Sunday, August 16, 2015 | By: Drotuno

A Few Tables Away Chapter 3 & Pics

Chapter 3
My head was swimming by the time Jasper and I had finished locking up. I took my time walking back to the dorms. The night was muggy, warm, but the sky was clear. The stars were pretty visible and beautiful on my walk.
Just as I rounded the corner of my building, heading for the front door, my phone vibrated in my pocket. Thinking it was Alice back from her date, I pulled my phone out, only to frown when I saw who it was.
“Hello?” I answered, sitting down on a bench in the courtyard in front of my building.
“Where’s your sister?” Dad immediately began.
“How am I supposed to know that? I’m across the country,” I replied indifferently, which was much easier to do over the phone than in person.
“Because you two tell each other every-damn-thing, son!” he snapped, making me flinch, despite the three thousand miles that separated us. “You think I don’t read the goddamn cell phone bill before I pay it?”
I shook my head because I knew this wasn’t about Alice. He didn’t care what she did, as long as she brought home decent grades and stayed out of his hair. His problem wasn’t with Alice, and it wasn’t really with Emmett, either. It was with me. However, I’d learned a long time ago that if you gave him something, even something little, he’d back off just a bit.
“Last she told me, she was going out with Royce King,” I stated firmly because it wasn’t a lie. The party would get her into trouble, but the date wouldn’t, especially with that guy.
“Oh,” he sighed. “Okay, then. Dr. King’s son?”
“Yes, sir.”
The line went quiet, and just like always, he shifted his ire to me. “You’d better be keeping your grades up, Edward. If I get a report that says differently, I’ll—”
“My grades are fine, Dad,” I interrupted him before he could threaten to bring me back home…or stop sending my funds for school. “We’re just a month into the semester.”
“Oh, which reminds me. I’ve decided to sell the Volvo,” he stated coldly. “It’s not being used, and insuring it is a waste of money.”
I closed my eyes in frustration. I loved that car, but in all reality, he’d held it over my head since I was sixteen.  He wielded it like a weapon. If I made him unhappy, he took it away. If I dropped a tenth of a point in my GPA, he took it away. If I didn’t go to prom, if I burned his toast, if I read a book instead of watching the football game, if Alice or Emmett came to my defense… Once I’d gotten big enough that physically scaring me became almost impossible, the Volvo was his choice in punishment. If he sold it, then there was one less weapon he could use against me.
“Whatever you feel you need to do, Dad,” I stated, shrugging a shoulder that he couldn’t see, but it made me feel the indifference I was trying to put out.
“Well, at least you see reason.”
I shook my head, almost smiling, because I could hear that my answer had not been what he’d wanted. Apparently he was looking for a fight, and I honestly didn’t have it in me to give him one today. He’d have to find one somewhere else. And I also needed to warn Alice before she got home.
“Dad, I gotta go. I’ve got a lot of reading to get done before Monday.”
“Fine, we’ll see you at Thanksgiving,” he stated.
I opened my mouth to counter that I wasn’t going home for the holidays, but I’d save that argument for later, sometime closer to November. I’d use school as the excuse.
The call ended before I could say anything anyway, so I immediately dialed my sister.
I smiled, but I decided to get directly to the point. “Brace yourself when you get home. He’s prickly.”
“He’s always prickly. What now?”
“He wanted to know where you were.”
“What’d you say?”
“I gave him something to shut him up. I gave him Royce’s name.”
She sighed, and I could hear the noise in the background. “Fine, I’ll head home in a few.” The noise died down a bit, and I heard a door slam. “Now…tell me. Was Library Girl…”
“Bella,” I said with a grin. “Her name’s Bella.”
“Shut the fuck up! You talked to her?!”
Snorting, I shook my head. “It’s kind of a long story. Today’s been…weird.”
“Tell me. I’d rather hear this. The party was stupid.”
I gave Alice the rundown of my day, including the letter I wrote but didn’t give, the asshole who threw the drink, and meeting my Library Girl face to face.
“You know, I think she was the one who yelled at him when I walked away,” I guessed in a mumble.
“So…your bookworm is your boss’s cousin? That’s fucking awesome!”
Grinning, I broke into a laugh. “I guess, but I think she likes that jerk, Alec.”
“Maybe not. She apologized, big brother. If she were into asshats, then she’d have ignored what happened.”
“Maybe, but now… Now I’m gonna be stuck in a room all day with her, Ali. What the hell am I supposed to do?” I asked in a hissed panic. “I’m gonna screw this up so bad.”
Alice laughed, but it was soft and not really at me. “You… God, Edward, you make way more out of stuff than you need to. I’m telling you… If she’s worth any-damn-thing, she’ll accept you just as you are, ’cause you are a good guy, big brother. Just be you and be honest, no matter what, because you don’t want to be a liar. Mom always said…”
“It’s much easier to remember the truth than the lies,” I whispered with her, closing my eyes. “God, I miss her.”
“Me, too.”
The silence between us was heavy, filled with an old grief. I’d only been twelve when it happened, which had made Alice ten, and Emmett had been fourteen. Alice had been home that night with Dad. And Emmett and I had almost died with our mother. I shook my head to get rid of the old memories of screeching tires, crunching metal, and the splash of cold, dirty water.
“Edward… Big brother…come back to me…”
“I’m… I’m okay.”
“I know you are, and you’ll be even better now that you don’t have to hear the shit every day,” she stated wisely. “And you aren’t here as a slap to the face… You look—”
“Just like her. I know.” I smiled, in spite of it all. My whole life, people had told me how much I looked like my mother. Esme Cullen had given me her hair, her eye color, even her love for reading and writing. I was her made over. And it pissed my dad off something fierce.
“Edward, just…go be you tomorrow. Don’t sweat that you think you’re different. Don’t worry about your past. Just…go be that funny, smart, sweet guy I love.”
Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly. “I’ll try. Love you, too.”
The next morning, I was a mess of nerves. No matter what Alice had said, I still couldn’t shake the fear of working all day with Bella in Jasper’s office. I was afraid she’d see how weird I was, that my pickiness for organization would make her laugh, and that she catch me staring at her. That last one was the scariest because I knew for a fact that I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. She was just that pretty.
I used my walk to Sunset Roast to try to clear my head, but it didn’t work. I thought maybe I should get myself a bike while I was saving for a car. It would come in handy. It didn’t need to be expensive; maybe one secondhand from a pawn shop or something. And then I thought about how lame that would make me seem. Not only was I socially inept, but I had no car, either.
By the time I made it to the boardwalk and inside the coffee shop, I’d pretty much come to terms that I was going to embarrass myself in front of Bella in one way or another, so as my little sister would say…
“Fuck it,” I sighed to myself, reaching for the time clock and punching in.
“Edward,” Jasper greeted with a big smile, gripping my shoulder. “My cousin is already here, so I’ll let you two just…” His face heated, and he opened the door to his office with a grimace on his face. “Good luck,” he blurted out, pushing me inside and starting to close the door.
“Jasper Whitlock, you’ll stop right there!” Bella yelled from behind his desk, and when she stood up, I could see smooth legs and shorts, so I broke my gaze away quickly.
However, I wanted to laugh at Jasper’s paling face as he poked his head in the doorway. “Look, Bells… I…”
“Don’tchoo Bells me…” She stepped away from the desk and pointed to a few open drawers of the filing cabinets that lined the walls of the small office. “Seriously?”
Glancing at Jasper, I walked to the open drawers to peer inside. My stomach knotted at the folders that were completely out of order. There were employee files in with the bookkeeping stuff, banking stuff in with the vendor files, and dated folders were not in order at all.
I looked up to see Bella peering in with me, but then her pretty eyes locked with mine as she shook her head.
“What the hell is wrong with you!? Who does this shit?” she yelled at her cousin. “You’ve made my OCD shoot into orbit, you jackass!”
He laughed, and despite the fact that it was a nervous laugh, he truly was amused with her. “Well, I think you two are probably going to be a bit, so…”
Her nostrils flared as she glared at the door he slammed closed. He’d essentially just locked us in there. I was pretty sure her eye twitched, but I couldn’t get past the fact that she’d said she had OCD.
“You, too?” I asked softly, pointing to the atrocious filing system.
Her gaze broke from the door to meet mine. “What?”
She giggled, and sweet God, she was gorgeous when she laughed. “Oh hell yes! Since I was a kid. I mean, I don’t flip light switches off and on like three times before bed, but this kind of stuff… Ugh…”
Chuckling, I nodded. “Me too. My brother used to turn in homework that was wrinkled and stained, and it drove me crazy. He’d come into my room when we were kids, just to mess it up.”
What I didn’t add was that Emmett stopped doing that after I got into trouble with Dad for having a messy room. It only got worse when Emmett owned up to the mess; my dad punished us both.
“We’ll never, ever get your brother and my cousin in the same room. It’ll be anarchy.”
A loud laugh escaped me, and I couldn’t help it. Her sarcasm was sharp and quick but funny. I caught her stare at me, and her cheeks were flushed pink, but she seemed to shake some thought out of her head as she pointed toward the cabinets.
“I think… Maybe we should just empty them, sort the folders, and then refile everything correctly.”
“Clean slate,” I agreed with a nod, glancing over the drawers. “We’re going to need some room…on the desk and the floor. And maybe a permanent marker for labels and such.”
Bella smiled, and it was secretive and sexy. She went for a backpack hanging on Jasper’s desk chair, reaching in for something.
She held up a plastic piece of equipment, still wearing that wickedly sexy smile. “Label maker, Edward. I’m not sure I could live without this bad boy.”
I was pretty sure my neat-freak side just fell in love with her. Completely. I had imagined and dreamed for weeks as to what my Library Girl’s personality would be like, but the truth was far better than I could’ve created in my head. She was smart and sassy, but she was kind, too. I was beginning to wonder if there was anything that wasn’t attractive about her, except maybe her taste in men. And that only served to remind me that she wasn’t mine, except in my head.
With a deep sigh, I said, “Okay, let’s do this.”
“Why don’t I take the floor? You can bring me stacks of folders, and I’ll sort them,” she suggested.
“Then we’ll re-label the cabinets and put stuff back.” I finished, smiling when she nodded happily.
She paused before taking a seat on the floor, a small, slow smile gracing her features.
“What?” I asked nervously, rubbing the back of my neck.
“You have… You have the prettiest smile, Edward,” she stated, and my eyebrows shot up.
My heart sputtered in my chest, and there were shocks in my stomach, never mind the heat on my face, but I smiled again. “Um…th-thank you. So do you,” I said softly.
She laughed. “Thanks, but… You act like no one’s ever told you that.”
Turning toward the first drawer, I reached in, pulled out a great number of folders, and stacked them in my left arm, only to do it again. When the stack was about as tall as the length of my torso, I turned to set them down in front of her, but she was still watching me with concentrated interest.
“Seriously? No one’s told you? Like…ever?”
I shook my head no. Her open-mouth gaze made me self-conscious. I shifted nervously on my feet, waiting for her to say something else. She let her eyes drop to the stack, and I darted back to the filing cabinet.
“So…” she said, looking up at me with a smile when I handed her more. “Where’re you from, Edward?”
“A…um…a really small town in Washington. You?” I answered her, keeping my eyes on my work.
“Right here. Glenhaven.” She smiled again, nodding as she pulled all her hair up into a long ponytail. She started stacks of different folders, creating a semicircle in front of her. “You mentioned a brother… Is that it?”
“Oh, no,” I said with a shake of my head, setting another stack into her awaiting hands. “I have a baby sister, too. Alice.”
“Ah, the dreaded middle kid. Is it true what they say? That the middle child is the most trouble and the overlooked one?”
An ugly, humorless snort rocketed out of me. “Uh, no. Hardly. What about you?” I changed the subject quickly. “Siblings? Parents?”
I couldn’t believe, despite how nervous I was being in the same room as Bella, how easy it was to talk to her. She made me nervous, only because I didn’t want to say something stupid, but I wondered just for a moment if she didn’t know to keep the conversation going.
“Only child, but my parents are teachers. Professors at Edgewater.”
My eyebrows shot up at that. “Really?”
“You’ve already met my dad.” She laughed lightly. “Creative Writing.”
“What? Your dad is Professor Swan?” I gasped, smiling a little. He was my favorite instructor so far. He’d given me high marks on my first couple of papers. “And your mom?”
“Mom is head of the art department. She rarely teaches much. She home-schooled me before I started here.”
“Makes sense,” I said with a chuckle. “Your parents would’ve made better teachers than the public school system.”
“They thought so,” she agreed with a laugh.
I continued to empty the cabinets until they were done, turning back to Bella to see how the dividing was going. She pointed to the stacks, and I sat down across from her to help finish. Then we took each stack and put them in their correct order. The work was easy, though a bit tedious, and we stayed in a comfortable silence for a bit until I suddenly made a mental connection.
I glanced over at her, and she looked up at me with raised eyebrows as she waited for me. “You… Um… Swan Library. That’s… That’s you!”
She grinned. “Well, not me, but my grandfather. My dad’s dad. He donated the library a long time ago, but…yeah. Bella Swan.”
I sorted a few folders – accounts receivable, accounts payable, vendors, employee files – only to see her eyes on me again.
“What about your parents?” she asked innocently.
“It’s just my dad. He’s a doctor – chief of staff.”
My brow furrowed, and I shook my head. “M-My mom died when I was twelve.”
“Oh.” She shifted a little, placing her hand over mine. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
“S’okay,” I whispered, shrugging a shoulder. “How could you know?”
“I know, I just…” She set down the stack of folders in her lap and shifted to her knees in front of me. “I don’t like that I hurt your feelings.” Her dark-brown eyes were sweet and sincere. “You must be close to your dad.”
Smiling ruefully, I shook my head. “Bella, I moved three thousand miles away from home by choice.”
“Oh, Christ, I just keep fucking up more…” She trailed off, but she put a hand on my shoulder. Her touch seemed to shoot everywhere on me, like a buzzing shock, and I swallowed thickly. “I’ll shut up now so you won’t hate me.”
Grinning, I shook my head. “I don’t hate you.”
“You might, if I keep saying stupid shit.” She laughed at herself, which made me laugh with her. “There, that’s better. Wow… Edward, that’s some powerful stuff, that smile of yours,” she said, shaking her head. “You never smile like that in the library.”
I sighed, fighting another smile, but she caught my eye roll. My stacks were in order, so I stood up to start labeling and putting the folders back in drawers. Starting toward the cabinets, I gasped a little when her hand grasped my wrist.
“You have no idea, do you?” she whispered, standing in front of me. “All the girls, all the flirting aimed your way… You have no idea. You don’t see them…in class, in the library, borrowing your notes.”
I huffed a nervous laugh, looking away from her. “Bella, I’m… I don’t know what you’re talking about. I…” Frowning down at the floor, I shook my head again. “I don’t see anything. In high school, I was a pariah. Here, I’m just…me. In the library, I only see…you.” It was honest, and I wished I could take that last part back, but her sweet smile told me that she wasn’t offended.
“Yeah?” she asked in a whisper.
I nodded, my eyes shifting to the floor. “Yeah, sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she said through a giggle that made me start to smile. She grinned again. “Do me a favor, Edward… If you ever figure out the power you have, make sure you use it for good…and not evil. Okay?”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that. She thought my smile was pretty? I opened my mouth, only to snap it back closed. “Umm… Okay?”
She playfully shoved me, and we got back to work, only this time it was filing stuff back, labeling the folders and the cabinets, and putting some sort of order to Jasper’s desk.
Jasper poked his head in the door just as Bella was turning on his computer. Both of us looked up to laugh at his fear-filled face. “I haven’t received a stapler to the face yet…”
“You still might,” Bella countered, not bothering to look away from the monitor in front of her, which made me grin.
“So I guess you guys figured it out,” he finished, narrowing his eyes at his cousin but ignoring her jibe at him. Stepping fully into the room, he gazed around. “Wait, you’re done?!”
“Yeah, we got you all set up with…” I started for the first cabinet.
“Edward, sweetie… Don’t even bother,” Bella sang, and my eyes widened at the term of endearment. She pointed to Jasper and then to the empty inbox on his desk. “Paperwork. Here. Don’t even attempt to do shit about it. If Edward can’t find the time to file it, I’ll to do it, but if you mess up the most beautiful work we just got finished with, then I will personally shave your head in your sleep.”
I hid my smile behind my hand, because he was my boss.
“You think she’s funny?” he asked, but I could see he was amused. “Fine. Edward will file for me. Now, get out of here. We’re dead today. Go…hit the beach or somethin’.”
“Not a bad idea,” Bella told him as she picked up her bag and then grabbed my hand. “Let’s go, Edward.”
I didn’t argue with her, simply because I was stunned at the feel of her hand in mine, but once we were through the sitting area and out on the boardwalk, the smell of the salt water, suntan lotion, and people hit me full force. It was the glittering sight of the water down the long wooden pathway that made me stop, almost making Bella trip.
“I… I’m…” I was shaking my head. “I can’t… I just…” My chest constricted, my breathing became shallow, and I licked my dry lips. “I…I’m… I gotta go. I’m sorry.”
I turned away from the water. My walk was fast, even when I heard her call after me. I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop until I heard rapid running footsteps and a flushed Bella was standing in front of me.
“Edward, wait,” she panted, and I looked away from her. “What’d I do wrong?”
I was shaking my head before she even finished the question. “Nothing, Bella. You did nothing wrong. It’s me. I can’t… The beach…the water, I just…” When I met her eyes, I expected pity or disgust, but I only found sincerity as she tried to smile my way. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just…tell me you’ll be in the library Monday afternoon, as usual,” she requested softly, looking like she’d be hurt if I said no.
“Y-Yeah, of course.”
“Good,” she cheered. “See you then, Edward.”
She spun on her toes, her ponytail flying behind her, and I watched her walk away. Every assumption I’d made about Bella had been blown out of the water, never mind that even the dumb shit I’d said hadn’t bothered her a bit. Shaking my head, I started toward the dorms to get some homework done.


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