hey, guys. this is my first multi-chaptered twilight fic, so any guidance/feedback or anything like that would be super-appreciated, trust me. i'm posting this on ~both~ ff and twilighted, so whichever you prefer.

criticism/comments are very welcome, and any suggestions are fantastic. that being said: enjoy!

just so you know – this whole story will be in the point-of-view of bella, so don't worry about pov hopping or anything. ;)

disclaimer: stephenie meyer owns everything except for the plot – that bad boy's mine. anything else that sounds familiar is most likely not mine.

*

friday, october 17th.

I was sprawled across the floor, my feet crossed haphazardly in front of my body, my hands splayed behind me to support me, the back of my itchy cloth pants damp and highly uncomfortable against my (previously) dry skin, my ponytail frayed and pieces of hair falling forward and sticking to my eyelashes, and a lovely plate of meat sauce pasta with artichokes splattered across my lap.

It was just another day in the life of me, Bella Swan, the clumsiest woman ever to walk the earth.

I attempted to ignore all of the wide eyes staring in my direction as I picked myself up and brushed myself off. My cheeks were raging red, and if I paid any attention to the quick and quiet whispers, I was sure my anger would find some way to channel to my tear ducts—as it usually did—and I really couldn't afford to be caught crying at this particular moment.

Sniffing pathetically, I sloppily stacked the plates and cups in my hands. The heavy footsteps I heard against the floor were unmistakable as they came toward me at a furious pace. I didn't even bother turning around when they stopped directly behind me. I rolled my eyes.

"Bella," my boss said, his voice unsettlingly hushed and monotone. "My office. Now."

I bit my lip to hold in a sigh. "Yes, sir." I blew a stray hair out of my face and made my way to the kitchen.

As I walked past the table I'd been intending on serving, I grimaced apologetically and muttered a quick, "I'm really sorry about that."

The couple waved their hands nonchalantly. "No harm done," they said—which, for the record, wasn't entirely true, I thought as I glanced at the mess of pasta and sauce on the plates in my hand and surveyed the chip that decorated the edge of one of the plates. Lovely. Despite their words, I caught the envy in their eye as their eyes followed a steaming plate of steak being served to another couple's table.

I sighed again. "I'll be sure that you receive a free desert or something," I mumbled, and walked away.

I passed Emmett, my good friend and coworker, on the journey back, and he patted me on the shoulder and offered a sympathetic smile. I laid my head on his shoulder and whined. "This is not good," I groaned.

"Don't even worry about it, Bells," he said while he rubbed my back soothingly. "It happens so often, no one even cares anymore." I slapped his back, and he jerked away from me and chuckled. The next moment, he gripped my shoulder and pushed me from him, pursing his lips and furrowing his brow at me. "But seriously, I'm getting freaking tired of cleaning up your messes." He thrust the mop in his hand playfully at me and tweaked my nose with his free hand.

I laughed. "Oh Em, you big, scary, fantastic man. You're the best." Then I frowned, and looked pointedly at the Manager's Office sign a few feet away, hanging proudly above a wooden door, and heaved a huge sigh. "Now, onto my death march."

He boomed a laugh and swerved the bucket full of soapy water around me, some of it slopping out and hitting my shoes. "Don't be so melodramatic, Isabella," he called over his shoulder.

"Call me Isabella one more time and you'll see melodramatic," I yelled back as I shook out my feet to attempt to get rid of the spillage. He laughed once more before he disappeared around the corner to the dining area.

I plopped the spoiled dishes on the metal countertop next to the sink and chucked the chipped plate into the trash bin. "Sorry, guys," I muttered.

The washing crew smiled at me. "No problem, kiddo—we're used to it by now," someone said. I nudged him with my hip and untied my apron, setting it in the "to be washed" clothesbasket and walked to the manager's office. My fingers trembled—both with the aftershock of my embarrassing tumble and the anticipation for Mr. Varner's talk—as I knocked on the door.

"Come in, Bella."

Oh, great. He has a freakishly scary voice and he's psychic. That's just lovely, I thought to myself as I slowly opened the door. He was sitting at his wooden desk, a newspaper opened and spread across his face. His thick grey eyebrows rose as his eyes flitted to mine over the top of the paper and he folded it and set it down on his desk.

"Have a seat."

I did as I was told, my back stiff against the cushion behind it.

This wasn't the first time I'd received a lecture from Mr. Varner, but this was the first time he'd asked me to come to his office. I hoped I wouldn't be making a habit of the invitations—they scared me to no end. My racing pulse was proof of that fact.

"Bella," he said, leaning forward and placing his elbows on the desk, "you've been a great staff member here for the past seven months. You keep the other workers happy, you know how to treat the customers correctly and politely, and you seem to cheer up the entire facility when you arrive for your shift each day."

My stomach turned. "But?" I said weakly, knowing the word was implied in the silence that followed his compliments. Just tell me what my sentence is already, I thought.

He rubbed his leathery face with a palm and sighed. "Do you know how many times you've spilled a customer's order in the past couple months?" He was avoiding the punishment outright—prolonging my agony. It frustrated me.

"No," I said in a clipped tone. "How many times?"

"Way too many."

"Okay."

He huffed. "It needs to end."

"Have you . . . have you received complaints from customers or something?"

"Yes. And not only that, but toppling over prepared dishes gives this restaurant a bad reputation. What do you think will be the first thing that customers tell their friends? 'That restaurant had the best alfredo I've ever tasted', or 'Our waitress tripped on the carpet when she was serving us—it took forever for the food to finally get to the table!'"

"Maybe both," I tried to joke. He didn't smile. My smile vanished. "I mean, they're both true, you know. But hopefully they put more emphasis on the first—"

"And not only that, but it wastes money and time—two things that I can't afford to lose any more of. Competition is growing steep in the neighborhood, and we've got to put our best foot forward."

"But sir," I said, "I'm sure that my clumsiness isn't putting you at that much of a disadvantage. I mean, I only trip every now and th—"

"Bella," he interrupted. His eyes were sharp against mine.

I huffed, slumping back into my chair. "Okay. What's the verdict? Washing dishes for two weeks like last time? Or do you have a new penalty for me?"

He shook his head and interlaced his fingers, letting a deep breath out through his nose. It reminded me vaguely of a bull—and I was wearing the company colors: red and black. The irony struck me as funny, and I tried (and failed) to keep from giggling.

"I'm sorry, Bella. It's over."

My eyes widened and any traces of humor vanished. "What do you mean?" I was suddenly breathless.

"I mean," he said, "your time here has been well-spent, but we aren't in need of your services any more. I'm sorry, but it's time to let you go."

"What?" I very nearly shrieked, leaning forward and pressing my palms against the edge of his desk. "Mr. Varner, please. You know how clumsy I am! It's not something that'll just go away overnight."

"And that's exactly why I need to fire you, Bella. It's a trait of yours that won't go away and it's causing me—and this restaurant—trouble. I'm afraid waitressing may not be your forte."

I snorted, sitting back down on the chair. "Well, of course it isn't. I don't intend to excel in the art of serving others food. I just need a job to pay for bills and personal necessities until I can lift off my career as an author—you know that, sir. And you know how hard I work at this job, how hard I try to not spill any food."

His gaze was unswerving, and he didn't seem to be relenting his position on the subject of my employment at his restaurant any time soon. My stomach plummeted as cold sweat beaded on my skin.

"Please?" I tried, knowing it was hopeless.

"I'm sorry, Bella," he repeated. "I'm sorry."

*

One embarrassing breakdown, six tissues from the employee bathroom, and a quick hug to each of my coworkers later, I was out on the sidewalk and walking to nowhere in particular. My apartment seemed too desolate; I wasn't hungry enough to go to a café; Alice was at work and would most likely be unable to answer her phone. I shoved my last paycheck—I whimpered pathetically—into my pocket and walked toward Central Park, swerving past the ignorant walkers on the busy New York sidewalks while fishing my cell phone out of my bag.

I normally didn't call Alice while she was at work, but this was a time when I really needed her. And I was sure she'd understand my abrupt phone call during her busiest time of day—those unruly fashion magazine photographers and editors would have to wait. My fingers fumbled over the keys as I entered her number, and my free hand tapped against my leg as I waited for her to pick up.

The phone stopped ringing, and I couldn't hold it in any longer—I spilled.

"I just got fired. Oh my god, I just got fired. I was fired from my job. I've never been fired from anything in my entire life. Apparently I had spilled a total of—what did my boss say again?—oh, 'way too many' orders over the past month, and I did it again today. I wasn't watching where I was going, slipped on a wet spot on the tile floor, and dropped a table's order. I guess it was the last straw for him. I'm now jobless. My last paycheck was just enough to help cover my past month's apartment rent and pay for the bills I had been behind on. I'm just now caught up on all of my payments, and now this happens. Not to mention the fact that I haven't been with a guy in . . . well, you know how long it's been. Forever. That really doesn't help much at all. Plus, my novel-in-progress has been at a standstill recently: I am out of any and all inspiration possible. And I know that you're at work right now, and I don't want to bother you because I know how busy your life is, and I know I never ask you for anything, but would it be terrible if I came to live with you for a while? I'll just be there until this period of awfulness is over and I can get back on my feet steadily. I understand if it isn't a good time—I know that you're in the very heavy-duty process of packing up and moving in with Jasper in a few months—but . . . oh, Alice. I don't know what to do. I'm in way over my head in this city. I feel so lost."

Feeling better after having gotten all of my sadness for myself out of my system, I dropped my head into my hands, sat down in the nearest bench, and fought for breath while I waited for Alice's response.

Five seconds passed without a word. I looked up and frowned. That was extremely un-Alice-like.

"Alice?" I asked confusedly. "Alice . . . are you there? Alice, I really need your help."

I heard someone clear their throat and slow, soft breathing on the other end. "It sounds like you've had a terrible day. I'm so sorry all that happened to you," said a voice that most definitely wasn't Alice's. Most importantly, the biggest difference was that this was a man's voice. It was deep and rich—completely different from Alice's high-pitched, upbeat, and cheery tone.

I froze, my spine straightening against the bench as I shot up against its back. "Um, who is this?"

There was silence, and then the man chuckled. "Shouldn't I be asking you that question?"

I blew out the breath I didn't know I'd been holding. "Well—no—you shouldn't be—I called—I don't know who you are," I sputtered, and then regained control of the word circuit between my mind and mouth, thinking of Alice and this total stranger that was on her phone. Panic struck, and with it came my maternal instinct, full-force. "Where's Alice? What are you doing on her cell? Do you work with her? Is she there beside you? Does she know you? I swear, if you've hurt Alice in any way, I'll—"

"Hold on," he said quickly, and I could hear him fumbling in the background. "I don't know who Alice is, or who you are. This isn't your friend's phone number, I assure you."

"No," I argued. "No. This is her number. She's my best friend—I think I'd know her phone number."

"Do I sound like Alice to you?" He laughed.

I made a noise in my throat. "Then who are you?"

"Who are you?" he retorted. I could almost hear the smile in his voice, and it bothered me to no end.

I bit my lip, my head spinning, and scrolled through my phone's recent calls. I carefully checked the last outgoing phone number, and it seemed to be the same as Alice's—wait. It was one number off. I must have pressed the eight rather than the seven in my haste. Oh.

I brought the phone back to my ear, silent and clueless as to what to say. "I'm so sorry," I said finally. I flushed at the thought of whining about my pointless life to this complete stranger. And I even talked about not having dated a man in . . . oh, gosh. I reddened further. "I must've called the wrong number. I didn't mean to waste your time. I'll just go now. Just forget I even called. Goodbye," I said awkwardly, unsure of how to end this strange phone call.

"Miss?"

I hesitated. "Yes?"

He expelled a long breath into the phone. "If you ever want to talk about anything, I can listen."

"Are you crazy?" I said loudly. Several people walking nearby and others seated on benches across from me snapped their heads in my direction and gawked. I dropped my eyes to my lap and fiddled with my fingers, my face so hot I could rival the sun.

He paused. "Last time I checked, I was relatively sane."

"Are you serious?" I tried again.

He paused again, and then chuckled. "Last time I checked, I was relatively serious."

I almost laughed, but the day's sour events kept my mood from brightening. The weather wasn't helping either, I thought as I glanced up at the gloomy sky. "I don't know if you know this, but I don't actually know who you are."

He laughed loudly; his laugh made up for my lack of one. The sound made the corner of my mouth tip up. "As hard as it may be for you to believe," he said playfully, "I am aware of that fact. That still doesn't change my offer."

"Doesn't talking about your life to a stranger seem at all odd to you? I mean, taking it from personal experience—as in, just a minute ago, I was ranting about my inane life to you—it seems awkward." I raised an eyebrow.

"I think it's the best way to go, actually. A stranger can't see you. A stranger can't interfere in your personal life. A stranger has no effect on you. It's almost like an anonymous help hotline, really."

"And you'd be my anonymous helper?"

"The best one you could ask for."

I smiled. This man and his voice were having an effect on my level of optimism. It was a nice feeling, the warmth rising in the pit of my stomach. "Hm, you bring up an interesting point. It still feels weird, though," I said.

"If I wanted to tell you about my life, would you listen?"

I chewed on my thumbnail—listening to a stranger talk about their life? I shook my head. Then I realized that half of the shows on television were "reality" shows, filled with real people. Maury, Oprah, Montel, even Jerry Springer: they were all about having guests on the show to talk about themselves. And I'd watched my fair share of Oprahs. So I'd already technically listened to people I don't know raving about their lives . . . "I guess I would, yeah."

"So," he said, "wouldn't you grant me the same privilege?"

I tried not to laugh, and then failed miserably. "You think that listening to your life would be a privilege? That's a little presumptuous, don't you think?"

"Perhaps." He chuckled. "That doesn't make it any less true."

"Ah, I see."

"And I'm positive that hearing about your life would be a privilege to me, don't you worry."

"Yes, I definitely would've lost sleep thinking about whether or not you enjoyed my endless monologue."

"Polite and witty. I bet you're beautiful, too." His voice was thoughtful.

His overtly flirtatious words surprised me, and I flushed and ducked my head into the front of my coat. He took my silence as an answer and laughed quietly into the phone.

"Do you do this often, mystery man?" I asked.

He cleared his throat. "What do you mean by 'this'?"

"You know—answer unfamiliar numbers, talk and flirt to the stranger, and proceed to ask about said stranger's life?"

"Yes," he answered, clearing his throat again. "All of the time, actually. It's a little hobby of mine."

"I knew it," I said, smiling.

"Honestly, though, this is the first time. Usually I don't answer numbers that I don't recognize, but I was waiting for a phone call, and I answered the phone as soon as it rang. Let me tell you—you were not the person I was expecting to speak with."

I tried to see his answering my call as a simple mistake, and that I wasn't an exception to his usual behavior toward phone calls—my trying wasn't succeeding, and I felt a little giddy that I was his first. I giggled behind my hand. Then I processed his words. "Wait, are you—are you still waiting for that call?" I asked, stumbling over my words. "I'll go—"

"No, it's fine. Don't go. It wasn't imperative; this is a much more interesting conversation, anyway." I didn't miss the way he said "don't go"—a polite command, almost pleading. His pensive tone made my face red again.

A sudden thought struck me. "Now, let's get one thing straight."

"Yes?"

"Actually, a couple things straight."

"Sure thing."

"How old are you? I mean, you're not some gross fifty-year-old pervert who just sounds really young on the phone, are you?"

His laughter was loud this time, and I smiled—I felt satisfied that I could make him so amused. "That would be really crass, wouldn't it?" I nodded in agreement even though he couldn't see me. "No, I'm not fifty."

I wanted to ask how old he was, but that would most likely qualify as a question relating to his life, and I had decided that telling a stranger about your life was odd, and slightly How-To-Catch-A-Predator-esque. I'd seen that show, and I didn't want to become an anonymous fourteen-year-old victim. I bit my tongue to keep from asking.

He answered anyway, his voice rushed, as though I didn't believe he wasn't a pedophile. "I'm twenty-three." He was only one year older than me.

"And how do I know you're not some drug dealer or murderer or something?"

"You don't," he answered in a grave and utterly serious voice.

I paused for a moment, and then snorted. He laughed loudly again; the sound was like velvet.

"I promise you, I'm just a normal, twenty-something guy with a normal job and a normal apartment."

"I guess I'll have to take your word for it."

"My word is exceptionally trustworthy; you needn't worry."

We were at some invisible threshold, straddling the line between strangers and anonymous acquaintances. If I told him my age, or anything else about me, really, there was no doubt that we would be interested in learning more about one another. I knew next to nothing about this man, but the interest I had in his voice and his mind was both unsettling and unfamiliar. I knew he felt the shift in the atmosphere between our two phones, too, and I was suddenly holding the phone tensely in my hand.

So . . ." he said slowly. "What do you say?"

"You mean, what do I think of this whole 'anonymous help hotline' thing?" I clarified. I was buying time, and I could tell that he knew I was.

"Yes, 'this whole thing.'" His voice was smiling.

". . ."

"Please?"

"Why are you so interested in hearing about my life? What separates me from the rest?" I asked.

He sucked in a breath. "Well, I suppose that after hearing the message that you intended to leave for your friend—" I grew red again at the thought of him hearing about the ins and outs of my life "—I just figured that maybe there was something I could do . . . to . . . help."

I raised my eyebrows. "So, you pretty much want to have a pity date with me over the phone? You know, pity's the last thing I'm looking for."

"Pity's the last thing I want to have for you," he said softly. "Help is more like it. A listening ear. An open mind. An empty shoulder, if you will."

"Crying is my strong point, I'll give you that. My tear ducts are hotwired to my emotions."

"I'm happy. Crying is such a turn-on," he stage-whispered in a teasing voice.

Snickering, I said, "Good to know. I'll have to remember that."

". . ."

". . ."

"So? What do you say, my anonymous stranger who is apparently in need of some dire life assistance?"

I laughed and closed my eyes, reveling in the sheer craziness of this all. I lose my job. Then I call my friend. But, I accidentally call a stranger in the process and, without realizing it, spill my misery about my recent unemployment, the fact that I can't continue writing my novel with consistency, and the inexistence of a significant other. And he wants to know more about me? It was insane.

I took a deep breath as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. The bright white light hit my eyes, kissed my face, and I closed my eyelids and drank in the feel of the sun's warmth on my skin, finding confidence in the yellow glow and in the sensation that this man's voice gave me. It was a strange high of self-belief, and I intended to put every moment of this euphoria to use.

"Hello?" he asked. "Are you still there?"

I laughed into the phone at his persistence, and he sighed in relief that I hadn't hung up yet.

"Are you ready to be helped?" His voice had a note of finality, and I knew he was eager for answer. So I gave him one . . . kind of.

"I'll let you know," I said, and quickly hung up before he could reply, holding my breath and biting my lip. This was the first time I'd ever done anything even remotely like that, and that fact alone sent my happiness reeling higher. I flung my hands over my face and shook my head back and forth, squealing like a little child and not caring who saw or heard me. It felt freeing; careless. It felt fantastic.

*

I kept my eyes carefully focused on my thumbs this time as they dialed Alice's number, making sure I was typing the correct number. Someone picked up after the first ring.

"Hello?"

I sighed in relief. "Hey, Alice. How are you?"

"Sweetie! I'm doing fine—a little busy, but you know me. I like the chaos."

I grinned. "You sure do."

"So . . . how are you?"

"Funny you should ask that . . ."

"Why is it funny?" she asked quickly. I rolled my eyes. Alice: always the protective one. I tried to imagine her as a grizzly bear, with coarse hair, a big snout, and the biggest attitude problem to anyone who came within a mile of her—and me as her delicate baby cub. The image came surprisingly easily, much to my amusement. "What's wrong?"

"Well, I got fired," I said bluntly. Might as well get it out there then hold it in any longer.

"Oh, Bella, I'm so sorry." Her tone was soft now. "Are you doing okay? What happened? Do you need me to come home? I can leave work early and head over to your place. We can choose a movie or two to watch and have a little therapy sleepover, completely with chocolate ice cream and chocolate syrup and chocolate chips and—"

"I'm fine. It was nothing, really. I just stepped on Mr. Varner's toes one too many times. The sleepover sounds great, but don't leave work early. Can you just come over after you get out of the office?"

"Of course," she said happily. "Jasper will understand."

"Cool. Sounds great." I chewed on my thumbnail, and then added, "After we watch those movies, we can talk about other new stuff, too."

"More new stuff? Like what?" Her voice was beginning to creep upward in volume and tone. I pulled the phone away from my ear a bit to decrease the damage that her voice would cause.

I paused. "I'll just tell you about it later," I said, smiling like a fool.

"Bella! You're totally grinning, I can tell!" she screeched. "What is it? What else happened today? What are you not telling me?"

I couldn't resist it. "You'll find out later," I said slowly, egging her on.

She huffed. "Bella, you can't leave me hanging like this. It's just cruel. I will kick your ass when I see you tonight, don't doubt it."

I shrugged. "If that's my punishment, then I guess I'll take it. It's been a while since I've had a good butt-kicking, anyway."

"Bella! Stop that! Spill! You've got to give me some details or something . . ." I could imagine her on the other end of the phone, her free hand closed over her free ear, crouched over her desk and listening intently to the phone, and then I laughed because I knew that was exactly what she was doing. "Bella," she whined. Great, she was bringing out the whine that has been known to stop floods and cure cancer. I had to get off this phone or I'd crack and tell everything—and this stranger caller story would definitely be better told in person. She'd thank me later.

"Oh, Alice, look at that—something has just popped up right before my eyes and grabbed my attention," I joked. "I have to go."

"Bella," she said sternly, and I was sure her hand was on her hip now, "don't you dare hang up on—"

She is making this way too easy, I grinned to myself, and then promptly hung up on her.

I didn't know what had gotten into me today, but I wanted it to stay there for a while.

*

thanks for reading, guys. see you next chapter!