Disclaimer: Not mine, okay? I wish.
Transferring to the University of Washington, Edward decided as he strolled down one of the main paths across campus, had definitely been the right thing to do. No question. Only a few weeks into his first semester back on the West coast, and he couldn't be happier. The last year had been spent at the University of Chicago with the intention of following in his father's footsteps and becoming a doctor. And as every day had passed, agonizingly slowly, at that, he'd become increasingly convinced that it was the wrong fit.
His passion was music, not medicine, and he'd been a fool to ever think otherwise.
After a heart-to-heart with his parents, Edward had decided to move back to Washington – both to be a closer to his parents (who had supported his decision unfailingly), and because of the U of W had a fantastic music program. The best of both worlds, as he figured it.
And he'd missed the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, whether he'd admit it or not. The mountains, the ocean… the endless days of cloud and drizzle and rain. Okay, so the weather often left something to be desired, but aside from that, Seattle was most definitely one of his favorite cities in the world, and he was thrilled to have the opportunity to finally really live it.
Bounding up the steps of the building that housed his next class, Edward joined the herd struggling their way through the door as a steady stream of students poured from the classrooms and towards the door. Once inside, the crowd was able to disperse somewhat, but not before something small and warm slammed into him.
"Sorry," a soft, clearly embarrassed voice mumbled. Edward's brow furrowed slightly, thinking he knew that voice from somewhere, and he glanced down. A small brunette had been his assailant, and she was already turning her face back away from him, her gaze angled downward. But that didn't stop him from taking in her reddened cheeks, or the long, wavy hair that was tied into a haphazard knot at her neck. A lightbulb went off, and Edward broke into a slow, happy smile.
He was sure it was her, but she kept going, as if she hadn't heard him. And considering the ear bud cords he could clearly see as she turned and walked through the front doors, she likely hadn't. Crap!
Edward cut across the hall and joined the swarm heading back outside, craning his neck to see over the heads in front of him. If he lost her in this crowd…
"Excuse me… sorry… excuse me," he muttered as he pushed his way through the crowd, earning more than a couple of dirty looks and grumbled profanities. He didn't care. He just needed to reach her before she disappeared.
When Edward finally stepped through the door, he immediately broke away from the pack and stood at the top of the stairs, hoping to spot her familiar head as it bobbed through the sea of students.
She was gone.
"Shit," he swore under his breath, running a hand through his hair in frustration. He hadn't seen her in more than a year, and when luck allowed their paths to cross again, he lost her. "Fucking hell."
Bella Swan. God, that girl… that girl had been something else. He hadn't seen her in over a year, but he was sure that had been her. And it made him want to see her again.
Flashback – Three years earlier
At 17, Edward Cullen was Big Man on Campus at Port Angeles High. He had it all, and he knew it – the looks, the brains, the talent, the athleticism, the money. Everything required to ensure an easy ride through those tumultuous teen years. He was Mr. Popularity, and oozed the confidence and cockiness that generally came with that title.
All the guys wanted to be his friend (or just wanted to be him), and all the girls wanted him. He wasn't a man-whore, but he did his fair share of serial dating. The number of girls in Port Angeles and the surrounding towns who he hadn't gone out with, at least once, was probably smaller than the number he had.
Even the injury that had benched him for the rest of his high school football career didn't affect his reputation. And it was because of said injury that Edward was currently being shown around behind the counter of Java Jive, the only coffee shop in the tiny town of Forks. Since Edward was no longer able to be involved in sports, his father had decided it would be a good opportunity for his son to learn about responsibility.
So Edward had reluctantly found a job.
He could have probably gotten something in Port Angeles, but since the Cullens lived halfway between there and Forks, Edward had options. And, quite frankly, he'd rather not schlep coffee and crullers anywhere his friends were likely to see him.
"So, do you have any questions?"
Edward shook his head and smiled reassuringly at Tom Jones (god, the poor bastard, to be stuck with that name), the owner of the little café. "Nope, I think I've got it."
"Good. Your co-worker for tonight's shift will be here any minute. She knows everything there is to know about this place, so if you're not sure of something, just ask Bella."
As if on cue, the bell over the front door jingled and two tiny brunettes entered the shop.
"Bella, Alice," Tom greeted them with a warm smile and a twinkle in his grandfatherly eyes.
The taller of the two waved, and the prettier girl chirped, "Hi, Tom." Short, dark hair, big grey eyes, wide smile… If that was Bella, Edward figured that maybe the job wouldn't be so bad after all.
"What can I get you, kiddo? Your usual?"
"Hmmm, I don't know," she mused, forefinger pressing against her lips as she perused the menu boards. Edward was vaguely aware of the other girl slipping behind the counter and disappearing into the back room. "Maybe I'll wait for Bella to come back out and let her surprise me."
Edward sighed in disappointment. Not Bella, then. Damn. But if she was Bella's friend, and in there enough to have a 'usual'… yeah, that could be just as good.
Not that he was looking to date anyone. He had a girlfriend, and she was actually pretty great. He could still look, though, and appreciate the scenery. Having eye-candy around made everything so much more tolerable.
The door behind them swung open, and the other girl – Bella, Edward corrected himself – joined him and Tom at the counter.
"Bella, this Edward," Tom announced, making the official introductions. "You'll be showing him the ropes tonight. Edward, this is Bella – she's the best barista I've got. And this bouncy little gal over here is Alice. You'll see a lot of her around here, especially when Bella's working."
Bella eyed him warily, and he looked right back, appraisingly. She wasn't bad, but nothing really special, either; definitely not a head-turner like her little friend. Still, she had nice hair, a cute figure, big, dark eyes… but overall, she was just very much the girl-next-door, which had never really been his type. Even so, she was a girl, so Edward flashed his best send-the-hearts-a-fluttering smile.
The response wasn't quite what he'd been expecting. He got a blush out of her, and a rather pretty one, at that, and she bit her bottom lip gently. But then, quicker than he could process, it was like a switch was flicked. The blush faded, the lip was released, and that somewhat shy demeanor was gone. Bella quirked an eyebrow, and cast him a small, tight smile. "Hey," she replied, her tone… dimissive?
His smile faltered. What the hell…?
"Oh my god," Alice squealed, bringing all attention back to her and saving Edward from having to try to further interpret Bella's reaction to his charm (or lack of reaction, to be precise). "You're Edward Cullen, aren't you? Oh wow, I knew you looked familiar! I saw you play at all the games against our school. You were amazing!"
Edward turned his dazzling smile towards his gushing little fangirl. Now that was more along the lines of the reaction he was used to. Not... whatever the hell that had been from Bella.
"Bella, you're working with a legend from these parts," Alice continued, practically bouncing with her enthusiasm. "You probably never saw him play," she looked back at Edward and explained, "Bella's not really into football, and she only moved here this past spring, so it's not like she really would've had a chance to see you play," Alice addressed Bella again, "but he was freaking amazing on the field! Nobody could touch him."
It was practically impossible for Edward to not puff out his chest a little with pride over Alice's words. Because yes, dammit, he had been amazing. At the rate he'd been going, he could've written his own ticket to any college in the country. He would have had full-ride offers coming out his ass. But then he'd gone and blown out his knee, and… yeah. Those days were long gone.
Bella continued to look unimpressed, though her lips were curling up slightly on one side. "Right. So to what do we owe the honor of your presence in our humble little coffee shop?" Her tone was dry, though her voice surprisingly lovely and rich. "Just felt like slumming it with poor common folks of Forks?"
"Bella!" Alice looked at her friend with wide, shocked eyes, before turning back to Edward with an apologetic smile. "You'll have to forgive her. She's…," she seemed to search for the right word, but finally gave up with a helpless shrug, "Bella."
Rolling her eyes in dismissal of both Alice and Edward, Bella turned and began speaking softly with Tom. Edward leaned his hip against the counter and folded his arms over his chest, smiling down at Alice. "So you're a regular around here, are you?" he asked, completely unable to not flirt with a girl as pretty as the one before him.
Alice giggled and batted her eyes slightly, which had Edward's smile growing wider. Yes, much better. Now this was the reaction he was used to getting from girls. Hell, from women of all ages, toddlers to grandmothers, and everyone in between. So… what was that Bella girl's problem?
He continued chatting and flirting with Alice while Bella spoke with Tom, jotting down a couple of notes on a pad by the register. Then Bella took her place behind the counter, and Tom took Edward into the back room, quickly showing him where some of the main supplies were kept (the ones that would likely need replenishing sometime during the evening).
After Alice and Tom made their escape (though not without some more flirting between Alice and Edward), Edward and Bella were alone in the little shop. An awkward silence descended, broken only by the music playing softly over the store's sound system. Cautiously, Edward turned towards his new co-worker, only to find her leaning back against the counter, hands in the pockets of her apron, watching him carefully.
Edward was suddenly more uncomfortable than he could remember being in a long, long time. It was as if those big, dark eyes of hers were looking right through him. She was judging him, and clearly finding him lacking. He shifted from one foot to the other nervously, and tried not to let her see just how much she was unnerving him.
"All right, Hotshot," she said slowly, lips quirking with wry amusement. "Let's see what you've got."
Edward sighed, his eyes scanning the swarm of co-eds one last time. Maybe he'd been imagining it. Maybe it hadn't been Bella after all. He hadn't gotten that good a look at her, after all. And there were a lot of brunettes in the world, even ones who blushed like a tomato when embarrassed, and were barely ever seen without their iPods plugged into their ears.
But there was only one who'd ever managed to turn his world upside down, and make him like it. And now, he was on a mission to find her.