Thank you, thank you, thank you to Kathy aka EquisiteEdward who helped tremendously in getting this out as quickly as I have. Thanks also to cejsmom and Kassiah, my beautiful pre-readers. They all assured me this was at least readable. I'm trusting them. I feel like they wouldn't lie to me.
Again, I'm going to warn you. This isn't What If. I'm dealing with much heavier shit. HOWEVER, the angst level in this is much lower than What If's. They are just two people falling in love.
If you haven't listened to the song that inspired this story yet, get on my profile and do so now. It might help you to see where this is headed.
Are you sure you're ready?
Chapter One: Thornless Roses
He's hot. Sweat gathers at his brow which he wipes away with the back of his hand. He doesn't remember it ever being this hot in September. Maybe the climate changed during his absence. Maybe it's just him.
Maybe he's just nervous.
He glances at his watch. Damn. He's early. Too early. It will seem like he's trying too hard even though he is, he just doesn't want him to find out.
What's his name? He pulls out a wrinkled scrap of paper from his pocket. It reads, Mr. Emmett McCarty along with an address and phone number. He sighs, putting the paper away and wiping his wet palms along the outside of his pressed black dress pants. His tie is choking him, but he doesn't adjust it. He finally got it to sit perfect before he left, and he does not want to worry about its alignment all over again.
But his cufflinks, he fiddles with along with his hair, pulling and tugging all the while willing away his nerves and calming his breathing.
He's almost thirty minutes early, but he steps inside anyway. He's as ready as he'll ever be.
The gym is chilly compared to the outside, and it's already bristling with life even at nine in the morning on a Saturday. He walks to the front desk where an older woman is sitting, scribbling in a notebook. He stands until she notices him which takes a few moments.
Her eyes are cold even as she waits for him to speak first. When he doesn't, she sounds annoyed as she asks, "Can I help you?"
He clears his throat. "Um, yes. I'm here to see Mr. McCarty. My name is Edward Cullen?"
She blinks and still sounds agitated. "He's in his office." And she points in the direction.
He hesitates. He wants to be announced or led the way or… something.
"I'm here for an interview."
She looks at him like she doesn't give a fuck and just wants to get back to whatever she was doing before. She doesn't though. She hesitates and sizes him up.
He's really a gorgeous young man, she notices. He's in a crisp black suit with a white shirt underneath and a green tie. The tie is a bright almost lime green color which makes the green in his eyes alarmingly bold. His lashes are long and curl slightly which she notices a lot as he continues to blink at her over and over again, nervously waiting for her to respond. She sees the slight shine of sweat along his hairline, and then she realizes exactly how nervous this man is.
"Okay," she relents. "Right this way."
He sighs and wishes yet again that he could calm the fuck down. She takes him down a long hallway where the walls are freshly painted and the wood floors look like no one has ever stepped on them before.
There are a few small tables set up along each side of the corridor. Each one houses large bouquets of flowers. Well, not just flowers. All different colored roses. As he walks, he takes in the beauty of each arrangement, and as he finally stops when the old woman does outside of a large door with the name Emmett McCarty, Owner, on the outside of it, he realizes that none of the roses had thorns.
She knocks but doesn't wait for an answer before opening the door. "Emmett?" she calls.
"Yeah?" a deep, gruff and somewhat stern voice answers.
"Edward Cullen is here."
In the next moment, she is gone and headed back to her excruciatingly boring day to day duties. But for the rest of the day, Harriett Palmer will not be able to get those striking green eyes out of her mind.
Edward stands in the doorway and waits to be recognized. As soon as he sees the man behind the desk in front of him, he wants to vomit. His heart rate increases, and it's no longer because he's intimidated merely by the interview, but because of the interviewer who is one of the largest men he's ever seen.
He looks young, maybe even younger than him, but his entire body is nothing but hard, bulky muscle making Edward cower on the inside. His company-ordered polo hugs every piece of his body that it touches which shows every ripple, every nook of meaty, bulging flesh along his chest, arms and abs.
Edward gulps as he is beckoned by the huge guy with a flick of his thick fingers. His expression looks mostly pensive and completely unimpressed by Edward's clean, professional appearance.
"Sit," he commands. His voice is low and gruff. It demands attention and submission. Edward quickly sits in the chair across from his large desk because right now, this man's voice and presence scares the shit out of him.
Emmett looks across at the infamous Edward Cullen that he's heard so much about. He's automatically impressed by the beautiful dark suit on the man's lean frame, but he most certainly doesn't want him to know he finds him the least bit presentable. He wants to detest him for the low-life piece of shit this kid really is. He wants to scare him right out of his office and out of Forks for good.
Unfortunately for him, that does not happen.
Edward hands him his resume and references and letters of recommendation in a neatly put together plain white binder, held in sleek page-protectors with color coded tabs. Everything is typed and organized to perfection.
Damn, Emmett thinks to himself as he reads over the information, though his face never shows his acceptance and interest.
The interview takes longer than either anticipated. Emmett had assumed after a few questions Edward would fuck up on an answer, giving him an immediate way out of this situation. But, no. The young man is quick to respond and easily gives direct and well-thought out answers. He is pleased, but he is still disgusted by everything about him.
Edward considers the fact that Emmett never asks him any personal questions, not one. He doesn't ask him to tell him about himself or what he does for fun or his family or background. He knows now that Emmett is aware of much more about him than he realized.
After almost an hour of non-stop questions, Emmett sighs. He knows what he has to do. Emmett is a good man and always does the right thing, even if he doesn't always like it.
"So you've moved back to Forks permanently?" he asks.
Edward gives a curt, polite nod. "Yes, sir."
Emmett wants to smile every time this man has called him "sir". He knows for a fact Edward Cullen is at least four years older than him.
"Where have you been living all this time?"
"San Diego. I was in-"
"I know where you were."
Edward nods. He knew it. He forgets for a moment just how small this town is. The town he grew up in. This town where you can't spit without someone telling on you for it. There's no hiding. And now that he's back, he is struck with the hard reality that nothing he has been or will do is a secret. But now that he has moved back, he is no longer hiding.
"How long has it been?" Emmett asks.
And even if he doesn't say what Edward knows he wants to, he answers him with no hesitancy.
"Over three years." And just because he can, just because every second that ticks by is another second that he'll never forget that he made it through without giving up, he gives Emmett the truth. "Three years, ten months and seventeen days."
Emmett's eyebrows do not raise. He is not surprised. Instead, he furrows them. This man is not who he thought he was, and it is because of that fact that Emmett continues on in his decision.
"I had originally decided to schedule this interview as a favor to Carlisle. I told him I would after several weeks of his incessant nagging. Carlisle is the only reason you're sitting in front of me right now, I can assure you."
Although Edward knows this, he stills feels grateful toward his uncle. He also knows that this was Emmett's intention by mentioning the fact.
"However, I must admit… he was right about you. So I'm going to give you a chance." When Edward starts to smile, Emmett's voice turns to an even stricter tone because he most certainly doesn't want to be misunderstood. "But if I suspect that you are…"
"… for even a minute I will kick your ass, Cullen. You'll be leaving Forks for good. You got that?"
"I got it."
"Your weight-training skills and experience are some of the best I've ever seen. And since we just opened, you'll be a good asset to start us off. We have a lot of staff here, but not any good, heavy personal trainers."
As he's talking, Edward can't help but feel like a massive burden has been lifted off of him. He knew everyone in this town would remember him, even after all this time. No one forgets. Nope, no one will ever fucking forget what he was like, or what he did all those years ago.
But now that he's here, now that he has a job, he can do what he's set out to do. And that's to start over, and coming back to where it all began had been the hardest part. However, a job would make Forks a little more bearable.
"So, what do you say, Cullen? You up for the job?"
A smile ignites his face which, for the first time in the past hour, makes Emmett smile too.
"Good. Now let me show you around."
As they walk, Emmett tells him of how he started the gym just a year ago. Edward nods, knowing he was right about everything in the building being new. It doesn't even smell like a gym. Nothing has really been used yet, and it shows. Everything is clean lines and soft colors, all except the different arrangements of thornless roses.
He walks him through the largest workout room, where most of the people are. The workout equipment is new as well, and Emmett explains a few very briefly as he walks by. He makes it to the end of the room and walks down another long hallway. Roses on each side light up the corridor as he is shown smaller workout rooms and training facilities.
"We have about two hundred members right now, which isn't bad for only be open for a year, but we're growing more and more each month. We really need more help," Emmett explains.
"When will I work?" he asks.
"We're closed on Sundays, but you'll work every day. We'll start you out at the five to midnight shift until you get a little more comfortable and know what you're doing exactly." Both of them turn their heads as they hear a commotion of laughter coming from down the hall. "Oh, there's Tyler. He'll be training you for a while."
Edward follows behind him as they walk up to a tall, blonde-haired young man in the same polo as Emmett. He's a big guy, not as big as Emmett or even as Edward, but he's big enough that it shows he hits the gym quite often. His eyes are focused directly on the short, older gentleman standing next to him.
"Tyler!" Emmett calls out. "I want you to meet Edward. He's the new guy."
Tyler looks up and smiles at both of them. His eyes are clearly assessing Edward's stature as they approach him, but he doesn't seem to dislike what he sees because his smile never wavers. He looks back down at the old man and clasps him gently on the arm. "All right, Gus. I'll see you next week, okay? And try to avoid Don's Donut Shop this week, got it?"
"Got it!" And the old man smiles once more at Tyler before slowly trotting away.
"Sup, Gus?" Emmett greets as they pass.
"Good mornin', Em." And he's gone.
"Hey, man. I'm Tyler." He smiles at Edward as they shake hands.
"Edward Cullen. Nice to meet you."
Tyler's face immediately falls, and he desperately wants to retract his hand as quickly as possible. But he's polite and doesn't want to automatically question why the hell Emmett is walking around with Edward Cullen.
Edward, however, sees Tyler's reaction to his name, and even though on the inside he is incredibly disheartened by it, on the outside, his smile remains. While he himself has never met this Tyler guy before, he is more than certain that Tyler knows exactly who he is.
"Edward is your new shadow. He's going to be our new personal trainer," Emmett states. He says it with assurance and confidence. He sees in Tyler's eyes his shock and resistance, and he really doesn't want Tyler questioning his decision.
"Oh. Wow. Okay," his voice is steady, and a fake smile appears on his face as he nods and crosses his arms in front of his chest. "So when do we get started?"
"You'll start training him Monday. Today I'm just showing him around."
"Sounds good, big guy. I've really gotta go though. My eleven o'clock is always early. Nice to meet you, Edward. Congratulations," Tyler says quickly before hurrying off. Edward, internally, winces at the phrase 'big guy' in reference to Emmett, and when he looks to gauge his reaction, he is positive Emmett isn't too keen on the endearment either.
"Come on," Emmett barks and continues on down the hallway.
For twenty more minutes, he shows Edward the locker rooms and showers, the employee break rooms, all of the different dumbbell and weight-training rooms, and even the daycare facility. They take the stairs to the top floor where the cardio and aerobics rooms are.
Edward is in awe of everything being so new. The rooms aren't huge compared the gyms he's previously been to in San Diego, but the layout and décor makes the place seem light and airy. Even though the color tones on the walls and on the floors are neutral, every inch of it gives him a warm feeling, and he's not sure why.
"And this is our one open studio," Emmett announces as they turn a corner and come to a room with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall. The room isn't very big, but it's big enough to fit maybe a thirty-person aerobics class. He is about to ask Emmett about the glass wall when he sees her.
And he is numb. He's frozen, and he's not even sure why at first. He didn't notice her when he first looked in because she was bent down in the corner, messing around with the music. But now she has obviously chosen a song and has walked to the middle of the room, standing completely still with her back to him.
The first thing he notices about her is how long her hair is. It's a golden brown with soft waves cascading down the full length of her back. He follows the ends until he sees the most beautiful ass he's ever laid eyes on. She's small and skinny, maybe a little too skinny but that ass… he can't seem to get over. He wants to groan at the tiny, tight as fuck spandex shorts she has on, but he tiny waist that's right above it looks small enough for him to wrap his hands around, maybe even have his fingers overlapping. And her legs… dear God, her legs, while tone and muscular, are long and lean even though he can tell she's quite short.
Then suddenly, he gasps because she's moving. She's moving, and he's never seen anything like it. Somewhere he hears Emmett say something and continue walking like Edward is still following him, but he's not. He's stuck, and he's not sure if he can move because this girl is quite possibly the most beautiful girl he's ever seen or if it's because the way she dances makes his insides tremble.
She leaps and kicks and thrashes her body from one side of the room to the other, finally turning so he can see the passion in her face as well as the story being told by her body. The rhythmical technique that she uses has him riveted. And even though he can't hear the music at all, he knows he's seeing it. This is music. He hears nothing but the roar of the air-conditioning, but what he sees is musicality at its richest.
Her hair flies all around her, only allowing him brief glimpses of her face, but still… he knows she's beautiful. The grace, precision and style with which she dances, makes him wish he knew more about what he is watching. He wishes he knew what it was called when she did a split in the air or twirled twice with a leap turnout. But above all, he wishes he knew her.
He notices a sudden sadden look takes over her features and her moves become more choppy but still grand and precise. Her arms go in all directions, and her pointed toes are all over every surface of that hardwood floor, but still, she shows no sign of stopping. He guesses this is a climax of the song. She's twisting and turning and flailing her entire body in all directions. And he has to remind himself to breathe.
Suddenly, she stops, completely. And this time, she's facing him.
Her hair is not in her face, and he finally sees her perfectly. And shit, that's exactly what she is. Her skin is flawless, pale with light freckles on her nose. Her eyes are big and wide and a delicious brown, matching almost perfectly with her hair. Her lips are closed, and he notices the bow shape of her hard-pressed mouth. The pink tint in her lips makes his palms sweat and his heart race. When he moves his eyes from her long neck down to the swell of her breasts underneath her tight black tank top, he feels himself becoming more and more aroused. He glances back up into her eyes because he feels her stare still locked on him.
And he still feels weightless. The warm feeling he had when he first walked upstairs is no longer because of the fucking color of the walls, it's this girl. Her presence, her locked gaze, her movements made his body chill and heat all at the same time. And as she just continues to stand completely still and stare at him, he does something he doesn't think he's ever done in his entire life. He blushes, but still doesn't look away. He doesn't even know if he's blinked in the last five minutes, but he doesn't care.
And then, there's movement again. It's slow… excruciatingly slow so much so that he almost doesn't see it at all, even though he hasn't stopped watching her this whole time.
Her right hand that had been lying dead by her side, slowly rises in front of her body. At first her hand is bent at the elbow and by her breast like she is about to touch her heart, but instead she very slowly stretches it out toward him until she's reaching. She's reaching so far, he thinks she might fall over. Her face looks to be almost in pain, fighting tears and internal demons as she reaches out to him, never losing his eyes.
He takes a step forward like he is going to come through the fucking glass to get to her. He wants her in a way he doesn't understand but his body knows exactly. In the next moment, she's no longer standing. She's dancing again, reaching out to him in a completely different way.
He doesn't even realize he's panting until his breath fogs the window, so he takes a step back. Then, he feels a presence beside him.
"I guess I've been talking to myself for the past five minutes," Emmett says, not sounding angry or rude, mostly in a joking manner.
Edward doesn't respond, though. He can't. He's not sure he'll ever be able to say another word ever again. He's completely and utterly speechless.
Emmett looks ahead of him, following Edward's line of vision and sighs. He knows the look he's giving her. He knows it all too well.
"Come on, man. Let's keep going," Emmett says, clasping his shoulder gently. He's shocked by the rigidness in his muscles and entire body. His shoulder is rock solid, but it's not muscle… its tension. This stops him.
"Who is she?" His voice is but a whisper. It feels like the first breath he's ever taken.
"Her name's Bella Harris. She teaches dance here a couple of times a week. I let her use the room for free because it gives the gym good exposure since the parents pick their kids up here and shit. Plus…" he trails. "… she's a good friend."
He wants to say it out loud. He wants to whisper it, hear himself shout it, but he says nothing still.
"I know what you're thinking… and don't. Okay?" Emmett's voice is low but firm as he says this. "Just don't."
This gets his attention. His head quickly turns, and his eyes narrow into small slits without even thinking about it. He just wants to be near her. He wants to hear her voice, watch her bow lips as she speaks. He wants to know… have her touch his heart the way she already has through dance.
Emmett is the first to look away, and when he does, his face falls and grimaces before he lets out a long, resigned sigh. Edward immediately turns back to the window, watching as Bella sits in the middle of the floor, back facing them, with her legs pulled to her chest and her back heaving in hard cries.
"What…" he asks to himself. And the way his chest feels now, is painful… sheer hurt compared the lightness he had just felt. He looks from side to side until he sees the door.
Emmett stops him before he can even take a step. "She's fine."
"What? No, she's not. She's crying," he emphasizes, pointing to the window where the small, broken girl still sits.
"Leave it alone, Edward."
"But she saw me… through the glass. I don't want her to think-"
"No, she didn't," Emmett interrupts.
"It's a one-way mirror."
He doesn't want to believe it. He hears it, but he doesn't want to believe it's the truth. Because this girl owns him. Somehow, she has changed him in those brief moments of what he thought were locked eyes. He feels changed, even more so than he did three years ago. But he is crushed that their connection… their magnetism was completely one-sided. And now, this intriguing girl was sitting on the cold, hard wood floor, crying tears that were slowly killing him one by one.
Emmett tugs him and speaks. He doesn't hear it. If he listens hard enough, he thinks he can hear her crying. Maybe it's his imagination. But maybe it's his heart, cracking and breaking along with hers. And now he wonders, if she wasn't looking at him, what did she see while looking at herself?
Bella looks forward to Fridays more than any other day of the week. Unlike most college students her age, it's not because of the excitement or promise of getting drunk and partying during the entire up-coming weekend- no, it's for one reason and one reason only. She gets to leave.
For one day she leaves all cares behind, all responsibilities and questions on longer matter. For this one day a week, she gets to step outside her bubble and enjoy the city. New York City.
It's Christmas time, and the city is beautiful. Twinkly lights adorn every street corner while the hustle and bustle of hurried New Yorkers seem to carry themselves with a little more joy than usual, smiling at each other and stopping to admire certain decorations that only appear for one month out of the year.
Bella is in awe. She's only lived in one place her entire life, Jacksonville, Florida, where it's warm year round and absolutely nothing at all like this busy city. She feels privileged to walk the streets, to now call this place her home.
As she steps out of her dorm and into the chilly New York air, she pulls at her sweater and coat around her, wishing she would have changed out of her grey, knit tights from class. But her tall boots will have to do at least for the afternoon.
Leah, Emily and Claire all trail behind her, laughing and talking about the up-coming Christmas recital. But since today is Friday, Bella's one day of freedom, she doesn't join in. Instead, she walks briskly ahead of them, pulling her hair from the bun on top of her head then shaking it out so it will lie over her freezing cold ears.
Since Christmas Day is fast approaching, the girls decide to spend their few precious hours off by shopping for presents. Bella has not gotten anything for her father yet, so they make their way to Broadway, near Wall Street where they can have their pick of men's clothing stores.
After only an hour, she feels seriously disheartened. She's only an eighteen year-old poor, struggling dance student and certainly can't afford anything even near Hugo Boss or Armani Exchange. As they get closer to Wall Street, the girls stop outside of Prada. They smile and awe over the handbags and purses in the window, but they don't dare go inside.
As they start walking again, they don't realize Bella has stayed behind. She is frozen where she stands because she just fell in love with… a beautiful… tan… messenger bag, and she doesn't think she'll ever be the same.
She stands as close to the window as she can possibly get without touching it. The bag is gorgeous. Brown leather with gold clasps, just big enough to fit all of her choreography notebooks and music. She pouts a little and even stomps her foot with a huff, but she knows she's being ridiculous. That bag was never made for someone like her.
She shuts her eyes and shakes her head slightly as she turns around to catch back up with the girls. It's then that her life changes. She has quite literally run face-first into her fate.
"Oh," she exclaims after hitting a hard chest. She stumbles backward a few feet, her suede boots getting caught on impurities on the pavement.
A gentle but strong hand reaches out and steadies her around her waist. His hands are big but beautiful. The skin around them is flawless, pale and looks to be soft. She hasn't even seen this man's face, but just looking at his hands makes her bones quiver. She reaches out and steadies herself on his forearms. They are covered by his wool peacoat but underneath she feels hard muscle.
For some reason, her eyes drop to the ground first, where she sees expensive black loafers. They look to be the ones she saw in Armani Exchange earlier, but she can't be sure. If so, they are two thousand dollar shoes. Her eyes slowly rise to take in his long legs in black slacks, all the way up to his waist where a crisp white shirt is tucked in and a hint of blue peaking between his overcoat and his heavy peacoat. She realizes she's looking straight ahead but still all she sees are the slight indentions of his taunt chest muscles through the thin white fabric. So, she slowly lifts her head higher to take in his face.
Her mouth opens only a little but her breath hitches very audibly. He is stunning. His eyes are a dark, ocean blue, and his hair, a deep, rich brown. He's smiling down at her with a smile so real and genuine that it seems like the only smile she's ever seen before. He's clean shaven and pristine, like he was just sculpted into a perfect human.
He is the first to speak, because God knows Bella has all but forgotten her own name.
"Are you all right?" he asks, still smiling.
His teeth are straight and as white as his shirt, and she really can't stop staring at his lips.
"Y-yes. I'm fine." She stands up straighter and lets go of his arms. In turn, he releases her waist but doesn't move away from her. He continues to smile at her, but not looking into her eyes. She follows the line of his gaze and realizes he's staring at what she's wearing since her coat has fallen open some. She's insanely embarrassed because she's wearing a simple black leotard with a short, sheer black skirt and her silly knit tights. Her sweater is short and only comes to above her bellybutton, but she wears it so it covers her arms and chest while walking around all day in a stupid leotard. Her cheeks tint pink as she pulls her coat tight around her and crosses her arms. His gaze flickers back to her face immediately where he smiles broader when he notices he's been caught staring at her, and how she's clearly embarrassed by it.
But then, his smile falls when something catches his eye on the ground. He immediately bends like a baseball catcher to the pavement. Bella looks down and sees an open briefcase with papers pouring out.
"Oh! Oh my god, I'm so sorry," she says, bending down to help him.
"It's perfectly fine. I wasn't watching where I was going," he states. She notices him glance at her boots and smile softly again before picking up more papers and shutting his briefcase.
They both rise back to their feet, facing each other closely, their chests almost touching. He's still smiling.
"My name is Maximus. Max Harris," he says, holding out his beautiful hand to her.
And for the first time, but not the last, they touch skin to skin.
Bella is jolted awake. She sits up and realizes where she is and what she's just dreamed. And for the second time that day, she weeps. She cries hard, gut-wrenching sobs that bubble up from her chest and spit out through her lungs. She throws her head back and wails. She screams because she's alone- because no one is around to hear her. Then she screams louder because that is the very reason for her crying.
When she's cried so hard for so long that she's sweating, she gets out of bed and goes into the kitchen. She takes out a bottle of red wine and goes out onto the porch. It's another warm summer night, but there's a slight mist of rain which cools her skin as she sits and rocks herself on the porch swing.
She pours a glass of wine, hoping this will help her go back to sleep tonight. She hasn't been so emotional in months, and she really doesn't understand why today has been especially hard for her. She always dreams of him, of their time together, but it's never had such an effect on her as it has tonight.
She cannot say the same for her dancing. While she doesn't always have a full-out melt down after every time she dances, she does always think of him as she moves. He is the direct driving force behind every one of her steps. She sees him as she dances, as she hears the music, as she remembers the steps. If inspiration is what he is, then she'd dance for a lifetime to feel so inspired.
So as she sits and rocks and drinks, she doesn't cry at all, for she knows the wine will make her pain lessen and this numbness will be a welcomed relief. She looks straight ahead, off the porch of this house she doesn't consider a home and thinks of how much longer she has to live like this.
Thornless roses: "Love at first sight"
I'm expecting this to be short. 14 chapters? Banner by HeatherDawn on profile. It's AMAZING!
Told you it was different. Update next week. For real? I don't joke about such things.