A/N: I bow down with thanks to MariahajilE, Layathomemom, and Lamomo (psst – go vote for them at the multifandom fanfic awards!) as well as Serenshadow for all their hard work and valuable time spent to make this story happen. And as usual, always and forever, both yummy parts of JiffyKate!

Ahh, morning afters.

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"Nice of you to finally give your old man a call."

I rolled over onto my stomach, smiling at the familiarity of my father's deep and gruff voice. I hadn't realized how much I missed him until I heard it. After seeing him almost every day for the last nine years of my life, it seemed I'd forgotten to appreciate the privilege somewhere along the way.

"Sorry, Dad. I meant to call you sooner. I've just been busy."

A call to my father provided me with a good reason to procrastinate leaving my room. I was too much of a coward to face Bright Eyes for the proverbial morning-after awkward run-in. I knew I'd have to at some point, but a little bit of old fashioned delaying-the-inevitable felt like a good idea.

"Well, how's everything going? How's your first week out there been?"

I paused a moment, biting my lip as I considered how I could answer that question.

Oh, you know, just a normal week… I got kissed by a lesbian. Oh, and I fucked my new roommate.

"Fine," I answered instead, grinning. "I've just been finishing unpacking and settling in at work. Nothing special."

"That's it? That's all I get?" he scoffed.

So I gave him a detailed rundown of my week, of course leaving out all the events of the previous night.

"I get along well with Angela," I finished as I wrapped up telling him about my job. "I'm lucky there's someone at work I can be friends with."

"I guess," he huffed. "I mean, don't get me wrong. I'm glad you're making friends. I'm just not so thrilled about you working in another bar. Trouble happens in bars, Bella."

"I know, Dad. I've heard this speech before." When he didn't answer, I continued. "The owner of the bar is super chill. That's why I applied there. I didn't have to give my I.D. or anything."

Again, he remained silent for a long moment. I pursed my lips, knowing what he would say before he said it.

"Bella, it's been almost ten years," he sighed.

"I know how long it's been," I retorted. "Trust me."

With the sound of his heavy exhale, I could vividly picture the saddened expression on his face.

"Honey, I understand where you're coming from, but there's no harm in giving an employer your I.D."

"Can we not get into this?"

"I'm just saying that I'd like to see you find a job that you can make a career out of. All that stuff is confidential, Bella."

"Dad…"

"And it's been so lo–"

"Dad, stop," I snapped. "You just don't get it, okay? You weren't there to see the look on his face when he promised me he'd find me." I sat up, bile rising in my throat just at the thought. "Do you not remember what he's capable of?"

I heard the regret in his sigh.

"Of course I remember. I'll never forget."

"He's not going to hurt anyone else to get to me. I'm not going to let that happen. I'm not ever going to take that chance."

"I understand."

"I get that you're just trying to look out for me, but this is my life," I explained. "If I want to live it a certain kind of way, doing a certain kind of job, I just… I just need you to respect that."

"You're right," he agreed. "I'm sorry. I just worry about you. That's all."

I took a deep breath to steady myself.

"Can we not talk about this anymore?"

"How's your brother?" he asked, changing the subject.

I spent the rest of the conversation filling him in on Emmett's situation with Rosalie, though he ended up not having long to talk.

"I gotta go, kid." I could hear someone talking in the background. I presumed it was one of his contractors at the construction company he owned. "I'll give you a call later on, all right?"

"Okay, Dad. I'll talk to you later."

"Bella?"

"Yeah?"

"I miss you. I miss having you around."

My heart warmed at his words. It seemed strange that there'd been a time when I didn't know him.

"I miss you too, Dad."

We disconnected, and I sat for a moment in the silence that followed. I didn't allow myself to linger on thoughts of the demons that had been brought up in our conversation. I couldn't. I might be unwilling to take any chances that would compromise my anonymity, but I remained painfully aware of the fine line between that and harping on my past, which was just as dangerous.

I didn't have much of a chance to dwell on it, anyway. My stomach growled, and my resolve to not leave my room crumbled.

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I spotted Bright Eyes through the kitchen window as I poured a cup of coffee at the counter. He paced back and forth across the deck in the backyard, shoving his hands through his hair as he puffed on a cigarette. My heart sped up just looking at him. I wouldn't have imagined that my reaction to him could get any more intense, but it did. Something had changed, because I knew him now. I knew the way his hair felt between my fingertips. I knew the way his muscles felt under my hands and the way his lips felt against mine.

When I looked at him, I realized I couldn't ignore him. We lived together. I would see him every day, and if we didn't speak about what'd happened the night before, things would get even more awkward than they had to be. So, channeling some confidence from the new version of myself I aspired to be, I went outside to face him.

He looked over at me as soon as I pulled the sliding door open.

"Hey," I greeted, forcing a smile onto my face as I stepped out onto the deck. "Good morning." He answered only by tipping his chin up to me in a nod while inhaling from his cigarette. "Can we talk?"

He stared at me for a moment, exhaling smoke before he responded.

"Sure."

I walked by him to sit on the wooden steps that led down to the yard, pleased when he followed. He sat down beside me, elbows on his knees, and took another pull from the cigarette. His close proximity made me jittery.

"You shouldn't smoke," I pointed out, as if I had nothing better to say. "You said yourself it's a terrible habit."

His vibrant eyes shifted over to me as I watched him exhale.

"I did say that," he agreed. "But ironically, it may be the one thing keeping me alive."

"And how does that logic work?"

He stayed quiet for a while, looking like he couldn't decide whether he wanted to answer me or not.

"My mother was addicted to prescription drugs, and my father was addicted to anything and everything bad for him. That makes me a prime candidate for addiction, which I am. An addict, I mean. I have an addictive personality."

"And therefore you've convinced yourself cigarettes are good for you?"

"You didn't let me finish. My drug of choice is cocaine."

A dreaded sigh escaped me. I knew all too well about cocaine. He had a problem with cocaine.

"You're addicted to cocaine?"

It hit me as a startling reminder that I didn't know this man at all.

"I'll always be an addict, but that doesn't mean I use. Coke is one hell of a drug. She's a jealous, vindictive, debasing bitch. I've seen her ruin the lives of people I loved very much, of people I would die for."

"Oh."

"I drink so I won't use, and I smoke so I won't drink so much."

I stared at him without shame, mouth open and all. He'd never said this much to me before and certainly not about something other than fucking me.

"So?"

"What?" I breathed, dazed by the first tidbit of information I had about him.

"You asked if we could talk."

"Oh. Right. I, um… I wanted to talk about last night."

He took another drag from his cigarette as he rubbed the back of his neck.

"I assumed as much."

"I just don't want things to be awkward."

He looked over at me, exhaling smoke between us.

"I meant what I said, you know."

"What do you mean?"

"What I said last night." His gaze moved from my lips to meet my eyes. "You should've walked away when you had the chance."

I swallowed, fighting to keep my breaths steady.

"I could walk away now."

His expression seemed curiously regretful while he shook his head.

"No," he declared. "It's too late for that."

I narrowed my eyes at him, determined not to be the one to break our stare.

"Do you say things like that to intimidate me?"

"I'm just trying to be clear."

His jaw tensed as he took another drag.

"I don't feel threatened by you, you know."

He blew his smoke into my face, watching me with intent.

"You should."

"Why?"

He looked away, and I smirked, feeling victorious for winning the stare down. With a heavy sigh, he pushed a hand through his hair before rubbing it over his face.

"I don't know what it is about you."

"What do you mean?"

He looked back over at me again, but I saw something softer in his expression this time, something yielding.

"I've been with a lot of women, Bella."

My stomach rolled. I didn't want to think of that. On some irrational level, I wanted him to be all mine. Even more desperately, and more disturbingly, I wanted to be his.

"What does that have to do with me?"

He shot me a thoughtful look as his tongue darted out to wet his bottom lip − a lip I wanted to nibble on.

"I have a…" He paused for a beat. "I have a propensity to use women the same way one uses drugs."

A sickening feeling crept its way up into my chest. What kind of man had I gotten mixed up with? The more he spoke, as much as I soaked it up like a sponge, the more reckless I felt for getting involved with him.

"Meaning?"

"I use them. I use women − sex − for a high. I see a woman I want, I take her, and then I discard her like a spent joint."

I wanted to throw up.

"Is that what last night was?" I bit out.

"That's what I'm getting at. I've always seen women that way, as a means to an end. After a certain amount of time, they've become faceless to me, just bodies."

"I don't think I want to hear any more of this," I balked, standing up.

"Stop," he commanded, wrapping his hand around my wrist in a firm grasp.

"Let go of me," I demanded, trying to yank my arm free of him.

"You have a face, Bella."

I froze, and he released his hold on me. My gaze darted to his eyes, trying to grasp what he'd said.

"What?"

"That's the difference. For years, I've pilfered through a sea of faceless women. Then I come here, I see you, and you have a face." He took a deep pull from his cigarette, exhaling with a heavy sigh that made his whole body slump. "And I don't even know what the fuck to do with that."

The sickening feeling spreading through my gut dissipated only to be replaced with elation, with butterflies. Because what girl wouldn't like to hear what he'd just said to me? My heart fluttered as I stared at him, trying to keep my cool.

"Seems to me like you did something with that last night."

"Last night…" He shook his head, averting his gaze. "Last night, I justified that by convincing myself that if I took you, if I had you just once, I'd get you out of my system." He put his cigarette out on a rock that rested between our feet. "I hoped I'd be able to fuck you once and be done with you, like I've done with the women in my past. I hoped you'd become faceless, like them."

"And did it work?"

He turned to me once more, and I was taken back by the intensity blazing in his bright eyes.

"No," he muttered. "It didn't."

A thrill raced through me. In that moment, I felt powerful. Not only had I refused to be intimidated by him, but I now faced the riveting revelation that Bright Eyes just might be intimated by me.

"Is that why you said I should've walked away?"

Hands now free of his cigarette, he leaned back with his palms flattened against the deck behind us, giving me a contemplative look.

"There are several reasons, Bella. But you didn't. And now it's too late."

"Too late for what?" I asked, looking over my shoulder at him.

"Too late for me to leave you alone. Not only did I not get you out of my system last night, as I'd hoped, but quite the opposite happened. I can't stop thinking about your sweet little whimpers and the softness of your skin." I felt my breathing becoming heavier. "I want you, Bella. Fucking you only sparked this pressing desire in me to take you in every way possible."

"Oh."

I didn't know what to say. This whole conversation had taken such a different turn from what I'd expected, and my heart pounded so fast in my chest that my mind couldn't keep up.

"You're not very experienced, are you?" he asked, an amused smirk pulling at his lips.

I swallowed.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because every time I bring up fucking you, you blush like I've just said the dirtiest thing you've ever heard."

"You talk very bluntly about sex. It's a little…" I paused as I searched for the right word, and he tipped his head toward me, waiting. "Imposing."

"You didn't answer my question."

I sighed, pulling my hair around over one shoulder as I turned my head away from him to face forward.

"No," I responded. "No, I'm not very experienced."

He leaned forward, elbows on his knees again, as he looked over at me.

"Are you sore?"

It didn't take me long to register what he meant, and a renewed blush heated my skin, recalling the dull ache between my legs when I woke.

"Yes."

"I figured."

"Well, that's boastful of you, don't you think?"

"No. It has nothing to do with me." I felt his gaze on me, but I kept mine fixed ahead. "You're tight and already small to begin with." I swallowed. "And I wasn't exactly…" He paused while I fidgeted. "Gentle."

My stomach turned as I recalled the way he'd stretched me.

"See what I mean? Imposing."

But somehow, it was also a daunting turn-on.

He didn't respond. Instead, he remained quiet, and for several minutes, we sat there side by side and stared straight off into the distance. I mulled over our conversation, the intensity of everything he'd just said, and ended up feeling a little breathless.

"Do you like pancakes?" he asked after a while, startling me.

"Um…" I couldn't help but smile at his unexpected question. "Yeah, I like pancakes."

He nodded and stood up, turning to hold his hand out to me.

"Come on." I placed my hand in his and allowed him to pull me up. "I'll make you pancakes."

He let go of my hand, and I watched him stride across the deck, toward the back door. I laughed when I grasped the actual context of the situation.

"Edward, are you offering me pancakes as an apology for my sore lady parts?"

He stopped and turned around to face me. With a soft laugh, a wide grin spread across his lips, showcasing white and straight perfect teeth. It hit me that this was the first time I'd heard him laugh and seen him smile like that. He had a beautiful smile and a charming laugh, refreshing reprieves from his usual stoic demeanor. The way his plush lips curved and the corners of his eyes crinkled made butterflies flutter in my stomach. Any opportunity I got to see that look on his face would be a treat.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

I followed him back into the kitchen and helped him find all the ingredients he'd need, but that's as far as my help went. Once he had everything laid out in front of him, I took my coffee and perched myself on one of the barstools at the counter, facing him while he mixed the batter.

We didn't speak for a while. I just watched him as he worked, marveling at the ease with which he moved. He seemed very comfortable in a kitchen, and that intrigued me. When he glanced up at me, he did a bit of a double take.

"What?" I asked.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

I didn't realize until he'd said something that I had a big grin on my face.

"It's just crazy that 24 hours ago, I'd barely even spoken to you, and now here we are."

"Yes. Here we are."

I leaned forward a little more as I took a sip of my coffee.

"I don't know anything about you ‒ like, anything at all ‒ and now you're making me morning-after pancakes."

He took the mixing bowl over to the stove, giving me a profile view to appreciate, and poured batter onto the pan.

"They don't have to be morning-after pancakes, you know," he commented, putting the bowl down. "They can just be pancakes."

"Are you ignoring the first part of my statement on purpose?"

"No. Did you ask me a question?" he retorted, his tone dripping with sarcasm.

"Don't you think I should know you a little better?"

"It's best you don't."

"I don't even know how old you are."

He leaned against the counter with one hand, turning to face me straight on.

"Older."

That didn't surprise me. He didn't look old, but he did look older than me.

"How much older?"

"Nine years."

"So 32?"

"Yes."

"You told me before that you're not from around here. Where are you from?"

He sighed, picked up the spatula, and began prodding at the edges of the pancakes, which were starting to bubble.

"I'm not up for a game of twenty questions, Bella."

"Just tell me where you're from. It's not like it's an intense question."

"I'm from Chicago."

"Why'd you move here?"

"Bella…" he warned.

"Last question."

He looked over at me, and I gave him what I hoped came across as a charming smile.

"I spent every summer here growing up. My mom is from Houston, and I actually lived here for a year with my grandparents when I was in high school." He paused for a moment as he started flipping the pancakes. "When I decided to leave Chicago, this seemed like a good place to land for awhile as I figure things out."

That made me want to ask more questions, but I'd already promised him that would be my last; I didn't want to give him the third degree. I'd have to sneak any further questions in little by little.

"I've never been to Chicago."

He didn't respond to that. I didn't want to force conversation, so I let it go. I allowed silence to settle between us. It didn't take long for him to place a steaming plate of pancakes in front of me and another in front of the stool beside me for himself. He told me they'd be better with real maple syrup, which I insisted we were using, and then we argued over the accolades of Aunt Jemima while I sliced up my pancakes and smothered them in her sticky sweetness.

Notoriously vocal in my appreciation of good food, I wasn't even aware of the sounds I made as I dug into those perfect little cakes of divine fluffiness.

"You're gonna make me hard if you keep moaning like that," he commented conversationally, making me cough up the last piece of pancake I'd been in the process of swallowing. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," I squeaked, setting my fork down.

"Mmm… There it is again. That beautiful, tempting blush…" He reached over to brush the backs of his fingers across my cheek, and my breath hitched at the contact. "You are a temptress, Bella."

The whole thing felt like a dream. Waking up that morning, I couldn't have imagined I'd be eating pancakes with Bright Eyes and listening to him say such things to me. I wished I had the whole day to sit there with him and have a real conversation for the first time. I didn't, but I did have an idea.

"You know, you bruised me last night," I commented, recalling the markings I'd noticed on my hip while dressing.

"I did?" he asked, his hand falling away from my face.

I found the troubled look on his face to be comforting.

"Yes."

"Where? Show me."

I slid off my bar stool to stand beside him, and he watched with intent as I lifted my shirt a bit and tugged my leggings down just far enough to expose the faint markings on my hip. His eyebrows furrowed together as he looked, lifting his hand to line his fingers up with where they'd dug into me with too much force. When his gaze shifted up to meet mine, his eyes looked remorseful.

"I'm sorry."

I pulled my pants back up and dropped my shirt while he pulled his hand away.

"It's okay. I bruise easily. I'm just showing you in hopes that you'll feel bad and cook me dinner like you did breakfast to apologize for my sore lady bits."

He smiled the beautiful smile again, and my heart sputtered.

"Trying to be smooth, huh?"

"Is it working?"

"Yeah, it is."

I smiled victoriously.

"So what time is dinner, then?"

His eyes sparkled with amusement.

"Seven."

"Okay. Well, I have to get ready for work now." I took my dishes to the sink, leaving them to soak in water. "Thanks for the pancakes," I commented to him over my shoulder, leaving the kitchen.

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"Holy shit, Bella." Angela blinked at me, shaking her head as if she couldn't compute what she'd just heard. "I saw you less than 24 hours ago, and you just gave me, like, three years of information!"

She'd gone back to her regular shift, which meant we weren't together for the time being. Even though my shift ended when she came in, I'd lingered behind to fill her in on everything that had happened once I'd gotten home. After strolling in, she screamed when I casually told her I'd had sex with Bright Eyes. Thankfully, work had been slow, because I'd had her undivided attention while I unloaded my shit on her.

"Trust me. I know. I'm still trying to process it all myself."

"Okay, well, not gonna lie. When you said he just left you and locked himself away in his room, my first instinct told me that wasn't a good sign."

"Yeah," I scoffed. "Tell me about it."

"But that's void now after this morning. I mean, that doesn't even matter now."

"It doesn't?"

"No!" she insisted. "Fucking Tall, Dark, and Shady is clearly the best thing you could have done."

"It is?"

"Yes. You guys actually talked for the first time. You got more information about him this morning than you've gotten in a whole week of living with the guy."

"That's true," I conceded.

"Plus, he made you pancakes. That's adorable."

"He's making me dinner, too."

Her eyes widened, and she squealed with excitement.

"Are you serious? He offered to make you dinner, too? All for a sore pussy?"

I grinned, knowing she would flip out at what I told her next.

"Actually, I told him he'd be making me dinner."

"What? Shut up! You did not!"

"Oh, I did."

She lifted her hand up, and I slapped it in a high five, laughing.

"Hell yeah, Bella! I'm loving this new you!"

"Yeah." I nodded, unable to stop smiling even if I wanted to. "I am, too. You know, when I went to sleep last night, I felt pretty nervous about what had happened. I kept thinking maybe I'd made a mistake. But after this morning, I kind of feel like the ball is in my court."

"That's because it is, girl."

"It's good, feeling like I have the upper hand."

"I bet!" she giggled. "I won't see you tomorrow, so you'll have to text me and give me all the deets about dinner."

"Hey, speaking of which. When will I see you again? I meant to bring your dress and shoes, but I forgot."

"Oh, that's no big deal. I can ge–" She stopped, a mischievous smirk pulling at her lips. "Wait, I have an idea."

"What?"

"Why don't I just come by your place to get them? That way I can meet Tall, Dark, and Shady!"

I laughed at her enthusiasm.

"Yeah, if you want to meet him that bad, that's fine with me."

"Of course I want to meet him. I need to get a visual."

"Okay, well, how about you come by tonight after work?" The door opened, and I glanced over my shoulder to see a couple walk in. "Damn it. I didn't get a chance to ask you about what happened with Lauren last night."

"Oh, God. That's a long story. It might be best I just wait and tell you tonight, anyway."

"Uh oh. That doesn't so good."

She sighed as she tied her apron around her waist.

"It's… complicated."

"Okay. Well, text me when you get off."

"I will. Have a good dinner with your man."

She winked at me, and I couldn't help but laugh.

"He's not my man, Angela."

"Not yet."

My heart raced at the thought.

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A/N

P.S. Will I be lucky enough to meet any of you at TFMU in Philly at the end of the month?!