So, this was my entry for the Going for the Gold Twi-Fic contest. This was my very first attempt at a complete fic, so imagine my absolute astonishment when I found it won stuff! Thanks to all who voted...it was a fun contest. Enjoy!
First Place Public Voting
2nd Place Judge's Voting
Best Use of the Olympics
Contest: Going for the Gold Anonymous Twi-Fic Contest
Beta Name: itlnbrt, mcc101180, daniwerner
Pairing: Edward & Bella
Olympic Sport: Swimming
Warnings and Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise or the IOC. No copyright infringement is intended. Rated M for language and adult situations.
A/N – While this is based on the London 2012 Olympic Games, I've taken quite a few creative liberties, so dive on in and let your imagination run wild! Cadbury's Dairy Milk and rose bouquets to my betas—I couldn't have done this without you!
Friday 27th July 2012
The stadium above me buzzes, excitement rippling through the crowded concrete corridors below. Voices rattle across the walls in so many different languages, but I can only understand snippets in my own native tongue. I can't believe this moment has arrived. It's here, and I'm in it. It has been such a long time coming, and I don't think I've ever been quite this nervous.
My mum and dad are two of the eighty-some thousand in the stadium above, and I'm hoping that I don't embarrass them—or myself, for that matter.
The atmosphere in London is humming and has been for months. The city has been primped and preened, ready to go in its Sunday best, all for the eyes of the world to fall upon it for the next two weeks. Roads have been resurfaced in a black sheen, green parks have been cleaned up and made greener, garden beds rid of weeds, shop windows gussied up, and the city rid of its colourful painted street art. London is ready and raring to go. Even my own flat is displaying British pride with the Union Jack proudly fluttering from my balcony. My flatmate and best friend, Alice, is the one to thank for the homage to Old Britannia.
Come to think of it, Alice is the one I need to thank for the position I'm in right now. I'm here, gussied up myself, in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium at Marshgate Lane. I need to thank her, or kick her arse.
I adjust my costume, which has been custom-made especially to fit me. It's not something I'd wear again, nor is it something I'd pick for myself, but I suppose it suits the occasion. Apparently, it's a one-off. I have, however, seen a bunch that are similar, so I'm not feeling all that special.
A smooth voice to my right breaks into my reverie. "So, are you excited?" I look over my shoulder to reply and need to look up to meet the clear green eyes of the questioner.
I can't help but smile – the eyes I'm looking into are shining with excitement. "I think terrified is more appropriate," I reply as I turn, ever graceful, nearly tipping over in the process. "Shit, I'm sorry! You'd think I'd have the hang of lugging this thing around by now. I've been practicing enough."
He grins back down at me. Frankly, I'm amazed I can string two coherent sentences together. This man is tall – his chin would just graze the top of my head if I were to nestle into him. Not that I would. Well, I would, but not right now. I mean, we haven't even met officially.
"No blood, no foul," he says with a crooked grin, leaning against the pole in his hand. "I'm Edward." Now he appears to be talking to someone whose face is about a foot above my head. "Shall I call you Miss USA?"
OK, he's obviously not talking to me anymore.
My brown eyes close for a moment, and I turn to see who is behind me, nearly taking his eye out in the process. Edward jumps back and I blush beet-red. "Whoa, do you have a license to drive that thing?"
When Alice convinced me last year to audition with her for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, this is not what I expected to be doing. I just went along to give her moral support – Alice is the performer, not me. So when they wanted us all to do this kick-walk-thing across the floor, I accidentally booted the chick next to me in the elbow, blushed deep red, figured my audition was blown, and strutted the rest of the way, wiggling my bum.
Apparently strutting is a good skill to have when you're a walking billboard.
So that's how I'm here, wearing a harness which is attached to a metre-wide metal sign that is hovering above my head. United States of America. This thing is seriously fucking heavy. And awkward. Why couldn't I have been Guam? Guam doesn't need two fucking lines of text.
That's right. While Alice is twirling somewhere in the middle of the stadium in a beautiful costume, I'm one of the chicks carrying a sign that looks like it should be stuck to the front of a locomotive. And I'm wearing a dress covered in faces. Should I be comforted that someone in the stadium is wearing a dress with my face on it? Because I'm not.
Right. Edward is waiting for a response. "Not a good idea to call a Brit 'American'," I tell him. I reach to shake his outstretched hand. "I'm Bella."
Edward grins wider. He is seriously good looking. His bronze-brown hair looks barely tamed under his blue beret—hang on, USA, right? Not France? —and his suit is perfectly tailored to fit his broad-shouldered frame. A blue blazer swaths his shoulders, breaking at the chest, and as my eyes travel downward, I notice his legs look awfully toned beneath his cream pants. His jaw is strong and clean-shaven. I'm resisting climbing him like a tree just to see if it would crack like a boiled sweet if I bit into it.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Bella," Edward says in his lovely accent. "So, you know where you're going here, right?"
I nod. We've been practicing this for months. "When the time comes, follow me," I tell him with a smile.
I decide to change the subject before I look like an even bigger fool. "What sport do you play?" I enquire. Whatever it is keeps him in fantastic shape, and he must be good at it. He's carrying his country's flag. They only let you do that if you're really good, right?
He looks slightly taken aback. "Swimming," he tells me. "Freestyle, butterfly, and medley."
I'm not sure what to say about that because I'm suddenly imagining Edward in a Speedo. And I'm thinking Edward in a Speedo is vastly different from the pasty overweight men in bathing suits I've seen at the seaside. Before I can say something stupid, Edward speaks.
"Are you a London native?" He shifts the flagpole to the other hand. I've just heard Fiji called, so we've still got a bit of a wait.
"Near Birmingham originally. I came to London to study and stayed here to work after I finished university."
Before either of us can speak again, we're interrupted by an official-looking marshal. His ID, complete with obligatory unflattering photograph, says his name is Michael Newton.
"Excuse me, Miss Swan," he begins in a nasally voice. I remember him now; he apparently remembers me from our last encounter, it would seem. Slime-ball who thought he had "moves." His moves involved heavy breathing that reeked of garlic, invasion of my dance space, and way-too-intense stares. At my boobs. "Could you please refrain from harassing the athletes? I thought they covered this in the briefing." He looks down his nose at me haughtily.
Michael turns his attention to Edward. "I'm terribly sorry, Mr Cullen. Sometimes the girls get a bit star-struck." He tilts his head towards me condescendingly.
Oh, he did not just do that. Before I can drop my head, stamp my foot, and charge Michael Douche-ton like a bull with my deadly locomotive sign, Edward interrupts. "There's no problem. I probably did the wrong thing by distracting Bella from her job." Did he just wink at me?
Michael clearly knows who Edward is, and from Edward's tone, doesn't seem like he's going to push the point. He clears his throat, and with a curt nod at Edward and a glare at me, he stalks off towards the Uruguay team.
"Jeez, Bella. What did you do to get on his bad side?" Edward asks me while watching Michael's retreating form.
"I said no when he asked me out for a pint." I shrug. He doesn't need the whole story.
Edward smirks. "A pint." He chuckles lowly. "Sorry, still getting used to English slang. Did you say no because you had a previous date with your boyfriend?" His green eyes dance.
Real smooth, sir.
My body can't help it—I flush. "Um, no. I don't have a boyfriend."
"Good to know," he says cheekily.
Before I can say anything to properly embarrass myself, I'm saved by a blond, curly-haired man that appears at Edward's shoulder.
"Hey, man, who's your friend?" drawls the man in a thick accent. The two men bump fists. He sounds like he belongs on one of the country and western shows my dad loves.
Edward turns to me. Keeping his green eyes on mine, he says, "Jasper Whitlock, please meet Bella."
"It's a pleasure, ma'am," Jasper says, taking my hand and kissing my knuckles. From any other guy, this would seem cheesy. Jasper makes it seem natural, like this is how he greets women every day.
Edward narrows his eyes at Jasper before continuing. "Jasper is also on the swim team. Backstroke mostly. We're both in the four by one hundred and the medley relay together."
Whatever message Edward was sending with his eyes, Jasper got it. "Well, it was nice meeting you, Miss Bella. I'm going to find my sister. Mom will love it if we walk out together."
After Jasper leaves, Edward and I make small talk. He tells me that he and Jasper met years ago at a training camp and have been friends, rivals, and teammates ever since. Jasper's sister is here with the women's basketball team. Edward is originally from Chicago but lives in Los Angeles to train. I've never been to the States, but I listen with interest.
I tell him about how I got roped into this performance deal, and that my volunteer activities at the Games were supposed to be limited to general running around during the synchronized swimming. I tell him about Alice and her chorus positions on some West End productions, and our flat just west of here in London.
Edward is particularly easy to talk to. I almost forget about the sign above my head when we're interrupted by a voice in my earpiece. We're up.
Edward picks up the flag, ignoring the harness that he has to hold it—hello, large, strong arms—and we follow the drummers at the end of the United Arab Emirates team.
We're introduced first in French, then in English. A roar goes up around the stadium as we walk out. Edward grins at me excitedly, the picture of confidence. I'm sweating bullets and hoping I don't fall arse over tit.
As we walk to the strains of "Beautiful Day" by U2, I hold onto the steadying bars for my sign and concentrate on not tumbling. The athletes are laughing, waving, and taking pictures on their mobile phones. Edward is to my right, waving the stars and stripes with pride.
The voice in my earpiece is keeping me updated about the teams ahead. They want us to slow a bit because the Tunisian team is taking their time. I can barely concentrate due to the noise of the crowd, adrenaline pumping through my system, and general nerves. What a buzz—I can't wait to debrief with Alice later.
After we've been on the move for a few minutes, I start to feel my confidence grow, and I begin to really get my strut on. I'm now thoroughly enjoying walking out to the sound of the music and the beat of the drums.
I look to my right and notice Edward has dropped back a bit. His eyes rise to mine, and he looks a little…guilty?
Was he just checking out my arse?
I giggle and give him a small grin. He gives me a wink and a smirk in return, then goes back to waving the flag and smiling dazzlingly up at the crowd.
Eventually, the walking stops and we get to our designated place on the arena. Us walking billboards are staying with the teams until the conclusion of the ceremony—getting us out stealth-like is apparently too difficult—and I'm glad my shoes are somewhat comfortable. I've been on my feet for a while now, and I'm starving. A marshal helps me out of my harness and relieves me of my sign. I roll my shoulders and stretch my neck as I walk to my place at the back of the team.
Soon, Edward is at my side again. He has handed the flag off to one of the officials to be placed in the arena and his hands are now free. How did I not notice his hands before? Or his fingers, for that matter? Damn.
Oh yeah, I was too busy shamelessly checking out his body.
He bends down to speak in my ear. "I didn't think I was going to be able to find you again, Miss USA," he says smoothly. Although it's a warm night and there's very little wind in the stadium, I shiver.
"I guess I don't stand out that much without my billboard, huh," I reply, looking at the ground.
"On the contrary." He smirks. "I think you stand out plenty."
I remove my eyes from my feet and look up quickly—unfortunately a little too quickly. I missed dinner tonight—the sandwiches looked dodgy. Shadows creep around the edges of my eyes.
Oh, great. So if I don't fall over, I pass out.
What seems like a second later, a long warm arm is wrapped around me. I stare up into Edward's green eyes, which are looking at me, etched with concern. Also, he smells so, so good.
Holy fuck, could I BE any more pathetic? Shit, how long was I out for?
"Just a moment. As soon as you reached the ground, you woke up."
Bollocks, I said that out loud?
Edward chuckles. "Yes, you did."
I'm quickly helped to my feet, and with all the commotion, nobody notices a thing. Except for the green-eyed Adonis that is looking down at me with a gently crooked smirk.
The rest of the ceremony passes without further event from me, and Her Majesty officially opens the Games. The voice in my earpiece thanks us for our performance tonight and tells us we are dismissed, reminding us to return to the storage areas under the stadium to collect our personal belongings. I'll text Alice when I get back to my bag.
Edward gently grabs my hand as I'm heading off. "It was great meeting you, Miss USA," he says with the same crooked grin he graced me with earlier.
"Yeah, it was really nice to meet you too, Edward." I need to get out of this man's eyesight so I can think straight again. My strut has left the stadium with my locomotive sign, and I'm back to being my shy, plain self.
Edward looks like he's about to say something, then shakes his head gently. He gives me a smile and a small two-finger wave before he turns and strides into the crowd.
I watch his retreating form and sigh. Wait until I tell Alice about my night.
"Holy fuck, Bella, only you could nearly maim someone with a performance prop." Alice is speaking to me through the open door of our tiny balcony. She flicks her cigarette as I toss the crust of my slice of pizza back in the box.
"Christ, I know. I'm such a fucking Gump." Alice and I like the film a little too much. As I'm the clumsier of the two of us, the term seems to suit me better. I take a sip of my wine and lean back into the couch cushions. We'd decided to grab some food and a bottle of wine on the way home and have been sharing stories of our night.
"What was the bloke's name anyway?" Alice asks.
"He was the flag bearer for the States." I twist the stem of my wine glass. "Edward… um… something starting with C? He said he was a swimmer?" It comes out as a question.
Alice dances gracefully through the door, closing it behind her. "Hang on, did you say Edward? As in Edward Cullen?"
"Yeah, I think that was it." I'm pretty sure that's the surname Michael Douche-ton said.
Alice is gaping at me. "You are fucking kidding me." She is slowly shaking her raven-haired head while doing an excellent interpretation of a goldfish.
"I figured he must be a good one, seeing that they asked him to carry the flag," I comment, shrugging one shoulder. My best friend is still staring at me.
"I know shit about sports, B, but I know who Edward bloody Cullen is." Alice tops up our glasses, emptying the bottle. "He's hot as fuck, AND he's a world record holder."
Now I feel a bit stupid. "How was I supposed to know that? The only time I watch any kind of sports is, well, never."
Alice just shakes her head. I've clearly broken some unknown compulsory knowledge of the world rule. She changes the subject. "So, no work for you this week, B?"
"No," I tell her. "They've closed the office because it's practically impossible to get to with so many people around, so we're all taking leave. I'm volunteering next week, but I'm free as a bird 'til that starts up."
When work told us they were closing the office, they encouraged us to sign up as volunteers. When I'm not donning a volunteer's uniform, I'm considering checking out the cycling and a few other events that are free and easy to get to. Alice is spending the weeks of the Games doing street performing around town with her dance troupe.
Alice snorts at me. "I can't believe you have to help at sync swimming of all events! You really drew the short straw, B!"
I throw a couch cushion at her, which she ducks easily. "Fuck off, Al. It could be worse. It's close to home and only for a couple of days. Anyway, I'm doing my bit for my country." I finish with a salute.
"Worse, how?" My best friend laughs at me. "Face it, Bells, you'll be spending a few days dealing with over-made-up mini-divas. If you think you need wine for gymnastics, you're going to turn to crack to cope with those little upstarts. Good luck with that!" She offers me a cheers, which I return. She's right. A week's rest and I'm into it. That should be enough to prepare.
On Sunday morning, I'm rudely awoken rather early by the offensive sound of my alarm clock. After hurling it to the floor still hearing buzzing, I realise it isn't actually my alarm clock, but my mobile phone.
A few wines out with the girls last night was a bad idea. "Hello, Bella speaking," I manage to rasp out, head pounding.
"Miss Swan? This is Angela Webber from the London Games Makers team." Crap, it's the Volunteer Association.
I roll onto my back and channel my most polite, business-like voice. "Good morning, Ms Webber."
"I apologise for calling so early, Miss Swan, but we're in a bit of a spot." I can hear papers rustling and the tapping of a keyboard in the background. "You see, we've had one of our volunteers become… unavailable for the rest of the Games. In this case, we need someone close by and with clearance to the venue and your name is on our backup list…"
"Of course, I'm happy to come in. Do you need me tomorrow?" I stretch out in my bed and rub my face with my free hand.
"Actually, we'd like you to come in immediately."
I sit bolt upright. "I-immediately?" I stammer. "As in, immediately-right-now?"
"Thank you, Miss Swan, this is a great help. We'll see you at the team office in an hour. Bye!" The cheerful voice is gone with a click.
Not long later, I'm waiting with the other volunteers near the warm-up pool at the Aquatic Centre. It's Day Two of the swimming program, and I've got the awesome task of leading the lane four swimmers to the pool, then carrying a basket holding their belongings back to the locker room following the races. Clearly, the volunteer people heard about my mad walking skills from the Opening Ceremony.
The guy I'm replacing was removed from the volunteer program for 'conduct unbecoming of the spirit of the Games.' Turns out drug scandals aren't just found with the athletes. So, here I am. I've been taken off the synchronized swimming program—yes!—and I'll be hanging out with the 'real' swimmers.
I'm picking up wet towels by the side of the warm-up pool and tossing them into the basket I'm carrying when I'm blocked by a pair of feet that are attached to firm calves, strong, muscular thighs…
"Well hey there, Miss USA."
Edward is leaning against a wall wearing a USA warm-up tracksuit and flip-flops. He is the epitome of casual. And hot. Hot casual?
"Edward, um, hi." I smile, finally finding my voice.
Edward runs his hand through his damp bronze hair. "I didn't think I'd see you again."
I knew I'd see him again. I just figured it'd be through my telly while I nursed a glass of red and a block of Cadbury's Dairy Milk. A few of the other volunteers have slowed what they are doing and are gaping at me.
"Yes, well, just doing my thing for my country. Call me patriotic."
Edward smirks, pushing off the wall and walking towards me. "Will you be doing your thing for your country all week?"
OK, I melt just a little.
Before I can answer, a tall, blonde, long-legged beauty interrupts us. She's also in a USA tracksuit and has clear, blue eyes. It's the boobs that distract me though—if she's a swimmer, I hope she does backstroke because I'm sure those puppies would flip her over if she tried swimming face down. I glance at her pass: Tanya Denali.
"Hi, Edward," she croons, running a hand across his chest. "You warmed up for the two hundred free, baby? Need a hand to stretch?" She looks down at me, then back to Edward with a perfectly arched eyebrow. "You talking to the help now?"
It's clear that the bombshell and Edward are… close. She's rubbing all over him like a cat. I can feel my ears heating.
The volunteer team leader chooses that moment to beckon me. "Swan? Need you over here." The distraction comes at a welcome time, because not only am I flirting with a taken man, but I apparently needed to be reminded of who and where I am—a mere mortal walking amongst gods.
This is confirmed as I glance quickly at Edward, who is looking at me with a furrowed brow. In a beat, I turn and hurry, head down, over to the rest of my volunteer group.
Throughout the course of the morning, I'm kept busy with moving belongings around, and I almost forget about my run-in with Edward and Bombshell. I'm kinda glad; I'm showing too much interest in an unavailable man. It's embarrassing.
I bump into Jasper again when I need to carry his things back to the locker room following the hundred metre backstroke. He's made the finals and gives me a wink and a tip of his absent hat as he heads over to talk to the media.
Most of the swimmers are very polite but, unsurprisingly, not really up for small talk. Many of them keep their headphones on before their races—I'd love to know what's on their motivational playlists. The ones that don't make the next round, or bomb out in their finals, tend to head straight to the pool out back to cool down and debrief with their coaches.
There are a few exceptions, of course. Lauren Mallory, who won a bronze medal in the breaststroke, is a bitch to be quite frank, but she has no neck, so ha, I win. Laurent Fitzroy, who competed against Jasper, is very smiley, but he gives me the creeps. Too many teeth.
The other volunteers are really great. Thankfully, the food provided is better than the Opening Ceremony, and I hang out in the tearoom at lunch with a really friendly girl named Jessica and a nice, quiet guy called Eric.
Edward made the finals for the two hundred metre freestyle, breaking the Olympic record. I missed the race. I was busy avoiding the TV screens. Looking at 'the pretty' hurts.
Angela asked me to stay for today's evening session as another volunteer went home sick, which makes it a huge day. On the upside, I don't need to come in for the day session tomorrow. I am excited for the evening session—Jessica told me at lunch that the atmosphere in the Aquatic Centre for the finals was something to experience.
The afternoon is spent much the same way as the morning—being helpful, friendly and courteous. I'm behaving just as I am told to in the volunteer pack and orientation sessions—under no circumstances am I to draw attention to myself. We are there to help make sure the events ticked along and were to be seen as a team. Not as one individual doing more than the next, but as a well-oiled machine.
Don't stand out. This suits me just fine.
I'm exhausted after such a big day, and by 9 p.m., I'm almost dead on my feet. I've spent the day doing so much walking, carrying, picking up, and smiling. Lots of smiling.
There must only be a few more finals to go—I'm still waiting for a Great Britain gold medal, although we've been close a few times. Two bronze medals are the best we've gotten tonight.
I've brought out my basket, and I'm waiting in my position on the pool deck, behind the official for lane four.
"Ladies and gentlemen! The final for the men's four by one hundred metre freestyle relay!" the announcer… announces with gusto. Oh, goody—multiples of hot, wet men.
"In lane one, Italy!" There are cheers from the audience as the Italian swimmers walk out and into position. "In lane two, France!" More cheers and flag waving as the French team wave to the crowd. "In lane three, the home nation, Great Britain!" The crowd goes absolutely nuts, cheering, clapping and waving Union Jack flags. The British boys give cheerful waves and blow kisses to the audience.
"In lane four, reigning world champions, The United States of America!" Jasper, Edward's friend, leads the team out. Bringing up the rear in his team tracksuit is the man I've successfully avoided all afternoon. Edward gives a broad grin and wave to the crowd, before joining his team right in front of me. Of course. Because they qualified fastest.
I stand, trying my best to look impassive. I have no idea about any of the other teams being introduced because all I can see are the American boys, unzipping their hoodies and removing their tracksuit pants. Oh, good Lord.
And then there's Edward Cullen. In an Olympic Speedo swimsuit. And I can no longer think.
I was right about the broad shoulders. What I haven't yet had the chance see in all their glory are the perfectly defined pecs, six-pack stomach, and oh my God, a V that dives oh, so low. If I look carefully, while avoiding being obvious about it, I can see the top of the Olympic Rings on his right hip as it peeks out of the top of his low-sitting swim trunks.
I remember the long, strong arms that held me amongst the din of the crowd during my passed-out prowess at the Opening Ceremony. What I didn't get to fully appreciate is that the wingspan of these arms would allow him to hug the back of a double-decker bus and slap the side windows.
Edward tosses his clothing into my basket but doesn't make eye contact with me. I've never seen such focus. Besides, I'm just the help.
He and his teammates are shaking their arms and beating their chests. The other swimmers here are probably doing the same, but I can't look away from the men directly in front of me. Sorry, Brit Boys, my patriotism appears to have left the building.
The first swimmers for each team are called to their blocks, and then the race is underway.
From my vantage point, I can see the Americans are off to a solid start, but at the turn, they are in third place behind Australia and Great Britain. Jasper is standing on the blocks to take the second leg, and on the return, they have moved to second place. The third swimmer—a big guy called Jake, or Jared, or something—loses a bit of ground and they are neck and neck on the second fifty. I'm so wrapped up, it takes me a minute to notice Edward up on the blocks, bending over for his leg, right in front of me and oh my God.
He pushes off with his muscular legs, and amongst the white foam of the splash, I can make out the muscles in his shoulders and upper back pulling him through the water. His stroke is long and easy, and he appears to glide while others around him thrash. He is edging up to the Australian team and the final swimmers for each turn together. After the turn, he puts the pressure on and appears to propel through the water. The Australian and Edward are pulling away from the Brit and are out of my eye-line due to the blocks. I look to the big screen and see Edward put in the last three strokes—to hit the wall half an arm length before his yellow-capped counterpart.
The crowd erupts and Edward turns to see the board. His teammates on the pool deck are pumping the air and high-fiving-slash-man-hugging. Edward pumps the air with a cheer. I can't help but grin—is face shows pure elation.
Edward pushes himself onto the pool deck, and the four, dripping men acknowledge the crowd. Edward touches two fingers first to his lips, then to his chest, then points them towards a specific place in the cheering USA section of the crowd.
Of course, the blonde boobie girlfriend. Boobie Blondie.
I continue to wait patiently behind my basket for the USA team to come and collect what they need before addressing the media. Edward saunters over with his team, removing his swim cap and shaking out his bronze hair. He looks up and sees me, his face breaking into a warm smile.
I stand with my hands clasped behind my back, just like I'm supposed to. Not standing out. "Congratulations, Mr Cullen," I say politely, keeping my voice even.
Edward looks at me with an arched eyebrow. "Thanks," he says, throwing his cap into the basket and picking up a water bottle. He is breathing easily, which is surprising given he's just swum in a race.
I lower my eyes to the basket again before picking it up and heading back towards the change rooms.
Later, at the medal ceremony, I watch from behind the scenes as Edward and his teammates receive their gold medals and small rose bouquets. He stands proudly on the dais, hand over heart, watching his flag rise to the strains of "The Star Spangled Banner". I watch as he poses for photographs, biting into his medal with his teammates. Then I watch him climb into the crowd, flowers in hand, and a smile on his face. I'm guessing he's heading towards Boobie Blondie. I don't want to watch.
With a sigh, remembering my place, I join my fellow mortals to tidy up the warm-up pool.
On my second day of Games duty, after enjoying a sleep-in, I tidy up my flat, grab some lunch. I then drool over Edward's gold medal performance from last night repeated on the BBC, before watching him qualify fastest in today's butterfly heats—dearLord, slow-motion replay of rippling back muscles.
Butterfly is my new favourite Olympic event.
Not yet running late, I dress in my über-hot, regulation plum and red polo shirt and tan pants, then head to catch a bus over to the Aquatic Centre.
I say a quick hello to Jess, who shares today's gossip—including a snippet about a couple of volunteers who have been hooking up during break-times in one of the change rooms reserved for the water polo players—before she heads home for the day. Eric is joining me for the evening session, so he and I share small talk about London traffic and the queues at the grocers while I have a quick look over the run-sheet for tonight. I'm happy to see that we have a representative from Great Britain in each event. I also notice Edward is swimming later in the two hundred metre freestyle, after his efforts in yesterday's heats.
I go through the motions for the evening, ferrying belongings between the pool deck, warm-up pool, and change rooms. I'm also doing a bit of modest fangirling as I see Edward warming up—I mean, it's totally normal to have a crush on a hot swimmer, right? Just because I'm lucky enough to have been close enough to touch him, smell him…
The evening's races are ticking over. More medals are awarded, national anthems belted out across the Aquatic Centre's system, flags raised and cheers and chants from the boisterous, mostly British crowd. The atmosphere here is crazy, and us volunteers are soaking it up. Before I know it, the swimmers for the two hundred metre freestyle are announced.
Edward walks onto the pool deck like a rock star. A hot, really fit, rock star.
Thankfully, I'm standing behind lane three tonight. As fastest qualifier, he is in lane four. This means, however, that he needs to walk past me on his way to his lane. I'm doing my best at remaining professional and not standing out. He winks at me on his way past, and my breath catches in my throat. The official in front of me kindly bangs me on the back.
Damn, arrogant, hot, well-built, distracting swimming-man.
When I get my shit together, I give my head a little shake and concentrate on my lane. I've got another American, Jacob Black. He swam in Edward's relay team last night and is one of the more outwardly friendly athletes. He's a solid, broad-shouldered guy like all the other swimmers, but there's something a little… off. His eyes look shifty.
"Hi there," he greets with a wide, white-toothed grin, handing me his hoodie. Weird, they usually just throw it straight in the basket. I offer a small smile in return, taking the jersey from him.
He makes a big show of removing his track pants, before handing those to me too. Ick. Then he speaks. "Maybe I'll get you out of your pants, later," he says with a sleazy grin and an even sleazier wink.
Ugh. My nose screws up in disgust. This is majorly awkward. I look down at the tiles to avoid his eyes.
I hear Jacob snicker as he strides to the starting blocks, adjusting his goggles. I swear I hear a low growl to my left, but I figure it must be the crowd.
I'm trying to stand still to avoid being a distraction, but after Jacob's unwelcome attention, I'm feeling rather uncomfortable. The swimmers are called to the blocks, the gun sounds, and before I know it, the race is swum and won.
Jacob finished fifth and, thankfully, didn't stop for small talk on his way back to the change rooms.
I file back into the cool down area with my basket in hand, leaving it in the swimmer's area for Jake to collect. I then concentrate on making myself scarce so I won't bump into him again and commence tidying up. This was the last race of the evening, so thankfully it's nearly home time.
I stop my tidying to watch the victory ceremony on one of the flat screen TVs with some other volunteers. An hour later, I'm the last one here, running a mop across the chlorine puddles on the floor before heading home. As I'm picking up the last few towels from the floor, the smell of chlorine is, for a moment, overpowered by rose, mint, rosemary, and English lavender, with just a hint of clean, freshly showered man.
I straighten to find Edward standing in front of me, gold medal around his neck, handing out his small victory bouquet to me with a smile.
I can't help it. I smile back.
"Congratulations, Mr Cullen," I say.
"Thank you, Bella," he says in reply. "I… um..." The swagger of the professional athlete is gone. He looks at me from beneath long lashes. "I'd like you to have these."
I look at the tidy bouquet of pink and yellow roses, and then back up at him. Then back at the roses, then back to him. He's standing rather close. And still looking at me.
Right, Bella, conversation. Remember that?
"Me?" I finally squeak, finding my voice. "You don't want to keep them?"
"Flowers aren't really my thing," he tells me with a wry grin. "But they're really pretty, so I'd like you to have them."
"You, um…" I look down at the towels in my hands, clearing my voice and shifting to the other foot. "You don't want to give them to your girlfriend?"
Edward's eyebrows drop slightly before he speaks. "I don't have a girlfriend, Bella," he tells me seriously.
"But I thought… I mean… Boob, er, Tanya? The girl from the other day…"
He blanches. "Tanya? No, no, no, she's my physical therapist, not my girlfriend." He snorts, before considering me carefully. "Wait, did you think…"
I nod and shrug, shifting my feet again and running a sneakered toe along a line in the tiles. "You both seemed close. And you blew her a kiss."
He looks at me, utterly confused. "Huh? Kiss?"
I'm a little embarrassed to have noticed his private acknowledgement to the crowd after winning last night. "Yeah, I um…saw... "
Edward throws his head back and laughs. It's a deep laugh, coming from right inside his chest. He settles down before saying, "That wasn't to Tanya." He grins widely. "That was for my mom."
"Yeah." He smiles and shakes his head. "It's just something I do after every race. Win or lose." Edward pushes the hand not holding the flowers deep into his pocket. He looks a little sheepish. "Mom is proud of me, no matter how I swim. She's supported me my whole life, dragging my sorry ass out of bed and driving me to training at five-thirty every morning before school, putting up with my tantrums when I lost." He lifts a corner of his mouth in a tiny half-smile. "It's my way of saying thanks to her, and that I'll never forget who got me to where I am."
I think I let out a small, high-pitched 'aww' sound because that is seriously the sweetest thing I've heard. Under all the gold medals, world records, media, and everything that goes with it all, he's just a boy that loves his mum. I melt.
"So, no girlfriend?" I manage to get out. Shit, I'm so eloquent.
He nods firmly in affirmation and grins crookedly again. I thought beauty was all about symmetry, but his crooked grin is so much better. It makes him real. "No girlfriend.
"I'd like you to have the flowers, Bella," he says. "But there is something I'd like in return."
I look around the empty room, wondering what else it is that he might need. "What is it?"
He takes my hand, pressing the stems of the small bouquet into my palm and wraps my fingers gently around them. "I'd like your phone number. After my last race, I'd like to take you out to dinner."
"You're not serious," Alice says, her bum sticking out from behind the open fridge door.
"I am," I tell her, legs swinging from my place on a stool at the island bar and scoop up another mouthful of fruit salad and yoghurt. "He asked me out."
"It's true, I swear," I tell her. "I pretty much can't believe it myself."
As if to prove my point, my phone buzzes on the bench.
Good morning, sunshine. Just finished up a swim, heading back to room at Village. Will I see you today? – E
"That's from him?" Alice asks, pouring herself a glass of orange juice. I giggle.
Giggling? Seriously, Bella? Are you fourteen?
I tap out a reply. I'll be in after noon. I'm doing the afternoon session. ~ B
I'll keep an eye out ;) See you then, beautiful Bella. – E
"So, you're enjoying serving your country, B?" Alice asks with air quotes around serving. I'm grinning like an idiot.
"Yes, it's proving to be very rewarding," I reply, redirecting my gaze to the small bouquet of roses in the vase on the bench.
"And Edward Cullen is really taking you out to dinner?" she continues.
"Will you be acknowledging any other participating nations with him? Maybe your Netherlands? A trip…" She drops her voice,"…Down Under?"
"You're a dirty-minded bitch," I tell her, picking a grape out of my salad and tossing it at her head. She dodges it gracefully.
"And you're a slapper," she responds with a grin, then, ever the lady, slurps her OJ.
I'm standing on the pool deck during the heats of the hundred metre freestyle, when again I've got an American in my lane. This time it's Jasper.
"Well, howdy again, ma'am," he says, dipping his head at me after his race. I swear if he could tip his swim cap, he would. He picks up a water bottle from the basket at my feet.
"Good afternoon, Mr Whitlock," I reply with a smile. He's just too friendly for words.
"Come now, Jasper is fine," he says. I grin. Jasper takes his cap off and rubs his hand through his blond curls. "I hear you got you some flowers, Miss Bella."
I offer a small smile. "I did," I reply shyly.
"That's real nice." Jasper tosses his cap into the basket before turning towards the cool down pool. "I might be crossing the line, but Edward did say they reminded him of you."
"He talked to you about me?"
"Yes, ma'am," he asserts. As he walks away, I think I hear him say something that sounds like "English rose," but remembering one of Edward's texts about Jasper's sister, Rosalie, a basketball player for the USA team, I figure he's just talking to himself.
For Edward's heat, I'm minding the stuff for the swimmer from the Netherlands in lane one, so he needs to walk past me to get to lane five. I can't help but blush and snicker to myself as I remember Alice's comments from this morning. Edward arches an eyebrow at me and grins crookedly as he walks past. Thank God people can't read minds.
At the end of the day, I wander towards the bus stop to head home, shooting off a 'good luck' text to Edward as I go.
Later that evening, Alice and I are drinking wine and watching the Olympic coverage on the BBC. There is a Brit swimming in the final of the two hundred metre butterfly, which is handy for me, because I can cheer on my countryman. Oh, and Edward just happens to be the fastest qualifier for that same event.
The swimmers are announced. Edward wanders out and offers a smirk and a two-fingered wave to the camera. My heart is beating in my chest, and I'm squirming in my seat.
"What gives, B? Are you no longer Team GB? Turning your back on your homeland?" Alice taunts me.
"Oh, I am, Al," I reply without taking my eyes from the screen. I turn to her and grin. "I just happen to be Team Edward, too."
Alice rolls her eyes as the camera cuts to the crowd, zooming in on three guys from the American swim team who cheer as Edward is introduced. Suddenly she stops and gapes at the screen. "Holy Hell, who is he? The blond one?"
I grin, happy that I can answer a sport-related question for once. "That's Jasper Whitlock. He's from Texas. He swims backstroke." I'm very pleased with my extensive-sounding swimming knowledge.
"He can stroke my back any time he likes, amongst other places." Alice is glued to the screen.
"He's very charming," I say casually. "A real Southern gentleman."
"Wait, you know him?"
"We've met." I acknowledge as I take a sip of my wine. "He said hi at the Opening Ceremony, and I've looked after his lane a few times at the pool. He's sharing a room with Edward."
"Then as my best mate, I think it's your duty to get me an introduction." She's serious.
I pretend to ponder her comment. "Although, it wouldn't be terribly professional of me to ask about his personal life…" I taper off.
"Fuck professional," Alice retorts. "I need to land me a Texan!"
I laugh but am only half listening, as the race is about to start. I know this is one of Edward's favourites—I Googled him, okay?—so I'm sitting on the edge of my seat. The commentators are banging on about how Great Britain is a medal chance with national champion Ben Cheney swimming. It's when they mention Edward's name that my ears really perk up.
"As much as we'd love to see Cheney win gold tonight, it is really shaping up to be Cullen's race as he is competing for his seventeenth Olympic medal, and third gold for this meet," the sports announcer remarks.
His female counterpart, apparently a retired swimmer, replies, "This is Cullen's pet event, so you'd have to say he has an excellent chance." The camera cuts to a close-up of Edward bent over on the starting blocks. Even though I can't see his eyes behind his goggles, the line of his shoulders and the way his arms fall suggest he's blocking out the rest of the world.
A hush falls over the crowd, and Al and I lock our eyes on the screen. I may be holding my breath.
"They're away! Cullen got an excellent start. I haven't seen him so focused since Worlds, two years ago," the commentator drones. I tune him out and concentrate on the way Edward moves through the water, his arms flinging up and outwards, fingers outstretched but relaxed. His body undulates as he kicks with two feet, the underwater shot leaving nothing to the imagination. He's in the lead as he touches with two hands, turning and pushing off the wall with his feet before he's off again. His hands are just in front of the yellow line that is moving down the pool.
"Jesus, Bella." I hear Alice on the couch beside me. "If that's the way he swims, just imagine the way he f—"
"Al! Christ, get your mind out of the gutter!" I cut her off. Not that my own mind didn't totally go there.
Edward is still just in front of the yellow line. The commentators on the TV are going nuts. "He's just in front of his own World Record mark." I edge forward on my seat. "He's just got to hold it for the second hundred…"
This has to be the most nerve-wracking thing ever. I can only imagine how Edward's mum is feeling, up in the crowd.
I can feel my own heart beating in my chest. Edward continues to pull and push through the water. He's easily a body-length in front of the rest of the competition. He pushes off the wall to swim the final fifty. Alice and I are both out of our seats now, screaming at the telly.
"Go! Go! Oh, my god, so close, yes!"
"Go, Edward, do it, yes, yes, YESSSS!"
Edward touches the wall and immediately rips off his goggles, turning to look at the clock. He pumps his fist in the air before splashing it into the pool. I look at Alice. We've both collapsed on the couch.
"Shit!" She finishes. "I need a fucking cigarette!"
On the TV, Edward pulls himself from the pool, dripping wet, arms raised in the air. If he looked thrilled after his last two races, nothing can compare to the look on his face now. Again, he touches two fingers to his lips, then over his heart, before directing them to the crowd. The camera cuts to a middle-aged woman with caramel-coloured hair, who is smiling tearfully and catching the kiss that Edward sent her, placing it on her own heart.
Awwww... That must be his mum.
After replaying Edward's swim and more blabbering by the commentators, Edward is back on the screen in all his rippled, bronze-haired, wet-bodied glory, ready to be interviewed.
"Edward, three golds from three races. You're having a great meet so far, and you're swimming some fast times. How are you feeling about beating your own World Record?" the interviewer asks.
"My coach and I have been working towards this for the last two years, since Worlds, so I'm really happy. I just wanted to concentrate on swimming my own race, and I knew I was a chance for the World Record. It felt fast. I'm so happy to have hit the mark," Edward answers smoothly with the confidence of years speaking to the media.
"Another gold medal to add to the trophy cabinet. You must be thrilled."
Edward laughs. "Yes, I'm pretty happy about the little flower bunches they're giving out, too," he says.
The interviewer gives a nasally little laugh. "Yes? You like them?"
Edward looks directly down the camera with a smirk. "I do. I'm developing quite a thing for English roses."
Edward went on to win, with his teammates, the four by two hundred metre freestyle relay.
Later that night, just before bed, there is a knock at the door. A delivery guy hands me a square white box, bound with a red, white, and blue ribbon. In the box is a small bouquet of roses, lavender, rosemary, mint, and wheat.
The next couple of days are spent in much the same fashion. We volunteers are pretty comfortable with our tasks, and the meet is running smoothly. We are constantly told how great we are doing and that we are putting on a good show for the world. I'm happy because I'm doing an excellent job of blending in.
I've been told I can stay longer to do the synchronized swimming if I'd like, which I've politely declined. I saw some of the teams practicing earlier in the week. Seriously, like Alice said, they are crazy bitches.
Great Britain is doing really well in the pool, particularly the women's team, and the crowds are flocking. The mood is rambunctious for both the daytime and evening sessions, which is a reflection on what the whole city is like. While the crowd is mostly supporting Team GB, they seem to have a soft spot for Edward Cullen. Everybody loves a hero, no matter which country they're from. Everyone wants to see him win.
To add to his collection, he wins another two gold medals for the two hundred metre individual medley and the one hundred metre freestyle.
I receive another two bouquets: one for the living room and one for my bedroom. Between flowers, sweet texts, and long phone calls, I'm liking this man just a little more each day.
Edward has two more events to go before his Games is done with. I haven't had much of a chance to talk with him at the pool, but we've chatted on the phone each night, and he has been texting me in between sessions in the pool and media commitments.
Two more finals and I'm done. Do you like the flowers? - E
I grin as I eat my dinner with the other volunteers. Jess looks at me from across the table.
I did, they're lovely. Thank you. :) Are you sure you don't want to keep them for your mum? ~ B
She doesn't mind. She has been quizzing me on who I've been giving them to though. - E
What did you tell her? ~ B
I said they were for someone special. ;) Will try get some more for you tonight. - E
I'm blushing as my phone continues to buzz. Jess narrows her eyes at me with a grin. "OK, Swan," she says, putting down her sandwich and wiping the corner of her mouth with a serviette. "Let's have it. You've been smiling at that phone for days. New fella?"
I'm trying to decide what to say, but I've paused too long. Jess lets out a squeal. "There is!" She claps her hands. "Who is he?"
I shake my head and pick up my empty plate. I've gotten the impression that Jess is a bit of a gossip, and there's no way I'm feeding her any info.
I'm out on the pool deck with my basket, waiting for the swimmers in the men's one hundred metre butterfly. Again, Edward is the fastest qualifier, but this time he'll be in my lane.
I stand impassively as the swimmers are introduced to cheers and fanfare. When the crowd favourite, and mine, saunters in with his half-smile and obligatory two-fingered wave, I fist my hands to keep from reaching towards him.
Get a grip, Bella!
I manage to keep my face under control, only just, as Edward unzips his hoodie and tosses it into the basket at my feet. He grins at me as he removes his track pants and tosses his flip-flops into the basket. I know, somewhere, there's a camera on him, and by default, me too, so I am trying my very hardest to not do or say something that will draw attention to myself. I have a feeling Edward knows what he's doing, especially when he winks at me just before puling his goggles over his eyes. I feel heat on my cheekbones, and he chuckles as he walks away.
Again, I'm awarded with an amazing view as Edward stands on the starting blocks, and before I know it, they're off and racing. I can see Edward's upper back muscles work as his arms swing out, over, and into the water.
Butterfly is definitely my favourite event.
I watch the main screen as Edward pulls away farther and farther from his opponents, taking the race easily. He makes it look as if wiping the field is just part of his daily routine. Just as easily, he hoists himself out of the water to greet the crowd and raise his hands in the air. He waves to his mum, who this time, I see wave back—awww!—and wanders over to me, taking his swim cap off on the way and raking his hands through his bronze hair.
"Hey," he says with a grin.
"Hello," I reply, with an equal grin. "Congrats, great swim." Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the shift volunteer supervisor watching us. Leaping into Edward's arms for a congratulatory hug at this point would definitely be a bad idea.
The man in front of me is still grinning as he picks up a small towel from the basket and a bottle of water. He gulps half the water in one go, and I see his Adam's apple work in his throat. I now understand why they go through something like ten thousand condoms in the Athlete's Village over the course of the Games—everything these people do is hot. Or maybe it's just Edward and his effect on me.
"All in a day's work," he answers cockily. His arrogance is hot, especially since Edward is able to back up the talk with performance. He chuckles. "Just kidding, I'm stoked." His grin breaks wider.
He takes a step towards me. I inhale. Out of the corner of my eye, I see his fingers twitch. My toes wriggle, almost as if my body wants to step towards him on its own accord. He clenches his fist and his green eyes blaze into mine. I can't hear the crowd. All I can hear is my own blood rushing in my ears.
"Do you have everything you need, Mr Cullen?" The volunteer supervisor interrupts.
"Almost," Edward answers, still gazing at me. My breath comes out in a whoosh.
Edward steps back and starts towards the media area. He gives a small grin with a nod of his head before he turns.
I take a deep breath and collect the basket. Somehow, my legs take me to the swimmers' area.
On the last day of the swimming programme, there is an especially electric buzz. The last four swimming medals to be awarded at the Aquatic Centre will be awarded during the evening and only session for the day. Edward has his last swim for the meet in the final race for the swimming programme, the four by one hundred medley relay. Where he is swimming his favourite—and mine—butterfly.
I'm standing, for the last time, behind my basket in lane four. Hands behind my back, gentle smile on my face, blending in, not standing out.
The GB team walks out to stamping feet and thunderous applause. The Americans walk out to an almost equal reaction, mostly due to the hero of the London games. It's almost eerie when a hush falls, just before the starter's gun, and then it erupts all over again at a fever pitch.
Edward is third into the water. His arms swing in that mesmerizing action of out, up, over that I've come to love, hitting the wall for their final swimmer to dive in. I watch Edward as he swings himself out of the water to join his teammates while they cheer on Jacob for the final leg. My heart is in my mouth as I watch the man I am insanely attracted to lean over the pool to shout encouragement into the water.
I shift my eyes to the big screen to get a better look—it's neck and neck between Jacob and the Brit. On the last lunge, it's a photo finish. The crowd is on the edge of their seats, a hum thrumming throughout the Aquatic Centre as they wait in anticipation. The two men touching the wall are shown over and over on the screen before the result is announced.
The USA team has won by one hundredth of a second.
Edward, Jasper, and their teammates whoop and pump the air, hoisting Jacob from the water by his wrists. They embrace on the pool deck, wave frantically at the crowd, and high-five. The audience is going crazy—they certainly got their money's worth for the final event of the meet.
Along with the other volunteers, I clap and smile at the celebrating foursome on the pool deck, before the bronze-haired member of the team slowly turns towards me. He looks at me, eyes wide and alight. My heart starts to beat faster.
Before I know it, my feet leave the ground and I'm spun around in the air. I tuck my head into his chest and giggle as I feel chlorinated water soak into the front of my shirt. Edward is laughing, the vibrations buzzing on the cheek that is pressed to his bare chest. I feel lips pressed to the top of my head before he stops and sets me back on the ground.
By the look on his face, I don't think my volunteer supervisor approves. I'm not abiding by the volunteers code of "blending in", but I'm finding it really hard to care.
My hair is a mess, the front of my shirt drenched and, as I look down, starting to cling to me. Edward takes a few steps back, his eyes raking downwards. I cross my arms in front of my body to try to maintain some modesty. Edward gives me a knowing grin before a laughing Jasper pulls him away.
The morning after my date with Edward, I'm dressed in my black cut-off shorts and my Florence and the Machine tank top, teamed with my Chucks. Pulling my hair into a ponytail, I smile to myself as I think of how this man is quietly taking over my thoughts.
Last night, he appeared at my door, dressed casually in jeans and a black button-down short-sleeved shirt with a wide grin on his face. A driver took us to a Japanese restaurant where we were seated at the back in a secluded area. Because when you've won a bucketload of medals, people are happy to give you what you want. We shared sushi, a bottle of wine, and tales of childhood. I talked about my work as a sub-editor for a popular food magazine, and rambled a little too passionately about my dislike of gossip rags. I listened as he told me of meeting his best friend through training, his love for chasing the black line at the bottom of the pool, and his love for his family. He told me how proud his mum was and about their lunch earlier that day, that he was still in shock at winning eight gold medals at an Olympic Games, and that now he had achieved everything he ever wanted, sports-wise.
After dinner, he held my hand as we walked along the Thames and ate ice cream. When he dropped me off, he promised to see me the next day after he kissed the corner of my lip softly goodnight.
As I'd bundled through the door, shutting it behind me, Alice gave me a knowing smile from her spot on the couch as I loftily bid her goodnight and headed for my room. I'd heard her laugh as I shut the door.
This morning, Edward took me to the rowing venue at Eton Dorney, where we watched the canoe and kayak sprints. Apparently, he didn't get interrupted there. We sat in the sun, cheered on our respective countries, and chatted happily. That night, he hung out with Alice and me on the couch while he rubbed Aloe Vera into the sunburn on my shoulders and Alice made us both laugh. He invited both Alice and me to come and watch Jasper's sister play in a basketball game tomorrow with Jasper and him. Alice couldn't agree quickly enough.
The basketball game was fantastic, and the atmosphere was just as exciting as at the swimming, but I found I had more of a chance to enjoy it. After meeting Alice with all her ridiculously excessive enthusiasm for life, Edward had declared she'd be a perfect match for Jasper. Sure enough, when we introduced them, Alice had declared she'd be happy to name their first-born daughter after Jasper's 'mee-maw', to which he'd agreed. He'd taken her hand and held it throughout the entire afternoon, never leaving her side and listening with rapt attention to every word she'd rattled in her high-speed Scouse lilt.
As we were all having a pint at a pub nearby after the final game for the night, Alice and Jasper were in a close, slightly drunk, discussion about how to make their long-distance relationship work.
I didn't see Alice for the rest of the week.
On Wednesday, Edward is busy with media commitments for most of the day. He's been asked to do some special comments for a number of different national networks for the athletics, including a sit-down interview with the Jamaican that is his land-based athletic equivalent. We spend Wednesday night at my flat, cuddling and watching the BBC's coverage as I ask lots of questions. Edward answers them all amongst kisses to my forehead, gentle fingers running up and down my arms, and innocent touches that set my body alight.
I cannot believe I've known this man for less than two weeks. We just seem to click. It's amazing to see him in 'work' mode. When approached by fans, he's dynamic, charismatic, and always happy to pose for a photo or sign an autograph. But the facade is dropped when we're alone—he's sweet, devoted, and sensitive. I'm sparked by the little things he does, like holding the car door open for me, placing a hand softly in the small of my back to guide me, and rubbing soothing circles almost subconsciously on the back of my hand. I love the smile that he gives me, the one that I don't see when he poses for photographs with total strangers. It doesn't hurt that my body responds in all sorts of delicious ways to him, although aside from snuggling on the couch, all has been fairly innocent to now.
Each night, he heads back to the Athlete's Village, and I curl up in bed, alone, except for my thoughts and frantic fingers.
I'm also hyperaware that the two weeks of magic that has swept London up into a frenzy is coming rapidly to an end. I can only suspect that this, too, has a shelf life.
I hate the thought of it. And I'm not ready to say goodbye.
I understand our worlds are different. His training, media commitments, and sponsorship endorsements come with responsibility. I have a job I'm committed to and a flat I'm bound to for at least another ten months.
"Penny for your thoughts, love?" he asks, gently stroking the hair at the back of my neck. "You've hardly said a word all night."
I sigh, but turn to him with a small smile. "I was just thinking about what happens after Sunday."
Green eyes narrow at me. "I've actually been meaning to speak to you about that..." He trails off. My stomach drops, even though I'd expected this. I can't help but interrupt.
"I mean, you're going back to the States. I'm here. Can we just talk about it later? I just want to enjoy the time I have with you."
I feel lips press into the top of my head and a soft murmur. I close my eyes and vow to enjoy this while it lasts.
On Saturday morning, I'm woken by something with a start. Looking around my room, I glance at my phone, which is lit up with a new message. Sliding the unlock, I read the text.
Good morning, beautiful. Going to need to raincheck again, something has come up. - E
I can't help it; my heart sinks just a little. I sense this is the beginning of the end—my little emo-spell on Wednesday has made Edward realise this is short-lived. We've spent every day together since he's stopped competing up until Wednesday, and then… nothing.
I guess he's figured he's better off hanging out with his Team USA teammates. They could probably enjoy the sports with him without asking a stack of questions every three minutes.
I sigh and tap a reply. No problem. Have a good day. ~ B. I toss my phone onto the bed, not expecting a reply.
Something feels stuck in my throat. Silly, silly Bella for getting in so deep so quickly.
I head for the bathroom to rinse away the feeling with my shampoo. I need an intervention.
Towel drying my hair and tying it up in a loose bun, I retrieve my phone and dial. She answers within two rings.
"Hi, slapper!" The cheerful voice chirps at me.
I feel like I've swallowed a golf ball. Or a shot put. "Al? You busy?"
My girl knows something's up. "B? You okay?"
Attempting to clear my throat, I fight to get the words out. "Yeah, I think so."
"Bullshit. You, me, breakfast. I'll meet you at Pavilion in an hour. See you then." She doesn't give me a chance to respond.
An hour and a half later, I'm sitting with Alice overlooking the park, stirring sugar into my coffee.
"So he didn't say anything?" she asks. I shake my head. "And you haven't seen him since Wednesday." That was more of a statement. I shake my head again.
"What did I expect, Al? I mean, he's the best-known swimmer in the world today. He's won like, every gold medal ever, and he's on TV. Tag fucking Heuer pays him to wear their watches. He's used to five-star hotels and Michelin-star restaurants."
"You're used to Michelin-star restaurants."
"Yeah, but that's to write about them, not have them clear tables so I can go there." My coffee spills as I stir it a little too vigorously. I toss my spoon onto the saucer with a clink and put my head in my hands. "All I can offer him is cheap curry and lager."
"There's nothing wrong with cheap curry, Bella." Alice gently removes my hand from my hair and places it on the table. "Look, this whole Olympics thing is nearly over. Maybe we can bail on tomorrow night and just get on with our lives, like the rest of the city."
I look at her and see that her blue eyes are shining with concern. I know she and Jasper have spent the week together, and I can tell that the two of them have discussed 'after'.
I shake my head. "You know we can't, Al. We'd regret it forever... "
During the course of the week, both of us have received calls from the Games Makers team. A select number of volunteers have been invited to attend the Closing Ceremony as boundary volunteers. The plan is to map out a big Union Jack on the arena, and the boundary volunteers are responsible for keeping the athletes to a specific part. And, I guess, stop them from stealing the props. If the buzz was big at the Opening, it's supposed to be huge for the Closing. I have been looking forward to this, and I'm absolutely sure I'll regret not doing it.
Alice squeezes my hand firmly. She's strong for a tiny person. "Then we'll do it."
Today is the last day of the Games of the XXX Olympiad. By midnight tonight, the marathon will be finished, the torch will be extinguished, the world will go home, and London will get its streets back.
And I'll be back to being anonymous, blend-into-the-background, Bella Swan.
Early afternoon, Alice and I are dressed in our regulation plum Games Maker garb, sensible shoes, makeup, and hairstyles, and are on the bus headed for the Olympic Stadium. She's been texting Jasper back and forth all morning. Last night, he told her he's taking six weeks off and is going to head off around Europe, starting with a week on some Greek island. He invited her to go with him. She said yes straight away.
I lean my head against the window and watch the city roll past. There's a strange vibe around—the memory reels have started to wistful, inspirational music on the BBC, and people are reliving their 'best Games moments'. I wonder what music the BBC would use to wrap up my Games experience.
I turn to look at the people sharing the bus with us. The woman across the aisle is reading a gossip rag, but it's the bottom right hand corner of the magazine that gets my attention.
"Excuse me, could I borrow your magazine for a tic?" I ask her. She nods her grey head and passes it to me. I flip to page six.
Edward Cullen steps out with mystery woman.
Sure enough, Edward is photographed with a dark-haired mystery woman. Both of them wear dark glasses and baseball caps at the rowing, and are photographed walking out of a restaurant. They are snapped again with heads bowed close together, sharing a quiet moment at an otherwise busy basketball game.
Edward Cullen has been making a splash on numerous occasions with the same dark-haired beauty at Olympic events and seeing the sights around London. While she has not been identified, she does not appear to be a member of the USA Olympic Team. The photos taken do not show if it was the same volunteer that Edward spontaneously embraced during the last day of the swimming competition. Representatives for Mr Cullen were not available for comment.
My throat goes dry and I choke on air. Alice looks at me, then follows my eye-line to the gossip rag. "Mother of fuck," she breathes. "That's you, B!"
I swallow heavily before passing the magazine back to its owner across the aisle. I go back to staring out the window.
Sensing my nerves, Alice takes my hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze. I hate attention, and to see myself in magazines makes things really weird. Although you can't see my face, anyone that knows me will know it's me.
I trace the edge of my fingernail, along the line where blue nail polish meets skin. "Well, 'twas nice while it lasted, Al," I say to my best friend.
"B, you don't know..."
"What I do know is that I haven't heard from him. I've gone from seeing him every day, to a text message saying he had to cancel our plans. And he's not answering my calls, nor is he returning them."
I shake my head as if to clear the thoughts running through it. "It's okay. After today, it'll be all over."
The rest of the bus ride is in silence but for the tapping of Alice's fingers on her touchscreen phone.
At the arena, we're herded into our section. I'm thankful Alice and I are together—we started this whole Games thing together with that audition last June, and it seems fitting that we will finish it up holding hands in the middle of the Olympic Stadium.
We have our earpieces in, and I can hear the buzz, similar to two weeks ago, above me in the stadium. The atmosphere is quite different to the Opening—where then it was about anticipation, tonight is all about celebration. The nerves are still there, but this is all about the acknowledgement of a job well done.
We file out into the stadium wearing our funny blue costumes—and fucking light-globes on our heads? Seriously?—and take our places. The first few acts are fantastic, and the girls in the line near me squeal when Prince Harry is introduced as the Queen's representative. Seriously, who'd have known he'd grow up to be the hot one?
Alice rolls her eyes at them and whispers in my ear, "Fucking fangirls."
I laugh at her. "Tell me you didn't do the same when you saw Jasper swim last week."
Alice huffs but can't hide her grin in acknowledgement.
Before I know it, the flags are paraded into the stadium to a standing ovation by the crowd. I can't help but pay attention as the American flag is brought in by a girl I recognise as Jasper's sister. Alice gives Rosalie a wave, who nods her head in greeting.
"Rose is quite sweet," Alice tells me. "She's marrying an Irishman. A weightlifter that went to college over in the States. That's where he and Rose met." Alice continues to prattle on. "He still competes for Ireland. He's a real sweetie—really huge though. Emmett McCarty. I met him during the week."
My attention is drawn up into the stadium, where, the Olympic athletes filter through the crowds. I feel my stomach knot, but I don't see any Americans walking my way. This makes me a little relieved. I'm not sure I can stomach talking to a man that has been seemingly avoiding me.
The athletes just seem to keep coming and coming. The ones that missed the Opening due to early starts the next day are all here, relishing in the atmosphere. Athletes that have won medals are kissing and biting them, posing for the cameras littered around the place. Small flags are waved, camera phones are directed upwards, and athletes pose for pictures with others from different countries. Ticker tape is falling, covering the athletes, the arena, and volunteers with small pieces of paper.
Eventually, the lights dim and the show continues. Alice and I watch the performers that we can see and direct our eyes to the big screen for the parts we can't. We dance around, waving our arms and generally having a ball.
One of the highlights is during Russell Brand's performance as 'the Walrus', when Alice and I are jostled as athletes try to push past us for a better look. My girl is tough, though, and politely asks them to "back the fuck off." They look down at my tiny friend, take in the look on her face, and do as she asks.
The flame is extinguished to a collective sigh from the stadium. It looks like it's pretty much all over. As I watch the fire diminish in the Olympic cauldron, I feel heat rise just behind me, prickling the back of my neck.
I lower my eyes and turn slowly. A strong hand is placed on the bottom of my chin, raising my head gently to look into green, green eyes.
"I've been looking for you everywhere," Edward's smooth voice says. "You're difficult to find in a crowd of thousands. Plus, I had to try and get through the Brazilian conga line that's going on over there."
I can't help it. I let out a small, muted laugh.
"I haven't heard from you," I say. "I didn't think I'd see you again."
Edward furrows his brow at me, causing adorable lines across his forehead. "I'm sorry I've been out of touch the last few days."
"I understand," I tell him. "You're going home, and you wanted to soak up the last of the atmosphere. Really, I get it."
Edward places his hands on my hips. "I don't think you do. I've been out of contact for a few days, but not without reason."
He's so close, it's hard to breathe. Around us, the Games are being declared over.
"They wouldn't let me have my phone on in the Embassy. And I've spent the last few days all over London, yes, but not for the reason you think."
Edward chuckles. "I had to go there to discuss getting a working visa for the UK."
Ah, me and my internal/external voice again. Wait a second...
He grins at me. "Yes, I need one to work here. And the real estate agent wanted one for the lease on my apartment."
Green eyes dance at me. "I'm staying, Bella. I mean, I have to go back home straight after the games for some media stuff, but I'm coming back. I'm coming back to you."
There are people everywhere around us: athletes, officials, volunteers, and performers. I'm aware of none of them, only the copper haired man standing in front of me.
I clear my throat. "But what does this mean?"
Somewhere in the distance, I hear The Who. The sky lights up with fire.
"I can't stay away from you," he tells me earnestly. "I know we've only known each other a few weeks, but I can't imagine you not being in my life. I want you in my life, Bella. Indefinitely."
My heart swells and pounds. "Oh, Edward. I want you in my life, too."
He smiles wider. Explosions from the fireworks overhead pop and crackle in the air. All around us, there are cheers, oohs and ahhs. I'm only semi-aware of the cameraman to my right, training a lens on us.
Edward reaches one hand around me, placing it on the small of my back, the other cupping my face. He gently lifts my face towards him. I reach up on tiptoes and wrap my arms around his neck, teasing the soft hair just above the nape. When his lips touch mine gently, I'm barely aware of whether my eyes are open or shut as warm light fills the air in pinks, blues, and purples. The tip of Edward's tongue gently touches where my lips join and I open my mouth with a gasp, reaching my own tongue to join with his.
Beside me, I hear Alice squeal and other voices cheering closer to us. Edward smiles against my lips and gently dips me backwards, continuing to massage my lips with his. I giggle into his open mouth, opening my eyes to see my man smiling back at me. He straightens me, cupping my chin in both hands and letting our foreheads rest together.
Out of the corner of my eye, over his shoulder on the big screen, I see an image of two people in a close embrace. There's a, black-haired tiny person leaping and clapping excitedly behind them, tugging on the hand of a tall, curly-haired, blond man.
In that moment, I'm not bothered that my image is being beamed to thousands in this stadium and millions around the world. I don't care that I'm probably going to be on another magazine, read by the likes of gossipy Jessica Stanley. All I care is that this man is coming back to me, to us, to give us a chance.
If that's what I get, I don't mind standing out.
Edward was confused with some of the British words used, maybe some stumped you, too? A pint is a beer. A one-off is something that is happening, done, or made only once. A telly is a television, and Alice's favourite nickname for Bella—a slapper is a promiscuous woman.