A/N: Thanks as usual go to Betamama aka FanpireMama and Caren aka Nerac.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer created the characters, the story is mine. Copyright 2010: BellaMarie117
Strap in readers and enjoy the ride of chapter five!
By the time Alice arrived to help me get ready on Sunday morning, I was a complete wreck. I honestly didn't think I had been this anxious waiting for the long program to start in Torino. No matter how many times Rose and Alice reassured me that this wasn't a big deal and that everything would be fine, I couldn't stop fretting over it.
On the one hand, I was excited to see Edward again, while on the other I was nervous not knowing what to expect and terrified I'd screw up somehow and make a fool of myself. He was just so smooth. While I was just...not. So far the only embarrassing thing that had happened to me in his presence were a couple little stumbles, nothing to lose sleep over. I was worried that my lucky streak wouldn't last through a full day in his company.
Added to that was the fact that we'd be going skating. Why did I agree to this again? I hadn't been on the ice in weeks, and the last time I was had not been a pretty sight. I was sure to make a fool out of myself. National Champion, my ass. My how far the mighty have fallen. I'd probably be clutching at the boards like a calf learning to walk. Who knows, maybe my fall had knocked out every speck of talent I'd possessed and I'd turn into a stumbling klutz on the ice as well as off. Weirder things have happened. I knew deep down that the reason I'd had such a hard time before was because Renee had tossed me out on the ice before I was physically read. I was ready now. If I sucked and couldn't hack it out there, what would be my excuse?
Too late now, I thought to myself as Alice took a curling iron to my hair. I'd already backed out on going to meet him once and no matter how nervous I was, it wasn't going to happen again today. Even if I wanted to, Alice would be there to drag me out again. The woman was like a dog with a bone, fully determined to shove the two of us together.
The night before, the three of us had camped out on the couch in their apartment and watched the game. It wasn't quite as exciting as watching live and in person had been, but still fun when I had Rose and Alice there talking over the TV announcers to give their own version of commentary. Of course theirs consisted more of rating the sex appeal of the players and drooling over Jasper and Emmett every time they hit the ice, but hey, it was entertaining.
At first I had felt a little thrown off at how open Alice and Rose were with each other. Even though they were intimate with each other's sibling, that didn't stop them from gossiping endlessly about the "dirty details." And now that Alice was certain that Edward and I were long lost soul mates who had merely been searching for our other halves, only to finally find it in each other at the most unexpected time and place (her description, not mine), they'd gotten me roped into their giggle infested chit chats. I probably found out more about Jasper and Emmett than I ever truly needed to and after listening to Alice try to give me a catalogue of Edward's charms for twenty minutes, I cut her off, insisting that if I really wanted to get to know Edward, I'd ask him, not his sister. Even if she was my BFF.
While she toned it down a bit after that, she still made a point to bring him up at every possible occasion for the rest of the night. I knew she was trying to encourage me that he was a great guy so that I would fall for him, but honestly all her words did was make me more and more overwhelmed. I already knew Edward was a great guy. I could already tell that he was funny and intelligent and driven and completely wonderful. I could see with my own two eyes that he was completely gorgeous. My knees could attest to it because they tended to melt into oblivion anytime I was face to face with him. I didn't need Alice to convince me of any of that. I already knew he was perfect.
What could he possibly see in me?
We'd had fun the other night and it seemed like he'd enjoyed my company, but I just couldn't imagine why he'd be interested. I felt like I had nothing to offer to a man like Edward. I didn't bring anything special to the looks department. He didn't need any help on the financial end or to cling to my so called "celebrity status" because he had plenty of both on his own. He couldn't even be interested in me because of my friends or family. My friends were all his first and my family was practically non-existent at the moment. Besides, he already had the perfect parents and the perfect siblings. How could I possibly fit into any of that?
Sure I enjoyed hanging out with everyone and considered them my friends, the closest I'd ever had, but being one of six buddies was a far cry from being half of a couple in a group of perfect matches.
"Hey," Alice snapped her fingers in my face twice and pointed at me with a stern expression as her other hand held the iron to my hair. "Stop it."
"What?" I asked defensively.
"I can read your face like a Cosmo article. Stop obsessing. Just have fun. You don't have to make any life changing decisions today. We're just hanging out."
"Yeah. Okay," I said, blowing out a breath and shaking off the nerves. She was right. I enjoyed Edward's company. I loved spending time with the girls and Emmett, and even Jasper. I just needed to chill out.
Thirty minutes later we'd bundled up and piled into Rose's car. The Landmark Center was only a block from where we'd been the previous night and we arrived before I had any further opportunity to psych myself out.
The day was fairly warm for January in Minnesota, a whopping twenty-three degrees. Since we'd primarily be outside all day, Alice had equipped us with little warming packets for our gloves and I peeled mine open to activate it as we waited, rubbing it between my palms and pulling double duty of giving my hands something to do while we waited.
Glancing around, I realized just how pretty this little central spot of the city was. Rice Park was mostly made up of a large stone square, lined with wrought iron benches and housing a beautiful fountain that had been drained for the season. A light dusting of snow took away some of the starkness of the expanse of cement. Trees lined the square block and beautiful historic buildings stood on all sides, the most impressive being the Landmark Center. It had the feel of a fairy tale castle with turrets, arches, and a jutting clock tower. I could almost picture Cinderella fleeing down the steps, dropping her slipper and disappearing into the tree line while Prince Charming searched for her.
"Hey," I heard a deep familiar voice in my ear. I gasped in surprise and whipped around to face him, dropping the little packet of heat to the ground. We both reached for it at the same time, our fingers brushing and causing me to jerk back a little and stand back up.
"I'm sorry," I fumbled, "I was sort of spaced out, I didn't even see you." He chuckled a bit as he stood again, reaching for my hand to tuck the warmer back into my palm and cupping his hand over it, the result a delicious spreading of heat through my entire body that made the frigid climate seem downright sultry.
"I'm just sneaky like that," he smirked.
I heard the laughter of the rest of the group, congregating just a few feet away and snapped my hand out of Edward's grasp, not wanting to fuel the fires of their speculation. Edward furrowed his brow at bit at me when I tucked my hands into the pockets of my black and white plaid coat, but didn't say anything as we stepped over to the others.
"You ladies ready?" Jasper asked, holding out his arm bent at the elbow for Alice to link hers.
"Did you bring your brace?" Edward inquired softly as we approached the benches surrounding the rink.
"Yes, doctor," I teased, patting the drawstring bag slung over my shoulder that held the brace and my skates.
He scrunched his face at me in amusement. "Just checking."
Alice and Jasper sat down on a bench while Edward and I took the one opposite them. Emmett accompanied Rose up to the rental booth to rent some blades for her. Apparently three years in Minnesota hadn't been quite long enough for her to acquire a pair of her own. I tugged open the string on my bag and dropped it into my lap when I saw what Alice pulled out of hers. They were figure skates. I think. They were also hot pink with silver glittery laces and rhinestones outlining her initials. She didn't catch my look of amusement, but when I felt a nudge at my side, I realized that Edward did. I looked over at him to see him make the universal crazy sign of circling his finger at his temple with an affectionate grin on his face, making me giggle. Alice glanced up then, spotting us with our heads close together as she finished lacing up her skates. She wiggled her eyebrows at me as I tried to wipe the giddy expression from my face.
"Come on, Jazzy," Alice ordered, reaching for his hand and practically dragging him down the rubber mat that led to the ice.
Now that they were gone, I felt like I could let my guard down a little. Her eyes caught way more than I wanted them to.
"Seriously?" I asked in amazement.
"Yeah. She got those when she started dating Jasper. She said if she was going to marry a hockey player, she needed to own a pair of skates. That's what she came home with."
"She sure is something else," I mused, tugging the brace out of my bag.
"Yeah, she's always been an odd duck."
"But you love her. It's easy to see that with you and with Emmett."
"They're alright I suppose," he responded.
"You don't fool me, Cullen. You wouldn't know what to do without them."
"Yeah, you're probably right," he conceded, lacing up his skates and pulling the bottom of his jeans over the top of his boots as I strapped on my brace, then unattached the velcro, adjusting the tightness a bit before refastening the straps. Grabbing the bag off the ground next to me, I pulled out my polished white leather skates.
"No rentals for you, eh, Swan?"
"Gross. Do you have any clue what kind of feet have been in those things? Or do you find contracting a foot fungus romantic?"
"Do you have your own bowling shoes, too?"
"No. I've never been bowling."
As I reached down to tug on my skates, I bumped against Edward's knee. It was then that I noticed how close we were sitting. Of course, my nerves kicked in and I started fumbling with my laces, missing loops and dropping the strings. Flustered, I groaned at myself and plucked my hat off so my hair would fall forward and curtain my flushed face. Get it together, you idiot!
Through the tunnel vision that my hair shield provided, I zeroed in on my hands and froze when Edward's appeared on top of them.
"Here," he murmured, softly brushing my hands aside then lifting my foot to rest in his lap, causing me to sit back up. "Let me?" I pushed my hair back behind my ears timidly, biting my lip and nodding my permission.
His hands were impossibly gentle as he wound the laces of my boot through the hooks, tugging occasionally to tighten it around my foot and tying it in a perfectly symmetrical bow.
"Done this a few times?" I tried to tease him, but I was so stirred by his touch that it came out breathy rather than snarky.
He looked over and wiggled his eyebrows at me, "Every day."
"Hockey skates are a bit different."
"Not so very different," he said, placing my foot back on the ground, picking up the other one and sliding my shoe off. His fingers brushed lightly against my arch, causing me to jerk a bit in reflex. He glanced at me, his brow lifted in question at my flinch.
"Sorry. Tickles," I said under my breath.
"Oh really?" he asked, a devilish smirk spreading across his face.
"Don't you dare," I warned, my stern tone voided by the giddy smile on my face as I tugged my foot away, trying to hold it out of his reach.
"Don't what, Bella?" he inquired innocently.
"You know what. Don't even think about it."
"Silly, Bella. You can't control someone's thoughts. I can think about all kinds of things you'll never know."
"Fine, just stick to your thoughts then and watch the hands there, mister," I ordered, bringing my foot back within his reach.
He took it in his hands, tugging my leg a little so I was sitting right up against him on the bench. He crossed my leg over his thigh so my foot hung down between his legs and I had to remind myself to breathe. The touch was casual, but intensely intimate at the same time. I'd never been this close to a man. Sure, I'd hugged my dad, and Emmett and Carlisle. But those were all so vastly different. I never felt sparks of electricity when they held me. I never felt the blood drain from my head, leaving me slightly dizzy when my body came in contact with them. But every time any part of me came in contact with Edward, even the slightest, fleeting touch, I felt more intensity than I ever had before.
He tugged my boot on, his arms wrapped around my leg in an odd embrace as he laced me up just as effectively as he'd done with the other. Patting my foot, he looked up at me. If he was as affected by the exchange as I was, he didn't seem to show it. He cleared his throat before smiling at me. "You ready, hotshot?"
I rolled my eyes at the nickname but nodded at him, tugging my hat back on and down over my ears. He removed my leg from on top of his and stood, reaching his hand down to take mine and help me up. When I stood next to him, he didn't drop it, merely started walking down the rubber mat with my mittened hand enclosed in his. I got the feeling those handwarmers were going to be completely unnecessary.
We paused at the open gate in the wood boards, leaning down to tug off our skate guards and drop them by the side. Edward started to move forward to step out on the ice, but I tugged on his hand, holding him back. "Wait."
He looked back at me, his brow furrowing slightly in concern.
"Just give me a second, okay?" I asked, a little embarrassed at having to do so.
"Take as long as you need, Bella," he replied, stepping back to face me and taking my other hand in his. "I'm not going anywhere."
"I just haven't been on the ice in awhile," I stammered, trying to laugh off the sudden bout of nerves that overtook me as I saw the ice spread at my feet. "Stupid to be nervous."
"No," he insisted softly but firmly. "Not stupid at all. You had a rough fall, Bella. Anyone would be shaken up after that." I could feel his thumbs gently rubbing circles over the back of my hands through my mittens.
"What are you scared of?" he asked gently.
"Falling," I laughed, trying to hide how truly worried I was at stepping back out there.
"I won't let you. Problem solved. Anything else?" he said confidently, leaving no room for doubt that he'd do exactly that.
"It's just...I tried once already. Getting back on the ice. It was sort of a disaster. It's not something I'm looking forward to repeating."
"When was that?"
"Back in December," I informed him flippantly.
"What?" he snapped. "What the hell were you thinking, Bella? You could have really hurt yourself trying to skate again that soon after major surgery!"
"I know! I didn't want to but they-" I broke off, not wanting to say more.
"They what?" he pushed.
"Bella, please?" he implored, his voice filled with softness and understanding. When I looked up into his eyes, they emoted the same.
"It's no big deal," I tried to deflect, "My mo-, manager, she wanted me back on the ice and training."
"Idiot," I heard him mutter under his breath as he dropped one of my hands to pinch the bridge of his nose. "Didn't your doctor tell her that was dangerous?"
"Can we not talk about this anymore right now?" I asked softly.
"God, I'm sorry, Bella. I didn't mean to drag the day down. It's not my place, that was entirely out of line."
"No, no, Edward, I appreciate it. I just- Can we just-" I stammered, waving my hand feebly.
"Yeah," he said, agreeing to my unspoken request.
I looked out at the ice in front of us. The rink was dotted with people, some older, some younger. Some were in pairs and some in larger groups. A few young kids were circling the ice in a single file line, all clenching onto the waist of the one in front of them. I spotted Alice and Jasper in the far corner from us, clasping hands and spinning in giddy circles as their laughter filled the air, mingling with the holiday music warbling from the speakers.
Everywhere I looked people were smiling and I realized I really wanted to be one of them. I had always loved being on the ice. It's where I felt at home. I felt my resolve steel inside me. I needed to stop being such a wuss. Buck up, Swan. I blew out a breath and looked up at Edward, stepping up to the edge.
"Ready to jump back in the saddle?" he asked with a reassuring smile.
"Yes," I said confidently.
"Alright. Let's go, hotshot," he winked at me and stepped out onto the ice first, still holding my hand firmly.
I stepped one foot out onto the slick surface, and then the other, leaning heavily on my toe picks to plant myself in place.
"First step's the hardest," he assured me, turning in a half circle to face me and grab my other hand before slowly drifting backwards until we were at arms length. "Let's go."
I allowed myself to glide forward slowly, but my legs were so tense and I couldn't unlock my knees. I caught a little on the ice, pitching forward. Here comes the wipeout, I thought, automatically bracing for the fall. But Edward was true to his promise and right there to catch me, darting forward to wrap his arms around me and hold me steady.
"I've got you," he reassured me, still holding me close. "Okay?"
"Yeah," I said, nodding against the wool of his jacket. "I'm good."
"Let's try that again, shall we?" he suggested cheerfully, unwinding his arms and taking his original stance. I shook it off and tried to relax this time, bending my knees slightly and letting my body naturally glide forward on the blades. It was slow, I was clutching Edward's hands and refused to take my eyes off my feet, but I wasn't falling. That was already a vast improvement.
"Hey," Edward said when we'd made it successfully once around the rink.
"What?" I answered, still tense and looking down at my feet.
"Hey," he said again, slightly laughing this time and causing me to look up at him.
"You're skating!" he exclaimed.
"Please," I snorted. "Edward, a toddler could do this."
"You just need to get your confidence level back up. You'll be doing triple toe-loops in no time."
"Do you even know what a triple toe loop is?"
"No. Do you know what a triple deke is?"
"No? Hmm," he smirked down at me.
We continued to make our way around the ice, Edward lazily coasting backwards while I began to find my groove. My strides gradually became longer and smoother, our speed increased. I remembered how to cross my legs over. It was nothing fancy, but I was really skating again. And it felt amazing. I looked up at Edward, grinning in victory, to see him smiling right back at me.
"See? Piece of cake. How's the knee?"
"Good," I said genuinely. It didn't feel sore or weak in the slightest.
"You want to go on your own a bit?"
"Sure," I said, still slightly hesitant to let go. "Just don't go too far."
"I'm right here," he assured me, squeezing my hands once and letting me go. I faltered for a moment, his arms jutting out just in case I needed him, but I was able to recover and squared my shoulders before starting up again. Edward stayed by my side, stride for stride as we circled around the rink. By the fourth passing I was feeling good again and shot him a playful grin before taking off at full speed. I heard him fumble behind me for a moment before he came rushing after me, his laugh warm and uninhibited.
"You're going down, Swan," he called behind me, already right on my tail again. I felt his hands brush against my coat as he tried to catch me and whirled lightly to the right, easing just out of his grasp and turning to face him, laughing breathlessly as he skidded to a quick stop and stepped back to swoop me up in his arms.
"Think you're so cute, do you?"
"Sometimes," I responded, allowing myself to snuggle into his encompassing warmth for a moment.
"Hey guys!" I heard Rose call out behind us as Edward eased his arms around me and stepped back a little, still smiling down at me.
"Too cool for the rest of us?" she joked as she and Emmett came to a stop against the boards beside us.
"Just getting Bella reacquainted with the ice," Edward explained.
"Yeah?" Alice asked, skating up beside him with Jasper right behind her. "Now that you mention it things were looking pretty friendly over here." She glanced coyly between us, raising her eyebrow at her brother's narrowed eyes.
"Stop hoggin' her, Eddie," Emmett griped.
"What if I don't want to?"
"Too bad. Mom always said you had to share. It's my turn," he tugged my arm and extracted me from Edward's grasp, hefting me up and over his shoulder.
"Emmett!" I shrieked in surprise, "Put me down."
"No way, Eddie will just try and swipe you back. He got enough playtime already."
"Well, gee, Emmett, that's just how every girl wants to be treated. Like some shiny, new toy."
"See? That's what I always thought, too. Glad you agree with me," he said patting my butt as I felt him drift away from the others.
"Watch the hands, you big octopus," I chastised jokingly.
"Bella, you know I'm just doing it to rattle Eddie's cage. You shoulda seen the look on his face. If I wasn't his brother he'd have punched me."
"I'm sure you're mistaken."
"Nope. Not one little bit. As it is I'll probably have to watch my back at practice over the next few days. The kid knows how to hold a grudge. I'll forget all about it and Boom! Sneak attack."
"He has nothing to be mad at you about," I asserted.
"Sure he does. I put my mitts on his woman."
"I'm not his woman."
"Not yet at least. C'mon, Babybel, teach me some moves!" he demanded, quickly changing the subject.
"Emmett, I just mastered skating in a straight line again, I don't think I'm up for demonstrating."
"So don't demonstrate, just tell me what to do. It can't be too hard, I'm a professional."
"I don't even think it's possible to figure skate in hockey skates," I continued to protest as he dragged me with him to center ice where less people were traversing. The rest of the group followed, assembling close by and watching us casually as they chit chatted.
"Please, Bella?" he pleaded, pouting his bottom lip out pathetically.
"Ugh, fine." I relented.
Emmett hissed out a victorious, "Yes!" complete with fist pump while I heard Jasper mutter, "This should be good," under his breath.
"What do you want to learn, you goofball?"
"I'm game. School me in your mysterious ways, Sensei."
"You're such a weirdo."
"Babybel, don't even try to act like you don't love me. Resistance is futile."
"You're still a weirdo."
"Quit stalling and teach me some moves, coach."
"Okay. Um, let's see. Let's try just a basic upright spin, that's probably easiest."
Emmett was a surprisingly diligent student. He listened intently as I described the stance he needed to take and the basic principles of the move; how he'd need to keep his feet parallel and shoulder width apart while tucking everything in close to his body to go faster. He only tried to make an inappropriate joke once about tucking a very specific body part. When I shot him an unamused look, he merely muttered, "Bitchbrow, ouch. That's a powerful weapon you've got there, Babybel," and returned to mimicking my instructions.
"Wanna try?" I asked when I felt confident he had it down.
"Yeah, dude, let's do this thing," he clapped, clearly amped.
"Have at it, big guy," I said, gliding back from him a few feet, standing just in front of the others. Emmett took his stance, arms perpendicular, one knee bent and the other stretched out to one side.
"Head up," I called over to him. "You'll move all over the place if you hunch over like that." He immediately straightened, then pushed off his leg, drawing his feet together and arms in and he spun. It was slow and it wasn't very smooth, but it was a spin by all definition. He even ended by raising his hands above his head and lifting his leg in a clumsy imitation of what he'd probably watched on TV.
"Check out Tiny Dancer over here," Jasper chortled, and I looked back to see him nudge Edward in the side. Edward coughed to try and cover up his laugh and turned his face into his shoulder a bit to hide his smirk.
"Lookin' good there, bro," Edward encouraged, biting back his amusement. "Very...dainty." The four of them snickered as they watched Emmett's jaw set in irritation.
"Hey," he snapped at them, " You laugh at me, you laugh at my girl, Bella, here. And if you laugh at her, I will not hesitate to kick your ass." I smirked as I watched each of them attempt to look chastised before one by one they lost their composure again, leaning on each other as they cracked up.
"Don't listen to the critics big guy, that was a great start."
"That's not how you do it though," he insisted petulantly. "Yours probably looks way cooler. C'mon, show me."
"I can't Emmett, I'm not supposed to do anything yet."
"Aw, come on. You probably don't even need your gimpy leg. Don't know you some fancy schmancy spin on one leg?"
"Well yeah, but-"
"Do that, do it!"
"I swear to God, Emmett, if I reinjure myself showboating for your whiny butt, I'm making you answer every angry piece of fan mail I get. Handwritten. And you have to sign it with a lipstick kiss."
He didn't answer, only waved his hand at me in a gesture to get going. I hesitated for another minute, weighing in my mind if this was really a risk or not. Come on, Swan. A scratch spin's one of the easiest things you know how to do. There's nothing scary about a fucking scratch spin. Child's play. It's like riding a bike, you never forget this crap.
"Fine," I huffed, shoving against him to push off. Emmett stood back with the others, whacking each of them over the head as he skated down the line and hit the breaks to stand next to Edward.
"Have some respect," he scolded.
I chuckled as I passed behind the five of them, drifting backwards and circling to get a little speed up before stepping down on my good leg, spinning slowly at first with my leg extended slightly out in front of me, bringing it in as I accelerated until my arms were tucked close and my free foot was crossed over my standing ankle. The world around me disappeared into a haze of colors, the blade of my skate whirring over the ice in a tight circle. I raised my tucked arms slowly up above my head until I spun in one long line. Well, as long as I could manage with my stature. Slowing slightly, I stepped out of the turn, lifting my back leg to exit the move and glide to a stop. I dug my toe pick in and placed my hands on my hips, pursing my lips slightly and giving one satisfied nod. Not too shabby.
"Holy," Jasper started.
"Shit," Emmett finished.
"How the hell do you not fall over after that? Aren't you dizzy?" Rose asked.
"It's all in the spotting," I shrugged. I wasn't being modest, a scratch spin was basic, a fundamental. "It's not a very difficult move once you've got the technique down."
Edward shifted uneasily back and forth between his feet. Emmett noticed and poked him in the side, giving him a look I couldn't make out. Edward narrowed his eyes at him and flicked him in the forehead.
What was that all about?
"Okay, Swan, enough of this twirly shit. Get to the good stuff. I wanna jump!" Emmett clapped Edward on the back and skated forward to me again.
"Emmett-" I tried protesting.
"Pretty please, Bella? Just one little jump?" he whined, gliding down to one knee in front of me and grabbing my hand.
"Alright, alright. On your feet. But this one I can't demonstrate."
I talked him through the basics of a loop jump, one of the most basic and probably one of the only ones that he might be able to pull off without a toe pick. He was just as attentive as he'd been for the spin and I could see the light of boyish excitement in his eyes as he learned something new. It took about ten minutes of me repeating and refining my directions, trying to walk him through the jump step by step. Finally, I just had to let him give it a go.
Emmett circled around me a couple times, getting his momentum. He prepped before launching his massive form into the air.
I knew instantly this was not going to be pretty.
Sure enough, as he touched back down on the ice, his skate slipped out from underneath him. His feet comically whiffed back and forth as he tried to catch himself unsuccessfully. He reached out blindly and managed to snag a bit of my coat. As he went down, so did I. In a pile of limbs, we landed together on the ice with an exaggerated 'oof!' I lay there for a moment, literally two feet off the ice due to Emmett's bulky size, trying to catch my breath and get over the shock that always comes from falling unexpectedly, until I noticed something shaking underneath me. Moments later I heard Emmett snort before his booming laughter erupted. It only took a second before I joined him, rolling off to lie next to him on the ice. Our heads together, our arms clenched around our stomachs as we dissolved into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.
"Very graceful, Emmett," I managed, wiping a tear from the corner of my eye. "Five point seven at least."
"Bias!" he shouted. "I demand a recount. This shit's rigged!"
"I think you should stick to hockey, babe," Rose suggested as she crouched down at Emmett's side. I reined in my laughter as I saw the rest of the group surrounding us.
"Rosie! Did you see me, baby?"
"Yes, Emmett, I saw," she assured him with a joking tone of condescension. "That was marvelous."
"Damn straight, woman," he said, reaching up to smack her butt and pull her down on top of him to peck her lips. "Just you watch, I'm gonna be the next Michelle Kwan."
"Better watch your back, Bella. Looks like you've got some competition in the makin'," Jasper drawled sarcastically.
"See, Emmett," Edward smirked at his brother as he crouched beside me, "This is why I never let you play with my toys. You always try to break them." He winked at his brother as he reached his hand out to help me up.
"I can't help it if I play rough, can I, baby?" he directed the last part of his question at Rose, who still lay sprawled on top of him.
"On that note," Jasper coughed. "We'll just leave you guys to your little perv fest here."
"He didn't hurt you did he?" Edward asked as the four of us coasted off to the boards along the side of the rink.
"No, I'm fine. They're very...uh, affectionate," I gestured to where Emmett and Rose were now feverishly making out in the middle of the ice.
"That's nothing," Edward said, matching my line of sight. "You should see them when we go dancing. It's disgusting."
"I've been known to cut a rug now and then," he grinned impishly. "Maybe if you're lucky someday you'll see for yourself."
"I'm looking forward to it."
Rose soon escaped from Emmett's grasp, slapping his hands away when he tried to pull her back in. She joined us, stretching her jaw out a little.
"Lockjaw, sis?" Jasper ribbed her.
"Shut up," she elbowed him in the side. "You're just jealous you didn't talk Alice into mackin' with you first."
"C'mon, tiger," Alice tugged on Rose's arm and reached out for my hand, pulling us in the direction of the exit. "We're taking a break, guys. You go roughhouse or whatever it is you manly men do." Edward and Jasper cruised away to grab Emmett while we made our way back onto solid ground.
There was a small stand selling cocoa just off from the rink, still on the rubber so we wouldn't have to take our skates off. We grabbed a few cups and settled down on one of the benches where we could still see the guys clearly. It was plain to see how well the three of them got along. They truly looked like three brothers messing around together, trying to knock each other over and beat each other as they raced around. Emmett was the biggest, but Edward was quick and Jasper was slippery. They were evenly matched and it was supremely entertaining to sit back and watch them.
"So you and Edward seem to be getting along just fine."
"Don't start, Alice," I pleaded.
"What? I'm just making an observation."
"Well keep your observations to yourself. We're friends."
They shared a pointed look before Rose coughed exaggeratedly, "Denial!"
"Guys, I know you mean well, but please, just lay off a little."
"We're not trying to give you a hard time, Bells," Rose soothed.
"I just wanted to say you guys looked good out there. It was nice to see you both smiling," Alice said before cheerfully changing the subject. For the next twenty minutes I listened to her and Rose discuss the pros and cons of a buffet versus a sit-down meal for her and Jasper's wedding in June. I half listened and half watched the people milling about around me as I sipped my cocoa, enjoying the relaxed lull in the afternoon. Once our cups were empty, we got back on the ice and joined the guys in a rousing game of tag.
An hour and a half later Alice called it quits. She and Jasper packed up their skates and stepped inside to warm up a little. Rose and Emmett were still horsing around and flirting shamelessly on the far side of the oval. Edward and I settled for lazily skating laps again, my hand held in his. As the afternoon dragged on, the ice had become less and less crowded with people and it was easier to relax. While Edward and I talked a little, for the most part we were content to just skate in a comfortable silence, listening to the music over the speakers now that the dozens of people weren't around to drown it out.
One of my favorites came on, making me sigh contently. After a couple lines I heard Edward humming quietly along and I grinned up at him.
"What?" he asked when he noticed me staring.
"Nothing," I shook my head and looked away, still smiling.
"You know this one?"
"Of course. It's one of my favorites."
"Oh yeah?" he smirked and looked forward again. Instead of humming this time, he sang softly in a smooth baritone, "I'll hold your hands, they're just like ice."
I laughed a little, but inside I was melting at his voice, singing softly, just for my ears.
"Come on, Swan," he said, nudging our joined hands into my side. "Sing with me."
"Uh uh," I protested. "I don't sing."
"Not where anyone can hear," I clarified bashfully.
I shook my head, but felt my willpower waver at the imploring look in his amazingly green eyes.
"Beautiful, please don't hurry," he continued on with the song, harmonizing with the female singer in the recording over the next few lines. I didn't want to listen to him singing with her.
"The neighbors might think," I joined in quietly at the start of the next verse, glancing up to see Edward grinning. He didn't miss a beat and continued with his line. We sang back and forth playfully, my voice gaining volume as I became a little more comfortable and realized that he wasn't going to laugh at the fact that I was just slightly off-key. Soon I could no longer hear the voices through the speakers, only the sound of Edward's and mine together, overlapping line by line. As the song continued, Edward grew slightly more flirtatious, attaching actions to the lines he was singing. When he sang, "I'll take your hat, your hair looks swell," he plucked my blue cable knit hat from my head and ruffled my hair. At "mind if I move closer," he did so, tucking his arm around me while still holding my hand in his, causing my own to twist slightly behind me. He was playful enough with his actions that I didn't feel uncomfortable. Yes, I could tell he was flirting, but it seemed more for the sake of acting out the words we were singing than anything else. His voice was still strong and full of laughter.
At that point at least.
But then the next verse started, and his voice softened.
"Baby, it's cold outside," he crooned as our movements slowed until we were barely moving.
"Oh, darlin' it's cold outside," Edward circled in front of me and eased us both to a stop.
"I'm lucky that you dropped in," we stood there face to face. I was fully unaware of anything around me. The only thing I saw was Edward. The only thing I felt was Edward. He'd kept our arms entwined, nestled at the small of my back. His other hand reached up and brushed a lock of hair from my face, tucking the curl behind my ear. But he didn't lower it. He kept it there at the side of my face, slightly woven in my hair.
"Look out the window at that storm," he still sang along, but just barely. I realized that at some point I'd stopped entirely. I could do nothing but look up at him, my lips slightly parted and hardly breathing.
"Man, your lips look delicious," he whispered with the song, his eyes darting down to my mouth then raising back up to my eyes with a look more intense than I'd ever seen before. He was silent then, leaving the song to continue on without our accompaniment, as we simply stood embracing and staring. I saw the intent flash through his eyes just an instant before he slowly began to lower his head.
I felt myself giving in, my eyes drifting closed. I held my breath in anticipation of the feel of his lips on mine.
But it never came.
Instead I felt Edward's body jerk forward against me suddenly, my forehead knocking into his jaw, his arm tightening around me as we both lost our balance and toppled over. Edward landed on top of me as we splayed out on the ice, knocking the air from my lungs. The hand that had been in my hair had reached around to cradle my head and protect it from smacking into the ice. We stayed perfectly still for a moment before I heard him speak into my ear.
"Are you okay?" his voice full of concern. I nodded almost imperceptivity into his shoulder.
"Bella?" he asked, his voice still slightly panicked and alerting me to the fact that he had not felt my nod.
"Yes," I managed breathlessly. "I'm okay. Are you?"
"Yeah. Something bumped me. Sorry I bulldozed you," he apologized. "And now I'm crushing you. Gosh, I'm sorry, Bella." He rolled, reversing our positions as we both pulled back a little. The moment we looked into each others faces, the comedy of the situation flooded in and we burst into a fit of laughter.
As I started to gain control of myself, my brain started kicking in. My stupid, over-thinking, neurotic and insecure brain. It took in the fact that my face was tucked against his chest, the wool of his coat soft yet scratchy against my cheek, the sound of his laughter floating over me. It took in the fact that our legs were tangled together and his arms were around me. It took in the fact that he'd almost kissed me thirty seconds earlier. And what did my brain do? It sent off massive warning bells.
Warning! Warning! You're in over your head here, Bella! Step away, fast!
"What do you say we call it quits before I give you any more bruises," he joked, and I jumped at the opportunity to escape and collect myself.
Stepping off the ice was like stepping back into reality and the change was like a punch to my gut. As soon as I crossed the threshold in the boards, I felt myself start to shake. I tried to remove my skates as quickly as possible, strapping the guards back over the blades and tossing them haphazardly into my bag along with my brace.
"Everything okay?" Edward asked.
"Yeah. Fine, why wouldn't it be?" I replied, a little too quickly to come off as casually as I'd hoped.
"You got really quiet all of a sudden."
"You want me to take your bag to Rose's car? I think we were going to walk around for a bit, maybe grab dinner."
"Yeah, that'd be great. I'm actually going to go find a restroom," I told him, awkwardly gesturing towards the building.
"Okay. See you in a minute," he said, gathering up both of our bags.
I made my escape before he even had a chance to stand, trying not to sprint as I turned away from him and headed towards the doors of the Landmark, but I could only manage to tame my steps to a swift power walk. I darted up the stairs and shoved through the heavy doors, attempting to tame my breaths at least until I could make it into the bathroom and out of the general public.
By the time I found the ladies room, my breath was coming out in heaving pants. I felt overheated and claustrophobic and clawed at the buttons on my coat to try and release myself. I knew it wasn't the coat that was causing my unease, but it helped a little to be free of it as I made it into the bathroom. Luckily it was empty and I practically collapsed onto the counter, hunching over and burying my head in my folded arms.
What the fuck is your problem, Bella? Seriously. Why do you have to be such a fucking basket case?
Still bent over the sink, I managed to control myself a little and lifted my head to see my face in the mirror. My cheeks were flushed, my nose red, and my eyes wide and bright with panic. My hair was a wavy mess. Reaching up to smooth it, I realized that Edward still had my hat from when he'd shoved it in his pocket during the song.
The song. The kiss. Well, almost kiss. My fingers ghosted over my lips as I recalled how it had felt in that moment, his mouth just a breath away from my own. I could practically taste him.
That moment out on the ice before we'd fallen had been one of the most perfect moments of my entire life. I'd stood there in the arms of a beautiful man and been this close to kissing him. But that moment had been practically a dream. When reality kicked in, I realized what a joke it had been for me to think for one second that I could kiss him.
Men like Edward didn't belong with girls like me. That was the problem. He was definitely a man, and I was quite obviously stuck being a girl. He was sexy, and strong, and talented, and independent. He needed a woman who could live up to that, who could take care of herself. Who wasn't so fucking lost. He deserved better.
I heard voices approaching and quickly locked myself into a stall, not quite prepared to face the outside world.
It sounded like two young women. They were chuckling and making small talk as they went about their business and I mostly tuned them out, just waiting for them to finish and leave me to my solitude once again.
"Oh my God, did you see the Cullen brothers out there?" One of them asked, catching my attention.
"So fucking hot."
"I know right? I mean, Emmett's supposedly taken, but since when does that mean anything? I mean he's a professional hockey player, you know he's getting some ass on the side." My jaw dropped a bit at the gall of this person. She had no idea who Emmett was. No, I hadn't known him for very long, but I knew without a doubt that he could never cheat on Rosalie. Could he? I guess people cheat all the time, it wouldn't be unheard of. Renee had cheated on men more times than I cared to remember. But Emmett? I just couldn't imagine it.
"Edward's single though, and really he's the one I'd rather take a ride on," the second woman said, with a sort of growling purr at the end.
I wanted to plug my ears. I really didn't want to hear this. Especially now. But I couldn't not listen. I had to be some sort of masochist.
"Seriously. The man's totally gorgeous," the first one agreed.
"I'd let him put his stick in my net any day of the week. He's probably a fucking god in the sack, I mean just one look at that sexy little smirk of his gets my panties wet."
"Total clit master. You gonna go for it?"
"I don't know. He's been all over this other chick all day."
"You could totally manage. You're so much hotter."
"No, I know. I just don't feel like getting in a catfight. Maybe I'll try and slip him my number, have him call me when he's gotten rid of the other one."
"Sloppy seconds, Bree?"
"Nah. You can tell she's not the type that'll put out. He can put her to bed early and come crawling into mine." The women made their way back out the door, still tittering and gossiping with bravado.
The words they'd spoken were disgusting. I wasn't stupid enough to believe that those were the types of women Edward would be interested in. I wasn't naive enough to believe that Edward was completely inexperienced, but I wasn't cynical enough to believe he was a total man whore like those women had made it sound either.
The problem was that he needed someone right in the middle. He didn't need a pathetic little girl like me to tuck in early. He didn't need a slut like her who could go all night. Someday he'd find a woman just as wonderful as he was who could be his partner, who could go to bed with him and snuggle against his shoulder. Who could hold him just as solidly as he held her. I was unrightfully jealous of that faceless woman.
It didn't matter that Alice thought we'd be perfect together. It didn't matter that he seemed to enjoy my company. Deep down, I knew that I didn't stand a chance. I could never be worthy of him.
The truly terrifying part was that I was falling for Edward, and falling fast. And I didn't have a clue how to stop it.
"Bella?" I heard Alice's familiar voice call out as the door squeaked open again.
"You in here, babe?" Rose followed up, their voices casual, making it apparent they had no clue that I'd been on the verge of a full on panic attack only minutes earlier.
"Yeah," I called out to them, trying to make my voice as even as possible. "I'll be out in a second."
"Okay, we'll be right out front. We're gonna grab food and then take a walk through the sculptures."
I waited until I heard the door close before I slipped out of the stall. As I buttoned up my coat, I made myself take a few deep calming breaths. You can do this, Bella. Just stop freaking out and go back out there and hang out with your friends like a normal person.
I vowed to forget about the women and what they'd said. It wouldn't be fair to Emmett or to Edward to act differently towards them based on the nonsense of two total strangers who had probably just been blowing smoke. Neither of them had done anything to betray my trust. Quite the contrary.
At the same time, I knew I couldn't act the same way completely with Edward. I couldn't let myself get in any deeper. I couldn't lead him on either, letting him believe I was something that I just wasn't. I wouldn't ignore him, he didn't deserve that, I just couldn't let myself get so close to him.
Stepping back outside, I pulled my mittens on as I approached the group standing at the base of the steps. Edward looked at me with a questioning smile when he saw me stop across the circle from him, standing between Rose and Alice and I tried to smile back reassuringly. I'm pretty sure it came out as a grimace.
They'd decided on a restaurant while I'd been hiding out in the bathroom and we started walking. Not wanting to get paired up with Edward again by default, I stuck close to the girls, drawing Alice into casual conversation in an effort to stealthily draw her away from Jasper. It worked like a charm. Soon enough, Alice, Rose and I walked arm and arm a few steps ahead of the guys as we made our way to the restaurant.
At dinner, I tried to inconspicuously keep up my subtle avoidance of Edward. I still sat by him, not wanting to split up the other couples and not wanting to hurt his feelings by putting myself as far as possible from his side, but I didn't fall into an easy conversation with him as I might have. Instead, I made an active effort to focus on the exchange of the other members of our group, offering my own input at lulls in the conversation to ensure that Edward couldn't get my attention and draw me into a dialogue. I knew as soon as he said a single word to me in that soft voice, intended only for my ears, I'd be helpless to stop myself.
I tried not to look at him over the course of the meal, but caught myself unconsciously stealing glances out of the corner of my eye from time to time. By all accounts, he looked normal. Happy and enjoying himself. But I could make out a slight hint of a wince in his smile, as if he had to force it, and there was a tightening around his eyes. Regret flowed through me at the idea that I could do anything to hurt him, but it was better this way. It had to be.
We returned to the park, which had transformed in the time we'd been gone. When we'd left, the sun had been low in the sky. Now that night had fallen, hundreds of twinkle lights sparkled through the trees lining the park, casting the square in a fantastical glow. The ice sculptures that had looked impressive in the daytime were now made even more so by the lights shining from within, emphasizing the peaks and valleys of the carvings. We wandered around, taking in the sights as a group.
"What's going on?" Alice demanded out of the blue. Looking around, I realized that she and Rose had subtly separated us from the guys, moving ahead of them just far enough that they wouldn't be able to hear anything we said.
"What are you talking about?"
"You've been weird since we left to go to dinner," Rose said.
"I haven't been weird-" I insisted.
"Yeah, you have. You're really not a very good actress, Bella," Alice pointed out.
"You know, my coach always told me that acting was one of my strong points. Guess I should fire him for lying to me," I deflected in a dry tone.
"Isabella Marie Swan," Alice groaned, "We know something's up. You may as well just tell us what it is."
"How'd you know my middle name?" I asked, both in another attempt to divert and out of true curiosity.
"I googled you," she said casually.
"You googled me?"
"Of course, Bella, it's my job as your best friend to keep tabs on what's being said about you. This way I can both keep you informed and lay the smackdown on any idiots out there trying to say shit."
"Wow. That's oddly sweet. And creepy."
"And you're avoiding the subject. What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I just got a little nervous, that's all," I relented, trying to play down the full extent of my nerves.
"About what?" Rose probed.
"About Edward?" Alice asked and I nodded.
"Bella, Edward's a good guy. He's not going to pressure you if that's what you're worried about."
"Seriously, my brother's a complete gentleman. I don't think he's even capable of pushing a woman past her comfort zone."
"Especially you," Rose added. "You should see the way he looks at you, Bella."
That was part of the problem. I did see the way he looked at me. And I had no idea how to handle it.
"It all just seems so fast," I explained. "I don't know what to do or how to act."
"So tell him that," Alice suggested.
"It's not that easy."
"It is, Bella. You're the one making it difficult," Rose said gently.
We fell back with the guys and continued around the park, walking around the slabs of ice that had been carefully carved into their intricate shapes. Emmett kept everyone laughing by alternating between trying to imitate them and making inappropriate comments or gestures. He got a very dirty look from a couple of older ladies that just happened to walk by when he made a dirty joke about the size of the elephant's trunk. I felt the tension start to loosen it's strangle hold. It was difficult not to feel comfortable in the company of these people. Of course as my guard lowered, so did my resolve.
It wasn't long before I noticed Rose and Emmett and Alice and Jasper start to pair up. As they should. They were couples in love, why wouldn't they want to have some time alone? Of course this left me with Edward and it was impossible to avoid someone when they're the only one you're with.
The others were still close by, but if you didn't know we were all together, you wouldn't be able to tell.
"Bella?" Edward asked hesitantly and I tensed but made myself look up at him standing there next to me. "Would you want to maybe walk with me for a bit? I mean you don't have to or anything, I just thought it would be nice to get away from them awhile. Give them some space," he stammered out his words, practically talking over himself and when he gestured towards his siblings. He seemed slightly uncomfortable at seeing them all so cozy together, but not in a way that was disapproving of their displays of affection.
My brain said no. So of course, I told him yes.
At my agreement, the tightness disappeared from his eyes and his smile lost all signs of being forced. I kept my hands in my pockets to maintain some semblance of self-preservation.
For the first couple blocks, we made small talk filled with awkward pauses and uncomfortable sounds as we worked to find our footing with each other again. I was trying to find a balance between being friendly and just letting myself go completely. He, I'm sure, was trying to make sense of what was going on in my head that had caused such a drastic change in my behavior.
The further we traveled, the easier our conversation became. I felt myself relaxing as the bright lights of the park faded behind us and the streets darkened as we made our way up town through the quiet streets. He told me about concerts he'd been to for bands and singers we shared a mutual interest in. I told him about getting to meet Michael Buble at a charity exhibition awhile back. He shared funny anecdotes about Alice and Emmett, and I told him about my first interactions with all of them. Things no longer felt strained or forced. I couldn't hold on to my worries when he laughed genuinely at something I said or when he smiled his crooked smile in my direction, his eyes glowing with happiness. I felt my brain quiet down and my heart take over.
As we turned the next corner, my breath caught and I felt the fairy tale rush back in. The block in front of us appeared to be a miniature version of Rice Park. It was just one small square block that was completely surrounded in bare trees webbed with white lights. Two sides were lined with birch trees in a bed of stones that appeared to be a streambed. On another side was a small pavilion, a stone platform covered by an arched roof lined with lights. Snow had started to fall lightly as we walked and covered the walkways in a thin, white blanket.
It shouldn't have affected me so much, not after seeing the grandeur of the larger park, but this little spot was so different. Like we'd stumbled upon a secret magical place that no one else was aware of. Unlike the bustling crowds at Rice Park, this place was completely abandoned and isolated. There wasn't a single person in sight, nor sound of a car passing. Not a single footprint marred the snow on the ground. It was just us.
"Wow. This is so beautiful," I sighed, turning in place once we'd reached the center spot to take in the full view of our surroundings.
"Yeah, not a lot of people know about this place, but it's one of my favorite spots in the city. Especially in the winter, when it's like this. Quiet, empty. I come here to get away sometimes."
"What do you need to get away from?"
"I don't know. Everything? Don't get me wrong; I'm very fortunate. My family's amazing. I'm lucky to have a job doing something I love. But sometimes I just need to escape. As great as my family is, they're all very intense. It can be somewhat overpowering. And now with them all paired up-" he drifted off.
"Yeah, try seventh wheel. I suppose that's appropriate. They're about as subtle as a semi-truck," he moved to sit on the ledge of the platform, his feet just barely touching the ground. Snow speckled his hair and stuck to his coat.
"I've gotten that impression," I commiserated, boosting myself up to join him on the ledge, my feet dangling much further off the ground.
"Don't let Alice steamroll you. She likes to push her limits, but really, she'll respect your boundaries. Well, most of the time," he chuckled.
"It must be nice," I mused, "having such a close family."
"You're not close to your family?"
"I don't have any siblings. I barely ever see my dad."
"And your mom?"
"I guess it depends on your definition of close. Proximity wise, we've always been close. I lived with her up until I moved here. She's always been very involved with my skating. But other than that-"
"What about grandparents? Aunts, uncles?"
"Nope. Only child of only children. And all my grandparents have passed away. At least I'm pretty sure they have, they were never really around."
"Did you have a lot of friends in Florida?"
"Not really. It's pretty hard to maintain relationships when you log the kind of hours you need to be at the level of competition I was at. God, listen to me. Poor, spoiled girl right? I don't mean to throw a pity party, I've had it pretty good."
"Don't be ridiculous, I asked. And it doesn't matter how much you have or how successful you are. You can still get lonely."
I glanced up at him from under my lashes. The look in his eyes was like a warm fleece blanket wrapped around me, full of comfort and understanding without a hint of pity or judgment. I couldn't look away, and I found I didn't want to.
A breeze swept by, blowing my hair and flakes of snow around my face, but still I didn't look away.
"Are you cold?" he asked and I realized I was shivering. He didn't wait for an answer before rubbing his hands up and down my arms and then folding me into him, cocooned up against his chest. I sighed and felt myself melt into his form, his head resting on the top of mine, my hands folded and pinned between us. I'd never been so warm.
I don't know how long we sat there in the silence and the falling snow. Minutes, hours. I would have been content to stay there forever.
His arms loosened around me, his head lifted from mine and eased back just far enough that he was able to look down at me as I raised my head from his chest. Time slowed again. I could almost see each individual flake around us make its descent through the air as my heart pounded in my ears. I was fully aware of his hand on my waist. I felt the trail of heat his fingers left as he raised his other hand up my arm and to my face, dusting a flake of snow off my cheek before lightly anchoring in my hair, his palm cupping my face.
His face lowered, hesitating just a breath away and his eyes searching. Then his lips touched mine, just a whisper of softness and warmth pressed against them before he pulled back, resting his forehead against mine for moment before advancing again, my eyes fluttering closed the instant his mouth met mine again. The kiss was achingly gentle at first, a dance of silken caresses and brushing touches. The taste of him was intoxicating as his breath melded with mine and consumed me. Little by little the kiss deepened. He didn't push, or even move his hands, just increased the pressure and fervor of his mouth as we lost ourselves in this maiden exploration.
His tongue traced along my bottom lip and a faint, wanton moan drifted in my ear. I was shocked to realize it had come from me. The sound he emitted in response was low and guttural and hit me straight between the legs. An avalanche of emotions, predominantly desire, swept through me and I groped for purchase.
"Stop," I gasped, surprising both of us. I never thought about breaking my lips from his, it simply happened. But now that it had, I knew that I meant it. I'd stopped for a reason. I'd told him to stop for a reason.
"Bella, what is it?" he asked, still just a breath away from me, his voice low and gravelly as if he hadn't spoken in a long time.
"I can't," I whispered, not having the courage to open my eyes and look into his.
"What?" he replied and I wasn't sure if he was confused or if he simply hadn't heard me.
I swallowed thickly, opening my eyes and repeating myself slightly louder. "I can't, Edward."
"What is it, Bella? Can't what?"
"I can't do this," I pulled back a little, feeling his hand drop away from my face and the other from my waist as I put a slight distance between us. His eyes had dimmed, a mixture of rejection and disappointment and I couldn't handle the fact that I'd put that look there. So instead of acknowledging it, I slid off the platform, taking just a step away and looking out at the empty park.
"I'm sorry. I'm sure I'm not making any sense here. I'm all over the place and it's probably giving you whiplash. I honestly wasn't trying to lead you on or anything. I never should have let that happen. But you're just so sweet and perfect and this whole day has just been wonderful and I just couldn't not kiss you. Well most of the day, at least. The part of the day when I wasn't acting like a complete moron. Or maybe the part where I thought I could do this was when I was acting stupid, I don't know." I rambled, trying to make sense of my thoughts as they rushed out through my lips.
"Edward, I like you. A lot. I'm sure I'm not actually supposed to say that to you, I mean girls are supposed to be coy and play hard to get, right? But I have no concept about what the hell I'm doing here and I am just so far in over my head it's not even funny. I'm not sophisticated or flirtatious. I'm not skilled or clever in this area, I just feel overwhelmed. I can't do this. I'm not ready for this. For you."
"Bella-" he spoke up for the first time, right behind me. He must have stood up and moved while I was ranting incoherently. Instead of listening, I rushed to cut him off.
"No, please. Don't say anything. I'm so embarrassed. I mean I've been practically throwing myself at you and now I do this. God, I'm such a moron. You should get as far away from me as possible, it's probably contagious," I babbled, feeling the sting of moisture building in my eyes. Though I tried to fight them off, I felt one traitorous tear spill down my cheek.
"Bella," he softly urged, his hands on my shoulders to turn me to face him, his index finger raising my chin when I refused to look up. "Look at me, please?"
I couldn't refuse him and lifted my eyes to meet his. He softly rubbed the pad of his thumb over my cheek, wiping the single tear away. "I would never rush you or push you into something you don't want or aren't ready for. I don't regret kissing you, but if what you need is for me to just be your friend right now, I can do that. I can be your friend."
"Why? Why would you do that Edward? I'm such a mess."
"I've grown rather attached to your type of mess."
"I'm not good for you, Edward. You deserve so much better."
"Why don't you let me decide what I deserve?"
I paused a moment before asking skeptically, "You want to be my friend?"
"Yes, Bella, I do." I searched his eyes and found nothing but sincerity swimming there.
"Okay," I agreed softly.
"Okay," he repeated. "So, friend, can I get your number so I can text you while we're on the road this week?"
I let out a bit of a strangled laugh, thankful that he seemed to be telling the truth about wanting to be my friend, and relieved that he was able to break the tension I was feeling just a little. "Yeah, I can do that." It's the least I could do since I was such a failure at giving him anything more. I took the phone he offered and programmed my number in. When I handed it back, he pressed a button. An instant later I felt the buzz of my phone in my coat pocket.
"There you go. Now you have mine, too."
"Should we head back?"
"Actually, I'm kind of tired. We're not too far from the apartments. Do you think-" I started, pausing to bite my lip, unsure if it was appropriate to ask him to walk with me or if I should just let him get back to the others.
"May I walk you home, Bella?" he asked, releasing the cause of my struggle.
"Are you sure? I mean how are you going to get back, then? We can just go and I'll see if Rose will-"
"Bella, I'm sure. May I walk you home?" he repeated.
"Thank you," I replied quietly.
The ten minutes it took for us to make it back to my apartment building were filled with silence, although this time it wasn't completely comfortable. My hand felt empty without his in it and I shoved it deep in my pocket, my thoughts caught up in the raging storm within me of doubt, self-pity, and disgust.
Why did he have to be so perfect? Why did I have to be so defective?
Soon enough, he'd get tired of my shortcomings and grow frustrated with the fact that I was so viciously faulty. He wouldn't stay, I was certain of that fact. I was selfish enough to wish he would, even knowing I wasn't capable of more.
He walked me to my door, insisting that he needed to know I'd made it safely inside. I lingered in the open door and gave him a small smile.
"I'll talk to you soon?" It came out like a question.
"Yeah," I confirmed. "You're going to be gone for awhile?"
"Just a few days."
"Well. Be safe," I requested and the corner of his mouth lifted.
"You too. Take it easy on the leg."
"I will," I assured him.
We lingered there awkwardly, neither one of us wanting to say goodbye. I wished with all my heart that I could lean in and kiss him goodnight. I wished I could tell him I'd been wrong, that we should be together, that we belonged together. But I couldn't, because we didn't. He didn't belong with me.
After a long pause, he sighed softly. "Good night, Bella."
"Night, Edward." I slipped inside and closed the door with a quiet click. I locked the deadbolt and engaged the chain, closing the world out and myself in.
I didn't know how to loosen the chain inside me to unlock the door to my heart. I was aching to open it, but I couldn't figure out how. I curled up in my window seat and watched the snow falling out the window. The city was like a snow globe, a world separated from me by the glass. Was I always going to be closed away from everyone else? It had always been that way. I feared that it always would be.
A/N: :Ducks & runs for cover:
I know, I know! Just have faith, gentle readers. I know where these kids are going and how they need to get there. We're only on chapter five!
Take a deep breath and remember the cuteness: the skating, the singing, the KISSING.
Better? Ok, good. I'll try not to keep you waiting too long.
I'll even make you a promise that Edward's in the next chapter, how's that?