The snow was softy falling, coating the square with a crisp blanket of white. I smiled as a double decker bus drove past. I was home. I had been apart from London for far too long. I had been across the pond in America. I had been awarded a fellowship to Julliard for composition. I had been playing piano ever since I was a small boy, and still found the same childlike joy from the black and white keys. Right now, I was breathing in the smells of my city at Christmas time. I watched as people dashed through the square with their last minute shopping and bustling to get things for holiday parties. Children laughing at the snow, and trying to run and slide on the walk. Pairs and groups of people chattering as they hurried along to their next stop. In the middle of the square stood carol singers, mostly being ignored by the people around them, though you couldn't help but hear their voices. It was then that I saw her. Amidst all the bustle and movement was a lone figure of stillness. She stood 8 meters from the singers completely enraptured with their song. I don't know why, but I began walking toward this woman intrigued why, out of all of these people, she alone listened. I focused myself to hear what they were singing as I slowly walked up to her side. The singers were singing 'The Holly and The Ivy'. I looked down at the woman, who appeared to be about my age, and noticed a single tear rolling down her cheeks that were glowing red from the cold.
"Excuse me, miss." I said quietly, not wanting to disturb. "Are you alright?"
She looked up at me, quickly wiping away the tear, and blushed and lowered her eyes to the cute hand knitted mittens on her hands.
"Sorry. That's embarrassing." She mumbled.
"They do sing lovely." I tried to offer her some reprieve from her embarrassment. I, too, loved beautiful music. The group had a coronet player and all.
"It's like stepping into a Dickens' novel. You never get carolers singing that in the states, and it is one of my favorites." She said. I noted now the American accent. "I'm such an obvious tourist, but am admittedly enraptured with your city."
She looked up into my eyes, and my breath caught as I looked down into the deep pools of her brown eyes. The were completely alight. Like a child seeing St. Nicholas in the flesh. She meant what she said.
"So, did you come here for the caroling, or do you have other motives?" I asked with a smile. She laughed. It was a magical laugh. I physically felt warmer from the sound of it.
"No, the caroling is just a bonus. I am here with my parents. My dad just retired from the police force earlier this year, and promised my mom when he did, they would travel. They decided on a family tour of England for the holidays, but now that my dad has discovered your fish and chips, I am not sure we will get him past London." Her face emanated love for her parents, especially her father, as she talked.
"I know how he feels. I've been studying in America, and just returned home, and that is one of the first things I had when I got back." I heard myself slightly moan to myself at the thought of it, and then my stomach growled. She grinned, blushed, and looked away again.
"Speaking of food, I am meeting my parents for lunch in 5 minutes." She glanced around, and back to me. She gave me a quizzical look. Yet, she seemed to be as lost in my eyes as I was in hers. "I see you are hungry. Would you like to join us? My mom is dying to get a local's opinion on things to do. She is more of an off-the-beaten-track type of lady than to follow the usual touristy stuff. Local expertise, fish & chips, crazy Americans...going about your business, hungry, being with people you really want to be with...." She was tilting her hands back and forth like a scale as she said this with a smile on her face, and sweet pleading in her eyes.
"Actually, I was just taking a refresher tour of the city myself, and have no other plans. I would love to join you for lunch, on one condition." I smiled now as her eye brow raised waiting. "You, and your parents of course, be my guest at my parent's Christmas party tonight."
"Oh, we couldn't intrude. You haven't even asked them yet. You don't even know us." She stammered. Clearly, she put other people feelings first. I held out my finger to stop her, and pulled out my phone.
"Yes, the snow is lovely."
"I won't forget."
"I was calling to inform you that I have invited three guests for tonight, if that is OK."
"Yes, one is a girl."
"Just met her."
"Brown hair, chocolate brown eyes, and I am guessing a fan of the classics."
She blushed at my description.
I hadn't even asked her name! I covered up the receiver of the phone, and looked at her pleading.
"Bella Swan" She whispered with a smile.
"Edward Cullen" I whispered back. I got lost in the eyes again, and realized my mother was still waiting for my answer.
"Bella. Bella Swan."
"Yes, it is lovely."
"American, actually. She and her parents are here on holiday."
"Lovely. What time should I tell them?"
"I love you, too."
I closed my phone, and looked down at her.
"Dinner is at 6, and I will give you my address at the restaurant. Now where are we going for lunch?" I asked, trying to mask a serious look, but was failing miserably.
"Bella!" I heard a woman's voice call out. We both turned, and I saw a couple arm in arm. The woman was waving. Bella waved back, and nodded me in the direction of her parents. I walked over with her, now a little nervous. Here I was a perfect stranger, and Bella was leading me over like I was an old family friend.
"And who is this?" Bella's mother asked with a smile. Like it was no big deal for Bella to be walking with a strange man.
"I found your local for you, mom." Bella said with a smile. "Mom, dad, this is Edward Cullen. Our tour guide of the non-tourist London." She looked up at me and smiled.
"What's this going to cost me, Bells?" Her dad asked frowning.
"Fish & chips, dad." Bella said.
"Ah...man after my own heart." He said, as he held out his hand. "Charlie Swan, and this is my wife, Renee."
I shook both of their hands. Bella said, and then got a devious smile on her face. "And you are going to be forced to go to a party tonight at his parents." The man's face fell. I felt obligated to save this poor man.
"Nothing formal, Mr. and Mrs. Swan." I stated, guessing that was his worry. "My parents hold an open house on Christmas Eve. My mom would have all of London over, if they would agree to attend. Mostly, it will be a small group of family and friends."
"Thank-you, Edward. That sounds lovely, and please, call us Charlie and Renee." Renee said.
"Now, lead the way to the food, son." Charlie said, patting me on the back.
I walked ahead, talking to Charlie about traffic in London, football (soccer, I had to remember to Americanize it), and crime rates in the city. Apparently, Charlie was the Chief of Police of their small town before retiring. I glanced behind us when the conversation lulled to watch Bella and Renee arm-in-arm wrapped up in their own conversation. When they would catch me looking, they would both give me a full smile. I took them to my favorite little pub for lunch. I knew the owner, Emmett, from when we were kids. He and his wife, Rose ran the place. They gave us a booth in the corner, and Emmett came over to give Charlie a lesson on English beer. Charlie took the seat next to Renee, and I helped Bella off with her coat, and pointed for her to join me opposite them. As I sat down next to her in that cosy booth, I could swear there was electricity in the air.
We all ate our food and talked and drank. Charlie and Renee were honest, sincere people, and Bella's mind was one of the most amazing I ever listened to. She talked about the architecture of the city, the literary history of the area... At one point, I looked at Charlie and Renee and told them they didn't need me, because they had their guide already. Bella blushed at that, Renee sent me a warm, motherly smile, and Charlie laughed, and gave me a slap on the arm. At one point, Bella and I both reached for the vinegar, and our hands touched. I felt like my hand was on fire, and by the look she shot me, hers was too. Trying to be the gentleman, I let go, and offered it to her first. I didn't want to let go of her hand though. Suddenly, I felt a strong pull in her direction. This was surreal. I just met her an hour ago! This made no sense.
As the meal wore on, and two hours later, I asked Rose for a pen, so I could write down my address. She was happy to hear the Swans would be coming, because they would be there too with their two boys, John and Phillip. I handed the slip of paper to Charlie, and he put it in his pocket. Emmett shouted out from the bar to Charlie that he would be supplying the beer, so he would get to sample all that he didn't get to at lunch. Charlie laughed, and Renee hugged his arm. She was obviously happy to see him relaxing. I guessed that they didn't stray far from Forks, more or less half way across the world.
"So how long are you in London?" I asked.
"We are headed back home after New Year." Renee said. One week. "Yes, Bella has to get back to school."
"Where do you attend?" I asked. Please let it be in New York. Or east coast. I would take that too.
"I am studying literature at Harvard." Bella said blushing.
"My girl's smart." Charlie said, sticking his chest out with pride. "Full scholarship." Boston...that was only a few hours by car. Close enough.
"I can tell." I said looking down at Bella. She looked up again at me, and once more I was lost. Renee brought me from my revery.
"Are you in school, Edward?" Renee asked.
"Yes, ma'am. I am studying composition at Julliard. Piano. I received a fellowship there for the year. I've already received my degree in Biology from Oxford." I could tell I had impressed the parents. Bella was just staring at me in amazement, and that floored me.
"Don't let him fool you." Emmett's voice suddenly barked out from behind me. "Don't think his Julliard and Oxford doesn't have him banging out Led Zepplin on my poor excuse of a piano over there when he's had one too many."
"Thank-you, Emmett." I looked down at my hands, mortified, but the Swans all started laughing. Rose walked up and smacked Emmett hard on the arm. He winced, and walked away rubbing it.
"Are you playing tonight, Edward?" Rose asked sweetly, giving me a hand back at my dignity.
"As if my mother would allow me any other choice." I said. "My mother, Esme, is the ultimate hostess, and I am her entertainment." I smiled at the thought of my mother's face when I played.
"She sounds lovely. What do your parent's do, Edward?" Renee asked.
"Esme is a decorator. Carlisle, my father, is a doctor. I also have a younger sister, Alice, who is a fashion designer. I can't wait for them to meet you." I looked down at Bella when I said this. "Excuse me for a moment, while I settle the bill with Emmett."
Charlie immediately started to protest.
"Don't worry, Charlie." I said standing up. "Emmett owes me so much from lost football wagers, that I could eat free here until 2020." He guffawed, and held his hands up in defeat, as I walked over to the bar.
"Put lunch on my tab, Em." He smiled and winked at me.
"She's hot, man." Emmett smirked as he cleaned a glass.
"No, she is a-mazing." I exhaled. I looked back at her, engaged with talking with her parents. I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket, inspired with an idea for this afternoon. It was about 1:30, and there was a Christmas through the Ages at Hyde Park that I knew Bella would love. I called to make reservations, guessing I could sway the ladies, and Charlie would go along. I returned to the table smiling.
"So, now that you have fed me, I feel obligated to fulfill part of my bargain with Miss Swan. How would you like to do your first off-the-beaten-track excursion in London? Something free to the public, and I very festive. You might even get to hear 'The Holly and The Ivy' again." I smiled at Bella, and her eyes lit up with the excitement I was hoping for. "Plus, we will get to walk off some of Rose's wonderful cooking."
Everyone smiled in agreement. I held out my hand to help Bella out of the booth, and again the electricity set my body on fire. She was so close to me when she stood, and I could swear her breathing was hitched. I reached up, and grabbed her coat off the hook, and helped her on with it. As she pulled it up to her shoulders, I reached down and lifted her hair out of the way. I don't know what made me do, it but the texture and smell of it was intoxicating. She glanced back at me with the same strange fire and wondrous expression in her eyes that I was feeling in my mind. When we walked outside, I waved down a taxi, and held the door open.
"Hyde Park, please." I smiled. Bella was going to love this.
I was just going to do a one shot Christmasy thing with this story, but it has taken a life of it's own. I have at least a few more chapters left in me on this one, but my eyes won't stay open one second longer. Forgive me as I delay the finish.