Hello! This was a oneshot for the FGB compilation. Hope you enjoy, friends!
Thank you to my supercool beta ShearEnvy and to ilsuocantante and stephk0525 for prereading. Thanks to bashfulfan for pushing me that little extra bit. I LOVE YOU GUYS.
It's strange what sticks with you after people are gone.
I want to remember her voice and the way she used to wink at me when she got away with something, which was most of the time. I want to remember the nights she would sneak in through my bedroom window after curfew and lay with me, liquor on her breath, as she whispered to me about her night. I want to remember her when things were good.
Instead I see her smiling, blood staining her perfect teeth.
Rebellion is borne in many ways. Tanya broke the habit of flinching away from a raised fist.
It takes me until I'm sixteen to find out that it can be in the form of a bruise, or a drop of blood, or the ache that a great loss leaves behind.
I find my rebellion in all three.
The radio doesn't drown out the sounds from the back seat- the squeak of skin on vinyl, Tyler and Alice's heavy breaths and the wet sound of kissing. Mike's assault on my mouth crescendos, his hands pulling roughly at my waist as he tries to force his leg between mine.
It takes both of my hands and a knee to get him off of me.
Mike watches as I pick up my cardigan and purse, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand slowly as he tries to catch his breath.
It's Spring, still cool at night, but I get out of the car anyway, slamming the door shut behind me and leaning against it. I pull the little bottle of bourbon out of my clutch and unscrew the top. Mike's door opens and closes a few seconds later. His shoes scuff through the gravel as he walks up to lean next to me.
He makes a show of adjusting himself in his pants before taking the bottle out of my hand.
The tracks are mostly empty tonight, the darkness lit by headlights of cars parked at various angles, some windows fogged with body heat and some I wish were fogged so the activity inside wasn't visible. Mike, predictably, watches with interest.
Despite my "over-the-bra" rule he's stuck around for almost two months, but he's starting to get impatient. The truth is that I want to do things… things that Alice and Tyler do and that I've pictured a thousand times, even if I don't really know exactly how they work. I think the problem is I don't want to do them with the boy standing next to me.
My father's warning after Tanya was sent away is still fresh in my mind, the bruises around my arms gone but his words still echoing in my head years later.
"So that's it?" Mike asks.
"What do you mean?" I ask, my eyes wide with false innocence. Mike doesn't appreciate my sarcasm—just another one of about a thousand reasons he and I aren't going to work out.
"Oh, come on, Bella," he says, obviously annoyed.
"Don't be a jerk, Mike," I say, trying not to roll my eyes. I snatch the bourbon out of his hand and take a drink.
"Don't be a tease," he says. "You tell me you like me, and maybe next time…but I'm starting to think you're just a prude."
"So you take me on a few dates and I'm supposed to just let you put your hands wherever you want?"
"Why do you have to talk like that? It's…" he shakes his head. "…unladylike." He mumbles the last word, but I hear it loud and clear.
I've never understood that. He wants to do things that we can't even talk about. I wonder what he would say if I said "vagina" out loud. I turn my head so he can't see my smile. Tanya would have thought that was funny.
I hear Edward's car before I see it.
"Shit." I pound on the back seat window so Alice knows.
Mike's eyes widen, either at my swear or at the peek of Alice's white bra as she jumps out of the car, buttoning her shirt frantically. Headlights dance closer on the uneven road, the motor gunning over the bumps and dips.
The car skids to a stop, too close, but I know Edward's in control so I don't flinch like Mike does.
The passenger door groans on its hinges when Emmett throws it open. He jumps out, narrowing his eyes at Alice and shaking his head when he spots Tyler ducked behind Mike's car.
"McCarty," Tyler says, like a trainer would say to a loose lion, putting his hands up and taking a few steps back.
"Nice try you little punk." Emmett darts around the back of Edward's car, dancing back and forth as Tyler circles in the opposite direction. Alice pleads with Emmett to stop, but he ignores her, taking off after Tyler when he makes a run for it.
I push off the car and approach Edward, ignoring Mike.
Edward is leaning back in his seat, white t-shirt tight on his chest. He looks me up and down as I approach and lean in, resting my forearms on his door.
"Checking up on us again?" I ask, grinning.
He smiles slowly. "You know Em."
I laugh. Emmett can't help but terrorize everyone who even looks at little sister, much to her dismay. She and I weren't allowed to start going on dates until this year, but this scene has already played out a few times - the location and cast slightly different, but always with Edward sitting in the driver's seat of his Chevy.
Emmett and Edward are two years older than us, seniors this year. Alice and I have been tagging along after them since I can remember, but less so since we started going on dates.
"You should come take a drive with me," he says, teasing me like he always does. He reaches for the ends of my unfashionably long hair and I swing it away from him and laugh. Most of the girls my age have big, teased hairstyles, but I like mine in long, shiny curls like it has been since I was a kid.
"I'm on a date," I say, glancing back at Mike, who is wincing as he watches Emmett pull the back of Tyler's shirt over his head. Tyler stumbles, blinded for a second, while Emmett chuckles and stands back a little to watch.
"You don't really like that kid, do you?" he asks, tipping his chin toward Mike and looking at me through hooded eyes.
I pretend to think it over. "He's alright," I say quietly. "Still holding out for you, though, Edward," I say, biting my lip and shrugging like the ingénues in the movies.
He smiles that slow smile again; the one he gives to all the girls. It works just the same on me, but I've known him all my life so I have practiced defenses against it. I try to keep my tone light and joking while I watch Alice stomp around, but I know some of my words are laced with bitterness that has nothing to do with Edward at all.
"You know how it would go, though. You'd knock me up and my dad would make you marry me, probably at gunpoint. You'd run the body shop and I'd stay home and raise your children. Then one day I'd find lipstick on your collar and we'd end up like the Denalis."
The Denalis fight all the time. Loudly. They certainly aren't the only example of an unhappy marriage I have to draw from, but they are the most spectacular.
"Or you'd get bored and move on before any of that could even happen," I muse. Edward generally isn't seen with the same girl for longer than a few weeks. My smile fades when I look back to him.
He's staring straight ahead, his jaw clenched.
I follow his gaze out the windshield but there's nothing there to stare at. He's pulling a cigarette out of his pack when I look back. I back out of the window when he lights it, chased away by the open flame so close to my hair.
I get the sense that he very intentionally put that distance between us.
He exhales a long stream of smoke and finally meets my eyes.
"Have fun on your date, Bella," he says, staring at me hard before turning the key in the ignition and revving the engine of the Chevy. "Em, let's go."
Emmett pokes Tyler in the chest one last time and walks backward toward the open car door, pointing a finger at Alice menacingly before breaking into a big grin and winking at her. She glares at him before turning to fuss over Tyler, who is disheveled and embarrassed, but essentially unharmed. Mike takes a few steps forward and puts his arm possessively around my waist.
Edward doesn't look at me when the car peels out, and I start to feel really guilty. The more I think about it the more I can see how he would take that the wrong way. I broke his entire life down into a few coarse sentences and unlike when he teases me, I was unkind.
"What's his problem?" Mike asks.
I just shrug in response, but my shoulders feel heavy with the weight of my words.
Alice and I spend a lot of our time discussing how unfair it is that guys can pretty much do whatever they want and no one blinks an eye, but girls are under constant threat of getting a 'bad reputation'. Neither of us bring Tanya up, but I know it's in the back of our minds.
"So this morning at breakfast Emmett tells my dad he's going out with Lauren Mallory, and then my dad says to me 'Mary Alice, God help you if you ever make me suffer like some of these fathers do over their daughters.' Then he crossed himself and went back to eating his pancakes. He didn't tell Em he couldn't see her or anything, even though everyone knows she goes all the way. Sometimes I just want to do it to spite him."
She whispers "all the way" so her parents won't hear.
Adjusting her cleavage in her nightgown, she poses in the mirror of her vanity. We both have curlers in our hair and freshly painted, pink nails.
"You don't want to do it out of spite," I say.
"Well, not with Tyler." She shakes her head. "He wants it too bad. Just once I'd like to meet a guy that didn't act like he would be happy if I'd let him just hump my leg."
Our eyes meet in the mirror and we giggle quietly with our hands over our mouths. It's not late but her parents check in on us frequently, more often if they hear us laughing. She says it's like they're expecting to open the door and find a boy in here one of these times. Maybe they are.
Her transistor radio plays quietly.
I study my nails while she preens, my thoughts stuck on the night before. "Hey, did Edward say anything to you about last night?"
She raises an eyebrow at me in the mirror. "No, why?"
"I said something that might have made him mad."
Her lips purse like the picture of Marilyn stuck in the corner of her mirror and she winks at herself. "So apologize. He'll forgive you, Bella. He's like our brother."
I smile, but I don't mean it. "Yeah."
She notices. "It's really bugging you, huh?" she asks.
"One of these days you are going to give me a heart attack where I stand, Alice," her mother is talking before she even opens the door.
"Where's Em, ma?"
"In the garage with Edward working on that car again." She sighs. Emmett's car has been a work in progress for two years. Every time he gets it running, something else goes wrong that he can't afford to fix. It's become kind of a joke around the neighborhood. If he gets it down the driveway and into the street, the neighbors come out and make bets about how many blocks he'll make it before it breaks down again.
"If you girls want ice cream it's in the freezer." She smiles and closes the door.
"Why don't you just go talk to him now?" she asks. "You'll feel better."
"Like this?" I say, gesturing at my short nightgown and the suddenly ridiculous pink curlers in my hair.
"Yeah, who cares? I'll tell him if you want." She stands up with purpose. I hesitate for a second until I realize she's actually going to do it.
"Mary Alice, you are not going down there in your nightgown." I jump up and block the door, but she expertly locates the ticklish spot below my ribs and wrestles me out of the way. The second she's out the door I recover and take off after her.
I run down the stairs after her, skidding into the entryway and almost colliding with the front door. We both take a left to avoid the living room where her parents are watching TV, running through the dining room to the kitchen. She's got the route down, like every kid in their own house, so she beats me there.
"Where are you girls going?" her father yells.
"Just the garage, Pops!" she yells back, her hand already on the doorknob.
"In your nightgowns?" her mom yells, but Alice ignores her.
She's grinning devilishly at me, and I make a run for it but she's fast. She makes it through the door just before I catch her arm.
"Edwa-rmph-" My hand clamps over her mouth as the boys look up, the glaring light from the bare bulbs showing them both smudged with grease and leaning over the engine. The radio is playing the same station we have on upstairs and Emmett's singing along.
He laughs when he stands up and sees us, wiping his hands off and throwing the rag to Edward, who leans back against the workbench across from us. His slow smile is in place.
I try to pull Alice back toward the door. "We were just leaving." She pinches my arm and I yelp and let go on instinct. "You little-"
"Edward, Bella has something she wants to say to you," she says quickly, smiling smugly at me.
Before she says his name I catch him looking at my bare legs. My nightgown covers as much of me as most of my clothing, but I'm barefoot and I feel infinitely more exposed than I ever have in front of him. I remember my hair and reach up to touch it, my face hot.
"I'm staying out of it." Emmett laughs and ducks back under the hood.
"For once," Alice says. He chuckles.
Edward frowns at Alice and then me. She nudges me with her elbow and I'm tempted to pull hard on one of her curlers in response.
"You wanna..." he nods toward the open garage door, seeming to sense that I'm uncomfortable having an audience. I nod, hardly breathing, and glare at Alice before I turn and make my way carefully around the car, trying not to step on any grease spots with my bare feet.
Outside, he leans against the side of the garage and lights a cigarette. I try to stand outside of the square of light so no one driving by will see me looking like this. The fact that Edward is staring at me is bad enough. I tug lightly on my short hemline.
Emmett and Alice are both singing along to the radio now.
I decide to just say it and get it over with. "I'm sorry about what I said last night. It came out all wrong. Any girl would be lucky... I mean..." I pause, and exhale a long breath, smiling nervously when he grins at me.
"You shouldn't be sorry for telling the truth," he says, and there's no anger behind his words. In some ways that's almost worse, like he's just accepted it.
My heart hurts. I should have realized how sensitive he would be about the auto shop. He starts there full time the Monday after he graduates. His dad died a few years ago and his uncle is filling in with the understanding that Edward will take over the business as soon as he's done with high school. Edward makes good grades and was already filling out applications for college when his dad passed. It must feel like his entire life is planned out for him now.
It kind of is.
I cross my arms, hugging myself against the chill. "I hope you know that's not what I really think. Not that it matters." I shake my head.
His eyes pierce through me like they did last night when I finally look at him.
He's quiet for a long moment. "Of course it matters what you think."
I don't know what to say to that, so I just smile, furrowing my brow slightly. He looks so serious. Usually he and I just joke with each other. This interaction lacks the lightness that usually colors our conversations.
"Do you want some ice cream?" I ask, because I'm a moron.
He smiles, turning his face and rubbing the back of his neck, almost like he's trying not to laugh. I shake my head, feeling stupid, but I can't help but respond in kind. When he looks back at me he's back to being the cool Edward that I know, his head leaning back against the wall behind him.
"Will you wear that while you serve it to me?" His eyes travel back down over my legs as he speaks.
I smack him on the arm as I walk back into the garage, confident that he and I are back to normal. He flicks his cigarette butt and follows me in. Before I get too far I feel his hand on my hip and his breath on my neck makes me break out in goosebumps.
"It's pretty cute, though," he says quietly.
That night I hardly sleep a wink.
The week goes fast, and I hardly see Edward, but Mike is everywhere I turn. Our usual foursome has a double date scheduled for Saturday, and apparently Mike thinks this is going to be the week that I finally break my bra rule for him. He makes suggestive comments just within earshot of me, and in the lunch line I'm pretty sure he had Tyler push him into me so he could grind his pelvis into my backside. That earned him a punch in the stomach, but he was unfazed.
By the time we get to the drive-in Saturday night, I'm perfectly content to let Mike get me drunk. He pours rum into my Coca Cola, adding more when he thinks I'm not looking. Soon my smile is wide and lazy, and I've found a way to tune out the asinine things coming out of my date's mouth.
My smile falls quickly when I catch Edward staring at me from where he's leaning against his car, Jessica Stanley pressed up against his side. Her hand is on his chest, her red nails wrapped around his bicep. People mill around them, but he doesn't seem to notice, his jaw set.
Mike's heavy arm falls across my shoulders, and I don't move it.
It might be the liquor, but what happens next makes me nauseated. He slowly tilts his head so Jessica can whisper in his ear, but he doesn't break our stare. Something she says makes him smile, but for the first time the expression sours my stomach, because he pushes off the car and opens the passenger door so she can slide in.
I kiss Mike so I don't have to watch them drive away.
I end up getting sick in the bushes not long after the kiss and Mike has to take me back to Alice's early. It's obvious that he's angry about it, which is the final straw for me. I tell him that I don't want to see him anymore, and he spouts off some things about me being a waste of time, a nun-in-training, and some other insults that I'm happy I can't remember the next morning.
It's not until the next Friday in school that I find out what he's been saying about me behind my back.
I'm late, running to class, when Edward comes around the corner and I stop short, almost slamming into him. He must be on his way out, his blue button-down is un-tucked and unbuttoned and he has a cigarette behind one ear.
"Shit," I swear, dropping my books.
He bends down to help me, but he won't look me in the eye. He hasn't since last weekend, in fact. I've been trying not to think about his hand on Jessica's waist, and her painted lips at his ear, but it runs through my head a few thousand times a day regardless.
"That's a very bad word, Bella Swan," he says, handing me my last notebook.
"What? Shit?" I whisper again once we stand up, smiling at him and trying to get him to laugh. It doesn't work today. His expression doesn't change.
"You cutting?" he asks.
I almost laugh, and if it wasn't for the look on his face I would think he was teasing me. "You know I don't cut class." My father has made it clear that I'm not attending college, but my life is a whole lot easier when I stay out of trouble.
"From what Mike Newton says you don't follow all the rules, Bella." He says it slowly, almost seductively, but with an edge that I'm not used to from him. My heart stops and I stare at him, blinking. I take a step back, and I feel like I can't breathe as the implication of what he's saying sinks in.
"What?" I ask quietly, my skin going cold.
He kind of rolls his eyes, which maybe wounds me deeper than it should. It's dismissive and cold. "I guess I didn't think you were that kind of girl."
I'm completely thrown by his hostility, but I hold my composure. I shake my head slowly, because whatever he heard…I didn't do.
My anger kicks in as a response to almost-tears. "What kind of girl?"
He appraises me coolly, and I'm fueled further.
"No, say it. What kind, Edward? What did Mike tell you?"
His expression changes to confusion.
They way his face looks now is far worse than his anger. I back away from him, my eyes tearing against my will.
Turning, I walk away from him quickly and up the back stairs to where the door to the roof is locked tight with a chain. I try to wipe my cheeks dry when I hear his footsteps, but it's no use.
I won't look at him when he comes around the corner. He walks up slowly and sits next to me on the steps, our arms touching. He stretches one leg out so he can reach in his pocket, handing me a clean handkerchief that smells like the laundry detergent his mom uses and a little hint of cigarette smoke.
It takes me a few minutes to get my breathing to even out.
I stare at my hands, twisting his handkerchief into rope. "What did he say?"
I hear him swallow, and I can tell he doesn't want to repeat the words to me.
"He said you gave him a blow job."
I keep my gaze on my hands, squinting while I run through the terminology that Alice has told me or that I've overheard in the girl's bathroom.
"I don't even know what that is," I admit reluctantly. I don't particularly like feeling naive.
He rubs the back of his neck, and when I glance at him he's looking at the ceiling, like he's contemplating something. "Do you want me to tell you?" he asks quietly, looking toward me but not at me.
I shrug, but he must be able to tell that secretly that's a yes.
"It's when a girl puts her mouth on a guy's..." he gestures to his lap, which I glance at and then look away from immediately.
My cheeks burn when I think of Jessica doing that to Edward. I have to turn my face completely away from him.
I sit up straighter. "I did not do that to Mike Newton."
"You swear?" he asks.
I turn to him in anger and disbelief. "Why would I lie?"
He looks at me, and it's with the sweetness that I sometimes get from him. "You wouldn't."
An image of him with Jessica flashes through my mind again and my lip curls into a sneer before I can catch it. "You realize what an unfair double standard that is, right? I mean, you were all angry because you thought I did that to Mike, but somehow I think you've gone further than that and it's totally acceptable."
"Yeah but I'm a..." he doesn't complete the thought.
"You're a guy." I sigh. "That's exactly my point."
Not that I expected him to, but he doesn't have much to say in response to that observation.
An ugly feeling winds through my chest. "I still can't believe you would just think that was true."
He sits forward, his elbows on his knees, maybe so I can't see his face. "Sometimes when you talk...it's like you're older than you are. You always seem like you know what you're doing."
I laugh once. I have no idea what I'm doing, especially when it comes to…that.
"That's news to me," I mumble. "Oh my God, if my dad hears about this..." I drop my head into my hands.
Everyone talks in this neighborhood, even if they pretend not to. Therefore, everyone knows that my dad drinks. Everyone knows what kind of person he is after he's been at the neighborhood bar for a few hours, but in daylight we all pretend we don't.
It seems like my father gets meaner as time goes on... or maybe he just used to be able to spread the misery around more efficiently when there were more of us living at home. I'm the youngest of four, and the only one still left in the house.
"Maybe you can stay with Alice for the weekend," he says, glancing back at me sympathetically. At the look on my face he leans back against the door again, mirroring my position. His arm presses against mine, and somehow it almost feels as good as a hug.
Neither of us say anything for a long time, and when I do, what I choose to say seems to startle him.
"Everyone expects me to be like Tanya. Even you."
He's frozen for a long minute, his cheeks pink. He speaks hesitantly. "You look so much like her."
"I know. My father won't let me forget that." I'm about to apologize for being such a drag when he asks me a question that no one ever has. Most people believe some version of the truth that circulated when she left. Most of it wasn't far off.
"What really happened?"
Tanya was a year older than Emmett and Edward. They were friends from childhood on. It's sad that we feel like we shouldn't talk about her.
"It was Eric Yorkie."
I still see him at church, holding his wife's hand, a girl he married just after they graduated.
"By the time she figured out she was pregnant she was already showing, and my parents sent her to a place upstate for girls in her 'situation'. She wouldn't tell my parents who the father was, but she told me. I don't know if she told Eric or not. Knowing her, probably not. She said she'd rather drop dead than get stuck here with a baby."
The irony of that isn't lost on me. The next part is harder to say.
"There was a complication during the birth."
He's quiet, and when I look over he's staring at the floor. "I'm sorry," he whispers.
I smile sadly. "Me too. I miss her so much. I have so many things I want to ask her."
"What would you ask her if she was here now?"
The thought makes me grin. Most of my questions would be whispered, asked with wide eyes and a contained giggle. Tanya wasn't afraid to tell me the truth, even if it wasn't what 'nice girls' talked about. She pushed every boundary she encountered, and she did it without apology.
It didn't help that she had the type of figure that made even her school uniform look indecent. My father said there were words for girls like her. She said there were words for men like him, too.
He said she talked too much—had too many opinions.
He said she thought she was smarter than him.
I think he knew he couldn't control her, and it scared him.
The two of them fought constantly, and as much as I loved my sister, sometimes when she was still here I just wished for peace. In a twisted sense, I suppose that wish came true.
"I'd ask her if it was worth it."
"If what was worth it?"
It takes me a second to say the word. "Sex, I guess."
He doesn't really react, but he does take a deep breath.
"Have you done it?" I ask, watching him out of the corner of my eye.
He nods, staring straight ahead.
"What's it like?" My curiosity pushes me forward, past the discomfort of admitting to Edward that I'm a virgin.
"Jeez, Bella," he laughs, shaking his head, but he continues after a minute. "I don't know what it's like for girls. I guess it hurts the first time."
I've heard that.
"So what's the point?" I ask this seriously, because that's the one thing that seems to be missing from everything I've ever heard about the act. I never got the chance to ask Tanya.
He glances at me, his eyes narrowed like he's looking for something, before he looks away again. "You've never...?" he fades off.
Whatever it is, I'm pretty damn sure I've never done it, so I shake my head.
He's doesn't say anything for a long time, and I'm about to change the subject when he speaks.
"You know when we were kids at the playground and you would swing so high that your stomach dropped, and you thought you would just keep going higher?"
I nod, the echo of that feeling sitting low in my abdomen. My eyes are trained on his lips.
"It's what it would feel like if you kept going."
The shiver that ripples up from my toes isn't because I'm cold, and I'm aware that I want to kiss him, and not like I've ever wanted a kiss before. Not because I want to see what it feels like, or because I feel like it's what I'm supposed to do. I just want to be that close to him. Closer than kissing, even.
There's danger in that thought, but in a way that adds to the sensation.
Thoughts of kissing him lead to thoughts of him kissing Jessica, though. I'm brought back down to the ground.
"You don't really like her, do you?"
"Who?" he asks, and for a second he looks genuinely confused.
He shrugs, pretending to think it over, and I can hardly smile at our inside joke that doesn't seem very funny today.
"She's alright." When he looks at me, he doesn't smile, but it's not the angry stare either. It's just...him. My heart flutters in my chest. "Still holdin' out for you, though, Bella."
For a second I'm sure he's going to kiss me, but he does something that is almost more surprising than that. He looks down and after hesitating for a second, he grabs my hand and rests our intertwined fingers on my thigh.
We sit there in sweet silence, side-by-side, until the bell rings.
I don't even get a chance to tell Alice about Edward holding my hand. My father is waiting for me in my bedroom when I get home from school, my dresser drawers open and my closet spilling out onto the carpet of my room. He was looking for evidence to support the rumor he heard probably fifth-hand.
It doesn't matter that it's not the truth. All that matters is that I embarrassed him.
The back of his hand cracks against my cheekbone, and before I can cover my face, against my mouth as well. I hear my mother's footsteps on the stairs, but she doesn't intervene until he storms out, slamming the front door. I hear the car start and she brings me ice in a dishtowel.
She dabs at my lip, humming, until I push her away. Her complacency normally frustrates me, but today it actually aches. It's like she can't see me.
"Ma, I didn't do it." It's like I haven't spoken, though. She runs a hand over my long hair.
"I'll pray for you," she says before she closes my bedroom door behind her.
I sit on the edge of my bed, letting daylight fade into gray, shadow taking over my small room. The ice in the towel melts, pooling on the floor. I refuse dinner and a phone call from Alice.
By the time I turn on my lamp to look at my eye, the bruise has bloomed into a violent fuchsia. My lip is swollen but has stopped bleeding.
There are no tear tracks on my face now, no fear in my stance or in my gaze.
I think of Tanya's head reeling back from the force of my father's palm. Straightening up, she brought her fingers up to her mouth, blood there from where her tooth cut into her lip. Then, looking up at him, her eyes hard, she smiled.
The last thing she told me was to be brave.
Maybe this is what bravery looks like.
I smile at my reflection, my eye throbbing painfully.
They locked her room like a tomb, with a skeleton key that my father keeps in his nightstand drawer. I faked sick and was allowed to stay home from church, not that my parents protested. My eye looks worse today than yesterday. My father won't look at me.
The key is heavy in my hand, rooting me to the wall across the hallway from Tanya's old room. It's dim, the window at the end of the hallway providing little light. Every other door in the hallway is shut tight. In this house we do that. We keep the doors closed. I think of how different it is from Alice's, with their music and loud laughter and the way they don't keep secrets from each other.
It takes me a few tries to get the old key to click in the lock. The door swings open on creaky hinges, disturbed dust puffing up from the surfaces in the room and making me cough. Other than that it's just the same, like she was here a few minutes ago. There's a magazine open on her desk and her bed is made but a corner of the sheet hangs lower on one side, like she did it carelessly. One of the drawers on her dresser is open a few inches.
I haven't been in this room since Tanya left, maybe because it seems morbid, but mostly because even when she was here it felt like it wasn't really hers. Like she was meant for something bigger than this neighborhood and this life.
Even though I pretended there was nothing left of her in this room, I find myself tearing up when I sift through the contents of her small jewelry box. The small gold cross that she used to wear is hanging on its delicate chain, glinting in the sun when I hold it up to her window.
I spend some time just looking through her things, running my hand over the clothes in her closet and opening drawers. Slipping on a pair of her heels, my footsteps sound loudly in the quiet house. Looking in her mirror, I'm struck by how much I look like her.
I'm staring at her stomach and the bump there that she's been hiding well. She's standing, looking at herself in her full-length mirror, turning to see it from different angles. Sighing, she drops her nightgown back over it.
"They're going to notice soon."
"How did this happen?"
Her reflection smiles at me. "I told you how it happens."
She told me about the mechanics of sex, but I still have no clear picture of what that would look like. In my mind they are disembodied private parts connecting. Where do your legs go? What do you do with your arms?
Why would she want to do that with anyone anyway?
Turning, she stares into the space of the ugly carpeting on the floor before meeting my eyes. She sits next to me and grabs my hand.
"You know I've been seeing Eric."
I picture his tall frame and awkward mannerisms and can't fathom them together. I frown.
"You can't tell anyone, okay? I don't want to screw up anyone else's life. This is my mistake."
Nodding, I pull her into my arms when her face falls and tears spill onto her cheeks.
"Everything's going to be alright," I murmur, but there's a tightness in my chest that will stay there for months to come.
I put the pair of shoes carefully back in their place.
Closing and locking the door behind me I return the key and spend the rest of the afternoon curled up in a ball on my bed, letting myself feel everything that I just dredged up.
Makeup does a shoddy job of disguising my black eye, but looking down at myself, I doubt that will be what people notice about me today. I rolled my skirt at the waistband so it's inches shorter than usual and I left a few buttons of my shirt undone, cleavage peeking out of the top and Tanya's gold cross hanging right there. My full lips are touched with red lipstick that I've never been brave enough to wear out of the house and my hair is parted on the side, sweeping down to cover part of my right eye.
The resemblance is uncanny, down to the look on my face.
Case in point, my father almost chokes on a mouthful of coffee when I walk into the kitchen.
"What the hell do you think you're wearing?" he barks when he's stopped coughing. My mother turns back to look at me from her spot in front of the stove, her eyes widening. She turns back around, quietly shutting off the burner like she's getting ready to leave the room.
I don't answer or look away, keeping my chin up.
He stands, shaking his head and looking me over, his nostrils flaring. He doesn't make a move to come closer, though. "Go upstairs and take that stuff off your face. And button your shirt."
I stare him down before I answer. "No."
His whole body goes completely still. "You're not going to school like that."
I reach up, touching my eye, smiling. "I thought I covered it up pretty well."
He puffs out his chest, his bloodshot eyes bulging out at my insolence.
I'm saved by the knock on the front door. I leave him glaring behind me, the click of the burner sounding out as my mother turns it back on.
"Bella, where have you-"
Alice stops short, her mouth hanging open. Shutting the door behind me, I start down the steps. I'm halfway down the path when I hear her quick footsteps rushing to catch up with me.
"What happened to you?"
I sigh, pulling my hair back so she can see my eye.
"Holy shit." She whispers 'shit'.
Grabbing my arm, she pulls on it until I stop walking.
"Are you okay?" Her eyes land on Tanya's cross and she looks back up at me apprehensively.
"I'm fine, Alice." It doesn't feel like as much of a lie as I thought it would.
It takes her a minute, but she finally smiles, her concern still evident behind it. "We'd better go. We're gonna be late."
To say I cause a stir at school would be an understatement. They were already whispering about me, and this adds a new fervor to the rumors. Mike leans against his locker, standing upright when he sees me. I shake my head at him as I walk past, and Alice follows suit, nodding at me in solidarity when we reach our lockers.
My defiance makes me feel powerful, like I'm truly in control for once.
I don't see Edward until just before lunch, on my way down the stairs as he's coming up. He slows to a stop when he sees me, frowning at my appearance. When his hand wraps tightly around my forearm I go with it, letting him pull me around the corner and up to the spot where we sat last week. With a rough yank he turns me to face him, inhaling sharply and dropping my arm when my hair swings aside to reveal my eye.
I back up, going up a step so I'm almost at his height.
"Aw damn, Bella."
His fists clench and I look down.
"What happened to your hand?" I ask. He looks down at it frowning, like he forgot about it. His knuckles are swollen, tinged with purple.
"I hit Mike. I didn't know about...this." His expression is pained as he looks over my face. I realize how close we're standing when his hurt hand moves up to brush slowly over my cheek. "This I would never do. Do you understand me?"
I nod, breathless and confused at the way he says that.
Abruptly he drops his arm. "What are you doing?" He frowns at my short skirt, his expression stuttering when he reaches my chest.
Fighting the urge to cross my arms over myself I take a few breaths, squaring my shoulders. "What's wrong with how I look?"
He opens and closes his mouth a few times. "It's not you."
Tanya's face hovers in my mind. It hovers over my body. Over every part of me.
His eyes burn into mine. "People are going to think..."
I reach up and deliberately smooth my hair back over my eye. "They already do. So what does it matter?"
I read his facial expression as judgement.
"I'm tired of always doing everything right, Edward. I'm tired of people acting like I'm a little girl."
"You're only sixteen."
He scoffs, shaking his head and looking anywhere but at me.
"I'm old enough," I say, watching his face closely. His cheeks turn pink and he continues to avoid my gaze. "Why did you hit Mike?"
He flexes his hand. "He needs to learn to keep his mouth shut."
"Why do you care?"
He hesitates. "I just do."
I think back to him grabbing my hand in this spot, his thigh pressing against mine.
"Do you like me?" Despite all my bravado, I hold my breath when I ask.
"Of course I like you, Bella." He keeps his eyes on the ground, and I look down at his bruised knuckles.
I kiss him gently, his lips soft against mine. He backs away but stares at my mouth, breathing hard, before stepping forward and grabbing my waist. It doesn't escape me that I've never been kissed like this. I moan, and he pushes harder against me, holding my body tight against his.
When he picks me up, pressing my back into the wall, my legs go around him and for the first time I understand. I understand how things line up, how this would feel and why you would want to do this with a boy.
Almost like he sensed that I was having that thought, he stills, setting me down when I arch forward unconsiously. He takes a step back, wincing as he adjusts himself in his pants. The spot where he pushed against me throbs at the thought that I did that to him, but he takes another step back.
He closes his eyes, like as if he was afraid I would ask that. "It's complicated."
He glances at my chest. "I can't..."
It's quiet for too long. I harden against the embarrassment, my teeth clenching.
"Fine," I say, breaking his stare to turn and walk back down the stairs.
He doesn't follow.
The week passes mostly without incident. I got asked out by a handful of juniors and seniors, but turned all of them down. I was called into the headmaster's office once, but he was careful not to comment on my appearance, instead asking me if I needed a few days off.
I declined that offer as well.
My father goes back to not looking at me, but he grits his teeth whenever I'm in the room.
Alice seems to have the opposite problem.
She moves around me carefully, like I'm encased in a delicate bubble that may pop at any moment. Even her words are round, none of her usual attitude present.
I'm sleeping over at her house tonight. We're waiting for her mom to finish dinner, sitting in our usual spots in her room and listening to the radio. Like it has been all week, my mind is occupied with thoughts of Edward. He's pretty obviously avoiding me.
I catch her watching my reflection in her mirror.
She stares at me before spinning on her vanity stool toward the bed where I'm sitting. I knew some version of this conversation was coming.
"What's going on? I feel like I missed something. I mean you just show up on Monday like a completely different person and you're wearing your hair like...her...and you've got that cross on."
She whispers 'her'.
"Did something happen? Did you find something out?"
I trip on her wording, pausing to search for the context. "What do you mean 'find something out'? Find what out?"
Her expression falls blank, but not before terror flashes over her features. "Nothing. I'm just confused."
Frowning, I sit up on her bed. It's obvious she wants to back away from me. It makes me feel strong and terrible at the same time.
"Why do I feel like I'm the one who's missing something, Alice?"
It takes her almost a full minute, but her composure breaks and tears well up in her eyes.
"I should have told you, but I didn't know until after, and then I didn't want you to hate him. He said you had a fight at school earlier this week so I just assumed..."
My skin is splashed with adrenaline, and my head swims.
"Tell me," I whisper.
Her body shakes and tears run over her cheeks, but she holds my gaze.
"Edward and Tanya."
Time slows, and when it restarts I'm walking down the stairs, wrenching my arm out of Alice's grasp. I walk home without my school bag. My mother doesn't ask me why I'm there, she just gives me a half smile from her seat in front of the television. My father is probably already at the bar.
I don't bother trying to be quiet, grabbing the key from his drawer and throwing open the door to Tanya's room. It slams into the wall behind it.
The locket on her diary is cheap, breaking easily when I use the heel of a shoe to smash it. The cover opens to reveal her looping script, the pen pressed hard into the paper and leaving indents in the pages beneath it.
I hope to find the truth, but all I find is page after page of lies.
No one shows up to the drive-in alone, especially a girl without a car. I walk there by myself anyway, squashing my embarrassment by reminding myself why I'm doing this.
Emmett and Alice's jaws both drop when they see me, but I don't stop.
He's standing in his usual spot. Jessica is leaning next to him, but it's obvious that he's not feeling receptive to her attention tonight. He dismisses her with a nod.
"I need to talk to you."
For a second I'm sure he's walking away, but he opens the passenger door, holding it open for me. Jessica whispers something awful to me as I walk past her, but I don't even flinch.
He peels out of the spot and when we reach the street, he drives too fast, moving quickly through the gears and stopping short at lights. Normally I would ask him to slow down, but I just let him go, hardly reacting to his recklessness. He speeds into the lot at the park by my house, tires squealing when he slams on the brakes.
He slams his door so hard that it stuns me momentarily, until I remember that I'm the one who's supposed to be mad. I mimic his exit, but he doesn't react.
He's got his flask out, and he's shaking it to see how much is left, resting back against the car's hood.
"Why didn't you tell me the truth?"
Stiffening, he screws the top back on the empty flask. Dropping his head, I watch the anger drain out of him. He speaks to the ground. "How could I tell you that? You cried enough."
My face falls. I did my best to hide that after she died.
I try to find my way back to anger, not liking the feeling that's creeping into my chest. "Why didn't you do anything? You could have stopped her. She could still be here."
He erupts, and even though I'm trying to be this new person who isn't scared of anything, the rage in his voice frightens me.
"Do you think I wanted it to be like that? You think I didn't love her? Well I did, and she left without giving me a chance to make it right. You said that she'd rather drop dead than get stuck here."
When he registers my fear, he takes a breath, lowering his voice.
"She didn't want me, Bella. She didn't want to get stuck marrying a guy who she knew wasn't going anywhere. That's why she kept going on dates with Eric. That's why she kept us a secret."
Tears shine on his cheeks, lit by the moon.
"She didn't want me."
He resists when I wrap my arms around him, resting my head against his warm chest, but after a minute I feel him reciprocate.
There's nothing to say after that. Neither of us speak until he pulls up in front of my house.
"You should forgive Alice. She only knew because she overheard Emmett and I talking. I begged her not to say anything."
He looks so sad that my eyes tear.
"I like you when you're just... you."
In my bathroom I scrub my face clean, studying the yellowed shadow of my black eye. I put away the tube of red lipstick and take off Tanya's necklace, placing it in my own jewelry box.
I vow to keep some things, though.
I'll keep her smile. The one that made me happy no matter how bad my day was, or how horrible things were at home.
I'll keep her strength, her passion and her ambition.
There's something else I'd like to keep, too, but I'm not sure if it's mine to have.
At first Alice and I avoid Edward and Emmett, but after they graduate and both start working full time, things go back to normal. On the weekends they let us go out with them. Edward even starts to tease me again.
On August 5th, Marilyn Monroe dies. Alice wears black for a week.
Their house is stuffy and Alice is glued to the television, so I get a popsicle and make my way into the garage where Emmett's car is still in its same position.
"Hey, Em," I say, hopping up to sit on the workbench.
It's Edward that stands up from behind the hood, though, his white t-shirt thrown over his shoulder. For a second I forget my popsicle until it starts melting onto my hand.
"Shit," I say, trying to catch the liquid before it drips onto my shorts.
He walks around the car, shaking his head. "What did I tell you about your language, Bella Swan?"
I roll my eyes. "Don't be such a square, Edward."
He looks down at himself. My eyes follow, trying not to get stuck on his bare chest, the muscles in his stomach. "Damn, and I thought I was cool." He shrugs, smiling.
"Oh, shut up," I groan, but I can't stop grinning.
Leaning next to me, he crosses his arms and looks at the dead vehicle.
"He took my car to pick up a part from the shop. Think he was stopping to see that chick, Rosalie, too, so it might be a while." She's all Emmett talks about these days.
"Do you think you'll get it running this...year?" I say, eating my popsicle to avoid looking at him. When I glance over he's raising an eyebrow at me.
"I really hope so, or Emmett's going to have to start paying for my gas." The look on his face tells me that he's joking, though.
"How's Alice holding up?"
I sigh. "Don't ask. She says she's not going to go out tonight so I guess I'm going to have to suffer through another evening of depressing news coverage."
A song I like comes on the radio and I look out the garage door into the afternoon heat. I can almost feel how hot the surface of the driveway must be.
My eyes are still there when he says something to me that he hasn't said in a long time.
"You should come take a drive with me."
When I turn he's not laughing. He's waiting for an answer.
I try, but I can't stop the smile that spreads across my face.
The first time he fumbles with the clasp on my bra we laugh. I don't mind that he's cautious with me. I'm just happy that he's there at all.
It's almost Christmas when his hands finally slide up my bare thighs and he shows me that feeling that he talked about on the stairs at school.
At first I'm smiling while his fingers slide against the dangerous spot that throbs when he kisses me. My eyes are open, watching him bite his bottom lip while he concentrates.
"Is this okay?"
I intend to speak but he moves over an inch and what comes out of my mouth isn't a word.
My left leg is sprawled over his lap and I feel him hard against my thigh. Closing my eyes I piece together the parts, how we would fit together, my legs open and him pressing that hardness against me.
His fingers switch positions again and without warning my eyes fly open and a moan that can't possibly be me echoes through the car, louder than the radio. My chest heaves as warmth bleeds electric out of that spot, making me want to smile and cry at the same time. I clutch at his arm as the goodness turns to a sensitive ache, and he slowly pulls his hand out from under my skirt.
"Oh my God," I say, staring out at the snow falling in the streetlight down the block.
When I turn to him he's leaning back against the seat, smiling the slow smile.
"Can we do that again?"
He laughs and I throw my other leg over his lap so I can reach to kiss him. I feel like I've finally been let in on a secret.
"Yes, pretty girl. We can do that again."
I shift back so I can lean my head next to his. His lips are a whisper away. Mine curl into a smile. "Will you marry me?"
He grins, his eyes crinkling up like they do when he's really happy. "Yes. I will."
There's no question in my mind that he's telling the truth.
Thank you for reading! Happy Holidays to you and yours.