a/n: So there's all these quotes in "Twilight" that infer that with the slightest tinkering of choices Edward and Bella made, their relationship would have gone in some very different directions. I thought it would be fun to take one of these quotes each chapter and let it direct the development of the story.
a/n: Italics are what's happening between Bella and her roommate. The normal text is Bella reminiscing.
Quote: "Did you ever think that maybe my number was up the first time, with the van, and that you've been interfering with fate?"—Bella, p. 174
"Hot rollers for messy waves or flat iron for straight and shiny?"
"Flat iron with defrizzing serum. Go large on the shiny."
More touchable and accessible.
Emily nodded in approval as she plugged in the hair appliance. Thirty minutes and a perfect head of hair later, we both stared at my bare face in the mirror. The bathroom lights highlighted the dark under- eye circles and sallow complexion.
"Glamour Girl or Au-Naturale-Doe-Eyed-Innocent?"
Glamour Girl would raise my beauty stock. Emily could pull off small miracles with enough black eyeliner and smokey eye shadow. But it wouldn't close the looks gap between us by any stretch. Then again, he seemed immune to standard beauty. Six months of watching him from behind a pane-glassed window storefront made that clear.
"Au-Naturale-Doe-Eyed-Innocent, please. Extra dollop of doe eyes, for good measure." Emily gave me a thumbs-up while she put in her earbuds and started the beauty overhaul.
He'd walk past my storefront every "Tightwad Tuesday" to catch the last showing at the movie theater next door. Not that he looked like he needed to save a pretty penny. He was always perfectly coifed and manicured and dressed, in ways you didn't see men bother in this town. His ride was always the flashiest car in the parking lot: sleek and modern and classic, all at the same time. Just like him.
I'd watch him make that straight-lined trek from car to cinema and back again weekly. When you spend six hours a day serving coffee and scones to people, you figure out ways to entertain yourself. He knew how to entertain too.
It was like watching James Dean reincarnated in the flesh. And not just because he could work an honest pair of wool trousers, complete with 50's style cuffed leg bottoms. He had a fierce yet vulnerable beauty, just like the original J.D. His eyes and jaw and cheekbones were piercing and strong. But his lips and expressive eyebrows softened his face.
Those softer features drew me in; hell, they drew in any female who had the slightest pulse in her libido within a five mile radius. They caused unsuspecting women to stop, drop, and roll over to get his attention. Tall, short; athletic, curvy; buxom, hipless; blonde, redhead, brunette. Raven haired. Fair skinned, freckled, olive complexioned. They all tried to crack him, but his gaze never wavered from the direction of his car.
And those fierce features - the tense set of his jaw, his cold stare, the severe cut of his cheekbones - ensured that no one tried to get his attention for a second time once the first attempt failed.
No one, that is, except for me.
"You like?" It was just a formality on her part. Emily knew she struck artistic gold on my face. The dark circles had been banished, my eyes "popped" out with long lashes. A touch of blush colored my cheeks, and rose - stained gloss highlighted my lips.
"It's perfect. Touchable and accessible."
She raised her eyebrows. "What's with the touchable and accessible theme?"
Wouldn't she like to know.
I watched with amusement for months as he ignored any and all attention with an air of indignation. But then my amused glances caught onto patterns and clues about the boy behind the face. When he passed by with a faint ghost of a smile hanging on his lips, I was certain he'd enjoyed the cinematic fare. When he passed by with knitted eyebrows, I imagined he found the movie sad or haunting. When he passed by with no expression at all and without another single movie patron in sight, the movie had to have been a bust. He was checking out early.
He never looked my way as he passed back and forth, and I preferred it that way. He was more entertaining to watch than to interact with. And I watched intently, wondering why a boy so young could look so world weary. Why he wasn't laughing and surrounded by adoring girls and admiring boys. Why he never looked up – or down or sideways for that matter.
The thought of him finally glancing up, only to look right through me? The way he did with every other girl? Made me welcome invisibility over apathy.
"Sex Vixen, Girl Next Door or Sassy n'Single?" Emily was eyeing me up and down now, no doubt having a preference in mind already.
I tried not to grimace at the options – they all sounded too contrived. Too common for him.
I forced him to look my way, that first time. My co-worker and I were Windexing down the glass wall storefront from the inside, when he roamed by on the outside an hour earlier than he should have.
Another bust movie it seemed.
But then something flittered out of his pocket and onto the ground right in front of our view. I started banging on the window to get his attention, momentarily forgetting who I was addressing. He turned around slowly before his eyes settled on me. Or through me, more like. It was like the glass window and me were made of the same, transparent material.
"You dropped something," I yelled back, pointing to the paper.
A scowl appeared on his face as he walked back to retrieve it, without any further acknowledgement of my existence. Sarah stared at me, clearly mortified by proxy at the surly reaction to my good deed.
"God, does he give good (Hot) BitchFace or what," I mock-whispered in her direction.
He froze in that second, as if there was no glass barrier between us and my words had actually reached him. A ghost of a smile dangled on his lips before he picked up the paper and strode off into the night.
"Earth to Bella: Sexy Vixen, Girl Next Door, or -"
"Doe-eyed Girl Next Door, two extra sprinkles of Girl-y if you will." Em tapped a finger on her chin for a couple seconds before embarking through our shared walk-in closet.
He went back to ignoring me each Tuesday, just as he did before. I fixated on that slight smile that appeared after I had taunted him in so low a whisper, my co-worker next to me barely heard. But he had heard me. Whether he had read my lips or owned a pair of bat ears, he'd caught what I said - and he smiled.
I made James Dean smile.
Which was nothing compared to the second time he looked my way. He came gliding by the storefront just as I was walking an elderly customer out of the entrance. I was so busy exchanging pleasantries with her, his arrival escaped me. But the second I pulled the door handle back and a huge gush of cold air rushed inside, I felt it.
Felt him, more like. Heard him too, as he inhaled a violent breath. His stare was no less overwhelming.
I'd been made aware I was pretty enough throughout the years. "Noxema-clean good looks," a friend once mentioned. I'd had my share of admirers, flowers sent to my work and house. But no one had ever looked me over as he did in that moment.
Correction: he wasn't just looking at me. His eyes were raking over every exposed inch of my body. Some of the raking was understandable, like taking in my bare neck and collarbone. But other points of interest, like my naked wrists, commanded equal attention from him. And his eyes continued to wander even when clothing hindered further exposure. His eyes ran up from my ankles to my knees and continued upward to the very top of my skirted thighs. His eyes ran down my neck, past my décolletage, and continued its descent even when my blouse got in the way.
He wasn't undressing me with his eyes - we were past that. My body felt naked the minute he began to size it up. It was more that he was undressing my skin from my bones, his stare pierced that deeply. The elderly customer's parting words broke the trance between us. He quickly retreated towards his car, more quickly than usual. But not before gripping onto a nearby pole with such force, I wouldn't have blinked if he snapped the hard metal in two.
That stare should have scared me. Within that gaze was a promise of consuming me whole, in ways I couldn't even comprehend yet.
I waited to feel the dread that should accompany that revelation, but it never came. Maybe because if I had to be consumed, he was one hell of a way to go.
Make no mistake about it: "the way to go" was coming for me. Why not meet it halfway, and go out with a bang?
"This is very doe-eyed and doubled down girly," Emily mumbled as she held up a ruffled white top to my shoulders.
"Maybe," I answered with a slight shoulder shrug. She took the hint, and began to rummage through our closet for more options.
He caught my gaze every time he passed by from that night on. Every "Tightwad Tuesday" was a given sighting. But then he started cruising by randomly, long after the theater's last showing had commenced. When the store was crowded, he kept a normal pace, only staring at me briefly. When the store only entertained a patron or two, he'd meander, drinking me in with more leisure.
One night, he found the store completely empty. He stopped right in front of the door, his head nervously turning from side to side. The outlying sidewalk was a ghost town too. I could feel my head nodding slowly in approval as his hand reached for the door handle.
"Bella, should I just rinse out these containers or soak them in sanitizer?"
Sarah's loud voice broke the silence as she appeared suddenly from the back kitchen. I turned to face her for no more than a second; but that's all that was needed for him to retreat into the night without a trace.
With one exception: a note left on my car after I'd finished my shift. The fact he knew which car was mine should have concerned me, but it didn't. The script on the tattered piece of paper was beautiful and effortless looking. The content was similarly self - assured. Dinner. He invited me to dinner that Monday. Away from the ugly strip mall. Did I know the little seafood restaurant on the lakefront wharf, he asked politely? He would wait there, he explained, and hoped I joined him. 8:00 PM. No other contact information was given, but the tone was pleasant and hopeful.
Odd. But intriguing.
"I think I picked a winner." Emily gave up on my wardrobe and had taken something out of her own collection. Deep blue, plunging neckline, soft to the touch. "It's going to look great with your jeans and heels."
Emily was right, of course. That's why I entrusted her with such duties. But it was missing one last accessory. I walked over to my jewelry chest and took out a necklace with a small, silver crucifix on it. I silently handed it to Emily to put on me. She nodded, her eyes welling with tears, as she latched it on behind my neck. But not before giving me a kiss on the cheek.
"This is a more effective talisman than even that Pepper Spray your father made you put on your key chain. Maybe I won't tip off Charlie to give you a police escort tonight after all, " she half-teased. "Half "being the operative word.
My mother's crucifix. The first time I'd taken it out since that day. I chose to cling onto memories instead of momentos when it came to my mother. My best memories rested inside my heart. The worst memories, the memories of that final day, rested heavily against my chest. To the point that I felt like I was suffocating.
She took my place that day willingly. My mother would have done it again too, if given the chance. I was her only child, the center of her life. But she could have offered to save me a hundred more times and it didn't erase one fact. A fact that took me months to figure out: Death doesn't barter lives, and it can't be tricked. It had just resorted to playing Hide-And-Seek until It got bored with me.
Death accompanied me everywhere, had been my constant companion since that fateful day. It rested just outside my peripheral vision; a dark, shapeless, blind spot, present but just out of reach. For the first six months of our game, I was frozen with fear. It was waiting for me to take the slightest risk, in order to cash in my already expired life policy. So, I lived quietly. Safely. Mimicked life instead of living it. Hoped that if I was silent and careful enough, Death would move on out of sheer boredom.
Eventually, fear gave way to boredom. And boredom gave way to apathy. To the point that I was telling Death to fuck off and make a move already while we walked to work. Or brushed our teeth. Or poured milk into our cereal.
But then a boy with the face of an angel and the glare of a demon appeared. And the live girl within me who'd been buried for so long came barreling out. He made that part of me feel butterflies again; and shame, and insecurity. He made me giggle and sigh, and hold my breath. Half of the feelings he prompted were the shittier feelings of a being a teenaged girl. But at least I was feeling something again.
There was more there, too, behind the pretty, sullen face. More that interested the dead girl within me. The girl who was just waiting for the ball to drop so she could stop getting her hopes up. In this boy she felt an inexplicable camaraderie. He moved and walked in ways the dead girl recognized. She knew the scowl, the agitated glare, and fustrated gait. It was a demeanor that had been touched by Death too. Was Death playing Peek-A-Boo with the boy too? The same way It did with me?
There was no question I would meet him. When the alternative was calling Death a royal prick while watching basic cable all night, what was there to lose? My life, the very thing that had been taken away from me for all intents and purposes a half a year ago?
I went over all the possible scenarios in my head of what tonight could bring about. At the very best, the live girl inside could enjoy an awkward date with a boy too beautiful for his own good. At the very worst, because Death's handprints were written all over this evening, I could die. On the way to the wharf in an accident. Maybe by tripping over a rock and falling into the water unconscious.
Or did It have something more sinister for my demise?
I briefly wondered if Death wanted the boy to do its bidding on me this evening. The look he gave me as he looked over my body that one night confirmed he could be dangerous. But Death, the brutish bastard I found it to be over our companionship in the last year, didn't seem to understand what powers I could hold over a boy too. Feminine wiles, some might call it. Touchable, accessible, doe-eyed feminine wiles that even the surliest of boys could be disarmed by.
I had disarmed him once, why couldn't I pull it off once more?
It was a long shot, whether my own forms of armor could prove protective enough for tonight's developments. But as I rubbed my mother's cross and gave it a quick kiss, I was ready. Ready for nothing, or everything, or death, or even just heart burn from too much fried shrimp.
It was time to end the stale mate between my life and my death, and I was ready to make the first move.
As I headed out the front door, Emily stopped me.
"What's his name again?" I hadn't told her yet, and she knew very well I hadn't. I paused for a moment, before recovering with a casual smile.
"James. His name is James."
" I can't slow down, I can't hold back, though you know I wish I could
You know there ain't no rest for the wicked, until we close our eyes for good."
-"Ain't No Rest For The Wicked," Cage the Elephant