A/N: SMeyer owns.

I know it's been a ridonkulously long time since I updated, and for those of you who are still bothering with this story, I both apologize for the wait and am grateful to you for sticking with me. All I can say is I hit a nasty case of writers' block.

Many, many thanks to my wonderful beta Zors for her help, and to both her and luvrofink for their support and encouragement. I would never have written this chapter if not for them. And if you're not reading their stories, you should be!

Cross-posted on The Writer's Coffee Shop Library.


Chapter 3: Bubbles

Okay, seriously. What. The. Fuck?

Apparently she was mad at me now. But what did I do? I thought I was giving her my concerned face, because fuck it, she looked so upset when she came in the room. Hell, she looked upset when she left the asshole out in the hallway.

More than anything I wished I could read Bella's mind right now. Because if I had no idea what she was so pissed off about, how was I supposed to find a way to talk to her? Chances were at this point she'd just bite my fucking head off if I so much as looked at her. Fuck, she pretty much just did that already.

My thoughts were so occupied with Bella and her mental state that I didn't remember even taking any notes during class. I kept glancing over at her, trying to be all surreptitious about it; if she happened to move so much as a muscle while I was peeking over at her, I made sure to avert my eyes quickly. God knows I didn't want to piss her off any more than she already was.

When the bell rang to end first period, she shot off like a rocket, nearly tripping on a leg of the desk in front of her in her haste to leave the room. As much as I wanted to know what was bothering her, know if she was okay, I knew I couldn't go after her. Because hell, what was I going to say? Hey, Bella, I know we've never actually spoken to each other, but I noticed you were upset and I just wanted to make sure you were alright. I think I have a right to know because I made you come a couple of nights ago. Yeah, that would be perfect. Uh, no.

The morning dragged along. I shared third period with her as well, but unfortunately we had assigned seats in that class and where I was sitting didn't allow me to look at her without being found out. The most I saw of her was when she walked in before class started. She didn't look angry like she had earlier; instead she appeared lost in thought, a thin line marring her forehead, her plump lower lip caught between her teeth. Fuuuck. Seeing her biting that lip of hers just made my jeans tighter.

At lunchtime I parked myself in my usual spot, a couple of tables away facing where Bella always sat with her two friends and their boyfriends. Again I observed her carefully—carefully in that I did my best, as always, to watch her without her realizing I was doing it. Interestingly, Whitlock and McCarty didn't join the girls today. And I also saw Queen Bitch shoo away a group of girls who tried to sit at the same table with them. Bella actually looked paler than normal, almost like she was going to be sick—I noticed she didn't have anything to eat—and at one point she got this look on her face like she was going to pass out, right before she deliberately sank face down on the table in front of her. Fuck! I had to stop myself from running over to her and asking her if she was okay. Brandon, at least, appeared to be trying to comfort her, even though Queen Bitch didn't seem to be very sympathetic. I wished I could hear what they were saying, but all I could make out was the occasional mention of the fucker's name.

Once again, I felt waves of anger and jealousy rolling over me. Fucking Hunter. I still didn't know if she was upset over what happened at the party, or if he'd done or said something since then, but regardless, for whatever reason he was the one she was obviously so concerned about. Fuck it all. I had to find some way to start talking to her, get to know her, so I could try to convince her to stay away from that asshole. Fuck, even if all I ever was to her was a friend, I had to do that much.

...

The next morning I had just turned away from my locker and was about to go looking for Bella when I nearly collided with Whitlock. I mumbled an apology and moved to step around him, but he caught me off guard when he said my name. I stopped and blinked at him; he and I weren't exactly friends, but we weren't unfriendly either.

"'Sup?" I asked. He gave me an odd look, almost as if he were embarrassed or something. What, did he not take notes in class yesterday or something? If he was coming to me for them, he was shit outa luck.

"So, I'm kinda helping Emmett ask around…" he started. "Uh, did you make it to the party Saturday night?"

I frowned at him, suddenly anxious. The fuck? Had Bella somehow figured out it was me? I decided to try and play it cool, throw off the suspicion, if that was what this was about. I snorted at him. "Didn't everybody?" I asked. "Why?"

Whitlock smirked at me, chuckling and rubbing his forehead. "Somebody kinda… left something behind, and we want to return it."

My frown returned. I could feel the muscles between my eyebrows tensing. "I didn't lose anything," I said, shaking my head, while mentally cataloguing what the hell I might have dropped that could possibly give me away. Seriously, I hadn't left anything behind, not that I knew of anyway. Now I'd taken something, yeah. Totally unintentionally, but still…

"You sure?" he countered, shifting his weight back and forth. "What kind of costume were you wearing?"

"I'm sure I didn't lose anything, man," I told him. I sure as hell wasn't answering that question. He opened his mouth to ask again, but I cut in. "Why don't you tell me what it is, and I'll tell you if it's mine."

He cocked an eyebrow at me. "Why won't you tell me what you were wearing?"

Now I was just getting impatient with him, and I turned and started walking away. "Because it doesn't matter," I threw over my shoulder. "I didn't lose anything." He followed after me as the first bell rang. "We gotta get to class now anyway."

Damn Whitlock. His stupid ass questions meant I'd now missed my chance to look for Bella before classes started this morning, try to find out what kind of mood she was in today.

It turned out she was already at her seat in the back when I got to class. As I made my way to my own desk, I tried to catch a glimpse of her face. She had her nose buried in a textbook, her hair shadowing the side of her face closest to me, while her hand was curled into her silken locks on the other side. Gorgeous. Though not exactly helpful in letting me read her mood.

She never looked up, and I continued to watch her, until an order from Mr. Lacey for Whitlock to take his seat so we could begin class snapped our attention to the front of the room.

... ... ...

Tuesday morning seemed to drag by. All I could seem to think about was that Emmett and Jasper were supposed to be feeling out the potential suspects for my Mystery Man, and then they were going to report back to us girls during lunch on what, if anything, they'd managed to find out. My stomach was in knots, but I tried to hide it, tried to distract myself by burying my head in a book anytime I wasn't either in class or on my way to class. I only ended up reading the same paragraph over and over fifty times, never able to make sense of it. I just couldn't concentrate.

By the time lunch rolled around, I knew that I'd somehow attended four classes, and simply from habit I knew what classes they were, but I couldn't have told anyone what we talked about.

I headed straight for our table in the back when I reached the cafeteria, for the second day in a row not bothering to buy anything to eat. Alice was already there, looking very official and organized with her list of names from yesterday, all typed up in a spreadsheet. I sat down next to her and noticed that she had indicated what each boy had been wearing to the party or whether his status was as yet "unknown." Rosalie joined us just a moment after I did, snorting when she noticed Alice's list. We were unnaturally quiet, exchanging only brief greetings, and a word or two of support from Alice, as we waited for Emmett and Jasper to arrive. Again, time seemed to drag while Alice drummed her fingers on the table—until Rosalie grabbed her hand and stopped her. What was probably only a few minutes felt like hours before the two boys showed up, walking briskly over to our table. Emmett made a big show of leaping over the back of the chair next to Rosalie's, a grin wide enough to split his face as he took us all in. Jasper was a bit more controlled in his movements as he sat next to Alice.

She looked back and forth between the two of them impatiently. "Well?" she said. "Hand over your notes."

Emmett's face fell. "Notes? I didn't know I was supposed to write shit down."

I groaned internally as Alice huffed at him in exasperation. "How else were you supposed to remember everything? Guys, this is important!"

Jasper's eyes twinkled as he wrapped an arm around Alice's shoulders. "Don't worry, darlin'," he said. "It's all up here." He tapped his temple with his other hand before placing a gentle kiss on Alice's. "Besides, we didn't have to talk to everyone on the list you gave us," he went on.

"Yeah, we remembered some of their costumes," Emmett put in.

"Well?" Alice asked. "So what did you find out?" I was glad Alice was running this show; I didn't think I'd be able to form a coherent sentence.

"Yeah, about that…" Jasper began, withdrawing his arm from Alice's shoulder to open his lunch bag and pull out a wrapped sandwich. "Em and I were just talking about that on the way here. Um… essentially? We got nothin'."

"What?" Alice cried in dismay. I let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding, my shoulders slumping in defeat. "What do you mean?"

"No Zorro costumes, nothing that could even be mistaken for Zorro," Emmet answered through a mouthful of Doritos. "So… what's this shit all about anyway?"

"It doesn't matter now," I managed to mumble, as Rosalie glanced at me before turning to face her boyfriend.

"Bella's just trying to find out who she was with at the party Saturday night. The guy was wearing a mask and he didn't say his name," she explained quietly.

Emmett was quiet for a moment as I watched the gears moving behind his eyes. The moment the light bulb turned on, his expression changed and he turned to me. "Fuck, Bells, did someone hurt you?"

"What?" I answered, a bit shocked that that's where his thoughts went. "No. It wasn't like that."

Rosalie's face took on a more devious expression, pursing her lips. "No, whoever it was didn't hurt her; quite the opposite. I think what she really wants is to, uh, return the favor." Her eyes widened, then she broke into a giant, mischievous smile, nodding and winking at both boys.

"Rose!" I gasped, while Emmett's jaw fell open in shock before he started grinning at me and waggling his eyebrows. Jasper had started choking on his soda, and Alice patted him on the back while staring back at Rosalie in disbelief.

"What?" Rosalie rejoined as she looked at me over her shoulder. "I think you should be pleased that your first sexual experience was such a good one—and that you managed to get it in before your eighteenth birthday."

"Rosalie!" I hissed. "Would you keep it down, please?"

She took the time to look in all directions and then she turned to me with an almost condescending expression. "There's no one close enough to hear," she said. When she noticed my eyes flicker momentarily to the far end of a nearby table, where Edward Cullen was sitting with a book in his usual spot, she spared another glance before turning back to me disdainfully. "No one who matters, anyway," she concluded. At least she did lower her voice this time.

I frowned at her, still annoyed with her for just blurting out my secret like that. "Whatever, Rose," I said wearily. "Besides, you're wrong anyway. I'm already eighteen," I finished in a mutter that only she and Alice heard.

"What?" Alice asked. "When was your birthday, Bella?" Her delicate eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"Oh, it was, uh…" I faltered. Shit. "Back in September?" I answered hesitantly, more like a question. Three… two… one…

"Bella!" To say that Alice had shrieked loud enough to wake the dead in the next county would be an understatement. Even Emmett, whose default volume was decibels above the average teenager's, winced.

All conversation stopped at the surrounding tables, every face turned in our direction. Even Edward looked up from his book, I noticed, his gaze curious rather than glaring. What was up with him? I wondered. Twice in two days? Gimme a break. I just want normal back.

"Bella, we have to have a party!" Alice was exclaiming next to me.

I turned to her and gaped. "What?" I asked in disbelief. "My birthday was two months ago. And I have something I'm a little more concerned about right now than celebrating a birthday I didn't want to celebrate in the first place."

Alice looked at me in confusion. "What are you talking about, Bella? Everyone should celebrate their eighteenth birthday. I can't believe you didn't tell us!"

"I didn't—"

"What exact day was it?" she asked, interrupting me.

"The thirteenth. I don't—"

"This is perfect. Exactly two months would make it the end of next week, which will give me enough time to get everything together."

"But—"

"We can have it at my house, don't worry. We'll make sure everyone knows about it, so everyone who came to the Halloween party should come to this one." She gave me a triumphant little grin as she bounced in her seat. She whipped the now useless spreadsheet over to the back and started scribbling down notes.

Oh. Oh. "Oookay," I responded hesitantly. "Now that I know where you're going with this. Except—even if he shows up, how are we going to know it's him?"

"Okay, so, I haven't worked out all the details. Yet." Alice frowned slightly, and Rosalie shook her head, chuckling quietly. Emmett was listening intently as he ate, but he obviously hadn't quite caught up yet. "At the moment, all I'm going with is that your birthday party will give him the opportunity to do or say something to reveal himself to you. And I know he'll come"—Alice shot a reproachful look at Emmett and Rosalie when they snorted—"because the party will be in your honor. He'll want to be there. "

"Alice, darlin'," Jasper spoke up. "Don't get your hopes up that just because the guy comes to the party, you'll be able to figure out who he is."

Alice smiled indulgently at him, though her voice betrayed a note of dismay. "What do you mean, Jasper? I'm sure I'll think of something."

"No, I'm just saying, obviously he doesn't want his identity known. Otherwise, what would have been the point in keeping it a secret in the first place?" He put his arm around her shoulder again and looked across her at me apologetically. "I just think you should be prepared to have to wait a while, Bella. If the guy wants you to know who he is, he'll let you know—when he's ready." He gave me a kind smile, then turned back to his lunch.

"He's right, you know," Rosalie agreed, not unkindly. "As much as you want to find him—as much as I want you to find him"—she smirked and winked at me, and I blushed in response—"you may never know who he was. But don't forget, in the meantime, you still have Hunter the Hottie who is definitely still interested. If you want my opinion, give your Mystery Man until the party next week to say something to you. And if he doesn't, he's missed his chance. Then you can concentrate on the guy you know about."

I had a lot more to think about after our discussion at lunch. Gone was my fantasy of last night.. Though neither Jasper nor Rosalie had stated, even hinted, at anything specific to make me change my mind, I couldn't help but ask myself what the hell I'd been thinking the night before.

I mean, seriously, life is not a fairy tale. Some guy saw an opportunity and he took it. And then in a moment of weakness, I made him out to be some kind of knight in shining armor, a Galahad, the answer to all my romantic fantasies. Really? Let's be honest with ourselves here. The more likely reason he didn't have me give him a blow job, or even a hand job, was that he was disappointed with how inexperienced I was, and he didn't want me to injure him with my innocent fumbling. Rosalie did point out that this had been my first sexual experience, and I was over eighteen. Pretty much all the decent looking girls—okay, maybe not Angela Weber, but she was a minister's daughter—had experience of some sort. At the very least they would have kissed someone before.

And the guy hadn't come forward to identify himself because he didn't want to look me in the eye; he didn't want me clinging to him, thinking that we were a couple just because he'd gone down on me. God, he might even be disgusted with himself for having done it. Maybe he had a girlfriend and had cheated on her with me. Maybe he'd done it as a dare. The disappearance of my panties made much more sense in that context; they were proof of having done the deed to whoever had challenged him. Get the panties from the virgin. Nice little bet I'm sure they had. And a nice little laugh.

God, I was an idiot.

If you're still with me, please leave a review. Thanks!