A/N: We had way too much fun writing the one shot, and the response was so incredibly positive that we decided to extend BAT into a multi chapter. Same pattern as the one shot – HM writes Bella, PM writes Edward.
Thanks so much to all of you who voted in the 'My Valentine' contest – we finished in 3rd place, and couldn't have done it without you!
Now sit back, put your feet up, nosh on a strawberry pop tart and enjoy the story.
Chapter 1: Separate Worlds
Pop Tart Soliloquy – Valentines Day 2008
"Excuse me?" A blonde man tapped me on the shoulder. I tipped my head in acknowledgement. "Are you tired? Because you've been running through my mind all night."
I literally choked on my Cosmo, shooting pink liquid all over the front of Blondie's shirt. "Ewww, that is so not original. No thank you and goodbye!"
He walked away as Alice rolled her eyes.
"Sad, that isn't even the worst one I've heard tonight." I complained as I hoisted my glass at the bartender. "'Nother round please!"
"Slow down, Bella! This isn't a race!"
"Alice, it's Valentine's Day. Men are dogs who just want to get laid, and I don't want to be a notch in someone's bedpost. My only objective is consuming more of these pretty pink drinks. It's my one sure thing for tonight."
Alice Brandon, best friend, confidant extraordinaire, had pulled me out of hibernation to celebrate a girl's version of Valentine's Day. Neither of us was involved in romantic relationships, having spent the last six months in the sixth ring of hell known as online dating. Our experimentation had turned up nothing but freaks, geeks, and more freaks. My personal favorite would have to be the guy who claimed to be 6'2, but was really 5'2 with really bad chest hair that was obviously dyed. He had been into toe sucking, and had inquired as to what size underwear I wore.
Not one to wallow in her lack of success, Alice insisted we go out to a bar on Valentine's Day. Her logic? That there were plenty of guys who were dateless, and they would be out drowning their sorrows. What better way to meet them?
Instead of meeting Mr. Wonderful, we spent the night laughing at the feeble attempts by clueless guys to pick us up. The lines ran the gamut from attempts at cute (Excuse, we don't not know each other, do we?) to innuendo laden (if I tell you that you have a beautiful body, will you hold it against me?) to down right crude (is your underwear made of Windex, cause I can really see myself in them).
We finally gave up around 1 and headed home. It wasn't too cold, so we walked down Fifth Avenue, looking in the windows and admiring all the things that we could never afford.
"God, I hate Valentine's Day. I truly do. Look at these displays. Commercial, shallow, that's not love!" I protested sloppily. I had a habit of being rather verbose when I drank.
"Okay Cynic-rella Bella. I get that your love life sucks right now, but do you need to be such a downer? Maybe you don't believe in love, but that doesn't give you the right to ruin it for the rest of us!"
"I am not being a downer. And I do believe in love. I just want to be realistic about it."
"Okay then, what is realistic? Define true love for me."
I stood in front of the window at Tiffany & Company, studying the display. The wind picked up, carrying with it traces of my shampoo. Strawberries. That's it!
"True love is like a package of strawberry pop tarts." I started. Alice snorted. "Very lady like, Alice Brandon. Just hear me out."
I started pacing up and down in front of Tiffany's as I spoke. "When you first get a pack of pop tarts, you are all excited to open the shiny package. Once it's open, you find two perfectly matched pastries with simple pink frosting and gorgeous colorful sprinkles."
"Okay, perfect match who is gorgeous and doesn't dress too flashy. Maybe you should've had another Cosmo, Bella."
I was on a roll. "But there is more to it than looks, for inside lurks those amazing strawberry preserves that remind you of everything good and simple and wonderful in life. Kind of like these windows" I pointed to the Tiffany display
"Perfect match, gorgeous, simple, and good in bed. You want to date a supermodel!"
I stuck my tongue out at her. "But you do have to realize that pop tarts are totally processed and have a shelf life of forever, that way you don't ever have to worry about them going bad."
"But what if I want him to be bad?" Alice pouted.
"Then you buy him a Cosmo and ask him to be naughty. Let's go home."
"Say goodnight to the pop tart windows, Bella."
"Goodnight Strawberry Pop Tart windows. I love you!" I called over my shoulder.
We linked arms, and stumbled down Fifth Avenue signing the theme song to Laverne and Shirley. Who needed a man in your life when you have this?
Coming Home – September 2008
In college, I found the concept of Homecoming peculiar. It wasn't just that nothing about school ever implied "home" to me, but something about the idea that everyone went all out to celebrate the return of people who had chosen to leave made no sense. Celebrate the people who stay, the people you see everyday. I thought the people who visited should be the ones doing the honoring, not the other way around.
Now, as I approached a small assembly at the bottom of the stairs by the baggage claim holding a large placard that said simply, "Welcome Home, E!" I found being on this side of homecoming rather pleasant.
Leave it to them. I'd done everything I could to avoid any attention today. I dressed down as much as I could and even wore a baseball cap, which I never do. I wore fake wire rim glasses to help alter my appearance just a bit. I knew I couldn't keep my return a secret for long. Come Monday, when I walk into the office, someone will tell their friend who will text someone they know at Page Six or TMZ.
I was hoping to get settled over the weekend without any cameras or unwanted phone calls. I let my mom pick out my apartment, and it was under her name, so that no less than discrete real estate agents could blast my house hunting expeditions across the news.
To my surprise, no one was paying any attention to the four of them. They blended in exceptionally well, seeming like an average family for all intents and purposes. An incredibly attractive family, mind you, but they didn't scream, "Hey take my picture and call the tabloids!"
Emmett, in particular, appeared almost pedestrian. He was in jeans and a t-shirt, with a Mets cap (a nice foil to my Yankees hat) pulled down low. The best accessory though was the baby he had tucked in close in some sort of a front pack. One hand was slowly patting the baby's bottom as he bounced slightly. Standing next to him was his stunning wife, Rosalie. She was peering at baby Haley, offering her a pacifier.
Then there was my mom, Esme, the epitome of class and substance. Superb posture and a smile that could melt the ice caps. She was holding the little sign, though the lettering looked like Emmett's handwriting.
Despite the near perfect scene, the absence of the patriarch of the family mellowed me to the point my pace slowed. I imagined him standing there with his arm around my mom, beaming at the thought of the prodigal son returning home. I blinked, and he was gone, replaced only with the reality that I was too late to make him proud.
My mom nudged Emmett who said something to Rosalie, and suddenly, all three of them were looking at me.
My mom met me half way, and threw her arms around me.
"What you are all doing here? I thought you were sending a car." I wanted to scold her a bit, but hugging her felt too good.
"Don't you spoil this for me. I have my boys home, and I am going to savor every moment of it." We hugged silently for a minute before she broke away and began to dab her eyes with a Kleenex I hadn't noticed she was holding. "I wish your dad were here for this."
And I understood both sides of Homecoming then. I'd been missed, so they'd come to rejoice my return, but I also knew I would have to celebrate the people who stayed. They had weathered the storm.
Yellow Wellies - September 2008
Fall is my favorite time of year. It hardly ever rains. The air smells crisp and clean. There is just a hint of the coldness that is to come. It reminds me of wonderful things like hayrides, apple picking, and Halloween.
Last night it rained, taking with it all the grime and pollution that you typically equate with New York City. I woke up this morning to brilliant sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. Mornings like this can't help but put me in a good mood.
I got dressed quickly, throwing on a short felted skirt, a cardigan, and my bright yellow wellies. I love my wellies. They remind me of my childhood, when everything was simpler. Alice teased me to no end, but I refuse to give them up.
I took the red line up to 53rd and Fifth, just like I did everyday. The people on the train seemed to be in the same infectious mood, actually smiling and not cutting each other off to get out the door.
I bounced up the steps from the subway and took a deep breath of the crisp air. I popped in my ear buds, and selected my 'happy' playlist on my iPod. Not many days do I enjoy this walk, but today was going to be different for some reason. I could feel it.
As I stood at the corner of 55th and Fifth, one of my all time favorite songs comes on. I started tapping my foot and lip syncing along. I didn't care if people look at me funny.
Gotta try my best to break her spell
Before I burn in my own hell
And I find myself waiting
To sail that wave again
And as I'm falling deeper in
That's where obsession starts to reign
And it scares me to know
What I might find there
I walked up Fifth Avenue, tapping the song's beat on the strap of my back pack. I got funny looks from people; I didn't know if it's the wellies or my singing. I didn't really care. Honestly, I'd rather them look at me and find me odd for my actions than look at me and immediately formulate an opinion based on my looks. Just for once, I'd like someone to see ME, the person, not the exterior.
I paused in front of my window, and continued to drum my fingers as I stared at collection of crystal and china. I love this window. It's my happy place. My Strawberry Pop Tart Window. I continued to sing along to the song, oblivious to the world around me.
And as I watch the perfect dream
And as I watch the perfect dream
Get ruined by my inner fears
I'm been waking up knowing
that my love will begin again
And I tell myself I must be strong
Can't waste my time thinking I was wrong
Don't where I end and she begins
I reached out to trace the glass and smiled. So beautiful. So classic. Definitely not the world I live in. Oh well, a girl can have dreams. In mine, I was Sabrina the confident, riding off into the sunset with Linus Larabie. Not Sabrina, daughter of the chauffer, looking down at the party from the branches of a garden tree.
Fortunately, I found as much comfort in a pair of yellow wellies as I did an unattainable dream.
I turned and, with a little skip, headed up Fifth Avenue. My wellies, my song, and my window buoying me along for another day.
Inspiration – September 2008
I adore my brother, but the way he was going on and on and on made me want to plug my ears and tell him, "Nanny nanny boo boo, I can't hear you." And I'm pretty sure men dressed in three piece suits on their way to assume major positions in family companies did not do that.
He hadn't let up all weekend. Thankfully, I got some relief last night when Rosalie reminded him I would be here permanently now, and unless he wanted to move in with me, he had to get home to wife and child.
For much of the weekend, he filled me in on business; the actual accounts and issues in the hopper as well as the interpersonal side like what I needed to know about whom. Although I worked for Cullen, Inc. right out of college, I left to spread my wings and to get out from under my father's watchful eye. I'd been living a very different life in LA.
Toward the tail end of last night and now this morning, he moved on to my personal life. It was a warning of sorts. Fishing at best—trying to find out if my head was really in the game.
"You been going out a lot lately?"
"Not really," I replied curtly.
"So, who's the latest conquest?" I wondered if Mom or Rose had put him up to that.
"Love is not a conquest, Emmett." I'd been involved in enough hostile take-over attempts by women to know not everyone saw it that way.
"The Hell it isn't! I totally scored a victory with Rose!"
"That you did, big brother. She's a keeper alright."
"Hey, watch yourself." He put up his fists as if ready to fight me for her, and then chuckled.
He proceeded to cycle through a list of girls he'd seen me with in pictures in the past year.
"All old news, and besides, what are you doing reading those magazines?"
"It was the only way I knew what you up to out there. Some of those women were pretty hot."
"I never said they weren't. They also weren't the kind f women I'd want to settle down with."
"Careful now, you might have said the same thing about Rose."
"I don't think so, Emmett. She always seemed like the real deal to me. Not many are."
"And since when are you ready to settle down?"
"I never said I was. Be careful what you infer."
He gave me a dirty look and told me it was time to wrap up by looking at his watch.
"Time to face the music, Edward, my man."
"Thanks for meeting me this morning. I didn't want to walk in alone today."
"No problem. I'd never be able to get here in time for coffee though if it weren't a special occasion. The black sheep returns to the fold!"
"I appreciate all your help this weekend."
"Aww shucks. Now we just have to hook you up so you can settle down and be all domestic. Then Rose will have you over more!"
"All joking aside, Emmett, I don't see that happening any time soon. I'm not inspired by much these days."
"Well you better hurry up or you'll be left with someone like that. You'd have fun taking her home to Mom," he said pointing at an anomaly walking down 5th Ave.
Today was a perfect fall day. Bright sunshine, reasonable temperatures. It was the kind of day they put on postcards. Though not a single cloud was scattered across the sky, everywhere I looked I saw darkness. Not just the black and gray of every suit and overcoat that passed but darkness lurked in the murky scowls of disdain for the dawn of a new day of banality.
It took me a minute to see where Emmett's attention was drawn. A woman was sloshing down the sidewalk in the brightest yellow rain boots I'd ever seen. Her walk resembled a young girl on her way to school filled with anticipation more than the assembly line determination of the crowd. She appeared to be talking to herself, but I caught the hint of the wire connecting her ear buds to an iPod. She was singing as she walked. Chestnut hair bouncing behind her as she went.
I glanced back down to her boots, but I needed to move quickly because along the way her short skirt revealed creamy thighs, and I thought briefly how I would like to see them wrapped around me. I started to imagine pushing the skirt up higher when she veered away from the crowd.
She was moving fast, so I didn't get another good look until she stopped in front of the Tiffany & Company's window.
I smiled to acknowledge Emmett's twirling of his finger next to his ear indicating she might be a little crazy.
I didn't see what Emmett saw at all. She wasn't crazy. She was unique. All throughout history people had confused nonconformity with insanity.
Humanity disgusted me. My professional and personal world was populated by vampires, ready to suck the life from me at any moment. It was beyond incivility. Every day, I witnessed friends abusing trust, families torn apart, and business associates stabbing each other in the back.
My romantic encounters were no less parasitic. I was surrounded by women who had teased and tortured themselves into beauty. They were starved and over trained. They'd had fat sucked out and botulism put back in. They were sculpted to absolute external perfection, masking the deficiencies within.
But this woman was none of that. She radiated authenticity.
In fact, she was more than just a girl I would want to "take home," although the hint of skin made me believe that would be heavenly. She was exactly the kind of girl I could take home to Mom.
She reached out to touch the window, and as I watched her lips closely, a big grin spread across my face.
I found my happy place.
Quirky, energetic, real. So beautiful. So classic.
Emmett punched me in the arm to get me moving. I stole a final glimpse at the girl in the yellow boots, before picking up my pace.
And as I watch the perfect dream
Get ruined by my inner fears
I'm waking up knowing
That my love will begin again
And I tell myself I must be strong
Can't waste my time thinking I was wrong
Don't know where I end and she begins
Half way to the office, Emmett asked me what I was singing. I hadn't even realized I'd been doing it out loud.
Happy New Year – January 2009
Damn. I was going to be late because of a stupid bicycle. I mean, seriously, who leaves their bike in the middle of the hallway like that? The owner is lucky that I caught myself before I could flip down the stairs. No, can that. He's lucky I can't get into his apartment, or else he might end up with Nair in his shampoo.
"No, Alice, it was a train wreck." I protested into my cell phone as I dodged bodies on my usual path up Fifth. "He was obnoxious, he chewed with his mouth open, and he basically licked my face when he tried to kiss me goodnight!"
Alice was peeved at me for not giving my date a chance. She insisted that 2009 would be my year, and I needed to start dating. So like the lemming that I am, I let her talk me into going out with a guy that she works with. Total blind date equals total disaster.
"No, I am not being difficult! He was awful!" I rolled my eyes as she continued on her tirade. If this is the way my New Year was going to progress, I was going to join a convent to save my sanity.
"Alice, I have to go, I'll call you later, okay?"
I disconnected, and focused on weaving through pedestrian traffic. I knew that she meant well, but lately all of my dates ended up in disaster. At first it was funny. The guy that took me out and wanted me to foot half the bill for dinner. The thirty five year old lawyer who still lived at home with his parents. But after a while it started to get depressing. It was easier to go home and curl up with a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby and a good book than put myself out there for more disappointment.
A couple was walking in front of me, hand in hand. He would periodically lean over to whisper in her ear or kiss her temple. Normally, it wouldn't even register, but today, it made me feel like a huge failure. Why was it that everyone else had someone, and I was alone? I'm not bad looking; I have a brain, a well paying job and a good sense of humor. What is it about me that attracts losers?
I was down enough that I toyed with skipping my morning window visit. Some days the window brought happiness, an appreciation of the simple beauty and aspiration of what could be. Other days it was self-flagellation for all of my failures. I debated as I stood at the corner of 56th. It would be easy to turn here and go a different way to work.
But the window was like a beacon, summoning me to something better, simpler, ideal. I dodged the small man in front of me talking loudly on his cell phone, the group of gawking tourists, the two ladies who lunch.
Unfortunately, I must have pissed off someone, somewhere in life. The holiday decorations were gone, replaced by a display of pearls and engagement rings. All sizes, all shapes. There was something there for everyone.
Everyone but me.
I bit my lip and refused to let myself be pulled under by a stupid window display. It was time to grow up, time to let go. There is no such thing as Mr. Wonderful. It's time to settle, Bella. I brushed away the lone tear that escaped, and took one last look at the window. Why was I always on the outside looking in?
Winter Storm– January 2009
Some days I was convinced returning to New York had been a mistake. I'd tired of the half life I'd managed in LA, and I believed I was capable of finding meaning here. However, there were consequences to my years away. Though he'd been demanding my return for years, the best way to describe my relationship with my father was strained. His punishment for my rebellion had been a reluctance to welcome me back to the family business. Without my mother's persuasive influence, I might have been pounding the pavement looking for employment.
That may have been better, actually. The climate at Cullen, Inc. was chilly for me. Too many unnecessary worries about nepotism radiated from my colleagues. Ironically, I took a step down when I came back.
Despite the welcome home party at the airport, I'd seen less of my family than I'd hoped. Life had moved on in the years I was gone. People had routines and friends that didn't include me.
Six months ago, I would have escaped it all by hitting clubs every night. I'm sure there was no dearth of women here who would help a man like me forget about my sorrows for a few hours. A man like me, or rather who they thought me to be. Rich, handsome, successful, powerful. For most women that meant a means to an end. Being with me helped them achieve status or maintain it. Either way, they looked right through me.
I grew weary of those women. I gave up the whole shebang a few months before I moved back. Stopped going out. Stopped letting them in. I wanted more, and I wasn't going to find it in my usual company.
I had granted a few blind dates in New York. I thought perhaps dating was like business. Networks are more effective than cold calling. Turns out, it was just like business. I'd simply forgotten the connections you made there were no more legitimate than those formed in nightclubs. Same women. Different City.
I had one bright spot to every day. Yellow rain boots girl.
I came to the coffee shop every morning, though the atmosphere was thick with the impatience of the self important. It wasn't exactly a friendly corner shop.
But it was close to the window. She stopped at Tiffany's every single day. I'd come the second day just out of curiosity. And each day since I grew more, not less curious.
She was late today. By about 5 minutes. In six months, she'd never been late before, so I was anxious. I realized that at any time this could end. Just imagining my day without seeing her set off an alarm in my body. My heart raced, and my hands shook slightly. I checked the time again. 6 minutes late. What if she's gone?
If she didn't get here soon, I would be late as well. Reluctantly, I began to fold the newspaper I'd been ignoring, and I took a final drink of coffee from the cup in front of me. I inhaled my disappointment sharply, stood up, and made my way toward the front door.
As I stepped out onto Fifth Avenue, I caught a glimpse of dark chestnut hair rushing past me. Damn. I'd missed her face.
She was on a mission. Maybe she wouldn't stop today.
She was almost to the corner, when her head turned. She slowed her pace, waited for a break, and then cut quickly across the moving crowds.
She never disappointed me.
Millions of people passed the Tiffany window every year, hundreds stopped to examine its contents every day. She was special though.
In the circle I ran in, genuine, lasting, and unpretentious were rarely associated with beauty.
These were exactly the qualities that connected her to what was on display in that window.
And I coveted them. I coveted her.
She was sad today. I was used to women who hid emotions, save for lust and greed, or used emotions to get what they wanted. A woman who just felt and expressed was lemonade and a cool breeze in the concrete jungle in July. I'd been mentally cataloguing her mood to window time ratio.
Every morning, yellow boots girl found peace in an otherwise chaotic scene. She lost herself on average for 3.2 minutes. I kept track.
She paused at the window more on days like today.
Her time at the window wasn't like anyone else's. I watched other women ooh and ahh and fawn over the jewelry.
What yellow boots girl sought was beyond the window, and in her moments of meditation, I would almost wonder if we didn't want the same thing.
E/N: The song – Cinnamon by The Storys. A full version can be heard at http://www (dot) myspace (dot) com/thestorys
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