Outside In – Chapter 1
Disclaimer: The original characters and plot are the property of Stephenie Meyer.
Thanks to her for bringing them to us.
No copyright infringement is intended
Big thanks to the endlessly patient and helpful Snuggler for being my beta.
"So, do you think you'll go, then?" asked Jacob.
"Probably," Bella answered.
They lay, side by side on their backs in the sun, eyes closed, enjoying the feeling of warmth on their faces; Bella in shorts and T shirt and Jacob in cut-off denims.
"I don't really want to," Bella continued, "Jess will be all over Mike like a rash and Angela's away for the week. I won't know anyone else."
Jake propped himself up onto one elbow and looked over at Bella, shielding the sun from his face with the back of his hand. "I wish I'd been invited. I could come with you. Why don't you just come back to mine? We could watch a DVD or something."
His offer sounded appealing, she had to admit, but she knew the decision had already been made. "I've said 'yes' now. I can't just turn round and say I've changed my mind."
"I don't know why you said you'd go in the first place," said Jake flopping back onto the grass. "From what you've said, you don't even like Jessica that much and you think Mike's a bit of an arse."
Bella snorted a giggle and offered the excuse, "Jessica's not an easy person to say no to." And when you're trying to keep up the illusion that you're friends, she wanted to add, sometimes you have to do things you don't want to, even if you do have a sick feeling of apprehension deep in your gut.
At that moment, Bella's phone vibrated and bleeped with the familiar sound of a new message. She reached into her pocket and sat up to read it. It was from Jessica. "Wooooo Partay Exited? squeeeee!" it read. Bella groaned. She considered replying with "'Exited?' – what, like a door?" but knew it would be lost on Jess so went with "Yup" instead.
Bella had been befriended by Jessica on the first day she'd arrived at school a few months earlier, just after Easter, and was happy enough to go along with it. She knew, from experience, the dangers of being the friendless new kid. When you moved as often as Bella did, you learned to grab allies as quickly as possible. You could blend in with the herd, that way, rather than standing out like the sickly one, ripe for picking off. You also had to be careful not to look too bright, another sure-fired way of sticking out. You just had to keep your head down and with any luck; you could dodge the dangers of school until you could escape it altogether. At the time they'd met, Jessica already had a sidekick of sorts, a girl called Angela, but Jessica had welcomed the opportunity to add to her entourage and Angela wasn't the sort to resent it. In fact, she probably appreciated the pressure being taken off her a little. Angela was sweet, sensible and hardworking and didn't hang on Jessica's every word. She wasn't natural sidekick material at all. She'd just been swept along by the force of Jessica's will. Bella felt that she and Angela could have been better friends without Jess in the way, but Jess was better protection. To keep her sweet, there were some things you just had to go along with, like going to a party, even if you didn't want to.
I'm just going to have to suck it up she told herself but it would have been easier if she could shed the feeling of something warning her off.
"You could say you were ill," said Jacob, still trying to offer an escape route.
Bella looked at him and raised an eyebrow, "I saw Jessica an hour ago and I was fine then. I can't think of a dreaded lurgy I could have picked up between then and now that would be bad enough to keep me in. She wouldn't buy it. Even she's not that stupid."
Jacob sighed. "Time?" he asked.
Bella looked at her phone. "Just after two."
"Shit! I gotta go!" he said. Then he chuckled. "That's actually quite funny. I said I'd help dad with shifting horse pooh. Nice eh?" He grimaced in mock disgust. "But I'll literally only be a couple of hours. If you change your mind, you know where to find me."
"I know. Appreciate it. Thanks." And Bella really did appreciate it. Jake always had her back and she knew he would do anything to make her happy. She often thought it was a pity he didn't go to the same school; it would have been good to have him around.
He pushed himself to his feet with ease and brushed the grass off his backside. Bella looked up at him. He was tall and as he stood there, naked from the waist up, it was obvious how tanned and muscular he was too. Lugging things for his dad in all weathers obviously agreed with him. His hair was dark, short and spiky and his eyes a deep warm brown. On the whole, he was good looking. That made him officially 'tall, dark and handsome'. He was just 17, slightly younger than Bella who would be 18 in a couple of months. The gap wasn't an impossible one and yet she never once thought of him as boyfriend material. How come? She had a feeling he wouldn't need a lot of persuasion either. Plus, he was nice and they had hit it off straight away. Although they hadn't known each other long, friendship with Jake was as easy as breathing. But she instinctively knew that friendship was all it would ever be – chummy warmth like you might have with your brother or a big dog.
She watched him walk away and waved when he looked back at her. Then she rested her chin on her hand and drank in the beauty of her natural surroundings. Not bad, this, living in the country. She and her mum had the 'lodge house' this time, a cottage at the gateway to a long, straight, tree-lined drive that led to the 'big house' – the home in the centre of the Cullen estate. She and Jake had been chatting in the small garden that went with the cottage, on a little lawn surrounded by colourful flowers. It was a pretty garden but a pity that it was in the front of the cottage. When you sat in it, you felt a bit like a monkey in the zoo, to be ogled at by everyone who went past; and topless sunbathing was completely out of the question! But today was a beautiful day and it was lovely just to sit there in the warm sun with a gentle breeze that rustled the trees and floated over the skin. She breathed in the earthy, sweet smell of grass and flowers, closed her eyes and savoured it listening to the sound of birds trilling and tweeting in the distance.
The sudden sound of a distant dog bark killed the mood. She opened her eyes and saw a figure coming up the drive from the big house being led by two lively dogs, one black and white and one brown and white. The figure was that of a young man who didn't look familiar. Bella took in his slim physique and shock of copper hair that stuck out in all directions and glinted in the sun. He was dressed in low-slung, blue jeans and a tight-fitting, black shirt. Bella knew she was staring but didn't think he'd notice; he was looking down, lost in his own little world. As he drew nearer, she took in the white leads trailing down his front, presumably to some sort of I-Pod. Closer still and Bella became aware of how strikingly handsome he was, as if Michelangelo's David had sprung to life, thrown on some twentieth century clothes and decided to pay England a visit. She couldn't see his eyes behind his sunglasses but his profile, with its clean-cut jaw, was quite perfect. He was mesmerising. She sat with her mouth open. He never once looked in her direction but, as he drew level, he smirked to himself and Bella realised he'd been fully aware of the way she was looking at him. Damn him! He'd watched her gawping at him like a moron and allowed her to carry on doing it. How embarrassing! She winced. But, then, he was probably used to being ogled at. You didn't go through life looking like that without all the girls around you gazing in admiration like love-sick puppies. She watched him leave through the gate. What did it matter anyway? He'd be something to do with the Cullens. Around here most people were. Many worked for them, her mother included. The Cullens were stinking rich. Mr Cullen was a Harley Street doctor but there was old money too. The 'Adonis' who'd just left didn't look like an employee, though. Maybe he was visiting. She'd probably never see him again.
Someone else was coming down the drive now. Bella recognised the slender frame of Mum, sauntering along. Mum waved. "Hi sweetie," she called. She clunked open the garden gate and exclaimed, "What a beautiful day! What a shame to be stuck indoors on a day like this." Mum was just returning from a morning at work but would head back again at 6pm for the evening. She was the Cullen's housekeeper.
"Bit late back today," said Bella.
"Yes, they have a cocktail party coming up next weekend and we had to go over the final plans. Ooh! I've brought you back some left-over quiche. I thought you should eat something before going to this party." Renee, Bella's mum, frequently brought home left-overs. It made sense. Her wage was small, probably because she got a free cottage with the job, so free food was a big help and it was always very good quality.
Bella smiled and said, "Thanks," but something about living on someone else's scraps grated.
It had been like this for years. Bella had been born in America but her parents had divorced when she was a toddler. She hadn't seen her father since. At the time of the divorce, Renee knew she had to take over as the breadwinner but didn't want to hand Bella's upbringing over to strangers. She just couldn't see a way to do both. Then she'd seen a job advertised in England working as a housekeeper to a wealthy woman and it had seemed like the ideal solution. Wasn't housekeeping and childminding what all Mums did anyway? They'd lived in England ever since. The problem was that being a housekeeper wasn't something that made Renee happy and, with each job, she'd find reasons why that particular employer wasn't right and move on to another live-in job. Over the years, she'd had a lot of them – cook, housekeeper, cleaner - and now didn't seem qualified to do anything else. Constantly moving home hadn't made life easy for Bella. There was no point in making close friends; in 13 years she had attended 12 different schools. Each new school was a challenge but it was a familiar lifestyle by now and, over the years, she'd learned to just get on with it. She'd arrived here at Easter, shortly after Jacob and hoped that she and her mum would be able to stick around a bit longer this time. It would be handy if they could at least stay until A-levels were out of the way. When Bella went to Uni, Mum could live where she wanted but she didn't have to think about that now. It was the start of the school summer holidays and the prospect of having no school for a whole six weeks was bliss! Bella just had to get this party out of the way!
She wandered back into the cottage and up to her room, ran her finger along the bookshelf and considered the possibility of reading something for study. Her chosen A-levels were History, English, French and Psychology, all subjects that required a good deal of reading. Whatever else she did over summer, reading was definitely on her things-to-do list. But the sun made concentrating difficult, so she chose something simple and indulgently escapist instead and took it outside. There was no way she was going to waste this hot weather; in England you never knew how long it would be around. She lay on her front, exposing her arms and legs to the sun again. It wouldn't make a lot of difference; Bella's pale skin stubbornly refused to tan, whatever the weather. Propping herself up on her elbows, she opened the book. It was one of those stories where an unremarkable heroine miraculously wins the affection of some spectacular guy. As she read, she naturally slipped into seeing herself as the main character. Bella felt she was unremarkable, too. She was slim but would have preferred being taller. Her hair was thick but straight and difficult to do anything with. Her eyes were large and brown but striking blue or green would have felt so much more interesting. As she read, the story morphed into a private fantasy in which the hero was the guy she'd seen walking the dogs earlier. In her version the guy, having once seen Bella, had found himself instantly and irresistibly drawn to her. Bella didn't normally allow herself to get carried away like this but for a while it was fun. It wasn't surprising that she was still thinking about him, it was difficult to get a beautiful man like that out of your head, but she couldn't allow herself to get too deluded. In reality, things like that just didn't happen. She half hoped she might see him again as it would give her another opportunity to enjoy some more 'window shopping' but she must remember to try to make it less obvious next time.
Mum came out to join her with a fold-out chair and book of her own to enjoy a little r and r. They didn't speak, they didn't need to. There was a comfortable, easy silence between them as they each lost themselves in a private world of fiction. Two hours later, when the sun had disappeared behind clouds, they resigned themselves to going back indoors. Bella's thoughts returned to the party and anxiety reared its ugly head again. To take her mind off things, she wandered upstairs to take a relaxing bath but found that even that didn't put her at ease. Getting ready to go out had never felt more like going into battle. She dried herself on a rough towel; towels dried on a washing line were never soft. Then she grabbed the clothes she thought would do and pulled a comb through her thick, brown hair.
She was just nibbling unenthusiastically on the left over quiche when there was a knock on the door. It was Jessica come to collect Bella for Mike's party. For some inexplicable reason, Jess found Mike attractive and was obviously pulling out all the stops tonight to make herself irresistible. Her eyes were blackened with thick liner and her lips were bright red, make-up that was a bit heavy for her squirrel-like face. Her mousy hair, newly curled, bounced around it. She was dressed, unsurprisingly, like a tart. On her top half was a button-up t-shirt with most of the buttons open which, with the combination of a push-up bra made her boobs look like they were trying to climb out. Her skirt was so short it barely classified as one. Bella never wore make up, her hair was pulled back in a tight pony tail and she was dressed more simply: short-ish skirt, blouse, Converse trainers.
"Ready?" said Jess.
"Yes, just coming."
As she pulled the cottage door behind her, Bella noticed that Jess was heading towards her car. It seemed a bit pointless; the party was only about a mile away, easily do-able on foot. She nodded towards the car and stated the obvious, "You're driving there."
"Yes, don't worry, there's loads of parking space," said Jess.
"I expect there is but won't you want a drink? Isn't it easier to walk it?" suggested Bella.
"I'm not walking anywhere in these," retorted Jessica, pointing to her five inch stiletto heels. "Besides," she added, "I'll be drinking all right; Mike's got truckloads of booze in coz his parents are away for the whole weekend but that means we can sleep over…if you know what I mean." Jessica winked. "You know me," she added, "a few drinks and I'm anybody's. Mike may be getting lucky tonight." The added explanation wasn't necessary; it was pretty obvious what Jess had in mind.
To Bella, Jessica's blatant interest in sex made her come across more like a guy but the most worrying impression was that, for most 17 year-olds, sex seemed pretty much the norm. Bella's experience was still surprisingly limited. Most importantly, she was still a virgin. She wondered if people could tell. Would this be one of those things that put you in danger of standing out? Maybe virginity was something you needed to get out of the way in order to fit in. There wasn't time to think about it though, Jess was itching to go. Bella just had time to grab a bag for her keys, odds and sods and mobile and follow her to the car. It took only minutes to get to Mike's place
They could hear the bass booming out as they approached. Jess parked the car round the side and they got out. Bella walked and Jessica tottered through the dirt track, in the dark, to the front of the house. Then they climbed the steps to the door. It opened before either of them had a chance to knock and a skinny little runt pushed roughly past them and puked into the bushes.
"Great," breathed Bella. Beyond the opened door was a heaving mass of teenage sweat, smoke and noise. It looked like they were about to enter into the mouth of hell. Jessica wasn't deterred, she was inside already. She turned, her eyes lit up, and, grabbing Bella by the arm, she pulled her in.