I don't own Twilight or Annie.
Thanks to AmeryMarie and greeengoldfish for prereading and prodding when this didn't want to be written.
This was my FGB piece in memory of LASMKE. I know she liked nothing better than a nice little mixture of fluff, funnies, a tiny bit of angst, and erm...well, you know. I hope I did it justice. Thanks to those of you who donated. Lisa would have been really proud, and I'm honored to participate in her name.
For you, Lisa. I miss ya.
The early morning mist is chilly, and I tighten the belt of my raincoat as I head for the end of the pier. I'm afraid the wet conditions might make my trip useless, but it doesn't stop me from making this journey. It's become habit, this visit, but I can't remember when I started needing it like air or water. I only know that ever since that day I found the first scrap tacked to the bench, I've been coming back to this place.
They're always the same ― thick squares of heavy, cotton-strengthened paper; each is slightly frayed at the edges, and each bears a sprawling, masculine hand. His words are always beautiful. I like to pretend they're especially for me, and not just the work of an anonymous poet practicing some bizarre kind of performance art.
I don't know what will happen when he finishes his project here. Maybe I'll hire someone to follow me around with a trombone and make depressing sound effects at appropriate times. I'll become a real-life Debbie Downer. I'm already a sad excuse for a productive human being; the leap shouldn't be too hard. After all, I'm stalking some nut who leaves poetry stapled to a bench on the pier. Not to mention the fact that I had to move in with my mother and stepfather after finishing college...even though I've managed to earn a degree in half the time of most of my peers. Oh, yes, what a success story I am. But for the last two months, I've been working hard to get a job; and I finally snagged a gig as staff photographer at a little monthly community magazine for the Jacksonville area.
So what if it was a retirement community. My job makes a lot of old people happy, and that makes it suck a little less. So what if I'll be playing Jimmy Olsen to someone else's geriatric Lois Lane, though I secretly want to be Lois Lane someday. Preferably before I become geriatric. The photography aspect is also something I enjoy, though the pay isn't much. If I'm frugal, I can afford to move into my own place ― finally. I don't care how small it is. It would be mine, and that's the most important thing.
I shake off my thoughts as I near the bench, pausing to dig for my journal before I dare to let myself look for another scrap. I leave the camera inside for now, until I know for sure he's been here. Since I don't want to erase his work, I always put my photography skills to use with each piece. I love being able to see each one in his handwriting. It's one of the only ways I can keep a little bit of them for myself.
The other is the journal that's quite successfully hiding inside my bag. In it, I've written down all his words so far, and I'm practically salivating to know what he's written next ― if the chilly morning mist hasn't ruined it. But finding anything in my bag is easier said than done, and this morning it takes me longer than usual.
When I finally grab the leather-bound book and start to look for my newest treasure, what I find is worse. There's nothing here. My heart sinks like a stone, trying to take a swan dive into my feet, and I realize I'm way too obsessed with this shit. Gracelessly, I sink onto the wet bench, not caring if I get my jeans wet. Raincoats are supposed to keep one dry, yes? This rain is nothing compared to the soaking we got back in Washington state. I'm not made of sugar, and I sure as hell won't melt.
Hitching my hood a little higher for more protection, I settle in to give myself a stern talking-to. Mentally, of course. It's bad enough that I'm sitting in the rain with virtually no protection, but if I start talking to myself as well, people are going to call the police. Or the people in white scrubs that would take me away in a straitjacket.
Maybe I'll just peek at the poem first...that will make up for the missing scrap today. Reading it always makes me feel better. Clearly, it's another manifestation of my crazy-person status. I flip open the supple pages quickly, knowing exactly which one I want. Though the words aren't as aesthetically pleasing as they were in his handwriting, they're no less moving to me:
Colorful curves lit by flame
halo or glowing crown...
Shining, burning brown
against the pink spun candy sky.
I can't believe
and she can't see
what she's done to me.
She shows me her reflection
Hiding and sweetly shy
I long for her revelation...
So I wait, every day and night, I wait
until the sun sets the clouds aglow
She'll be there, I know
against the pink spun candy sky.
When I finish, I stuff the journal back into my bag to keep it out of the damp, feeling a bit better, despite my disappointment that I won't get any more verses today. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of black leather that's fairly out of place here in Jacksonville. It's sort of like giving a volcanologist a parka to wear during a caldera expedition. I smile at my own joke before I realize I've seen this jacket many times, but only in flashes ― the coat and its owner always disappear before I can get a really good look. This time, however, both are heading straight for me. And the closer they get, the more I like what I see.
Now if only I could get up the courage to look at his face. Because if the face matches the body, I'm a goner. Train to Awkwardville, one ticket, please.
"Don't look so unhappy," the stranger says, and his voice hits me low in the gut ― hell, who am I kidding ― it hits me in the lady business. "The sun will come out tomorrow."
I smirk at this, and his words trigger a snippet of melody that will likely be stuck in my head for the rest of the day. "'Bet my bottom dollar,' Daddy Warbucks?"
He cracks a smile and plops down beside me. How he manages to make this look graceful is mystifying. He's quite possibly the best-looking guy I've ever met. His strong jaw, gorgeously shaped eyes, and thick, brilliant hair combine to make one stunning specimen of a man. I note that he's got no rain jacket...I know his jeans will be wet when he gets up from the bench. My cheeks heat noticeably, and I'm definitely going straight to hell ― because I really want to know if his ass looks as good as I think it will in wet denim.
"Wasn't it Annie who sang that song?" he asks smugly, slanting me a look from under long, dark lashes. I can't quite discern the color of his eyes, but I know they're not brown like mine. They're infinitely more interesting than mine could ever be.
"Ahh, a man who knows his show tunes," I tease. I can't believe I'm baiting him like this! Where is this brave new me coming from?
"What's that supposed to mean?" he asks, his grin becoming wider and turning slightly crooked.
"Nothing," I return innocently, smiling. I hope my cheeks aren't as red as they feel.
"That's what I thought. Annie is a classic movie, by the way," he informs me. His cocky mouth should put me off, but it doesn't. If anything, it makes me want to needle him more, makes me wonder what else I can get him to say.
"A classic musical," I say softly, and damn it if my voice isn't sultry. Wow! Who knew I had it in me? He chuckles, and it warms me from the inside. I fight the urge to move closer to him, because I have an even more scandalous want: to sit in his lap and kiss that cocky grin off his face.
"Touche," he replies, and his voice curls in the pit of my stomach, warming me from the inside out. We both fall silent, the seconds lengthening to what seems like minutes as we sit there steeped in awkwardness once again.
Say something, you moron!
"What's your name? Or should I keep calling you Daddy Warbucks?" I blurt, hoping I wasn't making a fool of myself.
He laughs, thankfully. "Sorry, my name's not Oliver," he jokes, leaning closer in a conspiratorial fashion.
"Wow, you even know Daddy Warbucks' real name? Are you working with Miss Hannigan?" I shoot back, laughing as his eyebrows go sky high at my questions.
He scowls, and it's too attractive for words. "You seem to be quite knowledgeable about the subject yourself, you know. Don't tell me your name is Annie!"
"No, it's not," I concede with a grin, holding out my hand for him to shake. "I'm Bella."
"There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" he asks softly, taking my hand. "My name is Edward." Our eyes finally meet head-on, and his are a clear, piercing green that captivates me. His palm is scorching hot, making my skin tingle all the way up to my shoulder, and his hold isn't nearly nearly long enough. In fact, if his hand ever became permanently attached to mine, I'm not sure I'd mind at all. I start thinking about other parts of his body I'd like attached to me...which promptly makes my cheeks heat to five-alarm level.
Thankfully, he saves me from myself. "So what has you hating the clouds so much? It's not cloudy that often here...I sort of enjoy it. For a change of pace," he adds, shrugging.
I barely manage to tear my eyes from the shift of his shoulders beneath the soft leather of his jacket as I answer. "I'm from Washington state."
"Ah, that explains it."
"I love the sun, even though my skin doesn't appreciate it nearly as much as I do," I elaborate, giving in to the urge to smile at the knowing smirk on his face.
He leans closer, pretending to inspect my face. "I don't know...I think those freckles make you look cute." At his comment, I realize he's close enough that I can see he's got a few faint freckles of his own across the bridge of his nose.
"You, too," I say, trying valiantly to sound confident, and not like the pathetically shy, slightly anti-social girl I really am. I've never been more aware that I'm more comfortable behind the camera lens or keyboard than I am in this moment, and I hate myself for it.
I will not ruin this!
"Cute enough to let me take you out tonight?" he asks.
YES! But wait ― I can't sound desperate! "I don't know...we just met," I stall.
"True, we only just met, but how long have you known Daddy Warbucks? He takes in orphans. Pretty trustworthy guy, if you ask me," he tosses out with a completely straight face, and I can't help it ― I laugh until I'm out of breath, and then...then I say yes and give him my number. We do the whole "call me, so I can save you to my contact list" routine, and I grin like a fool the entire time. When it's time for me to leave for work, I feel like it's been only minutes with him, not a couple of hours.
I've only been pretending to do my job for about thirty minutes before he calls.
That evening he takes me to a different pier, one with a huge Ferris wheel and carnival games. The ocean air is laden with the scent of salty popcorn, cooking oil, and sweet, sticky treats.
We eat greasy food and act like teenagers, talking the night away as we sabotage each other at balloon darts and other games of chance. When I finally manage to win one, I pick a stuffed Orphan Annie doll from the display. Edward rolls his eyes at this, but dutifully accepts my gift anyway and carries it for the rest of the date. It does nothing to diminish his attractiveness. Even the creepy white eyes of the Annie doll can't bring me down tonight.
As the carnival winds down, Edward drags me to yet another food vendor, the sweet scent of spun sugar wafting from the stand.
Turning toward me, he says, "Can't go to a carnival without having cotton candy."
"Of course," I laugh. "Because the corn dogs and funnel cakes and those disgusting fried twinkies aren't enough."
"Shut up! You liked the twinkie, too!" he argues, laughing right back at me.
"Of course I liked it! It was delicious, fried, ass-inflating goodness. But I have to hate it on principle. They're already terrible for you before they're fried. Don't they have a shelf-life of three years or something?"
"Oh, they're fine, Bella," he insists. "Generations of kids grew up on those things. They still do." He grabs my hand, lacing our fingers together. I love that he wants to make it obvious we're here as a couple.
"I just don't know how you could eat more," I say, putting my free hand to my stomach. "I'm sure my body is really pissed at me for tonight."
"Cotton candy is seventy-five percent air." He grins and squeezes my hand, and I melt a little.
"And the rest is sugar." I poke him in the belly with both our hands.
"Are you trying to tell me you don't want any of my cotton candy?" he asks as we near the counter, quirking a brow.
"Why does that sound like some sort of sexual proposition?" I blurt, causing the attendant to chuckle loudly. We just stare at each other, and the look he's giving me is hot enough to render me speechless.
After he purchases a giant sack of sugar, pink dye, and air masquerading as food, he tucks me into his side as we walk toward an empty bench. We settle in, and he attacks the plastic sack with enthusiasm, shoving a wispy chunk of pink stuff into his mouth. He's enjoying it with the gusto of a little boy, and I find myself staring his way with a dopey smile.
"You want some?" His voice is muffled a little by the cotton candy, and he looks so hopeful as he gestures with the bag. I take a small piece, closing my eyes as the flavor melts over my tongue.
"Thanks. I haven't had this in years."
"Me neither. It sort of reminds me of home."
"Chicago. I just moved here two months ago," he tells me, and it doesn't escape my notice that we both moved to Jacksonville at the same time.
"I thought Chicago was famous for wind and hot dogs, not cotton candy."
"No, I didn't mean Chicago specifically. It reminds me of being a kid, I guess, and going to the carnival with my parents." His voice is wistful and rich with memory as he offers me more pink fluff. I accept, pretending not to notice the way he watches me as I eat it, and he continues. "I think this might be better," he says with a smirk, shifting to wrap an arm around my shoulders. I raise an eyebrow at his obvious move, but we both know I'll let him get away with it.
"Your parents might not appreciate that." I steal another piece from the sack as he laughs and nods in agreement.
"My mother, definitely. My father, however, can probably appreciate the appeal of a perfect night with a beautiful girl."
I choke on the cotton candy in my mouth, ruining the moment. "You just can't say things like that to me...ever," I croak out, shaking my head at him.
"Why not? It's the truth." His smile is warm and instant, those green eyes pin me, and I'm lost again. He waves the bag in front of my face, and pouts at me when I refuse.
"What?" It's not like he made it with his own two hands.
"I was hoping you'd get some cotton candy stuck to your lip...and that you'd let me kiss it off," he tells me, slanting a sex-eyed stare my way. I can tell he knows just how cheesy his line was, and he's completely unapologetic about it. Maybe that's why I fall for it anyway. Excitement spikes through me, heating my insides and giving me a brief shot of confidence.
"Who says you have to wait for the cotton candy?"
His grin turns roguish, and I give myself a mental pat on the back. Nice one, Swan. It's all I have time to do before he leans closer, giving me little time to back away. Then his mouth is on mine, and it's better than I ever imagined. It's all soft lips and sugar-scented breath, but it's over before my brain can jolt me into kissing him back. He's frowning when I open my eyes, confusion coloring his handsome features.
Quickly, I reach up with one hand, curl my fingers in the hair below his ear, and guide his face back to mine. My kiss isn't nearly as elegant or gentle, but it feels just as good. I'm not sure there's such a thing as a bad kiss where Edward is involved. He relaxes and laughs softly against my lips, and I can feel his fingers tangling in the hair at the back of my neck. They pull and catch, and I know they must be sticky, but I can't bring myself to mind. When we end it this time, we're smiling ― until he tries to run his fingers through my hair.
"Oww!" I yelp, causing him to yank his hand away along with a few hairs, roots and all. At least I have the piece of mind to make sure my fingers aren't sticky before I rub them over the sore spot on my head.
Edward is profusely apologizing, sounding more and more panicked every second. "I'm so sorry, Bella! I forgot about the candy..." As he trails off, he hops off the bench, and I know what's going to happen before he does it. In seconds, he's running that same sticky hand through his hair, and I burst out laughing at his yelp of pain, in spite of the lingering ache in my own scalp.
"Come on," I say when I finally catch my breath, standing and grabbing his arm. Determinedly, I tow him to the nearest water fountain, so we can both clean our hands. The lukewarm water easily washes away the pink, sugary residue. I can't take my eyes from his face ― he looks so embarrassed, and it's adorable. He won't look at me as he cleans his hands, even when I clear my throat to get his attention. I'm forced to wave my still-dripping fingers in his direction, splattering him with water.
"Hey!" he growls, and I barely have time to close my eyes before I get some of my own medicine. "Shit, I didn't mean to get you in the face."
I roll my eyes at him. "You got me fair and square, Cullen. Own it," I laughingly reply as I plant one damp palm in the center of his chest, planning to give him a little shove. Those plans go down the drain as soon as I feel the heat and firmness through the thin cotton.
His cheeks are ruddy, making him look so young, and it hits me somewhere deep inside. Everything clicks, the world turns on its side, and I'm pretty sure an unstoppable force meets an immovable object somewhere.
Swiftly, he locks his arms around my waist and his open mouth lands on mine. He holds me so tightly that my toes barely touch the wooden planks of the pier, but none of it matters when his tongue swipes across my lower lip and into my mouth. I respond instantly this time, a little moan escaping me at the more concentrated taste of him. It's my first kiss, my best kiss, my last kiss, all wrapped into one.
Three things become glaringly clear: first, I never want to kiss anyone else for the rest of my life. Second, Edward Cullen is trouble of the best kind. And third...hell, the first two scare the shit out of me! Who needs a third?
When he calls the next morning to ask me to breakfast, I jump at his invitation, not even bothering to play coy. Over bacon, eggs, and toast, we trade tales of childhood and scarred knees and elbows. We sit on the same side of the booth, and his thigh is pressed firmly against mine underneath the table. It's a wonder we get any eating done ― he's so easy to talk to, I find my mouth is full of words more often than food. By the time we're finished, I've even told him my most guarded childhood secret: it was no accident that I "dropped" all those fish back in the water during my fishing trips with Charlie.
"I remember back when I went on a weekend hunting trip in Wisconsin with my brother and father. I guess I must have been fourteen. I missed the deer on purpose, and had to deal with Emmett razzing me about being a sissy the whole time," Edward reveals. He grabs my hand, since we aren't eating anymore, and holds it in his lap, his fingers toying with my palm. It tickles, but I wouldn't dream of pulling away when he's touching me.
"I think that's a very sweet story," I say, glancing over at him through my lashes, and I don't bother to hide my smile. "It says a lot about someone...the way they treat animals."
"You know, that's exactly what Dad told me after we got back."
"Your dad sounds like a smart guy." At the sound of his laugh, I turn my head to fully face him, and for a second, he watches me so intently that I'm sure he'll kiss me... And I'm right; it's just not the kind of kiss I want. His lips land gently on my forehead, but they do linger a little bit longer than a friendly kiss would.
After a lengthy debate, Edward lets me take care of the check, since he paid for everything the night before. It gives me a little shot of pride, though I'm not sure why, but it only adds to his appeal in my eyes. I like that he insists on paying, but is still secure enough to let me do it in the end, because I want to.
What the heck is wrong with me? I must have it bad.
Things were getting too heavy for this little diner, and I can feel the palpable weight lift as we walk into the bright morning sun. Though I'm glad to be outside, I'm not ready to leave him yet, and the invitation is out of my mouth before I can stop it.
"It's going to be a hot one," I say lamely, cursing myself internally. A hot one? Nice, Bella. "My uh...parentsaregonetoday, and we've got a pool." My cheeks are probably burning hot enough to toast marshmallows, and I squeeze my eyes shut for a second. When I finally gather the courage to look at him, his eyes are nearly bugged out in shock and he's looking at me like I've grown another head.
"Wait a minute...your parents? How old are you?" he rushes out, that hand going right to his hair and raking through it in that adorable gesture I remember from the night before...wait! He thinks I'm underage?
I burst out laughing so hard I have to lay one hand on his forearm for balance. "Edward, I'll be twenty-two in September," I assure him. "I moved back in with my mother and stepfather after college. To save money."
"Oh, thank God," he sighs, causing me to start giggling all over again.
"Why were you so panicked?" I tease. "All you've done is kiss me."
His eyes darken to forest green as he leans closer. "I'd like to do a lot more than that." I'm left speechless as he takes me by the hand and strides toward his car.
I guess that's a "yes" to the swimming?
We're cooling off in the shallow end of the pool an hour later, and I have to admit, Edward looks hot in Phil's swimming trunks. I stole his brand new pair, because sharing swimwear is like sharing underwear, and I don't want to make him wear someone else's chonies.
I take a sip of my second rum and Diet Coke while he watches me with a mock-disapproving eye, one of those brows raising in a sexy, stuffy expression of judgment. Ignoring him, I place the glass on the concrete. Don't want to spill the drink when I splash him for being such a hypocritical ass. After all, he's the one who mixed my little adult beverage. I toss water his way, forcing him to stretch up to hold his beer out of the water. Since we're in the shallow end, I have a perfect view of his abs and chest... Where's that drink again?
"Hey, watch it, you little lush!"
"Oh, you sound so sincere. Payback's a bitch, you know," he threatens lowly, setting his beer to the side and starting toward me with a wicked grin. For a second, I get distracted by the way that smile hits me in the lady parts, and that's all the opening he needs, since I'm not exactly the most coordinated person on the planet.
I'm dunked before I know it, and water gushes up my nose in a stinging rush. I come up sputtering and cursing, wiping tears from my eyes as I sneeze violently.
"Oh, shit, are you okay? Sorry!"
No, I'm not okay. I'm a coughing, snotty mess, and there's no way you'll want to kiss me now!
I nod anyway, slowly getting my lungs under control. Okay...I'm a little pissed. A plan forms in my head, and I immediately put it to action. I wade over to him until we're almost chest to chest, but I'm just to his right. He's regarding me with concern, his head angled down at me from his superior height. I lightly rest my palm on his shoulder, trying to disregard the jolt of pleasure I feel at touching his sun-warmed skin. With my other hand, I beckon him down closer, like I need to whisper something in his ear. Slowly, I sneak my right leg around behind his heels, and when his center of gravity is off just so...
"Gotcha!" I swipe his feet out from under him, using my hand on his shoulder to propel him backwards. He goes under, and I immediately let go to start celebrating my revenge. He catches me, sending me a dirty look as he wipes the water from his eyes. At least he had the good sense to stop breathing when he went underwater. I cover my mouth with the palm of my hand, trying to stop smiling. "Sorry," I say, my voice muffled. "Had to try."
"I can respect that. I'll just have to keep my eye on you from now on." A wry smile twists his lips, and I wonder what it's all about. Not that I mind...he looks good no matter what facial expression he makes, but never more so than when he smiles.
Sounds good to me. I finally manage to contain my grin and lower my hand, raising it to shield my eyes from the sun as I look up at him. "I give as good as I get, that's all."
"I knew that from the minute I met you, Bella. I think it was the show tunes comment that did it." He turns away, wading to the wide steps to sit at the very top. Bracing his elbows on his knees, he crooks a finger at me, and I go to him like he's the Pied Piper and I'm a...wait. Never mind.
"Why'd you move to Jacksonville?" I question, reaching for my sunglasses so I can watch him and still remain somewhat hidden.
"Because I flaked out on taking the MCAT after I got my bachelor's. I thought my parents would be pissed at me...turns out they were more mad about me taking off than skipping out on the test."
"Can I ask you something?"
"If I say no, will that stop you?" he teases, reaching out to toy with a lock of my hair.
"Nope," I confirm, shaking my head. He doesn't let go, and the brunette strands brush against my cheek with the movement. "Why didn't you want to take the test?"
"Would you believe I'm still not sure?"
He rubs my damp hair between his thumb and forefinger, his eyes fixed on it, before he speaks again. "It's just...I know I'm good at that sort of thing. I feel like it will always be there for me, if or when I decide to give it a shot. But I wanted to try something else, because school is all I've ever done.
"Now, I wait tables and play my guitar on open mic night. I am the hipster cliche," he jokes, his eyes warming as he looks up at me. I inch closer, telling myself it's because he's winding my hair tighter around his finger.
"Hey, I take photos for a senior citizen magazine."
"But you like it, don't you?"
"Yeah." I smile up at him, and his face is much closer than I remembered. "I do."
"I think that's what matters, right? You should like what you do."
"Do you like waiting tables?"
"Sometimes. I like the open mic nights more." He shrugs and pulls me closer. I can feel the heat from his chest now, and I'm standing between his knees. He lets go of the hair wound around his finger, and it springs free to hang between us. "I like the freedom of writing...songs, short stories... I've played the guitar since I was ten, so it was a natural progression." His eyes bore into mine, and I know he's trying to send me a silent message. It hovers just outside of my comprehension, but can he honestly expect me to think clearly when I'm so close to him?
"Maybe I could come and see you play sometime," I offer, hoping that's what he wants me to ask.
"I'd love to sing to you."
I legitimately almost passed out. Holy Christ. What girl didn't dream of having a gorgeous guy sing to her while playing a guitar?
Suddenly, I feel his palm coast over the curve of my hip, back and forth, as he leans closer.
"I've never been so glad my path led me here," he whispers, and then he's kissing me, his tongue flicking over my bottom lip. I lace my fingers behind his neck as his mouth firms against mine, forcing me to open to him. I meet his tongue with my own, sighing in pleasure at the taste of him laced with the slight bitterness of beer. Surging closer, I press my chest against his, loving the feel of water and warm, wet male skin.
My insides hum with excitement, and I just want to be closer, closer...I know I can't go another day without one of his kisses; I want to hear his laugh and see his smile every day. The skeptical part of me screams that it's too soon, but the rest of me knows he just might be my forever.
But wait - there's more! Grab a snack, go to the bathroom, take your dog out, or just click next. :)