I'm torn between trying to work out what the deal is with Brady and this Leah girl, and forcing my brain to stop spinning over what he said about my previous convictions. Nobody here in Forks knows a damn thing about any of it, so it can only have come from someone with access to my police records. I wonder why I'm so bothered by thought of people knowing. I'm not ashamed of what I did: any piece of shit willing to sell drugs to underage girls when they can see what devastation they're causing deserves what they get as far as I'm concerned. My only regret is not causing him more lasting damage.
"So how do you two know one another?" I ask, pushing my other concerns away before I drive myself crazy going over it all in my head. I glance at Leah in the rear view mirror as she rolls her eyes and looks away out of the side window.
"Brady was Seth's best friend until a year ago," she says. I can't decide if the conversation is boring her as much as she makes it sound, or if she's forcing it. I glance at Brady.
"I thought you said it was a clash of personalities?"
"He changed." Brady shrugs and looks back at Leah with a smile.
"Seth wants to join the police force when he graduates," Leah tells me, her eyes locking on mine in the mirror as she faces forward again. My confusion must have been clear to see, because after a brief pause she continues. "Being seen to be friends with Brady was never going to help with that."
"So he blew me off," Brady adds, clutching at his chest as though wounded.
"That doesn't explain why he hates you though," I say. Brady looks at me intently, lowering his arm again.
"It does if you know me, Cullen. I don't like being blown off." He turns away and I notice Leah does the same.
"You guys still hang out though." It's a statement, not a question, and the fact they're both in my car proves it.
"She can't stay away from me," Brady says, looking over his shoulder and throwing another wide grin in Leah's direction.
"Ha! Says the guy who came calling on me," she teases, sitting forward and suddenly more vibrant than she's been the whole time. The good mood inside the small space is infectious and I laugh with them. "Shall I call Emily and see if she wants to come out?"
"Sure. I haven't seen Em in months, does she still have the hots for me?" Brady asks. Leah lets out a loud hoot of laughter.
"Dude, you wish."
"Emily's cute," he tells me, his voice lowered, although I've no idea why because it wasn't quiet enough to escape Leah's ears. She clears her throat loudly. "The guy's sitting right here, Leah, he can already see you're cute."
I catch her eye again in the mirror and she smirks. "The difference is Emily has standards when it comes to guys. I've always let myself down a little."
"Hey." Brady swings his body round as much as his seatbelt will allow.
"Are you two a thing?" I ask, my confidence bolstered by their good moods. They've made me think they are, but then I think back to all the times I've seen Brady with other girls. They both stutter over their words, changing their minds and between them telling me yes, no and kind of.
"We're kind of on and off," Leah tells me. "On when he's being sweet and off when he's being a dick. Which is most of the time." She blows him a kiss.
"You want to walk home, Little Miss Sass?"
"Sure. How long do you think it would take Seth to find you if you dump me out of the car?"
"You know I'm not scared of him, babe."
"Yeah? Well maybe you should be. I don't know about him any more; lately he's a lot more guarded than he was. I have no idea who he's spending all his time with but he's hardly ever at home."
A look of concern forms on Brady's face as the happy atmosphere fizzles and vanishes. "You think he's got something going on?"
"I'm not sure. He's just been a little off the past few weeks. He completely disappeared twice for a couple of days, my mom was going crazy."
"Why didn't you call me?" Brady asks her, but she just frowns and stares at him.
He sighs and turns back to face the road. "I guess you're right."
"I usually am," she bites back, the smile returning, though not as bright as it was.
Emily's up for hanging out, but she's stuck babysitting her little brothers so we head over to her place.
There's no warm greeting. "Take your shoes off and keep your voices down," she orders in a low voice as she opens the door and stands back to let us enter.
"Nice to see you too," Brady tells her, patting her cheek with his hand as he files past her first. She swats it away and glares at him.
"Hey, babe," Leah greets her, leaning in to kiss her cheek. As Leah moves away, Emily's eyes drift over to me. She tilts her head and raises an eyebrow.
"Hi," she says. I'm aware she's scrutinizing me and it makes me feel awkward and self-conscious.
"Hi." I shift from foot to foot.
"Are you coming in, pretty boy? Only I'm going to close the door either way."
I smirk and look away from her, snorting quietly in an attempt to cover my embarrassment at what she just called me. Recovering quickly I step over the threshold and into her house, conscious of her eyes on me as I pull my shoes off and then walk ahead of her, following Brady & Leah.
Emily's place is a world away from Brady's. It's big and spacious and everything in it is obviously expensive; not unlike my own house, filled as it is with shit chosen by my pretentious father. Brady's trying to look cool but I can tell he's a little intimidated by the way his eyes flick around.
"Where are your folks?" he asks, dropping down onto one of the huge leather couches. I notice he stretches his arm out across the back of it, a wordless invitation Leah takes him up on, tucking herself into the space beside him. I sit myself on the other couch, directly opposite them, turning my attention to the music channel showing on the huge TV on the wall.
"Some awards dinner in Port Angeles," Emily replies, sounding bored. "Can I get you guys something to drink? Beer?"
Brady and Leah accept enthusiastically. When Emily turns to me I decline the offer.
"I'm driving," I remind her. "Could I get a soda?"
She smiles. "You could just have the one beer."
"Soda's fine, thanks." I can hear the annoyance in my voice, and from the pissed off look on her face I guess she hears it too.I don't miss the look she shoots Brady and Leah as she leaves the room to fetch the drinks.
I feel bad enough to apologize when she returns. "It's complicated," I add when she sits down beside me, looking like she's expecting me to say something more.
"There's no excuse for bad manners," she says. "I don't care how pretty you are." She moves a little closer as I laugh self-consciously and push a hand nervously through my hair. I glance over at Brady and Leah, but they're deep in conversation, heads close together. "I've seen you before," she tells me. "Charlotte's house in the summer. You were there with Bella Swan."
I look up at her, the sound of Bella's name making my heart stutter.
"You were there too?" I ask. She nods and I look closely at her, but she doesn't look at all familiar to me. "I don't remember you."
Emily laughs. "Of course you don't, you barely took your eyes off Bella." She pauses as my mind jumps back to that day. "Brady's really protective of her," she says, her voice quiet as though she's trying to prevent him from hearing what she's saying. "Which is why it was kind of a surprise to see you here with him. What's going on with you two?" She gestures subtly to the other side of the room with her head.
"Nothing's going on," I say. She raises her eyebrows as though she doesn't believe me. I look across to Brady and see he's watching us, his brow a little furrowed as though he's trying to work out what's happening. "At least nothing I know of," I whisper. She leans in, her mouth close to my ear, her breath tickling my skin.
"Trust me, there's always something going on with Brady. If you don't know what it is, I suggest you make it your priority to find out. And fast."
A/N - Thanks to Choc for pre-reading :) xx