Contest entry for the Happily Ever After TwiFic Contest
Title: El Camino
Name: IReen H
Rating: M for sex and drugs
Pre-read by: DreaminginNorweigen
Summary: He drove a rundown 1973 El Camino, smoked like a chimney - and the few words he spoke were seldom to me.
Contest entry for the HEA TwiFic Contest
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all character names. This plot belongs to the author, IReen H.
No copyright infringement is intended or expected. Respect.
Sometimes finding the right words is so hard. I nibble at the tip of my pen, rereading the last sentence I wrote and the few words of the current sentence, trying to think of the right way to say something along the lines of C'est la vie. Or that's the way the cookie crumbles.
Or... I'm done with this. I'm moving on.
I don't know. I don't even know why I'm writing this letter. I doubt I'll send it. But there's so much that needs to be said... and his phone's disconnected.
The bus slows to a stop, the hydraulics hissing as it stoops low to one side, the handicap access unfolding. I look away from my paper, out the window, out at the eye-rapingly-bright Whole Foods parking lot. Cars and bushes blanketed in white. Sliding my sunglasses onto my nose, I see it.
An old black El Camino. My heart breaks out in somersaults - the way it always used to.
"Get rid of her."
It's what he said the first time he found me in Jake's garage before a practice. You always practice where the drummer lives.
I lived next door.
Jake shrugged and I left.
It became routine.
After a while he didn't even have to tell me to leave. Or tell Jake to tell me to leave. Edward would come in with one or two bass cases slung over his shoulder, stooping to unpack and set them on the stands that stayed in Jake's garage. He would shoot me the unmistakable glare and I'd take off.
Sometimes I went home. Sometimes I just parked myself against the exterior wall, tipping my head back against the stucco, letting the vibrations seep into me. Tyler's voice was just okay, the drums were noise – it was the bass line I listened for. It was the bass line I felt most.
As if Edward's fingers were on my spine instead of the frets. As if he plucked at my nerves, them making the low humming rumble instead of the strings.
I listened to all my music, attention tuned to the bassist, pulling the heavy rhythms from the song fog. Still, to this day it's the bass line I pick up first. It used to be the lyrics.
It was half a mile from my house to the city bus stop—no sidewalk, just a muddy shoulder next to the lumber mill—and from there, a twenty minute ride to Mission High School. My walk often felt more like a march, my Walkman turned up high, headphones blocking out the forest rustlings, bird twitterings, and the occasional deep snore of machinery from the heart of the mill.
Jake used to give me rides sometimes, when we were Junior's, when his dirt-bike wasn't disassembled in his garage. Then, the summer before senior year, Rosalie Hale turned back up in Washington, having lived with her dad in California for two years. Apparently, in California, everyone turns blonde. Maybe you grow double D boobs down there too. I wouldn't know. I've never been. But Rosalie left a skinny fourteen year old girl with dishwater hair and braces. She came back a bombshell.
We ran into her at the county fair putting tufts of cotton candy into her beautiful bright pink mouth.
Jake gave her rides after that. I think she returned the favor.
So I walked.
I didn't mind it. Even when it rained.
I usually saw the El Camino cruise past me at some point between my house and the corner where I waited for the bus. Then one day it stopped.
"Get in the car."
By the time I was a senior, I'd known Edward for years. Occasionally, there was a small thread of warmth between us. Occasionally, and I mean, RARELY, he would laugh at something I said. More often he just glared at me.
I tossed my Jansport in first and then planted my ass on the double layer of duct tape keeping the stuffing in the seat. The car smelled like the perpetually full ashtray and Edward's Old Spice. And something else. Heat-worn vinyl and the late seventies.
A Johnny Cash cassette tape was stuck in the deck.
He answered by firing up his cigarette.
During the ride, the only one who really said anything was Johnny Cash. I looked out my window. Edward smoked.
The next day I didn't even make it to the bus stop. I was halfway there, watching my feet kick aside the newly fallen leaves cluttering the drainage ditch, when the El Camino jerked to a stop a few feet ahead of me and the passenger side door opened.
A week of this and I finally asked, "What gives?"
He shrugged. One shoulder only. Classic. "Save you some bus fare."
I looked out the window. The gray-green scenery of our town would probably be considered beautiful by someone staying in one of the B&B's in the historic downtown, but to kids who had grown up there—most of us hungering for a different pace of life—it was drab. Always overcast. The streets were perpetually black with the constant wet, the infrequent sunny day seemed to burn off the mold that grew on all of us.
Except Edward. He seemed to emanate heat. Our personal sun complete with flares.
The next week in fourth period, Rose asked me if we were dating. I rolled my eyes as I plunked down at my desk, catching Edward glaring at me from across the classroom, slouched in his seat. I hoped my eye roll was answer enough. Edward had clearly heard the question. He had a perplexing look on his face.
Same day. P.E. sixth period. I got docked for not suiting up and sent to walk the track. Edward was already out there, the rough soles of his Army surplus boots leaving tread marks in the red grain of the track.
Incidentally, the same I wore.
I'd often wondered why he didn't buy Docs. I secretly wished for 30 eyelets in purple. But spending that much money on a pair of shoes – yeah. No.
I let my pace slow so he could catch me. He was smoking.
He fell into stride beside me with one word. "Bullshit." He meant P.E. I always used to think he never wore the required uniform because gym clothes would've made him less immortal.
To see his knees.
Whereas I hadn't suited up because I forgot to take mine home and wash them. They smelled dingy and dank in my locker.
Every year Edward pulled this crap. I don't know how he passed. Maybe he didn't.
"What are you listening to?" He gestured to the walkman tucked into the front pocket of my overalls. I strongly felt like anything I said would be wrong. As it always was with him.
"Jar of Flies." Like the Johnny Cash tape choking the deck in the El Camino, my Alice in Chains tape never left my Sony. Not because it was stuck there. Because it was incredible.
This launched a brief discussion between us about how overrated the Seattle music scene was. Edward didn't think much of grunge. To this day I bristle at categorizing music based on region - or anything really. I was about to argue but didn't get the chance.
"Hey Cullen! Put that butt out! You know there's no smoking on school grounds!"
He stopped walking, faced Mr. Cope from the center of the track, taking a last long suck at his Camel before flicking it, still lit, into the grass. Mr. Cope hollered that he needed to get his ass to the Dean's office.
Then he told ME to make sure he got there.
Edward made that face. The one he makes when he finds something amusing. It's all in his eyes. His lips don't move.
Maybe Mr. Cope trusted me because I got straight A's, didn't smoke, didn't wear black nail polish. Whatever the reason, it was poor judgment on his part.
Halfway there Edward grabbed my arm—one of the few times he'd ever touched me—and led me out to the parking lot where we slid into the El Camino. The tires chirped our exit off school property.
We went to his house.
He lived about two rural blocks from me in the granny unit over his parent's garage, which I'd always thought was totally cool but kept to myself. Jake had mentioned it in passing, but I'd never actually been up there.
His bed was in the main space, along with a huge stereo. A pile of laundry decorated one corner, directly beneath a poster of Charles Mingus. Les Claypool and Bootsie Collins also held honored positions on the walls. Shelves constructed of concrete blocks and raw wood planks held a massive amount of music on one side of the space, in the other a small kitchenette and bathroom huddled together.
He retrieved a cigar box from the back of a silverware drawer, pulling out a baggie of weed and some papers. We sat face to face on his rumpled bedspread, each of us carefully separating stems, rolling joint after joint until a small pile had formed between us. He pressed one between his lips, lighting it, passing it to me, rising from the bed to turn his stereo way up.
We'd gotten stoned together a few times. Usually with Jake and the band or behind the pizza place off campus with Rose and Angela. But never alone together. I liked it when he was stoned. He never relaxed, not ever, like he did when he was high.
He talked about music.
He more than talked about it. He made me experience it.
Adjusting his speakers, he told me to sit between them, pointing to the spot on the floor as he pulled an LP from the shelf. I couldn't see the cover, but when the song started I recognized it. It was a song I'd heard a million times on the radio.
I started to protest and he told me to just listen. He had that impatient tone.
Then, softer, he told me to close my eyes.
The dirty carpet beneath me vibrated with the building crescendo.
Every few verses a new instrument joined the song until a wall of sound had my heart pounding, Ed Kowalczyk's voice had my eyes brimming.
When the song was over I looked up at him. He shrugged and slid the vinyl back in its sleeve.
I wanted him to do it again. With more music. Anything. But he didn't.
He put on another record, turned the stereo down, and sat back on the bed, retrieving the half smoked joint and offering it to me. I joined him, my heart racing as we lay back against his pillows. He told me how bass was really a percussive instrument. Bassists keep the rhythm. With drums they form the backbone of music.
If drums beat the heart, the bass provides a pulse.
He made many anatomical analogies, and although I wish I could remember how it started, I don't. Our musical comparisons degraded into extreme toilet humor and we were laughing into his bedspread so hard I couldn't breathe. My cheeks were starting to burn from constant smiling, and Edward had a smear of pink under each eye.
He lit a cigarette.
He could only eat when he was high, he confessed. And we were down the stairs, hunting through his parent's kitchen for munchies. We were back on his bed eating E.L. Fudge cookies out of the package when he said it. That next time someone asked if we were together, I should just go with it.
That small sentence ruined my senior year.
It took me, like, three weeks to realize he probably didn't remember saying it.
He drove me to and from school, found me at lunch, waited for me by my locker. But he never touched me. Never called me.
Never kissed me.
And no one else did either.
I went to homecoming with some girlfriends. No one asked me to dance. No one came near me. I danced mostly with Angela and Rose.
Even Ben and Mike kept their distance. Long-time friends, now afraid of me.
I emerged from the gym flushed, my curls going lank in the damp November air, to find the El Camino engine rumbling. Edward was leaned against the hood, one of those people gifted with the appearance of cool. That stance on anyone else would look like a pose, but Edward made it look casual.
He could've popped his collar, smoked cloves even. No one can get away with that. Except Edward.
"Later, B." Angie and Rose took off giggling, Jake and Ben following behind them. Jake shot me a look over his shoulder and I nodded.
I didn't get in the car.
I crossed my arms over my chest, fighting the urge to look down at my red and black striped tights. Not wanting to say thank you—because I wasn't sure if it was a compliment or not.
His eyebrow went up.
I walked around the front of the growling El Camino, heading towards the bus stop. I didn't know why. At 10:30 pm there's no way I would be catching a bus.
My irritation seemed hollow. I was upset but at the same time not sure about what, exactly. His cavalier distance, maybe. Something I wasn't sure I had the right to be upset over.
Edward undermined everything I thought I knew. When he wasn't around I could clearly and distinctly ask him for answers to my questions. I could thrash out this thing between us and get a resolution. It seemed so easy. When he showed up it became clear that such a thing was next to impossible.
In retrospect, I think I thought we would resolve something that night. That my irritation would prompt him into asking me what was wrong, or provide the catalyst for him to explain his mind to me. It didn't.
I cut through the night air which parted cold around me. The damp on my skin went to frost as I tried to ignore the snarl of the El Camino idling slow up the street beside me.
"What are you going to do? Walk home? Get in the car."
I was cold.
I got in the car.
He'd fired up the heater and warm air, fragrant from the engine, blasted out of the vents. I looked at him out of the sides of my eyes. He had one hand draped over the steering wheel, the other playing at his mouth as if he had a cigarette there. As if, maybe, he was trying to hold back words.
He pressed the lighter into the dash, shaking his pack and plucking a Camel out with his lips.
"Did you dance with anyone?"
"Why?" I wasn't trying to be coy.
Maybe a little.
"Do you care if I did?"
I turned my face towards him. I wanted him to say yes, but I knew he wouldn't. His jaw clenched and his eyes rolled, almost imperceptibly. I felt silly. The way Edward always made me feel silly. Silly and slightly twelve years old.
The lighter popped out of its sheath with a loud clack. Edward just stared at it, cigarette dangling from his lips.
He finally pulled the lighter out, the paper of his cigarette crackling under the press of the orange-hot coil. The smell of first-lit tobacco filled the car. A smell I loved for some reason.
"I don't dance."
Staring out the front window, I replied, "Tons of guys don't dance."
He was quiet. I went on. "You're a bassist, you keep the rhythm. And you can't dance?"
"Don't see the point."
"It's just expression. And anyway, the purpose of a dance isn't just dancing. It's socializing, too."
"I don't do that either."
The smell I loved was losing its distinction, blurring into the choke of a closed car full of smoke. My eyes were starting to burn. Just a bit. Just at the corners. Just enough to make me look like I was getting ready to cry.
Edward cracked his window. The night beyond sucked at the dank interior of the car like a vacuum.
He nodded. The look on his face made me think for an instant that his hard set features were just a mask. Just an expression worn as a tool, a camouflage dropped over what is really there. In those eyes. Eyes like the potent green bud he kept in that cigar box. Suddenly soft looking eyes.
Hearing his name come out of my mouth, hearing it fill the hollow between us, stopped me. My courage shriveled.
His stony expression was suddenly just that. His inescapable intolerance for everyone and everything in our podunk logging town. Including me.
I wasn't going to ask him anything. Not if we were together, why he said what he did. If he even remembered it. Not why he showed up to play Hoke Coleburn to my Miss Daisy. Not any of it. Not now.
Because as much as I didn't like this situation. I didn't want to hear his reasoning even more. Or see that look on his face. The one he had each and every time he sauntered into Jake's garage to find me straddling Jake's dirt bike or changing CDs in the player. Like he just tasted something bitter, a taste that stayed with him as he laid his bass case on the shitty carpet, kneeling to pull out his five string.
He always jerked the strap over his head before giving me that final disdainful look. Then I got his back until I left.
He tapped his cigarette on the ledge of the open window. "We played the VFW tonight. I thought you might come."
"You didn't ask me to come."
He slowed at an intersection, the red of the traffic light glowing over his face.
"I need to?"
I gave an exasperated snort.
"I thought Jake told you about it."
I shook my head.
"We're playing The Pharaoh in a couple weeks."
"Is that an invitation?"
"It's just so you know. Come if you want."
I was quiet a moment. A long moment. "Who else is playing?"
It sounded to my own ears as if I wasn't really that interested in seeing New Moon. It sounded like I might have better things to do.
Which wasn't true in the least.
Edward didn't say anything until he pulled the car to a stop in front of my house. A big cherry-plum tree blocked the front window but I thought I saw the curtain move. My step dad.
"Phil's looking for you."
I turned from the window to look at Edward. His tawny hair falling into his face. In the sun, he looked alive. Blazing hair, faint freckles over his high cheeks. Intense eyes. Scorpio eyes my mom called them. "Be careful with that boy, Bella. He has Scorpio eyes." Then I told her his birthday is in June.
That's no Gemini," she always said.
But I think she might have been wrong. In the sun he shines, at night he broods. All the vibrancy of his daytime self is muted at night, and he surges, as though fully charged.
He ground his cigarette out in the tray, leaning forward, long arm reaching, looking at me. "You should come. To the Pharaoh. I'm inviting you."
But I didn't go.
We got a new student the next Friday. Jasper Whitlock. His family had relocated from some southern state. He was a quiet boy with big kind eyes, the sides of his head were shaved, his hair long on top. He carried a satchel instead of a backpack. I thought that was cool.
Because he shared my schedule class for class, and because I was a member of ASB, I got assigned to show him around. I met him at his locker first thing and he became my shadow for the day. During free period we met up in the library and I copied some of my notes from this week's biology lab for him to take home. At lunch he grabbed his tray and sat with me and the girls.
He took Edward's seat during Spanish Four, Edward being absent. After school we walked together to the bus stop. He asked me if I had a boyfriend and I stammered that I didn't. He invited me to go see Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and that girl from My So Called Life. I accepted.
I wish I had accepted just because I liked him. Just because he was a sweet boy with a gentle smile and nice laugh. Because his breath was clean and his ears too. And that was part of it. But the other part—the bigger part—was that I wanted to see if Edward would react in any way. I needed to get some sort of defined understanding of our friendship and I was too chicken to just come out and ask him.
Jasper wrote my phone number on his hand and told me he'd call in an hour with showtimes.
Through the tinted window of the city bus, I saw the tail end of the El Camino turn a corner. My heart accelerated.
My mom was home when I got there, "cleansing" the house with a small bundle of burning sage. I told her I had a date and she smiled.
Later, when a green Ford Taurus pulled into our driveway, she asked, "Did Edward get a new car? What happened to the El Camino?"
I was surprised. I had never gone out with Edward. He gave me rides home. He parked in front of our house to see Jake next door, not me. "I'm not going out with Edward."
I don't even know what the look on her face meant. She looked like a caricature of bewilderment. I hurriedly answered a slew of questions about Jasper as he came up the walk and rung the bell. It bonged right over my head, and it was at that moment that I knew this was a bad idea. I should have cancelled. Told him I had mono. Or maybe that I had absorbed my twin in-utero. Or maybe that Edward Cullen would get in his face later.
But I didn't know.
I should've, but I didn't.
I enjoyed the movie, the music particularly, and when Jasper's fingers touched mine I let him hold my hand. His was soft and reassuring and I considered the possibility that this was a good idea.
After the movie ended we walked to the coffee shop and it was against the buildings brick facade that he asked if he could kiss me. I gave my consent and his mouth brushed mine. It was soft and sweet. Calm. His lips were warm. Then they were gone.
At first I was confused.
And then I saw Edward.
"You're new here, so maybe you don't understand that Bella is off limits."
That pissed me right off.
"What the fuck?"
My tone was more than annoyed.
He turned his sharp glare on me. I don't know what I looked like to him—outraged, I hoped—but he suddenly raised his hands, letting go of Jasper and leveling me with his shrink ray gaze. Like he could deflate me with a look. Like he could see my skull underneath my skin if he stared hard enough. Like thoughts would jump from his mind to mine if he crammed enough hostility into his face.
And they did.
I knew exactly what he was thinking as he shoved his hands into his pockets, tipped his head back, nodding imperceptibly. What he was thinking was something along the lines of: FINE. You want this floppy haired fucker to kiss you, Bella. Then fine.
I heard it clear as day.
His cigarettes were in his hand, and he shook one out of the pack, shaking his head as he planted it between his lips. The glow of his lighter caught all the high points of his face, his cheeks sucked in slightly as he drew the first drag.
In my head I answered him.
But he didn't hear me the way I had heard him.
After Edward disappeared around the corner, after I heard the unmistakable growl of the El Camino, Jasper said, "I don't think this is going to work out."
I agreed with him.
He ended up with Alice Brandon. Cheerleader extraordinaire. I ended up back on the city bus.
Edward kept his back to me in all the classes we shared.
I took Jar of Flies out of my Walkman and put in Portishead.
The noise overhead was deafening.
It was the last game of the year. A home game and the Wildcats were slaughtering the Vikings. Stomping feet and screamed chants rained down on me from the bleachers under which we sat. I passed the pipe to Rosalie who blazed with a sumptuousness I wished I had. My whole face screws up really tight when I'm toking. Her eyebrows lift and her lips curl up at the corners. Plus, she has these huge blue eyes that look neon when they're bloodshot.
Jake watched her like she might, at any moment, burst into flame. He didn't want to miss it. She handed the pipe to him and asked me what the deal was with me and Edward.
Jake laughed. Like Rosalie said something hilarious. He somehow managed to suck in a lungful of air despite his chortling, blowing smoke at the ground and saying, "The deal is that he's obsessed. He needs to get over it."
I choked. It felt like smoke was clogging up my ears and nose. Even my eyeballs were suffocating.
"What are you talking about?"
"Come on, Bella. Are you seriously the only person with eyes who doesn't see it?" At the moment I wasn't totally sure I still had eyes. I'd open them in a minute and find out.
"What? That he's unpredictable, manic even. To the point that I can't tell if he likes me or wishes I would drop dead? Is that what you mean?" I was finally able to get my lids to lift, but probably only about halfway.
Jake pulled his leg into his chest so he could retie his shoelace. I worried he would let the matter rest with my calling Edward manic.
"His parents keep trying to get him to take meds. He keeps flushing them down the toilet. They find out. He gets a new prescription. The pill sits on the table and he has to swallow it before he gets breakfast or dinner."
"That's fucked up," Rose said.
Jake shrugged. "He's kinda emotionally fucked up. That's why he lives in the garage unit. He pays rent on that - you know."
"What are the pills?"
"Lithium. I think. Or it used to be. I don't know what they're trying to get him to take now."
We were quiet for a minute, listening as the drone from overhead sharpened into a rally cry.
Em and Em! Em and Em!
Emmett just threw a touchdown pass. To Embry Call. Game over.
"Anyway. Don't let him know I said anything."
I shook my head, plucking at the stubby grass with chilled fingers.
"He's been in love with you since we were seven."
I felt my face burn. Jake had to be fucking with me. I didn't want to meet his eyes. I didn't want him to see all the hope I had there, see it, and then laugh. I could feel the gotcha moment yawning open before my false step. I would walk right into it.
Rose saved me. "That would actually... explain a lot."
I jumped at the opportunity. "No it doesn't. It doesn't explain anything."
"Okay." Jakes tone was annoyed. I think he was regretting saying anything. I knew the conversation wasn't going to go anywhere productive. I got to my feet. "Where are you going?"
"Home. I'm cold. Catch ya later."
My bus ride home was spent reviewing the last ten years of my life. Edward, though I would call him a friend, barely spoke to me. He never touched me. Not ever.
I got off a few stops early and detoured so I could walk past his house. I hovered at the gutter, staring up at the light shining down from his window over the garage. The El Camino was ticking in the driveway, the engine warm. I leaned against it, the heat warming my thighs.
I lay back all the way and stared up at the night sky. I tried to find any constellation apart from the big dipper, but it was all a confused jumble. I closed my eyes, remembering the first time I had seen Edward. He and Jake were on mountain bikes racing through a construction zone. Big mounds of displaced dirt were streaked with tire tracks.
He was just a freckled redhead on a Schwinn. One who didn't want a girl tagging along, even if she did ride a boys bike. He had practically ignored me that day. And most days since.
I wanted to believe Jake. And when I thought about it logically, there was some evidence that Edward did like me. The rides, the interference with Jasper. The time we got high at his house. But those things did not a lifelong love make. And the more I lay there on the cooling hood of the El Camino, the more convinced I became that Jake was mistaken.
I opened my eyes, finding the Milky Way glowing just beyond my reach.
I slid off the El Camino and glanced back up at Edward's window. The light was off now. I checked my watch. Ten minutes to curfew. I told my feet to get moving.
As I regained the path, I heard it. The squeaky flick of a gear against flint. Edward was outside smoking.
New Moon was playing a Christmas show at the VFW and I got permission from Mom and Phil to go. As I showered, I told myself that it didn't make sense not to take a chance. Not to just fess up to Edward about how I felt about him. Stop trying to play it cool.
If he liked me, he did. And if not... it wouldn't be the end of the world.
It sorta felt like it though.
I pulled my favorite granny dress out of the closet, laced up my cheap boots and buttoned my shitty thrift-store sweater. Phil gave me a ride, grudgingly gave me ten bucks for admission and a drink. He asked me what time I needed to be picked up and I told him that I would just catch a ride with Edward. He seemed happy about that. He had to work in the morning.
In my pocket I had a song I had written. It probably matched my sweater. Awful in every way. In my fantasy I pictured myself, super cool and totally disinterested, not even having to make any kind of confession at all. It would be in the music. Edward would read it off the sheet and make his own statement of … something. Or laugh. Not that I'd seen him laugh much. Only when he was high.
Somehow, I knew I wouldn't actually give it to him.
The VFW was crammed with kids from the two local high schools. Some middle school kids loitered around as well as some guys I recognized from Vets-the associated park where drop-outs and twenty something losers rendezvoused to make drug deals.
New Moon was on stage setting up their instruments, coordinating via hand-signals with the sound guy at the back of the room. Thumbs up, down. Testing 1-2-3.
Though I'd heard them millions of times from Jake's garage, I hadn't seen them play before and my palms were sweaty - as if it would be me on the stage. I found a dark corner, leaned against the cold concrete wall, and watched Edward pluck the strings of his bass, turn the keys, pluck again.
It surprised me how many girls in the audience went nuts when the lights went down and the canned music coming over the sound system faded away. Suddenly the room shifted, or the people in it did, pressing themselves into each other, against the small stage.
New Moon covered Cream, Thin Lizzy, and Fleetwood Mac. They interspersed the covers with original tracks. I watched Edward's fingers, his face, his concentration. I got lost in it.
Most of the songs were sung by Tyler, the guitar player, with Edward providing supporting vocals when the song required it. Except one.
One was sung by Edward. With Tyler backing him up.
He and Tyler sat on stools plucking at their instruments as the crowd simmered in excitement. And then they played their only ballad. Original.
Edward was singing about violence without fighting. Hate without hating. Love without saying what everyone knows should be said. His voice was soft but adamant. I'd never seen him so open. So exposed. It made me feel open. Like I was sitting under a spotlight myself, not tucked into the shadows. Like the only flowering bloom on a bush full of buds.
I was an astronaut, walking on the moon, on TV; alone, but in front of millions of people.
I ached inside. All the longings couldn't be named. Couldn't be labeled. I ached for everything. For the beauty of his seldom used voice, the courage to tell him all that he should know, the wish for his song to be for me, about me. I yearned for the freedom around the corner, waiting for me from my adulthood, for the release of bondage that could be brought by his words, mine.
I wished for all my hopes to be true.
As the song died away the applause rose. Tyler thanked us for coming out, asked us to stay for the next band, Volterra. He told us they rock.
New Moon packed up their instruments, and I waited for Edward to mingle, my agitation rising. The binder paper in my pocket was wilting under my returning grip and I forced my hand from its pocket.
I half hoped he would find me in the crowd, walk to me. So that I didn't have to approach him.
But he didn't.
As Volterra churned out their speed guitar punk noise, I left my corner, wandered through the throng. Turning the corner that led to the bathroom I found him. Kissing some blonde girl, his hands are what I remembered over and over again later. One tangled in her hair, gripping her neck. The other cupping her breast through her sweater, the thumb skimming its peak.
He seemed ravenous, his mouth eating at her face.
And I was jealous. To my core.
My stomach turned to lead, attached to my heart, dragging it down to my feet. I started to sweat.
I didn't want him to see me. I turned slowly, hoping that I could escape notice, walking carefully as the panorama of my vision collapsed into a pinprick. I saw the room around me through broken glass, the shards splintering the view, disorienting me.
I found the exit, the glowing green light over old double doors that let out onto the street. I staggered unseeing to the payphone, putting in 35 cents before realizing it was out of order. The coins clanked into the return slot and I stood there holding the receiver, hearing nothing. Feeling everything.
I walked home, tossing the disintegrating poem in a trash can on the way.
After Christmas break I found out. Her name was Tanya. Like the ice-skater. She was from Alaska or something. She made no bones about being sexually active. Apparently she was caught by Alice giving Edward a hand-job behind shop class.
I tried not to think about that mental image.
I tried not to stare at her in the one class we shared. Humanities. I tried not to think she was a dumb sack of shit.
I tried and failed.
Edward could be seen lingering by her locker. The streak of speeding black El Camino up Jefferson Boulevard was now tainted by her fair hair, visible through the passenger window.
Sometimes, in the hallways or the cafeteria, I caught Edward, his arm slung over her shoulder, look surreptitiously at me. His eyes would stop for a mere heartbeat when they found mine before tracking on, seemingly like he hadn't seen me.
I would boldly glare right back at him. I know he felt it.
You would think that Edward getting his knob polished being public knowledge, the invisible force-field surrounding me would evaporate. But it didn't. The spring fling came and went. I danced with Angela and Alice.
I got straight A's.
I studied for the SAT's.
I blew it out of the water.
I applied to Berkeley and Stanford and Boulder. I got high under the bleachers with all my coupled friends.
Life dragged on. AP this. College prep that.
Then I did something stupid. Really stupid.
In retrospect my reasoning was just crap.
I dropped LSD at school with the gang. I'd never done acid before.
I regretted it from the first moment I realized it was too late to take it back. In second period I felt my face burst into flame. It was all I could think about. I kept seeing myself, my face red, big. Like an overinflated balloon. In third period I tripped over a desk that wasn't there. I hit the ground at an awkward angle and then endured fifty-five minutes of knowing, without a doubt, that I would never hold a pencil again.
I kept my head down. I rubbed at my hand with quivering fingers. I prayed for this feeling to just be over. I made deals with invisible gods that I would never do anything like this again if I just survived this day. I sneaked a glance around the room, my unsteady, unfocused gaze finding Edwards. Mockery was in his eyes. Humor.
The plaid of his shirt became the plaid of my world.
Of course he thought this was funny. I'm sure Jake had told him to watch out for me. I'm sure he knew that at that very moment the chair underneath me was turning to sand. If I moved I would sink.
When the bell rang I gathered my things carefully, keeping one hand on a wall as I made my way to fourth. I ended up in the girl's bathroom instead. Sequestered in a stall, cramped between the toilet and the grimy tile wall. I closed my eyes and tried not to cry. Tried to just breathe. To remind myself that my mind was playing tricks on me.
The thought of four more periods and lunch felt insurmountable. The thought of standing up, leaving this compact cave and splashing water on my face was impossible.
The bell rang, and the halls outside the bathroom slowly fell silent.
I waited five minutes, or maybe it was longer than that.
Then I began my journey to the bus stop.
I tightened the straps on my backpack, wearing it high and tight so I wouldn't lose it. I inventoried the contents. Counted my house keys numerous times. Then my own fingers. I contemplated the blood in my arteries, moving in tandem with my heart beating. I tested my legs. Used them.
I was far away from everything as I made my way through the empty corridors and out into the quad. I counted my steps, starting over constantly. It was raining by the time I got to the parking lot and held my hands out. I counted them, counted the raindrops, watched them run over my skin. Every drop seemed to wash away layers of me. Layers of self-protection, pretense, and flesh. I felt it all melting away with the water. My identity was running down my body and into the gutter. My skin was surrendering to natures will. To turn me into a non-thing.
What would be left of me when the storm ended?
Just a backpack?
I started to panic quietly. I needed someone else to see me. To say my name to me. To confirm that I was a person with a name.
I tried to remember my name, but all I could think was that my mom called me pumpkin when I was little.
Pumpkin. Guts. Seeds and stringy squash flesh. The horned stem, rough to the touch. Pumpkin.
Suddenly hands were on me, plucking me from the patch where I grew, pushing me, rolling me forward. Rolling me, rolling.
"I'm going to throw up."
I was guided to a bush where I went down hard on my knees. Pumpkins didn't have knees. I knew that. Nor had they eaten Cinnamon Toast Crunch breakfast cereal. I threw up. Violently. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, the shitty thrift-store sweater coarse against my inflamed mouth.
And then I was in the El Camino.
Sometimes you walk the line. But sometimes the line walks you. Johnny Cash was a philosopher.
Edward stopped the El Camino outside a Check-N-Go so I could throw up again. A middle eastern guy came out and yelled at us.
He took me to his house. I didn't ask why. He held my hand up the narrow stairs, wrapped his arm around my waist-holding me close as he fumbled his key into the lock. Probably to keep me from falling down the stairs.
I lay on his bed.
My skull was collapsing in on itself.
He didn't roll his eyes when I asked him if he slept with Tanya here. But he looked like he wanted to. He looked like the answer was yes.
"I just want to be normal again."
He was quiet forever before saying, "You were never normal."
"I don't understand you, Edward."
"Neither do I."
A few days later I felt like I was still coming down. I knew I wasn't, but shit kept happening at the corners of my vision. Sometimes I would be sitting perfectly still and then I would lurch right off the chair. The surge of motion seemed to originate in my chest.
Sometimes I heard a buzzing noise.
But not in the school library, where I was flipping through the pages of For Whom the Bell Tolls wondering if it was worth the points it would get me in the accelerated readers program. The prizes were lame, but what the fuck else did I have to do?
Except maybe eavesdrop.
They were at the table situated at the end of the aisle, invisible from where I stood.
"Nope. They're totally done."
"Wow. No way."
"Way. Kate told me, and seriously Lauren you have to swear not to tell anyone I told you this, because I gave Kate my word-"
"Duh. Of course."
"I guess Tanya said that she's done putting up with his Bella crap. Apparently he said her name at a very inopportune moment."
"She's pissed. I mean. Someone should have told her before she went to ho-town with him. Everyone knows he's hung up on Bella Swan. God only knows why. He should just get over it. It's so obvious she isn't interested."
That wasn't true at all.
Now, that wasn't very fair.
"I think Tanya also ditched him because he wouldn't take her to prom."
"I can't believe she expected him to. He doesn't do that kind of stuff."
"I'm sure he told her that. But I heard that Alec asked if she would go with him. I guess she's the shiny new toy - everyone wants to play with her."
"Because she puts out. Like all the way out."
"Shut up, Lauren. You put all the way out too."
"Just that once. And you better not tell anyone about that."
I tuned out after that.
I slid the book back into its spot on the shelf.
That week Edward got expelled. The news made its way through the grapevine, fracturing as gossip always does, into different accounts of the same event.
People asked me if I knew what he did. All I know is that he didn't sell drugs, didn't set off firecrackers in Mr. Banner's desk, and didn't bring a gun to school.
All those stories were just that. I think it was most likely his lit cigarette, being smoked on campus, tossed carelessly in a garbage can off the south wing science corridor. The trash went up in flames and the overhanging roof followed. The fire was out quickly, Emmett and Embry having the sense not to just stand and stare but grab a fire extinguisher off the wall and do something about it.
Go Wildcats, all the way.
The El Camino disappeared from the school parking lot. It reappeared in the parking lot of Pasqual - the adult slash remedial school where Edward had to finish the year.
It was a bright May day when I pulled the stop-cord as the bus approached Pasqual. I disembarked and found Edward's car. I hopped up and sat on the hood, reading Hemingway. Waiting.
Today the bell tolled for me. I was going to confront him.
At least - that's what I thought.
When Edward emerged from the faded hospital-green building he wasn't alone. With him was Sam Uley who'd been expelled as a freshman for one too many fights. Sam had been a small kid with a large chip on his shoulder. Now he was a big man with a lot of anger. With them was Sam's shadow, Paul, and a girl I didn't recognize. Her face was porcelain powder white and her lips were lined with the same black pencil framing her eyes. She had two piercings in each nostril and a tongue ring she played with incessantly, clacking it against her teeth to remind all of us it was there.
The group came to a stop at the back bumper of the El Camino, all of them fishing in their pockets for their smokes as Edward moved around the vehicle and came to stand in front of me. I let myself slide from my seat, planting my feet and looking up at him.
"What are you doing here?"
For some reason I recalled the boy he once was, the electric glare off his hair. It had darkened since then - as his freckles had faded. But his attitude towards me was the same. He didn't want me around.
Despite the rides, the few times we laughed together while high. Despite his rescuing me when my world was dissolving into an acid mess. Despite what I thought might have been jealousy when he intervened in Jasper's kiss. Despite the gossip of the school divas. Despite it all.
And really - what did those catty girls know? I had known Edward for ten years and things have always, ALWAYS, been cool between us. Cold even.
I should listen to my gut. And my gut was telling me to lie and get out of there.
I glanced over at the group smoking a few yards away, all of them quietly looking over at Edward and me.
I looked at my feet, saw our matching boots, shook my head.
"I was down the street."
His green eyes held disbelief.
"I saw your car on the way to the bus stop."
He flicked his lighter. I checked my watch.
I stammered out something I hoped seemed nonchalant. And went to go wait for the bus to come back around. Edward didn't even glance my way as the El Camino passed me.
Even with Edward gone - no one asked me to prom. He and I hadn't spoken since the day outside Pasqual, even though I'd run into him several times in Jake's garage. I always just got the look.
I had finally dismissed the idea that Edward had put out some kind of warning about me. I chalked up my single status to my own lack of appeal.
Part of me still wondered, though. I tried not to.
It wasn't weird to get into the limo with Jake and Rose. It wasn't weird to pick up Angela and Ben. It wasn't weird to be the only person in our car that was uncoupled. It had always been this way. Except for when my friends had also been single. At no time had I ever been escorted to a dance by an actual date.
It was just the way things were.
We went to Sukiyaki's and ate terriyaki and sushi and miso. Carefully - with napkins tucked into our décolletage. My dress was blue. Deep, heartbreakingly blue.
The prom was held out of town in the banquet hall of an Indian casino hotel. The carpet was a blur of pattern under my feet. Music and motion could be felt through the double doors of the hall, and our group pushed our way in, muffled sound turning real, hitting us with the groove as we crossed the threshold.
It felt like the last high school hoorah. I wouldn't be going to the senior picnic the following week, so after tonight it would just be graduation. Then we would scatter to our destinies.
Childhood was ending. That's what prom seemed to be about.
And we knew it. It felt that way. Everyone was friends that night. I danced with everyone. Including Lauren, and we even hugged afterwards. As if our distaste for each other was just some part we had to play. The act was over.
I danced with Mike and Eric and Jasper. Even Emmett M and Embry, Em and Em, danced into our sphere of people. Tonight was for couples, sure... but for me it was about friends. We all belonged to each other in some way. We had grown up together and tonight we were saying goodbye. To the good and the bad. It was a great sort of melancholy high. We were all awash in it.
Towards the end of the night, when the DJ was down to his final songs, Jake let Rose dance with her step-brother Riley and found me chugging water at my seat. We made our way back to the dance floor and Jake pulled me into his arms as Gwen Stefani sang "Don't Speak."
But we did. We worked our way around in little circles, me looking up into his dark smiling face and him making me laugh. He'd cut his hair, wearing it really short, which was odd. I said as much.
"I know. I think I lost my garage band cred."
"Maybe Edward will glare at you now, instead of me."
"You mean stare. And no. I don't think so."
We danced in silence for a few moments.
"He makes you leave practice so he's not distracted."
"Right Jake. Yeah. I can totally see that happening. Um, excuse me, Edward. Do you forbid me at band practice because my overwhelming beauty is just too much for you?"
The voice came from behind me. A voice I knew really well. And before I could consciously decide to face him, Jake had spun me around, abandoning me in the middle of an ill-lit dance floor. Edward glared at me from mere inches away, looking amazing in a dark suit.
I looked down at our shoes. We were both wearing boots.
At first I thought that the world had fallen still around me because my chaotic mind was blocking out the music, the energy, the chatter and laughter of my friends.
But I was wrong.
The room itself was still as the DJ switched songs. People around us stared as Edward put one hand at the small of my back, pulling my body flush to his, swaying gently before the music even started.
The sweet tang of flamenco guitar filled the room, warming it, as people reached for each other, as Toni Braxton huskily implored not to be left in pain. Not to be left in the rain.
I didn't know what to do— I couldn't keep looking at his face, so familiar, so close—so I pressed my cheek into his chest. It rumbled under my ear. I pulled away and looked up at him.
He smiled. God how he smiled. I wondered then if he was high. "I hate this song."
"I know. MTV has played it to death."
He laughed and I knew he was high.
"The end is nice though. Very climactic."
"Why are you here?"
He looked uncomfortable, one hand in his hair. "Jake. Made me."
My eyes narrowed. "Made you?"
"All my gear is locked in his garage. Has been for a week on the condition I show up here tonight."
I studied his face. He wasn't looking at me. And I decided I didn't care. I was done with this. All of this. "If you're here for Jake then why are you dancing with me?"
I didn't mean to jerk away. But that's what I did.
He just nodded to himself, his gaze hovering at the exit of the building.
"Look, Edward." I put my hands up, palms facing him. I opened my mouth but he spoke first. His eyes finally found me, Edward-eyes. Harsh.
"You know, Bella-"
Then he stopped. His face resigned.
I shook my head. "No way, not this time."
He glared. I glared.
"I don't care." I said. "I don't care anymore. I'm leaving. I'll walk, and then I'm out of here. So - if you have anything to say to me... anything I should know before I go?
He didn't look at me, didn't speak.
"Fine then. I'll say it. Not that I love you or even fucking know you. I don't. I don't know anything."
He was finally looking at me. His eyes were intense, colorless in the dim light, his mouth an angry line. I shook my head, feeling detached from the motion. From the words. From the exposé.
"No. I don't know what it is. A noose maybe, a leash. A tether."
His eyebrows, thick and expressive, furrowed at my words.
"Ownership," I decided. "Well I'm done with it. I'm done being your hostage."
His mouth fell open. Closed again.
And I turned my back on him. Right as the DJ congratulated the class of 1997. Right as my classmates erupted into cheers and applause. Jake grabbed me out of nowhere and I shrugged him off. I had to beat the tears in my eyes, had to get out of the hotel before they fell.
It took me a few minutes to find our limo in the sea of limos and the driver let me sit up front. He used his key to open the liquor locker and let me pull out a couple mini bottles of vodka. He let me cry.
"It gets better." He tried to tell me, and I looked at him. "High school sucks. For everyone."
I nodded. I drained the mini Grey Goose and he handed me a mini Belvedere.
I was about to ask him if he would get in trouble for this when there was a slam against the passenger side window. I jumped in my seat, turning to find a palm, long fingers reaching, hammering against the glass.
The door opened and Edward pulled me out of my seat. His eyes were overflowing soft panic, I could feel his fear, it cut into me.
"My hostage? Mine?" He stammered, the words sharp in my ears.
His mouth, so often stern. So often closed to me—found mine, opened. His lips were warm, gentle, and his mouth tasted faintly of smoke. I kept my eyes open. So did he. At first.
After his fell closed I still watched him. Saw it in his face as the intensity between us grew. His hands found my waist, pulled me against him. When I grasped his shoulder he broke away, sucking in air.
I felt Edward's hand at my neck, his thumb tracing my jaw. Our eyes mutually exploring. I searched his for reason, what he sought in mine I don't know.
I heard chatter coming up from the direction of the hotel, and at my attempt to see past him, he pushed me back against the side of the limo, our mouths coming back together. I closed my eyes this time. Felt the slide of his lips and tongue, the heat from his body, the breathlessness of my own lungs. And I felt his erection pressed to my stomach. I'd done that to him. The thought made me come apart inside.
"Finally," Jake said. A girl laughed. Rose.
I smiled against Edward's kiss; he pulled back, ignoring the clapping coming from the semi-circle of onlookers behind him. His eyes blazed into mine. "Ride with me?"
I nodded and he grabbed my hand, twisting at the neck to face the group. "Show's over."
I caught site of Tyler who checked his watch. "Half hour man. Don't be late."
Edward didn't respond, guiding me through the heavy June night to the El Camino. He opened my door, MY door, shutting it after I'd gathered my skirt into the vehicle. When he slid into the driver's side, he didn't start the engine, just looked at the steering wheel as I waited.
"Where do you have to be?" I finally asked.
"After-party at Bick's. We play at ten-thirty."
"Let's go then."
He fished inside the breast of his suit coat pocket, pulling out his soft pack and pressing the lighter into the dash. He ran his hand through his hair.
"You've never. I've never played for you before."
The lighter popped and he held the grill against the tip of his cigarette. Rolling down the window before pushing it back into its spot. I waited until he had a couple of drags in him before correcting him.
"Actually. You have."
When he looked at me I could tell. He had seen me that night. "Fuck. That was you. I knew it."
"You saw me?"
He nodded, the bright burn of the cigarette bobbing in the darkness. "Walking away."
His nod turned to a headshake.
"And I've heard you play in Jake's garage. Thousands of times, probably."
"Doesn't count. Neither does that night at the VFW." He turned the engine over, turning in his seat to look over his shoulder, his eyes glancing off me. "You look beautiful, by the way." He spoke to the backseat.
"Thank you." I spoke to my lap, overwhelmed. Trying to catch up, my brain muddled by his mouth and his words and the vodka soaking into my bloodstream.
I pressed my fingers to my mouth, revisiting Edward's kiss in my mind, caught him watching me and lowered my hand, clasping it with the other.
I felt like I should say something, like something needed to be clarified. But I didn't know exactly what and I didn't have the words to do it.
Bick's was a billiards room and bar off the highway outside of town. Limos clogged the parking lot when we pulled in and Edward guided the El Camino around to the back entrance.
He parked next to Jake's Dad's Suburban and got out. I followed him over to look inside the open back of the big SUV. Tyler was inside the cramped space and he handed out Edward's amp, followed by one of his cases.
Tyler looked at me, standing slightly behind Edward and chuckled. "Definitely earned your gear back."
Edward didn't respond, just turned to me. With hands full he leaned into me, kissing the corner of my mouth. I don't know who was more surprised by that small gesture, him or me. He looked bewildered.
"Go in the back. Tyler, will you get her in please?"
Everyone was inside. Not just our senior class, but also South River's. And some of last year's class that had stuck around town. I found Rose and Angela standing with Alice who was passing around a fifth of vodka. It got passed to me and I swigged discretely. I was starting to feel a little wobbly and didn't care.
The group milled around onstage setting up equipment. Edward kept his back to the crowd as he tuned his instruments. His hand kept finding the back of his neck and I could tell he was nervous. He'd taken his coat off and rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt.
I watched the tendons move in his hands, the cords of muscle flex under the skin of his forearms.
They had a new bandmate. The girl with the piercings in her face that I had seen that day at Pasqual. She was setting up a keyboard off in the corner.
He and Tyler were already on their stools when the lights went down.
Tyler spoke first. "Hey Mission High. Some night, huh?"
"Uh… yeah, so I'm Tyler. Jake is on drums. We have a new member tonight, Bree. On keyboards. And most of you probably know Edward on bass – yeah?"
We rumbled our assent.
Aside from a slow sweet melody coming from Bree, the stage was quiet. Until Tyler whispered, "That's your cue, dude."
Edward ran his fingers through his hair, reached for the mike and spoke softly into it. "I'm Edward Cullen. Most of you know me. And I think… that means most of you know Bella Swan. She's here." He chuckled derisively. "So, I'm nervous."
Someone yelled up from the floor. "I heard you finally kissed her!"
News travels fast in a small town, and apparently, Edward kissing me was news. He smiled then, eyes on his boots.
Edward's fingers started to move at the neck of his Gibson. Tyler's followed.
"Know me... broken by my master."
It was Alice In Chains. It was for me.
The last line - he had the courage to look right at me. Asking me. If he could, would I?
I nodded. Barely - but it was enough.
The song ended in his smile. It started on one side of his mouth, staying there. Then Tyler was on his feet, knocking the stool back, strumming hard on his guitar.
A few songs later and Edward was out of his dress shirt, his white wife beater tucked into his slacks, his wallet chain dangling at his hip, visible as he changed instruments. Going for the five string as Tyler sucked something out of a mug balanced on a speaker.
From where I stood, had been standing, I looked up at him. The shadows and highlights finding the flat muscles of his arms, the shallow above his collarbone, his neck. His hands. I listened as the music flowed from sources all around me, in and through my skin, finding my heart and beating it for me. Coursing through me with my pulse, with the alcohol, with something else. Some kind of victory. Some kind of triumph.
The room around me was bouncing, thrumming, shaking - as I was still.
His eyelashes swept up, his eyes falling on me immediately where I stood alone in an ocean of writhing people. He leaned in to his microphone to back up Tyler. Singing directly to me.
Again. He wasn't nervous anymore.
Tyler was still talking to the crowd as the last song of their set wound down, when Edward shed his bass, hopped down from the stage.
"There he goes." Tyler said into the mic.
People stepped back in advance of his purposeful stride, falling away from him as he cut a path straight for me. He was smiling. Like he does when he's baked. His color was high, his cheeks flushed, his mouth red. He reached for my hand and pulled me outside.
For the millionth time since his mouth touched mine I wondered, as everyone around us cheered, just how blind I must've been - if all these people have known about me and Edward this whole time. How did I not know?
It was in that moment I realized that I needed to banish my timidity. That questions which hovered in my mind must be asked. That I shouldn't be afraid of words hanging between us. I should be more afraid of them not.
"Edward?" I was talking to his back. He stopped and turned. I tilted my face towards the sparkle of stars over our heads. Then back to him. "I don't understand us. What happened here?"
The ever-present Camel made its appearance. "Look, Bella. I thought you knew. Everyone always told me how obvious I was."
"Knew - what exactly? You were never. Not EVER... obvious... to me."
"So. What then? You need me to say it? Make some kind of declaration?"
"Jake never told you?"
"Why should Jake have to tell me?"
"Even now, we're dancing around this thing. Why can't we just talk to each other?"
He was very quiet. "I lose my voice. Around you." He shrugged like it was no big deal, took a breath. "I never knew what to say. I tried. A couple of times. But. You never seemed …"
I knew exactly what he meant. Exactly.
The wind was in his sails, though, and he kept on. "And then you went out with that new guy. I really thought you were trying to tell me to back off."
I laughed. "Back off?"
"I'm in love with you." A stunned expression froze his face.
"Apparently I'm the last to know."
He flicked his lighter, sparking the end of his cigarette ablaze before meeting my eyes. "See. It's comments like that that make me think this is just a joke to you. It isn't a joke to me."
We stood silently for a moment.
"Kiss me again."
I spent a lot of time stretched on Edward's bed, my hands learning the shapes of him, frantically committing the contours of his lust to my memory. What we felt like tangled together, the flavor of his heat, as his mouth pursued mine, my neck, my ears, my shoulders. His fingers would skim the straps of my bra, trail down my waist, kneed my ass, pulling me against the flare at his crotch, grinding it into the inferno between my legs.
He growled. At the back of his throat. Like an animal.
When his hands idled at the buttons of my jeans and I pushed his hands away, his face was more earnest than I'd ever seen it. He looked down at me saying, "Not sex. I don't mean sex."
He said he just wanted to give me pleasure. It didn't sound corny. Not the way he said it, with his eyes blazing with need and his fingers shaking, his breath coming in uneven lungfuls.
He was electric, his touch scorched me, his need scarred me. When I stood, stepping back from the bed on wobbling knees, watching as he palmed his fly, pressing it, gently adjusting, his mouth swollen and his hair standing straight up - I finally saw the glare for what it was. What it might have always been. Pure intent. As I backed away from the bed, away from him, I could see it in his face. His intensity, his fantasies, his open admission of the pain I was giving him.
And he would roll face down into his pillow as I hurried from the small apartment.
The day before I was scheduled to leave I mustered up my courage and told my mom that I wanted to spend my last night with Edward. She agreed. I think she thought I had slept with him a long time ago.
Phil kept his mouth shut as I left.
That night I was cruel. I worked Edward up mercilessly, pulling him against me with my legs, skimming his erection with my face, biting at his kisses. I infused every kiss with all I had for him. All my seething frustration and boiling need. My years of quiet fascination, of love. It was all there, in every touch. I burned for him, felt the hollows within me fill and overflow, I breathed my passion into him, he exhaled his into me.
When my normal departure time came, when I pulled back from him, going to my knees on the bed and then slowly to my feet, he couldn't even open his eyes. He lay there breathing, as I stood unable to breathe.
Though the room was dim, he covered his eyes with his forearm. His voice was very small. "Please."
With trembling fingers, I pulled my shirt over my head. I slid my jeans off. I stood there in my nicest white lace, and my boots - the ones that matched his - waiting.
I didn't say anything, and he moved his arm.
"Fuck," he said.
And that's what we did.
I haven't seen a black El Camino in over two years.
I press the letter between the pages of The Bell Jar and put it back into my pack, shoving it against the rumpled uniform from my brunch shift at The Buff. Then I look back at the El Camino. I can't seem to take my eyes from it, not as the bus comes level again, the wheelchair passenger having been buckled securely in.
I watch it as we roll away, dreading the moment the bus rounds a corner and I lose sight of it.
I feel like that moment, the moment when the El Camino disappears, that will be my true good-bye. Not the shitty letter in my backpack.
Not that I would post it anyway.
I think I'm writing it more for myself. So I can stop seeing his penny hair tease me from the heads of strangers. So I can stop going nostalgic when I catch a whiff of someone's Old Spice.
It's goodbye. I'd wanted to say it over the phone... but when I tried to call last week on Christmas, his number was disconnected.
I put my headphones on and pull my book back out. But I don't open it.
What if I never go back to Washington? What if I graduate and stay here, or go somewhere else. What if I never see him again?
Sometimes when I look up from studying, when I look down on the sidewalk below my apartment, I can imagine Edward crossing the street. I've imagined I've heard the growl of the El Camino a million times.
He told me he would follow me to Boulder. That I should give six months and he would come.
I used to tell myself it's hard to get out of Washington, hard to get out of that crappy town where we grew up. Hard to make it 1500 miles.
We used to talk on the phone. But between school, studying, my shifts at the diner - and his schedule. Whatever it is. The phone calls tapered off. Last I heard from him was on my birthday. That was three months ago.
These days I try not to think about it.
Four states separate me from him, and still no one asks me out. I decided that it must have been my doing the whole time. People sense it on me - that I'm not available. That my heart isn't here. It's back there. In Washington. With him.
It hurts. In my chest.
I watch the snow draped streets slowly drift by, the white glare making my eyes hurt, but I can't look away. Can't turn my head. I don't want whoever just sat next to me to see my eyes brimming. Or ask me about it. Or talk to me at all.
I take a deep breath and try to be sly about wiping the tear that just ran over my cheek, pretending to adjust my sunglasses. I make ready to open up my book, make it clear I'm not a potential conversationalist.
"You saw my car - didn't you?"
He looks older. His hair is short. His eyes seem darker than I remembered. Almost grey in their pungent, penetrating greenness.
"God. You're beautiful." He didn't need to say it. But I'm glad he did.
"Sorry it took me so long."
I shake my head, not knowing what to say. Not knowing what to do, but hoping I don't cry. It feels like I might.
And then he leans in and kisses me.