Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Chapter Five: Lead the Way

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EDWARD

Every cell in Edward’s body went cold at his whispered name. He didn’t recognize her voice, and it put him on edge that some stranger could easily assume he had called his brother.

“Who is this?” he asked, knowing that he should deny his name or at the very least hang up the phone. He didn’t quite understanding why he couldn’t bring himself to do either.

There was a stilted pause before the girl said, “I’m… a friend.”


Edward laughed bitterly. “I don’t have any friends.” Indeed, he hadn’t had a friend for several years. Acquaintances, yes, and associates, but not friends. To have a friend meant he would have to trust someone other than himself.

“I want to help,” the girl said, dropping her volume further as a much more familiar voice asked, “Bella, who is on the phone?”

Edward’s heart nearly beat out of his chest when he heard his mother speak in the background. He was immediately transported to another, much happier time in his life — a time when the woman that had just spoken and his brother were the centers of his universe. It’d been years since he heard her voice and his stomach twisted almost painfully at the sound of it.

“Don’t tell her who it is,” Edward hissed.

“No one, Mrs. Masen. It’s just a telemarketer.”

“All right, dear,” Esme said; he could easily picture the sweet smile tugging at her lips. “Would you mind just hanging up the phone? Though I can appreciate you being polite, I would rather not encourage them to call here.”

Bella assured his mother she would and waited presumably for her to leave the room before saying, “Please, tell me where you are.”

Edward thought this girl had to be certifiable. That, or she thought he was a complete idiot. “Goodbye, Bella,” he said, hanging up the payphone and effectively ending the call. He made his way back to the café table where his food sat waiting for him and felt even more on edge than he had been.

Bella, he thought to himself. He didn’t know of any Bellas on Aro’s payroll, but Edward was hardly privy to every secret his employer had up his sleeve. Still, it didn’t feel right. Aro would not have shown his hand so early. Had Bella been sent by him to watch Edward’s family, she would have played dumb over the phone or laid out a blatant threat.
Edward sighed heavily before diving into his eggs and bacon. It would do him no good to get distracted when he was so close to freedom. He did not like this girl being around his family, but he was content to let her be for the moment. When he was done with Carlisle Cullen, he would turn his attention to Bella and find out exactly what she wanted from him and the people he loved.

For the past week, Edward had been driving back and forth between Forks and Seattle, doing reconnaissance on Cullen. His eyes scanned over the case file Aro had given him, but it was as useless as the information he had gathered on his own. The Doctor’s history was filled with holes. He’d had a family once, but their names and what had happened to them was unknown. The town seemed to think he was some sort of murderer or spy. From what he knew about Aro, Edward thought “innocent man” was more likely.

Edward studied the pictures next, but like the documents, there wasn’t anything he could gather from them other than what Cullen liked for lunch or which street he took to work. Edward dropped his fork noisily to his plate and hesitated only a short moment before pulling out his cell phone and loading the GPS. He pulled up a map of Forks and felt his pulse quicken.

It’s probably nothing, he told himself. Just an odd quirk of the Doctor’s.

But quirk or not, it was something more than the nothing he’d had all along. The shortest distance between Carlisle Cullen’s house and the hospital was not the route he took every day. In fact, the street he took was at least five minutes out of his way. Edward searched the internet for names of stores or residences on the street and cursed at the results.

Forks was small and had apparently been left behind when the rest of the world went digital. Any information he gathered would have to be done in person, and Edward sighed in annoyance as he realized he’d have to take yet another trip to the desolate town tomorrow morning.

He tried to focus on planning his trip, but despite telling himself Bella was not an immediate threat, he couldn’t get her out of his mind. A friend, she had called herself. In what way did she mean? She could be a friend in the way that she truly wanted to help him (he tried not to scoff aloud) or she could be a friend in the way Aro was a “friend.” That thought made him shudder.

No, he couldn’t believe that. Perhaps it was wishful thinking or just the natural sincerity in her voice, but he did not consider Bella, whoever she was, to be as vile as Aro. And he definitely could not entertain the idea she was there to hurt his family.

The crack in his heart splintered as he recalled his mother’s voice coming over the phone. He missed her terribly, and he wondered how she might have responded had Bella told her who was actually on the line. He knew she would never forgive him, but did she miss him at all? Did she still love him?

“Hey, sugar, you done with breakfast? Can I take this from you?” the waitress asked, breaking into Edward’s thoughts.

He waved his hand dismissively, and she collected his empty plate and utensils. When he noticed she hadn’t moved to leave the table, he glanced up from the Doctor’s file, folding it closed and discreetly hiding its contents. “Is there something I can do for you?”

“Would you like some pie today?”

“It’s 9:30 in the morning. It’s too early for pie,” he said, ignoring the flirtatious way the waitress had framed her question.

“It’s never too early for dessert, I always say.” The waitress had clearly not caught on to Edward’s disinterest, driving the final nail into the coffin by saying, “And I make great pie.”

Edward gritted his teeth in irritation. One of his biggest pet peeves was when people turned food into innuendo. No matter how hard he tried, the food never tasted quite the same after it had been contorted in a sexual manner. He would never look at pie the same way again.

Perhaps if he had been anyone other than Esme Masen’s son, he would have taken the young, attractive waitress up on the offer. But Esme had always taught Edward and Jasper a healthy respect for women (even when those women didn’t seem capable of respecting themselves), and whatever faults Edward may have had during his teen years, he had always carried that with him.

“No, thank you,” he said in an evasively calm tone.

The waitress seemed to take the hint, giving him a playful smile before retrieving the bill. He rolled his eyes at the seven digits underlining his waitress’s name and left her a generous tip as consolation for rejecting her. As he left the café, Edward thought forward to the next morning and hoped to God it would bring him one step closer to living a free and possibly happy life.

. . . . . . .

Edward’s lack of focus frustrated him. The drive to Forks was typically long and boring, four hours of nothing but trees and concrete. Besides needing to pay heed to the wet and slippery roads, Edward usually spent this time preparing his mind for his current task. Not today, however. Today, he was divided between Carlisle Cullen, Esme and Jasper Masen, and Bella… just Bella.

Perhaps not knowing her full name was why the mystery voice invaded his thoughts so often. She was an enigma, and Edward loathed not having all the facts. This reason, similarly, was why the Cullen case aggravated him to such a large degree. It wasn’t that Aro didn’t often send Edward out with little information, only that he would have generally found something by now. This small detour in the Doctor’s driving habits was the first lead Edward had had, and it wasn’t all that promising to begin with.

That Aro seemed so unsurprised and uncaring about Edward’s lack of knowledge also perturbed him, though in a far more terrifying way. Edward knew the penalty for failing his employer, having seen it happen to certain associates in the past and having messed up, himself, twice in his early years. It didn’t make sense that there would be no threats, no beatings, no anything. Aro was playing with him, like a cat would play with a mouse before ending its pathetic life. He just wasn’t sure how Carlisle Cullen played into that equation.

Edward’s thoughts shifted once more to his mother and brother as his thumb tapped restlessly against the steering wheel. Would he ever get the chance to make amends? Would they be safe if Edward fell into Aro’s trap? Was it possible that Bella was there to protect his loved ones from that very fate?

Edward shook his head roughly and told himself to concentrate. He needed to stay focused, get this job finished, and move on. No distractions.

It was as though the universe had heard him and was getting revenge for all the wrong he had ever done. Edward tried to ignore the flashing emergency lights of a vehicle further ahead. It was only half past five in the morning, and without the sun having broken the horizon, he could only just make out the silhouette of a truck pulled over haphazardly on the side of the highway.

He ground his teeth and clutched the steering wheel a little tighter, determined to drive by without stopping to help. He had work to do. He couldn’t afford to lose any time. No distractions.

But his nature would persist — the moment he drove by the rustic truck, guilt and sympathy filled Edward for the unlucky traveler stranded on the side of the road. The torrential rain was only icing on the proverbial cake. He huffed in annoyance at his own chivalry as he pulled over.

He climbed out of the warmth and comfort of his car, thankful at least for his hooded jacket, and made his way to the junker behind him. The driver of the truck practically leapt out of their skin when Edward pounded on the door, and then struggled to roll down the manual window.

Edward might have found this amusing on any other day, but as he was standing out in the rain getting soaked, he rather wished they’d just open the damn door. Finally, when the window was about halfway down, the driver seemed to decide it was low enough to talk.

“Um, hello?” an unsure female voice said on the other side of the window.

“Do you need some help with your truck?” Edward asked, attempting to make out the girl’s face by the dim light of dawn. The sun would be up in minutes.

“I’m— I’m not really sure,” she answered. “It just stopped running about twenty minutes ago. I mean, it is old,” Edward had to smile at this; even from a distance he could see the truck was ancient, “but it’s never just stopped working like this before.”

“Well, why don’t you pop the hood and I’ll have a look?” Edward prompted, hoping to get this done quickly so he could continue with his mission.

“I’d really appreciate that.”

The girl made to open the door, but Edward kept himself in the way. “Why don’t you stay inside? There’s no reason for both of us to get soaked,” he pointed out, once again impressed by his own gallantry.

“I would, but the hood only opens manually.”

Edward relented, and the girl went to pop the hood while he searched his trunk for a flashlight and the small toolkit he kept with him for occasions such as this. Admittedly, he did not know much about cars, but he had picked up enough over the years that he could, if nothing else, appear useful.

The girl seemed to be having issues prying the hood open, so he jogged back to her side, intent on helping her. The sky was slowly beginning to lighten, and he could make out that she was young, perhaps in her late teens or early twenties, brunette, and rather small.

“Why don’t you go ahead and stay in the truck while I do this?” he said, somewhat concerned for the girl’s health. It wouldn’t do to have her simply standing out here, shivering and cold, when there wasn’t much she could contribute anyway.

“Are you sure?” she asked. “I feel bad that you’re getting all wet.”

“Yes, I’m fine,” he reassured her. “There’s no sense in both of us suffering. Besides, I’ll need you to try turning on the engine when I say so.”

Edward poked and prodded around in the engine for a few minutes. Three times, he had the girl attempt to start the engine, and three times, it failed. He was beginning to give up hope when he caught sight of a loose belt. He tightened it and gave the girl the signal to try the engine again. The loud roar that greeted his ears was a welcome relief. He could finally be on his way.

As he shut the hood, the rain finally let up and he rolled his eyes. Typical. He heard the cab door open and shut and before he knew what happened there was a loud squeal and the girl launched herself into his arms.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!” she whispered in his ear. “I would have never been able to afford a tow-truck, let alone the auto shop. Thank you so much for being so kind!”

“Um, it was no problem,” Edward responded, awkwardly patting her on the back. He was torn between discomfort at her enthusiastic response and amusement. Though he wouldn’t admit it, he might have even enjoyed the affection, just a little.

The girl seemed to realize that she had just flung herself into the arms of a complete stranger and pulled back. Just as she released Edward, the sunlight finally broke through the Washington trees and his breath caught in his throat as he truly saw her for the first time.

Fuck, he thought. This girl was definitely going to be a distraction.

. . . . . .

BELLA
Bella couldn’t stop grinning as she disentangled herself from the kind man who’d saved her from a dismal morning. She had thought one of the last ties to her father was done for as she had sat stranded on the side of the road, and she couldn’t even begin to think about how much it would have cost her.

She would need to talk to Dr. Cullen about possibly getting a replacement car if he insisted on meeting with her in person every time she heard from his son. She wasn’t sure the old truck was capable of making the drive between Seattle and Forks again, no matter how much her boss willed it.

Bella glanced up at the stranger to thank him again before she drove the rest of the distance to Dr. Cullen’s house but felt a gasp fall from her lips as she saw his face for the first time.

It was Carlisle Cullen’s son, Edward — Bella was sure of it.

She closed her gaping mouth, thankful that Edward seemed to be dealing with his own minor disturbance. She wondered a bit at what was causing him to look simultaneously both pained and pleased. He seemed to be having some sort of internal debate right in front of her, and she heard him mutter softly, “No distractions.”

The possibility of Edward leaving spurred Bella’s mind forward. She needed to get him to talk to her, to trust her, so that she could report back to Dr. Cullen as much information as she could gather. Bella knew, of course, that she would have to play it safe. Under no circumstances could she tell Edward that she knew who he was; it had done nothing save abruptly end their conversation the day before.

“I’m Edward,” the young man blurted before Bella had a chance. He was cringing slightly as he held his hand out to her.

“I’m—” she stopped just short of saying her name. “Bye, Bella,” he had said yesterday on the phone. While Bella wasn’t necessarily an uncommon name, it was surely too much a coincidence to let pass. “I’m Marie,” she told him instead, deciding that giving her middle name wasn’t really a lie.

She shook his hand and released it quickly, sure that he would feel her rapid pulse if she held it too long. Bella was not a skilled actress, and she hoped her flushed cheeks were not a dead giveaway.

“So…” Edward said, clearly searching for a topic to discuss as Bella tried to come up with a plan of action. “Do you live in town or are you just passing through?”

“I, uh, used to live in Forks but just moved up to Seattle,” she answered carefully. “I was coming back down to speak with my boss.”

“Oh.”

“And you?” she asked, happy he had opened with this line of questioning (even if it was just filler); she could prod him without making him suspicious.

“I’m here on business as well,” Edward said. “And as it so happens, I also live in Seattle.”

“Really?” Bella’s eyes widened and a smile spread over her face. This was working out well. She now had all of two things to tell Dr. Cullen.

Edward seemed pleased and encouraged by her reaction. “Yeah,” he said, grinning back at her in full force.

They stood there in the street, smiling at each other like goofy teens. It was the first time since their meeting that Bella recognized the twenty-two year old Edward was supposed to be. He had looked so much older.

An angry blare snapped Bella from her musings, and she barely had a second to realize the situation before she was yanked out of the way. She glanced quickly at Edward, who was following the passing car with a menacing stare, and was again very aware of the pounding in her veins. She pulled her hand from Edward’s much more forcefully than was warranted and took a step backwards.

Edward looked down at his empty hand and frowned. “Right, I guess I should be going,” he said. He didn’t waste any time in turning toward his car, and Bella panicked.

“Wait!” she practically screamed.

“Yes?” Edward said, immediately turning back to her.

“Um, do you want to go somewhere and…?” Bella was going to say ‘talk’ but that seemed a bit too presumptuous for a first meeting. She felt like a gaping fish as she scrambled for something else to say.

“…and?” he prompted after a couple moments. The way his eyes sparkled told Bella he was enjoying her discomfort far too much.

“Get some coffee?” she sputtered, for lack of a better alternative.

Edward seemed thoroughly amused. “Coffee?” he asked, a disbelieving quality to his voice.

“Yeah, coffee. Like, we could go somewhere and drink coffee. I think it might make us feel good. I mean, when I drink coffee I feel warm and kind of whole. Like everything is right with the world. I like it with a little bit of sugar and a lot a bit of cream,” Bella rambled awkwardly. To be honest, coffee was starting to sound really good right about now. When Edward continued to stare at her, she added, “On me.”

“You mean… coffee?” The smirk swiftly fell from his face.

Bella smiled sympathetically at Edward. He seemed to be having a difficult time relating to her, and she wondered if he got asked to go many places. From what Dr. Cullen had told her, Edward had been on his own for quite some time. It must have been lonely for him, without anyone to turn to.

“Yes, coffee,” she repeated. She smiled more surely, hoping to ease his reservations. “So would you like to… come?”

“Come?” Edward muttered darkly, frowning deeply at this point.

“When I have a cup of coffee it makes me tingle from my head to the tips of my toes,” Bella pushed on determinedly. She’d get him to have a cup of coffee with her if it was the last thing she did. “And seeing as we’re all wet, it might be nice to get warm.”

Edward didn’t respond, choosing instead to glare at her. Bella took a deep breath. She could understand being shy, but now he was being blatantly rude. She wondered briefly if he had some sort of bipolar disorder, and then reminded herself that it didn’t matter. This was her job. She needed to get closer to him.

“If you don’t want to go inside somewhere, we can even just do it in the cab of my truck. There’s a—”

“Really, that’s enough!” Edward cut her off. He mumbled something about, “typical,” and, “my fault… getting distracted,” before turning his glare back on her. “Don’t you have any self-respect?”

“Oh, my God, what do you have against coffee?” Bella snapped, beyond insulted.

Edward rolled his eyes. “You don’t have to keep calling it coffee. I get what you’re saying and my answer is no.”

Bella was stricken by the venom in his tone. “What the hell is your problem? I’m just trying to offer you something since you helped me out of a jam, and—”

“Look, lady, you don’t have to offer yourself up for ‘coffee’ just because I fixed your truck. I didn’t do it for that. And anyway, I’m not the kind of guy to have sex with random girls,” he said, irritation present in every facet of his body.

“Sex?” Bella gaped at him. “I wasn’t propositioning you! I was asking you out for a cup of coffee!”

“‘It makes me tingle from my head to the tips of my toes?’” Edward quoted sarcastically. “Yeah, that doesn’t sound like any cup of coffee I’ve ever had.”

“It’s caffeine. It makes me lightheaded. I like the feeling!”

“We can do it in the cab of your truck?” he shot back.

“They put a drive-through Starbucks in Forks. It was the talk of the town for months,” Bella replied, crossing her arms defensively. This guy was seriously screwed up in the head if he had managed to somehow transform an innocent offer for coffee into a sexual suggestion.

“‘A little bit of sugar and a lot a bit of cream?’” Edward said, but Bella could tell he was losing steam.

“Shockingly, I don’t like my coffee to taste bitter.”

Edward didn’t respond for several moments. He didn’t even seem capable of looking Bella properly in the eye. Finally he took a deep breath and let his shoulders sag. “I’m so sorry,” he began, still not meeting Bella’s eye and massaging his temple as if to rid himself of a headache. “I’m obviously a little fucked up at the moment. My head’s all over the place and my life is just…” he left the sentence open.

For the first time that morning, Edward let his guard down, and Bella could see complete exhaustion and vulnerability in his features. Worry wrinkles had settled into his forehead, and the bruising under his eyes was not from a physical altercation. The maturity she had noticed from the start was one thing, but this gaunt, defeated man before her was quite another.

Bella felt her anger melt away, something that didn’t happen often what with her stubbornness. Getting to know Edward was her job, but she found herself hoping she could help him heal, as well. He seemed to need a friend.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Bella asked carefully. “We could go get—”

“A cup of coffee?” Edward interrupted her, that crooked grin reappearing on his lips.

Bella laughed and rolled her eyes. “No, I’m pretty positive I’m never going to drink coffee again. Thank you very much for that.”

“Hopefully I haven’t ruined sugar and cream for you as well.”

“No one could ever ruin sugar for me. As for cream, well, I guess we’ll just have to see.”

“Perhaps, then, I could take you out to breakfast to make up for it?” Edward asked, seemingly holding his breath as he waited for her reply.

Bella bit her lip as she stared thoughtfully up at her new acquaintance. There was something suspicious about Edward that she couldn’t quite put her finger on, a secret she could see lying just behind the surface of his eyes, and yet she also saw something akin to a lost little boy.

Bella smiled and nodded, laughing just a little as Edward exhaled noisily. “I can do breakfast,” she said.

The smirk returned as Edward said, “Lead the way.”

0o0o0o0o0o0o0o0

m81170 is the ridiculously talented author of the wildly popular The Introduction to Swirl and Daisy. She can make you fall in love and paint a beautiful picture to admire while you enjoy your new feelings. Please check out her profile page. Thank you so much for reading. Next up is the delicious dandyvamp! ~MTK

1 comments:

Redheadmom said...

Oh for the love of pancakes and bacon, Burglarward is one messed up, suspicious sob - this is most intriguing F(*&ery I have read in a long time
Can't wait for more!
Reb

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