Five: Storm Clouds
School was so stupid that I don't even want to think about it. I was so drained from lack of sleep, and yet so keyed up about the support group meeting that I was going to in the afternoon, that I didn't hear a word my teachers said. My math teacher may have uttered a string of syllables that sounded like "detention", but I wasn't paying attention enough to really tell. I'm sure Ms. Cope will ring me at the house later and gleefully inform me that I missed my punishment.
Gee, thank you, Ms Cope. I can't believe that I forgot. Silly me!
I'm so nervous I could punch somebody. And I'm a non-violent person…most of the time.
I kill my engine as I park outside the community hall. It's not raining, which is, like, a miracle in Forks. I wait until it's four o'clock before working up the courage to walk in and find the support group. It doesn't take long.
The walls are painted in a nonchalant cream colour, and the floorboards are made from slick, polished wood. The white-framed windows don't have curtains, but they're up high so that people can't peek in. The lights in the ceiling give off a nice, warm light – not harsh fluorescents like I pictured. To the left, there is a noticeboard on the wall with brightly coloured leaflets, and up the back of the room there is a table lined with plates, cups and a large kettle.
Everyone is chatting as they sit in chairs that are arranged in a circle in the middle of the room. I wonder if it's meant to look like AA, or if people in therapy just like circles. Maybe there's some hidden, calming meaning in the formation – I'm sure Alice would know. It's mostly women a bit older than me in the room – for some reason, I'm surprised to see two men. It never occurred to me that men could be victims, too. It looks like they've come from across the Seattle as well as Forks, because there's a few people I don't recognize – and Forks has the type of population where you can place almost every single face.
The group leader, who is a lovely lady in her mid-thirties and works part-time at the grocery store, welcomes me. Her name is Carmen. She greets me warmly, calls me by my first name and asks how school is going. I answer in short sentences, but Carmen doesn't seem to mind. I nervously look around to see that most people seem at ease – they must have been coming for a while. I'm told that I don't have to speak at my first session, and I don't want to. I listen.
Everyone has terrible stories.
Some are recent victims. Some were assaulted years ago, but still value the support. Some people seem to have accepted what has happened, and can speak calmly. Two women cry when they tell their stories. A blonde woman in her early twenties speaks in a way I imagine myself to about the assault – sort of detached. She seems pretty at peace with her ordeal. She's been coming for a year. One of the men doesn't relay what happened to him, but a reoccurring nightmare he's been having involving his attacker.
These people are invited to share their thoughts and feelings about their own ordeal, but also offer advice to those that seek it. The guidance the man with the nightmares gets is pretty cool – it's not some psychoanalytical bullshit, but advice that has help from other people that have experienced the same thing.
I wonder what will happen when I tell them all what happened with Phil. Will they think I'm a poor little attention-seeker like everyone else? What if they give me advice that I don't want to hear? What if I embarrass myself, and start crying? The questions are endless, and I don't think I'll like any of the answers.
The meeting is over after an hour and a half. I tell the leader that I'll come next session. I think I might even speak up about what happened to me.
I skip out on the coffee and sweets before his hands skimming past my underwear reaches full hilt and begin to make my way home. A bleak dusk dusts the rooftops of Forks as I fish my keys out from the black hole in the bottom of my handbag.
I have the greatest luck ever in the world; my chevy starts making terrible sounds when I try to start my engine. Greaaat.
I put my key into the ignition, seriously annoyed. I'm about to scream at the truck I usually adore when my cell rings.
"Hello?" I answer in an irritated tone, not even bothering to look at the caller ID.
"Hey, Bella? It's Alice."
"Oh, shit. Hi, Alice. I'm sorry, my car is being a bitch and I was getting annoyed. What's up?"
"I was wondering…are you doing anything right now? Um, I know you've just finished your meeting and you probably just want to go home- "
Alice is rambling and sounds close to tears. "Do you want me to pick you up?" I ask worriedly. I know that Alice doesn't have a driving permit.
Alice sniffs. "Um, yeah, that'd be cool. My mom got really angry at me and I just don't want to be around her right now."
"Okay. I'll come pick you up. What's your address?"
Alice tells me her address, and I tell her I'll be there in ten minutes. My truck finally starts, and I call Jacob, asking if I can swing by his house so he can take a look at my engine. He's a car freak. He excitedly says yes.
I drive out to Alice's house and try to pull up quietly in case she needs to sneak out. As I pull up, I wonder at how sudden Alice and I's friendship has formed. Is Alice as nervous as I at how close we're suddenly getting? Should we set some boundaries and not spend so much time together? We only really have each other at school – what if we have a fight because we get sick of each other? Then what do we do? I've never been in this situation before, and I'm a little anxious about it.
I've always had lots of friends.
However, I put my anxiety aside from a moment and decide to go with what I know best; how to help a friend in need. I look up at her big brick house, glad to see that most of the lights are on. I prank call her, and like two seconds later, Alice creeps out over her front door's threshold.
Alice smiles weakly as she opens the passenger door and slips inside. Her face is blotchy and her stormy eyes are red.
"Hey," I greet warmly, giving her a one-armed hug before starting the car. It takes a few tries. "My car's chucking a hissy fit, so I though I'd take it to my friend Jake's place, and we can hang there for a bit. He's really nice and won't ask questions."
"Sounds cool. Thanks."
We go quiet for a while as we head further towards La Push.
"You okay?" I ask quietly.
"Mmmm. Sometimes I just need to get away from my mom, you know?"
It's obvious Alice doesn't want to talk about what happened. I change the conversation, trying to think of ways to cheer her up. Gossip always cheered up the girls. Maybe it'll work on her. "Sooo…do you like anyone?"
Alice ducks her head, a coy smile flitting on her lips as she wipes her eyes again. Success! "I do, actually. His name's…Jasper."
I frown. I don't know anyone in our year named Jasper. "What year's he in?"
"He doesn't go to our school. He's twenty."
"Ohmygod, an older man! Alice!"
Alice giggles embarrassedly.
"Does he like you? Are you friends? Have you hooked up?" I fire at her as I indicate left while we're stopped at a set of traffic lights.
Alice looks startled. "Um, no! I don't think he really knows who I am. He works at the diner I go to."
"I haven't really, um, done stuff…like you have," Alice admits before rushing on to say, "And this girl in the church youth group, Maria, went on a date with him a few months ago, and said he wasn't interested in her, but that he fingered her anyways in the back of her car. So maybe he's like a guy that just wants friends with benefits? I'd be okay with whatever he wanted…if he ever noticed me."
I almost feel like stopping the car and shaking Alice. I instead knock some sense into her verbally.
"Alice, it shouldn't be about what he wants," I tell her firmly. "If you want to date him, you should try and date him. You don't know that he's not into that. I mean, I've done stuff, yes. But I've only been with one guy, really. I've made out and done stuff with a few guys, but that's it. I've only ever had sex with Edward because I trust him, and he deserves me."
I think I've scared her. She looks really intimidated by what I've said. "O-Okay," she replies.
"Sorry. Did I go a bit overboard?"
"No; you're just giving Victoria Bass a run for her money."
"The crazy feminist with bad braces."
"Oh." The Female Eunuch has a name. "She really hates me."
"She's an idiot. But I get what you're saying. Be all Aretha Franklin and demand respect. Um, so, where does your friend Jake live? We're heading out of Forks…"
"Oh, Parker Lane. On the reservation."
Alice seems wary as she asks, "He's Quileuete, then?"
"Are we allowed on the reservation?"
I laugh; I've been friends with Jacob all my life, so her question seems silly. "Of course we are!"
"Oh. But didn't you hear about that time that Quileute gang beat up James cause he went on the Rez without, like, permission?"
I knew the gang – Jacob did not like them one bit. Sam Uley and his crew were a little misguided bunch of kids who did all this stupid shit in the name of their tribe. Unlike Jacob and his friends Embry and Quil, who actually did legit and respectful tribal stuff like learning to speak the language, telling their ancestors' stories, and attending meetings. But the thing with James was actually one time where I think Sam and his ignorant gang had the right idea.
"James got beaten up by that gang because he assaulted the leader's girlfriend at the time." I explain, shrugging. "He shouldn't have been so stupid as to try and come on the Rez after that. Anyone else is totally cool. I've been friends with Jake for yeeeeears."
I glance over at Alice quickly and see that she's embarrassed.
"Sorry, that was such a stupid question."
"No way, it was a fair enough one," I reassure her earnestly.
Alice cracks a little smile. "The only stuff I know about Indians comes from watching Dances With Wolves."
"Ohmygod, we're watching that in history! It's so good!"
"Yeah. Super long though – it'll probably take you the rest of the term to finish it," she jokes in reply.
We find Jacob in his shed fixing up his Rabbit. He takes one look at my truck and tells me he'll need a defibrillator. Eeexcellent. Not.
We talk a bit about school and how lame our parents all are for a while. Jacob teases me about the fact that I'll have to catch the bus to school. Even Alice gets a lift from her mom – but there's no way I'm arriving in Charlie's cruiser. I don't think I could get any less popular at school, but I'm not about to test that theory.
Jacob quizzes Alice a bit on her "visions", and Alice tentatively asks about some cultural stuff. He tries to teach us how to say, "Hello, how are you?" in Quileute, and shit, we suck at it.
I ask about how Quil and Embry are going, and Jake's face turns dark. Apparently, Paul, who is as loyal to Sam and his gang as a dog to his owner, has been trying to coerce Jake's friends into joining the gang. Embry had even gone so far as to shave his head.
"Have you told Billy? Do Embry's parents know?" I inquire.
"Quil's mom is pretty stressed out about it, and Billy's not happy. Sam just gives the Rez a bad name."
Alice and I try to offer some advice, but truthfully, we don't know what to do. Alice and her intuition seem to be worried about it. I can sympathize with Jacob: it always seems like after a while, friends pull away and disappoint you.
We hang around til six o'clock when Alice and I decide it's time we better go. My truck has other plans, so we're left without a ride. Billy is out of town, Charlie's working late, and Alice's mom would flip if she had to pick us up. I run through my contacts list in my phone, deciding who to contact.
My finger hovers over the name, and after quick deliberation, I press call.
I hold my breath, thinking the whole while, I should hang up, I should hang up, I should hang up. He answers after three rings.
"Um, hey, Edward. It's Bella," my voice cracks. Gah.
"Hey Bella," Edward says, sounding surprised. "What's up?"
"Um, well, I went to the support group meeting tonight-"
"How'd it go?"
" –Good. Anyways, I was wondering if…you could maybe pick me and my friend Alice, up, and drop us home? We're down at La Push, and my car's decided to go on strike."
"Okay," Edward answers immediately.
I stutter as I reply; I assumed I'd have to grovel to get a ride. "T-Thanks! We'll give you gas money."
"No need." Ohmyfreakinggod, how can his cheerful voice make me feel so awkward?
I recover after a moment. "Do you know how to get to La Push? I can give you directions…."
"I'll just use my GPS. Thanks, though,"
A laugh escapes me. "Ah, even the great Edward Cullen won't ask for directions!"
Edward laughs…but doesn't deny it! "See you in like fifteen?"
Edward turns up in his silver, shiny Volvo. Jacob eyes the car with poorly disguised jealousy as Alice and I bid him goodbye. Alice tells Jacob it would be a good idea to watch out for his friends, which is pretty nice of her.
Thankfully, Edward doesn't hug me when he steps out of his car. He greets Jake and Alice warmly.
The first couple of seconds, where we scramble into his car, is a little bit awkward, but after that it's pretty much smooth sailing. I sit in the front seat and Alice is in the back. Edward accidentally brushes my hand as he goes to reach for his gearstick – I rush my hand away, scalded. My face feels hot and I avoid his eyes. Alice breaks the tension by talking to Edward; they click instantly.
Edward drops Alice home first. She gives me a hug goodbye and shoots me a loaded look as she leaves. Ack. The look totally says, make out with him in the back of his shiny car!
Or at least, that's how I read it.
Edward says, "She seems really nice," as he pulls out of her drive.
"Mmm," I agree in reply.
Edward turns on his CD player and puts the volume up. Beethoven slowly begins to flit in and around the car. I find it soothing, and rest my head against the window, my eyes closed.
I drift away, thinking about Alice and Jacob and Edward: the only friends I now have. I revisit visions of getting back at my old friends: spilling Angela's secrets, making Jessica jealous; and punching Lauren in her precious face. I want to do all of those things. I want to do none of those things. As symphony no. five reaches its crescendo, I decide to go spiritual and be thankful for what ye have.
I open my eyes. The beautiful sunset is being attacked by the deep and dark night sky.
"Thank you…for being a really good friend," I say to Edward quietly, feeling heat rise to my cheeks as my voice floats over the music.
"No problem," Edward replies in just as soft a voice. He turns down his music. "Hey, so we're good friends, right?"
He glances at me, and I nod in response.
"So…friends can take friends out to dinner, can't they?"
"I suppose so."
"Would you like to grab a bit to eat for dinner?" He asks. "Unless you and your dad have something planned, of course."
I feel relaxed. I don't want to go home just yet. I owe Edward. All signs point to dinner. "Oh, no, we don't. Where should we go?"
"Mom told me there was a nice restaurant in Port Angeles. We could go there…"
I know that restaurant. People go on dates there.
The dark has almost eclipsed the orange skyline, and I'm suddenly fully alert.
His pale green eyes connect with mine. "Yeah?"
"This won't be a date."
His smile turns lopsided. "Of course it won't be," he bullshits me.
I roll my eyes and turn up his music again. The song has changed to a Debussy classic. Edward hums smugly along to the dreamlike tune.
Going to dinner with Edward won't be anything like a date. Not at all.
Way to lie to yourself, Bella.
I break our kiss. Edward's left hand is hovering and twitching over my white-with-pink-bows underwear. His eyes ask permission to delve into me. The forbidden and virginal words can't grace his lips – he'll probably choke on them.
I survey the damage. My a-cup bra is long forgotten on the floor. Two days ago, we had touched each other. His lips are swollen, and he's completely naked now. No one will catch us; we're totally alone. It's unbearably hot, yet I need him, want him, and have to have him.
Neither of us have done it before, so it will be an awkward mess of pain and fumbling limbs and most likely blood. Every magazine tells me not to expect much, so I won't.
I can feel my heart beating in my head, and my breathing picks up as I nod a little in reply to him. My wet lips caress and tug at his.
We're too young. We're the perfect age. Everyone does it at fourteen, anyway.
We're fifteen, and I let Edward Cullen take me for the first time.