Urban Living

"I felt like I could fly but nothing happened every time I tried oh duotone on the wall the selfless fool who hoped he'd save us all he never dreamt of such sterile hands you keep them folded in your lap or raise them up to beg for scraps you know he's holding you down with the tips of his fingers just the same."

-The Shins, Australia

The club was entirely too hot for dancing. Not that Bella had much choice in the matter. When you are packed in this tight, you don't have much of a choice what you do and don't want to do. Or if you want to breathe. Or leave. Or even raise your arm up enough to wipe the sweat (both yours and others) out of your eyes. It had gotten to the point that the security guards had largely been reduced to spraying punctured water bottles over the heads of the perspiring mass of humanity. Although she really didn't see why they bothered, since no one would be collapsing from heat stroke here- there wasn't enough room.

But perhaps she was getting a bit ahead of herself. The club she was dancing (po-go-ing, moshing, being shoved around) in was dubbed El Corazon, a rather nondescript (if a violent shade of violet) building from the outside, nestled in-between a few warehouses and a Japanese auto repair shop under I-5, the main thoroughfare into downtown Seattle. She couldn't remember the name of the band playing. Bella had not even heard of them before today, when Jessica had decided that, being of legal age, she needed to loosen up a bit and go to a twenty one and over show.

And Jessica was oh-so-conveniently tending the bar just down the street at the time of the show, so it would be no trouble at all to ferry Bella there and back. She wouldn't even have to worry about parking. Dammit. There wasn't even a polite way to back out. She couldn't exactly say no, because she and Jessica both knew there was no way Bella had other plans.

Yes… Bella had had a bit of trouble meeting people since she had transferred to the University of Washington. She had a bit of trouble understanding it. They were probably the most polite collection of freaks she had ever had the pleasure of meeting, always saying thank you and holding open doors while their headphones blared dreary alt-rock, but they never called you back, never invited you over, never even accepted your own invitations. Bella had heard of the Seattle chill, but there was little comparison to experiencing it firsthand, spending evening after evening alone in your dorm, flipping idly through textbooks as the natives waddled by in their tight jeans and even tighter preformed cliques.

This was not Jessica's MO. Another transplant, Jessica had never heard of a person she didn't like, and had even less concept of personal space. She took night classes at the UW (which was how they met), and on off-nights was apparently a bartender (she claimed that it was the best way of picking up hot guys). But Bella guessed that beggars can't be choosers.

Bella's reverie was broken by a rather chubby drunk guy repeatedly crashing into her back, trying rather unsuccessfully to start a mosh pit. The tired crowd wasn't buying this, but he was too far gone to realize that trivial detail.

Her head was pounding, she was thirsty, she needed to go pee, and there were so many other things that Bella would rather be doing than suffocating in this tiny little building, covered in other people's sweat. The band wasn't bad, but this was just not her cup of tea. Bella should have just turned Jessica down- a friend of that caliber wasn't worth this sort of torture.

- - - - -

"Bella, I seriously think you should consider transferring to the UW. I did some research, they have a really nice foreign languages program, and you know that your father has been wanting to see you on a more regular basis for some time." Renee was her typical adamant self, but Bella knew her mother well enough to see the nervous edge to her suggestion. Typical. She couldn't even come home for a quick weekend without it turning into one of these discussions.

"You just don't want me at the University of Arizona since that shooting. Don't try and skirt the issue, mom." She wasn't fooling anybody.

"Honey, I'm just concerned for your safety! I know they've upped security since then, but people died! And hun, you know, you are a bit of a magnet for trouble…" She fiddled a stray thread trailing from her sleeve quietly, twirling it around her index finger and then unwrapping it slowly.

"But it's not just that, is it? Is it Jonathan you have a problem with? Or are you just tired of having me around?" The moment the words slipped from her mouth Bella regretted them, but she continued all the same. "Mom, I've lived here my entire life. All my friends, my family- how do you think I'm going to get on in some strange city, all alone? Do you really think it's safer?"

Renee's mouth was fixed in a tense line. "Yes. I do. And about Jonathan- you and I both know you can do a lot better than that, and I'm not going to get into that with you again. You will always have a home here Bella, but you are twenty one. You need to move on. See the world!"

"So after twenty one years you've finally decided to act like the responsible mother now that you have a husband around to judge you? Don't make this sound like something you're doing for my benefit. I love it here mom. I have a steady boyfriend, friends, a nice apartment. You can't make me leave." This wasn't like Bella. When had she become this angry of a person?

"Bella. I can. Twelve people died that day, the gunman is still on the loose, and I'm not going to let you be the next victim. Phil pulled some strings, and I've already talked to Charlie. Your flight is on Tuesday."

- - - - -

And now Bella is all alone, having to resort to playing along with overly talkative bartenders just so she isn't completely alone in this strange rainy city full of stiff, polite people. She hasn't seen her father since the day he helped her move into her dorm- despite now living in the same state, he still a good portion of a day's drive away. The UW is okay. The campus is nice, the boys good looking in a depressed sort of way, the coffee exceptional, although the way people talked about the place, she had expected a lot more flannel. Although Nirvana and Pearl Jam remain popular, she was pleasantly surprised to find that the vast majority of people no longer aspire to look like Kurt Cobain.

That was something, at least.

There were a lot of bookstores too. That was nice. Bella was going in for a job interview tomorrow at a little second-hand shop next to the teriyaki place she ate lunch at sometimes. The lady there always gave her extra teriyaki sauce, free of charge, so there was always enough to put on her rice too. That sort of service demanded regular patronage, which she was more than willing to provide.

- - - - -

"Isa!" Bella gritted her teeth at the unwanted nickname. " You're so uptight! You need to loosen up a bit, meet some guys, go party it up! You're only twenty one once, you know. You need to take advantage! Flaunt that legal ID!" Jessica punctuated her point by jabbing Bella rather violently in the chest a few times. Although the small woman was clearly saddened by how little intimidation the gesture carried.

Bella craned her neck downward (something that doesn't happen much, when a person is only 5' 4".) to meet her eye to eye. "What would you suggest? I mean, I do have homework, and that job interview tomorrow, and I really need to vacuum- I can't remember what color my floor is supposed to be…"

"Excuses, excuses. What you need is a man. Someone you can have fun with, hot, obviously, and you probably wouldn't be happy if he wasn't smart. I'll keep an eye out. In the meantime, you're going to go take advantage of the Seattle nightlife. And no is not an acceptable answer." Something about that last sentence was particularly ominous. Probably best to just go along.

"Uh… sure. What should I wear?" Bella chose to ignore Jessica's remark about finding her a man for the time being.

"Something sturdy. But sexy. With thick straps. Would never do to have a strap fail on you if someone pulled on your shirt, some guys would totally take advantage…Not Mike though. He's such a sweetie, one of the regulars down at the bar. I keep hoping he'll ask me out, I've dropped enough hints…"

- - - - -

Bella felt kind of guilty about not missing Jonathan more. After all, they had gone out for over a year. Pleasant looking, perfectly nice, polite, he was everything a mother could have wished for her daughter. But not Renee. Never Renee.

A little bit of distance had allowed Bella to realize that the guy had been just a bit… bland. Mild? Ordinary? Something along those lines. But she was not going to give her mother the satisfaction of being right. She did have some dignity left to her name. Not much, granted, but that made defending that last little scrap all the more vital.

The guys here were anything but standard. Emos in very appealing pants and ominous long sleeve shirts, flamboyant gays, the nebbish Birkenstocks n' socks wearer, and typical Abercrombie devotees, they were a bit of an odd bunch. Perhaps she was being a tad too picky, but… could she maybe get something a bit more normal, without being overly so, with a good sense of humor?

Heh, good luck.

The whole prospect of dating still seemed so foreign though. She had never had much experience to being with in the whole matter, and her socialization skills, a bit substandard to begin with, had quickly become downright anemic after a year in an exclusive relationship. Bella had never been one of those people with the huge circle of friends and acquaintances, instead only bothering to maintain a few close friends (which were apparently not as close as she had thought, as only one them had even bothered to call since she had moved).

So, yeah, she was just a tad intimidated. And the drunk guy, who was not getting that no one wanted to mosh, would not stop elbowing her in the back. Bella was about an inch from turning around and slapping him when the obnoxious behavior suddenly stopped. She chanced a glance backwards, curious as to what happened and struck by the sudden urge to hug whoever had finally incapacitated the boob.

The aforementioned boob was crowd surfing towards the back of the room, curiously ashen, as the rest of the crowd around him cheered his progress with relief. He had been replaced by a rather striking fellow, with the most curious shade of bronze hair. The stranger motioned towards the departing drunk and shrugged, smiling crookedly.

- - - - -

It is the standard Saturday Look-I-Am-So-A-Good-Father! Call. Charlie sounds tired at the end of the line. "So, Bells, how are you liking Seattle? I hear the monorail broke down again. Pity. Have you been to the EMP yet?"

Bella smiles. He does try really hard. "No Ch- Dad. Haven't gotten the chance. Seattle's okay. But it really makes my hair frizzy, all the humidity."

Although clearly lost by that last comment, he laughs anyway, deftly changing the subject to something he can actually talk about. "It seems like the whole city is falling apart sometimes. The viaduct, the monorail, Seattle center… all getting closed down. I can remember back when I was a little kid riding Voyage to Mars… and now it's down at the Dallas State Fair. Wish you could have seen it, Bells. This city used to be so great…" There is still something of that kid, in the way his wistful voice trails off into static.

"Oh, it's pretty good now too. But you know, it is always hard, dealing with change. Even if the past was not that great, you always tend to idealize it… and then you never realize just how good the present is."

- - - - -

Okay. Perhaps calling the stranger good looking was a bit of an understatement. There was something exotic about his looks- not in the conventional "Oh, he must be part Japanese or something" sense, but that he was just different- in a very sexy way. Clearly out of her league, Bella quickly turned around with an inaudible "meep!", feigning intense interest in the much more nondescript bassist.

But she could still feel his eyes on the back of her neck, his body pressed against her own, in a way that would have been exceedingly erotic if they weren't surrounded by other (less than attractive) sweaty bodies. He was very cool, very solid, reassuring in the surging crowd. The anchor Bella soon realized that she had been missing. A small piece of something to identify with in the faceless mass of flesh.

She had been told prior to coming that it was always a good tactic, to find someone to focus on during floor shows like these. Be it your friend, significant other, or just (as in her case) a random hot stranger, there was something to be said for having someone to attach yourself to. For a place as packed as this, it could be surprisingly lonely, surrounded by strangers having a good time.

He was also much taller, and calm, a bit of quiet center sheltering Bella from the worst of it. The simple addition of his presence loosened her up enough (albeit, with some doubts as to how he could just waltz in here and do such things to her) to finally have a bit of fun. She dimly recognized the current song from the radio and threw herself into it, finally loosing herself to the music, heart beating in time to the steady thrum of the bass.

It took a gentle tap on the shoulder to bring Bella back down. The stranger was holding a blessedly cool looking water bottle, with a look that asked if she wanted any. She nodded, and took it from him. It was fairly common practice, to pass bottles around, being careful to not put your lips on the rim and grabbing a quick swig to wet your cotton mouth.

But, it tasted so good that she finished the last quarter of the bottle without a second thought and tossed the empty shell to a guard for disposal. The stranger chuckled at her antics, shaking his head in amusement. Bella shrugged, mouthing, "What?" He shook his head and smiled, and mimed back a reply.

"Nothing."

- - - - -

Not long after that it was time for a break. Bella apologetically shoved her way to the back of the room and the bathrooms, people gladly stepping into her empty wake. She stood by the open door for just a moment, eagerly tasting the fresh night air, before making her way to the bathrooms.

It was kind of strange, the sudden solitude, the music muffled enough that she could hear the tap running, the abrupt absence of bodies. Bella splashed some water on her face, slurping a quick drink from her cupped hands, and then tied her sticky hair back in a messy bun. Remembering the band t-shirt Jessica had insisted on her buying earlier, she eagerly changed into the dry clothing, eyeing her own sweaty tank top in disgust.

Well, it had only been $8 on sale. Two years ago. She tossed it and washed her hands again.

Feeling considerably refreshed (comparatively), Bella took a seat on the cool tile in the adjacent hallway, relishing the feel of the cool concrete on her aching back. Funny how you only appreciate things when you have something to compare them too, she thought, chuckling inwardly.

Bella must have fallen asleep at some point, because she woke up with a start when someone tapped her once again on the shoulder. It was the stranger again, carrying a couple of newspapers like a peace offering. He gestured to the empty floor beside her. "May I?"

Bella smiled. She hadn't heard that word since the last time she visited her grandmother's house. "Please." The stranger cracked another smile, and gracefully took a seat. She chuckled as an identical look of bliss crossed his features. Apparently she wasn't the only tired one. "Bella Swan. And you?"

He eyed her sideways. "Edward Cullen. If I'm not wrong, you haven't been in the city long. Right?"

Bella openly stared. "How did you guess? I just moved here from Arizona last month!"

Edward grinned. "Oh, I guess it was just something about you. I guess, for one thing, you're too tan."

She cocked an eyebrow. "Oh yeah? Compared to what, those blind cave fishes?"

He seemed to like that answer. "That. Or me." Edward held his arm up against hers for comparison. "Of course, I'm a bit pale, even for Seattle standards." He shrugged again, chuckling at some inside joke.

"Right… anyway, what's with the newspapers?" Bella gestured to the papers that were now tucked under his arm. Edward started, obviously having forgotten that he even had them. He passed her a copy.

"This is The Stranger- Seattle's free, underground guerilla newspaper. It's entertaining, if nothing else. They don't really report much on actual news, per say, but not many other newspapers have a comic strip that's just monkey stickers making sarcastic comments. So that's got to count for something, right?" He smiled at her nervously, waiting for her reaction.

They were both silent for a few moments, as Bella flipped through the newspaper and Edward sunk a bit lower against the wall. Although the music wasn't all that loud over here, they could still feel the beat in their bones, vibrating the floor, jarring their hearts. A diminutive teenager in a green polka dot dress and a red pageboy walked by, staring at them curiously before disappearing into the bathroom.

Bella eventually broke the silence. "I really like this column in the back- the I Saw U ads. While "You Made Me Cream My Jeans" might not be the sweetest thing out there, some of them are so nice… wistful. Just a quick glance with someone, and these people are still searching. Chasing that opportunity." (1)

Edward smiled. "Yeah. It's nice to hope that they eventually found one another."

Bella eyed him out of the corner of her eye. This guy, he was a strange one. Something about him just clicked, their conversation flowing so easily- and there was the matter of his looks, which were another thing entirely. She just couldn't place him into one of those neat little boxes so many people fall into, and are content to stay in. But, as it often happens, her phone picked that moment to start vibrating. Jessica has just such an exceptional sense of timing, after all.

"Edward." She savored his name, rolling it around in her mouth like a succulent piece of hard candy. "You know, it was really nice meeting you, but I've got to run."

With a sigh Bella pulled herself to her feet, bracing herself against the cool wall. She could feel his eyes on her as the walked slowly towards the door, like a tether.

She allowed herself to glance back, just once, some sort of yet unrecognized regret staining her features. He was still, unwilling or unable to make a move. An expression Bella did not (want) to recognize passed over his face. Longing. Maybe that's the word. But maybe I'm just projecting.

Author's Note:

I don't know if Edward is a vampire. He is what he is- I just wanted to write something with them both older, in Seattle, without all the singer nonsense messing up the beginning of their relationship. Frankly, I have no idea where this will end up or how long it will be or even if there's going to be much of a plot. I just wanted to write after a however many month hiatus. Sorry about that, by the way. Life got… crazy.

And FYI: I live just North of Seattle. It always annoys me when people write about the city when they don't know what they're talking about. So I'm setting the record straight. It's such a cool area, and everyone should visit at some time or another. If you have any questions about anything I've mention, feel free to PM or review me. Up till this point, anything mentioned by name is a real place etc.

And yes, I know the Shins are actually from Portland. You can just shut up now. XD

Foot Note:

1- Example: Fremont Market With Two Pugs: You were a stylish, tall blonde hottie with three girls and two pugs. I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you and your green shorts. Drinks? When: Sunday, June 24th. Where: Fremont Sunday Market. You: Man. Me: Woman. (contact number)