Summary: When video of the worst day of Bella's life goes viral, her pain and humiliation become fodder for an endless supply of memes and gifs. Internet fame brings her nothing but heartache until Edward Cullen, her celebrity crush, arranges to meet her. Is it a prank, or is Bad Day Bella's life about to turn around for the better?
I'm stepping well outside my comfort zone with this story, but it's been playing in my head for a long time now, insisting I write it down. The is a contemporary story, all human, without a carriage, bonnet, or vampire in sight! I'll warn you now, it starts out angsty and has some major twists (and some potential triggers - please PM me if you'd like to know more), but there is plenty of fluff to balance the heavy. Unlike my usual stories, it does not contain a slow burn, so you won't have to wait long for Edward and Bella to get together, but they will have some serious obstacles to overcome before they reach their HEA. The issues raised in this story may seem a little unbelievable, but each and every one is something someone I know, have counseled, or have read about has experienced in real life which, as is often the case, can be a lot stranger than fiction. So, buckle up, and lets enjoy the ride!
PS: Sunflower Fran and Sunshine1220 are my wonderful beta/prereader support team. I 'tweaked' the daylights out of this one, so all mistakes are mine. :)
Lying in bed staring at the plain, white ceiling, I found myself wishing I was back in my bedroom in Forks. Better yet, I wished I was in my old college dorm room with my best friend, Alice. At either location there would have been posters to distract me from the depressing memories playing on a loop in my head.
During my high school years, the posters had been mostly indie bands, and yeah, I'll admit it, a pop star or two. But it was my seventeenth year, my second to last one at home when I discovered sports stars. Well, one sports star in particular. He was a member of the U.S. Swim Team, a couple of years older than me, and he was gorgeous. Still is. His posters soon wallpapered my room and ceiling, much to my dad, Charlies', chagrin. My boyfriend, Jake, wasn't too impressed either.
I should have realized then that I wasn't in love with the boy who'd been my best friend throughout most of my high school years. I hadn't felt a fraction for him what I did for my dream team swimmer, with his crazy bronze hair and sea green eyes. Edward Cullen. I'd have played his washboard abs like a xylophone given half the chance. As would millions of other girls, who, like me, caught their first sight of him while watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Yep, infatuation hit me hard that year in a way I'd never experienced before. My obsessive feelings lasted for the rest of high school and all through college, my dorm room becoming somewhat of a shrine to the U.S. Swim Team in the lead up to the London Olympics in 2012. Edward's image took pride of place, of course. It hadn't helped that he was a world champion breaststroker.
A snigger escaped my lips at the memory, just as it had every time Alice or I had said those words. While she hadn't been quite as hung up on Edward as I was, we'd both admitted to being available for any and all 'breast stroking' practice he might ever need! By the time the Rio Olympics rolled around in 2016, I was a mature, engaged woman and had banished my celebrity crush to a corner recess of my mind in favor of emotional fidelity.
With the wisdom of hindsight, I'd have been better off sticking with the fantasy.
A sob rose in my throat, but I bit it back down. I'd had my cry for the day, and I refused to shed any more tears. That didn't stop my thoughts from returning to the reason I was holed up in my plain, white-walled room with no intention of leaving my borrowed twin bed unless absolutely necessary (a girl had to eat and pee) until this weekend was over.
Celebrations or remembrances of past events on the same date in later years.
We tend to think of them as good things, but they can go either way. I had a few that haunted me. My birthday, for one. Not that I regretted being born, though I am pretty sure my mother did. I worked out early on that she was different than other moms. The flakiness was okay, kind of fun really, but the emotional distance I could have done without. It had left me feeling insecure, uncertain, afraid that no matter how hard I tried, how good a daughter I was, she would up and leave me one day. Which is exactly what she did.
I made the mistake of asking to have a few friends over for my tenth birthday. Double digits seemed like something to celebrate, and since I'd never had a party, I thought she'd be okay with it. I didn't ask for much. Just to have three friends over after school, some pizza, and a cake. I even baked the cake myself, and I made sure the house was spotless without being asked. Happy Birthday to me.
That morning, Charlie gave me a little locket with a bluebird on the front. I still have it, and the memory brings a smile to my face. Mom told me she would give me my present when she picked me up from school. I usually walked home, so that alone was exciting. Except, she never showed. It was raining, and I hadn't brought my raincoat because I didn't think I was going to need it. I waited and waited until my teacher told me it was time I moved along. I arrived home, cold and wet, at the same time as my friends were being dropped off by their mothers. Suspecting something was wrong, one of the girls' moms came inside with me, and together we discovered that my mother had left. Entirely. Everything of hers, including quite a lot of things that Charlie and I needed to get by, were gone. The balloons I had tied around the living room sagged listlessly, and propped next to the slightly lopsided chocolate birthday cake I'd made the night before was a note addressed to Charlie. There was nothing for me. No letter. No card, and certainly no tenth birthday present. The note didn't even mention me by name. All it said was that Mom, or Renee as I think of her now - which I do only rarely - didn't want to do 'this' anymore. She would be in touch when she was ready, but she never was, well, other than a few random calls and postcards over the years. It did a number on me, and it took quite a bit of therapy for me to stop blaming myself over her leaving.
Some people love attention so much, they don't care what kind it is. Not me. I've always hated being in the spotlight, my aversion to it written in my DNA in bold type. It is probably why I was drawn to studying child and adolescent psychology; that and my messed-up upbringing. My work is never about me, but my clients, the children and parents I work with in my job as a school counselor.
The aftermath of Renee's abandonment brought me my first real taste of negative attention, and I hated it with every fiber of my being.
The state of being famous or well known for some bad quality or deed.
The only thing I was guilty of was not being lovable enough for my mother to stay. At least, that's what the other kids at school concluded. I now know that wasn't true, that the problem wasn't with me but with her. I am also aware that the response of the kids in town towards me, to judge and hurl abuse, was a protective mechanism. If I wasn't to blame, if I had done nothing to cause my mother to do such an awful thing, then what was to stop their mothers from doing the same thing to them? Assuming I was at fault made them feel safer, but it made my awful situation much worse until the attention eventually died down.
Charlie tried his best, but he was dealing with his own heartache and was ill-equipped to raise a young daughter alone. I spent a lot of time with babysitters. Weekends, I spent out at the reservation while Charlie fished or watched sports with his buddies. I didn't mind that, as the res kids didn't give me a hard time. That's where I met Jake. Shorter and a year younger than me, he followed me around like a shadow until I agreed to be his friend. Truth be told, I needed one, and if we had just kept our relationship as friends it probably would have turned out fine. But when he turned sixteen and far surpassed me in both height and weight, he convinced me we should date; that we were destined to be together.
I knew I didn't feel for him what he professed to feel for me, but I did love him. I just wasn't in love with him. I think that's why I held off having sex with him for so long when everyone else was pairing up and going at it like rabbits. I was such a cliché, finally giving into him on prom night, another anniversary I would never forget. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible, not until he snuck out of our hotel room to go have much hotter sex with my sort-of best friend, Jessica, two rooms away from ours. He thought I was asleep, but I had only been pretending, a little afraid he would want to go again. When he didn't return, I went looking for him and heard Jessica calling out my boyfriend's name through the thin, hotel room door. Not that she was making any attempt to keep the noise down. The door wasn't even locked, so I got quite the eyeful when I burst in. As if that wasn't bad enough, the racket she had been making was heard by some other students staying there for the night, so the 'big reveal' wasn't witnessed by me alone. I would have kept quiet about it. They did not.
My second experience with notoriety was, in many ways, more painful than my mother's abandonment. That I had, at least, been subconsciously expecting. Jake was my best friend and finding out he had been cheating on me for months, with my second-best friend, had been the icing on the bitterest cake I had ever eaten. To say I had trust issues afterward would be an understatement. The last year of school was both mortifying and lonely. Jessica was one of the popular girls, only tolerating me to get closer to Jake, so I lost both my friends, plus what little social standing I had at Forks High, in one fell swoop. Jake apologized, but while I forgave him, I couldn't trust him, and I couldn't wait to escape our small town, and its prying, pitying, gossiping inhabitants.
Which leads me, in a roundabout way, to how I found myself experiencing fame for all the wrong reasons a third and far-reaching time. Naturally, it was tied to another anniversary, one that was also supposed to be a celebration.
This time, one year ago to be exact, my hair and make-up were finally done and my best friend, Alice, was helping me into my ridiculously expensive, one-of-a-kind, designer wedding gown. Everything about my wedding was over-the-top. Not because I wanted it that way, but because my people-pleasing personality - subconsciously honed by my fear of rejection - made it difficult for me to say no to people I care about. My fiancé, Mike, wanted a big wedding. More to the point, his mother wanted our wedding to be the event of the season, and what Mrs. Michael Newton the Third wanted, she usually got. Although, in hindsight, I can see that Mike wasn't averse to being center-stage in a wedding that would have done a reality star proud. He was the one who insisted on ice sculptures and peacocks, not me.
I just wanted to be married to the man I thought I loved, to be accepted, settled and secure. My preference would have been for a low fuss affair, not a spectacle fit for the highest echelons of Seattle society. But the Newtons had welcomed me into their family after I'd finished college and started working at an exclusive, all girls' school on whose board Mrs. Newton sat, and it only seemed fair to give in to their wishes. I'd been so relieved when Mike's mother insisted on covering fifty percent of the expenses, but all her involvement had done was send the costs sky high, as she insisted on the best of everything for her darling boy. Charlie wiped out his savings and retirement fund to pay for our half of the damned thing. I tried to put my foot down, but Mrs. Newton was a law unto herself, and Charlie's stubborn pride refused to allow him to admit he couldn't afford our half of the extravaganza. I think it was his way of trying to make up for my less than perfect childhood, not that I blamed him for any of it. He was a good dad and had done his best by me. I hid as many costs as I could from Charlie and paid for them myself, wiping out my own savings and maxing out several new credit cards.
"Don't stress," Mike would say whenever I raised my concerns. "Once we're married, what's mine is yours, and yours is mine, including your debts. You earn good money. Once I've cleared your student loans and credit cards, you'll be able to help your dad out as much as you want."
It was a nice sentiment, except Mike chose the middle of our multi-thousand-dollar avowal of lifelong commitment to come out of the closet and profess his undying love for his best man and business partner, Tyler. I don't think he planned to do it that way, if ever. Tyler was the instigator, speaking up at the 'does anyone have any objections' part. If Mike had had his way, he would have allowed me to be his unwitting 'beard' indefinitely, up to and including my providing him with an heir, preferably two, his reason for marrying me in the first place. Apparently, Tyler wasn't as keen on the idea of impending parenthood, or my involvement in their affairs, as his longtime partner, and he chose the most public and passive aggressive means possible to express his displeasure. Mike forgave him instantly, and the two of them made their own impromptu avowals of love and commitment while I watched on in shock.
The worst part of the whole debacle was that Mike's plan would have worked. Despite spending four years studying psychology, and two more doing my master's in counseling, I'd had no idea I was engaged to a sociopath. Overly empathetic types, like myself, apparently make the perfect patsies. All I knew was I was oblivious to what later, seemed blindingly obvious. I had loved the man without having a clue who he really was.
Afterwards, a lot of people assumed I must blame Mike's sexual orientation for his betrayal and tried to get me to support their homophobic agendas. But sociopathy isn't determined by gender, orientation, race, or religion. It's an innate lack of empathy and guilt, a tendency toward manipulativeness, and a selfishness that relegates the needs of others to incidentals. "What's in it for me" is the sociopath's driving force. It is also frighteningly common, affecting three in one hundred males and one in three hundred females, so roughly one percent of the population overall.
Some people mistakenly believe that sociopaths and psychopaths are one and the same, but while all psychopaths are sociopaths, not all sociopaths are psychopaths, who exhibit an extreme and often violent form of the condition. The reality is, while sociopaths are much more likely to end up with a criminal record than the general population, they also make up a disproportionately high number of the world's most successful people. Sociopaths maintain a much higher than average representation in the fields of political leadership, business management, law enforcement, medicine, pretty much any role that incorporates power over others. To assume that all of them are evil is an overstatement, as many sociopaths learn early the value of the Golden Rule. They treat others well in order to get their own needs and wants met in return. Of course, other sociopaths will lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and basically do whatever it takes to get their way. Like Mike.
No, I didn't blame my ex-fiancé for being gay. I just wish he hadn't lied to me, used me, left me drowning in a sea of debt, and then abandoned me to a degree of public humiliation I never could have imagined in a million years. And after my earlier experiences, I could imagine a lot. I thought I was so careful, choosing Mike because he was everything my mother and Jake weren't: steady, dependable, charming without being overly charismatic and, above all, honest. Ha! I couldn't have been more wrong if I had tried.
Mrs. Newton's histrionics at the wedding lead me to believe she was fully aware of her son's sexual orientation, though I don't think she had any idea he was going to make it known in such a brutal manner. Still, she blamed me, lashing out physically while screaming that it was my fault for not being 'enough of a woman to satisfy him.' It was a ridiculous sentiment, as her beloved boy, who was busy kissing Tyler at that point, had made it perfectly clear that no woman could have done the job.
To make matters infinitely worse, the entire fiasco was captured on several hundred of our illustrious guests' smartphones, which they then uploaded to every social media platform known to man. Before I had even begun to come to terms with what was happening, my pain, shock, and grief, were converted into a never-ending stream of video clips and memes. The first, and most famous one was well on the way to going viral before I had even removed my ten-thousand-dollar gown.
"You think you're having a bad day?" it said over a variety of images of my stunned, horrified, and finally tear-filled expression. "Bella's having a bad day!"
My wedding video, which somehow made it to YouTube, clocked up millions of views. Last I checked, which was a while ago, as my therapist put me on a social media ban, it was well into the hundreds of millions of views. People in countries I had barely heard of got a laugh out of my misery. The phrase, "Having a 'Bella' day," meaning life was treating you really, really badly, made it into the international lexicon. I thought I knew what it meant to be a laughing stock back in Forks, but nothing I had experienced came close to the torment that rained upon my head like a hurricane of humiliation after Mike's betrayal.
Talk show hosts joked about me. A couple even invited me on as a guest to tell my side of the story. I declined. By that time, I was holding onto my job by a thread. If they could have fired me for bringing the college's "illustrious reputation into disrepute," my snobbish principal's words, not mine, I would have been handed my notice in a heartbeat. But technically, I had done nothing wrong. It didn't stop them from choosing not to renew my annual contract, which is why I only had one week left before I joined the ranks of the unemployed.
Alice's husband, Jasper, a lawyer with a prestigious downtown Seattle law firm, offered to sue them for me, but I'd never been promised more than a year at a time . . . it was how my contract worked. I loved working there, but if I was no longer welcome, I decided I'd rather move on than cause trouble.
Quite a lot of people said I should sue Mike for breach of promise, but there was no guarantee I'd succeed. His family had paid for half of the wedding, and I got to keep my wedding gown, engagement ring, and matching diamond necklace and bracelet. I'd planned to sell them to help pay off Charlie's debts. That no one was willing to pay top dollar for a dress, stunning though it may have been, associated with such an unromantic—well, for me—affair, shouldn't have been surprising. There are almost as many memes out their mocking Bad Luck Bella as Bad Day.
I can't deny there is some truth to them.
Foolishly, I'd signed off on the release forms Mrs. Newton's lawyers had presented me when they'd heard rumblings I might pursue Mike for damages. I wouldn't have been so quick to agree to their terms if I'd known then that the jewelry Mike had given me was only worth a fraction of what I'd assumed. It's true what they say that it takes a professional jeweler to tell the difference between diamonds and cubic zirconium. I'd missed that little fact in the fine print, and Jasper still hadn't quite forgiven me for not getting him to check the contract before I signed. He'd suggest still going after the Newtons, saying he would argue I'd signed while suffering emotional distress. But I didn't trust them not to slander my already battered name. In the end, I'd asked Jasper to leave it alone, as the last thing I wanted was more negative attention. The press had only recently stopped hounding me, and I was already afraid the anniversary would stir things up again.
God, I hoped not.
One of the things that stung the most was that Mike walked away from the debacle virtually unscathed. Oh sure, a few critics spoke up against his behavior, but they were in the minority. To a lot of people, he became something of an icon. Of course, that wasn't until after he returned from spending the honeymoon I'd been so excited about going on to Hawaii . . . with Tyler. It turned out Mike had a ticket booked for his long-time lover all along. I couldn't help wondering how Mike was going to explain his absences to me, without work as a cover, if the marriage had gone ahead and we had gone on our honeymoon together. Our love life hadn't been overly passionate, but it wasn't non-existent, and we would have been newlyweds after all. Was I that gullible that he could have continued to have his cake and eat it, too?
Oh, right. I wasn't the cake. I was the camouflage.
Sighing heavily, I told myself to stop thinking about it all. I knew better than to constantly replay the events. I'd had as much therapy as I could afford, which admittedly wasn't a lot, to deal with everything that had happened. Although, even my therapist admitted the anniversary was going to be tough. I'd been doing so much better, but as the last weekend before summer break had approached, I had stopped sleeping, again, and my stomach had started to churn like it did in the beginning. Thankfully, I'd managed to make an emergency appointment with her on the previous Thursday after school.
"It's okay to feel whatever you're feeling, just try not to wallow," she had said.
Yeah, about that . . .
"Bella, it's just me. I'm letting myself in!"
Groaning, I rolled over and buried my face in my pillow. Giving Alice a spare key to my, expensive but tiny, one bedroom, secured apartment, had seemed like a good idea at the time.
"Go away," I mumbled from beneath the covers.
"Oh, Bella," she said, sitting on the narrow edge of the twin mattress beside me. "I can't believe you're still in bed."
I lifted my head enough to give her the evilest eye I could manage.
"Okay, I can believe it, but that doesn't mean I approve. It's the middle of the afternoon."
"So?" I grumbled into the pillow. "I plan on staying here until the weekend is over."
Alice sighed. "Sweetie, I thought you were getting past this?"
Rolling onto my back so I could face her, I matched her sigh with a bigger one of my own. "I am, but I'm only human. Anniversaries of painful events are tough."
God knew I had more than my fair share to contend with. Jake took care of April, the month of our high school prom, and Mike did a number on the last weekend in June before summer break. My birthday was in September, and to make sure all the seasons were covered, my much-loved Gran died right before Christmas, back when I was fourteen.
"If you haven't come with ice-cream and chick flicks, you can let yourself out," I mumbled. "And before you say anything, yes, I know. I'm not just wallowing in self-pity. I'm fucking drowning in it."
I didn't usually swear, and it was not like me to be bitchy, especially not with Alice, but I thought she'd be more understanding.
"Nope, no ice-cream," Alice said in a no-nonsense tone. "I'm here with something better."
"Chocolate?" I asked, looking behind her. Pizza or Thai food would be okay, too. I hadn't eaten anything since a bowl of cereal the night before, and my stomach growled with neglect.
"Nope. You can have something light to eat if you're hungry, but the dress I've brought you to wear out tonight won't look as good if you're bloated with junk food."
Her words registered, and I wrenched myself to a sitting position and scrambled back against the wall, as if that would somehow protect me from whatever ridiculous scheme Alice had concocted. She could be relentless, but there was no way in hell I was leaving my apartment until I had to drag my sorry self to work for my last week come Monday morning.
I told her as much, with a few more out-of-character 'F' bombs thrown in.
"But Bella," she whined, bouncing on her knees like an overly excited two-year-old. "I've got an epic surprise planned. It's going to completely eclipse what that no-good-asshole did on your almost-wedding day. You won't even remember it happened."
"You've found a way to hack the Internet and erase the memory of half the planet? You do realize the phrase, having a 'Bella' day, was recently heard in Mongolia?"
Her shoulders slumped. "Okay, there might still be a few reminders, but you'll have a way better memory to counteract the shitty one. Waaaaaay better. I promise."
"And this memory involves me getting dressed up in a too tight dress and going out in public to be catcalled and insulted by photographers, professional and otherwise, desperate to get a reaction from 'Bad Day Bella'?"
"No!" Alice looked as horrified as I felt by the possibility. "Well, yes to the dress and going out, but I've booked you a private dining room at Twilight. It's the most exclusive restaurant in the city. They have music and dancing, but the security is top notch, so you won't have to worry about anyone taking your picture. They pretty much guarantee the privacy of their guests."
I stared at Alice for a long moment, nonplussed. We'd been best friends for almost eight years, but it was like she didn't know me at all.
"Quite aside from the fact I'm not much of a dancer, why the heck would I want to go to some fancy-pants restaurant by myself on this particular Saturday night of all nights?"
"Not by yourself, silly. You're going on a date with a guy I guarantee you are gonna want to dance with. You'll probably end up climbing him like a tree in the middle of the dance floor."
I scoffed. Alice had taken leave of her senses if she thought I'd be up for a blind date, tonight of all nights. There would be no leaving my apartment and no using strange men as jungle gyms, even if I hadn't been laid in well over a year. But I was curious.
"Who is he?"
"I can't tell you. That will ruin the surprise."
This time, my scoff was more of an agonized groan. "Alice, I love you, but it's like you've forgotten who I am. How could you possibly think surprising me, with anything, was a good idea?"
Her face fell. "You're right," she whispered. "Renee, Jacob, and Mike all 'surprised' you with the awful things they did. But this is a good thing, I promise."
She looked so crestfallen, I found myself moving to sit beside her, so I could wrap an arm around her shoulders. "It's okay, hon. I know you mean well, but I don't need a blind date. I just need to survive this weekend, without drawing any further attention to myself, and then move on with my life."
Unfortunately, moving on probably meant crawling back home to live with Charlie in Forks until I could find myself another job, as there was no way I'd be able to keep up the rent without one.
Alice eyed me for a long moment, seeming to come to a decision. She drew in a deep breath and then spoke the words I could never have imagined hearing in a million years.
"What if your blind date was with Edward Cullen?"
*Peeks our from between fingers* Any thoughts?