Hey everyone! I've had this idea for a while now and felt ready to start posting. Hope you all enjoy. :)
Massive thanks to my amazing beta Susan for being wonderful. And thanks to the lovely jedigirlsc for prereading. I'm so lucky to have them both.
The super talented time_lights made me the most perfect banner to go along with this story. You can check it out on my profile.
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all its characters.
I bring a hand up to my cheek, attempting to cool my face with the temporary coldness of my palm—a fleeting chill left over from the glass of wine I have been nursing for the past few minutes.
The room is too hot—stifling. The open fire, with its dominating mantle and chimney breast above, shifts out heat in an overwhelming abundance—the deep red of the paint on the walls only make it seem that much warmer.
The flames lick at the logs in the grate, bringing about a chorus of crackling that distracts me from the voices around me. I watch as the outer edges curl and ignite, releasing a flurry of sparks in that captivating golden yellow that just as quickly fades to nothing.
My eyes eventually drift, finding the favoured colours of Christmas: greens, golds and more red. There is a precisely decorated tree in the corner of the room; again, its size is dominating. It speaks of cheerfulness. It speaks of admiring gazes. It speaks of a false sense of comfort.
Every bauble and glittering star that hangs from the evergreen catches the light, irritating my pupils like the flash of a camera.
My Polaroid would show the face of a girl who has forgotten how to truly smile.
As I stand and ignore the condensation that trickles down the outside of my glass to my fingers, I can't help thinking that the colours—the decorations—are all wrong. White, blue and silver would be more appropriate. My skin may be flushed, but inside... inside I'm cold.
The faces and voices around me hold that excitement this time of year seems to bring. It could be the overindulgence in spirits; a look from an ex-partner you haven't seen in years; endless parties or the showing off of a new svelte figure. The reasons don't necessarily matter—it's all still here.
Children belonging to nameless mothers are huddled beneath a table, their faces partially hidden by the once-pristine tablecloth that is now stained with expanding droplets of merlot. Their hands cover their mouths to stifle their giggles and I envy that they're able to find amusement here. A part of me wants to rewind back to that age where everything is so much easier.
I want that light-heartedness back.
This brings my thoughts to the man I came here with; the same man whose smiles used to be able to instigate my own. I spot him easily, his frame so familiar to me—more so than my own image lately with the amount of time I've spent staring... spent thinking.
I notice I'm not the only one who is admiring him, but then again, if I were in their position, I'd be doing the exact same thing.
I watch from across the room as he smiles to someone who isn't me. It's crooked and genuine and has the desired effect, as the girl... no... woman touches his arm with red painted nails and a soft upturn of lips the same colour.
I take a sip from my glass, the wine cool and crisp on my tongue. If he notices me staring, he makes no move to acknowledge it.
It doesn't surprise me that he pretends I'm not here.
We've known each other for so long, I sometimes forget that hasn't always been the case. It feels like he's always been in my life, long before he'd spoken those first words to me all those years ago.
I can list off his favourite foods; his favourite sounds and sights without hesitation. At least I used to think I could—now I'm not as sure. Things are different now. He's different... I'm different. We're different.
Someone else joins them, a man in a pale blue shirt. More easy smiles are given, and this time, I want to scream. Of course, I don't. Everything is locked up inside with heavy bars and stubborn keyholes that refuse to be cracked open in front of these people.
We're at his parents' house—no doubt one of many visits we'll have to make this Christmas at any given notice. Family members I've seen numerous times before are gathered in the large room, all laughing and eating. I stay on the sidelines, not wanting to get dragged into a conversation by an aunt who feels sorry for me. I feel like I don't fit in here, not any more. Perhaps I never did.
Lately, it feels as if Edward agrees. He left me as soon as we arrived, the polite hand at my back gone as he spotted his brother and new fiancée across the room.
He didn't take me with him.
The fiancée looked like she belonged here. The small diamond earrings in her ears sparkled as she turned to kiss both cheeks of my other half like they were old friends... new friends. Either way, Rosalie Hale—soon to be Cullen—was welcomed.
I drag myself away from that line of thought and once again focus my attention on the present.
He's now with a friend Rosalie brought along. I don't know her name, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that he'd rather talk to her, than me. His wife.
I met Edward in school when we were fifteen. My family had moved to Forks, Washington from Chicago for a change of pace. Or at least that's what I told his mother on my first visit to this house. I didn't tell her the real truth, being that I was sure my parents were having marital problems. Charlie had thought a fresh start would do us all good. Renee hadn't been as sure, but she'd gone along with it. And considering my parents were still together, I guess it'd worked.
I'd heard rumours, of course. On that very first day of school, I was regaled with all the facts concerning the Cullen family.
Old money. Father is a doctor. Mother has the brightest smile. Big house on the outskirts of town. Emmett. Alice. Edward. Funny. Driven. Beautiful.
They hadn't noticed me like the other students: like Eric with his nervous babbling or Jessica with her highlighted blonde hair. But then I'd been seated next to Edward, beautiful, in English. I'd been too shy, too quiet. He'd been too indifferent, too obvious.
He'd soon changed my whole world.
We married at nineteen without telling anyone. We were young and naïve—stupid. But I was in love... so, so in love. My chest had been full with adoration and impatience to start something that perhaps we weren't ready for. And now, six years later, I know we weren't.
I now feel different emotions from those that had left me starry eyed.
His parents had been so angry, reiterating that he'd thrown his life away; my own had been more disappointed. My mother had sat me down on my twin bed and stroked my hair as she told me she'd wished I'd waited. She had married my father at the same age all those years ago, and while she repeated she loved us both, she felt she'd missed out on so much.
It was hard to hear her say those things at the time, and it still hurts if I think about it too much. But now it's for completely different reasons.
I finish the last of my wine and go in search of another. As I'm approaching the table that is laid out with foods that come in 'mini': quiches, tarts, seafood—and pastries covered in a variety of chocolate and flavoured creams—a voice I don't recognise stops me.
"Excuse me, do you know where the bathrooms are?" I'm startled—no one has talked with me in over an hour.
I look up into the face that belongs to the voice. His hair is fair and his eyes are light—grey, silvery. His skin is tanned—natural. It's obvious to see he's not from these parts.
I can feel another set of eyes on me, the familiar tingle across my skin letting me know who those eyes belong to. I don't look back; I don't want to make it easy for him.
"Hello?" And now a hand is on my arm, gentle, hesitant, drawing me out from my own thoughts.
"Sorry," I tell him with an apologetic smile. It says, see, Edward, I can smile too.
I clear my throat softly. "Right, bathrooms—there's one on the left-hand side from the door you came in through," and I point. "And there's another a little further down the hallway, again, on your left. Then there's the first floor..."
I get cut off by a laugh.
"The first two sound just fine," he says with amusement dancing across his face. The man beside him nods in thanks, and I realise the person talking to me wasn't asking for himself.
I feel my cheeks heat with embarrassment, which hasn't happened in a while—so long in fact the warmth panics me a little. I straighten my dress and look at my uncomfortable shoes instead.
"Sorry," I repeat again for the second time in the same amount of minutes. I should be used to conversing with faces I don't know. I work in an old book store that sells mostly second-hand books or new copies that aren't seen fit for the bigger chains. A page may be torn, the spine creased too much to look brand new. They still hold the same words; they just come in a less appealing package for someone looking for perfection.
"Are you a friend of the family?" he asks me, his hands moving to the pockets of his black suit trousers. His shirt is pressed—no crease in sight. I spotted two in Edward's as he exited the car.
A server walks past with his silver tray, this time filled with glasses of bubbling champagne. Before I can reach for my second drink of the night, one is handed to me by the nameless man still standing beside me.
"I guess you could call me that," I eventually answer while meeting his eyes. "Esme is my mother-in-law."
His brows meet for just a second before realisation begins to dawn. "You're Edward's wife?"
I finally look back and meet the green eyes that are still focused in my direction. His expression gives away nothing, but he wouldn't be staring if he didn't feel... something. His face is so handsome, masculine and beautiful, that if I hadn't known it for the past nine years, I would currently find it near impossible to tear my eyes away.
But I have and I do.
Instead my gaze drifts to the woman in red who has moved even closer to my husband's side. She can't be that much older than I am, but the jealousy I feel as I take in her closeness to the man who shares my bed every night, makes me feel like a child.
My words fall quietly from my mouth like whispered prayers in a church. "Yeah," I respond slowly. "That's me, Edward's wife."
There's a beat of awkward silence as we both stand and drink our champagne. Thankfully, he has the kindness to break it.
"I'm Jasper Hale," he says with an outstretched arm and open palm. As I take a closer look at his face, it suddenly seems familiar to me, but I can't place how.
I wonder why he has yet to leave and talk to another as I slip my hand into his. Perhaps he's simply too polite. "Isabella Cullen."
I'm so used to using my full name in this house, that I don't think twice about using it with him. But I immediately realise I don't want to, and quickly amend myself.
"Actually, just call me Bella. Isabella reminds me of being scolded as a child."
He laughs lightly and swirls the golden liquid around in his glass. His name finally registers with my brain and I now know where that familiarity has been coming from. "Hale... so you're related to Rosalie?"
"She's my sister," he responds with a smile, his eyes moving about the room, no doubt unconsciously trying to spot his sibling.
I'm wondering why I haven't seen him before now when he beats me to it and answers my unspoken question.
"I've been working in California for the past couple of years," that explains the tan, "but after I'd heard Rose had become engaged, I thought I'd better come see her soon-to-be-husband for myself," he grins, teeth white and perfect. "They seem well suited."
I don't disagree with him because I can't—he's right.
"Yeah, Emmett's a good guy." I don't add that he has a light-heartedness about him that the rest of the family seems to lack.
Edward used to have it... or maybe still does; just currently not with me.
He is no longer the boy who tries to make me laugh when he thinks I'm upset or out of sorts. Instead, I'm given long stares or ignored completely. And in return, I don't take his hand and lead him to our bed to share lips and hands and skin.
"How long are you staying?" I inquire, motioning to the table adorned with food for something to do other than simply stand here. He follows my lead and reaches for the same plate as I do.
"I'm not sure yet," he answers, chewing his mouthful of puff pastry. "Rose and Emmett have kindly offered to let me stay with them; so I suppose until they get sick of me I guess."
He laughs and gives me another smile and I quickly look away and grab a mini chocolate tart.
I always end up here, at one of the tables, picking at food I don't really want but looks too good to ignore; except usually I'm here alone, or with Esme as she tells me that I just have to try the lemon dessert.
We talk some more and it's easy... simple. I don't feel as awkward as I did, which is both nice and slightly unnerving. He tells me about his work—he's an architect—and I listen attentively as he describes the places he's been and the jobs he's done; sunny states and the cobbled streets of Italy. I can see it all play out in my mind; imagine the light behind my eyelids and warmth on my skin. The images make me envious.
I see the same things day in, day out.
"What is it that you do, Bella?" he asks as he brushes his hand through his hair, the action so like Edward it makes me long to turn around and seek him out again... simply because I can.
"I work in a book store in Port Angeles," I reply, thinking of the building with its worn frames at the window—that is in serious need of a new coat of paint—and its friendly bell above the door that welcomes its visitors. I can sometimes get lonely working there, but I feel safe... at home with the unwanted items that line the shelves, waiting to be picked.
"So I take it you like to read?" he states, his eyes teasing. I chuckle and glance to the floor as I nod my head.
"I really do," I tell him as I see Carlisle approaching, his son in tow—just sadly not the one I want.
I don't say anything further, as I see no point, and set my glass aside with a deep breath.
"Jasper!" There is an enthusiastic voice and his hand becomes engulfed in my father-in-law's. Emmett comes to stand beside me and gently knocks his hip to mine.
"This party is so damn boring, huh?" he whispers, giving me that dimpled smile that the girls at school used to fall for time and time again. Everything about Em is infectious, and I don't even realise I'm smiling until I feel my own lips start to twitch.
"It's okay... the same," I answer, linking my hands against my stomach. He gives them a squeeze, making me feel better about present company.
Carlisle is talking about something I can't add to—I'd missed the start of the conversation. He's a good man and loves his family, but sometimes I can't help thinking he isn't that fond of me. He's never been anything but pleasant and polite, yet I continue to feel nervous around him... always on edge. I find myself questioning whether I'm good enough for his family; they have money, and well, mine don't. Charlie is a police chief of a small town and Renee works at the local florist a few days a week. While I never went without when growing up—there was always money for school trips and that book I wanted—we didn't have the means to splurge on expensive cars or new TVs.
The differences in our upbringings never bothered me once when Edward and I started dating as teens—I guess you don't really think about those things at such a young age.
The only thoughts in my head had been whether he'd wanted to kiss me as I did him, and how soon I could see him again.
And while I still think about whether he wants to kiss me when I catch his eyes darting to my mouth, it's now joined by a chorus of other things too; mostly why he doesn't seem to want to as of late, what I'd done to make him stop, and when he does, why he pulls away so soon.
Our communication has become lost, buried beneath sand or trapped in that bottle floating out to sea. The longer we leave things unsaid, the further it wanders out of our sight until we can no longer spot the early morning light bouncing off the glass as it drifts and drifts and drifts.
Carlisle suddenly meets my eye and smiles a polite smile that instantly makes me question its truth.
"Isabella, you look as lovely as always." He steps forward to press a light kiss to my face—I angle my head, offering my cheek, his touch fleeting before gone.
He is soon talking to Jasper once more; I am again forgotten. And for the first time tonight, I find I don't mind it.
I excuse myself quietly to Emmett, catching Jasper's eye to send him a small nod before I walk away, my shoes soundless against the pale carpet. I walk until I find the opposite side of the room. I walk away until I can no longer hear the laughter of the girl in red.
I purposefully search out Esme, needing her constant chatter to keep my mind busy, sitting dutifully when she pats the seat next to her. I listen to talks of planned vacations with a group of women who all look alike.
Maybe an hour passes before I manage to slip away, my head full of European cities.
I look around for something I'm not even sure of finding, but then Edward is standing beside me, keeping my gaze for much longer than he has any right to. The warmth of his hand burns through my dress, though he's barely touching my arm. The top buttons of his shirt are undone, giving me glimpses of skin beneath cotton. I turn and discover eyes on him once more; varying colours linger and burn. He is forever a spotlight in the dark.
I fight the urge to shift away from his circle.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. Reviews will get a teaser for the next chapter. I'm hoping to keep a regular posting schedule.
However, I will keep Evading Edward as my first priority until it's finished.
Thanks so much for reading.