Pop the Question Contest Entry
Title: The One and Only
Word Count: 4,118
Rating: E for Every one (T)
Summary: Before the Internet, before Skype, could someone you loved and set free really still be yours?
The One and Only
At a summer camp, deep in the North Woods...
The moon was providing the perfect illumination for the paths between the cabins and campsites. The pair stole a quiet moment and a kiss before their appropriated paths diverged that night, knowing that afterwards, they would find their way back to each other.
The girls in the Marseilles cabin were bouncing in their beds. It was an honor to be first cabin, and they squealed as they spoke. Le Pierre-toute propre would arrive and tell them their light-out tale. Several of the girls had heard the histoire in years before, and guaranteed it would be better than a small piece of candy, which was the other prize option.
Genevieve and Angelique, their Gides, reminded the girls that they could ask for the tale in English, and both crossed their fingers that they would. All that translating this late in the evening on the first day would spoil their own enjoyment. They, too, loved hearing the story.
It took only moments after his arrival to settle the girls onto the rug in the center of the cabin. Their eager faces shone in the lamplight. Jane, the smallest of the first time campers, was chosen to ask for the story.
"Monsieur Pierre-toute-Propre, Voulez vous racontez le histoire de la grande question?"
Pierre nodded and smiled as he spoke. "Bien fait, bien. Oui. Je veux." Spreading his arms to encompass the circle, he continued. "In English tonight."
Edward eyed the circle of bright eyes. A few had been here before, but he wasn't going to change a word.
For some reason, this story seems to very popular. It's the one and only that I am asked to tell again and again, and I am happy to bring it to you. To understand, you must come back with me, to a time and a place where there were no iPod's, or even cell phones.
This always brought little gasps, and one small voice piped up, how did you survive? He knew the next phrase would elicit a groan or two, but it would not stop him. It was all we knew then; it was almost a galaxy far, far away.
As he spoke, he lost himself in his own memories: his first sight of her on campus. He continued with the tale.
I was a sophomore student, far from my home, in college. I stood with friends in the line for lunch when she almost fell right into my arms. She was trying to read, hold a pile of books, and walk downstairs all at the same time. Her purse strap caught on the stair rail, and she righted herself. She'd blushed and scurried away. It was with great surprise one of my other friends had brought her over to our table in the cafeteria. She didn't say much that first day, "I'm Bella, from Chicago." just her name and where she was from.
He told the girls how he'd see her on campus, a freshman with a silly placard on her neck that first week, proclaiming her status and informing every one of her list of initiation tasks to be completed. Even that first week, watching her get initials on her card, especially from the upperclassmen, made him a little jealous. It had struck him as odd then, as he was supposed to be still thrilled with his summer romance in Paris, Tanya.
In the next weeks, I'd learned she was also a French major, and that she had a sort of sweetheart at home. So, we'll be friendly? I was friendly with a lot of guys and girls?...Right. I can do friendly.
A few nights later, we had our first meeting of the French Association for the year. We had to get a lot done that night, organized for the year, and our big fundraiser was coming up at the homecoming fair. Tradition stated that the seniors would take charge, but all they did was sit there, discussing how much they missed France.
It had been too much for Bella. She groaned after fifteen minutes, standing up and walking to the chalkboard. She cleared her throat declaring, "Hey, I don't know about anyone else here?" With that statement, she gave me a long, hard, 'but what?' look, and one to Emmett, who was seated at the other end of the couch. Our poses mirrored each other, and we were both wearing jeans and tee shirts, our new beards framing our chins. I'd not known it them, but she wasn't sure who was who.
"Look." Bella put her hands on her hips and continued. "I have to study, so I won't say what we should do or who should do it, but I'll organize the information up here."
There was a long look between her and Dr. McCauley, our faculty advisor, our French professor, and my personal advisor, and I watched Bella mouth the words 'Si Vous Plait, Roberts Rules of Order.' Dr. McCauley nodded back.
That little frosh with red in her hair whipped us into shape. In under an hour we were organized and had planned to hold a second party for Mardi-Gras. I wanted to take her to that party, and then my heart stopped a little. I was supposed to have a girl in Paris, and she was supposed to have a guy in Chicago...right?
Still, our paths kept crossing. We ended up in one class together, lunches and occasional dinners in the cafe. I remembered the night she plopped her tray down and gave me a huge smile.
"Edward. Y, your name is Edward." She beamed as she spoke. "I'm so sorry I couldn't figure out who was Edward and who was Emmett. You both dress similarly, I always seem to see you together and oh, today Emmett came out of Rosalie and Alice's room!" She happily exclaimed that I was so often with Emmett on campus that she'd never gotten it straight. That night at supper, the light had gone right out of her eyes as someone mentioned homecoming. I learned that her guy was supposed to be coming out for the dance. So?I was her friend. Still I avoided her that whole weekend. I didn't want to see them together. At the same time, I realized I'd been a jerk to a lot of ladies last year. I was getting fed my just deserts by Tanya as well. I'd realized I'd been just a summer fling to her.
The weeks went by and I'd found myself at the movies with Bella more than once. She'd linked arms with me and dragged me with another friend to a movie off campus, and then to the pre-Halloween special presentation of Love at First Bite.Bella mentioned how much she'd like to see me in a tux. I'd scoffed at that. I hadn't even worn one to my prom, still, maybe. No, no girl was worth that hassle. Little did I know then that someday I would eat that thought, and pick out all the formal wear for our entire party.
I continued to relay the tale, as the memories played like movies in my mind. It was a few days later when she asked me to accompany her to her floor's Halloween party. My dorm floor was 'brother' floor to hers. She'd opened the door to her room, in a little costume with a few of her dorm sisters. She wore high heels, a sparkly top, and a tiny skirt. She'd called it a Can Can dancer outfit. It was too much for me. She was too cute. It hurt too much to think she was someone else's girl. I walked her to the party off campus, but I left early, slipping out when she was off talking to some girls from another dorm. That night, I didn't know what she was hoping. I didn't know she was breaking up with Jacob. She'd ended up walking home, alone, crying. She didn't speak to me for a few days after that. Thanksgiving was a long weekend. I'd gone home, and the entire time all I could do was wonder what she was doing in Chicago. It dawned on me that trip that she had taken down his picture from her room. Just maybe, there was hope.
December on campus meant final exams for the term. There was one big event before we all hunkered down with our books. I hadn't even dared to ask her to the Christmas dance. I just hoped she'd be there. I anxiously walked over to the student union.
Just inside the doors to the hall, I saw her standing alone. She was sporting a brilliant blue Chinese jacket, those heels and skirt, and a snug, low cut top. I tapped on her shoulder and her eyes shone when she saw me. I stood beside her as we listened to the WORST off key rendition of a Beatles' song we'd ever heard. Usually the campus bands were great. This was actually a blessing. Her roommate was out of town. I took her hand as we strolled across campus. It was the first time I'd felt her bare skin. It felt so right at last. We could go back to her room and talk…
We dropped hands awkwardly, taking spots across the room from each other. That night as we spoke, each time we made each other smile or laugh, we moved closer and closer. It was almost inch-by-inch. I finally stood in the middle of the room and beckoned her with my finger. She closed the gap and I pulled her into my arms. I'd felt something when our hands finally touched again. Our lips met and I was gone. I was home. It was warm and sweet. Soft pecks of strawberry as I heard her moan my name softly as her lips parted. I bent her back just so slightly, deepening the kiss as…
Bells rang. They really rang, and then sirens blew and lights flashed. Bella shook in my arms, her eyes squeezed shut and as the noises continued on they flew open. The sound wasn't in our imagination. This was an older dorm, and fire alarms were sensitive and never to be ignored. We rushed to the exit without our coats so I'd stood outside her dorm, with my arms wrapped around her to ward of the December chill to the amazement of the rest of the campus. The dance had just ended and most of the rest of the student body was walking by her dormitory. No grand announcement would be necessary. The guys would quip that the little thing from Chicago had tamed bad boy Cullen. The girls would groan and only see the broken heart that was sure to come. He'd loved and left before. He'd do it again. He'd be gone for next year, his entire junior year.
The rest of the year was a happy blur for the most part. I got to bring Bella on her first plane trip. After meeting her family, we flew to mine for the rest of the break. She knew I was set for my junior year abroad. We didn't talk much even about just the summer break.
At the end of the term I had to leave before her parents came to pick her up. I was going to live at home in Seattle and work for the summer to save up for junior year. She was also going home after a week in Washington, D.C. Her high school French was too weak to complete her major, so she'd tried out a short pre-law seminar. Maybe she could study in Paris next year, but that was a big if.
She'd pressed a thick envelope into my hand before I left with my dad. She'd put it in my hands through the window of his truck and ran off before I could say anything,
It was her class ring. She wanted me to have it, no matter what happened.
It was a long, hard summer. I'd worked two jobs to cover my costs for the next year, and Bella was doing the same in Chicago. Back then long distance phone calls were really expensive. I'd written a few times in my spare moments and we'd call each other late at night, but not every week.
I'd finally saved up enough to chance taking a few days off. Bella drove out with a friend, Alice. I'd convinced my chum since 6th grade, Jasper, to be my wingman that weekend. It worked like a charm. It meant I had plenty of alone time with Bella when my parents or siblings weren't after her.
Too soon, they had to head back, I went back to my seventy hour a week grind, and then school started for the fall. I would fly out the last week in September, from Chicago. Bella would bring me to the airport. I'd meet her on campus, as classes for her had already begun.
I was stupid that first night. I went out drinking with all of my campus buddies, and at one point didn't even realize Bella, Rosalie and Alice had left the bar and gone to another. My head was swimming the next morning as Bella barged around her room, muttering under her breath. It really hit me that morning as my head spun and ached, but was nothing compared to the pain in my heart.
I'm flying out in two days. I won't be able to see or call Bella for months. I'm going to be alone.
Almost all the excitement for my junior year leaked out of the burst bubble of my mind. Somehow, I had to let her know how much she meant to me, that she was my one and only, the only one I wanted to come back to. I talked more of our future than of what was around the corner. I'd say things like, when we have our own place, or when we take our kids to….
That though had sobered me up like a cold douse on a hot football field. I'd waited for a shocked look on Bella's face, or a verbal reaction - something, anything? All I got was a sly smile and an apology for banging every door and drawer in her room as she readied for the drive to Chicago. Alice was coming; she needed to shop, and she whispered to me while Bella was filling the car with gas that she was sure Bella would need someone to drive her back to campus. Only years later I would learn how right her prediction was.
Everything came crashing down as her dad drove the four of us to O'Hare Airport. Back then; there was already a point for international departures that looked like an impenetrable wall. On it was written, in every language conceivable, in large, bright letters, the words for goodbye.
It was the end. After her dad had taken dozens of photographs, as was his habit, she'd pushed him and Alice toward the exit to the parking ramp, finally standing with me, alone, before the wall. After I'd walk around it, I would not know when I would see her, touch her, hold and kiss her again. We held on to each other like it was the last moment on earth. Whispering I love you to each other. She broke the kiss, first resting her head against my chest and then held me out from her, just inches from her face. She blinked and tried to put resolve in her voice and eyes as she spoke.
"A year is a long time, Edward. It's the year you've been dreaming of, the highlight of your major. France. I can't hold you to anything, Edward. I know. I've heard. You know where I'll be. Like they say, if you love something, set it free. Have a great, wonderful year. No matter what. Go!."
She'd kissed my cheek one last time and pushed me off as she ran. I darted around the barrier before my own courage failed me. She was letting me go. No, she was setting me free, but not herself. She'd heard all the stories, knew my sordid past, and loved me enough to accept what ever came next. She didn't know that she, my Bella, was the only next I was interested in.
France and junior year abroad were amazing, no doubt there. It was hard work, but at least once a day I found time to write a letter to my heart. Some days, I wrote two. Our letters crossed the Atlantic again and again. There was no email, no Skype for me to see her face, no cell phone for a quick text, and a real phone call was about $25 dollars, like what $75 would be today for five minutes on the phone.
Christmas was lonely on both sides of the Atlantic. My present to her arrived late and I waited and ate her cookies and my favorite, Doritos, on New Years. Finally in the spring, she got word of her acceptance into the semester abroad in Paris. She would be in France on May 1st.
I was in the south of France, eleven hours away. By hook or by crook, I was going to find a way to get to Paris.
In our letters, we'd talked of everyday things, of food and friends and yes, of love. No matter how many girls I met, none of them were her. I'd written of my hopes for when we'd marry, for where we'd travel, where we'd live. She'd written of the campus gossip, the movies and songs on the radio, even sending me a cassette tape of her voice on the college radio station. She told me she's missed me and took comfort in knowing we looked at the same stars each night. She put her heart on each page she wrote.
Knowing she was finally on the same side of the Atlantic was torture. It was several days after she's arrived when I finally found a ride to Paris that could fit into my student budget. It was a small car and a slightly frightening group, but every kilometer brought me closer to her door.
The class was staying at the same Pension that I'd stayed in as a freshman on the program. I'd made friends with the staff and they remembered me, so I was let inside and shown the stairway to her room. Seventh floor. Top of the building, with no elevator. The steps were nothing under my feet as I came to her door. The Pension mascot cat, Monsieur Mieux, wrapped around my ankles as I stood in front of the ancient port. I'd barely knocked when it flew open.
She stared as if seeing a ghost. Her eyes went so wide and she swallowed, glancing down at the cat and then giving me a once over. She grabbed my hands and pulled me into the room, dragging me over to her bed and giving me a slight shove to sit.
She looked down first, seeing the cat around my legs. "I've been hallucinating your arrival all afternoon. I am going to finish my last homework sentence and if you are still here when I look up, I'll know you are real, and not just Monsieur Mieux scratching at my door"
I was stunned silent by her pronouncement. Hallucinating about me all afternoon? As I finished the thought her pen hit the desktop and her book slammed shut.
She stood from her desk and I was at her side in a flash, taking her into my arms and kissing her as long and as hard as I could. Her lips were warm and sweet and much better than I'd remembered. It was as if we had never parted for even a day. We ended up sitting side by side on her bed, chatting over all the events from our travels and up to what we had covered in our letters. The room had grown warm in the afternoon sun, and I went to open the small window in the alcove that held her desk. I don't even recall the exact remark I made as I propped open the garret pane and noticed the Eiffel Tower, visible in the distance, if one knew how to look. Instead, I turned to look at Bella, her sudden silence filling the room like an autumn chill. What had I said? Something about when we are married? I just waited and looked at her, her eyes soft, sad and cast down toward the floor.
"Edward, a. Always the talk about marriage. But you, I mean… Perhaps the party of the first part should ask the party, the other party. I mean, they should ask them how they feel?" As she spoke, she shook, with a kind of fear, and then she took her hands up to cover her face and tilted her whole head toward her knees,, where her elbows came to rest, her shoulders shaking slightly. I heard her gasp in a breath and go still, silent as if listening, as if expecting a terrible sound.
It hit me just then. I had been talking of marriage for months, for letters on end, and I had never asked her. Of course I meant her. She was the one, she was my one and only. Perhaps I hadn't been clear, or she was still waiting for that other shoe to fall. I'd never told her she was the one. I would learn later of her fear, that she'd said too much of her fears out loud and that I'd been offended and just leave…. I understood.
I stepped right back over to her, slipping down onto one knee, in that time-honored pose. I had no ring, and no fat purse to get one just then, but I had my heart and my soul to offer her, and I could only pray that was enough. I took her hands gently down from her face and encouraged her to look at me. Her eyes slowly came up and met mine.
"Isabella, there is no one but you. Would you do me the great honor and become my wife? Marry me."
Thus, those words broke into sunshine on her face as her lips first whispered yes and covered my face with kisses and louder pronouncements of yes and oui fell from her mouth.
There was no way to tell our parents right then, and I promised myself that I would seek her father's blessing the next chance I had. She was mine, I was hers, and no time or distance or any circumstance at all would change that. Later, much later, after dinner and wine and a walk along the Seine, I held her in my arms and watched her sleep. It was going to crush me to leave to take my examinations, but I had a certainty, a goal.
I was going to marry Miss Swan at the first opportunity. The one and only, my heart, was secure at last.
The last part I had only thought in my head, I had not shared it with the circle and it was heavy with anticipation, when one tiny voice proffered the question.
"Well, did she say yes?"
"Yes, yes she did, and Madame Charlotte and I have been together ever since."
Gasps of joy and murmurs of it's true and I though so filtered around the cabin as the girls got up and scrambled into their cots. He bid the cabin a "Bonne Nuit" and strolled back under the moonlit trees toward the infirmary cabin.
A small lamp illuminated a circle between the two rockers on the porch, and he happily gave a kiss to Madame Charlotte as she stood up from the one on the right to greet him.
"What story did they get?"
"The one where I met my heart in Paris, of course!" He chucked and tucked a stray hair behind her ear as he whispered his question. "And what tale did you offer, my dear?"
"The one about a lonely girl who found her one and only; she set him free, and he came back and found her after all."
He smiled and offered his am. "My dear Bella, it's not the Seine, but I'd love a stroll down by the lake."
The moon again lit the lovers, together, dancing by the shore of the lake. Time, nor distance, nor circumstance had ever broken them again.