The "AwkWard" Contest
Story Title: Zip it
Pen name: EJ Santry
Disclaimer: Stephenie is the stage. I am merely a player.

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I stand anxiously on the Bethesda platform of the Red Line waiting for the train to roll into the station. This is my favorite part of the morning. It is when I get to step aboard the morning train, and through the throngs of people find her, usually sitting, with her nose buried in the day's paper. She caught my eye a few months ago when I happened to get a seat for once, and it just so happened to be next to her. She never broke her concentration from what she was reading, the business section, but it was all I could do to keep my wits about me when the gentle smell of her perfume drifted into my nose and instantly started intoxicating my brain.

Right on schedule, the train comes rumbling in and grinds to a stop. I board the third train car in, because that is usually where she sits, and like clockwork, she is there. I finally broke down last night and told my sister about the mystery girl that I was crushing on like a school boy. She gave me a big pep talk as we had dinner together to pluck up the courage and at least ask her what her name is. I sit the entire ride until we both switch to the Orange line at Metro Center. I happen to once again find a seat near her, only to open my mouth to start talking several times before I watch her get off at Capitol South, just like I did, and walk away. Another day, another chance lost. Maybe tomorrow.

I often wonder where she works. I always see her in the morning, but never on the evening trains. I work for Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois (D). After I graduated from Northwestern, he brought me in to work on research and promoting his interest in developing small businesses. I am very excited about this project, and feel that small businesses really do employ more people than what others care to realize. Also, they're the ones who are feeling the hardest crunch in the current economy.

Today, I feel that I have won a small victory for our venture. Through my research, I have discovered that the new Senator from Washington, Maria Cantwell, is also a strong small business advocate. I suggest to Dick that we set up a meeting with her and her people to start an interest group in congress to work on legislation. I contact her office and speak to my counterpart there and she is eager to set up a meeting at the earliest convenience . She points out that there is an annual small business convention in DC and Senator Cantwell would like to host an event for the visiting business people. I look at Dick's calendar and mine, and let her know that we both happen to be free tomorrow morning. They are free as well, and I hang up the phone with a smile on my face. Dick is going to love this. I quickly add the meeting to our calendars, and five minutes later, I get an email reply from him letting me know how excited his is with the prospect.

With a spring in my step from a successful day, I get to the station to head home. I don't even mind the crowded cars of the evening train. I step through the doors in Metro Center just as I see people climbing onto the Red Line train. Quickly, I move across the platform and make my way into the crowded car. As the doors begin to close, I hear a voice asking to hold the door. I reach out instinctively, just to have a blur of brunette hair swing in close to me. It's her.

"Thanks," she says breathily smiling at me, before reaching over to grab the bar just below my hand.

The train takes off from the station, and she is standing close enough that I can feel the heat of her body through the thin cotton of my button down shirt. For once I am thankful I didn't have time to zip up the fleece I am wearing to temper the cool late winter air. I am mesmerized by the smallness of her hand below my long fingers as we both grip tightly to keep ourselves standing. She can barely reach her hand all the way around the pole, where mine overlaps itself.

The train rocks and she stumbles into me. Her quick apology is hardly heard by me as I am lost in the sensation of her soft form brushing against my chest, and the pieces of her hair that cling to the fibers of my fleece coat. I reach out with a shaking hand, and pick up a piece, running the soft wave between my thumb and fingers. The train lurches again, this time shifting her forward, and leaving me tugging on the strand of hair in my hand. She starts to turn at the tug and in a desperate move to mask my caressing of this strangers hair, I zip my coat up quickly.

The high pitched "Oww!" that follows leaves me frozen, as her hand whips to the back of her hair. The hair that is now zipped up in my coat.

"I am so sorry! Your hair is caught in my coat," I bluster. "Let me just un-zip..."

"Oww! That is not helping!" she squeals. "Can you just take it off?"

"No, it's a fleece, and it is zipped up to my neck," I say quickly.

"Well do something!" she says holding her hair in her grasp so it doesn't pull her scalp.

A woman near us reaches in and tries to slowly dislodge the various strands, but it is zipped up less than eight inches off her head and her hair is long. Also, if I am being honest, I think I made it worse when I tried to unzip it.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," the woman says after several attempts, "but this is really stuck."

"I can get her out," a little voice from the chairs to our right says.

A little old woman sits there watching the scene with amusement. In her hands she clutches a purse type thing that appears to be made of carpet or my mom's old drapes. She stands wearily and walks over to the girl and whispers in her ear. I hear her whimper, but reluctantly nods. The old lady turns to me then, and tells me to stand still, and I have to admit that I am slightly afraid of what is coming next. Her little wrinkled hand reaches down into her bag, and I catch a glint of silver in the yellow light of the train car. It all happens in slow motion then. She unearths these scissors that in my mind might as well be a Claymore.

I close my eyes and listen to the distinct crunching and snipping sound of metal cutting through hair. Before I know it, I can feel the loss of tension between her head and my chest. I slowly open my eyes to stare at a huge hole in the long dark hair that hung before me moments earlier. As she reaches back to grab the ghost hair, I reach under my coat and wrap my hands around a large chunk of silky hair. She turns as I unearth it. Her lips start to quiver as I hand her the pony tail.

"I'm...I...I'm...I can fix this!" I splutter, and I quickly grab my phone, hitting speed dial for my sister.

"Alice!" I whisper yelled into my phone, turning away like it is going to give me any privacy on a crowded train car.

"Hey, Edward, what's..." she starts before I cut her off.

"I zipped her hair, Alice! I zipped her fucking hair up in my coat! And we tried to get it out and we couldn't and before I knew it the old lady was there with her Excalibur scissors. Now she's crying and, Alice, you have to help me!"

"Edward, Edward, calm down," she says trying to process my verbal panic.

I exhale dramatically.

"What do you need?"

"Fix this, please. Can we meet you at your shop? We are almost to the Bethesda stop on the Red Line. I am paying for this and whatever hair cuts she needs for the next...forever."

"OK. I'll meet you guys there. I understand why you feel bad, but I think this is a bit extreme, even for you, Edward," she says as I hear her shuffling around. "Why are you doing this?"

"This is THE girl, Alice," I whisper looking over my shoulder at the still crying girl.

"The girl?" Alice stops her movements. "THE girl?! Oh, Edward, honey."

"I know. I'll see you soon."

I turn around and watch the girl sitting there stroking her clump of hair that now rests in her hand.

"So that was my sister. She's a hair stylist. A good one, so I am told. She can meet us at her shop in Bethesda and, um, fix this," I say waving my hand at her hair which in turn earns me a death glare. "It will be on me, and I will pay for any further maintenance required forever if you want me to. My sister says shorter hair requires more frequent cuts."

Her eyes return to stroking her hair, still not speaking.

"Please," I say getting down on my knee in front of her. "Let me make this right."

"OK," she whispers.

"This is our stop then. May I carry your bag for you?" I say offering my hand. She gives a reluctant smile, and hands it to me, and I quickly pull it over my shoulder, once again holding out my hand to her.

The train comes to a stop. We step out onto the platform and I lead the way out onto the street.

"Her salon is actually just up there," I say pointing up the street. "Do you mind walking or I can get my car?"

"I need the fresh air," she says not making eye contact. "Lead the way."

We set off down the street at a leisurely pace. I try to ignore how much I want to hold her hand or put my arm around her in some sort of comforting gesture, but I know that I would most likely end up with my sac in my throat if I tried. Alice's car is already sitting at the meter out in front of her salon as we approach. I can see the light on in the back of the shop, so I quietly knock on the glass of the door. Alice comes out around the corner and makes her way to the front door before ushering us in.

"Jesus Christ, Edward! You said you zipped it, not that you scalped her!" Alice scolds taking her first look at the damage.

Tears start to roll down the girl's face again, and the heels of my hands go to my eyes.

"Shhh...it's OK, honey. I can fix this. Let me show you some pictures of what I am thinking," Alice says leading her back towards the stations. I start to follow mechanically.

"I don't think so, brother. You've done enough. You can wait out here," Alice says with finality.

I walk over and collapse into one of the waiting room chairs that sits by the window and start banging the back of my head into the wall behind me.

"Cracking my dry wall will not reverse time," Alice yells from the back, and her voice is chased by a tearful giggle.

I reach up and grab at my lips exhaling roughly as I look out onto the darkening Bethesda street, pondering how this all happened. How I ruined my chance with this girl before it even started.

For the next hour, I listen to the sounds of Alice working mixed with the soft murmur of their conversation. After a while, I realize the sounds have stopped and I hear instead their footsteps coming closer on the hardwood floors. I glance up and leap to my feet at the sight before me. If I thought she was pretty before, she is absolutely stunning now. The short cut lays in sexy chunks across her forehead while the sides and back whisp away from her long, creamy throat. It is sophisticated and emphasizes her fathom deep eyes. She nervously reaches for the hair that now only grazes the back of her neck when I realize that I am standing there gaping.

"You look amazing," I choke out before I can stop myself.

She throws her arms across her chest sticking one foot out in front of her in reminder of the fact that it is my fault this new hair cut came about, but I keep my gaze locked with hers willing her to hear the truth in the words I am saying. Her eyes soften and a slight blush colors her cheeks, and I inwardly cheer. Alice clears her throat then, giving me a smirk.

"She is a modern woman now! No thanks to you, brother."

"Again, I am so sorry. Know that you have a standing credit here for as long as you like," I begin to bumble.

"You don't have to..."

"Please let me," I beseech.

"OK," she softly acquiesces.

"So, I will see you in six weeks, Bella?" Alice says stepping behind her desk and looking at her schedule on the computer.

Bella.

She pulls out her iPhone looking at her calendar, and I watch as they trade information and set up her next appointment.

"Edward, you can settle the bill with me later," Alice says. "Now, I will let you walk Bella back to the station."

Bella goes to protest, but Alice throws up her hand to stop her.

"Our mother would skin him alive if she ever found out he let a lady walk by herself at night. Then again, maybe you want that right about now," Alice smirks and I glare at her.

We walk to the door, and Alice waves to us as we head back down the street towards the Metro station.

"I am so sorry, Bella," I say once again.

"Please, stop with the sorrys, Edward," she cuts in curtly. "I am doing my damnedest to be an adult and recognize that this was all a big accident, but my inner blue collar just wants to smack you right now."

"I'm sorr...I mean, it does look nice. Your hair cut," I mumble and she sends me a cutting look.

"Alice is very talented," she says staring straight ahead. "You owe her big."

"You have no idea," I mutter.

Once she's safely on her train car, I begin the slow walk back to my car.

The next day my feet are heavy as I make my way onto the train. I change my schedule so I am on an earlier train, so to avoid her. She doesn't know that we are normally on the same train in the morning. The ride seems empty. I am not sure what to do with myself, and resign myself to half-heartedly watching the blurred landscape outside of the train windows.

When I get to work, the Senator gives me a strange look, but just continues into his office in that awkward I-don't-want-to-ask-in-case-your-dog-died avoidance. I sit down and get right to work on preparing for our meeting with Senator Cantwell. The morning passes quickly and at ten, the Senator, his personal assistant, and I head over to Senator Cantwell's office. Her secretary shows us to her meeting room, and I recognize her as soon as we enter the room. She and Senator Durbin shake hands and exchange greetings before she turns to me to shake my hand.

"And I believe, Mr. Cullen, you have already exchanged emails and phone calls with your counterpart in my office, Ms Swan," she says pointing behind me to the person entering the room.

I turn with a smile on my face that immediately falls to the floor. This. can't. be. happening. There standing before me clutching onto an armful of folders like they are the pin on a grenade is Bella. I swallow hard and then clear my throat willing my voice to sound steady.

"Ms Swan," I greet her, "can I help you with those?"

"No, thank-you." Her tone is professional, and I hope and pray she plays this like are meeting for the first time.

"Help yourself to coffee and a danish," Senator Cantwell offers, "and we will get started in just a minute."

I walk over to get myself a coffee along with the Senator's personal assistant who is fetching Dick his coffee and danish. Bella comes over then to retrieve refreshment for herself.

"I love your hair cut, Ms. Swan," Dick's assistant says. "Who does your hair?"

I groan internally closing my eyes and take a breath waiting for Bella's reaction.

"I just started to go to a new girl yesterday. Alice. She is the owner of Bubbles Salon in Bethesda."

"I will have to check that out! My girl just moved out of state, and I am looking for someplace new."

"Believe it or not," I hear behind me as Senator Cantwell walks over, "yesterday Bella's hair was almost all the way down her back!"

"You cut off that much! What made you do it?"

Kill me now. Is it unprofessional to crawl under a conference table?

"It was not planned, but Alice informed me about the great Locks of Love program after she saw my long ponytail, and the rest, as well as my hair, is history. Now some kid with cancer will have a wig, and my hair will grow back."

"That was very generous of you," I add without thinking.

"Shall we get started?" Bella says walking past me to her seat.

We brainstorm and discuss our ideas for promoting and pushing legislation that would aid the small business owner. They have a lot of great ideas and seem to be really receptive to our ideas as well. Both Bella and I have in our notes that the National Small Business Association has their annual Washington Presentation coming up at the end of the Spring. Senator Durbin wants to have made some solid headway with some of the legislation by then, and Senator Cantwell reminds us to be sure to be on the list of attendees for the Congressional breakfast and presentations. When the meeting is over, we all say our good-byes and I hold Bella's gaze once again willing her to forgive me.

It is lunch time, so I grab something quick, and plot myself down on a bench at a nearby park. It is sunny and unseasonably warm for early March. I try to relax and focus on the weather, but my mind is full of creamy legs in a tight gray skirt and purple silk top draped over beautiful curves. I sigh, and decide to call for help. I can't lose this chance with Bella because of this little business of nearly leaving her bald.

"Hello, brother," Alice answers. "You aren't playing hair dresser again, are you?"

"No," I sigh, "but guess who the staff member of the Senator I met with this morning is?"

"No way!"

"Yes. Alice, what do I do? For whatever reason, I can't get this girl out of my mind. You know I have been wanting to ask her out for months. How am I ever going to get her to forgive me?"

"Well, she is new to town. Why don't you invite her out to meet some people from the Hill? Don't a bunch of you go out on Thursday nights? Then there are always flowers. White tulips mean 'forgiveness'."

"Thanks, Alice."

"No problem. Go get her, tiger!"

The next day, I receive an email shortly after the day begins.


To: Edward Cullen

From: Isabella Swan

Subject: Flowers

Mr. Cullen,

I thought I told you to quit apologizing. I hold no grudge. If I am being honest, I love the haircut, and it is something I wouldn't have done on my own. So, I guess it was a happy accident in the end. The flowers are lovely, and I thank you.

-Isabella Swan

P.S. Did you see the minutes from yesterday's House Small Business Committee meeting?


To: Isabella Swan

From: Edward Cullen

Subject: Re: Flowers

Ms. Swan,

Thank you for your forgiveness. I did see the minutes, and would like to trade ideas with you on item 4, if you are interested.

-Edward Cullen


Bella and I begin trading emails, mostly about work. She has such an intelligent mind, and if I thought she was beautiful before, she is absolutely captivating to me now. When the following Thursday rolls around, I invite her to join the gang as we go out for drinks. She agrees, and I give her directions to the bar we frequent. I get there soon after work, loosening my tie as I walk towards our usual booth in the back. It is a small place with great woodwork and a casual atmosphere. The booth my friends and I usually occupy is a big round table in the back corner. Mike, Ben, Emmett, Rosalie, and Angela are already there, and I see they already have ordered pitchers. Ben slides me a full glass and I take a gulp and thank him.

"Rough day, Ed?" Emmett asks watching me inhale my beer.

"No, just a little nervous?" I reply with a shrug.

"What has you nervous?" Asks Angela genuinely.

"Remember the girl whose hair I massacred?" I ask as everyone nods. "Well, we ran into each other at a work meeting, and actually are working on similar legislature, so we have been talking quite a bit. She is new to town, and hasn't met many people, so I invited her to join us."

"That was nice of you, Edward," Rose smiles at me.

"Is said girl on the short side in both height and hair?" Mike asks looking toward the door.

I whip my head around to see Bella standing there looking nervous, and scanning the crowd. I turn and smile at everyone before making my way across the bar to her. She sees me just as I am almost to her. She smiles, and her shoulders slump a bit in relief.

"You came," I say smiling at her. "I'm so glad you did. We are in the back."

It's a little crowded tonight, and I instinctively put my hand on the small of her back as I lead her through the crowd. When we get to the table, I introduce her to everyone, and see that they have already procured another glass for her. I slide into the booth, giving her the outside, since she doesn't know anyone, and I don't want her to feel uncomfortable being crammed in with strangers. To my relief and hers, Bella is an easy fit with the group. She chats animatedly with everyone, and has an infectious laugh. I find myself staring at her most of the evening, and try to avoid Rose and Angela's knowing smiles.

As the night progresses, the bar starts to get crowded. We have to practically yell across the table to be heard, but we are all laughing and having a good time. Bella has to lean in close when she wants to say something to me, and it is nearly my undoing every time she leans in and I can smell her perfume floating into my consciousness. I can't help but notice the goosebumps that form on her arms when I lean in, and my warm breath lingers on her exposed neck.

At the end of the evening, Bella and I ride home together on the train continuing to talk. I offer to ride with her the rest of the way home with her, but she assures me that her car is sitting right outside of the station, under a light. Her father is a police chief in her home town, and she informs me he ensured she knew how to take care of herself. I teased that maybe she should walk me to my car, and it earns me a laugh that I'll keep with me until I see her again.

The next few weeks continue much as the same. Bella and I email about work, and she is a regular addition on Thursday nights now. I am dying to ask her out, but part of me is still that horrified man who zipped up her hair in my coat. This weekend, my family is providing me with a much needed distraction from my obsession. We are going to a black tie event to support wounded and paralyzed vets. My mother always gets tickets for us all, and I always enjoy talking with some of the veterans. Though many of them have horrific memories that haunt their psyches, they tend tell only the funny ones.

So on Saturday night, I find myself in a ballroom in the Armani tux that my mother insisted I have, tailored to my frame, listening to stories of getting stoned in Vietnam.

"So I was at China Beach, and we had smoked some serious stuff. We were walking along the cliffs, and then I fell off the side. I am asking them to reach down and help me up. They are all yelling about linking their belts together to make a rope. The next day, we returned to that spot to see it was only about a four foot drop. They could have just reached down a hand, and helped me up."

All of us at the table start laughing, and when the mirth begins to subside, I spot a vision from across the room and all humor is gone. Everything is gone, except her. She walks in with a woman with sandy brown hair and a man with a limp, who is obviously a vet. The woman is the same height as Bella and has the same nose. I guess this is her mother. Bella looks like a Grecian goddess in black. Her gown drapes over one shoulder and a diamond snowflake joins the opposite strap to the bodice. It hugs her figure beautifully, and my hand suddenly itches to touch her.

"Excuse me, everyone," I say buttoning my jacket as I start striding across the room. I approach Bella from behind as she is talking with her mother and an older couple. She is amazing, and I am tired of hiding behind my mistake.

"Good evening, Bella," I say softly over her shoulder. She spins and a smile lights up her face.

"Edward, what are you doing here?"

"I am here with my parents, Alice, and her husband, Jasper," I say pointing towards our table. Alice waves as she whispers to my mother who smiles and also waves.

"This," Bella says gesturing to the woman next to her, "is my mother, Renee Dwyer and her husband Phil is there," she says pointing to the bar. "Mom, this is my friend, Edward Cullen."

I smile at being acknowledged as a friend, but am unsure I am content with that title anymore. I turn to shake Renee's hand as a look of recognition crosses her face as she glances from Bella's hair to me.

"Yes, ma'am, I am THAT Edward," I nod sadly.

"Edward, it's in the past," Bella says laying a comforting hand on my forearm.

"Would you guys like to join my family at our table? We have plenty of room."

"Bella?" Renee defers to her daughter.

"That would be lovely, thank-you, Edward."

The Dwyers and Bella join us, and conversation is easy between my family and hers. Alice shows off what she has done with Bella's hair to my mother, while my dad, who is a surgeon at Bethesda Naval Hospital, my brother-in-law, an Army Captain, and Phil, a former Marine who lost a leg in combat, talk military. I just sit and watch Bella. I can see that my mother is already charmed, and she smiles softly at me.

Soon the music starts up and couples begin making their way to the dance floor. I see this as my chance.

"Bella, may I have this dance?" I ask holding out my hand. She looks at me a bit surprised at first, but then nods before putting her hand in mine.

I lead her to the floor as the small orchestra begins to play "The Way You Look Tonight". I take one of Bella's hands in mine, and the other splays across her lower back, as I lead her around the floor.

"You are quite the dancer, Mr. Cullen."

"Why thank you, Ms. Swan. You can tell my mother her money was well spent."

She laughed.

"You're kidding."

"I am."

"I've never been asked to dance before."

"Now it's you who's kidding."

"I'm not."

"How could I not ask when you look so beautiful?"

She scoffs.

"I saw you long before that fateful afternoon on the train, Bella. I noticed you a couple months earlier. We rode in together every day, but I was so taken with you, that I could never find the nerve to talk to you. The morning before the hair incident of 2010, I had finally resolved myself to talk to you the next morning. You know how the rest goes. Bella, I wanted to talk to you for months, and now that I have come to know you, it's so much better than I imagined. You are smart, funny, beautiful, and completely real. I know you see me as a friend, but I am hoping that you might consider giving me a chance at being something more."

I realize that I haven't given her a chance to say anything, though her eyes have been locked with mine during my entire speech.

"I would like that," Bella answers before laying her head on my chest. I kissed her head, and pull her closer. "Just one request?"

"Anything."

"No coats with zippers."

A/N: A special thanks to my lobster, starfish422, and beate73 for previewing/beta'ing for me!

Voting starts March 25th!