A/N: Hey! I'm back from the dead!
No, seriously. I know I said I would get it up sometime in June – I posted it on my author-thingy – but, through a series of unforeseeable circumstances that had absolutely nothing to do with me – my laptop (and all my computer files) were confiscated. I only got it back Monday, and since then, I've been editing. I've been editing a lot because it takes me a while to get back in the loop of writing when I've been away for so long…which is why this chapter is crappy at the beginning.
And, so, similarly, I have not checked any of my reviews, and I'm sure that some of them are pretty angry, which is completely understandable. So, I'll get to that as soon as I post this. I've also missed a ton of updates, so I'm going to start reviewing like crazy.
Also, I would like to thank everyone who wished me luck with my musical and academic commitments. I am pleased to say that, for the most part, they all went wonderfully. :-)
Anyway, on with the chapter – and, please, ignore the bad beginning four pages or so. It gets all fluffy at the end, so that should be some recompense. And, I apologize to any vegetarians that might read this.
Before I could even think, my reflexes kicked in, my wrist giving a flick and shutting the door with a bang. I hastily redid the lock before slowly turning around, sliding down against the door.
I blinked. At that instant, I took every bad thing I had ever said about my reflexes back. I loved my reflexes. Especially since, without them, there was the distinct possibility that I would currently be in the arms of a certain deranged lunatic.
I blinked again.
"Alice," I whispered. "Alice…"
"Mmm?" she called from the kitchen. "Did you shut the door in his face? Good for you, honey." She laughed at the thought. "I bet he was surprised – was he surprised?"
"Oh, wait, I've got the pizza guy on the phone – he wants to know what we want. Should we go Siciliana or double cheese? Or Hawaiian? I'm up for anything, really – but I'm kind of feeling in a meaty mood, you know what I mean?"
"Alice…" my voice sounded dead compared to her cheerful chirp.
"I'm thinking lots of meat. Sound good?"
She took this as acceptance. "Mm-hm, yes, we'll get the Siciliana – double the pepperoni. And no peppers." She paused. "What do you mean, you can't take off the peppers?" She paused again, sounding decidedly angrier. "Well, I don't care what you think." She snorted. "Yeah, that's right – get me the manager."
"Alice!" I whimpered, my voice still pitifully quiet. "Alice!"
She ignored me, her voice simpering. "Yes, Mark, is it? Well, your employee, David – " she made a tsk-ing sound with her mouth, "Yes, that sounds like him – annoying, impertinent…well, he's saying I have to get peppers on my pizza…"
"ALICE!" I finally barked, banging the door for good measure.
"I – oh, wait one second, someone's on fire – " She stuck her head out the kitchen door, one hand pressed to the receiving end of the phone. "What?" she hissed. "If you don't want Siciliana, just speak up."
"I don't care about the pizza!" I snapped.
She raised her eyebrows sympathetically. "Look, we can talk about my brother later. For now, we need to focus on food."
"It's Tyler!" I wailed. "He's the one who was outside, not Edward!"
"I – oh." Her impossibly blue eyes widened slightly before blinking rapidly.
"Yeah," I said sarcastically. "Now you listen."
She pursed her lips. "I guess this means we're getting the pizza delivered, then."
I banged my head against the door.
She put her mouth back to the phone and said hurriedly, "Yes, yes…delivered please – I'm Alice Cullen, my address should be in the system." She paused. "Yes – that Alice. Well, I'm glad you're a fan." She smiled slightly. "Mm-hm, nice to talk to you, too, Mark. Bye." She pressed the end button before quickly punching in a new number.
"Alice!" I said, narrowing my eyes at her petite form. "This is no time for a phone call! We need to take action."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm calling Edward – I don't know why he's not here yet. He should be able to help."
I closed my eyes and massaged my temple. "He probably doesn't want anything to do with me." My voice sounded hollow. "I destroyed his favorite loafers, after all…"
She snorted and turned to speak into the phone. "Yes, Brother Dearest – why aren't you here to yell at Bella?" Her expression suddenly shifted from mildly pleasant to murderously angry. "What do you mean, it was all a joke? Were you trying to give her a heart attack?" She sounded disgusted. "Well, tell that to her. I wouldn't be surprised if she gives you a slap in the face. Or at least a good tongue-lashing."
She stomped over to me and stuck the phone under my chin, grimacing. "The King of the Morons wants to talk to you, Bella." She scrunched her nose in distaste as I took the phone.
"Hello?" I said cautiously. "Edward?"
"Oh, Bella," his smooth voice was riddled with guilt. "I'm so sorry! I shouldn't have played that joke on you – but I was rather upset…how can I make it up to you?"
"It was all a trick, Bella. I'm not coming over to make you regret the day you were born or whatever nonsense I left on your answering machine – I'm just here, at the office, working late. I simply wanted to make you sweat. I apologize."
He gave a quick intake of breath. "Ah. You're angry."
"Of course," I growled. "Tyler is outside my door right now, chomping at the bit, waiting for me to let him in. And I – " I stopped myself short of saying that I had confessed to him my deepest, darkest secret; I just might be falling for Edward.
But Edward didn't need to know that.
"Bella!" His voice was torn and apprehensive, as if he wasn't sure whether to be furious or worried. "Are you alright? Did he hurt you?" Instantly, his tone was a shade darker – I was pretty sure he was leaning towards anger.
"No, I shut the door too quickly for him to get in. But…" I took a deep breath. "I still only have one lock."
He swore. "Why don't you ever listen to me, Love? Don't you know I have your best interests at heart?"
I blushed. Maybe he didn't realize it, but he had just called me 'Love'. Simply hearing that word escape from his lips made me giddy. "What should I do?"
"I don't recommend facing him, even though I know you're probably itching to kick him to Kingdom Come." Though his banter was playful, there was an edge to it. "I know you won't like this, but I suggest staying in your apartment and letting me take care of him."
I scowled. "What – you think I can't face him?"
"No, but I don't think you should exacerbate his…passion by appearing in front of him and trying to make him leave. Anything you do will only encourage him."
"So I should just sit in here like a good little girl while you have all the fun?"
He chuckled darkly. "I wouldn't call it fun, Bella. Besides, all I'm going to do is make sure he understands his…boundaries. In the mean time, I believe you should call the police. Don't you have a restraining order against him yet?" He took my answer from my silence. He exhaled in irritation. "You really should listen to me more often, Isabella."
There was the quiet purr of an engine coming to life in the background as I whispered, "I know. I will. At least, more often."
He laughed. "For some reason, I highly doubt that."
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"Go AWAY!" I yelled again through the door crack.
"I can wait all day," he grunted back.
"Don't you get it? I hate you!" I slapped my hand against the door for good measure.
"No, you don't."
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't."
I opened my mouth to retort, but was stopped by the look on Alice's face.
"Bella," she growled, turning her head to face me. "Don't."
I pursed my lips before quickly yelling through the door, "The police are on their way, Tyler!"
Alice snickered. "If you can call my brother the police, then, I suppose, yes…"
I made a shushing motion with my hand. "And," I called loudly, "they don't tolerate perverts like you."
I heard a muffled sigh from outside the door. "I'm not a pervert, Bella."
"Oh, yeah, right. Liar."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Didn't we just go over this?" Alice hissed.
"He's bothering me," I whispered to her, narrowing my eyes.
"Edward told you not to encourage him – don't talk to him."
"How do you know what Edward told me?"
"I was listening in on the other phone, of course. What did you expect me to do? Ask you?" She rolled her eyes like it was the most insane idea in the world.
I sighed and slid even further down the door until I was lying almost entirely on my back. "I wish Edward were here," I mumbled. "He'd be helpful, at least."
"Who knows," Alice chirped cheerfully, "maybe he'll arrive at the same time as the pizza. That way, you get food and entertainment at the same time. It'll be like a show."
I glared at her. "I don't plan on opening this door until Tyler is good and gone, Alice. There will be no show. He's dangerous. He's…he's insane! And he's obsessed with me. So no food, no door-opening, and no entertainment!"
"Bella?" Tyler called through the door, trying, no doubt, to sound gentle.
I kept my mouth firmly shut. There would be no talking from me.
"I don't think you're going to like this, but I can see your boyfriend coming up the stairs." He said boyfriend like it was some sort of sacrilege.
Alice sighed. "Entertainment before food, then."
I decided to break my no-talking promise. "Thank GOD!" I shouted, glaring at the door as if I could see through it and straight to Tyler. "Edward is going to show you what's what!"
"Stay out of this, Bella," I heard a gruff – yet incredibly beautiful voice – say, sounding slightly out of breath.
"Ooh, goody," Alice chirped, clapping her hands excitedly. "This'll be just like a radio soap."
"Shush!" I hissed. "No entertainment!"
"Well, no popcorn for you, then…"
I slapped her on the arm. "Edward?" I called concernedly. "You okay? I can get on the Internet and read off legislature, so he knows that what he's doing is illegal, if you want. They have websites for that sort of stuff, right?"
"Not necessary," Edward said, loud enough for me to hear, before lowering his voice to a murmur. I ground my teeth together. He was doing that on purpose – trying to keep me out of the loop.
Alice, meanwhile, had pushed me out of the way and was pressing her ear to the door, frowning.
"Hear anything?" I asked crossly.
"Not much…" she sucked in her lower lip. "Wait – Edward's telling Tyler to go – " she stopped abruptly and changed mid-sentence. "To go, um, leave. And now," she continued, making sure I didn't have enough time to question her on the legitimacy of that quote, "Tyler's saying something in a very Cave Man-esque manner, 'she mine' or something possessive like that."
"And Edward?" I asked eagerly, finding to my chagrin that this was, in fact, entertaining.
She shrugged and turned her face so that she was peering through the keyhole. "Well, now they're having a Neanderthal battle. Lots of grunting and lack of verbs. Oh, and – oh my God." Her eyes got huge. "I can't believe – NICE RIGHT HOOK, EDWARD!" She nodded appreciatively. "Wowza, that was like in a movie. Seriously. Like one of those martial arts flicks, you know? Jackie Chan material."
"What?" I shoved Alice out of the way and pressed my eye to the door. "What's happening?" I could feel Alice's tiny fingers prying at me, trying to get me away from the keyhole.
"Bella, no, don't look – !"
But Alice's warning had been in vain – I smelled the blood before I saw it, a detestable combination of rust and salt that hit my nose like a freight train going one hundred miles per hour.
I was out before I even hit the floor.
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"Bella, are you alright?"
"You are such an idiot. I can't believe we're even related. I just can't understand it. Where did genetics go wrong?"
"Thank you, Alice."
"No problem. I mean, look at her – " I felt a cool hand on my forehand, pressing lightly against my temple, " – she's whiter than Brad Pitt's teeth, and hotter than Jessica Alba."
"Marvelous analogy, Alice. Really."
"It's pop culture, Edward. I read somewhere on the internet that if you reference pop culture a lot in conversation, people think more highly of you. Hence your unpopularity." I heard a muffled snicker.
"Dude, you just got owned," a deep voice said from somewhere above me.
"You two should be worrying less about jokes and more about Bella," the velvety voice admonished, ignoring the taunting. "She is a real, breathing human being – you should look after her more carefully."
"Edward, you don't need our help – you keep her safer than one of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter manuscripts."
"Ooh, nice reference," the deeper voice said appreciatively.
There was a sigh. "Obviously, not safe enough."
"Aw, don't beat yourself up, man," I heard the deep voice say, sounding surprisingly tender. "It's not your fault she faints at the sight of blood." The voice then chuckled. "I mean, it was only a nose bleed, for Chrissakes. He was barely hurt."
"She faints at the smell of blood, actually," the high-pitched voice piped up. "She can smell it, you know. She described it to me once. It sounds pretty icky."
"People can't smell blood, Alice." The velvet voice snorted. "Surely you know that – our father is a doctor, after all."
"Look, all I'm saying is Bella can watch movies where people are spouting blood everywhere and she's totally cool. She just has to smell it – she can have her eyes closed and everything, even – and she'll keel over like Neville after he got petrificus totalus thrown at him."
I decided that this was as good a time as any to make my consciousness known. So, I groaned – loudly.
Immediately I could sense a flurry of activity around me.
"Bella, Bella darling, are you alright?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," I muttered, raising my head up slightly and attempting to open my eyes. Bright white light filtered through my vision, blinding me. "Ow."
"What is it? Are you okay?"
"You're not my mother, Edward," I said crossly, taking one wrist and dragging it feebly across my eyes. "It's just too bright, that's all."
"Emmett, turn down the lights."
"No!" I said, annoyed. "I can deal. You don't need to baby me."
"Bella, I'm just trying to take care of you."
"Sure," I muttered, struggling upright. "Control freak." Of course, I meant that in the best sense of the word.
"Here, let me help you."
"I can help myself," I said angrily, jerking away from the comforting hands that had started to grasp beneath by shoulder blades. I wasn't completely certain why I was being quite so hostile to him right now, but I did have a pretty good idea – he had willingly put himself in danger of Tyler (yet again) while I had taken a backseat and let him defend me (yet again). It bothered me to no end that he was always saving me.
"You are so stubborn," I heard him mumble. I could almost envision his perfectly sculpted face twisting into a mask of exasperation.
"Edward, let her alone, okay? Bella just wants to do this on her own. Right Bella?"
I smiled at how calm Alice's usually exuberant voice was, and at how well she could read me. "Right, Alice." I then slowly opened my eyes, millimeter by millimeter, until I could handle all the light that was streaming towards me from the bulb in the ceiling. I blinked rapidly and took a moment to digest my surroundings – I was on my bed, in my room, surrounded by three people: Alice, Emmett, and, naturally, Edward. Okay. So, this wasn't so bad.
"What…happened?" I asked blearily, taking in a deep breath. "I…"
"Don't you remember, Bella?" Alice asked curiously. Edward just glared at me, sulking in a corner by my dresser.
"I remember you coming to rescue me," I directed at Edward, grimacing, " and being about to turn to look through a keyhole…" my forehead furrowed. "But then…oh!" I jumped slightly and leaned towards Edward, suddenly recalling what had prompted my fainting spell. "Are you okay? Are you hurt? Did he hit you? Were you…were you bleeding?" This last prospect was so horrifying that I felt a whole new wave of nausea roll over me.
"I'm fine," he said gruffly, obviously agitated. "You don't need to baby me."
"Honestly, Edward," Alice said, rolling her eyes.
I continued to question him, not caring whether he was annoyed or not. My anger at being a constant damsel in distress had dissipated – at least, for now. "Are you sure you're okay? You're not hurt or anything?"
He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm fine. It was barely even a fight, really. I just hit him once, and he got the message. End of story." He folded his arms across his chest.
"Wait, is Tyler hurt?" I asked, my eyebrows flying up.
Emmett chuckled. "I think Eddy here gave him a shiner and a bloody nose, at the very least. Didn't know he had it in him, to be honest with you."
"Don't call me Eddy."
"Whatever, bro." Emmett laughed. "It was actually pretty funny – Edward called for backup, you know, like he was part of the NYPD or something." He rolled his eyes. "But by the time I got here, your ex was running down the stairs like a bat outta hell. It was hilarious."
I felt bile rise in my throat. "Oh, great," I groaned. "Just another injury to add to my already weighted conscience." I fell backwards and kicked at the covers. "I really hate Sundays."
"Bella," Edward said, sounding like he was having a hard time controlling his voice, "Are you saying you're sorry that that…thing was hurt?"
I opened my eyes just in time to see a look of disbelief – and possibly hurt – cross his face. "Well, it feels like it's my fault," I said, trying to explain in a way that wouldn't offend his ever-inflating ego. "I'm a pretty non-violent person."
Emmett suppressed a snort.
"What?" I snapped, turning from Edward to face his burly older brother.
"Well," he said, fighting back a smile, "I wouldn't exactly call you a pacifist. Loafers, anyone?"
Even I had to smile at that.
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I opened my eyes to see a world of yellow.
"Alice?" I groaned, propping myself up and squinting at the ceiling. "Alice? What…what day is it?"
"Yellow day!" I heard her chirp from somewhere outside my room.
"Oh." I gazed up in wonder at the yellow streamers and balloons that were occupying my formerly plain room. "How'd you get all this done without waking me up?"
"You sleep like a dead man."
"Oh." I didn't have a response for that, so I instead settled for plucking a lemonhead from the shiny new candy bowl that now rested on my bedside table. I sucked on it thoughtfully as I arranged my thoughts. "Well, I've got to hand it to you. It looks like Big Bird just molted in our apartment."
I sighed and swung my feet off the bed, tramping through my door and out into the living room. Except, now it looked more like the Emerald City gone gold.
"Jeez," I breathed, my eyes widening at the décor.
"Bella!" Alice sang, striding into the room with a breakfast tray balanced on her tiny hand. "Bella! Breakfast!"
I gulped. I didn't even want to know what the food looked like.
"Here," she said, strutting over to me and pushing me gently onto the black leather couch that was now dotted with fuzzy chartreuse pillows – it looked like a bumblebee.
She placed the tray in my lap and smiled at me triumphantly. "There! Perfect!" She put her hands on her hips and nodded. "Just right. Oh, wait one sec – " she dashed out of the room only to return almost immediately, clutching a vase filled to the brim with Marigolds. "Now that's perfect," she said smugly, placing it on the coffee table in front of me.
"You went way overboard," I said, gaping at the scene in front of me. And if the room wasn't enough, Alice's cooking really took the cake (the yellow cake, that is) – there were eggs (naturally), unusually yellow pancakes, the type of orange juice that isn't actually orange, and a clear-ish lemon sauce to pour on the pancakes.
"Well, go on," she prompted, pointing to the plastic yellow cutlery that was lying by the plate full of yellow food.
"Is this all for me?" I squeaked.
"Yup. I'm going to go get mine as soon as the pancakes are finished."
I nodded dazedly. "Great."
"So," she said brightly, plopping onto the couch next to me and shoving some pillows out of the way in the process. "You and Edward were getting pretty cozy last night."
I frowned. "Alice, we had barely any physical contact. What are you talking about?"
She shrugged innocently. "I don't know. Maybe the way he was holding you, or the way you were clutching his hand, or the way you two would sneak glances at each other when you thought Jasper and Emmett and I weren't looking. You know, Jasper could barely take it – it was just so lovey-dovey."
I blushed. "We did not act like that. You're biased."
She chuckled. "You two were goo-goo for each other the moment you remembered what had happened to Tyler."
I smiled. "He did kind of save me. In a twisted sort of way." Which was sweet, despite my mixed feelings about being your typical damsel in distress.
"And then as soon as the pizza came, you two were like, feeding each other." Her expression became puzzled. "I'm not quite sure whether it was unbearably cute or unbearably gross. Maybe I should do that with Jasper sometime…"
"He'll think you're plagiarizing from Lady and the Tramp," I said snidely, picking at my eggs. "What time did Jas come in, anyway?"
She scrunched her eyes together. "Oh, sometime after the end of that Dateline special we were watching."
It was only because I knew her so well that I could see her face fall slightly in disappointment. "What's wrong?" I asked softly, placing one hand on her shoulder. Physical contact always helped to soothe her on the rare occasions when she was worried.
She sighed. "Oh, it's nothing…" She patted absentmindedly at one of the fuzzy pillows. "Just something silly."
"Alice, anything that manages to upset you is anything but silly," I said gravely, staring her straight in the eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Well," she said hesitantly, "Jazz has been acting so weird lately. I don't know what's wrong with him. He's always coming home late from the publishing office, and he's always saying he has somewhere to go, and leaving at five in the morning…"
"Oh." I got what she was saying – and frankly, to me it sounded pretty ridiculous. "Oh, Alice," I said comfortingly, "Jasper would never cheat on you, okay? Don't you believe for a second that – "
"Oh, I know that," she snapped. "Please. Jasper couldn't cheat on…I don't know, a fly. What I'm really worried about is that he always seems so tired and so…distracted." Her shoulders slumped. "I don't know, it's just…he's never acted like this. Never. It's strange."
I frowned. "I haven't noticed any of that."
She rolled her eyes. "Well, of course you haven't. You're so wrapped up in my brother that you can barely even think straight."
I flushed magenta – partially because it was embarrassing, and partially because it was true. "So what's wrong, then? Those are all symptoms of cheating, but both you and I know Jasper isn't capable of anything like that – besides, he loves you too much. So what is it…?"
She looked at me from the corner of her eye and whispered, "I think…Bella, I think he's going to propose."
"What?" I almost upended the tray in my surprise. "Alice!" I scolded. "Don't scare me like that."
"I'm not scaring you, Bells," she said, shaking her head sadly. "I think he's going to ask me to marry him. And Bella…" she sucked in a deep breath. "I think I'm going to say yes."
"Alice, I – " I struggled to find the right words. "What if…what if that's not it? What if it's something else?"
"Bella," she said, looking at me as if I had two heads, "When has my intuition ever failed?"
"Well, never, but – "
"Trust me on this, then. He's going to ask, and he's going to ask soon."
Did it make me a bad friend that I felt stupendously angry? I didn't want Alice to leave me. It was selfish, I knew, but she was my best friend. I couldn't even remember how to live without waking up to a barrage of fashion tips and positive remarks. Besides, she was more accurate than the weatherman – how was I supposed to navigate New York weather without her guidance?
"Isn't this a big step?" I choked out, clutching at the couch with unnecessary force. "Are you sure you're ready for that?"
"Come on, Bella," she said, exasperated. "How could I not be ready for Jazz to become that big of a part of my life? We've always been meant for each other. He knows that and I know that. Besides, we've been dating for two years – we're not about to get sick of each other and call off the whole engagement."
"If there even is one…" I muttered bitterly.
"Bella, what's wrong with you?" She asked angrily, shoving me lightly in the arm. "Why aren't you happy?" Her eyes glared at me accusingly.
"I…" I sighed. "I don't know. I guess I'm just not ready to give you up." I gave her a sheepish smile.
"Oh." Her expression softened, and she gently twined her arms around me in a hug. "Don't worry," She said into my shoulder, her voice muffled. "We'll be together for a while yet. Just be prepared, okay?"
"Okay," I whispered, my eyes darting around the room and drinking in their surroundings – for all I knew, this was my last yellow day. Ever.
It felt like my world was splitting at the seams.
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I walked into work with the air of a drowned cat.
"Hey, Bella," Jessica said snippily, eyeing me with a smirk on her face.
Insert swear word here, I thought sourly, glaring at her as I made my way to my office. Mondays were generally intolerable, but Jessica seemed to make them a whole lot worse.
I shoved open the door to my office with a bang and flung my workbag into a corner, stepping out of my heels and chucking them at the wall. I hoped they chipped the wallpaper. I grimaced and plunked down into my chair and turned on the computer, glaring at it the entire time.
I didn't need to be Alice to know it was going to be "one of those days".
"What?" I snapped as Laurent poked his head around my door, peering at me anxiously. "Do you need something?"
"Uh, Emmett just wanted me to give this to you to give to Edward. So…you know…" he started stuttering as I silently fumed at him. "Just, here, okay?" He shoved a Manilla envelope in my general direction and scurried out of the room.
"Good riddance," I said angrily, still steaming. I didn't even know why I was so mad, really – I just decided to attribute it to the whole "Monday atmosphere".
I breathed in deeply through my nostrils as the Word document began to load, leaning on the desk with one elbow and tapping spasmodically on the keyboard. In my boredom, I decided to make a list of areas where my life needed improvement.
One – Tyler. That basically explained itself.
Two – Victoria. Rosalie had said that I just needed to survive the week and I would finally be able to have a normal relationship with Edward, but I was seriously starting to doubt that I would make it that far. Jessica seemed to be eyeing my every move in case of a mess up, and Lauren was lurking threateningly in the background, not to mention the fact that Victoria seemed to be catching on, too. They had all noticed what was happening between Edward and me. Somehow, I needed to convince them that they were all wrong, even though they weren't.
Three – Edward. There wasn't anything wrong with Edward, really, but our relationship was so volatile. It was like a volcano waiting to blow at any moment – you just never knew when. I wasn't sure if it was my problem, or Edward's, but for some reason, we kept arguing with and bothering one another. I needed to figure out a way to fix that.
Four – Alice. If she was as sure as she said she was, which seemed pretty sure, then I would soon be losing my flat mate. And my breakfast maker. And my fashionista. And my forecaster. And my best friend. What would I do without her?
I growled in aggravation and banged on the desktop. Just the thought of her leaving made me antsy and uncomfortable and unsure and self-conscious all at once.
No wonder I was having such a bad day.
Well, I reasoned with myself, I wouldn't really be able to work under such conditions. At least, not work well. Hadn't I seen something on the Today show about taking a walk to clear your senses if you were stuck in a rut? Well, even if I hadn't, it still sounded like a good idea.
A walk. That would calm me down. Though, of course, walking so much as down the hallway would require passing Jessica, which would set me off all over again…
So maybe I would just go to the lounge. Yeah – a walk to the lounge, where I would grab a cup of coffee, and…yeah. That sounded good. Coffee was good. Walking was good. Lounging was good.
I nodded and heaved myself out of my chair, slipping my shoes back on and exiting my office a lot less angry than I had entered. Laurent was milling about outside and seemed surprised to find me in such a drastically better mood.
"Ah, hello, Bella," he said nervously, running a hand through his slicked-back black hair. "How are you?"
"Fine," I said curtly, having to stop myself from saying anymore lest I bite his head off. After all, Laurent wasn't whom my problem was with – my problem was mainly with myself, so I shouldn't take out my anger on him.
Though it did sound like it would be fun…
I shook off that idea and made my way to the lounge, smiling to myself when I saw that it was empty. I needed to be by myself for a while. I quickly made myself an Espresso and seated myself in one of the big, black reclining chairs, sipping my drink quietly and gaining more serenity with each gulp.
It was going great, actually, until Lauren decided to pop in.
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"Hello," I said stiffly, nodding my head in her direction as she made herself comfortable in the matching black recliner opposite of me.
"Hey," she said, her eyes meeting mine.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "Um…did you want something?" I was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn't too tempted to verbally assault her. The coffee had done an excellent job of calming me down.
She gazed owlishly at me without saying anything.
I fidgeted. "Um…"
"Thank you," she said suddenly, her expression still watchful.
"I – oh. Um, you're welcome." I stared at her blankly. "For what?"
"Taking Angela's position instead of mine," she said, tilting her head slightly to the side. "Why did you do that, by the way? I have the better job. Better pay, better hours…more perks, more benefits. You could have taken mine easily. It would have been better for you, really."
I shrugged, deciding to be honest with her. "I don't know. I just…it didn't seem fair. I mean, I know what it's like to be stuck with Tyler. With someone who doesn't really love you – not really. If you were fired, then you'd really be stuck with him."
She rolled her eyes. "Pity, then? That's why?"
"Also, I was a little scared," I admitted.
She nodded. "That's what I thought. You didn't want Victoria to know about you and Edward."
I shrugged noncommittally and edged around the question. "You didn't deserve to go out of a job."
She pursed her lips. "Well. Thanks."
We stared at each other for a long moment.
"How did you know, anyway?" I asked, unable to keep my mouth shut. "About Victoria wanting to…you know."
"It doesn't take too long to get Jessica to tell you something, if you know what to do. It's always obvious when she has a secret, anyway. She keeps looking at you and then away and then giggling." Lauren smiled wryly. "I try not to tell her too much."
I grinned. "Smart."
There was another uneasy silence.
"So, how's Tyler?" I asked, sniffing slightly. Not the best ice-breaker I'd ever thought of, but it was something.
She blinked at me. "I don't know. I haven't seen him since last night. He said he was going out to meet someone."
"Oh…I…" I sucked in a breath. "I'm sorry." Yes, I was sorry – he had probably been referring to me, which made this situation doubly awkward.
"I'm used to it," she said, giving me a tight smile.
"So, um," I continued, desperate not to let another void-like silence fill the room, "How did you know I was in here?"
"Jessica," she said simply. "She said you looked like you were in desperate need of caffeine."
"Oh. And, uh, how's Victoria?"
For the first time in our conversation, Lauren seemed uncomfortable. "I'm not really sure. She's been avoiding me. When I do see her, she's always on her phone or talking to Jessica." She frowned. "I would be careful, if I were you."
"Oh." My eyes widened. "Thanks for telling me."
I took in another unnecessary breath.
"So, um, I'd better get going," I said hurriedly, crushing my empty Styrofoam cup in my hand and lobbing it into the trashcan.
"Okay, so, um, nice talking to you, Lauren." I smiled weakly at her – I hoped she couldn't tell how much she creeped me out, despite the fact that she wasn't that bad of a person.
"Nice talking to you, too, Bella," she said, still sitting in her chair and staring at me with a strange expression on her face. It was almost like she was trying to stare right through me.
I shuddered and hurried out of the room. Suddenly, work seemed like a really good option.
ASADSFADS ASADSFADS ASADSFADS
I was updating Edward's schedule when someone knocked on my door.
"It's open," I called, angling my head slightly towards the door. "Just come in."
I heard a loud chuckle before the door opened and a tall figure strode in.
"Um, hi," I said, my eyebrows rising as I took in the man before me – he wasn't quite as tall as Edward, but still of substantially greater height than I. His hair was also very odd – it was a kind of dirty-ish blonde, the color I'd heard people refer to as "dishwater". It didn't seem like it quite suited him.
"Hello," he said, his voice sounding familiar. He stuck out one hand and smirked at me as I slowly shook it. He obviously thought he was intimidating me.
"Do you need something?" I asked politely, keeping my expression blank.
He grinned wolfishly, his white teeth flashing. "Actually, I was wondering if Mr. Cullen was here."
"I'm sorry, but Mr. Cullen is currently in a meeting," I grabbed a pen and notepad. "However, if you can tell me your name and number, I can tell him you stopped by and have him give you a call."
"Alright," he said, smiling strangely at me, like our conversation was amusing him. "It's James Lawrence – he'll know who I am – and my number is 540-6647. Got it?" He seemed doubly amused at the sight of my chicken scratch handwriting scrawled across the paper – his grey eyes were twinkling.
"Got it," I said, giving him a brief nod of my head.
"Mmhm," he nodded back at me. "I'll be expecting that call soon." He winked at me and walked back out through the door.
I blinked at his retreating figure. Did he just…?
I shook my head. It must be something in the water.
I turned to the sheet of paper in front of me and typed the name and number into Edward's to-do list, something I would give to him as soon as he returned from his meeting. He had already received three calls this morning, and had a lunch date with a client (I couldn't remember which) at La Scala at 11:00…
Suddenly, I remembered something – the tall man had said his name was "James Lawrence", as in "Mr. Lawrence", as in the head of Matherson Corporations, as in the man that had seen me sleeping at my desk. As in the man that was prosecuting Jacob.
As in the man that had just hit on me.
My eyes widened. I had expected someone whose personality sounded so acidic to look rather…well, similarly acidic. Instead, he was actually handsome, in a Jasper-mixed-with-Tyler kind of way, which I found vaguely creepy.
I blushed when I realized why he seemed so amused – he was probably surprised that I was actually awake at my job. I groaned and slumped in my seat. Now, every time that I saw him – which would probably be often, considering that he was Edward's main case – I would be reminded of my incompetence.
There was another quick rap at my door, and I quickly gave a dull, "Come on in," before the tall man poked his head in once more.
"Sorry to bother you," he said, grinning wickedly, "but I didn't catch your name."
"Isabella Swan," I said stiffly, unwilling to let him know my nickname.
"Do you mind if I call you Bella?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. "It seems as though we'll be spending some time together today – after all, you're coming with Mr. Cullen to La Scala in an hour, correct?"
I gaped at him. Had he just invited me to his lunch meeting with Edward?
"Well, I don't know, I'm not really – I'm rather – I have some papers – " I started spluttering, unsure how to convey the fact that it was inappropriate for me to join them.
"No worries," he said, waving his hands in the air as if he could magically make my workload disappear. "I'll talk to Edward." He winked again.
I glowered at him.
He laughed at my outward display of hostility. "No wonder he keeps you around – a guy like him, I'd expect him to cycle through secretaries like that." He snapped his fingers in the air. "But you're pretty, uh, what's the word? Ah, right – vibrant." His grin broadened at my obvious displeasure.
"Mr. Cullen merely has professional relationships with all of the staff, Mr. Lawrence," I spat.
He just smirked. "Well, really, Bella, what do you expect me to think when you've got a guy like that surrounded by several pretty, willing women? I've seen some of them when I came in, all flirting with him." He shook his head, smiling. "God, what a life." He then eyed me critically. "'Course, you're the only one he really seems to care about. Keep the ones you like best closest, right?"
I flushed red. "I'll let Mr. Cullen know you stopped by."
"Sure thing, sugar." He winked again – what was with him and winking? "I'll see you at lunch – and don't forget to call." And then he disappeared out the door, a stream of laughter following in his wake.
"What an arrogant, pig-headed jerk," I said to myself angrily, typing furiously on the computer. My fingers paused, though, when I realized something odd – if he was just going to see Edward today at lunch, then why would he need to stop by to give him his number? Obviously, Edward already had it anyway…he had to, if he wanted to keep in touch with his client.
Mr. Lawrence must have had an ulterior motive, then – another reason for stopping by my office.
I blushed when I realized the ulterior motive had probably just been to poke fun at me.
ASADSFADS ASADSFADS ASADSFADS
"You're not coming."
"Edward, the man practically forced me into it, how can I not?"
"It's not appropriate."
"I know that. And he knows it too, probably – he just wants to goad you."
"He's doing a damn fine job of it."
"Edward, he called you and asked specifically for me to come. I don't want you to lose your main client over me."
Edward glared at me and sullenly crossed his arms in front of his chest, sitting on the edge of his desk and swinging his legs back and forth like a child. "I still don't think you should come."
I sighed and placed my hands on his knees. "We need to keep this a secret for just a week longer, okay? It shouldn't be too hard – but if you let him see how protective you are, you might as well just tell Victoria, too."
He continued to sulk.
"Please, Edward," I said softly, staring into his eyes. Once again, I was captivated by how beautiful they were, something that always managed to make me feel horribly shallow.
He slowly closed his eyes, his eyelashes resting on his cheekbones. "Fine," he breathed, taking my hands in his and holding them between us.
"Thank you," I said, smiling and giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
"I hope you don't think I am too protective," he said quietly, drawing me in slightly closer.
"Not at all," I assured him rather dazedly. I couldn't quite think straight when we were so close.
"It's just, there are so many others who are all so…they all have things I don't," he said, his angel face scrunching up into a mask of frustration. "They have more experience, or they're more carefree, or less busy, or have more of your interests…they all have ways they could hold your attention."
"Edward, there's nobody but you – there will never be anybody but you," I replied loyally. My cheeks instantly colored red when I realized that I had come dangerously close to saying that I would either spend the rest of my life with him or be a spinster, which was only a step away from admitting love.
He smiled sadly. "That's what everybody says. They say I'm crazy for being so scared, but I can't help it, Bella. There are so many men out there who would kill to be with you, and I'm the lucky chump who actually gets to? It seems too good to be true. I feel like at any moment it's all going to be taken out from under me."
"I'm staying," I said fiercely, tightening my hold on his hands. "You're not getting rid of me so easy, Mr. Cullen."
He laughed, and I quickly inhaled his breath – it was like he was constantly chewing tic-tacs or something; nobody's breath was naturally that minty-fresh.
His eyes opened, and I was startled by how…dark they looked. That was something else that astounded me about Edward – his eyes were always changing. Now they were a deep Evergreen, the color of pine needles, whereas they were usually a lighter, clearer, perfectly-manicured-lawn green.
"Bella," he said, his voice low, "Would you mind very much if I – ?"
"You don't need to ask," I responded, and pressed my lips to his before he could finish his sentence.
Without even meaning to, I was surrounded by him – every place he touched crackled with electricity, every movement of his hands in my hair or his arm circled around my back sent a shock up my spine, and every brush of his fingers against my bare skin sent a tingle of thrill through my nervous system. I was handicapped to an almost embarrassing degree – all I could see, smell, hear, and taste was Edward. All I could think about was Edward. And while I was kissing him, the rest of the world held its breath.
That's what made it such utter bliss.
I threw myself even more into him, and smiled as he swiveled around and slowly leaned me against the desk. Or was it really even a desk? I couldn't remember – for all I knew, it was the floor, or a bed, or a tropical beach in Hawaii. My entire world consisted of only him and myself. It had no room for unnecessary objects such as things we were laying on.
Suddenly, his lips weren't attacking mine anymore, and were instead trailing down my neck and towards that "danger" region that extended from the second button on my blouse to the bottom of my collarbone. At the last minute, though, his head dipped from the side of my neck back up my jaw line, his nose grazing my cheekbone.
I wrapped my legs around his waist and smiled. I loved my job.
"I think we're going to have to stop there," he said, lifting his head from by the side of my face and gazing down at me, his expression clearly indicating that he had no greater desire than to continue with what he had been doing.
"Oh," I said breathlessly, sitting up rather awkwardly and disentangling myself from him.
He laughter sounded slightly restrained. "I don't think I could have contained myself if we went on."
I smiled. It was nice to know I had that effect on him, as well. "Well," I said, still sounding out of breath, "I think we'll have to go see Mr. Lawrence."
Immediately, the room's buoyant atmosphere deflated.
"Right," Edward said crossly, helping me back down to the floor from his desk and proceeding to glare menacingly at the wallpaper.
I rolled my eyes. "I just spent a good twenty minutes showing you that you have nothing to worry about, and you're still anxious?"
He sighed. "Right, I know. But what if he tries something? He's known as a huge flirt – no doubt he'll try to seduce you at our lunch table, probably over the entrée, no less." His eyes narrowed. "And I won't be able to do anything about it. That's what I hate about this whole thing – " he threw his hands in the air, " – I'm not even able to claim you as mine. I just have to sit back…and watch."
"No, Edward. You won't have to watch, because nothing will happen. I can take care of myself. I can tell him to back off. I can get just as indignant as you. I can refuse him – I don't need you to do that for me."
He eyed me skeptically. "You don't seem to be able to do that with Tyler."
I blushed. "Tyler's insane, and, as far as I've seen, Mr. Lawrence is perfectly lucid. You deal with people differently when they have different states of mind."
He took in a deep breath and tried to smile. "Okay."
I smiled. "Don't worry. Everything will be fine."
I failed to mention, though, that I didn't quite have the foresight of Alice – my predictions almost always turned out wrong.
A/N: Yay, foreshadowing.
So, regarding the length of this story, I'm going to give it a lifespan of about two to five more chapters before it ends (probably around three, but I'm not entirely certain).
And, I am leaving for DC on Sunday and will be gone for a week, and I highly doubt I will update before then…but, actually, that shouldn't worry you, because I have planned the last two chapters out in my head completely. Well, vaguely, at least.
What I'm trying to say is, I'll update a whole lot sooner.
(Oh, and, did anyone catch that "It must be something in the water" reference, or is that just me?)