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The Promise of Roses

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It was starting to get dark. A thin line of silver-blue clouds cut across the sky; the trees spread slow, seeking shadows over the grass. Angela was still carrying the bouquet. Every so often, she ran her thumb through the white roses, marveling at the lush satin texture of their petals.

She was alone. Everyone else who’d been seated at her table had rushed away when the dancing started, but Angela had held back. She wasn’t all that into dancing, and besides, who was she going to dance with? She didn’t have her date with her – Ben had left early.

“You don’t mind, do you?” he’d asked, “It’s just, this is the last night that Austin has the house to himself –”

Angela had waved him away. “Go. You two crazy kids have fun; I’ll be fine.”

She didn’t resent Ben for leaving her behind, but she did miss his company. It felt strange to be at Bella Swan’s wedding without him. It felt strange to be at Bella Swan’s wedding, period. Or – Bella Cullen, now. She was a little surprised that she’d even been invited. Yes, she and Bella were friends. They hung out frequently enough, and they were always friendly with each other. At the same time, Angela wasn’t sure she actually knew her. So much of Bella was a blank. She didn’t like to talk much, and she hardly ever initiated their plans. She disappeared into herself for days on end; there were times when Angela tried to greet her in the hallway and Bella looked at her with flat, bored eyes, like she was a stranger. She was never cruel, but Angela still suspected sometimes that Bella didn’t like her much.

Angela had had her hopes, of course. When Bella first arrived in Forks, so pale and strange and quiet, Angela had been drawn to her, searching for a sign that there was some connection between them. When Bella had turned away from every one of the (many) boys who tried to proposition her, Angela had dared to wonder, had even started to get excited. Then along came Edward, and that was the end of that.

She brought the bouquet to her face, brushing her cheek with rose petals, breathing in their scent. She could see Bella and Edward, holding hands in a dark crevice at the edge of the clearing, whispering to each other and smiling.

“So this is fucking weird, right?”

Angela started. Jessica collapsed into the chair beside her, holding her half-empty glass up high. She was wearing a short gold cocktail dress, her hair piled in a mountain of dark ringtails. When she turned, Angela noticed that her eyeliner was smudged.

“Everyone’s walking around like this is totally normal,” Jessica continued, “but it’s weird! She’s like, she’s fucking eighteen, she’s not even getting a job or going to college? And he’s like, in a cult or something? How long have they been dating? Like a year? Not even, right? And they’re getting…married?” She laughed, slurping the last of her drink. She was tipsy, Angela realized.

“Did someone serve you alcohol?” she asked, lowering her voice, “Almost everyone here knows you’re underage. The Chief of Police is the bride’s father.”

Relax, Ange,” Jessica sighed, “Mike brought along something extra. I just took a sip.” She waved her glass under Angela’s face, grinning. “You want some?”

Angela pushed her away gently. “No thanks. I’m not good at handling alcohol.” As soon as she said it, she remembered. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing over at Jessica, who was suddenly stiff, staring fixedly out at the dancing wedding guests. Angela swallowed, digging her fingernails into the base of the bouquet. She could feel a lump starting to form in her throat. “It…it is kind of weird,” she stammered. Something, anything, to distract them from the memory looming large over their every word. “I can’t even imagine getting married right now. Honestly, I sometimes still think of myself as a kid. I barely know how to take care of myself, I don’t know how I’d take care of a family. But,” she added quickly, “if this is what Bella wants, maybe it’s what’s right for her. She and Edward really seem to love each other, at least.”

Jessica snorted dismissively. “They’re obsessed with each other, I’ll give you that. Doesn’t mean they’re in love.” She shifted in her seat, tugging at the hem of her dress. “My mom thinks she’s gold-digging. The Cullens are supposed to be super rich, right? And a lot of people think she’s pregnant. I think the real question is why Edward wants to marry her. Maybe because all of his sisters are already taken.”

Angela laughed despite herself and immediately felt mean. “They’re not actually related,” she tried to say, but Jessica just rolled her eyes.

“It’s still creepy, though! It’s gross. I’m telling you, there’s something really messed up about that whole family.”

For a few moments, they mulled over the Cullens in silence. Angela didn’t really know a whole lot about them. Her whole impression of the family was built on rumors. She tried not to judge people as a rule, but she had to admit that Angela was right – something about them made her uncomfortable. She had a pressing sense that the whole sibling-dating thing was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Well, anyway,” Jessica suddenly said, “I saw you catch the bouquet!” She touched the flowers in Angela’s lap. “That means you’re next. You can be the second child bride to graduate from Forks High School! Do you think Ben would propose? Where is he, anyway?”

“He had to leave. He wasn’t feeling well.” Angela briefly imagined Ben getting down on one knee and handing her a ring, and the image alone made her grin. “Where’s Mike?”

“Who knows?” Jessica hesitated, and Angela felt her hesitating, and she knew where this was going, and she was suddenly terrified. “You didn’t…tell Ben. Did you?”

She knew exactly what Jessica was talking about. She stared down at the flowers in her lap, tugging at a rose petal until it broke off in her fingers. “No,” she lied, “I didn’t tell him.”

She felt sick to her stomach. She hated talking about this. She hated lying too, but there was nothing she could do about that. Of course she’d told Ben. She’d called him the night it happened, half-sobbing into the phone while he tried to calm her down. There was no one else who she could talk to about it – at least no one else who would really understand. There wasn’t anything for Jessica to worry about, though. Ben didn’t care. He was her boyfriend, but not really. She thought of him as her “boyfriend,” in quotes. He dated her because his family would implode if they knew he was in love with Austin Marks. She dated him because her minister father wasn’t a big fan of lesbians. It was an arrangement that worked for both of them – as well as such an arrangement could work, anyway.

She waited for Jessica to continue. When she stayed silent, Angela couldn’t hold back any longer. “Did you tell Mike?”

“No! God, no. He would freak.” She coughed, harsh and loud, like there was something stuck in her throat. “Uh, not that it was a big deal or anything. We were just stupid, and drunk – so drunk – and Eric’s parties are always insane. I don’t, like…go around kissing girls all the time.”

They stared at each other, wide-eyed. It was the first time either of them had openly acknowledged what had happened at Eric Yorkie’s autumn break party.

“Me neither,” Angela said slowly. Which was the truth. Also the truth – she would have liked to go around kissing girls all the time. She wished she could go around kissing girls all the time. She pulled another rose petal from the bouquet, and another, and another. Her heart was racing; she couldn’t keep her hands still.

“It was a stupid drunk mistake, and it’s never going to happen again.” Jessica spoke with a violence and severity that frightened Angela for a moment. She involuntarily flinched.

“No,” she whispered, “Of course not.”

Jessica studied her, and then she seemed to soften. She reached out and touched Angela’s arm, uncertain and light. “Let’s just pretend it never happened. Okay? We can go back to the way it was in school. I know we’ve barely been away for a semester, but I’ve missed you, Ange!”

Angela forced herself to smile. “I missed you too.”

Eventually Jessica got up to find Mike, leaving behind the dregs of her spiked drink and an atmosphere of rigid suspense. Angela tugged at the collar of her dress; she felt like she was suffocating. She wished Ben would return for her. She pictured him at Austin’s house. She wasn’t in love with Ben, but she still loved him – he was her closest friend. But she hated him sometimes too. She hated him when she saw him with Austin. They had a biting, teasing relationship, always throwing barbs and rolling eyes, but they were also so gentle with each other. They relaxed around her, so she saw the way Ben touched the small of Austin’s back, and the way Austin watched Ben while he drove, and she hated them for their special, careful intimacies. She loved Ben like he was one of her brothers, and she hated that he never had to pretend that anything he felt around Austin was a mistake.

Her whole situation came rushing down on her then, heavy and stormy and impossible. Here she was, the closeted lesbian daughter of a Lutheran minister, at a wedding between her eighteen-year-old maybe-friend and the creepy cultish kid from high school. A wedding that her own father had in fact performed. She knew it wasn’t all easy for Bella, what with the gossip and the judgement, but Angela couldn’t even get married in Forks – not to anyone she wanted to marry, anyway. Angela didn’t have the option to fall in love with someone mysterious and beautiful, and hold hands with them in the halls of her high school, and have her father officiate her wedding. Bella kissed her husband at the altar, and all her loved ones clapped. Everyone saw, and it was a miracle. Angela’s first kiss happened in the dark, boozy basement of someone else’s house. No one saw, and it was still a mistake.

She couldn’t stand it any longer. The trees, the dancing, the talking, the laughter – it was crushing her – she needed air. She stumbled from her seat, walked blindly to the edge of the clearing. She didn’t realize that she was still holding the bouquet until a shower of rose petals drifted to her feet. She thought of the way Bella had looked right at her when she tossed the bouquet, smiling when Angela automatically reached out and caught it. This meant something to her. This was her idea of a gift. Angela realized this, and she was heartbroken.

I’m going to be next. They really want me to be next.

The forest loomed ahead of her, a tangle of branches and roots and rustling leaves. She took a great gasping breath. She was broken. With one sudden, vicious motion, she hurled the bouquet into the trees. There was a bundle of frayed white roses in the wilderness now, lost in the shadows. It didn’t belong to her anymore.

She didn’t wait to see where it landed. She turned on her heels and walked back to the party, all the while staring fixedly at the great expanse of Washington sky.