Hugs and big thanks to two lovely ladies - Ninkita and Payton79 - for shaping this story into what it is now.
There's this extremely talented lady named Obsessedtwibrarian who has created the most AMAZING banners for this story. I cannot thank you enough, bb!
Check it out on the cover image here or on my FB.
DISCLAIMER: The author does not own any publicly recognizable entities herein. No copyright infringement is intended. The plot and the mistakes belong to me ;)
One last thing . . . I was told to warn you about the cavities you might get after reading this.
Okay, now off you go ;)
I looked around discreetly and confirmed that no one was paying any mind to me, before getting started on the task at hand.
My tongue swirled around the top first, making sure to round every centimeter of the surface. With the tip, I lapped at the sides, and then with the flat of my tongue, I caressed the bottom. My actions were not awarded with what one would normally expect in such a situation, so I doubled my efforts, holding my breath and going deeper for good measure, but yet again – no result.
My eyes traveled along the heavily populated room. Thankfully, no one seemed to be paying me any attention. After having worked with me for a year, they knew me well and had playfully named me "Anti-social Swan." That was just fine by me. I'd spent all my life keeping to myself, not as a necessity, but a personal choice. I just wasn't a people's person. I didn't have it in me to deliver fake smiles or make hypocritical little comments, and the rest of the world seemed to function on those. I was content in losing myself in my Kindle or my laptop. In work parties such as this one, I tended to keep to myself, and speak only if spoken to. There was just one co-worker who knew me well and accepted me the way I was. She was the receptionist on our floor, and the one I spent my time chatting with at such unavoidable gatherings. Tonight, she seemed to be running late.
Coming back to my current predicament, I debated my chances of doing what was now inevitable without getting caught. I had to admit, the chances were slim, but I couldn't keep at this for too much longer.
Ah, fuck it!
I brought my hand up and adjusted my glasses. With my eyes still wandering around the room, I had just begun to use my finger to finish the job my mouth couldn't, when a sudden exclamation made me yelp and spin around in surprise.
My eyes widened and my mouth fell open, with that prodding finger still in there, as I took in the man who'd caught me. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a tweed blazer with a white T-shirt underneath. His hair was the strangest shade of bronze I'd never seen before . . . except probably on a penny. It had been cut to a reasonable length on the sides, but was long enough on the top of his head to fall over his eyes. His eyes . . . they were a mystery on their own, hidden as they were behind gray, thick-rimmed glasses. I couldn't, for the life of me, tell what color they were. The glasses rested atop a straight nose dusted with a few light freckles. The lopsided smirk on his face made it clear that he'd seen me commit this little faux-pas.
I narrowed my eyes at him, partly to express my irritation, but more importantly, to hide the mortified blush I could feel spreading across my cheeks and possibly even my neck.
"Hey," he greeted cheerfully, taking two steps forward to stand right in front of me. He held out a hand, but before I could decide whether to take it or ignore it, he reached out and clasped mine. Thankfully, it was not the one that'd just been in my mouth. "I'm Edward Cullen."
His smile widened, as did my eyes, when I saw the effect it had on his face. The crinkles that formed at the corners of his eyes, the cute little dimples giving character to his clean-shaven cheeks, and the way he tilted his head slightly to one side mesmerized me to the point where I lost my train of thought.
"Hello," I squeaked once I'd finally managed to locate my voice. "I'm Bella Swan."
I had no idea why I'd given him my nickname. There was no doubt that I preferred Bella over Isabella, but usually I would at least find out a little more about the person before allowing them to call me that. There was something about Edward Cullen's smile and his easy familiarity that had made me blurt out the shorter version of my name without knowing a thing about him.
"Bella Swan," he repeated happily. "It's very nice to meet you, Bella. Would you like some help with that?" He pointed at my mouth, which fell open once again at his suggestion.
I immediately cleared my throat. There was no point in denying what I'd been up to. "No, uh, no, thanks."
Edward did not take the hint. "I know how irritating it is. I had braces for years in middle school, and even in high school. I'll stand right here and hide you while you do what you need to do, okay?" With a decisive nod of his head, he did exactly as he'd told me.
I didn't have braces, but as he said, my problem was one that people with braces faced often. I bit my lip in confusion and indecision, staring at his back for a long moment, before shrugging.
Eh! What more harm could it do?
I plunged my fingers past my lips and toward the tooth where I suspected the culprit was hiding. After several futile attempts, I finally found the strand of cabbage that'd been stuck between two of my pre-molars. With an internal fist-pump (Yes, internal. How much more could I embarrass myself tonight?) I pinched it between my fingers and pulled it out.
I tossed my nemesis into the nearby bin. After wiping my hands with a tissue, I tapped Edward on the shoulder.
"Thanks, um," I stuttered as I felt the heat flooding my cheeks. "I got it out."
He grinned. "That's great. So what do you do, Bella Swan?"
"I work for the company that threw this party," I quipped.
He chuckled and rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "I assumed as much. I mean, what department do you work for?"
I pushed my glasses up my nose self-consciously. "I work in IT. We form the backbone of Nomad Enterprises," I announced.
Edward's eyes lit up in surprise. "Really? That's awesome! I'm your latest vertebra."
A giggle-snort burst from my lips before I could even attempt to control it. There was a short pause where I didn't quite know what to say, but Edward had no such qualms.
He launched into his life story without further prompting. "I used to work for Nomad at their branch in San Francisco for three years, but then I decided to move closer to my family. My parents live about an hour outside of Seattle, so I applied for a transfer here. My Mom is ecstatic to have me just a car-ride away instead of having to fly. She has really severe episodes of motion sickness during flights. James told me about this party and suggested that since I was already here, I could come meet everyone, especially the IT department. That would give me the opportunity to get familiar with the people I am supposed to work with. I start on Monday, by the way."
So . . . Edward Cullen was the newest addition to our department, was more experienced than me in this field, probably a few years older than me, and his mother has trouble flying. Also, our CEO, James Nomad, had allowed him to call him by his first name, which meant that James probably knew Edward well due to his frequent visits to the branch in San Francisco.
Good to know.
I stood there, flabbergasted but amused and attentive, as he regaled me with funny stories about his former boss. When he asked, I found myself answering a ton of questions about James and his propensity to throw such parties at the silliest of occasions.
I didn't even realize when our conversation shifted to more personal topics.
"You're a vegan?"
I shook my head and sighed. "No, I'm a vegetarian."
Edward's eyebrows pulled together over his glasses. "What's the difference between the two?"
"Vegetarian describes a diet; vegan can be a lifestyle," I explained to him. The argument was fairly familiar to me, having discussed the topic with countless amounts of clueless people in the past. Edward was the first one I'd met, though, who listened intently and eagerly. "Vegetarian diets are of different types– ovo-lacto vegetarian diet includes dairy products and eggs, lacto vegetarian diet includes dairy, but no eggs, and then there are the vegans, who avoid animal products all together."
Edward nodded slowly, pondering over what I'd said. "That's interesting. So you're a ovo-lacto vegetarian, correct?"
I couldn't help but smile at his adorable expression. He wasn't faking it; he really wanted to know. "Yes, that's correct. That's why the salad was all I could eat from the buffet, which led to the cabbage stuck in my teeth, and then you…" I winced and shrugged.
I was rewarded by his now familiar crooked smile. It lit up his face in ways that made it impossible to look away.
That is why, when a sudden throat-clearing sounded from right beside me, I jumped back, startled.
My name was all she said, but her voice was so thick with implication that I had to swallow hard.
My friend smirked, apparently satisfied at having conveyed her point, and turned to Edward.
"I don't believe we've met before," she told him with a smile, holding out her hand.
Edward shook it happily, and introduced himself to her much as he had to me. I had to suppress an unfamiliar but persistent pang in my chest when I saw them chatting as easily and comfortably as Edward and I had been doing before her arrival. I didn't understand what it was that bothered me, only that I didn't like the feeling.
Lost as I was in my own thoughts, I floated back to reality only when Alice tugged at my arm.
Alice shook her head. "Sorry, Edward. She tends to space out sometimes."
I scowled at her. "I do not."
"You so do!"
Edward piped up. "That's okay, Bella. It happens quite a fair bit to me, too."
"Aren't you two a match made in heaven, then?" Alice smirked at me and winked. "Edward, it has been a pleasure meeting you. Can I steal my daydreaming friend away for a moment?"
"Of course. It was great meeting you both! I should go mingle with others, too, though I doubt I'll find more interesting company. I'll see you on Monday?" He looked at me hopefully, and I nodded, a little dazed.
"See you Monday."
Alice pulled me away and squealed once we were out of Edward's earshot. "Oh my God! What was that, Isabella Swan?"
"What was what?" I snapped back.
"I walked into the party and started looking toward your usual corner, but for the first time ever, you were talking . . . no, giggling with someone! A guy, at that!"
"Oh, take it down a notch, Alice," I muttered even as I felt my blush make its way onto my face. "We were just talking."
"Just talking!" she scoffed. "You were totally oblivious to the rest of the party. Don't think I missed your dirty looks when I hijacked his attention." She must've finally noticed the embarrassment coloring my face because her tone softened. "Bella, I've never seen you… bonding with someone so quickly before. It was nice to see you relaxed and laughing. I tried to hold myself back, but I just couldn't wait! I needed to come and find out more about him. You like him, don't you?"
I averted my eyes. "Like who?"
Alice frowned. "Don't play dumb, Swan. Edward, of course!"
I pointedly ignored her, making my way toward the buffet and leaving her no choice but to follow. It wasn't hard to distract Alice, and with a few comments about the food on offer, I managed to do just that.
I was startled out of my thoughts by Edward's voice. He ambled over to me and leaned against my desk, pushing his hair out of his eyes.
"What'cha doin'?" He followed my gaze to the photograph on the home screen of my laptop and smiled widely. "Taking a trip down memory lane?"
"I was thinking about the night you declared yourself the newest addition to our skeleton, yes." The photograph in question was one where Edward was sandwiched between Alice and me, taken the night we'd met for the first time. It was probably the very first instance where I wore a wide smile at an office party.
He chuckled. "You know me. God, I can hardly believe it's been a year!"
I smiled in agreement. "I was thinking the same thing."
A whole year had passed since the day Edward had interrupted my social faux-pas, and what a year it'd been. My measly little social circle had expanded to include one more member, who effortlessly wormed his way into the department and into my heart.
"Here you go!" Edward announced, twirling a little square wrapped in glittery paper before me.
I immediately grabbed it, tore off the paper that had dared to stand in my way, and popped the candy into my mouth. A loud moan left my lips as the flavor exploded on my tongue, making Edward chuckle.
"I still wonder how you can do the same thing every single day, Bluebell," he commented, shaking his head at my antics.
I shrugged unrepentantly. "I can't help it. Your sister makes amazing candies. No one told you to get them for me."
"Do you think I want to miss out on hearing that sexy-as-hell moan? I'll bring you candies every day for the rest of your life if you keep reacting like that." He winked, and I felt the heat of my blush as it tinted my cheeks.
"Hey, guys," Alice chirped, making her way toward us. She forewent the leaning, and instead jumped onto my desk, planting her butt right next to my laptop. "Is it safe for me to listen to you? Are you done with the Discussion yet?"
The "Discussion" was actually Edward and I sharing which level we'd reached in whatever new game we were obsessed with that month. He would pick one of his favorites, and I'd give it a shot. Then for the next month, I would pick something that I wanted him to try out and so on. This time, however, there was nothing new that excited either of us, so we'd gone for an oldie but a goldie.
"Oh, yeah!" Edward lightly slapped his forehead. He turned to me with narrowed eyes and flashed me a smirk that I'd come to recognize as his patent competitive look. "Level 699," he announced and proceeded to scrutinize my expression carefully.
I kept my face neutral for a second, and then let a smug smile spread over my lips. "711," I proclaimed, letting my hand rise in a victorious whoop.
Edward huffed, fidgeting with the sleeves of his tweed blazer. "Whatever, Bluebell. I'll recover tomorrow."
I hummed and gave him a sweet smile and an eye-roll.
"I got distracted by that freaking owl!" he complained. "What the hell is up with him, anyway? He's a bird, for God's sake! Why does he fall? Can't he just use his bloody wings and maybe . . . oh, I know . . . fucking fly?"
Edward's arms swung wildly as he finished his diatribe, and Alice grabbed one to protect her head, while I sat there and laughed my ass off at his passionate declarations.
"Just stop it, guys!" Alice protested with a groan. "I've heard this same thing at least thrice this week, Edward! Give me a break!"
"It's okay, Edward," I soothed him. He did look genuinely upset. It was, after all, the seventh day in a row that I'd managed to beat him in our little contest. "Do you want me to tell you about that new life renewing trick I found?" I suggested, and his expressive face lit up immediately.
"Hell, yeah!" He looked like he was stopping himself from bouncing on his feet, while I shook my head at his antics.
Edward was the kind of guy who could be construed in two extremely different ways – either he'd have you eating out of his hand with his easygoing personality and his ever-present smiles, or you'd find these same traits of his annoying. For me, ever since he'd found me, Edward had been akin to a ray of sunshine. In him, I'd found a close confidant and a loyal friend with a quirky personality that meshed well with my own.
Before he crashed into my life, Alice had filled those roles for me, but there was one thing she and I did not have in common. Edward was the only person I knew who shared my passion for anything and everything in the world of technology. With him, I could talk for hours about the latest games, the newest apps, what Windows should change in the next version of their operating system, and whether or not Bill Gates really had a trampoline in his home. He'd also been a major help in the endless brainstorming sessions to create our company's new software that would revolutionize data entry. Edward had a lot of work to do on his own projects, but he was always willing to give me a boost when I was stuck somewhere on mine. He'd just . . . get me. He and I never needed to pretend to like something we did together. We both found joy and fulfillment in the world of computers.
Edward grabbed my hand to pull me out of my reverie. He deposited his phone in my palm and asked me to show him my secret trick, but my eyes remained glued on the spot where he was touching me. The sensation of his skin over mine left a warm little tingle that lingered even as he started to pull his hand back. I curled my fingers, feeling the prickle slowly fade away like the flickering flame of a candle. My teeth bit down on my lower lip as I frowned, feeling disappointment wash over me at the loss of his touch.
Edward, once again, prompted me to speak, but we were interrupted by a familiar voice calling my name. A tall, stunning redhead stood at my desk with a nervous smile on her face. I sighed wearily, knowing what it meant.
"James needs me?" I asked her, and she nodded. "I wonder why he insists on sending you down here when he can just pick up the phone and call."
Victoria fluffed her bouncy red curls and shrugged. "James will be James."
And that really was all there was to it.
I stood and was about to leave when Edward stopped me by grabbing my wrist. I turned to face him and found a fierce scowl on his face. He was very upset, that much was obvious. I ached to soothe whatever troublesome thoughts had caused him to react so strongly, but we both knew that James didn't like to be kept waiting.
"Isn't this the hundredth time he's called you up this week?" he muttered.
"What else can I do, Edward? He's trying out my software, and he tends to have questions about everything. Usually, it's something minor, but we all want it to be perfect, don't we?"
"There are other people he can speak to about that," he argued. "Why does he only ask you?"
I shrugged lightly. "Because I'm the one who did most of the work? You know that. You were with me from start to finish."
We both turned to see a trainee waving Edward over with a panicked look on his face. Edward was usually very patient with the interns and the students, but today I could see the furious glower in his eyes that did not bode well for the troubled trainee.
"Then maybe next time I'll go see James in your place," he muttered to me before storming off.
I frowned for a moment, but Victoria prodded me out of my confusion at Edward's drastic change in behavior and led me over to James' office.
As it turned out, James had once again found some minor issue that didn't even need to be fixed. While I was there, I warily watched Victoria swoon over his slicked-back blond hair and his not-so-charming smile which did nothing but creep me out. I was out of the office as soon as I had finished clearing his confusion. After all this time, I had resigned myself to his repetitive calls in return for my software being approved as quickly as possible, but I didn't need to see Victoria fawn all over his creepy ass. James was good at his work, but overall, the guy was just . . . strange. I wasn't interested in spending my time thinking about what the hell Victoria saw in him.
Lunch hour found Alice and me sitting at our usual spot in the cafeteria, but there was no sign of Edward. Alice told me she hadn't seen him since our conversation in the morning. Then, in between bites of cheese sandwiches and sips of Pepsi, she decided to throw a Molotov cocktail at me.
"Edward is so crazy about you," she remarked offhandedly, picking at some lettuce. "When the hell are you going to make a move and put the poor guy out of his misery?"
A part of my large gulp of Pepsi slithered into my nose, leaving a bubbly tingle that made me cough out the rest of the drink in violent bursts. Alice, good friend that she was, sat there and watched me pat my own back to regain my breath. When I had recovered, I threw her an irritated glare, which she returned with an innocent smile.
"What are you talking about?" I spluttered.
"Oh, please!" She flicked her hair. "Don't think I haven't noticed the way you look at him. You guys are so perfect together, Bella, it's almost scary."
"What are you talking about?" I repeated.
Apparently, I'd lost the ability to form any words other than those.
Alice threw me a scowl as she bit into her turkey sandwich. When she'd managed to finish chewing a large bite, she washed it down with her drink, while I did my best to keep myself from fidgeting.
"The guy brings you candies every single day," she finally answered. "And when you eat them, he sticks around to hear your porn-worthy moan. You can have the longest discussions about all your technical stuff and random facts from all over the world, never running out of anything to say. Even if you're sitting together and working silently, it's never oppressive or uncomfortable. It's like . . . like you have a mutual understanding of some telepathic communication. I'd have to be blind not to see that you've come a long way in this relationship that started off as friendship. The question is, are you going to be brave and take that leap of faith to get what you both want?"
My eyes grew wide, and my mouth fell open at every single thing she mentioned.
Is that how Edward and I appeared to everyone?
I would be lying if I said that I'd never thought about taking my relationship to a new level. He had everything I would look for in a guy; I was sure of that. Being with him would be as effortless as breathing. What I didn't know was if the possibility of something more in the future was worth risking the most important thing in my present.
What if things didn't work out between us?
I would lose my best friend, the first person who understood me so well.
Alice was on a roll as she went on, either unaware or ignorant of the turmoil in my head. "I mean, I'm not a fan of all that tweed, but other than that, he's a great guy – sweet, smart, kind, loyal, and humble. They don't make them like that anymore, Bella. You should grab one if he comes your way and hold on tight. Especially when other parties might be interested in him, too."
Despite my jumbled thoughts, my head snapped up immediately at her words. Alice bit her lip to suppress her grin, and I realized belatedly that I'd walked right into her trap.
"Wh—" I paused and cleared my throat. "What did you mean by that?"
"Remember Lauren from Accounting?" She waited for my confirmation before continuing. "Their photocopier jammed yesterday, so she came down to our floor. She took one look at Edward – he didn't have his beloved tweed jacket on at the time, by the way – and hounded me with ten questions about who he was and what he liked, etc. She's planning on asking him out at the party tonight."
I groaned, throwing my head in my hands. I'd forgotten that there was another one of James' superfluous parties tonight. It was going to be held at the same venue where I'd met Edward a year ago, and the idea of Lauren making a move on him at that place made me want to throw up.
Alice reached out to grab my hand in hers and squeezed it softly. "Bella, I know why this scares you, but just think for one moment, what if he's afraid of the same thing? For a year, he's done special little things for you that you dismissed as gestures of friendship, so maybe now he thinks you don't see him as more than a friend. That's why he hasn't said anything. He's afraid of losing you, too, you know? You need to give him something. I know that scares you, but you'll regret it forever if you don't grab this chance."
I picked at the crust of my bread, pondering over her words, as images of Lauren and Edward coming together swamped my mind. I had delayed this for far too long, and now I was out of time. Edward may accept or reject Lauren's proposal, but she wasn't the last girl in the world. Sooner or later, some woman would notice my friend beyond his quirky outward appearance, and when that day came, I would be left behind. As Alice had said, I would be left with nothing but regret, knowing that Edward and I could've been so much more if only I'd shown a little bit of courage.
When I looked up, Alice could see the determination in my eyes, and she jumped up to hug me.
I didn't see Edward for the rest of the day at the office, which was odd, but I didn't worry about it too much. Rather, I couldn't worry about it, because my mind was occupied with the hundred different scenarios this evening could hold for me – only one of them being favorable for my anxious self.
The late afternoon was spent with Alice as she helped me dress up to look my best and pumped me up with cheerful little motivational quotes. She regaled me with so many of them that I wondered if she got them off some website. With Alice, I wouldn't be surprised if that were true.
She kept up the cheerleading act as we made our way into the large ballroom. I fidgeted with the strap of my knee-length cocktail dress. The fabric held just a hint of shimmer that grew more pronounced when the lights fell on it. I'd fallen in love with the amethyst shade as soon as I'd seen it. A silver belt clinched the dress at my waist, and halter straps wound their way around my neck. Alice had completed my look with minimal make-up and glimmering silver hoop earrings. She tried to get me to wear contacts, but I stuck to my glasses, wanting Edward to still see that part of the real me tonight.
As soon as I walked in, my mouth went dry, but my mind buzzed with excitement. My eyes scanned the expanse of the room, looking for Edward. I wondered if I should talk to him about us straight away or start off with lighter topics.
I almost took a step forward and away from Alice when I saw Edward's familiar mop of bronze hair glint across the room, but something made me stop.
I froze in shock when the people in front of me moved, and I caught a direct glimpse of my best friend.
He wasn't wearing a tweed blazer.
He wasn't wearing his glasses.
His hair didn't fall over his face.
And he wasn't alone.
He was wearing a deep blue suit with a white shirt open at the neck. His green eyes shone with happiness, no longer hidden behind thick glasses. His hair had been cut, and now sat atop his head in an artfully messy style.
He also had a woman hanging onto his arm.
A tall, gorgeous woman with strawberry blonde hair, who was now laughing heartily with him.
My breath stuttered, and I stumbled back, almost crashing into Alice. I vaguely registered that she said something to me, but my mind was too agitated to pay attention. My gaze was still trained on Edward and his companion, so I knew immediately when his eyes traversed the expanse of the room, seemingly searching for someone or something. A moment later, they fell on me.
He grinned and disentangled himself from his date, pointing toward me. I thawed from my frozen state when he started walking toward me.
I couldn't do this tonight.
I couldn't pretend to smile and talk politely with that woman on the same night when I'd decided to reveal my feelings to Edward.
Muttering a quick word to Alice, I rushed toward the doors. I forewent the coat check and almost ran out into the cool air, dodging several confused people in my haste.
Once outside, I rounded the corner of the sidewalk and leaned against the wall of the building, not even caring about the way my back touched the cold, hard surface. My breath left my mouth in quick pants, and tears slipped down my cheeks when I closed my eyes. It did nothing but bring the image of Edward and his date back to my mind in complete clarity. I sniffled, feeling more tears seep out from the corners of my eyes. My glasses blurred, so I pulled them off to wipe away the smudges.
Edward shouted right behind me. I quickly put my glasses back on before he reached me. I had scrubbed away the tears, but the pain caused by the sight of another woman on his arm remained.
"What's going on?" he asked me, looking extremely worried. "Are you okay?"
"Why do you care?" I bit back without forethought. "You should go back to your date."
It wasn't his fault; I was the one who ignored his advances and hid my feelings, but at the moment, I simply didn't have it in me to be rational. I stared defiantly into his eyes, watching as they clouded over with surprise, followed by confusion and finally settled on amused satisfaction.
Or, at least, that's what I thought.
I didn't know this new Edward, after all.
"Bella, you've got it all wrong, but… I'm quite happy about it." The man had the nerve to smile at me.
My control had been hanging by a thread, and the sight of his pearly whites snapped it sharply.
"What the hell does that mean?" I yelled, throwing my hands in the air. "You're happy about this? What is there to be happy about? Here I was, ready to speak to you about how I felt, and when I come in here, I see a blonde bimbo hanging on your arm! And what is this?" I waved my hand at his new attire. "Is this for her, Edward? All that talk about being a proud geek, about being yourself without fretting over what others think was just nonsense, huh? She flicked her fingers, and you changed everything about yourself for her!"
"That woman is my cousin, Bella!" he finally shouted back, making me step back in shock. Edward saw my reaction and immediately moderated his tone. "Her name is Tanya. She's a fashion designer. She came with me tonight because she wanted to meet you. For years, she has offered to give me a makeover. She almost begged me to let her at my hair and my wardrobe, but I always refused. I didn't want to transform into someone else. I only wanted to be true to myself, whether in my character or in my clothing, just like I told you." He shrugged, looking deep into my eyes, and I found myself nodding in understanding. "But when you started seeing James so often, I got worried. Maybe you couldn't want someone like plain old me. Maybe you wanted a guy like James… Debonair, suave…"
I snorted involuntarily. "Please, Edward! Suave? James is nothing but creepy! I don't give a shit about him! Why would you even think that?"
Edward frowned, his eyebrows furrowing over the deep emerald of his eyes. "Then why did you defend him today? Earlier, you used to be irritated by his repeated requests to see you, but today, you agreed so easily."
I threw up my hands. "I just want my software out there as soon as possible. The entire team has put a lot of work into it, and this is the first project that's mine, you know? I was resigned to his demands. That's all," I explained, trying to keep my frustration at bay.
Edward's eyes widened, but he remained silent for a few beats.
"Oh," he mumbled finally, pushing his hands into the pocket of his jeans, and rocking back and forth on his feet.
"So you became-" I waved my hand over his frame. "-in order to please . . . me? Are you serious?"
Edward scowled slightly. "Obviously! Who else would I do this for?"
I backed away, crossing my arms over my chest. "That's not a romantic declaration," I remarked with a frown.
His eyes met mine, and this time, a fierce determination shone from within their depths. He took a step toward me, and I instinctively stepped back. A smirk tugged at his lips as he watched my movement. He took another deliberate step forward, then another and another until he had me pressed against the wall.
"Bluebell," he murmured slowly, and his voice smoldered, so deep and just smooth velvet. "You're the 1 to my 0, the copy to my paste, the x to my y, the oxygen to my air and the hydrogen to my water. You're the color bomb that makes my candy world explode, baby." I couldn't help but giggle as his arms came up to encircle my waist. His thumbs skimmed over my waist as he spoke. "In the past year, you've become such an important part of my life that I simply cannot imagine a day without you in it. Your beautiful smile, your voice, your laughter, your touch . . . they brighten my world. I've fallen in love with you, Bella, and I really want the chance to make you feel the same about me."
A single tear trailed down the slope of my cheek as Edward stared intently into my eyes. His soft, open, vulnerable expression tugged at my heart like nothing ever had. My hand rose of its own accord to brush away the furrow between his eyebrows and then frame his cheek. The spark of hope warring with nervousness in his features was like a mirror to my own heart, and something inside me clicked at the sight of it.
"Edward," I whispered and heard his breath hitch in response.
I threaded my fingers through his hair, dragging whatever length of it was left to fall over his eyes in his signature way. I pulled off my glasses and placed them carefully on the bridge of his nose. He watched me warily as I did this, so I cupped his cheek again in reassurance. A wide smile split my face when I saw my Edward staring back at me.
This was right.
I could now say what I'd realized . . . what I'd already known, but suppressed due to my fear of losing my friend. Something inside me loosened, warmed, calmed at the prospects of what I was about to do.
I could now admit the truth.
"I love you, too."
No sooner had the words left my mouth that Edward pulled me flush against his chest and pressed his mouth to mine. Our lips glided in perfect harmony as collective sighs of satisfaction left our mouths. Fingers grasped at hair and clothes, tongues reached out to stroke and rub, and groans slipped past our throats as we poured a year worth of feelings into a single kiss.
"You had me ever since you offered to be our vertebra," I told him breathlessly once we parted. We stayed close, though, hands entwined and foreheads pressed together.
Edward laughed. "Well, it would've been good to know that beforehand. I had to sit through hours of Tanya's torture to look this way."
I pecked the tip of his nose, reclaiming my glasses. "Well, I love you this way and that. You can be whoever you want to be, Edward. That's what I want. Your tweed blazers and your floppy hair brighten my day. That was the Edward I fell in love with. Every day over the past year, you've been claiming little bits of me. Today, I give you the last, most precious part of me . . . the part that I guarded closely to keep myself from pain. Now, I've realized that I can't be truly happy until I set it free. My heart is yours, Edward."
He gave me an adoring smile, stroking the back of his hand over my flushed cheek. "My heart is yours, too, my Bluebell. What you said . . . it was the same for me. I mean, you made quite an impression on me the first time we met."
"Really? What impression was that – 'Anti-social Swan' showing her true colors?"
He shook his head in silent reproach. "Why do you think I call you Bluebell? You were wearing a blue dress that night, remember? I dreamed of you just as you looked at the party for days after that. I couldn't think of anything but you after having spent only a few hours in your company."
Heat flooded through my cheeks at his sweet words, and at this point, I was sure I resembled a Tulip rather than a Bluebell. Edward chuckled at my reaction, planting a lingering kiss on my forehead. The gleam of laughter in his bright eyes was a sight to behold. It was a sight I wished to see often, and with that thought, I found myself making a request.
"I love your glasses," I told him, stroking the soft skin beneath his eyes. "But maybe you could keep the contacts, too, and use them sometimes? You have such beautiful eyes, Edward."
"All the better to see you with, my dear," he quipped and dodged my hand that reached out to smack him in response. "Absolutely, baby. The contacts shall stay. Any other requests?"
I bit my lip, peeking up at him nervously before speaking. "Take me on a date?"
Edward grinned and whooped a loud "Yes!" before picking me up in his arms and carrying my giggling form into what I was sure would be a new chapter of our lives.
The best, happiest, loveliest, most amazing, wonderful, magical . . . Yeah, you get the idea . . . chapter of our lives.
A/N: As far as continuation goes, I'll be honest... No specific plans right now, but I'll never say never. If you want to be alerted about any future possibilities, please put the story/me on your alerts.
Thanks for reading, folks!
ADDED NOTE - My grandfather passed away yesterday. Please pray for his soul to rest in peace. If you're reading my WIP - Disguised Intentions - I request your patience. The chapter has been written, but I need time to edit it. We're all in a state of shock right now, dealing with things the best we can. Please bear with me. I'll post as soon as I'm able to.