A/N: I do not own these characters. This story was originally written for Gangsterdorothy in the Twilight Ficexchange using prompts she provided.
"Yes, Dad, I'm leaving in about twenty minutes. I just have to finish packing."
"Bells, I thought you were taking off hours ago." I could picture him shaking his head. "Didn't you check the weather?"
"I got stuck working late. It was crazy this morning. So many last minute shoppers, and the restaurant was packed; I couldn't leave them hanging."
"Well, the snow has already started here."
"It's all clear this way," I lied. I'd just looked out the window to see a few flurries. "I better go if you want me to make it home for Christmas."
"Please drive carefully."
"You know I will. I'll call from the road, okay?"
"Go slow and don't be afraid to stop if things get bad."
"I know, Dad. I will."
"Make sure you have blankets and water and flares, and..."
"My truck is all set. You stocked it up for the winter the last time I was home, remember? I'll be fine. I'm hanging up now."
I didn't give him a chance to say anything more. I hung up and went into high gear. Twenty minutes was probably a low estimate. I hadn't showered or packed. I didn't pay much attention to what I shoved in my bag. I was going to be gone about five days, and I could always do laundry at my dad's.
On the last of my three trips down four floors to pack my truck, I gave the living room a once over, sighed at myself in moderate disgust at the mess, and flicked off the light. My dad's warning voice, 'better safe than sorry,' echoed in my head when I got down one flight, so I ran back up and grabbed an extra bottle of water and a bag of pretzels from the cupboard. The pretzels reminded me that I hadn't eaten all day, and I was famished, so I swung by a drive through on the way out of town. The snow flurries were growing both in size and the speed at which they were falling. It was a beautiful sight. I loved the way fresh snow looked , like a pile of powdered sugar on pancakes We had a light layer the week before, but it was mostly melted and grayed by exhaust and plow trucks at this point. There was something particularly lovely about a Christmas Eve snow. It made me think of all kind of happy things like Frosty and It's a Wonderful Life. I began to hum "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" as I pulled out of the parking lot, a pack of chicken nuggets propped open on the console next to me.
The back end of my truck fishtailed slightly when I gave it gas. I didn't let it stress me but took it as a warning sign. We might not be hit with blizzards often, but my dad had trained me my whole life for such an event.
The snow fell steadily for the first hour of the grip, but it wasn't really sticking to the highway. Visibility was limited, but listening to Christmas music made me happy.. Sometimes, it was in Spanish, but as long as I knew the melody, I was fine.
I drove along singing, "Cascabel, cascabel," somewhat oblivious to the rapidly decreasing conditions of the road. It wasn't that I wasn't paying attention. It was kind of like parents always thinking you hadn't grown up. It's hard to notice gradual change when you see someone every day. I knew the weather and consequently the roads were getting worse, but I just didn't register the change.
I was about half way into my trip when my sense of self preservation started to kick in. I glanced down at my speedometer and noticed it had inched substantially downward, now resting somewhere around forty miles per hour. At this rate, it would take forever to get to Forks. Visibility was essentially nonexistent. I watched intently for signs with which to gage my whereabouts. Finally I blew past a green sign that told me I was literally smack dab in the middle of nowhere. I knew from this point, if I exited the highway, I had a good fifteen miles to get to any reasonably sized town which might have a hotel.
"Shit," I said out loud. No one was listening, of course. I heard a familiar ring tone that indicated my father was checking in on me. I expected it to come at some point. I had to answer or I would worry him even more. He was a pretty hands off kind of dad about most things, but when it came to my safety, he knew how to be as much a mother hen as an overprotective father.
"Bells? You okay?"
"Yeah, Dad. I've got you on speaker though so if I sound weird, that's why."
"It's really bad here."
"It's bad here too, but I missed the last place to pull over about a half hour ago. I'm not sure what to do, but it seems safest to keep plugging along right now. As soon as I find a place, I'll pull over."
"How are you on gas?"
"Um, I've got about a half tank," I said checking the indicator.
"Keep an eye on that." He was doing a surprisingly good job of not creating more fear in me than I needed.
"I will. I promise I'll stop as soon as I can, even if it's not a hotel, but I don't want to get off the highway right now. I think there's a truck stop about a half hour away if I remember right."
"Okay, good idea."
"Hanging up now to concentrate."
With my painfully slow speed, I began to notice more and more cars in the ditch. There didn't seem to be any people in them, and I was glad, but then I wasn't. These cars must have been there for a while, and there didn't seem to be many other people on the road. I was afraid that if something happened to me, I'd be screwed.
My heart felt like someone had reached in and grabbed hold, squeezing it for dear life. My fingers were wrapped so tightly around the steering wheel that my knuckles had turned white. The tension in my back and shoulders from sitting up as straight as possible without moving made me wonder if I'd be permanently disfigured, but I still kept going. I kept glancing at the clock, trying to estimate how much longer until I found any semblance of civilization. I'd lost touch with my location, so I decided to just drive until there was a place to stop or I ran out of gas, whichever came first.
Time did not pass quickly, and my sudden urge to go to the bathroom didn't help anything. It was a gradual build. It started out as a subtle, 'huh, I could go' but within about fifteen minutes, my bladder was moving toward crises mode. I went from promising that if the snow let up just a little I'd be a better person to offering up my first born child in exchange for a bathroom.
I saw the lights of the semi in my rearview mirror—they hit the glass at an angle that was almost blinding. I began cursing immediately. The driver was going so fast, and it was clear he was going to pass me.
"You can't be serious," I muttered. My constricted chest meant that I could feel my heart beat all the way up to my nose. I took a deep breath, and tried to find a focal point. There wasn't one. The semi flew past me, and tossing back an avalanche of snow in its wake. If I had low visibility before, this was like driving into a wall of snow. I could only hope that I was driving straight and staying on the road because all I saw was white. I kept my hands steady, and my eyes forward. It didn't work. When the snow thinned, I could see that my greatest fear was coming true. I was driving straight into the ditch. I wasn't going fast, but I was already off the road, and there was no way to get traction in order to turn. I swear it was like a movie starring someone else because I could barely react; by the time I tried to really make anything happen it was too late. Turning the wheel didn't work, nor did the break. My truck just kept going and going.
And then I came to an abrupt stop.
Far enough in that I could barely see the road in my rear view mirror.
I was stuck in the middle of nowhere. There was definitely no bathroom here.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I took a deep breath, and screamed. I banged my fists on my steering wheel.
Once my freak out was over, I tried to collect myself, to assess the damage. I shook my head for a second, and then got to work. That's when I noticed I wasn't alone. I could see the dark outline of another car, maybe a small SUV just to my left. I hadn't even known another car was ahead of me, but it appeared the semi had two victims.
I needed to see if I could get back on the road. I put my truck in neutral and climbed down into the snow. I sank down in, the drift reaching my thighs, making it very difficult for me to move. I had to take gigantic steps pulling my leg out of out of the hole I created before I could move on. None of this was particularly easy given the current state of my bathroom needs. Still, I decided to try to push my truck. I went about three steps before I realized this was going to take a while.
I cursed my stupid luck again. A car door slammed, and I assumed the other driver was doing exactly what I was. I braced myself for the trek back to my car door when I heard the distinctive crunching of someone walking in the snow. I looked over toward the other car. I still only saw the outline but now I could also make out the silhouette of a body coming in my direction. I couldn't make out any details, but from where I stood, I was pretty sure it was a man.
I was initially relieved. Like a stupid little girl I cheered my apparent salvation by the white knight. But then I heard my dad's voice and all his horrible stories that there just weren't many people you could trust anymore. I shook it off. I mean it wasn't like sickos went around trying to get into accidents during a blizzard, did they? It wasn't possible that this guy had driven himself into a ditch on purpose was it? I really hoped not. But at this point, if the sicko could tell me where to find the bathroom , I'd take my chances.
"Hey there, are you okay?" the sicko's voice called out when he was within earshot. Only, he didn't sound much like a sicko. I'm sure Ted Bundy's victims thought the same thing. I decided to make a move in his direction.
I walked slowly through the snow, trying to squeeze and walk at the same time.
That's when my heart started to race a bit. The uncertainty of the situation hit me.
"Um, yeah, just completely stuck," I answered back.
"I see that. Doesn't look like there is too much damage to either of us other than not being able to move. What an asshole huh?" He motioned toward the highway where I could no longer even see the tracks of the semi.
"I know. I can't believe he didn't even stop. I didn't notice you though; I didn't even know you were ahead of me." I think my tone may have indicated my slightly skeptical attitude toward Mr. Sicko.
He ignored my fear that he was an ax murderer. "Listen, I just called my insurance company to get roadside assistance, but between not being able to tell them where I was and how busy they are, it didn't sound like they'd be here any time soon."
I looked around, taking in the scene."There doesn't seem to be any traffic around either."
"No, I think we're among the last of the idiots still on the road."
I sighed. "What should we do?"
"Well, my car seems to be in a little better position than yours. Maybe, together, we could get it out. If not, well, maybe we can wait together."
I nodded. That was the type of logic a serial killer would use. Still, I answered with exactly what he needed to hear. "Okay, just let me grab my bag." Maybe he would think there was gun or a knife inside and decide I wasn't worth the hassle. I turned off my car and began to walk with him toward his car.
I stopped when we got half way there. "Just need a minute," I called out.
"Are you sure you're okay," the man asked now using his own skeptical tone.
"Yeah, I just, well, I really need a bathroom."
He turned and looked at me. He sighed. I couldn't make out his facial expression, but I got the feeling he thought I had three heads. "That bad?"
"Uh huh," I squeaked out.
"Well, why don't you go?"
Let's see. Because I don't really want frostbite on my lady bits? Or because I'm already walking into a car with a sicko, and I don't need to take off my clothes to make it even easier for him. Or because the snow is so high, I can't even pull my pants down?
"It's kind of complicated."
He looked at me again, letting his eyes linger a bit too long on my body. "Want me to carry you?"
Suurreee, sicko. I'll hop into your arms and then pull down my pants and show off my ass. You must be very skilled in this.
"No," I said definitively. But then I tried to take another step, and I had to clench down hard to keep from wetting my pants.
"Look," Sicko began. "I'll get you up to the road where the snow isn't as deep, and I'll cover you. You can't even walk."
I scanned the area trying to figure out if there was another alternative. "Okay," I said finally. It would be easier for me to run if we were closer to the road anyway.
Sicko took a few steps, looked me up and down again, and then slid an arm under my knees.
I instinctively wrapped my arms around his neck. He didn't sound like a sicko, and he most definitely didn't feel like one either. Now that I could get a good look at his face, it was clear he certainly didn't look like one. His chiseled features were a lovely contrast to the softness that lurked in his eyes.
"Hi," he smiled, our faces nearly touching. "I'm Edward."
"Hey, I'm Bella."
"Nice to meet you."
I almost giggled at the odd formality of the greeting given the circumstances, but giggling would not have been good for my little problem.
Sicko had a name. Edward. Shit. Wasn't Ted a derivative of Edward? If I got out of this alive, my dad was going to kill me.
It didn't seem to take much effort for him to carry me to the side of the road despite the conditions.
"I'll just turn around then," he said setting me down on the ground.
"Uh, okay." I reached into my coat pocket to pull out the wad of napkins I stuffed in there from the drive through run. I stalled when it came to pulling down my pants. The snow was more shallow, so the actual going would be easier were it not for the fact that this strange man was standing right there.
"Hey, uh, can you, go over there or something?" I asked motioning toward his car.
"It's just that this is a little embarrassing."
"What is? Having to go?" He asked incredulously.
"Yes." Did he really not thinking listening to me tinkle was weird? The man clearly had issues or maybe that was part of his sick fetish.
"Well, would you feel better if I went too?" I swear I heard the smirk in his question. A sicko and a jerk. Just my luck. I could see how it would be convenient for him though. Both of us with our pants down within less than ten minutes. He interrupted my crazy thoughts. "I'd rather not leave you alone by the side of the road in these conditions."
"Fine," I huffed. "It's just. Well, it's fine." If he wanted to hear me pee, then by all means, let the sick bastard enjoy it.
Once I felt, quite literally, relieved, we made our way to his car, and he was not lying. His small SUV hadn't sailed as far in the ditch as mine. He did have four wheel drive, but I still doubted our ability to make this thing move. The snow was too deep.
We made a valiant effort. He pushed; I steered and rocked the car with gas forward and back. He yelled instructions; I followed. We worked for a good fifteen minutes, and we managed to move the vehicle roughly a foot. In the wrong direction. He came to the window, panting.
"Shit, I don't think it's going to work."
"I can't believe we haven't seen a single car since the semi," I said.
"No, seems everyone got smart. I guess I'll see if I can make anything happen with my roadside assistance again." I was still in the driver seat, and he slid into his own passenger side next to me.
I could tell from his conversation with whomever was on the other end, it wasn't good.
He snapped the phone shut and shook his head.
"Did you call anyone yet?"
"No, I didn't get a chance."
"I guess it's time to try 911 huh?"
"I don't know about that," I said slowly. I'd spent my life being lectured on abusing the 911 system. "I'm sure they are being bombarded with real emergencies."
"Um, Bella? That's your name, right?" he asked. I nodded. "We're stranded on the side of the road during a blizzard, and I have about a quarter tank of gas left. I think we're at emergency stage."
I considered the state of my own gas tank. "Okay," I agreed.
Edward-Ted the maybe not exactly sicko, punched in 911. He did a better job of describing our coordinates than I could have, but it was still vague. Even the emergency vehicles told us to grab a blanket. They had no idea when they'd get out this way.
I let my head rest on the back of the seat. I might have been mildly afraid before, but the stress was creeping in and taking over. I knew I needed to call my dad, but I thought I'd wait until I had slightly better news.
Edward seemed to sense the shift in me, and he asked a distracting question. "Where are you headed?"
My inner police chief's daughter considered the question. The less information, the better. "Small town near the coast."
"How about you? Where are you going?"
"Hell," he answered with a laugh. I smiled, not entire sure what the joke was.
He shook his head. "Up north. My sister and her husband just moved out of the city."
"And you're coming from?"
"Oh me too," I said surprised. I thought I would be the only idiot driving up this way at this time. "But shouldn't you be on the interstate?"
He exhaled. "Don't ask. I missed a turn."
What followed was what they call 'awkward silence.' Neither of us were really sure how much we wanted to know about each other. I stole a few glances at him. I assumed he was close to my age, but everything from his mannerisms to his clothing to his car indicated a different level of maturity. Like he had his shit together. He reminded me of the guys that came out of ski lodge ads or LL Bean catalogues.
I was becoming fairly convinced that he was not actually any kind of predator, but I was still cautious. Even All American boys went bad. It was entirely possible that I was simply being lured into a trap. He put on some awfully enticing bait. All he had to do was talk, and I felt little goose bumps come to life on my arms.
When he spoke, he leaned his head back on his seat back like I had, and I watched his adam's apple moving up and down. That was definitely part of his web, but the thing that might have trapped me. Well two things really.
There are just those lips out there that beg to be kissed. And this guy had them.
"Is it just your sister there?" I asked, hoping to keep him talking so I had a reason to stare at him some more.
"Huh?" He turned toward me, letting the question sink in. "Oh, no. My whole family will be there, mostly coming from the Seattle area. Big family thing. She wanted to show off her new place."
"That's kind of fun. Lots of people I mean."
"I suppose. You have the whole Christmas shebang coming up?"
"No, not really. It's just my dad and me. "
He nodded, turned his head back, and closed his eyes.
As if on cue, my phone buzzed in my pocket.
"Hey Dad," I answered.
"Bella? Where are you? Are you close?"
"Um, no, not really. The thing is, and don't worry, I'm okay , but my truck is kind of in the ditch."
I waited for my dad to have is required moment of concern.
"How far away are you? I'll come get you."
"Don't be stupid, Dad. I'm not that close. Besides, it wouldn't do any good for us to both be stuck. I'm not alone; someone else got stranded too. We already called for help. I'll let you know when I'm somewhere safe, but it doesn't look like I'm going to make home tonight."
He gave me a few more safety lectures, and when I hung up I laughed.
"He's just being a dad, I suppose, but he was trying to give me instructions on building an igloo."
"Well, I guess that could come in handy before too long."
The silence returned, and we sat, observing the snow piling on the car.
"So what are you missing tonight?" I finally asked. "Traditions, anything like that?"He looked over at me. I wondered if he was bothered by the small talk, but then he opened right up.
"We're pretty typical. I think my sister's kids had some Christmas play we were all going to. Can't say I'm sorry to miss that. Then the usual. Dinner, open one present, sit around and talk. Once the kids go to bed, I imagine everyone will scramble to play Santa." He smiled, but there was something else there, a sadness he couldn't hide.
"It sounds fun to me," I admitted. It was always so quiet around our place at Christmas. I could have gone to my mom's, but even then though it was louder, it didn't really mean more people.
"It's chaos, but I am disappointed I won't get to see the kids in the morning. Her oldest is just getting to that stage where Christmas means something. And I don't see my brother's kids very often either."
I'm not even sure how to explain the look that crossed his face. He'd seemed so distant, but it was like a gap had just closed.
"How old are they?"
"They range from 8 to eight months."
"Wow, that's got to be a lot of energy."
"That it is."
"Are you the youngest?" I asked, the conversation flowing with less trepidation.
He shook his head. "No my sister is. I'm the proverbial middle child. You?"
"I'm an only."
"And you said it's just your dad there?"
"Yeah, my parents split when I was a baby. My mom's in Florida."
"That's a long way away. Do you see her much?"
"No not really, a couple of times a year I guess. Not a whole lot more for my dad. I know I should try harder, but it just seems like we all have our own lives, you know?"
He nodded thoughtfully. "I don't go home a lot either."
The distance seemed to return to his expression, like he had gone somewhere else. I glanced around, hoping to see signs of any impending help, but there was nothing. He surprised me by continuing the conversation.
"So how do you like Portland?"
"I love it. I moved there for college and never left. You?" I asked.
"It's good. I've only been there a couple of years. It was something of a concession to my family." His phone rang while he was still on the last syllable. "Speak of the devil."
"Hey Mom," he answered.
He listened for a minute before filling her in on the details. He acted appropriately disappointed that he wasn't going to make any of the Christmas festivities.
"It's okay, I have a pretty girl here to keep me company." He turned at winked at me.
My heart lurched, and I felt my cheeks get hot.
Oh for crying out loud. Did I just blush because a guy said I was pretty? What next? Was I going to look up at him through my eyelashes and bat them? Or better yet, start writing "I heart Edward " in my notebook. Get a grip, Bella. Sheesh.
"Sounds good. I love you too." It was the first full on genuine smile I'd seen on his face, and it looked good. I had to will myself not to bat my damn eyelashes.
As soon as he disconnected, he rubbed his face, and exhaled discontentedly.
"You okay?" I asked tentatively.
"Yeah." His response was terse.
"I'm sorry you're not going to make it."
He shrugged and smiled weakly at me. "It's not . . . well, it's fine."
We sat in silence for a while. His talk with his mom putting him in a strange mood. Realization began to hit me that not only was I not getting home tonight, I didn't know what hope I had for tomorrow if I couldn't get my car towed. For all the complaining I did about my quiet home with just my dad, I would miss seeing him eat Christmas dinner. I would miss his lame attempt to get me a gift. I would miss him.
"Hey, I see headlights," Edward said breaking the silence yet again. I sat up straighter and turned around noticing them right away.
He had the car door open and was waving his arms before I had a chance to say anything. It wasn't the tow truck we might have hoped for; it was actually a large plow truck.
I waited a couple of minutes, and then I felt stupid, so I was going to join him, but I saw him coming back.
"We're in luck. There's a motel up the road just a bit, and he'll give us a ride. There's not much room in his cab though, so we we're going to be tight."
The space issue wasn't an exaggeration. We both brought one bag, leaving behind the majority of our things.
"You could sit on my lap," Edward suggested.
Internally, I may have squealed at the idea of it, but outwardly, I shrugged.. If I had to make the sacrifice in order to avoid freezing to death on the side of the road, then yes, I would sit on this beautiful man's lap, putting myself in intimate proximity to his lovely lips and enticing adam's apple. I wouldn't even begin to consider the other parts of his body that I would be near. Well, maybe I could . . . No, that wouldn't be good.
Given where the gear shifting occurred, it was either straddle the stick where the plow driver's hand would be or balance precariously on Edward's lap. It wasn't a tough choice. We crammed the bags in around us, and I sat semi side saddle on Edward's knee, balancing myself against the dash of the truck. It wasn't comfortable. In an effort to create as little friction between us as possible, I rested the boniest part of my rear end on the boniest part of his knee. I felt every bump. I wondered how big my butt bruise would be at the end of the ride.
The driver went on and on about how crazy it had been and how many cars he'd seen in the ditch. I listened half heartedly, using all my strength to keep from falling back onto softer parts of Edward's body. It would have been easy to give in, to let go, to curl into him. It would also have been very weird.
The driver shifted without paying attention, and the truck lurched forward, propelling me backward. I felt Edward's hands around my waist trying to steady me.
"Easy," he said softly.
"Sorry," I whispered.
I tried to twist myself back into my highly unsatisfying position at the point of his knee, but his hands held me in place.
"You're fine," he determined with a low gravel in his voice. I turned back toward the voice only to be overwhelmed by his face. It was hard to describe his expression. We just looked at each other for a few moments not showing any emotion.
"Motel's just up ahead," the driver called out breaking our gaze.
I could barely make out a pink neon sign indicating that there was, in fact, a vacancy.
When the truck came to a stop, I climbed down carefully, and we thanked him profusely. He waved us off, wishing us luck with our holiday travels. We stepped into the lobby which was barely big enough for two people to stand in.
A young girl on the other side of desk looked up and rolled her eyes. She looked back down at her phone, punched away at the keys, and then sighed. She grudgingly stood and walked toward the desk.
"Hi, we'd like a couple of rooms," Edward said. He took off his gloves to pull out his wallet.
"Only have one left. "
"Really?" I asked stupidly, as if she was lying. But seriously, it wasn't like this was a hotel you expected to be full.
"Uh yeah, It's been a little busy," she said as if I were the stupidest person in the world.
"Well, it's fine," Edward interrupted. "We'll take it. You don't mind do you?" He asked, plopping his credit card down on the desk.
I didn't really have a choice even if I did. "No, but I can get it," I said.
"We'll deal with it later," he waved me off, reaching up to run his hand through his hair. There was just enough light in the room to catch the glint coming off his left hand. The glint only a wedding band could give off. My eyes went wide at the sight. He hadn't mentioned a wife, but then the conversation hadn't gone there. He hadn't done anything to indicate that there wasn't one either. Suddenly, this whole thing felt incredibly awkward.
She handed over two keys, told us where ice was and basically pushed us out the door.
"She was friendly," he laughed as we walked toward the door.
"Clearly a woman who loves her job." I was feeling rather nervous. I hadn't slept in the same room with a boy in a very long time, and now that I knew he was married, I felt kind of dirty. I was trying to remember if I even brought pajamas.
"Here we are." He put the key in the lock. A musky smell hit me as the door opened. I chocked back my gag.
"Shit," he said suddenly. I didn't need to ask him why. In one step I was looking at the same thing he was. One bed. One fairly small bed.
"I'll just call and see if they have a rollaway," he suggested.
I nodded and placed my bag by the entrance. I was cold and wet, and I just wanted to find something dry. I began to rummage through my things.
"Um, I think we're out of luck there. I'm pretty sure she just laughed at me," Edward said. "I guess I can sleep on the floor."
I looked at the bed. I looked at him. I looked at the floor. I doubted it had been shampooed this decade. I looked back at him.
"I don't think you need to do that. I mean we're both adults here right? It's not like we can't sleep in the same bed. I'm not going to attack you in your sleep." I was pretty sure I could keep my hands off him anyway.
"Are you sure?" he asked, though it was clear he was hopeful he wouldn't have to sleep on the floor.
His face didn't register as much relief as I would have expected. I glanced at his hand.
"Unless, you think your wife would mind."
"My wife?" He appeared genuinely confused.
I nodded toward his hand which was dangling by his side. He looked down and his eyes narrowed. He shoved the hand in his pocket, hiding the evidence.
"Oh, I'm not . . .anymore."
"Oh," I repeated dumbly. "I wouldn't want to make anyone jealous."
"There's no one," he said quietly.
I didn't know what to say but I had a very strong feeling I brought up something bad. "Um, I'm just going to go change. My jeans are pretty wet."
He nodded, but he didn't make eye contact. I tried to smile reassuringly, but I don't think he even noticed. I grabbed my bag and went into the bathroom. I attempted to ignore the mildew on the tile and the fact that the heat obviously had not reached this room. I quickly shucked off my jeans, and slid on a pair of sweats. I wasn't going for pretty. Given my reflection, that wasn't going to be possible anyway. My hair was completely disheveled from having my hat and hood on; the only choice was a pony tail. My cheeks were still a little rosy from the cold too. I hadn't ever bothered with make-up so at least I didn't have to see it sliding down my face.
I hung my wet jeans and socks on one of the towel holders and threw on a pair of fuzzy socks.
I stepped out of the bathroom to see Edward closing his phone.
"I tried to find a pizza delivery, but no one is out, obviously. I totally forgot about food."
"Well, I have some pretzels in my bag. It's not much, but it might take the edge off," I said reaching for the jumbo bag I'd shoved in.
"It's definitely better than nothing."
"Wanna see if there's anything on TV?" I asked. "I'm going to give my dad a quick call."
"Sure," he answered, grabbing a handful of the pretzels form the bag I held out to him.
After I hung up with my dad, leaving out the part about sleeping in the same bed, I realized Edward had turned off the TV. A flip through the stations didn't end up with much success. The hotel didn't exactly have the super cable package.
"Did you see anything?" I asked him.
"Not a thing."
"Well that sucks," I said. "It's a little too early for bed, I guess."
We both glanced at the glaring red numbers indicating that it was now almost seven. I think we may have both groaned.
"So, now what?" He looked at me from the small chair next to the bed. "What else you have in that bag of yours."
"Not much. Clothes, laptop, that's about it. What about you?"
"You know, I just remembered. I have wine."
"That could make things bearable," I laughed.
"It was supposed to be a present for my mom, but I think she'll understand given the circumstances." He rifled through his belongings, and pulled the wrapped bottle of wine, and another small box. "Dessert," he indicated. "My sister may be less forgiving, but she'll live."
With little plastic cups full of wine, a few pretzels, and a couple of chocolates, life was decidedly less bleak. We sat sipping and not talking for quite awhile.
"So, what do you do?" he wondered after about twenty minutes of saying nothing.
"I'm a cook." I hadn't yet found a better label for myself.
"Like a chef?"
"Not quite. I'm working on it though."
"You mean you take classes?"
"Yeah sort of. I did the whole college thing, but I never really committed to a career. I've worked in restaurants my whole life, and I love to cook. Anyway one day I found out this little place not far from me was hiring. The rest, as they say is history. It's been a good gig. I don't make a ton, but the owner has been great about sending me places for training."
"Yeah, I went to France last year."
"That's pretty impressive. What did you think?"
"It was okay. I know I'm weird, but I guess between growing up in the desert and then in the land of green, I find Europe a little small."
He laughed. "Yeah, I could see that. I did a semester abroad in college. I liked the history and I guess the intimacy."
"And don't forget the food. Now, that part, I could get used to."
He nodded. "Where'd you grow up? You said the desert."
"Phoenix. I was there until my junior year; then I moved in with my dad."
"What about you?"
"Any of it? All of it? What do you do?"
"I'm a college professor, music theory."
I suddenly felt very small with my little job. "Wow. You seem so young."
"Yeah, I get that a lot, but it's all pretty standard. It's only my second year full time. "
"Where were you before that?"
"Grad school at the University of Chicago."
"Oh. Is that where you did your undergrad too?"
A flicker of that sad expression flashed across his face, but he continued anyway. "No, I was in Alaska. That's where we lived; then a few years ago, they all moved down this way. Kind of a slow migration."
We kept drinking, and snacking, and drinking a little more. The room got warmer, and I was grateful that his bottle was large. By the third glass, conversation was flowing more freely. Slowly, we shifted back into our personal lives more.
"So what took you to Chicago?"
"We lived there when I was young. My dad always seems to be searching for the perfect job, so we moved a lot. Anyway, after the divorce, I really needed a change. Too many people feeling sorry for me everywhere."
It came out so matter of factly, I almost missed it. "So you were married, huh?"
"Yeah, not long." He ran his fingers through his hair and exhaled loudly. "A couple of years."
"What happened?" I immediately felt stupid for asking. "I mean you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
He froze for a second, looked down at his feet and rubbed his palms on his jeans. "It's okay. It should be easy to tell by now. Married my high school sweetheart. We were young; didn't even wait until college graduation. God, my parents were pissed when I told them. We ran off to Vegas one weekend. Anyway, it wasn't long after that I found out she'd been cheating on me all along. I tried to forgive her and work on it because well I believe in that whole marriage thing I guess, but it just couldn't be saved."
"God, Edward, that just sucks."
"Yeah, it did, does. In any case, I haven't been too into dating as you might imagine, and that pisses my parents off. Maybe not pisses them off but makes them sad, , my mom especially." The wine must have been hitting him because he started babbling a little. "I mean it's not like it's easy to go out on a date and tell people you've been married and divorced by twenty eight."
"But people would have to understand. I mean given that story."
"I don't know," he said dismissing the subject.
"You think your parents are really upset by it all?"
"I know they are. They thought I was stupid for running off, but it's as much the fallout as anything else. I've kind of pulled away from them, I suppose. I have a hard time going home. It sucks to be around so many happy people, in love and all that shit. I know it's jealousy, but there are four kids between my brother and sister now, and I hear about cousins with their families and weddings, and it just hurts. I wanted that."
I couldn't imagine what my facial expression was. It wasn't often guys anywhere near my age admitted that marriage and family were a major priority in their lives. It must have shown.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing. It's just unusual."
"I've always been weird, Bella."
I liked it when he said my name, maybe a little too much. It felt familiar. I had a strong urge to lean into it, to let the sounds wrap around me and keep me warm. The wine was definitely making me fuzzy.
"I didn't say you were weird."
He rolled his eyes at me. "It's true though. When I majored in music people always asked if I wanted to play, and I said no. What kind of life could you have with a family? I was always attracted to academia because of the stability. Maybe it's because my dad worked such weird hours or something. It's not that he wasn't there; it was just hard, and with all the moving, well it just got old."
"Oh I know all about that. My mom dragged me all over the country for a long time. It's definitely a pain," I agreed. We had another slight lull in the conversation before he continued. There were so many things I wanted to ask him, but he changed the subject. Or rather, the focus.
"And you?" he pressed. "What do you want out of life?"
"I don't know. Honestly, I'm not all that ambitious. God, that sounds terrible doesn't it," I laughed at myself. "Sometimes, I think I'd like my own restaurant, but I see how much work that is, and it's so risky. I suppose I should be looking to gain more experience, maybe move up to a "real" kitchen so to speak, but I kind of like safe and easy. I feel like I can live my life that way rather than letting work be my life."
He nodded. "So what does that mean? Living your life?"
I shifted my body and inhaled. "Lots of things. Going out with friends, reading, traveling. Heck, sitting around and watching TV works for that matter. "
He fixed his gaze on me, and my face grew hot. "No significant other for you?"
"No," I said shaking my head. "I dated a guy for a long time, but we just broke up a few months ago.
"What happened?" he asked echoing my earlier question.
"I'm not sure exactly. I loved him, but I don't know if I was ever in love with him. I think maybe in the beginning, but even then, he was dependable and sweet, but he didn't really knock my socks off. And honestly, I don't think I did much for him either."
"No spark?" he questioned.
His eyes narrowed, and he hesitated. "So, I'm confused."
"You like safe in your career but not in a man?"
I looked back at him without answering. He tilted his head to the side, waiting. Then, I broke out laughing.
"I never thought about it like that, but yeah, I guess so. I mean it's not like I want a bad boy or anything, but I think a little passion is good."
"No arguments from me on that." He smiled, and it was the kind of smile that invited you in, that elicited happiness and sunshine, and in that particular moment, I couldn't help but think it was a little dangerous.
I was in the perfect buzz stage, just warm enough, just light enough that I could see myself dancing over to him and kissing him right then. I longed to know what those lips tasted like. In the beginning, it was an instant physical attraction, but as the evening went on there was so much more. He was interesting and complex. The longer I looked at him, the less perfect his features were and the more depth he had as a result.
"I wonder how our cars are," I said. It was an evasive move, meant to take my focus away from his mouth.
"Probably cold and snowy," he answered.
"Think we'll be able to get home tomorrow?"
"I don't know. If not, at least we're not alone, eh?" he said tipping the last of the wine into my cup.
"Absolutely. I am so glad you turned out not to be a sicko."
He raised an eyebrow.
"Well, you never know. It was awfully dangerous for me to go off with you," I chided.
He pondered this, then narrowed his eyes and lowered his voice. "Maybe I still am, Bella. Maybe you should be worried about what I'm going to do to you." And there it was again, that smooth way he said my name. Add to that the promise of things I wanted him to do, and I was basically a puddle.
"Uh," I squeaked and quickly scrambled to salvage my dignity. "Well, maybe you should be worried about me too."
"I'm not. I feel perfectly comfortable with you." In its simplicity, that statement said so much.
"Yeah, me too."
I licked my lips; it was the kind of moment meant for a kiss. Not that a kiss would have been logical. We were strangers, randomly thrown together in a stressful situation. This had not been a date, no matter how much it was beginning to feel like one. If it had been, I sure as heck wouldn't be spending the night in the same bed with him shortly. Kissing would definitely complicate that experience. Of course, if the mood was right, I did what I could to destroy it.
"Can I ask you something?"
He lifted a shoulder, "Sure."
"Why do you still wear the ring?"
His right hand instinctively moved to the ring. He turned the ring over and over.
If I still thought he was a sicko, I might wonder if the whole thing was a lie. Maybe it was all part of the trap. But I really didn't think that, especially not when I saw the pained expression he had when he began to speak.
"I don't wear it all the time. I actually forgot I had it on today. I went out last night with a couple of colleagues, and I find it keeps people away when I wear it. At least it helps."
"Must be hard to have to beat them off otherwise, huh?" It was a little snarky, and I worried how he'd react, but the corner of his mouth turned up in a smile.
"You should know." He winked at me again. I loved it when he did that.
"Ha, good one."
"Anyway, I admit, sometimes it's just easier, and I guess I like the reminder of what's possible. I still believe in the institution of marriage. Damn, that sounds stupid."
"I don't think so. Not at all." He looked out the window then, not saying anything else. I waited uncomfortably for a minute, and then I got up to brush my teeth.
I wouldn't say we passed out, exactly, but I don't really remember the going to bed part of the night. I had tucked myself in after the last of the wine was drunk, and I prefer to think I simply fell asleep. I must have slept well; I'd worried I'd be too tense sleeping next to a strange—well not really so strange after all—man. I thought I'd be conscious of trying to keep my distance, but the next thing I knew a hand was nudging me.
"Bella?" Edward whispered. "Bella, wake up. I have a surprise for you." He nudged again, and I groaned a bit. I'd never been a morning person, and it took me a minute to really process who was speaking and why. I opened my eyes slowly, not expecting to see his face directly in front of mine. I gasped a little at the proximity, and the beauty. His morning smile was breathtaking, and it served to remind me that my own morning smile would include horrible breath and crusty eye lids.
"Hey," I croaked. "What's up?"
"Merry Christmas, Bella."
"Oh yeah, Merry Christmas to you too. What time is it?" I asked looking around the room.
"Oh my god." I sat up quickly. I hadn't intended to sleep so late. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. There wasn't any reason to be up. Until now," he said, motioning to the small table where cups of coffee and a white paper bag sat invitingly. There was even a little red ribbon tired around the bag.
"For me?" I teased.
"Only the best."
I walked over to the table, and untied the ribbon. Four donuts in a variety of colors greeted me invitingly, which reminded my stomach to growl.
"They're probably day old, but I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth," He said joining me by the bag.
"Where are these from?"
"Turns out there's a convenience store just up the road; we couldn't see it last night. Or we didn't notice it. Anyway, it was open."
"You walked there?" I asked grabbing a donut with chocolate frosting.
"It wasn't far." He shrugged.
"In the snow?" I asked, shocked.
"I have boots. It's not a big deal. And I have news." I could tell he was excited to share.
"Does it have anything to do with our cars?"
"Yup." He looked happy, which made me hopeful.
"Both of them?"
"You got it. The tow truck dropped mine off already and was on his way back to get yours."
He took a bite of a donut, and I swallowed a gulp of coffee. "Holy cow! Is that typical? It's Christmas, and I guess I thought they'd take them to the impound or something."
"Well, they don't like to leave the cars there for long, and I got a hold of the guy this morning. I might have offered a little Christmas cheer if he could bring them here."
"Oh that's . . . great." I had no idea how much you offered someone for something like this, and I sure as hell didn't have that much cash in my wallet. "Can you take a check? Or maybe I can mail you something."
"Don't worry about it."
"But you already paid for the motel, and I don't want to let you . .. "
"Bella," he cut me off. "I needed the motel too, and I made the car offer without talking to you. So please just consider it a Christmas present." His tone was insistent, and it was clear he wasn't going to listen to me argue anymore.
"This isn't over," I promised, but I had to use the bathroom, and I decided not to argue on a full bladder and an unknown hair condition.
In the bathroom I began to realize that once my car was there, this little thing, whatever it was, would end. It was the oddest feeling. I knew that I just met this guy, but for some crazy reason, it felt like I'd known him longer, like there was something there, something that had potential. I pondered this for about forty seconds and then laughed at myself. Had I really gotten so drunk that I believed I had a chance with this guy? Or that there was some magical spark from our one night stranded in the middle of nowhere.
I rolled my eyes and shook off my ridiculousness.
I threw on some clothes, brushed my teeth and made sure my pony tail was presentable again.
"What's so funny?" he asked when I walked out of the bathroom. I must have looked confused. "You were laughing."
"Oh nothing, just, nothing. So are you taking off then?"
"Not until your car is here." It reminded me a little of last night when I had to go to the bathroom. Like I missed something obvious.
"Thanks. That's nice of you."
He furrowed his brow. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, why?"
"I don't know. You're quiet, and I thought you might be tired."
I shook my head. "No, I slept surprisingly well."
That was when he laughed. "Seriously?"
I stood there with my hands on my hips waiting for him to explain himself.
"It's just that you um, you talk in your sleep." I couldn't tell if he was making fun of me or mad at me.
"Oh well, I'm sorry if I kept you up. I can't really help it you know."
He smiled again. "And you are quite the cuddler huh?"
"What?" Horror, terror, shock, pure mortification. Pick one. You'd have my reaction. "I don't cuddle."
"More like spoon really."
"I did not," I argued.
"It's okay," he said glancing out the window again with a stupid grin on his face.
"I can't believe I did that. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to. I'm such an idiot." I babbled through my embarrassment, while he chuckled in the chair.
"Honestly, I'm just teasing. It was fine. I didn't mind at all." I would love to know what was behind that shit eating grin he refused to wipe off.
"What did I say?"
"Oh that I'm not sharing. I'm keeping that one."
I grew frustrated very quickly. "You can't do that. You have to let me know the extent to which I need to fall down and die right now."
"Stop, it wasn't bad. It was . . . cute."
"You're really not going to tell me?"
I did not appreciate that. Was this the kind of game he played often? He'd done it last night, and he was doing it again this morning. I didn't like it one bit. Maybe, the guy was a jerk after all. Well fine. It didn't matter that I'd imagined the deep bond we created the night before. I didn't want a bond with this guy anyway. I grabbed my coffee and turned around to stalk away, when I realized I had nowhere to go. So, I took to steps and stopped. Point made, anyway.
"Bella?" I didn't turn to answer the soft voice. "Hey, your truck just pulled in."
I turned slowly, and sure enough, the lights of the tow truck were flashing outside the window. The timing couldn't have been better. I was ready to leave this night behind. At least, that was what I was telling myself.
Edward stood up to collect his things, and I grabbed my bag. He held the door open for me, and I looked back on the room with mixed emotions. Standing that close to him, it was hard to think of him as a jerk. I began my usual final once over. Nothing seemed out of place. And then just like it had the night before, a tiny glint caught my eye. It was on the small table next to the chair where he'd spent most of the evening and the morning.
"Hey, Edward, I think you forgot . . ."
"I have everything, Bella."
"No, but," I looked at his hand and then back at the table. "You're not wearing . . ."
"I didn't forget anything," he said with an air of finality. I was about to argue, but he looked down at his own hand, at the small indentation where the ring had been. He looked at me and smiled. He placed his hand on my back to usher me out the door.
We walked slowly; we settled with the tow truck driver as slowly as possible. We took very slow steps back to our vehicles. I was so conflicted. I knew his decision to leave the ring behind was symbolic; I just didn't know what it was symbolic of. Despite our apparent reluctance, neither of us was speaking. The silence began to drive me nuts.
"I'm sorry I got mad at you before. I just don't like to be teased."
He didn't answer. He reached out and brushed a hair away from my face.
"Well, I guess it's time to get on the road huh? You're heading that direction?" I pointed toward the highway I knew he'd be taking. He nodded in response.
"And you're going that way," he pointed in the opposite direction. I shrugged.
"Thanks for everything, Edward. If I'm ever stranded again, I hope to see you there."
He chuckled and took a deep breath. "I couldn't imagine better company."
His hand was still resting on my head; it felt so natural I hadn't noticed it until he let it fall down my arm to take my own hand in his. He squeezed gently.
"Maybe I'll see you around." I wished he'd said it with more of a promise.
"Merry Christmas," I said a little too cheerily.
"You too. Do you need help clearing off your truck?"
"No, I've got it."
He let go of my hand and walked to his car. I stood dumbly for a minute and then walked to my truck, and stepped in. We started our engines simultaneously. My truck needed time to warm up, so I took the opportunity to check in with my dad, letting him know I was leaving, but I imagined it would be slow traveling.
I was startled while talking to my dad, when a brush hit my windshield. As the mount of snow fell away, Edward's face met me on the other side of the window. I smiled and shook my head. He made quicker work of the job than I could have. He ended at the driver's side door, painstakingly wiping away each flake. Even when there was none left, he just stood there, staring at me. I didn't know what to do, so I just stared back.
Finally, with an unchanging expression, he kicked a bit of snow out from my wheel well and nodded at me. I didn't make a move to leave until he was back in his car. This was really it.
We started to back out at the same time, but he paused, giving me the right of way. I sat at the entry driveway, waiting for a couple of cars to pass. I could see him in the rearview mirror, looking right at me. He nodded toward the road, and I realized it was clear. But I didn't go. I couldn't go.
I slammed my gear into park, and hopped out of my truck. I marched purposefully toward him. He rolled his window down.
"Did you forget something?"
"Why did you leave the ring behind?" I assaulted him, not beginning with more obvious questions.
"The timing was right."
"Basically." There was more there. I knew it. I could hear it.
I waited to see if he would continue, if he would give me any indication that I shouldn't get in that truck without a phone number, but none came.
I went back to my truck, put it back into drive, and inched out of the driveway. I watched him turn his car away from me. I made it roughly a mile before I shook my head and pulled into another driveway to turn around. None of this made any sense. How could he just drive away?
My turn around didn't make any more sense than his reaction or mine for that matter, but I had to try. I'd never catch up with him on this road, but I wasn't going to use that tactic.
I pulled back into the hotel parking lot and rushed into the dingy lobby once again.
Of course, there was a new girl behind the counter. She didn't seem any more excited to be there than her predecessor. I begged. I pleased.
"I just want to pay him back. You have to help me out. It's Christmas after all."
"It's policy, lady." She looked over my shoulder toward the door that was opening behind me. I heard the jingle of the bell and felt the draft of the air. I knew I wouldn't keep her attention much longer so I made a last ditch effort.
"Can you at least give me his last name? I mean I'm not asking for his social security number here. Just a damned name!"
"It's Cullen," a smooth voice came from behind me. I closed my eyes, feeling the sting of tears forming. My hands were shaking when I turned around to face him.
"You came back."
"Your ring?" I asked trying not to let tears fall.
He shook his head. "No, not the ring." He took two steps toward me, and wiped a tear that betrayed me from my face. "I came back for you, Bella."
There was no more wasted time or space. Those lips I'd admired met mine. They felt as good as they looked. I could barely process what happened. I didn't respond right away. He began to pull back, sensing my confusion. An involuntary moan escaped, and my consciousness kicked in. I reached up and grabbed the front of his coat, pulling him back toward me.
Instead of kissing me, he moved his lips to my ear. "You said you could fall in love with me. That's what you said in your sleep."
"Why did you leave?"
"I'm scared. But I don't want to be because I think I could fall in love with you too. In fact, I don't think it would take much at this point."
He brought his face back in front of mine.
"So what now?" I asked.
"Well, I'd like to kiss you again."
"I mean after that."
"I know. But I don't know. I think you give me your number, and maybe your last name. Then perhaps, the kissing part."
"You're kind of overly obsessed with the kissing," I teased.
"And you're not obsessed enough."
"My last name is Swan, and if you give me your phone, I'll put my number in your contacts."
"Does that mean we can move to the kissing now?" he asked.
I laughed at him, but I didn't argue.
The kissing was definitely the best part.
E/N: thanks to hmonster4 and jackbauer for helping it be less stupid.