With Friends Like That...
That should have hurt.
The thought registered faintly somewhere in my mind. I was on the ground after falling hard on my hip and all I felt was numb. My body registered the impact and yet somehow… no pain. Something was seriously wrong - I was pretty sure that wood floor plus hip should equal ouch.
Alarm bells started going off in my brain through my drunken haze and I knew I had to get out of there. Nothing good could come of me being at a party in such bad shape. And nothing good could come of the guy who had been dancing ever so closer to me before I fell.
The guy... Mike? Mark? Ugh. I'll just call him blond desperate guy. BDG. BDG helped me up and had an opportunistic gleam in his eye when he asked if I was ok. He so thought he was getting lucky with the drunken freshman.
"Not gonna happen, BDG. Not sober, not drunk, nope." He looked confused as I waved him off and stumbled over to my roommate and her friends who were doubled over with laughter.
"Alice, I need to go home," I slurred.
"Oh Bella, don't be so boring. We came here to have fun! Go back and dance with Mike – you looked great out there!"
His name did start with an 'm' – score one for the drunk girl. When I went to fist pump, I was thrown off balance and stumbled to the side, snapping my brain back into focus for a moment. Right. Really drunk. Must leave.
"No, really. I need to leave. I can't stay, Alice. You said we could go if I wanted to go. And I am telling you I need to go."
She huffed in annoyance. "Yeah, that's when I thought you might actually give this a chance. You're ready to pack it in maybe an hour after we got here. Nope. You want to leave? Leave. I'm having fun and I'm not going to let your boring Bella bullshit stop me."
I gaped at her for a second and couldn't believe what I was hearing. I still didn't understand how I had gone from someone she liked hanging out with to 'Boring Bella'. I had friends. I went out. Hell, I started crashing the weekly poker game Seth's fraternity brothers held. I just didn't get all dressed up and shitfaced drunk every weekend. Apparently that was now the only way to be fun. I knew things had changed between us, but the fact that she was going to make me fend for myself in this condition hurt. It hurt a lot. I blinked back some tears because I refused to be the drunk crying girl and put all of my energy into not slurring my words. I wanted her to get this message loud and clear.
"Alice? You've turned into a really shitty friend, you know that? I'm done."
I saw a flash of remorse in her eyes as I turned and staggered away from her, stopping to sit on the stairs so I could undo the straps of the uncomfortable shoes she told me to wear. "Those pumps are sooo perfect, Bella. You want to look good, Bella. Maybe you can finally get a guy, Bella. God, why do you have to be so boring, Bella?" I muttered under my breath, repeating all of the bullshit she had spewed at me recently. I didn't understand what had happened between us, but that was a question for a different day. Right now, I had to get myself out of there. Thinking and hurting could come later; protecting myself had to happen first. People made a path for me as I headed for the front door – no one wanted anything to do with the drunk, swaying girl talking to herself.
I stepped out the front door and into the brisk, fall air. It cleared my mind just enough so that I could focus on figuring out a way back to the dorm or finding somewhere else safe to go. I was standing just off fraternity row, and I knew if I could get down the street, I would be safe at Seth's house. Seth and I grew up together and we were more like siblings than friends. We had seen each other through some awful shit growing up and I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, I could always count on him.
Seth's fraternity brothers from poker night had pretty much adopted me as their little sister. I knew even if he wasn't there, they would take care of me and make sure I wasn't harmed. Yes, it would be embarrassing, but I was past the point of giving a shit. All I cared about was getting to someone I could trust.
Ever so slowly, I made my way down the street, stopping to sit on some of the low walls in front of the houses when I needed a break. I was barefoot, my brain was swimming, and the house felt like it was a mile away. Somewhere in my mind, I knew I only had half a block to go, but it was so hard when all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep.
"Just keep swimming," I muttered to myself as I set off again and got looks from a group of students that passed by me.
"What? Haven't you heard of Finding Nemo? It's a fucking classic, assholes." Ah fuck. I was still slurring. And apparently I was turning into a cranky, shouty drunk. Awesome. Seth was going to love this.
I trudged forward and was starting to get really scared. I was having a really hard time navigating the sidewalk - my vision kept shifting and with it, my balance. I held on to things as I walked, but there were gaps between fences and walls that were becoming increasingly harder to walk between. This was not a normal, one large cup of vodka punch buzz. I had no idea what happened back at that party, but I had never been drunk like this before. Finally, I made it to Seth's, stumbled up the front walk, and threw open the door. No one was in the living room and it was so quiet, I wondered if anyone was even in the house. Maybe I shouldn't have assumed a bunch of fraternity guys would just be hanging around their house on a Saturday night. I held out hope that maybe, just maybe, they were upstairs.
"Seth? Seth? Seth!" I yelled as I stumbled up the steps and into the front room they used for chapter meetings. Empty. My head was spinning and I started to panic about what to do next. The only thing I knew was that being alone when I was this out of it was not a good thing. I heard a noise behind me and turned around quickly… too quickly. I could feel myself start to fall when strong arms shot out and caught me before I could hit the ground.
I looked up and saw two… no four… no two bright green eyes gazing at me with concern.
"You're not Seth."
The eyes crinkled and a small chuckle came out of the guy in front of me. "No, I'm not Seth."
"I'm drunk. And I need Seth. I mean, not like need Seth. He has Jess for that. I just need Seth. Fuck. Did I say I was drunk? Because I'm drunk. And I fell and couldn't feel it and that scared me so I left. I had one fucking drink and suddenly I'm on the floor. What the hell is that about? I don't think Alice gave me vodka. I can handle my vodka. This I cannot handle though. Nope. Not handling things at all right now. I don't like this, green-eyed guy. I really don't like this whole spinny thing. I like your eyes though, even when there are four of them. Wait, two. Nope, four."
As I babbled on and on, I could see his expression morph from amusement to straight out worry.
"OK, sweetheart? What's your name?"
"Bella. But Alice calls me Boring Bella. I don't think I'm boring, but maybe I am. She didn't used to think I was boring. Am I boring? Please don't say I'm boring."
"Ah, so you're the Bella I've heard so much about. From the stories I've heard from Seth and the guys, you are anything but boring, that I can guarantee you. I'm going to get you some water, OK? Go sit on the couch and wait here for me. I'll be back in two seconds."
He left the room suddenly and I swayed on my feet. Maybe standing wasn't the best choice. Couch. He said to sit on the couch. I took a wobbly step and knew that if I kept going, it was not going to end well. You know what? I bet the couch was totally overrated. The floor would do just fine. I shakily let myself down onto the floor and sat there for a second. I was just so tired. Maybe I could lie down for a minute? Just for a moment. I just needed a moment...
"Bella? Bella, you have to wake up."
My eyes blinked open and I sat up fast, startled at the panicked voice that woke me.
I suddenly realized that sitting up fast had been a very, very bad idea. I could feel my stomach flip as my brain and vision tried to catch up with the sudden movement. "Oh fuck… I need…"
The look of panic on green-eyed guy's face would have made me laugh if I wasn't concentrating so hard on not puking on his shoes. Suddenly I was swooped up and he was running down the hall with me in his arms. I closed my eyes and prayed to the gods of drunk college kids everywhere that I would make it to the bathroom. I could not handle puking on Seth's super hot fraternity brother.
I whimpered. "I don't wanna puke on your shirt, Seth's hot brother. I really don't wanna."
He chuckled. "I don't want that either, sweetheart, but if it happens, it happens. Hold it together for two more seconds and neither of us will have to worry about it."
We made it to the bathroom with seconds to spare and I expected green-eyed guy to leave and just let me do my thing. No one wants to watch anyone get sick, let alone watch some random drunk girl getting sick. But much to my surprise, I felt him gently gather my hair and hold it while rubbing soft circles on my back. That small act of kindness broke me and I started to tear up. This guy who didn't even know me was taking care of me, but my own roommate - someone I thought of as a friend - couldn't even be bothered.
I didn't get it. I didn't understand what happened to the roommate I met at the beginning of the year. She was fun and teasing, accepting that I would go to parties some weekends, but other times would go more low key - hanging out with friends I had in the dorms, coming over to Seth's, or even just relaxing with a book. That all changed once she met her new friends. The teasing had turned sharp edged – words were chosen that would pierce my skin. Comments made that I couldn't shrug off. Suddenly I was "Boring Bella." Tonight, I had just wanted to salvage some of our friendship so I had tried to fit in with this new version of Alice.
Through my fog, it dawned on me that she was the one who handed me the drink. She was the one who reassured me that it was vodka. My heart broke as I heaved again. I felt hollow inside both physically and emotionally by the time I sat back on my heels.
"Yes," I said quietly. "Can I, uh, just sit here for a while?"
"Are you sure? We can go sit somewhere more comfortable if you want."
"I don't think that's a good idea yet. You don't have to sit here with me. You can go back to doing whatever you were doing, hottie brottie." My brain was still swimming and I knew that was just the first round. I sat with my back against the wall; the tile felt good as the coolness seeped through my shirt and green-eyed guy sat next to me. "Hey, why are you here when the rest of the guys are out?"
"Eh, I like a night to myself sometimes. The partying has gotten kind of old - nothing much seems to change from week to week. The guys even named me Worm when I was a pledge."
"Worm? Like in tequila? Ew, gross. I mean, tequila's good, but the whole worm thing… nope." I shuddered and then tried really hard not to think about worms because I knew that would kick off round two.
He started laughing. "No, like bookworm. Unless a party was required when I was pledging, I would hang out here while everyone else was out. I like the guys, I like the fraternity and a lot of what we do, but I also like time to just relax."
I smiled. "I know exactly what you mean. I didn't even want to go out tonight, but my roommate wanted me to and we had drifted apart so… yeah. Party it was." We were quiet for a moment.
"That wasn't vodka, was it?" I asked. I knew in my heart it wasn't, but I had to ask.
"No sweetheart. I don't think it was. I'm so sorry this happened to you."
I teared up, not wanting to think about what that meant, but unable to ignore the obvious any longer. As the tears started to roll down my face, green-eyed guy scooted closer to me and put his arm around me, pulling me to him to comfort me. Soon I was spilling it all – all of my issues with Alice and everything that had led up to that night. He sat and listened as I wept and wiped my face with a cool washcloth when I was done. When I was all cried out, I tilted my head back against the wall and dozed off, utterly exhausted from the alcohol and the emotional upheaval the night had brought.
The rest of the night was a blur. Every once in a while, I would open my eyes and a bottle of water or Gatorade would magically appear in front of me. I was vaguely aware of green-eyed guy sitting with me the whole time, holding my hair and rubbing my back when I got sick, wiping my tears when I cried about Alice, and keeping watch while I slept. At some point, it registered that I was being carried and then placed on a comfortable bed, but I didn't wake fully. There was a kiss on my forehead and a gentle hand brushing my hair back from my face and a whispered, "Sleep, Bella," as I dozed off.
I woke slowly, becoming aware of an awful taste in my mouth and a pounding headache. I blinked my eyes open and laid there for a few minutes, trying to gather the energy to actually get my ass out of bed. As I sat up, my abdominal muscles ached like I had done a thousand crunches and my vision swam.
"Oh god," I whimpered as I swung my legs over the side of the bed, closed my eyes, and cradled my aching head in my hands. When I finally felt like everything had stopped spinning, I looked up.
"Oh fuck. What did I do?"
I definitely wasn't in my apartment. And I definitely wasn't wearing pants. I still had my underwear, bra, and tank top on, so that was a plus. I glanced around and tried to remember how I ended up alone in a stranger's room. More importantly, how I ended up in a stranger's room without my pants. I saw my jeans folded neatly on a chair and grabbed them, relieved to put them on so I didn't feel quite so... exposed. There was a pair of super large flip-flops under my jeans. I hoped it was fine that I borrowed them as my shoes were nowhere to be found.
As I pulled my pants up, I had a flash of lying on the floor and wriggling out of them in a bathroom, of all places. Something about the tile feeling nice and cool on my legs, which I'm sure made perfect sense to me at the time. I glanced around the room, and after seeing the Greek letters on the wall, realized I was in Seth's fraternity house. Just not in a room that belonged to one of the brothers I knew.
On the dresser, I saw a piece of paper with my name on it propped up against a bottle of water. I walked slowly… ever so slowly… over to it and saw not only the sealed bottle of water, but also a bottle of Advil, and a travel toothbrush and toothpaste set. This little bit of thoughtfulness brought more memories of the night before to the surface. Memories of bright, green eyes watching over me with concern but no judgment for the situation I was in. Gentle touches caring for me when I was sick and while I was crying. A smile that lit up the room when I couldn't stop babbling.
After taking the painkillers and drinking the bottle of water, I put on the flip-flops and shuffled into the small women's bathroom to brush my teeth. I looked in the mirror, expecting to see raccoon eyes, but saw no trace of lingering eye makeup. My fingers trailed across my face, following the vaguely remembered path of a cool, wet cloth that soothed my eyes and my skin after my crying jag. I didn't know what I did to deserve the kindness I had received the night before, but it was sorely needed on a night when I lost so much faith in someone I thought I knew. I had to find green-eyed guy to thank him and apologize. Maybe if we talked when I was sober, he wouldn't think I was a total freak show.
The house was quiet as I walked down the hall. I peeked into the chapter room and saw green-eyed guy sprawled out on the sofa, snoozing away. Waking him up wouldn't exactly show my gratitude, but I realized I could at least go get him some breakfast. Er, brunch. Possibly lunch by the time I got back.
I took a moment to really look at him now that I could actually focus my eyes. He had reddish brownish hair and a serious case of bedhead. He was tall – tall enough that he didn't really fit on the sofa – and lean. His t-shirt had ridden up slightly so that I could just see a smattering of bronze hair leading down from his navel, and my eyes followed that trail down to his jeans, my mind filling in what I couldn't see. I was lost in my imagination and then realized I was standing there, staring at his… oh my god… I was staring at his morning wood. I made some noise that had never come out of me before – some kind of squeak moan combination – and quickly ran down the stairs before he could wake up. Holy fuck. I could see enough of a vague outline to be impressed.
"Focus, Bella. Food and coffee first, morning wood analysis later."
I went down to the corner deli and picked up coffee, egg sandwiches, and an assortment of donuts. I didn't know what he liked, but I tried to cover my bases. Well, the unhealthy bases, at least. It took a little longer than I thought it would, but I finally had everything and walked back to the house, although walking may have been a bit of an exaggeration. I was doing a weird stomping shuffling thing to keep the flip-flops on after I stepped out of them several times. While it kept them on my feet, I'm sure I was quite the sight doing this weird dance routine while balancing coffee and breakfast in my hands. I weighed taking them off completely, but saw enough glass on the sidewalk that I didn't want to chance it. I didn't know how I had avoided it the night before, but I realized just how lucky I had been. Besides, I was fairly entertained by the solo version of "Stomp" I had going on. All I needed was a push broom and I'd be golden.
As I headed back up the stairs to see if green-eyed guy was awake, I heard loud voices.
"Fuck, Seth. I don't know where she is! I brought her in here around three this morning."
"You did what? She was drunk, you asshole. Do you always get girls drunk before you take them to bed, Cullen?"
"What?! No, man! No! I put her in my bed and I slept on the couch. What the fuck? I'd never do that."
"Okay, okay. Sorry man. I just got this call from her roommate saying she hasn't seen Bella since last night and it freaked me out."
"Now? Now she's worried about her? What about last night when she really needed someone? Do you know that they told her she was drinking vodka? She had one drink - I've never seen one vodka do that to a person. I'd bet you money that it was Everclear in that punch. And then she let her fend for herself! She walked down fraternity row, drunk off her ass and barefoot. What if someone cornered her? She wouldn't have even been able to run away! What kind of roommate does that? Hell, what kind of a fucking person does that? Do you know what that chick has been saying to her? How fucking cruel she is? Fuck, man. We need to get her out of that dorm room they share."
"Ah shit. I knew it had gotten bad, but I didn't think Alice would ever put her in that situation. I have a couple of people I can call to see if they have rooms available. Wait, hold on a second. We?" I heard Seth start laughing. "Oh Cullen, you had one night holding her hair back and you already have it bad. She had every guy wrapped around her little finger back home and she didn't even know it. Hell, half the guys in this house have adopted her. And you didn't even get the full Bella effect yet. You are so fucking screwed, man."
I came around the corner and saw Seth and green-eyed guy standing in the doorway of the room I had stayed in the night before.
"Uh, hi guys."
Green-eyed guy's ears turned pink and Seth started laughing even harder. He finally composed himself, but green-eyed guy was studiously looking at the floor and rubbing the back of his neck.
"Bella! What did you bring me?!" Seth bellowed and I cringed at how loud he was. The Advil may have helped, but it wasn't a miracle drug.
"Inside voice, Seth! And I didn't bring you anything, jerkface. Did you take care of me last night? This is for… uh…" I desperately wracked my brain, trying to remember green-eyed guy's name but I came up blank. Did he even tell me his name last night? "Wow, I am such an asshole! You sat up with me, took care of me, gave me your bed, and I don't even know your name. Oh god, you watched me puke! Ugh, I'm the worst! You'd think puking would put you on a first name basis with someone. Fucking hell."
Seth let out a guffaw. "And the Bella effect is back in full force. Glad to see you're okay, girlie. Give Alice a call when you get a second. She's worried about you."
I snorted. "Right. Worried. Sure she is. Probably more like finally feeling a little guilty. I really have nothing to say to her right now. You can call her if you want. Totally your call, Seth."
Seth's grin broadened and he rubbed his hands together. "Oooooh… what can I tell Alice that will totally freak her out? This is going to be fantastic! And next time? Just use your phone, Bella. We would have come to get you."
I stared at him and blinked. Well, yeah. That would have been a smart thing to do. Wait… my phone. I didn't have my phone. "Oh fuck me, Seth! I don't know where my phone is. It's probably with my shoes in a bush somewhere."
Seth started laughing. "Alice has your shoes and your phone so don't worry. I'm gonna go call her and torture her a little. Let me know when you're ready to go and I'll drive you back to the dorm."
Seth walked away and left a void filled with awkward in his wake. It was the uncomfortable morning after without the benefit of any sexy times the night before. The seconds dragged on as we both stood in the hallway, glancing around, not really sure what to do. Green-eyed guy was still rubbing the back of his neck, and I was nibbling on my lip, trying desperately to find something to say.
I realized I was still holding a bag and a drink tray in my hands. "I… uh brought breakfast?"
"That's really sweet. You didn't have to do that. But yeah, I could eat," he said as his stomach growled and he blushed.
"It's the least I could do. I just… I wanted to say thank you. And apologize. I'm not usually like that." I rolled my eyes. "I mean, I usually know a guy's name before I spend the night." My eyes almost bugged out of my head. "No! No, that's not what I meant! Oh god! I just… I don't know your name. And you were so nice to me and took care of me and I'd really feel like less of a jerk if I at least knew your name instead of calling you green-eyed guy in my head."
And there was that smile. "Green-eyed guy? I dunno. I was pretty partial to you calling me 'Seth's Hot Brother.'"
My eyes widened in horror. "I didn't."
"Uh yeah... you did. At one point it turned into hottie brottie. That does have a certain ring to it, don't you think?"
I knew he was teasing, but I was completely mortified. Hottie brottie? Seriously? I kind of met this really sweet, hot guy and I was so drunk I completely embarrassed myself. I was going to fucking kill Alice.
I shoved the bag and drink tray into his hands. "So, there are breakfast sandwiches… and donuts… and coffee. I'm just going to go hide under my blankets for the next few years and pretend none of this happened. Last night never happened. Yep, it was all a dream and I'm gonna wake up soon. Just call me Bobby Ewing. Thanks for… everything." I turned around and started to speed walk towards Seth's room so I could get a ride home and die of shame in peace.
When I got most of the way down the hall, I heard someone calling to me.
"Hey? Girl walking down the hall? Can I talk to you for a second?"
I turned around to see green-eyed guy walking toward me. I was so confused - he knew my name and yet…
"Hi. I'm Edward. Cullen. Edward Cullen. I wanted to introduce myself. What brings you by the house?"
He was blushing and his smile was soft. I stared at him for a moment as my brain finally caught up with what he was doing.
"Hi Edward. I'm Bella… Bella Swan? It's nice to meet you? I'm, um, a friend of Seth's?" I squeaked out.
"The pleasure is all mine, Bella Swan. A friend brought me breakfast and had to leave. Want to join me?"
"Well, I don't usually go into a guy's room that I really don't know, but I guess this time... I could make an exception."
I am stunned and amazed by the response this got in the contest. Huge thanks to the hosts and judges and Kim and everyone involved for dealing with 79 (!) entries.
This entry wouldn't have done nearly as well without my professional shouty capper, Mary Kitty Masen, the astoundingly talented (and diabolical) Drotuno, and my fellow Jersey Girl who can find the one word to change that makes all the difference, Planetblue. And the lovely and grammatically terrific Hadley Hemingway held my hand and helped me off the ledge. I am completely in their debt.
There are no words for how I feel about Carrie ZM. She is the epitome of kindness and support all while wielding a fiercely fantastic red pen. She is the real deal and I'm lucky I get to call her my friend (and that she's willing to beta for me).
Yes, I'll continue this for at least one more chapter. I can't let Alice get away scot free, now can I?