"Really, I don't need a shot. I'm fine with beer." I gestured to the plastic cup I'd been pretending to drink for the last ninety minutes. "Thanks for asking, though," I said as I subtly removed Mike's hand from my waist. He curled it into a fist and started pounding the table in unison with his friends.
"WE'RE HAPPY, WE'RE JOLLY, WE'RE SHITFACED, BY GOLLY," they chanted. The three beefy frat guys slammed their sixth round of booze together. Ugh. I sighed and looked around the faux-wood-paneled room. What a dump. ScoreKeepers Lounge was all stale beer smell and stickiness underfoot. Fake-ID users couldn't be choosy about their drinking establishments, I supposed.
My eyes were starting to smart from peering across the dim bar while I waited for my roommate to arrive. Angela was my most reliable friend, which was why I'd asked her to meet up with us. Good thing. Mike had been nice in the class we shared, and I thought it might be comfortable to hang out with someone else who knew my hometown of Charlevoix. But now that I was seeing him in his natural environment, I was revolted. Take the hand-on-my-waist thing. Guiding me out of a crowded lecture, it seemed friendly. Now it felt like he was some creep I needed to be wary of.
"I'm going to get another drink," I yelled to Mike over the bar noise. He raised his glass and nodded, then resumed listening to Fraternity Brother Number One's story about somebody vomiting in their frat house piano. Mike: "Dude! No way." FB1: "Way!"
As I navigated through the clumps of students talking animatedly and clogging the room, I spotted Angela coming in the door and headed over to intercept her.
"Sorry I'm late, Bella! I missed the bus, and it's a long walk from the psych lab." She hitched the strap of her bag higher onto her shoulder as she gave me a lopsided grin. "How's your evening shaping up?"
"I'm glad you're here. Turns out the reality of college socializing isn't so glamorous. I've had enough for one evening."
"Are you sure? I mean, I don't mind staying."
"I'm sure!" I laughed. "It's nice of you to offer but—seriously? You'd rather be curled up with Ben and a good book."
Her grin widened at the mention of her boyfriend. "Well, definitely Ben. I don't know about the book."
"Let me just say goodbye to Newton and his frat brothers." I began walking back toward the tables, my head turned toward her instead of watching where I walked. "Maybe we can get a slice of pizza from the Backdoor on our way. I could use some—." A broad, oxford-wearing chest appeared suddenly in my peripheral vision, and I stopped just in time.
"Isabella Swan? Hello." A flash of warmth ran down my spine at the sound of that rich, resonant voice. My body recalled it slightly before my brain did. "Funny that our paths crossed here. You aren't twenty-one for another-"
"Edward! Hello! Uh, this is my friend Angela. We were just leaving, actually." Awkward pause. It would be just my luck if he was texting with Charlie. Underage drinking was right up there with riding motorcycles on the list of activities guaranteed to give my father a heart attack and make him issue serious penalties. I'd missed all the school dances my junior year from St. Patrick's Day through Prom after Charlie caught me riding motorcycles with my friend Jacob. "Are you, uh, here with friends this evening?"
Edward turned to Angela and shook her hand. "Hi, Angela. I'm Edward." I mentally kicked myself for forgetting to introduce him. "Just stopping in for a drink after work," he continued. "My office is near here." He looked a little uncomfortable. "ScoreKeepers isn't the swankiest place, I know, but I like to come by sometimes for the nostalgia. College was a simpler time."
"Oh." I found this tiny hint of information fascinating, like everything I learned about Edward. But I couldn't think of any acceptably intelligent-sounding rejoinder. My cheeks began to heat up as my mind worked frantically, searching for something—anything—to say. Just as I was about to give up and move to the good-bye portion of the conversation, he cleared his throat.
"How are your classes going?" It was a conventional small-talk inquiry. I clung to it.
"They're good. It's a heavy load, but I think I'm going to enjoy my program."
"That's great. Aren't you double majoring? The Business and Fine Arts program, right?" I nodded. I hadn't expected him to remember.
Just then, a large hand pressed between my shoulder blades and Newton leaned down to crowd-shout in my ear. "Did you get lost on the way back from the bar, Bella?" He stood too close, and I could feel heat radiating from him. "The guys and I are getting ready to do a seventh shot! Come back." His big grin disappeared momentarily while he shot an unfriendly look at Edward, but it returned as he grabbed my hand and started pulling me away.
"Wait, Mike! Angela and I were just about to head out."
"No, stay. Or come to the house. We have drinks and tunes there." His face was too animated, the muscles loosened by liquor.
"I don't know, Mike. It sounds like fun but I'm kind of feeling…not well. Maybe another night?" Or maybe the fourteenth of never, I thought as my shoulders started hunching up in discomfort.
"Come on, Bella. It's party night! I'm-a do it right!" He did a little dance as he chanted out the words. Or was he singing? "Ohhhh-what-a-feeling! When-we're-dancing-on- the-ceiling!" He grabbed both my hands in his meaty, damp ones and started a backward shuffle, bobbing his head and towing me along with him.
"Really, Mike, I think I need to pass." Newton, undeterred, spun around and dropped his right arm over my shoulders, dragging me along as he walked. "You can't quit now. This party's just getting started! Yeah!"
I threw an alarmed glance over my shoulder toward Angela. "Help me!" I mouthed. She looked equally alarmed. Her expression had everything to do with the fact that she was no match for a six-foot, 180-pound, binge-drinking male co-ed. I was starting to feel panicky. I didn't know how to extricate myself without causing a scene and bruising Mike's feelings. But all my instincts were telling me to get away from him.
That was the moment those magnetic green eyes reappeared directly in my path. Plus a hand, extended in Mike's direction.
"Edward Cullen. Nice to meet you. It's Mike, right?" Mike's expression switched to annoyance. He removed his arm from my shoulders to shake Edward's hand. I used the opportunity to step back and intertwine my fingers with Angela's.
"Yeah. Mike Newton."
Edward smiled. "Newton? Like Newton Outfitters?
Mike's eyes narrowed. "Yeah. You've heard of it?"
"Who hasn't heard of it?" Edward made it sound like Mike's uncle's store had the profile of a national chain. "Anybody who's ever been to Charlevoix knows about Newton Outfitters." Edward remembered the name of a small-town sporting goods store he'd last visited four years ago? Huh. Meanwhile, Mike seemed to be totally unfamiliar with the well-publicized name Edward Cullen. Oh, the irony.
Mike relaxed a little bit. "So, you know Bella from Charlevoix then?"
Edward gave me a searching glance. I tried using telepathy to let him know I wanted out of this situation. "Sort of. We go way back. Our families have been close for years and she and I have started getting reacquainted now that we're in the same location again."
My heart was racing. I wanted to stay and talk to Edward. I needed to get away from Mike. Angela caught my eye and nodded toward the exits, so I took my chance. "Thanks for tonight, Mike. See you in class." I started retreating quickly but felt Edward's eyes on me and turned. "Edward. I'm so glad we ran into each other." I tried to pour as much gratitude as I could into the words. He had no idea how thankful I was for the diversion he provided.
Unexpectedly, he stepped closer. Had he always looked this beautiful? I couldn't remember. Heart still thumping in my chest, I was now frozen to the spot as he put a hand on my shoulder and leaned in. His breath tickled my ear as he whispered. "Take care of yourself, Isabella. I'll keep Mike talking for a few minutes to assist your escape." I met his eyes. He smirked and I smiled my thanks, and then my feet wouldn't respond even though they had ached to carry me away from Mike just seconds ago. The moment stretched on, without awkwardness. Why did I feel so…happy?
Finally, with a wave to Edward, Angela tugged me loose and headed us toward the door where we almost collided with a stunning blonde. She was scanning the room, searching for her companions, no doubt, and didn't notice us.
"Sorry," she said, glancing at me fleetingly. Then she stood on tiptoe and raised her arm. "Edward!"
The elation of a moment ago was replaced by a queasy feeling settling over my stomach. Of course. It made sense. He would certainly have a girlfriend, and she was as beautiful as he was. With his company's success and that movie-star face, he was a guy who could be with anyone he wanted.
I wanted to kick myself for forgetting: Edward was almost always polite and often kind, but it didn't mean that he really liked a person. He was helpful tonight. I appreciated it. There was no point in thinking beyond that fact, so I willed myself to stop. Then I put on the biggest smile I could manage as Angela and I turned toward the exit. "How about that pizza?"