Author Note: Wow, 80 reviews for the last chapter! We blew away the review goal, so you get this chapter a day early. You guys rule!
Most readers understand Bella's insecurities and would feel the same way in her position, but there are some who think she should just grow up and get over it already. And while a lot of readers understand why Edward wants to see Riley, some are not very happy with him.
Thanks again to moosals for pre-reading. Stephenie Meyer owns all characters.
Chapter 14 — Ghostbusters
Another man comes up behind Riley, slapping him on the back, and he turns around to see who it is. He's looking directly at us, and I know the exact moment he spots Edward, because his handsome face goes white as a sheet. It's like some freakin' Hollywood movie… long-lost lovers seeing each other again across a crowded room.
"Oh fuck," I mumble under my breath as Riley says something to the guy and starts walking in our direction. And then I drain the rest of my drink.
Edward stands as he nears our booth and I watch on in horror as Riley throws his arms around my boyfriend in a hug — and not the usual one-armed man-hug either.
"Edward, oh my God! What are you doing here in Jacksonville?" he practically squeals when they finally pull apart.
"I did my residency downtown at Baptist Medical Center," Edward answers.
I laugh despite myself and Edward turns around — finally remembering I'm here, grr. "Ri, there's someone I'd like you to meet. This is my girlfriend, Bella Swan."
"Get out!" Riley cries, eyes wide and mouth gaping. "Is that your real name?"
"It is," I nod. "Well, short for Isabella."
Edward puts his hand on my shoulder, squeezing it lightly, then continues, "Bella, this is my… first boyfriend, Riley Biers."
Riley takes my hand, bringing it to his mouth to place a light kiss on the back of it. "Delighted to meet you," he says, smiling.
"Um, would you like to join us for a while?" Edward asks, taking a seat beside me. I immediately place my hand on his thigh possessively. Mine.
"God," Riley begins as he sits across from us, "So nice for a guy's ego to learn that he sent his ex back to the other team."
My mouth falls open as I stare at him in shock. I'm disheartened to notice that Riley is even better looking up close than I'd first thought. His eyes are sort of a light hazel, an unusual shade. I also notice his black eyeliner, wondering if that's a leftover from being on stage or just Riley.
"Ri," Edward chokes out, "I… I dated a number of men after you and I split up."
"No shit," he chuckles, nodding.
"How long have you two been together?"
"A little over six months now," Edward answers.
"But we've been good friends since he moved to Jacksonville, over four years ago," I add. I don't want to marginalize our relationship. Technically, we've been boyfriend and girlfriend for only six months, but our relationship doesn't feel that new.
"You said you came here to do your residency?" At Edward's nod, he continues, "So are you a real live doctor now?"
"I am," Edward nods. "I finished school about two years ago, and I'm working in a practice now with three other doctors."
"Pediatrics, right? Or did you finally decide to go for the moolah and go into surgery?"
"Pediatrics," he confirms.
"And what about you, Bella?" Riley asks. "What do you do?"
"She's a writer," Edward speaks up before I realize that he's addressed me. "In fact, her first book is going to be published in a couple of months."
"Yeah? I'll be sure to buy it! Tell me you're publishing under that fuck-awesome name."
"No," I chuckle. "I decided to use my initials — I.M. Swan."
"Friend me on Facebook and let me know when it's out."
"I will." Like hell.
Our waitress interrupts to see if we need anything else, and I eagerly order another drink. I'm a little surprised when Riley asks for a Guinness; somehow, I didn't think that would be his type of drink. And then I feel bad for stereotyping him.
"So were you two at Wicked tonight, or is this even more of a coincidence?" Riley asks.
"We were," Edward confirms. "Bella got me the tickets for Christmas, and we read an article in Sunday's paper that mentioned you. Congratulations! You've done really well for yourself; this is a great role."
"Freaking finally," Riley says dramatically. "I wasn't as ready for the big time as I'd thought when I first got to the Big Apple. I spent years waiting tables so I could afford to eat. I'd go on casting calls and hear that I could act, and that I had a good singing voice, but I needed to project my voice better to reach the people sitting up in the balcony. And absolutely everyone told me to take dance lessons."
Edward snickers. "I mentioned to Bella earlier that your dancing has improved since I last saw you."
"Oh, let's call a spade a spade… I used to dance like a drunk uncle at a wedding," Riley laughs.
"Anyway, I finally started getting some smaller parts in off-Broadway productions. And I thought I'd made it the first time I was hired for an ensemble on Broadway. I worked my way up to secondary roles in some smaller shows and then early last year, I joined the ensemble for the Broadway production of Wicked. They made me understudy to Fiyero after a few months, but I only went on once when the lead actor came down with a horrible case of food poisoning."
"How did you get the part in the national tour?" I ask as I pick up my fresh drink.
"When several of the Broadway leads, including the actor who starred as Fiyero, announced that they would be leaving early this year, I of course tried out for that. But I lost the part to Justin Guarini — I mean, seriously, a freaking American Idol runner-up?
"I hadn't really wanted to spend months on the road, but when the opportunity came up, I auditioned and got the part. How could I turn down my first major starring role, right?" He waves his hands dramatically as he finishes speaking.
"Why didn't you want to leave?" I ask curiously.
"Well, I didn't want to spend months away from my Pookie, of course!" he replies, as if it's obvious.
"Your Pookie?" I laugh. Is that, like, his pet cat?
"My fiancé, Marcus," he replies with a huge grin. "He's a second generation Italian-American, and you know what that means — some of the biggest salamis around."
I nearly choke on my drink at the insinuation.
"Mmm-mmm, biggest man I've ever dated — well, Edward excepted, of course," he adds with a wink. "I'm sure you know what I'm talking about, Bella."
I snort in laughter, looking over to Edward next to me. He's adorably pink all the way to the tips of his ears.
"Oh yeah," I reply, palming Edward through his dress slacks, "I know exactly what you mean." Though I really don't want to think about Riley anywhere near my boyfriend's dick.
"You go, girl!" he shouts with a smile, holding his fist out to bump with my free hand. "Say, are you Italian, Bell-la?"
"No," I reply, still laughing. "My mom just liked the name 'Isabella.'"
"You're awfully quiet, Edward," Riley says, narrowing his eyes.
"You two seem to be getting along just fine without me." I move my hand from Edward's crotch, putting it around his shoulder as I hug him to me, then kiss him on the cheek.
"You two are so freaking cute," Riley exclaims. "You're going to have just the most beautiful babies one day. That's my one regret with being gay," he sighs.
"You can still have children, right?" I ask. "You can adopt, or…"
"Sure," he shrugs, "But they won't be a true combination of my partner and me. My sister has already agreed to be a surrogate for us, so with any luck, they will actually look like both of us."
"Are you planning to have kids soon?" Edward asks, sounding surprised.
"Oh no, not for several years. My sister, Bree, is only 23, and she says she wants to have her own family first before she starts having mine. Of course, she needs to find a husband first. Hey, is your hunky brother still single, Edward?"
"You've met Emmett?" I ask, confused by his comment.
"Oh yes, once. I don't know how much Edward has told you, but we met in drama class." I nod that I was aware of that. "Our class put on a play at the end of the semester and Edward's family came to see him in it."
"You were in a play?" I ask in shock, turning to my boyfriend.
"I just had a minor role," he explains. "Mostly I helped with the costumes. Riley had the lead though. And no," he chuckles, "Emmett isn't still single; he got married a little under two years ago."
"Damn… we could've been brothers-in-law! Or something." I hold in my laughter as best I can. Riley jumps from one subject to the next so fast that I can hardly keep up.
"Is Marcus in show business also?" I ask. I'd much rather talk about the man Riley is currently dating than anything related to his past relationship.
"Yes, Ma'am, he's a set designer. We met during one of my earlier roles. Oh, would you like to see him?"
"Sure," I shrug, trying to hide the fact that I'm dying of curiosity.
Riley digs his wallet out of his back pocket, pulling out a small photo and handing it to me. I glance at the dark-haired man, and he is rather attractive. He looks like a less clean-cut version of the actor Peter Facinelli from one of Edward's and my favorite TV shows, Nurse Jackie. When I've finished looking at it, I hand the photo back to him.
"Don't I get to see it?" Edward pouts.
"He's too hairy for you," I reply immediately and Riley guffaws, but he shows Edward the photo. "Too hairy, right?"
Edward sticks his tongue out at me, then turns to his ex. "Is he from New York?"
"Mmm, no," he replies absently as he puts the photo back in his wallet. "Similar background to you. Ass-backwards religious parents from St. Louis. Threw him out when he told them he was gay, so he moved to New York and made it on his own."
"Wow…" I mumble.
"Do your parents still have giant poles up their back doors?"
"Yeah," Edward nods. "They still don't know I've ever dated men, though I suppose it's irrelevant now. I even took Bella to my brother's wedding instead of my boyfriend at the time."
"You were his beard?!" His eyes are wide as he stares at me.
"Only to his family… and, well, I guess his coworkers, too," I reply.
"Falling in love with your beard… that's a first," Riley chuckles, drinking his beer. "Are you a Jacksonville native, Bella?"
I shake my head. "I grew up mainly in Phoenix. I followed my mom here when I attended the University of North Florida. My mom and stepdad live about 15 minutes away from us."
"Oh. My. God. You two live together?" Riley asks, hand over his heart. "I bet that gave your parents a heart attack. Or don't they know?" he adds with a wink.
"They know," Edward confirms. "Someone, who wasn't me, let it slip at Christmas." I remove my arm from his shoulders and give his dick a squeeze. I'm sure his gasp lets Riley knows exactly what I did.
"Do you two need to get a room?" Ok, now it's my turn to blush.
"It's… really good to see you again, Edward," Riley says, sounding more serious than he has all night. "I have always hoped that you'd find love and happiness. Marcus and I met three years ago, and it was like I came out of the darkness or something. I'd thought I was happy with you, and with this hunky construction worker I dated a few years later, but when I met Marcus, I just knew he and I were meant to be.
"It freaking sucked to walk away from you, but it was the right thing to do," he finishes, reaching across the table to squeeze Edward's hand. Now I actually like Riley much more than I'd expected to — ok, I expected to hate his guts — but if he doesn't get his hand off my man…
"That's why I wanted to come here tonight, to at least attempt to talk to you… because I feel the same way," Edward says softly. "I've got everything I ever wanted in Bella, and I really hoped to find you just as happy."
Riley smiles, and I see his eyes glisten with unshed tears. "My eyeliner's going to run," he shudders. "Bella, I'm sorry for intruding on your evening. Friend me, all right? Both of you. I'll tell them to put your drinks on our tab," he says as he stands.
This time I stand up with Edward, stepping out of the booth long enough to hug Riley when he finally gets his paws off my man. He kisses my cheek as he pulls away. "Take care of yourself," he says to Edward, shaking his hand.
Riley walks up to the bar and I see him talking to the bartender, pointing back at our table. Edward winds his arm around me, squeezing my ass. "Ready to go?"
"Ready." Edward throws a few bills on the table as a tip and takes my hand. Riley salutes us as we pass by the bar and I wave back. Maybe I will actually friend him.
Outside, Edward pulls me into his body, kissing my temple before we start walking back to the car. "Thank you for coming with me," he begins quietly. "I know that wasn't easy for you."
"Are you glad we came here?" I ask hesitantly.
"Yeah… I got the answer I wanted," he replies. "Told you you'd like him," he adds, bumping his hip into mine as we wait to cross the street.
"He's a little dramatic."
Edward laughs loudly. "Understatement."
"He was what I needed at the time though," he says softly. "Someone to show me that I shouldn't be afraid to embrace my sexuality. At least out of my parents' range," he adds with an eye roll. "He's open and fearless and… just an all-around fun person. I think his friends had no idea what he saw in me."
"Obviously he saw the size of your salami," I point out. "And the fact that you're, you know, freakin' hot."
Edward shakes his head, but I can see the grin he's trying to hide. When we reach the car, he pulls me to a stop, then cradles my face in his hands tenderly and touches his lips to mine. "Why didn't you drive?" he asks.
Huh? "Because I'm tipsy after one sake. Why?"
"Because my two-seater car makes it impossible to take advantage of the deserted parking lot."
A grin slowly spreads across my face as I take in that statement. "But your car will get us home faster."
Laughing, Edward opens my door, closing it once I'm inside. I put my hand back on his thigh as soon as he's buckled in.
"If the steering wheel wasn't in the way, I could give you road head," I suggest.
"Not in my seventy-thousand-dollar car!" And here I didn't think he was materialistic.
Edward drives us home as quickly as he can — safely. The minute he's parked in the garage, I'm out of the car, heading straight for my bedroom to get my clothes off.
The shoes are the first to go — God, I'm going to have painful blisters tomorrow. I toss my wrap onto the bed and then start trying to unzip my dress. I remember too late that this zipper gives me trouble, but before I have a chance to call Edward for help, his arms are around me and his lips are placing soft kisses along the back of my neck.
"Why do you still insist on having your own room?" he asks quietly.
"You know why."
"Tell me again."
"Because there's not enough room in your closet for all of our clothes!"
"Bella… maybe this is a sign that we should both clean out our closets," he replies, kissing just below my ear. "And if they still don't all fit, we can keep off-season clothes, or things we don't wear as often, in here. Your party dresses, for example."
"But… but there's only one sink in your bathroom." Fuck, his kisses are making it hard to think.
He stops kissing me, then spins me around to face him. "How many times do we both really need a sink at the same time?" he asks. "There's enough counter space for us to get ready together."
I open and close my mouth a few times. How can I explain to him what I'm really afraid of?
"Bella," he begins, taking my face in his hands, "I want you to move in to my room. You are not a guest in my house. You are my girlfriend. I want this to be permanent."
"Are you just saying that because Riley is completely out of the picture?" I ask in a small voice.
Edward stares at me with an expression I don't want to decipher, dropping his hands from my face so he can tear at his hair. He takes a deep breath, closing his eyes as he tilts his head back.
"Bella, I told you before we talked to Riley tonight that I felt we'd made the correct, mature decision in breaking up nine years ago. This has nothing to do with him — nothing. This is all me, a man in love with a silly, beautiful, insecure girl. I love you. I want to marry you one day. Hell, I'd get down on one knee and ask you right now if I thought you were ready for that." Fuck!
He shakes his head. "The fact that you still don't believe you're enough for me shows me that you're not ready to commit. And that's fine, I don't need to put a ring on your finger right now. But I need you to believe in me. I need you to believe in yourself, Bella." He steps closer, gently cradling my face again. "Take the leap of faith and move in to my room. I promise that you are more than enough for me."
As I stare into his eyes, I can see the truth in what he's saying. "I'm sorry," I whisper. Fuck, it's my own insecurities that could ruin this, not Riley or any other man… or woman.
"No, don't apologize. Just… trust me. I fell in love with who you are inside. What body parts you do or do not have make no difference to me. I didn't choose a specific gender — I chose you."
I'm unable to keep from smiling. "There's my beautiful girl," he whispers, stroking my cheeks softly. "Say you'll move in."
"I'll move in," I nod. "I love you so much, Edward." And I'll do anything to make him happy — well, short of… that.
"I love you, too. Now turn around," he whispers.
I turn, and he lowers the zipper on my dress, painstakingly slowly. As he pushes the straps off my shoulders, I'm taken right back to that night in Fort Lauderdale. Just like that night, I turn slowly to face him, catching Edward's eyes drinking in my nearly naked body.
"Fuck… you're even wearing the same underwear?"
"All for you," I whisper.
In the blink of an eye, his arms are around my back, unhooking my bra and tossing it aside. He places his hands under my ass, lifting me up until he can take my eager nipple in his mouth, sucking hard as he flicks it with his tongue repeatedly.
Wrapping my legs around his waist, I run my hands through his hair, tugging in time with the movement of his mouth. "Let's give your bedroom a deserving send-off," he growls, walking me over to the closest wall. He slams my back against the wall as his tongue forces its way into my mouth.
Edward pulls his hips back just enough for me to reach the fly of his pants. I shove them down then try to tug his boxer briefs down at least to his thighs.
"Take my cock," he demands gruffly. With one hand, he pushes my thong aside and I line his cock up with my entrance. I cry out as he's buried inside me in one thrust.
He fucks me roughly, his thighs slapping against mine, his mouth just as demanding. It's wild and possessive and everything I need right now to believe that I'm the only one he wants. As his thrusts become more uneven, he buries his face in my neck, panting and growling as he nears his climax.
"Bella," he pants, tugging at my earlobe, "Tell me… you believe me now."
"Oh God," I moan. "I believe you… I believe you. Fuck!" I'm lost in waves of pleasure, throwing my head back as I feel Edward spilling into me when he comes with a long groan.
He leans his forehead on my shoulder, breathing heavily as I feel his cock begin to soften inside me. Slowly, I bring my hands up, running them through his sweaty hair.
"I love you," I whisper. "And I'd be honored to be your wife one day."
He lifts his head, his expression sleepy yet sated. "I haven't asked you yet," he smirks.
He lowers me to the floor then steps out of his slacks and finishes removing his underwear. His eyes roam up and down my body. "You look well fucked," he says quietly, rubbing his fingers over a rapidly forming bruise on my left hip. "Sorry about that."
"I like having your marks on me," I disagree. He raises one eyebrow, then leaves a slow, lingering kiss on my swollen lips.
"You'll freak out when you see what I've done to your make-up. Why don't you go wash your face and then meet me in our bed for Round 2?"
"You'd seriously be up for another round?" I ask in disbelief.
"Not another like that," he chuckles. "I want to slowly make love to my future fiancée."
"I want that too," I smile. My feet won't be the only thing aching in the morning.
A/N: So, that's Riley. He's not intended to be representative of all gay men, of course. As moosals said, he's in theater so he'd probably be dramatic anyway.
I know some of you were worried about how this meeting was going to go. Are we feeling better now? Is Edward out of the doghouse?
A reminder that the next posting day will be Wednesday morning (US time) after I get home from a business trip. I'll offer up a Tuesday night posting if we can hit 800 reviews before I get back, but I know that's really only about 12 hours early, LOL. I won't have computer access to post while I'm away!