A/N: Hello, lovely readers!
The idea for this little O/S stuck in my head after a conversation I had with my friends and wouldn't leave until I'd penned, or rather, typed it down.
Huge hugs to my pre-reader extraordinaire dazzled eyes22 for her ever encouraging words! And to my beta and fellow messy closet-er, Twilightfanatic85 aka Melissa, thanks a ton for working on this one with me, hon!
I hope you all like it :)
Ten minutes behind schedule! Ten minutes behind schedule! The nagging voice in my head was like scraping nails on a blackboard.
I muttered a few curses at Emmett and Jasper as I walked briskly down Fifth Avenue. With a blue cap perched backwards on my head, digital camera in my pocket and a travel guide in hand, I was the ultimate picture of a tourist.
I was a bit different than most of the other tourists, though. While my OCD tendencies had been diagnosed as mild in every other aspect of my life, a traveling schedule was the one thing that I could not compromise on.
I'd prepared an iron clad itinerary and sent it to Em and Jazz a month back, when we decided to take this trip to NYC. But I should have known those two goofs would not rest easy until they'd put a kink in my plans. They knew about my need for structure, but that never stopped them from trying to mess with my plan when it didn't suit their fancy.
I knew waking up at 7 in the morning was a bit early when on vacation, but it was necessary if we wanted to experience all the places I'd planned out. The lazy asses didn't get that. They disabled my phone alarm, and I woke up a whole hour later than I'd intended. They were still snoring and drooling when I left the hotel room.
"This will be the last trip I take with those idiots," I grumbled under my breath, navigating my way through the throngs of people.
Finally, I reached the intersection and looked up. A wide grin stretched across my lips as I took in the massive wonder of the Empire State Building before my eyes. Excited, I walked ahead with my gaze still fixated on the skyscraper, only to collide into a soft body.
My arms instinctively wrapped around the girl's small form and my eyes snapped down to her face in concern when I felt her shaking in my hold.
She wasn't looking at me at all. Her brown orbs were fixated solely toward the tower. I could only see her profile, but utter panic was apparent in her ashen face, her sweaty brow and the sheen of tears in her wide, frantic eyes.
I let go of her but quickly grasped her shoulders again when she swaggered once.
"Miss, are you alright?" I questioned in a quiet murmur.
She didn't react in any way. Her breath came out in shallow gasps as she continued to look up. I didn't know much about panic attacks, but from what I'd seen in movies, it appeared she was experiencing one.
Gently, I turned her around. I'd expected some resistance, but there was none. My heart leapt into my throat as she faced me fully for the first time and even in that disheveled state, I was certain she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen.
"What's wrong, Miss?" I asked, shaking her a little, trying to get her to comprehend what I was saying.
Her lips quivered and moved, but no sound came out, other than the little gasps that escaped her throat. Her eyes, that seemed to look through me at first, now focused on mine.
"Shh, shh, relax. You're okay," I chanted repeatedly, cupping her face in my palms, forcing her to look at me. Intense heat shot up my arm as I pressed my fingers against her soft skin.
My voice seemed to register somewhat in her mind as I kept up a constant stream of soothing words. A few people looked at us curiously as they passed by. I looked around, spotting a bench and slowly led her toward it.
We sat side by side and this time, she turned to face me on her own. I breathed in and out slowly, exaggerating the movements and she tried to match my rhythm.
It took a few minutes, but eventually, her breathing evened out. The frantic look in her eyes dimmed, but the tears remained. A couple slipped from the corner of her eyes and I resisted the urge to wipe them from her delicate skin.
She closed her eyes and let out a slow, deep breath. Mesmerized, I watched as the color slowly returned to her cheeks. I could feel the warmth of her blush under my fingertips.
I wonder how it'd feel under my lips.
Unbidden, the thought came to my mind and I squashed it quickly. The girl was beautiful, no doubt, but she was in obvious distress and I knew nothing about her. This wasn't the time to entertain such ideas about her.
Lost as I was, the sound of her voice startled me.
"Thank you." It was a rasped whisper.
I smiled. "Do you feel better?"
She nodded. "Yes. Much better. I'm sorry for your trouble."
"Please. There's no need to apologize, Miss…?"
"Isabella Swan. But I prefer Bella." The corners of her mouth turned up and I was rewarded with a soft smile. She raised her hand and I shook it with mine.
"It's nice to meet you, Bella. I'm Edward Cullen."
"Edward." I loved the way my name sounded in her quiet, almost hypnotic voice.
"If you don't mind me asking, why did you, um, I mean… The panic attack? You know what, you don't have to answer that. It's none of my business," I backtracked.
"No, it's okay. You helped me come out of it. You deserve an answer." She gave me a small smile and I sighed, relieved that she hadn't been offended by my prying. "I have acrophobia."
My eyebrows rose to my hairline at the information. "That's fear of heights, right?"
"Yeah." My expression must have been a mixture of incredulity and confusion. "What am I doing here at what was once the tallest building in the world, then?" she said, anticipating my next question and I nodded.
She sighed. It wasn't a happy sound.
"I have to go up. To the observatory deck. I need to do it. But, I have no idea how I'll be able to. I'd been standing there for half an hour before you found me, gathering up some courage. But—" she broke off, shaking her head dejectedly and looking away.
I saw a single drop of moisture make its way down her face before she brushed it away and the words left my mouth without a second thought.
"Why don't we go together?"
Bewildered brown eyes flashed to my face. "What?"
I shrugged. "I don't know how panic attacks work, but, maybe if we go together, I could do something to distract you?"
"Umm…" Bella bit her lip, looking shocked and a little nervous. She flushed brightly at the implication in my words and looked away.
"Talking, I mean. We can talk on the way," I quickly said, embarrassed at the way I'd framed my statement. "I promise to be a complete gentleman."
"You'd- you'd do that for me?"
I just stood up, holding my hand out in invitation. I didn't know why the stubborn girl was hell-bent to do something that obviously petrified her, but one look at her determined brow and I could tell that she'd stay here all day if she had to.
It was clear to me that in the few minutes I'd known her, I'd come to care for Bella and there was no way I could leave her alone, only to wonder for the rest of my life if the terrified but tenacious girl ever made it to her goal.
After what felt like a lifetime, she placed her small hand in mine and rose. I gave it a gentle squeeze and smiled reassuringly at her. The warmth of her touch left a delightful prickle on my skin.
"Yeah," she whispered, returning my squeeze. I was ecstatic when she made no move to extract her hand from my clasp.
Slowly, but surely, we made our way to the lobby of the Empire State Building and then into one of the elevators and all the while, I kept talking as promised.
I told her about anything and everything that came to my mind- the pets my parents had gotten me in my childhood to instill a sense of responsibility in me and how they'd given up after I'd killed three fishes in a row, my birthday party where the clown was drunk and ended up passing out in the lawn during one of his tricks, the time when Emmett, Jasper and I got caught lighting firecrackers in our old and cranky neighbor's backyard, the piano lessons I'd been taking since I was five, my obsession with CSI, my undying love for Fruit Loops and my everlasting dislike for soy chips.
Ever so often, she'd glance around us worriedly and grasp my hand tighter. Little by little, I laced our fingers together, breathing a sigh of relief when she didn't let go. My heart swelled with something akin to pride when she smiled and even giggled at some of my ramblings.
When the elevator stopped at the 86th floor deck, I looked at Bella questioningly and she shook her head, silently indicating that she'd rather go to the roof top. She swallowed hard and I wrapped my arm around her in silent support, rubbing soothing circles on her back.
Eventually, we got out at the 102nd floor. Bella's body shook with tremors and sweat marred her brow as we headed up the staircase that would take us to the top. I almost considered turning back but she held on to me firmly. I was surprised when she spoke up. Her voice was a shaky but her eyes were resolute.
"I was born and brought up by my mom, Renee, in a small town in Washington. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago. It was terminal and she was determined not to spend her last days in a hospital bed. Instead, she made a list of all the things she'd always wanted to do but never got around to and we started off on our trip across the US. We started with the west coast, then the South and Central America. From there we were supposed to come to New York, but—," she broke off, choking back a sob.
"Shh, Bella, you don't have to–"
"No. I need to remember why I'm doing this," she whispered. She cleared her throat before continuing. "She got worse, so suddenly. We went back to Seattle, to the hospital where she was being treated. In three days' time, she was gone."
My eyes pricked with tears at the obvious agony in her voice but I didn't dare interrupt.
"That was three months ago. I was so lost without her. But, I knew I had to finish what we'd started. She'd want me to complete her list, so she can experience it all through my eyes. With that thought, I hopped on the flight. This- This is the last thing left to do."
"Oh Bella," I whispered, gently wiping away her tears. "You're so brave. I'm sure Renee is very proud of you for trying to overcome your fear. She'll always watch over you."
"I can feel her with me right now," she whispered and I nodded.
"She's right here," I said, placing my hand against her heart.
Bella gave me a bittersweet smile and taking a deep breath, we both turned and stepped on to the observatory deck.
We walked just a few of steps forward, so that we could see the magnificent view of the city skyline but far enough from the edge so that Bella couldn't look down from the height.
We stood in silence for a few minutes, soaking in the moment. My eyes swept over the panoramic view, then landing on the heartbreakingly beautiful girl beside me.
I did a double-take when I saw her expression.
Instead of the sadness that marred her features just a moment ago, her face was now, what could only be described as serene. Eyes shut, head tilted back, a peaceful smile stretched across the bow-shaped lips and I could only stare, captivated by her allure.
Her lips moved silently and I assumed she was speaking to her mother. I, too, sent out a prayer for Renee's soul and thanked God for giving me an opportunity to be a part of Bella's journey.
Bella turned to me then. "Thank you, Edward. You have no idea what this means to me. Thank you," she said, her voice and expression thick with gratitude.
"You don't need to thank me," I murmured, still marveling at the calmness she exuded. My heart felt like it would burst out of my chest, pounding hard for the gorgeous girl in front of me, who didn't deserve an ounce of the hurt that fate had bestowed upon her. She'd been dealt a shitty hand and yet, here she was, conquering her fear to fulfill her mother's last wish. I was in awe of her and honored to have helped her in whatever little way I could.
I was jolted out of thoughts when my phone vibrated with a text message.
Dude, where the fuck are you? We're waiting at the restaurant, where YOUR itinerary says we're supposed to be having breakfast, for the last half an hour. Pick up your phone! -Emmett
I comprehended that I hadn't even felt the phone vibrate with ten missed calls from my friends. I was almost an hour behind schedule, and I hadn't even realized.
"Yes, I do." Bella's sweet voice chased away all thoughts of Em and Jazz and schedules and breakfast from my mind.
As she leaned in and wrapped her arms around my waist, burying her face in my chest, I smiled and embraced her, deciding that all of it no longer mattered.
The fragile yet strong, heart-broken yet peaceful girl in my arms was worth everything.
A/N: So, what do you think?
Leave me some love in a review :)
And thanks for reading!