Hey Osa Bella readers! Thanks for sticking with this. Two chapters posted for you today, courtesy again of Mr. Myg. I think he's got an ulterior motive here, but anyway. Some things in this post are NSFW or kids or in-laws looking over your shoulder.
If you'd like to read this in a .pdf, you can snag it right here. And if you're so inclined, please do leave me comments and let me know what you think! You know I love to hear your theories.
Happy Saturday and happy reading!
Jack of Wands
I woke up the next morning and noticed it. The bear fetish was still in my hand, the chain wrapped around, like it was securing it there, the stone's imprint deep in my palm. My head was a rotten, split melon. I didn't think I'd been that drunk when I passed out, but at least I wasn't puking.
I needed coffee. But when I went into the kitchen I remembered I was out of milk. My car was at Charlie's, so I decided to walk down to the coffee shop and get a half decent cup. Maybe I'd even have a little breakfast.
Black sweater, jeans, socks, boots, jacket. Fetish. Why couldn't I just put the thing away? Healing and protection. Two things I needed, I thought, at least for a little while longer. I slipped it around my neck and went out the door with my bag.
The streets were more quiet than usual. Peaceful. Just this side of depressing, actually, but I wasn't feeling down. I was still feeling hungover, though better now that I was in the fresh air. And a little troubled. I wished I didn't have a whole week to wait for Derek to get home. When I hung out with Derek I felt a lot more sane.
It looked like rain but the weather held all the way to Forks Avenue, where I found the coffee shop very quiet. Perfect. I sat in a big booth and ordered coffee, two over easy and toast. I sent a text message to Derek.
"Can't you come home early?"
Breakfast came with a refill on my coffee and kept me occupied for just a few minutes. I started to feel lonely. I checked my email on my phone and perused the headlines. I debated texting Jake. He said he'd call me today, but he probably wouldn't. Maybe he would this time. I should wait and see.
I paid and began to walk to Charlie's house to get my car, a steaming hot cup of coffee to go in a cardboard cup. My head was better, but my thoughts were cluttered. Derek. Jake. Derek. Jake. Edward.
But I couldn't dwell on Edward, because thinking about Edward would inevitably lead to thinking things that were just entirely wrong. Unhealthy. So I went back to thinking about Derek. And then Jake.
It started to rain. I flipped my hood up and pulled my bag tighter to me and shut the little flap on the lid to my coffee and hurried my pace.
A car was coming up fast from behind me, so I got off the street, onto the mushy grass. Way too fast. Why do people have to drive like assholes in little towns? Couldn't they see there was a pedestrian? Maybe not. I remembered my near run in with the black Toyota truck and moved far off the road. I turned around and stopped to make sure I could see it coming.
The car looked just like Edward's. My heart jumped. And then it stopped beating altogether because the Volvo pulled over and the window went down and it was him.
"Let me give you a ride," he said.
"I'm going to get your interior all wet," I said, trying to tone down my happiness at the sight of him. "I don't have far to go and I'm already soaked—it's okay."
"Don't be ridiculous." He leaned over and popped the passenger side door open. "Get in."
"Where am I taking you?" he asked.
"My father's house," I said. "He's on 6th."
"Did you have a nice Christmas?" he asked.
"Sure," I said. "I was up a little late."
"So much for a quiet one with Chief Swan."
"It was a bigger party than I thought it would be," I said, trying to read his tone of voice. "I thought you were in Alaska. Change of plans?"
"I'm leaving tomorrow," he said. "I had to take care of a few things before I left."
"College applications? I know a lot of those are due soon."
"I'm going to take a year off."
"And do what?"
"Sail," he said. "I've been wanting to circumnavigate for awhile."
The thought of Edward leaving Forks and going off to college was one thing. But the thought of him leaving and sailing around the world? It might as well have been him leaving earth. It made me sad, but was still awesome.
"That sounds amazing," I said. "I'm sure you'll get into any college you want after that."
"So do you think you'll work at Forks High forever?" he asked.
"No," I said." Actually, I've been thinking about trying to finish my Ph.D., finally."
"You'll have to move away from Forks at some point, then," he said as he pulled up in front of Charlie's house.
"I don't know," I said. "I really haven't thought much about it. I suppose if I get back into a Ph.D. program I'll have to move wherever I get accepted. Not sure if I should go back to Rutgers. I don't really want to go back to Jersey."
"Dartmouth has a good psychology department."
"I do love New England," I said. "But I doubt I'd get into Dartmouth with the kind of time off I've had. Anyway, what about you? You must be planning on college after your big circumnavigation."
"I'm undecided," he said and smiled.
"Edward," I said, and then paused. My phone beeped, letting me know I had a text message. Derek. I ignored it.
He was looking at the space where my jacket was just a little unzipped, and the sliver of my neckline was showing, and I knew he saw not the bear fetish itself, but the chain as it slipped under my sweater. But the chain was enough.
"Thank you for the ride," I said. "Have a nice time in Alaska."
"Any time," he said.
I heard nothing from Jake for three days so I called him. He was all apologies, of course. Said he’d been helping the Clearwaters take care of Seth, though I’m not sure what help Seth needed with whatever mystery fever he’d come down with. They refused to take him to the hospital, insisting they could deal with it on the Reservation. In any case, as I’d predicted, there were no more signs of any romantic interest from Jake. If he wasn’t drunk, he wasn’t interested. I was beyond ready to move on from that.
Derek called me every night before bed, and by the end of the week I couldn't wait for him to get home. He picked me up for New Year’s eve at eight o’clock looking surprisingly hip in a black button-down shirt, jeans and new shoes that—surprise—weren’t hiking boots. I wore a little black shimmery short dress with spaghetti straps and a low neckline, not slutty but definitely hot. Just because Derek didn’t believe in sex before marriage did not mean I wasn’t going to tempt him. I wasn’t suffering his celibacy alone.
“You’re gorgeous,” he said as soon as he saw me. “I missed you.” And then he kissed me, tenderly. I might have been a little too enthusiastic in the way I kissed him back, but he certainly didn't mind. I was pretty revved up for the evening.
He told me all about his week back home as we drove out to Illeana and Carl’s. They'd splurged on a big party and a DJ and dancing and a full bar, of which Illeana did not partake given her expecting status, but she did remind us several times that the Bloody Marys were of the highest quality. I refrained from having any.
It was the first time I introduced Derek to Illeana and Carl, and it went better than I’d even hoped. He was relaxed and funny and hit it off with Carl right away. As they got absorbed in an intense conversation about fishing for salmon in the Sol Duc, Illeana dragged me to her bedroom.
“So? How is he?” she asked.
“He’s fine, why?”
“Don’t be dumb! How is he in bed?”
“Oh… “ I felt my face grow hot with embarrassment.
“Oh my God! Is he that good?” She misinterpreted my expression.
“No, it’s not that.“
“Oh, he’s not good?”
“He’s not… We’re not… “
"He’s not a 40 year old virgin, is he?”
“Sort of a born again virgin,” I said.
“Ah, that’s the worst kind,” she said, sympathetically. “He seems like a nice guy, too. Religious?”
“Something like that,” I said. “I don’t know what to do—I’m going a little nuts, honestly. I really like him but sometimes I feel like I’m dating a seventh grader.”
“Girl, I’ve got just the thing for you,“ she said. She went into her closet and pulled out a box. “Carl got this for me for Christmas, but I haven’t used it. I think you need it more than I do.”
I took the brown box from her and opened it. Inside was a bright pink Jack Rabbit vibrator. I burst out in laughter.
“What? You have one already?” she asked.
“No, but I was looking at this one online last week. I just about wore my bullet out.”
“I’m afraid if I use this thing I’ll go into labor. You take it. Carl can buy me another after the baby gets here, if I ever feel like having sex again.”
I took the vibrator out of the box and stared at it. It was huge. And pink and plastic with a clit attachment and a remote control. I’d always wanted one of these but had been too intimidated to actually order one.
“It looks complicated,” I said. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”
“This model says it’s for beginners,” she said, reading the pamphlet. “Says it’s the ‘Honda Civic of vibrators.’ You can drive a stick shift, you should be able to work this.” She handed me the pamphlet.
I stashed the vibrator at the bottom of my bag, wrapping it in the tee shirt I’d packed for tomorrow, just in case I was lucky enough to get an invite to stay over at Derek’s.
“I’m leaving this in your room until I leave,” I said.
“Sure,” she said. “Chicken.” Then she gave me a more serious look. “So, do you think you’re in love?”
“I think I could fall in love with him, but this not having sex business—it’s a problem,” I admitted. “Does that make me shallow?”
“It makes you human, honey,” she said and hugged me.
We went out to the party and Derek broke away from his conversation with Carl and came and put his arm around me. “There you are,” he said. “Your friends are great. I’m really glad you brought me.”
“I'm really glad I brought you too," I said.
He smiled as he led me through the crowd of people dancing. I hadn’t danced much with anyone since Zack and for a moment I hesitated, but he put his arms around me just as the DJ broke into a classics set. Frank Sinatra’s “The way you look tonight,” was playing, and I have always been a sucker for any crooning by the Chairman of the Board. The song itself made me go soft inside, and Derek was relaxed, confident and smooth as he held me on the dance floor. We had a moment there with the music playing and his skillful gliding across the floor where I thought I could really see myself with him in a more permanent kind of way.
The song ended and he led me through the house to the empty back porch. It was chilly, but not too cold for December. He hung his jacket around my shoulders and wrapped an arm around me as we looked up at the stars.
“I just wanted to steal a minute with you away from the crowd. Hope that’s okay,” he said.
“I’m glad you did.” I rested my head against his shoulder.
“Bella, how do you feel about us?”
“I feel very good about our relationship,” I said.
“Well,” he said, “would you be willing to see me exclusively?”
“Are you asking me to go steady?” I teased.
“Sort of,” he smiled. “I want to take things to the next level.”
“What does that involve, exactly?” I asked. “Do I get a pin or something?”
He laughed. “Could you not make this harder on me?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m kind of enjoying it.”
“The sadist finally comes out,” he teased back. “Can you at least answer the question?”
“Yes,” I said. “I want to level up.”
“What about Jacob Black?” he asked.
“We’re just friends,” I said.
“Does he know that?” he asked, an edge creeping into his voice.
“Yes, of course.”
“So then, if he calls and says he wants to go out drinking does that mean you’ll say yes or no?”
“Jacob never calls me,” I said.
“Okay, I’m sorry.” He backed off. “I’m acting like a jealous boyfriend already.”
“I forgive you.” I smiled.
“I know we’ve been taking things slow and on Christmas I was worried…” his voice trailed off but his face was composed as his soft blue eyes delved into mine, looking for some sign of reciprocity. I put my arms around his neck.
“You don’t have to worry,” I said. I needed this in my life right now, I told myself. I needed to make a commitment to somebody who actually cared for me and was appropriate for me to be with. Derek kissed me and my body tensed in that good way a body does when a good kiss is happening.
“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered in my ear.
“Okay,” I said breathlessly.
In the car I held his hand and caressed his fingers as he sped along Route 101. It was only an hour until midnight and I silently willed him to drive faster, as though somehow the magic of New Year’s Eve was going to run out on us if we didn’t get to a bedroom in time.
“Is my place okay?” he asked.
When we arrived, I dropped my bag on his kitchen counter and winced as I heard the thud of the vibrator hitting the marble. It sure didn’t sound like a tooth brush.
“Glad you didn’t pack light,” he laughed. “Did you make sure to bring your pet brick?” He put his arms around me and kissed my neck. I went to push the bag back towards the back splash, away from the edge of the counter but instead I accidentally knocked it to the floor. It landed face down and I looked over his shoulder to see the tip of the jack rabbit poking out of the top. I tried to hit it with my foot, but being the gentleman he was he turned around to pick the bag up for me.
“Sorry—I’ll get it,” he said, then stopped as he noticed the bulbous hot pink tip of the vibrator protruding, most unwelcome, like a boner at a high school swim meet. “Bella?” he asked, but then didn’t follow with any kind of question.
“Oh God,“ I said, my face heating up to emergency room red. “I can explain that.” I fumbled for any kind of explanation. “It’s not mine,” I squirmed like a kid caught with weed.
“Is that what I think it is?” he asked, staring down at my bag like he was staring at spilled primavera or some other objectionable mess one might find on a kitchen floor.
“It’s Illeana’s idea of a joke,” I said. “She gave it to me at the party.”
“Why would she do that?” he asked.
“To embarrass me,” I said. “She’s evil like that.” I picked the bag up and shoved the vibrator back down to the bottom. I couldn’t look at him I was so embarrassed. “Look, I’ve never even seen one of these before,” I said, struggling. “I don’t even know how to use it.”
Derek shook his head and then started to laugh.
“Liar,” he said, and narrowed his eyes at me in jest. Then I started to laugh, finally relaxing.
“I’m telling the truth—Illeana got it from Carl for Christmas but she won’t use it because she’s afraid she’ll go into labor. So she gave it to me.”
“What are you going to do with it?” he asked. I laughed.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Why? Do you have any suggestions?”
“You should leave it here,” he said, pulling it from my bag. “That way you won’t accidentally hurt yourself. What the heck does this do?” He pointed to the clit stimulator.
“Ha ha,” I said. “I’m sure we could figure it out.”
“Hmm, interesting proposal for an experiment,” he said, turning it on. “Wow, this thing is powerful. You’d better be careful with it or you’ll break your ovaries.”
“You dope,” I said, grabbing it out of his hands.
He took it back from me and backed me into the counter and held it vibrating against my thigh. I immediately got wet.
“Oh my God…” I whispered under my breath.
“Someday,” he said, “this may come in handy.” He turned it off and put it on the counter and then ran his hand up my skirt along my leg. I kissed him softly on the lips.
“I’d rather it be you anyway,” I whispered in his ear.
“I know,” he said and then kissed me. I could feel his erection grinding into my leg, making me hotter.
“Let’s go to your room,” I said.
My cell phone rang. I looked at my bag and then up at the clock. Midnight. It rang again. It was probably Jake, drunk. I let it ring.
“Happy New Year, Bella,” Derek said, noticing the time. He kissed me again, tenderly, and then led me into the bedroom.
We landed on the bed, limbs tangled together, a small explosion of expectation. All of my waiting, my patience I imagined soon to be rewarded in the consummation of our newly minted exclusive status. I lay beneath him as he covered my mouth with his, his tongue darting hungrily. His hands stroked my hair, then slowed as he sweetly caressed the side of my face. I felt his fingers glide over my bare shoulders, pulling the thin straps of my dress to the side as his lips found the curve of skin at the base of my neck. I shivered in excitement and began to unbutton his shirt. He dragged the edge of my dress up and I caught the side zipper and pulled it open. He fingered the lace at the top of my thong, hooked a finger around the fabric as though he was about to free me from it, but then just left his hand not quite there, but above, as though the rest of the fingers were conferencing, considering their options. I reached my hand down between his legs but he brushed it away before I could reach, pinning it to the bed below.
“Bella,” he whispered in my ear, then kissing it, “you have no idea how much I want you right now.”
“Me too,” I whispered back and then I felt his hesitation. I looked into his open eyes and saw the anguish there. “Derek?”
“Is it okay if I just hold you for awhile?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, surprised. He lay back on the pillows and I lay next to him with my head on his shoulder in the quiet darkness of the bedroom. He wrapped his arms around me and kissed the top of my head sweetly.
“You know, I’ve never been with anyone other than my wife,” he said a bit sheepishly. “I’ve never wanted to be with anyone else until now.” I responded with a nuzzle to his shoulder and he pulled me closer. “I know we have different values on some things. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want you. You know that.”
“I know,” I said, retrieving the argument I’d rehearsed for several weeks, a stab at persuading him to reconsider. “But since we’ve both already been married, maybe it’s not as big a deal. ”
“That isn’t the issue,” he said, softly. “I have tremendous respect for you and I can’t just use you for some sexual gratification of mine. You can understand that, can’t you?” he asked.
“Of course I can,” I said. I looked away and felt all of the sexual tension drain out of me like power from a dying battery. “I think I just really crave the physical connectedness.“ Out of the blue my voice cracked and tears sprang to my eyes. I choked back the surge of emotion as this realization washed over me. Derek held me tight and kissed the top of my head.
“I’ll hold you all night, right here,” he said.
I felt his arms warm and strong around me and recognized the commitment in them. I accepted.
The winters in Forks are not overly cold, nor harsh, but they are wet and they seem to linger, some years longer than others. January, February and March all trudged on with little energy, Derek and I tucked away in our comfy hollow of a romance, safe and warm against the dreariness. Our relationship was progressing, but the pace was slow. It reminded me of our black bears in hibernation, not eating or drinking or doing much of anything besides the occasional wander into the Thriftway parking lot.
There continued to be reports of bear dumpster diving and bears rolled up like soft plush furniture behind people’s homes. They had become honorary citizens around Forks and La Push, where they came even closer to the humans than they did in town. We’d come to think of them like tourists who couldn’t find the bus home. It got to the point where the locals were comfortable spotting a towering black bear across the drug store parking lot and would shrug it off like they did the squirrels in their bird feeders.
The students continued to chart bear activity and research animal-to-human communication and folklore of the indigenous peoples of North America, sparking great debates on the meaning of our local bear behavior. Mike Newton was the most passionate in his belief that their presence represented some type of warning, and I often wondered what kind of projection this was. Was it the fear of change, the pressure of growing up? The bears had clearly come to signify danger for Mike, and I grew concerned as his mood became more erratic, his energy for this project more obsessive than passionate.
“People need to be warned,” Mike said one early spring afternoon. “Even if we don’t know what the specific danger is, they should know something big is going down.”
“Warn them of what, though?” Edward questioned him. “Maybe it’s just a simple matter of humans growing more comfortable with them, and they’re now feeling more at home closer to civilization, like pigeons in big cities.” As I watched the two of them interact I got the sense that Edward was always trying to de-escalate Mike.
“That’s a chicken and egg argument,” Mike said.
“But he’s got a point, Mike,” I said. “The meaning of this behavior is only a projection of our own beliefs. It’s symbolic, right? We can’t prove that there’s any meaning beyond what we assign it.”
“Miss Swan, why do you always take Edward’s side? Just because everyone knows he’s your favorite?”
Edward laughed and I shook my head in a combination of amusement and irritation.
“Come on, Mike, everyone knows you’re my favorite,” I said, trying to bust his attitude up.
“Maybe we should put the bear project down and work on something else,” Derek said.
“No!” Mike insisted, and the other students protested as well.
“We’ve been working on this for months,” Angela said. “We can’t put it down now before we’ve come to any final conclusions.”
“We won’t kill it,” Derek said. “We’ll just focus on some other topic for a few weeks. But we need some distance on it so we gain a little more perspective. We’ll take it back up when we do the Lake Crescent trip.”
One thing I had to say about Derek, when he gave a directive, the students listened. He laid that debate to rest and Angela, Erik and Paige started working on a school wide campaign for Earth Day. But the shift in focus left Mike Newton unsatisfied and I was uneasy watching him wear his grudge so openly.
When the kids cleared out at 4 o’clock, Derek looked at me in a funny sort of way, like he wanted to say something he knew I’d find annoying. Then he did.
“I’m going away for spring break,” he announced, and then busied himself sorting out a stack of papers on his desk. He kept his eyes averted as he fidgeted, clearly waiting for me to respond.
“Cancun? Ft. Lauderdale?” I half-heartedly teased.
“I’m heading home to see the folks,” he said. “It’s been awhile.”
“Christmas,” I reminded him.
“What are you doing next week?” he asked.
“I thought I’d be hanging out with you.” I waited awkwardly for an invitation, but none came. “I’d like to meet your family.”
“Yeah, we should plan that soon,” he said.
“Do your parents even know about us?” I asked, suddenly suspicious. “Did you ever tell them about me?”
“I will when I see them next week.” He packed his bag and we walked out to the parking lot.
“Why haven’t you told them yet?”
“No real reason,” he said.
“Our relationship is just not that big a deal, I suppose,” I said.
“Come on, you know that’s not it,” he said.
I had been worried Derek’s parents wouldn’t approve of me, but I’d hoped if that was the case that he wouldn’t be too bothered. Now I wasn’t so sure. His parents were very religious and I wasn’t, and though this issue hadn’t become much of a sticking point between us it did lurk beneath the calm waters of our relationship like a hammerhead in a bath tub.
I had already introduced Derek to my father right after New Year’s. Charlie hadn’t been overly impressed, but he was able to sit with him for half a football game. I’d felt a little strange as I noticed how easily he polished off a six pack of Rainier while Derek sipped iced tea. It was plainly obvious our families were different and wouldn’t soon be planning potlucks, but if I could handle that there was no reason he shouldn’t.
“Bring me to Portland with you,” I said as we got to my car. “I won’t be doing anything next week anyway.”
“We’ll definitely plan a visit soon,” he said. “But not next week. I’m sure you’ll survive the week without me.”
“Of course,” I said. “But that’s not the point.”
“This isn’t the right time,” he said, and it was clear he was done talking about it. He kissed me on the cheek and left me standing next to my car. I got in, disappointed, trying to understand what the big deal was. Then it dawned on me. Easter. I dialed his number.
“Is it because it’s a religious holiday?” I blurted out. “Because I’d be happy to go to church with your family.”
“Bella," he said. “Why don’t you make plans to go see Illeana next week? I’m sure she misses you.”
“Why won’t you talk to me about it?” I demanded.
“I will,” he said. “But not right now and not over the phone.”
“Come over tonight,” I said.
“I can’t. I’ve got fifty midterms to grade, you know that.”
“This sucks,” I said.
“Okay, I’m really done discussing this now,” he said. “See you tomorrow.”
And that was the end of that conversation.
The following morning Edward came to my office. He had not come to see me there since he’d given me the bear fetish, something I was acutely aware of as the memory of his hands on my shoulders sent an uncomfortable buzzing through me.
“Look, I don’t want to disappoint you,” he said, “but I’m quitting Thoreau club.”
“Why?” I could not conceal my dismay or my surprise, and this news did not help my already sour mood.
“It’s too tense.”
“You mean Mike, right?” I asked, impatiently.
“Yes,” he said. “I have a bad feeling about him.”
“What do you mean?”
“He’s not stable,” Edward said. “He’s got a lot of twisted thoughts about things and when I’m around he feels worse. I don’t want to put him over the edge.”
“I don’t want you to quit,” I said.
“I know,” he said, looking torn. “But I’m worried that the more I’m around him, the more paranoid he gets.”
The strange warning about Mike concerned me. I walked down to Derek’s room at the bell to ask him what he thought, but he shrugged it off.
“They’re competitive young males,” Derek said. “Mike thinks he’s always right, Edward thinks he’s always right. If Edward leaves, I’m sure it will only help.”
“But that’s not fair to Edward,” I said. “And what about this idea that Mike could be close to having some sort of melt down?” I whispered. “Don’t you worry about that?”
“I think teenagers are overly dramatic,” he said, dismissing me as the students filed in. “Don’t encourage them.”
Edward stopped coming to the Tuesday meetings and Mike became noticeably more mellow, but the other students were as disappointed about Edward leaving as I was. He’d been a strong counterpoint in the group to Mike’s urgent, dark fantasies about some kind of doomsday scenario. Even as we worked on the Earth Day campaign, Mike would start ranting about the end of the world, putting a damper on most of our gatherings. The other kids were tiring of it, even his girlfriend.
Jessica, Paige and Angela tried to talk Edward into coming back to the club, not exactly against Derek’s wishes, but he didn’t encourage them. I stayed out of it, though I hoped they could get him to change his mind. They were only marginally successful.
“He’s thinking about coming on the camping trip,” Jessica said at our next meeting. “But only because Paige begged him. He says he has to use the extra afternoon to study because he’s planning to do an accelerated summer term at Dartmouth.”
Dartmouth? I thought. So he was lying to someone.
“That dude is such a tool,” Mike replied. “Why would we want him back anyway?”
“Hey,” I said. “We don’t talk behind each other’s backs here.”
“Whatever,” he said, glaring at me. “We all know how much you miss him, Miss Swan.”
“That’s enough,” Derek jumped in before I had a chance to respond.
“I do miss Edward,” I said, defensively. “I’d miss any one of you if you quit, including you, Newton, even if you are acting like a fifth grader right about now.”
“Bella,” Derek said, lightly warning.
“I want you in my office first thing tomorrow morning,” I said to Mike. “Before homeroom.”
Mike came into my office the next morning first thing, not the obnoxious, confrontational brat he’d been the afternoon before, but a more subdued, sheepish kid. The one I was more familiar with.
“Mike, I’m really worried about you,” I began, motioning him to take a seat across from me. “You seem very stressed out to me. You’ve been snapping at everyone—even Jessica.”
“Things suck between me and Jess right now,” he said.
He slouched down, his feet nervously tapping the floor as he looked out the window, unable to meet my gaze. He toyed with the plastic tip on the tie of his gray hoodie, sometimes taking it between his teeth and gnawing it, sometimes twisting it in his fingers. The poor kid looked really worn out.
“She’s into Cullen,” he said and then glared at me. “Your homeboy.”
“You know, I’ve spent more time with you than just about any other kid in this school.” I was more than unnerved by his continuing accusations that I had a soft spot for Edward, especially since I actively tried to hide that painful fact. “You and I are every bit as close, if not closer, than Edward and I.”
In terms of time spent together and long heart to heart talks, that was the absolute truth.
“I just don’t see why everyone thinks he’s so wonderful,” he said. “The entire family is just wrong. What kind of people adopt teenagers and let them sleep together?”
I was silent, giving him one of my therapeutic looks, specifically the one where I look sort of concerned, interested and caring, but also where I indicate that I know this rant of bullshit is a device to divert both our attention away from whatever the real issue is.
“Look, I’m sorry things are shaky with you and Jess,” I said. “I know how feel about her. Have you talked to her about all this?”
“Yeah,” he said. “She denies it, but she definitely acts guilty. You should see how she reacts anytime he walks into the room.”
“Hmm… “ was all I could say, because just then there was a knock at my door.
“Come in,” I called, expecting Mr. Colter or Doreen with a stack of paperwork, but instead it was Edward, in the wrong place at the exact wrong moment. My heart sank a little as I saw the irritation settle like a storm cloud on Mike’s face and then the immediate concern register on Edward’s.
“I’ll come back later,” Edward said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“I was just leaving,” Mike said and scowled as he stood up. “We were done.”
“No,” I said. “We weren’t.”
“I have a biology test,” Mike insisted.
“Fine, but I’m calling you down at lunch,” I said.
“Okay,” Mike said and ducked out. He tried to knock into Edward’s shoulder as he passed him, bully style, but Edward appeared to have moved out of the way instantly. It was like watching a movie with a bunch of frames missing. Mike stumbled forward and then gave Edward a look that was as confused as I felt before he sauntered off to class.
“I see the girls were not successful in getting you to come back to the club,” I said.
“It’s better I’m not there,” he said. “You saw what just happened here.”
“I don’t get why he’s so bugged by you,” I said.
“Jessica,” Edward said.
“Are you and Jessica… ?”
“Of course not,” he said, irritated. “Do you honestly think I’d steal Mike’s girlfriend?”
“No, actually,” I said. “But it’s not like it doesn’t happen. This is a high school, you know.”
“Jessica Stanley?” He laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Okay then,” I said. “What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to know if you were going to be around over spring break,” he said, a sly look about him, as though he already knew the answer. I tried to suppress the scowl I felt creeping onto my face as I thought of Derek going away without me.
“Why?” I asked.
“I need to sail Reckoner back to her slip in Port Angeles from Seattle.”
“Wow… That sounds like a great trip,” I said, confused. “What is that, about a day?”
“It’s a long day if there’s good wind,” he said. If we were in a bar instead of a high school, I might have guessed he was about to buy me a drink, the way he was looking at me. “I was wondering if you’d like to help me bring her home.”
I sat for what felt like ten minutes contemplating this offer. He watched me patiently, a small smirk on his face, like he knew how impossible this invitation was. I did an internal inventory of my possible replies. There was, “Ha ha, you’re kidding, right?” but I knew he wasn’t. There was, “Well, that’s very sweet of you, but I’ve got plans,” which was a lie, not that it mattered under those circumstances.
There was the addressing-the-underlying-issue-head-on reply, “Edward, we’ve got to stop meeting like this,” but that would make the assumption there was more to this invite than a simple acknowledgement that I loved to sail and that I loved his boat. Any sailor would want to sail Reckoner. And the truth was, there was little else I could think of that I’d like to do more than sail with Edward on Reckoner over spring break.
“Edward, you don’t need my help to sail Reckoner to Port Angeles. You singlehanded her to Tahiti.”
“I know. But I thought you might enjoy the sail.”
I should have said something right there and then to let him know in no uncertain terms that I wouldn’t go into that fuzzy, weird social territory with him again.
“Who else is going?” I asked.
“You can invite Mr. Banner if you like,” he said. “Is he going to be around next week?”
This moment tested my will like none I’d ever confronted. He could have dangled a million dollar bills in front of me and it wouldn’t have been as alluring as his invitation to sail, to spend an entire day on the water, on the boat of my dreams, with him—a human being I was alarmingly attracted to. I knew what my answer should have been. I could hear the words in my head. But those are not the words I spoke aloud.
“When do we leave?” I asked.
The look on his face was unmistakable. He was happy. Very happy. I’d never said or done anything to make Edward so happy, and his happiness? It made me happy too. Very happy. In fact, the abundance of good energy in that room almost obliterated the “Holy shit, what have I done?” instant remorse I had, almost knocked the fear I had for my reputation and my career right on its ass. It was that good.
But it was just another indicator that I had launched myself into deep water knowing just a couple of strokes.