Public Promenade


Between Esme and Alice, I was fairly sure I’d be institutionalized by the end of the week.

“I just want something cheap,” I insisted as I flipped through the rolling rack of gowns Alice brought into the fitting room. “This is pretty.”

I lingered on a teal strapless gown that was fitted through the hips before flowing into a skirt of tiny tiered ruffles. My eyes scanned the price tag.

“This is over three thousand dollars. Okay, that’s so not happening,” I muttered to myself before turning to Alice. “Can’t we just go to Loehmann’s?”

Alice and Esme answered me in unison, “No.”

I rolled my eyes and pointed to Alice. “I expect this shit from you.” I angled my finger toward Esme. “You, on the other hand, not so much. When did you drink the Kool Aid?”

“This event is very important to Edward. He’s so happy that you’re going with him this weekend, that you’re willing to share this part of his life with him.”

“I guarantee you, Edward doesn’t care what I wear. He’s just going to…”

I stopped speaking when I remembered I was talking to his mother. Sure, we all knew my dress would end up on his dorm room floor, but I couldn’t imagine Esme would want to hear that about her baby boy. I turned back to the rack and recommenced flipping through the gowns.

“Guys don’t notice clothing,” I muttered stupidly.

“I just know how it feels to show up at a function like this and be completely out of your element. Believe me, you’ll feel less intimidated if you love what you’re wearing.”

I laughed. “If anything, I’ll feel old. I doubt I’ll be intimidated by college kids.”

“I wasn’t referring to their ages.” Esme walked across the room and carefully examined the teal gown. “If you like it, you should try it on.”

“I feel ridiculous even entertaining the idea. I can’t wear an article of clothing that cost more money than my car.”

“You wore couture to Alice’s wedding,” she countered.

“I did. And it felt excessive then, too. I only agreed to it because I knew if I didn’t, in the company of the rest of the guests, I’d feel like her poor relation.”

She continued paging through the dresses and when she finally did speak, her voice was firm but gentle. “What makes you think this is any different?”

“They’re kids, and this is a college party.”

“Age does not exclude a person from being vicious,” Esme explained without a hint of humor.

“Is this your polite way of telling me I’ll be playing Jay Gatsby to Edward’s Daisy Fay?”

I heard Alice snort from across the room.

“More or less,” Esme said.

“I think I can handle it,” I insisted. “Even if I couldn’t, I don’t see how a dress that costs more than my annual property tax bill would help.”

“You’ll feel better if you like how you look.”

“I teach public school, Esme. That means I already hold the degree these kids are working towards. It also means I’ve chosen a profession that pretty much assures I’ll have neither the means nor the need to own a dress like this.”

Esme sighed. “The first time I met Jack and Kitty, I was already sure he was it for me. What I didn’t know was that I’d met Carlisle during a rebellious phase where he was determined to make it without the financial support of his parents. I had no idea what kind of world he came from. In those days, Carlisle lived in a row home in University City with five other guys. He ate ramen noodles and shopped at thrift stores. I assumed he was a scholarship student like me, until the night I met his parents. Jack’s driver picked me up in a Bentley. I wound up at a formal dinner at their country club wearing a $7 dress I’d bought at a thrift store.”

“Jack and Kitty are…well…Jack and Kitty. Even if you’d worn Armani, you still would have felt out of place for obvious reasons. For one, you’re a human being. When you add to it that you’re not a lush and you have a clue, I’m fairly sure the Cullens thought you were from another planet.”

“True, but that’s not what I’m talking about,” she said.

“Surely, you’d met people like that at Penn.”

“Penn is different from Princeton. It’s urban, for one. The student population is more diverse and twice as large. You have less of the good old boy mentality. The social scene isn’t based on a country club model. If you happened to be attending for free because your father was one of the janitors, you didn’t necessarily stand out.”

Whoa.

What?

“You went to Penn for free because your father was one of the janitors?”

She nodded.

“You can do that?” I asked.

“You could in the eighties. Of course, in those days you could also wear neon pink slouch socks over stirrup pants and delude yourself into thinking you looked hot.”

“Too bad this isn’t a theme party. You could make my hair big, and I know I could score some leggings for less than $20,” I joked.

Esme looked crestfallen.

“I understand what you’re trying to do for me, Esme, and I do appreciate it, but seriously…” I glanced at the label on the teal gown. “Carmen Marc Valvo is hardly industrial strength Raid. I’m not going to immobilize the killer WASPs with couture.”

“Agreed. Still, I want to do this for you. You’re going to feel self-conscious enough, being the oldest person there, and you won’t know anyone but Edward. You have enough to contend with. Loving how you look is one less thing.”

“Do you honestly think a better outfit would have helped you win over Jack and Kitty?”

“No, but I wouldn’t have felt quite so self-conscious. It would have been harder for them to intimidate me. Just try on the gowns, Bella. Every woman should have a dress that makes her feel like a goddess. I know you’re not comfortable going to the formal this weekend, and that you’re only attending because it means a lot to Edward. It’s something nice that you’re doing for him, because you love him. This is something nice I can do for you, because I love you. It’s not like I have a daughter I can do this with…”

I grabbed the teal gown off the rack.

“I’ll try it on,” I conceded, reminding myself that women rarely fall in love with the first dress they try on. I decided I would give it a go, and when it didn’t work I’d have Alice find me something equally suitable in the $300 range.

Of course, I fell in love with it the second its zipper closed over my back. It was ridiculous and over the top, but I found myself twirling in front of the three way mirror in that fitting room. I didn’t think I could possibly feel more beautiful until I saw the look on Edward’s face when he saw me in his dorm room, dressed and ready to escort him to his formal. He leapt from the futon when I appeared, with bedroom eye make-up and my hair pulled into a tight chignon.

His eyes were filled with emotion.

“Would it be incredibly cheesy if I fell to my knees and thanked God I’m a man? Because that’s kind of what I feel like doing right now.”

I laughed. “Not only would I lose all respect I have for you, but you’d get schmutz on your tux.”

He brought my hand to his lips. “In that case, let me leave it at this. You’ve never looked more beautiful. I’ve never been more proud to be with you, nor have I ever loved you more.”

“Listen to you,” I teased. “You’d think you’d spent the past two years at charm school, not the nation’s most highly rated undergraduate institution. You do realize it’s a huge waste of effort on your part. You should know by now I’m a sure thing.” I added in a suggestive whisper, “Don’t wear yourself out too much tonight. I have plans for you.”

“Is that so?”

“Mmm hmm.” I placed my hands on his chest and trailed them down the front of his body. “Do you remember the one act neither of us have done before?”

“Just so you know, I have zero interest in water sports, and the showers here are communal.”

“Not that. Yuck. Wait, that’s not something you’re curious about, is it?” I was suddenly panicked.

“No, I was teasing you. I know exactly the act to which you are referring.”

I smiled diabolically. “I brought a bottle of Astroglide.”

His eyes widened. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were trying to convince me to ditch the formal and stay in tonight.”

“Would you skip the evening’s social obligations if I told you I’d take it up the ass?”

“I’d seriously consider it.”

“Interesting. Good thing you won’t have to choose. I’m happy to provide you with both.”

He flashed a triumphant smile, before placing an open-mouthed kiss on my throat. “I love you, Bella.”

“You don’t have to butter me up, you know. I told you I brought a whole bottle of lube, and I fully intend for us to use it.”

“I’m serious.” He rested his hands on my hips. “I know you feel uncomfortable here. Your presence tonight means to me more than I can possibly express.”

“Well.” I let out a mock sigh. “It was either stomach an evening on campus or throw you to the skanks. I can live with a few hours of feeling like the babysitter if it keeps you out of their clutches. Though once the whores see you in that tux, I’m going to have my work cut out for me. I suspect I’ll have to beat them off you in a pathetic attempt to guard your virtue.”

He pulled me against him. “You can do whatever you want, as long as when the party is over, the person you’re beating off is me.”

“That’s a given.” I hugged him tightly for a moment before we left.

Once outside his building, I threaded my arm through his. The conversation was light as he led me down Prospect Avenue, which he referred to simply as, “The Street”.

“Will I know anyone here besides you?” I asked.

“No. Mike and Tyler belong to a different club, and Angela is an independent.”

“Independence is an option? You made it sound as if one starved if one didn’t join a club.”

Edward laughed. “Starving is a bit extreme. It would be safe to say that you don’t get much socially out of being here on campus if you don’t join a club. Don’t worry about not knowing anyone. I have no intention of leaving your side.”

Edward stayed true to his word and remained next to me all evening. The event itself didn’t feel much different from a fraternity formal, except the membership was coed and the surroundings were far more glamorous. The combination of the wine and how I felt in my gown made me feel more than comfortable, and by the third time I excused myself for the ladies’ room, I felt almost at ease.

Tipsy and wearing a ball gown, taking care of business was no easy feat. I stood at the sink and rested my bag on the counter. I took out my lipstick and when I looked in the mirror to reapply, I noticed a girl standing two sinks down staring at me a bit too intensely. The second my eyes met hers, she immediately looked away. She seemed even more on edge than I had been at the beginning of the evening, a feat which I wouldn’t have thought possible.

I put the cap back on my lipstick and addressed her, hoping to put her at ease. “Is your date the only person here you know?”

“Excuse me?” She looked startled.

“At this party. I’m sorry, it’s none of my business. You just seem a bit jumpy, and I was wondering if you knew anyone here besides your date. You don’t have to answer. Really, it’s none of my business and nothing more than wishful thinking on my part. Not that I would want anyone to feel as out of place as I do right now, but it would be nice to have someone with whom I could commiserate.” I gave her an awkward smile.

“Commiserate?” She repeated the last word I’d spoken almost as if she was struggling to grasp its meaning.

“I don’t know anyone here except my boyfriend, Edward.” I explained.

“He’s a good one to know.”

Though her words were complimentary, there was a marked absence of emotion behind them.

Still, I couldn’t stop my smile from widening.

“He is, isn’t he?” I held out my hand to her. “I’m Bella, by the way. You never did tell me if we were indeed kindred, but I’m guessing by the fact that you know Edward you’re a student here and my theory was way off.”

“I know exactly who you are.” She shook my hand. “I’m Kate.”

Holy mother of fuck.

Kate?

THAT Kate?

It hadn’t even occurred to me that she would be here.

Thankfully, she continued speaking before it became obvious I had no idea what to say to her.

“It would seem we do have quite a bit in common, though not in the way which you previously thought.”

“Such as?” I asked nervously.

“Oh, you know. The usual stuff.” She rattled off details as if making a grocery list. “Small bladders, taste in men, a legitimate doubt that either of us would make it through tonight unscathed. Of course, the last part remains to be seen.”

“How so?”

She fiddled with her skirt. “Do you have a few minutes? There are some things I’d like to discuss with you.”

I nodded, hoping Edward would rescue me before Kate asked me anything truly uncomfortable. Then I remembered we were in the ladies’ room, therefore making a reprieve impossible.

I was fucked.





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7 Responses

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  1. on 28 Aug 2010 at 1:16 pmSuccubus

    Oh snap! When I read CP I was dying to know what Kate said to Bella. Now I’m just a click away!

    Thanks!

    [Reply]


  2. on 29 Aug 2010 at 4:30 pmizziey

    oh hell. i totally forgot about her.

    and astroglide – nice choice.

    [Reply]


  3. on 01 Oct 2010 at 3:59 pmlisa89

    I think I said this in an earlier chapter, but . . . DUN DUN DUN! I’d say more but I’m very anxious to continue.

    [Reply]


  4. on 25 Nov 2010 at 7:01 pmBooksgalore/Bookishqua

    I did not see that one coming. You evil woman you. :) Books

    [Reply]


  5. on 10 Dec 2010 at 1:14 amNKubie

    Oh shit! Awwwwkward!

    [Reply]


  6. on 06 Jan 2011 at 3:34 amFancastride

    Kate did take the breakup as well I guess any one can.

    [Reply]


  7. on 06 Jan 2011 at 9:24 pmSea4Me

    Did E intentionally fail to mention Kate’s membership?

    Go Esme! Love that she pushed a power dress on Bella. I love hearing more about early Esme & Carlisle days, too.

    [Reply]