Chapter 1 - The Kiss

I have to start this story with the kiss. The kiss of a good-natured stalker. Of an uptight weirdo. Of a rumored bipolar sociopath. Of the most beautiful man I've ever laid eyes on. The kiss that may have very possibly sealed my fate. I saw it coming. I stood there, frozen like a deer in headlights, and all my newfound instincts for self-preservation vanished as his eyes locked with mine. The chill in the bar intensified by a million until it felt like burning ice was creeping through my veins.

He held me: my hand, my hip, then cupped my cheek. He was gentle, like I was something precious he was afraid he might break, yet I sensed urgency in the tension of his muscles. I felt the same need. I wanted this kiss more than anything I could remember in years I was unwilling to count. So I stood there - stuck, cold, and happy - as he lowered his lips to mine. With that simple touch, lips to lips, the ice that had been rushing through my veins shattered and I felt like I was bursting into millions of frosty and fiery shards. White light flashed beneath my eyelids, and I reached out and clung to Edward Cullen for support.

Edward held on too. He grabbed my hoodie, hitching it slightly, and his fingertips brushed my lower back. It was okay. It was better than okay. I was okay and I was exploding from the inside out. So I pressed my lips against his, because despite all the rumors, despite all of my misgivings, I was pretty sure the world was wrong about Edward Cullen.

xXxXx

Five days ago I couldn't have imagined that kiss. I don't make a habit of kissing men in bars. I don't make a habit of going to bars at all. Life is generally better out in the light of day where you can appreciate all your senses. But five days ago, my next-door neighbor, Angela, was celebrating the launch of her new website, and she planned on taking everyone from her office out to celebrate.

"Come on Bella," she begged. "For me?" She dramatically clutched her hands in front of her and batted her big, brown eyes. She held her breath.

When it came down to it, her offer was more interesting than what I had planned for the night: a glass of wine and a new order for a real estate logo on Fiverr.

"You need a designated driver?" I asked.

Angela shrugged. "We'll take a ride share."

"Not anymore," I replied. "Someone's got to keep an eye on you." It's always better when you have friends to watch your back. There are some things you live and learn.

"Yay!" Angela squealed, pulling me in for a hug. "Can you get ready in a hurry?" she asked, stepping back and looking me over.

"What do you mean? I just need my keys."

Angela raised an eyebrow. "This is Brick and Mortar, Bella. We want them to, um, let us in."

I rolled my eyes, but marched back to my bedroom. I was up for something interesting; something just a little out of the ordinary on a sleepy Saturday night. I wasn't going out and looking for attention. Angela was right, though. It would suck if I got stuck waiting in the car while everyone else was inside the bar. I switched out my baggy concert T for a midnight blue camisole that shimmered a little, like a starry sky. I pulled my hair from its messy ponytail and ran a brush through it. I applied a little lip gloss, some mascara, fixed a smile on my face, and grabbed a hoodie to hide underneath, if I got the chance.

Half an hour later, I stood back and watched as we waited in a line behind a black velvet rope. I watched Angela with stars strung in her eyes as she gushed about her website and her plans for the future. I watched Rachel pick over Rebecca's artfully disheveled bun. I listened to Jessica's story about the elusive, gorgeous entrepreneur that owned Brick and Mortar. I watched Emily's face contort in disgust, like she'd just chugged spoiled milk.

"Have you heard the stories?" Emily asked. I almost expected her to spit in order to get rid of the rotten taste in her mouth.

Jessica shrugged and adjusted her high waisted hot pants. "I can get freaky."

"There's freaky and there's pathological, Jess."

"Isn't he a shut-in?" Rebecca piped in.

"If shut-ins have sex dungeons," Jess replied with a wink.

Emily rolled her eyes. Jess shook her head and hip-checked Emily. "Weirdo," Emily snorted.

"Prude," Jess shot back.

"Who's prude?" the bouncer asked.

Each of us turned to see a tall wall of muscle and man standing between our group and the entrance to the bar.

"I.D.'s?" he asked with a wicked grin. "And if one of you isn't named Prude, I'll know they're fake."

Jessica's face went red as a beet. Emily sputtered, trying to come up with an explanation about her parents and her real, legal, god-given name. I shook my head, stepped forward, and motioned for the big guy to dip his head to my level. A chill ran down my spine as he sidled up next to me, and I shoved my arms into my hoodie.

"I can't go by Prude without the Feds turning up and raiding the place," I hissed. "It's in your best interest to keep this knowledge on the down low. You dig?" I looked deep into the bouncer's amber eyes and raised my brows in what I hoped was a dramatic, knowing manner.

The big guy fixed his eyes on me as he slowly stood back to his full height. A grin slowly spread across his face. His chest shook as he looked me over from head to toe. The booming laughter came seconds later.

"Get the hell in there," he said, unfastening the velvet rope for us. Somehow it sounded welcoming instead of threatening.

xXxXx

For all the hoopla, Brick and Mortar was pretty standard. Dim lights glowed from corners and wove intricate patterns over the dance floor. Music pulsed like a heartbeat and people unconsciously swayed where they stood, drawn into a unified mood of giddy exuberance. Patrons crowded three deep around the bar trying to shout out orders, passing sticky glasses, tossing back amber liquid. The place was incredibly cold, though, and I zipped my hoodie, glad I'd had the forethought to bring it along.

Angela was out on the dance floor with her crew, celebrating together, happily surrounded by friends. They laughed and shimmied, throwing arms over shoulders, swinging hips, and holding one another upright. As the designated driver, I'd somehow also ended up as designated purse-holder. I lurched from one corner to the other, trying to keep the purses pushed over my shoulders and the water in my glass instead of splashed across my chest.

Finally, I spotted someone stumbling off a stool at the very end of the bar, right by a back exit. Three of us spotted it at once. I took a quick glance at my competition: a middle-aged woman in a black dress and heels, and a tall, skinny college kid wearing sagging skinny jeans. For a breath we sized one another up, then the race was on. I bobbed and weaved my way across the dance floor, willing the purses to propel me forward with their swinging weight. I laughed as I raced to the music, stepping to the beat, angling around couples, twirling through troupes.

The woman was stopped short by a strong arm. Her date held her as he handed off his empty pint glass. The tall kid was closing in, though. No way was he beating me. On a whim, I shot sideways, angling to come at the stool from the other side of the bar, laughing at this ridiculous game. I twirled around two people - all legs and hands and lips - then spun around the corner of the bar and stopped short as I was nearly trampled by an angry man. A very meticulously well-dressed, very good looking, very angry man.

"Watch theā€¦ Fuck!" he spat, screwing his eyes closed and shaking his head like he was trying to dislodge something from between his ears.

"I could say the same to you, buddy," I replied, somewhat deflated. Tall kid won the race. He spotted me looking in his direction and tipped his baseball cap. I couldn't help but giggle while I tried to catch my breath.

"Do you really need all those handbags?" the man in front of me inexplicably demanded.

"Oh," I mumbled. In all the excitement, I'd almost forgotten. I pushed them back over my shoulders, counting to myself to make sure I hadn't lost anyone's bag. Once my hands were free, I glanced back up at the guy who'd almost run me down. While everyone else in the bar seemed as enthusiastic and cheerful as the pulsating music in the air around us, this man looked like he was in pain. He stared past me at the exit.

"Designated driver," I tried to explain with jazz hands and a smile. "Yay!"

The man's eyes calmly raked over me liked he was taking an inventory. Glad for my oversized hoodie, I stuffed my hands deep into the pockets. I was about to mumble something or other and get the heck out of his way, when the man's mouth opened in a silent scream and he clutched the sides of his head.

"Hey, are you okay?"

Before I knew it, he was on his knees in front of me.

"Woah, buddy, do you need something? Um, I can get some help. Wait here! Okay? I'll be right back."

I rushed toward the entrance, this time running against the beat, all games abandoned. At first, the big guy by the front door smiled when he saw me, but he quickly sensed something was off.

"Someone's sick!" I shouted over the music. "Someone collapsed at the end of the bar, by the back door. It seems pretty bad."

When we came crashing into the dim space, the crowd parted like they were the Red Sea and the bouncer was Moses. We sailed through and I led the way, right across the dance floor and around the corner of the bar until we were there: me, the bouncer, and the tall kid on the last stool. The well-dressed, angry, incapacitated man who'd crumbled to the floor in front of me was gone without a trace.

"Nice one, Prude," the bouncer grumbled as he stalked away.

"He was right here." I sighed. I shook my head. How could he have disappeared when minutes ago he couldn't even walk?

"Hey, yo," someone hissed. I looked up to see the skinny kid nodding my way. "You want a seat? My buddies are headed out. You earned it." He tipped his cap again.

I took the stool gratefully, piling all the purses in front of me. Before long, the bartender offered me a free drink, but I settled on another glass of ice water. I kept glancing back at the spot on the floor where the man had fallen, wondering if I'd somehow made him up. Sometimes my mind played tricks on me, but usually I conjured up people from my past, not complete strangers.

xXxXx

It's hard to believe that was only five days ago. Really, everything's been so hard to believe, like when Edward turned up at my elbow moments later, as if nothing in the world was wrong. Like when he happened to be walking through the park the next morning, or when I found him squeezing melons in the same high-end grocery store where I was Instacart shopping.

This should have frightened me, but there was something different about Edward, and that's putting it mildly. Edward wasn't just another persistent guy who couldn't take a hint. He was unrelenting in the same way the tide insists on moving up the beach twice a day, or the way the sun insists on rising each morning. He was there like air was there, like the ground under my feet. And when he kissed me, I'd never felt more sure that I was here too. I fell into the kiss with a sigh, as what little that remained of my defenses fell away.

Edward's lips parted. His arms enveloped me. His hands clutched. And then his body stiffened, and he pulled back.

xXxXx

A/N: One of my oldest & dearest friends in the fandom pulled me out of my fanfiction funk and asked me to write along with her. Go check out Hades, a Love Story - Sort Of by FictionFreak95. She's been writing from EPOV (sort of), while I write from BPOV. We'll be updating on Fridays and having fun doing it. Thanks to Sue for her betamazingness & to Jo for the inspiration. This doesn't mean I've given up on It Never Goes Out. It means I'm writing again. It's a good sign. Peace ~M