With a Little Help from my Friends

Always a Bridesmaid
Chapter 2: With a Little Help from my Friends

0)~~’~~,~~~

There is a reason why blind dates have the name they do – you go in blindly, not knowing who you’ll be meeting. Unfortunately, sometimes you also leave those dates wishing you were blind – that you hadn’t been witness to the train wreck that had been your personal hell, or the blind date, as it were. Alice had a pretty good record as a matchmaker, but she had completely failed me.

The first guy she set me up with was Peter, an engineering major from California. He lived in our dorm but on another floor. What Alice didn’t know, was that he was a comic book collector. As in, he spent every extra penny he had on them. Now don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate someone having a hobby or a passion for something, but he acted all weird at dinner. Getting him to talk about anything was like pulling teeth.

When Peter finally opened up, he explained that taking me out to dinner was severely cutting into his comic book fund. Apparently, there was a major release coming up and he didn’t want to spend too much on our date. That explained the panicked look on his face when I ordered the baked chicken dish and why he only ordered water and salad. The kicker of the night was when I offered to pay for half…he not only readily accepted, he followed up by asking if I could cover the tip as well. I had several tips I wanted to give him. Instead, I managed to smile and nod with saying anything awful.

A month later, Alice set me up with Garrett, an education major in her literature class who also worked at her favorite coffee shop. She swore was perfect for me. He was two years older than us, originally from Seattle and was a very tall, thin, long-haired hippy type. According to her, he was was into music and had a great sense of humor. In short, he had major potential.

We met for dinner, and he didn’t disappoint. When I got over the initial shock that he, in fact, could be perfect for me, he told me about his plan to hike the Appalachian Trail with his brother. It sounded like an amazing adventure, though one that I could never take myself without risking falling off a mountain. Then, as we talked, I discovered what Alice had missed. This trip he was talking about wasn’t years down the road or after he graduated. Garrett, the slightly granola, yet intelligent and cute guy, was taking a year off from school and leaving for his walkabout the following week.

After dinner, we went for a long walk around campus, talking easily. It was wonderful and sad at the same time. He left me at the steps to the dorm with a peck on the cheek and a promise to call when he came back to Seattle. I was wholly discouraged. We could have had something. There had been an undeniable connection, but in a year, would it be the same? Would he find me? Would he even look? I made my way back to our room and sadly told Alice everything. She fixed me hot cocoa and made me promise to let her try one more time. I didn’t want to, but you couldn’t really say no to Alice, so grudgingly, I told her to take her time and choose wisely.

The weekend after we got back to school from spending Spring Break in Forks, Alice introduced me to James from her Intro to Business Studies class. He was charming, attractive, wealthy – even compared to the Cullens – and, according to Alice, he was tired of meeting girls who wanted to play the field. He told her that he wanted a girlfriend, which scared me a little bit, but it was a big improvement from most other guys I’d met who just wanted to date around. We met for coffee, because no matter how charming he sounded, I didn’t want to lock myself into an entire evening with anyone.

James was all that Alice had promised. However, it turned out he had a strong personality. He ordered the barista around a little more rudely than I would have, but other than that we got along well. He had read some of my favorite books and we easily talked about those. He enjoyed hiking and rafting, and though I had little experience, I knew a lot about it from working at Newtons. He’d spent some time in the Olympic National Forest, so he was familiar with the area I grew up in. We talked about the differences between that area and Seattle, it was nice to joke with someone from the city that seemed to understand we weren’t all backwater hicks.

We’d been there for almost three hours when he said he had to get going. When he stood to leave, he invited me to dinner the next night. Despite the fact that there was something about him that made me uneasy, I agreed. It was like he was trying too hard to make me feel comfortable. I just couldn’t put my finger on it, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to explain it to Alice.

So, at 7 p.m. the next night, I found myself waiting for James to pick me up. I was wearing a little black dress that Alice had forced me to buy and a pair of Rosalie’s very expensive, and very tall, heels. Alice had already gone out with Mike. They were taking advantage of one of the few weekends he actually stayed in Seattle. He went home almost every weekend to help out at the store; his dad was grooming him to take over, that was for sure.

If anything, I should have seen it as a sign when James phoned me from the parking lot, letting me know he was there to pick me up. Silly me, I try to see the good in everyone and just took it as him wanting to be on time for our reservation.

He took me to an Italian place I hadn’t been to yet because it was a little out of my price range. Right off the bat, he was rude to the waitress again and proceeded to tell me what he thought I should order for dinner. It wasn’t so much as a kind suggestion, but a condescending remark on the fact that I wasn’t familiar with the menu. I ordered lasagna, much to his chagrin, like lasagna wasn’t good enough for him. He ordered some Madeira roasted chicken that sounded good, but wasn’t at all what I was in the mood for. I tried to brush it off, a little shocked that this was the same man I had spent several hours with the day before, but I had a sinking feeling.

In the end, the lasagna was the best part of the meal. The conversation never really got going and when it did, he didn’t seem to listen to anything I said. He looked past me to the other patrons in the restaurant with a sort of vacant look on his face. When our meal was finished, I was sure the evening was over. He did not seem to be into me, and for the most part, I didn’t care. He was coming off as an asshole and a completely different guy from our coffee talk. Oddly though, he was still trying to be a gentleman, pulling out my chair and opening the door as we left the restaurant.

He let me into the car, looking down at me with a grin that turned my stomach. I was glad that there would be someone at the front door of the dorms and hoped that I could say goodbye to him in the parking lot. This night was not going at all as I imagined, and then it got worse. He pulled into traffic, then after a few minutes he turned the wrong direction.

“James, the dorms are back that way.” It wasn’t like he didn’t know; his apartment complex wasn’t far from my building.

“I know, I wanted to get out of the city and show you the stars.”

Oh, no. Oh, hell no. I tried to play it cool and forced a smile. “I’m from Forks. I’ve seen more than enough stars in my day. I’d just like to go home, thanks.”

“Oh, come now, just for a minute?”

“I don’t really think so. I’d like you to take me home.”

My nervousness turned to anger when he didn’t seem to be making any effort to head back in the right direction. What James failed to realize, was that I’m a cop’s daughter. All of the lectures Charlie had given me about safety and the lessons from self-defence classes he’d insisted I take, came rushing back. Casually looking for the lock mechanism while he spoke, I slid my arm through the strap of my purse and took a couple of steadying breaths.

We pulled up to a stop light and I moved fast, unhooking my seatbelt with one hand and hitting the unlock button with the other. As soon as the seatbelt clicked, I grabbed the door handle and had my feet out the door before my arm was out of the seatbelt.

He must have slammed the car in to park, because he jumped out and started yelling at me to get back into the car. I ignored him and kept walking, moving as fast as I could in Rose’s heels, towards a diner we’d passed a half a block back. I went straight in and sat at the bar in plain sight of all three customers in the place. A waitress was standing at the far end of the bar talking to a man with a cup of coffee and a plate of pancakes. She looked over and smiled, a hint of concern on her face.

“You okay, honey?”

I looked over my shoulder, but James appeared to be gone. “Fine, thanks. I’m just going to wait here for a ride.” My heart was still pounding and I didn’t want to think about what might have happened if I hadn’t gotten out of his car. What the hell did he have planned?

“That’s fine. You need something to drink? Some pie?”

“I would love a Diet Coke.”

“Sure.”

She turned and got me the soda while I pulled my cell phone out and prepared to bitch Alice out. Her radar, or whatever she used to match people up, was so far off I couldn’t believe it.

I dialed her number and it went straight to voice mail. “Alice, call me as soon as you get this. I need a ride.”

I thought about calling Mike, but they were together, so his phone was probably off or on vibrate as well. I sighed and called my back up plan. He was going to be pissed, but he had sworn to help me in any situation, especially one like this, without any questions. A gruff voice answered on the second ring and I started with my apology.

“Em, I’m so sorry. I hate to do this to you, but my date was an asshole. I need a ride.” It was quiet for far too long. “Shit,” I muttered. “Em? ”

“Bella?”

My breath caught. It couldn’t be. “Edward?”

“Yes. What the hell happened? Where are you?”

“Ummm … I’m at a diner; where’s Emmett?”

“In the bathroom. Are you okay?”

Ugh. Now I was flustered for a totally different reason. “Um. Yeah. My date was an asshole. Emmett said if I ever needed him…What are you doing there?”

“I’m on Spring Break,” he said quickly, then sighed into the phone. “Bells, we’ll be right there. I’m just…How the hell do you get yourself in these situations?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered. Everything seemed to come crashing down on me and I felt my eyes fill with tears. Somehow he knew.

He spoke quietly, “Don’t cry. Tell me where you are.”

“I’m at a diner,” I said stupidly, realizing I’d already told him that. I was so flustered from talking to him and running from James, I could hardly think.

“A diner, where?” he coaxed.

I gave him the address off the menu and heard him cursing on the other end of the phone that it wasn’t a great part of town.

“Hang on,” he said, and then his voice sounded distant as he relayed to Emmett what I’d told him.

“Mother fucker, I’ll kill him,” Emmett yelled. Oddly, that made me smile, but it also scared me.

“Emmett said he wouldn’t ask questions,” I said quietly. “He said he wouldn’t be mad.”

“Shit. He’s not angry with you, Bella. Emmett, shut up, you’re making her cry.”

“I’m not crying.” Well, I was trying not to.

“We’re on our way.” I heard car doors slam and the engine turn over. “Stay on the phone with me?”

“I’m sitting inside a diner with other people, Edward. I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine. Shit. Don’t go anywhere. Seriously, don’t go to the bathroom or anything. Stay there where people can see you.”

“Okay. I’m won’t move.”

“You’re sure you won’t stay on the phone?”

“You’ll be here soon, right? So I’m hanging up.”

“Bella,” he said sounding – I don’t know how he sounded, maybe it was sad? Disappointed? I couldn’t figure out how I was feeling and Edward was confusing me even more. “We’ll be right there.”

“Okay.”

We disconnected and I put my head in my hands. How did I manage to get myself into these crappy situations? Everything had been fine, and then suddenly, it just wasn’t.

“You sure you’re alright?” The waitress was standing in front of me, refilling the Diet Coke that I had guzzled.

“Yeah, my friends are coming to get me.”

“Rough night?” she asked, tidying a stack of menus at the end of the bar.

“You could say that.”

The waitress smiled and nodded, sensing that I didn’t want to talk about it. “Let me know if you need anything.”

“Thanks.”

What I needed was to crawl into a hole and hide. I needed Edward not to be coming to pick me up. I needed Alice to call me back so I could find her and kill her. Since none of those things were happening,I decided to text Alice a cryptic message that her brothers were coming to get me. I knew it would scare the hell out of her, because she knew I was supposed to be on my date with James.

.

About twenty minutes later, Emmett and Edward came rushing into the diner.

“Are you okay?” Emmett started, seeming frantic as he scanned the diner. He found the waitress and turned towards her, speaking in his normal, booming voice, “Is she okay? What happened to her?”

She looked at us in confusion, but he didn’t wait for her answer, just pulled me into his giant bear arms and hugged me. Edward stood back a little, watching us, and I was fairly mortified that he was a part of this disaster.

“I’m fine.” I pushed Emmett back. “I had a shitty date, so I bailed.”

“Good girl.” Emmett was nodding.

“What do you mean you bailed?” Edward’s head was cocked and he had a strange look on his face.

“Um. I don’t know. He was acting weird and I was uncomfortable, so I got out at a red light and ran back here.”

His eyes closed and his jaw clenched. “You bailed,” he said quietly.

“Yes.” I watched him for a second as he took slow breaths, but Emmett spoke before he said anything else.

“Good job, Bella. You did the right thing.”

Edward threw some money on the counter, certainly too much for the Diet Coke I’d had, and we headed for the car. I sat quietly in the back of Emmett’s Hummer as we headed home. He loved the giant thing, said it was the only vehicle that didn’t make him look like a Big Foot, and he was kind of right.

My cell phone rang, bringing me out of my wandering thoughts. Alice. Finally.

“Hey. I’m all right. I’m with your brothers,” I said before she could unleash her panic.

“Ohmygod, B. I just got your message and then your text! What the hell happened?”

“I’m not really sure. James was like a different person tonight. He was totally arrogant and full of himself.” I tried to talk quietly to tell her the rest. “Then when we were driving home, he turned the wrong way and said he wanted to take me out of the city to see the stars. When I said no he didn’t turn around…”

“Give me the phone.”

I looked up to see Edward turned around in his seat looking at me, his hand extended. He was pissed.

“Alice, Edward wants to talk to you.”

I handed the phone to him and listened to him tear Alice a new asshole for having her phone turned off when I was on a date with a ‘strange man.’ He apparently didn’t like my outfit either, because he growled, “And don’t think I don’t know who’s responsible for the dress.” He told her to meet us at Emmett’s and disconnected the call before handing me back my phone.

Emmett said something to Edward that I couldn’t really hear, but I thought it was, “Who’s making her cry now, asshole?”

I sighed and turned to look out the window. I just wanted to go home. I hated that the situation had become such a big deal. All I wanted was a ride. I felt like I’d handled everything pretty well on my own, but Edward wasn’t acting like it. A few minutes later we pulled into the driveway and trudged into Emmett’s house. Rose pulled me into her arms for a hug and I knew she understood. I was pretty sure every woman had gone out with at least one guy that turned out to be a creep.

“Why don’t you head to the bathroom and freshen up?” she asked quietly.

God, I loved her. She knew I needed a minute to myself before they had me repeat the story for Alice. I nodded and went down the hallway, passing Tyler, who just raised an eyebrow at me as I went by.

I went to the bathroom and washed my hands, looking at myself in the mirror. My eyes were a little red but my hair and make-up were fine. I didn’t see what was wrong with my outfit. The black dress looked nice. It fit well and went almost to my knees. I sat down on the edge of the bathtub behind me, staring into the mirror, but not really seeing myself anymore. What had James seen that made him think he could take advantage of me? What had Edward seen that he disliked so much? I just didn’t get it.

There was a knock on the door and I figured it was Rose or Alice, so I told them to come in. When the door opened, it wasn’t either of them. It was Edward. I sat there, looking up at him, not sure what to say, as he closed the door behind him. He squatted in front of me, brushing some hair behind my ear.

“Are you okay?”

I nodded.

“Jesus. You scared me.”

My eyes got wide, surprised that he would say that. It wasn’t the emotion that I’d read from him at all. “I don’t understand,” I muttered.

“What?”

I shook my head. “I don’t understand. I don’t know why you’re so mad at me. Didn’t I do the right thing? Should I have just let him keep driving?”

“No, God, no. You did the right thing. I just can’t even think about something happening to you or Alice.” He reached forward and cupped my cheek and I think I stopped breathing. “There are some awful people out there and I was imagining some of the things that could have happened to you.”

“So was I.”

He sighed and sat back against a cabinet. He rubbed his forehead before looking up at me again. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t know what he was thinking. It was honestly the most time that Edward and I had spent alone together in years.

“I’m sorry you had to come get me,” I said quietly. “And I’m sorry I ruined your night.”

“Stop. You didn’t ruin my night,” he paused, sounding frustrated. He sighed before he continued, “Isabella, I will always come and get you. Okay?”

I nodded, unsure of what to say to that. We looked at each other for a few more seconds, me biting my lip and Edward watching me with a look I couldn’t understand. Before either of us spoke again, Alice called for me through the door.

“Bells, are you in there?”

She didn’t wait for an answer and pushed to door open, rushing in to hug me. There wasn’t a lot of room in the bathroom, but somehow Edward managed to slip out while Alice was crushing me against her tiny body.

Eventually, she led me back to the living room where I retold the story for her, Mike, Tyler and Rose, just as I thought I would have to. Alice and Rose couldn’t believe how awful James had been or that he’d somehow gone Jeckyll and Hyde on me. Tyler and Mike were impressed with my plan of escape, while Emmett acted like a proud father because he’d always told me, if I was in a bad situation ‘just get out of there and call him.’

Edward hadn’t said much of anything since we’d come out of the bathroom. When I left with Alice and Mike, he hugged me like he’d done million times, but this time he murmured, “Take care of yourself, Belly.”

I walked to the car thinking about everything that had happened that night and why, in that moment, Edward calling me Belly, which usually made me cringe, meant the world to me.

0)~~’~~,~~~

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