Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight. Or Edward – Or Robert – Damn it.
A/N's: This story is for a great cause, though it's long overdue! We have the power to kick cancer's butt, and this silly little story – which was supposed to be a one-shot, but took on a life of its own – is my (small) contribution to the Support Stacie Author Auction. Jen – this one is for you.
New Year, Same Bella
Chapter 1: Time Flies When You're Flinging Fish
The sound of my breath rising and falling in an even tempo was almost relaxing enough to lull me back to sleep, but my annoyingly accurate internal alarm clock made that impossible. If I hadn't insisted on staying home last night and going to bed before midnight, I knew I'd still be asleep in my warm, comfy bed.
Unfortunately, I knew that I had to get up, so I flung the warm material off of my body and swung my feet over the edge of the bed. When my bare toes met the frigid hardwood floor, I curled them under to keep them warm and walked awkwardly to the tiled bathroom, which always managed to be a few degrees cooler than the rest of my apartment. Placing my hands on either side of my free-standing sink, I leaned forward and took a hard look at myself in the mirror; the dark circles under my eyes negated the fact that I'd gone to bed earlier than usual last night.
A shiver ran down my spine when a draft of cold air swept past my body, and I looked longingly over toward the tub that sat in the middle of the small room. Though the space was small and my flimsy shower curtain had a hard time containing steam, a shower would undoubtedly warm me up, but in an effort to save time, I'd showered and chosen what to wear last night so that I wouldn't have to scramble to do either task this morning. Walking out into the main room of my loft toward my chest of drawers, I glanced at the glowing red letters on my digital alarm clock and found that my early preparations hadn't helped; I was already running late – at five o'clock in the morning.
Trying not panic, I threw on my blue jeans and a long-sleeved tee, then layered on my favorite navy blue cable-knit sweater before pulling on a pair of thick, woolen socks. My heavy winter coat was draped over the edge of a small snowman that sat amidst the Christmas decorations piled by the front door, but my keys were nowhere to be found. After scanning every surface in my apartment with my eyes, I starting digging around and found them wedged between two couch cushions. With a quick glance at my wristwatch, I stepped out onto my porch landing and looked down at Mrs. Cope's tidy little backyard.
The loft I rented from her sat directly above her garage, a separate building that was adjacent to her one-story bungalow style home; it wasn't much, but the rent was cheap, and it was home. Checking carefully for patches of ice, I made my way downstairs and dialed the combination of the padlock keeping the garage doors shut against the brisk wind. Once I backed my old, beat-up pickup truck carefully out of its space, I hopped out and locked the doors once again.
When I turned right onto Pike Street, the famous Public Market Center sign illuminated the foggy morning sky, giving it an eerie red glow. The big white clock buzzed with electricity, and the two large red hands rimmed in neon stared down at me in accusation as they pointed out the fact that I was already fifteen minutes late. There were only a few cars parked on my left, so I spotted Jake's bike quickly; it sat propped up by its kickstand between two yellow posts that indicated it wasn't a suitable place to park. I smirked and pulled into the only empty spot left, two spaces away from him.
Jake, one of my oldest friends, had been asking me to come by one morning to watch what he referred to as a "modern marvel" in action for the last few months, and I figured today was as good a day as any to begin my number one New Year's resolution: Spend more time with friends and less cooped up in my tiny apartment… alone.
After I shoved my purse under the driver's seat and pocketed my keys and cell phone, I stepped out of the warm comfort the cab of my truck provided. The bitter wind whipped around my face as I walked toward the Pike Place Fish Market, so I shrugged the lapel of my coat up closer to me. Even though I'd be outside for more than half of the morning, I hoped that the roof over the open air market would keep the majority of the biting wind at bay while we worked. The only advantage I foresaw the cold offering this morning was to keep the stink of fish somewhat down.
A large sign that read "We pack fish to go in airline-approved boxes" hung above the main counter. Behind it, Jake leaned over with a smile and a Starbucks cup. From where I stood, I could see that he wasn't dressed warmly enough to battle Seattle's brutal weather. Over his light gray hoodie, two black straps that said "Grundens" in big block letters hung over his shoulders, holding up a pair of bright orange overalls. Although I knew they were designed to keep moisture out, I wasn't so sure they would keep the cold January wind from nipping at his skin.
Jake motioned that I walk around the counter with a nod of his head as he said, "Good morning."
As I joined him I said, "Good would have been ten-thirty," then bit back a smile as I took in his appearance: His orange overalls were haphazardly tucked into a large pair of gray wellies, and the beanie adorning his head left the tips of his scraggly black hair sticking out at a weird angle around his collar. Though he looked ridiculous, I couldn't deny that I was happy to see him, and even happier that he had a cup of hot coffee for me.
Jake ran his large hand over the scruff he'd neglected to shave off this morning as I took the lid off of my breakfast blend. I savored its aroma while glancing around at my surroundings: Various pictures and articles hung above the large counter we stood behind. Shipping supplies were stacked neatly next to rolls of butcher paper and several industrial looking kitchen scales. In front of the glass display only the employees had access to, the various spices and rubs offered were lined along a low shelf, and a large wooden bin filled with ice sat about ten feet away, allowing the customers an up close look at today's fresh catch.
"So what are you going to make me do today?" I asked after I'd taken a good look around. "I hope I'm not in charge of gutting an octopus or anything gross like that."
As if on cue, an older man wheeled a big stack of crates packed down with various fish around the corner. "Morning, Jake," he said as he pushed his cart toward us. A few guys wearing overalls that matched Jake's came around the counter just in time to hear the man – who I later learned was their boss – ask, "Is this your girlfriend?"
"Yeah," Jake smugly replied. I sputtered, pulling my scalding hot coffee away from my face while Jake chuckled. Several of his co-workers laughed too as they began unloading fish from large bins. I bit my lip in annoyance at Jake's pompous smirk. My nostrils flared, and I was about to let him have a piece of my mind when Jake said, "What? You're a girl, and you're my friend. It's not like I was lying, Bells."
Narrowing my eyes, I knew I was only seconds away from either smacking him upside the head or throwing my coffee in his face. Before I got a chance to decide which act of revenge I was going to go with, I spotted something bright orange fast approaching Jake from the corner of my eye. Sneaking up behind him so that he didn't have time to react, the prankster pulled Jake's beanie down over his eyes while shoving a fistful of ice down his overalls. Everyone within a fifty-foot vicinity laughed, and with a satisfied grin firmly planted on my lips, I thanked my new friend.
"Oh, it was my pleasure," he replied as he ducked out of Jake's grasp. "You must be Bella. It's nice to meet you." He extended his hand and said, "I'm Seth."
"It's very nice to meet you, Seth," I replied in a flirtatious manner, taking his offered hand. From the corner of my eye, I saw Jake bend down to shake loose the ice that had traveled down one of his rubber boots. When he glanced back up to find my hand still within Seth's, he clenched his fists at his sides. A bit smug with Jake's reaction, I allowed Seth to show me around and introduce me to all of their co-workers, who were already busy arranging the day's fresh catch within the iced down bins.
Hanging out behind the counter of the Pike Place Fish Company during the morning rush was an experience I'd not soon forget. The empty space that I'd arrived to was hardly recognizable. People milled around the well-organized display in front of the counter, and by nine a.m., the whole market was abuzz with customers even though it was the first of January. I thought it was an unusual time of day for so many people to be up and about after spending the previous evening ringing in the New Year. The sights and smells of the fish market were strong enough as it was; I couldn't imagine being subjected to them after spending the night binge-drinking.
If any of Jake's fellow fishmongers were hung-over, they didn't show it. For the most part, they were an upbeat group of guys. They told a variety of lame fish-themed jokes to the customers throughout the morning, and I couldn't help but laugh along at some of the ridiculous punch lines. I had to bite back a smile a time or two when I overheard them tell the raunchier versions of the same jokes amongst themselves. All in all, I was glad to be fulfilling my main resolution, and was having a blast doing so. It was also nice knowing that I was making a little extra money this morning. My loft was in desperate need of a new radiator that I'd hate to burden Mrs. Cope with the cost of; she spent the majority of her retirement money on her beloved cats.
"Hey, Bells," Jake called out from the main display. "Why don't you come out from the protection of that counter and help me over here?"
I'd been lying low for the past hour, simply watching Jake and his co-workers toss fish back and forth from the main display to the counter for customers to purchase, yet secretly wanting to join in the fun. Being faced with the possibility of making a complete ass out of myself while failing to throw the fish far enough to make it to the main counter, or worse yet, not catching one thrown at me, was not something I'd signed up for. "Are you sure?" I asked as I walked around the corner, hesitating at its edge.
"Of course I'm sure," he said as I took an uneasy step toward the display. When I reached him, he handed me a pair of hideous brown rubber gloves that went up well past my elbows. "Besides," he continued once I'd pulled them on, "you said you wanted to help out. This is helping out."
When I was all set, Jake placed a small silver salmon in my hands and let me toss it to Seth, who waited behind the counter. With every throw, the guys made a silly sound announcing that a fish was flying through the air. When they made sure to belt out their signature chant as Seth caught my fish, I smiled in victory.
Jake patted me on the back and said, "See, there's nothing to it. I'll be right back, okay?" I nodded at him, still elated that my fish made it all the way to Seth, who gave me a small wink before picking up a whole King Crab to snap its claws at a little girl who'd just walked up to the counter with her family. I laughed and watched him interact with her for a few minutes. When the small girl's family left, Seth caught my eye and mimed throwing the salmon he held in his hands at me. I bit my lip, but nodded in permission and swallowed my fear; after all, it was just a fish…
Before I was completely prepared, he flung the salmon up in the air. As it flew at me face first, I saw that the fish's mouth was slightly open. Though I held my arms out in front of me, I panicked and closed my eyes for a split-second. When I opened them, the fish fell just short of its mark, skidding to a halt on the icy display, knocking a few cubes off the end and onto the matted floor I was standing on. Seth laughed at my expression just as Jake came around the counter, and I quickly placed the salmon where it belonged before he could make fun of me.
Turing away from Jake as he joined Seth, I used the back of my gloved hand to rub my forehead and brush the few tendrils of hair that had fallen loose from my braid. I also needed a few moments for the blush I felt climbing up my cheeks to subside. After I'd pushed a particularly annoying strand of hair free from my vision, I lowered my hand and looked over toward the café adjacent from the Fish Market, where the hottest guy I'd ever laid eyes on stood looking at me. My cheeks instantly heated up – again.
I stared openly at him for a few seconds, too intrigued by him to drop my gaze. He did the same until a beautiful, petite brunette carrying a cup of coffee and a small white bag exited the café, walked eagerly up to my mystery guy, then looped her arm loosely within his. Dropping my eyes at the same moment he did, I realized I was still wearing horrendous gloves and probably looked a mess, but when I snuck a glance back toward the café, I found his eyes back on mine while his companion stirred creamer into her coffee at a nearby table.
"Hey, Bella," I heard Jake call out, breaking the spell the mystery man had entranced me with. Jake shouted, "Think fast!" as I turned, and I came face-to-face with a large gray creature of the sea being hurtled through the air toward me. I shrieked in terror, afraid it would hit me in the face, and took an impulsive step back. Unfortunately, the ice that had fallen to the mat during my previous failed attempt at catching a fish was still right behind me. My boot caught on its slick surface, and as I fell to the floor, landing on my ass with a loud "oomph," I realized that my assailant was none other than a stuffed plush Hammerhead shark.
Jake was at my side in a matter of seconds. He tried to hide the amusement in his voice as he asked, "Are you okay, Bella?" He failed. "You should have seen your face!" he exclaimed as he hauled me to my feet.
"Damn it, Jake!" I yelled. Realizing that we were being watched, I lowered my voice and growled, "You can be such a shit sometimes, you know that?"
He laughed and picked up the stuffed animal that lay at our feet and lunged at me with it. Without a moment's hesitation, I peeled my gloves off and flung them at him. "Ouch," he said as one of the rubber hands slapped his cheek. "That hurt."
"Good," I replied. "It hurt when I fell on my ass, too." I made a show of rubbing my sore butt, even though the only part of me wounded was my pride; he didn't have to know that.
Jake flashed me his signature grin, thinking that he could get away with murder because of it. "Come on, Bells," he mockingly plead. "Forgive me?"
"You're so annoying," I told him. "I might forgive you later, when I've washed the stink of fish off of my skin. But for right now, you're on probation. That was a real shit thing to do," I said, shoving his chest playfully with my hands.
He grinned again and said, "Deal. How about dinner tomorrow?"
I rolled my eyes in his not-so-subtle attempt into goading me into not only forgiving him, but to agreeing to a date. "We've had this discussion many times, Jake. We're friends. That's it."
"What?" he asked, feigning innocence. "Friends don't eat dinner together?"
"Ugh, you know what I mean," I said, shoving on his chest once again. "What time is it?" I asked, taking a step back; he'd gotten a bit too close for comfort and I didn't want to blur the lines of our friendship in his mind anymore than they already were.
He took a step toward me and picked up my wrist, looking down at my watch with a smirk. "It's 10:25."
Pulling my wrist from his grasp, I took yet another step back. "Well, I've been here for nearly five hours, so I'm gonna head out."
Once again, he closed the distance I'd put between us. "And what are you going to do for the rest of the day?"
My eyes widened when I noticed that his playful demeanor had vanished. "Sleep."
"So what about dinner tomorrow?" he asked.
Looking up at his face, I felt very small next to him. "I'll let you know, okay? I'd better go. Tell the guys I said thanks. Bye, Jake." With that, I turned on my heel and high-tailed it to where I'd parked my truck. I had the distinct feeling that Jake's intentions to stay "just friends" no longer existed.
A/N's: Thanks so much to VivaViva for her mad-beta skills & Little Miss Whitlock for all of her advice! You gals saved my life & my sanity over the last few weeks! ;)