Don't get used to it… I just had to update this soon because I felt bad about last chapter's cliffy. And because of the amazing welcome-back love you showered me with. :) Thank you so much; I feel so blessed! I was afraid there wouldn't be more than a handful of readers coming back after four months, and then… more than 200 reviews! Wow! I cannot answer them all, but I replied to quite a few.
Award for Best Achievement in Short Review goes to fuz for this:
"Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh! Woman! Thank you."
SM owns. I just play.
With the help of Songster, beta extraordinaire.
See you on the other side, my friends.
There you go.
Little Green and Easybella cont. (35)
On days like this, I like to think of myself as a free diver.
In my mind, I picture myself falling, breaking the surface of a biosphere that I'm not made to live in, without any aids. It's neither easy nor pleasant, and I know it never will be, but years of hard training prepared me for this. In my mind, I hold my breath and perform whatever task is asked of me down there. I'm capable of holding my breath a long time, but it is very, very demanding.
I am supposed to reach out to 'normal' people, so I do that. All my life I've worked hard to learn their ways and their language, to be allowed a place in society. And even though I never mastered it to perfection, I was labeled 'highly verbal' eventually. And 'high-functioning'. It's like a certificate of sorts, so that I can go out and interact. A being-social license.
So I function. It doesn't mean I enjoy it though. How could I? It's not like I'm a tourist on a sightseeing trip. If you tell me to make friends with people, especially when those are unfamiliar to me, or to mingle in a group of strangers, it is like telling a 'normal' person to go out and make friends with fish.
"What's the problem? Jump right in, hold your breath and be nice!"
Imagine this. It's not only the physical discomfort. Try to figure out what everyone's up to, or what they might be thinking, while your head is under water… identical, unmoving fish faces, all of them, their talking meaningless bubbles in a confusing swirl that's clouding your sight. Try to control your breathing, to not panic at the effort. And don't forget to be nice.
I've been free diving quite a lot today, and now I'm dead on my feet. All I want now is going back to my safe haven where I can breathe easily; I'm almost flooring the gas pedal to get there.
Why, for fuck's sake, is this happening to me? I swear I'm this close to a complete meltdown; I will cry any moment.
In my pitch-black bedroom, I stumble along the wall while Edward's footsteps come closer. My right foot fucking hurts; I curse under my breath at my inconsiderate attempt to put weight on it. Awkwardly hopping and hobbling, I make it to the light switch. I turn on the ceiling light the very moment Edward's silhouette appears in the door.
When I stepped inside, the familiar smell of wood and honey welcomed me. I took I deep breath and knew it was the right thing to stop by Aro's Violins on my way to the kickoff meeting in Seattle. Aro used to attend to his instruments with bee wax, and the pleasant scent of it had always calmed me when I was a kid. That hadn't changed.
Apart from the mellow jingling of the antique bell above the front door, the store was as quiet as ever, the air impregnated with promises of music yet unheard. This was such a wondrous place.
My inner calm suffered a small setback when the backdoor curtain parted, and it wasn't Aro but his young assistant who appeared. He looked different than when I had met him the first time. The spiky Mohawk was gone. His hair was sleek and shiny; it looked darker.
"Oh, hi!" he greeted me. I could see his bright smile even without looking straight at him.
I wanted to be nice, but I was unsure about his name. He had introduced himself as Jazz, but Aro had called him Jasper. It made me a bit anxious that I didn't know how to properly address him.
"Hello, Jazz… sper?"
"Just Jazz," he said. "My friends call me Jazz."
This didn't really help to allay my confusion. Did he somehow consider me a friend enough to call him Jazz? Maybe because I was kind of friendly with Aro? Or was I supposed to call him Jasper, because…
"I am not one of your friends." I wasn't, by any means. I barely knew him.
"I was hoping we could become friends, so I would like for you to call me Jazz."
His declaration caught me off guard. My eyes snapped to his of their own volition, and I took in his face before I hastily averted my gaze again. His expression was impossible for me to read. Disappointment? Excitement? Anxiety even? Fish faces…
It didn't make any sense. Neither did his words. So I decided to ignore them and get to business. I could easily avoid saying his name.
I held out Aro's paper-wrapped loan and said, "I brought the wrest."
He swallowed audibly, and after a moment of hesitating, he took the package from my hand. When he thanked me, he sounded strange suddenly, almost strangled. I was wondering if I should risk another brief look, just to check if he was okay. But he quickly found his voice again.
"Well, Aro isn't here right now. Shall I tell him you said hi?"
His comments got weirder and weirder – I had said no such thing.
"I didn't say hi."
"I mean, do you want me to let him know you were here? It's more of a polite, commonplace phrase, you know, like giving someone you missed your regards."
"Oh," I breathed.
Of course, a figure of speech…
Usually, I'm quite good with those; I like idioms because of the visuals they often bear. I'm thinking in images rather than in words anyway; I always did.
That's how I learned to deal with the chaos that spoken or written language had been to me as long as I can remember – assigning images to words and phrases, similar to my childhood communication cards that Esme had made for me.
Nouns were the easiest; the word table goes with the image of a table. A solid item, simple as that.
I visualized verbs, too. They were a tad harder to organize. The word running would trigger the memory of the other kids in school dashing out of the classroom at the ringing of the bell. A quite accurate visual. But up to this day, the phrase running nose gives me mental hiccups, picture-wise.
Abstract concepts were the hardest, like danger and safety. Or relations, like early versus late. Same with spatial words such as over and under. Those had no meaning for me until a certain event or experience would provide a visual I could associate them with.
I still mess them up occasionally.
Saying hi to someone who isn't present, I mean literally standing here and saying it, had seemed an odd image to me just a minute ago. But I really liked to send my regards to Aro, and I was thankful for Jazz's offer to pass them on.
I noticed that I had started to call him by his friend-name in my mind. Maybe because he really was friend-ly…
"I think, I'd like to say hi to Aro then," I informed him.
I will probably replay this scene in my head every time I'll hear this phrase again. It is now fixed in my memory, ready for instant recall.
"Please tell him I was here and that I'm sorry I missed him."
"And thank you for explaining it to me," I added, emphasizing my sentiment with a polite nod and a smile. It was a genuine smile; I felt comfortable.
Then Jazz asked me about Bella, and I felt my smile grow even wider. It's simply what happens to me every time I think of her. I told him that she was still at work and that I would pick her up soon. Then I remembered that I actually wouldn't today; it would drive all the way to Seattle instead, for that dreaded meeting. And my smile fell.
"She is very pretty," Jazz commented.
I wasn't sure if he knew it or not, but I felt the urge to tell him that Bella is my girlfriend. So I did just that.
"Oh, I know that," he backpedaled. "I didn't mean to…"
"I'm going to marry her," I blurted. Out of nowhere, the images had formed in my mind, with perfect clarity… the rings, her dress, flowers, her lips smiling as the wedding vows fall from them.
I would marry her!
"Really? That's awesome, congratulations!"
I snapped out of my musings and shook my head no. It was just a thought yet, too early for congratulations. I shouldn't have said it. I was mad at myself. No matter how solid the visual, I should propose to Bella first, before shouting it out like a moron!
"I haven't asked her yet," I clarified. Yet I couldn't help to add, "But I will marry her."
"She would be stupid if she didn't say yes."
For the second time, I looked up and faced Jazz without even thinking about it. Had he just called Bella stupid? Or not? I dropped my gaze to his mouth as if that could help me to understand the meaning of his remark.
He licked his lips and said, "I am a musician, too, you know?"
I was so puzzled that my anger dissolved into thin air. Why would he tell me that? This Jazz guy really kept going off track. Did he do that on purpose?
I was still watching his mouth that now widened into a huge smile. Suddenly, his earlier comment about hoping to become friends with me started to make sense. A musician. He was pointing out a common ground, obviously.
"What do you play?" I asked him, intrigued.
His smile grew even wider. "Oh, I play anything stringed. Right now, I play bass in a band. But I actually like playing guitar better. And I sing."
I watched as his smile faded a little. Then he bit his bottom lip similar to the way Bella sometimes does when she is insecure about herself. I realized that telling me all those things bore a meaning to him; my opinion held a meaning.
"That's great, Jazz," I said.
He was trying to bond with me over the music; I could see that. And he was worrying his bottom lip because he was afraid I would reject his advances.
And of course, I would reject them!
I do not make friends just like this. I'd been holding my breath long enough already, maintaining this conversation. I'm not like him; he surely must have noticed that.
I couldn't do this. Or could I?
This was about music. Why else would he want to have anything to do with me?
Music. Maybe we could meet there, halfway, communicating through a medium both of us were comfortable with. I wouldn't have to strain myself. I could breathe there.
Jazz was making an effort to reach out to my world. The idea of rejecting this effort made me feel bad. He was a weird guy, but who am I, talking of weird?
"I have a piano at my place," I said before I lost my courage. "Maybe we can play together some time. If you'd like?"
All at once my heart was beating in my throat, and I wished I could take back what I just had said. What if he and I didn't get along musically. I hadn't even asked what kind of music he liked - what if he was a bad musical amateur? How would I get out of this then?
What if I had misinterpreted his sentiment anyway and he now thought I had lost my mind to jump to assumptions like that?
I was just about to tell him I made a mistake, when his soft voice put me out of my misery.
"I would really love that, Edward."
The unexpected turns of events had taken its toll; I couldn't think of a proper reply, or even decide if this whole affair was a good thing or not. One can only deal with so much. I needed to get out, badly.
I managed to say, "Bye, Jazz." And that was it. I turned on my heel and left. I didn't know any more if coming here had really been such I good idea.
The room lights up and reveals a scene as surreal as it gets. Me, naked, leaning against the wall and balancing on one foot. And there is blood dripping from my other foot. Blood! Oh my God…
I order myself to not look at it; if I pass out now – yeah, that would be just perfect!
"Bells, who is that?" Jake again whispers behind me.
He is towering over me, probably flexing his ridiculous muscles and showing his best don't-mess-with-the-big-guy face.
Edward has stopped dead in his tracks. He just stares, his face completely stripped of any expression. He doesn't move. Neither of us does.
After a few endless seconds, I notice a subtle change in Little Green's frozen posture, so miniscule it's hardly visible. But I can feel it, like some sort of voltage rippling through his body, and it gives me goose bumps all over.
So this is it – shit is going to hit the fan in three… two… one…
In the end, the meeting wasn't that bad. Maybe I already was somewhat desensitized by my encounter with eager Jazz. Maybe it was my alone-time in the car while focusing on nothing but the traffic and the hypnotizing way the street was rolling away under my trusted Volvo that had put me together again. I couldn't tell.
What I could tell, however, was that someone must have had instructed most of the attendees. Someone had given them a heads up and told them how to behave around me. It was too obvious, and I wasn't sure if I liked it.
The Northcliffe Founder's Room of Benaroya where the gathering was held was already crowded when I arrived, and at first I didn't know where to go or who to turn to. People were talking and laughing in pairs, and groups of three or four gathered around bar tables; a cacophony of chatter.
I nervously tried to estimate the number of bodies forming this huge swarm. The idea of having to talk to all of them, and the sheer amount of hands I'd possibly have to shake made me dizzy.
One person broke away from the mass and walked towards me. I breathed a sigh of relief when I recognized Mateo, my co-composer and mentor in this enterprise. It was good to see him.
"Edward, such a pleasure to see you!" He greeted me elatedly before he even stopped walking, more than an arm's length in front of me.
"The pleasure is all mine," I replied honestly.
He tilted his head to one side and raised both his hands mid-torso. "Would it be ok if I…?"
"Yes, I'd love to," I answered his unfinished question, and we both stepped forward.
With one arm around my shoulder, he gave me a hug. He didn't hold me though; he knew me better. It was just a quick, hard squeeze; followed by two hearty pats between my shoulder blades – in a blink, I was released again. It was perfect.
"Ok, let's get this show on the road, my friend, shall we? The sooner we get going, the sooner this will be over, and we can focus on what's important and get to work."
I nodded my head yes and smiled, grateful for him to take the lead.
"Ok, here's how it goes…"
He laid out his plans for this evening to me, and I grew more confident the longer I listened.
He couldn't spare me the close encounters with the V.I.P's, of course, like the biggest sponsors, the director of the Seattle children's hospital, our conductor… But he somehow had managed to keep the local press off of my back. I hadn't even considered there would be any press people invited, but I was beyond thankful not to have to do any interviews. I was definitely not prepared for this!
He also had decided to invite me to the podium when he gave his speech, so he could introduce me to the entire audience, orchestra members included, all at once.
"No need for you to shake a bazillion hands tonight," he said. "You will get to know the musicians soon enough when we start rehearsing."
I really had no problem with that.
When he called my name, I stepped up to the podium, and Mateo and I shared a firm handshake, gripping each other's elbow. Then I turned to the faceless crowd and just spoke the truth – that I was happy and honored to be a part of this project, and that helping to provide the best care for sick children was a cause dear to my heart.
The people applauded, and the worst part was over.
Even though my words had come fluently, I started shaking all over as soon as I had left the podium. The realization hit me that, no matter how short, this had been my first public speech ever.
The rest of the evening went pretty smoothly. I stayed close to Mateo most of the time, and all that was required of me in the conversation department were a few friendly nods here and there, with a "Thank you" or a "Pleased to meet you" thrown in for good measure.
No one seemed to expect anything else from me. No one got nosy; no one approached me without being introduced by my mentor. It was almost eerie.
When Mateo hinted to me that I could take my leave now without appearing rude, I had to ask him.
"Did you tell these people about me, so they'd leave me alone?"
He scratched his head awkwardly and cleared his throat. "Well, I did, kind of."
"So you told them I'm not capable of interacting with them because I'm disabled?"
"Edward," he said, "I definitely didn't say anything like that." To my utmost surprise, he broke into laughter. I couldn't help but grin at the sight of his sudden hysterics.
"But what did you tell them? And how?"
"It was really easy," he wheezed, trying to catch his breath. "I just picked a few of the biggest tattlers and spoke to them confidentially. There's no better way to spread the news, you know."
"And what news did you spread that way?"
"I basically told them you're a total prick."
"Too talented for your own good, but the most arrogant douchebag ever. Best to leave you alone."
He broke into another laughing fit.
"Don't worry, the orchestra members will see it isn't so soon enough. I'm sorry, Edward, but it worked, right?"
"It did," I said, quite amused. "Thanks, that was really smart."
Mateo wiped a tear from his eye, still chuckling. "You're welcome."
Edward lunges out. He grabs me and swings me around and behind his back, putting himself as a shield between me and my flabbergasted ex-husband.
It happens too suddenly for Jake to react. His jaw drops and he watches incredulously as Edward moves backwards, half crouching like an animal ready to pounce, securing me to his back with one arm around my waist.
We pass the door and enter the hallway in this weird kind of crabwalk, and Jacob still hasn't moved yet.
"Jake," I call out to him. "Close the door!"
That seems to rattle his stupor. "Bells, what the…?"
Oh God, this is the big, black German Shepherd and the garden spade all over again. They will fight if Jacob doesn't stay back. And just like with the dog back then, Little Green won't pay the size difference between himself and his opponent any mind – Jacob will eat him alive…
"Please, it's okay, Jake. I'm okay; just close the door. And don't come out before I say so!"
Edward gives a growl of sorts.
I hear the bedroom door snap shut. Thank fuck!
I almost suffocate from the amount of adrenaline flooding my system; there's not enough oxygen in this room. I don't know what is happening here, but all my alarm bells went off and now they form a deafening white noise in my head.
Bella is talking behind me as I hold her close to me. I can't make out what she's saying. She is struggling, but I can't let her go. I'm the shield, the only shield between her and him. Nothing but me and the door. Behind that door, right behind that door is him.
Oh God, what did he do to her? Is she hurt? My vision gets clouded with something close to a thick, black fog. Through the pinpoint view that is left, I keep watching the door.
I shake my head, but the fog won't dissipate. Is it the anger stealing my eyesight, or the lack of oxygen?
I cannot faint now; this is serious. Breathe! I need to breathe!
I need to think.
Fight or flight… fight or flight…
Bella keeps talking.
I don't listen. Without taking my eyes off of the door, I scan my memory of Bella's place for possible weapons. Anything I could use to defend her against Jake, should he decide to come at us.
She called him Jake!
A fresh wave of adrenaline makes me stumble on my feet for a second, just enough time for Bella to cork-screw out of my grip. She appears in front of me and cups my cheeks with both hands.
"Edward, my love… my heart! Look at me!"
It is him! Jake – that's her husband. It's her husband there behind the door…
"Little Green, please! I'm not in any danger. Please look at me, baby."
I do. And I speak.
"It's the asshole."
Her face registers confusion for a moment. Then she nods her head yes.
"Yes, it's Jacob, my ex-husband. He means no harm."
Jacob. Ex. Husband.
"Did he hurt you?"
"No, he didn't." She lets go of my face and looks down on herself. "I hurt myself, accidentally."
I follow her gaze and gasp. She's bleeding.
I still don't know what has happened and what could have led to the situation I came upon. But there are things that need to be attended to. Simple things. I'm glad for simple things right now. I can deal with simple things.
First off, Exhusbandasshole!
I grab the next best chair, take the few steps to the bedroom door and open it. Asshole is still standing in the same spot. Good. At the sight of me, he raises his hands, palms towards me. "Hey, man…"
I don't wait for whatever he's going to say. I slam the door shut again and wedge the chair under the knob. An exasperated "Hey!" from the inside indicates that Asshole doesn't like it. He rattles the door frantically. He curses. I couldn't care less.
Second, covering Bella.
I take the woolen plaid off of Bella's couch and put it around her shoulders. She must be so cold. I rub her shoulders for a bit to warm her up. She whispers my name – my secret name – and a single tear rolls down her cheek. I kiss it away.
"I've got you, Bella," I say. "I've got you."
Third, tending to the wound on the sole of her foot.
I scoop her up and carry her to the bathroom. I can hear Asshole call his disrespectful one-syllable version of my woman's name. I can hear him banging at the bedroom door.
I don't care. I'll get to him later.
Thanks for reading! For those of you who haven't read the Outtake 'Play' (JPOV):
the middle part of this chaptermirrors Edward's and Jasper's encounter of said outtake.
Important note/disclaimer: Mateo Messina is a RL person! (You can Google it, LOL)
He is a Seattle native, Grammy-winning film and symphony composer.
He actually worked on the benefit concert I mentioned beforehand in chapter 22.
But that's about it! Everything else is pure fiction, of course! :P
No fic rec this time… sorry. I just didn't get to read much lately.
Reviews are like a shoulder rub from Little Green. Or actually… I love you so much,
you can choose freely which part of your anatomy you'd like to get rubbed. :)