AN - Okay, apparently I need to write, so I am back with another story for you. Please note that Bella is human - Edward is not - and he is not a vampire either. Rated M, because it will be dark in parts, and sometimes I like to be naughty.
To: smilelikeacullen, (because you accept my reality), and anyone who has sent me a PM about writing more - I hope you enjoy.
Watching and Waiting
The book I was about to reshelve slipped from my hand. It landed on the drab brown industrial carpeting with a muffled thud. I took a moment to glance around quickly. No one seemed to be looking my way. In fact, it seemed that even the book dropping hadn't garnered any attention. I let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding in.
I jumped when I felt a hand on my shoulder a moment later. The book fell from my hand a second time.
"Bella, are you okay? I didn't mean to startle you."
I turned and was staring into the concerned face of Esme Cullen, the head librarian, my boss - and also the closest thing I had resembling a mother.
"I'm fine. I'm sorry I jumped. I've been having this weird feeling all day, like someone is watching me. Each time it happens I look around and there isn't anyone I can see. It's starting to creep me out a little."
Esme nodded and gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze. Esme knew how much I craved flying under the radar, I worked hard at not being noticed. She didn't understand my feelings, she understood them on the surface but she never had any idea of the underlying reasons why. Thankfully, she was the type of woman who favored action over discussion.
"I haven't noticed anyone out of the ordinary today. I'll have Joe from security make a quick sweep through the stacks just to be sure. In the meantime, why don't you come with me back to the main desk. I have another stack of books that need to be replaced. That should give him enough time."
I smiled and nodded my agreement. I pushed my cart along behind her. Just before we reached the main desk, I felt the hair on the back of my neck prickle. I drew in a shaky breath, but resisted the urge to look around. If someone was enjoying toying with me I wasn't going to give them any more satisfaction by looking around like a scared, frantic, little girl.
I took my time reloading my cart. The repetitive monotony of this job was grating at times, but it suited me well. It gave me plenty of time to be alone with my thoughts. The truths of my life were simple. I was utterly alone, and my memories were my only companions. That was how I had wound up here in the first place.
If someone were to ask I would tell them, "My name is Bella Swan."
That would perhaps mean different things to different people. To me it meant a girl of 19 with chocolate brown eyes and long, wavy, brown hair. It meant a girl that was blessed with good skin and too much imagination. It meant a girl who had seen more horrors and cried more tears than many do in a lifetime. Bella Swan is a girl, living in a big city, trying her best to outrun the cards she had been dealt.
If you were to ask someone else, they might say I was attractive, or smart, or quiet. They might believe me to be shy or reserved. They could make their best guesses based on what I was willing to share. They would only be commenting on the façade I constructed for their benefit. It was easier for everyone if we all pretended that I am simply a quiet girl. This myth was easier for everyone, so it was the one I clung to.
I had fled my small home town for the anonymity of the city six months ago. While most girls my age were in college or worrying over the latest boyfriend, I was busy reconstructing my life.
I lived in a small, actually miniscule, apartment. I worked at the library Monday through Friday. My shift began later in the day, and one of the perks of the job was that I was allowed to stay late and use the computers. I was reading all the books I could carry home each week, and I was grateful that I was the kind of girl that couldn't be lonely if she had a good book around. We had a staff room that always had fresh coffee. This was another perk. I hadn't liked coffee before, but since I was so poor lately, I often had several cups in the evening - as a supplement to my meager dinner.
Esme's husband was a doctor, and she had talked him into giving me typing to do on the weekend. Between the two jobs, I was able to cover my apartment and basic living expenses - but not much else.
I was learning to love rice, canned soup, consignment shops, and public transportation.
Esme wondered why I had chosen the jobs I did. She had told me on more that one occasion that I should just get a job as a waitress or a cashier at one of the big chain stores. I knew she meant well. She wanted me to make better money and to do all the things a "normal" girl my age should be out doing. I thanked her for her concern, and assured her that I was comfortable with the choices I had made.
I didn't know how to tell her that I had moved to the city to escape those kinds of personal relationships. The library allowed me to hide away in the stacks, interacting with others in the most minimal way. I didn't want to wait on tables and know what a family was having for dinner that night. I didn't want the responsibility of not confusing the diet soda with the regular. And I really didn't want to ring up sales at the store on the corner, scanning someone's new underwear and toothpaste, smiling all the while. I couldn't manage all the details of my own life - how was I supposed to be privy to the details of everyone else's.
No, the library was the perfect place for me. When I reached work each day and ascended the old stone steps out front, I would feel a strange kinship with Quasimodo. The library was my sanctuary, and I was content to be the recluse who tidied the stacks.
I was about to head back with my latest cartload of books when Esme stopped me.
"Joe hasn't been back to the desk to check in yet. Take a minute to grab some coffee. I want to be sure that all is clear before you are out of my sight."
I nodded in agreement and resisted the urge to say "Yes, mom." She always meant well. I had to laugh at Esme's protectiveness. She had never been able to have children of her own, and I think she enjoyed her status as my newly adopted mom. Her concern for my safety was touching, even if the danger was all in my head.
I made myself a cup of coffee, mesmerized by the tendrils of steam rising from its surface. I took a quick sip. I knew Esme intended for me to take my time, but I had to drink my coffee hot, bordering on scalding. If I hurried I could have two cups.
As I was pouring my second cup, Mike came around the corner and joined me. If Esme was my new "City-mom" then Mike was the older brother I had always wished for. He was a technical wiz and was in charge of keeping the computer programs that ran the library up and running. The library was large enough to need someone like Mike on staff full time.
He poured himself a cup of coffee. He had been quiet since he walked in, which told me he had probably heard that I had been freaking out in the stacks. Mike was a supremely likable guy. He wasn't unattractive, but there wasn't anything about his looks that made you do a double take either. He had blonde hair and a boyish face that I imagined would still look young when he was pushing fifty. He was kind to everyone, had an extremely silly sense of humor, and had three pet cats back at his apartment. All of these things drew me to Mike, but they also made me shy away. He was just the kind of person I would ruin, and I didn't want to ruin anyone else.
I wasn't surprised when he pegged me with a serious stare and launched into questions.
"Are you okay, Bella? Esme doesn't usually call Joe out for nothing."
I couldn't believe that I had been stupid enough to draw so much attention to myself. What I wanted was the opposite.
"Yes. It's nothing. Esme just overreacted a bit. You know how she can be, especially when it comes to me. I felt like someone was watching me - but I didn't see anyone. I think I probably spend too much time alone, and now my imagination is punishing me."
He still looked concerned. It looked for a moment as if he was tempted to reach out and touch me, but realized I probably wouldn't like it.
"Please just be careful. I know Joe will be thorough, but we do sometimes get weird people in here. Trust your gut, okay?"
I promised him that I would. It had been so long since anyone had looked out for me that it was overwhelming.
He picked up his cup and turned to leave. He stopped at the door and turned back.
"If you felt like not being alone, I'm meeting some friends for dinner on Friday. You'd be welcome to come."
His invitation hung in the air. My stomach tightened for a moment as I considered what he had said. I weighed his words, trying to decide if he was just suggesting I needed a friendly night out or if he was asking me on a date. His words seemed to lean toward friendly but the look on his face did not.
To my utter amazement, the following words flew out of my mouth.
"You're right. I could use a night out. Thanks for asking."
The smile that spread across his face confirmed my suspicions about him asking me on a date. He turned and left, leaving me stunned by my own behavior.
There were so many things wrong with what just happened. I liked Mike. I thought of him like I would a friend or a brother, but nothing more. In fact, I barely knew him enough to even consider him a friend and I didn't have extra money to spend on a night out. I bit my tongue angrily to punish it for acting so out-of- character.
It was Monday. I had four days to get myself out of this date. Knowing the way my life goes, a lot can happen in four days.
I rinsed out my mug and headed back out. I prayed I wouldn't run into anyone else, I needed uninterrupted thinking time.
When I reached the main circulation desk, Joe was leaving and Esme was smiling. I was sure that this meant that my overactive imagination had made me play the fool once again. I ducked my head and began gathering more returns. I hoped that I could escape back to me refuge without having to make explanations.
Of course that couldn't happen.
"Bella, Joe says everything looks fine. If you still feel uncomfortable, come back and I will find you something else to do this evening. You don't have to be out in the stacks today."
She gave my shoulder a reassuring pat.
I breathed a small sigh of relief when I was finally able to make my escape. I had that strange feeling of being watched again in the evening. It was no longer an unsettling feeling, more like a knowledge that I wasn't alone. I didn't tell anyone.
Mike and Esme both sought me out to tell me goodnight. This wasn't unusual on Esme's part. She usually said goodbye and checked to see if I intended to use the computers for a while. Mike seeking me out was a new development, brought on I was sure, by my acceptance of his invitation. I tried to keep my tone in the "friendly" neighborhood, still worried about whatever impression he was creating in his mind.
I spent two hours looking up various items online. I searched the local papers of my hometown, craving news on one hand, happy I had fled on the other. I checked my e-mail and read the few notes that had come my way. There was a note from an old girlfriend detailing her classes at college and the boys she was meeting. It was general and vague and it had been sent to most of the girls in our graduating class. It wasn't personal to me, and I deleted it before I even reached the bottom. The other message was from Embry. Embry had been one of Jacob's best friend. Embry e-mailed almost daily. He wanted to know what I knew about the accident. I never replied. Embry and I had been friendly. I should have taken the time to let him know something. The problem was that Jacob's death was part of the reason I had run away. Part of the reason I had cut ties and fled. I couldn't think about that day without breaking down - and I couldn't hash my memories out in an e-mail to Embry. That was a certainty.
I made sure everything was turned off and shut down as I made my way toward the exit. My stomach always felt like it was laden with ice after I thought of Jacob. I pulled my black wool coat tighter around me and noticed my hands were shaking as I fiddled with the buttons. I had to walk the seven blocks back to my apartment and the winter night had turned bitter cold. I shoved my hands into my gloves and pulled my knit hat down over my mass of brown hair. The thought of a meager dinner of eggs and toast did nothing to increase my speed. I decided I would splurge and have a cup of cocoa too. With that happy thought I braced myself for the rush of cold air as I pulled open the door.
The faint click as the door locked behind me was almost lost in the rush of a gust of icy wind. I reminded myself to keep my eyes on the prize as I walked home. Warm hot chocolate and a new book to read. Maybe even a hot bath. I just had to get moving.
Of course what happened next chased thoughts of hot chocolate and cold wind right out of my brain. Sitting on the steps that led to the sidewalk in front of the library was a man. His back was to me, and all I could really see was the broad set of his shoulders and the thick waves of hair at the back of his head. He was sitting so casually, no hat, body as relaxed as if it were a beautiful spring day, not a windy wintry night. I paused with my hand on the railing. I mentally cursed myself for letting the door close behind me without noticing that I wasn't alone. I didn't have a key to get back in. There was nothing to do but head down the steps. How strange was it that I had felt watched all day and then when someone was really there I hadn't even noticed until it was too late. I remembered Mike's words from earlier about trusting my gut. I wasn't scared. He hadn't moved since I had stepped out of the library. Maybe I could just pass by and he wouldn't even notice.
He turned towards me then, as if he had heard my thoughts and wanted to assure me he would notice if I walked by.
I stopped breathing as I took in his face. It was so flawlessly beautiful that it didn't seem like it could be real. He had lush full lips that were a deep pink, and cheekbones that looked chiseled by some master sculptor. His face looked slightly flushed, as if he had spent the day on a sunny beach - which seemed more in keeping with his golden skin and bronze hair. He met my eyes and I found myself smiling, for no reason other than the fact that his were sparkling. Sparkling. They were like multi-faceted emeralds, deep and green and sparkling. There was no other description possible.
He looked sad. As if he were dealing with some unendurable pain and wasn't quite sure what to do about it. It was a look I recognized and could sympathize with. I wanted to look away, to not acknowledge this beautiful despondent creature.
I was such a fool. It was dark and the street was quiet. It was utterly freezing. I needed to walk away. I needed to get home and stop acting like a romance heroine who falls into the arms of the gorgeous stranger that shows up when she least expects it. I wished I hadn't seen the sadness. It touched me in ways that his beauty couldn't, and right now I couldn't be disarmed by my own foolish compassion.
I summoned my strength and looked away. Less than a minute had passed, yet it felt like time had stopped. I moved away, giving the delicious man a wide berth. I wondered how old he might be. I was a horrible judge of age, he looked young but his eyes betrayed that, like he had an old soul. I was halfway down the steps and I could still feel his eyes on me.
A clear warm voice cut through the sounds of the night. I looked up reflexively and shook my head as the night took another turn deeper into the twilight zone. There were two people approaching on the street. A man and woman. The man looked like he could be the brother of the man on the steps. He had similar wavy hair, though his was blonde, and an equally fair face. The woman next to him had her small fingers interlaced with his. She had dark hair that was short and spiky. She looked like a porcelain doll, with cranberry lips and skin that was creamy and perfect.
I had stopped moving again. Evidently it was that time of night when all the freakishly beautiful people came out to play.
The pretty twosome passed by me without a glance. The man spoke again. I caught his words this time.
"We need to go now, Edward."
The man on the steps, Edward, looked at him and then back at me. I wondered why I was even on his radar. If he was hanging out with people that looked like that, I should be invisible to him. He stood and walked down the remaining steps.
He was wearing a grey wool coat. He fell into step with the others. I remained still, continuing to ogle them all, my brain working hard to understand what was occurring.
The three of them began walking away together. Edward didn't turn back to look at me again, though I was hoping he would. The other two did, which surprised me. They looked back at each other and something seemed to be wordlessly shared between them. They looked hopeful, but what they could possibly be hoping for was beyond me.
It had begun to snow. Icy flakes were now sailing towards the ground. I watched as the trinity of beauty continued down the sidewalk. It was then that I realized that none of them were wearing hats or gloves - even though the night was bitter. Stupidly, I wondered if they had far to go. I was about to turn away when I saw that they were also not wearing shoes. No shoes and no socks, not one of them. Their bare feet made no sound on the sidewalk as they moved. Their bodies did not betray a single sign of being cold or uncomfortable. They turned the corner and were out of my sight.
I closed my mouth, which had been agape from the moment I realized they were barefoot. I vowed to walk home as quickly as I could, eat my supper and get a good night's rest. I was not going to mention my strange encounter to anyone. After my strange behavior at work today this would be icing on the cake.
What would I even say? "There was an incredibly gorgeous man on the steps when I left last night, and for some strange reason he seemed to be waiting for me. He met up with some of his equally beautiful friends and none of them were wearing shoes."
It sounded ridiculous to me and I had watched the whole thing unfold. I decided the best thing to do was file the experience under the category of "strange things happen in big cities, so get used to it." I pulled my coat tight and headed home.
Again and again I vowed to put Edward out of my mind. Unfortunately I liked the feel of his name on my tongue too much. And despite the bitter cold, the thought of his eyes made my insides warm.
By the time I reached my door I had scrapped my plan to just put it all out of my mind. Now I was simply wishing that I might get to see his beautiful face again.