A/N: Thanks to TwiSNfan for pre-reading and being awesome. Thank you to mcc101180 and remylebeauishot for your betaness. Any publicly recognizable…blah, blah, blah…not mine.
Mate of Honor
I get the feeling that resistance is futile as I'm hustled into the club, shaking my head and repeating "no, no, no" to anybody who'll listen. My pleas are smothered by the estrogen that's sucking all of the oxygen from the air and causing the atmosphere to thrum. At the end of the hall, the muffled sound of bass is amplified when large, black doors swing open. As if a dramatic stage curtain is pulled aside, I'm thrust into a world of alcohol, music, lights, and the unmistakable energy of women on the hunt.
Now, I can honestly say there's a time, not so long ago, where this situation—a room full of women, desperate, wanting—would have been thrilling, but as the buzz around me quietens slightly, I don't feel particularly excited. Bella drags me toward the bar, and the air sizzles as I pass through the throng of women. I begin to feel suspicious, like I'm on show—but it's when I feel a firm pinch on my ass that I figure out what it is. The men on stage? They aren't to be touched. But me, your average Joe on the floor, on the same level as them: I'm fair game.
Whirling around, I can't tell who it was. Nobody averts their eyes; instead they look me up and down. As we reach the bar and Bella orders shots, I'm pinched again. With a glance over my shoulder, I still can't find the culprit. I toss back the first shot, and I'm reminded of a documentary I saw recently—on an evening when I was home, by myself, not on a date. It showed a pack of hunting lionesses. They spread out and came at the poor, unsuspecting zebra from all directions. The point was to maximize their chance of success.
I'm a fucking zebra.
"Oh my God!" Bella squeals, a little too close to my ear. "How did you know I wanted to come here?"
I almost spit out my drink. "You wanted to come here?"
"Of course!" she shrieks, bouncing up and down. I force my gaze to stay on her face, rather than take the natural path in the direction of the movement a few inches below her lips. "You've gotta go to a strip club at least once in your life, right?"
I don't think she expects me to answer, because she directs her attention to Alice, who looks more than a little uncomfortable to be here. She should be—she's on the top of my shit list right now.
Nodding at the bare-chested, bow-tied guy behind the bar to get his attention, I lean forward to ask if I can set up a tab. After telling me he'll get the manager, the barman wanders off. A moment later, a tall, broad-shouldered woman, who looks decidedly more dressed than the bar staff, appears at my side.
"Are you Edward?" she asks in a low voice that still manages to carry over the noise of the club. "I'm Michelle. Welcome." She shakes my hand firmly.
"Thanks." I return the handshake and notice that Michelle's hands look larger than mine. If that wasn't a giveaway, the visible presence of an Adam's apple is.
So…it would appear that Michelle's a dude. I probably should have picked up on that over the phone.
"So, where's the blushing bride?" She chuckles as she leans against the bar. Michelle is a little taller than me, and leaning brings her to my height. Him. Whatever.
"She's just…" I quickly scan the bar and find Bella talking to Maggie. "Ah, there she is."
Maggie leans in, saying something close to Bella's ear. Whatever she said must be funny, because Bella throws her head back and laughs. I can't hear it, but I know it's the unbridled, throaty laugh she lets out when something really cracks her up. As she straightens, I catch her eye and wave her over. With her shoulders still shaking, she weaves her way through the women until she makes it to us.
Michelle gasps dramatically and places a hand on her chest. "Oh. My. GOD! Bella Swan?"
"No…" Bella's eyes widen, and she claps a hand over her mouth. She lowers it again, just enough to draw out her words. "It can't be…"
Beside me, Michelle is about to hyperventilate, flapping her hands around wildly and trembling like an excited puppy. Before I can ask either of them if they've already met, it hits me. Like a fucking freight train, it hits me.
Michelle is Mike.
Bella's ex-boyfriend Mike.
Like, we don't talk about Mike, Mike.
I inwardly groan. Right when I thought this night couldn't get any fucking weirder, it just did.
When I open my mouth to apologize, or vomit, or do something other than stand here watching the awkwardness unfold right before my eyes, Bella says the most unexpected thing. Actually, knowing Bella, it isn't entirely unexpected.
"Well well," she says. She cocks an eyebrow. "I always suspected you'd look good as a girl."
When they start hugging and comparing manicures, I give up and walk off, shaking my head.
It's later in the night when I start to mentally congratulate myself on a job well done. Sure, there was the hiccup with the whole "Bella's ex-boyfriend is now a woman called Michelle and the manager of a men's strip club" thing, but we got past it. The fact that Michelle gave the girls drinks on the house helped significantly.
It's official: I am the king of bachelorette parties.
As the drinks flowed more freely and the girls started stashing more and more dollar bills in places that make me uncomfortable to watch, I switched to water. Bella has become drunker and drunker, and somebody has to make sure she gets home safely. A quick glance at my watch in the dim light tells me the night is approaching its end. Having had the intention of meeting the guys for a beer, I shelved that idea when I saw one of the strippers offer to give Bella a private dance more than once. Shuddering as I remember the kind of…services I almost signed up for, I thank Mike/Michelle for being understanding and just laughing the whole thing off.
Okay. A quick trip to the bathroom, then I can grab Bella and get the hell out of here.
After having my ass pinched more times than I can count on the way to the bathroom, I deal with my business in the otherwise empty men's room and make my way out to the main floor.
"Dude! You're fucking late!"
I ignore the loud voice behind me, because there's no way they could be talking to me. I've been here for hours—I have the bruises on my butt to prove it.
"Hey, man!" another voice calls. "Wrong way! Stage is through here!"
I chuckle—somebody is obviously lost. I keep my feet moving because I've had enough of this night, and I want to go home. The heavy fall of a hand on my shoulder stops me in my tracks.
"Dude, weren't you even listening? This way!"
Before I can ask why this guy sounds like a surfer, I'm yanked by another set of hands and dragged down the dark hallway in the opposite direction of the exit. I protest, but the two guys that have me by my upper arms aren't listening. "I was just leaving…"
The two guys laugh. "Virgin nerves," one of them mutters.
"Fresh meat!" the other says, continuing to drag me down the hallway. "The ladies are gonna eat you up!"
"Wait…what? Fresh meat?" Beyond the thick, black curtain, the distinctive sound of women's voices chant. It sounds like thunder claps, and I suspect it's the sound of stilettos hitting the floor in a rhythm. I reach out to shove one of the guys away from me, and my hand slips through…oil.
Oh, fuck no.
No matter how much I dig in my heels, the two guys pull me down the hallway. The chanting grows louder, and louder, and louder, until I'm thrust into the spotlights, and then it becomes a deafening roar.
I have to blink my eyes a few times, and after I do, all I can see is hands. Hands reaching, grabbing. And most of those hands are grasping dollar bills. Above the thumping bass, there's screaming, intermingled with cries of "take it off!"
I glance to the side of the stage, where three, bare-chested, oiled-up guys are frantically waving at me. One of them is mouthing, "Go on!" Another is motioning at his shoulders, mimicking shrugging off a jacket. I'm frozen, stock-still in the center of the stage. When I shift my shocked gaze back to the swarm and their caterwaul, I figure I can't just stand here all night—I have to do something.
My eyes trace a path from my shoes to a place in the crowd, and about five people back from the front are a pair of familiar brown eyes. Bella is staring at me with an incomprehensible expression. I'm vaguely aware of Maggie standing next to her, calling my name. Gradually, others from our group join in. The chant builds like a swell, until the entire club is a chorus of my name. Bella's stare doesn't leave mine, and I see her mouth move to say my name, just once. Her face isn't contorted with the scream of the women surrounding her, but I can tell, without hearing, that she says it as a whisper. When she bites her bottom lip, I'm moving before I've consciously made my decision.
I close my eyes and reach for the top buttons of my shirt.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading, and a huge thanks to everybody who left a review! After I toss these chapters out there into the universe, it's really lovely to hear that you enjoy it, or that something made you laugh. Believe me, when I'm swimming in that dark pool of self-doubt, having your reviews really, really helps.
I hate long A/Ns, but in the interest of keeping you guys updated, I just want to throw this out there. I've started a new job recently, and as part of it, have had to increase my work hours. Unfortunately, all that stuff that still goes on in real life hasn't let up, including the fact we're trying to build a new house (and sell our current one). With all this happening, my writing time is the thing I've had to compromise on. Believe me when I say it hurts—it's smothering, and I hate it. Mate of Honor will definitely be finished—it's just taking a little longer than I'd initially planned. Thank you for understanding, and thank you for sticking with me. I'm so grateful to all of you.