A/N: This was my entry for the Fic This Gif contest. It's a bit out of my standard zone, but the story stuck with me and I couldn't shake it, so I gave it a try. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think (I'm trying hard to get to This Is My Daddy chapter done and to you guys, but it's fighting with me. Hang in there with me, I beg you.)
Fic This Gif Anon Contest Entry
Gif #: 23
Pen name: mslizabeth
Twitter name: mslizabeth
Word count (not including author's notes/header): 4361
Summary: Bella and Edward have seen their lowest points and stepped away from their personal lives. When an unexpected connection brings two strangers together.
Warnings (if necessary): Some mild verbal abuse, allusion to domestic violence
Bella nearly jumped out of her chair when she felt the warmth of his fingers on her hand. She knew what the simple touch meant; it was their signal, it had been for years. One simple touch and they knew that they needed one another. Words weren't required where they were concerned. Her hand slid involuntarily off the table into the safety of her lap, away from him. She attempted to dig deep within to find some piece of the compassion or love that had driven their relationship all these years.
Instead of turning her hand she found herself staring off into space, studying the decor in the room. To describe it as bland was putting it kindly; however, you could tell that some commercial interior designer had attempted to make it comforting and inviting, but it was a failed attempt. Just like her marriage, it felt cold and suffocating. The longer she sat here the more she felt as if the walls were closing in around her. She was perched uncomfortably on the edge of the hard chair, poised to run the way her mind and body were screaming at her to. To get away from the merry-making fools passing out cigars and blue and pink balloons. To escape from the poison of betrayal that seemed to course through her body.
She couldn't find it within herself to leave him, and she didn't know why, though they both knew that this wasn't right. Her marriage had become a sham. They slept in different bedrooms and avoided being in the house at the same time for fear they might actually have to discuss what was going on. She knew she needed to either suck it up and get over the pain so she could live her life with him or pack it up, get a lawyer, and leave him. She looked over at where he had taken up pacing since she'd turned from his touch.
Bella had thought the excruciating pain she'd felt since Jake had come home with his confession was proof that she had a heart. However, watching him pace, she felt as if she were the ice queen he always accused her of being. Deep inside there was a small voice shouting at her to go to him, put her arms around him, and reassure him it was all going to be okay. But she found her feet frozen and her brain refusing to even acknowledge that part of her.
"Jacob, I have to leave."
The look on his face crushed one of the pieces of her heart lying in the cavity of her chest. "Don't leave me, baby. You said we could work this out."
She shook her head as she swallowed back the emotions in her throat, careful to keep her face and voice impassive as she looked at him. "I said we could work through infidelity. But you raising a child with another woman? I don't remember signing up for that at our wedding."
His arms gripped her tighter to him as if she were his life raft in the middle of the ocean. "Don't do this. Not here. Not now, please! You promised. You swore. For better or for worse."
"I had no idea that the worst could look like this. I can't. I won't."
"Stop it, now." His voice was a low growl, and she knew it meant business. "Don't make a scene."
"Don't make a scene? What is it that you'redoing?" she demanded, shoving against his chest as she looked up at him, trying to release herself from his iron clad grasp.
"Bells…" His eyes flashed his tell tale warning sign that he was teetering close to the edge.
"Don't Bells me. And do not tell me not to make a scene." Bella pointed her finger, stabbing him in the chest with it when she couldn't release herself. "Did you think about how much you hate a scene, Jacob?"
"Now is not the time or the place, Isabella." The words were a thinly veiled threat as his hands tightened on her arms.
"When is it the time and place, then, Jake? When is it finally time to talk about the fact that YOU are the one that lied, because nothing about what you have done has been loving or faithful! Do not throw my vows in my face when you are the one that flouted them as if they didn't matter."
She pressed on before he could do more than take a breath. It no longer mattered that she was raising her voice in public or that the waiting room had silenced to focus on their fight. "No, Jake. Did I ever even enter your mind last year, or were you too busy sticking your dick in places it didn't belong to even consider the effect it might have on our marriage?"
"Maybe if my wife could give me what I wanted I wouldn't have had to look elsewhere," Jacob snarled as he shoved her towards the bank of chairs behind them and stepped toward her as his eyes narrowed. "One weekend with her and look where we are nine months later!"
Bella's mouth dropped open as she recoiled as if she'd been slapped.
"Nine years with you and nothing. I think the ice that runs through your veins has officially frozen all of you. You will stop acting like this, and you will be happy today that we're getting the baby we've always wanted. At least I did something about our predicament."
As her hand connected a slap across his face, she felt as if she were having an out of body experience. She never would have fathomed that she had it in her to finally lash back at him.
"Excuse me." A nurse stepped between them and pulled them apart. "I'm going to have to ask you to leave if you cannot act in an appropriate manner."
"I was just leaving, thank you." She pulled her engagement and wedding rings off her hand and left them on the table before stepping around Jake and the nurse and storming over to the elevator. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the wall of the elevator, pretending not to hear the roar that echoed through the waiting room as the doors shut between her and the man she'd always thought was her future. She was certain that she would never see him again.
Edward sat back and studied the work on his laptop before selecting a different shade of green and going back to work on his project.
The sounds of the coffee shop echoed around him, creating a melody of background music that seemed to soothe and spur him on all at the same time. The low spoken conversations mixed with the ice blending and the soft tinkling of the bell that hung above the door. Some people worked best in silence or with music. This was his personal creative nirvana.
He could spend hours uninspired in his office staring at a blank screen, but the moment he allowed himself to relax into his usual seat, creativity would hit and he could work for hours with very little notice of anything around him.
He'd always sworn when he was grown he would never become the bitter, ambition-driven machine his father had been; however, despite his best efforts, Edward found himself consumed by his work. His sister Esme seemed to have more determination on the matter, though, and she would force him up for air so she could throw every available woman in his direction.
He knew she only wanted what was best for him; she wanted him to find someone who made him as happy as Carlisle made her. The two of them seemed to complete one another in a way you only saw in those ridiculous chick movies.
Once, they both even thought he had succeeded in making that kind of connection. Elianna had been a pharmaceutical representative who had wined and dined Carlisle and Esme on multiple occasions before Esme decided she would be perfect for Edward. After months of dealing with her crazy matchmaking schemes, he finally thought she'd found the right person in Ellie. She was smart, independent, and beautiful.
Their relationship progressed rapidly, with both of them seeming to be head over heels. Ellie pushed Edward out of his crazy work habits and encouraged him to experience the world. He provided an anchor she had been missing, connecting her with someone else in a way she had never been before. They existed in a façade of perfection for a year before he came home one night to find her with a pregnancy test.
His initial reaction had been to panic; he really thought they had taken precautions to prevent such a thing from happening, but after that, a hint of anticipation had risen inside of him—until the moment she crushed him, informing him of a weekend affair with a doctor at a medical convention. He had never worried about the traveling she did for work. In that moment, he realized he'd trusted her errantly and got his heart ripped out as a result. She'd claimed their love affair had run its course, so she was leaving anyway.
Esme had reined in her efforts to find him love for a few months until she had decided it was time for him to move on. Since there was little he could deny his sister, he went along with her schemes with as much patience as he could wrangle. He struggled in trying to convince her that the entrapments and expectations of relationships held no appeal for him any longer. So he had adopted the always mature policy of making his own game of it. He came up with a more creative way each time to scare off potential mates so they would never desire to bring him up to his sister again.
A small sniffle from the corner of the coffee shop alerted him to his most recent source of distraction. She was curled up in her regular spot by the fire with her newest book. The first time he noticed her, it had been her small sniffles and shaking shoulders that alerted him to her presence. Just as he was about to approach her and ask if she was all right, he realized the source of her tears was her book.
In a day and age where it seemed like every yuppie was consumed and driven by the compulsion to own and flaunt the newest technology, he found himself fascinated with the pretty woman and her parade of endless books. She never spoke much with anyone at the café, aside from ordering her tea, but he had yet to catch a name from any of those brief conversations. So in his head he simply referred to her as his book girl.
After seeing that something had moved her to tears, he was too intrigued not look up the title himself. When he had finished Going Bovine, he found his own cheeks wet with the remnants of the bittersweet book. After that, he couldn't help the fascination that began to take root inside of him. When he found himself laughing aloud or so immersed that he lost track of time, he found himself wondering about her thoughts on the book. He wondered if the book made her stomach hurt from laughing or if she had been disappointed when specific books didn't live up to their potential. The more he purchased and read her books of choice the more he found himself longing to speak with her.
Edward found himself longing for the in-depth conversations that could have had if he would get off his ass and introduce himself, they could have debated ambiguous endings and the author's true intent or whether a character was truly unredeemable. He even dared occassionally to imagine them laughing and bickering playfully while they relaxed in front of the never used fireplace in his den. However, he knew he had to put an end to such thoughts when he pondered how small she was and imagined how well she'd fit into his arms as they relaxed at the end of the night.
He had always thought of himself as a man of action. He had never related well with those who spent hours idly dreaming. If he wanted something he developed a plan of definitive action and took the steps to achieve his desires. He told himself to grow up and stop acting like a teenage girl. He considered different tactics to use if he ever decided to approach her.
He could picture how well that conversation would go over. 'Hi, I'm the creepy guy from the back part of the café who stalks your reading list as if you were Oprah herself.' That would absolutely send her running in the opposite direction to get a restraining order as quickly as possible. So he resigned himself to enjoying her reading choices on his own, thinking that at least he could enjoy her company from a distance. It was likely the safest way. Admiration from afar couldn't be ruined by reality.
The summer sun beat down through the paned glass of the coffee shop as the residents of the city sought refuge from the heat. It felt to Edward as if the entire population was ambushing his hide out. He was seriously beginning to contemplate if he should call it a day because it felt like a wall of people was closing in around him.
"Would you mind if I sat with you?"
Just as he was about to politely tell the stranger they could happily have his table, his eyes locked with a pair of warm chocolate ones. He pushed the chair across from him out with his foot as he nodded. "Please do."
"Are they offering vodka laced coffee or free iced drinks?" Her eyes darted around the coffee shop as if she were trying to solve an unsolvable puzzle as she spoke.
"I'm afraid it's just the draw of the free air conditioning that's bringing people in today."
"I should have guessed that. Stupid heat wave. Perhaps we could convince management to turn the air off long enough to send them packing."
He couldn't help but laugh at the musings of the small woman in front of him. He'd thought her slightly attractive from across the room where she hid in her books, but this close he realized how mistaken he'd been. She was beautiful, and he couldn't help but appreciate her sentiments on their invaded haven.
"I doubt it. They're probably enjoying the rewards being reaped in the cash register tonight."
She leaned forward and leveled him with a stern look. "You couldn't at least help me entertain my fantasy for a single moment?"
"I apologize," he told her smoothly as his fingers worked over his keyboard, saving his work. "Perhaps to make it up to you I could pull the fire alarm and send them all running?"
"Much better." Her laughter was soft as she eyed the seemingly endless line that led to the counter.
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
"Yes, I think so. I'll brave the line when there are two less people."
He smiled seeing the way her nose wrinkled when she was thinking. "Why don't you tell me what kind of tea you like and I'll call in a favor for you."
"Oh, you don't have to do that. I really don't mind waiting."
"I know, but it will be fun. Plus, you're a regular; you shouldn't have to wait for these crazies and their icy drinks."
"All right, if you're sure. I just want a passion berry tea with ice and two sugars," she said, reaching in her purse to remove her wallet. But before she could offer him the card, he was already leaned over the side of the pick up counter gaining the attention of a barista.
She watched his lean body bend across the counter as he placed her order with the barista, who barely spared him a second glance, busy as she was. She couldn't help but admire the view from behind that she had been given. From her angle at the table, she had a perfect view of the way his pants tightened around his ass as he bent over. It almost made her glad that someone had stolen her chair.
At that thought she mentally reprimanded herself. She barely knew the man she was ogling. With the way he tapped away on his computer constantly she wouldn't doubt if he were some crazy theorist who spent his spare time calculating the exact time and date the world would end.
She snorted aloud at her own ridiculousness. It was harmless to allow herself enjoy a good conversation over her evening tea. And if the conversation sucks, well, the view more than made up for it, she thought idly as she ran her thumb over her ring finger. Even a year after taking them off, it still surprised her to find her finger empty.
She sighed as the heaviness rose inside of her and she began to second guess herself. She had been pretending all day that it was just another day. She was praying the decision wouldn't come back to haunt her until she was home, when she could dig out a pint of Ben and Jerry's and a bottle of wine and rehash the worst day of her life.
"I hope this is right."
The warmth of his breath next to her ear sent goosebumps down her arms as she looked up at him. "I'm sure it's perfect. Thank you, you didn't have to do that."
"It was my pleasure," he assured her, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he offered her a real smile. "I'm Edward, by the way."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Bytheway. I'm Bella," she teased him before taking a sip of her tea.
"Cute, funny, andsmart. I was unaware they still made them like that. You, my dear Ms. Bella, are a pearl in a sea of swine."
"Oh, Mr. Bytheway, you do know how to make a girl's heart swoon!" She giggled as she rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Besides, how is it you are so sure that I'm smart? I could secretly be as dumb as one of those new reality stars."
Edward laughed, and his eyes dropped to her book, which was lying on the table. He was surprised to see it was the same one he had seen her with the last time she'd been here two weeks ago. He was pleased he could discuss it with her. "Our Fault in the Stars. Are you enjoying it?"
She sipped her tea and then let out a small laugh. "It's a lovely and depressing book. You want so desperately to root for the characters, but you know that their young relationship is doomed before it even begins."
Edward sipped his coffee thoughtfully and nodded. For months he'd been watching her, stalking her reading habits and wishing he could discuss their shared books with her. Here was his chance right in front of him, and he couldn't pass it up. "It rips you in two and makes you feel empty."
Surprise and delight mingled on her face, and she nodded. "Absolutely. Books have made me sad before, but this one is so heart wrenching. They're so young. It's just a tragedy, and it makes me wish I could go out and cure cancer tomorrow."
"Perhaps if we put our heads together we can manage it," he offered her, with a quirk of his eyebrow.
Bella laughed, looking down at her book and shaking her head. "If only I had some sort of scientific knowledge. But I fear I left it all back in college with my last required course."
"Well, that's one better than me. I left it back in AP Chemistry. You've never met anyone happier to avoid another science class in his life than me."
Their laughter filled and warmed them both. Their eyes locked momentarily before they looked back down at their respective drinks. "What a crack team of cancer curers we are!"
He laughed and shook his head. "Is curer even a word?"
"It is now." She gave him what she thought was a stern look as she opened her book. "Now, you calculate when doomsday is coming, and pretend not to notice when I cry."
Her words made him chuckle as he eyed her curiously. He had been accused of many things with all the time he spent using his laptop. He was positive that was the first time he'd been accused of being a crazy theorist. She kept surprising him and he found himself even more intrigued by her.
The silence that fell between them as they went about their tasks was both comfortable and natural, as if they knew their counterpart was there should they need something.
Bella curled her legs under her and allowed herself to relax as she read, the fingers of her right hand tracing over the table in a mindless pattern as she lost herself in her reading. Months ago she had unthinkingly overbooked herself for the last week and a half, not wanting to allow herself time to dwell or wallow in the things of the past.
If she were being honest with herself, she would have to admit she didn't miss Jake in the way one would expect to miss one's ex-husband, but there were parts of marriage that she missed desperately. Recently, she had begun to suspect a dog would fill most of the voids she currently felt in her life.
The first months after leaving Jake, the transition from doctor's wife residing in a showpiece home to single woman in a shoebox apartment, were alarmingly easy. It was as if she had finally been granted a reprieve to be herself. She had loved Jake once upon a time, and she wanted to believe they could move past his unfaithfulness.
She had given up so many of her own freedoms and wishes to take on the socialite duties he had insisted were necessary. He had begged her to give up her career entirely, but they found a middle ground, and they agreed she would work until they began having babies. Children. The word made her throat constrict a little, despite her doctor's assurances she was capable of conceiving in the right conditions. She felt incomplete.
Jake's one weekend indiscretion gave him what she had been unable to give him for three years.
She felt the well of emotion rise in her chest, and she battled against it; she had spent the past nine months hiding in work, too ashamed of her failures to return her friends' calls, too raw to face Jake in divorce proceedings, giving him everything he asked for and refusing the court ordered alimony.
She once had been bursting full of dreams, but now she felt so empty, like she was a vast wasteland inside. She wanted more. She was growing weary of walking through life avoiding eye contact and dodging human interaction.
She focused back on her book. Hazel's story was too compelling to be missed, and tears shed over a story of fiction were much safer than the ones that would escape if she let go of all she was holding on to in her own life.
It took a little longer than usual, but Edward finally threw himself back into his work. He couldn't help stealing an occasional glance at the beauty before him, though. He wasn't sure why fate had decided to drop her into his lap, but he was grateful for it.
As he studied the variances in the greens he was using, trying to decide if it looked natural, his eyes locked on the figure across the table from him. Over the last months of observing her, he'd seen her cry on multiple occasions. He always felt a small tug at his heartstrings when he heard her small gasps and saw tears streaming down her cheeks.
But that was nothing compared to the sound that drew his attention now. This was like a gasp for air, and the sight before him broke his heart. Her body was shaking, the sobs racking her body. He wanted to rush around the table and pull her into his arms, but he knew they weren't familiar enough for that.
He saw her hand fisted on the edge of their table, and he closed his laptop to reach across the table to her. His fingers slid over the soft skin of her hand.
Her name sounded like a warm caress from his lips, and her hand unthinkingly turned toward his touch as he began to stroke her palm.
She wondered if she should pull away. She hardly knew him other than his coffee shop patronage, but for the first time in more than a year she felt alive.
It felt like hours had passed, but she slowly peeled her eyes open to look at him. She opened her mouth to apologize…or to say good-bye. She wasn't sure which, but a subtle shake of his head and a gentle squeeze silenced her. Something about his touch seemed to lift a weight off of her. She felt like she could stand up straight.
She gave him a small nod. "I'm okay," she assured him softly as she shifted in her seat and returned her attention to the fallen book in her lap. He took his cue and opened his laptop again, letting his eyes stray back to the greens on his screen.
Their hands remained intertwined, offering one another a silent line of communication; a lifeline of sorts that neither had realized they needed until that moment.
No promises were spoken; none were necessary in that moment. This connection was too new and tentative to speak of, but the touch filled them with the hope of what it could become.