AN: Remember this thing? It was gone. Now it's back. I'm reposting for nostalgia, but won't be editing, and will try not to cringe at this thing I wrote so long ago. :) Six years guys! Six years is a long time ago.


Learning to Say No

Chapter One

At Christmas we wear chunky red sweaters and at Easter we wear frilly pastel dresses and at Halloween we dress like whores. I learned this as a little girl, long before I was consciously aware of my own modesty and distaste for gawdiness or excessive amounts of skin. In Phoenix I had worn jeans on a daily basis despite the heat, which my friends there had teased me about. Now, in Forks, I continued my habit of layering shirts that didn't quite contrast but didn't match either. It drove Alice crazy, my best friend who only left the couch during awards shows long enough to pee and make popcorn because she had to critique the dresses. Since I had moved to Forks for good a month ago, she had made it her personal mission to instill some "style" on me.

And what better opportunity to put her plan into action than at Halloween? Apparently Halloween was a bit of a big deal in Forks because what else was there to make a big deal of? Whomever had a free house threw a big party at which all the boys dressed like gangsters and all the girls dressed like skanks, everyone got trashed, and the ensuing drama –because when there are drunk girls, there is drama—was all anyone talked about for the next two months until time for New Years' Eve parties.

When I had voiced my desire to not go, Mike Newton had offered that he and I could watch horror films at his place instead if I preferred. Jessica Stanley choked on her orange juice. Alice sent me a death-glare across the table. My options were to sit at home alone in Charlie's old house and hand out candy to the masked children that dared knock on the door, or else go play wingman for Alice.

I had caved then, but now severely regretted my lack of a spine, pressed into the backseat of Jessica Stanley's VW bug between Alice, Lauren, and Angela. Alice's older brother's girlfriend Rosalie rode in the front seat, which added an air of discomfort to the already crowded car. A sophomore in Seattle Pacific, the only reason she was even back in Forks was because Emmett wanted to party with his old friends instead of Rosalie's new friends. He had decided against the college route and was working as a mechanic at the moment and living at home still, but recently he had decided maybe he would like to be a high school football coach. He certainly had the barking voice for it. But so he wanted to party in Forks, so Rosalie came home, but needed a ride into Port Angeles because Emmett and "the boys" had spent the afternoon watching some game in some pub. I didn't even pay attention to know what was in season in October; football, I guess. Rosalie needed a ride, and Alice played the good little-sister-of-the-boyfriend card by suggesting she could ride with us.

This just meant an overflowing bucket of awkwardness for the rest of us.

"I was thinking a Playboy Bunny," Lauren answered outloud to Jessica's question. "That's not overdone, is it?"

"Oh, in Forks you'll be fine," Jessica assured. "I think I may go the sexy witch route. Or maybe a devil? I haven't decided yet."

"If I go as an angel, do I get to wear the floor-length white sheet?" I whispered to Alice, to which she rolled her eyes and announced loudly, "No, Bella, you are not being an angel for your first Halloween."

Fuck you, Alice Brandon.

"First Halloween?" Angela pressed, leaning around Alice – or at least trying to. VW Bugs were really not built with backseat passengers in mind.

"It's not my first Halloween," I snapped, glaring at Alice. "I dressed up and went trick-or-treating as a kid. I just haven't done it in . . . in a few years."

"What's a few years?" Alice nudged, feeding the excitement that glistened in Jessica's and Lauren's eyes. If Alice was trying to be my fashion savior, the two of them were a social team intent on saving me from social suicide. Alice had rolled her eyes in the beginning that really, it was probably more that they wanted to latch onto the automatic status I got being the "new girl," attempting to use that to their advantage, adding my newness to our combined case of trophies alongside likes Lauren's cool confident demeanor and Jessica's bubbly personality. I didn't like Lauren too much but Jessica was all right, and the two of them were buddying up since I'd started spending more time with Alice.

Now, Lauren answered for me, "You probably mean since you grew a chest and legs, right?"

"I, ah . . . well, that's one way to put it."

"Well then this is perfect!" Jessica squealed, clapping her hands. "Bella, this is your chance to really sell yourself! I mean . . . not like that . . ." I saw even Rosalie turn her head to snicker into her hand. I hadn't thought she was listening to us, staring out the window as our stupid little high school chatter rolled around the car. "What I mean is, this is your chance to, you know, show your sexier side!"

I snorted and then erupted into laughter at that, almost crying as I insisted, "I don't have a sexier side. I am what I am."

"Oh, Bella, that's not true at all," even Alice insisted, wrapping our fingers together. "I think you're extremely sexy." I gave her a dubious look, not sure if she was teasing or actually trying to be serious. She continued to grin at me serenely.

"All the boys really like you," Angela offered as well, reaching her arm across Alice to pat my leg. I felt Lauren stiffen a bit beside me but she said nothing. "Now you can just really impress them. Show them a Bella they haven't seen before."

"You mean show them what they haven't see of Bella," I retorted.

"Really, though, you have no reason to be self-conscious, Bella. We'll find you something that highlights your best features."

"Which are?" I asked, genuinely curious.

"Hm . . . your eyes . . . and your hair," Alice suggested, while Angela offered, "You have really nice legs."

"Actually you do have nice legs," Lauren admitted. "And a flat stomach, right?"

"And you've got enough curves to be sexy!" Jessica helpfully offered. I groaned and covered my face, sinking into the seat.

"Besides," Alice insisted, as though to finish off the appraisal, "You can say it till you lose your voice, but it was not my smile that got us backstage last weekend . . ." That's right. I had gone to a Jason Mraz concert with Alice, and afterwards we had somehow charmed our way backstage and met the man. Afterwards, I had made her swear never to tell anyone how close I had come to hyperventilating just to meet such a talented musician. "Face it," she ordered, patting my knee, "You're sexy. You'll have to dress to impress."

"But I'm not trying to impress anyone," I pointed out, and Jessica's smile grew in the front seat. Mike was nice, but as far as I was concerned, she could have him.

"It's not just going to be our usual boys, of course," Lauren argued, crossing her arms. "I mean, Mike, Eric, Tyler, Ben, they'll all be there, but there will be older boys, too. Everyone goes to these things."

I sighed, feeling like David up against four Goliaths, and conceded just to get them to leave me alone, "Well, we'll see what we find. Who are shopping with?"

"Um, Mike, Tyler, and Ben, and then of course Emmett, Jasper, and Edward," Angela answered, nodding at Rosalie's back as though to assure her she had not been forgotten. As if Rosalie would care.

I laughed and let my shoulders sag with relief that only Alice would sense the insincerity of, "Good, then I'm safe. Ben will only have eyes for you, Angela, since you two are basically joined at the hip, and we know who Jasper should look at if he knows what's good for him." It was Alice's turn to squirm in her seat. "Mike will be pining for Jessica, which leaves Tyler and Edward to moon over Lauren's perfect body." I was spewing shit through my teeth, but everyone in the car seemed to enjoy it; Jessica beamed and Lauren apparently felt good enough about herself to suddenly insist,

"Well, I think I can guarantee that won't be true, though."

"What won't?"

"I mean, Tyler probably will," she laughed confidently. "But I hear Edward prefers brunettes . . ."

I screwed my face up as Jessica giggled in the front, feeling like I was on the outside of a joke, "What's that supposed to mean? We're talking about the same Edward, right? Around six feet tall, wild hair, green eyes, pronounced jawbone?"

"I assume my little brother is the only Edward in Forks," Rosalie sniffed, and the awkward silence returned. I guess all of us had sort of forgot he was her little brother, which we shouldn't, because really they were quite a bit alike. Rosalie was prissy and elitist and liked to look down her nose at people – this much I had picked up jus from being around her in school or when we were at the Brandon household at the same time.

What had Jessica meant about Rosalie's brother? I thought about Edward Cullen, the quiet brooding heartthrob, to pull random words from the gossip that circulated about him at school. As antisocial as he was gorgeous, Edward was known to skip class and hadn't set foot in the cafeteria once since we became seniors and gained off-campus lunch privileges. All the girls, it seemed, had at one point harbored crushes on him, and he was clearly aware of this and used it to his advantage. I hadn't ever seen him flirting, but there were rumors. Mike had once told me Edward could get a free meal simply by smiling at the waitress. Occasionally our social circles overlapped – after all, he was good friends with Jasper, and since Alice and Jasper were maybe sort of becoming a thing, he sat with Jasper, who sat with us during assemblies. But that was about it. Edward and I had only interacted once.

Lauren suddenly leaned in and whispered, "Let's just say that the rumor is Edward Cullen has a bit of a thing for you . . ."

This was so nonsensical that I laughed outloud. Fortunately, we had pulled up curbside and Rosalie had already stepped out, kindly popping the seat up for those of us crammed in the backseat to file out.

Alice grabbed my arm as soon as we had straightened and added quietly, "They aren't lying. I've heard the same thing."

"That isn't even logical to joke about."

"I'm not joking! Apparently you said something to impress him."

I shook my head, "The only time I've even talked to him was in Euro-history when we had to debate colonialism."

"Well who won?"

"I did. I convinced the board that Columbus was right to go in and slaughter the natives. Not exactly my proudest victory . . . Anyways, honestly, who's spewing this bull?"

"If you must know, Jasper told me. We were talking about you . . ."

I rolled my eyes, "Well then either it's a joke or Edward should pick his friends better."

Alice huffed and crossed her arms, "Well, if you're going to be like that."

Yes, I was. The idea of Edward Cullen, handsome aloof Edward Cullen, harboring any sort of interest in me was beyond preposterous. Any guy who turned down Tanya Denali, as everyone knew he had, clearly had some unheard of expectations. The idea that I, plain ol' Bella Swan, would even appeal to him was tragically laughable at best.

I shook my head, "You're on crack, Al," and felt grateful we were close enough that the conversation was over.

The boys were waiting for us down the sidewalk a bit near the beginning of the rows of shops. Emmett, Mike, and Tyler were loudly recapping the game, while Ben was staring intently down at this phone – waiting for a text from Angela if my guess was any good. Without meaning to, my eyes jumped to the remaining two, Edward and Jasper. Edward leaned against a low concrete wall, his arms crossed and his eyes on the ground as he nodded at something Jasper was muttering. He glanced up at our approach, his eyes jumping to my face – a pure coincidence that made me flush and stumble on a crack on the sidewalk.

"Oh, Bella," Alice laughed, grabbing my arm, all smiles and giggles now that Jasper was here.

"I thought you girls might be skipping out on us," Emmett bellowed, wrapping his arms tightly around Rosalie's waist and giving her a deep kiss. I'd always secretly found it strange to see such a giant boyish guy so stricken by a girl. They were sort of an odd pair.

Before I could retort anything, Lauren shot me a grin oozing with insincere affection, and announced, "No, we were just talking about sex appeal and beauty. Bella's in need of a super sexy costume."

"Wo-oah! Does somebody need to get laid?" Tyler asked me, stepping forward to nudge me in the ribs. I was doubly mortified: the physical contact on top of the actual comment. Tyler and I had gotten to be pretty good friends, and it wasn't out of character for him to say something like that, but still.

My cheeks got even redder as I insisted emphatically, "No."

"Yeah, Bella wouldn't have to put on a sexy costume for that," Alice assured everyone.

"I'm . . . not really going to thank you for that, Alice," I insisted, wanting desperately for the topic to change.

"This is Bella's first Halloween party since she was a little girl," Jessica explained, grabbing my hand. Her affection towards me was apparently high at the moment, probably because Mike had not spoken to me yet. This was how Alice and I usually theorized, anyways. "We just want to make sure it's memorable."

Before I could beg everyone to move on, Rosalie saved me day and asked, "How late is this store open?" Before I could smile gratefully at her, she added, "Especially if we're going to need the time to find something for Bella." The implication that it would take a long time to find something suitable for me made me frown, but Jessica dragged me forward before I could say anything.

The costume shop was overwhelming. Feathers, spandex, velvet, and polyester spilled out of the solitary door, and space didn't become any more abundant once you squeezed past the seven-foot stuffed grizzly bear just inside the door. Racks pressed against each other, dwarfed beneath the heats and wigs and various accessories dangling from the walls. I honestly feared for my life, afraid at any second a shelving unit would crash down and trap me beneath a mountain of tiaras, witch hats, and fedoras. What was even more likely, I might trip and impale myself on a plastic gladiator sword. I planted my feet firmly with each step and did my best to move slowly and carefully, but this was hard when the entire store seemed like a giant trap. A bull in a china shop – or Bella in a costume shop.

"So do we all need costumes?" Lauren asked, already thumbing through a rack. She pulled out a skimpy Little Bo Peep costume and held it up to herself, turning to Jessica questioningly. I pretended to vomit into a captain hat, which made Alice and Jasper snicker.

"Except you, right Edward?" Emmett asked. He was already wearing a bright purple pimp hat, the rim knocking into Rosalie when he turned to his friend.

"Oh, what are you going as?" Alice asked.

Edward had his hands in his pockets, perusing the wall of hats, but turned to smile at Alice and confess, "It's a closely guarded secret. Sorry." Standing behind Alice as I was, some of the cast-off of his smile landed on me, and I was again reminded of the absurdity of Lauren and Alice.

"Dude, I'm going as a pirate," Tyler cheered, pulling the captain hat out of my hands and perching it atop his dark head. "What do you think, Bella?"

"Well then I'm going as a ninja," Mike retorted. "The epic battle will continue."

"Ninjas would win," Jessica assured him.

Emmett made a face, "No way. Pirates."

"Ninjas," Jasper agreed.

"Pirates," Edward answered Jasper's plea for agreement with a shrug.

Alice giggled, "Ninjas."

I heard their debate but was too busy hoping to find something before I had to rely on their help. I held a piece of a costume up, then gasped with horror and shoved it back, realizing it actually was meant to be the entire costume. There was an adorable pin-up girl lingeri set beside it, though. Too bad I was entirely too modest to wear something so risqué; I had always thought the pin-up girls were about as feminine and sexy as I was not.

"Bella?"

"Huh?"

"Pirates of ninjas?"

"Oh. Pirates," I shrugged, not even having to think about it.

"But why?" Mike demanded, crossing his arms as though I had just said something extremely stupid.

I bit my lip then pointed out, "Well how many ninjas do you know that get the girl in the end?"

"Uh . . ."

"Exactly."

Coincidentally, Mike decided not to go as a ninja. The browsing continued. Alice, Jessica, and Lauren easily found armloads of possibilities for themselves, and then turned their attention to Angela and me. I was glad I didn't have to suffer alone, at least. Apparently all the costumes I selected were too prudish, too silly, or too unflattering. Apparently, now that I was eighteen and officially an adult, I needed to start dressing it, which meant showing as much skin as legally allowed.

"Try this," Rosalie suddenly suggested, handing a sailor costume to me. She had kept apart from us pretty much the entire trip, but I had no reason to refuse her now, so I let her balance the outfit on top of the armload the others had found for me. When everyone had enough to try on, we made our way back to the two dressing rooms. The boys went first, just to make sure important parts of their costumes fit. Tyler stayed with the pirate theme, but Mike decided on a doctor outfit he would gorify with loads of blood. Ben opted for Death, and Jasper was apparently going to the marine route. Emmett had ditched the pimp hat, at Rosalie's suggestion, for a red silk robe, ala Hugh Hefner.

"Classy," Alice teased, then quickly grabbed my arm and yanked me into a dressing room.

At Lauren's and Jessica's insistence, the routine became that once your costume was on, you strutted your stuff in front of the guys to see what they thought, from a male point of view. Then the other girls would either veto or agree with this. The first few costumes I tried on I utterly refused stepping out of the safety of the dressing room in. The devil costume was so tight my chest was literally popping out; the poodle-skirt made me look like I was twelve; the angel I had insisted on trying was A-line cut and made me look pregnant. A pregnant angel. Perfect.

By the time Alice had settled on a playfully sexy fairy costume, and Angela had convinced Jessica and Lauren (which much help from Ben) that her flapper costume was fine, everyone was waiting on me. That only made things worse as I slipped into the last costume, the one Rosalie had picked for me.

"All right, Bella, out with the last one," Alice ordered, and I heard her clap excitedly. I wanted to vomit.

"I don't know . . ."

"Oh, come on out and let us see," Jessica encouraged, and Mike mumbled something that made them all snicker. It was probably for the best I hadn't heard him.

Instead I glanced at my own ass in the mirror. It was good the costume included navy bloomers beneath the short pleated navy skirt or I would have been wardrobe-malfunctioning all over the place. The white button-up top could either be tied or tucked in, and of course I had it tucked in. The buttons stopped quite low but a red scarf knotted in just the right place so I didn't feel like I was completely hanging out for the world to see, and the short sleeves kept me from feeling too bare on top. The sleeves even had little cuffs with navy and gold buttons to match the buttons on the hips of the skirt. My collarbones and my arms didn't look too bad . . . Rosalie had added white thigh-highs with little red bows around the tops to hold up the frilly tops. Hell with it; I went ahead and put them on as well because I wasn't walking out quite so bare. They me feel like a hooker, but they did combat the shortness of the skirt . . . and then there was the sailors hat which was pretty fun and didn't look too bad settled on top of my curls.

Actually, when I looked at my reflection in the mirror, I didn't look too bad. It accentuated my hips and my chest without leaving me naked. It showed off my legs, which Lauren said was a good thing. I looked like a slut, but a classy slut.

"All right," I sighed, taking a deep breath and pushing the curtain aside. I stepped out and put one hand on my hip and saluted with the other. "What do you think?"

I was asking Alice, but it was Jessica who squealed, "I'd totally do you!"

"That's adorable," Lauren nodded approvingly. "And by adorable, I mean fuckable."

"I . . . I love it," Alice gasped, running up to me. "Does this—oh, you can tie this up, right? And show off—"

"Alice!" I squeaked, pulling the fabric out of her fingers. Well, my shirt was untucked now, but I was certainly not tying it up to show off my stomach.

Angela smiled encouragingly at me while Lauren asked, "Boys?"

Mike and Emmett both gave thumbs up, while Jasper nodded and Tyler winked. My eyes trailed self-consciously around the faces. Rosalie was smirking, clearing enjoying her victory. Beside her, Edward's eyes clearly trailed up and down my body but he avoided eye contact. I felt the red creep across my chest and up my cheeks.

"Edward?" Lauren pressed, looking very pleased with herself as she leaned forward to look at him around Rosalie. "What do you think?"

Instead of answering Lauren, Edward finally made eye contact with me and asked, "Are you trying to get laid at the party?"

"No," I insisted, glaring quickly at Alice.

"Then you can't wear that."

"What? I don't get—"

"Because you're screaming 'fuck me' right now." This was our grand first conversation, other than the debate. Everyone else found his appraisal hysterical, and some even applauded while Lauren cheered, "Sold!" I continued to stare at Edward in shock, though, which quickly turned to suspicion at the impish grin he flashed me. In that simple grin, I knew the girls and Jasper were full of it. Edward wasn't harboring any kind of secret affection for me. He was sitting there making fun of me. He was just teasing me like he would tease any other girl. I suppose I felt some small thrill that he apparently didn't find me too awkward, I mean, that he thought me worthy of teasing like any other girl. But it was a disappointing conclusion to the idea that I had never let myself really believe: that Edward Cullen saw me as anything more than the girl on the fringe of his world.