When Charlie decided to throw a Christmas party, I agreed without thinking about it. I just assumed I could hide in my room, and they'd all be gone by half eleven. How wrong I was.
I had never been more mortified in all my life. Charlie, and the fifty other people who were here had all had one whiskey too many, and then one extra. There were forty-nine-year-olds dancing. As if they weren't sad enough, being forty-nine and unable to tell you who Zac Efron was, but now they could add dancing to their list of totally lame things that they couldn't do.
Charlie had surprised me. My pleasant, quiet father was now attempting to beat box along to Tupac. He couldn't do it at all, and whoever convinced him to try deserved to be shot. I was as red as the baubles that adorned the somewhat tacky tree in the corner of the room, watching the people that surrounded him. They were crying with laughter, thoroughly entertained, the slightly drunker ones attempting to provide the backing bass.
It was like torture, only this was far more painful to both witness and hear.
I sighed. My back was beginning to pain me; I had managed to sneak over to the corner of the room and was attempting unsuccessfully to blend into the wallpaper by trying to look as small as I possibly could. I was going to be a hunchback by the end of the night.
My plan hadn't worked though. Random middle-aged nosy bat women kept spying me, and tripping over their own feet as they stumbled towards me to interrogate me. They always asked me the same questions, and I always gave the same answers.
"You're Charlie's daughter, Isabella, aren't you?"
Obviously. Because no normal teenage girl would be at a tragic party like this unless absolutely forced.
"Yes, I am. Call me Bella."
"How is school going?"
Absolutely crap, thank you. I fear I may be falling further behind in every subject every day, but I have no one to help me, because I am invisible to everyone in school, which is why I regularly get sat on.
"Oh, fine, thanks."
"I'm sure you've made a load of new friends here, eh?"
Oh, why yes. I like to think of my teachers as my friends. They talk to me, and sometimes they even smile at me. Mr Banner's leer really brightens up my day, let me tell you.
"Oh, yeah, loads."
"And how's the love life? A lovely girl like you is bound to have snapped up a good one!"
Oh, piss off. No one talks to me at school, if you haven't already gathered that, you dumb twit, so I'm hardly going to be swinging off the arm of some gorgeous, tanned and toned boyfriend, am I? Go and feed your husband before he starves.
"Oh, now, I'm not one to kiss and tell…"
That last answer drives them crazy. It makes me sound interesting, like I'm not just as pathetic as every loser at this party, and they're always agog for more information. So I just blush and retreat extremely quickly before they can tell I'm lying and have no substantial evidence whatsoever to back up my statement. Because they can always tell if I stand around too long; I'm a terrible liar. No one is even momentarily fooled, which is why I run away so fast.
When they are distracted by another bottle of whiskey or sherry or whatever, I go back and hide in my corner.
I was such a loser. I was at this party, I had no friends, I had no boyfriend, I was invisible, and stupid. I was a total loser. Even that old guy who was picking his nose over there was cooler than me.
Gah. I was just really glad none of these people who call themselves friends of Charlie's brought no teenage sons or daughters with them to witness my dad's 'impressive' break dancing routine, now underway.
God help me.
And if there were any people from school here, I hadn't seen them, and would probably never see them again. I had no chance of making any friends here at this party.
Eyeing my father attempt to do the splits, I decided it was high time I left the room. I was crippled with embarrassment, and very close to pulling out a conveniently hidden bazooka from the inside of my sock and opening fire on the lot of them, including myself. I raced into the hall, which was thankfully empty. I eyed Charlie's holster, hanging up on its hook, and shook my head, trying to rid myself of the urge.
I went into a trance, my eyes mesmerised by the way the Christmas lights in the hall twinkled off of the tinsel wrapped around the radiator opposite me.
It had been exactly two months since I moved to Forks. It felt like ten million years. Every day was the same, an endless monotony, one day drifting into the other until I couldn't tell which day was Monday and which day was Friday. School was a stressful, surreal blur of faces, voices, facts and figures, colours, shapes, embarrassing moments… nobody paid any attention to me, because I had one of those shy complexes where I didn't speak unless I was spoken to.
When I had first arrived, everyone had stared at me, judged and scrutinised me. I had hated all the attention. A few people talked to me, but once the realised how boring I was, they went back to their own friends and I was left mainly to my own devices. I didn't complain. I liked the fact that no one asked anything from me, and I wasn't required to be cool, or nerdy, or sporty, or beautiful, or anything. I could just be me, and no one paid any attention. And that was OK with me.
I just hated when people sat on me. I don't know why they had a certain blind spot when it came to me; I could just be sitting on the wall outside listening to my iPod and the next thing there's a big huge ass in my face. I yell in protest, and have to listen to the surprised squeak of "Oh, I didn't see you!"
Get glasses. I'm not that small.
Because I moved here in November, trying to catch up had been a bit of a nightmare. I tried to get notes off other people, but I had long since given up on that ordeal. The last time, I was calling Jessica Stanley's name for the ninth time when she said suddenly to the person next to her: "Can you hear something or is it just me?"
Horribly, horribly mortifying, if anyone at all had noticed.
I regularly mortified myself. Sometimes people witnessed it, and laughed, and then promptly forgot about it. I fell over a lot, usually on my face in front of the whole cafeteria, or I tripped over that stupid loose floorboard in the English room for the millionth time, or else I walked into the glass doors of reception, thinking they were open. Just clumsy, idiotic moments like that.
I wondered if it would always be like that for me, at school. If I would always be so invisible, so completely under the radar I wasn't sure if I even counted. I wanted to think that maybe things could be different for me, eventually.
I jumped violently, my head snapping in the direction of the velvety, sexy male voice.
Hello. The most gorgeous guy I had ever seen, was leaning against the wall next to me, smiling shyly. Oh my God. How did I miss this guy, in school, walking around at my party? How could I do such a thing?
My eyes drank him in hungrily, taking in the flop of bronze hair, the green twinkling eyes, the perfect pale skin, and the dazzling crooked smile. I nearly wet myself there and then out of sheer excitement and nerves. I couldn't talk to guys like this. I babbled and rambled and blurted stupid things and their eyes widened and they ran in the opposite direction.
"Hi," I said, my voice an octave higher than usual. "Er, merry Christmas," I added, for some completely insane reason. I blushed and dragged my eyes away from the Sexy Beast, glaring at the tinsel again.
"Yeah, you too," he said, and my eyes returned to him of their own free will. He was grinning at me, and I melted. "I'm Edward Cullen."
"Bella," I stammered, smiling back. My hands were shaking, so I hid them behind my back.
"Did you get dragged here too?" Edward asked, his hands gesturing the hall around us.
"Oh, no," I said, shaking my head. "My dad is the one hosting this debacle. I'm here merely by force, and unfortunate genetic coincidence."
"Oh, I didn't mean…" he said awkwardly, his cheeks tinged with the cutest shade of pink. "I mean, it's a great party…"
Oh, damn, I made him awkward and uncomfortable. Way to go, Bella.
"Edward," I said, thrilling to the way his name sounded when I said it out loud. "Charlie is trying to rap along to Tupac. This is more like a Halloween party. It's shockingly awful."
He laughed. "OK, then. Well, my parents dragged me along. They are currently the ones singing out of tune on the Singstar. If you strain your ears, you can just about hear them over your dad's spectacular rapping."
I blushed a little. "Parents, eh?" I said, quite lamely.
"Totally," he said, in an exaggerated accent, and I giggled.
There was a short little pause, during which he gazed at me and the tight black dress I was glad I squeezed myself into. All the drunken leers I had received from Charlie's friends had been worth it. By all means, leer away at me, Edward. I gazed at him too, and my eyes finally registered what he was wearing.
A navy shirt. With snowmen on it. They were waving at me.
"My mom made me wear it," he said, before I could ask.
"I see," I said, torn between wanting to laugh and hurl.
"So how come you're out here and not joining in with the festivities?" he asked hurriedly, in a very obvious attempt to distract me from his terrible and frightening shirt. He cocked his head to one side in the most adorable way, and I forgot all about the freaky snowmen with their wide eyes and creepy grins. Edward was totally gorgeous. And he looked genuinely intrigued, which surprised me.
"I'm hiding," I said.
"Hiding?" he repeated. "Why?"
"Wouldn't you be hiding if your dad decided he could rap and beat box and dance all in the one go?"
"Touché," he said thoughtfully, looking as though he was trying not to grin.
"How come you're out here?" I challenged.
"I'm hiding too. Plus, I spied you half an hour ago and nearly fainted with relief that there was someone my age I could talk to, and when I saw you sneak out here I decided in a very stalkerish way to follow you. I'm glad I did."
I'm so glad you did too, Mr Sexy Beast.
"Oh," was my excellent and witty comeback.
There was another pause, and we just continued to stare at each other. I couldn't believe he was at my house, talking to me.
"So…" he said eventually. "How are you finding school?"
I groaned, and he frowned.
"That bad, huh?"
"No, it's not that," I sighed. "You just asked me one of the Questions."
"Questions?" He was confused, and quite rightly so. I shouldn't have said anything. No one needed to hear my every thought, yet I still insisted on blurting them out anyway.
"Yeah. How's school, have you made any friends, have you got a boyfriend? I've been quizzed multiple times already by old nosy bats."
"Oh, right," Edward said, his eyes twinkling. "Would you mind me asking you the same questions again? I'm curious now." He smiled lazily and cocked his head to the side again, and I almost forgot where I was. Almost. My dad screeching the words "NO MATTER WHERE I GO, I SEE THE SAME HO!" brought me back to reality again.
"I suppose not," I breathed, unable to find my voice.
"How are you finding school?" he asked again, a suppressed laugh in every syllable.
"Fine, thanks," I said automatically, dazed.
"You don't need to give me the same answer you gave them. You can tell me the truth, you know," he said, and then I was quite ready to tell him my whole life story.
"Well, it's going crap, really. I don't know anyone, I'm falling behind… it's not going great," I sighed.
Edward was frowning again. "Well, that's no good," he said. "If you need any help, I wouldn't mind helping you, if you want," he offered.
I nearly choked. Edward, this sexy beast, helping me with my schoolwork? I'd be insane to turn that down, no matter how stupid I would feel every second of it.
"That would be great, if it wouldn't be too much trouble for you," I said excitedly, relief rushing in at the thought of finally getting help. Not being lost any longer.
"No problem," Edward grinned. "I wouldn't want you struggling. I'm nice like that."
Oh, yes, you're nice. You're very, very nice. Oh so nice.
"So, second question," he continued. "Have you made any friends?"
I was almost too embarrassed to admit it, but there was something about him that compelled me to tell him I was a total loser.
"Well, counting you… it brings it to a grand total of… one."
"OK," he said, nodding. "I'm honoured."
I smiled and looked away from him, unable to tell whether or not he was being sarcastic. He must have thought I was so pathetic. I couldn't keep up in school, I couldn't make any friends, and I was really looking forward to the next question… not…
"So, then. Here's the question I'm most interested in. Do you have a boyfriend?"
Had he moved closer to me? I think he moved closer. I was ninety-eight percent certain he had moved closer to me - I could smell his aftershave. I hadn't been able to smell it a moment ago. Another few inches and he would be touching me. Oh my God.
"Yes, his name is Tim, and only I can see him," I blurted out randomly, nervously.
"Dammit," Edward joked, while I turned red. He gazed at me for a moment, grinning. "I don't have a girlfriend, if you are any way interested in that fact."
I nodded stupidly.
His crooked smile widened, and it couldn't possibly get any more gorgeous. I had no words to describe how hot this guy was. He was facing me now, standing quite close to me, and I really, really felt like kissing him. I wanted him to kiss me. But I wasn't sure if he was really that interested in me. He mightn't even have spoken to me at all if any other teenager was at this party. Anyone else was cooler than me. There were a load of fifty-year-old drag queens in the next room who were more attractive than me. Probably.
"Bella," he said slowly, and the sound of my name spoken aloud in his deep and velvet voice made me shiver. "Can I tell you a secret?"
"You might as well," I said, almost hyperventilating. "I practically gave you a thesis on me."
He chuckled. "Well, I want to tell you a secret. You know what?" he whispered, moving his head closer to me so he could speak softly in my ear.
"What?" I breathed, my whole body in full hyperventilation mode. He was so close to me.
"You're standing under mistletoe," he said, and I nearly collapsed.
Automatically, I raised my head and looked above me, at the blessed green leaves and white berries. Thank you God, and Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph, and Santa, and Charlie. Thank you so much.
"I didn't realise," I said, still breathless.
"I did," Edward said, and I lowered my face again, meeting his eyes. He was oh-so-close now, and I panicked. I could count the number of times I had been kissed on one hand. I knew I was going to be awful, and he was probably going to be able to tell how awful I was and be disgusted by me, and gah, the mortification…
But then he kissed me, and my eyes closed, and my hands tangled in his hair and all I could think about was his heady scent all around me, shrouding me and filling my head; the taste of his lips against mine, his tongue twisting with mine; the burning sensation of his hands using my waist to pull me closer to him… Santa had outdone himself this year.
"ISABELLA SWAN! EXTRACT YOUR TONGUE FROM THAT YOUNG MAN'S MOUTH THIS INSTANT!"
We jumped apart in fright, and I went as red as Santa himself. My dad was standing in the doorway of the hall, looking drunk and outraged, surrounded by a selection of random people.
Edward coughed and ran his fingers through his hair embarrassedly. He was embarrassed? I was wishing death on everyone, slow and torturous death, for all, including myself.
"WHAT IS GOING ON?" Charlie roared.
"Nothing!" I yelled back. "Relax, Dad!"
"I WILL NOT RELAX! YOU WERE OUT HERE MAKING OUT WITH THIS FANCY DUDE HERE - "
Fancy dude? I ask you.
"WHAT'S ALL THISSS YELLIN' 'BOUT?" A rather dishevelled but extremely handsome guy wrestled his way through the throng of entertained, drunken guests clamoured in the doorway.
"Hey, Dad," Edward said nervously.
"Oh, hey, son!" Edward's dad said, focussing blearily on him. "What trouble have you caused now?"
Edward rolled his eyes.
"YOU WOULD WANT TO CONTROL THAT ONE, CARLISLE!" Charlie shouted. "HE'S FOOLING AROUND WITH MY DAUGHTER."
Oh, kill me now, please.
"What was he doing?" Carlisle asked, and Edward shrugged quickly, apprehensively.
"Kissing," someone hissed.
"Really!" Carlisle said exuberantly. "Good on ya, son! Did you cop a good feel?!"
Edward seemed to visibly shrink in size.
"COP A GOOD FEEL OF WHAT EXACTLY?" Charlie roared.
"Is this that boyfriend you were telling us about, Bella?" Old Pervy Lady inquired from the back of the crowd, adding fuel to the fire.
"What boyfriend?" Carlisle asked interestedly, swaying where he stood.
"What boyfriend?" Edward asked, finally turning in my direction. He was exactly the same shade red as me. We had so much in common.
"WHAT BOYFRIEND?" Charlie screeched.
"SHUT UP!" I yelled, finally demented. "There is no boyfriend!" I dramatically pointed upwards at the mistletoe, and watched everyone's eyes raise to glance at it. Comprehension dawned.
"BUT -" Charlie began, but he had no argument, really. He had put up the damn mistletoe. There was no rule stating I could get no action under it.
"Hey, Charlie!" someone shouted from within the living room. "There's highlights of the game on!"
The crowd immediately dispersed, no further argument or input from any of them. A few seconds later, it was Edward and me alone again.
"I am so sorry," I whispered. "That was the single worst thing to ever happen to me and I'm so sorry about that."
"Really?" Edward said, in an oddly disappointed tone. "I thought it was pretty incredible myself."
"What?" I was confused.
"The kiss," he said, grinning.
"Oh," I said, frowning. "No, that was great. I mean the whole scene there a moment ago."
"Ah," Edward said, waving his hands dismissively. "We'll get over it. They're all drunk, and won't remember this in the morning. In the meantime though… you're still standing under the mistletoe."
I was shocked and amazed. He still wanted to kiss me, even after that?
And it turned out that yes, he did. And we made out numerous times after that, under the mistletoe.
THE FOLLOWING CHRISTMAS
CHARLIE'S NOW ANNUAL CHRISTMAS PARTY
"So Bella, how's school going?" Nosy Old Lady asked me.
"Great," I smiled. "I'm doing really well, and I'm hoping to get into Dartmouth."
"Oh fantastic. Will all your friends be going there too?"
"Yeah, Alice and Rose should be coming with me. And Jasper and Emmett and Edward, of course."
"How is the wonderful boyfriend?" Wink.
"Still wonderful," Edward interjected, appearing behind me and wrapping an arm around my waist.
I beamed stupidly at him. "Yeah," I agreed.
"And how long have you two been together now?" Oh Nosy One asked.
"A year. We got together at Charlie's last party, and I haven't been able to stay away from her ever since," Edward said.
My insides glowed at his words, and cringed at the same time in memory of that fiasco of a party. At least Edward had made it better.
"Oh, now isn't that nice?" Nosy Bat said, looking all delighted for us. A tray of whiskey floated by, and her eyes glazed over, distracted, and she chased after it. Edward grinned at me as she stumbled away.
"The dreaded questions again, eh?" he teased.
"Well, at least I have good answers for them now," I said, grinning back at him.
Edward lowered his voice. "Charlie, it appears, has confiscated all his mistletoe after what happened last year," he said, laughing under his breath. "But look what I got…"
He produced a bunch of mistletoe from his pocket and held it up the air above our heads. He moved in to kiss me.
"EDWARD CULLEN! PUT THAT MISTLETOE DOWN RIGHT NOW BEFORE I GET THE GUN!"
My dad thought Edward was great for me, but he had never forgiven either of us for making out in the hall without his 'permission' last year.
The whole room turned to look at us, and I wanted to die. But Edward just grinned, and kissed me anyway, a light gentle kiss, before pocketing the mistletoe again.
"For later," he told me, winking.
"I HEARD THAT, BY THE WAY! THERE WILL BE NO LATER! EDWARD, YOU TREAT ISABELLA VERY WELL AND YOU'RE A STRAPPING YOUNG MAN, BUT WOULD YOU PLEASE CONTROL YOUR HORMONES?"
Edward turned pink. "Yep," he muttered self-consciously.
I couldn't help but laugh at him. "Don't listen to him," I mumbled. "He's just drunk and annoying. I'll make sure there is a later."
Edward grinned that gorgeous crooked smile, the one I could still never get used to, the one that still dazzled me. Sexy Beast.
"ISABELLA SWAAAAAN! DO YOU THINK I'M DEAF?"
"No, but you're making me deaf."
"I HEARD THAT, TOO! I AM SO CLOSE TO GETTING THE GUN, IT'S NOT EVEN FUNNY."
"Well, would you shoot me first?" I snapped. "I'm sick of you embarrassing me critically every Christmas."
"YEAH, WELL. YEAH, WELL," Charlie spluttered, struggling to think of a comeback.
"Bonnie got the Singstar working!" someone yelled suddenly, and everyone was distracted, fighting over what song they wanted to sing.
Edward smiled at me and kissed my forehead. "Merry Christmas," he said. "Never changes, does it?"
"Nope," I sighed. "Somehow, I still manage to get mortified severely, no matter what. But at least I have you."
"You'll always have me."
"TAKE A HIKE, CARLISLE! I AM SINGING BRITNEY, NOT YOU!"