"Twilight" is owned by Stephenie Meyer. The adjustments made here are all mine.
This story originated with the WitFit prompt "trailer." From there, it took on a life of its own. I owe an enormous amount of thanks to writingbabe and isabeausink, who nourished and encouraged it. Their insight and edits are invaluable; their friendship is as well.
"Coming Attractions" appeared in the compilation for the Fandom Fights the Floods fundraiser. (Say that three times fast.)
The playlist for this one-shot:
"Human Touch" by Bruce Springsteen
"Linger" by Jonatha Brooke
"Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop" by Landon Pigg
"Thankyouma'amenjoytheshow," the teen behind the Plexiglas mumbled.
The kid looked as bored as I felt. I hoped that was where our similarities ended, because having anything more in common with him was beyond distressing. I grabbed my ticket and headed into the theatre.
It wasn't unusual for me to go to the movies during the day on a Saturday. Afternoons are much better than evenings when you're in a theatre by yourself. I could stand being around kids and senior citizens at the matinee a lot more than I could handle being single in a sea of couples, as often happened at nighttime showings.
I stopped at the concession stand to get my usual barrel of popcorn and bag of gummy candy. More sullen teenagers worked the counter. When did I get to be such a cranky old woman? Probably around the time I realized it had been almost two years since I'd had a real date.
There were lots of empty seats in the theatre, so I plopped down and threw my jacket and purse next to me, as if they were my companions. A few other people – two women, an older couple, college kids – drifted in. One last person darted in late and sat several rows behind me, but since the lights had already dimmed, I didn't see much except for a tall figure.
The first trailer popped up on the screen - an action flick. Not interested, thanks. Then came a feature film with an apocalyptic vision of the future. Maybe, if I was already depressed and wanted to push myself straight into the abyss.
Next, a comedy with another trading-bodies plot. A 30 year-old man becomes a 15 year-old boy again. What film school honor student thought that up? The only hook was the lead actor, an exceptionally handsome guy who was all over the gossip magazines and blogs. In real life, he was only a few years younger than me.
Hell, everyone was a few years younger than me.
Definitely not out of my fantasy age-range, though.
The movie started after the mandatory screenings of fire exit locations. Good to know in case it became really unbearable.
The film was a highly-touted feature about a dysfunctional family which comes apart when the aging parents divorce. The director was a popular visual-media force of nature, but it soon became obvious that he'd consulted a book of clichés for this one. When a wife bemoaned the lack of communication with her husband and blamed her upbringing, I exhaled a big sigh of annoyance. I heard Tall Person several rows away do the same.
At least I wasn't the only one becoming annoyed. Aside from us, everyone was paying rapt attention to the screen, as if it was the last movie they'd see for years. I hoped not – they deserved better.
Divorced Father arrived on the scene to announce he'd Met Someone Else and would bring her for dinner. Would Younger Daughter present with a Daddy Complex and throw a fit? Would Oldest Son be reminded of his own middle age and contemplate Cheating on His Wife of 15 years? Yes and yes.
You know it's bad when I'm writing the plot out in my head as it unfolds on the screen. I heard The Co-Sigher groan. We were still in agreement, it seemed.
The colors in the movie were muted and dull: grey sweaters, black pants, beige furniture, brown shirts, more beige furniture, flat paintings. Suddenly Dad arrived for dinner with New Girlfriend, who's wearing a flame-red dress.
From behind me, I heard a loud and distinct "Oh, give me a break!"
And I laughed harder than I had in months.
Several older folks shushed The Co-sigher. They glared at me, too. I could feel it in the darkness.
The end was near, for the movie and for First Wife. She drowned after walking purposefully into the ocean. Her kids tried to revive her. Symbolism, metaphor, simile, gah. I heard another impatient huff behind me, and I snorted in agreement.
A woman sitting a few rows away said in a stage whisper, "Will you please be quiet?"
I stage-whispered back, "I can't control myself around mediocrity."
Behind me, The Co-Sigher chuckled loudly enough for everyone to hear. Very supportive.
I craned my neck slightly to see if I could catch a glimpse of him. The light from the screen lit his features at the moment I turned around, and I caught a broad grin, a strong chin, and all-over-there hair. I'd swear he was looking at me – even in the dark, I thought I could see his smile, curved up as far as his eyes.
The credits rolled, and I pretended to fuss with my leftover candy, arranging the bag in my purse very carefully. I detected movement from the corner of my eye.
The Co-Sigher was standing behind me, looking down from a rather substantial height.
"You didn't finish your gummy bears," he said. His voice was smooth – rich and almost smoky - when he wasn't calling out to the movie screen.
"I lost my appetite," I replied, my gaze fastened to his. What color were his eyes? It was hard to tell, and I really wanted to know.
I stood up and moved out into the aisle, curious about what he'd do next. He followed me; I could tell even though I kept my eyes down. Maybe the conversation would extend beyond the exit. Usually that doesn't happen to me, so I wasn't about to make an assumption.
But I hoped. He was still walking behind me; I could sense he was working his way down the stairs. The lobby was bright after the dim theatre, and I squinted uncomfortably for a second.
Without thinking, I turned. My expression froze as I saw him walking toward me, an expectant smile on his face.
He took a step and then his gait dipped on his left side. I could see his left foot dragging slightly. His left hand hovered unnaturally at his waist. Paralysis, I thought. He's got some kind of paralysis.
I hoped I'd ducked my head soon enough to hide the look on my face. I didn't want him to see it. A flush of embarrassment burned my cheeks in a rush.
His face – it was glorious, all planed cheekbones, straight nose, inquisitive green eyes. Masculine and lively. I looked long enough to take it all in, and long enough to see his grin falter just a bit as I turned away.
Words - thoughts - came unbidden and unwanted. Oh, no. Poor guy. Just my luck. Why me?
And then: Of course, someone who looks like that wouldn't be interested in me. Unless he's got some major flaw.
This shallowness - where the hell was this coming from? Just minutes ago, this guy seemed like someone I'd like. His nervy humor drew me in, until it came time to see all of him.
It seemed we were both different people in the dark of the theatre.
I managed to look up at him and smile. I focused only on his face. I'm such a coward. It was too uncomfortable to look anywhere else.
He stuck his right hand out and said, "Hi, I'm Edward. Fellow endurer of bad artsy movies."
I leaned over and shook his hand. "Hi, Edward. I'm Bella. Fellow person who now regrets those two hours I'll never get back."
"Do you like movies?" he asked.
"Not this one," I replied.
He chuckled. "I mean in general. I'm pretty sure I've seen you here before."
"I do come here often, if that's what you're asking. I love films." Also, I usually don't have anything better to do.
I couldn't recall noticing him in the theatre at any other time. I probably would have remembered his face, if not his unusual walk. But what did it matter? We were here now.
He moved ahead to open the lobby door for me, and I ducked my head again as I walked past him.
"I love movies too, and I can think of plenty of others ones that are worth talking about. Want to go for coffee?" he said once we were under the marquee.
"Um –"I hesitated, rubbing the toe of my sneaker on the sidewalk.
"Or not." He sighed and looked away, his features at first resigned, then annoyed.
"No, no," I said hurriedly. "That sounds great." Because awkward conversation over coffee was better than being candid with a nice guy who was less than perfect. Anything to avoid hurting someone's feelings when I'm face to face with him.
He gave me a "You sure?" kind of look, appraising me.
I pushed out a smile and turned to go.
He caught up to me and then kept pace without any obvious difficulty. I didn't have to slow down. Not that I'd mind – but it might have embarrassed him, and I really didn't want to be responsible for that. I wanted to protect him from my own superficiality. I felt the strangest need to both look out for him and run away from him.
We didn't say anything for a few minutes. Starbucks was just a few doors down from the movie theatre.
He reached out his hand to keep me from entering. "Not here."
I looked at him questioningly.
"There's a better place close by. A real coffee shop." He gestured down the street. "I'd rather go there, if you don't mind."
He wanted to keep walking with me? At least he couldn't read my thoughts and know how self-conscious I felt with him.
"Lead the way," I said.
We stopped near the corner at a storefront painted warm brown and orange. A small board hanging from a chain out front said, "Sign of the Acupalypse." I'd never noticed it here before. I laughed at the name.
"Don't worry. Their coffee's much better than their puns," Edward said.
He pulled the door open – still polite, still thoughtful – then stopped. His face looked serious. "I should tell you, though, that they don't have macchiatos or lattios or even cappuccino," he warned. "Just really great coffee and a small menu."
"Sounds fine to me."
The room looked like an enlarged version of someone's living room, but with more furniture. One side had a bench seat that ran the length of the wall, with throw pillows all over it. Tables were placed haphazardly in front of the seating.
At the opposite end, several couches were arranged around a fireplace. They looked comfortably puffy despite the leather material, as if they were made for bottoms to sink into. The far back of the room had a short wooden bar with some stools, but instead of alcohol, a row of coffee machines lined the counter behind it. A pretty barista waved and smiled.
Edward held up his hand and grinned back. "Hey, Kate."
"Hey, Eddie. Looking good!"
He gestured to a small table halfway into the room. "This okay?"
"Sure." I slung my coat and purse on the back of a chair and sat, averting my eyes when he dropped heavily into the seat across from me.
What to say, what to say…I scrambled to try and find something ordinary and neutral for conversation.
That smoky velvet voice broke through my distraction.
"So, Bella," he said, and reflexively, I looked right into his eyes. Not what I'd intended to do. They were friendly, intense, intelligent, gorgeous. They made me feel worse. "Who are you and why are you watching awful movies?"
"I could ask you the same thing," I shot back. My voice sounded tinny, defensive.
"And I'd answer," he said, nodding his head once. "But I asked first."
Would I ever see this guy again? Probably not. That made it easy to be honest, at least on this point.
"I had nothing planned today, and I'd heard good things about the film," I said, then added, "I got bad information."
He threw his head back and laughed. Edward had a really nice smile. Slowly, cautiously, I saw him place his left hand on the table. It looked normal, thankfully, although his fingers didn't move. Oh God, what a terrible thought. I blinked hard and looked back up at him, forcing another smile to my face.
He didn't say anything else, just watched me with a measure of curiosity. I thought he was reacting to my reaction, but then he said, "Go on." He was waiting for me to continue.
"That's pretty much it," I said. I kept looking in his eyes, at first to avoid looking at any other part of him, but then…well, they were great eyes. I knew they spoke when he didn't, even if I couldn't get what they were saying.
"No, of course it isn't," he said. We were interrupted by Kate the barista at that moment.
"The usual, Edward?"
"Yes, please. And for you, Bella?"
I hadn't even look at the menu. "Oh, I'm sorry," I mumbled. "I'm a little slow here."
"They have excellent scones, if that suits your mood. And a spinach salad that's damn near perfect," Edward said.
"Oh, a scone – yes, that sounds great!" I said with a little more enthusiasm than was necessary. "And a regular coffee, extra milk."
"Milk, not cream?" Kate asked. I like a place that double-checks your order like that.
"Yes," I said, then remembered something Edward said before we'd walked in.
"What was that thing you said they didn't have?"
He looked confused. "The what?"
"When we got here, you said they didn't have cappuccino, or – something else," I said, trying to remember his exact word. "Lattios! You said they don't serve lattios."
"Yes, I did," he said, waiting.
"There's no such thing as a lattio."
"Well, then I was right. They definitely don't have them."
That response took me by surprise. I burst out laughing.
Edward smiled, and I saw the corners of his eyes turn up as they had in the theatre. "Now that we've narrowed the list of available beverages, tell me more about yourself."
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "Well, what do you want to know?"
"As I said, I've seen you at the movie theatre before. One afternoon, you helped an elderly woman who slipped on the stairs. Everyone else pretty much walked right past her. So…I'm curious about you. What do you do? What do you live for?"
I remembered the incident with the woman, though I hardly thought about it at the time. Like a lot of my life, it seemed insignificant.
I tried to think of how to explain myself to this stranger with the unrelenting gaze. I didn't even want to come here with him, and now I felt awkward for a whole new set of reasons.
"What do I —Well, I have a degree in history."
"So, you're living in the past?"
"No, not exactly. I'm not working in that field right now," I said carefully. Kate brought our food, and I took a bite of my scone. Edward was right: it was moist and crumbly, and it tasted more like shortbread than a biscuit.
"What are you waiting for?" He emptied a couple of sugar packets into a large black coffee and stirred. This was one of a few times he'd taken his eyes off of me since we sat down.
"I'm not sure," I answered honestly.
"Okay, we'll set that aside for the moment. There must be something that's keeping you supplied with movie tickets. What do you do with your days? Or nights?" That last question sounded just barely suggestive, but he kept a straight face.
"I'm working as a bank teller for Wells Fargo."
He nodded. "Banking can be an honorable profession as long as you're not regulating the industry. Ever been held up?"
I almost spit out my scone. "What?"
"Have you ever been held up? You know – someone walks in wearing a mask like the Hamburgler from McDonald's, demands all your money…"
"Um, no." I laughed and wiped my mouth. "Never happened. I'd probably quit if it did. The glamour of counting out other people's money wouldn't be worth it."
"Good thinking. But tell me more about why you're not using your degree. Unless your employer is asking you to analyze post-Depression changes to American banking."
I cocked my head and waved my index finger back and forth. "Oh, you did not
just go all Glass-Steagall on me!"
I don't know why I said that. I didn't expect to enjoy this coffee break, and I hadn't anticipated staying even this long. But I was rewarded with another deep laugh – glorious, uninhibited.
And as long as we were sitting here, comfortable in our chairs, occasionally leaning in, and he kept his hand on the table, it was all perfect. I could stay here like this with him for ages if we didn't have to move and destroy the image.
Another wave of shame washed over me.
I sighed, and he became quiet. "Okay, I've interrogated you enough. It's your turn."
Honestly, I hadn't even thought of what I might ask him – didn't think we'd get this far into it. He saw my hesitation and half-interpreted the sigh.
"You can ask. I don't mind," he said, his voice lower. He watched me intently.
I was invited. It would be rude to turn down an invitation, right? So I asked what I had never intended to.
"Diving accident. I was in a state park with some friends and we decided to swim in the river. I seriously miscalculated the depth of the water when I jumped off some rocks."
"I'm sorry." I didn't know what else to say, but I meant it. I'm sorry your life was changed because of a reckless decision. I'm sorry you were hurt, and probably are still hurting in a lot ways. I'm sorry your beauty lost its edge. I'm sorry I'm enjoying you and I'm sorry that makes me so uncomfortable.
"It just happened. Things could have been much worse. I'm able to do almost everything that I used to," he said. It didn't sound practiced or forced, so I guessed this was how he really felt.
"How long ago?"
"Five years. I'd just finished school and was teaching phys ed, so obviously that had to change," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I went back to school and took enough credits to get certified in biology. I'm still in the classroom. That's the important thing."
"Where do you teach?"
I sucked in a breath. That was known to be the worst school in the region.
He reached for his grilled cheese sandwich and looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "It's nowhere near what you think. The kids are good; they want to be taught. And they're compassionate toward me – surprisingly so."
Which was more than could be said about me. I liked Edward when he seemed handsome and funny, then felt myself withdraw when he was handsome, funny and slightly disabled. And I'd bought into stereotypes about where he worked, while he clearly derived a lot fulfillment from it.
I was beginning to get a little pissed, truth be told. I could make myself feel "less-than" on my own, without Edward's help.
"You never considered teaching? I mean, with a history degree, it wouldn't be unusual," he said.
"I don't think I'd be good at that."
"I'm not sure I'm creative or patient enough for it." I'd never told anyone that. My father asked me dozens of times why I never went into teaching, and I'd say anything to avoid another disagreement with him. He never did get that my fear of failure killed a lot of my initiative.
But Edward didn't challenge my words. "Fair enough," he replied, nodding. "It's not for everyone. You must have had something in mind when you picked your major, though."
My answer came quickly, even though I hadn't thought about it for years. "I like architecture. I used to think about combining the two."
"As in, history of the built environment?" He seemed genuinely interested, and not just biding his time while he finished his coffee.
"Yes…well, more like historic preservation." I fidgeted with my napkin and finally dropped it on my plate.
"That sounds ideal. Why don't you go for it?"
"I guess I never got around to applying to grad school." Weak excuse; that'll never fly here. "I don't know, I just…I don't know." I couldn't keep the defensive tone away. I'd attempted similar explanations with friends who tried to understand. This topic of conversation had its own lengthy and touchy history.
Edward had the sense to drop it. "Okay. It's true - sometimes you don't know." He reached over with his left hand, slowly but deliberately, and gently held my fingers.
I wasn't ready for that, but I still didn't want to be rude. And his hand was really warm. It felt cozy to be held like this, just this little bit.
When I looked around, I noticed it was dusk. We must have been here for over an hour. I felt tears in my eyes; the lights from the shops across the street were blurry and almost blended together.
"I need to go. It's getting late," I said.
He rubbed the tips of his fingers across my hand before withdrawing. "Okay, Bella. I hear you."
There was understanding but no pity in his words and tone. How often do you find that? Especially right off the bat, when you really talk for the first time? And here I was judging him by some stupid standard that made no sense even to me. If any of my friends dismissed a guy for the same reason I was ready to pass on Edward, I'd slap them.
I pulled some cash out of my wallet but Edward stopped me and said he wanted to pay, insisting that it was the least he could do for any woman who could make a joke out of obscure banking legislation. I gave up easily and let it go.
He stood up fairly fluidly and walked behind me to the cash register. I waited near the door and deliberately turned to face him, watching as he came toward me. You have to watch. You need to see. Don't turn away; meet it head on.
"Have you ever used crutches?" I asked when we were back out on the sidewalk.
"Only at the beginning, while I was doing physical therapy. Once I got the hang of how I'd be walking, I didn't want them. They were more of a hindrance," he said.
I walked alongside him again, though this time I didn't duck my head as much. I'd made up my mind to deal with it, somehow – if just for this moment. Looking, and asking, and listening would get me through.
I was so focused on focusing, I didn't hear what he said.
"Did you drive to the theatre?"
"Oh – yes. I'm parked behind it."
We turned down the alley next that led to the parking lot. "Do you need a ride?" I asked.
"No, I can drive. I've got my car here, too."
I felt embarrassed – again – although I eased up enough to remind myself that I had no way of knowing what his limitations might be.
"My car's over here," I said, gesturing to a row on the right.
"Yeah, I'm way in the back," he said with a laugh. "I got here late."
The closer we got to my car, the more my stomach started to roil. These kinds of exits were always clumsy. Today could be one for the record books.
"This is me, right here," I said, gesturing to my Honda.
"Okay, well…" and Edward heaved a big sigh and jammed his right hand into his jeans pocket. "Can I call you, Bella?"
Once again, his eyes never left my face. Once again, I spoke before I thought.
"Sure. Give me your phone."
It wasn't as if I'd say, "No, I doubt I'll want to see you again, so we should just leave it at this." I didn't have that kind of nerve. And oddly, my impulses were coming from the opposite direction.
So I took his cell and handed mine over.
"Edward, it was nice meeting you. Thanks for the coffee, and the good conversation," I said. I was pretty sure I meant it, actually.
He smiled. "It was a good talk. I hope we can do it again some time." Then he raised his left hand a little slowly, a little clumsily, but his fingers straightened out easily as he held it up in a gesture of goodbye.
I smiled and waved back, and as I unlocked my car I stole a glance at him. I watched his uneven gait, the way his body pulled him sideways each time he put his left foot forward, and I felt tears well up again.
The harshest insult of all would be to pity him. I disliked almost every minute of everything I felt these past hours. If I wasn't being mad at myself, I was confused because I couldn't find the right set of feelings for Edward. And why did I even care?
It occurred to me on the drive home that he might not call me at all. He seemed very capable, really. Maybe he was just as skilled as any other guy at leading a girl on.
And that annoyed me, too.
Rose was home; her car was parked on the street in front of our apartment. We'd been roommates for the last three years, and had been friends for ages before that.
I opened the door and heard the radio playing in the kitchen, where she was cleaning up from dinner.
"Hey! Where the hell have you been?" she yelled out. "It's almost seven!"
"Sorry, Mom, the school bus was late," I snapped. I dumped my coat and purse on a chair and headed straight for my room.
"What's up? You sound pissed." She followed me down the hall.
I flopped on my bed with my limbs spread out like a starfish. "I met a guy."
"No wonder you're mad. I hate when that happens."
"You've been with Emmett forever. You don't remember what it's like," I said curtly.
"So remind me," she said, pushing my leg over so she could sit near the footboard.
I fiddled with the hem of my shirt while I tried to find the right words. I wanted Rosalie's understanding but I wanted her impartiality, too.
"I went to the movies. And there was this guy there – he was really funny, and we were the only two people in the theatre who knew this movie that was supposed to be so great was total bullshit."
"Okay," Rose said carefully.
"We were walking out, and he asked me to go for coffee with him. Rose, he's really great. Funny, smart, insightful…"
She nodded, waiting for me to go on.
Rose looked confused. "What, like in a wheelchair?"
"No. He walks, but with kind of a strange limp." I despised every word I said, and everything about how I sounded. "It's noticeable. It's not really bad, but it's noticeable." I grabbed a pillow and held it over my face for about a minute before throwing it across the room.
"So what? Do you like him?"
I sat up to see her expression even though I was worried she'd absolutely crucify me for the way I was acting.
"He's incredible, but God, Rose, I'm not sure I can get past it."
"He's got a limp, and you're worried you can't deal with it?"
"Yes." I sighed. "I feel like such a shit. Since when am I so shallow?"
Instead of answering my question, Rose asked one of her own. "Why does this bother you so much?"
"Because it's crappy. This is a crappy way to feel about anyone in his situation. I always thought I was better than this."
"But what's really bugging you? That you want to like the guy but can't, or that you're being a judgmental bitch?"
There's the Rosalie I know and love. "Both, I think."
She gave me a shove. "Look, if you were really a superficial person, you wouldn't even be worrying about it. You would have just blown him off. And you've never been a snob. I don't know where this came from either, but you'll probably never see the guy again, right? Don't beat yourself up so much."
"That's the thing. We exchanged phone numbers."
She looked at me like I'd just set fire to an orphanage. "Well, what the hell did you do that for?"
"I couldn't say no, Rose. I just didn't have the heart."
"Now that's what'll really get you in trouble. Listen, kiddo," she said seriously, "it sounds like you can't or won't get involved, so I strongly recommend you cut this off. If he calls you, tell him you're not interested. It's only fair."
I made a face. She was probably right. I didn't know for sure because I couldn't sort through how I felt.
Could I make this any more difficult or complicated?
Turned out I didn't have to worry about that. The week went by, and I didn't hear from Edward.
I wasn't sure what I expected, which only made my edginess worse. It would be nerve-wracking to hear from him, yet his silence also bothered me. He had this undefined though constant presence in my life. I felt like I was carrying around a whole crate of eggs for safekeeping, and I was destined to break the one that absolutely had to be protected.
Then it was my turn to work the drive-in window on Saturday morning. Car pulls up, slides the plastic case into the pneumatic tube, I open it and complete the transaction, and that's it. Sometimes there are maybe two minutes between cars; sometimes, almost half an hour. I made small talk with Lauren, the other teller on duty.
A case rattled up through the tube and fell into the bin in front of me. There was one piece of paper in it, which said, "You're a tough woman to get hold of."
I looked up and there was Edward in his car, waving.
I wrote back, "Don't you have my cell phone number? And how did you know where I work? Feel free to answer either one first."
It took about five minutes, but I finally got a second note. "I called but your phone was always off. I recognized your car in the parking lot."
I hit the intercom button and said, "Try this."
He looked confused until he saw the button above the slot for the tube. "Now you tell me."
"It was right in front of you."
"Yes. Well." It looked like he was nervously eyeing Lauren. "Would you like to go to the movies later?"
"No, with my great-Uncle Ralph. The last film he's seen starred Gene Autry, so that should be fun for you."
"Tell Ralph to call me later. I leave work at one o'clock. I'll be sure to keep my cell phone on." He grinned and waved goodbye, and I said, "You might want to also tell him about this technology called 'voicemail.' "
"Won't help. He thinks my cell phone's a cigarette lighter." And with that he drove away.
Lauren said, "You should see the look on your face."
Actually, I wished I could. Maybe it would give me a clue here.
"What do you mean?"
"I haven't seen you smile that big since they closed the bank early because of the snow. Jeez, Bella, that guy was hot!"
It was a common thing to say, and surely I'd used it to describe guys, too. This time, it made me rise to Edward's defense.
"He's a lot more than that. He's smart, and funny, and…really nice." And handicapped. Say it out loud, I dare you. Because it's all you see when you see Edward, isn't it? It's what fills your mind when you think of him.
Disabled people rightfully say they don't want to be defined by their disability. I always thought they meant they didn't want sympathy, or that they should be able to work in whatever field they wanted. I never stopped to think about romance. Love should be equal opportunity too, right? Feelings have no physical boundaries, no limitations.
My lack of clarity on this point made me ashamed all over again. And I'd just agreed to a movie with the source of my confusion. Was this fair? I was subjecting him to these whims the whole time I was uncertain as hell. He had to see that. Why did he come back?
"Hey! Bella!" Lauren was snapping her fingers in front of my eyes. "I asked how you met him."
"Oh, sorry. We met at the movies last weekend. We were both there alone."
"No kidding?" She drew her head back and looked at me in surprise. "Hell, whenever I'm at the movies by myself, I go out solo, same as I came in. What theatre do you go to?"
"I don't know, Lauren….I guess I just…got lucky?"
I couldn't come up with any other response.
Thankfully, Rose wasn't home when I returned to our apartment. I'd needed her right after I'd met Edward, but I knew what she'd say now that I agreed to a date with him. And this time, I didn't want to hear it.
While getting ready, I propped my elbows on the bathroom counter in front of the mirror, and put my chin in my hands. I looked closely at my face: pale skin, dark eyes with wide circles underneath them, long dark hair drifting past my shoulders. And the ever-present, slight knitting of my eyebrows – the one that causes people I barely know to ask, "What's the matter?" It gives me a look of worry when I'm not even aware of it. My face speaks when the rest of me can't.
What did Edward find in my expression? The anxiety is there all the time; he had to see it in the movie theatre. It got more intense as we left together. I was sure of it. But he asked me to go with him anyway, and he kept me there talking as if he wanted to know me.
The little he learned didn't show how uninteresting I really am. I went to college and got good grades in a discipline I'd yet to use. It had all seemed like one long, extended fight – a fight to figure out what I wanted, a fight to defend it to parents who didn't approve and fought me back; a fight to make it to the finish line at school. I spent years in the ring, and then felt like I'd had all the fight drained out of me. I'd lost whatever inspiration I had to make my life creative, and wound up in a job that was fast becoming my career.
I was terrified of what I had become and too frightened to change. I stopped looking for that genuine connection with a man, sure I'd never appeal to anyone. Now I was about to go out with a guy whose imperfection made me feel worse about my shortcomings - but at the same time I was curious about what else he offered, along with his laugh, his warmth, and his keen intelligence. I hadn't been that curious about anything in a long time. I was always too afraid of being disappointed.
I was always too afraid.
We went to a 4 o'clock showing of a really funny movie - an intentional comedy, Edward called it, as opposed to the unintentional one we'd seen the previous week. This time everyone laughed together, and no one shushed us.
Edward noted the difference as we were leaving.
"Yeah, I kind of missed that," I said regretfully. "It was fun to be cinematic outlaws."
He chuckled and nodded in agreement. "The move theatre's a pretty safe place to be a renegade." He turned to face me when we were back out in front of the theatre, where we'd stood last week. "I think I liked it better when you and I were the only ones in on the joke. It was fun."
His look was again intense, and I blushed, uncomfortable. It suddenly became imperative for me to inspect the sidewalk. But when I glanced back up at him, my smile was spontaneous and genuine.
"Want to get something to eat? There's a great pizzeria a few blocks from here," Edward said.
"DeLorenzo's?" I asked hopefully.
"The very one I had in mind. Your taste in movies is surpassed only by your discerning palate for pizza. Shall we?"
Up to this point, Edward had kept to himself physically, if not verbally. He even moved his elbow off the armrest in the theatre so I could use it. Now, he briefly touched my lower back as we turned to walk away. I waited for that sense of awkwardness to creep through, but it didn't. It just felt attentive.
DeLorenzo's was a local favorite with the best pizza in the city. It was still early enough so the place wasn't crowded, and we slipped into a booth toward the back of the restaurant, which was more like a pub, really. It was rather dark inside, but a faux-Tiffany lamp hung above the table so we could see each other clearly. The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" played softly in the background.
"What do you like on your pizza?" Edward asked as he scanned the menu.
"Anything except onions or peppers. Oh, and no pineapple."
He wrinkled his nose. "I agree. That's just wrong. Why put something as sweet as pineapple on pizza?"
I nodded. "Exactly. It's a clear-cut violation of Bella's food rules."
He looked amused. "And what are they?"
"Well," I said, trying to look as contemplative as possible, "they mostly involve not having dessert food mixed in with main-course food. Coconut chicken and coconut shrimp are clearly verboten. I don't even like mango salsa."
"Really? But that's good, especially on non-coconut chicken."
I shook my head. "Can't ruin the wonderful sweetness of mango with onions. It doesn't make sense."
The waitress arrived with our beer and took our order. "Tell me about your non-food rules," he said.
"I don't think I have any others, to tell you the truth. I'm not really a lay-down-the-law kinda girl," I replied.
"Except about pizza."
"Yeah, well, it's pizza," I said, laughing. "What about you?" I was being polite, but I was also interested.
"Hmm. I don't like close-mindedness, I don't like wasting time, and mean people suck. And beef should never, ever be cooked well done," he replied thoughtfully.
I was definitely breaking one, maybe two of those rules. Not the one about meat, either. I looked away and tried to pick one to talk about.
"You really don't strike me as a person who would waste time. You seem very focused," I said.
"I wasted plenty before my accident. Now, it just doesn't make sense. I tend to figure out what I want and then move for it."
Before considering my words, I said, "I think I'm the opposite of that. I probably break that rule of yours every day."
Edward leaned forward slightly. "Why?"
"I don't really know," I mumbled. Suddenly I felt like I got called to the principal's office in the school of life.
"You probably do," he said, but it didn't sound judgmental. "You're just reluctant to talk about it."
"It's hard for me to put into words. I got out of college and I felt like I was lost. I thought I'd try grad school, but I never applied. I tried to figure out where to go, but I couldn't- I mean, I wasn't really sure about anything." Least of all myself. "And I had to find a way to support myself, so I took pretty much what came along. Four years later, I'm still there."
It was the shortest summary of my life, but its accuracy couldn't be disputed. Tears smarted in my eyes.
"And I'll bet you've got people telling you all the time, 'you can do it, you're a smart girl, it's not too late...' " Edward's voice trailed off and he put his right hand out in an "on and on and on" gesture. "It doesn't do any good if you don't get to the root of it."
So here's this guy sitting across from me, and I still can't say for sure that I want to be here with him, and he's gently pulling the band-aids off every wound I have. It's like he knows the exposure helps heal the cuts.
"I know," I said. "I feel so stuck. And I get so angry about it. And that makes me feel more stuck." A tear escaped, and I thought for a moment that Edward would lean across and wipe it away.
Instead, he gently covered my hand with his own. "Fear's a bitchy mistress. She doesn't love you, but she won't let you go. You have to decide to leave her. She's not worth the years of your life," he said quietly.
A sob escaped my lips. It was as if he understood everything. And right now, he knew to say nothing.
"I'm sorry," I said, pulling a tissue from my pocket. "As you can see, I'm feeling less than resolved about this."
"It's okay. I like that you didn't cover it up. I like your honesty," he said.
That made me cry harder, because he had no idea how deceitful I was.
"I like you, Bella," he added softly.
I stayed quiet for a moment, not responding. He nodded his head almost imperceptibly and then exhaled deeply. He knew what my silence meant.
"If you're not ready…I won't be part of anything that causes you heartache. We don't have to do this now," he said.
This was so painful. I thought my heart would twist right out of my chest because of the words I had to say to him.
"I don't know what's wrong with me, Edward. You're amazing. There are no other words for it. You're just fucking amazing. And I'm not. I get too hung up on stupid things." Then the worst thing I could possibly say came right out: "You're too good for me."
He sank back into his seat and stared at me for a moment. "Now that's just crap, Bella. You're afraid, I get that. But don't use it as an excuse. Are you really saying what I think you're saying? 'You're too good for me' is usually code for 'I can't deal with your disability."
It would do him a horrible disservice to deny his own insight. "You have no idea how shitty I've felt this past week, wondering why I like you so much while not being certain whether I can like you more. Sometimes I want to try, and then other moments I'm back to being so unsure. It's petty, it's crappy, and it's pretty much right in line with everything else I know about myself."
His eyebrows shot up. "So this really is more about you than it is me." He looked fairly disgusted. "You know, I'm not your project, or something you'd use to help you figure yourself out. And I'm definitely not your problem. You can take that any way you'd like." He toyed with his coaster, his gaze now firmly on the table.
I nodded my head, the tears still coming. The criticism and the accompanying despair – they were something I was used to. But this time, I knew I deserved them. I'd judged someone who was good, kind and smart on something that he couldn't change, that was absolutely not his fault, and that he'd refused to prevent him from achieving.
I wanted to tell him that, but the angry expression on his face kept me silent. Any words I had would be weak and more damaging.
We ate the rest of our pizza mostly in silence. Edward paid and we left the pub to walk to the car.
The entire ride home, I scratched every surface of my thoughts for something to say. "I'm sorry"? "You're better off without me?" "Can we be friends"? Nothing seemed adequate.
Edward pulled up in front of my apartment and waited.
I turned to face him. "You're right about me. I wish I was different. I hate being this shallow. And I like you." It was a weird stream of consciousness, and pretty insufficient, but at least I got the words out.
His face softened a little bit. "I know. I like you too. I wouldn't think of making you uncomfortable." He grasped my hand, then leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. "I wish you well."
I let myself out and made my way up the stairs to my apartment. Behind me, I heard the car slowly accelerate and drive away.
Rose was in the kitchen grabbing beer from the fridge when I walked through the door. She knew of my date with Edward, and though she'd kept her misgivings to herself, I could guess them by the thin set of her lips.
I heard a basketball game on the TV, which meant Emmett was in the living room.
"Hey! How'd it go?" Rose's expression turned to horror when she saw my face. "Oh God, what happened? Are you okay?"
"I stopped crying, if that's what you mean," I said. "The date's over, and I'll probably never see him again."
"I told him the truth."
"Aw, sweetie," she said, coming to me with a hug. "You know if you're that confused, you're better off."
Emmett strolled in and stopped once he saw us, with Rose's arms around me. "Is it okay to walk in on this?" he asked.
I shrugged. "I'll get through it. I just have the feeling I made an awful mistake." The tears welled up again.
Emmett is the type of person who immediately tries to solve a problem instead of, say, just listening, so there are times when his efforts work better than others. Surprisingly, he asked before jumping in.
"What's going on?"
I looked at him, confused, because I thought Rose told him what happened. "I was out with Edward, the guy who'd been paralyzed in a diving accident. You know about this, right?"
"Yeah, but what I meant was, what's going on here" – he pointed to my head – "and here" – he pointed to my heart (but carefully, because it's behind my breasts).
"I like him but I can't seem to get past his appearance. And I feel really shitty about it."
"You want me to make you feel shittier?"
"What?" This was so Emmett. I had to laugh.
"I mean it. You know it here" – again he pointed carefully at my chest – " but now you've gotta get it through here," and he put his finger against my temple. "You're better than this, B. You've never hurt anyone by being unfair. Why start now?"
I cried harder. "I don't know! I can't figure it out, either."
He shook his head. "The whole time I've known you, you've been so damn tough on yourself. Now you're scared because you found someone you already know is imperfect, too. He might just be a really good guy for you."
"I know that!" I cried. "Don't you think I've been over this a million times?"
"Sure, but quit looking at it like it's another failure. So you had a weak moment – it happens. Show him you won't dwell on it."
"Emmett, Edward and I pretty much agreed that we're not going anywhere else with this. I don't think he'll want to hear from me any more," I replied.
"See, I'll bet that's where you're really wrong. Move past it, and tell him. Let him know you made a mistake and you want to make up for it." Emmett got more animated as he spoke. "He's seen your flaws, too – you showed him this one. You were honest with him, and he's got to respect how you wouldn't keep your asshole-ishness from him. No, don't look at me like that – just listen to me. Now you have to show him you really are better than that, by sucking it up and asking for another chance."
I stared at him for a minute. "Is this brilliant or naive?" I said, half to him and half to myself.
He shrugged. "Only one way to find out."
I took another week and thought about it. I went to work every day, avoided Lauren's questions about the hot guy, and wondered if I had the guts to do what Emmett suggested.
When I thought about Edward's eyes and his laugh, it was easier to appreciate Emmett's simple logic. And then when I focused on Edward's intelligence, and how he talked to me about my life without responding in platitudes or boredom, I thought, maybe I could do this. Maybe I'd want to rearrange my thinking and let it all work its way up from my heart. Maybe this was a chance I wanted to take, as fearful as it was.
I called him. I admit I was relieved that he didn't answer.
"I'm glad your Great-uncle Ralph's confusion about technology hasn't stopped you from having voicemail," I said dumbly, because I was indescribably nervous. "Look, I want to say...I wrote a bad script and I made a crappy movie out of it. I can't change the film now, I know that. I really believe there can be a better sequel. Will you see Part 2 with me?"
I left it at that, and softly closed my phone.
Days went by with no word. I finally resigned myself to it: I'd never get the chance to test Emmett's theory.
I was at home one night reading in bed when my cell phone rang. Once I saw it was Edward, I got so nervous I let it slip out of my hand and on to the floor.
"Hello? Hello?" I yelled desperately.
"Are you trying to make me go deaf on top of everything else?" At least he sounded like he was smiling.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
"Stop apologizing," he said firmly. I shut up immediately, surprised.
"I'm calling to tell you we shouldn't go to the movies."
"All right." I swallowed hard. "I understand."
"Let me finish," he said. "The movie playing through the weekend is way too crappy, even for us. So I think we should just skip the film and meet for coffee."
The whole center of my body suddenly felt lighter, like a dark, damp cover had been thrown off and everything under it was refreshed by oxygen.
"Okay," I said. "But not Starbucks, right?"
"Not Starbucks. The better place down the street."
"When?" I asked.
"Acupalypse is open in the evening. How about tomorrow night at 7?"
I arrived 15 minutes early, pacing back and forth in front of the coffee shop. I thought I had it sorted out, but I worried that the wrong expression, the wrong reaction would make him think I was full of shit again.
I glanced inside and saw Kate bustling around, serving customers. It reminded me of the good parts of the first time we were here. I took that as a positive sign. Maybe we could repeat those moments.
The street was fairly crowded for a Thursday evening, so it took another moment for me to spot Edward and his distinctive walk. I saw the imperfection, the flaw, and I can't say it didn't register. But I also saw the rest of him. I saw it all, and it propelled me toward him.
"Hi," I said, stopping right in front of him, suddenly shy.
"Hi. I hope I didn't keep you waiting."
"Not really. I came a little early – just wanted to."
He looked slightly puzzled at my response, then gestured in front of us. "Shall we go?"
"Yes." I took his hand – his left hand – and he looked down, then up to my eyes in surprise. We stared at each other a moment, and I waited and wondered.
"Too soon?" I asked.
He shook his head and smiled. "Not at all."
We turned toward the door, and he walked me through it.
Thanks to the organizers of Fandom Fights the Flood for this opportunity to participate in a great cause. And thank you for reading!
For any banking geeks who may be interested in the Glass-Steagall Act: