We Heart It O/S Contest

Title: Starbucks Tradition

Rating & Any Needed Warning: PG angst warning

Pairing: Bella and Edward

Summary: A row of empty coffee cups, each with a story to tell. Who will hear the stories and when? AU Set after the first chapters of New Moon, after Edward leaves Bella in the woods. This is a O/S written for the We Heart It Contest. The story is inspired by a picture of a row of Starbucks coffee cups with writing on them.

Disclaimer : All characters are the express property of the original author, Stephenie Meyer. I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. I will not profit from this work.

Huge thanks to ChloeCougar for Beta'ing this for me and for her wonderful words of encouragement! Thanks hun!

Starbucks Tradition

I knew she'd be here today, at my local Starbucks café.

She wouldn't let me sit here by myself. She never did.

I made my way slowly through the crowd towards her, sat down in the comfortable seat that she had saved for me next to her and smiled in greeting. I was happy to see he, but also saddened by her presence. It always felt like this.

"Hi Bella." she smiled softly in return to me, kissing me tenderly on the cheek. "You look well. How are you?"

I smiled sardonically at her. 'Well' was a relative term. It had been a while since I had seen her. It always was. More than this was too much for me. She understood. She always understood me. She hadn't changed at all of course, except for her clothes. She always wore the latest fashions.

I reached up and brushed my fingers over her cheek; so cold, so smooth, so similar to her brothers. So different to mine.

I felt a slight tug inside me that, over the last few weeks, I had come to realise was anticipation. Soon, I told myself, soon.

"I'm very well," I replied to my best friend's question, looking into her bright eyes. "Keeping busy, you know," I added with a wink. She nodded. She probably did know too. Probably better than I.

I wouldn't dare do anything but keep busy.

She had ordered for me and motioned to the take-away cup on the table in front of me. I leaned forward and breathed in the aroma. Dark coffee fragrance. Horrible. Just right. We had ordered coffee the very first time we had come here. After.

She saw me shudder at the smell and asked, exasperated, "Why do you always have coffee if you don't like it, Bella? Have something else instead."

I smiled at her fondly, she didn't understand; traditions were important. "Maybe next time." It was what I always replied.

We sat together in silence for a while, holding hands on the table; giving and receiving strength. Strangers walked past our table in the cafe, smiling at our friendship, nodding greetings to us as they do when we are together these days. It must be a nice sight to see, I suppose. The crowd ebbed and flowed around us; a constant reminder of life, of people, of relationships, of love.

"Have you met anyone?" she asked me suddenly, something of a desperate yearning in her voice. I was surprised, I almost choked on the replica coffee; she meant, had I met a man, and she had stopped asking me that question a while ago. I looked carefully at her now. Surely she was joking?

"Really, Alice, what a question to ask me," I scolded her, chuckling and shaking my head. She looked down at her dainty hands in her lap, abashed.

"I just thought I'd ask; you might have done." Her voice trailed off forlornly. I felt guilty for upsetting her, her little pixie face was not meant to have a sad expression on it. Her flawless, pale skin looked better with a smile, and I loved to see it; it was just like old times.

"I'll think about it, okay?" I reassured her, squeezing her hand. She smiled bravely back at me, knowing I wouldn't. "You really could try," she whispered sadly.

I sighed. It was impossible. She should understand. I'd told her enough times. Once you give your heart, there's no going back. No saying, "oh, I've changed my mind; I'd like it back now."

I had given my heart to her brother, given it freely and willingly and I wouldn't change a single thing about that. I wouldn't, couldn't ever ask for it back, just so that I could give it to another. It belonged to him. Always.

"I love you Alice," I whispered in consolation to her, squeezing her hand again. You can never say that sort of thing too many times. I'd learnt that.

She leaned her head gently against my shoulder and sighed deeply. "I know," she replied simply.

She seemed particularly subdued today; quiet, sad. Normally when we met she would try and cheer me a little, but today she was quiet. But I was comforted by her presence; that was enough for me.

We sat together in the Starbucks cafe, surrounded by people and life, noise and motion. We were not in a rush, had nowhere to go, just two friends coming together on this day. The anniversary day.

It all seemed such a long time ago now, when Edward had said those words to me; he words that had broken me, that had signalled the end of our time together. I remember it all of course as if it were yesterday; that sort of memory doesn't fade, despite what he might have thought.

Oh Edward, I sighed, how you underestimated this human. I would never forget you, never find anyone else. Never want to look for anyone else.

We sat, Alice and I, and watched the world go by, as we always did when we were here together. We didn't talk much; we had said everything we needed to say on this occasion many times before.

I didn't like to hear her talk about her family; it just made me sad that I was not a part of it. And Alice didn't ask me about my own life, such as it was now, because that made us both sad. So we sat and watched time pass, and thought our own private thoughts.

It was at these times that I couldn't do anything to prevent the 'what if' thoughts that drifted into my mind. What if Edward hadn't left me? Would we still be together? I couldn't imagine that we wouldn't be. What if James, Victoria and Laurent hadn't found us playing baseball? Would Edward have considered me to be in danger still? Would he have changed me as I had wanted him to? He knew I didn't want to grow old and leave him. I snorted at this thought and Alice glanced at me, curious. I shook my head at her. Private thoughts Alice, already gone over many times.

And then the 'if only's' started.

If only I hadn't gone to pieces after he had left. If only I had fought for him, searched for him, refused to accept that he had gone.

Those six months wasted.

Such a short length of time in the grand scheme of things, but so significant.

I sipped some more of the replica coffee half-heartedly. I needed the cup empty, it was tradition. I grimaced as I drank, this stuff tasted worse every time, they kept on changing it.

I thought about the time after Edward had left me alone in the woods that day; I thought about Jacob. I hadn't thought about him in a while. I missed him, he had been a good friend.

"Have you got a pen?" Alice asked me gently, pulling me from my thoughts and gesturing towards the empty cup I now held in my hands in front of me.

"Yes, I have a stock of them." I grinned at her, proud of myself for managing to find them. I reached into my bag, pulled out an old Sharpie pen, and handed it to her. "What are you going to write today, Alice?" We had started writing on my coffee cup the very first time we had met here, and carried on the tradition now, even though it was more difficult these days. Damn recycling.

"Happy thoughts, Bella," Alice replied to my question, her voice cracking, giving way to her emotions. "Happy thoughts." She couldn't shed actual tears, but she could still cry. She was even sadder than usual; so broken. I hoped Jasper was nearby to take her in his arms and care for her when we were finished here. He always waited patiently outside for her.

"Then be happy, Alice," I said to her firmly. "Always be happy." She sobbed even harder at my words and the pen shook in her hand as she wrote something on the cup in her beautiful handwriting. I picked up the pen when she had finished and thought about what I was going to write. Surprisingly, I had a lot to fit into the small spaces between the Starbucks logos.

Before he left me, Edward had said he wanted me to have as many human experiences as possible; he even made me go with him to a school prom. It had been awful, apart from having him in my arms of course. Even after what had happened, I still hadn't wanted to disappoint Edward, so I had made sure to experience as many different things as I could. New foods, new hobbies, travel, education. Lots of different things.

Every time Alice and I met, I used my coffee cup to write down everything new that I had experienced since we had last met. It was as if, by writing them down, I was proving to him that I had done them. I had never written down 'sex' though. That was one human experience that I hadn't had. It was something that I had wanted to discover with Edward; it just wouldn't have been the same with anyone else. Alice always used to peer over and read what I had written, hoping to find 'sex' on my list; she had stopped looking a while ago though.

Thoughtfully, I wrote, 'visited the dolphin colony, went to poetry writing classes, learned how to make baklava, planted a flower garden.' They were small things this time round and not that many of them really, but I was proud that I had done them. I added, 'had coffee with my best friend Alice.' And that was all the space taken up with my scrawly handwriting. Sighing, I smiled at Alice. It didn't seem like a very long list for a year.

We met, Alice and I, on the same day, every year. It was an anniversary that we both wanted to remember, even though it filled us both with deep sadness. Alice was consumed with guilt that she hadn't seen it soon enough to prevent it; I was consumed with guilt that I had caused it. No wonder our meetings were so quiet.

"It wasn't your fault." Alice's words were firm, cutting into my reflections. I smiled at her gratefully; she said that to me every year.

"It wasn't your fault either, Alice." I replied to her in as strong a voice as I could manage. She smiled at me. I said that to her every year too. We knew each other so well.

More time passed, slowly and inevitably like it does, and soon I had to go. It was tiring, sitting here amongst all the bustle. I craved the solitude and peace of my home. The light tugging inside me called to me again. Anticipation. I welcomed it.

Alice stood up and helped me as I rose clumsily to my feet. She was perpetually young and agile.

"See you next year, Alice," I said, my voice hoarse with emotion, holding her hand tightly in both of mine for a moment.

Instead of replying, she pulled me into a fierce hug, holding me to her petite frame as tightly as she dared, whispering desperately into my ear. "I love you Bella, remember that, okay? I love you. I always will."

I stroked my fingers down her perfect cheek again when she released me, and turned away from her, slowly making my way out of the door.

Outside the café, I settled into my ride and was soon home again. I didn't live far away. I waved my palm at the security panel and the door swung open for me. I remembered when we used to have whole bunches of metal keys. We had a different key for every lock. Unbelievable. The keys were heavy and used to jingle and jangle in your pockets. I missed keys.

I carried my precious empty Starbucks cup into my ground floor flat and headed stiffly into the bedroom and over to the low shelf where I displayed them. I didn't know why I didn't just put them away, but I think that having all my experiences on display was a way of proving to myself that I was living, too. I didn't want to have wasted my life; I wanted to have plenty to talk about.

I hated the anniversary day. Of course I did. My guilt over what I had done was almost enough to cripple me. I felt it every single day of the year, but I felt it most strongly of all on the anniversary day.

If only I hadn't gone cliff diving.

I looked at the cup to see what Alice had written this year. It was easy to find her neat writing. She had written, 'I believe we all have souls.' That was different, she normally wrote down a funny memory or happy words of encouragement. I placed the cup on the shelf, making room for it. It was a strange tradition, but not one I planned on changing now.

I hated the anniversary day. The memories of those frantic hours when Alice had come for me, telling me Edward had been told I was dead, that I had killed myself jumping from the cliffs at La Push. The hours spent sitting in aeroplanes willing them to fly faster, to please, please, get us there on time. The desperate car journey through the sunlit Italian countryside, which culminated in all those hundreds of people in blood red robes, blocking my way. The devastating sight of Edward, his beautiful body glittering in the noon day sun, being dragged back into the dark shadows of the citadel, the huge doors thundering closed behind them and then nothing, nothing but the sound of granite screeching and tearing and shattering … and then silence.

Alice had forced her way through the doors, needing to see with her own eyes that the deed had been done, hoping and praying that her vision was a false one. But it wasn't. We were too late and Edward -my beautiful, flawed, heartbroken man - w - - was no more.

I hated the anniversary day.

Getting ready for bed, I felt the tug of anticipation again. It had been getting stronger for weeks now. I didn't dread it, but neither had I rushed it. I had learned my lesson about that. I brushed my hair, not looking in the mirror, and placed the brush back down, lining it up carefully with the comb. The loose hairs didn't show at all over the white ivory handle.

I got into bed, pulling the cover up to my chin. The tugging in my soul was stronger than ever, my heart joining in now too. Soon. It would be soon.

Edward had believed that I had a soul, and that there would be a place in heaven for me.

I believed with every fibre of my being, that Edward had had a soul too and that there had been a place in heaven for him.

"I'll be there soon now, love," I whispered into the dark, the tugging getting stronger, insistent, telling me that there was not much longer to wait. Not now.

I believed.

And then I knew.

It was time, at last.

Taking in a last, sweet breath, a last look at the seventy three empty Starbucks cups arranged on my shelf - one for every year - I whispered, "I've got so much to tell you, love. I'll be there with you soon," And closed my eyes for the final time, a smile on my face and love in my heart. Knowing that he was there waiting for me.

The end