Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Amnesia, Chapter 9 - The Dance
“Bella, your hair is a masterpiece, if I do say so myself.”
Alice Cullen stepped back to admire her handiwork, clapping her hands together like a child who’d just discovered her favorite toy under the tree on Christmas morning.
“I hope you didn’t do anything too crazy,” I grumbled. “I’m really not interested in making Mike Newton any more infatuated with me than he already is.”
“Forget Mike,” Alice pooh-poohed as she rolled me, seated in my desk chair, around to face my dresser mirror. “This is all about you looking gorgeous and putting all those mean girls to shame when you walk into the dance tonight.”
“’Mean Girls?’” I laughed. “Been watching bad cable movie re-runs, Alice? Jessica and Lauren aren’t that bad.” I looked up questioningly at Alice in the mirror. Her expression reeked of skepticism.
“Whatever you say, my deluded friend,” she replied, her eyes rolling toward the ceiling.
I studied my hair in the mirror and I had to admit that it looked pretty good. Alice had somehow managed to weave tiny blue flowers into the barrettes that gently pulled my hair back from my face on either side. She left the back spilling in a cascade of curling-ironed tendrils down my back. It was subtle, but pretty.
Alice’s face screamed impatience as I sat silently for a moment. “Well, what do you think?” she finally demanded excitedly.
“It looks very nice,” I told her.
“Thank you!” she exclaimed with an exasperated sigh. “Now, was that so hard? You act like you’re going to a funeral instead of a dance.”
“You never know. If Jessica gets ticked off enough, it might turn into one---mine,” I joked, only half-kidding.
“She got that Ben Chaney guy to be her date, right?” Alice recapped. “I heard he wanted to take Angela Weber, but Eric Yorkie beat him to the punch. So this will be perfect! You can push Mike off on Jessica, and Ben and Eric can duke it out over Angela.”
“Great. Sounds like a recipe for disaster,” I groaned.
“It’ll be fine,” Alice assured me in her usual laissez-faire manner. “Jasper and I will be there, so you can always come hang with us. Emmett and Rosalie even talked about crashing the party, just for kicks. They’re feeling all sentimental about their high school days or something,” she said with a look of incomprehension.
That left only one person out of the equation---the only person I really wanted to see.
Alice seemed to tune in to my brain waves. “I know we’re not Edward,” she grinned, putting emphasis on his name, “but we’ll do in a pinch, right?”
I mustered a half-hearted smile. Alice had already informed me that Edward was working tonight, squelching any wild ideas I might have had about him striding into the gym like Prince Charming to rescue me from the certain humiliation of my impending date with Mike. If it weren’t for Winter Formal looming, I would still be on Cloud Nine from the time I had spent with Edward the night before. I’d barely slept last night, unable to stop replaying the evening over and over in my mind, each time feeling the same electric thrill when I remembered the way he looked at me, touched me, kissed me. The things he said to me blew my mind. I could barely comprehend the idea that he really, truly seemed to be as attracted to me as I was to him. It didn’t seem humanly possible.
And that, right there, was the crux of the problem. Maybe it wasn’t humanly possible because Edward wasn’t, strictly speaking, human at all. Although I briefly entertained the notion that he might be an alien life form sent to Earth to make women crazy with desire and render all other males inferior by comparison, I realized that not only was that completely ridiculous, but also that I might be a bit biased concerning Edward‘s charms.
Edward Masen Cullen might not be an alien, but something far more life-altering than amnesia had happened to him in the woods last month. As bits of alcohol-soaked memories from the Cullen party came back to me, I realized that a foot-thick tree branch hadn’t simply missed us by accident---he had literally tossed it out of the way like it was a toothpick. This boy had somehow, impossibly, acquired superhuman strength, speed and coordination. His skin was always cool to the touch, even in the steamy water of a heated pool; and it shone like luminescent pearl in the moonlight. His delicious smell of spice and woods and bread baking cut through even chlorinated water. I hadn’t been able to keep my eyes, my hands, my lips, or my body off of him last night. He was a drug, and I was already a hopeless addict. Whatever had altered him felt like it had altered me, too, by extension. I was powerless to resist him, no matter what he was, human or otherwise.
“Earth to Bella,” Alice interrupted my train of thought. “Wow, he really did a number on you last night, didn’t he?” she grinned. I had told her the abbreviated version of what had happened. Most of it was too personal, too deep, for me to verbalize properly. But Alice could tell by the look on my face that I was a goner over the latest addition to her foster family.
“If it helps any, Edward was bouncing off the walls this morning,” Alice continued. I gave her what I hoped wasn’t too desperate a look, rabid for any bit of insider information she could give me about what Edward said and did when I wasn’t around. “He couldn’t stop smiling, and when I asked if it was because of you, he got all embarrassed and just grinned more. He’s so shy…I don’t know if you realize how shy he is! He comes across all cool, but it’s just an act. He’s just as insecure as the next guy.”
“Edward?” I scoffed. “I find that hard to believe. I mean, look at him. He’s gorgeous. Girls throw themselves at him. I watched grown women at the bar drool over him like he’s a piece of meat. He can have anyone he wants…he has to know that.”
“Yeah, well, he only wants you, and I think he still doesn’t completely believe that you feel the same way about him,” she said, fluffing my hair in the mirror and spritzing it with some unscented hair spray. “He has issues.”
“Issues?” I repeated. “What kinds of issues?”
Alice pursed her lips. “I think he feels like he doesn’t have anything to offer you. He’s kind of lost, you know. Not knowing what the future holds.” She grabbed my make-up bag off of the dresser and shook it at me in the mirror. “Can I do your make-up next? Please? Please-please-please-please-pretty-please, with sugar on top?”
I laughed in spite of myself at Alice’s infectious enthusiasm for all things girly. “Just as long as you promise to do the exact opposite of my Elvira look for Halloween, okay?”
“Of course!” she laughed. “Subtle, irresistible beauty is what we’re after this evening.” She whirled me around in the chair again and began dusting my face with light powder foundation while I tried not to sneeze.
“I do NOT want to be irresistible to Mike Newton,“ I reminded her sternly before switching back to my favorite topic. “So, why is Edward worried about not having anything to offer me? He’s only eighteen,” I protested. “I don’t have anything to offer him, either. We’re still kids. He can still go to college if he wants to. His whole life is ahead of him.” Unless he knows he can’t have a normal life, and he’s just not telling me why, my mind persisted with its suspicions.
“Well, I think it has to do with the amnesia thing. Identity issues and stuff. He wants to create a new life, but I don’t think he’s sure how to do it yet. You know, it’s the usual teenaged guy angst thing. Edward is kind of emo, now that I think about it,” Alice giggled, brushing blush gently over my cheeks. “I keep telling him that everything is going to work out, but he doesn’t believe me. He’ll learn.” A self-satisfied smile spread across her face.
“What are you, some kind of swami?” I asked with a laugh.
“You’d be surprised at my wisdom, Bella,” Alice replied. “Now close your eyes so I can do your lids.”
Alice finished my eye make-up in silence, and I thought about what she’d said. I simply couldn’t picture Edward as the unsure figure she painted, but when I thought about it, there was uncertainty, maybe even pain, behind his beautiful blue eyes that belied his internal struggles. I became even more convinced that Edward was hiding something from me, something important. Something was holding him back, and it had kept him away from me even while he claimed that he cared for me. It seemed like one of those barriers had fallen last night, but I was beginning to think that the struggle was far from over.
“There! Bella Swan, you are a vision,” Alice declared, again turning me to inspect my reflection in the mirror. She had worked her magic again. She had helped me feel sexy a couple of weeks ago, and now she had made me feel pretty, maybe even beautiful. The faintly smoky shadow and black eyelashes made the green in my eyes pop against my pale skin, and she had played up my full lips with a natural, rosy shade of lipstick and a dab of gloss over the top. I suddenly ached for Edward to see me like this; for Edward to be the one who would pick me up at the door and whisk me off to dinner in an hour.
“Wow, Alice,” I said with a self-conscious smile. “You’ve missed your true calling---you’re a miracle-worker.”
“Oh, shut up, Bella!” Alice shook my shoulders slightly. “None of that poor, plain little ol’ me crap. You’re a knockout. Deal with it.” She walked over to my closet and pulled the blue dress off its hanger, holding it out to me. “Put it on, I want to see the total look!” she ordered.
“Yes, ma’am,” I agreed grumpily, grabbing the dress. I stripped off my sweats and pulled the dress over my head, then held my hair out of the way while Alice tied the halter behind my neck. She pushed me in front of the mirror again, proclaimed me “gorgeous,” and then began ransacking the floor of my closet.
“You said this was a bridesmaid dress, right? So where are the matching shoes?” she demanded.
“O-o-oh, no,” I shook my head. “I am not killing myself in those things.”
“Oh, yes you are,” she insisted. “It’s only a few hours. Rise to the occasion! Be a woman.” She dug in the back corner of the closet and hit pay dirt.
“Ah ha! Buried, but not dead yet,” she grinned evilly, procuring the strappy periwinkle blue heels from their pristine box. “Look, they even have rosettes on them, like your barrettes! I AM clairvoyant!” She laughed deliriously at her own joke.
“You’re insane, is what you are,” I mumbled, grabbing the shoes out of her hand and plopping on the bed so that I could cram my unwilling feet into their blue leather prisons for the evening. “There, are you happy?”
“Almost. Those toenails need some polish.” I groaned loudly while she rifled through her purse until she found a bottle of pale, frosty polish. She fell at my feet and sat cross-legged, shaking the bottle of polish, apparently ready to give me a mini-pedicure.
“You’re painting my toenails while they’re in the shoes?” I asked incredulously.
“Of course. Desperate times call for desperate measures.” She opened the bottle, placed my left foot on her knee, and began meticulously painting my pinky toenail.
“These might be desperate times, but not because I’m desperate for Mike to fall in love with my painted toenails. In fact, I think it would be a great idea to keep them bare so that he can be turned off by their grossness.”
“Oh my God, Bella,” Alice sighed, finishing my big toe with a flourish. “You are effed in the head. Your toenails are not gross. They just look prettier painted, that’s all.”
“My toenails are gross. Feet are gross, in general,” I insisted. “Strictly utilitarian. They hold you up, nothing more.”
“Spoken like a girl who has never had a truly fabulous foot massage,” Alice said, shaking her head as if I were missing out on the most orgasmic experience known to humankind. I supposed that if Edward were doing the massaging, she might be right. I still couldn’t get over the dream that I’d had about him earlier in the week. I’d had the most vivid sex dream about him imaginable, which was all the more amazing considering that I was still a virgin. My sexual experiences thus far were limited to some minor experimentation at summer camp a few years ago with a slightly older camp counselor, and a few aborted fumblings in the back seats of cars with boys I simply didn’t want to sleep with when it came right down to the crucial moment. No one had ever made me feel the way Edward made me feel. My dream about him had been so realistic that I swore I could feel him thrusting inside me, and the pleasure was so intense that I wondered if I had actually orgasmed in my sleep. When I found him a few days later in the FHS band room, playing the piano so beautifully, my face turned ten shades of pink at the memories of the things that Dream Edward had done to me. I stared at him for several minutes, wondering how one person could be so gifted, so graceful, so attractive, when I felt like none of those things. But if anyone could change how I felt about myself, it was Edward. He treated me as if I were the most special thing he’d ever laid his gorgeous eyes upon.
I stood and looked at my reflection in the full-length closet mirror, and I had to admit that the heels did add grace to my ensemble, at least until I would have to walk in the things. Alice stood behind me, beaming at my reflection.
“You look amazing! Every guy at this shindig tonight is going to be eating his heart out wanting you,” she insisted.
“Great. As if I don’t have enough problems with just Mike,” I reminded her. I picked my vintage sweater up from the bed and pulled it over my bare shoulders. It, too, had blue flowers trimming its cream knit background. My outfit was matching to the point of inducing mild nausea. I was tempted to take a fuchsia handbag with me just to mess with the perfection a little. If I actually owned a fuchsia handbag, that is.
“Well, that sweater is definitely killing the look a little, if that’s what you’re going for,” Alice sighed. “But you are nothing if not practical, Bella.”
“Hey, I’m not going to freeze to death just so Mike can get a gander at my body, that’s for sure,” I told her. She rolled her eyes in reply, then announced that she needed to go prepare for the dance herself. I thanked her for helping me get ready, and she insisted it was her pleasure, which was probably true. I was pretty positive it was a lot more fun for her than for me. Now all I had to do was wait for Mike, Tyler and Lauren to show up. Apparently Tyler was taking us all to Port Angeles in his ancient blue van. I hoped Mike didn’t have any funny ideas about sitting with me in the back seat. Too bad he hadn’t asked Jessica. She probably would have been shoving him into the back of the van and giving him all sorts of thrills before the dance even started.
I decided catty thoughts were getting me nowhere, so I went downstairs to wait with Charlie for Mike to arrive. I wasn’t interested in making a grand entrance down the stairs like I would have if Edward were waiting in the entryway for me. Again my thoughts wandered to how handsome he would look in a suit…and would he have brought some kind of corsage for me? Winter Formal was somewhat inappropriately named, because it was actually semi-formal, with the girls wearing short party dresses and the guys in suits and ties. Tuxes and gowns were reserved for Prom in the spring.
“Wow,” Charlie said as I carefully picked my way down the staircase in my blue stilts. “You look beautiful, Bells,” he said with a wistful, “my-baby’s-all-grown-up” smile.
“Thanks, Dad,” I answered, embarrassed.
“So, the Newton boy seems like a nice kid,” he said. I nodded in reply. “You like him?”
Seriously? Was Charlie asking me about boys? The apocalypse was surely upon us.
“Sure, he’s a nice guy,” I said uncomfortably.
“Mmm-hmmm,” Charlie mumbled skeptically. “You don’t seem very excited.”
“Well…there’s kind of…someone else I’m interested in,” I admitted. It popped out of my mouth before I could stop it.
“Really,” he stated rather than asked, a fleeting look of alarm crossing his face. “So where is he tonight, then?”
“He’s working. He’s out of school already. He works at Jake’s Place,” I told him, biting my lip. Charlie would probably not be impressed by that tidbit.
“He’s a bartender?” he replied, in a tone of voice that did not disappoint.
“Yeah. But it’s not like that’s his life’s goal or anything. He’s thinking about going to college when he saves enough money.” That might not be a lie, I told myself.
“Huh. So when do I get to meet his kid? Does he have a name?” Charlie said brusquely.
“Edward. Edward Cullen, actually. The Cullens have sort of taken him under their wing. He doesn’t have any family and he’s new in town,” I explained, hoping that the Cullen name would soften Charlie’s attitude toward a boy whom I actually liked. It worked, a little.
“Well, that’s good. Doctor Cullen will be a good influence. I’m still grateful he chose to work in such a small town. I don’t want to think about what could have happened to you if we hadn’t had such a skilled surgeon right here in Forks,” Charlie said darkly.
Thankfully, the front doorbell sounded before Charlie could grill me any further about Edward. Charlie opened the door, revealing a grinning Mike Newton in a charcoal gray suit, holding a box with a wrist corsage in one hand. Charlie gave Mike one of his patented Cop Stares in greeting.
Mike adjusted his collar nervously and said, “Hello, Chief Swan. How are you this evening?” He looked at me in a silent plea for help. I tried not to laugh. My father could be a bit intimidating when he wanted to be.
I got up and walked to the door as Charlie ushered him in. “Don’t worry about how I am, kid,” he told him. “Worry about yourself if you don’t have my daughter safely back in this house before 1 a.m. tonight.”
Mike’s blue eyes grew rounder and I nudged Charlie out of the way, getting my coat out of the closet. “Take it easy, Dad. I’m sure we won’t be out too late, right, Mike?”
“No sir, of course not, sir,” Mike replied shakily, never taking his eyes off of Dad’s eagle eyes and grimly set, mustachioed mouth.
“Come on, let’s go,” I said with a grin to Mike. I gave Charlie a warning look, and he told me to make sure I had my cell phone on me at all times. “Honestly, Dad,” I sighed, following an eagerly retreating Mike out the door. “I’ll see you later.”
Tyler waved from the van at the end of the drive, calling out to Charlie that he’d drive safely and everything would be fine. Charlie gave him a curt wave and the same menacing look he’d given Mike. Tyler’s grin faded and he jumped quickly into the van, leaving Mike to fiddle with the doors and help me up into the back seat. The van was filled with the overpoweringly sticky-sweet smell of Lauren Mallory’s perfume, and I knew it was going to be a long ride to Port Angeles and back.
“Hey Bella, how’s it going?” Lauren asked in a bored tone from the front passenger seat.
“Good,” I lied. “How about you?”
“Okay,” she answered, still bored. Then she abruptly swung around to face me, her face suddenly animated. A long strand of bangs fell out of her up-do and into her eyes, and she shoved it behind one ear in irritation. “Hey, is it true that you were making out with that hot Edward guy at Jake’s Place last weekend?” she asked, her eyes incredulous.
Mike shot her an outraged look, while I stared at her in open shock.
“Well, no, not exactly,” I balked, looking down and fumbling furiously to fasten my seatbelt, avoiding the stares that were fixed upon me.
“That’s not what I heard. Everybody said you were totally giving him tongue in the middle of the bar!” she exclaimed, while I flinched at her vulgar but admittedly accurate choice of words. “I mean, not that I blame you,” she went on. “That guy is so fucking hot you could fry an egg on his ass.”
I felt like telling her that, no, actually he was so cold that you could probably freeze an ice cube there, but I kept that bit of knowledge to myself. “Well, we played some pool. He did kiss me afterward,” I answered weakly, then looked helplessly out the window, knowing how humiliated and angry Mike must be feeling right about now. I could practically feel him seething from the next seat.
“Damn, Bella! You are so lucky. I can’t even believe it,” Lauren said enviously, clearly wondering what on earth I’d done to lure someone like Edward. She turned and gave me a scrutinizing once-over, staring at me through her misbehaving shank of bangs, as if trying to figure out my appeal. Knowing her, she’d probably come to the conclusion that I must be easy.
“Yeah, well, I don’t get the appeal of that guy at all,” Mike grumbled. “He looks like an axe murderer or something.”
Lauren let out a loud guffaw while I gave Mike a questioning look. “You’re just jealous,” Lauren accused him. “You wish you had all the girls drooling over you they way they do him.”
“No, I’m serious!” Mike insisted. “There’s something weird about that guy. He looks like he’d be capable of anything. Seriously, Bella, I think you should be careful around him.” He gave me a concerned look, and he wasn’t kidding.
“I totally feel you, bro,” Tyler chimed in as he steered us toward the edge of town and the Highway 101 exit. “He’s got a creepy-ass Hannibal Lecter stare, like he’d slice you in two and eat you for breakfast,” he said with a dramatic shudder.
“Exactly!” Mike agreed, sounding vindicated. “Axe murderer.” He and Tyler high-fived over the car seat, while Lauren told them they were crazy. I stared out the window, desperately hoping for the topic of conversation to change. Lauren inadvertently helped me out by dismissing the boys’ claims of Edward’s murderous bent and quickly moving on to the subject of her designer Azzedine Alaia dress, which she’d managed to snag via her dad’s hoity-toity connections. For once I was grateful for her superficial chatter.
After a stony silence, I heard Mike shift and cough, and then saw the plastic corsage box appear out of the corner of my eye.
“Here, I got you this,” he said, and I glanced over to see him holding the flowers out to me, looking apologetic.
I gave him a small smile. “Thanks, Mike. That was really nice of you.” I took the flowers out of the box, small cream-white roses attached to a plastic bracelet. I hooked them over my right wrist. “They’re really pretty,” I said truthfully.
“Well, I remembered you said they were your favorites in the hospital that day, when Alice Cullen brought them to you,” he said. He tried to make it sound nonchalant, but his eyes didn’t match the sentiment. I realized that regardless of what he thought of Edward, it still didn’t excuse the fact that I had basically used him to make Edward jealous, and had probably hurt his feelings in the process. I wasn’t proud of my actions.
“That’s very thoughtful,” I told him guiltily. “Thank you.”
“I’m glad you like them,” he said, sounding relieved. He quickly changed the subject and began telling me about some oddball out-of-town customers that had come in the store that day, since I’d had the day off. I was glad for the distraction, and we talked work until we reached Port Angeles.
Dinner at Biaggi’s went fairly smoothly, the conversation centering mostly on school. Tyler relived last weekend’s victorious FHS season-ending football game in which he’d kicked the winning field goal, Mike told his usual goofball stories about the class-clown antics he’d pulled the past week, and Lauren talked incessantly about cheerleading tryouts for the upcoming basketball season. I tried to laugh in the right places and throw in a comment here and there, while I wondered if I was missing some sort of Normal Teenager gene. I just couldn’t seem to get interested in the things that most kids my age were into. Most evenings I was just as happy to curl up with a good book, or write in my journal, as I was to go to a school function.
The ride back to Forks was unremarkable, save for Mike resting his arm across the back of the bench seat and trying to scoot closer to me. I warded off his advances with a polite smile and conversation about what a good job I thought Jessica did as the head of the dance committee. I was determined to steer Mike toward Jessica’s willing and waiting arms by the end of the evening, rather than have to avoid any of his attempts to kiss me good night outside Charlie’s doorstep.
When we got to the gym, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my praises of Jessica’s talents were actually right on the money. The swaths of sparkle-covered white batting that we’d hung hid the ugly walls of the gym, and the cheap decorations and endless strings of icicle lights took on a life of their own when bathed in the DJ’s swirling multi-colored light show. She had been right. The gym had been transformed, as much as was physically possible, into a little winter wonderland.
“Jess, it looks great,” I told her truthfully when she came rushing up to us, her eyes sparkling as much as the giant disco ball she’d insisted on hanging. Jessica Stanley loved nothing more than a reason to dress up and be a social butterfly, and she was in her element, flitting from one person to the next as they entered the gym.
“Thanks, Bella. I couldn’t have done it without your help,” she insisted, giving me a hug. Apparently all was forgiven now that she was on her party high. She turned to Mike and added, “Yours too, Mike,” grabbing him in a bear hug that was decidedly longer than the one she’d given me. I gave her a thumbs-up behind Mike’s back, and she laughed and rolled her eyes at me, but I could tell that she was as determined as I was to make sure she ended up with him by the end of the evening.
Mike and Tyler took our jackets and headed for the coat check, while Jess and Lauren began ooh-ing and aah-ing over each other’s beaded dresses.
“You look so pretty, too,” Jessica added to me, trying to include me in the girl talk. “That color is awesome on you.”
“Thanks,” I said, feeling awkward as usual. It just wasn’t my style to wear something glittery and loud like she and Lauren had on. “You look great, too, Jess,” I assured her as she adjusted her considerable cleavage in her lavender dress.
“I know, right?” she giggled. “I should. I paid my hair stylist three weeks’ worth of babysitting money to get this crazy up-do and makeup done. Now if Mike just notices, it’ll be worth it.” She looked longingly off toward the coat check as Mike and Tyler made their way back across the gym.
“Where’s Ben?” I asked. “You know, your date,” I reminded her.
“Oh, Lord. He’s been doing nothing but talking about Angela all night,” she sighed, gesturing over to the bleachers, where he sat on one side of Angela Weber and Eric Yorkie sat on the other. “I don’t know what Angela’s going to do. She was crushing so long on Ben, but he just never manned up, you know? So she got interested in Eric, and now all of a sudden Ben’s jealous. Men!” Jess shook her head in exasperation.
I laughed as I caught Angela’s eye. She waved at me and looked a bit as if she were in need of rescue. I told Jessica I was going to go say “hi,” and asked her to keep Mike entertained for me. She grinned and assured me that would be no problem.
“Hey, Ange, how’s it going?” I asked after I teetered over to her. Eric noticed my unease in my heels and offered me a seat next to him. I thanked him and sat down, relieved to be off the dance floor.
“Good, Bella,” Angela answered, pushing her glasses up her nose and giving me a tiny plea for help with her eyes. “How about you? How was dinner?”
“It was good, we had a nice time,” I said. “I got to hear all about Lauren’s designer dress so I could admire it with the proper reverence it deserves.”
Angela giggled and remarked, “You are bad, Bella! And very astute,” she admitted.
I stayed and chatted with her, Eric and Ben for a bit, hoping to diffuse the awkward situation she seemed to have gotten herself into. I could definitely sympathize with her on that score, as I watched Jessica prattle on to Mike and drag him around the gym, introducing him to the DJ and letting him pick out some of the play list. I was glad to see her taking the bull by the horns, so to speak. I could see that Mike loved having a say in the song choice, and the music of several of his favorite bands began permeating the gym. It looked like things were going well on that score, and I began to relax a little. Our little bleacher-sitting group didn’t appear to want to dance too badly, and instead the four of us sat and people-watched, making an erstwhile comment here and there. Just when I was beginning to think my Mike worries were over, he appeared suddenly in front of me, thrusting his hand in my face.
“This is one of my favorite songs. You wanna dance, Bella?” he asked, his eyes shining expectantly.
Oh, God. Here we go. I paused as long as feasible, and then replied helplessly, “Sure.”
I took his hand and he led me into the middle of the group of shimmying teenagers. Dancing was a strange thing for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like music, or that I couldn’t feel the rhythm or move my body accordingly. It’s just that I felt like a jackass doing it. I couldn’t seem to let go of my inhibitions and self-consciousness long enough to actually enjoy it, and I ended up moving awkwardly back and forth like I had a stick up my backside.
Mike wasn’t such a great dancer himself, and like a lot of guys, he pogo’ed around in a sort of mock punk-rocker mode. He at least made me laugh a little as he grabbed my arms and swung me around, trying to get me to loosen up a bit. I actually liked Mike, when it came down to it. He was a nice guy. But I simply couldn’t get my feelings for him to run any deeper than friendship.
While I was out on the dance floor, I literally almost ran into Alice and Jasper, who seemed to have materialized from nowhere. Alice looked stunning in an asymmetrically cut jade green gown, and Jasper looked smart in his gray suit and black tie.
“Bellaaaaa!” she squealed, grabbing me and whirling me around like she hadn’t seen me in months instead of mere hours. “You look gorgeous. You still need to lose the sweater, though,” she chastised.
I rolled my eyes and told her to drop it. “You look incredible,” I told her. “You too, Jasper,” I added with a smile. He grinned and pointed to Alice, who probably dressed him every day like some Raggedy Andy doll, poor guy.
“How are things going with Mike?” Alice whispered.
“Fine. Not too bad yet. Jessica has managed to get some quality time in with him, so I think things will turn out okay,” I told her.
She winked and said, “Oh, I know they will.”
Mike grabbed my arm in a somewhat possessive gesture and steered me back toward him, and I gave a quick wave to Alice and Jasper as he whirled me away. Then, to my horror, a slow song came on. Mike took the opportunity to pull me closer, wrapping his arm around my waist and holding my right hand in his left, as if in a formal dance pose, only closer than what was appropriate. He began swaying back and forth, pulling me with him, and I could only think about how badly I wanted him to be Edward right now. I didn’t think the moment could get any more uncomfortable…and then Mike spoke.
“I’m really glad you came here with me tonight, Bella,” he whispered in my ear.
“Well, sure, Mike. I’m having a nice time. Thanks for asking me.” What else was I supposed to say?
“I was thinking that maybe we could get together again sometime this week. You know, dinner and a movie or something. Do you have plans for next weekend?”
Sweet baby Jesus. “Um….well, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s such a good idea for us to go out again, Mike,” I said slowly.
He pulled his head back to look at me, frowning. “Why do you say that?”
“I just think that we want different things,” I sighed, really not wanting to have this conversation now, on the dance floor, surrounded by our classmates. “I don’t have those kinds of feelings for you.” His frown deepened, as if he couldn’t comprehend what I was saying. “You know, romantic feelings,” I continued desperately. “I don’t want to string you along.”
“Then why did you even agree to come to the dance with me?“ His eyes were more disappointed than angry, which made me feel worse.
“I shouldn’t have. It was a mistake,” I admitted. “I wish you had asked Jessica. She really likes you, you know. She would have been thrilled to be your date tonight.”
“Then why…?” his question hung unfinished in the air as his eyes drifted off to the side, thinking. Thinking of that night at Jake’s, most likely. And then, understanding washed over his face, followed by outrage. “So all of this was just to make them jealous? When Jessica was talking to that creepy bartender you‘re so hot for…you just did it to get back at the both of them, huh? Is that it?”
He dropped his arms from me abruptly and stared accusingly at me as we came to a standstill in the middle of all the swaying couples. My face crumpled in defeat and I nodded slowly in confirmation.
“I’m really sorry, Mike,” I whispered, my stomach feeling like a lead balloon. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
He shook his head and backed away from me, his face a mask of false bravado. “Don’t worry about it. No harm done. It’s fine. You and that freak deserve each other.” And with that, he turned and marched off the dance floor.
I stood for a moment, feeling humiliated and guilty, until I found my feet and began to weave around the couples to escape the crowded dance floor. Just as I pushed past Tyler and Lauren at the edge of the throng, he swung her around in some sort of crazy dip, her foot coming up right in front of my disaster-prone shins. I rushed headlong into her stiletto heel, losing my balance and crashing to the floor in a very undainty heap of blue tiered fabric.
“Oh wow, sorry, are you okay?” Lauren asked with her characteristic lack of concern. Tyler looked a bit more worried as he reiterated her question.
“I’m fine,” I sighed, just glad that my skirt hadn’t flown up around my waist and exposed my underwear to the entire gym. I shifted my weight to my left arm as I tried to get some leverage from my high-heeled feet to lift myself up. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was a helping hand extended in front of me. As I looked at the familiar long fingers stretched out to mine, I let out a thrilled gasp. My eyes followed that gorgeous hand up a long, suit-jacketed arm, over a white-shirt-and-black-tie-covered neck, to the concerned face of the handsomest boy in Forks, in the state of Washington, on the entire planet Earth.
I could barely contain my shock and excitement as I stared into Edward Cullen’s beautiful blue eyes. “What are you doing here?” I asked, my heart beating so fast I thought it might break right through my ribs.
“I thought you might need these,” he replied with a slow grin, drawing his other arm from behind his back. There, clutched in his left hand, were a very familiar pair of navy-blue low-top Chuck Taylors. Namely, mine.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. How did he always know exactly what to do, and when to do it, to save me from the worst moments of my life? I gazed helplessly at him, unable to speak or move.
“Is your ankle okay? Can you walk?” he asked worriedly, probably wondering if I’d knocked a few brain cells loose during my fall.
“I don’t know,” I answered. I can’t feel my body. I think I died and went to heaven.
“Here, let me help you,” he said in his velvety voice, and once again lifted me up as if I were nothing more than a rag doll. He carried me to the bleachers and set me down gently, kneeling in front of me and beginning a re-enactment of our first night together in my truck.
“Let me guess. These were Alice’s idea, right?” Edward smiled, lifting one strappy sandal-covered foot and examining it. Telltale goose bumps traveled up my leg, all the way to my panties. I watched his nimble fingers easily undo the tiny buckle and remove the sandal from my foot. He smiled up at me as he set the shoe on the bleacher and began massaging my foot and ankle, causing incredible sensations to shoot straight up to my groin. Alice had been right.
“I don’t think anything’s broken,” he said. “How does it feel?”
“Amazing,” I blurted without thinking, then felt heat seep through my cheeks.
He quirked one eyebrow and laughed. “Catalogued for future reference,” he said, turning his attention to my other foot. His face grew serious in concentration as he unhooked the small buckle. As I gazed at his curly eyelashes casting long shadows on his sculpted cheeks, I knew, in that instant, that I was hopelessly, eternally in love with Edward Cullen.
He gingerly examined my left foot, his cool hands silken on my skin. He looked up at me with the same mild smirk, knowing what his touch was doing to me. I completely forgot I was even in the high school gym with dozens of kids staring at the handsome new stranger in the room. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the beautiful creature in front of me, slipping my tomboyish Converse sneakers on my feet and tightening the laces one at a time. My comfy shoes looked like the ugly step-sisters of Cinderella’s pristine glass slippers, but they felt so good on my feet that I didn’t care. The shoes might be inferior, but the Prince Charming kneeling before me was beyond any fairytale creation I could imagine.
“Is that better?” he asked after tying my left shoe in a neat bow.
“Much,” I answered, my voice barely audible. I couldn’t believe how emotional my reaction was to his gallant rescue, even if it was just to save me from complete humiliation at a silly high school dance. I fought back tears as I gazed at his sweet smile. He seemed to read my emotions and his face grew more serious. He ran his hand, whisper-light, up the back of my calf and rested it on my knee, sending tremors through me. He leaned in, took my chin in his other hand, and gently pulled my face down to his.
“You look beautiful, Bella,” he said softly, his eyes liquid pools before he closed them and leaned in to give me a gentle kiss on the lips. My hands instinctively found his face, stroking his cheekbones on their way to the thick mane of his light-brown hair. A moan rumbled in his throat and I responded instantly, my lips pressing harder against his, my tongue eagerly sliding into his wet mouth, searching for his. Before our kiss could deepen, a familiar voice rang out like a bell, interrupting our moment.
“Get a room!” Alice Cullen teased, plopping herself next to me on the bleachers and nudging me playfully with her elbow. Jasper was right behind her, giving Edward a light shove on the shoulder. Edward waved Jasper’s arm away like he was swatting a fly, looking mildly annoyed. I could see that Edward fit right in with the Cullens. They already seemed to have the vibe of a good-natured sibling rivalry between them.
“So, you had to do it, didn’t you, Alice?” Edward said, dangling one of my high heels under her nose. “You tried to kill Bella again. I’m glad you didn’t succeed.”
“Oh, please! Those were her shoes, not mine. She needs to learn to walk in them. She’s a woman now. No more excuses.” She scowled at me, but then laughed.
“How did you get my sneakers, anyway?” I asked Edward, suddenly smelling a conspiracy. I looked accusingly at Alice. “You stole them from my closet! So you two had this planned all along?”
Edward and Alice exchanged guilty glances. “Not planned, exactly,” Edward backpedaled. “I just wanted to be your Plan B, is all,” he smiled sheepishly up at me.
My heart swelled at the memory of the Halloween party. I couldn’t even be mad at him, because this was probably the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for me.
“Are you kidding? You‘re my Plan A, B, C…all of them,” I told him, and then wanted to shoot myself at my own sappiness.
“Oh, Lord,” Alice groaned. “Stop, you’re making me ill. And that’s difficult, ‘cause I’m a romantic at heart, you know!”
Edward stood up and held his hand out to me. “Shall we show these romance-challenged idiots how it’s done?”
“Not more dancing,” was my instant response. Edward laughed and grabbed my hand, pulling me up.
“Humor me,” he cajoled, linking his fingers through mine as he guided me out to the dance floor. “You’ll be fine, you’ve got the Chucks on now,” he grinned down into my ear as he maneuvered us into the crowd of kids and pulled me close. Everyone had been staring at us as we walked out to the floor, and they continued to stare as he gracefully moved me around in rhythm to the slow, moody song that was playing. He was one of the tallest boys there, his broad shoulders and lithe form cutting a singularly dashing figure amongst all the average teenaged kids who gaped at him. In my flat tennis shoes, I felt dwarfed in comparison, and I found myself standing on my tiptoes just to raise my eyes to the level of his necktie.
“I think I should have kept the heels on,” I told him, my neck craned up to reach his face. He leaned over me and whispered in my ear, “You’re perfect exactly as you are.”
I shook my head in mild disbelief at my good fortune, and he pressed his lips to my forehead as we swayed in time to the music. Part of me wanted to grab the DJ’s microphone and announce to the whole school that I was so in love with Edward Cullen that I couldn’t see straight, but most of me wanted the entire room to disappear and leave only the two of us, close together, the romantic music pulsing through our bodies as we held each other.
The song was over too soon, and a techno dance beat began to vibrate the floor. Edward grinned at me and suggested, “Why don’t I go get you something to drink?” I nodded in relief as he escorted me back to Alice and Jasper, who were clapping and whistling like morons.
“That was beautiful,” Jasper said in mock solemnity. “I took notes. I’m going to try out your smooth moves on Alice, next slow dance,” he razzed Edward, brown eyes twinkling with mischief.
“You should,” Edward shot back. “I saw you out there earlier. I thought you might accidentally take someone out with your elbows.”
Jasper took a half-hearted swing in Edward’s direction, which he ducked as he excused himself to go to the refreshment table. I sat next to Alice, who was absently twirling one of my shoes around her index finger.
“You knew all along that he was going to show up here, didn’t you,” I alleged. “All that fussing and trying to make me beautiful…that wasn’t for Mike.”
She grinned and quirked an evil eyebrow. “I kept trying to tell you that everything was going to work out, but you never listen to me, do you?” she reprimanded me. “Edward told me he was going to make you rethink your attitude about surprises. Did it work?”
I thought back to his words outside my truck the night before. A smile spread over my face as I realized that he had been planning this whole thing for the past 24 hours, and that Alice had been his co-conspirator. No one had ever gone to that much trouble to make an impression on me before. Well, he had certainly succeeded.
“Yes,” I admitted to Alice. “It worked. I’ve never been so glad to see anyone in my life, especially after my confrontation with Mike.”
“Uh-oh. What happened?” Alice demanded. I told her the sad story of my hurtful actions catching up to me. She listened sympathetically and gave me a quick squeeze around my shoulders.
“Well, I guess you had it coming, but at least it’s out in the open now, right? No more misunderstandings.” She perused the room and spotted Mike and Jessica, their heads bowed together in conversation as they sat on the other end of the bleachers. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Looks like Mike found a shoulder to cry on, eh?”
“True,” I conceded. I was glad to see them together, though I got a sinking feeling that I wouldn’t want to hear what they were saying right about now.
“All this drama!” Alice said with an exaggerated sigh. “I’ll be so glad to graduate this year.”
“Me too,” I agreed, although I was still a bit unsure as to what I planned to do after high school was over. I’d been researching colleges, and Charlie was on my case to fill out more applications. But when I looked at the big picture of my life, I couldn’t get a clear vision of who or what I wanted to be.
“What do you say we get out of here and go back to the house in a bit?” Jasper suggested, looking at me.
“You mean to the Cullens?’” I asked. I realized that I wasn’t sure where Jasper lived. Alice had never told me, and I had never spoken to him much, since he was even quieter than I was.
“Sure, but only after you prove yourself on the dance floor one more time, buddy,” Alice grinned, bouncing up and pulling Jasper by the tie back out to the group of grinding bodies. He rolled his eyes as if annoyed, but I could tell that he was completely infatuated with her and would do pretty much whatever she asked. I could relate to that feeling, I thought, as I watched Edward approach with a can of Sierra Mist in his hand.
“Where’s yours?” I asked as he handed me the soda.
“I stole a few sips out of yours…hope that‘s okay,” he said as he sat next to me, his thigh pressed against mine, his arm around me on the bleacher behind us. “So…how did your date go with Mike? Up until the blow-up on the dance floor, that is,” he added with a small smirk.
“You caught that, huh?” I sighed. “It wasn’t too bad, really, until he put two and two together. I had to confess to him how I really felt, and he didn’t want to hear it.”
“And how do you really feel, exactly?” Edward questioned, his eyes searching my face. He was so close that I could feel his cool breath on my cheeks.
“I feel like my real date just began,” I answered, smiling up at him. “I can’t believe you’re here. Where did you get that suit on such short notice?”
“It’s Carlisle’s,” Edward admitted with his patented crooked grin. “Strictly on loan for the evening. You like it?”
“I love it. You look ridiculously handsome. Every girl in here is wondering where you came from, and what you’re doing with me,” I said, looking around the room and observing the numerous surreptitious glances we were still receiving.
Edward frowned and shook his head. “I wish I could show you what I see when I look at you,” he said softly. “I’m the lucky one, by far.”
He reached up and ran his fingers down the side of my face, pushing an errant curl behind my ear. The expression in his eyes was so deep and soulful that I began to wonder if I was right about my original assessment of Edward as “alien from another planet.” He was simply too good to be true.
“Are you positive you came from Iowa?” I said, half-kidding. “Are you sure you didn’t come from Mars or somewhere?”
He let out a laugh and said, “Aren’t all men from Mars? According to that book, anyway.” He stopped and a frown flitted across his face. “I can never figure out why I remember stupid things like the titles of books I never read, when I can’t even remember who my best friends were, or the sound of my parents’ voices.”
I grabbed his cold, pale hand and held it firmly in mine, determined to warm him. “Are you sure you don’t want to do some research to find out more about your past? Maybe you could make a trip back to your hometown; visit your old house. It might jog your memory if you could see your old room, or photos of your family, don’t you think?”
Edward smiled wanly and shook his head. “I don’t see what the use is. I can’t bring my parents back. If I remember them, I’ll just remember how much I miss them, and feel how much it hurts to have lost my old life. Sometimes you can’t go back. You just have to push forward. I want to make a new life for myself here, with the Cullens,” he said in a determined voice. “And with you, if you’ll have me,” he added, quirking a questioning eyebrow at me.
“As if you even have to ask,” I said, rubbing the palm of his hand with my thumb. He returned the gesture, and it felt as good as the foot rub he’d given me earlier. “I just wish I could help you somehow, with all of it.”
“You do help me. You have no idea how much,” he said quietly, again looking at me so intensely that I wondered, why me? He seemed to have zeroed in on me that day at the sporting goods store, and every time I’d seen him since then, he treated me as if I were the only person in the room. I supposed I did the same with him, but I wasn’t alone in noticing Edward. He was hard to miss. But I had blended in with the crowd my entire life. It didn’t make any sense for Edward to be as infatuated with me as I was him.
Before I could ask him how it was that I helped him, Alice and Jasper returned, wondering if we wanted to go back to the Cullens’ and hang out awhile. It was only about 11 p.m., so we still had some time before I had to be home. Edward left the decision up to me, and since I wasn’t keen on dancing or deflecting any more dirty looks from Mike, I told them I’d love to go.
Mike and Jessica had joined Angela and her two dates, so I dragged myself over to them to say good-night and to apologize to Mike once more. He just gave me a sullen look and a shrug, but Jessica was apparently feeling much better about things now that I’d confessed my sins and relinquished Mike. She gave me a hug and thanked me again for helping decorate, while Angela whispered in my ear, “Way to go, Bella! Have fun with Mr. Handsome.”
“I will,” I said, fighting to keep my smile from overtaking my face while Mike looked on. Edward offered me the crook of his arm and I accepted, my smile now impossible to hide as I looked up at his perfect face. I felt like I was walking on air as we made our way through the gym, Edward’s arm in one hand and my discarded shoes in the other. Everyone stared, and for once I didn’t mind the attention.
Out in the parking lot, Edward made a big show of escorting me to a shiny red BMW convertible, its top up to ward off the chilly night air.
“Wow!” I exclaimed as he held the passenger door open for me. “Nice wheels. Is this on loan from Carlisle, too?”
Edward laughed and answered, “No, from Rosalie, actually.” I gave him a surprised look as I got in the car. He shrugged and shook his head. “I think she might be more of a romantic that we gave her credit for,” he smiled, closing the door behind me.
After getting in and revving the engine a couple of times, Edward peeled out of the lot and drove like a demon all the way to the Cullen house. I held my breath and gripped the door handle the entire time, while Edward seemed oblivious, clearly enjoying the sensation of the sports car keening around the bends of the winding country road.
“Damn, this thing can fly, can’t it?” he marveled as we came to a stop in the Cullen driveway. “I’ve got to get one of these. Or maybe a Porsche,” he enthused.
He looked over to find me still gripping the arm rest, trying to slow my breathing. He reached over and touched my face, rubbing his thumb along my jaw. “You weren’t scared, were you?” he teased. “I’m a good driver, Bella. I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that I’d never let anything happen to you before you’ll believe me.”
“I believe you, Edward,” I said, letting out a long pent-up breath. “But the car may have other ideas.”
Edward only laughed again. “I’m driving the car, Bella. Not the other way around.” He got out and walked quickly, too quickly, to my side of the car.
“I don’t know whether your confidence is reassuring or alarming, “I muttered as he opened the car door for me. He seemed to have zoomed around to the passenger side in record time. I mentally added “faster than a speeding bullet” to Edward’s growing list of cartoon-character skills.
He ignored my comment, his self-satisfied grin too cute for reproach. Alice and Jasper pulled up beside us in Alice’s more-sedate Volvo, making nearly as good time as we did. Apparently driving like a maniac was a Cullen family trait, even if they were all adopted.
We all piled into the house, where Carlisle and Esme were watching a movie. They asked us the usual questions about how the dance was, and was Edward coming to meet me a welcome surprise? I replied that it was probably the best one I’d ever had, then blushed, while Edward’s little grin looked almost as shy as mine probably did. Carlisle and Esme gave each other a look that seemed oddly apprehensive before quickly covering it with a mask of smooth smiles. I got the feeling that they didn’t approve of Edward and I being together, though I couldn’t imagine why. The Cullens had always seemed to like me, and they clearly adored Edward.
Carlisle and Esme announced that they were going to bed and that we could use the den to play video games or watch TV. Jasper and Edward wasted no time in ditching their suit jackets, loosening their ties and setting the room up for a couple of rounds of Rock Band, which turned out to be highly entertaining. Edward trounced us completely with his musical ability and freakish hand-eye coordination, but Jasper and Alice were surprisingly nimble. Per usual, I was the one with average-at-best abilities on every “instrument” I tried and I was the first one to beg out of the game with low scores. Alice insisted on singing the whole time, and was actually pretty good. She and Edward ended up battling until the bitter end after Jasper threw his drumsticks in the air and joined me on the couch to watch. Finally Alice was forced to concede defeat after Edward nailed a scorching guitar solo, and he let out a loud “Ye-e-e-e-esss!” as he threw his “guitar” on the couch and thrust both fists in the air in victory.
Japser booed and consoled his pouting girlfriend, while I cheered and whistled loudly as if I were Edward’s biggest groupie, which I supposed I actually was. I’d never seen him so happy and so…normal. He usually seemed like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now he just looked like a regular teenaged kid having fun. Well, except for being ethereally handsome in the process.
“So,” Edward said breathlessly, putting his arm lightly around my shoulder. “Have you ever had a full tour of this place?”
“Well, I’ve seen some of it,” I told him, “but mostly when I’m here I hang out with Alice in her room. You want to show me around?”
“I’d love to,” he said, his voice low in my ear as he steered me out of the den, through the great room and into a music conservatory. A gorgeous piano stood center stage there, and I gasped at its shiny dark wood gleaming in the moonlight.
“No wonder you wanted to live here,” I breathed, running my hand along the edge of the propped-up lid. “Will you play for me again sometime?”
“Of course,” Edward answered quietly, his eyes appraising the instrument almost reverently. “I think that’s how I won Esme over…she likes listening to music.”
“She likes listening to you. You’re really good, Edward. Great, actually. And its clear that you love it,” I said, looking up at his blissful face as he gently stroked a key or two with his nimble fingers. “I’d ask you to play something for me now, but I don’t want you to wake Carlisle and Esme.”
Edward let out an abrupt laugh, then bit his lip as if to stifle it. “If all of us playing RockBand didn't keep them awake, I don't think this would do it," he said with a smile. "You’re probably right, though, it is late.” He paused and looked at me, his eyes dark and glistening in the moonlight slanting through the windows. “Do you want to see my room before I take you home?”
My heart picked up its pace at the thought of being alone with Edward in his bedroom. “Sure,” I answered in a whisper, even though there was no one but Edward to hear me.
He took my hand and led me back to the great room and up the stairs to the second floor. We passed the familiar doors of Alice and Emmett’s rooms and took a right to the end of the hallway. Edward opened the door into a long, narrow corner room with glass walls to the east and north. It was sparsely furnished with a couple of antiques that Esme had probably restored, and a divan on one side. An entire wall of shelving was, thus far, almost entirely empty, save for a few CD’s and books stacked close to the couch.
“Is that what you’re sleeping on?” I asked, confused.
“Well, for now it is,” Edward answered awkwardly. “It’s fine, really. You should have seen the rickety old cot I was using in that cabin,” he said with a derisive laugh.
“I’d like to, actually,” I told him. “I’d love to see where you were staying. Did you just crash in somebody’s place off-season or something?”
“Yeah, sort of,” he hedged. “It wasn’t really even a cabin…more like a deer stand, for hunters,” he admitted.
I looked at him blankly. “What did you do for heat?”
He shook his head dismissively. “It hasn’t been that cold. It didn’t bother me, honestly.” He looked uncomfortable, like he wished I would change the subject. He reached over to turn on the beside lamp.
“No, don’t,” I blurted, then felt the familiar flush of embarrassment wash over my cheeks as he turned his questioning eyes upon me. “I mean, with all these windows, the moon is almost as bright as day,” I added quickly. The side of his mouth raised in his irresistible crooked grin as he considered and then rejected my lame explanation.
“It’s romantic, isn’t it?” he said softly, walking slowly toward me. With each step, my heart beat a little faster. By the time he reached out and brushed my hair back over my shoulder, I was sure my heart’s rhythmic thumping was the loudest thing in the room.
“You said you’d wear this dress for me someday,” he reminded me. “I’ll bet you didn’t know it would be so soon.” He ran his fingers down the fabric of the halter, pushing my sweater to the side and brushing his cool skin over my shoulder.
“No, I didn’t,” I agreed, my voice shaking slightly at his touch. “You’ll be glad to know that you succeeded. You changed my mind about surprises.”
He smiled and his eyes twinkled in the muted light. “Happy surprises are the best kind,” he said, sliding his hand along my neck and down my shoulder underneath my cardigan. “I want to see this dress now,” he insisted quietly, pushing the knit fabric down over my shoulder. I inhaled sharply as the sweater fell away, sliding off of my left arm entirely. He deftly caught it in his right hand, then slowly walked behind me, pulling the cardigan with him. He slid it off of my right shoulder and tossed it gently on the divan beside us. I felt his hands in my hair, threading through it, sending tingles over my scalp and down my spine as he twisted the curls briefly around his fingers before pushing them to one side, leaving my back bare. He ran both hands, slowly as molasses, across my shoulders and down my shoulder blades, then to the edge of the scooped back of the dress, tracing its seams across my back.
“Did Mike Newton get to see you like this?” he demanded in a low voice, his face suddenly very close over my left shoulder, his breath in my ear sending tremors through my body.
“No,” I whispered hoarsely. Edward had seen me next to naked the very night before, his eyes burning so hotly over every inch of me that it felt like a brand, making me his. How could he possibly be worried about Mike Newton getting a glimpse of my bare shoulder blade?
“Good,” he murmured, his lips brushing my earlobe, then my neck. He planted tiny kisses there, his hands slowly descending my arms as soft as silk brushing against my skin. My breath came in short gasps and I could think of nothing but the sensations that were rippling through my body. My head fell back against his chest and he buried his face in my neck, his arms snaking around my waist and pulling me closer. I stroked his bare forearms, pushing his rolled shirt sleeves higher, loving the feel of his furry, masculine arms under my fingers. He moaned softly into my neck, kissing me over and over, his tongue and teeth gently tasting the flesh there and coaxing a small cry of pleasure out of my throat.
Suddenly he pulled away and stood up straight, his breathing labored. I turned to look at him, and his eyes were wild. For a split second, I felt something akin to fear. And yet I was more afraid for him than I was for myself.
“What is it?” I asked, reaching up to touch his face, smoothing my hands over the twitching muscles of his clenched jaw. He always seemed to calm down when I touched him this way, stroking him, reassuring him. His eyes closed for a moment, and when they opened, they were haunted. He shook his head ever so slightly, and though his hands were still on my waist, they were keeping me at bay more than pulling me close.
“Edward,” I began, desperate for him to let go of whatever burden he was carrying. “Please tell me what happened to you. And I’m not talking about the amnesia. I’m talking about everything else. You’re not…”---I searched for any other word than “normal”---“the same anymore. You’re not like other teenaged guys. Something happened to you in that forest. Something changed you…altered you. Please tell me the truth,” I finished vainly, my voice trailing off as I watched his features harden into an unreadable mask.
“I told you, I don’t remember what happened to me,” he reiterated for what must have been the tenth time. “I woke up and my whole world was turned upside down. Nothing made sense. It still doesn’t,” he conceded, letting go of me and slumping down onto the couch, elbows on his knees, head falling into his hands.
I sat next to him and put my arm on his back, rubbing his broad shoulders. I began to list the first of several possibilities that had crossed my mind when I tried to put the puzzle pieces together. “Did you eat something strange in the woods when you were hungry, before you found your way out of the forest? Maybe some berries or mushrooms that were poisonous? You may have ingested some crazy substance that turned you into Superman or something,” I suggested.
He jerked his head up quickly to look at me. “Is that what you think I am?” he snorted, his voice bitter. I threw my hands up in the air in frustration.
“I don’t know, Edward. Let’s see: faster than a speeding bullet? Check. More powerful than a locomotive? Yeah, probably. Um, what else…able to leap tall buildings in a single bound? Let’s go outside so we can find out,” I challenged him. He ran his hands through his hair in agitation, grimacing in silence. “Maybe you’re not Superman,” I conceded softly, “but you are superhuman. Don’t you want to know why?”
He sighed heavily. “I know I sound like a broken record, but it won’t change anything. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing I ate. If I reveal my abilities to anyone, they’ll stick me in a laboratory and study me like some freak of nature…like I’m not even human.” His voice dwindled to a hoarse whisper. “Maybe I’m not anymore. Maybe I’m nothing more than a piece of cold, dead, animated marble.” He reached out and trailed the backs of his pale fingers down my arm, his face contorted with self-loathing as he watched goose bumps rise on my skin in response.
“I don’t care what you are,” I insisted, grabbing his hand firmly in mine. “This…” I rubbed his hand between mine, “…this is just a shell. It’s a great-looking shell, believe me,” I said with a wry grin as I stared into his beautiful, troubled eyes. “But that’s all it is. The most beautiful part of you is right here,” I told him, pressing my hand over his heart. Its beat was slow and steady; faint, but reassuring. “Anybody who would do what you did tonight has a very warm, very human heart. Forget superheroes. You were my prince tonight.”
His eyes seemed to drink in reassurance from mine, and he finally allowed a smile to creep over his features. “I was going to try to get a horse-drawn carriage, but Rosalie’s convertible was just way too tempting,” he joked. “Besides, I wouldn’t want it to turn into a pumpkin before I got you home.”
A wave of panic hit me at his words, and I looked around frantically for a clock in the room. “Oh my God, Edward, what time is it?”
He reached back to the nightstand and turned the alarm clock to face us. It read 12:45 a.m.
“Oh shit, shit, SHIT,” I groaned, grabbing my sweater and pulling it over my arms. “My curfew is one o’clock. You may be superhuman, but trust me, Charlie will still find a way to kill you if I’m late.”
Edward seemed unperturbed. “Don’t worry, I’ll get you home on time,” he assured me blithely as he took my hand and walked me quickly down the stairs.
“And hopefully I’ll live to tell about it, the way you drive,” I muttered, which amused Edward greatly. He grabbed his suit jacket out of the den before following me to the garage and letting me into the red BMW. True to form, he flew down the dark, twisting road as confidently as if it were daylight, causing me to again grip the arm rest in hopes that it would keep me from flying out the window and hitting a tree. We pulled up to Charlie’s house with exactly four minutes to spare.
“You are a madman,” I declared, clutching my hand to my chest like an old woman. “I am never getting in a car with you ever again.”
“Oh, yes, you are,” he grinned, unbuckling his seatbelt. Then he leaned over and unbuckled mine. “Thursday is the next night I have off. I’m taking you somewhere. I don’t care where. Maybe you can just come over and hang out. Or I can come watch football with your dad,” he laughed, leaning in and giving me a kiss before I could protest. He knew I was powerless against those lips of his, and once again I found myself drowning in the taste, smell and feel of him. There was no way I could wait until Thursday to see him again. That was almost a whole week away.
“What about tomorrow?” I managed to gasp in between kisses. He stopped and looked me in the eye, his cocky smirk very nearly causing me to rescind my invitation.
“What about tomorrow?” he teased, peppering my face with tiny butterfly kisses. I let out a growl of frustration. “Do you want to see me tomorrow?” he asked in mock innocence.
“Yes,” I snapped. “Though now I’m not sure why.”
“What do you want to do?” he asked me, one eyebrow raising provocatively.
“I don’t know. I don’t care,” I sighed in submission. Then, inspiration hit. “Take me to the cabin tomorrow.”
His smile faded. “You don’t really want to go there, Bella,” he frowned. “There’s nothing much to see, anyway. And it’s pretty far from town.”
“But I’ll bet you could get us there in a flash, couldn’t you,” I said, a statement more than a question. His lip twitched uncomfortably and he nodded slightly.
“I’ll call you in the morning, okay?” he said in resignation. Then he kissed me gently, got out of the car, and appeared outside my door an instant later. He opened it and gave me his hand, helping me out though I didn’t need it. I couldn’t help but smile at his old-fashioned manners. I wished I could have met his parents. They seemed to have instilled a lot of chivalry into their young son before they died.
Edward walked me up to the front door and stood there expectantly. I gave him a blank look. “Charlie will be waiting up,” I warned him.
Edward smiled. “I figured as much. I want to meet him.”
I looked at him in shock. “Now? You want me to explain how I came home with a different guy than my date?”
“Don’t worry. I’ll do the talking,” he said with assurance. I stared at him as if he’d lost all sense. He tapped his watch and admonished, “You’d better go inside.”
My heart sank as I opened the door. This was not going to be pretty, I thought. But relief flooded me as I caught sight of Charlie snoozing in the recliner, several empty beer cans on the end table next to him, the TV still tuned to ESPN.
“Good, he’s asleep,” I whispered to Edward. “You can meet him tomorrow when you pick me up to take me hiking.” I grinned at the frustrated look on his face.
“All right,” he conceded in his low, velvet voice. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” He kissed me gently, which turned into several more kisses before we reluctantly pulled apart, Edward shooting a nervous glance at Charlie as he reached for the door. He grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze before he disappeared into the night.
I slumped, exhausted, against the door, closing my eyes and thinking back on the crazy events of my evening. When I opened my eyes, Charlie was staring right at me.
“Geez, Dad, you scared me!” I exclaimed. “I thought you were asleep.”
“Obviously,” he replied, glowering at me slightly. “Who was that boy, Bella? ‘Cause he sure as hell didn’t look like the boy who picked you up eight hours ago.”
“That was Edward, Dad,” I said, biting my lip. “He really wanted to meet you. Honestly.”
He let out a kind of “harrumphing” noise. “What happened to the Newton kid? He didn’t dump you in the middle of the dance or anything, did he?” He looked as if his hackles were starting to rise.
“Well…sort of. But I kind of deserved it,” I admitted sheepishly. “Okay, I totally deserved it. But Edward showed up and made everything better. The way it should have been,” I said, trying to stifle a tiny grin.
Charlie studied me for a moment. “So you really like this Edward, then.”
I nodded uncomfortably. I really wished Mom were here sometimes. Talking with Charlie about boys was seven kinds of awkward.
“All right, then,” he said gruffly. “Apparently you two have some kind of date tomorrow?”
“You know, you really shouldn’t have pretended to be asleep,” I complained. “That was dirty pool.” He gave me a stern look and I sighed apologetically. “We’re going to go on a nature walk.”
Charlie’s face twisted in concern. “I don’t want you going out into those woods, Bella. We never found the wolf that attacked you. If you get too deep into the forest you’ll run into bears, too. I don’t like it.”
“Edward’s a really good hiker, Dad,” I told him. I wished I could explain just how safe I really was with Edward, but there was no way to do that without exposing his secrets. And I didn’t even know exactly what they were yet. “We won’t go far. We’ll stick to the trails. It’ll be fine. I’ll take my cell.”
Charlie got up from the recliner and pulled me into a hug. “It’s late. We’ll talk about it in the morning, okay?”
I nodded and we both walked slowly up the stairs to get ready for bed. I lay staring at the ceiling for awhile, exhausted but unable to sleep, once again replaying my time with Edward in my mind. I still couldn’t believe he’d actually made my fantasy come true: he had made a grand entrance to the dance like Prince Charming and rescued me from my unwanted date. I should have been on Cloud Nine. But a gnawing feeling continued to tear at the fabric of my perfect dream. Something was tormenting my prince… something so dark that he’d been doing everything in his power to hide it from me. I decided that it was about time to bring that secret into the light. And tomorrow was the perfect time to start.