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Edward in P.E.

Summary:
When the Cullens comes back at the end of New Moon, Edward and Alice get Mrs. Cope to change their schedules so that they end up in the same gym class as Bella.


Notes:
I wrote this story because some people in the "Edward in PE" thread on the Twilight Lexicon asked me to. It was really fun! Thanks to the wonderful Wendi for beta-reading it and fixing all my grammar/spelling issues and for all the wonderful suggestions.


3. Mike Plays Tennis

Rating 5/5   Word Count 8033   Review this Chapter

Seattle...I thought miserably... not that excuse again. I groaned inwardly. My ego deflated like one of those silver "Happy Birthday" balloons after it's been discovered by a cat. I looked away from those pretty brown eyes and hung my head. A bubble of awkward silence hung in the air between us. It burst as I grumbled some garbled gibberish before getting up to bat. On the first pitch, I bunted a ground ball straight down the center of the diamond. Conner-who was playing shortstop-caught it and flung it across the field. The ball made it to first base before I did. Bella, who batted after me, promptly struck out (of course), sending our team back to the outfield. My position on second base meant that I was stuck with a straight-on view of Edward Cullen's picture perfect butt as he gracefully wound up to pitch. He moved like a character from a summer action movie...too perfect to be believable. It's almost like he's been computer-animated into my life to bug me with his snide "I'm-better-than-you" attitude and mega-watt smile, I thought.

The rest of gym flew by in a blur. I didn't even care that my team won. I'd been rejected by the girl of my dreams once again, for what was probably the last time. My senior year was ending, and in the fall I'd be off to college. I'd been accepted to USC, and even though Bella and I would be working together over the summer, I knew that when September came and I moved out of state that she would forget all about me. Not that she knew I existed anyways. I trudged towards the locker room, the swelling feeling of disappointment bloating my thoughts like too much turkey on Thanksgiving Day.

"Mike! Wait up!" I glanced over my shoulder and saw Bella sprinting after me breathlessly, pink in the cheeks, with her brown ponytail streaming behind her. I turned to face her, my pulse racing in irrational hope. She came up to me and put her hand on my arm. A shiver ran up my spine at her touch. "I'm sorry about prom," she said, standing first on one foot, then on the other, fidgeting. "I think you're a great guy....and a good friend. I just...can't go. I hope you understand." She flashed a tentative smile. I nodded once, dubiously. She quickly squeezed my arm, smiled again, and then she was gone. The simple action raised my spirits a little, but I knew I was getting my hopes up for nothing. The sinking feeling in my heart reminded me of how I felt the time I waited two hours in line for the "Batman" ride at Six Flags, only to have it break down halfway up the first hill.

I pushed my way into the locker room and stripped out of my shorts and t-shirt. The steaming showers were already ringing with the types of rude jokes that only came to life in Forks when girls weren't around to act indignant. With one hand I wiped the fog off a mirror and gave my appearance a quick once-over.

I looked pretty good. I'd shaped up over the course of the last year. Tyler, Austin and I had made a point of staying after school two days a week to lift weights in the rinky-dink room of old dumbbells located at the back of the gym. I looked myself in the eye and flexed. My pecs and deltoids had gotten bigger. My arms were starting to get harder, though my attempt at a six-pack was a complete loss...there was a spare tire around my middle that I just couldn't lose, no matter how many five a.m. jogs I went on with the boys. I turned around and headed for the showers, where Conner was launching into an exasperated tale of the very bad evening he'd had the night before. Jessica Stanley (whom he'd been casually dating for about a month) had invited him to her house for dinner, where he was forced to endure three hours of Jessica and her mom interrupting each other with uninteresting pieces of town gossip. He hadn't gotten a word in edgewise all evening long. I felt sorry for him-I'd been there before. He was doing a pretty good Jessica impression, bobbing up and down and babbling like a three-year-old. All the boys were howling with laughter. All except Edward Cullen.

Edward was standing by himself, several feet away from the rest of us, showering quietly. As usual, he appeared oblivious to the testosterone-charged conversation that was going on around him. His eyes were closed and his face was turned towards the ceiling. The water had slicked his hair back and droplets of moisture streamed across his face, trickling onto his relaxed body like summer rain. I stared at him for a moment, painfully aware of the fact that he looked much better naked than I did. I felt a jab of raw insecurity.

There wasn't an ounce of body fat on him. Every inch of his form was defined, as though chiseled out of stone. He slowly clasped his hands together and stretched his arms overhead, rolling his broad shoulders back. The muscles of his back rippled as his spine arched, causing dimples to form over his sacrum, just below his waistline. The water made his skin gleam. He looked perfect. Of course he did. He reminded me of that old painting of Achilles that I saw on a trip to the Smithsonian with my dad when I was a kid...the one that I liked so much that I'd begged him to buy me the print. It wasn't until many years later (when I realized that it wasn't cool to be into mythological art) that I took it down, replacing it with a sports poster.

I wonder how many girls he's gotten to go to bed with him...I thought. Guys like that are always players. I wonder if he and Bella ever...I put that thought out of my mind. The last thing I needed in my head was a mental image of Mr. Universe screwing the girl I'd nursed a crush on for over a year.

As that thought passed through my mind, his pressed lips flitted into a soft smile, as though he'd just imagined something pleasant, but the smile was quickly replaced with an expression of worry and...was it guilt? The skin between his eyebrows crinkled as he finally opened his eyes, blinking away the water. He met my gaze with an unreadable expression that chilled me to my core, despite the heat from the shower. I quickly looked away. As assured of my masculinity as I was, I didn't even want to think about what kind of teasing remarks my friends would throw at me if they caught me staring at another guy.

Spanish, the last class of the day, went by uneventfully. Bella-who still appeared to be angry with her supermodel boyfriend-sat by me again, but I was still feeling too dejected to even look at her. When the bell rang, she asked if she could walk me to my car. I shrugged. She strolled by my side, chatting pleasantly about the weather and work while I said nothing, keeping my eyes fixed on the pavement. What was there to say? Did I want to tell her to stop sending me mixed messages and leave me alone? No...of course not. After several months of her not talking to me at all, it was a relief to have her back. I'd take what I could get. I wasn't really paying attention to anything she said until I heard her swear loudly.

"What the hell?" she exclaimed. I jerked back to reality, surprised- Bella never swore. I looked up from the asphalt and immediately saw the source of her strong language.

A perfectly round hole stared at me from the center of my windshield. A complicated series of cracks radiated out from around the hole, looking like the web of a demented spider who had decided that the front of my SUV would be a great place to catch flies. My heart sank.

Even though I'd got it used and it was a bit of a lemon, (there was the dent in the back bumper, the brakes squealed, and the alignment pulled slightly to the left) I loved my car. I'd paid for it in cash with two years worth of summer savings. My father and I had often strapped kayaks to the top and headed off, just the two of us, for male bonding sessions in the wild. I associated the Suburban with backpacking in the foothills of Mt. Hood, road trips along the coastline, and deep conversations with Dad over sparkling campfires.

I hadn't been able to afford anything but minimum insurance on it. I had no idea if this act of vandalism would be covered. What's worse, the nearest affordable mechanic was in Port Angeles. It always took a few days to get an appointment with him, and I had no idea if he repaired windshields. I wondered who would do this to me. I'd always thought that I was relatively popular and got along well with everyone. Who hated me enough to do something like this? I pulled out my cell phone, to call my dad. Bella, however, stayed my hand.

"Hold up a minute," she said. "I want to check something out." She opened the passenger side door and hopped inside.

"Careful Bella," I said in a warning tone. "There's a lot of broken gla..." But my words came too late. I heard a hushed "ouch" from inside the cab before she emerged from the vehicle, triumphantly holding a baseball in her right hand. She'd apparently sliced her hand open on one of the shards though, for the ball was smeared with red.

"Are you okay?" I asked, worried that she might faint. She ignored the question. Her jaw was set, and her eyes were flashing with anger.

"Edward's home run," she said slowly through gritted teeth. "What a coincidence!" She let out a humorless laugh. "What are the odds that the baseball he hit in gym just happened to find its way to your windshield? Weird!"

"That is pretty weird," I agreed. But something in the tone of her disbelief troubled me. It felt like she was hiding something...something that had been staring at me in my face all along...but I had no idea what it could be. For that matter, I couldn't figure out why she was so angry. It wasn't like Edward could have done this on purpose...that was simply impossible. As much as I disliked him, there was no point in getting mad over an accident.

"Mike..." a worried velvety voice said from behind me. I whirled around. Edward had appeared out of nowhere, in that uncanny way he always did. Bella glared at him, her eyes narrowed to cat-like slits.

"I can't think of a bad enough word for you right now!" she yelled.

"Bella..." he whispered hoarsely. It was at that moment that I realized that he was not his usual composed self. His face was even whiter than usual, the shadows under his eyes standing out darkly. Bella seemed too furious to take note of this.

"Edward," said Bella angrily, "you aught to be royally ashamed of yourself. How could you?"

"I'm so sorry," he said. "I can't believe I let this happen." His voice sounded strangled. I looked at him in confusion.

"Nothing to get mad about," I muttered. "Just an accident with a baseball..."

"No, no. You have every right to be upset," Edward said. A sudden breeze swirled the air around us. Edward suddenly seemed to tense up. Before I could say anything else, Bella positively freaked out.

"Oh no..." she whispered, as if something terrible had just come to her attention. Edward was silent, and was standing very, very still. I looked from him to Bella.

"Uh...what's going on?" I asked. They ignored me completely.

"Edward...get away from me," Bella commanded slowly in a shaky voice. Her eyes were the size of dinner plates.

"No," he insisted, in the same choked voice. "I need to sort some things out with Newton."

"Don't get any closer! Please...just turn around and walk away," she said urgently, her voice breaking. "Don't make things harder than they have to be." I looked from her to him, unable to comprehend what was taking place between them.

"I can handle this," he whispered. His face looked positively awful, though I couldn't say precisely why.

"I don't want you to have to," she pleaded. Her eyes darted around nervously. "Don't do this."

"Trust me," he said firmly, but his eyes had gone wild and for the first time since I'd met him, his voice was empty of confidence. A cloud of uncertainty hung about him like a swarm of buzzing mosquitoes. Bella shook her head back and forth, glancing uneasily from Edward to me. She then did the very last thing I would ever have expected her to...she dropped the baseball and hurried away. I watched her haphazardly jump into her truck and peel out of the parking lot, her tires squealing in protest. I stared after her, astonished by this bizarre behavior.

Edward, however, showed no interest in Bella's abrupt departure. Instead, he picked up the baseball and eyed it in fascination, as though it was made of gold. He then did a very curious thing. He raised the ball to his nose and inhaled deeply...reverently. His trembling lips parted and his breathing became ragged.

"What are you doing?" I blurted out. He glanced up with a severe look, as though I'd disturbed a church service.

"Excuse me for a moment," he said. His voice was no longer strangled, but harsh. It frightened me. I had an unexplainable urge to run. "I'm going to call my father and find out what we can do about your windshield. You stay here." Before I could reply, he'd dashed off across the parking lot to his Volvo.

The phone call took a long time. I paced back and forth in front of the smashed-up SUV which, by now, was drawing a small crowd of curious, murmuring onlookers. Alice Cullen, whose face was utterly emotionless, stood nearby with her arms crossed.

"What on earth?" a freshman named Kristin White asked, scratching her head.

"Looks like someone has it out for Mike," replied her friend, a redhead with braces whose name I didn't know.

"Cullen's home run from gym class sent a baseball smashing through my windshield," I explained for all to hear. There were gasps and giggles from the girls, and sounds of admiration and awe coming from the guys.

"That's a really far hit," a sophomore named Ronnie Fisher said in an incredulous voice. "Wow! I knew he was in shape...but that's some arm!"

The buzz of conversation continued and I could hear Jessica questioning everyone around her, probably in an attempt to formulate a juicy story that she could repeat to at least eighty people before the day was done. I felt sorry for her phone. I was shell-shocked, but my windshield was the least of my worries. Bella's reaction to Edward's approach didn't settle well with me. I wondered silently what they'd been fighting about this morning. Why on earth would she run away like that? Why would she tell her boyfriend to get away? Was she unhappy with their relationship? Did she want out?

After what seemed like forever, Edward finally returned from his car. I noticed that the fear that had filled his face was gone. He looked relieved, calm, and self-assured once more. The small crowd around me was looking at him with keen interest, except for Alice, who was glaring at him.

"I called a tow truck," he said in a lazy tone. "It will take your Suburban to my garage. Rosalie is home from Dartmouth on college break, and she's excellent with cars. She's agreed to replace your windshield. My father will pay for everything. Your SUV will be like new in twenty-four hours. I'll drop it off for you tomorrow afternoon at Olympic Outfitters." He flashed me a gleaming smile. I didn't smile back.

"How am I supposed to get around tonight?" I asked sulkily. He tossed me a set of keys.

"Take my Volvo," he drawled.

"What?" I exclaimed, looking at the remote-entry keychain, dumbstruck.

"I wouldn't dream of you being inconvenienced by my actions. What happened was my fault. I want to take responsibility. I'll make sure your car gets repaired by tomorrow. In the meantime, the Volvo is yours." He looked sincere. I had no idea what to make of the offer.

"How are you getting home?" I asked suspiciously.

"Rosalie's on her way," he said. "Have fun with the car. You'd better get going. I don't want you to be late for work."

"You're seriously going to let me drive it?" I said.

"Dead serious."

"Um...wow. I mean...thank you." Edward flashed me one of those annoying coy smiles. He looked like a shark. I took the Suburban's key off of its chain and handed it to him before leaving. The small crowd of people parted, and I made my way to the shiny silver car.

I stood by the passenger door and ran my hand over its' body, slightly awed. This couldn't be real. I'd drooled over the sports car since freshman year, back when Jasper used to drive it...before Edward got his license. It was the most coveted vehicle in Forks High School. Its polished custom rims sparkled at me and its' paint job gleamed. I drew a sharp breath, pushed the "unlock" button, and got in. I sat for a moment, allowing myself to feel the glorious texture of the leather seats and the spacious leg room. The interior was filled with the scent of his cologne. I'd always wondered where he bought it...it smelled ridiculously good. If his designer clothes were any indication of his taste in things, a small bottle of the stuff probably cost a fortune. Damn him.

As I turned the key and the car sprang to life, I suddenly forgot my inferiority complex. The engine purred, and the stereo blared to life, filling the car with the sounds of some progressive rock that I didn't recognize. I could, however, appreciate the quality of the sound. The Volvo had a surround sound system superior to any I'd ever heard...it was like being in an IMAX theater. The subwoofers rumbled with the sound of the bass, the music playing with crystal clarity. I switched the stereo from "CD" to "radio." I was pleased (though not really surprised) to find that the radio was XM. I turned it to a Top 40's station before shifting it into drive to pull it out of the parking spot. It maneuvered at the slightest touch of the hand, moving over the cracked asphalt as smoothly as if it were gliding on ice. A sense of thrill hit me. I really, truly, honestly, was driving the Volvo.

Let's test this baby out...I thought to myself. Instead of driving straight to work, I headed out of town and got onto highway 101 and began to accelerate. The car smoothly sped past sixty miles per hour...past seventy. As it reached eighty-eight miles per hour, I gasped, marveling at how naturally the zippy little car hugged the curves of the road. I imagined myself as Tom Cruise in some Mission Impossible movie, engaged in a frantic car chase, hurrying some hostage away from evil pursuers. I suddenly felt powerful...manly even. A thudding song came on, and the vibrations of the beat rattled every bone in my body, sending adrenaline coursing through me. I rolled down the windows and opened the sunroof, allowing the breeze to invigorate me further as I burst out rapping with the radio.

"This is why I'm Hot
This is why, this is why
This is why I'm Hot
This is why I'm Hot! This is why I'm Hot! Whoo
I'm hot cause I'm Fly
You ain't cause you're not
This is why, this is why
This is why I'm hot. This is why I'm hot"

I saw a scenic turn-out up ahead of me on the mountain road, and giddily pulled over. I got out of the booming car and ran to the edge of the spectacular cliff that overlooked the valley below me. Off in the distance, a mighty river was rushing, and I could see the whitewater rapids beckoning to me, daring me to tame them. I stood on the edge, where the railings formed a corner, and stretched my arms out on either side of me. I took a deep breath of the glorious mountain air and yelled out:

"I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD!!!"

And king of the world I was. The car woke up something deep in me...a buried sense of adventure...of masculinity. I felt like the hero in some epic story. A long forgotten voice, the voice of my heart, was whispering to me once again.

Mike...you are worthy of the task ahead of you. You have been chosen. You have what it takes. I grinned to myself, my imagination running wild with delusions of grandeur.

When I returned to the car, however, I was forced back to reality-my cell phone's red "missed call" light was blinking angrily. I flipped it open and saw that I had five missed calls. With a sigh, I called my voicemail.

Every message was from my mom, who was at the sporting goods store, wondering where I was. I realized that it was now 4:30. My shift started at 4:00. I'd gotten so carried away, cruising in the Volvo, that I'd lost track of time. I suddenly felt really stupid. Just as I was about to call her back, the phone rang.

"Hi Mom," I said in a dejected voice.

"Honey? Are you okay?" my mother's half-angry, half-relieved voice blurted out.

"Yeah...sorry I didn't call earlier," I said.

"Where are you?" she demanded. "You were supposed to be at work half an hour ago! I called your phone five times."

"There was an accident," I said. "A baseball from gym class went through the windshield of the Suburban."

"Oh honey!" she cried. "Are you stranded at school? Do you need me to come get you?"

"No," I said, awkwardly. "Edward Cullen lent me his car. Apparently, his sister Rosalie knows how to repair windshields. She's home on break from college.

"How much will we owe them?" she asked worriedly. I knew what her concern was...the scare with the missing hikers and strange animal sightings had driven away the bulk of our spring customers. Sales were down, and our family's finances were getting tight.

"I think they're going to fix it for free, actually," I admitted. My mother gasped, and immediately started singing the praises of the wonderful Cullen family. Cullens this, Cullens that. Rosalie is amazing, Carlisle is generous...blah blah blah. I held the phone away from my ear as I drove back to Forks.

Work went by at the speed of a sleeping snail. Customers were scarce and the store seemed empty without Bella working at my side. My mom, who was working behind the counter with me, kept blathering on about how nice it was of Edward to offer his sister's services, and her constant ramblings made it impossible to think clearly. I desperately wanted to think clearly. I had a lot on my mind.

On one hand, it didn't look like Bella and Edward were together any more. She'd told him to get away...to not make things harder than they needed to be...to turn around and walk away. I was no expert on girls, but those kinds of comments sounded like break-up lines to me. I was puzzled. If she wasn't with him, why would she refuse me? I couldn't figure it out. Was I really that repulsive to her? Did she really dislike me that much? Despite all the friendly signals she'd sent me? Finally, seven-thirty came. My shift ended and I drove home in a daze.

I parked the car in my driveway and leaned my head against the headrest. I flicked on the dome light, curiously wondering what kind of music a guy who interested Bella listened to. I pulled a few CDs out of the black holder that was strapped to his blinder. The eclectic selection surprised me. Muse. Gershwin. Cold-Play. Scarlatti. The soundtrack to "The Phantom of the Opera." My arch-nemesis had taste. I sniffed. The smell of the cologne was overwhelming...like he'd spilled it somewhere in the car. I reached under the seat, searching for the source. My hand clamped on a small leather object, which I pulled out. It appeared to be a leather bound journal. I quickly untied the strap that held the cover closed and flipped it open...curious to read his thoughts. My heart sank when I saw what the book actually was....an old copy of Shakespeare's Sonnets. I put the book back. On an impulse, I opened the glove compartment. The smell intensified. I was surprised to see the white baseball sitting in there, nested in a mess of insurance papers and registration forms. What, did Cullen spray the ball with his cologne, too? It smelled good.Jerk...I thought. Compulsively, I grabbed it before exiting the car.

I didn't head into the house. Instead, I dropped my backpack on my front porch and ran into the woods. I didn't stop running until I got to the place that was as familiar to me as my own bed: the tree house of the NVB.

On the first day of kindergarten, Tyler, Austin, Eric, and I noticed that all four of us happened to be wearing neon-colored vests. As a result, we became fast friends and formed a club called the "Neon Vested Boys." With the help of my dad, we built the ultimate tree house out in the woods, complete with a shingled roof, a rope ladder, and a locking trap door. It was the envy of all of our classmates. We spent our summers making up quests to go on and excluding our younger sisters. By fifth grade, neon vests were out of style, so we became the "Noble Valiant Boys" (in honor of the phase we were going through in which everything was about knights in shining armor and dueling with plastic swords). By junior high, we were too old for those games and the club was abandoned. But we were all still very close, and the tree-house was still a comforting sanctuary for us, filled with cherished childhood objects-tattered treasure maps, pirate action figures, toy guns, and plastic cowboy hats-sentimental reminders of idle summers before jobs.

I climbed the swinging rope ladder, hauled myself through the trap door, and slumped against the wall of the tree house. I absently began bouncing the baseball, staring at the darkening sky. I reached into my secret stash of IBC root beer, untwisted the top from a glass bottle, and took a sip. It was too warm. I took another drink anyways.

Those careless days felt so far away. As I'd gotten older and real life had hit me, all of my childhood dreams of grand journeys and epic adventures seemed to fade. As I'd discarded my toy swords and picked up the payroll books for my parent's store, reality hit. I was graduating high school and moving out. I was a grown-up with responsibilities. What if there was no "great romance" in store for me? What if I became one of those balding fat men, working in a cubicle to pay for a mortgage, trapped in the boredom of some suburban community? What if I never had what it took to win a mysterious and captivating girl like Bella? What if I had to settle and end up with a "Jessica?"

I banged my head on the plywood wall until it hurt. To my surprise, the banging was answered with a knock from below. I peeked through the hole in the trap door to see a tuft of Tyler Crowley's brown hair taking up the whole view.

"Who's up there?" Tyler asked.

"Me," I said, in a grumpy voice. "Go away. The fort's occupied."

"Awww...come on Mike! Lemme up!" he whined.

"Not until you say the secret password," I said in a sing-song voice. Tyler sighed.

"Fire-swamp," he grunted.

"The whole password," I said.

"The three terrors of the fire swamp are flame-spurts, lightning-sand, and rodents of unusual size," Tyler quoted in a resigned voice. "Can I come up now?" I unlatched the trapdoor and my best friend hoisted himself through the hole, landing on the floorboards with a thud.

"What are you doing here?" he asked in an agitated voice, reaching for an IBC.

"I'm having a bad day," I said. "I need to be alone."

"I'm having a worse day," he said. "I need to be alone more."

"Tell you what," I said. "We'll compare days. Whoever has had the worst day gets to stay. The other has to go home. Deal?"

"Deal." Tyler slumped against the tree house wall opposite of me, opening his root beer.

"You go first," I said, taking another sip, tossing the baseball to him. He caught it in his right hand and dribbled it against the floor twice.

"My car broke down again," he said forlornly. "I have to shell out $200.00 for new brakes this time." He bounced the ball and caught it once. "I miss my van. That barge may have been huge and impractical, but it never broke down." He threw the baseball lightly against the floorboards. It bounced and I caught it.

"Edward Cullen hit this," I said, holding up the baseball, "through my windshield. So we're even in the car department." I threw the ball back to him. Bounce. He frowned.

"My team lost in gym," he said quickly. Bounce. I rolled my eyes.

"My team won, but it was because of Edward's home run. That's worse than losing." Bounce.

"I got a C on that English paper," he said in a hopeful voice. Bounce.

"I've gotten a C on every English paper this year," I retorted. I turned the ball over in my hands, examining its clean white surface angrily before, for no particular reason, hurling it into the woods as hard as I could. It rustled the leaves of some forest shrub as it landed. "Okay...here's one to top anything you could possibly throw at me," I said. "I asked Bella Swan to prom today and she told me that she couldn't go because she was going to Seattle! Can you believe it?" I took a huge gulp of lukewarm root beer.

"That's nothing," Tyler said. "I asked Alice Cullen to prom today and she told me she'd rather go with an incontinent, rabid, one-eyed possum named Larry." At that comment, I couldn't contain myself. I burst out laughing, involuntarily spraying poor Tyler with my mouthful of soda. He grimaced as he glanced down at his brown-spotted shirt. "Great. I'm soaked. Do you have a squeegee?" I shook my head at him, still laughing. He grabbed my jacket and mopped himself off with it, chuckling, despite himself. "I guess that after my assumptions about Bella being my date last year, Alice wanted to make sure that her rejection was clear-cut." I howled with laughter. He winced.

"Why did you ask Alice Cullen to prom?" I asked suddenly. Tyler shrugged.

"I figured that after eight months of her being in Los Angeles and Jasper being at Dartmouth that they might have broken up...I thought that maybe I had a chance." He gave the old floorboards a dark look. "Apparently...I thought wrong."

"Don't feel bad," I said. "I figured that after eight months of lover-boy being in Los Angeles that Bella would eventually give me a chance. Apparently Ithought wrong too." I took another swig of root beer. In unison, we let out sorrowful sighs. Tyler held his IBC bottle aloft.

"Here's to a couple of confused teenagers," he said. I raised my bottle up next to his.

"Here's to a couple of confused grown-ups," I corrected, unhappily. "We're eighteen now, remember?"

"Adulthood's not all it was cracked up to be," he said.

"No one ever said it would be, bud." We clinked our bottles together and each took a swig, knowing full well that no matter how confusing girls could be, at least we'd always have each other. Halfway through my swallow, however, our solemn toast to the fantasies of our childhoods was interrupted by the pounding on of a fist on the trapdoor below me.

"Who is it?" I yelled.

"It's Eric!" a cracking voice called. "Lemme up!"

"Say the secret password!" Tyler said tauntingly. Eric mumbled through the terrors of the Fire Swamp, and before I knew what was happening, the greasy-haired chess nerd had swung himself up through the door and was sitting on floor next to us.

"What the heck are you guys doing here?" he asked. "I didn't know that either of you ever came here anymore!"

"I'm having a bad day," I said, scowling.

"We're both having bad days," Tyler explained. "The girls we asked to prom rejected us."

"Bella said she was going to Seattle," I said.

"You don't even want to hear what Alice said," Tyler said. Eric grabbed a root beer, popped the top, and sipped.

"Don't feel too bad," he said. "I don't have a date yet either. I was going to ask Jessica, but she's already going with Conner." We all looked at each other glumly.

"Remember back when we were kids, and it was easy to feel like a hero?" Tyler said wistfully, his eyes turned towards the sky. "Life was always about some great romance. We always played games where we would rescue some princess from a dragon or evil villain. The whole point of having a woman around was so that someone could share in our adventures. Now...it just doesn't feel like there's an adventure to share."

"I feel less and less like a hero every day," Eric said. "I work part time in an office, doing data entry. What kind of a quest is that?" He ran his fingers around the rim of the bottle. "The battle I fought today was against crappy technology. Some kind of a fire-breathing dust mite caused a power surge that fried my computer's motherboard. I have to borrow a grand from my college fund to get a new one. Big adventures. Woot."

"Cullen said something this morning that really bugged me," I said. "He told me that Bella wasn't attracted to me because I was too safe. He said that I was too normal and predictable. Apparently she thinks I'm boring. No grand adventures with this retail clerk." I scowled at my root beer. Suddenly, Eric stood up, eyes gleaming.

"Guys!" he said, excitedly. "That's it! Don't you get it?" Tyler and I exchanged blank looks. Eric went on. "We're not coming on strong enough!" I snorted in derision. Tyler rolled his eyes. "Wait! Let me finish!" Eric pleaded, as he paced back and forth. The old two-by-fours creaked under his feet. "Think of all of the heroes in the movies we love. William Wallace. Han Solo. Aragorn. James Bond. Do any of them have a problem getting women?"

"Of course not," I scoffed. "They're fictional characters."

"It's because they're real men!" Eric continued. "If a beautiful woman told William Wallace that she couldn't go to prom with him because she was going to Seattle, would he put up with that?Of course not! Guys like William Wallace don't lamely take "no" for an answer! They don't give up! They fight for the hearts of the women they want. They pursue. They woo. They rescue."

At any other point in time, Eric's words would have come across as childish nonsense. But something about the thrill of the Volvo had awakened the dreams in my heart. As I thought over all of my half-ass attempts to snag the Swan girl, I realized just how pathetic they were. Because I'd been unwilling to show a little spine when she'd politely turned me down last year, I'd ended up dating Jessica...even though I really didn't want to. Pathetic. When Edward left, she wallowed in despair for four months, plagued with heartbrokenness and depression. Did I lift her out of the pit? No. I'd politely reminded her every so often that I was still there...still interested...but I hadn't fought for her. Pathetic. With a sickening sense of realization, I realized that I'd never become the hero in the story of her life...instead, I was the guy who threw up in the movie theater while another guy honed in on her.

I made up my mind then and there that I would be passive no more. It was time for Mike Newton, the courageous knight, to show his quality. Edward Cullen was about to meet his match. He'd stolen my girl, broken my car, and to make matters worse, he had to have the audacity to add injury to insult by having perfect abs. I'd had enough. I was not going to live in his shadow any longer. I leapt to my feet.

"You're right Yorkie!" I exclaimed.

"He is?" Tyler said, confused.

"He is!" I cried. "Are we Noble Valient Boys or not? Are we going to take no for an answer, or are we going to get dates to prom?" Unfortunately, my question was worded so oddly that Eric answered "NO!" while Tyler said "Dates!" I backpedaled.

"Getting rejected by beautiful women is one thing. But to earn their respect...we must have courage. We don't back down, tails tucked between our legs. We get up again, and ask again...this time, though...we woo them with our courage!"

"COURAGE!" Eric and Tyler yelled in unison.

"Brothers...tomorrow is a new dawn! A new day!" I cried, raising my bottle to Tyler. "Tomorrow...Tyler Crowley will tell Alice Cullen that he is most certainly not going to take no for an answer...that no rabid one-eyed possum is going to take his rightful place by her side...that he is worthy of her!" Eric laughed at this, but Tyler ignored him, leapt to his feet and raised his bottle to his nerdy friend.

"Tomorrow...Eric Yorkie will not only prove his manliness by defeating the great fire-breathing dust-mite, but he will have a date for senior prom before the last bell rings!" Finally Eric stood, raising his bottle to me.

"And finally...tomorrow...our fearless leader, the mysterious Mike Newton, will at long last find a dashing way to coax the Swan girl out of her Seattle trip and convince her that a magical night with Mike is the best possible way to bring the senior year to a close. It will be a glorious day for the NVB!" We clinked the glass bottles and drank. For the rest of the night, we drank our root beer, psyched ourselves up, and clung to dreams of some kind of a Great Romance, in which we were more than ordinary.

***

The next morning, I arrived to school forty-five minutes before class was supposed to start. The previous year, when it was warmer out, Bella usually got to school early to do homework on the picnic table in front of the administration building. I parked the Volvo and looked around. The lot was empty, with the exception of a black car that was parked towards the back of the lot. I gave it little notice.

Fifteen minutes went by...then twenty. No red truck. A few cars began to trickle into the lot...teachers mostly...who took the front spaces. I was getting impatient. The smell of Edward's cologne was driving me crazy and I felt unbelievably restless, so I got out of the Volvo and wandered aimlessly around the lot. It was then that I realized what black car was parked in the back of the lot.

It was an Aston Martin DBS...identical in make and model to the car Craig Daniels drove in Casino Royal. My jaw dropped. What on earth was the newest and most innovative James Bond car doing in the parking lot of Forks High School? I walked up to it, awestruck. It was beautiful...a masterpiece of engineering and design. There was not a scratch or dent anywhere on its body. Its rims shone like burnished steel. I ran my hand over it, wondering who could possibly own such a thing. I leaned in to peer through the tinted windows, wondering if the driver had left any clue to his identity inside.

Without warning, the window that I'd been looking through rolled down. Edward's head popped up from the back seat. His white T-shirt was wrinkled.

"Newton," he said in an annoyed voice. "There is but half an hour left until we have to go to English, and I was planning on making the most of it. That is difficult to do with your nose pressed to the glass." Bella's head also popped up from the back seat, and she laughed as though he'd just said the funniest thing in the entire world. Her face was beet red.

"Hi Mike," she said, giggling in embarrassment. I was mortified.

"Well...you two have obviously made up," I muttered. Bella grinned.

"Yes...I'd say so," she said. Her eyes were glowing. Edward put his arm around her neck. They looked at each other, and it was obvious that the sparks that were flying between them weren't sparks of anger.

"I told you it was just a minor setback," he said, kissing her hand. "Nothing a little date night extravaganza couldn't fix."

"Mmmmmm...." Bella murmured, as though remembering something wonderful. Edward tangled his fingers in hers, marking his territory.

"Where on earth did you get this car?" I asked, trying to focus on something other than the chemistry between them. Edward rolled his eyes.

"I lent you my usual one, and I obviously still had to make it to school, didn't I? I really had no choice but to drive my spare." He said this as if he was explaining why he brought a ham and cheese sandwich to lunch instead of a nice peanut butter and jelly. I was flabbergasted. Who the heck kept James Bond cars lying around as "spares"?

"Excuse us," Bella said, her dancing eyes looking at me apologetically. The window zipped back up, sealing their laughter behind it.

My heart shattered like an icicle dropping from the edge of a rooftop as I walked away. My hands shook. I felt completely helpless. I suddenly felt like a little boy holding a plastic sword who has come into contact with a real fencer. I'd been outgunned. As I crossed the parking lot, I saw a red BMW pulling away from a very dejected looking greasy-haired boy.

"In your dreams Yorkie!" Rosalie Hale called as she drove away, her beautiful blonde hair blowing in the wind. Her bell-like laugh pealed through the parking lot. Alice (whom Rosalie had apparently dropped off) was purposefully trying to make it into the building before Tyler could catch up with her.

For the rest of the day, I watched Bella and Edward prancing giddily through the halls, happier than any two people had any right to be. My blood boiled every time I watched him draw her close to kiss her hair. She was completely under his spell.

In gym, Coach Clapp paired us off to play tennis. By random chance, David Greenman and I were paired against Edward Cullen and Erica Howard. I was determined to win this match. I had more reasons than ever before to want victory over Cullen. He was now not just my competition-but my arch nemesis: my Lex Luthor...my Magneto...my Agent Smith. To top off my complete enmity with him was the fact that his white sleeveless jersey conspicuously showed off his sculpted biceps, causing him to look way too much like a Wimbledon champion in a white Adidas sweatband than anyone had the right to.

Edward served first, elegantly starting the rally. The ball bounced once in my quadrant and I easily hit it over the net to Erica's side of the center line. After one bounce, she hit it to David, who promptly hit it way to hard, sending it sailing out of bounds. It bounced off the high fences behind the other team and Edward reflexively reached up, easily catching it in one hand.

"Fifteen-love," he called loudly, before serving the ball with a forceful overhand. It looked like it was going to go out of bounds, so I stepped away from it. Unfortunately, my eye had misjudged the shot. It hit the very corner of the doubles-sidelines, and then careened out of the court.

"IN!" shouted Coach Clapp. With extreme annoyance, I retrieved the ball and threw it back to Edward.

"Thirty-love," he announced. I couldn't stand being shown up. I usually loved tennis. I'd played with my family in the public courts in the local parks since I was young. I'd been to tennis camp twice. I crouched, awaiting Edward's overhand service to come my way, this time prepared for his edge shots. When the ball came my way, I lobbed it to Erica's quadrant. She promptly met my shot with a beautiful backhand, which David volleyed back to Edward. Edward wound back and delivered an overhand smash. The ball bounced into my section, ricocheted off the ground and sailed over my head. It landed way out of bounds and continued to bounce away through the court next to us. I ran to retrieve it yet again.

As I picked the fuzzy yellow ball up, though, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. Bella and Alice, who were on the same team, two courts down from mine, had their heads bowed close together, their match apparently in time out. They were whispering among themselves, their expressions concerned, and my gut feeling told me that they were not discussing strategy. I would have given anything to know what they were talking about.

I wasn't the only one who had noticed that conversation. Edward was staring intently at his sister and his girlfriend, his head cocked to one side, as though processing some vital information. I flung the ball over the net to him. He was too distracted to see it coming. It sailed high into the air and came down fast, hitting him...to my surprise...right smack dab in the center of the most sensitive area of a male's anatomy.

Pleased by the fortunate accident, I waited for him to double over in pain. I knew he wasn't wearing a jockstrap. I'd watched him change-he only had boxer-briefs on under those shorts. But he didn't even flinch. He just continued to watch Bella and Alice. One second ticked by, then two. Still no reaction. My brow furrowed, perplexed. At that moment, Alice made eye contact with her brother.

Immediately, he bent at his waist and yelped; his face contorted with pain. He hopped from one foot to the other, wincing. I grinned. Delayed reaction.

"You okay there Cullen?" I called.

"I'll be fine. Give me a second."

"I'm so sorry about that! It wasn't on purpose!" I called. He just groaned in response. For the first time that day, I felt happy. I'd made Edward Cullen hurt. I began whistling to myself. A small victory for a Noble Valiant Boy.