Say you're a teenage girl who's fallen in love with an impossibly hunky guy at school.
He loves you, too. But the relationship faces a few roadblocks.
For starters, this guy – Edward – is a vampire. He's sworn off sucking human blood, but finds you so yummy-smelling he can hardly control himself.
Also, Edward, though born in 1901, will always be 17 years old. When you're pushing 50, this could be a problem.
This is the premise of Stephenie Meyer's bestselling Twilight saga. And millions of fans – many of them teenage girls – are counting the minutes until Saturday, when “Breaking Dawn,” the series' fourth and final book, hits stores.
In Charlotte and across the country, bookstores and libraries are celebrating with Friday night parties. On amazon.com, pre-orders have pushed “Breaking Dawn” to the No. 1 seller.
And while main characters Bella and Edward haven't yet become household words like Harry and Hermione, Twilight devotees are just as intense as Harry Potter fans.
They re-read the series' three books – “Twilight,” “New Moon” and “Eclipse.” They watch Internet clips from the forthcoming “Twilight” film, premiering Dec. 12.
And they pore over fan posts on www.twilightlexicon.com, searching for answers to the big question: Will our star-crossed lovers live happily ever after?
“I check Twilightlexicon, like five times a day, as often as I check Facebook,” says Megan Blanchard, a 19-year-old University of South Carolina student from Charlotte.
Love and death
The story behind the Twilight series is almost as unlikely as its vampires-in-high-school premise.
Stephenie Meyer was a Mormon stay-at-home mom living outside Phoenix when she dreamt in 2003 about a brilliant young man named Edward who loved a girl but wanted to kill her.
That vivid dream propelled her to write the story of Bella Swan, a 17-year-old who moves to Forks, Wash., to live with her father and falls for a mysterious student at her new school.
Since the first book's 2005 publication, the series has sold more than 5.3 million copies in the United States alone. When “Eclipse” was released last August, it bumped the final Harry Potter book off the top of some best-seller lists. Twilight mania has even made tiny Forks, Wash., a tourist destination.
So why the popularity?
“I think there's a couple things,” says ImaginOn Teen Services Manager Michele Gorman. “The outcast in society, and the romance, and the Gothic nature of the story….You know what it really is? It's the tortured soul part of it – the love that you can't quite have.”
“It's the universal story – very Romeo and Juliet-esque,” says 16-year-old Margaret Keener, a student at Charlotte Country Day. “They are forbidden to be with each other, in this case because of the laws of nature.”
Adding to the appeal: Two hot love interests – Edward Cullen and Jacob Black.
Jacob – a muscular Native American boy who also happens to be a werewolf – is the long-odds suitor in this triangle. He loves Bella, but her heart belongs to Edward, the Volvo-driving vampire who drinks only animal blood.
At Barnes & Noble at Sharon Corners last week, 10 Twilight fans – all young women – debated the two characters' merits.
“I'm in between,” said North Mecklenburg High student Alejandra Oliva, 15. “Jacob is sweet and all. But Edward is just dreamy.”
Jacob's problem is that he's immature, declared Sarah Campos, a 20-year-old student at Queens University of Charlotte. Several women agreed, noting Jacob resembles high school boys they've known.
Edward, on the other hand, has had 107 years to grow up. He's mature, devoted, ever-protective.
In interviews, Meyer has said she drew inspiration for Edward from characters in “Jane Eyre,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Anne of Green Gables.”
“In some ways, it's a very old-fashioned romance,” says Megan Fink, middle school librarian for Charlotte Country Day School.
Like a good 19th-century romance, the Twilight saga is all about love without sex. As a Mormon, Meyer doesn't believe in sex before marriage. And so for Bella and Edward, sex could be fatal, because Edward could kill her with his superhuman vampire strength.
Suddenly, abstinence seems mighty appealing.
Still, sexual tension abounds. Bella caresses his cheek, strokes his eyelid, traces the shape of his perfect nose and flawless lips. He places the side of his face tenderly against her chest, listening to her heart. Each night, he visits her bedroom and holds her while she sleeps. Eventually, they kiss. But that's about it.
By the end of “Eclipse,” the third book, Bella and Edward are engaged. Edward has agreed to bite her – but only after they're married – so she can become a vampire and they can spend eternity together.
Immortality comes with costs, however: Bella will never be able to see her non-vampire family or friends again. She'll never have children. She'll have to hunt mountain lions and bears for sustenance. And the transformation process? Really painful.
Meyer has described herself as a better storyteller than writer. Her books are page-turners, but the prose can be wordy and cliched. Heads spin. Stomachs turn. Eyes flash.
A few critics have also noted that her stories aren't exactly feminist fare. Bella is perpetually the damsel in distress, saved by Edward from a skidding car, predatory young men, evil vampires.
Legions of Twilight fans aren't bothered, however.
To them, Edward is the perfect man. Sure, he drinks blood. Yes, his skin is cold.
But when it comes to knowing how to treat a woman, this courtly vampire, fans say, could give most human guys a few pointers.