Text Size Large SizeMedium SizeSmall Size    Color Scheme Black SchemeWhite SchemeGrey SchemePaper Scheme        

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.


4. Jessica does Ballroom Dancing

Rating 5/5   Word Count 8094   Review this Chapter

No one paid any attention to Mr. Banner’s monotone voice as he wearily trudged through the morning announcements. Conner’s eyes were desperately wandering up and down Lauren’s tan left thigh, which was audaciously exposed by her denim miniskirt. How she’d managed to find a tanning booth near Forks was beyond me—like anyone could get that tan by natural means in this cloud-covered dreary hole-in-the-wall town. A jab of raw insecurity stabbed at me, and I felt my jaw involuntarily clench. Conner (whom I was now seriously dating) had never really gotten over their cataclysmic breakup the previous year. Lauren, who—on the other hand—was thoroughly over Conner, was now paying attention to Tyler, giving him a seductive “come hither.” Tyler, in turn was staring at Alice, and whispering something to Mike. Mike didn’t show the vaguest inkling that he heard Tyler’s words; however, because he was too busy looking forlornly at Bella. His face had gone all wisty reminding me of the way my mother used to look at chocolate-chunk cheesecake during her last unsuccessful diet. Bella—who appeared to be at the top of the “crush” food-chain—was discreetly passing a note back and forth with Edward Cullen, who was—as usual—gazing at her with an outrageously uncalled-for mixture of love and adoration. Every time she opened the blue-lined scrap of notebook paper, her face violently turned red. I looked at my former “best friend” with a fuzzy feeling of discontent. Stupid…average looking…shy…boy magnet. Ugh.

As Mr. Banner droned on, I grew bored of assessing the love interests of my classmates and began rearranging the speed dial (AKA best friend/popularity chart) on my phone. I moved Angela down to number “eleven” while moving Lauren up to number “four.” As Bella squeezed Edward’s hand again, I moved “Isabella Swan” down to number “forty-two”. Just as I was changing Conner’s display to read “The Love of My Life,” Mr. Banner brought his announcements to a close.

“Finally, the prom committee has selected the nominees for court, on the basis of who had the best-written essays.” My ears perked up, and I set my cell phone down, paying attention to my teacher for the first time this morning. The essay contest had begun several months earlier. The guidelines were that the essays had to be exactly one hundred words long…no more, no less…on the subject of “leadership.” I’d worked for days on end, tweaking and re-tweaking the perfection that was my essay.

This was thebig news that I’d been waiting for, the news that answered the biggest—and most important—questions of my life…the ultimate questions: Was I popular? Was I important? After twelve years of vying for the top spot in the school’s pecking order, would I finally stand there, all glittery and the glorous in my of ruling of the school? Would all these little minions finally bow at my feet?

As a little girl, my dreams of royalty were a bit more fantasy-based. I loved playing dress up (the more sparkles the better) in my cousin’s old ballet recital outfits. I loved putting on my mom’s jewelry. I loved skirts that flared out as I twirled around. There was also my little Cinderella fantasy; that persistent dream that one day a handsome prince would single me out from among all the dreary ordinary girls to be the next supreme ruler of the people. The fantasy encompassed a need to validate myself—the need to be celebrated. As I grew older, the fantasy morphed into something more grounded in reality—the need to be superior to others. And what better way to see that dream come into fulfillment than to be elected prom queen?

I sat up straighter in my seat, bouncing slightly with excitement, as Mr. Banner picked up a stack of Xeroxed forms. My lifelong dream rested on this moment: the crown on my head, the scepter in my hand and me standing in front of the entire school as they clapped and cheered for me. I felt like my entire life had been spent preparing for and leading up to this moment.

“Five nominees for king and five nominees for queen have been selected. I am passing out their essays, which are stapled to the voting ballots. You have one week to make your decision and drop your vote off to Mrs. Cope in the office.” I eagerly grabbed the sheets that were being passed out, breathlessly waiting to see my essay splayed across the top of the list. As I read over the list, my heart stopped—dead.

My name wasn’t there.

The female nominees were Lauren Mallory, Stephanie Hamilton, Taylor Singer, Angela Webber, and Alice Cullen.

This couldn’t be right. There must have been some sort of mistake. I reread the list. And reread the list. My seventh time through, it finally hit me: I didn’t make the cut.

I felt my eyes go all teary as reality sunk in. There would be no tiara for me. My crown was going to go to someone else. All that work. All that effort. Twelve years of sucking up to the right authorities, befriending the right new kids, snubbing the right nerds, stepping on the right people—all gone to waste.

Through tear-blurred eyes, I read the essays. I tried to feel happy for Lauren. She was my number four friend after all. I should, in a bittersweet way, feel happy that one of us got in…shouldn’t I? But I couldn’t help but sulk as I read through her entry.

I feel that I would make a great homecoming queen because I’ve been a leader in this school for the last four years. I’ve served on yearbook staff as the photographer, I’ve written the gossip column for the quarterly school newspaper, and I have a lot of friends. I make a difference in the community through my modeling career, and I’m a dedicated student. I will be attending college in the fall, and I hope that my talents and abilities can be developed to help me become an outstanding leader and a promoter of world peace. Vote for me please!

I scoffed and rolled my eyes. As supportive as I wanted to be, it was hard to do when I could obviously see that Lauren’s essay was no better than mine. How did hers get in the running? It wasn’t fair. In fact…it was nearly the same as what I’d written. How was her essay able to edge ahead of mine? I glared at her paragraph bitterly before reading on.

I was irritated to discover that Angela’s was actually quite good, though it was fundamentally against my general philosophy.

A real leader seeks to unite, not divide

A real leader is accepting, not exclusive

A real leader is kind, not rude

A real leader is humble, not vain

A real leader corrects lovingly, not angrily

A real leader talks to people, not about people

A real leader guides people without lording over them

A real leader takes responsibility for their actions

A real leader accepts blame, rather than deflecting it

A real leader will encourage others, not tear them down

A real leader is understanding, not judgmental

A real leader inspires the next generation to be selfless and caring

I felt a twinge of snarkiness creep over me as I read the poem with a roll of my eyes. Hello! What kind of an idealistic dream world did Angela live in? Her essay read more like an accusation than an inspiration to me…irking me almost as much as her typical sickly-sweet demeanor always did. How was it possible for someone to be that nice? I hated how she always cut me off every time I tried to complain about how much I disliked Bella. I hated how she always changed the subject when I wanted to rant about people who bugged me. I hated how freaking happy she was with her life and with her little Chinese boyfriend. I gritted my teeth, skipping Stephanie and Taylor’s entries all together. There was no point in wasting my time reading theirs—neither of them was popular enough to actually win.

At last, I came to Alice’s entry. I scowled as I read it with a shudder. It was all limericky. Verse. Ick.

We live in a crazy broken world

Where swords often clash and spears are hurled

Where wars are fought

And loyalty is bought

And truth is rarer than a priceless pearl

Will you be the one to lead this generation

Will you protect the future of this nation

We need heroes

To face our foes

And fight to save us from annihilation

If we are willing to unite and stand together

There can be no storms we are unable to weather

Can you be a shining light

Who fights for what’s right

Because of you, will the world be better?

I hated to admit it, but the entry was very clever—annoying…moralistic…preachy even—but still clever. I glanced jealously over at Lauren, expecting to find her reading her own essay with a look of smug satisfaction, and realized to my surprise, that she was, in fact, not happy…not happy at all. Her hands were shaking so hard that her acrylic French manicured nails were making rattling noises against the paper. When class got out, I hurried to meet up with her in the hall. She was walking with a distinctive stomp, like she was trying to squish the world’s largest bug with each step.

“What’s wrong Lauren?” I asked, thinking maybe she was mad that I didn’t get in too.

“Alice can’t run for prom queen!” she seethed.

“Oh,” I said, realizing that she probably didn’t even notice my absence on the ballot. “Erm…why can’t she run? Not that I was planning on voting for her or anything…but…why?”

“She wasn’t here this year,” Lauren said, as we took our seats next to each other in our second hour class. She grasped her pen tightly in her hand, squeezing until her knuckles turned white. “She’s been gone seven of eight months this year.”

“Is there a rule that says that you had to have been present all year long in order to run?” I asked.

“If not, there should be. To protect the rights of true prom queens…people like me.” Lauren glanced up at me, her articulately made-up green eyes sulkily awaiting my response. “Don’t you agree?”

“Oh yes! She definitely should be disqualified,” I said quickly.

“It’s almost like she’s cheating. Prom is my territory. She can’t just waltz in on my property, set up camp, and start roasting marshmallows like she belongs there.

“It’s a travesty,” I quipped, hoping to abate her wrath by my agreement.

“A sham,” Lauren yelled out loud, which caused a few boys who were walking into class to trip in surprise.

“A mockery,” I added, laughing at the klutzy boys, who, embarrassed, picked themselves up and sat down, red-faced, in the front row.

“A trav-shamockery!” Lauren finished. She stopped squeezing her pen and doodled a rather bad stick figure cartoon of a girl with short black hair. She then drew a picture of a bear attacking the girl. She finished off the picture with a word-bubble coming out of cartoon-Alice’s mouth, saying “Help me! I’m being eaten alive by a raging bear!” I laughed uncomfortably.

“You’ll help me campaign against her, won’t you?” Lauren asked. “You have to help me win the crown. You have to!”

“Um…” I swallowed. I hated to get in the middle of things. Besides that, I was still a little bitter at the idea that it wasn’t going to be me up on the stage. “I dunno Lauren…”

“Oh come on! Stand up for what’s right now. Don’t you think it’s just wrong for Alice to come in this late in the game? I’ve been here since elementary school. She only came here in ninth grade. I make it a point to befriend as many students in this school as possible. Alice isolates herself socially. I’ve been doing all sorts of extracurricular activities this year. She didn’t even go to the school. I’ve been campaigning since January to get my name out. She’s been out lollygagging on some beach in L.A. getting tan.”

“Did you just use the words ‘Cullen’ and ‘tan’ used in the same sentence?” I asked innocently. Lauren scowled

“You know what I mean!” She cried. “Alice hasn’t done anything to earn her right to the crown. Now she thinks that it’s hers! Doesn’t that just make your blood boil?” I hesitated. On one hand, this was a really stupid battle to involve myself in. On the other hand, I’d long ago sworn to hate the Cullens for all eternity and this was an excellent—and most convenient excuse—to continue doing so. I thought bitterly back to freshman year, when Edward first came to Forks. I’d practically thrown myself at him, going out of my way to make him feel welcome at our school, only to be met with keen disinterest. I’d never really gotten over that. I’d resented the pale-faced, icy-hearted family ever since.

“But here’s the real question. Why would she even care about being prom queen?” I asked, in a lower voice this time. The room was starting to fill up. “It’s not like Alice was ever concerned about being popular before.” Lauren leaned in close to me.

“I know why.” I smiled smugly. “She’s been jealous from the beginning; jealous of my looks, my position in the school, and my popularity. She spent three years looking down her nose on all of us. No one was good enough to be her friend. No team or club was good enough for her to join. Now, it’s finally senior year, and she realizes that she’s wasted it all. High school’s ending, and she’ll never get the chance to experience it again. She’s skipped every high school activity that matters and she now realizes—too late—that she never made her mark. Her siblings graduated, her brother’s always off with his perfect little klutz of a girlfriend, and she’s left all alone with no friends. So what does she do? She tries to validate her existence by upsetting—no destroying—my plans and taking my rightfully earned place as prom queen! That’s what! She wants to steal my crown. This is ridiculous. How low can one person stoop?” At that moment our teacher handed out a pop quiz, and our conversation was forced to close.

By the time the quiz was done and lecture began, I’d convinced myself that Alice really was just running for prom queen because she was jealous of Lauren. By the time class was done, I was convinced that Alice was a world-class criminal. By the time lunch rolled around, my disappointment in not making it to Prom Court was totally dissolved. I had a new reason for negative emotions to brew like a storm cloud in my head: I had a justification for my dislike of the Cullens. Justifiable hatred was number three on my list of favorite things…right after Frosted Mini-Wheats and flip-flop sales at Pay-Less.

Lauren and I walked to the bathroom together before lunch and stood in front of the mirrors, inspecting our reflections. I groaned. My hair was having a very bad day. It had rained that morning, and my hair was bedraggled and frizzy. I tried to smooth it back into a ponytail. Wisps of fuzz surrounded my face. I wet them down with water from the sink. I hated standing next to Lauren. She had such a nice figure compared to mine. I self-consciously analyzed my reflection. I hated the way I looked. I was too short, too curly-haired, and had far too big of a butt. I was curvy in all the wrong places and flat in all the wrong places. I stood sideways, stuck out my chest and smiled. There. Better. From the profile view, my love handles weren’t as visible.

Lauren flipped her blonde head over and shook her short hair out, mussing it with her hands, trying to achieve that trendy “bed head” look. She pulled down a few strands in front, trying to get them to sweep across her eyes. She applied some extra lipstick, and then kissed the mirror to blot it.

“I look hot,” she said to herself in the mirror. I had to suppress a giggle. I would never admit to her what I was really thinking: that it looked like her head had been attacked by a lawnmower. At least her makeup and clothes were still nice. She was wearing dark blue denim Capri pants with a white short-sleeved blouse that made her tan completely stand out.

“Feel better yet?” I asked. I knew Lauren well—she loved mirrors. Admiring her own lovely face was one of her favorite ways of cheering herself up.

“No!” she said angrily. She bit her lip, getting lipstick on her teeth. She looked in the mirror, pulled her lip back, and ran her tongue over her teeth, removing the stain.

“I’m so sorry this had to happen to you” I said, allowing false sympathy to pervade my tone.

“Alice Cullen makes me so freaking mad!” she seethed through clenched teeth. “She stole Jasper from me, she’s captured Tyler’s attention, and now she wants to be prom queen? What more can she take from me?” I nodded sympathetically, remembering Lauren’s mad crush on Jasper in ninth grade. Back when the new boys came to town, Lauren and I fancied ourselves hooking up with Edward and Jasper. Lauren’s leeway with Jasper always seemed to go a bit better than mine did with Edward. Jasper was always saying how nice she smelled. Anyways, after a month of her talking to him, sitting next to him at lunch, and obviously putting the moves on him, he and Alice were unexpectedly suspended from school after getting caught making out in the PE equipment closet. Lauren had cried for days. The whole drama wouldn’t have been so bad if it were some other girl. But Alice was Jasper’s roommate and adopted sister. They lived together for Pete’s sake! It was all positively scandalous.

“She had no right to go after Jasper,” I agreed. “She saw that you were crushing on him first. She was breaking well-know dating-pool ethics: you don’t go after someone that the most popular girl in school is already working on developing a relationship with!”

“Freshman year aside…Alice can’t be voted prom queen. She has nothing that would qualify her as a prom queen. She doesn’t hang out with the ‘cool’ crowd. She wears weird clothes. She has punk hair. She’s a loner. Who’s going to vote for a loner?”

“A loner? That’s the least of it! Who’s going to vote for a cheater is the real question!” I exclaimed. “We all know that she must cheat at other stuff. She always knows the answers in every class…like she’s “Googling” answers from a hidden laptop or cell phone under her desk.”

“She’s not even that pretty,” Lauren said with a scowl. “Gothic pale skin and black emo hair is so out.”

“As is the heroine-addict-eyeliner Calvin Kline look. What is she thinking?”

“Disgusting.”

“Totally.” I patted my friend on the arm. “Don’t worry, Lauren,” I said. “No one would vote for a gothic misfit like her.” We tittered haughtily together. At that moment, however, a toilet flushed and I froze. I hadn’t realized that someone else was listening in on our conversation. I ducked my head, feeling guilty for a moment, as I heard the stall door open with a creak. I held my breath, hoping it wasn’t a teacher. Teachers at Forks had a tendency to stand up for the Cullens.

The second I saw who it was, I relaxed, and re-composed my stand-offish smile. A bright pair of flashing brown eyes met mine. Bella Swan’s face was incredibly red, her straight, dark eyebrows knit so closely together that they appeared almost touching. Her lower lip was quivering. She opened her mouth as though she wanted to say something, and then closed it again.

“Excuse me,” she said, pushing past me to washed her hands. I watched her carefully. Our reflections appeared in the mirror, side by side. I clenched my teeth together unconsciously, irritated at how her willowy slenderness made me look frumpy and plain next to her. As Lauren and I kept quiet, little sounds that we hadn’t noticed before…such as a bird chirping outside or the hum of the plumbing…became very audible. Utter dislike was emanating from Lauren’s every pore. The seconds ticked by slowly as Lauren and I waited for her to dry her hands and leave. She refused to meet our eye and in turn, we refused to talk. I tried to communicate with every fiber of my being that I didn’t want her to be there. That she was in my bathroom and that she had no right to be. Not after going all zombie on me last fall. Just as she was about to push through the door, she turned, and looked at us calmly.

“I’m ashamed of you two,” she said quietly. “You’re judging Alice. You’re judging her and you don’t even know her. Just like you judged me when you didn’t know me. Really…what’s wrong with you guys? This is petty and beyond ridiculous. You two just need to grow up.” With that, she walked out. For a second, the two of us stood in stunned silence. But we quickly recovered as we busted out laughing.

“Wow…that was…priceless!” I exclaimed.

“The Bella actually talked to us…” Lauren said, rolling her eyes.

“The albino has found her voice, and what do you know...it says awful things.”

“You know,” Lauren said, her voice dripping with mock hurt. “I’d almost call what she said an attack on me.”

“That was an attack,” I agreed. “I believe that that girl is hostile.” I faked a teary-eyed sniff. “And I thought she used to be my friend.” I gazed at the door that she had walked through, raising one disdainful eyebrow. “Do you think I should report her for harassment?” Lauren giggled.

“So melodramatic you are Jess,” she said. “Too bad she didn’t punch you. Then we could really give people some new gossip to chew on. Lord knows Forks needs something to talk about.”

“Awww…has the thrill of the broken windshield worn off already?” I asked. “I thought it was a good piece of news.”

“Yesterday’s news,” Lauren replied. We made our way to the lunch table. I braced myself to sit across from the brown-haired girl and pale-faced siblings, but to my surprise, they were nowhere to be seen. I curiously looked around. Could they be outside? Eating at the picnic tables? Could Bella be sharing her newfound knowledge with Alice? Could they be plotting against us, even as we spoke? I pushed the thoughts aside, and sat down across from Ben and Angela.

“Congratulations about getting your essay chosen,” I said with forced enthusiasm.

“Thanks!” Ben said happily, not realizing that my comment had been directed towards Angela. “I was so pleased that I was chosen. There were a lot of entries, and I wrote mine very last minute...at Angela’s urging.” He looked fondly at his girlfriend, who squeezed his hand. I realized, with a twinge of embarrassment, that I hadn’t even realized that Ben had been nominated for prom King. I hadn’t read any of the male contestants’ essays, since they weren’t competing against me.

“Actually…I meant to congratulate both of you,” I said, glancing at Angela, smiling at the couple. “The talented Benangela strikes again.”

“Thank you! Thank you very much!” Angela said, positively glowing. “And congratulations to you too Lauren. I bet you’re thrilled about your nomination.” Lauren scowled.

“I’d be more thrilled if Alice Cullen hadn’t been nominated too” Lauren said darkly, stabbing her yogurt with a spoon causing gooey pink flecks to fly across the table and splat against Eric Yorkie’s glasses. “She hasn’t even been at this school at all this year. What has she done for the student body? You can’t spend three years aloof avoiding all other students in the school, refuse to get involved with any extracurricular activities, go to another school for your entire senior year, and then expect to end up prom queen. Especially if you’re that…odd.” There was an awkward silence from Ben, Angela, Mike, and Tyler, who were all speechless at Lauren’s rude behavior. For a moment, no one broke the silence; they all exchanged uncomfortable glances instead.

“So about that sports car!” Tyler said, in an obvious attempt to break the ice. Mike launched into a full-blown description of the texture and feel of the Volvo, his experience cruising around with it, and the incredible discovery that the Aston Martin in the parking lot was the Cullen’s “spare.” I grumbled to myself. Aston Martin was not even a known car name to me so it must be a cheap mockery of a car (or something like that). I knew nothing about cars. I had nothing to contribute to the craptastic car conversation. Not being able to talk made me antsy.

Fortunately, I was saved by Conner, who—lunch tray in hand—sat next to me. He flashed me a quick smile.

“Hey sweetie!” I said, planting an overly possessive kiss on his cheek. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and gave me a half-smile before pulling a smooshed salami sandwich out of a brown paper bag. He began munching quietly. I eagerly began to fill him in on all of the drama with the set-up of prom court, the plans I had for my dress to match his tux, ideas about where to go for dinner that night, and how I was actually relieved that I didn’t get nominated for prom court, since that would mean that I could spend more time with him. Just as I began to describe my dilemma over whether I should leave my hair in its natural curls or straighten it with a flat-iron first, he laid his hand on my arm.

“Jess…” he said, in a low voice that was almost a whisper. “I can’t go to prom with you.” His wide shoulders slumped slightly, and he gave me a look of pure pity. I felt all of the blood drastically drain from my face.

“What?” I said, my rambling train of excitement grinding to a halt. “You can’t be serious? Is there some kind of an emergency? Are you sick? Did someone in your family die?”

“No…I still want to go to prom.” He glanced over at Lauren, who was unsuccessfully attempting to steer the car conversation back to the nominations again. The longing in his eyes was apparent. “I just don’t want to go to prom with you.”

“Wha…?” I whispered again, stuttering. I felt as though someone had dumped a bucket of ice water on my head.

“Us. It’s not going to work. I’m sorry about prom. Really…I am. But I just don’t see myself with you.” For the second time that day, I felt shock melting into pain. This couldn’t be right. So maybe I wasn’t going to be queen. But, now I was going to have no date? This was the end of high school! It was supposed to be the most magical night of a girl’s life, well aside from her wedding night. How in the world was I supposed to survive this? It’s impossible. I felt my heart clench in my chest. Before I could respond or protest, Conner turned back to his sickening sandwich and eagerly joined in the stupid conversation about the stupid cars, clearly ending the discussion that defined our so-called relationship. I furiously picked up my tray and stormed away from the table in a rush. I dumped the wasted food in the trash and sprinted to the girl’s locker room.

Gym wasn’t supposed to start for another twenty minutes, and I was certain that the locker room would be empty, so I ran in there for a place to hide—a place to cry. I slammed open the door of a bathroom stall, locked it behind me, and began to sob. However, after three minutes of continuous crying, I grew bored stiff of my personal pity party, and pulled out my cell phone. I was at one bar signal. I opened the phone and called the one and only person I knew could always make me feel better. The phone rang three times.

“National Federal Bank,” my mother’s voice chirped. “This is Mrs. Stanley speaking. How may I help you?”

“Mom? I’m having a bad day,” I whined.

“Oh honey! What’s wrong?”

“Conner broke up with me. He doesn’t love me. He never did. It’s just like last year, when Mike broke up with me. Men are all monsters. They’re using me…” my voice dissolved into the wails that I always knew would get an immediate sympathetic response out of my mother.

“There, there, honey,” she said. “You’ll be okay. You know how much I love you! It can’t be that bad.”

“They didn’t pick my essay,” I cried. “I didn’t even get nominated. I’m so not popular. No one likes me Mom. They nominated Alice Cullen over me! And Angela! Can you believe it?” tears continued to stream out of my eyes. I blew my nose on a tissue.

“Honey…you are the most beautiful girl in the world,” my mother crooned in a soothing voice. “You’re my precious angel. Don’t let anyone pick on you. Relax. I’m here for you. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

“Conner hurt me,” I said miserably. “I’m so confused. I thought everything was great between us. He enjoyed himself so much at dinner this weekend! What’s up with his sudden change of heart? Why would he turn on me and betray me like this?” I vowed that as soon as I got off of the phone with my mother, I was going to demote Conner to number 41 on my speed-dial list. Not only that, I’d tell every girl in school what an absolutely awful boyfriend he made. He’d never, ever get a date again for as long as he lives. I’d show him. He is sooo not in my top eight any more.

“Sweetie…the world is full of mean people who would love to take advantage of someone as small and innocent as you. Just like Bella did last year. She was your friend just long enough until she could ‘upgrade’ to the Cullens, and then she forgot all about you. Don’t let them do it. You need to stand up for yourself.”

“I don’t know how, mom!” I wailed. “I’m so hurt that I want to do something desperate and drastic!”

“Honey…if you need to come home, I’ll call Mrs. Cope. I’ll get you out of school…”

“No…” I sniffed. “I think I’m going to be okay. Just…can we have some mom and Jess time when I get home? I don’t care what we do. Really…I don’t.”

“Honey, we’ll sit down, drink chai tea, and chat for hours.” I sniffed. I loved my mom’s chai. It was like drinking delectable pumpkin pie in a cup. There was something comforting about sitting on our front porch together on a cool spring evening, enjoying the warmth, and talking until the stars came out.

“That sounds perfect Mom,” I said. “You’re the best.” I looked forward to the coddling I’d get as I blamed all of my insecurities and shortcomings on those who had it in their minds to hurt me. Nothing like mom’s comforting arm around my shoulder, assuring me that I was the center of the universe; of her universe at least. I took a ragged breath, hearing girls start to fill in to the locker room.

“Class is starting really soon mom,” I said. “I gotta go. I love you.”

“I love you too dear,” she replied. I shut my cell phone with a snap and quickly reopened it and moved Conner’s name down to my number 41 spot. I stepped out of the stall, changed quickly and made my way to the gym.

I was surprised to find that Coach Clapp was nowhere to be found. In his place was a perky girl with highlighted dark blonde hair, who dressed in blue shorts and a little red t-shirt. She was inarguably pretty.

“How y’all doing today?” she cried enthusiastically. She got a rippled response of “good” from the class.

“I can’t hear you!” she said.

“Good!” we all cried in unison. Some of the boys were staring at her, open mouthed, like they’d never seen a female before.

“My name is Mrs. Thunderbird,” the woman said, in a chipper Texas drawl. “I’ve taught ballet, tap dancing, ballroom dancing, and various dance aerobic classes for the last nine years. The reason Coach Clapp invited me here today is because y’all have a prom coming up. Since not all of you know how to dance, he thought that it would be a great idea if I came in to show ya’ll the basics of ballroom dancing. There were gasps of excitement from the girls and guttural groans of misery from the guys. Bella shot Alice and Edward a horrified expression. They just grinned at her.

“Everyone needs to find a partner, preferably of the opposite sex, who you will be learning the dance steps with.” The room suddenly went all scrambly. I tried to make my way across to Conner, out of habit. Before I’d gotten to him, however, he’s asked Lauren to be his partner before she could ask Mike. I began to approach Mike, thinking that maybe it would bring back old times. He was single...I was single now. I gave him a friendly look. He quickly asked a girl named Emma to dance, before I could make my way over to him. I glanced over at Bella and Edward, who were obviously paired up. My panic began to build as I watched everyone in the class—except me—quickly find partners. Every time I approached a guy, he seemed to ask someone right before I got to him. Even Eric had a partner—some loopy girl name Erynne who was wearing a corny t-shirt with a llama on it.

“Anyone left without someone to dance with?” Miss Thunderbird called. I raised my hand. Much to my dismay, so did Alice.

“Hmmm. It would appear that there are more girls than guys here today,” she said lightheartedly. “You two can dance together. It might work better. You’re actually close to the same size. What are your names?” We told her.

“Well…Jessica, how ‘bout you’ll be the leader. You’ll learn the ‘guy’s’ part. Alice, you’ll be the follower. You’ll to the “girl’s” part.”

“Lovely,” I muttered under my breath. Alice’s tiny form gracefully approached me, smiling politely. I smiled back at her.

“Have you ever done this before?” Alice asked, her bright, friendly eyes looking me over.

“Not really,” I admitted.

“I learned how to do the waltz, foxtrot, east and west coast swing, and salsa with Jasper back when we lived in Alaska,” she said, conversationally. “It’s so much fun! They guy’s part is harder, since you have to make things up as you go along and communicate to your partner where you want her to go.

“Sounds challenging,” I said.

“If you want, we can switch parts,” she offered. “I know how to lead pretty well. It’s much easier to just follow.”

“Sure. Whatever.” Of course she would know how to dance. I thought. She’s a perfect Cullen.

The first dance that we learned was the waltz. It seemed simple enough. The perky Texan demonstrated, with Tyler as her partner, how it was done. Alice took my waist and hand and led me easily through the one-two-three, one-two-three pattern. After that, she showed us a basic box step that could be done to slow music. She then showed us the basic steps for east coast swing. Alice looked a little bored as she effortlessly guided me through them. Heel-step, heel-step, rock step. Heel-step, heel-step, rock-step. The step for slower songs was rather straightforward as well. Triple-step, triple-step, rock-step. Triple-step, triple-step, rock step. She then took us through some basic turns. All through the motions, I tried hard not to make eye contact with Alice. Her tawny eyes always freaked me out. I was also highly aware of how unusually cold her hands were against mine. She kept on smiling politely at me. For some reason, the smile frightened me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about those straight, flashing, beautiful teeth that made me want to run. We made it through the first several dances without any significant changes.

“All right,” Miss Thunderbird said with a smile. Who’s ready to go on to something harder? Several girls gleefully raised their hands. The guys, of course, didn’t—except one. Edward kept his hand held up high.

“You there! Come on up,” she said, pointing at Edward. He strode up to her, grinning crookedly. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Edward,” he replied.

“Edward…I couldn’t help but notice, but you look like you’ve done this sort of thing before.”

“Yes,” he said, running his long, pale fingers through his reddish-brown hair. “I’ve been well taught.”

“So…would you say that you’re proficient in east coast swing?” Mrs. Thunderbird fluttered her long eyelashes at Edward—like she was mesmerized. She took a hesitant step closer to him and inhaled. She must have been turned on by the scent of that cologne he always wore. He raised one eyebrow, looking at her with a completely amused expression.

“I would,” he stated, with the utmost confidence.

“Would you mind doing a demonstration for the class with me?” She held out her hands to him, eyes twinkling. I rolled my eyes. Even our substitute gym teacher…our married substitute gym teacher—for crying out loud—was crushing on the extravagant Edward. The gym went all buzzy as disapproving murmurs went through the gym. This was most scandalous.

“I mean no disrespect, Mrs. Thunderbird,” Edward said in a smooth voice, “but Bella is my usual dance partner, and the two of us dance well together. I am willing to demonstrate…” he gestured to his girlfriend. “But only if she and I can demonstrate together,” he held out his hand, grinning broadly at her. Her face was beet red and she was shaking her head and mouthing “no,” to him. His eyes were twinkling with mischief.

“Edward…I don’t know…”Bella began, but he ignored her.

“Do you have any Benny Goodman?” Edward asked Mrs. Thunderbird.

“Er…yes.” The look on her face was that of a kid at the beach whose cookie has been snatched away by a seagull.

“Play something, then, Mrs. Thunderbird. My girlfriend and I will be happy to demonstrate how dancing was done in the 1940’s. Please?” His gorgeous glinting eyes bored into hers. For a moment, our substitute teacher looked as if she was having difficulty breathing. Then, she nodded once, walked over to the CD player, and hit the play button.

I recognized the song…an instrumental number called “Sing Sing Sing.” The rest of the class formed a large ring around the pair. The song started out with a distinctive drumbeat, during which Edward circled Bella, like a lion stalking its prey, his eyes lighted up as if on fire. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the two. Plain Jane, ordinary, girl next door, paired up with America’s Next Top Model: Hot Guy Edition. Him, with his overconfident, crooked smile, her with a look of self-conscious terror in her eyes.

At precisely the moment the horn section came into the song, Edward dashed to Bella, seized her by the waist, and flipped her over his arm. She landed on her feet. He pulled her into his arms and began leading her in a wild dance. Gasps went up all around me. They were incredible. They looked like they should be on “Dancing with the Stars.” He twisted and turned her around, guiding her every movement with perfect precision. She kept in step with him flawlessly. As the saxophones came in, he lifted her from the floor, grabbing her legs from behind and swinging her up, first to the left side of his legs, then to the right side. When the second drum solo came in, Edward took a look into her eyes, placed his hands on her shoulders, and literally vaulted over her head. Back-to-back with the slim brunette, he linked his elbows with hers and bent forward. The momentum of the movement carried her over his head. She landed squarely on her feet. The room broke out in applause. Angela and Ben cheered. Even Mike clapped his hands, yelling “Go Bella!”

There were only two people in the room who didn’t look happy. The first was Lauren. The second, to my surprise, was my pale partner.

“Show-off,” she growled. I glanced at her, puzzled.

“Huh?”

“Leave it to him to break the rules…” she muttered.

“Excuse me?” I said. Alice suddenly turned to me, with her eyes wild.

“We’ll show him,” she said, staring at me oddly. The way that she looked at me freaked me out. Stupid gold eyes.

Edward caught Bella up in his arms again. He spun her around so that her back was to his chest and led her through the Charleston. As the second drum solo began, he made a gesture for her to duck. She lowered herself to a squat. He swept one leg over her head, then pulled her feet first through his legs and into the air, before catching her in another flawless display.

At that moment, something changed in Bella’s expression. She suddenly smiled, jubilantly. A clarinet solo began, and she threw herself into the dance. She no longer looked shy or inhibited. It was like something clicked. The chemistry between the two scaled up a notch.

By the time the song ended, the whole class was clapping to the beat of the song and tapping their feet. Edward ended the act with a Bella in a dip…her legs straight, her head nearly touching the floor. The class clapped and whistled once again, and Edward planted a light kiss on Bella’s forehead, bringing her up to standing. Her face held a sheen of sweat while he, of course, looked as cool as a cucumber. An impressed, yet dejected looking Mrs. Thunderbird stopped the CD player before it could go on to the next song.

“You are wonderful!” she said in an awed voice, speaking only to Edward, ignoring Bella entirely.

“Thank you,” Edward said with a smile. “We’ve worked very hard to become so.”

“I bet you have!”

“I had to, in order to keep up with her,” he said, putting an arm around Bella’s shoulders. “She’s a natural.”

“Have you two ever been to competitions?” Mrs. Thunderbird asked.

“I’ll show him competition,” Alice muttered. My heartbeat elevated slightly. She didn’t mean to…no. She wouldn’t…she couldn’t…

“Mrs. Thunderbird, my brother has never danced competitively…but I actually have.” Alice, said, interrupting the conversation. She loped up to the dance instructor and smiled sweetly. “I’ve been schooled in not only ballet, but all sorts of ballroom dancing. I would be perfectly willing to demonstrate, with my partner here.” She gestured to me. I felt every muscle in my little body tighten. Mrs. Thunderbird cocked her head to the side.

“Omigosh! You can lead? Wow! The dancing genes must run in your family!”

“Er…no, actually,” Alice said. “We were both adopted.”

“Oh. Hmph. Well…I suppose that if the class is up for another demonstration, that we actually can turn this into a bit of a dance off. Whaddyall say?” There was a murmur of assent from the class, particularly the guys, who were happy to be off the hook of actually participating. Mrs. Thunderbird made her way back to the CD player and pushed “play” once again. For the first time in my life, I knew that I had everyone’s attention, that every eye in the room was on me and yet, there was nothing I felt more like doing than crawling into a hole and never coming out.

As the song “Jive Bunny” started, Alice led me into the main step. I’d learned it before, and even though she was a good leader, I felt myself step on her toes twice. She ignored it, turning me under her arms. Unlike Edward, she attempted no flips. Instead, she was leading me through a series of twists, turns and twirls. I kept up with her basic steps.

“Look into my eyes,” she whispered. “It’s easier to lead if I can communicate with you.” For the first time, as she spoke into my ear, from just inches away, I realized how good she smelled. I suddenly felt a little dizzy. I fell back a step and met Alice’s gaze. As she continued to twirl me and twist me in all directions, I felt myself getting dizzier and dizzier.

“I’m going to do that first move that Edward did with Bella,” she whispered again to me. All you have to do is stand up straight. I’ll flip you over my arm.

The rational voice inside my head screamed “Jess! Stop this! Stop this now! What the heck are you thinking??? She’s too little. She doesn’t have enough strength to do that move!” However, I found myself unable to respond to that voice. I nodded, dream-like, at the beautiful face in front of me. She exhaled in my direction a third time, and before I knew it, I was upside down, down down down…

SMACK.

My butt hit floor. For a couple of seconds I felt nothing. Then, the pain in my left ankle began.

“Arrrrrgh!” I cried, clutching it tightly. It felt like it’d been stabbed with a knife. A throbby ache spread through it.

“Omigosh! Are y’all right there missy?” Mrs. Thunderbird gasped, rushing to my side. I fought back tears. Alice was joined by Edward, who crouched down next to me, quickly removing my shoe. He poked and prodded at my ankle, trying to move it in different directions. His icy hands felt like heaven. What was it with that family and icy hands anyways? I quickly wondered in Dr. Cullen only adopted orphans with bizarro diseases.

“It looks like her ankle may be sprained,” he said softly. As he bent over me to continue examining me, he and Alice exchanged a certain look. She whispered something, her lips trembling, as though she was muttering to herself. Edward glanced first at me, then at Mrs. Thunderbird.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to take Miss Stanley to the nurse’s office,” Edward said loudly, his voice tense. “It appears that she is unfit to participate in the rest of gym.”

“Are you going to carry me?” I asked, hopefully. Maybe the day wasn’t a waste after all. Who knew that by the end of the day I would be in injured Edward’s arms.

“I’ll carry you,” Alice quipped quickly. “This is all my fault. It’s the least I can do.”

“You are not strong enough to lift her,” Edward said, giving her a meaningful glance. “I know you feel bad, but you only weigh 90 pounds.”

“Oh. Right,” Alice said. “Sorry. Here I am, trying to be helpful and all.” She wrinkled the corners of her eyes at me, shrugged her shoulders, and turned her palms up, communicating something silently with her brother.

“It’s okay, really,” Edward said silkily, loud enough for everyone around to here. “I’ll take care of her. She looks like she’s a damsel in need of a rescue from you.”

The word “rescue” had an effect that surprised me. Mike Newton dashed to my side.

“Back off Cullen,” he said. “I’m going to take her to the office.”

“Huh?” I said. This was new. Mike hadn’t talked to me in months…not since our awkward break-up.

“Huh?” Edward said, scratching his head.

“Let someone else take the fallen girl to the nurse’s office for once, will you?” he said in an annoyed voice.

“Uh…sure,” Edward said, backing off. Mike’s blond head bent down, his face close to mine.

“Are you all right?” he asked, looking genuinely concerned.

“I’m…ergh…fine,” I said. I looked up into those blue puppy-dog eyes, the ones I’d been in love with once. His boyish face was filled with determination.

“Take my hand. Let’s get you up,” he said. He pulled me up, helping me stand on my “good” leg. “Can you put weight on it?” he asked. I tried, and found that it increased my pain and made the ankle give.

“Crap,” I said.

“That’s okay…here,” Mike said. He scooped me up into his arms, and carried me down the hall. I glanced at Lauren, who was looking with me with her jaw clenched and eyes furious. I grinned.

Despite the fact that I was in pain, despite the fact that I might need to use crutches, despite the fact that I hadn’t been nominated for prom court, I felt a sense of satisfaction wash over me. This day had turned out good.

For one, I was back in Mike’s arms. Perhaps he’d ask me to prom. For another, I was the center of attention, and the whole class felt sorry for me. And finally…the fact that Alice Cullen had caused my sprained ankle was excellent fodder for the rumor mill cannon. Attention from Mike, attention in general, and a good piece of gossip to spread.

I couldn’t wait to call my mom—and maybe re-evaluate Mike’s current standing in my speed dial directory.