Contest entry for the Light The Darkness contest
Title: Beauty and the Beast
Pairing: Bella and Edward
Summary: A battle-scarred veteran has given up on finding love and acceptance when a pretty young girl looks his way.
Disclaimer: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thanks to everyone involved in the Light The Darkness contest! I won Third place in both the Public and Judges Votes as well as CapitalAB's pick!
4:44… 4:45… 4:46…
Edward stares up at the clock on the wall, wishing for the end of his work day. It's been a long one and his bad leg is killing him. He pulls out the stool that his boss, Mrs. Newton, got for him and sits down, hating the need for the "accommodation."
The sound of the bell tinkling alerts him that a customer has entered the store. He looks up to see a pretty blonde woman wearing a fashionable coat, tight black skirt and knee high boots. She notices him behind the counter and smiles coyly. Once upon a time, a woman like this would've been exactly his type — a little flirting, dinner and a movie, then home to his bed.
But now he knows better.
As the blonde wanders around the small drugstore, he watches her through the security mirrors overhead. He's watching when she stops to pull something out of her purse. She freshens her lipstick and primps her long wavy hair. And then she turns around, heading straight for him.
"Hi there…" she greets him with a seductive smile, looking down at his nametag, "Edward. I was wondering if you could help me? I'm unable to reach the top shelf."
"Sure," he replies with a wink, sliding down off the stool. For just a moment, he allows himself to get lost in the look of attraction on the woman's face.
But it's been a long day on his feet, and he can't help limping slightly as he follows her toward the aisle. The blonde points to a can of hairspray that's just out of her reach and the 6-foot-2 Edward easily retrieves it for her.
"Here you go," he says, handing her the item with a smile. But he can already see the change in her demeanor.
With a sigh, he walks back to the counter, not trying quite so hard to control his limp. When she's finished shopping, the blonde brings him her basket without another word. Edward rings her up, dismissing her with a pleasant, "Thank you, come again."
He shakes his head sadly as he watches her walk out of the store. New day, same old shit.
Showered and ready for the day, Edward straps on his right leg, cursing to himself at how it looks like something from The Terminator. Maybe someday he'll have enough money for one of the more lifelike prosthetic legs. And the money for the alterations needed for him to be able to drive his beloved old Camaro.
He holds on to the railing as he slowly descends the stairs, still a little unsteady on his feet. In the kitchen, he finds a note from his mother taped to the fridge, reminding him that today is her early shift at the hospital and she's unable to drive him to work.
After a quick bowl of cereal, Edward puts his coat on and curses out loud when he opens the front door to a steady rain. He lives in the rainiest place in the country, so it shouldn't really surprise him, but he's going to be soaked before he reaches the small downtown area where the drugstore is located. He looks around in the closet for an umbrella, but finds nothing.
Sighing, Edward pulls on a baseball cap and steps out onto the porch. He locks the door behind him and sets off into the rainy morning.
Meanwhile, at a little house on the edge of the forest, Isabella Swan, or Bella as she prefers to be called, climbs into the cab of her rusted 1950s era Chevy pick-up. Classes don't start for another 30 minutes, but she is hoping to have time to look over her books once more before her Spanish test.
Driving down the road, wipers swishing steadily back and forth, she sees a tall, solitary figure walking along the side of the road. Bella's father is the Chief of Police in this tiny town, and he's drilled into his young daughter the dangers of picking up hitchhikers, but this man isn't hitchhiking. Hunched over in a useless attempt at staying dry, he seems safe enough.
Bella pulls her truck over to the side of the road in front of the man, reaching across the cab to roll down the passenger side window.
"Hey," she calls out to him, "Need a ride? Where are you headed?"
Edward looks up at the sound of her voice. More than a dozen cars have already passed him by without even hitting the brakes, so he really hadn't expected anyone to stop. He walks over to the truck, peering in the window. A young woman sits in the driver's seat, her long brown hair nearly obscuring her face.
"I'm headed to Newton's," he replies. "A ride would be great."
Bella smiles at the handsome stranger, trying not to get lost in his kind green eyes. Deciding he's no axe murderer, she reaches across to unlock the door. Edward pulls on the handle, thankful that his long legs make it easy for him to slide his backside onto the high seat. He does his best to maneuver what's left of his right leg inside the cab and slams the door.
"Going shopping in this weather?" Bella asks, trying to make conversation with the beautiful young man.
"Oh no, I—I work at Newton's," he replies quietly.
"Has your car broken down?" she asks, her nervousness making her chattier than usual. "My friend Jacob is great with cars; he keeps this old thing running. He could help you out. Cheap," she adds, noting that he's probably making only minimum wage.
"I think my car needs more work than your friend can handle," Edward replies quietly. "Thanks though."
As they drive, he repeatedly sneaks glances at the girl in the driver's seat. She's pretty, what he can see of her — all pale skin, rosy cheeks and big dark eyes.
"Here we are," Bella announces, pulling the truck to a stop in front of the store.
"Thank you for the ride, um…"
"Bella," she supplies with a smile.
"Bella," he repeats quietly. "I'm Edward Masen." He opens the passenger door, turning to the side so that he can put all of his weight onto his left leg as he slides out of the cab, all the while praying that Bella doesn't notice how awkward he is.
"Thanks again," he says, closing the door behind him. He stands watching the truck as Bella drives off. He finds her very attractive, if a bit young. Still, there's no way she'd be interested in him. Not once she sees the truth.
On a beautiful early spring day, Edward limps along the road on his way home from work. He doesn't know why, but his leg has been particularly sore today. As he passes by the diner, the smell of cooked beef calls to him. His mom isn't home, and he sure as hell can't cook. Though he was really hoping to get home and take his prosthetic leg off, he figures another 30 minutes or so can't hurt.
Inside the diner, Edward is making his way toward the counter to sit on one of the stools when he notices a head of long brown hair bent over some books in one of the booths.
Bella? He hasn't seen her since she gave him a ride to work three weeks ago.
He should just continue on his way to the counter, but something inside him makes him detour to her booth.
"Bella?" he asks softly, so as not to startle her.
"Oh, hey," she replies as she looks up, a lovely blush tinting her cheeks. She recognizes Edward right away, though she's stunned by how gorgeous he is without the baseball cap obscuring his features.
"I don't mean to bother you… I mean, if you're busy…"
"No, it—it's fine! Sit." Bella immediate curses herself out in her mind for being too eager. With a small smile, Edward slides into the booth across from her. She's wearing a dark blue v-neck sweater, and he can't help noticing how good the color looks against her pale skin.
"I just ordered," Bella says. "I mean, if you were gonna get something."
Edward picks up one of the menus, looking it over quickly. When the young, redheaded waitress comes by with Bella's water, he orders a bacon cheeseburger and fries, feeling like his old self when she flirts with him as she takes his order.
Bella's heart falls just a little at the way Edward flirts with the waitress. Of course he's not interested in her — probably thinks she's just a kid.
"What are you working on?" he says to Bella, nodding toward her books spread out on the table.
"Oh, math," she replies with a frown. "What possible use could I ever have for Calculus later in life?"
Shit, she's still in high school, Edward thinks to himself. "Maybe I could help?" he suggests. "I was pretty good at math back in the day." Jesus, he makes himself sound ancient.
Edward does his best to explain how to solve Bella's calculus problem, then helps her clean up her mess of books and papers when their food arrives. He feels like a bit of a pig with his huge burger while Bella takes dainty bites of a Cobb salad.
"Are you planning to go to college?" he asks curiously.
"Yeah… I've been accepted to U-Dub in the Fall… And Dartmouth," she adds shyly. "Though there's no way I could ever afford that."
Shit, even if she wasn't too young, she'll be at least four hours away in a few more months, Edward thinks to himself. "Do you know yet what you plan to study?"
"I'm going for a double major, Education and English. I hope to be a high school English teacher one day," Bella replies quietly. "See? No need for Calculus."
"No, I guess not," he chuckles. So she's smart as well as beautiful.
"Are you… in school?" she asks tentatively. He looks at least college-aged, but she's never been very good at guessing someone's age.
"No, I'm not. Maybe someday. I… I joined the Army after high school."
"Oh?" Bella says, looking up at the handsome young man. He must've been out of the Army for a while, she deduces, given the state of his long, messy reddish-brown hair. "Were you… overseas?"
"Yeah — Iraq. Until… well, until about six months ago."
"What was it like? I mean… you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."
"It was hell," he says simply. Bella gives him a small smile, looking at him sympathetically.
Edward hears giggling and looks around, noticing a group of girls at a table looking in their direction. "Do you know them?" he asks Bella.
She frowns. "They go to my school."
"Not your friends?" he guesses.
"No, not my friends."
Starting a new school her senior year was difficult for Bella. She'd always been shy, always had trouble making friends easily. The boys in her new class treated her like a shiny new toy, leaving the girls in her class seething with jealousy and wondering how this mousy thing could be deserving of all of their attention.
"Here you go," the waitress says, leaving the check on their table.
Bella reaches into her purse to pay her share, but Edward stops her, feeling a jolt of electricity as he places his palm on Bella's hand. "I've got it."
"I can't let you pay for my meal, Edward! I was here first."
"Really, it's the least I can do to thank you for rescuing me from the rain. And besides, what kind of gentleman would I be if I made a lady buy her own dinner? You can leave the tip if it makes you feel better," he says with a wink. Bella finally nods her acceptance of his compromise.
"Fuck," he swears under his breath as he stands up, his right leg almost giving out. He limps his way to the cash register, feeling like every eye in the diner is on him, wondering what happened to him. He feels the stares from the table of teenage girls burning into his back.
"Thank you for the pleasure of your company, Bella," he says as he limps back to the table.
"Um, the pleasure was all mine." God, that blush of hers will be his downfall one day. "Are you ready to leave? I can drive you home if your car is still out of commission."
"If you're not ready to go…"
"No, I can study at home," she assures him, packing up all of her books.
Together they walk out to Bella's truck in the parking lot. She unlocks the passenger door with her key before walking around to the other side. Edward is thankful that she's too preoccupied to see how carefully he gets himself up into the seat.
"Where do you live?" Bella asks, starting up the behemoth of a vehicle. Edward gives her his address and she turns left out of the parking lot.
As she drives, Bella can't help stealing glances at the handsome young man. Sure, she noticed his pronounced limp when he paid for their meals. She assumes he was injured in Iraq, but his short answer earlier about it being "hell" stops her from asking more questions. It doesn't really matter to her; he's still drop-dead gorgeous. Not to mention sweet and kind.
"This it?" Bella asks, nodding toward the tiny two-story bungalow.
"Yeah… thanks again for the ride," he says with a small smile, opening the door once she's pulled into the driveway.
"Anytime." A part of Bella wishes she were brave enough to ask Edward for his phone number, but this older man couldn't possibly be interested in her, or he'd have asked for hers, wouldn't he?
Edward slides carefully down from the seat, his right leg almost buckling under him. He'd just about psyched himself up to ask for her number, but not after that display. He couldn't take her rejection.
"Goodbye, Bella," he calls, slamming the door shut. Tears in his eyes, he limps up to the porch, pulls out his house key and unlocks the door.
"That smells good, Ma," Edward says when he smells their dinner baking in the kitchen. Elizabeth Masen smiles, happy to take care of her son, yet Edward still feels like a loser. He's 25 years old — he should be living in his own house, with his own family. His mom has been single since his father left 10 years ago. She should be out on a date on a Friday night, not cooking dinner for her helpless son.
"It should be just about done," his mom says, standing up. Edward moves to help her. "No, you stay off that leg. I can handle it."
"All right," he sighs. He's lifting his khakis to remove the prosthesis in favor of his walker when a small knock sounds at the front door. He quickly folds his pants back down as he hears his mother's footsteps on the hardwood floor.
He listens to the sound of the door opening, but there are no audible voices until his mother calls, "Edward!"
Curious as to who it could be, Edward stands too quickly, nearly falling. He catches himself and limps unsteadily to the door.
"Hi," Bella says, standing in the doorway looking shy and so, so pretty.
"Hi, Bella." Edward tries hard not to look as excited to see her as he actually is.
"Um… I was wondering… um, would you like to go to Port Angeles with me?" she stutters nervously. "I was supposed to go with my friend Angela, but her parents needed her to babysit her little brothers tonight. I haven't lived in Forks that long and I… well, I don't like the idea of driving that far by myself. I'm sorry to just show up like this, but I didn't have your number."
God, just shut up now, Bella, she thinks to herself.
"You want me to go to Port Angeles with you?" he repeats. Really, Bella hardly knows him, so it seems like such an odd request.
"It's ok… you don't have to go," she replies, dejected.
"No! No, I'll go. Um…" he turns around, looking at his mother. He feels bad leaving just before dinner.
"It's fine, Edward," Mrs. Masen assures him. "The leftovers will keep. I'll get your coat for you."
Feeling like a five-year-old, Edward lets his mother retrieve his coat from the closet. He slips his arms through the holes then motions Bella toward the door.
"If—if it's a bad time…"
"Mom said it's fine," he assures her.
Bella unlocks the passenger door for him again and leaves Edward to climb inside. "Um, why did you need to go to Port Angeles?" he asks curiously as she backs out of the driveway.
"I need to get a prom dress," Bella replies with a slight grimace.
And Edward's heart falls. A prom dress. Bella wants him to go with her so she can buy a dress to go out on a date with another man… or boy, most likely.
"Who's your date?" he asks quietly.
"Oh, I… I don't have a date. Angela insisted that I should just go by myself, that I have to go to prom. I've never really cared much about things that are supposed to be a rite of passage."
Edward feels his heart start beating again. She doesn't have a date.
They're on the lonely highway to Port Angeles when Edward finally gets up the courage to speak again. "You said you're new to Forks?"
"Yeah," she nods. "I moved here last summer. I was actually born here, but when my parents divorced, my mom and I moved to Phoenix. She got remarried last year and her new husband… well, he didn't like having a reminder of her first marriage hanging around. So I came here to live with my dad until I finish high school."
"Wow, that's… I'm sorry, Bella." Edward can't imagine anyone not wanting this girl around.
"You… live with your mom?" Bella asks tentatively. The woman who answered the door hardly looked old enough to be Edward's mother, though they look so much alike.
"Yeah… for now. I've only been back in town for a few months."
Throughout their long drive, Bella repeatedly opens her mouth to say something, but Edward always seems to just be staring out the window. There's something about this sad, lonely young man that tugs at her heartstrings. If she's being honest with herself, she'd been looking for an excuse to see him ever since that day several weeks ago when they had dinner together at the diner.
Maybe it's weird to invite a virtual stranger to accompany her on a trip like this, but she wanted to see him. And she's certain that she's safe with him; Edward would never harm her.
"This doesn't look like a clothing store," Edward remarks as Bella parks her truck in the lot next to Bella Italia.
"I know you haven't had dinner yet, so…" Bella shrugs, opening her car door.
Edward carefully lowers himself from the cab, his leg stiff from the hour-long drive. He tries his best to catch up with Bella, leaving his hand on the small of her back as he opens the restaurant door for her.
Once they're seated at a table for two, Edward and Bella stare across the table at each other, small smiles on each of their faces. "I'm buying tonight," Bella states. "No arguing."
"What can I get you?" the pretty dark-haired waitress asks Edward, batting her eyelashes in a way he imagines is supposed to be sexy.
"Bella…?" How incredibly rude, he thinks, to address him first.
"Oh, um, I'll have the mushroom ravioli. And a Diet Coke."
Once Edward has ordered the lasagna and a regular Coke, he turns to Bella. "You really didn't have to do this." But then he notices the frown on her face. "What is it?"
"Nothing," she replies, feeling her face flush. She can't believe the nerve of that waitress, flirting with him so openly when he's obviously here on a date! Well, it's not a real date, she supposes, but the waitress doesn't know that.
"So when is your prom?" Edward asks.
"Next week, Saturday night. I really don't know why I agreed to go; I don't dance."
Me neither, he thinks to himself.
"Angela just made such a big deal out of it," Bella continues. "Like it was a crime that I didn't go to homecoming last Fall."
"No one asked you to homecoming?"
"Um, actually three different guys asked me, but… I wasn't interested in any of them. And they weren't interested in me, either… at least not the real me. They hardly knew me."
Edward smiles at her, taking a sip of his Coke when the waitress drops off their drinks.
"What about you?" Bella asks hesitantly. "Did you go to prom?"
"I did," he sighs, thinking of his old girlfriend, Tanya. They split up just after graduation. She was going off to college and didn't want to be an Army wife.
"Do you still talk to your… date?" Bella wonders how a guy this amazing can still be single.
"No," he shakes his head. "She went to college but dropped out when she got pregnant. Last I heard she was divorced with two kids."
"Two kids?" Bella's eyes widen. "How old are you anyway? Oh my God… oh my God… I'm so rude, forget I said that." Edward's eyes crinkle up as he tries not to laugh at her embarrassment. That blush does things to him.
"I'm 25, Bella. Ancient."
"You're not ancient!"
"Well, I feel like it sometimes," he admits. Bella knows this is a perfect opportunity to ask about his leg, but she can sense that Edward doesn't want to talk about it.
"Have you eaten here before?" Edward asks once the waitress has delivered their meals to the table.
"Once," Bella replies. "My dad brought me here for my 18th birthday last September." She's 18, Edward thinks to himself. Perfectly legal.
"You know you really didn't need to take me somewhere this nice. McDonald's would've been fine."
"No, absolutely not!" Bella insists. "I'm dragging you away from whatever fun things you could be doing on a Friday night to go dress shopping with me. Really, you deserve a nice meal."
"Dress shopping with you is the most fun thing I've done in a very long time, Bella." Fuck, now she really will think I'm a loser, Edward berates himself.
Once the check comes, Bella agrees to let Edward leave the tip while she pays for their meal. He stands carefully, hating that Bella has to wait until he's steady on his feet.
"This way," he says, ducking his head in embarrassment as he leads Bella to the door.
Outside, Bella faces a huge decision. Will she make Edward feel worse if she drives the two blocks to park near the dress shop, or if she suggests they walk and he's unable? Should she asks him which he prefers?
"Um, the dress shop is just down the street," she says, pointing in the right direction. She bites her lip and watches him nervously as she waits for his reply.
Edward frowns as he looks down the street. Most days, he could more than walk that far — does walk that far, home from work. But his leg was already bothering him two hours ago.
"The, um, breeze is kind of chilly," Bella lies when she notices his frown. "Let's just drive."
"Ok," Edward whispers gratefully.
Bella is able to park the truck right in front of the store. Once again, Edward eases himself out of the cab, following Bella to the door.
"So am I actually helping you look?" he says with a smile.
"Sure," she shrugs, "If you want to. Or you can just sit outside the dressing room and wait for me if you prefer."
Edward has no experience dress shopping, but he remembers the deep blue sweater that Bella wore that day in the diner, and he knows that's what he wants. As he pours through the racks of short dresses, he knows none of these are 'Bella.' She seems to dress quite modestly.
Turning toward a rack with longer dresses, he pulls out the perfect one. The dress is navy and long, cut so that it would show off her curves beautifully. The whole upper part of the back of the dress is lace, coming around to form small sleeves over the shoulders.
"Bella," he calls, "How about this one?" Edward has to admit that he has no idea what her size would be. She's quite slim… perfect, actually.
Bella hasn't been having any luck finding something that doesn't look… slutty, so she has little hope that Edward could have found something acceptable to her. But when he holds up the long blue dress with the lace cap sleeves, she falls in love instantly.
"That's really pretty, Edward!" Edward beams as she flips through the dresses on the rack to find her size. "Ok, you go sit down and I'll model for you."
As Edward takes a seat he reminds himself to temper his reaction when Bella comes out of the dressing room. Drooling would not be an acceptable reaction for mere acquaintances… or even new friends.
Bella slips into the dress, admiring herself in the dressing room mirror. The ruching on the sides is just perfect for hiding any flaws. It's a struggle to zip the dress, and she can't quite get the zipper all the way to the top, but it's close enough for her to know that she loves it.
Now, to see Edward's reaction.
When Bella steps out of the dressing room, Edward catches his breath. She's so fucking gorgeous, he thinks. With her hair done up and some make-up on, she'll be absolutely breathtaking.
"What—what do you think?" Bella asks nervously.
"Do you like it?" he asks, hedging just a little bit.
"I love it," she replies, a bright smile on her face.
"Then I think you should get it," he nods.
"But do you like it?"
"I do. It looks even better than I'd expected."
Smiling hugely, Bella returns to the dressing room to change back into her own clothes.
"Do you need shoes or anything?" Edward asks when she comes out again.
"No… I think the silver heels from my mom's wedding should work." Edward nods, a little bit disappointed that their shopping trip has apparently come to an end.
Bella hands the sales clerk her father's credit card with a smile. Charlie had been happy to buy her prom dress as a graduation gift. After signing the receipt, she takes the dress in the bag, carrying it toward the front door of the shop.
"Do you need me to carry that?" Edward asks, doing his best to be a gentleman.
"Oh, I've got it," she smiles.
"Thank you for coming with me, Edward," Bella says shyly as she merges onto the 101. "And you even found my dress!"
"Anytime, Bella. Anytime you need anything." Edward has a feeling he'd do anything this girl asked.
"So, um, have you thought about maybe going to college?" Bella asks, trying to break the silence as they drive back to Forks.
"Maybe… someday. I can get my tuition paid, thanks to my stint in the Army. I just don't know right now what I want to study."
"Wasn't there anything you wanted to be when you were growing up?"
"I wanted a career in the military, like my grandfather," Edward says softly. "But that's… no longer possible."
Again, Bella feels like she has the perfect opportunity to just ask Edward what happened to his leg, and if it'll ever get better. And again, she chickens out, not wanting to upset him.
Edward tries to keep his eyes on the road, but he can't help the way they keep drifting over to Bella. Looking at her profile, his eyes are drawn to her full lips. It's been so long since he's touched a woman — since the last time he came home on leave before his injury. Just a kiss might be enough to set him off.
"Are you staring at me?" Bella asks, blushing as she notices where Edward's attention is directed.
"You're just so beautiful," he admits, no longer able to keep his feelings under wraps.
"Um, thanks?" Bella replies with a nervous chuckle. Inside she's squeeing like a normal teenage girl. "You're, um, pretty good-looking yourself. Seems whenever I'm with you, every other woman around us is staring at you."
"Hmmm… maybe. Until they see."
"See the way I walk. Surely, you've noticed it, Bella," Edward says bitterly.
"I've noticed," she admits softly, "But it doesn't matter."
"It doesn't matter?! Of course it matters."
"Not to me," she replies stubbornly. How can this amazing man think that a limp defines who he is?
As she drives through the quiet town, Bella wishes there was something she could say, some way to make Edward understand. He's staring out at the black night again, not paying any attention to her. She's had such a good time tonight, and it's such a shame for it to end like this.
"Would you… want to maybe get some ice cream?" she asks quietly.
"No, thanks," Edward whispers. He can't deal with her pity right now.
Bella pulls into the driveway at Edward's house, sad that their night is over. "I, um, had a really good time tonight. Thanks again for everything."
"You're welcome," he replies, lifting her right hand to place a small kiss on the back of it.
Bella watches as Edward walks to the door, wishing… just wishing things could be different.
By Tuesday, Bella is certain of what she wants and she's determined to have it. After school she drives downtown, parking just down the street from Newton's. She walks up the sidewalk to the store and peeks in the window to see that Edward is at work.
With that settled, she drives to his house, praying that his mother is home.
Bella waits nervously on the porch until Mrs. Masen answers the door, still wearing her nurse's uniform. Bella tells the older woman her plan and she assures Bella that Edward will be available. She'll make sure his Army dress uniform is pressed and waiting for him. He may not react favorably at first, but his mother is certain that Bella can convince him.
The night of her prom, Bella and Angela get dressed together at Angela's house, doing each other's hair and make-up.
"Are you sure it's ok that Ben asked me to prom?" Angela asks. "You don't mind going by yourself?"
"I don't mind," Bella assures her. She's afraid to tell her friend that she might have a date, not wanting to be embarrassed if it doesn't work out.
When Ben shows up, Bella gets in her truck, driving to Edward's house. She takes a deep breath before she knocks on the front door.
Inside, Edward sits on the couch watching TV while his mother washes the dishes from dinner. "Could you get that, honey?" Mrs. Masen calls when there's a knock at the door.
Edward limps to the door, stunned when he opens it to see Bella standing there, all dressed up in the prom dress that he chose.
"Um, hi," she says shyly.
"What are you doing here, Bella?" He's never seen her look like this before — so beautiful, so out of his league.
"I came to pick you up," she announces, trying desperately to cover her nervousness.
"Pick me up?"
"So you can take me to prom."
"Bella, I… I can't take you to your prom! I can't dance, Bella." God, how he wishes right now that he could.
"We don't have to actually dance… I told you I can't dance either."
"But… I don't… I don't have a tux."
"You have these," his mother says, appearing beside him carrying his Army dress uniform.
"You were in on this?" he asks, betrayal making the question sharper than he intended.
"It's my fault," Bella speaks up. "I came by earlier this week when you were at work and asked your mom to help me."
Edward runs his fingers through his hair, wanting so desperately to say yes, that he'd be honored to escort her, but he knows that he can't do it, not while she's still in the dark. It wouldn't be fair.
"I'll hang these on the closet door," his mother says. "And come in, Bella! My son usually has better manners than this."
With a small smile, Bella steps over the threshold, closing the front door behind her. She watches as Edward's mother disappears upstairs to give them some privacy.
"You don't want me to take you to prom, Bella," Edward says sadly.
"Of course I do! And I already bought your ticket, so don't you dare try that excuse."
"Bella, you're… God, you look amazing. You're so beautiful." He shakes his head. "I don't belong with someone like you."
"Are you kidding?" Bella cries in disbelief. "You don't know how many of my classmates came up to me after that day at the diner to ask who the hot guy was that I was sitting with."
"Sure they did," he scoffs. "I'm sure they wondered who the hot, crippled guy is. Compared to you, I'm a… I'm a beast."
Bella rolls her eyes. "You're not crippled. You walk with a bit of a limp sometimes, so what?"
"It's a little bit more than a limp, Bella!"
When Bella looks at him questioningly, he knows he needs to show her. Moving into the living room, Edward sits on the couch and begins rolling up his right pant leg, revealing the metal underneath.
"Oh my God," Bella gasps.
Edward closes his eyes, not wanting to see the revulsion on her face. "Now that you've seen it, you can go."
Slowly, Bella walks over to the couch, kneeling in front of Edward. "Why would I go?"
Startled to hear her voice so close, he opens his eyes, staring down at Bella. "You'll mess up your pretty dress," he whispers.
"Can I…?" she asks, reaching her hand out. Edward nods slightly. He jumps when he feels Bella's palm on his thigh, just above where his leg was amputated after he stepped on the IED in Iraq.
"This doesn't define you, Edward," she says, looking him straight in the eye.
"Of course it does," he scoffs.
"No, it doesn't — not to me." How can she get through to this beautiful man? Leaning forward, she places her hands carefully on his cheeks.
"Don't, Bella," he whispers.
"Why not?" she asks, brow furrowed.
"Because I won't be able to take it when you leave me." If he gets even a small taste of her, he's never going to want to let go.
"I won't leave," she vows, touching her lips lightly to his. It's her first kiss — well, if you don't count the one Riley Biers gave her in second grade.
Pulling back, Bella stands up, straightening her dress. "Go put your suit on. We have a prom to get to."
Edward is still unsure — unsure of her motives, unsure of her feelings. But he knows he wants to experience this with her. He can't disappoint her.
After quickly changing clothes in the downstairs bathroom, Edward returns to the living room, knowing he's not imagining the admiring look in Bella's eyes when she sees him.
"Ma?" he calls up the stairs. "We're leaving."
In a flash, Mrs. Masen is downstairs, camera in hand. "Oh, let me take your picture!" Rolling his eyes, Edward poses with his arm around Bella's small waist, letting his mother take all of the photos she wants.
"Ma… we need to go," he finally complains.
"All right," she agrees, her eyes filling with tears. "Have a good time!"
"Thanks, Mrs. Masen," Bella replies shyly, letting Edward lead her out onto the porch.
"The truck's unlocked," Bella says, walking around to the driver's side. She makes the short drive to the high school, then takes Edward's hand as they walk into the school gymnasium, which has been decorated to look like an underwater fantasy world.
Bella hands the teacher at the door the two tickets then leads Edward into the crowd.
"My friend Angela is here somewhere with her date," she says. "Do you want a drink?"
"Sure," he nods. Together they find the punch bowl and Edward ladles each of them a plastic cup. He takes a small sip, then licks his lips. "Not spiked yet."
Bella laughs. "Was it spiked at your prom?"
"Who do you think spiked it?" he asks with a wink. Bella can't hold back her smile at seeing him so carefree.
Spotting Angela's 5-foot-11-inch frame across the gym, Bella leads Edward over to her friend. In heels, Angela towers over her date by at least six inches, though it doesn't seem to faze either of them.
"Angela, Ben, this is Edward Masen," Bella introduces him.
"Nice to meet you, Edward," Angela says with a smile.
"Wow, man, you're in the Army?" Ben asks in awe.
"I was," he replies with a small nod.
While Angela and Ben spend much of their time on the dance floor, Bella and Edward stand against the wall getting to know each other better. Edward touches her every second he can, either holding her hand or throwing one arm around her shoulders.
Bella watches all of the other couples dancing with envy. She's a terrible dancer, but the thought of not partaking in at least one dance at her own prom depresses her. She's now aware that Edward could never dance one of the faster dances, but he could slow dance, couldn't he?
The next time a slow song starts playing, Bella takes Edward's hand. "Dance with me."
"Bella…" God, how he wishes he could.
"You don't even have to move, just sway back and forth. Come on," she encourages. When she smiles at him like that, Edward thinks he would do anything for her. Nodding his head, he lets Bella pull him onto the dance floor.
They stand there awkwardly until Bella reaches up to encircle Edward's neck with her arms. He hugs her to him, smiling down at her as he tries to sway without picking up his feet.
"See? I knew you could do it," she smiles. "I just wanted to say that I danced at my prom."
"Whatever you want."
Edward reaches his hand up, brushing his fingers over her blushing cheek. "So beautiful…"
When the music stops, the pair remains there on the dance floor, still wrapped around each other. "We should, um, probably move," Bella whispers.
"I need to try one thing first."
Lifting her chin, Edward leans down until his lips are touching Bella's. When she opens her mouth, he deepens the kiss. Bella would happily stand there kissing her gorgeous date all night, but a whistle and catcall from that idiot Mike Newton causes them to break apart.
"My dad's working the night shift tonight," Bella blurts out.
Edward raises an eyebrow, unable to contain his smirk. "Are you trying to steal my virtue?"
"What?!" Bella gasps in horror. "No! No, I just… I thought maybe we could… talk. Yeah. Just talk. And maybe kiss a little more."
"Whatever you want, it's yours. I'm yours."
The grin that lights up Bella's face fills the entire room. "As I'm yours."
A/N: Dedicated to my step-nephew, who came back from Iraq with all of his body parts, but also with mild PTSD and post-concussion syndrome.
I literally decided to possibly enter this contest 48 hours before the deadline. I went to bed on Sunday evening trying to think of a plotline. I was off work Monday so I spent the entire day writing this (in third person for the first time, no less!) and sent it off to moosals that night. She looked it over in just a few hours and I was able to incorporate her suggestions Tuesday night after work and send it in just prior to the deadline.
You might have noticed the contest entry was rated T. One of the reviews said: "When the contest is over, maybe you can let Bella steal his virtue?" Therefore, any continuation will not be rated T. ;) Note that this story is third in line to be written though!