Pre-read by my roll dawg, Jonesn. Beta'd by the best witch in town, Ali.
All mistakes are my own. I added, and added, and added after they finished.
Chapter Nineteen: Sightseeing
I'm trying to sell the idea of moving to Chicago to Bella. I'm trying to sell it without saying a word.
I take her to the Art Institute of Chicago, one of my favorite places to visit. Those dark-lash, lined eyes of hers widen in awe as she takes it all in, from paintings to sculptures to books.
Especially the books.
We walked and walked until our legs practically buckled beneath us. Hand in hand. Always hand in hand. It's been like that since she arrived in my hometown. I can't be without her. I always want her near. I feel like a little boy again, shy and unsure, but willing to risk it all for a thrill. And this thrill I'm seeking is her. It's Bella. It's love.
I love her.
And, like with most things people love and adore, I don't want to let her go, but I'm terrified by the uncertainty in her eyes. Instead of voicing my concern I've dragged her around the city, filling each and every precious moment I have with her, showing her the things I love about Chicago.
I only have twenty-four hours left to do it.
My palm is sweaty against hers so I release it. I wipe it on my jeans then give her an apologetic glance that she doesn't see. She's too busy eyeing the bustling restaurant we now stand inside.
"I hope you're not shy," I tell her, squeezing her hand reassuringly in mine. "Because you're about to be forced to socialize."
It wasn't my idea to take her to The Publican. I desired something more private for the two of us, preferably back at my apartment, followed by the two of us buried beneath my bedsheets, and then possibly breakfast in bed.
It was a mid-day call from Emmett and Rose, who has been surprisingly absent during Bella's trip, that led us to the bustling room we stand in. Bella's body radiates excitement as she takes in the long, farm-style tables full of strangers eating and conversing together. The walls are adorned with paintings of fat pigs and other farm animals. The smell of barbecue and beer fills the air, dancing around us and drawing us near the area where our two friends sit.
"Don't y'all look cozy," Bella tells Rose, whose name lives up to her image.
The snark and exasperation is no longer displayed on her face. Instead, a wide smile and laughing eyes stare back at us. Emmett is sitting by her side but practically in her lap. His large frame leans against her from the chair at her side. One, beefy arm is thrown over the back of her chair, and she's resting against it perfectly at ease. Rose shoots Bella an easy smile, and her eyes dart between the two of us.
"So do you."
"Yeah, well. Edward's been the perfect host," Bella says.
Emmett laughs at Bella's words, grinning at me as I pull her chair back for her.
"What? My mama raised me right," I tell him.
"Yeah? What's Carlisle had to say about the two of you living in sin together these past few days?" I glare at Em, but he doesn't slow down. "Better yet, what has Granny Platt had to say?"
"I'm meeting Granny Platt tomorrow," Bella answers, taking my hand once more. "I can't wait to meet her."
Emmett snickers then fails to hide it behind a cough. I kick him under the table causing him to wince. Rose glares at him from her seat and elbows him in his ribs. The two of them are so casual around one another that it's startling.
"Breakfast with Granny Platt then off to Forks," Bella muses aloud. "Tomorrow is gonna be a busy day."
The four of us go silent with her words, the tense air only interrupted by a young waiter giving my girl a too-friendly grin. I shut that shit down with one, firm glare and then he's gone, rushing away with our orders in tow. Rose and Bella break into giggles at the sight of my reddened face. Bella's the one squeezing my hand now, reassuring me that I have nothing to worry about.
But I do. I have everything to worry about. Not the eager eyes of a wet-behind-the-ears kid, but the fact that she's leaving me tomorrow. And there's not a damn thing in the world I can do about it.
"Bella, you won't believe this." Rose breaks the awkward silence with her excited voice. "They have skins here."
"Skins?" Bella's face is one of astonishment. "Really?"
"Yup." Rose nods her head proudly and Em looks a little green.
"Skins? You mean fried pork skins, don't you?" I ask, wishing I hadn't. My appetite is suddenly doing a nosedive.
"Ugh. I love skins, especially coated in hot sauce," Bella declares, then shoots me a grin. "You know us Southerners eat every part of the pig. From snout to-"
"Bella, that's enough." Rose berates her, laughing at the sour look on my face. "She's just kidding, Edward. We don't eat snouts, feet, or any of that stuff. Some people do, but not us."
"The two of you were starting to scare me," I admit. "That stuff is sort of … gross."
Bella and Rose laughs, then grow a little quiet. Bella suddenly turns and gives me a thoughtful glance.
"You know, Chicago's not half bad. I wouldn't mind coming back soon."
Rose says something and Bella turns her attention back to her friend, but I don't hear the words. All I can concentrate on is my own intentions, my intentions to keep Bella with me here in Chicago.
"Oh, Edward! Can we duck inside this antique shop for a minute? Please?"
I glance at the window display of a shop that we were about to pass on our leisurely stroll through the city. The window is filled with old lamps, tiny, wooden dollhouses, and ticking clocks. Bella's begging me with her voice, and with those big, brown eyes as we stand on the sidewalk. I smile at her, then place my hand on the small of her back and open the door for her. The door creaks and whines in protest, the sound followed by Bella's delighted gasp as we enter the building.
I follow her around, my face sore from the constant smile that I have for my girl. The way she grows more and more excited with each object reminds me of my mother, the way she used to drag me antiquing with her when I was a child. I swallow the knot lodged in my throat, then look away, feeling foolish for the tears I feel pricking at the corners of my eyes.
She's leaving me tomorrow.
Bella leaves me somewhere between the display of ancient clocks and gaudy-faced, porcelain dolls. I hear her quiet murmurs nearby and follow the sound. I find her near the register chatting amiably with an older woman with thinning, red hair and equally red lips. The woman gives me a warm smile as I join them, her eyes taking in the way I wrap one arm around Bella's waist.
"I want something to take home. Something to remember the city by besides all the wonderful memories. Nothing can replace those," says Bella.
Bella's cheeks burn as she tells the woman this, and I tighten my hold. The woman pulls out a display of jewelry: rings, earrings, and bracelets. I follow Bella's gaze as her eyes rest on a ring. Her hand reaches out, but changes its course as she picks up a bracelet instead. The entire time her thumb runs over the delicate jewels of the bracelet, her eyes are honed in on the ring.
The outlandish price tells me exactly why she chose the bracelet instead.
"What's this?" I ask the woman, pointing at the ring.
Bella's eyebrows perk up in surprise. She shifts from one foot to the other, but she says nothing as the woman very carefully removes the ring from where it rests in velvet. The woman places it in my open palm, and I turn it over, inspecting it even though I haven't a clue in the world what for.
"This is called a poison ring," the woman whispers, her voice full of mystery. "The red, enamel center is actually a locket. The owner of this ring was more than likely a count … a count who would hide his poison in the hidden compartment of the locket. The ten diamonds surrounding it are hand cut, and it's eighteen-karat gold. It was made sometime during the late eighteen-hundreds. In fact, I think the date is stamped somewhere inside."
I turn the ring over in my hand and find the date just as she said. The ring is stamped eighteen forty-four.
"That's creepy," I remark, cringing as Bella pokes my side.
"It's not creepy. It's romantic," she says, then sighs lovingly.
"There is nothing romantic about a count drugging people," I tell her.
"You don't see the significance to this ring?"
I shake my head, feeling like a dumbass.
"One of your very first stories that I read was about a vampire ... a count. I fell completely in love with that story," Bella tells me.
I'm stunned silent as she stares up at me with her wide, innocent eyes. I remember writing that story. I remember trying to keep up with the history of the Russian people, where my story took place, and with the complexity of the storyline that I conjured up sometime during my sleep. Everything seems so surreal now, standing in this antique shop holding this ring, standing beside a girl who read a story I wrote so long ago.
"If you don't like this, we have other Russian jewelry," the woman's voice trails off.
"Russian you say?" I ask, feeling a little like I'm losing my mind. A hysterical laugh bubbles in my throat, and suddenly I find the ring fascinating. "Russian, like me. Who knows? Maybe a member of my biological family once touched this ring."
The two women grow silent, the spell of my words broken by a kiss from Bella along the scruff of my cheek. The sales lady clears her throat then moves along to another display after taking the ring from my hand and placing it back inside the case. I politely listen to her drone on about Fabergé eggs, but my eyes keep wandering to the ring hidden behind security-monitored glass. It's only when Bella wanders away with one last, longing glance at the ring does an idea strike me.
"I'll take the ring," I quietly blurt out, shocking the woman with my sudden words.
"The count's poison ring. The one from the Russian empire," I explain.
"Are you sure?" The woman glances at me like maybe I'm a pauper. Hell, I can't blame her. The ring comes with a five-figure price tag.
I couldn't care less.
"I met Bella over there through writing Moonlight fanfiction. Weird, huh?"
The woman's eyes grow wide, but she says nothing. She busies herself by removing the ring from the display and placing it in an ornate box. It's swathed in the middle of soft, wrinkled cloth, and it's fucking perfect. Almost as perfect as her. I fish my credit card out of my wallet and slap it on the glass, glancing over one shoulder, happy for the first time to see Bella is nowhere in sight.
"This is her first trip out of the state of Georgia. And the first time either of us has met someone off the internet. Even weirder, huh? But you wanna know what's stranger than that?" I ask.
"What?" the woman asks in an uncertain voice, taking my credit card from where it rests on the glass.
My smile grows wider, if at all possible, with my next few words.
"The weirdest part is … I'm gonna propose to her with this fucking poison ring at the next Moonlight convention. This stuff only happens in stories, right?"
Hoodfabulous Fanfiction Confession - the best snack to eat while reading FF is Tabasco-coated pig skins. Mmm. I once ate so many in one week that I burned the roof of my mouth off. *blush* What do you eat, if you do, while reading/writing?