I'll preface this chapter by saying that although I've never been anywhere near the UW dorms, I'm reasonably sure that their Resident Advisors don't condone or allow the kind of behavior I've written here. At least, not if they want to remain RA's. But that's why this is fiction.
Not sure why I switched it up and wrote this chapter in present tense. It just seemed to fit.
"See that guy over there?"
Sylvia Wainwright is slurring and trying to point somewhere across the hotel ballroom, but her index finger keeps changing directions so that Edward has no hope of following its suggested path.
She draws loops in the air. "That table over there. Two over, three back. Black hair, black suit, black shirt, black tie."
"Is he a bank robber?"
"Ha! Possibly. I don't give a fuck, I still want him. He's the one I told you 'bout - the one who got away. 'Cept Amy Wisenbaum just told me at the topless bar that he and his girlfriend are having problems. I'm not surprised - look how slutty she's dressed. She looks like a goddamn hooker. Sorry, no offense."
"None taken," Edward says with a brittle smile.
"Yeah well, she's toast. The minute she goes to the bathroom, I'm makin' my move."
"Good for you. So where's the topless bar? I wasn't aware this hotel had one."
"Huh? Oh! Tapas bar. I said tapas. You know, hors d'oeuvres?" She gives him a look indicating that he must be a total moron. "The snack table," she elaborates with a roll of her eyes. "Are you sure you've done this escort thing before? I mean, I knew you were young, but come on."
Edward feigns an apology. "I'm sorry if I've fallen short of your expectations."
Sylvia's green eyes roll once more, and she has trouble making them focus once they return to their normal position. "You've been fine. Better than fine. You look amazing. Like fuckin' sex on a stick. The look on that bitch Heather Mears' face when she saw me walk in the room with you was worth every penny. Now, just don't cramp my style when I go talk to David, and there'll be a very nice tip in it for you later."
"David. . . ?"
"The bank robber." She looks over at her former paramour, and Edward thinks he's detected a bit of drool glistening at the corner of her mouth. "You're pretty 'n' all, and you definitely did the job here tonight, but THAT, right there, is a real man. Damn if he doesn't look hot as hell dressed all in black," she sighs.
Edward glances over at swarthy, hirsute David in his too-tight suit and thinks that the man vaguely resembles a gorilla stuffed into a sausage casing. "I wouldn't even attempt to compete," he assures his date with a sweet smile.
"You're a smart boy after all," she says condescendingly. With effort, she shifts her gaze back to the gorilla, and comprehends that the chair next to him is empty.
"Holy shit, now's my chance," she exclaims, pushing up from the table and swaying a bit. "Wish me luck!"
"Good luck," Edward replies dutifully. He winces as she grabs at the edge of her panties through her loud polyester dress in order to pull them out of her butt crack, then wobbles away on her platform stilettos.
He breathes a sigh of relief and immediately searches for his phone to see if Bella has called, even though he hasn't felt its telltale buzz through the breast pocket of his jacket. He's relieved when he sees her number and realizes that he forgot to put the phone on vibrate after he turned off the ringer. He's even more relieved when he hears her message.
He glances over at Sylvia, whose ironed blonde head is bowed close to the gorilla's, and he figures he can slip away unnoticed for a few minutes. He leaves the hotel ballroom and finds an exit to the outdoor courtyard with better phone reception, then speed-dials Bella's number.
# # # # # # # # # #
The music is so loud that Bella's entire body is vibrating.
She's hollered at Mike to inquire what the Resident Advisor thinks about this, but he hollers back that "he's totally cool with it." He then points to a guy lounging in one corner of the room, nursing a bottle of Fat Tire and a laissez-faire attitude. Bella shrugs and accepts the requisite red plastic cup filled with jungle juice. She takes a sip - hmm, not bad - and decides she's ready to drink the Kool-Aid.
The music is good - sounds like The Black Keys, she thinks. It's not some club-style techno-crap, so she decides to chill and enjoy it. Besides, this saves her from having to make too much small talk, which she's not very good at. She can simply smile and nod at Mike's new roommates, to whom she was just introduced, but their names were indecipherable above the din. And then Mike is off, playing the host with the most, chatting up each new stranger as if he or she was his long-lost friend. Bella has always envied his ability to do this. He is clearly in his element in this kind of social setting, while she still flounders like a fish out of water.
Like most dorm parties, the festivities have spilled out into the hallway and over to the next room. Bella wanders into the hall, looking around for Jessica, or anyone else she might know. She wonders why she didn't make any lasting friends freshman year. She'd been so worried about keeping her grades up that she spent most of her time studying. Over the summer she'd lost touch with the few girls she'd befriended, and now it felt a little like she was starting over this year.
But that was what she wanted, wasn't it? A clean slate? A do-over? That's what her night with an escort was supposed to be about - doing something daring and out of character, something completely out of her comfort zone. That's what she thought she'd needed: a chance to break free from her shy, self-conscious mold and emerge as someone with the bold confidence of experience.
But as she looks around at the girls wearing too much make-up and too little clothing, she can't help but feel that this is not who she wants to be, either. Maybe she just isn't cut from free and fun-loving cloth. But this is a depressing thought, so she props the corners of her mouth into what she hopes is a friendly grin and tiptoes around the bodies of people sprawled across the hallway, trying to carry on conversations not possible inside the rooms. She is managing all right, she thinks, until her sneaker catches on the toe of the last body, causing her to trip and fall forward.
"Shit!" she exclaims, trying to catch herself on the closest white plaster wall. But there is another body in the way, this one walking toward her, so that her hand hits his chest and propels him backward. Like dominoes they fall to the dull industrial carpet below, Bella trying to keep a grip on her red plastic cup, but failing most spectacularly.
"I am so sorry," she apologizes, still on all fours, staring down at the empty cup in front of her. She is afraid to look sideways at her victim and survey the damage, but she cringes and shifts wary eyes to the form lying next to her. Sure enough, his t-shirt - vintage Beastie Boys - is doused with bright red jungle juice.
"Oh my God," she moans, sitting back on her haunches, defeated. "I can't believe I did that."
Her victim slowly pulls himself up to a sitting position and looks down, gingerly pulling the sticky wet cotton away from his skin. He looks up at her ruefully and manages a tight smile. "It's okay. I'm sure it'll come out."
Bella looks at him, and he at her. They both know it will not come out.
"I'll buy you a new one," she offers. "It's the least I can do."
He grins more affably than the occasion warrants and says, "I don't think you'll find one. But if you do, let me know."
"Yeah, right." She gives him a look that she hopes conveys her distress over the situation.
"Don't worry," he says. "It just gives the shirt character."
She shakes her head. "You are being way too nice about this. Go ahead and yell at me."
"Will it make you feel better if I do?"
"Then, goddamn it, watch where you're going next time, will you?" he answers with mock severity.
"That was not yelling," she says with a laugh.
He shrugs and the good-natured grin returns. "I have a hard time being mean to pretty girls."
Bella blushes, then realizes for the first time that her victim is rather nice-looking. Blue eyes, light brown hair, toothy smile. She is being complimented by a cute boy only ten minutes after arriving at a college party. Maybe things are changing for her after all, despite the fact that she is obviously still as clumsy and awkward as ever.
"At least let me try to get the stain out of your shirt," Bella offers guiltily. "Maybe if you wash it right away, it'll come out."
"Maybe," he agrees. "My room is right down the hall. You want to come with me and find out?"
Bella sees that he is pointing only a few doors down, within easy distance of the party, so she throws caution to the wind and follows him to his room. When he opens the door, a wall of pungent-smelling smoke hits them both in the face.
"Whoa!" he comments as he carves a path through the haze. "Don't smoke the whole stash at once, you guys."
Bella hesitates in the doorway, but her victim pulls her gently into the room and closes the door behind her. "Our RA is cool, but I'd still rather keep certain activities on the DL, if you know what I mean," he explains.
She nods and peers into the smoke while he introduces a small group of people sitting in a circle, passing around a colorful glass bong that looks like something her mom might have used during her much wilder youth. Bella forgets their names as soon as she hears them, but she remembers her victim's name.
It is Riley Biers, and he has taken off his t-shirt in order to scrub it out in the sink. He has a nice body. She tries not to stare, but it's difficult because he is smooth and hairless and carved nicely in all the right places. His build is lean, not terribly tall, but still well-put together. She would be attracted to him, she thinks, except for one thing.
He is not Edward Cullen.
Riley is smiling at her and commenting that he thinks the stain is actually coming out of his t-shirt, and she's glad. But she is now imagining how Edward looks standing at a sink: taller and broader in the shoulders, stronger chin and sultrier eyes. Hairier, muskier. More manly. She resents him a little for ruining this for her, this first time that a very cute college boy has taken his shirt off for her two minutes after they met. Worse yet, she resents Riley for not being someone else.
Riley is oblivious to this, of course, and is chattering about his major as he wrings out his shirt and fishes a hanger out of his closet to hang the wet garment up to dry. He pulls a clean t-shirt off the closet shelf, this one proclaiming Bob Marley's Exodus; and Bella realizes she's already forgotten Riley's major.
"So," he says as he pushes his head through the neck hole, "you wanna get baked?"
He nods his head toward the circle of potheads taking turns holding their breath before exhaling in satisfaction. Bella has always avoided drugs, even weed, because she worries they will make her do stupid things, and with her luck she will no doubt get caught and expelled from school and possibly thrown in jail.
She presses her lips together and sets her chin defiantly. After all, her luck has been changing.
"Absolutely," she says, and joins him in the circle.
# # # # # # # # # #
"Where are you, Bella?" Edward mumbles into the phone, his tone equal parts worry and annoyance. She will not hear this because he has already hung up, and the message he did leave her was decidedly more upbeat than he was feeling. His relief that she'd found his good-luck charm was lessened when he was unable to thank her and make plans to see her again. He realizes that it is entirely unreasonable of him to expect her to be waiting around for his call. She is a teenager and it's Friday night. He did tell her she should be having the college experience and enjoying herself. And she should.
But he can't help but wish she were enjoying herself with him instead.
Edward is not enjoying himself at all, though he is admittedly grateful that his date has no interest in him other than using him to get the man she really wants. He wishes this were the modus operandi of all of his clients. But he knows his luck will not hold for much longer.
As if on cue, there is a commotion behind him on the courtyard. The glass door has opened and the low hiss of an argument meets his ears. He can guess what he will see before he slowly, unwillingly turns around.
"You had your chance a long time ago, remember? I'm the one who wrote and called you every goddamned day when we went to two different colleges. You're the one who chose to step out on me with a dozen other guys instead. You made your bed - lots of beds, from what I hear. Now go fucking lie in them. Or lie in them fucking, as the case may be."
They have stopped under the nearest tree and stand facing each other in the ambient outdoor lighting, oblivious to Edward's presence. The gorilla is clearly angry, sneering in the imploring face of his ex-girlfriend. Sylvia begins a drunken rebuttal that is half pleading, half self-righteous.
"I was young! I was lonely, and you were clear across the country. I didn't know what I wanted," she wails. "Besides, you expect me to believe you were faithful that whole time? That's bullshit. I know it is. Does the name Heather-fucking-Mears ring a bell? Huh? You could have had anyone, but you had to go and bang my high school nemesis instead?"
"Well, at least she was there for me when I lost my football scholarship and had to go home with my goddamned tail between my legs. You didn't give a flying fuck. You didn't even call me - you sent me a lame-ass email instead. That hurt, Syl. As close as we were. . . that was low."
The gorilla looks wounded now, and Syl is ashamed. "Oh baby, I know. I know. I was such an idiot. I didn't know what to say to you after all that had gone down between us. I knew how much that killed you, losing that scholarship. I came home that next weekend to see you, but Heather had already beat me to the punch. I stopped by your house and your brother told me you were out with her."
"What? He never told me you were there!"
"I made him promise not to tell you. I was so upset with you for turning to her that I didn't want to give you the satisfaction of knowing I cared. But I always did. I still do."
She is sniveling; Edward can see that her mascara is beginning to bleed out around the edges of her eyes so that she resembles an ancient Egyptian painting. The gorilla's expression is mawkishly contrite, and Edward realizes that he must be as drunk as Sylvia.
"Oh, baby," is all the eloquence he can muster before he mauls her with a kiss. She returns it with fervor, trying to get a grip on his greased hair while he crushes her to him and paws her ass.
Edward averts his eyes, amused and relieved at this turn of events, but not wishing to witness this particular reunion any further. He takes a sip of his martini and decides he will discreetly make his way back inside the hotel, but as he nears the door, an attractive brunette in a cleavage-revealing dress strides purposefully through it. She looks around until she spots the couple groping under a tree. Her face screws up in anger and she marches toward them.
"What. The FUCK. Is going on here?" she demands.
As soon as the gorilla extricates himself from Sylvia and turns a guilty face toward his accuser, the brunette hauls off and slaps him right across one thick, stubbly cheek.
Edward changes his mind and looks around for a place to sit. He finds a nearby stone bench, then settles in with his martini to watch the fireworks.
# # # # # # # # # #
Bella cannot stop giggling.
She is very, very relaxed. She can't remember the last time she felt this sort of happy, somnambulant buzz. She could get used to this. She looks over at Riley, and the rest of his roomies and girlfriends, and they all look as buzzed as she feels. They are cool people, she thinks. They have all just finished a highly philosophical and profound discussion about politics and global warming, though she can't remember exactly what was said. She's pretty sure it was deep, though.
But the weed has run out, and they are hungry. A search of their room reveals it to be bereft of munchies, so they journey out in search of food.
"I think Mike has snacks in his room," Bella offers helpfully. "And some killer Everclear punch."
They eagerly follow Bella down the hall to the heart of the festivities, where they gratefully scavenge a brand-new bag of tortilla chips and begin passing it around. As she's munching, she looks around in search of Mike. She spots him across the room, sitting on the bottom bunk bed, talking with Jessica. She feels no animosity toward her old frenemy how, and she waves a chip at them both, while Riley asks her, "Who are they?"
She realizes that someone must have turned the volume of the sound system down, because she can actually hear him above the dull roar.
"Old high school friends," she replies. "Come on, I'll introduce you."
Riley follows Bella to the bunk bed, where her pals look up at her in blatant surprise. She introduces them all, and is very proud of the fact that she has remembered everyone's full names, even Riley's. They all nod and smile in greeting, though the pair who are high are mostly oblivious to the incredulous stares from the pair who are not.
"Good to meet you," Mike says, rising from the bunk and giving Riley a slap on the arm. "So you live down the hall, huh?"
Riley nods. "Neighbors. Thanks for having the party, man. It's nice to get to know everyone on the hall."
"Yeah, of course," Mike agrees. "You guys want something to drink? Jess, you need a refill?"
Jessica hands Mike her nearly-empty cup. "Yeah, thanks."
Mike looks at Riley and motions across the room to the cooler and the plastic-lined garbage can filled with spiked punch. As soon as they leave the girls alone, Jessica grabs Bella's wrist and pulls her down to the bunk bed.
"Ohmygod! Are you stoned?" she demands.
"Um. . ." Bella stops to think a moment, and then realizes that she most certainly is. "Yeah. Very." She giggles a little at the acknowledgement.
"No way!" Jess exclaims, as if the evidence and accompanying confession still aren't enough proof. "I didn't know you smoked pot."
"Neither did I." Bella punctuates this with a giggle-snort.
"That Riley guy is cute! Does he have any more stash on him?" Jess asks hopefully.
"No, they ran out." Bella waves in the general direction of the group now inhaling most of the snacks sitting atop Mike's desk.
"Damn. Must have been some good shit, from the looks of you."
"I feel good," Bella admits. She suddenly realizes that the pot worked - she actually forgot about Edward for a little while. But now that she has thought of him, and looked at her watch, she is beginning to wonder and worry about him, despite the marijuana's calming effect on her nervous system.
She's grateful when Mike returns with her punch. She is thirsty, but mostly she's anxious for something else to help obliterate thoughts of what Edward might be doing right now. She chugs down half the glass in a few hasty gulps.
"Whoa, slow down there, slugger!" Mike warns her, his blue eyes round with concern. "It's early - better pace yourself."
Bella scowls, and Riley laughs.
"She's a big girl. She can take care of herself," the latter says, giving Bella an encouraging squeeze on the shoulder.
"That's right," she agrees. Didn't she just say the same thing to Edward earlier? And he'd given her that same disapproving stare that Mike is leveling at her right now.
She grimaces and drains the rest of her cup, then shoots him a defiant look.
"I'm ready for a refill," she announces, handing Riley her glass. He chuckles and trots off to the juice-filled garbage can, while Mike and Jessica gape at her like she's an alien.
She smiles with satisfaction and waits for Riley to return with her next cup of oblivion.
# # # # # # # # # #
"What the hell?" the gorilla sputters after his girlfriend's assault.
"You keep your filthy hands off of him!" Sylvia screeches at the brunette.
"You're a fine one to talk!" she snaps back. "The minute I turn my back, you mack on my man? Where the hell do you get off?" She is squared off across from Sylvia, hands on her hips, barely-covered boobs heaving with indignation.
"He was my man way before he was yours," Sylvia declares. "If you know what's good for you, you'll step off before I really get pissed."
"Me, piss you off? Are you effing kidding me?" Cleavage-girl turns to the gorilla. "And you! I leave you for five minutes and you go off with the first woman who throws herself at you? This is what I mean to you?"
"Give it up, Monica," the gorilla says wearily. "You can drop the act. The jig is up, okay? It worked. You're off the hook. Off the clock. Whatever you want to call it." He adds to her as an aside, "You hit me, for chrissakes! That was not part of our agreement."
Sylvia's brows furrow. "What are you talking about, David? 'Off the clock?'"
The gorilla's mug is sheepish. "Monica isn't really my girlfriend. She's just pretending."
Monica gives him a warning look, like he's made a mistake, admitting this.
Sylvia's eyes narrow. "Pretending," she repeats. "And why would she do that?"
The gorilla hangs his head. "Because I paid her to. To make you jealous."
Sylvia stares at him, then abruptly bursts into laughter. "No wonder she looks like a hooker!" she gasps between giggles, then turns to an annoyed Monica and adds, "No offense."
"Go ahead and laugh," the gorilla retorts. "It worked, didn't it?"
"Yep. It did," she agrees, still grinning. "I'm just laughing 'cause great minds think alike, baby. You know that guy I came here with? Brick?"
"I thought you said his name was Brock."
"Yeah, whatever. His real name is Edward."
"The pretty boy? Yeah, that fits. He doesn't seem like your type."
"He's not. But he is Heather's type. And you should have seen her face when I walked in with him. She's been eating her fucking heart out all night. Just retribution, if you ask me."
"So, wait. You're saying you hired him, too?" The gorilla is equal parts incredulous and elated.
Sylvia nods, and the two share a kind of conspiratorial shame over their actions.
Monica pipes up then. "Isn't that him, over there?" She points at Edward, and they all turn to look at him where he lounges on the bench some feet away. He grins and raises his glass.
"Shit. You've been out there this whole time?" Sylvia exclaims. "Why didn't you say something?"
Edward shrugs. "It seemed rude to interrupt."
Sylvia rolls her eyes, Monica laughs, and David looks him over with an air of judgmental superiority. Edward rises from the bench and goes to introduce himself, and they all indulge in a phony sitcom-style laugh over the zany antics of the evening. The gorilla and Sylvia finally thank their paid escorts, bid them good-night and go back to the party.
Monica and her cleavage turn to Edward, eyeballing him appreciatively. "Well, the night is young and our work here is done. Wanna get a drink?"
Edward's smile is polite, but thin. "Thanks for the offer, but I have something I need to take care of." He pulls his phone out of his jacket and waves it in explanation.
Monica shrugs and tells him she'll be at the bar, if he's interested. Edward checks for messages, then frowns because there are none. He speed-dials the same number again and mutters anxiously under his breath.
"Come on, Bella. Answer me."
# # # # # # # # # #
Bella has never been the life of the party before. But apparently Pot +190-Proof Grain Alcohol = A Very Funny Bella, because she has just told some silly story that has everyone laughing. This is fun, she thinks. But she wishes she could remember exactly what she said.
"I think you should switch to water or soda for awhile," she hears Jessica say in her ear, though she is having trouble focusing on her.
"Good idea," Mike chimes in, then disappears, ostensibly to get something innocuous for her to drink. He appears very shortly, red cup in hand, but this time it contains only water. He and Jess encourage her to drink all of it down, though she is feeling very full.
"I have to pee," she announces afterward.
"I'll go with you." Jess takes her arm and helps her up, and she is surprised at how difficult it is to simply walk a straight path through the room and down the hall to the community bathroom. She has the same trouble once she is in the stall. The toilet-paper roll has taken on a strangely vivid and surreal appearance as she yanks on the paper and watches it unfurl like a party streamer in her hand.
"You are so funny when you're drunk," she hears Jessica's disembodied voice float from under the adjoining stall. "Like I'm so sure that you hired an escort to take your virginity. Where did you come up with that one?"
Bella's stomach turns violently. "What? What are you talking about?"
"That story you just told about giving up on guys our age and hooking up with a male prostitute instead. That was hilarious. You made that fantasy guy sound really hot, though. I don't blame you for wanting to make up a perfect first time. God knows my first time last year with a drunk guy in a frat house was anything but."
Bella has just enough sobriety left in her to be horrified. How could she have blurted out something, anything, about her night with Edward? - the most cherished, and private, night of her life thus far. She cringes and rubs her face in her hands, wondering how much she revealed. At least no one seemed to take her seriously, right?
"Are you okay in there?" Jessica's voice is now further away, near the sinks. Bella hears water running, then towels being yanked from the dispenser. "I can hold your hair if you're going to barf."
"No, I'm fine," Bella lies. She stands up and thinks that maybe she will turn around and hurl, but then the feeling subsides.
She makes her way to the sinks while Jessica shakes her head sympathetically in the mirror.
"You are going to be so sick tomorrow. It'd be better if you'd just puke up some of that punch right now."
"I'm fine," Bella insists with a scowl, drying her hands.
"Okay, whatever. You need to drink more water, though. Let's get you another glass, okay?"
Bella nods and begins to follow Jess out the bathroom door when she hears a tinny, musical sound.
"My ears are ringing," she laments.
Jess rolls her eyes. "I think it's your phone."
"Oh." Bella stops to think where she has left her phone, then remembers that she always puts it in her back pocket when she doesn't carry a purse. She fishes it out and looks at the number, and her stomach reacts once more.
"Edward?" she answers tentatively.
"Bella! Thank God. I've been worried about you. Why haven't you answered my messages? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm great," she says, trying very hard to sound normal, though right now she's not sure what that sounds like. "I'm sorry, I'm at this really noisy party. Is everything okay?"
"I don't know. You tell me. You sound weird. Are you drunk?"
"Yeah, just a little," she lies. "I'm drinking water now. I'll be fine."
"Where are you?"
"Just at a dorm party. Remember, you said I should be going to those, right?"
"McCarty. It's right across from my dorm, McMahon. It's no big deal. I'll make it home fine, if that's what you're worried about. Mike will probably walk me there if I ask him."
She's not sure, but it sounds like Edward's voice is growing more strained with every question he fires at her.
"My high school boyfriend. He just transferred here this year so he threw a dorm-warming party. Dorm-warming. . . Damn, that's hard to say. Try to say that five times fast!" she exclaims with a giggle.
"Don't go anywhere. I'll be there in fifteen minutes," he orders.
A thrill shoots through her despite the heaviness she feels in her bones. "You don't have to do that, Edward. I'll just go home and sleep it off. Edward. . . ?"
She listens for his reply, but he is already gone.
# # # # # # # # # #
Edward is trying not to panic. It does no good to panic. But Bella didn't sound merely drunk. He is positive she's ingested something else, and he's determined to find out what it is. If one of those idiots dared to slip anything into her drink. . .
He hurries through the hotel with as much grace as he can muster, calling ahead to the front desk to bring his car around. He is shanghaied briefly by the amorous attentions of Heather Mears on his way past the ballroom, but he begs off as politely as he can under the circumstances and races to the lobby.
He is seething as he drives. He knows the UW campus well enough, having been to a couple of parties in the vicinity before; and he accompanied Alice for orientation last year. Parking will probably be a bitch, but he'll figure something out. He won't rest until he sees for himself that Bella is okay.
He hopes he's overreacting, and she's just imbibed too much. He suspects she might be stoned too. He hopes that's all it is. He can't consider the more harrowing possibilities.
He's angry that Bella's friends have let her get so wasted, but he knows his irritation goes further than that. In truth, he's mad at himself for letting her turn his world upside down in the space of one measly week. And he's pissed at her for making him care so much.
He's still not sure how she did it. Why her? What's so special about her? She's pretty, but no bombshell. Smart, but infuriatingly naïve and foolish at the same time. She's reckless. Immature. She will be nothing but trouble for him.
But she sees into his soul like no one ever has before. And he sees hers. Pure, good. Untainted.
Yet he still thinks to himself, This is crazy, as he pulls into a public parking garage near campus. She's making me nuts, showing up at a college party still dressed in a suit, like some lame, overprotective older brother come to drag her away from her no-good hoodlum friends.
"You're a fucking idiot," he mutters aloud to himself as he strides out of the parking ramp, loosening his tie and removing his jacket as he goes. But he rolls up his sleeves and keeps on walking, following the signs to McCarty residence hall.
# # # # # # # # # #
Bella is sleepy now.
I'll just lie down a minute, she thinks, so she weaves down the hall, back to Mike's room. She climbs into his unoccupied bunk bed and rests her head on the pillow. This is the last thing she remembers, until she hears loud voices shouting into her face to wake up. Hands are grabbing at her, pulling her out of the bed. She protests feebly, telling them that she just wants to sleep now. But she hears Mike's voice, closer than the others, saying that he's going to walk her home now so she can sleep in her own bed.
She woozily agrees that this is a good idea, and she feels herself propped up by warm hands and arms on both sides. She is able to focus enough to see that Riley is helping Mike, and they have a firm grip on her as they pull her to her feet.
The room spins, and she thinks she might be sick; but then everything steadies, and she feels better now. They ask if she is able to walk, and she scoffs, "Of course!" Her feet don't want to cooperate at first, but they eventually find a rhythm with Mike's and Riley's, and the three make their way to the elevator. Once inside, she sags against the wall and closes her eyes. Her stomach lurches upward as the elevator descends, but once it opens to the first floor, everything settles again, and she's good to go, she thinks.
She feels better when they are outside in the cool night air. She is able to walk pretty well on her own then, rather than being dragged or carried by the boys on either side of her. She's getting her bearings, though she still feels strange. She hears Mike mumble worriedly about the campus police. Riley replies that he thinks they won't get busted as long as they keep Bella walking a straight line.
She's vaguely offended by this, but too tired to protest. Instead, she gamely allows them to guide her down the sidewalk. They're just about to take a short-cut across the grass when she hears it.
Honey. Molasses. Her name sounds as sweet as syrup, ringing clear as a bell through her drunken stupor. A relief so profound and complete washes through her that she feels as though she might collapse.
"Edward," she manages to slur. She looks over, and there he is, approaching with the grim determination of a knight in shining armor.
"Do you know this guy?" Mike asks her warily.
Bella can only nod and grin stupidly.
"Is this your brother?" Riley asks worriedly, looking up into Edward's snarling countenance.
"She's an only child," Mike informs him.
"He's my broker," Bella says with a grin.
Edward's face relaxes slightly, and he manages a twisted half-grin at her in return.
"I'm a friend," he tells the two college boys. "I'm here to take Bella safely back to her room."
Mike still looks distrustful. "I'm her friend, too. And we were doing just fine getting her home."
"Some friend," Edward shoots back. "I think you've done enough already." His venom hits the mark, and Mike shrinks back slightly.
"Bella, do you want to come with me?" Edward asks, holding out his hand.
She works hard to focus both of her eyeballs on that beautiful, long-fingered hand, and she remembers the first time he held it out to her. He made everything okay then, and he will now.
"Yes," she says, with as much conviction as she can muster.
She reaches for his hand, and he grabs hers tightly. He pulls her away from the two boys, who let go with reluctance. She takes a couple of stumbling steps forward as he grips her shoulder firmly with his other hand. She smiles up into Edward's severe features, made even more striking by his glower of concern for her under the moon's rays.
"My dragon slayer," she murmurs.
And then, the bile finally rises and she is sick, all over Edward's shoes.
A big thank-you to whoever rec'd The Agreement on one of the Facebook forums this week! I wish I could have read it, but I'm a closeted fic writer so I don't use my FB account for anything Twi- or fic-related. You can find me incognito on Twitter, though. :-)
As always, thanks to everyone still reading and reviewing - I appreciate your support so very much. I fear I may have lost some of you due to the recent lack of citrus, but I can assure you that the drought will end in the near future. ;-)