AN: It took me a while to decide if I should use fake names in the 'real time past' parts. I settled on the fake names because what fun is ruining the mystery.
Figure It out Yourself
"Once upon a time," I paused, trying to figure out where to start. I looked around my daughter's room to buy time noticing the faded construction art projects littering her walls. I paid even more attention to the pencil sketches that overlapped the old childish pictures. Ness's eyes roamed my face while I hesitated. "I moved," I finished settling on the most basic way to begin. "I had been living in Chicago with one of the most wonderful people. She was sweet, caring, hilarious and always seemed to know me better than I knew myself. And she loved me so much that she kicked me out," I chuckled remembering the moment in perfect clarity. Only now did I fully appreciate what she had done for me.
"She was one of those people that right after you meet you know, just know, that you're meant to be-"
"You don't end up with her," Ness interjected.
My mouth dropped in surprise, it hung there unhinged for longer than was necessary before I pulled myself together, "Now why would you think that? Just because she kicked me out? It wasn't quite like that. She wanted more for me. She told me that the college of dentistry just wasn't cutting it, not for me. She encouraged me to apply for NYU. And I did," I enthused trying to steer the conversation carefully around the schooling issue because I didn't want to give anything away, "and it was the best decision I ever made."
Ness looked at me blankly. "That's not why I thought she wasn't mom. But after your spiel she does sound more likely…" she trailed off looking at the wall for a moment. When her eyes snapped back to me she looked completely assured, "But she's not mom."
I shook my head.
"She's not. Nobody ends up back at the beginning," she informed me.
I chuckled once again, "Lots of people do, kiddo, honestly, but if you don't think I'm one of those people… well that's fine. There are still lots of puzzle pieces left."
She rolled her eyes at me, "Sorry for the interruption," she mumbled. "I won't do it again.
"Now where was I," I whispered to myself, "Ah yes the move. I was with," I stopped again.
"Emma," Ness told me. Emma was the name of her favorite stuffed animal that she kept reminding me she was too old to sleep with anymore. I smirked and grabbed the panda bear off the floor. I was pretty sure Ness snuck the bear under her covers the night before and she had, at one point or another, been kicked out from under the warmth. I placed her beside Ness and gave the panda a pat of the head before continuing.
"Uh, Emma. Yes, I was with Emma, my Chicago girlfriend, when we decided it was best for me to move. But Emma was stuck at school in a four year program so she didn't come with me.
"The day I left Chicago was one of the worst of my life. I didn't want to leave her, we were so connected that it felt wrong but I went, of course, because I'm not there now," a smile flitted across my face. "And we stayed together because we cared about one another and, at the time, we thought we were stronger than distance."
I frowned looking down at my fingers. "But you broke up," Ness explained, changing the story how she saw fit.
"Don't get ahead of yourself. Let me work the story out."
"Oh come on dad, if you didn't break up at one point or another this story wouldn't be so complicated as you said before. So you broke up, case closed."
"I thought you said you weren't going to interrupt."
She huffed, "Fine, I'll shut up. Tell me how you want. I'll still get it right even if you want to drag out the introduction Chicago fling."
"You better hope your mom isn't Emma," I laughed, "I don't think she'll like hearing she was a fling."
"She's not Emma so I don't care much about her."
"You should," I raised my eyebrows trying to instill some humility and grace into my daughter.
"Whatever," she scratched her head and gave a less sickly sounding cough before she added, "Well get on with it."
"You're sure; you're going to let me tell it my way?"
"Dad," She whined in the way that only children seem to, "Don't tease."
So I started out again. Letting myself fade into the story and losing touch with my daughter and the mysteries she was sorting out. I, unfortunately, already knew how the middle went…
"But I don't want to go," I told Emma, pouting in such a way that I knew she couldn't resist.
"Yes you do," she returned flashing me a small smile that barely registered. It was clouded under the situation.
"Of course I don't, don't be ridiculous."
She sighed, tipped her head down and shook her head, her hair swept around in a halo like blur. "This is the best thing for you and in the end it'll be the best thing for us because of that."
"I'm not sure being away from you is the best thing for us," I stated.
"You're making me question myself."
I laughed, pulling up one side of my mouth in a smile that, I knew, was contagious. She eyed me with trepidation for a moment before she let her own smile surface.
She twined her arm through mine and pulled me a few feet closer to the gate. I let her though I was much stronger than her, "And you'll come and visit next month?"
"Of course," she cooed leaning her shoulder closer to me in such an intimate way I wanted to pause the moment. It was one of those times you just wish someone had a camera, someone you didn't know that could see how this was one of those defining times and would capture it for you.
We both could feel the last sands tripping down and away from us. Our time we over and, God, did it hurt. She laughed at my expression, "Sweetie, you'll survive."
"Don't be so overdramatic. I know that's hard but-"
But she never finished that sentence because at that moment I bent down to plant a kiss on her; lingering on her lower lip before pulling away. She smiled up at me forlornly while catching her breath before pushing me away.
"I'll see you soon."
"Promise?" I mumbled already missing the girl who had been such an important part of my life.
"Edward," she whined, "I just told you, relax, okay, you got that?" I nodded, "then you'll be fine, call me when your plane lands."
"Of course." I turned away from her knowing nothing would change us, knowing what we had chosen. I could only hope that soon what we'd set in motion would lead me back to her.
New York was busy and crazy and everything I wasn't used to. I had been sitting in a cab for the past twenty minutes just watching my tab grow while we were halted in traffic. I shuffled my wallet out from my back pocket. The smell of old leather brushed my nose. I had had the wallet since I was fifteen; it had been a present from my grandfather for my birthday. My grandfather had died six months later making the wallet prized.
I fingered the material remembering his face which was harder to do by the day. Strange how faces blur in your memory; how after someone you loved leaves it's so difficult to recall their features. Was it a physiological way of dealing with the death or just a poor memory? I tried to imagine Emma and her shining face came to me with no hassle but how could I forget her?
As if to prove how impossible it would be to loose her face I pulled out a picture of the two of us from inside my wallet. It was one of the four we had taken in a photo booth a year ago. She kissed my cheek while I beamed. I grinned in that way people who are missing their better halves do.
"That'll be fourty-three," the cab driver called pulling by the curb. It hadn't cost quite as much as I expected but I was glad I would rarely have to resort to cabs after this. I was going to be a strictly walking and bus, possibly bike, guy from now on. How many people say that before cheating? I laughed quietly as I handed the older man two twenties and a five dollar bill. He popped the trunk while I grabbed the three other suitcases I'd brought with me.
Watching him drive away made me feel lonely. I didn't know anyone in this city, didn't even know my roommate. I took a personal moment to overanalyze how having a strange person living with me could go. Maybe they'd play techno music at insane volumes… Maybe they'd leave milk out to churn… Maybe they'd invite their friends that were more strangers than friends who would come over and cause chaos, stealing my things without a conscious.
I took a deep breath, threw my backpack over my shoulder, tried to collect my luggage as gracefully as could be when you have three large suitcases and started up the stairs. The stairs were cement and looked a little worse for ware. I could only hope the inside was in better repair.
I buzzed the landlady; I'd spoken with her a couple months ago and knew everything was already straightened out. I just needed to speak to her to get my keys and form a basic relationship, she would be the person to call if anything broke or didn't drain properly. I hoped I didn't have to deal with her much to be honest.
"Hello," a scratchy voice broke in between the static cling.
"Hello," I replied, "I'm Edward Cullen; I'm supposed to move into 310 today."
"Of course, I'll beep you in," the annoying beeping sounded and I tugged the door open, "I'll meet you in front of 310 to give you your key, you've signed all the paperwork, right?"
With a foot holding the door, my bags thrown all around me I leaned over to reply, "Yeah, paperwork is done."
"Kay," she drawled, "good, I'll be up in five."
I didn't respond there was no need to. Instead I entered the building with all my stuff looking much like a packhorse.
There wasn't an elevator so, after I located the stairs, I began a forcibly exhausting trip to the third floor. It could be worse, I relented; the building was ten floors after all, not even including the main floor.
It didn't take me more than ten seconds to spot my home away from home once I had extricated myself from the stairwell. A small woman with wispy graying hair was standing there looking mildly put out.
"Mr. Cullen," she addressed me in the same tone from the intercom.
"Ms. Bender?" I posed in response figuring it was best to ask then assume. I had, after all, had most of my contact with Ms. Bender through fax machines and emails.
"Yes, yes," she replied rushing through the introductions in such a way that left no doubt that I was imposing on her. "Here's your key, I have a spare of course if anything should happen. Your roommate already has my contact information. Do you want me to go over it with you as well?" She phrased her question in such a way that I knew the correct answer.
"No that's fine."
She nodded, "Well, I'm sure I'll be seeing you…" and she trailed off down the hall.
I watched her as she did so feeling once again lost in the city.
"Um, excuse me," a voice from behind startled me. I changed my viewpoint to see what the problem was. I looked the girl in front of me quizzically.
She was beautiful, impossibly so. I could imagine her on the cover of a magazine or as a unique Barbie doll. I gave her a smile which she didn't seem to notice because her own focus was on whatever was behind me.
"Excuse me?" she repeated and just then I realized how long I'd been staring at her.
"Huh?" I managed a shockingly inarticulate thing to come up with.
"You're um, standing in front of my door?" she posed it like a question and I immediately pulled my body a fraction from the spot I'd been standing in.
It was at that moment when it hit me. It wasn't my fault I was acting so slow, it was my first day in this large city knowing nobody. I'd dealt with too many things today. I was exhausted and, okay, I guess seeing the girl had taken me by surprise in a strange way.
I shook my head as she extended her hand to the key hole. "310?"
"Huh," she asked, just as articulate as I, "Oh, uh yeah."
She had opened the door a crack before she turned to give me a speculative look over her shoulder. Her long hair appeared tangled around a plain black backpack.
I raised my hand to shake hers without thinking. "Me too," and then thinking better of my manners and upbringing offered my name, "Edward Cullen."
"Oh," she said, "Oh, um Olivia." But she didn't take my hand. I don't think she even noticed it. I dropped my own, embarrassed.
"I forgot you were coming in today, sorry," her face crumpled as if she was annoyed at herself for being forgetful.
I laughed gently not wanting her to feel too badly, "Don't worry about it."
She looked down and without another thought grabbed two of the suitcases, "I took the left bedroom," she told me as she walked past the door. "But if you want to change, for whatever reason, well it doesn't matter much to me. I'm not really settled in there or anything."
"No, no that's fine." I got my first look at the apartment then. There was a tan couch in the living room with an older television across from it in a faux wood entertainment center. A coat rack next to the door and a mat for shoes completed the living room section. It was small and the kitchen connected to it making it appear smaller. An island interrupted the flow so at least there was a distinction between the rooms.
"It's not much," Olivia commented. I flicked my gaze to her; she was leaning on the side of the couch watching me take everything in. She'd already taken her backpack off and set it on the couch.
"No, it's fine." I was being honest with her. It was larger than the last apartment I had lived in with Emma. The living room didn't house any windows but the kitchen's far wall was full of light. The place was older and in worse repair than I was used to but it was definitely fine.
Olivia continued to the bedroom, my bedroom. The door was right beside the couch. She didn't bother flipping a light the windows in there were enough. It was empty inside and I made a mental note about purchasing a mattress later today or tomorrow.
She placed my luggage down and I followed suit. "You can sleep on the couch if you want." She said with a small laugh.
She exited and I followed after because really where else was I supposed to go. "Bathroom's right there," she pointed to an open door. I took a peek in, small but it had a large shower/bathtub and that was really all that was necessary. "I shower at night but if that doesn't work with your schedule I can in the morning."
"No that's fine; I like a shower to wake me up."
I smiled at her again trying to prove that I wasn't a high maintenance roommate and figuring she wasn't either, or at least hoping she wasn't. "My room," she pointed but didn't bother opening the door for me before walking back toward the kitchen. "Phone's over here. Our number and Bender's are written beside it." She laughed, "I haven't memorized them yet."
"How long have you been living here?" I asked out of curiosity.
"Just a little under two months."
"Oh," that surprised me; she seemed so comfortable in the place already. "So you're a student?" I prodded.
"Yeah," she didn't ask me about my own life and instead grabbed her backpack and headed to the island. She sat on one of the three stools that I could see from where I stood awkwardly.
I didn't want to leave the apartment to run my errands yet so I continued pestering Olivia. I could see she was trying to start some work but I needed social contact, "So Ms. Bender's been helpful?" I wasn't sure why I asked but it was the only thing that popped into my mind that didn't have to do with possibly having to label food.
"Huh?" she hummed tilting her head to glance at me. She twisted on the stool to make eye contact. "Bender's… well she's…" she started tapping her pencil absently on the island, "Well she seems kind of crazy but nice enough, I guess."
"Oh, good," What a stupid question.
"She personally delivers the rent bill," Olivia laughed, "like we wouldn't pay it if she didn't come by." Her eyes lit up when she laughed and I found myself feeling more comfortable by the minute. I leaned against the wall beside the television just watching Olivia's chuckles die. "Phone bill comes separate but if you have a cell or whatever we don't need to split it. I kind of got the phone without thinking about my roommate."
"No, no that's fine. Splitting it, I mean." She nodded before turning back to her work.
But speaking of the phone… that reminded me I was supposed to call Emma right when I landed wasn't I? I knew she wouldn't be upset, she'd know how I needed to get settled first but I felt a little sick with myself that it had taken me so long. I took the portable phone off the cradle and walked back to my bedroom.