ENTRY FOR THE PLOT BUNNY CONTEST
Story Name: A Ray in the Dark
Word Count (not including header/author's note): 6,786
To see other entries in the Plot Bunny Contest, please visit the following C2:
A/N: There are two special ladies who need extra special kudos for their beta skills on this one. They shall remain nameless—until the contest is over. But they know who they are… Love you both!
Also, thanks to whoever sent in this plot bunny. I had a lot of fun with it; hope you're pleased with my spin on it.
Plot Bunny: Bella Black is a tough business woman who knows what she wants and usually how to get it. When she's suddenly left a widow, it throws her off course completely. She's left floundering in the sea of life, struggling to regain her footing.
At the insistence of her best friend, Alice, she moves from New York to Tybee Island, Georgia. She doesn't know what to expect from life anymore, and isn't looking for a new relationship. She just needs to find herself again.
What happens when bronze hair and green eyes find her, instead?
"Bella? Bella! Come on, honey, get up."
Alice's voice, followed by the swish of metal curtain rings, pierced through my skull, setting off a series of tiny, persistent hammers in my brain. I groaned in protest, but I could tell by the increased number of hammers that she had moved to the second window in my bedroom.
"Look! It's a beautiful day outside!"
I pulled the duvet up over my head. It quickly slid back down to my waist.
"Bella, I know how hard this is for you—"
I glared over my shoulder at her.
"Well, no, actually, I don't."
I sank back down on my pillow.
"But you've got to at least get out of bed," she continued. "And stop drinking so much."
I carefully rolled over and glared at her again. She picked up the empty Tanqueray bottle and the glass that still held a swallow or two of my current poison and deliberately clinked them together, pulling another groan from my tortured skull.
"Al-iss," I whined.
"How full was this bottle when you got started last night?" she asked, not giving up.
I sat up and looked away from her probing eyes. I really had no idea.
It had been a month and a half since the funeral. By the end of week one, the gin-to-tonic ratio was leaning more toward gin. Somewhere between weeks two and three, I decided that a martini would be better. The martinis got dryer as that week progressed until I finally ditched the vermouth and the olives. And possibly sometimes the glass... but I couldn't be sure about that.
"I know you're hurting, honey," she said more softly, "but you can't stop living."
"Why not?" I whispered. "He did." I vaguely felt a tear slip down my cheek. "He left me."
"Oh, Bella," she whispered, and I felt the mattress dip slightly as she sat beside me and wrapped her arms around me.
Tucking my head into the crook of her neck, I allowed her to hug me, wishing that it would make a difference. That it would take any of the pain away. But it didn't. Nothing did. Not even the gin.
"Okay," she finally said, pulling away slightly.
I sat up a little straighter, waiting to hear what she would say next. Not that it would make any difference either.
"Let's get you up and dressed—and showered," she added with a delicate sniff. "And then we're going to pack some bags for you."
"Yes, bags. You're going away for a while."
I shook my head but quickly stopped; the hammers had started up again.
"I've already arranged everything," Alice continued, pulling me to my feet. She grimaced when she noticed my rumpled clothes. "How long have you been wearing these?" she asked.
I shrugged and looked away again. I felt her hands on my cheeks, gently forcing me to face her.
"It's okay, honey. I know this is hard for you. But I refuse to let you waste away like this."
I knew there was no use in trying to resist her. Alice Brandon was a whirlwind of persuasion and capability when she put her mind to it.
"Alright," I said, "where am I going? And when?"
She smiled brightly—a mild reaction for Alice—and tugged me toward the bathroom. "I'll tell you all about it while you shower."
Before I knew it, the smelly, rumpled clothes were stripped away, and warm water was pelting my naked body, washing away the sweat and tears of who knew how many days past. I watched the water swirl down the drain and wished the hurt would go with it.
"Okay, so I spoke with Max about you taking a leave of absence," Alice said from the other side of the glass wall, "and he was all for it. He just said to make sure you take your Blackberry and your laptop… just in case. And I've already booked your flight to Savannah—"
"Wait!" I interrupted. "No."
"Bella, it's a place to relax. It's sunny, it's beautiful… it's somewhere different, without constant remin—"
"We bought it for—"
"I know you meant it to be a summer get-away, but—"
"We never went there," I finished for her.
A couple of years ago, we had purchased a house on Tybee Island in Georgia, just twenty minutes from Savannah. It needed a little bit of work, but we had gotten it at a great price, and the photos the realtor had sent were gorgeous. The intent had been for him to do the renovations himself; however, we both always seemed too busy to take time off to go down there. So a few months ago, we had hired someone to do the renovations for us so the house would be ready whenever we made time to go. And now…
I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of my freesia body wash on the bath puff Alice held over the shower wall.
"Wash," she instructed.
Taking the puff from her, I realized that she was right. It was a good place to get away… without feeling completely distanced from him. It was true that we hadn't created any memories there together, so I wouldn't see a hundred and one things every day that reminded me of him. Of what I had lost. But it was also something that we had done together—sort of—so I would still have that connection. And it was beautiful and sunny. He had always been my sun, the light in my life.
"Okay," I said softly.
"Okay, I'll go."
Alice bounced once in excitement—again, mild for her—and plowed ahead with her recitation of my plans.
"So like I said, I booked your flight to Savannah for Tuesday morning, and you've got a rental car waiting for you at the airport. You have an ocean view suite at the Ocean Plaza Beach Resort until the renovations on the house are finished. And I'll pack a list of local restaurants and attractions…"
She kept talking while I lathered, rinsed, and then washed and conditioned my hair. I let her voice run over my ears like the water ran over my body. I finally stepped out of the shower when the water began to cool and wrapped the fluffy towel she held out to me around my body. I dried off and pulled on the clothes Alice passed me, not bothering to notice what I was putting on. It really didn't matter.
I only noticed how much time was passing as Alice helped me pack for my trip because the shadows lengthened and the light from outside finally disappeared.
"Okay," she finally said, glancing over the four stuffed suitcases littering my living room floor, "that's enough for today. Let's go get something to eat."
"Isn't Jasper waiting for you?" I asked, hoping to shrug her off.
She just looked at me sadly and said, "He's in Texas this week."
I suddenly remembered that her boyfriend had gone home for his little sister's high school graduation earlier in the week. I had known about it for a while now, but it had slipped my mind. Like so many other things since…
"So let's go get some dinner."
"You go, Alice," I protested. "I'm really tired. I'll just get something here before I go to bed."
She gave me a long look. "Bella, I've seen your fridge and pantry. And I've seen your current idea of dinner." She linked her arm in mine and repeated, "Let's go."
And just like always—forget the fact that I could command an entire room full of editors, steal a cab out from under the savviest New Yorker, bully a reluctant author out of her writer's block, and stare down an angry boss on my worst day—Alice Brandon always managed to get her way when it came to me.
And this was one of my worst worst days.
My hotel suite was everything Alice had said it would be. The view of the Atlantic Ocean was magnificent. The king-sized bed was very comfortable but too big. The living room was cozy. There were two bathrooms and two balconies overlooking the beach. There was a refrigerator and microwave, so I could fix simple meals or heat up leftovers in my room. And the wet bar was perfect.
If it weren't for Alice's penchant for doing things all the way, I'd have had a standard room—minus the living room, extra bathroom, fridge and microwave, and wet bar. I was mildly surprised that she hadn't sacrificed luxury for prudence just this once. But she hadn't, and I had access to virtually unlimited booze in my room.
I spent the first three nights in my room, drinking somewhat moderately. After all, it's one thing to drink yourself to oblivion—oh, blessed oblivion—in your own apartment where you (and your overly helpful best friend) are the only one who will see the empty bottles. It's an entirely different thing when the hotel staff will see and know whether or not you get slobbering drunk every night.
The fourth night, I found myself being dragged out of my room to experience some of the nightlife on Tybee Island. Alice had shown up unannounced that morning claiming that Jasper had called with the news that he had decided to stay an extra week with his family. She had decided to take a few days of vacation time and join me in Georgia, ostensibly to experience life in the South and to see my vacation home on the island. But really, she was checking up on me.
I knew this to be true when she emptied the rest of the Tanqueray in the bathroom sink. And then she stopped one of the maids and asked her to take the rest of the bottles with her when she cleaned the room for the day. She said it softly, but I heard it anyway.
I glared at her, wishing I had learned to stand up to her during my years of clawing my way up the ladder in the publishing business. She smiled at me and said, "I'm only looking out for your well-being, Bella," before snaking an arm around my waist and steering me downstairs to the Dolphin Reef restaurant for dinner.
Like my room, the restaurant had an ocean view, and Alice insisted that we sit by the window so we could watch the sunset. We both ordered seafood—she had the Cajun Scallops, and I had the Captain's Platter—and I asked for a glass of Chardonnay. Alice stared at me briefly before ordering a glass of her own.
When the waitress left, I said defiantly, "It's only one glass of wine, Alice."
She nodded briefly then asked me what I'd been doing for the last three days.
"Nothing," I said truthfully. "Just resting in my room."
She hmmed and smoothed her napkin in her lap. "Any idea where we can get a massage around here?"
"Well, I'll just have to find the concierge and ask," she said with authority, and I knew that tomorrow we would be getting massages… and probably manicures and pedicures, too. I thought of protesting, but it was so much easier just to go along with whatever Alice had planned. After all, she would only be here for a week.
We were silent for a few minutes, sipping our wine, soaking up the last rays of the evening sun, and listening to the waves on the beach outside.
"Have you been out to the house yet?" Alice asked just as the waitress came back with our food.
"No," I answered, not adding that I wasn't ready yet. She would know that without me saying it.
Alice people-watched while she ate, and I picked at my food. Neither of us said anything, and my wine glass was empty before I knew it. The waitress asked if I wanted another, but with Alice glaring at me, I decided to ask for a glass of ice water with lemon. She seemed to approve.
I continued pushing my sautéed seafood around on my enormous plate until a fork—not my own—stabbed one of my shrimp. I looked up to see Alice pop it in her mouth and mmm in pleasure.
"Hey!" I protested.
She smirked and said, "Well, you're obviously not going to eat it, and there's no sense letting such deliciousness go to waste."
I speared two scallops and shoved them in my mouth. "Happy?" I asked around the mouthful of food and gave her the cheesiest smile I could muster.
"Terribly," she simpered, going back to her own plate.
We finished quickly, although I left more on my plate than Alice would have liked. It seemed that my appetite had shrunk lately.
"So, did you look over the list I packed?" Alice asked while we waited for the waitress to bring the change. "What should we do tonight?"
I hadn't even glanced over the list of area attractions Alice had slipped into my bag. And honestly, I didn't want to do anything but go back up to my room and crack open another bottle of Tanqueray. Unfortunately, Alice had already preempted that plan.
"Let's just walk on the beach, Alice," I suggested.
She gave me another of her long looks as she pocketed her change. "I suppose…"
"I'm really not up for much more," I said.
We had gone about twenty yards from the restaurant without seeing anyone else on the beach when I stopped suddenly. Alice nearly ran into me, but I heard her gasp as she realized what had stopped me in my tracks.
It was the soft strains of a guitar and a quiet tenor voice singing a song that was as familiar to me as my own heartbeat.
I was suddenly bombarded by a flood of memories, things I hadn't allowed myself to think of or feel since hearing the news that… that he had died. When the hospital called and told me what had happened—that he had been in an accident on one of his jobsites and that he had already been gone when the ambulance got him there—I hadn't believed it. I had insisted on seeing him. It was a wonder I hadn't killed myself in my rush to get to the hospital. But seeing him lying there on the hospital gurney, so still and broken, I hadn't been able to deny it anymore.
But I hadn't been able to think beyond the realization that all of our plans, all of our dreams would never happen. Everything I had lived for, every reason I had for doing anything I did was now gone.
And then in the days leading up to the funeral, there had been so many things to arrange and so much paperwork to sort through and complete that I hadn't had time to breathe much less remember anything of our life together. A life that had ceased to exist.
After the funeral, when things had calmed down and everyone else went back to their own lives, when I had begun to feel…something…again, I had turned to my liquid solace to block out the memories.
But suddenly, taken by surprise, the simple strains of the song that had been ours brought them all back to me, paralyzed me. I barely felt Alice's hand on my arm, barely heard her whisper my name in question. All I could think of were the countless little moments we had shared: our meeting, our courtship, our wedding… holidays and family get-togethers… all the little things that make up a life.
When he sang the bridge and moved into the second chorus, I felt the tears slip down my cheeks, and a sob escaped my lips.
These are the moments I thank God that I'm alive
These are the moments I'll remember all my life
I've got all I've waited for
And I could not ask for more
I could not ask for more than this time together
I could not ask for more than this time with you
Every prayer has been—
And then the music stopped abruptly.
My eyes focused on the pale, dark-haired musician who was now staring at me and Alice, his fingers resting over the strings of his guitar to silence them.
"Are you okay?" he asked in a voice as soft as velvet.
I sniffled as Alice answered for me, "It's okay; that song just brings back a lot of memories for her."
"I could play something else," he offered as I tried to pull myself together.
"Thanks," Alice said. "It's okay, really." And then to me, "Come on, Bella. Let's go."
She wrapped an arm around my waist and steered me up the beach, away from the guitar player. We had only gone a few feet when my legs gave out on me, and I collapsed to my knees on the sand. The tears came back again, flowing down my cheeks in a steady stream. I couldn't breathe for the sobs that seemed to choke me. My body folded over my legs, and I rocked back and forth, beating my fists into the sand.
"Bella," Alice said.
She, too, had knelt down in the sand and started rubbing my back, trying uselessly to comfort me. Had I been able to speak through the sobs, I could've told her that the only thing that could comfort me now was a bottle of Tanqueray. Maybe two.
"Bella, come on, honey. You've got to get up," Alice said urgently. "Let's go back to the room."
But I couldn't move. All I could do was sob and rock, sob and rock…
I woke to the gentle clink of silverware on china and the scent of warm syrup.
I pushed my tangled hair out of my face and raised myself up on my elbows, looking around for my uninvited roommate. The other side of the bed appeared to have been slept in, but she was nowhere to be seen.
I carefully slid out of bed, trying to remember how I had gotten there in the first place. I didn't remember coming back, but I also knew—by the lack of hammers in my head—that I hadn't drunk myself into oblivion last night. I wondered how Alice had gotten me up here all by herself.
I pulled on a bathrobe over my—pajamas?—and walked into the living room where I found Alice sitting at the table eating pancakes and sausage drenched in maple syrup.
"How did I get to bed?" I asked.
"Oh, you're up!" Alice greeted me with a smile. "D'you want some breakfast? I'll call room service for you. I would've gotten you something when I ordered mine, but I didn't know when you would wake—"
I held up my hand. "Okay, stop, Alice," I said, sinking onto the couch across from her. I picked up her glass of orange juice and took a long swallow.
"Isn't it great to wake up without a hangover?" she asked.
I threw her a disparaging glance and drank more of her juice.
"So much for a place with no reminders," I murmured.
"Yeah, well, even I couldn't have predicted running into a hot guitar player on the beach," Alice said.
"I don't remember getting back here."
Alice squirmed a little and said, "Um, the hot guitar player carried you up."
"Yeah, um, when you…uh…"
"Melted down?" I suggested.
"He came over and asked if he could help." She smirked and added, "I think he felt kind of guilty for making you cry."
"It wasn't his fault, Alice. He didn't know—"
"I know that. He knows it now, too," she assured me.
"How does he know?" I asked.
She squirmed again before admitting, "I told him about… your loss."
"Well, I had to tell him something," she said defensively. "And I didn't go into any details about it."
"He was already gone when you put my pajamas—?"
I sighed. "Well, I'll probably never see him again, so… I guess it's… whatever."
"True," Alice agreed, "if you stay out of the hotel bar."
"He works there a couple nights a week."
I just stared at her.
"That's why he was on the beach. He sometimes hangs out there after his shift and plays his guitar."
"Well, it sounds like you two had a cozy little conversation," I teased.
"He seems like a nice guy," she said with a shrug.
"Mm hmm," was my response. I pushed myself up off the couch and went back to the bedroom. "I hope you brought your swimsuit," I told her. "We're laying on the beach today."
The next day while we sat in massage chairs and had our hands and feet pampered and polished, Alice started making plans for the evening.
"So… I did some more checking around, and there's really not much to do around here. I mean, seriously, do you know how difficult it was to even find a salon on the island?" Alice rambled. "Savannah is the place with the night life. And there's some really interesting history. So I thought we'd take in one of the ghost tours."
"A ghost tour, Alice?"
"Yeah, it'll be fun. You know, spooky stories…"
"Absolutely not!" I blinked away a tear that threatened to slip out of the corner of my eye.
I almost laughed at my best friend's crestfallen face. "Oh, Bella, I didn't even think—"
"Don't stress," I said. "My tragedy, not yours."
"Seriously, Alice. Just drop it." I took a deep breath and asked, "So what else can we do?"
I had never seen Alice at a loss for words. She was always so self-assured and confident, planning things out like she had her own pocket psychic telling her what would happen next and when. I had to admit, though, there were some things she couldn't see. Like the accident that had taken him away from me….
I took another deep breath. "Obviously, wandering the beach here on the island isn't safe," I said, trying for a little humor and remembering dark hair, pale skin, and a velvet voice. "Why don't we walk around Historic Savannah and see what there is to see?"
"Sounds like a plan!" she enthused, blinking a little too rapidly.
Once I made the initial suggestion, Alice had run with it, insisting that we have dinner at the Lady and Sons, Paula Deen's famous restaurant. I had Googled directions to the restaurant on West Congress Street on my Blackberry. It seemed fairly easy to get to, even though the streets of Savannah were somewhat maze-like.
We got our table quickly and ordered Paula's favorites: the Cornucopia Salad, pan-seared Tilapia over Jasmine rice with crab butter, and Peach BBQ Grouper served over cheddar cheese grit cakes. Although I admit that food is not my forte, I wasn't terribly impressed with the meal. We decided to skip dessert and head over to River Street before it got too much later.
Alice played navigator as we left the restaurant, directing me to turn right on Whitaker and right again on West Congress Lane. I questioned her because we had just gotten off of West Congress.
"Yes, but that was West Congress Street," she informed me. "This is West Congress Lane."
"We're gonna get lost," I predicted.
We went right on Jefferson Street and left on West Bay Lane. We were almost home free, but I turned too soon, making a right on Montgomery Street instead of West Broad Street. Had I turned on West Broad, we would've ended up on River. Instead we couldn't turn back and had to turn right on Williamson Street.
"I hate one way streets!" I complained. "Alice, we're lost!"
"Well, if we just follow this street, it's sure to put us out somewhere we've already been, and then we can turn back on Bay Street—"
"Okay, okay," I interrupted.
I kept driving and, just before we got back to Jefferson, Alice said, "Stop, Bella!"
I hit the brakes, grateful that there was no one behind us.
"What?" I asked.
She was pointing outside at a window with a sign that said Savannah Smiles Dueling Pianos Saloon.
"Dueling Pianos!" she said excitedly. "That could be fun, huh?"
"Uh, yeah, sure," I conceded. At least it was better than a ghost tour.
So we found a place to park and made our way to the dueling piano saloon. It was nearly packed by the time we got there. The doorman collected the cover charge and told us we were just in time. The bouncer winked at us. There was no one at the pianos yet, so we settled in and ordered a couple of drinks.
Just as the waitress brought Alice her scotch and soda and me my gin and tonic, the audience began to applaud. We turned our attention to the front of the room where the two pianos waited for their players. A gorgeous, leggy blonde stepped up to one of them accompanied by wolf whistles and cat calls. She waved to the audience and blew a kiss to the loudest whistler, the bouncer.
The second piano player stepped up to his instrument. He was tall—at least six feet—and lanky; his hair was a bronze mess, his eyes a piercing green that swept the room, gauging the crowd. I couldn't help but focus on his long, slender fingers as he waved; they reminded me of something, but I couldn't put my finger on what exactly.
Out of nowhere, Alice started giggling.
"What is wrong with you, Alice?" I asked.
"That's him, Bella! The 'hot guitar player' from the beach."
I stood, ready to go, but Alice yanked me back into my seat.
"I can't face him," I said.
"It was dark on the beach," she returned. "He probably won't recognize you."
I rolled my eyes at her. "But it was brightly lit in the hotel room, Alice."
"Well, ladies and gents," he said, his velvet voice washing over the crowd, "I'm Edward Cullen, and this is Rosalie Hale," he added, gesturing toward the blonde, "and we'd like to welcome you to Savannah Smiles."
The audience applauded loudly, he continued talking, and I lost track of the whole evening. The crowd around me laughed and cheered as the two pianists traded melodies and harmonies and risqué banter. I couldn't really focus on anything that was said, and while I could appreciate their talent, I don't really remember anything they played.
Before I knew it, the show was over, and it was two o'clock in the morning. The pianos were now deserted again. I glanced around the bar, almost as if I was coming out of a trance. The female pianist, Rosalie, was making her way between the tables to get to the bouncer, a burly guy with dark curls and dimples. Where was the other pianist? The tall one with the velvet voice, who had seen me at one of my lowest moments.
"Alice," I suddenly heard behind me. In a voice of velvet.
I closed my eyes and stifled the urge to groan.
"Hey, Edward," Alice said.
"I didn't expect to see you here," Edward said.
"We didn't really expect to be here," she answered with a chuckle. "We made a wrong turn and ended up on Williamson, and I saw the sign."
"Well, I'm glad you did. Did you enjoy the show?" he asked, looking from Alice to me. He nodded at me in greeting, and I think I grimaced like I had heartburn. I felt my cheeks heat with a blush.
"Yeah, it was fantastic!" Alice praised. "You two are amazing!"
She elbowed me, and I murmured, "Yeah, it was great."
"Oh, Bella, you haven't met Edward yet!" Alice said, smiling.
"Edward Cullen," he said, extending his hand. "It's nice to meet you… Bella?"
I took his hand, feeling my blush intensify. "Yeah, Bella Black." What must he think of me?
"You're feeling better?"
I ducked my head and said, "Yes, thanks." I chanced a glance up to see if he was laughing at me. He wasn't. He actually looked concerned about me.
"Good," he said softly.
"So your shift is over?" Alice asked.
Edward rubbed a hand over the back of his neck. "Yeah. We close at three, so they cut us loose an hour early to wind down."
"Why don't you join us?" Alice invited. "Oh. Unless you have somewhere else—"
"No." He smiled crookedly. "Thanks; I think I will." He glanced at the bar. "Can I get you ladies another drink?"
Alice looked at me then back at him. "I'll have a scotch and soda. Bella?"
"Coke. I'll have a coke."
"No rum to go with it?" Edward asked.
I shook my head. "Just coke, please."
"You got it," he said and disappeared into the crowd.
"Are you okay with this?" Alice asked, laying a hand on my shoulder.
I shrugged. "It's… whatever. Just a drink. And then we'll go back to the hotel, right?"
"Yeah," Alice said, "just a drink, and then we go back to the hotel."
Edward came back then with our drinks and a scotch for himself.
"So, Edward," Alice began, "you're quite the musician, huh?"
He chuckled and shrugged.
"Do you play other instruments, too?"
"Just piano and guitar. I sing a little though."
"Yeah, I remember. Why didn't you sing tonight?" she asked.
"It's all about the pianos here. I usually only sing when I play guitar."
"How long have you played?" I heard myself ask. And I felt myself blush again. What is wrong with me? I'm thirty-two and a married wo—
I absently spun my rings around my finger. Although I still wore the golden symbols of our union, the truth was that I was a widow… not a married woman anymore. I swallowed the sob that threatened and focused on what Edward was saying.
"Guitar I started when I was in junior high, and I've played piano for… forever, it seems." He grinned at us and took a sip of his scotch. "My mother thought it was… uh… important for me to be 'cultured.'"
"And now you use your talent to duel rock 'n' roll songs in Savannah."
He and Alice chuckled together; I managed a slight smile.
"Alice," I said. "I'm really tired. Can we—?"
She looked at me, then Edward, then me again before she nodded. "Yeah, um, we should get going, Edward. It's been kind of a long day."
"Okay, well, you ladies be safe driving back to the island. And, uh, maybe I'll see you again, huh?"
"Thanks, Edward. See you around," Alice said, gathering up her purse and slinging back the last of her scotch and soda.
"Thanks for the coke, Edward, and for…"
"No problem." He smiled at me again. "It was really nice to meet you, Bella. Take care."
"So, Bella," Alice called from the bathroom where she was gathering her toiletries.
She poked her head out of the bathroom door. "Are you ready to go see the house?"
I wrapped my arms around myself.
"Have you even talked to them yet?"
"Uh, yeah, they called yesterday."
I shrugged. "It's finished. I just…"
Alice stared at me, waiting for me to finish my sentence.
"I just… I don't think…" I took a deep breath. "I don't think I'm ready yet."
She sighed. "You have to go sometime, Bella."
"I know." I scuffed my shoe on the carpet. "And I know you wanted to see it, but—"
"Bella, I was hoping you'd be ready to go there before I left, but if you're not…" She shrugged. "If you're not, then you're not. You don't have to do it for me. Just do it when you're ready."
I nodded. "I will. Just… just not today."
"Okay, honey. When you're ready," she repeated.
Alice finished packing up her toiletries, and we went down to the Dolphin Reef for the breakfast buffet. Over breakfast we decided to spend the morning down at the beach. We kept it light, chatting about nothing in particular, soaking up the soft morning rays.
Her flight was leaving later that afternoon, so we said our goodbyes after lunch. I waved until I couldn't see her rental car anymore, half glad she was leaving, half wishing she could stay.
With Alice gone, life slowed down again. My in-room wet bar was still empty. Well, it was always stocked with sodas and bottled water but no liquor. And I realized that Alice was right; getting drunk every night wasn't helping, and I could cope without it.
However, it seemed like there was nothing to do. Without Alice, I wasn't as motivated—or bullied—to find things to do or attractions to see. And although I gave it some thought every morning when I woke up, I still couldn't make myself go see the house.
I spent the next two weeks on the beach or vegging out in my room with the TV. There was really nothing worth watching, but at least it kept me company.
I had made my way through just about every appetizing thing on the room service menu. I wasn't binge eating. And I wasn't trying to drown my sorrow—which was still always there, like a nagging toothache—in food. But with little to do, I began to notice I was eating more than normal. And I began to crave things I normally didn't eat.
That's how I found myself back on US-80 heading off the island—how in the world did that happen?—in search of some grocery store called Kroger. I was craving ice cream. But not just any ice cream. I wanted Häagen Dazs White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle.
The whole time I was driving, I kept telling myself that I couldn't believe I was driving twenty minutes away just for a carton of ice cream. And I was going to be seriously pissed if they didn't have it.
So there I was standing in front of the frozen case, wallowing in my pissed-off-ness because they were, in fact, out of my flavor. And what's more, I didn't even see a tag for it, which meant that they didn't even carry it. What kind of place was this?
I kept staring at the ice cream cartons, trying to decide which flavor would make a satisfactory second choice. I was wavering between Vanilla Swiss Almond and Pralines & Cream.
I think I jumped a foot and nearly gave myself whiplash spinning around.
"Sorry," Edward said. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"Hi," I said.
"Hey." He grinned at me, and I couldn't help my blush. "What brings you here?"
I pointed to the ice cream case.
"Ah. Yeah, it's hard to find some things on the island."
"And in Savannah," I said, still pissed about my missing flavor.
He quirked an eyebrow at me.
"No White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle."
He nodded solemnly. "So what's it gonna be?"
I sighed and told him my dilemma.
"Hmmm. Well," he said, "just buy both of them."
"Yeah, I guess I could. But I don't want to eat two whole pints."
"So were you planning to eat it now or take it back to your hotel?" he asked.
"Um, I hadn't thought that far ahead," I admitted.
He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck like he had at the piano bar. "Well, I don't mean to be, uh, out of line or anything, but I live just down the street. And I have a comfortable patio furniture set. And spoons," he added when I still hadn't responded.
I wasn't quite sure how to respond. Was he hitting on me? Or was he just being… um… friendly?
"I'm not trying to… I didn't mean anything by that, Bella. I just thought… um… this way you could, you know, have both flavors. Right away."
"That's really sweet of you, Edward," I finally said.
He smiled briefly. "So… uh… what do you think?"
I shrugged and thought it over. "Well, I guess, we could… uh… share them…" I wanted to crawl into the frozen case to cool the blush on my cheeks.
He smiled again, larger this time. "Do you need anything else here?" he asked.
I shook my head and grabbed the two pints of Häagen Dazs. "What about you?"
Edward hefted his shopping basket and looked through the contents. "Nope. I've got everything."
He followed me to the checkout lines and loaded his groceries directly behind mine. I reached for the little white divider to set between our selections. He took it from me and placed it back along the side of the conveyor.
"I got this," he said.
"Edward, I can't let you—"
"It's just two pints of ice cream, Bella. Please let me."
I finally shrugged and put my bank card back in my purse. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said, handing over a small stack of bills to pay for our groceries. He leaned in conspiratorially and confided, "I've gotten a lot of tips lately." And then he winked.
I felt my skin color up again and wanted to faint. I didn't understand what was going on with my body and its responses to this man. He could make me blush with the most innocent comments and gestures. And although I was embarrassed that he had seen me nearly at my worst, I couldn't deny that I felt drawn to him for some inexplicable reason.
I followed Edward back to his apartment, which I found out he shared with the bouncer from Savannah Smiles whose name was Emmett McCarty. Emmett was just heading out to pick up his girlfriend, Rosalie, the other piano player at the club. He waved as he took off in a huge Jeep, a broad smile painted across his face.
Edward snagged two spoons and bowls from the kitchen and led me out to the patio in the back. We settled onto the padded chairs and cracked open the pints of ice cream. I spooned out half of the Vanilla Swiss Almond into one bowl while he did the same with the Pralines & Cream and then we swapped bowls.
"So what did you do in New York?" Edward asked after a few bites.
"How did you know—?" I shook my head.
"Alice," we said at the same time.
I took another bite of ice cream and let it melt on my tongue. "I'm an editor at a publishing house," I finally answered.
"Like magazines? Or novels?"
We each took another bite, and then I asked, "So you tend bar at the Ocean Plaza and you duel pianos at Savannah Smiles. Both evening jobs. What do you do in the daytime?"
"I'm a student at Savannah State," he answered. "They've got a decent music program."
We continued talking about our lives, light conversation, nothing heavy or serious. He was interested in everything I had to say and never pushed too hard about things I didn't want to talk about. He was also very open about himself and candidly answered every question I asked. Before I knew it, it was dinner time and we still hadn't run out of things to talk about.
Edward, who had that night off from both of his jobs, insisted that I stay for dinner. He whipped up a delicious meal of grilled steaks and baked potatoes while I made a tossed salad. Emmett showed up somewhere around dishwashing time and simply raised an eyebrow at us and kept walking to his room.
As I drove back to the hotel an hour later, I couldn't stop thinking about Edward Cullen and what Alice would say when I told her how I had spent my afternoon and evening. I knew that she would tell me it was good that I was breaking out of my isolation and living again.
When I came to the island, I hadn't known what I would find. I hadn't even been looking for anything. But it appeared that something—someone—had found me. While I didn't have Alice's gift and couldn't predict what the future might hold, I could see the sun starting to peek over the horizon. It was almost as if I was coming out of a tunnel and I could see dawn breaking in my life. And I finally began to hope for a brighter future.
A/N: I'm not the type to beg for reviews and votes, but you know what to do if you liked this. And let me just say: If you liked it, put it on Story Alert. 'Nuff said? :)
Also, just in case you didn't recognize it, the song is "I Could Not Ask for More" by Edwin McCain.