Title: October Swans
Penname(s): Jay's World
Picture #: 5
Rating: M – for dark thoughts and death.
Disclaimer: I own no recognizable characteristics from The Twilight Saga. All rights go to Stephenie Meyer. No copyright infringement intended.
Summary: She hates music, a law hanging over her head from a lost childhood. He is stuck, gone back to the past to compose with an Angel, but finds a muse instead. In October, a swan died, but years later, will another resurrect from the aftermath of death?
Submitted for the 100 Pictures—An Anon Fanfic Competition
Please check out the other entries here: http:/www(dot)fanfiction(dot)net/community/100_Pictures_An_Anon_Fanfic_Competition_Entries/83603/
Before you start reading, I'd like to say thank you to everyone who voted for
October Swans. It got Public Choice 2nd place and Judges Choice 1st place!
"Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight
We're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland"
The crowd gathered around, everyone from toddlers with pacifiers, to old prunes with replaced hips; newlyweds and the anniversary-couples, and the small family from Chicago sitting in the corner, wrapped up in each other with matching red sweaters; turtlenecks and fleece boots and home-made socks from grandma last year.
White mini marshmallows swam in a sea of hot chocolate, the fire sparkled with fresh wood and the skin of a white bear shot two years ago sat in front of the fireplace where two high school sweethearts laid in each other's arms.
There was no, stage per se, only a small platform for the baby grand – white with gold feet, and ebony and ivory keys. An old Ritmüller inherited from her grandmother many years ago, even before she met Charlie.
Her fingers flew flawlessly over the tangents as her voice rang out in the same fashion. Clear. Perfect. Warm. Her smile, the one that would attract both men or women from miles away, brightened up as the room fell silent and entranced with her performance. The Chicago family huddled together, a son in his mother's lap and a daughter in her father's embrace. Red matching knitted sweaters forming one big screen of perfection in the corner.
"Mama, she's beautiful," said the little boy to his mother.
Everyone except the singer heard him, but the widening smiles only spurred her on. Those were for her and her alone.
"In the meadow we can build a snowman
And pretend that he's a circus clown
We'll have lots of fun with mister snowman
Until the other kids knock him down
When it snows, ain't it thrilling?
Though your nose gets a chilling
We'll frolic and play, the Eskimo way
Walking in a winter wonderland"
Applause and standing ovations, she bowed for them all. And when the little boy sprang from his mother's lap and threw himself at her, she hugged him tight and laughed loudly. No woman envied her in a mean way as their husbands' eyes followed her through the room, because she was no threat to them. She was happily married and despite the romantic offers she had received in the past from other suitors, she stayed true to the Inn-keeper.
She put the little boy down and he ran back to his mother, burying his face in her stomach with red cheeks. His mother brushed his unruly hair with her fingers and looked up to the beautiful singer, mouthing 'thank you'. The singer nodded with sparkling almond eyes before bowing a final team and leaving the room.
No one touched the piano when she wasn't there; a silent universal rule, even new visitors could feel shocking the air. The entire atmosphere in the little room was warmer than any other place in the building, and that small platform was holy, like the secret grail.
A little girl stood in the double-door opening, smiling wide with dimples forming at both cheeks. Her long brown hair was braided on both sides of her heart-shaped face, with the tips ending at her waist. She watched – bewitched – as the singer left the room.
"Bravo!" exclaimed her father, and picked her up. "Isn't she amazing, honey? Can you believe that she's my wife?"
She giggled and tried squirming away, but his large hands were latched onto her sides tickling her.
"I su'ender!" the little girl cried out and tried to regain her breath, grinning sheepishly up at her father.
"Well can you?"
She giggled again. "No daddy, mommy's so pe'tty and you're so 'airy. It's like da Beauty and the Beast!" she said jokingly, and his deep-to-the-stomach laugh rang out in the room, as heads turned to them with endearing smiles. "Is dat why my name is Bella?"
"Well, your mother always loved that story, you know. It wouldn't surprise me if that was the case. But, she is your mother, always allowing her own little twists in the mix."
"S'dat why I have an 'a' inst'ed of an 'e'? 'Cos I'm glad she changed 'em. Belle sounds like da one in Church that makes loud noises, and Jake would only make more fun of me. He already calls me baby-bell, daddy!" Bella pouted at the memory of the boy giving her the humiliating nickname, and as comfort, her father carried her to the kitchen, where their chef, Tia, was making sandwiches for lunch. He perched her on a stool by the counter and Bella brought her elbows up to the edge, resting her chin on her palms.
This was her life, living in the Inn her father owned and watching her mother sing and play every day on the piano. Some would take Bella's glowing face when she saw her mother as a sign that she loved her mother more than her father, but they would be wrong. As much as Bella loved music and the sound of her mother, she was her father's daughter; Daddy's little girl. That was why she went crying to him when Jacob Black called her names and pushed her on the playground. She loved them both equally, though. She loved her father's protectiveness and her mother's passion for music.
It was times like this, though that she really loved the music. Christmas carols might have been the sweetest tunes to hear, the ringing of bells and angels' voices praising the word of God. Her mother would leave a crack open in the window, and Bella would go outside in her jacket, snow pants, hat, and mittens, and make snow angels to her mother's voice.
Those were the best of times. Then she would go back inside and her father would be holding a cup of hot chocolate with two marshmallows and a big smile under his thick mustache. He would hold her in the loveseat and listen to the piano tunes flowing gracefully through the room.
In the mixture of pure joy from the weather and the music, Bella found herself in complete bliss.
Music. It was one of their biggest attractions. The Swan Lake Inn would have gone unknown had it not been for music, because it was located in Forks, a small Podunk town with the population of three thousand. No one just happened to go through the town. That would be ridiculous since it was a coastal town an hour from Port Angeles – the nearest place with a mall – and four long hours from Seattle.
Before the Inn, people called it a ghost town, and yet all the high school graduates stayed there after college. Well, most of them, the ones who got away were blessed with high intellect and an inheritance from a distant aunt on the east coast.
Charlie Swan had been one of those who stayed, but he could have been one of those who got away. He was a very smart man, and majored in economics and business in the University of Washington. Then he came back, to the surprise of his parents and the entire town, and he opened the Inn singlehandedly. But unfortunately, it wasn't a complete success from the start, having an average of two visitors a month, and he struggled with bills and loans. His parents cursed him for wasting valuable money they had spent on his college education, but he shrugged it off and took up another loan to last a few more months.
Then a miracle happened.
A guest found the place cozy and homey, a perfect family resort to bring his kids. He was a lawyer from Seattle hired by one of the wealthier families to handle a divorce, and he sought comfort in the Inn for the night. He told a friend, and the friend spread the word, and by the end of the year the place was swarming with guests, and Charlie was able to pay down his loans.
And then came love. In the form of Renee Scott's luscious curves and wavy hair.
It was an instant attraction, and at 26 years old, Charlie Swan got married to a respected lawyer's daughter. She left wealth and a Julliard education to stay with him and support him. But after just a few months she grew tired of greeting guests and making beds. For Christ's sake, they had more than enough housekeepers to do that! And she was a menace in the kitchen, being denied entry by the Chef, Tia.
Then a belayed wedding-present arrived, the Ritmüller; the one she learnt how to play on. It was placed in one of the common rooms, and daily she would sit down and lose herself to her talent. The combined force of her playing and singing caused the guests to form around her every weekend, wrapped in each other and love.
The word got out, and now more people began to book rooms, people from far away, like states as California and Texas even! They had New Yorker's and Floridian's, even Canadians and once a French couple! They came for the music and stayed for the hominess.
Over the years, they even got their own web page. It was the 90's and not that many households had a computer, but word came around still.
Their daughter had been a blessing in disguise, keeping herself unknown for three full months before any symptoms showed. Then the morning sickness began and held on during the entire pregnancy. Charlie's glow had rivaled Renee's, and his whistling would be so joyful it was borderline disgusting. But no one dared tell him that, because they saw how happy he was as he circled his wife's stomach and caressed her tummy. In the middle of the night sometimes, when Renee slept, he would sink down to it and talk quietly with his unborn child. And sometimes it would even be a two-sided conversation, as the baby would kick into his hand when he laughed.
They were beyond happy, but nothing could ever come close to the feeling he had when his daughter was first placed in his arms, all wrinkly and pink and adorable in a yellow blanket. His eyes lit up like the sun – and that never happened again.
The daughter grew up with them in the Inn, and together they played happy family for years.
Even the town was affected. As the town swarmed with tourists, new shops were set up and during the summer, Newton's Outfitters – one of the new shops – organized hiking in the mountains.
Business flourished like tulips in springtime.
Bella fell asleep that night in her father's arms, and was carried to the top floor where they lived. She had her own room, across the hall from her parents. She had yellow walls and a matching comforter, her bed fitting for two grown up's and she loved how she could toss and turn in it. When she had friends over she could fit them all, and they'd jump on the mattress and hit each other with pillows until feathers rained down upon them.
Her room was her third favorite place in the world, the second being the common room – or the piano bench by the baby grand – when her mother played. But her number one favorite place was not inside the house. It was in the grass outside sitting downhill. It was the water in the summer, the berry-bushes in spring, and the swans in October. Her number one place was Swan Lake.
The name was given to the river – as it was really a river and not a lake despite the name. In 1902 by the first settlers, who came during fall and was met with white wings occupying the blue water.
And every fall after that, the swans returned for weeks, and the new settlers would travel out of the town to the outskirts to feed them with bread that had gone stale and hard.
It was just a few hundred yards from the Inn, and that was where Bella found her happy place. It was quiet and reserved, seemingly untouched by human hands aside from the trees that had been cut down to make it more open. They stood on a neat line that went on for miles down the river, but it only made it more beautiful. Like the neat lines in finer restaurants, where the fork and knife are both two inches from the table end, and the proportions between the glasses aligned. Symmetry created perfection.
And in Swan Lake, Bella found perfection.
No matter the season, defying wind and rain, hail and snow, she would go outside, and sit down on the down-tilting hill, pulling her legs to her chest and resting her chin on her arms, relishing in the view.
Sometimes she would put on a bathing suit and trot down to the water, dipping first her big toe in to test the water. It was always cold, but sometimes she was lucky and it would be tolerable to swim in. After that she would dive in head first and break the surface, gasping for air, her teeth chapping. Adrenaline pumped through her, and it would be in those moments as she was still breathing hard and feeling the rush, that she would be the happiest.
With the Inn in her peripheral, the window open and the sound of music playing through, there was only joy.
Until joy, bliss and perfection came to a halt. Darkness embraced the Inn, leaving no light to shine through the thick fog of grief. Dark clouds huddled together over the town as a sign, and the sun did not shine through for months. The baby grand stood covered in dust and old memories. Hearts were hollowed, and reminders around every corner only deepened the sadness.
But despite the sorrow and the grief, the Inn had never been so full of guests.
They came from the east coast as well as the west, from New York and the Hamptons, even from California. Old scholars and musical prodigies occupied the rooms and ate by the dining room tables. Chef Tia had never been so worked up or stressed before, and the housekeepers worked double shifts to clean all the rooms and change all the sheets. Chaos, some would call it, but there was no other place in town to sleep.
At the front desk, there was a new face; a substitute for Charlie. A cousin of his, Katelyn, greeted everyone with a timid smile and a professional attitude. In Seattle, she was a concierge at the Four Seasons and knew her way around booking and checking in. But this was not something she was comfortable with. This was her cousin's job.
But Charlie was in his room, as he had been for two days straight, hugging his pillow in fetal position and crying.
Across the hall, covered in yellow blankets, Bella was doing the same thing. They were cowering in the exact same way, and it was fascinatingly disturbing, since neither had seen the other's way of grieving.
Two peas in a pod, two broken souls from of the same blood.
"Don't cry, baby girl" Bella's mother cooed to her, trying to coax her out from underneath the table. Bella had been there for an hour, bawling in her temper tantrum. It was beneath her, really, she had been raised better than to have a hissy fit at the age of nine. But she didn't understand how her mother would want to leave her. She thought her mother loved her.
"No!" she cried. "I don't wanna."
"Bella, please, I have to leave in a minute, don't you want to say goodbye?" Her mother sighed in both frustration and tire, wanting to leave as much as she wanted to comfort the child crying in her hidings.
"No! Go, I don't want to say goodbye! Just go to hell!" Bella fumed.
There was complete silence. Charlie who had been watching in the corner; letting his wife deal with the situation as she saw fit – was jaw-slacked. Shock. Embarrassment. Anger. It flowed through Bella's parents like firing up rockets, intensifying as they came closer to explosion.
"ISABELLA MARIE SWAN, APOLOGIZE RIGHT NOW!" her father roared, finally having enough and turning the table upside down and pulling her out by the arm. She had never seen him this angry and cringed in fear, but that wasn't the only thing that made her feel remorse.
Her mother was crying.
But Bella was stubborn, and refused to apologize. It escalated, and after screaming at the top of her lunges to each other, Charlie hauled her upstairs to her room, leaving Renee crying in shock.
Her little baby girl, her sweet innocent little girl who had never as much as breathed a cuss, had just directed profanity at her. She felt like a failure at that moment and rethought the travels. Maybe she should stay home; maybe she should forget all about it and be the mom everyone expected her to be.
But Charlie refused to budge, saying she had to go. "You can't just give up, honey. She'll come around, you'll see, don't worry about it. She's just scared about you leaving, after all she's never been away from you more than a few hours. Once she realizes she was wrong to say what she said, she'll be begging for forgiveness through the phone. And we are just a phone call away, honey. I love you."
They had kissed goodbye, as Charlie had to call the bank about opening a college-fund for their daughter. He had a future in mind, and it was glorious.
Holding her small suit case in one hand and her pass ports in the other, she sighed and looked up to the house. Time was being stretched, as it was, but with a final breath, she dropped her luggage and ran up the stairs to her daughter.
But the door was locked, and inside Bella was crying. She stopped once she heard the footsteps, but didn't budge.
"I'll be back, baby. I promise."
Famous last words.
It followed the Grim Reaper's trail like filth followed Pig-Pen in Charlie Brown, tainting the hearts he passed. Collecting souls, wrecking homes. Death, as his name could be announced, was ruthless and without remorse. He had no sympathy for the victims he took, or the people they were forced to leave behind. He led them to the light, holding their hands in his knuckled bones, keeping them to himself for the time being. Some fought, few escaped, but in the end, they all came to him. And it was his task to take them.
For Renee, it had simply been her time. To pass on into the light. To leave people behind. To taint hearts.
In October, the swans did not appear on the river, and Bella did not venture to the water. And as the years passed, it remained that way.
Age nine - hate
Bella discovered the world wasn't rainbows and kittens, music and swans. She abandoned all hope and happiness, seeking refuge in bitterness and hatred. She went from a fun-loving carefree child, to aging several years in the pass of two seconds.
Two seconds - two words, and it was like the earth shifted beneath her feet, like a rug being pulled and making her tumble over and crash to the ground. Battered and bruised. Her soul shattered.
And she hated everything. Herself. Her father. Even her mother. She'd promised! Through three inches of wood she's promised to return, but the promise turned into a lie, and that lie was all Bella could connect with her mother.
And her father, who had done nothing to prevent it, letting her go. Letting her leave them. She cursed him for even finding love at all, for conceiving her. Of course, she didn't really mean it. In her heart, she would always love her father, but in the moments of fire she would say anything to hurt him.
"I hate you!" she would yell over and over, chanting the words in the hopes that he would react.
Do something. Hit me, hit me! Let me leave!
But Charlie never did, he could never lay a hand upon his daughter. And for that, Bella hated him. She wanted out, away from Forks and the Swan Lake Inn. Away from the river itself. Away from the baby grand, which never left its podium. A constant reminder. Horrid.
But most of all she hated herself.
In the mirror, she saw her mother's face; the same high cheek bones and narrow nose, the same ears that pointed out through her hair, and the same colors. Brown. Brown hair and almond brown eyes. She was a complete replica of the woman who birthed her, and for that, she hated herself. In every reflection, she saw a reminder. She saw herself cursing her mother and turning her away.
Age ten – isolation
Bella disregarded her friends. Not soon after the funeral, she inverted into herself and stayed, passing up on any attempt of socializing. And there were many attempts. Up until that moment when the truck hit the cab, she had been the most popular girl in school and relished in it. Everyone wanted to be friends with the talented singer's daughter. After all, she had housekeepers and a chef all to herself! As was the thinking of the young children, not understanding that Bella didn't have servants and certainly wasn't rich, but that she simply lived in a work place, and had to chip in as much as anyone else.
And yet, after only a decade on this planet, she found herself isolated from humanity.
Her father became only a faded familiar face. A ghost whose presence was etched into the walls and being just that, something you pass on the wall without notice. In the mornings, before she went to school they didn't even glance at each other if their paths would cross. No hello's, not even a single nod of acknowledgment. They were strangers that lived together. Much like the guests who had lived there over the years.
As for Tia, Bella avoided her altogether, losing ten pounds in the first year before Tia stormed up to her room and force-fed her with threats of spankings. Bella had relented, famished, and started eating again.
But then nighttime would come, and darkness would embrace her in reality—and not only in her heart. Everything went black, with the exception of her head.
At first, there were dreams, but they turned into nightmares, and the nightmares turned into insomnia. An hour, tops, was all she lived on those days, which dragged on for years to come. But she wasn't a creature of the night, because she wasn't productive in those late hours. No, she would lie in bed, completely still, and just be.
Age twelve – on the edge of death
The Inn felt empty, but lately that wasn't out of the norm. The Swan Lake Inn was no longer an attraction, as no music and no angelic voice filled the visitors' ears in the evenings. Sure, for a few years after the accident, people still came. Some were regulars who came out of respect and guilt – feeling like they owed something to Renee who had made their holidays delightful. While others came under the pretenses, that everything was fine and dandy.
But they were greatly disappointed, and word spread of the failure the Inn had become.
Music no longer existed; it hadn't since that fateful day.
The driver dipped, his eyes sagging and lids dropping. A head meeting the steering wheel.
His eyes flashing open in the last moment.
Without music and joy, the Inn became nothing more than a passing motel for stray travelers, with the exception of the occasional family wanting to enjoy Fork's wildlife and nature.
There was a new sign there, on the wall behind the reception desk. 'No music' stood in bold black letters underneath a picture of flowing tunes with a strict red 'x' over it. Charlie had put it up, in total seriousness about his restriction. And yet, the baby grand remained.
'I can't let her go.'
A guest once brought a radio and he was kicked out the second Charlie heard it. But not before Bella had overheard. The guest's room had been below hers, and the music had traveled up through the vents.
To fall down on your knees
Cut your hands
Cut yourself until you bleed
Fall asleep next to me
Wait for everyone to go away
And in a dimly lit
Room where you've got nothing to hide
Say your goodbyes.
Tell yourself we'll read
A note that says
"I'm sorry everyone
I'm tired of feeling nothing but goodbye"
Wash your face
Dry your eyes
Cause you've been waiting a long time
Bella had always been a very intelligent being, perceptive and knowing, so the lyrics that came from the radio weighed down on her chest as she listened intently. It was muffled by the floor, but still loud enough for her to make out the words.
Cut yourself until you bleed.
Long after the guest had left, she still pondered the song—the words. And eventually a concept formerly unknown to her. Suicide. Surely, it would be okay to ends one's life as they saw fit? Wasn't that the beauty of humanity, to take individual choices? To stand for them, owning them? She felt she could take that choice, between life and death.
After all, wasn't it her own life to live?
So one night she ventured down to the kitchen on a mission. Tia had gone home to her own family many hours before, and her father was sound asleep in his room. Perhaps with a bottle, Bella didn't know for sure though, but it had occurred that she'd heard a bottle clinging on the floor of his room. He wasn't a drunk though, and never appearing intoxicated when working, but sometimes it was a relief to slip away from the pain.
And now, it was Bella's time to slip away from the pain.
The kitchen floor was cold beneath her bare feet, as she walked silently from the door and to the counter. Her yellow nightgown kept her warm though, draping around her small and delicate body and covering all skin. It was the midst of winter and outside the snow was falling slowly. The lake was covered with ice, and normally Bella would look forward to skating across it, but now she looked up through the window with distain.
Looking away from the ice, her eyes traveled down to the drawers where her life now lied. A black handle appeared in her hand, a twelve-inch blade attached and secured to it with brass bolts on the side.
Her life balancing on the edge of a knife.
She sighed and put the knife down on the counter, but not in disgust with herself, or resolution. Instead, she pushed the sleeves of her gown up to the crooks of her elbows on each arm. She hadn't decided yet. Sure, she was right handed and that would be easier, but why not use the left hand?
Yet she was still wary, unsure of her trail of thoughts.
Where to do it?
Not the kitchen that was sure, she couldn't taint Tia's beloved working place. Her room? No. Red and yellow was not a good mix. Her head lifted to look out the window again, and she made her decision.
Her boots crunched down on the soft snow, a small amount falling over the edge of them and inside. The cold sent chills down her spine, but Bella kept going.
It was dark outside as she walked downhill to the river. It would be perfect—why not find peace by the most peaceful place in the world? Goosebumps covered her entire body, hair standing out all over. She clutched the knife in her right hand, because in the end she realized that the right hand was the right choice.
She lifted her left arm and angled it in front of her mid-section, the knife hovering over her ivory skin. So delicate. Her veins prodded against her skin, blue from her wrist and continuing up to the crook of her elbow where her sleeve still huddled together.
Damn it, she thought to herself.
The knife hit the snow, burying in the white, vanishing from sight. No one would ever think of looking for it there, but perhaps in the springtime it could be found; rusted and ruined. Fear, shame, bitterness, and sadness rushed through Bella as she ran back to the Inn. She couldn't do it. She couldn't end the grief she felt. She was a coward.
Her father snored loudly from his room as she tip-toed down the hall.
On a cold winter night, she almost died, her red blood risking to taint the pure snow, and no one would ever know.
Age fourteen 'til eighteen – putting childish things away
Puberty hit, and it hit hard.
For Bella, it had been completely unexpected that she was finally at that age she would start to develop. She had been lanky, thin, 'a boy with long hair' with a feather light voice. And then the floodgate opened—literally. The first period was messy and painful. It had been Tia, who had found her in the bathroom huddled over against the cool floor, to ease her pain.
Charlie had not been aware, choosing to ignore any change that occurred around him.
Then the small amount of chest she'd held had grown into filling training bras. Her hips started expanding, curving. She grew several inches as well, towering over the little children she'd walk past. She felt inferior in those moments, but it never lasted for long. Because she'd see their faces and see their innocence, and it would only remind her of the time she'd lost her own.
She began high school, walking by the whispers with her head down. No one wanted to be her friend, not even the ones she had been a part of years ago. It had been foolish of her, thinking that a new school would change her social status. But alas, she wandered the halls in loneliness. It was embarrassing, even the seniors knew who she was! Many of the students resented her as well. Because with the Inn only hanging by a thread, business in the town went down and many of the families that had fared well, were inching closer to bankruptcy. But they were all kids who had never felt that kind of loss and hurt. No one understood.
Years passed and Bella engrossed herself in studies, adamant on escaping the whispers and the memories. Her heart was set on the future. She even sat up a college fund for herself in a glass jar, which she filled with green bills. Washingtons – Lincolns – Presidents adorned the glass as they pressed against it. It probably wasn't more than a few thousand that gathered in it over the years, but she had a plan: get a scholarship, live in a dorm for as long as possible, get a job on the side, save money. She wanted out.
But her father didn't understand that, because his mind was locked down to the Inn. He couldn't see past the walls he confided in, and when on her seventeenth birthday Bella uttered the words of a world beyond his, he snapped.
"You're not going anywhere. You're gonna stay right here and work!"
That wasn't the real reason he wanted her to stay, because frankly the Inn was so vacant he didn't need her help at all. But like Bella, he saw the resemblance, the similarities. Brown eyes, dark hair and ivory skin. He saw his wife in her, and though he did his best to forget; he couldn't let go. Music was banned, yes, but sometimes before he fell asleep, he would hum melodies from a golden age. From happier times.
But Bella got away anyway. On the day of her high school graduation, she had earned enough money to survive on her own, and the University of Washington had welcomed her with open arms. She left, not even saying goodbye to her father, who had avoided her for months. She packed her most precious belongings and ventured into a greater life. She returned only once her freshman year; in October, to collect items she had forgotten and leave behind things she didn't need. The weather was crisp and chill, but not cold.
And when she left, she glanced down to the river.
Knife. Swans. All gone.
Her birthday had been the day before, and the Inn was empty as a beehive in February. Bella sent Tia home for the day, "Spend some time with your own family, " she said and shooed the woman out with a forced laugh and small smile. She wasn't fooling anyone, but Tia humored her and went on her merry way.
The door slammed shut behind her, and the smile on Bella's face quickly faded. But she didn't frown, her expression was simply blank. Blank like her soul, never letting herself feel anything. Empty.
There was a draft and Bella shivered, but got back to work. She cleaned and cooked, loosing herself to her assignments, so she wouldn't think. But as always, she couldn't help not to.
In her junior year in College, Bella hadn't heard anything from her hometown, opting to spend her summers and Christmases alone. Even in college, she had few friends, but that had been her own choice. So it had surprised her when she had gotten a phone call from her childhood town. Recognizing the Inn's number immediately, she had contemplated ignoring the call altogether, but on the seventh ring she'd picked it up.
Then she had returned to Forks, meeting lawyers and a crying with Tia, who held her hand during the meeting.
"What about the Inn?" she'd asked Mr. Jenks. He was the lawyer who had encountered the Inn all those years ago, and had acted as her father's attorney on a few occasions. Bella honestly didn't know whether to like him or loath him.
"He left it to you."
It had been a shock, but only to Bella herself. Tia expressed many times that she understood why, that even though Bella and Charlie hadn't gotten along he still loved her. But Bella felt trapped. Even though she'd like nothing but to see the Inn crumble into pieces; she didn't have the heart to do it. Sure her heart was black and vastly non-existent, but not out of cruelty. Not out of hate.
People would say she had handled her father's death much better than her mother's, but that wasn't the truth. On the inside, she was aching, the pain being almost worse because this time around she understood better. The replications were larger. When her mother had died she had lost a parent, sure, but she still had one left. This time she had no one.
After Bella had gotten the message… heart attack in his sleep… she had dropped out of college, because she couldn't afford hiring anyone to manage the Inn, and had moved back. Going over the paperwork with Mr. Jenks, they had seen that the Inn was close to dying. Mr. Jenks had mentioned selling, but Bella had declined. Instead, she had let go the two housekeepers and only kept Tia. Together they were able to run the Inn in peace and quiet.
She sat back behind the reception, surfing the internet with little interest, lost in her own mind. She never noticed the man entering the door.
"Excuse me?" a silk voice said softly, alerting Bella of a presence beside her own. She looked up, and froze. A man, because he was certainly all man, was standing right in front of her and looking down on her expectantly, waiting for her to say something. But looking him over, Bella was speechless.
He wore a blue button up shirt with the sleeves pushed up, a dark t-shirt underneath that hugged his abdomen tight in all the right ways. He had a flat, flat stomach and Bella almost drooled at the sight. His fingers were hooked in his belt hoops, all long, delicious and slender. Her eyes traveled north, passing his chest, broad shoulders and patch of hair peeking up through the 'v' of his t-shirt, and to his Adam's apple that bobbed while she watched. She didn't even notice how uncomfortable she made him with her blatant staring.
Then she saw his jaw, painted with dark hair that traveled ear to ear in a 5 o'clock shadow. Normally she would find it unattractive, but this time she wondered how it would feel against her cheeks. Over his strong chin were the most perfect lips in existence. Thin, faded pink and slightly puckered and a small gap in the middle. To have her tongue just slipping through…gah!... would be her undoing. His nose was narrow but had a small bump, probably from being broken once, but she wasn't sure. And then his eyes—oh, his eyes, green like fresh summer grass with hints of amber flicks near the center. Dark, long lashes framed them, and over them were thick eyebrows raised in question.
But Bella continued on, until she came to gasp over his hair. Light, but with hints of all colors. Darker close to the scalp, a shade of brown on the top and edging on copper closer to the tops that stood erect from his head.
Of course, she snickered to herself, I'm sure if it was possible I would have an erection if I was attached to him too.
"Ahem, excuse me, miss?" he asked again, writhing underneath her prying eyes.
She gasped, shaking her head in self-disgust. How could she possibly act so horrendously towards a complete stranger? "Oh, uhm, sorry! I uh… I didn't… shit. Hi," she said lamely and put her right hand forward. He took it; circling his big hand around her small and she couldn't help but feel the warmth radiating from it.
"It's okay," he lied easily and smiled, dropping his hand to the side. Bella couldn't help but miss the warmth from his skin, but easily glided back into her receptionist persona.
"Do you have a reservation?" she asked, even though it was wasted breath. No one had reservations for the Inn, she knew because she checked daily.
He shook his head. "No, actually I'm looking for someone."
This piqued her interest. "Oh, and who might that be?" she asked and cocked her head to the side.
This could be interesting.
"Yes, I ehm, I don't remember her name," he started and looked at the girl, seeing how beautiful she looked and how familiar. "…but she, damn, she looks a lot like you. Older though, I guess, in her late forties or fifties, perhaps? She plays the piano."
Looks like me, but older, plays the piano. Bella knew of only one person.
"She's not here, " she sneered, shocking the stranger with her hostility.
"Do you know when she'll be back?" he asked further, insistent on finding the woman.
Bella was thrown back in time then, seeing herself sitting tangled in yellow sheets in her bed and sobbing, listening to her mother's promises. And in an impulsive move, she replied, "She said she'd be back soon."
Edward Cullen was a pianist from Chicago, performing for the Harries Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park. He was twenty-five years, as well as Bella, and graduated from Julliard when he was just twenty years old. He was a prodigy, a genius, famous for his precision and perfection when playing and composing. He preferred quiet evenings inside instead of clubbing, revealing that he wasn't tempted by the dark side of fame.
These were things Bella would discover over the next couple of weeks, when dining together with Tia—who asked an endless string of questions—in the evenings or in the morning when having breakfast. But what really threw Bella off was that he was staying for weeks. Until her mother would 'return'. She felt bad for lying, the more she got to know him, but was too ashamed to tell the truth.
And that hurt her, because she saw how he looked expectantly at the door whenever it opened, asking again and again exactly when she'd be back. So she avoided him as much as possible after she heard his reason for coming.
"I've been here…once before. I was just a little boy then, and didn't have the slightest clue what to do with my life. It was the only Christmas we ever spent away from home, but my father had to attend a conference in Seattle and decided we would all come up. The Inn was recommended by a friend, who told him there was no other place more delightful to be.
"I think it was Christmas Eve and we had all eaten dinner – with all the other guests – and we were listening to this woman, who played magnificently. I was transfixed, hypnotized by the melody and her voice. I – I fell in love that day. I fell in love with music.
"But lately I've been, I guess you can say,off my game. My sister told me to be inspired, to go back to where it all began, so here I am. But I am curious, why isn't music permitted to be played here when there's such a talented musician here to perform?"
Bella had first thought he was talking about himself, but remembering her lie she panicked. So many lies were being crafted, and she couldn't stomach another, so she fled from him.
And now avoidance was plan A.
"Is the sky blue because the water is blue, or is the water blue because the sky is blue?" she asked while staring out on the empty icy water.
It was one of those days when a random guest had checked out and the Inn remained unoccupied – with the exception of Edward of course – and after waking up at the crack of dawn, as always, Bella had finished cleaning the empty rooms and bathrooms. Time passed so slowly after that, the seconds feeling like hours and the minutes like days.
She had been sitting in the dining room, perched uncomfortably on a chair with a book placed neatly in front of her. Her intention had been to read it, but the clock was a distraction from hell that kept ticking in the background. And yet, she had been so tuned to the grandfather clock, that she had not heard Edward enter the room. When the sound of the chair's legs scraped against the hardwood floor, she yelped in surprise.
"What are you doing?"
"Me? I'm sitting down. I thought that was obvious."
"Well stop it."
"Stop sitting down?" He laughed amused. "Would you rather me stay standing until you come to your senses and do something productive?"
She glared at him menacingly, a glare that could have turned men into stone, but not Edward Cullen, he remained un-phased, which only aggravated her further.
"No. I meant stop sneaking up on me," she snapped back.
He laughed again. "I was stomping around like an elephant. Maybe you should check your hearing aid, grandma."
She huffed, but said nothing more. Instead, she got up and left the room – leaving her book and her guest. At this point, she wasn't concerned by the way she was treating Edward, because he had proved he was staying no matter what. When she avoided him, he would opt to follow her around, even asking to help clean. When she snapped at him—when he asked about music—he would give her a look of concern but stayed silent. She tried her best to make him leave, but he stayed—one day by the fireplace saying he wouldn't leave until the time was right.
It confused her because, beside his request to see Renee, he had no obligations to the Inn. And she had yet to tell him the truth, her lies still ringing in the past.
'She said she'd be back.'
Words that would bring her to the brink of tears at night, remembering her mother's smiling face and glinting eyes as she promised to return.
"When mommy gets back, she's gonna bring you lots of presents, okay,baby girl?" And then the crying fit had begun.
With no other place to go, she had gone to the one place that had remained peaceful. The river. Swan Lake.
She stepped closer so carefully, eyeing the frosty grass and cold water warily, as if worried it would scold her. She rested her bottom down and glanced outwards, atonement in her delicate actions.
I'm sorry for leaving. I'm sorry for the knife, for even considering I could defile this place with death. It's not your fault, it was all mine. I'll never leave again.
She had never heard him approach, before sitting down next to her wordlessly. Bella had been the first to break the silence.
He sighed next to her, considering her words with much thought. "You're asking if the sky reflects the water or if the water reflects the sky?" She nodded in his peripheral but said nothing. "Hm. It's a good question, but I think it's the water reflecting the sky. You see? During the night when the sun settles, the water darkens because there's no sun to lighten up the heavens. So the water becomes black like the sky, sometimes even reflecting the shining stars. And during the day the water brightens in color because the sky is lighter with the sun. "I think that's right, because had it been the sky reflecting water, then the sky in winter would have been white like the ice and snow, and the sky is always grey during that time."
"I guess you have valid points," she replied deep in thought. "But, as you say, the sky changes color with the water. White water, greyish sky. They resemble, do they not?"
Edward was stunned by her comeback, because he honestly thought he was right, but now he doubted himself, as he reflected Bella's thoughts. He didn't know if he was right, but he didn't know if Bella was right either. "Maybe we'll never know. Maybe it's one of those things people will argue about until the end of time, like 'who came first, the chicken or the egg?'"
They fell back into silence, hearing only the distant chirp of a bullfinch—that nested in one of the statuesque trees—and each other's labored breathing that fogged the air. Bella looked down at her clasped, gloved hands and then to Edward's, seeing his uncovered and pale. Then she realized, while she was sitting on a worn winter coat, he was sitting directly on the ground, and probably numbing his rear end in the process. She offered half of her coat and they inched closer together. Having trouble fitting them both on the small amount of fabric, Edward sighed and slung his arm over her shoulder, pulling her closer to him. "Wouldn't want you to get sick." And then she took his lone hand between hers and rubbed it gently, closing her eyes.
"She isn't coming back, is she?" He said it as a statement, not a question, but it was confirmed as Bella shook out a sob and buried her head against his chest, seeking comfort. She shook her head. "So you lied to me." Another statement, but to Bella's surprise it held no malice.
"Yes," Bella muttered, hanging her head in shame. "But I need to explain why."
And to her surprise, Edward listened, never seeming angry or disgusted with her. He listened through her sobs—that had been boiled up in her all those years. She was mad, sad, and heartbroken all at the same time, but instead of giving her that all too familiar look of pity, he only watched with compassion. like he knew the hurt she was feeling.
"You lost your mother. And then your father…" he trailed off, lost in thoughts of how to sympathize. But Bella didn't want pity, she just wanted to voice her own broken soul.
"They said his heart just gave out, but it didn't make any sense, his heart was fine—the doctors said so. No high blood pressure or bad cholesterol. Nothing. It just gave up. It gave up. Edward, just like that. And it was my fault."
"How can you say that?"
"Because if it hadn't been for me then mom wouldn't have been late that day, and she would never have been hit by that truck. If it hadn't been for me then my dad wouldn't have been so alone and felt so unloved. I hadn't talked to him for a year. A year, Edward!"
She broke out in a sob and crashed her face into his sweet-scenting chest, letting him circle his arms around her completely. Despite not having been held for so long, the action was more comforting than terrifying, and her tears flowed steadily in streams down her rosy cheeks.
"Ssshhh," Edward cooed, holding her tightly and stroking her hair softly.
She felt at peace, home in his embrace as she let her ghosts escape in her tears. How long had it really been? Too long holding it in, and never once showing her pain to another person had taken its toll on her. But that was ending now, now she was free to scream – which she did, clinging to Edward's shirt while she wailed into his chest – and cried and sobbed.
It was like lifting a weight off her shoulders; her chest was finally free to inhale deeply and feel the world. Feel life, feel alive.
Lifting the small woman up, Edward carried her inside and placed her on the couch in the music room, before tucking her in blankets, while her tears continued to flow freely. And for some reason, it was the most beautiful she'd looked since he had arrived. Although, he always found Bella somewhat attractive, he hadn't been able to look past the walls she hid behind. The sarcasm, the snippy lines and the scowling. He'd dealt with it for weeks, only wanting to get the hell out as soon as possible. Despite the attitude though, he felt a connection, something pulling him towards her. It was a familiar feeling, the same he'd had when he was six years old.
19 years ago he'd sat in the corner of that exact room and watched an angel sing. And play. And inspire his soul for greatness. He became a prodigy, learning how to play the piano flawlessly before he was eight, and composing at the age of twelve! His parents were proud, his sister was overjoyed by the second-hand fame and his group of fans had grown with each year. He performed at his high school graduation, won talent shows, and was accepted early to Julliard. It was the most prestigious honor he was yet to receive, but as one of the grandest musical performances of the year was due in Millennium Park in the spring, he felt the pressure.
But like writer's experienced writer's block, he had a composer's block.
It had been months since his last good composition and he was slowly turning into another tortured alcoholic musician when his baby sister had knocked down his door to bring him out of his stupor.
"Get the fuck away from that god damn flask and get your ugly ass in the fucking shower!" The midget-sized woman might have been small, but she made it up with a short temper and a mouth that would horrify the crudest sailor.
After cleaning up and hashing out, Alice had come to a realization that Edward had lost his muse. Of course, this was something he'd known for a while and didn't help him at all. They tried everything, listening to every single one of Bach's, Mozart's and Beethoven's works. Hours and hours, day after day was spent on his living room couch with wine and cheese, just feeling the music. It was his ritual for writing his music, wine and cheese to set the mood and music to give him ideas.
But that time it didn't work, and that was when Alice came up with the idea of going to the Inn in Washington.
"Go back to see her. The place is still running so there's a fair chance she'll still be there. Didn't dad say she was the owner's wife or something?"
Nothing, however, had been as he expected. He never saw the angel from his childhood, but was met with one with broken wings and a shattered soul. The first night he'd gone to bed, he'd woken up when feet had met wood above his head. Her room was right there! And he didn't know what tormented him the most: the fact that she was so completely annoying, or that he couldn't stay away.
And stay he did. For weeks, he waited and waited, but no sign of the angel.
Alas, he never met the angel again, but as he tucked a stray hair behind Bella's ear he couldn't help but think he'd found a new one. A new inspiration. A new muse. Oh and by God was she beautiful, slowly drifting into a peaceful sleep before him.
The hours stretched on until day became night, the mid-autumn light vanishing around seven in the evening. When Tia poked her head in to say goodnight, he shushed her while nodding towards the sleeping form, then smiled brightly as Tia quickly caught on; toeing carefully across the room and whispered in his ear, "Be good to her."
He knew he would be. He knew he'd never leave his muse's side as long as she'd let him stay with her.
In the midnight hours, when the fire had died and the Inn was freezing cold, he woke up to someone nudging his shoulder. When he finally opened his eyes, he was sitting crossed-legged with his head resting on the sofa-cushion. Tilting his head up, he found himself staring into the most beautiful brown eyes he'd ever seen. Deeper, darker, livelier then he remembered from his childhood and the woman from which his muse had inherited her traits.
"Beautiful," he murmured and smiled sheepishly.
Bella still watched him though, smiling crookedly with her head resting comfortably on a fluff-pillow, and nudged his shoulder again.
"Your back will kill you tomorrow if you don't lie down soon. Trust me, I've fallen sleep down here plenty of times to know."
He frowned slightly, arching his back so he sat straight and felt the soreness shooting through his spine. She was right, so he got to his feet and was about to say goodnight, when he was met with those beautiful brown eyes brimming with tears.
"Oh, angel, what's wrong?" He dropped to his knees in an instant, holding her face in his hands and wiping away the tears that escaped with his abrupt movement. "Are you hurt?"
She sighed, closing her eyes and relishing in the warmth that ran across her face as he breathed. So close, yet so far away. Edward watched her serene face, never feeling more relaxed himself. "Please, you have to tell me."
"Stay. Stay with me. Sleep here, with me. Even though if it's just for tonight and I'll never see you again, please just stay."
He was hesitant at first, afraid she was in a too disoriented state, but then she opened her eyes and looked right into his, and he saw no lies. Only truth, and hope, and… could it be? Did she…?
This time, without hesitation, he got to his feet and held up the covers. Kicking off his shoes, he crawled underneath with Bella. Unfortunately, the couch was not big enough for the both of them, or maybe it was fortunate. Edward moved Bella so she was lying almost completely on top of him, with her head on his chest. He exhaled heavily, then inhaled in the sweet scent of her hair. The scent of Bella. His muse.
"I promise, with everything that I am and own, that I will stay as long as you'll let me."
Their breathing fell in sync as the night continued on, their chests rising and falling, and the beats of their hearts thumping as one. It was an amazing feeling, and an even more incredible moment because they slept as one, moved as one, and felt as one.
One soul, one heart, one love.
It grew tenderly and carefully with each movement they made and each breath they took.
When the old grandfather's clock struck twelve with a soft clung, the months shifted.
It was early in the morning, but when Edward finally stirred from his slumber, he was surprised to find his surroundings comfortably warm, even without the blanket, which laid in a bundle at his feet. Slightly disoriented and clammy, he sat up, and tore his shirt from his body and tossed it on the floor.
Then he looked around, suddenly realizing the small woman who'd spent the night on top of him was nowhere in sight. He was torn between going to look for her, and attacking the baby grand with the melody that flowed through his mind.
A sigh sounded like an echo off the walls, and there sitting on the bench where the window had been built out, sat Bella with her legs pushed against her chest and her arms holding them in place. Her head rested on her knees, looking out the window. She seemed oblivious to Edward's staring. She seemed completely at ease, a smile in the yawn.
It was settled. Edward got to his feet, watching her for a second, his eyes dancing across her form, and he knew the decision was easy. He turned around, tipping stealthily onto the podium and sat down on the bench. He was clad only in his jeans, but felt comfortable with the rising goosebumps he got as he continued to watch Bella.
The time ticked by as he watched his muse in her natural habitat, comfortable and at ease looking out the frosted glass. He wasn't aware yet what she was looking at, simply happy that he had the chance to see her like that.
Then his fingers pressed down on the keys, beautifully concentrated on ivory and ebony while they rose and fell under the pressure. The music that sounded inside his mind and heart finally broke loose and was free for the world to hear. And his world did hear, because Bella turned her head and smiled. She heard the music and did not recoil or react with distaste, only happiness radiating from her glistening eyes.
As the unpolished piece ended like a diamond in the rough, Edward rose again, and walked to the window with his eyes fixed on Bella. She did the same thing, until he was standing in front of her in grace and sin and love.
They smiled, embracing in the warmth of their arms and connecting as one.
"It's October," Bella stated, turning her head to look out the window again. And Edward mimicked her, seeing the Swan Lake river painted with frost and white wings.
"It's beautiful," he said, kissing the top of her head and sighing.
She nodded, a tear escaping yet again, but out it was of happiness, not year-long pain and suffering.
"It's the swans."