Thanks to everyone at the Truly Anonymous Twilight One-Shot Picture and Prompt Contest for all their hard work in putting this contest together. I am very honored and humbled to have received a nod for "Best Romance" out of 96 entries. This is the first short story I've written in...well, if I can't remember, it's been too long! So I am very excited to have been recognized. A big thank-you to Famouslyso for the awesome banner!
Special thanks to the wonderful Carson Dyle (winner of two judge's picks!) for being my beta for this contest entry. Your feedback was invaluable as always!
Warnings and Disclaimer:
Stephenie Meyer created Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. John Lennon and Paul McCartney created "I'm Only Sleeping" (lyrics copyright Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC). Gibson created the J-45 guitar. Some lovely anonymous person created the photo prompt that sparked my imagination. And as a result, I created the following.
Edward Cullen's guitar is almost as long as her legs.
Bella sits atop the mangled covers of her bed, back against the headboard, blue-jean-covered legs stretched out in two long lines before her. The guitar lies next to her, the headstock near her thigh, the body next to her calves. The guitar and her legs are in perfect alignment.
"A perfect fit," he sighed into her ear as he pushed deeper inside her. The sigh turned into more of a groan, stifling her own noises of pleasure and pain and release as he filled her. It had been too long. But this . . . this was worth waiting for. He reminded her what she'd been waiting for all this time.
A tiny grin pulls at the corners of her mouth at the recollection. Did last night really happen? She reaches out and gingerly strokes the neck of the guitar. It is proof that the events of the evening before were, indeed, real.
Damn. What had she been thinking? Or more to the point, how much had she been drinking? Picking up strangers in bars wasn't her style. She'd never been that reckless or free. Sure, she always had a weakness for guitar players. But Edward was the first one who'd made her bold enough to do something about it.
She considers why she found him so different from the guys in other local bands. He was more than just a great guitarist on that stage last night. He was an artist, in the truest sense of the word. The way he delivered each song was nothing short of spell-binding. His passion overtook him completely, stiffening his body, roughening his vocal chords as he growled and howled and crooned and whispered the words that distilled the emotions behind them.
He was mesmerizing to her. She was dazzled by his soul, laid bare on that stage.
"Of course you're drawn to him. He's hot!"
Leave it to Jess to put it so eloquently, she thinks back with a grimace.
"That's not it. He's got a lot more going on than that."
"Fine, whatever. You should go for it. You look hot tonight. You've got your lucky jeans on. How do you get those things on, anyway? With a set of pliers?"
"They're stretch jeans, idiot."
She looks at them now, snugly encasing her slender legs. Edward had no problem removing them last night. She'd never felt so free as when his gorgeous hands effortlessly undid the button and zipper, then pulled down, down, down until her legs were bared. They opened for him easily, like they'd been waiting a lifetime for him. They possessed him all night long, tangling with his, wrapping around his torso, cradling his neck when he . . .
She blushes even though there is no one here to pass judgment. Edward's guitar was the only witness throughout the long, sheet-twisting night.
She speaks to it now.
"Are you jealous?" She smiles and plucks absently at its strings. "He made me sing last night after he was through with you."
He played her with the same conviction and authority, coaxing the very best from her, of that she is sure. No one had ever made her come alive that way. She felt like a work of art in his skilled hands. A lump of clay made into something more than it had any notion it could be . . . something beautiful.
"So beautiful," he murmured, letting go of her hand and reaching for her face instead. His thumb stroked her jaw, sending inexplicable currents all the way down to the unlikely destination of her toes. The city lights tinted his face varying shades of red, yellow, blue and violet as the cab drove them toward her studio apartment.
She knew her own face must be some embarrassing shade of scarlet. She wasn't used to compliments, and certainly not from the likes of him. She wondered again whether or not to believe him. She wanted to. It suited her purposes to believe he was sincere.
His eyes were dead earnest. Wide-set pools stared at her like twin seas, inviting her to dive in. She knew there was no putting one toe in the water. She was teetering on the edge of the board with only one way to go.
She touched her fingers to the masculine hand that cradled her face. She brushed them along the light hairs near Edward's wrist, then slid them between his fingers. He released her chin and took her hand in his once more, lacing his long fingers through hers and squeezing until the warmth of his palm became her own.
She heard the sound of her address invading the air between them. The cabbie was reciting the street name and number as he pulled up and parked in front of her building. Her eyes met Edward's again; her toes gripped the edge of the diving board. His grin hovered between bashful and arrogantly expectant.
She took a deep breath and jumped.
"Let's go in," she invited him.
Her smile grows as she gazes at the guitar. He played it for her, a private show, after they made love for the first time. She'd plied him with his favorite beer; a happy coincidence - or fate? - that she already had some in the fridge. Her gaze shifts now to the two empty green bottles on her nightstand, their faint sour smell tickling her nose and refreshing her memory.
"Heineken," she shouted to the bartender over the noisy crowd.
"Make it two."
She turned to see the owner of the smooth-as-silk baritone behind her, then nearly jumped out of her own skin. There he was, her guitar demigod, in all his sweaty post-gig splendor. A sheen of moisture bathed his face and dewed the bramble of stubble covering his jaw and neck. The patrons swarming the bar jostled him into her and the dampness of his t-shirt pressed against her bare arm.
She should have been grossed out by his sweat. The unwelcome sensation of being coated in second-hand perspiration normally would have sent her shuddering. But as he smiled apologetically down at her, his lips curling into a disarmingly crooked grin, he was instantly absolved. Moreover, he, and his sweat, were welcomed.
He stood a head taller than she did, and when the bartender held their beers aloft, the guitarist easily reached over the packed crowd to retrieve them. He handed her one bottle, then clinked his own briefly against hers.
"Cheers," he said.
"What are we toasting to?" she asked.
"Anything," he said with that bewitching half-grin. "Everything."
"Well, that leaves it wide open," she replied with the quirk of one brow.
"That's the idea," he answered, his smile deepening.
She shook her head and took a swig, then watched him do the same. His lips looked positively delicious wrapped around the mouth of the beer bottle. His grin returned the minute he finished swallowing.
"You want to go sit somewhere?" he asked.
She stared blankly at him for a moment. It was definitely too good to be true that he wanted to spend some time with her. Maybe she wasn't as sly as she thought and he'd noticed her gaping at him like a beached guppy all night long. Maybe he figured she was an easy target. And tonight, she had to admit, he might be right.
"There's nowhere to sit," she lamented. "This place is packed."
He appeared unfazed. "Follow me."
She did as he said, and soon found herself winding through the tiny backstage area and out the back door. They emerged onto an enclosed patio that she never even knew existed. Looking around, she saw other members of his band and what appeared to be their crew, occupying most of the tables and chairs.
"Nice," she said, realizing that this was a little VIP area of sorts. Strings of tree lights decorated the shrub-lined latticework fence and gave off an ambient light, while the moon lent its pale blue rays from above.
He led her to a small bench in one corner and waited until she sat down before he joined her. He reached into the pocket of his well-worn jeans and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes with a lighter shoved under the plastic wrapper.
"Mind if I smoke?" he asked.
Deal-breaker, her mind screamed. Complete and total effing deal-breaker.
"No, go ahead," she heard herself say.
She peers more closely at the empty Heineken bottles on her nightstand. There is a cigarette butt in the bottom of one. Other butts litter the "I Heart Seattle" collector coaster that doubled as Edward's ashtray last night. The room stinks of stale smoke, beer, sweat and sex. She leans over and inhales from the pillow he slept on all night. How can it smell so bad and so unbelievably good at the same time? Stupid, smelly, gorgeous guitar player.
She dreads the dissipation of his scent.
"I should shower first," he mumbled between urgent kisses as he backed her across the room toward her bed.
"I don't care," she gasped into his mouth.
"But I was so sweaty from the gig. I must reek."
"Shut up," she ordered. Kiss, step backward. Kiss, step backward. "You're just going to get sweaty again. We'll shower later." Kiss, step, kiss, step, stop. The backs of her knees hit the edge of the bed.
"Fuck. I like how you think, Ms. Swan." He grinned and gave her a push, and down she went.
They did shower, much later. But they were too tired to put clean sheets on the bed, so they shook out the covers, flipped over the pillows and curled together into one clean-skinned, damp-haired entity to go to sleep.
Bella's memory of their pillow talk is fuzzy, convoluted by the residue of alcohol and hormones. She knows he couldn't decide whether he wanted to be a web designer or a rock star when he grew up. Problem was, he was already grown. She told him she wanted to write novels but wrote bylines instead. They each encouraged the other to go for the big dreams while they kept the small ones simmering on the burner. The small ones paid the bills, for now.
Their conversation was a continuation of the one they'd begun earlier last evening, in their patio corner with its tree lights creating a halo around Edward's unruly hair. He and Bella had exchanged names, then philosophies. He'd thoughtfully blown his cigarette smoke away from her during their discussions of life and art and self-expression.
She remembers the intense passion emanating from him; she could almost see it, like a palpable aura around him. He'd infused her with it, and she had begun to speak of her own passions. How she wanted to write Great Novels, but was waiting for Great Things to happen in her life so she'd have something to write about.
Edward's eyes had twinkled like the lights decorating the fence behind him, and he'd given her that delectable lop-sided grin. A knowing look had passed between them.
He would give her Great Things to write about.
"Why me?" she asked during a brief lull in their conversation. It came out almost tentative, a whisper.
He reached out one calloused, nimble guitarist's hand and touched the side of her face, then fingered a few strands of her dark hair. She was mesmerized by the depth of his blue-green eyes, fathomless under the night sky as he gazed at her for a prolonged moment. He seemed confused by her question.
"You're the only one I saw tonight," he said softly, matter-of-factly.
She let out a surprised laugh at his answer. There were dozens of girls in the bar, most of them smitten with his looks and talent. Her brow furrowed in bafflement.
He sighed and frowned, then tried again. "You're the only one I wanted to bring back here," he clarified. "The one I wanted to know better."
She shook her head, still perplexed. "But what made you feel that way?" What is it about me, when you could have had any of those drooling girls out there? she wanted to ask.
His hand continued to work its magic behind her ear, sending tingles to much more private places.
"I could see how the music affected you," he said, his voice as smooth as a shot of Black Velvet, and giving her the same warm sensation in her belly. "You don't feel it here," he asserted, tapping his index finger lightly on her temple. Then he moved the magic fingers lightly over the thin cotton knit of her shirt, bringing them to rest over her heart.
"You feel it here."
Bella wondered if he could feel her heart betraying her, pounding against the prison of her ribcage, trying to get closer to his magic. She was beginning to feel swallowed in his gaze, and fought to keep her head above the surface. Flailing, she grasped for something familiar to save herself.
"Does that line work on all the other girls?" she said with a sharp, sardonic laugh.
Edward's eyebrows shot together in what appeared to be wounded surprise, and his hand dropped quickly to his lap. Bella immediately regretted giving in to sarcasm-coated insecurity. But she was more afraid of giving in to him. She needed his honesty too badly not to test it first.
He masked his hurt with a cautious half-smile. "I don't know. You're the only one I've tried it on. Whether or not it works remains to be seen."
She looked up at him with repentant eyes. "I think the odds are in your favor. As lines go, that was a pretty good one."
The crooked grin she was already half in love with reappeared. "Well, I thought so," he said with a wink before taking a swig of beer.
After that little hiccup, their dialogue went back to the easy flow it had enjoyed before, with very few ebbs. It was the kind of conversation that was oblivious to constraints of time and place, taking its participants on a journey they'd never expected. An engrossed Bella and Edward were surprised when the bouncer invaded their new little world and made them return to the old one.
The bar was closing. Edward's band-mates had already slipped away, unnoticed, to pack up their gear. He reluctantly told her he needed to join them.
"But I'd rather finish our discussion instead," he said wistfully, hopefully, as he stood and offered her his hand.
She took it and allowed him to help her up. Her hand felt small and protected in his. She was surprised at how much she liked the feeling. She looked up into the lure of his sea-colored eyes and decided to take the bait.
"We could finish it at my place when you're done," she suggested, in a hopeful tone of her own.
He looked like he was trying very hard to keep his smile contained to its ubiquitous half-grin instead of letting it break free across his face. But his eyes crinkled up into happy slits as he quietly said, "I'd like that."
She can feel her own eyes crinkling now just thinking about it. About him, and how adorable he is. And sexy. And smart and talented and easy to talk to, not to mention amazing in bed. He's so many irresistible things that he makes her head spin and her heart drop. She hates him a little because she is afraid she might be in love with him. No one should be able to fall in love in twenty-four hours. That's impossible.
She blames the pheromones. They were raging all night long, every time she rolled over and into his arms. He would smile in his sleep and pull her closer until his skin and hair and heat and breath were indistinguishable from her own.
She slept very little last night. She was too preoccupied with watching him, listening to him, feeling him next to her. He was beautiful. He was by far the most beautiful man she'd ever had in her bed, though there had been admittedly few predecessors. Edward possessed that aching sort of beauty that poets attempt in vain to describe.
She tried counting his freckles and moles to fall asleep, but they were far more interesting than sheep, and not nearly as calming. So she tried counting his eyelashes instead, but there were too many. She finally was forced to close her eyes and try to ignore him, which was the ultimate exercise in futility. She hadn't been able to take her eyes off of him all evening, and the urge had only grown stronger as the night went on.
She didn't remember falling asleep. But the next thing she knew, she heard a soft humming close to her. A humming, and a strumming. A luxurious thrill rippled through her sleepy form when she realized what it was. She opened one eye, squinting against the sunlight that had forced its way in around her window shade. And there sat her guitar god, in all his morning glory, playing and singing softly to himself.
No, he's singing to me, she realized.
"Please don't wake me, no, don't shake me, leave me as I am - I'm only sleeping," he sang, before giving her a grin at the end of it.
"The Beatles," she mumbled, grinning back. "Classic."
"Always," he agreed. Then he put the guitar aside and turned his attentions to her instead. He played her softly, gently, sensuously this time. Their melody was tender and sweet on this sunny Sunday morning, but the climax of today's song was every bit as passionate as the one from last night's turbulent symphony.
If this is how Edward Cullen treats all his conquests the morning after, she fears she will never tire of being played.
The traffic sounds were muffled under the hum of the taxi's motor. He must have felt her eyes on him, for he turned to catch her stare and return it.
"I meant what I said earlier," he told her. His voice was low, hypnotic.
"About what?" She knew what, but she needed to hear him say the words.
"Why you. This." His head nodded slightly to the kaleidoscope of neon lights refracting through the window as they zoomed toward their destination. His fingers found hers on the car seat between them and staked their claim.
"I know," she whispered, trying to locate her tongue. "I'm sorry about the crack I made. Nerves, I guess." She paused and searched his face; she found the bravery she needed there. "I've never really done this before. With someone I just met," she added.
One-night stand, her mind echoed. She winced at the thought. She already knew one night with him would never be enough.
His expression was sober. "I don't suppose you'd believe me if I said I don't do this very often, either." His fingers tightened around hers.
"Should I?" she asked skeptically.
"You should, actually."
"Hmm." She considered that for a moment. "I'm sure that can't be due to a lack of offers."
His smirk waffled between cocky and embarrassed. "Let's just say I don't find many of them as tempting as yours."
It was her turn for the embarrassed grin. Her fingers squeezed back. She wondered how the scenery could pass in a blur when the cab was moving at such a snail's pace.
Nervousness soon replaced her impatience when they reached her apartment. Her trembling fingers fumbled for her keys as she braced herself for him to see her tiny two-room studio. It was only a step up from her recent college dorm days, but it was all hers, and that was a first. No roommates to cater to or clean up after; no one to interrupt her evening with the glorious man about to grace the place with his presence.
She looks around the room now, trying to see it through his eyes, the way he seemed to view it when he entered. She was embarrassed by its decidedly shabby-chic appearance, but he appeared enthralled as he studied the music posters and art that camouflaged its dingy walls. He commented on their similar taste in music, which they had discussed at the bar, and was now confirmed by her decor. But when she pointed out the works of art that were her own creations, he looked almost . . . awed.
"These are amazing," he enthused as he studied her watercolor series of the bay. He told her she should pursue that talent along with her writing. He even suggested that she could illustrate her own books; maybe children's books, since the market seemed to be ever hungry for new work.
She didn't know what to say. No one had ever encouraged her the way he did, to think big and go for it. He lived that way himself, it seemed. Fearless.
She felt her own fear melt away when he turned to look at her, a new kind of wonder in his eyes now that he had seen what she was capable of. She felt like maybe she was on even footing with him now - that perhaps she had touched him with her art the way he'd touched her with his.
The connection pulled them toward each other, and her heart began to thud erratically in her chest as he drew closer. This was it . . . the moment she'd been waiting for all night.
Maybe all her life.
His fingers reached her face before his lips did, gently caressing, unleashing shivers that washed over her skin in waves. He said nothing. He let his eyes do the talking instead, sweeping over her features, studying her, asking her, telling her.
His lashes fell, and there were no more unsaid words. Only sensation now. Soft against soft, wet against wet. Warmth turning to heat, craving to hunger, want to need.
She yearns for him now, still, even after the way he awakened her this morning. A melancholy settles in her bones as she gingerly strokes the glossy wood of the vintage guitar.
"I envy you," she whispers to it. "The special place you'll always have in his heart. The love and affection he gives you. The emotion he pours into you. I know how good it feels now. I could get used to it."
She runs the tip of her index finger inside the edge of the sound hole, then strums each string, one at a time. She allows each note to reverberate in the air before sounding the next. She remembers the way he handled the instrument last night, from gentle, almost reverent strokes to relentless, rhythmic pounding.
"God, I can't hold back with you," he rasped into her ear as he plunged deep inside her.
"Then don't," she gasped, clutching him more tightly to her and lifting her hips to meet his.
He answered with only grunts as he picked up the pace, grinding into her with the full force of his body, pulling out almost completely before filling her again. Over and over, deeper and deeper … harder, faster, ruthless, relentless … ramming, slamming, rutting, fucking. There was nothing but Edward now. Over her, around her, inside her. His eyes, his breath, his body, merging with hers, taking control. Making her cry out in helpless ecstasy.
Making her sing.
He let out a haunting melody of his own when he came inside her, a crescendo of desire leaving his lungs in a stunning release. She was bathed in his breath, his sweat and his passion. She drank every bit of it deep into her pores like a thirsty sponge, yet still craved more. She clutched his damp hair in her fingers and his pumping torso between her thighs; then she hung on for dear life as long as she could.
She wraps her fingers gingerly around the neck of the guitar and lifts it up, bringing the instrument to her lap. She puts her left fingers to the frets and her right fingers to the strings, over the sound hole. She gives it a tentative strum; the discordant jangle makes her wince.
"I wish I knew how to play you," she says with a sigh. "To make you into something better than you are right now. Your master knows how to do that. With those magic fingers of his . . ."
She tries configuring her own fingertips on the frets in a way that will make a harmonic sound come from the guitar. Instead, more dissonance meets her disappointed ears.
"I guess you need him as much as I do, don't you?" she muses. She tries again, and this time, something akin to music rings through the air. She smiles at her small triumph and plays the makeshift chord again.
"It's not hopeless, then, is it?" she says to her new stringed friend. "Anything's possible. Now, maybe you can tell me how to make him need me as much as he needs you."
Her fingers take a stab at forming another chord, but fail this time.
"Wrong answer," she grumbles. "That's okay, I won't give up," she adds with determination, and maybe a little false bravado. She knows how much this instrument means to Edward; how much more it is than just a wooden box with strings. It is infinitely more than the sum of its parts.
She wants to be that to him.
They sat facing each other, wrapped in the sheets on her double bed, their half-drunk beers and one smoldering cigarette nearby on her nightstand.
"So why this guitar? You let the guys take your others in the van," she commented after he'd played a beautiful song for her. She hadn't recognized the tune; he told her he wrote it. She was even more impressed than before, which she hadn't thought possible.
"This old girl?" he answered, running his hand affectionately up and down the neck of the guitar. "She goes everywhere with me. I don't let her out of my sight for long."
His expression sobered slightly as he continued. "She was my dad's. He taught me everything he knew on this beat up old J-45. He always said if it was good enough for Bob Dylan, it was good enough for him." He let out a laugh at the memory. "It's still my favorite. I love the tone. I always seem to be able to coax whatever emotion I'm looking for out of her."
He grinned again and played idly with the strings. Bella tried to take a mental snapshot of how gorgeous he looked, moonlight streaming through the window across his contented face. She never wanted to forget this moment. She was seized with the sudden fear that it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
"I'll bet it was hard for your dad to give it up," she said of the guitar, as she watched Edward's fingers fly over the frets.
His smile faded. "It was hard for him to give up a lot of things. And even harder for me to give him up when the cancer took him."
Bella cringed at her gaffe. "I'm sorry," she said, in all sincerity. She reached out a tentative hand to touch his face, wondering why she felt timid after the jaw-dropping sex they had just had. Maybe it was because his sharing something about his family felt just as intimate. She had let him into her home, and then her body; he repaid her by giving her a glimpse into his soul.
Edward's eyes closed for a moment when her fingers stroked the rough stubble of his jaw. He inclined his head toward her hand, ever so slightly, and the earth moved beneath her just as violently as it had when he had thrust deep inside her moments ago. She marveled at how easily he could affect her.
"Your father would have been so proud of you tonight if he had been there," she told him.
His eyes opened and he managed a wan smile at her.
"He was there," he said.
Bella's fingers drifted back to ruffle the hair over his ear. She must have looked a little puzzled, because he suddenly laughed and said, "Does that sound crazy? I just mean that I felt his presence there. I always do, when I'm onstage. I feel his spirit."
"That's not crazy," she assured him. "It's sort of beautiful, actually."
"You're sort of beautiful," he replied, giving her that crinkle-eyed grin again.
She blushed. "Now you're talking crazy."
"You're the crazy one if you don't see it," he insisted. He drifted closer; she leaned in. Their kiss was slow and soft. Respectful. His hand sought her face and cradled it gently; his eyes enveloped hers. She floated euphorically in the reflection of those warm, blue-green seas.
"I see it now," she whispered.
"That's good," he replied, his thumb tracing her lips before he kissed her lightly again. "Now, Beautiful, how about that shower?" he suggested with a smile.
She had no argument this time, and happily joined him in the water.
The squeak of ancient door hinges signals Edward's return, jarring her from her reverie. She had given him the keys to her apartment so he could go get them coffee and breakfast. She offered to make him something, but he insisted that he wanted to treat her, so she let him. She didn't hesitate to trust him with the keys to her place. After all, he was leaving his most cherished possession with her in return.
She shoots him a deer-in-the-headlights look at first, not sure how he'll feel about her touching his hallowed J-45. But a relieved smile soon spreads across her face to match the happy one he wears as he walks into the room. He's carrying a take-out tray in one arm while he closes the door behind him with the other. He makes a beeline straight for her.
"Did you take good care of my girl while I was gone?" he asks as he sits down on the bed, balancing the tray loaded with coffee and pastries on his thigh.
"Yeah, of course," she assures him, setting the guitar carefully back down beside her.
Edward picks up one of the lidded paper cups and hands it to her. Her sheepish gaze meets his amused one.
"Bella," he chides, flashing his crooked grin. "I was talking to the guitar."
Her eyes widen in surprise, then crinkle with her own irrepressible grin as she apprehends his meaning.
"Music to my ears," she murmurs, leaning over the tray and pressing her lips to his. He chuckles softly and kisses her back.
Sorry, old girl, she thinks as she gives the guitar a sidelong glance.
There's a new girl in town.
Those of you who have read "Massage Therapy" might find this story reminiscent of that. What can I say? I love Guitarward! ;)