Originally part of the Fandom Gives Back 2011 Compilation. Thanks to everyone who donated to such a worthy cause. FGB raised over a quarter of a million dollars to fight children's cancer. I feel honored to have been a part of the effort.
Unbeta'd, so forgive any errors.
His fingers slide back into her hair. It's sandy brown with pretty blonde highlights and she curls it every day. Her blue eyes flutter closed and her face tips up towards him. Her shimmery pink lips are curling up in a happy, satisfied smile.
Her fingers with the buffed white-tipped nails reach out for his hips and curl into the pockets of his jeans, tugging his hips towards hers. His face lowers towards hers, his smile a mirror of hers.
I want to look away before it happens, but I can't. I stay rooted to the spot, unable to move, unable to so much as close my eyes to the sight in front of me. Instead, I'm frozen where I stand, helplessly witnessing his mouth meeting hers, her body melting into his, his fingers twisting in her hair just the way they used to twist into mine. Days ago…it was just days ago when that was me. And now it's her…
"Sucks to be her right now, huh?" I hear a girl somewhere behind me mutter, and I know she's talking about me.
Her friend scoffs. "He only ever went out with her so that she'd help him pass chemistry. Now that he's got his scholarship, what did she expect?"
I feel like I'm about to throw up. I'm going to throw up, if I don't get out of here right the fuck now. My feet finally move and I spin, pushing my way through the rest of the student body. Everybody is clustered around in little groups in the parking lot, ostensibly chatting, making after-school plans. But really, they're watching the show. They're watching him with her, putting on their display, making out and groping each other against his car, while I stand here cast-off and humiliated. Because as vivid as their soft-core porn is, the drama surrounding it is almost as good.
A week ago, he was mine. A week ago, he was kissing me goodbye at the door of my truck and making study plans for later. Six days ago, I was happily weaving through a crowded party, looking for my boyfriend, fully expecting him to be as delighted to see me as I would be to see him.
Instead, I found him in a back bedroom, with her straddling his hips, his hands up her shirt, his dick in her hands. And instead of the begging and pathetic apologies I was expecting, all I got was his sneering condescension. If I hadn't been so uptight, if I hadn't strung him along for so long, he wouldn't be dumping my sorry, prudish ass. She was willing to do what he wanted. She made him feel good in ways I never could. She wasn't a frigid loser. And he yelled all that at me on the front lawn of Tyler's house, with our whole school bearing witness like it was a summer blockbuster movie.
Now I'm a laughingstock, the stupid naïve girl who thought she could hang onto a guy like him. I'm nothing more than fodder for their voyeuristic entertainment. Well, they've had enough laughs at my expense today. Maybe this is running away, or maybe it's just self-preservation. I don't give a shit, just as long as I'm alone.
I head to the dirty little concrete courtyard behind the woodshop to wait it out until the parking lot clears. During the day the woodshop guys hang out back there and smoke, but after school it's abandoned. Except not today, apparently.
There's a guy there already, pacing back and forth in the tiny, enclosed space, head down, hands clenched on top of his head. This dude looks like I feel.
The gravel shifts under my feet and his head snaps up. Of course. Everything makes sense. He's back here escaping the same humiliating, infuriating show that I am. Maybe he wasn't there that night for a public shaming like me, but he was still dumped in spectacular fashion by her.
And now here we are, the two cast-offs, staring at each other in silent comprehension. I don't really know him. I know of him. We know each other a little bit, just in passing. Except now we have this one huge, painful thing in common. Oddly, it makes me feel like he's the only person whose company I could bear right now.
Edward Cullen is surreal. He's a majestic combination of beauty, talent, athleticism and intellect. He plays guitar and writes his own emo-but-sort-of-sweet folksy songs. He's in the top ten of our graduating class, the same as me. He runs track, so his tall, angular body is flawless. And all outward appearances pointed towards him being a sweet, attentive boyfriend to the whore. He certainly doesn't deserve what she did to him, any more than I deserve what the dickhead did to me.
He breaks the awkward silence first. "Are they still at it?"
"Yeah. It was disgusting. I just had to…" I wave my hand absently.
He nods. "Me, too." Then he closes his eyes and falls back against the wall, his head making a little "thunk" when it collides with it. He lets his long, lanky body fold up and slide down until he's sitting. His eyes are still closed and it's like he's forgotten I'm even here as he fishes in the pocket of his leather jacket. Finally, he produces a little bottle of something and waves it at me without looking.
"You wanna join me? You can probably use this as much as I can right now."
I stare at the bottle of brown liquor and then at him. I think about the fact that it's not even four in the afternoon on a school day and we're still on campus. Then I think "fuck it", because we're newly-minted adults and about to graduate anyway, and if I don't deserve to do something bad and reckless today, of all days, then I never will.
So I slouch down to sit next to him against the wall and take the bottle. It burns like crazy going down and I want to spit it out, but I don't. A nice warmth spreads through my chest as soon as I choke it back that makes the unpleasantness worth it. I hand the bottle back to Edward and he takes a huge long drink from it. We stay there for a little while, silently passing the bottle back and forth, methodically getting ourselves wasted.
"Fucking bitch," he finally mutters to himself.
I snort in agreement.
"You know," Edward says, his voice louder now, tinged with outrage. "It would be one thing if we were just hooking up. But she was my fucking girlfriend. I took her to prom! I spent a fucking fortune on dinner and the limo and all that shit and then she does this to me. She didn't even say she was sorry!"
I nod. "Yeah, I didn't get much of an apology, either. Asswipe."
"I'm such an idiot," Edward moans. "I thought that a girl's first time was supposed to be sort of... you know… important or something."
"It's supposed to be," I say bitterly, but he misses my inflection.
"So how could she just ditch me like that? She took so damned long to say yes, and it was such a big deal to her. I thought I made her first time really special for her. So how can she just blow me off like this?"
I pick my head up off the wall, ignoring the slight spin the world gets, so that I can stare at Edward.
"What?" he asks.
"Um… sorry to tell you this, but you weren't Jessica's first time."
"Um… yes, I was," he says sarcastically. "She told me I was."
"Yeah, well she told the entire girls' locker room in the tenth grade that Eric Yorkie popped her cherry. And she's told us all pretty loudly about all the ones since then. You honestly thought she was a virgin?"
He looks so crest-fallen that I actually feel really bad for him.
"How was I supposed to know? She told me she was and I believed her!"
"And it didn't strike you as odd that there wasn't… you know… some evidence of that?"
"I've never been with a virgin!" Edward shouts defensively, "Not even when I was a virgin. She said she fell off the jungle gym when she was younger and that's why it didn't… you know, hurt and shit."
I snort in disbelief. "Yeah, that's bullshit. It still hurts." I'm fiddling with the edge of my sneaker again, but this time, Edward's looking at me and notices my blush.
"Was Mike your…did you…?"
"Yeah. A few weeks ago."
"Jesus, I'm sorry." And he really does sound sorry, because he's a decent guy. And I think that Jessica is a nasty ungrateful bitch for not appreciating him. "Did he… was it okay for you?"
Now Edward looks like he's blushing, which makes me smile a little. "I'm pretty sure Mike thoroughly enjoyed himself," I say pointedly.
He sighs and actually looks sadder than he already did. "That really sucks, Bella. You go by Bella, right?"
I nod. "He said that was why. He said she would do stuff with him that I wouldn't. He said it was my fault." My anger is building again in my chest and my voice is getting loud.
"Bullshit," Edward snaps. "He's an asshole and she's a bitch; end of story. We're all graduating in a couple of weeks anyway. Thank God we won't have to witness much more of that nauseating bullshit we saw today, right?"
Edward's words are sticking in my throat. Graduating. Moving on. Leaving all this behind.
"Why do they get to do something so horrible and just walk away?" I say, more to myself than to him. "Why do we just have to suck it up and take it?"
Edward chuckles. "Um, I think they already did it. We can't force them to want us. It's not fair, but we also can't change it, really. Let's just hope that someday karma comes back to bite them both in the ass."
"Maybe karma needs a hand with that," I grumble.
"What are you suggesting, Swan?"
I close my eyes and let my head fall back with a sigh, "I don't know. Whatever. I just want him to pay for it. He was using me to get his sorry stupid ass through Chemistry. And now that he's done with that, he's done with me. It just doesn't seem fair, you know?"
"You really think that's why he asked you out?"
"I know it is. It makes total sense now. He was practically failing when he asked me out. I did so much homework with him. Fuck, I even did some of it for him. I was so stupid. And now he's got his stupid fucking football scholarship to USC and he's done with me. Or hell, maybe Jessica's helping him now and he doesn't need me anymore. She's smart, right?"
Edward snorts derisively.
"What, she's not?"
"I don't know… her grades are really good. She got that academic scholarship to Stanford, after all. But…"
Edward shakes his head. "I dated the girl for five months and sometimes the shit she said… she thought that sharks were mammals. We were watching Shark Week and we got in this huge fight about it. I had to google it to prove she was wrong. And she says 'irregardless' all the time. That's not even a fucking word! You'd think somebody going to Stanford would know that."
"Do you think she's been cheating?"
Edward shrugs. "Maybe? Probably. I don't know. What's it matter?"
I'm quiet for a minute while Edward sucks down some more of the gut-rot whiskey he's got. Finally, I say "I always thought maybe Mike was doping."
"Yeah. You only got here two years ago, but I've known him since elementary school, and he used to be really scrawny. Then between ninth and tenth grades, he exploded into Super-jock. It just happened really fast and came out of nowhere. Plus, he's got backne."
"What the hell is backne?"
"Acne on his back. Backne."
"Eeew, that's disgusting!"
"What! It's a symptom, right?"
"Yeah, I guess. I just really don't want to know about that. So what are you saying, Swan? Are you suggesting…"
I turn my head and give him a hard look. "I'm just saying… who says we have to go quietly?"
"You want to take them down?"
"Do you think she deserves to stroll her cheating ass into Stanford after what she did?"
Edward thinks about this for a minute. "No."
"And Mike certainly doesn't deserve a full ride to USC if he earned it with pills."
"I had no idea you were so devious," Edward says, appraising me through the haze of the liquor. "I like it. So how do we pull it off?"
"Hmmm," I hum as I let my head fall back. "I can't exactly go after Mike. I'm the jilted girlfriend. And you can't exactly get in tight with Jessica now. So maybe I go after Jess and you go after Mike?"
"Like Strangers on a Train. Very nice, Swan," Edward nods appreciatively.
Then I sigh and shake my head. "Never mind. It'll never work. So what if I go after Jessica for you? I'm just Mike's bitter ex. She won't trust me any more than you."
Edward is silent for a minute, considering that. "What if…"
"What?" I prompt when he doesn't finish the thought.
"What if we were both over it?"
"Well…" he rubs his palms down his thighs a few times. "What if we… you know, you and me…. What if we started hanging out?"
"Why would that matter?"
Edward shrugs awkwardly. "People might think that we're…"
"Ohhhh," I say as I finally catch on. "Moving on with each other, and no longer hung up on our exes. Very nice. You're pretty devious yourself, Cullen."
He exhales and smiles. "Not that we have to…"
"No, of course not. We could just…"
"Be seen together a little…"
"And people will…"
"They'll just gossip…"
Okay, now that's all cleared up. We both look awkwardly at our feet.
"So," he says again, after a minute. "How do we do this?"
"I think we need a planning session."
"My parents are still at work," he says. "Follow me over to my place and we'll figure it all out."
I nod and we smile at each other. Then we both stick out our hands to seal the deal. Partners in revenge.
The planning session at Edward's house starts off a little weird. I mean, we don't even really know each other and all of a sudden, we're hanging out at his house. Weird. But then we start hatching our plot and the weirdness gets forgotten. Edward's really smart and nice. And so good-looking. Jessica really is the stupidest whore alive. I'd think that even if the tramp didn't steal my boyfriend. But she did, which focuses me back on the task at hand. They must be brought down.
We decide that Edward's best shot at nailing Mike is the locker rooms. They're both involved in after school sports and they're in there at the same time. He's got to figure out how to bust Mike on the steroids.
We decide that my best shot at Jessica is her email. If she's cheating, buying papers, whatever, there might be a trail of correspondence in her email. I need to figure out a way into that. We're both on the newspaper staff, so I decide I'll use that as my in.
Our plan is thus:
Phase One- The Fake-out. Convince everyone that we're into each other and over our exes to throw off suspicion.
Phase Two- The Sting: Edward surreptitiously gathers evidence on Mike. I surreptitiously gather evidence on Jessica.
Phase Three- The Bust: The destruction of their futures: The evidence is mailed off to the proper authorities; the admissions departments of Stanford and USC, their parents, and the principal of our high school.
Phase Four: The Big Finish: They must be publicly humiliated, just like we were. We hack into our school's website and put up a post, revealing it all.
With our marching orders, we part ways for the night.
The next morning in the school parking lot, we launch Phase One of our plot. Edward meets me at my truck just as I'm sliding out of the cab and slamming the door.
"You ready to do this thing?" he says nervously.
"How exactly should we start?"
"Just… I don't know. Walk in with me. I'll walk kind of close to you, like we're… you know… together."
"Okay," I say, and let out a breath. We turn and walk side-by-side into school. Edward matches his strides to mine and his arm brushes mine as we walk together. The stares and whispers start up immediately. Edward was right about this part. We haven't done anything except walk across a parking lot together and already the gossip has started. Phase One of the plan is working perfectly.
Edward walks me all the way to my locker.
"Hey," he says. I turn to look and he's leaning down, his face really close to mine. I try to step back, but I'm against the lockers. He doesn't move. "Chill," he says, his voice low. It's awkward. "I had an idea this morning about Mike," he whispers. Oh, of course. He's just doing more Phase One. I relax and smile up at him coyly, doing my own work on Phase One. "I'm going to drop some hints around the locker room that I might be looking to bulk up," Edward says.
I eye him skeptically. No one's going to believe that Edward Cullen wants to be more perfect than he already is. But he doesn't seem to notice my eyebrow of disbelief.
"Maybe somebody can point me in the direction of Mike's supplier. He has to be getting the stuff from somebody, right?"
"Just be careful. It would suck if you got busted for exactly what we're trying to nail him for."
Edward grins. "Trust me. I'm cool. So what about you? What are you going to try first?"
I smirk back at him and slip a CD from my notebook. "Keystroke logging software."
Edward looks confused. "What are you going to do with that?"
"Install it on the computer Jessica works on in the newspaper office. It records all the things she types. Every keystroke. That's how I'm going to get the password to her email."
Edward smiles again and we stand there for a minute delighted with our own deviousness. "We rock," he says.
"Here's to the success of Phase Two."
Edward raises his fist to me and I tap it with my own. I decide I like working with Edward Cullen.
I get to the school newspaper office early that afternoon and install the software on the computer Jessica likes to use. I always thought she liked that one because it faced the corner and she could g-chat with her friends without being found out. Now I suspect she's been up to much worse.
After the newspaper meeting, I find Edward waiting at my truck, brimming with enthusiasm. I don't have anything to report, other than the successful installation of some software, but Edward has been busy.
He leans in close again. It sets off some sort of tingling chain-reaction in my body, but I tell myself "Phase One" and ignore it. "Tyler," he says, with this funny half-smile he does.
"Huh? What about him?"
"He's the source," Edward says, propping one arm on the roof of my truck over my head, caging me in. It reminds me of how Mike and Jessica were standing in the parking lot the other day. A cluster of sophomore girls walk behind him, whispering and giggling behind their hands. Edward's really good at Phase One. "I mentioned to a friend of mine on track that I was frustrated that I couldn't seem to bulk up more and he said Tyler might be able to help me out."
I can't help the snort of laughter that escapes me.
"What?" Edward looks offended.
"Just… I can't imagine what he must have thought. You…" I wave my hand up and down at Edward and his magnificent body, "worrying about bulking up."
Edward smiles, all cocky and teasing. "What are you saying, Swan? Are you implying that I'm built?"
I give him a little shove to the chest. "Come on, Cullen. You know you're perfect."
He chokes on a laugh. "You think I'm perfect?"
Suddenly I feel uncomfortable. I meet his eyes and he stops laughing. Then we both feel uncomfortable. "I gotta get going," I mutter, turning around and slipping into my truck. "I'll check the report on Jessica's computer tomorrow."
"Okay, yeah, tomorrow. Can I… should I meet you here again?"
I chance a glance at him. He's got his hands stuffed in his back pockets and he's rocking on his heels like he's nervous. "Yeah, I'll meet you here." As I drive home, I think that Edward's way too good at Phase One.
Three days later, Edward sits with me at lunch. I'm not expecting it. I'm bent over my book, sandwich in hand, when I register a body dropping heavily into the seat next to me—Mike's old seat. My head snaps up. Edward is leaning back in the chair, smiling broadly. The sun is streaming in the high windows behind me and it catches him full in the face. He's all lit up, with glinting red and gold highlights in his hair. His white teeth are gleaming and the sun turns his eyes a beautiful transparent green, like an old glass bottle. My breath hitches as I register how unbelievably good-looking he is. As I sit there and stare open-mouthed, his smile dims and his eyebrows draw together.
"What?" he asks uncertainly. "Was somebody sitting here?"
I shake my head. "No. Nobody. Just me. What's up?"
He shrugs. "Thought you could use some company since… you know… neither of us has a lunch buddy anymore." He nods his head to the side and I look. Mike is sitting at Jessica's table, in the chair that used to be Edward's. Jessica's got her long, shapely legs thrown across his lap and she's running her fingers through the hair on the back of his neck. The movement is subconscious, as she and Mike are both talking to other friends. But the way they're so connected, attuned to each other even when otherwise occupied… it makes my stomach hurt.
Edward and I are both quiet for a minute as we watch them together. As I stare, I realize that I'm not so much wishing I was in Jessica's seat right now as I'm wishing I was feeling what she's feeling. I'm watching his hand on her knee and her fingers in his hair and what I really want is that feeling again, but not necessarily with Mike. Of course not with Mike. Mike's the asshole who took my virginity and publicly humiliated me with Edward's skanky girlfriend.
And for that, they must pay. Right. Eyes on the prize, Swan. No getting soft now.
With my focus restored, I look back over at Edward. He's already looking at me and I can't read his expression. Now I ask, "What?"
"Do you miss him?"
I shrug. "Not as much as I expected to. I still want the asshole to pay though. You?"
He glances over at Jessica. "Me either. I mean, yeah, they deserve what's coming, but… I wouldn't want her back."
"You shouldn't. She's a skank."
Edward chuckles before looking back at me. He opens his mouth to say something, but then he stops.
"What?" I prod him again.
He clears his throat. "Your hair. You have…erm, red in it. You know, where the sun hits it. It's pretty."
I'm pretty sure my whole face goes up in flames but I keep my features still. "Oh… thanks. I guess. So… are you talking to Tyler this afternoon?"
Edward straightens up in his chair abruptly. "Yeah. Before practice. So I'll meet you after school and we can compare notes?"
"Do you… um, want to come over to my place again? My parents will be at work. We can use my computer if we need it, or… whatever."
Oh, right. Phase Two. We have work to do. Focus, Bella. Don't get distracted by the pretty boy. You're here to bring down his slutty ex-girlfriend.
"Uh, sure. That sounds good. So I'll see you after school?"
"Yeah. See you."
I gather up my stuff and leave Edward still sitting at my table. It takes me all the way until Newspaper after school to be able to think straight.
Thank God my brain is functioning again by then, because I have to move fast and download the keystroke report onto a flash drive while Jessica is in the bathroom. She takes forever, so in the end, I'm not even cutting it all that close, but just the same I'm sweating bullets until the drive is out of her computer and safely in my pocket. It turns out that I suck at subterfuge.
I'm really glad Edward offered up his house, because the report is long and full of code and takes me forever to slog through. Edward gets us drinks and puts on some music in his room while I dig through the report, trying to make sense of it all. The majority of it is from other users who logged on throughout the day, making the task that much harder. I finally start to see a pattern in all the letters and I start jotting down what I see.
"I talked to Tyler today," Edward says from where he's perched on his bed behind me.
"You did? What happened?"
"I didn't want to be too obvious, so I played dumb, like I wasn't sure what I was asking for. He said he'd try and hook me up in a couple of weeks."
"Well, what good does that do us?"
"Eyes on the prize, Bella. We're not after Tyler. We're after Mike. Now I'm sure that Tyler is Mike's contact, I know who to watch."
"So you're going to watch them. Then what?"
Edward doesn't say anything for a second, so I look at him over my shoulder. He's grinning ear-to-ear and holding up a box.
"What's that?" I ask him.
"Voice-activated recorder. I found it online!"
He sounds about twelve years old and so ridiculously excited. It's kind of adorable.
"And you're going to plant it in his locker or something?" I snort in disbelief.
"Exactly!" he cries. It makes me laugh and all I can do is shake my head.
"You watch, Swan. This will work. Now, what have you got there?"
"I'm not even sure yet," I sigh. "It's complicated."
"Lemme see." Edward drags a chair over next to me and flops down into it. His leg splays up against the side of mine. And he doesn't move. My concentration is officially shot. Why is it so hard to focus just because Cullen is leaning on me? Because I like it. Shit. I like him touching me and I think I like him.
"What's that part mean?" he asks, pointing at the screen.
That snaps me out of it and I'm back on task. Sort of. Edward finally shifts away from me and once he stops touching me, I really can get back to deciphering code. I'm going to have to get a handle on this thing he does to me. Developing some silly crush on Edward will be nothing but problematic.
Half an hour later and my eyes are crossing from reading code. "Ugh, I'm done," I groan. "I'm just going to print out the rest of this and highlight the important stuff tonight, okay?"
"Oh," Edward sits up, startled. "Sure." He turns on his printer. I stand up and start moving my stuff back into my backpack.
"Do you want to… " he starts.
I look up at him.
"Hang out for a while?" he says in a rush. "We could watch a movie or something."
"Um, okay." The words just wander out of my mouth while I'm busy staring at Edward in shock. Then he smiles at me, looking really relieved and I feel better. Well, I feel all full of this weird butterfly feeling, but…lighter. Better than I've felt in ages, actually.
So we settle in downstairs in Edward's giant living room, on his insanely comfy couch, watching a movie on his huge-ass TV. I bring the print-outs and a highlighter, so I can keep working, but eventually I forget all about them. Edward makes me laugh too much, so we don't get anything constructive done. We just hang out. It's nice.
I finally do get back to the printouts late that night back at home. I don't even realize how late it is until I'm calling Edward's cell. He picks up after several rings, his voice all low and scratchy with sleep.
"I got it," is all I say.
The next day after school, Edward and I hole up in his room again to use his computer. We log into Jessica's email account with the password I lifted from the report. Her inbox is full of stupid stuff from her friends and a bunch of gross sexy emails from Mike, most dating from before the two of them broke up with us. Neither of us says anything about them, even though I'm sure it's like a knife to the chest for both of us. But we're not here to wallow, we're here to take action, so we move to her folders.
For someone so stupid, she's remarkably organized about her cheating. There's a whole folder devoted to the emails she exchanged with the people she bought her papers from. She didn't even erase the attachments. What a moron. We print it all out.
There's also a series of back and forth emails between her and Max Cutler about her buying the answers for the Chemistry mid-term from him. There's no indication of exactly how he acquired them, but there is an indication that Jessica paid him for them on her knees.
I can hear Edward grinding his teeth together just sitting next to him. The dates on the emails indicate that it happened while he was dating her. Without thinking, I reach out and put my hand on his leg, just trying to comfort him in some way—comfort us. He puts his hand over mine and squeezes my fingers. I turn it palm-up and we weave our fingers together. We stay like that the rest of the time we dig through Jessica's email account. By dinner time, we have a stack of print-outs half an inch thick about the shit Jessica's been up to.
The next afternoon, Edward tells me he planted his little voice-activated gizmo in Mike's locker when Mike left it open while he took a leak. Now all we can do is wait and see if anything turns up.
In the meantime, Edward suggests we keep up our work on Phase One. You know, just to throw off suspicion. I agree that it sounds like a sensible plan. Very sensible.
So every morning, Edward meets me at my truck in the parking lot and walks me to my locker. When our schedules line up, he walks with me through the halls between classes. Every day, he sits with me at my table, in Mike's old seat, which I start thinking of as Edward's seat. Sometimes, he calls me at night, or I call him. You know, just to touch base about the plan. Except that until Mike says something incriminating on tape, there's not much to discuss. So we discuss everything else instead.
We discover that we're both going to UW in the fall, and then there's endless information about that to compare. We discuss dorm-living versus off-campus apartments, we pour over the course catalogue together, trying to figure out the easiest general ed classes to register for. Edward confesses that while he's generally a good student, he's not so good with math. I tell him that I happen to kick ass at math and I promise to tutor him in the fall if he'll register for the same calculus class as me, just to keep me company.
I discover that I like Edward. I really like him. Not in the high school dreamboat way everybody else does. That's generic and superficial. No, I like him as a person. He's funny and kind. Every time we hang out, I think that Jessica Stanley is the stupidest tramp that ever lived for letting him go. I hate her even more for hurting him. Edward is too good to be hurt so carelessly by someone as unworthy as her.
Phase One is working like a charm. Nobody in our school has any doubt that Edward and I are involved. I get cornered by girls who've never even spoken to me before, grilling me about Edward and how "it" happened. I just shrug and play coy. I make vague references to "crying on each others' shoulders". I say that he's been a good friend and so very supportive to me in a difficult time. I make sure to smirk knowingly as I say it. It's not hard at all to sell it.
I hear the usual tell-tale whispers start up in the hall behind me as Edward keeps me company at my locker. He's leaning against the neighboring one, playing with his phone as he chats with me. He keeps talking to me in his Stewie voice from The Family Guy. No matter how many times he does it, it never fails to crack me up. I think it's the ridiculous incongruity. His imitation is spot-on, and that voice coming out of Edward's lovely face is just epic. He never gets tired of making me laugh. He's not satisfied unless I'm red-faced and gasping for air with tears streaming down my face. He does this to me at least once every day.
I wave my hand at him to shut him up. I have no time to be reduced to hysterics when I'm already late to English.
"Can it, Cullen. I have to go to class."
He grins and reaches out to poke me in the side. "I'll just have to save it up for after school."
"You'd better come up with some new material. The babysitter's boyfriend episode is getting old."
"I haven't even busted out my best stuff yet, Swan. Brace yourself."
He laughs and reaches out for my hand, squeezing it quickly before pushing off the lockers and ambling off down the hall. The grin on my face is so wide it threatens to freeze that way as I walk to class and I realize that I'm holding the hand that he touched against my chest like it's precious.
When I get to my truck after school, Edward is already there, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet. His face is urgent and excited.
"What's going on?" I say when I get within earshot.
He pulls the little handheld recorder out of his pocket and holds it up. "Bingo."
My eyes go wide. "Are you sure?"
"I'm pretty sure. Come over and we'll listen together."
I nod and climb into my truck to follow Edward to his house. When he get there, we spend all afternoon stretched out on his bed, side by side, our shoulders touching, sharing a set of earbuds and listening. We have to work through a lot of other stuff that's irrelevant, boys laughing and telling crude jokes about sex. It's disgusting.
Finally I hear Mike's voice close to the recorder. I can hear his friend and it sounds a little like Tyler, but it's muffled. I grip Edward's forearm in anticipation.
At first, he's just talking in generalities about Jessica, which is annoying, but not unbearable. After Tyler starts goading him, though, he starts getting graphic and Edward and I both cringe in on ourselves.
Then he starts comparing Jessica to all the other girls he's nailed.
Edward yanks the earbud out of my ear at the speed of light.
"Hey!" I protest, snatching at it.
"No!" he snaps, holding it away from me. "Sorry," he says again, softer. "It's just that… he's probably about to say something awful and… just don't, okay, Bella? Let me get through this part? I'll plug you back in the second he gets to the important stuff."
I lie there on my side for a second, staring into Edward's earnest, pained face. On the one hand, if Mike is about to go off on all the ways I'm sexually inadequate, Edward is the last person on the planet I want hearing that. On the other, I can see why he's doing this. He's trying to protect me from hearing something he knows would hurt me. Which is kind of awesome. He's kind of awesome. So I just nod and relax as he stuffs my earbud in his ear.
I lie on my side for twenty minutes, watching Edward's eyebrows furrow together in a heavy, furious line and the muscles of his jaw clench so tight I'm afraid he's going to hurt something. But he never glances at me or gives me any hint of what he's hearing. He holds it all inside.
Eventually they seem to wrap it up and with an exhausted sigh, Edward hands over my earbud.
I take it and whisper "Thank you."
He gives me a tight little smile.
About two hours into the next day's recording, it starts. Mike calls Tyler over and says he's out of "juice". They make plans to pass off a new supply. Mike bitches about the increase in price. Tyler explains that his source got busted in Seattle last month and he's had to go to someone new and the new guy charges more.
It's all there, all t he incriminating evidence we need. We don't miss a beat, we just start compiling it all into the packages we're sending out to the interested parties. I burn copies of the recording implicating Mike onto disks while Edward makes copies of the pertinent emails damning Jessica. We assemble packages and address them. One to Mike's parents, one to Jessica's. One to the Principal of Forks High. One to the admissions office at USC and another to the head of the athletic department there, and the last to the admissions office of Stanford.
"Well," Edward says when we finish.
"Well," I reply. "I guess we should put these in the mail."
It's funny; I've been so eager for this to happen, but now that it's finally here, I'm feeling a little reluctant and I don't know why. I guess it's that I won't have anything left to focus on once it's done. I won't have Edward to focus on. Damn. Once this is done, what is there to tie us together? My stomach sinks with the realization. I'm not reluctant to bust Mike and Jessica; I just don't want to let go of Edward.
"So," he starts again. I look up at him quickly, but he's staring at a spot on the carpet between his feet. "Why don't I pick you up early before school tomorrow and we can take these to the post office?"
"That…um, that sounds good."
"Right." I linger at the foot of his bed for just a beat longer before grabbing my back pack. "See you in the morning."
"Yeah, see you, Bella."
I don't look at him again as I scurry out of his room.
The next morning, we stand side-by-side in the post office lobby. The main windows aren't open yet. We used the self-service machines to buy postage, and now it's just the two of us in an extremely quiet, very small lobby, loitering in front of the mail slot.
Edward takes a deep breath and raises his eyebrows as he looks at me. "You ready to do this?"
"Sure. No second thoughts?"
"No!" I say quickly. "Wait. Are you changing your mind?"
"No, no," he says, just as quickly. "They deserve it, right?"
"Exactly. All of this. They brought it on themselves."
"They did," he says slowly.
"Let's go," he says. We're each holding a packet of 8x11 manila envelopes, and we raise them together, looking at each other, and drop them into the mail slot.
"So that's done," I say.
"That was fun," Edward says, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I mean, this… this has been… fun. Is that weird to say? I mean, considering what we were doing?"
I can't help the smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. "No, it's not weird. It was fun."
He smiles back. The moment stretches out. I feel a funny tightening in my chest. My stomach erupts with butterflies. Edward's expression gets really serious. Jesus, this feels like a moment, like he's going to… he's going to kiss me. Edward takes his hands out of his pockets, like he's preparing to do something, like maybe he's going to reach out and touch me or something. I freeze and wait for it.
Then the door opens and an old woman carrying a box comes into the little lobby.
"Are they open yet?"
"Uh… no, not quite yet," Edward says.
Damn. Moment gone. I have no idea what he was about to do. I know what it felt like he was going to do, but maybe I was just imagining it. When he said fun, maybe he just meant fun. We're friends. Friends have fun. They don't kiss. Damn.
We turn and head out to his car. The drive to school is silent, awkward. I don't know what to say to make it better. I want him to bust out his Stewie or something, but he says nothing. He just keeps his eyes on the road, his jaw flexing and relaxing rhythmically.
When we get to school, he reaches out and snags my arm before I can walk away.
"So, Stage Four…" he says.
Right. Abject humiliation. I almost forgot about that part. Posting what we've uncovered on the school's website to humiliate them both. To make them feel what we felt. Except standing here in the parking lot, staring up at Edward, I can hardly remember the sting of that humiliation. It feels small and far away.
"Do you want to?" Edward asks.
"Yes. Want to what? Oh… yes. I do," I stammer. Mostly, I don't want this to be over. I want a reason to still be near him a little while longer.
"So come over this afternoon and we'll… you know, do it. Finish."
My cheeks feel hot, like I'm blushing, and I pray I'm not. "Okay. See you."
Edward pauses a little before he answers. "See you."
I'm wandering slowly into school, not even conscious of my surroundings, when my friend, Angela swings into step beside me.
"Long time, no see," she says brightly.
She smirks, "You know, since you've been spending all your time with your new boyfriend."
Yup. The blush comes back. "Right. Boyfriend."
"I think it's great," she says gently. "You two are so great together."
"Yeah. And it's great that neither of you got all hung up on Mike and Jessica. You just let it go and you moved on. And now look how happy you are together! Honestly, you should see your face when you're with him. It's like you're walking on a cloud!"
She laughs and rolls her eyes. "Totally. Oh! This is me. See you!" She cuts away down the hall to the B Wing and I watch her go.
Now I feel like shit. It's all a lie. My blissful new relationship with Edward: epic lie. But it's more than that. What she said about not being bitter over what happened— it rankles. Because we are. Or were. Maybe we're not anymore. But wasn't all of this because we were angry and slighted? Are we being petty? Does this make us as bad as them?
I shake my head. No. They're the ones that lied and cheated, I remind myself. And I can't let Edward down. I'm seeing this through, even if I've lost my taste for blood. I'll do it for him, and because I just don't want to let him go yet.
The awkwardness from the post office this morning hasn't dissipated when we meet up at Edward's house after school. He's tense and distracted. He offers to get us drinks and then forgets to go, so I get them myself. I wonder if he's bored. Maybe he's eager to just get on with publically crushing Jessica so he can be rid of me. He doesn't seem bored, though, just jumpy and strung out.
I settle down at his computer and go about hacking into the school's website. It's woefully easy. Their security is a joke.
"You're good at this," Edward murmurs as he slides the flash drive towards me that holds copies of all our evidence.
"You think?" I ask, only a little smugly, because he's right. I am.
"Computers? Yeah, you are. You're great at everything," he says with a shrug.
I flush at his off-handed compliment and can't think of anything to say.
Edward fills the void. "Are you glad?" he asks quietly.
"This. Finishing this. Taking him down."
I shrug as I import files and upload them to the website. "I… I don't know anymore. I mean..."
I feel Edward lean a little closer, but I keep my eyes on the computer screen. I don't go for anything fancy, just screen grabs of Jessica's incriminating emails (with the ones to Max Cutler promising blow jobs for test answers featured prominently) and audio files of Mike's conversations with Tyler (carefully edited by Edward to exclude any mention of me). I think about adding flashing glitter banners, or maybe some pornographic gifs to illustrate, but I restrain myself.
"I just mean…" I stammer. "Do you think…Is this the right thing to do?"
Edward huffs. "It's a little late to ask that. We mailed the envelopes already."
"Not that part. They broke rules and deserve that. This." I point to the screen, littered with the evidence, meant only to humiliate them in front of our friends. It's all finished. All I have to do is click "post" to make it so. I haven't done it yet. The cursor is hovering between that and "delete".
"It's what we set out to do," Edward says pensively.
"Yes," I say slowly.
I finally pivot in my seat to look at him. He's closer to me than I thought, right next to me. He's got one arm draped casually across the back of my chair. His eyes are on the screen, flitting over our handiwork.
"Yes?" I urge him when he doesn't continue.
He turns his head to look at me and I get that same flushed, fluttery feeling from the post office this morning.
"It's like it doesn't matter. It's like… that part's not important anymore."
I nod in agreement. "Who cares what they do now? It doesn't affect me and you."
He nods too, leaning in some more. "I mean, haven't we already won?"
God, I feel like I won. I would feel like the biggest winner alive if he would just…
Then he kisses me. He leans in fast and the next thing I know, his mouth is pressed against mine and we're kissing. I reach up for his neck, for his hair. He reaches out for my hips.
It gets deeper.
Oh, my God, he's good at this. It's nothing like Mike. I'm momentarily angry at Mike all over again for sucking so epically at this. I feel cheated. Or I would feel cheated if the hottest guy alive wasn't presently stroking his tongue along mine.
We're still side-by-side in chairs, so it's awkward. We keep tugging at each other, but we can only get so close. Then I feel Edward's hand slide down from my hip and under my thigh. He lifts and pulls and I'm out of my seat and in his lap.
Closer is better.
We make out and paw each other for several long, heavy moments. His hands never stop—stroking the sides of my legs, my hips, the small of my back, up my spine and into my hair. I kiss all of him. His mouth, his jawline, his neck, and then back to that mouth. His kisses are like nothing on earth. He's holding me close and I'm pressing closer and I can feel…. Oh, God, I can tell he'll be infinitely better at that part than Mike was, too.
"I don't care what they do," Edward murmurs between kisses. His hand slips between my knees, his fingers curl around the inside of my thigh. "I don't care what anyone thinks."
"Me either. Just… I just want…"
"You," he finishes my sentence for me before we crash into each other again.
I pull away one last time, pivoting away from him. Edward looks flushed, rumpled, confused—until he sees what I'm doing.
I grab the mouse and scroll to the left. The cursor hovers over the word. I glance back at him. He smiles at me and I feel his hand that's on my hip slide lazily up my back to caress the base of my neck. My skin tingles in all kinds of delicious ways. I don't care about anything or anyone except getting back to what we were just doing.
He reaches his other hand out to cover mine on the mouse.
Together, we click "delete".