Here's a little something I cooked up for the Bandward contest. It received Host's Pick (Jeaboo1) and Judge's Pick (Lynzylee).
Thank you to shinrai and ChocolateMango of PTB for looking over this and giving suggestions, and also to Jonesn for her help and telling me it was worthwhile.
Title: The Dreamers
Pen name: kitchmill
Summary: Edward Cullen had dreams he never thought would come true. Not until he met her.
Word count: 9,973
Disclaimer: The author does not own any of the publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Another day, another dollar, I thought as I peered down at the cash lying in the torn and beaten up leather case. It was more than a dollar, but not by much. Maybe enough to buy a few of those fancy coffees I hated.
It was a good thing I didn't do this for the money. I had a day job with an asshole boss at a shitty music store for the money. That was what paid the bills for my meager lifestyle.
This was what I did for me. Because I loved it. Because it was all I ever wanted to do in life. Just me, my guitar and my voice. If someone happened to throw some spare change in my case, at least I knew they had been listening.
The sidewalk in front of me began darkening drop by tiny drop. I wouldn't have minded the rain, would have stayed out and played a little longer, but a quick glance at my watch told me it was time to go. Time to get to that crappy job—the one that paid the bills.
"You're almost late, Cullen."
I looked up at Mike, the asshole boss, and shook my head. "Almost late is also known as on time, Newton."
He grumbled something unintelligible as I brushed past him to drop my guitar case in the break room and grab a cup of black coffee. Dingy walls surrounded me, the smell of Mike's cigarettes lingering in every porous surface regardless of the air filter that chugged away in the corner.
The day was like any other. Customers in, customers out. Questions asked, questions answered. We sold everything from guitar picks to baby grand pianos, though we didn't stock the latter in the store. I knew every detail about every item in the place, yet Mike continually rode my ass about one thing or another. As best as I could tell, it was his way of making up for his pathetic excuse of a life.
Sure, I was stuck working in the same store he managed, but I had dreams. This was his life. His rich-bitch parents had threatened to kick him out if he didn't get his act together when they found out he was a cokehead a few years ago. So what did they do? They bought a music store so he'd have somewhere to work when he got out of rehab. Lord knew no one else would have hired him.
My parents, on the other hand, fully supported my ambitions. They just didn't have the money to fund my life while I waited.
But I wasn't giving up on my dream, even though I had to settle for a job in a music store for now. I knew it was farfetched and maybe it would never happen, but I wouldn't stop trying, wouldn't stop doing what I loved, wouldn't stop dreaming.
That was why I sat on street corners when the mood struck me and why I played open mic nights with my own music, never covers. I had a few followers, nothing to write home about but enough that the bar owners sometimes called me and asked me to play. The money wasn't any better playing in the bars than it was at the music store, but it got my music out there.
And that was what it was all about. Just like when I played out on the street, I didn't care if I didn't make any money. I just wanted my music out there.
Entering my apartment, I threw my keys on the tiny counter separating the tiny kitchen from the tiny living room and gently placed my guitar case up against the wall. I pulled a frozen pizza out and tossed it in the oven, banging the door three times before it closed properly. Grabbing a beer, I leaned back against the chipped laminate, taking a swig as I looked around. Everything was as I had left it, but the black notebook with papers sticking out of it at odd angles on the coffee table was calling to me.
Mostly-cooked-but-not-quite pizza in one hand, I sat on the frayed and stained brown couch with my notebook balanced on my knee, flipping through pages of words and music. The pizza was abandoned after a few bites in favor of my guitar. I hummed, sang and strummed until I had something I was happy with, downed the rest of the beer and then packed the guitar back up.
It didn't matter that I'd been on a different street corner earlier in the day. When I had new music, I had to play it for people. Even if not a single one of them appreciated it, a song was never complete to me until someone else heard it.
Ten thirty on a Tuesday night wasn't exactly prime time to be heard by anyone in particular. Very few people passed me as I warmed up with a few of my favorites. My focus blurred out as I played, my fingers gliding easily over the strings of the well-loved guitar as I sank into the familiar chords of one of my favorite songs.
Movement caught my attention out of the corner of my eye, and I focused back on the here and now to see a petite brunette locking the door of the bookstore across the street. With her back to me, I knew she wasn't paying me any more attention than anyone else had, so I went back into my zone as I shifted into the new song.
I played it halfway through then stopped to make some notes. Moving the guitar back into position, I noticed the same woman leaning up against the dirty window of the bookstore. Her arms were crossed over her chest and one foot propped lazily against the building as she relaxed and stared at nothing, most likely waiting for someone to pick her up.
I restarted the song, fumbled once then started over. The third time, I played it straight through and was relatively happy with the way it sounded. It could use a little something more, but I wasn't yet sure what that was. Hopefully it would come to me eventually. I was just about to start it up again when black boots appeared in front of me.
"You're really good."
I looked up, startled to see the same woman from the bookstore. She looked nervous, like talking to me could be a danger to her health. I supposed I did have a homeless look about me with my tattered jeans and empty guitar case, sitting on a dark street after all the shops had closed.
"You do this for the money?" she asked, taking her bottom lip between her teeth as she glanced into the empty case.
I shook my head. "Just for me. Well, me, and anyone else who wants to enjoy it."
Her smile was shy, but it was there. She opened her mouth as if to say something then smashed her lips together in a tight line. I strummed a few chords, waiting to see if she would speak again, liking the sound of her voice.
"Well, have a good night," she finally settled on, and before I could reply, she was walking briskly down the street.
I packed up not long after that, having done what I came to do. I had played my new song and someone had listened. Someone had even appreciated it.
I made a pit stop on my way home, dropping into one of my favorite bars to check out the night's entertainment. Some loud chick band was playing, completely not my style but I sat and listened anyway, wanting to support local music as much as possible.
A draft beer was placed in front of me before I even had a chance to order. I glanced up and smiled at the owner. "Thanks, man."
He waved me off as I went to grab a few bills from my pocket. "On the house," Jasper said. "I was actually hoping you'd stop in soon."
"Oh yeah?" I took a healthy gulp, licking the foam off my upper lip.
"Got an opening on Saturday. You interested?" He leaned his elbows on the weathered bar, his shaggy blond hair falling over his eyes.
"I'm always up for it," I told him. "Just tell me what time."
The next day found me in much the same place as before, behind the counter ringing up sales of violin strings, music books and instrument cleaner. I was just returning from a short break in the back room when I heard the somewhat familiar voice.
"Um, I'm really just looking," the woman said.
I peeked around the aisle and found Newton hovering over the woman from the night before. If possible, she looked even more nervous than she had approaching a stranger on a deserted street.
"I'm sure there's something I can help you with," Newton said suggestively.
"Anything I can help with?" I asked as I walked over, if for no other reason than to get Newton to back off. Her head snapped up and her eyes widened as she recognized me, and then a beautiful blush spread across her face.
"I've got this one taken care of," Mike responded dryly. "You can just head back to the register, Cullen."
I looked from Mike to the brunette, who gave me a small reassuring smile. I returned the gesture before backing away and heading back to my boredom, keeping one eye on the two of them as I sat behind the glass display.
After a few more minutes of trying his tired lines, Mike left the woman alone. She gazed around the aisle with a look of wonderment, stopping every now and then to let her slender fingers drag over a music book. Her figure was nice, legs longer than I had thought last night from my perch at her feet. Today they were encased in tight jeans, her jacket short enough to show off the heart shape of her ass.
She took a few more steps, drawing my eyes away from her ass and up to the books she had stopped in front of. Voice books. She was a singer, or she wanted to be.
I could easily see her on stage, microphone in hand with her eyes closed, hips swaying side to side as she crooned out some nameless tune. One of my tunes maybe … maybe in my dreams.
I shook my head at the track my mind had taken and returned my attention to inventory sheets, checking off the stock I had already placed on the shelves and determining which items I'd work on next.
Eventually I saw the woman walk over to the bulletin board near the register. She dug her teeth into her cherry lip as she glanced at the different flyers tacked to the old cork.
"Looking for lessons?" I asked, unable to resist pulling her into some kind of conversation.
She turned to me, clearly startled. "Um, no. I …" Her fingers twisted together as she trailed off.
"Sorry. I saw you looking at the voice books. Just thought you might be looking for a teacher or something." I shrugged and looked back down to the mess of papers in front of me.
"Not lessons," she said quietly. When I looked up, she had her thumbnail in her mouth. "Looking for someone I could sing with."
"Really?" I didn't mean to sound disbelieving, but the slump of her shoulders told me that was how it came out.
"Just a stupid dream," she mumbled, turning around and heading for the door, but something in her words jumpstarted my heart.
"Wait!" When she turned back to me, I came around the front of the counter, meeting her by the board. "You really want to sing?" She nodded vigorously, her teeth embedded in that lip again, a hopeful look in her eyes as if I held all the answers to the universe. Instead, all I could offer was to say, "Meet me at eleven tonight at 3rd and Pine."
A slow smile spread across her face, highlighting perfectly straight teeth and an adorable dimple. "Okay."
"What's your name?"
"Bella," she said. "Bella Swan."
"Well, Bella Swan, I'm Edward Cullen. I look forward to hearing you sing tonight." With a smile, I reached out and touched her fingers, giving them a gentle squeeze before making my way back behind the counter. Bella was just about out the door when I called out to her again. "Oh, and Bella?" She stopped, cocking her head to the side. "No dream is stupid."
I watched her walk out the door and past the front windows, a wide smile on her face as she went. I had no idea what had made me ask her to sing with me. Maybe I wanted to know if her singing voice was as attractive as her speaking voice. Maybe it was just because she was beautiful.
Or maybe I had found myself a kindred spirit.
The rest of the day passed annoyingly slowly. Mike seemed to find more things than usual to pick on me for, and I wondered if it had anything to do with him striking out with Bella while I held an actual conversation with her. No matter, anticipation for the evening continued to build in my gut, but then I became concerned that I was going to be disappointed.
What if she sucked? I'd have to be the one to let her down easy and possibly shatter her dream. Besides, what could I really offer her aside from a dark, dirty street and a few strums of my guitar? Maybe she'd been professionally trained, and singing with a wannabe like me would be a step down.
Regardless, I found myself walking faster than normal to my favorite street corner, arriving about ten minutes early. I was glad for the extra time so I could stow my anticipation and get into my zone, pushing out songs without even having to think about them.
After the fourth song, I realized enough time had passed and that Bella should have already been there. A glance at my watch showed she was ten minutes late. With a disappointed sigh, I went back to the guitar, figuring she wasn't coming.
I played the new song from the night before and was on my second time through it when a low, feminine voice joined in on the chorus. Looking slightly to my left, I found Bella leaning up against a streetlight, her face hidden in shadow while soft light floated around her like a halo.
I could feel a smile creep onto my face as the words continued to pour—from both of us—and I cocked my head, indicating she should join me.
My attention turned to the words and notes once again, but I could feel when Bella got closer, her presence a warmth against the wet chill in the air. She remained quiet through the next verse and joined me again on the chorus in harmony.
Once the last note rang out, I slid my notebook in front of her, moving the rock that had been holding down the pages out of the way. I started playing the same song, giving her a nod shortly before the first verse should start. She looked at me, bewildered for a split second before quickly catching on and looking to the book for the words. She began singing, this time with me joining her on the chorus.
The song sounded better than I thought possible.
We immediately ran through it another time, Bella becoming more comfortable with the words and tune, adding in her own inflections to enhance my creation. When it finished, I stilled the guitar strings with my hand and turned to her.
"You're amazing," I told her honestly.
She looked down and muttered a quiet thanks.
"No, really. That was fantastic." I put my hand on her arm, and she turned to look at me, wide brown eyes betraying her nerves. "Do you sing often?"
She shook her head. "I've always wanted to, but, um … not since I was a kid. School choir and stuff." Her gaze went back to her lap with a shrug of her shoulder.
"Why'd you stop?" I laid my guitar flat against my lap, turning my full attention to her.
"My mom thought it was stupid, that I could never make something out of myself by singing," she admitted softly. "So I went to college instead."
"Let me guess," I said, a half-smile creeping up on my face. "You hated it."
She gave a light laugh and looked up to me again, the dimple I had seen at the shop making another appearance. "Dropped out sophomore year and got a job at a bookstore."
"Well, I only made it through my freshman year," I told her. "So, you've got me beat." That elicited a full laugh, which was like music to my ears. "You wanna sing something you know?"
She shrugged again. "I'll sing whatever you've got. I like your stuff."
The wind picked up her hair as she nodded, and I had to nearly restrain my hand from reaching out and pulling it away from her lips. Watching her do it instead was almost as satisfying.
"Okay then. Let's see what else you can do."
I drew my attention away from her lips and flipped through the notebook until I found another song I thought would be good, pushing the book back in front of her. She picked the song up quickly and took over the lead in no time, her voice carrying through the night on the slight breeze.
We tried a few more songs, and she fell into each one quicker than the last. Her talent was impressive with little to no formal training. I was sure she could go somewhere with that voice.
"You free on Saturday night?" I asked as I packed my guitar back into its case. She blinked up at me, and I realized how she might've been taking that question so I rushed to continue. "I, ah … I have a gig at a bar and thought you'd like to sit in with me."
"Oh, Edward"—she shook her head and put her hands out—"I couldn't. I'm not that good, and I wouldn't want to mess up your gig."
"Actually, Bella," I said, reaching out to stop her from bolting, which she looked like she was ready to do at any second, "you really are that good. And we could practice more. You won't mess up anything."
She looked down to my hand still on her wrist and back up to me. "I don't know …"
"I do. Trust me," I pleaded. I pulled my hand back and closed the latches on the leather case. "I'll tell you what. You take some time to think about it. I'll be working at the music store during the day, and I'll go back by the bookstore tomorrow night."
She fiddled with her fingers. "Okay," she said quietly.
"Okay. Do you need me to walk you somewhere?" I offered, realizing it was well after midnight and the street was eerily deserted.
"No, I'm good." She pulled a can of pepper spray from her pocket, gripping it tightly between her fingers. "And I'm not far."
I nodded and stood, grabbing my case. "I hope to see you again, Bella." I gave her the smile my mother had told me could win any argument. It was the same smile I'd pulled out when informing my parents that college just wasn't for me and that I didn't want to waste their hard-earned money. In the end, it hadn't been necessary to convince them. Having a father who'd once been a musician meant he understood my passion, even if he'd never fulfilled his own dream.
Bella smiled back at me and gave a little wave, so I turned around and began the short walk home.
The following day dragged—although that wasn't unusual—but I was in good spirits anticipating hearing Bella sing again. Not even Mike's arrogance could bring me down.
"You strike out with that chick yesterday also?" he asked, sniffing a little and rubbing a spot above his eyebrow ring.
I rolled my eyes. "I wasn't hitting on her, so there was no striking out. Ever just try to have a conversation with a person?"
"Right. Like you didn't wanna hit that." He scoffed, looking back to the shelf we were stocking.
I bit my tongue, holding back my retort about there being more to life—and women—than sex. He'd never get it. Bella was certainly attractive. That hadn't escaped my attention. But she was more than just an outward appearance. I'd been told plenty of times that my looks could get me any woman I wanted. It just wasn't my style. I needed substance over vanity, a brain inside the shell, someone I could relate to on a deeper level.
I heard the door to the shop open and stood up, planning to help whoever had come in since I knew Mike wouldn't bother. A slow smile spread across my face as I saw the long, brown, windblown hair being pushed from Bella's face, her eyes darting around the shop in search of something.
"Hey," I said, moving out into the main aisle. "You're not canceling on me, are you?" I tried to make sure my tone was light and teasing.
She smiled as soon as she saw me, which I took as a good sign, but she quickly changed back to her shy demeanor. "No, um … do you have a second?"
As I moved toward her, Mike called out, "No personal business on company time."
"I'm taking my break, Mike," I responded dryly, rolling my eyes again. I took Bella's elbow and led her over to a couple of sample drum thrones.
She sat but looked around again. "I'm not getting you into trouble or anything, am I?"
"No, don't worry about him," I said, waving a hand dismissively. "All bark and no bite." Mike wouldn't have a clue what to do in this store without me.
She giggled but fiddled with her fingers in her lap. "Were you serious about Saturday?" she asked quietly.
"Dead serious, Bella. You're really good, and you deserve a chance in the spotlight." Based on her look of uncertainty, I was sure she'd never had anyone tell her just how good she was.
"And you're sure it won't be a problem?" Her feet pushed off the ground, swiveling the stool back and forth slowly.
Her eyes met mine, full of determination. "Okay."
"Yeah? You'll do it?" Excitement crept through my veins knowing I'd get to show off her talent.
She nodded, but then the smile fell from her face. "Could we practice somewhere, not outside?"
"Yeah … yeah, of course. Um, my place? Or your place? Whatever you're comfortable with."
Lifting and dropping one shoulder, she said, "Your place is fine."
I gave her my address and cell phone number, and we settled on a time before she had to head into work.
By the time I got home, I only had about an hour before Bella was due to arrive. I nuked some leftover Chinese and ate it out of the carton, leaning up against the counter. I had too much excited energy to sit still for long. After a quick shower, I threw on some clothes and went back into the main room with about ten minutes to spare.
Glancing around, I began grabbing things and trying to straighten up. I wasn't a slob by any means, but I also hadn't really cleaned the place in a while. The air was a little stale, so I cracked open a window to let the evening breeze freshen things up.
The knock on the door startled me, and I yanked it open without even checking to see that it was Bella on the other side. I wasn't disappointed. Her cheeks were red from the cold but her smile was wide, matching my own.
"Come on in," I said a little too eagerly.
I helped her out of her coat and tossed it over the counter separating the kitchen from the living room. Turning back around, I noticed Bella fidgeting with her fingers. I looked at the room, trying to see it through her eyes, and cringed. Even with everything put away, the place was a dump.
"Uh, it's not much, but …" I rubbed the back of my neck.
"No, it's great," Bella said before turning to me. "Can I sit?"
"Oh, yeah, of course. Have a seat wherever." Her options were the shabby couch or an even shabbier armchair. She chose the couch. "Can I get you a drink? Beer? Water? Soda?"
"A beer would be great."
I grabbed two beers and handed one to Bella as I took a seat on the opposite end of the couch.
"So …" I hesitated, not sure if we should just jump right in or sit and get to know each other. I quickly decided on the former, not wanting to make her uncomfortable with personal questions. "Um, I usually do my own songs when I play, but if you prefer covers we can do that."
She shook her head and placed the beer on the coffee table while I took a sip of my own. "No … I mean, it's your gig, and I like your songs." Her voice softened at the end.
"Yeah … if you think I can learn them fast enough. We only have a couple of days." She picked up her beer and fiddled with it a little before taking another sip.
"If the way you picked them up last night is any indication, then I don't think we have anything to worry about." I put my beer down and stood, moving toward the stereo. "How about we listen to some of them and figure out which ones would be good for you? We'll need six. You could always just do some backup if you're not comfortable with singing lead on all of them."
"Okay." She gave me a hesitant smile as I popped in one of my demo discs and pressed play.
We listened through a bunch of songs while relaxing with our beers and picked three to start working on. Bella insisted on also adding the one she'd heard me play the first night, giving us a good base for the gig.
It didn't take long for us to settle into a comfort zone on opposite sides of the couch. Bella again picked up the songs quickly, even offering a few suggestions for changes and enhancements. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I watched her—eyes closed when she didn't need the words, perfect posture and a serene look on her face.
When we finally called it a night, I promised to make copies of the words so she could work on them on her own. We didn't have much time left to practice, so we agreed to meet at her place the next night.
I found her apartment easily enough on Friday. She lived only a few blocks away. The smell of pizza greeted me when she opened the door. We spent a little time chatting and getting to know each other while we ate, and I quickly came to realize that Bella was even more beautiful on the inside than the outside.
Once she relaxed around me she was witty, charming and intelligent. I learned about her overbearing mother and a father she didn't get to know until she was seventeen. Yet despite her mother pushing her to do something other than follow her dream, Bella had a forgiving nature and never let her mother's words get in the way of her happiness. In her words, she'd tried out college as her mother wanted, found it wasn't for her and then did something about it. She never once sounded discouraged over the fact that this would be the first time she was singing in public in five years.
I wasn't sure I could have been so forgiving if my parents hadn't been supportive of my dream.
Eventually, we whipped through some more songs, choosing the best six for the following night's gig. Five of them would feature Bella on vocals, and she'd sing backup on the sixth. We worked until around one a.m. since we wouldn't be able to get together again before meeting up at the bar.
When I arrived at Jasper's bar on Saturday night, the first thing I did was scan the place for Bella. I couldn't find her, so I took a seat and focused on the stage. Emmett McCarty was playing, and he was a really great guitar player. He only played covers, but he had a knack for making them sound even better than the originals.
A hand clapped down on my shoulder, and I turned to see Jasper standing behind me.
"Hey, man. Glad you could make it," he said, shaking my hand when I stood to greet him.
"Happy to be here," I told him. "But I should let you know I have someone singing with me tonight."
He leaned against the table behind him, crossing his legs at the ankle. "Oh yeah? Must be someone good for you to let them sing your songs."
I spotted Bella walking in out of the corner of my eye and a smile spread across my face. She peeled a flannel jacket off her shoulders, causing a gust of air to leave my lungs. She looked gorgeous in her simplicity, wearing only a tight, deep purple T-shirt and dark jeans, well-worn black boots on her feet. Her hair was pulled to the side in a low ponytail, flowing over her shoulder in a dark chocolate river.
"Yeah," I finally answered Jasper, my eyes not leaving Bella. "She's pretty special."
She looked my way and returned my smile, quickly coming over to my table.
I put my arm around her shoulders as soon as she was close enough and turned her toward Jasper. "Bella, this is Jasper Whitlock, owner of this fine establishment. Jasper … Bella Swan, vocalist extraordinaire."
Bella blushed and ducked her head but extended her hand to shake Jasper's.
"It's nice to meet you, Bella. I'm looking forward to hearing you sing tonight," Jasper said.
Bella shrugged. "I just hope I don't freeze up there. Anything beyond that would be a plus."
"You'll be fine," I said, giving her shoulder a squeeze. "We should head back. We'll catch you after our set, Jasper."
Once Jasper headed back to the bar, I picked up my guitar and led Bella toward the small backstage area. It wasn't much, but there were a few places to sit and a table.
"Just toss your jacket wherever and have a seat. I'm gonna check my tuning really quick. Emmett should be done in a few minutes."
I took out my guitar and sat in one of the chairs as I began to tune. In my peripheral vision, I saw Bella pacing the small room, her fingers twisting together then releasing and forming fists.
"Hey," I said. She turned to me with wide eyes. "You're really nervous."
She shook her head and then began nodding, eyebrows high on her forehead. "It's just been a really long time."
"It's gonna be fine," I assured, dropping my guitar on the couch and stepping over to her. I took one of her hands in my own and lifted her chin with my other, catching her warm cinnamon eyes. "It's just you and me out there, okay? Close your eyes if you have to, or look at me. Forget anyone else is in the room."
"Okay," she said timidly.
The door burst open and a hulking form came in, causing Bella to jump closer to me. I chuckled at her reaction but didn't hesitate to put my arm around her shoulders again.
"Edward, my man!" Emmett came bounding over to us with an outstretched hand. "How are ya?"
I shook his hand with a smile. "I'm good, Emmett. Really good."
"And who is this lovely lady?"
"This is Bella. She'll be singing with me tonight … well in a few minutes."
Emmett raised an eyebrow at me but was otherwise unfazed. "Good to meetcha, Bella."
"Likewise," she responded.
"You sticking around?" I asked.
"Edward Cullen singing with this lovely lady? I wouldn't miss it," he replied with a wink at Bella.
She giggled and I shook my head. "Ready?" I asked, turning to Bella.
She took a deep breath and let it out noisily. "As I'll ever be," she said, giving me a firm nod.
"Let's do this." I grabbed my guitar and her hand, leading her out the door and to the stage where Jasper had already set up a second stool and microphone.
The stage lights were off, so I motioned to Bella to sit on the far stool, taking the seat to the right of her once she sat. She pulled a couple of folded pieces of paper from her back pocket and opened them, clutching them tightly in her hand while I adjusted the microphone for my guitar.
"Just you and me," I reminded her, leaning away from the mic.
At her slight nod, I turned toward Eric, the sound and lighting technician, and gave him a go signal. He turned up the stage lights, and the chatter of the crowd began to die down.
"How's everybody doing tonight?" I asked, smiling at the crowd. A few cheers went up before I spoke again. "Let's give it up one more time for Emmett McCarty!" The crowd cheered again, a few hoots and hollers mixed in.
I looked over to Bella to ensure she was ready. Her eyes were on me, so I instilled my next words with as much confidence as I could. "I'm Edward and this is Bella. We've got a few original songs for you tonight."
I didn't wait for the applause to die down before I started playing the first song. I gave Bella a wink, and she took a deep breath. Her eyes stayed on mine as the words began to flow from her.
By the end of the first verse, her eyes were closed, the papers in her hand long forgotten. Her voice was strong, never faltering as she belted out my creation. It felt surreal to me, having played that song countless times before but never having heard it quite like it sounded now. Once I saw Bella let herself go, I closed my eyes against the harsh stage lights and allowed myself to enjoy the music.
There was plenty of cheering between each song, and before I knew it, we'd finished up our set and I was thanking the audience. Bella gave her own timid thanks into the microphone before the stage lights went out again.
It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, but as soon as they did, I grabbed her hand and pulled her to the corridor leading off the stage, an energized smile on my lips. It was lighter there, but still dark as I leaned my guitar up against the wall and turned Bella toward me.
"You were awesome," I told her honestly, my hands resting on her shoulders.
"So were you," she said quietly. "That was … I don't even know." When she looked up, excitement sparked in her eyes.
It could have been the adrenaline still pumping through me or the look of exhilaration on her face, but something had me drawing her closer and tilting her head up. I looked into her eyes for a long moment, searching, and when her lids began to close I acted without further thought.
Our lips met, just a light brush at first, but just as I was about to pull back uncertainly, Bella took a small step forward and kissed me more fully. Her lips were soft against mine, moving in tandem, opening just as my tongue peeked out to taste her. Heat spread through me as our tongues met. They danced around each other, warm and wet, leaving me forgetting our surroundings and wanting more—so much more.
A throat clearing had us jumping apart as if we were a pair of horny teenagers caught making out on my parents' couch. I blinked, clearing my head before turning it to find Jasper standing a few feet away with a smirk on his face.
I released my hold on Bella's shoulder only to find her hand, and she readily threaded her fingers through mine.
"Great job, guys," Jasper said, smirk still firmly in place.
"Thanks," Bella and I said in unison.
"Sorry to interrupt, but there's someone here who'd like to meet the two of you."
I raised an eyebrow at Jasper, beckoning him to continue.
"Someone named Kate Denali," he said, shrugging. "She didn't say anything else, just asked for both of you. I've seen her around before but haven't spoken to her."
"All right," I said, giving my own shrug. "We'll be right out."
Jasper walked away and I took a deep breath, my body still angled toward Bella. I wanted to say something to her about that kiss, but the words just wouldn't come.
It was a long moment before either of us moved. "We should, um …" she said, motioning to the door.
"Yeah … okay."
After putting my guitar in its case in the dressing room, Bella and I made our way out to the front of the house. Jasper was behind the bar, but as soon as he spotted us he waved us over. He poured two beers and placed them on the counter. "The blonde down at the other end," he said, gesturing to the woman who had asked for us.
We thanked him for the drinks, and then I led Bella down the bar with my hand on the small of her back.
The woman stood as we approached, hand extended, so I reluctantly removed my hand from Bella and shook the blonde's hand.
"I'm Kate Denali," she said with a smile, turning to also shake Bella's hand. "I just caught your set."
"Edward Cullen," I greeted. "And this is Bella Swan."
"It's a pleasure to meet both of you," Kate said. "I won't take up too much of your time. I work for a small record company here in Seattle, and I think the two of you would fit in perfectly with our sound."
My eyes went wide and I stopped the movement of my arm with my drink halfway to my mouth, nearly spilling the amber liquid down my shirt. Bella stood motionless at my side.
"You work for a record company?" I asked dumbly. "And you're interested in us?"
"Yes," she answered definitively. "I hope you don't mind me saying so, but I've seen you before, Edward. Your songs are great, very original, but I always thought they were lacking a little something I couldn't quite put my finger on."
I smirked in response to her words, understanding immediately dawning. "Bella."
Kate nodded, turning her gaze to the woman in question. "She adds a depth to your music that was missing before, and the harmonies between the two of you are astounding."
I looked to Bella, but she was still frozen in place, so I reached for her elbow and gave it a little squeeze, whispering, "I told you so," out of the side of my mouth.
"I'll cut right to the chase," Kate added. "I think Volturi Records would be very interested in you. I can't guarantee anything since all final decisions are made by the three brothers that own the company, but I have a very good feeling about it. Do you have a demo I could take with me?"
"Uh … no. Not of the two of us," I admitted. "This is actually the first time we've played together."
"Well, I'd need a demo to take to the owners. I can put you in touch with some studios if you need and leave you with my card. The sooner you can put something together, the better."
I released Bella's hand to take Kate's card, thanking her as I pocketed it and assuring her I knew of a studio we could use.
"You can drop it off at that address to my attention as soon as you have something. Two songs would suffice." Kate shook both of our hands again before saying goodbye and leaving Bella and I standing there dumbfounded.
After an awkward minute of silence, Bella finally unfroze, drawing her eyes away from the place Kate had been standing.
"Did that really just happen?"
I barked out a laugh. "Yeah, I think it did."
Then it dawned on me. Making a demo would cost money for studio time and a producer—money I didn't have at the moment. The last time I'd done this, I'd scrimped and saved for months before I was able to afford the cost.
I rubbed the back of my neck before taking a long drink of my beer. Stepping to the bar, I put down my glass and ran my hands through my already unruly hair, tugging on the ends as I tried to come up with a way to make this work.
Bella set her glass down next to mine and then took one of my hands, pulling it from my hair and holding it in her own.
"Hey, what's wrong?" she asked quietly.
"Uh, nothing. Just trying to figure out how we're going to do this … if you even want to." I shrugged and leaned up against the bar.
Her eyes went wide. "Do you want to?"
"Yeah, definitely," I assured her. "I already told you I think you're great. And I agree with Kate. I think we have something here."
"So why do you look like someone just kicked your puppy?"
I chuckled and looked back to my half-empty beer, head hanging low. "I don't really have the money to make another demo," I mumbled.
Bella laughed, long and loud, causing my head to snap up. "Money's the only problem?" She raised one dark eyebrow at me, a delicious smirk residing on her lips.
"Well, yeah … but it's kind of a big one. Studio time isn't cheap," I said incredulously.
She shrugged lightly and picked up her beer, taking a small sip before placing it back down. "I can pay for it."
My brows narrowed. "How can you afford it?" I didn't mean to blurt out the intrusive question, but her apartment was almost as crappy as mine and she worked at a bookstore. I couldn't imagine she made much more than I did at the music store.
Letting out a breath, she turned her cinnamon gaze to me, chewing on her lip momentarily before speaking. "When I quit college, my father gave me all the money he had saved for my education to use until I decided what I wanted to do. What can I say? I live simply, and this is something I want to do."
"I don't even think I could split it with you," I said, shaking my head.
"I'm not asking you to." She put her hand on my arm and turned my body to face hers. "They're your songs. I'd have nothing to sing if it weren't for you. Consider this my contribution."
I didn't like it, but ultimately I agreed, promising to call the studio I'd used the last time I made a demo and see when they could fit us in.
Unfortunately, it turned out we wouldn't be able to get into the studio for another week. Bella and I didn't see each other during that time. We exchanged some text messages and a few short phone calls discussing which two songs we wanted to do, but not much beyond that.
There was a conversation we needed to have, and every time I got close to bringing up the topic I'd chicken out. That kiss had been on my mind more often than not. At first, I was all gung-ho, wanting to pick up right where we left off, perhaps someplace a little more private.
And then the rational side of my brain kicked in.
Jasper's interruption and our subsequent meeting with Kate Denali changed things. We were no longer two people with similar passions getting to know one another. We were now partners in this … whatever this was.
Was it a good idea to start up some sort of relationship now? How would that affect us working together? What would happen if we didn't work out as a couple?
But I wanted it, nearly as much as I wanted a recording contract. I could feel it in my bones; there was something so right about Bella, and it went beyond her beautiful voice.
We finally got together on a Tuesday morning to make our demo. Bella looked adorable when she walked into the studio wearing soft charcoal pants and a light pink hoodie zipped up to her chin. Her hands were shoved in the pockets, hair pulled back in a ponytail and cheeks tinged from the cold.
"Hey, how are you?" I said, giving her a nervous smile.
"Good." Her responding smile was much wider than mine. "I'm really excited about this."
"Me too," I assured her, though I was sure my excitement wasn't written plain as day on my face like hers was. "They're just getting everything set up. Should be ready for us in a minute."
Recording the demo was grueling work, though thankfully we only had two songs to get through. There was so much repetition, playing the same bit over and over or singing the same line multiple times, trying to improve upon the sound with each take. I was almost ready to throw in the towel after a few hours—for Bella's sake. She wasn't used to singing for so many hours straight, and she was getting tired. She insisted she only needed a short break, and when she came back she sounded refreshed and ready to go.
We finished up in the late afternoon, the producer promising to have the tracks finalized the following day for me to pick up. Bella grabbed my hand as we exited the building, a bright smile causing the corners of her eyes to crinkle.
"Let's go get something to eat—my treat," she said. "I wanna celebrate."
"Sounds good." I laced our fingers together as we began strolling down the block. "But my treat. You just paid for a full day in the studio." I gave her a wink.
Each of us ordered a sandwich at a little café not far from the studio. In between bites of lunch meat and chips, we shared laughs about the day we'd just had and stories about ourselves. The attraction I'd been feeling toward Bella only grew as the evening went on and we sipped coffees once our sandwiches were gone.
I was reluctant to leave Bella's company, even when the wait staff began side-eyeing us for taking up a table for so long. I wanted to explore whatever it was between us in more depth, regardless of my rational brain reminding me to be wary.
Bella beat me to the punch, the shy woman I'd met not too long ago nearly absent from the strength of her words. She rested her chin in her palm, elbow on the table, her face a study in seriousness. "Come home with me. I'm not ready to let you go."
My heart skipped a beat, but I recovered quickly, picking up my guitar case with one hand while reaching for Bella's with the other. We were out of our seats and out the door only seconds later.
We started walking in the direction of Bella's apartment, but I flagged a cab down as soon as I saw one. The cost of the five-minute ride was worth it over the twenty-minute walk. I was already flinging some bills over the seat as the driver pulled up in front of Bella's building.
She pulled me—though I willingly followed—in the door and up the stairs, only letting go of my hand to unlock the door. As soon as it closed behind us, I dropped my guitar as she flung herself at me.
Our lips met as I caught her body, the kiss deep and intense from the start. My hands roamed her slim waist before resting on her ass and pulling her closer. She groaned, and something inside my brain flipped.
"Bella, wait," I said against her lips.
She shook her head, continuing to kiss me. When she moved across my jaw and down my neck, hands grasping the short hairs at the base of my head, I took the opportunity to speak again.
"We should talk about this."
Her teeth nipped at my flesh, drawing much of my rational thought from my head.
"No," she said, her voice quiet but authoritative. "We both want this." She kissed up to my ear, teeth and tongue teasing the lobe. "We both feel this. This is right, Edward."
Her whispered words, so closely echoing my own thoughts, were the final nail in the coffin. I drew her head back so I could look into her sure eyes before kissing her again.
I didn't know how long we stood in the entryway, touching, feeling, grinding, before Bella mumbled, "Bedroom," against my lips.
I immediately grabbed her thighs and lifted her, easily carrying her slight form down the short hall and into her room. I didn't take the time to look around, my attention only focused on the way Bella's body felt under my fingers, the way her lips felt against my skin.
She slid down my body when I neared the bed, immediately lifting my shirt until I had to pull my arms away to get it over my head. Her fingers were sure as they explored my skin, her lips following in their wake. Having already unzipped her hoodie, I pushed it off her shoulders before reaching for the hem of the T-shirt underneath. That came off quickly as well, my hands drawn to the swell of her perky breasts.
She arched into me as I explored, grabbing my shoulders and pulling me closer as my lips trailed down her neck, her collarbone, landing on the creamy flesh exposed at the top of her bra. Reaching around, I opened the clasp, and Bella shrugged the material from her arms. I kissed and licked my way from one peak to the other, teasing around the rosy centers until she groaned and pushed my head where she wanted me. I sucked the pert nipple between my lips, flicking it with my tongue and enjoying the whimper that escaped her mouth.
Her hands reaching for the button of my jeans caused me to pull back, needing to be absolutely certain this was what she wanted. "Are you sure?" I whispered.
She nodded, her fingers fumbling with the denim but slipping the button through the hole and lowering the zipper. I pushed the material down my hips along with my boxers, bending to remove my shoes and socks when everything became tangled around my ankles. My eyes never left her body though, watching as she kicked her shoes aside and swiftly removed the rest of her clothing.
I trailed my hands up her bare legs as I stood, drinking in the sight of her perfect flesh on display for me. Fingers digging into the skin at her waist, I lifted her body and moved us both back on the bed, hovering above her momentarily before leaning down to kiss her again.
Her nails dug into my back, hands drawing me closer until our bodies were aligned. I could feel the heat coming off her, slickness coating my rigid cock as her hips lifted and we ground together, both of us letting out satisfied groans. I wanted to explore more, to taste her, consume her, but I had a feeling there'd be plenty of time for that later.
The tilt of her pelvis drew me slightly inside, and my head reared back as I came to my senses once again. "Condom?" I asked, for the first time in my life embarrassed that I didn't carry one around with me.
"I'm covered," she said shyly. "As long as you're okay?"
"Yeah … I don't …" I trailed off, thinking now wasn't the time to discuss how few sexual partners I'd had.
She gave me a small smile, a reassuring hand coming up to caress my cheek, fingers dragging through the scruff that lined my jaw. "I don't either."
With another nod of her head and shift of her hips, I pushed inside, moaning at the feel of her warmth and wetness surrounding me. I paused once I was fully seated, taking a few deep breaths to ensure this wouldn't be over before it even got started. Her fingers scratched through my hair as my forehead rested on her collarbone until the urge to move became too great.
I slowly withdrew and pushed back, catching Bella's gasp with my mouth. Our tongues danced and teeth nipped as we found a rhythm, her long legs wrapping around my waist and pulling me deeper. One hand roamed her body, her skin soft and warm under the pads of my fingers, while I rested on the opposite elbow.
Bella's breath began coming in pants as I pinched and rolled a nipple. Her moans had me moving faster, the urge to pound into her overtaking me.
"Yes," she hissed out as I shifted back and changed the angle, thrusting harder and faster.
I could feel my impending orgasm rushing down my spine and up from my toes. My hand slipped between our bodies, stroking the swollen bundle of nerves at her apex.
I watched as her head thrashed back and forth on the pillow, eyes closed tightly and cheeks flushed. My fingers picked up speed, my entire being wanting to see her fall apart before I did. She gasped and arched up just as her walls began to clench around me. No longer able to hold back, I followed her over the edge, coming hard and fast with a low groan and then collapsing down on her.
A few minutes later I moved to roll off to the side, but her arms tightened around me.
"Stay," she said quietly, and I had a feeling she wasn't just talking about our current position.
"I'm not going anywhere," I responded, only moving enough that I wasn't crushing her.
I was close to drifting off a while later when I heard Bella's quiet voice.
"We need a name."
"What?" I opened my eyes to look at her, the first thing coming to mind was that I wanted to call her "girlfriend." But even my orgasm-addled brain was pretty sure that wasn't what she was talking about.
"For the duo," she clarified, her fingers lazily moving up and down my spine. "We need a name. We can't just go by Edward Cullen and Bella Swan."
"How about Bella Swan and Edward Cullen?" I teased.
She slapped my bicep, giggling lightly. "You know what I mean."
I grabbed her hand and kissed her knuckles before holding it between our bodies as I thought of what we could call ourselves. My mind raced back over the short time since I'd met Bella, looking for anything that might stand out as speaking of us and this connection we shared. It was only when I remembered her mumbled words from the music shop, the words that had called to me and made me ask her to sing with me, that I finally spoke up.
"How about The Dreamers?"
A smile slowly spread across her cheeks before she kissed me fully. "Perfect."
The following morning, I begrudgingly left Bella's apartment to go home and change, but not before showering with her and finally getting a true taste of her delicious body. Once in clean clothes, I stopped by the studio and picked up the copies of our demo, heading right back out and over to the offices of Volturi Records.
The receptionist assured me Kate would receive the CD and my note in a few hours, as she was out of the office on business when I stopped in. I made sure to leave both Bella's and my cell phone numbers on the note, thanking her again for taking an interest in us. Even if this went nowhere, at least we'd have the demo available and could try marketing it to other labels.
Kate called me around four that afternoon to let me know she got the disc and would be pitching it on Friday. She did warn me that decisions weren't usually made quickly but promised she'd be in touch as soon as she heard anything.
Had it not been for Bella's and my budding relationship, the following two weeks would have dragged by. Our newfound intimacy had us using every spare moment to be together, typically resulting in one of us staying over at the other's apartment. As much as I wanted to take her out on a date, our schedules didn't mesh on evenings we didn't work so we had to settle for late nights and early mornings together, getting to know each other better into the wee hours of the morning and sometimes practicing songs. I didn't have any gigs lined up, but I called Jasper and he assured us a spot in the next open mic night he arranged.
Another day at work had me finishing up fitting an elementary school kid for a rental violin when the shop door swung open and a cold breeze hit me. I looked up in time to see Bella rush inside, my eyebrows furrowing when I glanced at the clock.
"Bella? Everything okay?" I asked, hastily walking toward her.
Her eyes were bright and her smile wide when she met my gaze. She nodded, meeting me in front of the counter.
"Why aren't you at work?" I questioned when she didn't say anything.
"This couldn't wait," she said, her body nearly vibrating.
"What's going on?"
"Kate called me." She waved her cell phone at me. "She tried to get a hold of you but you didn't answer."
"My phone's in the back." I took her free hand and pulled her with me to lean my hip on the glass case. "What did she say?"
Her smile widened even more and the words tumbled from her mouth. "We got it. The brothers loved the demo. They're offering us a deal."
It took a minute for me to form words while my jaw hung open. "Seriously? We got a deal?" I squeezed her hand and pulled her even closer, excitement filling my body and making every inch of me want her near.
She nodded vigorously just as Mike's voice rang out. "No personal business on company time!" he shouted across the store.
My eyes pleaded with Bella to tell me this was real, that for once I wasn't dreaming.
Her smile remained, dimple deepening as her chin dipped in a slight nod.
Without removing my eyes from Bella, I called out, "I quit, Mike."
And then I pulled her to me fully and kissed her for all I was worth.