Chapter 1: How About Love?

Dedication: To my lovely friend and beta jadedandboring. You're almost as excited for this fic as I am, and I love you for it.

"525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes - how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life?"

~Seasons of Love, Rent


"Thanks for doing this, Edward. I wouldn't have asked you to come in again except that I'm having trouble narrowing Mimi down, and you're the only one who knows the audition piece for every male part."

Edward Masen looked up from the sheet of music he was studying and grinned at the lone woman sitting in the audience. "You know me - thorough," he said amiably. "Besides Esme, you know I'd do anything you asked."

Esme Cullen laughed, smiling fondly at him. "Well, don't let my husband hear you say that. He might get the wrong idea."

"Who do you have coming in? Not Rosalie. I know she's hellbent on getting Maureen."

"Yes," Esme muttered distractedly, rifling through a stack of papers she held. "Well, she doesn't have much competition for that role. Jessica maybe... But no, neither of them are coming in today. It's a new girl. Her name is Isabella... no, Bella Swan. She spent the last two seasons at the Wolves Playhouse. They did Grease in the spring season. She made a fantastic Frenchy."

"Is she young?" The character of Mimi was very young, he knew, which was why he asked. Not that such things always mattered on the stage - whomever could best portray the part was the best choice for the job no matter what technicalities existed.

"Ninteen," Esme confirmed. "Almost twenty. She read for Joanne. You know, she figured that part fit her most. She can pull off bookish, proper and-"

"Lesbian?" Edward quipped, smiling cheekily.

Esme looked up, pushing her thick-framed glasses down her nose so she could raise an eyebrow at him. "I don't honestly know." She shrugged, pushing her glasses back up and leaning back.

"Mimi is a far cry from Joanne," Edward remarked, curious now.

"She has the ... spunk for the part, I think," Esme responded easily. "We'll see. That's what we're here for, after all."

The door opened, and Edward leaned against the front of the piano as the new girl walked in.

His first instinct was that there was nothing spectacular about the woman. She was petite and lovely, but many women were. Small breasts but since when did anyone really need more than a handful? Her body was shapely - long legs that flared out into supple hips. Long brown hair that feathered perfectly right just past her shoulders.

Suddenly, inexplicably parched, Edward cleared his throat. His eyes continued their journey appreciating the way she wore no jewelry. Her neck was oddly attractive... graceful somehow. And her lower lip...

But he forgot all of that when her eyes flicked up to him as she got close enough for him to really see her.

There was no stage, no Esme in the audience and no one at the piano beside him. He was drowning in something warm and deep. Her eyes. All of her emotions were in her eyes. He saw her nerves and wanted to soothe them. He saw her hope and wanted stoke it, fanning the flames because he knew he could make the soft caramel depths dance. And when their eyes met, he swore he saw a lightning bolt of-

"Edward!"

Edward's head snapped over to his director. She was leaning on the seat back of the seat in front of her, head cradled on her folded arms and a knowing smirk on her face. She turned to Bella. "As I said, this is Edward Masen. He'll be singing Roger's part for you."

Calming whatever ridiculous flutter of nerves had taken root in his stomach, Edward turned to Bella and smiled, extending a hand. "My pleasure, Bella," he said smoothly.

He didn't miss that she swallowed hard as she put her hand in his. Her skin was so soft, her fingers fitting perfectly in his palm. He brushed his thumb over the back of her hand once before he let her go. Her lips quirked. "Likewise," she said, and her voice was breathy.

He grinned. He couldn't help it.

"Alright, kids," Esme said. She gestured with one hand to the stage. "When you're ready."

Bella looked a little flustered. She pressed one hand to her neck, clearing her throat with a somewhat worried expression. Edward understood the feeling - like your breath wouldn't hold your voice for anything stronger than a whisper.

Acting mostly on instinct - though why he felt the urge to protect this girl from a potentially embarrassing moment he didn't know - Edward stepped forward, his hand on her arm. "Hey. You got this," he said low enough that only she could hear, holding her gaze.

He watched, fascinated as the nervous, darting light of uncertainty in her eyes calmed. She breathed in and out, then nodded.

Edward grinned at her, reassuring he hoped, and stepped back. "Take it away, Mrs. Cope," he said to the piano player. The notes began promptly and he rapped three times on the piano to give Bella a jump on her cue. "What'd you forget?" he sang.

She played it smooth, the nervous girl disappearing entirely as her slight smile became vaguely predatory. Her every movement was aware of his presence, like he was a stationary sun and she the solar system that spiraled out around him. The way she walked was perfect. She would lean in until he was drawn closer, his face tilting down to hers, and then she would spin away, turning her back.

"What are you staring at?" she sang.

The flush on your cheeks. That pouty lower lip. "Nothing. Your hair in the moonlight. You look familiar." Their eyes caught again and she visibly swayed. He reached out, steadying her automatically though she was only playing to the part. "Can you make it?"

Her eyes held his for a beat longer than was necessary and then she was turning away, already singing. "Just haven't eaten much today. At least the room stopped spinning, anyway." She turned, and her smile made him want to smile in return. "What?" she asked gently.

"Nothing. Your smile reminded me of..." My mother, he realized belatedly.

"I always remind people of... who is she?" Even in song, her voice was soft and unassuming. He wanted to tell her... the truth.

"She died," he admitted, glad his automatic memory knew the words well enough to fill in the next word with Roger's story and not his own. "Her name was April."

Her eyes were almost coy as she continued the song. Like she was playing with him. Shaking off the odd feeling that this woman he'd known only minutes could somehow see him so completely, he accepted the silent challenge. When she pressed into his personal space, her clothes brushing the skin of his arms, he only swayed closer to her.

"Would you light my candle?" she sang to him.

"Well..."

"Yeah?" There was a surprised sort of uncertainty in her eyes then, her bravado faltering just long enough that he thought he could see... this was affecting her as much as it was him. She flinched away from him. "Ow!"

Reaching forward, wanting to tease her a little, he snatched her 'injured' hand, bringing it up as if to examine it. "Oh, the wax..." He heard her breath catch and he looked up at her from under his eyelashes. "It's-"

Her eyes hardened a moment before she pressed their joined hands forward, onto his chest. She brushed against him fully, her movements subtly suggestive. "It's dripping." Her voice was dripping ... pure sexiness, flirting without words, as she put her other hand on his shirt over his abs. Her eyes trained up from where her hand rested to his eyes, making a thrill travel up his spine at the same pace. "I like it between my..."

"Fingers!" His exclamation was surprisingly raw and panicked, and this time it was him turning away from her. "I figured. Oh, well. Goodnight."

Mrs. Cope brought the music to an end with a flourish, and Edward turned back, needing to see her. Bella stood ramrod straight on the stage. Her eyes a little wide and startled now that the music had stopped. He felt the way she looked - completely bewildered, a little awed and... very turned on.

"That was lovely, Bella." Esme's voice made them both start and they whirled to look at her in unison. Out of the corner of his eye, Edward could see she was blushing tomato red now, her mouth parted and her breath a little more labored than was probably normal. Esme only smiled sweetly. "I'll be making my decision by the end of the week."

"Thank you," Bella said, seeming to collect herself.

"My pleasure," Esme responded, standing as Bella descended the makeshift stairs attached to the stage. "Good luck." She grinned. "And welcome to CAT."

~0~

Edward was humming to himself softly as he drove up to his apartment building. He was in unusually high spirits as he parked and climbed up the stairs.

He'd begun the day not caring what part he got in the Cullen Actors Troupe's production of Rent. Acting was still new to him, and he was not attached to any part in particular. He'd been in the Troupe's production of Footloose the previous season. It was the first time he'd acted on stage since he was in The Nutcracker in fourth grade.

But now, Edward was positive that he'd nailed the part of Roger... mostly because Bella had absolutely made the perfect Mimi and their chemistry was obvious. It would play great on stage.

He sang Roger's part in Roger and Mimi's love song, I Should Tell You, as he opened his door, imagining the song ending with a kiss.

The inimitable sound of a gun cocking brought him back to reality. Edward froze, his heart jumping into this throat and his body tensing for fight or flight.

"Bam, motherfucker. You're dead."

Edward slumped in relief a second before he turned, knocking his friend's arm away with a growl. "Alec, you prick."

As Alec cracked up, Edward turned on the lights, moving quickly into the living room.

"You should have seen yourself," Alec said, still chuckling as he followed Edward. "Oh, tra la la," he said in a high pitched, sing song voice. "Here I am, in my own little world." He laughed again. "A g'damn elephant could have snuck up on you."

"Pretty sure I would have noticed the broken stairs," Edward muttered.

"Oh, don't be such a bitch," Alec chastised, throwing himself down on the opposite end of the couch as Edward. "That was funny."

"I've been shot before, asshole," Edward grumbled. "I didn't survive that shit just to end up shot in the head accidentally by my own best friend."

Alec sobered somewhat then. "Come on, you know it's not loaded." Edward made a non-committal noise that Alec must have taken for an admission of forgiveness because he changed the subject then. "So, I need to crash on your couch."

Edward snorted. "What did Heidi kick you out for this time?"

"Meh," Alec waved his hand, obviously not wanting to go into the details.

Glad to oblige, Edward just threw one of the couch pillows at him as a sign of his okay. As Alec got comfortable, Edward's thoughts drifted back to the production. He was hearing Bella's voice in his head singing the rest of the song from their rehearsal. 'They say that I have the best ass below 14th Street. Is it true?'

She did have a fantastic ass.

Why did he know that? He'd seen her for all of -

"Edward... Edward... Hey! Asshole!"

Startled, Edward looked up, blinking at the knowing smirk on Alec's face.

"Jesus, I've been trying to get your attention for like... a minute." Alec handed over a beer - considerate, considering it was from Edward's fridge - and sat back down. "So...who is she?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Edward said, opening the beer and taking a long drink.

"Come on," the other man rolled his eyes. "I know the look of a man on the prowl. She's gotta be something if she has you, of all people, off in la-la land."

Edward rolled his eyes and remained stubbornly silent, turning up the volume on the TV.

"Where'd you meet her?" Alec asked easily a minute or so later.

"Work," Edward replied distractedly. It wasn't a lie per se. Edward did work at the theater where the Cullens played. His friend didn't need to know he acted on the same stage he helped maintain.

Alec chortled. "I knew it. There is a girl."

Cursing Alec's ability to pull the wool over his eyes to lead him exactly where he wanted, Edward chuffed. "Girl is the operative word."

"Ohh," Alec hissed. "Jailbait, huh? That's harsh."

"No, she's legal," Edward said quickly. "She's just..." He shrugged it off. "I'm already going to hell. I'm not going to add corrupting an innocent girl to my laundry list of sins."

"You are like... what, four years older than her?"

"Three," he admitted grudgingly. But he was willing to bet he'd put a lot more wear and tear into those three years than the average 22 year old.

"See, drama queen?" He scoffed. "Three years," he said scathingly. "And you're not as bad as you think you are, little boy."

"Little boy," Edward repeated. "Pot meet kettle; you're three years older than me."

Alec flashed his signature cheeky grin. "It's not the years, honey. It's the mileage."

Edward had to laugh. However badly Alec could annoy him, there was no doubting why they were friends.

~0~

"You realize you've hammered that nail halfway through the board, right?"

Edward looked up, frowning at his boss - Esme's son Emmett Cullen. Emmett was smiling, but then Emmett was usually smiling. "Go on, kid," Emmett said, taking the hammer from Edward's hand. "I know you want to. I'll finish here."

Edward thought about protesting but then he just exhaled. "Thanks, Em," he said with a smile, already slipping his tool belt off.

He wasn't running precisely ... but he was walking really fast. At the end of the hallway was a crowd of people... everyone who'd auditioned for Rent to be precise.

His eyes fell on Bella first. She'd obviously already seen the cast sheet. She was leaning against the wall looking distinctly green. "Bella..." he found his hand moving of its own volition as he squeezed her arm comfortingly.

Bella looked startled as she blinked up at him. "Hey," she said, her voice thin.

"What's the matter? You can't tell me Esme didn't cast you..."

"No, she did," Bella said quickly. Her eyes, as she looked up at him, were wide and a little overwhelmed. "I'm Mimi."

"Well, that's fantastic. Congratulations," he said, feeling relieved and oddly happy about the prospect of working with her.

"It's just... such a big part," she muttered.

Edward squeezed her arm again, realizing belatedly that he had yet to let her go. Self-conscious, he drew his hand back, crossing his arms. "You got this," he repeated his words from the day they auditioned together. "Trust me," he said, winking at her.

He was pleased when a blush lit her cheeks and a hint of a smile tugged at her lips.

"Woo!"

Both Edward and Bella's heads snapped over to look at the source of the loud cheer. Mike Newton was fist bumping several other members, obviously pleased with his new role. Edward guessed he'd be Mark... he and Jasper Whitlock were always vying for the lead roles. He scanned the crowd, looking to find Jasper so that he could gauge the other man's reaction but before he found him, Edward was distracted by Mike heading in his direction, a huge grin on his face.

Sliding right by Edward as if he wasn't there, Mike picked Bella up, swinging her around in a circle. "Hey!" Bella protested, but Mike set her down just as quickly.

"Sorry. I'm just excited we'll be working so closely together," Mike said, his grin so broad it must have hurt. He pulled Bella's hand to his lips, kissing her grandly. "Miss Mimi, I'm looking forward to being your Roger."

Edward's half bemused, half irritated smile fell away, the first prickling of disappointment making his stomach twist.

If Mike had been cast as Roger... where did that leave him?

~0~

Edward waited until everyone else had gone off to celebrate. They'd invited him, of course, and he knew he was being a bit childish, but he really didn't feel like celebrating. Instead, he was skulking around Esme's door, trying to convince himself not to do what he was about to do.

Fuck it.

He knocked on the door to her office. As always, it was open, but she was lost in her own world, her pen moving quickly across paper. She looked up when he knocked though, her glasses sliding down to the tip of her nose. "Edward. Didn't you go with the others?"

"No, uh... I still had a little work to do," he said vaguely.

She gave him a look but didn't call him on his fib, instead returning her eyes to her sketch. "So, how can I help you?"

"It's just that..." Edward exhaled in a huff, running his hands through his hair, not sure if he was irritated at her or himself. "Not that I'm questioning your decision, but I was just curious. Why Angel? I didn't even read for that part."

Esme looked up again, this time putting her pen down. "No, you didn't," she agreed. "Angel is an integral part, Edward. She's the heart of the whole play. It's a very important role."

"Please don't think I'm protesting or that I'm ungrateful," Edward said sincerely. "It's just... I thought Bella and I had great chemistry... I don't know, maybe I imagined it."

He trailed off when Esme's look of concern turned into a knowing smirk. "Of course I felt it. Sweetheart, I'm fairly sure the majority of Seattle experienced a very strange warmfront that afternoon - you two exuded that much heat." She waggled her eyebrows at him playfully. "But of all my boys, you're the only one who'd look fabulous in that dress... so Angel it is."

Edward rolled his eyes but he offered Esme a smile as he did. Esme tapped a finger against her lips, considering. "In all honesty, Edward, you bounced off of each other very well. That was part of the problem. Roger and Mimi vacillate between cool and warm. I don't know that you two could have pulled off the coldness toward each other you'd have needed in some places." She looked at him, her expression concerned but gentle. "If you're going to start something with her-"

"It's not about that," Edward insisted quickly. "I was just looking forward to working with her. That's all."

Her expression indicated she didn't quite believe him, but again she didn't call him on it. "Well, no worries then. Mimi and Angel are best girlfriends after all. You'll be working with her plenty."

A/N:For the record, the part of Alec is being played by Shiloh Fernandez in my head. I need to update my profile to include the GORGEOUS banner heatherdawn made for me. Growl.

If you are unfamiliar with Rent, I suggest YouTubing Light My Candle, which is the song Edward and Bella auditioned to. I like the movie version best (yes, yes blasphemy). I'll post a complete cast list next chap, so don't worry.

jadedandboring gets a note here, too: Kris is practically insane for preferring the movie version of Light My Candle, but I'll let that slide. Watch Today 4 U and see what Esme means about Angel looking fabulous in a dress. And if you're familiar with it, you'll understand why I am sofa king excited about La Vie Boheme. Two words: Mucho. Masturbation. Ahem.

Anyway. So Wicked will not begin posting regularly (about once a week) until In the Mirror is marked as complete (which is no more than 2 weeks from now).

Guesses? Initial thoughts? I've been sitting on this one for MONTHS so I'm dying to know what you think.