Happy birthday, dearest! May you have many more, surrounded by those who love you and appreciate your kind heart and beautiful spirit. You are one of the bestest friends a girl could have. xoxo, Amelie
I can feel his eyes on me the moment he enters the room.
It has gone well, better than I expected on my first day at the front of a schoolhouse – my schoolhouse, where I ought to be sitting on the back row with Alice and Rosalie and giggling as Miss Denali attempts to rally us into practicing our long division and dictating passages of A Tale of Two Cities.
But that is no longer my place, not anymore.
Some of the younger children can’t hide their surprise when they see me standing in front of the blackboard, all starched up in one of Mama’s hand-me-downs, my hair pinned up as best as her tired fingers could manage. It is because of Mama, and her tired brown eyes, and the way she looks at night when she counts up the money and there isn’t enough for the rent and the food and the little ones, that I agreed to replace Miss Denali as Forks’ teacher, at least until they find an older woman – a more experienced woman – to come out here from the East and settle down and give us a proper education.
I can’t understand what woman would want to be out here, in the constant rain, the endless green of trees and moss and undergrowth.
But Miss Denali came.
And then she fell in love with Mr. Marcus.
A married woman can’t teach. Not in this time, when a wife’s proper place is at the home and hearth, minding her husband’s dinner, his house and his children.
So now here I stand, and as I feel his eyes dancing up and down my body, I quake in my shoes, suddenly unsure of whether or not I really can handle this responsibility.
“Please sit down,” I say, as brusquely as possible, not wanting to look up and meet his eyes. “Class will be starting shortly.”
There is a moment of silence, only broken by the scuffling of shoes, a few whispers in the back – someone gives a cry of pain, then irritation. Laughter. I clear my throat, and like fog, the sounds clear away.
Except for his voice.
It is the first sign of him being contrary. Like a fish swimming against the current, his voice cuts through the obedient schoolchildren sitting around him as he speaks.
“Well, now…these teachers seem to be getting younger and younger.”
I remind myself to take the little ones aside after class, give them a pat on the cheek and some licorice from where Ms. Denali left it in the drawer. They all sit, stoic, little noses turned up, not a sound out of any of them.
The elders, though, they laugh – a loud, shocking guffaw that makes my face redden, and even though I’m not looking at him, I know that he’s smirking.
I don’t know who he is, not yet at least, but I know that I have to find that out now.
“Ladies and gentlemen!”
My voice rises higher than I wanted it to, cracking on the last note. They shush – most of them, at least – the rest sinking down in their seats, eying me, snickering.
I hear Jessica Stanley and Lauren Mallory – girls who I used to consider my friends, who I would sit at during lunch and trade slices of cake and gossip and laugh over the fresh-faced, blushing boys who stumbled past our sanctuary. Their giggles sting, and it is then that I know that I have to put myself above this.
I pluck up all the nerve, all the fury stinging in the tears in the corners of my eyes, and I look at him right in the eye.
He is beautiful, all green eyes and wild reddish-brown hair that sticks up in tufts over his head and sweat-slicked to his forehead. His lips are pink rose petals that curve upwards into a smirk when he realizes I am staring, and I look down quickly, feeling my face flush all over again, and knowing that my traitor skin will reflect the blood for him to see.
“Please sit down, Mister,” I tell him coolly, not looking at him again because I will fluster and my tongue will tie up my words.
But he is rude.
I have to remember that.
“It’s Mr. Masen,” he responds, still leaning close to me, almost over the desk. I can tell he is smiling. There is a smug, taunting edge to his voice, the way Emmett sounds when he’s finally grabbed hold of a girl, about to kiss her like Georgie Porgie and see if she cries. “Edward Masen, Jr.”
I want to repeat his name after him, taste it on my tongue. I wonder if he was one of those boys who sat in front of me last year, looking up girls’ skirts, making faces at the teacher’s back, turning around occasionally and smirking at the little plain-faced, pale girl trying to sink down into her seat.
But I’m not a blushing student.
I am the teacher.
And somehow, the teacher in me manages to buck up and say in a stern voice, “Regardless of your name, Mr. Masen, I would advise you to sit down and attend to your studies.”
For a moment, we are just looking at each other. I don’t even notice the scowls my former friends are giving me – or the pity in Rose and Alice’s eyes – and the whispers and giggles and suggestions passing through the rows. His eyes are narrowed, as though he is studying me, and I am sure that in a moment, he will be raising his eyebrow, the way Father used to when he knew I was keeping something away from him.
But he doesn’t.
He doesn’t challenge me at all.
He just smirks at me one more time and slides into one of the back rows with the senior students, propping his head up on his elbows, watching me.
And I know that I am not going to get anything done today.
Because I’m going to know that he’s staring at me.
A replacement can’t come soon enough.