ENTRY #85 - AH
Truly Anonymous Twilight O/S PP Contest
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Title: We need to talk about Edward
Picture Prompt Number: 23
Rating: M For Language
Genre: All Human
Word Count (minus A/N and Header): 9951
Summary (250 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation): Bella Swan moves into a new apartment determined to rejuvenate her life. However, an overprotective (and very dead) mother wants to talk about Bella's neighbor who just happens to be her son. Can one spirit unite two lonely hearts?
Warnings and Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight or Stephenie Meyer's characters. No infringement intended.
The sharp tang of fresh paint filled Bella with happiness, as did the bare walls, the scrupulously clean varnished floor and the overwhelming sense of newness. Of course, it was only new to her. Many people had lived here before her, but she wasn't about to dwell on that.
It was a true fresh start. Having sold everything from her old apartment in Brooklyn, she'd splurged on new furniture and appliances for this one. The only possessions she'd brought with her barely filled six boxes and two suitcases which were lined up against the far wall, hardly taking up any space in the large living room.
It had been a long time coming, but she was glad of the change. Her life had been stagnant for too long and it was time to embrace change. Ignoring the small pyramid of boxes, she pushed the apartment door closed and threw herself onto the sofa, landing at the same time the door locked with a resounding click.
Satisfaction rolled through her chest, culminating in an almighty sigh of contentment. There was nothing quite like the promise of a blank page, and that's exactly what life felt like at that moment: A blank page waiting to be filled.
The sofa was soft and comfortable. Yielding like a perfect cocoon, it hugged her body as she sank deeper into the cushions. In her present state of mind, it added to the almost womblike ambiance.
Bright sunlight flared in through the large picture window, pooling at her feet and bathing her skin in welcome heat. The muted sounds of traffic drifted up from the streets below making Bella smile. She much preferred living in a city as opposed to the goldfish bowl existence she'd endured while growing up in Forks, Washington.
Before she could drift off for a nap, Bella got up to wander through the two bedroom apartment. She decided to take the larger room as her bedroom and use the smaller one to work from. Compared to the old cramped studio apartment, the emptiness here was appealing.
Moments like this were rare. Anonymity, solitude and peace were commodities to be coveted. Anonymity might be pushing it a bit. In the real world she was barely a blip on anyone's radar, but in the other world she certainly seemed popular.
So it was with resignation rather than irritation that she reacted to the voice that shattered her peace.
We need to talk about Edward.
Bella's mind went into overdrive as it usually did when she heard the voices. Since she could only hear the speaker and not see them, their voices were usually followed an onslaught of emotion.
It was the same effect as hearing a song, or smelling a scent which triggers a memory and brings forth an unexpected emotion. The strong sense of guilt and agitation her visitor was feeling was impossible to fight, and her earlier feeling of contentment evaporated like smoke on the wind.
Being so very young when she first began to hear disembodied voices, it never occurred to her that talking to people she couldn't see wasn't something everyone could do. She'd been ridiculed by the kids in her neighbourhood for talking to herself, and it wasn't until she was five years old that her mother explained things to her.
She told Bella that her ability to hear the voices was a special gift, and not everybody could hear people the way she could. After that Bella didn't like it quite so much, she didn't want to be different from everyone else. Unfortunately, she didn't have any say in the matter. She was stuck with it whether she liked it or not.
As she got older she started to understand that the voices belonged to people who had passed into the next life. While it had never scared her, she often wished she didn't have the 'gift' because it made it very difficult for her to have close relationships.
Unexpected visits from dead relatives had a tendency to put a strain on relationships, and Bella found she couldn't cope with being close to people knowing that eventually they would be put off by her 'quirk'.
Being quite a spiritual person, Renee fully embraced it, and Bella was glad she could talk to her mother about it. However, Charlie's reaction proved to be the more common one: He wouldn't tolerate any mention of it in his presence; it was all hokum to him.
Renee was convinced Bella had inherited her ability from her great-grandfather who was the seventh son of a seventh son, but Bella had gone through a phase of reading up on the superstitions surrounding such a thing only to find that nothing backed up her mother's claims.
She'd also never found a way to be normal, and had quickly resigned herself to embracing the life she'd been given.
And so it was with a sense of resignation that Bella spoke out loud into her empty apartment.
The energy in the room increased exponentially, like a strong static charge that lifted her hair at the root. It was a sensation that was all too familiar, though admittedly she hadn't felt it come uninvited – or so strongly – in a very long time.
It always took a few moments to adjust to the onslaught of a spirit's emotions, and with this female spirit the onslaught of excitement and nervousness bordered on desperation.
Bella had given up trying to find out how spirits knew she could hear them. She used to try to ask them, but conversing with spirits about subjects which didn't interest them was almost impossible. They were usually fixated on their final purpose, the reason they remained bound to this plain. In their rush to communicate they often didn't make sense.
This spirit was no different, and listening to her was like tuning into a radio discussion half way through and having to fill in the blanks by guesswork alone. Bella just waited until the spirit could calm down.
He's not happy, I can feel it. He's pretending to be, but he's going through the motions. Wasting time in that god-awful job when he should be doing what he wanted to do. It's my fault. He's stuck in a rut. He worries about Alice. He shouldn't be burdened. It was my burden.
"Who is he?" Bella repeated while the woman was still ranting.
What followed was a verbal assault that passed too quickly to be registered. When a spirit was this agitated Bella knew there was no point in trying to make sense of their emotional outbursts. Closing her eyes, she rested her head back against the cushions. The beginnings of a headache were brewing. After several minutes of incoherent rambling, the sheer turmoil of the woman's feelings started to recede into one focal point.
He's my son. I've been watching over him and I... he's... he needs me.
A strong wave of sadness rippled through the air, and settled heavily in Bella's chest. It brought a lump to her throat and the sting of tears to her eyes. She could not remember a time when she had felt another's emotions so vividly since she was a child.
One incident had always stuck in her mind. A neighbor, Mr. Bertie, presented himself shortly before she entered seventh grade. His voice, unmistakably that of an elderly gentleman, dogged her for over a month before the intensity of his desperation made her trudge across the street to timidly knock on Mrs. Bertie's door.
Encouraged by Mrs. Bertie's pleasant smile, Bella told her exactly what Mr. Bertie whispered to her. "Umm, Mr. Bertie – I mean, Harold – wants you to know that he didn't mean it. That no matter what, he always loved you. None of the others ever meant anything to him."
The smile vanished from Mrs. Bertie's face and the door was unceremoniously slammed in Bella's face. It took a long time, and a lot of talking to her mom, before Bella could begin to understand things that a child her age was not yet equipped to comprehend.
Apart from a brief period when she'd hit puberty, it had been a constant struggle for her. But with Renee's help she'd learned how to cope and as she got older she managed to channel her abilities until she could control it somewhat. Nowadays she was mostly visited by spirits whose loved ones came to her in the hope of contacting them.
At first Bella had been reluctant to make money from the situation, but Renee had justified it by claiming that the value of Bella's help far outweighed monetary recompense. However, Bella had realized quickly that loneliness and isolation could never be assuaged by material gain. The money was a means to an end: rent, food and the future possibility of a college degree, if she ever decided what she wanted to study.
Bella dropped her head into her hands as her visitor ranted from the ether. Her fresh start had been tarnished mere minutes into it.
The energy in the room was strong and so heart wrenchingly sad that Bella could not tune out the spirit. She needed to help her.
Bella wondered if the spirit had haunted the apartment for years or if she'd had some emotional attachment to the previous occupant.
"I want to help you, but I don't think I can," Bella said, keeping her eyes closed and focusing on the energy coursing through her. "This is not how I do things."
Relief rippled through the air, like the warmth of the sun cutting through the clouds on a cold day.
We were fated to meet. I was drawn to you instantly and you can hear me.
Again Bella's own emotions were pushed to the side as a burst of joy sparked in her chest. The switch in emotion, combined with the pounding in her head growing stronger drained Bella.
"What's your name?"
"Well, Esme Cullen, I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed right now."
Yes, I can see that. You look a little pale, dear.
All at once the energy around Bella changed, dispersing into the feeling of being wrapped in her mother's arms, of being loved and comforted, and she knew instantly that feeling came from Esme. She'd never felt such strong maternal feelings before, not even from Renee.
"Do you mind if we don't do this tonight? Can we talk about Edward tomorrow?"
Of course, dear.
The energy vanished.
Bella took two Advil from her purse, swallowed them without water, and fell asleep on the sofa curled into the fetal position.
She woke a couple of hours later, disorientated and still exhausted. Frowning at the boxes she forced herself to get up and unpack them. Esme lingered in her thoughts while she filled the closets and shelves in her new apartment.
Long after midnight, she stared at herself in the mirror while brushing her teeth. She looked like a regular girl, but thanks to this thing that people called a gift, she was far from regular. What man, she asked herself, would tolerate his girlfriend being distracted by other people in the room that couldn't be seen or ordered away?
Despite her late night, Bella woke early and headed straight to the kitchen for coffee. She was too accustomed to unexpected guests to jump at the soft, lilting voice that filled up the small kitchen.
Good morning, dear. You look much better this morning.
"My name is Bella."
I know, dear.
Bella smiled, glad that Esme's feelings were much calmer this morning. She wasn't sure she could handle the intensity of their first encounter again.
Esme's energy flared for a moment and then she was gone. She wasn't sure if she had been there all night, but her sudden departure surprised Bella because she'd been expecting Esme to mention Edward again.
Bella had no idea who Edward was, but it was clear from Esme's energy that her peace hinged on his happiness.
Her day passed in a blur of rearranging her things and hanging pictures. The only photograph she put up was the one of Renee and Charlie she'd taken at her high school graduation. She missed them a lot, but not enough to make her want to go back to living in Forks. She much preferred the anonymity of the city; people here didn't look at her like she was a freak of nature.
Staring into her empty fridge, she considered a trip to the grocery store, but changed her mind when she found a packet of instant noodles in the box marked "kitchen". Shopping would give her something to do tomorrow.
She opened her window as the sun began to set. Noticing the wide ledge she took a seat, allowing her feet to dangle a few inches above the fire escape landing. Pink light cast a pretty glow on the city and the humid warmth of the late afternoon felt good on her sin. Enjoying the vibrant noises of city life which drifted up to her little spot in the world, Bella decided that there was no other place she'd rather be right in this moment.
A loud rattling sound came from the right side. She looked over her shoulder to see long, pale fingers gripping the underside of a window frame in the neighboring apartment. As the window lifted she could see muscular forearms, definitely masculine without being bulky, and she considered leaning further over the ledge to see more, but the glare of the sun would have made it impossible.
Bella startled, gripping the window frame. "Jesus!" she yelped, swinging her legs into her apartment to prevent her from falling. "You can't just sneak up on me like that."
Bella's head snapped up.
Yes, the guy with the long fingers and lovely forearms is Edward.
Don't worry. I can't read minds... I've just heard countless women talk about him, and I could see you admiring him.
"So let me get this straight. This Edward that you want to talk about is the guy next door?"
Yes, and I don't want to just talk about him. I want you to help me get his life back on track.
Bella balked at the suggestion. "I'm sorry, Esme. I already told you it doesn't work like that."
How do you normally do this?
Normal was not a word that often applied to Bella.
"People come to me and I help them."
That's what I'm doing.
"You don't understand. These days it's normally people from... this side who approach me."
I need you, Bella.
"But I'm used to living people asking me to help contact their loved ones... not the other way around."
Well, I can't see the difference.
"Of course there's a difference. What do you want me to do? Knock on his door and say 'Hi, I have your mom with me and she wants to talk to you.'?"
Now you're just being silly. We'll have to be much more discreet than that.
Bella sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "I really want to help you, but I'm not sure I can. I only deal with people in my world who want my help. I don't go around forcing it on them. And quite frankly I have no desire to get myself committed. He'll think I'm crazy."
No he won't.
"With all due respect, Esme, I'm the one with the experience here."
Please help. He's lonely and he's stuck in a job that depresses him, and quite frankly shouldn't be doing, and I hate seeing him so miserable.
"You could say that about most people our age," Bella muttered, trying hard to ignore the growing desperation emanating from Esme.
I want him to go back to college and finish his degree. Edward always had dreams but he's given up on them. I worry about him.
Her voice was filled with sadness, but Bella couldn't let herself be swayed. It felt wrong to interfere in a grown man's life simply because his overprotective (not to mention very dead) mother was unable to let go.
"He lives in a nice apartment in a nice part of town, he's lucky to even have a job in this economy, and by all accounts he's a good-looking guy. If he's as miserable as you say he is, I'm pretty sure it won't last long."
So you agree he's good-looking?
"No, you're the one who said girls find him attractive. I haven't even seen him yet." Bella dropped her head into her hands. "And please tell me you are not here to set me up with your son, because that would just be beyond creepy."
Esme's silvery laugh tinkled like a wind chime. I'm not trying to set you up.
But the mirth quickly evaporated when Esme spoke again.
I can't rest until he's happy.
"I understand that, but people don't always welcome the interference."
You think I'm interfering?
Bella chuckled. "You're his mom. I'm pretty sure it's in the job description."
She was rewarded with another delightful tinkle of laughter. I like you, Bella... especially your honesty.
Bella ruminated on the conundrum for a moment, and then with a heavy sigh she spoke again. "Let's just play it by ear. Quite frankly, it's been a long time since I've done it this way and I don't want to anger or upset him."
Whatever you think is best, dear. I'm sure everything will be fine. He's a good boy.
Bella's thoughts returned to those masculine forearms and she had a hard time thinking of the owner as a boy. When the unexpected desire to see the rest of him hit, it troubled her. It had been a long time since she'd felt any kind of desire.
Over the course of the next few weeks, Bella settled into the rhythm of her new life. Her main reason for moving to the other side of the city was to prevent old clients referring new ones to her. At her old apartment it was common for people to turn up unannounced.
Even though this area was just as nice as the one she'd lived in previously, the rent was much cheaper and wouldn't eat into her savings so quickly.
She was serious in her decision to stop actively seeking out spirits for loved ones, and so she'd changed the number on her cell and moved. She couldn't turn her back on the few clients she had who still needed her, so she'd passed her details on to them with strict instructions not to recommend her to anyone else.
Two such clients were Mrs. Carson and her son Tom who arrived at precisely six o'clock as arranged.
Mrs. Carson complimented Bella on her apartment while handing over her jacket; however her son chose to complain about the longer journey they now had to make to see her. Bella didn't care much for Tom Carson. She could never figure out why he accompanied his mother because he took every opportunity to voice his skepticism.
He brushed past Bella wearing an expression that conveyed distaste and slung his jacket haphazardly in the direction of her outstretched hand.
Bella tried not to smirk at Esme's comment. It was the first she'd heard from her this week. However, as nice as it was to hear her voice, Bella wished she hadn't decided to make an appearance while she was working.
Ignoring Tom's rudeness, Bella led them to tiny spare bedroom that was completely dominated by a large round table. She winced when Tom sat down and the small wooden chair creaked precariously under his considerable bulk.
The room descended into silence and Bella tried to clear her mind to establish a connection. Normally she could clear her mind easily, but since her thoughts had been filled with Edward for most of the day, a vision of him popped into her head.
Bella smiled when she recalled the encounter in the elevator. She had made the mistake of arriving home at the same time as everyone else coming home from work, and as they all jammed into the elevator that always smelled like gym socks, someone pushed hard into her side and a heavy bag landed on her left foot. As her hand shot out to remove the weight, the same long fingers of her next door neighbor reached out to beat her to the task. The zap of electricity that bolted up her arm could only have come from Esme's excitement.
Unprepared as she was, his sheer beauty had knocked the breath out of her lungs when she looked up at him. She'd been unable to stop her eyes from roaming over the planes of his face, drinking in the exquisiteness of his high cheekbones and marvelously chiseled jaw. Distracted by the fluid movement of his soft-looking, full lips, his words had been lost to her ears. It wouldn't be until later that she would remember the husky timbre of his voice.
She was sure she'd imagined the spark that flared in his intense green eyes right before the other occupants of the elevator had gotten involved and ruined the moment. Looking harassed, he'd muttered an apology, picked up his bags, and hotfooted it out of the elevator.
Esme's presence had been strong, but when Edward made his hasty exit so did she, leaving Bella with the knowledge that Esme's appearances were dependent on Edward's proximity.
He's looking skinny.
Bella's lips curved upwards at the sound of Esme's voice, and forgetting her immediate surroundings she responded at once. "He's far from skinny."
She knew that Esme had been referring to Edward; unfortunately for her, her guests did not.
Two outraged gasps snapped her back to the task at hand.
"How dare you!" Tom yelled.
Bella jumped to her feet. "No. I didn't mean you. Please... I'm sorry. Someone is just leaving," she said pointedly. "I was addressing her."
Tom rolled his eyes and glared at his mother as if somehow Bella's outburst was her fault.
The rest of the consultation passed without incident and Bella was relieved to establish a good connection with Tom Carson Sr. During their last visit his spirit had been too agitated for Bella to understand him, and his skeptical son had ruined the mood further by constantly interrupting to interrogate Bella about every single detail she could offer. This time, though, Tom Sr. was far more receptive to Bella and she managed to pass on the things he hadn't had the chance to say to his wife before he died.
Mrs. Carson had cried throughout, but it was a good kind of crying. In an unexpected show of tenderness Tom Jr. had taken his mother's hand in his and held it until it was time to go. Mrs. Carson thanked Bella profusely at the door, but Tom said nothing, which in itself might have been construed as a thank you.
The remnants of another hot day lingered in the stuffy air in her apartment. Opening her window to let in the breeze, she grabbed her journal and eased out onto the ledge. The brick was pleasantly cool beneath her outstretched legs and she sighed in appreciation, heaving some of her tension out through her lungs.
She opened her journal, ready to write, but a conversation filtering out from the open window of Edward's apartment caught her attention.
"Man, fucking always makes me hungry!"
"In that case, you must be hungry all the time."
It was with relief that Bella recognized the second voice as Edward's. Sure he'd only said a few words to her, but she'd never forget a voice like that. Closing her journal, she tilted her head towards the window and listened harder. She could hear the sounds of cutlery hitting plates and they didn't say much for awhile, clearly concentrating on their food.
He's with Michael. I'm not sure I like him.
"Who's Michael?" Bella asked without turning towards Esme's voice.
He works with Edward. Actually, I feel bad for not liking him. He really helped Edward when he needed it, by getting him that job.
There was hesitation in Esme's voice, and Bella instantly suspected she was hiding something.
Before she could address the lie, her attention was diverted by a loud burp emanating from Edward's window.
"Jesus, Mike, you have the manners of a pig." Edward's complaint drifted through the window. "And you eat like one."
"But I'm hung like a stallion," Mike retorted with a braying laugh.
"With that laugh you're more like a donkey than a stallion. It's a good thing they pay women to have sex with you."
Mike's response made Bella's jaw drop. "Hey, I get paid too. It's not like they're prostitutes. Oh, that reminds me, did you speak to your hot new neighbor yet?"
"She's not a prostitute," Edward muttered, lowering his voice.
"And you know this how?" Mike's question was goading. "Did you talk to her?"
"Jesus, Edward, you have hot women slipping you their numbers on a daily basis but you never call them – and now you can't even pluck up the courage to say hi to a hooker."
"She's not a hooker!"
"Please." Mike snorted. "You told me yourself that she has people coming and going from her apartment at all hours. She's either a drug dealer or a hooker. I'm guessing hooker, and I bet we could get her to audition for a film."
Bella almost toppled off the window ledge at the shock of realizing they were speaking about her. Who the hell was this Mike and how did he even know about her? Her head was spinning trying to make sense of their strange conversation about hookers and films.
Mike was still talking. "I'd be more than willing to do the audition with her." His loud laugh was annoying.
"Don't you ever switch off?" Edward sounded irritated now.
"I will when I'm dead," Mike quipped. "And stop trying to change the subject from your hooker."
A shudder rippled through Bella. If he irritated her this much alive, she shuddered to think of being pestered by him in spirit form.
"Stop calling her that." Edward's voice was severe. "She's mostly visited by women."
Bella was secretly thrilled that, not only was Edward defending her, but he had clearly noticed her enough to mention her to his friend.
"Maybe she's a lesbian hooker."
"The odd guy turns up from time to time."
"Maybe she lets them watch."
"For fuck's sake, Mike."
I wish he wouldn't use language like that.
Bella shushed Esme to concentrate on being nosy.
Mike laughed raucously. "You seriously need to talk to her. Actually, I have an idea. You should have a party and invite her, that way I can talk to her. I'll get more out of her in five minutes than you've managed to get in weeks."
"I'm not having a party... not after last time."
"Jesus, for a guy who works in porn, you're annoyingly prudish at times."
Bella's eyes bugged. Porn?
Please don't judge him.
"Why not?" Bella asked, turning her attention to Esme once again. "You do it."
I'm not judging him. I'm just disappointed that he didn't follow his dreams and is now stuck doing something that doesn't make him happy.
Esme's protestations fell on deaf ears because Bella was too invested in the conversation going on next door.
"My fucking sister was there," Edward ground out, his voice so low it sounded like a growl.
"It was just a bit of fun."
"Fun? She walked in on your orgy."
"Relax. She was totally cool about it." He leaned forward. "If you ask me, I think she has a thing for Jasper."
"I didn't ask you," Edward snapped.
There was a long pause before Mike spoke again.
"You're so tense, dude. You need to get laid. Why don't you give Roxie a call? I saw her slip her number into your pocket earlier. She gave the performance of her life today and I think it was down to a certain someone."
"It annoys me how you don't use their real names. Her name's Tanya, and I'm sure she's a great girl–"
"She's a great lay," Mike interrupted.
"Whatever. I'm not interested."
The window slammed shut, cutting Bella off from the rest of the conversation. She half expected Esme to voice another opinion, but she was gone.
Now she understood Esme's attitude towards Edward's job. Even though she had no right to feel that way, she couldn't help but feel a little bit disappointed that he had sex for a living.
She stayed out on the ledge to write in her diary, becoming so absorbed that she startled when he spoke.
"Aren't you cold?"
She hadn't heard his window open. Moving carefully, she looked over her shoulder and saw Edward sitting on his own window ledge. His long legs were bent at the knee and she noticed he was holding onto his window frame.
"A little," she answered, adjusting her position so she was facing him.
"I'm sorry for running out on you the other day. Is your foot okay?"
"You didn't run out on me," she said. "And it didn't really hurt."
His chuckle sounded like a soft rumble. "You're being too kind." He paused, looking out over the city. "You know, I've lived here for two years, but I've never sat out here before."
"It's the closest thing we have to a yard," Bella said, keeping her eyes trained on him.
He laughed. "Don't you like the courtyard?"
When she'd first viewed the apartment she'd seen the small communal courtyard at the back of the building. It was a small square area with a few benches and some overgrown weeds, hardly inspirational.
"I prefer the solitude of my window ledge," she said smiling at Edward. "And the view is much better up here."
"Why thank you," he joked.
"Wow, your modesty becomes you," she fired back.
His eyes sparkled with mirth and his gentle laughter delighted her.
Letting go of the window frame he pointed at her journal. "What are you writing? If you don't mind me asking."
She looked down. "No, not at all. It's just my diary. I'm thinking of writing a book about my exploits as a hooker."
She felt a little guilty when Edward's jaw dropped.
"I'm just kidding," she explained, shrugging. "Sorry, I couldn't help but hear part of your conversation earlier."
"I guess I didn't close the window quickly enough. I'm sorry you were subjected to Mike's insanity."
"I don't mind. It was kind of flattering to know that I'd been noticed."
"Oh you've been noticed alright," he said quietly. "What else did you hear?"
Her cheeks heated. "That you work in porn."
He rubbed his hand along the back of his neck and she caught the flicker of uncertainty in his expression. "I'm a cameraman."
Bella smiled. "I thought maybe you were an actor." Her blush deepened; she couldn't believe she was sitting on her window ledge telling a perfect stranger she thought he was a porn star.
"Does it bother you?"
His question was unexpected. "No," she answered only half-truthfully.
"My job is usually a deal breaker when it comes to relationships... and friendships," he added hastily.
Bella nodded. "I know how that feels."
"So, since Mike is completely wrong about you. What do you do?" Edward shifted in a way that told her he was becoming uncomfortable on the ledge.
Esme's sudden return surprised her.
"I'm a medium," she blurted in the vocal equivalent of ripping off a Band-Aid.
"Like a fortune teller?"
Bella sighed. "No. I can't see into the future or anything like that." She braced herself for his reaction, expecting him to either treat it as a joke or make a hurtful comment.
Instead he smiled. "You see dead people?"
Relief washed over her. "I'm no Haley Joel Osment… but yeah, something like that."
Edward regarded her for a long moment before speaking. "And how does one get into that profession?" There was a hint of teasing in his voice.
"One is born into it," she responded in a fake British accent, relieved that he hadn't retreated into his apartment and slammed the window on her.
The night air was much cooler now, and Bella shivered as a crop of goose bumps sprung up across her arms.
Edward must have noticed because he immediately invited her inside for coffee.
"It's getting late," Bella said, but when she noticed Edward's shoulders slump a little she added, "Maybe some other time."
"Sure," she said, swinging her legs off the ledge and into her apartment.
"You didn't tell me your name," he called after her.
She leaned her upper body out of the window to find him mirroring her action. "It's Bella."
He leaned forward as far as he could and held his hand out to her. His skin was warm when she pressed her palm to his. Pleased to meet you Bella," he said softly while giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "I'm Edward."
He held on to her for a moment before letting go.
"I'll see you tomorrow," she said, ducking back through her window.
"Come over at six," he called just before his window slid closed.
Even though she could feel Esme's presence, Bella knew the excitement coursing through her was her own. However, her excitement was quickly tempered by the worry at what his reaction might be to learning that she "knew" his mother.
He likes you.
"Yeah, well I'm not sure how long that will last. Especially when he finds out I've been talking to you."
It was ten to six, and Bella was in the bathroom freaking out. She groaned at her pale reflection, pinched her cheeks to pinken them up and slicked some clear gloss over her lips. She quickly brushed her hair and dabbed some perfume behind her ears before standing back to survey the results.
Would she seem too eager turning up with make-up on? Would she seem uninterested if she showed up bare-faced? How long had it been since she'd had even a "coffee" date, she wondered, three years?
A little effort couldn't hurt.
"It's only coffee," she said to her reflection. "It's not like it's an actual date."
He was already leaning against his door jamb when Bella stepped out into the hallway. Her pulse accelerated at the sight of him. He was casually dressed in denims and a dark blue shirt, the open collar revealing an enticing glimpse of his chest hair. He pushed away from the frame and swept his hand away from his body in a gesture for her to step into his apartment.
Images of wildlife and brightly colored landscapes were tacked up to the walls in a random pattern, some weren't even framed. One picture, a close up of a single raindrop on a leaf, stood out—the bead of water lay in sharp relief against the blurred green surface of the leaf, seeming lonely in its isolation. The layout of his apartment was a mirror image of hers, but this only registered briefly before the clutter of photographs adorning his walls caught her attention.
"You have a lot of pictures," she said, cringing inwardly at stating the obvious.
"It's a hobby of mine."
He smiled and his eyes gleamed with the pleasure of being drawn on a subject he clearly loved. "I also take them, too."
This is what he should be doing. This was what he wanted to do.
A strong wave of guilt from Esme ruined Bella's enjoyment of the pictures. She fought to keep the smile on her face while she followed Edward into the living room.
"Have you eaten?"
She'd been too nervous to eat, but she couldn't tell him that. "I had a late lunch."
He rubbed his hand along the back of his head, ruffling his hair, a gesture she knew meant he was nervous.
"Do…do you want to stay for dinner?" he stuttered, asking the question like he already expected her to say no. "It wouldn't take long to whip up some pasta."
Bella smiled, determined to put him, and herself, at ease. "So not only do you take beautiful pictures, you cook too? A man of many talents."
"Is that a yes?"
"It is. But do you mind if we have that coffee first?"
He beamed at her. "Not at all. I'll just go get it. Take a seat."
He returned a few minutes later. "I'm really sorry about the other day. I acted like a jerk," he said, handing her a mug. "I didn't mean to rush off like that, but I was running late for an appointment."
"It's fine," Bella said. "I imagine in your line of work they expect the staff to come on time."
He laughed loudly, and she thought he looked even more stunning with a smile on his face. His laughter subsided once he sat down opposite her. "It's refreshing to meet someone who can joke about these things."
"I'm not normally so crass," she said, grimacing slightly.
"I like it."
His eyes never left her face and she felt slightly uncomfortable under his gaze. Sipping her coffee, she let her eyes roam around the room. Again the walls were covered with pictures but these seemed to be more personal.
"Do you mind if I take a closer look?" she asked, pointing to the bookcase which housed several smaller photographs in wooden frames.
"I didn't take these," he said, coming up close behind her while she let her fingers trail over each one. "That's my sister, Alice," he explained when she touched the one of the young girl with short black hair.
"She's very pretty," Bella commented.
She's growing into a very beautiful young woman.
Motherly pride was tangible in the air.
Edward sighed. "She's pretty alright, but she's a real handful too."
There was something almost paternal in his tone, but she didn't press him. Instead, she picked up the next photograph. A woman was sitting on the hood of a car with her feet on the fender and hugging her knees to her chest. Bright sunlight picked up the red highlights in her hair, giving it a fiery glow. Her mouth was open in laughter and her eyes were closed and crinkled around the edges.
Bella already knew who she was before they spoke at the same time.
"That's my mom."
"You're beautiful," Bella whispered.
Sadness engulfed her. It didn't seem fair that anyone should be cut down in their prime. She blinked up at Edward.
"Your mom is beautiful."
"Was," he corrected sadly. "She died a few years ago."
Usually when people said that about someone they'd never met, it was an automatic response. An apology for the loss the ones left behind had suffered, but in Bella's case she genuinely was sorry because the almost overwhelming ache in her heart belonged to Esme – and she was sorry that anyone would have to suffer that much pain over something that couldn't be changed.
Edward dragged a deep breath into his lungs. "No, I should be sorry. I didn't invite you over here to depress you."
She touched his arm, trailing her fingers over his smooth skin. "This is sort of my field," she said gently. "If you want to talk about her–"
Capturing her hand beneath his, he stared into her eyes. "No."
It felt like a rebuke and Bella snatched her hand back. The rejection stung because it was all too familiar. He reached out to her when she tried to take a step away from him.
"I don't mean never," he clarified. "Just not tonight."
Esme vanished at the same time as hope flared in Bella's chest.
He took her hand and led her to the kitchen where they cooked dinner together. While they worked they swapped stories about their lives, covering the basics of childhood, school, hobbies and interests.
By the time they sat down to eat, she felt completely at ease in his company, which was something that hadn't happened to her for too long.
After dinner, he refused to let her clean up, and she leaned against the counter admiring him while he loaded the dishwasher. She admired the way his back muscles bunched and flexed as he bent over filling the trays, and of course her eyes drifted down to enjoy the firm contours of his backside.
He stretched up to pull two wine glasses from a shelf, and she bit her lip when his shirt rode up to reveal a trail of dark hair over taut muscles that led down from his navel.
Her eyes snapped up to his, and she knew by his gentle smile that he'd caught her checking him out.
"Yes please," she managed to say even though her mouth was suddenly very dry.
They took their wine into the living room where Edward put on some music before joining her on the sofa.
"Stevie Nicks?" Bella asked when the music started to play quietly.
Edward frowned. "I can put something else on." He glanced at the Ipod dock. "It's on shuffle."
"No, it's fine. My mom is a huge Stevie Nicks fan, so I heard a lot of her music growing up."
Edward smiled sadly. "My mom liked her too." His expression clouded. "I was twenty-one when she died. Alice was only fifteen." He set his wine glass on the table and leaned back against the cushions. "I'm sorry, you don't want to hear this."
"I do," she insisted, but she wasn't quite ready to discuss Esme in detail. "Did Alice stay with you?"
He nodded. "I had to drop out of college and take a job so I could support us. We were assigned a social worker who suggested I should continue at college and Alice could live with a foster family until she was eighteen."
"I couldn't let that happen." He glanced at Bella. "That's when Mike came to my rescue. He got me the job I'm doing now. The pay was good, the hours suited me, and I'd do anything if it meant I could keep Alice with me."
"She's lucky to have you."
Edward chuckled. "I doubt she'd agree with you. She thinks I'm overprotective."
He seemed to ponder it for a moment before shrugging. "I guess so." He eyed her briefly as if gauging whether he should elaborate. He finally did. "She has a crush on a guy I work with. One of the actors."
"I tried to keep my occupation from her but she's a nosy little devil and she figured it out quickly enough. Then she met Jasper when he was here for poker night... and now she's practically stalking him."
"Maybe she'll grow out of it."
He turned to face her, moving closer. "Can I be completely honest with you?"
"Of course you can."
"Most girls I meet hate what I do. It's like they turn into a mass of insecurities as soon as they find out and it repels them. Alice, however, is completely and unnervingly at ease with it. I mean she knows Jasper doesn't just do women..." His voice trailed off. "Sorry. He performs with...um... both sexes."
"Yeah. And my kid sister thinks it's hot... how fucked up is that?"
Bella couldn't contain her laughter.
"It's not funny," Edward complained, failing to stifle his own laughter.
They laughed together until the atmosphere shifted and suddenly became more intense. He leaned forward and took her hand in his. "It's nice to talk about this with someone who isn't judgmental."
Lacing her fingers through his, Bella was overcome by a strong sense of empathy. "I know how it feels to be judged."
His other hand came up and caressed her cheek. "How does it work?"
Her mouth was suddenly dry. "How does what work?"
"It's not a gift."
He inched closer, gripping her hand tighter. "Tell me about it."
They talked long into the night. Esme stayed away and Bella didn't mention her, but she wondered that since Edward didn't mention his mom again if he had considered the possibility of Bella meeting her. If he had, he didn't seem ready to know.
During their conversation they had gravitated towards each other and she'd found herself wrapped in his arms while they sprawled on his sofa.
"I'll walk you home," he quipped when she yawned loudly.
"I'm sorry, I'm just a little tired."
He grinned. "It's almost three a.m."
"Is it?" Bella gasped, bolting upright.
Time had ceased to exist in his presence, in fact everything had. She didn't feel any of the apprehension she usually felt when someone tried to get to know her.
Outside her door, he pressed his lips to hers in a kiss that was surprisingly intense. "When can I see you again?" he asked, his breath washing down her neck as he pressed his lips to the tender spot behind her ear.
She pulled back.
"I know I'm probably moving too fast," he said. "But I can't help it."
She smiled. "I'll cook for you tomorrow."
She almost floated into her apartment, she was so happy.
The buzz of electricity inside her apartment was not unexpected. Esme managed to contain herself until Bella got into bed, and then the night took on the feel of a girly sleepover. Bella did not object because she'd never had a best friend to share secrets with. Even though Esme was technically not a best friend, she was close enough.
"You were surprisingly absent tonight," Bella said, nestling into her pillows.
From the moment you stepped into his apartment I felt his emotions, and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to stay. When you saw our photographs, I was drawn back.
"He didn't seem to mind that I'm a medium," Bella confided. "But I'm worried that he won't handle it when he finds out I've been speaking to you. I don't think I can interfere in his life, Esme. I know you want me to pass on messages, but it doesn't feel right."
Contentment rippled through the air. I agree. Don't mention me unless he asks you first.
"I had a good time tonight," Bella whispered into the air right when a wave of fatigue washed over her, lowering her defenses.
Cook him Steak Diane tomorrow; it's one of his favourites, and he likes it rare.
She was out on the ledge when he arrived home from work. She saw the light come on in his apartment and smiled when he appeared at his window right away.
"Hey," he said, leaning out. "I'll just take a quick shower and then I'll be right over."
"Take your time," she said. "Everything's ready." All she had to do was cook his steak, but since he liked it rare that wouldn't take very long.
He looked up at the sky. "The light's great this evening." He looked at her. "I'd really like to take your picture."
"Would you mind?"
"You look beautiful sitting there."
"Charmer," she said smiling shyly. "Okay."
He ducked back into his apartment and returned ten minutes later brandishing a very expensive looking camera. Instantly she started smoothing down her hair and straightening her clothes.
"Don't move," he said, bringing the camera up to his eye. "You look perfect as you are."
She heard the click of the shutter release several times before he pulled the camera down and looked at her. "Smile."
The shutter release clicked furiously until she began to feel self-conscious and looked away. "You said a picture," she reminded him.
"Sorry, I got carried away. I'll go take that shower now."
Over the course of the next few weeks and many movie dates, trips to galleries and walks in Central Park, they became inseparable.
Though Esme still visited from time to time, her presence was becoming rarer by the day. Bella suspected that Edward's decision to return to college to finish his degree had something to do with it.
Bella still hadn't mentioned her connection to Esme. Likewise, Edward had never asked. That ended over a stretch of the two of them completing their college applications.
Bella was sprawled across Edward's sofa when a loud knock at the door snapped her attention away from the forms.
"Are you expecting someone?" she asked Edward.
"Alice," he groaned.
Bella sat up, eager to meet her. "You didn't say she was coming."
"I just remembered that Jasper and Mike were supposed to be coming over tonight, but I cancelled. I guess Alice didn't get the memo."
"Alice plays poker with you?"
Edward shook his head. "No, but when she knows Jasper will be here she invents an excuse to show up." The second knock was louder. Edward threw his pen down and got up to answer it.
Alice strolled into the room, already shrugging out of her jacket. She stopped in her tracks when she spotted Bella waiting to greet her.
"Where's Jasper... and Mike?" Alice asked, turning to Edward, her pretty green eyes narrowing in confusion.
"I cancelled poker night," he said, before gesturing towards Bella. "This is Bella–"
Alice's head whipped round. "Oh shit! I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to ignore you." She rushed forward, throwing her jacket over the pile of application forms, sending them cascading to the floor. "It's great to meet you." She glared at Edward. "Finally."
Edward muttered something under his breath while he picked up the scattered papers.
"I've been pestering him to introduce us for weeks," Alice said.
"Well forgive me for wanting to get to know my girlfriend a little better before I subject her to you," Edward argued.
"What do you mean by that?" She pouted, and Bella covered her mouth with her hand to stifle a giggle. Alice and Edward used the exact same expression to get what they wanted, and with Edward, at least, it pretty much always worked.
Edward ignored her question, addressing Bella instead. "I'm going to make some coffee. Don't let her bombard you with questions, she's extremely nosy and has a severe lack of personal boundaries."
Alice made a face at his retreating form. "He's such a grouch." She picked up one of his applications. "So he's really going back to school?"
Bella smiled. "Yeah, he wants to finish his degree."
"It's not like he needs one. He's already working as a cameraman." Her eyes flicked up from the sheet, widening slightly.
"I know about his job."
"Thank God! He would've killed me for letting that slip." She laid the paper back on the table. "He was furious when I found out about it. He still treats me like a kid and doesn't like that I know his coworkers."
"I think that's probably natural, given the industry he works in."
Alice's laugh was similar to Esme's. "God, you're so like him. He struggles to say the word porn, too."
"I don't struggle with it. I was just being polite."
Alice shrugged. "Whatever. I think it's pretty cool that you don't mind it. All the other girls he's tried to date felt threatened by the girls he works with."
It had been a conscious decision for Bella not to think about that. She doubted any woman could think about that and not feel a little insecure.
Thankfully Edward returned with the coffee and all but ushered Alice out of the apartment afterwards.
"Don't apply to NYU," she said sulkily as he saw her out. "The last thing I need is you following me around campus disapproving of everything."
"You didn't have to get rid of her so quickly," Bella commented when he rejoined her on the couch.
"I love her to pieces, but sometimes I can only take her in small doses," he admitted, pulling Bella's hair away from her neck so he could kiss it. "Maybe it will be better when I don't have to worry about her turning up on set, or stalking Jasper here."
Wrapping her arms around his waist, she pressed her lips to his ear. "The more you fight her on this, the more Jasper will appeal to her." When his words registered she pulled back. "She visits the set?"
"Mike let her come on set once." He bristled. "I was furious and sent her home. I'm pretty sure she's been there on my days off."
"She's an adult now. You can't be responsible for her forever."
"I've tried telling myself that countless times."
They lay in silence for a while, the applications forgotten.
"What's it like on the set?"Bella asked eventually.
He turned to face her. "It's more clinical than you'd think. Mike loves it, and they're a great bunch of people... but it's cold. You know? It's an act, not an experience."
"It doesn't turn you on?"
"In the beginning," he admitted. "But you quickly become desensitized to it. I mean, I'm not just standing behind a camera watching, there's some technical stuff that requires my attention."
His arms snaked around her waist, pulling her close. "Sex like that doesn't appeal to me." He brushed a strand of hair from her forehead, kissing the spot where it had been. "I much prefer to make love."
Heat flooded her body, and she felt the first stirrings of arousal when his lips found hers. Within moments she could feel the hard length of him grazing her hip. She'd never wanted anything so badly before, but it scared her.
Seemingly noticing the change in her, he pulled back. "Are you okay?"
Until she was completely honest with him about Esme, she couldn't risk falling any deeper. She tried to nod, but he was already sitting up.
"It's okay," he murmured into her hair while he embraced her. "I won't rush you."
"I just feel like we should wait," she said quietly. "We're still just getting to know each other really."
"I want to show you something," he said, standing up and taking her hand. He took her to the small room at the end of the hallway, opening the door and flicking on the light. Her nose wrinkled at the strong chemical scent in the air. When she spotted pictures hanging from strings above a long bench, she realized it was his dark room.
He took one of the pictures down and handed it to her. She stared down at herself sitting out on the ledge, bathed in the warm tones of a rosy sunset. He started removing more pictures, handing them to her one by one. As she looked at them it was like a visual diary of their time together.
"You've never asked to see them," he said softly. "Most people want to see their pictures, but you don't. Why is that?"
She looked down at the little orbs of light that appeared in each picture. When she didn't say anything his fingers slid over the picture and circled one.
She looked up. "Maybe I'm a little more Hayley Joel Osment than I thought. "
This time he didn't smile. "Why didn't you tell me? You knew I'd see them. Did you think I wouldn't want to talk about it?"
She tried to shrug it off.
"You don't have to hide it from me. It's part of who you are. I would never judge you."
She felt the sting of tears in her eyes, and Esme prickled in the air. Edward took a step back, confusion distorting his previously tender expression.
He looked down at the photos now gripped in Bella's hands. "Is it her? My mom?"
She closed her eyes. "Yes."
He exhaled sharply. "I guess your cooking habits make more sense now. It was too much of a coincidence that you liked cooking my favorite meals."
"I wasn't being deceitful. I just knew you weren't ready to talk about her."
Tell him I'm sorry.
Bella shook her head a little.
"Why did you shake your head?" Edward asked.
Please tell him I love him.
Inhaling deeply and bracing herself for an unfavourable reaction, Bella summoned up the courage to speak. "She wants me to tell you something."
"You can hear her right now?"
She nodded and he turned away balling his hands into fists as he leaned on the bench. She noticed he was shaking.
"I don't know what to do," he whispered, finally looking up at her. "I believe you, but it doesn't seem real."
She reached for him and relief flooded through her when he made no attempt to evade her. Instead he raised his arm, allowing her to wrap her arms around him.
Esme's sadness still pushed against Bella's own emotions.
"Has she been with us this whole time?"
Bella pressed her lips to his chest. "In the beginning she was with you a lot, but not so much now."
His arms gripped her more tightly. "Tell me what she said."
"She loves you."
His laugh was hollow. "I already know that. She told me every day."
"Do you need proof?"
He tilted her chin up. "I didn't mean to imply that I don't believe you. I do. I meant that I've never doubted her love."
She heard Esme's sob before she felt another strong wave of heartache.
"I need some time to get my head around this," he said.
Bella felt Esme's reluctance to leave, but she left almost as soon as Edward uttered the words.
"Will she come back?"
"I'm sure of it."
It was a few days before Edward was ready to talk. However, Esme didn't return and he expressed his guilt that he had denied her. Bella worried that Esme may have gone for good, but she didn't share her concerns with Edward.
Weeks passed, and while Esme's absence still bothered them, their growing intimacy and feelings for each other took precedence.
It was late one Saturday night when they were lying together on Edward's sofa, after enjoying another of his favourite meals. "Do you think she sent you to me?" he asked, peppering her shoulder and neck with soft kisses .
"Who knows?" Bella responded, too distracted by the feel of his body pressed so tightly to hers.
He rolled her over to spoon her. "I love you."
Tears of happiness pricked her eyes. "I love you, too."
He cradled her neck gently while he molded his mouth to her lips. His body was hard against hers and she could feel his desire for her. Her heart fluttered like a hummingbird's wings. She wanted nothing more than to be with him, but she needed a moment to compose herself.
When Edward stood up and took her hand, she followed him towards the bedroom.
"I need a minute," she said, gesturing towards the bathroom door.
He kissed her deeply. "Don't take too long," he murmured, his eyes blazing with a need that thrilled her.
Inside the bathroom she stared at her reflection and tried to control her breathing. She wanted him with such intensity it was almost painful. She offered up a silent prayer for Esme, thankful that she'd brought the love of her life to her, but a little sad that she hadn't said goodbye properly.
Finally ready, she turned towards the door and gripped the handle. She had everything she wanted, and he was waiting in bed for her.
She pulled the door open, but a familiar voice stopped her in her tracks.
We need to talk about Alice.