Title: Sixteen Years
Rated: M for language
Summary: Sixteen years after his band Dusk broke up, nineties grunge rocker Edward Cullen is finally making a comeback. As part of his record deal he's been assigned a stylist. Will his anger drive her away or will he finally learn to let go of the past?
Disclaimer: I don't own Twilight.
A/N: Extra special thanks got to Mary Kitty Masen and Dolly Reader; I couldn't have done this without you. xx
Airports are not designed for sleeping in, that's for sure.
My gaze shifted slowly around the area that my band and road crew had commandeered. They were sprawled over every available seat and some even opted to lay on the floor. Garrett had a jacket rolled up and was using it as a pillow. Liam was propped up against a wall, his head lolling to the side every now and again. Everyone was desperate for just a few minutes of sleep.
All these people were snowed in, stranded, unable to get home, sleeping on the fucking floor, all for me.
That's when it finally hit me.
These people were more than likely going to miss seeing their loved ones on Christmas, and I'd been making a big deal out of a fucking pair of jeans for the past two months.
Who was I? And how did I become this person? I remember when it used to be about the music. Me and four other guys in the back of a stinky van.
Now I had four times that many people traveling with me. Working for me. And we'd stayed in some of the best hotels. I had a manager from the record company doing pretty much anything I wanted just to keep me happy, and what did I do? I deliberately fought with her, constantly trying to piss her off.
When did things change? When did I become such an asshole? It seemed like it had happened so gradually over the years that it was something I never noticed. Jamie would have told me to shut up and grow the fuck up ages ago. It freaked me out how horrible I'd become and no one had put me in my place. No one except for Bella.
For a crazy designer/stylist, Bella wasn't nearly as big a disaster as I originally thought she was. As I got to know her I realized that she was actually a really cool chick. She didn't once dress in her freaky style while we were on tour. In fact, since that first day I met her, I hadn't seen her wear one weird thing. She liked colorful things, sure, but none of it was ever over the top.
I thought back to when I first met Bella, I had been in a shit mood because Leah wouldn't get off my ass about something trivial, something I had once again blown up to be a major issue. All I'd wanted was to rehearse with my band and she wouldn't let it go.
I would never forget how Bella was dressed that day. So fucking freaky! And how her studio had looked like a bomb had gone off in it. I had been so quick to judge her from the way she looked, and just because I didn't want to wear the stuff that anyone told me to wear I acted like a sulky child.
I pulled out my phone again and looked at the address that Leah had texted me. Well, it was the right number, but jeesh this place was a dump. The building itself was pretty run down, the windows had bars on them and the front door was in desperate need of a paint job.
I neared the door and noticed a small gold plaque next to a buzzer.
I.M. Swan, Designer
Well at least I was in the right place.
I pressed the buzzer and then stepped back and waited. And waited. I was just about to give up and head back to the studio, orders from the record company be damned, when the door swung open revealing a disheveled blonde.
"Come in please, Bella is expecting you," she stepped out of the way and gestured behind her towards a staircase.
I took each step slowly and the blond chattered behind me.
"I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting; Bella has been busy getting ready for a show and is just finishing up some alterations with one of her models..."
I nodded again. I wondered if they knew I was reluctant to even see anyone. I'd fought tooth and nail not to have to go and be 'dressed' by an expert but Leah had been adamant that it was a non-negotiable part of the deal that I had signed with the record company.
I made it to the top of the stairs, ignoring the incessant talk of the blond following me and looked around. The small studio was a complete disaster, there were clothes and fabric rolls strewn all over the place; over the couch, all the desks, even on the floor. Several dressmaker's dummies were placed haphazardly around the room, each clad in a varying array of dress, from half finished evening wear to bizarre feather covered burlesque outfits.
I almost turned around and walked straight out; this certainly wasn't the right person to be 'dressing' me. I was a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy, and an occasional flannel. I definitely wasn't the right sex for most of the clothes that were in production here.
"Bella!" the blond yelled as she scurried past me, "Mr. Cullen is here and he's waiting." She smiled over at me, then rushed over to a couch and started frantically clearing it off.
"Here, you can have a seat while you wait," she said as she wrestled with the pile of fabrics overflowing in her arms.
I nodded once in reply and threw myself into the seat. This was fast becoming a waste of my time. I could be back at the studio rehearsing with my band for the tour, or doing anything more useful... like my laundry... or washing my hair...
The blond had disappeared into a room near the stairs, dropping things in her wake, and had yet to come back. I wondered who this Bella chick was, and why she couldn't be on time. I pulled my phone out and checked a couple of messages, the next couple of weeks before the promo tour started were going to be very busy.
Seemed my 'comeback' was big news. I had no idea what they thought I was 'coming back' from; I had never really gone away.
Okay yeah, I was angry with the world when Dusk split up after Jamie had... died but I hadn't ever really left the scene. I guess the band was bigger than all of us.
I don't know how long I sat on the lumpy couch, scowling angrily at message after message, sent by Leah, telling me what was required of me in the next couple of weeks. Leah had been part of the deal, a stooge sent by the record company to keep me organized and 'manage me'. She was nice enough, but I learned quickly that she loved to boss me around and when I didn't do what she said she got mad easily.
I smirked to myself, yeah, maybe I liked to deliberately rile her up a little too.
Finally, a door flew open across the room and a tall guy walked out, he was laughing like a dick as he buttoned up his shirt. I huffed loudly, trying to show my irritation. It's about fucking time.
Another female voice was coming from behind him but I couldn't see past his large form, whoever it was, was very short.
The guy turned around and hugged the short person and then he strutted on past me like an even bigger dick towards the stairs, I watched him walk, amused at his bravado.
"Mr. Cullen," the voice said and I quickly looked back at the person. "I'm Bella Swan, and I'm sorry I kept you waiting," she smiled widely as she neared me with her hand held out for me to shake.
I gasped and almost recoiled back in shock; I couldn't help it. I almost wanted to leap behind the couch and hide. This woman was a disaster! She had the messiest curly dark hair piled on her head, there were feathers and beads all through it. It looked like she had just pulled anything from the floor and shoved it into the knotted birds nest on top of her head. Her clothing was insane, too bright and way over the top, and the front of her shirt was covered in some ugly picture; she was even wearing a tutu! I couldn't even describe it if I wanted to. I grimaced as I raked my eyes down to her bare feet, where she had her toes freakily curled up as she stood there waiting for me to acknowledge her.
"Mr. Cullen?" she prompted, and my attention jumped back to her overdone face, her bright pink lips were pulled into an amused smirk as she tried not to laugh at me.
I cleared my throat and tried to look apologetic as I rose from my seat and took her outstretched hand.
"Yeah, that's me. Sorry about that," I mumbled.
She laughed slightly and made a gesture towards the room she'd just emerged from with the strutter.
"Let's get started shall we?"
I nodded and she led me through the minefield and into the room; which, unlike the rest of the place, was surprisingly tidy. There was a rack of clothes running down one entire side of the room and a mirror taking up the whole opposite wall. A huge metal tool box overflowing with sewing supplies sat in the corner next to a couch and a box thing was in the middle of the room. Bella stood in front of the rack and started pulling things out.
"So I've spoken with someone from your recording company," she waved her hands wildly in front of her face, "and they told me just to tidy your look up and modernize it a little. I usually don't do this kind of thing, but it was a favor for a friend. And truthfully..." she turned around and smiled, "I used to be a big Dusk fan..."
I cringed. This can't be good. I really just wanted to get the hell out of there; she looked like an insane wannabe four year old. I had no idea how she would be able to dress me when it looked like she couldn't even dress herself properly.
She ignored my discomfort and handed me what she was holding.
"I'll give you a second to get changed and then I'll come back in and see if there's anything we need to do." And with that she swept out of the room.
I looked down at what she'd handed me.
"The fuck?" I exclaimed holding the garments up.
She'd handed me the exact same clothes I was already wearing! Albeit they were new and the jeans had no holes in the knees but it was still the exact same fucking outfit.
I was so close to telling everyone to go fuck themselves, this was a waste of all our time.
It had been a long few years, to be honest, the past sixteen years had kinda sucked. And now that I was getting myself back on track, back to what my dreams had been before... Dusk disintegrated, I really didn't see why I needed to be told what to wear. Jeans were jeans. Well at least that's what I thought.
I grumbled to myself, and reluctantly started to undress. The quicker I got this over with the quicker I could get back to some of the more important stuff.
I stood there in my boxers and glared at the clothes. Fuck! How did I get myself into this? Things were so much easier back when I was in Dusk; there was none of this 'image' bullshit. And honestly, I just didn't want to wear the jeans Bella gave me under principle that I didn't need to be told what to wear. The clothes I had just taken off were perfectly fine.
"Are you ready?" Bella's voice called out from behind the closed door.
"One minute," I called and quickly tugged the denim up my legs. I buttoned the fly and threw the white t-shirt on, then opened the door. Bella was standing a few feet away leaning against a table and looking down at a cell phone.
Her eyes lit up when she saw me and she grinned.
She came in the room and gestured to the block, "can you step on here so I can see you a little better?"
I raised an eyebrow as if you say "why?" She looked back at me, her gaze never wavering, her ultra pink cheeks twitching as she tried not to smirk. When she didn't back down I huffed again, seemed like that was all I was doing today, and stepped up onto the damn podium.
I stared off into space as she hummed and flitted around me, tugging on the hem of my t-shirt and looking at the bottom of the jeans. I had to admit the jeans were comfortable, even though they were a little tighter than I was used to.
After I'd rolled my eyes about ten times at the absurdity of the situation she finally announced everything looked good. She was talking the whole time but I wasn't really listening so when she held up a bunch of other t-shirts I frowned with confusion.
"Just showing you the other shirts, Mr. Cullen. If there's anything you don't like please just speak up." She smiled but I could tell she was gritting her teeth.
I glanced quickly at each of them, they were all black, gray or white and had varying designs on the front.
"They're fine," I said dismissively, I just wanted to get the hell out of there.
She nodded. "I have to find you a suit for your album release and if there are any red carpet events you might need to attend, so if it's okay with you I'll just take a few measurements?"
I huffed and grunted a reply and she sprung into action, pulling a tape measure from the toolbox and taking notes on her phone.
Thankfully she was done quickly.
"And that's it!" She clapped her hands. "You can change back into your own clothes. Everything will be delivered to your record company in time for the tour, unless you'd prefer I bring it with me?" Her eyebrows rose in question and I stopped mid step, one foot still on the podium.
"What do you mean?"
For the first time since I'd been there she looked a little hesitant, "I'll be coming on the promotional tour. Your manager has asked me to act as wardrobe manager for the duration; for the press side of things at least," she shrugged, trying to play it off as no big deal.
Those bastards! They can't even trust me to dress myself, even when someone's supplying the clothes. I gritted my teeth and stomped towards the couch where I'd thrown my own clothes and without even waiting for her to leave the room I ripped the shirt over my head and began to change. I heard the door click seconds later and I knew she'd left.
I had probably hurt her feelings but couldn't bring it in me to care. Back when I was with Dusk no one had dressed us, so I really had no idea whether this was normal or not, it still pissed me off. Never in my career had I ever been told I had to look a certain way, or even had to dress up to impress anyone. And considering the clothes she had me try on we're almost duplicates of what I was already wearing, I was stunned. Surely this was some sort of joke.
I quickly changed and grabbed my gear then headed back into the main room. Bella was nowhere to be seen, but the blond was sitting at a desk in amongst the mess. She rose from her perch as I neared and handed me a card.
"In case you need anything."
I glanced quickly at the business card then shoved it in my pocket. Then with a quick polite smile I said goodbye and let myself out.
To this day, I still had no idea what her blond assistant's name was, that's how much of an arrogant asshole I had been.
"What has you thinking so hard over there," Leah asked as she sat down across from me. I had been so deep in thought I hadn't even heard her or Bella come back from their trip to the newsstand.
"Nothing much," I brushed it off.
I could hear Bella chatting to someone just behind me, she was laughing loudly, not caring that she had the laugh of a hyena, snorting and probably spitting all over whoever it was. She really didn't give a fuck what anyone thought of her, and that was something I loved about her.
It had only occurred to me recently how strongly I felt about her. It was strange, considering our first meeting, how beautiful I thought she was. Often during the tour she would sit and watch from the side of the stage when I performed. I found myself stopping during shows just to check if she was still there. I only played a handful of small venues during the promo tour but it was a rush to be back on the stage, doing it all the way I had back when Jamie was still alive and Dusk was just getting started. God I missed him. But I owed it to him to move on and become what we'd always talked about, instead of just coasting through life without any real direction, like I had been all these years.
Sixteen years was a fucking long time.
I squinted down at my worn chucks and took a deep breath; it really was time to get on with my life.
"Cullen!" Bella landed clumsily in the seat next to me and shoved me in the side. "What's up your nose?"
I chuckled at her ability to be happy even when we were snowed in at a strange airport and probably not going to get home in time for Christmas.
She nodded and tipped her head to the side, her eyes flickering around my face examining my expression.
"There's something different about you today." She didn't elaborate, for which I was grateful, she just nodded to herself and then slumped back into her seat and leaned her head back. We'd been spending a lot of time together, so I wasn't surprised by her scrutiny. By now she knew me better than almost anyone.
I tried to look at her without being obvious, but it was kinda hard when she was sitting right next to me. How wrong had I been about her when I first met her. She knew what I thought about her right from the start.
Two weeks after the fitting at Bella's studio, my album was released. It also heralded the start of the promo tour. There was an album release party, where I had been told I had to wear the suit provided, but thankfully they'd let me wear more casual (pre-approved of course) clothes for the short set they wanted me to play.
I was really fucking nervous, if people didn't like these songs I'd be playing to empty venues on the next tour. Also the press who were invited were the ones who decided if they wanted the world to hear more of it. I had a bunch of TV and radio spots booked but there was still a lot of spare time between cities that the record company was hoping would fill up quickly when the single got some more airplay.
The set went amazing. My band was fucking tight, hitting every note perfectly. All that rehearsing had paid off. When we were done the crowd went wild.
Hopefully that was a good sign.
Feeling really pumped from the great set and excited to go out and show people that I really wasn't a has-been, I threw on the suit provided by the wacky stylist and was just struggling to do up my tie when Leah barged into the dressing room.
"Edward!" she crowed, "That set was amazing!"
"Thanks." I turned away from the mirror and smiled at her. "Can you tie this fucking thing?"
She laughed and pushed my hands out of the way. I watched her as she tied it, her brown eyes squinting as she tried to perfect the knot.
"There are so many people I want you to meet tonight, Edward." Her eyes darted up to mine. I could tell just by the look she was giving me that she was warning me to be on my best behavior. I wasn't known for being entirely too hard to handle but I had a tendency to be rude, especially in situations I wasn't comfortable with. I guess Leah had spent enough time with me over the past couple of months to know that I wasn't really looking forward to this part of the night.
I nodded reluctantly. I knew she didn't just come in here to talk about how good I had sounded.
We made our way out into the party and I was immediately accosted by all sorts of people telling me that I sounded great and how much they loved the new album. I thanked them and slowly made my way to the bar. If I was going to spend all night talking about myself, I was going to need some alcohol to help me along the way.
It felt like forever but was probably not more than an hour later that I was standing with Aro Volturi, head of the record company. He was talking me up to some guy, I couldn't remember his name, and my attention was starting to drift. I found myself looking around, people watching. The crowd had thinned a little, most of the people who had really wanted to talk to me had already approached me, so I had been left to mingle on my own for a while, until Aro had caught up with me, so it was easy to see through the crowd.
That was when I spotted her.
She was fucking gorgeous, easily the best looking woman in the room. Probably the best looking woman I had ever seen. She looked over in my direction and we made eye contact and she smiled. I grinned and gave her a sexy wink, and she shook her head and looked as though she was about to laugh. What the fuck?
"...I don't think you will though," Aro said, clapping me on the back and drawing my attention back to him.
I coughed nervously, having missed most of the conversation and nodded; I had no idea what he'd just said. Thankfully, he excused himself to go schmooze with someone else he just had to speak to. I looked around, eager to find my mystery beauty again but she was gone. I was just about to make my way over to where she had been standing, when Leah walked up with someone else in tow. She introduced me and I played interested, all the while trying to scope out the beauty through the crowd.
Suddenly, Leah, who was still standing next to me, squealed loudly, causing me to wince. I turned to look at her, surprised. What the hell?! Had she had more to drink than I thought? Because for the past couple of hours she'd been all business. I don't think in the whole time she had been managing me had I ever seen her like this.
"There you are!" she said pointing her finger at someone behind me. "I was wondering when you'd show your face, Missy!"
"Ah well, you know what I'm like, Leah, just taking it all in," a voice I couldn't place but I'd sworn I'd heard before, came from next to my right shoulder.
I turned to greet the newcomer wracking my brain for a name or a face, anything that might tell me who this was and maybe when I'd met her before.
It was my mystery beauty!
"Mr. Cullen," she greeted me with a smirk.
I grinned and looked her up and down. She was even more amazing close up.
"Edward, you remember Bella don't you?" Leah's voice cut through my ogling.
Bella? Bella... Bella! No fucking way.
I looked back at her and squinted. Bella, the crazy stylist.
"Bella, how good to see you," I finally said.
She laughed, loudly, right in my face.
"You had no idea who I was did you?"
"Of course I did," I defended with a scoff.
She shook her head. "No need to look so shocked, Mr. Cullen. I do know how to dress for certain occasions. What'd you think I was gonna wear? A hula skirt?"
I had to laugh at her quick assessment of me from only one meeting. I knew I had treated her like she was diseased, so I was glad she didn't seem mad.
We chatted for a while longer until Leah pulled Bella away to introduce her to someone. I spent the rest of the night sneaking glimpses of her from wherever I was standing. She had this ease about her, like she was just so comfortable in her own skin that it didn't matter what anyone thought. In most other people I would have thought it was an aloofness, but on Bella it made her look confident, and a little sexy.
I wondered what things would be like when she joined the tour.
I slumped further in my seat with an aggravated sigh; I was never going to get any sleep here in the uncomfortable airport seating. Bella had nodded off beside me, and even Leah had resorted to lying curled up across a couple of seats to try and get some rest.
My mind drifted, and as they often did when I had nothing else to do, my thoughts turned to Jamie. I knew I wasn't really over his death, not properly. I had never really grieved. Dusk, as a band had spent some time together afterwards, doing press and sorting out affairs but personally I had never faced it head on. The thing is, I'd been in denial all these years, never really believing he was gone. Even down to the fact that I couldn't let go of the same clothes I had worn back then.
I was really lucky how my life was going right now. I knew now, after much contemplation, sitting alone in hotel rooms will do that to ya, that I had been a complaining asshole because I thought I was owed something. I had been through one lifetime already with Dusk and that had been taken away from me. I'd come around full circle, just to have to start over at the beginning again. Yeah, it wasn't fair, but it also wasn't my fault that Jamie killed himself. I had finally, with a little help, come to that realization.
Touring was easy, but it wasn't always fun because sometimes it reminded me of old times and what I'd lost after Jamie died. Even the promo stuff they had me doing was reminiscent of stuff I had done years before. It was the same old routine, but this time around it was more solitary. Even with the whole entourage I had traveling with me, my band, road crew, management and yes, even the designer who was acting as my stylist for the duration, I was still really just me, not a member of an ensemble like I had been with Dusk. At least we had all been in the same boat and could help keep each other occupied. This time around it was pretty damn lonely.
God, those were great days, touring with Dusk! We had grown used to the good life really quickly when we shot straight to the top of the charts, going from unknown garage band to megastars in just a few short months. Looking back, it was obvious that we'd become very popular far too quickly. Okay, maybe we had taken advantage of it a little but it was really quite overwhelming. We each dealt with it in a different way. The girls, the alcohol, the drugs, even just the cool places we could see or the clubs that we could get into so easily.
I guess it wasn't as easy for Jamie as I thought it had been, he was struggling and no one had even noticed. I was his best friend and I had no idea there was ever anything wrong.
Then he killed himself.
After Jamie died the band fell apart almost as quickly as we'd become famous. A lot of the people who had kissed our asses suddenly didn't want to have anything to do with us. It was a shock. Being what is known in the industry as a has-been really sucked. I was angry; not only had I lost my best friend, but I'd also lost my career.
It was like everyone had an opinion. Some people had even called us 'one hit wonders', which was totally incorrect and always made me laugh. There's nothing like being categorized with the likes of Right Said Fred and Vanilla Ice. Especially after people had raved that we were rock 'n' roll's second coming. We'd had two albums that had gone gold, and then not long after Jamie died, they both went platinum. All the singles on those albums were often now referred to as 'nineties anthems'.
Dusk was anything but a one hit wonder.
Because I had chosen to pursue a solo career in the music industry, I had more to prove than anyone. None of the other members had decided to stay in the business, a couple had totally disappeared; I couldn't tell you where they were now. I had kept in contact with our drummer, Jake. He had moved back home and become a mechanic. He still came to see me play when I was in town and supported me as much as he could from there. I guess all three other surviving members of Dusk were probably not quite as driven as Jamie and I had been back in the day.
Being the only remaining public link to Dusk people still recognized me. I didn't look any different than I used to. Hell, I even still dressed the same! Less people fawned over me than they once did; it was more the die-hard fans that still acknowledged me. Everyone else just ignored who I was and most of the time I could go on my merry way.
With the new tour and subsequent press I'd been doing, I was back on people's radars. It was starting to freak me out how many people suddenly remembered who I was. A few years ago it was uncool to be a Dusk fan, now people were all over me, saying they'd been a big fan of mine since the beginning. Industry people who'd basically written me off when the band split, saying that Jamie was the only real talent of the band, were now coming out of the woodwork and saying the opposite. I couldn't appear on a talk show or music channel without someone behind the scenes trying to kiss my ass, saying they'd been a fan for forever and wanted a piece of me. It was a little annoying. Where were all these people when I was playing the smoky clubs and dirty bars?
I was annoyed and really quite angry a lot of the time. I'd get asked questions about my music, comparing it to Dusk; I just wanted to be known for my own achievements instead. By the end of the first month of the promo tour everything had been building up; sycophants telling me what I wanted to hear, me answering all the same questions all the time. Hearing the same song played over and over; thrashed to the point where I didn't even want to play it when I had the chance to play something live.
I was taking it out on everyone. Especially Bella. It wasn't a good thing, but I still had to grin to myself, she was pretty much the only one, other than Leah, who had the nerve to stand up to me.
I was pissed and really just wanted to get onstage and do what I did best. I'd spent all day being shuttled around to interview after interview and was thankful that they'd scheduled a proper show for me to play in the middle of the press. When I finally got to the venue all I wanted was to be left alone.
But of course things hadn't been going my way lately, and as soon as I got there I had people annoying me. Leah had been bossing me around, saying I had commitments to fulfill. She made me sign a bunch of merch and then finally, when my hand was about to fall off she let me go. When I finally made it to my dressing room to get ready and warm up, there was Bella, placing whatever she wanted me to wear for the night, on the rack. Which was probably something identical to what I was already fucking wearing, seemed like that was usually the case.
I knew I was out of line from the moment I entered the room with a slam of the door. I practically snarled when I saw her, causing her to turn around with fright, her hand held to her chest.
"Just do what you have to fucking do and then get the fuck out," I said trying to contain my rage. It wasn't even her that I was mad at, it had just been a bad day and I needed someone to take it out on.
Her whole body stiffened, she stood up straight and thrust her hands on her hips.
"Excuse me, Mr. Cullen. I know you don't want me here. It's kinda obvious," she growled, her eyes blazing. "But since your record company is paying me to make sure you're dressed like someone in this century I'm not going anywhere."
I opened my mouth, intending to give her back what she'd just dished out to me, when her hand shot out in front of her causing me to flinch back.
"And yes, before you say anything nasty, it IS only a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, but if you actually looked at yourself in a mirror, you'd notice how different they look. Please for all of our sakes, stop being such a stubborn ass and put them on. I don't really care what you think anymore!" she huffed before storming out of the room mumbling to herself.
I was livid. How dare this fake stylist talk to me that way!
I opened the door and yelled down the hall for Leah, hoping she was nearby. That was the final straw. The record company can screw themselves if they think I'm going to put up with that.
Leah came rushing into the room, I could tell she was flustered but I really didn't have it in me to care. I was meant to be doing a show in an hour and the way things were going it would be set full of very aggressive songs.
"What the fuck, Leah?" I asked. "I want her gone. Tonight."
"No," she replied sternly in her usual business-like tone, making me even angrier. Was everyone against me? "I can't fire her, and neither can you."
"Why not? How hard can it be to buy a pair of jeans in the right size? In fact, don't worry about it, I'll just wear all my own clothes from now on." I nodded in resolution and sat down on the couch, pulling my guitar from its case and starting to tune it. At least if I wore my own clothes I wouldn't even have to get changed for the show.
"You know I can't do that. It's in your contract, Edward." She always said that, it was starting to grow tired.
"Well then find someone else. Surely there are other... more qualified... people around." I didn't even bother to look at her.
"I can't do that either, Edward." Leah was really annoying me with her hovering around the door.
"What the fuck are you talking about? There are probably hundreds of unemployed stylists out there waiting for a shot."
She laughed sarcastically, "You'd think so wouldn't you?"
That got my attention. What was that supposed to mean?
"Look, Edward. We tried pretty much everyone we possibly could when we saw that you weren't too happy with Bella, but no one would take the job." She crossed the room and sat on the other end the couch and sighed, her voice growing softer. "Aro had insisted that you needed your look updated, he'd heard from someone that you were 'stuck in the nineties' and 'still dressing like an old grunge rocker'. He really wanted to sign you but he didn't think you looked very marketable. It wasn't easy when you were all about your music and didn't care at all about your image. Which is why I got desperate and called in a favor from a friend; Bella and I have known each other for years. Even though you think she's a little weird, she's good at what she does. Edward, she's only here because I asked her to be."
"So what, I'm just some sort of charity case?"
She slowly shook her head, "No, of course not, but it was a stipulation in your contract, and I didn't want you to be dropped before you'd even signed over something as trivial as some clothes. Your songs are amazing. And, I mean, Bella managed to dress you perfectly without losing any of your usual edge. So it all worked out, except that you have this thing about not being told what to wear." her mouth turned up just slightly. "I think she has done a great job. And contrary to what you might think, she needed this job just as much as we needed her."
I frowned and Leah smiled sadly. "She's relatively unknown and getting herself out there takes a lot of time and money..." she trailed off and her gaze shifted towards the door.
"So.." she started as she stood up and wiped her hands down her pants, "that's why I think you should just put the new fucking jeans on and go out and play the shit out of those excellent songs!"
I knew what she was doing, she was trying to diffuse the tension in the room, so that I could get into show-mode. Even though she'd been more personal with me in the past ten minutes than she'd been with me since I'd known her, I knew she was already back to business.
I nodded and ran my hand through my hair. "Okay."
I tried hard to tame the anger towards the jeans after that, but sometimes it just came from out of nowhere. Who was it that told Aro I looked like a 'washed up grunge rocker', or whatever Leah's description had been?
Bella sniffed loudly next to me and wriggled in her seat, bringing me back to the present, again. God she was cute. Even when she was mad I found her attractive, and she'd told me off more than just that one time. There was no way I was going to admit that the new jeans were more comfortable than my old faithful ripped pair, I didn't want to look like a pussy and I certainly didn't want the record company saying "I told you so." It was not something I'd put much thought into before I was signed and met Bella. I really had been busy trying to get noticed again, playing the small clubs, writing new material, making demos in garages, that kind of thing, not out buying new clothes. Even if you took into account my reluctance to move on after Jamie had died.
I huffed in frustration, I had to get us out of this fucking airport, there was no way I could let these people miss Christmas, snowed in or not. I owed them all a lot for the shit they'd dealt with so far on the tour.
"Leah," I stood up and kicked the seat she was laying across to get her attention.
She had a sweater draped over her head to cover her eyes so her grumpy reply was muffled, "what?"
"How long did they say we'd be stuck here?"
She sat up slowly, her hair squashed to one side of her head and her eyes bloodshot from the lack of sleep, "why?"
"Well, I'd like to get us out of here sometime before the new year," I shrugged.
Her eyebrows shot up, "they didn't really say, just that air travel was grounded until further notice. I didn't look too much further into it; it didn't seem like there were any other viable options financially. But all your equipment went out on a truck... so at least we don't have to worry about that."
I grinned, "what do you think our chances are of getting some busses?" I asked, "I know it would be a long drive but we'd be marginally more comfortable than what we are here."
She frowned, "It's a great idea, Edward, but there's no way that would fit within our budget, you're not Metallica," she slumped back into her seat, hugging the sweater to her chest.
"Metallica I might not be, but I was once in Dusk, and I do have this," I pulled out my wallet and fished out the almost never-used credit card that linked to the account all my Dusk residuals went into. "This," I waved the card in the air in front of me, "has a lot of money on it."
A slow smile spread across Leah's face and she glanced around at our tired crew. Then she started nodding and reached under the seat for her bag, pulling out a laptop. "It's not going to be cheap, just so you know, Edward, but I might be able to work out something for us."
My shoulders relaxed slightly as she spoke, this was the best idea I'd had in a long time. She pulled out her cell phone and started typing into the laptop with one hand while the other held the phone to her ear.
All the crew were looking at me hopefully having heard most of the conversation.
"Look guys, I know you all think I'm just a grumpy bastard, but I really want to help you all get home in time for Christmas. You all deserve better than this." I smiled at each and every one of them, probably for the first time ever. No one said a word, they just looked over at me wearily. "I can't promise anything, but Leah's looking into getting us out of here. I just hope none of you gets bus-sick." I chuckled at my lame attempt to lighten the mood.
It seemed fitting that residuals that I had earned from my time with Jamie in Dusk were what was going to help me get home so that I could finally move on and say goodbye to my best friend. Plus it didn't hurt that I was thinking about other people and not myself for once.
I felt a hand on my back as Bella came up and stood next to me, "You did good Edward." she smiled as she rubbed her hand in a small circle.
I had a lot to make up for but I hoped it was a start.
"Are you gonna just stand there and watch?" Leah snarked loudly, "'Cause, unlike you, I work better without an audience." She gave both Bella and I the evil eye and then turned her attention back to her laptop.
Bella chuckled and grabbed my arm, "come take a walk with me, Cullen," she smiled up at me through her lashes and there was no way I could say no. I handed the credit card to Leah and then let Bella lead me out towards where the various gift shops and kiosks were located.
"That really is a nice thing you're doing there, you know," she said after a little while. "I reckon Jamie would be really proud of you, Edward"
I frowned and looked down at my feet. She rarely used my first name and she never brought up Jamie, knowing it was a touchy subject for me.
I'd told Bella my story when we'd hung out late one night and she had been the one to help me see that maybe it was time to say goodbye. If it weren't for her, I don't know if I'd ever had realized that I was acting like a complete asshole who had never dealt with his best friend's death. I vowed that when I got back home I would finally get some help.
She led me to a coffee shop and pushed me down into a seat at an empty table. Pointing a finger at me in a 'stay here' motion, like I was a dog. She smirked when I obeyed and then took off towards the counter.
I watched her as she interacted with the girl serving, laughing about something and being her usual outgoing self. I had been so wrong about her when I first met her; she was unusual yes, but she was also an amazing person. She was smart and confident, and really beautiful.
As the tour proceeded we'd begun to spend more and more of our spare time together.
After she'd yelled at me a couple more times for refusing to wear something she'd picked out, or for putting on some dirty old t-shirt under the nice button down she'd picked for an interview, making me look even more like a hobo than ever, I'd decided just to wear exactly what she gave me. I liked her mad at me, that was for sure, but what I really loved was when she smiled, and pissing her off was a sure-fire way to make sure that didn't happen.
Then after awhile we started spending time together in a non-clothing related environment. At first I was a little hesitant, she'd admitted that she used to be a Dusk fan and I was worried that maybe that was the only reason why she wanted to spend any time with me. I hated being reminded of why I was no longer in Dusk but there was also a part of me that didn't want to forget.
"You know," Bella said as she hung up the shirt I'd just taken off, "I reckon that was your best show yet." Her eyes were sparkling.
"You were watching?" My eyebrows couldn't have climbed any higher on my head if they'd tried. Then a strange warmth flooded through me, she was watching my show!
"Of course! Gary lets me stand on the side of the stage." I chuckled a little, she had nicknames for everyone, Garrett was being called Gary now by almost everyone on the tour thanks to her.
She hung up her last hanger and turned to face me. "I love seeing the crowd react, it's a rush for me, so it must make you feel invincible." She spun around on the spot with her hands in the air like a wonky ballerina and I chuckled again.
From that night on, every time I performed I would take a moment in the middle of the set to check if Bella was watching from the side of the stage. She always was, hidden in the shadows. Sometimes sitting on some equipment, sometimes standing, and sometimes I'd even seen her let loose and dance. I'd have to tear my eyes off of her when she did that, she looked so carefree and beautiful. Gone was the freak I had thought she was, and in its place was the amazing woman that I was starting to fall for.
During a rare full length concert, I'd play a few acoustic songs, one of which I had never recorded. It was a song I'd written not long after Jamie had died. I'd often dedicate that song to Bella as it was one of the most beautiful things I'd written and it just seemed fitting.
If I only played a short set for a promo gig I'd still mention her somewhere, joking about what I was wearing or just making a comment about my wardrobe, then I'd look to see if she was paying attention. Sometimes she'd give me the finger, other times she'd just smile or wave.
It became our thing.
Then there was the one time she blew me a kiss.
It took me the next two songs just to get my heart back to its regular rate. That was the night when I realized that I wanted to let her in.
Sometimes I'd make up an excuse to have her come to the venue earlier, even though she had already worked out my simple wardrobe. I was really starting to get used to having her around a lot of the time. We started to spend a little time alone in my hotel room too, just talking and getting to know each other. It was nice to have someone there with me that wasn't telling me what to do or what was going to happen next or what would be expected of me next week. It was nice to just be.
I'd tell her about my time in Dusk; some of the fun times. She'd smile in all the right places and she even told me about how she'd once seen us in concert. She'd said that she still slept in the t-shirt she bought that night. I spent the rest of that evening trying to get those sexy images out of my head.
Eventually one night I told her what it was like to lose Jamie, at least she was familiar with the public side of the story, so there were some things I didn't have to go into.
She sat close to me on the couch, and just listened as I talked.
"I wish I could go back and speak to him, find out what was wrong…" I said quietly, "maybe I might've been able to help him…"
She smiled sadly, "maybe he didn't want you to worry."
I shook my head, "That's bullshit! He wasn't thinking about me, he wasn't thinking about anyone! If he was then he'd have come to one of us for help. Dealing with him being gone was a lot harder than dealing with any problem he might have had."
She nodded, and reached over to hold my hand.
"I was so angry when he died; I almost felt betrayed. We were best friends, and he didn't care." I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and looked up at her, her expression held nothing but compassion. "I feel so guilty that I'm still mad at him, but I also feel so bad that I didn't realize something was wrong."
"It's just easier to act like nothing happened, like he's just away on holiday. I know it's wrong, now. But it just made it easier to cope…"
Without thinking I pulled her close and hugged her to me, burying my head into her shoulder.
"I think maybe you need to speak to someone, Edward," she said quietly. "I'm always here to listen, but maybe a professional might help you say goodbye."
I nodded in agreement but couldn't get any more words out. This was the most I'd ever told anyone about how it made me feel.
Bella rubbed my back as I cried, I felt like such a girl, but she never once laughed at me. She just hushed me and whispered that Jamie would be proud of where I am now and I actually believed her. There was something about the sincerity in her tone.
"Here you go!" I startled as Bella plunked a cup of black coffee down in front of me.
She sat down across from me and took a sip of her hot chocolate. "Sorry it took so long, they are really busy with all the people stranded here."
I grinned, "That's okay, I kinda zoned out," I shrugged lazily.
"I saw you looking all dreamy. Whatcha thinkin' so hard about?"
She nodded. "You reckon we'll get outta here in time for Christmas?"
I loved how she knew when to change the subject.
I cringed, my mother had been so mad when I told her I'd be on tour during the holidays. She'd said "if that record company can't give you a couple of days off for Christmas then they'll have me to answer to!" I'd laughed under my breath but knew that Esme Cullen was a force to be reckoned with, especially over the holidays. They'd eventually scheduled us a week off, returning to the road on December 27th, not including traveling time. Which is why if we drove across the country we might not make it in time; we'd been in transit already for nearly twenty four hours.
"My mother is still expecting me," I made a face, she'd always had a thing for Christmas. "I called her before and told her not to wait for me. She didn't take it too well."
"I'm sure she just misses you." Bella reached across the table and placed her hand over mine. I smiled and turned my hand over so that I could clasp her small one in mine.
"I'm gonna try my best to get you home in time, Bella," I said sincerely.
"It's no biggie, Cullen, I spent Thanksgiving with my parents, and so I was just going to crash my assistant, Rose's, Christmas dinner," she smiled shyly.
I squeezed her hand, "I'm sorry."
"Don't be. It's just how it is, I don't mind, really. Rose is great, her and her husband Emmett are a laugh."
"Well, if we make it back in time, you are more than welcome to join me at the Cullen Family Christmas," I offered, "Bring Rose and Emmett, seriously, my mother would love it."
"Let's just get home in time, shall we?"
We smiled at each other, our hands still clasped across the table.
"There you are!" Leah came bounding up to our table, a huge smile on her face.
"Please tell me you've got some good news?" I practically begged.
She nodded "never doubt me, Edward. Ever. I've found us a couple of RV's that should hopefully fit most of us. It sure cost you a pretty penny." She rubbed her fingers together in that universal money sign.
I jumped up and hugged her before I realized what I had done. We both froze, not knowing what to do. It must have looked comical because Bella's insane laugh rang out behind me.
"If I didn't know any better, Cullen," Bella said in between laughs, "I'd think you really wanted to get home for that Cullen Family Christmas you just told me about," she pinched my side and made her way past me out of the coffee shop.
"Come on, let's tell everyone and get moving," I said as I hurried Leah out in front of me.
Leah wasn't kidding when she said the RV hire had cost me a pretty penny. But thankfully I could afford it; I never touched my Dusk residuals. I was just relieved to be on the road and well on the way to getting my crew back to their loved ones for Christmas. She had done amazing, organizing RV's with enough sleeping room for everyone. We all had to take turns driving or we wouldn't make it home in time, but that was a sacrifice I was willing to make, volunteering to take the first shift myself. I would have driven for longer too if it weren't for Bella forcing me to pull over and give someone else a go so I could get some sleep.
Most of the drive was spent sleeping, watching TV and generally chatting; we stopped a few times for food and just hung out. If we hadn't have been in such a hurry, it might have almost been fun.
It took over thirty six hours of steady driving to get home but it was well worth it.
I decided to surprise my Mom rather than calling her to say I was on my way. And she didn't disappoint. Late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve I knocked on my parents front door, luggage scattered across their porch. When she opened the door she practically knocked me over in her haste to embrace me, her arms hugging me tighter than they ever had.
It was good to be home.
I felt like I'd been away for years, rather than a couple of months. My whole outlook on life had shifted.
I let Mom know that I had invited a few guests to Christmas lunch and she jumped into action, making sure she had enough of everything. Bella had called her friends from the road and asked if they'd wanted to join us. I had never been more thankful for my mother's tendency to over-cater than at that moment. I couldn't wipe the smile from my face when they accepted my invitation.
I settled in quickly and sat myself at the kitchen counter watching as my mom baked cookies. It was then that I brought up Jamie.
"I've been thinking," I announced.
"Did it hurt?" My mother ever the comedian started giggling uncontrollably at her own joke.
Ignoring her comment I continued, "I think it's time I visited Jamie's grave."
She sobered up quickly, knowing the last time I had been there was his funeral, "I think that would be lovely." She came around the counter and placed her arm around my waist and her head in my shoulder.
"I want to move on, Ma," I sighed, "I'm going to talk to someone too."
She squeezed my side and then leaned up and gave me a kiss on the cheek and I knew she would always be there for me.
Early on Christmas morning I found myself sitting in my dad's car in front of the cemetery staring at the gates. Both my parents had offered to come with me but the one person I truly wanted to be there was Bella. I had called her late the night before asking if she would come and she had agreed without even thinking about it.
I turned at the sound of her voice and looked at her. She sat in the passenger seat calmly waiting for me, gave me a soft smile and then reached across the console and took my hand.
I nodded and gave her hand a squeeze. Then with a deep breath I opened my door.
I wish I could say that on that day, as I spoke my goodbyes to Jamie at his grave, that the weight just suddenly lifted right off my shoulders. But truthfully, there was no sign from above, no cathartic release of emotion turning me into a new man right then and there. There was, however, a feeling as though I had begun to move on and let go. And with the reemergence of my career I was feeling really positive about everything.
Except for one thing.
When I'd finally gotten over myself, Bella Swan had turned out to be an amazing friend, someone I could spend a lot of time with, have a lot of fun with.
Someone I had fallen madly in love with.
I knew she liked me as a friend but I wasn't sure if she saw anything else in me, I had been pretty fucking mean to her when I first met her. I would spend the rest of my life regretting it if I didn't do something about how I felt.
The drive back to my parents place was quiet, Bella giving me time to process my thoughts. Her friends Rose and Emmett arrived not long after we got back. They were friendly and fit in easily with my parents.
Later that afternoon after Christmas dinner, as I watched Bella from across the room chatting with my mother, I decided it was now or never.
She was wearing a hideous Christmas themed sweater, that I'm sure she only wore for my benefit, but she still looked breathtaking. I stood up from my seat across the living room and stalked over to her, my eyes never once leaving hers. She smiled as I neared and then raised her eyebrows in question when I didn't say anything. My mother was still talking, I think she had turned her attention to me, but all I could see was Bella.
I stopped a foot or so away from her and brought both my hands up to her face, gently cupping her cheeks. She was smiling in confusion as I stared down at her, unspeaking, but hadn't moved away. Then I slowly brought my face down to hers, making sure she was okay with what I was doing. I stopped, my mouth hovering so close to hers I could feel her breath entering my own. I brushed my nose lightly against hers and I breathed her name, so quietly she may not have even heard. And then after what felt like forever I finally pressed my lips to hers. Softly at first, then harder when I realized she wasn't going to pull away and deck me.
I kissed her again, once, twice, then took her top lip between my own and sucked slightly. She made a mewling sound in the back of her throat as she kissed me back and I nearly lost it right there.
We could have been kissing for an hour or five minutes. My Mom could have still been talking, or maybe she had given up and walked away.
I really had no idea.
Then, remembering where I was and that we weren't alone, I pecked her lips softly once more before I stood back up to my full height, my hands still caressing her heated cheeks.
Bella's eyes were still closed and her lips were still pursed.
My voice was rough when I finally spoke. "Merry Christmas, Bella."
Her eyes flicked open and her mouth turned up in the biggest grin.
"Merry Christmas, Cullen."
"You are not wearing that tonight!" Bella exclaimed, as she walked into our bedroom, a towel wrapped tightly around her.
I looked down at my regular jeans/t-shirt combo. "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"
"You look like a has-been grunge rocker," she smirked.
"Come on," I whined, "I'll just be sitting down in the audience, no one will even care that I'm there."
She shook her head, "you know that's not true, Cullen." I loved that she still called me Cullen, even though we'd been together for over a year and a half. "They'll still take your photo even when you go in the back door... Because I know you'll try and sneak in," she looked at me pointedly. "Even when you're sitting there in the audience they'll photograph you. And as soon as they do it'll be all over the mags, they'll be saying Bella Swan can't even get her boyfriend to dress properly. Is this a sign that her new line is going to bomb?" She poked her finger into my chest as she ranted. "It all reflects on me, Edward, and I can't have you ruining my launch."
Bella was really nervous about the launch of her new fashion line. She'd been working tirelessly on it for years and had spent the past six months schmoozing, networking with the people that counted, and speaking with the media. I secretly called it 'ass-kissing' but never out loud, she'd kick my ass for that one.
When my promo tour finished, Bella went back to working on her designs. She had a long way to go, but a lot of determination. Much to her chagrin, I dropped her name with a few of my industry contacts and hooked her up with a couple of big names; she got the gig dressing them for the Grammys. She also created the tour costumes for an all-girl band on the same label as me. It was more her style and it gave her an opportunity to showcase her more unusual work. She never styled anyone again, not professionally anyway.
We spent a lot of time away from each other over the six months after the promo tour, with my career on the rise, a 10 city tour, and her design work getting more recognition, we were busier than ever.
But somehow we made it work.
After visiting Jamie's grave, I attended counseling on and off for over a year, whenever I could fit it in between commitments. I learned to realize his death and cope with my feelings of anger and guilt. I was a lot happier generally and had become less of an asshole to everyone. I often wondered if I'd had done it earlier if my life, would it have turned out any different.
I kinda hoped not, I really liked where I was right now.
I watched as Bella shuffled around the bedroom in her towel, it was probably one of the biggest nights of her life. Everything she'd been working on for years culminated into tonight. I knew she would be mad that I was making a fuss over what to wear; I couldn't help but play with her just a little. I smiled to myself, knowing my suit was pressed and hung in the closet waiting for me to get ready.
I sat on the bed and made a big show of taking off my chucks. They were the same ones I'd been wearing for years and Bella hated them. I unlaced, one and then the other, and then tugged them off my feet and threw them behind me over the bed. Bella, who was messing with a pile of jewelry on her nightstand stopped and looked over at me.
I grinned and stood up, pulling my shirt slowly up my body and then quickly ripping it over my head. Bella's eyes crept across my chest and she bit her lip.
I flicked the button open on my jeans.
"Cullen," Bella warned weakly, "we've got to get ready."
"There's plenty of time, Bella," I assured as I flicked the rest of the button-fly open.
She bit her lip again and I could tell she was trying not to give in to my seduction. She had dropped what she was doing on the nightstand and turned her attention totally to me.
I pushed my pants and my boxers down my legs and stepped out of them, taking my socks with them as I went.
"You think I would embarrass you like that, Bella?" I asked seriously as I stalked around the bed towards her.
She shook her head slightly, totally dazed.
"I was just being a dick," I said as I stopped right in front of her. Her eyes traveled up and down my body, lingering at my groin, and I smirked. I leaned down, towering right over her, her breath picking up as my face neared hers and my naked body just barely brushing against her.
I brought my lips right next to her ear, and exhaled, "I will always walk in the front door with my beautiful girlfriend on her special night. Never doubt my support for you." I kissed her neck and gave it a bit of a suck, just below her ear, and then pulled away.
"Well," I said brightly, "time for my shower!" I quickly stepped off towards the bathroom, leaving a turned-on Bella in my wake.
"Aaagghh! Cullen, you're a tease!" Bella yelled after me, throwing something at the bathroom door as I closed it.
I had diffused Bella's anxiety and got her mind off of the show, even if it was for a short time, that was my intent. The blue balls I got as a side effect would just have to wait until later.
Bella's show went off without a hitch just like I thought it would. I performed all my boyfriend duties without a complaint: photo ops, press, and the after party. The fashion press were raving for weeks about her unique approach to fashion. Being different was starting to pay off.
My career had risen a little slower than it had when I was in Dusk, but I was well on my way to a similar level of success. Only instead of sharing the spotlight with the rest of a band I was standing up on my own.
Sixteen years and it was all finally happening.
I had written a lot of new material and was in the process of recording my follow-up album. Then after post production was complete, I'd go back into the practice studio to rehearse and prepare for a much larger tour. I made sure that this time we'd be touring over the summer, avoiding any snow whatsoever. You know, just in case.
I had renegotiated my contract as soon as I could and had the 'stylist clause' removed. There was only one stylist I'd ever want on tour with me, and I had planned to ask her to be my wife very soon.
I often pulled my old 'nineties' jeans out of the back of the closet where I had them hidden. I hadn't worn them in a long time, but I would never throw them away. They represented all the good and the bad things that had happened to get me where I was today.
And it was a pretty fucking great place to be.