Final chapter – we're finally here. Thank you to Nutty Ginger and Planet Blue – it's been a great journey, these gals are wonderful and I've learnt so much.
"No way in hell am I wearing this-" I brush back the wet hair from my eyes. I hold up the faded baby blue 'Wham!' t-shirt with one finger as Bella adds fuzzy purple socks to her outfit of a black skirt and pink Powerpuff girls t-shirt.
"Beggars can't be choosers," Bella says, drying the strands at the bottom of her hair then throwing the damp towel on the bed next to me.
"Please tell me this isn't your ex's." I say scornfully, throwing the t-shirt over my head and following her out of the bedroom. I stare down at the Crayola faces of the 80's boyband with with disdain.
See 'Wham!', I can do if nobody with a beating heart - aside from Bella and the roomie - sees me, but I draw the line at wearing her boyfriends old clothes. It's as bad as having the guy piss on my collar.
"No, macho boy. It's my Dads," Bella says as she jogs down the stairs and I follow her. "It's been mine since I stole it from his cupboard when I was 14, along with his judge's wig and Timberland work boots. Wear it. It's the only thing that'll fit." Bella raises an eyebrow as she enters the kitchen and makes her way behind the table facing me, her short black skirt swaying. "Unless you want to walk around half naked all day." She clenches the t-shirt at my chest, drags me closer and then whispers in my ear. "Which I wouldn't protest to, by the way."
How can this girl make a single sentence sound so damn sexy?
I grin down at her and put my hands on her hips pulling her closer. "I'm game if you're game," I drawl.
She looks up at me alluringly from beneath dark eye lashes. I bend my head, to meet her. Bella strains onto her tiptoes as her lips brush mine, and someone clears their throat.
"Hi," Alice says pushing her glasses up her nose from the living room.
It's strange, how you can start to understand a person by being in their company for an extended period of time. How someone can say so much and not really reveal anything at all. Being stuck with a person for so many hours; it's in the conversation, the everyday habits. The touches, the tenderness – the type of philosophy they choose to live their life by is there in all of it.
I find that I no longer have the best poker face in the room. Our card games prove that Bella is even better than me. She's a sore loser though, so much so that I have to grab her and throw her over my shoulder just to stop the ranting. She's easy to carry, but she's a feisty little fighter too.
Of course she is.
Her DVD collection tells me she has a thing for gritty drama, and for someone so retro, her taste in music is fucking cheesy. Bella has amazing trivia knowledge, though, she doesn't brush her hair after a shower – in fact I'm not sure she brushes it ever.
This girl drinks so much caffeine, Bella's pretty much bouncing off the walls, over me… on me – which I'm not going to protest to. She doesn't wear shoes indoors, and has a silver chunky ring collection with B.M.S engraved on all of them – because she's afraid she'll lose them. M stands for Marie, although she tells people that it stands for Madonna just because she can.
She doesn't quite understand the idea of personal space. Bella will brush my hair back or pick an eyelash from my cheek and come and sit in my lap when I'm on that important paragraph in my article. Then when I'm just about getting into having her wiggle about on me, she frustrates me by suddenly wondering off with something completely different on her mind.
She teases - she teases non-stop - whether it be that flash of her thigh, a small insight into her life that leaves me wanting more, or the way she shimmies and glides across the kitchen floor like she's dancing on cloud, whilst quoting masters long gone. Bella might say it's to calm her nerves, but secretly I don't think she's as paranoid as she says she is. As the crisp afternoon turns into dusky evening, I begin to wonder if it's something she's been labelled with because she doesn't fit into the mould like everyone else.
Who wants to be like everyone else anyway?
Oh, and she gets really grouchy when she's hungry.
Clanging of cupboard doors add to the noise of BBC live news streaming from the living room, as Bella moves about behind me.
"I'm hungry, theres no food in the house." Bella berates, slamming the drawer closed. "I need a pizza. Something. Or I'll die." She's so melodramatic.
She probably really believes it.
"I ate the pizza in the freezer. " Alice admits from the living room. "Sorry."
"I'm going out," Bella says.
We both look at her.
"We're in lockdown." Alice looks shocked.
"You shouldn't go out," I say.
"Watch me," Bella stomps out of the kitchen, she grabs a jacket and then pauses to look at me, tilting her head. "Or join me."
"Do you really think anyone would be silly enough to open up in a lockdown like this?"
"You're silly." Bella points out. "Now is the best time to open up, plus Mr. Patel's is never closed. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, come hell or high water. No dumbass serial murderer is going to put him off getting those shutters up and keeping them there."
I look at Alice doubtfully, who nods in agreement. "She's right. Mr Patel never takes a break. Ever."
As much as I want to stay in the warm, cozy house and submit my article in time for the pending deadline, I don't want Bella to go out there alone, so I shrug on my jacket and hold open the kitchen door, motioning for Bella to walk out before me.
She tries to hide her pleased smile at my gentlemanly gesture as walks out into the hallway.
"I want donuts!" Alice demands from her place on the sofa as we exit the house.
The bitter wind bites at my cheeks as we trudge further down steep hill and, sure enough, there are only two signs of life. One is a brightly lit off-license shop at the bottom of the hill beckoning us like a celestial saviour, and the other is Bella's neighbour Jess, smoking on her garden wall in her orange night-robe. Jess taps my behind as I walk past, and Bella giggles whilst I pretend not to notice.
After Bella has a long heart to heart with Mr. Patel, we stock up with bread, milk, frozen groceries, three jars of Nestle instant coffee and five raspberry glazed donuts. As we're about to walk out, Bella rushes back in and purchases tub of Cornish vanilla ice cream.
I raise an eyebrow.
"What? Who knows how long we're going to be in lockdown for."
"Just when I think you're going to do the average thing and simply walk back home with a bunch of boring groceries."
"Newsflash – I am walking home with a bunch of boring groceries."
"And a fetching young hunk by your side."
"Aren't I lucky?" Bella grins, pulling out a donut and taking a bite as we climb up the deserted hill. The sun is starting to set right in front of us, a disc of vivid tangerine on a bed of rose and coal. If I wasn't looking so hard at the girl by my side, I would be entranced. "Also if you want average, Cullen," Bella says. "You better go knock on someone else's door."
"And forfeit the pleasure of your company?" I tut. "No way."
I watch as her tongue sneaks out to lick the glaze from her lips, unblinking. She looks relaxed and at ease. "I have a question. How anxious are you feeling?"
"Right now?" She doesn't look surprised that I asked. Truth is, I'm curious to know how her paranoia compares to what she claims she's feeling. I want to know if she adds up. Or if she doesn't. I want to know it all.
"Give me a number from 1 to 10."
"I'm eating donuts, and I'm with you. I'm feeling pretty… average." She grins devilishly, using my words from before. "I'd say a 5."
"Hm, yet you were you planning to go the grocery shop alone, at the risk of a serial stalker on the loose and being shot down by the SAS?"
"No," she shrugs. "I was hoping you'd say yes."
"And what if I hadn't?" I challenge.
"I know you would have."
Again, she's right. Of course, I would have. It's not because I was under any obligation, it's not usually difficult for me to say no or turn away, but today I won't. I can't.
"You guys sure do drink a lot of coffee," I say peering down at the grocery bag in my hand.
"I've had the habit since I was a kid." She takes the final bite of her donut and swallows it down. "I'm not addicted or anything. I like coffee because it reminds me of my childhood. When I was young my mum would always drink it with lots of milk, the tiniest touch coffee then add honey to it and let me take sips. That's how I still make it."
"Because it reminds you of her?"
"It's comforting." She nods and looks at me and gives me a bittersweet smile. The wind picks, making her hair cling and fly away from her neck. Her nose is a cute, ruddy red.
It's exactly that moment that I realise many things about Bella; the subtle shades of colour in between the black and white. That when I finally uncover and discover these golden nuggets that really allow me to understand her story in depth, I'm going to be even more captivated by her.
It's like seeing the future laid out in front of me.
I've never had a moment like this before.
The funny thing is, it doesn't scare me one bit.
I blink, suddenly aware of my own peculiar thoughts, but only wanting to unravel more of her.
"Your mum is…"
"Dead," she says looking down at the pavement.
"It's okay. She's happy where she is. That's one thing I'm completely sure about."
I nod. "There must be other things …" I continue when she looks at me questioningly with wide eyes. "Other things that you're sure about too."
She smiles, her eyes lighting up.
"Yeah. That I really don't like being this … suspicious about things, about people."
"Maybe you're not." I shrug. "Not as much as you say anyway."
"That's the thing about paranoia is that it's all in your head. But, I think I've figured something out today, something that might help a little."
"Anything you want to share?"
"Yeah," she nods. "Everything." Bella bites her lip as we walk past a flickering street lamp, which makes her face light up in burning orange embers. "Tonight, I'm going to tell you everything. Everything you might want to know about me, you'll know by tomorrow."
"I'm meant to believe that?" I ask incredulously. I somehow doubt that I'll ever know everything about Bella, but I'm excited about her revelation. I guess that she assumed that I'm staying. It's not a decision I've made yet, but the fact that she's so sure about that allows me to believe that she's sure about many more things than I am.
Yet something tells me her revelations are not going to be easy for her.
Bella nods genuinely as she pulls at the key from her pocket and unlocks the front door. "Think of it as an experiment."
"Why me?" I ask before I step into the warm, lit hall.
"I don't know." She's leaning against the door, as it opens. "Maybe you fascinate me a little too."
Bella stands over my shoulder and eats her raspberry donut, coffee in hand, avidly commenting on the article I'm trying to submit. Her roommate stands behind her and laughs as Bella gets comfortable on my lap and reaches for the keyboard insisting on changes. I push her sticky fingers out of the way, but Bella's perseverance beats mine and I make the changes she wants because it doesn't really matter if she's tidier and taller, and that Emmett and Rosalie are no longer extras in our story.
She threatens me she'll murder me with her bare hands if anyone actually finds out what her real name is, and when I tell no one ever will, Bella gives me a disbelieving scowl. I grin and tell her to trust me, whilst I drop three kisses on her frosting grazed lips when Alice isn't staring at us, which is close to never. So I do it when she's watching because … whatever.
I email my now heavily 'revised' article to my editor. We eat and watch the police running through the streets, and when they finally the capture of the culprit, who caused all of this – I'm not sure whether I detest him or want to thank him.
Bella calls and gives Rosalie the third degree, who's still with Emmett. I don't talk to my friend, because yeah, I'm a traitor. Shit, this is the first time I've broken our sacred rules. I feel like I should beheaded for treachery.
Afterall, I broke commandment three.
And then I stayed this morning, violating another unwritten rule, although that's not my fault either.
And I'll probably disregard commandment two too, because as the stars blink against the velvet night, a sleepy Bella is curled up against me, her hand resting on my thigh as we watch Trainspotting. Even though we're not in lock-down anymore, I'm still here, and I can't stop staring at her legs, her hair smells like apples … and yeah.
Things get messy, too messy, because this girl, she's fascinating. She's too perceptive and a little crazy. Probably less than she thinks she is, but exactly the amount that I want her to be. She makes me want to break all the rules again, again and again.
So I do.
I break them, even when there are no rules and no game anymore, because I share my bed every morning with this not-so paranoid girl, who insists on decorating our room with stupid quote memorabilia. I can cite all of it with my eyes closed like the damn pussy-whipped idiot that I've become.
When I think back to my time in lockdown with Bella, I realise that no matter how hard I wanted to run, I was too far gone, too bewitched by her spell to really leave in the way that I thought I could. Believers might call that night 'destiny' or 'fate', cynics may call it bad timing on my behalf - but all I know is that she keeps me enraptured with her antics. After all the most stunning of beauty is hidden in the wilderness, and you know what? I don't regret the ring on my finger one bit.
It's these simple little things that still get me – Bella's way of calling me out, how her thoughts ramble and merge to create something so unique that I'm left awed every time. How she can be so damn vulnerable and woman and right … it's how she can disagree with everything my father has to say whilst being his favourite cigar buddy. And our freezer is too full because my girl has a penchant for wanting to do silly, sexy things with ice-cream.
I've now progressed to strawberry.
Thank you all for your lovely, lovely reviews. I enjoy each one even if I can't always reply. It's always nice to see new and returning names.
I am writing something new – it's pretty different from this one and is a return to angst (ack!) If you might want to read it – do follow me. I'll be posting teasers in my fic group (on my profile). You can also find me on twitter: Blueissoul