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"So I hung out with Edward last night," Rose announces, smiling coyly as she sips her vodka soda.
One of our mutual friends, the one whose bachelorette party this is, claps giddily at this news.
"He obviously realized what he was missing," Gianna says, holding up her left hand to show off her ring. "Riley and I broke up twice, and now we're getting married. I give it six months before Edward proposes."
My head hurts, and I take a generous sip of beer.
"Is that the first time you've hung out since you two broke up?" I ask, once Gianna's attention has turned to the women at the other end of the table.
"No. We've met up a few other times."
I don't know if she's lying or not, so I stay quiet and try to appear calm and unaffected and like I haven't been sleeping with her ex-boyfriend for the past three weeks.
The morning after Edward and I had sex, Rose stopped by my booth at the market. I had trouble looking her in the eye, and was too shifty, certain she knew what was up. But she didn't, how could she? Each time after that, it got easier.
"So what did you guys do last night?" I ask Rose.
"We got drinks. I was gonna go back to his place but Jess just got back from Spain yesterday, so they hung out."
She wouldn't know about Jess getting back if she and Edward hadn't actually hung out. I drain my beer, skin flushing and stomach twisting with jealousy. Which is stupid. Even if they did hang out, her smile and tone are suggesting it was more than that, and it wasn't. I know it wasn't, because I've spent the last few weeks with Edward, and nothing he's said or done has proved that he's the type of guy to run back to Rose.
"That's fun," I say coolly.
Rose tosses her blonde curls over her shoulder, smiling triumphantly.
"Hey!" One of Gianna's coworkers walks over, standing near my shoulder. "You're Bella, right? You make those charm things?"
"Yes," I answer, drawing out the word, giving her a friendly smile.
She begins gushing over my work, telling me she's ordered three separate pieces over the last year, and didn't realize that I was the one who made them. She's definitely drunk, but funny, as she tells me a story behind why she gave her grandma one of my hatchet necklaces for her birthday.
"They're strange little things, aren't they?" Rose interrupts, pulling a face.
The woman glances her way, but doesn't respond. We chat for another minute or two before she heads back to her seat.
Rose stares down at her drink, then looks at me, raising her brows. "I can't believe you're still doing that after all these years."
"Well, can it even be considered that?" She laughs like it's a joke. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding. Lighten up."
I force a smile, but it's weak. Maybe I'm being sensitive. And maybe I have no right to be, considering the circumstances.
Instead of offering up my own snarky remark disguised as banter, I stare at her, trying to pinpoint the exact moment when we stopped being friends and became two people who compete against one another. Because it wasn't always like this. We were friends in high school, and all through college. Inseperable. We had fun together. She was less judgemental, didn't give a fuck what anyone thought, but was still nice.
But maybe this is who she's always been, abrasive and self-centered. Or maybe I'm the one who's changed. Or maybe, the inevitable happened, and we've finally outgrown each other.
Of course, I'm being such a fucking hypocrite. I'm going behind her back and lying to her. I'm a shitty friend. I can admit that. But even so, it doesn't stop me from showing up at Edward's place after I leave the bar.
He's surprised to see me, but happy. It's after eleven, and we didn't have plans to hang out, but I needed to see him. Needed to confirm, if only to myself, that he's the guy I've come to know and not the one Rose claims he is.
"Hey, you," he says, pulling me inside, giving me a long kiss hello. "How was the bachelorette party?
"You were wrong," I say, moving to the couch. He sits first, and I get comfortable on his lap. "There weren't any strippers. So I win."
"Really? Not even one? Maybe you left too early."
"Nope. Not even one," I echo, playing with the back of his hair. "So now you have to strip for me. A deal is a deal."
He thinks about this for a second, then grins. "That wasn't a serious bet."
"Of course it was! Come on, I've never seen a male stripper. Not in person, anyway. Magic Mike doesn't count."
When he laughs, his breath hits my face before he leans in, kissing my cheek twice. And I love that we're like this. Somehow we skipped all the uncomfortable, awkward shit. I can sit in his lap and kiss him if I want to. I don't have to overthink things. I don't have to wonder if he thinks we're moving too fast or if I'm too needy or if he should wait three days to call.
"So?" I prompt.
He blushes, I think. "I don't know how to strip."
"Just take off your clothes, but do it really slowly. I'll just imagine that you're all beefy and oiled up."
His head tips back and he stares at the ceiling before giving me a blank stare. "You really want me to do this, don't you?"
"I really want you to do this," I agree, laughing. "You owe me."
With a sigh, he slides me off his lap and stands in the middle of the living room. "I need music."
"On it." I pull out my phone and open Pandora. "What kind of music? Maybe I'll start an Usher station."
"Oh, start one? Like you didn't already have that as a station."
I shush him, because he's right, and maybe that's embarrassing. Nice and Slow starts playing, and Usher's low voice coos from the speaker of my phone.
Edward shakes his head slowly. "Next."
"I don't have any skips left," I inform him with a laugh. "Now get to strippin'."
He pinches the bridge of his nose, smiling slightly, before he starts to slowly move his hips. It's jerky at first; he's not that into it. And I'm trying not to laugh as he lifts his shirt over his head. He tosses it my way, hitting me in the face. His chest is hard, but his stomach is lean, and he has zero rhythm, making this entirely hilarious.
He does a few weird moves I can't figure out before pulling down his sweatpants. And when the chorus begins, he faces away from me, showing off his ass.
"What about the boxers?" I remind him, admiring his toned back.
"Jess is home, so the boxers stay on," he says over his shoulder. He does a little shake, and I lose it, laughing so hard I start crying. Real tears, uncontrollable laughter. "Okay, that's it," he says, embarrassed, pulling up his sweats.
His shirt is back on, and he plops down next to me on the couch, giving me a stern look. "No buts."
"Oh, there was already a butt. A nice one," I tease, moving to straddle him.
He raises his brows, hands moving down my back to my ass. "Speaking of…"
I kiss his chin. "You're an awful dancer."
His sigh is dramatic. "The things I do for you."
"Thanks for putting up with me."
"It's only because," his voice lowers to a mock-whisper, "I really like you."
My gaze softens. "We went from like to really like extremely fast."
"I don't think it was too fast."
We hear a door open, and seconds later, Jess peeks her head around the corner. She says hi, that she loves us, but for us to quiet the fuck down. Edward tells her it's my fault, that I made him strip. She laughs, muttering about jet lag before disappearing, and my mind wanders back to Rose and how she said she was gonna come over last night.
"I don't have a natural segue for this, so I'm just gonna ask because it's gonna kill me if I don't."
He turns serious. "Okay."
"Rose said you two hung out last night."
"Why didn't you say something?"
"I didn't have a chance," he says quietly. "I was going to, though. She said she wanted to meet up and talk about maybe having her cousin volunteer at my work to get a few community service hours. But that was it."
"So there weren't plans for her to come back here afterward?"
He pulls a face, one that lets me know Rose is full of it. "Not even close. We had one drink, talked about her cousin, then I left."
"Okay. So you don't want to get back with her or anything?" I'm joking, but a little reassurance is always nice.
"No. I'm with you."
The way he looks at me is so sweet. And honest. And I trust him, I do, because he never looked at Rose that way. Not once.
"Well you're not with me," I murmur with a small smile. "Not officially anyway."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that no one knows about us."
"Jess does," he points out. "Angela, too."
"Right. But… that's only two people."
"Well, some people at work know about you."
"Really?" This is news to me. I thought we agreed to keep things quiet a little while longer.
"Yeah." He nods, looking a little unsure. "I can tell them I was lying, and that Bella is actually the name of my inflatable doll."
I laugh, burying my face against his neck. "No. Don't. I can't let you ruin your rep. Besides, I love that you told people about me."
Edward tips his chin down, and I sit up a little, pressing my lips against his. We kiss for a minute, until it turns into more, until he kisses his way along my neck and I laugh because his beard tickles my skin.
"I wish I would've met you first," I whisper.
"Me too, Bella." He brushes my cheek with his thumb and licks his lips. "We'll figure it out," he says assuredly. "Okay?"
I nod, trusting him. "Okay."
Heh, sorry about the wait. I'm a JERK. Thanks for reading.
Kim & Vic made me write.