Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight.
This story comes with a Warning:
The Other Side of Me deals with and explores the trauma and healing of acquaintance rape. The issues will be handled with respect. Still, some events, descriptions, and some of Bella's thoughts may be triggers for anyone who has been through a similar experience. I will post warnings in each chapter that includes details I think warrant a warning. This does remain very much an Edward/Bella story.
The Other Side of Me
The truth is, pain happens. We learn this from the first time we fall down and skin our knee, or bump our head, or scratch our own delicate newborn face because our sharp fingernails grow overnight. We hurt ourselves, we hurt others, and others hurt us. But sometimes… sometimes someone harms you in a way nobody should ever be harmed. Someone touches you in a way nobody should ever be touched. Sometimes, the person who wounds you the deepest is a person you once thought you would always trust, thought you would always count on, thought you would always love. And in one instant, you're different. You find yourself in a new body, new skin, a new mind. You're unrecognizable. Even the blood that pulses through your veins feels unfamiliar. You're trapped, as if in a prison cell. You can never get out. There's no escaping you. And that might be the worst kind of pain there is.
"Bella!" He waved.
I'd spotted him first, the second I entered our coffee house, sunlight already pouring through the large wall of windows, illuminating the polished hardwood floor, weaving its way around shadows cast by tables. It was impossible to miss him sitting alone, leaning over a newspaper spread out in front of him, his head resting in his hand, fingers tousling his hair—a mix of deep browns and amber, and even copper. When he moved his hand from his head to wave me over, I touched the ends of my own hair, too long now, reaching the center of my back, and probably in need of a good brushing. All I'd bothered with earlier was combing it after my shower and letting it air dry. I instinctively ran some fingers through my hair to smooth it as I headed his way. My sneakers were noiseless on the floor, while other women rounding tables clapped against the ground in their pumps—off to the office after a quick coffee stop.
Edward watched me, all smiles and green eyes. I paused halfway to his table as some voluptuous red head, curls abounding, stepped to him wearing midnight-high heels at 7:00 AM. She slipped him her phone number. I didn't have to read the note to recognize what it was. This was not an infrequent occurrence. He tossed the note aside, standing to hug me.
"It's good to see you."
"You, too," I said into his shoulder. "James is running late. He called me five minutes ago. Said it would be worth the wait—whatever that means. I told him we'd be sitting on the edge of our seats awaiting his arrival." I pulled up a chair and picked up the abandoned note. "Victoria?" I raised an eyebrow at him.
Edward laughed. "You can throw it away."
"No, I can't. Don't turn around. She's looking right at me." I frowned. "Glaring, more like it. She's pretty, Edward." Then I grabbed his arm because he turned around anyway. "Stop that!"
"Oh yeah, she's beautiful making that face, isn't she?" He gave her a wave and we both laughed. "If she wants to stare, let's give her something to see," he said, facing me again. He took my hand, his green eyes fixed on my brown ones—as deep brown as the round table in front of us. He winked at me, a smirk landing on his lips for just a second before his face fell serious. Then he got down on one knee.
"I don't have a ring," he said, "but something like this can't be planned. I want you, Isabella Swan, to agree to spend the whole day with me. I promise to show you whatever it is you want to see in New York, but haven't had the time for. Isabella, will you tour the city with me for the rest of our Monday?"
"Oh, Edward." I batted my eyelashes, happy I had at least taken time to add mascara that morning. "There's nothing I'd love more than to spend the entire rest of my day with the man in front of me."
We stood up together, and he pecked my lips and hugged me tight, even lifting me off the floor a little. Or maybe I just couldn't feel any solidity beneath me because of the way that tiny kiss on my lips had thrown my heart all a-flurry. Surprised, even shocked, by that feeling, my fingers involuntarily neared my mouth when the applause of patrons around the coffee house snapped me out of it. I hadn't realized we'd drawn the attention of everyone in the place. Returning to my seat, I cleared my throat. Then Edward and I glanced at each other and burst out in laughter. We couldn't get a hold of ourselves until Maggie, our regular server, brought over my simple latte, one sugar.
"On the house," she said. "Congratulations! I didn't even know you two were dating." Last week when the three of us met here, she'd taken a seat at our table to flirt with Edward, and now, she wasn't even looking his way.
"Thanks," I said, unable to meet her eyes.
"It's new," Edward said, "but when you know, you know." He shrugged. She smiled stiffly at me and tilted her head, before turning slowly to Edward.
"I think it's great that you proposed to her here. It's just… great. Now we have a story to tell." She headed back behind the counter, rubbing her hands on her apron. I felt bad for her, almost felt like telling her the truth.
I sipped my latte, still so hot it burned my lips. I blew on it. "You ordered for me?" I asked Edward.
"I told Maggie that you and Jay were on your way. And since you haven't ordered anything different in what, four years? I think she figured it out all by herself. Enjoy your free coffee."
Edward was right; it had been nearly four years since he, James, and I had started meeting at this coffee house. We'd agreed to get together at least once a week. James had arranged today's rendezvous; he'd requested we meet early before he had to get to class, though he had yet to arrive.
The three of us first met during our five-day college-bound road trip from Washington to New York. Edward was the brother of my best friend, Alice, and James was an acquaintance of Edward's friend, Emmett. It had been Alice's idea for me to join Edward and James because she didn't want me traveling alone. James drove all the way from Seattle just to pick us up in Forks, only to turn around and head East again. Back then, Edward was returning for his third year while I was beginning my first year at NYU, and James had changed his major so many times that I think even he had lost track of what year he was in. He'd since dropped out of NYU to join the Culinary Institute.
"Hey, sorry I'm late." James, a bit out of breath, stood behind me in jeans and a white polo shirt, his blond hair pulled into a low ponytail that hung just past the end of his neck. This was his signature look. For as long as he'd had long hair, I'd never seen it hanging loose.
"James!" I stood to hug him. His arms reached around me and he smacked my butt.
"Hands off the goods," I said, pushing on him as hard as I could. He hardly budged.
"Try this," he said, stuffing something warm and soft between my lips. I had no idea what it was, only that it was in all probability the best thing I had ever had in my mouth. My eyes closed and I ignored all other senses so that all my consciousness could focus on the sweetness that seemed to tease each of my taste buds one by one. Strawberries and cream and an outer shell that was as light as air and sweeter than sugar. How that was possible, I wasn't sure, but I couldn't think clearly enough to ponder over it anyway.
"Right?" said James. "It's canolli, but not any canolli—this one's mine."
"Oh my god, James." I sat down, lucky my chair was right under me because I still hadn't opened my eyes. "You have found your calling. Don't ever stop making these."
My eyes opened when I felt his breath in my ear. "Let's see if a way to a woman's heart is through dessert." He licked my cheek with the tip of this tongue.
"Ew." I wiped it right off.
"What do you mean, ew?" He took his seat. "Don't tell me you're not all tingly right now." He laughed.
"If I'm tingly, it's because of the canolli, not you." I kicked his leg under the table.
Edward cleared his throat. "You'll never learn, will you, Jay? Always taking your game a step too far."
"Shut up," James said, tossing a cannoli at Edward. He caught it, set it on the saucer in front of him, then wiped his fingers on his napkin. "It works on all the girls but ours. Any other girl."
"Our girl isn't any girl," Edward said. "You might have been getting somewhere with that cannoli, but then you had to go and, you know, lick her."
"You know nothing, Masen. Some women beg me to lick them."
And almost as if to prove James's point, Victoria approached our table. She leaned in front of James, her hair cascading over her shoulders, creating a frame around her cleavage, as if her breasts were a photograph and should be hanging in some gallery. I could have sworn I saw a streak of bronzer right between her boobs, an obvious attempt at accentuation.
"So, does this chick get all the gorgeous guys in this town or what?" she asked, motioning toward me without a glance my way. "I know they're engaged-" she pointed back and forth between Edward and me "-but what about you?"
James laughed. "Who's engaged?" I kicked him under the table again, same spot as before. He glared at me. "You have got to stop that, Little B." He turned back to Victoria. "No, I'm not… engaged. What's up?"
"Your friend has my phone number." She lifted her head as she spoke, showing him the curve of her neck, and then she brought her hand up along her throat and around to the nape of her neck where she toyed with some curls. I couldn't have flirted like that if I took hardcore lessons. I'd feel ridiculous. "Call me. Find out." Then she sauntered off, successfully getting James to ogle at her behind until she was out the door. I smiled when she wobbled on her heels a little bit.
James leaned toward Edward. "You turned that piece down? I'll take your castoffs. That is, if Bella still won't have me."
I tugged hard on his ponytail.
"Man, you are kicking my shit today. How many of those have you had?" He pointed to my cup.
I didn't answer, just sipped on my latte.
This was a sore subject between us. He had asked me out, all officially, two years ago and I had turned him down. And, as Dr. Seuss might say, he could not, would not let it go.
James leaned back in his chair, rocking it a little, and I had the instinct to tell him to stop before he fell over backwards. "Okay, the reason I wanted to meet here this morning—other than the fact that I wanted to see the two most important people in New York, aside from myself—is that I have my first catering job…"
I tried to listen to him, but he was babbling something about being important and I noticed that Edward's cannoli was still all whole and untouched on the plate in front of him.
"Aren't you going to eat that?" I asked.
"It's yours." He pushed his plate toward me.
"You don't want it? Are you insane?"
"It'll be worth giving it up to see that look on your face again."
I slid the plate over to my side of the table.
"Aren't you going to kick him?" James asked.
"Why? Because he wants to make me happy?"
"Because he wants to see that look on your face. You know what look he means don't you, Little B? When you took that first bite, you went all orgasmic and shit." I kicked James again, and both he and his chair jumped back. Edward laughed as James rubbed his leg.
"Edward, just take a bite," I said. I held it toward him. He leaned forward and bit into it, and his eyes widened before closing.
"So good," he said, mouth full. "Give me the rest."
"No," I pulled my arm back. "You said it was mine, and don't talk with your mouth full."
"That was before you made me taste it. Now give it back." He held his hand out, motioning with his fingers for me to give it to him. I held it back farther.
"Relax, I have more," James said, snatching a little brown bag from his backpack and waggling it at us. I reached for it but he held it away. "You have to hear what I have to say first. Without interrupting this time. Okay, children? Can you two focus?"
We nodded. He explained again that he had a catering job and he needed some help serving, and since he couldn't afford to pay anyone, he was sure his two best friends would be willing to help him out.
"You can pay us in canolli," I said, proud of my suggestion.
"I can pay you in a lot more than that, Little B." He raised his eyebrows up and down a few times.
"Okay, I'll help you if you promise no more of that winking, eyebrow dancing, licking my face stuff. Or butt grabbing! No more lewd gestures or touching of any kind that is inappropriate between friends."
He just looked at me, smiling.
"Do you promise?"
"I promise. No more after today. You too, Masen. I promise not to touch you inappropriately."
"You keep your promise to her, and I'm in, too," Edward said.
"Cool. I gotta get to class now. Little B, are you going home? We can split a cab."
"Um, no. I have plans." I looked at Edward. "Edward's taking me touristing today."
"Touristing?" James frowned. "Nice grammar for a writer."
"Creative writer. I'm allowed to make up words."
He stood up and gestured for me to come over and hug him. "If you're going to make up words, make them good, hun." We hugged. "Aw, come on, one more ass-grab for old time's sake?" I yanked on his ponytail again. "All right, all right, it's just a joke. See ya, Masen. Take care of our girl." He reached out to give Edward a sideways hand slap. "Next Saturday, seven o'clock. I'll text you kids with the address later. It's at some rich bastard's loft."
Edward leaned toward me after James was out of earshot. "So, we're going touristing? You really want to go?"
"Well, you did get down on one knee. How could I refuse?"
"Okay," he nodded, "all right. What am I in for? What haven't you seen in New York?"
I began my list: "The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Museum of Modern Art, A Broadway play…"
"Wait." He sat up straight. "Wait a minute. Are you serious? You've lived here for four years and you haven't seen any of the most basic attractions?"
I shrugged. "College student."
"Or Jay and I have been assholes. We should've made sure you experienced more of the city than rooftop parties, bars, and restaurants."
"I've experienced the city."
"Yeah? What have you seen?"
"This coffee house, Wall Street, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, the Gay Pride Parade, the West Village, the East village-"
"You live in the Village. That doesn't count."
"Oh! And I've been to a Knicks game. They didn't win; it wasn't pretty."
"You've seen the Knicks?" His eyebrows lifted, his forehead wrinkling up. "How come I didn't know about this?"
"It was a date. I don't talk to you guys about my dates."
I shrugged. "It's embarrassing. Plus, James gets weird. He gets jealous. Anyway, you don't talk about your dates either."
"Yeah, there's a reason for that."
"What is it?"
He shook his head at himself as if regretting his comment. "Okay, come on." He stood up, shoved his hands into his jean pockets, and motioned with an elbow for me to join him. He announced that we'd start with the Empire State building, but because the Museum of Modern Art was a higher priority than the Statue of Liberty and because of time restraints, we'd just take a ferry past the statue. We exited the coffee shop and Edward waved a taxi over.
"No way can we see a Broadway play tonight-" he held the door open for me and followed me into the cab "-but how about Shakespeare?" He leaned forward to address the cab driver. "Hey, you know what days Shakespeare in the Park plays?"
"Tuesdays," he said. "Where you headed?"
"Tomorrow night," Edward said looking at me. "Empire State Building," he said to the driver. "Does tomorrow work for you, Bella?"
"And tonight, well, I know exactly what we can do tonight."
An American flag, huge and reaching, was strewn like a banner high overhead across the entrance of The Empire State Building. We entered the elegance of the lobby, five stories high and striking us with colors of coal, bronze, and gold. My mouth was agape as I took in the beauty, the art of it. It was as if Edward and I were walking right through a piece of art, and as my eyes scanned the building, I realized that was exactly what was happening. For now, we were a part of this art. Everything was marble, granite or stainless steel, and a metal mosaic, a replica of the building, stretched the height of one wall. The inside was so noticeably clean it couldn't be missed. It was part of the experience. It gleamed. I wondered how many people it took to clean the lobby alone.
The lobby was already buzzing with tourists when we arrived at about a quarter after nine. It may have been a Monday morning, but it was also late May and vacations had begun. We waited in the forty-five-minute-long line, following the zig-zag aisles barred with vinyl ropes. The tourists around us were strangely quiet, or maybe Edward and I were just too wrapped up in our own conversation to notice other noises around us.
"Hey, you know, I went to your graduation last week," Edward said as we moved along the line at a slow, even pace.
I believe my mouth dropped open. "You did? Why didn't you say anything?"
"I didn't want to interrupt you and your family. Congratulations, though."
I frowned. What had he meant by that? I didn't have a very big family as it was, and my dad was the only one of them who attended my graduation. My mother, perpetual-single-woman by choice that she was, couldn't be bothered to fly out to New York to watch her only daughter walk the stage, though I had sent her an invitation.
I reached through the darkest tunnels of my mind, dust-ridden and cobwebbed, for the last happy memory I had of my mother. I couldn't come up with one. Not one. Family didn't mean much to my mother. That was evident in the way she'd fled cold, wet Forks, taking off for hot, dry Phoenix, leaving both my dad and me when I was only five. At night she was there to wish me pleasant dreams without a glance up from the small, tattered book in her hands; by morning she was gone, one duffle bag missing, and my dad and I never could figure out what she had packed in that thing because her closet and drawers were still full. Her book, marked at page 147, still sat on her nightstand. I remembered taking that book to my room when my father wasn't looking. I hid it and saved it and even brought it here to New York with me.
I was unconvinced that my mother even truly knew what family was or what it meant. To her they were people she maybe shared some DNA with, maybe they somewhat resembled her, or maybe a small portion of her life was spent with them, but my mother was her own family. The rest of us be damned, she would take care of herself.
"Interrupt my family?" I asked. "You mean my dad?"
"And that other guy. He had black hair; he kept his arm around you."
"Oh, Jacob. I've known him forever. You should've said something."
"I don't know." He gave me a slight smile. "I wasn't really invited, but I felt like I should see you walk, you know?"
I smiled back. "Well, thank you. I would've invited you. I just had no idea you would want to be there. Graduations are so boring."
"And you'll be starting graduate school when? In August?"
I nodded. I'd been accepted into the creative writing program and had already taken some graduate courses, ahead of the game. "It's real-world avoidage for me. I'm afraid I may end up like James and never stop going to school."
"I doubt that. You've got ambitions, Bella. Jay likes to live on a cloud, one created and paid for by his father."
I shook my head. "He doesn't want to live under his father's thumb. And I think he's really found something with this culinary institute. He's even got that catering job next week. That's huge progress for him."
"Maybe. Maybe it's real this time."
I smiled. "I think it is. The way he talks about it is different than he's ever talked about anything."
Edward gazed down at me for a moment, a smile just at the corner of his mouth. "You seem proud of him."
"I am. If he's finally found what he wants, then I am. But you, I mean, your job is ideal. Not many people can spontaneously take a Monday off."
"It is ideal," he said. "I have a meeting tomorrow, so I have all night to work on my presentation. The art is done. I finished it right after they gave me a copy of the story. It's a story about nature and seasons written in a series of Haikus. It's actually really beautiful poetry, and inspiration came easily after one afternoon in the park."
A couple of years back, just out of college, Edward fell easily into the world of advertising, or as he preferred to call it, "fucking-people-over-big-time." His responsibility was to land clients by convincing them of their need for print advertising.
"The smaller businesses, they can't afford it," Edward had told James and me over dinner, refilling his own wine glass for at least the fourth time. "We promise miracles like we're Santa Claus delivering magic on Christmas Eve. And these people, these small business owners, they just want to succeed so badly, they buy into it."
Look at these successful businesses we've helped build, he'd tell his potential client, offering a portfolio of beautifully presented magazine spreads. Amazing, isn't it?
And then he'd show them his three top clients—Fortune 500 companies that could actually afford heavy advertising. The proof was in the pudding.
And then Edward likened the advertisements he was selling to pudding.
Looks good—I prefer vanilla, simple, the client would say.
But the elaborate chocolate is so much more effective. It's more expensive, of course, due to the extra ingredients and fancier packaging. But really, it's the way to go.
I'll take the chocolate. Where do I sign?
Edward felt like he needed to trade his advertising career in for teaching elementary school or the likes, just to give back something positive to the world. Replace what he took from it, and add a little more, maybe. He did the next best thing his natural talent and art degree could do for him. He became a children's book illustrator for an independent publishing house, making half as much money as he'd made in advertising.
"But it's an honest living," he had said. "And at the end of the day, I'm okay with looking at my own reflection." Maybe he didn't have complete creative freedom, but it was certainly more creative than racking his brain for fresh ideas and new ways to convince people to spend money on services they didn't need, nor would they benefit from.
It was our turn to get into the elevator. A group of us piled in, standing tense, arms snug against our sides, trying not to touch the strangers nearest to us, but as tightly as we were all packed in, it was hard not to. The elevator lifted, and began the longest ride up I'd ever experienced. Whenever I thought for sure we were there, it kept going. On instinct I looked up as if I could see through the top, see the end. But of course it was just the roof of the elevator.
Once at the top, gazing out windows, I saw how near-perfectly aligned the streets were. Straight rows of buildings heading on and on, separated by car-filled roads—though the cars were barely seen from this distance. They were toys, Matchboxes. On the other side was the Hudson River, so quiet, so calm, I almost forgot where I was. I was floating over waters, over building tops, hard and cold and grey, but as beautiful as clouds from here.
"I wish I had my camera," I said.
"Yeah, we didn't exactly plan for this, did we?"
Edward had a plan though, and a schedule so that we could fit everything in he'd promised to show me. Next was the ferry. We bought an overpriced disposable camera before ascending one of the escalators to the rooftop deck of the terminal. We waited on a bench for the next ferry and I noted how much time was spent waiting compared to how much time was spent actually experiencing the attractions.
The toes of my shoes scraped back and forth along the deck.
"When I was little in Forks, my dad used to take me out on the lake," I said. "We had to cross the dock to get to the slip he rented for his boat, but the slits in the planks were wide, and the catwalk bounced on the water with each heavy step my dad took. I used to be afraid I would fall through."
"How old were you?"
"I don't know, four, maybe? The first few times, my dad carried me across because I screamed and wouldn't move. But after a while he said that was just ridiculous and I had to see that falling through the slits was impossible. He said I could either stand still on the shore and wait for him or walk across the dock with him there holding my hand. And I wasn't allowed to scream. So, I walked across. I was terrified, but I did it anyway because being left alone on the shore was even more terrifying."
"Did you ever fall through the cracks?" Edward laughed.
"Not yet," I said.
Let me know what you think. Feel free to ask questions. :)