The Last Bookstore

Happy Halloween! It's time, it's time! Time for some little Halloween truffles, a few two-fers.

All credit for characters and setting to the amazing Stephenie Meyer, of course. She creates, I play.

Chapter 3 – The Ride Home

Since I'm really late in updating, here is a quick summary: The story starts in Los Angeles, on October 24th. Bella is in town to visit USC. While she's there, she checks out a bookstore, the Last Bookstore, and notices a signing for what she believes to be a hot new YA book, Life and Death. As she browses the stacks, she notices an amazing scent, a man's aftershave. She also picks it up on the train and in the airport. When she goes back to Forks, she feels like she's being followed. Here's the last few lines of the previous chapter, set in the Forks High School lunchroom.

"Plenty of people in here, Bella," Lauren said. "What, no one's laugh in this room good enough? Need some California laughter?"

Jessica snickered.

It was going to be a long school year.

After lunch, Angela walked Bella to her next class. "Are you OK?" Angela asked. "You look a little jet-lagged."

"Yeah, a bit. I'll be fine," Bella replied, pushing her hair out of her face. "The thing I really noticed, though, was this hot new cologne or aftershave." And I'm craving it.

"Who was wearing it?" Angela asked. "Was he good-looking?"

"Funny thing, I never saw his face," Bella replied, "though he was close a few times."

Angela looked puzzled.

You have no idea what puzzled is. "I first smelled it in the bookstore," Bella continued, "and then I also picked it up on the train."

"Oh, so he could have left around the store around the same time you did, right?"

"Probably," Bella replied. "Though it may just be the new hot cologne, and everybody bought it for their boyfriend. It's like, addictive."

"That would be a good name for a cologne, Addictive," Angela replied. "I can see the ads now, right?" She stretched her neck back, eyes closed. "The model could be in a breeze, posing in front of a sunset. Hot guy nearby."

They both laughed. "See you after school," Angela called over her shoulder.

"After school?"

"Yeah, you're coming over," Angela said, "Right?"

"Uh, sure."

"The social studies project," Angela prompted.

"Right," Bella said. "Sorry, I forgot. Thanks for reminding me." How will I ever find the energy for this?

The school day dragged. Mr. Banner called on Bella in Biology and she didn't know the answer. Humiliating. She had this feeling she was being watched. She looked outside. Nothing but the same drab buildings and field out there. She had to get out, out of this school, out of this rain, out of this town.

Her heart felt like it was going to burst. So restless she could scream. She tapped her foot, tapped her pencil, twisted in her chair.

After school, she went to Angela's house to work on their project for social studies. Angela was quiet but upbeat. Mrs. Weber brought them some cookies she had made but Bella had no appetite. They made good progress on their project and Bella made it home in time for dinner.

That night, she excused herself from the table without eating, saying she had a sandwich at the Weber's, and went upstairs early. She took a bath, hoping to relax. It didn't work, and she felt guilty, thinking Charlie might want to come in. She hated sharing a bathroom.

If anything, this second night was worse. She tossed and turned in her bed, listening to the wind. She watched the shadows playing across the ceiling again. At one point, she thought about making shadow puppets with her hands. She got up and went to the window. Something was out there. Someone. A yearning so strong it felt it could hold her up like the wind. She wanted to climb through the window and dive into it.

The next few days brought more of the same. She dragged herself through school, going to the library to avoid having to talk at lunch, and finally back home.

By October 30th, Charlie was concerned. When she looked in the mirror, her face looked drawn and there were deep shadows under her eyes. "I look haunted," she thought.

She dragged through school in a daze.

The only thought that kept her going was the thought of driving to Port Angels and then Seattle, if necessary, on the weekend to search for that aftershave. Surely Dillards in Port Angeles would have a men's cosmetic counter. Was that what they called it? A place where they sold high-end aftershave and stuff? Gads, she knew nothing! She thought about asking Renee but couldn't stand the thought of all the questions that would raise. She was just too tired for the level of interrogation she would get from her mother if she even asked.

Bella drove home from school with the window down, despite the October chill. The wind picked up and suddenly she smelled the scent again. She nearly crashed her truck into the ditch on the side of the road. She tore the door opened, and someone driving by by narrowly missed taking the door off. The angry motorist honked and gave her a friendly wave with a single finger.

"Sorry," she muttered. She stood still on the side of the road, eyes closed, sniffing the breeze. Had she dreamed it?

Bella walked back along the road. No further hint of the intoxicating scent came over the breeze. Just cars passing, occasionally splashing her from a puddle.

Slowly she went back to her car. Maybe she had imagined it. She looked up and down the 101, like she would be able to tell by looking at someone whether they were wearing a cologne. I'm losing it.

No, someone in that town was wearing that cologne. She hadn't imagined it.

She went home, put on some pasta for Charlie, barely able to sit still during dinner. Finally she told Charlie she was going back out. He raised an eyebrow, so she added that she would be seeing Angela. That was enough for him.

"Have a good time," Charlie called after her.

"Bye," she said. "Back by 9:00."

She went to the restaurants first. Forks Coffee Shop, the awful Chinese place, and then the Mexican place. She worked her way down to the bowling alley. She finally walked over to the bar but didn't go in. She wasn't old enough, and the bouncer eyed her curiously, knowing it. Bella just stood outside, letting the stale air from inside flow over her. After taking a deep whiff of the beer-stained air that seeped out with the sound of laughter and not finding what she sought, she left.

She circled every place she could think where men might congregate. Most had a stale sweaty smell, occasionally mixed with a beer overlay. Not what she was after.

October 31st

Halloween. This morning was the worst so far. Another sleepless night. Bella had drifted off a few times but always woke up. She'd given up on any pretense of putting on pajamas, or in her case, holey t-shirt and sweats.

Bella looked in the mirror and realized she didn't need make-up to have a costume. The shadows on her gaunt face and purple bags under her eyes made her look like she was half dead or maybe a vampire, but she didn't care. She was just too tired to give a crap about her appearance. She hurt all over and her jeans were so loose she had to put on a belt. When had she eaten last? There had been that apple the day before at lunch and the bite of pasta she had eaten to keep Charlie's eyes off her plate.

She'd grab a handful of Halloween candy. That would get her through the day.

"Bella, are you sure you're OK?" Charlie asked at breakfast, watching her stir her bowl of cereal listlessly.

"Yeah, just a lot on my mind," she replied, feeling guilty. Of what? Why?

"Something you want to talk about?" Charlie asked. "I'm here if you need me."

"Thanks, but it's OK."

She made it through the school day, eating a Snickers mid-morning, a Milky Way for lunch, and ending the day with M&M's. Not the most nutritious diet, but there had been some nuts in there, she was sure.

That night, Charlie called the house at 5:00. There had been some Halloween mischief that was keeping him at the station, writing up reports, and she shouldn't wait for him for dinner. That was fine with her. She left the steaks she was marinating for dinner in the fridge and slipped out of the house.

The wind was up. She pulled up her hoodie, slightly disoriented from fatigue.

As she walked in the growing twilight, she smelled the cologne again. This time, close and intense. She almost cried. It was like heroin. She needed it.

The kids were running up and down the street, parting around her like she was a stone in the middle of their eddy. She was surrounded by pirates, vampires, baseball players, and princesses. They were all excited and happy, carrying their loot bags. And who was she to say anything? After all, wasn't she out on the street looking for her own kind of treat? An olfactory one, not candy.

Who had been wearing it? All the parents out here. She would just ask one of the fathers out with the kids. Or a mom. That would probably be safer.

When the sidewalk ended, she walked along the side of the road. Cars sloshed her with water as they passed, but she kept going. In the growing darkness she passed the car wash, the pizza place, and the combination grocery store/sporting goods store, the biggest business in town. Now she was at the race track, and beyond that stood the forest on the edge of town. It never took long to hit the forest around Forks. The huge trees grew inside of town. She wondered how long it would take the trees to reclaim their land, if all the humans packed up and left one day.

She shivered, despite having walked so far. Was what she wanted unreasonable? Someone in that town had that cologne on, and she wanted to just ask him the name of it. She wondered if it would smell as good from a bottle. Who would she get to wear it? Charlie?

No. Not Charlie. She pursed her lips and blew. Not Charlie. Maybe she would date someone just to get them to wear it. The thought of Mike wearing that cologne wasn't working. Mike was too…bland. Maybe whoever was wearing it would be…interesting. She felt a tingle run down her spine.

For once, she was glad Forks was such a small town. There wouldn't be too many places to search, only a few bars and a bowling alley.

She went to the bar first this time. The same bouncer was at the door. He looked so familiar to her. Why couldn't she remember his name? He smiled, but stood in the door with his arms folded across his chest. She knew she wouldn't be let in.

"Do something for you, Miss Swan?" he asked politely.

"Just looking for someone," she said. "Is my dad here?"

"No, I would have remembered," the bouncer said. Hearing his voice, she remembered him. His name was Ed. He'd been three years ahead of her in school, and played on the baseball team. Everyone knew everyone in this town.

"Thanks," she said.

"Something wrong?" he asked, pulling out his cell phone. "Do you want me to call him for you?"

A decent guy after all. "No, thanks."

Bella walked on without any clear sense of where to go anymore, hands shoved into the pockets of her hoodie, restless. The scent was gone. It had been just been a whiff, but it was enough to drive her insane.

A light rain started to fall. She knew that meant she wouldn't be able to find it. Her eyes teared up with frustration. She didn't feel strong enough to walk back home. She stood still and slumped over, huggng her arms to her chest. Surely it wasn't too far to walk back home, but she wasn't sure she had the strength. She was so cold and wet, so lost inside.

Behind her, she heard the crunch of car tires on gravel. A car stopped and a door slammed. She didn't have the energy to look.

She felt arms around her. Hard arms, she thought vaguely, but suddenly she didn't care. Because whoever it was, he was wearing that scent. She turned and buried her head in his chest, inhaling deeply, feeling her body come alive. She would apologize later.

"I'm so sorry," an angelic voice said.

Someone was apologizing to her?

She tilted her head back. It was raining, but she could see the features of a strongly handsome face, framed with blond hair above her, looking down. Weird eyes, though. What color were they? They looked topaz in the light of the passing cars. Of course, on him, they looked perfect.

Oh, wait. The angelic voice was talking. Eventually the words resolved from sounds to sense.

"I'm sorry," the angel was saying. "I tried to stay away. I never wanted this for you."

Why was he saying sorry? She was the one being inappropriate, sniffing his chest. It didn't seem to bother him thought, and Bella felt herself being led somewhere. She didn't care where. She just followed because just being close to him made her fill complete.

She was eased into a car. She took a closer look at this stranger who felt familiar. In the light, he looked even better, more blond, even more handsome in the light of the car. His cheekbones were hollow, sculpted, the skin taut across his face.

"Sorry," she blurted out. "I really am."

"I didn't know," he was saying. "I was trying to keep my distance, but I couldn't…"

"Were you just in Los Angeles?" she asked.

"Yes, I was."

"In a bookstore?" she asked.

"Guilty," he said softly, touching the back of her hand.

"So this was all about Life and Death, then after all," she mused.

"You could say that," he said.

"You were there for the book?" Bella asked.

"Book?"

"Never mind," she said. "What is that aftershave?"

"It's just me, my lovely mate. Just me," he replied.

He stretched out his arm and put it around her shoulder. She leaned into it, across the front seat. As he started the motor, she closed her eyes and pressed herself more closely into his arm and shoulder, exploring it with her face and nose. She felt a vibration and heard a low sound. Was that—a purr?

She wasn't watching where they were going. Her search was over. She sensed that her life was about to begin.

Just one small detail, not that it mattered. "What's your name?" Bella asked.

"My name is Jasper, Jasper Whitlock, ma'am, at your service…"

THE END

Wow! Sorry for the delay! Was just checking my account and realized I didn't post this final chapter.

And soon it's going to be October again. Well, not soon enough for me, but then it never is.

Leave me a review if you get a chance. They're like finding that last snack-sized piece of your favorite candy bar in bottom of the bowl, when you think the kids took everything good…