Chapter 16

"When the day that lies ahead of me
Seems impossible to face
When someone else instead of me
Always seems to know the way
Then I look at you
And the world's alright with me."Bill Withers, "Lovely Day", peaked at #6 on the Billboard R&B chart and at #30 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song is notable for Withers' sustained note towards the end, which at 18 seconds long, is one of the longest ever recorded on a song.

Alice's mother holds her glare through the screen. She looks like she's been crying for hours, her usually neat helmet hairdo is a mess and she's dressed in a housecoat, something she'd never wear in front of company.

"Mrs. Brandon, we haven't seen her in a few days, that's why we came by," Angela says calmly for someone that just got accused of wrongdoing.

Alice's mother says nothing, then visibly crumples. She pushes the door open and asks us to come in, the smell of moldy church hitting my nose again, way too soon. As the clock ticks loudly, we sit on the plastic-covered floral sofa, and she sits in the matching chair across.

She holds out the paper and Angela reaches for it. We huddle together, reading the note on the rainbow stationery proving that yes, in fact, Alice has flown the coop.

It's all there. The love story of Alice and her teacher, the pregnancy, how he's over the moon excited and they're going to get married. She's sorry to have let her parents down, but she's so, so happy and hopes that one day, they will forgive her. She pleads for them not to be angry with Jasper, that they are both adults and know they can't live without each other. She ends it by saying Jasper has already given notice to the school board, and she'll get in touch with them as soon as she's settled in her new life.

She doesn't mention me or Angela. Not a 'tell them goodbye' or anything. My eyes sting with confusion.

I look at Mrs. Brandon and try not to focus on the huge cross attached to the wall above her, which makes me feel like a sinner even though I haven't done anything. I guess I sort of understand a little why Alice felt the need to find a way out of this oppressive environment, even if it hurts me she did so without telling us.

"Did you know she was dating her teacher?" The despair in her voice makes my heart hurt, and I'm torn between easing her pain and shedding my own hot tears at the fact she just up and left Angela and I as well. "You girls must've known something."

"I'm sorry, we didn't know she was planning on leaving," Angela says, which isn't a lie but doesn't expand on what we did know.

"She has another year of high school left. She was going to join our church's youth ministry program after."

My eyes widen and Ang and I exchange a look. That's news to us. "It doesn't seem to be what she wanted," I say as politely as possible, still loyal to my friendship with Alice even if she isn't.

"Of course it is, what else would she want to do?" Her question comes out sharply. "The church is a big part of her life. She wants to serve God and help all of his disciples. She's been surrounded by sin," she sobs and waves her Bible in our direction. "Beaches with people barely dressed, a non-parish job surrounded by it all…"

Before I can formulate a thought, she gets up. "Where are my manners? I'll get you girls some tea. Pardon me for my rudeness … isn't very Christian of me … " she trails off and makes her way to the kitchen.

Angela and I look at each other once she's out of view. There are so many statues and pictures of holy people I'm almost afraid to whisper in here.

"I can't sit here anymore," I say, my voice a mix of anger and melancholy that ghosts through the pious room.

"Can we just leave before tea?"

"We don't owe anyone anything. Not here." I get up and Ang follows immediately. I feel sort of bad and sort of not, so I call out to Mrs. Brandon that we have to go, and we'll let her know if we hear from Alice.

I barge out the door, letting the screen door fly and Ang runs to catch up. I'm in the car with the door slammed shut before she's even made it past the front end.

"Are you seriously upset over what that idiot thinks?" She pulls out of the driveway and we head down the faded asphalt towards the PCH.

I look at her, mouth agape. "She left us. Without a word. After everything we've been through with her the last few weeks. What the fuck?"

Angela sighs and grabs my hand. "She didn't leave us, Bella. She left that house."

I know she's right, but it doesn't make me any less upset. "How do you not take this personally?"

"Because I'm not going through what she is. Who knows how either of us would react?" She shrugs, pulling my hand with hers. "She's thinking of herself, and right now, that's with Mr. Whitlock. Plus, she's got all those icky pregnancy hormones."

I let that stew, a little mad that Angela is always the level-headed one while I let my emotions soar. "I'm guess I'm just worried."

"She is going to get a hold of us. I'm sure of it."

"What if she's lying? What if she showed up, told him he's about to be a daddy and he threw her out? She could be scared and huddled under a highway overpass. She could be begging on the streets."

"Mr. Whitlock is too chill and kumbaya to just throw out his pregnant girlfriend. Plus, I believe she's telling the truth about their relationship." She jiggles my hand and laughs lightly. "Next you'll have her hustling johns over on Hollywood Boulevard."

"I've seen those afterschool specials." I nod.

"I think we just have to wait for her to come to us, B. She will."

I let go of her hand and light us both a ciggie. I inhale deeply and settle back, feet on the dash. "I guess you're right," I concede and exhale slowly.

"I know what would make you feel better," she says, turning the wheel. "Magazine and stolen vodka therapy. Plus, I want to hear all about what's going on with Edward."

Perking up a bit at his name, I fill her in as we're heading towards the Gas 'n Gulp. My blues about Alice fade as I get excited and nervous telling her about the premiere Friday. She grills me about what I'm going to wear as we peruse the magazine rack, and we discuss what options might lie in her closet since she is a tad girlier in the clothing department than me.

As we're picking our way through the new issues of Glamour and Seventeen, I glance up to see if the new Cosmo is out yet so I don't have to steal Renee's. Sometimes it's mixed in with the more adult magazines if the manager feels the photo on the cover is a bit risqué.

I skim over the covers of the girly mags wrapped in brown paper across the middle so you can't actually see anything. The faces on these girls all look the same - heavy makeup, blonde hair, vacant expressions meant to lead men on and feel like they're looking right at them. I've got no real objection to pornography, hell me and Ang have been known to steal a Playgirl in the past, but there's something just really sad about these girls propped up in the stand, waiting to be defiled by some gross man or horny boy.

Playboy. Hustler. Oui. Screw… and right there, I stop short, my breath lost in my lungs.

Red, shiny lips and overly-curled hair. Brown paper wrapped around her.


Friday night I'm pacing my room, double checking I look halfway decent in the dress I borrowed from Angela and making sure the mascara I put on isn't running down my face. I consider having a cigarette out the window but don't want my breath to smell like an ashtray if Edward should decide to kiss me hello.

In front of my father.

When I told Charlie and Renee I'd be attending the shindig tonight as Edward's date, they barely batted an eye. I can hear them laughing in their room, getting ready for the big premiere, and I'm super happy we are all going together and that Edward and I will join them for dinner after like a maybe-couple.

But I'm also queasy as I take a minute and pull the magazine out from under my mattress.

My lips quiver as I look at Rosalie, topless and holding her pointer finger up to her lips like she's about to suck on it. My stomach rolls at the sight, and I have to hold back the nausea much like I did in the store when I grabbed it from the rack speechless and showed Angela. She gasped loudly and quickly shoved the magazine under her shirt. I wanted to take all the copies and throw them in the outside trash, but we left quickly, forgetting our purchases, and drove straight to my house. Angela was the one that flipped through it as I sat on my bed, stunned, and reported that yes, there were more inside. Much more personal ones.

I have no idea where she's been, where she is now, or how to get a hold of her. There is no doubt in my mind that Emmett is behind it all. Part of me wants to go to the lot he works in and bring all the police in Los Angeles, but part of me also wants to keep it as private as possible until I can talk to her. That includes not telling Charlie or Renee. Yet.

And I haven't even thought about what I would say to Edward or how he would react.

The loud bong from the grandfather clock in the hall tells me Edward will be here any minute. Feeling weird about leaving the magazine here when I'm not, I shove it into my hobo bag and hurry to the living room, where I double check my makeup in the mirror over the gold console table. I scowl at my reflection; the lighting here is much different than my room and the glow off the mustard colored shag carpeting makes me look sallow.

Or it could be the puke bubbling in my stomach from seeing my step-sister on a porno mag just as easily.

As I'm fiddling with my hair, Charlie comes down in his blue leisure suit with the matching polyester palm tree shirt. "Going to the disco after dinner, pops?" I grin and do a shooting guns maneuver towards him with my hands.

"Kiddo, I'd tear up the floor."

"No doubt." He goes to the liquor cabinet and starts making a Harvey Wallbanger. I almost ask him to make me one I'm so nervous but figure the answer will be no. "This isn't going to be weird, right?"

"The movie? I hope not. But who knows how artsy fartsy these kids might get." He smiles and his mustache twitches, alerting me that he knows exactly what I'm talking about.


"Do you honestly think I haven't known for a while how that boy feels about you?"

My eyes literally break through the mascara web, jump out of my head and roll across the floor. "Say what now?"

"What now." He laughs, eternally pleased with his teasing until I huff in frustration. "It isn't weird he's finally coming to take you on a date, no."

"What do you mean, finally?"

Just as Charlie is about to answer, Renee comes into the room, filling the air with her favorite Faberge perfume. She's got a long, multi-colored dress on, the opalescent sequins picking up the light and shimmering as she moves.

Charlie whistles at her as she takes his drink and sips. My eyes fill suddenly, images of a similar scene played out before me as a little kid when my parents would go out for the night and I'd be staring at them like they were movie stars.

"You guys look great," I say, dabbing at my eye so the black ink doesn't form rivers across my cheeks. "I should take a picture." I run to the office and grab my dad's Instamatic, making sure it has a fresh Magicube.

"Okay, stand by the fireplace," I direct, but Charlie protests.

"I'd rather have a picture of my two gals." He takes the camera from me and I huddle next to Renee, her arm going around my waist as we stand there. "You're not going to argue?" he asks me. "You hate getting your picture taken. You always run away."

"I do?" The bare walls. All the pictures of Rosalie. I realize there are no pictures of me because I'm a jerk and haven't let them take any of me. "Well, I want this picture," I answer, and smile for the flash.

There's a knock on the screen. "I can take one of you three, if you like." Edward appears in the doorway and I suck in a breath.

His hair is combed, but not too much, and he's got on a nice pair of gray pants, paired with a white button-up shirt. There's no tie on the wide collar, just his puka shells on display. I'm glad he doesn't have a matching jacket on like Charlie.

He looks so handsome, I want to replace my Andy Gibb poster with one of him.

Charlie is the first to move and hands Edward the camera. "Thanks, son." We pose the three of us with me in the middle and smile huge when Edward tells us to say 'cheese'.

However, I then become mortified when Renee tells Charlie to take a picture of me and Edward. "We're not going to prom!" I cry, but it's too late. Edward has his arm around me and pulls me into his side. We smile and pose before I say we're going to be late just to get out of the awkward situation.

Even though I know when those pictures come in, I'll ask Charlie to make duplicates for me.

No one says anything when Edward leads me to his dad's car instead of piling into Charlie's. We say we'll see them there and Edward pulls away.

"What's with the car?" My hand runs over the dashboard of the El Camino. It's a sweet ride.

"I didn't think you'd want to get your hair messed up in the Jeep. Not tonight." He smiles and I melt on the black vinyl seat at just how thoughtful he is.

"Won't Esme complain about her own?"

"Your parents are picking them up."

"Oh." We lapse into silence and I'm more nervous around him than I've ever been. I don't know if it's leftover energy from worrying about him picking me up, the fact that I didn't get to question Charlie further, or that this finally feels like a date-date.

Edward reaches over the bench seat and takes my hand from my lap. I hope it isn't clammy. "You look really pretty tonight."

"Thanks. You look really pretty, too." As soon as it comes out, I cringe but Edward just laughs. "I'm sorry, I'm nervous," I blurt and this can't get any worse.

"Why?" His thumb runs over my palm.

"This feels… different."

"Different bad?" He grins, because he must be enjoying the fact that I'm a dork.

"No, just…" I trail off and desperately want to pull my hand away so I can flip the mirror down and check the hellish mascara again.

Suddenly, Edward pulls the car over into a parking lot. He keeps it running as he slides closer to me, and before I know it, my face is in his hands and he's kissing me like he never has before. It's not the kind we've shared lately–sweet, tentative and new. This one is full-on make-out worthy with tongue and I think I'm going to pass out. After months and months of dreaming and wondering what it would feel like to be properly kissed by this boy, I finally know.

Edward Cullen is a fantastic kisser.

He's so good that I get caught up quickly, and I can't help it when my arms automatically circle his waist, pulling him closer. He deepens the kiss even more and presses his body against mine as much as he can in the tight space. His hands move to the back of my neck and his fingers lightly splay into my hair, holding me to him.

After a few blissful moments of that, he pulls back slightly and I can feel him pant against my lips.

"Wow," I whisper, dazed.

"Wow bad?" he teases.

I shake my head, his hands still on my neck. "Wow good. Definitely wow good."

PB Fun Fact 1: My mom would make my dad one Harvey Wallbanger every night when he got home from work. He'd sip it and read the comics to me and my siblings. Every time I see that tall bottle of Galliano in a bar, I smile.

PB Fun Fact 2: My mom had this dress I describe on Renee. It was long, halter-style, and all different colors. It had those clear but opalescent sequins on the whole thing, and it would shine and sparkle when she moved. She'd wear it when they were going to a fancy event, and I'd look at them like they were celebrities. I loved it so much, I would just sit and stare at it when it was hanging in her closet.

Thanks to my two girls that would definitely stuff a porno mag up under their shirts for me, LayAtHomeMom and CarrieZM.