A/N: Hello, again. Hope you've come back for more! :)
Twilight is not mine, jeez, I get it.
Chapter Two: The Ghost in the Back of Your Head
It takes me a minute to realize where I am, to recognize the differences in my surroundings.
Cold creeps through the thin sheets, gloomy gray as I squint my eyes open, so vastly different from the blinding sunshine back in Stanford, and it hits me.
Summer. In Forks. Charlie. Alice, Rose, and Emmett. Dinner last night. And the escape.
The surprise guest.
My teeth fly to my lips instinctively and I inhale a shaky breath as I try to calm down, memories of the freezing panic making me shut my eyes.
It's okay, I tell myself, feeling like such an utter nutcase.
My limbs are moving before I decide for them to, acting on their own accord, performing the monotonous routine of my morning ritual as distraction so my mind won't dwell on the present. It's a common, useful, but tiresome practice.
Breakfast. I'll hit the diner.
Charlie left before I awoke, I assume, a yellow Post-It note stuck on the fridge promising his delivery of fresh groceries and mousetraps when he returns home after his shift. His chicken-scratch writing is familiarly welcoming, but then I see a little smiley face, making my forehead quirk.
Well, that's shocking. Charlie and emoticons—hell, Charlie and emotions—usually mix as well as water and electrical gadgets.
It dawns on me again that my father might actually be…different. The concept is so foreign though; he's a creature of habit. That's where I get it from, after all. Or that's what I tell myself.
Alice calls me as I grab the familiar keys of my rusty truck but I ignore the flashing screen of my phone, not quite ready to deal with her just yet as I leave the house, locking the door behind me.
My truck feels the same. It even smells the same, like cracked vinyl seats and stale coffee with the sharp whiff of rust. I turn my nose up at it, but smile even so.
It's the one of the few things I'm actually glad to see after a year.
I receive three more missed calls from Alice on my way to The Lodge, an old mom and pop diner Charlie and I lived off during the later years of my teens when I stopped cooking and he stopped caring, but ignore her still. She leaves a voicemail, and I decide to listen to it later.
It doesn't take very long for me to reach the diner and I cut off the engine after I park, anxiety fluttering my stomach as I stare at the grubby, fogged, familiar windows squaring in patrons eating and smiling and talking.
Forks is such a small town. Nothing like sunny Stanford with its busy streets and people, crowds and herds that I could blend in with, just another nameless face in the swarm of students.
I suddenly feel like a dumbass.
There are bound to be more familiar faces inside. More questions. More hesitant answers. More evading.
God, Bella, why couldn't you have just settled for stale cereal and questionably lumpy milk back at Charlie's?
"Get it over with," I mutter to myself, grabbing the keys from the ignition and scooting out the truck.
I inspect the gravel on the way to the entrance, every thought popping in my head insisting I turn back and hide in the shelter of my old home. I ignore them though, which I've gotten surprisingly good at over the years, and finally push through the door to the diner.
And God it smells great. Like fresh pies and sizzling bacon and warmth and everyday chatter that I find myself smiling at despite the ache in my chest because this, this is a good kind of melancholy.
There are a few memorable faces in the staff and customers, but no ambushes or assaults like back at the airport with Alice, thank God. They smile and nod, the occasional quirk appearing here and there, but no real inquisitions or one-on-one confrontations. Thankful for the relatively smooth entrance, I seat myself in a booth facing north, the faintly sticky menu pulling my lips upward.
And I start wondering exactly when I became such a nostalgic sap to the point where smells of rust and sensations of sticky menus initiate remembering smiles.
I decide on ordering the usual eggs and bacon with hash brown and shut the menu closed when the faint buzzing of my phone trickles against my thigh again.
Sighing, I fish my cell out of my pocket and purse my lips at the blinking screen, Alice's name and picture begging for my attention.
Maybe I should answer it. It could be an emergency.
I snort. Right, like Alice has the appropriate view of the definition of an emergency. My mind flashes back to a time in sophomore year when Alice called our house phone fifteen times and left seven voicemails, claiming in a suspiciously anxious tone that "It's urgent." When I finally got back to her, breathless and nervous, she proceeded to whine in her tinny phone-voice that she had nothing to wear to the Valentine's Day dance.
The girl has a problem.
And then I snort, because I'm one to fucking talk.
"Bella?" a voice suddenly jerks me out of the memory.
My eyes dart upwards instinctively, bored, and they immediately widen.
He stands there with his hands in his pockets, hair a lot shorter than I remember, dazzling white smile flashing against his skin. Black T shirt hugging his chest and arms, jeans and sneakers, and he hasn't changed a bit.
I gulp. "Jake." My voice says his name like a rustle of the wind or something, shaky and wayward.
"You're back in Forks," he widens his eyes, smiling wider.
I chuckle, breathless and strained. "Um. Yeah, I guess I am."
You guess you are? Really?
He overlooks my idiocy, fortunately, and laughs instead. "That's so great," he grins, familiar and homey, his face shining with so much joy, it's hard to doubt his glee. "Come over here," he laughs like he's shocked while widening his arms, and I gulp, momentarily frozen is shock.
Do I hug him?
Do I not?
Do I run?
I eventually break from the conversation with myself to scramble out from the booth and slide to the ground, practically falling into Jake's warm, solid squeeze.
It's strange how fast my eyes reflexively close, my arms returning his fierce hug with honest effort. He feels…nice. I find myself remembering just how comfortable he can be.
I chuckle and step back, our arms falling to the sides. "Thanks. It's—yeah, it's good to be back." It's surprising, how easily the lie comes now, but with Jake so close, it doesn't quite feel like one.
He nods, then quickly glances at something over his shoulder behind him, towards the counter. His order, maybe?
"It's good to have you," he faces me again, smile still in place, matching his eager tone. He sounds so genuinely joyful, I can't help but grin back. "How are you?"
I shake my head. "Oh, same old same old," I wave my hand casually, settling back in my booth so he looks down. "You know."
Dodging the ghosts of my past that refuse to stop haunting me, trying to discover whether I'll ever be truly happy again, yadda yadda yadda. The usual.
"I heard you were in California?" he raises his eyebrows, and I wonder whether in surprise or skepticism.
"Yep," I nod. "California. Stanford." Rub it in more, Bella, jeez.
My subconscious is not a kind lady.
He whistles high, rocking back on his heels a little. "Swanky Swan, huh?" he winks.
I laugh at the action, so casual and friendly, and shrug. "You know me, Black. Money and victory pump through these veins," I curl my arm, fisting my hand.
He chuckles at that, nodding. "Don't I know it."
It's a little awkward once the silence settles in, as anticipated, but not as much as I thought it to be, which is pretty shocking. In fact, I'm surprised he's even talking to me right now, that he was the one who initiated contact earlier when we hugged. After all that happened—what I did and put him through, how could he laugh and joke and chat with me like we were best friends just yesterday?
I shake my head, unpleasant recollections knitting my brows together, and I glance up at Jake and his always-sunshine attitude, glossy hair and flashing smile. How could I hurt him?
"Jake…" I begin, my voice lower and more serious. I glance up, hoping to get through this part quickly, like ripping off a band-aid. "I know I've apologized before, but—"
"Don't, Bella." Soft words but firm eyes as he stares down at me, light and intense at the same time. He shrugs, pulling his lips up in a non-frown that doesn't equal a smile. "I know you did what you had to do. I…I don't blame you," he shakes his head.
"But I should've—"
He waves me off, a careless expression on his russet face. "Ah, coulda shoulda woulda," he grins.
"I mean it, Bella. It's in the past."
In the past.
And I'm indisputably jealous of how cooperative his past is at staying there.
Another glance over his shoulder and the topic is thoroughly executed. Just like that. He turns to me after a few seconds, his smile wider, eyes bright and excited.
It isn't until I see her walking over to him that I realize they're together.
Like, together, together.
Slight discomfort. Nothing huge. But it's there. Pressed on my chest, clenching my teeth together as I watch a slim, pointy-nosed redhead take a stance next to Jake, a brown paper bag of food dangling from her pale hands.
"Bella," Jake shifts, leaning into the girl and darting his eyes to me. "This is Maggie. My girlfriend."
No hesitation. Determination, pride echoing. A proper, firm, established title.
The one I couldn't give him.
I gulp back a disbelieving scoff and wave slightly. "Oh," I blurt out, hoping my voice doesn't sound too surprised. "Hi," I nod.
She's lovely. Clear blue eyes, scattered freckles, oval-faced with ringlets of her scarlet mane hanging around her shoulders.
"Hello," she smiles, and her teeth are slightly crooked. It makes her all the more human, though. Like it's the one flaw that makes the perfect quality of everything else acceptable. "Bella Swan." The way she says my name raises a red flag somewhere in me, my eyebrows quirking automatically. "I've heard so much about you."
My smile tightens and I shoot a glance at Jake, who just grins and shrugs. My eyes find Maggie's again. "Well, if you heard it from Jake, be assured they're all lies," I fake-whisper, shaking my head at the tall, tan boy next to her.
She rolls her eyes and shakes her head, "He does know how to stretch the truth a little."
"That was one time!" he exclaims, mouth agape.
I laugh at them. Because they're cute and young and happy. Because he's happy.
"Well our breakfast is going to get soggy, so I guess we better go," Maggie shrugs, looking politely forlorn. There's not enough genuineness in it, though, to be convincing. I can tell she's uncomfortable. As she should be. If she's really heard so much about me, from Jake, no less, I don't blame her for wanting to dart out here as soon as possible. I'm about two seconds away from ditching this popsicle stand myself.
"Yeah, well…I'll see you around, Swan," Jake nods while taking Maggie's hand.
I nod back, gulping, and my eyes dart down at the mesh of white and brown fingers before I realize it. "Yeah. Maybe I'll drive down to La Push or something," I shrug, glancing back up at the happy couple. I probably won't.
He smiles widely. "That'd be so awesome. We could get everyone together again, just like old times."
And what is it with these people and the constant desire for rallying up the past?
"Mhmm," I hum.
They leave hand-in-hand and I watch them make their way across the parking lot, into a small blue Honda that must be hers. They talk and squint and smile at the blinding gray sky, and drive off.
A hollow ache rings in my chest, causing the nibbling of my lips, and I think of how quickly he's moved on. How I'm happy for it. For them. Him.
It still hurts, though.
And I realize I can't be in Forks for three whole months without anything to do but go to old diners and relive old memories and greet old friends and wallow in the past, which is waiting at every corner.
My waiter comes immediately, almost as if the moment was timed, and I'm startled by the words tumbling from my mouth as soon as he appears.
He hasn't even had a chance to offer me water before I ask, "Are you hiring?"
"Borderline retarded," I snicker.
Edward's face is suddenly visible as his head pops up from his stretch across the foot of the blanket.
"That's politically insensitive, you know," he sniffs, resting his head on the cloth after a second so he's back to lying straight across from my feet, our bodies forming an L-shape. I squint after him, wondering where he heard those words because I don't know any other thirteen-year-old who uses them. Not even me.
And I'm a smart cookie. Or at least, that's what my parents and teachers tell me.
"You don't even know what that means," I huff.
I can practically hear the rolling of his eyes. "Do, too. My dad told me about it."
"What's it mean then?"
"It means," he starts, dramatic pause following, and I grin because I can tell he really has no clue, just a big mouth. "Isabella Swan is a big stinky monkey with ticklish feet."
Smile melting. My head shoots up, "Edward, don—"
His fingers are already jabbing at the soles of my feet, though, making me scream and laugh and wriggle like a worm in the sun.
"Stop it!" I shriek.
"Say you're a big stinky monkey!" he commands, hands continuing their torture on my poor feet.
"No!" I gasp, clutching my stomach.
"Never!" I laugh, eyelashes wet, face cramped from smiling.
He keeps tickling me until I can't breathe, my limbs flailing like mad, so I struggle to rise from my lying position on the blanket to stop the madness, sloppily sitting up in a rush and tucking my feet underneath my butt so he can't reach them.
I stick my tongue out at his disappointed face, still breathless. "Hah," I pant. "Can't get 'em now."
He sits up, too, facing me. "I'll get you back for that politically insensitive remark," he promises using those weird words again, and smiles. It looks a little different, though, from his other smiles. Not that I pay attention to his them or anything. It's just that this one looks strange. Warped and lopsided.
Crooked. I think I might like it.
"What?" he asks, smile fading.
I don't realize I'm looking at his mouth before my eyes dart to his own, squinty and green, wondering and accusing.
"What?" I echo stupidly.
His brow furrows. "You were staring at me."
"No, I wasn't." I lie, and it feels thrilling. I was absolutely staring. At him. And for some reason, that feels strange. But right.
"Yes, you were."
"No, I wasn't."
"Was not," I grind my teeth, my cheeks faintly flushed because this is getting embarrassing. I wish he would just drop it already.
"Bella, I saw you. Your eyes, they were staring at my—"
"Have you ever been kissed?"
Stupid stupid stupid stupid.
Wide eyes. High brows. Face open, mouth shut.
Why why why why why.
He looks shocked and confused and embarrassed, just like me.
My thoughts come rushing in against the silence of the wind on this unusually sunny day in my backyard where the green grass is almost blinding against the glaring sunlight, our bright yellow picnic blanket providing thin support from the damp ground and reflecting golden off his skin.
I don't even know why I said it. Blurted it out. Like a burp, a hideously disgusting burp. I just wanted him to shut up, to switch the topic.
And that's it. No other reason why I asked Edward if he's ever been kissed. None at all.
It's not like I've been thinking about it lately or anything, certainly not that.
I gulp. He fidgets.
"I was just wondering," I shrug casually, picking at a scar on my knee, telling myself my act is believable.
He pauses, suspicious. "Why?"
"'Cause," I spit back.
His eyes narrow. "'Cause what?"
"Just 'cause, Edward."
"That's not a good enough reason, Bella."
"I was just wondering, jeez," I groan, randomly thinking to how my mother calls me a goat; horns curled, defensive, always ready to clash with whoever comes in my way, and I decide that maybe Edward is one, too.
Maybe that's why we fight all the time.
Maybe that's why we're friends.
I can't imagine a goat being pals with a lamb, anyway. Too different, too mismatched and uneven.
But maybe we're too similar.
My head shakes against the confusing thoughts that suddenly invade my mind, and he catches the action, thinking that I've reached the end of my rope.
"I haven't," he blurts out, quick and sloppy, like his own hideously disgusting burp. "I haven't kissed anyone." He shrugs, like it's no big deal, and I guess it's not, but his actions come off as stuck-up instead of confident.
It annoys me.
I clear my throat, inhaling. "I haven't either."
He grins, and it bothers me like a splinter stuck under my skin. "I didn't think so," he tells me, eyes examining his fingers.
"What?" I scoff before I can help it, mouth wide open in disbelief. "What's that supposed to mean?"
He shrugs, relaxed as usual, setting down his hand. "Nothing. It's just obvious, Swan." I hate it when he calls me Swan. Like I'm an animal instead of a human being.
I fight the urge to grind my teeth. "What is?"
He rolls his eyes and sighs, like he's exhausted. "That you haven't been kissed."
"You haven't either, Cullen," I narrow my eyes at him.
"Yeah, but that's different."
That hardly seems fair. "How?"
"Because. You're just…You're Swan. You wouldn't kiss anyone," he shakes his head and purses his lips up at the corner of his mouth, doubtful.
I scoff, "Oh, and you would?"
He shrugs, the answer lost in the gesture.
"I don't believe you," I snort.
His brow furrows. "Why not? I would, Swan. I'm not chicken. Not like you," he grins.
And my mouth opens and out tumble words that I don't think about before they splatter to the ground.
"Fine, then, Cullen. I dare you."
"Okay," he laughs and shrugs, clearly not convinced, which makes my teeth clench along with my fists.
"Okay," he chuckles again, shaking his head.
My mind is a haze as I gape and I'm not thinking straight, the embarrassment and anger making my actions stupider and stupider. I don't care, though. I just want to shut him up, to see him flustered and bothered the way I always seem to be around him. He's so sure, so confident and cocky all the time, and it bothers the living crap out of me. Which is what makes me say the next words.
"Right now," I raise my chin a little higher. "I dare you. I dare you to kiss me."
Immediately, his chuckles halt. Shock explodes his features, jaw dropped, eyes wide, forehead wrinkled in surprised confusion and the look on his face is priceless.
I almost want to smile. Until I realize what I actually just said.
Right now. Dare. Kiss. You. Me.
My eyes widen along with my mouth, and I try to hide the surprise on my face to save my pride but can't, because I can't stop thinking about how I just dared my best friend to kiss me.
What is wrong with me?
"What?" Edward gulps, eyes wide as saucers.
I'm hesitant and confused and uncomfortable, so I shake my head, clearing my throat. "Nothing."
He's insistent. "You said something—"
"Just forget it," I reply quickly, wishing he would do as I say for once. "I didn't say anything."
"Yes, you did," he says slowly. "You dared me to kiss you."
A hundred emotions run through me, each one popping up before I can smash it, like that game Whack'A'Mole we play at Chuck E. Cheese's. Embarrassment, shame, surprise, confusion, fear.
And now, pride. "Yeah, well, you're not gonna do it," I snap, raising my chin.
He cocks his head backwards a little, surprised and a little offended. But then his eyes narrow. "Yeah? Who says?"
I shrug, "You did."
"I never said I wouldn't do it."
"Well, you're not doin' it." My voice is mocking and pressuring; the way his sounds when he teases and pressures me into doing something I don't want to do but end up getting talked into completing later on.
Why am I talking him into this again?
Because I'm proud when I least should be.
"Doesn't mean I won't," he replies.
I raise my eyebrows, and I know I seem like an impatient little brat, but I can't stop myself, because the words are pouring out like bullets from a gun. A defense. "Well, will you or won't you?" I don't know what I want his answer to be.
"Do you really want me to that badly?" he grins.
Fire beneath my cheeks. "I—you—it was a dare, Cullen," I narrow my eyes. "One that you're refusing to perform," I add smugly.
He gets flustered at that. "Well—just—God, can you gimme a second?"
I roll my eyes. "For what?"
"I don't know, Swan, preparation or something. Isn't that what people do when they're about to kiss someone?"
And my stomach does a little flip when he says that, because it means he's about to do it; he's about to kiss me.
As a dare, my brain reminds me.
But still. A kiss.
The concept is strange and foreign, but not altogether unpleasant. It's weird, though. Definitely weird.
Because I thought I'd see the Earth explode before the day Edward kisses me. We're friends; always have been, since that day in first grade when he tripped me and I stole his juice box. Other girls stuck with each other, playing with Barbie dolls or braiding each others' hair, but all that stuff is so boring compared to the adventures Edward and I go on, hunting for werewolves in his backyard, trapping frogs from the lake, racing to see who could climb trees the fastest. I always lose and he always helps me limp home when I fall, which is sadly often.
Besides. I'm not like other girls in my class, the ones who smell like flowers and wear dresses to school and smile politely. The ones boys whisper about when they think Mrs. Williams isn't listening. When I'm not listening.
I'm not the girl boys kiss.
But I guess I'm wrong, because here I am, minutes away from having my mouth met with Edward Cullen's.
And my palms start to moisten as I gulp, nerves coating my stomach.
He still hasn't said anything—hasn't moved an inch—and I wish he would just get it over with.
"I don't have all day," I say, voice slightly shaky.
"I just…" he trails off, then shakes his head, facing me. "Never mind. Let's do this."
"Alright," he nods.
We gulp and it's weird, the air tight and uncomfortable. Neither of us make the first move, and I bite my lip, looking at him as he blinks at me.
Why, oh why did I dare him to do this?
Suddenly, his eyes change. From naïve and wide, they narrow with a teasing glint. "Well, come over here," he beckons with his head.
The stress of the moment is momentarily eased as I huff, rolling my eyes, but do as he says. I scoot a little closer, still sitting on the balls of my feet with my knees bent as he sits cross-legged and waiting. I stop when my folded knees touch his hooked ankles, and then glance up, hoping my nerves don't show.
His do. "Okay," he sighs, nodding a little. "It's just a kiss, right?"
I want to scoff at his nervous demeanor, poke fun at his hesitance, ask if he wants to back out and call him a coward with a snicker, but can only nod back. "Yeah," I tell him, my voice lost in the gentle wind. "Just a dare."
"Right," he replies.
"No big deal."
He gulps and nods, scooting a little closer so we're just inches apart, and I realize how close we are.
So very, very close. It sort of scares me.
All joking and teasing and ridicule is sucked from this moment, a weird intense heaviness settling on us that makes us both hyperaware of our voices and bodies and breaths. My head is swimming with random thoughts; I can see the glowing green of his eyes, the freckles scattered across his nose, how his hair catches red in the light, and I'm thinking of how both our mothers are chatting in the kitchen on this sunny day, oblivious to the happenings in the backyard between their just-turned-teenage children, sipping lemonade or watching TV as Edward and I incline our heads closer.
"Do you want me to go first, or should you?" he asks, voice soft and quiet.
I shrug slightly, biting my lip, and I don't miss how his eyes dart to the action. "I don't know. I guess we could go at the same time." I don't ask it, but it sounds like a question.
He nods. "Okay."
He mutters, "Sorry if I suck," just seconds before moving his head forward, and it's enough time for me to respond with, "Okay," and a nod.
Our noses are almost touching, but it's not close enough, and his eyes are starting to close, so I start doing the same, and I thrust my head forward, almost wincing immediately after, and our lips meet.
And all I can think is: We're doing it. I'm doing it. He's doing it. We're doing it.
It's not magical and I don't feel like I'm floating or flying or being even remotely lifted from the ground like I've eavesdropped some girls describing how it feels. It doesn't feel like a dream.
In fact, it feels all too real. I'm not perched on a cloud; I'm being planted firmly to the ground, to his mouth connected to mine, like I'm sinking into him, into this, this, whatever this is.
Warm and soft, that's how it feels. Attached and heavy, his lips pushing against mine with more force, causing me to make a strange noise of effort in the back of my throat and I wonder how long I can go without breathing when suddenly, we stop, mouths open and breathing heavily.
Our lips aren't touching, but they're close enough to be, and that's when I notice my eyes are closed.
They snap open abruptly to meet his own. Green like the sea, and I think I might be drowning.
It's not exactly uncomfortable as we stare unblinkingly, breathing each other's breaths, the moment drawn out like a long thread unraveling.
He opens his mouth wider, taking in a breath, about to say something, and he licks his lips.
My mouth is hammering in time with my pulse, shooting through me like a rocket, my eyes darting to his lips.
They touched mine, I think, blinking disbelievingly.
I scoot backwards a little so we're not face-to-face anymore, and I feel both relieved and troubled by the distance.
"So…" he starts, eyes watching me carefully when I'm a good foot and a half away, still sitting on my feet. I feel like a bird caught in a cage when he stares at me like that, and it bothers me how I'm not more bothered by it. "Did I?"
His vagueness annoys me, and I gulp. "Did you…?"
"Suck at it."
I shake my head, ignoring the voice inside my head shouting at me to taunt and tease, instead being up-front and genuinely honest. "No."
He nods, contemplative, gaze never leaving mine.
I clear my throat, "Did I?" I ask, curious and knowing he'll tell the truth.
I want to roll my eyes. "Suck at it."
A hint of a smile pulls at his mouth, and his eyes turn lighter, less intense as he shakes his head. "Mmm…no, I wouldn't say you did."
"Hmm. So I guess we're both kissing experts," I muse softly.
He laughs at that, the sound splitting all tension in the air like shattered glass, and I smile at the sound of broken shards. "I guess so. Although I think we'd have to practice a lot more to be pros," he continues. "Like the Jefferson's, ugh!"
I snicker, nodding, thankful for the change in atmosphere. From tense and heavy, the mood is now teasy and light. We aren't the two teenagers who were sharing their first kiss on a blanket in my backyard. We're just Edward and Bella, and that's so much easier.
I wonder if the two could coexist.
"Oh, man, those two are always smooching outside their doors," I laugh heartily. "It's like they train in the kissing Olympics or something," I shake my head, images of the middle-aged couple in our neighborhood swapping spit on their front porch making me grimace.
Then what he said is ringing in my head: We'd have to practice a lot more to be pros.
I gulp, realization dawning on me along with confusion. Practice? With each other, or with other people? How long would we practice for? Are there going to be breaks? Will my lips start to hurt after a while?
"So…" he begins, breaking me out of my thoughts.
My eyes dart to his. "Yeah?"
"Do you wanna…" he shrugs, "like, do something?"
I nod, fighting the urge to laugh. "Like what?"
"I have a new catcher's mitt in my room," he offers, raising his eyebrows.
"Oh, sweet," I reply, immediately rising from my crouch. I stretch my legs out a bit, the muscles tight and heavy, and try to get the blood flowing, pumping. "Wanna go get it?" I ask, my head gesturing to the right as I start walking backwards to the edge of the blanket, further from him. He lives just a few streets down, so it only takes about fifteen minutes to walk to from mine.
"Sure," he nods, rising. He does a few stretches of his own, sighing, and just when I expect him to start walking, he just lifts his head and stares. At me.
I'm nervous and uncomfortable under his gaze, squinting at his face, tempted to ask what his problem is or start snapping my fingers in his face.
"But before we go," he begins, voice different from before, all soft and heavy as he starts walking towards me across the blanket. His steps are slow and purposeful, making me stare in confusion.
"Yeah?" I ask, hating the squeak of my voice. But his eyes are making it difficult to emit any sounds that aren't either high-pitched peeps or soft whispers. It's all extremes with Edward.
"I need…to tell you something," he continues, now less than a foot in front of me, eyes dark and focused.
I exhale inaudibly, thoughts of his new catcher's mitt quickly fading, replaced by the sound of his voice. "What is it?"
His face is much closer now, our noses almost touching, just like before.
Before. When we kissed.
Oh, my God. Does he want to kiss me? Again? Is this what he meant by practicing? Man, does he work fast.
Edward inhales sharply, halting my tangled thoughts. He leans in closer, making my breath hitch, my lips involuntarily parting when his mouth is centimeters from mine, but then they trail to the left a little, to the edge of my moth, past my cheek, to my ear.
"It was a good dare."
My heart feels like it's in my throat as I gulp. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. And Bella?"
I feel the curve of his lips as he smiles against my ear, his voice a warm whisper. "Race ya."
My eyes rip open wide, mouth gaping, head turning to shoot Edward a glare, but he's already running ahead out of my backyard, a good five feet in front of me, his mischievously grinning face turned to see my angry, shocked scowl.
"I'll get you for that, Edward Cullen," I grit under my breath, and start running after him.
Charlie's cruiser sits in the drive when I pull up in front of the house after breakfast, a knit in my brow appearing at the sight of his car.
I check the dash before cutting the engine, noticing it's only half past ten, and reluctantly get out of the car, my thoughts immediately filled with worry. Suddenly, going out for breakfast this morning seems reckless and stupid.
Why is he home early? Did something happen? Have the hours of his shifts changed?
I shake my head when I reach the front door, attempting to clear the haze of worry, and step in, calling out his name once before closing the door behind me. No one responds.
I hang the keys in the hallway with my bag, make my way to the kitchen, and stop short at the sight before me.
All I can see is my father's crouching figure that seems to be rummaging madly through the refrigerator like a burrowing prairie dog. A bit disorienting, I'm not gonna lie.
"Charlie?" I squint.
"Bell—oh, oof!" he grunts when his head bangs against the inside of the refrigerator, and I have to clamp my lips together to keep from laughing.
"What are you doing?" I nearly giggle, hand on my mouth.
My dad sighs and curses in a whisper before ducking his head low and removing his upper body from the fridge to stand up straight and whip around, facing me. His expression sheepish, slightly flushed, and a little worried, he avoids eye contact with me.
"I…uh, I stopped by the store is all," he nods, and it's then that I notice the foil-wrapped container in his hands that makes my nose wrinkle, the trash bin that he dragged from the corner of the kitchen and propped against the fridge door, the paper bags filled to the brim with groceries with the printed Thriftway logo piled at his feet.
"Oh," I gasp, eyes wide. He was serious? "I didn't think…I mean, I could've gone to—"
The throat-clearing is rough and loud enough for me to recognize he wants to interrupt me, so I stop talking, eyeing him suspiciously as he stares back.
"Bells," he begins, eyebrows drawn together. "I can do it myself," he claims, and it's amazing how instantly I view him as a child when he's at least twenty-five years my senior. He's my father, for Christ's sake.
"No, no, of course," I shake my head. "But, I just—Charlie, you were at work. I could've—"
He shakes his head, another interrupting gesture. "I decided to take a later shift today at the last minute. Bells, I didn't ask for you to visit just to have you stay as a live-in maid, you know."
I sigh. "Of course. I know."
"I mean it," he continues. "I…" he runs a hand through his more-pepper-than-salt hair, shaking his head. "I know I'm not as…talented as you, when it comes to the preservation of some things…like the kitchen and whatnot. But I'm a grown man."
I want to smile. "I know, Charlie."
He nods, accepting my knowledge for now. "I know you worry."
I gulp, fighting the urge to bite my lip. "It's in my blood," I chuckle weakly.
His eyes meet mine for a moment, brown to brown, and I can feel the heaviness in his gaze. He wants me to take this seriously. "You don't have to worry about me."
And this time I do smile, if small. "Right back at ya, pops."
That seems to soften his mood as his face relaxes of a few creases, eyes softer. "Well, you're all the way in California for nine months out of twelve—what's a lonely guy to do?" he teases with a joking smile.
But I hear the truth to the jest, and my chest clenches a little tighter at his words.
He can tell.
"Bells, I'm kidding," he laughs, making my head shoot up.
"I know," I roll my eyes.
"Sure you do," he mutters, shaking his head. "Help me with this, will ya?" he gestures to the grocery bags at his feet.
"Yeah, sure," I nod, rolling the sleeves of my jacket up to my elbows as I make my way to the refrigerator. "Just don't expect me to touch any of that shi—er, disgusting crap in there, Charlie. Haven't gotten my tetanus shot just yet, remember."
He chuckles. "I remember. You and needles…don't get along so well."
I huff and shake my head but bend down to pick up the grocery bags and heave them up on the kitchen table and countertops, slowly lifting packages of meat and fruit while trying not to show my surprise.
"You, uh…found your way around the Thriftway alright?" I ask, attempting to sound casual when inside, my eyes are wide as saucers. I thought my dad only knew where the toothpaste aisle was.
He chuckles condescendingly, and I picture a smirk on his worn face. "I told ya I could take care of myself, Bells."
He laughs at my annoyed tone and then casually asks where I went off to this morning.
The package of strawberries is suddenly frozen in my grip, my throat constricting in a gulp. "Um."
"Yeah?" he prompts, his voice followed by the plop of some rancid food item being tossed in the trash.
"Mhmm." The strawberries are released and I fold the empty grocery bag in half messily, stacking it on top of the others before starting on the next paper sack.
"Lotsa people musta approached you, huh?" he asks, and I wonder if I'm imagining the smile in his tone.
"Uh, well I guess so." I sigh, removing a carton of milk, memories of Jake and Maggie's hand-holding creating a bothersome prick under my skin. "Hey, Dad? Speaking of The Lodge…" I trail off, unsure how he'll react to discovering I might very well be spending more time waiting on tables and taking orders in the greasy diner than folding his laundry upstairs or washing the dishes.
He said he could take care of himself, after all.
"Yeah?" he grunts before another heavy plate is heard being dropped in the trash.
"I hope you don't mind…I mean, I just—today when I went in, I sort of asked for a job." I find myself wincing after I tell him this, then peek my eyes open when his silence has gone longer than expected.
I whip around to face him, finding his gaze on my face, a smile stretched across his lips.
I'm immediately defensive. "What?"
He shakes his head just a tiny bit, grin still in place. "Nothing."
"What? Why are you—what do you think?"
"I think that's a swell idea, Bella."
"Really." I sound more suspicious than surprised, my eyes narrowing.
"Really," he nods.
He shrugs, his glance elsewhere as he sighs. "Maybe because I think it's great you're choosing to get out there and be productive instead of staying in here all summer. Maybe because I think the folks down at The Lodge would love to be served by your familiar face after such a long period of time without it. And maybe because…well, to be honest, I think it'd do you some good to have a job. Especially now."
Right there. Those two words.
Apprehension makes my forehead wrinkle, and I observe Charlie's nervous eye-flitting before his gaze finally lands on me.
"What do you mean," I ask slowly, "by especially now?"
He tries to hold it in, to remain straight-gazing, but ends up sighing in defeat, his eyes falling to the floor. "In the Thriftway, I…the cashier register was talking about this fancy doctor in town, I just—"
My eyes instinctively close, lips clamped shut, breathing ragged, and stop it, you can do this.
I open my eyes and tell myself I am able to at least hear of him, damn it.
"I know he's back." Charlie's voice is deep and soft and slow, and I know he's trying his best to be gentle. I love him for it, but hate that he knows.
I nod with pursed lips, eyes cutting to stare at out the window above the sink. "Yeah, I…" And I don't finish. I don't have to.
"An internship, or something of the like. I don't really know, I kinda tuned out at the mention of his name…"
And in spite of it all, I allow myself a smile, because Charlie really can't lie to save his life, and that's yet another endearing trait he's bestowed upon me. Lucky me.
"It's okay, Dad, you really don't have to explain," I assure him, meaning every word. The last thing I want to know are specifics. The why's, who's, where's, what's, and how's. I don't care.
Right. Keep telling yourself that. Maybe you'll believe it.
"That's why I think The Lodge would be great," he says after a little bit, shrugging. "I mean, you'd have something else to focus on. Not that, you know, without distractions, you'd be wallowing, but I just—"
"Save it dad," I laugh, shaking my head, turning back to continue unpacking groceries and hearing him return to the task of throwing away putrid food. "It's fine, really. I'm excited about The Lodge, anyway." It's the truth, too. Working in a diner might not pay too affluently, but I couldn't care less. Because as far as distractions go, it should do the trick.
A/N: Not terribly eventful, but hopefully informative. Chapter title comes from a lyric in "Spanish Sahara" by Foals. Check 'em out! Don't forget to review :D
How was your first kiss?