Walking past the cloudy windows, I keep my head straight until the last minute, hoping I look like someone just passing by, an ordinary girl on the street glancing quickly at the crowd assembled inside the aged, comfortable bar. I've tried this a few times now, each time catching a teasing glimpse, not the long moment I'm hoping for. Someone is bound to see me making a fool of myself, but I'm too caught up in my goal to care.
But now, I think I see him carrying cases of beer, but I can't be sure without stopping at those dirty windows and pressing my face up against them like a child looking at all the candy inside they can't have.
Turning away, head down, I tell myself that tomorrow is the day I'll go in.
It's the third day I've told myself that.
The small studio apartment the producers of the play put me in holds one other girl, both of us in bit parts but excited to finally have a role in a real acting gig. My stuff is still loaded into my two suitcases even though I got here first, giving Jane her first choice of bed and first choice of the drawers in the one dresser. I said nothing when she used all four, not wanting to make waves with someone I might be living with for a while and possibly becoming friendly with.
Although the fact that she doesn't realize she's tripping over my full suitcase every time she goes to the bathroom doesn't make her seem like the kind of person I'd want to get close to.
I've been that girl and I've tried hard to never be her again.
"Yes, Mom, I'm eating plenty. Don't worry." My cell phone is on its last leg, but I don't plug it in, the fact it'll cut off at any moment giving me a great excuse to be done with her.
"Have you decided if you'll be attending your father's wedding to that hussy?"
My eyes roll, looking at the blinking bar on my phone to rescue me. "I don't think I can. It's right in the middle of previews, and I'm really in no position to take off for two days."
Silence follows, then the unmistakable sound of ice clinking in glass. I look at my watch, a 21st birthday gift to myself, and see it's Martini O'thirty. "I don't know what it is about older men needing a young piece of ass on their arm to make them feel like God's gift."
I rise to stand in the small fire escape, the rusted black bars shaking as I steady myself. "I have to go."
"Now you know I didn't mean you in that sentence. Don't get so dramatic."
"Yes, you did. But it's fine," I say, not wanting another argument. She never means me, and it's always fine.
I listen to her slurp, then her sigh of satisfaction. "Did I tell you that..." and blissfully, my phone dies. I'm tempted to throw it over the railing into the big, smelly dumpster five flights down.
Instead, I climb into my window and grab my charger, plugging it into the outlet in the tiny kitchen. Leaning against the broken cupboard, I wait a few moments to give it some life, before dialing my father's office.
"Swan's Prestige Appliances, this is Angela speaking, how may I help you today?"
"Hey, Angela. It's Bella."
There's the familiar hesitation, then she answers. "Oh hi, Bella. Your father isn't here."
Of course he's not. "Will you leave a message that I called again? I really want to talk to him before the wedding."
"I'll let him know. I'm not sure what time he'll be back."
"I'll try his cell."
"Okay, bye Bella."
The phone hangs up, my goodbye lost over the phone lines. I don't bother calling his cell, not willing to talk to his voicemail yet again, or worse - having my soon-to-be stepmother answer.
On Tuesday, I sit across the street from The Crow's Nest, nursing a cup of coffee until the waitress gets mad I'm not ordering anything else. I glance at the prices on the menu and choose the tuna sandwich.
As I pick at the crust, I watch for the familiar head of hair, the copper strands that I'll forever feel running through my fingers. He's late today, and I wonder if maybe it's his day off. I start to feel uneasy sitting here waiting, motivated to do nothing else, mirroring behavior that stunned a community and fed the gossip mill for months.
Because it did. Months and months. Long after I'd gone off to California and the pursuit of my dreams. I tried to leave it behind, but you never really can. Especially when every waking moment you're reliving all the pain you caused others through daily phone calls with a mother more concerned about the town's hot story than what that story is doing to her daughter, the town tramp.
Jane sits next to me on the edge of the little stage, sweat dripping off her as she wipes her forehead with the towel slung around her neck.
"Who knew these fucking lights would be so damn hot?"
I look up at the brightness shining down on us, and I smile. "It's a small theater. Wait until it's filled with a hundred people."
"Let's hope it's a hundred," she snorts. "At least my whole family will be here opening night. That's a guaranteed seven." She rests back on her hands. "What about you?"
I shrug. "I don't think I'll have anyone here."
The look on her face is one I'm used to by now, confusion mixed with sadness aimed at my solitary existence. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
"It's fine. My mother, well she might show up which honestly, would be more of a hassle than anything. My father will be on his honeymoon so…"
"Yeah." I look back up at the lights and try to let the feeling of accomplishment wash over me again. I've worked hard for this, and I don't care that it's only a small, shabby theater in the East Village. It's an actual part. No more office jobs, no more waitressing jobs, no more filling in as an extra on TV shows playing on late night cable.
"No boyfriend, either?"
Shaking my head, I fall back onto the stage, staring up at the black ceiling. Pickup trucks, sunny fields, and remorse cloud my vision. "Nope."
My curt answer seems to give me away. "Sounds like there's a story there," Jane says as she lies back with me.
"There is. Maybe I'll tell you someday." Maybe I'll share the saddest story of my life with a girl that doesn't know me.
I stayed a week longer in that damned town than my father had planned; not wanting to leave after the fire to make sure my mother was fully recovered.
At first the town gossip was all about the fire, Coach Cullen's sudden insanity, and how lucky we were that only the back part of the kitchen and second floor suffered any damage. I was a helpless victim for a little while; one I selfishly played as I stayed at Rosalie's while my parents worked on getting the house fixed.
And then news of the sordid affair between teacher and student began to rear its ugly head. Every punch I threw at Edward in that police station, every word I uttered that night, somehow made the rounds. Love. I had yelled that he loved me. I didn't even remember saying it; I was so filled with hurt and anger.
Not knowing how to handle being the object of scrutiny when the whispers began, I assumed the role of the poor girl taken advantage of. The innocent teenager seduced by a man and igniting the obvious discord within him. The young object of a sick man's obsession.
My parents knew what I told them was the truth of course, that it was an affair I gladly had a part in. The story I cried out on my couch the night we were discovered, urging my father to not go to the police, to not shame Edward for something I was a part of… well it was true, but embellished. I laid it on thick, playing the scared girl that truly didn't know any better. I was sorry Mommy and Daddy, for my actions, but I had been caught up by the idea that such a good looking, older man could have any interest in a sweet girl like me. He was, how did I put it... persuasive. They chose to believe me and agreed to keep it quiet, because having it go public would've made Daddy look bad.
And I almost started to believe it myself.
Until I saw Rosalie and Emmett the first day I returned to school, a week after Edward was sent away, and I knew my act for everyone else was as see through to them as my innocence was.
I'd never seen anyone look at me with such disgust. My whole life I was the golden child, the one other girls wanted to be, the one that seemed to never fail at anything. And here I was face to face with two of my best friends, and I knew I'd lost more than my big screen TV and my parents' silky comforter. Edward might have caused the fire that ended it all, but I knew I was the match that started it and the gasoline that gave it life.
I ended up leaving for California the next day and stayed there until the part in New York came up.
Jane catches on that I leave the theater at break time and make my way six blocks to stare at a bar.
She drinks her Coke across from my seat at the diner window, staring at the glass and patrons as they make their way in and out. She says nothing, just watches me watch.
It must be obvious to her from my sudden stillness when he comes into view, a messenger bag slung over his chest and a box of pizza held on top of one hand. He says something to a guy sitting outside, and they laugh. He looks carefree, happy. He looks like no one I've ever met, because I've never seen this Edward.
"Who is he?" she asks, kicking my foot under the table.
I watch the empty space of doorway he just passed through, my heart kicking as it always did at seeing him, while guilt also surfaces as it has for the past six years.
"He was… someone I broke."
Jane glances at the doorway. "He looks to be in one piece to me."
Sitting in the last row of the theater, waiting to walk through my scene, I watch the other actors emoting and stumbling over lines. I yawn, the long days of rehearsal taking their toll so I close my eyes, resting my head back until I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. Seeing it's my father, I leave the theater and exit onto the grimy sidewalk, holding one hand over my other ear to block out the street noise.
"Hi honey. I only have a minute, but Angela told me you've tried the store a few times. Why didn't you call the cell?"
"Oh, you know, busy."
"Do you need money?" he asks, even though I turn him down every time.
"Nope, I'm good. Just calling to say I probably won't make the wedding. We'll be in previews."
"Beth and I understand. We're really sorry we won't be there for your big debut, but this is the only time she could get off from the salon, you understand, don't you, sweetheart?"
"I bet your mother isn't going to bother herself even though she has nothing to do, unlike me."
Not wanting to get involved in another mudslinging session with the one parent I have a semblance of a relationship with, I change the subject, asking about resorts in Fiji and telling him about life here in the Big Apple. He makes that huffing sound, the one that tells me he won't warn me again about making sure 'that felon' hasn't tried to contact me.
At least he cares, I suppose.
After a few minutes, I hear the fidgeting on the other end, and the familiar approach of the quick getaway. "Alright sweetheart, I have to go, make sure you have someone take a picture of you up on stage and send it to me, okay?"
"Yeah, of course," I answer, even though I know I won't, and he won't remember to remind me.
The joint gets passed down the couch, ending up in my fingers while I stare at it. All around me, my fellow cast members blow off steam, getting ready for the big night just a few short days away. I've smoked my share of pot, done a fair amount of other recreational drugs while I learned my skill, Los Angeles being an asylum for out of work actors looking to party and get discovered.
Jane peers at me through slit lids, the effect of the weed hitting her small frame quickly. I can't help but laugh at her as she shoves an entire sleeve of Oreos into her mouth one by one. She calls out to the small crowd around me, telling them about the hottie I've been stalking and I zip my lip, the word feeling scary as it rings in my ears.
Paul, a guy I knew in LA at one of my classes chimes in, and takes the unsmoked joint from my fingers. "Oooh, tell us about him." He crosses his legs and props his chin on his hand, waving at me to have the floor.
"There's nothing to tell." I shrug, and grab the bogarted joint back from him, taking a drag.
"Come on, Bella, even the director says you need to let people in. You're too frigid, girl."
It's something I've been told countless times over the last six years, from acting coaches, theater directors, other actors. Loosen up. Show some emotion. 'What is your truth, Bella?'
"You want the story? I'm the whore of a small town in Oklahoma. A cold, callous bitch."
And most of that was true.
He was nice to me, out on that sweaty field playing football with kids he truly seemed to enjoy. His enthusiasm became mine, and soon I was looking forward to being there every day even though my friends were at the lake or getting high up in the old barn Rosalie's dad owned.
We laughed at the same jokes; he seemed interested when he asked me about my future plans. When I told him I wanted to be an actress, he didn't tell me to have a backup plan or lecture me about how tough it would be. My parents scoffed at my ideas, but were going along with the plan of going to California to live with my aunt regardless. Their hesitation was mostly an instinctual act of parental duty, because they pretty much let me do what I wanted. The clichéd only child syndrome.
I craved bigger and better things for my life than that town filled with cows, and that desire manifested its way across all facets of my life. Designer clothing, the best car… my desire for control over men fell victim as well. Mike was easy. He gave me the puppy dog attention I craved, that inner need of the actor to have center stage. And he was a fine boyfriend, for a typical high school girl. Which I never felt I was.
I was never typical.
Coach Cullen was the town dream, the high school star even though he was long out of it. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. The guy that was friendly to all, respected. Seemingly unaware that he was so much more than everyone else. The man radiated sex, something I saw underneath all the small town hero worship and polyester gym clothes.
He was a happily engaged man, he was unobtainable. And Bella Swan wanted him in all her childish, selfish, teenaged narcissism. So when I saw the cracks I chipped away at his armor on that humid field that summer, I took the chisel and tried to see just how much power I could wield.
So I made my move, and as sure as young cockiness lived within me, I knew he'd fall. And he did exactly that.
Power turned to bitterness as I watched him flirt with his fiancée at games, kissing her on the field and ushering her into the locker room while I witnessed it all, accepting sloppy kisses from Mike. Thinking, 'tonight I won't meet him. I'll show him' which always ended with me caving and meeting him just so he couldn't be with her because I was hooked.
Hooked on everything about him. The way he looked at me, the way he touched me, the way he made me feel like I was the best thing that ever happened to him.
The mistake I made was never letting him know that he was really that for me.
It was a sweet victory when he realized his relationship with her couldn't continue. Part of me felt I'd won the game, I'd won the prize, but I think I knew he loved me, really loved me, and it was probably the first time someone had ever wanted to be with me so damn much. I moved along, I let him have those fantasies of us being together fill my own head. I never once told him that it was really all I wanted just in case he was leading me on. Just in case he never really meant to leave her. I pushed Mike away even though I kept him close, always on the edge... just in case. I was a fool trying not to truly become one.
But I loved him. I still do. Flaming logs and burnt siding be damned.
The day before opening night, I take the much needed night off the director has granted us and do my hair which has lived in a sloppy ponytail for weeks. I take my time with my makeup, making the eyeliner the perfect cat-eye he used to love. I pick up a pack of smokes from the corner deli, the man sitting outside on the crate hooting at me making me uncomfortable instead of powerful. I'm not that girl anymore.
My mind races as I walk those now familiar six blocks, giving myself whiplash as my nerves kick in.
He wants to see me.
He hates me.
He still loves me.
He'll kick me out.
He won't remember me.
He'll let me explain.
Rearing my shoulders back, I raise my head high like a girl I used to know and hold my breath, my foot crossing the threshold of the open doors towards an uncertain future.
You may not understand everyone in this story, but remember: even if it's not your truth, it is someone else's.
Until next time,