AN: Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author; they merely vacation in my brain now and again. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. This includes both the Twilight series and the film Empire Records. Quotes taken from either media franchise are done for continuity and remain attributed to their respective authors.


The storeroom was unusually dark as Edward Cullen pushed open the door, a stack of Miley Cyrus CDs clutched in his right hand, a cardboard display of the annoying progeny of Achey-Breaky Billy in his left. He was so very happy to be rid of her toothy smile, the one that had beamed obnoxiously from the table beside the checkout station he preferred to man each and every day for the last three weeks. While Velvet Records tended to cater to the more discerning music tastes of Forks and its surrounding towns, a haven for those who dreaded the usual country and pop mix of the local radio stations, Carlisle maintained that providing the Top 40 Trash was crucial, if only to lure in those with 'unrefined' musical preferences and perhaps educate them. Artists like Miley tended to blitz on the release week and fade out within a month, the regular customers moving on past to the extensive collection of vinyl and classic remasters that were more to Edward's liking.

Edward flipped the switch alongside the thick steel door, to no avail. He flicked it again, as if that would somehow elicit a response, as if a light bulb were a lazy teenager requiring a more insistent demand. Realizing that, once again, the bulb had bailed precisely at the midnight closing time, Edward cursed, tossing Miley onto the desk to his right that he could find without sight, turning around to head for the supply closet. Sometimes, he wondered if this were one of Emmett's stupid stoner tricks. He half expected to find the bulb loose once he ascended the step-ladder and unscrewed the lamp shade that resembled a Chinese lantern gone horribly awry. Swinging open the supply closet door, he nearly slammed into a porcelain-skinned brunette, her tiny hand pressing against her chest in shock.

"Jesus, Edward!"

"Bella! I thought you'd left for the night."

"Couldn't finish counting out. The bulb blew right in the middle of register tallies."

Edward smiled, the night suddenly infinitely brighter. The sight of his best friend never failed to make a bad day improve. As usual, she was dressed in her typical 'schoolgirl going corrupt' style, her long brown locks falling in slight waves to kiss the soft black sweater that barely reached her waist, where her navel piercing peeked out above a black and red plaid kilt. Bella grinned, playfully messing his hair, as she always did, and his heart skipped a beat. She would never know just how much he cared for her, how much he longed for their friendship to evolve into something more. He'd been in love with her for one year, two months and six days now – but who was counting?

You are. And you will keep right on counting, until she moves away to college and falls in love with some Ivy League jock and leaves you all emo and blasting Nine Inch Nails.

"I noticed. I thought it was one of Emmett's pranks again," he finally replied, forcing himself back to the present.

Bella waved a light bulb in her left hand and gestured to the ladder to her right, "Shall we?"

Edward took hold of the ladder and followed Bella back to the storeroom, finding himself helpless to ignore the way her delicate hips swayed, the way the breeze lightly lifted her skirt, a tease of thigh unleashed here and there, just enough for him to feel terribly uncomfortable in his tight black jeans. Quickly, he began reciting lyrics to old gospel tracks, willing his groin to behave itself. Bella propped the storeroom door open with a chunk of brick and hit the hall lights to illuminate their workspace. Edward unfolded the ladder, locking the safeties in place, and held his hand out for the bulb.

"Up I go. Hand me the bulb, Bella."

Bella shook her head, "No, I should do it."

Edward's brow crinkled, "Um, why?"

Bella smiled, "Because that shade is fucking heavy and I'm a damn klutz. I'd much rather take it down and have you take it from me than hold it while you do the bulb."

Edward couldn't argue with that; Bella was indeed the clumsiest girl he'd ever met. On her first day at Velvet, she'd slashed her wrist with an exacto knife as she opened boxes of newly-arrived imports. He'd been the one to take her to the ER, carrying her in when she fainted at the smell of the blood. Bella had zero tolerance for blood; she pretty much ran whenever someone mentioned a paper cut.

"Alright then. But let me hold the bulb while you climb the damn ladder."

Bella smiled and passed him the spiraling energy-efficient bulb, and slowly made her way up the six steps towards the darkened shade. Edward tried to avert his gaze, tried to focus on how he'd catch her if she tumbled off the ladder, but there was no ignoring the silky red panties beneath her skirt, and he had a front row view. God, how could she not realize how badly he wanted her? How could she not notice the way his gaze lingered, or how he grimaced and glared when men made passes on her at the store? Was she really so naïve?

The ladder shuddered slightly as Bella unscrewed the lantern shade from the socket, fumbling but holding onto it to pass it down to Edward. Jarred from the dirty thoughts that had begun to run wild, he traded her for the bulb, and she thanked him, unscrewing the dead one and replacing it with the replacement. With a satisfied smile, she told him to try the switch, clapping her hands like a child when the room lit up, nearly blinding Edward's weary eyes. He'd pulled a double again today, but such were the breaks when you were the manager's son.

"Let me do the shade, Bella. Just in case," Edward suggested.

"I'm perfectly capable Edward," she protested, her brown eyes flashing dark.

"Perfectly capable of dropping it and impaling my eye," he cracked back.

Bella sighed, "Fine, Mister Tough Guy. Be my guest."

Edward should have known. The moment Bella tried to descend, her foot missed a step and she began to tumble to the ground. Reflexes kicked in and the shade was quickly dropped, his hands securely latching onto Bella's hips and pulling her against him, his feet stumbling backwards a few steps to steady them as the lantern met its doom on the tiles beside them. Edward couldn't help himself: he burst into laughter, hysterical, crazy laughter of the kind he usually only emitted when smoking a joint by the sign on the roof with Jasper and Emmett. Bella soon joined in, playfully smacking his arm, failing at feigning anger at his reaction.

"Goddamn it Bella, you... are such.... a train wreck!" Edward gasped, barely able to speak.

"I'm hopeless... And you're mean! I could have been killed!" Her smile softened her words, her head thrown back as she laughed harder.

"Instead you killed the lantern. Carlisle really liked that one, too," Edward quipped, not savouring the task of sweeping up the glass around them.

"Shit! I have a Calculus test to study for, too," Bella moaned, kicking a large shard near her foot.

"I'll take care of it. I'm closing, anyway."

Bella wrapped her arms around Edward's neck, turning to face him, examining his face intently, as if searching for some mystery there. Edward swallowed hard, forcing himself to remain casual, suddenly aware of a growing awareness of Bella's proximity in his pants. If she leaned any closer, she'd feel... A big surprise.

"You always take care of me, Edward. How will I ever thank you?"

In a bold moment, Edward winked and replied, "Oh I'm sure I could think of a way..."

As Bella suddenly pressed her lips against his, pulling him closer to her as she strained onto her toes, Edward was stunned. Wait! What...? But then, the throbbing in his jeans grew and he obeyed, kissing her back with everything he had, his hands drifting to her bare waist, her body shuddering at the touch. Emboldened by her lead, he ran his tongue lightly along her lips and felt them part, granting him permission as he deepened their kiss. Her hands began to wander from his neck, the left tangling in his messy copper locks, the strands twisting about her delicate fingers as she pulled slightly, the twinge of pain an aphrodisiac that sent his own hands drifting up her sides, caressing the delicate frame beneath the softness of her sweater. Her right hand connected with the bulge in his pants, cupping his ever-hardening shaft, a moan escaping his lips. Matching her brazen move, he slid his left hand down to her thigh and up her short skirt, feeling he hips press towards him as he caressed the cool silk of her panties, tracing the lacy low rise edge, sliding down along her flat abdomen and coming to rest between her legs, his wanting growing as he felt the dampness soaking the fabric. He breathlessly pulled away from her lips, his warm brown eyes connecting with hers.

"Fuck, Bella..."

"What's taken you so long?" Bella murmured softly.

"I-I didn't think-"

"I've wanted you for so long, Edward."

Edward needed no further assurance. Bella wanted him. This beautiful, intelligent, witty woman wanted him back, wanted him the way he'd wanted her for so very long. Had he really missed the signs all along? A small smile crept across his lips as his hands seized her waist, setting her down on the count-out table as she giggled and sighed happily. He kissed her again, intoxicated by her scent, her vanilla and freshman body spray filling his head as his left hand worked its way inside her panties between her widely spread thighs. His fingers grazed flesh – she was so wet! - and he teased her, running a finger in circles just beyond her clitoris, her body writhing impatiently.

"Please," she panted in his ear, biting it gently.

Edward pulled himself away from her full lips and leaned over her, his right hand shoving her skirt up and out of the way. How he'd dreamt of tasting her! He would dream no longer. He would have her now. She would scream when he was through with her. Her hand met his shoulder, grabbing it in ecstasy as he breathed heavily outside her panties, the warmth of his exhalation sending a shudder through her legs. Her hand clutched his shoulder, shaking him now, confusing him. He heard his name, but it sounded distant, far away...

"Edward?... Hey, lazy ass, wake up! Edward?"

Edward awoke with a start and a raging hard-on, greeted by a curvaceous blonde with a bemused look on her lips. It was a dream? Goddamn it! Edward sighed and stretched his arms, remaining seated before several large stacks of cash before him. He must have passed out during the final counts.

"Jesus, I've been trying to wake you up for a solid minute."

"Double shifts don't agree with me, I guess," Edward grumbled, "What are you doing here Rosalie?"

"Looking for Carlisle. Is he around?"

Edward shook his head, "My life has reached its pinnacle: Carlisle's letting me close the store tonight."

Rosalie raised an eyebrow, "You're kidding."

"I am not."

Rosalie perched on the count-out table, her black mini-skirt and red halter top completely out of place, "Big responsibility, Edward."

"But Carlisle's rules are very simple. Count the money twice and keep my hands off his gin, grass and guitar."

Rosalie chuckled, eyeing the rolled joint and glass of what smelled like gin and ginger ale beside Edward, "My my, how will you remember it all?"

Edward laughed, placing a finger against his lips, and Rosalie headed for the door, a slight sashay in her hips. She turned back towards him, winking playfully.

"I have plans tonight with Bella, so I'm off, I suppose. Don't screw it up."

"Goodnight, Rose. Say hi to Bella."

The door shut with a loud bang, and Edward sighed, returning to the cash before him. The calculator read 9,104. Sighing, he began counting one more time, just to be sure.

Might as well listen to at least one rule...

Thankfully, the gin had not yet fogged his brain. The totals matched up on the second count, and Edward chugged his drink, throwing open the desk drawer behind him in search of the bank deposit bag. Lifting the dark green fabric case, something in the drawer caught his eye. Hesitating briefly at the potential invasion of privacy, he withdrew a set of documents and diagrams. A brief scan of them sent him back under the desk for a straight shot of gin.

That son of a bitch James, that bastard owner who wouldn't know good music if it bitch slapped him, was going to convert Velvet to a Virgin Megastore.

Things suddenly fell into place: the sad smile on Carlisle's face each morning as he opened the store; the way he had been urging Edward to apply to the conservatory to pursue his music "instead of wasting your life here"; the late-night calls that left him angry and brooding before the TV... Velvet Records was Carlisle's baby. It was his world. He would never survive under the corporate machinery of Virgin.

It struck Edward then that he could attempt to do something. He could try to save the store, somehow. But how? His eyes scanned the room, his hands twitching, anxious to act. The stack of cash, the night's deposit, called to him. In his mind, he remembered something Emmett and Jasper had been discussing last week, and a small smile crept over his lips.

"The time to hesitate is through," he whispered, stuffing the cash into a large brown envelope, slipping the joint into his coat pocket, and running out of the store, barely hitting the alarm code on as he bolted the glass doors.

His trusty Volvo awaited him out back, the silver car that purred happily as he floored it around the city. Tossing the envelope into the glove box, he gunned the engine and headed for Seattle, the sounds of Pulp blaring out the window as he cruised the highway.