Disclaimer : Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all its characters. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note : This was inspired by a true story that I heard on BBC Radio 4 over a year ago. I had no intentions of ever writing fanfiction at that time...
I met him in a second hand bookstore.
He was sitting cross legged on the floor, with a book in his hand and several more scattered around him. I grabbed a random book off the nearest shelf and, in an attempt to hide my curiosity, held it open in front of me as I studied him.
He was lean, perhaps a little too much so, dressed in faded jeans and a T-shirt that was probably white once upon a time. When it wasn't turning pages, his free hand kept finding its way into his reddish-brown hair, pulling it in all directions.
Quietly swapping books to keep up my pretence, I looked more closely at his face. His skin was pale and smooth and his strong jawline was enhanced by stubble that was maybe a couple of days old. His features were perfect - a straight nose, long, dark eyelashes and full lips.
I was captivated and, apparently, unable to keep quiet.
"What are you reading?" I asked, wincing at the volume of my voice.
He tilted the book to display the front cover and the title "Edible Wild Plants."
I was all too familiar with a similarly titled book that my mother had bought years ago. She had insisted on doing her bit while my father was out river fishing with his friend Harry. As with most of her interests, it was a thankfully short-lived phase.
"I like to hunt for my food," he said suddenly, looking up at me.
I was temporarily stunned by his gaze; his eyes were such an unusual shade of green.
"It's good to know what's safe to eat and what isn't," he clarified.
"Do you really find that kind of thing appetising?" I shuddered, remembering my mother's disastrous efforts with nettles.
"It's okay, if you're hungry enough."
"Are you hungry now?" He must be, I thought, if he's living off foraged food. Then a repugnant image flashed through my mind of him scraping dead animals off the road. Does he eat roadkill too?
"Surely, you aren't concerned about my diet?"
"Well, you do look kind of thin," I said without thinking. "Would you like to go out for dinner? My treat."
He frowned for a moment, probably weighing the pros and cons of accepting a free meal from a stranger, then his face relaxed into a smile.
"That would be nice. Now?"
"If you like. I'm on my way home from work and I haven't eaten yet."
He gathered together the books on the floor and stood up. Immediately, I became aware of our height difference and took a step back to look at him without craning my neck.
He turned around and set about putting every single book back on the top shelf. I took the opportunity to discreetly study his rear before he turned back, smirking.
"Are you going to buy that," he asked, raising an eyebrow and pointing to the book in my hands.
Having no idea what I was holding, I looked down and closed the book to see the title "Never Eat Alone" in bold, black letters.
"You seem to be doing alright on your own," he said, laughing.
Feeling the heat rising in my cheeks, I hurriedly returned the volume to its place on the shelf.
"My name is Edward Cullen," he said, reaching out his hand.
"I'm Bella." I put my hand in his, smiling. "Bella Swan."
He gently pulled me toward the desk at the front of the store. The sales girl passed him a duffle bag and a well worn leather jacket from the back of her chair. With a flirtatious gleam in her eye, she said, "See you again tomorrow, Edward."
Fifteen minutes later, we were sat in a booth in a small Italian restaurant down the street, each awaiting an order of spinach and mushroom lasagne.
On entering the restaurant, Edward had quickly informed me that he was a vegetarian. I was relieved to know that, if he were ever to invite me to his place for dinner, roadkill would not be on the menu.
We sat quietly until our food arrived then I tried to restart our conversation.
"You have a lovely voice. Um, I mean, um, accent. Shit, sorry."
I put my hands over my face to cover my embarrassment and watched through my fingers as he pursed his lips, no doubt trying to stifle another laugh at my expense.
I tried again. "Where are you from?"
"It's complicated," he said, smiling.
"I think I can keep up."
"I was born in Chicago, but I grew up in London."
"Oh, so you're not British then?" I frowned, still a little confused.
"I'm a dual citizen," he explained. "My father is British. He was studying in Chicago when he met and married my mother. He was offered a job back home in London before I turned two and so we moved."
"Do you live here now?"
"Yes. I followed in my father's footsteps and came here to study, but I chose to stay."
"So, are you a regular at the bookstore?" I asked.
"I go there most evenings, yes."
"You must buy a lot of books."
"Not really, no."
"Do you buy any?" I said, teasing him.
"But not today."
"No, not today."
"Then why go every -?"
"You're not going to let it go, are you?" he snapped.
I pressed my lips firmly together and stared at him for a moment, wondering what he could possibly be trying to hide.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I go to the bookstore, because it's cosy and warm."
"Oh." I looked down at my plate, then across at his. He'd barely touched his food, just moved it around the plate a little. I'd invited him out to eat, then made him uncomfortable with my incessant questioning and now I felt awful.
The silence was becoming awkward. He reached a hand across the table and touched his fingertips to mine.
"Would you tell me about yourself?" he said. "What do you do?"
I took a deep breath. I didn't really want to talk about my life, but maybe if I did, it would at least give him a chance to eat his food.
"I'd always dreamed of becoming a writer," I said, the cynicism building in my tone, "but internal communications wasn't quite the type of writing I had in mind, when I was studying for my degree."
His eyes were fixed on me as he chewed his food. He waved his fork for me to continue.
"So, I had this bizarre, idealistic notion that I could work during the day to pay the bills and write short stories or something in the evening, maybe even send them to magazines and get them published. But in reality, any creativity I have is drained out of me each day at work, writing boring newsletters and memos or softening the blow of yet another reorganisation to an ever decreasing workforce."
"Ah," he said, "I know all about having one's creativity sapped."
"Sometimes I feel like I've been following some prescribed template for life - school, college, work, apartment, car - and now I'm caught up in an eternal loop that I can't escape."
"You said you were on your way home. Do you live in town?"
"I live above a bakery on the west side."
I waited for him to reciprocate and tell me where he lived, but instead he finished chewing his last mouthful and asked, "Volturi's Bakery on Parkside?"
"Yes, that's the one." I bit my lip, very aware that I'd just told a stranger exactly where I lived. My police chief father would be so proud.
We ordered some coffee, but he turned down my offer of dessert. I was beginning to feel that he might just want to get away.
My car was parked back near the bookstore and Edward offered to walk me there.
"Can I offer you a lift home?" I asked.
"No, thank you. I can walk. It isn't far."
"Come on, Edward, it's cold. Please let me drive you home."
He looked at his feet, mumbling something to himself, then walked around to the passenger door and got in. I took my seat behind the wheel and turned to him.
"Where do you live?"
"Near the fitness centre."
I was pretty certain there weren't any residential buildings in that part of town, but drove to the fitness centre anyway. I pulled in at the entrance to the parking lot and waited for him to give me further directions.
He was clenching and flexing his hands in his lap, his eyes fixed straight ahead. I reached out and touched his arm.
"Where do you live, Edward?"
He took a deep breath, exhaling as he turned to face me.
"I live in my car." His voice was barely above a whisper. "It's parked in the fitness centre parking lot."
My mind was reeling. His car? Was he homeless? What the hell should I say to that? I really didn't want to hurt his feelings and that admission obviously didn't come easily for him.
He was watching my face intently for a reaction. I was shocked, of course, but I tried hard to keep my face neutral. My mouth, however, said the silliest of things.
"What colour is your car?"
He blinked at me a few times, looking slightly relieved.
"It's silver. I have a silver Volvo."
His eyes were focussed on my mouth as he leaned toward me a little. I took a deep breath in through my nose and just couldn't keep from embarrassing myself yet again.
"You smell really good. How do you manage to stay so clean?"
His lips twitched at the corners for a moment, as if he was trying to suppress a smile, then he pulled back, serious again, looking down at his hands.
"I use the facilities in the fitness centre. I wash every day, but I don't always have time to shave," he said, rubbing his jaw.
His eyes met mine again, his expression nervous but hopeful. He moved swiftly, leaning across the console to plant a kiss on the corner of my mouth before opening the car door.
"You smell really good too, Bella," he said, climbing out of the car. "Thank you - for everything."
I watched him disappear into the darkness of the fitness centre parking lot. I had learned so little about him, but one thing I was sure of. I'd never felt this drawn to a man in my life.