Disclaimer. Stephenie Meyer owns everything in the Twilight Universe. Period.
AN: This story is 100% in canon, to the best of my ability. It is set in the future, about 20 years after Breaking Dawn. Edward shows up toward the end of Ch. 3. You get to see all of the Cullens starting in Ch. 4. It is a little dark.
I sat in my cramped cubicle in the grad student office on the musty third floor of Carney Hall, checking my email on my laptop. I had just finished my last class of the week; I had once again convinced Dr. Howeson that MW and TTh classes should be assigned to me so I could spend extra time on my "research." I was free from now until 9:30 Monday morning. Unfortunately, I had no commitments and after a really unpleasant scene outside my apartment two weeks ago, I had almost sworn off women. I had a whole three-day weekend and nothing to do but research. In order to put off another futile examination of an online library catalog of another small town in Italy, I was reading all my email, including the annoying spams from the "bored girl in Russia."
My computer beeped, distracting me from the incredible deal on a "Rolex" watch. I flipped from the spam folder into my inbox. The new email was from a real person, Randall , another lit grad student, but from Harvard. We had met at a Lit Society meeting a few months back, and had met on and off at area bars. We had been drawn together by the fact that everyone else in the meeting had been either unbelievably depressed or overwhelmingly angry. Both of us had been more abstracted, fascinated and yet repulsed by the self-absorption in the room.
"Josh," read the email. "I was driving through New Hampshire a few weeks ago (Lily from the Angelico – remember?) and came across the most amazing rare books store in the tiniest town. I think one of the texts you have been looking for was in their display case. Anyway, Lily drove it all out of my head until yesterday when she dumped me in a text message. Maybe she's your long-lost twin?"
I snorted. The unpleasant scene which had ended my interest in all things female a few weeks back had been over a text message. I had paid half my previous month's salary to repair the damage to the door. And it had taken several hours to clean up the partially burned grocery bag of…well, I never figured out exactly what it was. But it hadn't smelled good. The other tenants had not forgiven me yet.
"Anyway, you should drive up right away because I think the text was on loan. You will thank me double for this. RSJ"
That was it. I was going. The email attachment had the name of the bookstore – Bella Libri – and a map that took me 100 miles north, to just outside the town of Wolfeboro. I could be there by 3:30. I could see the text (if it indeed was one I had been looking for), and if I was going to thank Randall double, there was undoubtedly something else I would enjoy seeing.
The map had predicted accurately; it was just 3:27 on the digital clock of my aging Jetta as I pulled into the parking lot of the strip mall. The mall had to be new, but it looked a little colonial in its trim and signage. The storefronts I could see included a Starbucks and other trendy women's clothes stores. Bella Libri was in the lower level of the mall according to Randy. A narrow staircase was visible at the left end of the mall. I descended and found myself in front of a series of shops. At this end, was Rae's antiques. In the center, JeCree was apparently a vintage fashion boutique, and at the far end in the darkest corner of the basement level was Bella Libri.
A bell tinkled on the door as I entered the dim shop. I sniffed the air, and luxuriated in the smells of dust, books, and something faintly floral. I smiled slightly. Randall never missed. The left hand wall had display cases and a mid-20th century cash register on the one closest to the door. The rest of the shop had dark wooden bookcases to the ceiling around the walls and to just above my head in the aisles. There were scattered chairs, and here at the front was a table with a coffee carafe and a teapot.
"Hello, may I help you?" called one of the loveliest voices I had heard, almost like a cello mixed with bells; a ringing yet smooth mezzo soprano. I turned back toward the display cases, and beheld one of the most perfect women I had ever seen. She looked to be about 18, with long brown hair which hung loosely down her back. Her skin was a luminous ivory, but so pale. And her eyes were a startling golden brown. She was perfectly symmetrical, left to right, in her heart-shaped face. The only flaw – if it could be called one – was that her lips seemed a little bottom heavy. She would be a pouter, I thought. That lower lip would stick out, just so. She was looking at me like something was wrong…oh, yes…
"Yes, actually," I answered with as good of grace I could muster. My voice did not just crack. I had incredible luck with women, at least for the first month of the relationship. After that, well, it might still be good luck, but it rarely lasted past that. I was considered more than attractive by most, at 6 foot 1, with a swimmer's build. I had the same coloring and similar features to Brad Pitt, I had been told multiple times. In fact, that was a common pick-up line I heard at bars - Aren't you that guy from the movies? I was confident, maybe even arrogant, but I was a stammering fool in front of this slender beauty.
I cleared my throat and began again. "I heard you had some Renaissance Italian texts on display, and I was hoping to view them. I'm Joshua Clemson. I'm a literature graduate student." I was babbling, just a little bit. She had tilted her head slightly to the right while I was speaking, and had started to chew her bottom lip. The floral scent was stronger now. It was heavenly.
She smiled, a small smile where only a sliver of her top teeth showed. They were very white and even. "I'm Bella Masen, and I hate to disappoint you, Joshua-"
"Most of my friends call me Josh," I interrupted. I hoped it didn't sound too desperate. I was not the desperate type. I flashed my teeth. Just being friendly. Not desperate at all.
This time, Bella frowned slightly, and a tiny wrinkle formed between her eyebrows. I noticed that the deep blue baby-doll top she wore was a stunning color with her pale skin. She continued, "all our Italian texts were on loan, and the owner took them back last week." She sounded genuinely sorry.
I was disappointed; I did, after all, have a thesis to write – but I wasn't quite done with Bella. "Do you have listing of which texts they were?" I asked. "If they included some of the ones I've been looking for, perhaps you could contact the owners on my behalf?" I gave her the most dazzling look I had in my arsenal. It was the look that usually convinced whoever she was that her phone number was exactly what she wanted to give me, unless it was her address and a short cab ride.
Bella went back to her small smile, and it was a little more encouraging than the frown, but I could see she wasn't convinced, yet. "I have the list – I just need to go in the back to get it. Please browse around."
I wandered to the right-hand wall, and noted that the books on the dark wood shelves here were ART and then ARCHITECTURE. I was looking at the spines without really absorbing what was in front of my eyes. Bella. It was a beautiful name, for a beautiful girl. Wait. The shop was named for her? She must be older than she looks. I had assumed she was a shop girl, but it appeared there was more to Bella than met the eye. I didn't think much of her Italian, though. I thought the name was more properly bei libri. But it was a cute play on her name.
"Here, I found the list," she called to me in her melodious voice. She was wearing light blue crop pants and some kind of heeled sandal which made her feet look very graceful. In fact, everything about her body and her movements as she approached me was graceful. This was too much.
She handed me the list carefully, as if avoiding contact with me. This wasn't working in the exactly way I had hoped. I scanned the list, and to my shock, the exact text I had been searching for was there. Reputedly, there were only three copies. One was in a museum in Milan, and had been severely damaged by water. The second was in the hands of a very reclusive private collector in Volterra. This must be the third copy, and it had fallen into my very lap. If I could see it, translate it, and make the textual analysis I had planned on, I had not only a Ph.D. but likely a paper, maybe a publishable monograph.
"This is it, Bella," I said with excitement. For the moment, I forgot my plans to make any moves on her. "If you could get access to this document for me, I would be forever in your debt. This is the text I've been searching for to complete my thesis." I gave her the dazzling smile again, but this time it was because I was genuinely excited about making progress.
"Wow, Joshua, I mean Josh," she said with a little laugh. "I tell you what, if you call me on Monday afternoon, I can let you know if the owner is willing to let you study the document. You could be at work within a week, depending on how willing they are to let you work."
I was considering asking her to a celebratory coffee at the Starbuck's upstairs, when the door opened with the sound of the tinkling bell.
"Bella!" a husky low voice called behind me. I turned to see a very tall, maybe 6 ½ foot, Native American looking man in coveralls coming in. He literally dominated the shop. "Did you still need me to look at your car?" He didn't acknowledge my presence with even a sidelong glance.
"No, Jacob, everything is fine," she said, with visible irritation. I wondered what could be so irritating about the request, but perhaps he was a continual source of irritation for her. In fact, maybe he was trying the same thing I was trying.
"Just checking," he said, grinning. "I gotta get back to the shop then." He shot me a look which was not especially friendly, and to my surprise appeared to sniff the air as he swiveled back to the door.
"Well, I should be going. It's two hours back to the city." I had so many questions to ask. How did she end up in this town in a rare book shop which turned up long-lost Renaissance texts? How old was she? Did she own the shop? None of this was appropriate for today. But I would see her again, one way or another. "Do you have a card so I can call you Monday?"
"Oh, sure," she answered. She seemed a little flustered, so maybe Jacob was the problem. She pulled a card out of a holder on the counter by the antique cash register. "Here you go."
As I wandered through the narrow passage in front of the basement level shops, I noticed that women in the other two shops were watching me leave. I didn't stop to check them out, though. I was too full of Bella.