BOOK ONE: BELLA
I'd had more than my fair share of near-death experiences; it wasn't something you ever really got used to.
It seemed oddly inevitable, though, facing death again. Like I really was marked for disaster. I'd escaped time and time again, but it kept coming back for me.
Still, this time was so different from the others.
You could run from someone you feared, you could try to fight someone you hated. All my reactions were geared toward those kinds of killers - the monsters, the enemies.
When you loved the one who was killing you, it left you no options. How could you run, how could you fight, when doing so would hurt that beloved one? If your life was all you had to give your beloved, how could you not give it?
If it was someone you truly loved?
No one is staring at you,I promised myself. No one is staring at you. No one is staring at you.
But, because I couldn't lie convincingly even to myself, I had to check.
As I sat waiting for one of the three traffic lights in town to turn green, I peeked to the right - in her minivan, Mrs. Weber had turned her whole torso in my direction. Her eyes bored into mine, and I flinched back, wondering why she didn't drop her gaze or look ashamed. It was still considered rude to stare at people, wasn't it? Didn't that apply to me anymore?
Then I remembered that these windows were so darkly tinted that she probably had no idea if it was even me in here, let alone that I'd caught her looking. I tried to take some comfort in the fact that she wasn't really staring at me, just the car.
I glanced to the left and groaned. Two pedestrians were frozen on the sidewalk, missing their chance to cross as they stared. Behind them, Mr. Marshall was gawking through the plate-glass window of his little souvenir shop. At least he didn't have his nose pressed up against the glass. Yet.
The light turned green and, in my hurry to escape, I stomped on the gas pedal without thinking - the normal way I would have punched it to get my ancient Chevy truck moving.
Engine snarling like a hunting panther, the car jolted forward so fast that my body slammed into the black leather seat and my stomach flattened against my spine.
"Arg!" I gasped as I fumbled for the brake. Keeping my head, I merely tapped the pedal. The car lurched to an absolute standstill anyway.
I couldn't bear to look around at the reaction. If there had been any doubt as to who was driving this car before, it was gone now. With the toe of my shoe, I gently nudged the gas pedal down one half millimeter, and the car shot forward again.
I managed to reach my goal, the gas station. If I hadn't been running on vapors, I wouldn't have come into town at all. I was going without a lot of things these days, like Pop-Tarts and shoelaces, to avoid spending time in public.
Moving as if I were in a race, I got the hatch open, the cap off, the card scanned, and the nozzle in the tank within seconds. Of course, there was nothing I could do to make the numbers on the gauge pick up the pace. They ticked by sluggishly, almost as if they were doing it just to annoy me.
It wasn't bright out - a typical drizzly day in Forks, Washington - but I still felt like a spotlight was trained on me, drawing attention to the delicate ring on my left hand. At times like this, sensing the eyes on my back, it felt as if the ring were pulsing like a neon sign: Look at me, look at me.
It was stupid to be so self-conscious, and I knew that. Besides my dad and mom, did it really matter what people were saying about my engagement? About my new car? About my mysterious acceptance into an Ivy League college? About the shiny black credit card that felt red-hot in my back pocket right now?
"Yeah, who cares what they think," I muttered under my breath.
"Urn, miss?" a man's voice called.
I turned, and then wished I hadn't.
Two men stood beside a fancy SUV with brand-new kayaks tied to the top. Neither of them was looking at me; they both were staring at the car.
Personally, I didn't get it. But then, I was just proud I could distinguish between the symbols for Toyota, Ford, and Chevy. This car was glossy black, sleek, and pretty, but it was still just a car to me.
"I'm sorry to bother you, but could you tell me what kind of car you're driving?" the tall one asked.
"Urn, a Mercedes, right?"
"Yes," the man said politely while his shorter friend rolled his eyes at my answer. "I know. But I was wondering, is that... are you driving a Mercedes Guardian?" The man said the name with reverence. I had a feeling this guy would get along well with Edward Cullen, my... my fiance (there really was no getting around that truth with the wedding just days away). "They aren't supposed to be available in Europe yet," the man went on, "let alone here."
While his eyes traced the contours of my car - it didn't look much different from any other Mercedes sedan to me, but what did I know? - I briefly contemplated my issues with words like fiance, wedding, husband, etc.
I just couldn't put it together in my head.
On the one hand, I had been raised to cringe at the very thought of poofy white dresses and bouquets. But more than that, I just couldn't reconcile a staid, respectable, dull concept like husband with my concept of Edward. It was like casting an archangel as an accountant; I couldn't visualize him in any commonplace role.
Like always, as soon as I started thinking about Edward I was caught up in a dizzy spin of fantasies. The stranger had to clear his throat to get my attention; he was still waiting for an answer about the car's make and model.
"I don't know," I told him honestly.
"Do you mind if I take a picture with it?"
It took me a second to process that. "Really? You want to take a picture with the car?"