ETA: I'm taking a break from writing fic for a few months. Real life has gotten incredibly hectic, and I just can't worry about writing my fics with everything else that's going on. I know it sucks, but bear with me. I hope to be back to writing in the spring, but I can't make any promises. I need to focus on school and other commitments right now. Any free time I have will be spent on eating and sleeping...God willing. Thanks to all my readers for being so thoughtful, patient, and kind. I promise I'll come back. Walking Backwards *will* be completed, just not in the near future.
SM owns Twilight. I own a tour guide name tag from my alma mater.
Daisy3853 and Spanglemaker9 betaed this chapter, and they are more than fabulous for their quick work. Spangley, thanks for the pinch hit!
WriteOnTime is taking some much needed vacation, but she deserves a thank you, too. Nina, your "nagging" is ALWAYS appreciated. Thanks for the push.
I thought that after telling Edward that I didn't remember anything about what happened after the party, I would feel better, or at least less guilty about the whole thing. But as I walked away, my stomach sank. I'd never been a great liar, usually because the guilt got me before I even made it through the lie and turned me into a bumbling, stuttering mess. I got really hot and red, and anyone with eyes would be able to see I wasn't telling the truth. This lie didn't do any of those things to me. I was completely and horribly cool.
That week was a bit of a walking nightmare for me. Classes started up again, and I could tell just from looking at my syllabus that I was in for a doozy of a semester. My 19th century Brit-Lit class in particular was going to be difficult. Half the semester was dedicated to Middlemarch, and after only one reading assignment I was bored to tears.
On top of classes, I was scheduled to work back-to-back tours three times a week for the next two weeks, which would cut into the amount of time I had available for my reading. At least Alice was my partner for half of them. Working with Jake had been fun, but we weren't totally natural together. Alice and I had an easy back and forth that I thought would translate well on a tour. I knew that after this first schedule, it was likely I would have to do tours on my own. Logically, I knew it would be fine, but it only added to my stress level.
I ran into Jasper on Wednesday at Collis, and I must have looked just as frazzled as I felt, because he slung an arm over my shoulders and offered to buy me lunch.
"You don't have to do that," I protested.
"Nonsense, Bee. When was the last time someone did something nice for you? Sit down over there. I'll buy you a Coke and some french fries." He looked down at me in a calculating sort of way and then added, "And some chocolate cake. Go on, now. Shoo."
It wasn't exactly the most nutritious lunch I had ever eaten, but it was exactly what I needed. The dull headache that I'd been nursing since Monday faded into the background with the rush of sugar and caffeine, and the greasy french fries settled my stomach. When I finished eating, Jasper gave me a small smile.
"Definitely," I sighed. "Thank you. That was perfect."
"What kind of a gentleman would I be if I didn't rescue a damsel in distress when I saw one?"
I snorted and he shook his head. "Now, you gonna tell me what's bothering you, or do I have to guess?"
I shifted uncomfortably in my chair. "Nothing's bothering me. It's just the start of the semester and a new job..."
"How is the new job?" he interrupted. "Everyone treating you okay over there?"
His blue eyes were a little too intense as they looked me over, like he was expecting a very specific answer. The question made me think about Edward, and Edward's lips, and Edward's hands. I felt my cheeks flush and I shrugged.
"Everyone has been very nice."
"You're not having any issues with Rose or Leah?" He was still staring at me with that strange intensity, and even though he was asking about the coordinators, I had a feeling that wasn't his actual question.
"Rose has been really nice. I was actually supposed to work with her the other day, but she had to take a specialty tour at the last minute, so Jacob subbed in. Edward and Lauren gave the other tour."
He nodded and stole a cold french fry. "Have you worked with Edward yet?"
"No, but I'm scheduled with him tomorrow afternoon." The thought made my heart race. I hadn't seen him since our conversation in the tour guide office.
"You guys getting along okay? You seemed pretty buddy-buddy at the party."
I looked up, startled, and saw a disconcerting gleam in his eye. Jasper knew. I didn't know how, or why, but he knew that something had happened between Edward and me. My stomach flipped as I wondered if he had said anything to Alice. She had been surprisingly quiet about trying to hook the two of us up since the previous week.
"Edward's nice," I said, forcing my voice to stay casual. Jasper knowing didn't change anything, except it put Edward's job in bigger jeopardy. No matter what, I would stick to my story. "He let me crash at his place after the party, but I haven't seen him since we worked together last."
He nodded just as casually. "Cool." There was an awkward pause, and then he sighed and stood. "Well, I have a Chinese philosophy class I have to get to. Take care of yourself, okay?"
I was still thinking about my odd lunch with Jasper when I arrived at work the next day, The wind had shifted sometime in the morning, and it was whistling across the Green and between the buildings. We were supposed to get clobbered with a big storm on Friday morning, and the sky had turned that steel gray color that always meant snow. As I ran up to McNutt, Edward hurried up from behind me and grabbed the door.
"After you," he said with a smile. He must have been outside for longer than me, because his lips were a little blue and his teeth chattered in the wind. I wasted no time getting inside the building, and a welcome blast of heat hit my face as I made my way inside.
"Nothing like January in Hanover," I said, pulling off my gloves and pressing my cold hands to the crook of my neck. We walked over to the coat closet and he tossed me a coat and an abandoned Dartmouth hat.
"Take that and cover your ears," he ordered. "At least it's almost February. That means it's got to get warmer soon, right?"
"Keep dreaming, Masen."
Our exchange was silly and light, and something about it lifted a bit of the guilt I'd been feeling. He still had his job. He seemed happy. And we were interacting in a completely normal way. Then he hooked an arm through mine and tugged me toward the office, and my whole body started to tingle at the contact.
Nevermind, I thought. There was nothing normal about the way he made me feel.
If he noticed that I had suddenly turned into a tomato, Edward didn't say anything. Then again, I was usually some shade of red in his presence, so maybe he didn't think it was anything out of the ordinary.
"Alice tried to get me to switch with her, but I told her no way was I going out with Lauren again," Edward was saying as we made our way down the hall. "She's personable enough, I guess, but she can't answer questions or improvise to save her soul. Plus she's clingier than a baby sloth."
I laughed, and he grinned down at me. It was gratifying to know that all her attention didn't mean anything to him—but then, he'd be in just as much trouble for messing around with Lauren as he would with me. Then he seemed to realize that he was still pulling me along, and he dropped his arm. "Sorry," he said.
"No problem," I mumbled, trying to pretend I wasn't disappointed when he let go.
It was a packed crowd, probably because decision deadlines were looming for next year's freshmen. Rosalie had mentioned that February and March were a busy time for us, and that it would be easy to pick up extra shifts if I wanted to.
"You want to intro this time?" Edward smiled at me, and the swarm of butterflies in my stomach flapped a little harder.
"Sure, if you think I'm ready."
"Of course you're ready," Angela said, coming up behind me. She was already wearing her green coat and name tag. "I did it the other day, it's a piece of cake!"
"Piece of cake," I echoed, peeking around Edward into the scrum of students and parents.
"Breathe, Bella," he whispered. His breath made an errant piece of hair sticking out near my ear flutter lightly, and seemingly without thought, he reached out and tucked it into my hat. "Go get 'em."
I took a deep breath and smiled at the Admissions counselor, who had just finished answering her last question. She nodded at me.
"Good afternoon, everyone! My name is Bella. I'm a junior from Phoenix, Arizona, and I'm majoring in creative writing."
Turns out, it was a piece of cake. So was the whole tour. Working with Edward wasn't like work at all—every joke and factoid I had memorized flew out of my head in favor of a conversational back and forth about all things Dartmouth. Edward was charming, although I had never really doubted that. A couple of times I thought he looked a little uncomfortable, especially when one of the female prospective students kept touching his arm and batting her eyes at him, but those moments were short-lived.
After we had finished the tour and sent our group on their way, he slung his arm around my shoulders again. Even through my thick, winter coat, the action warmed me.
"You did great," he said with a wide grin. "How about some hot chocolate at the Hop? My treat."
It was the kind of thing Jasper would do, or even Jacob, so I figured it was safe enough. What was one cup of hot chocolate between friends?
Edward ordered our drinks and followed me to a booth by a window. "You know, you can take the name tag off when you're not working," he laughed, pointing to mine, which was still hanging from my neck. "Once, I forgot I was wearing it, and I went to class with it on. This girl sat next to me, never seen her before in my life, and she started talking to me about Chicago. I was so confused, until I realized my hometown was right there on my shirt."
"Trust you to use your name tag to pick up chicks."
"What's that supposed to mean?" He actually looked a little offended, and I rushed to explain.
"It's just that girls are always falling all over you, it just figures that even a name tag is an opening for you."
"I think 'always' is a bit of a gross exaggeration," he said dryly. "The girls who, as you put it, fall all over me, are mostly teenagers and girls who aren't really interested in...um... traditional dating."
He frowned down at his cup, and a stone settled in my stomach. It was fairly obvious he didn't notice my interest, let alone reciprocate. I fought to keep the conversation light.
"Traditional dating, Masen? What kind of a college boy are you?"
"You may find this hard to believe, but I'm kind of an introvert—old-fashioned, I guess you could say. I like a good time as much as the next person, but I spend so much time working and studying that when I do have time off, I just want to chill with my friends. Low key, you know? Parties like newbie-palooza are pretty few and far between for me."
"So what I'm hearing is you're a grandpa in college boy clothing?"
He snorted. "Ouch. I'm just not looking for a random hook-up, you know?" I swallowed convulsively, and he lifted his eyes to my face, a look of concentration on his handsome features. "If I'm going to kiss a girl, to spend time with her, I want it to be more serious than that."
It took a lot of work to stay composed. I had to remind myself, several times, that I was pretending not to know about our make-out in his bed. He hadn't mentioned it. He said he was hung-over the next day. Likely, he actually had blacked out. I was reading too much into this.
"Okay, grandpa," I said with a somewhat forced smile. I patted his hand lightly. "We better get back to the office before someone thinks we've run off with our official tour guide jackets." I stood up and grabbed my cup, waiting for him to stand before I turned and led the way out of the Hop.
"Hey, speed demon, wait a second." I turned around, and he was standing right there, a small smile on his lips. He held up my hat. "Forget something?"
Before I could grab it from him, he tugged it down securely over my ears. For a brief second, I felt his hands at the sides of my face. His fingers were warm from the hot chocolate, and as he let go of the knit cap, they traced my cheekbones, lingering a little next to my chin. I was frozen, totally undone by his simple gesture.
It wasn't until he cleared his throat and suggested we get going that I was able to snap myself out of it long enough to get moving. As I followed him through campus toward the office, I couldn't help but thinking that I was in way over my head.
The semester got underway quickly. Before I knew it, I had settled into a nice routine of work, school, and play. My classes were interesting, even if they were a lot of work. And while it was true that I had had reservations about the job at first, Alice was right—being a campus tour guide was a fantastic job. There was a lot of variety, mostly because the people were always different, and so no tour was ever the same. Angela and Jessica ended up being great girls, too, and they often hung out with Alice and me on random nights.
Jacob was another unexpected bonus. He had actually been pretty helpful in terms of studying. We were both juniors with similar course loads, and on top of that, he was training for the crew team. It was the off-season, but they still had daily work-outs. As a result, Jacob had to stick to a pretty strict study schedule in order to get everything done, and he invited me to join him.
At first, I thought he was using our study sessions as an excuse to flirt with me. When we had first met, it certainly seemed like he was interested. He laid it on thick around the guys we worked with, touching my arm, putting his hands on my shoulders, giving me casual, one-armed hugs.
As time went on, though, it seemed pretty clear to me that he wasn't my type. There was no chemistry, no passion-infused zing to our conversations. We laughed, but when he leaned towards me and smiled, I didn't feel like my heart was going to pound out of my chest. I only felt the comfort that came hand-in-hand with solid friendship. When I told him that one afternoon, alone in the office, he smiled sadly.
"I know," he said with a shrug.
"Yeah, you give off some pretty strong non-verbal cues." I stared at him, more than a little disconcerted.
"What do you mean?"
"Eh, it's lots of things," he said, waving his hand. "But mostly it's the way you can't stop staring at Masen."
Of course, that conversation had ended in a lot of mumbled, embarrassed denials, but I didn't think he believed me. I wouldn't have believed me.
About a month into the semester, Jacob and I were studying at the library, in my favorite corner of the reading room. Well, I was studying; Jacob was making whispered conversation with me. We had been sitting there for close to an hour, and thanks to his chattering, I had only managed to read five paragraphs.
I was about to tell him to shut the hell up or get his own table, when Alice sat down across from me. Alice's presence pretty much guaranteed I'd get no more work done, so I set my Brit-Lit textbook down with a heavy sigh.
"Hey, yourself," she said brightly. "What are we studying?"
"Studying is a relative term," I grumbled. Jacob actually blushed a little, but Alice just laughed.
"Lesson one, Mr. Black: when Bella is sitting at this table, she means business." She pulled an apple out of her bag along with a thick art book.
"Alice! You're not supposed to eat in the library!" A little bit of my inner student librarian still lingered, and I was particularly sensitive to food in the stacks. Nothing is worse than cleaning up apple cores that have been sitting in the dark for a couple of weeks. Gross.
She started humming 'Marian the Librarian' under her breath as she took a big bite, spraying apple juice over the cover of her book.
"This is useless. I'll see you later, Jacob. I've got to get this chapter read before this afternoon or I'm dead."
"I love you madly madly Madame Librarian!" sang Alice. I shoved her shoulder as I walked past, and gave her a big dramatic "Shhhhhhh!" just for effect. I could hear her laughing as I made my way to the stairs.
I wasn't really angry at Jacob or Alice. It wasn't their fault my concentration was shot. If anyone was to blame, it was Edward.
Every time he was around, I had a hard time looking away, and when he wasn't around, I was usually thinking about him. When I saw him in the office, or striding purposefully across the Green on random weekdays, I always stared just a half a beat too long before snapping out of it. If he was just beautiful, that would have been one thing. But he was so much more than that. Smart, kind, funny... and out of my reach.
After that first tour together, it became our custom to get a cup of hot chocolate after working together. Some days we only stopped long enough to pick up our drinks, and some days we found a table and talked. Those were the days that I was late to my study dates with Jacob, often showing up flushed from rushing across campus to get to the table where we sat. On those days, Jacob would take one look at me and shake his head. Wisely, he kept his comments to himself.
Wandering up to the third floor, I crept along the wall to the back of the stacks. My very favorite tables were there—this wasn't the noisy, crowded reading room where I had met Alice, and where Jacob and I sat to study. It was musty, and quiet, and secluded. It was book heaven. And there was someone sleeping in my spot.
I almost turned and left immediately, but something made me keep walking. Whoever it was had basically collapsed on top of a thick pile of textbooks. Two long arms stretched out in an impressive wingspan, and a heavy, whistling kind of snore was squeaking from his mouth. Another step revealed a familiar mop of reddish brown hair and heavily bagged eyes that were hidden, most unusually, behind a pair of reading glasses.
Even though I had just seen him at work just two days ago, and heard him speaking quite enthusiastically about the many opportunities and joys his time at Dartmouth had given him, right now he looked worn and unhappy. His face wasn't blank, but furrowed, his eyebrows knotted together and his bottom lip caught between his teeth. It wasn't the face of the boy I had come to know. Sure, Edward looked tired a lot, but there was something new leaking into his expression while he slept, something that resembled discontentment, or sadness.
I reached out, intending for a brief moment to smooth the hair back off his forehead. My fingers came within inches of his face when I snatched them back, suddenly horrified at how creepy I was acting. I cleared my throat quietly and turned to go.
I hadn't got more than a couple of steps when I heard a snuffly sort of exhale and the clear sound of someone yawning and stretching.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I'm taking up the whole—"
I turned around, and his eyes widened.
"Hey...Edward," I said awkwardly, fidgeting with the straps on my backpack. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up. I was just... going."
"No, no," he said quickly, sweeping his huge books to the side with one smooth, impressive movement. "My library etiquette is terrible. I'm lucky one of the librarians hasn't been by with a ruler to whip me into shape by now. Besides, I shouldn't have been sleeping in the first place."
When I didn't move, he kicked the chair across from him so it skittered back a few inches. "You can sit down if you want to. I know this is a pretty good spot."
"It's one of my favorites," I admitted, moving toward the empty chair slowly. An odd, awkward feeling infused the conversation, and I wasn't sure how to handle it.
"Mine, too," he said simply. "I'd like it better if I had some hot chocolate, but I'm pretty sure that's against the rules." He cracked open one of his books with a smile and pulled a notebook from his bag. "Sit down. If you want." Without another word, he settled right into studying, never taking his eyes from his paper.
It would be weird to turn around and go at this point, and I didn't want to leave in any case. I sat down in the offered chair and quietly pulled out my book and a highlighter, intent on being completely studious until my assignment was finished. If Edward was going to study in silence, there was no reason I couldn't do the same.
I didn't count on his presence making me so antsy. Every time he turned his page, my eyes drifted over to him. I had to bite my lips to stop myself from talking to him. I almost gave in half a dozen times, but his clear exhaustion and the way he kept muttering formulas under his breath stopped me.
Twenty minutes in, I was ready to throw in the towel. I growled and dropped my book, rubbing my eyes. I was about to stand up and stalk toward the bathroom, just for a break, when Edward looked up and spoke.
I glanced up at him, intending to give a brief non-answer, but the look on his face stopped me. He was smiling softly, his eyes crinkled a little in the corners—that same crinkle that always made me swoon a little—and his eyebrows were raised quizzically. I leaned back into my chair and sighed.
"I hate this book."
When he didn't say anything else and merely continued looking at me, I kept going. "I mean, there are all these characters, and most of them are just plain dull. There are so many interweaving story lines, and I don't care about any of them. And on top of that, I haven't read a word about the only couple I care about in at least fifty pages!"
This time when I didn't continue, he laughed. It was quiet—after all, we were still in a library—but it was genuine. His eyes lifted a little, and he seemed momentarily less tired.
"I'm sure you never have this problem with..." I squinted at the spine of one of his books, "microbial sciences."
"No, never," he said solemnly. "Of course, I think there are probably more characters in my book than yours, and most of the time they're much duller subjects."
I sighed. "You've never read George Eliot."
"Guilty," he laughed. Then he rubbed his eye blearily and stifled a yawn. I hadn't seen him for a couple of days, and the difference between now and then was striking.
"Hey...are you... okay?" I asked. "You don't look like you've been getting a lot of sleep."
He dropped his eyes and toyed with a pen in front of him, lifting and dropping one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "You know how it is."
When he looked up again, I shook my head slightly. "Tell me."
"Eh, it's boring," he said. "You don't want to know."
"Try me," I insisted, sliding Middlemarch to the side of the table to join his books. "I'm a good listener."
"I know," he said quietly.
"Come on," I coaxed. "Jake says I should have been a psych major."
"You spend a lot of time with Jacob, don't you?" he said thoughtfully. The pen fell to the table and he stared at me, waiting.
"Yeah, we've been studying together a few times a week. He's a great friend."
"A friend," Edward repeated hollowly. "Yes, I can see that."
"I know you don't get along," I said quickly, "but Jacob has always been really nice to me. He's taught me a lot on the job, too."
He nodded and stared down at his notebook.
"Anyway," I pressed. "You were going to tell me what was bothering you?"
He pursed his lips. "Maybe you can help."
I nodded encouragingly.
"Okay, well, there's this girl."
My heart fell. Of course there was a girl. "Not one of those love 'em and leave 'em types, I hope," I joked weakly. "Is she a traditional sort of gal, grandpa?"
"I think she is." He paused, as if working something out. "But I don't think she's interested."
"I don't believe that," I scoffed. "Why wouldn't she be? You're the whole package!" Once I realized what I had just said, I flushed bright red. He grinned.
"The whole package, huh? Well, that's a bit of a relief." He winked, and my core temperature rose ten degrees.
"I mean, I'm just telling you what I think, as your friend," I blustered. "Friends should be able to give honest opinions about things like this."
"Absolutely," he said solemnly. "And let me say, as your friend..." He paused, and I held my breath. "I think you're the whole package, too."
I shrugged awkwardly, trying not to let my smile take over my whole face. "So this traditional girl who you're sure isn't interested, what's the problem? Why not just tell her how you feel and see what she says?"
"There's more to it than that," he murmured, taking his eyes off my face and staring absently through the stacks toward the windows. "I never planned on a relationship at this point in my life, and this girl, well, I guess you could say she makes me want it all. Romance, candlelight, the whole nine yards."
I laughed. "So she's messing with the plan? That's what's got you all whooped up?"
"Don't mock the plan," he said with a frown. "It's a good plan. It got me this far. Besides, even disregarding the plan—"
"Heaven forbid." I laughed, more comfortable teasing him now that we weren't talking about me anymore. He ignored me.
"Even disregarding the plan, I couldn't give her the time and attention she deserves."
"Okay, so forget about her. Easy."
"I can't!" He turned back toward me, an odd gleam in his eye. He picked up the pen again and started twirling it. "I think about her all the time, and the more I try to forget about her, the more I think about her."
That stone in my stomach weighed a ton. "Sounds like you've got it pretty bad."
"You have no idea," he said darkly.
"I still think you should find out what she wants," I said, against my better judgment. After all, we were friends, regardless of my extra feelings for him, and he deserved my honesty. "You'll never know if you don't talk to her. And who knows, she might completely understand. She might be willing to take what you can offer and be happy with it."
"Would you be?"
"Hypothetically," I said carefully, "If I felt that way about someone," and I do, Edward, "and he felt that way about me, I would find it very hard to say no."
He hummed thoughtfully, and the pen twirled again. "Thanks for listening, Bella," he said finally. "You've given me a lot to think about."
"I'm glad I could help," I lied.
He yawned and stretched while I sat, pathetically mesmerized by the way his white teeth flashed in the overhead lighting. I refocused when he spoke again.
"How about I pay you back with dinner? None of that cafeteria food, either. We'll go out."
"Oh, Edward, you don't have to do that. Anyway, I know you have a lot of studying to do."
He smiled softly, and just for a moment, the stone in my stomach lifted, replaced by a flutter of butterflies' wings. "For you, Bella, I think I can spare the time."
A/N: I have no excuses. I know it's been a long time. Writers block, other plot bunnies, and RL got in the way. I'm sorry. Know that I won't jump ship on you. I will try my very hardest not to let it go this long again.
My most embarrassing public wipe out was during a summer show I was in in high school. We were doing a dance number, and I was up on a platform. I fell right off the back of the platform. Luckily, I wasn't injured, although I did have to hobble off stage and sit the rest of the dance out to recover. Most of the audience didn't notice, but the 50 other dancers on stage sure did. Mortifying when you're 17.
Where was/is your favorite place to study?
If you remember that far back, I was up for auction in the Fandom Gives Back Auction: Eclipse Edition! Legna989 bought me, and she gave me a lovely prompt. I've posted the oneshot that resulted here and on ADF. The Yes Project: http:/www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/s/6210707/1/The_Yes_Project