A/N: Welcome to my new story! This one has been fully planned out through all the angst to the happily-ever-after I promise will happen at the end.
Please feel free to drop me a line with any comments, concerns, predictions, etc.
This is unbeta'd for now though I hope someone will step up to the plate.
***Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I'm just playing dress up***
My name is Isabella Marie Swan. I was born in a small town called Forks in the state of Washington, but for a long time my home has been Toronto, Canada. When my mother had enough of small town America, we left my father and spent the next few years travelling the continent for our home. After living three years in Phoenix, two years in Jacksonville, four years in Raleigh and one short stint in Manhattan, we managed to finally put down roots in Etobicoke, the western suburb of Toronto.
By the time I graduated high school and began university, my father had become seriously ill with prostate cancer. He died within weeks of the diagnosis, leaving me a rather large inheritance from his life insurance. Charlie Swan was the Chief of Police in Forks and a good man. I regret that we were never able to have a closer relationship, but it simply wasn't possible with my harebrained mother dragging me all across North America through much of my childhood.
Renee Dwyer is my mother. She recently married the coach for the Toronto Blue Jays named Phil Dwyer and together they bought a beautiful house in Rosedale, the richest area of Toronto. Phil travels a lot for away games and sometimes Renee goes with him, leaving me to babysit their house. I don't mind; my small condo in Downtown Toronto sometimes feels claustrophobic, so the change is usually welcome.
I attended University of Toronto studying anthropology and then did a Master's degree in social work. My best friend is Alice Brandon, a short little pixie with boundless energy. We met in high school and were inseparable ever since. Alice is currently working on her PhD at UofT in women's studies, focusing on feminism in the fashion industry. She has been dating Jasper Whitlock as long as I've known her.
I have been working at Mind's Eye Employment Centre for two years now as a counselor for unemployed people. It's my job to help those with difficulties maintaining regular employment to get back on track and become self-supportive in whatever capacity I can. Some days are really long and stressful, but overall the work is very rewarding. I'm especially happy when I have a break through with one of my clients to help them succeed in life. I also spend a few hours every week volunteering at the Toronto Humane Society and on holidays I help out at the Toronto Downtown Mission serving hot meals.
My other good friend is Rosalie Hale, who also works at the centre. She's tall and beautiful with legs that never seem to end and an attitude that can make a man's testicles shrink to the size of raisins. She is a feminist and self-proclaimed lesbian, but I know Rose also has interest in men. She's just very picky and usually frightens them away before they ever have a chance.
Alice and Rose get along swimmingly, and it's not uncommon for the three of us to spend a lot of our free time together. Jasper learned quickly that Rose is not someone to contend with, so he's happy enough to let us have our girlie time together. Not that Rose and Jasper don't get along, but Rose's general hostility to anything with a penis tends to make him feel uncomfortable around her. I don't blame him one bit. If I had a penis, Rose would frighten the ever loving shit out of me.
As for my love life, well, that's a depressing story. I grew up with very little interest in dating, mostly due to my complex about our frequent moving, but also because very few men ever caught my eye. Even as a teenager my mother would tell me I had the soul of an old lady. This translated to very little patience for the immature antics of the less delicate sex. Don't get me wrong, I am as straight as they get (despite Rose's efforts). I'm just rarely inspired to jump into anything beyond two or three dates with the same person.
So that's me in a nutshell. I work hard, I have the two best friends anyone could ask for, and I'm perpetually single. It's a quiet life but I enjoy it. I don't expect this to last forever – I'm only twenty seven years old and there are plenty of things I still want to do, but for now this suits me.
"Bella, what are you up to?" Rachel asked as she waltzed into my small, windowless, drab office. I turn away from my computer to look at her.
"Just finishing up some exit reports for the meeting tomorrow. What's up?"
She had a mischievous glint in her eyes that I didn't trust one bit. "Aside from trying to get you to come out with Will and I this weekend, there's an emergency meeting in twenty minutes and the big boss wants you there."
I flinched, thinking about how Rachel was always trying to set me up with her brother. "Okay, tell Leah I'll be there," I said, turning back to my work. I heard Rachel's disgruntled sigh and was grateful when I heard my office door close behind her. The last thing I wanted was to be harassed about being single yet again.
I finished up some comments on my most recent client – a recent university graduate with a severe physical disability – and made my way to the boardroom with notebook in hand. I had no idea what this meeting could be about and my interest was piqued.
I sat down in an uncomfortable plastic chair next to Rose, who was on the phone arguing with her on-again-off-again girlfriend, Tanya. They were always fighting about something. Frankly I'd be surprised if they were being all gushy and lovey. They seemed to have a love/hate relationship and I wondered for the hundredth time why Rose even bothered. Tanya was not the nicest person I'd ever met and that's putting it mildly.
Rose hung up the phone and within seconds Leah was in the room. Everyone hushed in the presence of our Managing Director.
"Okay everyone, listen up. I know you're all very busy so I'll make this quick. Someone with more power and fewer brain cells than anyone here has decreed we need to send two people to the Non-Profit Conference in Los Angeles next week." The room buzzed with excitement. "Before anyone gets too enthusiastic, I've already chosen who's attending. Congratulations to Bella and Victoria, assuming you're up for a free weekend in LA," Leah said as she glanced at us. I was not thrilled at the idea of spending time with Victoria but a vacation sounded nice.
"Sure," I said in a small voice. "What are the dates?"
Leah smiled and pointed at Rose. "I'll have Miss Hale reschedule your appointments and provide you with the itinerary and flight information. I expect a report from both of you when you return," she said sternly.
After meeting with two more clients and googling the conference, Rosalie and I headed out to the subway station together. Before we parted ways, she handed me the information package for the conference and gave me a tight hug.
"We're still on for Woody's tomorrow, right?" She asked.
I nodded. "I can't miss my weekly fill of Rose versus Tanya," I replied in a snarky tone.
Rose gave me a stern glare before breaking out into a goofy grin and waving goodbye as she walked down to the westbound platform of Dufferin Station.
I barely had the front door locked behind me when my phone rang – the bright, bubble gum "Barbie Girl" indicated to me that Alice was the one calling.
"Hello?" I said, balancing the phone between my ear and shoulder as I shrugged out of my jacket.
"Belllllllla!" Alice trilled loudly, "Rosie told me about L.A! That's so awesome. You have plenty of outfits for this trip, right?"
I rolled my eyes, grateful she couldn't see me. "Of course I do. But this is a pretty low key shindig. It's gonna be mostly work stuff."
"Don't roll your eyes at me!" Dammit, how did she know? "The days might be work, but you'll have the evenings off right? Lots of opportunities for dinner and dancing. Oooh, maybe you'll meet a movie star and fall madly in love! But if you see Gerard Butler, hands off – he's mine."
"Alice, if I meet Gerard Butler I can guarantee you I won't be going home with him or anyone else in his general vicinity. I'm not going on this trip to meet anyone, especially movie stars. I'll probably be too exhausted after the day's events to think about anything besides room service and a hot bath."
That was clearly not the right thing to say. "Isabella Marie Swan! Don't make me get on that plane with you and drag you out for at least one night of frivolous fun. You know I'll do it," she warned.
I chuckled before replying, "I would never bet against you."
"Good! Now we'll discuss this further at Woody's tomorrow. For now I've gotta get dinner in the oven. See ya tomorrow!" She sang and hung up before I could respond. That's very typical of Alice.
It wasn't the first or even fiftieth time I've wondered why our usual hang out is the biggest gay bar in Toronto. On Friday and Saturday nights Woody's was packed to the brim, meaning we had to arrive early to secure a table. I also wondered about my compulsion for being on time when every single one of my friends is always late. That left me stuck alone at our usual table as a range of lesbians tried to pick me up. It never made me uncomfortable because it was women. I've just always wondered what others see in me, and at this place I get hit on by more women than I would by men at a predominantly straight bar.
"There you are!" Rosalie trilled as she danced over to the table. Taking a seat next to me, she gestured for the waitress. "I'll have a Heine, and my friend here will take her usual boring vodka with cran," she ordered, looking at me playfully.
After Rose placed our order, she scanned the bar taking in all the familiar and new faces to this week's party night. I knew she was trying to hone in on a target for the night – Rose loved the young, innocent looking girls. I knew this because she tried to get with me when we first met albeit unsuccessfully.
"Where's Tanya?" I asked casually. Rose's scowl told me all I needed to know.
"I don't give a flying fuck," she snapped. "That girl is so not worth my time right now."
I tried not to smile and instead took a sip of my drink. "What happened this time?"
Rose shrugged her shoulders and replied, "Bitch stole my favourite fluvogs, the high cut red ones. I had to practically break down her door to get them back. You know she had the nerve to play innocent? Like those fucking boots walked themselves over to her apartment without my knowledge!"
I shook my head in mock horror and wondered where Alice could possibly be. And speak of the devil…
"Bella! Rosie! I'm so glad to see you guys. What an awful week," she complained as she slumped down in her chair next to Rose. "This comps year is killing me. Do you know how many books I've had to read about women's plight in the Malaysian garment industry? And don't get me started on Marxist feminism – I'm absolutely done with it. Why do they insist on shoving his ideas down our throats?"
I had to smile. Alice's enthusiasm, even when upset, has always been a source of amusement for me, except when she directed it towards me.
"Well, nevermind all that. What are we drinking tonight?" She asked, motioning for the waitress.
I looked down at my drink. "Same as usual for me, please. And I think Rose is in the mood for beer."
Alice winked at me before saying, "Three pina coladas, por favor. And three Sicilian kisses!"
I groaned. "Alice, are you trying to kill me? You know what that shit does to me," I whined.
Her grin grew astronomically. "Exactly. I need you good and drunk before you agree to go shopping for your big trip to L.A. When do you leave?"
I crossed my arms over my chest like a little kid and huffed, "I'm gone Wednesday til Sunday, and I am not going shopping. I already told you this trip is gonna be more work and less play. I have a full complement of business attire thanks to your past scheming."
Alice rolled her eyes and greedily drank down her cocktail. For a moment I was able to look around and take in our surroundings. The bar was getting increasingly crowded by the minute. Very soon the booths and tables were occupied and people were already on the dance floor, which boasted colourful spotlights and a giant disco ball. I watched with amusement as the regular crowd of drag queens and cross dressers gyrated their hips and bounced around in their three inch stilettos. I never understood how they could walk in those things let alone dance.
"Bella! Are you listening to me?" Alice said as she snapped her fingers in front of my face. Blushing, I realized I'd completely zoned out.
Alice again rolled her eyes. "I said, what's your itinerary like? Do they even give you one day off?"
"Oh, yeah. Well I get there on Wednesday and the actual conference is Thursday and Friday. On Saturday there's some social thing and then I come back on Sunday. It's pretty tightly packed," I replied, hoping she would give up on the idea of shopping.
Suddenly and without warning, Rose growled. Yes, she actually made an animal noise. "What the fuck is she doing here?!"
"Who?" Alice and I said at the same time.
Rose pointed toward the bar. "Tanya fucking Denali, that's who. I'm gonna put that bitch in her place," Rose said angrily as she jumped out of her seat and stormed to the bar.
"This should be good," Alice whispered. I couldn't help but giggle.
We watched in silence as Rosalie Hale, the scariest woman I know, sauntered over to the bar and tapped on Tanya's shoulder roughly. Tanya turned around and sputtered, obviously surprised to see Rose. We couldn't hear the words being said but their conversation was definitely heated. Rose's arms waved angrily and Tanya's face turned red with rage. They shouted back and forth for a few minutes, riling each other up, then all of a sudden I blinked and they were making out like teenagers.
"Well that might just be a record," Alice mused. I had to agree with her.
The rest of the evening was quieter. Rose never returned to our table, instead opting to leave early with Tanya. Alice didn't try to order me any more outlandish drinks, and after a few more of my conservative concoctions we danced for a bit. I laughed as the most flamboyant drag queen tried to grind with me on the dance floor, to a remix of Friends in Low Places and Cotton Eye Joe, but soon gave up once they realized how uncoordinated I am. I was grateful for a fun night out with Alice but still very happy to go home for the night.
I was granted the day off work on Tuesday to allow myself time to prepare for the weekend. On Monday, Leah had met with Victoria and I about what was expected of us at this conference…
"Just sign in and don't embarrass us. I don't even care if you skip some of the less interesting workshops. Just make sure you have some kind of report ready for the next staff meeting about something relevant," she stated.
I couldn't help but giggle. "Gee, Miss Clearwater, why don't you tell us how you really feel?" I said sarcastically. Leah rolled her eyes.
"Since you asked, I'll tell you. I think this is a giant waste of time and resources. The only reason I didn't fight it is because your expenses are being paid by the Board of Governors and not from our meager budget. Trust me, if we had to shell out the dough, you'd both be staying here for the weekend. But, since it's out of my hands, I want you both to take this opportunity to enjoy yourselves. And learn one or two things, please, so I can submit something to the dumbasses upstairs to make them happy."
So I sat on my queen sized bed in my small one bedroom condo, my suitcase wide open and empty.
Maybe I should have let Alice taken me shopping after all.
I got angry at myself for that thought and rifled through my tightly packed closet for appropriate outfits. Once I started, the process was easy. I even added my rarely-used favourite cocktail dress and matching pumps just in case.
After my suitcase was mostly full – minus toiletries and makeup I would use in the morning – I laid down on my bed and stared at the ceiling. I hadn't been out of Ontario for a very long time, and on vacation for even longer. I don't count going to Alice's family cottage on Lake Kennessis, near Algonquin Park, as a real vacation. Especially when she spent most of the time spraying herself with bug spray and hiding inside. I think I spent more time that weekend bonding with Jasper than I did with Alice.
Sure I've had long weekends up north, a couple of visits to Ottawa, and a particular grueling two days in Windsor, but a real vacation was just what I needed. As I drifted off to sleep, I vowed to myself I would book an exotic and extravagant holiday when I returned from LA.
When my alarm went off on Wednesday morning, I crawled out of bed, started a pot of fair trade Mexican roast, and jumped in the shower. This was my routine every morning and it never failed to invigorate me for the day: shower, coffee & newspaper, get dressed, pick up breakfast on the way to work. Except today I would be buying my morning meal at the airport instead.
The hot water felt good as it relaxed the tension in my shoulders and back. I've never been very good with flying so I'd been edgy since Leah told us about this trip. I'm not terrible about being in an enclosed metal tube with dozens of other people, soaring at ungodly speeds with only two inches of glass keeping me from being sucked out into the sky, but it's never been one of my favourite things to do. I've always been more excited for the destination than the trip itself.
That's why I only made half a pot of coffee this morning, which I swallowed greedily as I read the headlines in the Toronto Star. Gunfight in Rexdale leaves four dead. Mayor threatens to cancel Pride Celebration over proposed Hanlan's Point float. Gas prices soar in new financial crisis.
I shook my head sadly, wondering why I bothered keeping up with the news. There was never anything happy or promising to read anymore.
I was pulled out of my reverie when the buzzer sounded, indicating Alice had arrived to drive me to the airport. I hastily threw the remaining coffee in a travel mug, finished packing my suitcase, and made it to the lobby of my building in record time to find Alice standing by her car, arms crossed, tapping her foot impatiently. She hates to be kept waiting.
Giving her my best sheepish smile I said, "Sorry Alice!"
She frowned before returning my grin. "I know, I know. Come on, let's get you to the airport. I have a million things to do today that don't include waiting around for my best friend."
To say that Lester B. Pearson International Airport was busy would be an understatement. It felt more like the New York Stock Exchange during trading hours, though I had never seen it in person. There were groups of people and individuals carrying bags and suitcases around, some families, a few couples, and lots of single people. It was noisy and chaotic, but for some reason I loved it.
I loved watching as old friends hugged farewell, as parents ushered their children along, as young women struggled with too many suitcases, and as people scurried around afraid to miss their flights. I especially loved the amount of ethnic diversity in the crowd of people and was grateful, once again, to live in such an open and free society.
Alice stood beside me dutifully as I waited in the long line to check in. Once my luggage was taken down the moving conveyer belt, she decided it was time to leave. She gave me a quick hug and peck on the cheek before dancing back to her car. I quickly made my way to the Tim Horton's in the food court area, needing my morning meal before the flight. I glanced at my phone and realized I still had nearly two hours before my plane boarded, so I slowed my pace and enjoyed the atmosphere around me.
After retrieving my usual breakfast of bagel & cream cheese, I sat at a metal table and watched my surroundings as I ate. Have I mentioned I'm an avid people watcher? It's one of my favourite hobbies. My other favourite hobby is reading, which I realized I would likely need to do on a plane where I couldn't very well look around me without seeming creepy. Once I finished my breakfast, I headed over to Chapter's to find something to pique my interest.
The first section I always check is where the Nicholas Sparks books are housed – yes I know, it's cheesy, but I'm a sucker for a sappy romance story. Seeing nothing new, I decided to head for the culture & community section, hoping to find a decent ethnography I hadn't read before. I was debating between a life history of a Korean shaman and a biography of a first nations chief when I was thrown off balance by something hard knocking into me.
"I'm so sorry, miss," said a beautiful, melodic voice. A pair of strong hands reached down to help me up off the floor and for a moment I was mesmerized by the long fingers attached to my own as I was lifted up. I was so entranced I barely noticed the electric current buzzing on my skin from his touch. Almost.
"Are you okay? I should have watched where I was going. I'm so sorry," he said again.
I finally tore my eyes away from his beautiful hands and gazed into the face of an angel. Seriously. He was pale, though not as much as me, and tall. Really frickin' tall. He had a square jawline that framed a perfectly symmetrical face with high cheekbones, thick eyebrows, and absolutely striking green eyes. His only imperfection was a slightly crooked nose that I barely noticed over his perfectly formed lips and light dusting of facial stubble.
I recognized him right away. "Are… are you… Robert Pattinson?" I stuttered out.
His laugh showed a row of perfect white teeth and his adam's apple bobbed deliciously. "No, I'm afraid not. But I get that a lot. Name's Edward." He flashed me a heartwarming grin where one side of his mouth raised slightly higher than the other. Somehow, on him, it was perfect. Just like everything else about him. His grin widened as he watched me ogle him. He broke my gaze by reaching down to the floor, and my heart started thudding in my chest as I imagined what he could possibly be doing.
"I'm sorry again. Here," he said as he handed me the books I'd been contemplating not thirty seconds ago. I reached out and took them from him, my hand accidentally brushing his fingers. There was that electricity again. I snatched my books back quickly as his hand retreated just as speedily.
Did he feel it too?
I could almost hear Alice's voice telling me to grow a set and say something.
"Um… thanks." Wow. An Oscar winning performance.
"No problem," he said as he flashes me another crooked smile. "Do you fancy a cup of joe?" For the first time I noticed his unusual accent.
"Sure," I said as I checked my watch. I still had plenty of time. "Let me just pay for these…" I said as I looked at my books. Oh fuck it, I'll get them both.
After making my purchase I followed Edward back toward the Tim Horton's I had just visited. The lineup was long and I didn't really relish the idea of standing there. Edward seemed to read my mind.
"Why don't you go sit down and I'll get us some drinks?"
I turned to him and said, "You don't have to do that. I can buy my own."
He smiled and shook his head. "After I nearly killed you back there, you should sit and rest. It's the least I can do," he said, gesturing toward Timmie's.
"Okay…" I said hesitantly, searching his beautiful eyes for a trace of doubt. There was nothing there but amusement. "I'll have a small iced latte, please." Edward nodded and gestured toward the metal tables. I found us an empty one and placed my bags on the ground beside me as I sat facing toward him. Part of me was afraid he was just a mirage I dreamed up in some kind of stupor. Nobody can be that beautiful, I thought to myself.
It wasn't long before he joined me. "You know, I realized I don't even know your name."
I blushed furiously, feeling like a complete idiot. "I'm Bella Swan," I said, shakily extending my hand toward him. He grabbed it and shook it furiously. Yep, the electricity passing between our skin was still there.
"Nice to meet you, Bella Swan. I'm Edward Cullen."
I took a long sip of my drink to buy some time so I could formulate rational thoughts. "Where are you from?"
"Australia. You ever been?" I shook my head no. "Ah, you'd love it I think. Most people do. It's beautiful and friendly," he said wistfully.
Finally garnering enough courage, I asked, "Which part?"
He smiled at me before responding, "Maroochydore. It's a large town about three hours north of Brisbane, on the Sunshine Coast. Great surfing," he said as he winked at me.
I felt the blush rise to my cheeks as I pictured this beautiful man shirtless with board shorts hanging low on his hips…
"What about you Bella? Where are you from?" He asked before taking a huge gulp of his coffee.
"Oh, um, Washington originally. But Toronto's been my home for a long time now. It's not as glamourous as Australia, but I love it here anyway," I babbled.
"And what do you do here in Toronto?" He asked.
"I'm a social worker at a non-profit organization. We help people who fall through the cracks in the system get back on track with things. With their lives, I mean," I fumbled. "What do you do?"
He nodded as if he was contemplating something before he responded. "I'm a chef. I run my own catering business in the great Down Under. It's not as noble as your work, but it pays the bills." He gave me another lopsided grin that had me moist in the panties.
"And what brought you to Toronto?"
He shrugged. "It's actually just a stopover. I had a wedding in Montreal and now I'm on my way back home. It's too bad," he said as he looked toward the large windows across the terminal. "If Toronto is as nice as you say then I should have made a point of leaving the airport."
My jaw dropped. "You didn't spend any time here?"
He smiled and shook his head. "Don't give me that look, pretty girl. Until just now I didn't know I'd be missing anything. Besides, I'm not much of a big city boy and I had my fill in Montreal."
Did he just call me pretty? Cue swooning…
His bright green eyes grew a shade darker as he seemingly stared right into my soul. "But maybe I'll have to plan another trip in the future, with you as my tour guide." Before I could untangle my tongue and respond, he checked his watch. "My flight's booked to leave in a half hour. Where are you headed today?"
I smiled politely, still reeling from his charm. "I'm off to Los Angeles for a conference."
"Flight 72?" He asked.
I frowned. "How did you know?"
He chuckled lightly. "That's mine too. Gotta catch a connecting flight in LA, then another in Hawaii, and yet another in Sydney. It's a long trip to get home. But anyway, we should get to the boarding gate to make sure they don't leave without us," he said as he stood and stretched. His pale blue button down short sleeved shirt rose up as he did so, giving me a very fine view of his muscled lower torso. I'm pretty sure I started drooling before his laugh interrupted me.
"Come on then, peeping Sheila," he said as he reached out his hand to help me up. I swearthe blush on my face was going to be permanent.
I silently gathered my belongings and took his hand, again feeling that delicious spark that began at my hand, traced through my heart and made its home in my panties. When he dropped my hand I felt empty at the loss of contact, but I couldn't very well hold hands with a near stranger. Could I?
When we arrived at the gate I noticed the plane was already boarding. We got in line and waited for our turn, each of us handing over our boarding passes to the very attractive flight attendant. I noticed with ire that her smile widened for Edward and her chest puffed out a bit too. I fought back the irrational jealousy that swarmed over my heart at the thought of him responding to her.
What the fuck? I just met him. I have no claim over him. Calm the fuck down!
We walked down the long corridor silently side by side. I have no idea what was going through his head but mine was full of anxiety – both for the flight I was dreading and the thought of leaving him. Nobody had ever elicited such a strong reaction from me before and I wanted to cherish it. As we stepped onto the plane and yet another flirty flight attendant pointed us to our seats, Edward turned to me.
"It was great meeting you, Bella Swan. Enjoy your flight," he said, his eyes darting between mine.
I gave him the biggest smile I could muster. "Thanks Edward Cullen. You too."
Wow. I mentally chided myself for being so uninventive with words.
We walked to our separate seats – him in business class, me in economy, and I'd never felt so morose in my life. Well, not that I could remember anyway. I stowed my carry-on in the overhead compartment, minus my two new books, and sighed as I crawled over an elderly lady to my window seat. I stared out the window, trying to fight the tears threatening at the corners of my eyes.
Quit being such a wimp. You don't know him, he doesn't know you, and there's no reason to cry.