The "Ho Hey" Contest
Story Title: The Maybe Valentine
Pen name: sundae solace
Rating: M for language and sexually suggestive situations
Word Count: 5173
Someone jostled too close, sending clouds of cologne and booze my way.
"Sorry," he slurred.
"No problem," I said, but he was already out of earshot.
Wincing at the shriek of feedback coming from the tiny stage to my left, I glanced down at my phone again.
Nine forty. No call, no text. She wasn't just late – she was probably wasn't even coming.
Sighing, I considering trashing rose in my hand and heading home. I felt like an asshole, alone in a bar on Valentine's Day, listening to shitty music and holding flowers for a girl who'd more than likely stood me up.
"Can I get you something, honey?" the waitress half yelled, tapping my arm.
"Nah, I'm okay," I said, shaking my head.
"Come on. It's on me." She smiled sympathetically and glanced at the rose, which made me feel even more pathetic. "Stella? Heineken?"
"Sierra Nevada, please, if you've got it."
"Sure thing. Sit tight." She turned and walked back up the bar, long blonde hair tickling the top of her ass. Nice sight for sure, but it was empty appreciation. She was obviously beautiful, but not my type, and I was evolved enough to know she wasn't flirting. So it sucked when she returned with my beer and caught me staring.
Now she just looked wary.
"Thanks, I appreciate it," I said, sliding a five over.
"I said it was on me," she said, but I just smiled and got up.
"Then tip yourself."
She still hesitated, her eyes back on that stupid flower. "Thanks," she said eventually, pocketing the money.
Well, that had been unnecessarily awkward. I wandered toward the stage, not wanting her to think I was a creep. The band had started up again. They were pretty good; not the best I'd ever or heard nor the worst. There were worse ways to spend Valentine's.
Actually, no. No, there weren't.
Feeling sorry for myself, I considered treating myself to a cab...and then I saw her. Not Angela – and at that point I was glad because she could kick rocks for all I cared – but this other girl in dark jeans and a pink sweater. Average height, average build, yet there didn't seem to be anything average about her at all.
Maybe it was her long, brown hair, and how shiny it was – even in the dank dimness of a dive bar. Or her sweater, which was probably the brightest thing in this place. Or it could've been the way she filled out her jeans, or the fact that while she was dressed a little more conservatively than some of the chicks in here, she still had this innocent-provocative dance thing going on. Swaying. She was entranced by the band, mouthing along with the words. I followed her line of sight and almost snorted my beer when I saw Jasper Hale staring right back at her, smirking and winking like the overconfident pretty boy he was.
Yeah, I knew Jasper. We weren't exactly friends, but we'd taken a couple of classes together a semester or two ago. I had friends that were his friends, and I saw him at parties or places like this from time to time. He was always working on his album, which was cool, but...you know. Whatever. I never saw him with the same girl twice.
So, the pretty little brunette was swaying, and Jasper was singing, and the half full beer in my hand was quickly approaching lukewarm. I downed it in one go, not wanting it to go to waste, and decided to call it a night.
My phone vibrated. Annoyance and hope twinged through me, but it was just Emmett, drunk texting to let me know he'd always be my Valentine. I thanked him, mainly for the laugh.
It wasn't too late. I'd be able to catch the next train, and I wouldn't even have to hustle too much. There was leftover pizza in the fridge and, unless Ben had gotten in to it, a six pack with my name on it.
I turned to the sound of my name, and lo and behold, it was Emmett.
"Dude, that is you" he cried, all excited. "You're here!"
"Yeah," I chuckled. "And I just got your text, too. What's up, man?"
"Nothing, nothing. Just came to spend Valentine's with my lady."
"Who?" I asked, genuinely curious. Emmett had been single for a while now, not for a lack of trying. He was a good looking, funny guy, but a little exuberant. It would take a special girl to deal with his antics.
"Rosalie," he said, grinning like a dope. "The bartender."
I raised my eyebrows, impressed. "Really? She's hot, man. Congrats."
"Yeah, I know. All brains, too," he said, tapping his head. I could see that. She hadn't come off as a bimbo at all.
The band announced yet another "quick" break. I glanced back at the stage, where Jasper was putting his guitar down. He hopped on to the floor and went right to the brunette, kissing her full on the mouth. I took that opportunity to give Emmett a quick hug. "I'm gonna head on out."
"What? But you just got here."
"Actually, no, I didn't. I've been here for awhile waiting for Angela."
He looked around, frowning. "Oh, yeah?"
"I'm ninety nine percent sure she stood me up. She was supposed to meet me like an hour ago. Longer."
Emmett's gaze fell to the rose I had in my hand. It was a total pity magnet, but I just couldn't bring myself to toss it. "That sucks, man."
"Might be for the better. She's kind of a hipster."
I rolled my eyes. "Not really."
"Yeah, man, she is. And she's judgy."
Emmett had never been Angela's biggest fan, and for once I appreciated that. "Anyway, I'm tired. I'm headed out."
"Lame, man. Lame," he said, shaking his head. "But I feel you."
I thumped his back. "Enjoy yourself. We'll talk tomorrow."
I left my empty bottle at the end of the bar and walked out, where several people were huddled against the wall, catching a quick smoke. Jasper's blond hair stood out right away, but then the girl sucking on his earlobe wasn't the one from inside. Surprised, I stopped short, causing the guy behind me to bump into me.
"Watch it, jackass," he huffed, pushing past.
Ignoring him, I slipped back inside. Sure enough, the brunette was sitting at a little table by herself, messing with her phone and looking around. I couldn't help but feel bad for her, waiting around for a guy who obviously didn't care. Jasper was kind of known for being a love 'em and leave 'em type, but this was lame, even for him.
Why did I even care? I shoved my hands into my jacket and turned to leave again, but then the brunette got up. She weaved through the increasingly drunk crowd, making a beeline for the exit. I followed, half afraid of what she'd see when she got out there.
It wasn't too great. Jasper and the other girl were laughing and cuddling, probably seconds seconds away from kissing.
I watched the brunette's face fall. She stared for a minute, her entire body sagging, and then left, going in the opposite direction.
I caught up to her, hoping she wasn't crying or anything.
"Hey," I said, falling in step.
"Hi," she replied, wobbly-voiced. She kept her eyes down, and I thought that maybe she was crying a little, or trying not to.
I handed her the rose.
She took it, mostly out of shock I think. "What...what's this for?"
"I don't know, just...happy Valentine's day."
She laughed bitterly. "Not really, but I appreciate the sentiment. Thanks."
"You're welcome." We walked side by side for a block. It wasn't comfortable, really, but she hadn't told me to get lost, so I figured that was good. "I'm Edward."
"Bella." She stuck out the hand closest to me, and we shook.
"My date stood me up, so...the night's kind of been a bust for me, too," I said.
"That sucks," she said, wrinkling her nose. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah, well." I stuffed my hands into my pockets. "Whatever. You know what they say about Valentine's Day."
"What, about it being a marketing scheme or something?"
"So I've heard." She rolled her eyes. "Seems awfully cynical, though."
I laughed, watching her. She seemed like a sweetheart, and a really pretty one. It had been a while since a girl had snared my attention like this. I mean, I hung out with girls all the time. Sometimes I dated them or even hooked up. But this girl had a quiet beauty, one that became more apparent every second that passed.
She walked with purpose, but cautiously, like she was trying to avoid the cracks in the sidewalk. She kept the rose close to her body, like she was cradling it. She bit her lip a lot, and smiled a lot, and frowned a lot, and when we looked at each other she maintained eye contact, even when it made her look bashful and blushing.
We stopped at a crosswalk, beneath a streetlight. There was a light smattering of freckles on the apples of her cheeks. I liked them. That's when I realized, with slight alarm, that I could totally fall for a girl like this, maybe this girl. But who the hell was she? Someone I'd, literally, picked up in a bar. Someone I'd seen kissing Jasper Hale not even an hour ago.
"What are we doing?" she asked, staring intently at the glowing red hand warning us not to walk.
My chest tightened, because she'd called me out. Just like that. She was right – what were we doing?
"I mean like right now," she said, clearing her throat.
Oh. Oh. Right. Obviously. She probably thought I was following her home like a creep.
"You hungry?" I asked.
The light turned, and we started across the street. It had rained earlier, and the asphalt glimmered underneath the neon lights.
A little smile tickled at her lips. "Maybe. I don't know; I could eat."
"There's this place..."
"I don't even know you."
"That's okay," I said, grinning back. "You can get to know me."
"And you don't know me, either," she continued. "What if I'm a psycho?"
"Maybe I'm in to that."
She rolled her eyes again, but she was smiling. "Ah, a smooth talker. I see."
"So, is that a yes?"
Lightly fingering the petals of her flower, she looked away. "Um, sure. Why not." Definitely nervous. I didn't want her to be nervous, but maybe it was unavoidable. "Is it far?"
"Nope. A couple streets over, though. We have to backtrack a little. That okay?"
"Mhm." We hurried to catch up to the small crowd crossing the next crosswalk. I guided her around a dip in the street, not wanting her to trip, and then cringed, hoping I wasn't being overly touchy.
"So. What's her name?" she asked.
"Who, the stander-upper?"
"Yeah." She handed me the rose and started twisting her hair up. "The original recipient of the flower."
"So is Bella."
"I've heard," she sighed, grabbing the rose back. Breaking the stem in half, she pushed the rose in to hair. "How do I look?"
"Good. Like a flamenco dancer."
"Cool." I'd liked her hair down, because it seemed so soft and touchable, but this was sexy. I could see her ears, the graceful curve of her neck.
I spied the restaurant up ahead. "That's where we're going."
"Saki Too?" She shook her head, smiling. "I love this place."
"Really?" I probably shouldn't have been surprised. We'd both ended up at same dive bar before; obviously we ran in similar circles.
"Yeah. I come here with my friends all the time."
"Guess I don't have to worry about whether or not you'll like it, then." I held the door open for her, and she slid past me, close enough that I could smell her. "You smell like cookies or something."
"You're astute," she said. "It's this lotion...vanilla sugar something. My younger cousin gave it to me."
"Well, she's seven." She pushed her bangs from her eyes.
"I like it; it suits you."
"Are you saying I'm sweet?" She smirked.
"I don't know; are you?"
"Maybe, maybe not."
The hostess smiled over at us, menus in hand. "Welcome to Saki. Table for two?"
"Yes, thank you."
"You're lucky; the Valentine's rush just slowed down," she said as we removed our shoes and stuck them on a special shelf to the side.
"It was kind of a spur of the moment thing," I mumbled, but she was already leading us toward our table.
We eased to the floor and slid our legs beneath the table, where they dangled into a rectangular hole. This was where Emmett and I always came when we wanted good sushi or to just chill; the food wasn't cheap but it was worth it, as was the atmosphere. I sighed inwardly, thinking of Angela, who'd I brought just once. She'd hated it, not a fan of "being around other people's feet". Whatever.
Bella put her purse down, clasping her hands on the table. It was the first time I'd seen in her good lighting. Her skin was pale, but in a flushed, rosy way, and her hair was starting to come loose from its knot. She'd also loosened her scarf, and I thought I could see the glint of a necklace nestled somewhere beneath.
"What?" she asked, obviously a little self conscious.
"Nothing." I took a sip of water. "I'm just glad you're here with me."
Her eyes fluttered down, and she rested her palm in her cheek. "Yeah, me too."
It felt a little awkward then, so I was relieved when our waitress appeared to take our drink order. Bella said she liked sake, too, so I ordered it for our table. And, because we were both familiar with our favorites on the menu, we went ahead and ordered dinner, too.
When the sake arrived, I poured Bella's first. I turned my cup over to pour mine, but Bella stopped me, her small, slender fingers cool against my own. "You're supposed to let me."
"Oh," I said, a little surprised. "Okay."
She took the little pitcher and poured my cup, biting her lip. "It's considered bad luck to pour your own."
"I didn't know that," I admitted. She shrugged, smiling, and that triggered a smile of my own. How the hell had she ended up with Jasper Hale? On the other hand, it was easy to see what he saw in her. He might have been with a different chick every night of the week, but he didn't discriminate. If you were cute, you were cute.
I took a sip of sake. "So how'd you meet Jasper?"
Frowning slightly, she averted her gaze. "How do you know Jasper?"
"School; friends. You know."
"Do you, uh, not want to talk about him?" I asked, genuinely sorry to see her face fall the way it had. I wasn't really sorry I'd asked, though. I needed to know.
"I take care of his nephew," she said, shrugging. "I'm a part-time nanny."
"How old are you?"
"Twenty four." Her eyes were back on me, now. "Ish."
"When's your birthday?"
"That a good ah or a bad ah?"
"A neutral ah. My birthday's in June."
"And how old are you?"
Her eyes sparkled. She liked me; I could tell.
"What do you do for a living?"
"I'm actually working toward becoming a paramedic," I said.
"Yeah, well. I was pre-med, but somewhere along the way I decided it just wasn't for me. My parents are doctors, so they were kind of bummed when I didn't continue down that road, but they're cool with it now. I'm still doing something in that field, you know? Feels right."
"I think it's great," Bella said, popping a couple of edamame into her mouth. "You'll really be helping people."
"Yeah. I'm excited about it."
"Do you think you'll stay here?"
"Probably. I'm pretty established here. What about you?"
"Will I stay?"
"I think so. I'm sort of...floating right now, but, I like Seattle."
"What did you go to school for?" I asked.
"I was an English major. I wanted to teach, but..."
"I've had a hard time finding a steady job. There was a lot of substitute teaching for awhile, and then one day a friend of mine referred me to Charlotte and Peter. They needed someone to help watch their son, and now it's been over a year."
"You enjoy it, though," I guessed, taking in her calm, contented expression.
"More than I ever thought I would. Laurent's a great kid, and Charlotte's become a close friend. In fact..." Her cheeks turned a deeper pink than they had all night, and I couldn't help but think how much it would suck to have my emotions broadcasted like neon lights all the time. "She told me what her brother was like. Guess I should've listened."
She didn't have to say anything else; I could imagine the types of things Charlotte had said.
"Can't help who you like," I said, shrugging.
"My friends don't like Angela, either."
"Well, for one thing, Emmett's a bacon aficionado and Angela's vegan."
She snorted, laughing, and so did I, because it was ridiculous even though it was true.
We drank, and talked. She told me about Forks, the tiny, rain-soaked town she'd grown up in, and I told her about Chicago, the city I still called home despite having lived in Seattle for years. Our sushi came out, an extravagant dragon consisting of several different types of sushi and sashimi, and we ate until we were stuffed. Even then we made room for green tea ice cream.
I've known a lot of girls, had lots of different relationships. I can usually tell when a girl likes me, and with Bella, it was subtle...but there, in her flushed cheeks and bitten lips. Her eyes said the most. They were bright with uncensored discourse, like our locked gaze was the behind the scenes for the getting-to-know-you conversation our mouths were having. Pure chemistry, I guess, because while I liked her personality, the way she spoke and the things she said, and while I appreciated that we seemed to have a lot in common, there was this basic, raw element of attraction underlying the whole thing.
Eventually we were the last table in the restaurant. I'd been a server for a while in college; I knew how shitty it was to want to go home but to have to cater to a lingering party. Paying promptly, I thanked our waitress and ushered Bella back outside. It was chilly now, and slightly foggy.
"Ugh, I definitely ate too much," she groaned, rubbing her stomach.
"Yeah, me too. I always do when I come here." I glanced down at my phone for the time. It was getting late, past ten. "So..."
"So..." Her hair was loose again. She tucked it behind her ears and squinted down the street.
"Do you live close-by?"
"Yeah, I like it. I share with a couple of friends."
An awkward silence fell. My time was up: we'd come to the natural turning point in the evening where I'd either get her number and then say goodbye or ask her to stay with me. She knew it too, by the way she refused to look me in the eye despite the fact she'd been doing so for the past couple of hours.
But then I looked at her closely, really looked. She was waiting on me. No doubt.
"Do you want to come over?" I blurted, no longer able to deal with the tension. "Watch a movie or something?"
She rubbed her arms, like she was cold. "This is breaking at least half of my rules, but, yeah. Okay."
"You have rules?"
"Every girl has rules."
A cab just happened to be cruising down the street, and, not wanting to deal with public transportation now that Bella was with me, I hailed it. We slid into the back seat, and I gave the cabbie directions while Bella texted someone on her phone.
She put it away once we started moving. "Just letting my friends know where I am."
"That one of your rules, too?" I asked, resting my head on the seat.
"You're making fun of me," she mock-pouted.
"Yeah, well." I went for it, taking her hand and holding it loosely. "Guys only pick on the the girls they like."
"Again with the smooth lines."
"I'm being honest," I chuckled. "I'm a straight shooter."
"I like that," she said, glancing out the window for a second before returning her gaze to me. She squeezed my hand.
I slid her a little closer.
I behaved all the way back to my place.
I even behaved once we were inside the door.
But something came over me as as I helped her out of her jacket and hooked it onto the coatrack. The way her hair, which she kept tying in knots and releasing like it was a nervous habit or something, fell in little wisps by the nape of her neck. How she smelled sweet, almost sugary up close.
Stepping back, I tossed my own jacket up next to hers and gestured toward the living room. "You want something to drink? Beer? Water?"
"I'll have water for now," she said, following me. "I've been drinking all night."
"You drunk?" I asked, teasing.
"No, why? Does that ruin your plans of taking advantage of me?" she shot back, folding her arms.
"Nah, not really my style. I prefer my girls awake and willing."
"Good to know."
"Why, you considering it?" I asked, handing her a cold bottle of water.
She laughed, shaking her head. "I don't know; you tell me."
I had her up against the counter before the smile had even left her lips. "Well, I think that two people don't talk the way we're talking unless they're both thinking about it. And I am thinking about it."
She reached up and touched my hair. "Okay."
"Okay you're thinking about it or okay you're down to –"
This time she cut me off, bringing her mouth to mine. I met her with a quiet ferociousness, the result of the flirting and talking and looks, all those damn looks, all damn night. She put her water down and grabbed my shirt, pulling me closer and then her hands were back in my hair, fingertips tangling and pulling.
I pulled back when she moaned, the both of us breathing heavily.
I liked how she'd tasted so kissed her again, cutting her off.
"No you're not," she nearly panted.
"I'm not," I agreed.
"Good. I'm not sorry, either."
We kissed again. I kept my hands on her hips, but it didn't stop me from squeezing and bringing her body flush to mine. She felt like she fit. We tried to stop a couple of times, but it soon became obvious we really wanted to do exactly this: kissing, touching. I hoisted her onto the counter and kissed her again and again, liking the way she wrapped her legs around me.
"I really like you, Bella," I said, hooking my finger in her collar so I could pull it down and kiss her neck. She did have a necklace: a delicate gold chain with a tiny star. I kissed around it, running my tongue along one of her collarbones.
She tightened her legs around me, shivering. "I'm glad."
"I mean it."
"I like you, too. I probably liked you before you liked me."
"By what, five seconds?"
She laughed, and I knew I was in trouble because that throaty little giggle was becoming one of my favorite things. "I saw you waiting. At the bar."
"Yeah, you and everyone else," I said, shaking my head in resignation. "I'm surprised you saw me at all, though. You were so gaga over Jasperrrr."
"Sh." She tugged my collar forward sharply, kissing my mouth. "I have a thing for pretty boys, okay?"
"So what does that say about me?"
"That you're a pretty boy..."
"...and a cocky one."
"I'm not really that cocky," I said, sliding my arms around her waist.
She gazed down at me, stroking her thumbs along my cheeks. I thought, maybe, my heart skipped a beat. Kind of like junior year when Katie Tancredi, the hottest senior at school, asked me to prom. "Just pretty."
"Can we find a more manly term than pretty?" I asked, nipping her chin, enjoying the mindless banter.
"Like ruggedly handsome?"
"You're the pretty one," I said. "I noticed you."
"Yeah?" She pulled back, looking at me. "What did you notice/"
"Your hair. Your sweater. And..." I reached down and curved my hands around her butt, bringing her back off the counter. "This."
I thought she might blush the way she'd been doing all night, but instead she just leaned forward and kissed me again. And again. Until we were right back where we'd been moments earlier, too caught up in what we were doing to worry about the fact we'd only met hours before.
"Feels like I know you," she whispered, kissing my ear.
"Get out of my head," I said, bringing her down off the countertop so we could go to my room. "I was just thinking the same thing."
She shrugged, letting me link my fingers through hers. "You're just really easy to talk to."
"Not everyone feels that way," I said, flicking on the light switch in my room. My desk and closet were disaster zones, but thankfully my bed was made and the floor was clothing-free. "Emmett says I'm a snob."
Bella snorted, covering her mouth. "No way."
"Yeah. He's always busting my chops, though. You'd like him."
"Is Angela a snob?" she teased, cocking her head.
She sat on the edge of my bed, watching me kick off my shoes and slide out of my shirt I had another one on underneath, but the fact I was taking anything off at all definitely brought a new level of intimacy to what we were doing.
I paused, leaning against my desk. "So..."
"So, I don't have sex on the first date," she said. She was pink-faced again, but she kept her eyes on me, like she was challenging me.
"Neither do I."
"Okay." I watched her, knowing that while we weren't going to go all the way, there were plenty of stops I wanted to make. "Are there going to be more, then?"
"I hope so." She took her shoes off, too, and shrugged out of her cardigan, leaving just jeans and a tank top. I didn't think she was wearing a bra. Her hair had come loose again. All I wanted to do was run my fingers through it, stick my face in it. See if the little wafts of scent I'd been getting all night were more concentrated there.
I walked over to the bed and climbed on, pushing Bella on to her back. "I'm glad Jasper's an asshole," I said, easing to her side.
"Well, I'm glad Angela's snobby. And that she stood you up."
I leaned down to kiss her. "Yeah, me too."
I hadn't kissed someone like that in years. Someone like that, as in, someone like Bella. Someone I genuinely liked, liked enough that if kissing was all we were going to do, I was cool with it. More than cool: I liked it. The last time I'd pulled an almost all-nighter due to making out was high school.
We passed out sometime around dawn, when the room was just beginning to fade into dreamy lavenders and dusky blues. The whole thing felt kind of like a dream anyway: kisses that faded one into the other, touches. Hair in my face, skin under my mouth and tongue, hands warmed by her heat.
I woke to an empty bed, sunlight shining weakly through the blinds. Rubbing my eyes, I got up and walked out to the kitchen, wondering where she'd gone. I hoped she wasn't gone gone. I didn't even have her number.
But then I saw her, curled up on the couch in my old college hoodie, her phone in her hands. Last night's flower was stuck in her hair again, a wilting rose in a thicket of tangles.
"Hey," I said, yawning. Pausing.
"Hi." She smiled, almost shyly.
"You been up long?"
"No." She patted the spot next to her, and like a puppy, I went right to her, dropping my head into her lap. She scratched lightly at my scalp, her eyes full of something I couldn't quite fathom. "So, Jasper texted me a couple times last night. I think he was a little worried when I took off like that."
"Why didn't he just call you?"
"Because he's an asshole."
Any inklings of doubt I may or may not have just been having disappeared, and I smiled up at her. "Did you text him back?"
"Yeah, just now. Told him not to bother...he's too busy and I'm with someone else."
"You told him that?" I chuckled.
"Should I not have?"
"No, you definitely should have."
Nodding, she put her phone aside and scooted down so we were side by side on the couch. My hoodie was so long it reached nearly to her knees. I reached up under it, grazing my hands along her thighs, loving the goosebumps that sprang up.
"You hungry?" I ask, kissing her ear even though her hair tickled my nose.
"Let's see what's in the fridge. I'm starving."
"Hold on," she said, not letting me up. And then she just looked at me.
I looked at her, too...really looked at her. It wasn't just her prettiness, or the way her body felt against mine, or how nice her hair smelled. It wasn't the flower, or the freckles, or the creaminess of her skin. It was the way she looked back at me, and how she seemed to get me. I knew she wasn't perfect, and she had to know that neither was I, but maybe we were perfect for each other. Maybe.
A really faint voice warned me not to rush, but I knew I wasn't going to listen to it. We had time, yeah, but sometimes you just knew.
Slowly, she smiled, and lowered her eyes.
"What was that?" I asked, running my thumb across her bottom lip.
"I wanted to see your eyes in the day time." She bit my thumb and I half tackled her, settling her beneath me despite, and maybe because of, her giggly squirming.
And then I kissed her.