Songs I rocked to write (in order):
'Intro' by The xx
'Anything, Anything' by Dramarama
'Detlef Schrempf' by Band of Horses
'Six Days at The Bottom of the Ocean' by Explosions in the Sky
We're silent as we run and I'm relieved at not having to slow my pace for him. Not that I would have. Once we reach the lake, there's a strange, silent decision to stop beneath the willow tree by the lake again. Once I've caught enough of my breath to speak, I surprise myself with how forward I am with him.
“Why are you doing this?”
He seems just as surprised at my having initiated the conversation. I can't help it. I hate feeling confused...and no one drives that feeling home as thoroughly for me as he does.
I gesture between the two of us with both hands and then around at the lake and the ground we're sitting on.
“This. All of this. What's your angle here? Because for the life of me, I can't figure you out. What is it that you could possibly gain from doing this? Why are you still here?”
“Do you always ask so many questions?”
He's not irritated. He's just asking.
My answer is immediate. He doesn't know me, therefore couldn't possibly absorb how very literally I mean these two little words.
His eyes squint, but only barely. He doesn't rush to answer as his eyes analyze mine, one at a time. They bounce back and forth between mine before he turns and looks out over the lake. My gaze stays on the side of his face. His jaw ticks a few times. I used to think it was a sign of anger, but now I wonder if it's simply a habit of his. Like running his fingers through his hair. He looks down at his hands, cradling each fist in the other, one at a time as he cracks his knuckles. It's another tendency of his that I've noticed. My thoughts stray as he manipulates his joints, the popping sound just barely heard over the wind that blows off of the water.
I know those fingers.
Inside me......tangled into my hair, pulling and twisting......
The pads of those fingers.
Covered in my own wetness......the ridges of them sliding across my tongue and over my teeth......
The sting of it against my flesh......the pain and pleasure...
I turn my face away, hating that I lose myself in our past this way. Resentful of the lustful recollections that seize my state of mind without any warning...without permission. They're hypnotic, blanketing me in a trance and suspending the world around me into a slow blur. And then he speaks.
“I don't know.”
We turn our heads toward each other at the same time, meeting in the middle. It's there in his eyes...he isn't trying to hide anything from me. He's being honest. And even though it shouldn't be...it's enough.
Because I don't know why I'm here with him either.
Knuckles tap on my office door quietly as I'm reading through the seemingly endless amount of emails I have this morning. The Hurley job has nearly doubled my usual workload. I'm grateful for the distraction. If I don't have time to breathe, I don't have time to think. My mind has no room to stray...to lakeside conversations or the itch of curiosity that's begun inside of me.
I don't stop typing, but glance up at Kate as she slips in and closes the door behind her.
“Good morning, Kate.”
She settles herself into the chair across from my desk and nods toward the computer.
I tap the enter button, sending off the finished email message and sit back in my chair.
“Just trying to nail down the final list of contributors. We have a commitment from seven out of the ten so far.”
Her eyebrows lift in surprise.
Mine lift in response and I smile at her slightly, pleased that she's acknowledging my progress.
“Already. Give me until the end of next week and I'll have all ten.”
“Oh, I have a feeling you'll only need until the end of this one.”
I've known Kate long enough to know she isn't being sarcastic. We both know I can do this job. Damn well. I'm determined not to mess this up. Not to give her any reason to doubt my abilities.
“I heard you had an interesting visitor recently.”
She catches me completely off guard with her subject change and suddenly, straightening the papers on my desk is much more pertinent than it was three seconds ago.
“Really? Who would that be?”
Even though I knew where she was taking this conversation, the sound of his name outside of my own head causes my hands to falter as I slide a folder down into the bottom file drawer of my desk. I tuck my hair behind my ear and look up at her with what I hope is indifference.
“Um, yes. He did come by.”
“Do you mind if I ask whether it was a business or personal visit?”
She isn't being bitchy. If anything, she sounds hesitant, which isn't like her at all. Kate has remained my mentor, even after my internship ended. She's guided me through my transition into the professional world, helping me learn and adapt. I have a great respect for her, so I'm able to temper the initial flare of defensiveness I feel. It brings with it the urge to tell her to mind her own damn business. I won't lie about it. After all, what would I say? What would Edward Cullen be doing at Windsor Events? If I try to lie and say it was a business meeting, I'd have nothing to back it up. Instead, I try to keep my voice light and my posture relaxed. Basically...act the opposite of how I feel.
“Personal, actually. Why do you ask?”
I know what's coming before she says it. I don't want to hear it, but now isn't exactly the greatest time to be having a disagreement with my boss. Especially over...this. I can only imagine what she must be thinking.
“He's not the kind of man you want to get...involved with, Bella.”
The way she emphasizes the word confuses me. But then I piece it together with the look on her face...raised brows, steady eye contact, head turned slightly to the side.
If she only knew...
I can't help the smirk that slides across my lips as I sit back in my chair. Her misconception is comical and easily overlaps my nerves.
“Uh, Kate, I think you have the wrong idea. There's nothing going on between me and Edward.”
She continues on, as if I hadn't just laid her worry to rest. Apparently, I haven't.
“I'm sure I don't need to remind you of the Brandon/Hale wedding?”
I look down at my hands as they lie folded in my lap. I know what she's doing, but conjuring memories of that night won't help her cause. We've never really discussed what happened, but the Monday after the wedding, I lied, telling her that I'd left just after the customary wedding dances. As far as she knew, I'd been long gone by the time it all went down. Of course I'd overheard several dramatic retellings in the past few years. It had been, and still was, quite the scandal. Even now, it was a classic among office gossip. Apparently, there were several of both Esme and Carlisle's colleagues who served as witnesses to the scene that night, so it didn't take long before anyone who was anyone had heard about it. Naturally, it had spread like wildfire, circulating throughout the social circles and water coolers of the city. The son of a prominent Seattle family losing his shit and crashing his own sister's wedding. There was no shortage of rumors either. Everything from Edward having been strung out on drugs to his unrequited love for the groom. I nearly choked on my coffee when I'd overheard that one in the office.
If they only knew.
“I'd hate to see you get involved with someone like him, Bella.”
Someone like him. It rubs me the wrong way, even though it shouldn't. After all, I'd referred to him exactly the same way...and to his face at that. But my reaction to hearing her say it confuses me. I'm mildly...annoyed. It's probably just the general discomfort I feel with the discussion we're having. Well, the one that she insists on having. I'm just trying to get through it without having to participate, a plan that my brain clearly hadn't clued my mouth in on. I speak on impulse.
“Really? And why is that?”
Her eyes narrow slightly. I keep my tone even, almost uninterested, but I sense that she sees through it.
“You know that I consider Esme a dear friend...”
I nod in acknowledgement. I've seen Esme several times over the years since...that night. I knew it was inevitable, not only because of her friendship with Kate, but because it turns out that she is quite active in the community. She runs a very successful interior design firm here in Seattle, to which we've actually referred several of our clients. She also volunteers quite a bit of her time to several charities around the city. She has a remarkable reputation and I've never heard a bad word uttered about her...with exception to any reference about Edward, that is. Any time we've seen each other, it's always been a polite exchange of head nods or hellos. A few short conversations that never went beyond the standard 'How are you?' inquiry. After all, why would they? I am merely a girl who once interned with the company that planned her daughter's wedding.
If she only knew.
“She's a very private person and doesn't talk about it much, so I don't have all of the details, but I don't need them. I've known her for the better part of a decade and I've never seen him be anything but trouble for that family. While I can certainly see the...appeal there...” Her eyebrow and one corner of her mouth lifts for a beat. “...he's a despicable man underneath it all. I'd hate to see you get hurt, Bella.”
“I appreciate the concern, Kate, I do. But I can assure you that it isn't necessary. We barely even know each other. Trust me when I say that there is nothing to worry about.”
If I only knew.
“Damn. How often do you run that?”
We're both breathless, Edward bent over with his hands on his knees and me leaning back against the willow. It's the week after I'd walked out to find him waiting on the sidewalk in front of my house. The second Sunday since I'd given him my silent permission to join me. I didn't see him during the week, and was still just as surprised to find him on the sidewalk again this morning. I don't know what to expect from him exactly. I guess that's the downfall of a silent agreement. I take a few more deep breaths before I speak.
“Every? As in...all seven of them?”
I nod at him and his eyes widen. He stands up straight and looks out over the water.
We'd run the same route I always have, which is about six miles by the time we've jogged back to the house. I've stopped keeping track of it a long time ago, preferring to lose myself in the run instead of measuring the distance. I have to give it to him. He's...in shape.
“Don't get me wrong...I run. A lot. But how in the hell do you do this every morning?”
“Um, it relaxes me.”
Why do I feel like I've said too much? Really, I've said nothing but I feel exposed now...raw.
He smirks and looks away from me. Strangely, I can't do the same.
My eyes zero in on his profile. He's still watching the water, just one corner of his mouth pulls up. The edges of his hair are wet where they meet his flesh and my eyes follow the line. From his temple down to his sideburn...over and around the back of his ear, where a lone lock is curled. The redness in his hair is darkened to almost black by the sweat. His hairline meets in a 'V' at the back of his neck and my eyes shoot to the ground just as he turns his head toward me.
The pause he gives before speaking cements the suspicion I have that he caught me staring.
“Actually...I know exactly what you mean.”
“Hi, Mama. How have you been?”
I should be able to numb myself to her by now, but I can't. I've tried and failed. The shortness in her tone, only seconds after hearing my voice, still stings.
“I was thinking of coming to see you. Maybe for the weekend? I know the last time...didn't really work out.”
It was two years ago. She'd insisted I not bother, but I did so anyways. It was Mother's Day weekend after all. What the look of irritation on her face when she'd answered the door hadn't achieved, her mumbling something about having plans and leaving immediately after I'd gotten there had. I sat in the living room waiting on her for four hours before I was putting my bags in the trunk and heading back to Seattle.
“I'm gonna be busy that weekend, Bella.”
I grit my teeth at her ambivalence.
“I haven't even told you what weekend.”
Silence. And the cold, flat tone of her voice is no better.
“I don't think it's a good idea, Bella. Just...just don't, okay?”
I've come to expect the dial tone.
The next morning, I wake up feeling heavy. My feet drag as I get out of bed. The after effects of talking to Renee last longer now...sometimes days. It takes a while to decompress and I feel both exhausted and antsy. It's mornings like these that I need my run the most. I'm in a hurry to feel the ground fly under my feet. I want music blaring in my ears and my chest aching with effort. I rush through my stretches and fly down the steps of my porch, coming to a halt at the curb just after I've tucked my earbuds into place.
It's Wednesday...which means it's not Sunday.
It's nearly fall now and the mornings are chilly, especially at this time of day. The sun has just barely risen and hasn't had time to warm anything beneath it. He's wearing thick sweatpants and a dark navy blue sweatshirt. The hood is drawn up around his head and his hands are jammed tightly into the front pockets.
His hair is hidden, so the sharp, pale lines of his jaw are striking against the color of the hood. And his eyes. Ice blue in the early light and so lost, they don't know where to be...so they're everywhere.
On my eyes...on the ground...the sky...to the empty space on either side of him...and back to my own again...
I don't ask and he doesn't say, but something is wrong. It's in the stiff set of his shoulders and the tightness around his eyes. He's clenching & unclenching his jaw and as I walk closer, I see the circles under his eyes. He's fidgeting back and forth from one foot to the other. Rigid. He's pulled so tightly, I can see the strain it takes him to stand in one place. I take all of him in within seconds, and I can see him doing the same.
He looks the way I feel.
Instinctively, I know what he wants.
With a flick of my finger, I crank the volume up on my iPod and tuck it into my armband. Once it's secure, I push play and glance over at him. The music pounds in my ears, unforgiving from the very first note. We're mirroring one another...legs taut and poised for take off.
I nod at him...and we're flying.
We make the run in almost half the time it usually takes. This time, when we stop under the tree, we don't talk. I feel a loosening in the knot inside of me, but my head isn't in a good place. I don't need to know him to know his isn't either. So, like every other morning, we rest and catch our breath before running back to the house. By the time I'm closing the door behind me, he's already backing out of the driveway.
He shows on Sunday again, minus the internal battle from Wednesday. I expect him this morning, and our stop under the tree at the lake is wordless again. He seems much calmer, but preoccupied. We each stay on opposite sides of an invisible boundary line, me with my music and him with his thoughts. I can make them out just behind his eyes...brewing there, monopolizing his focus. He doesn't acknowledge me, nor I him. We're here together, but not. So when we slow to a walk in front of my house, I startle when I hear him clear his throat before speaking. When I turn, he's standing at the bottom of my porch steps.
“Do you mind if I use your bathroom?”
He catches me off guard and I think back to the last time he was in my house. I'm not stupid.
I turn back and unlock the door, waiting until he's inside and closing it behind him. I point down the hall when he turns to me in question.
“It's down the hall there, first door on the right.”
I nod at his back and just...stand there. I glance at the sofa, but decide against sitting down there. I don't want him thinking it's an invitation to stay. Our runs are one thing. He kind of forced his way into that the first time and while I haven't exactly objected to it since, we exist that way on the outside. This is my home. I'm not ready for him to be here.
It's only a few moments before I hear the bathroom door open.
I step back as he walks past me toward the front door. He pauses and turns around just before he opens the door.
“I...I'd like us to be...friends, Isabella.”
My eyebrows embed themselves in my hairline. I drag the single syllable out a bit, unsure if I've heard him correctly.
“If you'd be willing to try, yes.”
I can't explain why, but the careful way he speaks to me rubs me the wrong way. I bristle at his words, and though I'm pretty sure he isn't trying to offend me, I react anyway. My defenses rattle and I cross my arms over my chest.
“I'm not a fucking charity case. I don't need you doing me any favors.”
“I'm not...” He runs his hand over the top of his hair and takes a deep breath in. I can practically see his patience dissipating.
“I didn't say you were a charity case. I just figured...I don't know...that it couldn't hurt anything.”
I stare at him and he exhales roughly before dropping his arm from his hair. It falls with a slap against his thigh.
“You know what? Just...fuck..forget I said anything, okay?”
He speaks in a flat, resigned voice. If I didn't know any better, I'd think he was almost...embarrassed. He turns back toward the door and speaks over his shoulder without looking at me.
I don't say anything, but he doesn't wait for it either.
Only when I hear his car engine fading into the distance do my shoulders sag in relief. Out there, when my focus is on the pavement and the wind whipping in my ears, it's easier to ignore the intimidation that he inflicts on me. I can disregard the way my breathing constricts in those first few seconds I see him. I don't understand my reaction to him. It's unnerving and awkward.
My thoughts are a mass of questions as I shower and come down to figure out what to eat for lunch. I can't begin to wrap my mind around his suggestion that we be...friends. It's almost comical with the past that we share. Kate's words echo in my head. The things she said about him make sense, really. And that's without knowing about the two of us. But there are things about him that make me think twice about her assumption of who he is. Edward Cullen is one hell of an enigma. I can't figure him out, and the thought of trying to scares the hell out of me.
I'm stepping off the end of the staircase when I feel a sharp pain under my foot. I grab a hold of the banister to stop myself from falling as whatever I've stepped on slides across the floor, taking my footing with it.
When I'm confident that I'm not about to bust my ass, I bend over and pick up the shiny object. It's a small, silver charm bracelet with a flat matching heart dangling from it.
Where the hell did- I turn the heart over and there, engraved in a simple font, is the name Josie.
It hits me with a jolt and everything falls together with remarkable speed.
The links are tiny, the bracelet not nearly large enough for an adult.
No one else has been in my house...only Edward. It has to be his, but who is...?
And then all I can hear is Esme's quivering voice before Edward's infuriated one quieted her...
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry about everything. About Jo-”
I close my eyes and remember him, there on his knees, falling to pieces.
“My baby...my baby girl.”
My eyes close while I recall that night, and when I open them, I know exactly whose it is. Having no idea what to do next, I walk over to the coffee table and set the bracelet on top of it, backing away and staring down at it. What now? I ignore the small part of me that wonders why he'd have this. Why in the world he would be carrying it? It's none of my business. Calling or going to his place is just out of the question, especially after the way things went before he'd left here earlier. Deciding to worry about it later, I hurry into the kitchen. Just as I pull the cold cuts from the refrigerator, there's a knock on the door.
Then the doorbell.
Knock knock knock....
Ding dong, ding dong....
Knock knock knock knock....
Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong...
It's a rapid, frantic pattern. Over and over it repeats before I even have time to make it from the kitchen to the living room. I panic for just a moment before irritation sets in. And then I look through the peephole and swing the door open without any thought.
“What the hell is your-”
The man who'd walked out of this door not even an hour earlier was definitely not the same man standing here now. He's leaning on the door frame, taking shallow gulps of breath. One hand is fisting the material of his sweatshirt just over his chest and the other is cupped around the back of his neck. His head is bowed down and his eyes are squeezed shut. Beads of sweat are covering his forehead and temples and I watch as a single drop of it makes its way down the line of his sideburn.
His chest shudders violently as he looks up at me and opens his eyes. His dilated pupils are the first thing I notice. They're so wide and so black, they nearly drown out every speck of blue I know should be there. His jaw locks and he's breathing harshly through his nose. He inhales and exhales choppily as his eyes roam my face. I'm frozen in place, at a complete loss.
His panic attacks.
“Edward? What...I don't know what to...what do I do?”
For just a moment, his eyes look past me and lock onto something behind me. His eyes widen and he sags further down against the door frame. He points over my shoulder and I turn, my eyes landing on my coffee table. On the bracelet.
I can feel the panic and adrenaline in my veins.
I whirl around and dart across the room, snatching the trinket up and spinning back as fast as I can. And when I do, my hand flies up to my chest, because he's there. Right there behind me. His eyes search my hand and when I open my palm to offer the bracelet to him, his moves at the same time. Before I can react, his hand closes over the top of mine, the bracelet clasped tightly between our palms. I can feel him trembling as his sweaty fingers wrap around the back of my hand. I look up at him and his eyes dart from where we touch to my eyes. There's no trace of relief there and my panic flares again. I watch as he seems to plead...silently. His breathing accelerates and a muffled sound...a painful, muted wail...slips from between his lips. I shake my head at him and can feel the weight of my next words in my chest.
“I...I don't know how to help you...”
His body sways then, his hand jerking away from mine and taking the bracelet with it.
“Here, sit. Sit down.”
I don't dare try to touch him, and he doesn't listen. He remains standing, his eyes are closed tightly and his fist squeezes the bracelet so hard that the skin around his palm is white. He opens his mouth just barely and begins to pant through his teeth. When he sways again, I'm petrified that he's going to pass out. Right here on my living room floor.
I take a deep breath and speak with as much volume as I can manage, and a surprising amount of authority.
“Edward. Edward! Look at me!”
His eyes fly open and he blinks rapidly, trying to focus on my face.
“Sit down. Right now!”
He takes two shaky steps backward without looking and collapses onto my sofa. I'm struck with a momentary sense of satisfaction that he listened to me. It's brief, though...almost immediately replaced with a crippling helplessness. We're alone here, and I have no idea what I'm doing.
With one hand on my hip and the other palming my forehead, I look down at him. He's still shaking...and sweating...and breathing heavily. I can tell he's trying to calm himself down. His eyes are closed again, brows furrowed in concentration. He's mumbling under his breath, but not loud enough for me to hear. Whatever he's doing, it isn't working. He folds his upper body over, pressing his arms between his torso and the tops of his legs. He looks like he's going to be sick. I'm still standing above him, paralyzed and completely clueless.
What the hell do I do now?
The song that Bella runs to when Edward shows up on Wednesday is 'Anything, Anything' by Dramarama. Josie's bracelet is posted here: Story Visuals :)