Always a Bridesmaid
Chapter 1: Small Town
Forks, Washington was a small town. When I say small town, I mean it was a really small town. It was the kind of place where you probably dated one of your friend’s ex-boyfriends, because there just weren’t that many people to go out with. You probably dated friends’ brothers, too. Or, if you were me, you thought your best friend’s brother was the hottest guy on the planet, but he had called you Belly for as long as you’d known him and saw you as an extra little sister. In short, for me, growing up in Forks sucked.
I had been best friends with Alice Cullen since the summer before we started third grade; the same summer she moved to Forks. She and her brother, Edward, the aforementioned Belly-caller, had been adopted by Doctor Carlisle Cullen and his wife, Esme, after their parents died. Their dad was Carlisle’s brother, Randall. He and their mother had sent the kids to Forks for a long weekend while they celebrated their anniversary. When they were hours late to pick the kids up, Carlisle had a friend in the Seattle Police Department go check on them. They had died of carbon monoxide poisoning from an unknown gas leak, asleep in their bed.
It had been all the town talked about for weeks. When the dust settled, Alice and Edward had simply stayed in Forks and been adopted by the Cullens. What made for an even crazier situation, was the fact that they had just adopted Emmett McCarty less than a year before.
After Esme had been through several miscarriages, they had begun to consider their options for adoption or becoming foster parents. One night, after working close to forty hours in the emergency department, Carlisle treated a boy, who appeared to be twelve or thirteen. He had a bad case of pneumonia and what turned out to be jungle rot in his feet. They had been crammed into a pair of soaking wet tennis shoes that were at a least one size too small. Emmett, it turned out, was a runaway who’d left his drug addicted mother after they had been evicted in Seattle. He figured the farther away from the city he got, the more likely he could find someone to pay him for doing odd jobs, and that maybe, just maybe, he’d find people who weren’t so caught up in their busy corporate lives that they might give him a place to sleep and a little bit of food.
Carlisle tracked down Emmett’s mother at a homeless shelter in the city and went through all sorts of red tape to get her to give up her rights and let them adopt her son. Esme had wanted a baby, but she told Carlisle that the minute she met Emmet, she knew that he was meant to be theirs. With the arrival of Alice and Edward, they went from a couple dreaming of infants to a family of five, in less than twelve months. The three children looked nothing alike. They would have never been recognized as siblings based on their physical appearances, but that wasn’t unusual even in siblings who had the same biological parents. What they had though, was a bond between them that was much stronger than many siblings shared, because they knew that life and family, could disappear in an instant.
It’s awful to say I’m glad Alice’s parent’s died, but if Alice and Edward hadn’t come to Forks my life would have been very different. Before I met her, I was always really shy and didn’t have a lot of friends. My best friend before her was Jacob Black, but he lived on the reservation, so we were really only friends on weekends and during the summer. He was a year younger than me and was into things like cars and cliff diving and smelling like a sweaty boy, but our dads were best friends. Jake’s dad was in a wheelchair and hadn’t driven since his accident, and my dad was a cop so he wasn’t very trusting of, well, anyone. Jake and I made the best of it, becoming close friends. We didn’t have a lot in common, but hanging out together was better than being alone, and, in the grand scheme of things, before the Cullen kids arrived in Forks, he was the closest thing to a sibling I had.
When Emmett came to town, my dad made an effort to make him feel at home which, I realized later, was because he wanted to make sure that the Cullens hadn’t taken in a criminal. Em and I spent a lot of time together in the first few months after he arrived. He was four years older than me, but my dad never let us do anything unchaperoned. Emmett was pretty depressed, and we all knew he just needed to be around people who cared about him at first.
When Alice and Edward came to town there was a shift. Alice and I became inseparable since we were the same age, while Edward and Emmett, who were the same age, spent more time with each other. We spent a lot of time together as a group that first summer too—fishing, hiking and making forts. My parents were divorced and my dad worked a lot of strange hours. My friendship with the Cullen kids saved my dad from having to pay the lady next door to watch me, because I was always with Alice. Esme told my dad I was always welcome in their home. My mom wasn’t around to help Charlie either; she lived in Florida with her baseball playing boyfriend. According to her, they didn’t have time for me.
The four of us together were an interesting sight. Alice and I both had light complexions and long dark hair, but that’s where the similarities ended. Alice was thin and angular while I was soft and curvy. Edward and Emmett were also as psychically opposite and you could get. Em was, for lack of a better term, a gentle giant. He was bigger and taller than anyone his age with short dark hair, a kind soul and a ferocious loyalty to those he cared about. Edward was average height, but thin and gangly, with brown hair that turned copper in the sunlight. Alice’s hair did something similar, but it was more obvious with Edward’s shorter cut. Emmett was gregarious and friendly with everyone, which was surprising given his history, while Edward was guarded and thoughtful. Emmett was a great friend, and Alice was my best friend in the world, but Edward … he was something else. He was my kindred spirit, even though he didn’t really see us that way.
By the time school started in the fall, Alice had accepted that I was clumsy, but she refused to allow me to hide behind my shyness. She encouraged me to come out of my shell and though it took years, a decade even, to complete my transformation, I owed it all to Alice. As the years went by, the four of us drifted into two distinct groups. Boys against girls. Young against old. It was a part of growing up and growing apart, but somehow the pull I felt towards Edward never went away.
When I was thirteen, my dad got promoted to Chief of Police. It meant that he worked even longer hours and was never home when I got out of school. Esme insisted that I go to their house, instead of going home to an empty house. Every afternoon that year, I waited in anticipation to see if Edward would come pick Alice and I up to drive us home from school so I could watch him from the backseat and breathe in his cologne.
Alice and I observed everything as Edward and Emmett got older. We wanted to be just like them and were jealous of how late they got to stay out and the fun things they got to do. I spent so much time with the Cullens, I think for a while Edward and Emmett might even have believed that they had a sister named Bella, or Belly. They had no shame in front of Alice or I. They belched, farted, swore and even talked about girls that they wanted to go out with or ‘do’ in front of us. I thought they were so cool, and although I thought Emmett was cute, he was just too huge. And hairy. But Edward … he was the guy that I compared everyone else to. Could they make me laugh like him? Did they make me feel the way he did when he smiled at me? Did I dream about them? The other boys in Forks had nothing on him as far as I was concerned.
Alice and I were in eighth grade the year that Edward and Emmett were seniors. I remember the first day of school that year. We rode in the back of Edward’s Volvo in our new outfits, with our new back packs, ready to face the world. In reality, we weren’t even changing buildings, but we were going to rule the school. At least that’s what Alice kept telling me.
We got out of the car and practically strutted into the building. We looked so much older than the tiny fifth graders who huddled around the stairs, terrified of their first day in the new building. Leave it to Edward to bring us back to reality.
“Ali! Belly!” he called before pulling away. “Em and I have football tonight. Mom is picking you up.”
Belly. I cringed at the name. It had been cute for years; an endearment, even, but suddenly, I hated it.
Later that year, I sat in the Cullen’s living room watching TV with Alice, anxious to see Edward and Emmett come down stairs dressed for the senior prom. I wasn’t supposed to have been there that night, but my dad had dropped me off on his way to an accident scene down by the reservation. Eventually, after Esme called up to them to tell them to hurry several times, Edward and Emmett came downstairs wearing tuxedos. They looked amazing as Carlisle snapped pictures of them, and Esme had tears in her eyes. Emmett wore a black tux with a red vest and tie. He carried a top hat and cane that made us all laugh. Edward was in a similar tux but with a green vest and tie that made his eyes even brighter. I felt butterflies in my stomach even before Edward winked at me. I could have convinced myself it was a moment, but I knew better, especially when he turned and did the same thing to Alice.
The boys headed out in their cars, Edward in his Volvo and Em in his Hummer. They left with a quick wave to go pick up their dates. Their parents split up, Esme going to get pictures of Edward when he picked up Lauren Mallory, and Carlisle followed Emmett to Bree Tanner’s house. Both girls were seniors, and bitches, if you asked me.
When they left, Alice and I began chattering like crazy about what we would wear to our prom and who we would go with. I had a hard time coming up with a name, but Alice understood. She knew that I would pick Edward if I could, but we both knew it wasn’t likely he’d ever be my date for anything; I was just another sister to him.
Thanks to Alice, by the time we got to high school I wasn’t the nervous, shy girl I’d been in grade school. Although, I still wasn’t as popular as she was. Alice was a cheerleader while I was on the debate team. Alice had a serious boyfriend, well, as serious as it could be when neither she of them could drive, and I had never even been kissed. Her boyfriend was Mike Newton, and his parents owned an outdoor adventure store called Newton’s Outfitters. He was kind of a dork, but he thought the sun rose and set with Alice, so I couldn’t really fault her for dating him.
I eventually dated a little in high school, and I even had an off and on boyfriend named Eric Yorkie. He was a year older and had gone off to college in California when he graduated, so he wasn’t an option for prom. When it came down to it, I ended up asking Jacob to go with me. He knew it was just as friends, but he was still excited because it gave him a chance to flirt with girls who didn’t live on the reservation. I had to pay for half his tux out of the money I’d saved working at Newton’s, but at least I had a date. Alice was going to prom with Mike, who by that time drove an Explorer with Newton Outfitter’s stencilled on the side. It was a laughable sight, but since Alice was my best friend, I enjoyed many a Friday night tagging along with them to Port Angeles in that Ford, so I didn’t dare tease him and lose that privilege.
My dad gave me $150 dollars for my dress, but the one Alice swore I had to have cost way more than that. Alice being Alice, she convinced her mother to pay the difference. I don’t think it took much convincing really, since Esme had mentioned several times that Charlie had no understanding of women’s fashion and the cost of beauty.
I got ready at Alice’s, there had really been no question about that. She did my hair and make up; it always looked better when she did it for me. We both wore pink dresses, but as usual with us, they were nothing alike. Mine was a full length, strapless, fuchsia gown with beads and rhinestones covering my assets. Alice had left my hair down and loaned me earrings and a necklace to complete the look.
Her dress was a hot pink, skin tight number. It was short and sexy, with a pleated, strapless top that had a band of rhinestones running right under her breasts. She had cut her long hair off in middle school and wore it in a spiked style. By the time we reached high school it had become her trademark. For prom, she had accentuated it with small streaks of pink and rhinestones that seemed to be magically attached to her hair. Looking in the mirror together, I thought she looked beautiful, but I hardly recognized myself. She had taken my ordinary looks and transformed me into someone like her. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get a million pictures of myself looking like that or to destroy every picture taken that night, so I wouldn’t be reminded of how good I could look with Alice’s help.
Charlie came over to the Cullen’s to wait for Jake to pick me up. Billy was dropping Jake off, and we were riding with Alice and Mike to the Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles. It was a hotel with a sort of rustic theme, and it was one of the few places within the budget of the junior class. The prom committee had chosen the theme “Endless Love.” There was a little waterfall out the front of the Lodge that we could take pictures with and it had every likelihood of being totally cheesy, but Alice insisted that was part of the fun.
We had been getting ready for what seemed like hours, when Esme knocked on the door to tell us that the boys had arrived. She grinned and snapped a couple of pictures of us before she went downstairs to get even more pictures of our big reveal.
Coming down the stairs behind Alice, I lifted my dress and kept my eyes on my feet. I didn’t need to break my ankle before we left the house. I glanced at the group waiting below and faltered for a second, grabbing the railing. No one was surprised by my bobble, but Alice was the only one who really understood.
Standing at the bottom of the stairs, along with our parents and our dates, was her brother, Edward. He had a back pack on his shoulder and was holding a laundry basket of dirty clothes. In an instant, I took in everything about him. His flip flops and board shorts. The tank top that showed off his shoulders and arms. His hair that was always mussed and looked like he’d scrubbed it with a towel. Then I focused on his face, with his sparkling green eyes and mischievous grin.
I tore my eyes away and looked at my feet again as I tried to even out my breathing. I managed to make it to the bottom of the stairs without falling. When I looked up again he was gone, and I wondered for a second if he’d really been there at all, until I heard the washing machine in the hall closet begin to fill with water.
“You look so beautiful girls!”
“Wow, Bells. You look different.”
“Alice, you look great.”
“Bells, that cost more than $150. Didn’t it?”
“You clean up good, Black.”
“Oh, Mikey. My corsage is perfect!”
“Everyone get together for pictures.”
“Now just you two, Bella and Jake.”
“Alice and Mike next.”
The voices all swirled around me and I began feeling overwhelmed, or maybe it was because the only voice I didn’t hear was the one I was desperate for.
When he did finally speak, it was like a slap to the face.
“Ali, Belly! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”
It was worse than opening the door the previous Christmas Eve to the beautiful girl who had come to visit him.
“Hi, are you Alice? I’m Kate, Edward’s girlfriend!”
“No,” I had stuttered, taking in her long, straight blonde hair and her flawless skin. “I’m Bella.”
“Oh. Is this the Cullen’s?”
By then, Esme had come out of the kitchen to greet the girl. I stepped out of the way and stood there watching them in some kind of suspended animation. I couldn’t believe that Edward had a girlfriend. One that didn’t even know who I was. Esme began introductions because Edward was out running.
Then Kate said, “Isa-bella? Oh yeah.” She giggled. “I didn’t realize Bella and Isabella were the same person.”
In that moment, even though my heart was a little broken by her mere presence and status in Edward’s life, I knew I didn’t need to worry about them being together for very long. As Charlie would say, she was as smart as bait.
I couldn’t believe that even as I came down the stairs in a figure accentuating fuchsia prom dress with rhinestone encrusted breasts, Edward still saw only saw me as Belly. A little girl. Definitely not the woman I hoped I was becoming.
I was used to disappointment where Edward was concerned. He was unattainable, and I was well aware of that. My heart just hadn’t gotten the message. Deciding that I wouldn’t let him ruin the night for me, I made the best of prom, smiling for pictures and laughing at everyone’s jokes. It was a fun night and a great way to celebrate leaving high school.
The next fall, Alice and I went to the University of Washington in Seattle. We lived in the dorms, but we spent a lot of time with Emmett at his house. He and Edward had lived together off campus for a couple of years before Edward left for medical school at Duke. Emmett was staying on in the medical program at U-dub, as us locals called it. He’d been dating Rosalie Hale since his sophomore year, and the two of them had already established that they were Seattleites, through and through.
The night before we all headed home for Christmas, Emmett and his new roommate, Tyler Crowley, threw a party. It was crowded and loud, but almost everyone there knew that Alice and I were both considered Emmett’s sisters, so they knew not to mess with us. I left Alice talking to Rose about the latest fashion trends for spring in search of more beer. Rose and I were going to need it if Alice was going to keep talking about clean lines and retro-chic.
The keg of beer was in one of those big plastic tubs on the back porch. I made my way through the house, saying hello to a few of the guys’ friends as well as some of our my floor-mates from the dorms. They totally loved that we had a brother who liked to party. Even if he was officially in medical school, Emmett still partied fairly hard and managed to keep a 4.0 grade point average. I had no idea how he did it.
I stepped out onto the deck and grabbed the tap. My dad taught me to pour beer from a keg when I was about twelve, so I could bring him refills. Jacob’s father liked to have fish fries on the weekends, and he and my dad’s friends drank a lot of beer, so I was sort of a master at the keg. I tilted my cup and watched the flow to see if I needed to give it a pump. My cup was about halfway full when it was suddenly yanked away from me. Beer sloshed onto my hand and someone was yelling in my ear.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“I say again, Isabella, what the fuck are you doing? Where is Emmett?” He pinched the bridge of his nose and looked around frantically. There were a couple of people out in the back yard, probably smoking pot, who were looking at us, trying to figure out what was going on.
“Um. I think Em’s in the house, I was just getting beer for me and Rose.” My brain never worked well around him, and I was blown away that he was standing there berating me, so naturally I’d said the first thing that came to mind.
“You’re getting beer for you and Rose?” he moaned. He looked at me hard, and his eyes got even wider. “Christ. What are you wearing?”
“I don’t know.” I looked down at the v-neck sweater and straight-leg jeans that Alice had set on the bed for me. “Something your sister picked out,” I muttered, embarrassed that he didn’t like it and still trying to process that he was really standing right there in front of me.
He looked sick at the mention of his sister. “Oh my God. Where is Alice?”
“Talking to Rose,” I said quietly, not wanting to upset him any further.
What was he doing there? Where the fuck was Emmett? Thank God he’d called me Isabella and not Belly this time. He shot me an angry look and turned his back on me, going into the house, taking my cup with him. I quickly filled Rose’s cup with beer, then followed him, listening for his voice. Not surprisingly, he was yelling at Emmett.
“What the fuck are they doing here? They’re underage, Em. This is so fucking wrong. I can’t believe you’re letting them drink.” He stood there, breathing heavily, looking hot as hell to me, with his hand buried in his hair, pulling at it a little.
“Edward.” It came out of my mouth as a whisper. I couldn’t stand to see him that upset over something that I’d done. I felt awful. Was he angry with me?
“Dude, Edward. Relax,” Emmett’s loud voice boomed, even though he was unfazed by his brother’s outrage. “You need to stop and think. They were going to go out and party. They did it in high school. Where did you want them to do it here in Seattle? At a frat house … with strangers? You want them to get fake IDs and go to the bar? Somewhere that no one would be looking out for them?” He paused and shook his head. “Every single guy here knows that those are my sisters, and I will fuck them up if they look at them funny. The girls know if either of them has had too much to drink to come find me, which hasn’t happened. They’re good girls, Edward. And they’re growing up.”
“Jesus. Stop being such a tool,” Rose muttered.
Em gave her a dirty look. “Listen,” he lowered his voice, “I’m not buying alcohol for them or their friends. This is it. I know you probably don’t get it, but I’m trying to look out for them.”
Alice had come to stand by my side, her eyes wide. She squeezed my hand, and we waited as the brothers stared at each other until finally, Edward huffed and took his hand out of his hair.
“Jackass,” he said under his breath. “I’m not convinced, but the damage is done.”
He shook his head at Emmett, and the argument seemed to be over. The party seemed to collectively sigh in relief, and everyone went back to drinking and talking. Edward crumpled my plastic cup and looked around the room as if seeing the party for the first time.
His eyes found mine, as I nervously drank the beer in my hand, forgetting that it had been for Rose. His jaw clenched, and he muttered something under his breath before storming off down the hall towards Emmett’s room.
“Fuck me. That was intense,” Tyler said from behind me. In less then a breath his mood changed, and he yelled, “Who wants tequila?”
It had been a while since we’d done shots, but Tyler was exactly right. That was intense. I knew the tequila would be strong, but so were the feelings bombarding me. I figured it was better to not think about any of it.
“I’m in,” I called, following him to the kitchen where he began cutting up a lemon from a bowl on the counter. Alice and Rose were right behind me.
“Oh, tequila,” Alice giggled.
“Be careful, Bell,” Rose warned. She leaned closer and spoke so that only I could hear, “Don’t prove him right.”
I turned and looked at her, surprised by her words. Rose was nice, and she’d become the older sister neither Alice or I had ever had, but this was different; she hadn’t warned Alice. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I nodded as if I understood.
She smiled sadly and put a hand on my elbow. “Someday, four years won’t mean anything.”
“What?” I whispered. Alice was flitting around the kitchen helping Tyler find shot glasses and salt shakers.
“Someday your age won’t matter, and he’ll see you for who you are. Don’t let him make you think less of yourself.”
I scrunched my eyes and the confusion I felt had to have been clear on my face. The look she gave me told me everything. I sighed. “How did you know? I thought Alice was the only one who knew, and I told her when we were like eight.”
Rose laughed. “It’s not that obvious. I think only those of us that know you and Edward can see it.” She shrugged. “I’ve known you long enough to notice little things. The way you pay more attention when people talk about him, how his opinion holds the most weight with you. How you looked like he’d crushed you when he reacted to seeing you drink that beer, which I think was mine by the way.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry.”
I tried to give her the cup and she laughed, holding up her hand. “It’s yours now.”
Emmett joined us in the kitchen, grabbing said cup from my hand, finishing it in one long gulp.
“Edward is sorry, girls. He spent all day traveling after pulling an all-nighter studying, and his panties were all bunched up before he ever saw Bells working the keg.”
Alice came over and put an arm around her brother. “I know he’s stressed out. He’ll be fine in the morning.”
She was so tiny next to him. I mean, she was small in general, but next to Emmett she looked like he could squash her with his bare hands, especially with Rose on his other side. Rose was tall and thin with long blonde hair and both intelligence and wit to spare. She pursed her lips, still apparently thinking about Edward.
“Such a dick.”
“Seriously, he needs to get laid.” Em rolled his eyes, then he seemed to realize what was going on in the kitchen and grinned. “Cuervo?”
“Pouring you one now, big guy!” Tyler laughed.
We lined up at the bar and got set up with salt and lemon slices, Tyler gave a toast in Spanish, “Salud. Dinero y amor.”
“Dinero y amor,” we echoed, laughing, before we licked, slammed and sucked.
The first round of shots should have been enough. The second was because I felt invincible, and the third was because I didn’t want to lie awake all night thinking of Edward. The good news was that it worked. The bad news was that I slept in the bathtub because I thought I was going to throw up. I think it would have been better if I had.
Morning came way too early, and Rose drove Alice and I back to the dorm to shower and get our things. We rode to Forks with her, while Edward and Emmett rode together. Rose dropped me at my house, and our winter vacation flew by. Somehow, the only time I saw Edward was at the annual Christmas Eve dinner with his family. After that, we all returned to Seattle and he flew on to North Carolina.
When we got back to school, I realized that something had to change. I had to stop waiting for Edward to notice me and move on with my life. I took deep breath and asked Alice to set me up on a date.