As I walked towards the queue of graduating High School seniors, all dressed in hideous yellow gowns, Mike Newton stopped his conversation with a boy named Neil Marks and waved over to me. Mike was in the middle of the line, which was sorted alphabetically; happily, my 'S' insured I was near the end. I hoped by the time I was called up that everyone's attention span would have wavered and if I tripped on the way across the stage, not too many people would notice.
Mike's smile was wide and warm as he waved, and I blushed as my mind wandered back to the night of Mike's party, and my first sexual experience.
There was no doubt that it had been an amazing night; but I definitely felt shy and awkward when I had risen to get dressed. Mike had been goofily charming, of course; he tried to put me at ease, and helped me find my clothes. We both laughed when we had to search for my bikini top, which had been thrown behind his desk.
When we walked back downstairs to the party and were met with many stares and whispers, I tried to ignore them, despite the burning of my cheeks. I was tired, and it was late, so I quietly left and made my way to my truck. But before I pulled away, Mike ran out of the house and up to my truck's window.
"Bella? Everything OK?" Mike asked, his smile fading a little, but showing real concern in his voice.
I blushed, and smiled at his chivalry. "Yes, Mike, I'm fine. I'm just tired, and I don't want to be subjected to Jessica's questions and Lauren's nasally snips."
Mike chuckled, shaking his head in agreement. His goofy smile returned, and he looked at me with adoration in his eyes. "You're right! I wish it wasn't my party and I could come with you!"
I laughed too, happy that he was making this easy for me. I smiled up at him. "Thanks, Mike. I had a great time. And I would appreciate it if you could, well, umm, keep quiet about what we did." My cheeks flushed, and though I wanted to avert my eyes, I kept my gaze steady.
Mike smiled again, and his eyes were shining when he surprised me and leaned-in to kiss my cheek. "Don't worry, Bella. I promise I won't say anything to anyone. If they ask, I will just tell them after our kiss in the pool we just went upstairs and kissed a little and talked mostly. They might not believe me, but I won't give them anything they could use to start a rumor."
I was shocked at his words; I had expected him to at least tell his friends. Despite my complete inexperience when it came to physical relations with boys, I had heard enough gossip during my four years in high school to know that boys liked to brag to their friends about their sexual conquests.
So to learn that Mike would be respectful, and keep our tryst quiet, made me instantly grateful to him.I placed my hand on his, which had curled around my window jamb. "Thanks Mike. I appreciate that," I said, and then, with honesty, added, "You're a really great guy."
His smile was wide, all his teeth showing, and his blue eyes were shining like clear ocean waters.
He took a deep breath, like he was psyching himself for something, and I had an idea what was coming next. "Bella? Would you go out with me sometime? We can keep it very casual, even as friends. But I would like to spend some time with you before we go off to college and probably never see each other again." He laughed when he said this last part, but the earnestness in his voice was undeniable.
I thought to myself how many times he had asked me this question, and how many times I had rejected him. I think he expected me to reject him again, as his shoulders were tense and his smile no longer looked as wide. He had wanted me since the first day I had arrived in Forks, and out of everyone here I had met, only Angela had been as reliable a friend.
I thought back, then, about who had first made me feel welcome in Forks, and who I could count among my real friends.
There was Angela, of course, and Jacob. Perhaps Emily as well, as we had bonded during my visits to the reservation.
And, I realized, Mike. He had always been there for me.
And, after tonight, I saw Mike in a very different light.
A few seconds had passed, and I could see his shoulders sagging as he thought I would reject him. So, before I gave it any more thought, my mouth was curving in a smile as I answered him. "Yes, Mike. I would like that. Call me tomorrow."
The smile that lit up his face was, I have to admit, quite dazzling.
When I returned to school the Monday after the party, I was extremely nervous about the reactions of the other students who were at the party. But besides a few stares – nothing compared to the ones that I endured when I started dating Edward – the day did not go so badly. Apparently, 'hooking up' at a party was not a big deal , and when Jessica cornered me at lunch to ask what happened, I repeated the story that Mike had suggested – that we talked and kissed a little.
She soon lost interest, and I left for work in a good mood and with a smile on my face.
Mike and I laughed and joked that day at work – It was a quiet afternoon – and made plans to go out that weekend.
As I watched his dimples curl-up in an adorable fashion, and his blue eyes sparkle with joy, I realized that Mike Newton was actually quite cute. And he had proven to be trustworthy and loyal.
A girl could do worse.
Over the next couple of weeks, Mike and I had gone out several times, and we had a lot of fun. The only hiccup, really, was Jacob. At first, Jacob was not too happy about my dating Mike, but when I told Jacob that I was leaving Forks – for good, come August – he finally seemed to understand that I wasn't going to dive into a relationship with anyone, and that I really wanted to keep Jacob in my life as my best friend.
So Jake and I patched-up our differences, and our friendship blossomed again. I would visit him at LaPush, and we would have fun riding the bikes our hanging-out with the pack at Emily's or just walking along First Beach.
I was healing. I thought of Edward and the Cullen's less and less, and I could say their names without feeling the hole in my chest.
Mike and I dated a few more times and continued to have fun. It was never serious, and we both knew that we would soon be going our separate ways.
But that didn't stop us from enjoying each other. On two separate occasions, we had gone as far as we had the night of his party, but I had not given him my virginity - though it had come very close the last time we went out. He had taken me out on a night-time beach picnic, and we shared wine and cheese and fruit and enjoyed the stars on a rare cloud-free evening. I was relaxed, and happy, and when I felt around to feel the hole inside my chest, I realized that it was all stitched-up.
After dinner, I had surprised Mike when I initiated a kiss, which then quickly heated. We started slowly but soon worked our clothes off and drove each other to a frenzy, and when he rubbed himself up and down through my curls, I had almost given-in and asked him to make love to me. Some last vestiges of 'sweet Bella' stopped me though, and Mike didn't seem upset, which earned him a lot of points in my book.
We did have a great night of fooling-around, and after our third or fourth release we spent hours just cuddling on the blanket and enjoying the soft sounds of the waves crashing on the beach, as we talked about the future.
After he dropped-me off in the early hours of the morning, I wondered what stopped me from making love to him; and decided that if the opportunity arose again, I would take it. Mike had proven to be a trustworthy, loyal friend – well, a friend with benefits! – and had managed to keep his mouth shut about our little trysts and what we did behind closed doors.
For that – and for other things – I was grateful.
I was honestly surprised - and somewhat pleased - to find myself in this situation; I never considered myself a 'friend with benefits' kind of girl, but that seemed to be exactly what Mike and I had.
By some strange coincidence, we were both heading to school in California. But he was going to the sunny and hot University of California San Diego, and I was heading to the more northern climes of San Francisco, on an almost full-scholarship to University California, Berkeley, and I was leaving in early August to start the next stage of my life.
I had gotten a good scholarship at Berkeley, thanks to my good grades and stellar SAT scores. I had maintained a 3.8 average throughout my high school years, getting almost straight A's in everything but math. But my SAT scores put me in the 99.5 percentile – thanks to my almost perfect scores in the writing and reading sections – and I had a wide range of college opportunities and scholarship offerings to choose from.
Strangely enough, I had received a full scholarship to Dartmouth University – even though I had not even applied there – and whose 'welcome' packet had come with a letter stating that my national merit scholarship status and superlative SAT grades had won me a scholarship under their 'Stars for the future program.' I was immediately suspicious – this smelled like something Edward would do – and so I looked up their website and did some poking around.
They looked legitimate, but I knew better. So when I did some checking and found that the website and domain had only been registered earlier that month – despite the text on the site claiming a 20 year history – I knew it was bogus.
I couldn't understand at first why Edward might have done this. If I meant nothing to him, then why try and help me? But as I thought back over his words, and that way that he said that 'he would always love me…in a way" perhaps he did feel some residual fondness or guilt.
Either way, I was not accepting his charity. I didn't want it, and I didn't need it.
So it was with glee that I burned the scholarship and acceptance packets, and put their ashes into a nice fat envelope and mailed it to their house. I don't know what became of that envelope, or who might have been holding their mail for them – but it felt good to do it anyway.
The sound of someone coughing broke me from my reverie. Here I was, in my hideous yellow gown and white sandals, with my father standing at my side, telling me how proud he was of me and how we would miss me next year when I left for college. My mother, who had endured the seven hour plane flight to watch her 'baby girl' graduate, had stepped-off for a few minutes to make a call to Phil and text him a photo of my and her that my dad took with her new cell phone.
We were soon seated, and I listened to Erik Yorkie give his valedictorian speech. I looked around the small gymnasium at my classmates and friends, nodding politely to familiar faces.
The speeches continued, until, finally, we were in the line to receive our diplomas, and I was directly behind a teary and gushing Jessica Stanley, who was squeezing my hand as if we were the best of friends. Having names ending in 'S', we were near the back of the line – only a half dozen students were in the line behind me.
At last, my name was called, and I walked across the stage – without tripping or otherwise making a fool of myself - where I received a handshake from the principal and my rolled-up diploma. A short minute later, I was pressed to the back of the stage, and I was throwing my hat high into the air along with the other graduating seniors, and I was done. Finished. No more high school.
As I was pulled into hugs by my Mom, and Charlie, and then Jacob. Emily had come as well, along with Quill and Embry, and everyone gave my large Quileute friends a wide berth as they towered over everyone gathered. Billy was also there, smiling at me and offering his congratulations.
As I was hugged Jacob again, I reflected upon the fact that, had I stayed with Edward, I would spend the rest of eternity going through High School over and over again – and the thought made me cringe.
How could I have ever wanted that kind of future? At least Carlisle had a career. The rest of them were just marking time.
The assembled crowd made our way outside, and I said my goodbyes to Jacob and the Quileutes. I promised them I would come out before leaving for Jacksonville next month - where I would visit with my mom for three weeks before embarking on my college career - and I told Jacob I would call him tomorrow.
Mike walked over to me, and braved my circling Indian friends to give me a big hug, and I hugged him back, laughing quietly with him. Angela came over next, and she leaned her face down to kiss me on my cheek and give me a hug as well.
As I turned back towards my father, I saw Jacob suddenly stand up to his full height, his head whipping around to look left and right. Quil and Embry then followed suit, and Embry's hands started to shake, his gaze fixed across the parking lot towards the tree-line.
"What is it, Jake," I whispered, knowing he would hear me.
He didn't answer, but he clenched his fists and took a step forward, flanked by his Quil and Embry. All three were standing at their full height with their shoulders tensed, watching the trees as if they expected an enemy to come springing-out at them.
I followed their line of sight, frowning at a vague shadow I saw emerging from the forest, and then I gasped; for standing there – right at the edge of the tree-line - was someone I never expected to see again.
I let my eyes wander over him, drinking the sight of him in. I realized that my memory really didn't do him justice. His bronze hair was its usual disheveled mess, and his pale white skin stood out in stark contrast to his dark blue shirt. His eyes – not the normal golden pools of honey that I was used to, but rather dark, almost black orbs, that stared at me, unblinking. Dark, almost purple shadows hung beneath the onyx of his eyes.
His face was Godlike in its beauty. A living statue of a Greek Adonis. That was what I called him once, and I had been correct. I could not imagine anyone who could be better looking than Edward.
Despite the presence of the three, giant Quiluetes shaking by my side, and the now angry and surprised stares being given him by everyone near me – Edward only had eyes for me. His eyes burned into mine from across the lot, holding me prisoner, and displaying what I once thought was love.
The shock of seeing him tore through me. Why was he back? What was he doing here? These thoughts ran through my mind, but the intensity of his gaze didn't relent, and I felt myself taking a step towards him without even realizing it; my whole being was being dazzled into submission by him.
I suddenly felt someone take my hand, and I followed the owners arm up, to see Mike looking at me with a very concerned expression. He gripped my hand tighter, and tried to keep me from walking towards Edward.
I also felt a hand on my shoulder, restraining me from moving forward, and looked-up into Jacob's concerned face. It was a mixture of fury and worry, and I felt the fogginess in my head begin to clear.
Why was I walking towards Edward? I had not even been aware that was what I was doing. I looked at him again, standing not fifty feet away from me, and he finally broke his gaze, and stared at my hand held in Mike's with an angry glare.
What was his problem? Why would he care who I held hands with? And what was he doing here?
I looked up at Mike, and watched as his eyes left mine and he returned Edward's glare. I saw Edward suddenly flinch, and again, as if something hit him. He was shaking his head, and his mouth had turned into a grim line. He trembled several times, and I realized he was reading the thoughts of my friends and was upset at whatever they were thinking.
Charlie finally turned to look at what was going on, and his face turned purple when he saw Edward standing there. I heard him curse under his breath, and take a step towards Edward.
Jacob went with him, with Quil and Embry alongside.
I had to stop this before it got violent, as I knew that Jake and Quileutes wanted very badly to hurt Edward.
"Wait!" I called out, stopping Charlie and Jacob from striding forward. "I've got this." I probably sounded more confident than I felt, but I swallowed my anxiety. I had to do this.
I released Mike's hand, and took a few steps towards Edward. His face relaxed, and that same intense expression as before came back to his eyes. A smile appeared, that same crooked smile I had fallen in love with.
But for some reason, it didn't effect me the way it used to. It wasn't my smile anymore, since he was no longer my Edward.
And I realized, with a dawning awareness,. that I felt no pain - none whatsoever - at seeing Edward here.
Had I finally, fully, recovered? Was I completely over him? I felt a wave of calmness and certainty wash over me, as my epiphany hit. I was over Edward Cullen.
Edward had been right, after all. Time does heal all wounds.
As my awareness of my own feelings centered me, I realized I was very angry with Edward. Why had he returned? Was he here to play with me some more?
I took another step forward, and he beckoned me on while he smiled at me, a radiant, dazzling smile that could melt the heart of almost any girl.
But I was not that girl anymore. Not any longer. I knew better; I knew the cold, unfeeling heart that lay behind that phony smile.
I stopped my walk towards him, my hands moving upwards without any conscious thought. I felt my features morphing into an angry smirk, and I watched with satisfaction as his smile slowly slid from his face, to be replaced by confusion, then shock.
I blinked, suddenly realizing what my hands were doing. They had come up, balled into fists, except for my middle fingers, which were turned upwards and prominently displayed.
I realized, that I, Bella Swan, was giving Edward Cullen the middle finger – the classic, unequivocal, 'Fuck You' - in the middle of the Forks High parking lot in front of the entire Senior class and school faculty.
There was a moment of shocked silence before laughter and grunts sounded behind me from my friends; and I noticed that the sounds of the celebrating crowd seemed quieter. I turned my head, and many people in the crowd had stopped their celebrations to watch our little drama unfold.
And there I was, standing alone in the middle, my middle fingers prominently displayed as I gave my ex-boyfriend the bird.
I turned back to look at Edward, and I saw his shoulders sag, and his face crumple in pain. His dark eyes looked down at the ground, and he swayed on his feet. I felt a brief, momentary tug at my heartstrings, but it was fleeting, and quickly passed. This was the boy-man-monster that had broken me, and never again would I give him any power over my life.
He raised his head, one final time, his eyes searching mine for something. What he was looking for, I didn't know. Pity? Love? A second chance? I wasn't sure, and I didn't care. He would get nothing from me.
He wanted to play with me? Well I wasn't playing any longer. He could chase after his distractions for the rest of eternity, so long as he left me alone.
His hand raised by his side, feebly, as if he was reaching out for me. His expression was truly pitiable, but I wasn't fooled. I knew what an accomplished liars the Cullen's were. They would get no truck from me.
Without wasting another glance on the disheveled boy that I used to love, I turned and walked-back over to my friends and family, where I was welcomed into the warmth of their embraces, and their laughs of relief and congratulations.
After a few moments, as I was passed from hug to hug, I noticed that the noise from the crowd had again risen, and was now a hub-bub of voices. I was briefly turned around when my mom pulled-me in for a hug, and again was facing the spot where Edward had been standing mere moments before.
He was gone.
Like he never existed.
And at that moment, I finally knew, that for me - he didn't.
A/N - And that's all she wrote!