The Shy and the Oblivious
by Anton M.

Chapter 5

Edward took a moment to make sure that the guy was James. He was in khakis, a black sweatshirt carelessly thrown over his shoulder and a tilted hat covering his hair from the rain. But it wasn't his clothing or tallness – which hadn't changed in Edward's favour – that made Edward certain that the guy was James. It was the unequalled carefree nature. James had a talent, or what Edward believed to be his talent because he considered himself the opposite, to draw easiness into the conversation. Not ever had Edward seen James in an awkward situation – it was as if he either magically avoided or dodged away from them.

Whatever the reason, Edward didn't like it.

In his mind, it created a red marker that painted over his flaws; similar to Sixth Sense, where red was purposefully used to mark the presence of someone from the other world. The only difference was that in the presence of James, Edward marked the striking difference in their manners, and yet again – not in his favour. He knew he was somewhat tense and definitely uncomfortable to be around in social situations.

James always amplified his awkwardness by being who he was.

It had been quite a long time since they diverged from their friendship. Edward knew it was partly his fault that they didn't keep in touch with each other after James changed schools (switching to Pine High School), but he couldn't help but feel trapped. James had once given him an ultimatum and Edward had been too much of a wuss to use it at the time. The final agreement was something that James didn't have time to turn into reality when he moved away so quickly. Did James remember it?

Edward inhaled and walked close enough to be noticed.

"Edward." James raised both of his eyebrows, patted Edward's shoulder a few times and much to Edward's relief, leaned away from Bella. "We were just talking about you."

"Oh?"

'Oh? What kind of a wimpish answer is that – oh?'

'The one I cannot stutter, idiot.'

Edward felt his neck flush as they all stared at him, Alice tilted her head toward Jasper and sucked on a pink lollipop. Bella smiled slightly at Edward before her eyes landed on James again. That simple action was enough to confirm Edward's theories – but for the first time, Edward understood that he didn't dislike James.

He envied him.

James grinned, playfully placing his hat on Bella's head before turning his eyes on Edward's an-inch-or-two shorter form. In a desperate attempt to avoid focusing too much on Bella and to do something non-awkward with his hands, Edward put his hands on his pockets. He struggled to find them before he realised his coat had no pockets.

Smooth, real smooth.

James dishevelled his own hat on Bella's head, making Bella snicker – Edward suppressed a groan as his neck flushed even more – and James smiled sweetly at Bella. He tilted his head up to look at Edward. "So you got over stuttering?"

"No–no."

'Of all the times to get stuck with wording, I have to get stuck with one syllable? Kill me.'

James shrugged it off, something he did more frequently with Edward around. "No problem; it's cool. I just thought I'd ask. How've you been?"

Edward could feel the awkwardness he caused - the abyss between his social skills and James's seemed to have grown. It wasn't even that he lacked, he simply failed to 'take it easy.' Edward understood that this could've been because of his obvious stress around others in the past – he was used to being pointed out. James didn't stress about talking because he was used to not having any problems with it. Surely, the past was a gateway to the present.

"I–I've be–been good; I'm fi–fine, re–really. Ho–how about y–you?"

Edward did not even remember the last time he felt such a distinct gap between two people. It'd all been fine yesterday when he was around the people he knew – 'and trusted,' he mentally added – but not when an old friend talked to him. How can his mind turn something as simple as talking into an awkwardness contest?

He'll never know.

"Aah, great," James dawdled, smiling. "I'm fine as well, especially now that I've caught up with you two." He dishevelled Bella's hair again, still grinning.

'...like an idiot,' Edward mentally added.

Bella frowned at the whole exchange – there weren't as many words as there was something behind them, and it frustrated her that she couldn't pinpoint the problem. Edward might've looked uncomfortable, but that was nothing new as they were around people. More or less, it was always there. But how could two old friends act so neglectfully toward each other? Bella had considered James a cool dude; he was a refreshing change when one didn't want to think too much. He just let everything... be.

Did she want Edward to be more like him?

Cold wind blew on their faces and Emmett's voice boomed out of one side of the field. Their faces snapped toward the source of the familiar voice, and James waved at his friends in the middle of the field before he leaned into Bella to whisper something in her ear. Edward stared carefully at his shoes, trying to wrap his anxious face in constrained indifference. He wanted to assure himself that James would tell him first if he had wanted to ask Bella out – just like James would've done had he not moved away – but the thing was...

Edward wasn't sure. James could do whatever he wanted, he didn't owe Edward anything. A moment or two later, Bella's eyes snapped to Edward's face, but his eyes were lowered, so she couldn't even lock eyes with him. Bella hesitated, grasping her mobile phone inside her pocket.

"So?" James smiled, dishevelling her hair again as he took his hat back. "What do you think?"

"I..." she was still searching for Edward's eyes, but his undivided attention seemed to be on his shoes. Bella pursed her lips, smiling politely. "I... I'll consider it."

James grinned and his delight was audible in his voice. "Fantastic. See you later?"

"Sure."

Edward, having heard her answer, but not having seen her face, carefully raised his eyes to look at her. Bella shrivelled from the cold, but her eyes got careful, even a little distant as she caught his calm expression. They stared at each other in silence before realising that others were doing morning exercises after Emmett, who seemed oddly uncoordinated at times.

Edward gave Bella a weak smile and shrugged his shoulders before following Emmett's lead and raising his arms in the rain.

Bella just stood, raindrops falling on her face, still staring at his indifference. She didn't even know what she'd expected – anger, a protective glare, even a smile that would assure her of his solid perspective and crush her foolish hope. Something.

Edward was a better actor than Bella let herself believe, or he simply didn't give a shit.

The last option seemed more likely to her.


A/N: What's the song you're listening to right now?