"Want to go to California with me, tonight?" The words slipped out of my mouth before I had time to consider them. Yes, I had planned on asking. Yes, she clearly needed to get out of there for a while. Yes, she was looking at me with those big, chocolate eyes and practically begging me to save her. Surely that must have been it. I didn't just want to get her alone, where we could talk without using hushed whispers. I didn't just want to have an excuse to physically touch her for one hundred and thirty five minutes. Eight thousand one hundred seconds. I didn't just ask her because I was clearly deranged and obsessed. No, not at all. It was because she was looking at me with those big brown eyes.
"How do you propose we get there?" Her voice was thick with sorrow, her throat probably sore from all her weeping. I fought back a cringe.
"Running, of course." Her eyes widened and I could not repress my smirk. "Do you not like running?"
"Well... It kind of leaves me stunned. It's so fast..."
"I am sure we could properly distract you." I didn't need to tell her I was faster than even her Edward. Comes with practice, really. She seemed to think about it for a moment before nodding.
"All right. When Charlie goes to sleep, then." I smiled at her and seated myself on the bed beside her, letting a few inches separate us.
"Are you all right?" She let out a soft sigh and shrugged.
"There's very little I can do about it."
"That's not true, Bella. I'm sure we can figure something out."
"No. I need to do this for Charlie. He means well. I'm just worried about what will happen while I do this." Her voice quieted further, and were I not a vampire I would have had to strain to hear her. "I'm worried about bringing all the memories to the surface. I'm worried about slipping up and revealing something I shouldn't and giving the Cullens away."
"It doesn't matter. I'll figure something out."
"Even if you said something that 'gave the Cullens away' do you realize that the chances of anyone believing you are slim?"
"Even so, I need to watch what I say. If they don't believe me, they'll throw me in a straight jacket." I couldn't argue her there. I nearly jumped when I heard Charlie's first movement since Bella had come upstairs. He was headed toward the stairs. I met her eyes and she nodded, I flung myself out of the window, bolting into the woods in a millisecond. I heard Charlie knock on Bella's door, and a moment later, I heard him open it carefully after some gentle muttering of Bella's.
"Bella... I'm sorry you're so upset."
"I know, Dad, it's okay." There was a pause that felt awkward even to me.
"All right. Well. I'm heading to bed, then. Goodnight, kiddo."
She was clinging to me. Tightly. Her thin arms wrapped with as much force as her tiny body could muster around my neck, her legs around my waist. I held her in front of me, letting her bury her face in my neck and chest. It seemed more comfortable. She had my mp3 player tucked in the pocket of my shirt, the earbuds stuffed into her ears. Her facial expression had relaxed after the first few minutes from panic to almost joy. Almost. I grinned to myself, running faster even than I had when I was on my own. The trip felt shorter with her strapped to me this way, her scent invading my nose constantly. She'd pulled her hair back into a tight ponytail to keep it out of my face, not that it would have mattered a whole lot. She still didn't understand how quickly vampires took in surroundings, however, so I just smiled and thanked her.
I came to a halt just outside of a busy area in City of Industry, setting Bella down on the curb and seating myself beside her to let her body adjust to the lack of movement. It didn't take long for her to adjust and she removed the earbuds and handed them back to me, watching as I stuffed them into the same pocket the player was in.
"How was it?"
"Not nearly as bad as I'd expected it to be." I offered her a light smile and stood up, extending my hand out to her.
"I was thinking of taking you out for a drink. Would you like to come?" I could see her brain turning that over as she took my hand and stood up.
"I'm not twenty-one, James."
The best I could do to hide my amusement was laugh and shrug. "I'm old enough."
She debated the merit of my logic for a moment, studying me with hawk-like attention. "All right, sure."
I didn't let go of her hand as I lead her down the sidewalk. A few blocks later, we were turning onto Industry Hills Parkway and making our way towards one of my favorite places. Red. We were let in and I lead Bella right up to the bar with me. She gripped my hand a little harder, clearly nervous, and her eyes darted up to my face. I ignored her and smiled happily at the bartender.
"Alex, how are you?" Alex looked up at me from washing a few glasses off and his grin matched my own.
"James! It's good to see you," his eyes glanced down towards Bella before he looked up at me again. He was curious, "Who is your friend?"
"Ah, Alex please forgive me. This is my lovely date, Bella." Alex nodded at her and she gave him a timid smile. I changed the subject. "May I get two glasses of your finest red wine, please?" Alex's eyes darted to Bella quickly before returning to my own, perking his brow in a silent is she legal? I nodded once and he didn't ask further, simply turned around to fetch the drinks. I left him a healthy tip, which was most likely the reason he didn't press further. I let Bella choose the table and we wandered off into the back, sitting at a small table with two chairs with a clear view of the mountains. I sat across from her, placing her glass between us. I waved the waiter over and ordered a basket of bread sticks and requested two menus. He returned shortly, handing us our menus and depositing the bread before nodding quietly and leaving again.
Bella looked over the menu silently and I absorbed her carefully, trying to decide what she was thinking. She looked up at me a few times and smirked to herself, looking back down at the menu.
"Are you eating, James?"
"Yes, I think I will."
"Do you know what you want already or are you saving the menu scanning for later?" I chuckled at her smirk and picked up my menu to browse it. I knew what I wanted, but I didn't need to tell her that. The waiter returned shortly and I placed my order as Bella made her final decision.
"The RED Kobe Burger with Wasabi Cream Cheese and sweet potato fries, please. Also, a water if it's not too much trouble." The waiter nodded quickly and scribbled my order down. He was young, no older than twenty, and a bit scruffy around the edges. He eyed Bella curiously, along with her wine, and glanced to me. I offered nothing, so he asked nothing.
"I think I'll have the Turkey club, please? With shoestring fries. Maybe a water for me, too?" He smiled at her and nodded, telling her that would be just fine and headed off to put our orders in, taking our menus along with him.
Bella sipped her wine. She scrunched up her nose and sighed, "This is rather disgusting, James."
I laughed heartily at that, nodding and sipping my own. "It's an acquired taste, Bella. Have a few more sips and if you still don't enjoy it, we can try white wine."
She nodded and tried again. And three times after that. Her expression never changing, and my amusement deepening. The waiter was bringing our waters over and I requested a glass of their best white wine for Bella. He scampered off to fetch her a new glass of wine, seeming to enjoy the idea of getting something for her. I smirked.
"He likes you." Her snort interrupted her sip of water and she had to wipe her mouth with her napkin.
"I'm sure, James."
The rest of the meal passed in companionable conversation. We chatted idly about things, about her childhood and about my endless living. She laughed at all the right places and I could only hope she thought of me a fraction as highly as I thought of her.
The music in the restaurant was very new-age. I didn't hate it. The waiter seemed needy. I hated it. James would chuckle to himself every time the poor kid left the table. I scowled at him. The white wine was much better than the red. The red had been too heavy and bitter. I enjoyed the white wine so much, in fact, I was on my third glass. Luckily, I was eating. Slowly. So the tipsy feeling that was forming in my head was at least only that, a tipsy feeling.
I caught many of the women in the restaurant ogling James and there was a sick feeling building in my stomach. I said nothing. I smiled a lot at him. I wasn't sure if it was just because he had successfully made me think less about Charlie's plans for me and more about the relationship that was budding with him, or because of the wine, or because he was the singular most attractive man in the building. None of that really mattered though, I just kept grinning from ear to ear at him. I felt ridiculous. I blushed constantly, the heat burning my cheeks every few minutes. His eyes watched me incessantly. We finished our food and the waiter came rushing up to take our plates, looking at me and asking if I would like any dessert. I wouldn't. He was disappointed. James asked for our check and he paid a bill that I am pretty sure I didn't want to know anything about. He pulled out a cell phone I had never known he had (kind of like everything else he had) and called a cab for us.
"You know, cab fare will be pretty expensive for the whole ride home." He laughed at me, again. He had been doing that. I couldn't help but grin a little. Just a little.
"I hadn't been planning on going home, yet."
Oh. "Oh." He took my hand as we stood up and we walked out of the restaurant slowly. The cab had arrived by the time we got outside and we slipped in silently. James told the driver a specific address and the driver nodded before pulling out onto the road and driving us off to whatever destination James had in mind. We pulled up to a small house right on the beach and James paid the driver, smiling at me as we got out and he put his arm around my shoulders.
"Whose house is this?"
"Oh. It looks nice." He smirked as we approached the door and he opened it. I couldn't believe he left his door unlocked. The house was quaint, nothing extravagant the way the Cullens would have liked it. Simple, almost rustic furnishings, with brick walls and hardwood floors. The ceilings were white and the walls were covered with bookshelves, which were, of course, packed with books. The living room was to my right, the kitchen to my left. Just passed the kitchen was a room with a shut door, what I could only assume was the bedroom. Straight ahead was another room that was nearly empty, one wall made up almost entirely of French doors. There was a simple looking sound system set up in the living room, opposite a very comfortable looking couch with a shag rug beneath it. The kitchen was lovely, a small island in the middle housing two stools was the only table in the room. The appliances were all stainless steel and the counters were a simple white marble. Perhaps my phrase "nothing extravagant" did not really apply as much as I had originally thought. I turned towards the empty room and James smiled at me. Taking my hand firmly, he walked to the stereo system and turned on something soft and bluesy. Then he turned us towards the empty room. We had to take a step up to walk on the floor and as soon as we did, he spun me towards him and lifted both my arms to his shoulders. His hands touched my hips lightly, carefully.
Not in the same way Edward used to. He wasn't afraid of hurting me, he was afraid of crossing lines with me. I smiled up at him and without me noticing, he'd started moving us gracefully across the bare floor. We were dancing. I was dancing. I wasn't standing on his feet and yet, somehow I didn't trip all over myself. I didn't even squish his toes. I moved with a subtle grace that I had never known before. Calming slightly, I let my head rest on his chest and his chin found it's place on the top of my head. I sighed contentedly. This was incredibly comfortable.
"Hey." His voice, though faint, startled me.
"I want to show you something." He pulled away slowly, and I let him, dropping my arms to my sides. He smiled dazzlingly at me. Yes, dazzlingly. I realized that perhaps Edward was not the only man in the world with any charm. He tilted his head towards the stunning French doors. I followed his lead as he opened them and stepped out onto a small porch, hopping down the stairs comfortably. I kicked off my shoes when I realized that from his porch, we would be walking directly onto sand.
James waited for me at the bottom of the few short stairs and offered me his hand. I took it. His skin was slightly cool against my hand, but nothing chilly or unwelcome. We walked along the beach quietly for a while, looking up at the star-filled sky and murmured a few things to each other here and there. We sat down eventually, a few feet away from the calm tides, and he dropped my hand. I wasn't sure why, perhaps he wanted to give me space. Maybe it was so I wouldn't feel like he was pushing things. Maybe he was just tired of holding it. We laid on our backs and studied the stars. It was nice to be able to see them, and I said as much. He pointed out a few constellations to me but I struggled finding them.
We laughed to ourselves over silly things, he told me a few jokes and I shared the few I knew. I heard his head turn to look at me in the sand and I felt my own turn to face him, instinctively, to the right. His eyes were startlingly bright in the darkness. His face was solemn, even though we'd just been laughing. I felt the smile fall from my face, but I couldn't bring myself to speak. I felt, rather than saw, him moving slowly towards me, his right hand reaching up to graze my cheek meekly. I gave him a light smile, my lips barely moving upwards at all. I watched his eyes as he got closer, leisurely, and I felt my eyes drifting closed just as his insignificantly chilled lips pressed lazily to mine.
I felt my breath hitch in my throat before I moved quickly. I turned my body towards him reaching out my left hand to curl around his neck and tug lightly, encouraging him to come closer. He did. The second his body was a few inches away from mine, he pulled his lips back and rested his forehead against mine. It almost seemed like he was trying to catch his breath.
Christ. Shit. For heaven's sake what was I doing? This was completely inappropriate. Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to grab her, to pull her against me and jam my tongue down her throat. So I did the only thing I could think of at that point. I pulled away from her deliciously tender lips and sighed under my breath.
"Bella, I should get you home."