***Companion story for Breathe Again. Goes with Post #23: Chapter 12: Comfort: Bella's POV.***


Gossip
(Angela's POV)

Spring break had been wonderful, but now it was over and we were all back at school again. At least I'd still get to see Ben at lunch and in English class, but I would miss being able to spend hours with him every day. Ben and I were on our way to the cafeteria when we saw Bella at her locker, so I told him to go on while I stopped to wait for her.

"Oh, you can go ahead, Ang," she said. "I have to work on a paper, so I'm going to the library."

It seemed out of sorts for Bella. She was normally finished with her assignments long before the rest of us, but I didn't want to pry. At least she seemed a little happier than she had been. Back when the Cullens moved away, Bella had just fallen apart. I had tried to reach out to her, but she hadn't really responded. It was sad, really.

I'd met her on her first day of school, and I'd liked her immediately. I could tell she was a good person, and she was a little on the quiet side, like me. We'd become pretty good friends, and she'd fallen hard for the insanely gorgeous Edward Cullen. He'd fallen pretty hard for her, too. But then his parents decided to move, and I guess he didn't have a choice. I'd tried to tell Bella they could do the long distance thing---it had worked for my cousin when her boyfriend went off to college---but Bella had insisted it wasn't an option.

Lately, she'd seemed to come back out of her shell, although I could see there was still sadness behind her eyes. Today, though, she looked like the old Bella, happy and hopeful, even if she was too behind on schoolwork to have lunch with us.

I hurried along to the cafeteria and joined the lunch line, grabbing a tuna sandwich and some water, then headed to our usual table and sat down beside Ben. Lauren and Jessica were already there, gossiping up a storm.

"…and he said he'd take me for a ride on his motorcycle," Lauren was bragging.

"Who got a motorcycle?" I asked. I didn't know anyone our age who was allowed to ride anything as dangerous as that.

"Oh, didn't you see me with him at the bonfire? That hot Quileute boy," she said smugly.

"Isn't he Bella's friend?" I asked. He was a lot bigger now, but I was pretty sure he was the same boy that we'd met last year. He was a little old to be dating someone in high school.

"Bella can't have them all, Angela," Lauren said.

"They certainly didn't act like friends," said Jessica snidely. "She was hanging all over Mike."

"Was she?" Ben asked. "I thought they were just talking," he said. He didn't say much, but when he did, we were always on the same page.

"Whatever," said Jessica, rolling her eyes. "You know Bella. She just has to have any guy I like."

"Well, she's not getting Jake," said Lauren, squaring her shoulders.

I didn't understand how they could be so mean. Jessica and Mike had broken up---several times---and yet she acted like Bella had done something wrong. And Bella hadn't even looked like she was happy at the bonfire. Sure, Mike was sitting with her and they were talking, but she kind of looked uncomfortable. And then she'd just disappeared for a while. Mike had given her a ride home, but that didn't necessarily mean anything.

Lauren, I had to admit, had a good excuse for the way she was. I still didn't like the way she treated Bella, acting like her friend one minute only to make some snide comment or backhanded remark the next. But I kind of felt sorry for her. Her dad was this hotshot lawyer who was always traveling, and her mom was always too busy spending his money to pay any attention to her. Lauren had been really sweet when we were little, but as we'd gotten older she'd started doing everything she could to be the center of attention. When it came to boys, she was at her worst. Thank goodness she'd never shown an interest in Ben.

"He wouldn't pick Bella over you anyway. She's just not that pretty," said Jessica.

"I know, right? I don't know what Edward ever saw in her, but then again the whole Cullen family was a little strange. I'd rather have Jake any day," Lauren sneered.

"So did he kiss you?" I asked.

"Maybe," Lauren hinted.

"Oh, come on, Lauren. You can tell us," begged Jessica.

"Nice girls don't kiss and tell," Lauren said smugly.

I thought Ben was going to shoot juice out of his nose, but he tried to cover by acting like he was just coughing. Not only was Lauren not a 'nice girl,' but she had no problem telling everyone what she did with boys. It always made me uncomfortable when she started talking about private things like that, but Lauren just seemed proud. I never joined in when the rumor mill started swirling around her, but I knew there was a reason none of the girls liked her. And it wasn't a reason to be proud of. I kind of felt sorry for her.

"Hey guys!" said Mike as he dropped his tray down on the table. Some of his chips went flying and he swept them onto the floor with his arm. The janitor was going to love that.

"Hey, Mike. Good spring break?" asked Ben.

Ben and I had spent nearly every day together at my house since I had to watch my sister while my mom worked. So other than the bonfire, we hadn't really seen anyone.

"Perfect spring break!" he replied, beaming. "Bella and I are headed for our third date. I think I'll take her to that French restaurant, C'est Si Bon in Port Angeles. French stuff is romantic, right?"

I opened my mouth to say something, but I was at a complete loss for words. Bella was dating Mike now? When did this happen? And why didn't she say anything to me?

"You say it'll be your third date?" asked Ben, sounding a little skeptical.

"Yeah, I think the bonfire counts, since she did spend the whole time with me and asked me to drive her home. Thanks for that, by the way," he said. I guessed he was referring to our inviting Bella. "And then we went to the movies the next night. She had to cook for Chief Swan or something, so we didn't get to do anything else, but I'm going to make it up to her this weekend."

Jessica and Lauren had been awfully quiet, so I was a little apprehensive when they finally spoke up.

"We should make it a double date, Mike. Me and Jake, and you and Bella," said Lauren.

"Ah, okay," he said, sounding less than thrilled.

"Or a triple date!" she added. Turning to Jessica she said "I'll have Jake set you up with one of his friends. They're nothing compared to him, but still way hotter than any of the boys in Forks."

Jessica shot Mike an 'I told you so' look, then started gushing with Lauren about the boys again.

"Well, I've got to get to Chemistry early today, so I'll see you later," said Ben, standing up. "Angela?"

"Ah, okay, I'll come with," I said, a little surprised as I gathered up my stuff and followed him out.

"Tell me again why we hang out with them?" he asked as soon as we were out of earshot.

"They're really not bad people, Ben. They just have some issues," I said.

I didn't always like how they acted, but it wasn't my place to judge.


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