Hi, lovely readers! This is my Fandom For Mental Health Awareness piece. I'm not a big fan of long one-shots in general, and there are some natural breaks in the story, so I'm breaking it up into chapters. I'll post them all pretty quickly, though, if you want to wait until the very end to review. And if you do review, I truly appreciate it!
Huge thanks to Twilly, Sheviking, Sophiacorgi, and Twificlovah (aka Mich Ellis) for all of their help with this.
SM owns all things Twilight. No copyright infringement intended.
Chapter 1 - Naked
The gym is crowded today, but I don't let that deter me.
After adjusting the weight, I situate myself onto the chest press machine. I've already done my stretches and pulled my ponytail tight, ready to give my upper body a good workout.
Building my strength up is more important now than ever.
As I begin pressing, pulling the machine's weights up with focused exhales, I notice a man jogging on a treadmill across the way. White earbud cords trail out of his ears, and he's looking right at me. He shifts his gaze away when he realizes he's been caught, but it's not quite fast enough.
Tilting my head to the side, I keep my eyes on him for a moment as he focuses on a TV mounted on the wall to his left, working too hard to appear nonchalant. The line of his neck is beautiful, and the way he was looking at me made me feel a not-entirely-unpleasant pull in the pit of my stomach. It's something I haven't felt in a long time, and it flusters me. It feels wrong.
His eyebrows lift when his eyes find mine because I'm still looking. Staring, really.
He appears sheepish for a moment, but then his expression shifts, and the tugging sensation in my stomach is back.
I'm used to people looking at me, but not like that. The way he's looking is focused yet soft-smiling, with maybe a spark of attraction. My heart speeds its beat, but I shake my head.
No one's looked at me like that in years.
When he stops his treadmill and wipes it down, I go back to my chest presses, convincing myself I imagined the whole thing. It's not that I'm unattractive necessarily, but just… no.
All the little hairs on my arms stand up when he begins walking toward me. I can tell in my periphery that he's looking at me again.
And then… he stops right beside me.
My eyes are wide as I swing them up to his extremely handsome face, all angular lines and just the right amount of stubble.
"Hi," he says with a beautiful smile full of pearly white teeth.
He chuckles and runs a hand through his damp hair, showing off an impressive bicep under the sleeve of his blue t-shirt. "I'm sorry to bother you. I just wanted to say hello and see how you're doing."
"How I'm… doing? Is that a joke?"
His gaze darts to the empty wheelchair beside me. "No. I didn't mean…" He swallows and glances to his left before leveling me with eyes that glitter like emeralds. Jeez, he didn't have enough going for him already? "I'm Edward," he says, thrusting a big hand toward me.
It's warm and a little damp when I shake it, and I'm completely bewildered by this awkward conversation.
If it can be called that.
"Bella," I tell him. He doesn't release my hand right away, and I realize I'm still holding on tight, so I loosen my grip enough to communicate that it's time to let go.
"Right. Bella." His disarming smile makes another appearance.
"Do you have veneers?" is my intelligent reply, having been dazzled and apparently rendered stupid by his row of shiny teeth.
A sweet laugh tumbles out of him. "No. Just good genes, I guess."
"No shit," I mutter.
"Look, I'm sorry. I don't mean to bother you. It's just… Would you, uh…" Edward palms the back of his neck and looks at his shoes with another soft laugh.
Wide, alarmed eyes find mine again. "What? No. No, I'm just a little nervous," he says with a small frown that looks all wrong on his face.
What could this Grecian sculpture ever have to be nervous about?
A corner of his mouth tilts up, and those damn eyes actually sparkle at me. What the fuck?
"I always get kind of nervous when I ask a beautiful woman out."
Several things happen in quick succession. A hot flush rushes over me, my mouth hangs open like a freaking sex doll, I blink and blink and blink at him, and then I turn my head away completely because I know I look like a moron, but… What the actual fuck did he just say?
My mind processes the shock and then moves on to suspicion as I notice several pairs of eyes watching our exchange, and I turn back to find him still standing there, hands stuffed into the pockets of his track pants.
"So, would you lik—"
"Did someone put you up to this?" I ask, cutting him off. "Go ask the crippled chick out? Because it's not fucking funny. I don't deserve to be 'played' or whatever the hell it is you're doing."
I'm shaking, and I want to cry, but I won't. Not in front of him, because I'm sure it's exactly what he wants to see.
Edward shocks me by falling to his knees beside my machine. "No, Bella. What? I'm…" He rakes a hand through his hair again. "Do you really not recognize me? At all?"
"I'll take that as a no," he replies softly.
"Why would I recognize you? Are you a friend of Peter's?"
"No," he says with a shake of his head. "I was there, um… at your house? I was one of the first responders when you, uh..."
My face goes nuclear, and I drop it into my hands. "Oh, God," I squeak. "You've seen me naked?"
Thank you so much for reading! xo