A/N: Many thanks to Midnight Cougar for catching all those things I miss each chapter. xx
Song inspiration for this chapter: “Chasing Cars,” Snow Patrol
“If I lay here
If I just lay here
Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”
(Playlist for this story can be found on my YouTube channel, if you search for “ghostreader24”)
Disclaimer: Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond own the adorable little mouse whose needs inspired this very adult version of their story. Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
For the past two weeks, I’ve visited the Post Office seven times and not a single one of those has Bella been working the counter while I was there. I’ve gone during busy times and off times, early in the day and late in the evening. I even braved the lunch rush twice without a single glimpse of Bella.
I now have more Christmas stamps than they probably do in their supply, as well as a growing variety of shipping envelopes and flat boxes I continue adding to a storage cabinet of office supplies in Jasper’s office. I’m running out of reasons to go. I think Vicky may be on to me, as she gets a huge grin on her face whenever I show up for another unnecessary need.
I’ve also met Vicky’s co-worker James who mans the counter either alone or with her. He’s an older guy who tells me he’s been working for the Post Office most of his life, and he thinks in a couple of years he will be ready to retire. He used to deliver mail on one of the in-town routes by foot, but now enjoys his time behind the counter.
I’m ready to conclude that my seeing Bella when I went to get my passport renewed was some sort of random fluke, as I haven’t seen her since the first of the month. I’ve been carrying my stack of Christmas cards with her note nestled between them every trip. Sometimes, I stash them inside my jacket or in one of my front pockets where I normally keep my gloves, but today, I’m carrying them, hoping that trip number eight will be my lucky number.
There are a steady number of cars and customers moving in and around the Post Office this evening. They normally close at five, but they offer extended hours due to the final Christmas rush before the holiday. I hold open the door for others before making my way inside and to the end of the line that snakes back and forth through the maze of posts and guides. My eyes scan the counter, and my heart lifts instantly when I spot her.
She’s here… in a Santa hat.
I close my eyes in relief and can finally release the breath I feel like I’ve been holding since I first saw her here. The tension in my muscles dissipates, and I can’t keep the grin off my face as I count how many people are in front of me—fifteen.
Fifteen customers, then I’ll be introducing myself to Bella Swan… at long last.
I release a deep breath, trying to keep my hands steady as I fidget with my stack of Christmas cards. I shuffle along with the others in line, listening for bits of every conversation she shares with customers at her window while James moves people past his station more quickly.
At the way we’re moving along, I’m a little concerned I could end up with him waiting on me, but shake off my worries and double-check my Christmas cards for her note. I search between the envelopes where I know I placed it near the bottom, but to my surprise, it’s not there.
My internal panic builds gradually as I look between each one over and over, but no matter how many times I check, the conclusion is the same each time—her note is missing. My eyes scan the floor, wondering if maybe it slipped out somehow, but I find nothing other than a paperclip and the back from a self-sticking label. I toss it into the trash, then recheck all the pockets of my jacket.
I eye everyone standing around me, but no one seems aware of my impending crisis and is focused on their own tasks. Even though I have moved up in line with about nine customers now ahead of me, I forfeit my position and retrace my steps, hoping they don’t lead me all the way back to the fire station. It has to be here somewhere. I know I had it when I left.
“Excuse me,” I say to the other waiting customers, stepping out of line and walking toward the entry door.
I search the floor in the lobby area where the walls of Post Office boxes reside, check the tables with shipping supplies, and give the contents of the trash can nearby a thorough inspection without drawing too much attention.
It’s not anywhere.
I can’t believe I’ve lost it.
It isn’t that far between the fire station and the Post Office, so while I could write another note on one of the shipping labels and use that, I retrace my path hoping maybe it fell out onto the sidewalk somewhere along the way.
For weeks, I’ve held onto her note—a final copy I labored over for days choosing the right words. My plans have been to hand-deliver it, but when the opportunity finally presents itself, it goes missing. I give up my search once I make it back to the station empty-handed and turn around, leaving for the Post Office once more. I’m determined to introduce myself with or without a note and hurry, not wanting to cut it close to closing time.
I arrive at the Post Office once again, take a spot in line, and tune into Bella’s conversations with her customers. Patience. I need patience. Taking a deep breath, I try to calm my mind and listen as her voice fills the small room.
“Next in line, please,” she calls out.
A little boy and an older woman move toward Bella’s window at the counter.
“Are you one of Santa’s elves?” the boy asks.
“I am and at your service. How can I help you today?”
“Is your name Bella?”
“Why, yes it is.”
“I think this is for you. It says ‘Bella’ on the front.” He holds out a small piece of paper and lifts onto his toes to hand it to her.
My heart sinks with realization, and I watch as the little boy passes my missing love note to Bella.
“Is this from you?” Her face lights up, flipping it open and reading my words.
I’m not sure if this is better or worse than handing it to her myself, but I’m glad I don’t miss the subtle blush that passes over her beautiful features.
“No, but I found it then delivered it, just like you do.”
“You did and thank you. I think we may have a job for you here in a few years.” She winks. “I’ll keep this note in a safe place.”
My eyes follow her movements as she tucks the note behind her and slides it into her back pocket.
“It seems you have a secret admirer,” the woman suggests, looking back toward the waiting customers in line.
I shift my eyes to my shoes and duck my head a little to blend in with the others. I’m actually not a secret at all and have admired Bella from the first day I saw her weeks ago, but I keep my interest concealed a little longer. Peeking over the shoulder of the woman in line ahead of me, I watch as Bella waves off the idea.
“Would it be okay if I offer him a C-A-N-D-Y C-A-N-E?”
“Sure. I think he would like that.” The woman ruffles the young boy’s messy hair.
Bella leans over the counter. “What’s your name, handsome?”
“Well, Riley, as a thank you for helping us today, I have something for you.” Bella turns toward a container on her desk where candy canes with pipe cleaner antlers, googly eyes, and red pom noses wait her selection. She removes one and offers it to her pint-sized customer. “Would you like a reindeer?”
“Yes!” He takes the candy cane reindeer from Bella, jumping up and down with delight, and shows it to the older woman proudly. “I’ve got Rudolph, Grandma. Look. Can I eat him now?”
“Yes, but what do you say, Riley?”
“No, the other one.”
“Oh. Thank you, Bella.”
“No, thank you.” She grins. “You delivered my own special note, which has made my day.”
The kid is stealing my kudos and lapping up her attention without a bit of hesitation. I can’t fault him, because he didn’t claim the note was from him, and I’m planning to spend as much time with her as I can finagle too.
Customer after customer completes their shipping transactions with either Bella or James until I’m next. I internally beg for James’s transaction to slow down and Bella’s to hurry. When her customer finishes first, I’m bursting with excitement, ready to take my place in front of her. Before she can get the words out, I’m walking in her direction.
“Next in line, please.” She smiles as I approach and close the distance between us.
Despite my unexpected nerves, I manage to speak. “Hello.”
“Hi, how can I help you today?”
My brain is swimming with ideas, but I need to start slow and build from there.
“You’re Bella Swan.”
“Yes, I am. Do I know you?” She tilts her head, eyeing me tentatively.
“I’m sorry. I’m Edward Cullen.” I hold out my hand for her to shake, and she slides hers into mine briefly, giving it a squeeze, then releasing it too quickly as I continue. “You’re Chief Swan’s daughter.”
“That’s right.” She holds a finger with a dark curly handlebar mustache drawn across the side to her top lip. “Do you see the resemblance now?”
I hear James chuckle from the other end of the counter as he gives us a brief glance while making change for a customer.
I can’t keep the smile on my face from growing larger. “Not at all.”
“I suppose you’re right. His is much fuller and kind of shaggy, but I really like this one. I think it fits me perfectly. You never know, I could be the Snidely Whiplash to your Dudley Do-Right.”
“Snidely Whiplash?” I question.
“Yeah, didn’t you ever watch reruns of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show? It’s a cartoon.”
“Moose and squirr-rel.” James interjects with some Russian sounding accent, then returns his attention to the next customer waiting in line.
Bella’s grin widens and nods in his direction. “That’s right Boris and Natasha were the evil scheming villains for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Boris had a mustache, but it was nothing like this one.” She wiggles her finger with the hand-drawn mustache.
“I’m afraid I’ve never seen it.”
“Well, at least James has my back on this one, but you didn’t miss much. Snidely was the evil villain tying poor Nell to the railroad tracks—you know, the damsel in distress. Dudley succeeds in rescuing her through dumb luck, but it’s really his horse that saves her. I always loved that horse—Nell did too.”
This is one of the oddest conversations ever. I have no idea how to respond, but Bella doesn’t let that stop her, because she continues, not missing a beat and turning it back to me.
“So, if you aren’t here complaining about my father issuing you a ticket unfairly, how can I help you today? Because I doubt you came here to discuss my father’s mustache or Dudley Do-Right’s adventures.” She points toward the stack of cards I’m holding. “Do you need some assistance with mailing those?”
I look down at the Christmas cards in my hand and flip them over quickly, so she can’t see the names and addresses I wrote on the front as a joke, because now I feel silly about using the character names. “Um…”
“We have Christmas stamps, if you need them, but this close to Christmas, there’s no guarantee they will get there before the holiday, depending on how far they will need to travel.” She grins, leaning against the counter. “Locally, you’re fine, but otherwise, you’re cutting it close.”
“Uh… maybe some Christmas stamps.” I mean, what else can I buy or ask about that I haven’t used in the past two weeks with Vicky or James?
I hear James snicker at my request and do my best to ignore his widening grin.
“Okay, let’s see what we still have in the drawer. How many do you need?”
I clear my throat as our eyes meet. “I’m not sure.”
Bella goes back to searching through her drawer. “We have books of twenty in the Winter Berries, Holiday Wreaths, and the Madonna and Child. I also sold some older ones the other day, which were Birds of Winter, but I don’t see them now. Of course, we have the books and rolls of American flags, as well as some special ones too. Are you a collector?”
Her question prompts another snort from James.
“No.” I don’t share with her, but I probably have enough stamps stashed away in Jasper’s office to start a collection at this point. “I’ll go with a book of the Winter Berries.”
“Sounds like a winner. Anything else?”
How about everything else?
At a loss for how to extend our time farther, I utter the last words I want to say. “That’s it for today.”
It’s been a win in my book. I’ve made my introduction, and my note is residing currently in her back pocket. I wonder if she will figure out it’s from me, but I think I’m okay with her maybe not knowing for a little while longer.
“Great. Your total is on the screen whenever you’re ready.”
I move a little slower, realizing our time is about to end. I set down my stack of Christmas cards and take out my credit card, working through the prompts on the terminal until the transaction is complete.
“Do you need a receipt?”
“That would be great.”
Bella waits for it to print, then hands it to me. “Have a good evening.”
“Thanks, you too.” I shove the receipt in my pocket and turn for the door.
“Don’t forget your stamps.” She grabs the book of stamps sitting on the postal scale in front of her and holds it out for me to take.
“Right.” I grin, a little embarrassed I forgot to grab them. “Thanks again.”
“And your envelopes.” She nods at the stack sitting on the edge of the counter.
I chuckle. “Yeah, I guess I’ll need those too. Thanks.”
Before I can get to the door, I hear Bella lower her voice. “James, who was that guy?”
He clears his throat, but he’s loud enough to where I can hear him. “C-C-F-D.”
I don’t hear her reply, but I’m happy with the fact that I’m finally on her radar, and I know after this visit, she’s firmly on mine. As I push open the door, I look back for one more glimpse, and I’m met with Bella’s smiling face, watching me depart and giving me a little wave goodbye.
If you give a postal worker a love note, she’ll wonder about the identity of the author when it’s delivered by an unintended mail carrier.
After a visit from a sexy firefighter, the mystery surrounding the note will add to her curiosity…