BelieveItOrNot plus IReen H equals BelieveItOrIreen.
PreRead by Thimbles
Beta'd by Songster51
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight and all recognizable characters.
IReen H and BelieveItOrNot own this plot and any other non-Twilighty details.
I will never leave your side
Though you call me your number one zero
I'll be your king, I'll be your pawn
I will build a pedestal and put you upon it
~Number One Zero by Audioslave
He can see her through the window.
Her back is to him, wild hair gathered into a knot at her nape, the tips sticking out like spider's legs. She kneels before the big blackboard—pulled from its hooks above—chalking out the daily specials.
His heart trips.
His palms sweat.
He takes a deep breath, lets it out, reminds himself that he's known her since he was six.
She puts a flourish on the L at the end of Bella's Breakfast Bagel, before turning toward the front door when the chime sounds. Bella's body stiffens and she steps woodenly to the side, her foot hitting the basket of chalk, knocking it over. Her arm comes up, arcing overhead, body bent to gather her balance.
"Edward. Good morning. You, uh … You want mint, this morning?" That she's jittery with nerves and blushing a bright pink relaxes him somewhat. He isn't the only one unsure of how to behave this morning.
Turning toward the counter, she hefts back the partition, and positions herself so the cash register is between them. She looks drawn, her smile stiff, as her gaze dances between his collar and his still-clammy hands, which Edward crams into his pockets.
"Yes, please." He swallows. "What's on the bagel?" He woke up ravenous.
"Two eggs, pepper-jack, turkey bacon, and avocado. Or, you might prefer the Mitzvah. Cream cheese, lox, capers, cucumbers. Or you could have-"
"Bella..." He runs his fingers through his hair, not sure how to begin. "In regard to - I mean, concerning..." He clears his throat. "Um, about last night-"
Her eyes fall closed as she squeezes the sides of her apron, leaving smears of chalk dust when she lets go.
Like the smears of watermelon all over his sleeve last night, her sticky fingers pinching his shirt.
The keg had been empty for a while. Bella had sent some guys to the gas station to get more beer, but she, derelict in her self-preservation, was eating vodka-soaked watermelon with a melon baller. Sometimes, when she laughed, Edward could see the juice inside the corners of her mouth. The watermelon and her gums matching in shade. Both enticing in his own state of intoxication.
Resting an elbow on Edward's shoulder, legs pulled up beneath her on the sofa, she let go of his sleeve. "No. You can't say that Axl Rose was the greatest frontman ever. That's just. Preposterous. What about Freddie Mercury? Or..." she pointed the melon baller at him. "Three words. David. Lee. Roth."
Edward laughed, pulling the utensil from her hand. "Should you be eating that? How much beer have you had?"
She waved her hand at him. "Hardly any."
But she was slurring.
"Besides. I'm just... Mostly I'm just happy that you're back. In Berkeley. Why didn't we keep in touch?" She reached for the melon baller, her cold fingers holding his, not taking it.
He shrugged a shoulder and tried to think. His mind was frustratingly foggy, the only things clear to him in that moment were the movement of Bella's lips, her fingers on his, the ruckus around them, and the absolute fact that David Lee Roth was not the best frontman ever.
And he was sort of pondering the area beneath the curve in a continuous function, A of x. The area may not be known, but the function is.
Slope of a line, slope of a breast. Almost, almost touching his arm where they sat on the rotted red sofa. Continuously inching closer than they'd ever been. She looked up at him, her eyes a gossamer glow. Her cheeks colored, the tiniest bit under each eye.
She was flushed.
Was he staring? Had she asked him something?
He shook his head, tensing his brow in an attempt to focus. "I don't know. Why didn't we?"
She released him, and as if forgetting about the utensil he held, plucked at the watermelon with her fingertips, short paint-chipped nails, matching the hue of her Chucks, the sole flapping on one side. Her bare shoulder—sun-kissed and spattered with light summer freckles—rose to her ear. She held the pose and smiled at him. "Oh well, right? We're here, now."
The breath was thin in his lungs. Thin and a little too warm. He wanted to reach and touch the thick swath of bang that fell over one eye, the only section of hair that wasn't knotted into thick, well-made dreadlocks. But he kept his hand still.
They looked at each other, long; something between them shifting, settling. His guarded desire to touch her, he could feel the moment she became aware of it, the moment she shared it.
The moment she moved, climbing onto his lap. Him, helping her, gripping her hip as she swung her leg over his. And then he was tasting her, her mouth fresh and vibrant, sliding easily against his. The drum in his chest amplified, he pulled on her waist, leaning back under the press of her kiss, smelling the spark of her skin, her perspiration mixed with the citrus of her lotion. He felt the couch underneath him—still, solid—the folds of her skirt pleating under the clutch of his fingers.
The spin of the room around them.
She whispered against his lips. "I'm sorry. I … I'm drunk and making poor decisions."
"It's okay." The blood burned in his neck. "So am I."
His neck burns again now. He reaches for the back of it, grips tight.
"Edward, look. It's no big deal."
She looks terrified. Can she really regret it that much? By no means did Edward consider it his best performance. In fact, if anyone should be embarrassed this morning it's him. The look on Bella's face suggests otherwise.
"No ... big deal? Really?" He leans forward, pushing his fingers along the cool chrome counter. Toward her.
"Really." She takes a step back. "I mean. We've known each other practically forever. Physical intimacy is just another state of being. When you think about it. I mean. We've touched each other plenty of times. Do you want a for-here cup, or to-go?" She rests her hand on the stack of paper to-go cups, as if suggesting which he should choose.
"So, wait. What are you saying?"
"Well, it would be a shame if a different state of existence—you know—messed up… a really good, long… friendship. Right? Did you want the bagel?"
His heart has turned from helium to nickel. Blood pumps like mercury in his veins. There's no way he can eat anything.
She thinks it was a mistake.
It was here in Jake's Coffee House, two weeks earlier, Edward's second day back in Berkeley, that he first recognized Bella. He might've noticed her sooner if not for the August sun shooting through wide windows, ricocheting off the polished wood floor, the chrome chairs, the countertops, burning his eyes to a squint. Nearby patrons were sliding sunglasses down from their heads to rest on noses. Edward started grabbing for his own sunglasses tucked into the vee of his shirt, just as the line moved forward and he stepped into shadow.
It was her hand that had caught his attention.
No, the bend of her wrist. An animated speaker, she'd often held her wrist that way as she gestured, as if holding a paintbrush, waiting to add that final touch to canvas. Her wrist would go one way and her head would tilt opposite.
He blinked consciously as if he might blink the sight away. Ridiculous, it couldn't be.
But it was, he realized, as his gaze scaled her arm, past her apron strap, the slender line of her neck, to her face.
Her face, still round, but less so; lips, fuller and darker than he remembered; eyes like a black and tan, light brown on the inside surrounded by dark. Those eyes, no question. Those eyes.
As a child, and later as an adolescent, he'd spent hours, days—well, months, if he totaled the time—simply memorizing her eyes.
Approaching the counter, he decided he wouldn't say anything. He'd wait to see if she recognized him.
She'd taken his order without looking up, punching the proper buttons on the register.
He didn't answer right away.
"Your name?" She looked at him.
His mouth opened and closed before his name took shape and sound. "Edward."
Her eyes narrowed; those darker, fuller lips pursed in surprise before parting into a smile. She hoisted herself up and climbed over the counter. Standing in front of him with her hands on his shoulders, she looked up into his eyes. Was it possible she still smelled the same? Sun-heated skin mixed with her grandma's laundry detergent? Or was this his overactive mind filling in memories for him?
"Oh, my God. Edward Masen!"
She jumped up and threw her arms around his neck, sending him stumbling back a couple of steps, forcing him to brace himself on the edge of a chair. He circled his arms around her waist and squeezed—squeezed in surprise of running into her like this, and in relief that she'd recognized him after all this time.
Years and years it had been. In a blink he'd done the math. It had been eight years since he'd last laid eyes on Bella Swan. It had been eight years, two months, one week, and four days since the last time he'd held her in his arms. He remembered the exact day, his eighth grade graduation. She'd just finished seventh grade, no reason to be at the graduation other than the fact that he'd asked her to come. When she'd congratulated him, she'd hugged him.
Something poked at his shoulder, digging into his flesh through his T-shirt. "What is that?" He asked as they both stepped back.
Chin to chest she looked down. "I made it." She took the pin off her apron and, palm open, pushed it toward his face.
It was a pair of high heel shoes twisted from wire, and on the pointed toes, tiny copper wristwatch gears as eyes with black dots of paint as pupils.
"Do you like it?"
Before he could answer, she started pinning it to his shirt. "It's yours."
He stretched his shirt from his chest, peering down at these ladies' shoes with eyes that were now pinned to him. He frowned at her.
"I call them Windows to Your Sole." Lifting her leg, she pointed to the bottom of her shoe. "Not soul, you know? It's a play on words."
She looked up at him in a way that made him forget about the pin hanging askew from his shirt. He tried to make out her expression; was it surprise or awe?
"Wow. You are so … tall. What are you doing here? Isn't your dad still in Redding?"
He'd seen his dad since he'd been back in California, but only once. His life was easier when he didn't have to answer pointless questions about his mother, or defend her, which he did, every time, despite agreeing with Edward Sr.
"Yeah, he is. I'm - I'm at Cal."
Her eyes went round. "No way!"
"Yeah. I actually. I wondered if you were still here. If you'd gone away to school or what."
She waved her hand. "Nope. I don't think I could leave. You know? I don't really know anything about anywhere else. So what was Washington like?"
"Bella!" A dark-haired man behind the counter gestured to the line and raised his hands as if to say, "Why aren't you working?"
"I'm taking my ten," she said, and then to Edward, "Grab us a table; I'll get your tea."
Selecting a table for two near a window, Edward drew the shade down low enough to block the glare of the sun.
He took his seat, glancing around the cafe: strangers everywhere. Maybe it had all been a daydream. Maybe Bella Swan hadn't just had her arms around his neck, pinned a pair of shoes to his shirt, turned from him with what looked like dreadlocks hanging out from under her headscarf.
His iced tea hit the table in front of him with a loud clank and before he could lift his head to look at Bella, she touched his face with cold, damp fingers, turning him until their eyes met.
"Are you real?"
"I was just asking myself the same thing about you," he said.
She tickled his face near his ear. "You're scruffy. I can't believe you have scruff, Edward. I mean, wow."
Withdrawing her hand, Bella sat across from him and all he could do was stare. Words were lost to him. Where to start? Should he ask a question? Luckily she spoke first.
"We haven't seen each other in, like, six years."
"Eight years. Tell me something about me you can't believe." She smiled, turning her neck until her chin touched her raised shoulder. A gesture she's made since he's known her.
He couldn't believe she was sitting right there smiling at him for one thing, or that seconds ago she'd been touching his face. He rubbed his jaw with his palm. His stubble really was scratchy.
"I can't believe..." he started, but unable to meet her eyes any longer, he looked down at his tea, "you have dreadlocks."
Her laugh, sounding more like her twelve-year-old giggle, brought his eyes back to hers.
"Do you like them? Or do you think they're weird? You probably think they're weird, don't you? I like them. People who don't have them don't understand. They think they're dirty or something." She scrunched her nose. "I don't know. But when you have them, you know. They like... free you, in a way, or help you find your own freeness inside of you. That's it. Because-"
"Bella, I like them. They suit you. You always had knots in your hair, anyway. Now they're just intentional."
"Nice." She gave his hand a light slap. "You should grow some."
Smiling, he shook his head, searching his mind for a change of subject. He could probably be persuaded to grow dreadlocks if she pushed for it hard enough.
"What's your major?" He took his first gulp of tea, the ice already melting, diluting the flavor.
"I'm a barista-slash-cashier-slash-working stiff. And an artist. Not a starving one. Because I'm keeping my day job. At the moment."
"An art major?"
"Art major?" Her laugh was light, accompanying a slight headshake, her nose delicately squinched. "You can label me that if you want, but I don't go to school."
"No. I - I never went to college. I go to workshops every once in a while on campus, and I like the bookstore. That's about all the college I get."
Eyeing his glass, Edward turned it in his hands. Condensation ringed the tabletop, but his mind acknowledged none of that. "Sorry."
"Why are you apologizing?"
He looked at her and sat back in his seat, wiping his hands on his jeans.
"Yeah, that's just awful. I'm so insulted that you assumed I was smart enough to be a student at Cal." She reached over to his hand curved around the glass and squeezed his fingers. "It was a compliment. I should be thanking you."
He turned his hand to grasp her fingers back, but she was already pulling away.
Bending over his drink, he stuck the straw in his mouth and slurped some tea down just to dosomething.
"But you. I bet you're studying math. Grad school by now."
"Philosophy and math? Strange combination."
Edward shook his head. "Not really." He thought of his favorite philosopher, his inspiration and his introduction to philosophy. "It is not good enough to have a mind; the main thing is to use it well."
"I get it. You use your mind better than most. You always have."
"No," he said, his cheeks heating. "I was quoting Descartes. He was a philosopher and a mathematician."
"Right." A hand to her temple, she shook her head. "I should've caught that."
The man from behind the counter tapped his finger on their table and then on his watch. Without a word he walked away.
Bella huffed after him, blowing her bangs from her face. "Guess I should get back."
Edward stood, pushing his chair out. It seemed too soon. They'd barely had a chance to get reacquainted.
On her way to the front, she turned. "You should come over tonight. Whenever. Same house on Prince. I'll be around."
Bella's house no longer looked like a castle to Edward the way it had when they were kids. In fact, it looked small. And it was brown, which Edward loves. Brown is a color he'd always been able to understand. Like Bella's hair, her eyes.
One of the lions guarding the front door was missing a paw.
That small degradation felt huge inside him. A small thing protracted large; the withering and wasting that comes to all things, no matter how seemingly permanent. The lions are stone, but even stone melts—in its own way.
We are all transitory. To the universe.
He shifted the bag of Chinese food to one arm and knocked. The door moved, opening. It hadn't been closed all the way.
He peered into the dark foyer, catching Bella bounding down the stairs, reaching for the door to pull it wide. She wore black plastic-framed glasses; her shirt dipped off one shoulder, the neckline loose, sleeves wide. Her head was no longer covered, dreads hanging like long, thin ropes over her shoulders, unknotted bangs tucked behind an ear.
"You don't close your door?"
"Relax. I just got home. I was carrying paper."
Edward frowned. Paper kept her from closing the door?
"When did you paint?" He gestured to the house.
"It's been a while now. We had it painted before Gram died."
"What?" He took her arm, Esme's face flashing through his mind. Her graying reddish-brown curls, a smile. A big one, creasing her wrinkles deeper. Even back then, eight years ago. "When?" The bag of food seemed to grow heavier, the smell suddenly overly aromatic. Greasy in his nostrils and his mind, making him slightly ill. His stomach churned. "How?"
"About three years now. After graduation. It was a stroke. Didn't see it coming."
"Bella." He loosened his hold on her arm, rubbing her skin with his fingers. He should say something. What should he say? His tongue felt swollen.
"No. No, it's okay." She shook her head, smiling, but her eyes, even behind glasses... something had changed in them.
She turned away from him.
Edward followed her inside. The dark stairwell brought a wave of memories. Nostalgia was thick there, almost brutal. It even smelled the way he remembered it. Candle wax, fresh coffee, the faint choke of turpentine.
"You still live upstairs?"
"Yeah. My roommate, Em, lives downstairs. Carlisle lives wherever."
"Mister Carlisle to his face. He's very sensitive about that kind of thing. You'd never know I found him behind Jake's. Meowing his face off for scraps. He's such a gentleman now."
Mr. Carlisle was curled in a black ball on the same big dining room table from when they were kids—long, almost long enough that you could see a king and queen dining on either end, a candelabra tall between them. Esme always kept it freshly oiled, the intricately carved legs free of dust. Now it was draped in a sheet on top of which was a thick stack of architectural plans and mechanical drawings.
Edward set down the Chinese food, and fingered the corners of the drawings.
"What are these for?"
Bella had her back to him as she dropped her satchel in the window seat, checking her phone and plugging it in. "Hmmm? Oh!"
She skipped over to Edward and he smiled. He knew all about the private school she'd attended until she was seven. They didn't allow running. The rules required skipping or galloping only. When she first started at Malcolm X, she was the only kid to be seen skipping everywhere; her head bobbing as she tried to evade the other kids in games of tag. Or down the hallways when she was late. Skip, skip.
He liked that she still did it.
"You know contractors make copies of plans for all their subs? Like electrical and plumbing and roofers... they all get copies of the entire set of drawings. You know what they do when the job is done?"
She smiled. "Look at all this paper. FREE paper!"
"But, you can't really do anything with it, can you?" The corners were all mangled, in some places the contractor's highlighter or Sharpie had bled through, staining the backside.
"I'll show you. Come on. I want to introduce you to Alice."
"Another roommate? Or is it a cat?"
"Neither. Just come on."
She led him into her old room across from the kitchen. The place where they used to play Nintendo or Mousetrap, and where they would sprawl across Bella's unmade bed and flip through books. The teal futon, still there, was folded up into a couch, some of the old homemade pillows remaining.
Every inch of the walls were covered in comics, cut-outs, lyrics from CD inserts, quotes, pictures of animals. The ceiling looked like an upside down circus tent, fabric of all shades and texture billowing from the seam of wall to the center. Work-tables and shelving all around him, big speakers huddled in one corner, where there used to be a coat-tree slung with scarves and hats.
"So… is Alice - the room itself?" He pointed to the floor.
She just grinned.
"Is it a Wonderland reference... or the hallucinogenic?"
"Does the room remind you of an acid trip, Edward?" She sounded hopeful.
Edward shrugged, not really wanting to admit he'd never had the experience. But he was sure Bella could tell. In any case, she relieved him of having to answer. "Anyway. Isn't it one and the same?"
He walked over to the paint-splattered wooden easel in the corner of the room opposite the speakers. The canvas resting on it was a self-portrait of Bella painting on an easel. She was in overalls, her back to the viewer, her hand holding aloft a brush, bent at that angle—so peculiarly her.
"That's so I can remember that inspiration doesn't hold the power. I do."
"What do you mean?"
"Like, if I'm not feeling inspired, that's no excuse not to create. I just have to do it. Inspiration follows, just like Alice following her curiosity. Following her rabbit."
"It reminds me of M.C. Escher, drawing his own hand, drawing his own hand-"
She nodded, pointing to the exact piece glued to the wall, partially covered by an ad showing a rabbit with tiger stripes. "Drawing hands."
The cat joined them in the room, stretching a paw before rubbing against Edward's leg. "Mister Carlisle, is it?" he asked, bending down to give the cat's chin a scratch. Mr. Carlisle began a deep purr.
"He already likes you."
"Great. My second friend in town."
"Come here, come here, sit down." Grasping Edward's wrist, Bella led him to a swivel stool, pushed his shoulders so he'd sit, and then opened a drawer from the oversized antique dresser. "Close your eyes."
He did and seconds later something cool and heavy landed on his face, over his forehead and nose, strapped around his head with elastic.
In the reflection of the hand mirror she held in front of him, he saw she'd put a mask on him. It looked like bone with a crackle effect, and a long, curved, pointed nose. A darker shade trimmed each eye-hole. Music notes trailed along the brow, dipping down to the temple. The mask only covered two-thirds of his face, his mouth and chin left uncovered.
He pressed his fingers against the cheekbone, trying to feel what the mask was made of.
"It's a Venetian mask. For Carnivale."
He shifted his eyes. Bella was also wearing a mask, also only covering two-thirds of her face, but hers was black with shiny-maybe gold-ears and whiskers.
"I'm a cat."
"I can see that." Edward couldn't help but laugh. "Where did you get these?"
"I make them. I have loads of them."
"You made these?"
He took his off to get a closer look. He ran his finger over it, feeling the different textures. When he touched along the music notes, she said, "Decoupaged sheet music."
"These are amazing."
She pushed his chin up so that he closed his mouth. "Look at you. Why didn't you have that look on your face when I gave you that?" She poked the shoe pin she'd attached to him earlier. He'd forgotten all about it. He'd gone for the Chinese food wearing it.
"Hey, now, it's not every day I'm forced to don women's footwear. There needs to be an adjustment period for cross-dressing."
Her laugh was so like he remembered it. "Okay. Do you want to trade then? The shoes for the mask?"
"Not if you expect me to actually wear it."
"I just want you to have something. Something I made."
"You've made loads of these you said? Can I see? Can I pick one?"
Her eyes reflected a flickering candle that didn't exist. They flamed.
"How 'bout if I make you one? Special. What do you want it to be?"
He looked down, turning the mask around in his hands. "I don't know. Can I think about it?
"Of course you can. I'm kind of on a bird kick right now; I'm thinking of doing a hawk one."
Edward listened as Bella described how she got into mask making, the evolution of a series of Sole Windows projects where she put human faces on shoes. Shoe-pins, shoe earrings, shoe drawings, actual shoes.
"I was sort of obsessed with it for a while, after Gram died."
"I'm so sorry, Bella. I wish... well I don't know what to say. Except - I wish I could've been here."
"Me, too." She took her mask off, turning around and hanging it on a wall-hook. "I really, you know. Grappled with it. It was so sudden. In the morning she was frying up French toast - you remember her French toast?"
"Please tell me she left you the recipe."
Bella laughed. "She did. The secret ingredient is, get this. Marsala wine."
Edward's brows lifted.
"Anyway. In the morning she was fine. She was pronounced dead before dinnertime. How do you... reconcile that? You know? I didn't know how. I started making some really bad art. Just... horrendous garbage. I call it therapy now, but at the time it was more like-"
She brought her hands up, her fingers stretched out into hooks that she used to claw the air around her body; her eyes slightly glossed despite her smile.
She pointed a finger at him. "Exactly. I was drowning in like... explosive awfulness. Anyway..." She waved her hand, "I read once that suffering produces great art. I kept telling myself that. But I don't think it's true. I feel like my art is way better when I'm happy. Happiness inspires me."
Watching her talk, Edward felt a sort of relief, like a glow that lit up his insides.
What was this feeling? It wasn't memory. He didn't remember this.
Bella stuck the bag of Chinese food in the fridge and they thundered down the stairs, climbed into Edward's hatchback, and drove around the corner to the Co-Op. He carried the shopping basket as Bella piled things into it. Brown eggs, Strauss cream, butter. He stood by, pretending to read the back of a bottle of sandwich spread as Bella asked the guy in the bakery if they had any stale bread. "You know, anything ready for chucking?"
"Making French toast," she said with a smile.
"Here. Try this." He reached over to hand her a baguette, pulling his arm back at the last second. "You Esme's girl?"
Bella's smile stretched wider. Edward's peeked out one corner.
"Let me slice that for you. Thick slices."
As he did, Bella turned to Edward. "We need to get maple syrup, too. I have some, but it's that fake crap. If you want the full-on experience, we need real stuff. Like fresh from the tree - know what I'm saying?"
Back at Bella's house, she pulled a cast iron skillet from the same cabinet Edward remembered Esme storing it in, and started whipping eggs frothy in a big bowl. In no time the bread was sizzling in the pan, butter burbling around it, and Edward was confronted with another deep stab of nostalgia.
Bella dredged the last slice in the remaining egg mixture and then put the bowl on the floor for Mr. Carlisle. He sniffed, recoiled, then made a second pass, licking delicately around its edge.
"Isn't there wine in that?"
She turned to him and relief surged again inside him, just to be back here with her. With her Bella-isms and her smile.
"Are you calling Mr. C. a lush?"
Edward trudges toward campus, the sun too bright even behind his sunglasses. He hands over his paper-wrapped bagel to the first homeless guy he passes.
This morning did not go how he'd hoped at all. He wanted to make sure Bella knew that drunk or not, he did not regret what happened. He didn't want her to feel used or upset, or anything a girl might feel the morning after. But before he could say anything, before he could reassure her, she'd already begun backing away.
She didn't need reassurance.
And it isn't until just now, as he's opening the front door to his box of an apartment, that he realizes he'd been hoping reassurance was something she needed.
Eyes aimed at the concrete steps, Edward shakes his head at himself. Having Bella as a childhood friend doesn't grant him any claim to her. She's not the same Bella. He doesn't know this Bella. Not really. Not anymore.