Love Is In the Air O/S Contest

Title: The Gum Whisperer

Rating & Any Needed Warning: M

Word Count: 7,815

Pairing: Bella/Edward

Summary: Edward Cullen never believed he could enjoy the time spent waiting around in the airport. That was before he met the Gum Whisperer and learned more about hot air and humanity that he ever expected.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to Twilight.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -

The First Flight

The first time I saw her, I was faced with a life-altering decision. I barely heard the words she spoke as I stared at the objects in my hand, contemplating the philosophy of choice.

If I chose my left hand, I ventured into new territory, the rush of the unknown and the possibility of disappointment. On the other hand, literally, rested familiarity and tradition, the certainty of function and pleasure.

Those were the primary factors to consider before I looked up from my hands to see her face. She was just a girl, of course, but she had the most beautiful face I'd ever seen, with wide, chocolate eyes and bee-stung lips. Her words flowed from those lips for the second time, piercing my momentary stupor. What she said was profound, and again, life-altering.

"Wrigley's or Orbit?"

Oh yes, that was the question, wasn't it? The new or the old, the certain or the tentative… what I'd already had or what I had never tried. Go ahead, jump over the edge, be bold, be daring…

"Hard decision, right?" she asked, with no sigh of mirth or condescension.

I could only nod in agreement, lost once again in her eyes.

"See, the thing is, Wrigley's is old-school, right? But old-school isn't necessarily a bad thing. Orbit's all shiny and modern in its little cigarette-case package. Life is all about the packaging, you know. Sadly, most people never really consider the crucial point." She leaned on her elbows from behind the counter, staring at me as if she understood the weight behind my decision.

"And what is the crucial point?" I asked, surprised that I found my voice.

"The taste. Does the packaging make it taste any better or worse?"

I considered that for a moment. "It makes no difference, unless the company puts more resources into making it look better, emphasizing less on the taste."

"Exactly. Technically, wrappers are meaningless. It's about what lies inside, the same as people."She crossed her arms over her chest, and I tried very hard not to stare.

"What do you mean?"

"People are exactly like gum. Wanna know why?" She leaned closer to me, again on her elbows.

I found myself mirroring her position across the hard surface of the counter. "Yeah, I wanna know why."

"Look at the display for a second." She pointed to the large case of varied gums to the side of the register.

I took inventory of them, paying attention to each brand and the way they looked, the way they were packaged.

"What do you see?" she asked.

"Well, there's the old-school, like you said. Wrigley's and Dentyne and Juicy Fruit, and even Chiclets. Then there are the new classics like Orbit and Ice Breakers, and also the hot, exotic kinds like 5. Oh yeah, there's the kid-friendly ones, too, like Bubbleyum and Fruit Stripes."

"And what do they mean?" she persisted.

As I stared into her eyes, sparkling from something, I understood her point. "It's about assumptions, isn't it? What you think you'll find when you peel the wrapper away."

Her smile blinded me. "Wow. You might be the first person I've ever asked that gave a right answer."

I laughed. "Do you do this with everyone who buys gum?"

"Oh, no. Definitely not, just the ones who look like they have a brain. I'm usually disappointed."

"So you're some sort of gum philosopher then?" I ignored the compliment that she thought I had a brain; I didn't want to make her change her mind.

"I guess so. Gotta keep myself occupied somehow. I always try to match people with the gum they are and the gum they think they are before I see what they choose," she said with a smirk.

That door was left wide open. "So, what gum am I, and what gum do I think I am?"

"Ooh, that's not fair. You'll start to figure out my secrets if I tell."

I wanted to know those secrets, badly. "Tell me anyway. I won't pass it on, I swear."

"Hmm." She contemplated the situation while she tapped her lips with one finger. "No, not right now. The gum speaks to me, and I can't betray its chewy wisdom. I'll leave you with one more piece of philosophy, pun intended: life is about the way people package themselves because of wrapper assumptions. It's a vicious cycle, the push and pull of stereotype versus true identity." She was still smiling, but the sharpness of her mind lent an edge to her humor.

"Okay, I changed my mind. You're not a gum philosopher. You're the gum whisperer." I grinned at her.

She gave me the gift of a genuine, hearty laugh, heard so rarely in my dismal corporate world. "I'll take it! So, which one?"

She pointed to my hands, still clutching the choices. I knew the answer, because if she was unwilling to give anything away, so was I.

"Both," I asserted, handing over my debit card.

"Ah, you're a cocky one, aren't you?" She swiped the card and paused as she looked at it.

"Something wrong?" I asked, worried that the magnetic strip was worn out again.

"Not at all. Just seeing if your name matches your wrapper, Edward." She winked.

"Okay, now that really isn't fair. You're making all sorts of assumptions, and I have nothing to go on myself. Gimme something, please?" I practically begged in a flippant way.

She blushed for some reason, but rather than betraying her embarrassment, the rosy stain made her look like Snow White in the best possible way.

"Bella…my name is Bella."

I nodded sagely. "Well, it seems that your method works well. Your name certainly matches your wrapper."

"So are you purposely this cheesy or is it just a natural thing?" She taunted.

"Hey! It's your language said because of your concept. I'm not to blame for the cheese."

"True, true. Still, I want to blame you, so I will. Don't you have a flight to catch or something?" She didn't say it like she wanted to get rid of me; it was more out of concern.

I glanced at my watch and choked a little. "Crap! Well, it's been…great, Bella. Have fun with the gum whispering."

"Will do, and you have a nice flight." She waved at me a little as I walked backwards.

I caught her gaze for the split second before I had to turn a corner, dashing to my gate just as the doors were closing.

As I settled into my comfortable routine on the plane, all I could see was brown eyes and gum wrappers. I took out a piece each of the Wrigley's and the Orbit and began to chew them at the same time. The plane taxied and took flight, my ears failing to pop since the gum was doing its job. I smiled to myself, thinking that my weird combination tasted great.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -

The Second Flight

Go screw yourself, Mr. McPsycho, and your little dog, too. Scratch that. I like dogs.

I once again found myself waiting in the security line at Seatac Airport, disgruntled and desperately wishing that I could switch jobs. It wasn't an option at the moment, but a guy could dream.

Apparently, Emmett McCarty, AKA "The Boss," decided that I did such a good job handling the groundbreaking of the company's new L.A. branch last Monday that I was assigned weekly supervisory duties in perpetuity. I would have to fly to SoCal every Monday and spend three days there. The only good side was that I got a long weekend all the time.

I cleared security with only one repulsive, leering look from the female TSA agent running the body scanner (screw those things by the way), and tried to figure out what to do with the hour I had left before boarding. After purchasing my coffee/bagel breakfast, there was only thing left.

I headed to my usual snack/magazine/gum kiosk, changing my mind at the last minute. You see, the last week, the line had been absurdly long, so I had gone to a different kiosk closer to my terminal, the one with the girl. Bella.

I veered away, deciding that the usual might just have to change if she was there again. And she was. It was a rare sunny day in Seatac, the weather by the airport usually worse somehow than even Seattle proper. The light flooded in the huge windows overlooking the runways, illuminating the auburn in her hair, setting it on fire.

Even the dorky, chartreuse polo she had to wear for work did nothing to dim her beauty. Whenever I traveled on business, I always dressed casually for the flight, preferring to change into my suit when I arrived, but I may have…maybe, worn it on purpose that day.

I snuck around the kiosk to pick up a newspaper before settling in line. The gum would wait until I could speak to her. It was usually slow at the airport in the middle of the day, so there was no one in line behind me, for which I was supremely grateful. As I approached, her eyes were focused on the counter where she counted the change the last customer left.

"I'd like to buy some gum, but I think I might require your assistance," I said, immediately grimacing at my cheesiness.

She started to smile before she even looked up. Her eyes were just as lovely as I remembered, and I forced myself not to stare at her.

"Hey, you!" she said in a happy way.

"Hey, yourself."

"Hmm, I think I prefer our actual names rather than pronoun replacements. It's sort of impersonal." She winked as she had before.

"You're probably right, Bellllaaaa…" I dragged out the syllables of her name, thinking about the way my tongue wrapped around the "L"s in a pleasant way.

And there was that rosy stain. "You remembered. That's kind of surprising."

My forehead crinkled in puzzlement. "Why?"

"Maybe not for you. You're sort of an alien-man, you know."

"Is that a compliment or an insult?" I asked, entirely with mirth.

"Compliment. Definitely a compliment. Okay, what's your gum of choice this fine day?"

"You tell me," I said.

"Nope. No way, you sneaky alien. My secrets are known only to a select few. You have to prove yourself worthy of their keeping." She crossed her arms, again as she had before, and again I mirrored her.

"And how do I go about that?"

She just stared at me for a minute. "How often are you here?"

The change of direction took me by surprise. "Um, every Monday now. It's a work thing."

I wasn't sure what her burgeoning grin was for. "Okay then, you have to correctly guess the two gum personas for five people."

"How am I supposed to be right when I don't know the method?"

"Method is individual. You either have it or you don't, so I guess we'll find out." She smirked.

"Fine, but I get one example…" she opened her mouth to argue. "No, no, just wait. I don't need the reasons or the process, just the end result. For one person."

"Not you. Don't think I'm ignorant of your sneaky ways, and I absolutely will not tell you what your gum is." She was adamant.

I held my hands up in surrender. "Fine, fine, you win. A random person then, the next one in line."

"Okay, deal." She looked past my shoulder briefly. "And we don't have long to wait. Target incoming, brace yourself for impact."

I chuckled loudly, drawing the attention of several passersby, but I didn't give a crap. I stepped aside, pretending to stare intently at a rack of magazines near the register. I caught Bella's eye several times between glances at the customer, a middle-aged fellow with a receding hairline and beer belly. He wore a suit, but it was cheap and had that polyester sheen.

He loaded up on snacks and men's magazines, and I was almost afraid he wouldn't buy gum at all before he grabbed something from the display. Before I could see the brand, I looked at Bella, willing her to meet my gaze. Her brown eyes were inquisitive, and I held up my hand with all the fingers extended to indicate "5."

Her brow rose as she nodded approvingly. Yes! I was on the right track, simultaneously wondering why I found it so important to impress her with my gum-guessing skills. As soon as the man paid, I returned to lean on the counter.

"Okay, alien. Gimme your guesses," she demanded. "You said 5 for what he picked, right?"

"Yep, and I stick with that. Pun intended." I winked

"What flavor?" she persisted with loud laugh.

I blushed for some reason. "I don't really know the flavors. Sorry."

"Bad boy! Just give me a guesstimate since the flavors are pretty standard. They hide under fancy names, that's all."

I stopped blushing and felt a little funny when she said bad boy. I wanted her to say it again.

"Well, whichever is the sexy flavor. There's always the exotic one, so I'm going with that since he thinks he's hot stuff," I said.

"Pick it." She gestured to the display.

I pondered the row of 5 for a second before selecting Elixir. It had this reddish-blush color on the package that seemed "hot" combined with the name.

"Now pick what he really is," she continued.

I didn't hesitate for that one, setting them both on the counter in front of her.

She burst out laughing. "Hubba Bubba? That's genius. Now give me reasons."

"Well, I think Bubba is an appropriate moniker for our pudgy little friend, and I'll just bet he blows a lot of hot air."

Her gaze settled on my eyes, and she remained still long enough to make me squirm. "Oh yeah, you definitely have it."

"It?"

"The thing. The correct-gum-guesser thing."

"Good to know. What were your picks?" I pressed.

"Since you got it right, I don't really have to say." She was back to smirking, the little moment of odd seriousness dissipated.

"So you're saying that we had the same picks, then?"

"There can be more than one correct assessment," she said.

"Just tell me. You said you would." I did that pouty-little-boy thing with my lip that my sister always said could get me anything.

It made Bella blush again for some reason. "Fine, you win. I predicted the 5 as well, but he's really an Icebreakers IceCubes , although I really, really like Hubba Bubba."

"Why IceCubes?"

"Because he's totally square," she said, not able to contain a huge burst of laughter.

I joined her until my eyes watered, because I couldn't help myself. After several minutes, by which time Bella was sort of splayed over her counter with her forehead knocking against it, I noticed through my foggy vision that several customers who obviously intended to purchase something veered away with sneers and oddly raised eyebrows.

"Hey, I think I'm costing you business right now."

She glanced up at the quickly retreating non-customers. "Screw them and their lack of humor. This is the most fun I've ever had at this job."

I couldn't smother the absurd, cocky grin that spread over my face. "Really?"

"Oh, yeah. Totally." She leaned over the counter to whisper, "Working at a newsstand-slash-kiosk-of-crap in the middle of a busy airport isn't really a dream gig."

I remained too close to her, maybe even leaning in a little more. "Why did you want to work here then?"

She didn't seem to mind my proximity, but she did seem to start inhaling in an odd way. "Well, I love airports. I really, really love airports, so I thought it would be fun to work in one, and this was the only job that was hiring when I applied."

"There are a lot of questions that I have about what you just said, but first, why do you love airports?"

Her lovely face took on a dreamy, faraway look. "I love traveling and just flying in general, and coming and going, and people watching. Airports are so exciting! I mean, there's the constant tension from security, but at the same time, people are just people. Sometimes I spend my breaks at the balcomy that overlooks baggage claim. I like to see all the reunions and greetings…it's all really happy. Where else can you watch people from all over the world and realize that underneath the languages and the clothes, we're really just the same?"

I peered into her wide eyes, alight with passion. "You're right. I never thought about it that way."

"Most people don't." Her expression fell a little. "I don't love it any less, but it kind of sucks watching all these people get to fly every day while I'm stuck here selling them gum. Every once in a while, I'd like to be the one who gets on the plane."

"Hasn't another position opened up? I mean, so you could have more time to fly?" I asked, somehow very sad for her.

She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know really. I haven't checked in a while. I guess I should, but I don't want to stop working in the airport yet so my options are limited."

My burning curiosiosity took over, desperate to know anything about her. "What are your skills? Maybe you should look outside of retail as well."

"My, that's a very serious expression on your face." She laughed, poking a finger into the crease on my forehead to smooth it out.

I just let her do it until she dropped her hand. My face flushed, and the spot where her skin touched my felt like a bee stung it.

"I'm a serious sort of fellow," I said for lack of anything else.

"Oh really? If you say so, Hubba Bubba. As for skills, I did that stupid thing in college where you major in communications because you can't think of anything else. Along with a bazillion other people."

"I don't know, and airport seems like an ideal place for a supposedly useless communications degree. You should look around," I insisted.

"Fine, fine. I will. I swear. Now, not to brush you off or anything, but once again, don't you have a flight to catch?" she asked, slightly concerned.

For the second week in a row, I glanced at my watched, said "shit," and madly scrambled to collect my things. I hesitated for a moment.

"You need gum," she said, smiling. "Which one?"

"All three," I said, satisfied that she seemed to understand when she grabbed packs of Hubba Bubba, IceCubes, and 5 and shoved them at me.

"Pay me next week, Edward." She grinned.

"Count on it!"

I backed away again, and when I got to my gate, the poor flight attendant must have thought I was insane from the idiotic grin plastered on my face.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -

The Third Flight

Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to head to the airport an hour earlier than usual. Maybe she would think I was a stalker or just get completely annoyed that I hung around her kiosk for so long. Maybe I should have worn my suit again instead of the way-too-casual jeans and tee combo that was my typical attire.

Maybe I needed someone to slap me on the back of the head and tell my internal ramblings to shut the hell up.

Or maybe I just needed to see the enormous smile that took over her face when she spotted me approaching. There was a youngish woman at the counter between us, staring at the gum display. Bella flashed me a raised-eyebrow look, and I knew I only had a few seconds to make my guesses. I veered off to the side so I could see the woman's face, and the answers came to me surprisingly fast.

I rocked back and forth on my heels with my hands stuff in my pockets as the woman paid, quickly claiming my spot in front of Bella once she was gone.

"Okay, Edward, the heat is on. Give it to me," she said in a way that led my mind to sultry places.

I shook it off as subtly as I could. "She thinks she's an IceBreakers Frost, but she's really Mentos." I nodded confidently.

"You've been doing research!" she exclaimed with a weird amount of glee.

I could feel myself blush, feeling all kinds of pathetic for spending hours over the past week actually studying gum. "Um…maybe. How did you know?"

"Frost is new. Like, brand new. We just started carrying it this week, and you definitely would not have known about it if you weren't brushing up on your brands, mister."

"Well, I don't want to lose," I said sheepishly.

"That's way overkill, and kind of awesome. Now give me reasons," she demanded with an expression I couldn't quite decipher.

"She thinks she's all that. I mean, she wants to be aloof and hip and edgy, so the new trendy gum with the cold exterior is perfect. Really, she's incredibly boring and non-descript like Mentos."

"Very interesting. Although she was sort of hip," she said pensively.

"Really? I guess that's how non-hip I am. I don't even recognize it," I mumbled.

"Hip is overrated. I guessed her as a Trident Layers and a Chiclet."

"So what did she really buy?"

Bella laughed, loudly. "Lifesavers."

"Candy?"

"No, gum. It's just like the candy only…not. Guess we can't win 'em all," she said, and I instantly pouted.

"So I lose this one? That's sad."

"Nah, I'll give it to you. I think we were both right. So, you have an earlier flight today?" She leaned over on the counter as she usually did, her bright eyes assessing me through her dark lashes.

I cleared my throat. "Um…not really, no."

"Oh? You're here earlier today."

"Yeah..." I ran my fingers through my hair nervously. "I was…bored I guess."

"I guess so if you actually wanted to spend more time at the airport than you have to." She winked.

"Hey, I thought you loved airports?" I teased so I wouldn't give myself away too much.

"I do, but you don't."

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Because last week, you didn't immediately get why I like spending time here. It's okay, most people don't."

"Well now, that's not fair. Maybe I didn't like airports because thus far, I've only really spent time in them while waiting for some dreaded business crap to happen. Dislike by association. A fellow can change, you know," I said as I leaned on the counter to mirror her position.

"Can he now? I don't know about that. What in the world could so fundamentally shift an ideology?" She smirked.

Was she flirting with me? No, no way. Why would a girl like her flirt with a boring, stumbling idiot like me?

I didn't really want to flirt back, since it wouldn't be back if there was no flirting in the first place, and I wasn't sure I even knew how. Maybe honesty was best, but not too honest, 'cause it would be bad to reveal that I had a massive crush on her…

Whoa. That came from nowhere.

I knew I was flushing madly, but I struggled to respond in some non-loser manner. "Um, I don't know. Pleasant company perhaps?"

She looked startled. "Really? That's like…really nice."

"Why are you so surprised? I won't philosophize on gum with just anyone, you know." Hmm, that was bold and so unlike me.

"Yeah, guess so." She grew very quiet, almost nervous.

Crap.

I didn't really know what to say, but I didn't want to just leave.

She spoke before I could dig myself into a massive hole of flummox. "So, hip-lady's gum choice today?"

"But of course. I'm trying everything all at once." I handed her the cash for last week as well.

"You don't have your coffee and bagel today," she commented as she made change, all of which I dumped into the tip jar which resulted in a deep blush on her end.

"Oh, yeah. I haven't gotten it yet, 'cause I was early and all." I smiled at her.

"You take the eleven o'clock flight, right?" she asked.

"Yeah, to L.A."

"Well, I have a break in a few minutes." She eyed me almost anxiously, still leaning on the counter.

Holy crap. Was she really doing what I thought she was doing? There was no way I could ask her to have coffee with me…no freaking way. I just did not have the guts for that…

But what if she thought that I didn't want to? What if things got weird because I couldn't muster the courage to indirectly tell her that I liked her? What if I couldn't spend my Monday pre-flight hour guessing people's gum personas with her? That would suck beyond…really sucky things.

"Um…yeah…you wouldn't? I mean, you wanna…do you want to come with me to get my coffee? I mean, not like oh hey, come watch me get coffee, but like…do you want some coffee, too?" I had to restrain myself from face-palming over my own idiocy.

She didn't laugh at me though, not even a little. "Yeah. I could really use some caffeine."

I genuinely smiled then, watching as she fetched her purse and said something to a girl I'd never noticed before. She was a tiny, short thing with black hair that was perched behind the counter on the opposite side of the kiosk. I could barely see her head above the middle partition that held the "bad" magazines wrapped in foil.

Bella swung the counter panel up and locked it before coming to stand next to me. She was shorter than I thought, her head coming to just below my shoulder. The kiosk floor must have been raised a little.

"So…you're a coffee person?" I asked randomly for no apparent reason as I started to head to my usual Starbucks in the main terminal area.

She giggled a little. "Yeah, why?"

"No reason. I just thought maybe you might be a tea-drinker."

"Ah, now you've entered into a whole new philosophizing territory…hey, you go to the one in the central terminal?" she asked abruptly.

"Yeah, why?"

Her nose wrinkled, and she stopped walking. "Don't go to that one. Mike Newton works there, and he's a complete douchebag. Anytime he serves a guy who's more attractive than him, he overcharges."

My eyes went wide at her comment at the same time she realized what she'd said. She blushed profusely and looked at the floor. I decided not to say anything, even though I really, relaly wanted to.

"Well, I guess that's why my pre-flight latte costs me seven bucks every week. I thought it was just airport surcharges or something." My casual tone diffused her embarassement, thank God.

"Yeah, that's ridiculous." She finally looked up again, but didn't meet my eyes. "Where's your gate?"

"Concourse A."

"There's a really good one there. Nice people, no overcharging, and you'll be closer for your flight this way." She shrugged, clearly struggling to overcome her ego-boosting gaff.

"Sounds good. Thanks for the warning, too. You've probably saved me hundreds of dollars in the long run."

We chatted about everything and nothing on the way to Starbucks, argued about who was buying her coffee (me…I won of course), and parked ourselves at a tiny table just outside of the storefront. At the time, every impassioned word she said about post offices, cat people, Radiohead, and the existence of the Yeti was intensely fascinating, but later…

Once I was settled on the plane after barely making my flight, again, even though we literally sat next to the gate, all I could remember of my time with her was her smile and her laugh and her deep, brown eyes. My crush was going crush me.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -

The Fourth Flight

"Freedent, because she wants traditional without going for Wrigley's, and Big Red for obvious reasons." I chuckled as I gave her my picks.

"And the guy?"

"Exactly the same, because they're twins. I mean, really. It's like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum."

She pondered for a moment with her head resting on her tented fingers. "Okay, you got them both. I pegged them as Juicy Fruit and Big Red as well, so yeah, you're getting better at this."

"So that's a double whammy, then? I have four correct guesses?" I asked, anxious to get that much closer to her secrets.

"Wow, yeah. Only one more to go. That happened fast," she said with an odd look on her face.

"Is something wrong today? You look sort of down." I hoped my observation didn't offend her.

I watched a series of emotions flicker across her face too quickly to identify. We sat across from each other at Starbucks again, because I went to the airport early for the second week in a row. I really hated that I only got to see her on Mondays, but I couldn't figure out how to fix that without sounding like a moron. Maybe I was overcomplicating things, but I was really scared of the possibility that my giant adult crush was completely one-sided and that she only wanted a friend.

"It's nothing," she interrupted my reverie. "Just paperwork stress."

Hmm. What kind of paperwork did she have to do at a newsstand? She wasn't even the manager; she'd told me the short, black-haired girl was.

"Yeah, I know how that is," I said for lack of anything better.

She seemed to shake off the weird mood. "Hey, when do you fly back from L.A. every week?"

"Oh, um, Wednesday nights. I work here on Thursdays to update the old boss, and then I have every Friday off."

"Still US Airways?" she asked with something resembling strategy lurking in her eyes.

"Yeah, why?"

"Oh, no reason. Just curious." She flashed me a blinding smile that I knew was meant to distract me.

It worked beautifully, but I still knew that she was keeping something from me. I decided to take advantage of her momentary silence to ask something I'd thought of on the plane the week before.

"What time do you start your shift on Mondays?"

"Way too early, eight a.m." She grimaced adorably.

"You want to grab breakfast next week? I don't usually eat anything before I come here, because I'm an unhealthy idiot, but I thought maybe we could do the coffee-slash-bagel thing earlier and pretend to be normal." I spat it all out in a garbled mess, fighting down the fear of rejection.

She gave that weird stare she did sometimes. "You would come to the airport three hours earlier than you have to just for breakfast?"

"Duh. I already get here at nine, so what's a little less sleep? Pleasant company and all that." I grinned at her in hopes of diffusing the strange atmosphere surrounding us.

"Well then, of course I want to have breakfast. Duh," she echoed with a nervous smile.

"Good. It's a d…it's settled." I glanced at my watch out of habit. "It's also time for me to say shit and run for the gate."

I began gathering my things, and as I slung my jacket over my arm, I quickly pulled out a business card from the pocket and threw it on the table before I could chicken out.

"Hey, if you're running late or something next week, text me so I don't worry."

Oh, God. So, so lame.

"You would worry about me?" she asked, surprised.

"Of course. You're my friend, right?"

Please say yes, please say yes.

There was a strange combination of happy smile and crestfallen eyebrow on her face. "Right, Edward. Of course."

I tried to muster my biggest smile before I backed away towards the gate. I had to look forward to hand over my ticket, and when I turned for one last glance, she was gone.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -

The Fifth Flight

My fingers tapped my bag in a nervous drumbeat as I sat in the taxi on the way to the airport. I had been unsettled the whole week because of that last, strange glimmer of anxiety in her eyes. She had seemed disappointed when I called her my friend, but I couldn't really understand why she would feel that way. I knew she liked me or she wouldn't want to spend time with me at all. And thus far, we'd spent quite a bit of time together every Monday, as much as we could.

So, if she liked me but didn't like the friend label…hmm. Maybe I wasn't too stupid to figure that one out. I didn't want to buy into my own moment of arrogance, but was it really all that arrogant to consider the idea that she might be attracted to me?

I very sincerely hoped it was possible since I found myself in some sort of nerve-ridden state somewhere between falling for her and having already done so.

I passed through security as quickly as I could, almost immediately realizing that we hadn't decided where to meet. I headed to the usual Starbucks on Concourse A since that seemed to be the logical place, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I spotted her burnished-brown hair as it caught the morning light.

"Hey," I lamely said as I plopped into the chair across from her.

I was caught off guard by her look. She seemed…calculating. She wasn't nervous or downcast as she had been, and she appeared to be in good spirits if her blinding smile was any judge.

"Hey yourself," she said.

"Oh, we're back to pronouns, are we?"

"Fine. Hey, Edwaaarrdd…" she drawled as I had done weeks before.

I watched her tongue wrap around the "r"s, momentarily dumbfounded by the sexiness of it all.

"You awake?" she asked, staring at me with amusement in her eyes.

"Um, not really, no. Coffee?" I stood again to buy breakfast.

"Yeah, a grande white mocha and oatmeal. Two brown sugars, no nuts," she said confidently.

I raised my eyebrow. "What, no debate on who pays this time?"

She just looked at me and shook her head. I turned away before I could say something stupid and went to buy us the meal that made it seem like I was on a real date.

It really felt that way as we ate together for the next hour, conversing freely and brushing our fingers every now and then as we reached for napkins at the same time. All too soon, her cell phone beeped from its perch on the table.

"Sorry, Edward. My shift starts in five minutes." She blushed a little, and her hand reached across the table even though there weren't any more napkins.

"Oh, no it's fine. Don't want to be late to work. I'll walk you back," I said, rising from my chair and offering my own hand, desperately hoping that she'd take it.

She did. I'd never understood the whole help the chick from the chair thing apart from the obvious politeness factor, but I welcomed the excuse to touch her. I squeezed her hand far harder and far longer than was remotely necessary, but she didn't seem to mind. We both dropped the connection awkwardly once we were headed back to her kiosk.

Once she'd settled behind the counter, she broke the silence. "So, what are you going to do until takeoff?"

I chuckled since I thought the answer was obvious. "I'd planned on gawkily loitering here and warding off all your customers with my obnoxious laughter."

"Really? I'd welcome the gawk, but you have two and half hours to kill. Don't you want to sit somewhere?" She smirked with crossed arms.

She was testing me, the little minx. This was a very promising sign.

"Sitting is overrated," I claimed. "Besides, I have one more person to guess."

"So you do. Okay then, prepare for the most boring block of time ever."

"Not a chance."

We spent the next two hours that way, alternating conversation with skulking around the kiosk whenever a customer appeared. No one was buying gum though, and I worried that I wouldn't have a chance to figure out her method until the next week.

Finally, it got too close to my departure to risk. "It's almost time for takeoff, Bella."

"Oh. Yeah, right. Too bad that fifth guess didn't happen." She looked down, as if she was disappointed that I had to leave.

I really hoped that was the case, and that she'd catch my meaning when I said, "Well, I still have one more chance today, right?"

"What do you mean?"

"Can I guess you?" I waited with the proverbial bated breath, my heart pounding in my chest because I'd finally figured her out.

She hesitated. "That's really personal."

"I know."

"I won't be able to tell you if you're right. It will say more about you than it does me," she persisted.

"Don't you know your own gum?" I teased, trying to lighten her suddenly serious mood.

"No one knows their own gum. That's sort of the point."

"Then I guess you'll find out more about me, okay?" I asked, unwilling to move forward without her consent.

"Yeah, okay."

I inhaled deeply, catching her coffee-and-vanilla scent, staring straight at her. "You think you're Stride, mostly old-school but fresh enough to barely escape being Wrigley's. Sort of non-descript and mediocre. The safe choice. In reality, you're Eclipse. Around long enough to be a modern classic, but more importantly, you overshadow everything around you and have no idea that you're doing it. All anyone sees is you."

She looked shocked, and I could practically see the movement of her heart beating in her chest. "Anyone?"

"Probably, although I can't say for sure about anyone other than me."

She tried to smile but seemed a little frozen. "Next week, Edward. I'll see you next week."

I forced myself not to screw up by saying anything at all, flashing my biggest, dorkiest grin as I walked backwards towards my gate.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -

The Sixth Flight

She wasn't there.

Even though we hadn't arranged anything, I went early for breakfast again, but I couldn't find her anywhere. Exactly at eight o'clock, I arrived at her kiosk to find her usual perch behind the counter occupied by the short, black-haired manager. I was incredibly nervous as I approached her. Nervous and a little heartbroken.

"Um, hi." Oh yeah, that'll communicate well.

"Hello. You're Edward, right?" she asked with a smirk that told me she already knew the answer.

"Yeah. Is Bella working today?"

"No man, she quit. Her last day was yesterday." The girl studied me, but I didn't bother to rearrange my features into something pleasant.

She quit. Bella stopped working at the airport because of me, because I was the worst idiot ever. Why did have to lie to me though? She said she'd see me the next week which meant that day. She should have been there, behind the counter, to see me.

"Oh." It was all I could manage.

I thought I heard the girl mutter a low "shit," but I couldn't be sure. "I told her this was a bad idea."

"What was?" I asked, desperate for any information.

The girl looked up at me. "I'm Alice. I worked with Bella, and I'm her friend. I told her that she doesn't get guys. You have fragile little egos, and you misunderstand literally everything. That's why this was such a bad idea, but would she listen? No, of course not. "

"What is it that I'm misunderstanding?" I pushed.

"Sorry, I can't tell you. I promised." She at least had the sense to blush and look apologetic.

I yanked on my hair with both hands before pounding on the counter. "Fine. Great. Always screwing things up…fuck my life."

Alice patted my hand, but I jerked it away. "You at least want your gum?"

"No. I don't want any gum."

I stalked away without another word, waiting catatonically at the gate and sleeping the whole way to Los Angeles.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -

The Seventh Flight

I boarded the plane in L.A. on Wednesday night to return home to Seattle, still in an incredibly terrible mood. I had harassed all the workers at the job site, the poor clerk at the hotel, and just about everyone else I'd come in contact with. My week was completely ruined. Maybe my month. Maybe my year.

Shit, I'd really liked her. Really, really a lot. Why did I have to screw up so freaking royally? Why couldn't she just like me enough to ignore my idiotic behavior? I wallowed in a pit of misery as I pondered the uselessness of my existence for the whole trip.

As soon as the plane landed, I turned my phone back on to text my sister. She always insisted on knowing that I'd arrived safely. I was surprised to see a message waiting, from a number I didn't recognize at all.

Meet me at baggage.

What? Shit, it must have been Emmett or someone else from the company. What now? I was really not in the mood for another late-night meeting.

Even my aura must have been grumpy since people veered away from me as I headed down to baggage claim, relishing the scowl on my face. I felt like an automaton as I passed through the crowds, scanning for a familiar face. I waited for a few minutes, but I wasn't about to hang around just to appease Emmett. I didn't have any bags to wait for.

My impatience grew exponentially until I finally just darted towards the exit to catch a cab. I saw her just in time to avoid bowling her over with my carry-on.

I stared at her, my jaw hanging open as I watched the furious blush take over her porcelain face.

"Hi," she said, somewhat sheepishly.

"Hi," I said, although I feared it came out more like a "huuhhh."

"Well, I said I'd see you next week. This is next week."

I nodded.

She went on, looking at her balled up hands that she twisted around and around. "You were right, you know. About me and my gum, so that makes five correct answers. But here's the secret…I don't have any secrets. I don't have any methods or amazing insights into humanity. It's just a game, you know? I told you stuff like that so you'd come back to see me, like bait. It was kind of mean since I have no payoff now. I'm sorry about that."

"No problem," I whispered without realizing I did it.

"So, yeah…I quit working with the gum. I did what you said and looked for something else. I found a job with immigration, still here at the airport. I start next week." Her eyes darted around, landing everywhere but on me. "Look, I'm...just, a really inept person, and for a long time I just didn't understand that you might be interested in me, and then Alice sort of convinced me that I was being stupid, and I had this whole epic plan thing…and then I made you feel like shit, and I'm really, really sorry."

"I forgive you," I mumbled, unable to muster volume.

"And you've just been this…great guy, and so nice and when you took me to breakfast it felt like a date, but I didn't know if that's what you wanted, and I was like oh hey, I'll just randomly quit my job with no warning at all and meet him at the gate like in some stupid movie. Yeah, that's a great idea, right? I'm so stupid." She hid her face in her hands.

And then I realized that I somehow made her just as nervous as she made me. All those weeks, we'd been skirting the edges of the connection between us because we were both complete spazzes. Awesome.

I cleared my throat loudly, signaling that I was going to say something so she'd stopped mumbling to herself behind the shield of her palms. "Bella, what's my gum?"

She peeked out from between her fingers. "What?"

"Tell me my gum. Please?" I asked, willing her to understand my point.

Her hands dropped to her sides, and she took a deep breath. "You had it right the first time, you know. You think you're Wrigley's because you see yourself as this super old-school, bland thing that loses its flavor too quickly and is perceived as dull by all the other gums. Really, you're Orbit. You come in a fancy package that you don't even notice, but despite that, you taste just as amazing on the inside. You have this gravitational pull that you're completely unaware of, and it makes me feel like a moon that's pulled into your…well, orbit. God, that's so cheesy."

The palm-shield returned to protect her, although it was completely unnecessary.

"So, you realize we're both clueless astronomical gums, right? That's sort of perfect, at least to me," I said to lure her out from her self-imposed mortification prison.

I saw her eyes flicker between the fingers again. "Perfect?"

"Yeah. Perfect."

She jumped a little as she felt my hands pull hers away from her face. I smiled my best smile as I poked at the crease in her forehead, the same way she'd done to me before. It took awhile to disappear, but once it was gone, it was replaced by a glorious grin that lit her up into a luminescent angel. I finally knew exactly what I wanted to say.

"So…where do you want to go?" I asked oh-so casually.

She looked thoughtful for a minute. "Well, there's a nice Italian place not too far from here, or I could cook for you. I'm pretty decent in the kitchen."

"Good to know, but that's not what I meant." I grinned.

"Then what did you…oh, wow. Is that really…?" She looked trapped in her skin, as if she was trying very hard to contain a sudden burst of elation.

"Yeah, that's what I meant. You have 'til Monday, I have 'til Monday…where do you want to go?"

She grabbed my hand, twining her fingers with mine and smiling like a kid in a candy store. "Anywhere. On any plane, as long as it's with you."

And really…what was I supposed to do with an answer like that?

I wound the fingers of my free hand in her hair and finally, finally kissed the bloody heck out of her, my entire body thrumming wildly as she pressed herself against me. Her soft lips were the loveliest things I'd ever felt.

Finally.

...!...
- - - - - -oo(_)oo- - - - - -
Hope you liked it! I know there's no lemon (shocking for me, right?), but I set out to write this without one. You can imagine them doing it wherever they land…or maybe on the plane? Hehe. Ah, airports. How I love them.