SM wrote Twilight. These characters were originally hers. I just borrowed them and brought them to Atlanta.
"So, when are you seeing him again?"
I squint against the sun. We're hiking our way back down Stone Mountain, gossiping and catching up. "Tomorrow. We're having lunch at the Four Seasons."
"Park 75?" Vicky waggles her eyebrows, tapping her water bottle to mine. "Doctor Tesla keeps it classy."
"Yes, he does." Very classy. Even when I'd practically offered myself on a silver platter.
"Tell me to stop." His lips whispered across the delicate skin of my neck, dropping kisses between words.
I melted into him. "You don't have to stop."
"No?" He passed my lips and kissed my cheek. What a tease.
"Don't stop," I said, catching his chin and bringing his mouth to mine. I kissed him slowly, just barely grazing my tongue against the seam of his lips, thrilled when his fingers tightened on my hip. "Just go."
He didn't need any more encouragement. Sliding his hands into my hair, he kissed me until I could barely breathe, and then he kissed me some more. Edward was, unsurprisingly, a great kisser. I followed him when he broke away, pressing kisses to his flushed throat.
"Bella, wait," he said, panting and belabored. "Hold on."
Warm with wine and kissing, I flopped back into his buttery soft couch. "Sorry."
A crooked smile crept over his face. "Don't be."
I smiled, too. "You're a gentleman. I like it."
He smirked, putting a pillow on his lap. "I don't know about that, but…I'm trying."
"How much longer is that cast gonna be on your arm?" asks Vicky, butting in to my memories. "You're not going to have it when we go tubing, are you?"
"About three more weeks, so no. Thank God."
"Feels like it's been forever."
"It has been." It's only been about three weeks, so I suppose I'm halfway through, but it feels like it's been an eternity. Having to baby my arm and keep it dry makes regular tasks, like showering and grocery shopping, pains in the ass.
Plus, school starts soon. I write with my right hand, so that's not an issue. Every day logistics, though…that's where things get tricky.
We cross the parking lot, dodging a line of camp kids pouring off a tour bus. "Where are you headed now?" I ask.
"The store. I gotta get stuff for dinner."
"Cool." Pausing, I dig through my pocket for my keys. "Call me later."
We leave Stone Mountain and return to Highway 78, where I promptly lose Vicky. I'm no Grandma, but that girl has a lead foot and her car disappears in seconds. I make my way to Decatur and then over to Buckhead, where I share an apartment with a friend from the undergrad days. Tia's not home when I come through the door, but then she rarely is—she's a flight attendant for Delta.
Slathering an apple with almond butter, I grab a seat at the counter and check my messages. A couple came through while I was out hiking with Vicky, and my heart skips a beat when I see one's from Edward. Wiping my hands, I click it.
I have to work tomorrow, so no lunch, but I have tonight off, unexpectedly. Are you busy later?
Then there's another one, sent minutes after.
I know it's short notice.
Smiling to myself, I reply. I can be spontaneous. Did you have something in mind?
I was going to make chili anyway. Come over.
Sold. What time?
6:30. Do you like garlic bread?
You'd have my permission never to speak to me again if I didn't like garlic bread.
Thursday, late afternoon
"…but we can probably get a reservation or something, you know?" Heidi pauses, cocking her head. "Edward?"
I blink at her.
She scowls. "Are you even listening to me?"
No, I'm not listening. We're in the middle of Trader Joe's for fuck's sake, where she somehow managed to find me between a display of cauliflower pizza crusts and a table sampling cheese. I haven't seen or even spoken to her in over a month. "Sorry, Heidi. It's been a long day." It hasn't, but I don't know what else to say.
"You know what? Forget it," she says, flipping her hair. "You've always been flaky, but lately it's unbearable. I've had enough." Turning on her heel, she storms off through the crowd.
I block her number on the way to the cash register.
"Getting the good stuff," says the cashier, eyebrow raised as he brandishes my bottle of Beaujolais. It's my favorite, and I want Bella to try it. "Special occasion?"
"You could say that."
Nodding in approval, he wraps it and places it carefully into the bag with two other bottles of wine.
The sun's setting as I head down Peachtree. Several skyscrapers reflect the bright orange sky, shimmering like mirages as I pass. Bella lives in Buckhead, in an older apartment building tucked way off the main roads. The parking lot is filled with mature trees. There aren't numbered spaces, so I park beside Bella's truck, figuring I can move if I'm in someone's spot.
I smell chili before Bella even opens the door.
"Hey, Edward," she says, standing aside to let me in. "You're right on time…I just turned the stove off." She's in a loose pink tank top and a short blue skirt. Barefoot. Beautiful.
I wait until she's shut the door and then I kiss one of her flushed cheeks. "Smells fantastic."
"It does, doesn't it?" She grins up at me.
I follow her through a cozy, warmly lit living room and into the kitchen, where I empty the bag on to the counter. "Chili sounded like red, so I brought a few different kinds."
"Sounds good," she says, glancing over her shoulder at me. Her hair's up in a knot at the top of her head, leaving her bangs to frame her face. I like it. "Let's try it."
Wanting to make a good impression, I pour each of us a glass of Beaujolais first. I slide Bella's across the counter, brushing her fingertips with mine. Her eyes dart to mine, and she smiles, taking a sip. "Oh, that's…that's delicious."
"Glad you approve. It pairs well with almost everything," I say, taking a deep draw of my own. "How's the arm?"
"Better, I guess." She shrugs, setting her glass down. "It doesn't hurt at all anymore. Ever. I wish they'd just take this damn thing off already." She shoots an accusing glare my way.
"Hey, I'm in emergency," he says with a chuckle, hands up in defense. "I just taped you up and sent you on your way."
"Yeah, yeah." She smirks, turning to the oven when it starts beeping.
I slide from my bar stool. "Need a hand?"
"A hand? Are you being punny right now?" she asks, fiddling with a pan of garlic bread.
"Not intentionally." Joining her at the counter, I take her broken arm in my hands. "But do you know how many people come into the ED because of accidents they have in the kitchen?"
"Every time you call it the ED, I think of erectile dysfunction," she says, turning to me with a glint of mischief in her eye.
Smirking, I let go of her arm and hold her hand instead. It'll be nice once it's off—I know she's tired of it.
"Yes, you can give me a hand," she promises, poking my belly. "You can stick the garlic bread in the oven for me, how's that?"
Once the bread is situated and we've refilled on wine, Bella gives me a tour of the apartment. It's simple and small, much like the place I lived in during my residency at the hospital, but cozy. Filled with art, plants, books and music. She's got a great eye for design…and a large balcony, surprisingly private.
"Wow." I walk over to the rail, admiring the lush foliage surrounding us. It's like being in the trees. "This is nice."
"This deck is my favorite thing about this apartment," she admits, perching on the couch. There's a coffee table, and plants everywhere. "I spend a lot of time out here."
"I bet." I can imagine her out here, surrounded by books, scribbling notes with a pencil in her hair. "Especially when the weather's nice."
"It's a little muggy now," she says, fanning herself. "But come autumn, I'll be out here every day."
I sit beside her. "When's school starting for you, again?"
I glance at my watch. "Just about two weeks from now."
"Actually…" She sits up straight, hands on her thighs. "There's something I wanted to ask you."
She's blushing again. I grin, wondering what's got her so flustered. "What?"
"Every year, toward the end of summer, we go tubing up in Helen. We stay for a couple days, swim all day." She pauses, smiling a little. "Would you want to come this year? Would you be able to?"
Whatever I thought she was going to ask, it wasn't that. I'm so surprised that I don't know what to say. "I haven't gone tubing in years."
"I love it."
"I used to, too." I nod, thinking about what the next few weeks will look like at the hospital. "When exactly are you heading up?"
Excited, she scoots closer, her hand on my thigh now. "The weekend after my classes start—we're leaving on the Friday and coming back Sunday."
Frankly, I'd love to do something like that with Bella. But I don't want to disappoint her. "I don't know what my schedule looks like yet. But I'll see what I can do."
"Really?" Her eyes sparkle, and a huge smile slides onto her face. "It would be so great to have you."
"We can celebrate your cast coming off," I say, following her back inside, where the timer is beeping frantically again.
"I didn't think you'd be into it," she admits, swinging open the oven door.
"Why not?" Donning an oven mitt, I move Bella aside, retrieve the garlic bread from the oven, and set it on the counter. "I love the outdoors."
"I know, but you're a busy guy. I know how precious your free time is."
"That's true, but I make time for things I like. Remember?"
"I remember." Bella tosses a bag of salad at me, her cheeks pink. "Here. Make yourself useful, Doc."
2 weeks later
Yawning, I reach up to my lamp and turn it off. It's late, nearly midnight, but my book was too juicy to put down. I'll regret it in the morning—it's the first day of school and I have an 8:00 am class.
Snuggling down deep beneath the covers, I think about Edward. It's been a week since we hung out, though we touch bases almost daily. Usually it's texting, but he calls me sometimes, like when he's driving to or from work. It's nice, having someone to check in with…someone who deems me important enough to check in with.
"The road crew is gone," he'd said, the last time we spoke. "They're further down now, so I don't run into them anymore."
"Do you miss them?" I'd teased.
"You were the one good thing about that road crew, Bella."
It's been hectic at the hospital. According to Edward, one of their doctors is having emergency surgery himself and is out of commission for God knows how long, so Edward's been pulling doubles. I know it's his job, his chosen profession, but I can't help but be concerned. Even if it is noble.
And then, of course, there's the totally selfish part of me that just wants to spend time with him. I got spoiled, being able to see him on somewhat of a regular basis before, and now I miss that.
Ugh. Mooning around, waiting on a guy, has never been my style. It's good I'll be back at Georgia Tech tomorrow. I miss the schedule, the routine…grabbing coffee from my favorite spots around campus and diving into the day's work, busy and inspired.
But deep down, I suspect Edward's not just any guy. Reaching for my phone in the dark, I scroll to my last chat with Edward, a few hours ago. Communication's been a little more stilted today than usual, but I get it. I can't expect him to carry on a conversation with someone when he's dealing with literal life and death situations.
How did your mom deal with it?
She's always been practical. And really independent. She was more worried about Alice and me.
Has your dad pulled back now that he's older?
Yes. His role's evolved as he's approached retirement. He's been training people to take his place for years.
People like you?
And that's the rub, isn't it? No matter how much Edward and I like each other, relationships need some sort of time invested in order to thrive. If we're having a tough time seeing each other now, what's it going to be like when things get serious? I'm not sleeping with him yet, but it'll happen eventually…and when it does, my feelings for him are probably going to intensify.
My stomach clenches in the dark. It's a giddy feeling, though, not one of dread. Ridiculous. Even in the face of possible pain, my body betrays me with its fondness for the doctor.
"Hey, Alice," I say, waving. Normally I stick to the 'hood around Georgia Tech for lunch, but I've missed my favorite food truck.
"Bella! How's it going?" she says, grinning. The tiny gem in her nose glitters.
"New nose ring?"
"You like?" She touches it gently, grinning.
"Very, very cute."
"You should get one! I can totally see you rockin' this…"
Jasper pokes his head over his wife's shoulder, giving me a smile. "Excuse me, ladies, but if I could just get that order started…"
"Of course!" I share a smile with Alice, before glancing at the menu board. There are several staples I'm well acquainted with, but the specials change all the time. "Sweet potato hash with fried green tomatoes and cheesy grits on the side."
"Good choice," Al mutters, nodding as she jots down the order. "Had that yesterday."
"You've had that for the past week," laughs Jasper, ducking as Alice reaches back to swat at him. They're always like this, and as much as I'd love to gag, I can't. They seem like the real deal, and it's adorable.
Paying for my food, I step aside. It's quiet today. There's a bland, colorless sky overhead, trees restless with the fitful wind. "We're supposed to have rain later on."
"I hope so," says Alice, leaning out the window again. "And I hope it's when we've gone home. I love curling up on rainy nights."
Jasper hands me my order, winking when I thank him.
"Hey, Bella," begins Alice.
I grab a few napkins. Just by her tone, I have a feeling I know what she's going to say. "Yeah?"
"You see Edward lately?"
I can't hide the smile that pops up on my face, and before I can even answer, she smacks the little countertop between us. "I knew it! I knew. Didn't I, hon?" she asks, reaching back and hitting Jasper.
"Actually," I say loudly, laughing, "it's funny you ask, because I haven't seen him in about a week. How's he doing?" Who knows? Alice might have insight.
"Now that you mention it, yeah…it's been a while. He tries to visit when he's not working…or come to brunch at our parents'." She smiles a little sadly. "I hear it's been nuts at Piedmont, though."
"That's what I hear. Hopefully it lightens up a little."
"No kidding—half the time, Edward doesn't even have time to eat."
I glance at my phone—I have about an hour before I have to get back to campus. "Jasper, let me get another one of these sweet potato deals to go. Please."
The parking lot at Piedmont Hospital is, predictably, crowded. Finally pulling into a space, I grab the food and hustle out of the truck. Thanks to traffic, I don't have as much time as I thought I did, but I'm invested in this now. Even if Edward's too busy to come out, he'll like that I thought of him. Hopefully. I don't even know if he likes sweet potatoes.
Rain mists down as I escape to the cool, quiet front lobby of the hospital. Edward works in the ER…ED…whatever…but somehow wandering in there with food seems inappropriate. Or unsanitary. Where does he eat, anyway? A break room, probably.
"Can I help you?" the nurse behind the counter asks, smiling politely at me.
"Hi. I brought lunch for one of the doctors here…"
She brightens, reaching for the phone at her side. "Ah, Uber Eats?"
"No, just me. It's for Dr. Cullen in the emergency room?" I shift, scratching my arm. "Is he available, or…?"
Her eyes flicker almost imperceptibly over me. She blinks, smiling a little. "Let me check."
Not wanting to be too intense, I step back while she makes the call, trying to ignore the soft rise and fall of her voice. A moment later, she clears her throat. "Ma'am?"
"He's not available at the moment, but you're welcome to either have a seat and wait for him here or go to the ED and leave the food with the receptionist there."
"Oh," I say, swallowing my disappointment. "I'll just drop it off over there, then. Thank you."
"My pleasure," she says, turning her attention to something on her desk.
Well, it was worth the try. Following the signs, I make my way over to Emergency. There are a lot of people, some looking way worse than others, but no gore, thankfully. Edward's a saint—I could never do what he does. Blood makes me want to pass out.
And then I see him, talking to another doctor—another lovely, TV-grade doctor with long, lush strawberry blonde hair and an amazing body. I mean, even with her scrubs and coat she's Sports Illustrated material. She looks devastated, and as I watch, he takes her into his arms and holds her as she weeps. They walk back down the hall, disappearing from view.
My heart sinks. I don't know what's going on, but it's painful to watch. Edward doesn't seem the type to have a side chick (who would the side chick be? Me? Her?), but there are obviously things about his life I know nothing about. Suddenly, I feel silly, standing in the waiting area of the emergency room, with a bag of cold food. I deliver Edward's bag of food to the receptionist, explaining who it's for, and leave.
Outside, it's graduated to sprinkling. A homeless man near the hospital's parking lot offers his hand for spare change. I give him my food, instead. I feel deflated, and my appetite is gone.
"God bless you," the man says, tucking the bag close to his chest.
I wait to hear from Edward, but he doesn't text until night time.
Thanks for lunch. Meant a lot.
No problem :)
I stare at the phone, wondering if he'll say anything else, but he never does. Days go by. Is he seeing Dr. Hot Stuff? Is he just too busy? Because this kind of feels like he's ghosting me.
Maybe he is.
Bella's phone goes to voicemail. Sighing, I hang up without leaving a message. I'll just text, instead.
Hoping this relationship, if that's even what it is, isn't going down the road of so many other of my failed attempts at romance, I send the message.
Sorry I've been M.I.A. Things have been rough lately.
I glance at the time stamp of Bella's last text. It was days ago. This wouldn't be the first time a lack of communication on my part, or my inability to follow through on dates and holidays and special events, fucked up a good thing. It's not that I feel guilty—I don't. This is my job. But I know what it's like for the people around me.
Bella doesn't respond, and I don't really expect her to. Her classes start this week, I think, and she's been working fulltime at her parents' office in Snellville. She's busy, too.
My phone vibrates. I snatch it from my pocket hoping it's her, but it's just my sister, sending a link from NPR. She and Jasper are at Sunday brunch with my parents, but I couldn't take the day off. Dr. Kapoor's still out of commission and Tanya's in Tennessee with her father, who just had a massive stroke. They don't expect him to live too much longer, so this is really just goodbye. I don't know how much time she needs, but she has it. We'll figure things out here. We always do.
Hours later, and no reply from Bella. The skater kid I'm working on keeps his phone in his free hand, scrolling nonstop through Instagram as I stitch his other arm back together. Later, when I'm alone, I check my own Instagram account. I rarely use it, but maybe Bella does. I find her page with ease, realizing she's already following me. I follow back, looking through her recent pictures.
There aren't that many, but there is one from yesterday. I smile at the image of her feet propped on that coffee table on her deck, a book in her lap. Coffee cup on the table.
I text again.
How's the arm?
By the time she responds, I'm pulling into my parking garage.
We're in Helen, tubing. Cast is off :)
Helen, that's right. With a sinking feeling, I remember Bella inviting me…I'd said I'd try. But then things got crazy at the hospital. Some weeks are like that—a blur of faces and diagnoses and x-rays. Trauma, hysteria. Bravery, calm. By the time I emerge from weeks like that my brain feels like mush. My body wants sleep, and then food, usually in that order. Sex is nice, but there's isn't always time for that.
Sorry I couldn't make it. I should've let you know.
She doesn't respond.
My phone rings.
"Edward. Still at work?"
"Just left." Sliding out of the car, I grab my bag and a folder of paperwork from the backseat.
"How was it today? Kebi tells me it's been a little hectic."
Kebi Mahmoud is our ED's nursing director. We both report to directly to my father.
"Yeah, it's been busy. I just got home."
"Good, good. Maybe you can get some rest."
"After I hit up the gym." I wave to the doorman, a new guy who just started. "It's been a couple days, and I need to decompress."
"Listen, son," he says, switching gears. "Dr. Kapoor's coming back tomorrow. He'll be taking it easy over the next few weeks, probably just assisting and helping with paperwork, but it'll get things back on track."
The boulder of stress that's been weighing my heart lifts a little. "That's great."
My father pauses. "When was the last time you took a vacation?"
The elevator doors close. I press the number five. "Not sure."
He disapproves, I know, but he won't say anything. Sometimes he does, but not today.
After all, I'm doing what he did…for decades.
Monday, late morning
Yawning, I sit in the break room with a couple of forms I need to finish up.
Dr. Kapoor's back, thank God. He's not at full capacity, but he's been more than helpful assisting. Besides the accidental overdose earlier—she survived and is resting—it's been a quiet morning.
But I'm tired. Really tired. There's only so much coffee someone can drink before it just doesn't help anymore. I wonder how Tanya's doing, if her father's still holding on. I send her a text, letting her know we're thinking about her back here at Piedmont.
I've just made myself a cup of tea when Bree comes in. "Dr. Cullen?"
I'm already on my feet, tucking my pen into my pocket. "What is it?"
She nods toward the hallway. "It's Mrs. Ellison…she's coughing."
Hiding a smile, I follow her out of the breakroom. Mrs. Ellison, who has dementia, has been visiting us with complaints of chest pains and trouble breathing for years. She's one of a few regulars. Sometimes their concerns are valid, other times they're hypochondriacs, but we always serve them with respect and send them on their way.
But something's different today. Not only has Mrs. Ellison been brought right to triage, there's a bluish tinge to her lips. And she is coughing. Violently. "Doc?" she wheezes.
"It's me, Mrs. Ellison. What's going on today?"
She shakes her head, coughing again. I glance up at Bree, whose face mirrors my concern. "Do you want me to…" she begins.
"Just a second." Lifting the stethoscope from my neck, I lean closer the elderly woman. "Mrs. Ellison, I'm going to go ahead and take a listen, all right?"
She nods, her eyes finally focusing a bit as I press the bell to her chest. Unfortunately, I'm unsurprised by the bubbling and crackling I hear coming from her lungs. "Bree."
"Yes, Dr. Cullen."
"Arrange for chest x-rays."
"On it," she says, already flying across the room.
"So, you've been coughing a lot?" I ask, gently resting my hand on her shoulder. "Feeling tired?"
"Oh, yes. Every night. That's why I'm tired, Doc." She coughs now, her body shuddering. "Coughing keeps me up."
"I don't know, dear. Two weeks? Maybe."
Fatigue like this happens during bad colds, bronchitis, pneumonia…anything that prevents the lungs from getting sufficient oxygen to the blood. Still, we won't know anything conclusively until we x-ray Mrs. Ellison's chest and run a few tests.
Bree returns with the x-ray cart. I arrange for additional tests and leave Mrs. Ellison with Bree and several other nurses.
Things pick up then, and while the ED never reaches the frantic pace it can, I'm too busy to check on Mrs. Ellison until the end of my shift.
But I do check on her, against my better judgment. Caring too much can be a slippery slope…emotional detachment is what keeps most of us moving. Still, Mrs. Ellison's special. She's in a private room now, where Kebi had her moved upon consulting with a hospitalist.
She's resting when I arrive, two nurses working quietly beside her. I consult her charts. The results of her CT scans conclude what we already knew and then some—she has viral pneumonia that has turned bacterial. At her age, this could be bad…especially considering how long she's likely had it—coughing for one or two weeks—and how severe it's becoming.
"How is she?" I ask quietly, glancing up at one of the nurses. I'm not familiar with her, but her tag reads Michelle.
"Coughing, mild confusion. She's been asleep for about an hour."
I nod, glancing at the IVs hooked up to Mrs. Ellison's arms—antibiotics and fluids to keep her hydrated. Pain medication to alleviate the stress of her cough.
She looks peaceful.
There's a knock on my office door. I'm here, but I'm not officially here—not yet, anyway. I have enough paperwork to last me to Christmas, and as great as Dr. Kapoor has been, I'm falling behind every day.
"Come in." Leaning back in my chair, I rub my eyes.
Bree walks in, stopping just in front of the desk. She looks tired, too.
"I didn't realize you were on today," I say.
She bites her top lip, a nervous habit she has. "Mrs. Ellison passed early this morning. Just thought you should know."
People die every day. I see it all the time.
Bree nods, looking at the floor. "I, ah, have a patient."
I stare at the door long after she's closed it. Sometimes, I wonder if it's all worth it. What am I working toward? As doctors we pretend life and death are in our hands, but that's bullshit. It doesn't matter how hard we try, how many doubles we pull, when it's a person's time to go…it's their time.
And yet I'm not prepared for the wave of grief that crashes over me.
I'm on autopilot for the rest of the day. I'm not even thinking about Mrs. Ellison, not always. Sometimes I'm not thinking about anything. I feel disconnected from myself. Disassociated.
I blink, turning to meet the voice. It's Kebi Mahmoud, the nursing director.
"Is everything all right?" she asks hesitantly, looking over me.
"I'm just a little worn out."
"A little?" She gives me a brisk once over. "Maybe you should go home. Early."
I shake my head with a humorless laugh. "Not an option."
"It's always an option," she says, frowning. "You're burnt out. Go."
Irritation bubbles up within me. I can do my fucking job. "I—"
"Mrs. Ellison will be missed, Edward," she says, her dark eyes softening. "But we have other patients, patients that deserve a well-rested doctor."
I can't argue with her. Kebi's a hardass, and while she can't actually tell me what to do, as we're both directors, she can certainly call my father if she feels I'm not fit to work. Grinding my jaw, I give a brisk nod. "Good night, then."
She nods, relieved. "Dr. Denali will be back soon. Things will get better…"
I collect my things and head out, not bothering to say goodbye to anyone. I haven't been this tired in a long time, and it isn't just physical exhaustion. It's something else, something deeper, like I could sleep for a year and still only touch the surface.
At home, after a beer and leftovers, my father calls.
"Edward." His tone tells me all I need to know.
Exhaling, I run my fingers through my hair and sink into the couch. "Let me guess. You spoke with Kebi."
"I did. She's concerned about you."
"Yeah, well. We all knew what we were signing up for."
"Yes, we did," he agrees. "But that does not negate the fact that you are overworked and overtired. Kebi feels it could become unsafe."
I stay silent. This man is my father, but he's also my boss.
"Did you know, that in the past three years, you haven't taken a break for more than three days?"
"Good. Dr. Denali returns tomorrow," he continues. "And we're bringing Dr. Cope from Internal Medicine in as a locum. I'm putting you on a mandatory two-week leave so you can get it together."
"Now, as your father, I suggest you go to bed."
The text comes around five. I'm between homework for one class and a paper for another.
Are you home?
My stomach flips. Yes.
I wait for a response, and I get one—a knock at the door two minutes later. Glancing at myself in the mirror, I loosen my ponytail and give my hair a shake.
"Hey," I say, folding my arms as I lean in the doorway. "Stranger."
Edward smiles a little, lowering his eyes. I'd almost forgotten how pretty they were. "I suppose I deserve that."
"Come in." He follows me inside. The apartment's messy, but that's par for the course when I'm in school. Besides, I wasn't expecting guests. "How've you been?"
"First things first—let me see your arm."
Rolling my eyes playfully, I present my newly mended appendage. "Good as new."
"Excellent," he murmurs, running his thumbs over the sometimes-still-sensitive skin.
Goosebumps pop up, and I gently pull away, walking deeper into the living room. "Everything's just fine, Dr. Tesla."
"Did you get the night off or something?" I interrupt, weirdly antsy. Edward and I were starting to feel close before, but now it's been long enough that I have no idea where we stand.
"I'm on leave."
Something in his voice catches me. I whirl around, staring at him. "What? Why?"
"It's kind of a mandatory vacation."
Confused, I shake my head. "Did something happen?"
"Yes and no." Slipping his hands into his pockets, he wanders over to the sliding glass doors. "A long-time patient passed away, and it was…"
I wait for him to go on, but he never does. "I'm sorry, Edward."
He turns, clear, green eyes finding mine. There's a gravity in them I haven't seen before. I know his job demands a lot of him, but he seems different today. Maybe he's here to tell me it's not going to work out. He's classy enough that he'd do it in person.
"I'm heading up to a cabin in Blue Ridge," he says. "Will you come?"
"Oh!" That was so not was I expected him to say. "Like right now? For how long?"
"Sometime tomorrow," he says. "I'll have it for a week."
"A week! Wow." I nod, careening off into rambling mode. "I mean, that's good. I can't think of anyone who probably needs a break more than you. You have the schedule of like, three people…"
"You're procrastinating," he teases, cocking his head.
My face goes hot at the thought of spending time with Dr. Tesla in a secluded cabin. North Georgia's gorgeous at this time of year, too. "I'd, uh, love to but…"
"Okay…I have to know. Who's the blonde?"
He frowns. "The blonde? Heidi?"
"Is that her name? The doctor?" I squash the urge to chew my thumbnail. "I wasn't sure if you guys had a thing."
"The only blonde, female doctor I really know is Dr. Denali. Tanya." He shakes his head. "She's married and has two kids. Why would you think we had a thing?"
"I…saw you guys the day I dropped your food off." I force myself to look him in the eye. Edward's not that much older than me, but I feel pretty young right about now. "I don't know. We hadn't talked in a while."
"Ah." Realization washes over his face. "Her father had just had a stroke."
Suddenly I see the scene through a different lens. "Oh. Well, then who's Heidi?"
"A woman I used date."
I nod. Not much I can do about that.
"You sure you want to come with me?" He comes closer, until he's standing right in front of me. "I know I haven't been very communicative lately. I don't want you to feel weird about it." He touches my hair, making me go all fluttery inside. Come on, girl. This is not your first rodeo.
"No, I'm sure." I give him a small smile. "I kinda miss hanging out with you."
"I miss it, too." He shrugs. "And it sounds like we have a lot of stuff to talk about, if you think I'm having an affair with my co-worker."
"Oh, shut up. How was I supposed to know?" I laugh, smacking his chest.
He grins, grabbing my hand. "My fault, totally. But I promise I'll make it up to you."
I ignore the tingles I feel at the thought of him doing just that. "You're used to getting your way, huh?"
I'm only teasing, but his smile fades. "I hope that isn't how I've come off."
"Not really, but…I don't know." I squeeze his hand. "Like you said, we have a lot to talk about."
A thoughtful look crossed his face. "Fair enough."
"I have classes until three, so maybe I can just meet you up there? I don't want you to have to wait."
"I'd rather pick you up, if it's okay." His eyes follow the path of his hand in my hair. He smells fantastic.
"And then drive me home Sunday night? I can't stay for a whole week like you."
"Bella, I got the cabin with you in mind."
My heart leaps. I grab his other hand. "Mighty confident, you are."
"I would have gone either way," he clarifies, kissing one corner of my mouth. "This just makes it better. Much better."
The topic shifts to lighter things. We hang out for a while, watching TV and ordering pizza. But when he leaves, I text Vicky.
Got a minute?
She replies right away. Text or talk?
My phone vibrates, Vic's face popping up on the screen.
"Hey," I answer.
"Hey, yourself. What's up?"
"Edward invited me to go with him to this cabin in the mountains. For the weekend."
"No shit?" She chuckles. "He must really like you."
"I think so."
"You think so?" There's a muffled sound, like she's switching ears. "He seems pretty okay, from what you've said. Did you ever ask him about that chick at the hospital?"
"Yeah. He said she's a coworker. Her dad's sick, so he was comforting her, I guess? I don't know. I didn't get the liar vibe, but you never know."
"Don't over-analyze, Bella. Have fun. Get laid."
Making a face, I step out onto my balcony. "Thanks for the advice."
"Are you falling in love with him or something?"
"What? Vicky, no. I've only known him for like…" I pause, counting back in my head. "A month. And a half."
"Exactly." She pauses. "It's not that serious. I know you like him, babe. Maybe just let it happen. Keep your eyes open, but let it happen."
Her words chase away the fog of doubt I've allowed to float around my head lately. Because she's right—I do like him. It's totally possible to date him while keeping my wits about me.
I call Alice when I leave Bella's. The call goes to voicemail, but she calls back immediately. "Sorry, sorry! Couldn't find my stupid phone!" she says by way of greeting.
"Don't worry about it. Listen, I need to know something."
"I'm all ears."
"Bella and I are spending the weekend up in Blue Ridge, at a cabin."
"Oh, my God!" she squeals. "I was just telling Jas—"
"Alice," I say loudly. I'm at a light now, drumming my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel.
"What, I can't be excited for you? Jeez!"
"Do I always get my way?"
"What do you mean?" she asks. "Did Bella say something?"
I huff a soft laugh. This is why I called my sister. "She was joking around. But there's truth in every joke."
"Hm. Well, I don't know about all that, but I will say I've never seen you this preoccupied with a woman before."
"Maybe not, but Bella doesn't know that."
"Then let her know."
"Try harder," she says rather sharply. "For someone so smart, you sure can be stupid sometimes."
"What's that supposed to mean?" I ask, rethinking my decision to call her.
"It means that you're brilliant when it comes to medicine and shitty when it comes to personal relationships, Edward. And not just your romantic ones."
I stay quiet for a long moment, chewing on her words. "I know."
"I don't know what you want me to say," Alice says softly. "I love you. I want you to be happy. But you've been struggling with this for a while. If nothing changes…nothing changes." I'd love to rail against her irritatingly accurate platitudes, but she's only verbalizing what I already know. "We worry about you. Dad worries about you."
"Don't be like that. He doesn't want you repeating his mistakes."
Sighing, I switch lanes. "It's easier said than done."
"You like Bella, right?"
"Yes, Alice. I like her a lot. I think about her all the time. I want to be with her. It frustrates me that I can't see her as much as I'd like, and I worry that if I fuck this up then that'll be it."
"Then tell her that," says Alice. "And then stop using the hospital as an excuse. It's not doing anyone any favors. Not you, and not Bella."
"Music?" he asks, finger hovering over the radio.
"Sure." I shrug. "What's a road trip without music?"
Dropping his phone into my lap, he pauses at the exit of my building before pulling into traffic. "You can be the DJ, then."
"Excellent." I scroll through his Spotify account, looking for something mellow. "Oh…I love Santana." It's one of his Recently Played, so I know it's a safe choice.
"How's Tech?" he asks as we get on 85. The Tesla zooms quietly along, passing other cars with ease.
School's not what I feel discussing, especially now that it's the weekend, but I bring him up to speed, going through my current course load. "…so I'm not crazy about my environmental and health planning professor, but it doesn't matter. I need the course…and my schedule's light, compared to last year."
"How many semester hours do you have to take?"
"Overall? 55 hours. It's a two-year program." I gaze at the sea of cars glinting in the late afternoon light. "I know you went to Emory for undergrad. Did you stay for med school, too?"
He nods, jumping into the express lane. "Undergrad, med school, residency…the whole nine yards. It's a great school."
"Wow. You must know everyone there," I say, laughing.
"Especially since my father took the same track when he was coming up," he says, raising an eyebrow.
"Ooh, a legacy."
"You said your dad wasn't sure he wanted you to be a doctor?"
"Right," he says with a snort. "He actually tried to talk me out of it, but I was determined. I've never regretted it." He pauses, running his fingers through his hair. "Actually, that isn't true." I look at him. He's obviously thinking hard about something. "I…I haven't had regrets, but I worry that I will if I don't make a few changes."
There's usually never anything but conviction in Edward's voice when he talks about his work, so this is new. Interesting.
We're quiet for a while. Traffic starts early here on the weekends, and while we just barely got out in time, it's still pretty snarled.
"You ever going to tell me what happened?" I ask. "At the hospital?"
"I thought I did tell you," he says smoothly, glancing in his rearview.
Hesitating, I chew the inside of my cheek, wondering if I should pry. "You mentioned your patient…I really am sorry, Edward. I just wasn't sure if there was something else." Ugh. Real sensitive, Bella. Cringing, I sit back. "Not that…that isn't significant."
Exhaling slowly, he drums his fingers over the wheel. I've noticed he does this when he's aggravated or nervous. "No, I know what you mean. I work in emergency. I see people die." He stops, swallowing. "Mrs. Ellison was in her 80s…she'd been coming around for years. She had dementia, and I think she was lonely after her husband died. No children, at least none I ever saw. She became something of a fixture around the ED." He shrugs. "She came in on Monday with a cough, and by Tuesday she'd died of an acute case of bacterial pneumonia. I…I'd never seen anything like it. Not that quickly."
I don't know what to say, so I touch his hand. He flips it over, threading his fingers through mine. "Do you…think maybe she was ready?"
He swallows again, nodding slowly. "Perhaps."
Silence falls between us. Black Magic Woman fades into Samba Pa Ti.
"It was the last straw, I guess," he says suddenly. "We've been understaffed, so we're all overworked, and the onus usually falls on Kebi and me—she's the ED's nursing director—to pick up the slack. It's just been a shitty few weeks and…they didn't think it was safe for me to work in the condition I was in."
"I know I keep saying this, but I don't think I could work a schedule like that."
"A lot of people can't. You get used to it, but there's only so much the human body can take. If you don't give it what it needs, it takes it anyway. In this case…it's rest."
"Makes sense," I say, remembering some of my more hectic phases of study and work. The more I learn about Edward, the more sense his initial behavior on the road makes. He's been coming to this point for a while. "I'm glad you're taking the time you need." I squeeze his hand. "Thanks for bringing me along."
We climb higher and higher into the North Georgia mountains, reaching the town of Blue Ridge around six. Our cabin sits back from the road, surrounded by deep, golden sunlight and thick, green trees.
Dropping my bags by the door, I cross the room, drawn to the view beyond. A generous deck wraps around the back, looking out over a valley. There is nothing else, no one else, for miles. At least, that's what it feels like. Edward joins me, unlocking the doors so we can step outside.
A gentle wind blows up through the canyon, tickling my hair across my face. Closing my eyes, I lean against the wooden railing and breathe it in.
"Have you ever stayed in one of these? Alice and Jasper come up every fall to see the leaves."
"We used to take fishing trips to Ellijay when I was a kid…usually stayed in a cabin," I say. "Came for a bachelorette party one time. You?"
"Actually, no," he says, voice fading as he goes back inside.
"What?" I glance back at him. "I thought you loved the mountains! How can you grow up here and never do the whole cabin thing?"
"Good question." He chuckles, holding up two bottles of wine. "Red or white?"
"White, please. And let me guess—you spent your summers in Italy or something."
"There's rosé, too. Alice's suggestion." He looks at me, smirking a little. "France, Spain, the Alps…never Italy."
But I'm still stuck on Alice. Blushing, I come back inside and join him in the kitchen. "What does she think about this?"
"She approves." His eyes twinkle as he slides me my glass. "Actually, she's thrilled."
I take a sip, feeling rather twinkly myself as I lean against the counter. "And why's that?"
"She thinks I need more balance." He shrugs. "And she really likes you."
"What about you?" I ask, playing with the bottle's cork.
"I could probably use a little balance," he acknowledges.
I wait expectantly, tossing the cork at him when he just looks at me and smiles. Snickering, he comes around the counter, puts his wine down, and takes me into his arms. "Bella, I hope you know I like you. I liked you when you were a pain in my ass, making me late for work in these…" He tugs at my cut-offs. I'm irrationally pleased he remembers them. "And I like you even more now that I know you." Leaning down, he kisses me.
Sliding my arms around his neck, I return the favor, enjoying the tang of wine on his tongue, the wet way it tangles with mine. Every time we kiss, we're hungry for it, like we can't get enough. His hands tighten on my hips, and he presses close, already hard against my stomach. "I like you, too," I whisper, playing with the soft hair at the nape of his neck. "Probably more than I should."
Our mouths drift apart, but he holds me even closer, his words warm against my ear. "I want to make this work. I don't want to hurt you."
I close my eyes. He smells so good. "Yesterday, when you came over, I thought you'd come to break things off. I thought…we hadn't spoken in a while, and…" Shaking my head, I sigh softly. "You might not want to hurt me, but it could happen, you know?"
Pulling back, he ducks his head so he can look me in the eye. "I've been thinking about this a lot lately. My career's always come first, and most of my relationships have suffered because of it." He pauses, his eyes searching mine. "But I don't want that to happen with you. With…us."
"I don't want that to happen, either," I admit. So much for keeping it fun and casual. Sorry, Vicky. Guess I played myself.
"I want to try with you."
"Try what?" I ask, biting back a smile.
"Try to have a relationship." He closes his eyes, shaking his head. "Fuck trying. I want to have relationship with you."
My heart starts to pound. I haven't had a serious relationship since undergrad, and I have certainly never met someone like Edward. "Me too."
The day fades to evening, the orange sky purpling with dusk. Stars sparkle to life, bright against a hazy horizon. We grill steak and drink wine on the deck, enjoying the view and each other. Some people are easy to be around, and Edward's one of them. He's smart, but never patronizing, and direct, but never tactless.
He gets cuter and cuter as the night goes on, and even though I know it's the wine and the romance of it all, it's a no-brainer when he takes my hand and says, "let's try the hot tub."
"Oh, man," I giggle, allowing him to lead me back inside. "This place is like…seduction central."
"I thought you wanted to be seduced," he says, flipping on the lights so we can see properly. His cheeks are a little red, probably because we've been drinking, but other than that he seems composed.
"I did." I let go of him and snatch my bag off the floor. My bikini's in there, somewhere. "I do."
His laughter follows me into the bathroom, where I quickly change. When I emerge, Edward's already disappeared. I wander down to the lower deck, where I find him fiddling with the hot tub's switches. The bubbles come on with a satisfying roar.
"No more wine," I announce, enjoying the way Edward's eyes linger over me as I climb in. The water is lukewarm at best, but slowly getting warmer.
"I concur." He gets in beside me.
Now it's my turn to ogle. He's pretty pale, but he's also pretty fucking built, with nice, toned arms, a flat, muscular stomach and great pecs. Wow. I guess he finds time to work out. "Okay," I breathe, staring at his chest. "Why do you concur?"
"Because," he says, lifting my chin—and my gaze. "We've had enough."
"Oh, yeah. I was thinking…the hot tub. Isn't it unsafe to…to…like…" I pause, scatterbrained by how close he's getting. "Drink and hot tub?"
"Are you using hot tub as a verb?" Spanning his hands over my waist, he picks me up and settles me on his lap.
I nod, meeting him in a kiss. We fool around like teenagers for a while, kissing and kissing until we're desperate, at which point I lose my bikini top. "You're on birth control, right?" he asks, sucking my nipple into his mouth.
My head falls back, light with lust. And hot tubbing. "Yeah, but we should use something," I pant.
"We will." Rising, he turns and sits me on the edge of the tub. And then, keeping his eyes on mine, he slowly sinks back into the water, his fingers pulling at my bikini bottoms. I lift my hips, allowing him to, bracing my hands behind me. A soft breeze brushes my skin, making my nipples harder than they already were.
But that's not the only thing making me shiver. Edward looks at my pussy, a lazy little smile playing at his kiss-swollen lips. And then he kisses my clit, over and over. I suck in a shaky breath, biting my lip as he licks his way deeper inside. I rest my hand in his hair, feeling myself melt in his mouth as he works me over. It's been a long time, and I come fast, the force and pleasure of it stealing my strength.
Edward comes back up, pulling my naked body into his arms and sweeping his tongue through my mouth. "Let's go upstairs."
Grabbing his face between my palms, I kiss him back. "Let's."
His hands drift to my ass and he squeezes. There's something really sexy, being this naked around him when he still has his swim suit on. I peel myself away from him for the first time in at least an hour, gratified by the want on his gorgeous face. I'm in trouble, and I can't wait. Sharing a smile, we climb out and wrap ourselves, shivering, in towels. It gets cooler up here at night, even in the summer.
Upstairs, I start for the shower, but Edward brings me right to bed, lying me down and climbing onto me.
"We're getting the bed all wet," I say with a giggle, squirming as he licks circles around my nipples.
"It's about to get a lot wetter," he says. He's naked now, so hard his dick hits his stomach…and mine, now that we're pressed together. "I want you," he says, sliding his fingers into me. "I've wanted you for a long time." I gasp, wrapping my legs around him, but he manages to extricate himself. "Hold on."
Returning seconds later, he quickly and efficiently rolls on a condom and returns to his spot between my legs. We kiss, our bodies moving together until he pins me down and pushes into me, filling me.
"Mmm." I grasp at Edward as he moves over me, inside me, keeping me wide open and ready to receive whatever he wants to give. He's big, but more importantly, he knows what he's doing, playing my body like a harp. Or maybe like a doctor. One who got straight A's in anatomy.
"Mm," he agrees, smiling. He comes down, flattening himself over me, and kisses me. It's so intimate, and he's so close, I come again, softer, gentler. "Good girl," he whispers, and then he backs up, hooking his arm beneath my knee. Deeper, he picks up the pace, droplets of water falling from his hair as he stares at where our bodies join.
Our eyes meet. I reach up, touching his cheek, and he comes, faint surprise washing over his face before his eyes clench shut. We ride it out, rocking together until he drifts to a stop, collapsing beside me and kissing my face.
"That was so good," I whisper.
My heart aches with how good.
Pale morning light streams into the windows we didn't bother closing last night.
The light isn't what woke me, though. It was the soft lips dropping kisses on my stomach, the wisps of hair tickling my skin. I'm smiling even before my eyes are open, pulling Bella back up before she goes too far down.
"C'mere, baby," I say, my voice gritty from sleep. Or rather, a lack thereof.
Bella slithers back up and sits on me, her beautiful, bare body almost glowing in the light. Her long, brown hair is tousled and wavy, and I touch it, rubbing it between my fingers. "Hey," she says, stretching out over me.
"Hey." I rest my hands on her cute little ass, giving it a squeeze. She's right on my dick, which is somehow ready for action despite giving two performances last night. "What time is it?"
"Hey Siri," she calls. I chuckle as her phone flashes to life across the room. "What time is it?"
"The time is ten-oh-seven a.m.," chirps Siri.
Bella smiles down at me, kissing my chest.
But those dark eyes of hers shine with mischief. "Slept great."
I laugh a little, because there wasn't that much sleeping going last night.
"You've got really pretty eyes," she says, cocking her head. "I meant to tell you that. They change…they're kinda greyish green today."
"I got them from my mom. You'll meet her…they've been asking if you'll come to brunch."
She nods slowly, watching me.
"I like your freckles," I say. She wrinkles her nose, making a face, but I go on. "You don't know how much I think about those freckles. Those big, brown eyes." I reach beneath the blankets, giving her a squeeze. "This…ass…right…here."
Wrapping my other hand into her hair, I pull her close and kiss her, letting her slip and slide until she pulls away with a gasp, her chest heaving. Without another word, she gets up, taking her warmth with her, and goes to the dresser, giving me a chance to admire her. When she returns, it's with another condom.
Folding my hands behind my head, I watch her roll it on. "Insatiable."
"I'm not the only one," she says with a sly grin, giving my dick a squeeze.
She has no idea. "Definitely not the only one."
Straddling me, she moves over me until I'm inside her. I'm wide awake now, hands on her hips, helping her ride. We gaze at each other, pushing and pulling, touching and squeezing. It's lazy, slow, Sunday-morning lovemaking. Her hair slips over her shoulder and I push it back, wanting an unobstructed view of her breasts. Her soft, round breasts, nipples like cherries.
I sit up, taking one into my mouth. She groans, holding me close, and then what started as a slow, sultry dance turns into another fuck-fest. "Edward," she cries, clamping down around me when she comes a minute later. The moment she slows down I speed up, rolling her onto her stomach so I can take her from behind. That ass has been tempting me since…since forever.
It takes me a little longer to come. I'm thirty-five, not twenty-five, and this is the third time in hours. But I don't mind. Bella's warm and wet, and well, she started it.
"There are vineyards nearby," I say, sipping my coffee. "You want to check one out later?"
We're on the deck, post-breakfast. Bella's leaning on the railing, cupping her mug and gazing at the heavy, grey thunderclouds churning our way.
"Sure. If you're up to it." She peeks over her shoulder, cheeks pink. "I want to make sure you're actually resting."
"Really?" I ask, setting my cup down. Getting up, I join her. "Because you were merciless last night…and this morning."
Her eyes dance with laughter. "Sexual healing."
"Ah. That explains it." I nod, rubbing the stubble on my chin. "I do feel pretty great today."
Snorting, she folds herself into me. I wrap my arms around her. It's natural now—no hesitation. It feels right. All of this feels right.
"We can do whatever you want," she says, looking up at me. "I just…" She looks away just as suddenly. "Just want to be with you."
"I want to be with you, too. I meant what I said." I bring her face gently back to mine, rubbing my thumbs over her soft cheeks.
She smiles, nodding. "Me too."
"I'm serious, Bella." I tighten my grip before she says anything. "I don't want you going anywhere."
"Not even off this mountain? That might be considered kidnapping, seeing as—"
"I mean it."
She shuts up, eyes wide. "Well, I mean it, too."
"You know no one has ever brought me lunch before? Not even Alice?"
Shaking her head, she laughs a little. "Well, someone has to take care of you, Edward. You take care of everyone else."
"You gonna be the one?" I ask, my chest tightening.
"I don't know. Will you let me?"
We look at each other for a long moment. "Yeah."
Thunder booms over the canyon, startling us both, and Bella laughs. "I think," she says, tiptoeing to kiss me, "that was a sign."
But I don't need a sign.
I just need her.
Special thanks to Betsy D. for being my wonderful beta, and Michelle B.E. for all the medical/hospital tidbits.
Originally, (chapter 1 of) this oneshot was written for a charitable cause. There was never supposed to be a chapter two, but people expressed interest in hearing more about these two, so I thought...why not? Hope you enjoyed. A big, mushy, affectionate thank you to all of you for the love you showed Dr. Tesla and his Bella. You're the best!