Twilight character names belong to Stephenie Meyer. All characterizations, plot lines, backgrounds and details belong to the respective author, abstract way.© 2012 abstract way.
Much love and thanks to Editor Azucena , Pre-readers BtwntheStacks and Lemonmartinis and Beta-MsKathy
These characters are a part of me and I'm honored to share them with you.
In writing Dodge and Burn I want my daughter to understand that although there are legacies worth fighting for, sometimes there are legacies you must rise up and fight against. This story is for her.
Dodge and Burn / Chapter One / The Gilded Frame
He assumed Isabella Swan was eccentric, yet that very fact intrigued him. He hadn't dealt with a compelling person, sensible or colorful in quite a while. She just seemed ripe with possibilities to be anything but mundane.
The phone rings just past ten on a Thursday evening. He can't remember the last time his phone rang that late. It's startling, like that moment someone's foot accidentally slips off the brake as they barrel down the street toward another car. What can one do but fear the worst? Bad news is usually delivered in the most unexpected ways.
So with his silence shattered and his predictable evening now turned on its side, Edward moves toward his ringing phone. His heart staccatos as he lifts up the receiver and dread wraps tightly around him.
"Yes!" a lilting voice echoes back. "Is this the Mr. Cullen?"
It occurs to him that if this is a solicitor insisting that he get his carpets cleaned or donate to the policeman's fund then her marketing technique and timing is quite unorthodox.
"The extraordinary Mr. Cullen?"
"Yes, the musician who performed for an engagement party in Hancock Park last week?"
The woman has an expressive voice that makes her age or origins hard to place. He can't help but be curious.
He re-checks his watch. Is he really getting a business call this late at night? He shakes his head, wondering who gave this Suzie Sunshine his phone number.
"Yes, this is Edward Cullen," he replies with his professional tone. "And you are?"
"My name is Isabella Swan, Mr. Cullen, and I need your help."
"Do you always call complete strangers this late at night?"
"Is it late? Oh, dear…I hadn't noticed. I guess since I've had this idea, I've never felt so awake." She takes a sharp breath. "So, about what I need from you…"
He jogs through his memory of that night trying to recall meeting an Isabella but no one comes to mind.
"I'm sorry…did we meet at the party?"
"No, I wasn't actually at the party, but I was certainly there." She laughs softly. "Probably more there than the other guests. I listened, enraptured, to every song you sang."
Her voice is happy, almost playful, and he wonders if this is someone's misguided idea of a joke.
He pauses for a moment, considering hanging up. But a nagging curiosity keeps the phone glued to his hand.
"How does that work exactly, being there but not?"
"I live in the house behind the Randall's. I was reading in my backyard when you began to sing."
He's relieved; his concerns about her legitimacy have been put to rest. Her explanation seems plausible. He was playing in the backyard in an urban neighborhood where the houses are fairly close together.
"Ah, I see. And you enjoyed the music?"
"Enjoyed? How can I explain this?" she asks herself out loud.
There is a long pause and the longer he waits the more curious he becomes. Just before he speaks to fill the silence, she suddenly lets out a long sigh.
"I want you to picture a woman curled up on a garden swing. Her head is tilted up towards where the music travels over the fence. Her hands are clasped against her sweater just over her heart.
Is this woman serious?
"Are you still with me, Mr. Cullen?"
"Still here," he responds, smiling to himself. He has to admit, she may be unusual, but at least it's in a rather dazzling way. She must be an actress.
She takes a deep breath and continues.
"This woman's book, long forgotten, has tumbled to the damp grass. Her fine glass of wine, having only been tamed with a few savored sips, has been abandoned. There is something in this man's voice and notes that makes her remember the way it felt to be adored."
Obviously she's playing with him. He's impressed with her commitment to being theatrical. Well, he can be dramatic, too.
"All that? And were there tears?" he asks gently.
She doesn't seem offended, but takes the cue and runs with it.
"Copious tears and so much longing." She sighs loud enough for him to hear. "It made her long for the way a lover's protective hand would rest against her lower back as they walked into a strange room. Everyone understanding in the gesture that she belonged to him, that they belonged to each other."
Despite her melodramatic performance, something in that image rocks him. He remembers being that man once, having a woman he loved enough to claim as his.
It's peculiar. Her tone sounds so genuine, but she can't be serious with this stuff.
"Well, I'm very…"
"Your music transformed me, Mr. Cullen."
"But, you realize…"
"Yes, I recognized the songs. It wasn't the songs; it was your voice and the barely contained emotion as you sang. I was undone for days."
She seems to be serious, and doesn't sound intoxicated. He's stunned into silence.
"And the problem is that when you finished your third set, and packed up your guitar, I think you took a piece of my soul with you. And I'd like it back please."
He smiles. He sang a lot of love songs that night, being an engagement party and all. The very idea of love does strange things to people.
"Well, that's a first. Thank you, I think."
"I have an idea how to resolve this issue. I've decided to hire you to play for me. I'm so excited about the idea that you must say yes. Please say yes."
"You mean a private performance?"
"Yes, just me."
"But you don't even know what I cost."
"I'm sure we can work it out. It'll be worth it, whatever you decide."
"I'm very flattered, Ms. Swan, but I don't really do this kind of thing. I retired years ago from playing gigs. I played for the party because the Randalls are old family friends."
"Old friends?" she considers. "Well, I can be your new friend. It's always wonderful to make new friends-especially when they appreciate your talent the way I do yours."
"I don't mean to be rude, but I'm not looking for a new friend. Besides, you don't even know me," he says.
"I know all I need to. You're an old soul, an artist with a heavy heart. I learned everything I wanted to understand in your voice."
"Have you been reading the Bronte sisters or something? I'm really not nearly as romantically deep and tragic as you've imagined. I'm just a guy with a guitar."
"Why don't you let me be the judge of that? How's Sunday afternoon?" she asks.
"No, I really can't…"
"Saturday, Thursday, or any day. I won't take 'no' for an answer."
Damn, she's persistent.
"I'd like to think about it."
"Artists search for that one person in the crowd that really gets them. I get you. What if I'm your audience?"
What if? he thinks to himself. He can't imagine what difference it would make in the simple, stark life he has folded himself into.
"So go ahead and think about it," she encourages. "I'll tell you what, here's my number. When you are ready-really ready to be heard, give me a call."
He pulls the pad toward him and carefully writes out her name and number. His writing is surprisingly legible considering his trepidation. He mindlessly doodles around her name while he considers what to say next. She beats him to the punch.
"And, Mr. Cullen…I'll try to wait patiently, but don't be surprised if I call again," she warns.
Apparently she means business.
"I'm pretty sure nothing about you would surprise me, Ms. Swan."
"See there, you understand me. I just knew you would."
He says goodnight and sets the phone back onto the desk. Her presence lingers, and for a moment, the sudden silence feels completely wrong. His head falls back as he closes his eyes and one of his earliest memories suddenly flickers brightly behind his eyelids. It's Christmas and he's about four. His mom has brought him by the hand to their living room. The room lights are dim, just enough to make out the faint glow of the foil-paper wrapped gifts under the tree.
"Are you ready, little man?" she asks excitedly.
He remembers nodding, as his small hand tightens inside her bigger one.
"Okay, Carlisle," she says.
He watches his dad bend over close to the wall with something in his hand. In the next moment a million brilliant lights sparkle all over the Christmas tree.
He claps his hands with delight, and his mom pulls him close.
"Isn't it magical, Edward?" she asks.
He nods, squinting his young eyes so all the colors blur together, and all these years later he still sees every glowing hue as he opens his grown-up eyes again.
He smiles widely and once again thinks of Isabella Swan and a million brilliant lights.
So I got an unexpected call last night," he offers as Jasper slides the beer across the bar.
"Did you win the lottery?" he asks, wiping the counter down.
He gives Jasper an exasperated look. "No, I got a late night call from a woman who wants to hire me for a private performance."
"She's going to pay you for sex? Cool."
"Not that kind of performance," he says, shaking his head.
"Too bad, cause that sounds promising. You could earn some extra cash and finally get laid."
"Thanks for the encouragement," he replies. "No, it's guitar playing and singing…that kind of performance."
"Naked? Like that guy in the cowboy hat that plays in Times Square?"
Jasper's brain's hanging low tonight, between his legs, it seems.
"He's not naked; he wears his underwear. Besides, she didn't mention attire. If this gig was performing naked I'm pretty sure she would've said so," Edward replies, smirking.
"I thought you didn't perform anymore. Hey, if you're getting back into it, I'll get Sam to work you into the club schedule. You want me to talk to him?"
"No, I don't want to play for anybody, thanks. That's my problem."
"You lost me," Jasper says, leaning forward on his elbow.
He takes a long sip from his Guinness. "I don't want to do the gig but I'm curious, you know?"
Jasper nods his head. "About the woman."
"Yes, about the woman. Ms. Isabella Swan is her name."
"Ms. Isabella, huh?" Jasper grins.
Edward nods, a nervousness of the unknown rumbling deep inside.
"Well, Cullen, it looks like it's time to tune your guitar."
His phone rings and when he sees the number on the call screen, he smirks. He lets it ring and only picks up right before it goes to voicemail. She's one impatient woman.
"Do you like banana bread, Mr. C?"
What the hell?
He takes a deep breath. He'd almost forgotten Ms. Swan's peculiar ways.
"Banana bread? I guess so, why?"
"You know…I have these bananas."
Oh Jesus. "Yes?"
"And they're looking pretty ripe. So I thought I'd bake some banana bread. Will you come play for me if I bake you some banana bread?"
"Is that my payment?"
"No, that's your pleasure," she assures him.
He pauses, fighting the overwhelming sensation to make an excuse, quickly get off the phone, and then figure out how to block calls. Yet some inexplicable force keeps him there, so he teases her instead.
"Will there be cream cheese?"
"Oh, of course! There couldn't be banana bread without cream cheese."
"The soft kind, not those nasty white rectangles that you can't spread."
"I'll make sure it's very soft," she says enthusiastically, sounding hopeful.
"I don't know…"
"Warm, freshly baked ban-an-a-bread, Mr. Cullen," she says in a breathy voice. "Need I really say more?"
"All right, you've worn me down. When?"
"Well, right away. We wouldn't want the bananas to get too brown or anything."
She sounds so damn happy.
"So, are we talking tomorrow?" he asks.
"Yes, tomorrow would be lovely. How about later afternoon, when the sun is just skimming over the birch trees?"
How the hell would I know when the sun skims over her trees? Deep breath.
"How about five thirty?" he asks.
Pulling off his sunglasses, he looks at the piece of paper where he copied her address down and double checks. He shakes his head, puts the car in park and turns off the ignition.
He can only imagine what the residents of this Hancock Park neighborhood think of the bizarre menagerie his new client, Ms. Swan, has made of her front yard. There must have been a clearance sale at wherever people with dubious taste buy their garden accessories.
He scans just beyond the raggedy picket fence barely holding up climbing roses in various states of bloom. Along the yard's untamed periphery he sees a number of reflective spheres in various sizes, fancy looking birdbaths, two fountains and a small community of vintage garden statuary. One stone gray fallen angel has a small child's crown with colorful plastic jewels perched on her head. In the center of the yard is a large homemade swing dangling from the limb of a large Sycamore tree. Vines and bits of twigs wind up the ropes. It looks like a prop from margarine commercial.
It occurs to him that his new client is a woman that lives alone, or at least not with a man. No husband would tolerate this yard unless he's blind or so deep in the closet that he never found his way out.
He gets out of his car, and takes his guitar out of the trunk with reluctance. As he works his way up the walkway, he begins to imagine the worst. What if she's one of those freaky old ladies that hoards used shopping bags and the cotton from pill bottles? From the looks of her yard, it's safe to assume that she probably has an extensive doll collection and dolls creep him out. What if she's lured him here under false pretenses, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, and she actually plans to sedate him, chain him to a bed, fatten him up then cook him in a huge pot over an open flame?
As he approaches the front porch, he looks up to see that she has Christmas lights strung zig-zag across the porch ceiling. That would be charming in December, but in June, it's just odd. The front door is turquoise with a lime green trim.
Come on, this is two hours out of an otherwise forgetful day—you can handle it.
With any luck he'll leave with an interesting story to tell Jasper at the bar tonight. He takes a deep breath, admonishes himself for his psychotic ramblings, and rings the bell.
Moments later the door swings open dramatically and at first all he sees is a swirl of color. His eyes land on one of those gauzy, flowing hippy skirts that contain every single color known to man. It makes his eyes hurt. It makes him wish he hadn't left his sunglasses in his car.
It's topped with a bright red t-shirt. He imagines this is an outfit one would wear to cross the lollipop bridge in Candy Land. Thank God they're meeting in her fairyland home and not out in public.
He finally allows himself to look up at her face and is surprised not to see beady eyes and a hooked witch's nose. She has a friendly face, pretty actually, graced by a warm smile. Just like him, she's neither young, nor old, but somewhere in the middle.
Her eyes widen as she studies him.
It suddenly occurs to him that she looks as taken aback by him as he is by her.
"Oh my," she says, looking surprised. She then laughs to herself.
"Excuse me?" he asks.
"Well, I just wasn't expecting you to be so handsome," she explains, biting her lip to hold back a smile.
This uncensored proclamation surprises him. He knows he was once considered handsome but he'd imagined that had faded, along with some of the other advantages of his youth.
"Well, I appreciate the compliment but does it matter what I look like?"
"It'll be very distracting," she offers. She chews on the edge of her thumb as she considers how to explain. "Have you been to the D'Orsay museum in Paris?"
"No, can't say that I have," he replies. He waits patiently for her to connect the puzzling dots of her random thought process and let him in the house.
"Oh, you must go!" she announces dramatically, her hands moving in circles like tiny windmills. "You're a musician…an artist. It'll inspire you."
He nods, amused that she seems to think she already understands what he needs. "I'll add it to my bucket list," he says agreeably, hoping to get the story back on track. The sooner they get started, the sooner he gets to leave.
She smiles warmly at him. "So, as I was saying, the first time I was at the D'Orsay I was quivering from head to toe because I was finally going to see so many of my favorite impressionist paintings that I had studied in books for years. But as I approached each masterpiece I could barely focus on the painting because each one had the most bright gold, elaborate gilded frames around it."
She has an issue with overdone gilded frames? This from the woman wearing a rainbow for a skirt.
She's going to exhaust me; I just know it. And I'm not even in the house yet.
"I was distracted and couldn't feel the art the way I'd hoped to," she says, pulling on one of her wavy strands of auburn hair.
With raised brows she gives him a knowing look like they had just spoken a rare Hindu dialect to each other and understood each other perfectly. While he tries to decide if he's going to run for the hills or weather this out, he continues to engage her. "So did you leave the museum?"
She grins playfully as she gives him a sideways glance. "No, actually I went to the museum café and had a lovely glass of Pinot Noir. Halfway through I gave myself quite a little talking to and decided to get over the frames."
I wouldn't be surprised it this conversation with herself happened out loud, thus giving the French just another reason to detest Americans.
"And how did that work out for you?" His blank expression belies his inner wonder.
"After that I relaxed and was able to experience the artwork as I'd hoped to. I stood closer and it blocked the frames out of my field of vision. Besides, that way you get to see the brushstrokes filled with every color."
And in that moment her preference for overly colorful skirts was born.
"Well, there you go," he encourages her. "I'll tell you what. Feel free to drink wine while I play for you."
She smiles, giving him a knowing look as if she already understands he thinks she's eccentric.
"And you could even turn your chair away from me, or hang a curtain between us."
"That won't be necessary," she teases. "You aren't that good looking, Mr. Cullen."
She reaches out her hand to shake his like it's suddenly time to be formally introduced. There's a colorful stack of bracelets around her wrist and they make tiny percussion sounds whenever she moves.
"So, welcome to my home. I'm looking forward to hearing you play again."
Relieved at this move towards professionalism, he stands a bit straighter and nods like a gentleman as their hands move together.
"It's nice to meet you, Ms. Swan." Her hand is warm and strong, her handshake confident.
"Likewise. And please call me Bella, or Isabella if you prefer." She starts to pull the door open wider, then pauses, considering something.
"Before we start, please assure me that you aren't charming, too." She actually looks concerned.
He rolls his eyes and scowls.
"I can absolutely assure you that there is nothing charming about me. As a matter of fact, most people that know me say I'm an ass."
"Well, that's a relief." She lets out a long sigh.
"And why would that be a relief?"
"Because I already know you're an amazing musician, and handsome…so if you were charming too it would just be too much. I'm sure I'd fall hopelessly in love with you." She glances down at his wedding ring. "And that just wouldn't do."
He looks down at the burnished gold band, resting heavy on his finger.
"Well then, you have nothing to worry about. Do you still want to do this?"
She looks up at him, really studies him, and he can see a million ideas flickering through her mind. There's something so unsettling about this woman. It's as if she has something he needs but he has no idea what it is. Part of him wants her to turn him away.
Her expression suddenly brightens like the clouds just swept past them. "Yes, yes! Let's try it!" She swings the door open wide.
He hesitates for a second, as if somewhere in the deep trenches of his mind he understands that once he crosses this threshold, his life will change in unpredictable ways. He wonders if he should just head back to his quiet apartment? Or is this colorful break from the day-to-day monotony just what he needs?
Her hand sweeps up and waves him forward. He's suddenly hooked above the gut, that soft spot close to the heart where no common sense can be traced. He feels a gentle pull as the invisible line reels him in.
He takes a deep breath, lifts up his guitar case and steps inside.
So what do you say? Shall we meet every Saturday?...that's kinda been our thing. :-)
Thanks so much for stopping by...It makes it all worthwhile.
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