December 2002

I had become very familiar with the tile pattern in the ceiling of the St Mary's Hospital's third floor. It was pale blue and white, checkerboard style. I had counted them about a million times through each shot, each check up. All my life these tiles had been the back drop to bad news from countless doctors, sympathetic looks from middle aged nurses, and Charlie's concerned and gentle face.

I had never ridden a bike, never played in gym class. Sports were out of the question. I hated the words 'careful' and 'fragile.' They seemed to define me and I didn't even get to choose them myself. I was born with them.

I was a small, fragile looking girl. Pale skin, auburn hair, brown eyes, a sprinkling of freckles across my nose and shoulders, thin, average height. Charlie called me baby girl all the time. A term of endearment and a poke at my small stature. He said when I was born, I was so tiny that he thought I'd stay that little forever.

Sometimes I wish I could have. Babies don't know enough to be afraid of things. Things like heart conditions and transplant waiting lists.

When I was younger I was more restless, more willing to test my limits. I didn't respond to the word 'no.' I'd sneak out of my bedroom, down the stairs to the back door so I could cross the reservation lines and swing on Jacob Black's swing set. It was so thrillingly bad. I was constantly either in my room or in the hospital. I wanted the outdoors so badly. To me, it looked like heaven.

My hometown of Forks, Washington may have been a little rainy, but it was so green.

I used to tell my dad that if I had a normal heart I'd live in a tree. That way I could be outside all the time. He would laugh and kiss my forehead, but his laughter never met his eyes. I became accustomed to this.

I would spend hours in my room looking through botanical books and field guides. I planted little clay pots of flowers along our front porch. I wasn't much of an artist, but I had sketchbooks full of flowers and plants, leaves and trees, mountains and meadows. If I looked at the pictures enough, I could pretend I was out there.

I tried for a long time to defy my reality. The reality that my heart was becoming too weak to support me. Days after night time adventures like visiting Jake... I would end up spending them in bed. My childhood was a constant struggle for normalcy despite the fact that I knew I wouldn't get it.

My condition became worse as I got older. Now here I was. I was fifteen. And it was official.

I was dying.

Nobody straight out said it. They didn't have to. They spoke in doctor language, lacing it with the smallest bit of positivity they were obligated to give Charlie and I. But positivity is different than hope. I could see in their eyes that they had run out of that.

All we could do was wait.

I had been waiting for a new heart for 7 months and 18 days on the transplant lists. A transplant was my only shot. But waiting had taken even more of a toll on my body. I was the weakest I'd ever been. Constantly on oxygen and crash carted twice in the last month.

I didn't curse very often but even in my own head I knew...this is scary shit.

The frustration of waiting was indescribable. Charlie had been battling the insurance companies relentlessly, trying to get the transplant covered. It took him four years to get it approved. He never gave up. My other medical bills were helped along by Charlie's hard work and my grandmother's trust fund. And now we couldn't tell if it was too late.

I flexed my fingers on the stiff blue sheets beneath my hands, feeling the tight pinch of one of the million IVs in my hands and arms. I had just woken up from a cat nap, one of many I would take throughout each day. My eye lids were heavy and barely parted, but I could see that it was late. The windows were dark and the lamp across the room was on. I heard the scratching, low mumble of the television. I listened until I recognized the show. Family Guy. Jake must be here.

I opened my eyes further and saw Charlie and Jake, both asleep sitting up on the visitor couch. Charlie slept there most nights. He was all I had. My mom left us soon after she found out about my condition. I don't remember much of her. I don't miss her either if I'm honest. You can't miss what you never knew.

Not really.

I wondered where she was and what she thought of me. If she ever thought of me at all. If she ever felt guilty for leaving. Or if she had a new family. New kids with normal hearts and health problems only as dramatic as a seasonal cold. Lucky her.

The nurses had decorated my room a little bit for the holidays. Shining tinsel garlands framed the television screens and the windows, crudely placed with old scotch tape. Suddenly I thought about dying. Would I still be here for Christmas this year? The gravity of it all hit me in waves. It was terrifying. Sometimes I felt calm about it. Other times I felt horribly angry with God. It was just so unfair.

Other times I felt...maybe it would be easier if I go. I thought of Charlie. He hadn't been in a relationship since Renee. He worked himself into an early old age trying to pay my medical bills. Not to mention when he was home I was under constant surveillance. He always took care of me. He dealt with every symptom, all my tears, all the struggle I gave him, every episode, every collapse, every hospital trip. Nothing about being my father was easy.

Maybe if I was gone he would let himself find someone again. Move on. Be happy. Not work so much. Take a fishing trip...something he hadn't done since I was three.

I thought of Jake too. My best friend. Not many fifteen year olds would jump at the chance to spend hours in a hospital, spending time with a person who had to take deep rasping breaths between phrases. I had become the slowest conversationist ever. Jake was my own personal cheerleader. He never ever let me get down on myself. Never let me give up, even when I wanted to. His sense of humor never allowed me to be sad for very long. He grew to be very protective of me. He attached himself to my side at school when I was well enough to go. When I wasn't well enough to attend, he would ride his bike over to St Mary's before he even went home. Sometimes he would water my little plants on the front porch and bring me a new flower from a healthy growing clay pot on my front steps.

I'd only seen him sad once in my entire life. We were eleven. It was the beginning of my decline really. It was the first time he had ever seen me really really sick. I'd collapsed in his backyard, playing. I woke up to his father Billy talking swiftly into a phone, calling for an ambulance. And there was Jake, looking smaller than I was used too, with fat tears running down his cheeks and panic written all over his face. He was holding on tight to my hand and sniffling. Frantically watching his dad on the phone and looking back at me.

I asked him later at the hospital if he really cried because of me. He said "No way, I'm a man. We don't cry ever. We build houses and drive cars and rap."

I chuckled to myself at the memory. Jake really did think he could rap. Recently he had taken to using my steady, loud, rasping breaths as a base beat for his 'rhymes.' He could always make me laugh.

I didn't want to die. I wanted to be normal. I wanted to stay for Christmas. But watching the snow fall outside my window, I wasn't sure what would happen. People die every day. Why was I special? Why did I deserve it?

I didn't know how to answer that.

Jake let out a snort in his sleep that shook Charlie awake over on the couch. He wiped his eyes and looked around slowly, as if remembering where he was. He looked defeated and tired. His eyes found mine.

"Hey kiddo. You're up?"

I nodded. Too tired to respond verbally. It took too long. Too much energy.

"You doin' okay?"


He paused for a minute, his eyes looking me over. I wondered what I looked like to him. I had grown even thinner over the last few months. My hair had dulled, and my eyes had become dark rings. His expression was a painful one. He sighed deeply and looked away. So sad. The sorrow was radiating off of him.

Had he given up?

"Listen kiddo..."

He had. I could hear it before he even said anything. He'd given up. Were we going to talk about it? Was he going to tell me that I should be prepared for the worst? Was he going to ask what my wishes were? Was he going to say goodbye? My eyes clouded with tears and I looked away from him, taking in another ragged breath from my oxygen mask. Of course he heard me and looked up. Seeing my expression, the words caught in his throat and he put a weak smile on his face. Whatever he had wanted to say, he buried it.

"Hey, tears, baby girl. It's okay. I was just gonna..." he sighed, looking me over once more. "I was just gonna grab a cup of coffee. I'll be back."

I watched his figure disappear through the door, stray tears leaking out the corner of my eyes. It had been a long battle. Not just for me, but for both of us. And recently it felt like we couldn't hold out much longer. Maybe it was time. Time to go. I couldn't even believe I was getting ready to die at fifteen. To die. Would it hurt?

Who was I kidding. It already did. My heart...what little was left of it...dropped.

"Don't cry Bell." I heard Jacob's voice. He stood from the couch and came to my bedside with a tissue. He was so tall now. He voice hardly cracked anymore and his shoulders were too big for the rest of him. He looked grown up almost.

I wanted to grow up too.

"You'll get snot in your mask." Jake warned with a laugh. I started to giggle with him but only broke out into some chest racking coughs.

"Easy! Easy...breathe, Bella. Jesus Christ..."

It took a me a minute until I was under control again but I managed. Charlie re-entered the room looking frazzled.

"Bella? I thought I heard coughing..."

I shook my head at him and Jake interpreted as usual.

"Nah, she's okay now." he said. "Where did you go Chief?"

"Well I was going to get coffee, but it looks like they are pretty busy out there. Bus accident from what I heard."

Jake's eyes got bigger and he looked at me excitedly.

"Bella! Maybe-"

"Jacob enough." Charlie interrupted. But I could see the hope in his eyes too. A flutter in my stomach began.

If someone in the accident was a donor...

All three of us at once turned somber, realizing how horrible it was to hope that someone else would die already so I could live. I didn't want that. I didn't want anyone to die for me. I'd talked to Charlie before about it. I hated the thought that someone's life had to end for mine to continue. He knew my thoughts just by looking at me.

Why was I special? Why did I deserve it? My eyes filled with tears again.

Charlie crossed the room and sat down at the end of my bed, taking my hand. He was careful of my IV as he enclosed my small hand in his large calloused one.

"Bella, nobody wants a new heart for you more than me. As horrible as the circumstances are, whoever gives you their heart will always be in my prayers and thoughts. I will always be thankful to them for saving my little girl. I know how you feel about it, but I'm going to pray even harder for that heart tonight. Everything happens for a reason."

I closed my eyes and nodded, not bothering to open them again. So many emotions, so much hope and fear together at once was enough to kill me anyway.

So instead I slept.

It was 1:32 am when I felt a hand softly touch my forehead. I opened my eyes slowly to see my father's face shining with tears.

He was smiling.

It was a real smile. A big one. The biggest I'd seen in a few years now. It went all the way to his eyes. Doctor Wright was standing behind him looking on. He too was was wearing a smile.

"We got it, Bells."


Within the hour I was being prepped for surgery. It was a blur of motion. Everything happened so fast. And I was so exhausted physically that I could do little but watch it all happen. I was washed and changed, moved to a different bed. My long wavy auburn hair was tucked under a surgical cap. Doctor jargon went in one ear and out the other, forms were signed, medical talk ensued.

Jake was talking excited as they started to wheel me towards the elevator to the surgery floor.

"Just think Bells! Soon you can ride bikes with me and we can go camping with my dad and the Clearwaters this summer! We can go to Aunt Sue's green house too you'd like that!..."

He continued to ramble. I watched his eyes as he spoke. It was a mixture of excitement and panic. My father's face held the same expression.

We all knew the risks. Just because I was getting a new heart didn't mean my body would accept it.

We came to the elevator doors. Charlie and Jake couldn't come with me any further.

This was it.

I was so tired. I always was. But the exhaustion was worse than I could ever remember. I gave both my dad and Jake a slow blink, trying to tell them I was ready for whatever happened. There was so much to say. Just in case. But I couldn't. Instead I worked up enough energy to whisper "I love you."

It seemed like the only important thing to say.

Charlie was crying now. Kissing my forehead and my hands. "I love you too honey. No matter what happens just know I love you so much." he choked.

I felt tears run down my cheeks. Even Jake looked a little glassy eyed.

"I'm not sayin goodbye Bells." he said, his voice squeaking. He cleared his throat and puffed his chest. "See you when you wake up."

Then he seemed to soften a little and he gently hugged me, careful of my IVs.

The nurses turned my gurney around to pull me into the elevator. I watched the doors close on my father and my best friend. I hoped beyond anything that I would see them again.

I felt the almost nauseating pull of the elevator as we went upwards. The doors dinged and once again I was moving. I heard many voices all at once in the space around me.

Charlie was right. They were busy tonight.

Families waiting, a girl getting her head checked by a nurse on the floor, beds along the hallway with patients being treated who didn't have a room, an older man shouting, looking for someone. It was madness up here.

I tried to ignore the guilt welling up inside me. There was just a horrendous accident, a terrible tragedy...and I was benefiting from it. I swallowed a thick sob. The gurney moving too quickly for me to count my blue and white ceiling tiles.

My bed chugged along, further down the hallways towards the double swinging doors of the OR. Down here there were less beds along the walls, it became quieter. A deep calm settled over me unexplainably. It was as if my whole world had become silent and slow moving.

I felt almost as if I were under water. I was ready for this. For whatever happened.

Sitting by the double doors was a boy. A nurse was tending to the cut that was bleeding profusely on his brow. His clothes were covered in blood and dirt. He was white as a ghost. Staring directly at the floor in front of him. The nurse was trying ask him questions, all of which he did not respond to. He just kept staring at the ground. He was so still.

As my bed pulled into his line of vision, he looked up at me abruptly.

He was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. He wasn't much older than I was. His fair skin was stark white in contrast to the crimson running down his cheek. His face was angular, at the threshold of becoming more masculine. His hair was an interesting shade of copper brown. What wasn't matted with blood was a messy tousled mop on top of his head. His eyes were an intense green as he looked at me.

As I studied those eyes, I realized that he was looking at me, but he wasn't really seeing me. His mind was somewhere else. He had probably watched many people wheeled in and out of the double doors in front of me. He returned his gaze to the floor as I felt the doors push open at the foot of my bed.

Suddenly I was enveloped in the blue lights of the OR and the unique, clinical smell that is the surgery ward. I was leaving everything behind me as those doors swung shut.

Charlie, Jake, my life, my little bedroom, my potted plants and the swing set on the reservation.

And the boy in the the chair just outside.

I said a prayer for all it. I said one for me too. It was easy to close my eyes and keep them that way. I was asleep before the even put me out. I was too tired to even be afraid. All I could do was sleep and hope.

Present Day

"Lilies, Columbine, Tea Roses, Lavender, English Tulips, Peonies...Jake did you get the address I gave you for the delivery at two?"

"Yeah yeah yeahhh, Boss I got it."

Jacob Black's voice no longer squeaked at all. The giant hulking form of my best friend came into view around the corner of the cooler door. I was doing a quick inventory before I had to leave. I had to actually jump to give him a hug now.

"Thanks for doing this Jake. You know I would do it myself if I didn't have a check up at 1:30." I gave him a kiss on the cheek and hopped down.

"I know you would. It's 1:15 now though, so get your ass movin' Bells. Tell Dr Wright I said wassup."

"Okay okay! Tell Mr and Mrs Schwartz I said happy anniversary when you drop those off. I'll be back in a bit."

"Fine. But you owe me lasagna for making me do a wedding drop off!" I heard his deep voice echo after me as I grabbed my house keys and skipped out the door.

I grabbed the handlebars of my bike and kicked the stand back into place before hopping on.

I ride my bike almost every day now.

I still remember opening my eyes for the first time after the surgery. It was as if I had been seeing things from behind a grey lens. And when I woke up, that shade of grey had been lifted. The room was brighter. Even the silly blue and white tiles looked more vibrant to me. My father's teary face had a tint of rose to it that I hadn't seen before.

Recovery took time, but I was grateful through every minute of it. I grew so much stronger than I had been. My new heart was proving to be compatible with the rest of me. Soon I could have full conversations without needing my mask. I was thrilled when I finally could come home from St Mary's.

That was nine years ago. Most transplant survivors aren't expected to last past five years. I had beaten the odds. I was now 24 years old.

It was as if this heart was made for me.

I still had to be extremely careful. I took a significant amount of medication every single day to keep my immune system healthy. I got the flu once a few years after my surgery and had to be hospitalized again for about a week. Charlie thought for sure it was the early phase of organ rejection and it scared us both to death. But somehow I pulled through. Whoever owned this heart was as strong as an ox. The little part beating in my chest was a trooper. I was thankful for that every day.

I didn't go a single day without thinking of the person whose heart beat in my chest.

At my three month check up after the surgery, Dr Wright offered me a chance to communicate with the donor's family.

"I won't give you their personal information nor will I give them yours. But you can write them an anonymous thank you letter if that helps you process the ordeal that you have been through. I'm sure it would bring the family some peace as well. The hospital will send it for you."

I started that letter about a thousand times. How does one express the immense gratitude? How could my words bring comfort? They might hate me. I never really heard how the bus accident happened or how many were injured or lost. The recovery process was all consuming at the time and I know Charlie probably didn't want me to know the bloody details. Being the chief of police, he was briefed on the entire ordeal when he returned to work. He kept the details from me probably to protect me. And I let him. I didn't know if I could handle knowing.

It took me until my six month check up to finally give Dr Wright my letter. I wrote it on green paper with my favorite purple pen. I still think about it, till this very day. What did they feel when they read it? Were they happy now? Had they found any peace?

With my new heart seemed to come an entirely new body. (Although late blooming puberty helped that along as well.) I grew from a fragile girl into a lean young woman. Now that I was allowed to be more active, I took supreme care of my body. Suddenly I had grown a pair of boobs and a pretty decent back end. I didn't notice this myself until the end of high school when Jake beat the shit out of Mike Newton for staring at my ass.

Jake had grown up too. He was a giant. The star of the football team at his size. He attended school on the reservation while I went to Forks High, the one high school assigned to our small town. He texted me constantly when I first returned to school. He always made sure I was alright. It was sweet, but it drove me mad. I couldn't date much with his nosey attitude and his enormous, intimidating biceps constantly following me around. We had many blow outs, fighting about personal space and what was actually 'for my own good' and what wasn't. But thats how we always were. Brother and sister. He ended up getting into engineering and mechanics. He could build and fix just about anything and now he had his own business.

I think Charlie often wondered if Jake and I would ever date. Jake kissed me once at bonfire party on the res senior year. It was horrible...

"Wow." he said abruptly.

"Yeah. Wow." I laughed, wiping my mouth from the slobber he'd left there.

"Sorry," he said, blushing in the dark. "I guess I just always wondered what that would be like...if...if there was anything there."

"What did you conclude?" I asked through a giggle. He started to chuckle along with me.

"There's a reason we are best friends." We both burst out laughing, clutching our sides. He threw his arm around my shoulder and messed up my hair with his big bear claw hand.

"But I do love you Bells." I hugged my big brother bear.

"I love you too, Jake."

Jake and I graduated the same year. It was one of the biggest accomplishments for me. I'd been in and out of school my freshman year. But after the surgery I was determined to get back to school, to make friends, to get my diploma. But mostly to make Charlie proud.

Only Charlie, myself and Jake's family knew of my transplant. Them and Angela, my college room mate. Since I was home so much I was tutored there, and no one in town knew too much about me. I liked it that way I didn't appreciate being looked at differently. And if I was honest with myself, I knew that part of it was because I was afraid that if people knew, they might run away, like my mom. Not everyone was as understanding as loving as my dad.

I wore shirts that would cover my scar most of the time. And when I was feeling daring, I simply covered it up with mineral make up. Jacob's aunt, Sue Clearwater, gave it to me as a Christmas present one year. Luckily the scar rested pretty low. It began right in the center of my chest, between my breasts, and just at my bra line. If I had to cover it up with make up, I only had to cover the top of it. I was thankful for that.

The first time I looked at myself naked in the mirror after the surgery, I cried. I thought it was awful. But with time and with healing, it became a long, raised, pink line instead of a dark red and purple gash up my chest.

Charlie started dating Sue Clearwater, Jacob's aunt, the year I first when to college in Seattle. Charlie was hesitant to let me go. He called incessantly the first semester, constantly checking in on me. I understood. I would do anything for Charlie. And if that meant listing my medications as I took them just to assure him I was being careful, I would do it.

I came home during a fall break at school to find Sue cooking in our kitchen. It seemed she was over the house more and more. I liked having her there, and Charlie seemed to have a special smile just for her. Her first husband had died when Jake and I were babies. She and Charlie grew closer and closer until finally he told me Sue was moving in with him. He looked nervous to tell me the news, but he was so hopeful, so excited. And I didn't have a problem with it. If anything, I'd been waiting for something like this to happen. Charlie deserved happiness more than I anyone I knew.

Sue moved in the following spring, leaving her house on the reservation to her daughter Emily and her husband Sam, who were getting ready to start a family.

I loved living in Seattle. My college years were some of my favorite years. Most would be surprised to know that I actually spent most of my time alone. I did make great friends, like Angela and Ben, Jessica and Eric. Jake came to visit me as well. But I was an explorer while I lived there. Everything was new to me. I went for long walks and bike rides. I went out and saw the world. I didn't wait for anyone to come with me, I just left. Angela, my room mate at the time, became one of my best friends. She knew me well and never batted an eye lash if I wanted to get up in the middle of the night and go for a walk. I didn't go far enough to make anyone worry, I just liked stars. I liked the smell of night time on campus. I liked to visit the greenhouse when it was dark.

I went to school to study Botany. I worked for my professor for about a year and a half on his research team, but found I liked the simplicity of gardening and floral design better than anything. I took up jobs in local floral shops or on landscaping crews until finally I had enough money to open my own shop.

And here I was.

It was actually my second week in my new place. The shop had only been open about a week or so and I already had orders from folks in the small town I had just moved to. With some hard earned cash and what was left of my trust fund, I had purchased a two level apartment. The little brick stone building housed my shop on the bottom level and my apartment just above it. I had spent about a month, with the help of Jake, setting up the shop before the week I moved in. That way, once I was unpacked, I was ready to open up shop and get started.

The little town I had moved to was called Riverdale, a mere twenty minute drive from Charlie's house. I liked to stay close. I was a daddy's girl, that was for sure. I knew it made it easier on Charlie to know I was near by. God knows he worries all the time.

I didn't date very much. It was hard to do with Jake and Charlie on my back. But I had had a few boyfriends. I had my first kiss with Tyler Crowley under a tree behind the school playground. I had my first time with James Hunt my sophomore year in college. I dated a boy named Evan for about a year or so during my senior year in college. I didn't tell any of them about my transplant. I covered my scar diligently with make up and anytime I made love, the lights had to be out.

I could check a lot of things off of my list now. I could ride my bike, I could go outside and play, I could work. I had done all of these things and more.

And yet, I'd never been in love. Not really. Not truly. I'd experienced so much, but I'd never felt truly connected to anyone other than my family. My dad. Jake. Angela. Sue.

I thought about this as I rode my bike towards Dr. Wright's office. I shook the longing feeling from my head and pedaled harder.

I should be dead right now and I'm not. Who am I to ask for more? I was happy. I was alive.

My usual check up went along without any bumps in the road. Dr Wright had become even closer to us now that I had survived. He was older now, a little more grey, a little wider around his middle. He was always thrilled to see me. His excitement about my life - how I had, and how I continued to survive - made me feel more hopeful as I left his office.

I was reminded every day, every time I took my meds or looked at my scar, how lucky I was.

It was the end of September now. With a deep breath I wrapped my scarf lightly around my neck and hopped on my bike. The air was becoming cooler now and fall was just around the corner. I took my time getting back to the shop, determined to enjoy the outdoors for a little while longer.

As my bike rolled to a stop in front of the flower shop I heard laughter coming from inside. It was a bright, twinkling sound almost. I got off my bike and pulled it around the side of the shop, chaining it quickly before opening the door.

Jake was at the front desk towering over a petit, dark haired woman in front of him.

"Here's her card. She's out right now but - oh hey! Speak of the devil..." He said as he spotted me coming in the door.

The woman turned around and smiled widely at me. She was shorter than me, very small, with a cute pixie hair cute and bright blue eyes. She was dressed nicely in a black dress with patterned tights and black pumps. She wore a beautiful grey button down pea coat that was fitted to her perfectly. She looked like a model.

I immediately looked down at my skinny jeans, converse, and my old Black Keys T-shirt under a mustard yellow cardigan. Yikes.

"Gotta new customer for ya, Bells." Jake said. He came around the front desk and stood between us. He towered over the both of us. "This is Alice Cullen. She's here for a wedding consultation."

"I'm sorry I just dropped in and this is all very sudden. I just hoped I would catch you!" she said merrily. I shook her hand and put a smile on. Once she had spoken and smiled I felt immediately more comfortable.

"Hi Alice, I'm Bella." I smiled. "What can I help you with?"

I brought her to my office so we could sit and chat. As soon as our mouths opened it was like we couldn't shut up. Alice was instantly the friendliest person I had ever met. She told me she was visiting her cousin here in Riverdale and just bought a house here to be closer to family. Her fiancee Jasper Whitlock had proposed six months earlier and she was ready to start planning their wedding. They met in college at a football game and had hit it off immediately.

"We haven't been a part for more than a day since!" she squeaked. "I'm so ready to marry Jasper. We've been through a lot together and I just want to start my life with him, you know? What about you, Bella? Are you with anyone right now?"

"Oh - oh no. I just moved here and started up the shop. I haven't met too many people yet and keeping this place up has been a lot of work. My apartment is barely unpacked." I laughed, thinking about all my stupid boxes upstairs, waiting around for me.

"What about that Jacob guy? He's quite the hunk of man." she giggled. I couldn't help but laugh along with her.

"Oh no, Jake is like a brother to me. We grew up together. He has a girlfriend from the reservation, Leah. You'd like her."

We chatted about news around town, and poured through my catalogs, picking out flowers she loved and talking about arrangements. Just like her wardrobe, Alice had immaculate taste in floral design. I already had ideas about what to put together for her. Her wedding would be gorgeous. It was a June wedding so we had plenty of time, but it was a very large order. It would help my shop significantly.

Before I knew it, it was almost four thirty. I set up Alice's order sheet and logged her into my computer, putting her on my mailing list. I was just finishing up when I heard the little bell on the shop's front door chime.

"I'll be right back, Alice. Why don't you write down your number so I can contact you with more order details?"

She nodded excitedly and took the pad and pen from my hand. I brushed my hair back from my face and came out of the office, walking up to the front desk to see who was checking out the shop. I got so excited every time the door chimed. My little flower shop was getting attention already!

I leaned over the counter on the front desk and looked around. I didn't see anyone at first.

Then, from behind a large arrangement of white lilies came a man.

He was dressed in a pair of dark washed jeans that fit his toned legs perfectly. He wore a pair of work boots splattered in paint and a black cotton v-neck shirt. He had his black leather jacket in one hand along with his car keys. I saw the faintest bit of a rather large tattoo peeking out from beneath his shirt on his right bicep.

All of this alone was extremely attractive to me. And then I saw his face. Angular and fair, dusted with the perfect amount of scruff. His hair a wild mess of copper brown locks above his masculine brow. There was a rosy tint to his nose and cheeks from the chilled wind outside.

And his eyes...a deep dark green. You would think they were brown at first glance, but no. They were a beautiful dark emerald.

Oh my.

There was a dark and mysterious edge to him. I was almost a little afraid. But at the same time I was too curious to look away. The man oozed sex.

He didn't notice me at first, he was looking about the room and reading the name cards on each plant, studying the delicate flowers I kept on the right side of the shop. I finally found my voice and spoke.

"Do you like the lilies? I had the bulbs imported from the south of France. Thought I would try and grow them here. I think they turned out alright." I blushed as I spoke, feeling a little shy.

He looked up at the sound of my voice only for a moment and gave me a small, curt nod. He met my eyes once but briefly, returning them to the flowers in front of them. He didn't say anything in reply.

I started to get uncomfortable with the silence. Didn't this guy know how to be polite and say hello at least?

"Is there anything I can help you with?"

He looked almost a little nervous as he opened his mouth to speak, but before he could answer I heard Alice pop out of the office. He turned to look at her.

"Oh Edward! Gosh I'm sorry! The time got away from me. Bella and I were just picking out some absolutely darling arrangements!"

She turned to me and gestured towards the beautiful man in front of my lilies. "Bella, this is my cousin Edward Masen. He's a local here so you might see him around."

He gave her a dark look at that comment, rolling his eyes without humor. How in the world were these two related?

"I forgot he was coming to pick me up today!"

I turned to look at Edward who was now watching me carefully. His expression was unreadable. I couldn't tell if he was wary of me or if he was just generally pissed off. He was studying me skeptically.

"Hi Edward, I'm Bella. It's nice to meet you."

He gave me another curt nod and slung his jacket on, making for the door.

"I'll be in the car, Al." he said as he left. His voice was deep and melodic. Even when he was clearly being rude, he was beautiful.

My shop door swung loudly and chimed again as it slammed shut. I watched through the front windows as he slid into a silver volvo parked on the street in front of us. I heard Alice sigh behind me.

"I'm sorry about him, Bella. He's not the most social person on the planet and certainly not the most patient either. It looks like he's in a mood today." she said as she put her jacket back on and grabbed her purse. "He's really a wonderful person, he's just...complicated."

I nodded in understanding. My life hadn't been easy either. I knew complicated.

"Thank you so much for your help today. I have a feeling you and I are going to be the best of friends." she smiled.

"Call me anytime, Alice." She gave me a friendly hug and promised she'd call for dinner plans later this week as she skipped out the door, the bell chiming after her as she hopped into her brother's car. It sped away as soon as the door was closed.

I could hear Jake upstairs in my apartment, fiddling around with his tools. He was putting together my bed frame - finally. I'd been sleeping on a mattress on the floor for the past two weeks.

Alone in the shop now, I found myself replaying those few minutes of Edward in my head. He was beautiful and haunting all at once. Something about him was resonating with me even though I was definitely put off by his attitude. I wondered idly if I really would see him around town. He clearly wasn't much of a social person. Or maybe he just wasn't social with me.

I couldn't tell.

I closed up shop for the day and went upstairs to find Jake standing proudly beside my new bed frame. I was happy to make him the lasagna I promised for dinner. I loved cooking. Especially for Jake or Charlie. Something about guys and food was always satisfying to watch.

When it got late, Jake kissed my forehead and headed home. He and Leah shared an apartment about five minutes from here. I sent him home with leftovers for Leah. She worked late at her legal office and loved my cooking just as much as Jake did.

The apartment was quiet and still as I made up my bed and kicked off my jeans. I stripped down and walked into the bathroom, grabbing shampoo and body wash from yet another cardboard box on my way there. I put my hand out, testing the spray of the water against my palm.

I looked at myself once in the mirror, tracing the long pink line down my chest. And despite the sad, lonely feeling in the pit of my stomach, I put my hand on my heart - as I always did - and said thanks to whoever was looking after me.

When I was clean and dry and safe in my bed, I fell asleep easily. I slept like the dead. I always did. But it became a restless sleep. Because that night was the first night I dreamt of Edward Masen.