A/N: Okay so the lemon escapes me until Chapter 19, but I have a solid foundation now. There's a little bit of goody in this one, but only a little. I'm in a hurry to get to the next chapter! Agh! All this dialogue is driving me crazy, lol. --Nes--

CHAPTER 18

Bacon. Nice crispy bacon is the only way I can describe what I feared becoming in the baking microwave tanning ovens at the only tanning salon in Forks. Frankly, I couldn't believe they had a salon of any type. Even more, I couldn't believe I had talked myself into going in the first place.

A slightly crisped girl greeted me when I stepped through the door. She walked out from behind a yellow, chest high counter with an array of lotions and oils displayed around a miniature plastic palm tree. The dim yellow lighting of the waiting room (paired with neon orange chairs) gave her an eerie glow.

"Can I help…you?" she stuttered. I noticed the way her eyes grew a bit large when she surveyed my appearance. I forced a smile and stepped back when the scent of her tropical body spray shoved its way up my nose.

"I was just going to see how much it costs."

"This is your first time, right?" she asked, flipping her blonde hair over one shoulder and putting a finger to her mouth like a cheap pin up. My blank stare did nothing to move the conversation along, so I nodded and motioned to my body. She smiled her extra white toothy smile and skipped back behind the counter. "Well you'll probably want a six month membership because you're, like, a freaking snowman."

"Thanks."

"That will be ten dollars per session with four sessions a week and…that...makes...it…." Her eyebrows came together as she tapped away on theregister behind the counter. "You know we could just sign you up for a package."

"I was kinda' thinking about one session and then, if I like it, we can go from there."

There was a pause and then the proverbial light bulb sparked.

"Great! Did you want the Tannalicious or the Fully Body Emersion?"

"Excuse me?"

"Well, uhm, you're not going to get anywhere if you just lay in the bed. It'll take weeks," the tanning expert said, cocking her head to the side and pouting her pink glossed lips.

"Don't you have a lotion or something I can do at home?"

Another pout.

"Come with me. I think I have the perfect thing for you."

In a flash I found myself practically naked, standing in a tube with a dozen severe looking showerheads pointing at my body. An electronic counter on the door ticked down from ten seconds. I was about to hyperventilate before the thing even started; Then a loud whir started, resonating though the floor and into my feet. I put my arms out and held my breath as a fine brown mist sprayed out of the nozzles.

It was over as quick as it started and I didn't open my eyes until the girl's voice sounded over an intercom.

"You doing alright?"

"Fine," I said loudly. I heard the intercom click, and an intense blast of warm air filled the tube. I jumped and held my breath again, even though I knew the air wasn't toxic.

"Okay, now put the robe on and you're done!" said the same bubbly voice.

"Thanks for everything, ma'am," I said, without a final glance at the attendant. I rushed out of the salon, and jumped into my flashy blue Lexus, slightly embarrassed, but feeling more like a million dollars than I probably ever would. I didn't look at myself in the mirror at the salon, but the gentle reflection of warm honey coming from my skin was all that I needed.

I spent the rest of my afternoon finishing laundry and other piddling house chores in a fabulous mood. My hair felt thicker, my legs longer, I even felt like my boobs had gone up a size or two. Which may have been due to the short shorts and low cut tank I had thrown on. With the music up loud on the radio and yellow kitchen gloves up to my elbows, I crouched down on the floor and started scrubbing out that nasty spaghetti sauce stain Charlie had left on the carpet a week before. My head bobbed to the beat, locks of chocolate hair swinging back and forth. I wiped away the bit of sweat I'd worked up with the crook of my elbow. I cranked up the radio to max volume and sang along.

"Then I saw her face. Now I'm a believer! Not a trace, of doubt in my mind. I'm in looooove! I'M A BELIEVER!"

That sauce created a bastard of a stain, and I was about to get up to fill my mop bucket with fresh hot water when a pair of hands latched on to my rear. Ordinarily I wouldn't have thought anything other than Edward, but the house was empty, and had been for a while. My instincts took over and I went to the ground, whirling my elbow backwards, hoping to hit whoever it was that had caught me unaware.

"What the fuck are you do—" I shouted before the shocked face of my future husband looking down on me came into focus.

"I could ask you the same, Bella Swan." My mind took a moment to catch up with what he said, and Edward nodded to my chest. Upon examination, there was nothing hanging out or uncovered or really mussed at all. "You have…color," Edward said, his eyes squinting as though I might transform before him at any moment.

"I, uh…got a tan."

"How?"

"Just because I look like a ghost year round doesn't mean I'm incapable of getting a tan, Edward," I snapped.

"Yeah, but with a total of two days of sunlight in Forks each year, I'm a little surprised to see you quite so, well, colorful!" My ever-punctual embarrassment flared up at that moment, sending a fresh wave of red to my cheeks. I only hoped my little bit of a tan covered up the usual vividness of my blush. "I like it."

"Really?"

"Of course. I like the way it gives you such a lively complexion. It enhances the rose in your cheeks," he grinned, and placed a kiss on my red-hot cheek. Dammit. "And the yellow gloves are a nice touch."

I had forgotten I was wearing the bright cleaning gloves and ripped them off as quick as humanly possible. They fell to the floor with a rubbery splat! Edward gave a hand to help me off the ground and my stomach immediately grumbled. I clutched at it, a sharp pain suddenly pricking my side.

"Hungry?"

"Starving," I groaned. "I guess I didn't realized how long it's been since I've eaten. Actually, I don't think I've eaten at all today."

"It's nearly dinner time. Would you like me to cook for you?" Edward offered. I laughed a little louder than I probably should have, because Edward was making an honest effort, and I appreciated the time he took to master a select few of my favorite dishes. I would love to watch him standing at the counter; cutting up carrots as skillfully and precisely as he caressed the keys of the grand piano, but I didn't feel like eating anything at Charlie's house. Not to mention the fridge was practically bare, with me always at the Cullen's and Charlie's main source of food coming off the end of a fishing rod. One could count on a dozen fish fillets in the freezer at any given moment, and I thought I had spied some bell peppers in the vegetable drawer, but you can only handle so much fish in a lifetime. And I had eaten my fair share for all the residents of Forks combined…

ii

"Oohhmmmm….this is so much better than I remember," I said around a mouthful of garlic bread. Salty, soft, but slightly crispy on the bottom. Freaking perfect. Edward had the brilliant idea to go to the little Italian place he had taken me on our first unofficial date.

The waitress came just about that time to take our orders. She wasn't extraordinary, but she wasn't ordinary either. Her blonde hair was pulled into a slick ponytail and the white shirt and black slacks reminded me of the fancy restaurants back in Pheonix. Her high arched eyebrows were set in an almost surprised position when she looked at me and then Edward, who sat across from me at the table.

"Can I get you something to drink other than water?" she asked, her slight southern accent giving away what I had suspected, considering she had a fine mist of freckles over her cheekbones and the bridge of her nose. (Nobody from Forks had freckles caused by the sun. She had to be from the South.)

"She'll have a Coke, please," Edward answered for me. Very gracious of him, considering I was trying to choke down a large piece of bread. I tried to smile apologetically without a hunk of crust slipping out of my lips. She smiled and nodded at Edward, then gave me the same. I watched her walk away toward the kitchen, a light sway to her curved hips.

"Do you know that girl?" I asked when I had finally defeated the bread. Edward shrugged and crossed his stony arms over his chest.

"Maybe she's waited on us before."

"I don't remember her, but she looks familiar. Can you hear what she's thinking?"

"Most times, I make it a habit not to listen in to people's personal thoughts, Bella," Edward said, tilting his chin down in disapproval.

"I'm not asking you to get the dirt on her, just see if she knows us somehow." I couldn't believe he was going to be stubborn about this, so I tried to head it off before he had a chance. "Maybe she's a relative of Mike's."

"Mike Newton could not possibly be related to that."

"Why? Because she's attractive?"

Edward's disapproval surged and he rolled his eyes dramatically. "We're not having this conversation, Bella."

"How come you get to decide when it ends?"

"Because I don't want this to turn into an investigation of our waitress," he whispered loudly. His mouth settled into a hard line as the blonde server arrived with my Coke. I thanked her this time, my mouth clear of debris, and she slid the drink in front of me. Edward ordered for me – mushroom ravioli, my favorite – and the waitress smirked.

"He sure takes charge, doesn't he?" she said with a smile. I looked down at the napkin in my lap and nodded my head a little. "Well some women like that in a man. I'll go get your order in and it should be out soon. My name is Lily if you need anything else."

"Thank you, Lily," I said.

The bubbles in my soda were pushing the straw out of the cup, so I tapped it down as it bobbed between the ice cubes. Edward didn't say anything. He just sat there, staring at the checkered tablecloth. I sighed and leaned back in my chair. I let my legs stretch out under the table until I found Edward's feet. I nudged his foot and put on my best mischievous grin. "Stop playing footsy with me," I said, and gave him another, slightly harder nudge.

He looked up and I saw a twitch in his lips. "I didn't move," he said.

"You don't have to." I lifted my foot a little higher and rubbed it along his calf. He shifted in the chair and cleared his throat. "Be careful, Bella."

"I'm quite sure I don't know what you're speaking of," I said, trying to mimic some of his cadence. I brought my foot down and slipped it out of the ballet flats I had on. I let my toes brush along his inner leg and up to his thigh where I rested my heel on the chair between his legs.

"Aren't you hungry?" I asked, and nodded to the bread sitting in the basket between us.

"Not for that," he answered and shifted again, uncrossing his arms and dropping his hands below the table. He grabbed my bare foot and started to massage it with his cool fingers.

"How is your Coke?" Edward asked, changing the subject abruptly.

I sighed, "It's fine."

My heart rate had tripled while he slid his fingers between my toes, rubbing his strong thumbs along the bottom of my foot before removing it from his seat. He smiled, showing his teeth slightly, and I forgot how to breath.

I watched Edward's face as he checked the time on his cell, then turned back to staring at the tablecloth. The light of the tealight candle on the table was flickering in his eyes, making the gold appear to swirl about as the flame danced under the breeze of the ceiling fan. He looked so distant, detached, like a marble statue in Rome, glaring down at the tourists in the streets.

"Penny for your thoughts?" I asked, trying to gently break him out of his spell.

His eyes lifted, connecting in all of their severity to mine. "Thoughts of you are worth more than two pennies, love," he said and his mouth pulled up into my favorite of crooked smiles. It was only there for a moment before he closed his eyes and leaned far back into his chair. "The service here is slow."

"I didn't realize."

"That's because you've been stuffing yourself with bread."

I tried to give a genuine laugh, but it came out wrong. "Well, I still like the taste of food, so…"

"It's fine. Here comes your meal."

The waitress pushed her way backwards out of the kitchen doors, a tray lifted high above her right shoulder. I could smell the melted Parmesan cheese before I ever saw the plate. And the plate didn't even have time to cool down before I had finished my wonderful meal.

ii

With a pleasantly full tummy, I followed Edward to the register at the front of the restaurant, where he paid for everything in cash. He left Lily a hefty tip and she called after us as we were making our way down the front steps into the parking lot.

"Sir! Sir!" she hollered.

Edward turned around and pulled me close, putting his arm around my shoulders.

"I just wanted to thank you for the tip, but really. It's not necessary," Lily said, gliding down the steps with ease. She had a fistful of bills.

"No, it's yours," Edward said and waved her hand away. I smiled and thanked her again for her service. She really was beautiful in the moonlight that filtered through the clouds.

"I really can't take this. Please. It's too much, sir."

"Just take it, Edward," I said. He looked down at me then back at her.

"It's yours, Ma'am. We're in a hurry. You can have the money."

Her face lit up and she clutched the money tight before stuffing it into her apron. "Thank y'all so much. You're very generous. Have a good night, now."

"Thanks, Lily. You do the same," I said, and she rushed back inside. Something was so odd about that girl. "What do you think that was about?" I asked.

Edward only shrugged again and opened the passenger door to his car. "All I know is I'm ready to get home," he said and shut the door. I tried to count the seconds before he appeared on the other side of the car, but he was already in the seat and buckled by one mississippi.

"Since when are you in a hurry? You were rushing me at dinner, too."

The grin slowly started to take over Edward's face in spite of himself. He looked out the window but I could tell he was hiding a smile.

"It's nothing," he said, and turned his focus back to the road, completely composed.

"You're such a liar," I laughed.

"You're one to talk."

"Excuse me?"

He sighed and brought his fingers up to pinch the bridge of his nose, resting his elbow on the windowsill, choosing his next sentence. "You know you look good enough to eat, today?"

That one definitely took me by surprise.

"Let's just say, it's been a long, hard day, and I'm ready to take you home…Bella." Edward's eyes slid to the side and I felt a wave of heat start in my chest. "Do you understand?"

"I hope so, or I'm going to feel like a real idiot later." I tried to swallow but the lump of sudden anticipation in my throat made me choke. I tried to cover it up by laughing, but it just made it worse. I felt like an idiot anyway.

A/N: See, it wasn't 6 months!! :)