A/N: Twilight is Meyer's. No copyright infringement intended.
Thanks for reading, and for reviewing.
Cinders is a collection of random moments from Bella and Edward's future following Cinderbella: A Forks Fairy Tale. It's just for fun, because Bella refused to stop telling me about her life. It's kind of like the quilt Renee gave Bella in the movie version of Eclipse - little pieces of their lives, sewn together here.
The chapters sometimes will not be in chronological order; they will be in the (admittedly random) order in which Bella presents them to me. I'll try to remember to include in the A/N for each chapter where it falls within the timeline of their lives.
This chapter takes place at the end of their first full year of college.
Bella stood at her canvas. She had a pencil in her hand, but she was twiddling it nervously. The canvas still was blank.
I'd known that she would be too nervous to sketch. But the art materials soothed her, so she'd wanted them handy. Even if they were unused.
From where I stood a few feet away, I watched the motions of her hand. I'd seen her twirl her pencils like a drummer twirls his drumsticks, the action absentminded and kind of impressive. Graceful. She was just so comfortable with a pencil in her hand. But the familiarity was doing nothing to calm her right now. The pencil was shaking up and down so fast with her anxious motions that it almost was a blur.
She had no reason to be anxious. I wished she would see herself more clearly.
Her wide brown eyes were scanning the area around her. I took a quick look around. We were in the middle of a small field in the park. She was set up a little to the side. And all around her were people. Strolling. Stopping. Staring.
I'd just finished helping a few of her classmates set up her canvases throughout the roped-off section of the field. Two of her art professors were adjusting a cluster of canvases in the heart of the grouping. And already, people were congregating and discussing the art on display.
Bella looked like she was ready to run to the Volvo to hide.
I smiled to myself. This wasn't her first art show. Technically. Her art professors immediately had realized her skill and potential. They had worked together to convince her to start showing her work publicly. She had refused, freaked out, even, over the idea. But by the end of our first term, they – well, I – had won. And she had agreed, or more accurately, surrendered, and had a small show on campus.
In less than an hour, every one of her pieces had been purchased. For decent sums.
She'd argued with me over her success. She'd claimed it was because the show was so small – so few pieces – and because her subjects were well-known campus personalities that people had wanted the canvases. The school mascot, the popular teachers, the sports heroes… Whomever she happened to notice in the campus news and sketch in her free time. But when the next show sold out, too, with a wider array of subjects, she began to wonder if her teachers and I were right about her.
So now, at the end of our first full year at Dartmouth, she had given in and agreed to a public art show. Off campus. In the middle of the park.
And she was about to hyperventilate.
I wound my way through the canvases and around the people who were impressed by them. Some of the comments made me grin widely. It always made me so proud when I overheard someone's amazement when they got their first look at her work.
By the time I reached my girl's side, my smile was huge. I stepped up behind her and murmured, "Hey."
She dropped her pencil.
With a chuckle, I bent to pick it up for her. She turned to face me. "This was a bad idea," she said quietly, her eyes still dancing around.
I cupped her cheek in my hand. "I think you've already sold two pieces, love. And Peter and Benjamin just now finished helping me set up."
Bella turned her face more fully into my palm. Even after over a year, the electricity still buzzed between us when we touched. It hummed more strongly as my hand molded to her face. Her eyes closed and she let out a long breath. "I don't know why I let you talk me into this."
"Because I have professional backing." I grinned down at her when she smirked. "Speaking of which, Dr. Banner and Dr. Cope are having a great time arguing over who was the first to discover you."
At that, she finally smiled a little. "Funny, Edward," she muttered.
I pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "Just breathe, Bella. Everything's going perfectly."
"Right." She drew in a deep, exaggerated breath. "Perfect." And since I was still holding her pencil, her hand was free to twist the wolf charm on her bracelet.
"Oh, by the way," I began, hoping to distract her, "you left your phone in the car. Jake called a few minutes ago."
"Yeah?" Bella's face brightened. "What did he want?"
I smiled at her reaction. "Something about Alice and Jasper driving him crazy. He wanted to know when you were coming home."
Bella broke into her breathtaking smile. "Did you tell him we were packed and ready to leave?"
"I did. He said he'd be waiting at the airport." I smoothed her hair and added, "In your truck."
That did it. Even though Bella had grown to kind of like the Guardian I'd bought her when we'd first moved, she still missed her truck. Her face lit up with the mention of it. "I can't wait," she said.
"And Alice picked out another dress for Sue," I remembered. "Sue wants your opinion."
Bella snickered. "Sue wants me to tell Alice to stop."
"Probably." Sue was a lot like Bella, I mused. When Charlie had proposed to Sue on their one-year anniversary a few weeks ago, he had asked Bella's opinion first. Bella had been thrilled, but her one piece of advice to her father had been to keep Alice at bay until we could get home. Bella was used to her best friend's enthusiasm. She knew how to handle her. Sue, who was every bit as practical as Bella, would be overwhelmed by the pixie's exuberance.
Sue needed Bella for her opinion. But she also needed her for protection.
I knew that Bella was looking forward to getting back to Forks to see her father and her friends, and to bond with her soon-to-be stepmother – this time a stepmother she wholeheartedly approved of. But I wondered if she had considered that Alice probably would try to drag her into the wedding plans with an ulterior motive.
Like finding Bella's own wedding gown even though Bella and I still hadn't set a date yet.
It wouldn't be the first time Alice had brought it up. After Carlisle had proposed to Esme – before Christmas, as Bella had predicted – and they had married in the spring, my new stepsister had begun to bug her best friend more persistently about her own wedding. Charlie's proposal to Sue had only sharpened her focus. She would be single-minded in her hounding of my girl now.
I wondered if Alice would be able to sway Bella. If Bella would be affected by the wedding mayhem. If she would fall in love with a gown, or a floral arrangement, or a venue, and picture herself walking down the aisle toward me, finally ready to become Mrs. Cullen…
My hand had slipped into Bella's hair while I'd been lost in my musings. With my last train of thought, my fingers suddenly tightened around the back of her neck as images flashed through my mind. She glanced up at me in concern. I smiled reassuringly down at her and carefully removed my hand from her hair. When I took her left hand in mine and absently began to play with her engagement ring, the crease appeared between her brows. And I had a feeling her thoughts rapidly were catching up to mine.
Before she could comment, a new voice spoke up. "Um, excuse me?"
We both looked up to see a tall, thin man standing in front of us. "Yes?" Bella replied.
"Are you the artist?"
I could feel Bella tensing a little beside me. I let go of her hand to slip my arm around her.
"Yes," she said again.
"I'm sorry to interrupt. But I was wondering if you take requests."
Bella was thrown. For a second, she didn't seem to understand. Then it sank in. "Um… Sure. I haven't tried before, but I guess I can give it a shot."
The guy smiled and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. The picture he produced looked relatively new. "This is my girlfriend," he said.
Bella accepted the photo and studied it for a moment. I could see the possibilities starting to swirl in her mind as she considered the smiling blonde. "What does she like?" she asked.
"She plays tennis," he offered.
Bella nodded thoughtfully. "I can work with that. Give me half an hour?"
He blinked at her, clearly surprised by the short amount of time she was requesting. "Really?... Okay. Yeah. I'll be back."
Bella already was sorting through her supplies as the guy walked away. She didn't look at me when she asked, "Edward? Could you go get my other pencils from the car?"
"Sure." I backed away, smiling. She barely noticed as she turned to her canvas and began a fast outline. For a moment, I kept my eyes on her intent face. Then I turned and headed quickly for the Volvo.
Her customer had been shocked by the idea of it only taking her thirty minutes to create a piece like those he'd seen on the displayed canvases. His reaction almost had made me laugh. I'd seen her work magic on blank paper in less time than that, but I knew how he felt. I'd seen her do it a thousand times, and it still surprised me when she finished a perfect sketch in twenty minutes flat.
They were her casual pieces, though. Her cute ones. Her funny ones. Lighthearted and happy. The complex ones could take her days when she was serious about them. And this… She'd never done artwork on demand like this. I hoped she could hold on to her confidence long enough to complete the piece.
When I wound my way back to Bella, she still was frowning at her canvas. Her hand still flew, but with smaller motions. She was getting into the details now. She would need the pencils I had to fill in the complexities.
But I froze a few feet away from her. Because in the few minutes I'd been gone, she'd gained an audience.
She didn't seem aware of them at all. Her attention was wholly focused on her work. Like always. When she drew, she was free in a way she never was at any other time. It was like it was just her and her sketch. She noticed nothing else. Which was good right now, because the twenty or so spectators who were watching her every move would make her self-conscious.
I surveyed the crowd as a few more people stopped to watch. Something flickered inside me. I frowned. I was proud. I knew that. I could feel the swell of it in my chest, the same feeling I always got when someone recognized my girl's genius.
But there was something else. Something to do with the fact that she was my girl. And the way all these people were staring. Gawking.
I didn't like it.
I tried to steady myself. Bella was waiting. I drew in a deep breath and made my way to her side.
She felt my approach; my electricity reached her before I did. Her left hand extended toward me as her right continued to skim over the canvas. She didn't pause at all as I handed her the pencils. She didn't even seem to look at them as she traded her current pencil for a new one in one of her quick, graceful motions. Then she was leaning close to her work, smoothing out the little lines and the shading.
I took a few steps back to watch her. I wanted to feel nothing but the pride. To be focused on her the way she was focused on her work. But the unexpected feeling her audience had caused kept trying to surface. I didn't understand it. I just knew that I didn't want Bella to feel it. Not now, while she was taking such huge strides in her career. Not ever.
So I stayed a few feet away. Because I couldn't convince myself to just feel the way I should.
She blended a shadow with her fingertip and stepped back to study the effect. It seemed to suit her, and her lips curved. I knew the look. She was satisfied. I turned toward the canvas just as her customer returned.
Half an hour. On the dot.
The man and I stared at the piece in silence for a moment. Bella had put his girlfriend on center court at the US Open, the setting no doubt a memory pulled from her time watching sports with Charlie. The woman was holding the championship trophy in front of a sold-out crowd. Every aspect was incredibly detailed. From what I could remember of the photo, the woman in the drawing was an exact likeness.
Her boyfriend definitely seemed to think so.
He couldn't speak for a moment. When he finally did, he had to clear his throat. "This is… amazing. Thank you." He pulled out his wallet again and returned the picture Bella handed him. Then he handed her a wad of bills.
Bella immediately began to protest. He was paying her around a hundred dollars. She didn't want to take so much. But he insisted. And when he walked away with the canvas, both he and Bella were smiling.
Until she noticed me.
The instant her eyes landed on me, her smile faded and the crease appeared between her brows. She knew that something was bothering me. But before she could question me, her spectators began converging on her. They kept her busy and distracted the rest of the afternoon.
When her show was sold out – to her surprise, again – a few hours later, the feeling hadn't eased. But I understood it now.
All those people. Seeing… her. And not knowing what they had in front of them.
I was jealous.
I hated it. But I couldn't help it. Bella revealed so much of herself when she worked. It was the time she was most open. I could see so much in her when she immersed herself in her art, when she let herself go. And I'd had her to myself for a very long time.
I wasn't ready to let that go. I wasn't sure I'd ever be ready to share her.
But I was sure I wouldn't let my feelings stand in her way. So I kept my mouth shut. And so did she.
The ride home was silent. I felt horrible about it. Especially when I saw her practically twisting her wolf charm off her bracelet. She was acutely aware of my moods, so she was more than aware of this one. But she let me think. Even when we were back at the apartment, she simply walked past me without a word as I held the door open for her. And when I sat on one end of the couch, Bella tucked herself into the opposite corner and pulled a sketchbook from the coffee table into her lap.
I almost surrendered when I saw her assume the fetal position over her work in a way she hadn't done for months. But even as she drew with her knees pulled up to her chest, I couldn't bring myself to explain. It just seemed wrong to tell her. So I glared into the space in front of me, trying to force myself not to feel the gnawing jealousy anymore.
As I fought the ridiculous emotion, I noticed every movement Bella made. Everything about her. The crease that had deepened between her straight brows. The concern that shone in the wide brown eyes that she carefully kept locked on her page. The way her sketching wasn't her normal; besides the reappearance of the fetal position, her motions were subdued. Her hand stopped and started in random bursts. Her movements were small and self-conscious. She was focused on me. And she was letting me work things out in my head.
For as long as she could stand it.
Her motions tapered off. At last she tucked her pencil between her fingers so she could twirl her ring nervously. I tried again to force myself to speak before she had to. But I couldn't. And finally, she asked in a small, quiet voice, "Edward? What's wrong?"
My brows lowered. I still didn't want to tell her. "It's nothing."
Her eyes were intent on my face. "It's bothering you. What is it?"
Annoyance with myself flared. I glowered into the empty air in front of me. "It's stupid."
Bella's voice was low, but firm. "Not to me."
I finally looked over at her. Everything in me softened immediately when I saw her face. I looked away again. My jaw worked as I hesitated. I could feel the confession catching in my throat. But I forced it out. "Those people…"
Like always, she understood me immediately. "I didn't know they were there," she admitted.
I felt my lips curve slightly at that. "You do get kind of absorbed."
She looked a little embarrassed. "Yeah." Then she suddenly sat forward, her face serious. "Edward, that sketch… It meant nothing to me. I didn't feel anything about it. I mean, I was happy that I could do it, that I pulled it off. But the sketch itself… Nothing. It was weird." A frown skittered across her face. "I'm not sure I liked it."
And like always, I understood her immediately, too. Her art always had been a release for her. A way of expressing herself. She put her heart and soul into her art. So for her to feel little or nothing while she created… It would be unsettling for her. Off-putting.
And it could be extremely detrimental to the artist inside her.
"You don't have to do it again," I reminded her gently.
She nodded thoughtfully, staring into the space between us. "I'm not sure I will," she mumbled.
Then she looked at me again, and her eyes were intense on mine. "But even if I do. If I work in public again?"
The possibility was there, a stab in my chest. Others seeing her bare her heart. Her soul. Her. Without realizing, without appreciating… It twisted inside me even as Bella's nose crinkled slightly at the idea of it.
Then Bella suddenly closed the space between us. She climbed into my lap, straddling me and carrying her sketchbook with her. Her eyes burned into mine. "You're the only one who gets to see me… this way." She looked down at the book she held, indicating her private work. "Even my friends… my parents. They've seen me draw. But I always kept the important sketches, the ones that mattered most, for when I was alone. I couldn't draw things like that around them." She stared into my eyes again. "But with you, I can. And only with you."
I reached up to slide my hand under the hair at the nape of her neck. She dropped her head to press her forehead to mine. "No one else has ever seen… me," she whispered. "And no one else ever will."
"I'm sorry," I whispered back. It surprised me to find that my voice was rough. "For the way I acted."
"It's okay." Bella's hand lifted to cup the side of my neck. Her thumb moved slowly, soothingly, back and forth just below my ear. "Today was weird for both of us. We just have to figure out what works. And what doesn't. For us."
I closed my eyes with a tiny smile. "I love you."
"I love you, too," she murmured. She lifted her forehead from mine to press a tender kiss where she'd been leaning. Her breath feathered my hair when she added, "And that definitely works for us."
"It does," I agreed. I gently pulled her mouth down to mine – another thing only I ever had been or ever would be permitted to do. The thought made my heart swell. I tried to stay focused as her fingers slipped into my hair. I hesitated when her mouth hovered over my own. "Because something else works for us."
I could sense her smile. "What's that?" she asked, her lips barely brushing over mine.
"Being an us."
Her breath caught. For a second, she was completely still. I could feel her heart speeding up. Then she sat back on her heels and looked down at her sketchbook. Carefully avoiding my eyes. There was a pause as she practically vibrated with nerves. I stroked her neck soothingly where my hand was still buried in her hair. My brow furrowed as I waited for whatever she had to tell me.
I was just about to give in and ask what was wrong when she suddenly lifted her head and stared into my eyes. And blurted, "August thirteenth."
I tried to catch up. But this time I was lost. "August thirteenth?" I repeated dumbly.
She seemed embarrassed. "Yes." Her fingers moved instinctively to her engagement ring and began to twist as she went on, "I was going to surprise you. When we got to Forks. But then you say things like that and I just…" She trailed off and glanced to the side. Then her anxious motions stopped, and she looked steadily into my eyes again.
"Alice has a dress," she said. "For me."
My heart slammed. My eyes were huge on hers.
I took her face in both my hands and stared directly into her eyes. I felt like I was going to explode. But I had to make sure. "You're sure?" I asked. "That's when you want to do it?"
"We already belong to each other," she replied with a sudden casualness. "This just makes it official."
The smile pulled so wide it hurt. "Mrs. Cullen."
She smiled back. "Soon."
All my concerns from only minutes ago were totally forgotten. I yanked her mouth down to mine and forgot everything but her.
Everything but us.