Everyone was staring at me.
As I walked down the hallway with my arms crossed over my chest defensively, I couldn’t block out the whispering, the pointing and the laughter at my expense.
I should be used to this by now; but after what had just happened, every whisper was so intensified it felt like the words were being screamed at me. I’ve been around the block enough times to know what it felt like to be the center of the gossip machine, but I had never been this fragile before. I felt like I was about to collapse.
I kept replaying the fight over and over in my mind. I could see the angry look on Edward’s face and the sound of his fist smashing Mike’s nose like it was made of paper. I could still feel Edward’s arms around me and the sensation of his breath in my hair. I tried to shake my head to clear the images but it was almost impossible.
I felt terrible that Edward was sitting all alone in my father’s police station right now. I had no clue what my father had planned for him, but I knew whatever it was, it wouldn't be good.
I looked to my right and to my left and felt my heart warming as I saw that I was being flanked protectively by Emmett and Jasper. They had both seen how shaken up I was after what went down in the cafeteria and without me even asking they had taken it upon themselves to walk me to my next class.
As we passed another group of students who were blatantly staring and whispering frantically as I passed I felt Emmet lean over and nudge me gently.
“Fuck them.” He growled and I forced a smile for his benefit. I knew he was trying to be helpful and honestly I was truly grateful for both of them, but I knew they couldn’t be around all the time. At some point they would have to leave me alone again and I would have to face the wolves solo.
As I reached the door of my Algebra class I turned to thank them both. Emmett stayed behind for a few seconds and watched me go into the classroom and take my seat. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I caught him threatening a group of students by drawing his finger across his neck when they started the low hissing whispers the second I walked in the door. When I sat down and looked back up at the doorway he was turning to walk away with Jasper at his side. The groups of gossipers were now silent and avoiding looking in my direction at all. I smiled and shook my head.
I wondered if Emmett and Jasper hated me. They had every right to; I had completely fucked up Edward’s life. He was a totally different person because of me.
Class went by slowly. I was not paying attention at all and I hadn’t even noticed that I’d never taken my textbook out of my book bag until the bell rang. I wondered why the teacher hadn’t said anything to me but when I finally looked up at her I noticed she was staring at me with a look of pity on her face. I hated fucking pity.
With a scowl I grabbed my bag, swung it over my shoulder and stormed out of the room.
I was in such a hurry I almost ran smack into a tiny girl who was waiting just outside the door.
“Oh!” I exclaimed stopping in my tracks and making sure she was ok. “I didn’t see you there! I’m really sorry.”
She smiled up at me, her eyes flashing with humor and kindness. She brushed a stray spiky piece of short black hair out of her eyes and hitched one leg to the side as she studied my face.
“It’s ok. I’m tiny, easy to miss.” She said with a laugh. “I’m Alice.”
“You are Bella. I know. Well, everyone knows who you are.” She said mysteriously, leaning forwards slightly.
“Yeah. Ok, well nice to meet you.” I didn’t know this girl and I didn’t know what her intentions were. She had never talked to me before and now she was suddenly waiting for me outside my classroom like we were best buddies. It was more than a little odd and I didn’t feel like sticking around to find out what the hell she wanted.
“Wait!” She squeaked and I saw her trying to keep stride with me as I walked, her short legs occasionally doing a little hop so she wouldn’t fall behind. I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was in a small pixie kind of way.
“Look, I don’t want to be rude or anything, but I don’t know you.” I said bluntly hoping I didn’t sound like a total bitch.
“I know. But I just had this feeling that you needed a friend right now. I don’t really care about all that…stuff.” As she said ‘stuff’ she waved her delicate hand to the side dismissively. “I just know it has to really suck being the butt of everyone’s jokes and not have a soul in the world to vent to. So, here I am! I’m your soul…erm…to vent to.”
I stopped in my tracks and turned to face her, my hands on my hips.
“What’s in it for you?” I asked suspiciously.
She looked at me with a hurt expression on her face. “Nothing. I’m not doing this because I think I can get something from you. What do you think I am; one of those pathetic people who cling to the unfortunate for fifteen minutes of high school popularity? That’s really sad Bella.”
I immediately felt bad. I felt my shoulders droop and I frowned guiltily. “I’m sorry. I just…this is a really hard time for me. I don’t know who to trust.”
She smiled warmly. “Well, I promise I’m not out to screw you. Like I said, I just got this gut feeling that I needed to talk to you. I get that sometimes.” She shrugged. “Who is the weird one now?”
“Definitely you.” I mumbled as I turned back around and began walking to my next and last class.
I don’t know why, but I felt a surge of relief when she continued to follow me. We didn’t speak until we reached the classroom door but the walk through the hallway didn’t seem quite as torturous with her at my side. I wondered if Alice might be the type of friend I had always wanted; someone who accepted me despite my flaws without preying on my weakness for their benefit.
“Bella?” I heard a quiet voice say behind me.
I realized I had stopped in the doorway and was blocking the way. I turned around and saw Alice standing right behind me. She flashed me a grin.
“Are you in this class?” I asked stupidly.
She laughed. “Yeah. I sit a few seats behind you.”
I felt like shit. I’d had a class with her all year and I had never once said hello or even noticed her. I was beginning to realize that I lived in my own little world a majority of the time and maybe it was time I opened my damn eyes.
“I’m sorry-“I started to apologize but she held her hand up.
“Nope, no need. New leaf right?” She winked.
“Yeah.” I smiled and nodded. “New leaf.”
For some reason I started to feel guilty for feeling even the slightest bit happy when I knew Edward was sitting in the police station getting the third degree from my father. My face must have reflected what I was feeling because Alice put her hand on my arm.
“It’s ok. He’s going to be fine. Trust me.”
Something in her voice sounded so sure I couldn’t help but feel better almost instantly. She hooked her arm in mine and together we walked into the classroom. I felt happier than I had in weeks.
“You ok?” She asked me as she released my arm and adjusted her beautiful coach messenger bag to her other shoulder.
I was about to reassure her I was fine when Jessica Stanley, who hadn't spoken to me in a very long time, decided to butt in.
“She's fine. Just a little bit scared I'd imagine.” She laughed a loud screeching cackle. Jessica was a pretty girl, but I always thought her laugh matched with a bland personality made her unattractive.
The boys in our school didn't agree though. Jessica was one of the most popular girls in Forks High, constantly crowded by girls who wanted to be her and guys who wanted to be with her.
Before I could even thank Alice for her concern Jessica grabbed my elbow and turned me around to face the classroom.
“What was that all about?” She asked curiously.
I felt like a deer in the head lights. Jessica had not spoken to me in over two months so why the sudden interest?
I raised my eyebrow as I began to wonder whether she was digging for gossip, or was she genuinely concerned. I wasn't interested in fuelling her with fresh gossip to spread throughout the student body.
“Well?” She cocked her eyebrow to match mine.
Her impatience confirmed immediately that she was only after gossip. I smiled shyly and shrugged.
“Boys will be boys huh?” I said nervously.
Jessica's eyes narrowed for a second before her face quickly changed from a suspicious glare to a friendly smile.
“Bella...Bells.” She sighed slightly and nudged me with her elbow. “You can talk to me you know? We are friends right?” Her face was frozen in an exaggerated grin that I supposed was meant to look friendly and supportive.
“Are we?” I asked bemused.
Her careful fake smile faltered for a moment before she snapped it back into place.
“Of course silly. I'm so sorry I haven't been around lately. Edward and all of those, types of boys, don’t really like me and I heard your friend was in town...you understand right? We're not weird or anything?”
“No.” I sputtered, not believing a word she was saying to me. “Zero weirdness, I promise.”
“So...what's with you and Cullen then?” She probed again, her fake smile so big it was threatening to crack the thick layer of makeup she had caked on her face.
“Isabella swan!” At the sound of my name being called I immediately looked away from Jessica, but not before I noticed the flicker of frustration in her expression. I saw Mr. Bennett staring at me as if waiting for an answer.
I ignored Jessica for the rest of the class, pretending to be interested in the lesson and praying to god she took the hint and wouldn't bring it up again. I wasn't in the mood to help her collect information for her break time gossip.
Finally, after what seemed like hours the bell rang signaling the end of the school day. With a sigh of relief I joined my fellow classmates by pulling away from the desk and packing my books away. Jessica stood beside me, watching me shove my books and papers into my bag and heard her sigh impatiently. Not wanting to give her the satisfaction, I took my time.
I was about to stand up to leave when I heard a voice in front of me. “Isabella Swan?”
I looked up slowly and saw Mr. Bennett standing over my desk, his eyes fixed on my face, his expression serious.
“Sorry sir, yes?” I felt my stomach lurch with anxiety. I hated when teachers talked to me. It usually meant I was in trouble and I really wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.
“I'd like to speak to you for a moment, if you don't mind,” His eyes shifted to Jessica, “Alone please.”
I nodded shyly as he turned his back to me, heading towards his own desk. I followed behind him, watching Jessica as she made her way to the door. She mouthed at me “Talk soon.” before leaving the room.
The last person to leave was Alice. With half her body out the door she turned to give me one last smile. Her expression was worried but I wasn’t sure why. She hovered in the threshold her foot tapping nervously on the floor.
“Miss Brandon!” Mr. Bennett shouted angrily. “Miss Swan will be here for awhile please excuse yourself.”
She nodded and slipped out the door closing behind her softly.
Mr. Bennett walked over and flipped the lock in the door and turned back to me. “I do not want any interruptions. We have important things to discuss.”
His words did nothing to calm my apprehension. He walked over to his desk his dark eyes never leaving mine as he lowered himself into his leather office chair. I noticed that his hair was thinning on the top of his head and he was trying to comb it over in a pathetic attempt to hide the bald spot. He was a fairly short man with a round beer belly and bad skin. He reminded me of Mike Newton in twenty years. The thought made me shudder involuntarily.
He shuffled through some folders on his desk before clearing his throat and shoving the papers across the desk towards me.
“Isabella, I'm not going to beat around the bush here. Your grades...” He paused and looked down at a sheet of paper on his table. I saw my name in big bold letters at the top but the rest of it was too small a print to read from where I stood. “They aren't good to be honest and after what just happened in the cafeteria this afternoon, I'd venture to guess why that might be.”
I blinked at him in response, I didn't understand. My grades were fine. Yes, I wasn't top of the class, but I wasn't at the bottom either.
I tried to voice this with Mr. Bennett when he stopped me by holding up his hand.
“I know what you’re going to say, your grades aren't terrible. No. But they are slipping Isabella. I think it’s because of your relationship with the Cullen boy. It is obvious to me it isn’t healthy.” He said simply. “I think he has been distracting you and this is causing your grades to slip dramatically.”
I shook my head and opened my mouth to speak but again he cut me off.
“Please don't speak until I've finished saying what I have to.” He paused and sighed. “I have a proposition for you.”
I nodded, eager to hear how I could avoid explaining to Charlie why I was failing English, my best subject.
“Look,” Mr. Bennett sat forward in his chair, his hands folded in front of him. “I've been told all about you and you’re… lifestyle, for lack of a better term.” He watched as I blushed and fidgeted nervously in front of him. He continued after a long uncomfortable pause. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of Isabella; in fact...this could be beneficial for you. Extra credit if you will.”
He trailed off as I stood there not knowing how to respond. What was he asking me? I didn't understand this at all. I shook my head, trying to physically shake my thoughts into order.
Mr. Bennett stood up from his desk and slowly made his way round to the front of it to join me. He was so close to me I could feel his breath on my face. He smelled like men’s cologne and body odor and I could taste bile in my mouth as he pressed himself into me. Slowly he maneuvered me around so he had his hands on the desk with me in-between them, trapped.
“Show me how much you want this grade Isabella.” He licked his lips and I felt the back of his hand deliberately graze my breast and trail down my stomach to my waist.
On the outside I was frozen in place, staring into his dark eyes which were filled with a look I recognized only too well. Inside I was screaming for help.