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Wednesdays in December at Newton's Outfitters

The beautiful, distant Bella Swan was far more distant than usual. She might as well have been walking on the moon, she was so far away.

This story includes two versions of Chapter 4, one which is entirely AU, and one which is canon-compliant.

1. The 1st Wednesday in December

Rating 5/5   Word Count 1182   Review this Chapter

It’s like watching a favorite toy from your childhood be crushed under your dad’s truck tire. Or seeing your mom throw away the tee-shirt you’ve worn until it’s threadbare. It’s like watching death in abstract....

Mike Newton propped open the door to the shop and looked out, both directions, before forcibly sweeping the pile of dirt he’d been gathering out onto the sidewalk. He sighed, hoping it would rain again to wash it all away before his mother showed up and made him sweep out there, too.

Normally, he was not prone to such maudlin thoughts, but as he closed the door and came back inside, the ghost of someone he really liked drifted passed him with unfocused eyes, and he couldn’t help but share the melancholy. She’d been like this for two months. The beautiful, distant Bella Swan was far more distant than usual. She might as well have been walking on the moon, she was so far away.

He wondered, not for the first time, if there was anything he could do about it. But the fact was, he was too shy. Oh, sure, he had got up the courage to ask her out once or twice, but he’d always done it as an off-hand thing, and kind of made a joke out of it. You know, so that when she inevitably said, “No,” again, it wouldn’t utterly destroy his ego. Like it had the first time.

He watched her absent-mindedly unpacking a box of heavy duty ponchos. Her movements were smooth, but not particularly purposeful. She was clearly running on auto pilot. Why? Because the Cullens had moved away? He didn’t buy it. People moved all the time. There had to be some other reason why she was so despondent. Cullen must have said something to her before he left. Something really rotten, to make her so sad.

And suddenly Mike hated Edward Cullen. He’d disliked him a lot ever since his arrival in Forks had made it almost impossible to get any girl’s attention, and he’d disliked him a lot more ever since he and Bella had started dating. But in this moment it galvanized into an actual, active hatred. He wondered if Bella felt the same, but figured probably not. He wasn’t even certain Bella was capable of hating anyone.

She had to hear the horrible things Lauren and Jessica said about her every day at lunch. It wasn’t like the girls kept their voices down. For the first week after she’d returned to school, Mike had tried to shush them, but they’d just turned their venom on HIM, and he wasn’t ready to have his character assassinated by the resident harpy brigade, so he’d kept his mouth shut after that.

And anyway, it wasn’t like Bella was paying attention. If she heard their cruel insults, she obviously wasn’t bothered by them.

He was still standing at the door. Bella had finished putting the ponchos on their shelf, and she was now staring into the empty box. He shook his head at the irony. He was looking at something empty also. Maybe it was time she had something else to think about?

It was nearly Christmas. Just a few more weeks. He’d bought her a present, but he’d already changed his mind again and decided not to give it to her. She didn’t seem like she was in any right state to appreciate presents. Especially from someone she barely spoke to. On the other hand, she talked to him more than anybody, these days. Not that that was saying anything, really. But maybe it was reason enough to try.

Mike glanced at the clock. An hour until his mother arrived, and then Bella would be done for the evening. Enough time so that no one would witness his humiliation if she said, "No," again. He wasn’t sure SHE would even be aware of it. But he realized he had to try. He had to try to do SOMETHING to bring her out of this slump.

He was still watching when she shook her head a little, as though annoyed, and turned her eyes away from the empty box, standing abruptly. He took four steps and took it out of her hands. Though he was sure she hadn’t seen him coming, she didn’t appear startled at all. She didn’t even bother to turn towards him, or to look up into his face.

“Bella, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, Mike,” came the response, monotone, and maybe just a fraction of a second later than normal. He suppressed a sigh.

“Austin’s parents are having a Christmas party next weekend. Will you let me take you?” He’d phrased it a little differently than he normally would. He didn’t want to make it sound like any action was necessary on her part. All she had to do was LET him.

“I have to work next Saturday,” she said dully, although he thought she sounded vaguely relieved by the fact.

“The party’s Sunday night. I know when you work,” he said, frowning, but keeping his voice light. She wasn’t looking at him anyway. And in another flash of clarity, he realized that was annoying. He wanted her to at least LOOK at him when she said, “No.” He set down the box and put both hands on her shoulders, turning her to face him. She stared at his neck for an instant and he thought she might just say, “No,” to it, but then very slowly her head tilted up.

This was as close as Mike Newton had ever been to Bella, and he held his breath, twice as nervous now. “Please?” he asked. And he was so caught up in the moment that he forgot about the puppy eyes that usually worked for him, and he forgot all the stupid advice that guys gave to one another about how to get a girl’s attention. He just stared into her eyes and hoped.

The hope lasted all of two seconds. That was the time it took for him to register her utter lack of expression. He hadn’t gotten through to her at all, though he supposed it was an improvement that she was at least looking at his face.

She didn’t seem to be considering at all. She seemed, if possible, even sadder than she had a moment before. Then she blinked twice, and it was like someone opened a doorway. In her eyes he could see more pain than any one person should have to feel in a lifetime. But there was also, finally, some recognition.

“Oh, Mike,” she whispered. “Can’t you see how useless it would be?”

And then she lowered her head for just a moment, and when she looked back up at him, her eyes had no more depth than the average Forks mud puddle again. Mike didn’t know what to think of it. It was like she was just shutting off her emotions entirely instead of dealing with them. He let his arms drop from her shoulders and she immediately turned away. He watched her go into the back to retrieve another box as he stood there with the empty one at his feet.