He turned his pillow, looking for a better spot, but he couldn't get comfortable. The blinds were drawn, music on low, the bedroom door cracked just enough so he could hear when Bella came home, but he always found it hard to sleep in the afternoon when he was working nights. He'd be ruing the lack of shuteye around 3 AM when his body would punish him for not getting enough rest. In the past he'd tried sleeping pills but they'd left him groggy for most of his shift. He was desperate enough to try the lavender sleep mask Renee brought this morning, when she and his mother stopped over to drop off their bags before they went to see the first movie of the film festival.
He slid on the mask, enjoying the complete darkness. It did smell nice and the fabric was smooth against his face. He adjusted the ties at the back of his head and tried to relax. Something, rather, someone was missing. He hadn't felt the lack before, but now that he'd become used to having her sleep with him the sheets were lonely. He felt for the pillow from her side of the bed and wrapped his arm around it. Not the same, but there was a hint of her scent, the coconut and ginger hair products she used were soothing. He loathed to admit that his father had been right. He remembered scoffing at the lecture, about sex being better when you loved the other person, and that you'll know the right person when you miss their physical presence. Even if he and Bella were working on separate projects, knowing she was in the same house was soothing. And while she often pulled the comforter off him in the middle of the night, and more than once kicked him in the shin, he craved sleeping next to her. After all his years of devotion to his intellectual pursuits he was an animal after all, happiest when his mate was with him.
Feminine laughter woke him, coming from downstairs. Bella rarely brought people home; lifting the edge of the sleep mask he checked the clock, she wasn't due for another half hour.
"Oh my God, if he was that bad in bed, why the hell did you marry him?"
It was his mother, snorting and laughing, and, he guessed, Renee guffawing back, sounding like a sorority party in the middle of the afternoon.
"His wallet." There was silence and he tried not to listen. This wasn't his business, the women most likely thought they were alone.
Renee was quieter now. "He was a nice man, really kind. He'd never been married, no kids. But he was crazy about Bella. I wanted the security for her. I tried for almost a year, but I couldn't fake it for the rest of my life."
"I know. The first guy I slept with was a dud in bed. He never did get me off."
This was information he never wanted to know about his mother, or Renee for that matter. Should he drop something to make them aware of his presence?
"My second husband was a beast in bed. That man could go all day."
"So why aren't you still with him?"
"Because he would go all day. Even if I wasn't around, it was the waitress from the diner or his best friend's wife."
"Yeah, oh. He's lucky I don't look good in stripes or I would have cut off his cheating wiener. Then Charlie kept showing up."
"And how was he? Better with age?"
He clamped Bella's pillow over his ears. He couldn't believe his mother had asked the question, and he'd never be able to un-hear the answer, though he supposed Bree's existence told him all he needed to know about Renee and Charlie's marital relations. Their muffled laughter went on for some minutes, until he heard his beloved, hissing at the older women.
"What are you doing here making so much noise? Edward is sleeping!"
A few minutes later the bedroom door shut quietly and he felt the bed dip. It had become their habit to nap together for a few minutes before they ate dinner if he had to do a late shift.
"Sorry the crazy ladies disturbed you." She pulled the pillow off his head. "I know you're awake."
"No, I dreamt the last half hour." As he spread out his arm she put her head on his chest. "You're way better than a pillow."
"Thanks, there's an accomplishment."
Her breathing slowed as she curled into him, her arm across his waist, his arms wrapped around her back. Usually he'd doze off with her until his alarm, but the short conversation between their mothers bothered him.
Security. For most of her life Bella had been anything but secure. What did he have to offer her? Everything he had was from his parent's largess. How could he show Bella that she'd be safe with him? Eventually he'd make money, but right now his paycheck wouldn't cover his expenses. How was he going to buy an engagement ring when the time came? Ask his daddy for money like a six-year-old?
Money was bad enough, but what about sex? Would she be content just being with him? Would she want to find someone else so she would have a frame of reference? He vehemently did not want her to be with anyone else, but what if she wasn't ready to settle down? How could he prove that he was enough for her?
Instead of sleeping his brain churned with ideas until the alarm sounded.
Staring at the screen of his laptop, Edward was relieved when his friend walked in. "Pete, can you help me with this? I can't figure it out."
"Wow, let me tweet that, 'The world is ending peeps, Edward Cullen can't figure something out!'"
Edward ignored the jibe. "I need this to work. It seems they're not really looking for the most qualified contestants; they want the most amusing."
"I need to make some money, quickly. I thought a game show—"
"I think Jeopardy wants the smartest people, you're a shoo-in."
"I don't have time to spend a few weeks on Jeopardy." He pointed to the screen. "This one, answer fourteen questions get a million dollars in one sitting, that's what I need. But the first question, about quirks, rituals, superstitions—I don't have anything to put down."
"Cullen, your favorite patient needs you." The late shift nurses did not seem as subject to his charms and were happy to chase him down.
"Can't you handle it?" He knew exactly who they were talking about, the wife of a hospital trustee. He'd been in to see her six times in the last two hours.
"She only wants to talk to 'the dreamy doctor' with the red hair."
"I'll be right there."
"Now, before she calls her husband again."
As he stood Peter took the laptop from him. "I'll take care of this."
"You have to be honest."
"I'm not going to lie, maybe just embellish."
"I don't know if that's a good idea."
"Do you want to get on this show or not?"
"Fine." He left, leery of what Peter was putting down but recognizing Pete had a better grasp of popular culture than he did.
Yawning, Edward reached for the keys in his pocket.
"Cullen, wait up!"
Looking over his shoulder he saw Peter jogging down the sidewalk, a paper grocery bag under his arm. "You want a ride?"
"Nah, Charlotte's picking me up. I wanted to give you these." He handed the bag to Edward. It looked to be a collection of magazines.
"Is this your recycling?"
"No, your study materials."
Edward wasn't sure if he was over tired or if Peter was making a joke. "I don't get it."
"Okay, what was the name of the third president's vice president's wife?"
"First or second wife?"
"See, all that presidential trivia, state capitals, geography, periodic table, that stuff you know. Pop culture questions are gonna get you." A car pulled up to the curb, the woman behind the wheel waving at the two of them. Peter put his hand on the door. "I'm not kidding, read them."
He emptied the bag of magazines, fanning the lot out across the coffee table.
He picked up the first one, wondering who had done such an obviously fake breast augmentation to the woman on the cover. Turning the pages, he found the layout confusing- mostly little boxes with a photo and a blurb, or a full page photograph with a paragraph across the bottom, no proper articles. And why were there so many pictures? Was this magazine meant for adults with reading comprehension issues? And who were these Kardashian people?
He pushed himself to a seated position, rubbing his eyes.
Bella was holding one of the magazines. "What's this?"
"You're studying 'People' and 'Us' magazine?"
"Ummm…" He coughed, buying time. "Keeping up with popular culture. It's supposed to help with my bedside manner."
She cocked an eyebrow.
"Really. It helps. I never knew there were so many Kardashians." He pushed the magazines back into a pile.
"You never cared either."
"I know, but I'm trying to relate to my patients."
"Okay." She kissed him on the head, but her tone seemed off. "Do you want me to heat up some of the baked ziti your mother brought?"
He nodded. She turned towards the kitchen but spoke over her shoulder. "Your mom said to remind you about the Forks First Aid Squad fundraiser next week."
Of course his mother was spearheading another charity function. Their little town couldn't afford to replace the first aid squad's ambulance; with the growth of the community they could really use three. He'd agreed to something last time they spoke; he was probably asleep at the time. Being a Resident at the hospital meant he was finally earning some money, but he was living on less sleep than ever. With Bella in medical school they'd cut back on extra-curricular activities so they could still be together a few times a week. He didn't mind helping his mother but he hated giving up any of their precious free time. Stacking the magazines, he considered his next move. Should he divulge his game show plan or continue lying to her until he got on the show? Was it really a lie, or was it just a diversion tactic as one might employ when planning a surprise party? He remembered a conversation with his father regarding his mother's surprise thirtieth birthday party.
"I'm not to tell her anything about the party."
"Won't she think we're not celebrating her birthday? Won't that make her sad?" He'd been working on his empathy, but this concept defied everything he'd learned about considering other people's feelings.
"She might be a little sad, but then when she's surprised she'll be happy."
"So we're going to make her sad so she'll be happy?"
"People like surprise parties, really."
"If you say so. I think it's rather manipulative. Don't ever give me a surprise party, it all seems pointless." His mother had enjoyed the party, but he remembered the morning of her birthday when she moped around, checking the phone line, mentioning that it was odd that none of her friends had called to wish her a happy birthday. His father's plan, to say he got called into work, but she should take Edward to the restaurant instead, seemed a pathetic ruse, even to his seven-year-old self. It worked, but he was sure she seemed a bit wobbly lipped on the ride to the venue.
He heard the microwave beep. What if he never got on the show? He'd have explained his odd reasoning to no use. Bella already had enough material to tease him. Better to keep it to himself for now.
Although he hoped and planned for it, when a producer called from the show, he was momentarily suspicious.
"This is Kasey Kohl from 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire.' Am I speaking with Edward Cullen?"
"Yes." He wasn't sure if Peter had put Charlotte up to the call. The application had only been sent in last week. In his reading of the articles and blog posts of contestants, they were usually called some weeks or months after applying.
"Is this the same Edward Cullen who subdued the Seattle hospital bomber?"
So that was the angle Peter used. He thought it was a cheap shot, using a ridiculous moment of celebrity to his own advantage, but if he learned nothing else from his week reading 'Us', 'In Touch', and 'People' magazine, the world was fascinated with celebrity, even those who only seemed to be famous for being famous. In his case would it be so bad to exploit the appetite for this nonsense if it would secure Bella and his future?
"Yes, it is." Just to put a little more spit shine on his image he added. "That's Dr. Edward Cullen now."
"Fantastic! I just have a few questions."
He wondered what other nonsense TV people could come up with.
"It says here that if you win the million dollars you're going to propose to your girlfriend, pay for the wedding and buy a house."
"That's really nice, but is there any way we can jazz it up? I mean most of the contestants with girlfriends say the same thing. It doesn't play well with America if you need a million dollars to propose."
He spoke without thinking, it came to him that fast. "I plan on buying a replacement ambulance for the first aid squad in our home town."
"Oh, that's super, works right in. We have an opening for one of our themed shows, 'American Heroes'. It's taping next week; can you be in Stamford, Connecticut next Tuesday?"
The question he couldn't answer: who would be his 'plus one'? The show allowed you to bring one person to be a 'life-line' to sit in the audience in case you needed help with a question. Peter was extremely intelligent, more up on pop-culture and would keep his secret until the show aired. By then he'd have his money and Bella's ring in hand, ready to plead his case.
On the other hand, Bella was the smartest person he'd ever met. Between his mind and hers it was practically a guaranteed win. In surgery you try to control every element possible to give your procedure the highest chance of success. You get the nurse who works best with you, the most experienced anesthesiologist, the most trustworthy equipment possible. Decision made, he'd take Bella. Even better, though he'd have her for a lifeline when it was time to answer the million-dollar question, he'd ask her to marry him. It would be perfect.
He'd practically had to promise their first born child in order to get last minute coverage for two, possible three days away from the hospital. Bella had rolled her eyes, but when he pointed out they could win enough money to pay for new ambulances and possibly new equipment for the police department she conceded. She may have taken to it too enthusiastically.
Stowing her carry on bag in the overhead comportment before he had the chance to do it she said, "Remember Ogo Ogas." She settled into her seat, fishing out her tablet loaded with more random sports facts, another weak area. They'd already decided, based on the findings of other contestants, that for pop culture and sports questions he would defer to the audience lifeline if he was in doubt.
Of course he remembered Ogo Ogas, the Cognitive Neuroscientist who played on Millionaire using his research to help him win $500,000. Ogas used several scientifically proven methods to access your memory, but Ogas didn't have his secret weapon: Bella Swan.
He stowed his bag and sat in the roomy seats provided courtesy of his father. He'd been told they were purchased with travel miles, which may or may not have been true but made him feel a little better about accepting yet another gift from his parents.
"And don't be nervous."
He wasn't nervous about the game; he was nervous about asking Bella to marry him. It was something they'd discussed in general terms as a matter of course that they would be together in the future. He was going to ask her officially, on a game show, with only the promise of a ring. He knew she wouldn't care about a ring, but he wanted the world to know how much he valued this woman, the one looking at him now with yet another trivia website open so he could memorize another set of useless-after-the-game facts. Super Bowl minutia and World Series rosters, here we go.
The other contestants were a veteran who'd lost a leg to a road side bomb, a firefighter who'd rescued three children- at the same time- moments before their apartment building collapsed, and an EMT who'd jumped into a freezing cold river to save the occupants of a car that slid off the road. Edward was beginning to feel like a fraud.
"They're real heroes."
Bella looked at him, with her no-nonsense face. "Last week they had former child stars, the week before; teen best friends. It's not your fault they put you in this category."
"So you agree, I'm not a real hero."
"This is a game show Edward, not real life. You've saved dozens of people, but no one got that on video. Forget whether you fit the category, just win the money."
"I feel like they're more deserving."
"Deserving doesn't win the game. They'll get their turn to play and how you do does nothing to reduce their chances of winning."
A production assistant called to the group, "Plus ones to the audience please."
"It's not like you're playing for some selfish reason." Bella gave him a quick kiss on the lips. "Forks deserves new ambulances. Remember that."
The vet returned, happy to have walked away with $100,000. The firefighter was up next. The show was playing in the waiting room but Edward saw no point in watching. They wouldn't ask the questions again and all the disconnected facts would just jam his thought process. The firefighter returned, but Edward wasn't paying attention to his winnings. The EMT was walking on set and he had to stand in the on-call position.
The production assistant was communicating with unseen people though his headphones, so Edward wasn't sure if he was addressing him when he spoke. "Make it a good show. Smile, laugh it up, okay?"
Laugh it up? Edward felt vaguely nauseous. Bleeding patients, hanging limbs, smashed digits he could handle. Walking out to possibly look a fool on a national stage? He just needed a few minutes, a little meditation to soothe his nerves—
"You're up." The PA gave him a light push.
The EMT walked past him, looking grim.
The annoying music swelled as he walked onto the set. He smiled, as he'd been coached, waving with his left hand, reaching to shake the outstretched hand of the host, some former athlete with a strong grip named Tyler.
"Are you ready to play Who wants to be a Millionaire?"
The audience cheered and the first question was up. Before Tyler was finished, Edward answered. "C, final answer."
Another ridiculously easy question popped up. He had to force himself to wait until the host finished speaking to answer, "B, final answer."
Third question he could have answered when he was three, "D, Wall Street Journal, final answer."
Tyler gave him the eye. Behind him, out of camera range a woman dressed in black was making strange motions with her fingers, as if she was trying to make cat's cradles, but she had no string. Did she want him to stretch it out?
The fourth question was another absurdly easy one, thanks to his study of People magazine. "C. North and Saint. Final answer."
Fifth, What year was Nikola Tesla born? Too simple, "1856."
The woman in black seemed more aggravated, making bigger motions with her arms.
Sixth question he decided to use a tactic he'd seen other contestants employ. He read each answer out loud; "A. The Rolling Stones, B. The Who, C. The Beatles, D. The Clash. Final Answer, D. The Clash."
"Hey Doc, you're really ripping through those questions." Tyler sounded friendly but the look in his eyes wasn't. "Guess you have to make a lot of quick decisions in the emergency room."
"That's true." Edward nodded. He wanted to just answer the questions and be done with the game, not prattle on.
"I'm guessing your favorite book growing up was 'Rapunzel', right?"
What was he talking about? His favorite book growing up was Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy although as he grew older he preferred Grant's Atlas of Anatomy…oh, Tyler was teasing him about his preference for long hair. What else had Peter put on that form?
Tyler's grin was a little too broad, obviously happy that he'd thrown Edward a little off his game. "I heard you liked it so much that you only dated girls with long, long hair."
"When I was younger I exclusively dated girls with long dark hair. But I finally learned the important thing is what's inside a woman's head."
The audience's applause saved him. He smiled at the host, wishing he could see Bella's face.
"And who's with you today?"
"My girlfriend, soon to be Doctor Isabella Swan."
Bella waved, blushing a little. Being on TV wasn't her favorite place either.
"Is this the same Bella Swan who saved your life when you went into anaphylactic shock and needed a bunch of Boy Scouts to carry you down a mountain?"
"It was not truly a mountain, but the rest, yes, that's my Bella."
"Maybe she should be up here!"
The audience cheered.
Tyler looked at his screen. "It says here that you're a genius, one of the smartest people in the country. So what you say at home goes?"
"I am one of the smartest people in the country, but I'm not the smartest in our house."
Another cheer from the audience, Tyler giving a genuine smile. "Oh I think you're a very smart man. And let's take a break, we'll be back in a few minutes to play—"
If Edward heard the ridiculous catch phrase again…he might suggest it to Peter as a drinking game.
The cameraman waved, indicating that they weren't taping. Leaning towards him, for the first time Tyler looked completely serious. "Man, this is TV. You got to play with the questions a little, ask the audience, tease it out. America doesn't like a smarty pants, got it?"
All those years of his father trying to get him to play with the other children came back to him. Okay, he'd play.
He could have easily answered the next question, 'The first heart transplant took place in what city?', it was Cape Town as any medical student could have told him, but decided to play along.
"Wow, I kind of wish Dr. Oz was one of my lifelines!" Personally he thought Dr. Oz was a bit of a peacock, but the audience roared their approval. He was surprised when 37% answered correctly.
"Doc, you're doing great. Tell me, what are you going to do with a million dollars?"
This was it. Was he going to lie on National television? Some woman had said she wanted to win so she could travel to Brazil and drink the most expensive coffee in the world. Compared to that, wanting to build a financial foundation for him and Bella seemed much more sensible. Of course some of the money would go to the ambulances. He was sure most of the contestants weren't telling the whole truth, so he fudged a little. "My hometown needs some new ambulances and a new four-wheel drive vehicle for the police department. My mom is having a bake sale. I thought this would be a little faster."
"That's right, a million dollars' worth of cupcakes is a lot of cupcakes!" Tyler liked the answer, as did the audience. "Let's hope Doc wins those ambulances!"
He wanted to correct Tyler. After taxes, most likely it would be about half a million, which would still buy a couple ambulances, but would he now look like a cad for keeping some money back? And if he didn't win the million and kept what he did win he'd look like a buffoon, a greedy buffoon. He should have asked Bella to do it. She was cool under pressure, perfect score on the MCATs, he should have sent her—but then it wouldn't be his winnings. Wasn't that the point, to have something of his own to present to her, like a hunter laying his catch at the feet of his mate? She'd laugh if she heard his thought process. She loved him. He loved her. He didn't need to prove anything, and they'd work as a team for their future. This was all just a game. The important thing, Bella's heart, he'd already won. The next question was up.
The traditional Maori 'Haka' is:
A. A stew ...B. A war cry
C. An article of clothing D. A type of canoe
He'd watched the All Black rugby team version on YouTube numerous times, so instead of answering, he decided to give Tyler the TV he wanted. He assumed the stance, stuck out his tongue and began to shout, beat his chest and stomp as he'd seen the team do. The audience loved it and was up on their feet cheering. Edward finally stopped, panting, arms akimbo and said, "B, final answer."
Tyler wiped his face. "Man, I don't have to tell you that's right. Incredible. Let's hear it!"
Even the lady with the head set seemed satisfied.
"Doc, I wish I could give you a million just for that performance, but I can't. We've got one more question. For a million dollars, here it is!"
One of the treasures owned by the Library of Congress is the first cookbook written by an American. Published in 1796 it included the first ever published recipes for the Native American ingredients corn and squash including "Johny Cake" and "Squash Pudding." Only four copies are known to exist. The author of this famous volume:
A. Amelia Simmons ...B. Alis Sampson
C. Agnes Sullivan... D. Audry Salter
He had no idea, not even the tiniest clue. The names all sounded probable for the time period. He could use all the Ogas memory techniques, he was never going to come up with the answer. He'd visited the Library of Congress with his parents, saw the rough draft of The Declaration of Independence, Washington's Commission as Commander in Chief, the Emancipation Proclamation, he'd seen all of those, but not a single book on cooking.
He'd have to use his remaining lifeline, not as the romantic proposal he'd planned, but as an actual question to the one person in this building who would know the answer. The one who'd researched Early American cookbooks for her authentic apple butter recipe.
"Tyler, I have no idea. I'm going to ask my plus one."
Bella was guided up to the podium. Tyler was all over her. "So, what do you think of this guy?"
"He's amazing." She bumped him with her shoulder. "Although, he does the Haka at home all the time."
That got her a laugh.
Tyler reread the question, but Bella seemed distracted. Edward looked where she kept glancing. Behind the woman with the headphones, the cameraman was standing away from his camera, holding his chest, eyes closed.
She broke into Tyler's recitation halfway through. "The answer is A but that man is having a heart attack!"
She ran from the podium, Edward a step behind as the cameraman fell. Bella was already checking his pulse. Edward yelled for headphone lady to call for an ambulance.
"No pulse!" Bella started compressions.
The other guests in the green room must have been watching as the EMT tore out onto the stage carrying a portable defibrillator. Edward ripped open the man's shirt and attached the pads.
By the time the ambulance arrived his heart had restarted.
Someone brought them bottles of waters, and they sat on the floor leaning against the set wall drinking while Tyler, headphone lady and some people in suits, hands waving, stood in a huddle.
Edward didn't care. He chuckled. "That wasn't the way it was supposed to go."
"Do our lives ever go the way we planned?" She leaned her head against his shoulder.
"I wanted to ask you to marry me."
"I wanted to do something special, something memorable. I wanted a nest egg, something I earned, for us."
"Whatever for? I don't need some public display to believe that you love me or a million-dollar nest egg to prove your worth. And I thought we were doing this for the ambulances."
"I thought that sounded better than saying I wanted a really nice ring to propose to my girlfriend."
"Go ahead, do it."
"You're already on the ground. You don't even have to kneel."
He looked at her, hair a sweaty wreck, blouse pulled sideways, dust on her skirt from kneeling to save a man's life. She was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen. "Bella Swan, love of my life and definitely the smartest woman I've ever met- Will you marry me?"
Tyler stepped between them, crouching to be at their level. "I hate to interrupt folks, but the lawyers need me to ask. Is that your final answer?"
They looked at each other and at the same time said:
A/N: One (or maybe two) Epis to go. Many thanks to Cousin Beta for her hard work reconstructing her notes after beta-in-training Zoe chewed them. Thanks to Nurse Beta for noticing how much I like certain words!
FYI: I made up the questions used in the game, but the questions on the application come from the real 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?' audition application on their site. Ogo Ogas is a real person, his article is very interesting. The rules and hosts of Millionaire change from year to year, this is my approximation of the game.
Thanks to all the reviewers and readers! You make this fun