Beatrice isn't a nice person. Niceness is a virtue, like purity or piety. She hasn't been pure since she got her cannabis club prescription and she's never been pious since she doesn't believe in God. She doesn't believe in charity either, so she can't be nice, and she certainly doesn't believe in love.
Beatrice isn't sure whether to laugh or to vomit.
Neither action is a nice thing to do, but then--despite what anyone might think of her--Beatrice isn't really a nice person. Niceness is a virtue, like purity or piety. She hasn't been pure since she got her cannabis club prescription and she's never been pious since she doesn't believe in God. She doesn't believe in charity either, so she can't be nice, and she certainly doesn't believe in love.
Especially not the gross lovey-dovey I-wrote-you-a-song-to-ask-you-to-marry-me display that she's watching as Paul walks off the stage, spotlight following him as he sings his way to their table. As he approaches, he pulls out a boxed ring and kneels, eyes soft as he proposes into the microphone, husky voice carrying from every corner of the room back to Beatrice even though he's right in front of her. "Will you marry me?"
"Yes," Angie gushes, practically deafening Beatrice next to her and leaping out of her seat to throw her arms around her new fiancé. For all that Beatrice knew Paul was going to propose during open mic night, she thinks she's about to either laugh her lungs out or vomit at the utter corniness when the couple kisses passionately in front of a crowd of spectators.
* * *
Tory is pretty sure that Beatrice is jealous. But Beatrice's distaste has nothing to do with the fact that she's had a tiny thing for Paul since the fifth grade--which she hasn't, thank you for asking--and everything to do with the fact that they are nineteen and still at community college. Beatrice might not believe in God, but she does believe in marriage, as long as it's not based in teenage infatuation and lust. And even if their love is real, are they ready to commit to each other for the rest of their lives? Are they ready and able to support each other for the next sixty some years?
She airs her concerns to her friends over a joint during one of their Friday night basement sessions a couple weeks later. "Something like eighty percent of couples divorce," she rants, smoke spilling from her mouth with her words, "so what is the point of marrying anyway? Total waste of money."
Ashton chuckles and grins at her. "So cynical," he teases. "That's cute."
"You're the one with a string of one night stands the length of your god damned football field," she shoots back, passing the roach to him before reclining on the couch.
"Touché." Ashton shrugs it off, passing the joint from Beatrice to Tory on his other side.
"And don't say I'm just jealous," Beatrice warns, pointing her finger threateningly when Tory opens his mouth. She continues, "I'm happy for them, but really. The wedding is in a couple months. Do I hear a shotgun?"
"I've never seen you so defensive," Tory says casually, his lip curling in a laugh as he takes a drag off the joint. "You could at least do something to convince me. Like, I don't know, go on a date."
"Shut up," Beatrice says, packing away her prescription bottles. "And actually, I do have a date. Which I'm going to be late for."
"Olive Garden with Paul doesn't count," Tory says without missing a beat.
"It's not Olive Garden with Paul," Beatrice huffs. "It's Black Angus." She steamrolls over Tory's snicker and continues, "Angie set me up for this double date with Noah Sullivan." Tory laughs even louder, because Noah Sullivan? Really?
Ashton taps her hip with his elbow and says, "Have fun at dinner. I'm going out with Penny Mills after this, but text me later?"
"Will do," Beatrice replies with a grin.
* * *
The thing with Noah really doesn't take, and not just because he speaks with the feminine lilt of one who is flaming gay. It's just that she's had dinner with Paul every other Friday for years, a tradition that hasn't changed since he started dating Angie, but Beatrice is a little uncomfortable spending the evening with the newly engaged couple and a guy she barely knows.
Noah awkwardly excuses himself to the restroom after he's done eating; Beatrice doesn't blame him. She is still picking her way through the salad Paul ordered for her, daydreaming of In-N-Out cheeseburgers, when Angie says into the lapse in conversation, "Beatrice, would you like to be my bridesmaid?"
"Depends," she replies lightly, setting down her fork. She's a little surprised that Angie is asking, considering that Beatrice accused her of stealing away her best friend just weeks before the engagement. "What will the dress be like?"
"You know you'll look good in any dress," Paul interjects. "Bee, you know how important this is, right? You've been like a sister since my mom passed, and I'd really like you in the wedding. Please don't be flippant about this."
Beatrice smiles wanly at Paul. "I wasn't going to say no."
* * *
She calls up Ashton on her way home and picks him up for a midnight run through the In-N-Out drive through. They smoke a spliff in the car and they trade gossip about their dates. Penny was too timid for Ashton's taste and Noah, Beatrice explains, was a bit too flamboyant for hers.
"Who are you texting?" Beatrice asks when she parks in a corner of the empty parking lot and digs into their paper bag of food.
"Paul," Ashton says, snapping his Sidekick shut. "He says you couldn't finish your dinner, he's worried you're not eating well. You're up for eating, right?" He says this gingerly, like she's a child or an invalid. Beatrice rolls her eyes.
"I'm not a sick dog you have to hand feed," she says, taking offense. She loves her friends, but they're usually more subtle than this. "I'm up six pounds," she starts, counting off on her fingers. "I'm eating my required twenty-two hundred calories a day. I didn't vomit. I've just been craving In-N-Out since Tory's basement. Now that I actually want food, you interrogate me?"
"I just thought that maybe the stress of seeing Paul and Angie together--" Ashton starts.
"Goddammit," Beatrice swears. She is so sick of hearing about her supposed deeply repressed love for her oldest friend. Now even Ashton is convinced she's in love with Paul enough to relapse after one dinner with him, and the only way her half-baked mind can think of shutting him up is to lean across the gear shift and kiss the words right out of his mouth. This seems to work, because Ashton doesn't mention Paul again.
* * *
"It's alright if you don't want to do it," Paul tells her the next time she's lying on his couch, strung out and munching on his dad's hand-made jerky. "I didn't mean to pressure you; I know you don't like Angie much, and you hate dressing up."
Beatrice leans up on her elbows and kicks at his thigh. "I'm insulted. It's your wedding too, you know, and after all the shit you've put up with from me, I owe you that much
Laughing, he shoves her feet to the ground and sets the popcorn bowl in the empty space. Beatrice fakes a pout, scooting closer to grab a fistful of popcorn. When she turns back to watch the movie, she can't seem to pay attention. She finds herself sneaking glances at the sharp lines of Paul's profile and musing that Tory and Ashton have to be wrong. This easy companionship can't be love.
"Do you think I'm messed up?" she muses halfway through a car chase.
"Until your club card, you weren't eating for years, on and off depending on the intensity of your anemia. I'd say you're a little messed up, Bee." Paul turns to her and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. Her heart jolts unexpectedly, and Beatrice has to remind herself that her feelings are totally platonic. He has always protected her and cared for her, and this cuteness is nothing new. "But you're my sister in all but blood, and I love you anyway."
Beatrice leans her forehead on Paul's shoulder and thinks that he's too good to her. She's been perpetually messed up since her dad left for a stick thin blonde young enough to be her sister, and her mom is never around to see to her the way Paul does all the time. "Thank you for being so patient with me," she murmurs, watching cars explode on the television screen. She's going to miss having her best friend to herself once he gets that tiny apartment across town to share with Angie. "For making sure I eat and take care of myself, all that. I'd waste away without you."
"You're skin and bones anyway," Paul teases, pinching the fat-less skin of her shoulder.
Beatrice laughs with him and thinks, this can't be love. It can't be this easy.
* * *
Is it bad that the one thing that Beatrice thinks at the dress fitting is that she hates how she looks in a bridesmaid dress? She's been feeling fat recently, and though she can look in the mirror and count her ribs, Beatrice is pretty sure this weight gain thing isn't working on her frame. The bridesmaid dress with its low cut back only accentuates the fat collecting on her bones, and she's only got a month until the wedding to fix this.
Doctor Olsen says that she needs to be thinking positive thoughts about her image, but positive thoughts are washed out by the mental image of her standing beside the gorgeous groom and looking like a wreck. Tory points out that she doesn't mention the bride.
"I'm like family," she points out. "I'm going to the wedding with Paul and his dad. I'm bound to have more pictures with those two than with the goldencouple."
Tory settles onto the couch, shit-eating grin dropping into the slightest frown, and throws an arm around Beatrice's skinny shoulders. "We all have our little denials. You can talk about it if you want; I know you do. It's not often I come home and find you almost crying on my couch."
Beatrice buries her face in her palms. This was the kind of thing she would cry to Paul about, except that Paul is getting married and Tory's back door is always open. She might have cried if her eyes weren't perpetually dry from the chronic; Beatrice shudders instead and leans into Tory's side. "What is love anyway?" she asks. "Isn't it just a mass of hormones and emotional manipulation? It's definitely not what I feel for Paul. He's my best friend. All I want is for him to be happy--so why does my heart ache?"
Tory strokes Beatrice's hair comfortingly, the way he's seen Paul do for her a dozen times. "If you feel lonely, there's always Ashton," Tory says. "He hasn't gone out with any girls since you started eating out with him on Fridays instead of Paul, and you know you can count on him to go as slowly as you want it."
Tory is kind of twisted if he's advising one of his best friends to abuse another's trust. Beatrice isn't sure if she's heartless enough to contemplate it.
* * *
Beatrice vomits in the bushes and climbs in through Ashton's window.
"I could have been sleeping," Ashton greets dryly, shifting over to make room for Beatrice on his bed as he sets his PSP down on his bed table. Beatrice pops a breath mint and drops onto his bed with a thump.
"I have something to tell you," Beatrice says, crossing her legs and sitting up straight.
Ashton leans back on his headboard and shrugs. "Go ahead."
"I--" Beatrice stops short, the words love Paul stuck on her tongue. It's one thing confess to Tory, who won't care once the morning comes. But Ashton will care to the point of upsetting her further. Instead, she says, "I threw up in your bushes."
"What?" Ashton leans forward in concern, but Beatrice brushes him off.
"This is something I'd normally tell Paul, but he's getting married and I can't rely on him to take care of me every time I lapse and pass out from malnutrition." Beatrice hugs her knees to her chest and continues morosely, "I lost a pound this week, and I was happy."
"Oh Bea," Ashton says, hugging her fiercely. "I know that this marriage is stressful; it's a major change for all of us. But you just can't fix it by doing this to yourself."
"I can't fix it any how," Beatrice murmurs with her face in his shoulder. "Do you think I could sleep here though? You can feed me waffles in the morning; otherwise you can't be sure I'm really eating."
"Anything," Ashton says. He tucks her into bed and watches TV until she falls asleep. Oh, and he kisses the corner of her mouth, but Beatrice is pretty sure that she's not supposed to know.
* * *
Angie looks beautiful in her summer wedding gown, glowing with happiness and love in a way that makes the cynic in Beatrice quaver and think that this marriage is going to last. Beatrice watches with a tight throat as Paul takes Angie out on the floor for the first time as husband and wife, and she thinks something inside her might gag.
The entire reception applauds as the song draws to a close, and the couple kisses again before Angie's father takes Angie's hand for the second dance of the evening. Paul heads straight for Beatrice.
"Congratulations," she says as he leads her in a waltz. He smiles at her so sincerely that her heart hurts, so Beatrice rests her cheek on Paul's shoulder and lets him lead her.
"Thanks for being here for me through everything," he breathes into her ear. "You'll always be my favorite girl." Beatrice closes her eyes and wishes that was true. But Paul eventually lets her go, pressing his lips to her knuckles as he does. She watches him disappear on the dance floor when Ashton appears at her elbow and asks her to dance.
"You're not sick of me yet?" Beatrice questions, because Ashton has spent the entire night in the seat next to her, making comments about the wedding singer and helping Beatrice crack open her crab legs despite snide remarks from Tory on his other side. She has never seen Ashton spend a whole night with one girl, and she's afraid she might break his heart.
Ashton grins, and Beatrice isn't sure how much of it is teasing, because it makes something flutter in her chest. "Don't you know? I'm only here for you."
"Right," she laughs, planting a kiss on the rise of his cheek bone and taking his hand. "Let's dance."