Disclaimer – Stephanie Meyer owns all things Twilight –
I just like to get weird with her characters.
Much love and thanks to my beta love, Carrie ZM,
for all the edits, the hours, the encouragement, and the laughs we had with this fic.
Writing with you is always a blast – you make this shit fun, Boo.
Many thanks to my wonderful pre-readers, Planetblue and Robsmyyummy
Cabanaboy, for all the time, insight, and commentary you provided on this story.
I greatly admire you both and am so grateful for all of your help on this, pals.
Special thanks to Ceci – Lolypop82 for the awesome banner. Tilt, baby, tilt.
Girl Code – Never EVER flirt with the object of your friend's affections.
Fuck my life.
The next few hours are a blur of fake smiles and stolen sips of Sangria. Stewing, I watch Victoria watching him. It's like she's got a homing device on him, he moves, she moves. A small part of me is smug when he makes no effort to initiate conversation with her, but I'm instantly annoyed again when his indifference doesn't deter her. When I've had my fill of her louder than necessary laughter and incessant hair flipping, I head into the house under the guise of cleaning up.
Somehow the idea of mindlessly scrubbing pots and pans appeals to me. Scraping burnt cheese from a casserole dish is a welcome distraction from my irrational outrage over dibs I never called and the act of treason she doesn't know she's committed. It's the worst feeling when you know you're being absurd, yet you can't seem to contain the crazy.
I'm pissed at myself for encouraging her to want better for herself when she was perfectly blissful in her James bubble. Then the more I mull it over, the more livid I become with Alice, because if I really think about it, it's technically all her fault. Motherfucking, Alice.
I throw the sponge into the sink in frustration, looking out the open window for the first time since I banished myself to the kitchen. Victoria is taking snapshots of the happy family, squealing for them to 'smile' in her fake-ass fun voice. There's nothing fake about the genuine happiness radiating from Esme and Carlisle. He holds her close, kissing her temple between shots. They may very well be the most photogenic family I've ever seen, they're like a toothpaste commercial with their pearly whites and flawless skin.
Carlisle pulls Edward's cap from his head, only to reveal a mess of bronzy-brown hair. When he runs a nervous hand through the chaos, muddling it further, I find it adorable and I wonder if it's as soft as it looks. The sun hits it at just the right angle, making the golden red highlights really stand out. That's when the bitter hag in me reappears, wondering if Victoria is at this very moment naming the 2.5 bronze-haired babies she plans on having with him.
I get back to the business of dishwashing, tackling the disgusting crock-pot. This time guilt fuels my scouring frenzy. I feel a sliver of shame for the hateful thoughts I'm thinking and for each roll of my eyes at her expense. I'm also a little more than embarrassed at how worked up I am over this guy. Truth be told, I hold no claim on him, unspoken or otherwise.
"Hey you," A tipsy Esme says from behind me, with an armful of plates. "You don't have to do that."
"I know, just wanted to help out."
"So listen," she leans in whispering way too loudly to be discreet, "I need to ask you something."
Sweet Jesus, please don't let her ask about Rose and Royce, and please let Rose have told her that she gave him his walking papers. "Sure, what's up?"
"How's Rose doing with everything?"
Play dumb. "Everything as in..."
"Well, you know." My expression must be blank enough to clue her in that I don't know. "A new house, a new sibling," she looks out at Carlisle, "new dad."
"Oh." Realization dawns on me that she's concerned more about his moving into her life than Royce moving out of it. "Yeah, totally." Thankful I can be honest, I add, "She's really happy for you."
She sighs, relieved. "Good. I've just been worried about her with all the big changes, and then she goes and tells me that she and Royce decided to take a little break."
She plays with the pendant on her necklace, staring unseeing out the window. Her choice of words is interesting to me with regards to them 'taking a break'. I wonder if Rose posed it that way to buy herself some time. From what I can tell, Rose is all Taylor Swift on the subject of Royce, because they are never, ever getting back together. At least I hope that's the case.
I feel her press a kiss to the top of my head and wrap me in a hug that's just as familiar as one from my own mother. "Thank you, Bella." Wagging her brows, she grabs a bottle of wine and the corkscrew and makes her way back to the party.
I lose myself in thought again, this time making a plan to detach myself from all things Edward. This means no more entertaining the possibility of Edward and me, or thinking about Edward in general. I'll avoid him like the plague. No more shameless ogling or hanging on his every-accented word. No more craving cheek kisses or casual brushes. I'll neutralize him until he's nothing more than Rose's super hot, sex-haired, flirtatious brother. Easy as pie.
"Hiding out in here, Sweets?"
The sound of his voice startles then excites me, completely nullifying my best laid plan to forget about him. Do not flirt. "Sweets." I say it like it's a dirty word. "Is that what you call all the girls?" I make a point not to look at him, because if I look… "I'm starting to think that you don't even know my name." Stop flirting!
I can feel him standing next to me, but I still refuse to look. "I know your name." His hands grip the edge of the sink. "I just think you're sweet."
I outwardly snort and inwardly swoon at his ridiculously cheesy line. "Yeah, well, I'm not feeling particularly sweet right now." I grumble, scrubbing the shit out of a plate.
"Dish pan hands?" he asks. I hold up a hideous rubber gloved hand, modeling my Molly Maid couture and letting him know that itchy skin isn't what has me down. "You know, you could've just used the dishwasher," he says, reaching around me, pulling open a drawer and grabbing a towel. I look down and see there is a sleek looking appliance to my right. The word 'motherfucker' is on the tip of my tongue when I feel his breath on my ear and hear my name whispered from his lips. "Bella."
We're quiet as we work, me washing and rinsing, him drying and smirking. "So what did I miss out there?"
He shakes his head, looking out the window. "A whole lot of nothin'. Dad's telling everyone about the hot tub he's putting in next week."
How does Rose forget to tell me this shit? "You guys are getting a hot tub?"
"Uh yeah," he says with a shrug, "my dad knows a guy back home."
He tells me all about Carlisle's guy, who happens to be the uncle of one of his old employees. Apparently his dear old dad can't pass up a deal, even if Edward thinks this hot tub probably fell off the back of a truck. I laugh when he tells me how Carlisle and Esme looked pissed when Rose insisted on a no hook-up in the hot tub policy. By the time I hand him the last dish to dry, I almost forget what had me doing dishes in the first place.
"So I'll see you tomorrow night?" he asks and I swear he sounds hopeful as he walks backwards in the direction of the garage. I nod slowly, feeling a tinge of guilt and a flood of glee. "Good." He knocks twice on the counter and turns away.
"Thanks for helping with the dishes!"
He's barely out of sight before Victoria's pulling open the screen door, cheesing at me. "Oh my God, what did he say?" I must look like a deer in the headlights, but she doesn't seem to register my expression. "Did he ask about me?" I hear the excitement in her voice and the heaping helping of haterade I swallowed earlier comes bubbling up again to the surface.
"Nope." I realize I may have said that a smidge too sharply, so I soften it with a quick truth. "He was just talking about the hot tub and stuff."
"Oh." Her face falls slightly while she checks her phone. "Hmm."
"He hasn't accepted my friend request." Her lips twist to one side in disappointment. My guilty conscience eats at me and just as I go to say something reassuring, James' ringtone starts blaring. I don't miss the smile on her face, and for a split second, I'm hopeful that Edward is an errant thought, not a sure thing. My hopes are dashed the moment she declines the call.
"Aren't you going to answer that?"
"Nope." She sounds both proud and pleased with herself. "I'm not available." Turning to leave, she spares me a glance and gives me a wave. "Talk to you later, B."
"Bye!" I say with all the meanness I can muster once I hear the front door shut.
I tear off the rubber gloves and slap them on the sink. The act doesn't feel nearly as satisfying as say, tossing a plate against a wall would. I pull out my phone for the first time in hours, contemplating whether or not to write a pity-party status. Normally, I roll my eyes at people who post those poor me tweets and statuses in hopes that the Freddie Feelgoods of their friends and followers will come out of the woodwork to tell them that their breath smells like magic and their shit tastes like sunshine. Typically, I frown on that shit, but today I get the appeal.
My frown is quickly turned upside-down when I open my Facebook app.
Edward Cullen would like to be friends.
I smile at my new legal loophole. We're friends, and as friends, we can talk and laugh and have little nicknames for each other. Technically, if we're friends, it's not flirting, it's being friendly. And for once, friendly is a good thing.
I accept immediately, hitting that confirm button so hard I'm surprised my thumb doesn't go through the screen. When the page updates, my smile widens even further. Usually, there is only one three word sentence that could make a girl's heart flutter the way mine is right now. While it's definitely not those three words I'm reading that are causing this reaction for me, I have to imagine it's pretty damn close.
Zero mutual friends.
We may be just friends, but I'm going to bask in the fact that for this moment, I get to be his one and only.
Tonight's the beginning of the end, a bonfire to kick-off our senior year. I keep waiting to feel something other than indifference. Maybe it's because I know I'm not really leaving. Sure, I may go away for hair school, maybe even go to the institute in Seattle that Rose has a hard-on for. In the end though, I'll be back here, right where I started. I just want to get on with it already. It'll be the same shit, different year.
Rose beeps twice as she pulls up in her baby blue Beetle convertible, a clown car complete with a cheesy daisy in the dash. Perhaps I'm still a little bitter that my truck is pushing up daisies, but mostly I just hate riding in the backseat of her car, especially with the top down. Edward's riding shotgun, which means I'm in the back with a pissed off-looking Alec.
"Well don't you look nice," Alec sneers, eying my sundress speculatively, probably trying to figure out why I've churched up my look for a regular night at the beach. "It's nice to see you not looking like a lumberjack for once." Edward chuckles a bit and that's all the encouragement Alec needs, jerking his thumb in my direction. "For real, this one has a flannel fetish."
"Knock it off," Rose chastises him, standing to pull the seat back for me.
"What?" He's the picture of innocence. "I'm just complimenting her on not dressing like her father. Is that wrong?"
If there's one thing that many years of friendship with Alec has taught me, it's that the only way to shut him up is to match his cruelty. "Says the guy who rocked Justin Bieber hair for the past five years."
Rose's cackle echoes all around us as she raises her hand in the air, requesting the highest of fives from me and complimenting my cutting remark."You're ruthless!"
I slap her hand, looking at a smiling yet stunned-looking Alec. "You better Bielieb it."
The ride to the beach is short but windy. Rose and Alec appear to suffer from the same shitty music appreciation affliction, forcing my ears to bleed while they sing along to a Miley Cyrus song. By the time the song is over, I'm actually praying for a wrecking ball to hit us and put us out of our misery. However, the silver lining of the whole car ride is stealing glances at my new friend.
Alice is waiting for us in the parking lot, probably not wanting to rub elbows just yet with the unwashed masses of Port Townsend High School, at least not without her loyal subjects to flank her. There's safety in numbers.
"Fucking finally." Alice takes a sip from her McDonald's cup, filled with vodka and lemonade no doubt. "I was beginning to think you guys were going to ditch me here with Peter."
Ah Peter, the good ol' faithful stand-by, Mr. Waiting-in-the-wings. His head is so far up her ass and yet he won't say shit, even though he has a mouthful. He walks up behind her, wrapping a hopeful arm around her shoulder. "There they are."
Huffing, she removes his hand and levels him with a glare that says 'no touchy, me no likey', but her words are for us. "Let's go."
Rose leads, threading her arm through mine. There may be safety in numbers, but there's strength in friendships. In high school, it's all about who you know. Those connections can shape you, make you, and break you. Or in my case, they can elevate you until you're damn near untouchable.
I hear Alec behind me, inhaling deeply, taking in the salt, the smoke and the weed in the air. I'll bet he's memorizing it, his beginning of the end. The moment he graduates he'll be out of here, chasing big city dreams with his sister, Jane, in New York.
We smile and wave at all the familiar faces. It looks like just about every sect of the senior class is making an appearance tonight. Sadly, there are also those sad freaks who've graduated already hanging out as well. Dudes who are probably striking out in college often show up at the high school parties to poach from the willing, barely legal student population.
We sit on a couple of blankets near the fire, and I find myself hoping that the flames and wine coolers aren't the only things that will keep me warm tonight.
"So let me give you the lay of the land here, Edward." Alec says, plopping down beside me, leaving space for Edward to sit next to him.
"What do you mean?" Alice asks with a sneer. "This is high school, Anytown, USA. You've got your standard jocks, nerds, sluts, cool kids, and the rest who don't matter."
"Wrong." He pinches his thumb and forefinger together. "One should not simplify our complex social structure. We're anything but standard."
"Whatever," she mutters, searching the crowd and looking for Garrett most likely.
"Let's see." He peruses the area then dips his bottle in the direction of Eric Yorkie's group. "First we have fucking Narnia over there. If you want to play Quidditch and LARP and have zero prospect of getting laid ever – go hang with those dorks."
Edward chuckles quietly before taking a long pull from his beer.
Alec moves on to the next group, the Goth kids. "If you're into writing emo poetry about death being your bitch lover, those are the freaks on a leash for you, my friend." Closing my eyes, I shake my head at his Korn reference. "Truth Ruth." He nods at his words like they're gospel. "Get yourself the standard issue black trench coat, a mesh shirt, and some badly applied eyeliner. You'll be the fuckin' Crow."
Where does he get this shit? "Oh my God, you're ridiculous!"
Incredulous, he scoffs. "You're ridiculous. You know I'm right." Brushing me off, he continues. "Okay, next we have the FFA, also known as the Future Fishermen of America." He may be right on the money about this one. "They're a weird bunch. Half those guys are graduated already. They're just waiting until the next boat goes out."
Emmett McCarty's head snaps our way, and Alec pipes down real quick. I think he graduated last year, I'm not sure though. All I know is that last year he was the Port Townsend quintessential bad boy. He has a sleeve of tattoos, piercings, and a reputation of general bad-assery, though I don't recall exactly how he got that rap.
"I'll be right back." Rose says, hopping up and not looking back before adding, "I gotta get something in my car."
Probably her water, she's not a drinker – too much of a control freak. It's either that or she's scared shitless of her mother. Hell, I'm scared of her mom, so I don't blame her. Fact, Esme is one of the sweetest people on earth, until you piss her off. She is the crazy to my mom's snarky. Someone should probably warn Carlisle.
"Now if you're a fan of making bad decisions, I recommend you visit that crew over there." Alec starts up again, pointing to the area where Jasper and James are holding court under a cloud of smoke. "That's Jasper Whitlock. Cool guy, sells the best weed hands down."
"He's a prick," Alice butts in. I'm not sure why but Jasper and Alice absolutely despise each other. I'm talking pure hatred with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. It's bizarre because Jasper is normally so chill, but something about her brings out the worst in him.
"See those chicks over there?" Alec points over where Lauren, Chelsea, and their band of merry minions are standing and laughing loudly. More than likely tipsy from whatever's really in those water bottles. "They're all-"
Alice smacks his leg and mouths the word 'Victoria' to him, letting him know that he is not to tell him about the sure things of Port Townsend. Shamefully, I'm glad she stopped him as well, even though my relief is not on Victoria's behalf.
Alec redirects, motioning to Edward. "You play sports?" Edward nods. "Then you may want to go with the jocks." He smirks at Alice. "There's lots of ball handing and ass tapping going on there as well."
Ben Cheney calls Alice and Alec over, leaving Edward and I there. Alone.
"So…" I lean back on my hands, spreading out on the blanket.
"So," he starts, scooting a little closer as well, stretching his legs, and brushing mine in the process. "Is that how it is around here?"
"Yes and no."
I tilt my head and begin my version of our class's general make-up. I explain that while on the surface, Alec's assessment is mostly right, I see these people differently due to history. Going group by group, I tell him about each of the members, who they are, who's dated who and what they're all about. He watches me intently as he listens and laughs.
"What about that guy?" He asks, nodding towards Mike Newton, the only guy in the Goth group I didn't mention. "What's his story?"
"That's Mike." I laugh, because I know Edward sees a Goth kid with jet black chin-length hair. I still see the blonde-haired, brace-faced eighth grader wearing a blue polo with a popped collar. "He was my first kiss."
"Really?" He draws out the word, smiling but sizing him up before nudging me. "The Marilyn Manson look does it for you, huh?"
I can't even contain my smile or the ultra-girly laugh I let out, giddy at his touch. "You know it."
We're quiet for a moment, just kind of staring at each other. I see the reflection of the fire in his eyes, and I feel like I'm being burned. And I love how it burns.
The next few hours go by quick. People come and go, making awkward small talk and trying to get the scoop on the new kid. I try not to listen when Alice sits next to Edward, feeling him out on what he thinks of Victoria. Try being the operative word. Eavesdropping is like second nature to me. You know what they say about eavesdroppers though; they often don't like what they hear. Thankfully, that's not the case for me tonight. When she stops beating around the bush and directly asks him what he thinks of her, he doesn't answer with words like pretty or hot or fuckable. He goes with the word 'nice'.
Alice's face says it all. Nice is not the word she's looking for. She can't go back to Victoria with the word 'nice'. Nice is like a one-way ticket to the friend zone. Alice is going to have to get very creative to make his response sound promising.
With a huge smile firmly plastered to my face, we head back to the car. A somewhat shit-faced Alec calls shotgun, skipping arm in arm with Rosalie through the parking lot. Edward smirks as he holds the door open for me, ushering me into the backseat with him.
The top comes down and Miley's back on. Rose and Alec are once again belting out the song at the top of their lungs, though I can barely hear them over the wind whipping all around us. I lean my head back, watching the passing sky, for the first time ever enjoying the close quarters of the Beetle's backseat. Maybe clown cars aren't so bad after all. Just as I go to close my eyes, Ifeel his hand awkwardly cover mine, turning it slowly and entwining our fingers.
I look to our joined hands, then to him, wondering what this could mean…for our friendship. His eyes seem to be asking the same question, but I can't be sure. Whatever it is though, I know I want it. I give his hand a gentle squeeze, and the smile he gives me melts me from the inside out, making my heart race and warmth pulse throughout my entire body.
The pang of guilt I should feel is noticeably absent. I'm pretty certain it'll hit me tomorrow…like a fucking wrecking ball.
A/N: Woohoo! Posting live from TFMU in Nashville, TN where I get to hang with my loves Carrie ZM, Planetblue and Robsmyyummy Cabanaboy. I've got some major fangirling to do, so without further ado…
It's time for LayZM to let it WIP!
A Bitter Cold by LovinRob – LovinRob brings the angst and the OHHHH YEAH once again when Bella and Edward have to go back to New York to settle old scores in this sequel to A Dry Heat. Big love for this fic and this lady!
Goodbye Peter Pan by Bled Dry - *Carrie ZM twirls* Legit loving this fic. It's a new author, laying down a cool new twist on New Moon. Vampward/Canon characters – make sure to sink your teeth into this one, peeps.
Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed, followed, fav'd, rec'd, tweeted or lurked this fic! I'll see you all next Thursday.