First things first: HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PANCAKE!
This is for you. Because before you, my life was like a moonless night... or a pancakeless plate. Now you complete my breakfast. And I love you more than I love butter or syrup.
Tons of thanks to my Posh - for making this summary not sound creepy; to Chelle - for giving me the music that inspired this and that I listened to incessantly while writing; and to Lisa - for being there, being honest, being encouraging, and seeing.
I love you all. Endlessly.
Disclaimer: I own a love of doing things in 100-word drabbles. Ms. Meyer owns Twilight.
I think I'm being followed.
First, for my morning coffee. He was walking in as I was walking out.
Just a brush, elbows and arms, a hint of scent, tug of familiarity.
I didn't notice much about him, didn't need to. Slacks, button-down, black sneakers, a passing idea of copper hair.
But it was the same thing in line for lunch, that pull of the familiar as I turned my head to read a menu.
Two hours later at work, I could've sworn I saw those shoes, that shirt, a streak of hair, turning the corner when I emerged from the bathroom.
I'm not usually paranoid, don't usually consider myself crazy.
But I am being followed, and I know it.
Over the heads of coworkers and through the unstreaked glass of several offices, I saw him again.
Just a flash, a glimpse, enough to make me do a double-take.
Enough to grow suspicious.
There's no reason anyone would or should be following me, and maybe that's exactly why I'm so paranoid about it.
It doesn't make sense. It's out of place. Incongruous.
And it gets even worse when he drops three files, two letters, and a baby shower invite on my desk.
I stare after him long after he's walked away, his polite smile and that familiar smell lingering in his wake.
I'm not sure what to do with the idea that I'm being followed by someone I work with.
No, that's not right. I don't work with him. I'd have remembered that – remembered him.
But we at least work in the same place.
Perhaps he's new, a recent addition here.
Though that doesn't explain how smoothly he goes about things, like he knows exactly what he's doing, like it's routine, normal.
And I can't think of anything that explains the familiarity.
I run into him again at the junction of elevators in the lobby, our strides almost matching as we both head for the doors.
He's a half-step ahead of me, opens the nearest door and holds it. Leaving me no choice, really, but to go through it.
We brush again, and I inhale deeply, unsteadily.
My back is to him, but I'd swear I could feel him move as he exited the building behind me, our direction the same out here, too.
The sidewalks are crowded, as typical, and still he's a weighted presence behind me.
A trigger for paranoia.
At the subway staircase, I pause, worry for another second, and spin around.
"Are you following me?"
He looks surprised, startled.
But he recovers quickly, smirks.
"You've been following me all day." I say it like a lead-in for him to fess up, not a question.
"No, I haven't."
Still smirking, eyebrows up.
He has good teeth, dark brows.
"Look, just stop following me, okay?"
I leave it at that and turn back, continue down the stairs.
It's quiet a moment, as if he's pausing, thinking, then the rhythmic tap of his shoes on the steps behind me.
A little spooked now, I quicken my pace, try to dodge him in the crowd, lose him somehow.
But he's there, squeezing with me, against me, through the same door and into the same car.
Every bad thing I've ever heard about living alone in the city, every overcautious and overprotective warning from anyone, rushes back to me in an instant.
I shuffle my way to a pole, grab on to steady myself for the ride as much for my own thoughts.
He's across from me, mirroring my position almost exactly.
And staring straight at me.
"I'm not following you."
I pretend I don't hear him, pretend I'm not watching him out of the corner of my eye.
The train jerks to a stop and more people flood on; some of them file between us, blocking him from my sight.
It's almost a respite, except that I can still feel him, can still feel the pressure of his gaze as if I was looking right at him.
There's a thrumming in the air, a buzzing in my head and an energy under my skin that I can't figure out.
By our next stop and my next breath, he's closer again.
"Why would you think I'm following you?"
I ignore him.
"You don't recognize me, do you?"
That does the trick.
I look toward him, at him, study him, narrow my eyes.
There's nothing – just that insistent nagging that he's familiar. More than just a whisper or a tug now, it's constant, a fluttering in my stomach and a shiver along my spine.
I force myself to be cool, to look calm and unruffled. "I don't know, should I?"
It's fleeting and small and he buries it quickly, but with the way I'm watching him, I catch it.
I watch the doors avidly every time we make a stop. People get on, people get off, but he never disembarks.
"I live on Lexington."
Now I'm the one wincing.
"I live on Lexington."
"Yeah, because you're the only person allowed to live on that street." He snorts derisively. "You're not that special."
But the question only reaches his back, is left unanswered to hang in the air behind him. I can see him shaking his head, even as he pushes his way toward the very back of our car.
My annoyance almost overshadows my suspicions. Almost.
I exit without looking his direction, although he catches up. I feel him behind me on the stairs, hear that same tap of his shoes on concrete.
Aboveground, the sunshine is fading; my street is familiar, beautiful.
I close my eyes for a second, breathe deep of fresh air.
Fresh air, and him. He's close, and he smells good.
He seems to have paused with me, like we're in tandem, controlled by the same strings.
But it's quieter here – less cars, less people, and I start to sweat.
Just a little, just more than the subway or walking could cause.
We walk away from the subway much as we'd walked toward it earlier, his stride so in time with mine that he never pulls ahead or falls far behind.
Only the sidewalk isn't crowded here, and there's nothing to distract me from him. From the awareness of him, from the noise he makes – clothes rustling, sneakers thumping faintly against the ground, breathing quiet.
I catch glimpses of him in my peripheral, flickers of dark pants, a light shirt, bright hair.
All of it just makes me want to turn, to walk backward so I can watch him, take in details.
My curiosity of him, of that strange pull, makes me question my own sanity. Part of me wants to investigate it just to figure out why he's familiar.
Another part is still contemplating walking right on by my door.
But then, if he really is following me, wouldn't he already know where I live? Have done his homework and all.
I've worked my head into a mess when I feel him shift. Feel him drift away.
I don't have to make myself look – because I can't control that I do look, can't stop myself from it.
He's crossing the street.
I'm frozen, just watching him as he heads up the steps of a brownstone.
Which isn't surprising – brownstones dominate this street. No, the surprise comes when I realize his brownstone is almost directly across from mine.
I stop myself before I start wondering which windows are his.
I've gone from one end of the spectrum to the other, wanting to get away from him to wanting to get near him.
"Bye," he calls over his shoulder.
Like we know each other, like we're friends, like he didn't follow me all day.
Like I'm not twisted into a mess of confusion.
Tuesday starts with nothing new, except that I keep looking behind me, my senses extra alert.
But it's unneeded – there are no signs of him, no flickers or feelings.
By the time I have my morning caffeine in hand, I'm back to breathing normally.
And chuckling at how ridiculous I was yesterday.
At least, I am until I reach the café's doors.
Our eyes meet, his look appraising, teeth just barely showing in a smile. "You're always a couple minutes ahead, but I walk faster."
"It's the heels."
Annoyed that I said anything to him at all, I hurry outside.
I try to speed-walk the last few blocks to work, but he still catches up.
And this time he walks right beside me.
Panicked – just a little – I glance over and up, a quick inventory attributing his height as the reason why he has coffee and was able to catch me.
"Pretty morning," he comments before taking a sip from his cup.
I don't answer.
But my reasons for not answering are starting to grow faint.
Because he's weird, right? Because he's following me? Because he works in my building, lives on my street, and I don't even know him?
He holds the door open for me again; I try not to clench my jaw or give him the stink-eye as I go by.
He still smells good, and my body prickles in awareness as I pass him.
"You could say 'thank you,' ya know."
I take out my aggravation on the button for the elevators, pushing it more times than necessary.
It's quiet but for the noise of the city outside the doors, the mumblings of the building receptionist a few feet away, the steps of others coming to wait for an elevator.
I grit my teeth.
Now that I'm hyperaware, I see him everywhere.
Does he do nothing but hang around our floor, our offices, all day?
He drops my mail on my desk without a word, with barely a look.
I watch him go, just like yesterday.
There are several people he pauses in front of and talks with, leaning against their desks, chatting easily. Comfortably. Like he's been here a while, done it often – like it's normal.
Is that why he's familiar, how I know him?
But if he's been here as long as it seems, just how the fuck have I missed him?
I don't see him – not directly – for the rest of the day, and we don't talk in the elevator on the way down.
"Thank you," I tell him when he holds the door open for me this time.
Both his eyebrows raise – I notice because I'm looking at him as I walk by, watching his face. He seems surprised, and that just annoys me.
But it doesn't keep me from noticing his responding smile, or the fine creases it causes by his eyes.
Our elbows brush continually as we walk toward the subway.
And I don't move away.
He's standing close to me in the crowded car. I'm trying to distract myself by identifying the scent around him, what it is that smells so...
Alluring, drawing me in, making me want to nuzzle his neck, lick him.
I clear my throat and do my best not to even look at him.
He's so close that, when we jerk to a stop, he bumps into me, presses against me. Long body, soft cotton against my skin.
Simple awareness transforms into something more, and I feel myself flush.
He rights himself, but slowly. Leisurely.
And he doesn't apologize.
We're a good ten stops from our street, and we haven't spoken.
I tell myself it's not awkward, because I don't even know him. He's a stranger. Actually talking to strangers is what's awkward, not the opposite.
Though I repeat that several times, it never really feels true.
I'm debating between several things I could say, but he beats me to it.
"Did you just break up with someone?"
"What?" Caught off guard, my voice is too loud in the confined space.
That's highly personal. And highly accurate.
"Just wondering." He shrugs, but his eyes are sharp, perceptive.
That's not something you just wonder.
I want to tell him that, can't seem to get the words out.
It's weird that he would know that, but something is niggling at me. Something in the back of my mind.
"How do you know that?" I blurt, watching him.
He watches me back, eyes on mine, my mouth, following my hand as I push hair behind my ear.
"It's kinda obvious."
"What?" I think of the past weeks, if anything screamed that I'd ended a two-year relationship. "How?"
He shrugs again, a graceful movement of muscle and fabric. "You noticed me."
I don't say anything, too lost in my own world, in my thoughts.
He's hard to ignore, so I don't even bother. I study him, try to figure out what's bothering me, what's familiar.
He doesn't say anything, either. Not the rest of the subway ride, not once we're back in sunshine, not when we walk toward our respective houses.
Nothing, until the same goodbye from yesterday.
The friendly, casual, comfortable one that only confuses me even more.
I knew I'd lost focus on everything else around me while I was with Garrett, but this... No. It doesn't make sense.
He's not there when I leave with my coffee, when I walk toward the office. Not there to hold the door for me.
It'd been two days of that pattern, but somehow I'd already accepted it as routine.
And I'm actually disappointed that maybe it's not.
It's nearing lunch before he sets down my mail and I look up, startled – more by my reaction to him than his presence.
He blinks several times, licks his lips. "Hi."
But as we stare at each other, he starts to smile.
"I overslept, missed my train. Didn't really have time for coffee."
Maybe I'm flirting, maybe I'm crazy.
But I still seek him out and silently hand him a Styrofoam cup of coffee, freshly made in the breakroom.
He looks surprised, his smile genuine and warming something in me that no beverage ever has.
"Thank you." His eyes are soft, lingering, his lips looking even softer.
I smile back, want to run my hand up his arm, or across his chest, maybe his jaw, anywhere that would be touching him. I clasp my hands in front of me before I can do any of that, or anything else equally stupid.
My brownstone apartment is in sight before I've worked up the courage.
I turn in front of him and walk backward, slowing noticeably.
"How do I know you?"
He takes me in – head to feet, back up again – before answering, almost like he's considering. "You gave me your umbrella the day I moved in."
I try to remember it, and blank.
"When was that?"
"About a year ago."
I nod, everything making more sense.
"It was raining of course," he continues. "You told me I had poor planning abilities, and that I obviously needed an umbrella more than you did."
I'm shaking my head at myself when I realize we've stopped moving.
I shake my head again. "Was I with someone then?"
"I imagine it was the guy you just broke up with."
I look up at the wry smile in his voice, feeling a rush of shame that I'd been living next door to and working with this man for a year, and never noticed him before.
Conflicted, I can only whisper, "Probably."
"Well," he starts, soft. He's a warm presence beside me, and I lean closer out of instinct. "Bye."
I don't respond as he walks away.
"Do you still have my umbrella?"
His stride matches mine, slow and easy, and he's paused with his coffee cup halfway to his lips. He blinks at me a couple times, not saying anything – like he has yet to fully wake up.
But he's smiling.
"Good morning to you, too."
Fighting a smile of my own, I hold his gaze. "Do you?"
"Yes." Honest. Blunt. Unashamed.
I can appreciate that.
And I don't hesitate. "Why didn't you ever bring it back to me?"
"I'm not sure." He looks away, looks back. "I think I might be figuring that out, though."
"I'm telling you, hear just one of his dirty jokes, and you'll never look at him the same way again."
I giggle, pressing a hand against my mouth to stifle it.
It's Friday, I've known this man less than a week, and I couldn't imagine my day without the routine of him.
Without that weighted feeling of him beside me on the way to and from work, without seeing his sleepy eyes at the coffee shop.
Without the scent of him lingering at my desk long after he's left my mail.
Without his goodbyes at the end of the day.
I shuffle my feet, look over his shoulder, look at his neck. He hasn't shaved, and the shadow of scruff goes almost halfway down his neck, accentuating his Adam's apple, his jaw.
"So, um..." An image of his scruff – scratching along several different parts of my body – flashes through my head, making me falter.
I swallow thickly, try to remember what I was going to say.
But he's ahead of me again.
"It's going to be weird, not seeing you tomorrow."
"Yeah." I think of the past week, seeing him every day, of a lonely weekend. "It is."
This is the first time in probably ten years that I haven't known what to wear, that I've agonized over it for an hour.
I'm crossing the street and still debating if the casualness of worn jeans and a white top was the right way to go.
I don't even know his name, and yet he's making me freak out over my clothes.
Standing before the panel of buzzers and not knowing which is him, I realize not getting a name wasn't such a great idea.
How the hell am I supposed to get in touch with him now?
I could wait for someone to come or go and take my chances there.
I could leave, rethink my sanity and wait to see him on Monday.
Or I could press them all until I heard his voice.
I'm still thinking over my options when the door opens, scaring the shit out of me.
He pokes his head out, the rest of his body quickly following.
I smile, nervous but not.
Silently, he reaches in front of me, his arm just barely brushing my stomach as he indicates the second button on the right.
"I'm Edward Cullen, by the way."
His before-work and after-work routine mirrored mine for an entire year, our paths crossing daily, and I never noticed. He dropped off my office mail nearly every day, heard about me from coworkers, knew my name and history with the company, and I never saw him.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around that.
He made this really cute brunch-like spread – which we devoured in record time – and now we're sitting at the table, talking.
I can't remember the last time I just spent time talking to someone, having a conversation, enjoying myself like this.
"I'm sorry I didn't see you."
He leans elbows onto the table, focus on the leftovers sitting there. "Huh?"
His voice is distracted, and it's endearing somehow.
I clear my throat and repeat myself, louder.
He looks at me – really looks, staring for long seconds, eyes searching my face.
"When I think back on it, I don't even know what I was doing for the last year." The intensity grows, and I look away from him. "I don't know how I let it get like that."
He reaches across the table, touches his hand to mine.
"You see me now."
I've never had to fight someone to let me wash the dishes before.
"Please, Bella, I insist. It's my house."
"Yeah, but you cooked."
"But you're a guest."
"And you're being stupid." I look over my shoulder from the sink, daring him to protest again.
He reaches over me, adding another bowl, and I still.
Time slows, my breath stutters, my blood rushes, and there are only two options – move forward, or don't.
I stare at his mouth, knowing what I want, which option I'll go for, if he just leans in, leans closer, licks his lips.
And he does.
I'm so glad I went with a shirt that buttoned up the front.
Because it means I don't have to stop kissing Edward while he takes my top off.
We manage to make it as far as a hallway before getting distracted again.
"Bedroom," he mutters against my neck as I fight with his belt.
"It's a Saturday – why are you wearing a belt?"
"I can't remember."
I pull him back to my mouth, press myself close. "I like that answer."
He kisses his way down my chest, my fingers twisting in his hair. "I like the way you taste."
He has black sheets, a smattering of hair on his chest to match that on his lower abdomen, and he shaved this morning.
These are the things I notice.
I'm vaguely disappointed that I won't experience his scruff as I'd imagined yesterday, but I'll live.
Especially if he keeps touching me like that.
"God your sheets are soft." I stretch and flex, feeling the fabric rub against my skin below me, so much of him rubbing against me from above.
He slides down my body, kisses my inner thigh, and looks up at me with a smile. "They're jersey knit."
I've never checked out his butt. He's always walking beside me, so I've never had the chance.
But feeling it under my hands, feeling the power and control of his hips working, I think he must have a pretty amazing ass.
He mumbles something unintelligible, switching his attention from my chest to neck, then to my mouth.
Never slowing his pace.
I reach for his hair as we kiss, frantic, warm, and perfect. I can't really breathe, and I don't care.
Holding my eyes, he pulls away and grabs my hands, twining our fingers and pressing them into the mattress.
I'm sticky and sweaty, my cheek against his chest, his arm around me.
The only sound in the room is our breathing, loud and shallow.
I feel him kiss the top of my head, his grip tightening on me. I lift a leg over his and pull myself even closer, turning my face into him, just breathing him in.
He still smells so good.
Maybe this is too fast, maybe he's a rebound, maybe the universe was just waiting a year for me to open my eyes.
But it feels right.
Nothing else matters as much as that.