Support Stacie went really well. Altogether, the participating authors raised over $16,000 for Ms. Holeman's treatment. ...of that, a small sum was donated by own kinolaughs for me to write the following piece. Kindly do honor to her charitable nature by heading off to read her 'fics. In Bye Bye Internal Censor, she actually gives a plausible reason why Edward might strip to music. BRILLIANT!
Further disclaimers follow. This takes place during Eclipse.
At first, there was nothing but a dark, buzzing haze. Then there were voices.
"I think he's coming to."
"I say there, are you all right?"
"Best to give him a moment, I think."
I blinked without knowing that I was blinking. I was somewhere light, and it was morning. I could smell cut grass, cotton candy and motor oil. Things were ...blurry. The last thing I remembered was—
I sat straight up, launching myself halfway across the—
What in blazes was this place?
I blinked again and the venom in my eyes evened out. Grass. Cheap food. The smells of a fairground but not the sounds. Two other men nearby, two hearts beating without alarm. It all came back.
Twenty-four hours earlier, some non-profit representatives had shown up at our house, politely informed us that our entire universe was fictional, that I personally had thousands of adoring fans and would-Mr.-Edward-like-to-help-raise-money-for-cancer-research at some kind of inter-dimensional fundraiser.
Once I'd satisfied myself that they were neither lying nor insane—and once Alice had seen a clear picture of my safe return—I'd agreed. Naturally, the thought of saving lives instead of ruining and ending them appealed to me, but there was also the very real possibility of these people outing vampires to the public if we displeased them. The idea was present in the representatives' minds, even though they looked far happier to appeal to my better nature. In addition, they didn't seem to have any specific rules against interfering in other universes. As Emmett had put it during the family meeting, we were outside of Star Trek's prime directive territory and skirting the edges Farscape's "is it a 'we eat it' alien or the 'it eats us' kind?"
In any case, here I was ...or, more accurately, here we were. I was not, as I had expected to be, alone. Perhaps I was not the only one with a guilty conscience to assuage.
As I sat up, careful to mime the confusion and soreness that I'd expect a human to feel after a ride like that, I took stock of my surroundings. I was inside a wooden fairground booth that looked just a little too traditional to be anything but deliberate. The two men with me did not look like personnel in either their manner or their dress. I'd been told to wear my everyday clothes, but one of them was in a slick black tuxedo and the other was wearing a gentleman's morning coat ...and what Emmett would have called a "mega-constipated" expression.
"An impressively quick recovery," said Tuxedo, quirking an eyebrow. "I've found the ability to spring up at any moment to be quite useful myself."
"How do you do?" said Morning Coat in a stiff but otherwise polite voice. "I am Fitzwilliam Darcy."
For a split second, I thought that he simply shared a name with Jane Austen's hero, but the thoughts in his mind hovered around a letter of business that he meant to write when he returned to London—something about assigning a living to a family friend—and on a pair of fine dark eyes as they lent light to an otherwise ordinary face. If this wasn't actually Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen's novel, then it was at least a man who'd led a very similar life.
"Hello," I said, shaking his hand. Oh but Bella would be thrilled when I told her about this! "Edward Cullen." It seemed I wasn't the only literary figure signed on to help a noble cause this day. But why did he seem so—
Oh, a Yank... Tuxedo interrupted my train of thought as he heard my accent. Beneath the words, there was an undercurrent that I couldn't place, but it was intensely charged and at times violent. I focused, wary of a threat and I saw guns, bombs, explosions and dangerous beasts all interspersed with a wide variety of young women in revealing garments. I hope he doesn't fall all over me like they usually do. I only just got the drool stains out of my dinner jacket. He then followed with a smug recollection of a set of saliva stains that had come from a more pleasant source—a cheeky blonde gunslinger from just south of Prague.
Pleasant for him, that was. Frankly, I felt a bit sick to my stomach as I reached out to shake his hand.
"Bond," he introduced himself, "James Bond."
I raised an eyebrow. "Pleased to meet you," I said, intrigued. "My brothers are big fans." It was true. Jasper and especially Emmett had watched every movie twice. I'd joined them, but Rose and I'd always been more interested in the cars than in Ian Fleming's unrealistic super-spy.
"I must say I'm glad they didn't send your brothers, then," uttered Mr. Darcy. "The behavior of Mr. Bond's fans toward him is oftentimes most unseemly."
I held back a laugh, imagining how Emmett would react to meeting 007 in person. "Unseemly" didn't cover it.
"Now, Darcy, don't be rude," said Bond, but his thoughts agreed wholeheartedly. Honestly, I swear that Neo fellow from a few years back fawned over me like a lovesick flamingo...
I'd have thought that was an odd turn of phrase, but then Bond actually started visualizing lovesick flamingoes ...and they weren't imaginary memories. The rogue KGB agent had tried to seduce the cellist with an experimental aphrodisiac, but it had fallen into the lagoon where the island girls had been having their annual bikini contest, and— I blinked hard, trying to clear the image from my head and made a mental note to avoid Bond's mind whenever possible.
"We should be getting started soon," said Bond. "They usually open the gates around ten in the morning. Are you ready to hustle it all for a good cause?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Darcy's nose wrinkle up, just barely. He hadn't liked the way Bond had said "hustle" any more than I had. I'd have smiled sympathetically, but I suspected it would only have made him uncomfortable.
Darcy was reserved and Bond was a man of action. The way to deal with either of them was to get straight to business.
And there was still some mystery regarding what today's business would be.
"Does anyone know exactly what we'll be doing?" I asked. "The representative who came to my home didn't know the details of how I'd be expected to help out. He just said something about inspiring a few thousand small donations."
"Really?" Bond stifled a chuckle. Darcy turned green.
One of the things I liked best about being able to hear people's thoughts was that I didn't usually have to wait for someone to decide how to phrase a response. I asked a question, and the other person couldn't help thinking of the answer. No minced words, no half-truths, no spin.
But as the images rose in my companions' minds—tainted with disgust in Darcy's and mild amusement in Bond's—I realized that I could've done with a bit of sugarcoating.
"We're supposed to what?!" I demanded, forgetting for a moment that neither of them had said it out loud.
Wonderful, thought Bond, another prude. What a bore. Outwardly, though, he only nodded toward something behind me.
I turned around, and there, tacked facing forward was a clear, wooden sign reading, "YOU MUST BE OVER 18 TO ASK FOR TONGUE."
I blinked to clear the venom in my eyes. The sign repeated its message, no less clearly. Tongue. And an age limit. Unfortunately, the thoughts of my companions kept me free of any hope that we were just working in a very unconventional butcher shop.
"They can't actually mean..." I whispered, shaking my head.
"Hardly decent," Darcy echoed with a stiff sourness. "Mr. Bond informs me that kissing booths became popular at fairs sometime during the twentieth century—"
"We're running a kissing booth?" I demanded, still hoping somewhere that I'd misunderstood the whole thing.
Darcy shuddered. Bond handed me a tube of chapstick.
"No," I said, holding up both hands. "Our agreement was... Just ...no."
"Don't tell it to me, young man," answered Bond. "I'm not the one in control here." Not that that wouldn't be an improvement, he added mentally. Suddenly I was assaulted by images of busty queue-minders in matching low-cut uniforms and go-go boots. And triplets. There would be more triplets.
I tried to calm myself. I could practically hear what Emmett would have told me: "Pretty girls, kissing, and there's money involved? What's not to love, bro!"
What was not to love was first the fact that while I did have excellent control for a vampire, putting my lips and teeth that close to the pulsing arteries of a few hundred healthy young women was probably more than even I could take. Second, I already had a love, a girlfriend, hopefully a fiancée, soon enough a wife and shortly after that a mate in the vampire sense of the expression. I had simply no business kissing anyone else. Third, even before Bella, I'd had no business kissing anyone else. I didn't want them, they only thought they wanted me and the whole matter was just ...eeech!
"Is everything all right here, gentlemen?" someone called. I'd been too caught up in this revelation to notice the person approach. I turned and took in a college-aged young man with a clipboard, a nametag that read "FRANK," and a thick-woven T-shirt bearing the charity's logo.
Fine, Franklin. We're just watching the new fellow have a nervous breakdown, thought Bond.
"No," I said carefully, "no I have to say it is not all right." I watched the man's thoughts. He was wearing the uniform of a low-ranking employee or volunteer and his haircut didn't exactly scream upper management, but he'd been sent out here very specifically. He was a handler. He knew what to say, he'd been given the authority to back it up and he'd handled reluctant "participants" before.
I let my eyes shift to Darcy. His first time here, Frank had appealed to his sense of honor, talking him into a repeat commitment before he'd even realized what he'd agreed to. The upright man would never go back on his word, no matter how hastily given. Bond hadn't objected to kissing hundreds of strangers, but it had taken some fast talking to get him to the doctor to have those mouth sores checked out. The gunslinger in Prague, it seemed, had been carrying some double agents of her own.
And he'd studied me. He'd read every scrap of fiction in which I'd appeared, been inside my head nearly as deeply as Aro.
...and he knew I was reading his mind right now.
"Do I have to say it?" he asked me. The rest of his message was not audible to Bond or Darcy. I'm not going to threaten your family, come on! thought Frank. Sure, it's crossed our minds, but you know very well that people can't always help it. If you're not up to it, then we'll send you home now, but that means a lot of disappointed young ladies and thousands of dollars that don't go to finding a cure for ovarian cancer.
He watched my face. I kept my expression grim, but...
You are in a unique position, Edward Cullen. You could help save lives just by giving us a few hours of your time. But if it makes you too uncomfortable...
A flash of green crystal crossed Franklin's thoughts. It seems Bella wasn't the only one with a tendency to compare me to a superhero: Passive-aggressive appeals to guilt, it seems, were my kryptonite.
And did that stuff ever work.
Franklin was manipulating me, but that didn't mean that the things he was saying weren't true.
A few hours... A little discomfort... If I didn't, what kind of person would I be? I already knew, and there was no escaping it, but that was no excuse not to do right when the opportunity arose. I could find some way to explain all this to Bella. Or never tell her in a thousand years. Either of those sounded workable.
"Very well," I said.
Bond was flicking his eyes from Frank to me and back with studied disinterest. He knew he'd missed something and he knew it was important. Darcy had pointedly looked away the whole time, truly attempting to fill his thoughts with his own business. I found I appreciated Darcy's approach much more, but then Bond was a trained spy. Asking him not to snoop would be like telling a champion Doberman to play nice with a crate full of kittens on acid. Emmett had never lived that one down.
"All right!" Frank continued, more chipper this time. "We're opening the gate to the fairground in two minutes. The lines will form over that way. If you hear some loud bangs, it's just the fireworks over by the stage. Don't worry about collecting the money; the ladies buy their tickets at the front gate. Some of them might offer you tips, but I really wouldn't recommend—"
Darcy cleared his throat.
"And security will be on hand," Frank finished.
I blinked. What kind of security did they need for a charity fundraiser kissing booth?
As if he sensed my question, Frank went on, "There have been a few ...incidents."
I turned toward Darcy, but he was absorbed in a letter of business that he intended to write upon his return to Devonshire. Bond was enjoying a feisty recollection of three moderately attractive women in a full-on brawl, little curls of dust rising up around them as their shapely bodies twisted and writhed with Darcy in between them, his shirt half-torn as he let out a full-blown panic attack.
Frank disappeared behind the Tilt-a-Whirl and a moment later I heard the cheery sounds of a crowd as it began to filter its way toward us.
I felt sick to my stomach, sure that my marble skin was turning a fine shade of malachite. The thought of... I mean, I didn't even know any of these women. It didn't matter if they were beautiful. Tanya was beautiful and intelligent and interested and not food and I still hadn't felt any need to kiss her.
Darcy didn't look any more enthusiastic than I did, but Bond was reminiscing over an incident in Monte Carlo. One of the women near the front of the line, a leggy blonde of about thirty-five, reminded him of a Russian spy he'd known during the Cold War. I stifled a smirk. I'd been courted by Tanya during the Cold War and I was certain that Mr. Bond's old peccadillo could have nothing on the original succubus of Denali, Alask—
As Bond thought over the details of his night with his old lady friend and her roommate and a Golden Retriever with some rather unorthodox training, my insides started churning like the time Emmett had dared me to eat four slices of cafeteria pizza. Did anyone actually ...enjoy that sort of thing?! At least with the human food, I could choke it back up again. I wanted that memory out of me.
Maybe it was better, I thought. If I didn't like it, then it couldn't really be cheating, could it? If all I was doing was puckering my lips and pointing them in some woman's direction, why that wasn't really a kiss, couldn't possibly be a betrayal of Bella's trust.
And then first "customers" scampered into place behind the ropes, and I realized something important.
These weren't women. They were girls.
Some were tall and some were short. Some of them were thin as sticks and some gushed over the tops of their low-cut jeans. Some of them wore sober clothes and some wore bright tops and fuzzy cat ears. There were more than a few hoodies emblazoned with the words "TEAM EDWARD" in glittering rhinestones. Some had clear skins and showed off their budding figures and the others were pimply and slouched. But they all shared a gleam in their eye, a glittering, mica-bright point that was more like greed than lust, and more unsettling than a horde of trackers intent on my life.
But their appearance was nothing to mine, gleaming bright in the mirror of their thoughts. I didn't look the way I'd expected.
To teenagers from my own world, even the shallow simpletons who fancied themselves attracted to me, I still retained an undercurrent of menace. But none of these poor creatures had ever seen me close up, ever known the gooseflesh prickling on their skin warning them that they were in the presence of something truly dangerous. Even goddamned Jessica Stanley had figured it out, but these girls filing and shuffling and giggling into place beside the turnstiles saw me as—
A psychology class, long ago at Harvard during the seventies... I was the non-threatening male archetype. Textbook: Dangerous but safe, sexy but sexless. I was a fuzzy tiger cub who never unsheathed its claws. I was so surprised that I leaned forward, straight into the mid-morning sunlight.
...and their faces lit up.
He's looking at me...
Oh, he really does sparkle!
I calmed myself. I had to get through this. Cancer. Curing cancer. Doing good. These were just normal, silly girls, no worse than Angela Weber with her crush on Shia LaBeouf.
I wonder if I smell like freesia.
I wore my dark blue V-neck sweater today, but is it the same kind Bella wore?
Okay, weird. It might have made me a fine hypocrite, but I really did not like that these girls all knew my private observations about Bella.
The girls at the front of the line looked at each other and the one in the very front tiptoed nervously toward me. She bit her lip almost the way Bella did when she was nervous. Almost. I tried to focus in on her thoughts specifically. I'd gone through high school too many times not to be apprehensive of what I'd hear.
What I found there left me feeling very surprised. And stupid. And guilty. Maybe this girl was nothing to Bella, but that didn't make her bad. I couldn't quite bring myself to smile encouragingly or wave her over, but I did feel like a bit of a scoundrel for assuming that she'd be a shameless hussy.
For this skittish stranger, kissing me would be like touching a unicorn. She didn't think I'd leave Bella and run off with her instead. She just wanted to feel connected to something magical before she had to go back to being her classmates' chew toy. I saw in her mind that a ticket to this event was no small purchase. She'd had to save every penny from her crummy after-school job and gotten into three fights with her mom, just so she could spend thirty seconds with me. The least I could do was be nice about it, I thought, leaning forward to brush my lips against hers.
It was sweet in a sad sort of way, and then it was over. She smiled. I smiled back politely. She left without complaint, only a little disappointed that it had gone so quickly.
Well that hadn't been as bad as I'd thought, but God had it ever been depressing. Was I going to have to do this all day?
There were already over thirty people in the line behind her, and more were coming each minute. I gripped Bond's tube of chapstick and made eye contact with my next ...whatever she was, a blonde with spiraling curls and a dark blue baby tee. She looked up at the sign and rubbed her lips together, opening her mouth to ask—
"You're only fifteen," I cut her off. "And if Sharie really did say that you could pass for nineteen if you borrowed her push-up bra, then she was lying her size-fours off."
Her eyes went wide. OMG HE RED MY MIND WTF THAT IZ SO KEWL!!
Dear God, she thought in slightly outdated chatspeak?! She wrung her hands gleefully and skipped toward me.
"No tongue," I insisted, giving her a chaste, two-second peck. She squeaked in delight and ran off, flipping open her cellphone as she went, thumbs diddling furiously. I've gotta tell the girls; Candace'll freak when she finds out Sharie's been lying. I've been saying it for weeks: size two my ass!
My second client, I would learn, would be far more typical of the day than my first.
The third girl had cheeky braids and a gray "Team Edward" hoodie unzipped over a shirt tight enough to show her training bra. Her eyes fell as she saw the sign.
I have to be eighteen? But whyyyyy?? she thought in a lurid whine that would've set my ears ringing if she'd given it voice.
Because I, unlike you, am not earning credits toward my Bachelor's in Trollop-American Studies, I thought unkindly before motioning her up, pecking her on the cheek and then waving her along.
I wasn't so lucky with the fourth. She really was over eighteen. I only had a second to wonder what I'd do if she nicked her tongue on my teeth and started bleeding in my mouth, but by then I was too busy stopping her hands before she reached down and grabbed my ass. I mean really!
"Bond!" I called out, sensing that he'd be the one to ask. "Are we allowed to say no if they ask for open-mouth?"
What are you, gay?
"Never mind," I said before he could open his mouth to answer. That man would be no help. Before I turned back to my own ...business, I noticed that Bond's line was a lot shorter than Darcy's or mine. It made sense, I realized. He'd always been much more of a male fantasy than a female one. No wonder he had time to pass judgment on me.
...had I just thought of myself as a fantasy? I had to bear through this and get home!
The fifth girl half-jumped over the barrier and clamped her mouth down on mine like a suction cup, making it very hard to yell for security. She was removed by two guards and giggled the whole damned time. The sixth girl called me "Edwalicious" and asked if she tasted sweet. She did, as it happened, but only because of the bits of candy necklace stuck between her incisors. The seventh girl wanted to know why her boyfriend couldn't be an ice-cold vampire with a tormented soul. The eighth wondered why my kissing sucked so much. The ninth thought I was hotter than someone named Robert Pattinson by, like, a lot!!
"Holding up all right, Cullen?" asked Bond. "I understand you've never done this kind of work before."
"I'm managing, thank you," I answered, not bothering to conceal my distaste.
"Good man," he answered. "You might find it easier if you relax, though. That usually helps during a young man's first time," he added unctuously before clasping his next client, a D-cup redhead, by the hand and giving her a graceful Hollywood-dip kiss before she sauntered off.
I decided not to dignify that with a response.
"It's a shame we don't get to speak to them much," Bond continued. "Whenever my companion seems dull, I find that all she has to do is open her mouth and I find I enjoy her company immensely."
I ran the entire piano version of Mozart's Requiem through my mind and made it all the way to the Dies Irae before Bond's visual assaulted my brain. Darcy actually turned and glared at him over that.
"Is he always like this?" I murmured.
Darcy held too tightly to his manners to speak ill of Bond out loud, but he didn't bother to hide his expression or his thoughts. I shook my head.
It is good to see that they've put me with someone with a sense of decency for once, Darcy thought with true gratitude. I gave him a knowing look. Yes, it was easier for me too.
After the first few girls it got ...not better, but I managed to find a rhythm. Whenever a girl's thoughts were modest I would try to not let my impatience show, but the crazed harlots-in-training outnumbered the nice girls twelve to one. It was a disturbing thought. The charity reps had said I had thousands of fans, but they hadn't mentioned that so many of them were clinically insane. I held out some hope that the sane ones had just stayed home or spent their money on more sensible things.
I searched for anything to keep my mind off what I was doing. Ordinarily, I'd have been more careful with other people's privacy, but this was a highly unusual situation: I truly needed the distraction and it wasn't as if my knowledge of his thoughts could ever affect his real life in any material way. I turned my abilities toward Darcy.
I had to admit that I was eager to read more of Darcy's mind. My family didn't usually hold with the tradition of bringing back presents on every little trip, but Bella had often wondered out loud about the literary criticism concerning the character's motivation. So far, what I'd read of Darcy left me thinking that the interpretation noted in David Shapard's version was correct. At heart, the man was just shy. What Shapard didn't have the luxury of considering, however, was that this shyness was exacerbated once a year when honor compelled him to French-kiss an ill-mannered slew of twenty-first-century cougars, social inepts and sometimes all their friends from the book club.
Darcy's line of admirers was a bit more sedate than my own, covering a variety of ages. Sure, there was an over-thirty or two scattered in my—I checked my count—three hundred and sixteen kiss-ees (the truly disturbing ones were the ones who showed up with their daughters in tow), but Darcy's fans really covered the range. There were old ladies, middle-aged mothers, aunts and spinsters, and only a few girls from the iPod set. It figured. If what I understood about my own fictional nature was correct, then Darcy had been around a lot longer than I had, and his fans would have had a chance to grow older. Very few of today's young girls would bother with Austen of their own free will. It would be mostly grown women who'd read the book.
Very few of Darcy's admirers walked away without some scowl or worried expression at his haughty rudeness.
"Careful, Darcy," I heard Bond say, "give a woman the cold shoulder today and she may lash you hotly tomorrow." As I began to read just how literally Bond meant that, I started studying the booth's paint job very intently. That did it. He was right, though. Perhaps Darcy's fans hadn't read the book very well if they'd expected warmth. I doubted that my own Bella would have made that mistake. She'd read the book just too many times to make a mistake like—
For a split second, I stood there, complacent, as admirer number eighty-six skipped up to the bar. Then something occurred to me.
Fictional character, no pressure, no rumors, no consequences? This was exactly the sort of thing an uncertain girl like my Bella would do. Was she here? I eyed Darcy's line. I didn't see her, but there were new arrivals all the time. Suddenly, I wasn't so sure that making out with a stranger at a kissing booth wasn't cheating.
It could not be. It could not be! But then, I never had been able to read Bella's thoughts. How could I know for sure? I had but one ally: Bella's microscopic savings account.
"Pardon me, Miss," I said to my client, "but could you tell me how much you had to donate to come here today?"
Her mud-gray eyes lit up.
He's TALKING to MEEEEEEEE!!
"Yes, yes, I'm talking to you," I said rudely. "How much?"
Should I just think it? Okay! My auntie bought the ticket for me as a birthday present, so I don't know! she thought chipperly. I think it was maybe two or three hundred bucks.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. Well beyond Bella's means, but she hadn't been above raiding her college fund when it had come to those blasted motorcycles. Would she do it for a chance to kiss Mr. Darcy, especially when she could always give in to my insistence that I pay for Dartmouth?
"But do you know if anyone from other universes was allowed to come?" I asked, "Like maybe from my universe?"
"I don't know," she said, frowning slightly. "I'm from this universe, though."
I sighed. "Thank you," I said. She'd been no help, but that was no reason to be rude.
The day wore on and I found myself paying more attention to Darcy's line than to my own. Could Bella have hitched a ride here somehow? Was there some secret women-only newsletter that let them know about events like these? I felt my still heart leap every time I saw a head of brown hair join the end of Darcy's line. Fortunately, my enhanced vision didn't leave me wondering very long. Bella was not here, at least not yet.
I stopped thinking of Darcy as a kindred spirit. After all, he wasn't that much like me. He'd never had to deal with the bloodlust, as I had. He'd been a young man during the Napoleonic wars, but had he been willing to join and serve, as I had? Had he hidden who he truly was or endured decades of believing that he'd never been meant for love? Why, the foppish ingrate didn't deserve the least of his admirers, who, I now realized, were not pathetic shut-ins but rather intelligent, literary-minded women with a sense of romance and history.
The day wore on and six more girls tried to grab my rear—or on one memorable occasion, my front—and Frank's conspicuous security guards did nothing! All right, so they did drag the girls away and warn them that their actions could result in their being banned from future events, but for some reason I didn't find that an adequate response. For the most part, they just stood around and looked tough. Maybe someone up in management thought that would be a deterrent to inappropriate behavior, but the thoughts of my gleaming-eyed "fans" proved otherwise.
Sometime during the mid-afternoon, a scuffle broke out near the edge of the line. I called out to the guards, quickly echoed by Darcy.
"Damn..." muttered the first guard, a burly young man with hair the color of wet straw. He shoved his way toward the intensifying fight, shouting authoritatively.
I craned my neck to see better. My vision was excellent, but I wasn't Superman, and there was a field of bodies three rows deep between me and the disturbance.
"Ladies! Break it up!" called the other guard, rushing to help the first.
"Oh he's way better. Get over it hag!"
"You take that back, you little whore!"
"Make me, troll!"
Most of the girls waiting in my line and half of the women in Darcy's had turned to watch. The scattering of Bond girls actually started cheering the combatants on. What was happening? I searched the thoughts in the crowd for a close pair of eyes.
Three angry teenagers had set upon one of their own, two of them pulling her hair and twisting her arms as a third ripped off her hoodie and stomped it in the dust as the onlookers cheered.
"Break it UP!" shouted the first guard, who'd managed to get halfway through to the fight. The crowd was being obstinate, though. For some reason, it seemed as if the other girls didn't want the guards to reach the fight.
How DARE she show up wearing THAT?! my set of eyes thought unkindly.
This was about fashion? What, was she in last year's cheap Gucci knockoffs? Somehow, that didn't seem right. Not even these dithering prostitweens would be that frivolous.
The girl in the offending garments was starting to get the worst of it. They were going to seriously hurt her if this went on much longer. I gathered my resolve. These girls all liked me, right? I knew better than to think that meant that they would do as I said, but I had to try.
"That's enough!" I called out, jumping nimbly over the barrier. "Stop that at once! Ladies, I will not have it!"
I quickly realized that I'd only made things worse.
He's... He's right next to us!
I can almost touch him!
I wonder what his skin feels like!
I want his hair!!
I was quickly dogpiled by a squealing tidal wave of body glitter and cheap hair gel. "Ow!" called one girl as the force of the crowd knocked her against my rock-hard skin. This had been a mistake. Once again, I had unwittingly exposed innocents to danger. I would just extricate myself from all this before—
"Don't touch me there!!" the words were out of me before I registered saying them, cringing back, leaping headfirst back across the barrier. I cringed in the fetal position, my body shivering as I tried to shake off the feeling of all those ...hands.
"I suppose they didn't tell you," Bond volunteered. "Never go across the barrier."
I nodded, arms still hugging my knees.
But it seemed I'd provided a distraction, and the two guards were able to pull the combatants off each other. A whistle sounded, and I regained myself enough to register that they'd called additional security to expel all four participants from the grounds. I allowed myself another moment and then got to my feet, brushing the dust off my jacket and out of my hair. It had been a long time since I'd lost my composure like that. I took a few deep breaths, longing for the sweet rain scent of Forks rather than this musty hell, and stepped back to the front of the booth. The girls at the front of the line looked at me sheepishly.
"You." I pointed to a girl in a red shirt. "And you," I said to another. They were the ones who'd—I couldn't think of it.
"We're sorry, Edward," said one of them. I didn't care which.
"We're not on a first-name basis," I snapped. "Now get out."
They left, hanging their heads. At least those brazen degenerates could feel shame. That was something.
"So," I said to our second security guard, wanting to put off the moment when I had to get back to ...work. "What was the fight about?"
"Oh nothing," he said, his words in time with his thoughts. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the other guard waving at him to shut up. "Some girl showed up in a 'Team Jacob' shirt is all."
"Wait, a what?" I asked.
"Barry," hissed the first guard, "we're not supposed to talk to him about that, remember?"
"Talk to me about what?" I demanded.
The man's thoughts betrayed him. Come on, it's not like he really wants to know how many people are rooting for his girlfriend to dump him and go have hot werewolf sex with Jacob, for all that Jacob's much less of a whiny douche when it comes to—Oh CRAP, he's reading my mind! LA LA LA LA LA LA—
"Jacob?!" I demanded. Jacob Black had fans? It was bad enough that the wolf boy fancied himself my rival, worse that his bond with Bella made him right to do so, but he had thousands upon thousands of strangers cheering him on? And this ruffian thought I was a... a... I couldn't even think the word. It was all just too indecent.
"What's going on here?" came a familiar voice. I looked over and saw Franklin scowling at his two coworkers. "It's nearly closing time and you kick six girls out of the line? What is this?"
"A fight, Frank," said the first guard. I was still reeling. "We broke it up."
"I expect a full report on this," insisted Frank. "Are you all right, Mr. Cullen?" he asked.
No, I didn't think I was, but that didn't mean I was going to stop now. It would be selfish of me, uncharitable. It would...
I eyed the rest of my crowd. They were still looking at me as if I were a cross between a strawberry sundae and a seven-thousand-dollar hypoallergenic puppy.
If he gets too traumatized, he won't come back next year. Frank thought. But if I take him home now, he'll never agree to—wait, he's reading my mind again. Dammit.
"We were about to call it a day anyway," said Frank. It wasn't exactly a lie. Forty-five minutes could be "about," even if it was a stretch. "I was just coming to check on you gentlemen."
"I am eager to return home," said Mr. Darcy, ignoring the disappointed look in the few women remaining in his line. "When may I expect transportation?"
"I think I'll take Mr. Cullen home first," said Franklin.
Darcy thought about arguing, but decided against it. Maybe he wasn't so bad after all.
"Thank you, Franklin," said Bond. "It's a rare man who can go all day without stopping." But I can manage when properly motivated. Fatima Blush really had a way with dolphins.
Gyah! Mozart wasn't going to see me through this one. Bach! I needed some Bach!
Three hours later, I was sitting in Bella's kitchen, recovering from my second and hopefully last inter-dimensional transfer. She'd heard from Alice that I'd gone to work at some charity event, but the look on my face must have been more suggestive of a war zone. I still hadn't figured out what to say to her.
I shook my head. I didn't want to keep secrets from her, but I just didn't know how to give voice to the horrors I'd seen that day. "Bella, is it all right, I mean..." I started over. "Could we just sit and relax tonight? I will tell you all about it someday, but right now, I just want to forget." Not that I ever could. I shuddered.
Bella's warm hand was on my shoulder before I opened my eyes. "I've never seen you like this," she murmured. "Okay, Edward."
How had I become so lucky? She was probably maddeningly curious, but she was willing to hold herself back until I could talk about it. Her selflessness never failed to humble me.
"Bella, may I ask you something?" I began.
"Sure, Edward, anything," she said.
"If you had a chance to kiss any fictional character you've ever read about, say Darcy from Jane Austen, would you do it?"
She sat back, eyebrows going up. "Okay, where did that come from?"
"Humor me," I said.
"I don't know," she told me. "I guess." The words were affirmative, but her tone was as indifferent as I could ever want. I hugged her gently.
"Thanks, Bella. I know I'm being a bit strange tonight."
"That's all right, Edward. Just relax. We can watch a DVD until Charlie gets home."
Alone in the house with Bella in my arms and some meaningless drivel on the television? It sounded like heaven. I sat back against the couch as she rifled through her father's scanty DVD collection.
"There's not much here," she said apologetically, as if it mattered. "Best of Bassmasters... A couple of Thin Man movies." I nodded, admiring the smooth timbre of her voice. She could put on the all buying stuff channel and I'd still have a great night so long as she made a comment about the zirconia now and again. "Hey!" she said, turning toward me, "here's the new James Bond movie!" Her fingers traced the DVD cover as a chillingly greedy point of glitter formed in her eye.
My body froze up.
Edward and Bella were created by Stephenie Meyer for her Twilight series.
Fitzwilliam Darcy is the invention of Jane Austen and appears in Pride and Prejudice. David Shapard really does have a great annotated version.
James Bond was invented by Ian Fleming and first seen in his novel, Casino Royale, though different authors and several filmmakers have since continued the franchise.
Star Trek is awesome but so is Farscape. Firefly gets credit for being the anti-Star Trek, but Farscape got there first. Only no one saw it. Oh well.
drf24 (at) columbia (dot) edu