Disclaimer: Twilight and all its characters are owned by Stephenie Meyers. I'm just here to give them a change of scenery.
The courtyard was clear of any crowds by 1:30, so Bella took a late lunch. This enabled her to enjoy some peace and quiet in the midst of her busy days.
She pulled out her paperback and balanced her sandwich in her lap. Yet again, she was trying to get through "Wuthering Heights," and yet again, she was finding the pace of it too slow. Although the language was elegant enough to hold her interest, she grew impatient with Heathcliff and Catherine's torturous relationship. I'm such a child of the electronics age, she mused.
A growing din behind her diverted her attention. She turned to see State Senator Edward Cullen walking in the middle of a group of aides, lobbyists and news reporters. The Senate was scheduled to hold a voting session today, and Senator Cullen was sponsoring a bill that would cut the corporate business tax. He argued long and vociferously through committee meetings that such actions would help improve the bleak Washington State economy, but Bella knew the net result was less funding for the programs she worked with every day. She was a program aide with the Department of Human Services, and the programs she administrated for senior citizens and pre-kindergarten children were directly funded by some of the corporate business tax proceeds.
Senator Cullen and his entourage swept up to her bench and the senator paused, enjoying his audience. He gave her a quick glance and turned back to direcct his comments to the media. Bella ignored the scene and tried to concentrate on her lunch and her book.
"The taxes in this state are strangling our businesses," the senator said with a flourish. "We can ill afford to continue losing jobs and valuable commerce, and that is exactly what will happen unless we find a way to curtail spending in the state budget."
Bella snorted and resumed her reading. A few of the aides turned to her briefly, then resumed devoting their attention to Edward.
"There are many programs in the budget we can cut," he continued. "We simply cannot afford them now. Reducing the tax will stimulate business development and force state government to live within its means."
Bella rolled her eyes and shook her head. Edward had turned in the meantime so she was within his line of vision, and he saw her disgusted expression. He took note of it but continued talking.
"We'll see if my fellow senators have the guts to give the Washington State business community the break it needs," he continued. "If not, they don't deserve to keep their office."
"Oh my God," Bella mumbled through a mouthful of turkey breast, loud enough for the senator to hear. He turned to her in some surprise, then an aide grabbed his elbow and attempted to direct Edward back toward the State House. "Wait," he directed the aide. Edward excused himself from the group and then walked the ten or so steps over to where Bella was sitting.
"Excuse me, miss," he said, turning on the charisma which had won him several elections and the advances of numerous women. "I take it you disagree with my stance?"
"Yes, I do, Senator," she replied calmly, picking at her sandwich, refusing to look at him.
Few people stood up to Edward in this way. He noticed she remained calm, but her cheeks turned noticeably pink when he spoke directly to her. She pulled at her long brown hair so it was swept back off her face.
"Surely you agree we need to give our businesses every advantage," he said, a professional charm to his tone.
"Surely you agree our seniors and children also deserve every advantage, which they will lose if your cuts are signed into law," Bella replied in a clipped voice.
"I beg your pardon?" he asked, trying to maintain his polite demeanor. Another liberal activist, he groaned inwardly.
"Senior clinics and recreation centers will close, as will the pre-k learning program at schools all over the state. In particular," Bella noted, "your district will lose funding for several senior citizen centers which are fully utilized by the elderly in the neighborhood. I know this because not only do I work with these programs, which are funded by the corporate business tax, but I live in your district."
The senator was well aware that seniors were diligent about voting. The loss of services in his district could prove difficult to recover from before the election, let alone the primary, if someone mounted a strong challenge on that basis. "I'm afraid I wasn't aware of that," he said, stalling for time.
Bella practically exploded. "If you'd done your homework, you would know that! You guys..." she spluttered. "You guys make all these decisions and you never look at the ramifications of your actions! No, you ride into Olympia like a bunch of tax-wrasslin' cowboys, determined to make your mark by cutting anything and everything, no matter who it hurts." She stopped, realizing that she could get in some trouble for talking to the senator this way, but she didn't regret speaking her mind.
The senator, for his part, was taken aback. He wasn't used to hearing such direct criticism. He liked it. A slow smile crept across his face.
"I'm sorry, Miss. What was your name?" he inquired politely.
Bella knew she'd have to answer for her temper tantrum. Well, let him try to cause trouble for her -- she'd bring it to the media types who were now beginning to eye them with interest, although they were far enough away where they couldn't understand the conversation.
"I'm Bella Swan," she said, holding out her hand. He shook it and held on to her hand longer than necessary, enjoying the warm jolt of electricity he felt as they first touched.
Bella must have felt it as well, judging by the surprised look on her face. She recovered long enough to say, "I'd be happy to discuss this with you further. Or, one of your aides, of course," she added hastily. Great, now he's going to think I'm interested in him, she thought. Though honestly, he had a kind look about his eyes. She didn't want to be taken in by that, of course, but she wondered if he had enough of a soul to care about the disadvantaged.
Edward's gaze bore into her own. He definitely wanted to talk to her more about this. She was different than most of the women who trailed after him -- different, also, than so many people who vied for his attention based on what he could do for them. It seemed she retained some fire, some passion for her work. She inspired his curiosity.
"Do you have a business card, Bella?" he asked, lingering on her name.
She dug around in her purse and produced one, then motioned with it to one of the aides. "Shall I give it to...?" she questioned.
The senator slowly took it from her hand, taking care to gently touch her fingers. "No, I believe I'll follow up with you myself," he said softly.