Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I'm just having some fun with her characters.
Many thanks to radar1230 for prereading this for me and also to LJ Summers, my superbly fast beta who wields her colorful pens with style and accuracy. :)
I slammed the jar of tomato sauce on the counter with a loud thwack and fought the rush of emotions, the tears burning in my eyes.
Taking a deep breath, I tried again to unscrew the lid from the jar. Damn it! Why can't I do this?
I blew hair out of my face and stalked over to the fridge and my shopping list posted there. Taking out a pencil, I added one of those jar opener thingies because this was just getting ridiculous.
In frustration, I gave up. I wasn't that hungry anyway and the evening service at church was starting in… Crap! Only one hour! I really needed to figure out how to fix the clock on the stove - since it's only accurate half the year. Rose would be here in thirty minutes to pick me up so I abandoned dinner in the kitchen and ran upstairs to get ready.
I brushed my teeth in a hurry and piled my hair on top of my head to put on a little bit of makeup in hopes that I wouldn't look as miserable as I felt. But the mirror never lied and I couldn't deny reality when I looked at myself – which was why I tried not to as much as possible.
This was not how I saw my life playing out. I was supposed to be happy. Life was supposed to be different. It wasn't fair. But I realized that I couldn't dwell on that or I wouldn't be able to make it through the night. So I built up another wall around my heart, hardening myself, and resolved not to let anything pull it down.
I needed a distraction.
The car ride with Rose went by in a blur. She was complaining about something at work but I couldn't really pay attention. I was too busy glaring at the blur of green trees we passed along the highway.
Neighborhood Church of Port Angeles was a fairly good-sized church, while still maintaining its small-church atmosphere. People were friendly, they still took care of each other, and there was a good group of locals who had been there a long time as well as the ebb and flow of Coast Guard families staying for a couple years before being transferred somewhere else. The problem with that caring community was that I didn't want to be taken care of and I didn't want compassion. I was tough; I didn't need to rely on anyone.
The sanctuary was filled that evening and the music was in full swing when we walked in. For the most part people ignored me but I kept my head down, not wanting to meet with the occasional looks of pity or people wanting to give me a consoling hug.
Thankfully, the songs were upbeat, the guitars and drums drowning out any contemplative spirit. But before I knew it, the part I hated most was upon us: greeting time.
"Okay, church. Take a few minutes and say hello to the people around you. Try to find someone you don't know and welcome them this evening," the worship pastor directed.
This was a delicate balance: appearing friendly enough, but not so friendly as to be approached for anything more than a superficial greeting. But by now, I was an expert. I gave tentative smiles to people standing around and they returned them, but no one approached me. My eyes shifted and fell to my shoes as people greeted each other with hearty hellos and warm hugs. I fidgeted nervously, waiting for the pastor to start the next song.
Unexpectedly, a warm and smooth voice broke through my stonewalling. "Hello."
I looked up with a start to see a man standing there smiling at me, his hand outstretched. Dear Lord above in the heavens, he was beautiful. A clean cut and yet still somehow tousled mess of reddish brown hair framed his chiseled features. He wore a black button-up shirt and blue jeans were perfectly slung on his hips. I think my mouth dropped open and I wouldn't have been surprised if a little drool escaped during my stunned perusal.
When I said nothing, he continued. "My name is Edward, I just got stationed at the Coast Guard base here in town and could stand to meet some new people."
"Uh… umm…" I stammered like a fool. "Bella," I squeaked out and finally managed to take his hand.
His grip was firm but gentle. One corner of his mouth rose up in a crooked smile and his eyes glinted mischievously. "Hmm, Bella," he said – somehow making my knees tremble, "is this seat taken?"
He hadn't released my hand, and I was still in a ridiculous stupor as I shook my head a little, "Uhh… no?"
"Is that a question?" he teased.
"No," I said more firmly as the drum beat out the beginning rhythms of the next song.
He released my hand with another crooked smile and I knew I wouldn't be able to focus on anything the pastor said for the rest of the service. I turned to the front, but I could feel his eyes on me as the strains of an updated hymn filled the room.
Rose looked over at him and then at me from my other side and I gave a small half-shrug. She raised one eyebrow in a smirk and I knew I'd be hearing about it later.
At the close of the worship time, Jacob, my oldest friend and the church's youth pastor, took the stage and talked about how the youth group was in need of some volunteers. There was a constant influx of teens and they needed adults to come along side them and just be there for them. His passion for youth was magnetic. He was so good for them. But that's probably because he never completely grew up himself and he fit right in with them. My interest was piqued. It wasn't a big commitment. I wouldn't have to teach a class. I wouldn't have to do anything except show up and hang out. It'd be fun to see Jake more often. It could be a good distraction. I could do that.
Throughout the service, I pondered working with the youth group. I tried to listen to the message. I doodled on the bulletin. But mostly, I tried to keep strict control of my eyes and do just about anything but think about the handsome Coastie by my side. I did not allow myself to glance at him, knowing I'd be gaping like a fool at his beauty. If my rigid posture didn't give away my discomfort, my frequent shifting in my seat surely did. Edward sat, completely at ease through the entire service. I know I wasn't imagining his eyes on me at several points in the pastor's sermon.
At the close of the message, we all stood for the benediction. I busied myself with picking up my purse and putting on my coat and looking anywhere but at Edward as he left.
Spotting Jake across the sanctuary, I decided to give the youth group a try. It would be good for me to focus on something other than my own pitiful life.
"Oh, Bella, I have to go talk to Esme about the food drive, I'll be back in a few," Rose said with a smile as she quickly walked away.
I turned to go the opposite direction to talk to Jacob and nearly ran directly into a wall of Edward, my face just a breath away from his chest, but was stopped just in time by a pair of strong arms. He smelled amazing, like soap and salty sea air.
"Whoa there, Bella," he said with a rumble of humor in his voice that tingled in my toes.
My heart felt like it would beat out of my chest when he didn't immediately release me but instead held me for a minute as I futilely tried to keep my cheeks from heating up.
"I'm sorry," I said, more than a little embarrassed.
He smiled at me as I retreated from his hold. "So Bella," he said, casually leaning against the back of the chair in front of us, "I really don't know anyone here and would love to have a friend in town. Is there any way I could convince you to come out for a drink, or uhh, maybe coffee?" His eyes darted around the sanctuary, probably rethinking that drink.
Was he asking me out? No. He couldn't have been. He was just looking for… a buddy here in town. Right? He had to be. I mean, he was breathtaking and I was… Well, I couldn't consider it anyway. Dating. Again.
But still, his eyes burned into mine and he was motionless as he awaited my answer.
"I… actually, I came with a friend and I'm riding home with her. So…" I said, nervously rocking my head and trying not to maintain eye contact with this dangerously beautiful man.
But he wasn't so easily deterred and he ducked his head to catch my glance. "I'd be happy to drop you back home, Bella," he said, an amused smile on his face. "Just come out with me," he said, softly jerking his head towards the door.
My teeth pressed into my lip as I contemplated this handsome stranger. His green eyes gleamed and I felt the heat rise in my cheeks, as I hunched my shoulders slightly. But anxiety and guilt held me back. "I'm sorry, Edward, I don't think I can, tonight."
"Maybe some other time," he murmured.
"Yes, maybe," I agreed, entranced by his eyes.
His lips pulled into an enticing smile. "You have a good night, Bella," he said as he took a few steps backward and finally, turning his back, he headed for the door.
I swallowed deeply and let out a heavy breath. I looked across the sanctuary and Jacob was gone. He must have slipped out while I was talking to Edward. I'd just have to call him later.
"All right, Bella, let's go. Esme is going to be out of town next week, when the food drive is over and she needs me to take the donations over to the food bank. I'm just trying to figure out how I'll get it done with my…" Her absent chatter died down when she glanced at my face. "Bella? Are you alright? You're all – " She looked me up and down, waving her hand at me. "Flushed and… you look like you're going to be sick or something."
I took a quick breath through my nose and shook my head. "Yeah, I'm fine. I just. Let's go."
She looked at me sideways. "All right, whatever, B. Come on."
I sat quietly in the car as Rose chattered away about a benefit the women's shelter was having and the Port Angeles high profile people she was hoping would show up, the decorations, the catering, and God knew what else. But my mind was back in that sanctuary and on a pair of green eyes.
Maybe I should have gone out with him. What harm would it have done? I'd been asked out plenty of times by Coasties before. Edward was the first man that had tempted me to go out since… since him.
It's probably for the best, I told myself. It was too soon. Too soon and I knew nothing about Edward anyway. It would have been awful. And I would have felt guilty and it wouldn't have been worth it.
"You sure you're alright, B?" Rose asked interrupting my reassurances to myself.
"Hmm? Oh yeah, yeah."
"B!" she practically shouted. "WHAT is going ON?"
I startled a bit and looked over at her. Divert! Divert! "Oh, umm… I think I'm gonna call Jake and tell him I'd like to help out with the youth group."
She raised her eyebrows at me. "That's what's got you all tied in knots and looking like you've swallowed your tongue?"
I wasn't getting away with it. I should know better than to try and throw Rose off the scent. I sighed. "No. That's not. I mean. It's not a big deal. It's just… one of the Coasties asked me out."
"Oh." She was quiet for a few moments. "The hot one that sat next to you?"
I stared straight ahead, focusing on the dotted yellow lines on the road as they passed. "Mm hmm," I affirmed.
"And nothing," I said, shaking my head. "It's too soon."
Her brow creased and she sighed. "Oh sweetie, I know it's hard. I know…" She said in a hoarse whisper. "And I know it's scary. But it's been two years, Bella. Two years! You can't hide out forever. You can't just cut yourself off." She looked over at me with a tender expression. "Emmett wouldn't have wanted that."
I turned my head away, looking out at the harbor and the Coast Guard Air Station as we drove.
"Listen, B. He doesn't have to be the next great love of your life or anything. But you've got to start getting back out there. Honestly, if you don't, I'm going to hook you up with someone."
My head snapped around and I looked at her in shock.
Her expression was serious. "You know I will."
I fumed, but she was right. She would do it. She never hesitated to do what she thought was best for those she loved.
"Fine," I said through gritted teeth. "The next… reasonable offer I get, I'll accept. Happy?"
"Absolutely," she said with a smug grin.
Walking into the house, I sighed, putting my bag on the counter as Rose followed me into the kitchen.
"So, what are you doing tonight?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'll probably just have leftovers and watch some TV."
She regarded me for a moment, seemingly mulling something over in her mind. "Alright, let's go."
"We're going out. You are in desperate need of a night out," she said as she picked up my bag and headed for the door we had just come in through.
"Rose, no. Come on. I'm tired, I just want to put on some sweats and turn on an old movie."
"So help me God, Bella. I will drag you out myself. You've moped enough. Enough of this!"
I was taken aback by the sheer frustration in her voice. Rose never minced words, but this was pretty direct, even for her.
I narrowed my eyes at her but she didn't back down. I briefly considered taking her to task but I knew she would win. She easily had six inches on me and she was tough. So instead, I grabbed my jacket, giving an exasperated huff, and stomped past her out the door.
The bar was crowded for a Sunday night. Rose led me through the dark throng to a high table against the wall. We ordered cheeseburgers and beers and I glared at the rowdy college students and obnoxious forestry workers while we ate our food. Taking a swig of my beer I watched Rose perusing the room. She was on the hunt and I rolled my eyes knowing that it was likely on my behalf. She looked over my shoulder and her eyes lit up as she straightened her back and flipped her hair. I frowned as I saw a tall, blond man, honed in on me.
"I'm Demetri," he said. "And you might be?"
"Uninterested," I said at the same time that Rose spoke up.
"Her name's Bella," she supplied.
He was undeterred by my rebuff. "So Bella, come dance with me?"
The rejection was on my tongue, when I saw Rose raising her eyebrow and gesturing with her head for me to go. I pursed my lips and gave her the best glare I could muster. If I didn't do this I'd never hear the end about how I needed to give guys a shot. Her constant mantra rang in my mind – "Even if he isn't Mr. Right, he could be Mr. Right Now."
With a huff, I shot her a death glare and slid off my seat. Demetri's grin was nauseating as he took my hand a little too enthusiastically and led me out into the crowd. The lights were flashing and the bodies were pressing. He moved in close to me and began to dance. I gave my best attempt to move with the music and I tried to look anywhere but at his face. I could do this. I could get through one song and then Rose couldn't say I hadn't tried. But Demetri was, little by little, pulling me closer and closer. His hands began to move on my body, putting me on alert for where he hoped this would go and stirring the prickling anxiety that I had only just been keeping at bay.
I pulled back to put a bit of space between us and he laughed, continuing to move with the beat. The song came to a close and the band leader announced that it was time to slow things down a little. Demetri put his hands on my waist and I was just about to make my escape when another hand came to rest on my arm. I looked over and was shocked to see Edward standing there.
"May I cut in?" he asked politely, a twinkle in his eye.
I opened my mouth to respond with… I wasn't really sure.
"We weren't quite finished," Demetri spat out, turning his shoulder to cut Edward off.
Edward caught my eye and must have seen the discomfort on my face and repositioned himself to take my hand and separate me from Demetri.
"Yeah, I think you were," Edward said turning his back and stepping completely between us, effectively shutting Demetri out.
"Bye, Demetri," I said.
He was angry, really angry. I thought his red face might burst as he stalked off out of sight. And I did feel a little badly about ditching him that way, but I wasn't prepared to continue dancing with him, one way or the other.
"Thought you said you were going home," Edward said, raising one thick eyebrow. "Or were you just trying to get rid of me?"
"Umm, yeah, I was going to go home… and – okay, yeah, I was trying to get rid of you," I said with an apologetic smile.
He laughed. "Ouch, you really know how to wound a guy."
"Sorry," I smiled. "My friend had other plans," I shrugged. "She dragged me out."
"So here we are."
I looked up into his mirth-filled eyes and I couldn't help but smile back.
"Here we are," I repeated. We stood still, facing each other in the middle of swaying couples.
"You know, you really should have just gotten over your pride and admitted that you were head over heels for me and come out with me and we could have avoided the in between steps."
My mouth gaped open a bit. "I… I," I stammered like an idiot.
He laughed as he smoothed a strand of my hair behind my ear, sending a tingle down my spine. "That's alright, you'll make it up to me I'm sure," he said as he placed his hands on my waist.
I frowned. "Listen, if you think you can just pick up some nice naïve girl in church, you're wrong. I'm not easy," I said before I even knew it had crossed my lips. Whoa, where did that bluntness come from?
He chuckled, pulling me into his chest and something stirred in my belly. "Good thing I'm only asking for a dance."
I was speechless. And as much as I didn't want to be, I was intrigued by his playful confidence and more than a little attracted to this man. We swayed gently to the melody and it scared me to think about how really nice it felt.
As the music came to a close, he stepped back a bit from me.
"Thank you for the dance, Bella," he said, his hands still on my waist.
I was in a fog and all I could manage was a small nod.
"By the way," he said, his eyes twinkling. "I'm gonna be needing your phone number."
So... what do you think? Let me know! Reviewers will get a little teaser. :D