A/N…I'm back! ;) This might be the longest break between fics that I've ever had. It was needed, and with that time came some rough RL stuff. I actually took longer than I had intended, but nevertheless, I'm here.

I won't keep you long, but I thought I'd tell you a few things about A Few Tables Away. This started as a post on FB. I couldn't get the letter out of my head, so this story is a result of that. A few things you should know before going in… The college and beach town I use in Florida are completely fictional, though I'm sure there's a Glenhaven somewhere in the world. This story took a darker turn than I had originally planned, but sometimes, I can't help that. So…usual warnings…rated M simply because it's me and there's no telling what trouble I'll cause. ;)

Here's the summary again…

SUMMARY: Edward spent most of his life trying to be invisible until he got to college. All alone, 3000 miles from home, there's only one person he wishes would see him. His Library Girl, just a few tables away. AH/Rated M/Canon couples

Last thing… I don't own the characters. SM does. I didn't write the letter in this first chapter; someone somewhere created a meme…it's theirs. Don't know who, but it isn't me, no matter how badly I wish it was. Everything else is mine – plot, original places and people, and whatever mistakes you find.

I'll let you meet Bookward.

~ooo~AFTA~ooo~

Chapter 1

EDWARD

"That asshole's tryin' to kill us with homework," I heard the male voice from behind me. "I'll never get all this reading done."

"Stop goin' out every damn night," the girl with him countered.

He cursed under his breath, because she was either right or he liked her enough to shut up. I turned just enough to see it was a guy from my Lit class who spent more time on his phone than taking notes.

The dining hall was loud, filled with chatter, phones ringing, and TVs blaring in the top corners of the large space. The entire room made me sweat more than the humidity outside. Before the true panic of being surrounded by so many people I didn't know, didn't want to know, set in, I was called up to the counter to order my food.

Despite the blaring sun and the thick, muggy air, I made my way back outside to the tables in the shade. I could breathe better outside. Outside, there was less chance of someone talking to me. Talking led to conversation, and conversation led to someone finding out just how awkward I was. Alone was better. Alone there was less of a chance I could make a fool out of myself.

The caw of seagulls was loud, sounding like rude laughter. It surprised me just how far away from the beach they'd come to steal French fries and leftover bread crusts. Hell, they'd snatch it right out of someone's hand if they had the opportunity.

I set my heavy backpack down on the table, followed by my tray. Pulling out my journal and pen, I then picked at my food. My phone vibrated in my pocket, and my whole body froze for a moment.

Please, don't be…

A smile curled up on my face at the sight of the name on the screen, and I couldn't swipe it quickly enough to answer.

"Ali?"

"How's my favorite big brother handling the Sunshine State?" she started immediately.

"You'd better not let Em hear you say that," I warned her with a chuckle.

"What? That it's sunny? He knows. Oh, and he knows you're my favorite. I tell him every opportunity I get. He said he doesn't care, that he'd squeeze the love out of me."

Laughing, I shook my head at my baby sister. I missed her like crazy, and I missed my big brother, Emmett, too. But I couldn't stay. The very second I'd started applying for colleges, I made sure most of them were as far away from my home state of Washington as I could get. Another country would've been better, but the complete opposite side of the U.S. would have to do.

"It's okay. Hot, humid, um…beachy," I finally answered her question, looking at my watch. "Shouldn't you be in class?"

"Half day. Teacher work day or some shit. Thank God! Forks High hasn't changed a bit since you left."

I snorted derisively, picking up a fry and dragging it through ketchup. "I'm sure you have it way easier than I did," I mumbled around my food.

She sighed deeply. "Yeah, well… I don't have time for bullshit from those idiots. I've got better things to do than to deal with the petty, small-town people of Forks."

"No shit," I murmured, shaking my head at how much stronger my sister was than me. She simply didn't care what people thought – not the school kids; not the whispering, gossiping adults; and especially not our father. Though, the latter ignored her, which was better than how he dealt with Emmett and me. As a kid, I'd have killed to be ignored. "I miss you."

"Miss you, too, Edward," she sang back. "I wanna come visit. Can I? Spring break?"

Grinning, I nodded foolishly. "Yeah, Ali, if he'll let you. Sure."

"What he doesn't know…"

"You can't do that. You'll only make shit worse, Mary Alice," I scolded her, but the absolute terror of Dad setting his sights on Alice was too much to think about. "Ask him first. If he says no, then…the summer, maybe."

"He doesn't scare me."

"Nothing scares you. That's the problem."

She laughed, and it made me smile. It made me homesick, if only for her. Despite the fact that she was younger than me, she was my best friend.

Instead of arguing, she changed subjects. "How's Library Girl?"

Groaning, I set my elbow on the table, starting to adjust glasses that I wasn't wearing anymore, thanks to Alice. Contacts were fine, but my nervous tick was to adjust them. Now, my hand shot to my hair, raking, gripping, and essentially sending it into disarray – worse than it normally was. Thankfully, it was shorter.

"Have you even talked to her, Edward?"

"N-N-No."

The sinking, gut-punch anxiousness that hit me was almost debilitating.

"Hey, big brother…just…" Alice sighed again. "Why don't you write her? You know that helps you."

Nodding even though she couldn't see me, I groaned. "I know. I just… She's…way out of my league, Ali. Just…"

She laughed. Hard. And at me, for some damn reason. "Oh, good Lord, Edward. You have no idea, do you? You have any fucking idea how many girls were crushing on you your senior year?"

Scowling, I stayed quiet, wondering if I should've kept my crush to myself but knowing full well that Alice could get me to confess just about anything. Prime example was this conversation – the girl in the library who I couldn't help but stare at, wonder about, and essentially drool over. Never mind she had phenomenal taste in books.

"Lauren, Jessica, and Mrs. Cope told me to tell you hello."

"Mrs. Cope?! The school office lady?"

She laughed again. "Crushing hard, that old cougar. Says you have the nicest…manners."

"Aw, stop."

"Edward, you're very handsome, and you're smart and sweet. If Library Girl can't see that, then she's a blind bitch, and you shouldn't even waste your time."

"I don't even know her name, Alice."

"Doesn't matter. Write it down. You'll feel better. It's how you work, big brother."

"'Kay."

"I gotta go. I've got a date."

"With who?!"

"Royce."

"Mary Alice! Seriously? He's an asshole. His dad is an asshole. He works at—"

"He works with Dad. I'm aware, but there's a party, and I wanna go," she stated firmly.

Shaking my head, I packed up my things and threw away my garbage. "Well, text me or call when you get home."

"I will. I promise. Love you," she sang before ending the call.

I huffed a humorless laugh, shouldering my backpack and tucking my phone back into my pocket. I started across the campus of Edgewater College. It was a small school, private, and not as intimidating as some colleges could be – definitely not as big as UW, where Emmett was going – but I still avoided eye contact the whole way to the library. It had been a toss-up between small school and big. While large campuses would allow me to get lost in the masses, the thought of all those people made me nervous. Edgewater was only slightly bigger than my old high school – maybe twice as many students. But it was near the beach, and it was the center of the small, panhandle town of Glenhaven, Florida.

Swan Library was on the east side of the campus, situated beneath the shade of large, old oak trees. The front of the building overlooked a small lake at which I rarely looked. Bodies of water were worse than bodies of people. They made me sick, like sweaty hands, nausea, and shallow breathing.

You should really get over that water shit, son.

I shook my head at the jibe I'd heard more times than I could count. Out of sheer belligerence, I stopped on the sidewalk and faced the small lake. The brownish-green water was dotted with ducks, swans, and tall herons, not to mention tall bright-green cattails with their puffy brown tips that were breaking apart in the breeze. I glared at the water with hatred and fear, both emotions battling for dominance.

"Not that lake. Not that one," I soothed myself, only to give up when the thought of going near it crossed my mind.

The air-conditioning in the library was almost frigid in comparison to the heat outside, so a shiver practically rattled my teeth when I stepped inside the one place that could ease everything. When I was in the library, nothing could hurt me. When I fell through the rabbit hole of a good story, or lost myself to homework and projects, my loneliness and fears and the life I so desperately wanted to leave behind faded away like a puff of smoke, if only for a chapter or two.

My usual table wasn't exactly empty, but at least my end was vacant. I set my stuff down, pulling out my books, forcing myself not to look, but I was a weak idiot and looked anyway.

My heart hurt at the sight of her. Library Girl – as my sister so easily named her. She was just on the other side of another table, her back to the rows of bookshelves as she faced the large open space of the study area. The library wasn't the only place I saw her. She was in my Lit class and my Creative Writing class, as well, but Alice had locked in on the fact that the library was where I had developed this stupid, useless crush on a girl whose name I didn't even know.

I sat down in my chair, giving her another glance as I blindly pulled out my notebook and journal. As usual, she was buried in a book, fingers wrapping a lock of her dark, chocolate hair around and around, tying it in a knot, only to let it fall out to start all over. It was mesmerizing. She was beautiful, with long dark hair, even darker brown eyes, and her eyelashes were insane, especially against creamy skin. She never wore a lot of makeup, but she didn't need it. She dressed casually but never like some of the girls around here and back at home. Some of them showed way too much. No, Library Girl looked like she dressed for comfort, not for show.

The first time I'd ever seen her, she'd been crying, and something about that had bothered me – almost to the point that I forgot my fear and approached her. It wasn't until I realized the tears were caused by the book she was reading that I sat down at the same table. I waited patiently to find out what book it was, if only because I couldn't remember the last time I'd read something that moved me to the point of tears.

"Excuse me," I heard as a shadow fell over me.

I looked up expectantly at a girl in dark glasses I knew from a few of my classes. Amy…no, April… No, that wasn't it, either.

"I'm Angela," she introduced herself. "We're in Physics together."

Nodding stupidly, I whispered, "Edward."

Her smile was accompanied by a blush of her cheeks. "Right, Edward. Um, I was wondering… Do you have the notes from the last class? I was out sick, and…"

My eyebrows shot up, but I nodded nervously, reaching in my backpack for my notes. I flipped to the most recent page and handed them over.

"Thanks," she said, smiling my way but pointing to the other end of the table. "I'll be right here. I'm just going to copy them down really quick."

"Okay," I whispered softly, and she stepped away to reveal Library Girl watching us. For the first time, those expressive dark eyes locked with mine, and she smiled softly, though they broke from me to the other end of the table to look Angela's way, her brow furrowing a little.

My heart pounded in my chest, and I dropped my gaze to my journal. Maybe Alice was right; maybe I did need to write it down first. Writing always helped me to sort out my thoughts, align words together better than my mouth ever could. I could almost hear my little sister's laugh at me, but I put pen to paper, hoping that by the time I was finished, I'd maybe have the bravery to give it to her.

As I wrote, I imagined leaving it in her book or on top of her homework. The thought of handing it to her sounded juvenile and silly, not to mention practically impossible, considering I didn't think I'd be able to form a complete sentence around her.

I glanced up while writing, to see her attention back on her book, so I finished out the letter.

To the girl at the table near the back of the library,

I almost asked you what was wrong the first time I saw you crying. Then I saw the book you were reading and realized that you were crying because of it. And I was interested, because I'd never read anything that moved me that much.

I checked out the book you were reading, and guess what? I cried – just a little – too. That's how it started. Every time I go to the library, you're almost always there, usually with a completely new book. Sometimes you smile, or laugh out loud, or cry again, and when you do, I check out the book you're reading.

That was it, really, until I realized how gorgeous you are. You're not pretty in the normal kind of way, but God, when you smile, it lights up your face in the best way.

I wish you'd notice me, sitting a few tables away from you, reading the book you were reading a few days ago. I wish you'd smile at me. I don't have the guts to talk to you. I'm afraid you won't be anything at all like I imagine.

One of these days, I'll work up the courage and I'll ask you about what you're reading. And maybe you'll smile that gorgeous smile and tell me all about it, and then we'll talk about all the books we've read. But until then, thank you for the book recommendations. I love them.

Love, the boy a few tables away from yours

I sat back, rereading what I'd written, and not a bit of it was untrue. When I glanced up to Library Girl's table, she was now surrounded by a few people. She was smiling and nodding as she packed up her stuff. One of them was a tall, somewhat good-looking guy, his body leaning toward hers, and she didn't back away. Without a glance back, she left the study area with them.

Frowning, I reread my note, slamming the book closed. Who was I fucking kidding? She was pretty in every way. She was so pretty that she could have any guy she wanted, so why on earth would she even look my way again?

I shoved my journal in my bag and pulled my homework closer. I needed to get some of it done before my shift at the coffee shop.

~ooo~AFTA~ooo~

A/N…This is mainly in Edward's POV, but just like Man Behind the Mask, Bella does pop up occasionally.

The Lemonade Stand was nice enough to give AFTA a sneak peek, so if you want to go check that out, there's a teaser for chapter 2 over there, which will go up Wednesday. The link is on my profile.

I'll try to answer questions at the bottom of the chapters, if I can. The posting schedule will be Sundays/Wednesdays, unless I give you fair warning. I need to thank my pre-readers – DrivingEdward, SueBee, inkedupmom, and GooberLou. As always, your help is so very appreciated. A huge thank you to Beffers87 for her banner and manips.

I also need to give some love to JenRar. Jenny's been very sick, and I just want to squeeze her to pieces. I'm glad you're on the mend, even if it seems slow in your eyes. ;) You're not allowed to scare the shit out of me like that ever again!

Okay…until Wednesday… Mooches, Deb ;)