Their first encounter is brief: minute, insignificant, forgettable.
At least it should be. Over 251,000 commuters utilize the Chicago Transit Authority's Red Line on an average day, making it one of the most frequently traveled rails within the city. The passengers are always the same, slaves to the routine of a meaningless life. Most work. Some work harder, while others choose to waste away. Regardless of their purpose, or lack thereof, all of them slowly decay.
Among the quarter of a million nameless faces is a girl, fresh out of college and eager to take on the world... or so she would like you to believe. Bella Swan cautiously takes the stairs down to the platform one at a time. The music of a street performer can be heard in the distance, overshadowed only by the sound of an oncoming train. Most around her begin to rush, but not Bella. She's careful not to stumble in her brand new pair of designer heels. She'll catch the next one, she decides. A transplant from the University of Washington, Bella has an image to keep up, no matter how much the inherent clumsiness tries to hold her back.
She works hard. Too hard. After placing at the top of her graduating class, Bella landed a job at one of the most prestigious public relation firms in Chicago. Determined to climb to the top of the corporate ladder, she has changed everything about herself. She no longer wears the beloved pair of Chuck Taylors from her sophomore year of high school, and loungewear is strictly forbidden outside of her cozy apartment. She eats healthy, works out, and even has a line of credit for emergencies—the last of which pertained directly to the contents of her new closet.
Bella refuses to be held back, whether it be by herself or anyone else.
A boy, barely twenty-five years old, fingers the final chords of a song written only last night. Long auburn hair covers his eyes. An overgrown beard disguises his pale face. His clothes are tattered and worn, as if they haven't been washed in days. He notices the young debutant, but she pays him no mind. Bella works too hard for her money to even consider sparing a couple of bucks for the beggar, no matter how talented he might be.
And talented he is. She can admit it. The second day Bella sees him playing in the station, he's harder to ignore. Her mind begins to wander. What's his story? He's homeless, no doubt. She swears his clothes are the same as they were the day before. Maybe a war veteran? There are always stories on the news of soldiers returning from the middle east with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. Is his music masking some sort of physical or emotional turmoil?
Probably not, she decides. He's probably just lazy.
Bella watches as he winks at a college-aged strawberry blonde, never missing a note. The girl slips a couple of carefully folded bills into his guitar case, and unbeknownst to Bella, a phone number too. Again the workaholic can't imagine parting with even a dollar of her hard earned cash, especially knowing he'll probably use it to buy drugs or booze. He's an addict, she decides. The creative minds always are.
She isn't completely wrong. While Edward probably will buy booze with the money from the co-ed, he isn't an addict. But he is a typical twenty-five year old male, and it is a Friday night, after all. Playing the platform at Monroe station over the past couple of days has given him a pretty good haul. It's been a good week, one worthy of an even better weekend. He decides he might even call the digits in his case to celebrate. Blondes aren't exactly Edward's type, but they get the job done.
He prefers brunettes.
The one standing in front of him, for example. He noticed her yesterday; she was hard to miss. Sexy, sophisticated, and completely out of his league—he'd be lying if he didn't admit her to be his primary reason for playing the same location two days in a row. Edward doesn't usually enjoy a challenge, but for the slender woman eyeing him as if he were a part of some sort of sideshow, he might make an exception.
He winks again. This time his charm is directed at Bella. She's becoming more visually appealing to him with every passing moment, and Edward can't help but notice the way her blush creeps all the way down to meet a low-cut top as she scurries carefully toward an arriving train. Again he commits her face to memory, knowing he'll definitely be back on this same platform next week. He checks his watch for a reference; the time is 6:45.
Their weekends pass quickly, albeit in very different ways. Bella spends most of her time at the office. She's working on the latest press releases, eager to make another good impression at Embry & Black. Last month the boss had given her a hefty bonus for all of her hard work. This month she's aiming for a promotion instead. The first of many, she hopes.
Edward wastes his weekend. He's either intoxicated or recovering from the effects. On Saturday night he calls the blonde; it's a mistake his best friend won't let him live down anytime soon. But they don't fuck, luckily. He's too immature, she's too clingy. He realizes this half way through their aggressive make-out session—the only way he can get her to shut up, or so he thought—when the word relationship is muttered as if it's something he might be remotely interested in. He politely tells her he isn't looking for anything serious, only a good time. It seems less asshole-ish than telling her in the morning, but the stinging slap across his face leads Edward to believe she might disagree.
Talk about a mood killer.
Relationships aren't really Edward's thing. They're too much work. Oddly enough they aren't really Bella's either. She's too busy, too committed for anything other than the occasional weekend fling. And Edward... he's too noncommittal for anything other than a meaningless fuck. One might argue they would make the perfect pair, fuck buddies, or even just friends.
They're opposite in every way. For Bella, success is the key to happiness. It's the reason she wakes up early every morning, dresses to the nines, and complies with her boss's every request. She's sacrificed friendships and familiarity in hopes of starting anew, leaving Washington state and an ailing father who despite working his whole life could never quite get ahead.
Charlie Swan wants more for his daughter. He hates himself for all of the times when they could barely afford dinner, and all of the frigid winter nights his daughter slept without heat. Officer Swan's ex-wife took everything when she left: the money, the credit cards, and even most of their furniture. The only thing she left behind was their three year old daughter, never to be heard from again.
And Bella wants more for herself. She wants to be happy, though Edward would probably insist she's going about it the wrong way. Success doesn't make you happy. Happiness makes its own success.
At least that's what he thinks.
It's Sunday evening when they meet again. Edward is on the platform gathering his thoughts after a particularly excruciating Sunday brunch. His parents have reconciled again, and while that might be good news for some, for Edward it only means collaborative attacks rather than individual criticizing. Music is his escape, and he's been playing for hours. He chooses the station at Monroe and State because of her, but knows seeing the brunette is unlikely during the weekend. The lonely street musician assumes she's at home, or possibly out to dinner with a boyfriend. For some reason, the thought lingers with him far longer than it should.
Just as Bella puts the finishing touches on a press release for next month's cancer benefit, Edward decides to call it quits for the night. He plays one last song before putting his prized acoustic back into its case, gathering the small fortune accumulated by passing travelers. Bella, less cautious in flats than she would be in her three-inch heels, hears the train approach from a distance and begins to rush down the stairs to the platform. It's the weekend, after all, and the trains don't run as often as they do during the week. The last thing she wants to do is spend the next seven minutes waiting alone for a train in downtown Chicago.
Edward latches the final buckle of his hardshell case just as Bella's hands and knees meet the dirty concrete with a small yelp. "Shit," he mutters, hearing a woman trip. He runs over to assist, having no idea of the tripper's identity until his hands are already helping her up and he's spoken. "Are you okay?"
Bella glances up, red with embarrassment. She's fine, minus the humiliation that accompanies tripping over your own feet. Edward isn't entirely convinced. He steadies her, gently taking his time and trying hard not to let his hands linger on her waist. His smile is warm and sincere, and it's the first time Bella actually notices him.
Edward is a very handsome man. He's trimmed the beard since Friday, and his piercing green eyes leave her momentarily unable to speak. It's only after a few seconds that she manages to offer a sincere thanks.
"I think I'm okay." Her eyes drift from the stranger to the guitar case no more than ten feet away. It's being carried hurriedly onto the departing train. "Hey! Isn't that yours?"
Edward turns in horror just as the automatic doors begin to shut. He sprints toward the train anyway, screaming obscenities the entire way. It's too late. The train begins to roll, taking his cherished guitar with it. Its thief makes an inappropriate hand signal from behind the glass as if he's invincible... and he is. Over a quarter of a million people ride the subway in Chicago every day. No matter how hard Edward tries to remember the bastard's face, chances are that he'll never see the thief or his guitar again.
"Fuck!" Edward snaps, repeatedly punching a nearby concrete support beam. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!"
"Oh my God! I'm so sorry!" Bella doesn't know what else to say. She knows it's all her fault, and the thought of a poor street musician losing his only source of income is enough to bring tears to her eyes.
"I've had that guitar for seven years!"
"Don't worry! I'll pay for it, I promise. And I can get your dinner too. And rent you a hotel for the night, so you'll have a safe place to stay..."
Edward pauses. It's only then that he notices the blood on his knuckles... and the pain. Still he can't help but smile. "Wait. You're going to what?"
"You're..." Bella trails off, suddenly unsure. The blush is back, and Edward definitely notices. "You're homeless. Aren't you?"
It's so absurd, he can't help but laugh. "What makes you think that?"
Bella wonders where she should start. The whole situation is mortifying, and the last thing she wants to do is offend him any more than she already has. She's tempted to bolt up the stairwell to avoid his line of questioning altogether, but given her track record she decides it might not be the best method of escape.
"You're... begging. For money."
His smile morphs into a grimace. "Oh, come on! I don't sound that bad... do I?"
"No! Of course not! You're actually really good."
"So what makes you think I'm homeless?"
"Your... clothes... hair... face..."
Bella rolls her eyes. "The beard. You know what I mean."
"I do. But I fail to see how any of this—" He gestures toward himself "—makes me homeless."
He shrugs. "Not really."
She purses her eyebrows. "Not really?"
"I'm Edward, by the way."
The way he changes the subject doesn't escape Bella's notice, but she chooses not to press the matter. He's probably already offended enough, and she still feels terrible about the stolen guitar. It's kind of ironic. Two days ago she wouldn't have parted with even a dollar for the musician in the metro station, but now she's willing to buy him an entire instrument—possibly one even nicer than the one stolen.
She offers him a petite hand to shake. "Bella."
"Well despite the circumstances it's nice to meet you, Bella. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. I promise. Probably better than you at this point."
Edward knows this is probably true, but he chooses to bite his lip. "I'm sure I'll get over it."
"I really will pay for the guitar. I insist."
Again, she makes him smile. He doesn't want her to pay for the guitar; it isn't her fault he was irresponsible with it. "No you won't. It's fine. I actually had a pretty lucrative day today."
"Gee, and that makes me feel better."
"You know what might make me feel better?"
"What?" She listens intently, willing to do almost anything to right the situation.
"I'm starving, Bella. Do you want to go get some dinner?"
She doesn't expect him to be so forward, and she isn't exactly polite. "No."
"No? But you just said—"
"I said I'd buy you dinner. I wasn't trying to make it a date."
"Which reason do you want? For starters I don't know you, and I'm still not convinced you have a permanent address."
He interrupts her. "I do."
"Right. But we only met five minutes ago in what might as well have been a dark alley. If I say yes, what guarantee is there that I won't end up some Dateline NBC special? You'll probably chop me up into a million pieces and throw me into some dumpster."
"But not the one I live in, right?"
"See? You aren't even trying to deny it!"
He doesn't even try to hide his grin. Despite the circumstances, it's clear his mood is improving. "You can relax. If I'm going to murder anyone, it's going to be the guy who stole my guitar."
"But murdering me is convenient. Hell, you probably wanted to murder blondie from the other day too but couldn't get her alone."
His stomach turns at the mention of the blonde yapper, but he continues to laugh anyway. Edward realizes Bella has been paying more attention to him than he originally thought, and it's almost as much attention as he's been giving her. "Believe me, Bella, getting Tanya alone was pretty easy after a couple shots of Jack. And in case you're wondering, I did want to murder her by the end of the night... but only so she'd shut up."
Bella's jaw drops, and a disgusted gasp escapes. She rolls her eyes, trying to mask the tiny amount of jealousy threatening to reveal itself. She can't believe that for a second, she actually thought Edward might be a decent guy. Clearly he's not if he treats women as if they're a dime a dozen.
"Seriously? I can't believe you." She turns to walk away, but the next train hasn't arrived yet, and there aren't very many places to hide.
"Will you loosen up a little?" He doesn't even know why he's saying it. It's not like he answers to a stranger in the subway. Unless... "Wait, are you jealous?"
"God, no!" She answers a little too quickly. "Believe me, the last thing I want right now is a relationship."
"Is that a generalized statement? Or something you only direct toward vagrants in the subway?"
The words are out of his mouth before he even realizes he's said them, and he doesn't know where they came from. It's not like he wants a relationship either, but he'd be lying if he said he didn't want something with the pretty brunette.
"Will you let it go? I'm sorry I said you were homeless, okay? And yes, it's a general statement... mostly directed toward annoying guys who can't take a hint."
"Well you can relax. I'm not looking for a relationship either. It's too soon. The only woman I've ever loved just ran away with another man on the subway."
"If you're trying to make me feel guilty, it's working."
"Come on, Bella. It's only one dinner. After that you can consider the absurd guitar debt paid and forget all about me." For a second he lets his guard down, and his loneliness begins to show. "I... I just need some company. It's been a long day."
Edward doesn't know why he sounds so desperate. It's not as if he's aching for female attention. Most women he could bed by the end of the night, but Bella... she's different. She's everything he should be utterly repulsed by; his total opposite. Still, there's something about her that pulls him in. The attraction is definitely there, and he's convinced she feels it too.
"Fine," Bella concedes. "Just this once. But I get to pick the place, and I'm paying."