For those of you who don't know, I consider Tuscaloosa, AL my "second home town." On April 27, 2011, the city was struck by a large wedge tornado, classified as EF4, killing an estimated 43 people within the city limits before making its way NE to Birmingham. The path length of this violent tornado was 80.3 miles (129.2 km) with a maximum damage path width of 1.5 miles (2.4 km).
This story was written for Fandom4StormRelief.
I hope you enjoy the story!
DISCLAIMER: All recognizable characters in this story are the property of their respective owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
"THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE HAS ISSUED A TORNADO WATCH UNTIL 10:00PM FOR THE FOLLOWING COUNTIES …"
Bella sighed as she taped yet another box closed. Like most of the inhabitants of this town, she had her TV tuned to the Weather Channel. It had been like this for two days. The tornado sirens were going all night, the latest at 5:30 this morning. Fortunately the power was still on, a miracle for which she was extremely grateful. Marathon packing in 95-degree weather would be miserable without air conditioning.
She glanced at the microwave clock as she poured her second cup of coffee. 6:45am. The current severe thunderstorm warning would be over in fifteen minutes, and Bella could already hear the rumbling fading away. Thank goodness she had a garage, or her ancient red pickup would have been hammered by the rounds of quarter-sized hail that pounded her house on and off throughout the night.
Staring at the dripping dogwood outside her kitchen window, Bella thought about the last five years she'd spent in this tiny house. She would miss it, as well as her familiar graduate student life here. Most of all, she would miss the four very dear friends who she considered family. She couldn't help smiling when she thought of them – lively Lily, macho-man Ricardo, sensitive Manoj…and Edward. Bella absolutely hated good-byes.
Her smile turned rueful. A vision of Edward's warm amber eyes and perfect smile floated before her. He was sweet, charming, handsome, incredibly intelligent… In fact, he was perfect. Way too perfect to be interested in anything other than friendship from her mousy self. And he was definitely a friend, a very good friend. The thought of not seeing Edward again caused her physical pain.
The sound of the doorbell startled her out of her reverie, making her splash her coffee down the front of her white tank top.
"Damn," she muttered to herself, ineffectively dabbing at the offending stain. "Who the heck would be showing up at this hour?"
The doorbell rang again. "All right, all right. I'm coming!"
She glanced through the front window and spotted a familiar silver Volvo in the driveway. Her heart leapt. What was he doing here? She hastily rewrapped her untidy ponytail as she hurried to the door. Flinging it open, she smiled happily at the tall, handsome man standing there. The wind had whipped his tousled bronze hair into even further disarray, and Bella squashed the urge to brush it out of his eyes. They seemed lighter than usual today. Probably a trick of the strange morning light.
The man before her grinned. "Hey Beautiful. I heard…saw your lights on as I drove by, so I thought I'd come early to help you pack." When Bella didn't respond, the grin faded somewhat. "I hope that's alright with you. I should have called. If you'd like me to come back later…"
"No!" She flushed. Where was her head this morning? "I mean, please come in. I'm really glad to see you."
She opened the door wider, allowing him to step inside and quickly remove his wet shoes. The hems of his perfectly-fitting jeans were also damp, but he didn't seem to care. Bella led the way to the kitchen, feeling self-conscious of the old floppy sport shorts she was wearing. She hoped they were long enough in the back.
"What are you doing up so early?" she inquired conversationally, indicating for him to sit on the barstool across the counter from her.
Edward slid gracefully onto the seat and propped his elbows on the counter. Damn, why did he have to look like a model, even in just a plain blue untucked t-shirt and jeans? Still, he seemed at home in Bella's tiny white kitchen. Being there at least once per week for nearly five years would do that, she thought wryly.
He smirked, as if he were enjoying some secret joke. "I couldn't sleep. I'm surprised to see you awake, though. You're not exactly a morning person."
Bella chuckled, recalling the number of times that Lily, her best friend and former housemate, literally dragged her out of bed so that she wouldn't be late for an 8:00am class. "Yeah, no kidding. I wouldn't be, if it weren't for those storms last night."
A look of concern crossed her friend's face. "They're going to continue all day, and you're supposed to be moved out of here by tomorrow morning." He looked around him at the empty kitchen and living room.
"I see your furniture is already gone, and everything is off the walls."
Bella nodded. "Lily moved out a couple of days ago, and we gave most of our furniture to a student who just arrived here. All that's left is my bed, dresser, desk, and side table. In fact…" Bella glanced at her watch. "Lily's probably almost back in Taiwan by now. "
"And into the waiting arms of her ever-patient fiancé," added Edward with a smile.
Bella returned the smile with an unconscious sigh. How she wished she, too, could find someone like Lily did. Of course, being besotted with the man across the counter didn't exactly help. No one could compare to him. Logically she knew that she didn't have him to start with, and therefore she wasn't being fair to any other men who may be interested. Not that there were any.
During her five years in grad school, Bella dated only one man. Her friends…well, most of them…Edward didn't seem to have an opinion…were embarrassingly excited when she started dating Mike Newton, a graduate student in a different department. She and Mike were together for over a year. In fact, he'd asked Bella to marry him. Bella felt terrible saying "no" to him. As much as her brain urged her to agree, in her heart she realized that she didn't want to spend the rest of her life with him. They parted ways almost a year ago, and now Mike was happily engaged to Jessica Stanley, another fellow grad student.
"Earth to Bella," teased Edward, playfully waving his hand in front of her eyes.
"Hmmm? Oh, sorry about that. I drifted off somewhere."
Edward shook his head. "The times I wish I could read your mind, Bella Swan…"
"Well, Edward Cullen, I'm very glad that you can't!" she retorted. "It's bad enough that you can read everyone else's."
They'd only known each other for a few months when Bella became suspicious of him. She noticed that, on rare occasions, he would react or respond to someone without them actually saying anything. One night when they all went out to dinner, she noted the uncomfortable expression on his face whenever the waitress looked at him. After the meal, Lily agreed to take Ricardo and Manoj grocery shopping, so Edward wound up taking Bella home.
"So," she'd asked him casually once they were on the road, "was that waitress undressing you in her mind?"
"Worse," he groaned. "She was…" He stopped short, casting her a startled glance. Bella returned his astounded expression with a knowing smile, her eyebrows raised inquiringly.
Edward sighed in resignation. "You are far too observant. You've figured it out, haven't you?"
"That you can read minds? Yes. But surely you knew that." Given how she already felt about him, the idea of him being able to read her thoughts made her cringe.
Edward pulled into the driveway of Bella's house and switched off the engine before responding. It was already night, and streetlight outside the house cast his pale face into sharp relief. "No, I didn't know, Bella. If I concentrate, I can read every mind within the general vicinity…except yours."
Relief flooded through her, followed by confusion. "So there's something wrong with my mind? I've always suspected as much, but to have it confirmed…"
Edward gave a startled laugh. "Bella, you never react as I'd expect you to. I tell you I can read minds, and you think there's something wrong with you? Why aren't you freaking out right now?"
Bella shrugged. "If you met my mother, you'd understand," she smiled. "She is into all things paranormal and extrasensory. I can't tell you how many tests she's tried with me. Reading cards placed against her forehead, trying to push a pencil with her mind, visions of the future, you name it. She would be overjoyed to meet an actual telepathic."
"Bella, you can't tell her." Edward regarded the dark-haired woman next to him intently. "The only people who know are my family. Don't tell anyone. Please?"
"Don't worry, Edward. I wasn't planning to, and I won't."
He exhaled with relief. "Thank you."
"So just like that?" she asked, surprised. "I say I won't tell anyone, and you trust me to keep my word?" She had been half afraid that he would do something to ensure her silence.
Edward considered her very seriously, his golden eyes capturing hers. "Bella, with the exception of my family, I trust you more than anyone I know."
She'd flushed at his confidence in her, hoping that the light was too bad for him to see her reddened face. She thought she'd seen his eyes darken, but back then she decided she imagined it.
"You're doing it again."
Edward's velvet voice brought her back to the present. "Oh, sorry. I was just thinking about the mind reading." To her annoyance, she was blushing again.
"I like it when you do that," her companion told her softly.
"Oh." Brilliant response, Swan, she thought dryly. Shakespeare, Yeats, and you. At least he seems as embarrassed as you for letting that slip out.
"So, Bella," he continued in a more normal voice, "What's the plan?"
"Pack everything as fast as possible, load up the pick-up, and try to get it all into the storage unit between hailstorms."
Edward rolled his eyes. "OK, show me what to do."
The morning passed quickly. Even with Edward there, the storms that came and went made her nervous. She couldn't help herself from looking anxiously out the windows at the tall pines that whipped back and forth in the angry wind. Bella insisted that Edward pull his Volvo into the garage next to her truk, just in case it got damaged.
By noon the kitchen was entirely boxed up, and Bella was packing her books in her bedroom while Edward deftly wrapped her paintings in the living room.
"Drat," she muttered to herself, struggling to squeeze the last one closed. Whenever she had the tape reel ready, the lid slipped from her hands. A certain painful memory of the tape blade slicing her finger persuaded her to call for reinforcements. "Edward! Would you come help me with this, please?"
He appeared by her side so fast that she jumped. "What do you want me to do?"
Recovering quickly, Bella instructed him to squeeze the box closed while she stuck down the tape. As she maneuvered around him, her hand brushed against his, sending a strange warm current up her arm. It had happened before, but never this strongly. She raised startled brown eyes to his. Their heads were so close that his chin almost brushed the top of her hair. His expression was carefully noncommittal.
"Thanks," she muttered self-consciously, smoothing the tape with more haste than care. This isn't good, she thought. I'm much too aware of him. She hoped he wasn't able to discern the depth of her feelings. That could prove uncomfortable for both of them.
"No problem," he smiled. "Why don't I start loading the truck while you finish here? From the Weather Channel radar it looks like we may have a short break from the rain."
Bella nodded. "Be careful. Don't over-exert yourself." In spite of his lean, muscular build, she knew that Edward's overly-pale complexion was due to anemia. In fact, he often looked tired, purple smudges forming under his eyes. She worried that carrying too many heavy objects would tax his strength. Of course he would never admit to any weakness, and on the rare occasions when she brought it up, he just brushed it aside.
She rapidly packed her two suitcases and dragged them into the kitchen. To her amazement, she found both the kitchen and living room empty, and Edward perched cheerfully on the counter, swinging his legs and grinning at her.
"How…?" Bella's head swung around comically. "Where are all the boxes?"
Her friend watched her teasingly. "In the truck, of course."
Floored was an understatement. "But…but…that would have taken me at least half an hour! It's only been 15 minutes, and you've not even broken a sweat."
He shrugged. "It's not my fault that you're inefficient," he teased, gracefully leapt to the floor. "Come on, let's go before the next round arrives."
Bella drove as fast as she dared with her ancient, weighed-down truck. Poor Edward was squashed into the passenger seat, one box under his feet, another in his lap, and a third between him and Bella. Of course, it wasn't air conditioned, and the breeze was warm and moist.
The 20-minute drive seemed to take forever, especially with Bella being hyperaware of the man sitting next to her. Stupid nerves. With relief she punched in the gate code and drove down the alleys to her storage unit. Other than giving a dramatic groan as he unfolded his lanky six-foot-two frame, Edward didn't complain.
Bella quickly jumped out and unlocked her unit, sliding the protesting overhead door up. At least it was clean and, thankfully, dry. Edward was already unlatching the tailgate of her pick-up and hauling boxes out.
"Any plan for where these go?" he inquired, hefting an 80-pound load of books as if it weighed nothing. She shook her head, amazed. Although he had well-defined muscles, he didn't look that strong, especially as he was supposed to be somewhat frail health-wise. Anemia, tons of food allergies… For a moment she watched his muscles move beneath his shirt as he lifted and carried her boxes. He did have a nice build…Oh, I guess I should be helping him!
After ten minutes, Bella paused to brush her hair off her damp forehead. She could already feel her tank top beginning to stick to her back, and fluffed it from behind to cool down a bit. Meanwhile, Edward was working steadily, humming to himself.
"How come you're not all hot and sweaty?" she demanded, slightly disgruntled that he still looked like he stepped out of a photo shoot.
To her surprise, he shot her a wicked look. "Oh? Do you want me that way?"
Good thing her face was already red from heat and exertion. Where did that comment come from? She was so astounded that prim, sedate Edward even said something like that, that she was rendered temporarily speechless. She stood behind her truck, gaping at him. His grin widened, knowing that he got her.
"Let's just get these inside," she grumbled at least. She hated it when he won. "The sky looks like it's going to burst at any moment."
Suddenly, they heard the gate open and the sound of a car tearing down the adjacent alley. "He's in a hurry," commented Edward dryly. "He'd better watch… SHIT!"
Bella watched in horror as a black sports car with its radio blaring barreled around the corner, heading straight for the back of her truck…and her. Before she could blink, Bella found herself airborne. She heard the squeal of brakes, followed by the crunch of the vehicles colliding. She screamed, her eyes squeezed shut.
"Shh! Bella, it's alright," Edward's soft voice spoke in her ear. She opened her eyes to find herself lying on her side on the ground, held in the protective cage of his arms. Her friend's worried amber eyes were inches from hers, and she could only stare at him in shock.
"Are you OK?" he asked, his beautiful voice strained.
She nodded dumbly. They'd flown through the air, landing somewhere in front of her pickup on the opposite side of the alley. Yet she was barely jostled.
"How did you…?"
He sighed. "I'll explain later."
"Hey, are you guys OK over there?" The driver of the sports car, a twenty-something man in a black printed t-shirt, baggy shorts, and a backwards baseball cap, peered dazedly at them. He weaved his way over to them as Edward helped Bella stand.
"Sorry guys, I didn't see your truck there."
Bella could have sworn she heard Edward growl. He was still holding her against his side with one arm. A good thing, too. Now that the danger had passed, Bella could feel her tongue going numb and her legs beginning to buckle under her. Get a grip, she scolded herself.
The man bent to inspect the front of his car. "Not too bad," he commented, pulling the dangling front bumper the rest of the way off. "It looks much better than last time. And see? Not even a dent on your truck. They really built those things in the 50's. I thought your tailgate was down earlier, though."
"Imbecile," uttered Edward angrily. "You almost killed her!"
Bella could feel the tension in her friend's body. Glancing up, she was surprised to see that his eyes were nearly black. The muscle in his jaw was working as he fought to keep his temper in check. She'd only seen him angry once before, and it was a scary sight.
"Sorry man, I was trying to get my stuff before the storm got here. Hey, I'll tell you what. 'Cause there's no damage to your truck, why don't we just forget it?"
"WHAT?" Edward exploded. "You think you can almost kill someone, and just…"
Bella laid her hand on his chest to calm him down. Why was his chest so cool, she wondered distractedly. Edward was so angry that his teeth were bared. The man took a step backward, instinctively knowing he was in serious trouble.
"Edward, let it go. Please?"
He glanced down at the woman next to him, and his expression relaxed slightly. When he turned his gaze back to the man, the deceptively calm, quiet tone of his voice made Bella shiver. He'd defended her a few times over the years, usually over minor things. She'd never heard him sound so…deadly.
"You are going to drive carefully to your unit, get your TV, and walk around this area, not bothering anyone, for the next fifty minutes. If I ever find that you smoked marijuana before driving again, you will be sorry."
"Who the f…?" the man started to yell, but he stopped abruptly when he saw Edward's face. His eyes grew round, and he began backing toward his car. "OK man. No harm done, right? Yeah, I'll just get back in here…"
Edward's steely gaze didn't waver as the man scrambled into his car, slowly reversed out of the alley, and drove off. Bella heard him drive around for a short time, then stop, get out of the car, and open what presumably was his own storage unit.
She looked up and met the now concerned amber eyes of her friend. Do I really even know this man? she wondered. I thought I did, but now I'm not so sure.
"How are you feeling?" asked Edward, searching her face. "You're not shaking as much as before."
"How did you do that? One moment we were behind my truck, and the next you were leaping over it, carrying a 110-pound woman. You probably saved my life, or at the very least my legs."
"Adrenaline rush," he responded shortly, releasing her. She frowned, missing the feel of his cool arm around her. Well, at least you got to experience it once before he disappeared from your life, her logical self reasoned. However, she didn't miss his gaze flickering down to her legs.
"You're welcome," he added with a crooked smile.
She wasn't buying it. It was something more than an adrenaline rush. She opened her mouth to argue when a bolt of lightning lit the sky to the southwest.
"We'd better hurry," he interrupted her. "That storm will be here soon." It was already starting to get darker, and the wind was picking up again. Edward grabbed three stacked boxes, carrying them easily into the small storage unit. Those must weigh almost 180 pounds, she thought, and he treats them as if they were full of feathers. Definitely more than an adrenaline rush.
She was hauling a case of kitchen utensils from the back of the truck when Edward suddenly took it from her hands.
"Bella," he said gently, "I would feel better if you sat in the truck while I finished this. You could still be going into shock." She wanted to protest, but then he bent until his face was level with hers. "Please?"
Damn, she never could resist that pleading face. He knew it too, the cheater. She nodded reluctantly, earning a huge, adorable grin.
It was beginning to rain. From the cab of the truck, he seemed to blur through the drops racing down the side window. In a surprisingly short time Edward was locking the storage unit and climbing into the truck bed. He grabbed a towel that Bella always kept in the storage box there and pulled open the driver side door.
"Scoot over," he instructed her. She moved to the passenger seat as he quickly laid the towel over the seat and got in. The rain has plastered his riotous bronze hair to his head, and there was mud on the back of his shirt from when he'd rolled to get her out of the way of the black sports car.
"I wonder if Dudesicle is still here," she commented as Edward expertly backed the truck out of the alley.
Her companion grinned. "He is. He's in his car, hoping that I'm not going to check on him."
Rain, mixed with light hail, was coming down in buckets as they drove back to Bella's house. How Edward could see through the windshield she had no idea. Visibility was practically zero. They both sighed with relief when they were safely inside the garage once more.