Seducing Ms Swan
AU Post-New Moon. Bella never jumped, Alice never had her vision and Edward never came back. Six years later, Bella is struggling to make a new life for herself as a teacher in Rochester, New York. How will she fare when a very familiar student crops up in her classroom? Will she be able to remain professional, or will old ties get in the way? Edward is convinced that getting Bella back is just a matter of 'persuasion', but Bella isn't prepared to be that cooperative. What's more, she's in the grip of a dark secret which threatens to prevent her from loving ever again. Bella Swan is slipping under...
Thankyou to twike for beta work. 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.
20. A Beginning
Rating 3/5 Word Count 4269 Review this Chapter
Tell me, did the wind sweep you off your feet
Did you finally get the chance to dance along the light of day
And head back to the milky way
And tell me, did venus blow your mind
Was it everything you wanted to find
And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there
It was surprisingly mild for April. Although some greying patches of ice still lingered stubbornly under porches and in the shadows behind walls, the snow that had covered the streets had long since melted, leaving nothing behind but small puddles of frappé coloured sludge. The congested roads were smooth and void of ice, and the first hints of spring fashion had begun to creep onto the sidewalks. As I walked along the street, I smiled at the breeze on my cheeks, revelling in the sounds and smells and rhythm of the city.
It was good to be back.
Six weeks had passed since I had left Rochester for Forks. It had been less than two months, yet my life had changed almost beyond recognition. Brady had died. I'd reached the epiphany that had been calling to me for six long years. I'd poured out my soul to Edward. My future had taken a completely different path, one that was lighter, brighter – happier – than I had ever imagined possible. Yet Rochester, reliable, noisy, unexpectedly beautiful, had stayed the same. And though I knew that I wasn't going to stay here forever, it was reassuring to know that the city would always be waiting for me, if I ever needed to come back and start all over again. Scarlett had Tara...
Turning the corner onto a slightly less busy street, I glanced at my watch. It was 2:28pm. I was close to being late. I paused at the curb, checking both sides for oncoming traffic, before quickly crossing the road. Safely on the sidewalk, I looked up at the cast iron sign that faced me. Taking a deep breath, I walked through the gates.
I didn't know for certain that he'd be there. There was a part of me, however small, which worried he wouldn't come; that he would have taken my letter's request for 'space' too literally and left me forever. That he wouldn't have wanted to wait around for me anymore. We hadn't spoken face to face since the hospital. When I'd rung the night before to arrange our meeting, it had been Alice who'd answered the phone. She'd been excited to speak to me, although, thankfully, more reserved than I'd grown accustomed to. Edward was out hunting, she'd said, but of course he'd meet me tomorrow; no, he didn't have any plans, yes, she was sure. Then we'd moved on to the topic of where to meet. I had prepared myself to refuse going to the Cullens' house; I couldn't think of a worse setting for our reunion, given their mansion had been the backdrop for both our argument and my accident. Yet, to my surprise, Alice didn't even mention her house. Instead, she suggested that Edward and I went to the park. It was going to be overcast, she said, and the flowers were beautiful at this time of year.
The certainty with which she said this gave me the feeling that, in my future, I had already decided on the park.
It seemed fitting, though. It was a public place – neutral ground. It was somewhere unchartered and new, which was how I felt about my relationship with Edward. A fresh place for a fresh start.
I walked down the magnolia lined avenue, casting my eyes around for a glint of bronze. No such luck, however; apart from the occasional passing jogger, I was completely alone. Clearly, an overcast Wednesday afternoon in April was not the park visiting hour of choice for the residents of Rochester. It was their loss. Alice had been right, the flowers really were stunning. The beds that lined the pathway overflowed with colour, a silent challenge at the sky's decision to stay resolutely white. The quiet calm of the near-deserted trails made it easy to fall into a reverie, and I was soon walking along in an absent-minded daze. I was in the process of deciding whether I preferred the azaleas or the daffodils, when I suddenly realized that I was no longer alone.
I looked up. Without noticing, I had wandered over a slight incline, into sight of a bench.
I felt my heartbeat jitter slightly, my breath subconsciously catching in my throat before I forced it out.
How could it be that, after all this time, the very sight of Edward could still bring my world to a standstill?
He was sitting twenty feet away from me on a bench at the foot of a large cherry blossom tree. The light of the pearl coloured sky filtered through the petals, bathing everything below it in a soft, pink glow. It brought a warmth to Edward's skin and made his hair look far redder than usual. He could have been a statue; he was so still and blended so seamlessly into the beauty of the park. It enveloped him, welcoming himlike a missing piece. I could have stood there forever, watching him, drinking in his calm silence.
I didn't, of course. On seeing me, Edward instantly stood. Even with his natural fluidity of motion, the movement still managed to dislodge a couple of the loose blossoms. They fell from the tree, gently gathering on his shoulders. He brushed them away carelessly, and I could almost hear them crying out with sorrow as they swirled to the ground, mourning the loss of contact.
Suddenly, I had an overwhelming urge to touch him. I curled my fingers so the tips brushed against the sleeves of my coat, in an attempt to repress the impulse.
From his spot under the tree, I saw Edward take a step towards me. Then he paused, looking at me hesitantly. He seemed unsure as to whether he should approach me or not. I knew how he felt. I'd spent so long building up to this moment, but now it was here; I didn't know quite what to do. I suddenly felt like a school kid seeing her friend for the first time after a nine week summer vacation.
Slowly, trying not to let my legs betray how wobbly I felt, I closed the distance between us.
My feet padded softly over the petal carpeted ground as I stepped under the canopy of branches. Edward stood waiting for me, his eyes never leaving my face. He was even more beautiful close up.
"Hey," I said softly.
He was looking at me with intense eyes, as though attempting to take careful note of every aspect of my appearance. There was a note of surprise in his face that made me wonder if I looked any different from the last time we had met.
"Thanks for coming to meet me," I said, shyly.
"Thank you for asking," Edward replied, with an equally shy smile.
For a couple of seconds we gazed at each other like a pair of awkward ninth graders on their very first date. I could feel the blush on my cheeks and was certain that, under the pink light of the tree, it must look like my whole face was on fire.
And then, absurdly, I laughed. Edward looked at me in confusion.
I waved at our surroundings.
"This," I grinned, "Us." He continued to look at me, not quite understanding. I acted on a whim. "Come on," I said, taking his hand. When our skin touched I felt the familiar jolt of electricity and my heartbeat quickened. My smile grew even broader. I'm never going to get tired of that. Edward's cool hand firmly clasped in my own, I led us to the bench and sat down. Edward paused, standing above me, and I noticed he was staring, almost fixated, at our intertwined hands. I had to stop myself from grinning madly at the implications of this. I gave Edward's hand an insistent pull, and he finally sank down onto the bench. He was watching me with a curious but amused expression; his lips curved into a smile that caused my knees to weaken in a way that made me grateful I was sitting down. With regret, I let go of his hand. I wanted to talk to him, and I wouldn't be able to do that with a distraction as major as skin on skin contact.
It really was like being fifteen again.
"Better?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. After a split second I realized he meant the bench, as opposed to the lack of hand-holding.
I nodded. "Much. This feels a lot less awkward," I shuffled in my seat, angling myself to the right so I could see him better.
"I wasn't trying to make you uncomfortable," Edward said. It sounded like he was apologizing. I shook my head vehemently. I knew that given half the chance Edward would try to unnecessarily blame himself for something.
We were surprisingly alike in that way.
"You didn't," I said reassuringly. Again, I found myself resisting the urge to touch him. Best to take this slow. "So," I said, changing the subject, "how are things?"
By which I obviously meant: how are you, but was too scared to ask that straight out. Edward, however, was too much of a gentleman to call me out on my cowardliness.
"Things are... good," he replied with another amused smile. "Truth be told, they got exponentially better about five minutes ago."
What a line. I made a noise half way between a laugh and a scoff. I also felt the blush rise in my cheeks, so that my entire face was burning again. Fantastic, traffic light Bella is back.
"And how about you?" Edward asked me, thankfully providing a diversion from my traitorous complexion. "How long have you been back in the city?"
I could feel a subtext to his question: how long did you wait before calling?
"My flight landed yesterday morning."
Edward didn't reply, but his expression seemed to brighten considerably.
Neither of us spoke for a few moments after that. Edward seemed to be preoccupied with his own thoughts, and I was mentally trying to find the best way to put all I wanted to say into words. When I finally fixed on it, I blurted out: "Look, I – "
Just as Edward said: "Bella..."
We both looked at each other and then laughed. I'd almost forgotten what Edward's laughter sounded like and hearing it again made my heart swell. I felt stronger, somehow.
"You go first," he motioned.
I took a deep breath. "Okay. Well, um, obviously you got my letter, because I haven't heard from you since I went to Forks..." I trailed off, suddenly struck by an awful thought. What if he hadn't got my letter? What if he'd maintained the silence simply because he didn't want to talk to me? The idea was too horrific to contemplate. "You did, ah, get my letter, didn't you?" I asked hurriedly, my heart in my mouth.
Edward nodded. "I did."
I had to refrain from letting out an audible sigh of relief. "Oh, good then. Well, actually, that's what I wanted to talk about."
I was doing a really awful job at the whole 'expressing my thoughts eloquently out loud' thing. I'd been right to think that I needed to write a letter in the first place; I couldn't imagine trying to say all I'd written face to face.
"I don't know how you felt about what I wrote," I continued, "I know I left you hanging for a long time, and I'm sorry about that. I had a lot of soul-searching to do. I wanted to thank you for... for giving me space when I needed it the most. For letting me go, for realizing I had stuff to sort out on my own. It was... well, without meaning to sound overly condescending and teacher-like, it was really mature of you and I really appreciate it." I finished, looking up at Edward, wondering what how he was going to respond.
To my surprise, he reached out and put his hands on either side of my arms, just below my shoulders. I felt my whole body react to his touch; my heart-rate quickened audibly, my lips parted and nerve endings tingled.
"Bella," he said seriously, looking into my eyes, "you have nothing to thank me for. What you asked for was perfectly fair; I was wrong to think that after walking out on you for six years I could expect everything to restart instantly on my return. That said, I'd be lying if I told you that I did what you asked because it was right. My motives were a lot more selfish. I did it because it was the best way – the only way – of getting you back. I could wait for years, as long as I knew you were coming back to me at the end."
"So... so you still want to be with me?" I asked, slowly, in need of clarification, "Even after this time apart? Even though I'm not the same person I was when I was eighteen?"
Edward did not answer. Instead, he leant in even closer to me, moving both hands up to cradle my jaw. His movements were purposeful and determined and I suddenly realized what form the reply to my question would take. I closed my eyes, just as Edward kissed me.
It was the third time Edward had kissed me since he had returned. The first had been after our argument in the snow; the second had been while I was lying in the hospital bed, having told him 'goodbye'. Both had been beautiful disasters; passionate yet painful, yearning yet angry, wonderful yet sad and flawed and wrong, like jarring, off-key notes in what had once been a favorite song.
But this kiss – this third kiss – was something different entirely. It wasn't familiar, it was new; it was deeper and stronger and more incredible than anything I had ever felt before. It was as though I was really feeling Edward for the first time, as though all those chaste, snatched moments with him of my adolescence had been mere rehearsals preparing for this, the main event. My heart was pounding and from head to toe my skin was burning, the cool hands on my face – then waist, then hair – the only things which kept me from exploding into flames and ash. I lost all sense of time or space; the only thing I knew or understood was Edward, and his lips, and this embrace. It felt right and, unlike those two other kisses, it anchored me to that moment and man in a way that I knew, in my heart, would last forever. It was the consummation of the pact I had made with myself on the beach in Forks, the culmination of my decision to allow myself to be happy. The moment of permanence and no return... and I couldn't have been happier.
After a few more blissful moments, we broke apart. My breathing was fast and ragged, my body overridden with sensation. I looked up at Edward, his amber eyes intoxicating.
"In case you were wondering," he smirked, "that meant 'yes'."
We sat in silence for some time after that, my heart feeling as though it was going to spill over with joy. After a while, we started talking about the weeks I'd been away. To my surprise, Edward told me that he'd continued to go to school. I was amused to hear his stories of the gossip surrounding my random disappearance and feigned offence at the fact that everybody seemed to think the motorcycle incident was totally in keeping with my epic clumsiness.
Then, I asked him one of things I'd been wondering the most: what it had been like to be left behind. A shadow passed over Edward's face, and he looked away. My insides lurched slightly and I worried I had crossed some invisible line.
"I'm sorry," I said softly, "you don't have to tell me about it...." but I trailed off as I saw Edward shake his head.
"No," he said, and his voice was sincere, "it's not that I don't want to tell you – I don't ever want to have secrets from you Bella – but it's... it's difficult for me to put it into words."
I wanted to say "Try" but I didn't want to sound demanding, so I stayed quiet. After a few more moments, my patience paid off.
"It was... it was a pretty bad time, to be honest," Edward said, running a hand through his hair so it looked beautifully dishevelled. "I couldn't be certain you'd come back to me, not really. You were just so... upset. Broken. The more I spoke to you the more I realized just how badly I'd hurt you, the more I comprehended the magnitude of what I'd done. You would have been quite within your rights to walk out on me for good and for a couple of dark moments I began to believe you really had. I just had to hope. Hope that you'd been telling the truth in the hospital, and that you really did still love me – and that I hadn't already completely destroyed my chances of getting you back. My family helped convince me that it was better to give you the space you wanted, than try to force your return, so I made myself wait, all the while willing that the phone would ring to tell me you'd returned."
I was confused. "But surely you knew I was coming back? Alice could have told you – she could have seen my future."
Edward shook his head. "You know Alice's visions are subjective. She can only see the paths that people have firmly decided to take. Besides, since we came to Rochester Alice has barely been able to see you at all. All her visions have been even more fragmented than usual."
I suddenly remembered the conversation Alice and I had had in the hallway after the Parent/Teacher conference at Sycamore Grove. "I haven't been able to see you for… well for about six years, actually."
"But... wait, Alice knew I was coming here. She suggested that we meet in the park; she'd seen me choose it." She hadn't explicitly told me this, but I'd interpreted it from her tone. From Edward's response, I knew I'd been right.
"Things changed a couple of weeks ago," Edward nodded. "Alice suddenly had a succession of three different visions of you, seemingly at random. Two of them were of you in Forks, the other was in this park."
"She saw me just like that?" I repeated, amazed. "But... why? What changed?" I looked at Edward questioningly.
"I thought maybe you could tell me."
I looked away lost in thought. What could have happened to suddenly make me visible to Alice's inner eye after years of blindness?
And then it hit me. Of course.
"Brady," I said, the word coming out in a soft sigh of understanding. I looked at Edward. He was watching me quietly, but clearly interested. "He was the reason she couldn't see me for all that time. Alice can't see the werewolves, right? And she can only see futures as they're shaped by decisions. But I wasn't making any decisions about my future, because all I could think about was this wall of guilt and responsibility I felt over Brady, a werewolf." I remembered how after the funeral I had felt as though the path before me had suddenly been cleared, its blockade blown apart by my own self-absolution. "It was only once I decided to let the pain go and move on and allow myself a proper future that Alice could see me – that she could see..."
"Us," Edward said softly, completing my sentence. "She saw us. The future you chose." He squeezed my hand.
"The only one I'd ever want," I finished. Then I added: "It must have been hard to be left behind."
"It was worth it," Edward said simply.
He brushed a blossom from my hair and I kissed him again. It was tentative at first, as though we were both testing new uncertain ground. As it progressed, however, I could feel Edward abandoning some of his trademark caution. It took a lot to make me break away for breath and when I finally did he let out a small, yet definitely audible, sigh of frustration which made my heart soar. Outwardly, I controlled my expression. I wanted to dance across the daffodils, but first I felt I had to make a couple of things certain. There was plenty of time for kisses and shameless displays of joy later. A lifetime, in fact.
"You know that this doesn't mean an instant 'Happily Ever After', don't you?" I said. "You know that we've still got a lot of things to straighten out?" It was a bit of a sobering statement to make, especially when I felt as though I was as light as air, but I felt it needed to be said. I didn't want any more misunderstandings to get in our way. Edward nodded at me, but the satisfied grin on his face told me his mind was still on the kiss, so I pressed the issue.
"I'm moving West - "
"I'm coming with you."
" - and I'm going to carry on teaching for now, and you definitely can't be my student any more - "
"I'll get a job."
"I'm not sure if we should live together, at least not at first."
Edward paused at that one, before replying, "Fine, but I'm not going to live more than a couple of streets away."
I raise an eyebrow. "Come on, I can't afford anything near the kind of luxury your family are used to."
"Then I'll get an apartment."
"On your own?"
"If that's what it takes to be close to you, yes." Edward suddenly pulled me towards him by the waist, taking me by surprise. I was now practically on top of his lap on the bench and the proximity made me shiver with anticipation. "Bella," he murmured, "you seem to be under the impression that there's a way you'll be able to get rid of me. If that's the case then I assure you you're mistaken; I love you, and nothing is ever going to drive us apart again."
Such a speech was enough to melt a harder heart than mine, yet there was one more thing I wanted to make sure of. It took a lot of courage to voice it, however, and I wasn't sure that I was brave enough to say it out loud. Luckily for me, however, Edward seemed to understand the motive behind my final reservation.
"I know you're not ready to say yes to eternity, Bella," he said gently, "and that's fine. I don't expect you to decide anything yet, and I'm not going to force you to do anything. On you becoming a vampire... well, experiencing your loss has given me a very different outlook on that subject. But ultimately it's your decision and depends completely on what you want. I will continue to love you regardless. It doesn't matter to me. All that matters is that you're happy."
I gaped at him, totally lost for words. He chuckled softly at my astonishment, and kissed me lightly on the cheek.
"I... I don't know what to say," I finally said as he pulled away. "That is possibly the most beautiful, kindest thing anyone has ever said to me."
Edward smiled, but it was sheepish with a tinge of regret. "Well, I've got a lot of lost time and stupid behavior to make up for. I'm just grateful you can love me again."
"I never stopped loving you," I said truthfully.
"Despite my best efforts to the contrary," Edward replied. He looked guilty. "I really was an idiot."
"Well, yeah, you were," I agreed, "but I wasn't exactly the model of intelligence either." Edward shook his head in wordless disagreement. I knew he hated for me to criticise myself, but here it was necessary. I had grown up just as much as Edward in the last few months; we were both flawed, we had both made stupid mistakes and irrational decisions, and that was okay, because in the long run, all our troubles had served simply to lead us here - underneath this beautiful blossom tree, hand in hand, bound by love and steeped in a comfortable, mutual understanding.
We were going to be fine. We were going to be better than fine.
"So what do you want to do now?" Edward asked. I looked up at him and he was smiling happily down at me. "I want to make your first full day back as memorable as possible."
As if I'll ever forget this moment, I thought to myself. But I didn't say that out loud. What I did say was this:
"Well, you can start by kissing me again."
And he did.
The opalescent sky smiled down on us and the breeze curled quietly around our intertwined bodies, laden with whispered celebrations.
And for the first time in six years, I felt whole.
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