I rolled over and hit the alarm clock for the last possible time. It was Friday morning. I wasn't a fan of Friday mornings because Friday mornings meant staff meetings. And staff meetings were synonymous to the following words and phrases: boring, getting up before dawn, and boring.
On a day when most people can go to work and just look forward to the weekend, this day of the week was always mixed with a little bit of dread for me. Casual Friday couldn't be thoroughly enjoyed because of the lengthened work day that always consisted of that morning staff meeting.
I guess I shouldn't be complaining. I loved everything else about my job. And there were certainly aspects about these meetings that made them more tolerable.
"Hey, Swan! I saved you a seat." I turned my head as I entered the large cafeteria where the janitors had set up dozens of chairs all facing the makeshift stage at the South end of the room, and saw Emmett McCarty, the P.E. teacher, waving me over to the back row.
I walked through the line of chairs with my tote bag over my shoulder, a cup of coffee in my hand, and a white paper bag. "Good morning, Emmett. I brought us some breakfast." I greeted him with a smile before I sat downwaving the paper bag in the air which Emmett gratefully took out of my hand.
"Ah, donuts!" Emmett opened the bag and took a deep whiff. "The breakfast of champions," he joked. "Thanks, Bella." He proceeded to take a long john out before handing the bag back to me.
"Ooh…donuts?" A musical voice filtered through the air, and I recognized who was speaking immediately.
I turned around and greeted Esme with a hug as she sat down next to me. "Hi Esme! Yes, have one!" I handed her the bag, and she carefully removed a glazed donut with an appreciative smile.
"Thank you dear."
Esme Cullen, the choir teacher, was one of my favorite people at Forks Middle School. She was maybe ten years older than me, but she was as much of a mother figure as she was a friend. I still remembered how she got me through my first two years of teaching by letting me come to her with tears in my eyes and listening to me rant about how I constantly felt like I had no idea what I was doing. If anyone was meant to be a teacher, it was Esme.
The staff meeting commenced not too long after we sat down. Emmett kept us entertained by making jokes throughout the principal's usual droning. This must have been why Emmett always saved us seats in the back row, so no one else could hear our snickers and side conversations.
"Hey, I didn't miss anything, did I?" A hushed whisper asked from behind me.
I turned around and saw Jasper, looking frenzied and guilty that he had arrived late. I smiled in amusement "Just more standardized testing stuff. Nothing we haven't all heard before," I whispered to him. I suppressed a laugh as I watched him hastily tuck in his white collared shirt. Even on casual Fridays, Jasper was hardly ever seen at school without a tie and slacks. Maybe it was a history teacher thing. "Did you sleep through your alarm again, Jasper?" I was teasing. I'm sure I could guess exactly why he was so late, and it wasn't because of his alarm.
"Uh…not exactly," Jasper admitted with a sheepish grin. Emmett didn't miss a beat in turning around to extend his fist behind him and Jasper reluctantly punched his knuckles.
Emmett chuckled as he turned his body to face front again.
I, however, wasn't done with my conversation. "So, Alice is back in town then?" I was excited to see my best friend who had to fly out of town on business meetings to meet with important representatives about her fashion line fairly regularly.
Jasper nodded. "Yeah, she surprised me by flying in late last night…" he trailed off while trying to hide the humongous smile that formed on his face with his hand.
"No wonder you look so tired." I winked before turning back around, not intending to embarrass him any further.
How a fashion designer and an 8th grade history teacher ended up together was thanks, in much part, to me. Two years ago, when I decided I was sick of attending the annual staff holiday party alone, I insisted that Alice come with me to keep me company and act as my guest. Lo and behold, sparks flew between the two of them as soon as she walked in the room, and they've been inseparable ever since.
Incidentally, last year I brought Rosalie, my other best friend, in an attempt to help her out of her post-break up funk, and she met Emmett.
Now, into my fifth year of teaching, I was completely out of single friends, so it looked like I was back to my pattern of Bella Swan and no guest. Not that I minded too much. I'd grown even closer to Emmett and Jasper because of it, and it's been nice to have friends at work other than Esme to get me through these long days.
After what seemed like forever the bell finally rang to signify that students had five minutes to get to their first class of the day. This also meant that we had five minutes to rush to our classrooms and no time to delay the inevitable- middle school students and Friday. If I ever were to question my job it would be on a Friday. I sometimes think their parents must give them 10 energy drinks before they walk out the door in the morning. If only they could have that energy when it really mattered.
"Hey, Rosie tells me you girls have got a crazy night planned for tonight," Emmett nudged me in the arm, wiggling his eyebrows up and down.
I rolled my eyes. My friend Angela was getting married next week and tonight was her bachelorette party. I was her maid of honor, but I willingly stepped aside when Rosalie and Alice volunteered to help me plan the night of debauchery. "For the last time, you cannot tag along," I laughed.
"Oh, it looks like you've got quite a weekend ahead of you," Esme smiled as she walked with me into the crowded hallway of bustling students. "We're still on for tomorrow night though, aren't we?" She raised an eyebrow, as if daring me to back out of our plans.
I sighed in defeat. "Yes, Esme. Although, I hate that you're going through all of this trouble just for me."
"But it's your birthday! I'll come over to your room after school and we can discuss it further, okay?" Esme waved goodbye as she retreated down the hallway towards her classroom.
"Alright!" I called out, returning the wave, and walked briskly up the stairs to my first class.
The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. I handed out quizzes in two of my classes, accompanied with the expected grumbling and minor complaints, but nothing I couldn't handle. Some of my students in one of my 7th grade classes found out that my birthday was over the weekend, so they led everyone in a rendition of "Happy Birthday" during fourth period that surely would have made Esme cringe on the spot. I wasn't sure how they found out it was my birthday, but I had a feeling Emmett had something to do with it. Jasper and Esme knew better than to relay that piece of information on to my students, at the risk of embarrassing me.
In typical Bella form, my face was red as a tomato, but I took it all in good stride. I was flattered that my students even cared enough to sing for me.
Finally, the last bell rang for the day, and as students were scrambling to leave, I was wiping off the dry erase board when I heard a small voice, belonging to an adolescent male from behind me.
"Yes?" I was still facing the board, not yet realizing which student was addressing me.
I turned around to see Masen Cullen, a wide-eyed 7th grader with untidy reddish-brown hair holding out a small package wrapped in striped paper and garnished with a silver bow. I smiled. "Masen…" I took a few steps closer to hug him with one arm as I accepted the package with my free hand. "Thank you… how did you know it was my birthday?"
"Aunt Esme told me." Masen was grinning from ear to ear as he hopped up to sit on the flat surface of the desk across from me.
"Ah…" I leaned back to lean against my large desk as I shook the present next to my ear. "Did she tell you to buy me a present as well or was that your idea?"
"It was mine," Masen admitted. "She told me that you hate presents, but I said that I wanted to get you one anyway. And then she said to make sure it would be something you'd really enjoy and also something that you couldn't return, so I thought of the perfect thing."
Something I couldn't return. I almost laughed at how well Esme knew how horrible I was at accepting gifts. Of course, she knew that I could never upset Masen by telling him I wouldn't accept a gift from him.
"She told me that you might try to give it back to me because it's too expensive, and if you did, I was supposed to give you this face…" He looked up at me with his expressive brown eyes and pouted his lip. He looked like a wounded animal. Damn, Esme was good. He quickly replaced his expression with a smile. "It used to work a lot better when I was younger, but she said that would do the trick. But I'm pretty sure you're going to like your present, Ms. Swan. Open it!"
I tore at the corners of the wrapped box, apprehensive about what would be inside. Too expensive? I hated the thought of someone spending so much money on me, and I really hoped the gift wouldn't turn out to be as extravagant as I was afraid of. The box was about the size of a checkbook, but thicker. When I got past the wrapping paper, I was just as clueless as I looked at the white unmarked box in my hands.
Oh geez, I really hope it's not jewelry, I thought to myself, fearfully envisioning a diamond necklace, knowing Esme and her expensive taste. She may live on a teacher's salary, but she was also married to an incredibly rich, not to mention insanely handsome, doctor.
Taking a deep breath, I pulled back the top of the box. To my surprise, there was nothing in the box except an envelope. God, it's worse than I thought. It's money. My lips formed a thin line as I slid my finger under the flap and tore the envelope open. A thick piece of gold cardstock sat inside and I pulled it out.
"Did I win a trip to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory?" I joked. I looked up at Masen and his face was still full of eager anticipation.
"Read it," Masen instructed, rolling his eyes at me.
I squinted my eyes to make sense of the fancy black script that scrawled across the paper. "This certificate hereby entitles Ms. Bella Swan to 10 free piano lessons." I had tears forming in my eyes before I could even look up at Masen. "You're right, this is the perfect gift. How did you know?"
"When I had you last year in English class, remember that one day when you made us write in our notebooks? You asked us 'If you could learn to do anything in the world that you didn't already know how to do, what would it be?' My answer was that I'd learn how to be the fastest man in the world and jump from the tallest buildings, do you remember?"
I smiled as I reminisced over an even smaller version of Masen. He was the first person to volunteer his answer, and he spoke with so much passion and conviction, how was I to forget? I nodded to respond to Masen's question, still unsure of where he was going with the story, so I waited for him to continue.
"And then, you told us how when you were little your mom used to play that one song for you on her old record player. Some classical song—"
"Claire de Lune," I interrupted, suddenly remembering. My tears were almost choking me as the memories started to flood my mind.
"And you said that if you could learn to do anything in the world, you would learn how to play the piano, because that was your favorite song and you wanted to know how to play it to remember your mom because you missed her so much with her living so far away. I remember that you said you imagined that it would be better than just hearing it because you would know it not with just your ears when you listen to it, but also with your hands, your head, and your heart."
I turned my head to hastily wipe the wetness away from my face. "I thought 7th graders weren't supposed to remember the things their teachers say," I managed to tease through the overwhelming emotions encompassing me.
"Well, I was in 6th grade," Masen reminded me.
I laughed. "Excuse me. 6th graders."
A soft knock on the door broke the short silence.
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?" Esme poked her head in, giving me a knowing glance.
I held up the gold certificate. "This was a great idea, Esme."
Esme held up her hands in front of her as she made her way into my classroom. "Hey, it was all Masen's idea. I just helped make a few phone calls."
"Are you sure you don't want me to help pay for this though? It's such a lovely gift, but 10 lessons is a lot of money—"
"Masen…" Esme interrupted me to apparently cue Masen to give me his wounded puppy dog look. I suppose what he showed me before was just a preview, because this new look was absolutely heart-wrenching.
"Okay, okay!" I threw up my hands to surrender.
Masen smiled in triumph.
"Bella, I meant to ask you… My nephew just moved into town, and he is just about your age. Do you mind if he comes to the dinner tomorrow? I figured it would be a great chance for him to meet some new people." Esme looked at me with a hopeful smile.
"Oh. Sure Esme, of course." I sighed, approaching what I was going to say next not wanting Esme to think that I wasn't grateful. "But, Esme. You really don't have to do all of this for me, just for my birthday."
"Nonsense," Esme waved her hand to dismiss me.
"Can I come?" Masen asked, pulling out his bottom lip.
Apparently this look didn't work on Esme because she shook her head adamantly. "No honey, I think you're going to have to sit this one out. This party's for grown-ups only."
"But Edward's going to be there!" Masen argued.
I bit my lip to hide my smile.
"Yes, and contrary to popular belief, Edward is a grown-up." Esme rolled her eyes, smiling at me. "Anyway Bella, I've made reservations for eight, with everyone who can come, so I guess we'll just meet at the restaurant around 6 o'clock? Of course, Angela and Ben won't be there because of their wedding."
I nodded to confirm my agreement to these plans.
"Hey, Ms. Swan, when are you going to get married?" Masen said, cocking his eyebrow at me.
I laughed. "I guess whenever you plan to pop the question, Masen," I responded, teasingly, knowing at his age I could have easily embarrassed any other 12 year old, but I knew Masen would take it well.
Masen blushed slightly, but responded nonchalantly. "Everyone knows I'm going out with Cari Searman."
"Oh sorry, I guess I'm not up to date with all of the current gossip," I apologized with a smile still lingering on my face.
He shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly to accept my apology. "Well, wait till you meet my brother, Edward. Maybe you can marry him, but a lot of girls like him. Aunt Esme was saying--"
"Okay, Masen! We need to get going! You're mom's going to be wondering why I haven't brought you home from school yet." Esme seemed uncharacteristically flustered as she pushed Masen out of the classroom. Turning quickly to me, she spoke in a hushed tone. "Sorry about that, Bella. Masen has it in his head that you and Edward are perfect for each other, but don't listen to a word he says. You know how boys can be."
I gave her a confused look. "Well, I don't know many 12 year old boys who run around playing matchmaker…"
Esme giggled, another uncharacteristic gesture. "I'll see you tomorrow night, Bella. Don't worry about Edward, he's perfectly harmless. And don't think that what Masen said is the reason I invited Edward to your dinner. Like I said, he's new to town and needs to meet new people. Have fun tonight with the bachelorette party!" And with that, she rushed out of my classroom before I could get a word in. I heard Masen faintly say goodbye from the hallway, and she was gone and out of sight.
I was put off by Esme's sudden erratic behavior, and I wondered just what it was that she said to Masen that caused her to cut him off mid-sentence. I looked at my watch, and realized that I didn't have time to dwell on enigmatic responses when I had a bachelorette party to get ready for.
I sighed as I gathered my things and dropped them into my totebag. Making sure to grab my purse and my keys, I walked to the door, turned off the lights, and made my way down the empty hallway.
Tonight was going to be fun. I had to get this whole thing with Esme off my mind and I knew that what Rosalie and Alice had planned would definitely do the trick.