A/N: Thanks to my prereader, TwiSNFan, and my PTB betas, shinrai and mcc101180. I don't own Twilight or anything else you might recognize.

Mate of Honor

Chapter 22

I'm standing on the porch with Bella, Rose, Alice, and Tess, Benno's next-door neighbor who actually lives thirty minutes away. We just waved off the guys, although I get the impression that Emmett didn't really want to go. Jasper had to punch him on the arm—which Em barely noticed—and they climbed into a twin cab pickup, which Benno called a ute, and headed off toward the shearing shed.

"Well," says Alice, her blue eyes piercing. "I'll go and find Sarah. The hairdresser will be here in"—she checks her watch—"twenty-five minutes, and we have a hair trial to do." She looks at me pointedly. "Unless, as maid of honor you'd like to organize that." I shake my head, and she grabs Rose by the hand. "Okay then. We'll see you in the sunroom."

"I'll go, too," says Tess. "I think Sarah wanted to get some nibbles sorted for the hair trial. I'll just see if she needs a hand." With that, she walks quietly but confidently into the main house, like she knows it as well as her own. In the fifteen minutes I've come to know her, she seems pretty shy. That might have been due to the sight of Emmett, who was his normal self, with a bit of his brand of charm thrown in for Rose's benefit. Rose either didn't notice it, or wasn't impressed.

I start to follow the others into the house when Bella holds me back. "Wait," she says in a hushed voice. "Come for a walk with me."

She lightly skips down the steps and begins walking along the path toward the river. I follow her, keeping enough distance that I'm not tempted to grab her hand. Instead of taking the path to the dock, she veers off and heads toward a large willow tree that overhangs the river; its branches skim the glassy surface of the water.

"Holy shit," she exclaims, grabbing a branch from the tree and tearing the leaves off. "These people are driving me insane!"

"Who?" I ask, tucking my hands into my shorts pockets. "Alice? Rose?"

She huffs and rolls her eyes. "I love them to death, but…gah!" She tears off another strip of leaves. "And Benno's mom is really nice, but I don't feel like I can say anything!" She tosses the leaves into the water, and they float like green confetti. "It's like this wedding belongs to everybody else, and I'm just there to show up." She shifts to look at me, shading the sun with her hand. "It's just not how I ever expected my wedding to be."

"Have you said anything?" I ask, watching her tear leaves from the rapidly balding tree.

Bella stops pacing and sits on a patch of grass. "I told Benno I wasn't sure about getting married in a shed. I mean, it's just not…" Her words trail off.

"…What you thought it would be," I finish for her, and she nods. I swallow the words I want to say, and I take the best friend route instead. "Well, you love Benno, right? Talk to him."

She pauses and wraps a twig from the willow around and around, twisting it into a wreath. "I'm sure we'll be happy together." She sighs and slips the small wreath over her wrist. "I don't want to hurt his feelings. He's such a sweet guy."

"Hey." I reach for her and then stuff my hand back into my pocket. "It's your day, right?"

She peers up and me, and a small smile touches the corners of her lips. "You've been doing your homework on the maid of honor stuff."

"Damn right," I tell her with a grin. "So make sure things go your way. Do what you gotta do. I mean, the plan is you only get married once, right?"

Shaking her head, she laughs hollowly. "Right." Bella looks back toward the house and sighs again. "We better go. Apparently, I need a practice run for my hair." She pulls the makeshift bracelet from her wrist and drops it on the ground. "Come on."

I watch her take a dozen steps, then retrieve the willow bracelet from the ground and slip it into my pocket.


"Bella!" Alice looks the most animated I've ever seen her when she comes down the porch stairs with Rose, Tess, and another woman right behind her. "You've got to come quickly!" She claps her hands together and glances skyward with a dreamy look on her face. "It's perfect."

"What is?" Bella asks, throwing me a glance. I shrug back.

"Just wait and see," says Tess, smiling.

"We'll do hair first," says the other woman in a thick Australian accent. She's beaming. "But right now there's somebody I think I need to meet." She takes a few steps in my direction. "G'day," she says. "I'm Sarah—Benno's mum."

"Edward Cullen," I reply. I offer my hand to shake, but she pulls me into a hug.

"Great to meet you, love. Bella bangs on and on about you." She holds me at arm's length. "I can see why. You're a bit of all right, aren't you? Come on, you lot. Let's go inside."

I feel my face start to flame, and Sarah pats me on the cheek and laughs.

I follow them into what I guess would probably normally be a large, sunny dining room. Atop the dining table is a collection of hair-styling stuff and a ton of makeup, lotions, spray cans, and a wealth of torturous-looking devices.

"Righty-o, ladies!" an overly made-up woman crows. "My name's Mandy. Me and my girls will be doing your hair and makeup for today's trial, and on the big day, too!" She claps her hands together, and bright pink-painted nails clack together noisily. "Well then, let's get you lot all prettied up!" I recoil—I hope she doesn't make Bella look like her, because she looks fucking scary.

"I thought we were doing hair?" asks Bella, sinking into a dining chair. "You know, to get ideas?" She's immediately pounced on by two women who are as poorly made up as Mandy.

Mandy cackles. "Aw, love. Trust us. We're the professionals, 'kay?"

Bella raises an eyebrow at me, but she's quickly hidden from view by the vultures.

I find an armchair in the corner and slump into it, dearly missing the comfortable chair in my own office, and silently wishing for the smell of fresh air again.

I'm not sure if it's an hour, or if it's two, but by the end of it, Bella, Tess, Rose, Sarah, and Alice all emerge from a fog of hairspray and the harsh smell of chemicals that remind me of that nail salon Bella dragged me into one time at a huge mall back home. I blink through the haze, and I barely recognize them.

"Whaddya think, love?" asks Sarah cheerily. She's rosy-cheeked, and I'm not sure if it's because of the makeup or if it's due to the champagne the girls have been swilling all afternoon.

"Um…er…" I stammer. "Er…"

"Hear that, girls? He's speechless!" She laughs, and the sound fills the room.

She's right. I am speechless. My Bella is gone, and filling the place where she sat down those many, many hours ago is a girl I don't recognize.

I know when she looked in the mirror that Mandy so proudly held up, she didn't recognize herself either.

Her eyes are framed in thick, dark lashes, and heavy lines surround her eyes. She's wearing a bright red stain on her lips, and her hair is curled and coifed and piled high, high on her head. It's littered with tiny flowers that look like oversized dandruff, and she looks thoroughly uncomfortable. While the other girls gather together and giggle, comparing nail colors and fussing over each other's hair, Bella pulls me aside.

"You're my oldest friend, E," she says. "Tell me. Honestly. Tell me what you think."

I look at her to try to find the spark in her eyes that I've loved since I was fifteen. It's not the same.


I'm interrupted by Sarah clapping her hands together rapidly. "Now that you're all glammed up, there's something else for Bella to see." Sarah throws one arm around Tess and one arm around Alice, who stiffens visibly, and they walk from the room.

"What is it, Rose?" Bella asks as we follow the others.

Rose screws up her powdered nose. "I'm sworn to secrecy." The firm shake of her head tells me she's not saying any more.

We wander through the large house, which is decidedly cooler than the heat that's rising outside, and Sarah leads us down the wide hall and into what looks like a sewing or craft room. There's a curtain partitioning off one section and a large mirror in one corner. A long table has a sewing machine and other random sewing-looking shit scattered across it. My mom has a room just like this one at home. My dad and I keep out of it.

"Okay," says Sarah. "I know you wanted to wait 'til your mum got here, but there's no harm in a little peek, right?" She bustles a confused-looking Bella behind the curtain and follows her in with a big white bag.

"What's going on?" I ask against my better judgement.

Alice rolls her eyes. "Only the biggest part of being a bride," she says, her tone sounding thoroughly exasperated. When I look at her blankly, she says with almost with a sneer, "the dress."

"Oh," I say, glancing at Rose. She's chewing on a newly polished fingernail. Even I know you're not supposed to do that.

There's rustling from behind the curtain, and I hear Sarah tell Bella to keep her eyes closed. Then in a raised voice she says, "Alice? Give me a hand will you, love?"

Alice, again, rolls her eyes in my direction and ducks behind the curtain. She squeals. "Keep them closed, Bella. Oh my god. It's perfect."

"Just hold that there, Alice. That's it." Sarah continues to give directions, and beside me, Rose is shaking her head.

"You're done!" cries Alice. "Okay, take my hands…"

Alice emerges first, holding Bella's hands. Tess gasps, and Rose's teeth grind. Alice and Sarah direct Bella to the mirror and position her in front of it. From my position, I can see her face in the reflection.

"Ready?" asks Sarah. "One, two, three…open!"

And when Bella opens her eyes, I silently promise to spend the rest of my life making sure I never see that expression on her face again.

A/N: Thank you for (still) reading.

My other stories, Weather With You and Yosemite Decimal are up for things on twifanfictionrecs dot c om. WWY is up for favourite completed fic for January, and YD is up for favourite completed fic for 2013. It's lovely to be nominated, so thank you to whoever did that.

Mags xx