The "Ho Hey" Contest
Story Title: I'm Yours
Pen name: miairii
Pairing: Edward / Bella
Word Count: 8,606
Summary: Edward is a lonely street musician, content with his life but still searching for the place he belongs. He meets a woman who changes everything. She falls, he catches her. But when he falls, who will be there to pick up the pieces?
Edward collapsed onto the hard plastic seat at the downtown bus stop, barely sparing a glance at the little old lady perched on the other end of the bench. Groaning softly, he reclined until his head hit the seat back, rubbing his hands furiously over his tightly shut eyes. Feeling the hardened calluses from his fingertips on the sensitive skin of his eyelids only served to remind him of how the day had gone completely to hell. He opened one eye to squint at the case resting against his knee.
Another chance, another golden opportunity, turned straight into a disaster.
Some might say he was blessed, having been presented with as many opportunities as he had. Eight talent scouts in less than two years paying notice to a simple young street musician was practically unheard of. Five of the eight, including the one he'd met with today, had even progressed to serious discussions about signing him on to a label – the point where the initial wining and dining of a potential new talent began to evolve into a seemingly endless stream of meetings with executives in expensive suits, crammed around a mile-long conference table.
And yet, here he was again, headed right back to the street.
It wasn't that he was overwhelmed by the business talk. On the contrary, Edward had seen and heard enough to be quite familiar with the ins and outs of the industry. He had a full college education, after all – it had been one of the conditions on the trust fund left behind by his parents - and though he chose not to pursue it as a profession, his background in psychology was surprisingly useful in accurately profiling those who approached him with promises of lucrative offers leading to a life of fortune and fame.
Those bearing fake smiles and fancy business cards, who appeared out of nowhere in their crisply ironed suits just as a song was winding down in the early afternoon, were automatically declined.
Sure, there might be some credence to how their appearance spoke of their success. Possessing laminated rectangles of paper with colorful text in three different fonts declaring their owner to be a highly renowned "Production Manager" was a recognizable sign of competency in the field of music, wasn't it? Not to mention the frequent name-dropping of popular artists who had gotten their "big break" just like this. They would slip him their information and then disappear back to wherever they'd come from, automatically assuming he would call and never bothering to stick around.
Was it too much to ask to be represented by someone who actually seemed to enjoy his music?
While there were a few occasions when Edward had been able to spot a scout that was slightly better at blending in with the eclectic group that typically gathered to watch him play, so far those encounters had not led anywhere near his ultimate goal.
It should have been an easy enough arrangement to make a deal: Edward simply wanted to write and perform his own music. All he needed was someone experienced to arrange all the details that went into recording and promoting an actual album.
However, there was always a catch. How could there not be, in such a high profile industry? Apparently, there was no room in the well-known labels for independent new artists. They wanted him to start out by writing songs or providing backup for their more established talents, which they insisted would boost his own visibility and get him started on the path to eventually focus on his own work. They tried to convince him that it would be much too overwhelming trying to do everything on his own from the very beginning.
Their biggest mistake was thinking that he needed them.
He didn't, not really. That trust fund that paid for college? Well, he was pretty much set for life. It wasn't an exorbitant amount by any means, but his parents had been dedicated workers who saved often and invested well, and if Edward maintained a modest lifestyle then there was no real need for him to ever get a day job.
Edward didn't play guitar to make a living. He played because it was his life.
The talent scouts, and even most of his audience, probably assumed that Edward played on the streets because that was the only place he could. But they couldn't have been more wrong. Perhaps they might have known better if they paid any attention to how he kept the lid of his guitar case closed every night.
And he actually did have a job, although it was only part-time. He worked a few days a week as a counselor and mentor at a couple of public schools around the city. Edward had known very early on that his career would end up in music, but he also knew that most kids that age didn't have the knowledge or resources to figure out what they wanted to do in the future. Many of them might not even make it through school without some sort of guidance. So, he tried his best to support and motivate them to set goals and reach for their dreams. It was truly gratifying work, especially when he was rewarded with excited smiles every time a positive milestone was achieved.
However, in truth, his first love was his music. Everything he performed was original work. Whether it was good or not was still debatable, if you asked him, but Edward adamantly refused to show anything that he hadn't put one hundred percent of his own heart and soul into.
He found inspiration in everything around him; the world herself was his muse.
Edward had traveled around a bit right after college, but after finally choosing a place to settle down, he found that he had developed somewhat of a routine. In the mornings before work, he would set up in a local park near the school for that day. On days he didn't work, he selected one out of a handful of street corners dispersed throughout the city. Most of the time he just played, but he would often pause to engage in conversation with other performers or various members of his audience.
Word had certainly gotten around over the years and by this point his performances always drew a decent crowd of listeners throughout the day. It was an interesting mix: There were a good number of regulars, who stopped by whenever they had a chance to request their favorites and see if he'd come up with anything new since the last time. Then there were the curious folks who had heard about Edward Cullen somewhere along the grapevine and searched him out, to see if he would live up to their expectations. And finally, there were his favorites - if he were being honest – the random passersby.
As encouraging as it was to see the familiar faces, it was almost an even better feeling to literally catch the moment when a stranger walking past him on the street was captivated and pulled in by a particular piece. Edward loved to watch their expressions change as the song evoked certain emotions and reactions. If they stayed through the entire song, it always put a smile on his face.
If they stayed longer to hear more of the set, he felt his confidence grow. While he had a strong desire to share his music with others, no matter how well (or not) it was received, it was certainly reassuring to find his talent appreciated.
If they came back another day – and Edward had always been good with names and faces, so he remembered – he would make the effort to strike up a conversation. Oftentimes a random tidbit of information that passed between them would spark something in his mind, and he would soon find himself composing a new song for a new friend. Although sometimes they never returned, missing out on the chance to hear the very music they had inspired, he never considered it to be a waste of time or effort.
As they say, there are no mistakes in art. A piece inspired by one could wind up being an inspiration for another.
It was for that very reason that Edward continued meeting with the scouts, searching for the right person to help him share his music with the rest of the world. Although it was one of his favorite things to interact directly with his local listeners, he also wanted to try things out on a larger scale. He wanted to reach more people. He wanted to connect with them. He felt, deep in his heart, that his music belonged to them.
Maybe someday he would find where he belonged, too.
~ xoxoxox ~
Heaving out a sigh and straightening up from where his face had at some point managed to become buried between his knees, Edward finally looked up to take in his surroundings. If it was at all possible, he'd apparently wandered into a relatively peaceful part of the city. The commanding lines of the structured downtown office buildings were softened by the picturesque backdrop of the park, and everything was tinted orange and pink from the setting sunlight.
Sneaking a glance at his neighbor on the bench, Edward was surprised to find that the woman was actually one of his semi-regular visitors. Esme must have recognized him when he first sat down, since she appeared to have been watching him and offered a soft smile once he made eye contact.
"Rough day, Edward?"
Edward huffed a short laugh and smiled back wryly. "You could say that."
"How about you play me a cheery song to fix the mood, then?"
She winked at him, and this time he broke out into a full smile. Of course, his regulars knew him so well. He tried to avoid playing when he was in a bad mood – although admittedly that happened very rarely – but sometimes the right song could automatically put him in a more positive state of mind.
He whipped open his guitar case and propped the instrument across his lap. He knew just the song to please his patron. Esme had recently adopted an adorable litter of kittens – several of which she had brought to his corner just last week and successfully found homes for amongst the audience – and he had written an instrumental piece inspired by the boundless energy and joy exuded by the cluster of rowdy young felines. He had not yet had the chance to play it for her, and this was the perfect opportunity.
As usual, Edward lost himself in the music, and by the time he had finished his mood had brightened considerably. A soft round of applause caught his attention, and he quickly looked up to find that quite the crowd had gathered. Esme looked absolutely thrilled, and he could tell that she knew what the song meant.
"Oh, Edward dear, thank you so much! That was quite lovely," she trilled.
A man was edging towards them while reaching into his pocket, and Edward noted with dismay that he had accidentally left his guitar case wide open right at his feet. He waved away the man and his dollar, winking back at Esme as he said, "No thanks, man. I was just doing a favor for a friend."
It was always awkward refusing tips, but he just couldn't bring himself to accept them, knowing he didn't need the money. He did appreciate the sentiment, of course. On some occasions he would find that the audience had managed to slip a few bills into his pockets or under his closed case, and Edward always made sure to use those funds to buy a treat for the kids he worked with.
They were certainly no less deserving of a reward for hard work than he was.
By this point, Esme's bus had arrived, and she waved back at Edward as she was swept along with part of the slowly dispersing crowd. Edward began packing up his guitar, quickly thinking through his options for the night. He was currently on the opposite side of town from where he would usually set up, and that meant taking an unfamiliar route back into the city. He spontaneously decided to hop on the next bus that showed up, and choose the best location based on the direction it headed.
As he swung the case onto his shoulder, standing and moving closer to the street, a movement off to the right caught his eye. Turning, Edward was momentarily stunned by the vision before him. Standing just a few feet away to his side was a girl – no, a woman – in a pure white sundress. The setting sun reflected streaks of red through the deep mahogany hair flowing down her back. He could only see the side of her face, but in the back of his mind he also noted how her tiny waist flowed into the shapely curve of her hips.
She was absolutely radiant, and for a moment he forgot how to breathe.
She must have felt the pull of his gaze, and when she turned his way he stopped breathing altogether. Deep brown eyes met his own bright green ones, and it seemed like she could see down into his soul, reading his very essence.
Then just as quickly, she whipped back around. The moment had passed; the mundane sounds of traffic and the mindless chatter surrounding them buzzed back into perception. Edward shook his head, making a futile attempt to clear whatever haze had settled there. He glanced again at her profile, watching as she softly bit her bottom lip in contemplation. Her cheeks were now tinged with a light blush, and he wondered if that was because of him.
Was it wrong of him to hope that it was?
Until now, Edward had never felt so possessive of anything in his life, other than his music. But he suddenly wanted her to blush only for him, to look only at him, and that thought scared him more than he cared to admit.
Sure, he had been with a few women in college and in the years since, but it was always a casual companionship that eventually faded out with mutual agreement when one of them decided to move on. He played them a tune; they giggled and showed him off to their friends. Such was the extent of his foray into relationships. They had never gotten close enough to understand him, still considering him to be the stereotypical struggling artist.
In return, he had never promised them his heart…or his music.
But then, maybe for Edward those were one and the same.
He knew – oh, how he knew – that once many musicians found that one, the love of their mortal life, it often became somewhat of a mission to immortalize them through art. To dedicate their craft to describing that one perfect love. And while Edward had only ever dreamed of finding that feeling for himself, it was also the one thing that frightened him the most.
How terrifying it would be to offer up everything he had, everything he was – his music, his life – to one single person. To give up that control and allow himself to become so vulnerable.
Yes, he had certainly dreamed about it, but up until now he hadn't ever thought he would actually want it to happen.
But in that brief instant, when his eyes met hers, he had felt such an indescribable pull. It was like being sucked into a whirlwind – strong and demanding, chaotic and filled with the unknown – that had the potential to lift him up, up, up, higher than he'd ever been. And when it finally set him down, would it be a gentle landing, with a clear sky backdrop to a meadow filled with wildflowers? Or would it simply toss him aside, with the sharp pain of shattered glass, just one more casualty along its path of destruction?
The question he had to ask himself now was simple: Was it worth it to take the risk to find out which one it would be?
And as he watched her shy, shuffling steps as she began moving towards the line to the next bus that had just pulled up, he found that the choice was easy to make and the answer just as simple.
~ xoxoxox ~
The evening rush hour had already begun, so inside the bus there was standing room only. Edward maneuvered through the crowd to stand near his mystery girl again, watching as she stretched up to grab onto one of the fabric straps hanging from the rail above the seats. She was almost too short to reach it, balancing precariously on the balls of her feet. He had to force down the urge to wrap his arm around her waist and pull her in tight next to his body.
Perhaps it might be better to introduce himself before groping her in public.
She looked so unsteady that he started glancing around at the other passengers, wondering if there was a place she could squeeze into or anyone who might be willing to give up their seat. His eyes fell on the boy seated directly in front of them, some punk-rock teenager with ripped jeans who was wearing headphones and staring quite intently straight ahead of him at…
Edward followed his line of sight, and was instantly enraged. Of course he had also noticed her gorgeous body, but to have another man staring at her, especially like that, just felt so wrong.
She wasn't his – he knew that – but still…
He tamped down on the growl building in his throat and turned a furious glare on the oblivious teen. It didn't take long before the boy looked up and saw Edward's expression. He jumped slightly in his seat, then made a poor attempt at a smirk, as if to say, "What're you gonna do about it?"
Edward just raised an eyebrow. Two years hanging out on the streets had taught him a few things about picking your battles; there was no way he would lose this one.
After a few more seconds of their silent stare down, realizing that the man wasn't going to back down, the kid finally huffed and turned to look out the window. Edward nodded to himself, satisfied, and tried to keep the huge grin off of his face. Meanwhile, he was doing an internal fist pump.
Suddenly he remembered the woman standing next to him. Had she seen their exchange? Would she be disgusted by his caveman-like behavior, like she was some territory being marked by a stranger? Mortified, he turned back her way, ready to spout apologies, but quickly realized that she must have missed the entire thing, as she was still quite focused on the difficult task of remaining upright.
And with good reason, it seemed. Moments later, the bus came to an abrupt stop amidst a chorus of indignant honks. Caught in the momentum, the girl lost both her hold on the strap and her footing, pitching forward in Edward's direction.
He caught her as she fell, wrapping his arms securely around her back and pulling her in close. He held her there for a few seconds, feeling her heart beat wildly and her stuttered breathing against his chest. He breathed her scent in, an enticing mix of flowers and strawberries and woman.
Was this really his first time holding her? It felt as if she were made perfectly to fit in his arms.
Gradually, Edward felt her calm down, and he reluctantly took a small step back, realizing the situation would soon turn very embarrassing if their bodies continued to be pressed together. He refused to release her completely from his grasp, however, keeping a light hold on her sides. His gaze shifted down just as her head tilted up, their eyes meeting for the second time now.
It was no less powerful than the first.
One breathless moment passed, then her eyes grew wide and she suddenly began speaking, surprising him with both the speed of her words and the sweet tone of her voice.
"Oh my gosh! I'm sosorry! Are you okay? Did I hurt you? Thank you so much! I don't know what happened…I mean, I always have so much trouble holding on to those things, you know, 'cause I'm so short, and the bus just stopped so fast and I wasn't paying enough attention and I lost my ho-"
"-ld on the strap, and then I was falling… Thanks for catching me! That was kind of amazing; it felt like slow motion, you know – the ground was rising up at me, or I guess I was really going towards the ground – but then everything just froze! Are you sure I didn't hurt you? Oh! Is your guitar okay? I ho-"
"-pe you didn't bang it or anything… I can pay for it if -"
She cut off abruptly, her cheeks burning a bright and tempting pink as she finally registered Edward's attempts to interrupt. She squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lip, taking deep breaths to try to calm herself. Honestly, he could have listened to her rambling on for hours, but he thought she might be even more embarrassed and possibly shut him out if he let her continue on in such a public location. This was his opportunity to speak with her, and he wasn't going to waste it.
Edward waited until her blush had faded slightly before lightly squeezing her waist, prompting her to look back up at him in surprise. It was as if she had forgotten he was still holding her, her tiny hands awkwardly clutching his forearms of their own volition.
He smiled at her reassuringly – he hoped – slipping one of her hands into his and rotating their positions so she was on his other side. Edward had been standing close to the end of a row of seats, and he now directed her to place her free hand near the top edge of the seat back, where a small handle was partially hidden.
She looked up at him again with gratitude, a soft smile playing on her full lips. He basked in the feeling of contentment at having been able to do something to help her, as well as the fact that she hadn't let go of his hand yet.
He leaned down to speak close to her ear, telling himself it was in order to be heard over the noise on the bus and not just so he could be immersed in her scent again.
"Are you alright?"
She glanced up at him shyly and simply nodded in return.
Edward smiled. "Good."
She opened her mouth to say something but then quickly shut it again, another radiant blush lighting up her face. After her earlier babbling, Edward was a bit surprised that she seemed to be struggling to find something to say. He watched her silently, amused. After a few moments, her eyes fell on his guitar.
"I heard you playing at the bus stop. You're really good."
"What was that song called?"
Edward hummed, trying to remember. "I don't think it has a name yet. Maybe I'll ask Esme."
Whenever he wrote a new song, Edward very rarely gave it a title. He would either leave it unnamed, or would adopt some idea thrown out by his listeners – usually the source of inspiration for the song.
Confusion crossed her face quickly, before shock took over. "Do you mean you wrote that?"
He had to laugh a little at her look of amazement. "Yes, I did. That one was for Esme – the woman sitting next to me on the bench. She just got a new litter of kittens."
He watched closely as she thought about what he had said, feeling immeasurably pleased when it appeared she understood.
"Oh! Oh, I see. Yes, that was perfect." Her face lit up with a grin.
They stood in comfortable silence, just smiling at each other.
Edward felt that same pull from earlier, a gentle tugging on his heart that kicked in every time he looked at the woman in front of him. He couldn't explain it – and he didn't really want to explain it, not yet – but there was definitely something there.
Some hint of a future, some promise of more.
Feeling slightly emboldened, he slowly drew their still-joined hands up to his lips, watching her carefully as her eyes focused intently on the movement.
"Edward," he whispered, brushing a light kiss across her knuckles. "I'm Edward Cullen."
"Bella Swan," she whispered back.
They continued staring at each other as he lowered their hands. Edward wanted to jump for joy – though that would disrupt the moment – when, instead of releasing him as he had feared she might, she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. He could tell she was feeling something as well, though he had no idea if it was the same.
He must have known in the back of his mind that their peaceful moment wouldn't last forever, but Edward couldn't help the intense disappointment that washed over him when the bus driver called out the next stop, and Bella's head shot up in recognition. Her eyes opened wide, as if beseeching him to somehow stop time so that they wouldn't have to leave the comfortable bubble they'd created.
Edward sighed, and shook his head slightly. It was time to get back to the real world.
They needed to find out what would happen next. Where would they go from here?
Her face fell. Since he hadn't had an initial destination anyway, Edward certainly didn't mind getting off now to hopefully spend a few extra minutes with her, although he had no idea where they were. When he indicated that he would follow her off the bus, a small smile returned, but he noticed that it didn't quite reach her eyes.
She dropped his hand to move to the front of the bus. Once they had both cleared the steps, they stood in silence again, though this one was nowhere near as comfortable as before. After a moment, Bella nervously glanced up, looking everywhere but directly at him. Her arms were wrapped around her middle, as if she were holding herself up. He could sense that something was wrong.
Something had changed.
"I-" She cleared her throat. "I have to go."
Edward felt his heart break.
She closed her eyes, tilting her head down. "It was nice to meet you, Edward."
He couldn't take her detached tone, the finality of her statement. He gave in to the urge he'd felt when he first saw her on the street. Stepping forward in a few purposeful strides until he was close enough to pull her to him, he cradled her in his arms, nuzzling his head into the crook of her neck.
"Bella," he whispered, his tone desperate, pleading. "I know you can feel it, too. There's something here, something… Please, please, don't do this."
He heard her inhale sharply, but she didn't respond. Pulling back slightly, he saw she was biting her lip fiercely, her eyes filled with moisture. He ran his thumb gently over her lips, freeing the bottom one, then stroked her face lightly with his fingertips. Her eyes flickered shut and she turned her head toward him instinctually, resting her cheek in his palm.
"I can't… I don't-"
The tremble in her voice matched that of her body. Edward released her, stepping back and shoving his hands deep into his pockets to resist the temptation to touch her again. As much as he wanted her, wanted this – whatever it was, or could be – he wouldn't force her. She had to want it, too, but from her reaction, it seemed like it was all too much for her.
Meeting her eyes, he inclined his head to show that he understood, trying not to react when he saw her release a soft sigh of relief. He knew she must have wanted to escape right then, but he had to do one more thing. Just in case.
"Bella, if you-" He swallowed and looked away. "If you ever…" He trailed off for a moment, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck and gathering the strength to continue. "You can ask for me," he finally blurted out. "Around the park, or wherever, really. Someone will know."
Her expression softened, and she nodded timidly.
"I lo-" Edward started to whisper, but then cut himself off, shaking his head. No. He had so much more he wanted to say to her, but it couldn't happen now. She wasn't ready, maybe never would be, and if he didn't say the words out loud then he might be able to convince himself that they weren't true.
Or pretend that she might return them.
If he ever got a second chance, however, he would not hesitate.
She looked at him questioningly, not having heard what he was about to say. He just gave her a tender smile.
"Maybe I'll tell you next time."
Edward allowed himself one last look at her, memorizing everything he could. And then – because he knew he wouldn't be able to watch her leave – he took a few slow steps backwards before turning and walking away.
When he finally looked back two blocks later, she was gone.
~ xoxoxox ~
The first week, Edward was hopeful.
He told himself that Bella would come around, come looking for him. That she would decide she didn't want to fight the incredible, amazing feeling between them. That she would jump into his arms and demand that he love her, as if he didn't already.
Hope was a good feeling. And he knew all too well what would happen if he didn't hold on to it.
He tried to spend the time as usual, flitting around between his normal venues. He was fairly confident that enough people knew his name that if she asked in any of the right places – and there were many – someone would point her in his direction. But, he also knew it wasn't the fastest method, and it wouldn't happen overnight.
So, he waited.
~ xoxoxox ~
By the second week, he was worried.
What if she had tried to look for him, and hadn't been able to find him? What if she did indeed want him, but they never managed to meet? Or worse, what if something had happened to her, and he would never know?
Thinking it might have been a mistake to stick to his usual routine of traveling all over the city, Edward spent the entire week – except for his time at work – at the corner of the bus stop where they had met. He still played, but his eyes were constantly in motion, intently examining every person on the street and every passing bus. It was a much nicer area than he was used to setting up in, but he was still able to garner a decent audience.
So many people, but none of them the one he wanted.
Near the end of the week, he ran into Esme again. She asked for her song, and he obliged. Remembering Bella's inquiry – along with the sharp twist of pain that he was, unfortunately, getting used to feeling – he asked her if she wanted to name it.
She thought for a moment and then declared it should be called "Ode to Pitter".
When Edward asked why, she said, "I'm hoping you'll write the sequel: 'Ode to Patter'."
That was the first time in two weeks he could remember smiling.
~ xoxoxox ~
The third week, he was angry.
Not at her – never at her – but at himself.
He must have done something wrong, scared her away. Had he come on too strong? Had he misread her expressions, thinking that she could have instantly felt the same way he did? If he had taken it slower, maybe she would have been more willing to explore the idea of developing a relationship with him.
Whatever it was, he knew he was entirely to blame for his own misery.
As a sort of punishment – and perhaps just to try out another wild goose chase – Edward spent this week at the bus stop where they had parted. It was almost physically painful to stand at the spot where she had turned him away. He could still see it so clearly – her shutting her eyes tightly, effectively closing him out. How he wished he had been able to read her mind in that moment, to find some way to recover what little chance he might have had.
Edward's selection of songs for the week was a sharp contrast of mellow, soulful tunes and powerful, anguished anthems, each reflecting a different facet of the ache in his heart. Many of these had been written in the dark days after his parents died. His voice broke at the end of the last song, and when he finally looked up, half the crowd was in tears.
Right after he had finished packing up to head home, he was pulled into a hug by a few men still dressed in their work suits. They each patted him on the back and whispered words of encouragement. When they pulled back, he noticed the moisture in their eyes.
His own silent tears were reflected back at him.
~ xoxoxox ~
The fourth week, he was absolutely miserable.
He had come to two different realizations. Both were incredibly frightening, the second even more so due to the implications of the first.
One. Bella didn't want him.
It was obvious by now. She hadn't come looking for him, and she was never going to. She had made it perfectly clear that whatever Edward had been offering that day, she couldn't handle it. She didn't want to try. It didn't matter how strongly he felt for her.
Therein lay the larger problem.
Two. He was hopelessly in love with her.
She was his one. He knew, because of the empty hole that had ripped open in his chest. And because of that, because he knew he'd found the one he belonged with, he couldn't settle for anything less.
So, he wrote her a song. Well, he tried to, at least.
This was the first song Edward had ever written that was intended for a lover. It started soft, slow, telling the story of their meeting and the hint of something more. The sweet comfort of her hand in his, the fiery passion when their eyes met. It built into a crescendo as the tension rose at their parting, then dipped low to mourn the passing of time, alone. And then…
He couldn't finish it. There was something missing; some part of their story was still waiting to be resolved, at least in his heart. Though his mind argued logic, he fought the urge to move on and ignored it. He worked on the composition all week, but kept getting stuck at the exact same place.
He didn't want to write the ending.
~ xoxoxox ~
After a full month had passed, Edward was simply resigned.
He was back in the park, hoping some company might cheer him up. He couldn't just forget about her – and he didn't want to – but a temporary distraction would be welcome. He had looked up some friends he hadn't seen in a while, and they easily agreed to a joint jam session.
Jasper and Garrett were the originators of their funky jazz trio. Both former military men, they had connected at a local veterans' meeting and discovered a mutual love of music. Edward had met them his first year in the city, and they had been great friends and mentors to him ever since. Their past histories had not turned them bitter or angry at the world; rather, they combined the love for their country with a healthy dose of realism, and were the most loyal and down-to-earth men he had ever known.
Their third member, Laurent, was closer to Edward's age and had joined up just under a year ago. Edward had actually been the one to introduce them. Laurent had run into him on the street one day – quite literally – nose bleeding and one eye swollen shut, clutching a tattered grocery bag. When he heard angry shouts coming from down the street, Edward didn't hesitate, pulling the other man into a deserted building nearby to wait until the coast was clear.
When he saw the fear in Laurent's eyes and learned he had nowhere to go, Edward took him in, nursing him back to health and slowly coaxing the whole story out. Laurent had gotten involved in some shady dealings and found out he was being set up to take the fall for James, the self-proclaimed "king" of the city slums. The bag he brought with him had enough evidence to prove his innocence, but he was too afraid to use it.
With Jasper and Garrett's support, Edward had eventually convinced him to seek help. Soon after, James was caught in a sting operation, and the people of the streets rejoiced.
Somehow, James had managed to talk (or buy) his way out of any permanent charges, but his reputation had been ruined – not that there had been much to ruin in the first place. Edward could see him now, actually, bumming around across the street with a couple of his faithful goons.
The overalls he was forced to wear for his community service hours were quite amusing, to say the least.
And what Edward was most proud of, was the fact that Laurent was now able to just ignore James' presence. The trio was currently in the middle of a raucous rendition of a jazz classic that had the audience clapping and dancing along the sidewalk.
Since he had been absentmindedly keeping an eye on James across the street, Edward happened to notice when a young woman approached him, seemingly to ask a question. The blond man leered at her, slinging an arm around her shoulder. Edward watched her shrug him off, trying once more to get an answer. James responded with something that obviously upset her, because she suddenly turned and started to walk away.
Edward thought that would be the end of it, but then James followed after her, calling out. After a couple of seconds she whirled back around, fire blazing in her eyes, and he caught his first clear view of her face.
Without even thinking about it, Edward was up on his feet and moving towards the street. The small group that had gathered for the performance parted swiftly as he advanced. He paid no attention to the cars honking from both directions, forced to swerve to avoid the man running straight through the intersection. He had his eyes and his mind focused on a single goal.
When he had moved within hearing distance, the sound of James' yelling filled the air. He was spouting obscenities at Bella, and though she held her ground, her expression and stance were filled with tension and fear, ready to flee as soon as safely possible.
Edward was almost to them when he heard James call out, "Come on, baby, you know you want to! Forget about that asshole – I can show you a much better time."
He could barely make out Bella's voice, trembling yet still firm in her response. "No way, I'm not going anywhere with you. Leave me alone!"
James's fury at being denied seemed to physically overflow, and he reached out for her. "Watch what you say to me! You don't know who you're messing with, you stupid who-"
Edward's frantic shout distracted James just long enough for Bella to dodge his arm and slip past him. She hurried to Edward's side and he pulled her behind him, wrapping an arm securely around her. He glanced down at her quickly, checking for any visible injuries. Finding none, he silently implored her with his eyes to stay hidden and then turned his attention back to James.
The blond man was staring daggers at the two of them, his buddies hovering closely in the background waiting to see if they were needed.
Edward spoke first, trying to keep his voice as calm as possible to avoid increasing the tension. He could probably hold his own if it came to a fight, but three on one wouldn't be pretty.
"Edward Cullen," James spat back. "What are you doing messing around on my turf?"
Edward raised an eyebrow. Obviously, James hadn't forgotten about the incident with Laurent, or Edward's involvement.
"Your turf? C'mon James, we both know that your…activities don't belong in this part of town."
James looks like he was about to retort, then thought better of it and tried switching tactics, leering again at Bella where she was peering cautiously around Edward's back.
"Sure, whatever. Actually, I was just about to show our mutual friend here some of my exciting new business opportunities."
Edward felt Bella shudder through where their bodies were connected, and he tightened his hold around her waist, hoping she would find it comforting. His next statement was spoken with finality.
"She'll be declining that offer."
James' face contorted in anger, and he stepped forward to close the gap between them, his two thugs moving up to flank his sides.
"And I assume you're going to be the one enforcing that?" He scoffed.
Things were heading downhill fast. Edward quickly began trying to figure out a way to hold the men off so that Bella could escape. He opened his mouth to blurt out something that might provoke them into focusing on him, when he saw James' eyes flicker behind him. Suddenly, all three men took a few hasty steps back, their cocky smiles fading into nervous expressions and their bodies poised to retreat.
Before Edward could turn to see what was going on, he felt a presence to his right. The smooth voice that spoke was like heaven to his ears.
"Now might be a good time to move along, boy," Jasper stated calmly.
Edward turned his head to see his friend and former Army Major standing tall and proud, practically radiating the authority that could be heard underlining his words. He twisted the other way and found Garrett and Laurent on his left, the latter sporting a giant grin.
It wasn't until he heard Bella's soft gasp and turned to check that she was alright that Edward realized why James looked so hesitant – after all, having the other three men join him would likely even the odds of a fight, but wouldn't necessarily turn them in his favor.
However, standing behind their group of five, in a clear demonstration of support, was a crowd of somewhere between twenty to thirty people. Edward was surprised to find that he recognized almost all of them – a combination of his and the trio's regular visitors, as well as some others who had been listening in for the very first time today. It was a beautiful sight, and not just for the immeasurable relief that coursed through him due to their obvious effect on the present situation.
For these four men, who had each been alone for so much of their lives, had managed to build up a strong support network. It was so much more than just a fan base, or strangers with a common interest.
It was true friendship. It was family.
Edward turned back around just in time to catch James' group scurrying out of sight around a corner. As soon as they were gone, Laurent let out a whooping yell that soon caught on to the rest of the crowd. Soon everyone was chattering excitedly, replaying the scene over and over and speculating whether James would stay gone for good now.
Although he wanted nothing more than to disappear somewhere quiet with Bella, Edward knew he first needed to thank everyone as best he could for their help. But, just in case, he grabbed her hand and pulled her with him. He wasn't sure why she was here, but he wasn't going to rule out the possibility that it was pure coincidence and let her escape without his notice.
He had gotten his second chance. Wasting it was not an option.
To his surprise, she seemed to go willingly, trailing behind as Edward shook hands with everyone he knew. He kept the small talk to a minimum, almost rushing through until they had moved full circle back to where the trio was still standing. He did drop her hand for just a moment to give Laurent a full hug. No words were spoken, as each man could feel the gratefulness of the other.
When he finally turned to Jasper and Garrett, the two old-timers were eyeing him with identical smirks. They didn't say anything, just slapped him on the back and strolled away, muttering to each other about "kids these days".
Edward watched them go fondly, until he felt a small hand slide into his. He looked down quickly, then moved his eyes to Bella's. She was watching him with a tentative smile. Looking at her more closely now, he noticed the purple-ish bags under her eyes. She wasn't wearing any makeup, and her hair and clothes were mildly disheveled. She probably hadn't slept well in days, or maybe weeks. Edward could tell, because he had looked much the same for the past month.
And yet, she was still the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.
Without a word, he leaned down and brushed his lips tenderly against hers. Once, twice, and then once more. When she didn't push him away, he couldn't help but give in to the feeling of her softness against him. Crushing her to him, he deepened the kiss, a soft groan escaping when her lips parted for him and the tip of her tongue explored his own. He tangled his fingers through her hair, gently stroking her neck and back.
They broke apart a minute later, both panting for breath. Edward rested his forehead against hers, eyes shut tightly, as he tried to regain his senses.
Suddenly, it hit him. What had he done? She was probably just passing by, hoping never to see him again. And he had just forced himself on her, basically attacked her in the middle of the street.
He pulled away quickly, fisting his hands in his own hair and tugging the ends sharply as he panicked. He didn't know what to say to earn her forgiveness.
"Bella, I'm sorry." That was probably a good place to start. "I didn't mean to – well, I did, but… I know you don't want, well, this. And I, I just…"
Edward trailed off, feeling tongue-tied. He tried to start again, but then she was in front of him, holding a finger across his lips. He silenced immediately, staring back at her, waiting for her judgment.
"Edward…I'm the one who needs to apologize."
That was definitely not what he had expected to hear.
"That day… I felt it too, you know. What you would mean to me – what I already meant to you. And I…I was afraid."
Her voice trembled, and he opened his mouth to speak, but she just shook her head and continued on.
"I was so afraid, because I'd never felt anything so strong. And I didn't know you – not at all – but it felt like I did! Like I had known you my entire life. But all I really knew was that this man, a man with an amazing talent for music and a dazzling smile-"
-Edward had to grin at that-
"-was ready to give me his heart. I saw it, I could feel it pouring out of you, like you couldn't hold it back. And I knew that you deserved my heart in return, and I just – I didn't think I could do it. I didn't think I could give myself up, just like that.
"But," she whispered, "I was wrong. So very, very wrong."
She looked up at him then, hope and tears spilling out of her eyes.
"It took me almost two weeks of moping around, trying not to think about it, before I finally got brave enough to look for you. My boss-" She choked out a little laugh. "He actually made me take time off because I cried every time I read a manuscript with any sort of romance. It was kinda pathetic, really.
I wasn't sure where to go, so I tried the bus stop where we met, you know? I went every day… But I was there for a week, and you never came, and then I remembered you said to ask around. So I tried, I really did!"
She was almost in hysterics now, and Edward pulled her back into his arms, stroking her hair softly to try and calm her down.
"I would ask about you, and someone would say they thought you'd be at this other place, so I'd go there, and then the same thing would happen again! It's ridiculous," she glared at him a bit, though the anger was dampened by her sniffling.
"Then today, finally, that creepy blond guy – James? – he seemed to know something, because he got really angry when I said your name. But then I thought he might do something, so I tried to leave, and then…you were there."
"I thought I was going to go crazy when I saw you over there with him. I never… I thought you weren't going to come," Edward admitted softly. He tightened his hold, and she burrowed into him.
They stood in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. After a while, Bella disentangled herself from his arms and rubbed furiously at her eyes, clearing away the tear tracks. She took a few deep breaths before she met his eyes again.
They spoke simultaneously, then grinned stupidly at each other as they both cut off. Edward waved a hand indicating that Bella should go first.
She swallowed nervously, her voice timid. "Can you ever forgive me?"
"Oh, Bella. Sweetheart." Edward's heart melted at her uncertain expression, and he just had to kiss her again. Pouring every ounce of feeling for her into his efforts, he soon had them both breathless. Pulling back slightly, he kissed her forehead, her cheeks, the tip of her nose – anywhere he could reach – over and over again, until she was giggling happily.
Smiling down at her, he confirmed, "That's a yes, you know."
She laughed at him then, a full smile lighting up her face. Once she had calmed down a bit, she asked, "What were you going to say?"
It was Edward's turn to laugh. "I was going to ask if I could kiss you again."
She smiled in return, but then sobered quickly. "No… The other day, at the bus stop. What were you going to say then?"
"Bella, I-" He hesitated. "Are you sure?"
She nodded confidently, but he still studied her face intently. Seeing the certainty there, mixed with what he thought was hope, he leaned down, brushing his lips against her ear. He had promised himself that he wouldn't miss this chance, if it were ever given to him again, and he believed her when she said that she was ready now.
"I love you," he whispered.
"I belong with you," he stated simply.
"You belong with me," she echoed. "And I… Edward, I'm yours."