Give Me a Sign
Beta: Betsy DeVos
Banner: Isabella Darling
Rating: PG 13
Summary: Edward's a doctor at Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital and Bella's the construction worker always holding him up in traffic. But what happens when their paths cross elsewhere?
"Call me," says Heidi, high heels hitting the concrete like a series of exclamation points. "I mean it this time, Edward. Call me."
"I will," I lie, escaping toward my building's parking garage. I don't bother chancing a glance back at the tall, lithe blonde following me—if I give her even an inkling of encouragement she'll blow my phone up for a week. Maybe longer.
Garrett, my neighbor, flashes me a smirk as he passes by with his dog. He witnessed Heidi's previous drama-filled exit a couple of months ago, so he's probably wondering why she's back. I'm wondering, myself. She's the hottest pharmaceutical sales rep I've ever met, but she's scary when she doesn't get what she wants.
But she was ready and willing—who am I kidding; she was downright demanding—late last night when I was leaving work. One drink turned to four. And…
Anyway. I'm exhausted and I'm about to be late. Heidi raises her eyebrows meaningfully from the car beside mine and reverses out, finally leaving. Letting her stay the night had not been in the plans, but I couldn't exactly kick her out after we were done. I'm not that much of an asshole.
It's a bright, sunny day in Atlanta. I leave the busy streets of Midtown for the even busier streets of Buckhead, navigating my way to work. They've been doing construction on Peachtree lately, so I hook a right and maneuver my Tesla down a side street filled with cars barely leaving enough room to get through. Then I get back on to Peachtree, a little further down—closer to the hospital.
But what's this?
More construction. I glance at the clock. It's seven forty-six. The meeting's at eight. "Shit," I mutter, forced to inch along at a glacial pace with all the other idiots that didn't realize there was construction this far down the street. Berating myself for not having used Waze, I speed dial my father.
"Edward," he says. "Please tell me you're here."
"I'm stuck in traffic, but—"
"Unacceptable. You've been aware of this meeting for a month," he gripes. "I don't care if it's your day off."
Suddenly I'm twelve again and I've just failed a test. I hate disappointing him. My head pounds. Too much alcohol last night; not enough sleep. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Do that," he says, and hangs up.
I'd resent him, but I can't. He's the chief of staff at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital and I'm the medical director of the emergency room. What I do reflects on him, especially when I fuck up.
Three lanes merge into one. I pop two Advil, swallowing with what's left of my water. Piedmont, where I spend the majority of my waking life—and sometimes non-waking, if you count the on-call room—looms in the near distance, under construction itself. I drum my fingers on the steering wheel, squinting at the road crew just ahead. They're directing traffic around what appears to be a series of manholes and heavy-duty machinery.
The car ahead of me goes. I'm about to follow it when the guy holding the sign switches it around to "STOP". Slamming on the brakes, I scowl at him. Only, it's not a him but a her...a brunette with a bouncy ponytail and long, slim legs in shorts too short to be on a guy, unless you're into that and hey, if you are that's fine—I was born and raised in Atlanta and I work in an emergency room…I've quite literally seen it all but…
Damn it, I'm late and this isn't helping.
She meets me with a sweet smile, holding that sign up like it's a harbinger of great news while I simmer and stew and jack the a/c up too high. I might find her attractive if she wasn't making me even more late. After roughly two thirds of the city is allowed to go, it's my turn. I go, careful to keep my temper in check—I've seen the results of road rage and aggressive driving, and neither are pretty—and continue down Peachtree.
Five minutes to go. Shit.
I call Alice.
"Hey! I thought you had a meeting with Dad and the hospital bigwigs."
"I do. I'm late. I was wondering if you or Jasper could park the car for me."
"Tsk, tsk. Again?"
"Can you, or can't you?"
"Jasper can. He just finished with one of our distributors," she says. "How far away are you?"
I eye the clock. "Two minutes."
"He'll be out front."
We disconnect, and a moment later I swing into the hospital parking lot. My brother in law, Jasper, jogs over, taking my keys from me as I hurry out of the car. "Thanks, bro."
"No worries, man."
Jasper and Alice have a successful food truck. Most mornings find them near Piedmont Hospital, hooking up the staff and families of patients with delicious, jazzed up street food. And thank God, because without Jas right now I'd be up a creek.
Emmett nods, wiping his sweaty brow. "Yeah, me too. You headin' over to Fork in the Road?"
I nod, grinning. Em knows me well, and ever since I discovered the food truck over near Piedmont Hospital, I've been a fiend for their soul food—especially the fried chicken and corn bread. Now the whole crew's addicted, and we go more days than not. "You in?"
"You know it," he says, fishing a twenty from his pocket. "Get yourself something."
I take the money, but I'll pay my own way. My brother's been taking care of me forever, but he's got his own bills to pay and baby number two on the way. Last thing he needs is another mouth to feed.
"Mike!" I yell. He looks up from the jackhammer, popping his ear plug out. "Want me to grab lunch?"
He shakes his head. "Naw, I'm good. I'm meetin' Jess in a couple of hours."
I collect orders from the rest of the guys and, looking both ways, cross over to the sidewalk. The sun's hot but there's a breeze, and the sky's so blue it makes your chest swell.
It comes from a passing car, but I just flip the bird and keep going. The irony that I, the construction worker, am the one being catcalled is not lost on me. Part of me wishes I could just keep on helping my dad, Charlie, the owner of Swan Construction and general foreman of this particular project, but that's not how it goes. Despite being daughter of the boss, I'm low on this totem pole. It's a summer job for me anyway, a way to learn the family business and make a little money until I graduate with my masters in urban planning.
Meanwhile, Fork in the Road is just up ahead, and I can already taste that chicken melting in my hungry little mouth.
As usual, there's a small line, mostly doctors and nurses by the looks of them. I wait patiently until it's my turn, smiling up at the petite, dark-haired chick in the window.
"Hey, you," she says, smiling back. "We got a deal today: two pieces of fried chicken with cornbread, collards and sweet tea. Whaddya think?"
"Damn," I say, about ready to swoon from hunger and the mouth-watering smells wafting from the truck. "I'm gonna have to say yes please. I'll take two of those, one biscuits and gravy, and three po'boys."
"Crab or shrimp?"
"Coming right up," she says, turning to the blond guy behind her.
I hand her the money when she turns back to me, and for a moment we shoot the breeze like always, her asking about the progress we've been making as we work down Peachtree, me asking about business here at the hospital.
"We've been working Piedmont Park on Saturdays," she says, holding up a finger as the guy hands her our food. "Here you go, honey."
"Really?" I take the food, nearly passing out from how good it smells. "I'm over there all the time."
"You should come visit," she says with a wink. "Might be worth your time."
I laugh a little, nodding. "Maybe I will. Thanks!"
She gives me a little wave and turns her attention to the next guy in line as I walk away, arms loaded down with lunch.
Yawning, I slap the alarm and roll out of bed. It's five a.m. and I'm working twelve-hour shifts for the next three days. It's not always like this. Sometimes I have a twelve hour and then two days off, or three days of six-hour shifts, but we've been chronically short-staffed since the flu started going around. Yeah, doctors get sick, too.
By the time I'm on the road, inhaling coffee, vitamins and a dry bagel, it's nearly six. But all is well. I don't have to be at work until seven. I'm lost in thought, trying to figure out how Alice and I can make our mother's upcoming sixtieth birthday special, when I notice orange flashing lights up ahead.
Grimacing, I remember the construction site. I pull up to the brunette with the sign, which is already turned to STOP. Today she's wearing a flannel shirt over those little shorts. Same boots. She looks like someone dressing up to work in construction, but then again what is the proper attire for sign holding? We eye each other for a moment before she cocks her eyebrow and flips the sign the sign to GO.
I salute her as I pass, wondering if she gets off on the assumed power trip.
It's a doozy of a day, but they all are. There's a suicide attempt. A bike accident. A woman with a black eye and a broken nose who says she fell down a flight of stairs. Her sister says otherwise, and even if she didn't, I'd suspect abuse. Bree, the nurse working with me, finally confirms our suspicions and makes the report.
Around one there's a nasty car accident on 85, near the Peachtree exit, that brings in a family of six. The youngest is a little boy who, thankfully, was strapped into a car seat. Besides some bruising, he's okay. Dad, who was driving, fared a little worse between airbag burns and a couple of broken bones, but he too will be okay. The driver of the truck that hit them, though? Critical condition. We stabilized him, but only time will tell if he makes it or not.
It's three o'clock when I realize I haven't gone to the bathroom once since starting work.
"Hey, Cullen," Tanya says, yawning as she passes by.
We pause in the hallway. "Hey, Denali. You still here?"
"Heading out now. Had to help Dion with those two guys that came in."
I nod, remembering. Overdose. One didn't make it. I study Tanya's face, but she's all right. She's been at this longer than me, and I've been at Piedmont for five years. "How're you getting home?"
"Uber," she says with a tired laugh. "I couldn't drive right now if you paid me to."
"Give my regards to Alec."
"Will do," she says, voice drifting down the hall.
I manage the bathroom, but not a snack, before the next emergency comes crashing through the doors.
If given the choice between clearing debris with the guys-which I did yesterday- and acting as one of the flagmen, I choose flagmen. Flagwomen? Whatever. I'm flagging and sign-holding and thanking God for good sunscreen.
There he is again, the guy in the Tesla. I wonder if he missed me yesterday. Generally, we seem to be on similar schedules. Today there's all kinds of glaring going on: the sun hitting his windshield, his eyes as they zero in on me...I can almost see him willing me to switch the sign around.
I bite back a smile, not wanting to piss him off. Well, maybe I do...a little. Mr. Fancy Pants in his fancy car could use a little patience in my humble but accurate opinion. Every morning I've been here, he comes whizzing down the street only to be held up by construction that, while irritating now, will only improve congestion on a road he obviously takes all the time.
Besides, it's not really up to me. I'll flip the sign when I get the all clear from Mike, who's helping direct on the other side today.
"Okay, Bella," Mike says just then, voice crackling through the walk-in talkie strapped to my hip.
"All righty." With painstaking slowness, I turn the sign to GO and give a big, bright smile to Tesla.
Hey. I gotta get my kicks somehow. It may be better than clearing debris, but this job's lacking in the fun department.
By lunchtime, I've gotta pee so bad I'm almost dancing. Mike relieves me so I can go relieve myself at the gas station down the street, where I snag an energy drink and a granola bar while I'm at it. My phone vibrates at my hip as I step back out into the sunshine, and when I look down, Vicky's face grins back up at me.
"Hey, you," I answer around a mouthful of almond-oat-chia-something.
"Hey, hun. We still on for tonight?"
"You better believe it," I practically groan. Vic's house sitting for some posh cousin who lives in Buckhead. They have a pool and a hot tub and lots of wine. Lucky bitch. "What can I bring?"
"Maybe some of those cupcakes from GiGi's. I've been craving their chocolate. And your PJs. Might as well stay the night, right?"
"How're you faring out there?"
Pausing at the crosswalk, I jab the button. "I'm all right. Feet still hurt."
"Those boots weigh, like, ten pounds each."
Snorting, I cross the street. "Yeah, well. You know Dad's a stickler for safety. Apparently, my Chucks weren't cutting it."
We catch up until I'm back at the jobsite, where I pocket my phone. If there's one thing Charlie Swan hates, it's loafing around when we're supposed to be working. "Time's money," he likes to say, smoothing his mustache. "And if we're wasting time, we ain't makin' money."
Speaking of which, there he is now, waving me over to the truck. "Bella Marie!"
"Mike's holding down the fort for now, so why don't you go on and help Renee over at the office. Get some paperwork down." I try to tamp down my grin, but he sees it anyway. "Yeah, yeah. Go on with your soft self."
"I am not soft!" I retort, tightening my ponytail.
He smirks, starting the truck. "You staying or going, then?"
"Good." He nods. "Oh and, uh...pick your momma up some of those donuts she likes from Sublime." He hands me a twenty from his wallet.
"How many donuts does she need?" I laugh.
Winking, he rolls his window up and pulls away from the curb.
I love my bed. I love my bed. I love my bed.
Yawning, I roll over and hug my pillow. My shift starts at nine tonight. It doesn't end until five tomorrow morning, but I'm not concerned with that. All that matters is this bed. And how much I love it.
But, according to my phone, it's 11:45. The Green Market over in Piedmont Park only goes until one, and if I miss Alice and Jasper's food truck again I'll be blacklisted from family functions. Dragging myself from the warm cocoon of eiderdown and 280-thread-count Pima Cotton Percale sheets, I take a nice, long, hot shower and get dressed.
Alice beams when she sees me in line. I grin back, glad I came. I invested in Fork in the Road back when it was a dream of hers and Jasper's, and I've never regretted it since. She's paid me back, anyway...not that I wanted her to. Alice had always been a go-getter and a badass, so not accepting her money was not an option.
"Fried chicken?" she says, when it's my turn.
"And collards. And cornbread. Wrap it up, though...I'm taking it back home."
"Whaatt?" She makes a show of looking around, waving her hand. "But it's such a gorgeous day!"
"I'm exhausted, Al," I say, shrugging. "And I'm on again tonight."
"Just stay a while. Sunshine and socialization are good for you."
Jasper reaches around Alice, handing me a heavy to-go container. "On the house, bro."
I know better than to argue, so I accept it and step aside. "All right. I'll be in the spot."
She nods, turning her attention to the woman behind me. Admittedly, it's a nice day. It would be nice in my bed, too, but I haven't spent time with my sister in a while, so I go to our spot—a cushy, grassy area beneath small grouping of trees.
Someone shrieks with laughter. Biting into my cornbread, I spy a pair of girls on a blanket beneath another tree. They've got several bags of food with my sister's logo on them, and the brunette is laughing at something the redhead's saying. Smiling at their mirth, I tuck in to my own food, realizing how hungry I am.
Alice jogs over as I finish up, plopping down and enveloping me in a hug. "I'm so glad you finally came."
"Me too." My belly's full and I'm sleepier now than ever, tempted to just lie down here on the grass, but it feels good to be in the outdoors. "How'd you two do today?"
"Oh, we did great. This is one of my favorite venues. We have our regulars, but there are always new faces...and Edward, so many other types of vendors. One lady sells goat cheeses, and she had baby goats today! I totally bailed on Jasper during a slump so I could go play with them..."
I nod, listening, but my eyes are on the brunette again. She and her friend are getting up, collecting their things. Something about her feels so familiar, but it's probably my mind playing tricks on me. It wouldn't be the first time. I encounter so many people on a regular basis that sometimes their names and faces run together.
I focus guiltily back on Alice. "Sorry, thought I saw someone I knew."
She glances around, nodding. "Probably. This is still the place to be on Saturdays."
We grew up nearby, in Ansley Park. I have a lot of memories of hanging out around here, and I know Alice does, too.
"Well, I gotta help Jas clean up," she says, standing and brushing grass from her shorts. "You coming to Mom and Dad's for brunch tomorrow?"
I nod, getting to my feet. "For a bit."
"Good. Missed you last time."
"Talk to Dad."
She rolls her eyes, but she gets it. We grew up with a father who was on the same schedule I'm on now, so no one expects him to go easy on me. "You work too much."
"I know." I catch her in a hug. "Thanks for lunch."
I don't know how she does it, but this girl is always directing traffic when I'm trying to get to the hospital. When are they going to be done with this patch of road, for God's sake?
I'm wiped out. I worked last night, late, and I'm running behind again today, sending my usual impatience to epic heights. Clenching the steering wheel, I contemplate the last time I had a vacation.
The cars in front of me stop and go, stop and go. I follow, only to be stopped when the flagger flips that damn sign around again. STOP. Does she recognize my car or something? Overtired and under-caffeinated, I roll my window down, I stick my head out and yell, "Are you fucking serious?"
Her eyes widen, and the smug little grin slips from her face. Finally, finally, she looks as angry as I feel. And yeah, maybe I should feel bad, but I don't. This isn't a game. I have a job to do. An important job. Rolling my window back up, I gulp down the rest of my coffee. The sign flips and I proceed, just barely resisting the urge to slam on the gas.
After all, I save lives. I don't endanger them.
The hours bleed one into the next.
Toddler, anaphylaxis. Teenager, severe abdominal pain. Man, hand nearly sawn off. Car accident. An elderly woman with sepsis. One man walks in, his face the color of ash. Myocardial infarction. Frankly, it's amazing he got himself here.
Somehow, amidst the drama, there is time for me to shove down a sandwich.
I've just finished admitting a stroke victim when Bree herds me over to a young woman. She's hunched over, cradling her bloody arm while the older man beside her frets and paces, murmuring. I'm guessing it's her father.
"Patient's presenting with a laceration on her left arm," says Bree. "Possible fractures."
I glance over the info the young woman gave triage, nodding. "X-rays as soon as we're done here."
Bree nods, hurrying off to arrange for a portable unit.
I finally look at the patient's face. Well, shit. It's the flagger girl from the construction site. I freeze for a split second, but then my training kicks in. "Hi…" I sneak a peek at her wristband. "Bella. I'm Dr. Cullen. Tell me what happened."
Her eyes are glassy with tears and she's pale...I'm guessing more pallid than usual thanks to her injury. "I, um. I fell."
"We're working up the road," the man blurts, his face a deep red. Hard to tell if it's from stress or sun. Probably both. "On a construction site. There were a couple of stray tools left on the ground and she slipped. Fell right into the trench the men were building…"
I turn my attention back to Bella. "Can you move it?"
"No," she says thickly, chewing viciously on her lip. I suspect it's to keep from crying.
"You'll be okay, Bells," the man says, looking like he might cry himself.
"Are you her father?" I ask as Bree finishes dressing the wound.
"She'll be fine. We're going to run a few x-rays, so if you wouldn't mind sitting out in—"
"Of course." With a brisk nod, he pats Bella's good arm and disappears. She sniffles, squeezing her eyes shut as we work on it. It's a nasty laceration, but it could've been worse. Way worse.
"You will, you know," I murmur as Bree finishes up. "You'll be okay."
"Thank you, Dr. Cullen," she says shakily, glancing at my name tag. She's even prettier up close, with big, brown eyes and a generous sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose.
She doesn't recognize me. I'm tempted to let her go, but a sharp flash of guilt at this morning's behavior stabs at me. I clear my throat. "Bella."
Freezing, she looks up at me. Bree does too, frowning slightly.
"I apologize. For this morning."
She shakes her head, clearly confused. "This morning?"
I have to go. There are other patients, other emergencies. And yet, I force myself to maintain eye contact. "On the road. I drive the Tesla."
Understanding washes over her face as she studies mine. Her cheeks pinken, and she looks down. "Oh."
"I shouldn't have spoken to you that way," I continue. This couldn't be any more awkward if I tried.
The x-ray machine shows up. Bree rests her hand hesitantly on Bella's back. "Can I…?"
The moment dissipates. "Yes, of course." I step back into the chaos, leaving them behind.
Rain drizzles outside the window of my childhood bedroom, where Momma's making me stay for the next day or two. I'm a little fuzzy, thanks to my painkillers, but okay otherwise. Calm. Reaching with my good arm, I grab my phone.
Nine in the morning. Usually, by this time, I've been on the jobsite for hours. Or, if it's during the school year, I'm in class. I've always been an early riser. I won't be doing much today, though. Thanks to yesterday's excitement, I'm out of commission for a couple of days, and when I do go back it's going to be office work with Momma.
Even if my arm wasn't in a cast, Dad's too freaked out to let me do anything else. I guess I can't blame him, but...ugh. What a disaster. Mike, the safety freak, warned me daily to watch the trench, watch the paver, watch for freaking rogue drivers that might try and edge past—and then in a moment of distraction, I tripped over a damn concrete saw he'd left on the ground. For like, five seconds. Dad says I'm lucky I didn't slice a limb off.
Still, the whole thing was one giant clusterfuck—from the fall to the ensuing hysteria (my father of all people, who's been running road crews for decades, was beside himself) to the emergency room where who should treat me but Dr. Tesla.
Of course. Of course, he's a doctor. A hot af doctor more suited for medical dramas on TV than real life. His eyes? Gorgeous. His jawbone? Ridiculous. His apology?
Strong Bella would've given him a piece of her mind, but injured Bella was too freaked out. The adrenaline had left me drained and exhausted and on the brink of tears and when he said he was sorry I just kind of...dissolved.
Not that it matters. I'll never see him again. The one thing we had in common was the construction site, and I'm not allowed back there. Even if Dad got over himself, the guys think I'm bad luck.
Sighing, I roll over. I broke the same arm when I was nine, climbing a fence. Thankfully, it's the left. Shouldn't keep me from driving or taking notes in classes or whatever. It hurts a little, so I take another pain pill and drift back to sleep.
Two days off in a row, and it's a good thing because sleep deprivation is no joke. I spent yesterday in a sleep-stupor, waking only to use the bathroom and wolf down leftovers before falling back to bed.
Today, I feel more like myself again. I savor my time in the shower, grateful I don't have to rush through it. I lounge in the kitchen, sipping coffee as I mess around with my tablet and catch up on the news. And when I've finally done enough nothing, I check my phone. There's a voicemail from my mother, asking if I have dinner plans tonight, and a slew of texts from friends and colleagues. Two are from Heidi. She too wants to know what I'm doing for dinner.
I'm tempted to ignore her, but I respond that I'm busy and scroll to Alice's message.
2 saturdays off in a row! Coming to Piedmont Park today?
Leaning back, I scratch my belly and consider the possibility. The rain we've been having seems to have cleared up, and for once, I feel somewhat rested. I should take advantage and go outside, even if just for a while.
sure. see you in a bit.
Piedmont Park is always busy on Saturdays, but there's another festival today so it's packed. After paying for parking, I stroll toward the Green Market, dodging little kids with ice cream, couples with dogs, a man inexplicably in costume...until I spy Alice and Jasper's food truck. The line is long, but I have nowhere else to be.
Jasper sees me first. He nods, mouth quirked in a grin. "Hey, bro. Usual?"
Alice glances up. "Edward! You're early today!"
"I actually got some sleep yesterday, so..."
"Good." She casts a reproving look over me. "You've needed it."
I don't bother arguing, because she's right. I have needed it. Unfortunately, this is life for me. I love what I do, but this is the price I pay. "Any specials today?"
"You're actually straying from fried chicken?" she asks, raising her eyebrows. "Want to try a po'boy? Shrimp?"
"Sounds good." I hand her a ten, which she ignores.
"Just a second, 'kay? Jas is gonna box it up for you."
Running a hand through my hair, I step aside so the next person in line can order.
"Bella! My goodness, what happened to your arm?"
I look up from my phone, gaping in confusion as my sister and Bella the Flagger chat like long, lost friends. Her arm's in a cast, her hair's down and she's in a blue dress. A strappy, summery dress. "Bella?"
She stops in mid-sentence, fixing her eyes on me. "Dr. Tes-Cullen? What are…?"
Jasper leans out of the window. "Order's up, Edward."
I look from Bella, to Jasper, to Alice and back to Bella before taking the to-go container from Jasper. "Uh, thanks."
"You guys know each other?" Alice smiles curiously as her eyes dart between us.
I nod. "Kind of?"
The redhead with Bella steps forward, clearing her throat. "May we have two sweet teas and two shrimp po'boys, please?" She eyes me briefly as she pays Alice, and I can't help but wonder if Bella's told her about me.
Of course, she's told her. Women tell each other everything...which makes me wonder how well Bella knows my sister. Has she told her, too? Shit. I begin inching away.
"Don't go too far, Edward," Alice says, giving me a look.
"I'll be in our spot," I promise.
The redhead gives Bella a little shove. "I'll carry the food. You pick a place."
Bella looks at me, her cheeks going pink the same way they did back at the ED. Before I can say anything, her friend leads her away. I watch them go, finally wandering to my own spot in the grass. It's crowded today, but there's enough space to sit. Bella and her friend are nearby. They talk and eat, looking over at me from time to time.
Turning slightly, I tear into my meal. It's good, so good it puts me into a food coma afterward. I lie down on the grass, grateful for the shade and the breeze, closing my eyes to the din of music, voices and laughter. How come I'd never seen Bella before last week and now she's everywhere?
My eyes pop open. There she is, little blue dress fluttering in the breeze. I try in vain to keep my eyes from wandering down those long, tan legs. "We're not at the hospital anymore. Just call me Edward."
"I just wanted to thank you again for the other day," she says, tucking a curl behind her ear.
I sit up, brushing grass from my hair. "It's my job. I was glad to help."
"And to say that I accept your apology," she says, a determined look falling over her face. "Even though you made me feel like shit that morning."
Well, I probably deserve that. "I really am sorry. It wasn't my finest moment."
She stares down at me, nodding slowly. In the background, her friend Vicky's watching us.
"You haven't been back," I say. "To the work site."
"They won't let me back," she says, a small smile playing at her mouth.
"Oh. I'm so sorry."
"Don't be." She rolls her eyes. "It's not my career...no matter how much my dad probably wishes it was. I was just helping out to pass the time. Make some money. I'm going back to school in the fall."
How old is she? And why do I care? "Where do you go to school?"
"Georgia Tech. I'm working on a masters in urban planning."
Smart and pretty. I don't know why this makes me as uncomfortable as it does. Getting to my feet, I gaze down at her. "How's your arm?"
She shakes her head, looking nonplussed. "It's okay, I guess? I don't know. Doesn't throb as much anymore."
I slip my hands into my pockets. "You'll have to keep me updated."
Her eyes narrow. "And how will I do that?"
"You could give me your number."
She doesn't blush this time. The silence between us is even louder than the noise surrounding us. Something about Bella makes my mouth speak before my brain's had time to catch up, but I meant what I said. I like her. I like the way she looks, and I like that she called me out.
"I barely know you," she says.
"I know." I nod. "And I'm always working. I don't know when I'd actually have time to see you. But I'd like to."
She holds her hand out. "Give me your phone."
I do, and she quickly types something out before giving it back. "Thanks."
Now she blushes. "You're welcome."
I don't hear from Dr. Edward Tesla Cullen until Monday morning, when he messages me around nine. I'm at the office with Momma, and I fumble for the phone, heart skipping when I see the words beneath the unfamiliar number.
Hi, Bella. It's Edward. Looks like I'll have Thursday night off. Are you free?
Well, well. Guess he meant what he said. Smiling, I peck back a reply.
Sure. What do you have in mind?
Dinner. Do you like tacos?
You'd have my permission to never speak to me again if I didn't like tacos.
I text him my address and wait for him to continue, but he never does. Maybe there was an emergency.
At lunch, Vicki smirks over the top of her burger.
"What?" I ask, trying to stop smiling. It isn't working.
"Dr. Tesla's making moves, huh? Let's hope he keeps the outbursts to a minimum."
"Yeah, really." I shrug, dragging a french fry through ketchup. "He doesn't seem like a jerk up close, but I suppose time will tell."
"Be honest. You're only giving him a chance because he's hot."
She cackles, holding her hand up for a high five. I give it to her, but only after I've eaten my french fry. Life with one hand is trickier than it sounds.
Back at the office, I go back-and-forth on whether I should text him again. On one hand, he's probably the busiest person I know, and I don't want to bother him if he's in the middle of something important. Like, I don't know, fastening someone's finger back on. On the other hand, I want to get to know him...and I don't want to wait until Thursday night. I'm not usually such a dunce when it comes to dating, but Edward's different. He's a little older than me, although by how much I can't tell, and he's a doctor. He's so serious all the time. Not my usual type.
Eventually I suck it up and send a quick text.
Hey, I know you're probably busy and you don't have to respond anytime soon. Just wanted to let you know I'm excited about our date/getting to know you.
I press send before I can chicken out, and then spend the next hour cringing at how dorky my message was. Was I too eager? He did ask me, after all.
His reply is waiting for me when I get back from the bathroom.
I am busy. But please text me anytime and I'll always reply as soon as I can. I'm looking forward to getting to know you, too.
He caps it off with a :-) emoji.
That's a good sign.
Edward rings my doorbell at 6:01, blinding me with his gorgeousness when I open the door.
"Hey," I say, stepping out into the hall.
He's in dark jeans, a green T-shirt and really, really nice sneakers. Like vintage Nikes. I didn't expect that, although, come to think of it, he was dressed similarly at the park on Saturday. His hair's carefully combed but still a little messy, and it's cute. So cute.
He smiles slowly, giving me the once over. "Hey, Bella. You look nice."
"Thanks. You too."
We peek at each other on the way downstairs, trading nerdy little smiles. I needed to see him like this, like he's as into it as I am.
"Ah, the Tesla," I say as he opens my door for me. "Hello, old friend."
Chuckling, he slides in beside me. "I'm glad you're meeting under better circumstances this time."
"Me too." I run my hands over the leather console. "Fancy, huh?"
"It gets good mileage." He glances at me. "And it's better for the environment."
"Ah." I smirk.
"Why, what do you drive?" he asks, pulling out of the parking out.
"That big ol' red Chevy you were parked next to," I say, turning on the twang.
"Pretty big truck for a lil' thing like you," he says, meeting my twang with some of his own.
"I knew it!" I laugh, clapping my hands. "City boy, my ass."
He chuckles, eyes sparkling. "I am a city boy. Born and raised right around here. You?"
"The 'burbs," he says, nodding. "Not too far. Definitely more room for big ol' trucks, though."
Snorting, I nod. "Yeah. My daddy taught me to drive on his truck, so when I graduated high school he gave me one just like it."
"Your dad seems like a good guy," says Edward, changing lanes. Traffic's always heavy around this time, especially on weekdays.
"He's a softie," I say. "He's the best."
I pride myself on knowing the best spots in town, but this is the first time I've been to Holy Taco. Before long we're seated on the patio, sharing chips and salsa. I'm done with the painkillers, so I order a margarita.
But just one. I need to make a good impression, and I can't do that if I'm too tipsy.
Edward orders a beer. "I have work in the morning," he explains as I read the label: Tecate. "Otherwise I'd join you."
"You like margaritas?"
"You'd have my permission never speak to me again if I didn't like margaritas," he teases, clinking his bottle to my glass.
I swoon a little. He's not as ultra-serious as I'd assumed. "So, what do you do when you're not working?"
"Sleep," he says wryly. "Spend time with my family."
"They all live here?"
"Yeah. Alice...whom you've met...and Jasper came back after finishing college years ago, and my parents live over in Ansley Park."
"I can't believe Alice is your sister. Small world."
He nods, taking a chip.
"And Ansley Park, huh? Is that where you grew up?" I ask.
He nods again.
I hide a smile. "So, a rich city boy."
"Doesn't your father own his own construction business? I've seen the billboards, Bella."
Surprised, I put my drink down. "Well, yeah."
He raises an eyebrow, sort of like...checkmate.
The server brings our tacos, and for a while we just eat. He's easy to be around, easy to talk to, which I didn't expect. After all, our first few meetings were rather fraught with tension.
"You know, you never did tell me why you were so mad that day." We're walking back to his car now, and I'm a little loosened up by tequila and a couple hours' worth of chitchat. "Was it just because you had to wait?"
"I was extremely sleep deprived. And late," he says, running his hand through his hair. "Again. And that's just not acceptable for someone who does what I do. Also…" He pauses, eyeing me as he opens the door. "I was getting the impression you were messing with me."
I bite my lip sheepishly. "Not completely. I had to wait for Mike to give me the go-ahead from the other side before letting my side go."
"I get that. But you looked awful smug about it."
"I kinda was. Sorry," I say. And I am.
"So am I."
"I know you are. You've already apologized," I say. "At least twice."
"Someone's in a good mood," teases Tanya, catching up to me by the vending machine.
"Am I?" I drain my bottle of water while I have the chance. The ED's been slower than usual this morning, but things change in the blink of an eye around here.
"You've had a smile on your face every time I see you."
"I got a good night's sleep," I hedge.
"Say no more. I know exactly how that goes," she says, eyes wide. "Makes you feel like a new person."
"It does. How've you been lately?"
"I'm okay. Trying to make it to the end of the month. Alec and I are taking the kids to Hawaii."
"Hey, that's great," I say, patting her arm. Tanya works almost as much as I do and with a family. I don't know how she does it.
Bree catches up to me in the hallway. "Mrs. Ellison's here again."
"She okay?" I ask, quickening my steps. Mrs. Ellison's one of our regulars. She suffers from dementia and has a host of other physical issues.
"Says it hurts to breathe."
By the time I get off work, the sun's starting to go down. I'm tired, but there's a lightness in my steps that usually isn't there. I take my phone out to text Bella, only to find she's already messaged me. Four hours ago.
hey. had a lot of fun last night. thx for dinner. ;)
Me too. What are you up to?
hanging out at Vicky's. are you at work?
Just got off. Heading home now.
do you work tomorrow?
Yes, but I'm off Monday night.
A beat passes, and then:
Can I ask you something?
Resisting the rather juvenile urge to tell her she just did, I reply.
You have a crazy, hectic schedule. Where do you see this going?
I'm surprised at her candidness, but maybe I shouldn't be. It's consistent with what I've experienced of Bella so far.
I do have a hectic schedule. But I like spending time with you.
When she doesn't respond after moment, I go on.
Where do you see it going?
Idk, but I really like spending time with you, too.
I decide to invite Bella over so I can make her dinner. Maybe it's a bold move, but I'm tired and I don't feel like dealing with crowds or traffic.
Besides, there's something appealing about spending quiet one-on-one with the girl I've been texting all week. I feel like I'm getting to know her in little bits and pieces, jokes she tells and questions she asks, but there's no substitute for the real thing.
"Dinner?" she'd said when I'd called to ask. "At your place?"
"Is that okay?"
"Of course, it's okay. What can I bring?"
"I knew you'd say that." There was a husky chuckle from her end of the line. "My momma didn't raise me like that, though. I'll bring something."
So, I'm not surprised when my doorbell rings and it's Bella, with two bottles of wine shoved into a purse. "I didn't know if you liked red or white better," she says by way of a greeting. "I would've brought stuff to make margaritas, but I didn't know what you were cooking, so…"
She's nervous. It's cute. Suppressing a laugh, I take her purse and lean in to kiss her cheek. It's spontaneous, probably surprising the both of us. "Hey, Bella."
"Hey," she says, smiling shyly up at me.
"I told you to call when you got here...I would've walked you up."
"My arm's broken, not my legs."
"Well, come on in." I shut the door behind her. "I'm making chicken marsala."
"Really?" she says. "I'm impressed."
"Don't be. It's pretty much the only thing I know how to make."
She snickers, following me into the kitchen. "This place is incredible. I've seen the building in passing, but...wow."
I nod, opening the bottle of red. "I've been here a little over two years, now. My dad thought I should buy something closer to the hospital, but I didn't really want to be in Buckhead."
"Do you get along with him?" she asks, accepting the glass I give her.
"I do. And there are few men I respect more."
"I bet he loves that you're following in his footsteps," she says.
"Yes and no. He's proud of me, and he likes that we work at the same hospital now, but it's a demanding life. His schedule kept him from being home a lot when we were kids. He worries it will be the same for me." I shrug.
"Hmm," says Bella, sipping her wine.
Smiling at her tact, I turn to the stove and give dinner a stir. "And you? I remember you saying your father would've loved for you to join him in the family business."
"Come on, Edward," she says, suddenly right beside me. She's in jeans tonight, and a soft looking shirt that keeps slipping off one shoulder. "I think we all know what a disaster that would be. He finally gets that."
"Working on your masters isn't too shabby."
"Yeah, he's excited about that for sure. He didn't finish college, so…"
I offer her a spoon so she can try the sauce.
Instead of taking it, she opens her mouth, allowing me to guide it in. Shit. She'd joked about this being a Netflix and chill type set-up before, but now that she's here I'm starting to feel like it could be.
This is your second date. You've known her for less than a month. Don't be that guy. Don't be—
"Mm," she moans. "That is so good."
Maybe a date out would've been smarter.
But dinner goes off without a hitch, and before long we're on the couch, working our way through the second bottle of wine.
"Why don't you have a girlfriend, Edward? Is it because you're married to your job?" she teases.
"Something like that."
She eyes me speculatively. "There's really no one?"
I consider Heidi, and some of the women I've dated. There haven't been many, but I'm not celibate. "No one serious, no."
She nods, setting her glass down.
"What about you?" I ask.
"The same, I guess. School takes up a lot of my time during the year."
We look at each other, and she smiles a little. I wonder what it is with Bella, why being with her feels effortless. She's easy to talk to, even though in many ways we're different as night and day. She works out because she feels she should. I work out because I love it. She loves the beach. I love the mountains. She loves the Falcons. I prefer watching Atlanta United FC.
"I have season tickets, if you ever want to go," I offer.
"When do you ever have time to go?" She pokes my leg, eyes glinting with mischief.
"I make time for the things that matter to me." I cock my head, watching her. "I'd make time for you."
She knows what I'm saying because she smiles, looking down. "I'd like that."
"Yeah? I like you."
"Is there where you offer to put on Netflix?" she asks, biting her lip.
"Only if you want to." I laugh, hard, because she was right earlier and we both know it.
She giggles. We're sitting close, because it's been impossible for me to stay away from her, and now I lean closer, pushing her hair over her shoulder. The shoulder I've been looking at all night.
"We don't need Netflix to chill," she jokes, shivering as I touch that shoulder, dragging my fingers lightly over her soft skin.
"I meant what I said." I kiss her shoulder. "I like you. A lot."
"I like you too," she breathes. "A lot."
"I wasn't going to do this...tell me to stop." I kiss her neck.
"You don't have to stop," she says, snuggling closer.
"No?" I kiss her cheek.
"Don't stop." She catches my face, bringing it to hers. We kiss, slowly. "Just go."
hope your days have been merry & bright! I'm going to post a part two to this...soon. soonish.