Texts from Last Night Contest

account name: faite-comme-moi

Title: Upcycling

Pairing: Edward x Bella, Alice x Jasper

Rating: M

Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of and no copyright infringement is intended. The material in this story may not be suitable for readers under 16 years old.

To read more entries in the contest please visit:

http : // www dot fanfiction dot net / community/ Texts_ From_ Last_ Night_ Contest / 79665

BELLA

"Over here, Alice!" Spotting her exiting a tiny clothing shop across the street, I beckoned my friend to sit beside me on the hard metal bench. Slipping off one shoe, I wondered again how I ever let her talk me out of wearing my ballet flats when I knew we'd be walking for hours.

"They're low heels, Bella. Low heels." Alice had reasoned before allowing me to leave my apartment. "They give you the panache you need to approach these shop owners with confidence. You have the sales pitch down solid, we've got a strong product but it's important that your appearance be as professional as possible. You can never make another first impression you know. A sale is made or lost in the first 30 seconds of conversation. In those shoes you're the total package."

Alice endured a lot of teasing about her fashion sense but she had the education to back it up. An MBA in Marketing meant that Alice was one of the sharpest arbiters of public opinion I'd ever met. She only wanted to help me be successful.

At that moment on the bench, however, I judged low heels to be the modern equivalent of Chinese foot binding.

"Alice, remind me to stop listening to you when it comes to shoes." I called ruefully to my approaching friend, carefully massaging my cramped toes."Did you have any better luck in that store? What did they have to say?"

Returning my smile, she sighed resignedly, managing to land gracefully beside me. Only Alice could seem to waft onto a bench, whereas I usually looked like a sack of potatoes hurtling itself toward the closest flat surface. "They said the same things the last four store owners said. 'How many units have you sold on your own? 'Our clientele is very particular about their image as individuals'." Alice mimicked the arrogant tones we had endured all afternoon. "This last manager actually sneered at me when I brought up the possibility of consignment."

Draping my arm around my dearest friend's shoulders, I rested my head against hers. Her touch was exactly the consoling, grounding comfort I needed at that moment to soothe my frazzled nerves. "This is pretty depressing. I was so sure that we'd be able to interest someone in our purses. They're perfect for this demographic."

"Of course they are. Now we just need to convince one of these boutique managers how perfect they are." Alice patted my knee, signaling that we were about to start moving again. "No time for moping. Instead, we are going to march ourselves into that coffee shop over there, order something large and caffeinated, and strategize our tiny heinys off."

~xXx~

Fifteen minutes later I'm sitting across a café table from my closest friend, my feet curled contentedly beneath me in a comfortably overstuffed armchair. Complain all you want about overpriced coffee shops; they sure know how to decorate with comfort. My feet were reveling in it. Of course, Alice looked as fresh as when we had started out, four hours earlier. I'm certain that I didn't look as bedraggled as I felt but Alice could have run a marathon and never show the wear.

Sipping on a decaf chai latte (it occurred to both of us as we placed our order that caffeine was probably not a good choice for either one of us) I exhaled loudly, causing Alice to giggle. Alice has a light, musical laugh that is dangerously contagious to me. As a result, I found myself giggling in return and, before many minutes had passed, we were both overcome by hysterics. It felt so good to laugh that all of the afternoon's disappointment seemed to wash away with our maniacal tears.

"Phew! You know what, Ali? We're not going to let a little opposition get the best of us. We are two dynamic ladies with an amazing product and we're going to continue to believe in ourselves!" Laughing seemed to have expelled most of the dejection I had felt when we sat down.

"That's my girl! All of those know-it-alls who turned us down today are going to kick themselves in the ass when our purses get hot."

Feeling substantially better about the future, we quietly discussed our business plan for the next half hour. Alice and I were a two-person operation manufacturing a line of purses from repurposed materials. Both of us were passionate about the environment and, after college, felt that we could put our education into action by creating accessories from materials that would otherwise have gone into a landfill. Once I found that the purses only required a simple zigzag stitch on a heavy duty sewing machine, I was all in. Even I could use a sewing machine.

Finding buyers for our purses proved more difficult than anticipated.

At some point during our strategy session our conversation lapsed. Both of us were apparently preoccupied with our own thoughts, content for the time being to silently enjoy the moment and each other's company.

I was abruptly startled out of my reverie by Alice's loud gasp. "Bella!" she breathed, grabbing my arm for emphasis. "We've been doing this all wrong!"

I was still too tired to muster the mental effort necessary to determine what we had botched. "There are way too many things that we've probably been doing wrong, Alice. Which one are we talking about exactly?"

"Our purses, silly! This whole time, we've been trying to convince people that our purses are the hot new thing. What is the one thing hipsters hate the most?" Alice's face reflected the awe she was experiencing in her economic epiphany.

"Umm…the hot new thing?"

"Yes! If anyone thinks it's even remotely hot, this crowd will label it 'mainstrem' and avoid it like the plague."

My forehead ached; I could feel how deeply my brow had furrowed, at concentrating so hard on following Alice's logic. "So…we need to convince them our purses are total crap? I'm pretty sure I'm not following you."

"No, no…instead of waiting for someone else to make our purses hot, we need to do it ourselves." Alice looked at me expectantly, as if she had just provided the solution to world hunger and was waiting for my approval.

I couldn't help it; Alice looked so perfectly serious as she made that revelation that she provoked a fresh round of giggles from me. "This whole time I thought you were drinking decaf. You're holding a cocktail there, aren't you? Are you carrying vodka in your bag again?" I accused l lightheartedly.

"Laugh it up, Bella; I'm serious. Take a look at those three girls standing by the dry cleaner on the corner. Tell me what you see."

"I see three girls who think they look pretty cool and actually are much cooler than I will ever be. Ali, no one will ever mistake me for a fashionista."

"That's total crap but we don't have time to argue that point right now. But 'think they're cool' is exactly my point. They're a mutual admiration society; clones of each other reinforcing their own good taste. What makes it even better is that they claim to be the only ones who have opinions worth valuing."

"You mean the only opinions they respect are each other's?" The longer my best friend talked, the easier it was to see how similarly the girls were dressed. All though all three would heatedly insist that they had individual tastes and dressed to please themselves, each one wore dark, second-skin jeans, graphic tees with ironic or witty slogans and carried striped canvas bags. And Chucks, of course. "I know I'm going to regret asking this; how do you propose we convince them that they think we're trendy? Or, I guess we'd have to convince them that they're anti-trendy."

"We'll go hang out at all the places they hang out. If they think we're one of them, once they see our purses the product will sell itself." Alice shrugged matter-of-factly, as if everything she said was painfully obvious.

I must have a poor sense of the obvious.

Despite Alice's confidence and the long experience I had in trusting her hunches, I was still reluctant to go along her current proposal. "You know what a terrible liar I am, Alice. This could only turn out badly."

She grabbed my hands, probably hoping that some of her enthusiasm would be transferred by touch. "The beauty is that you're not going to be lying. You and I are going to have a much deserved, fun evening out and enjoy ourselves, while at the same time talking about the high quality, green, sustainable product we both know our purses to be."

"I don't think I'm ready for guerilla marketing yet, Ali. Even if I was, I'm not sure if either one of us could act douchey enough to pass as one of them. Let's give one more shop a try before resorting to going underground."

My face must have communicated my desperation because Alice looked at me thoughtfully for a long moment before agreeing with a quick nod and a reassuring smile. "Sure, Bella. Let's hit the street again."

~xXx~

EDWARD

It had been a long afternoon in the middle of a long week in what was turning into the longest month of my life. I had exited a five-year relationship at the beginning of the month and was engulfed in the disorientation of being suddenly single again. I was happy to be clear of the relationship; that was never in question. I had yet to rediscover my equilibrium as a single man, however. My identity was no longer part of 'we' but consisted now of only 'me'. It was taking an unexpectedly large effort to become reacquainted with being self-sufficient.

Work had been my refuge, rescuing me from the deafening quiet of my apartment. I interacted with the public just enough to prevent me from feeling lonely. I was able to use my Wharton business degree to help my cousin Jane, I mean Irina, pull her Williamsburg boutique into profitability. My cousin's given name was Jane but she insisted that I call her Irina, claiming that it sounded more ethnic and bohemian. I couldn't have cared less about whatever street 'cred' she thought that name earned her. I would have gladly called her Jezebel if she wished, I was so grateful to her for providing a distraction from my personal life. I just needed something to occupy my time and my mind.

The lack of foot traffic that day had done nothing to distract me from my pervasive pensiveness. I had already balanced yesterday's receipts, identified the items which needed to be placed on clearance before passing the break-even point and updated all of the spreadsheets I maintained to keep a tight accounting of the shop's inventory.

Lifting my head, a smile already in place, I prepared to great our customer as the front door chimed her arrival. The woman was well-groomed, possibly a little too much so given our patrons' love of vintage clothing. The truly astonishing aspect, however, was her size. She was easily the tiniest grown woman I had ever seen. In fact, I had assumed at first glance that she was an adolescent looking for a lost parent.

"Good afternoon", she called gaily. "How has the day treated you so far?"

I was astonished that this tiny woman didn't speak in a helium-balloon high voice.

"Well enough, so far. It's been a little slow for my liking."

About that time I noticed the large mesh bag draped over her shoulder. Although I couldn't see the contents clearly, it seemed to be quite full. I groaned inwardly at the sight, judging her to be some sort of street vendor. A very chicly dressed street vendor, but someone out to sell me something nonetheless.

Shaking my hand with a firm grip, quite firm considering her stature, she smiled winningly before introducing herself.

"My name is Alice Brandon; please call me Alice. I'm here to offer you the option of being the sole vendor of one of the hottest trends in green products. My partner and I manufacture a line of purses that are attractive enough to be carried in high end department stores but are made from repurposed materials, making them an attractive alternative to the petroleum based products sold in most stores."

As she launched into her sales pitch, Alice withdrew a snap-clutch style handbag from her large sack. The color scheme spoke of vintage 60's and 70's brights combined with a 1950's classic triangular shape. It looked like nothing I'd seen before.

"If the quality if so high-end, why aren't you marketing to department stores?"

"We're a two-man shop so we'd have a hard time filling a department store quota. Besides which, we feel like our product appeals to more of a niche market. The type of customer that frequents stores such as your own." She smiled disarmingly at me again.

I was taking her proposal much too seriously for my liking. Leaning against a display, I tried to maintain the upper hand in the conversation.

"Well, Alice; as persuasive as you are I'm only the manager here. The store owner is the one who makes inventory decisions and she'll be out until Monday."

I'm not certain how she mistook my comment for encouraging but Alice's face broke into an even more radiant smile. "I'd be happy to leave a sample for your owner's evaluation. I could come by Monday afternoon to discuss our business arrangement."

"I'm not certain that…"

Alice cut through my demurring with the rapier-sharp reflexes of a predator to the kill. "Recommending our merchandise to the owner would show your value to her, how you're seeking fresh opportunities to identify and fill your customer's needs before they even know they exist."

"Ah, but I'm not convinced that they do exist. Do you have any proof that your products have such profound appeal to our customers?"

Stepping intimately closer as she spoke, Alice delivered her next declaration with the assurance of victory twinkling in her eyes. "I'm going clubbing tonight to pilot our product to a group of your target customers. Why don't you come along and see the result first-hand?"

My personal space alarms were sounding a perimeter alert. I felt my heartbeat began to speed beyond control and my thoughts became disjointed.

"Hmm…I, umm…not sure…"

My panic was likely keenly evident since her eyes abruptly grew wide, as if something startling had suddenly occurred to her. "I should have known you were too good looking to be straight. And look where you work on top of that. I apologize if I was being too forward."

Of course, she looked more amused than remonstrative.

Too good looking to be what? Oh. Oh! She thinks I'm….

Before I could counter her misconception, the bell at the store entrance announced that we had company.

"Alice? I'm going into the pharmacy in the next block to see if I can get something for these blisters. I would have called by my cell needs charging."

"You're just in time, Bella. We were just discussing our plans to showcase our purse at The Cube Club tonight." Returning her attention to me, Alice wheedled, "Come along with us. Hey…why don't you bring your boyfriend? You look like someone who could use a fun night out. All work and no play makes" she quickly read my name tag, "um, Edward…a dull boy."

"Alice!" her companion groaned. Something told me that Alice's comment chagrined her but she was powerless to prevent such remarks.

"That way," Alice continued smoothly, "you can see for yourself how well our purses are received by the club crowd and enjoy a little socializing as well. We're pretty fun to hang out with, aren't we, Bella?"

The store phone picked an opportune time to ring, allowing me to excuse myself to answer the handset in the back of the shop. Luckily, I was able to put my brain on auto-pilot to field the call.

It would be nice to go out, even if I've never been much of a club kid. Alice's friend, Bella, is quite attractive, too, in a refreshingly appealing way.

I watched as she appeared to rebuke Alice; about what I could only imagine. She seemed to have entirely no effect on Alice but was making her feelings known nonetheless. Her impotent tirade was positively adorable and I found myself rushing to assure the customer on the line that I was NOT chuckling at her.

While the left side of my brain related our operating hours to the caller, my right brain appraised the young woman standing several feet away. Bella was small, but not as tiny as her astonishingly petite friend. Brown hair hung in a dense veil to her shoulder blades, framing delicate features. Bella stood twirling a tendril of hair around a finger, obviously having lost steam to continue the rant. This appeared to be an absent-minded, nervous habit and I wondered what she had to be nervous about.

Oh, right. They're trying to sell me something.

Or maybe she's also reluctant to go clubbing tonight.

Surprisingly, I began to feel considerably more enthusiastic about making plans for the evening.

~xXx~

BELLA

"Bella!" I cringed slightly at the volume of Alice's voice, trying my best to prepare myself for the farce we were about to perpetrate.

Looking discreetly around me, I tried to determine if Alice had already begun drawing attention. My lip curled as my eyes fell upon two guys who appeared to be unsuccessfully chatting up the same girl. I completely understood her disinterest; both guys were using three syllable words as if they were playing Scrabble. Then there was their tragic taste in …everything. They wore the same skinny jean & t-shirt uniform we saw on the street that afternoon. To add a manly touch to the look, they both had the cheesiest, 70's-style motorcycle moustaches I'd seen outside of a porn movie. Not a winning recipe for a hook-up, IMHO.

Alice was bouncing slightly as she made her way through the crowd to my table. Her smile was a thousand mega-watts, telling me she was really psyched to put on a show.

"It's so good to see you", she gushed, as if we hadn't seen each other less than two hours ago. "What have you been up to?"

Okay; deep breaths.

Here goes nothing.

"Oh, just the usual. I got out to do a little shopping today, though. Take a look at the fun purse I found." Brandishing our medium clutch, I stood and handed the product over to Alice.

Who promptly shrieked, succeeding in turning every head in the club despite the very loud music coming from the DJ.

"How fabulous is this! That's the cutest thing I've seen in ages! Tell me where you got it 'because I'm going to have to buy one tomorrow!"

If you had told me in college that I'd be doing this after graduation…

"I found it in a great boutique on Halstead called Bohemian Rhapsody. They had the most darling things, some of them vintage, some brand new but classically designed." This was true; I had really wanted to explore the shop awhile longer, several things having caught my eye during my short time there.

One tall, burnished item in particular. He definitely warranted further investigation.

By the time I finished raving about the shop, I could tell the group of four girls the next table over were listening to our conversation while trying not to be obvious about it. I had chosen to situate myself next to a quartet of hipsterettes who seemed to be poster girls for our target demographic. Two blondes and two brunettes, all four dressed in variations of the same basic outfit. Moccasins and all, their clothes might as well have been purchased straight off of Urban Outfitters' mannequins. And all four were busily drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon. From the can.

Knowing that we had piqued their curiosity made me even more nervous, although I was grateful that Alice's shriek had been good for something.

Then I noticed that Alice was still talking.

"I'm impressed, Bella; this looks really well constructed. What kind of material is this? It doesn't look factory made at all."

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing as Alice examined the bag in minute detail, as if she hadn't made it herself. "No, it's not. You can really tell this didn't come off of an assembly line, right? The manager at BR said it's made locally by Bellice Designs. What really sold me is that it's 100% repurposed material."

That's when we heard one of the nearby girls say "recycled" a little too loudly. Alice turned to face away from their table, winking slyly at me before turning again to make eye contact with the speaker. "I've heard it called 'upcycling' since an entirely new product is created. Isn't this sweet, though? I love that it's environmentally responsible and harmonizes perfectly with my personal style."

"We were admiring it, too" confessed one of the brunettes, barely disguising her interest. "Can I see it? I'm Lucy and these are my friends Heidi, Renata, and Chelsea." Each of the girls gave a small wave as her name was called, trying to maintain an attitude of aloof indifference, their eyes betraying their eagerness.

Alice looked to me for permission, handing the bag to Lucy after I shrugged my assent. "It seems really well balanced on my arm, especially considering it's made locally."

"What did you say it was made from?" asked Heidi as she examined the bag. Or maybe she was Renata; it was difficult for me to tell them apart, they seemed so interchangeable.

Alice burst into full marketing mode before I could open my mouth to answer the question. "Newspaper sandwiched between oilcloth on the inside and outside to create a waterproof but insulated product."

Kicking her under the table, I tilted my head to the side in what I hoped was a classic 'knock-it-off' gesture. Alice's brows rose to nearly touch her hairline as she surreptitiously glanced at the quartet.

We each breathed a subtle sigh of relief as we noticed the girls were still totally engrossed in our product while diligently trying to continue looking unimpressed. Alice took a quick gulp of her martini and promptly coughed loudly from trying to inhale and swallow at the same time.

Oh. Dear. Lord. I'm starting to feel like Lucy and Ethel.

And I was the one who was nervous about screwing this up.

"Are you alright?" asked one of the girls, appearing genuinely concerned until she added, "Looks like you've got a drinking problem."

"What happened? We were too busy canvassing your purse to see what was going on," Lucy laughed (I was sure of her name), leaning over to vigorously tap Alice's back.

Heidi/Renata snorted, murmuring something that sounded like, "Good one." Holding our purse up to eye level, she quipped, "I was just about to point out that this really is yesterday's news."

The other girls giggled at their friend's wit. That was when we noticed that their table was littered with empty beer cans. Lots of them, in fact. Seems they had been at the club much longer than we had.

"I think it has a 60's aesthetic that's very retro chic. You said the boutique is on Halstead?" the other brunette addressed the question to me with all the seriousness of a discussion on world hunger or the weakening economy. She had been completely quiet until then.

All I could do was nod meekly, afraid that speaking would spoil the moment.

"I was going to say the same thing, Chelsea. Why don't I pick you up in the morning and we could ride over there together?" endorsed one of the blondes who had also been fairly quiet until that point.

Chelsea nodded her agreement in one terse shake of her dark head. "Cool. But not too early; I don't want to have get up before 11:00."

As Chelsea handed the purse back to me, the other two girls rushed to add their approval. Their table quickly buzzed with conversation, plans for the morning occupying their full attention.

Tapping Alice lightly on the arm, I whispered that this would be a good time to move to another part of the club.

"Good idea. We can take on another group while we're here." Turning to the hipsterettes she bade "It was nice meeting you. Have a good time shopping tomorrow!"

As we hurried away, I wondered aloud, "So, um…do you think that guy from Bohemian Rhapsody, what was his name…Edward?... will show up tonight?"

"Hard to say, Bella. He seemed kind of douchey at first but then he acted like he might have a real personality underneath it all after we spoke for awhile. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens." Alice flashed me the Cheshire grin I hated. It always made me feel as if she knew more than she was saying.

"Come one, Bella. Let's see if we can work another cluster of girls real quick in case we do have company tonight."

~xXx~

EDWARD

"Thank you, Jesus, they're both pretty! Wait…you were afraid of that tiny girl?" Punching me roughly on the arm, Jasper groused, "Dude...really? Did you just get back from a lobotomy or are you trying to tell me you really are gay?"

I had just finished pointing out the girls we were meeting, my eyes having finally become accustomed to the dim lighting. Apparently Jasper liked what he saw. At least, until he remembered why I had brought him with me.

"Ssssh", I hissed, casting around to see if we anyone had overheard us. "I didn't tell her I was gay! I just didn't deny it when she brought it up. I couldn't think straight. She's never heard of personal space and, yes, failing to immediately correct her turned out to be monumentally stupid! I was positive that she would back off and go on her merry way after that but then her gorgeous friend walked in and suddenly I couldn't let either one of them leave."

Jasper rolled his eyes at me, declaring scornfully, "There has to be a million ways to let one girl down easy while encouraging the other and not one of those ways includes pretending to be gay."

"I kept hearing my mouth saying one idiotic thing after another. It was as if something had taken over my body and I couldn't control my mouth anymore." Jasper seemed determined not to understand my side of this harangue.

"For such a smart guy you can be an absolute asstard. How is this girl supposed to know that you're interested if she thinks you're unavailable from the very beginning?" Jasper may have been speaking to me but his eyes never left Alice.

"Yeah, thanks for having my back, Jasper." It didn't matter that he had summarized my entire situation in a single sentence. It didn't matter that his summary was entirely correct. I had brought him with me tonight for support. He was my best friend and honor bound to help me out of this mess.

"Whatever. I'll tell you what, though, dude…"

"What's that?" I prompted after his sentence trailed off, his eyes continuing to follow Alice's every movement.

Jasper clasped me on the shoulder, looking deeply into my eyes with a broad smile, "The thrill is gone, dude. I'm breaking up with your ass."

Using the hand still attached to my shoulder, Jasper pushed off of me to sweep past in a grand motion. He was really getting into his role, here.

"I'm sick and tired of having the same fight over and over, Edward. When will you stop treating me like your fucktoy and realize that I have feelings, too."

Jasper's voice was loud enough that his words soared above the music, accompanied by snickers of embarrassed laughter from the tables surrounding us. Stunned speechless for the second time that day, I had no choice but to trail behind him to the waiting ladies, already seated at a small table.

Jasper fell dramatically into the chair beside Alice, crossing his arms on the table and placing his head atop of them.

Bella was frozen in mid-wave, obviously astonished by Jasper's antics. Her wide, round eyes darted intently between Jasper and me, the rest of her body remaining completely still.

Alice was the first to recover her composure, leaning forward to pat Jasper's arm sympathetically. "You poor thing; you really need to let go and have some fun tonight, don't you? Edward, aren't you going to introduce us to your friend?"

I must have hesitated a little too long in answering because Jasper had plenty of time to jump in. "Are you so ashamed of me that you can't even introduce me? I remember when you were proud to show me off. I guess I'm nothing but old news to you now."

The girls exchanged a measured look, with Bella seemingly struggling to maintain a straight face. I was too angry to attempt to decipher the joke. The horror Jasper was managing to manifest would have been amusing if he hadn't been provoking me so badly.

"Alice, Bella…This is Jasper." Folding my arms, I glared at him in annoyance, attempting to use body language to communicate my disapproval. "I don't remember you being such a drama queen."

Apparently, that was a poor choice of words.

Jasper shook his head in mock (to me, at least) outrage at my comment, launching his hand to his cheek as if he had been slapped across the face. He hissed, "I don't know who you are anymore! Don't bother looking for me at the end of the night. I'll find my own way home."

All I could do was grind my teeth and wonder why I thought bringing him here was a good idea. Wonder how I was ever going to correct this runaway train of a misunderstanding now. Wonder how many minutes I could submerge his head in the urinal without doing permanent damage.

Wonder what girl could possibly be worth this amount of humiliation.

My instincts answered that this one was.

Alice grabbed Jasper's wrist, sandwiching his fingers between both of her hands, murmuring hushed consolations to him. Turning to me with a triumphant smile, she changed the subject by announcing, "Well, we have excellent news and were getting ready to do a celebration shot. Edward, you should be happy to know that Bella and I were very successful in generating interest in Bellice purses tonight. Bohemian Rhapsody should sell its first of what we expect to be many, many purses sometime around noon tomorrow."

"That is excellent news," I enthused, pleased at the implication that I would see more of Bella as a result.

"I don't feel like drinking if it has to be with him." Jasper pouted, bringing the conversation back to him.

Alice pulled him into a hug, letting one of her hands pat his back reassuringly. "It's okay, hon. I promise to make it all better. Come with me to get the Patron and then we'll go dance this brute off of your mind."

Naturally, this cheered Jasper right up. He tossed a triumphant smile over his shoulder at me as Alice pulled him away.

Bella and I were left alone to sit in awkward silence. I was still too angry, too rusty at making small talk and too out of my league to know what to say. I wanted to tell her how beautiful she looked but part of me was certain that I'd manage to offend her the moment I opened my mouth. This had not been a stellar day for communication on my part.

Finally, Bella broke the silence by rising and offering me her hand.

"You know, I'm thrilled that we'll probably make our first sale tomorrow but I don't feel much like drinking. Do you want to skip that and go straight to the dancing?"

I considered waiting for the tequila to mitigate my nerves. My body must have been following her lead, though, because my mind was still MIA. At least I wouldn't have to ransack my brain for chitchat if we were dancing.

Bella was a good dancer after her initial shyness abated. I reasoned that she, like me, probably didn't have many occasions to go dancing. Total absurdity, I rebuked myself. Anyone as attractive as she should have no time to sit at home.

It didn't take long for me to relax in Bella's company, finding something comforting in her proximity. I was reassured to find that being so near Bella produced none of the panic Alice had prompted that afternoon. As our first dance merged into our third and fourth, I noticed that her dancing had evolved into something decidedly more incendiary. Bella turned to face away from me, the gentle curve of her back singeing a path the length of my torso. The DJ was well into a monotonous spate of House Music, the emphatic bass rhythm punctuated by Bella grinding against me.

Somewhere out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Alice sitting on Jasper's lap, completely immersed in a passionate kiss. Looked like Alice had made short work of helping him get over me after all.

Throwing her arm up and over my shoulder to land behind my neck, I could feel Bella's fingers caress my scalp as her head lolled softly against my chest. Sighing deeply, she confessed, "It's so nice to be out with someone safe, someone who I can feel free enough to dance like this with, you know? No worries about giving the wrong impression or whether we're on the same page about where this is heading. Someone who isn't going to expect a courtesy grope at the end of the evening."

Of course, I was feeling anything but safe. The room instantly became unbearably warm but I wouldn't have broken our connection if someone had yelled 'Fire'. I was a mass of sensation, each nerve-ending in my body having surged into action as if I was the Eastern Seaboard Power Grid. I had never felt such a dynamic connection to another human being and I mentally rebuked myself again for my epic stupidity earlier in the day. I was certain that my connection with Bella went beyond the fact that I was suddenly close to someone who was not my ex, not simply due to the pheromones being traded by our grinding bodies. Although my cock was on the second stanza of The Hallelujah Chorus by that point, being profoundly grateful for the friction Bella afforded it.

No, safe was not what I was feeling at all.

An embarrassingly guttural groan later and I stilled Bella's movement by trapping her hips with my hands. She turned to look at me quizzically and my lips met hers before my mind had acknowledged the movement. Apparently, my body was still in control.

It was honestly a storybook moment, the kind where the sounds around us faded and all of my senses became secondary to the touch of my lips against hers. I was surprised, pleasantly so, when her lips responded without hesitation, matching my movements and finessing them easily. I forced myself to wrench away when I caught both arms bound tightly around her, my crotch searching for the friction it had enjoyed moments ago.

I didn't give Bella a moment to speak, pulling her by the arm to the edge of the dance floor, not bothering to wait for my panting to stop before attempting to confess my transgression.

"I owe you…a tremendous apology…Bella. I …came here under false pretense…have never been gay…and have no excuse for deceiving or kissing you. I profoundly regret lying to you and would like nothing more than to start over. I want to take you on a real date, allow you to know the real me, and learn everything about you, starting as soon as you'll allow. I completely understand if you want nothing more to do with me. In that case, I'll call a cab immediately and see that you're delivered home safely."

Bella pressed her arms to my chest, raising a finger to my lips in a tender expression. "That must have been very hard for you to say. It's thoughtful of you to offer to get me a cab; but, no, I don't want to go home. Yes, I'd love to go on a real date with you, starting this minute. Alice and I already knew that you guys weren't really a couple, silly. Alice told me she was teasing with you right before I walked into the shop. Then, when you didn't deny being gay, Alice's wicked sense of humor couldn't resist twisting the knife a little. And if we didn't know before you two got here, that ridiculousness that you two staged would have done the trick."

She issued a tiny gigglesnort, so adorable, and we shared several minutes of subdued laughter before Bella grew serious again. "You know how disrespectful that was, don't you? You guys were pretty entertaining but that doesn't excuse the fact that you were being bigoted and rude."

I hung my head solemnly, even more abashed over my actions. Glancing at her slyly, I ventured, "Would it help if I said that some of my best friends are gay?"

Bella leveled a pointed look while narrowing her eyes at me. "Now you're just being cheeky." I had only known her a matter of hours, yet I was sure that I could tell that she was again trying to contain her amusement.

I didn't want anything to stand in the way of learning to read even more about her.

"Pretending to be something that I'm not was a bad choice on many levels. I hope that you'll believe that I did not intend to slur or demean anyone. Jasper called me an 'asstard' earlier tonight, something that seems fairly accurate."

At this, Bella rewarded me with a luminous smile. "I wouldn't go that far. It's not as if I have no blame in this, either. The only thing I have to say for myself is that I went along with your charade to have a chance to go out with you. Even if it wasn't going to be 'a real date'." She dropped her eyes to our feet, seeming to wait for something.

With a silent prayer that I had read the signs properly, I placed my lips softly against her forehead, laughing harder than I had in years. "How about if we go interrupt our partners in crime and tell them the truth is out. Then we can concentrate on making a fresh start to our night."

Bella pressed her hips to me again briefly, an impish grin dominating her beautiful features. "I have a better idea." Brandishing her phone, Bella typed a rapid text. Looking quite satisfied with herself, she flipped the phone screen, showing me the message she had just sent to Alice:

You know what's wrong with our purses? NOTHING! It's hipsters with their motorcycle cop mustaches, moccasins, douchey irony, and department stores to supply their independent conformity. Something's gotta give! I'm outta here, call me tomorrow.

"The four of us are going to make each other a promise: no more pretending to be something that we're not. And that goes for marketing our purses, also. We make a damn fine product and someone is eventually going to appreciate it on its own merit, regardless of how I look or behave. I'm not going to makeover my clothes or my personality or anything else for the sake of selling accessories to anyone, especially people I don't even respect. From now on, it's honesty or nothing. Even if that means I'm broke for awhile." Bella's eyes shone with conviction as she declared her independence.

"At least you won't have to be lonely and broke," I grinned, linking my fingers with hers before leading our return to the dance floor.

Thank you for reading.

prompt for this story was:

My It's hipsters with their motorcycle cop mustaches, moccasins, douchey irony, and department stores to supply their independent conformity. Something's gotta give!

I used a variety of stereotypes to serve the plot and not as an indication of RL opinions or how I see the Twi characters. I am hopeful that anyone reading this story will stereotypes as a theme in the prompt and forgive anything that might otherwise be offensive. On the up side, if you were offended, you can leave a review and tell me so!