Give Me A Reason
Word Count: 3793
Written for the Fic a Pic contest. For a link to the picture prompt and to see other entries in the contest, head on over to www . fanfiction . net / ~ficapiccontest
Disclaimer: The characters belong to SM. I just like to play with them. =)
This decision was going to be a bitch to make. I had all kinds of thoughts running rampant through my mind, various scenarios and outcomes creating images that I had no control over. Sure, the financial side of saying yes was going to be somewhat greater than my current situation, but everything else … I was looking at potentially moving my entire life to the other side of the world, leaving my family, my friends, and my business behind for god-knows-how-long. I wasn't sure that I could do that.
I took a swig of beer from the cold bottle that sat on the red brick ledge beside me and gazed out over the darkening city skyline of the only home I'd ever known. New York City was where I had grown up; it was where I had become a man and built my career as one of America's greatest architects. Hell, the building I was currently sitting on the roof of was one of my own design. It had been one of the first projects I had worked on in my early years as an architect, and I had lived in it since its completion ten years earlier. The thought of leaving it had my stomach in knots.
I reached into my right trouser pocket to pull out my packet of cigarettes and withdrew one from the box. Placing the cigarette between my lips, I pulled out my lighter and cupped a hand around the tip to block the wind as I lit it and sucked in the first relaxing breath of tobacco. I slid the lighter back into the cigarette packet and shoved it back into my pocket. A few puffs later had me feeling slightly more relaxed, but no closer to a decision.
The whole situation had started only a few hours before. Upon returning to my office after lunch, I had received a phone call from one of my sister, Alice's contacts in Japan. Makiko Tanaka's fashion design company had plans to open three more offices and five more studio warehouses around the country over the next four to six years, and she wanted me to design the buildings. She had stated that each one was to be unique; her company was best known for its individual and unusual approach to marketing, design, and appearance. She wanted her new buildings to reflect that, which I knew would be a fun and exciting adventure on my part.
There was one major catch; I would have to move to Japan.
Makiko wanted me there for the entire process – the planning, the designing, the building, the furnishing … the whole kit and caboodle. She and Alice were strong icons in the fashion design industry and often worked closely together on large international projects, so it was initially through Alice that Makiko had heard about my architectural reputation. My sister's bragging, combined with a Google search and further in-depth research, had Makiko sold on my talents. She had informed me that my "charming good looks" had also heavily influenced her choice, despite the fact that she was happily married with two children.
I was torn. As much as I wanted to jump at the chance to be an integral part of such a high-profile project, there were so many things to consider. This project would not be like my normal design projects … Makiko wanted me to spend a large amount of time working alongside her and her staff in the industry before I even picked up my sketching tools. She wanted me to have a thorough knowledge of how she operated; how she approached her work, how she liked it marketed and promoted, how she, herself, went about her own form of design. She wanted me to become one with her way of thinking in order to create the structures that would represent her and her image.
She basically wanted me to be her shadow.
Ordinarily, I would have no problem with this. However, she had expressed that this process would take up at least six of the first twelve months of the project. I honestly didn't know how I felt about that. She was asking me to put my entire life on hold in order to serve her. On the other hand, the final payout would be phenomenal and greatly beneficial to my company.
This decision sucked.
I took another swig of my beer and ran my fingers through my now messed up copper locks. My hair was usually as neat as my suit, combed back and held in place with a small amount of product. This afternoon however, upon arriving home from work I had stripped off my tie and unbuttoned my collar, dumping my briefcase, laptop, and unopened mail on the kitchen bench. I wasted no time in making a beeline for the fridge to grab a beer, pocketing my cigarettes and making my way straight up to the roof. I didn't give a damn about the condition of my suit right now.
Taking another drag of my cigarette, I exhaled with a heavy sigh and watched the smoke curl in the air in front of me and disappear into the city lights that were now bright in the early evening sky.
"Eddo!" I heard shouted joyfully from the doorway of the rooftop. Only one person ever called me that, so I instantly knew who had joined me.
"You know I hate it when you call me that, right?" I responded, bringing my cigarette back to my lips.
"Hence the reason I do it!" she grinned. "You know those things kill," she added, gesturing towards my cigarette.
"So does stress. I'd rather die from something I enjoy."
"Why not relieve your stress in other healthier ways? I've heard sex is great for that."
"You won't leave your door unlocked, so there goes that option."
I received a punch in the forearm for my comment, and my neighbour hoisted herself up on the ledge beside me. Taking the cigarette from my fingers, she brought it up to her own lips and took a long drag before stubbing it out on the brick beside her.
"You know those things kill," I mocked, repeating her earlier words.
She exhaled deeply, blowing the smoke in my face and shoving me off the ledge. I stumbled onto the cement laughing, grateful for the break from my thoughts. I turned around to face her, noticing the smug grin on her face as she kicked her crossed ankles out in front of her. I dragged over one of the old deck chairs that lay abandoned on the roof and grabbed my beer off the ledge, settling down to face her with my legs extended out in front of me.
"So, dear Bella, what brings you to the roof on this beautiful evening?" I asked.
"Oh, you know, I just had this sudden urge to harass my favourite neighbour …" she smirked.
Bella Swan and I had been neighbours for ten years. We were two of the four original tenants who still lived in the building; Bella and I occupied the two largest apartments on the top floor of the eight story building, while old Mr and Mrs Hanley lived in one of the smaller apartments on level three. The twenty remaining apartments had seen numerous tenants over the years; some more colorful than others, and most sparking some amusing rooftop conversations between Bella and myself.
"You can harass me anytime," I winked. I drained the last of my beer and sat the empty bottle down on the cement beside my chair.
"Speaking of being harassed, what had you looking so serious when I first got up here?" Bella asked. "Bad day at work?"
I shook my head. "Not a bad day … a potentially really good day for my company, in fact. I've just got a big decision to make and it's not proving very easy," I explained.
"Sucks being the boss."
I chuckled. "At times like this, yes."
"Wanna talk about it?" she asked, her face clouded with sincere concern.
"I don't even know where to begin," I admitted.
"The start always helps," she suggested with a grin. I gently kicked her bare feet with one of my shoe-covered ones.
"You love it," she quipped.
God help me, I did. Bella's quick wit and smartass humour had been my saving grace through so many tough times as I struggled to build my company. Without her neighbourly presence and friendly companionship, there was no doubt in my mind that I would have let the stress and pain of starting my own business swallow me whole many years ago. She had been there for me in times when I hadn't even realized that I had needed her. She would just show up on my doorstep with a six pack of beers, or a really bad comedy on DVD, and instantly cheer me up or take my mind of things, without me even having to ask. She seemed to just know when I needed the time out.
I trusted her with my life – she knew more about me than anyone else ever could, and I assumed she felt the same way with me. Our ten years of neighborship had morphed into the strongest friendship I had ever had, and probably would ever have. We shared everything; every heartache, every bad decision, every success, and every boring little detail of our day-to-day lives.
So I had no hesitations in spilling my current situation.
I explained everything to her, from the phone call after lunch right up to the thoughts that were circling my mind before she had appeared on the roof. She listened intently to every word I said, and didn't even try to interrupt.
"I've got until Monday afternoon to let her know," I finished with a sigh. "That's in four days. I honestly have no idea what my answer is going to be, Bella. There are so many pros and cons to each side of it."
"What is the main feeling you've got in your gut, right at this very moment?" she asked seriously.
"Honestly? Fear. Hesitation. I'm worried that, if I accept the project, spending so much time away from New York will cause my company to fall, rather than be boosted by the income."
Bella nodded slowly, her gaze focused out on something in the city skyline as thoughts seemed to run through her mind. Her eyes suddenly snapped back to mine.
"What makes you think your business might fail while you're away?"
"I don't know …" I faltered. "Maybe because I'll be leaving it in the hands of someone else while I'm in Japan? Oh, Christ …" I cursed, letting my chin drop to my chest. "I'd have to train someone up. I didn't even think of that."
I suddenly wished I'd brought a few more beers up with me.
"What else?" Bella pushed. "What are the other cons to saying yes?"
I lifted my face back up to look at her. I could see what she was doing; she was letting me voice my thoughts and feelings on the situation to help me better understand the decision I had to make. I had to admit, it did feel kind of good to be getting it off my chest.
"Leaving my family and friends behind. Em and Rose are expecting their baby a month after I'd have to leave, and I know Jazz is intending on proposing to Alice sometime soon. I'd miss all that. I'd miss being one of the first to meet my new niece or nephew, and the excitement of my sister telling me about her engagement face-to-face …"
"The time … I have no idea how long I'd have to live over there for. Makiko said the project's proposed time is four to six years, but it could take so much longer. She could change her mind on things, problems would most definitely come up in multiple areas of the project delaying completion, my initial "internship" could be longer than six months which would further delay the actual start of the project … I mean, fuck. I could be living there for ten years! Who knows what's going to happen."
Bella actually looked a little taken aback by this news.
"Ten years? You'd be gone for ten years?" she asked quietly.
I nodded. "Or longer. Then again, the whole thing could end up taking a lot less time to complete and I'd be home in five. I don't know. That's the problem … I just don't know."
"Ten years is a long time."
"A very long time in which I would miss seeing my nieces and nephews grow up. I don't want to miss that! I don't want to be the uncle who's only home for Christmas or the occasional visit every few months. Not when the rest of my family will be here all the damn time!" I cried, the frustration at my prospective future getting the better of me.
Bella shot me a sympathetic look, her shoulders slumping a little. She exhaled deeply and slid off the brick ledge, grabbing her own deck chair; I shifted my legs so that she could sit directly in front of me.
"Edward …" she started, but her voice trailed off, leaving a silence between us for a few seconds until she spoke again. "What are some of the pros?"
I thought for a moment, trying to shift my mind from the depressing thoughts that were now clouding my brain.
"The money, I guess. It's such a high profile project, and Makiko's going to be paying me more than probably necessary to work for her. It would be fantastic publicity for the company, not to mention the amazing financial benefit from it. Also, it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to work in such a challenging and exciting environment. These buildings … they'd be works of artistic design in themselves. It will be a huge challenge to design something that perfectly reflects Makiko's own design concepts."
I watched as Bella sat back into her chair, her eyes unfocused and her mind obviously a whirl with thoughts and questions. It was my turn to start asking some questions.
"What are you thinking?"
She looked at me, her face unreadable.
"I – I don't know. I'm still trying to get over the fact that you could be gone as long as we've known each other. It's kind of hard to imagine what life would be like without you here, honestly. I think I'd be lost without you living across the hall."
I froze. I hadn't even thought about not seeing her all the time. The thought of not seeing my family had definitely caused me a bit of anguish over the past few hours, but the thought of not seeing Bella … my heart suddenly constricted very tightly in my chest. That both terrified and confused me. I had never really thought about the place Bella held in my life. She was my neighbour, yes, but I was now realizing that she was my closest friend. If I had to put a label on our relationship, I would say that she was my best friend.
Another thought crossed my mind – since Bella had come into my life, I had never really seriously dated anyone. Sure, I had gone out on a few dates, taken women out to dinner, had one night stands, maybe even seen the same woman for a few weeks in a row. But I hadn't actually engaged in a long-term relationship. I guess the companionship Bella gave me had been enough. I saw her almost every day, and we often spent time in one-another's apartments for dinner, or to watch movies. Hell, we even dined out together most weeks.
Bella and I were basically in a long-term relationship, minus the physical aspect.
Come to think of it, in the entire time that I had known her, I had never seen Bella with a boyfriend who had lasted more than a month or two.
As I sat there, looking at her, I noticed the pain and great sadness that haunted her beautiful features. Her bright, joyful spark was noticeably absent, and I knew it was because of me.
I leaned forward and grasped her hands in my own, staring deep into her glassy eyes; she looked like she was on the verge of tears.
"Bella, tell me what's going through that gorgeous mind of yours," I prompted, squeezing her hands lightly.
She shook her head, pursing her lips and blinking rapidly to hold back her tears. She refused to look at me.
"I can't, Edward! You've already got a hard enough decision to make," she replied with a shaky voice.
I slipped off my chair and knelt down right in front of her, my stomach pressed up against her knees. I still kept hold of her hands.
"Please, just talk to me. I can't bear to see you so upset," I whispered.
She withdrew her hands from my grasp and brought them up to cover her face. Her shoulders began to shake as she allowed small sobs to overtake her. I reached over and wrapped my arms around her small frame, pulling her as close to me as possible. She responded by slipping her arms around my chest and burying her face in my neck – I could feel her tears dampening my undershirt.
I pulled her from her chair and arranged us so that she was sitting in my lap, holding her even tighter against my chest. I turned my head slightly to place a gentle kiss on her hair.
"Bella, please," I quietly begged, desperation lacing my words.
She hugged my tighter and sobbed heavier into my neck.
"I don't want you to leave!" she cried. She pulled back from me slightly, tears still streaming down her face as her eyes connected with mine. "I know this sounds selfish, but I don't want you to go. The first thing that crossed my mind when you said you could be gone for ten years was to tell you to say no. But that's not my place! It's not my decision to make, it's yours, and what I think and feel has nothing to do with it! It's not my place to tell you what to do."
Though she was speaking in coherent sentences, her voice was shaky and the tears continued to fall. Her eyes were bloodshot and full of pain, her nose was pink, and her cheeks were damp; she looked so broken but so goddamn beautiful at the same time.
"I should be supporting you, no matter what you decide. What I feel doesn't matter."
"On the contrary, it matters quite significantly," I said. "Bella, I have the opportunity to pack up my life here and move it to Japan for an extended period. I don't have a partner, or kids, or a mortgage, or any of that kind of thing to hold me back and keep me here. My business can be handled from Japan and by my second-in-charge here, and I can fly to and from to visit my family every few months and attend events like weddings and birthdays and what not. What I'm saying is, I don't have a reason not to say yes to Makiko."
Bella's body began to tremble as fresh sobs fought to overtake her. She swiped angrily at her eyes in an attempt to combat the tears, before sliding her hands down to cover her mouth and muffle her whimpers.
My heart felt like it was being wrenched out of my chest. I took her face in my hands and brought my forehead down to rest against hers, my eyes boring into her pools of brown.
"Give me a reason to stay," I whispered.
The words were barely out of my mouth before her lips crashed against mine in a kiss so full of passion that I was taken by surprise. Before I could respond, she had broken the kiss and retreated slightly to look me in the eyes.
"Me. The reason to stay is me."
I responded by pressing my lips against hers, making up for my previous delayed reaction. Her lips were so soft and sweet, and as I deepened the kiss, I could taste the light trace of tobacco smoke from her earlier drag.
Her hands wound up around my neck and fisted in my hair, pulling our bodies closer than they had ever been before. One of my arms snaked around her back with my hand splayed, trying to hold as much of her close to me as I could, while my other hand was tangled in her long chocolate curls, cradling her head.
Our kiss slowly ended, leaving us both breathless, panting for air. With my forehead resting against hers and my eyes closed, I tried to get my head around this new turn in the dynamic of our relationship.
"Edward, I don't know what I'd do without you in my life," Bella whispered softly, her warm breath caressing my face.
"Lucky for you, I'm not going anywhere," I replied, my decision suddenly made. What I had been stressing over all afternoon now seemed so simple, so easy.
Bella pulled back from me, causing me to open my eyes. A look of uncertainty was settled on her face.
"You're not going?"
"I'm not going."
"Are you sure? You're not just saying that because I've given you a little action?" she teased, a small smirk shining out under her tear-stained cheeks.
I chuckled. "No … I'm saying that because I want to get more than a little action from you."
She gave my chest a playful shove, before she slid her arms back around my chest and rested her head over my heart.
"You're really not going?" she asked quietly.
"I'm really not going," I replied. "I think that's the decision I've been leaning towards all afternoon. You've just solidified it for me. Bella, I don't want to be anywhere but here with you. I don't know why I haven't realized it sooner, but it's the truth. Without you, my life would be so boring and lonely. If I moved to Japan … your presence in my life would be sorely missed."
I used my hand to gently tilt her head up to mine, and placed a soft kiss upon her lips.
"Are you sure about this? What if this, whatever it is between us, doesn't work out?" Bella asked, her eyes shining with worry and uncertainty.
"Bella, we've "worked out" for the last ten years. What we have can only get better."