This is my entry in the Falling Into Autumn Contest.
I'm overwhelmed and honored to have won the following:
Judges Vote – First Place
Public Vote – Third Place.
Judges Pick - Bratty-Vamp
Judges Pick - MagTwi78
Thanks to all those involved the contest for all the time and hardwork they put into it and thank you to the other contestants.
I have decided to continue this story into a multi-chapter fic, I hope you enjoy it.
A/N: I don't own Twilight or its characters; they belong to Stephanie Meyer. This is just what they got up to in my mind. I do not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
The song I was crazy about when writing this was Who I Am by Shannon Noll. I imagine it being played on stage at the festival!
This was it. My big break. I'd done more than my fair share of coffee runs, early morning starts and late night stays. Now, today, I was finally being let loose on the good folks of Washington to write my first solo report for the originally named Forks Reporter.
Ok, so it wasn't the front-page news event I'd dreamt of when I was a seven-year-old interviewing dolls in my tree house, but it was a start.
I'd spent far too much of the previous day planning my outfit for today. I certainly didn't want to look too casual for my first day solo in the field, but knowing I'd be spending most of it outside meant I had to dress for the weather and this fall was pretty vicious.
The richly colored leaves had been helped from their branches by the unwelcome wind that had whipped around our little town for the past week or so, indiscriminately ripping tiles from roofs and sending wobbly mail boxes crashing to the ground. That, however, was a different story, for a different reporter because my first solo job was full coverage of Forks' 35th annual Fall Festival.
When Alec announced my assignment at last week's team meeting I'd played it cool (I hoped) and pretended I wasn't excited but I remembered about ten of those thirty-five festivals from my own childhood.
From about the ages of six to sixteen I'd visited them with my dad, eating so much cotton candy I'd feel sick. We'd stand and watch at the toffee apple stall, inhaling the sickly sweet smell as the old man in charge expertly coated the apples in just the right amount of toffee to make your teeth stick together when you took your first delicious bite. Now, my keen reporter's eye had noticed the last time I visited, there was a newer, modern stall, run by a teenager who looked very inconvenienced by his customers. The toffee apples were all coated in chocolate, or sprinkles, or nuts, or worse, all three. I don't know why because the whole point of a toffee apple was the toffee but I guess, while that little fact annoyed me, it wasn't exactly front page news. And my job was to find the front page news.
My pursuit of such news had led me to the Fall Festival on a crisp and thankfully dry Saturday. Working on a Saturday wasn't at the top of my list of fun weekend activities but I knew I had to work my way up the pecking order. Mike Newton, the boss's son, sure as hell wasn't out covering a town festival in these windy conditions and Tyler Crawley positively beamed when he heard I had the assignment this year. Apparently last year he'd upset too many of the kids, and parents too, when he tripped and fell on several of the best carved pumpkin entries, squashing them to a pulp minutes before the judging started.
I consoled myself with the knowledge that I was unlikely to do a worse job than he had. However, I knew that while I was determined to do a better job than Tyler, he wasn't my main competition. Edward Cullen, reporter extraordinaire, would apparently be gracing the festival with his presence today. He was reporting for the Clallam County Chronicles, the bigger county paper and the only other one for miles around.
I knew more about Edward's reputation than I knew about the man himself. He was a few years ahead of me in school so we were close enough in age to overlap at Forks High, but not to socialize. Not that that stopped some of the girls in my class from trying. The rolled up skirts and extra layer of lipstick never did work though. It appeared the only way to get noticed by Edward Cullen was to have your dad arrest him for something it was later found out he didn't do. That was a great way for him to know exactly who you were in the corridors of Forks High.
And to have him hate you for it.
I sighed at the memory of the way his piercing green eyes always cut right through me, making me shrink into the lockers of the high school hallway whenever he strode past with his gaggle of girls.
I was unsure why he was even reporting at the festival, I'd have thought it was beneath him but I'd heard around town that he'd volunteered this year. Knowing his reputation it was probably so a colleague could visit a sick grandparent or attend a child's birthday. Edward was the town's sweetheart, he was the victim, a hero who could do no wrong, but for the above reason, he and I had never hit it off. Maybe because every other female in town tried to hit it off with him.
I followed the painted wooden signs to the parking lot, knowing the overnight rain would make parking in Mr. Cope's field almost impossible. Large tire tracks were now embedded in the wet sludgy mud which my car wheels slid into despite my best efforts to avoid them and find my own path. I slowed to a crawl until I found a spot and managed to maneuver Maggie, my beloved 1969 blue barracuda, into the relatively small spot between a Volvo and a station wagon.
Fortunately for me Grace was not my middle name because the irony of that would have been newsworthy. I was notoriously unbalanced and ungraceful so I made a conscious effort to exit my car carefully. Unfortunately I was so busy watching my footing in the sludgy mud I didn't look where I was walking. That's probably the reason I walked head first into someone, making me stumble back with an 'oomph' as my feet slid around, desperate for purchase but only finding wet mud.
My arms were full of everything I thought I needed for the day. I didn't want to forget anything for my first solo job so I'd brought enough notebooks to copy out War and Peace on, plenty of pens, including my favorite pen which was decorated in nerdy glasses. In my other hand were several recording devices, (I didn't want one of them jamming on me right as the leaf-wreath winner was announced) as well as spare batteries. I knew I could use my iPhone, but I had visions of being a proper reporter, pulling out my cassette recorder, shoving it under some unsuspecting soul's nose and asking a ton of often boring and sometimes inappropriate questions.
Hanging off my arm by a wrist strap was my trusty camera. Complete with the deluxe, oversized flash attachment. The newspaper's budget wasn't big enough for a reporter and a photographer and my phone didn't cut it for photos that needed to be printed, so this was my best bet.
I'd also packed myself a lunch along with two bottles of water, because I always get cranky, really cranky if I get dehydrated, and today was no time to be cranky.
Carrying all this kit around with me meant my hands were too full to catch my balance. I'd just convinced myself that I was about to land, ass first, into the muddy slop I was trying to walk on, when a pair of hands gripped my upper arms and steadied me.
I saw his strong, sturdy, remarkably clean, workman type boots first. How were this guy's boots not covered in mud? Growing up, my mum always said I attracted mud and trouble but I hadn't thought she meant it literally...until now.
My astonishment at his clean boots was only eclipsed by my astonishment at him. My eyes, rather unintentionally, followed his body northwards, over his loose-but-hugging-all-the-right-parts-of-him-jeans to his silver belt buckle. I gulped and continued my visual assault, over his red check shirt, which was open to reveal a tight, plain white, V-necked tee. A few chest hairs poked out the top of the tee, making my eyes pause before they carried on over his Adam's apple to the stubble on his jaw. It wasn't until my eyes finally met his that I shook my head and finally found my footing.
I couldn't believe this was happening. Of all the guys in Forks, it was him. Of course it was him.
"Well, well, well. We meet again, Miss Swan." His voice was smooth and annoyingly chipper as he stared at my credentials badge. I made a mental note to move that badge away from my breasts as I now felt like he was staring right at them. I can't say I minded too much, but if creepy Mr. Clearwater from the local organic fruit stall was here, as I assumed he would be, it would be a different story.
Edward slowly released my arms, his hands hovering near my shoulders for a second to check I had regained my balance before he crossed them over his chest in an annoyingly manly stance.
"Errr, hi? Hi." I greeted him, changing my unsure question into a statement as his smile turned from amusement to surprise.
I shook my head. I was a full-fledged reporter now; I'd completed the Sexual Harassment in the Workplace training and everything. I was a proper adult with a job that would be the start of my career. I wasn't going to let this golden boy disarm me. I was a member of the United States Honor Society for Journalism Students, and an award-attending reporter. Granted that wasn't the best byline, but I was confident I would one day be an award-winning reporter, like Mr. Smug Pants in front of me. I briefly wondered if he should be smug about what was in his pants but I shook that thought from my mind. Yes I did. I did. Kind of.
I cleared my throat and held my head up high. "Edward, how nice to see you here."
"You too. You look very...prepared." His smirk of amusement was back as he eyed the items I was holding.
"Yes, well, I'm sure you were a Boy Scout. Always be prepared and all that."
"Bella, I am always prepared," he announced, with such mock seriousness I was sure he was talking about being prepared for something other than reporting on Forks' largest carrot.
"Oh. That's, err, that's good to know," I mumbled, glancing at the pen and pencil tucked neatly into his shirt pocket and the slightly curling spiral-bound notebook protruding from the back pocket of his jeans. "Hmmm." Yep. Now I definitely knew I was rather over prepared.
Edward, however, looked highly amused at my collection of recorders and stationery. Thankfully he managed to keep his comments about 'old relics', 'museum pieces' and 'Starsky and Hutch era' to a minimum as I decided to offload some of my haul while I was still close enough to Maggie.
In an amazing effort of coordination and balance I managed to make it back to my car and leave most of the items in the trunk. Having spotted Mrs. Banner's soup kitchen's truck in the parking lot, I also dumped my lunch in favor of hot, wholesome food rather than sandwiches. I then applied some lip balm before leaving that in the truck, too. For moisturizing purposes only, of course. Not to smell nice or attract anyone in particular. No, just because it was windy. Yes, it was very windy today.
With a smaller bag consisting of the bare essentials I took a deep breath and turned to face the muddy slop I'd have to negotiate again.
To my surprise Edward was standing where I'd left him, waiting for me. I wished he wasn't, I must have looked like a baby giraffe taking its first steps as I tried to navigate the muddy swamp people in this town called a parking lot. When I hobbled close enough to him he offered me his arm. I looked up at him with a scowl, muttering quietly about not being an invalid but I took his arm anyway when he told me not to be so stubborn. His resulting grin was quite cute, but I didn't want him to know that. We were working for rival newspapers; I could not find him cute. Or hot. Or sexy. Nope. Good job I didn't think any of those things. At all.
I shook my head and cleared my mind of cute, hot, sexy men. This industry had become competitive enough in recent years with the rise of online publications and the varying ways the public now consumed the news. I couldn't mingle with the competition.
Even when the competition was cute.
Especially when the competition was cute.
Once we reached the relative safety of the much dryer main field, I released Edward's arm and looked down at myself, straightening my top and my credentials badge as we joined the short line at the entrance.
I took in the large flatbed truck which signaled the entrance to the festival. It housed two rows of pumpkins. Each had a letter carved into it, spelling out Fall Festival. A string of fairy lights hung above each row, waiting for dusk to fall before lighting up the pumpkins.
When I turned back to Edward, it was my turn to look at him smugly because his eyes were watching me and my inappropriately placed badge. When he finally drew his eyes upwards to meet my face, I raised my eyebrows at his unprofessional manner. He cleared his throat and when he spoke he sounded more than a little apologetic.
"Wanna do this together?"
I looked at him blankly, looking more like a goldfish than a giraffe now as he smirked rather irritatingly before clarifying his words.
"The festival. We're both going to need to talk to the same people. The organizers, the competition winners, the sore losers, the poor sod who breaks a leg in that parking lot. Which judging by earlier, might be you!"
I scowled at him, looking very unimpressed at his joke.
He laughed. "No, seriously, we could stick together and get this over and done with?"
"Over and done with? Are you in a rush? Somewhere to be tonight?"
Of course he must have a hot date tonight, just look at him! His rough but still perfect hair, his stubbled, angled jaw, his piercing eyes and tall frame which seemed to repel any dirt (sending it in my direction, I think) and glide along as if he was out for a morning stroll, not here for a serious journalistic report.
Women smiled in his direction. Old ladies waved fondly at him and men hi-fived him like he was still the town's biggest soccer hero. I think I'd heard through the grapevine that he now coached the town's team and still held the record for the all-time top goal scorer at Forks High but still, high fives between men after college age should be banned. Even for town heroes.
But having noticed how he was seemingly adored by the whole town I couldn't deny it could prove useful to stick close to him all afternoon. Really close to him. For the article, of course.
"Yeah, I have plans tonight, so...shall we…" he gestured for me to lead the way, not a good idea in my experience; I was likely to trip up again and end up covered in more mud than I had already attracted.
"Sure," I answered, sounding less than sure even to my own ears.
We then queued in a slightly awkward silence while more visitors sent smiles and high-fives in Edward's direction until we thankfully reached the front of the line. Edward, whose credentials badge was on a fancy lanyard, (I should get myself one of those), flashed his card, sadly just his card, and was waved through by a fake-eyelash fluttering, false-nail wearing woman who seemed not to notice me until Edward had passed her. She then looked suspiciously at my credentials badge, still stuck over my left boob, for so long that I was beginning to think I had nothing to worry about with her hitting on Edward because my boob was so fascinating to her.
When she finally gave me a smile and waved me through Edward seemed amused by the whole episode. I soon wiped the grin from his face and made him frown slightly in mock displeasure when I unpinned my badge and pinned it more appropriately to my top.
A poor soul dressed as a scarecrow, complete with straw sticking out of his hat and shirt-sleeves handed us a program of events. Edward and I flicked through it, noting the times of the competitions and the various events that were taking place.
Apple bobbing was first, but that didn't start for half an hour so we decided to head to the tent where the fruits and vegetables would be laid out for judging.
Edward's head knocked the hessian banner which was strung across the entrance to the marquee as we entered. The pungent aroma of spices and apple cider hit me, filling my nose with smells and my mind with memories.
I looked round for the stall responsible but Edward grabbed my upper arm and pulled me towards the vegetable table.
"We're here for work, Swan. You can get drunk on your own watch."
"Hey!" I should have been offended by his words but when I looked at him, I could tell he was trying to rile me up and my stubborn side didn't want to give him the satisfaction of winning.
"I might need a stiff drink if I'm going to spend the afternoon with you," I muttered as he chuckled but continued to steer me away from the sweet smelling cider towards a table of weird, wonderful and oversized vegetables.
"So many jokes, so little time," I remarked as Edward turned away from the table to look at me.
"Keep your perverted thoughts to yourself, Swan."
"You mean that cucumber doesn't look like…"
"I don't know who you've been dating but no. I see nothing out of the ordinary about that vegetable."
"Hmm. Sure." I raised my eyebrows at him and could tell he was suppressing a smile.
"Come on…" I continued, looking back to the table "...look at that potato it looks like Mr. Wolf who taught biology…"
"Oh yeah, you're right!" Edward interrupted with a laugh, making me question my conviction that he hated me. He'd been remarkably friendly which was confusing and throwing me off my game. I didn't have much game (unlike Edward) so I needed all the game I could muster.
Huh! That was it. Edward (the game stealer) was being overly friendly. He was pretending to like me to disarm me and get the best interviews and information. Sneaky. But not sneaky enough, I'm a reporter remember, trained to read between the lines and get the real story.
Now that I'd figured out Edward's game-stealing agenda I'd play along, pretending he was charming wasn't exactly difficult, but I was onto him, metaphorically of course.
Sadly only metaphorically.
While I was busy busting Edward's master plan, he had wandered ahead to the table of autumnal flowers and leaves arranged in various vases, watering-cans and even a mini wheelbarrow. All displayed a rich pallet of reds, oranges and yellows and most housed buckeyes, acorns and pinecones to help with the arrangement.
Edward turned to me, speaking as he walked backwards, cocky bastard.
"Wanna place bets? I've been doing this for so many years I can name the top three right now."
Told you he was cocky.
"You've got a really big head, you know?"
"I've been told that by a few women," he conceded with a cheeky grin making me wish he'd walk backwards into a cowpie.
Of course he didn't. He stopped and gestured to the table.
"Place your bets."
"Yeah, what's it worth?"
He thought for a few seconds. "The loser has to interview Mr. Crowley."
That didn't sound too bad, so I knew there had to be a catch. "What's wrong with Mr. Crowley?"
"He's a spitter," Edward said with such seriousness I laughed.
"Yeah, don't stand too close." His following eyebrow wiggle made his expression look so smug I wanted to splat the imaginary cowpie in his face, never mind his feet.
"I haven't lost," I retaliated.
See, cocky bastard.
We both scribbled down our predictions, and I followed suit with Edward and folded the paper into a small square. Edward handed me his paper with a grin.
"No looking until later, okay?" He seemed quite serious about this so I nodded, paired my paper with his and placed them in my pants pocket.
"Good." He nodded and pulled the now crumpled festival program from his back pocket. After studying it he glanced at his watch before he declared it was pumpkin time.
He seemed eager to get to the pumpkin carving contest so, in case he had any insider information, I walked with him there, irritated once again by his high-fiving, extra smiley, adoring public. Hmmm, maybe these high-fives were some sort of manly secret code. I decided I'd have to watch Edward a little closer to find out. All in the name of research you understand.
The pumpkin carving contest was by far the biggest competition of the day. The adults' table had everything from traditional spooky pumpkins to ones carved into superheroes and others shaped like unicorns. The kids' table had many brightly painted pumpkins and more simply carved creations.
We also found the organizers of the festival here, admiring the entrants. In true annoying reporter style Edward pounced on them with an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm and started questioning them. I wondered why Mrs. Stanley looked so overwhelmed at being pounced on by Edward, he could pounce on me anytime. Well, anytime that we weren't rivals. Which we were now, I reminded myself.
So while Edward dealt with feisty Mrs. Stanley, I took a more subtle approach with Mr. Biers and kept my questions polite even though I was desperate to ask him about the death-trap parking lot.
Before long the guy dressed as a scarecrow reappeared on top of a hay bale to announce the winners to the assembled crowd.
During his polite preamble about all the valiant entrants I saw Edward wink at someone in the crowd. His face had lit up as he smiled wildly, reminding me what a flirt he is and why I needed to forget all about rolling half-naked in the autumn leaves with him. Or fully naked, I wouldn't be fussy about that one.
The wife of the ex-coach of the high school's soccer team won the adults' contest. Since Edward knew Coach Clapp, I was certain he would know her also. I'd have to stick really close to him during that interview. Damn!
The children's category winner was a cute little girl who looked to be around five or six years old. She squealed and jumped about three feet in the air, her blonde braids bouncing with excitement when her name was announced.
To my surprise Edward fist punched the air at the results. Huh! Who knew he cared so much about the art of pumpkin carving? Or maybe he'd placed bets with some other chick on that, too?
Despite the black clouds that were looming overhead Edward rolled his shirt sleeves up to his elbows, showcasing amazing forearms that I certainly wasn't looking at, before clapping wildly and snapping photos with his posh camera as the girl was presented with her prize.
Once the little girl had collected her rosette and certificate she came running at full speed over to where Edward and I stood. I thought she was overly keen to have her picture taken and appear in the local paper but Edward lowered his camera and swung it round to his back as the girl rushed up and jumped as high as she could. Edward effortlessly lifted her into his arms, securing her with a bear hug to his chest before she leaned back in his arms to look at him.
"Uncle Edward, I wonned!" Her voice was giddy with excitement as she bobbed about in Edward's arms, making him oomph and grunt with her movements.
"Sure did, Bree. Well done, Sweetie." He stroked a length of her bright blonde hair out of her eyes as a woman bearing such a resemblance to the little girl she could only be her mother, approached and stood next to Edward. She was tall and blonde with eyes that matched Edward's in every way.
"Mama, I wonned and Uncle Edward will put me in the paper and I'll cut it out and keep it forever."
"Make sure you smile real good then," the woman told the over-excited girl as a tall guy walked up, grinning at the little girl as he slipped his arm around the woman's waist.
"I will." The girl gave a good demonstration of her best toothy smile before she turned serious.
"Uncle Edward, are you still coming to my party later?"
Edward pretended to think about this for a few seconds before bursting into the biggest smile I'd seen on his face today. That smile, coupled with the child in his arms, made my ovaries burst, too.
"Of course I am. I wouldn't miss it for anything in the world."
I knew it was just a flippant saying, but the tone of Edward's voice and the adoring way he looked at this little girl made his words sound totally genuine.
She grinned back in an equally adoring fashion before Edward placed her down and swung his camera back round to his chest. He knelt down to her height while telling her to smile for her newspaper shot.
"He's a natural with her," I heard the woman whisper as she stood next to me and watched the pair fondly. "Annoying as hell, as little brothers should be, but so sweet with his niece."
"Yeah, he's full of surprises today." I nodded, realizing I'd been staring at this new Edward in front of me. I could see the annoying side of Edward quite clearly but as I watched him goofing about with the girl to get a natural smile for the photo, I could see his sweet side, too.
With Bree's mom's consent I took a few photos of Bree and we both asked her a few basic questions about her pumpkin creation while she excitedly jumped from one foot to the other.
A few minutes later Edward stood with a crack of his knees and cupped his hand over the back screen of his camera to check he had a good shot. Bree, unfortunately for Edward, jumped up at the same time that he knelt back down, resulting in him receiving a rather strong impact to his nuts.
"Fu...fudge," he groaned, doubling over in pain as I tried not to laugh. "Dear God," he moaned under his breath as Bree watched wide eyed and confused. The guy with us bent over with laughter at Edward's pain as Edward growled out a mumbled version of a swear word in his direction.
Edward's sister, in-between her own amused sniggers, reassured Bree that her Uncle was fine but she didn't look convinced. Neither did Edward.
"Jeez, Bree, don't you want cousins someday?" he grumbled under his breath, making me picture cute little Edwards running around while an older Bree chased them.
"Huh?" Bree looked confused as she approached the man-child that Edward had become and waited until his wails died down.
"I'm sorry, Uncle Edward. Want me to make you laugh?"
Edward now, finally, seemed capable of standing upright, so he nodded at Bree.
"What did one leaf say to another?"
"I don't know."
"I'm falling for you!"
Edward smiled, straightened up fully and ruffled her hair.
"Good one, Bree."
Edward's sister smiled affectionately at her daughter before addressing her. "Bree, how about we go and grab a toffee apple? I think you've caused enough trouble here, Uncle Edward has to get back to work."
"It doesn't look like he's working. Daddy sits at a desk when he's working." Bree stated in the amazingly honest way kids do.
"Well, I am having a particularly fun day today…" Edward stated with a wink in my direction. "But tomorrow this will sure feel like work when I write up my article. I can't do it tonight because someone's having a party."
Bree grinned widely as she took her mother's hand and started walking away.
"Yeah, don't forget my presents!"
"Bree!" Her mom scolded lightly as Edward chuckled while watching all three of them walking away.
"She's a sweet kid," I conceded. He was a pain in the ass, albeit a cute ass, but his niece was kinda cool.
"Yeah," he agreed. "She gets it from me!"
I scoffed and elbowed him.
"Luckily she didn't inherit your big head."
I regretted the words as soon as I said them but thankfully Edward only waggled his eyebrows at me and remained silent.
We then talked to Coach Clapp's wife about her award winning pumpkin, while keeping half an eye on the darkening skies and swirling wind.
Before we were done Edward received some more high-fives from Coach Clapp. I'm pretty sure I would have been treated to tales of Edward's soccer glory but the rain that had been threatening for most of the afternoon finally signalled its appearance with a loud crack of thunder that made people shriek and run for cover.
The large raindrops splattered around us with such speed and ferocity I was temporarily stunned. After a few seconds Edward grabbed me by the hand and started running. I just about kept up with him as we passed the tent full of people cramming into the entrance and ran towards an old hay shelter on the edge of the field. The rain pelted my back as I bent over and tried to protect my camera and notes as I allowed myself to be led by Edward.
When we reached the relative dry shelter I finally looked up, wiping rain from my face as Edward ran his hands through his sodden hair. His eyes looked even brighter in the darkness that had descended and I couldn't help but stare into them until a second loud clap of thunder made me shriek and jump at its unexpectedness. Edward chuckled at me before raising his hand to my face. His thumb stroked across my cheek, leaving me rendered speechless at his soft, unexpected touch.
Gutsy, mouthy, Bella, wanted to ask him what the hell he was playing at, but startled, mushy, Bella wanted to tell her to shut the hell up because, Jesus, it felt good to be touched, by him.
His thumb stroked back and forth a few times before he removed it.
"Errr, mud." He held his thumb up, displaying the evidence, as I shook my head, told myself not to be so stupid, and tried to pick my heart up from the floor where it had fallen.
"Oh. Thanks." Of course I was muddy. As discussed earlier I appeared to attract the stuff. And it seemed that was all I was attracting right now.
He nodded but didn't say anything as we both listened to the now slowing rain. While he watched the raindrops landing in the quickly formed puddles, I looked at his white undershirt which was now almost sheer from the rain. It clung to his torso, kissing his skin in all the places I wanted to, making me pathetically jealous of a piece of clothing.
The next flash of lightning drew my gaze from his body where I unexpectedly found his piercing eyes. We remained silent until the third, quieter, crash of thunder followed over thirty seconds later.
"The storm's passing over," Edward whispered as I merely nodded.
We waited in silence for the next few minutes, listening to the increasing noise in the adjacent field as people emerged from their shelters and looked up at the skies.
"Wait here," Edward instructed and before I could object he jogged out into the now light rain and disappeared into the crowds.
I used the opportunity to put down my camera and papers. I saw two nearby hay bales that were placed opposite each other and occupied one, taking a few minutes to make additional notes about the day.
When Edward reappeared he was holding two disposable coffee cups, the cardboard kind with plastic sippy lids on top and, as I stood up, he handed me one.
"Spiced pumpkin soup. I hope you like it."
"It smells amazing. Thanks." I answered, slightly stunned by his thoughtfulness. I took a sip of the delicious soup and moaned as the taste of fall reminded me of childhoods carving pumpkins with my mom and raking the leaves in front of our house. I'd pile them up, knowing full well when I heard the police cruiser pull up my dad would race out and hug me before dropping me in the huge pile, leaving us both laughing hysterically.
Edward stood opposite me and cleared his throat bringing me back to the present and making me look at him.
"I thought we could both do with refuelling before we tackle the homemade pumpkin pie competition. Mrs. Delani is pretty forthright with her opinions, if her pie doesn't place in the top three. She usually makes for a good interview afterwards."
"Thanks for the tip." I raised my disposable cup in his direction as he nodded.
"Not that you need my help," he added. "I wasn't trying to suggest I knew best…"
"Edward, it's fine," I reassured him, gripping my cup with both hands for extra warmth. "You've been doing this a lot longer than I have."
"Yeah and look where it's gotten me," he scoffed, shaking his head as I wrinkled my forehead in confusion.
"Err, a reputation as the best reporter in the county," I pointed out making him sneer.
"It's true," I insisted, admiring the way his long fingers wrapped around his own cup.
"Even if it was, small time newspaper reporting isn't exactly what I was aiming for when I was captain of the soccer team and fighting for a scholarship to college."
My eyebrows shot up. I knew he'd had a promising soccer career ahead of him, but ended up studying journalism at the local college instead.
"Several things coincided making things...difficult."
Huh. Thanks, that was now as clear as mud.
I sensed there was a lot Edward wasn't saying, so I tried a different approach.
"I have to say you've surprised me today," I told him seriously.
"With my good looks and quick wit?" he joked with amazing accuracy.
"I was going to say I'm surprised you don't seem to hate me," I answered quietly, not daring to look at his deep green eyes or his still rather see-through shirt.
"Hate you? Why would I hate you?"
"My dad arrested you. The police put you and your family through hell for something you didn't do…" I trailed off. That seemed to be reason enough to me.
"Did you ask your dad to arrest me?" Edward asked making me gawk at him.
"Well, then we don't have a problem," he answered matter-of-factly.
"That isn't usually how small towns work," I pointed out as Edward took hold of my shoulder and bent his knees slightly to make me meet his eyes.
"It's how I work," he told me sincerely.
I nodded and processed his words for a few seconds before I spoke again. "So did that false arrest make it hard to get your college scholarship?" I asked outright.
Edward stood up straight, looking like he was trying to judge how much to say, or not to say.
When he did speak, he answered sadly with one, devastating word.
Neither of us looked at each other, both distracting ourselves with our drinks.
"My dad...he felt really bad about that whole situation…"
"It's fine. I've moved on," Edward interrupted me, unsuccessfully keeping the bitterness out of his voice.
"It's okay to be mad," I spoke softly.
"Bella, really it's fine."
He sounded adamant, but I looked up at him doubtfully.
He gestured to the two hay bales, so we sat down opposite each other as he picked at the lid of his soup with his thumb, not making eye contact with me.
"Bella, I don't know how much you know about the guy I was back then but...well, Emmett and I ran in some dodgy circles for a while."
I knew Edward and Emmett McCarty were close friends, especially when Emmett began dating Edward's sister.
"We fell in with the wrong crowd. We were stupid and young and, I know that's no excuse, but Emmett took it too far that night. I wasn't even with him, but I made sure the police thought it was me. I made myself look guilty so I can't blame your dad for thinking I was."
"Why would you do that?"
"Bree," he answered simply. "Rose had just found out she was pregnant. I couldn't have my niece's dad locked up before she was even born. He'd have missed the birth and her first few months, time he'd never be able to get back."
Edward shrugged as I forgot all about my soup and listened intently to him.
"I knew if I deflected any suspicion from Em, the police were unlikely to find me guilty because there was no evidence that I did it, because I didn't."
"Wow, I...I had no idea."
He shrugged. "I know I shouldn't have 'perverted the course of justice' or whatever, but I couldn't see Emmett's and Rose's lives fall apart just as they needed to get it together for their baby."
"So Emmett is a law abiding citizen now?" I asked, trying to inject humor into my question.
"Yep." Edward announced proudly, sitting up straighter. "Never broken the law since that night, well he probably speeds now and then, and maybe jaywalks, but he's a good guy. He and Rose got married and Bree...she's amazing. She saved Emmett and me. We were headed down the wrong path; it scares me to think where we'd have ended up if it wasn't for her."
I nodded, trying to process everything Edward was saying.
He stood and walked toward the entrance of the shelter, surveying the festival which was now back to its usual hustle and bustle as the rain had completely stopped.
"I'm surprised you don't know all of this already, everyone in this town knows my business." He spoke with his back to me sounding slightly bitter about this, but I couldn't blame him. Small towns were ruthless for gossip, even if all this happened over five years ago.
I stood and walked to stand next to him. "My dad's false arrests weren't exactly dinnertime conversation. It was never mentioned at home and as I didn't really know you or move in your social circle, I guess I never knew the whole story."
"Well, now you do."
"So does everyone else and you're back to being the town's sweetheart and hero!"
Edward scoffed and shook his head, still looking out to the now blue skies.
"The rain has cleared up, we should see about that pie competition, I could eat dessert." He patted his flat stomach, making me look again at his almost see through t-shirt. Unfortunately, it was now drying out; maybe I'd have to sneak in a few extra peeks before it dried completely.
"Ok. Sure. But while we're confessing things I think you should know I'm onto you, Mr. Cullen," I stated, poking a finger at his chest as he looked at me with confusion and playfulness dancing on his handsome features.
"Yep." Shame I wasn't literally on him, but I grinned and nodded anyway because I was rather proud of the way I had discovered his sneakiness today. I was also glad we'd left the seriousness of our earlier conversation behind and were back to annoying each other.
"You're trying to knock me off my game," I stated.
"Game?" Edward's outright confusion was amusing.
"Ah-ha. I have game you know." I jutted my chin out defensively.
"I'm sure you do." He was now grinning widely. "Bella, I assure you I'm not trying to steal your game."
"That's exactly what a game stealer would say."
Edward outright laughed now. "Bella, I'm not trying to sabotage you! I'm a straightforward guy. I say things as I see them, I guess that's the reporter in me," he stated with a small shrug.
Jesus, he could be the reporter in me any time. Errr, I mean, "Ah-ha. Good to know."
Edward chuckled beside me. "When these articles come out on Monday, I want to beat you fair and square."
I rolled my eyes at him but he turned suddenly serious. "Will you read my article?"
"Hmmm," I answered with a shrug of fake nonchalance. "I'll try to fit it into my busy schedule."
"Good to know," he echoed my words.
We left the shelter and made our way around the rest of the festival, getting down to the business of actually interviewing people, taking photos and sniffing out any extra stories we could print.
We enjoyed the delights of several pumpkin pie tasters and the festival really picked up when the local country music singers took to the central stage. Their quirky songs about a rusty, red tractor and the love of their life (those were thankfully two separate songs) definitely lifted the mood after the earlier rainfall.
The afternoon passed quickly but I was cold and my clothes were still damp so I didn't want to hang around longer than I had to. Despite Edward's shirt drying out, he looked like he felt the same and after another hour or so we both agreed we had the material we needed for our articles.
As we left through the main entrance we saw Bree leaving, too. She was holding hands with her parents and being swung gently back and forth, giggling and laughing excitedly when she landed in the squelchy mud underfoot. She grinned widely when she spotted Edward and shouted over to him.
"Don't be late for my party, Uncle Edward. You needs to help me with the piñata."
"I won't be late, Bree." Edward shouted back with a wave to his sister and the other person holding Bree's hand who I now knew was Emmett.
Before we left Edward walked me to my car. I didn't know if he was trying to help me avoid any broken limbs in the freshly rained on mud bog that was the parking lot, or if he wanted to be there to laugh at me if I finally fell.
Thankfully, with his arm for support I made it to my car and Edward held my door open as I got in, leaning in afterwards to speak to me.
"Bella, about earlier, I don't want you to think I hate your dad. I should thank him really. He gave Emmett and me the warning we needed to sort out our lives."
"Thanks. He'd like to hear that from you. Maybe let him know if you see him anytime soon."
"Maybe I will," Edward answered with a nod and a small grin.
"I'll see you around, Swan."
"Bye, Cullen." With that he closed my car door for me and I immediately missed his company.
Unlike most of the human race I liked Mondays. It was a slow news day, and it was the day our paper hit the newsstands, both real and virtual.
I had today off as I'd worked the weekend and as a result I didn't plan on doing much. I'd already gone to the local shop for a copy, or twelve, of the paper I was featured in and I'd even sprung for a copy of Edward's article, eager to see what he'd made of the day.
I was now back in the warmth of my apartment with my cozy, fluffy, socks adorning my feet, my favorite baggy sweater keeping me warm and my gran's throw covering me on my ratty sofa. I was hugging a particularly nice mug of hot chocolate, complete with marshmallows and listening to the rain hitting my window panes.
I shook out the newspaper and turned to my article. I knew full well what it said. I'd written it and re-written it; read it and re-read it so many times I was sure I'd spot any sneaky editing that took place between me submitting it and Alec approving it.
Once I'd read my article and was happy it had been printed almost verbatim, I picked up Edward's paper.
They were running with a different story on the front page which was likely to attract more readers than our offering regarding the ever so exciting new tree planting program that was to be rolled out along the highway.
I turned to page five to see Edward's double spread, complete with color pictures. Damn him. There was his smug (and rather beautiful) professional byline shot, staring out at me from among the pictures of winning pies and pumpkins.
The article was funny, witty and insightful, everything I anticipated from Edward, until I reached the last few paragraphs because then he went off on a tangent I wasn't expecting.
Many loyal readers and I know there are a fair few in Forks, will remember my father was Chief Editor of this paper for over two decades. As a boy I clearly remember him returning home, kissing my mother on the cheek and placing his Sony recorder on the telephone table in the hall. He loved that recorder and believed good tools were half the secret to his success.
I think you'll agree his ability, enthusiasm and knowledge are all he needed to succeed but at Saturday's festival I met someone who reminded me why I wanted to follow in his footsteps, why, along with soccer, being a reporter is what I wanted to do with my life. Why I would sneak up to the telephone table and hold that recorder, the one I was forbidden from touching, just to feel its weight, desperate to listen to all the tales it contained.
This person had the very same recorder, but more importantly she also had his enthusiasm and ability to make an amazing reporter. I feel I should have told her this, and I didn't.
So, in honor of the past, simpler life this recorder represents l would like to extend an invitation to her to allow me to take her to dinner. I didn't want to do this via Facebook or some equally impersonal medium such as text or email so, Bella, please read my scrappy predictions for the vegetable contest and instead you will see where I will be waiting tonight. I sincerely hope you will join me for what I hope is the first of many dates.
Readers, I will keep you updated. Or not. Because under Bella's shyness she's really ballsy and may well castrate me for this little stunt. If I'm speaking in a higher pitch next time I see you this romantic gesture didn't work.
The article was followed by his professional tagline: Edward Cullen reports for Clallam county and welcomes your comments at ...
Hmm, now I had his email address. This could prove interesting.
I saved that little snippet of information for later as I excitedly jumped up off the sofa, almost spilling my hot chocolate as I stood in my living room spinning in circles while I tried to think. What had I done with those pieces of paper? I'd completely forgotten about them so they must still be in the back pocket of the pants I was wearing that day.
My stomach dropped, they had been caked in mud and obviously washed since then. I ran to my dresser, hoping I'd emptied my pockets before loading the washer. My dresser was a mess, scattered with all sorts of items including my credentials badge, some of those little disposable spoons I'd used to taste the various soups that were judged and...yes! Two small squares of paper.
I unfolded one and saw, in Edward's neat scrawl…
Gutoso Italia, Monday night at 8pm x
Thanks to my Beta EdwardsFirstKiss and my PreReaders Sarcastic Bimbo and RebAdams who are always at the end of an email to help. Any mistakes are my own.
Please let me know your thoughts on this story, I absolutely love readers reviews. If you enjoyed this story and haven't read my multi-chapter fic, Tougher Than the Rest, please give it a go and a review or two, thanks x
Bye, for now.