Title: Glimmer in the Sand
Summary: While his fiancé is out with friends, Edward gets an unexpected visitor who is anxious to return something precious to its rightful owner. Entry for Meet the Mate. ~Inspired by a Real-Life Lost-and-Found.~
Pairing: Bella & Edward
Word count: 4891
Coming home to an empty house never seemed to get easier.
When I asked Tanya to marry me, I thought it would be the end of nights filled with nothing but loneliness and quiet.
When we first dated, we were constantly going places – to clubs, fabulous restaurants, concerts, even gallery openings and other cultural events, assuming there was an open bar. I was ecstatic to be out with this beautiful woman on my arm. It didn't matter that we had to shout over the thumping base or that we were constantly interrupted by the stream of acquaintances–I knew she was everything I had ever wanted in a woman.
Tanya was gorgeous and cultured. She was the kind of woman others flocked to no matter where we were. She made everyone laugh. I knew her outgoing personality would balance my introverted nature. It was contagious to be in the raucous crowd that circled her, even when I didn't personally get the joke.
I expected that sooner or later we would settle into a the quiet life I had always envisioned. I didn't think it was too much to ask that we would be able to spend time together; in the same room, without getting naked, texting, or planning another outing.
I stifled a sigh as I dropped the mail on our unused, dining room table. When I realized she wasn't home I texted to ask where she was. The soft sounds of paper on wood and fingers on keys seemed to echo through our cavernous, open floor plan condo. It continued down the hall of gleaming hardwood floors, bounced off the blank, cream-colored walls, into the unused, spotless kitchen filled with cold, stainless steel appliances and imported tile.
Hoping Tanya was on her way, I sat down with the stack of bills and junk mail as my only companions. Two larger envelopes stuck out from the pile. Just as I was examining the return addresses to determine if they were worth opening, my cell phone buzzed with Tanya's reply.
Shopping with Kate. Order yourself dinner, okay?
I groaned a little, and a petulant bubble that may or may not have been hunger replied from the pit of my stomach.
I dialed the pizza delivery number I knew from memory and tried not to take out my frustration on the innocent cashier when she chuckled at my familiar order.
With nothing to do but wait for my greasy dinner, I tore open the first envelope. It contained a claim summary and sizable check from my insurance company. This did nothing to improve my mood. I'd gladly pay double to get back what they were compensating me for.
I pushed the check away, half-hoping it would fall behind the counter so I could pretend it hadn't arrived.
The second envelope was thicker and padded. I carried it with me to the fridge, pulling out a tall bottle of liquid courage, before taking out the stack of glossy prints Tanya had ordered from our 'pre-wedding honeymoon.' It had seemed like a great idea – a chance to get away and relax with each other before the stress of planning our wedding. Nevertheless, I couldn't help feeling like maybe our defying convention had something to do with our tragic luck.
I closed my eyes, remembering the moment I had slipped the diamond ring onto Tanya's manicured finger. It was old fashioned, comprised of a dozen smaller stones rather than the solitaire rock favored by women today. It had been my great-grandmother's and had been worn by my grandmother and mother as well.
She had squealed with delight and thrown her arms around me. However, it had only been a few days later when she had asked whether her wedding ring could be a little more modern and also have a larger diamond. I guess she hadn't really liked the ring as much as the idea of getting married. Which was how it should be, I reminded myself.
I began flipping through the pictures of our vacation. I wished we had taken one shot in the traditional pose with her hand on display. We could have sent that to the insurance company instead of a photograph of my mother wearing the ring. It was odd; Tanya's hand was hidden for almost all of the shots before our snorkeling trip. But her bare fingers were prominent and visible in the later pictures, taunting me with what had been lost.
I was staring at a picture taken on the boat, probably minutes after we had gotten out of the water. Tanya had swum over to me, frantically explaining that the ring had slipped off, probably because her finger had shrunk in the cold water. All of the other people on the tour, including our guide had helped us search the sandy bottom. But what were the odds of finding a tiny ring in the vast ocean? Finally, we had to head back to shore. I wrapped my arms around Tanya, pulling her chilled body close to mine and breathing in the salty warmth of her neck, praying for a miracle.
"I'm so sorry, baby," she said to me. "I'll pay the deductible on the insurance myself if you want."
It had been such an odd thing to say. I hadn't been able to answer. Even now, I couldn't figure out what would have made her think about the insurance.
I was interrupted from my brooding by the doorbell. As I grabbed my wallet, I glanced over the image of a smiling Tanya in her bikini, while I sulked next to her I took another healthy swig of my beer before heading down the hall.
I had my head down, pulling a few twenties out of my wallet as I opened the door. I still had not looked up as I extended my arm, expecting the cash to be unceremoniously pocketed in exchange for the box of carbs and cheese.
A breathless voice that was most certainly not my regular pizza boy asked, "Are you Edward Cullen?"
I looked up, arm still extended, and my jaw dropped.
Before me was a beautiful young woman with a heart-shaped face and warm chocolate eyes. Her brown hair fell past her shoulders in wild tangled waves. She was wearing jeans and a faded t-shirt with an outline of a boat across her chest. I quickly pulled my eyes away from her admittedly fantastic breasts before I could make out any detail or the words above the image. However, they were soon locked on her pink lips that were curved into a shy smile.
As the silence grew longer, her bottom lip was drawn into her mouth and I watched fascinated as perfect white teeth sunk into the luscious flesh. A breeze blew in from behind the woman, carrying with it a heady scent of sweet strawberries mixed with briny saltwater. Before I could stop the thought from forming, I wondered if her mouth would taste as delicious as she smelled.
The woman cocked her head to the side and spoke again, the question more pronounced in her tone despite her words now forming a statement. "I'm looking for Edward and Tanya Cullen."
I shook my head to break my trance, and nervously stuffed the cash I was still holding back inside my wallet.
"I'm Edward Cullen," I said. "Are you a friend of Tanya's?"
She shook her head, making her lovely tresses fall over her shoulders, which once again drew my gaze toward her sensuous curves. As the silence grew, so did the mystery woman's smile. She seemed ecstatic just to look at me, and though the feeling was mutual, it didn't make sense for us to stand here staring at each other. Yet, she didn't offer any other information.
"I'm confused," I said honestly.
My words seemed to break some kind of spell the woman was under as she shook her head again, this time as if expressing an internal thought rather than answering my question.
"We've never met," she explained. "But I have something that belongs to your wife."
With these words, she presented a small box and lifted the top, revealing my mother's ring. In a moment that could have been orchestrated by a romantic, period piece cinematographer, the warm glow of the sunset reflected over the antique gold and delicately arranged diamonds making them appear to glisten. As beautiful and welcome a sight as this was, I was distracted by the delighted gleam in her chocolate brown eyes.
"My fiancé," I corrected, "My fiancé's ring" I added, this time correcting myself for still thinking of it as belonging to my mother.
"Oh," the woman said her smile fading the tiniest amount. A crease formed between her brows as her face scrunched in confusion. "I thought the date in the engraving was your wedding day."
I shook my head, trying to put in order the dozens of questions I had. I realized that we could have been standing in the doorway for hours if I tried to make sense of this without inviting the stranger inside. "Would you like to come in?" I asked.
She looked over her shoulder at a steel monstrosity parked at the curb, loaded with mismatched furniture and boxes. For a moment, I wondered if she was some kind of angel that traveled from place to place returning lost objects. Surely, any messenger of a higher power would have transportation that didn't appear to be held together with rust and paperclips.
"Tanya will be home soon," I said, grasping at any idea to make her stay.
She turned back to me, smiling radiantly. "I'm Bella Swan," she said, placing the ring box in my hand.
As my fingers curled around the box, I remembered some of my manners. "It's very nice to meet you, Bella," I said. I quickly shifted the ring to my other hand and offered my right toward her to shake. I swallowed before releasing her hand and stepping away to encourage her to come inside.
Bella stepped into the front foyer and glanced around curiously. Something like disappointment crossed her face, but she quickly fixed her expression into a polite smile. "I'm sorry for taking you by surprise. I probably should have just put that in the mail, but when I found out where you lived, it seemed like fate. You see, I was coming to the University of Chicago to begin my Masters this week so it all fell into place."
I couldn't help but laugh at her apology. "You did take me by surprise," I admitted, "but I can hardly imagine a better one. You have no idea what this ring means. I thought it was lost forever."
"It's beautiful," Bella said her tone sincere. "And so unique. That's why I knew I had to make sure it was returned to the woman who lost it."
"How did you know?" I asked.
Bella opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the doorbell.
"That's probably the pizza I was expecting," I explained, turning back toward the door. "I'm so sorry Bella; I invited you in and then rudely bombarded you with questions without allowing you to sit down or offering you anything. Would you like to come back to the kitchen? You look like you're ready for a good meal, and I just ordered an extra-large of Chicago's best."
Bella bit her lip again. It was an extremely distracting habit. "I guess I am a little hungry. I was so excited; I hadn't actually been paying attention to the time."
I smiled at her, inordinately pleased that she had agreed to stay and allow me to feed her. I hadn't been kidding when I told her she looked like she could use a little sustenance. Under the recessed lights of the kitchen, I could see that there were light circles under her eyes.
"Stay right here," I said, pulling out one of the high-backed stools at the kitchen island. "I'll go grab the pizza."
Bella took her seat and beamed gratefully at me. It took my breath away to reflect on the difference it made to the formerly empty room to have her there. I gazed at her face until the doorbell rang again, saving me from doing or saying something that would embarrass us both.
As I made my way back to the door, the rational part of my brain started to function again. What sort of person invites a complete stranger into their home for dinner? What sortof person accepts? I guess the sort who finds a valuable ring and personally returns it halfway across the country.
Despite the absurdity of the situation, I grinned like a fool as I overtipped the pizza boy and headed back to the kitchen. Bella turned her head as I entered the room, smiling at me brilliantly. There was no way that inviting her in could be a mistake, I decided with finality.
I placed the pizza box on the island and headed to the fridge. "What can I get you to drink, Bella?" I asked, an unfamiliar but welcome warmth spreading through my chest when I said her name.
"Do you have a Coke?" she asked timidly. "I could use a little caffeine."
A felt a twinge of guilt as I grabbed two cans from the fridge and placed one in front of her before opening my own. Before sitting, I grabbed a couple of plates from the cabinet. "Where were you headed after this?" I asked, afraid I might be pushing my luck and sounding a little creepy. "Is someone expecting you soon?"
Bella bit her lip as she held the pizza an inch away from her mouth. She looked up at me from under her lashes, her expression guilty. "You actually reminded me; I promised I'd call my dad when I got to Chicago. I'm going to get a hotel tonight and am moving into the dorms tomorrow."
I glanced at the time, noticing it was seven o'clock. I wondered if Bella had a reservation; slightly disturbed by the idea of her checking into a hotel by herself after dark. An inner-debate started in my mind, and I pulled out my own phone. Bella's voice became a pleasant but indistinct murmur as I thought over how to phrase a text to Tanya.
A frustrated huff broke me out of my hopeless search for the right words.
"I'll be okay, Dad," she said. "You worry too much. I got this far just fine, didn't I?"
I raised my eyebrow at her, again wondering if I was crossing too many boundaries before we even introduced ourselves.
Bella shook her head, covering the receiver, before whispering, "Dad's going off on me because I mentioned a motel; he forbids me to stay anywhere that doesn't have a locked hallway."
I nodded, and before I could talk myself out of what I was about to do, I put my hand out for her phone and asked Bella what her father's name was.
Her eyes widened, but she said into the receiver. "Hold on a second, Dad, Mr. Cullen wants to speak with you."
I chuckled a bit at being referred to as Mr. Cullen, then whispered to Bella, "What's his name?"
"Charlie Swan," she whispered back, biting her lip again.
I smiled, trying to calm her apparent nervousness, as I spoke into the receiver. "Hello, Mr. Swan, this is Edward Cullen. I know that we've never met, but I was hoping you'd allow my fiancé and me to invite Bella to our guest room tonight. We'd be happy to make sure she arrives safely at the University tomorrow."
"Hello, Mr. Cullen," a gruff voice answered me. "That's a kind offer."
I smiled, relieved that he didn't seem upset by the idea. "It's the least we could do given the trouble she's gone through to return my family heirloom. I assure you that your daughter will be perfectly safe with us."
Something resembling a growl came from the other line. "You do realize there's no way I would agree if I hadn't already run a background check on you."
"A background check?" I repeated, my eyes widening in surprise. I ran a nervous hand through my hair, grateful that Charlie Swan wasn't here to see me squirm. Bella had pressed her palm against her face, which was turning scarlet.
"Bella did mention I'm the Chief of the Key West Police Department, didn't she?" Charlie asked in a slightly sarcastic tone.
"No, sir," I replied. What had Bella told him, and for that matter how did either of them know who I was? How had I gotten to the point of introducing myself to the Bella's father without having answers to so many of my own questions?
I decided it didn't matter, as I caught her eye again. Bella was looking like she was going to chew through her lip if she didn't pass out first.
"Breathe, Bella," I whispered, and then gestured to the pizza, reminding her to eat. I regained my composure and spoke again to the Chief, "If that's true, I trust you know that we are both responsible, law-abiding citizens. I can also tell you that we are not the kind of people who would send sucha sweetgirl to a motel in a strange city after she performed such a kindness to us."
"All right then," Charlie answered. "But you should also know Bella travels with pepper spray and I'll be calling her first thing in the morning."
"Of course," I answered as calmly as I could while my mind was turning over the pepper spray comment. "I'll put Bella back on now."
With that, I handed the phone back to Bella, who took it looking somewhat sheepish. I then walked into the living room to give her a bit of privacy and place a call to Tanya. This wasn't the kind of information I thought I could put into a text.
It rung several times before going to voicemail. Disappointed, but undeterred, I left a short message, explaining that we were having a friend stay the night and I had a great surprise for her. When I hung up, I wondered if it had been a mistake not to fully explain. Surely, the fact that we had her ring back would make her happy enough to forgive me for not checking with her before asking Bella to stay.
"Edward," said a timid voice behind me. I turned to see Bella standing awkwardly, still holding her phone and twisting her foot nervously. "I hope my dad didn't say anything too embarrassing," she said. "Sometimes he can be more of a cop than a human being."
"He was fine, Bella," I said. "He's protective of you, which is completely understandable."
She rolled her eyes a bit, but her smile had returned. "Was Tanya really okay with me staying?" she asked, gesturing to my phone. "If not, it's totally fine for me to get a room somewhere. It was what I was planning on anyway."
I shook my head vigorously. There was no way I was letting Bella check into a strange motel. Though I couldn't understand why, I felt very protective of her. Plus, I had a feeling that if anything did happen, Chief Swan would have my balls hooked up to his Taser.
"Trust me," I told Bella, "You're already officially a permanent friend of the family. Now, please sit down, and if you don't mind talking while we eat, I'd love to know how fate brought you to my doorstep." I winked at her, emphasizing the word she had used earlier.
A delicious pink color spread across Bella's cheeks. I pulled out a stool and she once again took her seat while gazing up at me from underneath her lashes.
"Please, Bella," I coaxed, "Don't be shy." Hoping to break the ice, I grabbed a slice and took a big bite with one hand while pushing the box toward her with another.
Bella's brown eyes got a little wider as she watched me swallow, but she nodded and grabbed a piece of her own, nibbling a bit.
"So you lived in the Keys with your dad?" I asked fishing.
Bella nodded while taking another bite of pizza.
"Did you earn your living combing the beaches for treasure?" I asked, half-joking, but half wondering if this was how she had come across the diamond.
"No," Bella giggled. "I've never even touched a metal detector. In fact, I had never found anything on the beach before the day I was leaving to come here to graduate school."
"When was that?" I asked.
"Four days ago," Bella said with a grin. "I decided to get up at sunrise and say goodbye to the ocean. So, I was walking barefoot in the sand, and just digging my toes in, you know? To really remember what home felt like."
I nodded, imagining Bella standing on the shore in the early morning light, perhaps wearing a bikini. I tore my gaze away from her before the fantasy could get out of hand.
"Anyway," Bella continued, "I was wiggling my toes, when all of a sudden I felt something really hard and sharp. I thought it was probably just a shell or even a bottle cap, but I decided to dig for it."
"It was the ring?" I asked though the answer was obvious.
She nodded. I noticed she had finished her first slice of pizza, so I served each of us another.
"It was the most beautiful ring I'd ever seen," she whispered. "So unusual, and I thought it must be really old. But then I noticed the engraving and realized it must have been lost recently."
My grin grew impossibly larger. I'd had the inner band engraved with the date of my proposal when Tanya made a comment about not quite feeling as though the ring was hers. Before I could get lost in the memory of that conversation, I nodded encouragingly at Bella to continue.
"I wasn't far from the Waldorf, so I walked there and asked if anyone had reported some jewelry missing."
I sucked in a quiet breath, hardly believing the odds. We had been staying at the Waldorf, and Tanya told me it was a waste of time to report our loss. I had answered that it would be necessary to claim the insurance. I hadn't even admitted to myself that I had been hoping that somehow, the ring would miraculously be found.
"I can't believe you ended up asking there. That's where we were staying, but Tanya lost the ring while we were out snorkeling. It could have washed up anywhere."
"Really?" Bella said, as excited as I was by the odds. "I thought it must have just slipped off as you were walking."
I shook my head, as another detail registered. "So, they just gave you our address when you told them you found the ring?" I asked, somewhat unbelieving.
At this, Bella snorted. I had to bite the side of my cheek from laughing at her as she slapped a hand over her mouth again.
"Sorry," she said. "That was kind of rude and inappropriate. But, I got a really bad impression of the staff there. When I asked if anyone had reported a ring missing, the concierge mentioned your name. As soon as I said I thought I'd found it, he got this greedy look on his face, and I just didn't feel right handing it over to him. So, I asked if he'd call your room for me, but he said you'd already checked out. I don't think he had any intention of telling me your address. However, when I kept saying that I wanted to return it, he made a sarcastic comment about that being unlikely, unless I was planning to be in Chicago." At this, Bella's grin stretched from one delicate ear to another.
I smirked, imagining the scene Bella was describing. Despite her obvious shyness, she clearly had no trouble standing up for herself.
"You should have seen the look on his face when I told him I did plan on being in Chicago," she gleefully continued. "I said I'd let Mr. and Mrs. Cullen know how helpful he had been in making sure their ring was returned. I swear I knew by the look on his face I made the right choice in not turning it over. And, it wasn't that hard to find an Edward Cullen in Chicago. You were the only one listed, and even if there had been a dozen of you, I would have tried every address."
"Thank you, Bella," I said, fervently. "That's truly an incredible story, and you are obviously a rare soul to have gone through all that just to perform a good deed."
"You make it sound like I was turning in a briefcase full of cash or something," Bella replied, shaking her head. "You don't have to be any special type of person to know that a wedding ring means a lot more to its proper owner than any amount of money."
My chest tightened at her words. She didn't think she was special. She thought anyone would see the value in this tiny band beyond what an insurance company might pay to have it replaced. Bella was incredibly kind, and perhaps a bit naïve. I hoped she would be able to handle herself in Chicago. But, then I remembered the pepper spray and her distrust of the Waldorf's concierge.
Neither of us said anything for several minutes. I couldn't stop staring into Bella's eyes, and she held my gaze. Slowly, her expression transformed from sympathy and indignation to surprise at what she saw in my eyes as I drank her in. The air around us crackled with an energy I had never experienced before.
"Do you think Tanya will be home soon?" Bella's voice trembled and cracked at the question.
I shook my head and looked up at the clock. My heart began hammering as I saw the time. Bella and I had been talking for hours. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her stifle a small yawn.
"Actually, I'm surprised she's not here, yet," I said, grabbing my phone to send her a text.
Tanya's reply came back quickly, telling me to not wait up for her.
"Umm…" I looked up at Bella, trying to come up with an appropriate thing to say. She was yawning more widely now.
"Bella," I started, "I'm sorry, but I don't think Tanya will be home soon, and you're obviously exhausted. Why don't I show you the guest room, and we can all have breakfast in the morning. That way you can have a break before having to tell the story again." I tried to form half a smile at this small joke.
"Are you sure?"she started, but I held up a hand, cutting her off.
"Not another word," I said. "I promised an officer of the law that you'll be safe and sound in our home and Tanya will be here in the morning to thank you."
It was evident just how worn out the sweet girl was because she didn't put up too much more of a fight. After retrieving her small overnight bag from the metal monster, I carried it up to the guest room. I promised that the three of us – myself, Tanya, and Bella would have a good talk in the morning before we helped her move into the dorms.
"It's the least we could do," I insisted for the tenth time before wishing her a good night and returning downstairs to wait for the woman I was planning to marry. I sat in the living room, turning the ring over in my fingers as the minutes, then hours ticked by.
~One year later~
The house is full of friends, as well as friends of other friends, and I can hear my wife's laughter drifting from the patio over the music of steel drums. I smirked at the irony of a beach party in a Chicago suburb, but everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time.
"Edward," my friend Emmett called from the front door. He made his way to me, followed by a statuesque blond and the gaze of nearly every male in the room. As they made their way over, his arm slinked around her slender waist.
"You must be Rosalie," I said, holding out my hand.
She smiled quickly at me before looking adoringly at my best friend. "It's nice to finally meet you, Edward," she said. "Emmett's been teasing me about this great story of how you met your wife, but he said I'd have to hear it from you."
Though we may not be honeymooners anymore, I still get a thrill from hearing the words 'your wife.' I also never got tired of telling our story – I imagined I'd end up repeating it every day to the staff at our nursing home when we were old and senile.
But, I gave Rosalie an off-handed shrug.
"It's not that much of a story," I said. "She just showed up on my doorstep with an engagement ring one evening."
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