Always a Bridesmaid
Chapter 3: Oh, Danny Boy
The rest of the spring flew by in a haze of exams. Then it was summer and I worked long hours with Mike over at Newton’s. In my spare time I hung with Alice, when she wasn’t with Mike. Edward and Emmett were taking summer courses, so they stayed at school.
Emmett and Rose made it up for a few weekends, but Edward was only in Forks over the Fourth of July weekend. I was working overtime at Newton’s and was sad that I missed seeing him. I only saw him in passing when I went to the fireworks with Alice and a group of our friends. I knew that if I saw anymore of him, it would probably just depress me. Edward only seemed to get better with time, or maybe that was my sick obsession talking.
When we went back to school in the fall, Alice and I moved into an apartment. I got a job at a bookstore and Alice started planning for a semester abroad. It was a Cullen thing, they had all done it. Carlisle and Esme had both gone to England; Edward had spent a semester in France while Emmett had gone to Germany. When Alice started working on her application, she encouraged me to apply as well. I figured it couldn’t hurt. Charlie told me he couldn’t afford more than my regular tuition, but he’d make it work if I got a scholarship to cover the rest.
In the end, I’m pretty sure the scholarship that I actually received was a private donation from one, Carlisle Cullen. But no one was talking. They knew better than to ever let me or Charlie find out for sure, otherwise I’d have been washing their dishes and cleaning their silver to pay it back.
At any rate, the registrar informed me that not only had I won a scholarship, but I had been awarded my first choice of programs and was going to Ireland. Alice couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to go somewhere warmer. I raised an eyebrow and asked her if she’d ever seen me with a tan.
So I picked up extra hours throughout the fall and studied my travel guide of Ireland, preparing for the adventure of a lifetime. Alice was going to Barcelona, Spain, for an International Business program. It would be the longest that we had been apart since elementary school, and we were both feeling a strange mixture of excitement and fear about our trips. We knew it would be fine, but also that we’d be spending a fair amount of Skyping and messaging to keep in touch.
I talked with Esme on the phone a few times, asking what I should pack and what wouldn’t make me look American. Alice had tried to be helpful, but her answers to everything was, “Black heels and Prada. You can’t go wrong.” Somehow, I felt the need for a second, more sane, opinion.
Emmett lectured us on safety and made us practice self-defense moves. Rose told us to have fun and Carlisle told us to call if we needed anything at any time. My dad sent me a pre-paid Visa card with an extra $200 that I hadn’t expected. Before I knew it, I was getting on a plane, with a group of students from across the United States, heading for Paris, then Dublin,.
I was exhausted when we finally made it to the hotel. We weren’t staying in a dormitory because our group would travel to a new city every ten days. It turned out that I was rooming with a girl named Makenna from the University of Chicago. She was nice and reminded me a little of Rose. She was very up front about planning to hook up with some Irish guys during our trip, but assured me she wouldn’t bring them back to the room. It was kind of an eyeopening first meeting, but I had to appreciate her honesty.
The seminar we were were going to take was called Race, Religion and Conflict in Northern Ireland. We had a weekend to acclimate ourselves with Dublin, and Ireland as it was, before classes started on Monday. The first night there, we attended a mixer intended to help us get to know the other Americans on the trip as well as some local students who would serve as our tour guides and cultural liaison’s. We started at a restaurant with a sampling of Irish favorites and a lot of Guinness and Smithwick’s beer. Eventually, we made our way through several pubs in the Temple Bar district of Dublin.
Makenna and I had made friends with the girls rooming across the hall from us and we spent most of the evening with them. It was fun, chatting and eyeing some of the guys on our trip – as well as the Irish lad’s who seemed ten times cuter than they probably were because of their lilting Irish accents. I remember warning Makenna that we were seeing things through Irish beer goggles, which I told her were stronger than American beer goggles. After that, things got hazy.
The next morning there was a loud knocking on the door. Maybe it wasn’t that loud, but it sounded like someone was beating a drum in my head. I had no idea how we’d made it back to the hotel and began trying to piece the night together in my head.
Makenna stumbled to the door and yanked it open. “What?” she rasped out.
“Coffee?” a deep voice said.
I couldn’t really see who was out there from where I was, but it was obviously a guy. I quickly pulled on the sweat pants I’d taken off, or never put on, I wasn’t sure, that were on the floor by my bed. I pulled my hair into a ponytail while I glanced at the clock and saw it was already 10 a.m.
“Sure,” she said slowly, “but why?”
“Because I walked you back here last night, and I know you need it.” He chuckled. “Morning, Bella,” he called. He had somehow gotten past Makenna and was walking towards me grinning and holding out a cup of coffee that my mouth was watering for.
“Um, hi,” I managed, reaching for the coffee with one hand and absently scratching my head with the other, wracking my brain for his name or some recollection of him. He’d been at another table during dinner, but that was about all I could come up with.
“Riley Biers, from Notre Dame,” he said quietly before going to sit down in the desk chair and sipping his own coffee. “You don’t remember, do you?”
“Ummm.” I glanced at Makenna, who had climbed back onto her bed and was sitting against the headboard drinking coffee with her eyes closed. I thought she might have been asleep again. “Not really,” I said with uncertainty, even though I was certain I didn’t.
“I figured.” He laughed and pulled a yeast roll out of a paper bag that he’d carried in with him before holding the bag out to me. “You two were tanked last night; so was my roommate, Collin. He’s dead to the world still.”
I grabbed a roll from the bag and carefully picked it into small pieces, eating slowly. I kept my eyes down, but asked, “Did I do anything stupid last night?”
He laughed and it kind of hurt my head. “You got so drunk you don’t remember, so I’d say, yeah, but other than that, no.”
I nodded but didn’t look up, really kind of mortified at the whole situation. I couldn’t believe I’d been dumb enough to get that drunk, let alone in a strange city. Before Riley arrived, I would have been able to rationalize the night away and pretend it hadn’t happened. His mere presence ruined that plan, making me feel a little guilty about my irresponsibility.
There was a snore from the other bed and I looked over to see Makenna’s head fall to the side. I grabbed her coffee and put it on the night stand. Shaking my head, I moved to sit in the wing chair in the corner without really looking over at Riley.
“Bella,” he said quietly, “I wasn’t going to let anything happen to you girls. There were a few of us there that were pretty sober, we were watching out for the other Americans.”
I nodded again, finally looking up at him. He was cute, really cute. He had blond hair and a muscular body. He looked like a swimmer with long arms and legs, and he had a big hand around his coffee.
“I’m not like that,” I said quietly, “I don’t usually…God, Emmett would kick my ass.”
He smirked. “Boyfriend?”
“No,” I laughed, “my brother, sort of.”
“Ah. Well, those are good to have.” His smile kind of put me at ease as he continued, “So, although you don’t remember, you agreed to lunch and a walk with me today. How do you feel about that in the harsh light of day?”
I swallowed some roll and gave him a small smile. “Do you know your way around the city?”
“No, but I’m good with directions. I figure if we can’t read a map we’ll just grab a pint and ask for directions.”
I groaned at the mention of beer.
“Okay, well, maybe I’ll grab a pint and you can have some tea,” he chuckled.
His eyes lit up when he smiled and his laugh made me want to smile, too. Bringing the coffee had been pretty sweet as well. “All right, let me shower and check my email, then we can go.”
“Great,” he said, grinning. He sat forward and grabbed the empty paper bag off the end of the bed, wadding it up and shooting it into the waste basket like a free throw. He laughed and waggled his eyebrows at me when he made the shot. “Meet you in the lobby in say, an hour?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” We both stood and I walked him towards the door. “Thanks, Riley, for taking care of us last night and, I guess, this morning too.”
“No problem, Bella. I’ll see you in a little while.”
In that first week in Ireland, I fell head over heels for him. As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry about Makenna sleeping with half of the population of Ireland, either. While I was busy getting to know Riley, she was falling love with his roommate, Collin. When our group moved on to Gallway, I slept with my head on Riley’s shoulder during the long bus ride. Halfway through our week there, Collin and I switched rooms after we decided it was ridiculous to pretend we weren’t couples.
The trip was amazing and not just what we learned in the classrooms. We managed to learn Irish slang and common courtesies. If someone said, ‘Top of the morning to ye,’ you should reply with, ‘and the rest of the day to you.’ Well really, it was supposed to be ‘to yerself,’ but that just sounded wrong coming out of my mouth. I also quickly realized that crack meant something totally different in Ireland. A waitress laughed and explained to us that people were really saying craic, which basically meant anything fun – not a kind of cocaine. I was thoroughly enjoying seeing the world from a different perspective and truly beginning to appreciate what we had as Americans, as well as question some of our expectations and beliefs. I fully understood why Carlisle had told me that everyone should travel abroad at least once in their life.
By the end of our six weeks, I felt like I had been embraced by long lost family and found my second home. Well, third if you counted the Cullen’s house. At any rate, I was having a horrible time facing the fact that I had to leave not only Ireland, but also Riley. I was heading back to Seattle, while he was going to South Bend. The idea of trying a long distance relationship was frightening, but we didn’t want to say goodbye, either.
The best thing about Ireland was proving to myself, and everyone else, that I could survive on my own, even without a Cullen in the same country. Okay, yeah, Riley had saved me that first night and you could argue that it was pretty much the same thing. I chose not to though, and I felt stronger because of it. In fact, on our last night together, I told Riley that I didn’t want to make any decisions. I wanted to go home and see what happened. It wouldn’t be so bad. In addition to talking on the phone and Skyping, we could visit each other over school breaks. Ultimately, I didn’t feel the need to throw away what we had before we gave it a chance.
During her six weeks in Barcelona, Alice had gone through some major changes as well. She had broken up with Mike and scheduled a stop in Texas on her way back to Seattle. She had a new boyfriend who she referred to as her soul mate, Jasper. If I hadn’t seen them together over Skype I wouldn’t have believed it, but seeing them was like watching a couple who had known each other for years. They finished each other’s sentences, he knew what she meant with just a look, and she gazed at him as if he was her whole world. It was clear that, within weeks, Jasper knew Alice better than Mike ever would.
Alice and I both had another year before graduation, while Jasper only had one semester left. By the time Alice got home from Texas, he was planning to move into the spare room at Emmett’s house and find a job in Seattle. He wanted to work for a year or two before getting his MBA, but he wanted to know where Alice was going to be before he made any major decisions.
What Jasper had done for Alice was astounding. Before she met him, she had been a Business major with thoughts of how she could help Mike with his family’s business. She had dreams of franchising Newton’s along the Olympic Range and beyond, but not after Barcelona, and not just because she’d broken off with Mike. Jasper had made her see what we’d all known for years. Alice would be wasted on Newton’s, and honestly, on Mike. She needed to have her own business somehow connected to real fashion, not hiking gear and camping equipment. She could design it, sell it or both; but she needed to be in charge and at the head of the creative team. And there was little room for that in Forks or Newton’s.
Alice and I took summer classes, mostly so we didn’t have to sublet our apartment or move out for ten weeks only to move back in somewhere else. We liked our apartment and the location, so we renewed our lease and promised our parents that we would make it home to visit several times over the summer.
Alice was more than a little relieved to learn that Mike was not staying in the city. I had never imagined that he would, but in the three weeks before he went back to Forks, he made our lives hell. It turned out that he had only taken their long distance break up well while Alice was away. As soon as she made it home, he was camped out at our doorway, begging her to come back to him.
Alice very bluntly told him that it was over and slammed the door. I had to sit down with him at a coffee shop around the corner to break the news to him that she was dating someone else. At first he didn’t believe me, and then he realized she’d met someone on the trip who didn’t go to U-dub. I felt kind of bad for him, since I was all too familiar with the feelings of rejection and heart break, but in the end, I knew that Mike had done this to himself. He’d pushed Alice into being someone she wasn’t and compromising what she was capable of. It had only been a matter of time before their teenage romance ended. I think they were the only ones who hadn’t realized it.
I took almost a week off and visited Riley in Chicago for the Fourth of July. He took me to see the landmarks: the Sears Tower, which he refused to call the Willis Tower even though that was its new name, Navy Pier, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago River. We stayed the night at his parents’ house in the suburbs before going to his cousin’s wedding. It was like a mini-trip back to Ireland without leaving Chicago. His uncle sang Danny Boy during the ceremony and they had Guinness on tap at the reception.
A little hung over the following morning, we drove back to his apartment in South Bend for the rest of my stay. I got to meet some of the friends he’d told me about in Ireland and see where he spent his days. It was strange Skyping and talking on the phone with him when we got back to the States. We had basically lived together in Ireland but we’d never been to each other’s apartments, or met each other’s friends. We took our time walking around Notre Dame’s campus. He showed me Touchdown Jesus, the Golden Dome, and the Grotto, which was a replica of the grotto at Lourdes,France where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. Mostly though, we huddled in his bed hiding from the outside world, trying to reconnect.
While in the Midwest, I apparently missed Edward’s only trip home for the summer. Rose mentioned that he asked about me, and Emmett had laughed, saying Edward had also asked about Mrs. Cope from the high school office. Normally, Rose’s words would have warmed my heart and made me overly excited. I would have gotten my hopes up wondering what it really meant, but this time, it didn’t seem to matter. I realized that Edward had known me forever, and it was normal for him to ask where I was when everyone else had made it home for the weekend. I didn’t know when it had happened, but somehow I had miraculously come to a relatively healthy acceptance of my relationship with Edward. I was happily, or more like contentedly, dating Riley, even if it was from across the country.
Then we all went home over Labor Day for Angela’s wedding, and my carefully constructed reality began to crumble.