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God damned MVD.
I walked in the door, on the last day of the validity of my driver's license and, of course, half of the state of New Mexico had done the same as me:
Procrastinated until the last day of the month.
I walked up to the counter and pulled a number from the stupid little number-spitter-outy thing and heard a robotic female voice call out 'now serving customer nine-forty-two at window number twelve," then repeat the same phrase in Spanish. I looked down at my little blue paper chevron.
There were two hundred and forty-five numbers ahead of me.
It was three o'clock on a Friday, with two hours until they locked us all in, and then god knows how long until they worked through everyone in the room. I could be here until midnight.
Let's see if we can identify all the ways this might qualify as actual hell.
Tiny plastic waiting room chairs all lined up in rows? Check. Screaming kids, sweaty day laborers, and loud cell phone conversations? Check, check and check. Blue hairs? Check. Vile tempered public employees who were probably cursing everyone holding a number? Check. Gang banger with a suspicious bulge under his jacket? Creepy old guy I hope doesn't sit next to me? Too many people holding entire manilla file folders full of papers?
Check. Check. And Check.
It was quite possibly the one scenario worse than pulling up to the drive through at your bank, discovering two lanes open with ten cars apiece, and picking the line that feels like the person four cars up is trying to refinance their house through the drive up window. Yeah. Wait – maybe even worse than you deciding you've picked the wrong line so you put it in reverse real quick before anyone can block you in and you move to the other line, and then the line you were in processes two customers to your new line's one. Yeah. Worse than that.
So I find a seat next to a little old married couple, hoping they're quiet. They smell funny. After a few minutes, I discreetly get up and find a new seat, next to a pregnant lady. Five minutes later she's screaming into her cell phone in some language I don't understand.
The robotic voice returns. Now serving customer nine-forty-three at window number four.
I realize I've been here more than five minutes, and the numbers have advanced by one.
I start to pray.
Dear Lord, if you can hear me, and you aren't considering smoting me (smiting? whatever) for the hypocrisy of this prayer, please just let a time portal open up and propel me to however far in the future it takes to make my number the next one up. I swear I will never litter, have nasty thoughts about hair-netted punks with thumper car stereos, or pay my rent at 5pm on the due date ever again. I will be nicer to the crazy old bat that lives upstairs when she empties her ashtrays off the balcony, I will volunteer at the animal shelter even if they make me clean up poo, and I will write my mother a letter every day of the week for a year. Just please, Dear Sweet Jeebus…
Now serving customer nine-forty-four at window number six
I close my eyes for a minute, and let out a deep breath.
I clean out my purse, I balance my checkbook, I organize the business cards in my wallet. I start to people watch.
I do that thing we all do where I rank everyone in the room based on how good looking they are in comparison to me and find that, as I always do, I'm somewhere in the middle of the field. I'm most definitely better looking than some, woefully piteous in relation to others. Some are better looking than they probably think they are, some clearly must have a magic mirror at home that lies to them. I tend to like people who are better looking than they think they are. I always tweak them in my head, figuring out what would make them real head-turners, and imagine going up to them and whispering in their ear "you're beautiful."
A better haircut on that mousy girl. Less makeup on the hoochie and she'd actually be kinda cute. That man needs to stand up straighter and buy his jeans a size smaller because he's probably got a nice ass. Gang banger has beautiful skin. The guy in the grey hoodie just needs a shower, even if he is rockin' that freshly-fucked look. Cougar over there needs to give up on the red hair dye. Farm dad – yeah, sorry farm dad. Not much I can do with you but buy you a gym membership and burn your stained coverall stash. It's way too late for sunscreen.
An hour has ticked by. I am still over a hundred and fifty numbers away from my turn. Every now and then, someone gives up and hands off their number to whomever they were sitting next to, and a little flurry of activity occurs where we scramble to see if the numbers being discarded around us are lower than our own. I manage to move up to one sixty-four.
I watch the hissy fits, the near-tears, the happy thank yous, the anger and frustration, and the blank acceptance as more and more people take their turn. I share a few words with the people around me. Polite nods, nervous laughter at overheard conversations, sympathy for whatever it is that has brought us to our shared hell.
I've been watching Grey Hoodie for a while; Mr. Freshly Fucked. He looks at me out of the corner of his eye now and then, but I realize he's just doing the same thing I've been doing – scanning faces, bored.
He's got beautiful hair, and I figure it would probably be a shade lighter if it were scrubbed clean. It's a strange reddish-brown, but not with that carrot-top tinge to it. Auburn is as close as I can get. He catches me staring but I'm so lost in the color of his hair I don't even realize he's smiling at me until he laughs out loud. My eyes regain their focus and I feel my face heat. I look away and clear my throat, fumbling in my purse for something to make me look busy.
After a bit, I hear a clerk locking the door. They won't turn us away if we're already in line, but they won't let anyone else in, either. I imagine it must suck dog ass to work at the MVD on the last day of the month, and suddenly feel pity for the poor bastards behind the counter, figuring they must all be low enough on the totem pole to have pulled the closing shift on the last day of the month.
Hoodie sits in front of me, a few seats to the right. As the crowd has thinned, we all seem to do this thing where we all adjust our seats to make sure we maintain uniform distance between us, like electrons or molecules or osmosis or something. Interesting – the psychology of random groups.
He's wearing really beat up black steel-toed boots, with the steel showing on one of them. His jeans are well worn, but they fit him. He has long legs and I can tell he's got a good bit of muscle, but he's not a 'roider. I notice the jeans are speckled with color on the thighs – paint? Little flecks of it, all different colors, mostly on the thighs. Not like big swaths of white house paint, like he's just come off some suburban construction site or something, but little flecks of color. He scoots to the edge of his seat, and I see him fumbling with the front of the hoodie. He pulls one sleeve over his fist, and his elbow slips out of the hem. My mouth starts to water as I watch him tugging on the tee-shirt he has on underneath. It rides up his ribcage, stuck to the hoodie, as he drags it up and over his head, then off the other arm.
He has tattoos.
In the span of ten seconds, he has gone from just a nice face in the crowd, to the center of my universe.
I see what looks like the tip of a feathered wing wrapping around his ribs before he pulls his shirt back down.
He smiles at the lady next to him and scoots down a seat so she has room to put up her feet.
I guess he must like little old ladies.
She pats him on the hand when he hands her something that has fallen out of her purse. I realize he must have been talking to her for some while when she thanks him with a questioning tone.
Have I ever struck up a conversation with a complete stranger at the MVD that included telling them my name?
"Edward," he offers her, his voice quiet; wet velvet.
He nervously scratches the back of his neck. He has a narrow silver ring on his left thumb, and when he adjusts the neck of his shirt, I see a curling black line running up his neck, stopping just below his left ear.
The tip of something larger, maybe part of the wing thing? I fight the urge to sneak up behind him, pull on the neck of his shirt, and peek down the back.
His ears are pierced. He has a beautiful tiger-eye plug in each lobe – small – maybe the size of a pencil eraser, not those god-awful enormous disks that look like something out of National Geographic.
The golden striped tiger eye looks beautiful against his creamy pale skin.
His fingers are long, and beautiful. He has graceful hands, almost effeminate in the way he holds them, but the muscles in the web of his thumb and side of his palm negate that thought. He uses his hands, but he's careful with them.
His left arm is half covered – I think they call that sleeved – and one of the pictures is just an outline, still fresh and angry looking. It appears to be some kind of plant, or leaves, trailing out from under his shirt sleeve, to his elbow. I wonder what it will look like finished.
He stretches his other arm along the back of the chair next to him, and it appears to be completely blank. It seems naked, in comparison. Exposed.
He's still chatting with the old lady, and I hear snippets of the conversation. I don't get much from him, she's doing most of the talking. I'm desperate to hear the wet velvet again. She says something about grandkids, a dead husband and a car collecting dust in her garage. Apparently she's renewing the tags on some ancient muscle car she's going to give to one of her grandkids.
Hoodie leans towards her, elbows on knees, asking her questions, and I'm blanketed in wet velvet, dripping. He's talking about a brother that would love to get his hands on a car like that, just to tinker. I guess the brother is an old-school shade tree mechanic, and restores vintage cars. She's interested, and he leans more forward, enough that his shirt rides up in back, revealing the waistband of his underwear and more ink snaking its way up from his right hip; a serpent, fangs bared, biting into the meat of his side, grasped by a talon-ed claw belonging to whatever winged creature lives on his other side.
He's not wallpapered in ink – there's lots of bare pale skin still showing, but whatever it is, it's obviously an impressively large piece. I fist my hands tightly and to keep from reaching over the seat and finger the hem of his shirt. I want to slide my hand across his back, and see what his skin feels like. I want to strip him bare, and read his pictures like a map and see if I can find my way home.
He reaches back and pulls a battered black leather wallet out of his pocket, wrinkled on the edges, but molded to fit his ass. He takes out a business card and offers it to her on his open palm. It must be his brother's card, for the car.
Now serving customer thirty-three at window number nine.
Old Lady shifts in her seat and smiles at him, then at me in turn. I must have been staring again. She pats him on the arm when he half stands to help her get up. She must be customer thirty-three.
"It was nice to speak with you, Edward. I'll call your brother this week."
"I'll tell Emmett to expect your call, Mrs.?"
"Cope. Gladys Cope."
"It was nice to speak with you as well, Mrs. Cope."
Nice manners, Edward. Your mother would be proud, I think to myself.
He sits back down and shifts around, making sure he still has all his papers, stuffing his wallet back in his pocket.
I find myself leaning towards him. After a moment, I realize I can smell him – he's moved around just enough to stir the air, and it's like everything perfume was meant to be. Perfume should make you want to lean closer and catch another whiff, not announce you before you enter a room, or linger like a toxic cloud once you've passed. He smells odd – good. Warm, a little musky, but not 'funk' musky. Like running water and sand, or evergreens in the sun?
I want that smell in my mouth. I want to bury my face in that smell and mouth his skin.
I want to taste his colors, his ink, I want to feel it under my hands, discover if the pictures have a texture, if his pale freckled cream feels the same as his bold color.
Christ. I'm insane. I close my eyes and look at the calendar in my head. Am I ovulating or something? Why the hell am I lusting over a complete stranger in the MVD? It must be hormones trying to get me to breed.
I shake my head and snort unintentionally.
He laughs and turns to face me.
"Something funny? Must be good, to make you snort."
Shit fuck damn.
I can finally really see his face. His eyes! Jesus holy Christ – his EYES! I feel like everything I've ever seen in my entire life has been black and white, and the only things in color in the whole entire world at this moment are his eyes.
Pale, soft, gray-green eyes, framed with thick lashes and manly brows left to grow where they will.
I'm stammering, looking back and forth between his eyes, and they crinkle a little at the corners.
He's smiling at me again, widely, and I can see his teeth. He has beautiful friendly teeth, white and natural. They aren't a perfect row of expensive chiclets, but are real and nice, framed by strong lips. I smile back, wishing my smile was as nice as his.
"What? What are you sorry about?"
"Nothing. I… wow. You have beautiful eyes." I couldn't help myself. It was the elephant in the room, and damned if the best way to deal with that is call it what it is. I'd been caught ogling, and there was no point in denying it.
"Um, thanks." He laughed a little, and stared at his hands, white-knuckled in his lap.
"So, come here often?"
He laughed this tickled-foot sound that made my heart beat faster. "Yeah," he said, "about once a year."
"I'm surprised I've never seen you here before. I come here once a year, too"
Again, the tickled foot.
He stood and moved to sit directly in front of me, sideways in the plastic chair, one ankle tucked under the opposite knee. He stretched his bare arm across the space between our rows.
"Edward Cullen," he said, giving his name to me with his open hand. I watched the sinewy muscles of his forearm writhe under his skin, and I wanted to feel them against my back.
I accepted his hand into my own, smooth palm on smooth palm, long fingers snug around mine, our no-nonsense short-clipped nails looking at home so close together.
"Bella. …Isabella. Swan. Bella Swan." Christ. He made me forget my own name, and he's still three feet away.
"Hi." I wasn't sure if I'd entered that funky place where time goes weird and you are hyper aware of everything around you as if it were in slow motion, or if his hand really did linger a beat longer than most handshakes took. I could have sworn I felt the pad of his thumb caress the back of mine, and his fingertips curl against mine before our hands parted, as if he wasn't ready to let go.
I sat there, looking at him, and he let me. I kept thinking at any second he was going to turn his body away from me, or cough and jar me out of my reverie, but he never did. It felt like I was looking across the pillows at my lover, sleepy eyed and sunny, smiling a horny good-morning greeting. I wanted to nestle myself against him and purr my gratitude into his neck. I wanted those fingertips on my face, those lips on the end of my nose. I wanted his ink on my skin, to mark my body to mirror his. I wanted his handprints bruised onto my hips.
Now serving customer forty-seven at window number seven.
I blinked, hard. And looked around me to see what happened to the pillows we'd been sleeping on.
He stood and picked up his hoodie and the ripped-open window envelope he'd brought with him.
NO! He can't be number forty-seven! Not yet!
He walked to the end of the row and hesitated, then held his out to me from six seats away.
I sat there, inexplicably about to cry, with my mouth hanging open. He smiled.
Had he ever stopped?
He held his palm up and curled his fingers inward; the universal c'mere.
As if propelled by rockets, I rose and took his hand. He squeezed it, and his palm felt sweaty.
Or maybe it was mine. I don't know, but there was sweat, between us.
He pulled me to the back of the room, behind the soldiered rows facing the numbered windows, behind all the other procrastinators awaiting their robot-called numbers, and slid down the wall, pulling me with him.
I sat on the floor beside him; he with his back to the wall, me cross-legged and half facing him, our hands still joined in the space between.
We talked past forty-seven, called three times before forty-eight. Our birthdays were three apart, plus a year.
We talked past fifty-three. He was from Seattle, and I told him about Chicago.
We talked past sixty-nine, and we blushed together at our silent thoughts. I watched the artery pulsing at his throat, inches from the trailing vine I wanted to climb.
We talked past eighty-four, and he told me about his mother's grave. He looked away.
We were quiet at ninety-one, with our eyes closed.
He tucked a lock of hair behind my ear at one-oh-two. I leaned into his warm hand, then blushed again.
We talked past one-oh-six, and we exchanged phone numbers. He stretched his legs out, next to mine. I wondered if he had ink on his legs, too.
We talked past one-eleven, and I finally touched the skin of his arm, where the ink outline was fresh. Autumn leaves, for his mother.
We talked past one-twenty, one-thirty, and one-forty, and told the stories that we needed to tell. This is who I am. This is where I am. Is this someplace to start from? Is there enough? Are we insane?
His stomach rumbled.
My cell phone rang.
"Rose? Yeah – still at the MVD. I know, don't rub it in. Are you there now? Shit, I lost track of time. Go ahead without me, there's still at least ten people ahead of me. What? At least half an hour. No – I'll order when I get there. Hey – hang on a sec, okay?"
"I'm meeting a friend for dinner down in the valley – do you have plans?" I hoped he said yes, with me.
"I'm supposed to go to my brother's tonight, but we don't really have plans."
"Call him up, see if he's had dinner yet." I turned back to my phone while he dialed Emmett. "Rose, I might be bringing a new friend or two. Is that okay? Great, I'll call you in a bit when I'm sure."
Edward gave me the thumbs up while he finished his call with his brother.
"Rose? Wait - yeah, get us a table for four. I'll call you when I leave the MVD. 'Kay. Bye."
Now serving customer one sixty-three at window number one.
"Oh! I'm next. Shit – what number are you?"
"Oh, I think I'll just come back on Monday. I don't want to keep your friend waiting."
"Holy shit, are you sure? You sat here all night, and you still didn't get your driver's license renewed. I can wait with you. It won't kill Rose to wait a bit."
His stomach rumbled again. "No, I think I'm done with the MVD for tonight."
Now serving customer one sixty-four at window number two.
"Go ahead, I'll wait here." He squeezed my hand again after helping me stand.
I paid my fee, signed the form, smiled for my no-doubt shiteous picture, and looked over my shoulder at Edward while I waited for my new license. He stood against the wall, one ankle crossed over the other, hands stuffed in his pockets.
He was still smiling.
I stuffed the surprisingly good looking license into my wallet, and walked back to Edward.
"Are you sure you don't want to stay and wait? I can stay…"
"Nah – my brother's a bitch if he isn't fed at regular intervals, and I'm having sympathy pains."
"Follow me to his house, and we can all ride together?"
I nodded, and the guard let us out the door. Edward pulled his keys out of his pocket when we reached his car, and a little blue chevron of paper fell to the ground. We both reached to pick it up.
I looked up at him, mouth hanging open. He was still smiling.
A/N - hope you liked this spontaneous little one-shot... concocted and written in 3 hours flat. whenever i see a man with a tat peeking out from a shirt collar, i have to restrain myself from touching it, and always want to sneak a look down their shirt. tat sleeves make me want to touch their owners....
to the anonymous reviewer who questioned "MVD" vs. "DMV"... in New Mexico, it's MVD. :) either way, it's the license bureau. thanks for the review!
leave me some love...?
UPDATE: i missed the deadline for the Tattward and Inkella contest by about two hours... *sigh* PLEASE go read the other entries - i have been moved to tears by more than one, and forced to sit on a towel while i read several others... LOL!