I'd heard it said your life flashed before your eyes when you thought you were about to die. There was a gun being waved around in my face, as I walked into the windowless freezer vault. Six guys dressed in expensive-assed suits stood around, waiting for my arrival.
I saw Edward off to the side in a chair, and man, did he look pissed. He had said he would kill me himself if I came here tonight, and at that precise moment, I wasn't sure who I should be more afraid of…the baboon holding the gun on me, or him.
It's okay, Edward. If we both survive this, I can teach you the fundamentals of make-up sex. If we're killed, at least you didn't die a virgin, thanks to me.
I wanted to give myself a high-five for that one, but I knew any sudden movement on my part might cause a nasty and probably deadly turn of events.
Edward shook his head ever so slightly and gave me a menacing stare. I didn't know why he had his boxers in a twist. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be in this mess. Hell, if it weren't for him, my life might have gone completely different. I never knew just how much my life had been dictated by Edward. Like some crappy plastic chess piece, Edward had played me around his board for years without my knowledge. As pissed off as it made me when I had found out, I was glad he had done what he had. I was better for knowing him. I just wished I'd had the balls to say the three words he was dying to hear before now.
My life didn't flash before me. Instead, I began to think about how we had all come to be here at this precise moment.
If Edward's mind had been telling this story, I was sure he would have started back where we had first met. Years and years ago, before I would come to be his second assistant. But since my mind was the one replaying the video…for me, it had all really started a bit later than that.
When I had taken that job at The Cullen Conglomerate, it had never made sense that a girl with only retail experience would be "uniquely qualified" to be the second assistant to the owner and chief executive officer of a multi-billion-dollar company. I wanted to pat myself on the back. When I had first arrived, I hadn't even known what CEO stood for, and now, just look at me! Using it in a sentence, like I knew what it meant. Uniquely qualified my ass!
My dad's passing, though, had been when I'd thought my bad luck had truly first begun. My dad and I hadn't been particularly close, so it wasn't exactly heart-wrenching when he passed away, even if we had lived together. Out of sheer necessity, I'd assure you. Seriously, what twenty-four-year-old would voluntarily live with their parents?
In the days that had followed his passing, any sympathy I'd had for my father had quickly vanished. I had been notified of his demise on a Tuesday. One week later, I had learned my father's enormous gambling problem had led to all his assets being seized, including the house I had grown up in and anything of value he hadn't pawned. I had found out the hard way that he had owed quite a bit of money, because suddenly, I had been forced out of my home, leading to the chain of events that had landed us here today...
"Good news, Bella! We found a buyer for the house, and I'm not exactly sure why, but he's willing to pay nearly double your asking price. It'll clear up all your debts…I mean, your father's debts."
I looked passively at my Realtor. I was sure she was excited about the sale. The roots from her dye-job were showing through, and her shoes were scuffed, with set creases in the cheap leather. It was clear she was probably about as desperate as I was.
"Lucky me." My words were biting. "I don't care. Do whatever you need to do and then send me the papers to sign. I already took what I wanted. The rest can go to Goodwill." The rest is only junk. Anything of any value had already been hocked by my dad for gambling money or confiscated.
My Realtor was taken aback by my apathy. I stood up from the rickety kitchen table. The damn thing swayed to the left. I grabbed my backpack and put on my work vest, with my name tag and all.
"I have to get to my shift. You can see yourself out. Take whatever you like."
My feet bounded down the three front steps, as I pulled on my coat to begin my trek to Newman's Outdoor Supplies. My car had mysteriously died the day after my father. Ironic. There was no way I could begin to afford to fix it, unless sexual favors were an option, so now, I was forced to walk to my shitty job.
I trudged through the mud along the road, and since I lived in one of the rainiest shitholes on the earth, my walk quickly drenched me. Cold and already in a foul mood, I arrived at the outdated crap shop I was fortunate enough to be employed at.
"Bella!" Mrs. Newton announced upon seeing me. "I tried calling you, but your phone said it was no longer in service."
I couldn't afford the bill.
"What's up?" I asked, already worried about the answer. If she had tried to call me, it was clear she probably had been planning to ask me not to come in. Mrs. Newton cringed, as she placed a stray hair back behind her ear before she gathered up the nerve to reply.
"We…were bought out last night. The new owners want us to cease sales ASAP. I have your last check, plus a decent severance…I hope it can help," she said, obviously hoping to alleviate her guilt for leaving me without a job.
I wanted to laugh, but I didn't. Instead, I snatched my paycheck from her wrinkled hand and turned around without a word. I mean honestly, who but me would lose their father, home, car, and job, all in one week. I didn't know what mirror I had broken, but it was sure biting me in the ass.
"Bella!" Mrs. Newton called out. "The new owner…he said he understands what a hardship this is on our employees. He said he has many openings within his company. Just tell them you worked at Newman's, and he'll have HR see what they can do. I put his business card in your envelope…"
I didn't wait for her to finish. I wasn't about to go and work for some asshole who had taken my job, even if it was a shitty one. With no place to go, I went to deposit my last check into the bank, but it hadn't opened yet, and the ATM was out of order. I slid down against the building under their awning to wait. I had no idea what I was going to do now. I couldn't afford another night in the roach motel I had been living out of. The idea of going back there depressed me, even if I did have the funds to cover the room.
The rain was still coming down steadily. I needed to find a place to stay for the night. All my high school friends had been smart enough to get out of this town the second they had graduated, so I didn't have any of them still around here who could let me couch ride for a minute, while I found another job. In my mind, I ran through every possibility.
She was this gorgeous supermodel girl I had met at a club in Seattle last year. Big boobs. Big blonde hair. The kind of girl who made you feel like the before picture. We clicked and became good friends almost instantly. At the time, she was well on the road to becoming America's next top whatever, but then she suddenly wasn't having any luck booking gigs and ended up at a square job. She lived in Seattle and told me if I ever needed a place to stay, I could call her.
I pulled myself up from off the wall and ran out into the rain to head for the last payphone in Forks. I huddled in the small box, relieved to be out of the freezing rain darts. I scrounged around in my purse for the exact change and began to dial.
"Hello?" Rosalie sang into the phone.
"Hey, Rosalie, it's Bella," I said through my chattering teeth.
"Hey, B! What is up in Knives?"
"Forks," I corrected her, "Although, I wished it was called Knives. I could really use one about now."
"Damn! Depressed much?"
I sighed and looked out at the sky to see lightning brighten the ominous dark clouds. I waited for the thunder and counted to see how far off it was.
"Hello!" Rosalie grunted into the phone.
"Sorry. Hey, do you think it'd be okay if I came and slept on your couch for a few days? I just lost my job…and I don't have anywhere to go."
I hated how pathetic I sounded.
"Absolutely! But I don't have a couch. Sorry, my place sucks."
"If it has four walls and a roof, you're already miles ahead of me. No worries, I can sleep on the floor. I'm hoping I can find a job quick. How is Seattle's employment rate?" I joked.
"Apparently, a lot better than Knives. Don't worry, if you can't find something, I know my company is hiring. I hate to send you there, though, if you have another option. That dickwad, Cullen, barely pays over minimum. I swear, the richer they are, the more they screw over their employees!"
At this point, anything would be preferable to mooching off my friend.
"I'll take it. I've gotta go, though, if I'm going to catch the last bus out of here. I'll see you in a few hours."
I hung up and was happy that, at the very least, I had a plan. Maybe Seattle was just the change I needed. I had no reason to hang around Forks now. Maybe my life could finally begin in the big city.
I loaded up at the vending machine in the bus depot before boarding my bus. I found that Doritos could make a very satisfying dinner when needed. I watched as the bus passed by the various landmarks I had been accustomed to seeing since my family had come to live here in Forks. I couldn't believe I was finally getting out. I might have jumped into the aisle and did the Cabbage Patch if I didn't think it would get me thrown off the bus.
By the time I had arrived in Seattle, my clothes had dried from the downpour I had faced in Forks. However, it was still raining in Seattle, so by the time I had walked to Rosalie's apartment, I was drenched once again. Rosalie's apartment appeared to be in a bad part of town. I had only been to Seattle once before, on a class trip to the Space Needle, so I never saw the bad parts of Seattle. Now, I was getting the ultimate high-definition tour experience. I was sure I tripped over a dead guy's foot, but maybe he was just passed out drunk. I clung to my backpack, knowing it held everything I had left in the world.
I looked behind me and saw some tall creeper walking about a block away from me. Warning bells began to go off, and I suddenly wished I could have kept my dad's gun. I quickened my pace and frantically looked for Rosalie's apartment building. I saw it up ahead and practically sprinted the rest of the way.
I climbed the stairs to the second floor and looked for number twelve. The door to number twelve had paint peeling off it. When I knocked on it, it felt like it wouldn't take much effort to break it down. I looked down and saw no sign of the tall creeper. I felt silly. I was overreacting. I couldn't believe I'd let my panties get in a twist over nothing. My overactive imagination, believing I was being followed, it was ridiculous!
"Hey! You made it." Rosalie opened her door wide enough for me to come in and then quickly slammed it shut behind me. She began to go down the door and fasten each lock, five in total.
"Yes, and I see you've already started off the ritual with locks and chains. Never saw you as that kind of girl," I joked.
"You have no idea. This area isn't the best. It's this and the gun under my pillow that keeps me safe at night," Rosalie replied.
"Oh, I get it. In fact, I swear some creeper dude was following me tonight. If your place had been much farther, I might've ended the night in some asshole's basement having my skin peeled off."
Rosalie laughed. "Well, from what I hear, you're into that freaky shit."
I sat on the floor next to Rosalie's coffee table and spent the next hour catching her up on my life and misfortunes over a couple of beers. The place on the carpet where I was sitting was to be my new bed. The carpet wasn't too bad, and who was I to complain. At least I was out of the rain, and Rosalie's heater was working.
"I can't believe Newman's didn't give you more notice. I mean, no one just sells their store overnight. They had to have known about the buyout sooner. You've been their loyal employee for years. A little heads up would've been decent," Rosalie ranted.
I shrugged my shoulders.
"I wasn't exactly employee of the month, but you're right! It was fucked up of them. Now, all I have is a check for four-hundred and ninety-two dollars and a business card from some asshole who took my job away," I said, pulling the envelope out of my pocket.
I opened it up, and the business card fell to the carpet. Rosalie snatched it up for inspection.
"Holy crap! Edward Cullen bought your store? He's the asshole I work for," Rosalie said.
"Who the hell is Edward Cullen?"
Rosalie made a face.
"He's this hottie billionaire. He owns and runs Cullen Conglomerate. The tallest commercial building in Seattle."
"What the hell is a conglomerate?" I asked.
Rosalie shrugged and gave me a confused look. I was glad I wasn't the only one who needed a dictionary.
"Hell, if I know. I work in his payroll department as an assistant. Asshole hasn't given me a raise in two years. I barely make over minimum wage. He's cute but weird. I mean, really weird. Whenever I've seen him, he seems to be awkward and unable to be among us humans. He's the kind of guy you totally swipe right for, and then you find out he lives in his mother's basement, doing god knows what down there."
I laughed because that happened to me often when I would swipe right. Ah, you had to love Tinder lingo.
"Well, I don't know or care who he is. He offered us Newman employees a job if we wanted it. I'm not sure if I want to work for the asshole who put me out of a job, but as you can see, beggars can't be choosers."
Rosalie got up from the floor and handed me back the business card before she gathered the empty beer bottles to deposit them into her recycling bucket.
"If you want a job, I can introduce you to Nancy in HR tomorrow. But, as I said, don't expect too much over minimum wage. The billionaire is a tight ass with his money."
I thought about it for a minute. I looked at the card in my hand and the fancy embossing job someone had done on them. I had never worked in an office setting before, but if Rosalie could manage, I was sure I could try. I mean, it wasn't like they were going to make me a manager my first day out.
"I think I'll go with you tomorrow. You never know. Maybe this is the beginning of something fantabulous."
"Do you have anything to wear?" Rosalie asked, looking me over.
I looked down at my jeans and pocket sweatshirt and shook my head.
"I guess I know where this last check is going tomorrow. Maybe you can show me a cheap clothing store."
Rosalie walked over to her room and came back with a fancy outfit on a hanger and a pair of heels.
"Wear this tomorrow, and we can go shopping this weekend, once we find out what department they'll set you up in," she offered.
"Geez, Rosalie. You don't have to do that. You're already taking care of me like I was some stray cat."
She rolled her eyes and shook her head at me.
"It's fine. Really. Just be sure to shave your whole legs. This skirt is a little high, but if we can get Tyler Crowley to interview you, I'm sure it'll win you any position you could ask for. Just be careful with Tyler. Even though he's in Human Resources, he never got the memo on sexual harassment. It amazes me in this day and age that someone could get away with it."
Rosalie went to bed shortly afterward. She wanted to get to work by eight o'clock the next morning, so she could take the time to show me around. She said she would wake me up at six o'clock to get ready. She was amazing. A real angel. After everything I had been through the past few weeks, I was finally feeling like my luck was about to change for the better.
I got up from the hard floor and went to grab a glass of water. I stood in Rosalie's tiny kitchen and looked out the window, down at the street below. Across from the apartment was a small row of stores and businesses. I squinted my eyes and could see a man standing on the stoop of one of the stores. He had the same shape as the man I had thought was following me earlier. I saw him light up a cigarette, and a chill ran down my spine. I put the glass back on the counter and calmed myself down. He was probably a vagrant, looking for dry shelter from the rain.
I sighed and went back to my makeshift bed and forgot about the creeper. I had enough to worry about. Tomorrow, I would need to make a good first impression, as I attempted to become employed doing a job I had never done before in my life.
The rain lulled me to sleep. Even though I hated walking in it, I did love going to sleep hearing it. When Rosalie woke me the next morning, my back hurt from the floor, and I was a little too grumpy, but that wasn't anything new.
The skirt Rosalie provided was embarrassingly tight. I was worried that, if I sat down, a seam would burst. I tried to get Rosalie to find me something else, but she kept stating that it was supposed to be that tight. I tried to explain that, if the seam were to burst, then I would no longer be able to show my face at Cullen…whatever it was called again.
"Stop fussing with the skirt. It's hot, and you're hot in it. That skirt is going to land you an amazing job!" Rosalie smacked my hand away, as I attempted to pull it down. We were standing on the bus and holding onto the rails, as we made our way to Rosalie's place of employment.
I could feel every guy's eyes on me, and it made me cringe. Not that I wasn't up for a little fun, but there was a time and a place for everything. With my nerves being nearly fried, now was not the time to think about sex. Ah, sex…it's been far too long, my friend.
"We're here," Rosalie announced.
We stepped off the bus, and my gaze traveled up the ginormous building in front of us. I wasn't a huge fan of heights, so I prayed that whatever job was offered to me would be closer to the ground. Perhaps the mailroom in the basement.
I nearly stumbled on those damn high heels Rosalie had forced me into when we approached the revolving door. Everything in the building was so shiny and polished. I wondered if my immune system was silently thanking the cleaning crew. With the number of employees this place held, it amazed me you couldn't find more fingerprints. Even the panel where Rosalie pressed the elevator button was spotless. We walked into the elevator car, and I saw someone dressed in a uniform come up and wiped the panel Rosalie had just sullied. Perhaps, I would find a cleaning crew position. It wouldn't be a half-bad job to walk around with a rag and clean elevator button panels.
"Come on," Rosalie said to bring me out of my musings.
Our heels clacked on the bright white polished floors. I had to say, if this Edward Cullen was as stingy as Rosalie made him out to be, he took that money for raises and put it into maintaining this impressive shiny building.
"Is Tyler in?" Rosalie asked a small round girl at the front desk.
"You know Tyler never comes in this early. Nancy is here, however," the young girl replied.
Rosalie made a face and was about to say something when another older lady popped out from her office.
"Did someone say my name?"
Nancy wore the epitome of what I thought an office person would wear. A bland wool short suit coat and matching skirt.
"Hey, Nancy. This is Isabella Swan. She's from…"
Rosalie never had a chance to even finish her sentence.
"Newman's! Yes, Isabella Swan," Nancy replied. She shook her head a little when looking me over, almost as if she was staring at a mirage. "You may go, Rosalie. I can take it from here."
Rosalie gave me a look, and I shrugged in reply. This Nancy seemed a little too happy to find a former retail clerk standing in front of her.
"Why don't you come into my office, and we can get you squared away," Nancy said, holding her hand out toward her door.
I timidly walked forward, wondering how far down the rabbit hole I was willing to go. My Spidey senses told me everything seemed a little off.
"How did you know who I was?" I asked, trying not to sound accusatory.
Nancy walked in and shut the door behind her. She went around to her sleek glass desk and sat down in her high-backed leather chair.
"I was given a shortlist of candidates to look out for. Mr. Cullen felt horrible for having to let so many employees go without notice. He wanted to make sure anyone at Newman's who wanted a job got one," she explained.
"O-kay…" I replied. It seemed a little odd that a billionaire would worry about the employees of a small crap camping and hunting retail shop in the-middle-of-nowhere Forks.
"Why don't you fill out this paperwork, and I'll show you to your new position." Nancy handed me a huge stack of papers, and I absently flipped through them.
"What position are you hiring for?" I asked.
"Well, I was told you're uniquely qualified, so we have something ready that I'm sure will suit your needs."
Uniquely qualified?" Just what the hell was I going to be doing? I had spent the past seven years at a store selling hunting and camping gear.
I filled out the forms as best as I could for someone who didn't have an address, phone number and such. The only things I was able to fill in was my name and social security number. The mound of paperwork was thick, and I mostly flipped through the pages, looking for the empty lines to sign.
Once I was finished, Nancy didn't even look over my forms. She just stuffed them into her drawer and stood up, ready to show me to my new office. We went to the elevators, and my stomach almost dropped into my feet, when she pressed the button indicating the top floor. The Seventieth-seventh floor!
I felt my palms begin to sweat, as the elevator rose toward our destination. Images of falling to my death flashed through my mind. Movies like Speed and remembering the Twin Towers nearly made me throw up, when the elevator pinged at our arrival, and the doors finally opened.
I tried to shake from my head where I was. It was easy to do when there wasn't a window in sight to remind me how high up I was. I could pretend I was safely on the ground floor in some mailroom, where I obviously should have been placed.
Another young girl approached, and she was dressed impeccably. Every piece on her was designer, and not just designer, like low-end designer such as Coach, but like the really good shit.
"Jessica, I want to introduce you to Isabella Swan. She'll be Mr. Cullen's second. Please, show her around."
Jessica looked me over, and her face read what I was thinking. What the hell was I doing here? Even I knew I shouldn't be on this high of a floor, working for…Mr. Cullen? I wanted to tell Nancy that a mistake had been made, but I couldn't find my voice box. It was probably still down on the twentieth floor in HR.
Nancy left, and Jessica sighed and looked back at me.
"Isabella, is it?" she asked. "Follow me."
I looked around at the floor, as we walked towards Jessica's office. The place looked like something I might see if I was dead and had been a good girl. Everything was white or pearl or glass. All we needed was a few clouds and this could be heaven. I tried not to think of the clouds that probably touched the outside of the building around the floor I was currently on.
"So, what did you do before you came here?" Jessica asked.
Here we go.
"I worked at Newman's," I replied.
"Nieman's? I love Nieman's. Can you still get a discount?"
I nearly laughed, but I refrained.
"No…not Neiman's. Newman's. We specialized in outdoor equipment for camping and such."
Jessica's face fell, and then she looked utterly confused.
"How did you come to work here?" she asked.
I tried to not feel offended, but it was so clear that I so was not in the right place.
"Edward Cullen bought out my store and offered the employees a job at his company," I replied.
"It's Mr. Cullen! You no longer refer to him as Edward Cullen. Now that he's your boss, he's to be referred to only as Mr. Cullen," she corrected. "There's so much I'm going to have to teach you, I see."
I sighed and began to bite at my fingernail. If I wasn't nervous before, I was certainly nervous now.
"Mr. Cullen…is pragmatic. Extremely pragmatic. He's a huge germaphobe, and oh…don't even think about going there with him. I'm pretty sure he's gay. He won't even look, so no need to wear tight, suggestive clothing. He's extremely professional…annoyingly so."
She looked down at my tight, short skirt, and I was sure she thought I was just some tart trying to get my billionaire man-catching claws on. I hoped I would be able to change before I met Mr. Cullen. I so did not want him thinking I was a tart.
"First thing I need you to do is input your information into Outlook. Mr. Cullen likes to know where his assistants are at all times. He'll be calling you and expecting a lot, even after hours. So, always have your phone on and near you."
Jessica walked towards the desk and fired up the computer.
"This is your desk."
I nodded my head and sat down in some swanky chair.
"What's an Outlook?" I asked.
Jessica looked like her head was about to pop off.
"Okay, this has to be a mistake. No offense, but there's no way someone with no computer knowledge gets hired as Mr. Cullen's second assistant. We have to go and talk to Nancy in HR. Come on," she said, beckoning me to follow her.
I didn't exactly disagree, so I did as she asked.
The elevator pinged, and a man who looked not too much older than myself walked out in the finest charcoal suit I had ever seen. His hair was copper and perfectly kept. His eyes were dark green. His shoulders were broad, and he was about a foot and a half taller than me. He walked confidently, that was until he saw me, and then he faltered, almost as if he was wearing heels and trying to maneuver through a revolving door.
He came straight towards us and seemed to lose all confidence.
"You're…here," he said lowly.
"Uh…and you're there," I replied stupidly.
"Sorry, Mr. Cullen. I was just about to return her to HR. I think Nancy made a mistake," Jessica piped up.
Mr. Cullen's eyes grew dark. "No, Miss Stanley. I was already made aware of Isabella's impending arrival. I approved it, so I hope you have done your job and made sure she's fully acquainted with our operations and procedures."
"She doesn't even know what Outlook is or-" Jessica attempted.
"Then, I suggest you educate her. If she's unsuccessful, then I'll find you to blame. Get her set up in our system and be prepared to work over until Isabella is caught up," he snapped. Mr. Cullen turned to me, and I nearly peed my skirt.
"I'd like to speak with you for a moment, in private."
Mr. Cullen continued to walk on towards what I assumed was his office. I stood in place, with my feet frozen to the floor, wondering if I should follow or attempt to make it to the elevator and run. Edward Cullen intimidated me, but when did I ever let that stop me?
"Now, Isabella!" he snapped, and like a cartoon character, my feet scrambled to follow him, before he barked any more orders at me.
Into the office I went, wondering what the hell had I just gotten myself into.
AN: Thank you for reading and reviewing.
I am excited that Dollybigmomma has been so kind to offer her services for cleaning up my stories! She has already been a valuable asset. Thank you, Dolly, for all your help!
STORY IS MINE. CHARACTERS BELONG TO STEPHENIE MEYER.