Beta's Name: ***
Story Name: The Things We Do For Love
Song that inspired you: "Oh, Mickey!" by Toni Basil
Summary: Bella's new to Forks High and gets forced into a cheerleading audition by a pushy new friend. It seems like the perfect way to impress Edward Cullen, member of the football team. When his reaction isn't what she was hoping for, Bella's confidence is stripped away, leaving her at the mercy of the high school's cliques.
Pairing: B/E and the usual suspects
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any of the characters from the Twilight Saga franchise. Stephenie Meyer is the owner of Twilight. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, music, lyrics, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit is being made from this work. This work and the original ideas presented therein are the sole property of this author. No copying, translating or otherwise using my story without my express, written permission.
I manage not to get lost traveling from my father's house to the town high school. I can't quite bring myself to refer to either of these places as 'mine' yet. Things are still too new. My emotions still raw.
I should have insisted on moving earlier, giving myself more time to acclimatize to the small town where I'll be spending the rest of my high school years. My mother insisted on clinging to every last moment before she drove me to the airport and deposited me on an airplane to live with my father. Don't get me wrong, I love my Dad, but we've only seen each other three weeks out of the year since I was six years old. He's family, but he's also a stranger in many ways. The three week visits during the summer were filled with both of us trying to be on your best behavior and trying to avoid the awkwardness with short polite conversations and countless hours of silent fishing trips.
Mom is only a phone call away, but she's still on the other side of the world. Her move with her new husband and my subsequent homelessness came about when Phil was given a promotion and transferred to a management position by his work. They were provided with a small apartment in a European city I can barely pronounce. There was no longer room for me, not that I would have been able to attend school in an area that speaks a language I am completely unfamiliar with anyway.
I pull the ancient pick-up truck my father provided for me into a vacant parking spot and wince as it backfires. I yank the keys from the ignition and stuff them into the front pocket of my backpack. When I look up to open the door, I notice that every person in the immediate vicinity is watching me warily. Great. So much for not attracting any undue attention. As the light mist continues to obscure the view out the windows, I gather up my long hair and twist it together behind my neck. I pull the hood of my K-way jacket up and over making sure to bring it as far forward as possible. I have a sudden overwhelming need to hide from the eyes that witnessed my arrival. I keep my eyes down as I exit the vehicle and slam the rusty door closed.
The mist begins to thicken into a light rain and I can hear the girls in the area squealing about their hair being ruined. I walk steadily,keeping my gaze on the wet pavement as bodies rush past me, one of which splashes up around my ankles making me grateful for the suede moon boots I chose this morning. If I'd been wearing my Keds, my feet would be soaked. Since it's my first day, I need to find the office, which I assume is at the front of the building. I decide to make a shortcut by walking across the grass rather than all the way around the parking lot to the pathway along the main road. I've only taken a few steps up the hillside when I realize my error. The rather steep incline is now quite wet and the grass is rather thin in areas making it more mud than grass I am trying to walk up. My feet begin to slip and I'm moments from sliding gracelessly backwards. I begin to hear heavy footsteps behind me and desperately try to adjust my footing and rebalance but my heels slide quickly and I windmill my arms to try and keep my balance. Just as I have given up and resign myself for a mud bath, I feel large hands wrap around my waist and push me gently forward.
"Woah, there, pip-squeak... You need yourself a set of cleats to get up here in the rain!" The mirthful booming voice makes me jump. Once we reach level ground, I turn around to thank my rescuer and instead freeze, mouth wide open.
I'm surrounded by what seems to be dozens of huge boys, clad in wet, skin-tight football uniforms. I feel like a mouse surrounded by lions. I blink and my mouth opens and closes a few times before I shake off my stupor. The dark haired boy standing directly in front of me with shining blue eyes and deep dimples laughs and I find my voice. "Th-thanks. That could have gone very badly for me."
He laughs again and I'm struck by the sheer size of him. It might be the shoulder pads, but I'm having a hard time visualizing how this guy will fit through a standard doorway. "You're welcome! You're new around here, aren't you? I don't know you, and I know everyone."
There is laughter from the group as they begin to disperse, heading towards the side door which I assume leads to the gym, or at least the change rooms.
"Well," I hedge, "I guess that depends on your definition of new..."
I hear a huff from behind him. He turns his head to look over his shoulder and reaches back grabbing something from whoever is standing behind him. "Oh, really? Well, I'd love to debate vocabulary words with you, but I'm getting soaked and I've got to change before class, so I'll catch up with you later to discuss this further." He pats me on the shoulder and begins to walk past me. "I'm Emmett, by the way. If you need anything around here, just let me know."
"Okay, I will. I'm Bella. Thanks again for the rescue, Em..." I trail off as he nods and walks past me. My mouth once again drops open and I stare unabashedly at the boy who's been standing behind Emmett this whole time, holding his helmet while he helped me, I assume. His hair is plastered to his head and hangs down over his eyes. I catch a flicker of dark green as he raises his head and his eyes meet mine briefly before he passes me following Emmett. I turn and feel my cheeks begin to burn brightly as I watch his tight ass move in the tight dark blue football pants.
"Better get a move on, Bella. First bell is going to ring soon and I bet you still need to go get your schedule." Emmett's voice startles me and I hear a chorus of giggles off to the side and realize that I've been caught staring. I avert my eyes quickly and dash for the front of the school, careful to avoid puddles and muddy spots.
I feel ridiculous wandering around the school with the map provided by the school secretary, Mrs. Cope. I garner several mocking glares and many snickers behind my back while I make my way to the cafeteria. I obviously didn't think this through. I should have brought some of the leftover lasagna from last night's dinner and I could have eaten my lunch tucked away safely in the privacy and quiet of my truck. Sure, I'd have had to braved a sprint through the monsoon that had developed outside, but it would have been better than braving the horror of the high school cafeteria, by myself.
I take a deep breath to steady my nerves and push through the doors. I make a point of not letting my eyes wander around the room and concentrate on the serving area. I decide on a chicken burger and wedge fries with a cream soda to drink. I pay the wrinkled lady who looks to be half asleep and try to find a spot at a table in a corner or other out-of-the-way area.
"BELLA! BELLA! Over here!"
I cringe as Emmett's unmistakable voice booms through the small space. I don't have to look hard to find him. He's standing beside a table filled with guys wearing football jackets, you know the ones with leather sleeves and the rest is wool, waiving his arms in the air. Like I could miss him, even without his football pads he's immense. Immense Emmett. I chuckle at the weirdness that is my own mind as I make my way over.
"You know you don't need to do that, right? You're kind of hard to miss." I smile up at him and he slides into a seat tapping the seat to his right indicating I should sit there.
"He knows. He just loves to be the center of attention." I look across the table and into those green eyes again. "Nice shirt."
I look down at my off-the-shoulder oversized top with "Frankie Says Relax" plastered across the front in multicolored neon letters. "Thanks." When I look back up, he isn't looking at me anymore. He's concentrating on his plate, shifting ketchup around the surface with one of the few remaining fries. I can't quite see, but it looks like he's drawing pictures in the thick red sauce.
Emmett returns to the conversation at the table about what I assume is the next team they will be playing. I take the opportunity to observe the boy opposite me surreptitiously while I try to eat my lunch daintily. It's probably a good idea not to gobble down my food like I normally would if I'm trying to avoid undue attention. The first thing I notice is the color and cut of his hair. It's an odd brownish-red color. It actually reminds me of the cinnamon sticks I like to put in my hot chocolate. I immediately wonder if he dyes it. His hair is cut long in the front so that the bangs hang in his face, coming to a point over his right eye. The back is shaved close and the sides are longer than the back, yet shorter than the bangs and sprayed up so that the top of his head resembles a triangle. It's very obvious as I quickly survey the rest of the guys at the table that a few of them have either bleached their hair to the white blonde color they share, or dyed it to black. Only four of them appear to have natural hair colors.
"Something you'd like to tell me, Emmett?" The shrill voice comes from immediately behind me and a chunk of french fry lodges in my throat. I begin to cough and sputter.
"Hey, babe. You weren't in class this morning, and you didn't turn up here, so I offered Bella here a seat. She's new."
"Great," she takes a deep breath followed by a sigh, "Another charity case. Get a dog, Emmett."
"Newton, move over." Emmett issues the order and the boy in question immediately complies.
I hear the scraping of chairs over linoleum while green eyes passes me my cream soda. I cough a few more times, sip my drink and manage to get my spasm under control before I dare to look over at the girl now seated on Emmett's left. She's an angel. No, I'm serious. Picture an angel, and that's her. Fair, perfect skin, large, deep blue eyes, long, lush eyelashes, full lips and delicate features. She's got the figure of a woman with an air of innocence which conflicts with her earlier words.
Except maybe angels don't have hair quite so big. It's white-blonde in color, natural too if her matching eyebrows are anything to go by, teased, curled, blow-dried and sprayed into her very own golden halo. I know big hair is in, but this had to be pushing the limits of gravity. I look away and out the window. The rain had stopped and things are actually drying up outside. I nearly laugh when the realization comes. She showed up at school only after the rain had stopped. She skipped school so that her hair wouldn't get wet. I sneak another glance and raised my hand to cover my mouth since I can't stop the smirk and giggles coming out of my mouth.
"So, Bella, you told Emmett earlier that you weren't exactly new around here. What did you mean by that?" I look up into the amused face of green eyes. He's obviously noticed that I am about to break into giggles and I appreciate the attempted rescue.
"Well..." I pause, realizing I was about to address him OUT LOUD as 'green eyes'. No, that wouldn't have been humiliating.
"Edward," he supplies.
"Well, Edward, I'm new to Forks High, but I'm not really new to town. My dad has lived here forever and I was born here, but my mom and I moved away when I was six. I've spent three weeks here every summer since then, except for the past two." By the time I finish speaking, every eye at the table is on me and 'angel girl' is giving me the stink eye. I guess she thinks I've stolen her spotlight. I didn't intend to. In fact, I'm currently contemplating making a mad dash for my truck to spend the rest of my lunch period hiding out.
"Swan. You're Bella SWAN." She pronounces my name like it physically hurts her to speak it.
"Yep. That's me."
"Chief Swan's daughter?" Emmett scratches his head. "Huh."
"What?" Edward is eyeing Emmett speculatively.
"You know my friend Sam, right?" Emmett asks and Edward nods. "Well, a couple of summers ago his cousin was going on and on about this girl he was head over heels for, we had to listen to his constant rambling all winter long. The next summer he suddenly stopped talking about her and when we noticed and asked him about it, he busted out crying and ran out of the room. Haven't seen the guy since." He looks over at me and his cheeks begin to turn pink. "Um, oops. Probably shouldn't have just blurted that right out, huh?"
I feel all the blood in my body rushing into my face. I'd hoped that a couple of years of absence and being incommunicado would have made the situation go away, but obviously, I had been mistaken.
"Well, well, little Bella, what on earth did you do to that poor guy?" Edward's tone is light and teasing but the murmurs of "...broke his heart..." and "...cheating...", I hear from the other end of the table aren't as kind.
I should have known that rumors would abound. I bite my lip hard trying to rein in the desire to cry. I clear my throat and try to keep my voice steady as I respond. "Jake and I have been friends since my first summer back here. His dad and my dad were best friends and we spent a lot of time together. Every year he'd spend all his time with me, ignoring all of his other friends. The last summer I spent here a couple of the other kids accused me of stealing their friend. One of them punched me and split my lip. She was a couple of years older than me and frankly, she scared the crap out of me." I hear muted laughter from around the table. "I ran home from the park and refused to see Jake. I had my Dad tell Jacob that I didn't want to hang around with him or his friends any more and because I was bleeding and practically hysterical, he agreed."
"And that's why you didn't come back to visit your Dad the last couple of years?" Emmett's voice is soft and gentle. It sounds strange, coming from such a big guy. "Not because you got knocked up and had to stay away until the kid had been adopted and all the legal stuff was final?"
The sip of cream soda I was in the process of swallowing came flying back out of my mouth and I begin to choke, again.
"Shit!" Emmett jumps out of his chair and begins thumping on my back with his hand.
"Stop, Em! You're gonna break her!" Edward scrambles out of his chair and runs around to me, lifting both my arms in the air. I don't know what the physics involved are, but I could breathe again and was able to stop behaving like such a complete spaz.
"What the hell, Emmett?" I manage to glare at him while trying to collect myself.
"Sorry, I know that everyone heard the rumors about Jacob Black and his ex-girlfriend who broke his heart because she took off when she found out she was pregnant and no one has seen her since. He told Paul he'd desperately been trying to contact you but you wouldn't answer any of his letters and neither Billy or the Chief would give him your phone number. I was just trying to clear the air."
"How about a little head's up next time, okay?" I lean forward so that I can make eye contact with everyone around the table individually as I talk. "I did NOT leave town because I was pregnant, I have NEVER been pregnant. I left because Leah Clearwater punched me in the face and threatened to kick my ass if I ever came back or spoke to Jake again. If you've seen her or met her, you'll probably understand why."
"So then why are you here now?"
"Rosalie!" Edward is glaring at 'angel girl'.
"What? It's a fair question." She flicks her hair over her shoulder. I don't know why she bothers. There is so much AquaNet in that hair that it barely moved.
I self-consciously smooth my straight hair and twist a few strands around my fingers. "Well, I'm a couple of years older now and I'm pretty sure Leah's over it by now. I also didn't have much choice. My mom's husband got transferred for work and I couldn't go to school where they live, so here I am."
"So have you spoken to Jacob?"
"Newton, shut up." Edward glares over Emmett's head after returning to his seat beside me.
"It's fine, Edward. No, actually I haven't. I just flew in Saturday, most of my stuff is still in boxes. I've pretty much just been trying to settle in a bit before the start of school today." I go to pick up a fry but put it back down when I notice the puddle of cream soda in the bottom of the container. I lament the loss of my remaining lunch and half-listen to the table conversations that thankfully no longer center on me until the bell rings. I grab my tray and stand to dump my trash when the tray is removed from my hand. I look up and find Edward holding it. "You don't have to do that."
"I know, I just wanted to apologize for Emmett. He doesn't mean to be such an oaf, he just tends to say whatever is in his head."
I will my eyes not to wander while he talks. "It's fine. Embarrassing, but fine." He smiles at me and takes both of our trays and dumps their contents, leaving the trays themselves on the shelf above the refuse containers. I watch him as he walks over, disappointed that the hem of the black button up shirt he's wearing with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms hung low covering his butt. From the tight fit of the legs, I am willing to bet that his pants hug his rear almost as closely as the football pants he was wearing the first time I saw him. The sound of more giggling once again warns me that my ogling is not going unobserved. I turn abruptly and head for the nearest exit.
I make it through the work in my afternoon classes without much trouble. The map is now my new best friend. I now accept that without it, I'd be hopelessly lost. The school isn't that large, but the floors are laid out like a giant x and o's game.
"You look rather perplexed."
I look up and find a very petite girl standing in front of me, wearing neon pink from head to knee. Her calves and feet are encased in heavy knee-high Doc Martens, with neon pink laces, of course. She cocks her head to the side and regards me. "You're very pretty."
"Um, thanks?" I try not to scowl at her when I ask her. "Can you help me find Room 223? It should be right here? Shouldn't it?"
She smiles at me like you might at a small child who'd said something dumb, grips my shoulders and spins me around. Room 223 is right behind me. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. I shake my head and say, "I'm SO glad this is the last class of the day."
"Yep, less than one hour and we're free! Come on." She grabs me by the elbow and pulls me into the room and over to a row of desks along the far wall. She motions to a desk for me to sit at and settles into the desk behind me. Once the bell rings to signal the end of the day Mary Alice, according to the teacher's attendance announcement, slips her arm through mine and walks me out of the building and out to my truck. I don't realize that I never told her what I drive until we reach it. "Uh, Mary Alice, how did you know what I drive?"
She rolls her eyes at me. "First, it's Alice. Just Alice. And second, it's the only vehicle I haven't seen in the lot before."
"Right." I mentally slap myself. "Okay. Well, you offered to let me borrow your notes to catch up on the first week's notes that I missed, but I notice you didn't actually take any notes today. Uh, do you have complete notes from last week?" I can't think of a polite way of asking.
"Yes, silly. I just forgot my binder at home today. How about I bring it by your house tonight? Is 7:30 okay?"
"Yeah, that sounds good."
"Gotta go, see ya later!" I watch as Alice runs off across the parking lot. I'm surprised to see her run over to Edward and Emmett and hop up on Edward's back. He rolls his eyes, but otherwise doesn't pay her any attention and continues the conversation he was having. I watch as Alice finally slides down off his back and walks over and begins chatting with a group of girls. Alice's short, black, spiky hairstyle stands out starkly against the surrounding sea of teased and sprayed styles of the crowd of girls surrounding her.
I really want to just sit here in my truck and observe the other students, but I don't want to earn myself any further strange labels. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the fact that most of the town thinks I ran away to have Jake's baby. I wonder if my Dad heard that rumor. It would certainly explain the distance that seems to have crept in between him and his best friend Billy. They used to be attached at the hip.
I'm in my room copying out the notes that were lent to my by various people in my classes, trying to absorb the information as I do so, when the doorbell rings.
I don't hurry to head downstairs. I know who is there. It's not like the have a lot of people stop by. I hear Dad's heavy footsteps and the creak of the hinges I've been after him to spray with WD40 since my arrival. Muted voices travel up the stairs. I get off my bed and head for the door, expecting Dad's booming voice to call me to the door at any second. I'm startled when I pull open the door to find Alice standing there.
"Shit!" The hand not still holding the doorknob flies to my chest in surprise. "Geez, Alice. You scared me!"
"Wow, you're kinda jumpy, huh?" She laughs and sidles past me into my bedroom, thrusting a lime green binder into my hands. She wanders around my room picking up trinkets and treasures and carefully examining each one. She regards the pile of boxes by the side of my desk. "You plan on staying? You might want to unpack those."
I laugh and tell her that I'm unlikely to need my summer clothes any time soon. The other boxes contain mementos of school years past and various decorative items from my other bedroom. The one in the house that now belongs to another family. Alice apparently senses my darkening mood and abruptly changes topics.
"So, Miss Bella, I see a lot of pictures of a cute little girl in various dance recitals and gymnastics leotards scattered around this room and on the walls up the staircase. Are you hiding some talents?"
I choke up a sound that is some kind of combination laugh, cough, and snort. "Um, no. I'm not hiding anything. I've done dance and gymnastics since I was a toddler, and I'm fairly good at both, but I can't walk up a hill without needing help. I'm ridiculous." I think back to this morning and once again thank my lucky stars for Emmett. I would have been humiliated if I had to show up for my first day of class coated in a layer of grody muck.
"So then you're definitely going to cheerleader tryouts, right? Our squad can use all of the help it can get. They are so lame."
"Un, uh. No way!" I shake my head emphatically.
"Ok, ok. Just take a chill pill, would ya?" She pats my knee as I flop backwards diagonally across my bed.
I see my opening, so I jump right in. "So your boyfriend is on the football team, right?"
"My who? I don't have a boyfriend." Alice is squinting at me and with the ton of black eyeliner she wears, she kind of reminds me of my old neighbor's cat.
"Oh, sorry." Now I'm confused. "I saw you after school run over to Edward and you jumped on his back and..."
"OH, GROSS! Gag me with a spoon!" Alice begins making exaggerated gagging sounds and screwing her face up like I'd just served her fresh squeezed lemon juice. "That's just so, so disgusting..."
Edward was certainly NOT disgusting. Not in my eyes any way. "He's not your boyfriend?"
"God, no. He's my brother. Twin, actually. Fraternal, obviously."
My mouth pops open. I don't know what it is with me today, but I could rent myself out as a venus flytrap, apparently. "Wow. I never would have guessed that."
"No kidding. Ew. Even the idea that you thought we were dating just... Ick, barf me out!" Alice's tiny frame shudders at the thought.
"All right, all right, dipstick. How was I supposed to know?" I shrug and try not to smile. So, Edward and Alice are not dating. That's a good thing. Doesn't mean he doesn't have a girlfriend though. I scowl as the thought crosses my mind.
"Wait a minute. You think he's a Clydesdale, don't ya?" Alice smirks and starts making kissy-face noises. "You like him, don't you? Oh, My, Gawd!"
"No, Alice." I don't know why I deny it. I guess admitting to the first person who bothered to spend more than five minute in my company that after only my first day of school I'm already crushing on her brother isn't the smartest idea. "I mean, sure, he's cute and all, but he's not my type." Not that I have a type. I've only been on three dates, and they were all disasters.
"Sure. That's why more than half of the 'Betties' in the school fall all over themselves to get his attention. He's my brother, but I'm not blind." Alice gets up from her perch on the edge of my bed and starts singing, "you wanna do the wild thing..."
"Ugh! Alice! Just stop talking, skank! You're gonna make me hurl..." I really, really, really need her to drop this subject before I actually blow chunks.
"Fine, I'll stop…if you hit the cheerleader try-outs. Otherwise, I'm going to tell the entire school you want to bump uglies with Eddie-boy." Her expression is dead serious.
"In your dreams! Do you have any idea what kind of hellacious disaster that would be? I can NOT perform in front of people I don't even know. My nerves will act up and I'm gonna look like a total spaz!"
"Uh, huh. So, I'll pencil you in on the list. Just see Rosalie, she's the head cheerleader, I think you've already met her, and the rest of the squad in the gym after school. I've gotta go, I promised I'd get the car back early. If you need any help with my writing, my phone number is on the front cover of the binder. Write it down and use it! See you tomorrow."
I watch stunned as Alice practically skips out of my room, thunders down the stairs like a herd of rhinos and chirps a happy "Bye, Chief!" to my Dad on her way out.
I replay the ten minute conversation in my head and realize that Alice has managed to turn me into a Valley-Girl-speaking cheerleader wannabe in no time flat. Of course Rosalie is the head cheerleader. My mood actually brightens since I'm positive that Rosalie doesn't care for me at all. There's no way she's going to let me on the squad. My nerves begin to settle. All I need to do is show up to the tryouts and do my thing. Rosalie will tell me they don't want me and Alice will have to keep her mouth shut because I kept my end of the bargain.
I fumble through my first week of classes. My left hand is still a bit sore from all the writing I did during my nights to catch up. I eventually give up on trying to absorb the information and concentrate on just getting the notes written, I'll make time to review them. It's not like I have any friends to make plans with, except maybe Alice. That is, if she wants to be my friend and I'm not reading anything more into her actions than she actually intends.
I spend the first couple of days after her ultimatum begging and pleading my case for her to let me off the hook. I don't really want to be a cheerleader. I just want to mind my own business and get through the last couple of years of high school in relative obscurity so I can go away somewhere warm and sunny for college. She's evasive on the topic and manages to change the subject before I broach it. Every time I decide to just flat out refuse, she manages to completely evade me. It's almost as though she knows I'm looking for her.
I see Edward a few times in the hallways. When we cross paths, he goes out of his way to greet me and ask how my classes are going. I smile like a fool after each encounter.
Lunch hours are spent at the football table. Thankfully, most of the time Rosalie is a no-show. I casually ask Emmett if I should take a different seat to avoid irking her, and he tells me no, she's been meeting the squad to discuss up-coming try-outs. I breathe a sigh of relief that I won't have to deal with her making me feel uncomfortable then immediately tense up as I realize the tryouts are in a couple of days. On Wednesday, Rosalie pops in to the lunch room to lay claim to her man. She scoots into his lap and makes a spectacle of herself as she wraps her curves around his body and proceeds to shove her tongue in his ear, then his throat. He seems to enjoy the attention. I keep mine on the plate of lasagna in front of me.
"So, Bella, I see you've signed up for cheerleading try-outs." I'm surprised she manages to un-attach herself from Emmett's face long enough to address me.
"Um, yeah. I was... talked into it." I try to end this conversation quickly. I don't want to think about it more than absolutely necessary.
She snorts rather indelicately, "Yeah, good luck with that."
"I'm sure you'll do fine, Bella." Emmett frowns at Rosalie and she just shrugs before giving him another good tongue-bath and rushing away.
I try to keep my mind off of her by talking to each of the guys near me at the table. I talk to Tyler about the assignment we were given in the math class we share while I try to decipher the symbols shaved into the side of his flat top. Eric shares stories about his discoveries of a new hair products called Joico Ice Spray that allows him to spike the top of his mullet straight up, with no afternoon sagging. Mike Newton talks non-stop about his dad's classic car collection. Edward arrives with his tray of food mid-way through Mike's monologue. Mike's pulled into a discussion about some medieval-sounding board game so Edward leans across the table and whispers that the cars are actually model cars. I use the sleeve of my oversized sweater to cover up the giggling I do. Edward's eyes sparkle with mirth.
After the final bell on Friday, I rush to my locker, stow my books, grab my gym clothes and stuff them into my backpack. I hurry down to the change rooms and avoid looking at the faces of the girls around me once I realize that Alice is nowhere to be found. The change room door swings open and a redhead with the complexion of a porcelain doll peers down her nose at me. "Well, let's go, we don't want this to take all night. Some of us have lives, people."
We shuffle out of the enclosed space and into the gymnasium. I'm a bit nervous of being left totally at the mercy of these girls until I notice that Coach Volturi is sitting in the athletic department office watching us through the reinforced safety glass window that separates the gymnasium from the office. Her blonde hair is pulled back into a severe bun and her usual glacial expression is firmly in place. I swear that woman always looks like she's ready to snap. I think the phrase "if looks could kill" was coined in her honor.
The redhead is gathering her gigantic hair into a side ponytail as Rosalie stalks towards us. She's dressed in full uniform, pom-poms and all. Her hair is slicked back into a sleek ponytail. All except her bangs which are teased, sprayed, and standing four inches straight up off her forehead. "Vic, pump up the volume!"
The music is synthesized and processed to the point that I don't recognize a single instrument. The base is thumping and the group of girls who are in the middle of the gym move to form a triangle pattern and suddenly begin to move in tandem to the new wave song. The chants and routines are fairly simple and not terribly athletic. I start to feel better about being able to make it through without making a complete fool of myself.
They break formation and set the wannabes in two lines in front of the table. Four of them, Rosalie included, sit in folding chairs behind the table and the rest of the girls who are obviously returning to the squad sit in groups of two or three and studiously ignore us as Rosalie barks out her obviously rehearsed speech about "dedication to the craft" and "respect for the senior squad members". By the time she's finished, I'm actually happy that there is no chance of my making the squad. I don't know how much of Rosalie's superior attitude I can swallow.
Eventually two of the girls are beckoned from the stands and begin running through some choreography they want us to copy. The poor girl beside me is muttering to herself, "What am I doing here? I've completely lost my mind. I can't do this. Oh, god. What am I doing?"
"Hey," I whisper, trying not to draw any attention to myself, "you can do this. Just take a few deep breaths and relax."
She turns her head to me and gives me a tight smile. "Thanks, but this was such a bad idea. I'm going to make a complete ass of myself."
"Are we boring you, Bella?" My eyes dart forward and I'm met with Rosalie's fierce scowl.
"Nope, just making sure I understand the instructions," I lie.
"Angela, have you finished clearing things up for Bella?" My attempts at deflecting Rosalie's attention away from my already nervous neighbor fail.
"Yep, she's all clear." Her voice is so tight it's practically a squeak.
"Rosalie, that's enough. Let's get started please," Coach Volturi says through the PA system while giving her a pointed look. I guess Coach must have turned the system on to hear the auditions as well as watch them.
"Right. So let's go. One, two, three and..." She trails off and the volume of the music increases as we move through the choreography.
We've been at it for only twenty minutes or so and the field of thirty-something hopefuls has been thinned to eight. Surprisingly, I haven't been cut yet. I'm sweaty and my ponytail is stuck to the back of my neck when Rosalie springs a surprise on us. "You each have ten minutes to come up with an audition routine. Make sure you include moves that showcase your athleticism and dance ability. We have a selection of cassettes up here with songs you can choose from, or if you have your own, feel free to grab it and bring it back to us."
My mind goes blank but thankfully starts functioning again and begins whipping through possibilities. I quickly settle on the easiest solution. I have a floor routine from my last competition that I can tweak to fit. I head back to the change room while going over the moves in my head and making required changes. I grab my walkman and eject the mix tape so that I can flip it over to find the song I want. I fast forward and use the empty change room to rehearse and run through the changes I've made to make sure I won't look like a complete freak.
I run through it a couple of times before I am satisfied that I'm as prepared as I can be in the circumstances. I walk back out into the gym and keep my head down. I don't want to see what the others are working on in case what I have planned is not up to the same level. I just want to get it over with. I keep my headphones on and the volume fairly loud to keep myself distracted. I bend over fussing with my legwarmers. I adjust my tank top straps and hook my walkman onto my waist band so that I can pull the scrunchie out of my hair and redo my ponytail.
I'm startled by a loud noise and look up to find Rosalie banging on the table with a book. I yank my headphones off and leave them hanging around my neck.
"Now that I have everyone's attention now, we are going to begin the solo auditions. Bella, you're up. Do you have music for us?"
"Yeah, let me just cue it up." I quickly pull up one headphone to my ear and rewind the song to the section I want. I stop the tape and eject it from the player. Vic, the redhead, is standing in front of me with her hand out when I look up. I hand her the tape and she motions for me to hand her my walkman as well. I hand it over and do a couple of quick stretches while she inserts the tape into the boom box.
Her finger hovers over the play button as I strike my starting position. "Here goes nothing. I'm going to get you for this, Alice," I mutter to myself then nod for her to start the song.
You're so fine
You're so fine
You blow my mind
I run through the moves and do my best to not over think what I am doing as the first three verses of the song run through. I concentrate on the motions and flips and rehearse the upcoming landings. The last thing I want to do is miss a landing and end up on my ass in front of these girls.
You've been around all night
And that's a little long
You think you've got the right
But I think you got it wrong
Well can't you say goodnight
So you can take me home Mickey
Cuz when you say you will
It always means you won't
You're giving me the chills
Baby, please baby, don't
Every night you still leave me all alone, Mickey
I realize that I am singing along in my head while I dance and cartwheel and flip. Instead of Mickey, however, I'm substituting Edward's name. Good thing I'm only singing in my head. I am right? Yep. Good.
Oh Mickey, what a pity
You don't understand
You take me by the heart
When you take me by the hand
Oh Mickey, you're so pretty
Can't you understand
It's guys like you Mickey
Oh what you do Mickey, do Mickey
Don't break my heart Mickey!
Now when you take me by the
Who's ever gonna know
Every time you move I let
A little more show
It's something we can use
So don't say no Mickey
I'm grinding and swiveling my hips like my life depends on it. I know I've gone over my time by now but I'm determined to show them everything I've got, even if they do cut me, I'll have at least proven to myself that I gave the best performance I could.
So c'mon and give it to me anyway you can
Anyway you wanna do it
I'll take it like a man
But please baby please, don't leave me in the sand Mickey
I dance and spin putting every ounce of performance knowledge I've ever been taught on display.
You're so fine
You're so fine
You blow my mind
The chorus repeats as I complete a series of flips and finish up with a few sexy dance moves. My final move is a round off straight into a split. I stay still, locked in my final position with my face toward the ceiling to avoid the judgment on their faces. Victoria realizes I am done and shuts off the rest of the song. I look up towards the table for the first time since I began. I was expecting looks of scorn, but I'm met with stupefied silence. They're all standing there staring open-mouthed. I do an internal fist pump. Finally, I'm not the one doing a guppy impersonation.
Loud cheers and the sound of applause from behind me makes me jump. I turn around to find that the stands are full of dirty football players and some of the rejected girls. Alice is bouncing in the stands yelling her little head off. Emmett is whistling and cheering. I can feel my skin turning redder by the moment. I scramble up from the ground and scurry over to the table to grab my tape and stuff it back into my walkman. Rosalie clears her throat and I blurt out the first excuse I can think of to get out of there as soon as possible.
She shakes her head and flips her ponytail over her shoulder. "We'll let you know by Tuesday of next week. The final squad list will be posted on the athletic department bulletin board. Jessica, you're up!"
I turn tail and head directly for the change room. I catch Alice's eye and glare at her. She rolls her eyes at me in return. My eyes drift and I'm met with a sight that makes me stumble before I manage to catch myself and break into a light jog to get away faster. I'd caught a glimpse of Edward as I rushed past. The expression on his face shocked me. He looked completely grossed out. I was stunned and embarrassed. I decided to forgo showering and changing at school in favor of waiting until I get home. I stuff my walkman into my backpack and made a beeline for the exit. I can hear Alice calling my name as I practically sprint out of the school, tear open the creaky door and launch myself into my truck. I pump the gas and crank the ignition hoping to make a clean getaway. Of course, I'm not that lucky.
"BELLA, wait!" Alice jumps on the running board of my truck and wraps her arms around my side mirror. She knocks on the window and I lose my battle against the tears I've been trying to keep at bay. Sighing heavily I roll the window down as far as it will go before it sticks. She gives me a quizzical look and asks, "What's wrong? Why did you haul ass out of there? You're moves were totally gnarly!"
I shake my head and don't attempt to speak. I know my voice would be shaky and I already feel foolish enough. I don't know why Edward's disapproval hurts my feelings so deeply and I certainly can't tell his sister why I'm sitting here in tears after a performance I should be proud of. "I... I'm just... I think I just twisted my ankle a little. I'll be fine, Alice. I just need some... ice." Sure, that sounds believable, right?
"Are you sure? You seem more upset that injured. You weren't limping or anything. You can tell me if something's wrong you know." Alice's eyes bore into mine as if she's trying to see into my very soul.
"Yes, I'll be fine. Thanks for checking on me though. I just want to get home."
"Ok, but call me if you need anything. You wrote my number down, right?" I nod and she climbs down from her perch on the side of my truck. "I'll see you tomorrow, right?" I nod again, feeling my throat begin to close up again as the desire to sob my heart out becomes almost overwhelming. I wait until she takes a step back before pulling out of the parking spot and heading out of the lot. As I turn the corner towards the exit, I see Edward standing just outside the gym door. He's watching me leave, and I can't figure out the expression on his face. It almost looks like disappointment. I stomp on the gas pedal and pull out onto the road without really looking first. The driver of the station wagon I nearly T-bone leans on the horn, but I can't even tell you what colour the car was, never mind who was driving, because my eyes are now full of tears and I'm sobbing uncontrollably.
I spend the weekend hiding out in my house. Dad seems to notice that my mood is dismal when he's not working or puttering around the garage out back, but in true Swan fashion, chooses to leave the subject alone. His one and only reference being a quick, "If you want to talk, find me."
I should run out to the grocery store to pick up some things for the coming week's dinners, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I wear the same old, well-worn, oversized neon yellow sweatshirt and black bicycle shorts all weekend while making numerous lists of excuses for dropping out of Forks High and discarding each one for a variety of reasons. I'm well aware that I am acting like a total dweeb and over-reacting, but I can't help it.
I'm sitting in front of the TV absently watching A.L.F. plotting Fluffy the cat's demise and eating popcorn doused with copious amounts of butter and salt while I examine exactly why one person's negative reaction has affected me so much more than the entire crowd of people who cheered me on. I barely know him, but Edward had been so nice to me all week and his abrupt disapproval cut me deeply.
The phone rings, as it has been ringing at least once an hour all day, but since Dad is at work and I'm in no mood to talk, I continue to not answer it. I've got the CB turned on to the local police broadcast channel, just in case. If there was a reason Dad needed to get a hold of me, I'd probably here about it there first any way.
The popcorn is long gone and I've changed the channel. Crockett and Tubbs chase the drug dealers across the screen in a Scarab speed boat. My head feels heavy and my eyes are still sore from the ridiculous amount of crying I've been doing. I am not a crier usually. My roller coaster of emotions is making me want to scream in frustration. As the thought crosses my mind, I decide to go with it. I'm home alone and the neighbors are far enough away that my tantrum should go unnoticed. I tip my head back on the couch cushion and let loose a good long scream. My release is cut off by several loud thumps on the front door. There is a short pause, followed by more thumps.
My face erupts with my embarrassed blush. I have a pretty good idea who's at the door and I'm mortified that I'll probably have to explain myself. I groan and push myself off of the couch and over to the door. I close my eyes and breathe deeply before pulling open the door.
"What the hell, Bella?" Alice surveys my appearance then pushes me backward into the house shoving the door closed behind her with her foot.
I roll my eyes and head back to the couch, dropping onto it like a sack of potatoes. "What are you doing here, Alice?"
"I've been calling you for two days straight. Why have you not picked up the phone? Why are you holed up here like... like... you're acting like you've just been dumped! You should be on cloud nine! You totally ruled! Why are you looking like someone ran over your dog? Oh, shit! Do you have a dog? Did someone die? I'm sorry, I should be more sensitive. I didn't mean.."
"ALICE!" I call her name in an attempt to stop her incessant chatter. "Nobody died, I don't have a dog. I'm just..." What am I? Shit. I can't tell her what's really got me all tied up in knots. "I'm just... on the rag." I wince as the words come out of my mouth. Lord in heaven, that's they best I could come up with?
Alice looks at my and I can tell that she's not completely buying it. "Riiiiight." Okay, maybe not even a little bit.
She pushes my feet off the couch and sits down. I move to sit properly and shift my attention back to the screen.
"Bella, I know you don't know me that well, but I think you should know that I have a finely-tuned built in bullshit detector. I also do not stop until I get what I want. You'll save yourself a lot of trouble if you understand these things early." Out of the corner of my eye I see her cross her arms and glare at the side of my head.
I sigh and think over my options. I can tell her, and she'll be so grossed out that she'll stop asking me. I can not tell her and she'll never leave and continue to glare at me. I can make something up. I'm not creative to make something up. See the earlier brilliant period-related attempt for proof. I opt for an abbreviated version of the truth.
"I'm sorry, Alice. You've been nothing but supportive and sweet to me, but I just can't talk to you about this. It's just too... weird."
"Why would it be we... Wait a second! Does this have something to do with my womb-mate? What the hell did he do? Did he say something stupid to you? I swear to god, if that boy said anything..."
"ALICE! Damn, will you just chill out!" I shake my head and chuckle half-heartedly. "He didn't say anything."
"Ok, so he did something. What did he do? If you want me to kick him in the 'nads, you just let me know. I'm not all that set on having nieces or nephews."
I can't help but laugh at that statement, delivered with gusto. I have no doubt she could cause some serious damage. Even if Edward is practically an entire foot taller than her. "No, no. Don't do that. It's fine. He didn't do anything." Well, technically, he didn't. He just looked at me. That was enough.
"Bella, I'm confused." She reaches over and pushes the hair I've been hiding behind my ears and puts a finger under my chin to direct my attention back to her. "If he didn't say anything, and he didn't do anything, what has you so upset?"
"I... it's just..." The ringing of my doorbell cuts through the air and I breathe a small sigh of relief for my short reprieve. I jump off the couch and practically run to the door to escape the conversation, at least temporarily.
"Bella, wait!" Alice calls from behind me as I yank the door open without even bothering to check who's on the other side. I'm stunned into silence when I see who is on the front porch.
"Edward..." I turn and glare at Alice who's standing behind me.
"Sorry, I tried to tell you." I drop my eyes to the floor.
He clears his throat before speaking. "Um, sorry to interrupt, but I have to get back home. Alice, you said you were only going to be a few minutes. Mom's going to wonder what's taking so long."
"Well, Eddie, you see I wasn't expecting to have to pick Bella's mood up off the floor. So if you can forgive me, I'll just be staying here until she feels better. Is that all right with you?"
"What? Why would..."
"ALICE!" I'm mortified that she's going to tell him that's he's upset me. "Just STOP. I'm fine. Everything is FINE. Just... go home, Alice."
"NO. Thank you. No. Just go home. I'll see you tomorrow at school."
She glares at me but slips her feet into her sneakers. "Fine. This conversation is not over."
I just nod and make sure not to look towards Edward. Whatever the expression is on his face, I don't want to see it. Alice surprises me by wrapping her arms around me and giving me a tight squeeze. She pulls me towards her so that I have to lean down a bit. She speaks directly into my ear. "Whatever it is, I'm sure it's just some kind of misunderstanding." She lets me go and heads out the door. I take the opportunity to look up, thinking that Edward must be already heading back to the car. I'm wrong. He's still standing on the porch and his forehead is all scrunched up. "Let's go, dick wad." Alice grabs him by the elbow and spins him away from the door and towards the steps.
"Goodnight, Bella." His soft voice startles me and I don't look up, just nod and close the door.
I take a quick look at the clock. It's only 9:30, but I'm suddenly exhausted. I turn off the TV and the lights then check the door is locked before heading up to bed. I change into a plain blue cotton t-shirt and pajama pants set and climb between the sheets. I fall asleep despite my whirling thoughts.
Monday at school is a completely surreal experience. Several guys from the team approach me at different points during the day. Apparently, now I'm not just some girl who hangs out with them at lunch because Emmett decided I should. Now, they actually pay attention to me. It's hard to get used to. In fact, I think I liked it better when they treated me like one of the guys. The glaring exception, of course, is Edward. He says hello and is perfectly polite, but he doesn't go out of his way to speak to me when we pass in the halls and barely acknowledges me at lunch.
By the end of the day on Tuesday, I'm ready to pack it in and eat my lunch in my truck. I want my life to go back to the way it was. I want to blame Alice for this whole mess, but I'm pretty sure at this point she wouldn't really have snitched about my crush on Edward. She was just pushing me toward something she honestly thought I'd enjoy. She just didn't understand that I was quite happy just standing by on the sidelines. I didn't have a burning desire to be the center of attention. At all.
I don't even bother going down to the athletic department at the end of the day to see the posted list. I'm sure Alice was waiting in the hallway to get a look the moment it was posted. I go straight to the parking lot and get in my truck. I don't bother starting it because I know she's going to hunt me down. Might as well be here. I've parked pretty far out in the lot today, close to the football field. If I turn my head a bit, I'll have a perfect view of the practice going on there. I fight with myself but eventually my gaze drifts. I spot Emmett immediately. His large size makes him damn hard to miss. He's standing by the bleachers with Rose and some of the girls from the squad. I scrunch up my face in distaste and try to convince myself that I'm not looking for Edward. I finally see him coming across the field from the school with Alice right behind him. She's stomping after him and obviously giving him a piece of her mind about something. He stalks ahead of her causing her to break into a jog to keep up. He turns abruptly and says something that stops her in her tracks. He heads out to the center of the field and begins to join the other players doing stretches. Alice stands frozen in place for a few moments, then her eyes scan the lot. I can pinpoint the moment her eyes land on me. She plasters the fakest smile I've ever seen on her face and jogs towards me.
"Hey, Bella! Congratulations!" She waits until I roll the window down and I cringe a bit in response.
"Thanks. I guess. When's the first practice?" I don't really care. This wasn't really something I wanted. I figure I'll just show up and let them know I've changed my mind.
"Tomorrow, right after school." She cocks an eyebrow at me. "Don't you dare! Don't let my jerk of a brother ruin this for you! You should be so excited right now; this is so great for you." She props one hand on her hip and grips the side mirror tightly in the other.
"Alice, I never really wanted to do this in the first place, remember. You bribed me."
She looks sheepish for a moment. "Right. Okay. You're right. But, Bella, you're so talented. I saw all those awards and photos and I just knew that this would be something you'd be awesome at. Can't you at least just give it a shot? You might like it."
"Fine, Alice, I'll do it for you. It'll be fun. Yeah." Then a thought occurred to me. "Wait a second. Alice, are you even ON the squad?"
She looks at me like I've grown a new head. "No, I never said I was."
"Are you kidding me? You're just going to throw me to the sharks? What the hell, Alice?"
"Oh, relax you big baby. It's a school club. What do you think they can do to you? There's always one of the coaches at practices and there's a stadium full of people at the games. You'll be just fine. Besides, I'm always around." She winks at me and hops off the running board.
The first practice is more than a little awkward. You know, since they are apparently pretty pissed that I made the squad. I've heard whispers that they had voted me out, but the coaches overruled their decision. The squad barely speaks to me during practices after the coaches begin to focus some of the choreography around what they considered the 'increased acrobatic capabilities' they feel I bring to the team. Great, this is exactly what I was trying to avoid. I don't really want to stand out. I was hoping to just blend in to the group. I try to avoid confrontation but practically bite my tongue off in the process. Rosalie and Victoria take every opportunity to criticize me and correct me.
Practice finally ends and I make a beeline for the bleachers to grab my bag. I'm not even going to bother with a shower. It can wait until I get home. I want away from these women as soon as possible.
I've barely made it two steps past the dressing room door before I'm summoned.
"Bella, where do you think you're going?" I turn to find Rosalie regarding me with crossed arms and a tapping toe. Great. I'm about to get scolded, again.
"Home. Practice is over and I have things I need to do."
"Practice is over, yes. However, we still need to get your measurements and sizes for your uniform. The order needs to go in first thing in the morning. We also need to discuss the grooming requirements."
"Grooming requirements?" Whoops. Didn't mean to say that out loud. Victoria saunters over to me and passes me a clipboard while she holds up a seamstress's measuring tape. Rosalie joins us and takes the clipboard from me as Victoria begins manipulating my extremities and spouting off measurements which Rosalie records.
"Yes. Approved hairstyles, make-up standard of application. We must all appear to be a cohesive group. Which means, you need to actually do your hair and make-up."
"I already do that." I'm getting pretty snappish so this conversation better be brief.
"Sure you do, but that bogus mop you're trying to pass off as a hairstyle needs to go. From now on, you'll do what we tell you to."
"And if I don't?"
She gets the creepiest look on her face I've ever seen from a girl before answering, "Try me and see."
They finish up with the measurements and I pretty much run from the room and to the relative safety of my truck.
I toss my gym bag on to the passenger seat and slam the door behind me. I take several deep breaths, slowing my heart rate gradually. Once I have calmed down somewhat I slide my key into the ignition and look up through the windshield as I twist it. My gaze is met with another pair of eyes. Eyes that appear concerned. Eyes that quickly turn angry and look away. Edward then turns and runs off across the field to catch up with the rest of the team who appear to be running laps or doing some kind of running drill.
I try unsuccessfully to stifle the sob that bubbles up from deep in my chest. I throw the truck into drive and mash the accelerator to make my exit. Remembering the close call from last time, I slow when merging in to traffic before barreling off towards home.
Friday afternoon's game comes way too fast. I don't feel ready even though we have practiced the routines and chants for hours every night. I know I've performed recitals with less preparation than this, but to perform in front of my peers, at a new school, is somehow infinitely more terrifying.
I stand in front of the mirror trying to get my hair to cooperate. I'm having a ridiculous amount of trouble. I don't do big hair. I can't coordinate my arms in a way to get a comb, the blowdryer and copious amounts of hairspray to form the high flip and straight bangs I'm supposed to wear. I look around the room hopelessly, trying to find the girl least likely to stab me with my own comb. I'm about to burst into tears when the door slams open and a little bundle of energy pops into the room.
"Alright, Bella, hand over the blow dryer," Alice grins up at me and takes it and the comb from my hand, "and hang on to the spritz until I need it."
"You're not allowed in here, Alice."
"It's school property, Vic. Back off." Alice glares at her then turns her attention back to my hair. She turns on the dryer and makes quick work of mastering my bangs then takes the comb and a barrette and clips the rest of my hair into a tight ponytail. Once she is done with that, she rifles through my bag and touches up my make-up, adding more color than I am comfortable with, but when I chance a quick peek in the mirror I'm happy with her results.
I can do this. I try to give myself a little pep talk as Alice putters around fussing with the hem of my shirt and the way the waistband and my top sit. I actually look like I belong here. I CAN do this.
Alice gives me a quick hug and smiles brilliantly. "You've got this. Go knock 'em dead."
We run out to the field ahead of the team to warm up the crowd. I try to concentrate on what I'm doing, and not on any reaction I might receive. The crowd erupts in cheers as the team begins to run towards the field. I avert my gaze and concentrate on not seeking Edward out. A loud whistle catches my attention and I snap my gaze to locate the origin of the sound. Instead, I meet stormy eyes and watch as Edward reaches forward and slaps Eric across the back of his head hard enough to cause his head to snap forward.
"What the hell, Cullen?" Eric spins and Emmett steps between them shoving Edward backward.
"Knock it off. Get on the field and get set." Emmett keeps a hand on Eric's chest to keep him in place as Edward grumbles and heads onto the field.
The routines go well for the first quarter. I am nervous, but I hit all my marks and manage to keep up with all the choreography and keep the required smile on my face the entire time. I studiously ignore the players on the field. I definitely do NOT look for gray-green eyes and messy cinnamon hair amongst the players gathered on the sidelines. I concentrate on my job and my own performance. I stay in sync with the squad, but don't acknowledge the sharp glares and occasional snarls.
The second quarter also goes well. Alice catches my eye from her spot in the bleachers and not-so-subtly motions to the cute but somewhat scruffy-looking guy beside her. I give her a quick thumbs-up and turn my attention back to what I'm doing. The rain begins to fall softly at first, then harder and harder.
By the time half time arrives and we are getting ready to take the field for the half-time show, the field is slippery and mud-covered. I try to speak to coach to suggest that some of the more difficult maneuvers be adjusted due to the weather, but am cut off every time I try. First Victoria jumps in front of me to complain about a sore wrist, then Rosalie pulls me aside suggesting that I'm purposely trying to sabotage the squad by making them perform sub-standard routines. I second-guess myself and let them talk me into continuing as planned. I know that this decision is foolish considering the amount of water still falling.
We take the field and take our spots in the formation. At first things are a bit sloppy due to the water and mud on the field, however once we get a little more accustomed to the adjustments we need to make in our footing and grips, we get things back in sync. As we approach the most difficult lift and flip sequence, my heart begins to pump faster. I have a feeling that if there will be a problem this is where its going to happen. I'm flying upwards in the air, spinning and twisting when I hear murmurs and whispers around me. I can't hear the words, but a feeling of dread falls over me. I feel the mood shift immediately. The hands that are supposed to catch me slip away on my right side, while those on my left grasp securely, sending me crashing down onto my right shoulder and ribcage.
"Whoops!", "Slippery!" I hear Rosalie and Victoria snickering above me.
Bree, one of the quieter girls on the squad, crouches beside me as I wheeze, trying to drag air into my lungs. "Damn it, Rose, I think she's seriously hurt. That was bogus! You idiots did that on purpose!"
"It's raining and we've covered in mud. She slipped." Victoria practically snarls at her. "Besides, you can't prove otherwise."
I want to reach up and claw both of their eyes out, but I'm too busy writhing in pain in the cold, wet, muddy grass. I manage to sputter out the word, "Bitches."
Coach reaches us and is followed closely behind by the paramedics. They fuss around me immobilizing me by rolling me on and strapping me down to the backboard. The oxygen mask placed over my face forcing air into my lungs finally manages to make me feel less like I'm suffocating.
I'm feeling like I want to go to sleep and my eyes drift closed. They snap open when I hear my father's thunderous voice. "What the HELL is going on here? Which one of you is responsible for this?" I hear as Coach steps up to him and begins speaking in what I am sure she thinks are calming platitudes. I'm certain that she's only fueling his temper. It takes a lot to upset him, but once he's going, you better just back right off.
Why is Dad here? How? I never told him about cheerleading. I told him I'd joined a club at school to explain the after-hours practices. I told him I'd be at the game tonight, but not why. I figured he'd just assume I was watching the game. It occurs to me that someone must have called him. Alice. Of course, it was Alice.
I'm hoisted off the ground and strapped to a gurney when Dad arrives at my side. "How are you feeling, hun? I'm going to meet you over at the hospital, unless you want me to come in the ambulance with you? Otherwise both of our vehicles will be left here at the school."
I try to nod, but since my head is strapped and wedged tightly, I can't. "O...kay." I manage to whimper.
"I'll go with her!" I can hear Alice from behind my head, but can't see her.
"I'm sorry, but only immediate family is allowed to accompany her."
"I'm her sister." I smile.
I'm practically looking up Dad's nose as he glares at the paramedic. "Yes, son. You're taking both of my daughters with you. I'll meet you over there. Drive very carefully. I'll be right behind you."
The paramedic begins to argue, then thinks better of it and I see Alice standing by the rear door as I'm turned around and loaded head-first into the ambulance.
Once we're all settled and the ambulance begins to move, Alice takes a hold of my hand and squeezes gently. "I'm so sorry, Bella. I never thought they'd pull something so cruel. I'm going to make those girls wish they could transfer out of this school."
"Not. Your. Fault." Trying to speak burns with the fire of a thousand suns. It makes me feel like I'm being poked from the inside.
"Alice," mutters the paramedic as he fusses a plastic tube with something attached to the end then adjusts the oxygen mask on my face.
"Yes, Waylon?" It's a very small town, I'm not at all surprised that Alice and the paramedic, Waylon, know each other.
"You don't have a sister. And I know your father."
"What's your point, Waylon?"
I'm hot. Too hot. I ache. All over. I try to roll over and gasp as the pain shoots up my side. "HOLY SHIT!"
I open my eyes and see Dad rising from a chair beside me. I quickly take in my surroundings and the events from halftime flash past in my memory. "Sorry, but that really freaking hurts."
"Well, I don't want to state the obvious, but you're in the hospital for a reason, Bells. Those girls really did a number on you."
"Don't even bother lying to protect them! Plenty of people saw them pull their hands away. Their hands didn't slip. A couple of young ladies from the squad also came forward to confirm that they heard them whispering about letting you fall."
I'm actually glad he interrupted me because I don't know what I was going to say. It wasn't their fault? It was. It wasn't on purpose? It was.
I look up when I hear a knock on the door. There is a handsome blonde man there in a doctor's white jacket with a stethoscope around his neck. He smiles as my Dad waves him into the room.
"Good morning, Charlie. How's the patient?"
"Peachy," I grumble.
He chuckles and walks over to the foot of the bed and checks the chart attached there. "Hi Bell, I'm Dr. Cullen. I just need to check a few things here." He examines my eyes with a pen light and pokes and prods at my ribs causing me to wince and whimper.
"Hi Daddy, can I come in?" Alice's voice calls from the doorway.
"Sure," Dad and the doctor say at the same time, then Dad continues as the doctor eyes him with curiosity, "come on in, kiddo."
Alice comes over and I can tell purely by the look on her face that I look like hell. "Um, wow." She pries her eyes from my forehead and focuses on my eyes. "How are you feeling?"
I huff and snort in reply.
"Right. Ok, Daddy and New Daddy," Alice smirks, "how about you give us a bit of time here so I can round up a nurse or two to help Bella get all of this mud and crap out of her hair and clean her up a bit?"
"Alice, wait for the nurses. Any movement at this point is bound to be very uncomfortable for Bella. I need to talk to Charlie for a bit." They walk out of the room and Alice hits the call button attached to my bed. She has a brief conversation with the nurse who answers the call.
Eventually two nurses arrive and the three of them manage to wash all the hairspray, mud and grass out of my hair without soaking the bed. The nurses offer to give me a sponge bath to try and remove some of mud caked to other areas of my body. I blush with mortification and refuse.
"At least let me wash your face, neck, and arms. You look like you lost a mud-wrestling match," Alice says.
I grumble a bit before agreeing. I'm afraid to even ask for a mirror. Alice goes into the bathroom to retrieve a bowl with soapy water and a washcloth. The first few swipes of the cloth feel heavenly and I'm not surprised to find the water already turning brown after she rinses the cloth. She finishes with my face and moves to my neck. It's awkward to reach the back of my neck since I can't really move forward with the way the bed is angled and the pain in my ribs, but she tells me that she managed to get most of the visible muck. She walks into the bathroom to get clean water and I close my eyes and concentrate on the feeling of the way my skin feels tight across my nose from the soap drying on my skin. A throat being cleared causes me to open my eyes.
"Edward!" I gasp, then wince as the pain shoots up my side.
"Shit, are you okay?" He rushes in to the room and to my side. His hands flop around uselessly as he tries to decide whether to touch me or not.
"It's fine, just breathed the wrong way," I say unnecessarily.
His hand settles over mine on the blanket and I see how my hand is still streaked with mud and underneath my fingernails is filthy. I look up as his other hand scratches as the shaved-short hairs at the back of his neck then moves forward to rake through the long bangs, moving them to the side so that I can see his eyes.
"Hello, brother dear. To what do we owe the pleasure of your company?" I look up at Alice, silently wondering when she became a fifty year-old grandmother.
"Stuff it, Al." Alice brings the bowl of water and places it on the bed beside where our hands still rest. She hands Edward the rinsed-out towel and says she'll be back in a minute.
Now that she's left us alone together I suddenly remember the past week or so and all of the glares Edward sent my way. I manage to pull my hand out from under his and rest it on my stomach, covering it with my other hand.
"What are you doing here?" I go with the simplest question. I want to ask what happened to make him suddenly dislike me so much. Did I do something, say something?
He looks away and sighs. "I'm sorry, Bella. I just... I thought you were one of them." He says the word with such venom he practically spits it.
"One of who?" I'm puzzled.
"Rose, Jessica, them. The cheerleaders." He looks at me but his bangs have fallen over his eyes again and I only see slivers of gray-green and black. I resist the urge to reach over and brush the hair aside.
"I am one of them. Or at least I was." I'm pretty sure that my cheerleading days are behind me. I never really wanted to do it anyway. Obviously, they didn't want me either.
He snorts and replied, "No, you were most definitely NOT." He says nothing more and I don't know where to go with this conversation. He dips the cloth in the water and puts his hand out, palm up, silently asking for my hand. I hesitate a moment before reaching towards him. He grasps my hand and drags the warm cloth from my elbow to my wrist. He makes several sweeps collecting the dirt then rinses it in the bowl. He makes another sweep to make sure he's removed all of the dirt he can, then concentrates on wiping my hand. He slides the bowl closer and sinks my hand into the warm water. I try not to giggle thinking of a sleepover years ago where we tried to make Lauren pee herself in her sleep by doing the same thing. He uses the edge of the cloth to coax the dirt from under my nails.
"Look, Bella. There are a lot of things that have happened in this town that I'm pretty sure you know nothing about. I'm guessing that Alice never told you what those girls did to her, or I can't imagine you'd have ever considered joining that squad."
"What do you mean? Alice said she isn't a cheerleader."
"She isn't. Not any more."
"Why not, what did they do?" I feel the same dread creeping down my spine that I experienced the day before. It's somewhat eased by the feeling of Edward's hand on mine. He takes my right hand out of the water and dries it with the wrung-out cloth. He then moves the bowl to the other side of the bed and begins washing off my other arm.
"Alice may be tiny, but she's very athletic. She's always done gymnastics and dance classes. When we started high school, she wanted to be a cheerleader." He won't even look up at me while he talks. His eyes watch the cloth move up and down my arm. "She made the team easily. She was having all kinds of fun, she loved working on the routines. After a few months, she stopped talking about practices. She came home one day with a hat pulled down over her head and her face was all red. She refused to open her door when I went to call her for dinner. My Mom went up to talk to her after dinner. I didn't think too much of it until the next morning."
He finishes wiping my arm and sets my hand into the bowl to soak out the grody gunk under the nails on this hand.
"She came down to breakfast and I nearly choked on my cereal. Her long, dark, wavy hair was all chopped off. It was styled pretty much the same way she's got it now, but it was shorter. She never told me what happened, but I finally overheard some of the other girls talking about it."
My voice was barely a whisper as I asked, "What did they do?"
His lip raises as he answers, "From what I heard, they tied her arms behind her back then tied her hair into knots and set them with some of that ridiculous glue that sticks anything together. Mom helped her cut it all out and then they apparently went over to a friend of hers who found a way to cut and style it to disguise what they did."
"Who? Who would do that, and why?"
"Doesn't matter. It's ancient history." Alice interrupts as she enters the room.
"Are you insane? Of course it matters! Look what they did to her! You knew this could happen. Why wouldn't you have warned her?" Edward's face is now flushed and I'm glad he's on one side of my bed and Alice is on the other.
"She belonged there. Those petty bitches needed to be knocked down a couple of pegs!" Alice screams back at him. A nurse shows up in the doorway then quickly leaves as they continue to yell back and forth.
"You should have warned her. You should have... You just... I... I..."
"Why didn't YOU warn her?"
"Guys, please. Please stop." I try to insert some volume into my voice, but the pain won't allow it.
"It wasn't my place. Remember? I wasn't allowed to do anything about it last time."
"It wasn't your battle to fight. It still isn't!"
"That's ENOUGH." I jump at the authoritative, angry voice. "Both of you. Go home, straight home to your rooms. I'm off work in about an hour and we'll discuss exactly what the hell you two think you're doing right now when I get there."
"But," they both stammer.
"NOW!" Dr. Cullen's tone of voice leaves no room for argument. Alice huffs and leaves telling me she'll be back to visit tomorrow. Edward removes my hand from the bowl, wrings out the cloth, and takes the bowl and cloth into the bathroom before making a hasty exit.
"I'm sorry about that." He checks me over quickly before telling me, "Please try and get some rest, Bella."
I close my eyes and blissful sleep carries me away.
It's been a couple of weeks since the 'incident' as it's now being referred to in my house. I'm supposed to go back to school today. I've heard through the grapevine, mainly Alice, that Rosalie and Victoria have both been kicked off the squad and had each been suspended for three days over the 'incident'.
Alice has begged forgiveness every single day for ever pushing me to join the squad. She's explained how she never thought they'd do anything to me, especially not something so serious and damaging. She shared with me the aftermath of her run-ins with the squad. She'd reported her attack to the previous principal with her mother and the squad was almost disbanded over it. The girls involved had received detentions and notes in their permanent files. Most of the troublemakers had graduated, so she never thought that I was in any danger. Edward threatened to quit the football team over the incident until Alice talked him out of it.
I'd spent a while contemplating Edward's reactions and I think I understood them now. No wonder he wanted nothing to do with me when I joined the squad. After what they'd done to his sister, I didn't really blame him. It does hurt to think that he really thought I could be that kind of person.
I'm sitting in my kitchen waiting for my ride to school eating my cereal. I'm not supposed to drive for some nonsense reason, so I'm waiting for Alice to arrive. When the doorbell rings, Dad beats me to it. I lean down beside the front door to grab my bag and wince at the pinch in my side. My bag is lifted from my hand and I shiver at both the sound of his voice and the contact of his hand over mine. I wasn't aware that Edward was going to be my ride today. I smile shyly at him.
"You look great, Bella."
I roll my eyes. "Right. It's just plain old me."
He leans in to my side and speaks lowly, for my ears only, "There's nothing plain about you, Bella."
My blush reaches fluorescent levels and I brush past him out the door, calling a hasty farewell over my shoulder to my Dad.
Alice jumps out of the car and holds the door open for me. "Up front for you."
"I can sit in the back, Alice. It's your brother's car. Who I didn't know was coming, by the way."
"He insisted, and now I insist."
"Fine." I maneuver my way into the low seat and Alice somehow manages to pull the door closed as she dives into the back seat.
We travel the short distance to the school in awkward silence. None of us really sure what to say. When we pull in to the parking lot, a small crowd gathers around the car. Emmett opens my door and gives me his hand to help me out. Instead of releasing my hand, he pulls me close and tells me how sorry he is over what happened. He tells me that he knew Rosalie was a jealous person, but he thought she'd outgrown whatever possessed her to be involved in what happened to Alice. He explains that he never for a moment thought she'd do anything to me. He apologizes profusely for her behavior and tells me that he's broken things off with her.
I tell him that I don't want to be what comes between them. I'm not surprised when he tells me that he could never be with someone who thinks that doing those things to someone is okay.
Several people stop me to tell me how sorry they are and wish me well before I need to get away from the crowd of people. I make my excuses quietly and head for the school doors. I'm almost at the door when it bursts open and a blonde devil is charging at me. "There you are, you little bitch! Because of you, I've been forced off the squad and I've lost my boyfriend. I'm going to make you wish you'd never been born!" She reaches for me and I react in fear. I pull my arm back and let my fist fly. I feel the impact all the way up my arm as I connect with her jaw. Shock registers on her face as she careens backwards and lands flat on her ass.
"Bella!" I hear Alice call from behind me and hear a stampede of footsteps approaching.
"Just SHUT UP, Rosalie. I've had enough of your shit. Leave me alone!" I walk past her as she sits open-mouthed on the walkway, clutching her face.
My hand grasps the handle to the second door when I feel a hand land on my shoulder and slowly turn me around. Edward's eyes are shining and he's got a goofy grin on his face. He wraps me up in a big hug and kisses my forehead. "Wow. Gotta love a girl who can take care of herself. Nice right hook."
"And that was the day your Grandad first asked me out on a date." I smile down at my four grandchildren sitting on the rug at my feet. They never tire of this story. Of course, I always leave some of the seedier details out. There are certain things about their Great-Aunt Rosalie that they don't need to know.
Endnote: Please don't forget to check out all the other contest entries and please return once voting begins on 11/1/11.