IF (BELLA) YES
It's 1977, and aspiring programmer Edward Cullen walks into Vinyl Frontier to find that the girl in the record shop is his seventh grade crush – the impulsive and incomparable Bella Swan.
When record shops were still on top
And vinyl was all that they stocked
And the super info highway was still drifting out in space
Oh I wish I was a punk rocker with flowers in my hair
In 77 and 69 revolution was in the air
- Sandi Thom "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)"
Bella Swan had been a year behind me at Mango Jr. High, though the only conversation I had with her was in seventh grade, when she grabbed my 007 Codebook and opened it without moving the secret slide tab first. That set off a cap, and when it popped, she dropped my prized possession to the ground and squeaked out "Damnation!"
I'd never heard a girl curse before, and I kept my eyes down as I retrieved the wallet shaped book.
"What's the matter with that thing?" she asked.
"Uhm… it's a secret code, so you have to uhm move this bit here…" I started to show her the part you had to slide, but she crossed her arms over her chest and backed up.
"How can it be a secret when it says James Bond right on the front?"
I'd never given it much thought, but she did have a point. What self respecting secret agent puts his name and a "Top Secret" stamp right on the cover where KGB agents would be sure to notice?
I shrugged and tried to think of anything remotely normal to say, but when I looked up she had already headed over to play tetherball.
Maybe it should have bothered me that she took all the joy out of my codebook, but she was beautiful and she scared me, so instead I found myself watching her whenever I could. She painted her fingernails with Elmer's glue, and she wore dandelion chains around her neck. I got to stare at her during music assemblies when she sang in the chorus. All the kids on stage had matching outfits, but she would always wear the wrong color socks or tie some ribbons into her wavy brown hair. It was easy to keep an eye on a girl who stood out from the crowd, but I never worked up the nerve to talk to her.
I moved on to high school a year before she did. Most of my freshman year was spent learning programming after school. Math was alright, but the rest of my classes were like another language to me; history and English left me feeling thick. As long as I could program, everything made sense. IF (YES) GOTO. It was elegant in its simplicity. Even later, when the ELSE parameter was added to the brand new Fortran 77, things were still cut and dry. I could spend hours after school learning a faster workaround, or I'd head over to the university where Dad worked. On a slow day he'd let me use the remote card reader to input a test program in the IBM 370 that was housed in the basement. That thing was his baby.
When I started my sophomore year, I realized two disastrous things. One, Atari wasn't going to release Home Pong (codenamed Darlene) until Christmas, and two, Bella Swan wasn't going to be at Sunnyvale High with me. She went to Fremont instead. As much as I hated hauling a bag of change to the arcade to get my Pong fix taken care of, I was much more upset to find that I had no excuse to ever see my first crush again.
It wasn't until my senior year that I finally ran into her. I walked into Vinyl Frontier to check out the owner, Jasper Whitlock, who was my sister's new boyfriend. Although Alice was two years older than me, I had decided to play the big brother and figure out why she talked about this guy as if she'd known him for years instead of weeks.
The shop made me wrinkle my nose. I thought about putting my shirt sleeve to my face to cover the overwhelming scent of incense, but I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I didn't have much to worry about. There was no one else in the store except a girl who was flipping through albums. I wondered if Jasper was in the back. He probably didn't know he had a customer, because, although a bell rang when I entered, the girl whose back was to me was singing at the top of her lungs to the song that was blaring.
He's in love with Janie Jones, woah
He don't like his boring job no
There were red and green Christmas lights along the ceiling, even though it was May, and posters lined the walls. I recognized a couple of bands – well, really just The Eagles because you couldn't walk by a radio without hearing "Hotel California" – but the rest were new to me. I preferred classical music, especially the even cadence of Bach, because it helped me concentrate.
So far, no one had come through the beaded opening at the back of the store, which I guessed led to the office. There was no one at the register. I felt stupid just standing there, so I wandered between the rows of albums. It wasn't until I got close that I realized the girl with the long brown hair who was belting out a song was my crush from seventh grade, Bella Swan.
She whipped around, and her flowing wraparound skirt twirled out, revealing her leg up to her thigh. I was already stunned to see her after a five year separation, so I knew I was staring, and she probably thought it was at her legs, which maybe it was, but it was more shock than anything else. I could feel my face getting hot.
"Hey, you need something?" she yelled over the music.
"Uh, hello," I wasn't exactly smooth. My hands were shaking, and I couldn't look at her eyes for two seconds together.
"Think you could hang on a sec?" she shouted, or maybe, "Sink your cold fang in my neck?" It was so loud I had no idea what she was really saying. She walked over and turned down the music. "Sorry, I've been waiting for this import for weeks, so I had to blast it."
I nodded. I had, literally, no response to that. If she wanted to talk COBOL, I could speak without sounding like an idiot, but there was no way I could talk music to her. Plus I realized that she didn't know who I was, and though there was no reason she should remember me, I had thought about her several times over the years, and it was a letdown to know I was a stranger to her.
"Jonesin' for new tunes?" she asked.
Her habit of leaving off the first part of a question was throwing me, or maybe it was her barely parted lips. I could swear she wasn't wearing any makeup at all, but her lips were this gorgeous color like cranberries. I wanted to touch the tip of my finger to them to test my theory that they were naturally deep red, but I realized I still hadn't said anything.
"I was just going to look around," I said, reluctant to admit that I was here to spy on my sister's new boyfriend.
"That's cool. If you don't see what you want, let me know. Jasper, the owner, he can get most anything. That's how I got The Clash. A UK import and every song is solid."
I wondered briefly if solid could be slang for really, really loud. She was still looking at me, and it might have been the incense, but I started to feel light headed, so I turned and pretended to be interested in the first album I grabbed.
"You have good taste!" she said, as she came bounding up to me. "You like the Ramones?"
It was a simple enough question, but whether I said yes or no, my answer would be a lie. IF (YES), IF (NO) – what I needed was a good ELSE option. I hadn't heard of the Ramones, and they were probably the latest thing.
"I uh, I..." Oh this was going great. "I should take off," I managed to say.
She smiled at me. It was a really warm smile, like she could see my discomfort and wanted to make me feel better. But this was the unpredictable Bella Swan, and that look could mean anything. Maybe she was smiling at me because I was an idiot. I set the record down, and started backing towards the front of the store. When I felt my back hit the door, I reached to open it, and the bell rang, and a tall blonde guy poked his head through the beads. Terrific, I thought. Now he shows up.
I was already half way out the door when I heard Bella call, "Later, Mr. Bond."
I didn't really process what she'd said until I was about a block away. Mr. Bond? Was that the most random thing anyone had ever said to me, or was it possible that Bella actually remembered the first time we'd spoken? And, if yes, what the hell did that mean?
On my way home I stopped and bought a copy of Rolling Stone. I needed to study if I was going to face Bella again.
"No magazines at the dinner table, Edward," Mom said. "I hardly get to see you as it is, so I think you can read a little later."
"Since when do you get Rolling Stone anyway?" Alice chimed in. This was one of the rare nights she made the hour long drive back from San Francisco in time to eat with us. She was studying fashion design in the city, but still lived at home to save money. She spent all of it on fabric though.
"I read magazines," I muttered.
"I've never seen you read anything but Byte."
Alice just rolled her eyes.
"Well, I think it's a good thing that you're varying your interests." Mom said. "There's got be something more to life than computers." She looked past me and gave my dad a smile. "Isn't that right, Carlisle?" She raised her eyebrow at him, and the look that passed between them reminded me of all the things I never wanted to know about my parents.
"Yes, much more, sweetheart."
Alice looked back and forth between them and then shook her head. It was great that we had parents that loved each other so much, but sometimes it was too embarrassing.
"So, I've invited a few more people to my party," Alice said. She held her arm out to the middle of the table and waved her hand between them to get their attention. "Hello. Birthday party guests."
It was going to be her 21st, but she didn't mind having the party at home. She'd spent a couple of summers at our grandparents' place in Denver, and the drinking age there was 18. She was far more concerned about paper lanterns and stringing lights in the back garden than she was about spending a night on the town.
"Will we be meeting Jasper, finally?" Dad asked her.
"He'll be here." She pushed her plate away. "Just give him a chance though. He's sort of laid back, but once you get to know him…" she trailed off and got a dreamy girl look on her face.
"I'm sure we'll like him sweetie," Mom said.
"I hope so. Oh, and he's bringing a friend, so we're up to maybe sixty people."
"As long as it doesn't rain, we can have plenty of people out back."
"It's not going to rain," Alice said. She was usually right about that sort of thing. Either she had intuition on her side, or, more likely, she just willed the weather to do what she wanted. She was bossy with everyone else, so why not the sky.
I thought about asking who Jasper's friend was, but the odds of it being Bella were slim. She worked for him, but I'm sure he had other employees and lots of friends. I figured the odds were maybe thirty to one, assuming he had a wide range of people that he might consider inviting to a social event. I could ask Alice, but she would be tenacious if she thought there was some secret behind a question of mine, so I kept my mouth shut.
The party was on Saturday, and the weather was gorgeous. Mom and Dad laid out a ton of food, and Alice had lit everything with white lights.
My sister took two hours to get dressed and ready. Because it was her birthday, I let her spend another hour on me. She'd vetoed my navy wool plaid pants (too heavy for spring), and after insulting everything in my closet, she finally settled on black slacks with a black vest and a dark green shirt (for my eyes, she said). I probably looked like a waiter. She wanted me to run a comb through my hair, but it was hopeless. Even the barber could never do anything with it.
By the time I'd shaved and had been deemed fit for company, the house was full. There were lots of fashion students, a cousin of ours, some family friends and a few people who'd gone to high school with Alice. She seemed really happy, but as she kept an eye on the door, I realized she was waiting for Jasper. She would have been surprised to learn that I was just as anxious for him to get here. I was waiting for my one in thirty chance.
Unfortunately, he walked in alone. He was wearing some kind of collarless shirt that looked like it came from India, and he had a guitar slung across his back and a roughly wrapped package under his arm. He had blonde hair down to his chin. In short, he looked pretty much like a hippie, and it was strange to see him sidle up next to Alice in her slim pencil skirt with matching jacket. They looked like they belonged on different planets, but he leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. She was blushing. Alice was actually blushing, and she threaded her fingers through his.
"You didn't have to bring me anything," she said, eyeing his gift. "I told you I just wanted a song." She watched him shrug, and then they turned to me. "This is Edward," she told him.
"It's great to finally meet you, man. Alice talks about you all the time." Before I could answer, he started looking around him like he was missing something. "You comin'?" he called over his shoulder.
That's when Bella came skipping in the front door with another wraparound batik thing flowing behind her and a band on her forehead that made her look like some Navajo princess.
"Bella, I'm so glad you could make it," Alice said. She gave her a hug, and I hated that my sister obviously knew Bella better than I did. I should have realized that Alice would've been by Jasper's shop enough times to have met her.
"Wouldn't miss it," Bella told her. "Jasper tells me your parties are happening." She nudged Jasper in the ribs and then turned to me. "We meet again, Mr. Bond." She gave me a little bow and laughed. I wasn't sure if she was amused with her own joke or if it was because I was still gaping at her. I was out of my depth. Nothing in Rolling Stone magazine was going to prepare me for talking to this girl.
"So," Bella continued, "I'm scoping out your lights, Alice, and they're gorgeous."
"Let me show you out back." As she took Bella's arm in one hand and Jasper's in another, Alice gave me an appraising look. She could see right through me, I was sure. Then they were gone, and I was standing alone in the front hall wondering how ridiculous it looked that I had said absolutely nothing.
Part of me wanted to hide upstairs, but instead I circled the edge of the party, wandering outside among the citronella candles and tables. I finally took a seat on the patio swing, moving our cat, Felix, and he hissed before deciding to curl up in my lap. From that spot, I could keep an eye on Bella but still be half hidden by the wisteria. There had to be something I could say that might interest her. I'd learned that the Ramones had an album from last year and another one this year, and they were punk. There wasn't much I could do with that. It's not like I'd ever heard their music, and I wasn't going to pretend I had. I tried to think of something else that would interest her.
"So, you're not Bond after all. I didn't know you were the bad guy."
I looked up to find Bella leaning against the porch railing. It was darker up here on the porch, but the glow from the lights twined through our trees lit her hair. She was biting down on her lower lip with an expression that almost made her look younger or a little bit lost, and when she brought her eyes up to mine there was a question there. She was probably wondering if I was crazy, because once again I had said nothing.
"I'm the bad guy?" I finally managed to ask.
"Of course." She came and sat next to me, causing the swing to push back and Felix to jump down with an irritated meow. "You have a cat. Well, had a cat…"
I knew I was missing something obvious, but I'd never been this close to her before. I could smell wisteria and soap, and though the porch was covered in wisteria, it still seemed like Bella to me.
"You aren't playing dumb are you?" she continued. "Bond villain. Cat. I'm calling you Blofeld, dude. Like fromDiamonds are Forever. Catch my drift?" She was dragging out each sentence as if English was my second language, which let's face it, sometimes I thought it was. But when I looked at her, she had this nervous expression. Oh good grief. Was I scaring her with my stupidity?
"Blofeld, right." I managed. "Sorry I just wasn't thinking."
Her shoulder slumped a little, and she leaned back. We started rocking. Her hand was between us. She had these big silver bangles on, and it just emphasized how small her wrists were. I wanted to hook a bangle with my finger and draw her hand closer to me, but what I really needed was something to say.
"So, my sister and your boss," was all I came up with. We looked over at them. Jasper was ducking down so that his head was level with Alice's, and they were sharing some private joke, or at least, they looked like they thought they were the only two people here. He was still, except for his hands behind his back which were fidgeting as he listened to my sister whisper something.
"I'm happy for Jasper," Bella said. "I think Alice really gets him, you know?"
"I'm not sure. Alice cares about Halston and floral arrangements and envelopes that match her stationary. Jasper… don't be upset, but he looked like he wouldn't care if he lived out of a van."
"Are you for real?" Bella tugged on my sleeve and said, "Look at them. Really look. What do you see?"
I had a feeling I was being tested. I wanted to tell her how different they looked from one another, with his blonde mop and slow drawl and her dark hair and manic energy, but I knew it was the wrong answer. What could Bella see that I did not? I squinted in the pale light and tried to figure it out.
"Chill, Edward." She reached across and rubbed my shoulder. Both the contact and hearing her say my name made me anything but relaxed. "It's not a test."
"Well, they both look happy," I offered.
"Happy? Look at the way his chin brushes her shoulder, and how her hand rests on his elbow. Look at their faces. It doesn't matter how they dress or what they listen to. They really get each other, to the bone. They're more than happy, Edward."
I looked again. I'd seen Alice with a few other guys; I'd gone out on dates with two girls, but the only time I'd seen a couple look like Alice and Jasper did was when Mom and Dad thought no one was watching them. It was a revelation. It was love, like a program that worked the first time through. Everything about the two of them suddenly made sense. How had I missed that?
Bella must have seen my transformation, because she laughed as she got up and started tugging me out of the swing.
"C'mon," she said.
"Ok." I stood up and followed. As an afterthought, it occurred to me to ask, "Where are we going?"
"Don't you trust me?"
I wasn't sure how to answer that. She was unpredictable, and I had a crush on her, and at any moment she might tell me something heartbreaking, like she was heading off on a cross country trip with some big, motorcycle riding boyfriend – did she have a boyfriend? – but I trusted her to light up the room and make me feel that all kinds of things were possible.
"Yes, I trust you," I said.
She smirked at me with this look that said I might regret it, and we were out the front door and headed through the neighbor's yard and down the next street. I wanted to ask again where we were going. I wanted to offer to let her try out my brand new Atari 2600 – I guess I really did trust her – and most of all, I wanted to kiss her and say yes to whatever she asked of me. I wanted to write a program that made sense of everything in the world and call it BELLA.
IF (BELLA) GOTO
We ended up at the old, narrow bridge. She looked up, and I could feel myself start to sweat. She couldn't want to go walking; there was nothing up there but train tracks.
"So what are we doing here?" I asked.
"Don't be," she said, but I knew she understood what I was asking. I could hear a train in the distance, and I wondered if she really wanted us to climb this thing. I got my answer when she pulled me over to the bridge, and we started scrambling up these thick girders until we were just under the tracks. Bella was looking up through the slats murmuring something about the stars. This was another first, our being alone together, and the girders started to tremble. There was a low whistle in the west. Everything around me seemed to feel a buzz of excitement from being near Bella. The tremor turned into a rumble, and I hung on with one arm wrapped tight around a girder as the train grew close.
Belle reached out and took my other hand in hers, gripping so hard that it almost hurt. I'd been anxious and sweating, and wondered if I should take my hand back before she noticed it was clammy.
"Don't let go," she whispered, and she sounded nervous. I wondered why we were doing this if it frightened her.
"Don't worry. We'll be fine," I promised. She looked over and smiled at me then, and I said "The train won't hurt you."
"The train?" She rolled her eyes at me. "Really, Edward, you have no idea, do you?"
The rumbling became an earthquake rattling us around, and the screeching sound rivaled the music from the record store. Then the train was over us, this gust of wind blew Bella's hair back from her face; she was smiling up at the tracks, and I realized I was smiling too. A really wide smile, like when you're three or when you don't care what anyone thinks of you. Bella clasped my hand tighter, and I hung on as though there were nothing else solid and still in the world.
As the last car passed and the roar started to die down, she turned to face me, and I leaned in brushing my lips against hers. I wasn't even wondering what she would think or IF I would fall. Her red lips were bare and sweet, and BELLA took my lower lip between her teeth to tug a little. Yes. You can have it, I wanted to say. You can have my mouth. You can have anything you want. I pushed against the girder so that I was leaning in to her, moving our joined hands to her back to pull her even closer. Her lips parted, and there was this little space between them, inviting me, drawing me to her. She wasn't pulling away. Her mouth said YES, and I slipped between her lips before I had a chance to memorize the moment. My tongue answered yes, licked across her upper lip and pressed forward again to find her so tentative, so soft and giving and unlike how I expected Bella to be, except that I always expected a surprise.
She whimpered as I pulled back enough to place small puckered kisses on the freckle along her jaw, the soft, wispy hair at her temple, the curve of her eyelashes. And then an open mouth kiss against the hollow at the base of her neck.
"Yes," she murmured. She threw her head back and almost lost her balance. Our hands came apart as I held her to the girder, and she wrapped her arms around it. "Sorry," she said.
We were both breathing heavily, but otherwise there was no sound at all. I wanted to tell her that I'd thought about her for years. No reason to sound needy, my mind said, but my heart said, yes, tell her.
"So I've had a crush on you since seventh grade," I said. No taking it back now.
She laughed, but it was a soft little laugh. "I thought you were so cool," she said. "And then when I finally got up the nerve to talk to you, I set off that stupid, loud cap, and it scared me half to death." She shook her head, and her hair fell back over her eyes. "You scared me."
"You were older, and you seemed to know all kinds of things, and you were… are… gorgeous." Her voice went up on the end as though it were a question.
"You think I'm gorgeous?"
"Don't get cocky about it." She risked taking her arm off the girder long enough to smack me on the arm.
"I thought you were a force of nature, and strong and beautiful, and you made… make… everything new," I said.
"Oh." It was the barest whisper, and the two of us hung there in the warm spring air.
"Would you maybe want to go to a movie with me next week?" I asked. "There's this new space movie coming out on the 25th, and it's supposed to be great. I hear I'll have to take a deck chair and camp out if I want tickets to the opening. Not that you would have to camp out. You could just come right before the film, I mean unless you need a ride or something, or I –"
"Yes, I'd love to go," she said.
"I could get Alice to pick you up and –"
Bella was running her hand through my hair, and it was impossible to think, as she smiled at me and laughed that quiet laugh. "Yes, Edward."
Thanks for reading. I was 7 in '77, but the internet filled in the blanks, so hopefully everything is accurate to the date. Sunnyvale, CA was where Atari had its headquarters. If you don't know the space movie that came out in May of '77... No, surely there's no one who doesn't know that.
All the usual characters, settings, etc. are the property of S. Meyer and Little, Brown and Company. No copyright infringement is intended, and no money is being made. Original plot, copyright 2009, mothlights. May not be reprinted or reposted without express written permission.