'Love Actually' Contest

Title: Emotional Ties

Characters: Edward/Isabella

Disclaimer: Stephanie Meyer owns, I do not.

Image that inspired you: Prompt 13

Summary: Edward suffers deep pain from rocky relationships that have left him broken. Can a picture from an unknown photographer change his entire belief in love?

Thursday Evening

Edward sat on the bench alone, the air cold around him. He didn't notice, despite his hands buried into the pockets of his leather jacket. Instead, he simply focused on his surroundings trying desperately to stop the constant rambling of the voice in his head that was telling him that all was lost, that there was no use in going forward any longer. The pathway that the bench rested in the middle of a park was one that he wasn't familiar with. He found it while he was wandering the streets.

He felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, and ignored it. He had no desire to speak to whomever was on the other line. He knew it was probably Emmett, wondering where the hell he was and why he had missed their dinner plans. He hardly saw his brother anymore now that he was happily married to his tall, blond, and beautiful. Edward was his best man, dressed in a fancy tux that included a cherry red neck tie and vest. He was thrilled for his big brother, but it only reminded him how little love he had in his own life.

The sound of camera clicking made him turn his head towards a pretty brunette with a Nikon focused on him. He tilted his head to the side in curiosity, causing the woman to lower her camera in embarrassment. Her brown eyes twinkled a little bit, as she slowly made her way over to where he sat.

He watched her as she walked, her dark brown hair long and wild, unceremoniously tucked into a cap on her head. She wore a bright red poncho over a white shirt he saw peeking out at the bottom and jeans, worn brown boots on her feet. There wasn't a speck of make up on her pale skin, but her cheeks were rosy from the cold temperatures. She had a nose piercing, a small little blue stone that flickered when the light hit it just right. And when she smiled at him, he couldn't look away.

"I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. You looked perfect I had to take a picture of you," she said quietly, a fingerless gloved hand brushing a few strands of wavy hair away from her eyes. Edward simply looked at her in a stunned silence. She raised a brow, waiting, and when he still didn't say anything to her she nodded her head.

"Okay. The strong, silent type. I get it. I'll make myself brief then. I'm Bella, and I'm a photographer. I have a studio in Riverside, and if you are interested I have a show opening on Sunday night." She reached behind her and dug into her camera bag to pull out a business card. She handed it over to Edward, who accepted it wordlessly, his eyes not moving from her face.

"That's my business card. It has my studio's address, my website, and my phone number on it. Bring that with you on Friday, and I'll make sure that you and your guests get in free. There will be champagne, tapas, the works. I think you are the kind of person who would benefit from this series," she said with a smile. Edward still didn't respond. Bella smirked.

"Right, well...I hope to see you there," she said as she turned and walked away. Edward watched her as she walked away, then looked at the card in his hand. It was totally not what he expected. Funky, with gothic lettering and purple ink. Elle Photography. Isabella Swan. On the back of the card there was a little quote: Arrive expecting to push yourself, and leave with no regrets. When his eyes darted back up to find her, she was gone.

Friday Morning

His fingers flew over the keyboard, typing in the web address to this Isabella Swan's photography website. When it popped up, soft music started to play along with a slideshow of some of her images. They were very good. Edward clicked on the link that would take him to her blog. There, he was able to read about her current photography packages, as well as see sneak peeks of the weddings she had done in the past few months. Her eye was uncanny: she was able to capture the moment in such a way that it would forever be a cherished memory.

He went back to her website and clicked on the site itself, and read through the profile. There he was able to learn that Ms. Isabella Swan was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence with a Communications degree. She had worked in the newspaper world for five years, and then decided to do something different with her talents and started to shoot weddings. Now, a few years later, she was one of the most sought after photographers around.

"Hey, Mr. Cullen," a voice said, causing Edward to look up at his office door. Standing there was Tyler, a 9th grader who wanted nothing more than to be a concert pianist. Ever since the boy's father had left, Tyler had immersed himself in the craft of his father: music. Edward smiled at him and his mother, who walked in behind him, and minimized the window he was looking at.

"Hey, Tyler. Mrs. Crowly. How are you guys today?" he asked.

"I'm okay," Tyler said, sitting down in one of the overstuffed chairs that sat opposite of his desk. Edward stood and shook Mrs. Crowly's hand before settling back down. He turned and pulled a folder from a pile next to him and flipped it open.

"So, Mr. Cullen...how'd I do?" Tyler asked, his voice shaky.

"Well, I have to say that your audition was remarkable. I'm very impressed with your skills at such a young age, but am concerned with your music reading. It's not as strong as I wish it was. That being said, I'm going to enrol you into our fall semester for that particular class, as well as the youth symphony. Congratulations," Edward said with a wide smile. Tyler's face broke out into a huge grin.

"Really!" he exclaimed, earning a laugh from Edward.

"Really. You out played thirteen other kids for the spot," Edward said. Mrs. Crowly leaned over and squeezed his hand tightly.

"I told you those extra hours were going to pay off! Oh, Tyler I'm so happy for you!" Mrs. Crowly said. Tyler jumped up and hugged his mom, both laughing and crying at the same time. He turned to Edward and ran over to him and launched his arms around his neck. A surprised Edward hugged him back, laughing with him.

"I'm going to be in the symphony! I did it!" he yelled. Edward stood with Mrs. Crowly and shook her hand.

"Thank you so much, Mr. Cullen. Thank you so much," she said with emotion filled eyes. "You've made this mom very happy."

"Don't thank me, Mrs. Crowly, Tyler earned it. Now," he said clapping his hands and picking up the folder of sheet music and handing it to Tyler. "That's your homework. The first rehearsal will be the second week of January, and I'll send you some information about it after the first of the year. For now, practice these songs and work on your reading okay?"

"Yes, sir!" Tyler said, taking the folder.

"Have a Merry Christmas," Edward said as they walked out of the office.

"Merry Christmas!" they both said together. Edward overheard Mrs. Crowly speaking her love for her son as they walked down the empty hallway, and he smiled sadly. He wondered if that kind of parental love would ever happen to him. Sitting back down at his desk, he maximized the window that held Isabella's website and started to look over the page again.

He was amazed at how down to earth she seemed based on her site. Her prices were reasonable for photoshoots and weddings, and she seemed to keep in touch with each of her clients. It also seemed that she did all the work herself, not really hiring someone to do things for her when she could so easily do it that way. He clicked on her bio again, and looked at the picture of the brunette that had captured his attention and leaned back in his chair.

At the bottom of the page there was some small font there that read "Arrive expecting to push yourself, and leave with no regrets." Edward found the little quote powerful, even if it seemed obvious. He picked up a pen and scribbled the small quote onto a post it note, and then attached it to his monitor.

"Arrive expecting to push yourself, and leave with no regrets," he read quietly. After staring at the note for a few long moments, he minimized the window and pulled the stack of papers close to him. He had phone calls to make that would disappoint many children, and appointments to take that would excite many others. But every once in a while, his eyes would go back to that quote and he would think about the mysterious Isabella Swan.

Saturday Afternoon

"Dude, you need to go," Emmett said. They were sitting in Edward's condo, drinking beer and watching football. Edward took a long pull from his beer. Jasper listened to the conversation quietly, nursing a can of soda. He had just explained the past few days events to his brother and brother-in-law, looking for advice.

"I don't know," he said after he swallowed. Emmett scoffed at him and rolled his eyes.

"You can't keep doing this to yourself. Just because you got burned in the past doesn't mean that every chick is out to get you, or is going to use you, or whatever it is that you are afraid of. C'mon, you got to get back on the horse sometime," Emmett said, grabbing another handful of pretzels.

"Do I have to remind you of my history with women? It's not that stellar," Edward said. Emmett rolled his eyes again, causing Edward to set down his beer and sit up. "Jess left me for Mike. Victoria left me for James. And Leah? She left me for Courtney. I'm done with relationships and love." Emmett tried to hide his snickers in a cough but realized he failed when he saw the glare that was being shot his way. Jasper grinned slightly, but kept his mouth shut.

"Maybe they weren't the ones for you. Maybe photography chick is. Are you willing to blow the chance?" Emmett asked. Edward sighed and shook his head.

"There's a lot more at stake here," Edward said. Emmett shook his head.

"Not all chicks are evil, Edward. Just the ones you pick. This one picked you. She could be worth it, if you give her a chance," Emmett said. Edward frowned and shook his head.

"I've been fucked up in the past, Em. I don't know if I want to try again," he said quietly. Emmett didn't have an answer to that so he just stayed silent. They heard the front door open, and stood to help the girls bring in the food. Emmett took the bag out of Rose's hands and pressed a kiss to her lips in a gallant display, while Jasper kissed Alice's forehead as he took the bag out of her hands. Edward smiled sadly at the display, ignoring the nagging ache in his chest.

They walked into the kitchen and set the food out on the kitchen table. Edward went into his cabinet and pulled out plates for everyone to dish up their own plate of comfort food before returning to the game and watching two college teams that no one cared about play. Later that evening, Edward was loading the dishes into the dishwasher when Alice walked in carrying a few more bottles and a glass. She set the glass in front of Edward and then threw the bottles away.

"Big brother, are you okay?" she asked. Edward nodded as he rinsed off another dish.

"Right as rain. Why?" he answered automatically. He felt her small hand touch his and when he looked over at her, he saw how concerned she was.

"What's going on? You aren't acting like yourself," she asked. Edward heaved a heavy sigh, and shut off the water. He then launched into the story about how he found out that Leah had been cheating on him the month prior and while the relationship wasn't that old it still hurt him to know that he wasn't worth being loved. He told her about how he had lost himself while walking around the city and found himself in a park he'd never been to before, and how a girl captured him on film and how she hasn't been able to leave his mind.

"Everyone is worth being loved, Edward. You included," Alice said, accepting the cup of coffee Edward offered her. There were cheers in the living room. Edward poured himself a cup of coffee and escorted his baby sister to the table to get away from the noise.

"Tell me about this photographer," Alice asked as she picked at the French fries still sitting on the table.

"I can't describe it. I couldn't even speak to her. She was so different from anyone I've ever met; carefree and beautiful. After she took my picture, she told me she had a show going on Sunday night and wanted me to come. She said I could show her this business card and I could get myself and my guests in for free," Edward said, pulling out the card from his wallet. He handed it to Alice who looked at the card, and then flipped it over to read the back. She handed it back with a shrug.

"I say go to the show. You never know what might happen. Worst comes to it, you get in free to see a bunch of pictures you don't care about," Alice said. Edward nodded. Or I learn, yet again, that love is a lie, he thought.

Sunday Afternoon

Edward sat at his piano, playing mindlessly. He let the music flow from wherever it was coming from, but if he had to guess it was from the bottom of his broken heart. Edward smirked and shook his head at his own emo self and his cliches. The tune he was playing was soft and dark, echoing everything he was feeling.

He was in high school when Jessica dumped him publicly to go be with Mike. Jess wasn't his first girlfriend but she was his first serious one. They were together almost two years before high school jock Mike Newton came to town. He smirked at her and winked, and she was with him without a second glance. He cried his little heart out for an entire weekend after that.

He and Victoria started dating in college. They were both in the music program; Edward for piano and Victoria for violin. She had always thought it was cute to play something that was so close to her own name. One day he came home early from rehearsal and walked in to find her with his roommate James in a very compromising position. He turned and walked out and went straight to the student life office and demanded a single room. When he explained what happened, it was granted without question.

Then there was Leah. Leah wasn't anything like any woman he had dated before. It was almost like she was a damsel in distress, needing someone to rescue her from life. And Edward was that guy, not realizing how she was using him to get things that she wanted while she partied with her girlfriend on the side. While he wasn't a prude in any way, it was obvious when he was on the receiving end of a voicemail meant for Courtney that this wasn't going to work out.

Edward's hands moved to a different piece, one that he had in his head, a song without an ending because he had yet to finish it. The notes started out sweet and tender, a beautiful melody that brought a smile to his lips. Then, as it went on, the notes took on a darker sound, angsty and sorrowful. Then he abruptly stopped playing. He sighed, frustrated and uncertain, then turned and looked at the business card that rested on the top of the piano. He stared at it for a long time, and then picked it up and flipped it over to read the quote there once again.

Arrive expecting to push yourself, and leave with no regrets.

He could stay home and forget about the brunette. He could not go to the show that she was putting together, and stay in his home and sulk about how he has no real love in his life and how alone he felt. He could think about Emmett and Rose, newlyweds and happy. He could think about Jasper and Alice, engaged and preparing for a spring wedding with yellow accents and butterflies. He could think about his parents, together for almost 40 years and still just as in love as they were the first day they met and he could wallow in self pity and remorse and wish he had those things himself.

Or he could get off the piano bench, get dressed, and go down to Riverside. He could find Elle Photography and show the guy at the door the business card and go in to the show. He could look at whatever it was that she was displaying on the walls of her shop, drink a glass of champagne, and see what she meant when she told him that he would benefit from the show she was putting on. He looked at the card again.

Arrive expecting to push yourself, and leave with no regrets.

He stood from where he was and walked into his bedroom, stripping off his shirt as he went.

Sunday Evening

He stood in front of the building that matched the address on the card he had in his hand. It was lit up like the 4th of July with Christmas lights hanging in the front window, a small Christmas tree, and a Menorah to match. The sign above the door was done in purple neon lights, spelling out Elle Photography in a choppy font. The awning over the door was black with silver stars all over that twinkled in the light.

He didn't know what to expect. He had never been to an opening like this, and wasn't sure what to expect. He figured if they were serving champagne that it was at least a little dressy, but weren't people who came to these things a little laid back and retro? He decided on a pair of jeans and his blue dress shirt. The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows under his leather jacket. He watched as people walked up to the front door and showed the man standing there an invitation before being let in. Taking a shaky breath, he crossed the street.

"Hey...I was told to just show you this..." Edward said, his voice portraying his nerves. The bulky guy looked at the card, and flipped it on its back and read the quote. He smiled then at Edward and handed him the card back before opening the door and letting him into the studio.

"Enjoy, and congratulations," he said in a deep voice. Edward glanced at him, confused, but once he was inside, he was stopped by a woman at a small table. Behind her were black velvet curtains blocking the view of the show itself. Next to them was a brick wall where a sign was posted. Emotional Ties by Isabella Swan. He stared at the sign bewildered.

"Sir, I can take your coat for you," a kind voice said, causing Edward to turn his head and to look at the pretty blond sitting at the table. Edward nodded his head and slipped the leather off his shoulders and handing it over to the woman. She stood and took the jacket, hung it on a hanger and then ripped off the number there. She turned to hand it to Edward.

"Enjoy the show...and congratulations," she said, opening the curtain for him to enter the show. Edward looked around the room and was stunned. It was obvious that the place was a photography studio, but the entire place had been changed to look like something out of a romantic movie. There were twinkling lights strung all over the place giving the room a dim, soft look. Oversized couches and chairs were scattered across the room, and hung on the walls were portraits of people, lit elegantly with thin wire lights. There was music playing as well, soft and understated, but it was there. It sounded like slow, acoustic versions of rock classics. Edward smiled, appreciating the tone.

"Champagne, sir?" a kind voice asked him, and he turned to accept the glass with a nod. The boy also handed him a pamphlet describing the show, along with a small biography of the photographer herself. Edward took it with him as he turned to look at the first photograph on his left. It was a beautiful image of a woman. Her blue eyes were pointed to the sky, and the smile on her lips was proof of some kind of joy found there. Her blond hair was wrapped around her face a little bit, hiding her skin from the show, and the lovely yellow dress flattered her.

Moving along, he took the time to focus on each image, giving it the time it deserved so that he could understand the emotions that he saw portrayed there. Joy. Hate. Sorrow. Elation. Worry. Isabella Swan had captured each emotion elegantly and perfectly. It wasn't until he got to the third to last one that he froze in his place. The picture he saw before him was...himself.

He was stunned. The picture was the one that this remarkable woman had taken only three days ago of him sitting in the park. The image captured the trees that surrounded him perfectly, the colours were bright and vibrant and sharp. But his face...his face was etched in such deep pain that he couldn't help but feel the need to want to help the person, even if it was himself. His hair was in disarray, his eyes narrowed and sad, his posture looked defeated.

He wanted to feel furious that she would do this to him, to put him on display and gain something from his pain. He wanted to find her and to scream at her and to demand that she take it down, but he simple couldn't find it in him. Is this what everyone saw when they looked at him? He tried to hide it from everyone, but if this picture was proof...

"Self-Loathing," a soft voice said in his ear. He turned to find himself face to face with the infamous brunette that invaded his mind days ago. She looked different all done up; her wavy hair styled recklessly in shiny curls over her shoulders only pinned up so that it wouldn't fall into her face, streaks of a sparkly sheer eyeshadow danced on her eyelids and made them sparkle when she blinked and lines of black liner along the edges, her lips glossy and begging to be kissed.

"Why?" he asked, his voice a broken whisper. Isabella shrugged, her hair shimmying over one shoulder to her back.

"Why torture yourself over something that might be able to be fixed so easily?" she asked. He didn't respond, but continued to stare at her with that tortured gaze.

"Look at the picture," she said, and he turned his head to look at it. "There is so much pain there, so much hurt that you can't tear your eyes away. When I first saw this, I wanted to run and cradle the poor man's head to my chest and tell him that everything would be okay, that things would work out, that life isn't cruel. But I couldn't because I was certain after watching him for a while that he hated himself, not life in general like I thought."

Edward turned and looked at Bella again, finding her staring at the picture on the wall with her head tilted. The dim lighting made her nose ring sparkle slightly, and he took this moment to look at what she was wearing. She was dressed in a pair of grey pinstriped dress pants, a ribbed knit tank, and a black vest that had what looked like it could have been tattoo designs on it. And she was barefooted. She turned her eyes back to him and smiled.

"I see pain there, and the truth is nothing in this world is worth that kind of self torture. It's obvious that someone has hurt you deeply...but what I see here is that you are taking the full blame for that. What I can't understand is why, when you deserve nothing but all the happiness in the world," Isabella said softly. Edward shook his head.

"All I've ever known is pain and sorrow...I've never really known love," he whispered. Isabella smiled slightly, and shrugged.

"You can't expect love to come to you freely if you don't love yourself first," she whispered back. She reached out and brushed her fingers over his forehead to brush back his hair, and then pulled him down and pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead. Her hand trailed to his cheek and she rubbed her thumb there, smiling at him. Then she dropped her hand and walked away from him, to another group of people who were telling her their congratulations on a splendid show.

Edward turned his eyes back to the picture and studied it. Her words echoed in his head as he thought back to what he thought was failed relationships because of something he had done...when in truth, it wasn't him all along. Emmett was right all along, and it took a stranger and her camera to show him just how horrible he was being to himself. Slowly, he felt as if something was lifting him, making him feel lighter. A stranger's picture was showing him what everyone else was saying all along.

He turned and looked for Isabella, finding her standing with an elderly gentleman laughing. Edward set down his now empty glass of champagne and walked towards her. As he approached, they glanced at him and the elderly gentleman excused himself. Isabella laughed lightly as the older man kissed her on the cheek and then turned her to face Edward. Edward stopped a few steps away from her and ran a hand through his hair, staring into her bright brown eyes.

"Hey," he said softly. She smiled.

"Hello," she replied.

"My name is Edward, and you would make me a very happy man if you allowed me to take you to dinner sometime," he said, a crooked grin adorning his face. Bella's smile grew and she nodded.

"My name is Isabella, and I'd be delighted."