Song I rocked to write:
'Crashing' by Gersey
'Strange and Beautiful' by Aqualung
I diligently avoid my reflection in the double doors as the elevator descends. Soft dings keep count of the number of floors.
Each seems louder than the one before, but I know it's just my nerves. Even still, I'd take any noise over this.
Where's crappy Muzak when you need it?
My legs feel heavy and sluggish when I step out into the lobby. Arms crossed tightly over my chest, I duck my head and prepare for a brisk exit. Just as I pass the front desk, Marcus' voice causes me to pause in step.
"Have a good evening, Miss Swan."
Hearing him call me by name reminds me of a something. A curiosity I'd displaced once Edward had arrived. I look at the exit and push down the part of me that wants the rush of relief that a fast getaway would bring. Turning in place, I take a breath and a few steps back to the desk.
"Hi. Marcus, right?"
He looks up at me and nods with a small smile.
"I was wondering if I could ask you something?"
He inclines his head, signaling me to go ahead.
"When I came in earlier, you remembered me. How? I mean, it's been a long time..."
It's entirely possible that he could just have a really great memory, but it's bugging me. I have to ask. He answers immediately, both of us unaware of the significance of his response.
"In all the years he's lived here," He nods his head toward the elevator in reference to Edward. "He's only had two visitors. The cleaning lady...and you."
I'm not sure how I'm supposed to feel about that. My first reaction is disbelief. He's never had visitors? How is that even possible? Surely there has been someone. And then I think of the guest list I've played hostess to over the years.
Suddenly it's more believable.
"Are you okay, ma'am?"
"I'm...yes, I'm fine. Thank you."
I turn and walk out, trying and failing to leave this information behind. It's a fruitless undertaking.
Even as my feet and fear and car carry me home, my ears ring with the agonized wail of the broken man in the top of the tower.
I can feel myself...
Twisting in my skin.
Writhing and thrashing inside.
Searching for a way out of this. This anomalous turmoil I'm feeling. That I've been feeling. It aches and burns and infuriates and exhausts.
Everything and all at once.
I can't shake it. And I can't put my finger on it.
It starts outside of his door. I can still hear the break in his voice and the anger behind his fists. I can feel the vibrations against my back as he raged and pounded away at the door. Still feel the throb of fear rushing through my system as I stood paralyzed in the hallway. The torrent of sensations tethers itself to me that night, apprehending my focus and casting a shadow across...everything.
Every thought, every action, every word I speak, every intake of breath.
For three weeks.
Twenty three days to be exact.
I'd come home and carried on. I'd gone to bed, woke up, took my runs, showered, dressed, worked. All of it. Everything went back to the way it was before.
The way I'd wanted it.
I hadn't heard a word from him since I'd left The Citadel that evening. Part of me expected to hear the ring of my doorbell or the slap of his shoes on the pavement at my side as I ran. But a larger part of me somehow already knew they wouldn't come.
That he wouldn't come.
And that's good. It was the way I've wanted things since he's reappeared in my life that Sunday afternoon, all nervous hands in hair and timid words. It's the one thing I've wished for in between his unwelcome pop ups.
But something else pulses beneath my relief. It lies in wait, just under the surface. Noticeable, yet undefinable. It stalks my comfort and hovers over any attempt I make at forgetting. I cannot put my finger on it. I do not know what to call it. It remains nameless.
Until the twenty third day.
The last thing I remember of the night before is settling into the window seat in my bedroom.
Watching the stars over the lake, closing my eyes as the breeze blew through the screen and danced over my skin. I don't even remember slipping under...
When my eyes open again, I close them back immediately.
No. No no no no no no no.
I open them again, desperate for the scene to change...disappointed when it hasn't. My legs wobble, but my hands play savior to them. My stomach drops with the realization that my fingers are clasped tightly around decorative black wrought iron.
I squeeze tighter and look down at myself, already hating what I'll see.
Dark plum fabric wraps around my body, encasing me. It feels constricting against my flesh, holding together parts of me that are frayed and breaking.
The tinging of champagne glasses and the steady hum of conversation float among the room as I take in everything around me.
People mingle and float around the Cullen home, a mass of laughter and formal wear and obliviousness to my predicament. Everyone walks around and past me...looking through me without sparing me a glance.
No one sees me.
A familiar melody begins. An intro of gentle piano and mellow guitar.
I'd know this song anywhere. It has been the only thing I let myself keep...on the outskirts of my memory. The only fraction of that evening that I didn't banish as I fled.
There's a parting in the crowd of guests, giving me a clear view of the dance floor. A scene that I'm well acquainted with plays out in front of me. Alice. Shoes dangling from hands. Hands that are wrapped around Jasper's neck. Lazy smiles and unhurried swaying. Lost in one another.
I don't understand the sting in my chest now anymore than I did back then.
I barely acknowledge Esme and Carlisle, wrapped in their own embrace and watching the couple with prideful eyes. I know they're there, in my periphery, but I don't lay eyes on them. I don't get a chance.
Because I am wrong.
Someone sees me.
One lone figure.
The foyer and every motion within it slows to a crawl. The murmur of voices, the laughter and the music all dull to a hum...drown out the second I spot him.
On his knees.
Hands hanging limply at his sides.
Rumpled clothes and days of stubble.
My knees lock up and my breath seizes in my throat when I get to his eyes.
I fidget in place under the weight of his attention. He levels me with a stare so raw, it doesn't even occur to me to break it. He speaks to me, wordlessly, with his eyes. Anger is absent in them. He is merely...watching me. Seeing me. Asking me questions I cannot answer. Showing me a side of him that I refuse to inspect. I deny its existence.
I have no choice.
I'm ignorant to what would lie on the other side, should I satisfy curiosity and ask. I am petrified of what will happen if I should so much as wonder. The ramifications are something I'm not prepared for. And do not want. I cannot afford to spare even a sliver of concern for him.
So I don't.
It takes a long moment, and every ounce of energy I have left, to blink and break the stare. I shake my head at him, saying a thousand words that I never taste in my mouth.
Just go away.
Leave me alone.
I. Don't. Care.
His eyes narrow, not from anger, but contemplation. He tilts his head just slightly to the side and I watch as all emotion drips off of his face, abandoning him...leaving only one behind.
His body slumps farther into the foyer floor. His eyes soften and the pink flesh of his lips wrap around a single word, lying it at my feet.......
I lurch forward, my breathing heavy and my heart slamming against my chest. I groan, reaching up to rub the stiff ache in my neck with one hand and shielding my eyes from the sun with the other.
Wait.....the sun? I never sleep until sunrise.
I sit up straighter and swivel my head around to look at the clock, regretting it as soon as the pain shoots down and around the back of my neck.
I'd fallen asleep in the window seat and never set my alarm.
"Shit. Shit Shit."
I scramble into the bathroom, limping because one of my legs is asleep from being folded underneath me overnight. I only barely have enough time to shower and throw on my clothes. I choose a charcoal grey, sleeveless dress. It's fitted from neckline to knee-length hem. I quickly pair it with a thin belt of the same gray around my middle and a pair of nude heels. I grab my purse, keys and coat, sparing a longing glance to both my coffee maker and running shoes, before flying out the door.
I arrive at work exactly eighteen minutes late.
I'm never late and it's clear that Leah, our new receptionist, is thinking the same thing as I scurry past her and into my office. Her eyebrows are scrunched up in confusion as I pluck my messages from her outstretched hand.
"Good morning, Leah."
I hear her return my hurried greeting just before I close my office door behind me. The mere sight of my desk and the thought of the workday ahead of me is overwhelming. I drop my purse and messages on my desk and take off my coat, looking down at the way the bottom of my dress is wrinkled up and my belt is twisted around to the side.
Stepping into the attached bathroom, an amenity I only just in this moment have come to appreciate, I sigh as soon as I see my reflection in the mirror. I make quick work of adjusting my 'costume', remembering back to when Kate gave me a lesson in workplace wardrobe. It's because of her that I even knew what the difference between an A-line skirt and a pencil skirt was. And now my closet is stocked floor to ceiling with every possible ensemble combination and accessory I could need.
Still, my loyalties lie in the drawers of my dresser. Once a sweats and tank girl, always a sweats and tank girl.
With my clothes straightened out, I glance up at my face. It's not something I normally focus on. I grab a tube of lip gloss and mascara from my purse. Even after I apply it, I still look...worn. Exhausted. The dark circles under my eyes that I have ignored for weeks are even more prominent this morning. I run my hand through my hair, trying to tame it. I'd had no time to dry it, so I'd rolled the car windows down and let them do it for me. The result is a wavy, slightly frizzy heap of brown. Deciding it's a lost cause, I pin it up in a bun and settle into my desk chair. My phone buzzes as Leah notifies me of my first appointment of the morning. And just like that, the bustle of my day swallows me whole.
When I finally get to break for lunch, it's nearly two in the afternoon. My neck is throbbing and my feet are killing me. I've been in and out of meetings and consultations all morning. Physically, anyway.
My mind, on the other hand, has been anywhere but near.
Throughout the day, tiny little sparks of last night's dream flicker behind my eyes. I shake them off every time they surface. I throw myself into conversation with a co-worker or client...anyone. I'm desperate to keep it all at bay.
To make the look in his eyes go away.
I know I can't hold it back forever. It's intent to be acknowledged weighs heavy on my shoulders. I'm exhausted in so many ways than one.
My concentration is a complete facade.
I smile and nod at all the appropriate times, retaining next to none of the information I should be. I am useless today...and it frustrates me to no end. No matter how hard I try to focus, I know it's no use.
Food is the last thing on my mind, so I try to lie down on the sofa...to no avail. My mind refuses to shut down long enough for me to relax. I pace my office and give good old denial one last shot.
"This is nothing, Bella. He's gone. It was a dream. It doesn't matter. It's not real."
Except it's real and based on a very real night during a very real time that I'd tried very hard to keep where it belonged...in the past. I dig the heels of my hands into my eyes and slump down into my desk chair. Leaning my elbows on the desk, I open my eyes and look over at the cursor that's rapidly blinking on the screen of the computer.
More specifically...the Google screen.
I narrow my eyes at the cursor, palming the mouse and closing out the page.
I was definitely not contemplating searching the web for information that I neither need to know nor care about. I'd had my reasons for never trying before. And I wouldn't cave now.
It's four o'clock in the afternoon and I'm tearing my office apart because I can't find the Hurley file. They're the biggest account we have on our plate right now and I can't afford not to be on my toes for it. The Hurly Foundation is renowned for it's work in cancer research development. They're collaborating with some of the most prestigious companies in Seattle to host a series of fundraiser events over the next several months. Events which Windsor is planning.
Kate has made it very clear how important their business is. I decided that knocking this job out of the park is the best way to erase any doubts Kate may have about my job performance as of late. Getting the chance to work on something more worthwhile than weddings and bar mitzvahs for a change just sweetens the pot. I have a lot riding on this and I'm frustrated at myself for misplacing the file.
My phone buzzes as I stand in the center of my office wondering where to look next. I reach over my desk, mashing the speaker button.
I immediately jump back into my frantic search, upending several piles of papers on the edge of my desk.
"Ms. Swan, your four o'clock is here."
Leah isn't the brightest crayon in the box. She sometimes gets lost in her clerical duties and forgets to inform us of an appointment here or there. She's only been here for a couple of weeks, but longevity in this company isn't something I foresee for her. She's a nice girl, but there's no way Kate will tolerate her forgetfulness.
"I wasn't aware I had a four o'clock, Leah."
I have to work to keep my tone patient. I don't have anything against her, but between the hellish night of sleep and the nonstop battle with my attention span, I'm spent.
"Yes, ma'am. I'm sorry about that. Should I reschedule?"
I really want to say yes, but it'd be unprofessional to do so with the client already here. Plus, I really don't need to give Kate any more reason to worry about me.
"No, it's fine Leah. Send them in, please."
Just after I reach over and turn the speakerphone off, I realize I hadn't gotten the client's name. But I'm quickly distracted from the thought when I spot the Hurly file peeking out from under my keyboard. I snatch it up and clutch it to my chest out of relief.
I tilt my head back and close my eyes, letting relief wash over me. One less thing to worry about.
I quickly spin around and scramble back, my ass landing on the edge of my desk. The Hurley file drops from my hands as I flatten them against my chest. Papers flutter to the ground and I react without thinking.
I'm not sure why, but I clap my hand over my mouth as soon as the words are out of it.
Edward is standing in the doorway of my office, which I clearly forgot to close behind me. He's in a three-piece suit. Charcoal pants and jacket, navy blue shirt. He has his hands in the pockets of his pants, his forearms holding back the bottom of his unbuttoned jacket. He quickly pulls his hands free and holds them up in surrender.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."
The quiet, hesitant way he speaks the words and the careful way he watches my face for a reaction tells me he isn't just talking about startling me. I look away from him, nervously running my hands down the front of my dress and using the scattered papers at my feet as an escape.
For the moment anyway.
Kneeling, I begin gathering the papers up and placing them back into a pile. And I ask a question I know he's heard from me before.
"What are you doing here?"
I don't look up for a response, and he doesn't give one. Instead, his forearm crosses just over the top of mine as he places a small stack of papers in the pile I've started.
I freeze and look up at him. He's kneeling on my left, mirroring my position and watching me cautiously. I rapidly contemplate all of my choices in the situation and try to choose the best one.
But I can smell him...it's sweet and spice and city air.
And very distracting.
Not trusting my speech at the moment, I continue to sort the papers into a pile, only pausing to allow him to place the ones he's gathered there as well. When the floor is cleared and the stack is back in its file, I rise slowly and round my desk, planting my fingertips on the surface of it and taking a deep breath. I raise my head and fake a calm I can't feel anywhere inside of me.
"How did you know where I work, Edward?"
He's standing on the other side of the desk and runs a hand through his hair before motioning to one of the two chairs there.
"May I sit?"
I hesitate, and he persists.
I nod my assent and settle into my own chair. He removes his jacket, folding it in half and hanging it over the back of the chair. When he's settled in it, he takes a deep breath of his own and levels me with a determined stare.
I raise an eyebrow at him.
He shrugs and the side of his mouth turns up into a simple grin.
"I Googled you."
"I just didn't think you'd talk to me if I called."
So an impromptu barge in felt more appropriate? He clearly has boundary issues.
"I wanted to apologize to you in person, Isabella."
His voice is steady...gentle. I stare at him wordlessly and he continues.
"Firstly, for lying to your receptionist. I didn't think you'd see me if I told her who I was, so when she asked if I had an appointment, I lied. I just needed to speak to you."
I am taken so off guard by seeing him here that I haven't even thought about the appointment mix up. I nod at him and his leg bounces a little as he lowers his head and runs his hand through his hair once again. When he looks up at me again, it's with too much intensity. The air between us pulses with unsaid words. Words I know he won't keep that way. He's come here for a reason.
It's too much and I look away.
He blows a long breath out through his mouth and sits forward, leaning his forearms against his knees. There's an enormous oak desk between us and I still feel the urge to lean back away from him, though I don't. I swallow down the panic that his facial expression causes me, though I'd be willing to bet my effort is for nothing. I probably look every bit as cornered as I feel right now.
"The last time we saw each other...I'm very sorry if I scared you."
His tone of voice is so docile, I don't know how to react. He speaks with resignation and I surprise myself by believing him instantly.
Over the past several weeks, since he's reappeared from the past, we've engaged ourselves in a battle of wills. My goal being to convince him to let all of this go and his goal being...completely lost on me. I still don't know what he wants from me. But I do know that today is different. He isn't angry. He isn't frustrated. He isn't fighting me.
"I was unfair to you."
At some point, I look away from him, suddenly finding my lap more interesting. His words confuse me and I look back up at him in surprise. He's looking at his own lap now, fiddling with the knuckles on his left hand with the fingers of his right.
He sits back and scrubs his hands over his face.
He looks off to the side, cutting himself off. He looks irritated for a just a moment, but pulls it back and tries again.
"She's a very sensitive subject for me. I'm not used to talking about her. You caught me off guard, but I shouldn't have reacted the way I did."
I nod and his words linger between us.
"I shouldn't have said...what I said."
It's all I have to give. He nods and then we're in a strange, quiet place. We're both avoiding eye contact with the other and I'm strangled by the desire to flee. Or lash out. I'm not sure which one, but the lack of hostility in the room has me floundering to keep up. From the moment he walked in the door, he's been different. His body language, the tone of his voice.
The look in his eyes.
I watch as he stands and walks over to the window. His back is to me and he runs one hand through his hair while the other slips into his pocket. Without his eyes on me, I should be able to relax, but I'm a live wire.
His voice pulls me out of my own head and I look up at him, though he's still looking out the window.
He scratches the back of his neck and slowly turns to face me. When he does, the slight pink tint to his cheeks makes my stomach twist. He's...embarrassed?
"My, uh...my therapist diagnosed them pretty quickly. They don't happen as often as they used to. Not nearly. But..."
He trails off and his eyes glaze over. For just a few moments, he wasn't here in my office. He was somewhere else, and I have to bite my tongue when I realized I wanted to ask him where.
"...but I do still get them. And I could feel it coming on that night. It's part of the reason I was in such a hurry for you to leave. I...I didn't want you there for that."
He didn't want me there for that. I doubt he knows that I'd heard it from the other side of the door. He stares down at the carpet and them glances back up at me. His cheeks are even darker now and his jaw is clenching. He looks braced, like he's preparing for my reaction. He puffs his chest out slightly, but I know that it's just for show. The unguarded look in his eyes does it. I can't look away.
And in this very moment, I know exactly what to call the nameless feeling that I've been bathed in since I last saw him. I can label the parasitic sensation that's taken root in the pit of my stomach since that night.
I feel...guilty for having said what I said. For lashing out and resurrecting a memory I already knew to be painful for him. Because I knew. I knew how badly they'd hurt him before I even spit the words out. And it isn't until I see the look on his face right now, one that's eerily reminiscent of last night's dream, that I accept responsibility for the way things escalated between us. I send the man into a fucking panic attack for God's sake.
Way to go, Bella.
I remain locked in my own thoughts for too long. I have no idea what I'm going to say, but just as I'm about to speak, he gives a slight nod and walks over to where his jacket is. He drapes it over his forearm and turns to face me.
"She was beautiful."
I stand up from my chair, clueless as to why I said it.
He freezes in place and this time it's me bracing for impact. For his rage.
But it doesn't come.
He holds my eyes with his own and my nerves completely take hold of my speech capabilities.
"I meant...I just mean, I saw her. Well, not her, but a picture of the two of you. On the beach. She was a beautiful little girl. And she seemed very happy."
His jaw clenches this time, but he holds eye contact with me and doesn't say anything.
I can't seem to stop the word vomit.
"I can't imagine what it must have been like for you. I've never lost anyone. Well, anyone that mattered to me. I never meant to..."
I cannot lie. I had meant to hurt him when I'd thrown her in his face.
"I just should have minded my own business. I'm...I'm very sorry. She...she was beautiful."
My words feel pathetic to me. Useless. I'm an intelligent person and here I am blathering away like an idiot. I rub my the palm of my hand over my forehead and close my eyes, silently pleading for a do over when he breaks the silence.
I nod. It's all I have left.
"And I'm sorry about just showing up like this. Again."
He briefly flashes a rueful smile and it still looks slightly out of place on his face, but...nice.
I'm lost in my head...again, not knowing what to say to him. He walks backwards towards the door.
"I'm just gonna...go."
I stare at him, confused about what he means. His hands are tucked into his pant pockets, leaving his jacket pinned between his forearm and side.
"She is beautiful, Isabella. She's not...she isn't dead."
He slips out the door and is gone before I can process what he's said.
He shows up on four days later, on Sunday morning. I spot him just as I step out onto the porch and am about to tuck my house key into my shoe. Standing on the sidewalk with his back to the house, he's stretching. I catch myself staring at the way his shirt bunches over his back as he holds one arm up into the air and bent to the opposite side of his body. He's in a gray t-shirt and black jogging pants. He turns then, cupping his elbow to stretch his arm across his chest.
We lock eyes, but neither of us speak.
I walk down the steps of the porch and slip my ear buds into my ears, tightening the armband my iPod is tucked into and turning up the volume of the music. It pounds into my head so loud that it tickles my eardrum. I glance to my left and see him regarding me carefully. Waiting for my cue. I give him a silent nod.
Just not away this time.
And it scares me shitless.
Just to clarify, the song Alice & Jasper dance to is 'Crashing' by Gersey. It's always kinda stuck with Bella. You know how they say songs trigger memories? For her, it will always take her back to that night. So...yeah......