Social Studies is my most-hated class of the day. Jessica sits two seats behind me and doesn’t know how to converse in a normal tone of voice. I swear she’s only talking this loudly so I’ll hear her.
“Ohmigod, I heart him so much. I’ve always had a crush on him, but I never knew he had one on me. Quelle surprise!”
I want to bang my forehead against my desk over and over. No, I want to bang her head against her desk over and over. I want to shove her face into an industrial fan. Maybe a cannon. She sounds like a cavewoman who eats her own crap. Way to pick ‘em, Edward.
“You are so lucky,” hench-girl number two says (Lauren is number one). “He’s a total hottie. Where’s he taking you Friday?”
Jessica sighs loudly, dreamily. “He said it was a surprise. As long as it ends in the back of his car, that’s what I say.”
“Oh. My. God, yes.”
I feel like I’m being slowly digested over the course of this conversation. They sound like an ad for the local free clinic. If I was talking to Edward, I might warn him, but nope. This one is all on him. Jerk.
I hate that I miss him.
. . .
“What’s wrong with you?” Jasper asks me at lunch.
I glare at him. “What do you mean, what’s wrong with me?”
“Real subtle, Jaz,” Rose says. “What he means is that we’ve noticed you seem sad lately, like you’re down in the dumps. And we want to know why. So spill.”
I finish making fork designs in my mashed potatoes and take a bite. They’re cold but solid, and I’m hoping they help to fill that hole inside.
“Here.” Jasper pushes Sprock across the table. “He’s good at giving me courage when I need it.”
I finger the sock that means so much to Jasper. Is he ever going to outgrow it?
“It’s Edward and Jessica,” I tell them. “I don’t know what he sees in her. She’s changing him and I don’t like it.”
“Did you tell him?”
I wince. That there is the rub. “We’re not exactly on speaking terms at the moment. I can’t even look at him without wanting to gag.”
“He outgrew Vickie,” Rose says. “He’ll definitely outgrow Jessica.”
“But that’s my point,” I say. “He shouldn’t have to outgrow her at all. He already knows she’s an airhead with more hair than sense. She’s got the personality of a soap dish. And I hate her and he knows that.”
Rose stares at me long and hard.
She slams her hand against the table and Jasper and I jump a foot. At the other end of the table, Ben, Angela and Mike stare at us. Well, Mike glares.
“He’s taking care of her for you,” Rose cries.
“Bullhickey. How is dating and kissing Jessica taking care of me? Did you fall and hit your head this morning?”
“No, don’t you see, Bella? Remember when he walked in on us a few weeks ago and got mad because you didn’t want to include him in the conversation about Jessica? Reeeeeeemember?”
She’s talking to me like I’m an idiot. “Yes, I remember. I was there.”
Rose shakes her head and shoves me so hard I almost fall out of my chair. “He’s always got your back, Jack! You know how protective he is over you. That’s why you didn’t want to let him in on the know.” She leans forward so we’re nose-to-nose. “And that’s why he’s dating Jessica now. He is going to eff. Her. Up.”
My heart leaps. Could it be? Would he really go that far? Ugh. But … would he? And if he is doing that, why is he letting me ignore him? Why is he avoiding me?
And suddenly I do feel like an idiot. A hopeful idiot. I even do a chair dance.
“Ohmigod, I think you’re right, Rose.” I want to kiss her.
She sits back in her chair with a nod. “My work here is done.”
Jasper takes Sprock back with a grin. “He always comes through,” he says.
. . .
That night when Dad comes home, he has Mike Newton with him.
I do a double-take from where I’m sitting at the dining room table doing fractions. Mike’s face is a combination of sullen and hangdog. His hands are in his coat pockets and his hair is flat on one side of his head.
Dad pushes Mike away from the front door. “Mike has something to say to you. Come here.”
I’m in a daze as I stand and drift over to them. Mike’s looking at my chest like he just can’t help himself, so I cross my arms, and his gaze pops up to mine. Now he’s blushing.
“Go ahead,” Dad tells him sternly. “And you better mean it.”
“Bella,” Mike begins but has to clear his throat. “Bella, I am very sorry for shoving you into your locker and hurting you, and for touching you when I shouldn’t have. I promise it won’t happen again.”
He sounds genuinely contrite, but his eyes fall to my chest again. Sheesh, my t-shirt is two sizes too big. What is he trying to see?
Dad notices and whacks him on the back of his head. “Don’t make me have to lock you up for being a perpetual pervert,” he growls. “Eyes above the neck.”
“Sorry,” Mike chokes.
“You should have been born a dog,” I tell him lightly, but I’m not smiling. He’s a disgusting pig.
“I don’t want to hear about any more fights,” Dad tells us. “Next time, I’ll throw you into the slammer for 24 hours,” he says to Mike.
Mike stiffens and nods.
“Now this is the end of it, you two. Understood?”
“Got it,” I say, even though both times were not my fault. “Mike’s going to pretend I don’t exist anymore.”
Mike nods again. He looks antsy. And guilty, although he’s trying to look innocent now.
“Scram,” Dad tells him. “I called your dad. He’ll be here any time. You can wait on the porch.” And he jerks his head at the door.
Once Mike’s on the other side of the door, I throw myself into Dad’s arms.
“Sorry it took me so long,” he tells me, but it’s okay. He’s always been kind of slow to react in emotional situations. Mom was the nail. He’s the wall.
I smile against his chest. Hopefully this is the last time I have to experience the after-effects of boobgate.
. . .
When Edward comes home from work, I have a plate of dinner waiting for him. He looks surprised to see me, then his face goes expressionless.
“What are you doing?” I ask him.
He takes the plate from me and heads towards the basement. “Eating,” he snaps. “Thanks.”
I glare at the dark hallway he disappeared down. I’m not chasing him. If he doesn’t want to talk about what he’s doing, fine. And I storm out of the kitchen to the living room. He’s lucky I didn’t poison his tuna casserole.
“You going upstairs?” Dad drawls. “Or is this a new game I don’t know about?”
I blink as I realize I’ve been standing at the bottom of the stairs leading to the second level of the house. Dad’s looking at me with amusement from the couch.
“Ugh,” I say and turn back towards the basement. I sound like a rampaging cow as I stomp down the stairs.
Edward turns the TV volume up, so I move to stand in front of the TV with my hands on my hips and my legs spread. I am a capital X and I’m about to deliver a smack-down.
“Do you mind?”
“You know, I’ve been really hurt by your actions these last few weeks,” I begin.
I glower back at him. “Make me.”
He puts his plate down with a bang and stands.
“Don’t you touch me,” I say. “I’ve been pushed around by people one too many times lately. Now I want to know why you’re being such a retarded jerk-face.”
His hands settle on my upper arms, but his touch is gentle. As soon as he touches me, his face loses some of its stiffness. My hands fall to my sides. When he sees me essentially giving up, he moves me to the side and back to the couch, where we sit.
His gaze at the coffee table is a study of concentration, and his mouth is working like he’s speaking without talking. It’s like he wants to talk, but doesn’t know how to begin.
“Just spit it out,” I tell him.
“I can’t tell you yet,” he says in a rush. “All I’ll say is that I’m on your side, always, and I’m sorry I’ve been an asshole lately. I don’t like what I’m doing, either, and it’s eating away at me. But it’s almost done.”
“What’s almost done? Your assholery?”
He picks up his plate again. “That’s one way to look at it.”
“What’s another way?”
“Actions have consequences.”
“Yeah,” I huff. “Tell me about it. I really don’t like you right now. I kind of hope you choke on a noodle.”
He chokes and laughs. “God, I miss you.”
My heart leaps. “It’s your own fault.”
“I know. Don’t you miss me?”
I want to kick him. Hug him. Kick him.
“Not at all,” I lie. “My life is full of friends and commitments and homework. Never a dull moment. No time for assholes.”
“Good,” he says and shovels in another mouthful. “I’m the only asshole I want you to have to deal with.”
“And God knows you’re more than enough.”
After he finishes his dinner, he pulls me against his side. I’m a bit hands-offy because he hasn’t explained himself yet, and I’m still hurting deep inside.
He puts his mouth close to my ear. “8 Ball says: Forget about it.”
I shove him back. “8 Ball says: Not on your life.”
He pulls me back. “What has four legs, one foot and one head?”
“You’re so lame,” I tell him.
“You’ll get your answers Friday,” he says and gives me a searching look.
I scowl. “Date night. Oo, I can’t wait.”
“I hate her guts,” he says lowly.
“What are you, some kind of a martyr? I don’t understand why you’re doing this. It’s stupid. People are going to get hurt.”
I shake my head at him. Why is he so angry? “I got hurt. I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to be hurt. And you don’t have to understand anything but that I love you,” he tells me.
“I worry about you, Edward. You take everything so personally.”
“When it concerns you, I do,” he agrees. “If someone messes with you, they mess with me. It’s as simple as that.”
“She’s not worth it.”
“No, but you are.”
What can I say to that?
“I do miss you, too,” I tell him. “But you’ve got some making up to do.”
I lay back against the couch and put my feet in his lap. He hates feet. “Foot rub.”
. . .
I’m with Rose and Alice at Alice’s house Friday night when Edward’s plan comes to light on a Facebook post.
That feeling you get when you realize the girl you’re dating is a heartless, two-faced slut who wears too much perfume? That’s me right now.
Dumping you was the smartest thing I’ve done all year and I don’t even feel bad about how brutal it was.
Thanks for lying to me about your sexual cravings. I like girls, too, but not more two or three at a time. Not only did you lie about that, but you also like to betray your so-called friends.
You told me Lauren Mallory only pretends to like Erik Turner because she’s a lesbian.
You told me Bree Tanner likes to eat and barf afterwards.
And then you told me Mike Newton has a tiny dick and doesn’t know what to do with it. What kind of girl tells their boyfriend about these kind of things?
It’s over. My mistake for ever thinking you were worth anything.
And he signs it Edward Swan, making it crystal clear who he is talking about.
My head reels. Is it true what he wrote?
“Oh my god,” Alice whispers. “Remind me never to piss off Edward.”
I can’t swallow. This is so mean of him. I never would have thought he’d do something like this. It’s just … he’s … he’s … I can’t even think. And is it true? It better be true, because if he’s just made these things up, I’m going to kill him. And maybe never forgive him.
“Edward’s the bomb-diggity,” Rose says.
“I gotta go,” I tell them. “I’ll call Edward for a ride.”
Rose points at me. “Yeah, get the scoop and fill us in later.”
If I’m free, maybe. Dad might have to put me in the slammer.
. . .
“All I really want to know,” I tell Edward after I climb into the passenger seat, “Is if it’s true.”
He drives us to the park off of North Lakeshore Road. Once he shuts the car off, he turns to look at me. His eyes are finally apologetic.
“Where do you think I got that information?”
“But why would she even tell you that stuff, Edward?”
His face hardens. “Because she’s a bitch. She’s mean. She doesn’t like anyone.”
I stare out the windshield and watch the tennis players under the flood lights. “I thought she liked Mike. And you.”
“I don’t think she knows how to like someone,” he says.
“So you thought you’d teach her a lesson.”
“That’s bullying, you know.”
He shrugs. “Call it bullying the bully. She won’t be so quick to pick on someone else now.”
“Especially not me.”
“I held one secret back. If she targets you again, it blows in the wind.”
“You’re so angry,” I whisper. “I can’t help thinking that she didn’t deserve this. All she did was call me names and tell me to stay away from Mike.”
He touches my arm. “Obviously, it’s more than that. I’ve heard you crying. She doesn’t care about you or your feelings, Bella. She actually tried to badmouth you to me. I mean, what an idiot. She needed a wake-up call and I gave it to her.”
I still have this feeling in the pit of my stomach. “But why did it have to be you, Edward?”
He takes my chin in his fingers. “I told you. She hurt you. She messed with you.”
“I don’t need or want you to do things like this.”
“I shouldn’t need to do anything like this again,” he tells me with a crooked grin.
I move my face away from his hand. “You actually made out with her.”
He shudders. “That was the second hardest thing about this whole ordeal.”
“What could be worse than that?”
“Being away from you.”
Our gazes lock and I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m falling into him. He’s all I see. Then Edward abruptly turns his head away and starts the car.
“Let’s go get ice cream,” he says, and the feeling is gone.
But what was that?
. . .
Edward’s riddle answer for Bella: a bed. I know. Bad.