Warning: This chapter contains copious amounts of annoying Italics and you have my deepest sympathies for having to read it.

Maybe a Dance
by Anton M.

Chapter 2: Meet Edward

The phone buzzing under the pillow awoke Bella. She slipped it out, wiped the hair from her face that had escaped her fishtail and stretched before she read her message.

Hi, Bella. I have a few questions to start off your morning – (1) do you have a car? (2) if yes, which & how old? (3) if yes, does it have winter tires? - E.

Good morning, my Love Potato. Aren't you just a ray of practical questions today. 1- Yes. 2- Honda Civic, maybe 6 years old. 3- I'm not a lunatic. Obviously. Are you about to tell me you don't have a car and we need to use mine?

Maybe. I may or may not have forgotten to put winter tires on mine. - E.

So you are a lunatic. You didn't get a ticket for that?

Haven't used it since September – moved closer to campus. Didn't need it. - E.

Fair. Tell you what, let's use mine but you drive.

I always prefer to. - E.

Mmm… Good to know but I'm not sure how to take that comment.

I'm not commenting on your (presumed) driving skills, if that's what you mean. It's a control thing. I like being in control of the vehicles I'm in. - E.

Good save. Can't blame you for that. Did you see the weather forecast for Chilliwack? I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

...just like the ones that drive you to the ditch? - E.

Much funny, such wow. Amaze.

You smiled, admit it. - E.

Bella did smile, it was impossible not to. It was a little bit surreal to be woken up by Mr. Cullen's – Edward's – messages, and it was only Wednesday, the second morning after she'd agreed to be his fake fiancée.

They'd barely had time on the previous day to write polite monosyllables to each other. Bella had promised her supervisor that she'd finish making the necessary revisions to her thesis by midnight while Edward finished reviewing a paper, grading exams and preparing for the last one before Christmas. He'd decided to have an online exam on Thursday, which meant that both Bella and Edward could start their isolation on Tuesday.

It was easy for Bella to isolate because of the systems they already had in place to protect Jessica's father. Instead of telling her roommate that she was fake-dating her lecturer, all Bella did was message "quarantine" to her, and Jessica knew to keep away.

If I did I won't admit to it. But you better be a decent driver because I'm lending you my insurance record and I'd rather not pay a higher premium.

I've never caused a car crash or driven to a ditch, so chances are in your favour. But if I do, in fact, get us into an accident, you can now prove with this message that I take full responsibility for all damages not covered by your insurance and will pay the premium difference should I be the cause of an increase. - E.

You adult well. Colour me impressed.

Thank you, but you've just reminded me to reveal my absolute ignorance of your age – how old are you again? I know you and Alice were like two peas in a pod but I honestly can't recall if you were in the same class or not. - E.

We were. I'm 28. You?

33, almost 34. That means that you were twelve or thirteen the last time we saw each other (when I left for college). Fifteen years ago. - E.

Damn. No wonder we didn't recognize each other. When is your birthday?

December 24. Yours? - E.

Oh, that's right. I forgot. Mine is May 3.

Bella got up and sent a quick text to her roommate.

Jessica, are you home? Can I use the washroom/kitchen?

i'm at my dad's. i'll be back at around seven. go nuts :)

Fantastic, thanks. Say hi to Mark from me.

he says hi back :)

It was just past eight AM when Bella had a shower and did her skincare routine. She refilled the 2-litre water bottle that she kept in her room and cleaned all areas that she touched for Jessica's peace of mind.

Bella's room was a pretty standard one with a single bed, a table and a chair provided by the dorm, but she'd added a standard white IKEA shelf for her stuff and a well-worn red antique armchair that Emmett had helped her drag upstairs from the girl who'd left it at the curb. The only sign of Christmas in her room, so far, was a single set of blue twinkling lights around her door.

She read her emails as she ate breakfast in her room.

Are we still on for a call at 10? - E.

Sure thing.

Hey Bella, when's your period due?

Damn, that is some specific information for my fiancé to know. Why do you ask?

Bella almost choked on her toast when she realized the last message had arrived from Rosalie, and the little tick next to her own message showed that Rosalie had read her response. Deleting it would be useless. Sure enough, her phone rang with Rosalie's face on her screen, and Bella's heart felt like it would beat out of her chest.

Bella declined her call before calling Edward.

"Hi, Bella. I thought we were calling at 10."

"We are, but I may have screwed up. I sent my best friend a message meant for you and I know she saw it. I'm calling you my fiancé in my message."

"Not your fake fiancé?"

"No, that was implied. Should I tell her the truth or should I keep up appearances?"

"Do you think you'll call each other when you're in Chilliwack?"


"Do you trust her to keep this secret?"

Bella hesitated. Rosalie could keep secrets when it was something insanely personal, but she would probably be too tempted to tease Bella mercilessly to care too much about keeping this one. Bella could handle the teasing (it would come anyway regardless of how real they claimed their engagement was), but it was not wise to risk telling the truth if it might give them away to Edward's family.

"Not a hundred percent."

"Well, you have your answer."

"I'm really sorry, Mr. Cullen."

"Edward. Please."

"Edward. Sorry. Sorry about that too, I mean. It's hard not to revert back to being your student when I've done something wrong. I'm sorry."

"Don't worry about it. This was bound to happen. How about you wait until we've had our call at 10 before you contact her again and then we'll have our story sorted out?"

"I like that plan. Thank you."

"Of course. Don't worry about it, accidents happen. But listen, I have a Zoom call in three minutes, so I'll talk to you later, okay?"

"Sure thing. Thank you."

Bella facepalmed when they cut the call. Edward sounded so professional. He was polite, kind and so much like her lecturer she did not know how they would fool anyone that they were dating, much less engaged. But she shouldn't have expected anything less than a reasonable response – Edward was cool as a cucumber during discussions at school, so she had no reason to believe he would freak out over her little missteps. And he was right, of course – this would be the first of many little things they'd have to learn to handle.

She sent a quick message to Rosalie saying that she'd explain later. Rosalie responded with a wildly inappropriate gif but did not call again.

Bella felt light as a feather after everything related to her thesis was sorted out, and it was amazing to realize that most of her deadlines were truly over. She'd thought she could now, for a few weeks, spend her days however she wished – but what she wished most was to go skating at Kensington Complex and she couldn't do that without putting Esme at risk. The second thing she'd promised herself she'd do after getting her PhD was playing Stardew Valley, but she was scared to start because it would suck up the whole day and not result in anything productive. (And she'd probably forget about her call to Edward, so that was out of the question.)

So, Bella settled on cleaning her room before she sat in her well-worn antique armchair to knit and watch the first season of Witcher. She set an alarm for calling Edward, and when it went off, she paused her show and called him on her laptop.

Nothing could've prepared her for what his camera showed.

Edward hung, upside down, on a bar. She couldn't tell if he was in shorts or boxer-briefs, but his torso and arms were uncovered. He was fit, and his black-and-white tattoo sleeves reached his torso in an artistic but indecipherable pattern.

"Hi, Bella. How are you today?"

Bella stared, she couldn't help it. Her brain couldn't wrap around what she was seeing to put it together with her lecturer, the ever-proper and ever-professional Mr. Cullen, and when he put his palms on the back of his head and started working out, Bella felt obliged to say something.

"Um, please don't freak out because you might hit your head and die, but I think I should tell you that you just accepted a video call."

Edward paused, and she saw his eyes land on the camera across the room.

"Fuck. One second."

He put his finger against the bluetooth earbud in his ear and cut the call, and Bella let out a light laugh. Whatever she had expected to see or talk about today with Edward to get to know him better, it certainly wasn't this. When her screen flashed with his call, Bella was still grinning against her palm. The image of him, hanging upside down, looking unexpectedly attractive, was burned into her brain forever.

He'd put on a long-sleeved white T-shirt that perfectly covered all evidence of his tattoos, and he was wiping his face with his palms.

"Hi, Mr. Cullen."

She couldn't help but laugh a little. Edward smiled, his cheeks burning as he cracked his knuckles.

"I'm sorry, Bella. I'm so sorry. I've never made that mistake before."

"It's quite okay. I'm not really complaining about the view."

"Fuck, you're my student. Imagine if it had been someone else. Jesus."

"I'm no longer your student and it's quite obvious that you expected an audio call from me. Really, you have nothing to be embarrassed about."

Edward put his palm against his eyes but kept smiling.

"So, would you like to pretend this never happened or should we talk about it?" Bella asked. She found his embarrassment endearing. "I do have to say, if you were trying to get me to not just see you as Mr. Cullen, you were quite successful."

The blush on his face didn't fade but he finally looked at Bella, and when he did, he cleared his throat.

"Bella? Can you take your hand away from your face?"

Bella was confused by his request but did as he asked. He looked almost shy as he rubbed his neck and let out a laugh when he realized that he was staring.

"So, what just happened?" Bella asked.

"I haven't seen your face for fifteen years, Bella. That's what happened."

"What? No way. That can't be right. I never wore a mask during our online classes."

"Yes, but did you ever have your camera on?"

"Damn. You're probably right. Okay. So do I pass the test or have you reconsidered having me as your fake fiancée?"

"You'll do," he said, matching Bella's smile. "But I have to say, even without a mask, I would've struggled to recognize you. I can't pinpoint why, but you look different."

"You're being insanely sweet, then, because I bet the fifty pounds I lost has something to do with it."

The edge of his mouth quirked up but he did not comment.

"It's okay." Bella laughed. "I was a chubby kid and teenager. Your admitting it makes no difference to me."

"It's not that, though. It's something else."

"I bet it's the eyebrows that I allowed to grow back and the hair that's dark red now."

"Ahh, that's right. Your dad did not allow you to colour your hair. I remember now. Did you dye it the moment you moved to go to college?"

"On the first day."

Edward laughed.

"What did he say when he saw that you'd dyed it?"

"He hated it at first but grew fond of it in the end," she answered. "But what about you? Does Esme know you not only have tattoos but two sleeves of them?"

"No. She will never find out. She'd be heartbroken. She'd think I was one step away from being a heroin addict."

Bella wanted to ask more because her brain was still recovering from the sight of his half-naked body, but it was too soon to pry.

It felt so strange that her lecturer and Alice's brother were the same person, professional and polite and, apparently, fit and covered in tattoos. Yet, their interactions were not stiff or forced, and Bella liked him. She found him more than a little bit intriguing, and hoped that their getting along well would help with pretending to be the love of his life.

"You know, if you'd counted on working out, we don't have to video chat. You can do your thing while we talk. I only video-called because I figured we have so little time to get to know each other that getting used to each other's faces and body language seemed like a good idea."

"No, your reasoning is solid. I didn't think of that, but you're right."

He picked up his laptop and walked to another room where he made himself a drink, and when he noticed Bella observing his place, he turned his laptop towards it. The windows were small and high off the ground, he had a separate bedroom without a door (where the pull-up bar was attached), and overall the place was pretty sparse except for a single wall covered in shelves, messy and full of stuff.

Edward turned the laptop back to himself. "Most of this is not mine. I'm renting a basement from a family."

Bella faked a gasp. "You mean to tell me that being a post-doc doesn't make you rich?!"

Edward laughed. "Wild, right?"

She smiled. "Do you live alone?"

"On the basement floor, yes. The family lives upstairs. Mr. and Mrs. Roy. They have three kids with complicated names so please don't ask what they are."

Bella, similarly, showed Edward her own room and the space she shared with Jessica before she settled by her table with the coffee she'd made. Edward sat on his couch, elbows resting on his knees as he drank from his mug.

"Coffee or tea?" Bella asked.

"Coffee any day. With milk and sugar."

"But then how do you feel the bitter taste of your broken dreams?"

Edward pressed the edge of his mug against his lips as he laughed. "No sugar or milk for you?"

"Only the sad, sad taste of imposter syndrome, I'm afraid."

"Can't argue with that," he replied, and both looked at each other as they drank their coffee.

Bella hesitated. "Feel free to say no to this supremely awkward question I'm about to ask, but I have to ask it."

"Go ahead."

"Does your basement living space have a separate entrance?"

"Yeah, of course, at the back of the house. What's so awkward about the question?"

"That's not the awkward part – I couldn't help but notice that you have a washer and a dryer. Every time I quarantine here, I have to hand wash stuff. Do you think it would be wildly inappropriate of me to ask to wash and dry my stuff at your place just before we leave for Chilliwack? It would save me so much time."

"Of course, Bella. Anything you need."


"Obviously. There's no problem."

"Thank you, thank you, thank you. You don't know how much that helps."

"Bella, you're the one doing me an insane favour. I took away your first vacation in, what, five years? You should make me do every chore you hate for this."

"Mmm… thank you for putting those ideas in my head. I'll keep that in mind."

Edward laughed, shaking his head.

It was truly wild for Bella to realize just how easy it was to get along with him, her lecturer or not. Their banter came so easily it was like they'd known each other for years. (To be fair, they had, just not as friends.)

"And how have you been?" he asked, changing the subject as he traced the edge of his mug with his finger.

"Today, this year or in general?"

"Any, all. Whatever you wish to share."

"Mmm… Today I'm good. It's finally hitting home that I'm finished with my PhD. It's surreal and insane that I can do almost whatever I want with my days for the time being."

Edward smiled. "Isn't it such a relief?"

"Is it ever. God. I feel like I'm allowed to breathe again. My value as a human is not related to how much time I can spend writing and editing and reviewing and polishing and trying to re-word the stuff I said better in the papers I published and re-do all the graphs I've already made."

"Yeah, the whole concept of self-plagiarism should be banned."

"God, please. Even my supervisor was like, 'Yes, it's stupid. Yes, everyone hates it. Yes, you totally have to do it.'"

"You did well, though. You should be proud. Your defence was one of the smoothest I've seen, even though your external examiner was a bit of an ass."

Bella laughed. "Did you just call the great Dr. Bastien Rémi Gauthier an ass?"

"I will forever deny having an opinion on the matter." Edward's eyes twinkled with his smile. "And how did you celebrate?"

"I'm not sure I have," Bella replied. "For the five years it took me to get here, I always postponed these little guilty pleasures like binging TV shows too much or playing Stardew Valley or… skating more. But now that I'm here, I still feel guilty for not being productive."

Edward paused. "You play Stardew Valley?"

"Do you play Stardew Valley?"

"Living the fantasy of being a home-owner? Not having to worry if you have enough money to have kids? Don't mind if I do."

Bella's laughter was light and happy, and Edward looked at her with a kind of soft wonder.

"I cannot agree more," Bella said. "My lecturer plays Stardew Valley. God. My world just shifted on its axis."

"Do you remember how much time I spent locked in my room playing computer games? Are you really that surprised?"

"Fair point," she said, grinning and wrapping arms around her knees. "So, this is a wild question, and you are free to refuse, but what do you think of creating a joint game on Saturday or Sunday while talking on the phone on the side? It would make this getting to know you business a bit more fun."

Edward gripped his neck, shaking his head in disbelief. "That sounds amazing. I can't remember the last time I allowed myself to waste a day like that."

"Perfect." Bella rested her chin on her knees, smiling. "What about your PhD? How did you celebrate your viva?"

His mouth formed a thin line. "I'm afraid I did not have the healthy guilty pleasures you do. I'm not proud of what I did."

"Did you kill your supervisor?"

He choked on his coffee before he shook with laughter. Once he was done swallowing, he grinned at her. "Thank you for that."


"Making me feel better about what it is I really did," he replied. "Which is, I got so hammered my roommate had to call me an ambulance. They had to pump my stomach."


"Yes. I was a lightweight, too. Couldn't handle much. Had covid been at its height I would've probably died. I should've died. They wouldn't have had the capacity to deal with idiots like me."

"What the hell happened in your PhD that all you wanted to do was to get drunk once it was over?"

He began cracking his knuckles and his smile disappeared. "I'll be happy to discuss that topic on our car ride to Chilliwack, not that it's anything you can't guess already. You should definitely know about it if not for pretending to be my fiancée then for watching out for your own future, but I'd rather talk about it face to face."

"Okay," Bella agreed, not wanting to push. "Are you okay now?"

Edward's smile reached his eyes, and he, once again, looked a lot like the lecturer she was used to seeing, kind and polite. "I'm okay, Bella. Thank you. I was in a bad place. I have better coping mechanisms now."

"I'm glad. So is it my turn to ask how you are, today?"

"Well, today, I appeared on a video call with my former student in my undies. So, never better."

She laughed, happy to have brought a smile back on his face. "I couldn't tell if they were shorts or underwear but thank you for that information."

Edward crossed his arms in front of him but his amusement was obvious.

"Is it awkward that this is not awkward?" Bella asked.

He laughed.

"It's pretty wild," he replied. "My brain is trying to match the image of Alice's best friend and you and I keep getting an error."

"Funny you should say that because I'm convinced it's been happening since you first started as a lecturer at our university. Your voice alone, I never matched it with Alice's brother."

"Yeah, I was a pretty late bloomer." He settled against the back of the couch and brought his laptop with him.

"I just have to ask – what would you have done had I said no or turned out to be the biggest anti-vaxxer you'd ever seen? Did you have a plan B?"

"Not really," he admitted. "The moment I realized you'd be perfect I also realized I wouldn't trust anyone else with this. I would've gone alone."

Bella hummed, not knowing what to say to that. She was flattered but she understood his reasoning.

"And how much time do you have for me today?" he asked.

"I only have a call with my supervisor at three PM but everything else is flexible. I think we should work around your schedule more than mine."

"I'm busy from one to five PM, and promised to be done with a conclusion to a paper by seven PM. If you're okay talking while I make and have dinner, we could talk starting from seven PM."

"Are you sure you don't want a breather there? Your day sounds pretty intense."

"I'm okay," he replied, checking his phone. "I do have a Zoom call in half an hour, though, so maybe we should start sorting out some of the details of how we fell madly in love in fifteen seconds and couldn't wait to spend our lives together."

Bella laughed. "Okay, Casanova."

Edward got up, walked back to his bedroom, and sat down with his laptop. He paused and pressed his lips together.

"Before we continue, I just want to tell you – I'm so glad it was you that I asked to do this. On Monday I thought that maybe I'd made a mistake and we'd have to prepare almost interrogation-style to be even remotely believable, but I never expected that getting along with you would be so easy. Christ, this is probably the single longest conversation I've had in years and… it's so easy. There's zero effort needed. We were never friends before, but truly, it feels like we were. Thank you for that."

Bella put down her cup and wiped hair from her face, smiling softly. How was talking to him so easy? She felt like they'd been friends, years ago, and picked up their friendship right where they left off – it was not the case, obviously, but it would've been easy to believe.

Maybe it wouldn't be so difficult to pretend to be engaged after all.

"I know," she replied quietly. "I agree. I mean, I'm still putting pieces of you together that don't seem to fit, and a part of me still feels like I see the lecturer in you sometimes but… I've had friendships that required more effort to maintain than this conversation with you."

"Me, too," Edward replied. He smiled and finished off his coffee before he started cracking his knuckles.

"Okay, down to business. When and how did we start dating?"