"Have I told you lately how much I love you, B?"
Bella barely had time to press her index finger onto the page before the warm, hard, naked-but-for-a-jock-strap body crushed her in a bear hug from behind. Wrapping one muscled forearm around her shoulders and the other around her waist, Emmett planted a sloppy kiss on the side of her head. "This shoot rocks, Bella! I think it's gonna be our best ever!"
"Glad you and the boys are enjoying yourselves," she answered, one eye still on the page she'd read at least ten times over the last few months.
Emmett loosened his grip, pulled back just enough to see where her attention was. "Are you kidding me? You have to be the only chick on the planet who'd have her nose in a book instead of watching the Gifted Boys shoot their latest video!"
"Was there something you needed, Em?"
"Oh, I have everything I need . . . and then some." Emmett turned his head toward the two bowling alleys at the far end of the building, grinning as he surveyed the scene: seven lucky boys who had won a spot in the spring promo, dressed only in the skimpiest underwear and bowling shoes, huddled in two pairs and a threesome, locking lips and getting comfortable with each other as they settled in for the shoot. "You sure you don't want to bowl with us?"
Bella smiled. "Someone is actually bowling?"
The right side of Emmett's face lifted in a cute scrunch. "No, not really. A couple of them picked out balls, but then they got distracted with the finger holes, and . . . let's just say things went in a different direction." With his killer blue eyes and asymmetrical dimples, Emmett's face was as compelling as his gorgeous body. A fat lot of good it would do her, or any other woman.
After nearly two years on the job, Bella had learned not to want what she could never have. The work was professionally satisfying—certainly more interesting than working as a production assistant for her crusty boss at PBS—the boys were beautiful specimens, brimming with youth and passion, and her share of the endorsements paid off her student loans in a matter of months. All well and good for a career, but she was never going to find her Mr. Right on the job.
"Okay, boss. I'll let you get back to your boyfriend," he said with a downward glance at her book. "They're firing up the music and lights. Best strike while the iron's hot!" Emmett's perfectly sculpted eyebrows danced as he laughed at his little bowling joke.
"Spare me, McCarty!" she yelled over his retreating shoulder and the loud booming beat.
He gave her a too-cool-to-turn-around flick of his hand overhead, breaking into a bouncy jog toward the action. Get your mind out of the gutter, girl. Bella watched with a wistful shake of her head as the plump, exposed cheeks disappeared into the welcoming crush of hot bodies.
Damn, this newest crop of boys was an enthusiastic bunch! Emmett was drawn in with heated smiles, eager tongues, and grabby hands. When will I have my turn to be kissed with such passion? Bella wondered.
Tomorrow, the tiny, romantic voice inside her squealed. Immediately, the practical side took over, quashing all hope that this once-in-a-lifetime photo op with Edward Cullen would bring her the outrageous outcome she only allowed herself to imagine in the most remote corner of her soul.
Don't be a fool! she chided, having seen firsthand how the fans of the Gifted Boys made utter and complete fools of themselves, fawning and cooing and asking to see their thongs "in action." Granted, her boys were only interested in other boys, and if the rumors about Edward were true, he not only enjoyed the company of women; he was quite the connoisseur.
Fantastic! I'm sure I'm just what he'll go for: mousy, ordinary, pathetic fangirl who spends her days and nights with beautiful naked men who barely notice her. Yup.
Holding her spot three-quarters of the way down page 367, just at the point where Cork's angry tirade over Niagra's audacious bravery on his behalf turns into their first kiss, Bella flipped the back cover closed with a dreamy sigh.
Why did the man have to be so damn striking? She would have loved him anyway—and did, in fact—from the first descriptive passage of Niagra's lonely heart in the very first book in his sci-fi-rom-com series, Planets Between Us. She loved Edward Cullen long before Hyline Productions bought the rights to the movie, before the whole world fell in love with his characters—and very shortly after, with him. In fact, she was probably the only woman on this planet who truly loved him for his mind.
Damn his glowing emerald balls of fire for eyes and geometrically-chiseled chin and crazy fresh-out-of-the-sheets hair, and most of all, damn those fidgety, elegant fingers that always turned up in the most awkward places in pictures—zippers and back pockets and foreheads and napes. Damn the Facebook groups with his pictures plastered all over the place so that any undeserving girl with even minimally functioning lady parts would be drawn to him.
Damn all those beautiful girls who would catch his eye tomorrow instead of her.
"Now, now, Bella, you'll defeat yourself before you even say hello," her mother would have said. And what would Charlie say? Bella smiled, even as her eyes filled with tears. She knew exactly what her dad would say. "Damn, I wish your mother were here. I stink at this girl stuff. Why'd she have to go and get sick on us?"
Before Bella could travel any further down Morose Boulevard, her cell phone vibrated in her back pocket. Turning away from the pounding din at the opposite end of the room, she paused to check the caller—unknown. Fabulous.
"Hey, it's me. Listen, I just flew into town and went over to the house to pick up Mom, and she was lying on the floor clutching her heart! I had to call 911."
"What? Who is this?" Bella's heart pounded fast and hard as she pulled the phone from her ear and looked again at the unknown caller. Area code 917? Where the fuck was that? "Is this a prank?"
"Prank? No, Allie, it's me."
"Allie? Hang on, I can't hear you. Just a sec." Running to the door, Bella pushed it open and burst into the relative quiet of the parking lot. "Okay, say again. Who is this?"
"You've got to get down here. Now. I don't know if she'll last the night. Crap, this is so bad. See you soon."
"Wait, I think you have—"
"Oh, we're at UCSF. Sorry, my head isn't right."
"—the wrong number. Hello? HELLO?"
Shit shit shit shit! Somebody's mother was dying and she wasn't going to get there in time because this poor guy dialed Bella's number by mistake? How did shit like this always happen to her?
Redial! Pick up . . . pick up . . .
Of course he's not going to pick up the unknown number because he's a sane person! If I had done the same, this guy would now be getting my voice mail and realize he'd made a terrible mistake. And now, I have no way to—
The new connection was even worse than the first. Bella could barely hear him.
"Hey! You just called me! I needed to let you know—"
"Oh, Al. Great, it's you! I forgot to ask you to call Jazz and let him know I can't make Comic Con."
"Comic Con? What? I can't hear you!"
"Sorry I'm whispering. I'm not supposed to be using my cell in the hospital. Messes with the equipment or something. Look, just tell Jazz what's going on. Bengela can handle the panel. Gotta go. Drive safe."
Holy fucking shit! Comic Con? BENGELA? The blended star names of the leads in Spontaneous Generation, Edward Cullen's new movie?
I have to stop standing here staring at my damn cell phone and do something! Edward Cullen needs me! I am on a mission from almost-God!
Setting aside the brush with greatness to savor after the crisis, Bella forced herself to recall what she knew: Edward Cullen was at UCSF Medical Center with his probably-dying mother; someone named Jazz was responsible for his appearance at Comic Con; his sister Allie needed to be notified that her mother was in critical condition.
Her phone shook like a leaf in a tornado as she attempted to open her Google app. The fact that her other hand was also shaking certainly didn't help matters, but after several failed attempts, she was able to type: "Edward Cullen agent Jazz."
Please be listed. Please be listed. Please be listed.
About 7,810,000 results.
"Crap! Damn you, Google! Shit! Think, Bella, think! Who do I know in the movie industry?"
Over the out-of-control beat of her heart, the music filtered through the closed door. "Duh! Of course! Garrett, Garrett, pick up!"
"This is Garrett."
"Oh my god, Garrett! Thank God you're there!"
"Bella? What is it? Has something gone wrong at the shoot? Is someone hurt?"
"Oh god, no. Sorry, I mean, someone is but not one of yours."
"Okay, calm down, Bella. Take a breath. What's going on?"
"I need your help. I just got the craziest phone call."
"From Edward Cullen."
"What? I am not following. Edward Cullen, the guy whose books are always tucked under your arm? Didn't he do the screenplay for that YA film Hyline is about to release?"
"It's not YA! It's sci-fi-rom-com!"
"Fine, whatever. Why on earth would Edward Cullen be calling you?"
"Gee, thanks, boss. That's just it, Gar. He didn't mean to. He dialed my number by accident. His mom was having a heart attack or something, and he was really out of it, and I think he meant to call his sister, and now she won't be able to see her mom before she dies, and it's all my fault for picking up my cell because it would have just gone to voicemail, and he would've known he had the wrong number and—"
"WHOA! Bella, you seriously need to breathe. Are you still at the Megabowl?"
"Okay, tell me the facts. How do you know it was him?"
Garrett listened patiently while Bella dumped the facts as they came back to her, miraculously conveying enough that he could put together the pieces and come up with something resembling a plan.
"I know the PR guy for Hyline, Jasper Whitlock. Good guy. Let me make a couple quick calls. Sit tight."
"Thank you, Garrett."
"Bella, promise me you're not going to operate any heavy machinery. Whatever you do, stay away from your car."
"Yes, yes, I promise. Go! Make the calls! Call me back!"
Bella poked her head back into the building just long enough to make sure nobody was looking for her, then escaped again into the quiet night. Her stomach flipped and gurgled, an awkward combination of guilt, excitement, dread, and terror. Beneath it all, she was ashamed to identify a deep-seated disappointment that she wouldn't have her photo op with Edward Cullen after all.
Shame on you, Bella Swan.
Yes, I know. I don't deserve to call myself a fan.
Her phone shook in her already trembling hand. Another unknown number, this one area code 310. Now what?
"Hello? Who is this?" She gave herself a mental pat on the back for asking up front this time.
"Is this Bella Swan?"
"Yes, and you are . . .?"
"My name is Jasper Whitlock. I got this number from Garrett Pace. Do I have the right party? This is an emergency!"
"Yes, sorry, this is Bella."
"Okay, good. Garrett filled me in, and I just want to check my facts before I go calling Alice and getting her all ruffled. You can understand why I wouldn't want to scare the bejeezus out of my girlfriend if I've got my facts screwed up."
"Of course." Edward's sister is dating Hyline's publicist?
"Garrett tells me Edward was trying to reach Alice to tell her that their mother is ill?"
"Yes, they were at the UCSF Medical Center when he called. He said it was urgent, that she wouldn't last the night. I'm sorry," she added.
"Fuck, I was afraid of that, and Edward isn't answering his cell. This is not good. Okay, I've got to go."
"Oh, Jasper, wait! Did Garrett mention Comic Con, that Edward said he wouldn't be able to make it?"
"That's the least of my worries right now. Thank you so much for making sure the information got to us. I really have to go."
"Of course, of course. Yes. Good luck."
Send Edward my regards. Give him a kiss for me. On the lips. Tell him I love him. Aw hell, don't let him be too sad. I'd hate for him to be sad.
Bella opened the door and walked back into the building, a ten-ton weight slung across her shoulders. And yet, underneath it all, there was the undeniable thrill: she'd spoken to Edward Cullen!
Author's Note: The last 10,000 words of this story were donated to the Disaster Relief Compilation, a project undertaken by the fandom to ease the suffering of the victims of the recent earthquakes in Chile and Nicaragua. When the blackout period ends in early September, I will post the remainder of the story here. Thank you all for your interest in the story.
Much love to Ladyeire3 for helping mold the plot and characters around my very vague plot bunny, injecting life and humor into the story and the writing process, and gifting me with the beautiful banner. To my sweet Sue (a.k.a. chayasara), thank you for patiently moving my commas to where they belong from whence they did not and for keeping your eye on the loftiest of expectations while one foot is always in the gutter with me.
Thank you, also, to Mina Rivera and Ana Fluttersby, without whose giant hearts this compilation would not have happened. And to the amazing Ysar, a kind, generous, brilliant soul who does all the heavy lifting for the fandom. I hope to meet you one day, my mysterious friend!