can stay firmly in my own head."

"Then how did you know I kept my word?" I asked her.

"Practice. There's this fragile balance between privacy and safety. Some thoughts need to be heard because if they aren't heard they'll be acted on and they must not be acted on. For me, I'm willing to take what comes with no warning, but most of those thoughts aren't directed at me and I cannot stand by and do nothing while I could have helped others.

"So for all that I've worked to avoid knowing what other people are thinking, I've also worked to make sure that some things I don't miss. They stand out like an out of tune player in an otherwise flawless band.

"So when there was a chance that I'd blown our cover and people would realize that my family isn't human I made sure that I'd notice if that note sounded in the cacophony. It never did. If you hadn't kept your word, I'd have known. Since I never knew, I know." There was a pause; I tried not to laugh. "That sounded stupid."

"I never said anything."

"It sounded stupid to me. If you had broken your promise I would have known you broke it pretty much the moment you did. Since that never happened I knew you didn't break it."

"Definitely sounded less stupid."

"I couldn't tell you right away because my family needed to prepare to leave if you wouldn't keep the whole, 'There are vampires in town,' thing a secret." Pause. "If you tell people --which please don't-- we need to leave."

"Can you read my mind?" I asked. "If I give you permission?"

"Yours? No." Another pause while I got to ponder that. "I don't know why, but I can't sense anything out of you. It's why I wish we didn't have to keep the whole thing a secret. If we were public then we could research things like that. What makes one mind readable and another one not? Could be all kinds of interesting advances come from looking into that, but we need to keep it a secret--"



"Why do you need to keep it a secret? You don't need to feed on human beings so unless angry vegans take over the world you're just long lived people on a liquid diet. What harm would come of the world knowing you exist?"

"If you ask me--"

"I did ask you."

"None. In my opinion." Which left the question of, "Why?" wide open. "The problem is that there's a group of vampires that fancy themselves our ruling council and they control a relatively small but extremely dangerous army. They've ordered that the existence of vampires be kept a secret and they enforce that order with excessive force.

"If it came out that my family were vampires first they'd kill us all, then they'd kill everyone we interacted with, and finally they'd probably decide to wipe out anyone left in the town for good measure."

"I... uh..."

"Don't know how to respond to that?"

"Thought you couldn't read my mind."

"I can guess."

"Socyou just stand by while this ruling council..."

"Yes and no. Open war would kill us all, so we don't do that. Someday we hope to overthrow them, but these things take time." Pause. Sigh. Somewhat downtrodden look. A glance away from my face toward a bare patch of earth no different than the surrounding earth. "Plus it's like trying to become the Kwisatz Haderach."

"They tried and failed?" I offered knowing I would be corrected.

"They tried and died," Edith said with a slight smile.

"So what do you do?"

"Foster alliances, try to convince people that different from humanity doesn't mean better than, read Havel, track down rumors of any other non-humans who might become our allies--"

"Have you found any?"

"Only one, and the whole ally thing failed to work out. The relationship was polite enough, but it only lasted long enough to draw up a mutual non-aggression treaty and agreement to stay out of each other's affairs and off each other's land." She made a sound that resembled, "pft" but longer and somewhat more annoyed. "Not the first contact we'd hoped for. There's another group we know of, but an attempt was made to exterminate them long before even my mother was born, of the tiny handful that survived into our lifetimes the only one we ever found was dead.

"We were maybe three days too late." Another pause, then she resumed in a more detached philosophical voice, "They say that when those ones have their power, when they've shape-shifted out of human form, they're nothing but mindless animals. We hope that that's propaganda. We know that they and we have a common enemy, we hope that they can be convinced to work with us against that enemy, if any of them still live."

A pause.

She resumed:

"And that's why, right now, if anyone starts to seriously think we're vampires, we run away. Very fast.

"If we don't then it doesn't just put us at risk, it puts all the humans around us at risk."

There was a long pause, without Edith's power I can't say for sure, and for all I know her mind, like mine, can't be read so easily, but I think it was that neither of us knew what to say next. And as the pause expanded into a silence that showed no signs of stopping we each stood up and prepared to go our separate ways.

It was when Edith's back was already turned and she had begun to walk away that I said, "You were right."

She turned back, "About what?"

"Now that I know the secret I understand why you couldn't tell me right away."

"Actually, I said--"

"Close enough. You were right."

There was a short pause, then she said, "You know..." her tone was almost playful, "you never told me why you wanted me to read your mind."

"I wanted you to know that I wasn't going to tell anyone."

"I know."

"How?" I asked with completely genuine confusion.

"I trust you," she said, and then turned and walked away.

* * *

Chapter 4: Plans and Propositions

[stuff goes here]

[This may or may not be AU, not sure yet]
I stood in the parking lot and worked out where I had been standing and where she had been standing. I ran as fast as I could from the first to the second. I timed it. I did it again. And again. The results stayed pretty much the same.

"What are you doing?" Edith asked.

I flinched, startled. I'd thought I'd been alone. For a moment I wasn't able to think and all I managed to say was, "What?"

"Why are you running back and forth in the school parking lot on a Saturday?"

I considered lying, of course, it seemed a natural response. But I never liked lying and I was trying to do less of it. So I told the truth, "I'm trying to understand what happened when you saved me from the van."


"And it's impossible. There's no way you could have gotten to me in time. What happened couldn't have happened. It makes no sense." I think my frustration came through more than somewhat.

"There are any number of perfectly rational explanations," She said.

"Such as?" I asked.

"Such as..." she took a moment to visibly think it over. "I was standing right next to you," she said. "Would you believe it? Right next to you."

"I don't believe it."

"Would you believe one car over?"


"How 'bout three cars and a running start?"

And that's when I laughed.
[/possible AU]

[stuff goes here]

Jesse told me about a dance coming up in two weeks, and asked my permission to invite Shell, which seemed unaccountably weird to me. First off, why would he need my permission regardless? Didn't Michelle make her own decisions? Second, why ask me? Jesse had known Shell longer than I had, Jesse and Shell were around each other more than Shell and I were together. It seemed like the only time I was near Shell that Jesse wasn't was when Shell and I had a class together that Jesse wasn't in.

I didn't ask for an explanation, I just explained that had no objections whatsoever.

Then he asked, "Are you sure you don't mind," which did not put me in a good mood.Yes. I was sure. That's why I said it. No, I'm not trying be sneaky, I said it's fine because it's fine and thank you so much for doubting my sincerity. At which point I think I realized that maybe I wasn't in the best mood for dealing with this kind of thing. Since I didn't actually say any of that there was just dead air that Jesse decided to fill up with another question.

"You weren't planning to ask her?"

Because I'd been here this long and never so much as asked someone to spend some time with me sitting in one place so I was definitely going to jump into social interaction with dancing, one of the many things that would give me a chance to fall flat on my face. In front of everyone. Or, if people were close enough together, knock half of the class over like dominoes. Obviously I was totally going to ask Shell if she'd like me to fall on top of her.

I said, "No, Jesse. I'm not planning on going at all," in as civil a tone as I could while concluding that it was going to to be one of those days, if not one of those weeks. I think that the fact I wasn't exactly happy came through, though obviously not the reason, because Jesse changed gears entirely.

"You should come," he said and he seemed sincere. "It'll be fun," in what I gather was his most encouraging tone. I recognized what he was doing, and I did appreciate it, but the fact was that it wouldn't be fun for me and if he couldn't figure that out then he shouldn't be trying. Things I don't like don't cheer me up, no matter how much the person suggesting them does like them. I wish people could understand that.

Still, I wished him well, and I tried to end the conversation thinking about that rather than the fact that he'd dragged it out to be painfully longer than it had any right to be by second guessing me when I said I didn't mind him asking Shell to the dance. So I said, "Then I hope you and Shell have a great time," while trying not to let any annoyance of frustration into my voice.

That was how the conversation ended, and I thought it was a good note to end on. Of course a big part of me wishing that they'd have a good time was based on the belief that Michelle would say yes. Turned out I was completely wrong about that.

The next day Jesse was not his usual self. Instead of his fast, nigh unstoppable optimistic chatter he was about as talkative as I usually am. Which meant that we ended up walking between classes in silence. I don't dislike silence in general, but when you've gotten used to conversation it can be quite awkward to have none. I didn't want to ask why because I was pretty sure of the answer and I didn't want to rub salt in.

At lunch Jesse sat as far from Shell as possible, but things seemed to improve for him somewhat when he got to talking with Erica. I didn't really pay attention to the conversation, but I noted the tone and tempo, and by the end of lunch Jesse seemed to be back to his old self, if completely ignoring Michelle. Shell was unusually quiet the whole time, though some of that might have been because without Jesse to talk to her usual amount of conversation would be impossible.

As we walked to class she was still quiet and the look on her face didn't portend good things. I had suspicions of what was going on, but I also had suspicions about the nature of dark matter, I was going to wait until the evidence was in. That came when we got to class, I was at my desk. She was at my desk. Edith was close enough I could reach out and touch her if I were the sort of person who reached out and touched people at random. The stage was set for an awkward conversation and Shell did not disappoint.

"So," Shell started, "Jesse asked me to the spring dance."

I took a moment to think about how to respond because the first things that came to my mind were no-gos. The very first thing was, Did he now? I had no idea. How did that go? Could it be that that's why the two of you appear to suddenly hate each other with a fiery passion and I have the sinking feeling I'm going to get dragged into the middle of it, which was a bad idea for a number of reasons not the least of which being that the passion wasn't that fiery. Unpleasant to be around, yes, fiery not so much. The second thing was an angry and standoffish, And you're telling me this why? Which also wouldn't work because angry and standoffish responses lead to angry and standoffish situations, and I already had a headache.

Finally I said, "That's nice."

Shell seemed to be searching for something in my response. I think I did a fairly good job of not giving off, 'I hate the world right now,' vibes. Of course hiding hostility when basically all you're feeling is hostility doesn't leave a lot to work with, so I suppose I can understand why she didn't know what do with it.

She said, "I told him I'd have to think about it." And suddenly Jesse's reaction made a lot more sense. He wasn't feeling down because he got rejected, he was feeling off because he didn't get an answer. He was having trouble dealing because there was, as yet, nothing to deal with. The uncertainty of whether he'd get a yes or no was being drawn out far beyond what he'd expected. He was in limbo and he didn't like the feeling.

I sputtered, "Wh-why would you do that?" It honestly hadn't occurred to me that she wouldn't have an answer. I, and I presume Jesse as well, thought that she'd either say yes or no. Then again, maybe that's because I've always had an answer ready the moment someone asks me to a dance, that answer being, 'No.' I've never needed time to think and I never really thought about how it might be for others.

"I was wondering if you might be planning to ask me."

"I'm not."

"Why not?" she asked in a way that made me want to shout, 'None of your fracking business.'

I ignored it and said what I'd been planning to say anyway, "You should tell Jesse yes or no. He doesn't seem to cope with uncertainty very well."

"Did you already ask someone else?" she asked while glaring at Edith.

"No," I said, then slowly, deliberately, followed her gaze, "Should I have?" and finally while facing Edith, "Did you have someone in mind?" And immediately felt guilty for several reasons. I shouldn't have brought Edith into it, I shouldn't have toyed with obvious insecurity, I shouldn't have felt a desire to twist the knife. She was asking for personal information she had no right to, but rejection is bad enough without me intentionally adding to the discomfort.

So I turned back to her and told the truth, "Actually, I'm not planning on going."

"Why not?" Again with the questions that were none of her business.

I probably should have said that, but I was still feeling not right about how I responded to the last question so I said, "Any number of reasons starting with the fact that I don't dance and ending with the fact that I'm not going to be in town that day," which hadn't been true until the moment I said it but the moment those words came unbidden I knew it was right because I had to get out of this place lest I go insane. Two weeks was a long time to wait, but if I didn't set a date I'd probably never do it, and that seemed like the perfect day to be far, far away. "I'm going to Seattle," because gas is expensive so I'd never make it to Denver.

"Why not go another weekend?"

And that's the problem with giving reasons, even honest reasons, that avoid the main point. So I said, "No." I was going to leave it at that, but then I added, "And you shouldn't leave Jesse hanging. It's rude." And now it was my turn to do the angry glare.

I assumed that was the end of having my books carried for me, but it was worth it if I never had to go through that again. I wasn't sure if I wanted her to tell Jesse, 'Yes,' anymore. Surely Jesse could do better. Then again everyone has their off days, and maybe Shell was just having a really, really off day.

After she left I turned to Edith and said, "I'm sorry for that."

Edith had apparently taken being used as a prop in stride, and told me, "I'll live."

[stuff goes here]

The problem with gym was that Shell was in that class with me. She didn't say anything to me but the fact that she was there kept the uncomfortable confrontation from biology class in my mind which was distracting. The ground came up and hit me more than once. Mostly on the right side for some reason. Right knee. Right hip. Unspeakable pain in the right elbow.

You'd think that by now I'd have some understanding of how these things work, but I've never been able to figure out why sometimes when you hit something you can shake it off and other times, even though you don't seem to hit it any harder, the pain is indescribable.

The really annoying thing is that basketball is something I'm actually not completely incompetent in. I can't dribble, I can't run, but given an opening shooting is something I'm not half bad at. Basketball should have been one of the few times I could be marginally useful in gym. Not very useful, outside of foul shots there are very few times someone can stand still and make a shot without someone else getting in the way to block, but at least a little bit useful.

It should have been my first chance to not suck in gym instead it just pain. Well, pain and humiliation. Which was my point.

I left as fast as I thought I could without risking a fall. I wanted to leave, I especially wanted to be gone before Michelle could have another chance to talk to me. It didn't think she was going to, but I didn't want to risk it. What I didn't want to do was get carried away and end up falling. I did that enough in gym, and at least in gym I didn't risk getting gravel or asphalt in me.

So I walked as fast as I thought I could without putting myself in danger, and pretty soon my truck was in sight. I could see that someone was at it, and I slowed down, suspicious. It was a small figure, but that meant nothing. Size doesn't really matter when you're utterly incapable of defending yourself. The posture was casual, leaning back against the hood, which might mean friendly intentions or might mean dangerous arrogance.

I looked around, walking fast meant that I was one of the first people in the lot. There were maybe -maybe- four or five other people in the lot, none of them near enough to be helpful if the person at my truck was unfriendly.

I tried to figure out if I'd annoyed anyone lately. I didn't think I had, but it could be so difficult to be sure.

And then I realized it was Erica. Erica would not be hurting me, she was my first friend here. I picked up my pace and returned to plan A: get the Hell away from school. I hoped Erica didn't want something that would take a while, because I wanted to be gone.

When I got to the truck I said hi to Erica and started to unlock the door, she said, “Hi, Ben,” in a way that was clearly nervous.

“What's up?” I asked.

She rubbed the pawn --the one she wore on a string around her neck as necklace-- with her right hand, looked at the ground, and said, “I was wondering if... if you'd go to the dance with me.” She quickly looked back up.

I didn't want to tell her no. The look in her eyes was so ... it was a mixture of hope and fear that I knew well myself. I knew how much a rejection could hurt, and I didn't want to inflict that on her.

The problem was that, though I didn't want to turn her down, I definitely didn't want to go to a dance. I'd already made up my mind to be out of town, so I told her, “I'm going to be in Seattle that day, sorry.”

Her entire posture changed, she seemed to deflate, she nodded, and said, “Maybe another time.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

She walked, slouching, back to school. I'd meant the maybe. I had no desire to go to a dance, ever, but if I did I'd much rather go with Erica than Shell. Maybe another time, maybe something other than dancing.

It took me a minute to remember that my keys were already in the truck's door. I got in, started up, and I pulled out of my parking space only to be stuck in a small traffic jam. I was between Edith and Tricia. Tricia had a new car, well new to her at any rate. I know people who wouldn't be satisfied when they hear someone has a new car unless they're told the exact make and model of the car. People like that don't like me very much. Her car was a blue car. A darker blue than her van had been. I'm sure it was a nice car.

I didn't have a good look at the beginning of the jam, but based on Edith miming what seemed to be an introduction to how to use a standard shift and finally, in frustration, dropping her forehead to her wheel in defeat, I was guessing that someone somewhere stalled their car and was taking far too long to get it restarted. I don't think the person in front noticed her, I'm pretty sure he or she didn't, I guessed that just Edith's means of dealing with the unexpected wait.

“Hey,” I was startled. Tricia had appeared at my window. I looked in my rear view, I'm not sure why. Maybe to reassure myself that I'd been right when I thought I saw her behind me. Her car was still there, door left open. “I was wondering if I could ask you-”

I considered doing an Edith impression: forehead meet steering wheel, steering wheel meet forehead. It must have shown because Tricia stopped. Then she said, “Sorry, I didn't realize it was a bad time,” and walked back to her car.

[stuff goes here]

“Michelle told me you'd out of town on the day of the spring dance.”

“Yeah. I'll be in Seattle.”

“The way she... the thing is... um...” Tricia squirmed a bit. Then she quickly said, “Michelle can be a bit much.” She paused for a beat, then said, “I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to get away from her, but Seattle is a long way to go and-”

“I want to go to Seattle,” I told her, but it wasn't at all convincing. I did want to go to Seattle, and I fully intended to enjoy it, but Tricia was completely right about trying to get away from Michelle and I couldn't really hide that.

“I know you don't think I owe you anything-”

“You don't.”

“But I'd like to help if I can and this is something I can help with.”

“How?” I asked.

“I've lived here my whole life, I know plenty of places to be alone that are a lot closer than Seattle. I can show them to you. I can run interference if you want to keep away from Michelle. I can try to talk to her, but I wouldn't count on that working. I can stand next to you and growl at her if you think it'll help.” I tried not to smile, but I must have failed because she smiled back. Then she continued, “I'm serious, if you ever think having a fake date would get someone off your back, feel free to use me as an excuse. Just give me a heads up so I don't blow the story.

“I'm also convinced I could do creepy stalker. Watch this,” she changed her posture, hunched forward elbows squeezed into her sides, clasped her hands together turned slightly away from me and pointer her head somewhat down so that she was looking at me askew, then said with a truly bizarre pace and tone, “So, Shell, I heard you're going to ask Ben out, I hope you don't plan on using your,” she broke completely out of character, “I'd check to see what kind of a car she drives first, so that I could give disturbingly detailed technical specifications,” she returned to character, “The break lines are so easy to cut, and it would be a shame if something happened to Ben. Or you, I suppose.”

And she broke out of character again, “And after that she'd probably leave you alone.”

“And you'd be in jail,” I said. She shrugged. I continued, “That was truly disturbing, by the way.”

Her face lit up, “Thank you!” I really don't think someone should be that happy about being told they were disturbing. I suppose if you want to be an actor it makes sense. Maybe.

I told her, “I don't need any help.”

“I can still show you around. Places I've found no one knows but me, and I can only ever be in one of them at once, so if you want to be alone they're a pretty safe bet.”

“I'll think about it.”

“Ok,” she said. It looked like she considered leaving it at that, but then she said, “Please don't tell Michelle we've been talking about her. I like her but she can be ... um ... Michelle. She can be herself a little too much at times.”

[stuff goes here]

I chopped the vegetation slowly, afraid that I'd get cut. I've never actually cut myself cooking. Never come close. Not so much a a nick. But for some reason whenever I chop I worry that I'll end up hurt. Not just a little hurt. I don't imagine getting some blood in the onions and being stuck sucking on my finger or thumb until I reach the nearest bandaid, no I imagine chopping a finger and being rushed off to the emergency room.

And once the thought is in my head, it's hard to get it out. I try, of course. I try.

Fun fact: it is impossible to shake a thought from your head. No matter how vigorously you shake your head, the thought never actually falls out.

And yet, I like cooking. Other than chopping it's great. I feel like I'm in my element, everything fits together, nothing goes wrong. I have never fallen while in the process of preparing food. Getting set up, yes. Cleaning up afterward, yes. Moving the food that I've prepared, yes. While actually cooking, no.

I can somehow navigate the kitchen flawlessly and quickly while I'm cooking. Of course I don't rush around with sharp objects or boiling water. I'm graceful when I cook, not stupid. And I'm always afraid of chopping myself.

It seems like whenever I have to chop something I think of getting one of those thingys where you put it over the thing to be chopped and repeatedly hit the top driving down blades that then reset to a different angle so that they next time they'll cut it elsewhere. I'm not sure what they're called, those choppy things, but the ability to chop without risk of chopping yourself would make cooking perfect for me.

Unfortunately I never, ever, think of that while I'm actually in a store where a choppy thing can be purchased.

[stuff goes here]

And I fumbled my keys into a puddle. Which I suppose is better than fumbling myself into a puddle. Before I could pick them up Edith got them and handed them to me. I asked, "How do you do that?"


"Come out of nowhere."

"I trained for 20 years with a team of elite ninjas." I said nothing. "Ok, I walk softy-"

"And carry a big stick?"

"I actually prefer knives, they've got a lot of practical value as tool where a big stick is pretty much a club or a lever, neither of which you need all that often. A big stick is useful as kindling, but you need a knife to make it into kindling of the appropriate size. Unfortunately school policy prohibits weapons so while I'm on school grounds I'm not carrying much of interest at all." I was lost. She noticed I was lost. She returned to the original topic, "If you don't make a lot of noise when you move, it's actually very easy to sneak up on people by accident."

"Ok," was the best I could manage.

"Anyway, I've been thinking about your trip to Seattle."

"You have?"

"I think I should go with you."

"I was kind of thinking of it as some time to be alone."

"I know, and I'm sorry, but your truck hasn't had to make a trip like that since the accident. I think everything is fine -I wouldn't have told you it was fixed if I didn't- but if something went wrong with my repairs and something happened to you I'd never... I'd feel a lot better if I could tag along, as your mechanic."

I could understand the sentiment, but I was a little bit lost on the utility, "What difference would it make if you were there?"

"Hopefully none at all. We go thither, we return hither, nothing goes wrong and all is fine." I'd like to pause here to reflect on the fact that she said 'thither.' That is all. Moving on, "But if something does start to go wrong, if the truck starts to feel funny or there's a strange rattle or whatever I can check it out immediately. You just pull over, I'll have a look, and I can say if it's something to be worried about or not. I can tell you that we have to turn around, that we can keep on going, or even, depending on what it is, that I can fix it on the spot.

"I can look over the truck once we get there to see if everything is as it should be. Hopefully all of it will be superfluous, but if something does go wrong having a mechanic on hand could make all the difference in the world.

"So, can I come?" Her points sounded good, her expression was extremely hard to resist. I told her she could and she said, "Groovy," and walked away. I was left to ponder who says, 'groovy.'

* * *

Chapter 5: Aftershocks

It was only after the second, louder, time Jesse said my name that I realized he'd said it the first time. I tried hard not to look like a deer in headlights and figure out where we were. It didn't work. Jesse asked, "Are you ok?"

I mumbled something that was probably not convincing but was meant to indicate I was fine. I'm not good when put on the spot.

"You weren't paying attention, were you?"

"It's not that it's just..." and I really didn't know what to say, and didn't really want to talk about it anyway.

"It's just what?" he asked. His tone was one of concern, not accusation.

I looked down and sighed. "I'm not... I'm not good at following conversations. I lose track of what's being said and... the words fade into background noise and I don't realize that it's happening until I've already missed a bunch so when I do realize I'm already lost. And I can't just say, 'Hey, I have no idea what you're talking about,' because then people think I'm ignoring them and being a jerk and... stuff. So I try to catch up on my own.

"Sometimes it works, but other times I just end up missing even more in the process and I get so lost I don't even remember when I last knew what was going on and I start thinking about what I can possibly say to get out of it without letting on how little I know about what's been said, and that maybe it's obvious that I have no idea what's going on, and I wonder what people will think, and worry that maybe I'll lose all my friends, and then I'll be all alone and I don't want that but maybe it's better because I'm obviously being a terrible friend if I can't even listen right.

"And- and at that point I'm not even hearing the words anymore."

There was silence, then Jesse put a hand on my shoulder. "You know, I don't remember what I was saying either."

That got a small smile from me. I didn't want to smile, I felt like I should feel bad, but I couldn't help it.

"Next time just say something," he said. "I promise I won't get mad."

[stuff goes here]

"I'm not going to class today," she said, looking at the bottlecap.

"Why not?"

"Blood typing," Edith said. And suddenly I flashed back to outside the van. Edith taking charge as soon as she saw the crowd, making sure that people didn't move Tricia until EMTs who could safely move her arrived, and then, after she took one look at Tricia, having to spend the rest of the time several feet away looking in the opposite direction while she talked me through basic first aid.

I shook the uncomfortable images from my head, and focused on the only part of it that mattered: Edith does not do well with blood. "Yeah. I ... I forgot. It's too bad you know, you'd make a good doctor."

"I just picked up some stuff from my mother." I hadn't even thought of that. "You'd better go or you'll be late."

* * *

Ms. Banner mentioned that a blood drive would be happening soon, she called the mobile blood getting station a bloodmobile, which is an interesting name if ever there was one. She demonstrated what we'd be doing on herself, and soon it was time to do it. I was ready, until the smell hit me.

I've never been bothered by the smell of blood before. Hell, I don't even know if I've ever noticed it before, but once I did I was having flashbacks to finding Tricia in the van. The most vivid memory I'd ever had. It was like what happened at lunch but a thousand times worse. All I could think of was seeing her there scraped up and covered in blood.

I couldn't get it out of my head. I put my head in my hands and ... and I didn't have a plan for what to do next. I just stayed there. I'm not sure how long I was there, but then there was a hand on my shoulder and I heard my name said. I looked up to see Ms. Banner.

"Are you all right?" she asked.

I considered all kinds of answers, as I often do. I considered trying to say that I was feeling sick for unrelated reasons, I considered explaining that this had never happened before and that's what I hadn't opted out of the class, I considered claiming I was fine but I was just tired, I considered any number of lies and half truths and various true things as well. Finally I said, "No." And then, for no apparent reason, I started to cry. I mentioned Tricia and the van. Ms. Banner said that it was ok. She asked me if I could walk, I could, she sent me to the nurse.

Before I left she called Angel over and told him to walk with me. I think she was afraid he might make fun of me, though by this time I'd dried my eyes and I thought I looked fine, because she warned him that if he wasn't nice that would make her angry, "And you wouldn't like me when I'm angry," I smiled, it was the first Incredible Hulk joke I'd ever heard her make. She said, "That's better," in response to my smile, and then sent us off.

* * *

Edith came up to us and asked, “Whither are you going?”

I tried not to laugh, “Did you just say 'Whither'?”

“Yeah. 'Whence do you come?' 'Where are you? 'Whither are you going?” Motion from is-” she closed her eyes, tensed for a moment, and then said, “Never mind.” After a short pause she asked, “What's up?”

“Apparently I'm not good with blood either.” I was going to leave it at that, but couldn't resist adding, “So I go to yonder nurse's office,” making a gesture in a vague direction.

“Actually...” Edith said.

“It's that way,” Angel said, pointing significantly to the left of where I had gestured. Mind you he was pointing through a building that we'd have to walk around, so I think my lack of knowledge of the true direction was defensible.

I shrugged, “That's why I have a guide,” I pointed to Angel.

Edith said to Angel, “I can take him the rest of the way, if you want to get back to class.”

Angel looked to me for confirmation, “It's fine by me,” I said, and so he headed back, and Edith and I started to walk together.

“So, 'Whither'?” I asked.
“Yes. Whither. 'Whither are you going?' 'Oh, hither and thither.'”

“Thither?” I'd never even heard that word before, and in all honesty I suspected she was making it up.

“Yes!” She seemed frustrated. “This is not that difficult. You've got three beginnings, wh, th, and h. you've got three endings: ence, ere, and ither. Put them together and you get words. Words like there, and hence, and where. If you know Where, here, and there, then you know the beginnings already. So you just need to know that ence means motion from, ere doesn't imply motion, and ither means motion towards.

“I seriously do not get why everyone treats this as if it's some incomprehensible thing. It's very simple and not doing it is just as wrong as refusing to distinguish between 'I' and 'me'. 'Me going to the store.' 'Someone told I.' 'Me is happy.' 'Between you and I'.” She slowed her pace. “This is slippery.”

She held my hand and my upper arm to steady me until we'd moved passed the offending spot.

I picked up the conversation where we left off. “Shakespeare says, 'Between you and I'.”

“Yes, he does. He's wrong.”

That made me smile, and we were silent for a bit. Then she asked, “So what happened in class?” I must have done something because she immediately added, “You don't have to tell me. If you're not comfortable telling me, don't tell me.”

“No, I can... I can tell you. I was fine until right up to when it started, then I smelled the blood-”


“Yeah, why?”

“If there was enough blood in a blood-typing lab for you to smell it, that means someone did something very wrong. They should probably be heading to the nurse.”

“Well there was no screaming.” She shrugged, I continued, “I smelled the blood and I sort of … uh … flashed back to the van. And Tricia. And … stuff.” And I started to again.

Edith … not quite put her arm around me, but sort of touched me on my shoulder opposite her. It was reassuring, and she said, “It's alright,” with enough conviction that I actually believed her.

We walked the rest of the way in silence. When we got to the nurse's office Edith said, “Be careful because there's a step up here,” which I heard, processed, and tried to take into account, and yet I still managed to trip. Edith caught me before I could fall flat on my face. “I told you to be careful.” The words could have been hurtful, or condescending, or any number of bad things, but the way she said them was light, almost playful, and took some of the edge off of almost meeting the ground face first.

When the nurse asked why I was there I sort of looked at my feet and said, “It's complicated.”

Then Edith blurted out, “It's post traumatic stress.” I didn't even realize I was moving my head, but suddenly I was looking at her. “If I've learned nothing else from having a doctor for a mother it's that you should just come out and say what's wrong.” I didn't say anything. “Seriously, it works better that way.”

The nurse said to Edith, “You can go back to class.”

“I actually don't have class right now.” The nurse looked annoyed and Edith held up her hands in a, 'It's not what you think, give me a moment to explain,' gesture. “I only bring that up because in addition to being excused from blood typing I also don't need to be in my next class -it's just there to work on a project I already finished- which means that,” she turned to me, “if you need a ride home I can provide it.” She turned back to the nurse, “That was all I wanted to say. Going now.” And she left.

The basic verdict from the trip to the nurse was that we'd take a wait and see approach. If it was a one time thing then no problem, if not I was to come back and see her immediately. When she asked me if I'd be alright for my next class, which was gym, otherwise known as 'Ben repeatedly gets into fights with the ground, the ground always wins', the look on my face must have been pretty bad because she said, “So, that's a no,” and asked, “Do you need to call for a ride home?”

I told her I didn't and headed out. Edith was waiting. “Did you want a ride?”

“Your car, or my truck?”

“Well, as much as I love your truck, my car has a cd player and your truck predates the 8 track by more than ten years.”

“Your car then?”

“That's what I was thinking.”

When she turned on the car the music that started playing was familiar, and I struggled to figure out where I knew it from. Finally I asked, “Is this Ella Fitzgerald?”

Edith seemed surprised. “Yeah. Do you like her?”

“No. Well, yes. I suppose I do, but it's not the sort of thing I seek out. My tastes tend to be a generation later.”

“Like what?”

“Uh,” I'd never actually been asked that before and so I'd never really had to organize it in my head beyond, 'Music I like.' “The Beatles, CCR, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Young can tag along I suppose but he's useless on his own. The Band.” I noticed that it seemed to be a very male list, and that wasn't right, so I thought of some of the women whose music I liked, “Joni Mitchel, Janice Joplin, Janice Ian, Carly Simon, Carol King,” and Carol King wrote one of my favorite songs of all time, but she didn't sing it, so naturally I thought of the band that did: “Herman's Hermits.”

“You like Herman's Hermits?”

“You've heard of Herman's Hermits?”

“I love Herman's Hermits. There's a CD in the glove compartment.”

Sure enough, there was.

Woke up this mornin' feelin' fine
There's something special on my mind

Edith dropped me off at my house, which happened with me wanting to say something more, I don't know what, to her, and I got the same impression from her.

I ended up standing at my window, looking out at the rain, trying to figure out what I had wanted to say. Nothing really came. I just wished the ride had been longer. I felt more alive when I was around Edith. Colors seemed brighter, jokes seemed funnier, memories that came to me were more likely to be good than bad. I didn't feel like the world was passing me by, I felt like I was right there in it.

I liked listening to her talk. I liked what she chose to talk about. I liked the way she talked to me, she seemed more of an adult than most others our age, but unlike actual adults she treated me as an equal.

And just happy, bright feelings. Like the sun on my face after a month with none, but none of the threat of a burn.

But it didn't leave me with any idea of what I might have wanted to say to her. Just, something.

As I stared out the window, watching the rain fall, I sort of lost my grounding. I lost all track of time, I lost track of everything. I just ended up doing nothing. Until a loud familiar sound broke me out of that state.

My truck was unmistakable, reliable, lovable, as loud as an aircraft engine. I headed downstairs so I could greet the driver.

It was Edith's brother, a shorter boy with wild hair, there was a distant look in his eyes as if his mind were in some other time or place. Still, he greeted me warmly, "I'm Alex," he said, in a friendly tone, getting out of the truck and extending his hand.

"Ben," I said, shaking his hand. Which was freezing, "Do you want to come inside to warm up?"

Alex smiled and said, "No, I'm actually fine. I've just got a very low normal body temperature. Whole family does actually." There was a pause, "It's why we were adopted. Part of the same condition that makes us all," Alex mimed being a zombie. "I've got no complaints. It gets me a lot of excused absences from school."

"Is that why you never eat school lunch?"

"It is. But I didn't want to talk to you about that. I wanted to tell you about something completely different."

"I thought you wanted to drop off the truck."

"Well, that too. But what I wanted to tell you is that some members of my family are slow to adapt to change. Glacial even. If it seems like they're giving you the cold shoulder it's really nothing personal. It's just who they are. They'll adapt."

"What about you?"

His eyes became even more distant, as if he were focusing on something just beyond the horizon. I've tried to make my eyes do that in the past and it hurt. "I see a bright future for you with us, if you want it." Then his eyes pulled into focus and for the first time he seemed fully present, "But that doesn't matter. In the here and now you make Edith happy."

"I do?" And I broadcast my own insecurities far and wide in just two quiet, somewhat surprised, words.

"You do, and that's enough for me. So I just wanted to say that as long as you keep that up, I'm happy to have you involved in my family." He started to walk away.

"Do you want a ride home?" I asked. Having a conversation in the drizzle was making me cold.

"No, I like the rain."

"You sure?"

He turned back to face me, "I'm sure, see you later." He waved, and then returned to walking away.

* * *

By the time Charlize got home I was warm and dry. After she unloaded and hung up her gun I told her, "So, good news bad news."

"Good news first," she said.

"You don't have to worry about me going to Seattle alone."

"Why not?"

"Edith is coming with me."

"Like a date?" she sounded almost hopeful.

"I don't think so. More like a mechanic." There was a pause. "She fixed the truck and says she wouldn't forgive herself if broke down on me. Since this'll be the longest trip it's taken since she fixed it..."

"You should find out if it's a date."


"There's nothing wrong with dating your mechanic. Anyway, if one of you thinks it's a date and the other doesn't then there'll be all kinds of awkwardness, and I know how you feel about awkwardness."

"You mean like this conversation?"

She sighed, closed her eyes, and then said, "I am happy to hear that you won't be going alone," and I knew she meant it, "I'm just saying... you know what I'm saying. I won't draw it out any more."

And then there was silence.

"Oh, what about bad news?" It's a good thing she remembered, because I had forgotten.

"I... I uh..." I looked at my feet, "I had a flashback today."

Charlize had no idea what I was talking about, "As in..."

"Post traumatic stress. The smell of blood sent me back to the accident and... and..." I couldn't talk.

Charlize came over and gave me a hug. We're not usually a hugging family, but it helped. "And I had to leave school early," I finished. Charlize told me that it was ok, and rubbed my back a bit. Not sure how long the hug went on for. Also didn't realize I was crying until after the fact.

* * *

Chapter Six: Reconnecting

[stuff goes here]

I didn't think it was that obvious I'd hurt my hands, I wasn't dripping blood or anything, but apparently it was noticeable because pretty much the moment Erica saw me she asked, "What happened to your hands?"

My reflex was to hide them, and I said, "Nothing."

"I can see it's not nothing, let me see."

"I fell in the woods a couple of times. It's no big deal."

She held out her left hand, palm up, "If it's no big deal then there's no harm in letting me take a look." I hesitated, then put my right hand on top of her left. It didn't want to open and I had to will myself to override that desire. "Ben, this is terrible."

"I've had worse."

"If the best thing you can say about something is, 'I've had worse,' then that's a sure sign it's pretty bad." She looked back at my hand.

"You sound like my mother."

She said, "Then your mother sounds smart," without looking away from my hand.

"So anyone who agrees with you is smart?"

She let go of my hand and looked me in the eyes, "Only the ones who agree with me when I'm right. Ben, you didn't even clean the wounds, I could see dirt in there."

"They're scrapes, not gashes. Who ever heard of cleaning a scrape?"

"If it's deep enough for dirt, it's deep enough to clean. Now look, I've got..." she checked her pockets, of which there were many, eventually finding what she was looking for on one of the inside pockets of her coat, "I've got some disinfecting wipes-"

"You carry those around everywhere?"

"More or less," she offered them to me. "You should use them."

I did, and many words went through my mind, most of them derivatives of, "Fuck," but I said nothing.

"I know it hurts, but an infection would hurt more."

[stuff goes here]

One of the girls was looking at me as if she were trying to figure something out, or remember something, and I was probably looking at her the same way, because she seemed familiar, but I wasn't sure. If I'd stopped to think about from the opposite direction, asking myself who in the tribe I might recognize, I'd have found an answer a lot sooner, but instead I tried to figure out the way I always try to figure out why I might recognize someone: I looked at her, I repeatedly thought, 'How do I know her?' and I hoped that an answer would come.

Eventually one did, but I wasn't sure until I was told her name. The other names I lost track of almost as soon as I heard them, but when I was told she was Jacqueline Black I had my answer for sure.

My right hand was clutching my shirt, I don't know whether putting pressure on scrapes actually helps, I kind of suspect the opposite, but it's how I deal with them none the less. Shaking hands would probably hurt, but I figured it would be worth it, so I forced myself to let go of my shirt and offer my hand, then I said, in the most confrontational voice I could manage, “Hello Jacqueline, if that is indeed your name,” while we shook hands. At that point it was a contest to see who could keep a straight face for longer.

I think we broke down at about the same time, and then she pulled me into a hug and said, “It's good to see you.”

I hugged back, and tried to regain my footing so she wasn't holding me up, while saying, “It's good to see you.”

“You two know each other?” Michelle asked, in a voice that seemed to tinged with disgust.

We disentangled ourselves and turned to her. I was going to say that we'd known each other since we were kids, but Jacqueline spoke first: “No.”

I followed her lead, “Not at all.”

“I don't even know his name.”

“It's Ben,” I said, still facing Michelle.

“Nice to meet you, Ben,” Jacqueline said, also keeping her attention on Michelle.

“You as well.”


“No problem.”

“We definitely never met.”

“Not even once.”

Michelle said, “You two know each other,” this time as a statement. There was definitely something not nice in her voice, but I ignored it.

“Well...” Jacqueline started.

“It's possible our mothers went fishing together.”

“Once or twice.”

“And we might have seen each other every summer growing up, except for the last four years.”

“Three years.”

“I never was good at math,” sadly this was and is completely true. I never have been.

Jacqueline concurred, “No, you weren't.”

“But apart from that...”

“We don't know each other in the least.”

“Why do you ask?”

Michelle made a frustrated noise and left, Jesse followed her.

“Are we horrible people?” I asked Jacqueline

“Definitely,” she said. “How have you been?”

“I've been good,” but I was feeling like I had to move a bit, so I asked, “want to walk and talk?”


So we started walking across the beach. I asked, how she's been and then added, “How's your mom?”

“She's good.”

“I heard that...” and I wasn't sure how to finish. I heard that she was confined to a wheelchair now and that made me worry about her a lot and how does one say that?

“She's good. She really is. At first I thought she was just putting on a brave face – keeping it in and not showing how bad it was, but that's not it. She really is doing just fine. She's the same as she always was.” Jacqueline paused for a moment, then said, “Actually, she's been elected to the tribal council,” brightly.

“I know I should remember, but I don't. That's a... two year term?”

“Three years.”

I had kind of run out of things to say. And for a bit it seemed like she had too, then she asked, “So what have you actually been doing?”


“You said you've been good, but you didn't say what you've been doing.”

“Uh... what do you want me to say?”

“Specifics.” I didn't know what to say, she offered, “I've been building a car.”

“Well, I haven't been here that long.”

“Ok, why'd you come?”

So I explained that my dad had met someone, and keeping the house just for me was a pretty big burden, and he got conflicted because he wanted to stick around her but felt bad leaving me alone, and it just seemed easier for everyone if I moved in with my mother. “So I've been here since then, I've met some people, I almost got run over by a van, and that's about it.” Jacqueline had stopped walking.

“You almost got run over?”

Maybe that hadn't been the best thing to throw in offhand. I explained, “So I got up in the morning and the roads were all black ice. School wasn't canceled. Turned out that the person who was supposed to cancel it got hurt and everyone else just assumed it had already been canceled. She's fine, by the way. Anyway, after driving slow as can be I make it into school ok, and I'm barely out of the truck for a minute when an out of control van comes spinning my way across the ice rink that used to be a parking lot.

“I thought I was going to die, I panicked, I started to fall down. At which point I was convinced I was going to die, and then Edith saved me by knocking me out the way. Or tackling me out of the way. Or somethinging me out of the way. The way was in one place and I was in another, is the point.”

Jacqueline was silent and wide eyed for a moment then said, “See, you should open with that.”

“Hi, my name is Ben, I was almost killed by a van?”

“Yes. It's much more exciting than, 'I've been good.'”

“I'll keep that in mind.”

“Who's Edith?”

“Edith Cullen.” Jacqueline seemed to recognize the name. “I invited her to come out here, but she didn't.”

“It's probably for the best. Some of the people around here think some pretty weird things about the Cullens.”

“How so, weird?” As soon as I said it I thought I was wrong to say it that way, it should have been, 'Weird? How so?' but Jacqueline didn't say anything about how I phrased the question.

“As in, 'I am having serious doubts about the veracity of your claim to have spent then entirety of the 1960s on tribal land,' weird.”

“You definitely need to explain that.”

“They try to pass it off as our legends but I know our legends, I've been hearing them my entire life, and they do not include werewolves.”

“They think the Cullens are werewolves?”

“No. No, no, no. That would be too easy. They think my great-grandmother was a werewolf.”

“That's... different.”

“Yes. It is. And it came out of nowhere. Our stories do say that our ancestors were created from wolves transformed into human beings, but there is absolutely nothing in our stories about being able to change back into wolves. The wolves didn't even change into humans on their own, they were transformed someone else. There's absolutely nothing even the least bit werewolfy about the story.”

“And yet, werewolves?”

“Exactly. How do you get from, 'Created from wolves' to 'Can turn into wolves at will'? It makes no sense.”

“I have two questions.”


“First, did the moon somehow get downgraded?”

“Apparently, because there's nothing about the moon in the totally ancient” her sarcasm dripped, “werewolf stories that no one ever told before the Cullens moved here.”

“Second, you were created from wolves?”

“Yeah. Our ancestors were.”

“That's so much cooler than my ancestors.”

“Why, what were you made out of?”

“Well the only origin story I ever got was the one the Christians took from the Jews which means that I'm descended from someone made from dust, and someone made from a rib taken from that someone made from dust.”

“There's nothing wrong with dust,” she said as if she were trying to comfort me.

“It's not as cool as wolves.”

She laughed, “No, it's not.”

After a silence she said, “I just don't get why they felt the need to invent werewolves. We've got plenty of perfectly good monsters. Even to the point of having some pretty specific ones. We have an evil one with kelp for hair that cooks and eats children, and a nice one that teaches basket weaving, and elk the size of bunnies, and Tistilal, and many more. Why would you want werewolves when you consider what we've already got?”

“No idea. What's a Tistilal?”

“Tistilal is a giant bird that caries off whales for snacks.”

“Like a roc?”


“It's a giant bird that-”

“Carries off elephants for snacks, AC: 4 and 18 hitdice, I know what a roc is. I guess Tistilal is like one, though I never really of him that way. I thought you said rock with a k, and was confused.”

I was confused. Or, I suppose, not confused so much as surprised. “Can we go back for a moment? What did you just say?”

“I know what a roc is?”

“Before that.”

“They carry off elephants?”

“After that.”

“Armor class 4 and 18 hitdice?”

“Yeah, that was it. Since when do you...”

“About a year and a half now. I've got a whole stack of manuals. They're scattered across several different editions so it can be pretty hard to make them mesh, but it's still the best used book buy I ever made.”

“A lot of people play?”

“I've got a decent sized group, I think. It's good fun, you should join us some time.”

And so she told me about her gaming group, and I told her about the kids at school, and at some point we circled back around.

Which was just in time for Michelle to show up.

[stuff goes here]

* * *

We loose all track of the book at this point

[stuff goes here]

It was like the feeling before you jump off a bridge. The actions are so small, so simple. No problem in themselves, but in context everything changes. Even if you know it's safe fear takes over and it's impossible to move, you just stay there, in place, doing nothing, trying to will yourself to go. But if you don't know it's safe, if you aren't sure of the depth of the water, if you aren't sure what's going to happen, then it's worse.

It was like that, until finally I said it, "I know what you are," and I was in free fall, no idea how long it would be till I met the water, not idea what would happen when I did.

"What am I?" Edith asked.

And I was back on the bridge. All the tension was back. It drew out for too long, the situation was too heavy for me, so I said, "A werepanther," and retreated into levity. Edith laughed. Then I said, "Shapeshifting purple mongoose."

I definitely felt more comfortable when she was laughing. It took her a bit to manage to ask, "A what?" through the laughter.

"You've never heard of the tale of the purple mongoose?"


"That's because it's too terrifying to tell. It can't be put into words. It's literally unspeakable." She actually giggled. Edith Cullen giggled. The time was as right as it was ever going to be, so I jumped: "You're a vampire."

It wasn't that she became serious exactly, she didn't look stern or angry or even emotionless, when she spoke it was in a friendly inquisitive tone, but the humor had definitely gone away. "What makes you say that?"

"Besides the fact that you are, you mean?"

"I mean, how did you reach that conclusion in the first place?"

"You avoid sunlight the way members of my family avoid direct communication, your body is too cold to belong to a live mammal, your canines are longer than I'd expect on a normal human being, you move as fast as the Six Million Dollar man, you actually recognized the out of date reference I just made, you sleep in a coffin-"

"I do not sleep in a coffin," she said, presumably honestly.

"Well I say you do," because I already felt absurd saying she was a vampire, so why not have some fun? She rolled her eyes. I'd lost the roll I'd been on and we were back to silence.

She motioned for me to go on, "Your skin is light enough that cave dwelling life forms would welcome you as one of their own," saying that one worried me, especially since I totally failed to say it in a non insulting way. I didn't want to be hurtful but it just sort of came out that I said she looked like a troglodyte, thankfully she didn't seem to take offence and I continued, "you share multiple unusual physical characteristics with people whom you have no genetic relationship with and as for your eyes ... I've got nothing. Nothing at all. You're a vampire who is inhabited by a Goa'uld maybe?"

"I'd hope for Tok'ra at least," Edith said. It was a good point.

[stuff goes here]

"What were you like back then?" I asked. It was hard to reconcile the girl about my age I was talking to with the vampire more than a hundred years old she said she was.

She sighed. "I was a worse person."

"Uh..." that didn't give me a lot of information. "How so?"

"You know how sometimes you think about how you used to be and you're embarrassed by yourself and you wonder how you could have been so stupid?"

"I guess..." truth be told I had a habit of thinking that about things I'd done the day before or earlier in the same day. Sometimes earlier in the same sentence.

"It's like that on a larger scale." She paused and I thought she was done talking. Then she sighed again. "For example-" she hesitated and I thought she'd decided not to give the example, then she quickly said, "I was a racist."

I didn't have anything to say to that, and an awkward silence hung in the air.

Edith eventually added, "The year after I became a vampire my home town was the site of a major race riot. I couldn't care less." She paused. "The concerns of non-white people were not my own." Another pause, "My mother --Caroline, not my human mother-- was better. She'd learned what old age eventually teaches those who are willing to learn. I hadn't yet."

"What's that?" I asked.

"That you're always wrong," Edith said. "You work to improve, to become more right, more perfect, but you never get there. You can never stop and be satisfied. What's the status quo today will be horrifically unthinkable tomorrow.

"It is at once disturbing and a source of hope that if I live another hundred years I'll look back on how I was today with embarrassment, disgust, and possibly horror.

"Disturbing because it shows how wrong I am today. But a source of hope because it means that in the next hundred years I'll be that much better.

"That's what old age teaches you, if you're willing to learn --and most aren't-- that being a good person means always striving to be a better person today than you were yesterday and always hoping to be a better person tomorrow than you are today.

"It teaches you that if you want to be a good person you can never stop moving forward, you always have to be on the lookout for the next issue, something that wasn't even on your radar before but now, it's hour come round at last, can be fixed if enough people are willing to work for it. Fixed even though yesterday you didn't realize it was broken."

I thought about that for a while and then I said, "So, you don't like talking about the past?"

"That's not it. I love talking about the past, and the future, and the present for that matter. I don't like talking about how I was back then. I don't like talking about it because I don't like thinking about it. I've learned my lesson, I know that I have to constantly strive to be better, I have no desire to dwell on when I was worse."

[stuff goes here]

Edith: "There's a perfectly rational explanation."
Ben: "And that is?"
Edith: "Magic."

[stuff goes here]

Ben: Well why not Hawaii? I heard that a town there gets even more rain than here.
Edith: It does. And that's why you can't just use the first hit you get on google. Yes, it rains more there. Yes, it has more rainy days there. But, it still averages almost five hours of sunshine a day which is significantly higher than Forks.
Ben: Still, it's Hawaii.
Edith: [Wistfully] Yes, it is.

[stuff goes here]

Ben: You can't read my mind?
Edith: No.
Ben: But you can read everyone else's?
Edith: Well everyone else that I've met and taken notice of in a mind reading kind of a way, which is hardly a representative sample of humanity.
Ben: But what makes me different?
Edith: Give me a lab, millions of dollars in grant money, and a few decades and I'd probably be able to answer that.

"I've noticed that sometimes you talk like you're from elsewhen."

"Could you give examples?"

"You're one of only six people in high school in all of the United States who knows that thou is informal while you is formal. Most people think it's the other way around. If they thing about it at all. Reverence isn't a verb anymore. It hasn't been for quite some time. It's a noun. People have it, they show it, they feel it, but they don't reverence anyone or anything. Thither: no one uses it. If you punch it into Google you the first page is almost entirely devoted to sites trying to answer the question, 'What the hell does thither mean?' The exception is a blog post about how seldom thither is used. Succor: when was the last time you heard someone not-a-vampire say it? 'Fucked by the fickle finger of fate' is an expression from the 1930s."

"But it's a good expression. It's got alliteration and everything. People don't curse like that anymore." [pause] "What? I know you want to use it too."

"I thought you couldn't read my mind."

"I don't need to."

"There isn't all that much opportunity to use it really. It doesn't seem to come up a lot. Anyway, groovy is not used outside of the 59th Street Bridge song."

"I've only just started using it, I'm not going to stop now."

"Define 'just started.'"

"Couldn't be more than 50 years."

"That's almost half your life." [collects thoughts] "Wherefore isn't used outside of Shakespeare, and even then most people don't know what it means. They think it means 'where' when it really means-"


Heretofore is ok, hithertofore is-"

"Awesome. The word you're looking for is: awesome."

"You decline Who, Whose, Whom properly. You remember your whences and your whithers even though no one else does. And, in closing, 'Confute'." [silence, Edith gestures for Ben to continue, Ben doesn't]

"Aren't you going to ..."

"No." [pause] "Confute. You use the word confute. I rest my case."

* * *

Chapter 12: Getting there

[stuff goes here]

"And, of course, Jackie was anxious to see Ben again," Billie's voice had something that didn't seem right to me, sort of suggestive, sort of encouraging, sort of implying that there was more to our relationship than there was.

Jacqueline confirmed that when she mouthed, "Not like that," in my direction.

It seemed like the best solution was to separate the two so that Jackie and I could talk away from our mothers. "Are you hungry?" I asked, turning toward the kitchen.

Jackie's voice had an apologetic quality when she said, "We ate before we came over." She knew she was shooting down my excuse.

"Charlize?" I asked.

She looked up from where she was, making sure that the way to the living room was wide enough for a wheelchair, and saw that I wanted a yes. She said, "Sure," and I headed into the kitchen.

I quickly got to work on grilled cheese sandwiches so I'd have something to show for going to the kitchen. Then I sat on the table facing in the general direction of Jackie who had followed me. She took up position on a counter, and I said, "So, what's up?"

"You mean aside from my mom already planning our wedding just because I said I had a good time when we met on the beach and I'd like to see you again?"

"That sounds kind of overboard."

"Part of that's because I'm exaggerating, but she can't seem to conceive of the possibility that, 'I had a good time with Ben,' doesn't mean, 'I'm head over heels in love with Ben.'"

"That sucks, how's the car?" I am clearly a master at changing subjects.

"The car's going well, not done yet so we had to borrow the one we came in, but I have high hopes. Do you know what a master cylinder is?"

"I have no idea."

"Then never mind. Car's coming along nicely. How about you, is the truck ok?"

That seemed like a strange question, "Yeah, since it got fixed after the whole van thing it's been running fine. Why do you ask?"

"I noticed you got a ride."

"Yeah, I'm sort of dating my mechanic."

"Your mechanic is pretty, what's, 'Sort of dating'?"

"Well it's... complicated. We're friends, and we both kind of want more, but there are reasons it might not work, and the two most memorable experiences we've had together were pretty traumatic, so that sort of hangs a cloud over things, and we're just sort of hanging out and seeing what happens. Charlize says that it's important to know whether doing something together is a date or not, but it's... complicated."

"Um... Ok. I have questions."


"I haven't figured out the order yet."

"Take your time."

"Ok, first off you said, 'Traumatic,' and that worries me."

"Traumatic thing one, almost being killed by a rampaging van."

"You mentioned that last time we met."

"Traumatic thing two happened in Port Angeles more recently, and I don't want to talk about it." I paused. At first I thought I was done, but then I realized that I didn't want to give the wrong impression. "It's not just that I don't want to talk about it with you, I don't want to talk about it ever."

"That bad?"

"Scared me to hell."

"Then we won't talk about it."


There was a moment of dead air between us.

"Ok, other question. Who is your sort of girlfriend?"

"Edith Cullen."

"The one who saved your life?"

My first reaction was how could she possibly know that. My second was, of course she knew that, I told her about the van. "Yeah."

More dead air.

"Uh, there's no way to say this without sounding like an ass, so I'm counting on you knowing that I'm not an ass and, based on that assessment of me, not taking it as assholic because-"

I cut her off, "I solemnly swear that I will not hate you forever on account of you saying what you are about to say."

"Ok." Pause. "Thanks." Pause. "Are you sure that what you're feeling isn't just because she saved you?" Jackie looked afraid. Afraid that she'd hurt me. Afraid that I'd be pissed off at her. Afraid that asking the question, which is an important question and one I'd asked myself, was the wrong thing to do.

"I... don't know." I sort of pulled inward. Arms and legs toward my center, presenting a smaller profile. Left hand grasping my right forearm. "That's the thing. It's all screwed up and complicated." I started stroking my right arm with my left hand, not sure why, it just seemed the thing to do. "There's like this tangled mess of emotions and it's impossible to sort out what's real and what's not." I paused. "But what I do know is that I feel better around her, and I think that she feels better around me."

"Then you should try to keep on being around her," Jackie said, getting off the counter. She walked to the table. "Because," she climbed on the table next to me, "I want my friend to feel better." She put her arm around my shoulders.

After a while she said, "And don't worry about everything. I'll worry for you. You just do what makes you happy."

She hopped off the table and offered me her hands, "Now come on, let's feed Charlize."

As we were getting ready to leave she the kitchen she said, "By the way, remember what I said about some people at La Push having some weird ideas about the Cullens?"

"Ancient legends that appeared out of nowhere less than five years ago, right?"

"Yeah, that was it. Anyway, my mom's one of them so you might not want to mention Edith around her."

"I wouldn't think Billie would be one to stand by while your heritage was rewritten."

"I wouldn't either, but a lot of people have gone weird with this thing, and she's one of them. In everything else she's normal... or, you know, what passes as normal for her, but in this one area she went with the weird."

"Ok, no Cullen talk. Got it."

* * *

It's not a long distance from the kitchen to the living room, and given that Charlize had just gone about making sure part of the way was extra clear because a wheelchair needs extra clearance on either side and a wheel could get hung up on something a foot would step over, it should have been simple to deliver a plate with a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches from the one room to the other.

Should is a word that, when spoken of things that already happened, really means "somehow wasn't" because what should have been easy resulted in me heading toward the floor at around the halfway point. Jackie reached out to help me, but I was already too far gone. She got a hold of me, but that only brought her along for the ride.

The grilled cheese hit the floor. The plate landed upside down. Unbroken, thankfully. I landed on my side. My head landed on my arm. I couldn't see Jackie from where I was. The giant sound threatened to bring mothers rushing.

Jackie had thought of that and shouted, "We're ok," to the next room. Then, to me, she said, "I see you're as smooth as ever."

I wasn't ready for talking just yet, and when I did speak I said, "Ow," to no one in particular. Drawing out the word like you do when you've just been hit by the floor. Then I shouted to the other room, "I dropped your food."

I was actually rather uncomfortable, but I didn't want to get up. I asked Jackie, "Do you mind if I just lay here for a bit?"

"Yes. In point of fact I do." Pause. "You're on my arm."

That explained some things, most notably, "That explains what's in my side, there's also something sticking into my back."

"Does it feel like my left knee?"

"Could be, let's get untangled."

It was a fairly simple process. I lifted myself a bit, she pulled her arm out from under me. I rolled away from her, she rolled away from me. We were untangled.

"I can't believe I dropped the grilled cheese."

"What else would you have dropped?"

"I poured my heart and soul into those sandwiches."

"No you didn't."

"How would you know?"

"You overcooked them."

"Did not."

"Did too."

There was a bit of silence as we both lay on our backs looking at the ceiling. The only sound being the game our mothers were watching in the living room.

"Have you had your inner ear checked?" Jackie asked.

"I have been poked and prodded in more ways than most people can imagine."


"No less than three doctors have concluded that I am the opposite of sane. Clearly I don't have any problems and I'm just making it up."

"But you have the scars to-"

"No, I'm making it up. It's all in my head. It's just my imagination."

"Yeah, well your imagination could get you hurt badly."

"I know. There's a reason I cling to railings for dear life whenever I'm at a stairway."

"You could just take the elevator."

"I could sprout wings and fly."

"I somehow doubt that."

"Yeah, I was being snippy."

"I wasn't going to say anything."


Another pause.

"Your doctors sucked."

"What's more likely, that every doctor I ever went to sucked, or that I am psychologically un-"

"Every single one of them sucked."

"Yeah, that's what I said. But no one ever listens." I corrected it to, "Except you."

And then, it seemed, we ran out of things to say.

After a while Jackie said, "It's a very nice ceiling."


"Oh yes, quite ceiling like in it's qualities."

"I suppose you're right, I've never noticed that before." It was a ceiling. It looked like a ceiling.

"That's why you need me around. To point these things out to you."

And for a while we lay there looking at the ceiling.

Finally I said, "Want to help me make more food?"


[stuff goes here]

* * *

Chapter 13: The Special Places

Edith remained at the edge, under the shadows cast by the thick canopy of leaves. She seemed nervous. That was somewhat disturbing. After what happened in Port Angeles I had to remind myself that I didn't need to be afraid of her, she had done what she had done to protect me, so even if it was scary it wasn't something likely to come down on me. But the idea of something making her nervous, now that was scary.

More to reassure myself than to get information I asked, "You said sunlight doesn't hurt you, right?"

"Right," she confirmed, but her voice was nervous.

"Then come on out."

There was a pause. Then she said, "You have to promise not to laugh."

"I promi- wait, sometimes laughing is involuntary. How can I promise not to do something I may have no control over?"

"Promise to try."

"I promise."

Edith tentatively put one foot into the sunlight. She was wearing jeans and a tank top, her jacket tied around her waist as mine was tied around mine, if whatever the secret of vampires and sunlight was was visible, it clearly didn't show through clothing, or didn't happen through clothing.

Then her weight shifted moving onto that foot. And then I saw how light reacts to vampires. It was her hand that hit the sunlight first, but soon she was in it entirely. "Remember, no laughing."

It reminded me of the sun on fresh fallen snow that I'd seen one of the times Charlize and I went to California. We went skiing, I wasn't very good at it. Then again, neither was she. We had a lot of fun anyway. I tried for hours to get a picture or video that would show the way the snow glittered in the light, but never really managed it. It wasn't like the glare of sun off water that can be blinding and leave spots in your eyes, just constantly shifting tiny pinpricks of light.

Light that felt more like starlight, I suppose, than any of the harsh light I associate with direct sunlight. I might miss the sun, I might bask in the sun, but I sure as hell don't look at it. Burns the eyes, but when it hits the tiny imperfections in the seemingly smooth surface of a freshly snowed upon ski slope it's sent in enough different directions that whatever comes your way is interesting rather than blinding. And it makes one wonder if someone standing looking at a snow covered evergreen was the inspiration for Christmas lights, but no one could make lights so small, and the chaotic beauty of it could only be duplicated by hooking the lights up to a random number generator, and having that control their activation, anyway.

The only comparison in nature that I know of is granite scattered with mica flecks and, like I said, I suppose starlight for the unintrusive quality of the light, but no stars could twinkle that much and neither stars nor granite have the light coming from a white background.

So, fresh fallen snow glittering in the sunlight.

So it was with Edith's exposed skin. Her arms from fingertip to shoulder, her face, her neck. Everything else was covered in clothing.

I didn't laugh, I was impressed.

But I understood why she couldn't go out in sunlight. The first thought wouldn't be, "Vampire," it would be, "Alien invader."

[stuff goes here]

“I’m sorry, I’m keeping you from lunch.”

“I’m fine, really,” I said.

"It's not that I forget that human beings need to eat, exactly," Edith said. "I'm constantly aware of it, actually. It's just that being intellectually aware of something isn't the same as having it resonate with you and sometimes I loose track of food related time as a result."

I was somewhat confused. "But you need to feed," I said.

"It's... different. A vampire can, theoretically at least, go indefinitely without feeding, it's just that the longer you go the worse things get. A week can be no problem, but as time goes on the hunger grows and grows and people start feeling more and more like food and less and less like people.

"Then, and this has never happened to me so it's second hand, parts of you just start shutting down. Your inhibitions, notably moral ones, turn off, as more time goes on all higher reasoning shuts down, if enough time passes without feeding all that's left is an instinct driven predator.

"Which is completely different from what happens to a human without food."

"Yeah." There didn't seem to be anything else to say.

"I'm sorry I've been keeping you from eating."

"I'm fine."

"True though that may be, I'd rather you be better than just fine. I'm sure we'll reach a restaurant sooner or latter. Do you have any preferences?"

"None whatsoever."

"Well we can definitely pull that off."

"Thanks," I said, and meant it.

"Just remember that we'll be stopping for you, don't feel the need to over-stuff yourself on my account. Eat as much or as little as you need to make your stomach stop growling."

"I thought it was more a rumble than a growl."

"Well if we're going split hairs it really sounded to me like ..."

* * *

Chapter 14: Back again

[stuff goes here]

The door opened, I glanced in its direction which was pointless as all I could see was a wall. Then back at Edith which, given the recent revelation/admission/thingy that she was a telepathic vampire was probably a better way to get information. She seemed at ease.
Moments later Charlize entered the room. "Hi Ben," she said, then a moment later she added, "Edith."

"Hello Chief Swan," Edith said.

"That's a little... formal... for me. Especially off duty," Charlize said.

"I'm 'Charlize' or 'Ben's mom' or 'Ms. Swan'."

"Ok Chie- Charlize," Edith said. It was different to see her stumble over her words. Humanizing in a way I suppose, even if she wasn't actually human. It brought a small smile to my face and I hoped she wouldn't read it as insulting. I wasn't sure whether it was insulting, I wasn't sure where it came from at all, but I definitely didn't want it to come off as insulting.

There was a moment's pause then Edith asked, "How could I address you as, 'Ben's mom,'?"

"With difficulty and circumlocution," Charlize said. "It works best when talking about me in third person."

Charlize sat down at the table. "Have you eaten yet?" she asked.

"That depends on which meal you mean," I said.

"So you didn't forget lunch."

I just gave her a look.

"I remember the time you forgot to eat regularly for-"

I gave her a different look.

She held up her hands in surrender. But she did get in a parting shot: "I'm allowed to worry." Which, she is. So a peaceable end to things. Helped by the fact that we both smiled at it.

"I have food allergies galore," Edith said. I'm still not sure whether that counts as true or a lie of omission, but it is an elegant away around the inevitable questions about why she doesn't eat. Anyway, she continued, "But don't let that stop you two from having dinner. I'm used to watching other people eat and it doesn't bother me in the least."

"What are you thinking?" Charlize asked me.

"I hadn't been, actually," I said.


"Lasagna." It was only a microwave away.

"What were you talking about?" Charlize asked as I got the lasagna, and she got drinks. Orange juice for me, milk for herself. I knew that she'd accept an appeal to privacy as an answer, I didn't know if Edith would know that --at first just because I assumed she wouldn't, then because I realized I didn't know nearly enough about the mechanics of mind reading-- and so I struggled to come up with a way to answer that would neither be suspicious nor a lie before Edith felt she had to answer. I failed.

Edith hit Charlize with the complete truth: "The potential geopolitical implications of the revelation that vampires are real."

"Oh," Charlize said. "I've always preferred to talk about mermaids."

Edith arched an eybrow and asked, "Mermaids?"

"Did you want something to drink?" Charlize asked.

Edith surprised me by saying, "Water is fine." I suppose it's just like very weak blood. Thus it shouldn't have been surprising that it was vampire-safe, but I had still been expecting an answer of, "No," because I'd basically assumed that nothing a human being might be expected to ingest would be ok for vampires.

Charlize passed Edith a glass of water and sat across from her. "What's wrong with mermaids?" she asked.

"There's nothing wrong with mermaids I just..." and then Edith seemed to run out of words, not something I was used to her doing. "There's nothing wrong with mermaids," she finished.

"70 percent of the Earth's surface is water, don't you think the revelation that that entire area was able to be inhabited by another form of humanity would have some effects?"

"I've never really thought about it," Edith said.

"Or, for that matter, just the revelation that there is another form of humanity. We've gotten pretty used to being alone."

"Well that seems like it would be the same for vampires," Edith said.

"Only if being a mermaid were something you could contract," Charlize said.

I returned to the table with heated lasagna and joined in what proved to be a very interesting conversation about the similarities and differences between the revelation of vampires and the revelation of mermaids. At no point did Charlize give any indication she suspected she was sitting across from the former, which makes sense because who would guess such a thing? Also Edith, once she got going, dived into the conversation from a purely theoretical standpoint so at no time was there reason for her lived-in experience of being a vampire to show through.

The conversation carried on passed the end of the food and eventually I ended it due to a powerful need to sleep. Edith took that as her cue to leave, and so the conversation broke there.

After Edith was out the door Charlize didn't ask me. I expected her to. I knew she was interested. I think maybe the extended conversation had made me forget that Charlize's standard setting was the same as my own: silent.

So since it was clear she wasn't going to ask I just told her: "It was a date, and it did go well."

For a moment she silently considered that, then she said, "That's good."

"If you're interested, we split the day in half. First half she showed me her kind of place: woodlands. Second half I showed her my kind of place: city."

"Are you going to--"

"I hope so, I expect to, but we don't have a date" and suddenly I hated that word because it forced me to use it in two different ways in seven words, so I sort of hung on it before I finished, "set up for a second date."

I turned to go to get ready for bed.

"I hope it works out for you," Charlize said. It was meant to be exactly what the words said, I could tell that much, but something else had crept into her voice and though it took me a few moments I figured out what it was.

The entire reason for my existence was a high school romance gone crap. I'd heard the lies and half truths from my father, of course, but the real details I didn't know. What I did know was that whatever happened it was enough that my mother hadn't stepped back into the dating waters in my entire lifetime.

Maybe that was ok with her, or maybe she was just burned that bad.
Clearly it was time to radically change the subject. I turned back. "I've been remiss," I said. Remiss. There was a word Edith would use. I don't think I'd ever heard her say it at that point and I still knew it would be an Edith word. "I haven't asked you about your day."

Tired as I was, it was worth hearing her talk about her fishing trip to hear that "something else" be vanquished from her voice.

* * *

Chapter 15: A family of choice

"It's nice to see you again," Caroline said. "This is my husband Esmund." He was smaller than the others, rounder too. One might think he was a dwarf, as in Tolkien, but he was too clean shaven and too far too inhumanly white for that.

"It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Esmund said. I responded with some pleasantry or other but my mind was elsewhere. Something was nagging at me and I couldn't work out what it was.

Something about their appearance. Caroline's appearance. But there was nothing odd there. The excessive whiteness I'd gotten used to and her clothing was certainly unremarkable enough. The same sort of casual clothes anyone might wear.

Then it hit me. "You look," I said to her, then hesitated for a moment, "younger."

She nodded. "There's no need for deception here. Outside I have to look old enough to be my adopted children's mother. Given when I stopped aging that can take some effort."

Presumably makeup and such was involved in that effort, which meant that it was effort that could go toward making them look like normal human beings. I wondered if she felt the same way about it as Edith: forced to hide it, but completely unashamed and so unwilling to change her appearance to hide it.
It was around that point that Alex made his entrance. "Hi, Edith!" he called from the top of the stairs and then was a blur. The blur stopped in front of us with him doing a pirouette that became a bow.

"Hey, Ben," he said and extended a hand to me. I shook it.

And then no one seemed to know what to say. Awkwardness. It was in the air.

And Jasmine came. She seemed to notice something and then asked, "Anyone object?"

"To what?" I asked, Alex smiled. The others shook their heads.

"Calm, happy feels," Edith told me.

"What?" I asked, followed almost immediately by, "Ohhh..." as I remembered what Jasmine could do. "Um, I guess not."

"If you change your mind, just say so," Jasmine said. And then the awkwardness melted away and a feeling of calm spread over me. That and a small, yet definite, upward tick in my mood.

"Is this what being high feels like?" I asked.

"Generally speaking, no." Edith said.

"More of a bright side of normal," Jasmine said.

Caroline just raised an eyebrow. I wasn't sure whom at.

Jasmine kept her distance, as if she were afraid of what she might do, but apart from that the way she moved reminded me of things that had no cause for fear.

A feline grace, but more that of a lion than a house cat.

She greeted me and I greeted her, nothing terribly spectacular.

"Thank you," Esmund said. At first I wasn't sure who he was talking to and assumed Jasmine for easing the mood. Then he said, "We're so glad you came," and I realized he was talking to me. The way he said it made me realize he thought I was brave.

That was wrong. I was fully prepared to hide behind Edith if anything went sour. Plus since Edith could read minds I figured there would be advanced notice. Plus there was a matter of trust. I trusted Edith, and --even though we'd only met briefly on previous occasions-- I liked Alex. If Edith could comfortably live with these people, then vampires or no I trusted that they weren't the type to kill me.

Or horribly mutilate me, or whatever, as the case may be.

My mind drifted, and so did my eyes. I noticed their piano again. Much more impressive than the secondhand upright I knew from my home in Phoenix. It lived up to the name "grand" and Esmund noticed my interest, "Do you play?" he asked.

"No," I said. I never could stick with the lessons. I'd always feel like I was going nowhere and doomed to failure. "My father plays." Not well, mind you, but he plays. With passion. My list of things to do upon becoming absurdly wealthy included buying him a brilliant piano. One like the one the Cullens had.

"Do you play?" I asked.

"No," Esmund said. "Edith didn't tell you?"

And then Edith, I think, blushed. It's hard to tell with vampires because they're excessively white, and they stay excessively white regardless of all things. Well, all things internal. Fire a paint gun at one and they can have color pretty quick but that is neither here nor there and is achronological as well.

"She's the musical one," Esmund said.

"You should play him something," Alex said to Edith.

Edith started to protest then Alex added, "Don't if you don't want to, but consider who's giving you the advice."

It was said in a friendly way, and there was definitely more emphasis on the, "Don't if you don't want to," than the second half, but I couldn't help but wonder how often someone who can see the future pulls out that line of argument. "Fine, don't mind me, I'm just the person who can see the bloody future, what do I know?"

"I'd like to hear you play," I told Edith.

"Ok," Edith said. There was a nervousness in her voice that, even though I'd heard it before by now, still felt out of place. Edith and nervous still didn't occupy the same space in my brain.

She took me by the hand and led me to the piano. I sat on the bench beside her and she said, "This is Esmund's favorite of mine."

Before she could start I said, surprised, "You compose?"

"I've got a lot of time to fill," she said. Then she started playing something that reminded me of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, but more complex.

When she finished I was speechless. Then she, haltingly, started to play another. Something simpler, something more modern. Once she was started it flowed and, without knowing what the right notes were, I knew she was hitting them. Without knowing the time it was in, I knew she was keeping it. Her awkward start was over and she was in the music.

I thought I could pick out a call back to Herman's Hermits. I felt a strain of a melody she'd once hummed to me. Something told me I was into something good,

There was, it seemed to me, a sadness in the song, but it was overpowered by a greater joy.

Something about major and minor scales maybe? Music is something I don't know.

When she finished she asked, with nervousness, "Did you like it?"

"I loved it," I said.

She glanced away. "I wrote it for you."

And, slowly, doing my best to make sure that if she didn't want me to I'd notice and stop, I leaned over and hugged her. Thankfully she did want me to, and we hugged each other for I don't know how long.

[stuff goes here]

* * *

May or may not go in the giant unwritten section

[it is possible that this post goes in the giant unwritten section, but it could just as easily be reserved for a different book]

"You should go," Edith said.

She was probably right about that. I didn't care, "Maybe so, but I'm not leaving you."

I don't know that I've ever seen her at a complete loss for words before. She started to talk several times each with a different emotion attached. Anger, sadness, exasperation. Others I had trouble placing. When she finally spoke it was a soft, "That's stupid," with none of the previous emotions in evidence.

"What if it were you? What if I were the nigh invulnerable superpowered vampire who's been around for decades and uses words like 'confute'-"

"You do say confute."

That was true. She infected me. I continued, "-and you were the puny defenseless human? Would you leave me to fend for myself?" I paused a moment and then added, "And remember, I know when you're lying."

"How could you know that? I've never lied to you."

That was a very good point, I'd been there when she lied, but she'd never actually... except, "There was that one time-"

"That was before you knew me well enough to have developed your alleged uncanny lie detection powers."

I was going to respond to that, but then I realized something. "You're evading."

"That's because I don't want to answer the question."

"Obviously. But you know I'm not going to drop it."

"I'd do exactly what you're doing." And for the briefest of moments I thought I'd convinced her. "That doesn't make it any less stupid. I'd probably get myself killed." I started to respond but she stopped me. "It's your turn."


"You're a vampire. I'm a human. I refuse to leave you in danger. I die. How do you feel?"

I didn't respond. The silence was quite awkward.

"I'm dead. You're alive. I'm dead because I tried to help you after you told me it was too dangerous. How do you feel about that?"

It was a difficult question and one that I didn't want to think about. "I don't plan on dying."

"Most people don't. Now you're being evasive."

"Because I don't want to answer." I took a moment. "There aren't words. I'd be devastated. But say vampire-me got his way. Human-you ran and hid. Vampire-me died. Human-you lived. Would you feel any different?"

"Of course not." She looked away for a moment. "That's why I'd probably get myself killed." She sighed. "Alright, but promise me you won't die."

"Promise me you won't."
* * *

Chapter 24: Life and death go on

"What happened?"

Edith turned her attention to me and quickly removed her fangs from the bag of blood she was holding, "Oh, hey," she tossed the blood bag on the windowsill and wiped blood off her face with her shirt, "You're awake."

"Where am I? What about ..." I was having some trouble finding words, "the thing? And the thing and the thing?"

"You're at a hospital, and... lets see. The thing is dead. And as for the thing, it's over. And in answer to your last question, you probably won't become a vampire but we're talking a wait and see approach."

That was a lot to take in, "How?"

"Well ... wait. Which one are you asking how about?"

"The last one."

"Well, I tried to suck the venom out."

"Does that work?"

"No idea, figured it was worth a try. We had to take the tourniquet off before we got you to the hospital because we were worried you'd lose the arm, then Jasmine did her thing and through a combination of urgency, fear and respect managed to get my mother cleared to do pretty much whatever she wanted. That's when we started up the transfusions and at this point most of the blood in your body comes from somewhere else.

"There's probably still some venom in you, but we're hoping it's not enough to do much of anything. So, that's the how."

I decided I'd asked the wrong question, "Why?"

"You can't become a vampire just yet," Edith said.

"Why not?"

"Because you haven't tried pierogi yet."


  1. I hadn't heard about Meyer's genderswap until now, but I can safely say it is not as good as yours, because this is wonderful. As well as really funny. I hope you write more of it, and fill in the missing pieces. All the characters are both likable (except perhaps Shell, since so far she's only shown at her worst) and seem like they would be interesting to learn more about - like they have their own stories that would be interesting, and are not just background characters for Edith and Ben's story. Especially given what you started with, that's amazing.
    For some reason, though I like both Edith and Ben, particularly their conversations about her old-fashioned words, my favorite character in this ended up being Jacqueline. The way she and Ben talk to each other seems very accurate to childhood friends. Also I laughed at the conversation about the ceiling.

    - Thalassa The Blue

    1. Thanks.

      Very much, thanks.

      I actually kind of feel bad about Shell. I first wrote her in my version of the scene where Mike, with great creepiness, asks Bella out. Not exactly the best for her character. The scene on beach on the reservation draws from the same dynamic.

      I want her to be just as much a well rounded and generally likable character as the others, just significantly flawed when it comes to how she approaches dating, but it's so easy to fall into the trap of making a character who is creepy, controlling, and possessive in one area be a character who is bad all around. I worry that I'll fall into that mode with her.

      She's got to grow, she got to improve, she needs a character arc that leads to her being less Mike-like. And she needs the Mike-like part of her character to be one part of a larger, more complex and complete, much more likable whole.

      But right now I've only got parts where she is Mike-like. I feel like I'm letting the character down. Like I've done a disservice to her. She's significantly flawed, and that's not something I'm going to change except through character growth, but right now the only part I've shown is the flaw, and I feel bad about that.

      What I probably have to do is go back to Twilight and look more at Mike. Making the others likeable wasn't hard, I just worked with what was there.

      Jacob was childhood-friend Bella is reunited with. So that's Jacqueline/Jackie. I just ran with it and Jackie came out. Tyler wants to help (and goes about it in godawful ways) so Tricia wants to help and she flowed from that. "Chess club Eric" (who as far as we know doesn't play chess) isn't well defined but he's a friend with a crush who takes "No" for an answer and might have low self-esteem. Meet Erica. So on, so forth.

      But Michelle came from Mike at his worst. I need to find where Mike is good, or at least neutral, and run with that too.

      Long response, when mostly I wanted thank you for commenting, but that Shell isn't shown to have likable aspects is something that's bothered me since I first wrote her. She's the most flawed of the main cast (at least the ones I've made so far), but she's flawed, not a flaw, and I have yet to make that appear in what I've written.