Welcome to another incarnation of Bella and Edward!
A huge thank you to Team SLG:
Di, my editor,

Paige, Aileen, Rachel, and Renee, my prereaders.
Also, to Lizzie for the gorgeous story banners.

This story is based on a Fic Lab prompt called different.

Thinking of the word different, I decided to focus on a girl who'd been bullied by a boy in high school, and the idea that over ten years later, they would be completely different people when they meet again.

The boy, now a man, has forgiven himself for his past, has forgiven himself for being a beast to the girl. He's seeking redemption, but first has to face the consequences of his behavior toward the girl whose past taught her not to trust him.

The girl thought she'd moved past the pain as well, but she never expected to meet the boy again. She certainly never expected the now-compelling man to ask for forgiveness. Still angry, hurt and reluctant to forgive him, she does everything she can to keep him at arm's length. That's where the title Stupid Little Game comes from. (And does she want to win or lose this game?)

Together, they have to learn to accept their "new" normal. Which is a surprise for them both because neither anticipated the feelings each would have for the other.

I sat with my anger long enough,
until she told me her real name was grief.
- C.S. Lewis
Stupid Little Game
Chapter 1

I'd once read that if my dreams didn't scare me, they weren't big enough. So there I was, standing at the bottom of the high-rise at 333 West Wacker Drive, frightened out of my wits and hoping to change my life. The building was shiny and imposing, and I took in a nervous, excited breath as I tipped back my head to take it all in. The surface of the glass reflected the tall buildings and the curve of the Chicago River behind me, giving the reflection an unusual olive green cast.

It was where Ferris Bueller's dad had once worked.

Maybe, I thought as I crossed my fingers, it would eventually be where I worked.

Feeling strong and confident in my new lingerie, black pencil skirt, silk blouse, and modest heels, I entered the building along with a group of men and women dressed in power suits. You didn't work in a building like this without feeling or looking the part, after all.

Doormen wearing dark green livery scrutinized us as we passed. I was sure they were there to help keep the riffraff out, but also to answer any questions we might have about which direction to go, because inside, there were two wings of lobbies. Taking a chance, I followed a stream of people to the left. After figuring out which of the three elevators to take, I stepped inside with a feeling of accomplishment.

Today was my day. I was going to nail this interview.

I was almost thirty minutes early, and thank God I was, or I would have been caught horribly unaware. I noticed him immediately as he stepped onto the elevator in his bespoke navy suit and matching tie.

Edward fucking Cullen.

High school bully and all around piece of shit.

Here. Now? The two of us both moved all the way from Forks, Washington to Chicago, Illinois? Fuck, of all the places and times for him to show up, it had to be today, my day, when everything was supposed to go my way.

I wanted to step to the back of the elevator, but it was packed, and I couldn't move.

My temperature climbing, I also itched to push him back outside the car.

While he looked older than the boy I remembered, he was still utterly unforgettable with that square jaw and chaotic bronze hair. And still soul-stealing gorgeous, unfortunately. Under thick, dark eyebrows, his light green gaze swept briefly across the faces of the rest of us already in the elevator, and my heart leaped for another reason when his sharp, intense gaze bounced back to me.

It didn't stay, though. He didn't recognize me. Besides, I happened to know that short, dark-haired, and dumpy wasn't his type. I probably had one too many buttons undone to account for his double-take.

I looked down and nope, my crisp white blouse under its decorative vest was buttoned up to the throat. Maybe I had something on my face?

The marketing firm where I had my interview was located on the 23rd floor, and he—all six feet of him under that unmistakable hair—stood at the front of the elevator, glancing down at his phone and ignoring everyone else. Although, he politely moved aside each time someone needed to pass. The woman standing beside me was biting her lip as she stared at the curve of his ass and long legs, and I swallowed a laugh.

When the elevator opened at level 23 and he strode off, heading toward a silver filigree sign that read Smith & Devaney, exactly where my interview was, my heart began pounding uncontrollably.

Oh, hell no.

With warning bells sounding in my ears, and my tongue pushing firmly against the roof of my mouth, I headed for the nearest restroom.

"Get a grip, Bella," I told the girl in the mirror.

For some reason, I had expected to see oily hair and pimples on my face, so the sight of my hair in its tight chignon and my clear, pale skin against dark red lips, rattled me for a second.

Seeing Edward Cullen's dismissive glance had thrown me uncomfortably back to high school. I'd forgotten for precious moments that I was no longer the overweight, braces-faced girl who'd received such vitriol from Edward Cullen and his friends.

If he could affect my confidence like this from just a single glance, there was no way I could work in the same office where he did. No way on earth.

But I wanted this job. I was right for this job. Advertising and marketing was my strength. Clearly, someone at the firm had seen that because I'd been called in for an interview. I owed it to myself to go through with it.

I wasn't going to let Edward Cullen derail my life a second time. The girl who graduated high school in 2009 no longer existed. I'd made my peace with her early on in college. I'd worked my ass off to lose weight, and I'd eaten better. I'd learned how to care about taking care of myself.

Damn it, I was Isabella Marie Swan, and my appearance no longer dictated my importance or lack thereof. In fact, now I was used to being looked at twice by the Edward Cullens of the world.

Nodding at myself and putting on a brave front, I squared my shoulders and left the restroom.

Fake it till you make it.

I faked it all the way across the carpet of the front office with its tan and cream decor, to the firm's conference room, where Edward Cullen himself sat behind a long table. He was no longer wearing a look of busy indifference on his face, and seemed to be waiting for me. Under his piercing, intense stare, my heart stopped. My steps faltered.

"I thought I was supposed to meet with Mary Alice Brandon," I said as the receptionist closed the double glass doors behind me.

Thank God, I didn't stutter like I used to.

"You recognize me," Edward said softly, probably noting my stiff expression.

And apparently, he recognized me? Or remembered my name.

I tightened my grip around the briefcase I held. What in the hell was going on?

"Of course," I replied, albeit a bit sarcastically. "The way you once spit at me is unforgettable."

I watched his Adam's apple bob before he nodded. "I–yes. I'm sorry. So sorry for that," he said in an apologetic, sincere tone.

It took me by surprise, because I was expecting him to be the same dickhead I remembered.

"Why am I meeting with you and not Ms. Brandon?" I asked, not interested in his sorry. He was more than ten years too late.

"I'm waiving your initial interview. The follow-up is always with me." He cleared his throat, flashing me a small, self-conscious smile that I was sure he expected would soften my attitude. If I didn't know what a shit he was, I'd have wanted to swoon.

"With you?"

"I'm the Vice President of Marketing. The open position is in my department."

Jesus God. What rotten luck. He might as well have slammed a two-by-four into my stomach. All my hopes crashed to my feet.

"I see," I choked. "Then, I'm sorry. I think we've both wasted our time here."

He frowned, his arresting face rearranging itself into something even more attractive. As a sulky teenager, he'd been striking. As a man, his rugged beauty, those incredible eyes, still had the power to make my stomach flutter. Especially now that he was looking at me like I mattered. It was an unfair travesty.

"Bella, I'd hoped we could move past our . . . well, our past," he began in a gentle tone. "I'm not the same person I used to be, and I know you aren't, either."

I tried to catch my breath. "It's Isabella," I corrected him. He'd never once called me by my name, and he certainly hadn't earned the privilege of using my nickname. "Since you recognize who I am, then you should know why this is never going to work. I wonder why you even bothered to call me in. I would never want to work with someone who routinely made my life a living hell."

His eyes closed as if in pain before he abruptly stood, his gaze dropping to my fisted hand.

I wanted to flip both my middle fingers at him. I wanted to spit in his face. I wanted to kick the hell out of his shin, anything to wipe that sorrowful expression off his face. I kept expecting to see a familiar look of sarcasm, so damn him for looking genuinely worried and sorry! And damn myself for getting emotional over him.

"I'm not that stupid, asinine boy anymore," he said lowly. "I've often thought of you and wanted to talk to you, to tell you I'm sorry."

I laughed lightly, pushing down the pain of his words and the memories they brought up. "You should have tried when I'd have given you the chance. Now, I'm not interested."

The mere thought of his apology made me want to vomit.

"Isabella, please. I know I hurt you. I'm prepared to do whatever it takes to make amends," he said, rounding the table.

I raised my hand. It was shaking.

"Don't come near me. If you're serious about doing whatever it takes to make me see you're sorry, then stop talking. I'm not interested in anything you have to say."

"Not even for a starting salary of one-hundred-five thousand?" he asked as he undid the button on his blazer.

I blinked, moving my gaze from his chest back up to his face. "The ad stated ninety-one to ninety-five."

"I've seen your work," he said, remaining still, although it looked like it cost him to do so. "I convinced Colin. Told him that I grew up with you, that you'd always been an overachiever. You'll succeed well here; I have no doubts."

He grew up with me? What a crock. We'd been thrown together for one-and-a-half years, and he hadn't known the first thing about me.

I shook my head. "No, not with you as my boss."

He stared at me, his dark eyebrows furrowed. It looked as though he was thinking about how he could change my mind, although I really didn't know why it mattered.

"Not even if you don't report to me?"

"Isn't it your department?"

He shrugged. "You'll report to Alice. I'll introduce you to her now if you'd like. I believe you're smart enough to do the work on your own. We don't micromanage here."

Against my will, I began thinking about how this might work. At one-hundred-five thousand, I should be able to make it work.

"I need time to think about it," I said grudgingly.

A grateful, relieved expression came over his face. "Of course."

"You have other candidates to interview. Maybe you'll find someone more suitable. Someone with whom you don't have a contentious past."

He was shaking his head before I finished speaking. "No, the job is yours until you tell me you don't want it."

Inside, I was shaking with nerves, excitement, and fear. Could I really do this? Could I really work where I'd see Edward Cullen daily?

"I'll let you know," I said, and turned.

"Bel–Isabella," Edward called after me.

Two steps away from the double doors and freedom, I stopped. I didn't turn around. I still wasn't sure I could do this. Not even close to being sure.

"I hope you say yes," he said simply.

It made my hackles rise, and I turned my head to glare at him over my shoulder.

"If I decide to work here, I don't want to see your apologetic stares. We'll behave like polite strangers. I moved past what happened a long time ago."

His face still wore a gentle expression as he stared at me with his light green eyes, the same eyes I'd used to see in my nightmares. I thought I was over him. Still, I'd never expected to see him again in my life. It was probably just the shock of it all that was throwing me off balance, that was causing me to react in such anger.

"Oh, clearly," he said, and I knew he didn't mean it at all. That he was mocking me.


"I'm different," I snapped. "I'm not the girl you made fun of anymore."

"I'm different," he replied. "I'm not the boy who hurt you anymore. Give me a chance to show you."

I'd have rather streaked naked down Michigan Avenue. The idea of feeling anything but hatred for Edward Cullen was incomprehensible.

"No," I said, and yanked open the door. I wanted to slam it closed, but that would have drawn too much attention.

I left him staring after me like he used to do to me—only I knew I didn't leave him with tears in his eyes, that I didn't leave him feeling embarrassed and hurt. No, he was the damn Vice President of Marketing. Despite being an asshole and an unfeeling brute, he'd succeeded well in his life.

Damn it, he should have been sitting at home on his couch, not showered or shaved, with a beer belly hanging over the waistband of his pants.

"You don't get another chance," I whispered.

. . .