We stood there for several moments, clinging to each other in front of the door. I felt him inhale sharply, holding his breath but still not speaking. He was obviously putting a lot of thought into what he would say next.
Too bad he hadn’t done that earlier.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
“I doubt that.”
“It can be exhausting, you know.”
I had no idea what what he was talking about. “Huh?”
“You challenge me. Usually, I’m up for it, but there are times…”
I stepped away from him so I could see his face, and immediately wished I hadn’t. I took him by the hand and he followed me meekly upstairs to his room, still holding my shoes behind his back. I put them on the floor before closing the door behind us.
“What?” I spoke with a tremendous sense of foreboding.
“I love you. I do. And I’m completely aware that I really fucked up today, which happens to be your birthday, and that makes it all so much worse. I’m just really feeling pressured–”
“When have I ever pressured you?”
He closed his eyes. “That’s just it. I don’t think you mean to.”
“Is this about sex?”
“What then?” I put my hands on his hips and stared up into his eyes.
“I feel like sometimes you hold me to unrealistic standards.”
“What is unrealistic about asking you not to fuck around while trusting me to do the same?”
“You’re over simplifying it.”
“Yes,” he said, sighing. “Never mind. It’s just been a rough week.”
If nothing else, he had that right.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
He shrugged. “I’m sure it would sound very trivial to you.”
I cupped his face in my hands and brushed my thumbs across his jawline.
“I doubt that. You do realize I spent the week in high school while you spent the week in college?”
“If anyone’s experiences were trivial, they would be mine.”
“You’re still past the college thing.”
“The last time I checked, I’d never been a biology major at Princeton.”
“I’m not talking about academics. Classes haven’t even started yet. Socially, I’m just not sure where I fit.”
I moved his hand below my waist.
“I know exactly where you fit.”
He pulled away from me. “You know what I mean. So my roommate Tyler has a girlfriend at home in North Jersey. She’s still in high school. Our first day on campus he was going on about how much he was going to miss her. Two nights later he slept with someone else. He still has no intention of breaking up with his girlfriend, which I just don’t understand.”
I sat on the bed, sighing. “I guess dorm life never changes.”
He kicked off his shoes and sprawled out next to me.
“Have you ever done anything like that?”
“We’ve been through this already.”
“I meant before we were together.”
“I’ve never cheated, no, though with the exception of James, I refused to commit to anyone. I didn’t allow myself to feel anything more intense than lust, which was always fairly fleeting.”
“I don’t want to be that guy. You know—a man-whoring prick. The whole concept of infidelity disgusts me. Needs change; people become ill-suited to one another. I get that. Just end the relationship. I don’t understand what would compel someone to cheat.”
I stretched out next to him, propping myself up on my elbow so I could look at his face. His features were tense, and I finally understood. “The girls are all over you, aren’t they?”
He didn’t have to answer me; his blush said it all.
“I can’t say that I blame them. You are delicious.” I kissed his throat.
“If I socialize with them, even in public, I feel like I’m leading them on. If I don’t, I’m a stuck-up asshole.”
“It’s okay to enjoy female attention. I love it when men notice me, and it doesn’t at all diminish what I feel for you. Just be responsible about it.”
He shrugged. “It’s still shallow. None of them actually know me.”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Why did you first approach me?”
“I was physically attracted to you.”
“There you go.”
“That’s not the point. If you had you been a vapid skank, I wouldn’t have invited you to spend the rest of the evening with me.”
“These girls got into Princeton. I seriously doubt they’re airheads. Edward, most women will find you attractive. It’s a given. I’m not sure why you’re so stressed out by this.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
Oh, it did. I was feeling less secure with each passing second. I just didn’t want him to know that. I didn’t need Edward to be my partner in pessimism.
“Only because you seem so uncomfortable with it,” I lied. “I can’t say I blame them for trying. It sucks for them it won’t work, but they’ll give up eventually.”
I put my head against his chest and squeezed his hand. We needed a new topic and my curiosity got the better of me.
“So, when you were in the other room with Jasper…”
“I knew this was coming.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Civil War reenactment.”
“No. Come on, Bella, it’s pretty obvious we were talking about you and Alice. Any other conversation we could have had in front of my mother.”
“She knows all about the Alice drama.”
“I’m aware of that. However, she raised me better than to speak poorly of someone I’d never met. She wouldn’t have appreciated what I needed to say.”
“Wait, so you won’t badmouth Alice to Esme, but you were willing to talk shit about her to her fiancè?”
“Context is everything. We should go back downstairs now. My parents are probably annoyed we bailed on them.”
We went downstairs and spent some time with Carlisle and Esme before Edward drove me home. As always, he called from his dorm room to say good night. When my head hit the pillow, I hoped the next week would pass quickly.
Thankfully, it did. Friday night came along and my plans were to spend it at home with a cheap bottle of wine and a face mask while mentally preparing myself for Alice’s wedding. I was about to settle onto my sofa for the evening when the doorbell rang. I quickly rinsed off my face and ran downstairs to find Rose on my porch in a cocktail dress.
She began singing as soon as I opened the door. “My karma has a first name. It’s b-i-t-c-h.”
“Okay, that is hilarious. Shouldn’t you be at the rehearsal dinner?”
She gave me an evil smile. “I just came from there, and I am here to tell you I would have gladly fucked a seventeen-year-old en route if I thought it would piss Alice off enough to uninvite me.”
I laughed. “And, alas, you are here instead. That can only mean one thing. What did you do? Duct tape his mouth and lock him in your trunk?”
“You know me better than that. Any guy I’d fuck would never fit in my trunk. Sadly, I did attend the rehearsal dinner this evening. I just left early, citing a migraine.”
“Sorry. I know you can’t take anything that actually helps with that.”
Rose giggled. “Thanks, but I lied. I just didn’t feel like being the only sober person in the room for two nights in a row.” She started to sniff the air. “Speaking of booze, you smell like Two Buck Chuck meets Blue Mercury. I’m warning you right now, Bella. If you drink the whole bottle, come tomorrow morning you’re going to need a whole lot more than some Mario Badescu to get rid of the blotchiness.”
I stepped aside so she could enter. “How can you smell something I already washed off?” I asked in wonder.
“Bizarre pregnancy super power. Now, don’t you want know whose karma of which I sing?”
“I’m guessing Alice.”
“And you would be correct.”
“I don’t think I want to hear this.”
Rose sighed. “No, you probably don’t. You’re not vindictive enough to get true joy of out another person’s misfortune, even if they do somewhat deserve it.”
I laughed. “And you are?”
“I’m a lawyer. Not only do I get off on other people’s misery, I make money off it. Besides, none of this is truly awful, just amusing. First her mother’s luggage was lost. You can imagine the ensuing drama. Apparently, Mama Brandon only wears couture and anything to which Alice has access simply ‘will not do.’ I now understand why Alice is so wrapped up in how things look and what people think.”
“She’s a product of her up bringing. This is hardly a revelation.”
“Well, too bad none of that has rubbed off on her baby brother. Jake decided he didn’t want to leave campus this weekend so he’s actually skipping out on the festivities.”
“He was supposed to be a groomsman. Alice must be livid.”
“She seemed more hurt than anything else. Her parents are letting him get away with all this —this is where it gets really good —because they are still pissed off that Alice didn’t make Jazz sign a prenuptial agreement.”
“I had a suspicion that whole thing wasn’t over. There was a huge blow up about this in Alice’s family when she and Jazz became engaged.”
“You mean when she emotionally blackmailed him into marrying her?”
I shrugged. “I see both sides of that one. Jasper had ties to Philadelphia, she didn’t. She’d never really lived that far from her family. The whole thing was complicated. You’ve met her parents now. They may be vacuous as hell, but they’re all she’s ever known. She relies on them a great deal.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “She’s twenty-four, and they live in fly-over territory.”
“Yes, but they heavily subsidize her lifestyle, and they would never be down with her moving in with Jazz if they weren’t engaged.”
“So daddy takes away your platinum Amex. You get a walk-up studio in University City and shop at H&M. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Jazz has no real income. That’s part of it.”
“Neither does Emmett. He gets a small stipend for teaching, but I cover the bulk of his living expenses. Though as an attorney, I completely understand why Alice’s father would want her to get a prenup. Even in instances where you have two individuals of similar net worth, the lines can get blurred very easily. I also get why Alice wouldn’t do it. If Em had asked me to sign one, I would have uppercut the shit out of him.”
“Love your double standard.”
“Pregnancy is the mother of double standards. I’m entitled. You know, I’m not unsympathetic toward Alice, but she should have made her expectations clear before she picked up and moved five hundred miles, and definitely before she got one of these.” She raised her left hand, which was now adorned with something sparkly.
I caught her fingertips and looked at her ring. A small, round diamond sat on a simple platinum band.
“He gave it to me this morning,” she explained. “I told him I didn’t need a ring, but he insisted. Of course, I love it now that I have it.”
“It’s beautiful. So this is why you stopped by. Here I thought it was just to talk shit.”
“Well, I had a third reason as well. I really need to pee and I didn’t think I could make it all the way to my house. Do you mind?”
I gestured her up the steps. “Go right ahead.”
A few minutes later, I was walking Rose back to her car.
“So no luggage and no Jake,” I recapped.
“And no music at the ceremony. Apparently, the organist has the stomach flu.”
“Is that everything?”
“So far, yes. But there are twenty-two hours left between now and the ceremony. Anything could happen.” Rose got into her car and waved. “See you in the morning. Just think —by this time tomorrow, the insanity will be over. You’ll either be able to focus on working through your issues with Alice or decide it’s not worth it.”
She was right. One way or another, in less than a day I’d have my life back.
I went to bed early, just wanting to get on with it.