I Hope You Dance
by Lissa Bryan
Bella had the registration forms and the gift certificate clutched tightly in her hand as she stepped through the door into the dance studio. The lobby was tiny, with barely enough room to walk between the folding chairs that lined the wall and the unoccupied reception desk. She checked her watch. 7:30. That was the starting time for the class, according to the studio's website.
Where is everyone? Bella considered simply walking out and going home, but she'd promised Alice. She idled by the desk for a few minutes.
She could hear faint strains of music coming from down the hall. Maybe her watch was slow and they had started already. She followed the sound down a hallway with faux-wood paneling that looked like it had been there since the Carter administration. The brown carpet beneath her feet was heavily worn. She had expected that a dance studio would be more aesthetically pleasing, but that was probably because the only ones she'd ever seen were in the movies.
The first room she passed had a large observation window. Inside, a ballet class was in session. Bella stopped for a moment and watched in silent admiration as the women stretched and arched their limbs in front of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. She would never have that sort of grace, and a feeling of wistful envy made her sigh.
Bella continued down the hall, searching for the source of the salsa music, and reached the last room. The door was open, and she peeked around the frame.
The room was large with a high ceiling. Mirrors covered one wall with a bar set across it at waist height. In the corner, there was a shelving unit filled with pairs of ballet shoes ranging from tiny children's sizes to adults, all gently worn. A metal rack beside it had a selection of dance costumes with soft tulle skirts and feather boas. And on the floor beside a battered upright piano that was edging into the category of antique, was a large stoneware crock containing walking canes.
Intrigued, Bella poked her head further around the door frame and froze at the sight before her.
In the center of the room, a man was dancing. When he spun around and she saw his face, her heart nearly stopped. He was the most beautiful man she had ever seen, and she could do nothing but gape at him. His face was perfectly sculpted with wide-set green eyes and high cheekbones, his jawline sharp. His hair was a dark auburn, a delightful mess. Red glints caught the light as he moved across the floor in an amazingly smooth slide, rocking his hips in time to the music. He was as graceful as the ballet dancers, but his movements were somehow feral, raw and passionate.
She could have watched him all day.
What struck her the most was the sheer joy she saw in him. He was dancing because he loved it. Dancing like no one was watching, as the old saying went. There was a delicious freedom in his movements, and she was reminded of the birds she and her mother used to watch in the evening on the porch after supper, swooping and turning and diving, seemingly just for the sheer pleasure of it.
When he saw her, he stopped in his tracks.
"Sorry," Bella blurted and ducked back around the door frame.
"Don't go," he said. She could hear his steps on the hardwood floor as he approached the door. Bella considered fleeing, but she had promised Alice.
The man craned his neck around the door and grinned at her. His brilliant green eyes met hers, and Bella felt an electric jolt deep within her. "Hi."
Bella swallowed and tried to remember how to speak. "Hi," she managed, though she could feel her face heating up in a blush. She dropped her gaze.
"I'm Edward," he said, and she dared a quick glance at his face. He seemed to be studying her intently.
Bella stared hard at the floor. He was wearing black loafers, she noted.
"And you?" he prompted.
"B-Bella," she whispered.
"Nice to meet you, Bella. Are you here for a class?"
She nodded. Her mouth was as dry as paper.
"Tango." Bella took a deep breath. She had to do this. She reminded herself she'd promised Alice she would try. "Where is everyone?"
"With their instructors, I imagine." His voice had gentled, as though he understood she was about an inch away from bolting from the door. "Come on in."
Everyone has a personal instructor? That wasn't how Bella had imagined it. She had thought it would be more like the ballet class she had watched, being taught as a group. She followed him inside, and he went over to the stereo to turn down the music. A row of chairs lined the wall, and he motioned to one of them. Bella took a seat, and he pulled a chair around to sit in front of her. He dropped down in the chair, draping his arms over his knees as he leaned toward her.
She glanced up, suddenly imprisoned by his brilliant green eyes. Are they contacts? she wondered. Surely, nature did not bless people with eyes of such magnificent color.
"So, Bella, why do you want to learn the tango?"
She hadn't thought she'd have to explain it. "It was my sister's idea," she muttered, her mind drifting back to the conversation.
Last week, Alice had come over to Bella's apartment and while they were eating lunch, Alice had abruptly asked Bella how long it had been since she'd left the apartment.
"I went to the grocery store yesterday," Bella said.
"No, I mean going out. You know, socializing."
Bella thought about it and didn't want to give the answer. It had been their birthday party, over four months ago. "I've been busy." Bella was a technical writer, and she'd been working on a manual for a tablet computer. It was exacting and intricate work, and she was engrossed in it.
Alice put down her fork. "Bella . . ."
Bella couldn't look at her. "I know, Alice."
Alice left her chair on the opposite side of the table and moved to the one on Bella's right. She took Bella's hand in her own. "Sissie, I just don't want you to miss out on all of the joys in life. There's so much out there."
Bella nodded again but didn't meet her sister's eyes. She knew Alice meant well, but they were very different people, so different it was hard to believe they were twins. Alice had teased that she had absorbed all of the social traits, leaving none for Bella.
That's when Alice drew the gift certificate out of her purse and laid it on the table in front of Bella. Six weeks of tango lessons.
Bella blinked rapidly in confusion. "Tango? Alice, I can't dance. I can barely walk across a room without tripping."
"Yes, tango," Alice said. "It's a fun dance. Mondays and Wednesdays. It's a beginner's course, so you don't need to feel embarrassed. Likely, there will be a lot of people in the class who've never danced, either."
Alice took Bella's hand in her own. "I'm not going to force it on you, Bella. I'm just gonna say what I always say: there's a bright and beautiful world out there that you're missing. I love you, Bella, and I want to see you happy, enjoying life."
"I am happy," Bella said.
"No, you're not. You're content. And that's something entirely different."
Bella was startled, but it was the truth. She hid from the world in order to feel safe, and the only adventures she experienced were in the pages of a book. She was content, as Alice had said, with her orderly, quiet life of writing and reading.
"Don't let life pass you by," Alice said softly. "Bella, I know how you are, but you have to take some risks, try new things and experiences. If you don't . . . I just don't want you to have regrets about the things you missed out on. Please, Bella, just try the dance lessons. You might really enjoy it."
Bella doubted that, but she said she would try. Because she knew Alice was right. While she might be content now to spend her time alone here in her apartment, how would she feel as an elderly person looking back over her life? Would she regret that she never took chances like this? Tried new things, explored the world a bit for real, instead of through an author's perspective?
But now, sitting across from this beautiful man, with her heart hammering and her face burning scarlet, she wished she was home in her quiet living room. She clenched her hands and felt the registration forms and gift certificate crumple in her fist. She opened her hand and thrust the papers at him. He set them aside with barely a glance.
Edward rose to his feet and held his hand out to her. "People dance for many reasons, you know."
She slipped her hand into his, surprising herself. Usually, she didn't like to be touched by strangers. His hand was rough with callouses, and that was unexpected as well. He must have another job, manual labor of some kind. She pictured him, suddenly, as a construction worker: in a sleeveless shirt with his jeans low on his hips. Bella wouldn't have thought it was possible to get even redder, but as he helped her stand up, she flushed a deeper shade.
He was so tall; the top of her head barely cleared his shoulder. She wondered how such a large man could move with such effortless grace.
He smiled at her, a warm and friendly smile. She tried to return it, but dropped her gaze again, fighting the siren call of those enticing eyes. "I don't dance," she said. "I mean, I never have before."
"That's a pity," he said softly. "But don't worry. We're going to start very simply." He held their joined hands out at the side, and his other hand came to rest gently on the small of her back. She could feel its warmth through her shirt. Her spine tingled below it.
"Put your other hand here," he murmured. He took his hand from her back and lifted her free hand to his shoulder. Her skin felt cold from the loss. After he had her hand positioned as he liked, he put his hand on her back again. She was ultra-sensitive to its warm weight.
"Just one step today," he said. "As I bring my leg forward, I want you to move your leg back."
Slowly, he moved his leg toward her and Bella put her own leg back as he had said.
"Now, you come forward."
She moved her leg toward him as his leg retreated.
"Very good." She could hear the smile in his voice, though her gaze was directed at the floor. "Again."
They practiced it repeatedly until it seemed that Bella's leg was attached to his by an invisible brace, following his motions. They switched to the opposite leg, and then alternated, stepping forward and back in sync. He hummed to the music on the radio, and their steps fell into rhythm with the tune. Before long, their motions were smooth and flowing. Bella wouldn't have believed herself capable of such grace.
"Excellent!" he said, and she glanced up at his face. He was smiling broadly. "Really," he said in response to the question she had not asked. "You did great. Did you notice at the end you weren't following my prompts? You were reading my body language. You knew when I was going to move. That's a great start."
"Thank you," Bella murmured. "Is our time up?"
"Almost. There's one more thing I want you to do."
She flicked her gaze to meet his.
"I want you to jump."
She blinked at him. "Huh?"
He stepped back, dropping her hand and removing the one at her back. "I want you to jump. Jump like a little kid jumps into a rain puddle."
Was he serious? A glance at his face told her he was. Bella gave a little hop.
He sighed. "Not like that. Like you mean it."
Bella bent her knees and jumped hard, landing with both feet smacking onto the hardwood floor.
Edward grinned. "There's hope for you yet."
The next day, Edward lingered in Bella's thoughts.
She worked at her computer, but a pair of emerald green eyes hovered on the edges of her consciousness. Tomorrow was Wednesday, and she'd see him again in the evening. She was surprised to find herself excited by the prospect.
She reminded herself, too, to ask him to see if he'd found her barrette. She'd used them to hold back her thick cascade of hair yesterday, and only noticed one was gone when she'd gotten home. Alice had made the set for her for their last birthday, and she'd hate to lose one. They were pretty, set with small, sparkling stones that formed a tiny butterfly.
The day seemed to drag along interminably, and that evening, reading was somewhat unsatisfying. She couldn't concentrate on the page. Her mind kept drifting to that odd request that she jump, and it occurred to her that he hadn't wanted style; he'd wanted enthusiasm.
She went to bed earlier than usual. She told herself it was because she was tired from all the work she'd put into the manual, trying to drive him from her thoughts, but truthfully, it was because she wanted the day to be over.
The next morning, as she made breakfast, she chastised herself for the way her thoughts kept returning to him. There was no doubt he was gorgeous, and she was a healthy young woman. An attraction to him was natural. But she sternly told herself that it was unrealistic. Guys like that never thought twice about girls like her, girls with ordinary looks who didn't know how to flirt.
He was probably married, or in a serious relationship. Guys who looked like that didn't stay single for long. Or he could be gay. In any case, he was way out of her league.
At seven o'clock, Bella took the bus to the dance studio and slipped through the door. This time, a receptionist sat behind the desk. She had pale blonde hair and oddly protuberant blue eyes that bugged out like a doll squeezed too hard, and her smile was as false as crocodile tears. A photo ID clipped to her blouse identified her as Lauren; her last name was too small for Bella to read.
"May I help you?" Lauren asked, in a tone which clearly indicated a lack of desire to do so.
"I . . . um . . ." Bella struggled for words under that icy blue gaze.
"She's here to see me," Edward said from the end of the hallway. He leaned casually against the wall. He wore a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and he hadn't shaved today. Somehow, the copper-colored scruff only enhanced his jawline. Bella took in these details with a swift glance and then dropped her eyes to the floor where she made the startling discovery that his feet were bare. Even his feet were attractive, she thought, feeling slightly dazed. His toes were perfectly straight and tapered perfectly. It wasn't fair.
"Really?" Lauren's voice was cool to the point of iciness. Bella glanced at her and saw that Lauren's eyes had narrowed.
Edward simply smiled at her. "Yes, really. Come on, Bella."
Bella followed him down the hall to the last room. There was no music today. Instead, there were to chairs set up in the center of the room, facing one another. "Have a seat," Edward said. Bella took the one on the right and sat down. Edward closed the studio doors and drew the curtain over the observation window before he sat down in the chair across from her.
"We're not dancing?" Bella asked.
"Later," he replied. "First, we need to work on one of the most important aspects of dance."
"Look at me."
Bella glanced at him, and then away.
"Not like that." He leaned forward. "Look at me."
With effort, she did. He smiled at her. "Much better. No, don't look away. When you're dancing, you have to focus on your partner. You can't read my body language unless you look at me. Last time you were here, you stared at my feet. That's okay for a beginner, but you need to look into my eyes. That's what dance is all about, you know."
He smiled again. "Communication. When you dance with a partner, you're showing the world two people who are completely in sync because they're communicating silently, on the deepest, fundamental level."
If she looked into those beautiful eyes of his, she knew she would be lost. But she did it anyway, and found herself staring hopelessly into them, awestruck again.
"Good! Now, on to the next part. Smile."
She stretched her lips into her "picture-taking" smile.
He shook his head. "I mean really smile."
She tried again, and he sighed. "Bella, what makes you happy?"
"Reading," she replied and felt her cheeks warm with a blush, but she didn't drop the eye contact. She was rather proud of herself for that.
"I like to read, too," he said. "What do you like most about it?"
"That I can be swept away to another world, another time. I can live other lives and do things I'd ordinarily never do."
"What's keeping you from doing those things?"
She broke her gaze away and to her surprise, he reached out and used the tips of his fingers to gently push her chin up. "What's stopping you?" Edward repeated.
"I'm not . . . adventurous."
"Sure you are. You like reading about them for a reason, you know."
"Maybe." She gave him a brief smile.
He stood and held a hand out to her. Bella took it and rose. He stepped close, and her breath caught in her throat. She didn't feel like her personal space was being invaded as she usually did when someone was so near. She started to think about the significance of that, but her mind blanked as his hand cupped the small of her back and with his other hand, gathered hers and held it out to the side.
"Ready?" he asked.
"Yes," she breathed. Her mind was so scattered, she didn't know what he was asking, but whatever it was, she was willing. He stepped forward, and her leg seemed to move of its own volition, sweeping back in tune with his. He beamed at her. "Excellent! You've been practicing!"
She hadn't. Her body simply remembered his. She stepped forward and paused. "I don't want to step on your toes with my shoes."
He shrugged. "Take them off, then."
She giggled because that simply hadn't occurred to her. It seemed so strange to dance barefoot, but also deliciously fun, the kind of simple, silly thing that Alice would have gleefully embraced. Bella kicked off her shoes, but noticed at the last moment one of her socks had a hole in the toe. She froze in embarrassment and curled her toes under to try to hide it.
"Socks too!" Edward declared, and he didn't seem to have noticed the hole, for which she was grateful. Bella peeled them off quickly and stuffed them into her shoes. The floor was cold, but not unbearably so.
"Now, for the fun part!" he declared. "Come over here." He led her to a low-sided plywood box on the floor, its bottom filled with a beige powder. Another box sat beside it with an amber-colored lump inside. The small rock hammer laid over the corner of the box explained the origins of the powder.
"Rosin," Edward told her. "Dip your feet in it. Wiggle around so they're good and coated."
"What does it do?" Bella tentatively patted one foot in the powder. It had a dry, slightly gritty feel between her toes. Edward encouraged her to scuff her feet around in it to make sure they were well-covered.
"It will keep you from slipping," he told her. He dipped his own feet as soon as she had finished, shuffling his feet vigorously in the powder. "Have you ever watched gymnasts in the Olympics? They powder their hands the same way."
Now that he mentioned it, she noticed how shiny the hardwood floor was. Under its coats of wax were ancient dark nicks and scratches. Bella wondered what stories they had to tell.
Edward took her back into his arms. Her skin seemed to crave the warm weight of his hand. "Now, we're going to add a little something to it. Just follow my lead, okay?"
Bella nodded. This time, when he stepped back, he didn't come forward again. Instead, he drew her around the room, slowly, so that Bella could get used to matching her steps to his while in motion, their path marked by ghostly footprints. Her eyes were locked with his, helplessly. He smiled at her, and she swore that her heart skipped a beat or two. "You're doing great, Bella."
Was she? It seemed so effortless to follow him. The music in the background added to the dream-like trance that seemed to fall over her as he swept her around the room, and she knew, come what may, she would never forget this moment. She closed her eyes to savor it and she heard his voice, felt it rumble through his body.
"No, open your eyes. Own the moment. Breathe it in, and live it with all of your senses."
And she did.
Bella was still asleep when the phone rang the next morning. She fumbled for the receiver and drew it under the coverlet with her.
"H'lo," she muttered.
"You okay?" It was Alice, and she sounded slightly amused. "You sound hung-over."
Close. Bella had stayed up into the wee hours, reliving every moment of that magical dance. Even now, Edward occupied her thoughts. Four long days to get through until her next lesson. The wait seemed interminable.
"So, how are the dance lessons coming?"
"Fine," said Bella after a pause. She wanted to tell Alice . . . something. Something that she couldn't quite put into words. Something about it had had felt. For a shining moment—just a moment—she had felt like a heroine in a romance novel.
"How are you getting along with the instructor? I heard he's cute. And single."
"Alice, come on."
"Oh, don't be a stick-in-the-mud," Alice retorted. "Come on, Sissie, live a little. What would be the harm if he did ask you out? Go out and have fun. That's what this whole experience was supposed to be about, you know. If nothing else, you'd get a great story to tell out of it."
Bella smiled because that alone was enough to motivate Alice. "I don't think he's interested. He's way out of my league."
"Your 'league' includes any man who wants to play ball," Alice retorted. "You're beautiful, Bella."
Bella laughed. "You're biased, Alice." Being fraternal twins, Alice and Bella didn't look alike, except that they had both inherited the same big, soft brown eyes, and their waif-like figures from their mother. Alice, with her pixyish, Bohemian spirit, somehow made it into something beautiful and seemed to draw men like flies. Bella just looked scrawny and flat, and she faded into the wallpaper where men were concerned.
Truthfully, Bella wished she could be more like her sister, to throw caution to the winds and dive head-first into whatever life had to offer, but she lacked the courage.
Weekends never meant much to Bella, because she treated them as working days like any other. She declined Alice's invitation on Saturday to go out to a club. She worked harder than usual, trying to keep her mind away from a pair of green eyes and that glorious floating feeling she'd experienced in his arms, as though gravity had suddenly ceased to apply. When he held her, Bella no longer felt graceless and awkward. It was as though his arms contained a new world that allowed her to live a dream, and she couldn't wait to go there again.
By Monday, she was as tense and jittery as an addict craving their next fix. She gave a sigh of relief as she stepped from the bus in front of the dance studio and headed for the door.
Lauren was seated behind the reception desk and she gave Bella an acidic smile as she closed the door behind her. "Edward will be just a few minutes," Lauren smirked. "He's . . . with someone."
Bella wondered what she meant, but she simply nodded and sat down on one of the chairs.
Lauren narrowed her bugging eyes at Bella's apparent lack of curiosity. "Tanya stopped by," she continued. "They won that trophy together." She nodded at a gleaming gold trophy on a shelf over by the window. "He gave her an engagement ring last Christmas. It was so romantic."
Bella felt like her heart had dropped out of her chest and plopped on the floor.
Edward was engaged.
All of her half-formed fantasies and wistful hopes died a withering death. She felt a pang of grief, a mourning for something that never was and something that would never be.
Lauren smiled and sat back in her chair just as the door opened. Edward emerged with a tall, gorgeous woman with red-blonde curls. She was laughing at something he'd said, and Edward was grinning.
"Free for dinner?" Tanya asked.
He shook his head. "I have a lesson." He went over to Bella and extended a hand. Nonplussed, she took it and he drew her to her feet. "This is Bella. Bella, this is Tanya. She's our most senior instructor."
Tanya smiled, a genuine, warm and friendly smile. "Nice to meet you, Bella." She turned back to Edward. "I need to go, then. See you later." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and offered Bella another smile before she headed out the door.
"Time to dance," Edward said and drew Bella down the hall to their room. He pointed to a chair as he drew the curtains over the observation window and Bella sat down, still feeling dazed.
"I wanted to talk to you about something," Edward said as he took the chair across from Bella. "Passion."
Bella felt her cheeks heat up and cursed her trait of blushing so easily. "W-what do you mean?"
He gave her a small smile and tilted his head. "What do you think it means?"
She couldn't answer that, so she looked down at her clasped hands..
He seemed to realize he'd embarrassed her because his voice gentled. "What I mean is passion for life. What is your passion, Bella?"
She began to gnaw on her lip and forced herself to stop. "I—I really don't —" She took a deep breath. "Why are you asking me these things?"
"Dance is human emotion in motion. Love, joy, grief . . . passion. This is the way the soul sings, Bella. What is your song?"
She shook her head slightly.
"Everyone has a song," he said. He put his fingers below her chin and lifted her face until she was staring helplessly into his eyes. "I think right now that yours is a slightly discordant hum, an orchestra tuning up. But I can tell it will be a symphony when you begin to conduct it." He stood and extended a hand to her.
For once, Bella didn't take it. "I don't think I want to."
She shook her head. "No. Thanks, but I think I'm done here." And she turned and fled, hurrying past Lauren's desk and hoping she wouldn't see the tears in her eyes.
No matter how much Bella chastised herself that evening, she couldn't break herself out of the morose funk she found herself in. She couldn't write; she pecked at the keys and gazed sightlessly at the screen until she gave up and turned off her computer. She couldn't read. She stared at the pages as though they were written in Sanskrit, uncomprehendingly.
She couldn't understand it. Why in the world should she be so upset over a man she'd only met a few times? She considered calling Alice, who had more experience in such matters and might be able to provide some insights, but she dismissed that idea almost as soon as it came. Alice would ask questions Bella didn't feel like answering. She didn't feel like doing much of anything but staring blankly into space, recalling those few, precious moments in Edward's arms when she had felt like she was flying.
The phone rang and she answered it as a reflex, regretting it as soon as she pressed TALK, because talking was the last thing she wanted to do. Her "hello" was listless.
It was Edward's voice. Bella nearly dropped the phone.
She found her voice. "H-hi."
"Are you all right?"
She closed her eyes. "Yeah. Um . . . how did you get my number?"
"It was on the registration forms. I hope I didn't make you uncomfortable, but I felt like I had to check on you after you ran out of the studio today."
Bella gripped the phone tightly. She didn't know what to say.
"I wanted to apologize," Edward continued. "My questions obviously bothered you, and that wasn't my intention."
"I know." She had to let him know it wasn't his fault. That she just wasn't cut out for this.
"Listen, could we meet for a cup of coffee somewhere?"
"I'm sorry, but I really don't feel like going out right now."
"How about if I'd come over to your place? I just live over on Baxter Street."
Only two blocks away. Strange to think of him being so close. "How do you know where I live?" she blurted and immediately felt like an idiot.
But he didn't laugh at her. "Because of the forms. I'm sorry, Bella, I don't want you to feel like I'm invading your personal space—"
"No, it's okay," she heard herself say with a sense of astonishment. "You can come over."
"Really?" He sounded a little surprised, which he covered quickly with his next words. "I'll be over in ten minutes or so. I'm walking."
"Okay." Bella's voice was as shaky as the hand that held the phone. "I'll see you then." She dropped the phone into the cradle and panicked.
Why had she said he could come over? She spun around, surveying her apartment. Her desk was a mess, and she ran over to try to tidy the piles of paper before she realized she probably ought to spend the time on herself. She bolted for her bedroom and shed her ratty sweats and pulled on a pair of jeans and the blouse Alice had bought her for their birthday. It was peach-colored, with sheer sleeves and pearl buttons, soft and romantic-looking. Something Bella wouldn't ordinarily wear, but she thanked God for it at the moment. She ran into the bathroom and wildly clawed at her hair with a brush while trying to apply lipstick with the other hand.
Wait! Putting on lipstick would make it obvious she was trying to doll herself up for his visit. She scrubbed at her lips with a tissue and then decided she needed to brush her teeth. She was scrubbing at them frantically when she heard a knock at the door. She spat out the toothpaste and hung her brush up in the holder, forgetting to rinse it in her haste. She wiped her mouth on a towel and ran for the door, tripping over her own feet and falling into the wall. She caught her balance and gripped the doorknob.
It was raining lightly. Edward had droplets in his rusty hair that caught the porch light and sparkled like diamonds. He wore a pea coat with the collar popped up around his neck. He smiled at her. "Hey. Everything okay? I heard a thud."
"I fell," she admitted before her brain could alert her mouth that she didn't want to say that.
"You all right?" He looked concerned.
"Yeah, fine. Happens all the time." And she wanted to punch herself to shut herself up. He didn't need to know she was as clumsy as a three-legged elephant on roller skates.
"May I come in?"
"Oh! Yeah, sure." Bella stepped back and he walked inside, unbuttoning his coat. Below it, he wore a black v-necked sweater that lovingly hugged his chest and showed off his lean, muscular physique. She took his coat from him wordlessly and hung it in the hall closet.
He glanced around her apartment, taking in the spare décor and worn furniture. Bella was suddenly embarrassed by it and wished she'd taken Alice up on the offer to let her redecorate. It wasn't that Bella couldn't afford it; it was simply that she hadn't seen the point in spending the money since she was the only one who ever saw the apartment. She hadn't put much credence in Alice's insistence that beautiful surroundings would make Bella happier, but she now wished she would have. She would have liked to casually invite Edward inside a cool and trendy living space that would make her look more interesting. Instead, she offered him a seat on her elderly plaid sofa, and a soda she served in a plastic glass from a fast food restaurant. But he smiled when she handed it to him like it was Baccarat crystal and complimented her on her blouse as she sat down.
"Oh, this old thing?" she replied as she sat at the other end of the sofa, because it sounded like something Alice would say. And then she realized the tags were protruding from the cuff and flushed scarlet as she turned her wrist down, hoping he hadn't spotted them.
He took a drink and put his glass carefully on a coaster on the end table before he turned to her. "Bella, I really feel like I should apologize to you."
"No need," she stared down into her glass and watched the tiny bubbles break on the surface of her soda. "It's just . . . I'm not really cut out for dancing, Edward. You're a great teacher, but what you said made me realize that it's not me."
"But it is you, Bella." He leaned toward her, and Bella's breath caught in her throat as her glance snagged on his beautiful eyes and hung there, helplessly mesmerized. "There's fire in you, though you have it buried down deep. I wish I knew why, why you would suppress your joy."
She shook her head slightly because she didn't know how to reply.
"I asked you what your passion was today and you left. Will you please tell me why?"
Bella couldn't consider refusing to answer. His eyes were warmly compassionate, so kind it made her heart ache a little. She couldn't tell him why she'd run out, but she could answer the other part of his question. "I don't think I have anything that makes me passionate," she admitted.
He regarded her quietly for a moment. "I'm sorry."
She looked away. "You have no reason to be."
"No, I'm sorry that you don't have any passion in your life. That's terrible. And I'm going to help you fix that." Edward stood and held out his hand.
She eyed it for a moment. "What are you doing?"
"Come on, we're going outside."
"It's raining," Bella protested.
"Good," he said. "There will be puddles to jump in."
She laughed and shook her head, but she put her hand in his and allowed him to draw her to the hall closet where she retrieved his coat and took out one of her own. It was a gray trench coat, and he glared at it as she tugged it on.
"Gray?" he asked.
"Gray is . . . um . . . practical," Bella said.
"How long have you had that thing?"
She considered. "Seven or eight years."
"Good. Then it won't be a problem when I find a way to ruin it tonight so you have to buy a new one. Preferably in a bright color."
She blinked at him, and he smiled softly. "A beautiful woman with a vibrant spirit should wear bright colors. A diamond shines best in a bright gold setting."
Beautiful? He thinks I'm beautiful? But the practical side of her put the brakes on the excitement the thought stirred in her. He was taken. Engaged to be married to another woman. She turned away and he caught her arm. "What's wrong? Did I offend you?"
The man was too darn perceptive. "I—" She took a deep breath. "I just don't think you should . . . That you should say things like that to me."
He shook his head. "Why?"
"Your fiancée wouldn't appreciate it, I'm sure."
"Fiancée?" he repeated. "You mean Tanya?"
"Is there another one?" she asked, and her tone was a bit more acrid than she intended.
"Bella, I'm not engaged to Tanya." Edward took her hand in his own and stroked his thumb over the back of her knuckles. "She turned me down."
She stared at him. He had to be lying. What woman in her right mind would turn him down? She didn't realize she'd said it aloud until he laughed, and then her face burned with embarrassment.
"Come here." He drew her over to the sofa and sat down beside her, still keeping her hand in his own. He sat close, so close their thighs were almost touching. Bella found it difficult to breathe normally.
"Tanya and I were together for three years," he said. "We had a good thing, she and I, and I thought it was time to make it permanent. But she said no."
"She didn't love you?"
He shook his head. "She loves me, just not in that way, and it took a while before I could admit the love I had for her wasn't what makes for a good marriage. We wanted different things from life."
"When I saw you together —" Bella bit the inside of her lip.
He nodded. "We're still friends. We had what is probably the most amicable breakup possible. Tanya's a good person; she just wasn't the person for me, and I know that now. I'll admit, I was hurt for a while, but now I'm glad she made the decision she did. Especially now."
What did he mean by that? Bella was too afraid to ask. He gave her a small smile. "Come on, Bella. Let's go play."
"Yes, play," he said firmly. "You are in desperate need of fun. It's at the state of emergency, I'd say."
Bemused, she allowed him to draw her out of the door. She plucked her keys from the hook as they went, leaving behind her purse, her computer bag, her Kindle, all the things she usually carried with her when she went out. It was oddly liberating not to be weighed down with all of those bags, and she even skipped a little as she followed Edward down the sidewalk. It was a warm evening despite the rain, and she lifted her face to let the drops patter on her face.
He stopped at the edge of the curb where a large rain puddle had gathered. He grinned at Bella. "How long has it been since you jumped in a puddle?"
Bella thought about it. "Honestly, I don't think I ever jumped into one intentionally."
He gave her a shocked look. "Not even as a kid?"
She shook her head. Even as a child, Bella had been serious and cautious. Her mother called her an "old soul." It had been Alice who had jumped into puddles and climbed trees and later did things like skydiving and backpacking around Europe for the summer. And part of Bella had yearned to do those things while she watched from the sidelines, but she had always turned away and applied herself to responsibilities.
"Then, this is important," he declared. "We must jump in this puddle. But as we do it, I want to hear your barbaric yawp."
Bella burst out laughing. "My what?"
"Come on, you're a bibliophile. Walt Whitman: I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable/I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world. So, let me hear it. Ready? One . . . two . . . three!"
They both jumped and Bella let out an awful, yodeling squawk as they landed.
"Now that," Edward said, "was a yawp!"
The splash soaked the legs of their jeans, but she laughed, laughed and stomped and kicked water at Edward as he did the same. And they played in the rain like the child Bella had never been and a wonderful feeling of peace and happiness filled her as they did. She knew it didn't come from him, or from the puddle, or from the delicious silliness of their play. It came from inside her, and she hadn't even known it was there until he showed her how to unlock it.
They went back into Bella's apartment, soaked and chilled, but giggling like a pair of teenagers. Edward was holding her hand, which he had taken every chance to do while they played.
Bella went and got towels and brought back a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. "I bought these by accident," she explained as she handed him the pants and a plastic bag for his wet clothes. "They were way too big for me, but it seemed like more of a hassle to return them, so I just kept them."
"In case you had a dripping man in your living room one day?" he asked with a grin as he toweled his hair, his eyes sparkling as he slanted a glance at her. His hair stood up in wild spikes all over his head, and Bella barely kept herself from drooling. How was it possible that the messier he was, the sexier he looked? It was so unfair.
"I'll let you change," she muttered and scurried back to the bathroom to pull on her own dry clothes. She had considered trying to dress nicely and then gave up. Most of her "nice" clothes were new or uncomfortable, and she found that she didn't have a problem with Edward seeing her in her comfy clothes. She pulled on her pajama pants and t-shirt and toweled her hair carefully, trying not to tangle it. Of course, it was futile, and she spent a few minutes cursing as she tugged at tangles with her brush.
Finally, she headed back to the living room and froze in her tracks as she saw him putting on his t-shirt. His back was to her, and she could have wept from the sheer beauty of it. Sleekly muscled and sculpted, she was mesmerized by the play of muscles until the cotton obscured her view. He turned around and smiled at her, a smile that sent an electric jolt through her.
"Sorry," Edward said. "I paused in dressing because I got distracted by the stuff on your desk."
Bella flushed a little because it was such a mess. He had to think she was chaotic.
"I was curious. I hope you don't feel that I shouldn't have—"
"No, it's okay," she said quickly. "I know it's a mess."
"I'll bet it's not a mess to you," Edward replied. "I'll bet you know where everything is and you have it placed so it will be in easy reach while you're doing it.
She stared at him, her mouth open a little. "You're right."
Bella walked over to the desk and picked up one of the little scraps of paper lying near the corner. "These are ideas," she said. "I don't always carry a notebook with me and I hate making notes on the computer, so I find a bit of paper somewhere and write it down before I forget it."
She tapped the pile in front of the monitor. "I don't usually make outlines, but sometimes I'll work out what points I need to make in each chapter so I won't forget them."
"I didn't know technical writing was such a creative process."
She supposed she shouldn't be surprised he was able to figure out what it was she did just by glancing over the paper-strewn desk. "It's usually not, but it's just the way I work. And it seems to work for me. I keep getting jobs, anyway."
"Do you like it?"
She nodded. "I do. It sounds boring, I know, but I like the idea of taking complicated concepts and making them easy for people to understand. It's like I'm helping them, you know? I picture someone frustrated that they can't get their device to do what they want and checking my manual and finding an easy solution. Maybe it'll make their day a little brighter."
Edward smiled, and his green eyes twinkled at her. "See? You do have passion. You've just hidden it under a mask of responsibility."
Bella looked down at the floor, feeling suddenly shy. She saw Edward out of the corner of her eye as he moved across the room. Her stereo was on a shelf on the wall, a mildly old-fashioned system that used CDs. Alice had been trying to get her to switch over to an MP3 player and Bose speakers, but Bella liked seeing all of the CDs on her shelf. Despite her Kindle, she was the same way about books. She liked being surrounded by them. And like her books, it was an eclectic collection, of all genres and styles.
She saw Edward pluck a CD from the shelf and insert it in the player. The music started, and he approached her. His hands slipped beneath her hair and tilted her head so that she was gazing up at him, helplessly bewitched by his emerald eyes.
"Dance with me," he murmured.
Forever, she thought. She lifted her hands to his shoulders, and he put his at the small of her back. They flowed effortlessly into the steps he had showed her. Her living room faded away. Everything faded away except the music, his eyes and the feeling of his hands on her, their warm weight sending shivers of sensation up her spine.
A thread of the lyrics caught on the edge of her mind:
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance
Edward looked down into her eyes, and she knew the song hadn't been chosen randomly. He was speaking to her in that silent synchronicity he had told her about the day they'd met, his body, the music, his eyes, his heart. And she was amazed by what she heard. Amazed and enraptured. Her heart ached with all she longed to say, and she hoped that she was expressing it.
Maybe she was. He lowered his head. Her breath caught. He stopped a millimeter or so away from her lips as though to ask permission, and she gave it by edging upward and touching her lips to his.
So soft and warm and sweet. He took her lips in a gentle, tender kiss—everything a first kiss should be and then he deepened it with hot hunger that matched the wild longing in her soul. She slipped her fingers up into his hair and tangled them in the silky strands as though to hold him to her, but it was Bella who was the prisoner, ensnared by the burning, erotic hunger that surged through her with almost violent intensity. Their mouths moved together in their own dance, of perfect silent agreement. Bella heard herself moan low in her throat, and he echoed the sound.
He drew away, and she nearly cried out at the loss. She opened her eyes as his hand came up to cup her cheek. "Bella."
"Edward." Her hands were still woven in his hair, and her breath came in short gasps.
His thumb traced the line of her cheekbone, and he closed his eyes for a moment. He leaned in and gave her another kiss, this one soft and warm, as gentle as the kiss of rain when they had played outside.
"Wednesday," he said. And then he drew away and smiled at her, a sweet smile slightly tinged with sadness. He plucked his coat from the back of the chair as he went out the door.
Bella didn't sleep well that night. She tossed and turned, playing over the events again and again. At first, she had been bewildered as to why he left, but it coalesced in her mind slowly. He was right. They weren't ready for what might have happened if he stayed.
She knew now what was meant by the word "passion." The few encounters she had in college didn't even approach the level of intensity which had been contained in that one kiss. Her emotions were in a wild jumble, and she tried to comb them out to examine what she was feeling, but there were so many contradictions in the pile that she gave up. Some of the feelings she sternly dismissed as premature, but nothing had ever felt like this. Nothing in her calm, orderly life had ever prepared her for this.
She had to call Alice. Alice would help her sort it out. She glanced at the clock and groaned, calculating the hours before she could call. Her sleep was fitful, her dreams occupied by recent memories, memories which made her heart and body ache with desires she didn't think she should be feeling yet, but were undeniably there.
She called as soon as it was humanely possible. Alice was a beautician and the shop didn't open until ten, so calling her, as Bella did, at 7:00 AM was pushing it. She knew immediately from the gravelly rumble of her sister's voice that she had woken her, but she couldn't stop the words from spilling forth: "I need help, Allie."
Alice sipped her coffee and watched Bella prod at her pancakes. They were seated in the small diner down the street, having breakfast, but Bella had eaten little.
"I just don't know, Allie," Bella said for the tenth time. "It's . . . It's something I've never experienced and I don't know what to do."
"Why not just enjoy the ride?" Alice asked.
Bella glared at her. "Come on."
"I'm serious." Alice put down her mug and leaned over the table. "Bella, what you're feeling right now is one of life's greatest joys. And I'm so happy for you I could squeal and draw a great deal of unwanted attention, but I won't do that. What I'll do instead is tell you that this is what I've hoped for all these years, that you would get out there and live life to its fullest and experience all of its wonders. Best goddamn six hundred bucks I ever spent."
Bella laughed, but sobered quickly. She traced the rim of her coffee cup with her finger. "Alice, what if he's not . . . serious?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if he's just playing around?"
"So what if he is?" Alice challenged. "Come on, Bella. You had a couple of flings in college."
Bella stared into her cup. "I didn't intend them to be flings."
Alice fell silent, and Bella felt guilty. That had been the summer that Alice was backpacking around Europe. Bella hadn't wanted to worry her, so she had kept her heartbreak to herself. Alice would have cut her trip short if she'd known. And Bella felt stupid for falling for it twice. Afterward, she pretended to Alice that they had been mutual one-night stands, and Alice had been surprised and suspected that she wasn't getting the whole story, but Bella had refused to say more.
"Alice, I already feel too much. And I'm afraid if I let it go any further . . . It will just hurt too much if I find out he's just having fun."
"Maybe you should talk to him about this," Alice said pointedly. "Instead of to me. Ask him flat-out where he thinks this is going."
"I can't do that."
Alice sighed. "Then I guess you'll never know what it could have been. Because I know what you're going to do. You're going to slip down to the studio early in the day when you know he's not there and cancel the rest of the lessons. Then you won't pick up the phone when he calls. And you'll wonder for the rest of your life if he might have been the one."
Bella dropped her cup with a clatter onto its saucer. She'd been thinking vague thoughts along those lines. Alice knew because Bella was simply that predictable. Cautious Bella, taking the coward's way out.
Well, she wasn't that girl any more. Bella set her jaw and tilted up her chin. "Don't expect a refund any time soon, Alice."
Alice reached across the table and squeezed Bella's hand.
Bella discovered that Edward had forgotten his bag of wet clothes when he left. She stared at it in dismay for a moment, unsure of what to do. She couldn't just leave them in the bag and wait until Wednesday. They'd mildew. She chewed on a fingernail in indecision and finally scooped up the bag and her purse and headed out the door.
Two blocks down was a small laundromat, and next door was a small book shop with a café. Bella shopped there frequently, though their selection was small; she had the elderly proprietor order books for her, which he gladly did. She waved at him as she walked by and held up five fingers to show him she'd be over soon.
She pushed open the door of the laundromat. Inside, it was was warm and humid and smelled of detergent, and the air hummed with chugging motors. The few people inside didn't look up as Bella entered. She stepped up to the closest unoccupied washer and eyed the bag dubiously. Her instinct was to dump the clothes right into the washer, touching them as little as possible to avoid violating his privacy, but what if he had something valuable in his jeans pocket, or his sweater had special washing instructions?
Bella blushed as she pulled his pants out of the bag and his underwear tumbled to the floor. Black boxer briefs. She scooped them up quickly and tossed them in the machine. Still red-faced, she thrust her hand down into each pocket, relieved to find them empty. Except the front right. She frowned as she felt something small and hard. She fished it out and stared at the object in her palm. It was the butterfly barrette she'd lost at her first dance class. The colorful stones winked in the fluorescent lights.
Had Edward intended to give it to her when he came over last night , and had simply forgotten when they became wrapped up in the moment? Bella decided that had to be the case and dropped it down into her own pocket. But something tugged at the edges of her mind and she slipped her fingers down into her pocket and traced the little butterfly, frowning.
His sweater turned out to be washable. She started to toss it in, but her hands wouldn't obey. Instead, they brought the sweater up to her nose. She sniffed and closed her eyes at his delicious aroma. Was it cologne or was it just him? She didn't know, but it was a scent to which her nose could become easily addicted. She forced herself to let it go and dropped it in with the jeans, praying the color wouldn't bleed. She bought a small package of detergent at the vending machine and used it sparingly, then inserted her quarters to start the cycle.
After it began, she went over to the book shop, which smelled deliciously of coffee, baked goods and paper. Mr. Weber smiled to see her and slid her cup of tea across the counter, along with one of his wife's freshly baked crescent rolls. Bella smiled back and handed him the money before taking a seat at one of the little tables by the window. The exchange was friendly, but accomplished without speaking, a pattern they had established early in their relationship. Mr. Weber was a very kind and sensitive soul.
She was hadn't eaten much of her breakfast at the diner with Alice, but even if she'd been full, Mrs. Weber's fresh crescent rolls were irresistible. Bella munched happily while pecking on her laptop, editing her manuscript while she waited for the clothes to wash. She went over to put them in the dryer and returned to find Mr. Weber had refilled her tea. She gave him another smile and went back to work. Fortunately, she'd set the timer on her laptop, because she quickly became engrossed and completely forgot about the clothes.
She took the cup back up to the counter and headed next door, only to find the clothes still flopping around in the huge dryer drum. With a sigh, she sat on one of the hard plastic chairs in front of it. She wondered if some people liked to watch their laundry like a movie.
Someone walked by the plate glass window that was framed in steam. Bella glanced up and saw that it was Tanya, Edward's almost-fiancée. She quickly looked down. Please don't see me. Please don't see me.
From the corner of her eye, Bella saw Tanya had stopped and turned into the door of the laundromat. Bella silently swore. Tanya's shoes appeared in her line of vision. "Bella?"
Bella looked up. Tanya smiled at her. "It is Bella, isn't it?"
"Do you remember me? We met the other day at the studio."
As if Bella could ever forget that moment and the sinking grief she had felt when she thought Edward was engaged. "I remember. Hi." She glanced up at Tanya for the sake of politeness but quickly looked back down at the chipped tile floor.
Tanya sat down beside her. "It's nice to see you again. I was hoping we'd get a chance to talk sometime."
Bella had no idea what to say. She switched her attention to the dryer and willed it to finish.
"Edward's talked a lot about you," Tanya continued. "A lot. I haven't seen him talk this much about a woman since . . . well, ever."
Bella felt her cheeks flush as Edward's underwear tumbled merrily in front of the dryer's glass door.
"Listen, I think you may have gotten the wrong impression the other day." Tanya's voice had softened, and she leaned forward a bit to try to catch Bella's eye. Bella reluctantly looked at her and quickly back at the dryer. The pair of underwear was still bobbing around right in front of the window. Taunting her. Tanya glanced at the dryer to see what Bella found so absorbing and saw the boxers. She lifted an eyebrow, and the corners of her mouth quirked up as though she were trying hard to suppress a grin. Bella wished she could melt through the floor. Her cheeks flushed hot, but she met Tanya's gaze levelly with a boldness that surprised herself.
"You may have heard that he and I—" Tanya broke off and turned in her seat until she was facing Bella. "I do love Edward," Tanya said, "just not the way he needed to be loved. Do you understand? He'll always be my best friend, but we weren't right for each other in that way."
What was she supposed to say to that? Bella simply nodded.
"He wanted a different life, you know? Kids and a house with a picket fence, a dog and a minivan. And I want to travel on a whim and dance the night away. I couldn't give him what he needed because I didn't love him enough to give up what I wanted. That's why I turned him down. I love him enough to want him to be happy, the way he could have never been happy with me. He needed someone different, someone special. He needed . . . well . . . He needed someone like you, actually."
"Me?" Bella blinked at her.
Tanya smiled. "Take care of him. He's been waiting a long time to give someone his heart, someone who could appreciate it the way it deserves." And with that, she stood and left the laundromat as the dryer buzzed and Edward's underwear collapsed to the bottom of the dryer as though exhausted.
Bella was shaking a little as she entered the dance studio the following evening, and it had nothing to do with the cool and dreary weather. The desk in the lobby was unoccupied, and the lights in the other rooms were off. Bella headed down the hallway toward Edward's room. The door stood open, and he was waiting for her just inside, dressed casually in a brown pull-over and khaki cargo pants. As always, she was stricken by his sheer physical beauty, the sculpted lines of his face, and the way his emerald eyes sparkled at her as he smiled that gentle smile she loved so much.
"Hello, Bella," he said. "How are you?"
She couldn't answer. Her trembling increased. It had taken all of her courage to face him today, and now it was deserting her, right at the crucial moment. Her gaze dropped to the floor and she saw his feet were bare again.
"Hey," he said, and she heard concern in his voice. "Aww, Bella, come here." He crossed the few steps that separated them and drew her into a hug. His chest was firm and warm below her cheek, and she heard the soft thump of his heart beneath her ear. His arms held her firmly but gently and she felt the tension slowly drain from her. He drew back and smiled down at her. "Better?"
"There are few things in this world that can't be made better with a good hug," he declared, and she gave him a wobbly smile in response. She started to duck her head and he caught it with his fingers, nudging her face back up until her gaze met his. "You thought it might be weird, hmm?"
"Yeah." Her voice cracked a little. She swallowed, hard.
"It won't be, I promise." He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "You're here with me, and I'm going to show you how happy that makes me."
"We're going to dance."
He went over to the stereo and opened a CD case.
"Where is everyone?" Bella asked as she slipped off her shoes. "The whole building seems empty."
He cast a grin over his shoulder. "It is. Um, to tell you the truth . . . Your class was cancelled five weeks ago. You must have missed the call."
She stared at him. "Why did you teach me, then?"
He pushed play and the music began. "Because, Bella, I've never met a person who needed to dance more than you did."
"You felt sorry for me?" The words were like a sharp needle, stabbing into her heart.
"No. I wanted to be there when it happened. Because I knew it would be glorious." He extended a hand. "Dance with me."
It was a request she could never deny.
"We're going to try something new," he told her. "Do you trust me?"
She did. God help her, she did. She nodded and he smiled again. "All right. I'm going to dip you back, lowering you down. I want you to curl your left leg over mine. We'll go slow."
He held her in his strong hands and, as always, her heart sped up. As if he knew it, he smiled softly, and brushed a tendril of hair back from her cheek. "Here we go."
Bowing, Edward stepped to his left so his right leg extended past hers, and his bent left leg supported hers. He lowered her, slowly, as he'd promised. Bella used her right leg to brace herself and curled the left around his thigh. "What do I do with my arms?" she murmured. They were currently locked on his shoulders.
"Let go," he said softly.
She did, and it was so deliciously freeing to feel her body completely supported by his arms, knowing that she was utterly safe within them. Slowly, Bella lifted her arms until they were behind her head, and she let her head fall back. He made a small sound and she sensed, more than felt it, when he lowered his head and brushed his lips across the vulnerable column of her throat. As lightly as the brush of butterfly wings, like the kiss of a summer breeze.
"I'm going to hold you up with one arm, now," Edward told her. "Don't stiffen up, okay? I've got you."
Somehow, she knew that, and the security was incredibly freeing. He was supporting her solely with his right forearm. She marveled at his strength.
He trailed his fingers up her arm slowly and traced the back of them across her palm, leaving a path of tingling nerves in its wake. He threaded his fingers through her right hand and drew it back toward his body.
"Slide your other leg back until you're resting on your knee," he whispered, his breath hot against her skin. She shivered from the sensation as she slid her leg back behind her and the top of her foot brushed the floor. Her body was curved back in an arch beneath his, a willing sacrifice laid across the stone altar of his arm.
"One arm around my back." She brought it down and slid it around his waist slowly, savoring the feeling of his warm skin beneath his shirt. She stroked her foot up his calf to feel the hard muscles of his leg under his khakis.
"Got it?" he asked, and his voice was a little hoarse.
Now he sounded amused. "The pose."
Was she in a pose? Bella lifted her head and blinked to clear her foggy mind. She glanced over at the mirror and stiffened a little in surprise at the deeply erotic image they presented, Edward poised over her arched body, her legs a provocative display even in her loose jeans. She swallowed, hard, before she could speak. "Yeah."
Bella pulled her eyes from their image and up to meet his gaze. Edward gave her a sweet little grin that made her heart flutter. "You're very . . . flexible." His voice was a low rumble, almost purring.
"Yoga," she blurted.
His grin widened. "Really?"
He drew her upright and her head swam, though she didn't think it was from the sudden change in position. "We're going to combine it with the steps you learned before. We'll start slow. You control the pace. Tell me when you're ready to go faster."
Edward drew her around the room, and it seemed as though Bella's feet knew the steps though her brain was drifting on a sweet high. They seem tied to his, even as he added twists and turns to the dance, though he kept the slow pace he'd promised.
"Faster," she whispered.
He surprised her by taking her arm and twirling her out in a spin. He drew her back almost as quickly and she ended with her back pressed tightly against his body, his arm around her stomach. "We're going to sink down together," he instructed, "like this." He slid one leg back and bent the other knee, almost like he was kneeling. She laid her head back against his shoulder and felt his hands slide down to her hips as they dipped down and rose together slowly, achingly slow.
"Do you need to try it again?" he whispered. His breath feathered against her ear, soft, hot. It made her own breath come a little faster.
"Yes," she said, but not because she didn't know how to do the move. She wanted to enjoy this a few moments longer, the feeling of his body pressed against her back, the slide of his leg against hers. When they rose again, he spun her around fast so she faced him and for an instant, they froze, both of them breathing hard, though not from exertion. As though an invisible signal had been given, they began to move in tandem.
"Again," he rasped and swung her out into the spin. She latched her leg around his when he spun her back, as though she could not bear to be parted from him. He dropped her back into the dip he had shown her earlier, though the angle was different and her limbs were eager to obey, one leg slipping back while the other clasped his.
I like this, she thought, and almost laughed from the sheer exhilaration of it. "Faster," she said as he drew her upright, her eyes clinging to his. And she wasn't just talking about the dance. Their eyes held as they began the steps again, crossing back and forth around the room, her feet matching his, seemingly of their own accord. He dipped her back after a spin and slowly ran his hand down her side. Bella closed her eyes. He bent over her and she could feel his breath against her collarbones, could feel the tension in his body.
"Please," she thought or said. She wasn't sure which. He brought her up swiftly, his face only inches from her own, their lips only an aching millimeter away. He turned his head slightly to the side and she felt his breath on her neck again and a fleeting touch that may have been one of his lips brushing her skin as he whispered, "Christ, Bella, I love your perfume."
She wasn't wearing any.
He stepped away abruptly and raked his hands through his hair as she stared, bereft and bewildered. He gave a small laugh. "You make it hard for me to behave."
"I'm sorry." She wasn't sure what she'd done, and she wasn't sure she was sorry about it.
He shook his head quickly. "You shouldn't be." He took a deep breath. "I'm not. Again."
The rhythm of the dance was becoming familiar to her, and this wasn't just a lesson, wasn't just practice. She was dancing with him because she loved it, loved the way her body echoed his movements almost instinctively, loved the sharp, snappy steps and spins juxtaposed with the slow, sensual slides and dips.
"I'll bet you never thought you'd discover a talent for this," he whispered into her ear when her back pressed against him. She suppressed a moan as his hand slid down her side to her hip. "Improvisation, being able to judge your partner's next move. . ."
"Shh," she said, and twined her arms around his neck. "It's you, Edward. You make me want to dance. And I never want to stop."
"We have to," he said with real reluctance and stepped from her arms. "For tonight at least."
"Oh." Bella stared at the floor. She hoped she hadn't made him uncomfortable in some way.
"It's my brother's birthday," he explained. "I promised I'd go out with him and his friends."
She gave him a short smile. "Have fun." She went over to the chair and picked up her coat. She didn't know he'd followed her until she nearly bumped into him. He was looking down at the seat of the chair. "What's in the bag?"
"Oh!" She'd almost forgotten. "Your clothes. I, um, I washed them. I didn't want them to get musty."
Did she catch a fleeting flare of concern in his eyes? But what he said was, "Thank you, Bella. You didn't have to do that."
She waved a hand. "No trouble."
"Can I take you out to dinner tomorrow night? To thank you?"
She was facing four Edward-less days otherwise. She hoped she didn't seem over-eager when she agreed. She hoped secretly that he'd give her another kiss when she left, but instead, he offered a hug. She accepted it gratefully, snuggling against his warm chest until he pulled away and told her what time he'd pick her up.
Bella smiled at him as she went out the door, though she paused for a moment in the hallway, trying to think of something to say that would let him know how much all of this had meant to her. The words didn't come, so she turned to go, glancing through the window as she passed.
She saw him sifting through the pocket of the jeans she'd washed.
After some deliberation, she'd put the barrette back inside the pocket before she folded the pants and put them into the bag. Now she saw him withdraw it from the pocket with an expression of relief. He stared down at it in the palm of his hand for a moment and then slipped it into the pocket of his khakis. Bella hurried away, lest he catch her watching.
"God, Bella, I had no idea your wardrobe had gotten so bad," Alice said, sorting quickly through the clothes hanging in Bella's closet. "Do you have anything that doesn't look like an emo teenager's castoffs?"
"I told you I needed help," Bella grumbled. "You should have brought some stuff."
"Where's that blouse I gave you for our birthday?"
"Already wore it when he was over here last time."
Alice sighed. "Strip."
Bella turned to stare at her. "What?"
"Strip," Alice commanded. "We're switching outfits. This isn't what I'd wear on a date, but it's better than the alternatives."
Bella obediently stripped down to her underwear. Alice eyed them critically. "Don't you have anything prettier?"
Bella rolled her eyes. "He won't see my underwear, Alice."
Alice lifted a brow. "You sure?"
Bella opened and closed her mouth. Defeated, she went through her drawers and rooted around until she found an ornate lacy set she rarely wore because the lace itched at the legs. She wriggled into them while Alice yanked off the shell-pink sweater and black slacks she wore, adding her shoes to the pile without comment. She tugged one of Bella's college sweaters off a hanger and pulled it over her head. "I'm glad I remembered my makeup kit."
"I don't want to look like I dolled up for this, Allie."
"He's never seen me in makeup. Don't you think it will look like I'm . . . well, . . . trying?"
"God forbid," Alice said dryly. "But no, I'll be very subtle, I promise."
Bella followed her into the bathroom where Alice deftly added a hint of eyeliner and a touch of mascara. She rubbed a faint bit of light blush under Bella's cheekbones and declared her finished. Bella examined herself in the mirror and gave a thumb's up while Alice whipped her hair into a loose French braid, leaving tendrils to float around her cheeks.
"You look gorgeous," Alice said.
"Thank you," Bella replied and squeezed her sister's hand.
Alice smiled. "I didn't create that glow or the stars in your eyes, you know."
Bella blushed a little. "I really like him," she confessed.
"Yeah, I got that." Alice gave her a hug and carried her makeup kit out into the living room, but instead of leaving as Bella pulled on her borrowed shoes, which were black leather ankle boots with a high, square heel, Alice retrieved a can of potato chips from the kitchen cupboard and flopped down on the sofa.
"He'll be here in fifteen minutes," Bella reminded her.
"I know." Alice popped a chip in her mouth.
"Shoo," Bella said. "Scram before he gets here."
"Nope." Alice chewed contentedly. "No way am I missing meeting this guy."
"Alice . . ."
Alice just looked at her and ate another chip.
Bella was getting desperate. "Go on, or I'll toss you out."
"I'll call the cops."
"No, you won't." Alice ate another chip. "Because you'd have to talk to them to file a report."
Foiled again. Bella tossed up her hands and dropped on the couch beside Alice, glowering balefully at her. Alice offered her the can and Bella took a chip, but she turned it in her fingers instead of eating it. "Do you think he meant it as a date date?"
Alice chewed and silently regarded her twin for a moment. "You know what your problem is?" she asked. "You think too much. He obviously likes you, Bella. Even his ex-girlfriend told you that. And I gotta say, any man who has an ex-girlfriend who speaks highly of him is worth getting to know."
"I didn't get the impression they were, you know, really in love."
"What? You gonna call Mom to wash my mouth out with soap?"
"I'll do it myself," Bella muttered.
"No, you won't," Alice said cheerfully. "I took that Judo class last summer, remember?"
Bella sighed and as she did, there was a light knock on the door. She jumped to her feet so fast that she tripped over the coffee table and went sprawling on the living room carpet. Alice stepped over her and opened the door.
"Hi!" she said. "You must be Edward."
"Bella, are you okay?" Edward's legs, clad in charcoal-gray pants, appeared before her face. His shoes were black leather, polished to a muted gleam. He helped a red-faced Bella to her feet, sending Alice a chastising look. Alice, unperturbed, flopped back onto the sofa and ate chips, watching the show with interest.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Bella mumbled. She thought of the grace she had when she was in his arms, gliding across the studio's wood floor and nearly sighed. She took in the matching jacket he wore with a black silk shirt below and imagined how it would feel to slide her hands over it, feeling his warm skin below. She suppressed a shiver with effort.
Edward looked back over at Alice curiously. "My sister, Alice," Bella explained. "She's the one who signed me up for the class." She gave Alice a hard look. "Which was cancelled, by the way."
"I know," Alice said. "I just found the email last week. Sorry. Hadn't checked it in a while."
Bella shook her head.
"Nice to meet you, Alice," Edward said politely. "Bella, are you ready to go?"
"Yes, let me grab my coat." She plucked it from the hanger in the hall closet, and he took it from her hands to help her shrug it on. Bella blushed as his hands lingered on her shoulders for a moment and stroked down her arms as they retreated. She glanced over at Alice, who never missed a thing. Her sister's eyes were sharp with interest and her lips were stretched in a Cheshire cat grin.
"Night, Allie," Bella said and led Edward to the door. He paused to say good night to Alice, and she could hear the smile in her sister's voice as she replied. She was surprised Alice didn't bound over and hug him, as tickled as she sounded.
A car was parked at the curb, a very shiny European sedan, sleek and sophisticated. He unlocked Bella's door first and held it open for her until she was situated on the leather seat, her legs tucked into the well. He shut the door firmly and went around to the driver's side. Bella checked out the interior quickly, before he got in. This really wasn't the kind of car she'd expected Edward to have. The bare feet and t-shirts had made her think he'd probably drive an elderly Beetle, or something along those lines. This car smelled new and looked expensive.
Edward slid inside and inserted the square key into the ignition. He smiled over at her. "Seat belt."
"Oh." Bella slipped it on and clicked the latch. He pulled the car smoothly onto her quiet street. "Where are we going?"
"Ever had South American food?" he asked.
She shook her head. She was as unadventurous in the culinary sense as she was in any other aspect of her life.
"Willing to give it a try?"
With him, anything. She nodded and she saw the gleam of his white teeth as he turned his attention back to the road.
His stereo played softly in the background, light jazz which soothed her nerves. Bella sank back against the seat and watched the lights of the shops pass by as they reached a busier part of town.
"I wasn't sure you'd say you'd come," Edward said suddenly.
She couldn't believe he was serious for a moment, but he didn't smile teasingly or cast her a mischievous glance. "Bella, what happened in your house that day . . ."
She held her breath. If he said he regretted it, she was going to shrivel up, plain and simple.
"I wasn't sure it was what you wanted." His voice was soft, and he kept his eyes straight ahead.
She found her voice. "I thought— That dance yesterday . . ."
"Tango is a sensual dance. It's easy to be . . . caught up in the moment."
"Is that what happened to you?" she asked.
He turned his head and met her eyes. "No."
They fell silent. Bella plucked at the fabric of her pants. Her cheekbones felt hot, and she was grateful for the darkness that might conceal it. She was usually a person who didn't mind silence, but this one seemed to weigh heavier by the moment. She decided a question about him would fill it nicely. "Edward, how did you become a dancer?"
"A friend of mine was killed in a car accident," he said.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Bella replied automatically, though she failed to see the connection.
"Thanks. It was about four years ago. He was vice president of marketing for the company I worked for. I was chief financial officer."
Bella gave him a startled glance. The man who danced barefoot and jumped in puddles had been a member of the corporate rat race?
He chuckled as though he were reading her mind. "Yes, corporate ladder and all that. I was the youngest CFO the company had ever employed. I started out in the accounting office and fought my way to the top, inch by inch. I lived for my work. I spent every moment I could at the office, essentially leaving only when exhaustion forced me to grab a few hours of sleep. No social life, barely saw my family . . . Jacob was the only friend I really had, and that was simply because we saw each other at work so often. I don't think I ever once saw him outside the office."
It sounded like a terribly empty life to Bella. And then, a cold, electric shock zipped through her veins as she realized her own life was nearly as empty. She barely heard his next words, but she forced herself back to the present.
"I got a call in the middle of the night that Jacob had been in an accident. I went to the hospital. There, I discovered that I'd been listed as his emergency contact. He had no one else. No family, no loved ones, no one in the waiting room praying for him, hoping for good news when the doctor came out of surgery. No one but me, someone who'd never even known his middle name until I saw it on the forms."
Edward sighed and shook his head. "It was surreal. The doctor was asking me questions about life support and organ donation, and I had no idea how Jacob had felt about that. But I was the one who had to make those decisions because there was no one else. I made the funeral arrangements and settled his estate for the same reasons. It was the saddest funeral I had ever been to, not because a young man had been cut down in the prime of life, but because there were no tears. Everyone shook their heads and said what a shame it was, praised his business skills, and went quietly back to discussing deals of their own, networking around his coffin."
Bella was horrified, and her heart ached for the un-mourned man. But what would her own funeral be like? Just Alice and her family; the rest would be her family's friends, and they would be there simply to show support, not to say a personal goodbye to Bella. She was just as friendless as Jacob, and she saw it for what it was, with aching sadness.
"I quit my job the next day," Edward continued. "As soon as I got home that night, I looked around my apartment, as impersonal as a hotel room and said, 'This isn't the life I want.' Everyone thought I was crazy, of course. It took me a while before I decided what I wanted to do, and that only happened after I met up with Tanya again."
Bella clenched her teeth at the mention of Tanya's name.
"We'd been in the same dance class as kids. She was reading on a park bench where I sat down to rest after a jog and we recognized each other immediately. We started chatting and before I knew it, I was telling her about Jacob and the epiphany I'd had. I confessed I had no idea where to go next. She asked me what I had enjoyed most in life before I clouded the picture with responsibility and ambition. Maybe seeing her again brought back all the memories, but I thought about the dance lessons my mother had taken me to when I was a kid. Most of the kids in class hated it, but I loved them and kept taking them all the way up until I left for college. I took some lessons at the studio to refresh myself, and it wasn't long before she put in a good word with the Maîtresse. She asked me to be an instructor. I found that I was doing what I loved, and Tanya just smiled at me and said, 'That's what you're supposed to do.'"
Edward put on his blinker and slowed at the intersection. Bella looked up and saw the restaurant on the corner. The building was low and sleek, and there wasn't a neon sign on the wall to announce its name. The sophistication was intimidating.
"Don't worry, you'll like it," Edward assured her.
"A new experience," Bella said softly as he turned into the parking lot. "Alice said I needed to have more of them."
He parked the car and opened his door. Bella reached for the handle and he laid a hand on her arm. "Nope, wait."
He went around to the passenger side and opened it for her with a smile. "Let me be a gentleman. I get few opportunities."
She laughed and took the arm he offered her as they crossed the parking lot. He opened the door for her again when they reached the restaurant.
Bella felt like she'd fallen through a rift in reality into a 1930s movie when they entered. A small orchestra played on a stepped stage at the end of the huge room and round tables covered in white cloths surrounded a wide parquet dance floor. Large black-and-white photos of old Hollywood movie stars on the walls emphasized the Art Deco décor.
The host at the stand greeted Edward like an old friend and led them right to a small table at the side of the room, plucking the "Reserved" sign from the white table cloth as Edward pulled out a chair for Bella. On the wall above, Marlene Dietrich stared down coolly.
Throughout the delightful meal, friends stopped by to greet Edward, casting curious eyes at Bella. She felt uncomfortable in her slacks and sweater, for most of them were in evening clothes, but Edward introduced Bella with the same tone he would have used if she was the Princess of Wales. The people were all friendly and polite.
Bella forced herself to be friendly in return, though she was sure her face was beet red. This is how it starts, she told herself. This was how people made friends. And she had made the commitment to trying new things. Edward smiled at her, a glint of pride in his eyes, and squeezed her hand below the table. That hand in hers gave her more strength than he probably realized.
The meal was an adventure. The servers brought around large platters and served up any dish they selected. One carried a tray with meat on a spit, and he cut off slices for each diner who wanted some. She'd never had any of the foods Edward suggested she try. It was a symphony of new flavors, and Edward was the conductor, explaining the ingredients and showing her how to mix the elements of the dish properly. The new flavors seemed to explode on her taste buds. By the end, she could sincerely say it was the best meal she'd ever had, not just because of the cuisine, but because Edward was there to share it with her.
Pleasantly full, she leaned back in her chair and was about to ask him whether there was a desert course when the lights dropped in the dining area. She glanced over at Edward and he explained, "The show is about to start."
"Dancing," he said. "Tango. I thought you'd like it."
The diners shuffled around a bit, angling their chairs for the best view. The man at the table in front of them was tall and broad-shouldered. Bella craned her neck to try to see around him.
"Here," Edward said, and without further ado, he plucked her from her chair and onto his lap. His angle and the few inches difference in height gave her a clear view of the floor, but it was a few moments before she could relax into him. After all, she hadn't sat on anyone's lap since she was a child and they were in a public space. She glanced around, but no one seemed to be paying any attention to them.
A woman strode onto the floor, as graceful as a gazelle. Her black hair contrasted beautifully with her flame-red gown, slit up to the hip on one side. She stopped in the middle of the floor, seeming to ignore the applause from the audience. She lifted her arms and froze, her eyes staring off into the distance.
Edward sat up a little and slipped his arms around Bella's waist. Bella wanted to lay her head on his shoulder, but something held her back. A doubt, perhaps.
The small orchestra began to play and a man joined her. Dressed all in black, he was a magnificent foil for the woman's scarlet brilliance. As though they were two halves of the same whole, they began to move across the dance floor, their steps perfectly in sync. Bella stared in awe at the elaborate swirls and dips they performed.
"He's in love with her," Edward murmured into her ear. His warm breath caressed her skin, and she had to close her eyes and clench her teeth to suppress a shiver of pleasure. He traced a finger lightly up her arm. "See how he touches her, how his hands linger on her skin? And his eyes follow her not because of the dance, but because he can't look away."
Bella's breath hitched in her throat. She felt Edward's lips trace the curve of her ear, and this time, she did shiver. "She's not certain," he whispered. "Do you see? There's hesitation in her posture. She can't give in fully to his embrace because she is not sure of her feelings."
Now that he had pointed out, she could see it. It was incredibly subtle, because both of the dancers were well-practiced and talented, but tango was a dance of passion and that was missing between them. For the man, it was a dance of bittersweet longing.
As spectacular as the dancers were, Bella barely saw the rest of the show, though she applauded along with the audience. Her mind was racing, and it wasn't helped by the small touches Edward kept giving her, the fingers that traced her arm, the light touch of his lips to her ear when he spoke, the warmth of his arms around her waist.
As they walked out to the car, Bella rubbed her arms against the chill air. She cursed herself for trusting the erratic fall weather when she knew better.
"Cold?" Edward asked. He didn't wait for a response. He slipped off his suit jacket and held it out for her. The warmth of his body lingered in the fibers and she snuggled into it happily. It was like wearing a hug. She sniffed the collar surreptitiously as he unlocked the car door. It smelled like him, and she wanted to wallow in it.
He opened the door, and she slid inside, thrusting her chilled hands into the jacket's pockets. She felt something and frowned slightly, drawing it out with her fingers just to be sure. It was her barrette. The stones winked in the low, pallid glow of the parking lot lights. She quickly thrust it back into the pocket before he opened his door.
Their ride home in the car was silent, but inside Bella's heart and mind, it was a cacophony of desire, fear, and emotions she was hesitant to call by their real names. She thought of the story he had told her on the drive to the restaurant and determination settled the turmoil in her mind. She was not going to be like Jacob who died never having lived. The thought was amazingly freeing, and it was though the wind had dropped over a turbulent lake, and the waves settled into water as smooth and clear as glass.
Bella paused to reflect, because she realized she had just reached a significant moment in her life, a moment which should be memorized and cherished: she had decided to change the course of her destiny. Life had asked her if she wanted to sit it out or dance, and Bella chose to dance. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, reveling in the incredible sensation of freedom, of joy.
He walked her to her door and leaned in for a kiss. Bella slipped her hand up around his neck and drew him down so that her lips touched his as she spoke. "Edward? I'm not hesitant."
He drew back. His emerald eyes bored into hers. He didn't ask, "Are you sure?" Because it was something he could see in her eyes. She was sure. More sure of anything in her life. She was certain that if she didn't accept what he was offering, if she didn't dance when life offered her the option, she would regret it for the rest of her days.
They gazed at each other for a long moment. Her last wall fell, and she opened to him, her heart naked in her eyes, communicating to him far more than words could say.
Bella took her keys from the side pocket on her bag. She fumbled for the correct key and dropped them twice before she could get the door unlocked. Both times, Edward picked them up for her before she could stoop to grab them. Blushing, she pushed the door open and he followed her inside.
She reached for the light switch but never had a chance to touch it as he suddenly had her in his arms, up against the wall, his mouth plundering hers hungrily. Her hands slid over his back, feeling the hard muscles beneath the silk, just as she had dreamed of doing only hours before.
He pushed his suit jacket from her shoulders, and it dropped to the floor. His hands sought the skin below the hem of her sweater, pushing it upward. She moaned against his lips and he stopped, glancing toward the hallway.
She took his hand and led him the short distance to her room. There, he swept her into his arms and kissed her as though he'd been holding his breath and she was his only source of air. She gripped his back, her fingers fiercely digging into his flesh. He backed away slightly to unbutton his shirt and kick off his shoes, and Bella took the opportunity to yank at her sweater.
"No, I want to do it," Edward said, putting his hands over hers to still them. She let go and ran her hands up the smooth contours of his chest beneath his open shirt and pushed it off his shoulders. When he bent to help her with her shoes, she couldn't help but nip the muscle at the top of his shoulder.
He peeled of her clothing, but by bit, stopping to kiss each inch of flesh he unveiled. Bella was impatient to see him, but he waited until she lay bare on the comforter before he removed his own clothes. She stared at his body, trembling, soaking up his beauty with her eyes. It felt like touching him was an honor, a work of art brought down from its pedestal for her to explore.
Nothing had ever felt like this, every sense alight as their hands and lips worshiped, soft moans between kisses, gasps as nerves fired off bursts of pleasure. She heard the crinkle of foil before his weight settled over her, and Bella's racing heart sped up even more. She held her breath, waiting for the moment, a moment she knew would be the one of the most significant of her life. There was no more denying that her heart belonged to him, and now her body would as well.
"Bella, have you ever—?" he asked, his voice muffled by kisses.
She tried to clear her head sufficiently for speech. "I . . . yes. In college. You're not disappointed, are you?" Some men wanted to be the only one who had ever been in a woman's life, but she didn't think Edward was like that.
He smiled, such a sweet smile that her heart ached. "No, I'm just glad I won't hurt you." And then there was no more need for words. His eyes met hers, and they stayed joined in that silent communication as their bodies melded and danced together. And it was so beautiful, so right, like coming home after a journey she hadn't known she'd taken. Tears filled Bella's eyes, tears which he kissed away with a smile, because he understood.
Afterward, he slipped away to the bathroom, and Bella picked up his silk shirt from the floor, donning it over her bare skin. He came back, dressed in a t-shirt and the sweat pants she had given him the day they played in the rain; she'd forgotten she hung them up in the bathroom. They made her smile to see them.
She slid from the bed to head for the bathroom herself. Their eyes locked as they turned to pass one another, and it became a tiny dance between them. They hands clasped, their fingers slipping through one another, trailing, lingering until they parted.
When she returned, he was waiting in the bed, the blankets turned down for her, his arms open for an embrace. She went into them happily and snuggled against his chest. Outside, it had begun to rain, and she listened to the pattering of the drops on the window as their breathing slowed to the cadence of sleep.
As she drifted off, she remembered that Alice was coming in the morning to take her to breakfast. Knowing Alice, she'd use her key and come in without knocking and when Bella wasn't waiting for her, she'd poke her head in the bedroom door. She'd see Bella and Edward twined together, and Bella imagined the smile she'd have. It made her smile, too, as she floated away into a dream of the future, and the dancing yet to come.
One year later
Alice muttered around the bobby pins in her mouth. "I still can't believe you chose a country song for your first dance."
Bella watched in the mirror as Alice artfully pinned up sections of her hair so tendrils would fall around her veil. In the front of her hair was her butterfly barrette, her 'something old.' Alice had mourned that Bella had "lost" the other and loaned her own pair for Bella's 'something borrowed.' They glittered against the piled curls of her dark hair.
The other barrette was in the groom's pocket, where it always was. Whenever it was Bella's turn to do laundry, she always made sure to replace the barrette in his pants pocket. It was a sweet, unspoken secret between the two of them. But Bella and Edward rarely needed words to communicate.
"It's significant," Bella said.
There was a tap at the door, and Tanya entered. She was resplendent in a tuxedo, her strawberry blonde curls bouncing around the shoulders. She'd told Edward that if she was going to be 'best man,' she should dress the part, though below the pants' cuffs, high spiky heels peeked when she walked.
"They finally brought your bouquet," she told Bella, laying the box on the dressing table. Alice opened it quickly and critically examined the flowers inside.
"Thank you, Tanya," Bella said, and she meant more than just delivering the bouquet. Tanya had shown Edward the path, taught him to dance, and then let him go to find his destiny.
Tanya smiled, a little wistfully, perhaps, and kissed Bella on the cheek. And then she was gone, a hint of her perfume lingering behind.
Alice went back to Bella's hair and her music choice. "It may be significant, but still . . . Why not a tango? That would be even more significant."
Because the wedding guests wouldn't enjoy the state that dance usually left them in, but Bella wasn't about to say that. They went to the studio at night sometimes to dance, and Edward would light the room with hundreds of candles. He had even gotten her a slinky dance costume, a black dress with a thigh-high slit, adorned with sequins, though she rarely wore it for long.
She settled for saying, "This is what we wanted."
Alice sighed and shook her head. "Whatever makes you happy. It's your day."
Alice attached the veil. She plucked and fluffed at it to make every fold picture-perfect. "I hope the fact that mom has been gone so long talking to the caterers isn't a bad sign."
Bella wasn't worried. No matter what happened, it was going to be a perfect day. "Mom said earlier she always thought you'd be the one to marry first."
Alice snorted. "Not interested. I'm having way too much fun to tie myself down."
Another tap at the door. This person waited to be admitted, so Alice spit out her pins and went to answer it. Edward's brother, Jasper was waiting on the other side, dressed in the suit his mother had insisted he wear, though Edward had argued Jasper should wear whatever he liked. His blond hair was pulled back in a short ponytail. Their exasperated mother had tried to tuck the strands of purple, green and red down beneath his undyed hair, with varying levels of success.
Alice gaped at him silently. She hadn't met Jasper yet at any of the family gatherings. Somehow, their schedules had always seemed to make them miss one another, but she'd heard a lot about him, especially from their mother, who loved both of her boys fiercely, but didn't understand the paths they'd taken. She teasingly chastised Edward on occasion for influencing Jasper to abandon medical school for a career in music, but she could not deny they were both much happier because of their choices.
"Alice?" Bella prompted.
"I— Uh —You—" Alice sputtered, and her face flushed scarlet. She looked down at the carpet and Bella was enthralled by seeing her confident, outgoing sister suddenly switching roles with her twin.
Jasper smiled at her, and told her his name. Alice took the hand he offered and shook it, looking as dazed as if he'd hit her between the eyes with a two-by-four. Jasper came into the room and extended a piece of paper to Bella. "Edward sent you a note."
Bella thanked him and peeked at the contents before tucking it with the others into the tiny pocket sewn beneath the waistband of her gown. Edward and his love notes . . . he hid them all over the house and sent them to her during the day while he was teaching. (He had switched his classes; he said he didn't want to tango with anyone else.) Bella saved every one of them.
Alice still looked thunderstruck. Jasper turned to her and said it was nice meeting her. Then he picked up her hand and gave a courtly bow, pressing a kiss to the back of it. Alice remained in the pose even after he closed the door behind him.
Bella sat back in her chair with a smile. Another dance was beginning and she couldn't wait to watch.
~ Finis ~
I Hope You Dance, LeeAnn Womack
Songwriters: Mark D. Sanders, Tia Sillers, MCA Nashville
A/N: This story was written for the Stand Up 4 Katalina compilation, which was able to raise almost $13,000 for cancer research, in honor of Katalina Roseph. The overwhelming success of the fundraiser is just one example of why I love this fandom so much and am honored to be part of it. Katalina's joy in life and unconquerable spirit were inspirational. Katalina passed away on March 3, 2013, surrounded by her friends and family.
Thanks to my betas, jmolly and ladylibre, whose input greatly improved this story.