A/N: This is my first Twilight fanfiction and I'm really excited about it. Special thanks to LeechLover85 for being an awesome beta, and RegattaBay for convincing me that this story was worth writing.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns all things Twilight, and Dan Millman, Lionsgate, et. al. own "Peaceful Warrior," a film that the plot of this story was inspired by, and is very loosely based on. I own nothing.
I hadn't really ever given much thought to how I would die. However, I never thought it would be like this. This was unfair. Cruel; even. I would be gone and she would never know how I really felt about her. Our feelings and affections were always implied, but never voiced; not officially. Not those three little words that I've been waiting to say to someone like her my entire life. My very short life.
The world seemed loud and frantic around me as people shouted at each other. Their voices were getting distant as I slipped into the dark oblivion.
"I love you..." I tried to whisper, but I was choking on my own blood.
Goodbye, I thought. My last thought before the darkness surrounded me.
The arena was freezing, at least to me. I'm sure the athletes were fine, even the other spectators; but I get cold easily. Pulling my sweater tighter around me, I munched on my popcorn as I watched Alice perform her routine.
We were at an exhibition, so there weren't any judges, and no scores to be had. That must be nice for Alice, not having to worry about start values and just concentrating on having fun. Still, judges or no judges, Alice was the best female gymnast I'd ever seen. She was petite and energetic, and she worked it to her advantage. It seemed like no one could touch her.
Alice was my cousin, but we'd grown up together, as close as sisters. She was my best friend and a lifesaver when my mother divorced my father when I was thirteen, moving to Florida with her boyfriend. When Alice's parents died in a car crash six months ago, my father Charlie and I had moved up to Seattle from Phoenix to be with her. She was still technically a minor, and Charlie was now her legal guardian. So instead of uprooting Alice and forcing her to find a new coach and new training facilities when she had such a bright future by staying where she was, Charlie and I came to her.
While Alice was too bouncy and energetic a person to be knocked down for too long, her parents' death had hit her hard. I knew she was suffering, even if no one else did. Although over the past several weeks I'd seen a real positive change in her and I had a sneaking suspicion it had to do with a guy. It had to be a gymnast from her club team. She never had enough time to spend anywhere else to meet anyone. Was he here tonight? I wondered; as my eyes drifted over to the men's side of the arena. I scanned over the athletes, looking for one that might be Alice's type.
Looking over the ones wearing leotards from Alice's team, I frowned as my eyes passed over each one. Most of these guys were way too big for her taste. I finally stopped at one, standing at the resin basin. He looked to be in his early twenties and was tall; unusually tall for a gymnast, with blonde curls and a strong frame without being too muscular. His face was handsome, with gentle features and a smile that I could tell was charismatic, even from where I was sitting. If Alice was seeing anyone on this team, it was definitely him.
Alice's possible secret boyfriend turned as another athlete tapped him on the shoulder. My gaze followed and my breath caught in my throat as I saw him. He too, was tall for a gymnast; almost too tall. His physique was strong and muscled without looking like a bodybuilder. I knew he could easily damage a frail girl like me if he wanted to. He looked as thought he might be around the same age as Alice's possible boyfriend, just a couple years older than Alice and I. His hair was a bronze color, and disheveled as if no comb or brush created by man could tame it. Hastily I picked up my binoculars and peered through them to get a better look. His eyes were a piercing green, and his skin looked like it had been airbrushed. I glanced over his features, searching for a flaw, and came up with nothing. He was perfect, and almost inhumanly beautiful.
"Wow," I breathed, and suddenly felt eyes on me. I lowered my binoculars to find the portly woman beside me staring at me curiously.
"Uh... that was a great punch front." Nodding my head towards Alice on the beam. "Totally stuck it," I added with a nervous chuckle and jumped, startled, as I felt my cell phone vibrating in my jeans pocket. Quickly I fished it out and flipped it open to reveal a text message.
Call me. We need to talk. -James
No thanks, I thought to myself, shoving the phone back into my pocket. James had been my boyfriend in Phoenix. Things ended badly when I found out he was cheating on me. He was so furious when I dumped him, that he'd actually hit me. Although I wish it had been under different circumstances, I was glad to leave town. James had been hassling, verging on stalking me ever since. I was at the point where I was ready to change my phone number, but James was seriously unstable. Afraid that an action like that would prompt him to try to talk to me in person, I decided against it because that was absolutely the last thing I wanted.
Alice finished her routine, landing the dismount perfectly and the crowd erupted into a roar of applause and cheers. Everyone loved Alice. I had no doubt that she'd be in the next Olympics, but she had to get to the trials first. Spotting me in the crowd, Alice grinned brightly, waving, before blowing me a kiss. After I waved back, I got up to make my way through the crowd. As I maneuvered to the place where I'd be able to talk to her, my eyes kept drifting back to the men's side. He was still there, the guy I had been watching, stretching and warming up. I moved slowly, fighting not to let my jaw drop as I watched him lower himself into a split. He was incredibly flexible and I was willing to bet that he was a talented gymnast too.
"Bella!" I heard Alice call, and suddenly I realized I was on the ground level. Hesitantly, I tore my eyes from him, turning my attention to Alice. She skipped up to the guard rail that separated us, zipping up her team jacket.
"Why were you sitting all the way up there?" she asked. "You know you can sit floor level with the rest of the family members."
"It's interesting having a bird's eye view. I can see a lot of things from up there." My mouth turned up in a mischievous smile. "Speaking of... I think I've figured out why you've been so cheery the last couple weeks."
"I told you, it's nothing. I can't be in a good mood?" she said, hands defiantly on her hips.
I narrowed my eyes at her. "Not like this. This isn't like the temporary good mood you get into when you break your diet and have a piece of chocolate. This is the work of a guy. Who is he?"
Alice actually looked embarrassed as her cheeks flushed. "No one you know."
"Really? It's not the blonde on your team with the curly hair and the charming smile?" I asked, arching an eyebrow in suspicion.
Alice glared at me for a long second. Finally, she sighed in defeat. "Fine, you're right. How did you know it was him, anyway?" she demanded.
"Because I know you and because I'm brilliant," I said with a satisfied grin. "What's his name and why did I not know about this sooner?"
"Jasper Hale. Because I didn't want to make a big deal about it until I knew it was going to be serious. It is though, and I don't think I can keep it a secret any more. I want you and Charlie to meet him when this thing is over. Where is he, by the way?" Alice looked around, expecting to find him nearby.
"He got called into a homicide investigation. It's kind of a big deal. He wanted me to tell you good luck, and that he's proud of you," I said, "and to give you this." Leaning forward, I gave her a big hug.
"Aww, he's so sweet. It's too bad he couldn't come," she said, releasing me.
My eyes fluttered once more to the men's side. I wanted to ask Alice if she knew anything about my gymnast, but if things were getting serious with Jasper, I didn't want to steal her thunder. Besides, I was perfectly capable of at least finding out his name on my own.
"Hey Bella, do you think you can run to the locker room and get my athletic tape and Gatorade for me? I can't believe I left them there. I need if them I'm going to get through my floor routine."
"Of course," I said. "I'll go right now."
"There shouldn't be anyone back there but if anyone asks, just tell them I sent you, alright? I'll meet you back here."
I nodded and she ran off to join her teammates. Turning around, I searched for the locker room area and finally found it, on the opposite side of the arena, near the men's side. Tossing out what was left of my popcorn, I started pushing through the crowd once more.
Finally I reached the deserted hallway that housed the locker rooms. I stole a quick glance over my shoulder at the men's side behind me, looking for my gymnast. To my complete and utter horror, I found him near Jasper, and he was looking at me with smile that seemed both curious and bemused. My cheeks immediately reddened and I quickly continued walking, entering the hallway.
Walking at a brisk pace, I made it to the women's locker room at the end of the quiet hallway. I was thankful that there didn't seem to be anyone around to ask me what I was doing. Once inside, I searched until I found the locker with a temporary label reading "ALICE BRANDON." Gathering the tape and the Gatorade, I headed back out to the hallway as fast as I could. As soon as I was clear of the doorway, a force came out of nowhere and roughly pushed me back against the cold stone wall, causing me to wince in pain.
"Bella," a voice growled.
My eyes opened and I froze as I saw James just inches from my face, his palms pressed against the wall on either side of me, trapping me where I was. The Gatorade and tape slipped from my hands as the fear set in, making a soft clatter on the concrete floor. I opened my mouth to scream, but James' large hand clamped over my mouth, effectively silencing me.
"Tsk tsk," he said, shaking his head slowly. "Let's not do anything to draw attention to ourselves, shall we?"
I nodded with a small whimper and he removed his hand.
"What do you want, James?" I asked in an unsteady voice.
"You won't return my calls, you won't return my texts. Why are you shutting me out?" he demanded.
"Oh, let's see... because you cheated on me, or because you hit me when I found out about it and broke up with you? Take your pick. It's over, James. I don't want to be with you anymore, and you proved you don't care about me when you slept with that redhead who looks like she just crawled out of the grave," I hissed, the fear slowly dissipating into anger. I used that anger to give myself strength.
James' eyes hardened, like I had struck a nerve. "At least Victoria knows how to service a man's needs," he growled. "If you weren't giving it up, can you really blame me for going elsewhere?"
"This conversation is over. If you come near me again I'll have you arrested," I said with more confidence than I felt, and tried to break free of his grasp.
The next few moments felt like a blur as I felt James' palm connect with my cheek, and the sharp, stinging pain that followed. My arms flew up to protect my face and I braced myself for a second blow that never came. I opened my eyes and slowly lowered my arms to find my gymnast, the one I'd been watching, pinning James against the opposite wall of the hallway. The gymnast had him by the collar was using his strength to intimidate him. From what I could tell it was working. James wasn't small or slight by any means, but he was no match for him.
"Stay away from her," the gymnast growled menacingly. "If I find out you've shown your face around her again, I'll rip your spine out. Now get out of here," he said, releasing James.
James glared at him with a look full of hatred before turning that stare to me, a silent promise that this wasn't over, and I would most definitely see him again. Without another word, he disappeared into the exit stairwell.
"Are you alright?" the gymnast asked, walking towards me.
"It's you... I've been watching you," I said, slightly bewildered.
"You've been watching me?" he asked, a hint of amusement in his velvet voice.
"Uh, I mean I saw you. From the stands….you know, as a spectator," I stammered dumbly, trying to rectify my slip-up. "How did you...?" I couldn't finish the question, only glance toward the door James had exited from.
"I saw you go down this hallway, and I saw that guy go in after you. He looked like trouble. When you didn't come back out I thought I would see if he was bothering you. I'm sorry I didn't get here before he hit you," he said apologetically.
"You... were watching me?" I asked, surprised.
"As a spectator," he said with a smile that seemed slightly embarrassed. He stepped closer and lifted his hand to brush his fingertips across my stinging cheek. "Are you alright?" he asked again, his eyes full of concern.
I looked up into those eyes and felt like I was in a trance, unable to look away. "Yes," I breathed, my gaze traveling over his flawless features before pausing at his lips. He moved again, cupping my cheek and lowering his head to put those perfect lips just inches from mine.
"Why do I feel so protective of you?" He asked, just above a whisper. The sweetness of his breath danced along my skin and I had a fraction of a second to wonder if he tasted as good as he smelled before he kissed me, softly pressing his lips to mine.
It was gentle at first, slowly becoming more passionate with each passing second. My hands traveled up his muscled chest to rest on either side of his neck as he deepened the kiss, slipping his tongue into my mouth and allowing himself to taste me completely. He kissed me like I was a drink of water in a vast, unmerciful desert, and I felt intoxicated by him. His smell, his taste, and his touch against my skin were like a sweet fog enveloping me and I gasped, my breathing labored as he broke the kiss suddenly.
"Tell me your name," he whispered urgently.
It was then that I heard the announcer's voice, drifting down the hallway from the arena. He introduced a floor routine from a gymnast that I recognized from Alice's team. That meant Alice would be up soon.
"Alice..." I whispered, realizing she was still waiting for me.
"Alice," he murmured and bent to kiss me once more.
"No, Alice Brandon. She's waiting for me. I-I have to go," I stammered.
"You're with Alice Brandon?"
"My cousin," I said, wriggling from his grasp and crouching to collect the forgotten Gatorade and athletic tape.
"Excellent," he said with a grin.
I didn't have time to ask what he meant by that. "I'm sorry, I have to go. Thank you for everything," I said as I turned and ran down the hallway back towards the arena.
"See you soon!" he called after me, and I thought I heard him chuckle.
A wave of panic spread over me as I waded through the crowd. What had I just done? I just had the best kiss of my life with a complete stranger who saved me from taking a beating from my psychotic ex-boyfriend. As if that wasn't bad enough, I was so flustered that I didn't even have the decency to give him my name when he asked for it. At least I remembered to thank him.
Alice was looking worried when I reached the guard rail where we met before.
"There you are, Bella!" she exclaimed. "What took you so long?"
"James cornered me in the hallway," I confessed, quickly surrendering the items she'd asked for.
"Oh my god! Bella, are you okay? Did he hurt you? Is he still here?" she asked frantically, the questions coming faster than I could answer them.
"I'm fine. Someone scared him off, but I need to get a restraining order as soon as we get home."
"Someone scared him off? Who was it?" Alice quirked an eyebrow suspiciously.
"Another gymnast. I didn't catch his name." I left out that the fact that I was too busy making out with him was the reason I didn't catch it.
"Well, as long as you're alright," she said. "I can call security if you think James might still be hanging around."
"I think I'll be safe for now. You should get going. Good luck," I added, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks. Don't go too far. I want you to meet Jasper after my routine, and I guess he has someone he wants me to meet as well." Alice bit her lip nervously.
"I'll stay down here this time, in the family section," I promised.
Alice nodded, smiling brightly and ran off to prepare for her routine, leaving me to find my way to the family section on my own. I found it without much difficulty, just in time to watch Alice. She made it through her routine, flawless as always. There were times in my life that I found myself jealous of the things Alice was capable of. She could tumble across a balance beam, while I was so clumsy I could sometimes barely make it up a flight of stairs without tripping. She had more grace and poise in her little finger than I did in my whole body. It made me envious sometimes, but watching her fly across the mat, seeing how much fun she was having and how happy it made her... well, it made me happy too.
When she was finished, she bounded over to where I was sitting, holding her Gatorade and team jacket and sweatpants.
"You were so great, Alice!" I said, hugging her tightly. "Charlie will be sorry he missed this."
"Thanks," she said, sounding like she was still trying to catch her breath as she wriggled into her clothes. "I'm so nervous. Between you meeting Jasper and me meeting Jasper's cousin I thought I was going to screw up royally."
"You're meeting his cousin?" She nodded. That must be the person Jasper wanted her to meet. No wonder she was nervous. "When?" I asked, curious.
"In about two seconds when they get here," she said nodding in the direction behind me. Confused, I turned to look and instantly froze when I saw him, my mysterious savior walking toward me with a huge grin plastered on his face. A second later I realized that Jasper was beside him, and they were both headed toward where Alice and I were sitting. The handsome stranger I made out with not fifteen minutes ago was the cousin of Alice's secret boyfriend that I didn't even know existed until today.
This couldn't possibly get any stranger.