“I’m sorry I was staring at you earlier. It was rude and unnecessary…”
“And very human.”
We glared at each other tensely for several seconds after I interrupted her. I finally exhaled and leaned against the counter.
“It’s okay. If I had known you were here and what you looked like, I would have done the same thing. I think women are always curious about their competition.”
She let out a small, humorless laugh. “I’m hardly your competition.”
For the first time, I took a good look at her. She was tall and had an athletic but slender build. Her arms and shoulders were very toned, and if I had to guess, I’d say she played quite a bit of tennis. Her skin was peachy and flawless, unmarred by freckles or age. Her golden blond hair was pulled up in the front with an ornate clip and cascaded just past her shoulders. She wore a deep lilac gown that hugged her curves and showcased the colors in her gray eyes which seemed to sparkle under thick lashes. She was the American ideal—a cross between Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and Dianna Agron, and the kind of girl I would have furiously envied when I was younger.
I instantly hated her, and the fact she just had the audacity to make a self-disparaging remark in my presence served to not only intensify but also justify my emotions.
“You know,” I shifted my weight in not-quite-mock annoyance. “Technically, you dated him longer than I did.”
She waved her hand dismissively. “As if the length of a relationship has any bearing whatsoever on its significance.”
Wait, was she on my team?
I straightened my posture and tried to figure out how the hell I should respond to her.
“You can relax, Bella.” In an incredibly graceful gesture, Kate pushed her hair back over her shoulder. “I have no intention of making a play for Edward, or even of causing a scene, for that matter. I know you don’t know me, but I assure you that’s not my style.”
She certainly had plenty of style.
I was determined not to permit her to make me feel inferior.
“Then why are you here?” I asked.
“I bickered, and I was initiated. Even if the whole thing is silly and outdated, one needs to eat somewhere.” She shrugged. “I’m not stalking you. I’d be here tonight regardless of your presence.”
“If I wanted to know how one joins an Eating Club, I could read about it on Wikipedia,” I snapped. “I want to know why you accosted me in the ladies’ room.”
She laughed. “You make it sound so hostile.”
“Not on my end. Look, I just wanted to meet you, and I had serious doubts Edward would introduce us. I don’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. God knows, I’m feeling awkward enough.”
“You could have approached us during dinner.”
“True, but then I wouldn’t have been able to speak to you privately, and I know Edward would be extremely uncomfortable being present for what I need to say. Really, I just wanted to thank you.”
She seemed genuine, but she had to be sarcastic. I decided to play along. “Thank me? For what?”
“Edward looks so…happy. Even with everything he’s been through these past few weeks, there’s a glow to him I’ve never seen. It’s like he’s come alive. Considering that I know losing Carlisle has been hell for him, this can only be attributed to his reconciliation with you. We were all so worried about him…”
“We?” I interrupted.
“His friends. I know you’re thinking of me as the ex, but first and foremost, Edward and I are friends. That’s how we started, and that’s what we are now. Anyway, for a very long time, he seemed lost. Nothing helped him. Not his friends, not his family, not therapy…”
“Therapy?” I repeated in disbelief.
Her hand flew up to her mouth. “Oh, fuck.”
I needed clarification. “Edward is in therapy?”
“I thought you knew,” she whispered. She looked at the floor and muttered to herself, “I knew that last tequila shot was a mistake.” She rolled her eyes and sighed. “He’s going to kill me.”
“Relax, Kate. I’m not going to tell him that I know.”
She looked at me through narrowed eyes, and I could tell she didn’t trust me.
If I were her, I wouldn’t trust me, either. I had no intention of telling Edward I knew, but of course she couldn’t know that. She had no idea that she had been the first person to be forthcoming about Edward’s mental state after the Thanksgiving Massacre. I would never repay her confidence with betrayal.
Nor would I let such a rare opportunity escape me.
“Kate, I’m going to ask you what I know is a very inappropriate question, but I hope you’ll humor me and answer it anyway. When Edward returned to campus last year after Thanksgiving Break, what was he like?”
“You should ask him that.”
“I have. He won’t tell me.”
She sighed. “Well, that’s a question I can’t answer. I didn’t meet him until the following March.”
Interesting. So they met right around the time of David’s bris. I wasn’t sure why I assumed they’d known each other much longer.
“That works just as well.” I gestured for her to continue.
“I guess I’m not sure why you’d like to know. Isn’t ignorance bliss?”
“It would be, if I were completely ignorant. Sadly, though, I’m not. Everyone alludes to it —his mother, our mutual friends. Even Tyler gave me the evil eye as he cleared out of the room for the night. One of my best friends told me that on a scale of one to ten, Edward’s pain was an eleven. I keep hearing it was bad, but no one will elaborate. Now you’re telling me he’s been in therapy, and my mind is playing a montage of multiple suicide attempts and a brief stay at Promises in Malibu. Please tell me it wasn’t that bad.”
“It wasn’t that bad.” She spoke in the kind of monotone bad public speakers use when they read off a teleprompter.
“But it was bad, wasn’t it?”
She turned away from me and took a deep breath, as if contemplating her response. Finally, she shrugged as if giving up. When she finally answered, she looked at the floor as she spoke.
“It was bad…”
“Oh.” I leaned against the sink and rolled my shoulders forward while taking deep breaths, hoping to release some of the tension building up in my chest.
“…but not as bad as you’re thinking,” she continued. “He was never self-destructive, and to my knowledge he didn’t do any drugs harder than pot. He even stopped taking bong hits when we started hanging out regularly, because I don’t like being around it. He was fully functional. He just seemed…disconnected. It was like he emotionally checked out. He wasn’t actively angry or upset. He was just sort of numb.”
I turned away from her. As nice as she seemed, I would be mother fucked if I let the girl Edward stuck his dick in while rebounding see me cry.
“Are you okay?” She placed her hand on my shoulder.
I wiped my eyes and spun around, looking at her perplexedly. “Why are you being nice to me? I mean, aren’t I the reason you’re no longer with Edward?”
“Hardly.” She laughed without humor. “Edward is the reason I’m no longer with Edward. Well, me too, I guess. I have no interest in being with someone who’d rather be with someone else. Whether or not that person is available isn’t really relevant.”
“But you loved him.”
“Yes, I do.”
“You mean you did,” I corrected.
“No, I mean I do. I probably always will in one way or another. I’m not going to stand here and pretend it wasn’t real, or that my feelings for him went away when we parted romantically. This is why despite what you would think – and believe me, I know what you’re thinking – I can’t feel anything but gratitude towards you for making him happy.”
I looked at her in disbelief. “So I guess this is where you warn me that if I fuck up, you’ll be there to swoop in and get him back.”
She shook her head. “I sincerely hope you don’t fuck up. That would hurt him tremendously, and I never want to see him in that much pain again.”
No wonder she didn’t like pot. She was clearly smoking crack.
“Are you for real?”
“You think I have an ulterior motive.”
“No.” Her skirt made a rustling sound as she shifted her weight from one leg to the other before finally relaxing her stance. “Do you know he’s never had a single negative thing to say about you? As hurt as he was when you broke up with him, he’s only ever hoped for your happiness. Even during the months when he believed you’d never loved him, he never wished you ill. When he mentioned you, he’d say only that he hoped you weren’t alone and that you’d find someone you could love the way he loved you.”
She didn’t need to elaborate.
I suddenly understood not only why Edward defended her so vehemently, but also how she could have encouraged him to reconcile with me.
She was truly selfless.
At nineteen years old, Kate had a better idea of what it meant to love someone than I’d had as recently as last month. She was a good person, a giving person, a whole person. She was worthy of Edward in ways I would never be.
Yet, he chose me.
I couldn’t feel threatened by her. I felt nothing but genuine gratitude.
Without thinking about it, I closed the distance between us in two quick steps. I felt her stiffen as I hugged her, but I didn’t let it deter me.
“Thank you for taking care of him.” My words were completely sincere.
She tentatively placed her hands against my upper back. “Just don’t hurt him.”
“I won’t,” I whispered into her shoulder, our difference in height making our embrace more than a little awkward.
When she stepped away, her cheeks were wet.
“Hey,” I squeezed her hand before I dropped it.
“Okay, I’m sorry, but I feel like a huge asshole,” she whined as she turned to the mirror and wiped under her eyes.
“You’re not an asshole.”
“Oh, yes I am. I just spent half of my formal crying in the bathroom to my ex-boyfriend’s girlfriend. If that’s not asshole territory, I don’t know what is.”
“You were humoring me. I’m sure your parents raised you to respect your elders,” I joked at my own expense.
She cracked a small smile, and my slight dig at myself was worth it.
Her smile was stunningly beautiful.
“Indeed they did. Well, I’ve monopolized you long enough. Nice meeting you, Bella.”
“Likewise,” I said, though nice didn’t begin to cover it.
It was enlightening, emotional, and bizarrely freeing.
Kate quickly checked her make-up and opened the ladies’ room door. She stood in the threshold when she saw Edward standing right in front of her.
“Is everything okay in there?” he asked, nervously looking at me over her shoulder.
I picked my clutch up from the counter and followed Kate out the door.
“Why wouldn’t it be?” I asked.
His eyes darted from Kate’s face to mine.
“You were in there a really long time,” he said.
“Just some girl talk,” Kate explained.
“Since when do you do girl talk?” Edward asked.
Kate sighed in mock exasperation. “Well, you’re the biology major, but since I scored two points higher than you did on our organic chemistry midterm, allow me to explain this concept to you.”
She was about to put him in his place, and I loved her for it.
“I have estrogen.” She lifted up the hem of her dress to display delicate silver strappy sandals. “I’m wearing heels. This makes me more than capable of doing the girly-girl thing, even if I typically choose not to.” She turned to me. “He’s just bitter because not only am I better at math than he is, I can out drink him. Now if you’ll both excuse me, I should find my date.”
After she hurried off in a flurry of lilac silk, Edward turned to face me.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. She introduced herself, and we talked. I’m actually kind of glad she did. She’s not at all what I expected. She’s…well…I like her. Quite a bit actually.”
“She is amazing.” He leaned into me and his lips grazed my earlobe before he added in a whisper. “But she’s not you.”
“I’m not going to fly into a jealous rage, Edward. I don’t have an inferiority complex about her, and I’m not about to develop one. I’m no less secure in our relationship now than I was an hour ago. If anything, I’m oddly confident.”
He looked at me questioningly.
I straightened his bow tie as I continued speaking. “Meeting Kate was good for me. She is, in many ways, perfect. Yet you couldn’t fall for her because you loved me. That speaks volumes.”
He placed his hands on my hips and pulled me against him.
“Want to get out of here?” he asked, lightly tapping my ass.
I knew what he wanted to do.
I gave him my best sex smile. “I thought you’d never ask.”