I couldn't wait to post, so I ran off and left my beta behind for this one. Any mistakes are mine. TiffanyAnne3 is gonna help with the rest of the story. It's short, sweet, probably a little dirty (but not that kind of dirty. Gotta keep it T, folks.) Hope you enjoy. More information at the bottom.
"That guy is staring at you." Rosalie tilted her head and pointed with her chin before downing the last of her martini.
"Not a chance in hell," I said lightly.
I wasn't hard to look at when I was on my own, but no one lingered on me when Rose was around. It didn't hurt my feelings. Part of me was used to it, and the rest of me knew that a lingerie model was just going to get stares. When Alice was with us, I was even more invisible. Alice was as tiny as Rose was tall, with black hair, dark eyes, and perfectly formed features that gave her the look of a china doll. It was not a show of low self-esteem for me to assume that whoever couldn't look away was actually staring at my friends.
"He's definitely looking at you. Oh, I'll prove it. He's headed this way, and he's a winner; let me tell you."
Any excitement I felt over getting some kind of attention while Rosalie was around fizzled quickly. Her tone told me everything I needed to know, and then her words reiterated. The guy was a loser of epic proportions, and he was fixated on me.
I knew who she was talking about the moment I saw him. I couldn't see much except wild, reddish-blond hair and huge black glasses. Something about him was familiar, but it was probably the standard issue Momma's Boy sweater he wore—or the brown corduroy slacks. He was everyguy, ready to hit on me, the everygirl. Of all the girls in the bar, I probably looked like the surest thing. If he were wearing anything else, I might have been.
"Bella? Bella Swan?"
Well, shit. He knew me—which meant I knew him. While he really was familiar, absolutely no name came to mind. Nothing was more awkward than being recognized by someone I didn't know.
"I'll just go get another drink," Rosalie said with a smirk.
I flashed her a pleading look, but she was already gone. Her chair sat empty, inviting the non-stranger to sit down. He did.
"I can't believe it's you…and here, of all places! Long way from Forks, aren't we?"
Ah, Forks. Well, that gave me a few more hints, since I hadn't been back to Forks in almost ten years. The day I graduated, I said my goodbyes and fled. Dad visited me as often as he could and never pressured me to return the favor. It helped that he liked New York a lot. He never stated the obvious—that I had too much of my mother in me. The small town just choked the life out of me, and heartbreak at the hands of Garrett Stone had finished me off.
"Yeah," I answered with a little laugh. "As far as we could get. What brings you to New York?"
I had hopes that his answer might reveal more of him to me—give me some clue as to his identity. He didn't look like anyone I might have run with in high school, but he seemed friendly enough. Something he said would surely spark some kind of recognition. I hoped, at least.
"I haven't left since college," he said. "Got my degree, got my master's, got a job. That's how it works, right?"
"Well, yes," I said slowly. "But what kind of job?"
He looked hurt for a moment but then brightened. "I'm a systems architect. You know I always liked computers."
I didn't know that. I didn't know him. And architect sounded more like he designed buildings, not played on computers.
Forks High was a small school. Everyone knew everyone. I should have known the guy in front of me, but for some reason, I was still coming up blank. I thought back to the three hellish years I'd spent there. I'd been a part of the popular crowd, simply because a slender girl without acne problems was accepted with no questions asked. I wasn't a bad student, but I wasn't a great one either. I'd actually stayed on the outskirts until, miraculously, I'd caught the attention of Garrett, the beautiful quarterback.
I remembered Tanya, Kate, and Irina, the beautiful and snotty cheerleaders; Mike Newton, the garrulous and vaguely handsome pitcher for the baseball team; Eric Yorkie, the upright and yet likeable senior class president; and even Angela Weber, the quiet preacher's daughter. I searched the recesses of my brain for the guy sitting in front of me, getting vague flashes of a kid even further on the outskirts than I had been. There was a sweater, a lock of red-gold, a glint of fluorescent lighting off of glasses, and then nothing.
Who was that kid?
I pushed harder into my memory, before prom night when Garrett had disappeared with Kate and left me without a ride home. Before that, before he'd asked me out at the beginning of senior year, there'd been a guy… He'd watched me from the corner of the cafeteria, peeking from underneath his hair after shoving his glasses up to see me better. Wrapped in dull sweaters and an air of rejection, the boy had always done his best to remain invisible. On occasion, he got grief from the people I called friends, but most people left him alone. If I remembered correctly, we'd been in biology class together. I could almost hear Mr. Banner calling on the boy for an answer no one else would hear. What had he called him?
"Edward!" I nearly shouted. "Edward Cullen!"
He sat back in his chair, startled, and smiled. "Well, yes. I thought you knew."
His smile faded quickly to a frown, and I felt terrible for hurting his feelings. After ten years, he'd probably hoped that the high school class system no longer applied. In a city of twelve million people, finding someone I knew was rare enough, let alone running into a guy I'd met all the way across the country. Even without some kind of history together, the circumstances were enough to warrant a hello.
"I'm so sorry," I said quickly. "It was just…so long ago. And this is the last place I ever expect to see anyone from Forks, you know?"
He seemed appeased by my explanation, smiling again. I leaned forward and squeezed his hand briefly, happy to see someone from my past who wasn't attached in any way to the gut wrenching sadness of my last two weeks of school.
"You're probably waiting for someone," he said suddenly, pulling his hand away and looking around quickly.
I almost laughed at the thought of some guy coming to my rescue. There wasn't a guy, and there hadn't been one since graduate school. Marcus had been offended that I wanted to pursue my own career rather than settle down as a trophy wife, and that had been the end of that. I'd been concentrating on rising to senior editor at the small publishing house where I worked, but I still had a few years to go before I could earn that distinction. Men were an afterthought.
"No," I said finally. "There's no man meant for that seat. But my friend Rosalie will probably join us again in a few minutes. She and I met at NYU, and we've been friends ever since."
"The blonde?" He looked interested, but not in her.
It was a nice change, feeling as though someone were interested in me, and not how I might introduce him to my gorgeous friend.
"Well, I won't keep you," he continued. "I'm just glad to say hi."
"You don't have to leave. Join us."
For a moment, he looked torn. It really was nice to see Edward, even if I didn't remember a thing about him. If Rosalie behaved herself, it could even be a pleasant evening.
"I really can't. I'm here with my friend, Emmett, who…well, he's been keeping your friend occupied, it seems."
I turned to see Rosalie nearly hanging off a guy who looked like a linebacker for the New York Giants. He was enormous, all muscles and dimples—exactly her type.
"We work together," Edward added.
I almost laughed out loud at the thought of Rosalie's disappointment when she found out her new manmeat played with computers instead of footballs. I'd want to be around for that one.
"Well, don't be a stranger," I said politely.
It was unlikely we'd run into each other again, and the thought left me feeling a little sad. I never thought I'd enjoy any connection to Forks, but once I'd found one, I was sad to see it go.
He was rising to leave, but he stopped at my words. A hopeful expression flitted across his face, but it disappeared quickly. For a moment, it looked as though he were steeling himself, and then he spoke.
"Maybe we could get drinks one night this week? Just the two of us?" His face flushed, and he ran his fingers through his hair nervously.
I was able to see his whole face for just a moment before the curtain fell again. It was clear and open—not bad at all as faces go. Before I could stop myself, I spoke.
"Of course. That would be nice."
The moment the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them a little. There wasn't anything wrong with getting together for drinks to catch up, but I knew deep down that it would mean more to Edward than just a friendly evening. My subconscious remembered the way he stared at me, and the look of pure joy on his face at my assent told me his feelings hadn't changed much in the last ten years.
I handed him my card anyway, determined that I would see the thing through. A smile split his face, making at least the lower half of it beautiful. I still couldn't see the top half for his glasses and hair, but I couldn't deny he had some gorgeous teeth.
"I'll call you soon to set it up," he promised, standing slowly.
Before I could register everything that had happened, he'd vacated the seat and Rosalie had claimed it again.
"His friend is so hot," she said by way of greeting. "Too bad your guy is so unfortunate. I got a little vibe from him there. Did he manage to ask you out?"
I felt a flare of irritation at her quick dismissal of Edward, but it was replaced by panic over our forthcoming "date."
"Poor guy. Sucks getting shot down, especially in front of your friends." She tilted her glass and finished off her fourth martini of the night, completely secure in the knowledge that I had controlled my senses enough to say no to a date with a skinny, geeky, awkward blast from my past.
"I said yes."
Rosalie froze, her glass halfway between her mouth and the table. She was so shocked that she could have been a still life painting.
"No. No, no, no. You've done the ultimate no, Bella. The pity date. Nothing is ever more awkward than the pity date. He'll be thinking you're into him, and you'll be looking for any way out of the rest of the night."
I didn't see my acceptance of drinks as a pity date, but a lot of what she said sounded exactly like what I'd already imagined our future "date" to be like. On one level, Edward Cullen was so far removed from all of the Garrett-mess that I kind of hoped I could reminisce in a safe environment. On the other hand, I knew. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had some pretty high expectations from the upcoming…whatever. Dodging advances while reliving the happy years of high school could end up being a lot more stressful than I wanted or needed.
"Well, it's too late now. I'll have a drink with him, say goodnight, and that will be the end of it."
"You hope." Her gaze was pointed…well, as pointed as her martini-glaze would allow it to be. "And I hope you'll hang in there long enough for me to get to know his friend. No reason we should all suffer, right?"
"You're the best friend a girl could have," I said drily.
As most of you know, we lost a dear friend this week. I didn't know her, but that doesn't matter. We're all connected by this common thread, and that made her my family. Some lovely and giving people have put together a fundraiser for Gisela's family. You can find more information by visiting fandom4twifang dot blogspot dot com. There will be an outtake of this story in the compilation. I hope you'll take part in some way. God bless and stay safe.