Thanks to Mary Kitty Masen and ThatzMsPeachesTYVM for prereading and helping with the summary, title, commas, my britishisms...yeah pretty much everything lol All mistakes are mine because I just couldn't leave well alone after they read through for me!
This was just a little something I came up with whilst high on Night Nurse a few weeks back…hope you like it!
Christmas Carols, Cocktails, and Confessions
I glanced at my watch—almost seven forty-five, I was early. I was always early, just in case He was already there waiting for me. It was unlikely of course; He was never waiting for me it was only ever the other way around.
I slowed my pace to listen to a small choir of carol singers on the street a few doors down from the bar I was heading to.
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright,
The song was sung just beautifully, but still it depressed me. The entire season was depressing me tonight. Usually I loved Christmas; the excitement, the music, decorations, shopping for gifts and spending time with my family…I loved it all, but not this year. This year served as another reminder just how meaningless my life seemed to have become.
I threw the carollers some loose change and continued on my way, still feeling particularly downhearted. At least tonight was the one night I'd spent the last few weeks looking forward to, tonight was my night with him and I craved it.
I wrapped my coat tighter around me, the bitterness in the air stung my face and my body shuddered from the cold, making me wish I'd gone for something more practical underneath instead of the little black dress He liked.
The bar was quiet. It was always quiet on the days we met here. Something else He insisted on…another requirement that was not up for discussion.
I kept my head down and walked to the bar. I shrugged out of my coat and took a seat on one of the barstools. I set my cell phone down on the bar and it buzzed straight away.
Sorry, Iz, running late. Be as quick as I can—wait for me.
Wait for him? That's all I ever did. That's all I'd been doing for as long as I could remember. Ours had never been what you could call a conventional relationship and deep down I knew it never would be. Yet, there was a part of me that refused to let go, that clung to the hope that one day He would be mine. Sometimes I would start to question everything about us and the proud girl inside me wanted to end it…wanted to put myself first for a change, but then something would happen—He would do something which made me believe in him once again.
I thought back to the last time I'd been in his company almost a month ago. The way he'd looked after me when I needed him and the most sensual of kisses we'd shared reminded me that there was something between us worth fighting for.
Maybe if I took control and forced his hand it would be different? What if I gave him the ultimatum…her or me? Maybe he would want to change for me if he realized he was about to lose me? I deserved his undivided attention, I'd played second fiddle for long enough.
I laughed once to myself. I'd spent years fighting for this much, for just a fraction of his life, so why the fuck would that change now? A stronger, braver woman would have walked away a long time ago, but I was neither strong nor brave and I never would be.
Just the thought of ending this...this…whatever the hell "this" was, made my chest ache, my eyes sting, and my stomach churn. I couldn't end it because I craved every last piece of him. If all I could have were these once a month rendezvous then I'd take it greedily.
A glass was set down on the tired looking bar in front of me and I gave the bartender half a smile. "Thanks," I mumbled. I took a sip and let the warmth of the scotch run over my body, savoring the sensation for a second or two.
"Here again?" the barman asked. It was the same barman…the only barman I'd noticed since we'd starting meeting here. He'd always been polite and tried to talk to me, but I had always rebuffed his friendliness.
He tended to get jealous if I chatted to other men without him there. If he caught me talking to another guy—even a bartender—we tended to spend the few precious hours we had together arguing instead of making love—if that's what you could call it.
"Yep, here again," I answered, keeping my head down just staring at the glass in my hand.
"It's almost Christmas," the bartender mused.
"Really?" I sniped. "And here I was thinking the carol singers outside were just a little short on cash this month so decided to start singing for money just for the hell of it."
The bartender let out a low whistle and laughed. "You're usually less grumpy after your first scotch. I guess it's going to take a few more drinks to loosen you up tonight."
I glanced up and frowned. "What do you mean less grumpy? How would you know?"
He leaned forward onto the bar and said, "I know because this is my bar. You've been coming here once a month for years now. You sit in the same spot, drink the same drink, and wait for the same guy who is always late." He smirked and refilled my glass without even asking. "I can usually get a smile out of you…well half a smile at least."
"Two years last month," I mumbled, sloshing the Scotch around in my glass.
"I started coming here in November 2010." I sighed and took a big drink, ignoring the burn on the back of my throat. "And I guess I should apologize if I've been rude. I just…it's just…shit, I have no excuse. I'm sorry."
"Nothing to apologize for," he said casually and took a seat opposite me behind the bar. "Wanna talk about it?"
"I asked if you wanted to talk about it. I'm not busy and they say confession is good for the soul."
I scoffed. "People really say that?"
"Sure," he said.
"Who?" I asked. "Other than a priest."
He laughed and it was so carefree and happy that for the briefest of moments I felt it too. "Okay, I admit, confession is good for the soul of a nosy barman who can't help but wonder why someone like you would wait around for someone like him."
I sighed, the moment vanishing instantaneously. "It's a messy story."
"I'm a good listener."
"Why are you even interested?" I asked and he smiled again.
"I find you intriguing. You walk in here and seem confident, self-assured, and completely together, but then there's another side to you that's more…vulnerable maybe. I was curious as to why…or who."
"So you expect me to tell you my life story to satisfy your curiosity?" I eyed him sceptically and he smiled.
"Sure, why not? It might make you feel better to get it out."
I took another sip of my drink and thought about it for a second. Why shouldn't I vent? What was wrong with spilling my guts to this barman who had no biased or personal involvement at all?
"Yeah...why not. But, I have a few ground rules," I told him. "If I remember correctly, confessions are anonymous and you as the listener must take an oath of secrecy. There is to be no gossiping to other patrons about me the second I leave the bar."
He chuckled and nodded. "I promise complete anonymity. There will be no need for names or locations if that helps?"
"So, if we're not revealing names or places…what do I call you?" I asked and he pondered that for a moment.
"I take it Your Worship is a little too formal?" He winked and I couldn't help but laugh. "Let's just go with BT…for bartender. Nothing complex or revealing."
"Okay, BT, better top me up before I start. This could take a while," I told him, and he filled my drink and poured himself one too.
"I've got all night, and judging by your friend's punctuality, I'd guess so do you." He smiled sympathetically.
"Touché," I said quietly. Was I really about to tell a complete stranger something even my best friend was not privy to?
"Okay then, I think I should start from the beginning, which would be early 1989. I was about eighteen months old, and my dad, Ch…um, we'll call him 'C'. So, Dad lost his job and he was forced to move me and my mom…'R'…back to his mother's house in a little town called…'F'. This is lame," I grumbled. "But while I'm at it we'll refer to the girl and boy about to make an appearance in the story as 'A' and 'E'…okay?"
"'C' for Dad, 'R' for Mom, 'F' for hometown, 'A' for girl, and 'E' for boy?" he clarified and I nodded. "Got it." He smiled a lovely, warm smile and I wondered how I'd missed it until now.
"Right, where was I?"
"You'd just moved back to your grandmother's house."
I nodded and continued telling my humiliating life story to the man I only knew as BT.
My dad managed to find a job in the town, but it was low pay and long hours, so it left my mom at home with me and my grandmother. About six months later, my grandmother had a stroke and needed constant care, which fell to my mom while Dad was out at work. Her time away from the house was a rarity and it started to get her down, so once a week she would take me to a playgroup in the local community centre and there she met another mom with two kids; a girl who was the same age as me, and a boy who was three years older. "A" and I were more like sisters than friends. We were inseparable, best friends who knew everything there was to know about each other…well almost everything.
For as long as I could remember I'd idolized her brother, "E". I was absolutely smitten with him from the beginning. Mom would laugh at how I used to follow him around like a lost puppy and cry when he wasn't there. I swear he was the prettiest boy I'd ever seen…in a masculine way of course. I forced myself to endure football games just so I could learn about his favourite team, I listened to the music he liked and watched the same TV shows he did, all so I had something to talk to him about.
"A" never noticed, or if she did she never said anything. I refused to admit it to anybody else, but I daydreamed about growing up and getting married to him. Problem was, to him I was just his kid sister's best friend.
I shook my head. "I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I nurtured my infatuation into a fully-fledged obsession by the time I was sixteen. I would say with unwavering confidence that I knew more about 'E' than his own mother and sister did. It was all for nothing, though, because he never even noticed I was around."
"So, this story is all about a childhood crush on your BFF's brother?" the bartender said with a smirk. "That is very cliché. I do hope it improves somewhat or I may have to switch to a drink with a much higher alcohol content."
I giggled at his expression and I once again felt free and happy. It was almost as though a part of me long since forgotten was getting time to breathe. "I don't think you're supposed to interrupt my confession. It disturbs my flow," I teased and he grinned.
"My apologies…please continue," he said, and then added quickly, "You're pretty when you smile. You should do it more."
I looked away, blushing in embarrassment and trying to ignore the stirrings of something in the pit of my stomach. Something I hadn't felt in so, so, long.
"Here," the bartender said, and pushed a glass across the bar. "Drink this—it's my Christmas Special."
I looked at the drink and smiled. It was clear (vodka I presumed) except for a pink tinge at the very bottom and a ring of crushed candy around the rim of the glass. "What is it?" I asked.
"Candy Cane Martini," he said. "I've wanted to make one for ages, but I don't think many of my usual customers would appreciate it."
I laughed and looked around the bar. The few remaining customers were ageing men and I most definitely couldn't see them drinking anything quite like this. "Thank you, it looks really pretty."
"I think the taste is more important," he said and chuckled.
I took a sip and hummed in appreciation. "That's so good."
"While you're drinking that and talking some more, how about I conjure up another little treat?" he asked hopefully.
"I like that idea." I couldn't keep the smile from my face. "Um…so where was I this time?"
"Sixteen and a borderline stalker," he said, grabbing more bottles of liqueur from the shelves behind him.
"Sixteen and in love," I corrected, giving him a dirty look to which he just laughed.
'E' went away to college and I was stuck in school hearing all about the wild parties and hook ups he was enjoying. I hated the thought of him with other girls, it made me crazy jealous and of course I just downright missed him. One night, we heard about a party 'E' and his roommate, who we can call, 'J' were having and so we decided to drive over to the city and crash it.
Everyone was blind drunk when we got there, so no one cared that two high school kids were partying with them. They gave us beer, rolled us joints, and pretty soon we were wasted. I had to watch as 'E' played tonsil tennis with pretty much every girl in the room and I drank more and more to try and forget about it.
It was almost light outside by the time people started to go home and eventually it was just the four of us left. I don't know how it happened, but 'A' ended up making out with 'J' in his room, leaving me alone with 'E', so I kissed him. At the time I thought it was the answer to my prayers, but now I know it was a moment of drunken, immature stupidity that I regret, but you know what? He kissed me back. 'E' was my first kiss, the one I'd hoped would be my first kiss, so that night I gave him my first everything. I was so desperate to keep him and I thought that was the way to do it.
My glass of Scotch was refilled and I saw the bartender shake his head before returning his attention to the new drink he was creating for me.
"What?" I snapped.
"You said I couldn't interrupt," he said.
"You shook your head…it interrupted me," I argued.
"So, nonverbal communication is also prohibited?" he asked. "Mm, this isn't as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Perhaps I should break into the store next door and steal a mannequin? No noise or expressions to interrupt your flow."
I pointed to the now near-empty glass of Scotch and said, "A mannequin can't refill my glass or produce delicious Christmas Cocktails."
"Good point," he agreed. "Continue."
"Tell me why you shook your head first?" I asked him. "Please?"
He sighed, and the corners of his mouth turned down slightly. "He took advantage of a young girl who he had to know had feelings for him."
"He didn't know," I tried to argue but he wasn't having any of it.
"Trust me, he would have known. You deserved more than that from him."
"Such is life, I guess, but I never tried to stop it. Shit, I'd wanted it for so long I doubt I could have said no if I wanted to," I admitted. "Everyone makes mistakes, no?"
"Yeah." He nodded, and then handed me another drink, this time in a mug.
"And this one is called?" I asked, sniffing at the steaming hot creation in front of me. "It smells good."
"It's a Holiday Hot Chocolate," he said. "Don't worry there's alcohol in there. "
I took a sip and couldn't help but groan at the taste. "Oh my God, that's just…heaven in a cup."
"Looks like I've set myself up for a fall here," he said. "How can I top that?"
"I'm sure you can. Everything you've said or done so far has made my night that little bit nicer than before." I smiled and stared right at him for a while, still perplexed how I'd failed to notice him before now.
"That's why I'm here," he said. "Now you carry on talking while I plan my next masterpiece."
"The day after the party was pretty much the worst day of my life up to that point," I said, ignoring the sting as I remembered the rejection.
The morning after was awkward…in fact it was so much worse than awkward. I felt like nothing but a piece of ass to him. 'E' practically kicked me out of his bedroom, making an excuse about having to study for a final. I cried my eyes out in his bathroom and then went to wake 'A'. I never told her what happened, as far as I know she still has no idea. I told her I'd crashed on the couch and she never questioned it. Why would she? She had no idea I was obsessed with her brother and I was pretty sure he'd never tell her we'd slept together.
I was fortunate she was so excited about her night with 'J' and never noticed how upset I was. I listened to her gush about him; tell me he acted like a complete gentleman all night, never letting things go further than a kiss, saying he wanted to get to know her first. If 'J' was a gentleman, then 'E' was a complete asshole and I hoped that learning about a side to him I never knew existed might help dampen the fire so to speak…but it didn't.
He avoided me after that. I rarely saw him, and if we ever found ourselves in the same room together he certainly didn't talk to me. Despite the way he treated me I still adored him and had the situation presented itself again I would have repeated it without hesitation.
When 'A' and I graduated high school we went to different colleges. I missed her like crazy, but getting that separation from her and the entire family helped me. I met new friends, dated new guys, and I became a completely different person…I moved on, albeit slowly.
Three years later, I returned home about to start a new job here in Seattle. I was also bringing my fiancé home to meet everybody for the first time.
"There was a fiancé?"
"You're interrupting again," I muttered.
"Okay, so I'm back home in 'F' for a few weeks before I start my new job and my parents threw my fiancé who we can call, 'M,' and I a small party to celebrate my graduation and our engagement. I felt so good about myself, but then…"
"Ah, will this be the return of 'E'?" the bartender said and I narrowed my eyes at his interruption. "Oops, sorry…again. What can I say? I'm invested now, this story is like a good book and I often muse out loud while I read."
"You like to read?" I asked before I realized I was even curious. "Me too."
I'd been so disinterested in the opposite sex that it surprised me just how much I wanted to know about this bartender. He had managed to captivate my attention more in a few hours than any other guy had in years.
"I read a lot." He laughed. "As you can see, this place ain't exactly busy and I don't usually coerce female patrons into baring their soul. So, I tend to read during the quiet spells."
I focused on his smile again, noticing the slight crook and how he bit the tip of his tongue. It really was a nice smile…I should have noticed it before. Something else 'E' did to me. He consumed me in such a way that other men became nothing but blurred faces. I hated what he did to me, but I let him do it anyway.
"What book is under the bar right now?" I asked, surprised by the interest in my voice.
The bartender produced a very tattered paperback version of A Christmas Carol and I laughed. "And you accused my confession of being predictable and cliché!" I said in amusement.
"Hey, it is Christmas, and it's a classic…an enjoyable classic, unlike Wuthering Heights. Now that book is cliché."
Wuthering Heights? I always had that book with me, in fact it was in my purse right now. I read it every few months but it wasn't exactly something that ever came up in conversation. "How did you know I read Wuthering Heights?" I frowned and glanced down at my purse, noticing it was still closed so there was no way he could have seen it.
"Please, that story is idolized by so many women…why however, I have no idea. The characters irritate the hell out of me. A Christmas Carol on the other hand is the perfect book to give you perspective when you, really need it," he said. "Would you like to borrow it?"
"I'll pass," I said flatly. "I didn't figure you for a classics guy…more Playboy."
He chuckled and it made me smile. "No Playboy for me I'm afraid. The blame for my reading history lies with my mother. While other kids were reading comic books and fairy tales, I had Dickens, Bronte, Austen, Stevenson, and Shakespeare." He ran his hand over his mouth.
I found myself staring at his long, slender fingers as they grazed over a slight dusting of stubble, which I wanted to reach out and touch. His jaw was defined and masculine, yet his mouth looked soft and inviting. I kept my eyes on his fingers, my heartbeat spiking as an image of those fingers touching my face and lips flashed through my mine.
I looked away quickly and said, "It sounds like your mother has good taste."
"She does." He smiled. "She runs a little bookstore a few blocks from here, and I practically grew up in that place."
"The Wonderful World of Fiction?" I asked excitedly and he nodded. "Oh my God! I love that store. Seriously, I pass it every day on my way home from work and I can barely make it past without checking what new titles she has. "
"Well would you look at that," he said happily. "I think that's the most excited I've ever seen you. I'll make sure to tell my mother how much you like her store."
I had a huge smile on my face as I spoke and I almost didn't recognize my own voice. What an irrational thing to get excited about. "Sorry for fangirling on you. I guess we're getting off track, huh?"
"Yeah I suppose we are and although your visitor is always late…he does usually show up eventually and I'm dying to hear how this story ends." I thought I heard a twang of sarcasm in his voice, but he covered it quickly. "I think we'd reached the point where sassy, confident, Bella returns home and blows Mr. E away?" He raised an eyebrow as if waiting for some sort of reaction from me to what he'd said.
Puzzled with his expression, I just nodded and started to talk again, but I didn't miss the slight shake of his head.
"So, we're all back home and both families together again. Mom, Dad, 'M', me, 'E' and 'A' and their parents and of course 'J', who had just proposed to 'A', by the way."
"Very romantic," he said and chuckled. "And you're starting to rhyme."
I laughed with him and it felt so good to be this relaxed. I'd been so uptight for so long I'd almost forgotten what it felt like to be myself around anyone other than him.
I was the centre of attention at that table for the first time in my life. I talked about college, my new job, how 'M' proposed. Mom and Dad looked so proud, and everyone else loved hearing about my life…everyone except 'E'. He kept glancing at me angrily. I couldn't understand it at all, his expression was almost thunderous and he never spoke a word to anyone all night. Then, when 'M' said we were hoping to get married the following year, he just upped and left, slamming the door so hard it made us all jump.
The next morning, I left 'M' sleeping at my parents' house and went for a jog. I got about a mile from the house when 'E' pulled up on the road beside me and told me to get in.
All it took was a hungry look in his eye, my name on his lips and everything I thought I'd put behind me came flooding back and I was sixteen all over again. I did as he asked without question and he drove us to a secluded dirt track and stopped the car.
"I want you," he growled.
"What about my fiancé?" I stuttered, my resolve already crumbling. "I'm engaged now, we shouldn't do this."
"So? He's not the right man for you, he can't make you feel like I can." His eyes raked over my body, and I whimpered. "Tell me you don't want me? Tell me you don't want me to fuck you right now? I know you want me. I've always known how much you want me."
"What are you saying?" I whispered, daring to hope this was the moment we revealed our real feelings. Maybe this was the time I would get to call him mine. "Maybe we should talk…"
"What's there to talk about? I want you and you want me. Just us…no complications or commitments."
I didn't even get the chance to question him and find out exactly what he wanted from "us" before his mouth was on mine. I'd never experience that type of passion before. With 'M' it was always nice—safe and secure. With 'E' it was raw, animalistic even and I couldn't think straight. Without a second thought to my fiancé at home, I let 'E' take me right there in the car.
That was the first time I cheated on 'M', but it most definitely wouldn't be the last.
'E' worked in Seattle too, so for the next nine months we played that stupid game. We'd never say more than two words to each other in the company of others, but at least twice a month we'd meet in some seedy bar or hotel and have sex.
I found out 'E' had a girlfriend, and obviously I had a fiancé, but still I allowed it to continue. I would get a text from him saying a time and a place and I would drop everything to meet him. I'd give 'M' some pathetic excuse about working late or having dinner with a friend and I hated myself for it.
Hearing it back like that filled me with so much shame and self-loathing. How could I have been so weak? I had a great guy waiting at home for me, someone who did care about me, someone who tried to make me happy and treated me like a princess. I let him ruin everything.
"I'm pathetic," I said quietly. "And this may be hard to believe, but I still had a whole new low to sink to."
A pair of warm hands rested on mine and squeezed them softly, sending a thrill of excitement coursing through my body. "Love makes us do crazy shit. Everyone makes mistakes, remember?"
"I made more than my fair share…and I'm still making them."
One night after making another pitiful excuse to 'M' about working late, I come home and see his bags packed by the front door. While 'E' and I were fucking in some hotel, his girlfriend visited 'M' and told him about our sordid affair.
He asked me for the truth and I couldn't even begin to lie to him. I told him everything. I told him about the obsession I'd had with 'E' for nearly sixteen years. I told him about the night I first slept with him and how I'd never been able to truly move on.
'M' offered me one last chance to save our relationship…to save myself I suppose. He told me to end it once and for all and move with him to another city, to another state for a fresh start.
Like an idiot I couldn't do it. I couldn't walk away from 'E'. I let myself believe that now people knew the truth, now it was all out in the open we could finally be together once and for all. I told 'M' I was sorry, gave him back his ring, and watched him leave.
After that night I waited for 'E' to call. I gave him time, figuring he had his own shit to deal with. I assumed once she was out of his life, I could take her place at his side.
My parents heard that the engagement was off, but I didn't tell them why. I told 'A' I didn't love him and she had no reason to doubt me.
Almost a month passed without a word, and then I heard the news from my mom. 'E' hadn't ended things with his girlfriend…he'd proposed.
He never even had the decency to contact me to see how I was and for another four months I heard nothing. Not a single call or text and again I tried to move on. I knew he wasn't good for me and I had to stop acting like that pathetic teenager. Then, just as I was getting back on my feet again he reappeared in my life. It was like he knew…he knew just when to show up and break me.
I tried to stay away, I tried to tell him to leave but I couldn't. He was the one thing I'd always wanted but could never have and I just had to have him in my life. I took whatever I could get and that's how it's been ever since.
"We arranged to meet here…and that was two years and one month ago. I hate this weak person I've become and I've literally closed myself off to everyone because of him. My parents have no idea what's going on, even my best friend is clueless. Being with him is all I know." Tears pricked my eyes and I bit down on my lip.
"Then maybe it's time to teach yourself something new?" he suggested. "What do you think of this?"
Another warm drink was set down in front of me and I took a drink. "Um…what's that?" I asked, forcing a smile. It tasted terrible…spicy and warm, but too strong for me to drink. "It's…um…good."
The bartender burst out laughing and took the drink from me. "It's Spiced Wine. You can be honest, Bella, it's only a drink. Did it taste like shit?"
I smiled sheepishly. "Not my favourite so far."
The bartender took a sip and then pulled a face. "Yeah, that's not good at all." I watched as he poured the drink away and immediately resumed preparing another. "Let's hope I do a better job with this one."
"I'm having fun," I said and he looked back at me over his shoulder. "A lot more fun than I've had in ages, so I don't really mind how the drinks taste."
"Then I'm glad I'm the one sharing this with you." He stopped for a second and asked me, "I get that you can escape reality when you meet 'E' here once a month, but there's so much history between you…doesn't that overflow into your real lives at some point?"
"Yeah, but I've gotten to be a damned good actress," I said darkly.
I stay away from home as much as I can. I only go back there a few times a year and when I do…he's always there. Our families are still close and we usually spend the holidays together either at my parents' house or at 'E's parents. I have to sit there and pretend everything is fine while he flaunts his perfect fiancée in front of me.
I went back for Thanksgiving last month and found out they'd booked their wedding for next summer. I had to spend hours and hours listening to her talk about every last detail. The dress, the venue, the honeymoon, and what 'E' will be wearing. She does it on purpose of course, and I can't blame her. She forgave him for sleeping with me behind her back once and it can't be easy to have me around. Neither 'E's' parents or my parents know what happened so I have to act normal around him, around both of them, and that's why I'll be expected at their wedding, because what reason could I possibly give to justify missing it?
I spent Thanksgiving drinking as much as I could, and it gave me a confidence around him that was new to me. I sent him suggestive text messages, ran my foot up his trouser leg while we ate dinner, and then created a make-believe boyfriend because I knew he'd get jealous.
While the others were playing games in the lounge, 'E' all but dragged me to the garage and we had sex on the hood of my dad's car. It was so stupid, anyone could have found us, but I think that was what I wanted. I was too ashamed to come out and tell anybody but I desperately wanted to stop keeping secrets.
Then, later that same night I heard 'E' and his fiancée…together…and I spent all night crying. I drove back to the city the next morning before breakfast because I just couldn't face him.
"Ready for another?" he said as soon as I stopped talking. "This one is called a Peppermint Patty."
"Okay," I said and took a drink hesitantly. The bitter taste of the Spiced Wine was lingering but this soon washed all traces of that away. "That's so nice. It's warm but refreshing…wow, I need that recipe."
"Figured you'd need distracting after a shitty Thanksgiving like that." He sat back down opposite me.
"I told you I'd sunk to the very bottom." I sighed, dropping my gaze to the bar. The shame that I felt had never been so intense. I was beginning to wonder why I tolerated it…why I tolerated him?
"Hey," he said and I looked up to see him staring sadly at me. "The thing is, Bella, when you've hit rock bottom, the only way is up."
"Yeah, but to move up you have to move on and that's what I just can't seem to do."
"Have you actually tried?"
"What?" I glared at him. "What kind of question is that? Of course I've tried; I've been trying since I was sixteen."
"Doesn't seem like it to me," he said quietly and then tried to calm me down. "Look, don't get pissed just look at it from another perspective."
"Mine?" he suggested. "I see a beautiful girl letting a childhood crush control her life. "
"It's more than a crush," I tried to say but he cut me off.
"Is it? You created this 'E' as a perfect guy in your head and by admiring him from afar and not actually learning what he was really like, you blinded yourself to his flaws. You idolized him, Bella, and in doing that you didn't believe you were good enough for him and so you gave him whatever the hell he wanted from you just to try and keep him. I think you're in love with the creation and not the man, you're too scared to let go of what you think you've wanted all your life."
I listened to what he said and for the first time in my life I heard the truth. He was right.
"Instead of making him realize how perfect you are, instead of making him idolize you…you gave him the power to control you. Does he actually know anything about you, Bella?" He looked at me expectantly, waiting for my answer.
"What do you mean?"
"Does he know that your favourite drink is Vodka with a dash of soda, a twist of lime and lots of ice, but you drink Scotch to calm your nerves before he shows up? Does he know the only time you drink a Cosmo happens to be when he buys them for you, because he can't be bothered to ask what you actually want to drink. Does he know that you twirl your hair when you're nervous, drum your fingers on the bar when you're scared, or that you bite your fingernails when you realize he isn't going to show?"
I watched in amazement, speechless that a simple bartender could notice so much when someone else knew so little.
"Does he know how you purposely don't check your phone after ten o'clock for messages just to avoid the disappointment that he hasn't taken the time to let you know where he is? Does he see how hard you bite your bottom lip to stop yourself from crying as you get up and walk away when he doesn't show? Does he know your favourite book is Wuthering Heights, but you only allow yourself to read it once every few months? Does he know that you quite literally have men in this bar fighting to talk to you, but you don't even notice they're here?"
"How…how did you know all of that?" I spluttered.
"I pay attention," he said softly. "This 'E' guy maybe an absolute asshole who wants to have his cake and eat it, but you let it happen, Bella. You need to believe you're worth more than what he is willing to give you."
"It's not that simple," I protested, not sure I believed that anymore.
"Does he really make you feel happy when you're together? Is he really worth the stolen moments and the seedy hotel rooms?"
I'd asked myself that question so many times over the years. I even started to think I allowed him to fill a void and relied on him for that. The sex was great, it had always been great but what else was there?
He rarely did anything for me. Occasionally I'd get a bunch of flowers delivered to work, but that was all. Then there was last month, he did something that gave me hope there was a part of him that truly did love me.
"Last month he was late…again, and I remember drinking a lot. I was nervous because I hadn't seen him since Thanksgiving. The last thing I remembered I was here alone, and then I woke up in his arms. He carried me into my apartment and put me to bed. I couldn't open my eyes I was so drunk, but I felt him kiss me and it was the sweetest kiss I'd ever had. I swear it made my heart race and I felt like I was flying. I woke up in the night and saw him on my couch asleep. He stayed to make sure I was okay and why would he have done that if he didn't feel something for me?"
"You actually saw him on your couch?" the bartender asked, his tone a little weird.
"Well, it was still dark so I didn't actually see his face, but someone was definitely on the couch and who else would it be?"
Remembering the kiss only confused me further. Baring my soul made me realize I'd been an idiot for so long, but the kiss had been so much more than anything else we'd shared. How could that have meant nothing?
"So, what you're saying, Bella, is that a single kiss is enough to convince you that he is the one for you?" he asked sceptically.
"I don't know," I admitted in frustration. "But I do know I've never felt that before...it was one of those kisses that you just don't forget…well, us girls don't forget anyway."
"I think I understand better than you think," he muttered.
"Some confession this turned out to be. I think the mute, expressionless mannequin would have been a better alternative." I smiled and he nodded. "I suppose we did manage to keep it relatively anonymous."
"Oh yes," He laughed and said, "I'm sure with codes like E, A, C, R, M, and F, Bella, I'd fully expect the CIA to contact you and offer you a position within their encryption department."
"'C' is for Charlie, 'R' is for Renee, 'M' is for Mike, 'A' is for Alice, 'J' is for Jasper," I told him and his eyes widened slightly.
"What about maintaining anonymity?" he asked.
"Fuck anonymity," I said casually. "It's not like you're ever going to speak to them. Alice and Jasper live in Texas now and Mike moved back to Chicago after we split. Oh yeah, 'F' is for Forks…somewhere you probably have no desire to ever visit."
I looked at my watch and sighed in resignation. "Almost midnight…I guess this is another of those times he won't bother showing up, so I'm gonna take off. Thank you for listening—no one has done that for me for such a long time," I told him honestly, and reached over to shake his hand.
"It's been my pleasure, Bella," he said and stared at me intensely.
For almost a minute I couldn't bring myself to look away. His eyes were incredible. How the hell did I miss that, too? His smile, his eyes, even his hair that I was only just noticing…this man was beautiful. Had I really been so blinded that I couldn't see someone standing straight in front of me?
"Goodnight," I said reluctantly, felling a strange pull…a desire to stay exactly where I was and talk to him some more.
I forced myself to walk away, and I'd only gotten about four steps away when he shouted, "Hey, you never told me."
"Told you what?" I asked.
"What the 'E' stood for?"
"Oh," I said and smiled. I heard the door swing open. "E is for-" I walked straight into someone else's chest and jumped back when I realized who it was. "Emmett?"
"Sorry, Iz, Rose had me doing all sorts of boring shit with the Christmas decorations. Fucking Christmas…I hate it." He looked at his watch. "Hope you weren't waiting too long?"
"Oh no, Em, just four hours. No big deal though, after all it's not like I have a life of my own is it?" I snapped and Emmett gaped at me. "Luckily I've had wonderful company. Emmett McCarty, I'd like you to meet…oh shit, I'm sorry, I didn't get your name."
I cringed at how rude I'd been but the bartender just shrugged it off. "We were being anonymous, remember? My name's Edward Cullen."
"Hi, Edward," I giggled and Emmett looked pissed. "Right, anonymous."
"Nice to meet you," Emmett said and held out his hand across the bar, I saw Edward glance at Emmett's outstretched hand but ignore it.
"Shall we take off?" Emmett asked, turning away from the bar. "I've told Rosie I'll be back in a few hours. She thinks we've had an emergency at the office."
"Sure," I said sadly and turned to Edward one last time. "Good night, Edward and thanks again."
"Anytime, Bella, and Merry Christmas," he said, giving me the most wonderful, crooked smile.
I followed Emmett outside and waited as he tried to hail a cab. Large flakes of snow had started to fall and coat the sidewalk and parked cars. Despite the snow, the bitter cold, and the late hour, I could still hear the carollers down the street singing. I closed my eyes and sang along for a moment, feeling much more Christmassy than I had earlier in the evening. I just couldn't be sure if that was because Emmett had finally arrived or because I had such a good time with Edward.
The first Noel the angel did say,
Was to certain poor shepards in fields as they lay:
In fields where they lay a keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter's night that was so deep
Noel Noel Noel Noel
Born is the King of Israel.
As I sang along I thought back to the last few hours and just how good it felt to be more like my old self again. It may have been cold outside, but the second I pictured Edward's face a flood of warmth ran through my body and somewhere deep inside things started to fall into place.
"I've missed you, Iz," Emmett interrupted and leaned down to kiss me for the first time since the night in my apartment.
Thanks to the time of year, the falling snow and having one of my favorite carols playing in the background it should have been a magical moment that would stay with me forever. And as his lips met mine I waited to feel it again…that rush of something I couldn't even begin to explain, but surprisingly there was nothing.
I stopped kissing him back and Emmett pulled away. "What's wrong, Iz?"
"Last month…when we arranged to meet and I got insanely drunk," I began and a cab drew up along the curb.
"Yeah, sorry about that, I just couldn't get away, Rosie was suspicious. I think seeing you at Thanksgiving made her paranoia resurface." He climbed in and left the door open for me.
"You were there when it mattered…when I needed you." I smiled, still not moving off the sidewalk, wanting to listen to the rest of the song.
Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,
Born is the King of Israel.
Again Emmett seemed oblivious to the music and interrupted me. "What do you mean, Iz?" he asked, growing increasingly impatient. "Just get in the cab, I told you we don't have long."
Hearing him say my name made something click inside my head. I thought back to the last thing Edward said to me as we were leaving.
"Anytime, Bella, and merry Christmas."
I'd never told him my name…not once. But how?
"He knew my name," I murmured.
"What?" Emmett huffed. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Edward…the bartender…he knew my name," I said.
"Well, we do meet there every month, Iz, Jesus, are you getting in the damn cab?"
Emmett called me Iz, so why the hell would Edward call me Bella?
"Fuck me, Iz, what are you doing?" I heard him mutter something under his breath when I didn't move.
"What's my favourite drink, Em?" I asked and he looked at me in exasperation.
"Jesus, what the hell?" He rubbed his head and groaned.
"Answer the fucking question, Em," I shouted. "What is my favourite drink? Or would you prefer another question? Let's see…what's my favourite book? When is my birthday? Any question, Em, just pick one and answer it."
"You're crazy," he said, but answered anyway, "Cosmopolitan."
"He was right, you don't know shit about me. How could I act so stupid for so long?"
"For fucks sake, Iz, are you getting in this cab or what? I don't exactly have all night," Emmett barked impatiently.
"You know, Em, I don't think I am," I said, and for the first time in my life it was without a trace of hesitation. "Go home to your fiancée or find another poor sap to screw behind her back because you and me…we're done. I'm done. I let you have too much of me for too long and I want it back."
I grabbed the door and just as I was about to slam it in his face he held out his hand. "Wait…I'm sorry, babe. If you're pissed because I stood up you up again last time I promise I can make it up to you. I should have called and told you I couldn't come…but Rosie had one of her spats and kept checking my phone. Please, babe, please give me another chance?"
For the first time in almost twenty years he was begging me. I laughed at the absurdity and then something else occurred to me. "Wait, so you didn't show up at all last month?"
"No, Iz, I'm so sorry."
I hadn't imagined that kiss…had I? No way, it felt too real to be a dream and there was the glass of water and Tylenol by my bed when I woke up. Someone had put me to bed; someone had kissed me... but who?
"Please, I know I treated you bad, Iz, but I'll do whatever you want this time—I mean it. I'll do anything. Don't leave me…I need you…there's no way I can stay away from you." He looked like he meant it, but it didn't stir anything inside me. He was finally saying the words I'd longed to hear him say to me, and I felt nothing.
"Then I'll make it easy for you, Em, I'll stay away from you." I smiled at how easy it was to say it. How right it felt. "Goodbye, Emmett."
I slammed the door as he tried to stop me and turned straight back towards the bar. I swung open the door and saw Edward standing at a table, collecting a few empty glasses.
"Come back for another Christmas Cocktail?" he called out.
"How did you know my name was Bella?" I asked, and I saw a ghost of a smirk form on his face.
"You talk in your sleep," he said quietly.
"It was you?" I said and he nodded once. "You took me home? You put me to bed and stayed the night with me?"
"Yes," he said softly. "You knew he wasn't going to turn up, so you demanded I serve you more Scotch. I didn't realize how bad you were until you passed out on the bar. I closed up and then took you home. There was no way I could just put you in a cab and leave you, I had to make sure you were okay, so I checked your purse for your address."
My heart was racing, my hands were shaking and it was completely crazy. How could someone I'd never noticed until tonight make me feel this way?
"When I got you to your door, you couldn't walk…shit, you couldn't even stand up so I took you to your bedroom. After I got you the Tylenol and the water I just stared at you for ages, Bella. Then I don't know what came over me, but I just had to do it…I had to fucking kiss you. So I did. I felt it too, you know…everything that you said earlier when you thought it was that asshole outside. I knew what you meant because it was exactly the same for me."
He put the empty glasses back down and took a step closer to me. I was frozen to the spot, absolutely clueless as to what to say or do.
"For two years you came in here and I hated how sad you looked. I wanted to talk to you…I tried to talk to you, but you weren't really there. After I kissed you I knew I wasn't going to stop trying though and I promised myself I'd make you see you didn't have to waste your time with a loser like him. I wanted you to know that there was something better right in front of you."
I wanted to smile, I wanted to cry, I wanted to run away and try to make sense of this, but more than all of that I wanted to go to him. I wanted to kiss him. No. I wanted him to kiss me.
"Say something, Bella." Edward stepped closer again, scared that I was about to freak out probably. "Please say something."
"I hate Wuthering Heights," I said and he frowned. "The more convoluted my relationship with Emmett got, the more I began to sympathize with it. I used it as a way to identify with my own pathetic life. The version in my head had Emmett as Cathy, someone who had the love of two men but treated them both badly. I was the bitter, twisted Heathcliff who was convinced we shared something special and wasn't prepared to leave him alone, completely disregarding the relationship with Edgar…or Rosalie as she's called in real life. That's why I kept reading it…I had to."
"So do I have a role in this weird little parallel universe?" Edward asked and I giggled.
"No." I walked over to him. "It's just a book, Edward. Heathcliff, Cathy, and Edgar don't exist…they never really existed. I finally see that now."
"Do you?" he asked.
"You were right. The man I thought I wanted was not the real man at all. I was in love with the version I'd created in my head." I smiled. "Outside, he begged me not leave. He told me he'd do whatever it took for me and I didn't feel a thing. I waited all that time to hear him say it and all I could think about was a kiss, about a bartender who knew so much about me by simply paying attention. All I wanted to do was come back in here and see you. I may have been slow on the uptake…I may not have been paying attention before, but I promise you, Edward, I am now."
He smiled…that smile…the one I should never have missed before and I knew this was right. I closed the last remaining distance between us and reached for his hand. As his head dipped down to mine I felt it…he hadn't even kissed me and I felt it—felt him.
His lips pressed softly against mine, his hands held my face gently, and nothing ever made more sense. I realized that in reality I had given Emmett nothing of me. Edward had been right…the Emmett I created in my head wasn't the real Emmett, and the Isabella I became to try and win him over was not the real me.
I ran my hands up Edward's arms, across his shoulders and into his hair, pulling him closer to me. This was real.
A/N Hope you liked it! I may add another part to this at some point…I had fun writing it!
Thanks for reading and hopefully I'll see you in the New Year for something new.