A/N: Happy Memorial Day! For those of you celebrating this weekend, I hope you've been enjoying your friends, family, and barbecues. For those of you who don't celebrate Memorial Day, I hope you enjoyed your wonderful weekend anyhow. Either way, I really hope you all enjoy the following story.
We're looking at approximately 30 chapters, and we'll have updates three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Betad by the lovely Michelle Renker Rhodes. (Though I tinker right through to the very end, so blame me for any lingering mistakes).
Most characters belong to S. Meyer. The rest is all mine.
Excited to WIP with you all again. Here we go!
Chapter 1 – Bella Feelin' Nutella
"So here's the thing, Alice. I've had a breakthrough today. You know how they say 'it's never too late to start over?'"
"Yeah." The slow and careful way in which Alice responds means she's already on guard about where I'm going with this.
"It's total bullshit. There comes a point where it's definitely too late to start over."
The cell phone static faintly crackles before I hear Alice's resounding laughter. I roll my eyes at her predictably trivial reaction to what I believe is an important philosophical step forward in my mental evolution. Setting down the phone on the black granite counter I call my workspace, I'll allow her a half minute to compose herself while I pull the fresh batch of Nutella Scones I prepared earlier from the fridge.
In keeping with what's become the city's expectation, I've named today's pastries in accordance with my mood of the day. Hence, we have Bella Nutella Scones, trademarked by me: Isabella Swan Laurent - owner/baker/proprietor of Swan Bellies Baked Goods, Inc. – a well-known name in New York City's trendier bakery/café establishments.
One of the reasons why in the past year and a half my baked goods have become as sinfully coveted as a picture of J. Lo's ass deftly hidden under a monk's pillow is because I happen to know a shitload of baking secrets which others tend to ignore. For example, I know that the secret to a truly sublime scone is to allow the dough enough time to chill before it's placed into the oven. An amateur mistake is to allow said dough to sit at room temperature, even for the few minutes required for oven preheating. This mistake will result in tough and chewy scones, which will sit in your mouth like lumps of chuck meat. If one wants light, airy, and cloudlike scones instead of chuck meat, then one cannot make amateur mistakes.
It's this baking doctrine which has led to my current epiphany.
See, amateurs believe they can start over while those more experienced of us try to do things right the first time because we know there are no do-overs. Once you've fucked up the batch, you've fucked up the batch.
With the scones inside the Thermador, I pick the phone back up from the counter and return it to my ear. Seems I've timed it well. Alice's chuckles are dying down.
"Are you good?" I ask. "May we continue?"
"Yes. Yes, let's continue. Now," – she clears her throat – "from whence comes, pray tell, this sudden and dreary outlook on what should be a beautiful and thrilling new phase in your life?"
The sliding glass balcony doors on the top floor of my townhouse open to New York City's midtown skyline. I stand before them and watch the early afternoon sun cast its slivering rays over both modern silver steel and turn-of-the-century architecture.
"It's not a dreary outlook; it's simple facts. Tell me, Alice, when you've got a batch of pastries in the oven, can you pull them out halfway through and start the same batch all over?"
"I don't know, can you?"
Alice is not what you'd call domestically-inclined.
"No. No, you can't. It's got to finish baking as is. Likewise, in life, you simply can't pull yourself out of the oven, so to speak, halfway through and start over. You've done too much, seen too much, taken too many turns, and made too many irrevocable decisions. That's why I've concluded that starting over is a myth, a fairy tale told to divorced and/or widowed women, such as myself, in their mid-life to make us feel better about the prospect of spending the rest of our lives either a) alone, b) perpetually dating bald or hairy men because all the in-between ones have been taken, or c) marrying one of the aforementioned bald or hairy men so that you don't in actuality end up a) alone and can at least have d) pitifully marginal sex once a month."
She's cracking up again.
"The truth," I continue despite her obvious amusement, "is that you only get one starting point. The oven of life is set to go, and once your batch is in, your only option is to keep baking and hope you don't get burned too badly along the way. Don't get me wrong; this 'starting over' business is a wonderful concept in theory, and I can certainly see why the sales of so many self-help books depend on it."
"I see," Alice says. Her voice is mockingly grave as if I can't hear the laughter bubbling and begging to break the surface. "It's an interesting philosophy, Bella, I won't deny it. Must've taken you quite some time to perfect it. It can't be easy to compare life to an oven where we're all just a batch of cookies hoping to bake just right."
"Scones, Alice, not cookies. The scones led to the breakthrough, and as such, they deserve the credit."
"O-kay," she says slowly. "The scones are your wise oracles, like fortune cookies were to Confucius. Tell me, oh sage one, other than Nutella and butter, have you also laced these mystical scones with a certain weed-like ingredient whose medicinal effects include just a slight trace of absurdity and a big dollop of neurosis? Do these vessels of edible prognostication possess magical fat-burning powers as well? Because if they do, I'll take me a dozen."
"You're not taking me seriously here."
"I'm not - not at all." She laughs again, and I sigh, watching from my vantage point high on the top floor as a line of yellow cabs race down Second Avenue past the Loews movie theater and the Fairway market.
"Bella, sweetie, you're definitely borderline psychotic and irritatingly OCD, but I've known you for over twenty years now, and I know you're neither the type to base your life's ideology on fortune-telling scones nor are you by any means as fucking dismal as you sound today. Therefore, I can only assume that this less-than-cheery quantum leap you've taken in the past twenty-four hours has less to do with your true view of your future and more to do with nerves caused by your daughter's impending arrival."
There's a sharp retort dancing on the tip of my tongue regarding Nutella Scones up her asshole.
"Shit, you're right." I press my forehead to the clear glass balcony door and squeeze my eyes shut. Although the coolness of the glass is refreshing and mind-clearing, I mentally remind myself to Windex that shit as soon as I hang up. "You're right, you're right, you're absolutely right. I'm a fucking nut case. This is why I've named the scones Bella Nutella Scones."
"It's catchy and accurate. I like it." Alice chuckles, though much more serenely now. "But I love you even when you're a bit nutty. Now, what time does Nessie's plane land?"
"At four." I check my watch more out of habit than because it's anywhere near time to go pick her up.
"Four our time or four west coast time?"
"Damn it all to hell, I'm not even sure!"
Alice laughs yet again while I rush back to the kitchen counter and take a seat on one of the black leather stools to search the net on my laptop.
"Relax, Bella. If it's four west coast time, then that gives you an extra three hours before you've got to go pick 'em up."
"Yeah, but remember I told you that I managed to score eight o'clock dinner reservations for tonight at that new, trendy Tribeca restaurant we just signed on to carry my pastries. The manager was so grateful that he threw in prime-time seating for tonight even though the wait to eat there is usually weeks."
"Shit, yes. I wish I didn't have this stupid business dinner tonight so that I could go with you guys."
"Yeah, so do I. But if Nessie and he aren't getting here until four west coast time, then that's exactly seven o'clock our time, and we'll never make the reservations!"
Alice is deceivingly quiet while I hastily punch in Nessie's flight number on the airline's website. Two point five seconds later, the information pops up.
ETA: 4:00 p.m. EST- JFK.
And I exhale a long breath. "It's four our time."
"Of course, it is, Bella. That's not the type of miscalculation you'd make, but honey, seriously, you need to get a grip here."
"Easy for you to say. It's not your nineteen-year-old daughter coming home from her first year of college with a friggin' boyfriend - an older boyfriend, mind you - in tow."
Another god damn laugh. "So she's bringing home a guy, who happens to be a couple of years older than she is."
"Three years – he's three years older, Alice. He's twenty-two and completing his junior year of college. She's nineteen and just finished up her freshman year. Three. Years."
"Three. Tres. Trois. One more than two, and one less than four. I'm acquainted with the number. But he's Nessie's first real boyfriend! You should be excited about meeting him. I know I am."
I roll my eyes. "It's just…she's so young, you know? I don't want her getting all lost in this relationship and losing focus just when she's getting started."
"What's wrong with getting a little lost? She's young, Bella. If she's going to get lost, now's the time to do so."
"Have you heard nothing I've ever said?" I face-palm over the pristine counter and smack my forehead against the cool granite.
"Come on, Bella. You know Nessie. I'm sure she's being careful."
"Ouch, don't say it like that. Being careful implies she's having sex." I shudder.
My head whips up, eyes bulging.
"Wait a minute, you don't think she's…you don't think they're actually having…sex?" The last word is slightly muffled by the knuckle I've shoved into my mouth.
"Bella, Nessie is young, but she's always been smart. She was brought up well by you and Sam." At the mention of Sam, Alice's voice softens. "I mean, yeah, Ness is away from home for the first time and dating an older, more experienced college man. Of course she's having sex."
She's like a hyena on steroids. "Seriously, Bella?" she chokes. "You're expecting her to return home a virgin?"
I remove the knuckle from between my lips. "Al, I don't expect her to hang on to her virtue forever, no, but she is young, and on top of that, it hasn't even been two years since she lost her dad. I want to make sure she's in a sound place both physically and emotionally before she gets that involved with a guy."
"Unfortunately, honey, though you make impressive attempts, you can't control absolutely everything."
"I know that," I say in that rushed obviously-I-know-that-but-I-don't-really-care tone, "but…Alice, do you remember years and years ago when I first told you about that guy, the one I was involved with right before college?"
"I remember your telling me about Edward, yeah." Voice tender again.
"Yes, him. He was a bit older too, and it was crazy, and it was intense, and for a while...we were everything. I totally allowed myself to become completely lost in him, and…well you know the rest. When it ended, I was left to deal with not only a broken heart but also with completely finding myself again. I just…I don't want Ness to have to go through anything like that."
"Bella, you and Nessie are two different people. There's no reason to think that her first love will end in any way similar to the way yours did. Honey, I know it's been less than two years since my brother passed, but both you and Ness got through that pretty bravely. Besides, you don't know anything yet about Nessie's guy. He may be exactly the opposite of what this guy Edward apparently was. What's Nessie's guy's name again?"
"Ugh, Anthony." The name erupts from me like I'm saying, Ugh, there's shit in my mouth.
"Anthony. Anthony's a hot name, much hotter than Edward."
"Pot. Kettle. So what does Anthony look like?"
"Well, it's hard to get a good look at him in the pictures Nessie texts and posts since his face is always half buried in her neck or his mouth is plastered to hers."
Alice snickers. "That's a good sign. It means he's passionate. You want a passionate guy when you're learning to get down and dirty. Anyway, I hope he's hot. A passionate yet ugly dude is such a sad waste."
"Passion and a pretty face don't guarantee a good heart. Believe me."
A vague image - clouded by time and distance - of the boy I dated and loved throughout my senior year of high school materializes in my mind. Funny, I actually haven't thought of him in…well, in a while. There were those early years after our break-up when barely a day would pass without at least a fleeting thought of him. At first, they were painful, daily reminders of loss, of his heart-stopping grin and dazzling green eyes, and then they just…were. Life gets real, and memories of first love, no matter how passionate, get relegated to weekly, monthly, and then…occasionally.
I'm actually grateful for Alice's next interruption into my reverie. Today is not a good day to think of him.
"I suppose if you have to pick between the two, a big heart's better than a big dick. But let's hope my niece has had the sense to fall for the complete package."
"You know, sometimes you can be really..." I'm getting ready to say something about her crassness and superficiality when a strange, abrasive, and unfamiliar odor fills my nostrils. "Wait, what the hell is that…SHIT!"
Dropping the phone onto the counter, I jump off of the stool and lunge for the oven door, ripping it open, but I'm too late. A black cloud of smoke rushes out and billows in the air.
"My Bella Nutella Scones!" When the smoldering mass of fumes disburses enough for me to see the scorched lumps of unrecognizable anomalies on the baking sheet, I reach in with oven mitts and pull them out. I hold them about a mile away from my nose as I deposit them straight into the sink and open the faucet.
I return to the phone. "They were going to impress the hell out of that other restaurant which wants me, so they could beg me to supply them, and now fucking hell, on top of everything else, have the gods of baking deserted me?"
"You…burned something?" Alice sounds almost as bewildered as I feel. "You, Bella Swan Laurent a.k.a 'Swan Bellies baked fresh for your belly' burned something? Is that even physically possible?"
"I haven't burned anything in over twenty years. Matter of fact, I haven't had a failed baking attempt since I first started dabbling with pastries as a means to keep my mind occupied and away from all thoughts of him."
"Shit, that can't possibly be a good sign."
"I thought you didn't believe in signs?"
"I never said that. I said your crazy-ass Bella Nutella Scones weren't magical – which obviously they weren't."
She chuckles. "Bella, all joking aside, do you need me to come to the airport with you this afternoon? I can leave the office for a couple of hours and just-"
She's not really superficial, and she only laughs at me this much when I'm being slightly neurotic; although, the crass thing she totally is, no joke. Yet there's no one in this whole entire world who knows me as well as Alice, my former sister-in-law until her brother – my husband, Sam – passed away almost two years ago. I've known her even before I knew Sam; therefore, she knows how much I hate airplanes and by extension, airports, and she knows very well why.
But as I'm the only parent Vanessa has left, I'm not about to let something as inconsequential as an irrational phobia of airports and all their affiliates interfere with my job as her mother – the most important job I have now.
"Thanks, Al, but I'll be fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure."
I say this with more confidence than I truly feel, but then again, isn't that how we do most things in life?
Chapter Song Rec: Who Knew? by Pink
Remember, another update on Wednesday.
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See you Wednesday!