Something unbelievably shitty happened to me, then something terrifyingly wonderful. Both of these things completely phase-shifted me out of my writing headspace (to sound totally geeky on you). It took me a bit to find my way back in here, but even tho' I'm slow, I intend to finish this thing, come hell, high water, backstabbing bitches, and impending bundles of joy!

I know it's late, but check my profile for Fandom Gives Back info - EPOV of any of these chapters so far (to later be part of the EPOV/So Cruel companion story), and the next chapter of Waxing Romantic.

Sorry to have kept you waiting.


"I went away alone

With nothing left

But faith"

Faith - The Cure

Chapter 8 - Faith

When I was a kid, we'd gone to Seattle to visit Grandma Swan. I remember exploring her house, in awe of all the knick knacks she'd accumulated in her many years. On her coffee table, I'd spied a beautiful, crystal-tiered candy dish. It couldn't have been more than 18 inches high, but to my childhood eyes it was a looming tower of rainbow-hued, plastic-wrapped, sugary goodness.

No one was in the room with me, and I felt like I was committing a criminal act by snatching a red jellied candy from one of the tiers. I fought with the crinkly plastic, trying to rip it open before I was discovered. When I'd finally managed to pull the wrapping apart, I took the briefest second to admire the spoils of my grand heist before popping the entire candy into my mouth.

One chew and I promptly spit it out.

I didn't know if it was old, or rotten, or somehow contaminated, but it was possibly the worst thing I'd ever tasted in my entire eight years. That even included Mom's failed attempt at chicken a la king, which was drenched in something more like paper maché than gravy.

I stuffed the wrapper and tainted treat in my pocket, desperate to hide my failed attempt at the crime of the century. Still, there was so much candy. What were the odds that all of it was bad? Glancing around, I realized I still had the opportunity and definitely the motive, so I tried a chocolate candy this time.

If possible, it was worse than the first one.

The next hard candy was nearly as bad, though it seemed overly sweet at first. After three tries, I wasn't going to punish myself any further. However, I did realize that I had an obligation; even though I'd have to admit to my theft, there was no way I was going to let my Grandma be subjected to the garbage in her candy dish.

"Um, Grandma?"

"What is it, sweetheart?"

I held out my hand, with the half-eaten candies and wrappers. "I'm sorry I ate your candy without asking, but they're all bad. You should throw them out and tell Daddy to buy you some more."

She laughed, walking me over to the trash to throw them away. "Oh sweetie, they're not bad."

"Yes they are, Grandma! They're the most disgusting things ever! You could get sick!" I panicked, thinking of her getting ill and Dad being so far away if she needed help. She merely smiled, helping me onto a step stool in front of the kitchen sink, and then washed my hands.

"Bellabell, my love, they're not bad. They're just sugar-free."

"What does that mean?"

"Grandma's diabetic, sweetie. It means I shouldn't really eat too much sugar, so I buy these candies with no sugar in them."

"But, they're so gross!"

She laughed, again. "Well, after a time, you don't notice it as much. You get used to it, actually, and pretty soon they even taste kinda good."

"No way! Those are...are...repugnant!"

"I see you've been using that dictionary Grandpa got you for Christmas."

We sat at her couch, and I couldn't help but stare at the dish. They looked like real candy. They'd even smelled like real candy. But, you'd never know the difference until you actually tasted it.

And they tasted like poop.

"Do you like them better than real candy?"

"Oh no! Not at all. If I could, I'd eat the real thing any day of the week." I looked at her, confused. "They're just substitutes, Bellabell. The real thing is so much better." She sighed. "I hope you never have to give up the real thing."

I'd wrinkled my nose. "Never! Disgusting!"

"C'mon," she'd said, taking my hand, "let's see if we can get Dad to take us for ice cream."


9:30 p.m. seemed awfully late, but I made the call anyway. As much as I hated that everyone else was right, it felt nice that Jake wanted to spend the time with me. Unfortunately, he'd already committed to working concessions for a basketball game at his school. He wouldn't be done 'til sometime after 10, and it was at least a half hour drive between the two venues. I warned him I wouldn't be much fun, having to be responsible for so much, but he didn't seem to mind.

"I can be there a little before 11—help you close down the place?"

"Aw Jake, I don't want you to drive all the way out here for that. It's not worth it. Besides, we're still on for Saturday."

He tried to convince me that it wasn't a big deal, and I tried to talk him out of wasting the time and gas. But, in the end, he told me he'd be there. I still hadn't told him that it was actually for Chess Club, or that I played, but I figured we'd talk about if he found out. I certainly wasn't ready to bring it up.


I hung up the phone, feeling exhausted from my internal drama. I padded out to the living room in my pajamas and reminded Mom that I'd need the car the next night. I gave her a kiss and a hug, and then promptly returned to my room and collapsed on the bed.

I was definitely not in the mood for any 'self exploration' tonight. I gave a mirthless laugh at the thought that, when the time came, I'd probably have to woo myself. As luck would have it, I happened to know I was a sucker for a Watchamacalit bar and a Doctor Who paperback.

At least that's one relationship that's uncomplicated.

I grabbed a pillow and threw it over my head, falling asleep on top of the covers.


"So you guys are coming tonight, right?" I looked at the collected group of my fellow student council classmen.

"Well, you know I'll be there," Eric assured, smiling.

I rolled my eyes at him. "Yes, but you're required to be there, under penalty of death!" We'd agreed that if I took charge of organizing the entire dance, every member of the Chess Club and team had to show up, preferably with dates.

Well, for those that could get them.

"Count us in!" Angela beamed as Ben threw his arm around her.

"And me and Rosalie. I'm dying to show her off!" Emmett had the toothiest, most ridiculous grin I'd ever seen him wear.

"Oh, it'd be nice to see her, again. Did you ever teach her how to throw a punch?"

"Yep!" He drew a deep breath, sounding proud. "It's a good thing I have these rock-hard abs for her to practice on." I feigned throwing a punch at his stomach, making him bring his knee up and shy away.

"Oh yeah, you're the macho man!" I chastised. He grabbed my wrist and pulled me towards him, twisting me into a head lock. "No, no, no!" I scrabbled at him, while he messed up my hair. By the time I'd wrestled away from him, my head looked like a haystack.

"Bell, you should totally wear your hair like that from now on; maybe open for Poison or Crüe?" I stuck my tongue out at him. "Roll around on the hood of a car in a music video?" I rolled my eyes and tried to change the subject.

"And what about you, Edward? You coming tonight?" I tried to finger comb the mess my hair had become. He was quiet for too long, so I stopped to look at him. He seemed almost...embarrassed? That was odd.

"Uh, yeah..."

I raised my eyebrows in question, hoping he'd be a little more forthcoming. When he still didn't say anything, and started avoiding my eyes and scratching the back of his neck, Emmett burst out in laughter.

"Oh man, seriously? It's not like everyone's not gonna find out!" He nudged Edward, who shot back at him with a glare.

"That's not nice, Em." His voice was a peculiar combination of a dismal whine and a growl.

"I don't get it. What's going on?" I looked at Emmett, since Edward seemed reluctant to share his discomfort. Em nudged him in the side, until he huffed a sigh.

"I... I have a date."

Yep, there it was—the gut punch to my day.

"Oh?" I did my best to sound mildly interested, and not like the emotionally hypocritical mess that was brewing beneath the surface. Usually Emmett was a little more tactful when it came to things like this, but he seemed to be egging him on with that stupid grin of his. I guess I lost all privileges to the kid gloves when I started dating Jake.

"So tell them who the lucky girl is, Edward. Don't be shy." If looks could kill, Emmett would be toast by now. While Edward continued to glare at him, I was trying to find my heart somewhere in my left sneaker.

"Ugh, with Lauren Mallory, okay?"

Oh, there was my heart...under my sneaker. Look at it all squishy and pulpy!

Lauren Mallory; we didn't travel in anywhere near the same circles. She was, for all intents and purposes, what I considered the alternate universe version of myself: gorgeous, popular, and confident. If you wrote down the most basic of our physical features, you'd think we were similar.

We were roughly the same height, had the same hair and eye color... If the DMV didn't have photographs, we could easily swap licenses. But cursory nouns were where those similarities ended.

She was five-foot five inches of athletic, tennis-playing grace. I was five-foot five inches of hunched over, quiet, book-reading nerdiness. Her hair was brilliant tones of chestnut and mahogany, and other glossy woods and nuts. Mine was more like something you'd find on a particularly active Wookie. Her skin was a perpetually smooth alabaster. I was pale and often had a burgeoning Krakatoa somewhere on my scalp or forehead. And while I never really looked that closely at her eyes, I'm sure they were flecked with precious metals, swirled with cinnamon, nutmeg and assorted spices, and ringed in dark chocolate. A boy in grade school once told me my eyes were the color of shiny poop.

She was the name brand, and I was the generic. It figures she'd end up with Edward. Not that I should care.

I mean, what right did I have to care? I was with Jacob. There are rules to this sort of thing, and the biggest one I could think of was how much I shouldn't care!

Nope, not in the least! This is me not caring! LA LA LAAAA!

What I couldn't understand was why he seemed to look so unhappy about the whole thing. In all the years I'd known him, I'd never seen him look this distressed over a date before. It was weird.

...And maybe just the tiniest bit comforting.

"Lauren... She's, um, she's great." I tried not to stutter, or sound disingenuous. I may have choked on my own spit from swallowing as much as I did.

Emmett just chortled, again, and I couldn't even look at him. "No Bell, you don't get it. Lauren's been hot for Ed since sixth grade."

Somehow, this didn't make anything better.

"...ever since..."

Edward grimaced. "Don't say it, I'm begging you!"

"...Seven Minutes in Heaaaveennn!"


Nope, definitely not better.

"Oh... Ohmigosh, that's right!" Angela was clearly remembering whatever incident they were referring to, and then she started laughing, too. "Geez, weren't you two supposed to be married by now?"

"Married?" Good lord, how serious was this thing?

"Please, don't remind me." Edward plopped down into his seat, clearly uncomfortable.

"Married?" I asked, again.

"Yes, married! Jeez!" Emmett laughed—Long Duk Dong to my Jake Ryan.

Edward sounded pained. "Do we really need to bring this all up, again?"

"Oh hell yes; Bell's never heard this story."

I wasn't sure I wanted to. However, I'd never seen Edward anywhere near this uncomfortable, and it would certainly help me forget my uneasiness to watch him squirm. I was evil that way.

"Please, Em. Enlighten me!" I encouraged. Edward just slumped in his chair, shielding his face with one hand. Oh yeah, this would be good.

"Well, there was a birthday party we all went to right before school started that year—damn if I can remember who it was for. But anyway, we were in this huge game room in the back, just us kids. Fuck if I know what happened to the parents. So someone says we should play Seven Minutes in Heaven, and poor Edward here gets put into the closet with Lauren."

"That doesn't sound so terrible. I mean, I'm guessing she's always been that pretty, right?"

"Yeah, but that's not the point," Angela clarified. "You know how Lauren's captain of the tennis team? Head cheerleader? Co-captain of volleyball?" I nodded. The girl definitely got around when it came to athletics. "Well, let's just say that Lauren's always been a little bit... aggressive."

"That's a nice way of putting it," Edward mumbled, still not looking at any of us.

"I think she scarred our poor boy here, Bell." Emmett clapped his hands on both of Edward's shoulders. "Scarred him for life."


"It was almost an ABC Afterschool Special." I tilted my head, still a bit confused and Em turned back to Edward. "Dude, maybe she had a medical degree you didn't know about? At any point did she tell you to turn and cough?"

Oh... Oh, that didn't sound good at all! Edward just put both hands on his face and groaned, which made Angela giggle. She patted him on the head and continued.

"When they came out, Lauren was pulling him by the hand and proceeded to tell everyone that Edward was the world's best kisser, and that they were going to be married as soon as they were old enough. Honestly, I've heard of reluctant grooms, but I don't think I've ever seen a guy look quite that sick."

"Oh Edward, I'm so sorry. Did I miss the ceremony or was it just a small affair with family only?" He glared at me and I smiled. "So, what happened? I mean, I'm assuming you aren't still engaged, right?"

"Dan Bullard happened. Moved here from Chicago and started school with us the next week. Lauren was smitten and Edward was off the hook."

I remembered Dan. He was a nice guy, and his family had moved away two months ago. I remember it being a big deal because he'd been involved in a lot of sports, as well, and everyone was lamenting over our chances for several state titles without him. I also remembered hearing how he and Lauren were going to write to each other every week and keep up the long distance thing until they made it to the same college. Apparently, eight weeks was the extent of her ability to commit.

God, what kind of world did this chick live in where Edward was her backup plan?

"Huh, so it looks like you'll get your second chance, then?"

Edward grimaced, and Emmett began to sing. "Edward's just a boy who can't say no!"

"I didn't want to be rude, okay? Gimme a break!"

"Yeah dude, you've sacrificed yourself to the greater good of getting groped all evening. How noble of you."

"Fuck off, Em!" Edward shoved away from his desk, grabbed a hall pass, and then stalked out of the room. Save for the apology in my bedroom, I don't think I'd ever seen him this distressed. We all stood there, a little surprised and just a bit uncomfortable.

"Is she really that bad?" I glanced over at Emmett.

"For his sake, I hope not. Seriously, I still can't believe he agreed to go. But, then, that's Edward for you."

"Huh?" I wanted him to elaborate, but Mr. G made us all take our seats. I'd really have to remember to ask Emmett about that comment later.


Decorations finished? Check. DJ ready to go? Check. Refreshment stand ready? Check. Plenty of fives and singles in the cashbox? Check.

"Alright guys, we're good to go!" We turned the overhead lights off, and the DJ turned on his rotating sirens and the disco ball. I would never cease to be amazed at the transformation of the gym from sweaty sports arena to sparkly dance hall. I listened to the opening strains of Wild, Wild West, wondering how many other bands mentioned themselves by name in their own songs, before I took my spot at the table by the entrance.

Thankfully, we had a sizeable line of people waiting when we opened the doors. With any luck, we'd turn a decent profit tonight, and Herman would be able to sit alongside some new clocks and boards. Or, at the very least, we wouldn't have to resort to selling candy bars out of our backpacks just so we'd have enough gas money for the school's Suburban. I never could understand why most of our tournaments were nearly an hour or more drive in any direction.

Twenty minutes of steady ticket sales and I looked up and smiled when I heard Emmett's booming laughter. He hugged Rosalie to his side before greeting me. "Hey there, Bobby Fischer! How goes it?"

"Not too bad, actually. Next thing you know we'll have enough for team uniforms—matching pocket protectors, argyle sweaters, and black-rimmed glasses with tape."

"You don't actually have uniforms, do you?" Rosalie asked.

"Nah, just these." I pointed to the small knight on my t-shirt, and then turned around to show her the back.

She laughed. "'Check this?'"

"Yeah, it was Half-a-Bee's idea. We love them, but we got in trouble the last time we wore them to a tournament. The team coach at that school thought they were offensive. Some of those coaches are really uptight. They take all the fun out of it." I remembered one school where we had to fight tooth and nail to keep Herman with us.

"Well, I think they're cute."

"Thanks, Rosalie!"

"It's good to see you, again."

"You too. Thanks for putting up with Emmett. We barely manage as it is."

"Hey! Don't mind her, Rose. She's just jealous 'cause she lost her chance with me."

I clutched my chest. "I... I had a chance! Oh Emmett, if I'd only known!" I grinned.

"Yeah, well, too late now. I totally belong to Rose, here." He nuzzled her neck and she giggled.

"I'm sorry, Bella. I can't take him anywhere!"

"Believe me, I'm well aware."

It was great to see them together and happy. I wonder if she really knew the effect she had on him. He'd always been a cheerful kinda guy, but lately he was damned near exuberant all of the time. His face would light up whenever he talked about her, and it had only been a couple of months.

When you know, you know.

The old adage skipped through my thoughts, unbidden, giving me just a twinge of discomfort. I put it out of my head, and continued to chat with the two of them for a few more minutes while I kept selling tickets. Emmett was more than happy to, proudly, introduce Rosalie to anyone he knew as they came through the door. She almost looked embarrassed by all the attention, but the sheer happiness in Emmett's voice made it impossible for her not to smile.

When Emmett got caught up in a brief discussion with one of the guys on the football team, I caught Rosalie's eye.

"He's not making you uncomfortable with all this, is he?"

"Oh, no – I mean, not really. He kept telling me he wanted to introduce me to everyone. It's just a bit overwhelming." Her nose wrinkled a bit, and I remembered the fight that introduced us, and how that guy had referred to her as 'his girl,' like she was a prize or a pet. I really hoped she wasn't feeling like that now, with all the introductions.

"Um, just so you know, I don't think I've ever seen him this happy. I've known the guy for two years. He's one of my best friends. But, I swear, it's like Christmas morning when he talks about you."


The small hesitation in her question threw me. It was strange to think that someone as gorgeous as her would be insecure, or even surprised at the depth of Emmett's reaction. I nodded and grinned in reassurance.

"He gets all goofy and flashes that See-All-The-Teeth-In-My-Head smile. It's almost ridiculous." She turned to smile at him, and I continued. "Don't tell him I told you, but he even blushed once."

"No way."

"Yeah, over lunch one day." It was so adorable; even I couldn't tease him about it." Then, Rosalie leaned over Emmett's shoulder, and pecked him on the cheek.

"Hey babe. Sorry, I didn't mean to ignore you." He waved to his buddy who paid for a ticket and went inside.

"No, it's not that. I just missed you." And there it was; the rarely seen McCarty blush.

"You know guys, you don't have to keep me company all night. You should get the most out of your three dollars." I'm not sure if they heard me. They stood there, grinning like idiots and looking into each other's eyes. I felt like a voyeur, so I coughed. "Um, you know, dancing and stuff... kinda why you came."

"Oh... Yeah." It looked as if Emmett had to physically force himself to break eye contact with her. "We're waiting for Edward and Lauren. We all came together, but she spilled something on her dress in the car, so she asked him to take her home so she could change really quick." I caught Rosalie's eyeroll and raised my eyebrows in question.

"Accidental my ass. She's lucky she didn't try pulling that shit on me." She huffed, and then looked at me. "I'm sorry. I know that's rude, and you really don't know me all that well. So, I apologize if she's your friend, but there was no way that was an accident."

"Um, she's not. I barely know her, actually."

"Yeah, well know this; someone's got some serious issues when it comes to being the center of attention. I know that's a bitchy thing to say about someone I just met, but it takes one to know one."

"Honey, I would never think you were a bitch!"

She kissed his cheek and gave him a dazzling smile. "Never to you, babe. You're my hero." She grabbed his arm with one hand and lightly stroked his bicep. He turned into a blushing behemoth of a boy. "Anyway, seems Edward's date wasn't too fond of my attire. Her dress was almost exactly the same color, and when she just had to run back inside to get a can of Diet Coke, I knew the score."

"You think she did it on purpose?" Why the hell would someone purposely spill on themselves? That was the kind of thing I had to consciously battle against on a daily basis.

"I know she did it on purpose. I also know she was planning on doing it to me."

"Oh shit, babe! Did you actually growl at her? I thought I imagined that!"

My jaw dropped. "You growled?"

Rose arched her brow and gave me a smirk. "She tried getting close to me, pretending like she didn't know if she should sit in the back or the front. So, I folded my arms and gave her my best Joan Collins. Just because I look nice doesn't mean I am beyond cat fighting and hair pulling."

"Um, I wouldn't mind seeing that."

"Don't make me hit you, sweetie; especially now that you've taught me how."

I sighed. "I guess that means no Girls on Film for us, Rose. Damn shame. What am I going to do with all that whipped cream and the giant barber pole?"

Emmett choked. "You girls are trying to kill me, swear to God."

"No Em, I'm just trying to get you to admit you like Duran Duran."

"I knew I liked you for a reason!"

"Thanks Rose!"

We laughed while Emmett flailed a bit, trying to skirt the fine line between liking the band versus liking their infamous soft porn. He just kept digging himself in deeper and deeper. We had fun keeping him in a state of discomfort, enjoying our tag team antics, until Rose suddenly stilled, and rolled her eyes. It was obvious she heard them before I did.

"I hope we didn't miss your friends!" Even I could hear the insincerity in the voice before they walked through the doorway. Lauren was the epitome of perfection—hair teased and tall, shiny and crunchy. Her white leather fringe jacket was fitted perfectly over her painfully short pink dress. The ruched fabric clung to her frame so much that it briefly reminded me of Grandma Swan's elephant skin support hose. Those damn things never would stay up on her calves.

I couldn't tell which was tighter—the dress, or her grip on Edward's arm. Seeing them together, looking every bit the picture perfect couple, caused that little twist of pain in my gut. However, after seeing the minor distress on his face, a part of me felt pity, not to mention just the tiniest bit of solace.

Guess perfection isn't everything.

"Glad you made it, man! I was worried we'd have to call out the search party." Emmett thumped him on the back while he walked past. Edward gave him an uneasy smile as Lauren chimed in.

"I'm so sorry to keep you guys waiting. Edward was ever so patient while I found another dress."

"Guess it's lucky you were able to find something else." There was no mistaking the note of frostiness in Rose's voice. I couldn't tell if Lauren was deliberately unaware of it, or just playing along for the sake of politeness.

"I know, right? Good thing I'd just gone to the dry cleaners and had this old thing cleaned."

"Must be pretty old, considering it barely fits."

If I had been drinking anything, it would have come spewing from my nose. Lauren had stopped in her tracks, which caused Edward to stumble sideways. Her eyes widened, and then she flushed an odd shade of purple before baring a lethal smile.

"Being athletic, I tend to like things that fit a bit more snug. God, sometimes I wish I could relax and eat whatever I want. What's it like being so un-toned and... squishy?"

Emmett pulled Rose into his side. To some, it would look like more of the same he'd done all evening—cuddling, hugging, etc. But I recognized the look of murder in her eyes. Emmett was providing the most affectionate form of restraint I'd ever seen.

"I wouldn't say 'squishy.' My Rose is soft and perfect all over." And then, God bless him, he went in for the kill and nuzzled her neck. The situation was instantly diffused as the couple began providing a rapidly escalating public display of affection. Now everyone was uncomfortable for a completely different reason.

"Hey Bella," Edward greeted, trying with obvious effort to ignore the giant elephant in the tiny hallway. He attempted to maneuver his wallet out of his pants while Lauren clung to him. Her face showed obvious contempt for the floorshow but, like a good train wreck, she couldn't seem to pull her attention away.

"Having a good time?" I gave him a grin and he rolled his eyes, smiling back at me.

"Oh yes, we are!" Apparently Lauren felt the need to respond to my question, having registered another female speaking to her date. She flashed me another smile, while still glancing at the grope-fest to her immediate right. I made change for Edward, and handed it to him, along with two tickets.

"Alright guys, enjoy! Concessions are in the back by the bathrooms, and we got that Miles guy from the DJ company."

"That guy that did the Halloween dance?" Edward asked, referring to the last dance we'd worked together.

"One in the same. I'm sure he'd gladly slip in some Smiths or the Cure if you ask him nicely." The pounding bass of Top 40 fair was starting to give me a headache. I didn't think I was a music snob, but New Kids did not possess the right stuff in my book.

"Ooo, c'mon Eddie! I love this song! 'Whoa uh, oh oh oh...!'" She dragged him through the doorway, singing along with white version of Menudo. He actually clutched the frame, holding on a second more to say goodbye. I busted out in laughter, clearly seeing him as Princess Leia in Empire.

"Luke, it's a trap! A TRAP!" I mimicked a shriek, reaching out my arm as if trying to save him. He gave me a loud laugh of recognition in return, and then a melodramatic pained look as he disappeared from sight. The last thing I saw was his hand flailing as he lost his death grip on the door.

"Yeah, he's gonna have his hands full tonight." I heard Emmett come up from behind. Then he patted me on the back. "Man the fort, Bell, and I'll make sure he comes out alive."

Suddenly all trace of humor was gone, as I imagined Lauren getting more and more cozy with her date. A brief flash of memory from the makeout scene I'd witnessed right before Thanksgiving skittered through my brain, and felt my stomach drop. It was all fun and games until someone gets their ass groped.

I sighed and put on my overused brave face. I had to keep telling myself I wasn't allowed to care about his sort of thing. It wasn't my place. I turned around and smiled at Rose and Em. "Have fun. I'll talk to you guys later."

Something in Rose's eyes told me she understood a hell of a lot more about what was going on than I had admitted. I never doubted that Emmett would keep my confidence about all my misery. I just had a feeling that she was highly perceptive.

"Nice to see you, again, Bella."

"You too, Rose."


Several of my team members came out and offered to take over the ticket box for me, but I refused. The last thing I needed was to see Edward on his date, whether he was enjoying it or not. Unfortunately, it turns out that I wasn't immune to nature's call, and finally had to take one of the guys on up their offer. I walked as quickly as I could, skirting the edges of the dance area, to make my way to the back of the gym and the restrooms. Even though these dances were only two hours long, it was proving to be two of the longest hours of my life.

I ducked into a stall and unzipped my jeans. I didn't realize how urgent my need was, since I'd been fighting it all evening. I'd really have to thank my teammates for being so persistent with their offers to help.

I was struggling to pull my zipper back up when I heard the swell of music as the door opened. A flurry of giggles accompanied the girls that ran over to the sinks. I guess it must have been their designated 'makeup reapplication' time or something. I was just about to open the stall door when I recognized the voices.

"Ohmigod, Lauren! I can not believe he hasn't kissed you, yet!"

Another girl agreed with the first. "I know, right! What is his deal?"

"Oh, I just think he's playing hard to get. I thought he'd jump at the chance to ask me out once Dan left, but I think he's still upset over the way I broke his heart back in grade school." All three girls laughed in unison. "He is seriously playing it cool but, I gotta say, it's totally working!"

"Isn't Dan gonna be pissed when he finds out?"

"Oh please, it's not like he's gonna know. Besides, he's the one that moved a thousand miles away. Serves him right!"

"You don't think he's dating other girls, do you?"

"Ohmigod, not a chance. He knows who that dick belongs to! But, if he doesn't make good on his promise to fly back for prom, I figured I'd better be ready. Besides, who knows? I mean, if Edward is still as," she gave a fake cough, "stellar as he was back then, well, maybe Dan better start shopping around, at least until college."

They all broke into peals of laughter, then.

"I swear he only got cuter as we got older!"

"He and Emmett, both!"

"Yeah, what's the story with that blonde bimbo he brought?"

"Oh, she is a grade 'A' bitch! You know she had the gall to show up in a dress that was almost exactly the same as mine!"

"No way!"

"Yes way! But at least I scored some alone time with Edward when he took me home to change. Ohmigod, his hands are just... perfection!"

They all squealed, and then shuffled back out onto the dance floor. I waited a moment before finally making my way to the sink and washing my hands. I let the water run while I worked to reign in my feelings. I really didn't want to care, not in the least.

That didn't stop the part of me that wanted to claw that stuck up bitch's eyes right out of her skull. I took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves. Edward was a big boy, and capable of making decisions on his own. If I felt sorry for anyone, it was poor Dan Bullard.

I didn't even want to think about the other things she said. I could gladly attest to the perfection of Edward's hands. Even weeks after the fact, just the thought of his touch was enough to give me goosebumps.

And bitch, his kisses have moved way beyond the 'stellar' range. I'll write you a fucking affidavit!

So much for staying calm. I swung the door harder than necessary, knocking it against the wall as I stomped back across the dance floor. The logical part of my brain was trying to get my attention; trying to remind me that I had no right to feel so possessive. But damn, I was pissed off. Even if I wasn't as consumed by Edward as I was, he was still my friend. If I'd heard her talking about Emmett like he was some kind of lucky runner up to Dan's throne, I'd be just as mad.


It was funny how I could go from hardly knowing someone, to completely disliking them, all in the span of a few hours. I didn't know what I should do. It seemed almost petty to tell Edward what I'd heard, like I was some kind of jealous tattle-tale. And it seemed Emmett and Rosalie both weren't fans of Lauren's to begin with.

Maybe I should just step back and see how things progressed. I mean, it seemed as if Edward wasn't all that thrilled to be here with her, as it was. And that just begged the question of why he'd even said 'yes' in the first place.

Eric nudged me a couple of times while I was counting the cash box. I was so focused on my thoughts, that I didn't even realize it. It took a voice to startle me back into reality.

"Hey there, did you miss me?" Jake was standing in the hallway, smiling at me and pulling off his black leather jacket.

"Oh!" I blushed, feeling totally busted for thinking about Edward. "Hi! I'm sorry, I was just counting... Didn't want to lose my place." I gave him a weak smile. "You're here early."

"Yeah, the guys cut me some slack; let me take off for the night. So, how's your dance? Did you make good bank?"

"Actually, we didn't do too bad." Eric coughed next to me, nudging me, once more. "Oh, um, Jake, this is Eric. Eric, this is... Jake." I hesitated, not sure of how to introduce him. We weren't on a date, and it seemed too much to say he was my boyfriend. Did he think he was my boyfriend? I mean, we hadn't discussed it, and it seemed so much more serious...

I think I froze in panic.

"Oh yeah, I remember you from State," Eric replied, saving me from stupor. "You go to Corona, right?"

"Yeah," Jake confirmed, smiling. "Hey, would you mind holding down the fort while I take Bella here for a spin on the dance floor?" He threw his jacket across the table towards Eric.

"Oh no, I don't dance! Remember?"

"C'mon!" He helped me up. "When I said spin, I meant spin!" He grabbed my hand and pulled me through the throng of dancers to the middle of the floor.

"I don't want to hurt you or embarrass myself!" I yelled at him over the bass of the music. He just smiled, and grabbed me around the waist, lifting me against his side like a small child. With his other hand he clasped my left, and then spun me around like rag doll. My feet hardly touched the floor as we laughed and twirled for the last few minutes of the song. He finally set me down and I could barely breathe from laughing so hard.

"See, you didn't hurt me or anything."

"True, but I don't want to press my luck, or give you a hernia. C'mon." I tried to pull him back towards the entrance, but he wouldn't budge.

"Just one more, please?" I rolled my eyes at him, but he only went in for the kill. "I mean, I did drive all this way."

"Guilt trip? Really?"

"I dunno, is it working?"

"Maybe, a little," I admitted, smirking.

"It was a really long drive." He laughed and grabbed me around the waist, gently this time, as he pulled me closer.

I rested my hands on his shoulders, our difference in height allowing me a comfortable distance as we spun in a slow circle. The last thing I wanted was to step on his feet or mimic the clusters of people that used a slow dance for a grope. To his credit, he only leaned in for a quick kiss at the end. I wasn't much for public displays of affection, not that I had any experience or anything. I just didn't like drawing attention to myself.

We walked back towards the entrance as the DJ announced the last song of the evening. I turned the cash box over to my coach and started propping the doors open in preparation for the mass exodus. We leaned against the wall in the entryway, waiting for the music to end and lights to come on.

"So, what's with the horse on your shirt?"


"That little horse thing. I thought you guys were the bobcats."

", i-it's not a horse. It's a knight."

"What, like with swords and armor?"

I sighed. Here we go...

"No, like in chess."


"This is fundraiser for the chess team." I waved my arms around, trying to encompass the entire gym.

"Seriously? What would they need money for? I mean, what's a board game cost these days— eight dollars?" He grinned, trying to joke.

I felt my temper flaring. "They need it for travel expenses and equipment, just like any other team."

"How expensive could it be? Damn, why not put it towards something better, like student council or, you know, an actual sport?"

Stay calm, stay calm...

"Jake, I organized this dance!"

"Oh." He seemed taken aback. "Well, it was nice of you to help them out."

"No," I hesitated, taking a deep breath. "I organized it because I'm on the chess team."

He paused for moment, and then laughed. "Okay, very funny. But even I know that girls don't play chess."

I could hear the rush of blood in my ears as my fists clenched. We'd been having such a nice time, and then he had to go and ruin it with some stereotypical chauvinistic crap. I was just about to unleash, having reached my breaking point, when the first wave of students pushed through the hallway. Jake wrapped his arm around me, laughing as he pulled me closer to the wall. The last thing I wanted was a scene as all my classmates shoved their way through.

Once the crowd thinned a bit, I pushed myself away from him. I crossed my arms over my chest, and I'm sure I was glaring daggers. He seemed oblivious at first, but once the hallway was clear, I finally spoke my mind.

"I have two varsity medals, three junior varsity medals, and I'm the third highest ranked female in the state. So that means there are at least two other girls in Arizona that play chess!" His smile gradually fell, and I think he finally realized what he'd stepped into.

"Oooh shit... You... You probably think I'm a real dick, huh?" He looked sheepish, backing away a bit and looking at the floor. Contrition was the last thing I expected. It definitely took some of the venom from my response.

"Yeah! At the moment, more than a little bit!"

"Shit Bella, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."

I crossed my arms and huffed. "Seriously, Jake, I never pegged you as a misogynist!"

"I'm not! I mean, not really. I just always thought it was an egghead game for nerdy guys." He came closer, wrapping his hands around my tense shoulders. "Maybe you can educate me? Show me the error of my ways?" Even with my head turned I could see the tiny smile playing on his lips.

"I don't know," I grumbled. "That's a lot of educating."

"What if we call it a trade? You illuminate my narrow, stereotyped view of the world, and I'll use some of my macho-jock appeal to teach you how to ride."

"You were going to do that anyway."

"True, but now I get something else in return for putting our lives in jeopardy." I couldn't resist smiling, even though I'd wanted to. "So, can you find it in your heart to take it easy on this misogynist?"

I sighed. "Maybe."

He rested his head next to mine, breathing into my ear. "Just maybe?"

I stepped back and poked him in the chest. "As long as you remember who's the better shot, Jake."

"Yeah, I'm not forgetting that anytime soon. Trust me." He grabbed me by the shoulder and gave me a quick peck on the forehead, grinning after.

Once a few more groups exited past us, we headed back into the gym to help tear down decorations. Jake gave me a boost to swipe at some higher pieces of streamers without having to fetch the ladder. That worked about twice, before I nearly toppled to the floor. Luckily he was quick enough to grab me and save me from both the embarrassment and the injury.

"Mr. Misogyny to the rescue!" He spun me around in his arms while I laughed.

"Hey guys, we were just heading out," Emmett called from behind us. Jake turned us to face him, but didn't put me down.

"Thanks for coming, really!"

"No problem, Bell. What are friends for?"

The last group of stragglers headed out, from the back of the gym. Mike, Tyler, and a couple of other football players were in the pack. Mike caught sight of us and broke off to head our way.

"Hey guys! What are you doing tomorrow night?" I could only guess it was a rhetorical question, because he continued on before any of us could answer. He dug into his pocket and pulled out some squares of paper. "My cousin is throwing this huge house party; he told me to invite everyone who might be game." He handed them to me, Edward and Emmett.

I usually declined going to big parties. I wasn't huge into socializing and always ended up feeling like a fifth wheel. But, with an actual date, it might not be so bad. I looked at Jake.

"That sounds like fun, what do you think?"

He raised an eyebrow at me. Then he swung me back and forth, a bit. "Could be fun, as long as it doesn't interfere with our lesson!"

"Shut up!" I smacked his chest, making him put me down. I could feel my face burning. The last thing I needed was the guys knowing about our upcoming motorcycle session.

I gave Jake a pointed look, hoping he'd get the message, before I turned back to look at everyone. Edward had the strangest expression on his face—like a flurry of things were going through his head at once, none of them good. "Sure, Mike. Sounds good."

"It does sound like fun, Mike. What time will you pick me up, Edward?" Lauren had plucked the invite from his hands, and I saw the poorly disguised eyeroll before his lids closed.

"Oh yeah, Edward. You should bring your sister. My other cousin, the one in junior high, is inviting all his friends too. We're throwing them all in the basement for the night." I could see the flicker of relief wash over his face as quickly as I saw the disappointment flash across Lauren's.

"Yeah, definitely. Em, you want me to pick you guys up too?" Lauren's eyes narrowed in warning, but Rose only smiled.

"I think that's a great idea." She squeezed Emmett's arm and kissed him on the cheek. "So I guess we'll see you tomorrow Bella!" She widened her eyes, just a bit, clueing me in to the fact that she loved pissing off Lauren like that.

It was hard to choke down the laugh that bubbled up when I opened my mouth. "Yeah, see you guys tomorrow!"


Saturday morning, I got a call from Alice.

"So, I hear we're gonna get to party together!"

"Yep, that's what they tell me."

"Dad said since Edward's taking me, too, he'd even let us use the Mustang!" Dr. Cullen had a classic Mustang, practically identical to the one Johnny Depp had on 21 Jump Street, except that it was red. He rarely let Edward take it out, and I'd been lucky enough to ride in it once.

"Wow, why the special treatment?"

"Oh, they're leaving for Tucson. Dad said someone should get to enjoy it this weekend."

"That's so cool!"

"I know, right? Hey, speaking of cool, tonight's the big night, right?"

"Big night?"

"You know? You, Jake, and a little something-something between your legs!" She let loose a string of giggles.

"I can't believe you just said that!" My skin instantly burned as a shocked grin crossed my face. Leave it to Alice to make it sound exceptionally dirty. Before I could say anything else, I heard a series of loud thumps and crashes through the phone. She gave a sudden, sharp gasp, and I heard the unmistakable thwack of the phone hitting the carpet. "Alice?"

All I could make out after that were a flurry of shouts. First Alice's voice, and then possibly Edward's or Dr. Cullen's, a pause, and then some more voices mixed together. I held on to the phone, hoping that Alice would remember I was here. Anything that managed to pull her off a call had to have been serious.

Three agonizing minutes later, she picked up the phone. "Geez, sorry about that Bella. You still there?"

"Yeah. Is everything alright? What happened?"

"Edward was taking some laundry downstairs and slipped..."

I felt my stomach drop. "Ohmigod, is he alright?"

"Yeah, Dad looked him over. It's just a sprained ankle. Edward's trying to convince him that he can still drive tonight. You know how persuasive he can be. I'm sure it'll be fine. Hey, I'll see you tonight. I'm gonna help him clean up."

"Um, yeah, sure. Hey, Alice?"


"Tell Edward... Um, I mean... Just–" I sighed. "I'm glad he's okay."


It was a good thing the parking lot was huge. Damaging myself I could handle. Paying for damages to someone's vehicle, not to mention the explanation to my Mom... Yeah, not so much.

Jake diligently explained the basics to me. When he started getting a bit long-winded about shifting gears and the clutch, I had to interrupt. "Same as a car, just different area, right?"

"You know how to drive a manual?" He sounded surprised.

"'Bells, if you can drive a stick shift, you can drive anything.' Yeah, my Dad is all about me being prepared. I can also change a flat tire, but after he saw how much I hurt myself doing it, he said he'd pay for AAA whenever I finally get a car."

"The thought of you with a tire iron is a little scary."

He went over some more things, and finally let me try the bike out on my own. I started out slowly, afraid to go over ten miles per hour. Eventually, I circled the lot, going from first to second gear, stopping, and then starting over again. I only stalled twice before getting the hang of it. It took at least a whole other lap before I was able to start up smoothly, without the bike threatening to leave me behind.

"You're a quick study!" Jake yelled at me as I pulled up next to him. "Why don't you try taking her up to thirty? There's plenty of room."

"You think so?" I could feel my grin pinching the apple of my cheeks.

"Yeah! Go for it!"

I did a small semi-circle around him so I was facing the largest end of the lot. He was right; there was easily an eighth to quarter-mile of length. I'd just have to be careful. I looked at him one more time and he gave me the thumbs up.

I accelerated smoothly, switching from first to second and finally to third. I couldn't have been pushing more than twenty-five, but I felt like I was flying! I moved my eyes from immediately in front of me, just to glance at my surroundings. Streetlights blurred by in streaks, and all I could hear was the roar of wind catching in the edges of my helmet.

It was the second most exhilarating thing I'd ever experienced.

I downshifted and gracefully made a huge u-turn, before speeding back towards Jake. He was waving at me with a huge smile on his face. "Hey there speed demon, you're a total natural!"

"Oh my GOD! That was, like, the coolest thing EVER!" He laughed and jumped up on the bike behind me.

"Think you can find that party from here?"

"Seriously? You trust me to drive us? Hell, I don't even think I trust me that much yet!"

"So do another lap, and get used to my weight. It's really not that much different. Besides, it's not too far from here. I'm sure we'll be fine."

I could feel the adrenaline pushing away my anxiety. "Only if you're sure!"

"C'mon Bella, show me what you got."

He wrapped his arms around me before settling his feet on the pegs. The bike certainly felt heavier, but nothing I couldn't handle. I took a deep breath, slowly brought up the accelerator as I released the clutch, and then felt us begin to move forward. Almost immediately I could sense myself beginning to wobble, trying to compensate for the heaviness.

"Don't try to correct from side to side. Just hold us steady!" I did as Jake said, still afraid to go much faster. "It's easier if you pick up speed. Trust me." I winced at the thought, already shaky from trying to keep us upright. "C'mon Bella, we're good. I promise!"

I squeezed my eyes shut for just a second, feeling the difference in mass, and shifting my muscles to compensate. Balance was balance, regardless of the different pressure. Once I realized that—once I felt it, I opened my eyes and sped off.


After we'd made it past the guard at the gate, and had slowly cruised through the opulent neighborhood, we came upon one seriously magnificent house. From what I'd heard about Mike's cousin, his dad was a surgeon of some kind. My first stop was the restroom, and when I saw the frighteningly accurate human skull soap dish, I guessed he was a brain surgeon. Either that or their decorator had a morbid sense of humor.

I was amazed at how bright I looked. There was really no other word for it. I looked like I was somehow lit up from the inside. My cheeks were shiny and pink, and I could hardly keep the smile from my face. I knew I'd kept within the speed limit, but it felt like we had raced through the whole city to get here. I was practically euphoric.

Somehow, someway, I would have to get a motorcycle of my own.

I laughed, imagining my parents growing pale, and then possibly beet red. I was pretty good at speech and debate, but I doubted I was that good. Still, I grinned at my reflection, one last time, before joining the party.

"Oh hey, Bella!" Jake waved me over, towards the wet bar. Once I got close enough, he hugged me into his side. "This is Paul. Paul, this is Bella."

I gave him a slightly overenthusiastic smile as he shook my hand. I was still giddy from the bike ride. "Nice to meet you, Paul."


Jake relayed the story of how they'd gone to school together up until a year ago. Paul's family had moved from Tempe up to Scottsdale, and the two of them began a good natured argument on which school had the better football team. Jake was making some joke about the number of nose jobs at Paul's school when I heard my name.

I turned to look, and saw Alice jumping and waving as she made her way through the crowd. Edward and Lauren weren't far behind, though it looked as if Lauren wouldn't be too unhappy if they lost Alice along the way. Edward limped along behind her, obviously slowed down by his sprained ankle. I waved back at Alice, mostly to let her know she didn't have to keep hopping up for me to see her.

"Hey, there's your junior security guard now." Jake nodded towards Alice, and I gave him a light punch in the arm. Paul shot a glance at Alice in question, and Jake explained. "Bella's better guarded than the president, these days. It's a wonder I don't need to go through a metal detector to take her out. There's that little one, the guy behind her, and the Beefcake, but I haven't seen him yet."

"Beefcake? Geez, don't let him hear you call him that."

"Bella!" Alice broke through the crowd, sounding out of breath. She smiled and waved at Jake, before grabbing my hands and pulling me aside. "So tell me, how was it?" It wasn't even close to a stage whisper, given the noise of the party. Still, I tried to shush her, best as I could, before trying to pull us further away. I looked up, seeing Edward and Lauren standing next to Jake. Lauren looked at me with the kind of eyeroll that would have earned me pizza from Emmett.

"Hey guys," I started in greeting, but when I caught Edward's expression, my voice died in my throat. I could only assume he'd heard Alice, and put two and two together. Still, that couldn't account for the absolutely crestfallen look he'd given me.

Obviously I was in one piece, unharmed. I knew that motorcycles were inherently dangerous, but I couldn't understand why he looked at me like that. I felt the last bit of my carefree grin drop from my face, desperate to know what had made him so sad.

"Edward, what–?"

Alice yanked me further away. She was deceptively strong and I couldn't help but be pulled along into a corner. Her excited questioning brought me back to my earlier, wired state. I could feel my own excitement climbing as I detailed my whole experience. As usual, I got carried away, my hands flying everywhere, as I told her everything until we arrived at the house.

"That is so cool!"

I laughed, and she laughed with me. It was like we were on some sort of teenage girl giggle loop. I couldn't care how silly we might have looked. It just felt good to be happy, truly happy, for once.

Edward and Lauren had crossed further into the room, so I walked Alice back towards them before helping her find the basement. "So hey, where's Emmett?"

"Oh, he and Rose should be here later. They, um... I think they decided to go to dinner first or something." Edward was scratching the back of his neck, not really looking at me as he answered. Something was wrong, seriously wrong, and I had no idea what it was. It seemed unwise to ask in front of Lauren, not that I even had a chance.

"C'mon Edward, let's get something to drink." She towed him away from us, and, for once, he seemed to glad to go with her.

Okay, something was definitely wrong.


She watched them walk away, her head tilted and eyes narrowed. "I have no idea. He's seemed a little antsy since his fall this afternoon but, geez, now he looks like someone killed his puppy or something."

An hour had gone by, and there was still no sign of Em and Rose. I also hadn't seen Edward or Lauren, again, and I really didn't want to think about what might have been going on between them. Moving forward without focusing on every little thing concerning Edward was just something I'd have to get used to.

Jake introduced me to more of his friends, and I introduced him to mine. I hadn't expected to see Ben and Angela here, and I had to admit that they made a pretty cute couple.

Ben was looking rather spiffy in a button-down shirt and tie. She told me they'd gone to Black Angus for dinner before coming here. I had to give it to Ben; he certainly knew how to impress a girl.

After I refused to dance for the third time, Jake and I ended up in a corner of a large sectional couch. I was nursing my Sprite and laughing at one of Jake's stupid jokes, when Paul came over and knelt by us. "You're not going to believe it! Guess who just showed up?" I shrugged and looked at Jake, who shrugged in return. Paul put up his hands in a mocking gesture. "Hail the Ice Queen!"

"No way!"

"Yeah, with her new boyfriend and everything. Can you believe that?"

I looked between them, clearly out of the loop. "Who's the Ice Queen?"

"She's some stuck up chick that goes to Paul's school. I've never met her, but he was telling me about her."

"Talk about your first class bitch. She was dating my friend for, like, ever, and when he finally got sick of her treating him like shit, he tried to break up with her. Well, she gets pissed and convinces some idiot jock from another school to beat him up. Talk about not being able to let go."


"Yeah, and now she has the nerve to show up here with the same guy. I think they're trying to start some shit in the yard."

Paul pulled us both to our feet, and we made our way through the rec room to the side entrance. I could see a group of guys arguing out in the driveway, and a small crowd was gathering around them. Morbid curiosity drew us closer until, finally, Paul pushed us forward and nearer to the heart of the argument. He was blocking my view, but I could hear him clearly.

"You got a lot of nerve coming here, hail. What's your fucking problem? Can't you take no for an answer?"

"Fuck you, Paul!"

I couldn't see her, but I knew that voice plain as day. It suddenly clicked into place—Paul hadn't said 'hail the Ice Queen.' He'd said 'Hale the Ice Queen!' I couldn't force my way anymore through the crowd, but if something was going to happen, I sure as hell couldn't stand by and watch my friends get hurt.

I tugged on Jake's arm. "Shit, Jake, it's Rose and Emmett! He's been talking about Rose and Emmett!" I tried to push my way forward, but Jake held me back. "Jake, what the hell are you doing? We gotta help them!"

I could see the conflict on his face. It was my friends versus his friends, and there was no way this was going to end well for any of us. "Bella we – we should stay out of it. I don't want you to get hurt."

It was a rational argument; a logical decision. It wasn't technically 'our' fight. We shouldn't have to choose sides. The best course of action for us, Jake and Bella the couple, would be to stand aside, let them sort it out themselves, and not let this come between us.

Well, fuck that shit!

"Let me go, Jake!"

"Bella, no. I'm not gonna let you get involved in this." It was almost a plea, but I only heard it as a directive.

"Let me? That's not your decision!" His grip tightened on my upper arm as he pulled me closer.

"You're my girlfriend! I'm just trying to keep you safe! You know your buddy Emmett would want you to be safe, right?" It was a low blow, and it only pissed me off more. I could hear the growl in my voice.

"I mean it, Jake. Let go of me!" I saw the fleeting smirk on his face, as if he thought I was joking. As if this was somehow me being cute!

He pulled me further away, back towards the house. "Or what, Bella, really?"

Later I would tell myself it was only because I wanted to help Emmett. It would be awhile before I actually admitted that I was royally ticked off at my macho asshole of an overbearing wanna-be boyfriend. I was suddenly really glad he was pulling me by my left arm.

I swung, going right for his gut. I didn't hit him as hard as I was capable of, because, truly, I didn't want to hurt him. I just needed him to let go of me. I felt my knuckles connect with his rock hard stomach. If this had been an episode of Batman, I would have actually expected to see an 'ooof' appear above his head. I pulled against him, hoping I wouldn't have to kick him in the shin as well. Thankfully, it was enough and I wrestled away from him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" I kept yelling as I ran backwards. I was genuinely upset that I'd had to do that, but I watched him start to recover before I turned to run at a full sprint into the house.

My mind was racing. I couldn't imagine how that wouldn't be the nail in the coffin of our relationship. Jake was a great guy, and I knew with enough work maybe we could be great together. But then a phrase flitted through my head so quickly, I wouldn't be able to process it until much later.


It hadn't come to blows outside yet, but I figured we couldn't be more than a minute or two away from that. Regardless, Emmett looked outnumbered, and I didn't know if any of our friends knew what was going on.

I had to find Edward.

I looked around the room, frantic, trying to spot a familiar face. Angela and Ben were the first ones I could see, so I ran towards them. "Guys, have you seen Edward?"

"Um, I think he and Lauren were by the laundry room."

"Okay, I need you to find everyone we know—Mike, Tyler, anyone! Emmett's out front and he needs help."

"Yeah, sure thing!" Ben nodded at me while Angela took off.

"Wait, Ben, give me your tie!"


"Just, please!" I held out my hand, giving him my best wide-eyed plea. He pulled it loose and yanked it over his head. "Thanks!"

I took off as fast as I could, looking for the laundry room. It seemed like more and more people were surging outside, or at least moving in any direction against me. It figured the faster I tried to move, the slower I felt.

"Edward!" I yelled when I, finally, made my way into the small hallway and reached the door. I flung it open and was glad I was on some sort of adrenaline rush. It was a lot easier to push out everything else and focus on Emmett's situation, rather than the mess before me.

He was leaning against the wall, eyes closed and red plastic cup in hand. His other arm was wrapped around Lauren's waist. For her part, she wasn't doing a great job of holding her cup steady. I'm sure it had something to do with the way her face was attached to his neck. I was surprised at how easy it was to push the pain down, because I certainly felt it fighting to claw its way through my chest.

"Edward!" I yelled and saw a hint of a grin cross his face. Lauren froze at my voice. Then there was a horrible smacking noise as her lips dislodged from him and she turned to glare at me. "EDWARD!"

He finally opened his eyes, glancing a couple of times between me and Lauren. He was doing this odd, lazy blinking thing. I didn't have time to find out what was wrong, and I certainly didn't want to think about why he looked so dopey. I remembered all too well that muddled, euphoric feeling after making out with him.

Not now, Swan! Fuck!

"Emmett's in trouble. I think a bunch of guys are gonna kick his ass in the front yard!"

There was a bit of a delayed reaction, then his eyes widened. "What?"

"OUT IN FRONT!" I yelled one more time and left, not bothering to see if he was coming behind me. At this point, I could only hope I'd make it back in time to help. I ran through the mostly empty house. Practically everyone was outside now, which only made it harder for me to get close enough to see what was going on.

I could feel a growing knot in my stomach. Maybe it was some intuition that whatever happened in the next few moments was not going to be good. I undid Ben's tie while I forced my way through. I'd already learned once the hard way.

Part of me couldn't believe that I was even considering this. I'd burned my bridge with Jake. I'd clearly lost something I never had with Edward. Now I was completely alone, walking into what was sure to be a painful brawl with guys I knew, from experience, had no qualms about hitting a girl.

The other part, that small and crazy part of me, knew that I'd do anything to protect my friends, to hell with the rest of it. I took a deep breath, wrapping the tie around my right fist. All I could feel was my heart hammering in my chest, thrumming against my skull, as I finally got close enough to see what was going on.