Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise, I just use their creations to have my wicked way with them. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thank you to my kickass beta-team, Jadsmama and LadySharkey1 for whipping this chapter into shape.
Ready to meet Edward?
My sister never went to college.
Apparently, according to her, the confines of conventional higher education were far too stifling to nourish her precious, artistic brain.
I called bullshit.
She just stood there that summer, flapping like a fucking seal during Alice's graduation party and telling everyone how marvelous it was as she footed the bill for some expensive internship all the way in New York that, truth be told, did land Alice a job that paid rather nicely.
When, two years later, I made plans to postpone starting college by one year so that I could do some volunteer work in Latin America, the world was too small a place to convey her displeasure.
And, according to her, it was my dad's fault, of course. Just like everything else always was, according to mom.
If he had instilled a proper sense of duty and a working moral compass in me like any proper parent would have, I would not have even thought about throwing all the money she'd so painstakingly set aside for my college tuition away on some harebrained scheme and would have made my way to college and on towards crunch wheels of capitalist society with the rest of the sheep. Not, of course, that I'd planned on touching that money, since I was paying for the trip with money I'd earned working at Newton's and avoiding Mike's grabby little hands.
I ended up not going.
For Dad's sake.
All of those memories cross my mind as I was on my way to meet my brand new personal trainer, my footsteps sounding more venomous with every step as my mood sours. I didn't want to be here, even though I knew I had to…that it would get me where I needed to be. For Dad. If only the person I was going to meet was someone other than…
Or just 'Cullen' as I always called him. That, or asshole.
Why did it have to be him, of all people?
Cullen and I went way back. Well, about as far as the start of my college education. There I was; fresh faced and nervous as hell as I moved into my first dorm room when the most mouthwatering man walked straight passed me carrying some big ass houseplant I later learned his mom made him bring.
I watched him with the star-struck eyes of a small-town girl whose ideals of male beauty had been formed by actors and men in glossy magazines since the closest you could come to a pretty guy in my own home town was Mike fucking Newton in all his pimply, lanky glory.
It didn't take long before his name was on all the girls' lips; whispered gossip about how he was originally from the West Coast and how his parents owned one of those huge McMansions up in Bellevue and how he was supposed to be some sort of genius in sports, music and maintained a perfect 4.0 average traveling the halls at breakneck speed and setting all hearts aflutter. I had to admit that for a while I kind of got caught up in it as well – I mean, the guy is gorgeous, who could resist? – but my admiration never went quite as far as it did for some.
Seriously, I think a few of those girls would have believed it if you'd told them he crapped pure gold.
The first time we actually spoke – words and all – was a couple of days later when my roommate, Rose, drug me off to one of the dorm parties that marked the start of our first, real college experiences. Half the girls in the room gave me the stink eye when Cullen sauntered in, about halfway through the evening, and plonked down in the empty spot next to me on the sofa, the rest pretended not to care while giving me the 'stealthy stink-eye'.
I didn't notice, though, I was far too nervous trying to come up with something smart to say to the Nobel Prize worthy genius (if the grapevine was to be believed) who'd featured quite heavily in my quality alone time of late. So I did what most girls in my situation would have done (or so I consoled myself afterwards): I started to blurt out the most horrible word vomit ever to be spewed by humankind. And maybe even a couple of apes.
I had to give the guy credit, even in spite of everything that happened afterwards, for not laughing at me to my face as I rattled off my whole life story in less than fifteen minutes. Not that much stuff had happened in my eighteen years in this world by that time but still, it was more than any person should ever try to cram into fifteen minutes.
It shouldn't have surprised me that he grabbed the first opportunity he got to get the hell away from me but it still kind hurt when he never returned after 'grabbing us a couple of drinks'.
It hurt even more when the gossip first reached me.
And then to rub it all in, he made it virtually impossible for me to forget about him and my most embarrassing attempt at seduction seeing as he kept on using the coffee shop I worked at as his base for Friday night dates.
With a different girl hanging on his arm (and bouncing on his dick before the night was over if I interpreted the looks right) every week.
All in all, I'd handed in my membership of the Edward Cullen fan club a long time ago, which, of course, made the irony of needing him to get me ready for the Alp even greater. Especially since he'd suggested meeting me at the coffee house, though I shouldn't have been surprised after all that happened, that he'd suggested neutral territory for our first meeting.
I would have, if I were him.
"He's just a boy," I muttered as I pushed against the door to my workplace, though I wasn't there to wait tables or make coffee that day. I was there to meet my coach. "His shit's just as brown as mine."
I giggled, remembering the first time I'd heard my dad said those very same words when he got ready for his annual meeting with the rest of the county chiefs of the Pacific Peninsula. He never liked those meetings since they always made him wish he'd done more; caught more criminals, written out more fines and all that but somehow he always came home in a good mood, reassured that all the other police chiefs were just as lazy as he was. I missed him. Okay dad, here we go.
He was sitting by the window reading a book, the seat next to him vacant as he sipped his coffee. Okay, well that's two things you've never seen in regards to him. The minute he heard the doorbells chime, his mouth lifted into a nervous smile, his hand waving me over after I'd nodded at Lauren, one of the regular girls working the Friday night shift, to get me my usual as she mouthed an 'Oh my God' in return.
"Edward Cullen?" I asked, even though we both knew I'd recognized him as soon as I walked in. I made sure to keep my voice sharp. After all, I was still angry.
"Bella, isn't it?" He grinned, playing the game as he motioned for the chair next to him which, of course, I didn't take, electing to sit across and as far away as I could get from him.
I nodded, sitting back as Lauren came over with my coffee and bagel - as well as a peek into her cleavage for Cullen who, I had to give it to him, kept his eyes straight out of Lauren's business. "So you know what this is all about?" I asked, wanting to make sure the guy didn't have any funny ideas. "Jasper told you I won't be able to pay for anything except for the odd coffee now and then, right?"
Mom – or more accurately, her second husband – might have been loaded enough to cover the costs of our trips and all the gear we needed to buy to get us there but that didn't mean her charity extended as far as paying for a personal trainer for me.
If my name had been Alice, of course…
"I know!" Cullen held his hands up as if in surrender. "And it doesn't matter to me at all. I mean…this is such a great thing you're doing for your dad, of course, but it's also an amazing challenge, and an opportunity to cross another Alp off my list."
I frowned. "Your list?"
He nodded, taking a sip from his own coffee before popping the final bite of his bagel into his mouth. "When I started cycling a couple of years ago, I made a list of all the mountains I wanted to tackle and so far I've been able to cross out a few of them." He shrugged. "I never managed to make it to the Alps, though."
"So, are there any climbs on there I might know?" I asked, sipping from my coffee as I watched him go in for the kill, trying to act all arrogant and self-confident since he obviously had no idea I knew a thing or two about European mountains.
"So far I've stuck mainly to the US mainland but two years ago my parents decided to head on over to Spain for a couple of weeks so I was able to cross the Aubisque and the Ventoux off my list when they finally allowed me to head on up to the French side for a couple of days with one of my buddies."
"The Ventoux, huh?" I nodded, continuing to slowly sip my coffee. "I have to admit I'm impressed. From which way did you climb it?" I knew the Ventoux, of course, from the many times it had featured in the Tour de France. It was one of the highest, most demanding climbs around. That was, if you tackled it from the hardest of the three routes leading to the top.
Not that the other two were easy, though.
His eyes almost budged out of their sockets. "Y-you know the Ventoux?"
"You don't watch the Tour de France for eleven years without picking up a thing or two about mountains," I shrugged, enjoying the baffled state I'd reduced him to. "So, which side did you go up?"
"Malaucienne, but only because of the temperatures," he answered, looking almost apologetic for not having attempted the Bedoin-side, the hardest of the three possible ways to tackle that mountain.
"I heard it's horrible out there in the summer," I agreed, feeling like a saint for not using this excellent opportunity to make fun of him. "Especially the final part of the climb." The final stages were completely out in the open with no more trees to shield you from the blistering sun during your final ascend to the top.
"I have to say, Bella," he started, his voice suddenly serious and, on second thought, quite nervous too, "I had a hard time believing Jasper was for real when he called me. You know…after everything that went down the last time…"
"You mean after you spread a rumor all around campus that I was gay?" I snarled, the reminder eradicating all the credit he might have built up throughout our meeting.
Cullen's face took on a look that was positively green, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed with some difficulty. "I want to say I'm sorry about that," he muttered, his eyes studiously trained to his empty plate.
"Why did you do it?" Even at the midst of the gossip, that was still the one thing I'd never found out. I mean, I'd all but tortured the guy with my Bella101 session but that didn't exactly give him the rights to pull the kill switch on my dating life.
"I just wanted to warn some of my buddies," he blurted, rattling off on a round of word vomit that rivaled mine. "I heard them talking about maybe asking you out and I thought I'd spare them the embarrassment of being turned down."
"Because you had all the evidence that I wasn't interested in boys!" I growled, slamming the empty coffee cup down on the table with all the force I could muster. "Don't you think you should have checked first?" I'd felt so hurt when the guy I'd had a huge crush on spread a rumor about me and now to have him admit that he'd done it? I felt hurt and angry all over again.
"It seemed like a pretty open-and-shut case." He cringed when my glare intensified. "What was I supposed to think? You shoot, drink beer, watch sports and you want to be a cop when you're finished with college."
"So that automatically makes me a lesbian?" I fumed, earning a few stares from other customers. "Don't you think that's awfully discriminating and hurtful to people who are gay as well as girls who like boys but hate all the girly shit…girls like me?"
"I'm sorry," he muttered again, looking like he was about to disappear beneath the table top.
"Do you know how hard it was for me to get a date after what you said?" I raged on, picking up steam left, right and center. "I basically had to offer up blowjobs to get guys to go out with me and even then they expected me to put on a three-way with one of my roommates because they still didn't believe me!"
"I'm so sorry, Bella. I was an ass, there's no other way of describing the way I acted." He wrung his hands, looking quite uncomfortable and mysteriously downtrodden as he studied the crumbs on his plate. "I guess this means you no longer want my help?"
With everything I had I wanted to scream at him to get the fuck away from me but, sadly, beggars can't be choosers and this guy had agreed to help me out free of charge. "You really think you can get me in shape by next summer?"
He nodded, my traitor heart fluttering a little at the eager look in his eyes. "If you stick to the plan and work your ass off, then I don't see why not."
"I guess you're stuck with me then." I sighed dramatically, still wondering what the fuck I'd just signed up for. "But next time you spread a rumor about my private life, you won't wake up the next morning, capisce?"
"Great!" He surprised me by almost vaulting over the little table to grab my hand and shake it in a way that made me happy I didn't have to write anything that afternoon. "So, how about I pick you up tomorrow for our first session?"
There was part of me that was relieved to know that – finally – I was starting to take the right steps to get me ready for the Alp. The other part, though, was scared to death that I had just made the biggest mistake in my life.