Bella's getting married.
When I first heard about the wedding, I'd been shocked. It's been years since I last saw her, and my father, and the fact that I'm seeing her on her wedding day is doing nothing to stow the nervous energy bubbling up in my chest.
My mother keeps telling me to relax, but it's all for naught considering I am just one big ball of anxiety. I don't do well with big crowds; it's how I've always been. Bella and I had been glued to the hip when we were younger, but as soon as she moved out to Forks to live with our father, my outlook on the world shrunk immensely. I didn't go out, didn't have many friends, my shier than shy personality prevented me from doing all those things that normal people my age do. I'm okay with it.
Bella's getting married and I have to wear a goddamn dress.
If I didn't adore my sister to the end of the earth, then I definitely would have changed into something less attention-grabbing. That, and switched out my flats for converse.
Some self-conscious part of me wants to tighten the scarf around my neck until I feel myself choke. Just a little.
"Grace, is that you?"
I turn and freeze. There, wearing a fresh suit and tie, is my father, Charlie Swan.
The last time I had seen my father had been close to three years ago. It was summer break and my mother had suggested that I spend some 'quality time' with him, but we barely muttered more than five words to each other the entire time I was there. I forced myself to hang out with other people, made new friends – anything to distance myself from him. We didn't have much in common and we never really knew what to say to each other. After my parents' divorce, we sort of drifted apart.
Charlie, with a face full of deep, restrained adoration, scans me from head-to-toe. My stomach churns cruelly when his gaze finds mine; the subtle tick in his jaw, the glossy look in his eyes – it's all too much.
"Look atcha," his voice is thick, filled with too much emotion. "All grown up."
I don't know what to say to that, so I keep my mouth closed. For a moment, all we do is stand there, taking each other in, basking in the once familiar warmth.
Blinking rapidly, my father tilts his head to the side. "Would you like to go see your sister?"
As if he had to ask. Still, I give a curt nod and follow him up the staircase.
We pass a plethora of graduation caps enclosed behind a glass frame. Such an odd hobby, but then again, from what Bella's told me about her new family, it isn't all that shocking.
"So, how's school been?"
I grab a fistful of my soft pink dress, praying I don't trip and fall. What does he want me to say? School is school.
At my lack of reply, my father's focus drifts toward me, not necessarily unaccustomed to my silence. With an expression equivalent to that of a wounded puppy, he reaches out to help me the rest of the way up the stairs.
Pushing aside my stubbornness, I accept his hand and let him guide me down the hall. At the end, the door is cracked open, and I can already hear my mother's babbling. The anxiety I feel has me unintentionally gripping my father's hand, using it as an anchor, and I try not to falter when his gaze drifts over to me.
For the sake of my sister, I do my best to shove the anxiety away.
My father walks in first as I linger behind him, bringing my hands behind my back out of shyness and habit. Luckily for me, all focus seems to be on the fact that my father is wearing a tuxedo, but the awe only lasts for a split second before all attention zeros in on me.
Bella's eyes widen imperceptibly at the sight of me, as if the sight of her younger sister wearing a dress is shocking enough. When we lock gazes, her face stretches out into a massive grin, hidden behind her hands, but she holds herself back as if she's afraid she might tackle me.
"Rosalie, Alice–" she turns to the other two women I have yet to meet– "This is Grace." Her voice is filled with such an intense adoration that I find myself looking anywhere but at her, eyes focusing in on the other two women.
The shortest one steps forward, big smile intact. "I'm Alice," she says softly. "I've heard so much about you."
I smile shyly, noting the way she has to hold herself back from any sort of contact. "My name's actually Kennedy," I announce for the first time, hating the way my voice cracks, "But you can call me Grace. Grace is my middle name."
"Well, we've all been dying to meet you," she gushes, good-natured. "It's about time that happened."
My cheeks are an inferno. I turn my gaze over to the other, the quieter one, and find that she's assessing me, eyes guarded. The nerves build, bubble up into my chest, and my heart hammers against my ribcage. Her lips give a barely visible twitch down at me before she nods shortly in acknowledgment.
"Rosalie, but you can call me Rose."
Strangely enough, I'm thankful that she doesn't hold out her hand. Neither had Alice. A fleeting suspicion tells me that they've been informed of Bella's poor kid sister that gets uncomfortable around physical contact. I appreciate it nonetheless.
"You're wearing the dress," Bella cuts in, voice just slightly above a whisper. My eyes flit over to her and I'm acutely aware of the tiny smile curving at her lips, half-hidden behind her hands as they curl disbelievingly at her mouth. She tries so hard to contain her excitement.
"Unfortunately," I whisper back. It's one of the softest pinks I ever laid eyes on; fitting, sleeveless, not too revealing. The dress itself is long, longer than me, cascading around me like a waterfall.
With a roll of her eyes, she reaches for my hand and tugs once. Then pulls me into a bone-crushing hug that has the nerves in my chest and pounding in my heart diminishing into a gentle thrum. We practically melt into each other.
"I miss you," she says into the crook of my neck, voice muffled.
My eyes fall shut, and I squeeze her once. "Me too."
"Alright, don't mess up the masterpiece!" Alice chastises, but not unkindly.
We pull apart, and not wanting to look her in the eyes, I reach for my mother's hand, and they interlock together like magnets.
"You must be Kennedy."
I almost jump at the friendly intrusion to my left. As if my spiking nerves aren't bad already, they seem to skyrocket as I come face-to-face with another set of golden eyes. Immediately, my mind whispers a name: Edward. This is Bella's soon to be husband.
As if having recognized my recognition toward him, his smile widens, showing off a row of perfectly straightened teeth, and a more than dazzling grin. He holds out his hand in greeting, fingers wiggling patiently. I stare down for a hesitant second, and cave, slipping my hand into his, and nearly flinching at the coldness of his skin.
"Just Grace, actually," I murmur.
"Grace," he says kindly, as if committing the name to memory. "Well, Bella's spoken quite highly of you."
Our hands fall away, and so do my eyes in an attempt to seem casual. I want to say something, but I can't, and I don't want to seem rude for not speaking, but there's only so much human interaction I can handle. My eyes dance over the crowd of unfamiliar faces, and my stomach drops at the thought of having to introduce myself to more people.
"You don't like big crowds?"
I shake my head, still not looking at him, feeling his gaze intently on the side of my face. Mom had told me on the way here that there'd be a decent sized crowd, but the only word that comes to mind, as my eyes anxiously dart around, is massive. The nerves swirling inside my chest has me subconsciously scratching at my wrist.
And then Edward says, "Me neither," and I don't feel so small anymore.
The ceremony goes on for what feels like decades.
After my more than awkward greeting with the groom, he had happily introduced me to the rest of his family. Carlisle – who I learned is a doctor of medicine – and then Emmett and Jasper, who are a conundrum in itself. Jasper, with his quiet, brooding nature, and Emmett, who is huge – and I do mean massive – and the definition of cheeky. Esme, Edward's mother, is an angel. An angel with her fragile little grin and calm-easy-open eyes. I found that I enjoy her presence the most.
Moments ago, I'd lost sight of my mom, and after my internal panic attack, I took to sitting down, staring at the floor and scratching at my wrists. The inside of my mouth feels like cotton and my head feels like static, but not even the soothing sounds of the melody playing in the background can ease the clashing of nerves in my chest.
My head snaps up instinctively at the sound of Bella's voice. We lock eyes and she smiles widely, bounding over with Edward hot on her tail. The downright drunken grin on his face as she hauls him along is comical, but I keep quiet, standing just in time for her to collide right into me.
I fight hard not to grimace at the excursion, and accept the embrace, but only for a second before pulling away. Her husband stands behind her like a guard-god, but assesses the situation with the softest of grins. And although Bella is practically glowing, her eyes are searching as they flicker across my face, making my nerves spike.
She leans in, voice dropping slightly. "Are you feeling alright?"
Not wanting to be the center of her concern – or anyone's for that matter – I give a little nod and my brightest smile. "Don't worry about me, Ella. This is your day."
"Ella?" This has Edward's undivided attention, eyes falling down to his wife in what looks like warm amusement; however, instead of leveling me with her best stink eye, she preens at the sound of her nickname.
"It's better than Bunny."
Edward does a double-take, throat tight as if holding back laughter. "Wait – Bunny?"
This time, it's me who gives my older sister the stink eye. Bunny is the nickname my mother so graciously gifted me with when I was young and naive and had a compulsively unshackled adoration towards bunnies. I still cringe at the sound of it.
I make a mess of my words as I try to explain the meaning behind it, and by the time I'm finished, both bride and groom are about ready to burst.
At Bella's unforgivable laughter, I knock my fist against her arm; it's gentle, but she still pulls back and holds it as if my knuckles are made of iron. Peals of soft-heartened laughter explode from deep within her chest, and it's a nice sound – familiar, warm, homely. Belatedly, I realize I'd joined in, so I let the laughter dwindle out and avert my eyes.
Bella observes me, looking fond, as if she's trying to commit me to memory. Edward, too, only less ardently. My nails dig into the skin around my wrist, and I scratch until I feel a sting.
Startled, and suddenly overcome with anxiety, I can feel my body tense until I'm ramrod straight. The newlywed couple seem to recognize the new voice instantly, and before I have the chance to turn tail and bolt, Bella's tugging me into her side. I'm still reeling from the sudden whiplash, palm over my temple and eyes screwed shut, when Bella begins introductions.
Her eyes twinkle, outwardly pleased that she managed to grab ahold me before I could escape. "Grace, this is Seth."
Once I lift my gaze, the world around me shifts. Breaks away. Shatters.
Oh. Oh woah.
The boy in front of me is, in every sense of the word, stunningly boyish. Russet skin, short dark hair, and at least six feet tall. Whiskey brown eyes. Eyes that soften upon contact, hazy and glossy and wild.
Then everything comes crashing down within nanoseconds, and I watch as he doubles over as if he'd been punched in the gut, letting out a thin wheeze.
I rip myself out of Bella's loose grip, feeling as if someone had injected liquid nitrogen into my veins – breaking the spell.
At that moment, Seth drops to his knees.
There's a rapid response as both Bella and Edward rush to his side, but I'm rooted to the ground, absolutely staggered, uncomprehending.
The room spins. Ground sways beneath my feet.
Confusion, fear, panic all slam into me at once.
Eyes watching. Curious, anxious. Too many people. Out! Out! Out!
My instincts tell me to disappear. So, what do I do?
I'm already halfway up the stairs when I hear the distress in Bella's voice as she cries out for me.