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lion lamb

My Lessons In Life

The Inner Rantings of A Young Woman

Finding Home - Chapter 1 - Fairytales
lion lamb

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author.  The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.

This story was first posted on Twilighted.net and Fanfiction.net, but I am so proud of it that I want it to reach other readers.  I stumbled upon this website and thought, What luck.  Here is another great TWILIGHT fansite that not only can I submit my story to, but I can find other awesome stories that I might never have known about.  So here I am and here it is.  Please enjoy.

Author's Note: This chapter is a revision of the original. It was originally beta'ed by DDofEve and ahelm over at Twilighted. Now, Project Team Beta has accepted me as one of their authors and this is the end result. Thank you to all of my betas.

Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom
Man made up a story said that i should believe him
Go and tell your white knight that he's handsome in hindsight
But I don't want the next best thing
So I sing and hold my head down and i break these walls round me
Can't take no more of your fairytale love
- “Fairytales”
by Sara Bareilles

It had been six months.

Six months since I had practically thrown it all away.

Jacob Black and I had been friends since infancy. He and his father, Billy, were Quileute Indians who lived on the La Push reservation about fifteen minutes outside of my hometown of Forks, Washington. Billy and my father, Charlie Swan, had met when my dad was just a deputy in the sheriff's department, busting teenage vandals who were terrorizing the forests outside of La Push. They became fast friends. I think they've secretly (at least they thinks it's a secret) hoped that one day Jacob and I would get married and make beautiful little babies together.

For a time, I had thought that that scenario was in my foreseeable future. After having completed my Master's degree in Developmental Psychology (I already had a Bachelor's degree in Education with Teaching Accreditations), my mother called me, distraught with the shocking news that my father had shot himself in the leg while cleaning his rifle. He would need reconstructive surgery on his tibia and would be out of work for at least six to eight weeks. But he also needed someone to look after him.

My mother, Renee, had volunteered to temporarily relocate to Forks again, but I couldn't do that to my father. Don't get me wrong, I love my mother to death, but she's a space cadet. She's flighty and irresponsible. My father would have gone mad if Renee was his Florence Nightingale for almost two months. Really, Mom would have had a devastatingly hard time pulling herself away from her second husband, Minor League Baseball player Phil Dwyer, and home in Jacksonville, Florida. So I did what any loving and responsible daughter would do. I packed up my little studio apartment, outside of the university in Seattle, and trudged back to Forks.

Going home to care for Dad wasn't as big of a deal as he made it out to be. I had yet to find a permanent "real world" job after finishing graduate school. I was still trying to figure out exactly what it was I wanted to do. So I was working at a temp agency, filling in as a secretary at several large Seattle-based companies whenever needed. When I told my boss, Clara, what had happened, she hugged me and told me to keep in touch. I hadn't been back in Forks for a week before I shed my Seattle skin and fell into my old Forks routines.

Since my father was now the Chief of the Forks Police Department, it was having a hard time with its fearless leader incapacitated. As a favor to my dad, I took a position as an administrative assistant to his second-in-command, a stout man named Arthur McMurphy. My main duties were to act as his secretary and relay information back and forth between him and my father. Since Forks is such a small town, with only a little over three thousand residents, there wasn't much excitement to be seen, therefore very little work to do at the police department. I ended up spending most of my days reading a book or thinking up some new recipe I could try out on Charlie at dinnertime.

Before I knew it, Christmas was right around the corner and my father was setting aside his crutches and walking on his own again. Soon, I wouldn't be needed anymore. I would head back to Seattle after the holidays and face finding my first post-graduate degree job. But, as excited as I was to be getting ready to return to my own world, I couldn't help but feel that something was holding me back, keeping me rooted to Forks.

Shortly after my return to what seemed like the rainiest town in the country, Jacob and his father starting joining my father and I for dinner. Billy still lived in the same house onthe reservation, but Jacob now had an apartment just outside of Forks and close to an Indian history museum where he worked as a guide and curator. Both Jacob and I knew that our fathers were trying to get us together, as they had done when we were in high school. For the sake of our sanity, we went along with it. But it wasn't a difficult thing to do. Jacob and I picked up our friendship right where we had left it before I had to move to Seattle to start college six years ago.

During our free time, we did what all the swinging singles in Forks did. We went to the movies, to dinner, took walks through the woods on the reservation, and just lazed about and talked. After awhile, Jacob and I began to feel the mutual attraction our fathers had been praying for all these years. It progressed slowly at first; a brush of hands, a quick smile, and a slight blush. Within a month, we were holding hands and, as my mother would put it, "snorkeling" in the back row at the movie theater. I started to spend a lot of time over at his place, cooking him dinner or just sitting talking. From time to time, we would get a little frisky and physical, but we both had decided that sex wasn't a good idea so soon. If, for some reason, the relationship did fall apart, we didn't want our friendship to be destroyed with it.

But I honestly couldn't picture a wrecking ball crashing through our lives. When he held me in his arms, I felt safe. When I breathed in the scent of his smooth, russet-colored skin, I could smell the forest and couldn't help but smile. When I ran my fingers through his long, black hair, I could feel a cool breeze envelope me. And when he looked down at me and smiled, I felt like I was home.

I think it goes without saying that I didn't skip my way back to Seattle after Christmas. Instead, I took up a position as a teacher's aide at my old high school for the remainder of the school year. The job paid well enough that, while I stayed with my father, I could save up for a place of my own, and left me with plenty of free time that I could spend with Jacob. Which was exactly what I was doing the fateful night that my prefect little world unraveled.

Jacob and I were curled up on his sofa one night, watching one of those late-night talk shows. I had spent my day grading biology mid-terms and could barely feel my right hand anymore. He had been chasing around a bunch of second-graders who had come to the museum on a field trip. We were both exhausted, but neither of us wanted to move, knowing that when one did, I would be going home for the night. Instead we sat there, staring at the television, not really seeing or hearing it, but concentrating on one another's presence. I could feel his finger twirling loose strands of my hair round and round. I snuggled closer, tucking my feet underneath me and pulling his arm tight around my shoulders and sighing at the feel of his body warming mine.

"So," Jacob said, pulling me out of my revelry.

"So," I answered back. He pulled away slightly and looked down at me, a look of determination and seriousness clouding his face. "What's wrong?"

Jacob smirked. "Why do you think something is wrong?"

"Well you have this look on your face right now that screams, 'There's something I want to say but I don't know how to say it.'" He hung his head for a moment, which told me that I had hit my mark. "So...out with it."

Jacob removed his arm from my shoulders and turned so that we were facing each other. He took both of my hands in his and said, "I love you, you know that, right?" He looked somewhat scared so I nodded reassuringly. "I've been thinking..."

I thought I knew where he was going with this, so I said the first thing I could think of. "Jacob, we're not going to sit here and discuss a timetable for sex, are we?" A look of pure shock flashed across his face.

"No, Bella, sex is the last on my mind right now." I was sure I looked shocked at that moment. After all, we had been together for almost six months. School would be letting out in a few days and we had already planned our first vacation together as a couple. Instead of trying to say something, I just let him continue.

"Not that I wouldn't be thrilled to make love to you, Bella. I would, but there's actually something a little more important I wanted to talk to you about. Or, rather, I should say, something I wanted to ask you, so here it goes...Bella, would you move in with me?"

I inhaled sharply. The way he had been talking, I was almost expecting him to propose. When I realized he had just asked me to become his live-in girlfriend, I let out a soft chuckle. "What?" he asked confused.

"Nothing, it's just the way you were talking, I thought you were going to ask me to marry you." I smiled, the restriction I had felt building in my chest subsiding.

"One day, Bella, honey, but not today." Jacob smiled down at me and brushed my cheek with his hand. "One day at a time. I want to make you my wife, but for now, I just want to go to bed every night knowing that your beautiful face will be the first thing I see each morning." He leaned down to kiss me before noticing how still I was.

My mind had been racing only moments ago, but had frozen when I heard the word "wife." Jacob wanted me to one day be his wife. That meant he wanted to spend forever with me; to have children and grandchildren together, to grow old and die together. In a normal woman, these thoughts would have produced elation. But in me, they only produced fear. I could see myself ten years from now, a bored housewife with three young children running around her, screaming about this and that, while Jacob went off to work. My heart began to race and my palms became clammy. I knew he noticed when he dropped my hands into my lap.

"Bella, you want that one day, don't you? To be married and have a life together?" Jacob's forehead was furrowed with anxiety and frustration at my lack of a physical or verbal response to his words. I didn't know what to do. But I knew that whatever I was about to do was going to destroy the last six months we had built together.

"I...love you," I managed to force myself to say. It was true, wasn't it? "It's getting late, Jacob. I'd better get going." I stood and stretched, giving him a quick peck on the lips before grabbing my keys and cell phone off the end table and slipping silently out of the door. I felt horrible just leaving him there, especially after what he had just asked me. But I didn't know what I could say or do without completely destroying him. So I just left.

I tossed and turned all night. Why couldn't I just tell Jacob that I wanted to have my own place for the first time in my life? Because he just professed his undying love and wish to marry you, a little voice whispered in my head. He told you he wants to give you his world, but you can’t give yours in return, can you? I felt horrible that, despite caring so deeply for him, I had to discover that my love for Jacob was built upon a friendship and desire for companionship rather than eternity at his heart's expense. I truly loved him, romantically, with all of my heart. But I did not love him with all of my soul. I just couldn't bring myself to face him or his tender words. So I did what any coward would do. The next morning, I packed my belongings, kissed my father goodbye, and drove to Portland, Oregon, where I knew my oldest and closest friend, Angela Weber, would have a sofa bed waiting with my name all over it.

It had been over two years since I had last seen Angela. She had moved to Oregon after completing her Bachelor's degree, needing a change of scenery. Her high school sweetheart, Ben Cheney, had followed. We kept in touch, talking about graduate school, what we thought we wanted to do, and of course, our love lives. Halfway through our second year of grad school, Angela and Ben had gotten married. I was unfortunately unable to attend since Portland and Seattle's school didn't keep the same exam schedule.

So now when I had showed up on her and Ben's doorstep crying, she enveloped me in a tight hug and simply said, "It'll be alright."

For the next few weeks, I slept on the Cheney family air mattress in the spare room while reacquainting myself with old friends. Angela was still several inches taller than both Ben and I, despite my irrational hope that she had somehow shrunk over the last few years. She and Ben had both completed their graduate degrees at the same time I did and now worked together at a local youth center. Angela was a counselor working with troubled youth while Ben put his Public Administration degree to good use behind the scenes, helping to restructure the organization and get them more grant money and donations for expansion. I even found out that both Mike Newton and Jessica Stanley had moved to Portland last year, having hooked back up after so many years at a hospital charity auction in Port Angeles, Washington. They were now both nurses at the hospital nearby.

It seemed like everyone's life had come together, except mine. No, I had just torn down my tower of stability. But luckily no one judged me for it. Angela didn't call me silly or foolish, as my mother had. She didn't tell me that I had just thrown away my greatest chance at a healthy and fulfilling life. Instead, she helped my find a job as a tenth grade English teacher. She also helped me locate an apartment that was reasonably priced and close to hers.

For the first few months, I fell into a routine. Wake up, got to work, go home, call Angela, grade papers, go to bed, and repeat. But Jessica soon intervened, saying that I was in desperate need of a little fun. Apparently, she didn't think getting down with Shakespeare and fifteen-year-olds was fun.

That's how I found myself here tonight, climbing out of my SUV in front of "The Lion's Den," and knowing that Angela, Ben, Jessica, and Mike were waiting for me inside. I should have been home, reviewing tomorrow's lesson plans on iambic pentameter, but I hadn't been out in over a week and Jessica was threatening to kidnap me if I didn't join them this evening.

I got out of my car, looking behind me as I locked the doors. My poor truck had finally bit the dust just after I got to Portland, forcing me to go out and find a conventional yet comfortable, vehicle. I had settled on a twilight blue Ford Contour, a nice, uncomplicated mid-sized vehicle with four wheels and a sturdy engine. Plus it was pretty. Call me cheesy.

“The Lion’s Den” was a old-fashioned little Irish pub set back in a quieter section of downtown Portland. It looked like any old stereotypical bar from the outside but inside housed a warm and cozy atmosphere perfect for helping its patrons unwind after a stressful day at work. There was a bar, of course, which spanned the entire length of one side of the building and small tables. There were also booths set back in the darker corners of the pub, which is where my friends and I always sat. All of the furniture was done is dark cherry and oak woods, polished to a beautiful shine. You didn’t come to “The Lion’s Den” to party; you came here to relax.

The little pub didn't seem too crowded, from the outside anyway, as it was a Monday evening. A few people lingered outside, smoking and talking and flirting. I walked past them, holding my breath, and pushed the heavy wooden door open, stepping into the dim light. The atmosphere was perfect tonight. It matched my mood, somewhat dark and sullen, curious but not truly adventurous. I craned my neck, looking around for my friends.

Spotting them in the back corner, I gave a wave and nodded to the bar, letting them know I wanted to get a drink first. Jessica gave me the thumbs up, a huge satisfied grin on her face. I was willing to bet my week's pay that she had just won a bet with Mike about whether I would show up or not.

I made my way to the bar, hoping that my favorite bartender, Henry, would be working. He was a middle-aged man who always had a smile and a funny story for me. Pleased to see that he was working, I sat down on a stool and waited for him to finish making someone else's martini. That's when I saw him at the other end of the bar.

To say this man was gorgeous would have been an understatement. The club was dark, but I could see the light reflecting off his pale ivory skin. His features were chiseled, but not too sharply defined. A sculpted jaw line gave way to soft, full lips. A deep brow hid his eyes, whose color was indiscernible from this distance, and high cheekbones gave him the look of a Renaissance statue. But my undoing was the mop of brown hair atop his perfect head. It seemed almost bronze as the lights reflected off of it, the color of leaves, newly fallen in the autumn sun. Sex hair, Angela had once told me it was called. Suddenly, he ran one perfect hand through that hair and a small sigh escaped from my lips.

I heard a chuckle of laughter behind me. Turning, I saw Henry smirking down at me. "If ya'd like," he said, "I can introduce ya."

I looked down at the bar and started fiddling with a napkin. "Are you trying to play matchmaker now, Henry? I would have thought that beneath you."

"I work at a bar, sweetheart, ain't nothin' beneath me!" Henry left out a jovial laugh that caught the attention of a few of the patrons. I couldn't help but smile.

"I think I'm gonna lay off men for a while, but thanks for the offer," I smiled graciously, accepting the strawberry margarita he had just set before me.

Grinning like the Cheshire cat, Henry told me, "Anytime doll."

I grabbed my drink and trudged over to greet my friends, but not without talking one last look at the bronze-haired Adonis. Sure, he was probably out of my league, even if I was looking, which I wasn't, I reminded myself. But a girl could fantasize, right?

Reaching the table, I plopped down in a chair between Angela and Jessica. They were talking about throwing a Halloween party in a few weeks. I sat back and listened to them discuss couples costume ideas. For the first time since I had run away from Forks, I felt like everything in my life had finally repaired itself. Sighing, I allowed myself to just enjoy my drink, my friends' company, and the vibrant atmosphere around me.


First off, if you just finished reading this, thank you.  I would love to hear any thoughts or comments you have, whether it be praise (please?) or constructive criticism.  Next, I’d like to say that this story has been a long time coming.  It’s been three years since I wrote anything.  I lost my inspiration but TWILIGHT has given it back to me.  I look forward to writing more in the near future.  But, please know this, I wish I could update as quickly as some authors on this site do.  But my stories are driven by the characters and, if they’re not talking to me, then there’s nothing for me to write.  It’s taken me nearly three weeks to get past a bit of a slump in this story.  If you think of something that you’d like to see happen in the story, please let me know.  You’ll be hearing from Edward next…


Finding Home - Chapter 2 - Starlight
lion lamb

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author.  The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.

This chapter is a revision of the original. It was originally beta'ed by DDofEve and ahelm over at Twilighted. Now, Project Team Beta has accepted me as one of their authors and this is the end result. Thank you to all of my betas.

One a more personal note, I just wanted to let everyone who reads this know that this story is very special to me. In January, when Chapter 1 was originally written, I began my first serious relationship, which ended much like Bella and Jake's did, only I played the part of Jake. Many of the situations you see arise have happened in some way or another. A lot of the emotions that are portrayed by the characters are actually my own. This story is a little piece of me. And with that, let me apologize for the long ass Author's note and let you enjoy the story...

Hold you in my arms,
I just wanted to hold you in my arms...


I'll never let you go
If you promise not to fade away
Never fade away…

Our hopes and expectations
Black holes and revelations

- “Starlight” by Muse

The old expression is that when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade. But what if you're completely inept in the kitchen? Or maybe you ran out of sugar? In that case, what should you do with those lemons? Should you throw them away? Or maybe tuck them in the back of the refrigerator to use for a shower later if a skunk sprays you?

Maybe a better expression to fit my current lot in life would be the old adage about having your ducks in a row. Yes, that seems to be a better fit. After all, I had everything--a job, my family, an apartment, and even a beautiful woman. So where did it all go wrong?

I was 25 years old when I returned to my hometown of Denali, Alaska, home of my adoptive parents, Carlisle and Esme Cullen. It had been six years since I had been home for more than two weeks.

I had just completed my Master's degree in Sociology to go along with my Bachelor's of Journalism. I had learned at a young age that I had a certain knack for observing people; their manners and habits, how they spoke and used body language to convey their emotions, how groups were formed and structured, how business was conducted. So while most of my friends were trying to figure out what they wanted to study in college, I already knew.

“Study what you know and love," Esme had told me. "That way, you will always be happy, no matter what you choose to do in life." It was sound advice, and I knew that it was what Carlisle, the Chief of Surgery at Denali Memorial Hospital, had done.

So I was returning home to find an apartment and begin my life in the "real world." By the grace of some higher, unknown power, I was able to find a job relatively easily, despite having two somewhat generic degrees. The editor in charge of the Lifestyles section of the Denali Monitor, our bi-weekly newspaper, was a friend of my father’s. Well, friends in the sense that Carlisle had performed a double bypass on the 275-pound man and saved his life. So when Thomas Jackson had heard that his guardian angel's son with a 3.9 GPA needed a job, he was more than happy to oblige.

The apartment part was going to be a little more difficult. I started looking on the internet for something reasonably priced, but it was beginning to look like I was going to have to get a roommate to be able to afford a roof over my head and food on the table. Worst-case scenario, I'd crash with my parents or one of my brothers until something opened up. After all, not everything could be perfect. But, despite this tiny hiccup, I kept reminding myself that I was still a very lucky guy. It wasn't until I saw Esme's glowing smile as she waited on the porch for me to walk up the drive that I remembered just how lucky I really was.

Carlisle and Esme were unable to have children of their own, so they decided instead to become foster parents. They were loving people and well-liked in the community. Carlisle was a surgical resident at Denali Memorial Hospital at the time; Esme would take on the role of the stay-at-home mom.

I was sent to their home at the age of fifteen, my father having had a heart attack when I was just a baby. My mother had passed away several years prior from ovarian cancer. I was to be Carlisle and Esme's fourth child, having been preceded first by Emmett McCarty, then by the twins, Jasper and Rosalie Hale.

To say that I was scared the day the social worker took me to my new home would be like saying the North Pole is cold. I was terrified. It didn't help that the first person I saw was Emmett. Granted, I'm quite tall now, but Emmett was huge to my teenaged eyes. A burly man-boy of at least six foot five while I was still teetering around five foot ten, his dark curls flopped over his eyes as he looked down at me, like a bouncer would look at some creep who kept trying to feel up his girlfriend. Without even saying hello, he said, "Rule number one, no ogling Rosalie. Rule number two, no ogling Rosalie. Can you guess what rule number three is?"

"No ogling Rosalie?" I had meekly replied. Emmett had then broke out in a huge shit-eating grin and clapped me hard on the back.

"I'll take it from here, Sandra." He smiled at the social worker, placing his heavy, muscled arm around my shoulders and leading me into the house.

As my new big brother led me to meet my new parents, we passed through the foyer of the house, where two beautiful blonde teenagers, a boy and a girl, were playing chess. The girl had long, wavy hair and piercing blue eyes; the boy, a mop of curls that partially obstructed his pensive, yet identical, features.

"The three of them have been here for a little over a year," Carlisle told me. His blonde hair matched that of Jasper and Rosalie. His deep blue eyes were soft with compassion and understanding.

"They're very close, and soon you will be, too," Esme reassured me. She looked at me with adoration, love even, though we had only just met. I couldn’t help but notice how she looked like she could have been my natural mother, her caramel-colored hair so close in hue to my own.

Emmett took me under his wing immediately, introducing me to his friends at school and making sure it was known that I was his new little brother. Needless to say, the bullies stayed away from me. No one wanted to go toe-to-toe with a sixteen-year-old who looked like a linebacker for the NFL.

I quickly learned why Emmett told me that I wasn't allowed to ogle Rosalie. Apparently, despite being "siblings," they were an item. It got them a lot of stares at school. That and the fact that they were both what you would call "beautiful people." Rosalie appeared to have a heart of stone, but whenever Emmett was around, she melted into a puddle of goo. She was kind to me and made sure to tell me which of the girls would make suitable girlfriends and which to steer clear of at all costs. I suppose it was her way of bonding and telling me that I was accepted into her life.

Her brother, Jasper, is what my mother would have called "an odd bird." He was quiet and thoughtful, the complete opposite of his sexy, opinionated sister. Jasper had a tendency to speak only when he had something important to say, leaving the idle chit-chat to the rest of us. But he was good-natured and readily accepted me, letting me know right away that, "I'm here for you, whenever, for whatever."

Esme was right. The four of us almost immediately became inseparable. Things only got better a few months later when a little pixie named Alice Brandon arrived. Barely reaching five feet, her dark spiky hair stuck out in every direction, much like my own. Her eyes were filled with happiness and laughter from the first moment we saw her. When Sandra brought Alice to the house, she literally bounced up the front stairs and took Esme and Carlisle into her arms, squeezing them and crying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Shortly after Alice joined us, Carlisle and Esme decided to make everything official. Almost one year to the day I had arrived, Emmett, Alice, and I became Cullens. Jasper and Rosalie remained Hales simply because they were in relationships with Alice and Emmett. Since we all lived under one roof already, Carlisle and Esme thought it best not to make things too socially taboo. We haven’t looked back since then.

I did end up having to crash on my parents' couch for a few weeks before finding the perfect studio apartment only a few miles from the newspapers’ main office. It was small, but as long as I had room enough for a bed, computer desk, and my electronic piano keyboard that Carlisle and Esme had given me for my sixteenth birthday, I'd be fine.

The close proximity to my job also made saving on gas a little easier. I found that walking to work on the not-so wet days could be rather relaxing. It also enabled me to implement my powers of observation without having to worry about anyone catching me. (I’ve been known to lapse so deep into thought when I’m watching a person that I’ve frightened my once unsuspecting subjects.) After all, no one pays attention to the young stranger walking to work, attaché case flung carelessly over his shoulder.

That's when I first saw her. She was positively gorgeous against the simple backdrop of the small public park that was nestled across the street from paper’s offices. Sitting on a bench by the fountain, she delicately sipped from a large Starbucks cup while flipping the pages of a thick magazine that lay in her lap. Her legs crossed at the ankles, I couldn’t help but trail my eyes up what seemed like miles of smooth, tan skin, before taking in her waves of strawberry blonde hair and the little smirk on her face when she caught me staring at her.

I shifted my eyes down and ducked my head a bit, hoping to play it off, but when I slowly looked up again, she held my gaze, refusing to let go. There was a twinkle in her eye, a kind of “come hither” look, I suppose you could say. Without even thinking about it, I found my feet moving me in her direction rather than to my office. I was halfway to her when I saw her perfect pout turn into a sexy frown. She stood and pulled a cell phone from the large bag on the bench beside her. When she looked up, I was standing only a few feet away, but she quickly gathered her belongings and placed her coffee cup in the trash. “Business calls,” she said, laughing softly. “Maybe tomorrow.” With that, she turned on her heels and starting walking toward the street.

After a display like that, most men, including my brothers, would have said fuck it and moved on to the next hot piece of ass they saw, but not me. I was smitten, enamored, and floored by this beauty and her flippant attitude toward me. As I watched her retreat across the street, I couldn’t help but allow my eyes to drink in how her dusty rose skirt fell just above her knees or how delicate her ankles looked in those strappy little heels. I closed my eyes and saw her standing before me again, soft breasts straining against the buttons of her fitted white blouse. As she had passed me, I was able to see that her lips were a perfect bow and painted the same rose color as her suit, her eyes lined expertly in a soft charcoal gray liner and her lashes long, full, and black.

Then, as I opened my eyes, feeling a slight strain against the zipper of my pants, I saw my “public park beauty” walk through the front door…of the newspaper offices. My newspaper offices.

Holy shit, I had thought to myself. I forced my feet to carry me across the street, all the while telling myself that the likelihood of this vixen and I working closely together were slim to none. After all, the paper was huge, encompassing eight of the building's twelve floors. Pushing the front door open, I let out a loud sigh of relief when I realized she was not in the lobby and made my way to my office.

Through careful eavesdropping while roaming the halls, I was able to discover a few things about the woman from the park. Her name was Tanya McIntyre, and she worked on the third floor as a secretary for the advertising and classified section. From what I was able to piece together, Tanya had a bit of a history with a number of the men who worked at the Denali Monitor. I heard a couple of the women call her a hussy and a man-eater, while some of the guys referred to her as “the best fuck ever.”

I’ve never been one to pay much attention to gossip, but I have to admit that all of the things I heard had only served to make me even more intrigued. Instead of being repulsed by this woman, I was curious to get to know her and find out what caused her to be seen by others in such a negative light. For days, I made the same trek to the little park across from the paper’s offices only to relive the moments of the very first day. I saw her over and over again. Becoming frustrated after attempting to talk to her for over a week, I instead decided to bite the bullet and go down to the third floor and just introduce myself--to hell with the unofficial company policy of no flirting with your co-workers.

As I walked through the door of the advertising offices, I saw Tanya look up from her keyboard and smile. “Well, it took your cute ass long enough,” she smirked. She rose from her desk and walked over to me. “I was beginning to think I was going to have to come to you.”

At that moment, time seemed to stand still. We were standing close enough to touch. I could feel the warmth radiating off of her body. As Tanya looked up at me with heavy-lidded eyes filled with desire, I decided to take a chance for once.

“Sorry,” I apologized, placing my hand on her hip and pulling her into me. Boldly, I leaned down and nuzzled her ear. “Everyone keeps throwing ideas at me about what I should and shouldn’t…do,” I whispered, hoping she would catch my double meaning. “But, baby, I would never reject one of your…submissions.”

My bold innuendo caused a purr to catch in Tanya’s throat. She threw her head back and let out a sexy chuckle. She pressed her body closer to mine, my growing length digging into her stomach. With a smile, she asked me, “Your office or your apartment?”

From that moment on, we were inseparable, testing the boundaries not only of one another but of what others had said and were saying about us. I steadily ignored all of the little comments my co-workers made to me about being another notch on her bedpost. I knew that Tanya loved me. I was different. I treated her like the special woman she was, not like some nice piece of ass.

Our relationship only seemed to strengthen over time. I spent most of my free time over at Tanya’s apartment, where I had officially taken over two of her dresser drawers. We went to dinner, to the movies, but often times just stayed in, cooking for one another and falling asleep together, usually after a few rounds of very hot sex.

That was precisely what I had planned for that night…a night I would rather forget. Tanya had been sent to a conference in California to act as the editor-in-chief’s assistant. She was gone for almost a week, the longest we had been apart during our six-month relationship.

I spent the day anxiously awaiting the return of my glamorous girlfriend. I knew she would be exhausted from her travels and thought that maybe I would set up her apartment for a romantic bath when she got home. I could stay overnight and cook her breakfast in the morning, and then we could spend all day in bed making love. It was the perfect plan. She would feel like a queen, and I would be able to sate my growing hunger for her love and her body.

Unable to sit still any longer, I had gone to the market, picking up some fresh produce and breakfast meats. Tanya had been gone for almost a week, and I knew her bread and milk would no longer be good, so I grabbed those items as well. Some fresh coffee and cream and a small bouquet of daisies and baby’s breath completed my purchase.

Arriving at Tanya’s apartment, I slowly turned my spare key in the lock, trying to carefully balance both bags in one arm so I could push the door open all the way. The lights were on and dimmed, as if someone was trying to set a romantic atmosphere. This should have caught me a little off guard, but I shrugged it off, remembering that Tanya had a tendency to forget to turn the lights off when going out. But the sounds I heard as I set the bags on the kitchen counter were out of place.

It was only slightly after seven, and Tanya had told me that she wouldn’t be getting in until almost ten. Could it be a burglar? I had thought naively. I had slowly made my way down the hall, seeking out the source of the noise.

“Oh…uh,uh,uh…” This couldn’t be good. “Mmm, baby, soooo good…more…” This had to be bad. “Yeah, oh yeah, fuck me harder…” No, it was horrible.

I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move.

It was all a lie. Everything had been a lie.

All of a sudden, I found myself standing next to my car, keys clenched so tightly in my hand that I could feel a small trickle of blood drip off one of my knuckles. I blinked, and I was back at my apartment, standing in front of my bathroom mirror, staring into the blank, dead eyes of a man betrayed. I loved her. I hated her. I wanted her. But, I later realized, I had never had her to begin with.

They had been right. Everyone one of them had been right. I was just another notch.

The signs had always been there. When I reached to hold her hand, she would place mine on her ass. When I would bend down to kiss her lips, she would turn her head ever so slightly. But, like a fool in love, I had ignored these little warnings, justified them even. Telling myself that maybe she just didn’t want other people to see how close we really were. After all, the rumors about her had been pretty gruesome and downright cruel. Maybe she had wanted to preserve our relationship and all of the good things we had going for us. But the cold, hard truth was, except for when we were fucking, we weren’t close at all.

I won’t bore you with the long, drawn-out tale of how I slipped into a deep depression or of how, when I managed to pull myself together and go to work a few days later, everyone was staring at me and whispering behind my back. I won’t dwell on the text message she had sent me that simply said, “It was fun.” Just know that if a living hell really exists, I experienced it. My sadness and self-loathing lasted for nearly three months before my own personal cheerleader decided I needed rescuing.

“The whole family is relocating, and you’re coming with us,” Alice had informed me. Apparently, Carlisle felt that he had done all he could in Denali and was accepting a Chief of Surgery position in Portland, Oregon. Esme was going to take a volunteer position with the hospital’s administration to try and elicit donations for various charities and developmental research. Emmett had contacted a new youth center that was opening close to the hospital and was offered a job as a recreation coach. Rosalie, having since wed Emmett, figured she could work there, too, exercising that psychology degree of hers as a self-esteem counselor for young girls. As we were such a close-knit family, it was no surprise that Jasper and Alice, also now married, were following and dragging me with them. We had not found jobs before the move, but Alice was quickly scooped up by an interior design firm while Jasper took up post at the local high school as an eleventh grade American History teacher.

We’d all been living in Portland now for about three months. Everyone had settled in nicely except for me. I’d gotten a temp job at one of the local weekly papers covering community events, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I was looking for another job, but despite not liking the one I currently had. I wasn’t very motivated to leave it, either. So I just d through the days, coming home from work and sitting in my little house until I have to get up and do it again the next day. The one respite I have is Monday nights.

On Monday nights, my brothers, sisters, and I meet up at a little bar called “The Lion’s Den” in downtown Portland. People come to the quaint Irish pub to dance, drink, and have fun, without having to worry about rowdy drunks, designer drugs, and police raids. We come here to down beer and margaritas, killer nachos, and to shed the past week’s mishaps while looking forward to the new ones. Normally I’m a willing participant, but something didn’t feel right that night. Maybe it was the six hours I spent staring at my computer monitor, trying to figure out how to make a knitting club sound thrilling. But I just wasn’t in the mood for dancing and laughing.

Alice’s “Happy Radar” was going off almost as soon as I sat down. She tried to engage me, talking about her new project and Jasper’s students’ reaction when she came prancing in his classroom to deliver him lunch. I cracked a smile, but it didn’t reach my eyes. One hadn’t since she…

I excused myself and headed to the bar for a refill. If I’m going to play Mr. Depressed, I might as well have another beer, I rationalized. I flopped down on the first available stool and saw Henry, the bartender, make his way toward me.

“Edward, my friend, if you don’t start smilin’ soon, I’ma haveta close this joint ‘cause all the women’ll be too sad to come in here.” Henry grinned, motioning to all of the ladies who were trying to discreetly take in my presence.

“Don’t do that, man. It’ll just give me something else to be depressed about.” He grabbed my empty mug and was back with a full one before I could even blink.

Henry placed one strong hand on my shoulder and looked me squarely in the eyes. “I’ll tell ‘ya this much, son. I don’t know who it was that done broke your heart, but one day a lady is gonna walk by you and you’ll forget all about that bitch.” He grinned wickedly, and I couldn’t help but smile back.

I sat for a moment longer, nursing my beer and thinking about what Henry had said. Maybe one day another woman would make me forget about Tanya. But how long would I have to wait?

I heard her before I saw her. “…I would have thought that beneath you.” I angled my head ever so slightly so as to catch a glimpse of the person at the other end of the bar. She was perched on a stool, talking to Henry, a slight smile gracing her pretty pink lips. She had waves of dark brown hair that cascaded over her shoulders and halfway down her back. Her cheeks where tinged slightly with a natural blush, and her voice sounded like the ringing of the sweetest bell.

"I work at a bar, sweetheart, ain't nothin' beneath me!" Henry boomed. The two of them shared a laugh while some of the bar patrons looked on.

Just then, my brown-haired angel turned toward me. I ducked my head down quickly, not wanting to be caught staring at her. My heart skipped a beat, and I sucked in a shaky breath. I hadn’t felt this nervous since…could it be? Could she really be the woman that I’d been waiting for? The one love that could make all of my pain go away? “Even if just for a day,” I sighed quietly under my breath.

I was just working up the courage to go say something to her when she stood and said to Henry, “I think I'm gonna lay off men for a while, but thanks for the offer.” I fell back onto my stool and saw that Henry was watching me out of the corner of his eye.

“Anytime, doll,” Henry said to her before making his way back over to me. “You alright there, Edward? Ya look like you’ve seen a ghost…or something a little more pleasurable.”

“Great, Henry, I’m just fan-fucking-tastic,” I muttered, standing up. I threw back the rest of my beer and went back over to the table where my family sat.

Alice was the first to dig in her claws. “Edward! Where did you disappear to? And why do you suddenly look like shit?” Jasper rolled his eyes at his wife’s compassion while Emmett held back a chuckle.

“Nowhere, no reason, just no. I suddenly don’t feel good. I’ll see you guys later.” I grabbed my coat off the back of my chair and threw a twenty down on the table to cover my tab.

I was just about to push the door open when I turned and saw the beauty from earlier staring at me. Like I had done, she quickly looked down but also blushed, which made her even more alluring. Could she be thinking the same thing I was? Nah, she said she was taking a break from men. That sounded like a good idea. I would take a break from women. I would dig myself out of this hole I was in and focus on my work, my family, and my happiness. Just deciding this made me feel a little bit lighter. As I pushed through the door, I promised myself that I would forget all about the woman in the bar.

 Thanks again for reading! I look forward to reading what everyone has to say.

Finding Home - Chapter 3 - The Nerve
lion lamb

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Note: Special thanks to Project Team Beta for helping me make this story even more fantastic. To my reviewers for last chapter, your words of encouragement mean everything to my writing. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Dedication: This chapter is dedicated to dreaming in black and white (for not forgetting about me even though I took six months to update), Angel in the air (here's a nice big tube of hydricortisone for you), and Mariana75 (thank god someone else feels the same way about that crap as I do).

Can you believe this world’s got the nerve to
Insist it won’t trade for a better one?
Can you believe this world’s
Yellow out in the dark, it wants to be left alone?
Can you believe this world would never have
Had a chance without us giving it blood?
Can you believe this world lacks the common
Courtesy to thank us all for the love?

- “The Nerve” by Mutemath

“God…damn…stupid-ass piece of…fucking…shit!” I made sure to punctuate my last curse by rising and kicking the side of my desk as hard as I could without risking damage to my new Blahniks. I could hear Eve carefully making her way to my door, no doubt wondering what had gotten a rise out of me this time.

Knock, knock. “Um, Alice, is everything ok?” Eve slowly poked her head through the opened the door and peeked inside. I straightened my skirt and tucked a few loose strands of hair behind my ears.

“Just peachy, except for the fact that technology seems to hate me today.” I turned my monitor around and motioned for Eve to come inside and look at the screen. She hesitantly crossed through the threshold of my office.

“What’s going on this time? Program freeze again?”

I flopped back down in my chair and reached for the phone. “I have no idea. It won’t connect to the internet and my new design program won’t load.” I punched in the numbers for our IT department. “Hello? Uh, yeah, it’s me again…no, I did not break it…no, I didn’t kick it this time either…if I knew what was wrong with it I wouldn’t be calling you…just come fix it!” I slammed down the phone and let out a grunt.

Eve sat down in the leather chair across from my desk and laughed. “Do you have any idea just how interesting you make this job?” I grinned, knowing exactly what she was referring to.

My family had been telling me this for years. Here I am, Alice Brandon Cullen Hale, four feet and ten inches tall, and ninety-five pounds soaking wet. I have short, spiky black hair that sticks out in all directions, but and I will be damned if it doesn't look stylish. My dark brown eyes burn brightly, often times with the most devious of intentions.

I’ve been called a pixie, a minx, and a bitch by those who have suffered my wrath after wronging those I love. I’m cool with that, so long as you don’t forget to call me a sister, wife, and daughter, too.

“Why don’t you take a break, Alice?” Eve asked. I returned me to my thoughts of destroying my computer and the balls of the IT guy who could never seem to fix it. “Go grab some coffee or something. Your project will still be here when you get back.”

My behavior was generally a lot less bitchy, but I remembered how this was the third time my work on this particular project had been interrupted due to “technical difficulties”. There would be plenty of time to play nice with the IT guys after everything was finished. May I would buy them all coffee and donuts one morning. Caffeine and sugar would guarantee their forgiveness. In the meantime I couldn’t argue with my secretary’s logic. “You’re right. It’s probably better if I’m not here when Bullwinkle arrives.”

Eve snickered at my new nickname for our computer geek. It was one of the less flagrant ones I had used this week. “I’ll call you if he manages to repair the damage before you get back.” I thanked her and put on my coat, slinging my bag over my shoulder before heading across the street for a nice, well deserved (for not blowing up the computer) mocha latte.

As I sat in the coffee shop trying not to think about anything related to my delayed project, I remembered something that had been tugging at the back of my brain. We had all gone to “The Lion’s Den” pub Monday as was our custom. But something had been off that night. I remembered Edward going to the bar for a beer and disappearing for quite some time. When he came back, he claimed that he didn’t feel well and decided to split.

Edward had been doing so well lately. I knew that he was still dealing with the emotional wreckage that the slut whose-name-I-refuse-to-utter had dumped on him, and he was slowly becoming himself again. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Monday night had been a regression. It wasn’t like Edward to split like he did, even if he was feeling under the weather. I couldn’t help but think that something had crawled under his skin that he couldn’t quite shake.

I checked my watch before I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and quickly dialed Jasper’s number from memory. “Do you remember how Edward was acting Monday night?” I asked him when he answered.

“Hello, yes, and you’re lucky it’s my planning period,” he let out in a hurried breath.

“Duh, I know that. That’s why I called now instead of later.” Jasper sighed and let out a small chuckle over the phone. He knew better than to try and rationalize with me. After all, I always won.

“Yes, darling, I do remember how Edward was acting Monday night. What about it?” I could hear him shuffling papers about.

“Did I interrupt you grading or something—never mind, what do you think happened?”

I could practically hear Jasper scrunch his eyebrows together as he asked quizzically, “Happened? He said he didn’t feel well.”

I love my husband. I really do. But he can be such a fool sometimes. “Honey…saying you don’t feel well means that something has happened and you don’t wanna talk about it. It’s a cop-out.”

“Well, I’m so glad one of us knows this, because I assumed it meant he was ill.”

I let out a sigh of exasperation, knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with Jasper. Opposites really do attract. While I wanted to get to the bottom of why Edward had bailed on us that night, Jasper was trying to get me to “respect his space,” as he likes to say. Nope, sorry, if I did that, I wouldn’t be me.

“Ok, baby, you’re right, I should just leave it alone,” I said, my voice dripping with sweetness. Jasper started to stutter into the phone. “In fact, I’m going to go back to work now. Love you and see you soon!” I could hear him saying, “But…Alice…don’t you dare…behave…Alice!” I giggled and hung up the phone, knowing that Jasper was well aware that I wasn’t going to let this be.

The rest of my day was spent trying to finish the project that had been delayed by my hunk-of-junk computer. Designing the interior of a ballroom for a charity gala isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, you could just throw up some streamers and have champagne fountains and finger foods, but that sort of design would not get a company the millions of dollars in donations it was hoping for. Instead, I was to be unleashed on this huge room with full creative license and no spending limit. God, I love my job.

I finished printing out my proposal and rough designs to drop off with my boss’ secretary when a little light bulb went off above my head. I remembered something else about Monday night. When Edward was leaving, he stopped at the door and looked off to the left. I saw him in my mind just staring off into what I thought was space for a few moments before squaring his shoulders and exiting the club.

What was he looking at? There hadn’t been anyone there we knew except Angela and the gang. Emmett and Rosalie worked with Ben and Angela Cheney. Sometimes all of us would get together and have dinner, inviting their friends Jessica Stanley and Mike Newton along, too. But, wasn’t there another…wait, that was it!

I grabbed my bag and coat, practically running out of my office. I stopped at Eve’s desk long enough to ask her to drop off my proposal for me before leaving then raced to the elevators. I had taken a cab to work that day because Jasper’s car was in the shop for its yearly inspection. Because it wasn’t quite yet five o’clock, there were only a few people standing on the street corner attempting to hail taxis. Within a few short minutes, I was sitting cozily in the back of a relatively clean yellow cab on my way home.

But before I arrived, I had some business to attend to. With my Blackberry grasped firmly in my hand, I searched for Angela’s number. That found, I was resolved to solve the mystery of the sulky big brother.

TEXT MESSAGE FROM ALICE TO ANGELA: Who was that Monday night?


Hi. Who was she? Brown hair, a bit taller than me…

Bella from high school.  Bella…that’s why.

As usual, you’re not making sense.  Where are you?

Work.  Come to my place when you get off.

Can Ben come, too?  We carpooled.  Sure. He can keep Jasper busy while we scheme.

This can’t be good…

When I reached the house, I was happy to notice that I had beat Jasper home. At least this way I wouldn’t have to worry about him trying to talk me out of anything before I even started. I took a quick shower, changing into a pair of stylish jeans and a powder pink baby doll blouse with my favorite strappy sandals. The cuter I looked, the easier my husband would be to tame.

While waiting for everyone to arrive, I ordered a few pizzas, knowing that Jasper would probably be too tired to cook for four people. No sooner had I grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and sat down at the kitchen table to go through the mail did Jasper walk through the door. He set his messenger bag down on the counter and came to give me a kiss.

“Oh no,” he groaned into my neck. Yup, he smelled it. I had dabbed on a little of his favorite perfume after showering. Jasper had come to associate that scent with me wanting something. The worst part was, once he inhaled my fragrant skin, he was unable to say no to whatever I proposed.

“Angela and Ben will be joining us for pizza soon,” I murmured against his soft lips.

“Whatever it is, I don’t want to know,” he said, deepening our kiss to prevent any further discussion.

“Really? You’re not even the least bit curious?”

Jasper leaned down, pressing his forehead to mine. “I know it has to do with the club, Monday night, Edward, and why he left. Somehow Angela has something to do with it. That’s all I want to know. The less I know, the less likely it will be that I’ll have to lie to Edward when he asks my why you’re meddling in his life again.”

I couldn’t really fault his logic. While Emmett could keep his mouth shut, Jasper had sort of an “open knowledge” policy. Plus, he couldn’t lie to save his soul. I think he was secretly glad I never asked him things like if a certain pair of jeans made me look fat.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. I bounced to answer it, my hand clasped firmly in Jasper’s, towing him behind me. Angela was standing on the other side next to the pizza delivery guy. Ben held our pizzas and was somewhat eagerly ushered in by Jasper who, at the sight of the pizza boxes, had suddenly started drooling.

“You invited us over, so we got the tab this time,” Angela told me as I took her coat.

“But I invited you over to plot.”

I saw a smile spread across Angela’s face. “And I think I have a good idea about what, too. Trust me, if this is about what I think it’s about, I’ll owe you for more than just two pizzas.”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.” We both let out a little laugh as we headed for the kitchen. Our men were already ravishing one of the pizzas. I grabbed Angela a beer and we sat down with them, talking about work and life in general. After a few slices, Jasper and Ben went into the living room to watch ESPN while I led Angela into the study.

“Shall we get down to business?” I asked, planting myself in the leather office chair that sat behind Jasper’s desk. Angela perched herself in an overstuffed armchair off to my right. She raised her eyebrows in an expressive that said, “Out with it.”

“My brother was staring at your friend Monday night.”

“Well, since you’re not totally bouncing off the walls, you must not know what I know,” Angela leaned forward and said conspiratorially.

She hesitated, building up the suspense she knew was killing me, until it dawned on me. “Bella was checking out Edward, too?” Angela nodded. “Maybe this won’t be as hard as I thought.”

“You wish, you little minx. I was talking to Henry before we all left. He’s the one who told me Bella was checking Edward out. Apparently he offered to introduce them, but she said she was talking a break from men for awhile.” Angela took a moment to explain Bella’s recent relationship meltdown to me.

I groaned and hung my head. “That explains why Edward left in a huff. He must have heard her.”

“Yeah, Henry said your brother did seem pretty down after that. But, why? I mean, has he even looked at a woman since…?”

“Nope.” I had to admit that Edward had started to worry me. It seemed almost unnatural for him to simply ignore the female species as he had been doing for so long. “I’ll bet he was waiting for that same pull he felt with the psycho.”

Angela laughed. “She doesn’t realize it, but Bella has that pull.” She paused and I motioned for her to continue.

We spent the next couple of hours talking about our respective halves of this puzzle. Angela told me all about Bella, where she came from, what she was like, her habits, desires, and dreams. Likewise, I filled her in on the inner mechanics of my dear brother. It didn’t take us long to realize that we were talking about two halves of a whole; Bella and Edward seemed to go together like Jasper and I, like Angela and Ben, like Emmett and Rosalie.

They were two broken-hearted creatures who wanted to move forward but were too afraid to do so. That is, without a little bit of encouragement. I smiled at Angela, who returned my grin with the same twinkle in her eyes that I knew my own now possessed.

Hmm, how did that song go again? Oh, yes.

I get by with a little help from my friends…

There you have it. Please send me your thoughts in a little review if you have a moment.  I respond to every review and I love hearing what you think! Also, in one of my reviews for Chapters 1 and 2, I had the question posed to me about why Bella basically freaked out when Jacob proposed taking their relationship to a new level. Mariana75 had a good point; Bella did run away both physically and emotionally. If anyone else was wondering about this, I promise you that I will be exploring this further in future chapters. Until next time...can't wait to hear from you!!! Lastly, I have another idea bouncing aroud in my head. I've written a prologue for it, but I don't want to post anything yet; I want to see if I can really make it go somewhere first. but if you're interested in reading what I have, hit me up in a review, PM, or email and I'll ship it your way. The only catch is you have to tell me what you think!

Finding Home - Chapter 4 - Ready
lion lamb

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author’s Note: Once again, thank you to PTB for their amazing beta skills. But the biggest shout out of all goes to the super-duper fantastic Mariana75. She caught one of my update notices on A Different Forest and read my story. Her review was so heartfelt and amazing that I when I wrote back, we started corresponding. She’s now one of my closest friends. Though we live on different sides of the equator, we’re almost like long lost sisters. She beta’ed this chapter for me. So if you love this chapter, leave me a little note and say thanks to her, because this one almost didn’t get written. Yes, girlie, you made it that much better! Hugs! Also, huge shout out to the wonderful ladies who reviewed last chapter. After all the long, hard days at work, coming home to your reviews made everything just that much better!

Sorry for the uber-long A/N…on with the show.

Leaping from this cliff in my thoughts
I fly like stones in my heart
Drowning in doubt for what reason
I sit so patiently
Drenched in what you want me to be
I can’t escape
I’m ready now…
Come get me.

- ­“Ready” by Kelly Clarkson

Get up, go to work, go home, call Angela, grade papers, go to bed, and repeat. Not anymore, I thought. It was more like go to bed, close my eyes, and see him dancing before my closed eyelids. Bronze hair, full lips, ivory skin…I was fascinated with a man whom I had only seen once and whose name I didn’t even know.

It had been almost two weeks since that fateful night at The Lion’s Den. As I went to say goodnight to my friends that same evening, I gave Jessica a silent thank you for forcing me outside of my comfort zone. She had been right. I did need to get out and socialize more. I had finally realized, after all these months that keeping to myself all the time was not healthy. Just because I had some misfortunes when it came to relationships, it didn’t mean I needed to cut myself off from all of my friends.

Since that revealing day, I started to hang out with the gang a couple nights a week, sometimes even venturing to the mall with Jessica and Angela, or grabbing a beer with Mike after we both got off work. While I had fun during those outings, I looked forward to Monday nights most of all.

This past Monday, I had returned to The Lion’s Den with my friends, secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of my fair-skinned fantasy but to no avail. I went home that night feeling like it had been wasted, as if I hadn’t gone out to have a good time with my friends, only to find him.

I had felt everyone’s eyes on me as I crossed the parking lot to my car. I knew they could tell that I was mentally preoccupied. I had spent the entire evening nursing a Diet Coke and nibbling on my straw. Everyone kept trying to draw me into the conversation, but I barely uttered a word. Instead, my eyes kept darting to the door, the bar, the restrooms, constantly scanning and hoping to catch sight of my mystery man.

I wanted to tell them that everything was ok, but how do you explain to your friends that your mind is obsessing over a man that, most likely, you’ll never see again? As close as I was to some of them, Angela especially, I just couldn’t justify to myself why I should open up like that. In time, I thought.

After school let out on Tuesday, I went home with every intention of making myself dinner and spending the night curled up in my favorite recliner with a good book. I was at the kitchen counter chopping ingredients for a Greek salad when I felt a little tug. It was nothing paranormal, like the ghost of a child tugging at my pants leg, but more like a puppeteer trying to control my movements. I was suddenly no longer hungry, at least not for food. Instead, I felt myself being pulled from the kitchen in the direction of the front door, clear visions of messy bronze hair floating through my mind, making me determined to get out of my house and see him once again.

I tried to tell myself that I needed to be realistic. After all, I didn’t even know who the hell this guy was. He could have been a total gentleman or the next Jack the Ripper for all I knew. But if Harry was willing to talk to him, he can’t be but so bad, my rational side said. She was right, of course, but my naughty side still managed to put her two cents in. So what if he is a little dangerous? You need some damn excitement in your life. Go to the pub. See if he shows up.

Oh dear…what to do when your inner angel and devil are arguing with one another? I tend to listen to my rational side and tonight was no different. After I grudgingly convinced myself that chasing after a mystery man was a bad, crazy, stupid and obsessive idea, I forced my feet to retrace my steps and I found myself once again in the kitchen, where I finished preparing my salad. I settled myself in the living room and watched the nightly news on my pathetic little 19-inch, non-flat whatever-you-call-it TV while I ate, not tasting a thing.

I loaded my dirty dishes in the dishwasher when I finished my light meal, expecting to feel the soft lull of sleepiness slowly wash over me. Instead, I was wired. I tried to unwind by taking a shower, using my favorite strawberry shampoo and a lavender body wash intended to relax me, but I still felt restless. Try as I might, I could not get him out of my mind. Finally realizing that any further resistance would be futile, I slipped on a pair of jeans and my favorite brown sweater. I tied on my well-worn sneakers before grabbing my purse and car keys skipped out the door.

The darkness had descended rapidly that night, bringing with it a light drizzle that raised the oil from the streets and made them slick to those not paying attention to the road, like me. Still, I was fortunate enough to arrive at The Lion’s Den in one piece. The only thing I remember doing was getting into my car and locking my front door. As I walked to the entrance of the pub, I could hear my mother screaming frantically at me in the back of my head.

“You don’t remember the drive to the pub?” Renee would have shrieked. “Don’t you know that driving requires all of your concentration?!?”

Yes, mom, I thought. But at that particular moment, all of my concentration is focused on finding this bronze-haired stranger and sating a tingling sensation down in my…

The Lion’s Den is rarely crowded on the weekdays. Normal working-class people and college students tend to realize that they have to get up early in the morning and a night of drinking usually hinders the ability to do that with any real clarity. I was thankful for the lack of patronage at the moment as it made it much easier for me to search in hope for finding my Adonis. I stood in the darkened entryway and scanned the crowd, all the while convincing myself that he had to be there. I mean, why else would you have felt such a pull to come here tonight? Angela would have told me that I got a “feeling,” that I was following my feminine “instincts,” as if that would make my showing up here, on a school night, alone, sound any less ridiculous.

I continued to check out the expansive pub floor for a good five minutes, only vacating my post to avoid being stepped on by some college kids who looked like they were out celebrating a chess tournament victory. After I finally managed to resign myself to the fact that no one at the bar that night had a shock of messy bronze hair adorning their all-to-perfect head, I sulked my way over to the bar. Despite the fact that I had hung my head, I took special care to watch where I was walking. The last thing I needed to do was call out of school in the morning because I had caught my foot on a barstool and twisted my ankle. Or worse, did a face plant.

The barstool was warm as I sat down. An empty beer mug sat in the space in front of me, condensation and peanut shells surrounding its base. Looking up, I noticed Harry at the other end of the bar. He was desperately trying to wiggle out of the clutches of one of the The Lion's Den's more interesting regulars. "Madame Marie," as Harry and I had taken to calling her, was a women in her mid to late seventies with an obvious passion for the extravagant. She always came to the pub overdressed in one of her fur coats given to her by her deceased husband and wearing what seemed to be all the jewelry she owned. The first time we heard her speak in her forced, fake, French accent, Harry and I had decided to call her "Madame Marie" after the French Revolution's beheaded Queen.

I figured that I would patiently wait my turn to be served. Just then I saw a look of horror momentarily flash over Harry’s face before Madame Marie reached out to clutch both of his hands in hers. I don’t know how she did it, but as I sat there watching, she somehow managed to pull Harry almost completely over the bar, ready to embrace him if he just happened to tumbled forward onto her. At this point, I knew waiting was no longer an option. I needed to find a way to come to his rescue. Hmm, what to do…? Be loud an annoying.

“Damn, what the hell do you have to do to get some service around here?” I shouted, probably a little too loudly. A few of the patrons near me turned to see what the ruckus was about. People who visited The Lion’s Den were typically polite and somewhat quiet or reserved. Bar fights happened once in a blue moon. But my little display of aggravation seemed to break Madame Marie’s concentration for a moment, just long enough for Harry to wiggle free of her death grip.

“Duty calls,” Harry said cheerfully before bouncing over to where I was sitting. I could see the huge grin of relief on his face before he even reached me. Harry pulled off a rag from the back counter and began cleaning up the mess in front of me. “You’re my savior,” he whispered to me.

I blushed at the compliment. “Anything to help. She really seemed to have her claws in you tonight.”

Harry sighed with the relief of a drowning man who had just been pulled from the deep end of the ocean. “You have no idea.” After he had finished cleaning the bar off, Harry looked at me and said, “What’ll it be, dahlin’? You usual Merlot or are ya feelin’ a bit adventurous tonight?”

“Not tonight, Harry. I have class tomorrow.” He looked at me suspiciously and I could tell he wanted to ask me what I was doing here then, but at the last moment thought better of it. It was one of the reasons why I had taken to Harry so much after my move to Portland. While I missed Charlie terribly, Harry had helped to fill a small part of that hole in my life. He didn’t hover, pester, or question anything I said or did. Both men realized that I was capable of making my own decisions and living with the outcome, regardless of what the consequences might be.

“Well how’s about I make you something girly and frilly that will keep the boys away?” Harry winked at me which left me somewhat confused as to what he meant. Noticing this, he held up one finger before he turned back to the bar to work his magic.

A few moments later I was the proud owner of some cotton candy pink concoction with a teeny, tiny straw and cherries bobbing along the bottom. It was my turn to raise a suspicious eyebrow before taking a sip. Mmm, Shirley Temple. “Thisa way you ain’t gotta worry about them boys tryin’ ta buy you a drink…’cause ya already got one,” Harry winked again.

I smiled and took another sip of my drink. “Harry, you’re the best.” He smiled again before he walked away to refill another customer’s beer.

I was sure that Harry could tell I was feeling a little less than sociable that evening. Normally he would have yakked my ear off for the better part of an hour about some crazy patron he had had to serve or what I happened to be teaching that week. But tonight, I just felt like a piece of me was missing. I tried my hardest to resist scanning the room again and failed.

Why don’t you just give up for the night, Bella? If he was going to come here, he would have been by now.

Instead of listening to my pessimistic inner monologue, I remained seated, taking a sip of my fizzy concoction, giggling softly as the sudden surge of bubbles tickled my nose. I speared one of the cherries with my straw and munched on it happily, remembering happier times in my life. Birthday parties with my friends, the first day of school, when I got my college acceptance letter…

“You alright there, girlie?” I snapped back to reality, not realizing that I had been gnawing on my straw. Harry was leaning on the bar in front of me, watching me intently. His brow was furrowed and there was a look of concern passed over his face.

I quickly glanced up at the clock over the bar and was shocked to see that it was coming up on ten o’clock. I had been sitting there, daydreaming, for almost two hours.

I sighed heavily and felt the tension of the evening slowly began to slip away with the rise and fall of my shoulders. Harry frowned again and opened to speak before he closed it again, reconsidering. Instead, he let out a small grunt, as if to say, I know something is wrong. If you wanna tell me, fine, but no more sulking here.

I turned around and, one last time, took a quick survey of the pub. People had slowly begun to trickle out the door. Nowhere did I see his tousled bronze locks. It looked like tonight was a total bust.

I circled back around toward Harry. I knew I owed him some sort of explanation. I took a deep breath and said, “Sorry, I was hoping to see someone here tonight.” I tried to make it sound like it was no big deal, but I knew he could see right through me.

I stood and pulled my coat on, reaching in one of the pockets for my wallet. I placed a ten dollar bill on the bar. “See you later, Harry.”

“Later, doll. Be good.”

As I pushed the pub’s door open, bracing myself against the chill of the night’s air, I heard Harry call out my name. I turned to see him smiling at me from across the room. He walked from around the bar and came up to place an arm gently around my shoulders. “Bella, you be sure he’s worth it first, alright?” He then gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze before he walked back to his post.

I didn’t know how he had figured it out, but I knew I could never put anything past Harry. The man had been reading people for a living for the last twenty-five years. All I could think was, Leave it to Harry to unravel the mysteries of Bella with just a few looks. I really am as transparent as everyone tells me.

I got into my car and cranked the heat up with hopes of chasing away the shivers that were running down my spine, even though I knew they weren’t caused by the chilly night air. I didn’t know what had gotten into me. A few months ago, a decent man had wanted to share his life with me. For some reason, this had terrified me and I had run away. Now, after just catching short glimpses of him one night, my mind had been overpowered by thoughts of this bronze-haired mystery man. Hell, I was even going out on a school night, which was something I had never done before, even when I was a student, just with the hope of catching another glimpse of him.

What was it about him that makes me so crazy, wanting desperately to see him again? I thought. Is there something that’s telling me I’m ready to move on? Or have I, at long last, completely lost my mind?

Whatever it was, I felt alive for the first time since I had walked out of Jacob’s door. I remembered when I resolved to come to The Lion’s Den earlier in the evening. My pulse had raced at the prospect of seeing him again. I never felt that with Jacob, or anyone for that matter. Maybe there was such a thing as inescapable physical attraction, because it couldn’t be anything else, could it? I mean, I had never even spoken to the man before. I didn’t even know his name.

I was uncertain as to what the future held for me, no did I know the answers to all of the frenetic questions that had risen since the moment I laid eyes on him, but I knew that that wasn’t going to stop me. I was determined to meet this man. I was going to tell him my name and in turn, I would learn his. All of this, I was going to do to know if he was worth it.

End Notes: OK, well, what did you think? This chapter was actually the hardest to write, taking me over two weeks. Grr…I wanted to make sure I could convey Bella’s thoughts and feelings without making her sound like some psycho stalker chick. Did I succeed? What do you think is going to happen next? What do you want to happen? Chapter five is in the beta phases now.  If you leave me some love, I’ll definitely write you back! And maybe even send you a little preview…