L'heure bleue, the blue hour: Rosalie and Emmett didn't wait until September to return to Forks. Instead, they came back in August -- and, unfortunately for Bella and the other Cullens, they didn't come back alone. Bella and Rosalie get thrown together when a new and unexpected enemy arrives in Forks. When their freedom -- and their lives -- are in danger, can Rosalie's animosity last? Set Post-Twilight; it's my version of the events following that novel. Pre-New Moon.
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The stock was balancing in my arms like a hikers’ version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A heavy pair of boots, a poncho, a compass, a couple of golf clubs and even an extra large sweatshirt or two were stacked haphazardly in my arms as I carefully made my way to the front of the store. Over the top of the tipping pile, I could just make out the counter. I was almost there.
I might have been able to see the counter in front of me but the stack of outdoors supplies blocked my view of everything else. I didn’t see the peg hook sticking out of the fishing pole selection until it was too late.
I felt the sharp edge of the metal hook as it ripped across my upper arm. It stung, and I gasped. Instinctively, I reached my hand over to check for blood. Unfortunately, though, in that one instant of concern, I’d forgotten all about the product that was in my arms—or, rather, that had been in my arms.
Everything tumbled to the ground, settling around my feet, hitting the industrial carpet of Newton’s Outfitters with a rather loud thud. An older man who’d been browsing the fishing lures turned around and stared at me, startled. I barely noticed; I was too busy looking at my arm.
Just as I’d expected—there was a cut, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I already had one scar—it was bad, but it didn’t compare to the crescent-shaped reminder I had from my last… trip to Phoenix—from my second week on the job. Now, only a dribble of blood was oozing down my skin from the fresh scratch; the reddening of the area surrounding the cut made it look worse than it actually was.
Still, I found myself quickly moving my right hand over the cut, ignoring the twinge, wiping the blood away as thoroughly as I could. It was a reflex I’d developed over the last few months—ever since I’d started dating a vampire who was sorely tempted by the scent of my blood, I’d learned that it was prudent to keep my blood in my veins where it belonged.
“Bella? Are you okay?”
I sighed. I guess that one customer wasn’t the only witness to my most recent clumsiness.
“Yes, Mike,” I answered quickly, turning around so I could look at him. “Just a scratch, actually. Nothing I can’t handle,” I added with a forced laugh, trying to sound as friendly as I could. It was frustrating, the way that Mike seemed to always be there when I was working. With Edward, his manner of suddenly appearing was endearing and never failed to amaze me; with Mike, it was kind of annoying.
I didn’t know exactly where he was a few minutes ago but he was definitely standing right behind me now, his eyes flickering between the mess on the floor and the arm I was still cradling. The cut was barely dripping and the blood was spilled in such a small amount that I couldn’t even make out the tangy, rusty smell that I hated so much. I was glad, too; the last thing I needed was to get sick at work—especially with Mike Newton there.
He already looked far too concerned and I felt bothered rather than flattered. Ever since I’d started working at his father’s store alongside him, shortly after I was allowed to remove my walking cast—another unwanted souvenir from Phoenix—Mike had been as overly friendly as ever. His golden retriever persona returned full force; he was eager to please and quick to help me become comfortable within the store, much like the way he had done when I first moved to Forks.
Edward wasn’t fond of the idea of me working shifts with Mike, even though he knew that I’ve already tried everything I could think of to discourage Mike’s attention. Was it my fault that me and Edward were still very much committed to one another while his and Jessica’s relationship fizzled out at the end of July?
Besides, Edward was the one who insisted that I go to college—if, of course, I didn’t convince him to change into a vampire like him first—and any good school cost money. I’d already point blank refused to allow him to pay for my school; if I had to go, I would pay for myself. In a small town like Forks, jobs were hard to come by. I was lucky that the Newton’s had an opening in their shop, and I was appreciative that Mike talked his parents into giving me the job despite my lack of experience—but that didn’t mean that I liked him as any more than a friend.
Sometimes I wished that I had Edward’s gift, that I could hear exactly what people were thinking. It would be so much easier then; I’d know exactly how to respond to certain people so they didn’t get any silly ideas—like the idea that I could ever care for someone more than I cared for Edward.
Then again, whenever I made that same wish, I only had to remember just how often I reminded Edward that he didn’t always want to hear what people were thinking. If I was being honest with myself, I know I wouldn’t.
It took Mike a few seconds to process the scene in front of him. It wasn’t the first accident that I’d had at Newton’s Outfitters, and I was grateful that the merchandise the store stocked was so durable. Not even the golf clubs were dented.
He shook his head slightly as a knowing smile came to his face. He—and most of Forks, probably—knew just how big a klutz I was. “Oh, Bella. What am I going to do with you?”
“Well,” I said, a little annoyed at the way he seemed so innocently condescending, “a band-aid would be nice.” The blood still hadn’t dried completely and I knew I should clean myself up. I couldn’t leave my arm the way it was.
It wasn’t my intent, but my comment wiped the smile right off of his face. His blue eyes darted back to my arm. They widened in belated realization when he saw the cut. “You don’t like blood,” he remembered.
That was an understatement, but I didn’t have the heart to correct him; as it was, I felt guilty for being snappish when I was only really bothered by my clumsiness. The urge to get sick wasn’t as strong when it was my own blood—I cut myself too often, anyway—but I didn’t feel like explaining. I’d be better off letting him cling to the image of me back when I got sick during blood-typing in biology.
“No,” I agreed, covering my arm with my hand again. Even though it was my blood, I’d feel a lot better over all once I was bandaged. “Where did your mom keep the first aid kit again?”
“Here, let me get it for you,” he offered, trying to be helpful. “I’ll be right back.” He flashed me a large grin before hurrying off towards the front counter.
While he was rummaging around one of the drawers at the end of the cashwrap, I pulled my hand back. The blood had finally stopped; only a drop remained to smear on the inside of my palm. It wasn’t much and the red faded to brown almost instantly. I knew I should go to the employees’ restroom and wash it off but I decided to wait until Mike returned with my band-aid. I needed to rinse my cut out too.
Besides, I still had quite the mess to clean up. Bending down, I started to gather up all the merchandise that had fallen to the floor. On closer inspection, I verified that none of the stock had been damaged. I was glad—I wouldn’t have been able to pay for it if it had.
I loaded my arms more carefully this time in order to make sure that I didn’t drop any of it again. I wasn’t sure the compass would survive another fall. I must’ve groaned under my breath or something when I added the boots to the top of the pile because Mike’s head shot up. He’d been searching through the open—and nearly empty, I thought guiltily—first aid kit.
“Bella!” he cried, and he sounded alarmed. I almost wanted to turn around and see what was behind me that made him sound like that because it had to be something. “What are you doing? Don’t worry about picking that up. Let me get it for you!”
He took a step away from the counter, but I shook my head. Edward always treated me as if I was so delicate; I didn’t need Mike doing it too. It was just an armful of stock. I could manage by myself as long as no more wayward peg hooks jumped out into my path.
“That’s okay, Mike,” I told him. “Your mom told me to put all this onto the counter so we can make price tags for this stuff. I can do it.”
“Oh,” he answered, looking a little put out. I guess I’d prevented him from playing my knight in shining armor. He waited until I stumbled forward towards the counter before holding out the band-aid he’d found for me. “Here you go. It’s one of those small ones… you know, the ones for papercuts… but that’s all that was left in the first aid kit. It should work, don’t you think?”
He really did remind me of a puppy dog, always eager to be rewarded. After I set all the product down at the far end of the cashwrap, I accepted the band-aid from him, smiling as I did so. His smile immediately returned to his face. “Thanks, Mike.”
I smiled again, a little less wider than before, and started to head towards the break room on the other end of the store. The bathroom was in there and I still wanted to wash my hands. I’d only taken a couple of steps, though, when I realized that someone was definitely following me. The hair on the back of neck was standing up; my stomach seemed to tighten as I tensed.
Whirling around, I found Mike standing right behind me, surprised at the way I’d turned on him. I relaxed at once, but I frowned. “Yes, Mike?” I asked, sounding colder than I meant to. Then again, I wasn’t the one sneaking up on somebody else.
“I was just wondering where you were going.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “I’m going to the bathroom.” Then, lifting the band-aid up so that he could see it, I told him, “I need to go clean out my cut and wash my hands. Is that okay?” I had the sudden desire to be away from him. Sometimes Mike could be too much.
“Oh, yeah. Sure thing, Bella,” he nodded. “I’ll just wait for you over there.”
I was just about to suggest that he go and help some of our customers when I noticed that we didn’t have any at the moment—the store was empty. I guess I’d frightened the fishing lure guy off with my clumsiness. Instead, I said, “Sounds great, Mike. I’ll be right back,” before hurrying away.
It didn’t take me long to reach the door marked “Employees Only”; even though I’d walked quicker than I normally did to reach it, I only stumbled once. I was quite impressed with myself—I’d moved at a pace closer to a trot than a stroll and I didn’t even fall.
The break room for the employees was a small room, but it was cozy. There was a table in the center of the room with a scattered pile of hiking magazines tossed on top; the Newtons encouraged their staff to know as much about the product they carry as was possible. Those magazines could be lifesavers, especially to someone who heard the word ‘hike’ and thought the word ‘disaster’.
A large, lumpy two-seater sofa was up against the far wall and, currently, my bag and Mike’s hooded sweatshirt were occupying it. There was even a tiny portable television set up in the back in case one of us wanted to watch something while we were on break. I’ve never turned it on.
The bathroom door was on the opposite side of the entryway to the break room so I just walked straight across towards it. Mrs. Newton cleaned it regularly, and I wasn’t nervous about walking into an unknown bathroom anymore. It was just as nice as mine was at Charlie’s; nicer, because it was bigger without having the addition of a shower, though it did have two personal stalls and three sinks.
There was a pump bottle of antibacterial soap sitting on the edge of each sink. It had a nice vanilla scent, and I probably pumped more into my hands than I needed. Rubbing my hands together leisurely, I let the lather build until there were bubbles on my palms. I was taking my time purposely; my shift was almost over and I didn’t really feel like talking to Mike. Lately he’d been watching me with that sad puppy dog expression again, and I couldn’t take it anymore.
I waited until the soap had almost dried before I rinsed it off. There was no sign of my accident left on the inside of my hands and, I gave my palm an experimental sniff, they smelled very summery. I liked it.
Giving the pump bottle another push, I gathered another amount—smaller, this time—of soap into my hands before transferring it to my scratch. It stung again, more than it did before, but I knew the ethyl alcohol in the soap was doing the job. I didn’t want an infection because I was careless, and I sure didn’t need another scar.
Once I was thoroughly cleansed, I realized that I had stayed in the bathroom longer than I probably should have. Mike was probably worrying where I was. Quickly, I reached for one of the rough, brown paper towels and dried both my arm and my hands. Wet hands were murder on a dry band-aid, I knew that.
As soon as the bandage was stuck in place, I lifted my head up and away from my arm, brushing a piece of my hair out of my face as I did so. A sliver of the mirror in front of me caught my eye then and, without even meaning to, I lifted my head higher and glanced right into the reflective glass.
The lighting in the small bathroom was rather dull but I was able to make out my reflection clearly in the rectangular mirror. I regretted it almost immediately.
A plain pale girl, entirely ordinary, was staring back at me. With a heart-shaped face, long brown hair and wide brown eyes, her features—my features—were average; attractive but unassuming. The girl in the mirror was slender but definitely not athletic. Luckily for me, the light was not strong enough to highlight the many cuts, scars and bruises that covered my skin at any given moment.
For a moment I imagined that there was a grey strand nestled among the brown but it must have been a trick of the light. After a frantic ten second search for the offending hair—thank goodness, it wasn’t there—I decided to push that thought aside. My birthday wasn’t for another month. I would worry about growing older then—if Edward hadn’t already solved that dilemma for me first.
As I gave my band-aid one last pat, making sure that the adhesive was stuck to my skin, I let my thoughts settle on Edward.
He was so beautiful, so perfect… and he was mine. Even after all this time, I still had a hard time remembering that. His hair, bronze-colored and so handsomely untidy, was remarkable and his sculpted, angelic face so remarkable that I was quickly running out of synonyms for it. I’d decided long ago that I liked godlike, and I usually went with that. Edward was, to me, a god.
And yet, he chose me. He told me that he loved me. This beautiful creature, frozen in time so that his loveliness will never fade, decided that, more than anything, he wanted to me with me.
I glanced back in the mirror, and I still couldn’t see what he sees in me. I was so utterly plain when compared to his luster—what was it about me that made him want to stay?
I tried to push that traitorous thought to the side, too. As long as he was with me, I wasn’t going to waste my time wondering why. Who knew how long it would take before Edward realized how much better he was than me, before he left me alone… I was going to relish every second I had with him until then.Instead, I thought of Mike, and the way he’d taken to styling his hair lately, gelled and carefully styled in a state of casual disarray. It was very easy to see where his inspiration came from. But comparing Mike to Edward was like comparing a paint-by-number to a Van Gogh. Only one of them was truly beautiful to me; the other was just another one of the ordinary masses. The comparison between Edward and Mike was enough to make me laugh as my pensive moment of reflection passed before I could dwell on it any further. I was still chuckling under my breath when I headed back onto the sales floor. Mike was waiting behind the counter, but the merchandise I’d set at the end wasn’t. Despite my intent, I didn’t think that I’d spent that long in the bathroom but, by the time I joined Mike at the cashwrap, all the product had been priced and put away.
“Is everything all right?” Mike asked, casually turning his back to the store so that he was leaning against the register, facing me. “I got worried for a moment there. I thought you might’ve fainted on me in the bathroom.”
His tone was friendly and playful as he attempted to start a conversation. I wondered if that was why he made sure that my work was done when I returned. How else would I be able to stand around and chat with him?
I rolled my eyes at him as I shook my head. I had to give him credit—he was really trying to be my friend. I just wished there was a way to define our relationship—our friendship—for him without sounding like I was utterly obsessed with Edward. I was, of course, but I didn’t need Mike to know how much so.
“Oh, I did, Mike. I blacked out and I was lying on the floor until water from the sink overflowed and splashed me in the face. I tried to clean it up as best I could but… say, do we have a mop?”
The look on his face was priceless. For a second, I think he actually believed me. Then his brow wrinkled and his eyes narrowed on me; all the same, he didn’t lose the humor that was inherent to his baby face. “Are… are you serious?”
I couldn’t keep my face straight. “Do I look wet to you?” I asked, chuckling as I gestured to my dry clothes.
“Ha ha, Bella. That was so funny.”
It was nice to know that, even after being Forks for eight months, I hadn’t entirely lost my sarcasm.
Mike, I could tell, wasn’t really sure how to react. In the end, he decided to change the subject entirely. Rather than return our talk to my earlier accident, he had something entirely different to talk about instead.
“So, I was thinking while you were in the bathroom,” he said, and something about the way he said that set off warning bells in my head. “It’s the first week of August already. Were you planning on taking an actual vacation this summer, Bella?”
I sighed in relief, a tiny rush of air that exhaled before I could control it. I don’t know what I’d been expecting but a discussion about summer vacation was not it. This was a much safer topic to talk about. “Not really. It’s strange, but I usually spend a month every summer with Charlie,” I told him, referencing my father. “Now that I live with him here, I didn’t make any plans to go somewhere else. My mom’s in Florida but…”
I wasn’t sure how to end that sentence. There was no way I could tell him that I didn’t want to leave Edward behind for even a day, just as I couldn’t mention that, should Edward come with me to Jacksonville, his vampire skin would glitter like a diamond the instant he stepped into the abundant Florida sunshine.
Mike didn’t need me to finish; he was already too busy planning what he would say next. In that way, he was just like Jessica Stanley. I couldn’t imagine why the two of them had split up; in my opinion, they were perfect for each other.
“Oh, that’s too bad. But, you know, if you change your mind… you just let me know.” His grin widened. “Don’t forget, I have a bit of pull with the owners here. You need some time off, I’ll make sure you get it.” Suddenly, his grin wavered a bit. “Not that I want you to leave, or anything. It’s just… everyone needs a vacation every now and then, right?”
I felt a little bad for Mike. He really was trying so hard. “Thanks, Mike,” I said, making my voice sound warmer than before, “but I don’t think I’ll need to take some time off yet. Besides, I just started working here.”
“Are you sure, Bella? I mean, if you really wanted to get away from beautiful Forks, I don’t think anyone would blame you,” he said, laughing to himself as he did so. I remembered that Mike originally hailed from California; he was probably as troubled by the constant cloud cover over Forks as I was. However, if it meant that I could spend every day with Edward, inside or out, I wouldn’t mind if the sun disappeared forever.
I joined in on his laughing. It was kind of catching, especially since I’d been able to hold a conversation with Mike Newton for once without feeling guilty that I was in love with Edward. “I know what you mean, Mike. I’ve never seen so much rain before in my life.”
“My dad told me this summer’s been one of the rainiest on record.”
“I believe it.” Just like they way I thought of beaches, summer was supposed to be dry and warm. But, obviously, not in Washington. “I don’t understand why none of us are walking around like wrinkled prunes.”
“Actually,” Mike began, and there was a twinkle in his eye. I was sure he was going to start telling me a story—he really was quite the storyteller, and the way he never wanted to stop talking helped the conversation continue—but, before he’d launched into whatever he wanted to say, his face seemed to darken. He frowned, glaring at something over my shoulder that I couldn’t see.
It was strange. I was more alarmed before when Mike was following me. Now, though, when something was behind me and it was enough to incense Mike, I felt perfectly comfortable. I almost wanted to turn around and see what was there. “Mike, is something wrong?”
He shook his head before muttering, “Cullen.”
My head swiveled immediately, my heart speeding up at the mention of Edward.
And there he was, striding in through the front entrance of the store. He lips were pulled into my favorite crooked smile and he looked absolutely gorgeous in a loose-knit grey sweater. Golden eyes shining in amusement at something that no one else could hear, no doubt, he walked with his head held high as he approached the counter.
“Edward!” I cried and just the sight of him was enough to send the corners of my mouth straight up. For the first time that afternoon, I really meant it when I smiled.
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