A/N: Hola my wonderful readers! I have some important news. This is the last chapter before the epilogue. I'm sad to have to end the story but it's coming to a definite end. I know some of you would like me to continue with a sequel and I might, but I need the plot bunnies to come find me before I do such a thing. Fortunately, I have had some ideas but none that are ready for paper. I just want to give a big thanks to everyone who stuck with me on this story. I know it got a little messy and I know I was on hiatus numerous times but you guys stuck by me and kept giving me encouragment! So, thanks a bunch!
Chapter 26: Ever The Same
You know how they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder? Well, they forget to mention that along with fondness, comes hurt, anger and a broken heart. Yeah, I didn't think that sounded very good either. I guess they couldn't say that absence makes the heart broken, huh? I sighed and tried to clear my irrational thoughts. It had been a difficult couple of weeks. My eyes quickly scanned a few papers before I signed the top and dropped it onto another growing pile.
It hadn't really been that bad. I mean, for someone who didn't know what was going on, it wouldn't seem that bad. But, for me, it was bad; working with the person who had stolen your heart, broken it as many times as possible and somehow regained it made everything very difficult for me and hopefully for him. It's not as though I want him to be tortured with it like I am, but it's not like I don't want him to not even think about it a little bit.
I guess I deserve what I got. Biting off more than I could chew, right? I tapped my fingers impatiently on my desk. It had also been a very boring few weeks. There were no fights, no arguments and Edward hadn't almost killed anyone either. It felt like the world had been thrown off balance. When Edward isn't 'accidentally' almost killing someone or not having a lawsuit against him, something is definitely off.
Or maybe it isn't.
This is how it's been for the past few weeks. I contemplated every waking thought that entered my mind. Every 'what-if', every confusing thought, every want and wish for things to return to normal. It was probably going to drive me insane, if I wasn't there already. I could handle nearly everything thrown at me but Edward, I could not. He was like some unstoppable force that continued to get under my skin, even without contact.
"Bella, are you awake?"
I dropped the pen I was holding and sucked in a breath quickly, my thoughts scattering as I tried to focus on the person who had just walked through my office. I saw Rosalie moving gracefully across my carpeted office, her pregnant belly slightly large. I smiled and got up to go around the desk to embrace her.
"You've gotten bigger," I commented, my eyes glancing downward for just a moment.
She smiled and placed a hand over her swollen stomach. "Yeah, that happens over time. It wouldn't seem so big if you'd stop by more often."
My eyes widened as I realized that I hadn't talked to Rose in so long. I had been too caught up with my own personal issues to even give her a call. "I'm so sorry, Rose. It's just been…hectic."
When I saw the sympathy in her eyes, I knew Alice had told her. It didn't surprise me in the least though. We were all best friends and there shouldn't be secrets. Shouldn't have been secrets, I corrected myself. But now it's out. I suddenly felt a weight being lifted, if only slightly.
"I'm sorry about what happened," she said, placing a comforting hand on mine. I smiled my gratitude and moved back a little, not wanting her sympathy but not wanting to offend her. Even though the secret was out, I didn't want pity or sympathy for it. It's my problem. Well, it was my problem.
"It's no big deal," I shrugged and moved away, my smile probably coming off as a bit forced, since it was.
"I know you too well, Bella Swan," she chided playfully as she moved closer to my desk as I sat down. I still had so much paperwork to get through and so little time. I heard Rose touching the pictures and other personal items along my desk before she sighed. I looked up, one brow raised in question.
"It's just, you seem so closed off now."
"I just went out with Alice a few days ago."
"Sure, but to buy groceries. She said that if she hadn't done that, you would've starved to death."
I scoffed. "I would not have. You know Alice has a tendency to overreact." I watched as she stared down at me, giving me that pointed look that clearly said, 'I'm right and your wrong. Don't argue with me about it'.
I sighed and pushed my chair back. "Everything is fine. I've just been overloaded with work and such."
"Maybe you need a vacation," she offered, shrugging.
I had thought about it. I thought about leaving for a few weeks to Cabo or some other foreign place with a beach and a nice hotel. But I couldn't do it. I don't know what was stopping me. Everyone suggested I go but I just couldn't and a part of me didn't want to go. But, day after day, it was beginning to look more appealing.
"You're off in your own world again," Rose said, her voice stopping my thoughts in their track. "You really need to get out of here."
I mock glared. "I happen to like it here."
"Whatever you say, Bells," she laughed before her eyes went to the watch on her wrist. "I have to go but I want you to come over for dinner sometime. Emmett misses you."
"Emmett works one floor above me."
She smiled. "It's not the same Bells and you know it." She waved a goodbye and disappeared out of my office quickly, obviously in a rush to get wherever she was going. I leaned back against my chair again, more than ready to venture back to my thoughts where the idea of Cabo awaited me.
Realizing that I had probably just yelled at an employee, I sat up and looked straight ahead, to where one of Edward's teammates stood in the doorframe, looking slightly frightened. I sighed and stood, feeling guilty.
"I'm sorry. What did you need?"
"I have a message," he stated before he walked towards me, nervously I might add, and dropped the paper on my desk. I looked down at it.
"He was bound to get one sooner or later," I mumbled.
"What was that?"
"I said thank you," I said. I looked up at him one last time before he nearly bolted from my room. Was I really that scary? Moving onto the tiny slip of paper resting on my desk, I grabbed it and sat back down.
"So, who did you almost kill this time, Edward?"
Hesitantly, I unfolded the paper and quickly read over the fine handwriting that was clearly Edward's. I scanned the words, over and over, until my eyes began to hurt. Four weeks and this was what I got? I swear, sometimes all I wanted to do was smack him upside the head. With a laugh, I remembered that I'd done that and punched him.
Crumbling the tiny slip in my hand, I headed out of my office, towards the office of the doctor who was about to get another earful. Honestly, I didn't want to go up there and make some big speech about his stupid note. Maybe I'd just deck him again and get it over with. Or I could lie. As I rode in the elevator, I thought of the endless possibilities. The familiar ring sounded in my ears and I stepped off, edging my way towards his clear office.
At first, I couldn't see anyone but as soon as I thought it, Edward came into view. He was in his smaller office, the blinds slightly closed as he sat on his chair, his eyes closed, looking peaceful. I rolled my eyes and walked into the sunlit room.
"Why am I not surprised to find you sleeping?"
"Why am I not surprised you're here?"
I couldn't help the smile that appeared on my face. I was happy he had his eyes closed.
"I thought for sure your little note was another lawsuit. You know, I'm surprised you've gone so long without one."
"I am a good doctor," he laughed, "Sometimes."
I resisted the urge to laugh. His eyes were still closed, almost as though he were refusing to look at me. I raised a brow and crossed my arms.
"So, you got it?"
"Yes, I did."
"Did you like it?"
I scoffed. "All you put was 'did you think I wouldn't ever talk to you again?' What's there to like? By the way, you need teammates who aren't deathly afraid of me. What did you tell them?"
He smirked. "That you ate people like them for breakfast. What else?"
When he was met with silence, his eyes opened, meeting mine. He smiled and sat up, running a hand through his messy locks. It wasn't awkward, just strange. We hadn't talked about anything that had happened in the elevator, or anything for that matter. We simply hadn't seen or talked to each other since that day, as I liked to refer to it as.
"So, obviously you didn't like the note."
"What makes you say that?"
"Why else would you be here?"
"I am your boss. I'm allowed to check in on you."
He laughed. "I'm not a child."
It was my turn to laugh. "Yeah, you aren't a child. You're a grown man who acts like a child." He kept his smirk, unfazed by my mild insult.
After a moment, he stood, his height overshadowing me by a few inches. He stepped around me and towards his desk. I felt disappointment settle in my stomach and I wasn't sure what I had wanted to happen. Things between us were still rocky, no matter how civil we were being. Unspoken words had more meaning that spoken ones in my book.
"I…about the elevator…" I started but somehow, I couldn't find the right words. Everything I said came out mumbled and pathetic. I felt like one of the blubbering nurses that fawned over him every day.
"It was nothing," he said and the disappointment in my stomach turned to a wretched hurt that seemed to overtake every cell in my body. I hadn't thought it was nothing. He seemed to notice something because I could read regret all over his face. There's a first time for everything, I guess.
"I didn't mean it like that," he corrected himself, moving towards me. I nodded and backed up a bit as I bit down on my lip.
"Will you answer me honestly if I ask you a question? I know honesty has another meaning for you but, please?"
He nodded and I breathed. "That day in the elevator… was enlightening to say the least. I've been avoiding you because…well I couldn't face you. I guess I secretly wanted you to be the first to give in. And you did and now I'm here and I don't know what to say."
He took it all in before he asked, "What's the question?"
"Was it all a game to you? Was I just another notch on your bedpost?" I didn't like the vulnerability that filled me when I let the words out. Maybe I was just afraid of what the answer was. Whatever the case, I suddenly wished the ground would open up and swallow me. Hopefully right now.
I looked up, surprised by his answer but relieved all the same. I never knew how Edward had really worked, never understood him. I'd always thought he was some player that never cared for anyone, which was partly true but he was…different now. Not in all aspects, of course.
"Did you really think I would say yes?"
I gave a small laugh and threw the piece of paper I had nearly torn in half to him. He caught it easily before placing it on his desk. He moved towards me, slowly, almost hesitant but there was always an air of confidence when it came to Edward, no matter what he was doing. When he stopped in front of me, I looked up at him and smiled.
I saw him leaning closer but I put a hand to his mouth, effectively stopping him. He stared at me in confusion before he pulled back, obviously thinking it over. I sighed and backed up just a step, so we wouldn't be so close.
"I really like you, I do," I said gently, "But if this is going to go anywhere, I want to do it right."
He remained silent for another moment before he spoke again. "What do you mean?"
"Are you hungry?"
When he looked at me as though I were crazy, I laughed and waited for his answer. He nodded, slowly, probably contemplating if he should just lie and get away from the crazy woman who had just switched gears on him.
"Good," I smiled. "You can take me to lunch then."
"Wait, that isn't-"
I raised a brow and waited for him to continue but when he didn't, I sighed. "After everything that happened, I just want to go…slow. How does being friends sound?"
"But you said you like me," he said, almost pouting.
"I do but good things start out small," I said, already turning to head out the door. When I didn't hear him following, I turned and saw him still standing where I'd left him. Why was he always so difficult? I knew he understood my need for starting out slow. I think he didn't want to accept it. New Edward or not, he was still used to getting his way.
I walked over to him and grabbed his hand, pulling him along.
"Haven't you ever heard that friends turn into lovers?"
He let out a chuckle. "We were already lovers."
"I take points off for sarcasm," I stated as we walked into the elevator, ignoring the glances we got from passing nurses and doctors. When the elevator doors closed, I turned to look at him. His hand was still clutching mine.
"I didn't know this was a date," he said in his mocking tone, clearly trying to make me feel like an idiot.
"It's not," I replied easily as the doors opened. "It's a lunch between two potential friends." I nearly dragged him across the lobby and into the cafeteria. A few watched us, probably curious as to if there would be another blowout and some just glanced, not caring either way. I found us a table quickly and we sat down.
"Give me time," I interrupted him. I placed my hand over his and watched as certain emotions danced across his face.
"I'm really impatient."
I smiled. "I know."
He sighed before he looked up with a smile. Neither of us spoke for a moment, enjoying this newfound ground we were on. It wasn't tense or uncomfortable. It felt just…right. Part of me still couldn't believe how fast everything had gone by or how fast it had felt now that everything was resolved. Well, not everything.
But there was always time for that.
Please don't come find me and push me off a cliff. I know it was a little rushed and they didn't have a perfectly happy ending but hey, I didn't want them to get all mushy and kiss and makeup. Everything will be revealed in the epilogue, I promise. I know it was a bit corny too but I'm a sucker for that stuff. So, once again, I'm glad no one knows my address ;) Please review in kind, like you great fans always do!
Thanks again to everyone who reviewed. And don't worry, I won't make you wait long for the epilogue. This I can promise for sure, since it's already half done. Thanks to Rose for betaing even when she had tons of work and assignments to catch up on. She's the most awesome beta and I will never use another person as mine. So, everyone give a big thanks to her too, because she edited the story with her strict grammar bully eye.