I can't believe it's over. Four years of classes, lectures, papers, and tests. Four years of being away from my family in Forks. Four years of headaches, and cramming all night, and rowdy dorm parties. I can't believe I finally made it. Bella Swan is a college graduate.
Ok, I have to admit, it wasn't all bad.
The first two years were completely focused on not screwing up my scholarship. School was fully paid for as long as I kept my grades up and managed to work in a few extra-curricular activities to obtain a "well rounded" education. I was much better at holding up the "grades" part of the deal than the "extra-curricular" part. No one could mistake me for a social butterfly. I didn't have time for anything that distracted me from my schoolwork and the opportunity that had been given to me. That is, until I met my best friend, Alice.
Alice Cullen's family moved to a penthouse apartment in the heart of New York City at the beginning of our junior year. While I was a journalism and communications major; she was a dance and theater double major. Not exactly what you would normally consider a match made in best friend heaven, but we bonded. She was my roommate, which I could never really understand, since her family lived a couple of miles down the street. SHE was a social butterfly.
Alice taught me that I could work and play. She got me to loosen up some, we went to a few parties, hung out at the movies, went to some shows. OH MAN could the woman shop. There are no words to describe the sight of her tiny self tackling the crowds during Black Friday sales. I don't know if I've ever been more scared, yet entertained at the same time in all my life.
She indulged my love of museum tours, bookstores, and live music; she even helped me let my guard down around the ever present college guys. She was a beauty and had a gorgeous, long distance boyfriend who had already graduated. That didn't stop the male population from hanging around, waiting to pick up the pieces if her relationship started to break.
It took a while for me to believe that the guys asking me out were actually interested in me, not just someone to pass the time with until Alice was available (which, trust me, wasn't going to happen). Self esteem and confidence were not a natural part of my personality. Though I wasn't a prude, I wasn't real experienced either. I'd gone on some dates, even had a relationship that lasted a few months. Unfortunately, the relationship had taken a "too far, too fast" turn, and before I knew it I was ashamed of myself, and single. My grades had started to slip at that point too, but I managed to recover. I pulled out a B- average before the end of the year.
Starting out this last year, my senior and most important year, I had a new mission. Graduate in the top 10% of our class, and to mix my fun and my schoolwork to a degree that I was comfortable with, but that Alice wouldn't be depressed about. We still had our play days, but I refused to date. My grades had to come first, and I wasn't ready to let myself get hurt again.
Another thing I loved about Alice was her amazing family. Her parents were the sweetest people and were active, respected members of the community. Her father, Carlisle, was a doctor and was involved with charities on both local and national levels. Her mother, Esme, was one of the most genuinely kind people I had ever met. She was a history professor and quickly became one of the most popular on campus. There was a waiting list for her course.
They accepted me the first time Alice took me to meet them. They made me feel welcome and it helped me not feel quite so homesick. They tried hard to include me in their family functions and it made me feel special to them. The gratitude I felt for them was more than I could ever express. Making them proud was almost as important to me as making my natural family proud.
Overall, I'd had a good year. Some classes were really great, and I'd managed to end up in the top 7%. We had a nice little "outer circle" of friends that were fun to hang with. Alice and I had made plans with a few of them to road trip from New York to my hometown of Forks, Washington this summer. A celebration, a vacation, and a chance to introduce some of my friends to my parents. We were going to take our time and hit some cheesy tourist spots along the way.
I was looking forward to the freedom of the open road. Freedom from school, from responsibility, and from my "no dating" rule. It had been easy enough not to break my rule during the school year, but I had developed feelings for someone. Feelings I hadn't admitted fully to myself until recently, feelings that made me more than a little nervous.
Feelings that involved Alice's brother.
Edward Cullen was a year older than Alice and I. He managed to be in the same graduating class as us since he took a year off between his sophomore and junior years to "find himself." He was going to be a music teacher and used his time traveling around with his best friend, and visiting the stomping grounds of all his favorite composers and performers. He was very serious about his music, but he'd had a lot of fun on his expedition as well. From what I was told after meeting the Cullen family, he'd left a little unsure of himself but come back confident and focused.
He was also an amazing looking man. I mean the drool-at-him-all-day-and-not-even-notice-the-pool-you're-standing-in kind of amazing. More times than I care to admit, I'd imagined what it would feel like to touch him. To put my hands on his bare chest and just breathe in the cool, calm essence of him. What would it be like to have him touch me like that? I had managed to keep out of arms reach of him, more for my own sanity than anything else. If we did touch, it was quick and accidental. Even those brief seconds sent waves of lust through me. I didn't have any problem keeping my "no dating" rule with most guys, but I didn't trust myself around Edward, which was nuts, because he never once gave any impression that he was interested in me. To him, I was simply Alice's best friend. That was both a blessing and a curse.
Edward and I had spent a lot of time together in the last two years, but always with Alice around as well. Alice, who demanded attention in the nicest, most un-obnoxious ways, always kept me occupied so that I didn't noticeably dwell on Edward. But he was always there, joining in conversations, going to the movies. Sometimes he would come to the museums with us, or shopping (yes, can you believe he liked to shop?), or to concerts. He wasn't too much of a party guy, but he made a few appearances and seemed to enjoy himself. He dated some, but he didn't have any long term relationships. And as far as I could tell, he was a gentleman even after he broke things off with someone. No tales of "Edward did me wrong" made their way around campus, and believe me, there were more than a few jerks with a string of those floating. He was an all around nice guy.
I had no idea what Alice would say if she knew how I felt. I'm sure that there was some rule, somewhere, that said I should not be thinking R-rated thoughts about my best friend's brother. When I realized that I had feelings for Edward, I kept them to myself, not wanted to make things awkward for anyone. I tried to make myself believe that I was only crushing on him because I had sworn off dating until after graduation. I wanted to believe he was a "safe" object of my temporary infatuation.
Now, right now, in this moment, I knew that wasn't true.
Sitting here, without the buffer of Alice, at a celebratory "end of the school year" bonfire, my infatuation felt anything but temporary. I looked around to find him, to see what he was up to. When I spotted him across the flames, the way he was looking at me was pleasantly surprising, and anything but "safe."
I couldn't help myself. I couldn't take my eyes off of her tonight. Alice knew I had feelings for her best friend. She could read me like a book. But I had no idea if Bella felt anything for me. I understood when Alice told me about her "no dating during senior year" decision. Her education meant everything to her, and I would never do anything to jeopardize our amazing friendship. I had been patient, dating other people and trying to live like any other college guy would; any other guy who wasn't constantly dreaming of running to his sister's dorm room and wrapping his arms around her roommate.
Finally, tonight, we were free from the obligations and restrictions of the last few years. I had to be careful; I couldn't take a chance on spooking her if she wasn't interested. Being subtle was my only shot, but I had to do something. Could she ever see in me the kind of dazzling beauty I saw in her?
I remember the first time I met Bella Swan.
Alice and I spent two days moving her stuff to the campus. It was amazing how much she could cram into half a dorm room. Clothes, shoes, theatre magazines and dance videos were spread everywhere. We were taking a much needed break, pizza in hand, when we heard a loud THUMP in the hallway, followed immediately by a second, only slightly softer THUD. Neither of us was prepared for what was on the other side of that door.
The poor girl was laying on her back with a suitcase the size of a Volkswagen pinning her to the floor. A smaller bag, but still oversized compared to her, was lying next to her head. Before I could get the suitcase hauled upright Alice and I were simultaneously laughing and apologizing for laughing. Fortunately for us, it appeared the girl had been in enough of these types of situations to appreciate the humor in it and not be offended by our reaction. Once we were sure she was ok, we all introduced ourselves.
She was Isabella Swan, "Bella," from Forks, Washington. She would be sharing this room. Alice was thrilled to meet her new roommate and after that first night settling in and talking with the two of them, it looked like Bella had been ensnared by my sister's irresistible charm. They were already talking like they'd known each other forever when I finally made my exit.
Helping Alice move into her dorm had not been what I wanted to do on my first weekend home. Why did she need to live at the school anyway? Our family's apartment was only a few miles away. It was bad enough that I didn't leave myself any time to catch up after months of being away from my family. School was starting and I'd promised my parents if they allowed me to take the year off, I would move in with them and finish my last two years of school in New York. I didn't really mind the trade off; I didn't feel like I was accomplishing much with my college career back in Chicago. I didn't feel like I was accomplishing much of anything back in Chicago.
The time away had started out as an excuse to escape the dullness that had taken over my life and sucked out all my motivation. As far as my parents were concerned, it was a last ditch effort for me to grow up. I was thinking about a career in music, but what kind of career was I looking for? My parents and I devised the excursion to introduce me to as many different forms of life dedicated to music as we could within the confines of the US and the time restraints of a year. The best part was, I got to bring my best friend Emmett along as well. He would be finishing college in Chicago and this was our last chance to really hang out and let loose before becoming "real adults"
As we zigzagged through the country something changed in me. We visited the places that had been touched by some of the most influential composers and performers of the contemporary age. I felt the music come more alive in me, and could feel the drive to create and to share growing more in every town we spent time in. It was like the music I loved was teaching me how use it, how to make it my life. My parents believed in my abilities and had given me this time to learn to believe in myself. It was a gift more incredible that they could have ever imagined.
As much as the experience had changed me that year, Emmett had changed me, too. I'll never get all mushy about it to him, but I owe a big part of my growth into a confident person by watching him just be himself. Years ago, when we first met, he was just fun, I wasn't looking for a bigger picture.
During our trip, I noticed that it wasn't just the playful kid stuck inside a grown person's body that attracted droves of people to Emmett; it was his absolute sureness in himself. He wasn't obnoxious; okay, he could be obnoxious; but it was a choice when it happened, not a natural occurrence. He just knew what he wanted, what he could get if he just made the effort. Whether it was winning a baseball game with the guys, or winning over the nearest beautiful blonde, he could just do it. I studied Emmett as much as I studied music. I wasn't nearly as cocky as he could be, but I had learned to let my desire for something fuel my efforts. With the right motivation, I found myself much more in control of my life.
What I desired was Bella. I'd wanted her the first time I saw her, and I hadn't stopped wanting her since. The first year I kept my feelings to myself. I had to prove to my parents that I had changed. My junior year was focused on repairing the damage I'd created to my GPA in Chicago. I was determined to thank my parents for their belief and trust in me by becoming the man they always knew I could be. The man I had to be for Bella, and for myself.
At the beginning of our senior year, I talked to Alice about my feelings for Bella. As much as I wanted Bella, I couldn't bring myself to hurt Alice by breaking some "sacred girl rule" about dating your sister's best friend to get to her. Alice said she'd already guessed about my feelings, and to be honest, I wasn't surprised. What she told me then almost made me cry. Bella was dedicating herself to her studies this year. No dating. Damn.
I understood, of course; I had done the same thing myself, but I was heartbroken. Promising Alice I wouldn't make any move towards a relationship with Bella during this year was hard, but I kept my word. No yearning looks, no lingering touches. But I couldn't stop myself from "accidentally" brushing her hand as we passed through rooms, or "accidentally" leaning into her when we reached for something at the same time. Not to mention the times when I had to catch her from falling down or running into various things. It was almost shameful how much I craved those little moments when I could feel her warm skin against mine. How would she feel pressed against me in the kind of embrace I dreamed of every night, with her arms around me and her brown eyes staring into mine? The thought of that much contact with her sent shocks of electricity through me.
Two years of waiting. Two years of getting to know her, and laughing with her. Two years of wanting to touch her but knowing I shouldn't push the limits of her rules for herself. Two years of memories that I shared not only with my little sister, who was among my favorite people in the world, but with her shy, klutzy, smart and beautiful friend. Two years of waiting to find out if I even had a chance with her. Alice would never tell me if Bella had mentioned me in that way. I knew better. Even if she had, Alice would never betray a friend's confidence like that.
So here I sat. Looking at the most amazing girl I knew across a roaring bonfire, surrounded by crazy people having more fun than was probably legal. My stomach was in knots but the hope of what could be was too strong for me to feel less than ecstatic. The relief that came with graduation, and the confidence I'd felt after a very successful job interview earlier in the day had me flying. I looked at Bella and tried to decide how to show her how I felt without jumping her. Scaring away the girl of my dreams was not the object of the evening. Tonight I just needed to know if she felt anything for me at all. Just a glimmer of a "maybe" was all I needed right now. I could move slowly, I could be patient again if it's what she needed. I didn't want to make a fool of myself, but I had to know.
She was talking to other friends and carelessly fiddling with her shoelaces as she sat cross legged on the ground. I could watch that radiant smile all day and all night. And then, she turned towards me. I wasn't prepared for that. I usually keep my feelings pulled in when I look at her, just in case she could read me like Alice. With no time to wipe the emotion away, the determination to show her how I felt was written all over my face.
I stared into her sparkling eyes. She took a startled breath and I worried that I'd been wrong, that there was no chance she was interested in me as more than a good friend. Then the look on her face changed from random curiosity to something else. Something that looked surprisingly like what I'm sure my face looked like. I'd take that as my "maybe" and pray I wasn't wrong. Thoughts were instantly whirling in my head. Imagining her touch, her warm soft body in my arms and my lips on hers. I couldn't stop the feeling of pure desire that spread through me. That desire had to be showing in my face now.
Bella's blush was a beautiful shade of crimson, but she didn't look away.