Title: Not Quite a Love Story
Summary: I loved her almost from the moment I met her. Turns out you don't have to be waiting for a prince in order to be burned by the fairy tale.
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or any related content, including character names.
Early October, 1999
"Why so sad, little bird?"
I looked up from the textbook page, automatically shielding my eyes against the sun. She stood in silhouette, the autumn sky a fiery red around her shape.
I couldn't help but ask. Over a month on campus, but no one else had yet to bother to speak to me.
She dropped gracefully to the ground beside me, an explosion of color and textured fabric against rather ordinary pale skin and dark hair. It was her eyes that were special, gleaming brown and framed with lush lashes.
"Of course I mean you. I don't see anyone else sitting out here in the cold." She bumped me gently with her shoulder. "So why so sad?"
I could feel the corners of my mouth turn down at her question. Looking away and blinking back tears, I shook my head. I doubted that anyone like her had ever felt this kind of soul crushing loneliness.
We sat silently for a long moment as the sun sank closer to the horizon. Finally I could take no more.
"I don't belong here!" I closed my eyes against the shame of the quiver in my voice.
In every high school class there's at least one weirdo, one student who doesn't even get the grace of being overlooked. In my high school, that student was me. I never fit in with the others. Not with my glasses or my artistic streak or my habit of stumbling over my own feet. And especially not with my fascination of the other girls' bodies in the locker room after gym class.
"I tried so hard," I whispered, wrapping my arms around my waist. She rested her hand on my shoulder and the unfamiliar touch warmed me. "I thought everyone could find somewhere to fit after high school. I guess I was wrong."
She sighed, a small noise that I felt more than heard.
"What's your name?"
I swiped at my eyes before I answered. "Angela."
She rose to her feet smoothly. For one horrible moment, I thought she meant to leave without me, but then she extended her hand.
"Well, little bird, I'm Isa. Follow me."
I slid my hand into hers and got up, blushing as I stumbled, wishing I moved as lithely as she did. Her hand tightened around mine when I started to release it. I grabbed my book and followed her, marveling at my easy willingness to trust.
She strode on long, lean legs towards the university center as I stumbled along behind her, my hand still linked securely with hers. I blushed as I noted the glances of our fellow students lingering on our joined hands.
Isa apparently didn't feel the heat of their gazes or see the sly glances. She glided on and I could no more fight her current than I could stop my own heartbeat.
She stopped in front of a long table just inside the food court. Five students grouped around it, voices raised to be heard over each other as they all seemingly talked at once.
"Hey!" Isa called, gaining the attention of the group, their discussion fading away as they focused in on the two of us. "This is Angela."
I attempted a shy smile, but I'm not sure it translated well to my face. I took a half step behind Isa, trying to hide myself. She tugged at me until she could release my hand and loop her arm around my shoulder.
"Angela, this is Rosalie, Emmett, Kate, Edward and Jasper." They all nodded at me as Isa introduced them.
There was no other word to describe the group except beautiful. Edward lounged easily in his chair, his copper hair a study of disorder and his green eyes gleaming behind wire-rimmed glasses.
Jasper gazed at me with startlingly blue eyes. His blond hair fell to his chin in soft curls and he sat beside Edward with his arm wrapped intimately around him, one hand absently tracing small circles on the skin of Edward's arm.
Kate sat at the end of the table, looking for all the world like a young Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. She wore her light brown hair cropped close to her head and had narrowed her dark eyes at the spot where Isa's hand rested near my collarbone.
Where Kate simmered, Rosalie bubbled. She wore her waist-length blond curls in a high ponytail and her sky-colored eyes laughed up at us. She sat wrapped in the arms of Emmett, a burly, muscular man with short, dark hair. He grinned easily, his dark eyes watchful of the others.
"So what are we talking about then?" Isa guided me into a seat before sliding into the one next to me. The solid warmth of her arm around my waist comforted me as the rowdy group began to debate again around me. This time she joined in, laughing and yelling along with the others.
Despite myself, I found myself laughing along. For the first time in…well, a long time…I felt like I belonged.
Sometime later I found myself trailing after Isa as we made our way back to her apartment.
"You'll love this party tonight, little bird," she said, referring to the plans she had made on my behalf with the others before leaving the university center. "Alice is really great, probably my best friend. She and her wife, Jane, throw some of the best parties."
I tried to stuff my anxiety down to harmless levels before replying.
"Sounds like fun."
Isa smiled at me over her shoulder before stopping before a door on the second floor. Her smile warmed me, turning my insides to creamy caramel.
She pulled me through the doorway and I stopped and stared at the sophisticated loft. Large and spacious, every corner was visible to us from where we stood. Only the bathroom offered some sort of privacy since it was enclosed behind glass block walls. Isa finally released my hand as she walked to the refrigerator.
"Would you like a bottle of water?"
I shook myself out of my stupor.
"You live here?" I couldn't help the note of incredulity in the question. I had a hard time believing that a student could afford such a place.
Isa came back towards me, but took a long drink from her bottle before answering.
"Nah, this is actually Rosalie's place. She's a bit of a Daddy's girl. But she lets me crash here when I'm around so I'm not complaining."
Something in my chest turned cold and hard, sinking down in to my stomach.
"You mean you don't go to school here?" I whispered.
She had already moved away from me, unzipping her pants and sliding them off one sinewy leg at a time. She laid them across the back of a leather chair.
"What's that? Oh, no, I'm not in school. I'm a bit….free." She laughed, the sound reminding me of the soft way the wind moves through chimes. Before I could move she grabbed the hem of her shirt and yanked it above her head, revealing perfectly shaped breasts, nipples peaking in the cool room.
I whipped my head away, instantly embarrassed about ogling her.
"Oh, um, I'm not sure what that means…" My words trailed away at the feel of her hands on mine.
"Have I embarrassed you?" I turned back to her, trying desperately to keep my eyes above her neck. I shook my head, knowing even as I did that my cheeks had flushed bright red.
Isa smiled and I tried not to audibly groan as my body began to react to the nearness of hers. She moved behind me and pushed me gently towards a full-length mirror on the near wall.
"Nudity is nothing to be ashamed of, little bird." I watched us in the mirror. The heat of her body warmed me from behind. Her hands settled on my waist and she rested her chin on my shoulder. "Don't you ever just strip down and look in the mirror? Don't you ever look at your own body and think, 'damn, my ass looks good today.'"
I shook my head. She turned us so that we stood sideways. One of her hands trailed over my hip and I shivered.
"Because you do, you know? You have a spectacular rear view."
Isa smiled and spanked me lightly. I giggled.
"But for now, Ange, we've got an appearance to put in. We'll have to leer at ourselves later." She winked and began to root through a bag for an outfit.
Hours later, I did a little hopping dance step as Isa and I made our way back to my room on campus. I was high on my apparent success at the party. Alice loved me and the rest of the group seemed happy enough to include me.
I felt charming and witty and really, really happy. I managed not to be weird or stumble over my own feet or talk to myself even once.
The best part was Isa didn't leave my side the whole night. Every time the anxiety began to swell in my chest, it was like she sensed it. At just the right moment, she would stroke her hand down my arm or tug a lock of my hair.
And always, always that smile.
Isa danced down the street beside me, laughing and twirling. Finally, we stopped in front of my dorm, both of us breathless from the laughter.
Our breath frosted the air between us and suddenly the pounding of my heart was not from exertion.
Isa sighed softly and brushed a bit of my hair away from my face. She leaned forward and kissed my cheek gently.
"Goodnight, little bird."
Nothing could stop my smile the next day. I marveled at the difference that twenty-four hours made. I saw Emmett and Rosalie as I walked to my History class and, even though I froze like a loser, they both smiled and waved.
I floated on air back to my dorm to get some study time. I stopped short as I turned the corner to see Isa in the grass, leaning back on her elbows with her face tilted towards the sun so that her lush hair brushed the ground.
I wanted her. Just the sight of her, eyes closed against the sun, breasts straining against the thin fabric of her t-shirt, made my throat run dry and my heart race.
Her lips curved up slightly and she opened one eye to look at me.
"Well, hey there, little bird. Come cop a squat with me."
I grinned at her words and plopped myself rather inelegantly beside her.
"Did you have a good day?"
"I did actually. Well, I mean, just classes, but still. I saw Rosalie and Emmett." She smiled and turned to her side, but didn't say anything. I picked at the grass. "So what do you do during the day if you don't go to classes?"
"Whatever I want."
I snorted out a laugh at the obvious answer. She sat up and grabbed my hands.
"Come on, Ange. Put your books up and let's go live life for awhile."
How could I do anything, but follow her?
I can recall everything about that autumn afternoon, even years later. The sweetness of the chocolate milkshake on my tongue. The red in Isa's hair in the sunlight. The warmth of her body when she laid her head on my shoulder. And the sound of her laughter as we spun ourselves sick on the merry-go-round at the playground.
But it was that night that changed my life.
We walked back from the park as dusk fell. The silence fell heavy around us, but it wasn't an uncomfortable feeling.
I felt like flying. There was so much in me for this girl at my side. I wanted to know her. I wanted to know why she spoke to me that first time. God, was that just the day before?
We stopped in front of my dorm again, but this time I grabbed Isa's hand before she could walk away.
"My roommate is out of town for the weekend. Will you come in?"
She smiled radiantly and nodded.
It was her turn to follow me as I led her through the lobby and down the hall.
Once inside my room, I switched on the lamp. I glanced quickly around, but for once our room was somewhat neat. I watched as Isa wandered the room, looking at my roommate's pictures on her wall and flipping through my desk calendar.
"No pictures from home?" She asked me, glancing over her shoulder.
I shook my head and turned to close the door.
"I didn't exactly have friends in high school," I whispered to the door.
The butterflies in my stomach took flight as I felt Isa behind me. She laid her head on my back, over my heart.
"It's okay," she whispered back. I turned to look at her.
How did I ever think her skin and hair were ordinary? Up close she was luminescent, her skin like pearls and her hair a beautiful mahogany.
"If I kiss you, are you going to fly away, little bird?" Her voice was little more than a sigh. I shook my head and held my breath, praying that she would.
Isa's long, elegant fingers combed my hair back from my face and then traced lightly along my jaw. She leaned forward and pressed her lips gently to mine.
My heart pounded in my chest and I gasped against her mouth. She broke away, but rested her forehead against mine.
"Okay?" She asked, her voice rough.
"More," I murmured, wrapping my arms around her waist until I was pressed against her.
She chuckled, but complied, pressing her mouth to mine again. This time I pressed back, pleased when her tongue slipped out and traced along my lips. I opened my mouth and sucked gently on her tongue.
This time when we broke apart, I was not the only one panting.
"Have you ever been with a woman before, little bird?" Isa's hands tangled in the hair at the base of my neck.
I could feel the blood rushing to my face again, but I attempted to keep my voice calm when I answered.
"No. In fact, as first kisses go, that one was pretty spectacular."
I waited, thinking any moment now she would pull away and bid me goodnight. Instead she pressed closer, her lovely breasts a pleasant pressure against my own.
"Do you want me to go?" Isa asked. For the first time in the short time I'd known her, there was a trace of insecurity threaded through her voice.
"No. Please stay." I nuzzled my nose in the soft skin of her neck. Up close, the light blue veins were barely visible under her skin. It made her seem vulnerable and very human.
Isa pulled away momentarily, but tugged me with her until we both fell on the bed.
She kissed me again, over and over until I ground my hips relentlessly against her thigh, searching for some release for the tension that was building in my body.
"Isa, please!" I whined, my hands tugging at her hair.
"Do you want me to touch you, Angela?" The question was just a hiss in my ear moments before she pulled the lobe between her teeth, nibbling tenderly.
I nodded and mumbled something incoherent, but her hand was already traveling along the skin over my abdomen. She slipped the button of my jeans out of the loop and pulled them open, revealing just the top edge of my panties.
Under normal circumstances, I would have been horribly embarrassed, but all I could think was about her touching me.
Finally her cool fingers circled my clit and within just a few strokes, the world turned topsy-turvy. I arched off the bed as fireworks exploded behind my eyelids.
I collapsed back on the bed again as Isa smiled down at me. She pulled her hand out of my jeans and rested it against my stomach.
"You're so beautiful," she whispered.
I reached up and pulled her down to me, kissing her again and again. I cupped my hand around her breast and idly noted that she wasn't wearing a bra again. I wondered if it was a habit and I hoped I'd get to find out.
Suddenly I began to feel horribly awkward.
"I want to touch you," I murmured, "but I don't really know how."
Isa giggled, the sound wonderfully girly.
"It's okay, little bird. I just wanted to be with you tonight."
She leaned forward and kissed me again until sleep began tugging at me. I curled up against her on my side with my arm thrown over her waist and, breathing her in, let sleep take me.
When I woke the next morning, the bed felt strange. I reached behind me, but the sheets were cool where Isa had laid the night before. Frowning, I turned over and found a small sheet of paper folded on top of the pillow.
With a trembling hand, I reached out and picked it up. Somehow I knew that Isa was gone and wouldn't be back. Tears slipped down my cheeks and into my hair. Finally I unfolded the single sheet of paper.
See you around, little bird.
I sat on the hard packed ground as the whiny singer of a heavy metal rock band wailed into the microphone and his band mates played loud, discordant music. It bounced around inside my brain and gave me a headache.
The late spring sunshine was unusually warm and a small drop of sweat slowly trickled down my back. The grass underneath me scratched at the skin of my legs and I squirmed restlessly.
"Oh my God! Aren't they just the best band ever?" The girl standing next to me leaned down and shrieked in my face. Before I could even answer, she straightened and began dancing in place again.
Her name was Amber and she had jet black dyed hair and several face piercings. She was also my date to the music festival thanks to Edward and Jasper.
I glanced over to see Edward hiding a grin behind his glass of beer. I restrained from punching his arm, since I would hate to see all of that golden goodness go to waste if he dropped it. Like most couples, Edward and Jasper hated to see anyone alone and had guilted me into coming today with Amber as my blind date.
Closing my eyes, I tried to find some serenity in the midst of the noise and the crowd.
I wished security wasn't so tight and I could sneak a glass or two of beer.
I wished I hadn't lost my fake I.D. two weeks ago at the bar.
I wished we were in Europe where the legal drinking age was much younger.
I wished it was a year and four months from now when I would legally be able to drink in public.
I wished it was nineteen months ago and I was curled up with Isa in my bed, in the cool quiet of the fall night. I wished I'd worshipped her the way she deserved instead of only taking what she so easily offered. I wished I'd never fallen asleep so that I could have begged her to stay or to take me with her.
Sighing I opened my eyes, glad for the dark sunglasses that shielded me.
I watched as Edward stroked his hand over Jasper's hair. The simple motion moved me, opening up a well of sadness in my chest that I always worked hard to ignore. Blinking back tears, I got to my feet.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," I called to my friends over the music.
I wandered aimlessly through the crowded festival, past the organic t-shirts and homemade jewelry for sale. My mind wrapped itself around the memory and wouldn't let go.
I could almost taste the sweetness of the shared milkshake, how the flavor lingered on her lips when she kissed me hours later. I didn't think I'd ever be able to forget the softness of her skin as she pressed against me, or the strength of her shoulders as she pulled me closer.
If it wasn't for my friends, her friends, I could have believed she was a product of my imagination.
But in the weeks after she left, they surrounded me, protected me even though I withheld the details from all of them. They called to me to sit with them in the university center and included me in their small parties. Edward and Jasper would walk with me to my classes.
Three weeks after that one night with Isa, it finally began to sink in that she truly wasn't coming back. I ended up at a party at Alice and Jane's and drank until I could barely see straight.
The next morning I woke up on her couch to find Alice seated cross-legged on the floor, staring at me sadly. Wordlessly I began to cry and she moved to the couch, letting me rest my head on her leg. The tears rolled down my cheeks and soaked into the flannel of her pajamas.
Brokenly, I started to talk. I told her how Isa found me desolate under a tree. How she told me I was beautiful and included me with her friends that I now called my own. I sobbed as I shared the story of our first kiss.
At some point Jane came in and joined us. I talked until I exhausted myself and then I realized that she and Alice had curled around me protectively, comfortingly, and I started to cry again.
For the first six months, the topic of Isa was completely off-limits around me. But eventually our friends would mention her in passing and I began to soak up the tidbits about her life away from me.
One day I was at Alice and Jane's again using their computer to complete an assignment after my laptop died a grisly electrical death. I stumbled across a file of pictures of Isa in Peru. My eyes drank in her countenance greedily and I began to catalogue the differences. While her skin was still a lovely pale ivory, her hair was shorter, swinging around her shoulders instead of midway down her back. I couldn't get enough of staring at those pictures.
Eventually I tried to move on and even dated other girls, but none of them could compare to her, to my Isa.
Somebody shoved past me and I suddenly realized I had stopped in the middle of the traffic flow. I moved to the side and pretended to examine some band merchandise as I tried to shove the memories back in their boxes.
"Hey there little bird."
I whirled around and my jaw dropped in shock. After all of those months of missing her, Isa stood in front of me, clothed in a long, floral skirt and wearing her hair in braids.
She stepped lightly to me and cupped my face in her hands, her smile never wavering.
"Ange, I missed you." Isa wound her arms around my neck and pressed her body to mine.
Gasping at the sensation, I wrapped my arms around her waist and just held on. Emotions battered me, love and longing and desperation and anger. Questions beat like drums in my brain, but I forced them back and just breathed her in.
We rocked back and forth for a minute, wrapped up in each other, before she pulled back. Her fingers traced over my face, pressing lightly along my cheekbones and cupping my jaw.
"Sexy," she said softly, tapping one finger against the small aquamarine jewel in the side of my nose.
Before I could respond, her hands moved on, trailing down the skin of my neck and arms. Entwining her fingers with mine, she lifted my arm and examined the small tattoo on the inside of my wrist. To my surprise a sad look passed over her beautiful face, but then she smiled.
"I guess my little bird is growing up."
"It's inevitable, I'm afraid," I joked, tugging on the end of one of her braids.
We stared at each other silently for several long minutes.
"Can I see you tonight?" She asked finally. Someone cleared their throat behind us and we both turned to find Amber, Jasper, and Edward watching us. Edward and Jasper were grinning while Amber glared at all of us.
With a cry of delight, Isa launched herself at Edward. He caught her, laughing as she kissed him soundly and then grabbed Jasper for a group hug.
"You guys don't mind if I steal Angie away for a while, do you?" Isa asked, subtly turning her back to block Amber from the group.
I looked pleadingly at Edward and Jasper, begging them with my eyes to deal with Amber for me. Edward rolled his eyes, but Jasper just smiled.
With a grateful grin, I twined my fingers with Isa's and let her pull me through the crowd. It was a horrible, bitchy thing to do to Amber, but I didn't want to waste one moment of Isa being here.
We stopped finally at Isa's car and slid inside. Quiet invaded with the closing of the doors and we did nothing but breathe and stare at each other for several long minutes.
"You're not really hungry, are you?" Isa asked finally. The intensity in her eyes sparked a flame in my belly and I smiled.
"Not at all. Where are you staying?"
"She and Emmett are visiting her parents until next weekend," I supplied.
"I know." Isa smiled and threw the car into gear, navigating the streets quickly and easily.
We stumbled up the stairs to Rosalie's loft, hands caressing, mouths searching. The door had barely slid shut before I had my hands under her tank top and my mouth fused to hers. Isa laughed as I tugged her shirt over her head and then slid her skirt down over her hips.
"God, you're gorgeous," I muttered, letting my hands wander freely over her soft breasts. I took a deep breath, my regrets from our last time together whispering through my brain.
The last time was about me, but I was determined that this time would be about her. I would worship her like the goddess she was and hope that it would be enough to keep her this time.
I slowed my kisses and backed us toward the bed, tucked away in the corner of the loft. For once, Isa seemed content to follow my lead, her hands resting on my hips, on my ass. As gently as I could manage with all of that raw need coursing through me, I laid her back on the bed.
She never took her eyes off me as I undressed. I leaned over and kissed her, trailing kisses from her mouth down to her neck. I sucked slightly at the raised bone of her clavicle. Her hands came up and threaded delicately through my hair.
I trailed my mouth downward, over the soft slope of her breast, running my nose along the creamy skin before sucking her tightened nipple in my mouth. I heard her gasp above me and I grinned against her skin.
Isa tasted like heaven, salty and sweet and girly.
Fighting for patience, I kissed downward, dipping my tongue into her belly button and then down again until I met black lace. I began talking, whispering words of love and adoration, breathing hot breath against the juncture of her thighs, pausing only to nibble on the sweet flesh on either side of my head.
She was gasping for breath, smiling, emitting these soft little cries that made my blood race faster. I clenched my thighs together, desperate for my own friction.
Grinning, I sat up just enough so I could slide her panties down her long legs. I flung them away, not caring where they ended.
Finally, finally, I was where I wanted to be. I nestled back between her legs and for a moment both of us held our breath. I closed the distance, placing one small kiss on the bare skin just above her sex. Isa moaned as I nipped and nibbled down one side, then up the other one.
Her hips moved restlessly as I began to slide my tongue up and down, circling her clit and then sucking gently at it. Her panting was driving me crazy and my own hips circled and ground against the bed.
She was so wet and I loved that I could do this for her, that I could make her feel this good. I wasn't the innocent virgin that I once had been.
I slipped one finger and then two inside of her and Isa's groans became louder. I licked the fingers of my other hand, making sure they were good and wet. I pressed the flat of my tongue against her clit again, this time slipping a finger down further, between the round cheeks of her ass, into the tight warmth. I continued to fuck her with my fingers as her hips undulated beneath me.
With a keening cry, Isa bowed up off the bed with the force of her climax. Her inner muscles contracted fiercely around my fingers as I licked furiously, moaning with my own desperate want.
Panting slightly, she stroked my hair as she came back down. I slipped my fingers out of her and crawled back up her body. We kissed again and again, the need between us only increasing.
Isa flipped us so that she was hovering over me. She sat up sideways, positioning us so that her groin ground directly into mine. I groaned as the need for her increased. I couldn't stop my hips from grinding up into her, seeking friction and release.
She captured my leg and lifted it, stroking her tongue over the quivering muscles in my thigh and calf. We both began to rock harder, grinding our clits together. I could feel my orgasm approaching, the tension gathering in my belly until it was almost unbearable.
One last stroke and I shattered, crying Isa's name over and over again, barely noticing when she came apart above me. She collapsed on top of me, lips moving gently over the skin over my pounding heart.
"You're so beautiful," she whispered. I wrapped my arms around her and stroked my hands down her back.
We spent the rest of the weekend wrapped around each other, emerging only to scavenge for food in Rosalie's posh kitchen.
When Monday rolled around, I couldn't bear to leave her, warm and soft and naked in the bed, so I skipped my classes.
By Tuesday night, I could sense her pulling away. Could feel her mind shift to wherever she was going next. Anxiety pulsed in me as we grilled a couple of steaks for dinner. Isa opened a bottle of wine and poured us each a glass, her eyes sliding over me as if I was no longer there.
"Where do you go when you're not here?" I blurted out. Isa took a long sip of her wine, but finally her eyes focused on me.
"I go back," she said simply. I frowned, confused by her answer.
"I don't know what that means," I said quietly, feeling very young and naïve compared to her. She sighed and laid her head on my shoulder.
"I travel wherever I can, whenever I can. But my hometown is a small town in Washington state. A place where I have social responsibilities and still have to answer to my parents for decisions I make. A place where they call me Bella, even though I hate it."
My mind raced as I added up pieces. For some reason, the name bothered me most. I pieced it together in my head. "Isabella? That's your real name?"
"No!" She stood up and moved to the stove to flip the steaks, the tension in her shoulders and back causing her to move stiffly. "My real name is Isa. I hate Bella. I hate everything that name entails."
I watched her quietly, drinking my wine, as she finished dinner, placing the steaks on plates already holding green leafy salads. We ate in silence, the distance between us greater than the inches between our places at the table.
"Why can't you just…I don't know….stay here?" I asked finally. "I mean, I'm here and all of our friends. We would help you. You could work if you needed to and I know you could stay with Alice and Jane or here with Rosalie –"
Isa stood, stacking her plate on top of mine with a bang. "Just drop it, Angela. It's not going to happen." She stalked to the sink and began running water.
Resentment began to bubble inside of me. I hated it that she wouldn't share things with me. I hated that she felt like she could just drop into my life whenever she pleased, spin me around until I was dizzy, and then just disappear back to her regular life.
I stood and walked to the window, looking back towards the campus. Finally Isa finished cleaning up. I turned and for a moment just watched her, watching me.
"I think it's a shitty thing you do," I said softly. "Not just to me, but to Rosalie and Alice and Edward and Jasper."
Isa frowned, but didn't say anything.
"I know nothing about you. Not really, anyway," I continued. "I know what your skin tastes like and how your face looks when you orgasm and how you sometimes talk nonsense in your sleep. But I don't know where you graduated high school or your parent's names or if you have brothers or sisters."
"Do you think any of that matters?"
I thought about it before answering. "I do. I think those are the things that help make you who you are. If I don't know those things about you, how can I say that I know you? How do I know that I love you and not some image I've created of you?"
A tear slid down her cheek and she crossed her arms in front of her body.
"I would say that what you already know of me is what's important. That you love the real me just as I love the real you without knowing every detail of your history."
I longed to reach out for her, to somehow go back to the giggling and the comfort of just two days ago. My hands shook so I clasped them in front of me.
"I think you should leave," I whispered. Her gaze flew to mine and her mouth opened in shock.
"Angie…little bird – "
"No," I interrupted. "You don't get to call me that anymore. You should go back to your real life. Go be Bella instead of Isa. And next time you're in town to visit Alice and the others, I think you should pretend I don't exist."
I turned back to the window. For all of my strong words, I knew I couldn't bear to watch her leave. I heard her behind me, throwing things in her bags. She paused; I could see her reflection in the glass. Isa stood uncertainly behind me, one bag slung over her shoulder and one clasped in her hands.
I held myself rigid, fighting the urge to turn to her and apologize, to do whatever it took to make things better.
"Tell Rosalie thanks for me," she said finally. "Take care of yourself, okay? I love you."
Closing my eyes, I grasped the windowsill, waiting until I heard the heavy loft door slide shut before I began to cry.
September 11, 2001
I stood in the university center with Edward and Jasper; my dry eyes trained on the television. There was no laughter, no music, no roughhousing from the football players. Somewhere in the back, I heard a girl sob softly.
Edward held Jasper's head cradled against his shoulder and kept me pulled tight against him with his other arm. Tears ran freely down Jasper's face. We watched as the world exploded; heroes rushed in, buildings fell, the country wept.
Fear wailed like a siren through me the rest of the day. I moved silently through my classes as professor after professor sent us away. Where was Isa? Did her random travels carry her through New York that day? Did she travel by plane to reach her destinations? How could I be so in love with her and not know these things about her life?
My last words to her circled around and around in my thoughts. I had told her to leave, to pretend I didn't exist, to never come back. How could I go on, how could I live with myself if it was she who ceased to exist?
I took the bus to Alice and Jane's where Rosalie, Emmett, Edward, and Jasper had already congregated. Someone poured wine and we sat and watched the news.
The hushed expectancy kept growing as we all waited for the phone to ring.
Finally I couldn't stand to sit there any more and hugged everyone goodbye.
"I'll call you if…I mean, when…I hear from her," Alice whispered in my ear. I nodded and turned to leave. I could feel their eyes following me into the darkness, knowing they were waiting for me to break down.
I wished I could become hysterical. I wished I could release the pent-up energy inside of me. Instead the tears sat, knotted up inside me at the base of my throat, aching.
Campus was incredibly quiet as I walked back to my dorm. I moved robotically through my nighttime routine and then lay awake in bed, staring through the dark at the ceiling.
I pictured Isa on a beach somewhere, in a tiny white bikini, soaking up some sunshine.
I pictured her deep in a wooded area, hiking through ferns that reached up past her head.
Then I pictured her in Hong Kong. Not that I'd ever been to Hong Kong, but I'd seen pictures and I liked the image of her, surrounded by all those people, all those lights.
I pictured her anywhere I could, except inside those burning towers.
Around two in the morning, with my eyes burning from lack of sleep, my ringing phone startled me. Frantically I leapt from the bed and grabbed it.
"She's okay," Alice cried, her words almost unintelligible. I steadied myself against the side of my desk.
"Are you sure? Where is she? Did she call or email? When did you hear from her?"
The questions poured out of me, but I couldn't stop them. Alice laughed a little, sniffling.
"She called about three minutes ago; said she'd been trying to get through all day, but the phone lines were jammed. She's in Chicago and she's fine."
I closed my eyes as the world swam around me. I wanted to ask if she'd mentioned me, if she'd passed along a message for me. I wanted to ask if she'd said when she was coming back.
"Thank you, Alice. Thank you for calling me."
The knot at the base of my throat was beginning to unravel and it made it hard to speak.
After hanging up the phone, I stood silently for a moment.
My heart began to pound in my chest, like I'd kept it tied up all day and it was celebrating its freedom. I began to shake with relief, the knowing that Isa was okay, that she was nowhere near New York City just then.
I stumbled back to my bed and sank down onto the mattress.
Earlier I'd craved the release, the untying of the knot of emotion. Now it came like a tidal wave that threatened to drown me. I leaned forward and covered my head with my arms.
Tears rolled down my face and formed a puddle on the cold tile between my feet as I began to sob.
After so much time, her voice on my cell phone was a shock.
"I need to see you."
"Isa?" I asked, taking a couple more steps away from the group. I glanced reflexively back to check if my absence had been noted. Lena, with her long limbs and cocoa skin, laughed along with Edward at one of Jasper's jokes.
"Yes, it's me," Isa said, drawing my attention back. I bit my lip without answering. Even after all of this time, Isa's hold on me was intense, but this time there was something, someone, worth denying her for.
Lena knew about her, of course. Isa held too much of my heart to be ignored.
I looked back again, thinking of the changes that Lena had brought to my life in just the six months that we'd been together. Her huge laugh and kind heart that kept forgiving me even though I hurt her continuously with my inability to give up the impossible girl who kept me tied in knots.
"Please, Ange, little bird, I need to see you," Isa said again, the urgency in her voice unmistakable this time.
I turned away and closed my eyes. Had so little changed that she would call and I would immediately go running?
Of course I would go.
"Where?" I asked finally.
"I'm at Alice's. She and Jane have cleared out for a while. Please hurry." Before I could reply, she disconnected. I snapped the phone closed and then tried to clear the stress from my face.
As I walked back to the group, Lena glanced up at me. I tried to keep my face blank as I watched her smile falter and then fade.
"Sorry guys, I gotta run out for a few minutes."
I kissed Edward and Jasper on their cheeks and then wrapped my arms around Lena's neck. I tried to apologize with soft kisses along her jaw.
Please don't be mad.
Please don't hate me.
Please be here when I get back.
Please understand why I have to go.
She stroked her hand along my waist and then pushed me away.
"Go do what you gotta do, baby. Let me know if you're going to be late."
She smiled at me and guilt crashed down around my shoulders. She was so much more than I ever deserved.
But still I went, racing down the stairwell to my car, speeding to Alice's.
Isa answered the door immediately, tugging me inside, wrapping her arms around me and burying her face in my shoulder.
"Isa?" I asked, hesitating. I'd never seen her lose control, never seen her look less than confident.
Without looking at me, she guided me to sit in a chair and then turned away, pacing back and forth.
Finally I saw her square her shoulders and she turned to look at me.
"I'm getting married."
Shards of ice pierced through me, centering on my heart then spreading through my arms and limbs until I sat, completely frozen, unable to move or speak or think.
She watched me, chewing her bottom lip and wringing her hands.
I've never actually seen anyone wring their hands in real life before, I thought distractedly. I thought people only did that in books.
"Please say something," Isa said finally.
When I finally did speak, my voice came out rough, like it had been weeks instead of moments since I'd last spoken. "I don't understand."
"Oh. Well. His name is Mike – "
"Oh my God!" I shouted. The ice splintered and the comfortable, coursing heat of anger swept through me. "Don't TELL me about him!"
Isa cringed away from me as I jumped up and took my turn at pacing.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"Sorry? Really?" I scoffed, shaking my head. "What was I really, Isa? Your youthful experimentation? Your fun little distraction until you could get back to your real life?"
Tears spilled down her cheeks. She could have cried buckets and it would not have extinguished the fiery anger burning in my stomach.
"It wasn't like that. You know how I feel about you," she whispered.
"You know what? I really don't. Because for all of your words about loving me, you never had any problem leaving me behind. And all of this time, I thought you had to…that there was something back there which called you back, away from me."
I began to cry then.
"All of this time," I whispered. "All of this time and you were seeing some guy. And now…married."
I sank down on to the ottoman, scrubbing my face with my hands. I covered my ears with my hands to block out Isa's sniffles.
My heart always broke when Isa left me, but deep down I always thought she was it for me. And eventually she would realize that I was it for her and we would live happily ever after.
Turns out you don't have to be waiting for a prince in order to be burned by the fairy tale.
Isa's cold hands came to rest on my wrists and she gently pried my hands away from my ears. She kissed my palms before resting them on my knees.
"There are things I need to say to you, please," she said softly, tilting my chin up with her fingers.
Then I knew, without a doubt, that this was goodbye.
She continued, "Ange, you have always brought out the very best of me. Who I am with you is the truest, best me."
Isa stopped, her lip trembling, as she struggled for control.
"Please don't do this," I whispered, my breath shuddering in and out of my chest as I tried to continue to breathe through the pain. She cupped her hands around my face.
"Sweet, sweet girl. I love you with all of me. But I lied to you, so long ago, when I told you I was free. I am more bound than you can imagine." She rested her forehead against mine, our breath mingling.
"Just stay here. Don't go back. You can be here, with me," I pleaded, desperate.
Even as I said it, I thought of Lena. Trusting, beautiful, sexy Lena who expected nothing more than I call her if I was going to be late. Lena who knew that I couldn't love her the way she deserved, but still loved me unabashedly. I began to cry harder.
"I can't do that, little bird. But you will always, always be home to me."
Isa leaned forward and kissed me softly, both of our faces wet with tears. She kissed me once more on my forehead and then stood.
In moments she was gone, but this time was so much worse than before. Worse than waking up alone. Worse than when I sent her away. This time I knew she wouldn't be back.
I sat there in the quiet house for what felt like hours. Finally I brushed the tears off my face and stood. If this was what she wanted, if she needed to go be with someone else despite her claims that I was home to her, then I wouldn't shed even one more tear on her behalf.
Despite her cool, collected exterior, Isa was a coward. She was afraid to face whatever it was that kept drawing her away from me.
I washed my face quickly in Alice's guest bathroom and took a couple of deep breaths. The pain still existed, but I locked it away, down deep where no one but me would ever know it existed. I would go home to my woman.
Lena was no consolation prize. She was first prize. Fierce, and strong, and beautiful, and so steady within her own self that nothing could change who she was or what she wanted.
I walked quickly to the car and drove home.
When I opened the door, Lena was facing away from me, stacking plates and glasses from our dinner with Edward and Jasper. I took a moment to study her, to really see her again. Dark curls framed her like a halo and even though I couldn't hear her, I knew she would be humming under her breath. Music lived in her like oxygen.
She turned then, dark brown eyes widening in surprise to see me standing in the doorway.
Setting the stacked plates back down on the table, she gazed at me, frowning slightly at my tear-stained, red face.
"Everything okay, baby girl?" Lena asked me softly.
My lip trembled once, but I smiled. I went to her then and took comfort in the feel of her strong arms around me. I breathed in the vanilla scent of her and, even though it wasn't Isa and part of me would always want her, I rested my hands on the swell of her hips.
"I love you," I murmured. Her arms tightened slightly around me and she gave me a shaky laugh.
"I was so scared," she admitted. "I didn't know if I'd ever see you walk through that door again. Is she…?" Her voice trailed off then, as if she didn't know how to phrase the question that she needed answered.
"It's over," I said and kissed the soft skin of her shoulder.
"Jasper, if you could just take her tomorrow night for the opening?"
"Of course, Angie, you know Edward and I love having her over."
I turned, eyes automatically scanning for Cady's small form in the sandbox. My eyes narrowed at the slender form kneeling down, talking to my daughter from several feet away.
"Jasper, I have to go." I hung up quickly and moved quickly back to Cady. I swung her up on my hip before turning to face the adult who had gotten way too close. My mouth dropped open in shock.
"Isa?" I whispered, as she smiled shyly at me.
She was different than I remembered. Older, of course, with fine smile lines around her eyes. Her hair was shorter than back then, swinging prettily around her face, ending just at her chin. But it was still Isa, with the porcelain skin and warm brown eyes.
"How are you, Ange?" She asked finally. I shifted Cady on my hip without answering. As if sensing my distress, she reached out with her tiny hands and patted my cheek.
Isa leaned in closer to say something to Cady, but I jerked her away, turning my body so that she was halfway hidden behind me.
"No," I said firmly. I tamped down the guilt at the flash of hurt in Isa's eyes.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, backing up a step. I sighed.
"Why are you here, Isa?"
When she didn't answer right away, I sighed again and walked over to the bag I had left on the park bench. I slung it over the arm that wasn't holding Cady and prepared to walk away.
"I didn't get married," Isa called. Despite myself, I paused, and then turned to face her. She wasn't looking at me, instead staring down at the ground. "I thought you should know that, at least."
Cady squirmed on my hip; she hated leaving the playground and was preparing an epic temper tantrum.
"I can't have this discussion right now," I said. "Come by tonight and we'll talk."
Isa nodded. I turned and hurried to the car, impatient to get Cady home before her tears started.
That night I paced as I waited for the doorbell to ring. Jasper had once again answered my frantic call and picked up Cady to watch for a few hours.
The chime pealed loudly through the house, making me jump even though I'd been expecting it. I smoothed a hand over my braid and then swung the door open.
Isa still took my breath away. Even after ten years of in and out, of drama and tears, and dressed simply in jeans and a blue sweater.
"Come in," I whispered, suddenly feeling very much like the insecure college freshman that I once had been.
"I brought wine," she said, stepping past me into the living room and then into the kitchen. I followed, opening the bottle of wine and pouring us both a glass. We sat at the table and just looked at each other for several minutes.
"You look good," Isa said finally, smiling. I could feel myself blushing. I was well aware of the extra fifteen pounds I carried since giving birth to Cady.
"Thanks. So do you."
We both took a drink at the same time, suddenly avoiding each other's eyes. I thought it might be best to get the awkward part over.
"So you didn't get married then?"
Isa shook her head, swallowing hard.
"No. It felt wrong. I mean, it always felt wrong because it wasn't what I wanted, but after the things you said that night, it felt even more wrong. I felt like a coward. Which I guess I was." She stopped again. I watched her fingernail lightly trace a pattern in the dark wood of my kitchen table. "Can I ask a question?"
I nodded in affirmation, watching as she chewed on her bottom lip.
"Why wouldn't you let me talk to your daughter today?" She kept her eyes on the table, but I could still see the hurt on her face.
"Isa, it's my job to protect her. She gets attached to people so easily. I couldn't…can't….risk her getting attached to you and then you disappearing again." I hated hurting her, but this was one truth I couldn't hide. She nodded and we sat in silence for a few moments. I cleared my throat.
"You were very brave not to let yourself get pressured into marrying that guy."
Isa scoffed. "Yes, they were very upset with that. I told them I was a lesbian and they threw me out."
I cringed, not knowing what to say.
"Still, it's better like this," she continued. "I learned how to make my own way. I make my own decisions now." Her voice was still soft, but the pride in it was unmistakable and it made me smile.
"I'm glad. You deserve to live your own life." I sipped from my wine glass.
"Will you tell me about her? The others…. they wouldn't tell me details. Alice said it was your story to tell."
God bless Alice.
"Sure, if you want. A few years back, my girlfriend and I decided we wanted to start a family. But we didn't want an unknown sperm donor, so I asked Jasper if he would donate. It was weird at first, but I'm glad. He and Edward are really good with her."
I took another sip of wine as I came to the difficult part of my story.
"I was right around seven months when Autumn, my partner, freaked out. She decided that it was all too much too fast, even though it was her idea to begin with. It's okay though. Cadence and I are much better off without her. And the gang loves her so much, she's actually a little spoiled by them all."
Isa smiled sadly.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. I stilled, my heart beginning to pound in my chest. Her eyes began to shine with unshed tears. "I really wish I could have been more for you back then. I wish I could have seen you beautiful and glowing and pregnant."
Tears welled in my own eyes as I thought about the way it could have been. But then, would I have my Cady? I couldn't imagine my life without her.
"I think…," I started slowly. "I think this was the way our story was meant to play out."
Isa nodded and we sat quietly.
"I live here now you know. Have for the past six months. I'm a stylist at one of the stores downtown."
She could have told me that she had seen a Martian and I would have been less shocked.
"How did I not know this?" I exclaimed, staring at her. She shrugged.
"I asked the others not to tell you. I wanted to….stick….for a while before I tried to find a place in your life again." Once again she avoided my eyes. My heart began to pound.
"Is that what you want?" I asked her softly. "Do you want a place in my life again?" Please look at me. Please be honest with me. She raised her eyes to mine.
"If you can forgive me for all of those times I hurt you. Yes, I really would like to know you again. In whatever form that relationship takes. Can you forgive me?"
I took another swallow of wine to combat the sudden dryness of my mouth. I wanted nothing more, of course. Even after ten years, this was Isa and I still loved her.
Finally I reached across the table and covered her hand with mine.
"I can try," I whispered.
I stand in the back doorway, cradling a cup of coffee in my cold hands, watching as the sun rises slowly over our back yard. I hear the soft pad of bare feet against the tiled floor and then her soft arms wind around my waist. She rests her chin on my shoulder and I smile.
"Good morning," she whispers, gently kissing the sensitive skin just below my ear. "I can't believe today's the big day."
The reminder makes me tear up and I turn to face her.
Isa in the morning is like the sun. Shining brown eyes and radiant smile.
I set my coffee down on the counter beside us and then pull her close to kiss her firmly. Leaning my forehead against hers, I indulge in the luxury of letting a couple of tears escape.
She huffs a laugh and then pulls away, wiping at the wetness on my face.
"It's going to be okay, little bird. It's just kindergarten. She has to grow up sometime."
"But she's my baby! And I can't believe she's starting school!" I wail.
"Sssshhhh….you're going to wake her," Isa admonishes me, still smiling. I sniffle and then kneel in front of her.
I place a soft kiss on the round firmness of her seven-month pregnant belly and then whisper conspiratorially to the child inside. "You won't leave me like Cady is, will you, baby Henry? You'll be Mama's boy forever, right?"
Isa snickers and then pushes me away. "Go away, woman. Go wake our daughter and get her ready for her first day of school. I'll start breakfast."
She pulls eggs and milk from the refrigerator and begins to prepare breakfast.
I watch her and can't believe we ended up here. I send silent prayers of thanks to God, Buddha, the universe in general, to whoever might be responsible for guiding her home.
Then I go upstairs because she's right. It's our daughter's first day of school.