Christmas story. Four chapters. Fluffy, sweet - mostly. Thanks to Liz for prereading and MidNight Cougar for her beta work and kicking my ass over content. Her foot got quite a work out on this one. I am on pain killers due to a medical procedure I had done yesterday so any and all mistakes are mine. I blame the drugs, but it would probably happen anyway. LOL. Enjoy!
The car sputtered and huffed, slowly rolling to a stop on the side of the road. I slammed my hand on the steering wheel in frustration.
"God damn it!"
I leaned my head back on the head rest, trying to rein in my anger.
What the hell possessed me to leave the quiet safety of my house to drive across country in winter two days before Christmas, to go see my family? What stupid sense of duty prompted this action? I barked out a laugh. So much for a surprise for them. The joke was really on me. They didn't know I was coming and now I wasn't sure I'd get there. From the strange sound my car was making I wasn't sure I'd get home either. I tried the engine again, but it wouldn't start.
I looked around, taking in the bleak landscape. Grabbing the GPS, I turned it back on and got the same message it had been flashing the last ten minutes.
I tossed it aside. What a piece of junk.
I had no fucking idea where I was, except I knew I was about three hours away from a major city. Ottawa was far behind me. My parents' home some four hours or more ahead. I shook my head in frustration. I should have been patient and not taken that detour, but the accident on the highway had snarled traffic. Instead of waiting, I had followed a trail of cars headed off the highway, but it had thinned out right about the time my GPS died, followed not long after by my cellphone. I always forgot to charge the damn thing.
A car flew by me and I lifted my head, narrowing my eyes as I watched it travel down the road. I pursed my lips as I saw brake lights and then it disappeared around a corner farther up the road. It was a long way away, but I was sure I saw lights.
What was up there?
A house? A business?
I shrugged my shoulders.
Only one way to find out.
I leaned over and grabbed my beanie and gloves, cursing the fact my leather coat wasn't going to offer much protection from the cold. Neither were my sneakers. But it was either go try to find a phone or sit in the car and wait for someone to stop.
I got out of the car and realized there was a third option.
Fuck, it was cold outside.
I trudged down the road, my head down and hands buried in my pockets. By the time I got to the spot I thought the car had turned, my teeth were chattering and my body was shaking with cold chills, the only saving grace the fact it wasn't snowing. I rounded the corner and heaved a sigh of relief. Up ahead was a small building, its lights a distant glow. I pushed forward, almost groaning when I realized it was a quaint, little diner. The parking lot had about a half dozen cars in it, and I gratefully pulled open the thick, wooden door and stepped through it.
The warmth inside the diner hit me and I stumbled to the closest table, sitting down heavily with a low gasp. The air around me felt almost too hot compared to my icy skin. I pulled the beanie off my head and yanked off my gloves, bending and stretching my cold hands, trying to get the feeling back in them. My glasses were so cold there was ice on the lenses, so I pulled them off and tossed them to the table. I should have left them in the car. Since my laser surgery, I only needed them for driving.
"Here," a soft voice spoke close to my ear.
I opened my eyes, meeting concerned ones of the lightest ice-blue I had ever seen. They were filled with worry as they met mine, the emotion in them so easy to see. I couldn't remember the last time I had seen anyone look at me with such concern. It was an unusual feeling. Unable to break the gaze, I blinked and a deep 'V' appeared between the lovely eyes. "Can you talk?"
I cleared my throat and sat up. "S-sorry. Yes." My voice sounded rough as if I hadn't spoken for days rather than only hours. "C-cold, I'm so cold."
A cup appeared in front of me and gratefully I grabbed for it, only to have it slip from my cold hands and rattle back into place on the saucer.
I cursed quietly and looked back up at the warm gaze. The woman attached to the lovely eyes, smiled in understanding and lifted the cup to my mouth, helping me drink the warm liquid. Her hand cupped the back of my head; its heat burning my cold skin as I gulped the coffee down greedily. She sat the cup down, a small smile on her face when she saw it was empty.
I nodded, feeling the warmth seep through my body. "Much. Thank you."
"Where did you come from?"
"My car—" I paused and swallowed. "My car broke down."
He voice was horrified. "You walked here from the highway?"
"No. The highway was closed. I followed some cars trying to get around an accident and I got lost. My car started making some weird noises and then it simply died. I walked for about twenty minutes."
"That's still a long way in this cold north wind. No wonder you're freezing. You don't even have boots on!" She tsked loudly as she stood up. "Take off your coat. It's holding the cold. Stay here."
She walked away, and I grinned at her retreating figure, finding her bossy tone, for some reason, amusing. Where did she think I was gonna go? Back out in that cold? I didn't fucking think so!
She reappeared with a steaming bowl of soup and sat it in front of me. Then she draped a blanket around my shoulders.
"Eat that. I'll be back."
Her tone brooked no argument. I picked up the spoon and took a mouthful. I watched her move around the diner, talking to the few customers in it, obviously at home here. It wasn't very busy, but the sign outside said it was open twenty-four hours, and I wondered idly what time she worked until.
It was an old-fashioned kind of diner, with Formica counter tops and mismatched tables and chairs scattered around. Christmas lights were strung around the windows and beside me a rather dilapidated tree was festooned with popcorn strings and ornaments fashioned from straws and bent utensils giving it a whimsical air that made me smile. The entire atmosphere was one of a well-worn, long-standing local place to gather and meet.
She reappeared, smiling in satisfaction at the empty bowl. "Warmer now?"
"Yes. Thank you again." I glanced at my watch, seeing it was after ten. "I don't suppose there is a twenty-four hour service station around here?"
She shook her head.
"A hotel close by?"
Again her head shook. "There is in town."
I grimaced. "How far away is that?"
"About a twenty minute drive."
"Will you help me drink it?" I teased, surprised at my words. I felt very at ease with this woman, which wasn't a normal reaction for me.
Her smile was beautiful. It transformed her soft features into a stunning vision of loveliness. My breath caught in my throat.
"The first one is on the house. I charge after that."
"Noted." My voice dropped. "Thank you for that. That was beyond kind."
Her cheeks flooded with color, enhancing her subtle beauty, and her gaze dropped. "I'll get your coffee."
On impulse I held out my hand. "I'm Edward Masen."
Her hand was warm clasped in mine. "Bella Swan."
I looked down at our hands, and then back up at her.
"Hello, Bella. It's a real pleasure to meet you."
A fresh cup of coffee appeared in front of me. I took a sip of it and gasped. "Wow. That's hot."
She smiled as she nodded. "I added cold water to the first cup so you could drink it fast and start warming up. Speaking of which, you're still shivering. Here." In her outstretched hand was a bundled towel. Confused, I took it from her hands only to realize it was warm.
"Your hands are still cold, so your feet must be freezing. They're soaking wet." she explained quietly. "Take off your shoes and you can wrap them in that."
"Oh, um … here?"
She nodded. "Yes."
"Your feet," she said pointedly. "Take your socks off. The wet socks aren't helping."
I looked around the mostly empty diner. I didn't want to get her into trouble. She smiled at me. "It's fine, Edward."
I toed out of my wet sneakers and socks, wrapping the towel around them. She was right. They were freezing. "Thank you," I said again. A shudder ran through me as the heat hit my skin.
"I, ah, called a friend in town who owns a garage. He's sending out one of his tow trucks to get your car. He'll look at it in the morning. He can drive you to the hotel as well. It's going to take him a while to get here so I'll throw your socks and sneakers into the dryer in the back. "
I was surprised by the kindness. "Bella—thank you."
"It isn't a problem."
I reached for her. Once again as my hand wrapped around hers, I felt the deep warmth. "You are truly," I hesitated, "an angel. Thank you."
"Drink your coffee," she admonished.
But she was smiling as she walked away.
"You're sure?" Jake asked me as he pulled back into the diner parking lot, my car on the winch behind his truck. He'd picked me up, drove to my car but instead of riding back into town with him as planned, I felt the intense need to go back to the diner.
Back to Bella.
She had looked as sad as I felt when Jake arrived to take me to my car, even though she smiled as she handed me my now dry sneakers and socks. She wished me well and a safe journey before she turned away, leaving me feeling strangely empty. From the moment I left, I wanted to go back. She had chatted at me while I waited for Jake, and I enjoyed her soft voice and sweet laughter. My usual shyness seemed to disappear around her. She had a way of drawing you in to her warmth, making you want more.
More of her time and smiles. More of her.
"Yes. I left my glasses."
"I can wait."
"I'm, ah, hungry. I'll eat and then grab a cab."
Jake chuckled. "A cab might be hard to find this time of night out here."
"I'll grab a ride with someone."
Jake glanced toward the diner. "The food is good." Then he chuckled. "So is the service."
I narrowed my eyes at him. He returned my gaze steadily. "Bella is my wife's friend, Edward. Tread carefully."
"I just want a cheeseburger, Jake."
He laughed. "We have a Wendy's if that's all you're after."
"Carefully, Edward. Just saying." He paused. "I'll call your cell when I know what the problem is with your car."
I nodded as I got out of the cab of his truck.
The diner was even emptier when I walked in. I made my way to a table and sat down, placing my small bag on the chair beside me. Bella came out from the kitchen, her face breaking into a smile when she saw me. Once again I was struck by how lovely she was as she walked toward me. She held up my glasses. "I was going to drop these off at the garage for you in the morning." Then she frowned. "Why is Jake leaving? What is he doing? You need a ride to the hotel!" She began to hurry toward the door before I stopped her.
"It's fine. I sent him back to town."
"Why? I'll get him back. You came for your glasses and now you have them!"
I shook my head and drew in a deep breath. "I didn't come only for my glasses. I wanted to spend more time with you."
Her eyes widened. "Oh."
I hesitated, worried about her reaction. "Is that okay?"
Pink tinged her cheeks. "Yeah, it is."
"Can I get you something?"
I smiled—I hadn't totally lied to Jake. I was rather hungry. "Can I have a cheeseburger?"
She laughed. "Yes."
"Can you sit with me?"
She nodded, suddenly looking shy. "Yes."
"Don't you need to call your family?"
I shook my head and finished chewing my burger. "They, ah, didn't know I was on my way."
"Oh you're surprising them? I'm sure Jake will get your car fixed and you'll make it. They'll be thrilled."
I snorted. "I doubt thrilled is the right word."
"What would the right word be?"
"Surprised. Maybe slightly displeased."
She frowned. "That would be a strange reaction to have when family comes to visit at Christmas."
"They aren't," I drew in a deep breath, "like most families."
Her head tilted as she regarded me quietly. "Why would you say that?"
I sighed. "I don't get on well with my family, Bella." I chuckled dryly at the understatement. "When my car broke down I was wondering if it was a sign I was being stupid for making this trip."
"Why did you make it then?"
I shrugged. "I haven't had a Christmas with them in years. My sister had a baby a couple months ago. I thought maybe I should … try and reconnect."
Her tone was gentle. "What happened, Edward? Can you tell me?"
Her eyes were soft, kind. There were no demands in them, only concern. For the first time ever, I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to share. Unconsciously my hand reached out, and she met it halfway, wrapping mine between both of hers. Again, I felt a surge of warmth flow through me at the contact.
"I have two siblings. Both perfect in my parents' eyes. Popular at school, great at anything they put their mind to. Well-rounded students, and now successful adults. Married. Great, high-profile careers." I smiled sadly at her. "And then there's me. The baby of the family."
Bella smiled. "I thought the baby of the family was the most spoiled—the most loved."
I shook my head. "Not in my family. I've never … measured up. I was always shy, quiet. I did well at school, but not like my siblings. The only thing we have in common is our trust funds. My grades were great, but I was never popular, good at sports, or outgoing. I was merely okay. Nothing exceptional like them."
"Everyone is different. It's what makes us special."
I nodded. She was right. Except in my family. It only made you different. Different wasn't good.
I drew in a deep breath. "My father is a lawyer. My brother is a partner in his firm. My sister owns her own design company. My mother is a partner in a high-end boutique. They all live in very large homes, drive expensive cars and live extravagant lifestyles. They travel a lot, shop lavishly and live a life I'm not comfortable with. I never was." I paused. "And then there is me. The odd man out."
"And who is Edward?" she asked quietly, squeezing my hand.
I looked at our joined hands and leaning over, wrapped mine over hers so we were completely connected. "I'm an antique restoration specialist, Bella. I live alone in a house on the edge of the water, in a little town on the East Coast. My world is a quiet one. My workshop is out back of my house, so I'm my own boss, and I don't socialize much. I live a simple, uncomplicated life. I've rarely used my trust fund except to buy my house and be mortgage free. I don't live like my family. I like things … modest."
"Do you get lonely?"
I paused. I had been lonely until I took a job restoring an antique desk for Esme Cullen. I hadn't realized how lonely I was until the Cullens came into my life.
"Not like the way I was when I was younger. I have a few good friends now, who treat me like part of their family." I smiled as I thought about Carlisle and Esme. How they had almost adopted me, bringing me into their family, showing me what it was like to be part of one; accepted for who I was and not treated like an outsider. It took a lot of effort on their part to get me comfortable enough to accept their care and friendship since I wasn't used to being wanted. But they never gave up, and now I was no longer alone, although there were many times I still felt lonely. Jasper, their son, and I were close friends and I got along well with his wife Alice, who treated me like the brother she never had, which meant she ordered me around a lot. Used to being ignored by my own siblings, I had to admit, I liked it.
"You repair broken pieces of history, Edward? Restore their beauty? Make them useful and vibrant again?"
I like how she phrased that. "I suppose in many cases, yes."
"I think that is wonderful. What else?" she prompted.
"I teach piano lessons in my spare time and help coach soccer in the summer."
She lifted our hands and studied mine. "You have long fingers—perfect for the piano."
I chuckled. "I never get them clean though. No matter how I scrub them, there is always stain or paint under the nails from whatever I'm working on."
She smiled shyly. "They are still lovely hands, Edward. Capable, strong hands."
I looked down at them in surprise. She thought they were lovely? I looked at hers: small, tiny fingers that barely went to my knuckles, as I held them against mine. l liked, however, how they felt nestled between my own fingers. They seemed to fit as if they belonged there.
"Do you have, um, a girlfriend?" she asked, looking at me bashfully from under her eyelashes. Then as if she realized what the answer to that question might be, she started to withdraw her hands from mine.
"No," I hastened to assure her, holding onto her fingers. "I'm, ah, not so good with … girls. Um, women. I mean, I've had them. Girlfriends, I mean. A few. But, yeah, um. No. No girlfriend." I huffed out a sigh. "The shyness has never completely gone away. I have trouble talking at times."
God, I was lame.
"Seems to me you do okay. You're talking to me."
"You're different, somehow," I murmured. "You make it easy to talk to you."
The blush I found so charming appeared again. "Thank you."
I squeezed her hand.
"My favorite time of day is spent sitting on my porch watching the sun set over the water," I offered quietly. "It's so peaceful. I love living there."
"Sounds pretty good to me."
I snorted. "According to my father, it's a waste."
She smiled at me. "It's not his life. He lives his life how he likes. You're entitled to live yours."
Her words hit me.
I stared at her.
"Still, they are your family, Edward. You should try and be part of their life. Family is important."
"Do you have family, Bella?"
Her glance was unfocused over my shoulder. The diner was now empty except for us, the only other sound in the place coming from the kitchen. It was well after two, and I knew she worked until three. I didn't want the time to be over.
I waited as she gathered her thoughts.
"I lost my parents a couple years ago in a car accident. I have no siblings. So, no family—I'm alone." She paused. "My parents were free spirits. We moved a lot, never settling; always moving for some new adventure they wanted to have to another. They worked so many odd jobs, never saving for the future, and when they died there was nothing left for me. I buried them and stayed here. I was tired of moving around, being dragged from place to place. I had a job and a few friends. I needed to stay in one place for a while and figure out what I wanted to accomplish in my life."
I frowned. It didn't sound like she had a very good childhood.
"How old are you, Bella?"
"It's just a number, Edward."
"True. You live alone?"
"With my cat, Chester. I have a roommate who is hardly ever there. She travels for a living and comes home every so often to swap over her clothing, catch up and she is gone."
"You like it here?"
She shrugged. "I was so tired of never having anything to call my own... never feeling I truly had a home. I wanted someplace I felt I could belong."
"Did you find it?"
Her voice was so soft I almost didn't hear her. "Not yet."
The urge to lean forward and tell her I wanted to help her with that was strong. Instead, I squeezed her hands. "We all want that, Bella. We all need to belong … to someone and someplace."
"What do you want from your life?"
"I want to go back to school and get my degree. I want to work with books. I love books."
"Is that," I paused, unsure how to ask, "going to happen for you?"
"Soon." She nodded. "I work here and part-time in town at the local bookstore. I'll have enough to go to school in the fall next year. I'll still have to work and live in the dorm, but I'll be able to do it."
"That's great." I squeezed her hand softly. I had a feeling she could do anything she put her mind to.
The door opened and an older woman walked in. She stared briefly at Bella and me, before nodding and heading into the back. It was then I realized how close we were. Our chairs were pulled together, shoulders touching. Our hands were entwined on the table top and as we talked our heads had drifted closer together, almost touching. It was as if we were wrapped in a bubble of our own, quietly sharing our lives with each other. I had never experienced this sense of closeness with another person; or this sense of wanting to be even closer.
"My shift relief is here," she told me. "That's Jessica."
"Does she work every night?" I couldn't imagine getting up in the middle of the night all the time.
Bella grinned mischievously, and leaned forward, her voice quiet. "Yes. Rumor has it she likes how Jared, um, runs the kitchen," she winked, "if you know what I mean. Worth getting out of bed for, I hear." Then she giggled and I chuckled with her.
"What about you Bella? Do you like his kitchen skills?" I teased her, even though inside I was feeling a strange tightening of my stomach as I waited for her answer.
She leaned back in her chair. "Nope. He's always too hot—working by the stove." She quirked her eyebrows, making her look adorable. "I prefer cold hands and feet. Gives me something to warm up while cuddling."
I laughed at her cheeky remarks. She was quite adorable. My smile grew wider as she yawned; trying to cover the fact she was doing so by turning her head.
My smile faded. It was time to say goodbye to her. I stood up.
"You must be tired and it's time for you to go home. I need to find a ride into town."
Her hand reached out, grabbing mine, and pulling me back into my chair. "I'll take you."
"You don't have to—" I hesitated, but I really wanted a little more time with her.
"Don't be silly. I'm going in to town anyway."
She nodded. "I, ah, just have to do a few things."
I released her hand regretfully. "Take your time." I grinned, pleased at the offer. "I'm not going anywhere."
She disappeared into the kitchen, my eyes following her movements, my head echoing with one small phrase, I couldn't understand.
"Not without you."
"This is what you drive?" I gaped at the monster truck sitting in the last spot in the parking lot. "Can you see over the dashboard?"
Bella chuckled. "Yes. It was the one thing that came with us, everywhere we went. And one of the few things I have left of my parents'. It's an old friend."
"Is it safe?" Old friend or not, it looked like it was being held together with the rust on it.
She snorted. "Get in, fraidy cat."
I climbed in and in a few seconds, Bella had the engine cranked up and the heater going. "It just takes a few minutes to warm up."
Our eyes met and held in the dim light coming from the dashboard. The cab got warm. Very warm. I swallowed nervously. Bella's bright eyes reflected the light as she stared at me, her gaze unsure. Slowly I lifted my hand, my fingers grazing her cheek. "You've been so kind to me all night, Bella. More than you know."
"I just helped you warm up," she whispered, searching my eyes with her own.
"Yes, you did that. But, you talked to me and listened. You cared for me. That is so … special. I can't thank you enough."
"You're … welcome."
Bravely, I slid closer, reaching over to stroke her soft cheek again. "You truly are like an angel to me."
"I've never been an angel to anyone."
I drew in a deep breath, my fingers slipping into her hair. "Well, you're mine. My Angel."
Her eyes widened.
And then my mouth was on hers.
Warm, sweet, soft.
Her arms wound around my neck. Her hands clutched the back of my hair. When I slipped my tongue inside her mouth the sound she made was erotic. I pulled her closer, my tongue stroking hers softly. My hands cupped the back of her head holding her close to my face. I never wanted to stop kissing her. It was only the bright lights of a car pulling in and reflecting in the rear view mirror that had us pulling apart, panting. My finger traced her bottom lip. "Should I apologize?"
"Can I do that again?"
"Yes," she breathed.
"Thank God," I whispered against her lips.
I had no idea how long I kissed her. I didn't know how I even got brave enough to kiss her in the first place, but now that I had, I didn't want to stop. Finally though, she broke away, her breath warm on my cheek as she curled against my shoulder. I held her against me, enjoying the closeness.
"Edward?" Her voice was muffled against my chest.
I kissed her head. I liked how my name sounded on her lips. "Hmm?"
"Will you … will you come home with me?"
I tilted her chin up and studied her open gaze. No one had ever looked at me with so much emotion before. It was overwhelming. "God, Bella, I want to. I want to so much. Are you sure?"
I drew in a deep breath and kissed her again. "Take me there, then."
I would so take this slightly shy, sweet Edward home as well and make sure he was warm ... just saying. Next chapter mid week.