A/N: Edited as of December 23rd, 2010. Also, I'm pleased to announce that London'Baby offered to translate this story into German. Needless to say, I'm ridiculously flattered and I gave her permission. Thanks, London'Baby!
Oh, I know I could say we're through
And tell myself I'm over you
But even if I made a vow
A promise not to miss you now
And try to hide the truth inside
I'd fail cause I, I just can't live a lie
I Just Can't Live a Lie
Calls for Christmas
I hummed quietly to myself as I shuffled around the kitchen, pulling cookie ingredients from various nooks and crannies. I smiled a little when I discovered the chocolate chips hidden away in the far corner of one shelf, where I stashed them to avoid nibbling. I lined up the flour, butter, and other supplies on the counter by the stove and started measuring out the flour, still humming tunelessly.
Within minutes, my grand cookie-making expertise resulted in a very interesting pond of goo at the bottom of the mixer. I reached into the bowl and pulled it back with one finger drenched in slob. Tentatively, I stuck it in my mouth, before spitting it into the sink with a grimace. I was pretty sure that none of my Christmas guests would enjoy tasting whatever concoction I had managed to whip up. I sighed. Slice n' Bakes it was, then. I could practically hear Edward's quiet chuckle, laughing at my fatal attempts at baking.
Thinking of him made me look at the clock for what was the seventh time in the last ten minutes. It was almost eight. Any minute now, the phone would ring and I would hear his angelic voice at the other end of the line.
Oh, stop it Bella, I told myself as I rummaged through the refrigerator for the Slice n' Bakes. The divorce had been finalized three years ago. I was a grown woman who shouldn't still be fantasizing about the man she thought she'd loved a long time ago.
I pulled back and found my fingers digging into the soft, premade cookie dough. I grimaced. Only I would find a way to destroy something as simple as Slice n' Bakes. I pressed me hand to my forehead and squeezed my eyes shut, forcing the memories of Edward out of my mind. I preoccupied myself by digging through cabinets to find the cookie sheets. Amidst my search I discovered a misplaced serving bowl and an old box of chocolate powder for making hot cocoa. I didn't bother checking for an expiration date as I hastily threw that out.
I was never such a mess when I had Edward. I was the neat, orderly, OCD one and he gave me grief for it. Everything, down to the last knife or glass, had its proper place. These days, I couldn't bring myself to care if the utensils ended up in three different drawers, or if the pepper led me on a futile expedition through the kitchen before I remembered it was in the living room. I didn't care much for the little things anymore. I couldn't name exactly what I was looking for, but I felt as though something vital was missing from my life.
I was finally sliding the cookies into the oven when the phone rang. Without another thought towards this new attempt at baking, which was probably predestined to fail anyway, I slammed the oven door and leapt for the phone, which I had placed expectantly on the counter by the sink. I had it in my hand in an instant, but I paused before picking up. Better not to seem too anxious. It wouldn't do anything for his ego if he thought I was actually excited to talk to him. Which I wasn't—but it was nice not to be so alone, especially on Christmas Eve.
Two rings later and I was growing impatient. I answered the phone with a breathless, "Hello?"
Edward chuckled. "Well, hello there. Why do you sound like you just ran a marathon?" My heart was thumping about a mile a second. I blushed, knowing he would be able to hear in my overenthusiastic voice that I was happy he had called.
"I'm making cookies," I said. And, of course, my voice betrayed me.
He chuckled gently. "And this somehow constituted moving at a pace that isn't Bella-friendly?"
Damn him. Of course he would remember my clumsiness. But I was too elated by the sound of his perfect voice to be angry with his teasing. I counted on these yearly telephone conversations—these Christmas calls. They comforted me. They told me that he was all right, wherever he was, but more importantly, that he hadn't forgotten me—hadn't forgotten us. I knew it shouldn't matter, that we had both moved on three years ago, but somehow it did, in a way that I could never, truly explain.
"Earth to Bella," Edward said affectionately, and I realized I had let myself drift. No. I had to concentrate. Who knew how much longer I had with him?
"Oh," I sighed. "Sorry."
"So how are the cookies coming along?" Edward asked. No doubt he was surmising something about my horrid baking. I knew I should be irked by the amused tone in his voice, but I was't.
I grimaced. "Which ones? There's the burnt batch in the garbage, the batch that never made it to the cookie trays, and then there's the Slice n' Bakes in the oven."
Edward laughed. "Some things never change," he sighed—almost wistfully, I thought, or maybe I was just imagining things.
"I wouldn't be talking," I shot back. "I seem to recall some cookies that you ruined, Mister I Can Do Everything Perfectly." Which, admittedly, I'd been convinced was true up until a certain incident that occurred when we were juniors in college.
"Hmm," he said thoughtfully. "I've no idea what you're talking about. Must have slipped my mind."
"Selective memory," I retorted.
"Mmm, perhaps." He sounded highly amused. I could practically hear him smirking, that tender light in his eyes as he teased me. My heart ached to see his face. We hadn't laid eyes on each other in years.
"Well," I said, before the now-familiar pain could take me. "I remember it. And don't try to deny it, because I know you do too."
"I can get nothing past you," he sighed in mock despair. "But if I do recall correctly, you were the one who started it."
"Was not." I scoffed.
He laughed. "Oh, yes you were!"
"Do you remember the last time you made cookies, Bella?" Edward sighed, watching me whiz around the huge kitchen in our new apartment. I was still angry at Edward for spending so much money, but the truth was that I had fallen in love with it. We'd just moved in the day before and I was elated. We had to do something to celebrate.
"Nope," I replied cheerfully. I tripped over a chair leg on my way past him, but he caught me around the waist before I could fall. He righted me carefully.
"And the fire department showed up at the door," he hinted. I blushed. That was a painful experience that I had successfully tucked away into the farthest reaches of my memory. It involved some burnt cookies, a fire alarm, and a very angry woman next door.
"That's why you're with me this time," I told Edward confidently. "With you around, there's no way I can mess this up."
Edward wrapped his arms more securely around my waist and pulled me to him. He kissed the top of my head and chuckled. "If you say so."
"I do," I sighed, nuzzling into his chest. We stayed that way for a moment, and then I laughed. "I'm not helping your ego at all, am I?"
"Nope." He grinned crookedly and my heart sped up. Damn my unruly emotions. After he had thoroughly enjoyed watching me swoon, he asked, "So, are we making these cookies or not?"
"Oh!" I had completely forgotten. "Yeah, I guess we are."
I blushed and wriggled out of his arms, gathering the ingredients and plopping them on the table. I grabbed the sugar and flour and started measuring out what I hoped were the right amounts. I could feel Edward's eyes on me, and after a moment his hands gently curled around mine, bringing a halt to my movements.
"Bella, what are you doing?" he asked.
"Making cookies," I said, slightly vexed at the knowing tone in his voice.
"You're not doing it correctly," he informed me. "Mix the sugar, the butter and the eggs first. Add the flour later."
I stared up at him in disbelief. "Since when do you know how to bake?"
He shrugged sheepishly. "I might have asked Alice to teach me, after your little incident." The corners of his mouth twitched, trying, I was sure, to avoid offending me. I was not amused.
"Well, then," I huffed. "You do it, if you're so smart." I dumped the cup of flour unceremoniously into his arms. He couldn't catch it in time and it tumbled onto his shirt, staining the fabric with the white powder. I stared for a moment, not quite sure if I was still too mad to find it funny. I decided that it would do him good to suffer a bit, especially after openly admitting that he had asked his sister to teach him how to bake because I couldn't.
Edward didn't follow me as I stomped into the living room and plopped onto the couch—also brand new. I was still unsure as to why moving into a new apartment meant that we had to buy new furniture, but that was the Cullen family for you. Especially Alice, Edward's sister. She had way too much time and money on her hands, and spent a lot of it decorating for us.
I relaxed into the soft cushions, closing my eyes and listening to the sounds coming from the kitchen as Edward worked. After a little while the noises stopped, and it was quiet. I didn't hear Edward come up behind me, but suddenly I felt something gritty being poured over my head. I jumped up in surprise and watched as the flour cascaded off my hair and down my front. I whirled on Edward.
His eyes were sparkling with amusement, but his voice was solemn when he spoke. "Have I ever told you that you're adorable when you're angry?" He smiled crookedly and I melted. It was too much work staying mad at him for any length of time.
I circled the couch until I was standing in front of him. Deliberately, I reached down and scraped the flour from my shirt, never letting go of his gaze. Then I lifted my finger and drew it over his face, leaving a trail of flour across his cheek. I smirked widely.
Edward frowned. "You didn't."
I giggled. He tried to grab me but I evaded him, running into the kitchen where the bag of flour had been left open on the table. I reached in and grabbed a fistful. Edward had followed right behind me, so I turned and flung it at him. He was closer than I thought, and the flour hit him right in the face. I snickered. He blinked. Then he slowly reached into the bag and pulled out his own handful. He played with it for a moment, tossing it back and forth in his hands.
"Are you sure you want to start this?" he asked with a smirk. In response, I shamelessly threw a second handful into his face.
Edward shrugged. "If you insist." He made as if to throw the flour at me but I ducked out of the way. Nothing hit me, and I felt a twinge of smug satisfaction that I'd been able to dodge his assault. I looked up and realized why. Instead of throwing the flour at me, he'd taken advantage of the flour bag left unguarded on the table. He took it in his hands and prepared to fling at me.
"You wouldn't." I glared. He raised an eyebrow—
—and swung the bag in my direction.
I shrieked and fled the kitchen, but not before a mass of the white powder slammed into my head. Laughing, Edward pursued me into the living room.
"No!" I cried between giggles as he caught me around the waist and flung us both onto the couch. All the while, his arms remained constricted tightly around me. He started tickling me and my giggles escalated.
"Stop!" I pleaded in the brief seconds that I could find my breath. I tried to grab his hands and push him away, but he would have none of that. He seized both my hands in one of his and kept them restrained as he continued to tickle me. I shrieked with laughter and resumed my pleas.
"What was that?" he murmured breathlessly in my ear.
"Stop it!" I gasped.
"Hmm? Speak up, Bella." His voice was low and husky.
Oh, he was going to be the death of me. My heart thumped wildly, a separate desire wringing the organ. But my belly screamed as he tortured me, and I continued flailing and giggling, with my hands caught in his. It was no use. He was so much stronger than me. I stopped struggling
Sensing victory, Edward loosened his grip and fell back onto the cushions, dragging me with him and completely ignoring our flour covered bodies. I fell onto his chest, gasping. Before I could regain my breath to scold him, he pulled my mouth to his and kissed me tenderly. His method of apology melted all my anger and I sighed into his mouth. I could taste the pasty flour on his lips, and licked it slowly off with my tongue. He sighed longingly and released me. There was a crooked smile on his face. He was hoping for forgiveness.
I rolled my eyes. As if I could ever deny him anything. "Love you." I smiled drowsily and cuddled into his chest.
He kissed the top of my head. "Love you too." No other words were needed. We lay in a state of bliss for several minutes, quiet moments that would appear silent to anyone but the two of us. For he and I, the air was charged and every minute gesture meant everything; the way he stroked my hair lovingly, or how I explored his perfect face with my fingers.
And then I smelled something burning. I sat up and stared at Edward in alarm. "How long were those cookies supposed to be in?" I asked. His eyes widened and he lifted himself into a sitting position beside me.
"Shit," he muttered. He dragged me with him to the kitchen, where the burning smell was strongest. He yanked the oven opened to reveal two trays of perfectly black cookies. I grimaced and covered my nose dramatically. He shot me an exasperated look and lifted the cookie trays from their slots. I inspected the oven and realized that the timer had never been turned on.
I snickered. "You forgot to time them," I told him smugly.
He glanced at me and rolled his eyes. "Yes, but you would have forgotten to time them, and add the butter."
I shrugged, unperturbed. "You still forgot to time them." I smirked.
With a sigh, Edward pulled me into his arms. "You started it," he said after a moment.
"Did not!" I protested.
"Did to." And he kissed me.
I laughed at those bittersweet memories, and my heart pulsed a little, achingly. "Ok," I admitted. "Maybe I did start it. You still forgot to turn on that timer."
"And what was that?" Edward asked with a chuckle. "One mistake in oh, I don't know, seven years of knowing me?"
"There were other times!"
Name one," he challenged me.
I thought for a minute, but it was impossible. He was perfect…perfect and wonderful and loving and—stop it Bella, I scolded myself. I was being bad; very, very bad. I couldn't let myself think of Edward in this way. We lived two separate lives now, after agreeing that we just weren't right for each other. He had his job and I had mine. He lived on one side of the United States, and I lived on the other. My mind understood that. So why couldn't I get my heart to understand it too?
"Ok, I give up," I admitted.
"Of course you do."
I rolled my eyes. "Don't you have something better to do than annoy little old me? A girlfriend to visit or a party to attend or something?" I winced at the words. They hurt far more than was allowable.
"Don't you?" he countered, but I knew his voice so well, even after all these years. I caught the hesitation as he spoke.
"No. Now what are you supposed to be doing that you're not telling me about?" I wanted to be wrong, but I knew I wasn't. He was keeping something from me on purpose. I braced myself for the worst.
"You caught me." Edward paused, and I waited impatiently. I wondered if he could hear it crackling across the lines. He began hesitantly. "I've been seeing this girl, Tanya, for a couple weeks. She invited me to her place tonight, and I was going to head over after I talked to you."
Brilliant, Bella. But this new source of pain made my embarrassment over the monosyllabic response inconsequential.
I said nothing else for a long moment, waiting until I could speak without my voice cracking. I wished he would just hang up, so that I could break down on my own. I wanted to curl up on the couch and have a good long cry. I knew it would do nothing to ease the pain, but I didn't think I could stand faking cheerfulness when my heart was falling apart. Besides, Edward wouldn't be fooled by any façade on my part.
"Bella?" he checked quietly. He sounded apologetic, like he knew how much this was hurting me. Even though it shouldn't be hurting me. I gave him up three years ago. It wasn't fair to either of us that I was still clinging. I knew just how well his self-inflicted guilt ate him up, and if he knew how much pain I was in, he'd think he was to blame.
And I couldn't have that. I couldn't let my pain become his pain. So I decided to be strong. It was the only thing I could do for him now.
My voice was croaky when I tried to speak, and I had to clear my throat. "That's nice," I managed. "Look, don't let me keep you. I'm sure she's waiting." Please hang up, please hang up, please hang up.
Edward laughed nervously. "Don't worry about it. I told her I wouldn't get there until later. I figured you wouldn't be doing anything, and I couldn't just let you be by yourself all Christmas Eve."
I should have known. He had seen right through all my false assurances. He knew exactly how anguished I was, and he was trying to make an impossible situation all better. Edward, fixing every problem. Except that there was no solution to this problem, and he didn't know what to do.
My throat closed up and my heart clenched painfully. He was so sweet, giving up his evening for me. It was probably just out of pity, but I couldn't help but feel warmed that he had remembered to think of me. I wondered how long that would last. When would the Christmas come that I wouldn't hear his silky voice, reminding me of a love long past, a love that had been true, but had slipped from our grasp with no explanation? When would the Christmas come that he wouldn't remember anymore?
And suddenly, I knew what I had to do. I had to let him go. I had to give him the excuse.
"Look, Edward," I said, forcing out every word. "I really have to go. Don't want to burn those cookies, right?" I chuckled tonelessly. He didn't seem amused by my weak joke.
"Bella—" He tried to stop me but I slammed the phone back onto the wall and he was gone. I stared at the phone for a long time. I felt empty, numb, but I could feel the agony, the grief, slowly rising up my stomach to my torso. I could feel the tears right behind my eyelids. Any moment now, the sorrow would explode into the familiar, unquenchable pain.
I ran into the living room just before it hit. I flung myself onto the couch and broke into a fit of aching, racking sobs.
I fell asleep like that hours later, curled into a fetal position on the couch, my face stained with tears.
I had forgotten all about the cookies.