Story Name: Love Songs in E Minor
Pen name: katinki
Beta: As always, Scooterstale owns my edit pens. Thank you for everything.
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight. Sometimes I politely borrow it for fun.
Word Count (sans AN and FFn bloat): 9728
For a link to the picture prompt and to see other entries in the "Fic a Pic" contest, please visit: www . fanfiction ~ficapiccontest
Three-hundred and sixty-five days.
An entire year here in this city and nothing has changed.
The sting of yet another rejection weighs heavily upon his shoulders, and the heels of his oxfords shuffle and drag across the concrete. One hand deep inside of his pocket, the other curled around glass, his walk is aimless, more out of habit than interest, and he lazily follows the perimeter wall.
The sky is darker than it was yesterday, a marble swirl of grays and whites, and vaguely he notes that the days are growing shorter. There's a certain chill in the northern wind, too, a promise that winter is coming that penetrates the light wool of his jacket. When it gusts and whips past his ears, it's on that edge of being uncomfortable. He wonders why he keeps coming up here.
Edward knows why, however. It's seven o'clock and Mrs. Ryerson in 10B is watching her game shows again, and he can't bear the obnoxious gongs and noise blaring through the paper-thin apartment walls. It's not like he has anywhere else to go or anyone to see. Up here at least it's quiet, so he settles on his usual perch where he can stare out across the skyline and watch the world from afar.
Dear Mr. Cullen:
Your sample, while technically superb, unfortunately does not fit in well with our current portfolio and schedule of releases…
Alec M. Barnaby
Eclipse Records, Inc.
Technically superb, he thinks, rudely spitting over the wall.
Nearly two decades of practice and a degree in theory would do that for you.
He can read between the lines. His chosen style is dated, perhaps, far more classical than modern. It's not the stuff of platinum hits or music videos. Moreover – more importantly – the soul is lacking. The notes are flat, colorless, and devoid of life, exactly what music should never be.
It isn't supposed to be like this, Edward argues, as he brings a half-empty bottle to his lips. Moving three thousand miles away from home and family, this was supposed to be the opportunity of a lifetime. He is alone and independent, far from prying eyes and probing ears. Against his father's wishes and pride, he's here to compose and to play his guitar and to sell his notes for a living. It should be adventurous and easy.
It's none of these things. Instead, he's stuck all day at a goddamned bank, listening to songs in his head while stamping deposit slips for ancient blue hairs and their coifed poodles. Okay, he doesn't stamp deposit slips, but the small loan officer's office he occupies isn't much better. It's a job at least, he concedes, even though the paycheck each month just covers the outrageous rent. Granted, he could get by on less or maybe even save if he wanted to, but the idea of sharing what little space he has to lower his costs is intolerable.
Unwilling to call it quits, and more so, to admit defeat to his father, he sucks it up and works all day, smiling and pretending as though life were grand and everything it was cracked up to be. At night, however, the smiles fade, and Edward climbs the dim and narrow stairwell to the very top so that he can decompress and avoid the claustrophobia of six-hundred square feet. Sometimes he only sits, breathing in the cool night air and the twinkling city lights. Sometimes he plays. Other times, like tonight, he swigs second-rate beer and puffs gray smoke.
A metallic creak and clinking rattle break his detached stupor. He knows these sounds because he hears them each time he emerges from the stairwell, so his head automatically swivels to the left. He anticipates another visit from Harry, the building's aging super. Edward isn't supposed to be up here after all, although the elderly man always seems to smile in understanding as he dutifully explains the rules.
Surprisingly, a dark mass of long, tangled hair appears instead of cropped white. And in place of smudged overalls, covering a slip of a girl, there's a black fitted t-shirt and pencil shaped jeans. By her carriage and the sharpness of her features, Edward surmises that she's roughly his age. But a quick inventory tells him that he hasn't seen her before; she's new. New to the city, or to the building, he's not sure.
There's something unexplainable about this woman that holds his tongue. He's curious, so he watches and waits, wondering how long it will take before she notices that she's not alone. From the way she furtively glances back toward the closing door, she knows that this area is off limits, but like Edward, she doesn't seem to care enough to obey.
She walks slowly with her arms crossed over her chest and she takes deep breaths. She's coming toward him, but the darkening city has her attention with its high buildings and little squares of light. That attention is what gives her away. She's got that same half-startled half-wowed look that all newcomers wear. He knows this look well because he's worn it himself.
Ten yards away, she stops and inches toward the brick half wall. He smiles a little because he knows what's coming next. Arms still crossed, she folds herself in half across it so that her face is angled straight down. Her hair falls like a curtain and one leg kicks up in the air and stalls, still bent at the knee. She looks ridiculous and sexy all at once.
For countless minutes, she maintains this pose. It looks like an ant farm from so high up – tiny dots of people and honking cars, all scurrying about. Right or wrong, Edward merely stares at the way she stretches to see. He's amused, understanding, and only slightly uncomfortable. In any case, this is something different and it breaks the monotony.
The moment passes, however, and she begins to right herself off the wall to stand. She's not graceful about it, either, so it takes her a few attempts. The image is so utterly absurd that it's impossible for him to suppress his entertainment at her expense. Despite the interference of his palm, a chuckle tumbles out of his mouth, and she's up like lightning.
"Ah, shit, sorry!" she blurts, clasping a balled fist to her chest. "I didn't realize anyone would be up here."
Her dark eyes are as wide as saucers and her shoulders heave with frantic breaths. He's truly scared her and for that, there's a twinge of guilt. It wasn't his intent at all. Contrition forces his face to rearrange, and his fingers to fiddle with the lip of an empty bottle.
"No, it's my fault completely," Edward apologizes – hastily, too. His palms lift in surrender. "I should have let you know that I was here. I was just having too much fun watching you." He should punch himself for that last admission. It's the beer, he blames, never mind that he's only consumed two.
Daring a peek up, Edward sees her head tilt in confusion, but at least she looks less horrified. Instead, she chews her lip and scrunches the delicate line of her nose. He's not quite sure what she sees.
"That's a little fucked up, you know."
His lips quiver because there's cautious amusement in hers. A little bolder but still appropriately abashed, he risks conversation. "I'm Edward," he greets, not sure if it's okay to extend a hand considering their odd situation.
"Do you have a last name?" she asks. One brow arches in challenge. There's a hint of defensiveness in her stance.
"Right. I'm sorry. Edward Cullen."
This time her eyelashes bat and her cheeks lift. She smiles openly as she reaches out with her palm. "Nice to meet you, Edward Cullen. I'm Bella Swan."
He takes her hand gladly, as it appears that he's been forgiven. Furthermore, she's lovely, in both appearance and demeanor. Folded up inside of his, her hand is small and soft, the very opposite of his calloused one, but she doesn't seem to notice, so he holds on a little longer. He can't resist a smile – a real one that he can't bother to hide. "Appropriately named."
Edward isn't smooth, or at least he doesn't believe himself so. But tonight, the flirting comes from nowhere and he thrills when she blushes at the compliment. Maybe he's lonely. Or maybe it's because he hasn't spoken a single lie. Facts are facts; the woman in front of him is her name – beautiful.
"New?" he guesses, reluctantly releasing her.
Bella stares out across the line of buildings, but her body still angles toward him. "Yeah. I just moved up from Jacksonville," she answers. "That's, um, in Florida."
"I know." She's not what he thought she would be and whether she realizes it or not, her admittance surprises him. Her skin is all roses and virgin cream instead of toffee; the paleness of it makes her a walking contradiction. He smirks when she turns back to face him. "I wouldn't have guessed Florida."
She waves at the air and grimaces because she's heard this all before. "Yeah, yeah, I have no tan. It's called sunscreen. It keeps you from getting, oh, say… cancer."
Unable to leave it at that, her gestures mimic her voice. "But I really didn't like the beach, to be honest. It's… I don't know… dirty and the salt makes you sticky. And you can't see the bottom. I don't like that at all. It's creepy."
"Creepy?" Bella is flustered under his scrutiny, yet he makes no move to grant her reprieve. He's enjoying this entirely too much and for the first time in a long while, he forgets what pulled him up here to start with.
She smacks his arm in casual familiarity. "Yeah, haven't you ever been in the ocean? There's fish there. And crabs. They pinch like a mother. And jellyfish." She flinches at some long ago memory that he's not privy to. "And sharks. You just don't know, you know? I just like seeing where I'm stepping."
Her mind is a like a minefield. Edward considers himself to be a decent reader, but she's all over the map, so he laughs. It's a rich laugh, too, and his sides ache from disuse.
With feigned insult, she huffs, "Oh, right, like you wouldn't be freaked out if something you couldn't see started nibbling on your toes."
"I give," he manages, though he still silently shakes. "Point made. The ocean is indeed creepy."
"What about you?" she redirects.
Perfectly sober, Bella eyes him, and now it's his turn to flush. "Yeah, what about you? I'm sorry, your accent doesn't really place you as a native."
"Washington originally. I was up in New Hampshire, though, for a few years in between. I've been here…" He pauses and frowns. "Exactly one year today."
"Happy anniversary." In mock salute, Bella raises his empty bottle. "New Hampshire... College?"
"Dartmouth." It's not as impressive to say as it once was. Prestige is bullshit.
"Hmm," is all she says. Edward isn't sure what that means. Maybe she thinks he's full of it; he hopes not. Nervously, he picks and pulls the label from the beer bottle beside him.
"My dad's big on school. It was a concession, I guess. He wanted medical school, but we compromised on business."
Bella giggles and it's a soft girly giggle that makes him feel warm. "I got it all wrong." There's an emphasis on 'all' that makes him think she's laughing a lot harder inside.
"Wrong?" For a moment, he wishes that he could read her mind. Nothing that comes out of her mouth is expected.
"Yeah, that just seems… dry?" Self-conscious, she brushes a stray hair away from her face, but it sticks to her lip. Glancing down at his hands, her lips twist to one side. "I was guessing like a musician or something. You've got the hands for it."
"I play guitar," he rushes, at once embarrassed and excited. "I doubled in school in music theory." She's the first person who's seemed even remotely interested. It's so appealing and so tempting to gush, so he indulges and for the next fives minutes, he rambles to the tune of her uh-huhs and ah-has.
At some point, he sees her outright grinning. A siren blares in the distance, a slap to his brain, and he puts the pieces together. "Fu-, crap – sorry… I didn't mean to monopolize. I'm being a jackass. What about you?" He doesn't want to tell her that he simply got lost for a second and that looking at her turns his mind to mush.
"No, not at all. It's nice." More hides behind her pause.
"Really, so what brought you all the way up from Florida?"
"Law school… I'm at Columbia."
Tit for tat, they spend five more minutes talking about her classes and books and the professor whose breath reeks in the morning. They also talk about careers and responsibility. He confesses his hatred of banking and boredom and of his dreams for more. She curses her part-time job at the local café. He laughs when she fantasizes about dumping a hot cup of joe on her boss's lap.
The air turns cooler and she fails at hiding a shiver. It's late now, somewhere past eleven. It's baffling how time passes by.
"Here," Edward offers, sliding his jacket off his shoulders. "You're cold. I should have given you this sooner."
She shrugs his politeness away, but there's a soft, pleased smile affixed to her face. Bella is not used to men behaving as such and it throws her. "No, I'm fine," she murmurs. And it is a murmur, soft and delicate, just like her smile, and so unlike their initial encounter and the chat over creepy fish. "It's late? I guess I need to get back. Have a morning class and all. God, I hope my roommate didn't chain the door already."
He doesn't want to let her go, but he feels like an idiot saying anything like that out loud. So instead he nods like he accepts her departure.
"So are you up here often?" she asks as they amble toward the stairs. It's a cautious question, maybe stilted, as if there are other thoughts brewing – ones that do not necessarily involve him.
Edward chuckles because the answer probably makes him lame. "You could say that."
Her head tilts. "Yeah?"
He sighs and pushes his fingers through his hair. "I'm here pretty much every night."
Like the gentleman he is – albeit, slightly roguish, at least in his mind – he opens the door but walks down first in case she slips. It's better that she fall on him than all the way down. It's an archaic notion, but his mother taught him that and told him that some things are better left unchanged.
"Goodnight, Edward. It was… nice… meeting you." In the yellow light of the hallway, her eyes are alive and different. They're dark and deep like swirling molasses. She winks and he balks. "Maybe… I'll see you tomorrow."
It's Friday now. Four days have passed and he's seen her that many times. Each night, he finds that his climb to the top of the stairs is a little bit easier. Tonight, he took them two at a time.
Edward has learned that Bella is highly unpredictable and that, surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly, he likes her that way. It's a little like hot and cold. She gets lost in her thoughts and sometimes her lips mash in a straight line. Other times she laughs and giggles like a schoolgirl. It's hard to keep up.
Last night, she brought him a slurpee and made fun of him when his lips looked like blueberries. Hers were like cherries. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't seem to reciprocate her teasing because all he could think about was how they tasted. He wondered which would be sweeter, the leftover sugar from her drink or her.
In many ways, she's like a breath of spring even as the leaves are now dying in the park. Even when she's quiet and turned inward, he finds that everything she touches comes to life, including him. His job still sucks – that won't change – but it doesn't escape his notice that today, the smile he wore wasn't as forced, and there was one time when he almost laughed in earnest.
Tonight's a little different, however, and there's a new kernel of unease that maybe she's bored with him and that maybe she won't show. It's now the weekend, after all; he wonders what woman would want to spend her time chatting it up with a self-appointed recluse on a roof when there's fun to be had down below.
"Did you bring beer?" she suddenly calls from the doorway. So distracted by the possibility that she wouldn't come up, he didn't even hear the squeaks of her tennis shoes. But Edward recovers quickly, and with a grin, he holds up some bottles. It's not second-rate beer, either. Tonight, it's top shelf and still frosty from an hour inside his freezer.
"Thank fuck," she curses, and he laughs. Bella is the more foul-mouthed between the two. It's not that the words don't threaten to spill, but he feels a certain amount of compunction when she's around. He doubts that she'd mind if he cut loose, but he would.
"Bad day?" When she approaches, his eyes narrow when he sees dark smears of mascara beneath hers. He's more right than he wants.
Inelegantly, she plops down beside him in the fold out chair he decided to bring at the last minute. The brick is getting to be too cold to sit on for long, and he hopes that they'll have hours. He watches as her chest expands with a lungful of air. Strangely, she holds it in for a couple of seconds and her cheeks puff out. Her raccoon eyes blink twice before the spent breath finally seeps out.
"Bad day," she states in answer and looks away.
"What happened?" he pushes, because he doesn't like seeing her unhappy. The evidence of tears makes his fingers drum against the canvas armrest.
"You got a cigarette?"
"That bad?" His brows climb and hide behind his hair. Bella doesn't smoke, that much he learned the very first night.
Not one to deny her, he pulls a half-empty pack from his breast pocket and offers her her choice. Like she's wrangling a snake, Bella waffles and tries to decide if they're all the same. Finally, she draws one stick out, only to twirl it between her fingers like a tiny baton. Were she not so obviously distressed, he'd poke at her for being such an amateur. After a moment more, she settles the cigarette between her lips. At least she knows where the filter goes, he thinks, as he brandishes a silver lighter.
Ever ambitious, Bella goes all out and sucks in a too-deep breath. There's a muffled, too-proud-to-give-in cough, awkward blubbers, and two watering eyes. And then her body takes over and she spends the next thirty seconds hacking up her lungs. As much as he wants to, Edward doesn't laugh or say I told you so, because that's not what she needs right now. Silently, he twists the top off a beer and hands it across.
By the time she's taken a drink, the one-puff cigarette has burned halfway down. It's a bad habit, period, but more importantly, he knows that this isn't her, that it's merely a reaction to something else, so he gently wrests it away. The butt glows bright against the concrete until the toe of his oxford turns it to soot.
Patiently, he waits as she takes another long pull from her beer. He's too smart to rush a woman into topics she's careful to avoid. At some point, she'll give in, he's sure. A teenaged sister who had a penchant for bathroom locks taught him that lesson.
"My boss made a pass at me," she quietly says. There's a hint of shame in the way she squirms in her chair and her face twists in poorly masked disgust.
It's not what he expected. "How so?" he asks just as quietly.
"He grabbed my ass and told me that he'd give me a raise if I sucked him off."
A low burn of heat ignites at the base of his spine, and he struggles to maintain composure. Edward has only known her a handful of days, but he's indignant on her behalf.
"Bastard." With a harsh spit, his fingers curl around the rims of the armrests.
"What did you do?" He doesn't waste time explaining to a law student that she likely has the law on her side. Edward lives in the real world and he knows how these things go – of course, so does she.
He knows exactly what he'd have done – what he would do if she wanted him to. Considering how long he's known her, it's more than a little startling to realize that he'd beat the shit out of a stranger just because she asked it. It's true; he can lie to others but not to himself. Because he really would. In fact, he'd probably like it.
"I told him to fuck off."
"And then I may or may not have thrown a mug at his head."
"That's my girl."
Bella looks up at him, and whatever lingering unease or melancholy that she carried home vanishes. It's a small, shy smile that he hasn't seen before. Perhaps it's simply due to his approval of her perhaps violent actions, but his heart thrums thinking that maybe, just maybe, her reaction is because of the 'my' in front of the 'girl'. He didn't mean it that way when he said it; it just came out. But now that he repeats it again and again, the notion is nearly consuming.
His fingers halt on the frets and a discordant strum sounds like a peal of thunder.
It's downright scary how fast time travels, not just baffling. Worse, she's killing him these nights, both in asking him hard questions and in asking of him something even harder. Bella likes to hear him play, and now that she's convinced him of it, she often pleads with him with sad eyes and pouting lips.
It's a new thing, too, to be apprehensive. Never before has Edward felt as nervous as he does when he's sitting in front of her, even when he played alone on a stage before a pile of fickle students and even more fickle talent scouts. Even when the notes are borrowed and not his own, playing for this woman is like baring his soul, and the more time he spends with her, the more he realizes that she possesses the ability to trample it. He wonders if she even realizes what she can do to him.
He resumes his playing for cover; this time it's Bourrée.
"What's that?" she asks. There are indentions in the tops of her knees from the weight of her elbows, and her chin rests in her palm as she watches his fingers fly.
"Bach," he replies. He knows this piece better than his own name, so there's no need to look down. Better, he looks at something far more interesting.
Like a whisper, her voice carries over the quick succession of notes. "Really? I wouldn't have guessed. It's really beautiful."
"It's okay," he shrugs. There are more beautiful things on the roof tonight, but his confidence, or the lack thereof, won't allow that kind of talk.
A second passes where neither speak. He's weighing his words and she's – well, he doesn't know what she's thinking. Finally, with what he believes is nonchalance, he counters her query with one of his own. "You? Boyfriend?" That word tastes sour in his mouth, but he figures that he might as well take his medicine now if it must be taken.
Bella hums as though she doesn't understand, and Edward's stomach does a nosedive, thinking that maybe she's taken by another and that he has read the signs all wrong. With nothing more to go on, he pretends to be offended, and in some form of masochistic idiocy, he fakes a laugh and presses, "Don't tell me you're cheating on some poor lout you left down in Florida by hanging out with me?"
Leaning back in her chair, she eyes him across steepled fingers. "Have we done anything that'd be labeled as cheating?" There's innocence in her words, but the height of one brow and the purse of her lips suggest differently. She's baiting him, or toying with him, or God knows what else. Either way, swallowing doesn't come easily, literally or figuratively.
Avoidance and redirection is the best tactic, so he quirks his own eyebrow and challenges, "You still didn't answer my question."
Bella grins because she's an attorney already – never mind one without the degree or piece of paper just yet – and she knows exactly what he's doing and the discomfort behind it. She contemplates an answer and the grin falls away. It's like a curtain fell and he wants to know why. Talking into her lap, she quietly admits, "No, not anymore. There was a guy, but it didn't work out."
There's a flare of irrational jealousy. He should be happy and just shut up, he argues, because no matter yesterday or the day before, now, at least, she's free. His mouth disagrees. "Should I ask how long ago?"
"Probably not." He doesn't like that answer at all.
"I see." Saying no more, Edward swaps to a faster piece, one that's a little angrier and a little more representative of the speed and tenor of his thoughts.
For the last two days, wind and rain have quashed their fun. Edward debates why he can't bring himself to ask her to his apartment - although, it doesn't elude him that she hasn't asked him either. It's warmer there and a couch is a hundred times more comfortable than a slightly frayed fold out lawn chair. The roof is neutral ground, so to speak, he concludes, and in many ways it's become their own personal playground. He fears that a change would not be for the better. There are layers of her that he hasn't seen. After her admission the other night, he doesn't want to spook her.
To battle the chillier air, he adds his mother's quilt to the seat of her chair and instead of a beer, nestled in the cup holder, there's a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Coffee is his preference, black and a little bitter. Since she serves it and sells it, he assumes that like anyone who has worked in food service, she has to hate it. Funny enough, when she pops her head around the door, more slowly than usual, she's weighted down by a large, fluffy afghan, two oversized mugs, and a shiny black carafe that smells like heaven.
"Jinx," she laughs, when she sees their minds were the same.
Instead of settling down, to his surprise, Bella insists on sliding their chairs closer to together. This way, she explains, they can share both covers and be that much warmer. Yes, it's cold outside, but sipping hot liquid beneath thick blankets makes it more than fine. It makes it good.
"Can you play if your fingers are cold?"
He smiles – something that he's doing a lot more of lately – and stares down at her face. Tonight, she's not wearing a speck of makeup, and because of it, she's more beautiful yet. Bella looks natural, effortless, and the fact that her face isn't all made up tells him that she's comfortable with who she is around him.
Something is different beyond her coloring. She has cut her hair and there's a shorter layer that now curls into her cheek. His thumb worries his forefinger because it's so tempting to reach out and brush it away. But he's not sure how she'd respond. Physical contact is always, always at her initiation, and usually it's nothing more than a quick friendly brush of his forearm or slap on his shoulder when she gets the giggles. In a moment of weakness, he gives in, however, and without touching her skin, he swipes away the offending strand. When he does, her eyes darken and her bottom lip turns under a row of teeth.
There's a certain crackle in the air. It's like a livewire that sizzles and spits electricity. He can't remember the last time he felt it, if he ever has; it reminds him of junior high when things were simple and complex all at once. As he studies the movement of her eyes as they roam his face, Edward swears that she wants him to kiss her.
Of course, Mother Nature has better plans in store, and the sky begins to fall.
Cold, wet drops smack him in the face, and it's all he can do not to go crazy. The spell is broken and they're left scrambling to avoid the downpour. They lunge and grab, leaving the chairs, and race to the edge of the stairs. There's an awning there where they can hide. It's small, and it would make better sense to just go back down and say goodnight, but neither seems to want to. So they stand against the wall, shoulder to shoulder, and grin at each other like something wonderful just happened.
"Do you want to go in for the night?" he asks. His fingers are crossed that she says no.
"Not particularly." Her nose crinkles in distaste. "Alice, you know, my roommate? I told you about her, right?" He nods. "Well, she's got a new boyfriend… They get along really, really well." There's an eye roll and heavy emphasis on the really. "I think you can guess why I don't want to be there. It's kind of disgusting."
Edward has never been happier that he's chosen to live alone, despite the loneliness. He dealt with enough of that back in college. He remembers the signs swinging on the doorknob and sleeping in a chair in the back of the library. It's not that he minds what two people choose to do. It's more when their doing so starts to invade his bed, his ears, or the kitchen counter. Some people are shameless.
Her shoulders begin to tremble, so he drapes both blankets around her. If she's willing to stay out in the rain in mid-November, God forbid she get sick because of it. But Bella stops him before she's all wrapped up, motioning with her head for him to join her. He's hesitant, though, not wanting to presume, but he's cold, too. A silent laugh at his expense decides it for him. Wordless and blushing just a little, he gives in and creates a cocoon for them both.
Instead of side to side, now they're front to front, almost touching, and her arms lightly circle his waist. It's hard to believe how slender she is and moreover, how easily she fits inside of his arms, even though he's a full head taller. But they're closer now than they've ever been, and he can smell coffee and sugar and fabric softener. That crackle returns and there's a butterfly in his stomach.
"Yeah?" she whispers. Her arms tighten ever so slightly, and there's something in the way her eyes dart back and forth from his eyes to his mouth.
"Wha- shit. Sorry, never mind." He sucks at this because he's afraid of rejection. With better reasoning, the fact that she's recently left someone still rankles. There's some – read, a lot of – green around his collar that doesn't wash away. That she chooses not to talk about it makes it that much worse. He worries she harbors old feelings.
Edward doesn't want to be a rebound fling; the idea is particularly appalling. Each night before he falls asleep, he considers what exactly he does want. No, it's not a fling. He thinks he'd like a great deal more than that. Furthermore, while it's not always obvious, Edward is blessed with just a smidge of pragmatism. He realizes that Bella is the only friend he's got in this town.
At least in this second, Bella has none of these reservations, or if she does, he can't tell. Unlike him, she takes the bull by the horns and leans up and forward, still staring at the curve of his mouth. Slack-jawed, he watches her face move closer and closer until her lips hover just below his. She's so close that they're breathing the same air. All he has to do is tilt his head down just one little inch and he's home.
Momentarily struck dumb, he waits, but then there's a sharp tug when her fist wraps around his shirt, and he falls – in more ways than one.
A low fire spreads from his mouth to his neck and to his chest. Just as he'd dreamed, her lips are soft and, at once, both conquering and yielding. And like her lips, her hands are incessant in their exploration. He's more cautious, more polite, perhaps, and limits himself to the small of her back and the top of her hip. He doesn't want her to mistake his purpose. But she can go wherever she wants for all he cares.
Advance and retreat is the name of their game. Sure, it's a little sloppy at first and maybe a little too wet, but as the minutes tick by, they find a rhythm that's all their own. It's similar to drowning in the way she consumes him. And if he's not mistaken, she's gasping for air as well. One thing is clear: Edward and Bella match, lock and key.
There are new notes in his head and they're driving him crazy. It hasn't been like this for years, and they're streaming faster than he can pen them. It's a manic race to catch them all for fear they will slip away. He even called in sick; that's how bad he's got it. While he's never been a slacker, Edward argues that everyone fakes it now and then. If you count afflictions of the mind, he's not even lying.
It's no coincidence that his brain starts to work just when his heart begins to beat. He's not arrogant enough to say that there is no muse or that the notes are his. They're not. Bella doesn't realize it, but each and every scribbled dot on the ledger lines belongs to her.
"That's amazing." Behind her words, there's a scrape of metal across concrete. Startled, he looks up to find a blinding smile written on her face, as she eases into the chair directly across. Tonight, she's prepared and already buried in her afghan. Her cheeks are pink and her breath comes out in clouds of steam. Unlike Bella, his shirtsleeves are rolled to his elbows. It's early December and in the middle of a cold snap to boot, but the frigid air barely registers. Instead, he feels hot all over, feverish, although he's not ill.
There's undisguised awe in her voice when she asks, "Who is it?"
He swallows and his fingers zip down a string. As if she can hear his clamoring mind or sense his tied tongue, her eyes soften. "It's you, huh?"
No, he thinks, it's you. Somewhere between September and now, Edward has fallen for this girl. Hard, too. When she kisses him, it's like the sun is shining. He wants to tell her, but he doesn't know how. He's scared and fairly certain that his feelings are much stronger than hers.
"Did you eat today?" It's a bizarre question, but he chuckles quietly, because she knows without knowing.
"Not really." An internal war wages as he sets aside his guitar. More than just about anything, he wants to play and compose, but the prospect of talking to her and touching her outweighs the blaring notes in his head. That can wait until she leaves him again. Sleep is over rated, as if it were even possible right now.
She sees that food is not high on his list, so she indulges herself and him. "Don't stop, please? I want to hear you play. Your music… it's… I can't even describe it." Her compliment immediately heats his face.
"I'd rather be with you. I can pick that old thing up anytime," he lies, as he reaches to clasp her hand. "Tell me about your exam. Tell me about your mom. Is everything okay?" Bella's mother just left her father, and Edward knows that the situation weighs heavily on her shoulders.
She forces a laugh, "My exam was fine." Nothing is offered to answer his other questions, and he knows better than to press. When his skin meets hers, she squeaks and bats his hand away. "Jesus, Edward, you're freezing! Do you realize that? Are you trying to turn yourself into a popsicle or something?"
"I'm fine, I promise." His fingers comb though his hair, a nervous tic. It's an absolute bird's nest with clumps sticking out all over.
A finger crosses his lips to silence him. "You're not. You really should eat and you need to get warm. Aren't you supposed to be older than me? More mature and all that?"
Edward smiles and kisses her finger. "Two years. You act like I'm ancient."
"Well, forgetting tonight's lunacy, most of the time you behave like it." He feigns hurt and crumples his face. It's both fun and a diversionary tactic. It works, and immediately, Bella backpedals. There's a mental fistpump in there somewhere; he's not bad at this acting business.
Bella rambles to mollify him. "It's not that I don't like it, you know. You being all polite and everything. It's nice… different."
"Different?" he mumbles, still playing for all he's worth.
He frowns too hard, however, and she catches him when his eyes don't match the turn of his lips. "Oh, you!" she cries, launching herself into his lap. Her anger is just as put on as his hurt, and before he can blink, her mouth is on his.
The kissing is hot and wet, and her tongue slides like silk around his. It's getting harder and harder for his hands to behave. Bella doesn't do a thing to help him, either. Two nights ago, he had her breasts in his hands. When his thumbs grazed her pebbled tips, breathy moans spilled into his mouth and nearly killed him. But it's that kind of death he wants over and over.
He's whispering something into her ear. His brain has gone on strike and left him witless. It's likely just the fact that she keeps moving her hips. There can't be a drop of blood left north of his waist, but Bella doesn't mind at all. When she feels him harden, she whimpers and fists his hair.
"Anything," Edward mutters before opening his mouth to her neck. He means it, too. He'll give her the world if she asks it. She pulls on his hair, jerking his head back, and nibbles his lip. Now it's his turn to beg. And he does; with everything in him, he does. "Anything. God, anything you want."
The sudden absence of her weight leaves him stunned and lonely. Wildly, he searches, but she's already standing and motioning for him to follow. It's a given that he takes her hand, but she smiles when he does. Without a word, they target the stairwell. Like two teenagers, they kiss down the steps, taking far longer than they should. Desperate and wanting, they stumble into the hall. The tension is too high, and her hands are still all over him, so he does what any man would do.
He lifts her gently, and like they're meant to be there, her legs latch around his waist. With a wall behind her, Edward kisses her hard, harder than he intended. But she kisses him back just as demanding and her fingers are already unbuttoning his shirt. There's friction when she shifts her hips and it's glorious and it steals his senses.
"Not here," he pants, forcing some notion of reason.
"Roommate… at mine." And her lips are again too busy to speak.
It's a long way to his door – too long – but with hasty, fumbling fingers, he finally manages the lock. Before the door even clicks shut, she's all over him again. But this time there's no risk of being seen, so he groans and pulls her flush against him.
In a flash, clothes seem to vanish, and for the very first time, Edward sees her in not only bare skin, but in real light. She's so damned beautiful that it hurts to look at her. He tells her so and she melts.
He kisses her softly and reverently, as he walks her back through the apartment. In his bedroom, he's yet to stop staring. He's drinking her in, memorizing every single inch of her skin. There's a mole above her left hip and a finger-long scar inside of her knee. This inventory isn't one-sided; she's just as lost. How many nights has he thought this through, he wonders. None compare to the real thing.
"I want," she whispers, as she backs up on his bed. Her eyes are pleading and wide. He's not sure if she means sex or him, but for the time being, Edward lets himself believe it's both.
His arms tremble from restraint as he slowly settles inside of her. She's like a vise, and he's only too happy to stay. Even though it's been awhile, Edward is no stranger to a woman's body. He knows where to run his tongue and where to circle his thumb. A considerate lover, he's paid attention through the years, and he turns everything he has to making her quake. This time it matters.
For his side, Bella's body is heaven on earth. Like their mouths, everything else fits just right. He thrusts and she arches. He retreats and she chases. It's some kind of divine torture to hold himself back.
She's oh-so-close, he can tell. There's a blush that dapples her chest and her moans are increasingly louder. When her nails dig into his back, he gasps, but only because he wants her to do it again. So he pushes her harder, coaxing her higher and higher, watching her spiral upward. When she falls, it's to the sound of his name on her lips. When he falls, he's silently moaning he loves her.
Afterward, there's a long, rich moment of blissed-out blackness. He doesn't want it to ever end, even as his heart is already racing because he doesn't know what this all means to her. He knows exactly what it means to him.
Sluggish and languid, she turns on her side.
A ball grows at the base of his throat. Half of him is running, half wants to weep. He has to tell her. He can't let her leave without knowing. The words have been brewing inside of him for weeks, and sex has made him stupid. But if he can't say them now, he thinks he'll explode. "I'm- I love you," he rushes and it sounds like a single word. He's vulnerable, laid bare before her in every possible way.
The room tilts as he waits for her answer. He's no fool or silly romantic; he doesn't expect her to say it back right away. Honestly, Edward doesn't know what to think. Her hesitation kills him.
After an age and an hour, his answer finally comes in short, shallow pants and deer-in-headlights eyes. Mutely, her mouth works up and down, but nothing comes out. At once, Edward is devastated, more than he ever thought possible, although he won't dare let her know it. "It's okay," he soothes, even as his voice hitches. "You don't have to… love me back. I know that you- that it's… that we haven't really even dated…I just- I wouldn't have done-… You need to know."
A hoarse whisper comes out and there are tears in her eyes. He can't figure out where he went wrong. This isn't what he wanted at all and he's kicking himself.
"No! It's just… I can't this soon." And she's scrambling off the bed, against his protests, all the while taking some part of him with her. "I've got to go. I'm sorry, Edward. I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have- I've got to go."
"Wait! Just let me ex-"
Her eyes turn dark and her face hardens. Bella is making a decision and it's not anywhere close to what he thought would happen.
"I don't want you." And it's like a door slamming in his face.
She's not coming up, Edward thinks. Aimlessly, he strums minor chords.
He hasn't slept in two days. The blue-black bags in the hollows of his eyes speak the truth. His brain is on rewind and it constantly replays her rejection. His brain would make a fantastic medieval torture device.
It still makes no sense at all; it was like some switch was thrown. He thinks back to their conversations, trying to piece it all together. The only thing he comes up with is an ex who she never wanted to talk about. He wonders if the guy was ever an ex at all. For all the time they spent together, he just now realizes that there are so many things he never knew.
Edward blames himself. They've never even walked the streets together. He was just a nightly diversion that no one knew about. He's a friend who took things too far. He feels like a fool for thinking he could have her.
His heart hurts.
His head hurts. A two-day diet of nothing but vodka could do that.
The hangover from hell has passed. It's been two weeks now. Yesterday, desperate, he combed the mailboxes and found her apartment number. He didn't even know that she lived only two floors below him. Again, he's struck with how little he knew.
About every five minutes, he debates walking by her door. He did that twice already and felt entirely too much like a stalker. Plus, the sound of muffled laughter through the door made his chest hurt. More significantly – more damning – Edward can't shake the hard, angry stare she gave him when she told him she didn't want him. Begging is pointless, and he refuses to grovel. A man has to have some dignity, right? At any rate, she knows where to find him.
Sometime in the middle of the night, his eyes spring wide. After weeks of miserable silence, there are notes playing again, although this time it's less frantic. Softly and hauntingly, they follow the original score. It's a deeper, darker second movement.
It's Christmas Day, but Edward doesn't know it until the phone rings. The conversation with his mother and father moves quickly, which really isn't so strange. They're not quite as close as they once were. It's just a function of time and distance. They think he sounds down and they want to know why. The thought of rehashing the last three months makes him queasy, so he shrugs off their concerns by saying his demo was rejected and that maybe he's picking up the flu. Neither have anything to do with the weight in his voice. His mother knows this, but she doesn't push too hard. There's heartbreak in her son's voice.
With his guitar in his lap, he scribbles until he can no longer see. This is an exorcism of sorts; at least that's what he thinks. She's the demon who won't let him be.
Untold hours pass by. It's light outside, then dark, and finally it's light again. By the end, his fingers are split, and the scrawling notes are little more than chicken scratch. But they're there and on paper for once, and the noise in his head is almost gone. The output is a stark stack of black and white.
Exhaustion looms. There are cobwebs in his brain, but Edward is not done just yet. He wants to hear it all together – both parts, the happy and the sad – no matter how much it hurts. Not really thinking, he shoves the plug in the socket and flips on the recorder. If he's going to torture himself, he debates, why not go all the way?
The first part is the hardest part. When his eyes shut, Bella's face is there. The tune is simple, but the underlying chords and rhythm are unpredictable and complex. It sounds exactly like her. There's happiness here; it's as clear as if he were shouting it. He can actually hear himself fall in love. That's why it's so hard to play and why his face crumples to hide the embarrassing moisture in his eyes.
If the first movement was her, the second is him. Or at least, it's him now in her absence. The notes are longer and more drawn out. They're slower, and dissonant flats mar the harmony. To his ears, they sound more like lamenting cries. There's heartache and longing. It's desperation and pleading. Somewhere in the middle, he hears his heart crack.
Later, he lies sideways across his bed and fights with sleep. The sheets have yet to be changed, never mind that the scent of coffee has long since disappeared. The ceiling above is cracking with age. For some reason, he finds it funny.
In the background, his stereo is playing on repeat. He can't help it. As if to mock him, there's soul there in these notes. It's Edward's soul, after all. These notes are not flat, not colorless, and despite the melancholy of the second movement, they are full of life. He laughs again, but it's without mirth. This is precisely what music should be. It's better than anything he's heard, and that's not vanity speaking. It's truth and as sure as he's breathing, he could sell it.
But he can't because it's not his to sell. Instead, on a delirious, too-tired-to-think whim, he darts up from the bed. Like a tornado, he tears through all six-hundred square feet of living space to find the little black device he bought months before. Five minutes later, he finds himself downstairs, breathless and staring at a row of brass boxes. The metal is cool beneath his walking fingers. He touches them all one at a time. When he reaches hers, he stops, but his heart flies.
It's a last ditch effort and it probably makes him look weak. But at this point, Edward doesn't really care. The nerves in his fingertips flare. He wavers for one second and licks his lips.
What's the worst that can happen? Oh wait, the worst has happened already.
"Fuck it," he mutters. His own eyes mock him and roll. The little envelope thumps against brass, and that's all he can do.
Outside, cannons are exploding. Not real cannons, but fireworks because it's that time of year again. The start of a new year, new life, et cetera. Really, it's just obnoxiously loud, and because of the abnormal wind direction, the smoke seems to wick through the streets. Even in his apartment, there's the tiniest hint of burnt sulfur.
It's been a week since he stopped by her mailbox. There's been no word or call; he left her his number. Obviously, it was a mistake, but it's one that Edward is glad to have made. At least now, there can't be any question regarding his sincerity. He's done what he could. Hell, he composed her a masterpiece. Talk about grand gestures.
The apartment is in disarray. There are empty bags and empty white boxes strewn all around, and the mountain of dishes in the sink is fairly staggering. He's not sure what happened to time. Before, he thought it flew. Now, it seems like it drags on and on into infinity. Maybe he's a little tipsy. He's not usually this deep. Emo, perhaps – he is a musician, so it's pretty much expected. Deep, not so much.
A markedly loud bang jerks his head from the couch cushion. Squinty-eyed, he looks around in time to see the window flash bright green. This place never sleeps, especially not tonight. It's doubtful he will either. He debates walking upstairs, but the thought of being there now turns his stomach. His roof is no longer a haven. It's a reminder.
There's another rap. It's softer. In a moment of clarity, he recognizes it for what it is. No doubt, it's some drunken neighbor who can't read the numbers by the door. A little creaky and a little groggy, Edward lifts himself and pads to the door. It doesn't occur to him to use the peephole.
When the door swings wide, his mouth drops. Like a spring it snaps back shut, but no words come out.
There's a girl on his doorstep. No, not a girl – the girl.
He's wary and his hand is frozen on the doorknob. Why Bella is there, he doesn't know, but she's looking down at her feet, then over his head, then to the side. She's looking everywhere but his face.
For his part, he's staring.
Bella looks… skittish, like a doe ready to bolt. Her hands are twisting and twitchy. There's a crease across her forehead, and her lips are chapped. Her hair is a tangled mess; it looks like she's just gotten out of bed. Edward's pretty sure he doesn't look much better.
"Edward?" she finally says. There's a raspy quality to her voice that takes him aback.
His mouth doesn't seem to want to produce saliva. It's dry like the desert, so he can only nod.
A hand lifts in his periphery, and inside it, there's a small black device. He knows that device because he's the one who put it in her mailbox. He's not sure why she's holding it any more than he understands why she's here.
"I fucked up."
And then she's stumbling over some words at a thousand miles an hour. It's something about a shitty ex named Jacob and Florida and a crazy mother, and then there's something to do with being afraid and commitment and feeling too much. But Edward can't hear a goddamned word of it because he's still hung up on the fact that she said his name.
"Say something, please?" He learns why her hair is such a mess. She's been twisting and tugging on it the whole time she's been talking.
"Like what?" he finally manages. "Why are you here? You- you left."
"I know." Bella looks down and then back up to meet his eyes. There's a firmness building, maybe determination. "You sent me this." She's holding up the mp3 player like a trophy. "It's… I've never heard anything so beautiful. It's…"
His shoulders shrug. "It's you."
"I know." Tears leak down her cheeks, and he hates them, regardless of what she's done to him. He should make her suffer, but it's impossible.
"I'm so- you have to hate me."
"Bullshit. You know that's not true. Didn't you listen to it at all?" A twinge of indignation burns. How she can think that, he can't fathom.
"Yes," she whispers. "Edward, I lied." There are more words pouring out of her mouth again – more things about fear and nerves and just flying back from Florida and wanting him and love. Love.
He gapes because he thinks he just heard something very significant. "Come again?"
"I love you back." There's no hesitation whatsoever in the way she says it. "I think I fell in love with you the first night we met. When I went back to my apartment, I called Jake and broke it off. It's only been you."
"I'm sorry. You probably don't—"
"No, not that." He shakes his head. "I don't want to hear a damned word about Jake or John or whoever." Because he doesn't. Right or wrong, as naïve as it makes him, there's only one thing Edward wants to hear. "Say it again," he commands.
"I love you back."
That's all he needs – all he wants. Everything else can wait and be sorted out in the morning when he can think straight. Right now, there's kissing to be done. And a lot of it. Nearly a month's worth.
The grin that stretches across his face makes his cheeks ache. When Bella sees it, her lips turn up, too. It's her shy smile that he loves so much. "Where's your coat?" he asks.
"What? Where are we going?" With her eyebrows drawn down in confusion, she looks adorable. The light bulb flashes, and she tilts her head upward in question.
He grabs her hand and pulls her into his chest. When his lips touch hers, they both almost jump back. It's bottled lightning they've opened – a potent mixture of sorrow, lust, relief, and love. They kiss for both minutes and days, and his arms are wound so tightly around her, it's possible that she can't breathe. He certainly can't. Against her lips, he murmurs, "No. Not there. I'm done with hiding and having you only in the dark where no one else can see."
"Where then?" Bella whispers. Her lips are grinning against his.
"Out. Down, not up. On the street where everything is real. There are millions of people out there right now, and I want every last one of them to see us."
"Afterward?" She's breathless and clinging to him, perhaps awed that he's forgiven her and that he still wants her. Because he does want her. More than anything. The last few weeks… they'll get over it.
"I'm going to make love to you until you can't see."
Of course, now would be the time when his brain decides to sing one more time. When it rains, it pours, he supposes. Edward laughs like a fool and kisses her hard, delirious and the happiest he's been in… he doesn't even know how long.
Edward sighs and looks up. "And then I have to write a third movement."
A/N: This was fun for me. I like playing with tense, tone, and style sometimes. I also like playing with the limitations of a single POV. It's fun (and maybe a little confusing) not knowing both sides to a story. Anywho, I hope you enjoyed. I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks for reading and be sure to check out all of the other fics in the contest.
Note: E minor is one of the most commonly employed keys in classical guitar. For example, the Bach arrangement Edward plays above happens to be in that key. Bach's Bourrée is rather... amazing. If you'd like to hear/watch: www . youtube watch?v=jKSg8t4zyLg
E also stands for Edward. :)