A/N:If you're a reader of my chapter story, Pen Pals, you'll remember that I entered the Free Writers and Readers one-shot contest back in December. And that I won second place :). Well, here's my prize-winning entry. Enjoy.
Special thanks to my friend Caz for helping me edit this beast. Without her help, I'm not sure I would have won the contest. She had a couple of the really standout ideas for this story, and also picked up on my missed words (I tend to do that often: miss words when I type, lol) and other typos.
I remember the first time I saw the new girl. I was in third grade, Mrs. Cope's class. Mrs. Cope was strict, made us sit in rows even though the other teachers all had their students in pairs or groups; I knew, I had friends in those other classes, and I asked. There were five rows of six desks each, but several of the desks were empty, including the one in front of me. The girl walked in the first school day in January, looking cold and uncomfortable.
"Class, this is Isabella Swan," Mrs. Cope said, and the girl turned an obnoxious shade of red. She stared at her shoes, looking like she wished she could just sink into the ground. I knew the feeling. I'd feel the same way if Mrs. Cope did that to me. "I trust that you'll all make her feel welcome here."
There were snickers all over the room. I looked around and saw stupid Mike Newton leading the brigade. He was such a jerk, I didn't know how he was so popular, but he was. Everyone seemed to like him. Even me, up until this year. He'd always been nice to me, but suddenly this year he'd decided that I was no longer worth his while. I glared at him for laughing at the new girl, but it didn't stop him.
"Isabella, why don't you have a seat right over here," Mrs. Cope continued, walking with the girl to the desk right in front of me. I was secretly glad she was short. It had been nice having that desk empty all year, made it easier to see the board.
The girl, Isabella, looked nervously around the room, still that unhealthy shade of red. When her eyes landed on me, I offered her a friendly smile. Or, what I hoped was a friendly smile, anyway. She smiled back, but still looked like she was withholding her trust. And somehow her face grew even redder at the sight of my smile. I didn't get it; I mean for one, I was just me. Dorky Edward Cullen. Younger brother of eighth grade baseball star Emmett Cullen. He had the girls swarming around him already. That was something else I didn't get. It was okay to be nice to girls; I mean, they were people, after all, but to encourage them the way Emmett did? It was like he liked having them hanging around him all the time or something. Gross. And then a horrible thought slammed into my brain. What if Isabella thinks I was being nice to her because I think she's pretty or something? I was mortified.
I spent the rest of that day, and frankly, the rest of the week, trying to walk the fine line between not being mean to the girl and not drawing too much attention to myself. It was hard.
It seemed that I had succeeded, because Bella—as I learned she preferred, through my vague friendliness—didn't seem to be paying much attention to me. A month passed, then two, and things were good. Then my friend Jasper came up to me after school one day. He was in Mr. Banner's class next door, but his best friend, a girl called Alice—I still didn't get that one, but Alice seemed pretty cool, for a girl anyway—was in the same class as me and Bella. She'd become fast friends with Bella, and that meant that Jasper had spent some time with her. Anyway, the last day of school before spring break, Jasper came up to me and said, "Bella likes you." He was so matter-of-fact and unashamed and blunt that he caught me off guard and I felt the tips of my ears burn.
"No, she doesn't," I argued.
"She does," he insisted. "She told Alice and Alice told me." Alice had always been a blabber mouth. She couldn't keep anyone's secret. Before I could say the words condemning Alice's behavior, Jasper hurried on, "But it's okay. Bella said that she was going to try to tell you soon, anyway."
"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard," I said, getting defensive. I didn't want Bella to like me. She seemed nice enough, but I didn't want a girlfriend. Or a girl friend. Ew. I was just fine with Jasper. If he wanted to be friends with girls, then whatever, but I was not interested.
That was the last time I would get to talk to Jasper about it. His parents were taking him to Disneyland for the break. I thought it was pretty unfair of him to drop a bomb like that on me and then leave for nine days. I thought about what he'd said the whole bus ride home. By the time I was dropped off at my driveway, I was positively moody.
"What's wrong, Edward?" my mother asked when I stomped into the kitchen.
"Stupid Jasper says some stupid girl likes me," I grumbled. I was a lot less fond of Bella than I had been an hour ago.
"Well, what's wrong with that? I'm a girl and I like you," she said, smiling at me.
"You're not a girl, you're my mom," I laughed.
"I might be your mom, but I am a girl."
I rolled my eyes. "Fine, but you have to like me. You don't have a choice."
"I'm not sure I agree with that, either," she replied. "I'll always love you, but I'm sure there will be times when I don't like you all that much. For instance, I'm not entirely sure how much I like your brother right now." She chuckled lightly at that.
"What do you mean? How can you love someone without liking them?" I didn't get it.
"I'll always love you, both of you, because you're my kids, and you're you. But there are some behaviors that I don't like, and that makes it a bit harder to like you sometimes. Understand?"
"Kind of," I replied honestly. I wasn't sure how to phrase a follow-up question, though, so I just let it go. "So how come you don't like Emmett right now?"
"I do like him, I was mostly kidding before. He's just growing up; he's more interested in the other girls than he is in his beloved mother."
"I know," I muttered. "It's gross."
"Oh, Edward. I wish you'd stay my little boy forever. I know that you're going to grow up and like girls one day, too." She'd walked over to me and wrapped me in a big hug.
"No, I'm not," I said, pulling away from her.
"Yes, you will. I promise," she replied.
"Ew, Mom. Can we not talk about this anymore? Please?"
"Of course. Mark my words, though, you'll change your mind, I know you will. They all do," she sighed wistfully.
"Whatever, Mom." I walked to the other side of the kitchen and pulled a couple of Oreos out of the cookie jar, popping one into my mouth as I hurried out the door, up the stairs to my room. I needed to get away from that conversation. My mom was supposed to be on my side, not telling me that I was going to end up like Jasper, or worse, Emmett: girl crazy.
The rest of spring break passed incredibly slowly, what with Jasper gone on vacation. I had no one to hang out with. Even Emmett, whom I'd normally try to tag along with, was no fun. He brought a girl home every day—Rosalie something or other. After the talk with my mom that Friday, I avoided everyone of the female gender as much as I could. So, with Em's new girlfriend following him around like a lost puppy, I was on my own.
After what felt like five spring breaks, it was finally Monday morning again. I'd never been more thankful to be going back to school. I just hoped that Jasper was wrong, or that Bella had come to her senses over the vacation. Either way was okay with me, so long as she kept her distance. The bus ride to school was normal, uneventful. So was school, and by the end of the day, I was wondering why I'd been so glad to go back.
I stood behind Bella in line for the bus, and noticed that she was wearing a pink dress. That seemed odd to me. I hadn't noticed all day, for one thing, and for another, I'd never seen her in anything but jeans and a t-shirt. Why was she wearing a dress? And what was even weirder was that she had pink bows in her hair. I thought she lived with just her dad, that's what Alice had said anyway. Her mom…well, she didn't talk about her mom, so we weren't really sure what the back story was there. But dads didn't buy pink hair bows, did they? By the time we climbed aboard the bus, there was only one seat left. I sighed heavily. I would have to sit next to Bella. She scooted over to the window side of the seat and I plopped down next to her reluctantly.
The ride home was awkward to say the least. All I could think of the whole time I was stuck sitting next to her was, was Jasper telling the truth? Does she really like me? I got my answer just as it was my turn to get off the bus. I adjusted my backpack to get ready to stand and she leaned over and kissed me right on the cheek. A girl kissed me! I couldn't believe it. I chanced a quick glance over at her and she was the reddest I'd ever seen her. We weren't quite to my stop yet, so I hissed at her, "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm sorry," she said shyly.
I glared at her one more time for good measure and then turned in my seat, scooting as far away from her as I could. The driver pulled up to my driveway then, and I looked over at Bella one more time. She had a single tear slipping down each cheek. "Please don't tell anyone that I did that," she whispered. "Please?"
She was so weak and shy in that moment that I wasn't sure how to respond. So I did what any sane red-blooded American boy would do. I agreed with the pretty girl. "Of course not. I won't tell anybody."
I felt oddly satisfied when I got off the bus. It seemed that Alice and Jasper were right. Bella did like me. That was what it meant when a girl kissed you, wasn't it? I wanted nothing more than to ask my older brother, but I'd promised her I wouldn't. So instead, at the ripe old age of eight, I was stuck figuring out girls on my own.
I didn't know how to react to Bella's kiss, so the next day I did the only thing I could think of. I smiled at her whenever she looked at me in the classroom, and then, during recess, I chased her all over the playground. She was swinging on the monkey bars when I first spotted her, and I ran over there, climbing up behind her. I was sure I'd be able to take her, but she was strong for a girl. She had an easier time holding her weight up on the bars than I did, and I was good at monkey bars, if I did say so myself. I'd barely made it a third of the way across when she was climbing off on the other end. She immediately took off for the merry-go-round and I dropped to the ground, not caring that I hadn't completed the task of working my way across the bars. I darted around Mike Newton and his cronies, keeping my eye on Bella as she jumped on the spinning contraption. I was glad to see that she didn't fall off as she climbed aboard.
She noticed me running after her, and again blushed that brilliant shade of red that I'd noticed on her very first day. She took off running, again before I'd caught up with her. Unfortunately for me, the bell signaling the end of recess chimed before I ever caught her. I was afraid I'd lost my opportunity to try to talk to her about the kiss, even if it was just a peck on the cheek. I wondered why she had done it, and even more than that, I wondered why she'd asked me not to tell.
Our first lesson after recess was math. It was dreadfully easy for me, and I often found myself not paying attention to Mrs. Cope. She had handed a stack of worksheets to the student in the front of each row, and it was the ol' 'take one, pass them back.' When Bella turned around to pass me the last worksheet (as I was in the back seat), I saw a folded slip of paper stacked with my math paper. I carefully unfolded it and read
Do you love me? Do you wanna be my friend? And if you do, well, then don't be afraid to take me by the hand. I think this is how love goes.
Underneath were two small boxes, one next to the word 'yes' and the other next to the word 'no.' No sooner had I finished reading than Mrs. Cope walked down the row and rapped my desk sharply with her yardstick. "Something more interesting than math, Edward?"
"Er, no, ma'am," I lied quickly, trying to hide Bella's note. I was not fast enough for Mrs. Cope, though. She pulled the paper out of my hand and glanced swiftly down at it.
She looked from me to Bella and back again, and then said quietly, "I'd like to see the two of you after school today." Taking my note with her, she walked back to the front of the room to continue the lesson. I gaped after the teacher, desperately wanting that note back. If anyone asked me out loud which way I'd respond to that note, I'd tell them that I was going to check the 'no' box, obviously. But if I was being honest with myself, I was totally ready to check the 'yes' box. The girl had kissed me after all; the least I could do was be her friend.
The rest of school passed both too fast and too slowly at the same time. I was terrified of having to see Mrs. Cope after school, but at the same time, kind of excited about talking to Bella. It was amazing how in just over a week, I'd gone from thinking my mom was an absolute nut job for suggesting that I'd ever one day like a girl to this. Actually considering becoming friends with one. I stood nervously next to Bella in front of Mrs. Cope's desk after school. I hoped she wouldn't talk too long; I didn't want to miss the bus. Then I'd really be in trouble, if my mom had to come pick me up. Luckily, she got right to the chase. "I think it's great that you guys are friends, but next time, let's keep the note passing to your time instead of mine, okay?"
Bella turned that brilliant shade of red again, and even I felt the tips of my ears burning. "Yes, Mrs. Cope," we chimed together.
Fifteen years later
I stood in the front of the church, with Jasper and Emmett standing to my left and Pastor Weber standing to my right. First Alice, then Rosalie sauntered down the aisle in their lavender dresses, and while they were pretty, neither held my attention. When the two of them were in their spots, the music changed into the traditional wedding march, and my attention was drawn once again to the back doors. I heard the familiar chords and just a few seconds later, Bella appeared in her white dress, her arm linked with her father's. I was absolutely stunned. I stood there, watching her take small, dainty steps toward me, her smile lighting up the entire room. She was by far the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen.
She and her father stopped just out of my reach. Pastor Weber began talking. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness the union of this man and this woman…" I didn't hear much past that. My mind kept replaying the note she'd written me back when we were in the third grade.
Do you love me? Do you wanna be my friend?
Checking the 'yes' box after Mrs. Cope had returned the note to me had been the best decision I'd ever made, either in my first eight years of life or in the fifteen since. I may not have loved her right away, but I most certainly did want to be her friend. And by starting with that step, we'd grown closer and closer and by the time we were sixteen, it was only natural that we'd start dating. Neither of us were interested in anyone else.
As the pastor droned on, I thought back to a year ago, to the night I'd proposed to her. In a testament to her first note to me—which I'd kept, even after all those years—I repeated the words, changing only one, and tented the note at her place when she'd excused herself to the restaurant's bathroom.
Do you love me? Do you wanna be my wife? And if you do, well, then don't be afraid to take me by the hand. I think this is how love goes. Check yes or no.
When she returned and saw the paper there, she picked it up and read it, tears filling her eyes. I stood and walked around the small table and stooped down on one knee, opening the small box with the engagement ring in it. She didn't answer at first, and after a moment, I started to feel ridiculous and insecure down there. Finally, she flagged down our waiter and stage-whispered to him "Do you have a pen I could borrow?"
He handed one to her and she made a mark on the note and quickly returned the waiter's pen to him. Then she turned back to me and showed me the paper. She had drawn a messy checkmark in the 'yes' box. Elated, I rose to my feet and pulled her out of her chair. "Yes?" I whispered.
"Yes," she enthused.
"Do you, Edward, take Isabella to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, as long as you both shall live?"
Gazing into the deep brown eyes of the woman I loved, I emotionally choked out, "I do."
I think back to those days often, the first day I saw Bella, the kiss, the time I chased her around the playground, and her note. The little four line note with two boxes that changed my life. And on those days, the days I specifically remember the note, those are the best days. Those are the days I get in touch with my eight-year-old self gaze into my gorgeous wife's eyes before playfully chasing her all over our house. She giggles and screeches, and unlike that day so long ago, by the time we've been up and down the hall and then around the bed, I always catch her. And then, well, after I catch her, good times are had by all.
That little note has become the cornerstone of our relationship, of our marriage. It was the first of many passed back and forth between us over the years. Several of our major life events have been revealed to the other using that same basic formula. Even things that didn't matter so much, the same four-line note was always there, in the forefront of both of our minds.
Check chicken or fish
Check Disneyland or New York
Check comedy or drama
I'll never forget the day she blew my mind with one particular note.
It had been a normal, uneventful morning at work, and I was just sitting down to lunch with my coworkers. I opened stainless my steel lunch box and pulled out my standard turkey sandwich, baked potato chips and banana, laying each item out in front of me when the purple paper from Bella's personalized stationery set caught my eye. I heard the other guys all around me, but their voices and laughter had faded into the background; nothing mattered except for the note from my wife.
I love you, and I wanna be your friend forever. I'll never be afraid to take you by the hand. I know this is how love goes. Check girl or boy.
My heart stopped, or it felt like it did anyway. The low hum in my ears was replaced by complete silence as I reread the note. Did this mean what I thought it did? Was she...? I jumped up from my seat, frantically looking for my boss while ignoring my food, but never letting go of that purple sheet of paper. I finally spotted him across the room. Fortunately for me, he was seated near the door, so I ran across the room with the door being my goal, but making sure to stop for just a split second-long enough to shout to him, "Family emergency, I'm taking a personal day for the rest of the afternoon!"
I turned the key in the ignition before I was fully seated in the car. I buckled my seat belt and pulled out of the parking space simultaneously, then sped off in the direction of home. The ten minute drive felt like it took closer to ten hours, and when I finally screeched to a halt outside of our house, I reversed the order of operations from when I'd left work. This time, I was climbing out of the car before I'd turned the engine off. I yanked the key out and hurried up the pathway, throwing the door out of my way. I hurried around the house, looking for Bella, first in the living room then the bedroom, finally finding her in the kitchen.
Breathlessly, I rasped out, "Bella."
She turned, looking surprised to see me. "What are you doing home?"
I held the note out to her, having never let go of it the entire drive home. "Does this mean...? I mean, are you...?"
Her brown eyes sparkled and a beautiful smile stretched over her face. "Yes."
I took the remaining three steps toward her and swept her up in an elated hug, pulling her feet off the ground and spinning her around.
Two weeks before our fifth wedding anniversary, I left another of "our" notes for Bella. Just one line this time, check white or black. I was purposefully vague, not wanting to divulge my plans for our anniversary. When I returned home from work that evening, the little note was tented on her nightstand, exactly where I'd left it that morning. But now there was a little checkmark in the box next to white. I pocketed the paper and went about life like normal for the rest of the night. I made the call to the limo company the following morning from my cell phone on the way to work, and reserved a white stretch limousine for the night of our anniversary.
Over the next ten days, I was very busy making sure things would be perfect for that night. I'd arranged for my parents to keep the kids overnight, and purchased a pink ribbon from the drugstore one night, carefully hiding it away in my night table drawer. Finally, the big night was upon us, and my mother came and picked up the kids, wishing us a "Happy anniversary" and "Have a great night." Her eye sparkled mischievously at those words, and if I hadn't been so close to my mom, I might have been mortified.
Instead, I just smiled my crooked smile at my mom and we laughed together. "Thanks, Mom. For tonight, but even more so, for being right twenty years ago."
She leaned in and hugged me, but didn't say anything more.
The white limousine pulled up exactly on time, and Bella looked appropriately surprised. Then she turned just her head toward me and whispered, "I'm glad I checked white." A quick wink at me, and then she returned her gaze to the limo.
As she stood on the front porch looking out at the fancy car, I pulled the pink ribbon that I'd stashed in my pocket and wrapped it around her ponytail, tying it into the best bow I could manage; a tribute to the pink bow in her ponytail from the day she'd kissed me the first time.
I still can't believe that we've been together for two decades. Two decades, five years of marriage, and two kids later, and I still gaze into her stunning brown eyes with stars in my own. And to think, it all started with just a little note.
Thanks for reading. If you're so inclined, I'd love to get reviews on this little number :).