By People Staff
June 23, 2010 12:00 PM

AT A FEBRUARY DINNER in New York City, Robert Pattinson, 24, and Kristen Stewart, 20-or Robsten, as they have come to be known-joined a group of friends at the Italian eatery Locanda Verde, a casual hot spot in Tribeca. “Nobody could take their eyes off them,” says one witness. “A few waiters had to stand in front of the couple and act as human shields. When Beyoncé and Jay-Z were sitting there, people didn’t make such a fuss!” But the makeshift wall couldn’t hide the fact that “they were a really happy couple,” says the onlooker, noting the duo were “sitting very close to each other and whispering. They seemed to be having a good time together.”

Just days earlier, when a London government official spotted Robsten getting cozy at a local pub, he was possessed to tweet, “In the Marquis of Granby with Robert Pattinson & Kristen Stewart!!” and “From what I saw just a couple of kisses on lips,” and finally, “R+K were acting like a couple.”

Once as rare as an eclipse, Robert and Kristen sightings have been slowly increasing, despite the constant stares and instant reportage. The pair have evolved into international mates of mystery, enjoying meet-ups not only stateside but all over Europe, far away from the celeb scene. A fan spotted them during a secret New Year’s Eve getaway to an island off the south coast of England, and in April paparazzi caught them joining up in Budapest, where Pattinson was filming his movie Bel Ami.

For these situations they’ve adopted a fugitive fashion philosophy: She’s partial to wearing a face-concealing hoodie, and he tends to make sure a baseball cap (or ski cap) is covering up his telltale hair. But no matter how hard they try to go unnoticed, paparazzi photos just keep on coming.

Of course, seeing them together and hearing them talk about being together are still two very different things. Although Pattinson admitted that Kristen is “a good friend,” when David Letterman asked what’s really going on between the Twi-stars during the actor’s November visit, Pattinson just stammered, “I’ve been so, kind of, cryptically avoiding this question.”

In fact avoidance has been the duo’s main M.O. “We’re playing characters that are coveted by so many people, so I get why they want to know more about us and they want us to be together,” Stewart says of the rabid fan and media interest. But when folks try to pry into her private life, “I let it fall by the wayside,” she says. “I’m always going to keep what’s important to me in mind.”

Naturally, trying to discreetly spend time with one of the most desirable men in Hollywood while playing the heroine of a megapopular movie franchise comes with all sorts of challenges. One new one to contend with: As the romance between Bella and Edward heats up in Eclipse, fans are going to wonder if the same is happening between the actors in real life. The uproar has already started. While filming Eclipse in Vancouver last fall, both Stewart and Pattinson holed up in their hotel rooms to steer clear of their ardent admirers, choosing to publicly venture out on the town only in a group with their castmates. “Rob is more frustrated with it,” Stewart told Harper’s Bazaar of their controlled lifestyle. “He had a couple more years to be an adult and be independent.”

Now, as the promotional tour for Eclipse gears up (Robsten, meet Oprah!), the duo is faced with a double-edged situation: On one hand they’ll have the chance to get plenty of quality time together, but that also means they’re going to have an even harder time keeping their love lives under wraps. Yet given the blinding flashbulbs and screaming fans that come with the Twilight territory, there’s one thing Pattinson knows for sure: He’s psyched to have Kristen by his side to keep him grounded. “It’s quite nice,” he said to Vanity Fair, “to have someone who is genuinely indifferent to the whole spectacle.”