So, the idea for this fic just popped into my head, because I was rewatching Gossip Girl and couldn't shake the idea for the story. Disclaimer: I own nothing. All characters belong to Stephenie Meyer. The Upper East Side, including Constance Billard School for Girls and St. Jude's School for Boys, belongs to the wonderfully bitchy and entertaining world of Gossip Girl.
So, I decided to start keeping you. I don't know how long I'll stick to it, exactly, but hopefully it will last. See, the thing is, you're the only one I can really talk to – unless you count Cynthia, which I don't, because she's only twelve and still in middle school.
I suppose that I should really introduce myself. My name is Mary Alice Brandon, but anyone who calls me Mary gets a verbal beat-down, and fast. It's just Alice. Not that I really have much of a chance to give anyone a verbal beat-down, because nobody has bothered to talk to me in the three years I've been at stupid Constance. I'm the art freak who customizes her own uniform. I'm also the only one who takes the L train. It blows being the kid from Brooklyn when you go to school on the Upper East Side.
I do it, though, because my dad has worked his ass off to get me into that godforsaken school. He's determined that him being poor won't stop me from getting into RISD. I want to make him proud, particularly because he's managing to single-handedly run an art gallery and raise two teenage daughters since my mom bailed on us.
I have a routine, so that he's none the wiser to how miserable I am. Whenever he asks me how school was, I lie and say it was great. I help Cynthia with her homework. Then I lie some more and say I'm going out with my friends from school – of which I have exactly zero – and head down to Java Jones to meet Seth. And only then do I let my real feelings out.
Seth gets it. He's not a scholarship kid at a rich prep school, like I am, but he's my best friend, and he's got his own drama. His mom is a total good Samaritan – a nurse who works at the free clinic – and she's been devoted to a thousand different causes ever since Seth's dad Harry died two years ago. His sister, Leah, is the golden girl in her mother's eyes; she's at NYU studying journalism, and is a hardcore activist. Sue and Leah are two peas in a pod. Seth, on the other hand – he just wants his band to make it big. Seth's mom doesn't get him. Like, at all. It's not to say that she doesn't love him, but she's always going on at him to have a plan, or a bit more direction in his life.
I feel bad for him, but at least he likes public school.
Today was like most other days. I caught the train home, dumped my bag in our loft, and was about to head out. Cynthia was off doing… something… with her friends. Because she has more than one, because the torture of Constance hasn't been inflicted on her yet. I like to hope that it might be different for her when she starts in the fall. I'm kidding myself, though – those rich, elitist brats can smell the Brooklyn air on girls like me, I swear it. Like I'm wearing some special perfume. Eau de poor. Lovely.
Dad was on the phone when I found him, propped up against the kitchen counter and arguing at length with whatever art dealer he was speaking to. I signaled to him that I was going out, and he nodded. He looked tired, I noticed. Like he hadn't slept in a month. He probably hasn't. Not properly. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his black hair was rumpled from running his hands through it in frustration. I grimaced in sympathy as he rolled his deep brown eyes – exactly like mine – at whatever the person on the other end of the phone was saying. Blowing him a kiss, I left.
I got to Java Jones to find Seth, looking harangued, dutifully wiping up the last few tables before he finished his shift. A couple of girls were staring at him appreciatively, I noticed. Seth is incredibly cute, with his russet skin and his messy dark hair. He spotted me across the crowd and dimpled a grin in my direction. I hurried over.
"Hey," he greeted, shifting the mug-laden tray in his arms and pulling the cloth off his shoulder to wipe the table. The tray wobbled slightly, and I reached out my hands to steady it. He relinquished his grip on it to me as he leant across the table. I studied the back of his head, frowning.
"I didn't think you were working this late," I muttered. He stood to his full height – I'm only tiny, so I found myself craning my head back to see his face – and gently prized the tray away from me.
"I know. I stayed for some overtime." We walked back to the counter together, and Seth deposited the tray before leaning up against the bar. I spotted yet another girl giving him the look, and me the stink eye. She thought we were together. As did most people.
"You work too much," I fretted, pointedly ignoring the daggers being drawn my way.
"Naw," Seth shrugged. "It's cool. I can handle it."
I narrowed my eyes. He's just like my dad. Biting off more than he can chew all the time. But he looked so damn exhausted that, instead of chiding him, I let out a defeated sigh.
"The blonde behind you is checking you out," I informed him, and his eyebrows shot up.
"Don't be too obvious."
But Seth was never obvious. With a surreptitious glance to the side, he appraised the girl silently. She caught him looking, and he shot her a wink. She blushed. I rolled my eyes.
"How was school?" He asked me, hooking his foot around a bar stool and dragging it out for me to sit on. When I didn't, he patted the stool impatiently, and I hopped up as he rounded the counter to the employee side.
"It sucked," I said honestly, propping my slightly pointed chin in my hands. Seth made a sympathetic noise.
"Those rich bitches still giving you a hard time?"
I shrugged noncommittally. Truth be told, I was more ignored than I was picked on. "They're just too snobby to bother speaking to me."
"You say that like it's a bad thing. Honestly, would you want friends like that?"
Probably not. But it would make my life a lot less lonely. I told him as much.
"Think of it this way, Al," Seth said. "You've got what? A year and a half left to endure. You're two thirds of the way there."
I couldn't decide whether that was uplifting or depressing, so I changed the subject. "I saw the news."
"It's on every day," Seth replied with a smirk. I leaned across the counter to thump him on the shoulder.
"I know that, jackass. I meant, I saw Leah on the news."
"Oh," Seth grinned knowingly. "Right. Her 'don't tear down the community center' spotlight piece. She's been harping on about it all week."
"I think she was great," I offered.
"I think she sounded like a pretentious ass, but I appreciate the cause all the same."
Just then, we were interrupted by a booming voice from the door to the kitchen. "Clearwater?!"
It was Aston, the manager. Seth and I called him Assface behind his back. His tone meant business, though, and Seth was still on the clock, so he rolled his eyes and muttered, "I'll be right back."
I watched him vanish into the kitchen, and then cast my gaze around. People-watching was one of my favorite things to do. I would sometimes sit in the park with my sketchbook and draw them, just random passers-by who caught my attention. A red-faced jogger. A harassed mother with three kids. An old man falling asleep on a bench in the afternoon sun. Sometimes, I would make up stories to go along with it – what their lives were like back home, what they did for a living, what they lay awake at night thinking of. I could spend hours doing it.
My eyes landed on a girl sipping a latte and nervously glancing at her watch every five seconds. She was quite pretty. Spanish-looking. She reminded me a little of Maria, the queen bee at Constance, only she wasn't sneering. My fingers itched to draw her; the tense set of her shoulders, the way she kept chewing her bottom lip. I imagined that she was waiting for someone. A date, maybe. She didn't think he was going to show.
Her eyes went wide in relief when the door opened and a tall, handsome guy sauntered in. He looked Spanish, too. I wondered if maybe I'd been wrong, if maybe he was her brother.
He bounded across the packed coffee shop and scooped her up in his arms before planting a loud, enthusiastic kiss on her lips. Not her brother, then.
"Eleazar, you're late," the girl said breathlessly, and he leaned down to give her an Eskimo kiss.
"Got held up at work, Carmensita," he murmured. I turned my eyes away to give them a private moment.
That's when the door opened, and my gaze fell on the last person I had ever expected to walk through the door of a coffee house in Brooklyn.
He was instantly recognizable by his tousled bronze hair, even if he was dressed in an Armani sweater and dark jeans, instead of his St. Jude's uniform. I'd never seen him out of uniform before.
Edward was part of the 'in' crowd at St. Jude's, the boys' counterpart to Constance. We shared a school building, a headmistress, a quad, and assemblies every morning, but apparently we were two different institutes. Edward Cullen was the elite of the elite, the richest of the rich. His father, Carlisle Cullen – well, everyone's heard of him. He's the most renowned plastic surgeon on the eastern seaboard.
I heard a rumor once that Edward was adopted. I didn't know why, but that made me like him more, despite the fact that he was as aloof and untouchable as the others. Maybe it was because, like me, he didn't really belong in that world. Maybe we were the same. Deep, deep, deep down, that is.
His eyes flashed around the room, scanning for an empty seat. He found one, at the table just to the right of where I was sitting. Casually, he strolled across the room. I observed his walk – it was laidback. Carefree. Most of the Constance girls would be clutching their Marc Jacobs purses to their chests in terror if they were in this neighborhood. Edward was… unfazed.
It was odd.
After a moment, he seemed to sense that I was staring at him, because his bright green eyes flickered up to meet mine. There was a question in his expression, like he recognized me, but didn't know how. I thought he'd look away, but after a second, he spoke.
"Do I know you?"
Unsurprisingly, I felt myself flush. "Um, no?"
He nodded, but then frowned. "Wait… yeah, I do. You go to Constance."
My eyebrows went up, astonished that he'd made the connection. "Yeah. I'm Alice," I offered, and then realized that he hadn't actually asked for an introduction. He didn't seem to mind, though.
"Edward." He pointed at himself unnecessarily.
"I know." I cringed as soon as the words were out of my mouth, but to my surprise, he smiled ruefully.
I don't know how it happened, but suddenly he'd kicked out a chair and gestured for me to join him. I took the seat, feeling a bit perplexed. This was like something out of the twilight zone. Guys with bank accounts like his didn't speak to girls like me.
"What brings you to Brooklyn, Alice?" he asked. I groaned inwardly. So he didn't know that I lived here.
Well, the conversation had been fun while it lasted. "I live a couple of blocks away."
I expected the walls to come down and the sneer to come out. Instead, he nodded. "Right. You've got a long way to travel to school."
It didn't sound snotty, so I didn't mind the statement. "Yeah, I take the subway."
"Me, too," he responded.
Again, I was surprised. "I thought you had a town car?"
He grinned, a little abashed. "I do. I just prefer to be inconspicuous. I hate all that showy shit."
I smiled. Here was Edward Cullen, talking to me like an actual person. "How come you're in Brooklyn?"
His face fell slightly, the sparkle in his green eyes dimming. "My brother goes to rehab around the corner."
Ah. Yeah, I'd heard about that. Emmett Cullen's drug habit. Of course I'd heard – it had been splashed across every paper in New York City. I remembered the gossip that had spread like wildfire around school. I suddenly felt a pang of sympathy for Edward.
"They sent him to Brooklyn?" I wondered. Edward grimaced.
"My mom thought it would be, y'know, better. Away from all the paparazzi." He shrugged, though I could tell that the idea bothered him. "I was just visiting him."
"Are your parents not here?"
"They're busy." The way he said it, the words twisting bitterly, elicited another pang of sympathy.
"That sucks," I said honestly. He smiled.
"Yeah, you can say that again."
"So how come you didn't just go home?"
"Full of questions, aren't you?" he teased, but he sounded faintly amused. "I didn't go home because I couldn't really face it. Mom's having her coven of friends over, and I didn't fancy making small talk and listening to her dodging questions about Emmett."
"Do you see your brother a lot?"
"Every couple of days, yeah."
"How is he?"
"Getting better." Edward sighed. "He's ready to be released, in all honesty, but I keep telling him to put it off. The Upper East vultures are still circling, and I don't think he's prepared enough to deal with them yet."
Just for a moment, I considered the possibility that Edward's life sucked more than mine did. I shook off the thought as quickly as it had come. Who was I kidding? The silver spoon in his mouth was infinitely preferable to a life of scrimping and scraping, paparazzi be damned.
"How come you were sitting here by yourself?" he asked, snapping me out of my reverie. I blinked at him for a moment before answering.
"Oh, I'm just waiting for my friend Seth to finish work."
"You know him?" I was astonished.
"I've seen the New Moon Wolves play a couple of gigs," he explained. "They're a pretty good band, actually."
I grinned. Seth would love that. "I'll tell him you think so."
Just then, the door opened again, and a wave of January air swept through the stuffy shop. On instinct, my eyes flickered towards the door.
I nearly passed out.
If I'd been shocked to see Edward Cullen walking into Java Jones, that was nothing, nothing, compared to how I felt when none other than Jasper Whitlock strolled in.
Jasper Whitlock was… well, he was everything I wasn't. His father was Peter Whitlock, as in, Whitlock Enterprises and Holdings Inc. He was hands down the richest guy in Manhattan. His mother, Charlotte, had once been Lotti Masters, the famed Victoria's Secret model. One glance at Jasper showed that he had all of his father's imposing presence and his mother's obnoxious beauty. Tall, lean and muscular, with slightly curling hair a few shades more gold than his smooth, tan skin, he hovered in the doorway, looking like the portrait of an archangel.
His deep blue eyes scanned the room, until they landed on me. Well, I thought they'd landed on me, but when he raised a hand in greeting, I realized that he was looking at Edward.
Of course he was. Edward and Jasper were best friends. Jasper was popular – no, he was the frigging king of St. Jude's. Even before he'd been a senior. His loyal subjects fell at his feet both during school and out of it, probably crushing a few of the girls who had bent down to lick his shoes on the way.
I forced myself not to hyperventilate at the sight of him walking over to us. Like every other girl on the face of the planet, I spent much of my school day swooning at him whenever he walked past. Jasper Whitlock had been the object of a long-standing obsession since the first day I had laid eyes on him.
Having a crush on the hottest, most popular, richest guy in school – is that too much of a cliché?
I mean, I'm the girl who had gone door to door collecting to raise money for my downstairs neighbor Riley, so that he could be included in a clinical trial to help his brain tumor. I'm the girl who had saved up her lunch money every day in ninth grade so that she could buy her sister the flat iron she wanted for Christmas. I'm the girl who goes to gallery openings for the art, not the champagne. I'm the girl who volunteers at the free clinic on the weekends.
Yet, somehow, I, Alice Brandon, am hopelessly into a guy based on his looks. I'm ashamed of myself, but there it is.
Jasper stopped at our table, his eyes sliding from Edward to me – briefly – and back again. He didn't ask what I was doing there. He didn't ask who I was, even. Instead, he drew back a chair and flopped into it, before leaning to his best friend and lowering his voice.
"How's Em doing?"
Edward shrugged. "He's getting there."
"Your mom going to let him come home any time soon?"
"I doubt it."
Jasper nodded sympathetically, and sat back in his chair. He didn't even so much as glance in my direction. It was as though I was another piece of the furniture.
Now, I could have been one of those girls who just sat there, sycophantically staring at Jasper with goo-goo eyes, willing him to notice that I was even alive. A small, shameful part of me wanted to be. Another, larger part, wanted to be mad at his complete rudeness.
I didn't know what would be better – shrugging it off in dignified silence or giving him a piece of my mind. Thankfully, I was spared from the decision, as Edward gestured towards me with one empty hand.
"Jasper, this is Alice Brandon."
His blue-eyed gaze slid over to me, and locked. The cobalt in his eyes sparked with a glimmer of recognition, and what I thought – or maybe, hoped – was interest. "Constance-Billard's answer to Frida Kahlo," he said.
I didn't know whether to take that as a compliment on my art or an insult on my looks. A couple of my paintings had been featured in our school magazines. One was even hanging in Headmistress Dwyer's office. She likes me. Always says her daughter and I would get along. Isabella, her name is, apparently. Not that that helps me in any way. She doesn't go to Constance – she lives with her dad in the Hamptons.
I stopped my tangential thoughts when it became clear that Jasper was waiting for some kind of response from me. I was a bit embarrassed by what actually came out of my mouth. "Did you take the train here?"
Jasper looked at me like I was insane. "No… I took my limo."
Naturally. Because that's how easy his life is. And when he got home, he could just send for the maid to bring him a sandwich. Or caviar on toast, or whatever it was that filthy rich people ate.
"Your carbon footprint must be enormous. Unless you car pool." I was kidding, but Jasper looked completely bewildered.
"Car pool?" I wondered if the concept could have possibly made less sense to him. Maybe if I'd spoken in Latin.
Edward seemed to find my question amusing. "Jazz, I think she was joking."
Jasper frowned. He looked confused. I wondered, idly, if girls were ever sarcastic to him. I wondered if they ever did anything except drool on his fancy shoes.
"Um, alright." He turned to Edward. "Are we gonna go and eat? I'm starving."
"Sure, there's this great vendor down the road that does amazing tacos."
"Street food?" Jasper wrinkled his nose. I was abruptly overcome with the urge to punch him in his superior face. Instead, I balled up my fists at my sides and mentally counted to ten.
"Or not," Edward saw his expression. "We could always go to the Imperial."
"Now you're talking," Jasper replied enthusiastically. "I really want steak."
"Weren't you supposed to be going out for dinner with Maria?" Edward realized, frowning at his friend. Jasper shrugged noncommittally.
"I bailed. She's driving me mad. All of that 'school spirit for Ivy Week' crap is really going to her head. She's in charge of the events committee."
Of course she was. She was Maria de Lucia. She got everything. Committee titles, class presidency, a group of bitchy minions to bend to her every whim. Oh, and did I mention? Jasper. She got him. As a boyfriend. It wasn't unexpected, really. The fashion designer's daughter and the mogul's son. The prettiest girl in school and the most handsome guy in the universe. The Manhattan royalty. Of course they'd end up together. It didn't matter that she was a hateful bitch.
"I don't understand why you put up with her," Edward said, curiously voicing my thoughts. "She's a nightmare."
Jasper shrugged again, but there was something in that shrug that made me think he wasn't just being vague, that there was some sort of story there, and not a happy one. It was like there was something he wanted to say, but wouldn't.
I puzzled over that one for a moment.
It was then that Seth came out of the kitchen, shrugging his jacket on as he went. He looked around for me, confused, but his face brightened when he spotted where I was sitting.
"Ali!" he exclaimed when he was level with the table. "You would not believe what Assface just said to…" He trailed off, seeming to clock for the first time that I wasn't alone. His eyes flickered from Edward to Jasper and back again, and he broke into a warm grin.
"You're that guy who introduced Jake to Tanya Denali, aren't you?" he said to Edward. Edward nodded in affirmation. My eyebrows rose. At least that explained why Tanya Denali, Manhattan's best known club promoter, had known about Seth's band. I'd thought she'd seemed kind of big league to have been trawling underground bars in Brooklyn.
Edward Cullen had connections, and apparently wasn't afraid to use them. I was startled to realize that I might actually like the guy.
"Wow," Seth was saying. "Thanks, man."
The two of them began an animated conversation, and as I watched them interact, I noticed that Edward looked entirely comfortable. He knew my side of town a lot better than he was letting on, I suspected, though I didn't know why. Jasper, on the other hand, looked sort of… uneasy.
It took me a second to twig that Jasper was studying me, too, like he'd been tasked with memorizing my face. He seemed to notice me noticing, and hastily dropped his gaze.
Seth asked him a question, which seemed to pull him out of his quiet reverie. He answered cordially, even warmly, and the tension in his shoulders seemed to relax automatically. I listened to the conversation, intrigued. It seemed that Jasper played guitar as well. Seeing him talk to Seth, I felt confused. I'd thought Jasper was uncomfortable being in Brooklyn, but maybe it had been something else that had made him seem so closed-off and haughty.
Maybe it was me.
I shook off that thought. He didn't care enough about me one way or the other to act differently around me. Did he?
Edward and Jasper left shortly after that, Edward promising to catch up with me in school. Like we were friends. It was very odd. Jasper had nodded curtly, making no such promise. He'd shaken Seth's hand and clapped him on the shoulder, though. I was starting to take it personally.
Seth and I had walked home together, at a pace somewhat like a crawl.
"I thought you said you had no friends at school?" he accused teasingly.
"I didn't. Edward and I just started talking today."
"He's a good guy."
"Yeah," I agreed, "I think he might just be."
"Did you do something to offend Jasper?" Sometimes I forgot how astute he could be. Of course he picked up on the weird vibe. Nothing gets past Seth Clearwater. Although he'd never admit it, I think he has a promising future following in his sister's journalistic footsteps.
"No," I replied. "I don't know what his problem was."
"He seemed like an okay sort of dude," Seth said reasonably. "But there was definitely something weird about the way he acted around you."
I thought of Maria, and the way her posse went out of their way to make my life a living hell. The others ignored me, but Maria… not so much.
"His girlfriend hates me," I concluded. "Maybe that's it."
"Men don't hate chicks because their girlfriend does," Seth scoffed.
We spoke no more about it as he deposited me at my front door and wished me goodnight. I watched him disappear down the sidewalk, hands stuffed in his pockets and whistling away.
When I got upstairs, Cynthia was in, but Dad was gone. Probably out working. Cyn was playing some drum and bass shit in her room, and I could feel the vibrations through the wall as I collapsed on my bed and flipped open my laptop. I checked Facebook, and stilled.
Edward Cullen wants to be friends: accept/ignore.
Grinning, I clicked 'accept' and surfed through his pictures. I was just being nosy, but my hand halted over the mouse when a picture of Jasper and Maria flared up on screen. Maria had her arms draped around his shoulders, and was grinning, and there, in the background, was Jasper's CEO father. He was watching them expectantly, and Jasper… well, his smile looked very wooden. There was no light behind his dark blue eyes.
I was an artist. I knew people. I studied people. I understood body language the way I understood color and shade and texture. Jasper's body language was screaming 'I don't really want to be here'.
My brow furrowed. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something was off about Jasper Whitlock. Maybe the golden boy didn't have such a gilded life after all…
Just then, my chat box pinged. I opened the message, and found, with some surprise, that it was from Edward. It was only two lines, but it made me smile.
Thanks for letting me offload on you today, Alice. I think you might be the only person who hasn't looked at me like I'm a freak when I bring up Emmett.
I typed him a quick response.
Don't worry, Edward. Everyone looks at me like I'm a freak all the time. I get where you're coming from.
The answer came through instantly.
Well, then, I guess us freaks have to stick together.
I signed off, feeling lighter than I had in months.
I actually have a friend who goes to my school. Maybe. I wonder whether tomorrow might not be as heinous as every other day at Constance.
I hope so.