AN: These characters are not mine. I just play with them for fun.
The boxes for the apartment were all finally unpacked and taken out to the curb. There were two boxes, full, stacked by the front door to be taken to my classroom tomorrow. I sipped my hot tea and listened to the sound of my dryer finishing its last load of the night. There were still lots of things hastily thrown in cabinets and counters but at least there were no more boxes. Next weekend I could finish tidying up and get some last-minute things from Target. Bookshelf, curtains, area rug, and a wall hanging kit were all on my list but I am sure that list would grow. I took another sip of chamomile and closed my eyes.
This summer had been tough. I had moved from one coast to damn near the other but that may have been the easiest bit. I had left behind everything. I left family and friends to venture out on my own. I needed to be alone. I could not stand being around their happy faces that felt sorry for me. I wanted to disappear in a place where no one knew my past and I could try to, at least outwardly, live an average life.
I was looking forward to the school year starting so I could settle down into a normal routine once more. It was easier to go through the motions of a happy, normal life when there was a routine. Teaching high school English was something I knew. Something I could fall into and let it absorb me. I was almost happy when I was teaching children about literature and writing structure. I, Ms. Black, was the new freshman English teacher at The Chicago High School for the Arts. I loved teaching and it was a good way to be able to spend all my time in the classic novels I loved so much. Tomorrow was Monday and the first day the faculty will be in the building. There were a few meetings this week but most of the time was for the teachers to set up their classrooms and prep for the students, who started one week later.
The dryer buzzed its final alarm, indicating the sheets I had been waiting on were dry. I dumped my cup in the kitchen sink and set about making my bed so I could try to get some rest. Sleep was not usual, but I always started the night optimistically. How delicious it would be to be able to, just once, lay down and slip into a peaceful oblivion until morning. Nighttime was filled with restless tossing, minutes of blacking out from exhaustion, and terrors. It had been this way ever since… well, for too long.
I walked into my new school with my travel mug of coffee and two boxes balanced carefully. I slowly made my way to my new classroom. Blank walls in a new room was as visual as you could get for a fresh start. I placed my boxes on my desk and took in a deep breath. The room smelled dusty from sitting so still over the summer. The desks were haphazardly placed around the room. I would have to organize those at some point. I sipped my coffee and eyed one corner of the room, by a window, that I would love to transform into a little reading nook.
"You're Isabella Black, right?" a chipper face poked around the corner of my classroom door.
"Izzy, or Ms. Black in front of students. Yeah, that's me," I took another sip of coffee, still not awake enough to match her level of energy.
"Great! I am your next-door neighbor, Kathy. Kathy Willis. I teach English in the room next to yours, 205." Kathy beamed and walked into the class. She was petite and slightly older than my mother's age. She wore clothes with mixed patterns and clashing color schemes but for some reason she seemed to pull it off in a naturally eccentric sort of way.
"It is nice to meet you," and it was. I could see the genuine joy coming off this woman and had a feeling we would get along fine.
"Likewise! Well, I just wanted to poke in and say 'hi' and that if you need anything to just come by and ask." Kathy started to make her way back to her class.
"Thank you," I yelled after her and took a long sip of my coffee as Kathy waved and went back to her room. I sighed and started up my computer. While it turned on, I opened the boxes and spread out the contents. The English department had its own floor in the east wing. I loved the idea of being so close to all the other English teachers and being able to bounce ideas and lesson plans off of them. I settled in and started to get to work checking my emails, getting the classroom set up, looking over my class rosters and finishing the last of that precious life-giving coffee. Before I knew it, Kathy was popping back into my room to see if I wanted to walk down to the meeting with her.
"Welcome to ChiArts! Where did you teach before here?" Kathy seemed excited. The first day in the school was always nice.
"Oh, I just moved from Seattle."
"So, you are brand new to Chicago? Oh, Dear, you just have to let me show you around. I love this town!" I nodded and exchanged numbers with Kathy. It would be nice to get to know my new hometown. We sat near each other in the cafeteria. Half of the room was set up with tables but the half we were sitting in were just chairs, facing a projection screen with rotating photos of last year.
Principal Johnson made his way to stand in front of the screen and started his speech. I could feel eyes on me, but I refused to turn to look at the other faculty. I just wanted to blend in. I zoned out on him welcoming us and talking about new policies for the school year. He went over achievements of years past and goals to look forward to. His speech had taken well over an hour, but he was starting to wrap up "We are so excited to make this year at Chi Arts our best year yet!" I could still feel eyes on me. Just like being a student, the new addition got a lot of attention. As if the principal were reading my thoughts, "We are pleased to have two new additions to the ChiArts family, Isabella Black in the English department, could you please stand up," I reluctantly stood and gave a small smile and nod "and Anthony Masen in the Music Department."
My eyes shot across the room to the only other standing person in the room. I froze. I must have forgotten to breathe because I sat down a little harder than I had planned. My eyes glued to my hands in my lap. The principal kept talking about how we would make great additions to the ChiArts family, but I did not hear a word. How was he here? After all these years, this is how I run into him? The room broke into applause and I joined in. People started taking out their lunches and the low murmur of conversation filled the room. I lifted my lunch bag from the floor next to me and stood up to make my way to a table. I had to keep going through the motions. I could keep going through the motions. Kathy called me over to a table of two other English teachers she wanted to introduce me to. I did not catch their names, but I figured I would see them around at some point and I could catch up then. My mind was whirling and I could not focus on any one thing other than the repeating "why now?," playing on loop in my inner monologue. I picked at my lunch and "hummed" and "ahhed" at the right times but mostly just stared at the table.
"Mr. Masen is staring at you. Do you know him?" Kathy's question snapped me out of it. I looked at her and fought the urge to turn around.
"High school is always high school. People are always interested in the new kid in the cafeteria," I shrugged and took a sip of my water not giving her question a real answer.
"If a young man like that was interested in me, I would not still be sitting at this table," Kathy smiled and gave a little wave over my shoulder.
"Don't be so quick to judge a book by its cover Kathy," I smirked at my little English joke. "He is probably the type to tell you he loves you one minute and take off the next." I stood and gathered my barely touched lunch. "It was nice meeting you all. I really should get back to work." I nodded and smiled appropriately and quickly walked to my class.
I took a deep breath once safely inside my classroom. I could do this. Just focus on the task at hand. I made my way over to my desk and started to shuffle through the things there.
"Ms. Black?" the honeyed voice spoke softly and unsure from my doorway.
I stopped and stood straight but dare not turn around. "Did you know I would be here?"
I let out a breath and paused a few beats before speaking again, "We will not do this here. I can't do this here." I prattled of the address to my new apartment knowing he would be able to memorize it easily. "If you need to talk, come by later," my shoulders squared and I forced a sweet smile onto my face before turning around and looking directly at him, "If there is something I can help you with professionally Mr. Masen…" I let the end of my sentence hang in the empty space between us. He had not crossed the threshold into my classroom.
He looked almost the same. He seemed more tense than I remember. More like Jasper, who struggled more than the rest of them. I wondered if he was struggling against my scent like he had the first day we met. He also had on glasses which I thought was odd. He shifted from one foot to the other and nodded minutely "I just wanted to welcome you to Chi Arts and say that I look forward to working with you this coming school year." I nodded back at him and he left.
I sat in my chair at my desk and took a few breaths. Why was he shifting? Why was he wearing glasses? Why is he starting out as a teacher, isn't it easier for him to start younger? The floodgates that had been holding back my thoughts burst open. He looks forward to working with me this school year? Does that mean he is not leaving? Why would he stay, knowing I am here? Does he expect me to leave? Does he think we could work in the same building? Why did he change his name? Breaths were coming in short gasps. I leaned forward and put my head between my knees. Breathe, just breathe. I had to bottle all of this back up. I could not function if I could not compartmentalize. I was not myself here and I could not be. At work I was a different character, one I had carefully crafted over the years. I was confident and sure and hard working. Work. Right. I stood and smoothed out my clothes before throwing myself back into the work of unpacking my boxes and organizing my classroom.
The workday came to an end and I made a bee line for my car. I only had to make it home before I could let myself start to process once more. After a quick detour I found myself at home staring down a bottle of tequila and a bottle of wine. Which one should I open?
"Ms. Black?" I heard the low question asked once more, this time slightly more accusatory with a bit of a growl underneath. My hand grabbed the tequila and I poured myself a large glass. I took a long swallow before answering.
"Divorced, but I kept his last name. I see you still enjoy sneaking into girls houses through the window rather than knocking at the front door like a gentleman" I gulped more of the tequila.
"That is not water." I just laughed and took another small sip. He pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses. "Please. Please tell me it was not Jacob Black."
"After ten years, you think you get to have an opinion about my love life?"
"A wolf Bella? You cannot be serious! You were supposed to be careful, to have a normal life, to get away from monsters."
"And you were supposed to disappear. It was supposed to be as if you never existed, but here we are." The burn of the tequila was settling into a smooth warmth and was helping to take the slight edge off my nerves. "You never stopped existing. I could never get away."
Edward sighed and sat down on the couch. I stayed standing at the kitchen counter. My glass was a little over half empty. I swirled it around and watched the liquid turn. "What are you thinking?" his voice came out muffled from his hands.
I chuckled a bit at the question. Such a familiar question from him. "I think we are both too old to play games and give each other half-truths and cryptic answers to questions. I think we need to start at the beginning before we get too much information jumbled up. I want to know why you are starting out so old knowing you will have to leave quicker. I also can't figure out why you are here and why we are having this conversation if you are so hell bent on running away from me. Hell Edward, we are mated and you left anyway knowing what that meant."
"No half-truths," he agreed "I started out older this time because I was not planning on staying as long. A year or two, tops. I cannot teach music if I am a student myself. I can pass for 25 but not much older. I did not know you would be working here too until today. It is too late to run away now." He swallowed and took a long pause. "And I want to know what you think us being mates entails or what it means to you. You aren't even one of us Bella. You cannot possibly understand."
My head was starting to get a little fuzzy, but I took another sip anyway. I placed the glass on the counter and made my way to sit on the coffee table in front of him. As I sat down, I pulled my t-shirt over my head and tossed it to the floor. Edward's eyes went wide and then impossibly dark. Small burn marks and a few crescent shaped teeth marks littered the front of my body. Most of them centered around my heart but a few stray burn marks here and there trailed down my abdomen.
"Victoria," I cut him off before he could get any further. "You took her mate from her, so she was going to take me from you. Killing me was not enough though. She wanted me to suffer. I insisted that you no longer loved me and that you had left. She spent days explaining to me what exactly being mated meant. She also spent those days trying to get me to feel exactly what kind of pain having your mate taken from you forever feels like. Hot metal was fun at first but then she decided that letting her venom seep into me just enough to burn and then pulling it back out was a more accurate representation of the pain." A half chuckle escaped my lips and I wish my glass was not so far away. I wanted another sip but I continued, "The bitch of it all was I already knew. You must have spent a lot of time convincing yourself that I was only human so I could not possibly feel what you feel but believe me, her torture did not come close to the pain I felt when you left me in the woods." Edward's cool fingers came up and traced the bitemark over my heart. The electric current zinged between us at his touch but he was focused on the scar.
"How did you escape?"
"The wolfs showed up before she could finish. She was so preoccupied with torturing me that she did not hear them coming until it was too late. Jacob saved me. He was the one that was there for me. He was the one that tried to piece me back together when it felt like my insides had been ripped out and my mind had started to fall apart. I tried to give him what he wanted for saving me. I tried to love him. I do love him but not the way he wanted. When he would touch me… Has anyone tried to touch you or kiss you since you left me?"
Edward shook his head no but stayed focused on tracing each one of my scars.
"It.. it is hard to explain. I felt unfaithful the whole time. Every time. I tried so hard, but I could not make myself forget you. You always existed. We were married the whole time I was at college. It was easy enough to go through the motions of a marriage when there are so many distractions but after graduation, it started to all unravel. I threw myself into work for a while, but we knew it was over. The divorce was finalized over the summer and I got a job out here." It started feeling wrong, having Edward's hands on my bare skin. I rushed through the last bit and pulled my shirt back on effectively breaking his touch. "Your turn. Tell me about your distractions."
He flinched a little as I threw his words back at him but he started, "I hunted Victoria. I tried to track her, but she is slippery. Turns out I am not a tracker. I lost her in Rio and there I stayed. I stayed in Rio for… I don't know two or three years. I stayed in the same apartment, in the same clothes. I only left to hunt but soon being around all those thoughts became too hard. I left and stayed in jungle, forests, any kind of wilderness where I could hunt but stay secluded. Occasionally, I would happen upon a pile of fresh clothes and I knew Alice was looking out for me.
About four years ago I happened upon a small bar on the edge of some town. It had a piano in it and someone was playing. I waited until most of the bar was cleared out and the performer had long since left. I sat down at the worn out upright and started to play. Music brought me back. I played at different places, but I started to gain too much notice. I stuck to random dive bars but with cellphones these days." He shrugged.
"I went into teaching last year figuring it would draw less attention and still allow me to focus on music." He took a deep, unnecessary, breath before starting the next bit, "I never once was distracted. I hunted Victoria for you. I hallucinated of you while in isolation, I always thought of you, I composed all new music for you. I never went to find you because I wanted you to have a normal life. I wanted you to get married and have children. I wanted you to not be stuck in a horror story with all the monsters that lurk in the night. Humans have a short attention span. I knew if I just stayed away, you would be happy. Had I known that you had gone to a wolf-"
I cut him off with a sharp laugh. "You would have come back for me if you had known I had chosen another monster? Choosing you was not enough to make you stay? You are unbelievable." I rolled my eyes and walked back over to the counter where I had left my glass of tequila. As I reached for it, Edward grabbed me and spun me around.
"You should not drink so much." His hands were on my hips, holding me in place.
"You think I could have had this conversation sober?" I chuckled again but he did not move. "Tell me Edward, is it the fact that Jacob is a wolf that bothers you most or the fact that he was my husband?" He stayed still but his eyes darkened a little. "Are you mad that I chose another monster or that the other monster was the last one to touch me, to kiss me, to fu-" Edward's lips crashed into mine and for a second I forgot how much missing him had hurt. I threw my hands into his hair just like our first kiss. This time he did not freeze up. A soft growl vibrated in his chest and he lifted my butt to the counter, pulling my legs around his waist. Just as I was about to pass out from lack of oxygen, he lifted his mouth from mine.
"All of it. All of it makes me mad. You are mine." He tried to lean in for another kiss but my senses came crashing back to me and my hand slapped loudly across his face. It was enough to hurt my hand and Edward froze.
"Get out." I barely managed to whisper between clenched teeth. He was gone. I finished off the last of the liquid in my glass and fell into bed. For the first time in ten years, I did not wake until my alarm went off.