July 4, 1976-New York City
"Tell me again where we're supposed to sleep tonight?"
"Eddie! Man, you need to relax!" Emmett says, stretching his massive body back as far as his cramped seat on the Greyhound bus will allow.
"Because you know every decent hotel room in the city will have been booked for months in advance," I continue. "And don't call me 'Eddie'. It's Edward. I've known you for three years. It's always been Edward. It's still Edward."
"Edward is a grandpa name," Emmett scowls.
"Yes, it was my grandfather's name, actually. And then my father's and now mine. Edward worked perfectly well for them; it works perfectly well for me."
"And this…this right here… is why you need today."
I look at him, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"You! All ready to lock yourself into the Cullen Family mold at twenty-one. Man, there's a whole world out there that you've never seen, never experienced! You went straight from the hallowed halls of Andover, to the hallowed halls of Dartmouth, and you're about to enter the hallowed halls of Cullen Enterprises next year. There's no life in your life!"
I scoff dismissively. "And spending the fourth of July in New York City is going to show me all this life that you say I've been missing?"
"It's better than spending it studying for your stupid summer classes. Like you even need more credits. So, yeah, it's a start."
"No, what it will be is crowded, noisy and dirty. And we'll probably be robbed. I can't believe we don't even have a place to stay tonight. I swear, Emmett, if we wind up sleeping in some filthy bus station…"
"Eddie! Just relax! Go with the flow and let the adventure find us!"
I roll my eyes and give up arguing with him. It's pointless anyway. I'll never understand how I let myself get talked into this—coming to New York City, of all places, for the Bicentennial celebration. New York City's reputation on just any ordinary day is formidable and intimidating. On a day like today, I'm expecting nothing less that pure anarchy in the streets.
Our bus slows as it enters a dark tunnel, indicating that we're getting close to Port Authority. Emmett straightens up and tucks his shirt back in, then pats his hair and smooths his sideburns. I cast a surreptitious glance at him as he does so. That shirt…it's a polyester monstrosity; light blue and printed all over with cracked Liberty Bells. He's got on his new bell-bottomed jeans and those ridiculous platform oxfords he's so crazy about. Emmett's 6'3" in his bare feet. Those stupid platform shoes make him the size and scale of Frankenstein. I'm dressed far less flashy, just jeans and a white t-shirt and sneakers.
The bus lurches to a shuddering stop in one of the bays and we join the rest of the rag-tag passengers shuffling down the aisle. If the people on the bus on their way to New York are any indication of the general population, then the city is full of people who talk to themselves and smell like tuna fish.
Port Authority is a nightmare; big and complicated and no decent maps or signage anywhere. How the hell is a person supposed to find their way around this place? No one else seems to be having a problem, though. People stream past us in every direction at a break-neck pace. I've never seen people walk so fast. Emmett and I spend a fruitless fifteen minutes looking for any exit to take us up to the street level before we give up and asked a cop. There are plenty of them standing around, which makes me nervous.
Finally, I see the blue glare of daylight ahead at the top of the escalator and breathe a sigh of relief. I'll feel so much better once I'm outside in the fresh air with a little space around me. As we step out onto Eighth Avenue, I quickly realize that I'm not going to find any of those things any time soon.
Everywhere I look there is….something to look at. Never in my life have I experienced such sensory overload. Signs and billboards everywhere, advertising everything, all demanding my attention. Noises, car horns, shouting, singing- an absolute cacophony. And it smells. Hot and hazy, smelling of dirt and sweat and rot. This place is hell on earth.
"This place is tripped out!" Emmett exclaims in delight next to me. "Check it out, man. That place is showing Kung Fu movies. Oh, and look- a porn house! Dig it, three porn houses just in that block!"
I open my mouth to lay in to him; to tell him I did not sit on a bus for five hours to sit in a filthy, disease-ridden Times Square movie theater to watch bad stag films or bad Kung Fu films; to tell him that we were turning right back around and getting on the next bus back to Dartmouth where we belong, when the hot, fetid air is electrified with an ear-splitting screech.
"You fucking honky bitch! You best be backin' outta my block!"
"You get your skanky black ass over here and make me!"
"Bitch! You come on to my block, charging my Johns five bucks less than me for a blow job and you think I won't mess you up for that shit?"
We turn towards the voices in unison, but Emmett still feels the need to slap me in the chest to get my attention. They are huge. Two towering women in platform shoes and ridiculously tiny clothes standing just inches away from each other, ready to take each other apart. One of them, the "honky bitch", has on a tiny rabbit-fur jacket even in this sweltering weather. She's also got on just panties, a garter belt, and stockings, to make up for the overheating factor, I suppose. The other one is wearing a red tube top and a mini-skirt that might just be another tube top, and the largest afro I've ever seen. Something isn't right, though. They're more than just tall. They're large, they're…masculine. They're men. I'm sure I do a lousy job of keeping the shock off my face. It hardly matters, though. No one nearby is looking at anything but the two…women…about to come to blows over the price of a blow job.
"You look here, bitch. I can charge whatever I want. They come to me 'cause I'm just better at it! You couldn't get a goddamned monk off with that mouth."
"Bitch, you did not…!"
"Oh, yes, I did!"
One lunges at the other then and there's a scuffle, then a shriek, and then a flash of platinum blonde hair waving high in the air.
"You bitch! Gimme back my fucking wig!"
"Let's see you get some action now, with your big-ass hands and your bad tuck and your bald head!"
At that moment, one of the cops from inside the bus station notices the commotion and intervenes. The two…uh, women, are still screeching at each other, one waving the others' wig in her face, but officers have converged to hold them back.
"Eddie," Emmett stage-whispers loudly. "I think one of those chicks was a dude."
The one with the afro, unbelievably, manages to hear him.
"Hey, college boy!" she sings out to us as the cop tries to pull her backwards. "You wanna take a walk on the wild side? You wanna taste this brown sugar, big boy? Are you that big all over? You know you want to try some a' this sweetness, dontcha? C'mon, I'll do you both. I''ll even give y'all a discount."
"Um, Emmett, we're getting the fuck out of here," I hiss, hooking his elbow and dragging him backwards.
"I love New York," he sighs. But he allows me to pull him after me. I think we're heading east, but I can't be sure. I'm too overwhelmed to try and sort out where we are. After a block or so, Emmett gets distracted by even more stuff to the north, so we turn left and head that way. This is Times Square. I recognize this much from pictures. This makes me feel marginally better. Like if there are pictures of it in a book, then somehow it's less threatening.
We keep going north, although the pace slows as we make our way through Times Square. There are just so many people. Walking in a straight line is impossible. Plus Emmett wants to stop and look at everything. I'm not even sure where we're headed; I just know I want out of this crushing scrum of people.
It takes blocks, but eventually the crowd does thin somewhat. The crazy billboards and flashing neon also disappear, so I know we've left Times Square behind us. We keep heading north on whatever avenue this is, distracted by the never-ending stream of wildly varying pedestrians flowing past us, the non-stop chatter in more languages than I can count, the store windows full of stuff that I didn't even know you could buy.
Abruptly, our sidewalk ends and we're facing a low wall and green grass.
"This must be Central Park," I say to Emmett, with a relieved sigh. A park is just what I need.
"We're not spending all damned day in some park, Eddie," Emmett grouses.
"A few minutes out of that Hieronymus Bosch painting out there won't kill you."
Emmett shakes his head and chuckles. "Only you would walk through a city like this and compare it to some dead dude's painting."
I roll my eyes, buy Emmett follows me into the park without further complaint. The mention of Bosch has made me remember that I read that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is somewhere on the edge of this park. I'm wondering if we can "accidentally" stumble on it and maybe I can drag Emmett inside for a little bit.
The park turns out to be only marginally less crowded than the streets. It's a major holiday, of course. And not just any Fourth of July; it's the Bicentennial. The party atmosphere hangs heavy in the air wherever we go.
We stop for a moment on the winding path so I can take a look at a map of the park I've found. It's nearly covered over in graffiti, but I can just make out the paths. Emmett's hand suddenly thumps my chest again to get my attention and I'm really hoping we're not about to be treated to another cat fight between transvestite prostitutes. I turn to look in the same direction as Emmett and that's not at all what I see.
Several dozen feet ahead of us on the path are two girls; a tall blonde and a much smaller brunette. The brunette is heading towards us at quite a clip, when the blonde snags her arm and spins her around. The brunette speaks quickly, waving her hands in agitation, pointing accusingly in the direction they've come from. The blonde interjects a few times, then shrugs her shoulders in apparent agreement with whatever her friend has said. They stop arguing and now just stand there looking at each other in a rapidly-cooling huff.
The blonde is tall, and made even taller by her red platform wedge sandals. She's wearing a really tight red sleeveless mini-dress that makes her look like a cross between an old-time movie star and a Pan Am stewartess.
But it's the little brunette I can't seem to tear my eyes away from. She's got on these really short electric blue running shorts that leave her long pale legs completely exposed. Well, her thighs are exposed, anyway. White tube socks with red stripes come up to just below her knees. Her tight red tank top says "Spirit of '76" in white letters across her breasts, which makes it really hard not to look at them. Her breasts, I mean. Her long brown hair is in two ponytails, just behind her ears. The girlish ponytails give her a young, innocent air which is completely at odds with the rest of her.
I have no idea how long I've been staring at her, making this mental catalogue of her appearance, when I feel Emmett's hand squeezing my shoulder hard. "Dibs," he mutters.
"Huh? No, you can't call it already! I mean, it doesn't even matter because we don't know them." I'm flustered and irritated at the same time.
"Well, we're about to know them," Emmett says, a predatory grin on his face. Suddenly, I feel weirdly protective, like I want to go throw myself between him and that pretty girl he's eyeing shamelessly. "Besides," Emmett says absently, "She's too tall for you."
"What? No she's not. She's tiny. She's the perfect height for... Oh, shut up," I snap, when I realize that I'm trying to argue with him that she's better for me than for him. Because it doesn't matter. She's just some strange girl in a park.
"Man, what are you talking about? She's tall! Now her little friend seems more your speed."
"Oh," is all I can say, because now I realize that Emmett's got his eye on the blonde girl. That's perfect because that leaves the dark-haired girl for me..."Wait. Why are we even talking about this?" I snap.
"Seems a good idea to sort out which is which before we get over there and accidentally start hitting on the same girl," he shrugs.
I open my mouth to tell him he's crazy and that we're not hitting on anybody, but his hand wraps around my shoulder like a vise and he's propelling me in their direction whether I like it or not. The blonde sees our approach and stops talking to look at us. The brunette notices and turns to look. I'm suddenly very glad that Emmett is shoving me in her direction. She was cute from a distance, but up close, she's absolutely stunning. Her dark eyes quickly size us up, then they meet mine and stop. And I stop. I stop breathing, I stop thinking. I just stop, and stare back at her.
Emmett drags us to a halt a foot away from them. Both girls are eying us speculatively, waiting to see what this is all about. I just keep staring at the brunette. Her eyes flick around, but keep landing back on mine.
She's not my type. Well, she doesn't look like anybody I've gone out with. To be fair, though, all the girls at Dartmouth are pretty much alike. Preppy, well-groomed, conservative. This girl looks like none of those thing. She looks street-wise, savvy, and cool. I'm not really any of those things. And yet, I can't stop staring. At her deep brown eyes, at her pouty pink bottom lip, at her perfect, tiny nose. I can't remember ever feeling this dumb-struck at the sight of a girl before.
"Hey," Emmett says with a broad grin.
"He—ey?" the blonde replies warily.
"Did you just…I mean, are you okay?" Emmett says, his voice full of completely believable sincerity and concern. I roll my eyes, because I know exactly what's coming, and it's bad. "Because it's a long way down from heaven, angel. You must have taken quite a fall."
The blonde stares at him a beat, then rolls her eyes so hard she probably sees the inside of her head. "Are you kidding me with that ridiculous line?" she says, a hint of New York in her voice. The brunette snorts with laughter. "Can I help you with anything else, Mister?" the blonde snaps, taking her friend's elbow and starting to turn her away. I'm panicking because Emmett and his stupid smooth moves have blown it before I can even open my mouth.
"Emmett," he says.
"You said Mister. But that's too formal, considering how close we're about to be. It's just Emmett. And this is Eddie." He smacks my chest. Again.
"Edward," I say reflexively.
"Well, which is it?" the brunette finally speaks. Her voice is lower than I expected, and a little husky, with the same hint of New York that her friend has. I like it.
Emmett and I speak in unison.
"Eddie," he says.
"Edward," I say.
The girls laugh. The brunette's whole face changes when she laughs.
"Well, hello, Eddie/ Edward," the brunette says. "I'm Bella; this is Rose."
I can't help the smile I feel overtaking my face.
"So, what are you girls up to for the big day?" Emmett asks.
Rose sighs in exasperation. "We were supposed to spend the day with these guys…"
"These assholes," Bella interjects harshly.
"Yeah, so they turned out to be assholes. Now we're just going to chill out, I guess."
"What'd he do?" I can't help asking Bella, because I can tell that there was some sort of incident and I'm afraid she's going to tell me some jerk tried to take advantage of her or something.
Bella huffs angrily, "He voted for Nixon. Can you believe that? I guess that's what we get for letting our dads set us up on dates. Just a couple of knuckleheads from the old neighborhood."
I laugh out loud, because her response is nothing like what I'd expected.
"Sorry to hear that. What were the plans? You know, before they became assholes?" I ask.
"Hmmm," Bella ponders. "After we were done in the park, they were supposed to take us to the Seaport to watch the Parade of Tall Ships. Then we were going to Battery Park to watch the fireworks and then…" her voice pitches up like she's really excited about the last part, but for some reason, she stops herself.
Rose snorts dismissively. "You're dreaming, Swan. There was no way a wet blanket like Mike Newton was ever going to go to there with you."
"Where were you going?" I ask. Yeah, I'll take her wherever she wants to go. I don't give a shit what it is or what she's doing there. I'll take her.
"Just this club," Bella says. "The New York Dolls are there tonight. I want to go." I have no idea why she'd want to go to a nightclub to look at dolls, but I don't care; I'll still take her.
"Well, this is a damned shame," Emmett says, shaking his head sadly.
"What is?" Rose asks. I'm trying not to laugh, because she doesn't know him yet and doesn't even recognize when Emmett's reeling her in.
"Two beautiful girls like you, unescorted in a big city like this, on such a special day."
Rose cocks her eyebrow at him, "And you propose to do something about that?"
He turns his most charming, dimpled smile on her. It works like magic on the girls back at Dartmouth. "Maybe."
"It is a shame then," Rose sighs sadly.
Emmett's smile vanishes. "What is?"
"Those shoes. I dunno…I don't know if I can spend the day with those shoes." Rose tsks softly, eyeing Emmett's shoes, shaking her head.
"What's wrong with these shoes? They're outta sight."
I'm snorting with laughter at this exchange, because in one line, Rose has turned the tables on him and Emmett hasn't even realized it yet.
"You look like Frankenstein in those shoes," she says.
"Thank you!" I say, "That's exactly what I told him."
Rose just smiles serenely.
"But these shoes make me the perfect height," Emmett says.
"The perfect height for what?"
He takes a step forward, coming almost flush with Rose. He snakes one arm around her waist and she just stands there, stunned, looking at him. In her high wedge sandals, they are eye-to-eye.
"The perfect height for this," he says softly. Rose says nothing, and Emmett stares at her like he's just met his match. I'm pretty sure he has.
I chance a look at Bella just as she looks at me out of the corner of her eye. She cocks an eyebrow at me and smiles. "Well, whattaya know? That was interesting."
I laugh. "Yes, it was."
"So, Eddie," she says, hooking her hand into my elbow and turning me to walk with her. It's clear we're going to have to talk to each other if we want conversation, since Emmett and Rose are now lost. "Where are you from?" I don't bother to correct her about my name. For her, I'll be Eddie, at least for now.
"How do you know I'm not from here?"
She gives me a bored look.
"Okay," I say, holding up my hands, "I'm from Seattle. But I'm going to school at Dartmouth right now. What about you?"
"Rose and I are at NYU. We grew up together in Brooklyn, but we have a place in the East Village now."
"A native, huh?"
She smiles slyly at me.
"So, Dartmouth? You're all ivy league, then?"
I just shrug. "Whatever that means."
"It means you look like you're scared to death to be here."
"You sound like Emmett."
"He says I'm too uptight and I need to learn to live a little."
"Is he right?" We had been walking, Emmett and Rose trailing behind us, but now Bella has stopped, and she's looking up at me expectantly.
"He might be," I concede softly.
"Well, I guess it's good you ran into me, then. I can show you everything you need to see in this city. But how about we start with lunch?" She's pointing at a hotdog cart.
"You want to eat food you bought off the street?"
She rolls her eyes. "Remember that whole 'living a little' plan? A little street meat won't kill you."
"Okay, okay. Let's go."
So we buy the girls hotdogs. Bella gets hers heaped with sauerkraut and mustard. It looks disgusting, but she looks like she's in heaven. I stick to a single squirt of ketchup. We walk the perimeter of a man-made lake in the park while we eat and talk. Emmett and Rose are right behind us, but so lost in their world that it might as well just be me and Bella. Which is just fine.
Everything I thought about her when I first saw her is spot-on. She's savvy and street-wise. Nothing gets past her. She's smart as a whip and a little cynical, but passionate about all kinds of crazy shit I've never heard of. Clubs and bands and artists…it's like a secret world that exists in New York and Bella knows the password for the door.
I'm pretty sure I'm turning out to be exactly as I appeared to her at first sight, too. Intelligent, a little repressed, and too fastidious for my own good. I keep expecting her to turn up her nose at me in boredom, but she doesn't. She seems oddly intrigued by me, just the same as I am by her. She asks me all sorts of questions about college, my family, my plans for the future. And while many of my answers leave her bewildered, she's never dismissive, only curious. Listening to myself talk, for the first time, I see what Emmett's talking about; the tightly-bound, narrow road I'm on. Geez, maybe he's right. Maybe I do need to learn to live a little.
Bella teases me about my four-point-oh G.P.A. and my long list of extra-curricular activities, but she also sounds impressed by my achievements, which makes me feel like less of a stick-in-the-mud. She's majoring in English, specializing in early twentieth century poetry. When I ask her what she's going to do with that degree, she's not insulted (which she should be, because it was rude of me to ask), she just laughs and shrugs. She has no idea. And she doesn't care that she doesn't know.
As Bella and I walk, we keep accidentally-on-purpose bumping into each other; our elbows, our shoulders, our hips. Every little touch sends a thrill through me.
We stop on a little bridge over a pond to watch the people in paddle boats below. Emmett and Rose have stopped at the foot of the bridge to throw away their trash, but they finished that and they haven't moved from the spot. They're still talking in low voices, standing too close to each other. Bella leans on her elbows on the railing and I do the same.
"So…" I begin. "Can we really spend the day with you?" I know Emmett teasingly put it out there, but there's nothing I want more than to follow this girl around New York today.
"I think," she begins, her voice low with import, "that first, you should kiss me."
"Kiss me. C'mon, Eddie, I know you're thinking about it. I know I'm thinking about it. So I think we should just do it. Otherwise, we're going to spend the whole day thinking about doing it, wondering when we should do it, hoping that one of us does it. So let's just do it now. Then we don't have to waste all that mental energy and we can skip right to the part we both want to get to anyway."
I sputter and clear my throat. Everything she just said is absolutely true. I do want to. It's pretty much all I can think about. And I'm going to spend the whole day obsessing about when and how it's going to happen. But no girl has ever been so abrupt, so forward, with me before and she's left me completely speechless.
"Oh, come on, you're not going to get all bashful about it, are you? And pretend you don't want to?"
"No..it's…well…look…I just…Yes, I do want to, but I hardly know you. You hardly know me. That just seems...well, it would be forward…I don't want to take advantage of you and…."
"Take advantage of me?" Her voice goes up an octave and she plants her hands on her hips, which makes me look at those tight blue running shorts again, which is probably a bad idea when we're discussing whether or not I should kiss her. "Wasn't I the one to bring it up? Exactly how would that be taking advantage of me? I don't see how it's your place to protect my virtue! This isn't 1917, you know, Eddie. This is 1976 and I'm a liberated woman and if I want to kiss a guy I just met, then I think it should be my…."
And then I kiss her. I'm listening to her, too, I swear it. Every angry, feisty word. But what I'm really thinking about is her lips and her skin and her hair. And before she gets herself worked up into any more of a fury, I just do it. No warning, no preamble. I just grab her face in my hands and I kiss her.
Bella makes a surprised little squeak, which is funny to hear after her loud, angry diatribe. Her hands fly up to my wrists, and after just a moment, she reaches out for my shoulders. I relax a little and focus on the feel of her lips, which is really spectacular. It's warm and soft and she's been chewing Juicy Fruit since she finished her hotdog, so she tastes sweet. Her fingers grip my t-shirt and pull me closer. I step forward and press my chest into her chest. I swipe at her plump lower lip with my tongue and her mouth opens under mine. Her tongue flicks out to touch mine and I know it sounds cheesy as hell, especially on the Fourth of July, but I see honest-to-God fireworks. She's had the best idea ever. I make a mental note that from now on, I will do whatever Bella suggests, no questions asked. Because kissing her an hour after we met is turning out to be brilliant.
We break apart after a few moments and just stare at each other, both of us a little overwhelmed by what's just happened. I'm still holding her face, she's still hanging onto my shoulders. We hear a throat clear and finally look away from each other. Rose is standing just behind Bella, arms crossed over her chest, face stern. Emmett is standing right behind her, and he looks like he's doing everything in his power to keep himself from flashing me a giant thumbs up. I ignore him.
"What the hell, Bella?"
She takes a step back and looks a tiny bit flustered, which is pretty funny considering how she just laid into me about her virtue being hers to do with what she will. I don't really want to let her go. She was right. Now that it's out there, all I really want to do is spend the rest of the day kissing her. But I let her go and stuff my hands in my pockets.
"What?" Bella challenges Rose, "I wanted to, okay?"
"It's just funny that you smacked the hell out of Mike for even trying that two hours ago."
"You did?" I ask her.
Bella shrugs and looks at her sneakers. I can't help but feel slightly smug.
"Oh, don't look so smug," Rose snaps at me.
"Alright, let's go talk about this," Bella says abruptly, hooking her arm in Rose's and pulling her across the bridge. "We're going to the ladies' room," she says back over her shoulder. "You might want to find a restroom, too. You know… before we leave the park?"
I nod as she disappears around the bend. "I think I saw one back that way," Emmett says. He nudges me and we head back in the opposite direction. "So, what was that?"
For a minute, all I can do is grin ear-to-ear. "She's amazing," I finally manage.
"Fast work," he comments, "Things are moving right along with Rosie, but I'm pretty sure she'd smack my face off if I tried that right now."
"So, are you glad I dragged you to New York after all?" he asks.
"Yes," I say. "Absolutely."
We find the john and clean up, but when we come back out, some sort of crazy parade has moved into the park. There are people everywhere, moving in a line, maybe twenty people deep. There are guys in tricorn hats beating on drums, chicks in bad Betsy Ross costumes, people waving old timey American flags and beating drums.
We spend a few minutes working along the crowd one way, looking for a break, then we double back and try the other way. I'm starting to get anxious. Bella's probably back from the bathroom and looking for me. And now, we're nowhere near where we started and I think I'm fucking lost.
"Emmett, I think we're fucking lost," I say.
"Fuck. No. We just need to find that bridge," he growls.
We walk in circles, for what feels like an hour, and we can't find the stupid bridge. Now I'm really panicking, because she's going to think I ditched her. Finally, I can't even tell how long it's been, we turn a corner and there's the fucking bridge, like it's been there all along. Which, of course, it has been, we're just the assholes who couldn't find it. But there are no girls. No tall blonde, no little brunette. I feel Emmett deflate at my side the same time that I deflate. The most amazing encounter I've ever had and I just…lost her. Like, I literally lost the girl. I feel so ridiculous and stupid.
Emmett and I say nothing; we just park ourselves at the rail and wait. We know they've already come back and gone, but neither one of us is ready to admit that out loud. I replay every moment of that hour with Bella in my head, every word that she said. Then it hits me.
"The seaport," I say.
"They said they were going to the seaport to look at some boats. And then to something called the battery to watch fireworks."
"You really think we could find them?" Emmett asks, hope tingeing his voice.
"I don't know. Probably not. But trying is better than sitting here feeling sorry for ourselves."
I feel energized and totally alive. I haven't felt like this since…hell, I'm pretty sure I've never felt this way. This is lunacy. It's a fool's errand. We'll never find them. That's what my head tells me. But my heart, which has chosen this crazy moment in time to sit up and finally say something, is telling me to go out there and scour this city until I find that girl. This feels important. She feels important.
We're out of the park without saying another word to each other. Of course, getting to the seaport requires navigating the city and we don't have a map. We ask someone on the street, and she says we have to take the A or the E, whatever that means, before she rushes off again. We keep walking, and I see an entrance to the subway. The sign above the stairs says "AE", each number in a blue circle. I decide this must be what she meant, and so we descend. Into the lowest depths of hell.
If I thought it was hot, noisy and smelly above ground, that's nothing to compare to what awaits us underground. There is graffiti everywhere, covering every minimally flat surface. Everything is covered in layers of grease and soot, decades of accumulated filth. People rush everywhere, and the air roars with the sound of train engines, periodically pierced with the shriek of brakes, metal on metal. Even Emmett's boundless enthusiasm for all things New York dims in the face of this ninth circle of hell we've found ourselves it.
I have to stand there for a few minutes just to get my bearings, but eventually we sort out maps and tokens and turnstiles and we are on, hopefully, the right train, hurtling through the tunnel towards downtown. The inside of the subway car is equally horrifying. Everything is covered in graffiti, even the windows, and trash litters the corners of the floor. Emmett and I might be overwhelmed by the whole experience, but our fellow passengers seem singularly unfazed. They all sit quietly, not speaking, barely moving, eyes focused on the middle distance. No one makes eye contact with anyone. They all look bored beyond words.
I pay close attention to the passing stations and I'm able to usher us off the train at the right stop and back above ground. The streets are packed with people. Today is a holiday, but I can't help but wonder what it's like on an ordinary day. All of these people have to come from somewhere. And where do they all go at night? I suddenly feel young and naïve in the face of such a massive, complex city. Emmett's definitely right; I've seen nothing of life. New York terrifies me and overwhelms me, but it also makes me feel strangely excited and energized. I imagine, just briefly, what it would be like to live here every day and I kind of like the idea. There's no time to examine that thought too much, though. There's still the girl of my dreams to track down.
We have to ask a million people how to find the seaport, but we do. Surprisingly, everyone is helpful. I'm half-expecting to be knifed at each encounter, but everyone is jovial and celebratory. Most are on their way to the seaport themselves, to see the tall ships. It's fascinating to see such hardened, cynical people light up at the thought of a lot of romantic old sailing vessels. It hints at a secret soul that I never would have guessed this city possessed.
When we get there, I understand why they are entranced. It's an unbelievable spectacle. The ships are towering and majestic. They fill all the bays at the dock, but they also cover the water out in the harbor. All different shapes and sizes, the white sails filled with the breeze. They look like a painting, or something out of a picture book. I would be in awe myself, if we weren't so dead-set on finding the girls. Almost from the moment we arrive at the seaport, I know it's a lost cause.
"We'll never find them in all this," Emmett laments, as bodies press all around us.
"We need to get up high, so we can see the crowd," I say.
We get on line to tour one of the ships, the one with the tallest masts. This is crazy. We shuffle onto the deck, not listening at all to the guide pointing out all the historical features of this remarkable sailing ship. I should care, but I don't; because Bella's lost out there in this crowd, and if I don't figure out some way to track her down, I'll never get another chance to kiss her, and that thought is unbearable.
"Where did the crew sleep?" I ask, with as much fake enthusiasm as I can muster.
"Oh, very good question!" the eager volunteer says. "Just turn your attention this way and I'll show you."
I gesture wildly to Emmett. "Now's your chance!" I hiss.
He looks utterly baffled. "For what?"
"Climb the mast and look for them!"
"I distracted him! Now go!"
"Fuck!" he says, but he starts to scramble up the main mast of the ship. I quickly realize that sending Emmett up was a poor choice. Yes, he's the stronger of the two of us, but in those stupid fucking platform shoes, he's a complete hazard up there. Every third step, the sole of his shoe slips off the metal rung and he nearly plummets to the deck.
"Hurry!" I shout. "Can you see anything yet?"
He hangs onto the mast for dear life and tries to scan the massive crowd milling around on the dock.
"This is hopeless," he says. My shoulders sag. I know he's right. "Fuck! That's Rose! I see her hair! Fuck! Hurry!"
"Out there! By that statue!"
"Get down! Let's go!"
Emmett tries to scramble back down quickly, but the shoes are even worse on the descent. When he's almost to the bottom, the guide reappears and starts screaming at us. Emmett flings himself off the mast when he's still four feet from the deck and we flat-out run for the gang plank.
"Which way?" I shout, as my feet hit the dock.
"Follow me!" Emmett plunges into the crowd, shoving disgruntled New Yorkers out of his way, left and right.
We're almost there. I can see the statue growing closer over the heads of the crowd. Three more people scramble to the side and we're there. And there are no girls.
"Goddammitt!" Emmett snarls. We circle the statue multiple times and spread out, but to no avail. If that was them, they've gone. We missed them again.
"Battery park," I finally say to Emmett.
"It's getting late. They said they were watching the fireworks at Battery Park."
We ask a whole lot more people what and where Battery Park is and this time, we decide to walk it. I'll be happy if I never see the inside of the subway ever again. We grab food on the way there, more hotdogs off a cart. This time, I don't even give a thought to the potential diseases lurking in the hotdog water. I just wolf it down and continue on my trek to find Bella.
The streets are nearly wall-to-wall bodies by now, and it takes us forever to get there. It's nearly dark when we do and we quickly realize the futility of this mission. Thousands of people pressed together in the dark and we're looking for two girls? It's ridiculous.
Emmett and I wander aimlessly through the crowd, not in the mood for conversation or celebration. I think we both felt the same crazy potential with Bella and Rose, and having them slip away has depressed us both beyond words.
The fireworks begin, exploding nearly directly over our heads. It's a spectacular display, but I can scarcely bring myself to glance up. Emmett looks up at one particularly vivid explosion and runs right into some guy in an Uncle Sam costume on stilts. Of course, he knocks the poor guy right off his stilts and he goes over, crashing to the pavement in a tangle of red, white, blue, and wood.
"Oh, man, I am so sorry!" Emmett exclaims, rushing to help Uncle Sam back to his feet. But the stilts were inside his extra-long pants and strapped to his feet, so getting him upright again is a struggle. I watch the whole comedy of errors for a moment; Uncle Sam with his bad white beard hanging off one ear; Emmett, like Frankenstein in his stupid platform shoes; the two of them stumbling and falling all over each other in an awkward dance, and I start to laugh helplessly. The whole scene is so ridiculous, and never in a million years could I have imagined that this is how today would go, and I'm weak with laughter.
"Man, you could help," Emmett grumbles.
I'm waving my hands in front of my face, trying to get the hysterics under control when I overhear a conversation just behind me.
"Rose is a cool chick, but that Bella is one uptight lady."
"Mike, you're crazy, man. Rose is a bitch on wheels! She always has been. I only said I'd take her out today because our dads are tight and the chick is foxy as hell."
I spin and spot the two guys just behind me. The one who called Bella 'uptight' is on the short side and blonde. The other guy is brown-haired, mid-height. They're both drinking out of beer cans poorly concealed by paper bags.
"You know Bella and Rose?" I snap.
They look startled. "What's it to you?" The brown-haired one says, cocky.
"I'm a friend. I was supposed to meet them here and we lost track of each other."
The blond—Mike, eyes me speculatively. He's drunk. "I doubt that, man. Those girls were on dates with us today."
This asshole was the Nixon-voter, the one that tried to kiss Bella. I want to level him, but he's my only link to Bella right now. I'm astounded that I managed to run into them in the middle of all these people, but I'm not going to waste time calculating the odds. I'm just going to get the information I need out of them. Emmett has finally gotten Uncle Sam back up on his stilts and joined me. Both guys check him out, and for the first time all day, I'm grateful for Emmett's platform shoes. He's enormous. They look spooked.
"Look, I would really like to find Rosie," Emmett says, in a scary-calm voice. "How about you two cats play nice and tell me where they were headed?"
"Bella said she wanted to go to some club to look at dolls," I offer.
The one named Mike rolls his eyes and snorts dismissively. "Fuck. Yeah, she wanted to go see that fag band."
"And where would that be?" Emmett says, smiling that smile he uses just before he's about to obliterate someone's face. The one named Tyler seems to smell the danger.
"Max's Kansas City," he says uneasily. "Off Union Square."
Emmett beams at him, kind of creepily. "See how easy that was? Now you two gents have a good night and don't mess with any more girls, alright?"
They both scoff softly, but it's an uneasy sound. They want us gone. We start to push past them, because we want to be gone, too.
"And hey!" I snap, turning back to level one last shot at Mike. "Nixon was a criminal and an asshole!"
Mike and Tyler have no response and now I feel sort of juvenile, but Emmett's yanking me away.
"Okay, Max's Kansas City. Union Square," he's muttering. We start walking, but the progress is painfully slow in this massive press of people. It takes us forever just to get out of the park and back to the streets. We ask two cops on horses how to get to Union Square. "North," we are told. So we walk north.
And we walk. And we walk. Every few blocks, we stop to ask if we're still on the right course, and we are, it's just always further north. Emmett begins to complain bitterly about his feet, but I'm unsympathetic. It serves him right. I want to burn those shoes.
I check my Casio a million times and it's getting late, so late. There's no way we'll get there in time. The place will probably be closed by the time we find it. But Emmett is determined.
"We've come this far, dammitt!" he snarls. "I'm gonna find the damned place, even if it's closed up tight when we do."
And we do find it. We cross through Union Square and over to Park Avenue and to my amazement, the sidewalks are full of people dressed for a night out, even though by now it's nearly midnight. Cabs pull up, spewing out even more people. They have crazy clothes and wild hair and makeup, even the men in some cases. Suddenly, Emmett's shoes are the tamest thing on the scene. We spot it ahead; the awning that says "Max's Kansas City", and push through the crowd to the door. The marquee near the entrance says "The New York Dolls: Playing tonight". Now I get it. It's a band.
The doorman eyes us critically, like he's not so sure he wants to let us in. Emmett digs in his pocket and shoves a wad of cash at the guy. He stamps our hands and we're in. It's small, with a low ceiling. It's loud and hot. I'm not sure they have air-conditioning. What kind of nightclub doesn't have air-conditioning?
The place is packed with bodies; sweating, gyrating bodies. And the noise…there's a band on stage and in this tiny room, the music is deafening. But the beat is infectious. You can feel it in your chest, in your fingertips. It makes the people around us bounce and sway. It almost makes me want to bounce and sway.
The bodies part and we can finally see the stage. I think they're all men. Since I've gotten to New York this morning, I feel like I'm already getting better at picking out the men, even when they're disguised in girls' haircuts and makeup and sequined clothes.
"Hey," Emmett says at my side, pointing at the guy singing lead, "My mom has that same dress."
Once again, I feel the futility of trying to find the girls in this crowd, if they ever came here at all. But at least it's one large room and not some open-air park. We'll just check every corner. If they're here, we'll find them.
"Let's split up," I shout in Emmett's ear, craning up to reach. "You take that side, I'll take this side."
He nods and heads off to the left, elbowing his massive frame between sweaty bodies. People move away from him easily. I start pushing my way through to the other side of the room. The band launches into a new song and the crowd erupts in screams, surging towards the stage. I get bounced between bodies like a pinball. I can't tell the girls from the boys, or the ones who are dancing from the ones who are having sex standing up.
"Hey, pretty boy," a low male voice purrs in my ear. I don't even look, even when I feel a hand on my ass. I just keep pushing through the crowd. If Bella is here, I will find her. I keep pushing, back towards the back left corner of the room.
And there she is.
She's sitting at a table in the corner, drink in hand, sucking on the tiny red straw. Her face is passive and her eyes are distracted. I've spent so long looking that for a second, I'm afraid it's a mirage. But she's there, sipping her drink, only half-listening to the band. I keep pushing forward and stumble through the bodies to an unsteady stop in front of her table. She looks up and as soon as she registers it's me, she leaps to her feet, eyes wide.
"We lost you!" I shout. I need to make this right, immediately. She thinks we ditched them and I have to fix it. "I'm such an idiot! We came out of the bathroom and there was this parade and we got all turned around and we couldn't find that stupid bridge again. Then we did, but you weren't there. I swear we didn't ditch you. We waited, but I'm sure you already left. We've been looking for you all day! We went to the seaport and we thought we saw you, but we couldn't get there in time, and then we went to Battery Park, and then…"
"You've been trying to find me?" she finally says.
"Yeah. All day. Then I ran into that asshole, Mike, at the fireworks and he said you were coming here…"
"Wait. You met Mike?" she closes her eyes and shakes her head in confusion. I know exactly how she feels.
"Yeah, crazy, right? Forget the Nixon thing. That guy's just an asshole, plain and simple. But he said you wanted to come here and we've been walking forever and…"
Then she kisses me. One minute she was standing in front of me, silently listening to my breathless rant about all I'd gone through to find her, and then she just launches herself at me. Her arms lock around my neck and she kisses me. For one helpless second, I just stand there, stunned, my hands still hovering in mid-air where I'd been gesturing. Then her tongue flicks my lip and I grab her hard and pull her in against me. I pour all the frustration from the day into that kiss, all the desperate hope, all the fear that I'd never track her down again. I just kiss her, long and hard and thorough, until neither of us can breathe.
Just like the first time, we stand there a little stunned, our faces just inches apart, looking at each other as this colossal new understanding takes root in both of us. It's almost like I can feel the ground shifting under my feet as my reality re-organizes itself, with Bella as its new center. Or maybe that's just the bass from the band.
"I should find Emmett and let him know Rose is here," I murmur, not looking away from her face.
Bella's eyes flick to the left. "It's cool," she says, nodding her head towards the bar.
I turn to see Emmett, a head taller than anyone around him, bending his face down to the flash of Rose's blonde hair. He whispers in her ear a minute, then she ducks her chin and smiles. All is right with the world.
As I'm still looking at Emmett and Rose, I feel Bella's lips against the side of my neck. I close my eyes and inhale, tightening my grip on her waist.
"Do you want to get out of here?" I mutter. Now I'm the one being forward, but I'm guessing Bella won't mind.
I can't see her smile, but I feel it against my skin. She pulls me back to her little table in the corner and turns, pushing me down into the chair she was in moments ago. Before I can ask her what she's doing, she's on my lap, straddling me, her pale thighs gripping my hips, her fingers digging into my hair. I want to stop and live in this moment forever.
"I kinda want to stay and see the second set," she says, before slamming her mouth down on mine. This time it's crazy and intense, by far the hottest kissing I've ever done. Bella's sweet, wet lips are all over my mouth, my jaw, my neck. Her tongue is tangling erotically with mine, until she darts away to lick my earlobe. She kisses, tastes, nips at me, and it's all I can do to keep up. I grip her hips in my hands and pull them against mine. When she feels how hard she's made me, she moans and so do I. I pull her into me again and she grinds herself down. Her fingers tighten in my hair and I gasp into her open mouth.
"Edward..." she sighs.
I really don't want to ever stop what we're doing, except maybe to get the clothes out of the way, and I don't even care that we're doing it in the middle of a crowded club, but there is a harsh piece of reality to deal with.
"Emmett and I have to catch a bus back to Dartmouth tonight," I murmur into the soft skin of the curve of her neck.
"What?" she says.
"He didn't get us a hotel room. We were only supposed to stay for the day," I explain, before I drag my tongue up her neck to her jaw. Her skin tastes amazing. I want to lick every square inch of her.
"Oh, that," she says in a breathy little moan, eyes closed, head thrown back. "It's cool. You'll move in with me."
"Huh?" I sit up at the same time she does. Her eyes have snapped wide open. She didn't mean to say what she just did. She stares down into my face in anxiety.
"I mean…you'll stay with me. Tonight. Or for the weekend, or whatever. I didn't mean move…" This is the first time I've seen her anything less than completely self-assured. She's adorable, but she needs to stop back-pedaling.
I reach up and take her face in my hands. "How about we start with this weekend and then we go from there?"
She beams down at me, sliding her own hands up to hold my face, before she leans in again to kiss me. She might have slipped up and said more than she meant to say, but that's okay, because she said exactly what she was thinking. I know this, because it's what I'm thinking, too. I'm thinking yes, I'll come home with you tonight, beautiful girl, but that's only the start. Because I came to this city to celebrate history, but now, in this hot, loud club, with this amazing girl on my lap, all I can see is my future; and it's all tangled up in her dark eyes and her dark hair and this crazy, beautiful place she lives.