Secrets and Lies Contest Entry
It Takes a Village
Summary: With her beloved community center on the brink of closure, Bella welcomes the distraction of a handsome newcomer who captures her attention.
DISCLAIMER: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
AN: This was my entry for the twilight secrets and lies contest. There were so many amazing stories so I am incredibly humbled to have won the snowflake award for the most original lie told with the best intention. If you haven't done so already, check out the other entries:)
A massive thank you must go to my wonderful beta SunflowerFran who turned this around so quickly and had some wonderful suggestions- you're a star!
I hope you like it!
It Takes a Village
The night had been hectic, but that was to be expected at this time of the year. The cold brought even the most reluctant of people off the street.
While I was busy getting a start on dinner, I couldn't help glancing at the door every time it opened, hoping he would arrive soon.
Edward Mason, Forks' newest resident, had been coming into the center for the past three days. He'd seemed nervous at first, untrusting almost, but I didn't take it personally. I'd experienced the same reaction numerous times since I'd been volunteering here.
From past experience, most people living on the streets found it difficult to ask for help. It usually took a few visits, and a couple of hearty meals before their uneasiness abated.
In a town as small as Forks, out-of-towners were a rarity. We had no major landmarks or tourist attractions to draw people in, so newcomers stuck out like a sore thumb. And Edward was no exception. He arrived one night surrounded by mystery, and we'd got nothing out of him since. That's not to say he was standoffish or rude; just a very private person who kept very much to himself.
"Still no sign of the new kid on the block" Sue, one of the founders of the center commented when she came over to join me at the food counter.
"Not yet," I replied, trying to keep the concern out of my voice. I didn't want her probing me about my interest in this particular visitor.
"He'll be here I'm sure," she said encouragingly. She gave my shoulder a squeeze before moving on to make a start on a fresh round of tea and coffee for our visitors.
I hoped she was right.
Nobody belonged on the streets, but there was something about Edward in particular that made me even more concerned for him. I didn't know anything about him, only his name, but I could tell there was a story there, one I hoped he would share with me in time.
I'd been coming to the center pretty much since the day it opened. Alongside Sue and her husband, Billy, my dad, Charlie had lobbied to put one of the rundown warehouses in town to good use. The center started off as a place for the homeless to temporarily have a few hours off the streets and provide a hearty meal. We now supported families who were struggling to put a meal on the table and those lonely members of the community who simply wanted someone to talk to.
It was hard to witness people often at their lowest, and the work we did was tough at times but incredibly rewarding.
The center was a huge part of my life, and when my father passed away a few years ago, I had been heartbroken and completely inconsolable. The truth was that the center, and most importantly the people here had helped me get through what was the most difficult time of my life.
It was one of the reasons I was so desperate to keep the center open despite the threat of closure. While in the past we'd been funded by local grants, recent cuts to the welfare budget, unfortunately meant we were on the brink of closure unless we found the money to buy the property ourselves.
It was an impossible task, but I was determined to find the funds somewhere because quite frankly the alternative was unthinkable, and I honestly didn't know what I would do if we were forced to shut down. The fact that we had so many people depending on us made it all the more heartbreaking.
The rest of the night passed without incident, but I was too distracted thinking about Edward to fully focus. Determined to push my concern aside as best I could, I returned to the task at hand and made a start on the next batch of soup. Keeping busy usually kept my mind from wondering, and I needed the distraction.
"That was delicious, Bells." Sam, one of our regulars praised when he returned his plate to the counter. He was a real character, who despite living on the streets for the best part of three years, never once complained or showed a hint of self-pity or anger.
"Sue tries her best, but no one makes a pot roast quite like you," he complimented.
"I'm on to you Sam. If you think buttering me up will get you bigger portions you're in for bitter disappointment." I playfully teased. "Away with you old man."
Sam's smile grew wider, and he held his hands up in surrender. He winked before saying his goodbyes.
Another hour passed without any sign of my favorite newcomer. I was beginning to think he wasn't going to show and had just made a start on boxing up the leftovers for tomorrow when Edward finally made an appearance. He looked tired and a little weary, but underneath his scruffy appearance and what was now becoming a pretty substantial beard, there was no denying he was a very handsome man.
Okay, so handsome didn't quite do him justice.
Despite his unfortunate circumstances, he was quite possibly the most attractive man I had ever seen.
He had high cheekbones most women would envy, full lips and pale skin with no blemishes or imperfection. It was a sharp contrast to his messy, rugged bronze hair that was poking out from under his well-worn beanie. But it was those eyes that were my downfall; so heartbreakingly open and vulnerable. He had beautiful green eyes, the kind you get lost in. And I did, frequently.
The first time he came into the center he took my breath away. He still does now, if I'm being completely honest. It was a fight to stay professional with him and not act like a giddy teenager with her first crush. Regardless I put on my practiced smile and greeted him with the same enthusiasm I did all the other visitors.
"Good evening, Edward," I said brightly when he reached the counter.
"Bella, " He smiled one of those shy, slightly awkward smiles of his that made my heart race.
"Can I get you something to eat?" I offered while silently taking a check on him for any sign of injury. On the surface, he seemed okay, but you could never tell what hardships he'd endured since I'd last seen him.
"Yes please," he replied shyly.
"You're cutting it close tonight; I was just about to box this up for tomorrow." I realized my mistake when his face dropped, and he looked around anxiously, noticing how empty the room was.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize it was so late," he hastily apologized. "Forget about it. I'll come back earlier tomorrow."
"No! Don't go," I panicked when he turned to leave. "Please, there's plenty of time. Have a seat! I insist."
I could see he was still indecisive so I brought out the big guns. "I've got some leftover hot chocolate too," I added with a hopeful smile.
Edward wasn't fooled, but nonetheless nodded back in agreement. My smile was ridiculous. It was a small victory but a victory nonetheless.
"Take a seat, and I will bring it over to you," I offered, eager for him to stay.
It was hard to see people living on the streets, but there was something about this man that made me desperate to keep him around. I couldn't imagine what it felt like to have no one to turn to for help.
Once I'd prepared a generous helping of Edward's meal, I went over to join him.
I tried to put on a brave face as I handed over the soup and bread roll but the truth was I was exhausted. After working at the bookstore during the day, followed by the extra hours I was putting in at the center, the long hours were beginning to catch up with me.
"Why don't you join me? You look dead on your feet." Edward observed.
I didn't have the strength to argue, so I took the seat opposite him, feeling the weight of my day catching up with me. I closed my eyes briefly, only a moment, but when I looked back, Edward was staring at me intently.
"Long day?" he asked.
I sensed he was more comfortable listening to me babbling on than talking about his own troubles so I was happy to oblige. I gave Edward a brief rundown of my day at the local bookstore before turning the conversation to him.
"Enough about me, it's you I'm trying to figure out," I admitted.
"How's that going?" He deflected.
"Clearly, you're not from around here, but I think someplace close by. Seattle perhaps? At a guess, I'd say you went to college there too." I blushed, embarrassed to admit I had pretty much been fascinated by him from the minute he started coming to the center.
"What makes you say that?" he replied without confirming any of my suspicions.
"You're clearly very intelligent, well-spoken spoken, which suggests you had a good education. The way you talk is familiar yet slightly different, so I think Seattle is the most probable."
Edward nodded, unwilling to give anything away but that didn't mean I was giving up. This was the most talkative he'd been all week, and I was determined to push on while he was in such a talkative mood.
"Are you ready to talk about what happened that led you here?" I carefully asked.
Edward looked incredibly uncomfortable, and I thought for sure he was going to make an excuse and rush off like he usually did, so I was surprised, to say the least when he spoke.
"Everyone is only a couple of steps away from homelessness, or so they say." He appeared deep in thought for a moment before continuing, though he was reluctant to meet my eye.
"For a while, I had everything going for me. I got good grades; I went to a good college. I was one of the lucky ones who found a job straight after graduation. Life was good for a long time. I had it all; an apartment, a fancy car, more money than I knew what to do with."
A painful look settled on his face and I knew what he was about to tell me was difficult for him to relive. He took a deep breath before continuing.
"Then one day it all came crashing down around me when out of the blue the company I was working for went bankrupt and I lost my job. I had a little money saved, but that ran out very quickly. It's amazing how life can turn around so quickly. One minute I had it all, the next I couldn't pay my rent, and I was on the streets not long after."
"Do you have any family nearby who could help?" I asked cautiously. I didn't want to pry, but if I had any hopes of helping, I needed to find out what we were up against.
"My sister, Alice and I are on difficult terms at the moment." Edward once again seemed uneasy talking about himself and quickly turned the conversation to me.
"Enough about my family. Tell me more about you." he deflected.
"There's not a lot to say really. I'm from Forks. I went to college right here in Port Angeles. During the day I work at a bookstore in town, but I help out here whenever I can." My life story was hardly exciting, but Edward listened attentively.
"This center is very important to me ... on a personal level, I suppose you could say. My dad," I paused feeling a lump in my throat from talking about Charlie. "He's no longer with us, but he helped to set up this center a few years ago. One Christmas, he spotted a former colleague living on the streets. Dad invited him to join us for Christmas, but he was just as stubborn as Charlie. When he refused, Dad took Christmas day to him. We boxed up a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, bought a few gifts, and went to celebrate with him." I smiled at the memory.
"By the following year, this building was no longer in use, so Dad and some of his friends persuaded the council to turn the space into a center for the community.
"That's a great story Bella," he seemed genuinely impressed. "Whatever happened to your dad's friend? Did he ever make it off the streets?"
I couldn't contain my smile. "You know Seth who sometimes helps out in the kitchens?" At Edward's nod, I continued. "That's him now. He turned his life around, found a job, a home. He's married now with his own business, but he still makes time to help when he can."
"That's your dad's dream, what about you? What's your dream? Where do you want to be in say, the next five years?" Edward seemed genuinely interested, so I found myself opening up to him without hesitation.
"The problem is much bigger than Forks. We're barely scratching the surface here. Homelessness is a national crisis. It's a crime that as one of the richest country in the world there's more than 500,000 people homeless. We need to stress to people how to combat homelessness. Money only gets you so far. You have to get to the heart of the problem. Get to people before they are homeless and most importantly address the stigma attached to being on the streets." As I came to the end of my rant, I realized I had gotten carried away.
"You think we're worth saving?" he sounded almost skeptical.
"Of course, I do!" I was insulted he had to ask.
"Not all the people living on the streets are stereotypical, drunken bums. Sure, there are a few but not every person on the street is a criminal or addict. There's this huge misconception that people become homeless because of drugs and alcohol. They actually turn to drugs when they become homeless, anything to escape from the life they're living."
"You really are passionate about this place." Edward sounded in awe.
"I just wish it was enough," I didn't mean for him to hear me but apparently, he did.
"What do you mean?" He probed.
"Nothing." It was my turn to be evasive. "I just wish there was more we could do is all," I said after a pause.
"You've got a big heart. Just ask anyone here, and they will tell you how much of a difference you're making. Your actions may be small in your eyes, but you've made the last few days bearable for me. Seeing your happy smiling face is the highlight of my day." It was the most vocal he'd been, and he looked almost embarrassed by his outburst, so much so that he made an excuse and hurried off before I had a chance to respond.
The following evening when Edward returned I was disheartened, to say the least, and I was utterly deflated when he retreated to his reclusive self. Still, I wasn't giving up so easily and after some persistence, and a bribe of chocolate cake he began to open up once more.
That week we fell into a routine of sorts, and with each day another piece of the puzzle that was Edward Mason was slowly revealed. We grew closer with each visit, and I was heartened to discover what a genuinely lovely man he was.
I learned that Edward was twenty-six, and as I suspected, hailed from Seattle. He talked a little more about his sister, Alice who despite their current tensions, it was clear he adored. But it was our conversation about his parents that just about broke my heart. There was sadness in his eyes when he spoke about how they'd died in a tragic car accident when he was only thirteen years old. He didn't elaborate further, and I didn't push him, as I sensed it was a difficult subject even after all the years that had transpired.
Every day I looked forward to going to the shelter just to see him and reassure myself he was okay, or as okay as he could be given his current circumstances. The closer we got, the more I was able to judge Edward's moods. Some days he was lively and talkative, while on other days he looked worn out and would be increasingly secretive. Clearly, something was going on. However, he was quick to brush off my concerns.
Despite his bravado, I was incredibly worried, and whenever he came in, the relief I felt was quite frankly overwhelming.
All the other volunteers loved him too. It was impossible not to. Edward had such a warm, friendly nature; you couldn't help but be drawn to him. I know I was.
I'd become too attached I knew that, but I couldn't help myself. It was crazy. I'd only known him less than a week, but I felt a connection to him that I struggled to find with anyone else.
It didn't help that he was so kind and thoughtful. He did the sweetest things like offering to help in the kitchens when we were short staffed or simply needed an extra pair of hands to help with the evening rush. Only this evening, he had stepped in to help when Angela had to leave early to pick her kids up from the babysitter after her youngest got sick.
Edward was great company and really fun to work alongside of. He had a natural charm that the other visitors warmed to. He was oh so thoughtful too, and he was even was kind enough to offer to take out the trash for me near the end of the night.
"I think I can manage a few trash bags," I playfully teased before taking said bins outside.
Once outside I was in the process of loading the trash into the dumpster when a noise from behind startled me. Turning around, I was relieved to see it was just Jake, one of our occasional visitors. However, my relief was short lived when I noticed his weary appearance. I'd had a couple of encounters with him before when he'd been under the influence of, shall we say, dubious substances.
Instinctively I started to back away, but he followed me with a dangerous look in his eye that had me on edge. I kept retreating until I found myself pressed against the wall.
"Why don't you come inside Jake? Get something to eat," I offered. Something told me he was in a strange mood and I needed to tread very carefully with him.
"I don't want food. I just need a bit of money to tide me over until payday. You'll help me out, won't you Bells?" Jake tried to sound reasonable, but I doubted he'd remain that way once I refused.
From past encounters, I'd learned the best way to deal with Jake was to remain as calm as possible.
"You know I would if I could, but it wouldn't be right, plus, you know it's against the center's policy to hand out money whatever the circumstances."
I had tried to let him down gently, but when I backed away, he caught my arm in an iron grip.
"Come on Bells. You know I'm good for it," he was getting impatient.
"Everything okay out here?" A familiar voice called out.
Jake's gaze followed mine and I saw a brief look of panic cross his features.
I could understand why.
The expression on Edward's face was thunderous. He stepped in between the two of us, easily pushing Jake aside.
"I don't know who the hell you are, but this is none of your business so back off," Jake snapped.
"If you have any sense you'll leave right now," Edward said harshly.
Sensing that things were in danger of getting out of hand, I placed my hand on Edward's chest. He eyed it before taking it in his and giving it a gentle squeeze.
"Please Edward. Don't do anything silly." I urged.
I felt some of the tension ease, and Edward's expression softened as he spoke," Go inside, Bella. I will join you in a minute."
His gaze returned to Jake momentarily, but the look he sent my way told me there was no use in arguing with him, and I reluctantly left the two of them alone.
Five minutes later, Edward returned from escorting Jacob off the property. It was clear his mood hadn't improved.
"Edward please calm down. Jake doesn't mean any harm." I tried to reason, but he was having none of it.
"No, it's not okay Bella! You shouldn't have to put up with that. No one has the right to talk to you or touch you like that whatever the circumstances." his tone was hard.
"He'll feel terrible when he calms down, he always does," I added almost as an afterthought. I only realized my mistake when I saw Edward's furious expression.
Angry green eyes glazed down at me. If I thought he was angry before, he looked positively furious now, and I was startled to see the fury on his face
"This has happened before!" He shouted so loudly I worried one of the other volunteers would hear.
"Shh, please Edward I don't want Sue to hear about this. She'll freak out. It's not your concern. I will deal with it."
He reached out, grabbed my arms and pulled me towards him, his grip firm but his voice surprisingly calm.
"Not my concern! Not my concern," he repeated, shaking his head in disbelief. "Do you have any idea how much I worry about you here surrounded by all kinds of people."
"People like you?" I challenged.
"It's different. It just is," Edward said refusing to meet my eye.
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing, forget I said anything," he replied dismissively.
"I should go," he declared, offering me no explanation as he stalked out of the building.
The next day when Edward came into the center, the atmosphere was tense, to say the least. After our words yesterday, I was worried he would be distant and standoffish, but one look at his guilty face eased my concern.
He walked towards me looking slightly sheepish, a shy smile on his face.
"I'm sorry about yesterday, I overreacted. Can you forgive me?" he asked hopefully, holding his arms out open. I was in his arms in an instant, hugging him back with just as much affection. I knew I should pull away I didn't have the strength to. I swear his arms felt like home.
"Why don't I ever get a welcome like that" An annoyingly familiar voice interrupted and brought me back to earth with a bang.
Edward and I sprung apart, both red-cheeked and sharing matching smiles of embarrassment.
Sam didn't even attempt to hide his amusement despite the dirty look I sent his way.
After the incident with Jake, we settled into a routine of sorts whereby Edward would come to the center late, after his shift and wait with me while I finished tidying up. Though I always told him not to, he refused to sit back and would help out whenever possible. Whether it be emptying the trash or sweeping the floor. The little things he did really made a huge difference.
We never discussed it, it was almost an unspoken rule whereby we both kept quiet for fear of defining whatever it was that was developing between the two of us. I knew why he waited, and he knew I did, but neither one of us questioned it. I loved his concern, I felt cared for and cherished, something I'd not felt since Charlie's death.
Every night Edward would wait for me to finish my shift and after I'd locked up, he would insist on walking me to my car before making his own way home. I begged him to let me drop him off at his place, but he refused every time, arguing that it was out of my way. One night, I'd finally had enough of his stubbornness. I got to my car and when I didn't get inside Edward looked at me curiously.
"I've had enough of this. You wait for me, so either you get in the car, or I'm staying out here all night," I gave him an ultimatum. I could be just as stubborn as he was and I really would stay all night if he tested me.
Edward laughed initially, but when he sensed the seriousness of my threats, he reluctantly agreed. "God, you're so stubborn," he muttered under his breathe.
"Me!" I met his eyes, they sparkled in amusement. "Just get in the car Edward."
Unfortunately, it wasn't all fun and games. With the threat of closure hanging over our heads, we had begun a series of fundraisers all in hopes of raising the money needed to keep the center going. Sadly, we were miles away from our target and with a couple of major developers sniffing around, it was clear we were running out of time.
The last couple of months we'd held village fairs, bake sales, and charity auctions but today we were holding our annual, Forks' fundraiser.
Sue was whipping up a feast in the kitchen while I was busy making a start on decorating the hall with Edward's help of course. I thought he was beautiful before, but he looked absolutely breathtaking all clean-shaven and smartly dressed.
Clearly, Jessica Stanley thought so too. She had been following him around all morning like a bad smell. While I was silently seething, Edward was completely clueless and polite, even when her attempts became bordering on desperate. I shouldn't have been jealous, we weren't even dating. Yet my stomach dropped when I thought of anyone else having him.
Determined not to let Jessica spoil my mood I turned my attention to what was going on in the rest of the room and was heartened by what I saw. Rather than being overwhelmed by sadness and heartache, I felt hopeful. No matter how much or how little people had, this neighborhood always pulled together at this time of need.
"It's nice to see you smiling," Edward broke me from my reflection. I hadn't even noticed him approach.
"Sorry, I was miles away," I gave a smile of apology.
"What are you thinking about?"
Opening up to people had never come easily to me, especially talking about my dad. But there was something about Edward that put me at ease, and I found myself reliving happier times.
"I was thinking about happier times. My dad always said the center had a way of bringing the community together and he was right."
"What about your parents, what were they like?"
Seeing the hesitation on Edward's face, I hesitantly added, "It's okay if you're not comfortable talking about them."
"I don't mind," He said, surprising the hell out of me. "
Edward paused, lost in thought, a faraway smile on his face
"They were the best of everything; the best couple, the best parents. They were so perfect for one another. Every time she'd walk into the room, Dad would just come to life. They met in high school, and that was it." He smiled, clearly lost in the memories.
"They sound amazing," I reached out and squeezed his hand, touched that he was sharing that part of his life with me. "They obviously loved you and Alice very much. It must have been tough losing them," I said gently.
"Those first few weeks were the worst. I'd never felt so lost and angry. I was still grieving I guess. Alice was only ten at the time, so she didn't really understand what was going on. I tried to be there for her but how can you replace the loss of both of your parents."
"I'm sure you did your best. It can't have been easy." Once again, I reached over and took his hand in mine, giving it a gentle squeeze. I felt some of the tension ease.
Edward and I returned to the task at hand and had just finished setting up the drink station when Sue came over to join us, a coy smile on her face.
"You don't mind me stealing Bella away for a moment do you, Edward? One of the decorations has fallen down out front; I just need a hand putting it back up."
"I'll do it," he quickly volunteered. "I remember what happened the last time you attempted to get up the ladder." He teased.
"Hey!" I playfully nudged his shoulder. "That was one time, and it wasn't my fault," I replied defensively. So, I may have had a slight incident that very morning, whereby I narrowly avoided falling off the ladder, if not for Edward's quick reactions. Maybe I wasn't the most graceful or people, it didn't mean I was helpless.
"So, you and Edward seem close," Sue commented as soon as he was out of earshot. I reddened instantly at what she was implying but tried to remain impassive.
"He's great. It's been a tough process, but I think we're finally getting somewhere. He's opening up more and more." I started not wanting to give too much away.
"You really can't see it, huh?"
"We're just friends, Sue," I told her, knowing what she was implying. I'd been on the receiving end of her knowing looks the past couple of weeks, but thankfully, she never questioned me about it.
"Not from where I'm standing. The way he looks at you isn't the same way he looks at anyone else. He likes you, Bella. And you like him too- it's written all over your face."
"I'd be his if he asked, in the blink of an eye but it doesn't work that way. This can't work. It isn't right for the two of us to be anything more than friends." It was the truth, yet it hurt to say aloud.
"Why not?" Sue questioned. "You know what they say; the best relationships start off as friendships. You like him, he likes you. Everyone knows it, so stop dancing around one another and do something about it!"
"I've only known him a couple of weeks," I pointed out. "Don't you think it's a little fast to fall so soon?"
"Bella, I'm going to tell you something a very wise woman once said to me. You can be in a relationship for a year and feel nothing. You can be in a relationship for two weeks and feel everything. Time isn't a measure of love. Don't lose something wonderful because you were too afraid to try. Take a chance now, or you'll spend the rest of your life wondering what if."
Instinctively, I looked to Edward only to find he was already looking at me.
For a moment, I saw a future for the two of us; the perfect house with the white picket fence, complete with two adorable children with bronze hair and piercing green eyes.
The question was, could I be brave enough to risk it?
The rest of the night was filled with joy and laugher and proved to be a roaring success. However, the question was, had we done enough to keep the center open.
Desperate for answers I went off in search of Sue, praying she had some good news. I found her in the back office looking somber.
"How did we do today?" I asked already knowing the answer. She looked like she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.
"We're not even close Bella," she said sadly.
"I have a bit of my inheritance left. We could use it to keep us going for another month or two. It could give us the time we need to make the council reconsider." I pleaded.
"It's a lovely gesture honey, but I can't accept. That money is for your future, for your family. Charlie would want you to save it for that."
"This center is my family. I want to help please," I begged. "We can call it a loan if it makes you feel better?"
Looking at Sue's expression, I knew I was fighting a losing battle. I was clutching at straws but what else could I do?
"Bella, we can't keep doing this." Her tone was sympathetic, but her words cut me like a knife. "We've done all we can, but sadly there's no way forward for us. We gave it a good go, but it was always going to be an impossible task. The council is under a lot of pressure to get this place sold, and with developers from the city ready to step in, we're out of time. I've had another look at the books and saving a miracle, it's not going to help. All we can do now is put our energy into making these last few weeks count."
She was trying to be positive, no doubt sensing I was moments away from bursting into tears but if she could put on a brave face, so could I.
I nodded back, giving her a quick hug before making my way outside. I needed a minute to get myself together before I was ready to face the others.
It was cold and deserted outside, but I welcomed the solitude. I sat on the steps near the entrance for I don't know how long before I felt a warm jacket being placed around my shoulders.
I didn't need to turn around to know who was responsible.
Every time I needed comfort or someone to lean on it seemed he was there. Over the last few weeks, he'd been as much support for me as I had to him.
"You shouldn't be out here alone." He said disapprovingly as his arm wrapped around my shoulders and he drew me against him.
I discreetly tried to wipe my eyes before I replied. "I just needed a minute."
Edward didn't push me to elaborate; he could sense that I needed to get myself together before I was ready to talk. Moments passed, it could have been a minute, it could have been ten. I don't know how long, but after some time, Edward broke the silence.
"Talk to me, Bella. I hate seeing you this upset. Perhaps I could help?" he sounded genuinely concerned as he rubbed my back soothingly.
"Unless you've got a million dollars in the bank you want to loan me there's nothing you can do." I laughed bitterly.
"What do you mean?"
The truth was I felt tired and completely and utterly drained. I'd put on a front for so long, I couldn't hold my emotions in any longer.
"Were struggling Edward. If we can't find the money to buy the property the council will be forced to sell." I cried into his chest.
Edward patiently rubbed my back, held me, and when it finally seemed there were no more tears left to cry he spoke.
"Hey, it's okay," he soothed.
"No, it's not," I pulled away from his warm embrace, angrily wiping the tears off my face. "Don't you see, I've failed every single person in that room. I've failed Charlie, and I've failed you." I sobbed.
"You're wrong," his voice was hoarse, and he covered my hand with his, gripping it tightly.
"Bella, how can you say that? Do you even realize how amazing you are to me? Do you have any idea of the amount of happiness you've brought into not just my life but every single person out there?" He said, his hands framed my face, forcing me to look at him. The intensity in his eyes startled.
You're the one person I need to talk to when I've had a bad day, the only person I can rely on not to judge me. You make me laugh even when I've felt like crap. You bring out a smile in me no one else can. You're beautiful, smart, and the nicest person I've ever met. You're a lot more special than you ever give yourself credit for."
His response touched me, and it took me a few moments to respond.
"Your kind words aside still doesn't help us keep this place open," I said somberly.
"Perhaps not, but maybe there are some opportunities you haven't explored."
I smiled at his enthusiasm but it was no use, and I told him as much.
"We've already exhausted every possible option. We are constantly fundraising and applying for grants. We've even contacted a few major corporations for help."
"See that's a start." Edward was so optimistic I didn't have the heart to tell him we were out of time.
"I'm sure something will come from it. Tell me about the places you have applied to so far?" He was trying to distract me, but I appreciated the gesture.
"Oh, Edward, if you could see all the things our sponsors do, it's incredible. They don't just write a blank check and leave you to it. Or worse, use the charity just for publicity. They really get involved and support causes that aren't fashionable or high profile. They're inspirational."
"You're inspirational Bella," Edward said seriously.
"Don't be silly," I replied dismissively.
"I'm serious. What you're doing here, not just for me but for all these people is amazing. Everything will work itself out that I promise you."
I gave him a small smile. Edward sounded so positive, so certain but I failed to share his optimism.
We returned to the party for a few hours where I tried to put on a brave face and enjoy what was left of the day. Of course, it helped that Edward was beside me trying to cheer me up and make me smile.
However, a familiar sense of dread filled me when it came to end of the day.
"I'll see you tomorrow?" I asked hopefully when I stopped to drop Edward off outside his place.
"I've actually got to go away for a few days," he replied sadly.
"Oh," l tried to mask my disappointment. We hadn't spent a day apart for the last three weeks.
Edward lifted a hand and trailed a finger down my cheek with agonizing slowness.
"I have a few things I need to attend to, but hopefully it won't take too long." He said softly, his finger lingering near my mouth.
"I'll miss you," I told him honestly.
A smile touched his mouth as he slid his hands into my hair and brought his lips down on mine. He started slowly at first, almost as though he was testing the waters, to see if this was okay.
I responded eagerly, pouring all of my feelings into the kiss, telling him that this was okay. More than okay in fact. We pulled apart only to catch our breath.
He pulled away, his eyes holding mine. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that," he started to apologize. "That wasn't fair of me."
"Don't be. I'm glad you did," I told him honestly.
Edward rested his head against mine, groaning under his breath as he said, "I suppose I should go."
He sounded as reluctant to go as I was for him to leave. I sighed, putting a little distance between the two of us.
"I'll see you as soon as I can." Edward placed a quick kiss on my lips before heading into his apartment.
Edward had warned me he'd be away for a few days, so I tried not to let his absence affect me. Of course, I was worried, but it's not like he was the first person to be absent for a few days. However, when another day passed, and still he was a no-show, I couldn't help but worry. In the time I'd known him, it was the longest we were apart.
No matter how many times I told myself I was overreacting, something didn't seem right, and I couldn't rest until I'd done something about it. And so, the next day I went to his apartment to search him out. Imagine my shock to learn he had never lived there ...
It made absolutely no sense!
I was devastated that he had fooled me, but I still worried. Not just because he was a friend, the connection ran much deeper than that. I'd never felt this way before. I always told myself not to get attached to any of the visitors, but Edward was different. Or at least I thought he was.
Three days went by without a word from Edward; not a not a phone call, not a visit.
Nothing for an entire week.
I was terrified but, in the meantime, I tried my best to put my concerns to the back of my mind. After all, I had other things to worry about. Today, Sue had summoned us to the center for a big announcement, the one I'd feared since we'd been issued with the council's ultimatum.
By the time I arrived, the center was packed with locals. A crowd had already formed near the front so I stood at the back where I could escape if the emotions became overwhelming.
"Do you know what this is about?" Angela asked beside me.
I shook my head noncommittal.
"Looks like we're about to find out." She added when Sue called for everyone's attention.
"Now I know you're all wondering why we're all gathered here," she began sounding surprisingly upbeat.
There were a few gasps and mutters of disbelief as she explained the plight of the center. I was all prepared for her to announce its closure, so what she said next caught me completely off guard.
"We would have been forced to close our doors had it not been for the intervention of some very generous people."
A movement at the front of the room caught my attention, and I was bewildered to see Edward and another woman I didn't recognize making their way over to Sue. My throat suddenly felt very dry as I watched the events unfold.
Between the last time I'd seen him, Edward looked very different. The faded jeans had been replaced by smart trousers and the comfortable t-shirt by a tailored one. My relief that he was okay quickly turned to confusion. It made absolutely no sense to me, and I tried to think of a possible reason for his new look and return.
I was vaguely aware of Angela's excitement beside me, but I was in so much shock I could barely take it all in.
"Is this some sort of joke?" She asked once she'd calmed down.
I could scarcely believe what I was seeing let alone speak, so I stayed quiet while I tried to make sense of what was going on, and watched in shock as the woman who was standing beside Edward took the microphone.
I listened, my eyes fixated on Edward.
"Hello everyone. It's nice to be here today. My name is Alice Cullen, and I'm sure you recognize my brother over there," she nodded towards Edward who looked incredibly uncomfortable with the attention.
I watched, as he seemed to scan the room, what he was looking for I wasn't sure. Just at that moment, he lifted his eyes and saw me. Green melded with brown, and I stood still, trapped by his panicked gaze.
"I'm sure you're all wondering what we're doing here. A while back, we received a letter from a concerned member of the community telling us the plight of your center. When I heard about all of the amazing things you were doing here, I immediately wanted to help. My brother insisted on seeing the center for himself," she told us.
There were a few gasps and murmurs of disbelief, but Alice shushed the crowd. I opened my mouth and closed it again. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Don't be too hard on him, okay. He was only looking out for me. And if he hadn't, we wouldn't be here to offer you not only the money to keep this wonderful project going, but to roll out a similar project in Seattle, too. Edward tells me what a fabulous job you're doing and we can't think of a more worthwhile cause for the Cullen foundation to support."
There was a moment of complete silence as the crowd took in what had just been said. However, it didn't take long for the shock to wear off and the cheers and celebrations to start.
I was too shell-shocked to join in the celebrations.
"Did you know about this?" Angela asked beside me.
"No, of course not," I told her truthfully.
It hurt that Edward hadn't trusted me enough to be honest with me from the start. I'd have answered any question. Instead, he lied and deceived me
I didn't know who he was anymore. Was the kind-hearted, sweet soul with the shy smiles and slight awkwardness even real, or had he been playing me from the start?
I felt physically sick, and while everyone was busy fussing and congratulating the surprise guests for saving the center, I was reeling from this latest development.
Needing a moment to gather my thoughts I made my way through the chattering throng towards the back office. Forcing myself to take several, deep breaths, I sank my head into my hands, only to sit up quickly when I heard the door open behind me.
"I'm okay, I just need a minute," I lied, assuming it was Sue or Angela coming to check up on me.
However, when I turned around, I was shocked to find it was Edward standing behind me. He looked different, all clean shaved and smartly dressed, but underneath the fancy clothes and polished look, he was still my Edward. I then cursed myself for thinking of him in that way. I didn't know who he was anymore.
"Bella, I know you must be mad at me, and you have every right to be, but please just let me explain." When he reached out to me, I instinctively pushed him away. I couldn't think straight whenever he touched me.
"Explain!" I said exasperatedly. "You've been lying to me from the moment we first met. For all I know everything you've told me is a lie! Your name isn't even Edward Mason!"
"No, not exactly. It was originally, then I changed it to Cullen when my adopted parents took Alice and me in," he explained
"That's beside the point. Do you have any idea what the last few days have been like for me?" I snapped, barely taking a breather before I carried on my rant.
"All week I have been worrying about you. I imagined all sorts of terrible things that could have happened to you. I was terrified," I let out all the emotions I'd been bottling up.
"I didn't want to go, but I had to sort the donation out in person. I couldn't make a phone call for that kind of transaction," he explained, as though we were discussing the weather.
Didn't he understand how his lies had changed everything?
"That still doesn't explain why you've been lying to me for the last three weeks! You could have told me the truth at any time, but no, you kept up the charade. What I don't understand is why? Why not tell me the truth about who you are?"
Edward looked almost hesitant before he spoke, so I knew I wasn't going to like what he was about to disclose.
"Alice is a very successful businesswoman; my parents are also well known for donating to numerous charitable organizations. Do you have any idea how many charities contact us? How many people literally beg for our help? It's in the hundreds, on a weekly basis, and I'm not saying all aren't genuine, but we still have to be careful."
"And you thought lying to me was the way to go about that!" I yelled.
"It was the only way to be sure. Alice has a big heart and has been caught out by bogus charities who took advantage of her good nature."
But you were happy to take advantage of my good nature I wanted to add.
"I saw the devastation that caused, and I swore I'd never let that happen again. This is an enormous amount of money, Bella. We needed to be sure it was going to the right cause. I won't apologize for that."
When Edward came to the end of his explanation, I didn't know what to say. I understood his motives, but that didn't mean I wasn't upset and angry. It hurt that he'd pretty much been deceitful to me from the moment we met.
And if he could do that so easily, what else was false?
"So, it was all just a lie?" I looked away, the emotions overwhelming, and I was sure it was written all over my face.
"Bella, I know this is a lot to take in, and I'm sure you feel betrayed. I'm sorry you had to find out like that. I intended to speak to you before the announcement, but we were held up on the way here. I hated lying to you, but it was the only way to be sure. You've got to know that lying, making up a story about me living on the street was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I wish I could have been honest with you from the start, but I needed to be sure the center was genuine." He sounded so sincere, I didn't doubt his words.
"I only intended to see the place once and make sure it was legitimate. But then I met you; this charming, incredibly strong woman. You amazed me, Bella. Why do you think I came back time and time again? The truth is, I couldn't stay away. I told Alice I needed to be sure, but you have to know from the moment I met you, I couldn't imagine not being around you."
He leaned in, gently taking my face in his hands. I wanted to push him away but I couldn't.
"You and me, this is real. I never lied about my feelings for you Bella."
"How do you feel?" I asked barely above a whisper.
"I've fallen in love with you Bella. You're the most selfless, caring person I've met."
The shock on my face surely matched my earlier surprise when Edward appeared at the center.
"I don't know what to say." I was actually lost for words. It was a lot to take in. As tempting as it was to rush into his arms, this wasn't the movies where all it took was a declaration of love to fix everything.
I had a lot to think about.
Whatever the reasoning for his deception the fact remained that Edward had lied to me and broken my trust. I needed to process all that had happened, and I told him as much.
"I know you had your reasons, and you're sorry, but this changes everything. I need time to process what's happened."
"I understand," His tone was flat. "I will give you all the time you need, but before I go I want you to know that I never for one minute meant to hurt you," He choked on the last words, looking as drained as I felt. I stood still, wanting to say something but not knowing what.
Edward straightened and walked towards the door, his face expressionless. I stared after him as he left the room, wanting to stop him but powerless to do so.
In the days that followed, I was noticeably tense, but I tried to distract myself with juggling my day job and my time at the center, but Edward rarely left my mind.
I missed him so much it physically hurt.
So many times I was close to picking up the phone just to hear his voice. However, tempted as I was to rush, I needed to be sure I could forgive him. The truth remained that our friendship had been built on a lie and I needed to work out whether I could get past that.
A week went by, and after spending that time moping and generally feeling miserable, Sue had had enough of my wallowing and staged an intervention.
"This has gone on long enough! You're miserable, he's undoubtedly miserable. You can't keep going on like this."
"I don't know what to do. I'm so confused. I want to let it go, but I don't know if I can. He lied to me, Sue. Everything I felt is based on a lie."
"I understand what you're saying but look at it from his perspective. Would you have listened to him or even got to know him if you knew who he was?"
I thought about what she'd said, and she did have a point. If I'd known Edward's circumstances, would I have taken the time to get to know him or would I have treated him differently? I couldn't be sure.
"The reality is that everyone makes mistakes, but that doesn't mean they have to pay for them the rest of their life. Sometimes good people make bad choices; it doesn't mean they're bad. It means they are human. Don't let one mistake ruin a beautiful thing. Edward was protecting his sister; he did a wonderful thing the wrong way. But, my sense is, he never thought he was going to meet the girl of his dreams in this particular community center."
The rest of day went on as usual, and before I knew it, I'd wasted another night in front of the TV. This was getting ridiculous- I needed to make a decision one way or another before I drove myself and everyone around me crazy.
Remembering Sue's words, I bit my lip and reached for my phone.
That night I made a call, one that would shape my future one way or another.
"Hi Alice, It's Bella Swan," I said hesitantly.
"Bella!" she exclaimed, shocked that I had got in touch despite her touching base with the project over the last week.
"I think it's time we talked. Do you want to meet?"
"Of course," she didn't try to hide her delight. "I'm sure there are a lot of things you want to talk about."
"You could say that," I replied.
"How does tomorrow sound? I'm heading over to Forks anyway to catch up with Sue. We could meet for coffee first." she suggested.
"That sounds good."
"So, I'll see you tomorrow at ten?" I confirmed once we'd arrange where we'd be meeting.
The next day as planned, I met Alice at a coffee shop in the heart of town. She was as friendly and lovely as everyone at the center praised her to be. Any of the fears I'd had of an awkward meeting faded away when she greeted me with a warm hug and a friendly smile before we made our way over to a table in the far corner of the room. After we'd ordered our drinks and a few tasty pastries, she wasted no time in cutting to the chase.
"I'm glad you called, but why meet now? And why me?" She was straight to the point.
"I needed answers, and I couldn't guarantee I wouldn't be swayed by my feelings for Edward," I told her honestly.
She looked pleased with my answer.
"Edward mentioned it was problems in the past that led to the trust issues you have," I stated. I saw Alice tense immediately, so I knew what she was about to tell me would be difficult for her.
She was crying, I was too when she told me all the details surrounding the scam that had robbed her of her parents' inheritance before the authorities stepped in and the fraudsters were put in jail.
"I can see why you would have trouble trusting people after that, but what I don't understand is why pretend for so long? What hurts the most is that he could have told me the truth at any time, but instead, he kept lying to me." My voice shook with anger.
"I can't speak for Edward, but you have to understand it's in his nature to be overprotective. He was devastated by what happened, but there is more to it than that. He blamed himself you see. Stupid as it is, he thought he should have seen what was going on. Even when we were little, he was always looking out for me. Even more so after the death of our parents."
"Everything he told you about them was true if that's what you're thinking," she confirmed. "It's hard for him to talk about them even now. The fact that he told you shows how important you are to him."
"Why not send someone else to do your digging, another employee perhaps?" I suggested.
"Edward is very good at reading people, a good judge of character you could say. I suppose it stems from his job," she mused.
"What does he do?" I felt silly asking her about a man I'd spent so much time with.
"He's a lawyer," Alice answered but judging by my lackluster response she was quick to add, "not some hot shot celebrity lawyer if that's what you're thinking. He specializes in human rights, mainly none profit."
"Oh, I see," I replied embarrassed to have jumped to the wrong conclusion. In my defense, the only lawyers I had dealt with were the same ones who issued the ultimatum for the center.
As we continued chatting, I felt bad bombarding Alice with all the questions I'd been pondering over the last few days. However, Alice was kind and patient, willing to answer all my silly questions without any sign of annoyance
Soon our conversation turned to the center, and I was thrilled with the efforts she was making to get involved in the project. She was passionate, driven, and incredibly proactive without taking over. I had high hopes for its future with the Cullens on board.
When Alice announced that she needed to be heading off, she asked if there was anything else I wanted to ask her. I smiled for what felt like the first time all week. I'd heard all I needed to hear. Talking to Alice had seen to that.
Who was I kidding? My decision was made a while ago I just wasn't ready to admit it. Ever since that day at the center, the only thing I could seem to think about was Edward. Yes, he deceived me, but whenever I try to picture a life without him, I couldn't.
It looks like a trip to Seattle was in the cards.
And so, the next day I made the trip to the city. Luckily, it was the weekend, so I didn't need to worry about the store or the center where we generally had more volunteers than during the week. Of course, I didn't need to worry, and when I disclosed to Alice my plans to visit Edward she jumped at the chance to step in. She even gave me all the information on where I could find him.
I smiled as I stood outside the Sacred Heart Shelter, thinking how appropriate it was that our reunion would take place here. I took a moment to collect my thoughts before making my way inside.
It didn't look too dissimilar to the center in Forks except that it was a lot busier, which saddened me deeply.
But even in that crowded room, my eyes found Edward. Just seeing him made my heart jump and my mood brighten. The moment his eyes lifted to mine, the air around us came alive.
Suddenly, all the distractions of the world faded away.
There was something different about him, but I couldn't work out what it was. He looked tired as if he was ready to collapse and sleep for a week. He looked broken, as evident by the dark circle under his eyes, but still, he spoke to every single person with the same enthusiasm and warm smile.
Suddenly his eyes flew to mine. Unable to look away or move, my eyes didn't leave his. I saw hope, trepidation, and fear across his handsome face as he started making his way towards me.
"Not that I'm not pleased to see you, but what are you doing here?" Edward said wearily.
"There are things I need to say to you. But not here. Can we talk somewhere?" I glanced at our audience. Edward nodded in understanding before leading me outside, but not before he'd arranged cover for his station.
For a moment, we stared at one another, both unsure where to begin.
Up close, he looked tired and weary, and for a moment, I just looked at him, wondering how I was going to do this. I opened my mouth to speak, then closed it again, thinking rapidly. I'd planned what I wanted to say, but now, with Edward in front of me, all the words slipped away.
"Bella - I," Edward started to say before I cut him off.
"No, please don't talk. If you do, I won't be able to get this out." I told him.
"You hurt me, Edward. I can't deny that the lies you told changed things, but it doesn't change how I feel about you."
Deciding actions spoke louder than words, I leaned forward and took his face in my hands and kissed him squarely on the lips. Edward stiffened with shock; his mouth remained immobile for a moment, before I felt his move against mine.
His hands threaded through my hair, as he took that moment to deepen the kiss. We both let out a shared groan as his tongue ground against mine. I blushed, hearing myself moan, but my embarrassment was long forgotten when his hands found their way around my waist, molding me even closer to him.
The kiss went deeper and deeper. We were both gasping for air when we finally pulled apart. I smiled up at him, aware that everything I felt shone in my eyes.
For a moment, my courage faltered before I found my voice.
"I love you," I said my eyes misty as I looked at him.
He stroked a strand of hair away from my eyes with a gentle hand and leaned down to kiss me softly. When he pulled away, a smile formed on his lips
I took a moment to enjoy the feeling of being in Edward's arms before reality hit. Despite the joy I felt, I couldn't help feeling a little worried. It was all very well confessing our love to one another, but where did that leave us now? With Edward based in Seattle and me in Forks, it was hardly an ideal situation. It was all very disconcerting.
"What are you thinking?" Edward asked, as his hand settled over my worried brow.
I looked at him wearily. "I can't leave the center. We'll make it work some way, but I can't leave Forks."
"You won't have to," Edward closed his hand over mine. "I can come to you."
"You don't mind leaving the city?" I whispered, daring to believe.
He closed his eyes for a moment, and the lowered his head so that his forehead brushed mine. "I want to be wherever you are." He said simply.
Before I could reply, he pulled my body against his, and it was becoming harder and harder to concentrate.
As he brought his mouth down on mine, I knew that the lies, the deception, none of that mattered anymore.
Edward had done what he needed to do to help his sister make a decision. He never expected to meet me, nor did I ever expect to meet the love of my life at the center. But in some ways, it seems perfect.
Poetic and romantic, even.
I know Dad would love this story. He would want me to be happy.
Happy with someone like Edward.
AN: So what do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts:)
With the amount of stories I have on the go at the moment there are no plans to continue this one. Maybe one day...