Inspired by a true story arfalcon told me one night….
Thanks to justaskalice for beta'ing.
Can't Hardly Wait.
10 Things I Hate About You.
She's All That.
All my life I'd wanted to be one of those teenagers, in one of those movies. Two parents with normal jobs; ordinary classes at a big, ordinary high school, surrounded by loads and loads of other ordinary teenagers; girlfriends and shopping trips and homework and gossip and dates. I just wanted that. An ordinary teenaged existence, the kind that millions of other teenagers lived and took for granted, or worse, complained about. I just wanted one teenaged experience that was normal. Because mine had been anything but normal.
I started off down for the count, with two completely mismatched parents who scarcely communicated unless it was to fight. Oddly, it was almost a relief when Renee finally threw in the towel when I was eleven and left, taking me with her. I was sad to leave my dad, but not so sad to leave small, wet Forks, Washington behind. I was just beginning to realize that the world was bigger than my tiny hometown, and heading out into it with my mom seemed like a big adventure. The novelty of that wore off fast as my mother plunged into her brand new life with gusto, eager to experience everything, just as long as it was crazy, unorthodox and unexpected. She pulled me out of school for a year to backpack across the country, saying she'd "home-school" me for that year. Yeah, that meant that I pretty much taught myself what I needed to know so that I could pass the mandatory state exams. After that, I was done with my mom's crazy plans and schemes, although it would be several more years before they were done with me. We moved constantly, always off to pursue some great new idea, some amazing plan she had. For me, all that meant was that I had no friends and the only constant in my life was that nothing was constant.
By the time she met and married Phil, I was desperate to just plant myself someplace permanently. I wanted to go to class and hang with the friends I imagined I'd have and just be a teenager, like in the movies. Then the two of them started talking about "hitting the road" again, and I panicked, imagining spending my entire senior year home-schooling myself in the back of a van or something. In a fit of desperation, I called my dad and asked to move back in with him. He was surprised but happy, and before I knew it, I was back in Forks for my senior year.
Okay, so Forks was not the Chicago suburbs that John Hughes made famous. It was not a clean, orderly, tastefully upper-class neighborhood like in all those generic teen flicks. It was dank, and wet, and everyone wore way too much plaid. And my status as the daughter of the Chief of Police was not at all conducive to slipping seamlessly into the high school social pool. But I was determined to make the best of it. I didn't necessarily want to be popular. I was too shy and bookish for that to ever really happen. I just wanted to fit in and be normal. And so far, so good. I was living in a real house, with my own car(well, it was a ridiculously old, rusty truck, but that wasn't such a big deal around here), and I went to ordinary-sounding Forks High, home of the Fighting Spartans. I had school colors and a mascot! I was going to be a normal teenager and have all the rest of the normal senior year experiences, and I didn't care what I had to do to make that happen.
I got off to a pretty good start. Alice Brandon had been my best friend when I was in elementary school and she still lived in Forks. Even better, she had grown up to be cool and nice. She remembered me and was actually really excited that I'd moved back. Instant best friend. A best friend who knew everybody- even better. She was a little ruthlessly chipper, but she was genuine and fun, and after my earlier scattered, friendless teenaged years, she was exactly what I needed.
The first half of senior year went remarkably smoothly. Forks High was really tiny, and everyone had gone to school with each other since birth, so I was modestly popular on arrival, just due to the novelty factor. I hung out with Alice and was quickly absorbed into her little circle of friends. My weekends were usually busy; I participated in extracurricular activities, and I had sleepovers with other girls. The Normal High School Experience Plan was going off without a hitch.
The only thing really missing was a boyfriend. The thing about showing up senior year is that everybody had already passed through the giddy, hormonal, seeing-each-other-with-new-eyes phase and were now tidily paired off. Alice had Jasper, Angela had Ben, Jessica had Mike, Lauren had Tyler. And the problem I discovered with small schools was that the dating pool was woefully limited. Outside of my little group of friends, there weren't even any other boys in our school worth looking at. Well, that wasn't entirely true.
There was Edward Cullen.
He was definitely worth looking at. And I might have looked at him a lot.
He was my lab partner in Biology, and the first day that I walked in and was directed to the stool next to his, I thought I might just fall right back off my stool at the sight of him. He was tall; I could tell that just seeing him hunched over the table. He was beautiful; his face was like something out of a magazine and his hair was this artless, ruffled, auburn mess, kind of like a modern James Dean. He was cool; he lived in a beat-up leather jacket that oozed hip authenticity. He was smart; he had his nose buried in Finnegan's Wake that day, and I would come to find out he was always reading something brainy and not on the required reading list.
As soon as I saw Alice at lunch that day, I'd pressed for details. Yes, he was every bit as dreamy as he appeared, but she assured me that it was pointless to even think about him. He had a girlfriend, and she was actually in college! Okay, so just Port Angeles Community College, but she was reportedly beautiful, cool, and older, which just added to the Edward Cullen mystique. And he definitely had mystique. He'd lived in Forks for a year and a half and in all that time he hadn't really socialized with anybody at our school. He hung out with his girlfriend and her college friends in Port Angeles instead. That was practically unfathomable to everybody else, so people tended to give him a wide berth out of sheer intimidation. I was intimidated, too, at first. I was too nervous to even speak to him for weeks. And he didn't do anything to break the silence, so the two feet separating us might as well have been two miles.
Eventually the labs started up in class and we had to talk, at least enough to get through the projects. He turned out to be nice. Soft-spoken and not really chatty, but helpful enough and not at all scary. We didn't talk about anything personal, of course, so I still knew next to nothing about him, but at least I could ask him to pass the slide tray without blushing, so there was some progress. I nursed a ridiculous little crush on him, because, really…how could I not? But I never let it get serious or out of control. He had a girlfriend and even if he didn't, he was so….just…he was like another species. Not meant for us ordinary high school girls. It seemed a little ridiculous sometimes just to see him sitting in the same classes with the rest of us.
As senior year wore on, college applications went out, acceptance letters came back, and plans for the next year were made. Edward and I found out that we'd both be in Boston the following fall. Alice had accompanied me into Biology before the bell rang, chattering away about how Boston was only a train ride away from New York, where she'd be attending NYU, so wasn't it great that we could still spend weekends together? I'd started to agree, but then the warning bell rang and she shrieked and raced away to English. I smiled to myself and tucked my acceptance letter back into my notebook.
"You're headed to Boston?"
Edward's voice startled me, because he rarely started conversations. I looked over at his open, interested face and tried to dismiss the butterflies that sprang up whenever we spoke. Honestly, I was such a girl sometimes.
"Um, yeah. I got into Emerson. It was my first choice."
"Congratulations. It's a good school."
I was feeling bold, so after chewing on my lip for a second, I ventured my own question. "What about you? Where are you headed next year?" We'd been lab partners for four months. Surely it was okay for me to ask that?
He smiled, all crooked and glorious. "Boston Conservatory of Music. So we'll be neighbors."
My breath caught. Edward Cullen in the same city as me next year. Yeah, Edward, me, and 600,000 other people. I shook my head a little to bring myself back to earth and focused on the rest of his answer.
"You're a musician? I didn't know that."
He nodded, "I'm majoring in piano and composition."
"Wow. You must be really good."
He shrugged and looked back at his books. I felt like maybe I shouldn't push the conversation any further, since that was already the most personal information we'd ever exchanged and I didn't want to try my luck.
But that tiny exchange opened the gates a little. We started to talk about things outside of cell mutations. First it was just little things we'd both heard about Boston. We compared notes about the areas where our respective schools were located, about the transit system, how we were both excited and a little nervous about moving to such a big city. One day he casually slid a Boston guidebook across our table to me. He said he'd found it helpful and asked if I wanted to borrow it. I flushed with pleasure and held it to my chest all day.
Then we moved onto books. He was always reading and I was going to be an English major, so we actually had a lot in common on that count. We'd read a lot of the same books, although, like most guys, he was a little dismissive of my love of Austen and the Brontes, and I thought the Russian writers he liked were depressing. Still, it was nice to talk about that with him. It was nice talking about everything with him, even if half the time I was a flustered, nervous mess. He never seemed to notice, or if he did, he didn't seem to mind.
It made my crush flare a little brighter, but once or twice he casually mentioned the name of his college girlfriend and that always grounded me quickly enough. Not meant for me, I would remind myself. I told myself he was just one more piece of my Normal High School Experience. The hopeless crush on the school dreamboat. I seriously doubted I was the only one who had a thing for him. I told myself that at my ten year reunion, all the girls would laugh and bond over it- our crushes on the dreamy Edward Cullen.
The last major piece of my Normal High School Experience Plan was looming on the horizon: prom. It simply had to happen. I had to get the dress and the date and the corsage. I didn't care if the actual event sounded sort of lame and boring and was being held at the local V.F.W. hall. I'd been denied the trappings of a normal adolescence for too long and prom had come to symbolize all that was right and normal about being a teenager and I wanted it. Bad.
Alice was more than happy to help out with the dress part and then fate seemed to intervene to take care of the rest. Mike caught Jessica kissing Eric Yorkie in the girls' locker room at the Valentine's Dance and suddenly they were on the rocks. Jessica spent a week wailing and trying to get him back but Mike stood firm and held her off. Around that time, Alice might have casually mentioned to him that I still didn't have a date to prom. Maybe Mike was actually interested in me. After all, he'd only ever dated Jessica, so he was sure to be curious about what else was out there. Or maybe asking me to prom was just a great way to get back at her. Either way, we both got what we wanted, so I only wavered for a few seconds before I said yes. So Mike wasn't exactly what I'd pictured in the way of dream prom dates. But the auburn-haired Biology god I did picture was never in a million years going to ask me and was completely unavailable, so there was absolutely no point in passing up the perfectly good opportunity Mike was presenting me. Jess was furious for about a day, then Eric asked her and the world seemed to right itself again.
Okay, so I had a date to prom. All was going according to The Plan. My life as a normal American teenager was nearly perfect.
Then word filtered through the school that Edward might have broken up with his girlfriend. He wasn't friends with anyone in our school, so no one could confirm it for sure, but everything I witnessed led me to believe it was true. He was always quiet, but now he seemed positively withdrawn. And he was reading the darkest of the dark, Russian novels, which I took to mean he was unhappy.
He didn't even glance up from Crime and Punishment as I sat down at our table, Alice chattering at my elbow about our weekend shopping plans.
"So, Bella, there's this great store in Olympia that I think we have to visit before we make our final choice. I know Olympia is a long drive, but this is prom! We can't just settle for any old Port Angeles dress, right?"
I tore my eyes away from Edward's lovely profile to glance back at her. "What?"
She gave me her pointed stare. "Were you not listening? Olympia? On Saturday? Dress shopping? What do you say?"
"Oh…right. Yeah, that sounds great."
"Yay!" she hopped a little. "Oh, and Mike is talking to Jasper about renting a limo for us! This is going to be so much fun!"
I smiled and tried to feel as excited as she clearly was. And I was excited. Really. It would be fun. Prom dress shopping. Fun.
The warning bell rang, catching Alice by surprise as it always did, and she fled the room in a panic.
"So you're really going to prom with Newton?"
I spun to look at Edward, who was glancing up sideways from his book. I hadn't even been aware that he'd been listening to any of that.
"Um, yeah. He asked me a few weeks ago."
"Yeah. I might have heard something about that. It's just…"
When he didn't continue, I prompted him, "Just what?"
He shrugged off-handedly, keeping his eyes on his book. "I didn't think prom would really be your thing. It just didn't seem like something you'd be into."
I looked down at my hands for a second while I tried to think about how to respond to that. "It's…I guess it's not. It's just…I didn't have a lot of normal teenaged experiences growing up. I'm just tired of missing out on that stuff. Even the lame parts." I flinched and squeezed my eyes shut in embarrassment. "That sounds really stupid when I say it out loud."
I took a peek at him out of the corner of my eye. One side of his mouth was hitched up in a soft little smile that made my insides tingle. "No, it's not stupid. I get it. I hope you guys have a really good time."
"Thanks," I muttered. "Mike's a really nice guy."
Edward just nodded, with no expression, and looked back to his book. But it was the first time he'd willingly spoken in weeks, so I felt like I wanted to press him a little.
"Are you okay? Just that lately you seem really…"
He lifted his head to look at me and the dark look in his eyes made me quit talking mid-sentence. His good humor from just a moment ago had abruptly vanished.
"I'm fine," he said, shortly, sounding anything but fine. I don't know what possessed me to keep talking, but I did.
"Because I heard that you and Heidi might be having problems, and…"
He chuckled without humor, shaking his head. "You heard that, huh? But we're a long way past the 'having problems' phase. We broke up a while ago."
Oh. A while ago. It seemed odd that it had been a while and yet he was only now getting down about it. Well, maybe he missed her.
"It's just that you seem kind of down. If…I don't know….I know we're not really friends, but if there was anything you needed, just…you know…" I waved my hand absently, sorry now that I'd said anything. I sounded like such a moron.
Edward's head snapped up again as he looked closely at me. "I think we're friends," he said softly.
All I could do for a minute was to stare back at him, trying to think of any words at all to string together into a coherent sentence. When I said nothing, he looked back at his book and shook his head, muttering almost to himself, "I'm leaving in the fall anyway. The Heidi thing worked out for the best in the end, I guess."
"It still doesn't make it easy." There. Words… I spoke words. And I even sort of made sense and said something appropriate. "If you want to talk or anything, you can."
He looked back at me again and finally smiled, a little sadly. "Thanks. That's really nice of you, Bella."
He said my name. Edward Cullen said my name. I tried to ignore the flash of heat in my chest when he did that. Stupid, silly girl. Just because he broke up with Heidi still doesn't mean you have a chance in hell. He's still Edward and just as much out of reach as he ever was, no matter how nice he is to you.
I turned back to my book and tried desperately to squelch down the fluttering butterflies in my stomach. Edward went back to his book and we didn't talk any more that day.
But the exchange seemed to have thawed him a little and our usual conversations started back up after that. We'd talk more about Boston and our plans for the fall. We never hinted in any way that we'd ever encounter each other in Boston. The very idea seemed ludicrous. But just the idea that someone I knew even a little bit would be in the same city as me in the fall made the prospect less terrifying.
He also opened up a little bit about Heidi. I didn't know anything about her, but apparently they'd started dating when he first moved to Forks and she was a senior in high school in Port Angeles. Edward said things had started to get rocky a few months after she'd started college. He'd tried to be there as often as possible, but it was inevitable that she'd started to live a life away from him and they'd grown distant. He told me that one day he was trying to smooth over yet another disagreement with her and suddenly had to ask himself why he was bothering. He found that he didn't even really care if they kept dating. Somewhere along the line, he'd moved on and hadn't even realized it. And so he'd broken it off and they'd gone their separate ways.
He seemed fine about her, really. In our short conversations, he never seemed bitter or hurt, so I wasn't sure where his dark mood was coming from. Because there was no doubt about it; he was still in a funk. He seemed happier in our short interactions while we did our labs in class, but when I saw him around school, he was even more withdrawn than usual. I wanted to reach out to him outside of Biology class, but somehow, whenever I saw him I was surrounded by other people, or even worse, Mike would be trailing me around. I was starting to worry about the whole prom date thing, as he now seemed to think it meant something more than I thought it did. I had no idea how to handle that situation, so I decided I'd worry about it if and when it came up.
Prom night. It was finally here.
Well, prom day was there first, because it was an all-day event. I went over to Alice's and we spent hours getting ready. She set my hair in these big, fat rollers all afternoon while we plucked and shaved and groomed ourselves to perfection. Alice did my makeup first and then her own, and then we helped each other with our hair. Alice actually did most of the work, since I was nothing but thumbs when it came to that sort of thing. But I held the mirror so she could see the back of her head while she worked, so I guess that counted.
Carefully, we arranged ourselves into our various specially purchased undergarments and dresses. Alice's was an adorable black sequined mini-dress that only she could pull off. Mine was dusty blue silk chiffon, strapless, with a soft full skirt that fell to mid-calf. It looked like something out of one of those old 30's movies with Ginger Rogers. Too bad I couldn't dance like Ginger Rogers. Hell, I'd settle for dancing like Mr. Rogers, if I could, but even that was beyond me.
But I'd handle the dancing however I had to, just as long as I got this; my perfect prom experience. So far, so good. I felt like a princess in my dress, I actually liked my makeup and hair, and my date was on his way over in the limo to pick me up. Alice was flitting all over the bathroom, touching up her makeup and hair, while I fastened the back on my little silver chandelier earrings when we heard the bell ring downstairs.
Alice clapped her hands like a little kid and seized my hand to drag me downstairs to meet the boys. Jasper and Mike were standing in the entry way talking to Alice's mom. Well, Jasper was talking. Mike was leaning against the wall, which I thought was kind of odd. Jasper looked up and caught sight of Alice and his whole face lit up. Mike didn't look up. Mike looked nearly asleep. What the hell was his problem?
We got to the bottom of the stairs and joined them and as soon as I reached Mike's side, I knew what his problem was. He reeked of alcohol.
"Are you drunk?" I hissed as Alice's mom ran to get the camera.
He huffed and waved a dismissive hand. "I had a few while I was getting dressed. You know, to start the night off right!"
I rolled my eyes and was about to lay into him for doing something so stupid, but Alice's mom was back with the camera, so I did my best to steer him in a straight line to the fireplace for pictures. He threw an arm around my shoulders and leaned heavily on me. I managed to brace him against the mantle and he looked more or less upright. At least Alice's mom didn't seem to notice anything amiss.
"What's wrong with him?" Alice whispered between our stilted poses.
"Ugh, he's drunk!"
"Mike Newton, you are such an asshole! Don't you dare ruin our night!"
Mike winced in the face of Alice's wrath, and I think that's what kept him in line as long as we were at her house. He managed to make it through putting the corsage on my wrist and posing for a few pictures without doing anything overtly embarrassing. Alice cut the picture-taking short after just a few minutes, which I was grateful for, and I was able to get Mike out to the limo without incident.
Once we were in the back he relaxed a little and slung his arm around my shoulders. I flinched and tried to pull away.
"Oh, lighten up, Bella!" he slurred, his breath hot against the side of my face. "It's a party! I'm just having a little fun!"
"Well, if you get busted, I'm screwed and so are you! Do you not remember who my dad is? You'd better not ruin tonight for me, that's all I'm saying."
The reminder of my dad and his legal right to carry and discharge firearms sobered Mike for the moment and the rest of the short ride to prom was tense, but otherwise uneventful.
The Forks V.F.W. hall dated from the early 70's and it was really run-down. The gravel parking lot was already filled with an assortment of beat-up used cars, interspersed with a few newer models borrowed from parents for the occasion. I tried to summon a little enthusiasm and not think too hard about how sweaty Mike's hand was as he took mine and led me inside. He made his way unsteadily down the hall towards the ticket table with Alice and Jasper trailing behind us. The inside of the hall had been lavishly draped with crepe paper streamers, and was lit with colored lights and a disco ball, but it did little to hide the scratched, wood-paneled walls or the scuffed tan linoleum floor.
This night, which I'd looked forward to with such eager anticipation for so long, was shaping up to be just shabby and a little sad. Even the too-loud music playing on the crappy sound system was some generic girly pop song that I hated. Alice was beside herself, however, literally hopping up and down at my side, clapping her hands in delight.
"It's so pretty!" she shrieked. "Right?"
I smiled and nodded, eyebrows raised in disbelief. Not exactly my thoughts, but this was prom, damn it. I was going to suck it up and have fun if it killed me. Alice seized Jasper's hand and started yanking him after her into the room.
"Let's dance, Jazz!"
He just smiled and shook his head, allowing himself to be hauled out on the dance floor by his tiny, over-excited girlfriend. I watched them go longingly, wondering what the hell Mike and I were supposed to do now.
At that moment, the crowd on the dance floor shifted a little and I caught a glimpse of Jessica dancing with Eric across the room. I heard Mike groan softly and he turned away. I turned to do something, comfort him or reassure him, and caught him tipping a small silver flask up and taking a long pull off it.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? Put that away before you get caught!"
"Chill the fuck out, Bella," he snorted, stashing the flask back in the pocket of his tux jacket. "Listen, do you want to dance?"
I huffed angrily, but finally nodded. I was here, committed to spend the evening with him, even if right now I'd rather be anywhere else. At least I could try to make the best of it. After all, what good are memories of senior prom if I never even danced?
Mike led me out on the dance floor and we awkwardly gyrated along to the next horrid song for a few minutes, Mike looking flushed and sweaty the whole time. Jessica and Eric appeared a few feet away, Eric pressed up against Jessica as she ground herself all over his junk like a stripper on a pole. I was making a face and gagging a little to myself when suddenly I felt Mike's arm clamp down around my waist and I was pressed firmly up against him. He was breathing hard, and the smell of liquor almost made me sick. He was dancing again. Well, I suppose it was dancing. Mostly he was just jerking without rhythm up against my body, and it was really creeping me out. Then I felt his pelvis grind against mine and instinctively I shoved back away from him.
"Cut it out!" I nearly shouted.
"Bella, it's just dancing! Relax, already!" he smiled creepily at me.
Thankfully the song ended just then and something slow started. I turned and started to leave the dance floor, thinking sitting quietly at a table for a few minutes might help Mike to sober up a little. Then his hand closed around my wrist and he was pulling me back into his embrace.
"Come on and dance some more," he mumbled into my shoulder. I wanted to pull away but then I caught sight of Alice curled happily into Jasper's shoulder, giving me a big, blissful thumb's up and I sighed, acquiescing to one gross slow dance with Mike Newton. Tonight was turning out to suck, rather epically. But I didn't want to spoil it for Alice by throwing a big fit or getting into a public fight with Mike, so I decided to suck it up and pretend it was fine. Ten years from now, I'd have a picture of me at the prom with a boy looking entirely normal and that would have to be enough.
Mike swayed so slowly against me that I worried for a minute that he might have fallen asleep on me. Then we caught sight of Jessica and Eric dancing nearby, Eric practically feeling her up as they moved, and Mike snapped back to attention. I wanted to be irritated by his bullshit, by the fact that he was here with me and still so obviously hung-up on his ex-girlfriend. But I knew when he asked me that it was just a knee-jerk reaction to Jessica's cheating, and I had jumped at the invitation anyway. So I decided that I didn't really have a lot of room to get pissy. Wasn't I using him, too?
That was when I felt his hands clamp down over my ass and I changed my mind. I had every right to get pissy. I shoved him back and stepped away.
"I need something to drink," I muttered, turning and leaving the dance floor. I hid in the bathroom for a while, sitting on a closed toilet and feeling sorry for myself. It was only nine, I noticed, wondering just how long I could be expected to stick this out. If I knew Alice, she'd want to stay out till dawn.
With a tired groan, I stood and left the stall. I washed my hands and left the bathroom, heading out to track down my date. I found him slumped at a table, barely coherent, just watching Jessica and Eric out on the dance floor. Reaching inside his jacket, I fished the flask out before he was even aware of what I was up to. I'd been intending to pitch it in the trash before he could drink any more, but I was too late. It was empty.
"Mike Newton, you are such a fucking asshole! You're wasted!"
He just nodded miserably and I huffed, crossing my arms over my chest in fury. Looking down at him, I noticed he was distinctly green around the gills. Damn. If he threw up, the chaperones would be on to him for sure. I couldn't bear the thought of my dad getting that phone call. I had to get him out of here immediately.
"Stay put!" I barked at him, "Understand?"
He looked startled but he didn't say a word. He just nodded. I slipped out onto the dance floor, looking for Alice. I found her and leaned down to shout in her ear over the blaring music.
"Mike's about to hurl. I have to get him out of here. I'll send the limo back for you guys."
Her face fell. "But Bella, it's prom!"
"Really, Alice, my night's kind of ruined. I'm just going to dump him out at his house and go home."
"Do you want me to come?" she asked. I could hear the disappointment in her voice.
"No way, Alice. There's no reason for your night to get ruined, too."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. I'll be fine."
"I'll call you tomorrow," she promised, gripping my hand. "We'll go do something fun to make up for tonight."
I smiled at her and hugged her fiercely before I turned back to retrieve my drunken pile of date.
Mike could barely even walk when I got back to him. I really didn't want to touch him, but there was no way I could get him out of here without being noticed if I didn't. So I hooked his arm over my shoulder and put mine around his waist and steered us out of the hall. We looked like any horny high school couple looking to sneak off someplace private to make out. That thought made me nauseous.
Finally I had him dumped into the back of the limo and I'd managed to get him to tell the driver his address. Mike kept up a steady stream of conversation after that, but it was entirely comprised of drunken ramblings about Jessica and how much he still loved her and how badly he wanted her back, so I just crossed my arms over my waist and stared out the window, ignoring him.
We were half way to his place when he moaned piteously.
"Fuck, I'm gonna hurl," he muttered.
"Pull over!" I shouted.
"Where?" the driver shouted back.
"That gas station! Hurry, or you'll be hosing vomit out of the back of this thing tomorrow!"
The limo careened into the parking lot of Forks' only all-night gas station and Mike staggered out of the back. I scrambled out after him as he reached the edge of the lot and started heaving. The overhead fluorescent lights illuminating the pumps flickered sickly, adding to the misery of the moment. As I stood there watching Mike's heaving back, idly poking at a crushed fast-food drink cup with the toe of my silver shoe, I contemplated just how far from ideal tonight was shaping up to be. If it wasn't my life, if it wasn't happening right this very second to me, I might have laughed at what an epic clusterfuck the night had become. Instead, I just wanted to cry. In a fit of rage, I ripped Mike's corsage off my wrist and with a furious growl of frustration, I flung it into the darkness bordering the parking lot.
At the sound of my name, I spun around. Edward Cullen was leaning against the side of his shiny silver car, one hand on the gas nozzle, looking at me with a horrified expression. I flushed at how awful this must look; me standing in this gross, greenish light in my sad blue prom dress while my date was doubled over puking his guts out. And Edward Cullen was here to witness my humiliation. My night of failure and mortification was now complete. Fuck my life.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Edward snapped.
"Um, Mike's not feeling too good," I muttered, hooking a thumb at him as he wretched again. The sounds of his vomiting echoed in the mostly- empty parking lot.
"Aren't you supposed to be at the prom?" Edward asked, finishing pumping his gas and screwing the gas cap back on.
"We were," I sighed. "But I have to get Mike home. He's not going to make it."
Mike heaved again. Edward looked hard at him and straightened up abruptly. "Is he drunk?"
"Yeah, but don't say anything, okay? I don't want my dad to find out. I'm just going to get him home and let him sleep it off."
"But what about you?" he asked, taking a half-step in my direction.
"What about me?"
"Well, it's your prom," he pressed, his eyebrows drawn together. "I know tonight was important to you."
I closed my eyes and scoffed loudly. "Yeah, well, I'm over it. Tonight pretty much sucked. Mike's still hung up on Jessica and had to get wasted just to be in the same room with her. It's my own fault. I knew he liked her when he asked me and I didn't even care about him. I was just so desperate for a date, I would have said yes to anybody. So I guess I had this coming. It was stupid to build prom up to be some big thing. I thought it was supposed to be kind of magical and wonderful. Instead, it was just a lame dance in some ugly hall with a gross, drunk boy hanging all over me. Stupid, stupid me. I should have known better than to expect anything in my life to be even the tiniest bit magical."
I snapped my jaw shut as I realized that I'd just unleashed that whole ridiculous diatribe out loud. To Edward Cullen. Oh, God, why couldn't this parking lot just open up and swallow me whole? It couldn't possibly make tonight any worse. Edward was just standing there, staring at me, expressionless.
"Um, forget I said all of that. Way too much information," I chuckled humorlessly. "Look, I have to get Mike home."
"Wait…what will you do after that?" Edward finally snapped himself out of his silence. No doubt he was worried I would hurt myself after that emo-girl angst I just unleashed all over him. I could feel myself blushing furiously in humiliation. I was desperate to escape.
"I'm going to have the limo drop me at home and then send it back for Alice and Jasper. No sense in ruining their night, too," I mumbled. "See you later, Edward."
"Yeah…okay," he said softly, "Later."
Mike was still bent over and groaning, but no longer expelling anything, so I shoved him roughly towards the open back door of the limo. He moaned, but complied, collapsing into the back seat and curling into a ball. The driver started moving as soon as I slammed the door, no doubt desperate to unload us before tonight got any worse.
When we got to Mike's house, I thought about trying to help him inside, so I could make up some lie about food poisoning for him or something. But then I remembered the ass-grab and I decided to leave him to face the wrath of his parents on his own. He had it coming. I just waited long enough to see him get the front door open before giving the driver my address and slumping down into my seat for the ride home.
The limo deposited me on my front lawn just a few minutes later and peeled out. The house was dark. Charlie was down at LaPush watching the game with Billy and wouldn't be home for hours. The thought of going in to that dark house alone, changing out of my dress and into my pajamas, turning on the TV… it all left me feeling hopelessly morose. Like stepping foot back inside, alone, at ten p.m. on prom night would be officially declaring my high school fantasies dead and buried. While I still stood here outside, all dressed up, somehow it wasn't quite over.
So I slowly lowered myself onto the top porch step, wrapping my arms around myself to ward off the chill. At least it wasn't raining tonight, too. I guess I should be grateful for small favors at this point. The night was actually remarkably clear for Forks, and only a little chilly. Maybe I would just sit here on my front steps until prom would have been over anyway. Pathetic, yes, but no more pathetic than watching some dismal chick-flick on cable in my pj's, eating ice cream while my classmates laughed and danced and kissed under the twinkling lights across town. No, I would just sit here for a while, I decided, if for no other reason than to get a little more use out of this dress. I really did like the dress. It was too bad pretty much no one got a decent look at it.
I was resting my chin on my knees, twisting the edge of my skirt over my fingertips when I heard it; a car coming down our street. Forks was a really small town, and very quiet at night. There were only three other houses on our street. Everybody's cars were already in their driveways and the houses were dark. And that didn't sound like my dad's police cruiser.
As I picked my head up to look, a small shiny silver car rounded the curve in front of my house and turned into our driveway.
Edward Cullen's car.
I sat up, fully alert, as he came to a stop. In the dark of my front yard, I could just make him out behind the wheel, gripping it in both hands, head down. Then he drew a deep breath, like he was steeling himself for something, and stepped out of the car. He left it running, with the headlights still on.
He'd changed clothes since I saw him at the gas station an hour ago. Now he was wearing a suit. And holding a daisy.
I shook my head a little in confusion, trying to make sense of what was happening, trying to think of any reason at all for Edward Cullen to be standing in my front yard all dressed up and holding a flower that looked like he'd ripped it out of someone's flower bed. I couldn't come up with a single one.
"Hey," he finally said.
"Hey," I returned, barely audible. I swallowed hard. "Wh-what are you doing here?"
He smiled awkwardly and shrugged. "It's prom night. I thought…." he trailed off and reached up to rub the back of his neck. Then he raked his hand through his hair nervously. "I didn't want your night to be ruined. So I thought…."
I stood up quickly. "You came here for me?"
He took a few steps closer. "Yeah. You seemed so upset earlier. So I thought I would come over here and take you back to the prom. If you want."
"You want to take me to the prom?"
"Yeah. It's your big night. And I know it's sucked so far, but that asshole Newton shouldn't be allowed to ruin your night. Not when it means so much to you."
I looked down at my feet and took a deep breath, trying to get my bearings. On the one hand, it was incredible that Edward had come here to do this. It made me feel all warm and fluttery inside. On the other, how pathetic must I have looked at the gas station if he felt so bad he'd needed to do this for me? As touched as I was, and as excited as I was that he was here, I didn't really want to be the object of his pity, however well-meaning.
"That's really, really nice of you, Edward. But the night's pretty much a bust already. I don't want to go back. This is an amazing thing for you to do, but you didn't have to come all the way over here just to rescue me from this disaster--"
"I didn't come just for you," he said quickly, cutting me off. "I came for me, too."
He inhaled deeply before he spoke again. "I was going to ask you out. I wanted to ask you out. Then I heard that Mike had asked you to prom and you seemed so happy….I thought you wanted to go out with him. If I had known how important prom was to you, I would have asked you myself, but I didn't think you'd want to. And then Mike--"
"I didn't want to go out with Mike," I said, cutting him off this time. "I just…I had this stupid idea about prom. Like my high school experience wouldn't be complete without it. And I just said yes because he asked. It wasn't about Mike- it was about the stupid dance."
He finally smiled, all crooked and glorious, in the way that always made me melt. I was melting now because if I wasn't out of my mind, I was pretty sure Edward Cullen just confessed that he liked me. I couldn't even really process that yet, so I just stayed focused on his face, on his words, not wanting to miss a second of this.
"Yeah, I caught that at the gas station earlier tonight."
I blushed at the memory of my angry ranting. "Just forget that happened. It doesn't matter anymore."
He scowled and walked forward, stopping at the bottom of the porch steps, two below me. "It does matter. It mattered to you and that asshole ruined it for you. Let me fix it."
He hesitated, then held up the daisy. "Corsages are scarce in Forks at this time of night. This was the best I could do."
I had to laugh at the sad little daisy he held up, even though in that moment, it was the most perfect flower I had ever seen. I took it from him and twirled it in my fingers. "I love it," I whispered.
"So?" he looked up at me expectantly.
"I really don't want to go back. The whole thing, the stupid V.F.W. hall, the ugly decorations, the bad music…the night was a lot less than magical even before Mike put the cherry on top and drunkenly groped my ass."
"He did what?"
I shook my head quickly, "Never mind, it was nothing. He was trying to get a rise out of Jessica. Ancient history that I'd really rather forget."
He took a deep breath, "Okay, then. The Forks prom failed to be magical. You still deserve your night. C'mon."
Edward held his hand out to me and I slipped mine into it. His fingers closed around mine and I felt a flush of warmth all the way up through my chest at the contact. I stepped down off the porch and followed him to the car. He let go of my hand to lean inside. He fished through the glove box for a second before producing a CD and slipping it into the stereo. He cranked up the sound and classical music, something soft and lyrical that I didn't recognize, filled the night.
Straightening back up, he turned to face me, smiling hesitantly. "Do you want to dance?"
"Yeah, here. Why not?" he smiled. "It's dark, there are lighting effects," he waved at the headlights still illuminating my front yard, "there's music, and there's us. Let's dance."
I couldn't keep the ridiculous grin off my face as I took the hand he offered and he led me around to the front of the car. Edward turned to face me then, and tentatively reached a hand out to my waist. I swallowed down the butterflies threatening to overwhelm me and took a step closer to him. The rest seemed to happen by instinct. His arm slid around my waist, his hand adjusted around my hand, I came to rest nestled up against his chest like I was meant to be there. And then we were dancing, me and Edward, lit up by his headlights, the music floating up out of the car, the stars, clear and bright for once, splashed across the sky over our heads. This…this was my magic moment, and it had nothing to do with crepe paper and watery punch and corsages and prom.
Edward's body was warm as it curled around me, and his hands were firm where they held me close. He was looking down at me as I looked up at him, our faces just a few inches apart. I was in danger of losing my mind entirely, but I made myself focus.
"So, were you really going to ask me out?"
He grinned, that smile that made me melt, and it was all for me, which made me even meltier. "Yes, I was. I…ah, after I broke up with Heidi, I wanted to. We talked and I was trying to figure out if you might like me, too, or if you were just talking to me because we were both going to Boston in the fall."
"I liked you," I said quickly.
"I'm getting that now," he murmured. "So, how's your night shaping up now?"
"This is so much better than any stupid prom," I sighed.
"I guess the non-traditional can be good, too?"
"Tradition is completely overrated. Who needs it?" I smiled. He chuckled softly and tightened his grip on me. I felt a flood of warmth down to my toes.
"There is one prom night tradition that I wouldn't mind hanging on to, though," he said, tipping his head down closer to mine.
"What's that?" I said, sounding a little breathless. Because I was completely breathless.
"I might be mistaken, but I think you usually get to kiss your date on prom night."
"You do?" my voice sounded high and tight, like I was on helium. But I didn't care because Edward Cullen was about to kiss me and nothing else on the planet mattered more than that right now.
"Mmm-hmmm," he hummed. Then he let go of my hand so that he could cup my chin. I angled my face up a little further and his lips met mine. They were so soft, full and just a little bit strong, as he caressed my mouth with his. His lips opened, mine did, too. And then there was his tongue, tentatively touching mine, and I thought I might explode on the spot. It wasn't a long kiss; he didn't push the advantage he clearly had. He just kissed me, slow and gentle and devastating, before pulling his face back minutely, resting his forehead on mine.
Still we danced. Well, we swayed, moving slowly back and forth in front of his car, under the stars, eyes closed, holding on tight.
"Bella?" he finally whispered.
"I'm sorry that high school was such a disappointment for you. But I can promise you one thing."
"College is going to be amazing."
I smiled and so did he, before his lips found mine again.
He was right. High school sucked. I spent so much time obsessed with trying to perfect this inherently imperfect experience that was just a fleeting moment of my life anyway. I had a future, a whole life to live. And I was going to live it, far away, on the other side of the country, in college…with Edward.
Screw high school.