I took a deep breath, filled my lungs with air, and held it for a second before slowly exhaling and entering the building.
I couldn’t explain why I was so nervous. It was quite foolish, actually. I had no reason to be nervous, and I kind of wanted to participate in the writing class held by Ms. Shelly Cope. I had applied for it after all, but I was hesitant as well. It wasn’t exactly something I usually did. Writing was something I did in my spare time, not something I had ever thought to develop.
None of my friends or family members had an interest in writing, so it wasn’t likely that anyone I knew would be there.
So, it would be somewhat of an understatement to say I was surprised to see Isabella Swan standing there in front of the door, waiting for Ms. Cope with the others, while I made my way through the silent corridor of my daughter’s former school.
She was the last person I expected to be here. Very few knew about my passion for writing. I’d never let anyone read what I wrote, not even Mary after twenty-three years of marriage. I had been afraid that she wouldn’t understand.
While Alice, our daughter, grew up, I had tried to spark the interest of books and reading in her, but I had only succeeded to a small extent since she never initiated reading on her own. It was only when I asked her about the books I shared with her that she had something eloquent to say.
So that was why my surprise was genuine when I saw Alice’s best friend standing with the rest of the participants of the writing class . Isabella, or Bella as she’d told me to call her many years ago, had lived next door to my family for years.
I knew she wrote poetry—I’d asked to read her poems several times without success—but I had never considered that a class like this would appeal to her.
At the sound of my steps on the stone floor, she turned her head, and her surprised, but happy, brown eyes met mine.
“Hi!” I greeted her with wide eyes full of the astonishment I felt inside.
“Hi, Mr. Masen,” she replied enthusiastically.
“Bella, how many times do I have to remind you to call me Edward? We’ve been neighbors for fourteen years, and you’re my daughter’s best friend. I believe it’s safe to say we’re on a first name basis now, don’t you think?”
Bella gave me a small smile, which made her eyes glitter, but instead of answering me, she changed the subject.
“I didn’t know you would be here. Alice never mentioned it.”
“That might be because she doesn’t know, and neither does Mary.”
She raised her eyebrows in question, and I rubbed the back of my neck the way I always did whenever I felt nervous or embarrassed. This situation had definitely fit into the category of the latter.
I knew it sounded strange that I hadn’t told my wife or daughter about the class —it wasn’t exactly something someone would think to keep a secret—but I’d had my reasons, and I told Bella that.
“I wanted to try the class out first and see how it goes. I might not want to continue.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to continue? You applied for a reason, right?” she asked.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m not sure if what I have is possible to develop.”
Bella giggled. “I know what you mean. I never know if what I’ve written is good enough. What felt good yesterday is total crap today. Tomorrow it might feel good again.”
I nodded, knowing exactly what she was talking about.
When a comfortable silence stretched between us, I noticed the notebook she had in her hand.
“Does this mean I’ll finally be allowed to read what you write?” I asked with a small, teasing smile.
Bella blushed and, once again, changed the subject. “What is it that you write, anyway?”
I wasn’t a blusher, but even though my face didn’t get red, it was obvious I was embarrassed when my hand went to my neck on its own accord. “Poems, I suppose. Mostly.”
It looked like she wanted to reply, but when she opened her mouth, nothing came out. I waited patiently, but before we could continue our conversation, the sound of heels on the stone floor clicked through the corridor.
A short, red-haired woman came forward with a huge smile on her face.
“Hello, everyone!” she called merrily. “I’m Shelly Cope, and I’ll be leading this class.”
My reaction to Ms. Cope was neutral, but I believe that was a normal reaction to a person I hadn’t met before. However, even though I couldn’t say why I became aware of it, Bella’s reaction was something else entirely. She stared a bit and followed the slightly chubby woman with her eyes as if this wasn’t how she imagined Ms. Shelly Cope, the author of “Wreck”, to look. She continued to stare while the woman opened the door to the old classroom and shook everyone’s hand as we entered and found our seats.
I was the last one in, and when I took Ms. Cope’s hand, I smiled. “It’s nice to finally meet you. Now I finally have a face to place with those poems I have at home,” I said.
She laughed with delight. “Oh my! It’s been an eternity since I published those. I certainly didn’t look like this when they were written. Unfortunately, time has placed its mark on me.”
“Hasn’t it on us all,” I joked with her, and she laughed again.
Once everyone was seated, Ms. Cope welcomed everyone again and said that in order for us all to feel more comfortable with each other, we would introduce ourselves and tell what our goal was with the class .
When three of the other participants—Robert Banner, Julia Hammond, and Deandre Varner—had introduced themselves, it was my turn. I stood up from my seat, and when everyone’s eyes turned my way, I felt the traces of my old stage fright creep up on me, and my neck broke into a sweat.
“My name’s Edward Masen, and I work as a carpenter.” From the periphery of my vision, I saw Bella frown as if what I’d said was wrong. I turned my head her way, met her gaze, and smiled. “You look as if you want to protest,” I said, and she blushed a deep red before answering.
“Alice always says that you’re an engineer,” she said apologetically and shrugged.
I couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled up inside of me. “She’s probably embarrassed that her dad spends his life repairing old furniture, but yes, I guess I’m an engineer. I have my own carpentry company, Masen’s Carpentry, as my younger, unimaginative mind named it when I started it.”
I was about to sit down again when Ms. Cope reminded me that I hadn’t told everyone about my goal.
I cleared my throat while thinking about it for a few seconds. Then I shrugged. “I barely know myself. Maybe to see what people think of my writing even though it’s nothing special. I guess I want this class to shed some light over the words that sometimes make no sense to even myself.”
Ms. Cope nodded, and I sat back down, relieved that I was no longer in the spotlight, even though the disagreement with Bella had taken my thoughts away from that matter.
After two more women—Rachel Black and Audrey Lowell—in their mid-fifties had presented themselves, it was Bella’s turn. Her face was flaming red, and I noticed that her hands were shaking slightly as she stood up. I smiled to encourage her, but she wasn’t looking at me. Her eyes were completely focused on Ms. Cope.
“I’m Isabella Swan, and I work at The Five Roses as a receptionist. Before that, I went to high school here. I want to take this class to … to learn something.”
Two more women spoke, and then the introductions were over. Ms. Cope immediately began to tell us about the art of writing, its history, about runes, spells, and about how writing had grown through time into the literature we love today.
Eventually, she called for a break, and together, the group trekked down to the school’s cafeteria for a cup of watery coffee and soggy cheese sandwiches. Since it was after school hours, all the “good” food was gone.
While I stood in line to pay for my sad excuse for an afternoon snack, I saw that while the rest of the group split into two, Bella sat alone at one of the round tables. She sipped her coffee and peeled an orange that she had obviously brought with her from home since they didn’t sell them in the cafeteria.
She probably felt a bit like an outcast in the group since she was the only one there under the age of thirty. Hell, she wasn’t even twenty yet. Still, I had never had a problem talking to her when she came over to hang out with Alice. She was an insightful girl, smart, and only slightly immature, but who wasn’t at nineteen?
I was the only one there she had any connection to at all, so I determinedly made my way over to her table even though Robert, or Bob as he said everyone called him, had hinted that I should sit with him and some of the ladies. I didn’t want Bella to feel left out.
When I approached, she looked up and eyed the contents in my hand. “Wow, you spent a whole two dollars on that,” she said with a teasing smile.
I sat down and leaned back in my chair without touching the sandwich or coffee in front of me. I hadn’t forgotten that I hadn’t received an answer to my question about reading her work before the class , and I was going to get that answer now.
“Well?” I asked with a smirk, and a confused expression came over her face.
“I’m still waiting to hear if I can read what you’ve written or not.” I nodded toward her worn notebook. It had doodles and drawings on it, so it was obviously a much-loved notebook. I had no doubt that her writings covered the pages from front to back.
I don’t know if she did it consciously, but she moved her hand from around her cup of coffee to the notebook, as if she was afraid I would take it without her permission if she left it unguarded.
I wiped the smirk off my face and leaned forward on my forearms. “Don’t look so scared,” I said. “I won’t read it if you don’t want me to. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not curious. I have been ever since I found out that you write.”
She relaxed considerably, and I wondered what I could have done to make her think I would ever look through her personal things without her allowing it.
Then again, it might not have been anything I’d done, but rather the other way around. Bella hadn’t known me very well at that point, after all.
Half an hour later, we were back in the classroom, and Ms. Cope told us what we were going to do during the next ten weeks. We were going to try a bit of everything, especially telling stories from different perspectives, writing about memories, poems, and lyric poetry.
She also told us that we would read everything out loud for the rest of the group, and some complained by groaning. I didn’t like the idea, but I kept my opinion inside. I was going to participate in the class , and so I was going to do what I was told.
When it was over, everyone scattered off like cockroaches. I walked up to Bella, who was lagging behind.
“Do you want a ride?” I asked. It was a freezing cold winter’s night, and I knew Bella had always walked to and from school. I didn’t want her to freeze, and since we were neighbors and all, I thought I might as well drive her home.
The ride started out a bit awkward. Bella had her head turned completely away from me, and she was fidgeting with her hands, so to break the ice I thought was already broken, I decided to talk about the class .
“So what did you think?”
She shrugged. “It’s a class like every other, I guess—nothing unexpected. Sometimes, it felt like Ms. Cope read directly from an instruction manual on how to lead a class .”
I chuckled. Bella was truly Alice’s opposite, and maybe that was why they had been best friends for so long. Alice was a girly-girl with a rebellious streak that often appeared during her arguments with me and Mary and had a tendency to walk around a subject. Bella was a straightforward girl who always followed the rules.
Her father, Charlie Swan, had often bragged about Bella’s excellence in school over the hedge that separated his lawn from mine, and he never hesitated to make it obvious that his Bella never acted out by coloring her hair blue—something Alice had done in their sophomore year—or walked around in too-tight outfits.
Though our wives, Renée Swan and Mary Masen, got along just fine and were often found gossiping during hot summer days with iced tea in their hands, Charlie and I never hit it off. We played the part of good neighbors by lending each other our tools, but I quite despised Charlie since he always tried to best me in everything. He just couldn’t stand the thought that I made more money than him and could provide my family with a luxury every now and then.
The wheels underneath my car squealed when I turned into my driveway and killed the engine.
“I …” Bella opened her mouth to say more but closed it and turned away.
I looked at her and waited. “What?”
She cleared her throat and shrugged. “I read a book that Alice borrowed from you—a book by Allison Polly.”
“Delirious?” I asked, and a thought poked at my mind.
She nodded. “It was … I liked it. I actually read it twice.”
It confirmed the suspicion that was now in full bloom in my head. I should’ve known Alice never actually read the books I gave her. The reviews she gave them didn’t ever sound like words she would use, but I guess I’d been naïve enough to believe I had something in common with my daughter.
“Aha,” I said.
“What do you mean by that?” Bella asked. It looked like she feared I’d figured out their secret.
“I knew she couldn’t have come up with that by herself.”
“Come up with what?”
“A penetrating flow of words like a magic spell that not even life could resist.” I quoted my daughter and watched with an amused smile as Bella’s eyes widened.
“W-we d-discussed the book,” she said in an attempt to cover for Alice.
“So it was you,” I stated. It was so glaringly obvious now. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t figured it out before.
“We discussed the book,” she said again stubbornly. “I just wanted you to know that I liked it, too. I’d never heard of her before … Allison Polly, I mean.”
“I have more of her books if you want to borrow them. We don’t have to go through Alice this time.”
She blushed but nodded and said she’d love to borrow them.
After that, we said goodbye, and she got out of my car.
I don’t know why I did it, but I stayed in my car and watched her until she disappeared inside her house. It was only then that I got out myself.
Everything was just as usual inside my house.
Alice was in her room, playing some god-awful music on the highest volume, causing the walls to vibrate. I felt the urge to walk upstairs, knock on her door, and ask her to turn it down, but I knew that would only start up a fight I didn’t have in me right now.
Mary was on the phone, her left leg, which was crossed over her right, was bopping up and down in time with the music Alice was playing, whether it was an unconscious movement or not, I couldn’t tell.
She smiled when she saw me—it wasn’t unusual that I stayed late at the carpentry, so my absence that evening wasn’t something she questioned—and I walked up to her and gave her a kiss. She hummed to whatever the person on the phone said and mouthed to me that there was dinner in the oven for me if I wanted it.
I gave her another kiss to show my appreciation and made my way to the kitchen.
I saw a dish covered in aluminum foil, lit up by the lamp in the oven, and I raised the temperature to heat it up some more without checking what it was. I was too hungry to care. Mary always cooked delicious food anyway, so I would be happy with whatever.
Soon, the smell of spices and cheese filled the kitchen, and when I took the dish out of the oven and revealed my wife’s lasagna, I almost had to wipe drool off my chin when my mouth began to water—it was that good.
After I’d enjoyed half of it, the blaring music was turned off, and Alice came down the stairs. When she entered the kitchen, I almost choked on the food I had in my mouth, and I had to chug down an entire glass of water to clear my throat before speaking to my daughter.
“What the hell have you done with your hair?” I spluttered out without really thinking about what kind of damage my words would do, but Alice’s hair had shocked me.
Gone was the shoulder-length, dark brown hair, and in its place was a black spikey hairdo that was shorter than my own. I thought she was done with the extreme hairdos after the blue hair ordeal.
Alice knew exactly what I thought of her hair—I completely hated it—and it was obvious she didn’t care. “Mom cut and colored it at the salon today. Don’t you like it, Daddy?”
When she called me daddy, I instantly knew it was an act to rile me up. She never called me daddy otherwise, so instead of giving her what she wanted, I took a deep breath and smiled. “Yes, I do. It looks good on you.”
The defiant glint in her eyes disappeared, and she left the kitchen with a huff. I groaned and buried my hands in my hair. I knew Alice was just acting out, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why. She refused to tell me or Mary.
Mary had repeatedly tried to assure me that it was only a phase Alice was going through.
The only thing we could do was encourage her in whatever she did, and she would snap out of it eventually. I prayed she was right and that it would end soon.