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A/N: Hi :)
Lovely kellyprovence. Thank you!
Chapter 34- The Game
November 5, 2010
It was such a beautiful morning. I opened all the windows to let the pleasantly chilly air in and let out the heat in my flesh. I was so hot. Alive! I was alive, and my heart gushed blood and fire.
Stroking my iPad, I held it to my chest. Edward was the most perfect man. He would be beautiful until he died. May I bear him sons and daughters and live long enough to watch his red hair turn into white silk.
"Your heartbeat is a symphony."
These words repeated over and over in my head from my glorious dream as I got ready to meet Jessica for our one o'clock meeting. They were better than the words Edward had actually said. He didn't speak earnestly. He didn't speak passionately. He was a completely different person. It was as if he were putting on an act, and a part of me hated it, but there were moments of vulnerability in his eyes.
More often than it seemed he would've liked, there was something else in his eyes, something so palpable, I tasted it on my tongue even now: lust.
I had to give him space and let him come to me when he was ready. I couldn't force his hand and would wait patiently. I would wait until his hair turned into white silk if I had to. It would happen, though. It had to happen.
Maybe it would happen.
I pulled out my phone, about to text Jessica that I was on my way to Union Square, when I saw a bunch of emails from Facebook. I loaded the mobile browser and clicked the white icon for messages. What I saw punched me in the stomach and hurled me over a cliff.
Between You and Erik Yorkie
Erik Yorkie November 4, 2010 8:30 p.m.
Alice was devastated. She wouldn't stop crying, Bella. And you and I both know Alice never cries.
I felt a tear fall, then another as I reclined against the wall next to my closet.
How could I forget the lunch? How could this happen again? I didn't think of Alice once after Edward left; not during the train ride home, or my walk to the apartment building, or my exhausting climb up the stairs. I only heard Edward's voice. I thought there hadn't been a bubble yesterday, but there was.
My fingers were numb as I typed a poor excuse.
Bella Swan November 5, 2010 12:15 p.m.
I'm so sorry. I'm gonna call Alice to apologize.
Erik Yorkie November 5, 2010 12:15 p.m.
Don't bother. She's got her real friends. She doesn't need you telling her sorry excuses. Just stay away.
Bella Swan November 5 2010 12:17 p.m.
I never wanted this to happen. If I could turn back time, I would. I'll make it up to the both of you.
Erik Yorkie November 5, 2010 12:18 p.m.
If only you knew what Alice did for you. Hell, you're so ungrateful, you'd still treat her like dirt.
Bella Swan November 5, 2010 12:19 p.m.
What are you talking about? What did Alice do?
Erik Yorkie November 5, 2010 12:19 p.m.
She begged her mom to give you that internship last summer. Literally. Begged. And now you can't even show up for the surprise lunch YOU planned? No wonder her mom fired you.
Fighting down a sob, I closed the browser and went through recent calls for Alice's number. It immediately went to voicemail. I didn't want to leave her a message but called her again.
"Alice, I'm so so sorry. Please pick up the phone. Please. I'm sorry."
When I arrived at the cafe at the Barnes and Nobles on 16th, I faced yet another shocker.
"Hey, so you missed class yesterday." Jessica said over a large cup of coffee.
"Class. You know, where you learn a bunch of shit you don't care about?" She lowered the coffee next to an espresso cup and a Red Bull. Her face was free of make-up, and I didn't think she even saw a brush in the last day. She had on a hoodie and jeans, which I could swear she borrowed from a friend. The outfit was as unusual on her as a store-wide sale at Barneys, a recurring dream of hers.
I folded my red wool coat and silk scarf over the back of my chair and slumped down into the chair next to hers.
"I forgot." Leaning over the multigrain bagel before me, I heard her snort.
"Forgot? How could you forget class? Are you on something?"
I pulled my iPad out of my bag and onto my lap. This was the second time I let this happen. I forgot the assignment for Kate's blog last summer because of Edward's birthday. Yesterday, my afternoon plans fled on one-way tickets to Timbuktu. I didn't know what was worse: hearing his voice all day, his commands before I made use of Mr. Rabbit, or this serious memory loss?
I could be certifiably insane but, honestly, I didn't care. Edward was back. Alice may never speak to me again, but that was fine. I was planning on ending our friendship, anyway. It was fine. My mind was sharp. This was nothing.
"No. I'm okay. Let's just get this over with."
Her hand rested on my arm, and she murmured, "You look like someone just ran over your dog. Are you alright?"
I nodded. "Yeah. I just think... I might have lost a friend." I hugged my iPad into my chest.
"Who? Alice?" From my periphery, I saw Jessica sip her espresso.
"Yeah. I really fucked up."
"Don't worry too much about it. She'll be fine." Jessica flipped open the lid to her pink iPad cover.
"Alice never cries." I remembered Erik wrote. What if she wouldn't be fine?
"I hope so."
"So, Thursday!" Jessica said. "It's just around the corner, and you better not lump this class into the forgotten. I can barely think in December with all the promotion I have to do for Memphis."
"Yeah, okay. Yeah, I won't forget." I stared down at the bagel, and my stomach grumbled. I hadn't felt it do that in two months. "So, do you wanna use my iPad or yours?"
"Well, neither if we don't do the PowerPoint. Maybe we can do it old school and pull off a straight speech?"
"Should've known you'd want all the attention." I smiled wanly. She returned it with a shot of enthusiasm.
"That's right, bitch. I work it... even in this hoodie and jeans. But you! What's your secret?"
I gulped, my cheeks growing warm. "What?"
"You've lost all this weight. You look like Kate Moss. How did you do it?"
"Oh." I loosened the collar of my cashmere turtleneck and glanced down at my untouched bagel. "I don't eat."
She gave me a sidelong glance. "Ever?"
"It just doesn't appeal to me anymore." The Klonopin had given me equilibrium, but it didn't fill me. With Edward back, I was beginning to feel what real equilibrium felt like again. The dread was nothing but a strip of aluminum surrounding awakening organs. My stomach growled again.
"Well, it's working for you. You were so chunky last semester."
I picked apart the bagel with a pursed lip. "Thanks, bitch."
"Anytime. And thanks so much for moving this up. Evans won't know what hit him on Thursday. I can't wait to see his reaction when we're done.
"What's up with him? Every time he comes to our table, he acts like he wants to rip your head off and make me eat it."
"Ugh. It's really stupid." She said tapping her iPad screen on. "He's still annoyed with me about last semester."
Oh God, was she about to admit she was his prostitute? I lowered my gaze to the torn bagel, rolling my eyes.
"What happened last semester?" I asked while nibbling a chunk of it.
Jessica cocked her eyebrow while redoing her messy ponytail.
"You don't know?"
"Know what?" I leaned my elbows on the table to look outside. The clouds were overcast in a metallic gray, as if silver were about to fall from the sky.
"I thought Alice would've told you. You two are like Katy Perry and Rihanna these days."
"Hunh?" I tucked a lock of hair behind my ear before turning my iPad on. "What does Alice have to do with Professor Evans being so grouchy?"
Jessica shook her head and laughed. "Wow, girl. Where have you been? Alice and Evans had an affair last semester."
I dropped my hand into the pile of bagel crumbs getting them all over my sweater and jeans. It was a sweater Alice gave to me as part of my Fall collection. A brand new Bella Swan required it, as Alice led me to believe. Apparently, I didn't require the truth.
"Fuck," I murmured. It must've been part of her fabricated reality. She lived in a dreamland where she was my friend and never dated Professor Evans. She told me on Monday that she had a "torrid affair" with "slime." Evans was slime? How? Then, what she had said about seeing her hat on other girls and how he was more like Richard than Aidan or Big made all the sense in the world. Evans cheated on her. She had a right to be pissed about that, I guess. He was her professor for fuck's sake. How could she fall for her professor? No, more importantly, why did I have to ask Jessica instead of her?
"What happened?" I asked Jessica as she helped me clean the crumbs off the table.
"I overheard them going at it in his office last February. It sounded like porn the way she kept saying his name. So OTT and gross. He meets his students and other professors in that office. He was about to meet me. If I hadn't gone in early, I would've inhaled their cum and sweat." Jessica gagged and stopped talking, finally. Every word she spoke made me more and more disgusted.
"Anyway," Jessica said, "I mentioned it to Lauren after I left, and she said there was a rumor going around that Evans hiked the grades for girls who slept with him. She was in on it, too. I just couldn't believe I was surrounded by a bunch of sluts!"
Where the hell was I living the last three years? I read every single one of these people wrong. Here I thought Alice was lost in a dreamland and that I could step out of hers whenever I wanted, but I couldn't even recognize my own. All these unnecessary truths were necessary. Everyone had whys. If I had delved deeper into Jessica's this whole time, I wouldn't have treated her so rottenly.
"Wait, so you never..." I fidgeted with a napkin.
"Me? Fuck Evans? Please! I like my men young and hot. Kinda like your boyfriend."
I blanched, which made her pat my hand.
"I'm teasing. Just teasing. I wouldn't do that to you." She chuckled. "Well," she drew out the word. "I would've back then but not now. And you two looked so tight the last time I saw you together."
I nodded, popping a few crumbs in my mouth.
"But..." She leaned in. "You fucked Evans, didn't you?"
"What? No!" Oh God, was that what everyone thought of me?
"Come on, Bella, you can tell me. You do what you have to to get ahead."
"Never." I looked her square in the eye.
"So wait, how did you get an A in that class?"
Pulling the sleeves of my turtleneck to cover my hands, I said, "Research. Hard work. All that shit that we're supposed to do."
Jessica cocked an eyebrow. "But... I saw how you played with the guys sophomore year. I thought you extended that to faculty?"
"Christ! I'm not a slut. Dammit! Does everyone think I'm some kind of nympho?"
"No, of course not!" She leaned back. "Well, the guys do. I'm pretty sure that was why Mike was into you freshman year."
I rest my chin on my hands. "Jessica, I thought we were over that?"
"I am. I am." Chewing her thumb, she pondered something for a moment. Then, she looked up at me. "You know, I gave you all those pointers last semester 'cause I thought you would tell me you already knew about at least one. I was surprised you didn't know Ms. Evanson was accepting two students instead of one."
"Well, now you know why."
"So, wait... you got the internship fair and square?"
Jessica shook her head in disbelief.
"Ms. Evanson liked my paper and me," I said, stretching my back. "She liked me enough to accept me."
"I doubt it. Alice had to help."
"Yeah, I know she did."
"Oh, so it wasn't fair and square." She poked my forearm. "Knew it!"
"No. No, that's not what I meant," I said in a rush. "I just learned she helped me this morning."
"Ah, Saint Bella."
"Shut up." I grinned but said this seriously. "Her mom wouldn't have accepted me if she didn't believe in my paper. Alice isn't a sorceress."
Then again, maybe she was? I had built a friendship with Alice after she had done so much for me, but who was she? What kind of person would sleep with her professor for a grade? And Erik said she begged Ms. Evanson to accept me. What if I didn't earn the position? What if she played the game? What if Jessica was right and Ms. Evanson didn't really choose me?
Jessica pulled at the strings of her hoodie. "If only I were so lucky to have her in my corner. I had to blackmail Evans to get that internship."
"Blackmail?" I turned in my chair to face her. "You're fucking kidding me!"
"I deserved it. I wrote a damn good paper, but he said Evanson wasn't impressed. Such a liar. I didn't buy it. He tried to fail me, too. The only reason he wanted to was because I rejected him. That nasty asshole tried to get in my pants when I handed in my paper, but I slapped him in the face and told him I'd sue the school for harassment. He swore no one would believe me, but I told him I knew all about Alice, Lauren and the other girls in class. I heard he was let go at TNY because of a similar situation he had with his assistant. He 'resigned' after she threatened to file a lawsuit. Ugh, he's so gross."
I rubbed my chin. "If he's so gross, why didn't you tell the Dean? Lauren confessed the truth to you."
"The Dean? Please Bella, I had an internship to get into. I wasn't gonna tell on Evans. Lauren wouldn't, either, and Alice needed to pass that class because her mom would've killed her if she didn't."
"But... Lauren's your friend. He hurt her. And what about all the other girls he'll take advantage of? He can't keep doing this."
Jessica snorted. "Those girls aren't victims. They know exactly what they're doing. Alice and Lauren were puppeteers, not puppets. Alice probably got pissed at Evans 'cause he wasn't more discreet. She hates me because I found out her secret."
I shook my head. So Evans was a rotten douche who should've been fired, Alice and Lauren were sluts, and Jessica was the one who had the most integrity out of all of them? Well... marginally. She didn't sell out, and she wasn't fake. Definitely two-faced but not fake, not deep down. She was two-faced to get what she honestly deserved. I never read her final paper, but getting to know her over the last two months made me see her saccharine politeness was substantiated by her work ethic and drive. She wasn't a WASP going through the motions of her young adult life. She knew exactly who she was and damn anyone who didn't let her get what she wanted.
Jessica wasn't the cocksucking whore, Alice was. Everything she did, said, was was a lie. What if the last few months together was just another game to her? She had grown feelings for me that seemed to come out of nowhere, but they might have been there all along. I was just too blind to see them.
What if I were some trophy for her to win? The check she was going to give Edward, maybe it was to show him that she'd do anything for me? She was trying to prove that she was better than he was. All the clothes, the extravagant birthday party, the incessant pampering? That wasn't for me. She didn't get Jasper, Edward's last prize. What if she wanted me just because Edward had me?
Here I was feeling sorry for her that I forgot about our lunch? I had to end whatever this was with her immediately. I had to concentrate on getting Edward back... and the presentation. They were the only two pure things left.
"Say something you judgmental bitch." Jessica snapped her fingers. "You've never done a shitty thing in your life, have you?"
I worried my lower lip, then raised my chin. "I just can't believe you blackmailed Evans all for an internship. No wonder Alice hates you."
"Alice is a spoiled brat. I don't care what she thinks. And where do you think you would be if I hadn't blackmailed that son-of-a-bitch? How do you think I got him to lay off when you kept 'forgetting' to show up to class?"
"Yeah, I mean, I saved your ass because of this. You're welcome, Bella."
"It was wrong, though. You can't keep holding this over his head."
"Oh please. What I did is nothing compared to what he does day in and day out with a bunch of underage girls. And working at TNY was too important to me to let 'the right thing to do'," she said in a grand manner, "...keep me from this internship. This was not 'just an internship.' Esme Evanson is my idol. I've wanted to be an editor my entire life. Just an internship? Miss Perfect, I thought you wanted the same thing?"
I want Edward.
"So then you do everything you have to do to get it. Hard work and integrity only goes so far. You've gotta play the game."
Pushing the plate of crumbs forward, I folded my arms over my chest. I did play that game with Edward and his family. I did whatever it took to keep Edward happy, and it backfired. I wasn't built for the kind of game Jessica had set up with all those people, nor did I wanna be. I just wanted Edward to love me.
"I think I'll sit this one out. Besides, look where our hard work has brought us this semester without playing one minute of this game..." She cocked her eyebrow. "Well, a couple of minutes. But we're about to do our presentation a month before schedule on our brains alone."
Jessica patted my shoulder. "Oh dear. This isn't real life. I don't know what awaits us after graduation, but the game will only get harder. I'll be in the Majors, though, an All Star no matter what. You'll see." She pinched my cheeks. "Naïve little bit, I just hope to see you there with me."