On the eve of her 18th birthday, high school junior Alice Goodenough feels on top of the world. Classes are almost finished. She's about to start her summer job at the local library, where she'll be surrounded by all of her favorite books. And she has a wonderful boyfriend.
Then the rabbit shows up. The giant talking rabbit. He has a message:
200 years ago, the Brothers Grimm unleashed their stories upon the world.
With the help of a magic pen and paper, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm brought all of their characters to life. The world was a more magical place ... for a time. Cinderella found her prince. Briar Rose's spell was broken. The dancing princesses spent their nights hidden away in a secret underground city. The old miller's boy found true love.
Then, slowly, the Grimms' characters began to change for the worse. They became Corrupted. Evil. They didn't belong in our world, but it was too late for the Brothers Grimm to destroy them.
Only a hero can save the day. Every generation for the past 200 years, a hero has been chosen to fight the Corrupted and rid the world of the Grimms' fairy tales. To her horror, Alice has been chosen as the next hero. As her 18th birthday nears, she begins to realize life is never going back to normal. School will never be the same.
As for her boyfriend, Edward ... well, he might be hiding a terrible secret.
Chapter one: Prince Charming Must Die!
I should have known Edward was too good to be true.
No. Wait. Let me go back to the beginning. Before I had this curse. Before I went around slaying creatures that shouldn’t exist. Before I made friends with a rabbit.
Let’s start at the end of my junior year of high school. That was when all of this really started. I was looking forward to summer. I didn’t have a job but I had something even better: a volunteer spot at the local library. It was the best job in the world—sure, I mostly just put away all of the books and no, I wasn’t getting paid. But I loved being inside that old building. From the outside, it looked like a big old firehouse complete with rusty red bricks a rusted fire escape on one side. All it needed was one of those big garage doors for the fire truck.
Inside, though … that was where it all happened. When you walked in through the front door, you passed the little check-out desk where one of the old librarians would give a smile. Beyond that: rows and rows of old metal bookcases. Fiction. History. Biography. Science. In the center of the massive space was a circular table with five computers, the only hint of technology in the entire place.
Even the light bulbs were old! I’m not kidding—the lights hanging from the tiled ceiling had old steel shades, something out of the nineteenth century. It was a good thing the library closed before it got dark because without sunlight streaming in through the windows, the place might take on a much creepier tone.
But in the daylight, it just looked neat. On the second floor were more bookcases, mostly children’s books and young adult books, but there was a reading room up there, too. I remember going there as a child and sitting on the red carpet of the reading room and following along as one of the librarians read one of the children’s novels. My dad sat outside, reading Star Trek books.
I remember the first time I “graduated” to the first floor. I chose a science book about extinct animals from long ago. I’d been enraptured by a drawing on the first page where a long-extinct saber-toothed tiger was battling a ferocious lion. I just knew the tiger had won because tigers are the greatest.
I remember that time because I’d almost gone into the basement. The basement door was near the bathrooms and I’d opened the door by mistake. A cool breeze had touched my skin. It was so dark that I squinted, trying to make something out. Anything. But it was too dark, and it gave little 13-year-old me the chills.
The basement. If only I’d known what was waiting for me down there.
Needless to say, I was ready for exam week to be over. Even my last class of the day—hardly a class at all—couldn’t keep me entertained. Fencing. Where other girls chose basic gym because the rules for roller skating and badminton were relaxed enough to allow casual gossip, I’d made the choice to fence with six other guys—including my boyfriend Edward—and a girl named Tina who was on the verge of failing.
“You have to attack,” I told her midway through class. She’d lost twice already during the week and we were being graded on our form. Tina didn’t have form. Tina had nothing more than an amazing ability to swing her sword—called a “foil”—left and right as fast as possible and delay the inevitable.
“I can’t attack,” she told me, shifting in the chair. We were in a small weight training room off of the gym. In front of us, two of the other students were fencing in full gear, their shoes squeaking on the red rubber mats. “The boys are stronger.”
“Oh gawd,” I muttered. “Look,” I pointed to the two boys fighting. They were both wearing white uniforms but one of the helmets had an A printed on the back and the other a B so our teacher—Mr. Whitmann—could communicate the scores.
“What am I looking at?” Tina asked.
“Watch Gregg,” I said. “He’s the A. Watch him parry. See how he always uses the same riposte? He loves stabbing after he parries.” We watched them attack and parry again, the thin blades of their fencing swords clanging together. Gregg took two steps back, parrying his opponent’s attacks. When the time was right, he took the offensive, stabbing wildly at his opponent’s ribs. “Just watch their shoulders,” I told Tina.
Mr. Whitmann called an end to the fight and tallied up the scores. Gregg was the surefire winner.
“He’s too good,” Tina moaned. “All these swords just blur my vision. I can’t even see them coming!”
“Just focus,” I said. “We’re not losing to a bunch of stinky boys. Gregg doesn’t even wear deodorant, for crying out loud.”
“Alice,” Mr. Whitmann said, wrinkling his black mustache. “You can’t keep quiet sitting there? You’re up. Gregg, you stay on.”
I grabbed the B mask and foil from the quiet boy who’d just been creamed by Gregg. I adjusted the plastic chest protector underneath my jacket, much to the chagrin of the boys seat at the edge of the mat. Edward simply smiled, giving me a thumbs-up. I have to admit, he looked pretty good sitting there. He was one of the few guys who could wear the bulky fencing gear with any grace, like he was actually comfortable underneath all the padding.
“En guard,” Mr. Whitmann called out. I barely had time to get a grip on the foil before Gregg came crashing at me with all the grace of a football player. I parried his thrusts; the clang of the swords was almost lost inside the mask but not quite and I relished it. I loved this moment. I loved the salty smell of sweat inside the mask. I loved the way the world seemed dark and closed-in from behind the black mesh.
And I loved winning. Especially against boys bigger than me. And as Gregg came in again, I parried low, pulling his foil downward, taking a quick step back and then a quick step forward and thrusting the foil into his chest. The tip of my sword pressed into the protective jacket and the narrow blade bent in a U-shape.
“Point,” Mr. Whitmann called out. “Parry-riposte from the right. Good job, young lady.”
“Can you sound more surprised?” I muttered inside the mask. Mr. Whitmann was a small, portly man with jet-black hair and hairy arms. He favored the boys; that much was obvious. And he loved Edward. Everyone loved Edward. From the very day he transferred to Washington High School, he was universally loved.
Gregg came at me again, this time swinging his sword even more violently. I parried as best I could, stepping away from him. He didn’t even have his free hand behind his back, and if our foils weren’t dulled at the tip I could have nicked the skin of his bare hand. He left me another opening and I took it, stabbing him in the rib.
“Point B,” Mr. Whitmann said. “Excellent job, Alice.”
Gregg stepped back, tearing off his mask in frustration. I took mine off and pulled loose strands of black hair behind my ears. I glanced at Edward, who was sitting with the other boys, smiling approvingly.
Later, at the end of the day, he sidled up to me at my locker. “Do you need help with your books?” Students had begun sifting out; the only ones lingering were the select few who needed a few extra minutes to fill our backpacks with notes and textbooks. Our school was like that: a lot of slackers. Kids who preferred C’s because it allowed more time to watch awful TV shows. Exam week was even worse because some students only had one or two classes—plus gym—and then could leave.
I spun around and wrapped my arms around him, planting a kiss on his lips. He had soft, full lips, perfect for smooching. “We’re waiting for Tricia and Seth. I told them you would give them a ride home. Is that OK?”
He smiled, holding me close. “Of course. Will you spend some time with me tonight?”
How could I say no? Edward was dreamy. Edward was everything a 17-year-old girl wanted: dark looks, chiseled body, searching green eyes, short brown hair, and of course an earring to top it all off. That isn’t to say the earring was the deal-maker—more of a cherry on top of a tasty sundae.
A really, really tasty sundae.
I’d met him in a strange sort of way. Well, strange in retrospect. At the time, it couldn’t have been more exciting. I’d been at the park down by Lake Michigan with a couple friends right before school started. They’d gone rollerblading and so I took to the opportunity to knock down a few chapters of a new fiction novel, lying back on a bench. My eyes slowly shut.
When I woke up, he was standing over me. In all his hunky glory. Wearing a tight blue button-down shirt. He was looking down at me like he wanted to kiss me. Yeah.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just noticed that something is about to flitter out of your purse.”
I glanced down at my black purse sitting on the grass next to the bench. He was right: a little slip of paper was hanging out, fluttering in the wind. “Flitter,” I repeated with a smile. “I like the sound of that word.”
“It used to be quite a popular word,” he said, crouching down beside me. He was regarding me ... really, really staring into my eyes. “Royalty used it for a long time. And then when the peasants started using it, the royalty stopped. Weird, no?”
I laughed. “Do you always walk up to girls and tell them about the history of words?”
He laughed, too, glancing at the piece of paper still flittering as the breeze picked up again. “No, no. I don’t know where that came from. I’m usually much more awkward.”
I felt incredibly calm around him, calm enough to sit up and hold out a hand. “I’m Alice.”
“Edward,” he said, taking my hand in his. “So what is it?” he asked, nodding to the paper. “I bet it’s a shopping list.”
“That’s so goofy!” I said with a laugh. “I hate shopping. My mom shops for me.” I winced. Stupid, stupid. “I mean, I shop for myself. Sometimes. It’s just a note to myself. It says Alice, please remember to return your book to the library.”
“Ah, a library denizen,” he said. “Do you go to the downtown library?”
“No,” I said. “I live out by New Berlin. There’s a little library right by my house.”
“So you go to Washington High, then?”
“I’m starting there this year,” he said. “I’m a little nervous. I transferred from out of state.”
“Just keep a list of weird words handy,” I offered.
He smiled. We talked some more. I don’t remember what we talked about because my head was swimming with excitement.
He came up to me the first day of class. We were leaving English, having been assigned a section of Jane Eyre, one of my favorite classic novels. Just walking through the crowded hall, I could see eyes on me in every direction. That never happened before. But now here the mysterious new guy was talking to little old me, telling me about his original copy of Jane Eyre that he wanted to show me, but only if I agreed to let him take me out to dinner.
That Friday night, the first Friday of the school year, we had our first date in a crowded dark little restaurant in downtown Milwaukee that featured $25 plates and whose walls were covered with old paintings. I thought I was going to die. Being there with him. Eating food my parents would be jealous of. Staring at the plastic-wrapped original copy of Jane Eyre, with “An Autobiography” in small text underneath the title.
Tricia and Seth met us at the entrance to the school. Tricia was wearing heels today, which made her an inch or two taller than Seth. They were both wearing their Washington Dragons t-shirts to show a little school spirit: the girls’ basketball team—the “Lady Dragons”—had won the state championships again. Seth looked younger with such a large shirt on. He was already short, and his boyish pimpled face and short blond hair didn’t help things. He’d gotten an ear pierced a year ago but it had become infected and he had to take it out … just Seth’s luck.
“That really doesn’t do much for your figure,” I said to Tricia with a smile. I turned to Seth. “Yours either, dear.”
Seth just shrugged. “They were out of small sizes.”
“I got mine for free,” Tricia said proudly. She tossed her blond hair over her shoulders. “The cheerleaders were throwing t-shirts into the stands at the last home game.”
Seth jerked a thumb in her direction. “Trish reached over an old lady’s head and tore it out of her hands.”
“I did not!” Tricia said, slapping him lightly on the arm. This could have been the beginning of a long, drawn-out fight. That was how they were. It was the complete opposite of Edward and me: we never fought. I didn’t want to deal with their fight today. I didn’t want either of them preoccupied before our biology final on Thursday. The only sensible course was a diversion.
“Are those the jeans we picked out last week?” I asked.
Tricia lifted up her too-long shirt, extending one leg. “Indeed they are. Acid wash is going to make a comeback, I swear it.”
Edward and Seth both laughed a little. “She’s probably right,” Edward said. “Every style eventually makes a comeback.”
“Yeah but is she going to live that long?” Seth asked with a raised eyebrow.
Another playful slap. But this time, he caught her hand and held it. A good sign that they would stay on good terms and at least try to get some studying done tonight. I didn’t want either of them to fail.
We walked toward Edward’s car on the far end of the parking lot. Nothing but the best for Edward: a great car and a great parking space. Only the upper-class kids had parking spaces in the little lot behind Washington High. The rest of us peasants parked on the streets in the surrounding neighborhood, generally upsetting the owners of the one-story boxes who liked their street quiet and devoid of teenagers.
“You think it’s gonna rain?” Seth asked, glancing up at the gray sky. “I’m so sick of the rain. I gotta start biking to work to save money on gas.”
Tricia wrapped her arm in his. “It’s going to rain every day you have to work. All summer.”
“That’s the meanest thing you’ve ever said to him,” I told her with a laugh. Edward’s hand found mine and squeezed it tight. I felt a little surge of warmth spread across my body. I looked up at him. He was a foot taller than me, a good six inches taller than Tricia and she was five-ten. He could have been on the basketball team. I told him that. He would always respond: “I’d rather spend time with you.”
In the car, Seth sat up front and controlled the radio dial with calculated fury, making sure we were never tortured by any commercials. Edward had one of the nicest cars but he drove in control and always used his turn signals, even as he was pulling out of the parking lot.
“You’re such a weirdo,” Tricia told him when he made a complete stop before pulling out of the parking lot. “Not even one squealed tire? Really?”
He laughed and gave a little shrug, turning on the wipers as a small sprinkling of rain started up. “I like to be safe. It’s a nice car, if you haven’t noticed. With some nice ladies inside, too.”
“Where?” Seth asked, looking around.
I kicked the passenger’s seat. “Be good.”
“I bet if we were wearing low-cut blouses he’d be nicer,” Tricia said with a smile. We were on 85th street now, heading away from the city of Milwaukee and toward the little suburb of New Berlin. “Remember two years ago when we didn’t have chests? I don’t even think Seth ever even talked to me in the hall.”
“I never talked to anyone in the hall,” Seth muttered. “Especially girls without chests.”
“I bet I’d still have talked to Alice,” Edward said, glancing at me in the mirror. His dark eyes narrowed deviously.
“Probably not,” I told him.
Tricia laughed. “Yeah Eddie, she really wasn’t much to look at when she was a frosh. See how straight her dark hair is now? It used to be much frizzier. I had to teach her how to use hairspray. And this face? Zits. Tons and tons of zits. She needed a lot of help.”
“It’s true,” I murmured. I’d smoothed out some of the rough edges over the past two years. My skin was clearer (although I didn’t tan well) and I’d filled into a slight hourglass shape. My bright brown eyes seemed brighter now than when I was younger—or maybe I’d just gotten used to them. I used to hate them. Now, I loved how they complimented my indigo-friendly wardrobe.
“Every high school student needs a lot of help,” Edward said with a smile. “Me included.”
“Yeah I think one of your pecks is smaller than the other,” Seth said, giving Edward a poke in the ribs. Edward flinched, smiling, but said nothing.
Suddenly he braked, forcing my body against the seat belt. I looked out the windshield and saw the car of Joey Harrington pass us.
“What an ass,” Tricia said. “Who passes someone on a residential street?”
“Joey Harrington,” the rest of us said at the same time. Joey lived in our neighborhood, too. He kept to his clique of popular students inside the lunchroom and played football and hockey. He didn’t talk to us, but he didn’t pick on us either. We were the in-betweens—not quite popular, not quite outcasts who were the target of bullies. But we had friends in the outcast cliques, and so Joey and his friends’ taunts affected us too.
After Edward started dating me and word had spread, Joey was even nice to me in the hallway. Not overly nice, mind you … but he’d say hi. And it was hard not to enjoy it.
“You should cut him off,” Tricia said.
“I’d love nothing more,” Edward responded. “But not today.”
“Not today,” Seth scoffed. “You always say that. You’ve got, like, the coolest head in the school. And I mean that in a bad way, dude.”
“Yeah,” said Trish, “what happens when you get caught in some drama? You’ll have to take a side. Joey and his friends and those cool girls are obsessed with making drama.”
Edward just shrugged. It didn’t get to him. At least, I don’t think it did. He was cool. He looked cool—calm, I mean. His short dark hair and square jaw made him look like someone out of an old black-and-white detective film, one of those guys who’s always thinking one step ahead.
As we headed farther west, the houses and properties began to spread out. No more small boxy World War II-era homes … now, everything was getting bigger. Bigger homes. Bigger front yards. Bigger cars. We passed Southridge Mall, and then our rival high school. The street widened into four lanes to accommodate more traffic.
Edward turned right at Cherokee Drive, weaving around bends in the street. The houses in this small patch of neighborhood were crowded with pine and maple trees. Everything was green. Summer was here.
“Your stop, my friends,” Edward said, pulling into the driveway of a long two-story house with brown siding and wide windows overlooking the road. This was Seth’s house. You couldn’t see it from the front road, but in the back yard was one of the most amazing swing sets out there, complete with a climbing tower and monkey bars. As kids, Seth and I had logged hundreds of hours on that jungle gym.
Tricia opened her door, then reached out and grabbed Edward’s shoulder. “So you’ll pick us up tomorrow, right?”
He laughed. “I promise.”
“Please,” she said. She turned to me. “Don’t either of you forget. I can’t miss that exam.”
“You need to focus on passing the exam,” I told her sternly.
“I will.” She smiled her pearly white smile, then blew me a kiss.
Edward gave a wave to Seth, pulling out of the driveway and heading back toward 86th Street. On the way, we passed my house. My parents were both home, their twin Toyotas sitting in the driveway. Our house was narrower than Seth’s. Taller, too—our house had two floors. The paneling outside was dark blue and the windows much, much older. Drafty. Edward had never been inside my house, but if he had he would have first noticed the draft coming in through the windows. Everyone noticed that first.
We were quiet for a while. Edward didn’t talk much. I thought it was sexy; it reminded me of the hunks that always showed up in the books that all the girls in school read during Study Hall. The hunks were always silent. Always mysterious. Like Edward. Why he’d zeroed in on plain Alice was the subject of many guesses.
“Are we going to prom next year?” I asked him suddenly.
He turned right on 86th Street. “Of course.”
I leaned back. I wished I’d gotten in the front seat to be closer to him. I wanted to be close to him suddenly. To make sure he didn’t disappear.
“What made you think of that?” he asked.
“I just got this, like, real weird feeling run over me,” I said. “Like, we’re not going to be together next year or something.” Give me reassurance, I thought. There were prettier girls in school. They all liked Edward. They talked to him in class. They tried to make him laugh because he had a nice smile. OK, I’m being modest. A lot of them downright fawned over him. I pretended not to see it, but in reality we’re talking more than a little anxiety. He’d made friends so quickly—that was what happened when you joined track. The runners were popular.
He didn’t answer at first. Not exactly what I was hoping for.
“Seriously?” I asked. “No answer?”
“Of course we’re going,” he said finally.
“But you hesitated.”
“A lot of things happen over the course of the year, Alice.” He shrugged. “I’m game if you are.”
“But what?” I asked. “You think I might not be up for it?”
He didn’t answer. The downside to having a mysterious boyfriend was sometimes he was mysterious in an annoying sort of way. The popular girly books never prepare you for that.
“You OK?” he asked finally.
I touched my forehead. “Yes. I think. I’ve just been having some weird dreams.”
“I don’t know. I can’t remember them well. But I keep waking up in a cold sweat. I know they’re scary, though. I remember them being scary.”
“Don’t eat pizza before bedtime,” he offered. “It causes nightmares.”
“Thank you, doctor. That’s really wonderful advice.”
Farther out at the edge of the suburb were the much larger houses. These houses were less social than the ones in my neighborhood: each one had a wrought iron gate and expansive yards and high fences that acted as a buffer between their neighbors. Each house was secluded and that, I think, was the way the owners liked it.
They liked their yards, too. Edward’s neighbor had put in a number of massive green shrubs that had been cut to resemble animals. Edward’s parents had “installed” maple and ash trees around the edge of the property to give their mansion—a thick, two-story monolith with off-white paneling and narrow prison-like windows—the feel of a cabin out in the woods.
A really, really big cabin.
He stopped the car at the gate, running his keycard across the little sensor box. The gate opened and he drove up the asphalt driveway, parking at the side of the house. Up close, the house looked more “middle class” and less “Super Filthy Rich.” There was a small door that presumably led to the basement and two green garbage bins that always seemed to be overflowing. Rain water had stained the red-brick foundation with ugly black streaks.
“Ugh,” I said, stepping around the garbage bag sitting on the grass next to the overflowing bin. Food wrappers and empty orange juice cartons were leaking out. “The raccoons got to it. Don’t your parents tell you to take out the trash?”
“Every week,” Edward said with a smile. “I hate doing it. It’s a long walk from the house to the street, if you haven’t noticed.”
“I’ve noticed,” I said. “You could almost have your own bus line from the street to your house.”
We walked up the concrete steps to the front door. Edward pulled out his keys and unlocked it.
“What do you mean?” he asked with concern in his voice.
“I thought you said they might be home today.”
“Tonight,” he said. “Later tonight. Much, much later.”
We walked into the house. The front door opened into a massive living room. Near the front door were two blue couches and a large flatscreen TV smushed against the wall. Over the beautiful dark gray floral pattern wallpaper. That idea had to have come from Edward’s dad, I thought. No sane woman would hang something over such beautiful wallpaper.
Beyond the living room was the kitchen and a bathroom, the only other two rooms—beside his bedroom upstairs—that Edward said we were allowed to hang out in. The first floor had three more rooms, each one filled with things teenagers weren’t allowed to touch. Edward had shown me one afternoon when he was sure his parents wouldn’t show up. The first room was full of tall marble statues. Old, old statues. Statues of goddesses and ancient soldiers and plain-looking figures who had the curly hair and wardrobe of philosophers.
The second room was full of paintings, which hung on the wall and were held in place by solid metal frames whose intricate designs were almost as interesting as the paintings themselves. Lots of cherubs. Edward’s parents had a thing for cuddly little angel babies, I guess.
The third room led to the staircase and the bedrooms upstairs. This room was simpler, with tall solid wood bookshelves that tempted me every time we snuck upstairs. Books so old just looking at their delicate broken spines might cause them pain. Books so old the writing on the covers looked as if it had been inked in a different language entirely, the font so obscure you had to squint and remember back to your cursive lessons to figure out each letter. It was beautiful.
We went in there now on our way to his bedroom. I stopped as I always did, exploring one of the bookshelves nearest the large staircase pressed against the far wall. My bare toes sank into the soft red carpeting as I ran a finger along the middle row. This was the only room with carpeting. It looked old, too, as if it belonged in an earlier generation.
“Fairy tales,” I murmured. “God, there must be dozens of books of fairy tales.”
“They’re important,” Edward said. “Don’t you think?”
“They are important,” Edward said. “Children need to believe in happy endings.”
“And Prince Charming,” I added. I looked up at him. “Right? Prince Charming is real, isn’t he?”
He smiled and kissed me on the forehead. “Of course, my love.”
“What’s this?” I asked, grabbing a flat wooden box sitting on one of the shelves. There was glass over one side and when I saw what was inside, I nearly dropped it.
“Careful,” Edward said, taking it from me. “They’re just butterflies.”
“Dead butterflies!” I exclaimed, wiping my hands on my pants. “Stabbed with needles!”
“That’s how they’re displayed.”
“Well, it’s gross. Almost as gross as spiders.”
He seemed offended, sliding the box back into the bookshelf between two books. “I have a lot of these, all over the house, so you might as well get used to them. I collect them. Every butterfly species is different. They’re all beautiful in their own way.” He looked at me and smiled devilishly. “I bet spiders can taste the difference, too.”
My stomach lurched. “Oh that is so gross. Please stop.”
He put an arm around me. “If you insist, my love.”
We went upstairs. I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong: I didn’t sleep with him. In fact, I’d never slept with him. It was strange, especially since we’d been dating for more than half a year, but I was having doubts about whether we should go that far at all. He seemed so much more mature than me. He didn’t laugh at Seth’s ridiculous jokes—he just smiled. He didn’t get excited at the hockey and basketball and football games we went to—he just clapped. He didn’t goof around with his track mates in class.
If we were going to have sex, I wanted to make sure it meant something. And I still didn’t know Edward, not really … I mean, what about that butterfly collection? What was that all about? Was he going to work in a museum or something? And I hadn’t even met his parents yet! Always so busy, running around making money.
We necked. There was nothing wrong with that, right? His bed was soft. His dark blue sheets felt silky on my bare toes. His lips pressed against mine, then made their way down to my neck. This is nice, I thought. This could be every night for the rest of my life and I would be happy.
His hand crept lower. I let it happen until he reached my waist, then pulled it back. “Not now,” I said.
“When,” he whispered into my ear. I could sense the longing. It was hard not to give in. Still, I felt something was wrong about this moment.
“Soon,” I said. “I promise. I turn eighteen on Monday, remember?”
He rolled back, sighing. His tight shirt had rolled up a bit and his strong abs were visible now. I had to fight the urge to run a hand along them. Gawd, I was fighting a lot of urges.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “Really. You’re wonderful. Almost too wonderful. But I want to wait until I’m eighteen.” There. A little lie, yes, but it would buy me some time before I had everything figured out. Plus, I’d be a thousand dollars richer, too.
“It’s OK,” he said, staring up at the ceiling. “It’s OK. This just feels so right for me, that’s all.”
Yeah. Right. I bet it did, Edward. I didn’t think any of that at the time, though. At the time, I felt nothing but shame. Like I’d done something wrong for saying no. Like I should feel bad because I wasn’t ready to have sex with him. Why wasn’t I? He was one of the coolest guys in school. He was dark. He was mysterious. And he was mine.
He drove me home in silence. I fought the urge to apologize. Be tough, I told myself. Be tough. You didn’t do anything wrong. Just because a lot of the kids in the cool clique talked about sex all the time didn’t make it cool. Or right.
I made it past the kiss goodbye. I made it past the kitchen, where my mom was sitting at the table reading a magazine. I made it to my room. Then I cried. I felt as if I’d done something wrong saying no. I felt as if I was supposed to sleep with Edward.
Mom came into my room without knocking. Her soft hand rested on my back and stayed there while I let it all out.
“It’s hard,” I said into my pillow.
Mom—ever the understanding one in these moments—simply affirmed my outlook on life with a quiet “Mmmm-hmmm.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” Mom said, “that’s just the way it is. Life isn’t a fairy tale. It has a lot of ups and downs.”
I sighed, dry-hiccupping. The tears were gone. If Dad was up here, he’d call this a “woman thing” and maybe he was right. My cycle had begun acting less on time for the last six months, ever since I’d started dating Edward. It was nothing spectacularly big—a couple days early, then a couple days late—but it was incredibly strange given how rigorous my cycle usually was. I didn’t want to mention that to my mom. Those types of topics had a tendency to lead to “sex talks,” and I’d had enough of those. Really, just one or two is enough, Mom.
“You’re starting your new job in a few days,” Mom said. “Look forward to that. Just get through these last few exams and then focus on that. I’ll run your pillow case through the laundry tonight, too.”
“It’s not a job,” I murmured. Gawd, what a teenager-thing to say. Here she was, trying her best to cheer me up, and I had to go and pick her words apart.
She was unfazed. “Books,” she said in her soothing “Mom” voice, “are what you love.”