Disclaimer: Characters belong to Stephenie Meyer
This is co-written with the very talented Bethaboo! As always, we'd love to have some reviews and feedback from everyone!
My arms cut through the water like a hot knife through butter, but as we neared the end of the race, the intensity and speed of the strokes were causing a not-insignificant amount of pain. My lungs burned as the time I was able to breath out of the water decreased as my speed increased.
I wanted it. I wanted the gold medal so badly I could already feel it around my neck. Why had I ever thought it wouldn't matter? It mattered more than anything else--almost.
My finger tips hit the wall, finally. I looked up, not towards the all-important scoreboard, but instead, toward the watching crowd, and a certain pair of supportive, brown eyes. . .
Three weeks earlier. . .
I didn't consider myself particularly patriotic, but it was hard not to feel a warm surge of feeling as we lifted off from Los Angeles and made our way across the ocean to China, where the 2008 Olympic Games were being hosted in Beijing.
As a journalist, thinking about story angles was natural to me—I did it almost without thinking anymore. The most obvious angle was political, but my writing strengths didn't lie in political analysis. Instead, I liked writing about people and their motivations and goals and weaknesses. I especially liked writing underdog stories—about normal people who triumphed over adversity.
Of course, it made no sense that I was dying to write about Edward Cullen, who couldn't ever be called normal and wouldn't have known adversity if it came up and bit him in the ass. He'd come from a privileged life, had probably some of the best swimming genes you could get, and on top of that, was considered the front-runner by far. Hardly any adversity here, folks. Yet, there was something elemental that fascinated me about him, and though he was one of the most in-demand athletes press-wise in these Olympic Games, I was determined to somehow find out the mystery behind the man during my time in Beijing.
I felt something vibrate under my legs, and opened up my purse to rummage for my cell phone. I clicked on the text message and I smiled as I read what it said.
My best friend Alice and her husband, Jasper, who worked as a photographer with me at the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Oregon, were also on this flight, but with Alice's high profile job as a merchandiser and designer at Nike, they were sitting in first class, whereas I was relegated to the lowly coach section. Her text had informed me that I'd better get my butt up to visit her as soon as possible, as first, she was dying to see me and second, she had a present for me.
The dying to see me—despite that she'd seen me only thirty minutes before—and the gift were both typical of Alice's enthusiasm. She was an incredibly generous soul, and I loved her for it, though sometimes her depth of her generosity could be embarrassing.
I waited impatiently for the seatbelt light to turn off, doodling on my notepad rather than working on the story ideas I should finish before we landed in Beijing. I was a last minute substitution by the newspaper, as the reporter they were planning to send had broken his leg two days before. I also worked with Jasper Hale, one of the best photographers on staff, so they had agreed to let me go, and had specifically told me to find a unique and special personal angle story. I was supposed to send ideas in as soon as possible, and I couldn't deny I was struggling to find something different to cover. The Olympics were an enormous press event and even considering the vastness of the competition, it was still proving to be difficult to do what I'd been asked.
Not coming up with something wasn't an option. I needed this for my career. A huge feature in the paper would mean my own byline, it would mean a raise, it would mean that I'd finally get where I wanted to be in my life.
I didn't mind so much that there was no boyfriend, no love interest. My whole life was my career and my friends, and while my heart might twinge at how much love vibrated between Alice and Jasper, I'd been Alice's bridesmaid three months ago without a single ounce of jealousy.
Tapping my foot impatiently on the floor, I tried, unsuccessfully to refocus on my pad. From the popping in my ears, I guessed that we were still reaching our flying altitude and that I'd have to wait a while longer to go see what surprise Alice had in store for me.
I barely managed to wait out the next fifteen minutes. I mainly spent it staring out the window, examining the clouds like they were my own personal Rorschach test.
Finally, I heard the stewardess announce that we'd reached our flying elevation and that were free to move about the cabin.
I shot to my feet, and instantly wobbled. Damn airplanes, I thought, I'm clumsy enough on solid ground. Managing to regain my balance, I carefully maneuvered into the center aisle using my arms for leverage. Finally, I reached the curtain that separated coach from first class, and was about to slip through it unnoticed, but before I could, the fabric whipped back and I was suddenly face to face with the stewardess.
Her face was starched stiffer than the tacky polyester uniform she was wearing and it had a decidedly orange tinge to it. Alice would have politely pointed out, as a community service, that bronzer was so three seasons ago. I merely gaped at being caught and wondered what happened to coach passenger who got caught sneaking up to first class. Did they get thrown off the plane?
The stewardess crossed her arms over a generous and likely hard and silicone-padded chest. Her expression looked hard enough to cut through glass. I winced.
"Miss, if you're a coach passenger, you're going to have to stay in this section."
Great, I was terrible at confrontation. I might as well just turn around and walk back to my seat now.
I was just about ready to do that when I heard a chirping voice behind the towering stewardess.
"Excuse me," it said, "she's with me."
The stewardess's head whipped around, making her second jowl way too apparent. Alice would also have recommended a good surgeon to get that nipped and tucked. She didn't believe in plastic surgery necessarily, but she also didn't believe in double chins.
"Ah, uh. . .are you sure?" The stewardess stepped aside, clearly being given Alice's evil eye. It never failed.
"Of course," Alice snapped, "she's my best friend. What are you, the class police?"
"Oh, no, no, no," she giggled back nervously. "It's just that we have a rather. . .high profile. . .passenger in first class, and we were all told to make sure to keep everyone else. . .out."
My eyebrows raised and I wondered who it was to cause this woman to break out into a surprisingly normal looking flush. Alice would have also told her that she was better off without a whole truckload of blush, but at the moment she was squealing and throwing her arms around me.
I pulled back from my little pixie and sent her a wondering look.
"Oh it's nobody," Alice said breezily, "no one at all. I don't know why they're all so worked up." She sighed and rolled her eyes, grabbing me by the hand and dragging me through the stewardess' station and into the first class cabin.
"Okay," I said dubiously, trying to peer into each set of luxurious and spacious seats without looking like I was looking. Alice might have forgotten momentarily I was a reporter and to her, someone famous was no big deal, but to me, it was my job. I needed a big break, and god help me if it was on this plane, I'd drop to my knees and say a few dozen hail Marys.
"Alice," I hissed at her. Suddenly, I didn't want to be taken completely by surprise by some celebrity. I wanted to have some idea of who it was before I went barging into their in-flight snack and demanded interview rights.
Stopping abruptly, she turned to face me. "Believe me, Bella, you don't want me to tell you who it is."
"I don't?" I squeaked.
Alice grinned, and my stomach sank. "Alice," I said firmly, "you need to tell me."
She brushed my comment aside with a wave of her hand. "Trust me, Bella. It's better this way."
I gulped, and we kept walking down the center aisle, my eyes quickly taking in the passengers we passed.
Alice slowed, clearly reaching her seat with Jasper. I could see his tall blond head above the headrest.
My eyes fell on the passengers directly behind Alice and Jasper's seats. There was an older man, maybe in his late 40s but still extraordinarily handsome and fit. I couldn't place his face, but at the same time, I knew I'd seen him before. I wondered offhandedly if maybe this was the "celebrity," but it didn't make sense because from the stewardess' reaction, the someone flying today was famous enough to be recognized on sight, and this man, while familiar, was someone I couldn't identify.
The woman next to him was the same age, but also still very attractive. She was more kind looking than beautiful, with soft brown waves framing her face. Then, my gaze drifted to the third passenger, and my jaw dropped.
Even with his eyes closed, I would have recognized him instantly. It was Edward Cullen, swimmer extraordinaire. The older man was obviously Carlisle Cullen, and the woman, his wife, Esme. Parents to the most famous swimmer of this generation, who was likely to become the greatest Olympian of all time--possibly even greater than his father Carlisle.
Since he was napping I figured I could take five seconds to really look at him, even though I could hear Alice's intake of breath when she realized what I'd stopped for. I'd heard Edward was handsome, and I'd seen dozens and dozens of pictures. The whole country seemed like they were high on Edward Cullen fever, and he was everywhere. But all the pictures in the world couldn't prepare me for the sight of him, long lean muscled form stretched out in the seat, his face peaceful and calm.
I'd seen images of his father, Carlisle, when he was young, and though the resemblance was strong, Edward had also inherited Esme's delicate features, and as a result, he was both rugged and beautiful. I knew his eyes were bright green, almost like marbles, and I almost wished for half a second that he would open them so I could see them in person, finally.
I sighed. He was gorgeous, but so far out of my league that I might as well be dreaming. I paused for half a second longer, just taking him in, knowing that this was an opportunity I'd never get again. Even if I managed to snag a highly-sought interview spot with him, I'd have to be 100 on my game. No admiring his knee-weakening physique or beautiful eyes or mussy copper hair.
"Bella," Alice demanded, "stop staring."
Just half a second longer, I told myself, then I could stop. I could walk away from him.
I shook my head briefly at Alice, and went back to my minute examination.
"Bella!" Alice said louder, and it didn't register that those hooded lids were beginning to raise on his face. I was too busy taking in the insane length of his legs, and I didn't catch that he was staring right at me before it was too late.
I opened and closed my mouth a few times, searching for something I could say to apologize for being caught gawking at him, but the words were far beyond my reach.
Alice popped her head over the seat, saving me yet again. "Bella," she fumed, "get over here."
"Uh yes, sure," I stumbled, my tongue thick and clumsy. "I'm . . .sorry," I finished lamely at the Greek god who sat there, simply looking at me with a mixture of humor and interest.
I staggered over to Alice and sagged against her. "Oh my god," I whispered frantically to her, "why didn't you stop me?"
She laughed. "Oh, Bella, I tried."
"You should have warned me!" My arms were now gesturing and I was beginning to comprehend exactly how I'd just humiliated myself.
I was affronted that Alice merely looked amused. "If I'd told you, you would never have come into first class."
There was no arguing with that. I would have been too nervous to set foot on the other side of the curtain. Now that stewardess' reaction made sense. Edward Cullen was every woman's dream. A fresh wave of humiliation crested over me and I felt myself turning very red.
"It's no matter," Alice said, brushing away my embarrassment like it was meaningless, "don't you want to see what I got you?"
"You'd better be grateful," Jasper chimed in, "you wouldn't believe the lengths she went to get these."
"These?" I asked, "Alice, I told you not to buy me anything else. Especially multiple somethings."
"Hush, hush," she replied, "you'll thank me. Besides, it'll definitely help you do your job better."
My eyebrows raised dubiously and only came crashing down when Alice fished in her purse and handed me a slim envelope. I opened it and felt the breath whoosh out of me.
"Alice," I said in a low voice, "these are tickets to the Water Cube in Beijing. For the swimming." I looked up incredulously. "These were impossible to get. Impossible."
Alice bounced up and down, and beamed at me. "Not for a Nike employee who was instrumental in luring Edward Cullen over from Adidas and who had a hand in designing his new suit."
"That's what you've been doing in California these past few weeks?" I gaped.
Alice had the nerve to look very self-satisfied and smug. "You betcha."
"Oh. Wow. I . . .I don't know if I can accept these, Alice. They're worth a fortune." I halfway extended the tickets back towards her, even though it nearly broke me to do it, but she waved my hand away.
"Nonsense, I got them for you, and they'll come in real handy with your job."
"How'd you even know I'd be coming to Beijing?" I asked, suspicion dawning.
Jasper chimed in, laughter in his voice. "Bella, it's not like we broke Mike Newton's leg on purpose. That was a total accident. But we'd been planning to have you come with us all along. You getting to go for work is just a lucky break for you. This is going to make your career."
I rolled my eyes in Jasper's direction. "Thanks, but really. I hope I can manage to come up with something they're interested in having in the paper."
Alice squeezed my hand reassuringly. "You will. I have no doubt about that." I watched as she exchanged a rather suspicious look with Jasper but I chose not to say anything.
Instead, I threw my arms around her in appreciation, except that instead of returning the hug, she nearly hopped into my arms, sending me staggering backwards. I wasn't very coordinated on my best day, but having an extra body to support was bad all around. Even more so, because at that very moment, the plane hit a pocket of air and the combination of Alice and the turbulence sent me flying backwards.
I hit the stewardess who'd been leaning over the seats behind me, handing out drinks. I turned around only to see her lose her balance and drop a full glass of liquid all over Edward Cullen. She gasped and I think I did too.
The stewardess, clearly still annoyed with my interference from earlier, turned an angry red and launched into attack mode.
"Miss," she said, patronizing anger in her voice, "there is no rough-housing in the first class section or really in any section of this plane."
There was a clear throat-clearing and we both turned toward the sound. It was Edward Cullen, pointedly looking at his very wet jeans.
The stewardess immediately fell all over herself, my intrusion clearly forgotten, in her zeal to wipe up all the dampness on Edward's crotchal area.
The accident had woken up both Carlisle and Esme, who sat there with jaws hanging open, as the overly-enthusiastic stewardess put her hands all over their cringing son.
My eyes met Edward's and while he definitely looked annoyed, there was more there, that I couldn't exactly place. It couldn't have been attraction. Edward Cullen wouldn't be interested in me if I was the last woman on earth.
I started to turn away, but the movement must have caught the stewardess' eye because her attention snapped back to me and the ingratiating expression on her face was replaced by one of scorn.
"You," she ordered rather angrily, "need to go back to coach, immediately."
I wanted to die of humiliation all over again. Edward was clearly taking in everything this woman was saying, and now he knew that I didn't belong here. I belonged in coach, with the rest of the regular, normal people. Not up here, with the rest of the exalted personages.
Alice shrugged slightly, and I knew it was time to return to my seat, but I hated being chased out of here like I didn't belong.
Stupid, I told myself, of course you don't belong here.
Resignedly, I started to walk back down the aisle, the stewardess glaring at me all the while. Though as I walked back to the curtain, I thought I felt someone else looking at me. I turned my head slightly, hoping to catch whoever it was in the act, and praying it wasn't some curious observer, wondering what I'd done to get kicked out of first class.
My brown eyes met candy apple green ones and a small smile played over his face as he watched me. It was Edward Cullen. He was watching me. It was all I could do to turn back and make my way through the curtain that separated us.
When I finally made it back to my seat, I felt breathless. I couldn't believe that he had been watching me. Maybe he was just curious to see who the idiot was who'd basically dumped water all over him.
Of course, if I'd had a bit of a crush on him before, it was full-blown now, despite that I'd probably never even get a chance to speak to him, especially after what just happened. Still, I had a few of those soul-searching looks from his incredible green eyes, and I'd gotten to watch him while he slept. That, I reasoned, was more than enough.
I settled back down in my seat, and pulled out my pad again, determined to get something down before we landed in Beijing.
Approximately fourteen hours later, my legs cramping from sitting for so long, the pilot finally announced that we were about to land in Beijing. Gathering my pad, which was still frustratingly blank except for a lot of doodles, I said a quick prayer of relief that they let the first class passengers exit first. With any luck, they'd whisk Edward Cullen and family quickly out of the terminal to avoid the press, and I'd avoid having to see him again, with my clumsiness still so fresh in his mind.
Maybe later in the week I'd gather some more nerve and manage to get his attention while we were at the Water Cube. Despite everything that had happened on the flight, I was still eager to figure out exactly what made Edward Cullen tick. I reasoned that this was a good excuse for not having any story ideas yet. I had tickets to the Water Cube and I could maybe waylay Edward and convince him to do an interview. I knew he hated the press, but maybe I'd seem less threatening considering all the crap so far.
Making my way out of the plane, I was thrilled to be on Chinese soil finally. I'd gotten my passport first thing when I'd been hired by the Oregonian, but this was the first stamp I'd be able to put in it. I'd never been out of the US before, except for Canada, and I was ridiculously excited.
I looked around for Jasper and Alice, but didn't see them on the concourse, so I decided to head down to the luggage pickup. The airport was swarming with people, and it was hard to maneuver around. Finally, I located the luggage carousel, but with all the people around, I still couldn't find Alice or Jasper. Digging out my cell phone from my purse, I was grateful I'd managed to get it authorized for international use just hours before I'd boarded the plane. I would have felt lost without it.
I dialed Alice's number but it rang several times and I heard it go to voice-mail. Damn.
What was the point of having our cell phones work in China if Alice didn't answer hers? I grumbled to myself.
Finally, the luggage carousel started rolling and I kept a close eye on it, hoping that I'd spot either Alice or Jasper as they stepped up to it to get their belongings. Unfortunately, there was so many people swarming the conveyor belt, I still didn't see them.
To top off my frustration, my luggage was nearly the last to show up. I groaned as I hefted my duffel off the conveyor belt, and realized that I was going to need one of those cart things if I had to search the airport for Alice and Jasper.
I grabbed one from the nearest receptacle and loaded up my luggage, trying not to worry that it was precariously balanced and blocked most of my frontal view. I figured that most people would just get out of the way if they saw me coming--at least that was my hope anyway.
Reaching into my pocket for my cell phone, I pushed ahead the cart a little, glad that the crowd in this part of the airport had died down a little. At least I was less liable to hit anyone. Glancing down, I dialed Alice's number yet again. Still steering my cart toward the main terminal, I quickly dove for the laptop bag that was about to fall off.
Paying attention to where I was going was not my strong suit in the best of times. In a strange airport with a piled-high luggage cart, while dialing Alice constantly, and trying to find signs to the main terminal in English was not the best of times. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when, while looking at my cell phone, I heard a loud crash in front of me, followed by several swear words.
"Oh no!" I exclaimed, immediately stopping the cart, and rushing around to the front to see what or who I'd run over.
My heart sank when I saw who it was. Was I truly this unlucky? How many times was I required by fate to humiliate myself today?
He was bent over, examining his foot, which I'd clearly run over, but I would have known him anywhere.
Edward Cullen. That bright head of hair was way too recognizable, and unfortunately for my sanity, sent me into palpitations.
He uncoiled his body, and looked me straight in the eye.
"You," he said, not looking nearly as surprised as I was.
I could only nod, afraid that if I let myself open my mouth, my general reaction to dire circumstances, which was hysterical laughter, would be unleashed.
Edward frowned, running his hand through his hair. "You know, you should really watch where you're going."
"I know," I nearly interrupted him, "I'm so sorry."
Instead of continuing to look angry, he instead flashed me a bright smile. "Clumsy, are we?"
That did me in. A small giggle escaped my lips, followed by a cascade of them. The long flight where I hadn't been able to sleep, the lack of real food, the embarrassment, all caught up with me, and I began laughing hysterically.
That was apparently the last reaction he'd expected out of me, because I'd never seen anyone look so surprised.
I sagged against the cart, unable to control the hysterical laughter coursing through me. I hated this reaction of mine, and I knew until I got it all out, there was no stopping it.
"Hey," Edward said, coming over to me, "are you okay?"
"I should be asking you that," I managed between gales of laughter.
"Oh me? I'm fine. Though if Carlisle had seen you do that, you might have been locked up in a Chinese dungeon."
"Run over your toe?"
He nodded, and smiled almost self-deprecatingly. "You obviously know who I am."
I rolled my eyes, managing to get ahold of myself a little bit. "Uh, yeah. You're pretty famous."
Sighing, he ran his hands through his hair again, this time making it stand nearly straight up.
"What?" I barely got out, "what's so bad about being famous?"
Edward simply pointed to the badge I had wearing around my neck, clearly identifying me as press. I hadn't been wearing it earlier when I'd been in first class, but had put it on prior to disembarking from the plane.
"You hate the press?"
"Are we off the record?" he countered. I almost felt sorry for him. I knew how rabid my fellow reporters were, and he'd clearly discovered that the bad way.
"Of course," I insisted, "do you really think we'd be on the record after I cause a whole glassful of water to be spilled on you and then I ran over your golden toe with my luggage?"
"Really, it's fine," he insisted.
"It better be," I smiled conspiratorially in return, grateful that I had managed to stop laughing. "If I was responsible for killing your toe right before the Olympics I'd get tarred and feathered and run out of town."
"I'd never allow that," he responded, seriously, but with a twinkle in his green eyes.
As our conversation continued, a strange thought entered my consciousness. Were we flirting? No, I told myself firmly, that was patently impossible. He was just being nice.
"Well, good," I stumbled, suddenly uncomfortable with myself in front of him.
"Isabella Swan, where have you been?" I turned toward the pixie-ish voice, and felt an enormous wave of relief that Alice had showed up just then. I'd been about to fall on my face just from the thought that Edward Cullen might be flirting with me.
Alice was standing there, hands on her hips, looking as stern as she could. Jasper was behind her, face contorted in laughter, his hands on a huge cart piled full with luggage. Trust Alice to bring her entire wardrobe to Beijing.
"And Edward Cullen!" she exclaimed, "fancy seeing you here."
He shrugged noncommittally. "We were on the same flight," he said offhandedly. I figured this was his way of nicely reminding Alice that I'd been both caught gawking at him and had also caused him to get soaking wet.
"Ah yes," she replied, "that's right." She turned to me. "Are you ready to find a taxi Bella?"
"Yep," I enthused, more than ready to extricate myself out of this situation. As amazing looking as Edward Cullen was, he made me nervous as a cat.
"Okay then, let's go. And we'll see you later, Edward!" she called with enthusiasm. He waved slightly and began walking away.
I tried to suppress the disappointment. I was sure that this was probably the last time I'd be able to talk to him just as one person to another. Next time he saw me he'd be on his best "press" behavior. I sighed, and tried to think that this was for the best. I was here to be a reporter. He was here to swim and win gold medals and try to protect the bulk of who he was from people just like me. Even if there had been a spark between us, we were from two entirely different worlds.
I shut my laptop and pinched the bridge of my nose. Studying the strokes of Jacob Black was certainly tedious, but was essential to accomplishing the plan I had laid out after Athens. I glanced over at my father and mother sitting in the seats opposite me. How my father had won that many medals was a mystery to me. At the time, he not only was married to my mom, but had me as well. I couldn't afford such distractions if I wanted to be the greatest—to be like my dad.
At the age of two, I had watched as he led the United States swim team to victory. Unable to fully understand the magnitude of what he had done,but fully appreciating the shiny gold medals he had hanging around his neck, I'd vowed to be just like daddy someday. Eight years later, my reasoning had changed, but the desire remained. It was up to me to carry on the Cullen name in the swimming world so I mapped out my Olympic dreams. Yes, I wanted to win, to become one of the greatest swimmers in history, but more importantly, I wanted to make my father proud.
Stowing my laptop back in its case, I put it safely under my seat. Seeing the approaching stewardess, I closed my eyes to feign sleep, hoping she would leave me alone. She had been fawning over me since I boarded the plane, and I'd had enough. Tuning out her whiny voice as she asked others around me what they wanted to drink, I began going over the meet in my mind. Six races, five gold medals. This was my plan. While I knew that I could easily surpass my father's record, it would be wrong to me. My father was the greatest man I knew and no one, especially not me, could ever live up to that.
Finally managing to tune out my thoughts, I drifted off to sleep. Moments later, a commotion behind me began to intrude. I heard the annoyingly whiny voice of the stewardess directing someone to go back to their seat. Suddenly a chirpy voice I knew quite well interrupted. Of course! Alice Hale was on this plane and she generally caused ruckus wherever she went with her bouncy personality and zest for life.
I felt the women brush by me and the light footsteps suddenly stopped. A small sigh came a few seconds later, and it was all I could do not to open my eyes and see what was going on. My fear of crazed fans invading first class and asking for autographs kept my curiosity at bay for the moment.
I fought a grin as Alice hissed at the mystery woman to stop staring. Figuring she'd turn away then, I began to open my eyes hoping to at least catch a glimpse of the curious stranger. A small woman with long mahogany hair was currently looking down at my legs. I watched, amused as she registered that I was no longer sleeping but watching her openly staring at me.
Her eyes met mine, and a jolt went through me. Her eyes were a deep brown color, full of intelligence and humor. As I watched, a fascinating red color began to invade her cheeks and she ducked her head in embarrassment. The woman was beautiful and I was instantly intrigued,
"Bella!" Alice Hale said, popping her head over her seat. "Get over here!"
Ah—so that was her name. Bella, meaning beautiful. It fit her perfectly.
"I'm sorry." she said as she began to hurry away. Her voice struck a chord within me. It was somehow musical with a soft, mellow tone to it. Like everything else about her, it was lovely. Before I could stop her, she was gone.
I sat back in my seat and tried to clear my thoughts. Distraction, that's what she is. You don't need anything in your life that would cause you to lose your focus. Remember your goal! I frantically ran through the reasons in my head why I could not pursue her.
Finally I convinced myself that my reasoning was sound. Eager to shut out the outside world, I put on my headphones and turned on my favorite classical music. As the lilting strains of Debussy filled my ears, I imagined the face of Bella in my mind.
Halfway through Claire De Lune, the peace was shattered as water landed right on my lap. I let out a gasp as the freezing liquid began to seep through my clothes. I gasped and sat up straight in my seat, opening my eyes. I froze as I met the extremely apologetic brown eyes of Bella once again.
Before I could say anything, the stewardess launched her attack, berating Bella harshly about the accident. Protective feelings overwhelmed me. I had to do something to stop the verbal onslaught against her, so I pointedly cleared my throat and glanced down at my soaked lap.
Unfortunately, while I succeeded in distracting the woman from yelling at Bella, her attention was turned to me. This put me in a decidedly uncomfortable situation as the stewardess launched herself practically into my lap, wiping me down with a wad of paper napkins from her nearby cart.
I straightened up, trying in vain to remove the overeager woman from my lap. Over her head, I met the eyes of a prettily blushing Bella. Although I very well should have been annoyed with her because it was obvious she was the reason I was in this predicament, I couldn't muster up any aggravation. Too bad that I didn't have the time to get to know her.
Finally, I succeeded in pushing the stewardess away from me, only to have her relaunch her attack on Bella. After ordering her out of the first class, she smiled smugly at me then turned to make sure that Bella did indeed walk through the curtains separating first class from coach.
As I watched her walk away, a feeling of loss came over me. Shrugging it off, I took not of the slight sway of her slim hips as she disappeared. Before the curtains closed, she looked back and her eyes met mine. I couldn't help the smile that came to my face. She seemed to be just like her friend Alice, who I knew firsthand caused chaos whenever she was around. Granted, I had only seen her in two situations, but they were two highly amusing, and possibly embarrassing situations to her.
As she left my sight, all my previous feelings about focus and distractions disappeared. I needed to see her again, it was as essential as breathing. I found myself plotting ways to see her again throughout the remainder of my flight. Once I was in Beijing, I knew my chances were slim to none. I would have too little time to go seeking one small brunette in a sea of people.
My first plan was to just invade the coach section just as she had invaded first class. I knew I could easily spot her shiny hair and those captivating eyes amongst the crowd. I rejected this quickly, knowing that if I went back there, my easily recognizable face would cause a commotion and I wouldn't be allowed near her. Next, I decided I would ask Alice Hale for an introduction. I disregarded this plan even quicker than the last. Somehow I suspected that if Alice Hale knew I was even the slightest bit interested in her friend, her devious little mind would go into match-maker mode. Wanting to avoid that at all costs, I thought up other scenarios on my head.
Finally, I decided on the one that would make the most sense. I would simply wait until her section was disembarking and then walk off with her. I would be very careful to hide my face so I wouldn't be noticed, and then surely I would get a chance to talk to her. At the very least, perhaps I could find out if she was single, though I had a feeling that somehow she was. Of course, that didn't matter to me because I wasn't looking for distractions. I just merely hoped to hear that gorgeous voice again.
Finally, the plane landed and I eagerly sat up to wait. I watched dreaming of her angel face as the other first class passengers prepared to leave the plane. "Edward?" my father's thoughts intruded on my fantasies. Damn it! I'd forgotten about my parents. There was no way that I would allow my father or mother to see my interest in Bella. They would push for a relationship with her which was something I could not allow. For some reason, they felt that I needed someone in my life—a female someone in particular. Since they were so gloriously happy and in love, they felt that everyone needed that to be complete. Though I'd argued with them about my lack of companionship many times, I had not managed to convince them that I was truly happy with my life just the way it was.
I sighed and stood up, stretching my long legs and bouncing a bit to get the circulation flowing. As slowly as I could, without being obvious, I began to gather my things. After securing my laptop and headphones back in the case, meticulously wrapping the cords as neatly as possible, I gave up my quest. My father and mother were both still staring at me curiously, although I noticed a slightly speculative gleam in Mom's eyes. Not wanting her to think too long or hard about my uncharacteristic behavior, I quickly took action. There was no miracle forthcoming that would allow me to see Bella again. I slowly followed my father and mother out of the plane, defeated again.
Not able to help myself, I continued to scan the hordes of people moving through customs. Unfortunately, I was unable to spot her. As soon as I had my stamp on my already full passport, I headed toward the baggage claim. "Stay here, and I'll go get the luggage. We don't want you to strain your back," my father directed, as he darted off through the crowds.
"Carlisle wait! You forgot your tickets. Remember they are checking the ticket names with the luggage?" my mom darted quickly after him, leaving me standing by myself and hoping to remain inconspicuous.
I glanced down, hoping to avoid the gazes of any curious passersby. Still regretting that I hadn't had at least one more chance to talk to Bella, I began to imagine the scenario that could have taken place had the odds not been stacked against us. I would have walked up to her, calmly and deliberately and confidently introduced myself. Of course, she would be pleased to be meeting me, Edward Cullen, star of the Olympic Swim Team. I would have taken her tiny, soft hand into mine and gazed into her beautiful brown eyes. It wouldn't matter what was said next, because she would be just as thrilled to be near me, as I was to her. We would talk for awhile, about inconsequential things that people talk about as they get to know one another. Then...
I gasped in shock and pain as a very heavy luggage cart came to rest directly on top of my foot. Pushing it back, I bent over to examine my very valuable feet. It didn't hurt badly, but I wanted to be sure that nothing serious was wrong. I glanced up as I was standing, wanting to see the culprit, yet somehow knowing who I would find.
"You!" I said, not surprised to find myself looking into the startled and very worried eyes of Bella. I couldn't help the small smile that came to my mouth.
She nodded, and I found myself wondering how often these sort of accidents happened to her. She really needed to be more careful to keep herself safe. "You know, you really should watch where you're going" I said, some of the frustration I was feeling leaking into my tone.
"I know! I'm so sorry," she replied apologetically.
Suddenly I was no longer annoyed with her capacity for finding trouble. She was here, which was what I had been dreaming of for 15 long hours. "Clumsy, are we?" I said, grinning now.
To my satisfaction she smiled, and then a giggle escaped her. Her laugh drove me crazy, the notes registering along my spine. It was so pretty, and the way she looked with her head thrown back, joy on her face was simply intoxicating. It surprised me how she could go from extreme humiliation to such joy so quickly.
Suddenly, she bent over her cart, half collapsing. I was concerned for a moment that exhaustion from the flight had caught up with her. That would explain the hysterical laughter. "Are you okay?" I asked her as I took a step nearer.
"I should be asking you that!" she answered, still giggling breathlessly.
"Oh me? I'm fine. Though if Carlisle had seen you do that, you might have been locked up in a Chinese dungeon." I grinned at the image of my often overprotective father witnessing her run me down.
"Run over your toe?"
"You obviously know who I am." Of course she would know who I was. That left me at a distinct disadvantage because I still wasn't supposed to know her name.
She rolled her eyes at me, a bit sarcastically I thought. "Uh yeah. You're pretty famous." Suddenly I noticed the bright white badge hanging from her neck. Of course the most intriguing woman I had ever met would be part of the press. I sighed and ran my hands through my hair, a nervous gesture I'd never quite managed to quell.
"What? What's so bad about being famous?" she countered to my actions.
In answer I pointed to the shiny white badge I had grown to despise. I could barely keep the scowl off my face.
"You hate the press?"
"Are we off record?" I desperately hoped so, hoped that her running into me was truly an accident rather than a ploy to get an interview with me.
"Of course, do you really think we'd be on the record after I cause a whole glassful of water to be spilled on you and then I run over your golden toe with my luggage?"
I sighed in relief. She certainly seemed sincere to me, and no one could mistake the truthfulness of her gaze. "Really, its fine." I replied, not quite able to contain my own smile of relief.
"It better be, if I was responsible for killing your toe right before the Olympics I'd get tarred and feathered and run out of town."
Finally she'd left me with an opening to show my interest! "I'd never allow that." I told her, hoping that she would notice how much I meant it.
Suddenly, a strange look crossed her face. She looked...worried or incredulous, I wasn't sure which. "Well, good" she said almost hesitantly to me.
An annoyingly cheerful voice I recognized as belonging to the sometimes pesky Alice Hale intruded into our conversation. I turned toward her and had to smile. She was standing with both hands on her hips, looking quite perturbed with Bella. A blond man who I assumed was her husband, was standing behind her pushing a cart piled extremely high with luggage. It was a wonder that it didn't topple over completely. I doubted I had ever seen that amount of luggage for two people in my life. The man was laughing from what I assumed was due to his wifes' energetic antics.
After glaring at Bella for a moment, she turned her sights on me. "And Edward Cullen! Fancy seeing you here."
Smirking, I shrugged my shoulders and answered her despite the fact that it was quite obvious why we had run into each other. "We were on the same flight."
"Ah yes," she replied, "that's right. Are you ready to find a taxi Bella?" I smiled again. She really was great at playing the innocent. Almost, I turned to Bella to stop her, to find out where she would be staying, but the inner voice inside my head suddenly came to life once more.
Focus. You need to focus and concentrate. Distractions cannot be allowed if you want to fulfill your dreams. I sighed. At least I would be able to see her again from a distance at the press conferences.
Spying my mom and dad coming towards me, luggage piled high on the cart, I quickly flashed a smile at the trio and with a quick wave, turned away. A wave of disappointment flashed through me as I began to walk away from her, but I kept going. Somehow, I knew that if I saw her again, all my resolve to stay focused on my goals would dissolve with just one of her incredible smiles in my direction.
As I neared, my mom and dad gave me curious smiles. "Who were those people you are talking to? Fans?" My mom asked curiously.
"No. The woman with the dark, spiky hair is Alice Hale. You remember her, mom. She designed my racing suit." I left out any mention of Bella. Somehow, my mom had always been able to read me quite well.
"Oh, now I remember! She's quite the spunky little thing, isn't she? Who was the other woman?" We were now entering dangerous territory.
Turning away to hide my face from her, I answered. "Oh, she's Alice's friend. Actually, we never made it to the introductions. She's with the press." I kept my voice neutral, and was satisfied when my mom let it go.
As we stepped outside into the heavily polluted Beijing air, I felt a shiver of excitement. This is what I was born for—to compete in the Olympics just like my dad. I knew I would succeed, there just wasn't any other option. I began to refocus my thoughts on the races ahead of me, yet as we boarded the taxi, I couldn't help but glance around for a glimpse of long mahogany hair and warm, chocolate brown eyes.