What's Good, What's True
1. The Underachiever's Manifesto
"Bella, I think you need to read this. Immediately."
Haze. A fuzzy blue square.
The brunette blinked twice to clear her vision, peering through black-frame glasses to the words on the blue square. A book. Of course. That would make sense with the instructions to read it, wouldn't it?
"The Underachiever's Manifesto, Rosalie? Really?" Deadpan, contralto voice. Her brown eyes, more lucid with this grudgingly welcome distraction, flicked up to the sneering blonde that towered over the old cherry wood desk.
"It was that, or I book you on Dr. Phil for intervention."
The one called Bella winced. "Whatever happened to the concepts of subtlety and happy mediums?"
"You forfeited those, along with your soul while we're on the subject, when you took this job and moved to England."
"Ah, right, right," she conceded. Leaning back in her chair, she crossed one lean leg over the other, peeling off her glasses with a toss to open notebooks smeared across the table, and subsequently rubbed her eyes. "Since when you do read books, Rose?"
She heard Rosalie's jaw snap shut before opening again and drawing in an exasperated breath. A pause. "Alright, I didn't read it. But it had the most fitting title when I went through the self-help section. Clearly got the point across, no?"
Bella couldn't resist the laugh, pulling her hands away from her face. "You, in the self-help section? I can imagine the rumors now..."
"Yeah, laugh it up," Rosalie sneered, not unkindly. She leaned a slender hip against the desk, smirking down at her friend. "It was necessary. You should heed my advice on principle alone, what with me throwing caution to the wind at the expense of my reputation."
"The horror! Of course, Rose, what was I thinking?"
"You weren't, obviously," she replied, rolling her cobalt eyes theatrically.
"Of course not."
They grinned at each other for a long moment, Rosalie finally breaking the silence with a dramatic huff. "Come on, nerd. We're going out. I've got on four inch stilettos. No room to screw with me."
"Yes, ma'am," Bella sighed, yawning as she slinked up from her chair. Turning off the desk lamp, she snagged her BlackBerry from the only clear corner of the desk and shoved it in her courier bag, slinging the strap over her slight frame. T-shirt, slim jeans, sneakers. She looked like a college student, she realized with a wince.
"Bellaaaaaa," Rosalie drawled in a whine. "No BlackBerry."
"Yes, BlackBerry," she rebutted simply without missing a beat. "You know the rules."
"Bah! Rules are meant to be broken."
"Hey, just because you've got a father and a whole corporate empire that have no issues discreetly bailing you out of jail doesn't mean my life works on quite the same wavelength. You know how often the boss calls."
The blonde blew out a breath in the form of a disgruntled half-raspberry and towed Bella through their living room by an arm. "I thought he was in a dinner meeting tonight. What the fuck would he call for?"
Bella didn't miss the emphasis on the title of her boss' evening engagement, and her lips quirked up in a smirk.. "Rose, Laurent calls in a panic when he can't find his socks. What wouldn't he call for?"
"Touché," she sighed, snagging her red purse from their tan leather sofa.
"And, Rose," Bella piped up again, closing their apartment door behind them and checking the lock three times to be sure it was secure, "you know, cursing is the lazy man's way of being emphatic. Not that I would attempt to impede your personal liberty to speak as you wish, but I just figured a woman of your education and stature--"
"Yeah, yeah, save it. I've already got it memorized."
"Just making sure."
Rosalie smiled brightly and opened the building's front door, holding it and gesturing to her friend with a grandiose wave of her arm. "After you."
Bella stuck her tongue out at Rosalie and the two of them stepped into the crisp night air of London.
"I told you it would be fun, didn't I?"
"Yes, Rosalie, stale smoke and warm beer that has the consistency of mud. My favorite things."
Rosalie turned from where she was watching the stage and stared flatly at Bella. Then she smiled like an imp. "Hey, at least that hot bartender thought you had a cute American accent."
"That was you, Rose. You told me about it when you came back to the table with the mud-beer."
"Oh, did I?" she replied absently, already turning her attention back to the small stage, barely a rise in the floor in the corner.
Bella just chuckled good-naturedly and shook her head, coffee brown eyes taking in the scene before her. The place had a decent crowd, not overwhelming as it was Tuesday, to her great relief. The stage was on the opposite corner from their booth, a piano consuming most of its space, a microphone attached. It had remained unoccupied since they'd arrived, the only music wafting from the speakers placed meticulously about the modestly sized room.
She had to admit that the pub had its charm. Clearly a place for the locals of the area, tucked away in a shadowed corner of the inner city. The walls and floor were coated in strips of rich oak, inviting off-white light from smatterings of simple wall sconces, and tasteful pieces of various art prints conservatively speckled here and there, mixed amongst photographs of thousands of different people that had visited the bar throughout its history.
Rosalie had chosen this place for Bella's sake, she was sure, its humility and homey atmosphere welcoming. The explicit wealth of Westminster, where they resided at her boss' expense, was something that she found overwhelming, but Bella didn't see much point in complaining. It was the lot she'd chosen, to come to London at the whim of her neurotic boss, her best friend tagging along for the sake of a change of scenery, she'd insisted. She liked boys with British accents, Rosalie had said with a casual shrug of her statuesque shoulders.
Life was always so simple, no doubt.
Bella smiled warmly at her friend's profile. Their worlds were entirely different in most facets, but neither minded the difference. Rosalie was as sharp as a razor, and considerable well-adjusted, in spite of her dysfunctional family life. The Hale family was one of old money, power-obsessed, and pompous, and Rosalie had taken to spending her father's money frivolously as a debt he owed her as she worked through her familial issues. Bella couldn't really complain about that. The girl was making progress. Her commitment habits, however—or lack thereof—were something else entirely, but Bella wouldn't push the girl too hard too fast. She'd made a tremendous difference in the four years that Bella had known her, once hateful and smarmy to honest and empathetic.
"He's looking this way again," Rosalie declared in a soft, silky voice, mischief painting every syllable.
Bella blinked out of her thoughtful stupor and followed Rosalie's gaze toward the bar. She snickered. The bartender, all dimples and impeccably straight teeth, displaying unfettered appreciation for the beauty that was Rosalie.
"Go talk to him," Bella said with a shrug, as though it was absurd that she'd waited this long already.
Rosalie pursed her lips. "Looks aren't important."
Bella's chuckle unfolded into outright laughter at her friend's declarative statement that was completed with a nod of self-affirmation.
"What are you laughing at?" The blonde threw her hands up in mock exasperation, fighting her own mirth. "You're the one always on that kick about how 'one shouldn't be praised or insulted on a simple accident of genetics', and all that philosophical stuff. And you're right, of course."
Bella just grinned. "And obviously you believe it wholeheartedly."
"Obviously," Rosalie concurred, crossing her arms over her chest. She looked like a petulant child.
"I also said that self-respect is an admirable virtue, so there's nothing wrong with appreciating the aesthetics of those that clearly take good care of themselves," Bella continued in a sing-song tone, before continuing firmly. "However, there's a line between those that do it for shallow reasons like just getting laid, and those that do it for the enrichment of their own quality of life by maintaining a—"
"Alright! Christ! I'm going already!" Rosalie pushed herself up from the table, still fighting off the urge to laugh.
The brunette just snickered, taking a sip of the thick slop the locals knew as beer as she followed her friend with watchful eyes.
The bartender's smile only widened as Rosalie approached, dimples absurdly adorable and disarming, and Bella acquiesced that she could understand the appeal. He had a friendly warmth in his expression and, though that by no means meant he was harmless, it was infectious. She was smiling, too, hoping Rosalie wouldn't be disappointed with this new find. What were the chances for finding a guy with dimples and standards?
Bella let her eyes wander over the crowd, feeling a little silly. Here she was fretting over Rosalie finding a good catch, when Bella herself had yet to find anyone remotely promising since she'd arrived in London five months ago. Or in the preceding twenty-five years, she conceded as long as she was feeling masochistic. She'd had her share of relationships and experiences, but like most things, nothing lasted long.
Most of them thought she was an intellectual snob. Bella wasn't affronted. She simply had standards and boundaries that most people failed to build for themselves throughout their dysfunctional childhoods. This made her mostly incompatible with the majority of the world's population. She'd had her own set of passive-aggressive parents, as most did, but she'd been fortunate enough to encounter a handful of enlightened souls in her time, mentors and educators that had opened her eyes to her own self-destructive tendencies.
And she'd never even gone to college.
Soft, rich notes of a piano being played broke her from her reverie and Bella idly acknowledged that the background music had been turned off at some point. Her gaze slid to the stage, her head titling thoughtfully as she observed the scene before her.
Through thick clouds of blue-tinged smoke, a man sat at the brown piano, his head bowed, relatively short hair falling against his brow as he caressed the keys that forged the song's intro. She took a leisurely moment to contemplate the peculiar color of the man's hair. Red and dark gold, meshed into a slovenly assemblage of thick locks, darker than a freshly minted penny, but somewhere along the same thread of hue.
"Huh," Bella mused aloud. She absently wondered if it was natural.
Her gaze wandered again as the delicate, rhythmic notes continued, and settled on Rosalie. She sat at the bar, lips upturned in a genuine smile, glancing every so often to the stage, then back to the bartender. He leaned on his forearms over the bar, intent on whatever conversation he was having with her, occasionally nodding his head toward the stage.
She seemed safe and comfortable enough, Bella figured, quickly dismissing the thought of striding casually up to the bar to eavesdrop in case Rosalie needed an out. Of course, it would also serve to get herself a new drink, since this muddy concoction wasn't doing her taste buds any favors.
She narrowed her eyes in internal debate.
Then a voice like woven silk, smooth then pleasurably rough in varying strokes, disrupted her focus. The man at the piano was singing, a low tenor, she noted, rich and golden in its tessitura, and flavored with the British accent that was native to the eastern districts of the city.
Tiny bumps washed over her skin in a rapid, warm wave, and Bella blinked in surprise. The pub's patrons were mostly quiet now, and heads were uniformly pointed toward the tiny corner of the room, some gently nodding in time with the hypnotic rhythm of the song.
He had a voice that rivaled a siren's, persuasive and warm as wool. His voice transitioned smoothly to and from an unabashed falsetto at points, and Bella found herself wondering if this man was an accomplished musician that she'd failed to recognize, performing charitably for the less wealthy side of town. His face certainly fit the caliber of celebrity status, angular and finely chiseled, though his eyes remained lowered—closed, she wondered?—throughout the majority of the performance. Only a few times did he look up to the crowd, but she was too far away to distinguish the color of his eyes, though the light that glistened from them revealed them to be light in hue.
Quickly, Bella tore her eyes away to see the equal astonishment and appraisal on Rosalie's face as she watched the musician. The dimpled bartender smirked as he glanced over, as well, his attention divided as he prepared a drink for a waiting customer.
She brought her eyes back to the stage in time to witness the end of the song, and found herself instantly disappointed that she couldn't see his hands from this angle as the notes slowed. Hands. A guilty pleasure that she'd retained before she realized how little appearances really matter. The sight of skilled, long, tapered fingers on a man did delightful things to her insides, in spite of her better judgment. Such habits never won, of course, no matter how much she indulged in her fantasies about a nice set of hands.
The crowd erupted in earnest applause, and the musician offered a reciprocal smile.
"Thank you," he said with a gracious nod, his British speaking voice just as enchanting as his singing.
The cheers hadn't died down before the next song began, and Bella was instantly engaged in another irrational dilemma. Now she wanted to join Rosalie at the bar just for the chance to see if her angle offered a better view of the piano man's hands.
Ridiculous, she chided herself, standing and striding toward the bar. Internal monologue—failed.
Dropping Rosalie's red purse and the courier bag she'd dragged along with her onto a bar stool, Bella slid into the seat beside her friend, her dimpled new obsession distracted with his other obligations at the other side of the bar for the moment.
Rosalie smiled at her in acknowledgement and nodded toward the stage. "He's good, isn't he?"
Bella just nodded, pursing her lips in resignation at the view this vantage point offered, and sighed. Of course he had immaculate hands. Long, graceful, assured fingers that effortlessly coaxed one delicate note after another and melded them into divine consonance.
Then the voice of woven silk joined in accompaniment, and Bella was opening and closing her mouth, unsure of what to say in her awe.
She settled with, "I've never wanted to be someone's uvula so bad in all my life."
The bartender laughed, and Bella glanced up in surprise to find him standing beside her.
Rosalie chuckled. "Bella, this is Emmett. Emmett, this is Isabella. That—" she paused to nod toward the stage again "—is Emmett's brother."
Bella could feel herself blanch, just a moment before heat crept up her skin and rushed to her head. "Ah, hi, Emmett. That probably sounded... unclassy."
Emmett grinned, the expression reaching his eyes warmly. "He'd be very flattered. It's nice to meet you. We don't get many Americans in here."
Bella lifted her dark eyebrows, half-stunned to hear that the place wasn't crawling with tourists to hear the local talent, and half-shocked that he had a voice almost as pleasant as his brother's. "Does he not play often?"
Emmett smiled again at the compliment on his brother's behalf, and winked conspiratorially. "He plays every Friday, and whenever I have an empty night to fill, like tonight. The block's best-kept secret, since he's a stubborn bastard and doesn't care to advertise much. He brings in a good chunk of my business on Fridays, though."
"Emmett owns this place," Rosalie chimed in, an admiring smile playing on her glossy lips as she settled her eyes on the bartender's smiling face.
"I like it," Bella smiled, "We'll have to come visit more."
"Thank you," Emmett replied sincerely, "I'd like that." And then his attention was lost on her to the blonde she sat beside.
Of course, the offer to visit more was for Rosalie's benefit—or so she told herself—but there was nothing indecent about enjoying the talent. As long as she didn't let her eyes wander back to the musician's hands and imagine the indecent things they were undoubtedly capable of.
With a flinch, Bella tore her eyes off of the hands she'd caught herself staring at, and opted instead for his lips as he sang.
Immediately, she realized that was a bad idea. From here, she could make out the gentle lines in the pink flesh of his lips, and the way they brushed against the microphone briefly with every few words, the vestibule that molded his golden-wrapped lyrics.
Bella suddenly realized how unbearably hot the room was.
Emmett seemed to notice, and his amused voice offered a moment of reprieve. "Can I get you something to drink, duck? You look a bit... troubled."
Bella's eyes fluttered a few times as she attempted to comprehend the words he'd spoken. "Oh! Yes. Something... cold." Then she paused. Getting drunk could mean ugly repercussions should she continue to visually assault the unsuspecting piano man. He was probably just another arrogant type, anyway—she'd known her share of musicians. "And non-alcoholic."
And her attention was lost again, hopelessly enthralled in the velvet voice.
Thirty minutes, six songs, and two glasses of plain tonic water later, the musician offered a gentle thanks and goodnight to the small crowd, much to Bella's relief—and disappointment.
Rosalie and Emmett were in a world of their own, focused intently on each other when he wasn't succumbing to the requests of his customers, and Bella found herself liking him already. His comments and inquiries of Rosalie seemed earnest and curious, and he didn't appear to grovel and drool like a fanboy over Rosalie's good looks.
Beyond that, Bella didn't pay as much attention as she intended to, her attention tethered to the piano man until he rose from his bench with a smile as impeccable as his brother's, and then made his way through the praising patrons toward the bar.
Bella shook herself, hoping she didn't appear as dumbstruck as she felt, instantly realizing that he was going to approach them since his brother hadn't left Rosalie for more than a few minutes at a time.
Emmett acknowledged his copper-haired brother as he slid into the seat beside Bella with a nod and a cold bottle of beer.
He accepted it gratefully. "Emmett," he greeted in his delicious voice. "Going to introduce me to your new birds?"
His smile was laced in humor, slightly asymmetrical, and every bit as disarming as his dimpled brother's. Bella couldn't resist a smile of her own and turned back toward her water glass.
"This is Rosalie," Emmett stated, nodding toward Rosalie, then Bella. "And Isabella. Ladies, this is my brother, Edward."
Edward. Bella lips curled up into a smirk. A classic name to fit such a timeless voice.
She looked up at him to smile in greeting, seeing for the first time that his eyes were as green as absinthe. And they were fixed on her. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Rosalie and Isabella."
"You can call me Bella," she added kindly.
"You're American," he said thoughtfully, lifting his bronze eyebrows. "Welcome to Merry Ol' London."
"Thank you," Rosalie replied. "We were admiring your music. Your voice is fantastic."
His smile could have melted a glacier. "Thank you very much. I'm glad you enjoyed it."
"I even overheard someone say they wanted to be your uvula," Emmett offered, flicking Bella a devilish glance.
Bella groaned, then chuckled before Edward could respond. If anyone was going to laugh at her, she'd be the first to volunteer. "Ah, yeah. Guilty."
Edward blinked in surprise, laughter then erupting from his throat. "Really? Well, I can't say I hear that often. I'm overwhelmed."
"What did I tell ya?" Emmett winked at her.
Bella unglued her gaze from the piercing green eyes that bore into her with wicked amusement, and bit her lip to keep from saying something else absurd. Slowly, she took a deliberate drink from her glass of tonic water in hopes of keeping her mouth occupied as long as she could.
She realized what this was, and felt a brief pang of sympathy for Emmett. She wasn't an easy person to set up by any means, but she took his effort as a compliment. He didn't know better, and probably felt bad for her predicament as the third wheel.
"So what brings you to London?" Edward asked politely, his eyes darting once to Rosalie, then back to Bella. "I'd suspect holiday, but we don't get many tourists this way."
"Bella's working in London," Rosalie volunteered. "I didn't want her to come alone."
"Oh, I see," Edward replied with interest. "What kind of work is it you do that would drag you all the way from the states?"
"Catering to the whims of a helpless, hopeless overgrown child," Bella sighed, dejection inherent in her tone every time the subject arose. She'd suddenly remembered all of the press packets she still had left on her desk at home to complete. Her voice drolled on warily. "P.R., laundry, grocery shopping, shoe-tying..."
"Funny," Edward tilted his head, "I didn't notice a rock on your finger."
A snicker escaped Bella's lips, the sound devoid of humor. "Nope, nope. All the slavery, none of the physical obligations, thankfully. But the money's not bad. And for the record, wedding rings are a silly pagan tradition that I have absolutely no vested interest in upholding, anyway, even if I were married."
Edward couldn't fight the grin that crossed his faced. "And every bit as bitter, I see."
"Oh dear," Rosalie half-groaned. "Here it comes."
"Now why would you make that assumption?" Bella asked Edward, fighting to keep the challenge out of her tone. Humor returned to her lips, however. "I simply don't care to adhere to absurd practices that have absolutely no logical or rational merit behind them. Besides, the value of diamonds is grossly overinflated due to artificial demand, and greatly through violent cartel practices, I might add. Look at the De Beers monopoly, for crying out loud."
With a slow movement, Edward lapsed into stunned silence for a moment, and lifted the beer bottle to his lips. This woman was either incredibly intelligent or she was just well-rehearsed at rattling off trendy topic from the local coffeehouses. Not that he'd heard much talk of the De Beers debacle for the last few years.
"Well, that's not entirely the case anymore with De Beers finally dropping its market share by half," he finally supplied.
Bella took a moment to regard him, a dark eyebrow arching pleased reverence. It wasn't the first time someone had engaged in this debate with her, but his interest appeared to be piqued and respectful, rather than defensive. Not to mention the pride she was forced to swallow by acknowledging that she'd shallowly made an incorrect assumption of him. Not every pretty musician was empty between the ears, she reminded herself.
Rosalie just chuckled from the other side of her, resuming her chattering with Emmett.
"Would it be discourteous of me to say that I sense a bit of a grudge toward romance, however?" Edward asked with that disarming smile. Innocent and honest.
"I... have no such grudge against love," Bella replied, choosing her words with great care. "But I find some standards of romantic practice... very impractical, unfounded, and obligatory. It seems routine, autonomous. Not questioned, if that makes sense? How many people bother looking into the history of the exchange of wedding rings, for example? I prefer actions that come from a more sincere place."
She let her eyes drop from his as she took another sip from her glass.
Edward again made no effort to hide his amusement, the expression overshadowing undeniable awe. He idly wondered if this philosophy of logical analysis applied to every aspect of her life outside of just romance, or if she was as contradictory as most women he'd encountered in his twenty-seven years. Too good to be true, perhaps, as was usually the case. He wondered if she'd scold him should he ever give her a flower. He almost laughed at the imagined scenario, and considered trying it.
Bella was fighting the urge to shift in her seat, wondering if she was shoving her foot in the mouth by being so blatantly opinionated in her first few minutes talking to this stranger. Honesty was a policy, of course, but tact and methodology were priceless values, as well. This was at least third date material.
"Bella, your phone is ringing," Rosalie sighed with annoyance on her friend's behalf.
Quickly, Bella snatched her bag and fumbled around for the BlackBerry, frantically tearing it out before voicemail could pick up.
"Hello?" she panted.
Edward watched in bewilderment, resisting the desire to chuckle at the young woman's panic to answer the phone. He casually took a pull from the bottle, not bothering to conceal the fact that he was listening in. It was late, and he could only assume the caller was either back in America and unaware of the time, or it was an important call. Significant other, perhaps? The overgrown child for a boss she'd mentioned? Her reaction was amusing, either way.
As her brow furrowed, so did Edward's. She must not have liked the other end of the conversation.
"Laurent, just..." she cringed at the volume on the other end, "No, just check the drawer next to your bed. If there aren't then...." She broke off, her eyes widening in horror. "You can't be serious."
The call ended, apparently, as she was now staring at her phone with the same expression of utter abhorrence plastered on her pale face.
"What's wrong?" Rosalie sneered, her lips twisting in disapproval. "Can't find his socks again?"
Bella snapped her mouth shut upon realizing it was hanging open, and drew in a breath. This could be dignified, couldn't it?
"If you'll excuse me," she mustered, her chin tilted the slightest bit upward in a show of confidence as she slid off the barstool. "I have to locate... condoms in the middle of the night, in downtown London."
"Bella!" Rosalie exclaimed. "You've gotta be fuckin' kidding me!"
Emmett and Edward gaped for a moment before laughter finally won over.
"You're sure the money is that good?" Edward couldn't resist.
Bella swallowed, and forced a smile. "No, no. I'm suddenly and frighteningly aware that my last shreds of integrity have detached themselves from my psyche and scurried away. Have a good night, kids. It was nice to meet you, Emmett." She gave him a nod before fixing her eyes on the enchanting piano man with absinthe eyes. "Edward."
His mouth reacted without consulting his brain first. "Wait, let me come with you. This probably isn't the best time to walk around these parts alone. I can help."
Bella only hesitated a moment. "Gladly. Condom shopping warrants companionship, I suppose. Come on, then."
And that was how it all started.
Hello, everyone! This story is something of an open-ended trial... I'm not positive where it's going outside of a few vague ideas, but hey... it's just for fun. I'm always open to considering feedback and ideas.
I've written many a story before elsewhere, but I'll admit this is my first time attempting Twilight fiction. I had no intention, but these little images and scene ideas kept disrupting my thoughts, so I figured I'd do it for the hell of it.
It's all human in this case, clearly, and alternate universe. Hard to imagine Emmett with a British accent, eh? Just go with it.
Since this is , I don't really find it necessary to post disclaimers, so I'll say it once. I'm not making a penny on this crap, and Stephenie Meyer owns the characters.