Author: silver sniper of night
Pairing: Edward and Bella
A/N: This was originally a piece I wrote for the Foxy Fics compilation back in August. Thank you to everyone who was involved, I loved writing for it.
Thank you so much to Maria for pre-reading and my beta Irritable Grizzzly.
I'd been in the neighborhood three weeks. Three weeks since I'd escaped the hell hole that was my old job and apartment. When my boss tried to get me to lay off one of my co-workers because he didn't want to deal with HR, I knew I needed a transfer. On the same day, my landlord raised my rent. I took it as a sign. I was out of both my job and apartment within three weeks.
My new place wasn't on the friendliest of streets, but it wasn't unwelcoming. Many of the residents had been here for most of their lives, and everyone seemed to just quietly get on with their own business. It suited me. It was peaceful and quaint in its own way, and after living in the city for most of my life, something more out-of-the-way was a welcome change.
That was, until I discovered the injured cat in my garage.
I wasn't good with pets. I'd killed several goldfish during my time, and anything furry usually caused my allergies to flare. It was curled up mournfully behind one of the boxes I'd been too lazy to unpack, eyeing me warily as I gawked at it. It had a large gash on its front leg, and dried blood matted into its dusty coat. By the looks of it, the poor thing hadn't been there long.
Pushing my glasses up my nose, I crept forward slowly. The cat mewled piteously, but didn't move, the pain in its leg obviously trumping its dislike of me. I tentatively reached out a hand, as if trying to gain its approval before I could touch it. When it didn't try to bite my hand off, I decided it had been granted.
"Where did you come from?" I asked in that ridiculously high pitch I'd heard most people use when addressing animals. The cat blinked at me in a way that seemed to say "Why are you talking to me like that, you inferior man?" I instantly felt like a complete tool.
I snatched my hand away from the mocking creature and backed away from it.
"I'll... errrr...be back," I said as it continued to glare at me.
I was so glad I lived alone. It would have been mortifying for someone else to have seen me being so intimidated by a cat.
When I got back in the house, I wasn't sure what I should do next. Should I move it, or call someone out to get it? After a few minutes of pacing, I decided that it was stupid of me to think there was some sort of cat ambulance that would take the thing off my hands. Thankfully it didn't seem to set off my allergies, so I figured I would be okay taking it to the vet.
After a quick Google search, I reluctantly chose a few of my perfectly-pressed towels that I didn't mind losing. Ten minutes and about thirty scratches later, I was on my way to the vet with the cat in a box on the passenger seat.
So much for a quiet life.
"So, Mr Cullen, who is this little guy?"
I blinked as the vet examined the ball of fluff.
"Oh, it's not mine. I found it in my garage," I explained.
"Looks like this one's a bit of fighter. He'll need a few stitches, but there'll be no permanent damage," he replied, smiling brightly as if this news should make my day.
"That's good," I said weakly as the cat continued to glare in my direction. I figured it had deemed me unworthy to be in its presence. That was fine with me.
"You say you found him in your garage? He looks well-kept. I doubt he's a stray. Do you know if anyone in your neighborhood is missing a cat?"
"No, I don't think so. Well, I haven't seen any posters or anything and I don't really talk to my neighbors. I mean, I'm new in town, and I haven't ventured out that much," I rambled. I was starting to worry that I sounded like an anti-social hermit. I sort of was, but I didn't really want the vet knowing that.
"Well if you haven't heard anything then he probably hasn't been missing long. I'll see if he's chipped."
I stared, completely bemused as the vet retrieved what looked like a supermarket scanner and ran it over the cat's back.
"Fantastic invention. We'll be able to find her owner now. I don't think there's much more we need from you Mr. Cullen," he said with a smile.
I grinned widely in return, glad that the superior little thing would be out of my hair.
"Thank you. Bye... uh, little guy," I said, petting the cat once more for good measure.
It closed its eyes and purred. I pulled my hand back and narrowed my eyes at its contented expression. Yup, this little thing knew exactly what it was doing. There was no way it would have acted so adorable if I'd been the only one there.
It had been two days. Two whole days. I'd worked (and nobody asked me to fire anybody), done laundry, grudgingly joined the gym and finally started to clear out the garage. I'd even managed to have a small conversation with my next-door-neighbors after their son kicked his ball into my yard.
So why couldn't I bring myself to throw away the stupid cat box?
It stood in my kitchen by the door. I didn't understand why I was so hesitant. It wasn't even my cat for Christ's sake. I didn't like the ball of fluff. This shouldn't be so hard.
As I stood in contemplation, the doorbell rang, so I threw one more nasty look at the box before crossing the hallway and opening the door.
I was greeted by a woman I'd never seen before. Although I didn't know many of my neighbors' names, I was able to recognize them by sight, and I was certain I would have noticed a woman with wild brown hair held up by a red paintbrush.
"Are you Edward Cullen?"
"Yes?" I said, my answer sounding more like a question.
She continued to stare at me for a moment, and then she threw herself at me. Literally. She lunged and tackled me into a hug, causing me to stumble in shock.
"Thank god you found Black Magic! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
I froze, not sure what on earth this woman was talking about, let alone what to do about how she was invading my personal space. I settled for patting her on the back gently. When she didn't move, I decided I'd had had enough.
"I'm sorry, but I have no idea what you're talking about."
The woman thankfully jerked back, possibly realizing how inappropriate her behavior was.
"My cat, Black Magic. I don't even want to think about what would have happened if you hadn't found her. Thank you so much. I just wanted to come over and give you the reward personally."
"Reward?" I questioned, feeling completely lost. "Why ? I haven't done anything."
She paused, her hand clutching her wallet, and sighed in exasperation.
"I would have offered one if you hadn't found her so soon, so it's only fair that I give it to you."
"Oh, no that's unnecessary. Really, I'm just glad the cat's okay," I said, holding my hands up in protest. She frowned as if considering my argument carefully. I moved from one foot to the other in the silence.
"Okay," she finally said, dropping her wallet back into her bag, "but let me repay you in a different way. Oh! I'll make you something. Do you like apple crumble? Or key-lime pie? Everyone loves key-lime pie. No, even better I'll make you dinner!" She pointed. "I live just down the block in the yellow house with the white picket fence." I'll see you at seven, Edward!"
And with that she left me standing agape in the doorway with a dinner invitation I didn't have time to refuse.
I arrived at her house promptly at seven with a bottle of wine in my hand. Although I wasn't really looking forward to this evening, I felt rude turning up empty-handed.
"Hi Edward, come on in. Food should be ready soon,"
"Thank you..." I trailed off suddenly feeling embarrassed and stupid. I had never asked for her name.
"Bella. Sorry, I should have mentioned that earlier. Well, are you going to eat dinner in the doorway?"
"Oh, no sorry," I said, still completely disoriented. I stepped into the house only to trip over a large ginger cat sitting in the middle of the floor.
"Sorry!" Bella steadied me before taking the wine.
"That's Penelope's spot. Stubborn thing. Hang on, I need to make sure that Felix hasn't fallen into a saucepan or something."
She rushed away again, leaving me with a glaring cat. I backed away and followed Bella into her kitchen.
Her house was interesting, to say the least. Eclectic, but homey at the same time. All clashing colors and random pieces of artwork. I stopped in front of a large canvas that took up most of the wall. It had a dark background, with bright streaks of thick, bubbly paint. The streaks consisted of blues, greens, purples and ended in an orange and grey swirl. It was creepy, but I couldn't stop staring because it was oddly compelling Even though it seemed like a mess of colors and swirls, it managed to fit in with the house.
"It's called mesmerize. It's not my best work, but it was my grandmother's favorite," Bella said, leaning against the doorway of the kitchen.
"You did this?" I said in shock, impressed even though I still wasn't sure if I even liked the piece.
"Almost four years ago now. I was going through a phase," she said with a laugh, as if this explained everything. She disappeared again, and with one last look at her artwork, I followed.
Her kitchen had old-fashioned floral curtains that didn't match the bright-blue paint job. She stirred something in a pot just as a white kitten jumped onto the counter. She picked it up and walked toward me, holding it in her arms..
"How many of those do you have?" I asked.
"Seven. They aren't really mine. Well, I mean, they are now. My grandmother died a few months ago and left me this house. The cats were part of the deal. Good thing I like them huh?" she said with a laugh.
"Here, take Felix while I get dinner," she said, holding the kitten out to me. I took it awkwardly, but the little thing simply snuggled into my arms. It didn't seem to care that it was being passed around like a package. It was strange that with all these cats, my allergies weren't even acting up.
"Dinner's done," she called, carrying two plates through the kitchen and into a small dining room. This room was cluttered with art supplies and half-finished paintings. I sat next to a rather weird-looking image of two bodies outlined in red and grey, their faces masked by a red ribbon.
"I know it's messy, but I haven't gotten around to finding a place for everything. It kinda seems easier to live out of boxes I guess."
"I know what you mean. I can't motivate myself to unpack," I said. "As long as I have what I need, the rest can stay until I want it. Of course, I always unpack my books first. They make me feel like I'm home. I have too many though, and I wind up trying to find places for them, but I can't bear to get rid of any of them. It's like giving up a piece of myself."
I stopped, realizing that I was rambling nonsense, and stared down at my dinner.
"I do the same thing! I tend to fall over mine because I wind up piling them anywhere. I know the right thing to do would be to donate them to a library or something, but I can't bring myself to do it. Everyone thinks I'm crazy!"
I looked up in shock, seeing Bella smile at me brightly. I grinned in reply.
"You're definitely not crazy. Or at least, you're not the only crazy one."
She laughed again and I instantly felt comfortable.
Even though we came from different worlds, I really enjoyed talking with her. She rolled her eyes when she heard I was an accountant and laughed at my work stories. I tried to keep up with her talk of the art industry, but found it all went over my head. However, I couldn't look away when she showed me her latest pieces. Even though most of them were strange and mysterious to me, I could see she had real talent. Some of the more plain chalk pieces were actually rather nice.
She found it hilarious when a cat jumped on my lap and cried forlornly until I fed it pieces of my dinner.
"You know, our yards connect," Bella commented. We'd finished dinner and were sipping the wine I'd brought.
"The road leads around and sort of doubles back on itself. I think that's how Black Magic got into your garage," she mused.
"Maybe I should put up a fence?" I asked, trying to be helpful.
Bella stiffened, her smile dropping.
"If you want to," she replied.
An awkward silence followed. I cringed, realizing that I must have said something wrong to make her change her tone so suddenly.
"I'd better get going," I announced awkwardly, almost falling out of my chair in the process. Bella stood up with me, looking startled at my sudden movement. She walked me to the door, probably just to make sure I didn't trip over any wayward animals on the way. It was probably a wise idea.
"Thank you for inviting me," I said, standing at the threshold and feeling a little nervous. I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to do now. I felt as if I had to do something more than just turn around and say goodbye. Bella seemed to sense this too, because she once again ambushed me into a hug. I opted for returning it rather than patting her this time. She seemed to appreciate this because she lingered and kissed my cheek softly before backing away.
"Goodnight," she said, all smiles and waves as I tripped down the street.
It was a little past nine when I arrived home, and I was left feeling restless. Bella's company had been interesting. I wasn't used to people being so scattered, yet compelling. I had no idea how to act around her, or if it even mattered that I didn't. I'd never seen her around before, so would I ever see her again?
The thought didn't sit well with me, so I busied myself with trying to find things to fix in the house. There wasn't much to do, apart from unpacking the last things in the garage. With a sigh, I headed out there, figuring that now was as good a time as any to finally start.
So I was more than a little surprised to find not one, but two cats sitting there.
"What are you doing to me?" I groaned as Felix bounded up and began weaving in and out of my legs. Black Magic stared back at me from his place on top of a shelf, smug and satisfied with the predicament that he'd placed me in.
"Are you giving me a reason to go back?" I wondered aloud. Black Magic tipped his head to the side as if once again despairing at my stupidity. I groaned, realizing that I'd made a cat my wing man. I had reached a whole new level of insanity.
I scooped up Felix, smiling to myself at his affectionate nature. As if sensing my decision, Black Magic jumped off the shelf and marched toward the exit. I opened the door and watched as he disappeared into the yard and through the bushes that led to Bella's house.
"I take it you don't want to walk?" I said to the purring heap in my arms. It butted my hand and I laughed, starting off down the road.
"You didn't have to bring him back personally," Bella said as I handed over the white kitten.
"He didn't want to walk," I muttered with a shrug, only now realizing how ridiculous that sounded.
She laughed, and I smiled. I liked her laugh.
"They really have got you right where they want you. Maybe you should put up that fence, or you'll be forced to come over constantly."
"I wouldn't mind."
The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them, and I cringed once again at my unwanted confession. Bella, on the other hand, smiled, a slight blush lighting her cheeks.
"Well since you don't mind, I guess I should invite you back in," she said, stepping out of the way of the door.
I nodded, smiling back at her and following her in. After all, if the cats wanted me to do something, who was I to refuse?