This oneshot was an entry into the Twilight of Craigslist ONE-SHOT Contest (Part II), and a First Place Judges Vote Best One Shot winner, Most Romantic Popular Vote winner, and amazingly, also the Judges' Choice pick of three of the four judges: Plummy, Midsouthmama and Nolebucglr. Thanks to the contest organizers, the judges, the other contest participants, the readers and voters, and to MisForMarisa for making the lovely banners!
Here is the original Ad prompt: http : / www . fanfiction . net/s/7473295/1/I_Found_Your_Camera
Thank you to NinaQ for the great prompt, I hope you don't mind what I did with t!
Sincere thanks to ms-ambrosia for her Beta services. Hearts! Without you, I'm nothing.
Warnings and Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.
It couldn't be for me.
Bella squeezes her eyes shut, arresting the image of the Craigslist ad, mid-skim.
It hovers under her eyelids, like a reflection distorted by rippling water while she tries to grasp its meaning.
She takes a deep, deep breath, and slowly opens her eyes to try again, to start from the beginning and to pay attention this time.
Beside her on the old desk, Worf stretches out to his full length, then extends his black paw and gently touches her arm, as though reminding her she's not alone.
She gives him a tight smile.
He rewards her by denting her skin with needle-sharp claws.
"Hey," she admonishes, gently lifting Worf's paw onto the desk. He folds it away, ever the graceful, dainty little sphinx.
Bella's hands begin to shake as she follows the ad line by line, reading the whole thing twice until there is no doubt it's meant for her.
"I Found Your Camera!
Date: 2011-10-13, 10:35 AM EDT
Reply to: notastalker (at) craigslist (dot) com
I couldn't help but notice you. You were sitting alone at The Ugly Mug last Friday afternoon, reading Jane Austen and sipping coffee. The barista tried to flirt with you and dropped off a free biscotti, but you left it untouched, as though whatever Lizzie Bennett was up to was far more interesting than the chocolate."
Snorting, Bella remembers the moment. The biscotti sat on her plate, burning a hole in her concentration; a little time bomb waiting to explode into her thighs. She tried so hard to ignore it.
She can't remember the barista at all- if he was flirting, his overture went unnoticed, as did he. Reading is her go-to activity, but she'd been too excited about the upcoming trip to see her mom, and didn't feel like concentrating on something new, so Jane Austen had come along to keep her company.
"Two tables over, the obnoxious salesman-type took a phone call, and you glanced down at your watch. I was tongue-tied and getting up the courage to talk to you when you packed your bag and left. You were already out the door when I realized you had left something behind. I grabbed it, and chased after you, but you were already gone."
Bella had indeed looked at her watch. She'd been killing some time before driving to the airport to spend the week with her mom and Phil in Phoenix before he was shipped out with his team. The Ugly Mug was beginning to fill up with people, and she cleared out quickly, knowing that her little sun blessed table would be in hot demand. She'd decided to get out to Sea-Tac early.
"In the small black pouch I found a camera. I thought one of the pictures might lead me to you, so I looked at them. I hope you don't mind.
Most of the pics seem to be snapshots of friends and family, but there is one that I know is you. You're holding the camera at arm's length, snapping a shot of yourself mid-laugh, as though someone in the distance is hamming it up.
I can't tell you how so sorry I am that I missed you that day. If I had caught up to you, I would have told you that you have the most beautiful smile I have ever seen. I would have bought you another cup of coffee and walked you home, carrying your books like a smitten schoolboy.
I've spent a week looking for you and want to return your camera, if only to see that smile in person. E-mail me back. I'll buy you a cup of coffee. We'll sit at the same table this time, and you can tell me all about the pictures."
She hadn't realized her camera was missing until she'd arrived in Phoenix, but someone had found it. That someone had noticed her at the cafe. He liked her smile... no. He thought she had the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. The heat in Bella's face spikes deliciously until she's aflame like a struck match.
The most beautiful smile, he says.
The picture he's talking about in the ad, the one she had taken of herself, is so special that it and its companion are the things Bella mourned most when she lost her camera.
It's the physical reminder of what it felt like to be so happy that her cheeks hurt from smiling.
It was taken the day she graduated from UW.
Charlie and Renee had both turned out for the ceremony, sitting side by side in a picture of familial unity that crushed Bella's brave heart in a vise grip. She had seen pictures of them together like this, smiling and leaning toward each other like birds on a branch, but those pictures are as old as Bella herself. Those pictures are from a time when she still called them Mom and Dad, before she was a grown-up in a girl's disguise, living between them like so many unspoken words.
They've barely been in the same room in over a decade.
To have seen their remarkable closeness that day brought Bella to a standstill, making her suddenly feel very, very young.
She had watched them, speechless, overflowing with bubbly happiness that threatened to explode in fizzy spurts from between the lattice of her ribs like champagne from a shaken bottle.
Impulsively, she had raised her camera, first taking a covert picture of Charlie and Renee, her estranged parents, then turning it on herself, as proof of the existence of this extraordinary moment. They had become united once again with shared pride and love for their daughter, after so many monosyllabic years.
Yes, those two pictures are so very special.
So much so that it's worth the risk of meeting the stranger who has them, Bella thinks, fingers already poised over the keyboard of her laptop.
After all, they're just meeting over coffee, right? What could happen? It's not a date date. It's more like a nondate. Yes, he has expressed some attraction, but she's an adult, she can handle telling a guy she's not interested, right?
"...I would have told you that you have the most beautiful smile I have ever seen."
The shiver that crosses her spine and makes the tiny hairs on her arms tingle is like an ice cube on her skin.
She takes a deep breath and gives the cat's perky ear a little tweak. "Well, Worf, perhaps today is a good day to roll the dice."
Putting fingers to keys, she prepares a diplomatic answer.
"Dear notastalker, thank you for taking care of my camera. If you still have it, I could meet with you on Friday, same time, same place. I'll buy the coffee and offer my sincere thanks, B."
Another shivering ripple travels like wildfire over her skin when she clicks 'Send', and she chews nervously on her thumbnail, suddenly overcome with anxiety. What if he doesn't have it anymore? What if he's deleted the photos by now?
Banging her head on the desk and groaning brings no relief, but the cat thinks it's hilarious. A plush black paw lands on Bella's head with a light thwack as he tries to provoke her to flail around like one of his flip-flopping toys.
Why couldn't the good-looking redhead who's always at the cafe have been the one to find her camera? There have been times where she felt someone's eyes on her, but when she looks up, it's never him.
He might not have noticed her, but Bella has sure noticed him. That brilliant, orange hair would be hard to miss- it's iridescent. Beneath it, he's a mysterious presence. A long-fingered, lean-limbed, sexy mystery.
He sits there, time after time, oblivious to everything and everyone, cloaked in a magnetic aura too hot to touch. Bella can't help but notice him there, same seat every time, by the dusty ficus, drinking coffee and reading or playing with his phone, scorning company like humans are beneath him.
Swallowing dryly, Bella sits up, deciding that for the first time, she'd prefer him not to be at the cafe on Friday to witness her anxious nondate. Which makes no sense. Why should it matter if he sees her with another man? It's not like he's ever looked at her before; why would he start now, or even care?
Rubbing her head, she has barely pushed away from the desk, when a new email pings into her inbox and she jumps, squealing like a startled horror movie lead.
Worf looks positively bemused, his yellow eyes mere slits against sleek, dark fur.
Just like her own message, it's a short one, a salvo fired across her bow. He must be in front of his computer right now- the thought makes Bella a little giddy.
Friday would be great. Same time, same table, as you mentioned. I'll be the one with your camera. Looking forward to seeing you again,
And just like that, Bella has a nondate with a stranger.
Bella has a nondate with an Edward.
Edward types fast, then stares at the screen, re-reading his reply and blowing air out of his puffed cheeks.
He clicks 'Send' and throws his arms up in the air, listening for the telltale whoosh of an email departing for the ether.
"Fly, my pretty, fly," he whispers, thundering heart so hopeful that it hurts.
It's too late to take it back now, though a part of him still would, if he could.
It's a small, chickenshit part, but hey, that's semantics for you.
Almost as soon as his excitement reaches its peak, his hands begin to shake and sweat.
He hasn't been honest with 'B'.
Well, not totally, anyway. When she finds out that he's just the ginger sad sack who's been warming a seat at the back of The Ugly Mug every time she's there, she might hit the roof.
Or hit him.
Even then, it's a chance he's willing to take for that jaw-dropping, heart-stuttering smile.
He adjusts his glasses and scruffs the stubble peppered over his jaw, thinking.
It's kind of his last chance, since he's managed to fuck it up so far.
He should have approached her the first time he saw her. He had known even then that she was special.
It seemed a day like any other until she'd walked into the cafe. Among the sharp suits and tall heels that poured out of the office buildings in the city at this time of day, she'd worn a dress and exuded the air of an understated, sexy librarian. Her natural long hair looked as though you could actually run your fingers through it without having to wash your hands afterward.
He could have looked at her all day, counting heartbeats at the hollow of her throat between the round wings of her delicate collar.
He could have been hypnotised by the sunlight bouncing off the narrow silver ring on her index finger and driven himself to distraction guessing at her marital status.
He could have watched her red mouth worrying her bitten-down fingernails while thinking about the softness there, the yielding heat between those cherry lips.
Yes, he could watch her all day, and sort of had been, taking her image away from the cafe each time like a charm.
Even at night, he still turned that charm over and over in his mind's eye, even as his real eyes fell into the darkness of sleep. There was nothing else he'd wanted to look at more, that day, or since.
Edward has been haunting The Ugly Mug for weeks with only one goal- to see her. She comes in like warm sunshine after the rain, parting his thunderclouds with her innate brightness and her pretty face.
Edward loves how she dresses, in vintage knee-skimming skirts and knitted cardigans, all pretty cherries and classic necklines- so fucking sweet. He finds his living, beating heart every time she walks into the cafe. He sets aside every niggling annoyance, every hard feeling, every disappointment then, just to get a few good, covert eyefuls of that perfectly fascinating brown-haired girl to take back to his cubicle at work.
She doesn't come in regularly, but often enough to ensure that his butt is glued to the seat every day, just in case. It's become routine now; he doesn't even get looks at work anymore. They all know it's just Edward, the boss' darling and the agency's top creative stepping out for his fifteen minute caffeine slap in the afternoon.
For days, he'd been trying to get up the nerve to finally approach her. It shouldn't have been this hard, but then again, she isn't just another girl. She is the girl. Of course it was hard.
The camera had been like a gift from the universe - the fates' way of giving him a gentle shove. He couldn't believe his luck when he saw she'd left something behind.
Finally, he saw a way to talk to her, a reason to approach her.
There was only one problem- she hadn't come back to the cafe.
Not the next day or the day after that, or for the rest of the week. He'd sat in his usual seat with the little black pouch burning a hole in the tabletop, feeling a little more desperate each day, wondering if something had happened to her. Had she moved away? Edward had made himself sick thinking of her being injured, or, if he was honest, about her being held in another man's arms.
And now, after more than a week, when he'd grown positively frantic, it looks like she found one of the ads he'd placed here, there and everywhere, hoping to get her attention.
He could have identified himself as they guy she'd no doubt seen at the cafe, but then, would she come back? What if she didn't? Edward doesn't think he could have handled the enormity of that rejection.
Instead, he'd made the ad sound like it was a first encounter.
'B' was probably going to punch him in the balls, grab her camera and run screaming.
Edward sets aside his laptop and burrows down into the bed, rubbing his tired eyes. Under his closed eyelids, 'B' lingers, her hair a fan, a pillow under her. God, he wants so bad to feel its texture in his palm, against his mouth. He wants to rub his cheek over it.
Is it Belinda? Barbara? Oh God, what if it's... Britney?
"Argh!" He digs the heels of his palms into his eyes, hoping that he hasn't fucked up his chance with her, whatever her fucking name is- but fuck, please, not Britney.
Edward's already closing the lid of his laptop when the email pings again. Throwing it open, he's glued to the screen like a drowning man clinging to a straw.
"Dear Edward. I'll look forward to meeting you on Friday. Thanks again for taking care of my camera, I can't wait to get it back! With thanks, Bella."
"Booyah!" Fistpumping air, Edward laughs out loud with excitement.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner." He's grinning to hard that his face is beginning to hurt. "Bella. Of course it's Bella."
The email is to the point and there's not much there to pin his hopes on, but the fact remains that two days from now, Edward and Bella will be having a conversation. It might be short. It might be angry. But a conversation they shall have, and it's Edward's chance to actually connect with the woman with whom he's never spoken but with whom he can imagine everything you're supposed to want.
Or so he hopes.
Edward knows he won't be able to sleep now. Still grinning, he opens the brand design presentation he'd brought home to work on. His mind teems with ideas, all alive and calling out now that his brain's been awoken by Bella. He might not get any sleep, but his boss, and the agency's client, will get something novel- ideas generated by an unusually happy, excited Edward.
When he finally passes out hours later, he dreams of cherries and cotton, the summer scent lingering long after the visions dissipate into morning.
The next couple of days are the equivalent of occupying a hard plastic chair in purgatory. Like a kid at Christmas, all he wants is to have his moment, and waiting for it is intolerable.
Time drags when he's aware of it, the clock in the studio seemingly stopping just to have a laugh at his expense. When he gives in to nerves, the hours seem to fly, galloping toward Friday at a rate of knots, like the universe just can't wait for Edward to make a dick of himself.
His fellow designers are watching, he knows. His nerves are tightly strung, and the anxiety translates to a state of loaded silence in a usually companionable studio. They're all wondering what the hell's going on with the spark-zapping thundercloud hanging precariously over his ginger head.
When Friday afternoon arrives, he finds himself on unsteady feet, walking to the cafe like to his execution. She's not there yet- the place is nearly empty, the afternoon rush not yet begun.
Edward places the camera on the table and sits stiffly, sliding himself into an unfamiliar seat. Her seat.
Conveniently, someone has left their newspaper behind, and he grabs onto it like it's a relay baton that he mustn't drop. Before he knows it, he's rolled it so tight that he'd need a steam roller to flatten the stupid thing.
Cursing under his breath, he attempts to smooth it out into something useful, but even so, the pages curl annoyingly as he turns them. He straightens his shoulders, feeling altogether too large for a girl's chair, even though it's exactly the same size as the one he usually sits in.
Rolling his eyes at himself and muttering under his breath, he prepares for the end to his agonizing wait.
One way or another today is the day.
This is a nondate, Bella reminds herself, being a grown woman.
The insecure girl in the mirror standing over the corpses of several discarded outfits disagrees.
She wants to look nice, but not like she's trying too hard. She doesn't want to give notastalker Edward the wrong impression.
But, there's the guy to consider, too. The guy. The one Bella has been ogling when he's not looking- the one she's been making some effort for, even though he never sees her.
Bella sighs and brushes hair out of her eyes, looking at herself frankly.
Now in her mid twenties, she's past the flush of girlhood that colored her skin with every embarrassment and anxious moment, though she can still blush like a bride given the right motivation. Her body, once so boyish and lean, has become quite feminine, and she's still learning to accept her new softer hips and more rounded thighs.
Breasts that were once new and quite firm are now heavier in her hands, and she draws her palms over them, then down to her stomach. Where once there was teenage-flat tautness, now a perfect, softly rounded belly yields under her hands.
Her body has surprised her, and though she misses her coltish self sometimes, Bella has begun to finally feel like a woman instead of a girl. It's lovely and empowering.
Checking herself out in the mirror is still very adolescent, though, and she snorts.
Yes, she suggested Friday because that's their usual day- the day they're both at The Ugly Mug in the afternoons.
No need to waste a trip, right?
Right. She shakes her head at her mirror self in pity. "Tragic."
Oh well, as long as she's not wasting a trip, she might as well look her best. She picks not her best, but her favorite dress, the one that makes her waist look small and slips over her thighs in what she hopes is a flattering, feminine way.
Brushing her hair while still damp, she lets it dry naturally, and applies only light make-up to accent her eyes, aiming for simplicity.
Finally walking to the cafe, she can't help but try to cast her mind back to the day she lost her camera, in the hope of remembering whom she's meeting today. It's not the first time she's tried to recall it, and Bella's not having any luck. She must have been more absorbed in the book or excited about the flight than she thought.
Heels click-clacking on the pavement, she chews on her thumbnail, remembering only that the intense redhead was there as usual, head buried in a local newspaper, ink blackening his fingers. He'd lick the pad of his finger before turning a page, and Bella's stomach would clench in response, just as it's doing now at the vivid memory.
Except that it's not a just memory, because she's looking at him right now, doing the very thing, and staying upright has never been this hard.
The cafe is nearly empty, and there is no missing him. Bella is somehow able to continue walking into the place even as her brain leaks out of her ears, watching the guy's pink tongue dart out to moisten a finger before flipping a page.
She walks all the way to her table on autopilot, suddenly realizing it is also his table. Or rather that he's sitting in her usual spot.
His head is down reading, arms braced on the table, afternoon sun making a bonfire of his orange hair. Bella loves that intensity of color and imagines what it must feel like to live with it on his head every day, his very own fire stolen from the gods. If she could, she would reach out and thread her fingers into it, grip tight and make him look at her so she could lean in and... oh GOD.
Her heart is pounding, and she's wondering if she's in the midst of a mini heart-attack, right there in the cafe, looking down at a stranger's thatch of unruly red hair, daydreaming about kissing him.
Finally, Bella notices her camera, lying on the table between his elbows. He hasn't seen her yet, and she stands by the table, uncertain and a bit stunned, and still not computing what this all means. Hypnotised by his tanned forearms, fiery hair and broad shoulders, she stands mute, willing him to look up and save her from this awkwardness.
And then he does, and his eyes are so, so green and incredibly vulnerable. He looks how she feels and it gives her strength.
Edward gently grasps the camera in his large hand, holding it out to her. "Bella?"
"It was you," she breathes, dropping heavily into a chair opposite him and takes the camera from his grasp. "Edward?"
He smiles, and unexpectedly, it is heart clenching shyness that she sees, not the aloofness that she's used to sensing from him.
"...I would have told you that you have the most beautiful smile I have ever seen."
Suddenly, everything makes sense.
She gives him that smile, and he beams back at her, dazzling her with genuine happiness. Bella can't breathe.
"Why did you... I mean, how," she clears her throat, in an effort to clear her mind, too. "In the ad, you could have said it was you! Why didn't you?"
Edward studies the camera she now holds in her hand. "Because I'm a tool."
She quickly quashes a nervous giggle. "Well, as long as you're notastalker."
Edward grins, hoping like hell that there is no way to tell how many times he has scrolled through the images on her camera wanting to get a sense of her life, and of Bella herself. Too many.
"When you didn't come back, I didn't really know what to do."
"So a Craigslist ad was the answer?" Bella laughs at his extreme measures, but her smile falls at his next words.
"Among other things." Edward looks up to see her looking a bit horrified. "Nothing sinister!" He's quick to add, "Just a couple more online ads, a flyer or two." Well, two hundred.
Bella is looking at him in that perplexed way people do when they think you might be certifiable. "Flyers? Really?"
"I thought I'd missed my chance. I've seen you coming here, I expected you to come back. Then, when you didn't, I thought you were gone for good. Moved away, maybe."
Bella smiles gently. "I was visiting my mom in Phoenix."
"Oh. Right." He should be embarrassed by the simplicity of her explanation, but all he can feel is relief.
"So, all this time..." She doesn't have to finish.
"Yeah," he confirms, scrubbing his face, then the back of his neck. "Yep."
One thing is beating around in her brain, and Bella can't concentrate on anything else for the echo of it. "...I would have told you that you have the most beautiful smile I have ever seen."
He likes her. He has liked her from afar, the same way that she has liked him.
They're both tools.
Perhaps it's time for her to come clean, too.
"You weren't the only one," she volunteers with her heart in her throat, "You said in the ad that you liked my smile. Well, I... I really like your hair." She grips the table's edge with white fingers, feeling the scarlet wave rising over her face.
Edward looks at her with intense green eyes, making her synapses zap with excitement and possibility. "Not just your smile," he says lowly, his voice a little rough.
Bella's mouth falls open even as Edward's eyes glide to her suprasternal notch, watching the frantic pulse beat in the valley between her clavicles.
"Not just your hair," she whispers in return, and there is no air between them, none at all, as their eyes set fires to burn, low in secret places.
"Maybe you can buy me that cup of coffee now," she suggests, her mouth suddenly so dry and thirsty.
Edward's eyes are vivid and he straightens up at her words, refocusing. "I will. The first of many." He pauses on his way to order, and turns back to Bella. "Maybe you can tell me about that picture."
Her smile grows, and the way Edward is standing like he's on the precipice of something big, makes her heart want to beat its way out of her ribcage.
"I will." All of them.
A/N: I was so happy to have submitted this entry in time for it to post in the contest at Christmas. Maybe that's why it won? It was all the Christmas goodwill floating around. I hope you liked it! Thanks so much for reading!