Jude Larrimore has come here—to this sleepy Pacific Northwest town with a population of 3,175—looking for love. Which doesn't mean that she's prowling for a fling. She has been comfortably married for 17 years to a guy named Matt, and though Matt is back home in Colorado this September weekend, he was game enough to tag along on one of her previous Twilight pilgrimages to Forks, Washington, and he is such a gentleman that he has accompanied her four times to see the movie. On her own, Larrimore has seen Twilight 28 times, she estimates. She is, to put it mildly, obsessed with it. Obsessed with Stephenie Meyer's four best-selling Twilight books; obsessed with the high school romance between the two main characters, vampire Edward Cullen and human Bella Swan; and obsessed, on a deeper level, with what that all-encompassing, skin-tingling, pulse-quickening romance tells us about love and how it's supposed to feel.
"It reminds me of first meeting my husband and falling in love," she says. She's sitting at a long table in the auditorium of Forks Congregational Church on Spartan Avenue, sipping from a souvenir coffee thermos that says BITE ME! "Of course, that's changed, because everything changes, but it's nice to be reminded. That devotion. The appetite—and I don't mean just for sex, but for the other person. Remember when that half hour before that person came by was the longest of the day?" She smiles, sighs. "I read somewhere that only a vampire can love you forever."
Larrimore is 38. She comes across as calm and sane, which cannot be said of everyone in the room. The church auditorium is full of Twilight fanatics from around the world—women, mostly, who have traveled from the South, from the Midwest, from as far away as Australia to see, firsthand, the fog-banked burg where the Twilight saga takes place—and their excitability level is so high that it's not uncommon to hear them break into unprompted gasps, giggles, and squeals.
Traditionally those are the sounds of teenage girls, but what's striking about the majority of fans who have trudged to the Olympic Peninsula to celebrate the Forks Chamber of Commerce's Stephenie Meyer Day (which in fact consumes an entire weekend) is that they haven't been teenagers since the heyday of Benetton and Bananarama. Most of the folks lining up for Bella Swan's birthday breakfast this morning are wives and mothers, dutiful employees and corporate executives, people you live next door to—grown women—and more than a few are acting like someone slipped a psychotropic agent into their Bonnie Bell lip gloss.
Of course, the man they are swooning over does not exist. Twilight has taken their hearts and glands hostage because of a poetic, protective fiction known as Edward Cullen, a love-addled bloodsucker who is played, in the first Twilight movie and its upcoming sequel, New Moon, by young British heartthrob Robert Pattinson.
"I dream about him," says Tanna Noble, a 46-year-old Twihard from Eatonville, Washington. Dangling from her neck is an ancient-looking pendant that represents the Cullen family crest. "I dream explicit dreams about Edward. You can't put down what I dream about Edward. It is very, very erotic. It's not Rob Pattinson. It's Edward."
"Rob is just Rob," chimes in her friend Lynn Robbins, a 46-year-old mother of two who has made the trip from Virginia. "It's not about Rob at all." Tanna and Lynn first met electronically, on a Twilight fan site where Tanna, using the pseudonym "Cynder," has logged more than 7,200 posts. Right now, Lynn is wearing topaz-colored contact lenses that cover her normally blue-green eyes, because—well, it's complicated to explain, but in the first Twilight book, Bella tells Edward that her new favorite gemstone is topaz because of the color of his eyes. Twilight fanatics are as precise with their details as Civil War reenactors.