With Friends Like These…

Somewhere on the East Coast:

Sunday

The email popped up on my screen while I was in the middle of reading the most recent issue of Science.

From: Jessica Stanley

To: Bella Swan, Kate Sumner

6:15pm, EST 01-05-16

Hey girls,

We're going for dinner next Friday at Wine & Friends in Springfield at 8:00. Want to meet us there?

Jess

A small frown formed on my face as I considered the invite. Kate and Jessica were part of my group of friends. Kate is older and had about fifty kids so rarely was able to come out to dinner with the rest of us. Jessica and Alice were the ringleaders of our little group but Jess was normally the one who planned all of our activities.

I didn't dislike Jessica, but I definitely didn't get the warm and fuzzies from her either. There were tons of little things she had done over our three year friendship that were not-quite-snubs but close. I had no idea why I don't think she likes me, but I really don't think she did.

Like… why is my invite all by its lonesome instead of part of an email trail of conversations with Alice, Rose, and Angela?

I know Kate is more on the outside of our group by virtue of the fact that she is just physically unable to join us most of the time, but I'm single. I had plenty of time on my hands, so there is no reason I should be an afterthought.

Quit over-analyzing everything Bella. There is probably a good reason for that email.

Before I had a chance to get all melodramatic, I decided to look forward to getting together with my friends. Dinner would be nice. I could really use a break from the lab.

From: Bella Swan

To: Jessica Stanley, Kate Sumner

Jess,

That sounds like fun! Count me in. I'll see you on Friday.

-B

I put my phone down and got up to fix dinner. I hated cooking for one, but I was the only single woman among my friends. Angela had moved out last year so she could move in with her fiance Ben. I missed having her as a roommate, but it was nice to not have her sickeningly-sweet love life in my face every day. Solitude suited me.

Keep telling yourself that Swan. Eventually, you'll believe it.

Sighing, I set a pot of water on to boil for pasta and started to defrost the marinara I had made last week. Even though I had to eat by myself, I refused to eat crappy prefab dinners. On the weekends, I always attempted to make up a large quantity of various homemade food and freeze it for future use.

After adding the pasta to the boiling water, I contemplated my current group of friends. I had never found making friends to be easy. Even growing up, I usually had one "best" friend and lots of acquaintances. As a very shy, private person, it was easier and more comfortable for me to be open with just one person. Parties and the bar scene just aren't for me. I'm much more comfortable with a good book in my hand than a cosmo. Jess, Angela, Rose, Kate and Alice were all friends from my job. Several years ago, the company had gone through a rapid expansion and had hired hundreds of new people in all different positions. Even though we were hired into very different departments, we met at a new employee symposium, hit it off and had been going out together socially once a month or so for a couple of years.

Angela and I had been roommates for a year after her first lease was unexpectedly cancelled. I had stepped up and offered her my second bedroom when she had been forced to find a place on short notice. It was nice to have her around and I thought we became pretty good friends. I knew I wasn't her best friend, but I thought we were close.

Then why was I the last person to know about her engagement to Ben? She never even told me, I found out after an off-hand remark from Alice...

My position didn't help my social situation. As a scientist in this large corporation, I was surrounded by men, but most were middle aged with their own families. I loved the challenges of my job but being stuck in the lab all day meant that I didn't meet many new people much less younger, single men or female friends my own age.

There is that young, hot new hire that I noticed setting up his lab next door…

Taking a pot-holder, I grabbed up the pasta I had made and took it to the sink to drain. After spooning the sauce over the noodles, I added freshly grated Parmesan cheese. I poured a glass of Pinot and made my way over to my couch. It was way too depressing to eat by myself at the dining room table set for one. I much preferred to watch the news while I ate. Sitting down, I lost myself in the evening news and tried not to think of how lonely I felt.

Monday

I got to work by 7:00 to avoid the morning rush hour. There was so much to accomplish in a day, that I just didn't have time to waste sitting in my car staring at the brake lights in front of me.

As I unlocked my office door, an unexpected noise drew my attention to my left. Oh, boy. Hot new hire man was unlocking the office next to mine. Just as I started to jerk my head back to my own door, he looked up and pinned me with an intense green gaze.

Come on Bella. You can do this. You've been speaking the English language for over 25 years now.

Clearing my throat for good measure, I took a deep breath, stepped toward him and extended my hand. "Hello. You must be the new hire in Peter's group. I'm Bella Swan."

He finished opening his door, then met me to grip my hand. A crooked grin brightened his face, "Yes. I started last week working for Pete. I'm Edward Cullen."

Leaning against the wall, I was suddenly willing to do anything to keep that gorgeous grin on his face. "I saw you setting up next door. I know it takes forever to get your bench set up the way you like, don't hesitate to ask me if you need anything."

"Thanks for the offer. It's great to meet another lab monkey. Never know when you are going to need to borrow a bottle of reagent."

I straightened off the wall and turned toward my open office door. "Well, I'm just next door so ask if you need anything."

With a final smile, we both turned and entered our offices. I fell into my office chair and leaned over to turn on my computer.

Damn, is that man hot!

He had to be a good foot taller than my 5'3". His chaotic reddish brown hair and green eyes almost made you forget about his broad shoulders, trim hips and muscular chest. Ungh.

After checking my email, I opened my eNotebook and started to prepare for the chemistry I needed to do for the day. I grabbed my oh-so-attractive safety glasses and lab coat and headed into the lab to get busy. I pretended that I didn't notice that Edward was already in his lab working to set up his equipment.

I was rifling around in the solvent cabinet listening to Stone Temple Pilots when the sound of a throat clearing made me raise my head. A smile I couldn't stop took over my face.

"Hey, Edward. What's up?" I closed the cabinet and moved to turn my ipod down.

"Well, I was wondering what you were doing for lunch? Do you eat at the on site café? Or outside?"

Is it my imagination or were his cheeks the faintest pink color?

I wanted to squee with joy. "I usually just eat on the run, but I didn't have a chance to pack a lunch today so I was going to go to the café. Want to join me?"

The relieved grin on his face matched the ecstatic smile on mine…

"Let me make sure everything is OK here, I'll meet you at your office in about ten minutes OK?"

"Great. See you in a minute." I admitted to watching him leave. Don't judge, his ass looked great in those slacks.

Like other chemists in the world meeting for the first time, we talked about our respective education on the short walk over to the café. I wasn't surprised to hear he had gotten his Ph.D. at Harvard with a Nobel Laureate and did a post-doc with another Laureate in California. His pedigree was first class.

When we got to the dining area, I gave him a brief tour and arranged to meet up with him at a table by the window. We went out separate ways to get our food before he joined me at the table.

Our conversation flowed readily from the science involved in our jobs, to books, to travel to our families and back to our jobs. At once point, I noticed staff cleaning up the nearby tables. A quick glance at my watch showed me we had been talking for almost two hours!

After we rapidly cleaned up and headed back to our building, Edward caught me by the sleeve on my jacket. As I turned to face him, I noticed his cheeks had that subtle pink tinge to them again.

"I know this is fast, but I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with me this weekend? Maybe Friday, Saturday or Sunday?"

It was all I could do to not jump up and down in excitement. I couldn't help the silly smile that broke out on my face when I nodded my head. "Yes. Yes, I'd like that. Saturday isn't good for me, but I'm free on Sunday."

Edward reached out and tucked my hair behind my ear, "That's great. Sunday it is. I'll get your phone number and address and pick you up at 6?"

"Sounds great, really great."

Tuesday & Wednesday & Thursday & Friday

The next few days flew by. Edward and I worked hard in our respective offices and labs, but our gazes met frequently when we passed in the hall. I also noticed that I seemed to be his go-to person for showing him how all of the shared equipment worked, if he had a question about procedures or software, or if he needed something.

We didn't have a chance to eat lunch together again at the café, but instead we ate a rushed fifteen minute lunch in my office. It was so hard not to get wrapped up in each other. It was obvious to both of us that we found each other endlessly fascinating.

Don't get me started on how freaking attractive I found this man. Wow. I thought I would have to use the safety shower to cool me down after he put his hand on my knee during lunch on Wednesday. What will I feel like if he ever kisses me? Ungh.

Friday night

I was excited to meet my girls on Friday night. I finally had something really exciting to add to the conversation.

Oh, yeah girls. I met this guy and he is AMAZING!

I couldn't wait to share the story of my week.

Because I had so much to do at the lab, I didn't have time to change before dinner like I had planned. Unfortunately, I was not able to wear fancy shoes or skirts in the lab so my attire was never very nice. No one wants to wear something expensive to the lab then that be the one day you spill something or burn a hole in it. Murphy's Law is a bitch.

My black slacks and pale pink sweater would have to do. Edward seemed to like the sweater since it clung to what little curves I had, so walking in I did have more confidence than usual.

I arrived at the restaurant at 8:00 sharp. I looked around and didn't see any of my girls around. Deciding to sit at the front of the restaurant so I could see them when they got there, I found a bench seat right next to the door.

Five minutes.

Do I have the wrong time? A quick check of that email shows I am in the right place at the right time.

Ten minutes.

Did they cancel and not tell me?

Fifteen minutes.

Twenty minutes.

This is ridiculous. I start to get up and gather my things when I hear Alice's tinkling laughter. I look to the parking lot and find all four of my friends walking together.

Angela looks up as they reach the door and sees me. "Hey, Bella. How are you?"

I start to answer but her attention is already back on Rose who is in the middle of some story about her husband Emmett. When Rose is finished, she turns to the hostess and tells her we need a table for five. While the hostess is gathering her menus, the girls turn to me and give me each a brief hug.

We follow after the hostess in a single file line to a round table. I deliberately take a seat between Angela and Alice. I just don't want to sit next to Jess. As we take a seat, the girls chatter about their clothes and handbags. I just bury my nose in my menu.

The waitress comes to take our drink order then leaves as Jess announces, "I am soooo glad that you all could get away for dinner. I've missed us all being together! I can't believe the last time we got together was for my birthday, that was over two months ago!"

Alice perks up, "My birthday is in three weeks, we definitely have to get together then!" She turns her gaze to Rose, "When's your birthday sweetie?"

Rose accepts her martini from the waiter before answering "April." She sips her drink before looking toward Angela, "Your birthday?"

Angela groans before adding, "My birthday is in April too." She takes a drink of her red wine before adding, "Well, we will just have to get together twice in April then!"

Jess leans towards me across Alice who is busy with the waiter and quietly asks, "When is your birthday?"

I manage a thin smile before I softly reply, "Two weeks ago."

Jess doesn't suggest we celebrate my birthday belatedly. Angela obviously forgot about it too.

Saturday

After my less than stellar evening with my "friends", I was feeling pretty sorry for myself on Saturday morning. Our evening ended with them having no knowledge of my date, because no one bothered to ask about what was new in my life. We parted ways with me headed toward my car by myself and the four of them giggling toward Jess' sedan.

I spent the day visiting with my grandfather like I do most Saturdays. He's in the final stages of Alzheimer's so he needs full time nursing home care. As my only living family, I treasure the time I have with him when he knows who I am. Unfortunately, most of the time, he is clueless to my presence much less my identity.

I had never felt more alone.

When I get home on Saturday afternoon, I turned on the kettle to make some hot tea. As I waited for the water to boil, I browsed through my admittedly pathetic social media accounts.

When I got to Facebook, my heart cracked in my chest.

There in brilliant color was a picture of my four "friends" in the city. The caption read, "Having Fun at a Broadway show!" The time stamp showed it was posted just a few hours ago.

Why did they not ask me?

I would have come if they had asked.

They didn't want me to come with them to the show.

Why don't they like me?

Am I not funny enough? Too geeky? Too quiet? Not attractive enough?

What's wrong with me?

I stood on wooden legs and turned off the stove. I shut down my phone and walked on shaky legs to my bedroom. Closing the door, I stripped down to my shirt and panties and crawled into bed. Pulling the covers over my head, I allowed the sobs to overtake me.

Author's NOTE:

I decided to end it there. Maybe I'll write how their date went, maybe not. I'm not sure it's really important. The focus of the story is obviously Bella's friends and how female friendships can make/break your confidence and sense of self.

I wrote this because this happened to me. The birthday conversation happened a few months ago and the email and finding out they went on a big outing without inviting me – all happened this Monday.

I really thought these women were my friends. Obviously I was wrong.