Summerboy

Cool Breeze

Chapter Nine: Cool Breeze


I sing along happily to the Meatloaf classic that is playing on the local radio. I'm cruising around on a dreary Sunday morning in my beat-up Chevy to Forks' one and only diner.

I can't wait to tell Alice! I, Bella Swan, am almost there. I'm dark and twisted but there's still hope. Last night with Edward had proven that for me. I pull into a parking spot by the curb, kill the engine, and hurry through the doorway of the diner.

I head for Alice, who is sitting on one of the red leather stools. I'm almost at her side just as a tall dude stands behind her. He must be one of the waiters – he's holding a tray with a strawberry milkshake balanced on it. I'm about to call Alice to my attention when the tall waiter taps Alice on the shoulder.

I watch in horror. Alice thinks that it's me who has tapped her on the shoulder. "You've kept me waiting," she says, turning around.

She freezes.

"I'm sorry, m'am," the waiter says, making Alice blush deeply in embarrassment. She's totally lost for words. I realize that it's him – Jasper. The older guy that Alice has been crushing on.

Her mouth moves up and down a few times, but no sound comes out.

Jasper smiles. "You ordered a strawberry milkshake, yeah?"

"Yeah…"

I have no idea whether I should intervene or not. I watch on as Alice recovers her voice. "I'm sorry, that was so rude of me," she says, giggling nervously. "I thought you were my friend – my friend who I'm meeting here…"

I walk over so that I'm standing in between them. "The friend who's right here," I announce cheerily. I put my handbag on the counter and smile at Jasper. His hair is wavy, just below his ears, and even though he has some pretty nasty scars along his face, they don't ruin his good looks. He's totally cute and seems really sweet and damn that Maria girl, damn Alice's shyness – I'd be a total idiot to stuff up a perfect chance for them to talk.

"I need to use the bathroom. Would you mind keeping my friend Alice company?" I ask Jasper casually. I leave the two before he has the time to answer no. As I turn around and look behind me, I see I didn't even have to worry: Jasper joins Alice at the counter and passes her milkshake to her.

"It's Alice, yes?" he asks her politely, and she nods, sipping strawberry milk through a red straw in reply. "I'm Jasper."

I wait an extra five minutes before I reappear in the main part of the diner. Alice and Jasper look like they're enjoying their conversation; apparently, they both share a mutual interest in Spaghetti Western movies. I'm puzzled as to how they got to that topic in such a short amount of time, but really happy that Jasper seems interested in Alice.

"Oh, hey, Bella!" Alice greets me again in a joyous tone as I take the stool beside Jasper's.

"Hey," I respond. "Sorry to interrupt, guys."

"No problem," Jasper replies to me easily before heaving a sigh. "I should probably get back to work. But, Alice, you should swing by again some time."

Alice's face flushes with surprise, and she ducks her head shyly at Jasper's words. She looks up at him and replies, "Sure thing."

Jasper grins as he slides off the red stool. "Great!" He tells me it was lovely to meet me, grabs his tray and heads back into the kitchen. "Oh, the milkshake's on the house, Alice!" he calls, accentuating his southern drawl. His facial scars twist as he grins confidently.

"Holy shit Alice, he's so hot!" I can't help but exclaim once he's out of sight.

Alice looks right through me, as though she just saw The Light or something. Her mother would be super pleased.

"I didn't see that coming," she murmurs breathlessly. I take her zoned-out-ness as an opportunity to take a long sip of her strawberry milkshake. Yum!

I raise an eyebrow. "Uhm, yes you did. Remember? Happiness-in-the diner-vision? The reason we came here this morning in the first place?"

"Oh my goodness, you are so right! Wow. This totally crazy." Alice beams and gives an excited squeal. "I can't believe I talked to him!"

"I can totally believe you talked to him. But I think you're missing the bigger picture – he's so into you."

"You…really think so?"

"Alice, he gave you a free milkshake and told you to stop by again. You might as well start picking out baby names."

Alice doesn't get it; she's too wrapped up in being insecure and unsure about herself. "But you've never really dated. How would you know the signs?" she babbles worriedly. "How would I even know the signs? He probably saw a lonely girl and felt sorry for her, so he gave her a free milkshake."

"Uhh, I was best friends with Lauren, Jess and Angela for like six years, remember? They all had boyfriends. Plus, my mom dated loads of guys before she met Phil."

"He's the one," my mother would say dreamily – "He's the one who did this to her, Renee," my father would argue when Mom brought the incident up –"Bella?" Phil called. "Could you help me with something in the kitchen?"

I take an extra long, noisy sip through Alice's red straw. "Plus Edward's always been giving me signs….which I just ignored."

"Oh, well then." Alice seems to perk up at this, and laughs jovially. "I guess I'll have to swing by again some time soon, then?"

I laugh with her. "Of course you will!"

We spend the next ten or so minutes discussing, dissecting, and analyzing everything to do with Jasper.

"What's his last name?" I inquire.

Alice deadpans. "I have no idea. Ohmygod, I suck hardcore at this crush thing." She sighs. "I must seem so inexperienced and immature in comparison to you..."

"You seem like you're actually trying to start a healthy, normal relationship in comparison," I respond dryly. "But, I….uhm…Edward and I…we…"

"Killed each other with lasers?"

"Unfortunately, no. We had sex last night."

Alice looks like she's about to choke. "WHAT? Why? Are you okay? He didn't force himself onto you, right? Were you safe?"

"I wanted to, I was ready and I initiated it. I'm more than okay." I pause. "We were safe." My Pride and Prejudice-inclined brain had tried to gloss over the slightly awkward parts of an otherwise wonderful and whole night. The butterfly underwear, Edward giving a yelp as I cupped his cheek, begging him to take me, because we'd forgotten to grab a condom…but even those memories melted into how I'd slid it on with my lips and teeth and I'd whispered thank you…and in the end we'd both had a lot to be thankful for.

"But…you and Edward doing it. That's a big step forward. Permission to say 'I'm proud of you'?"

"Permission granted, my dear prophet. I think it's been a big day for both of us."

After a while, I decide it's time for me to head off. I give Alice a daft college reference from Charlie that's been sitting on our little dining room table for about three weeks and I've managed to forget it every single morning.

"Where are you going?" Alice inquires curiously.

"I'm off to conclude my day of moving forward by talking to Brace Face."

Alice snorts. "Good luck with that."

I had to stalk Ted Hughes Hater in the phonebook to find her address – she lives only a street away from Ben, Angela's boyfriend. James Whitlam lives next door to her – he's washing his dad's motorbike in the front yard as he yells at me, "Wanna ride?" I politely tell him, "No thanks, and you've missed a spot on the wheel." I consider telling him to give Ugly Braces Girl the same offer if things don't go as planned.

Don't go as planned, Swan? That implies you have a plan.

I'd sort of come to Victoria's house on a whim. I had decided earlier that I would follow Edward's advice again and let Victoria know that calling me a slut wasn't helping me or her. Charlie was happy with my progress at school; I had a great best friend who I could trust; Edward and I were back on track (whatever track that was); the support group meetings were actually helping me. I figured Edward's advice had been right, and it couldn't hurt to use it again.

I ring the doorbell. The jingle is annoying and I can't place it. Victoria answers the door, thank heavens, with a black cat leisurely strolling around her ankles.

She looks really fucking surprised to see me. She's so bright in comparison to me: flaming orange hair, blue braces, and red-framed glasses. I'm dull; brown, grey, white and vindictive as hell.

"Uhm, hi, Victoria."

"H-Hi, Isabella."

Oooh, okay. Yeah, she really doesn't know me. No one calls me Isabella.

"I wanted to talk to you," I start awkwardly, willing myself to see this through. "I wanted to talk to you about how calling me a slut every chance you get is not okay."

Victoria winces, and actually looks guilty. "I-"

"I don't really want to hear your excuses, Victoria; but I also don't really know what to say. I could never wish that what happened to me on someone else, and I never want you to have to go through what I've been through." I swallow hard. "But some guy, who was nearly forty, who I thought I could trust misused me in the worst way possible. An-and you're a feminist, so I don't understand how youdon't understand that calling me a slut because some old guy got horny is wrong, because I know you go to those rallies and sign those petitions saying that even if a girl wears a short skirt she doesn't deserve to be raped."

I'm breathing hard and tears are rolling down my cheeks. Victoria looks like she might break into a million pieces. "It's exactly the same thing!" I continue. "I don't know how I pissed you off, or how I stood for something you were against, but I think it's pretty clear that I am not some whore who gets drunk every weekend anymore."

My fury gets the better of me, and I choke on my tears. I can hear Victoria's mom calling out to her from inside the house, and James Whitlam has turned down his hose so he can hear what I'm screaming about.

"I don't know whether I want to forgive you or even forget about it. I just want you to know that what you were saying was wrong."

Victoria just stares at me.

"See you at school," I mumble, turning my back on her as I make towards my car and stop darkening on her doorstop.

I don't know if she yells out that she's sorry and that she bursts into tears, or that she sneers at my back because his hands move towards the zip of my light-blue denim jeans. I let the pain and the creeping touches and the memories wash over me, consume me, because I need to know there is a reason behind yelling at someone who's probably just as insecure as me.

I will not let the guilt choke me. I will not let Phil's stupidity choke me. His large, spindly fingers brush like ghosts over the straps of my ivory T-shirt, but I get to Newton's, determined to work. He can haunt me, but he can no longer hurt me – even through Germaine Greer's groupie. I'm confident that Victoria will quieten down. I think I scared her.

Work is blissfully boring. Mike is having Jess trouble. Again.

"I think she's seeing someone else," he tells me conspiratorially as we stick price stickers on all the flashlights. He's like a wounded animal, the way he's talking. Even though he's a total pot smoking, porn-watching, fist-pumping ratbag, Mike is also very loyal at heart; whether it's to his family, his friends, his football team – and even to his skanky girlfriend.

I try to smooth over a stubborn sticker with my thumb – $6.95 refuses to lie flat. "Why don't you just ask her if she's seeing someone, Mike?" I question impatiently. "You'll know she is if she can't answer you and makes excuses, and if she doesn't she'll probably get mad, but she'll still be your girlfriend. End of story. Eaaasy."

Mike passes me another price sticker sulkily. "I'm afraid of the answer," he mutters dejectedly.

I realize then and there that this is possibly going to be my longest shift ever, the four hours soon to be feeling like ten the way Mike is acting, when some higher power decides to give me a high-five and a customer enters. I peer around the aisle to see who it is. The bell dings a couple of times as the customer crosses over the threshold, shaking his long, wet hair of his eyes.

"Jacob!" I cry happily. Jacob greets me in an equally sunny tone as I rush over and attack him with a big hug.

"Looks like someone took their happy pills this morning," he jokes from above me. I release my arms from around his waist and playfully punch him on the arm.

"That really hurt, Bells," he tells me sarcastically as I shake my fist out, mumbling, "Ow."

I scowl, but a smile finds its way back across my lips. "You saved me from Days of Our Lives featuring Mike Newton, you know."

"Ooh, what's happened this week? Did someone get shot?"

I laugh softly, trying not to draw Mike's attention. "Nope. Jess is cheating on Mike, but this time he knows it."

"Interesting plot twist."

Jacob busies himself in suspecting a pickax.

"So, what brings you to Newton's Outfitters?" I ask, after a moment. "Planning to murder someone soon?"

Jacob picks up the pickax and twirls it carelessly around in his hands in way that makes me wince. I'm really glad Mrs. Newton isn't here, or I'd probably be fired for ignoring health and safety regulations.

"I'd just finished dropping Leah Clearwater and her annoying brother, Seth, off at the grocery store, and just thought I'd drop in and say hey, really," Jake replies, putting down the ridiculously dangerous weapon. "Although I was thinking I might swing by Cullen's house later and…" Jake waggles his eyebrows at the axe.

"He's not being a douche bag anymore. I've forgiven him," I explain shortly.

"That was some pretty quick forgiving, then."

I sigh, and see that Mike is watching us from the fourth aisle curiously. I roll my eyes and wave the sheet of stickers in the air. "I'm still working, Newton! Chill out!" I call to him. He gets the hint and leaves us alone.

I turn back to Jake. "I get it. Where's my female empowerment and blah, blah, blah. I just….don't want to fight anymore. I've had enough people hating me for a while."

Jacob snorts. I frown and change the subject, eager to fault him, and ask, "And why would you pick a pickax of all things?"

"He could have supernatural powers for all I know," is the reason I'm given. Jake's being such a boy and totally deadpan about this. "I would need to be prepared, and a pickax is about as dangerous as you're going to get round here. Unless I wanted to go to that medieval weaponry place in Seattle."

I raise an eyebrow. "How do you know that there's a medieval weaponry store in Seattle?"

Jacob shrugs, trying not to look embarrassed. "Embry's a big Dungeons and Dragons fanatic."

"He seems more like a WoW guy to me. Wait a second! Embry? As in Embry Call, the-guy-who-suddenly-forgot-your-ten-years-of-friendship-Embry?"

"It would seem his memory has returned."

I narrow my eyes at him. "He really hurt you, Jake. I sure hope you made him grovel."

"I'm sorry, did you say you forgave Edward Cullen yesterday?"

We stare at each other, neither one of us budging. After a moment or two, I groan. "Fine," I mutter moodily. "I'll drop it. Shit, Jake."

"Ugh, I didn't come here to fight with you, Bella."

I look down, clenching my jaw as I inspect a tea stain on my work shirt. I don't like fighting with Jacob – especially when I can see his point as well as mine. I get that I forgave Edward quickly, but the forgiveness was more than accepting him. It was accepting myself, but I couldn't tell Jacob that without telling him Edward and I had sex, which was no-man's land in our friendship. He didn't ask me about my experiences and I didn't bug him about his girlfriends.

"You came to buy a pickax to lop off Edward Cullen's head, duh."

Jacob places his warm fingers underneath my chin and lifts up my head so that our eyes meet. His brown gaze is kind, playful. "I'm throwing a party next weekend and you better be there."

"Oh, really? Cool!" I grin. "But isn't your house kinda small?"

"It'll be at the Quileute beach."

"Jacob Black, you law-breaker."

"Very funny, Bells. Anyways, invite as many friends as you want."

I count on my fingers. Alice, Edward, Emmett, Rosalie…Jasper? "I have five friends. Is that enough?"

Jacob gives me a mock-pitying look and I roll my eyes. "Shoo, Black. You're distracting me from my busy work."

He looks at the sheet of fluoro stickers. "Mhmmm," he replies with a cocked eyebrow, which makes me dissolve into laughter. Jacob coming into work is the highlight of my shift; oh, that and I finally manage to convince Mike to talk to Jess.

School the next day is all assignments! Assignments! Get those 5.0 GPAs! Mr. Banner actually cracks a smile at me when I get the right answer in Bio, which is weird, since my other teachers are still a bit edgy, afraid I'll make them lose their jobs too. Small towns are so rude like that. Well, I suppose cities are heartless too. Whatever.

In Modern History, we get an assignment asking us to analyze the ramifications of colonization on the Native Americans. Sometimes, it rules to be friends with Quileute boys. Teachers love it when students quote critics, sure, but they froth over someone who can provide a closer account. I vow to myself that I'm going to beat Victoria in the essay – knowing she's all vengeful and is probably thinking the same thing about me.

Edward sits with Alice and I at lunch. He sits with us, like it's completely normal for a guy who should be on the track team to sit with cafeteria outcasts; like everything is cool and normal between us; like he's just happy that I'm happy. Maybe I'm crazy, but I think him sitting with us means that he believes all that stuff is true.

Face it, I think to myself as I tuck into the cafeteria's finest – soggy sushi – and rearranging the uneaten salmon bits on my plate. Your – what should you call him? Friend? Not-Quite-Boyfriend? Your…Edward is kinda awesome in all his understanding glory.

The three of us spend the first twenty or so minutes of lunch discussing the pros and cons of Alice trying to crystal ball gaze. It started as a joking discussion that came off so far from a tangent that when Alice groans and asked why we were talking about it, none of us can remember. We laugh so loud that I can just imagine Lauren's perfect lips curling. Edward, soon enough, is dragged away by Tyler who spouts off something about football, which leaves Alice and I to talk about the fateful Sunday previous.

An excited smile never leaves my face as she told me what happened: after I had left to deal with Victoria, Jasper had finished his shift and offered Alice a ride home – which, is the interests of seeming aloof and therefore more attractive, Alice had declined. But that wasn't the best part, she assured me. Before she left the diner, Jasper and she had got to talking again. Along with his good looks, charming manners, maturity and swoon-worthy southern drawl, cute last name - which she'd found out was 'Hale' - Jasper has a tragic past. His parents adopted him when he was three years old out of Iran. He'd been abandoned by his biological mother and narrowly escaped being hit by a roadside bomb.

"Holy shit," I swore in reply.

"He said he doesn't really remember much of Iran," Alice finishes telling me. "And he loves his family now."

"That's some good to come after a bad situation, then."

"Hmmm. Yeah."

I smirk. "You've got it bad, Alice Brandon."

Alice tries to protest as I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. I'd put it on silent for school. I do a quick sweep of the cafeteria – no teachers around – ask Alice to excuse me for a moment, and answer the person who's calling me without looking at the ID first.

"Hello?"

"Hey, Bella, it's Rosalie."

My lips split into a smile. "Hi, Rosalie! I wasn't expecting a call from you today."

"You know me, I like to be adventurous," she drawled sarcastically. "I was calling about the party that you texted me about last night. I'd love to come, as long as I'm not cramping anyone's style, being in my twenties and all."

"What? No way. Just be prepared to be frothed on by juniors."

"Oh, God. Sometimes I wish the Hale charm wasn't so irresistible."

I frown. "Your last name is Hale? Holy crap, are you related to some guy called Jasper who works at the diner?"

Rosalie snorts. "Unfortunately, yes. He's my brother. Why? Did he poison you with one of his garden burgers?"

"Oh, no, I just met him yesterday, that's all. Wait a second! You don't sound like you're from the South at all."

I could practically feel Rosalie rolling her eyes over the phone. "We lived in Tennessee until we were thirteen. Jasper learned to really speak there, so the accent stayed with him. Not that he doesn't put it on to impress girls around here."

"That's so funny!" I wink at Alice. "Jasper put his accent on for you!"

Rosalie sounds puzzled as she speaks again. "Did he hit on one of your friends?"

"Yeah. Uhm, her name's Alice. She's right here. You…kinda called me during lunch."

"Ooops, sorry, sweetheart! Alice, hey? He hasn't mentioned an Alice."

Eeeek. I bit my lip nervously. "Is that a bad thing?"

"No…well, if your friend is looking for just a hook-up, it is. But he would only not mention a girl if he was afraid…I would tease him about it." Rosalie laughs, and a shiver runs through me. I would hate to be Jasper right now. "I'm so going to interrogate him when he gets home! Bella, you've made my day. Oh, and yeah, I'll come to the party. Well, I better let you go. See ya!"

Rosalie hangs up, and I slide my phone back into my pocket as Alice looks at me worriedly.

I grin. "I think he really likes you, Alice."

We delve into a discussion so frenzied that Edward waits until Alice heads in the direction of her PE class until he speaks with me. We walk slowly, as the first warning bell has only just rung, and we have a few minutes to dawdle while the rest of Forks High tries to open their shitty, jammed lockers with little success.

"Did you guys solve world hunger or something?" He inquires laughingly. His hair is all messy and perfectly imperfect. I'm pretty sure ninety percent of the girls in our junior year are glaring at me as we walk together down the hall.

Trying to ignore the bitchy looks, I open my school diary to see I have Math this period. Gross. "Not quite," I finally answer Edward. "Just girl stuff, really."

"Say no more," Edward replies with a wave of his hand. "I don't even want to know. You know, my friend, Tanya, said she always thought I was intuitive and shit, but I don't really think I'm all that caring-and-sharing."

"Ehh. You're pretty decent…I suppose."

"Oh, you suppose, hey?"

"Mhmmm." I flash Edward a quick smile and jump off the deep end. Extend the olive branch. Whatever. "How is Tanya?"

"She's doing okay; she sounds a little stressed out at the moment. Her Mom and her baby sister died in a car crash two years ago this Wednesday, so she's trying to deal with how she feels about that, plus do school work, and plus make sure her older sister, Irina, doesn't try and run away from home again."

I can't even find the words to speak. How had I been jealous of the poor girl?

"I babbled too much again, didn't I?" Edward mumbles, running a hand through his hair in an aggravated fashion.

"No, not at all," I reassure him. "I'm just sorry to hear that Tanya's going through all that shit. It sounds like she's had to fill her older sister's shoes." Edward nods drearily in confirmation. "I'm glad she has you, though. You're a great listener." I can feel the blush flowering rosy-red in my cheeks. "You know you can always confide in me."

Edward gives me his lopsided smile. "It goes both ways, Bella."

I look down at my dirty, off-white sneakers, watching as my feet step one in front of the other. Deep breaths, Swan. "Hey, so…uhm…there's a party this weekend that my friend's throwing, and I was wondering if you'd like to come?" My voice squeaks on the end of my wavering question because I'm nervous and trying to kid myself that our electricity is just a hum, and on Saturday night I wasn't wrapped up in Edward's bare arms.

We stop walking at the same time, and I lift my gaze off my shoes and nervously into Edward's eyes. Edward's face lights up like I just told him he was accepted into Julliard. Fuuuck.

"Is it a date?" he asks eagerly.

I roll my eyes, trying to hide my discomfort. I obviously suck at hiding because Edward blurts out an awkward, "I'm sorry," as I throw at him, "Nah, you can bring Emmett if you want to."

"Oh, cool," Edward lamely replies.

"I mean, Jake's only sixteen, but his friends are really cool, and they always manage to throw a good party," I ramble.

Edward's eyes widen. "Excuse me, but a good party? Like with music, beer, and a bonfire? In Forks?"

I laugh. He does always know how to diffuse tension. Or amp it up. "It's on the Rez, actually. You'll come?"

"Of course." Then he comes over and gives me a hug. Not an awkward man-hug, or a friend-hug, but a true embrace; just like the one the beach last summer, when all I could do was cry, and Edward caught me up in his warm, strong arms and held me. I hug him back fiercely, revelling in his warmth.

I don't haveto be concerned about Phil, or the incident, or Victoria, or Lauren, or the teachers giving me disappointed glances. I have to worry about what Alice will try and get me to wear to Jake's party, how I'm going to approach my history essay, and how I'm going to coerce Charlie into buying me a bottle of cheap vodka.

I can stress for the next week over the simple, boring, everyday teenage stuff. Hell, who knows, maybe soon I'll have the life where I procrastinate on my homework and send drunken I love you, baby texts to a boyfriend, and get grounded, and gossip about movies with Alice.

I'm almost there and it's so refreshing, like being hit with a cool breeze, just to be nearly there, in that place where I'm truly happy. The place where I used to be.

...

I'm fifteen, with my feet up on the dashboard and Bon Jovi blasting out of my mom's small stereo. We're driving to Florida for a camping trip.

Renee always likes to do interesting things in places. Never mind going to the beach, the real beach, and learning to rollerblade and sunbathe. We're hiring a caravan – or was it a cabin? I'm not sure – at some stupid camping place.

I end my game of snakes and ladders on my phone, and with my head pressed against the window glass of the passenger side, I scroll through my contacts to find my best friend, Angela Weber. She's possibly having a worse summer vacation than I am: she's babysitting her baby brothers.

Ew.

Lauren Mallory and Jessica Stanley, who we've sort of started to hang out with, on the other hand, are having pretty cool summers. Jessica's hanging out with hot boys at some summer-school science camp, and Lauren's dad is trying to out do her mom in their newly-divorced battle and taking her to Hawaii for vacation.

I stare at my blank message screen, and type the words I hope somehow won't desperately become true. 'This summer is going to be soooo boring!'

I hit 'Send' with sigh.

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