"Would you mind if I went with you?" he asked. "To the movies, I mean. I think I'm as bored as you are." He paused. "I could even drive us…if you'd like."
While he was saying these things to me, Edward's deep green eyes sought mine and then the floor and then mine again. Was he actually feeling uncomfortable asking me this in front of our parents? Was he wondering what they were thinking about it? I had noticed that both sets of parents, his and mine were watching us with some curiosity since we came into the room. Did they suspect something? They had to think this was a completely innocent request, right?
I mean, why would they think otherwise? They knew Edward and I had hardly spent any time together before now and that had been weeks ago, when my parents had volunteered me to host him at my university so he could see if he liked it well enough to accept admission there himself.
And that was ALL they knew.
"But, Bella," my mother had said then, "he's such a nice boy, and you know what good friends your dad and I have become with his parents." It seemed the Swans and the Cullens had become bosom buddies the last few years I'd been away at school…ever since Edward's younger sister, Alice, and my younger sister, Angela, had discovered each other at gymnastics class and had become fast friends. Apparently our families attended meets together and also just generally socialized every chance they got.
"He's already been on visits to three universities and none of them seemed to suit him, though I'm sure he'd be accepted by all of them. He's an honor student, after all." she went on. "He's very interested in your school…in fact, he's already sent in his application, so if you could just show him around one weekend your father and I would really appreciate it...and so would Dr. and Mrs. Cullen. Please, sweetheart, as a favor to us?" Silence then…the dramatic pause…for effect. "It's your decision, though…of course." There it was...the final nail…hammered in just so.
I hated when my mother asked for favors that way. She was smart, of course, to ask me in person…when I was home for the weekend. I might have had better luck turning her down had she asked me over the phone…where I wouldn't have seen her hopeful 'I know you'll do the right thing' expression. Aauuuggghhh!
"But, Mom," I began, "he's only going to be a freshman. I'm a junior. He's just…" I had started to say "a kid"…and then I remembered how the last time I'd seen him, when I'd been conned into attending dinner with both families on a weekend visit home, he hadn't seemed a "kid" at all anymore. He had somehow grown without me noticing and was now easily at least six feet tall. He had somehow gotten more defined muscles…and facial hair…and a deeper voice…and…whoa! Stop! He was STILL a kid…not quite eighteen…and I was twenty, for God's sake!
It was my decision, she had said. Yeah, right…and if I made the selfish choice and said I really didn't want to play babysitter/tour guide to Edward, there would be no recriminations, no sighing and looking disappointed in me…but I knew she would be disappointed all the same.
My mother rarely asked much of me, so being more concerned about how Edward's visit would cramp my social plans for the weekend than about how this would make my mother happy…well, it was a serving of guilt for which I just didn't have an appetite.
As a result, I had agreed to "host" him for a weekend the following month. I made arrangements with one of the guys in my circle of friends to let Edward stay in his room in the dorm. Emmett didn't have a roommate, so at least Edward would have a bed to sleep in; he wouldn't have to bring a sleeping bag and sleep on the floor.
The dorm was co-ed, alternating rooms, so Edward would be staying just down the hall from my room. That would make it easy to pick him up to go do the obligatory things that were expected on a weekend like this, but he had a convenient place to go so he wouldn't be completely underfoot…if I wanted to do something without him tagging along. At least, that's what I told myself then. No one was more surprised than I was when I found myself enjoying his company so much that weekend.
Edward had ridden the bus from our hometown and I had actually met him at the depot (this was a suggestion from my mother who knew I couldn't "direct" my way out of a paper bag). San Francisco was not always easy to navigate for someone new to the ways of its myriad hilly, dead-end or one-way streets and avenues…or to someone trying to make transfers from one bus route to the next when you really weren't quite sure where you were going. It had taken me the better part of my first year to learn the routes I needed to know to function as a college student in the City.
His bus arrived only a few minutes late and, completely unexpectedly, my heart did a little flutter when I saw him walk down the steps. His hair was a bit longer…and wilder…than I remembered it from a couple of months before. It was an amazing coppery color…with spun gold highlights where the sun kissed it as he stepped from the shadow cast by the bus. I watched as he scanned around the lot where the bus had parked. We'd talked briefly on the phone the week before, but I hadn't told him exactly where I'd meet him…in the terminal or outside. It gave me a minute to just stare at him. "For fuck's sake, Bella!" I chastised myself. "Get a grip! He's seventeen years old!" Reminding myself of that very important fact was equivalent to being doused with a bucket of ice water. I cooled down instantly!
I stepped from under the overhanging roof by the doorway to the terminal and almost lost it again when I saw his dazzling smile as his eyes met mine. He looked seriously happy to see me. Must just be a sense of relief that he wasn't going to be cast adrift alone in the big city, I told myself. I mean…we…he and I…hardly knew each other, so there would be no reason for him to look that pleased. Yeah…it was just that I was actually there to meet him. That had to be it.
He casually slung his duffel bag over his shoulder as he walked toward me. It was apparently his only luggage since he didn't even look over to where the driver was unloading other bags from the bus. The distance between us gave me just enough time to take in how nicely his worn, knee blown button-fly jeans hung on his hips and how snugly his long-sleeved tee hugged the muscles of his chest, and the way the sleeves were pushed up just enough to show the perfect amount of coppery gold hair on his forearms…and then to give myself a virtual "smack upside the head" to bring me back to my senses! Having him here for the entire weekend might not be such a great idea if I couldn't stop this…now! WHY was I finding myself so attracted to him?
"Hi, Isabella", he said. "It's really nice of you to take the time to meet me. I think I probably could have found the campus on my own, but this is great. We'll have time to talk a little before we get there, right?"
"Oh, please Edward…it's just Bella, okay? The ISAbella thing belongs to the parents…at home only. And…yeah, not a problem meeting you here. It really was easier for me. I'm terrible at giving directions so this really is for my benefit as much as yours. It saved me looking like a fool trying to make sure I gave you the right Muni bus numbers and explaining where you'd need to transfer and all that. Plus, we will get a little time to talk too. I'm sorry I don't have a car, but they're more of a hassle here than an asset, especially when you live on campus. Parking is a nightmare!"
'STOP blathering!' I thought to myself. 'Jeez!' I quit talking and made myself smile at him instead and I was rewarded with another sparkling show of his perfect teeth.
"It's alright," he said. "I don't have a car either. That's kind of odd, I know, but not knowing where I'd end up for school made it…well…I mean, what if I choose somewhere that doesn't even let freshmen have cars? It would kind of be a waste of money to have bought one that I couldn't even use."
"Good point." I said. And then, "So…I guess we can go."
I turned to walk into and through the terminal to the main street outside. Edward kept pace quietly beside me, shortening his steps to match my stride. I was 5' 5"…not exactly short, but his long legs were definitely capable of a much bigger step than mine were. We walked up the block until we came to the right stop for the bus that would take us part way to campus.
"Um…make sure you take a transfer when you get on. We have to change buses once. I've got your fare." I told him.
"No…I can pay for us," he said, looking a bit uncomfortable and reaching toward his back pocket for his wallet. "I can't let you pay for me."
"Edward…it's bus fare. It's not a big deal. You can pay next time. I've already got it out. See?" I showed him the money I'd taken from my pocket. He still looked uncomfortable, but he didn't say anything. The minutes stretched out and we both became very interested in looking down the street for an approaching bus. Well…this was certainly a great way to start the weekend!
Edward broke the silence, "You really do have to let me pay next time. Or, I can buy dinner tonight."
"Um…I thought we'd have dinner in the Commons. That's what we call the campus dining hall. The food alone may change your mind about even considering coming to school here."
There was a little furrow formed between his brows as he frowned slightly. He looked so serious that I had to smile.
"I'm kidding, Edward." I said. "It's really not that bad. I'll point out the things you definitely do want to stay away from…and you'll be fine choosing from the rest. No students have been lost to starvation or poisoning yet…at least, not while I've been here." I got a smile in return for that.
The city bus arrived while we were talking and we boarded…both of us getting our transfers and luckily also getting a seat. Things were looking up!
Edward had let me scoot in so I was by the window and then he sat down next to me, putting his duffel on the floor between his feet. His leg brushed mine, touching from knee to hip and I thought he would move away, but he didn't. Instead, he settled a bit closer, so that he was now pressed lightly against me. I felt the heat of his leg seep into mine and as much as I told myself I should shift and move closer to the window…I didn't. I was sure he didn't mean anything by the contact, he probably wasn't even aware he was doing it, and I didn't want to embarrass him by acting like it bothered me.
Once the bus began moving again, we actually did start talking. It was the small talk of people who were still at that awkward stage of trying to get to know one another. I mean, we had spent some time together when our families converged for an activity, but we really had paid little attention to each other. The difference in our ages had seemed greater to me then than now. We'd had nothing in common…I was sure of it.
But now, as our small talk turned to topics like books and movies and which shop had the best ice cream at home, I was surprised to find out that we shared some favorites and could have a good "discussion" about the things where our opinions differed. We continued talking as we transferred to our second bus, the one that would take us to the university. I hadn't noticed at first the odd way Edward had looked at me as I stepped around him in the aisle so I could take the lead in leaving the bus. When I did notice, I was just puzzled. He looked a little annoyed with me. But why? I wondered, but didn't ask. We talked, transferred to the second bus and all traces of annoyance disappeared. Curious….
"Well…that was the shortest amount of time it's ever taken to get here," I said soon after. I really was surprised at how quickly we'd gotten to campus. We'd be getting off on the next block.
"I think it's because there was such good company to help pass the time." Edward said, smiling again. "I really enjoyed our conversation."
"So did I." I told him…and I was a bit surprised that it was the truth. He was interesting and fun to talk to. 'Hmmm…this weekend might not be a total pain in my ass after all', I thought. 'Go figure.'
Edward stood and began walking down the aisle of the bus. I followed. When the bus stopped and the air hissed as the door opened, I thought he'd stand aside and let me step out first, so I was surprised when he made a point to stay in front of me and started down the steps. 'Okaaaaayyy', I thought to myself. 'So he's not Mr. Polite all the time. No biggie.' I ate those silent words when, at the bottom of the steps, Edward turned and offered me his hand.
I must have looked a bit surprised, even as I took it, because he quickly said, "My dad always told me a man should go down stairs first and then help the lady, so she won't fall. Corny, I know…but I always hear his words in my head and I just have to do it and, well…" his voice trailed off and he looked embarrassed. I had to smile when I saw the slight blush creep from his neck up to his cheeks. So maybe that was why he'd been a bit annoyed as we got off the first bus? I hadn't let him be a "gentleman"? It was so sweet! Who WAS this guy? And why the fuck was he so young?
"No! It's very sweet…great really. Makes perfect sense. Thanks. Uh…my hand?" I said as I tried to extract it from his, now that I was safely on the sidewalk and the bus was lumbering away.
"Oh! Sorry!" he said and released his grip. His self-conscious look changed into a shy grin. "Nice hand."
"Umm…thanks?" Awkward pause by me…and then…"Well, let's get to the dorm and drop off your duffel and decide what you want to see first. Okay with you?"
He only nodded and continued to grin slightly as we headed toward a walkway between two of the classroom buildings. Once on the path, still making small talk and finding it surprisingly easy to do so, it was a relatively short walk to the dorms. My room and Emmett's were on the 8th floor…not the "penthouse suites", but at least our rooms each had a view of more than the wall of the next building over.
I already had Emmett's spare key, since that meant he didn't have to wait around to let us in to his room so…upon exiting the creaking and VERY slow elevator at the 8th floor lounge, I steered Edward to the left and down the hall.
"Here we are." I announced. "This is where you'll be staying…with my friend, Emmett. I don't think he's here at the moment."
My assumption was verified when a knock on the door went unanswered. I unlocked the door and walked in ahead of Edward. To Emmett's credit, he had gathered his mess pretty much to one side of the room so that the bed where Edward was to sleep could at least be seen. He also had snagged an extra set of clean sheets from somewhere and they and a couple of blankets were folded and placed at the foot of the bed. ('Reminder to self…buy Emmett a beer next time someone ordered pizza and.' Well…pay for the beer anyway, I amended in my mind, 'cause I wasn't old enough to actually be the one buying just yet.)
"So…," I turned to Edward, "…what do you think? Will you survive a couple of nights here?"
His gaze was still roaming around the room. "It's not bad, really. Are all the rooms like this?"
"Well," I said, "They all come with a bed, a desk and a chair. The shelves and closet are built in, as you can see. All the comforts of home. Anything else you see in anyone's room, they brought in."
"It's cool. Where's your room?" I had been wandering about the room but his tone stopped me in my tracks. THAT sounded like more than a casual question…but I had to have misread his tone.
"Umm…I'm just past the elevator the other way. In 820. Not far." I swallowed and tried to look casual. "So…shall we just kind of check out the campus first. I can show you where most things are anyway. Just leave your duffel bag on the bed. Bring a jacket though…it gets breezy quickly sometimes…in the afternoon…and it'll be cold and probably foggy before you know it."
"Sure", he said…and unzipping his bag pulled out a hooded sweatshirt. "Will this do?" It was green, like his eyes.
"Yeah…perfect. Let's go." I made my way back to the door and Edward followed, holding his sweatshirt loosely at his side in one large, long-fingered hand. Why did I keep noticing all these details about his body parts? I mean…seriously!
Once outside, the mood seemed to lighten up a little, and we spent the next couple of hours wandering the campus. It was actually kind of fun giving him a tour of the huge science building (where most of his classes would be if he got accepted as a chemistry major and decided to come here), the liberal arts buildings where I had most of my classes, the library, the bookstore and the other points of interest like the gym and pool, the on-campus café/pub and the other dorms. By the time we finished up, we'd toured, or at least seen the outsides of, all there was to see.
It was 6:30 when I stopped in front of the dining hall. It wasn't terribly busy tonight, since it was a Friday and lots of students headed off campus as soon as their last class was over. We probably could have joined some of my friends for dinner out somewhere, but I'd been kind of hesitant to do that. I didn't know how they would react to Edward visiting me. Now…I wish I'd chanced it because the alternative was that we would probably be sitting alone, just the two of us, through our entire meal.
Sometime during our walk to the commons, Edward had put up the hood on his sweatshirt, and when I turned and looked up to ask him if he was ready for dinner, my words stuck in my throat…just swelled there and stuck. The hood framed his face and, without the distraction of his beautiful hair, I was struck once again by the intense green of his thickly lashed eyes and, for the first time, also really noticed the angular planes of his jaw which, now that it was this late in the day, had taken on the sexiest stubble I'd ever seen. He certainly didn't LOOK like your typical 17 year old "boy". Fuck!
I cleared my throat and kind of croaked "Are you hungry?" Inside I was saying a prayer that I could get through this and then maybe tomorrow I would be "sick" and he could just explore the city on his own or even go home a day early. After all, I HAD shown him the campus. I'd been nice. That was my job, right? I'd fulfilled my commitment to my mother. I really needed to get out of this as soon as possible because I didn't understand why I was feeling so warm and weird when I looked at him, but I didn't like it and it couldn't be right.
"Are you alright?" Edward asked…and he really did look concerned. "You sound a little…odd."
"I'm okay…really. Just a frog in my throat or something." I made a pretense of clearing the "frog". "So…are you…hungry?"
"Sure. Let's go eat." The smile that accompanied those simple words did NOT help my mental OR physical state. I WISHED he would quit doing that!
Somehow, I made it through the next hour though I have no memory of what we talked about or what I ate or whether I made a complete ass of myself. I didn't seem to be able to stop staring at him. The odd thing was, he seemed to be staring back and looked not in the least uncomfortable about it.
After dinner, we walked back to the dorm and as the elevator spit us out on the eighth floor, I paused.
"What is it?" Edward asked.
"Well…I've got a really big paper due early next week and I've been procrastinating and, this is really rude of me, but I think I really need to work on it and so I hope you'll understand but I think I'm calling it a night." It was 7:45 PM. 'Really?' I asked myself. 'How many times had I just said "really"?' God! I was a complete moron around this guy.
"You remember Emmett's room number, right? He'll probably be out really late, but he knows you'll be there so that's all good. I hope he doesn't wake you. I'll come get you for breakfast about 9 o'clock tomorrow. The bathroom and showers are at the end of the hall. They're not co-ed…don't worry. I'll…uh…see you in the morning."
And with that I turned, ready to practically run to my own room since I knew I'd been making a fool of myself almost since the moment I met him at the bus and it just had to stop! But before I could take one step in the direction opposite of that which Edward had to take, his large, warm hand engulfed one of mine and stopped me in my place. He gently pulled me a step closer to him.
"Wait…Bella…please." I melted…and waited. "I understand about your paper. It's okay that you have to study tonight. I'll be fine on my own. I just…well…I wanted you to know I really have had a great afternoon with you. I know this wasn't your idea…to have me come here this weekend. I'm sorry you got roped into it. I think I'll probably just go home tomorrow instead of Sunday, but I think I would like to have breakfast with you first. So, I'll be ready…at 9. But…" he paused and grinned a little, "I think it would be a good idea if you gave me the key to Emmett's room…don't you?"
Crap! I was completely stupid in his presence. "Oh…yeah…why didn't I think of that? Ha ha!" I tried to play it off. Did it work? Of course not; I still felt stupid. I reached into my jeans pocket, took out the single key and placed it in Edward's upturned palm. With that, his other hand released mine, he turned away and walked off toward Emmett's room.
I stood there…feeling like a total idiot. Here he was, just being a nice guy who only wanted to check out a school he might come to and I was obsessing over every glint of his hair and sparkle of his eyes and touch of his hand and…it was ridiculous because there was no way he was feeling anything for me…and I had really let my imagination get away from me and he was too young anyway. Wow! I needed help! I turned slowly toward my room and walked on wooden legs down the hallway to my door.
Once inside, I pulled off my jacket, threw it on the bed and then plopped down next to it. I was grateful I had the room to myself. My roommate, Rosalie, had gone off for some Spring skiing and wouldn't be back until Sunday. At least I didn't have to survive her rigorous interrogation of why I seemed so "strange". Rosalie always picked up on my moods and just HAD to know what was going on and I didn't think that was something I could handle right now. Fuck! I didn't even know why I was so "strange" about this guy.
I was glad I'd bailed early on Edward tonight. I needed to clear my head and put things in the proper perspective here…and being with him made that nearly impossible. I mean…I seemed to be able to do it for short periods of time…and then I'd find myself noticing the little moles on his neck, and the way his slight Adam's apple moved when he talked, and how he pulled on his left eyebrow when he was concentrating on what he was saying…and I'd be lost again. He REALLY needed to go home. All I had to do was get through breakfast tomorrow and then get him back on a bus. Surely, I could do that.
Knowing I was staying in for the rest of the night, I figured I might as well get comfortable, so I changed out of my jeans and into a pair of sleep shorts and a tank top. I decided I would actually do some reading for my paper. I hadn't lied about having one to write…it just wasn't due quite as soon as I'd said.
I gathered my reference books and dropped them on the bed. Looking around for a pencil, my eyes landed on the little bathroom caddy sitting on my dresser. 'Oh yeah…might as well wash my face and brush my teeth before really settling in', I thought to myself, so I grabbed my stuff and headed down the hall to the women's bathroom.
Five minutes later, I was makeup free and fresh breathed. At one time, this dorm had been all men, so the bathroom had been converted…split down the middle…women on one side and men on the other. One of the guys, Jasper, was always singing in the shower and the partition was so thin, it was like being in the shower with him…free concert! I was just leaving "our" side when I caught a flash of movement from the corner of my eye and came to a dead stop.
He was standing there, droplets of water still glistening on his shoulders and caught in the light hair on his chest and sliding down his flat belly into the most perfect "happy trail" I'd ever seen…right into the edge of the white towel wrapped loosely around his waist and settled low on his hips.
I was standing there thinking 'Fuck. Me.' He was...perfect. There was no other word that would do. He, thank God, broke the silence because I was incapable of speech.
"Oh…Hi, Bella. Emmett must have come back to his room while we were out because there was a folded towel at the foot of my bed. I figured I'd just go ahead and shower now, since we weren't going out or anything tonight. I, uh…well…yeah. That's what I did…" he trailed off, looking a little uncomfortable all of a sudden.
Holy shit! Was I staring? I was staring. 'BLINK, you idiot!', I yelled at myself. It worked. I blinked and just said, "Oh, sure…that's great. Glad he thought of a towel. I'd completely forgotten that. Sorry."
"No problem." He started to move away toward Emmett's room just as I started to move toward mine.
"So," he said, "Have a nice night. Don't study too hard."
"I won't. Umm…you have a nice night too. I'll see you in the morning."
He stopped in front of Emmett's door and I noticed he had the key in his hand. If he'd forgotten it, he would have had to come to my room and we would have had to find one of the Resident's Assistants to have the door unlocked so he could get in and…I guess it was lucky he hadn't forgotten it or he would have spent at least an extra ten or fifteen minutes in nothing but a towel...while he was with me. Yeah…lucky.
"Goodnight." he said, as he entered the room.
"'Night," I managed…and continued walking past the elevators and down the hall. Once in my room, I put my bathroom caddy back on my dresser, walked over to my bed, shoved the books I'd plopped there onto the floor and plopped myself down in their place. I just lay there staring at the ceiling. What the fuck was wrong with me? Seriously. I thought I really should analyze this…I mean…I was a bit worried about myself.
I'd not had a boyfriend…for awhile…like over a year now…not since the fiasco with Mike. It hadn't been easy getting over him. He'd been my first real boyfriend and I hadn't realized until he decided to let me know by voice mail that he was "done" with me, that he wasn't nearly as invested in our relationship as I was. Funny how that had happened just a short while after I had told him that I didn't want to spend the entire next weekend of his visiting me from his college in my room…in bed. I mean…I wasn't a prude, and sex was okay…but he sure seemed to like it more than I did. I just didn't get what all the hoopla was about. Maybe it was me…something wrong with me. That's kind of what he insinuated and, since he was much more experienced than I was, I'm sure he was right.
So why was I so aware of Edward…and so attracted to him? I mean, he really was beautiful…and I could definitely appreciate that. But it wasn't that alone.
I'd had such a great time talking with him while we toured the campus. That had seemed the easiest time…just walking and talking. Our conversation had seemed natural and comfortable.
Even having dinner alone had proved pretty easy. He'd laughed when I told him to steer clear of the creamed spinach with pearl onions and the "Catch of the Day".
Looking at me like I was crazy, he'd smirked a little smirk and then said "So…do you think, in ANY lifetime, that I would actually be first in line for those two things? 'Cause, I have to tell you Bella, you would be SO wrong!"
I laughed too…"Well, you know, you COULD be the first creamed spinach with pearl onion lover I've ever met! And lots of people think that, since this is San Francisco, the "Catch of the Day" might be something really good. But, this is a college dining hall…and I assure you, it should be called the "Catch That's Seen a BETTER Day"." We laughed some more.
Oh well…it wouldn't matter WHY I was attracted to him anyway. He was going home after breakfast tomorrow and then who knew when I would see him again and it wasn't even a sure thing that he would come to school here so there was really no reason to worry about any of this anyway. Ridiculous, really. I don't know why I was getting so worked up about it.
I lay there for a couple of minutes trying to get into the mood for some serious studying. THAT would take my mind off Edward for sure. I was just about to get up and rescue my books from the floor when I thought I heard a knock on my door. It was so faint, I wasn't sure. Hmmm…I waited and listened. It came again, light and kind of tentative, followed by a soft voice calling my name.
"Bella? Are you there?"
Who…? Oh, my gosh…it was Edward! What?
I got up quickly and went to the door. When I opened it, there he stood…hair still damp from his shower…and STILL wearing nothing but that low-slung towel around his hips.