A/N: This is it! I've posted my first fic! This is the result of a plot bunny after someone on Twitter mentioned how cool it would be to have a RockClimbingWard. Well, here he is!
Huge thanks and hugs to my PTB betas, BelleDuJour, GossipLips and RaindropSoup. To my pre-readers TwiSNFan and Louisemc86: this would never have seen the light of day without you. I may have tweaked before posting, so all mistakes are mine.
I don't own Twilight. I do own a well-worn, dog-eared book of climbing quotes.
Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) - n. the most common system used to rate difficulty in the North America. Most technical rock climbing is rated on a scale of 5.0 to 5.15 with higher numbers representing harder climbs. Grades are generally subject to the weather, length of the route, the type of rock, and the whims of the first ascensionist.
Definition amended from rockclimbing dot com
Every first day is the same. Whether it's your first day of elementary school, your first day at high school, your first day at your new high school, first day at college, or your first day at your first real job, they are all the same. In climbing, if you're first, you get to name it and grade it. I call today, 'New Online Writer, Seattle Times': 5.12.
Today is rather different from my first day as a journalism student at the University of Arizona. For example at U of A, I wasn't having nearly this much trouble deciding what to wear. My reflection fidgets back at me—wide, brown eyes taking in my black pencil skirt and cream cotton shirt combo. U of A dorm room reflection was comfortable in skinny jeans, a tank top, and beaten up Chucks. Seattle reflection is wondering how the hell she's going to survive a day in these heels.
Deciding that my look is as good as it's going to get, I put on some light makeup, pull my long mousy-brown hair into a high ponytail, and stuff my high heels into my oversized purse before donning my Chucks. I wrap myself in a knit cardigan and hurry out of my two-bedroom apartment, locking the door behind me.
With my new favorite album filling the cab of my truck, I tap my so-short fingernails on the steering wheel. Said fingernails are like this due to my lifelong nervous habit of biting them, and out of necessity for my weekend endeavors. My palms are calloused and scratched. They bear the scars of ancient injuries, and a few recent ones. The lovely, silvery line across my right palm is evidence of a rope-burn I sustained as a senior in high school. I smile at the memory—one of my first outdoor trips with my Quileute friends on the Olympic Peninsula.
Growing up in Forks, Washington was a happy time. I was born there and lived in the small town with my parents until the age of seven, when they divorced. From there, I went to Phoenix with my mother, Renee, where we stayed until she remarried halfway through my junior year of high school. Then, my free-spirited, dizzy-as-a-wheel, dearest mother moved with new husband to Florida. It was then that I returned to the NorthWest to finish out my high school years with Charlie: Forks' Chief of Police, enthusiastic fisherman, and most importantly, my dad.
It was in Forks that I truly discovered my love of the outdoors. I had loved living in Phoenix, but growing up in the city meant that organized sports were the standard for physical activity, including one ill-fated semester of ballet lessons when I was nine. My inability to walk successfully across a flat surface without finding something to trip over, however, called for my participation to be limited to compulsory PE classes.
When I went to live with my outdoorsy dad, I found a passion in exploring the lush, green environment around Forks. Activities demanding hand-eye coordination not being my forte, I really grew into my own in the plethora of outdoor options the Northwest had to offer. Weekend hiking, camping, and exploring the beaches around La Push gave me exposure to things I found I could actually do. With the encouragement of my Native American friends, and supplemented by the income and staff discount I received at my after-school job at Newton's Outfitters, I discovered my true home. Where on the horizontal, flat pavements of the city I had two left feet, I found I could shine on the vertical, abrasive rock surfaces of the mountain cliffs in the Olympic Peninsula. There, on the rock, I was graceful, agile, and strong.
It's my love of the outdoors that has brought my back to Washington. After finishing my degree in Journalism in Arizona two years ago, I have spent my time travelling and blogging freelance for Arizona tourism websites. I've also written the odd article or two for various climbing and outdoor magazines.
When the perfect, permanent position became available at the Seattle Times, both me and my bank account rejoiced. So, that's how I'm now the proud, new, salaried web-writer for the Outdoors section.
The job has many perks. I get to write about what I love doing, and I can retain my somewhat-vagabond lifestyle by working from my home office in the second bedroom of my apartment or out on the road. I'm still expected to be in the office at least once a week for meetings, but this job gives me flexible working options. I think I'm going to love it.
I pull into the parking lot opposite my new employer's building. I wish it was quiet, but my truck gives a loud splutter-cough-BANG announcing my arrival. I swap my Chucks for a pair of black heels, open the door to the old Chevy beast with a creak, and shut it with another bang. Hitching my bag over my shoulder, I hurry through the mist and across the street in my heels, being mindful of the flat, yet highly unpredictable, pavement.
The security guard at the entrance checks my bag, and I'm issued a visitor's pass for today while my permanent one is made. I squeeze into the crowded elevator and meekly ask someone to press the button for the seventh floor.
The receptionist—who barely managed to draw her eyes from her open Facebook page—directs me to take a seat, where I wait for my new boss. I have read some of Tanya Denali's work online, and I am very impressed.
"Bella Swan?" I hear my name, punctuated by the click-clack of heels on the polished floor. Looking up, I see a tall, strawberry-blonde woman walking toward me, her smile wide and hand outstretched in greeting. I rise to my feet and offer my best first-day smile in return. "I'm Tanya. We're so happy to have you here at The Seattle Times."
"It's great to meet you, Tanya," I reply. Even in my heels, I have to look up to meet her ocean-blue eyes. "I'm really excited to be here."
Tanya gestures for me to follow her through the double doors, asking me about my trip into work and how long it took me to get here. We walk into a large, loud open office space separated into partitions containing four desks each. Closed-off offices flank the open area, which I assume are for the senior writers and editors. Tanya click-clacks into one of these offices and directs me to sit in a red leather chair opposite the large, mahogany desk in the center of the room.
"We've seen some of your work online," Tanya starts, looking at her computer. I shift in my seat. "You're already well established as a travel writer, and the references you provided in your resume are quite impressive. You're quite comfortable in that medium, aren't you." It was more like a comment than a question.
I clear my throat. "I did quite a bit of writing for the college p pa paper when I was at U of A, but found I was better suited to online. I found I could work well on the fly when I was out and about." During my time freelancing, I regularly took notes and captured sound-bites as the inspiration struck me on my digital recorder. "One of my favorite things to write about is the people I meet during my outdoor pursuits, and the stories they tell."
Tanya nods at me with a smile. "I'm the same," she says. "You can capture your view of the experience, but I find the stories from people really make the experience so much richer for the reader." I nod in agreement. I'm beginning to feel much more comfortable. Tanya and I seem to be on the same page in regard to our journalism ethos.
We talk a little more about our loves for travel and the outdoors. While my passion lies on the rock and in the mountains, Tanya is more of a water enthusiast. She tells me of her most recent experiences, surf kayaking and kite-surfing off the Californian coast. She shares a few grumbles about the cold weather of the Northwest. Taking her in, I can see how that might bother her—she's got the classic, sun-kissed surfer-girl look down to a tee.
"Now, as we discussed over the phone, we expect you in the office for weekly meetings, and on other odd occasions. Other than that, you're free to work from home or your mobile office," she says with a wink. We both know that in our field, 'mobile' means wherever you can find a semi-flat surface and Wi-Fi. "On your office days, you're welcome to set up at one of our hot-desks. We'll get to those in a minute." Tanya stands and heads for the door, motioning me to follow. "But first, let me introduce you to the team."
I follow Tanya toward a cubicle. "I'm so glad to have a little more estrogen on the team," she says over her shoulder, as she click-clacks her way to the cubicles. "I mean, the guys are great, but it'll be nice to even things out a bit, y'know?"
From my interview and our chat this morning, I decide that I quite like Tanya. She's personable, warm, and very easy to talk to. Her laid-back, California-like attitude is rather like what I'm used to finding in people that spend much of their lives outdoors. She does appear to like the finer things, though—her perfect manicure is evidence of that.
Throughout the morning, I'm introduced to my team. I attend my first meeting with the Travel and Outdoors group. They are, as Tanya pointed out earlier, all male, with the exception of Tanya and me.
I meet Eric and Alec, who look after the Seattle and Washington guides. They're both Seattle locals, born and bred.
I'm then introduced to James, who will also be working on the Outdoors section with me. James tells me that he loves hiking and hunting, all the while running his eyes from my head to my toes, with a pause at the level of my cleavage. It gives me the creeps. I wonder what kind of 'hunting' he's talking about.
Tanya calls in Marcus and Eleazar via Skype, from British Columbia and Portland respectively. They are quiet and offer little to the mostly Seattle-centric conversation. Later, Tanya tells me, she'll introduce me to our European correspondent, Liam, who works from his Irish base.
All in all, it seems like a great team. I'm told our work is supplemented by some freelancers that write for the paper and blogs. The thing that blows me away the most is that one writer, Waylon, is dedicated solely to writing about fishing. I'm sure Charlie is familiar with his work.
After lunch, Tanya gives me time to settle in and do some online research. I've kicked my shoes off where I'm seated at one of the hot-desks near the Lifestyle writers. I open my laptop and blow across the top of my Venti Cinnamon Dolce Latte, and before I can start, I'm interrupted by a head peeking over the partition. Well, the top of a spiky black head, at least.
"Hi there!" A cheerful, musical voice interrupts me. "It's Isabella, right?"
I nod in the direction of the spikes. "Yes," I reply hesitantly. "But Bella is fine." I still have no idea to whom I'm speaking. The spikes move to the edge of the cubicle and I see they're attached to a small woman with a large smile on her face.
"I'm Alice," she tells me. "I write freelance for the Fashion section. I'm sorry I missed your meet and greet earlier—I've been out researching for the Fall Fashion Festival. You're in Tanya's team, right? That's really great. The guy who was here before you was only interested in writing about hunting and catching your own food, Bear Grylls style. He didn't say much when he was in the office. Oh, wait, you don't like catching your own food, do you? 'Cause then I may have just offended you. If I did, I'm really sorry. Anyway, it's great to meet you!"
I blink. I'm sure I look stunned. I know I feel stunned. This chick is a total whirlwind. Looking at her, it's logical that she writes fashion. Her whole look is so well put together—from her pixie-cut hair, to her short black shift dress with purple accents, little black blazer and sky-high plum shoes. Her look is business-corporate, and very, very stylish.
"Um, thanks, " I begin with a smile. Word vomit or no, something makes me want to talk to this girl. She's definitely honest. "And no need to worry about the whole hunting thing—it's not me. I prefer my food pre-caught."
Alice theatrically wipes her brow. "Thank God!" she says. "Are you originally from Seattle?"
"Born in Forks, about four hours away." I take a sip from my latte before continuing. "I've been living in Tucson for the last few years though. I studied at University of Arizona. I just moved back to Washington a month ago."
"Cool," Alice comments. "Well, it's fabulous to meet you. I have to run, but we'll do lunch when I'm back in the office next week? I just know we're going to be great friends."
"Sounds great, Alice. Thanks." I smile back at her. I could definitely do with a friend or two in Seattle. While I still know some of the guys back in Forks, most of my social activities of late revolved around my Arizona roommate, Angela, and my times out on my own.
She grabs her bag from her desk with one hand and gives me a wave with the other before heading toward the reception area. I watch the small, intriguing woman walk away from me. Yes, I definitely could do with some friends in my new city.
My first day has been good, but I really need to clear my head. My brain is fried—filled with the new people, information, and thoughts of my new job. I'm still getting my head around the structure of the web page, and trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to fit into the shoes of Mr Hunt-Kill-Eat.
I park my truck a few doors down from a large, three-story warehouse. From the street, it's pretty unassuming. In fact, if it wasn't for the small sign by the door, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a regular warehouse. As I push through the doors to what I can see becoming my second Seattle home, I sigh. I'm in heaven.
The warehouse is pretty much open from the floor to the ceiling, three stories up. The walls are dotted with various multi-colored, molded plastic shapes. Ropes hang from the ceiling at intervals, and are bolted to the floor. Small clusters of people are working the ropes at floor level, or are suspended at varying heights along the walls. Rubber mats lie on the floor along the length of the walls.
Directly to my left is a long counter. Behind the counter, I can see a small room with shelves stacked high and full of shoes and chalk bags. There is a glass-front refrigerator stocked with water and Gatorade, the colors of the liquid reflective of the hand-holds on the walls. Shelves directly behind the counter are filled with snacks and protein bars. Looking to my right, below the mezzanine floor, is a closed off space with a door, above which rests a sign advertising 'RMC Sports Massage.'
I found this place on an online climbing forum. It appears the owner wanted to distinguish himself from the big, flashy climbing gyms usually found in busier parts of town. This is the fourth night in the past week I've been in—it's a refreshing change from the Lycra-filled institutions I've visited with former acquaintances in the past. It's grungy, smells like chalk and sweat, and right now, it's exactly what I need.
"Hi again." I'm greeted by an olive-skinned guy with dreads. "Climbing or bouldering* this evening?"
I hand over my money. "Bouldering. Thanks." Given I'm here without a partner, and not really into solo-climbing, I'm keeping it close to ground level.
Dreads guy opens the gate for me and I head for the locker rooms to change out of my work clothes. Stripping down, I'm far more comfortable in my three-quarter leggings, sports bra, and red fitted tank top. I cover up with a zip-up hoodie to warm up in. I stuff my bag into a locker, taking the key, and dangle my red chalk bag and climbing shoes from my fingers. The shoes are tight enough, without having to try wearing them for longer than I need to.
The bouldering cave is on the mezzanine level, and takes up a third of the area available. I'm glad that, being early on a Monday evening, it's quiet. I appear to have the cave all to myself. After I flop on the thick mats that cover the cave and start to work through my stretches, I let my mind wander.
I used to hit the climbing gym near my dorm room in Arizona with my roommate Angela, her boyfriend, Ben, and my then-boyfriend, Tyler. It didn't take long for the four of us to make more friends there. Soon, we had a great little group that would catch up twice a week.
Sitting on the mat and stretching out my hamstrings, I make a mental note to check out the notice board on my way out. Unless I want my future climbing endeavors to be limited to bouldering, I need to see if there's anyone looking for a climbing partner.
Squishing my feet into my red Five Tens that are really a size too small to truly be comfy for extended periods of time, I stand up and shake out my arms. First things first—warm up.
I breathe out, place my chalk-covered hands on two handholds in front of me, and I'm home. I'm not going to tackle any planned routes on my warm up. I'm just focusing on getting my arms, fingers, and legs warmed up. I move easily around the cave from left to right.
I reach, grasp, pull, shift, and push my way all the way around the cave. I spider along the roof at the back of the cave and loop my way back to the door, before scaling my way back the other way and to my starting holds. Hopping down on my feet, I stretch out my forearms, wriggle my fingers, and eyeball the intermediate-grade blue pieces of plastic that have been the bane of my existence for the last three nights.
When I've attempted this route before, it's usually been after running through several easier routes beforehand. Tonight, though, I'm determined to nail it. I'm tackling it fresh, and quite frankly, the bitch is going down.
Gripping the pebble-sized shape at shoulder-height with my right hand and the larger, knot-like hold at waist height in my left, I set my feet in place on the corresponding blue holds on the wall. Eyeing the next hold, I reach to my right, using my right foot as an anchor. When I have my grip secured, I switch feet, and the wall and I begin our dance.
The holds are smaller on the easier, vertical surfaces of the cave, calling for finger dexterity and forearm strength. Along the ceiling, the anchor points are larger and jug-shaped. Both place all sorts of pressure on my forearms as I try to cling to the ceiling like a spider monkey.
An hour later, after many hits to the floor and two bottles of water, I find myself looking at the crux move. My forearms are pumped, my fingers are rubbed raw, my feet are pinched in my shoes, and my tank top clings to me, drenched in sweat.
Taking a deep breath and exhaling, I close my eyes and send a silent prayer to the gods of chalk and plastic. I focus everything on the last reach, mentally rehearsing what my body has been practicing for nights. I'm desperate—regardless of the outcome, this is my last attempt for tonight.
I coil the muscles in my legs… and lunge. My fingers clasp around the piece of blue plastic and hold there. I swing my right leg across, securing it, before adjusting my balance and moving past the barrier that has bound me for the past few evenings.
A few easy moves later, and I tap out triumphantly on the last piece of blue plastic before hitting the mat below with a thwack.
I lie on the mat, breathing heavily and looking up at the ceiling of the cave. My head is clear, but my body is exhausted. My stomach grumbles, reminding me that I haven't eaten since lunch and I'm famished.
I look at my hands, taking in my war wounds. Despite my efforts tonight, I haven't opened any of the blisters of the last few nights, and I only have a few scratches to add to the collection. I free my feet of their confines and slide my flip-flops back on, wriggling my toes in freedom.
I bundle up my belongings, too hot to put my hoodie back on, and head out of the cave, passing the shorter routes set up along the mezzanine on my way back to the stairs. There are a few more people here than when I came in straight after work.
I hear a male voice shout and the tinkling laughter of a female, and look to see a group of four gathered at the base of a route next to the stairs back to the ground floor.
This wall is painted red, with the Coca-Cola logo splashed along its length. Two top ropes are set up. A tall, slightly lanky, blond guy stands on the floor at the bottom of one rope, hands poised on the wall. On the other rope, is a tall, lean, blonde-haired woman. On belay for the man is a huge guy with dark curly hair, and for the woman, a tiny, black-haired pixie who looks remarkably familiar.
The group, shrouded in intense conversation, appears to be making bets. Intrigued, but knowing better than to distract someone on belay, I decide to wait until they're done.
The big guy's voice booms. "OK you two, you ready?" The blonde heads nod. "On my count—ready, set, GO!"
The two blonde-headed climbers take off up the wall at speed, and to the encouragement of the big guy and pixie at the bottom of the wall.
The blonde guy is long-limbed, strong and aggressive. He scrambles up the wall, barely taking advantage of his full reach. The girl is a little more calculated, using her legs to propel her as high as she can with each reach, only using her hands for balance. What she lacks in raw pace, she makes up for in finesse.
The two hit the ceiling at pretty much the same time to cheers from the pair on the floor. The whole thing is pretty funny to watch, and I am unable to hold in a laugh, particularly, because two grown adults are bickering like children as they are lowered to the ground.
"Rose, admit it, I beat your ass," the guy is saying. The girl called Rose is not going down without a verbal fight.
"No chance, Jazz. It was me all the way!"
Jazz isn't buying it and seeks confirmation from the belays, who are shaking with laughter. He turns to them. "Emmett? Alice? Come on, give it to us straight."
That's why she looked familiar. Alice is shaking her head. "Sorry, baby, it was too close to call. Rematch, maybe?"
Rose is turning on the big guy, who I now recognize from the last few nights as Emmett, the owner of RockFace Climbing Gym. She arches a perfect eyebrow at him in question, but he's not taking sides either. "Sorry, Rosie. You know I'd love to say it was you, but it really was too close to call. I gotta be fair to my boy here."
Rose and Jazz have unclipped and are preparing the ropes for the next climbers. "Next time I'm taking you down, baby brother," Rose addresses the blond man.
"Baby brother?" Jazz cries. "Four freaking minutes, Rosalie. Are you ever going to let it go?"
I laugh harder. Alice turns and sees me standing near the stairs. "Bella! Hey!" she calls, dancing toward me.
"Hi, Alice," I say in greeting. "You didn't strike me as a climber."
Alice nods her dark head enthusiastically. "I am to a degree, but not as much as these guys." She gestures toward the three that are making their way over. "Particularly at this time of year, anyway. I'm much happier on belay. Don't want to mess up my nails," she waves her manicure at me with a wink. Placing her hands on her hips, she continues. "I didn't know you came here."
I smile. "I found this place when I was out walking last week. I live just a few blocks away." I gesture over my shoulder.
I look back to see the others have joined us. "Hey, Chalky!" Emmett addresses me. He's decided this name suits me because the blue-holded bitch in the cave that's been taunting me for the last three nights is called Chalked Up and Choked. This is pretty much how I've looked, and what I've done every time I've attempted it. "You look happy. Did you finally tick* that boulder?"
I nod enthusiastically, my grin adding volume to my words. "Yes! Finally! I thought it was going to kill me, but I finally nailed it." I return the high five offered with a chalky hand.
Alice directs me to the two I haven't yet met. "Bella, this handsome man is my boyfriend, Jasper." I shake the hand reaching toward me, returning the smile.
Alice continues. "And this is his sister, Rosalie. Rose is Emmett's wife. She owns the sports massage place downstairs." Rosalie offers me a small wave as she appears to size me up. I return her wave, somewhat awkwardly.
"Care to join us, Chalky? I can ask Laurent to hook you up with a harness if you don't have one with you," Emmett says.
I shake my head. "Thanks for the offer, Emmett, but I'm fried." The burn is building in my forearms, and my legs are starting to feel like jelly. I need a hot bath. "I'm going to head home. I'll catch you later in the week, though?"
He nods. "Definitely. This lot will likely be back in on Thursday. One of us can belay, if you'd like a real climb."
It's been a few weeks since I've had any form of elevation, so I nod my agreement before saying my goodbyes. In the change rooms, I throw on my hoodie, leaving it unzipped, and stuff my climbing gear into my bag. As I walk towards the doors and pull them open, I'm thinking about a big bowl of leftover pasta for dinner.
A whoosh of cold air hits me at the same time a solid wall of person does. Being the classy, coordinated kind of girl I am, I hit the ground with an expletive. My stuff scatters as I go sprawling.
"Can't you at least watch where you walk?" a smooth voice snaps at me, as icy as the night air.
I'm about to return the sentiment when I look up into the greenest pair of eyes I've ever seen. These eyes are not only green, but cold—and they are shooting invisible daggers directly at me.
The asshole in question is topped with brown hair which is tinged in red and maybe a touch of gold. It's a true testament to his eyes that I noticed them before the rest of his tall, toned body. When I do notice his body, there's no stopping my eyes running across his business shirt-covered, defined chest. Rock climbing guys' bodies … there's really nothing like them. This one is clearly a climber.
Broad, strong, muscled shoulders are hidden beneath a long-sleeved, button-down white shirt. His forearms—which are on full view, thanks to rolled-up sleeves—are lightly dusted with brown hair and ripple with roped muscles. They are further defined by veins that are more pronounced below the surface of his skin.
Then, there are his hands. They are large, but I can't see his palms, which would confirm or deny my suspicions about whether he climbs or not. His hands are balled into fists.
Shaking my head and taking in my surroundings, I notice that this perfect specimen of man has planted me firmly on my ass in front of a bunch of people. I'm humiliated, and when I'm humiliated, I get angry.
"It takes two to tango, asshole," I retort. I begin to sweepingly gather my strewn stuff. Aforementioned asshole is still standing there, glaring at me.
"And he doesn't even offer to help," I mutter under my breath. "Ever heard of fucking manners?"
Still grumbling, I continue stuffing my things into my bag. Zipping it up furiously, I rise to my full height. I still have to look up; my full height barely reaches his chin. I stare him straight in the eye, and scowl at him. The man looks back, his expression giving nothing away. Then, he smirks.
Of all the arrogant... Now, I'm fuming.
I continued to stare into his eyes, which now appear to show mild amusement. I try to even my breathing, my insides fluttering and heart flying. Despite my unbridled anger, there's something else going on in my body. I find myself looking at his lips, which are full. He has a day's growth on his chin, and I can't help but wonder what it feels like.
Something about him draws me in, yet at the same time screams: stay away.
I exhale, unsure of how long I have been holding my breath, and remind my feet to move. I make a show of stepping around the asshole-slash-god and walk steadily toward the door. He still hasn't moved.
As I whip the door open, I feel a prickle on the back of my neck. I chance a peek over my shoulder, where the asshole is standing at the counter. Again, he smirks.
Dammit, he caught me looking.
I narrow my eyes back at him, feeling the blush rising on my cheeks. Hoisting my bag higher still on my shoulder, I stalk through the door and head toward my car.
All the way home, I think of sharp, green eyes. I consider having a cold shower in place of my hot bath.
A/N: So, that's it! I don't yet have a posting schedule in mind—my life tends to be ruled by my two little ones. I'll post when I can. I've never written fanfiction before, and I'd really love to know what you think. Leave me something and let me know?
A few definitions:
Tick: A climbing term used to indicate successfully completing a climb, without the aid of guideropes or the ground.
Bouldering: Climbing that is done low to the ground and without ropes. You tend to move horizontally (traverse), rather than vertically. Without a mat, though, it still hurts when you fall.