A/N: This little fic came about in an unusual way as I started it last year for a contest. After I was ¾ of the way done, I realized it didn't really fit the criteria, so I packed it away in my magic box. A few months ago, I was feeling quite emo while writing Gio and decided to pull this back out of the magic box, figuring I needed to write a little fluff. Unfortunately, Gio demanded my attention, so the writing and editing of this took much longer than I'd anticipated. This poor story has been packed away and pulled back out so many times, but it's finally complete.
~*Words Like Art*~
It amazed me how quickly I had grown accustomed to being invisible. People walked past me every day, looking but never seeing. To most of them, I was just the outfit – black tuxedo with tails, white shirt, red vest, top hat. I blended into the fabric of the city - one amongst many, indistinct and mundane.
To the family I worked for, I was the faceless employee that opened their door, washed their car, took out their trash, collected their mail and carried their bags. They called me when they wanted to stop unwelcomed visitors from entering, kick out boyfriends after an argument or clean up the sick when they had a little too much to drink. I was the nobody that made their plushy lives easier, quickly disappearing from their thoughts as soon as I'd completed the assigned task. Sometimes sooner.
No one took the time to notice the man – or men – underneath the uniform. No one paid attention. The Cullen Group employed four doormen. Each of us wore a nametag on our lapel – a discreet gold-plated metal rectangle with "Anthony" etched in black.
Not a single one of us bore the name Anthony.
We guarded the entrance to a small lobby that provided access to the family's personal elevator deep within Cullen Tower. When Carlisle Cullen designed this high-rise in downtown Chicago, he added the private entrance so he and his children wouldn't have to mingle with the building's other tenants and guests . . . wouldn't have to breathe the same air as the "common" folk who lived and worked in the tower.
There were numerous benefits to being one of the richest men in the country; one of them was apparently being able to buy a modicum of privacy and segregation.
I wouldn't know anything about the benefits of a rich man, though. The Cullen Group paid me almost twice as much as I had made as a Chicago Police Officer, but that didn't mean I was wealthy. It only meant I could buy a one-bedroom condominium in the River North neighborhood I loved instead of renting one.
It seemed the cycle of buying and selling knew no limits. Carlisle Cullen bought everything he needed, everything he and his family wanted – real estate, cars, privacy, security, grades, jobs, people to do their dirty work. He concluded his transactions quickly, quietly, with a stealth I'd once admired.
It took me four months to decide on a condo and purchase it; it took Carlisle Cullen five minutes to pick me from a group of beat cops and purchase me.
And I'd never even realized I was for sale.
As I sat alone in my living room night after night, I wondered if my decision to leave the CPD was worth it. If the money that came with the long hours and crazy schedule was worth the sacrifices I'd made in my personal and professional life. I'd barely dated since quitting the force, and I'd stopped visiting the local cop bars when I realized my new career made me an outcast amongst the people I once felt a kinship with, the ones I thought were my friends.
In the back of my mind, where I could hide the thoughts that kept me awake at night, I wondered if anyone would ever really see me again, or if I'd eventually just fade into the background, absorbed by the concrete and stone.
~* Tuesday, May 5th *~
I glanced at the monitors on the desk in front of me, noticing a door swinging open on the eighty-ninth floor. That floor was home to the two Cullen sisters – half-sisters, actually – Alice and Rosalie. They were exact opposites in looks – one short and dark-haired, the other tall and blonde.
When I first came to work in the little marble lobby, I thought they were each unbelievably beautiful. As time went on, I realized how selfish and manipulative they behaved. How the ugliness in their hearts overrode the pretty eyes and full lips.
Neither one ever noticed the different faces of the man inside the uniform. The few times one of them deemed me worthy enough to look upon, their eyes never truly met mine - their facial expressions caught in a battle between apathy and disdain.
I watched Alice Cullen as she quickly walked down the hallway toward the elevator that would deliver her to this lobby. Straightening my jacket, I stood and walked to the doors that lead to their private parking spaces. It was a Tuesday afternoon, and Alice had class at DePaul University. If she didn't hurry, she'd be late – again. Carlisle wouldn't be happy if he had to bribe yet another teacher to raise his youngest daughter's grade to a passing level.
Alice's failure as a student wasn't public knowledge, nor was her father's propensity for bribery, but we doormen made sure to notice the details of the people who employed us.
As the elevator bell sounded, I pushed open the door to the garage and moved out of her path. "Good morning, Miss Cullen," I said quietly, bowing slightly as she hurried past me. I didn't expect an answer, nor did I expect her to look up from her iPhone before the clacking of her heels stopped when she reached her car. Yet, for the first time in almost six months, Alice Cullen did something unexpected – she spoke to me.
"Anthony," she said, just as she reached her Lexus SUV. I spun to face her, schooling my face into a blank expression so she wouldn't see my surprise. "I'm bringing a friend home with me this afternoon. Make sure there's a parking space available for her."
With that, she hopped up into her luxury SUV and started the engine. I nodded once in her direction though she didn't need the confirmation of my acceptance. Anthony always did what she told him to do.
I stepped back behind the desk just as the phone rang. The only people that used this number were the Cullens and the other doormen. I could easily guess who was on the other end of the line.
"Anthony speaking. How may I help you?" I tapped a pen on the desktop and scanned the monitors just in case. Being unprepared for a Cullen was a sure way to lose the prestigious title of Anthony-the-Doorman.
"Hey, Edward. It's Mike."
I closed my eyes and adjusted my bowtie. Mike Newton was scheduled to take over the door in an hour. If his previous behavior was any indication, my day was about to get much longer.
"Yeah, Mike. What can I do for you?" I could hear the frustration in my voice, but I refused to temper it. I'd already worked almost twelve hours and I really wanted to go home.
"Look man, I know I'm supposed to be there soon but I've got a bit of a crisis," he replied. I rolled my eyes. Everything was a crisis to Mike. "Jessica scheduled an ultrasound for this morning but they had to push it back, and I don't even want to go but the hormones are making her a total bitch, so…"
"Mike, what is it that you need?" I said, interrupting him. If I didn't keep him on track, he would talk for an hour without ever saying what he needed; without ever asking me to forego my plans so he could put off donning the Anthony name badge for a little while.
"I need you to cover for me for, like, an extra couple of hours. I swear I'll make it up to you."
I sighed as frustration scraped and burned along my chest. Mike had been becoming more unreliable ever since he met and quickly impregnated his current girlfriend. He'd also become as irritating as a rock in my patent leather dress shoes. He liked to tell me that he'd return the favor once I finally started dating someone.
As if I needed him to remind me of my dismal personal life.
I snorted a single laugh and threw the pen across the desk. "Sure, I'll cover for you." I clenched the muscles along my jaw as my frustration grew, hoping I could get him off the phone before my temper snapped. "Just get your ass in here as soon as possible."
He let out a breath on the other end of the line. "Thanks, Edward. I owe you one."
Truth be told, he owed me about twelve, but I gave up counting awhile ago.
Four hours later, I was still behind the desk, watching the monitors, planning how I was going to kill Mike Newton without getting caught.
The motion sensor for the garage blinked, and I turned to see Alice's Lexus roll slowly into her parking space. A nondescript white Toyota followed behind her, stereo blaring. The lighthearted sound of The Beatles singing I Want to Hold Your Hand sounded through the speakers, ending abruptly when the driver cut the engine. I stared at the monitor a second longer than normal, unsure what to make of the car. Alice Cullen didn't associate with people who drove older model Toyota sedans.
My police training kicked in as thoughts of a Cullen in danger raced through my head, and I rushed to the door leading into the garage. The paparazzi or some gossip reporter could have followed Alice; it'd happened before. Last time, Eric, one of the other Anthonys, actually had to pull the revolver we all wore under our coats. Apparently, Alice had been her charming self to the wrong people that day, and they tried to retaliate by cornering her in the garage. Big mistake on their part - Carlisle Cullen didn't hire just anyone for the job of Anthony.
I watched through the peephole as Alice stepped out of her truck. I could hear the murmur of voices coming from the garage but had yet to see the driver of the Toyota. I slipped my arm under my jacket and released the strap on my shoulder holster, just in case.
I slowly opened the door with one arm, keeping my other hand wrapped around the grip of my gun, when Alice approached. She was talking animatedly to the person behind her, and her syrupy voice both grated on my nerves and made me relax at once. She obviously knew the person with her.
As Alice moved past, my eyes met those of her friend, and my heart almost stopped beating. She was beyond beautiful. Long, dark brown hair curling past her shoulders, full pink lips turned up in a small smile, delicate little chin absolutely begging to be nibbled - but what really stood out were her big brown eyes . . . which were actually meeting mine . . . looking at me, into me.
Seeing more than just the uniform.
"Good afternoon, Miss Cullen. Ma'am." I smiled and nodded slightly to the ladies, holding the mystery woman's gaze. She smiled back at me, her eyes traveling down the length my body and back up. I feared for a moment that she'd laugh at the ridiculous coat and vest, but she didn't. She did something no one else had done.
She returned her gaze to meet mine, looking straight into my very soul, and smiled a little wider.
Alice didn't respond to my greeting, not that I expected her to. She simply walked across the small room and into the open elevator, leaving her friend behind.
"I'm Bella." She spoke quietly, her delicate voice skimming along my senses. I froze, not knowing what to do. No one, not a Cullen or a guest, had introduced themselves to me since I came to work here three years ago.
She blushed a little and dropped her head, breaking eye contact with me. I took a deep breath to clear my confusion and boldly reached forward, brushing her fingers with my own. I didn't plan to touch her as it was definitely something that could get me fired, but I felt the need to reassure her, to calm her . . . to reinforce this fragile thread she spun from the moment her eyes met mine.
"It's nice to meet you, Bella. I'm Edw-uh-Anthony." For the first time since I'd started working for the Cullens, I stuttered a bit over the fake name, wishing I could have met her anywhere but here.
I didn't want her to call me Anthony.
She glanced back up at me, that small smile returning to her pretty face. Her tongue peeked out from between her lips, and she looked as if she were about to speak when Alice interrupted.
"What are you doing, Bella?"
I took a small step away and brought my hand back to my side just as Alice leaned out of the elevator. My smile dropped and my back straightened, the doorman in me rushing to the forefront. Alice wouldn't be happy with me if she thought I was fraternizing with one of her friends.
"I was just introducing myself," Bella replied, still staring at me. Her eyes were such a deep brown, almost black around the edges, with lighter flecks ringing the irises. I could have easily stared into them for hours, memorizing every detail, but we didn't have that kind of time.
And I didn't have the freedom to behave as Edward . . . there was only room for Anthony in this uniform.
"Bella," Alice said, sounding exasperated. "You don't need to introduce yourself to the help. Hurry up; I want the cook to make us a late lunch before my sister comes home."
I looked at the floor when Alice called me 'the help' and quickly stepped behind the desk. I took a deep breath as I glanced over the monitors, trying to calm my pounding heart. I'd forgotten; for one brief, exhilarating moment, I'd almost forgotten how far out of my league the beautiful brunette was. This was my job, catering to arrogant rich people and doing my best to blend into the background. I shouldn't need Alice Cullen to remind me of my station around here. I shouldn't assume one of her friends would want anythi—
Suddenly, I felt a warm pressure on my wrist and looked down, surprised to see someone else's finger running down my hand.
"It was nice to meet you, Edwanthony."
Before I could respond or even pull myself together enough to do more than stare at my wrist, Bella stepped into the elevator with Alice and the doors slid closed. I waited by the monitors, a slow grin spreading across my face, knowing I would catch one more glimpse if I watched the hall on the eighty-ninth floor. And I did, and she was still unbelievably beautiful.
Later that night, in the warmth and privacy of my shower, I thought of those big brown eyes, her innocent words and that single, silken touch. Wanting, craving, desiring - I called her name as my body trembled in its release.