Many apologies about the wait, I didn't want to publish something I'd have to change later and I didn't have the crucial parts of the story right yet. Still don't, but I have a better idea.
Rosalie was already home when I walked into our apartment. "Hey, I have ziti in the oven." She called as I made my way past the kitchen.
I muttered, "Fine," before depositing my things on the desk in the living room and going to my room. I collapsed onto my bed and closed my eyes, tired from a long day at work. It wasn't long before Rose's voice carried through the apartment, announcing that dinner was ready.
"Well this is a change of pace." I said as we settled on bar stools in the kitchen. "Usually you're the one getting home late. And you never cook."
"I cook." Rose said defensively as she sipped some wine.
"You don't cook."
"I mean to."
"Hey, I'm not complaining. This is good." I took another bite.
Rose shrugged. "I think you may have been right about me. Work has become my life."
"Gee, nothing gets past you," I said with an eye roll. "What tipped you off?"
She speared more ziti onto her fork and popped it into her mouth. "Oh just… you know… little things," she said with a shrug.
"Uh huh. Such as?"
She swallowed. "You know, little things … like today I was writing a letter and I made a spelling mistake and I got really pissed when the spell check didn't automatically correct it… until I realized I was hand writing the damn thing."
I snorted into my wine and immediately started coughing. It took only a couple seconds until the coughing turned into laughing. "Ha! Oh my gosh, that great!" I said, wiping tears from my eyes.
Rosalie was laughing too. "I know. And that's not all. Last night I was watching Conan and I swear, I swear, I saw the OS X clock on the corner of the screen." I laughed harder. "I'm not even kidding," she continued. "Also, I keep having these dreams that annoy the crap out of me, like I'll have a million things to do everyday but in my dream, I'm working hard, almost finishing everything and the second I finish, I'm about to sit back and relax and that's when I wake up. Of course, I don't realize it's a dream at first so I get all happy thinking I can take it easy, until I realize… oh wait, yes I freaking do have a crapload of stuff to get done!"
"Is that why you're such a bitch in the morning?" She cut her eyes to me in an heart-quickening glare. "Alright, jeez, forget I asked."
"So," she said emphatically, eradicating my previous statement, "it got me thinking. I started to take a look around my office. It turns out I have about ten different outfits and fourteen pairs of shoes in the closet, plus there are two large drawers in my credenza filled with toiletries and a curling iron. A curling iron, Bells."
"So you have a mini dressing room in your office?"
"Pretty much. That along with the dreams and the other stuff freaked me out enough to get me to come home early."
I smiled at her. "I'm glad. You're never home for Grey's Anatomy usually. It's nice not to have to TiVo it for once."
She gave me a small smile, "I'm glad too. I'm getting cross-eyed from staring at reports all day. Anyway, enough about me. How was work?" It was my turn to shrug. "Bad day?"
I told her about my talk with Edward Cullen. "… and now I'm afraid I've just pissed off the boss. But what was I supposed to do, bring him in on it and have him changing everything I do and turn it into some tricked up Holiday Inn? No freaking way. This is my thing. I don't even see why he would be interested in this, it's nothing like the offices and junk we do at work."
"Is that what he'd do? Turn it into an average hotel? If that's the case, then he's not very good at his job."
"Well…" I backtracked, "Okay, I may be exaggerating a little. He would probably do an incredible job; he's really good at what he does. But so am I, right? Hello, this is my dream project, am I really supposed to surrender it? And for what? So I can watch someone else alter our home?"
She nodded seriously, "I think you did the right thing. This guy sounds like an ass. Who cares if you pissed him off, he's not going to fire you; you're too good at your job. What you need to do is show him whose boss."
"Rose, he is my boss."
"Well, yeah, but I mean you have to show him that you're not going to take any crap from him."
I almost laughed, "How the hell am I supposed to do that? Refuse to do what he asks? Then he'll have a reason to fire me."
She thought for a minute. "You need a new kick-ass attitude and a kick-ass wardrobe."
I nodded, taking another bite of ziti. "I don't know about the wardrobe, but I think I might be able to fake a kick ass attitude. What do I do, just not take no for an answer?"
"That's a part of it, and you can't fake being kick-ass, Bella, but don't worry, I'll teach you. Here let's practice. I'll be your boss." She put down her fork, cleared her throat and spoke in a voice a couple octaves lower than her normal voice, "Ms. Swan," she said with her eyebrows furrowed, "did you finish those sketch things I gave you yesterday."
I raised an eyebrow at her, trying to keep myself from giggling, "Sketch things?"
She frowned at me, "Work with me here."
"Fine." She cleared her throat again. "Miss Swan, did you finish those drafts I gave you yesterday."
I nodded, "Yes, Mr. Cullen."
Rosalie's shoulders slumped, "That was terrible," she said with a flat voice. "You're not supposed to take no for an answer."
"But I couldn't say no, you asked me a question. I always have stuff done when he asks for it; otherwise he very well could fire me. And he doesn't call me 'Miss Swan'; he calls me 'Isabella'."
"Why? Is he mad at you?"
"Can we just get on with this?!"
"Whatever. Okay, let's try this again." Once again, she cleared her throat and turned her voice into what she imagines Edward Cullen to sound like. "Isabella, I need those drafts I gave you yesterday."
"I put them on your desk an hour ago, and that's Miss Swan to you, you jerk!"
She grinned, "Better."
We both glanced at each other and burst out laughing. "This is ridiculous! He's my boss; I'm not going to yell at him." We finished dinner and I cleared the dishes. "Besides, he's not mean, really, its just that he has an annoying habit of thinking everyone in the office is incompetent. Everyone buys into it, too. You should see how people act around him. They all walk on eggshells around him, that is, if they're not throwing themselves at him."
"Is he good looking?"
I shrugged, "I guess." Any appeal that Edward Cullen's physical appearance had was clouded to me by his intimidating work persona. Plus the fact that he couldn't trust me or anyone else to draw out a freaking room without triple scanning it for fatal errors didn't help either.
After we got everything cleaned up, we settled in the living room to watch Grey's Anatomy. During the first commercial break, Rosalie spoke up. "You know, you should reconsider the whole being-more-assertive thing if you want to get ahead. You could be like Meredith; she gets stuff done. Look she just started a brain surgery clinical research thing."
"Yeah, but she also sleeps around. And I'm still not going to yell at people."
"I never said you had to do either, although it wouldn't hurt." She shot me a playful grin, "You said he was attractive, right?"
"Oh ha ha," I said with a roll of my eyes, "And, by the way, do you yell at people?"
"I'm the boss." She said with a shrug. I don't believe it: my sister is a hell-boss. Rose, apparently, was reading my face and added to her last statement. "Oh relax; I don't usually need to yell. I just make sure things get done…" I continued to stare at her in disbelief, "As nicely as I can, are you happy now?"
I rolled my eyes, "I'm glad I don't work for you. And anyway, when did my options become sleeping around and yelling at people? What about a good work ethic and positive thinking?"
"Ew." She said with a grimace, "Well I guess if you want to do things the hard way that's your business."
The next morning as I walked into work I was already mentally cursing Rosalie for making me wear these damn shoes. Next time, I'll find my own way to get taken seriously at work, a way that doesn't require four inch heels.
"Hey Bella," Angela called as I put my bag on my side of our work space. "You look cute."
I smiled at her, "Thanks. I let my sister pick out the outfit today." And what a mistake that turned out to be. I had Rose's ivory Armani button down shirt with a subtle embroidery on the back over my own back slacks and hideously high and pointy shoes that I didn't even know were in my closet. My hair was up in a sleek bun, I was actually wearing mascara, and I had a pretty mint green scarf around my neck. "I think she went a little overboard."
Angela disagreed, "No way, you look great! And just in time too, there's another preliminary meeting around noon. The memo said something about a new dorm building at the Seattle University campus. I think Cullen is handing out assignments for it."
I started up my laptop and sure enough there was a memo from the office about the meeting in my inbox. "I hope I get something more interesting than the rest rooms this time. Do you know who else is working on this?"
Angela chuckled, "I think it's just you, me and Tyler." Tyler was the third person that shared our workspace with us. The three of us usually worked on projects together, but his sexist jokes and constant sucking up to the bosses was enough to make us want to kill him at times.
"Which of the Cullen brothers is heading this up?" I don't know why I even asked, I knew it would be Edward. We hardly ever worked with Emmett.
"Edward Cullen already has things being set up in his office for the meeting."
I silenced a groan. "Of course."
The rest of the morning went by without much incident and I was deeply engrossed in my work by the time Edward Cullen's private secretary's voice came through the intercom on the phone that it startled me as I was taking a sip out of my coffee and I ended up burning my tongue and spilling a bit on Rosalie's shirt. "Mr. Cullen is ready for you now. Please meet him in his office."
Tyler reached over and hit the intercom button on the phone, "Thank you, Stephanie, we'll be right there." He promptly began gathering notes and such into an official looking folder and muttering things to himself.
I had to fight not to roll my eyes as I tried to wipe the coffee off me. "I thought this was a new project, Tyler. You have notes already?"
Tyler fixed me with a pompous smirk, "Just a few ideas I've been working on. I think Mr. Cullen will appreciate my preparations for the project." He looked me up and down, like he was sizing up a new car for a test drive. "You know, Bella, you're a really good architect, but you're missing a few ideals that could really take you to the next level. I wouldn't mind showing you a few things… over dinner sometime."
I almost gagged. Angela and I exchanged glances and it looked like she was trying hard not to laugh. "Um, thanks for the offer Tyler, but I'm good." What an idiot. Besides, I didn't have the heart to tell him that whatever ideas he thought were good, Edward Cullen would dismiss immediately and use his own, so instead I turned to Angela. "Can you tell him I'll be right there? I need to try to get this coffee stain out of Rosalie's shirt before it sets or she'll have my head."
"Sure thing," she replied as she and Tyler took off for Edward's office. I turned and headed towards the bathroom. As I passed Stephanie's desk, I noticed a tired looking girl in jeans, a small jacket despite the frigid snowy weather outside and a black leather messenger bag slung over her shoulder standing there arguing with Stephanie. The girl looked to be about my age, maybe a little younger, with short black hair, wide pale green eyes and a pixie-like face that reminded me of someone. Did I know her? She was shivering and tapping her bright green pumps on the ground as she fought to control her temper while talking to the secretary. Now that I think of it, maybe she was just shivering from the cold. Her face had that bright red twinge you get from walking around in the cold for a long time. Stephanie was looking at the girl like she was crazy and was threatening to call security. As I got closer I caught bits of the conversation.
"I'm sorry, but Mr. Cullen is in a meeting right now and I don't know when he will be out. You'll have to make an appointment." Stephanie was saying in her snootiest voice.
"He's my brother. I don't need to make an appointment to see my own brother! If you would just tell him I'm here, I'm sure he'll come out and tell you himself." Ah, so that's who she reminded me of. Now that I thought about it, I could definitely see the family resemblance.
Stephanie shook her head. "I'm sorry. If you can't show me identification to prove who you are, then I can't pull him out of a meeting."
"I already told you, my purse was stolen! Look, just get either Edward or Emmett out here before I kick your sorry—,"
"Hold on!" I interjected before the Stephanie had the security guards toss this poor girl out on the street. I quickly went over to the two women who were staring daggers at each other. "What's going on?"
Stephanie rolled her eyes and turned to look at me, "Nothing, Ms. Swan," She answered coolly, "This… lunatic here is requesting to see Mr. Cullen." I saw the girl's nostrils flare angrily, "Just another admirer, I'm sure. I'm about to call security. She's obviously deranged."
"Why you little—,"
I cut her off before she said something she was going to regret. "Whoa! Okay, hold on a second. Stephanie, hold on, don't call security, I'll take care of it." I turned to the girl, "I'm about to go into a meeting with Edward Cullen. I can relay the message."
The girl sighed in relief, "Thank you." She looked completely tired and stressed out. When she spoke she set off on a very fast explanation of her situation. "I'm Alice Cullen, and I had my purse stolen today in this stupid, freezing, rainy city. I don't have my cell phone and all my brother's cell and office numbers were programmed in there so I couldn't call because I don't have them memorized. Anyway, I'm not from around here and it took me forever to find this place and now that I get here this bimbo," she said loudly and pointedly at Stephanie, "won't let me see either of my brothers… " She stopped to take a breath.
"Oh wow." I pulled her away from the reception desk before Stephanie had a chance to respond to being called a bimbo. "Okay, come on." I led her down the hall to my workspace area and sat her down at my desk. "Here, let me get you some water. Or do you want coffee?"
She shook her head. "No, neither, I'm fine, thank you." I nodded, ushering her into my office chair and leaning back against the desk while she composed herself. "Thanks so much. I'm sorry, I know you're probably really busy and all…" Her voice was getting thicker and she looked to be on the verge of tears. "It's just been such a nightmare since I arrived. I've only been to Seattle once before and I don't know my way around and as soon as I get here I get mugged and I didn't realize how cold it would be so I packed my winter coat into my suitcase but my luggage was lost on the plane." She gave a involuntary sob, "And I didn't have anything but my carry-on and a stupid jacket," another sob, "and I didn't have money for a cab so I walked aimlessly around the city trying to find this place 'cause I knew Em and Edward would be here. I could've gone to Edward's apartment I guess, but he's obsessed with work and he's never home and Emmett has the housekeeping skills of a college frat boy on Ritalin…" A couple of large tears escaped her eyes and made their way down her frozen cheeks.
I bit my lip while listening to her exasperated story, "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry." I quickly went to the coat rack in the corner of the office I shared with my two colleagues, grabbed my own teal coat and threw it around her shoulders. "Here take this, you're practically frozen solid. I can't believe you walked like that outside and haven't gone hypothermic yet. Are you sure you don't want coffee or maybe tea?" I asked as I held out the box of tissues that was on my desk.
She bit her trembling lip and accepted a tissue. "Would I be a real pain if I asked for tea?" She asked in a meek voice.
"Not at all," I stood up from where I was crouched in front of her and buzzed the intercom button on the phone. "Stephanie, could you to get me a mug of hot water?"
A second later came Stephanie's voice. "Fine."
"God, she's such a cow." Alice said, staring at the phone. "I can't believe Edward hired her as his private secretary."
I shrugged, "I think Emmett might have been the one to actually hire her. I remember Edward was too busy to do the interviews when his last one left. She only started here about a month ago."
Alice gave an eye roll as she spoke, "Of course." There was a slight edge to her voice, and an expression that reminded me of my own when I worried about my sister and her work habits.
It was strange to think of Edward Cullen in that way; as part of a family, as the workaholic older brother that his little sister worried about. And for a split second my mind wandered to Rose… did the people who worked under her think of her as the same scary, obsessive boss as I consider Edward Cullen? God, I hope not. "I'm Bella, by the way." I held out my hand. Whoever this girl was, member of the scary Cullen clan or not, our similar predicaments forged some kind of bond and I felt compelled to help her.
She smiled brightly, the action illuminating her entire face despite the tear stains, and shook my outstretched hand. "Alice." Her gaze fell to the top of my shirt. "I don't know if you know this, but you've got a coffee stain on your collar."
I instinctively reached up to it, "I know, I was on my way to the bathroom to take care of it when I ran into you. It's my sister's and she's going to kill me."
"Don't worry, any good cleaner can get that out before she even realizes its missing," she assured me, "You know, I always wondered what it would be like to have a sister to steal clothes from. I have two older brothers and the whole clothes-swapping thing doesn't work. Although Emmett did steal my bra once and used it as a slingshot to shoot rocks at the next door neighbor's cat but it's not the same thing."
I chuckled. "Whoa, it's weird to think of Emmett Cullen as a kid."
She snorted, "Kid? Please, he was 23!"
I laughed out loud as I heard the clickety-clack of Stephanie's heels approaching. She gave Alice and me a cold glare, set down the mug of hot water and clacked her way back to her desk. I opened the bottom drawer of my desk where I kept some snacks and such and pulled out a tea bag. "Is chai okay?"
She nodded, "Perfect, thank you. Hey, what did she mean before about Edward having crazy admirers? Does he have a girlfriend that comes by?" She looked almost hopeful.
I ripped open the tea bag and dropped it into the mug, "Not really girlfriends, I don't think. But you should see how the girls around here act around him. It's hard to concentrate on work when these girls are always clacking back and forth in front of his office. And I don't know about crazy people coming in from the streets, I only know the ones from the building."
Alice laughed, "Clacking?"
I nodded, "Yep. Their heels. They clack."
"I see." She shook her head, "Edward's always attracted a lot of unwanted attention, I suppose." Then she looked up at me curiously, "Why isn't he into any of them? You work with him, right? Does he entertain any of them?"
I didn't blame Alice for this; maybe a girl would make Edward less intimidating. Maybe he'd go home once in a while and let other people do their own work. I wouldn't mind if Rosalie had someone, maybe she'd be less obsessed with work then. "I'm afraid I don't really know him that well."
"Is he nice to people?"
I shrugged, "He's fine, I suppose. Very polite." I fought to find ways of describing Edward Cullen that didn't include scary, annoying or compulsive, "he's very professional and…," What else? This is his sister and she's worried about him, I've got to give her something, "… he pays incredible attention to details. He's very good at his job." I said truthfully. There.
But Alice didn't seem to be buying it. "Uh huh." She sighed. "So he's scary, hell boss, huh?"
"Oh no, no, he's not mean or anything. Just kind of … intimidating," I admitted. I grimaced apologetically at her, "Sorry, I'm totally painting a bad picture here. I don't really know him that well, so I'm not the right person to ask, I'm…" my eyes caught a glimpse of the OS X clock on my computer screen, "I'm late! Yikes! I completely forgot about my meeting, oh crap, Cullen is going to stick me with some crappy assignment, or worse…"
Alice's eyes got wide, "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry! I'll explain everything to Edward, don't worry." She got up from my desk chair. "He won't get mad at you." I wasn't too sure about that.
"It's not your fault; I should've been paying more attention. Don't worry about it, just stay here and try to unwind while I try and catch up at the meeting. I'll let him know you're here when it's over." My stomach was in knots as I thought about walking into the meeting now but smiled at her anyway and made my way to Edward's office.
His office was very nice and adequately sized, not as large as his brothers whom I had visited a couple times before, but spacious enough for all the things he had in there without feeling the least bit cramped. It housed his large desk, his own drafting table, some bookshelves, a credenza, a white board for posting up drawings an analyzing them, two comfy arm chairs in the corner and a medium sized round table with four chairs. Unlike some of the other senior architect offices, Edward's was comfortable, which made sense considering how much time he spent in there.
Too bad Edward wasn't always like that.
He was behind standing his desk, crouched over some paper work and was in the middle of speaking to Angela and Tyler who were seated in two of the four chairs at the round table. "… as you can see, the space we have is small. Its only going to be about seven stories high." He hadn't noticed me standing in the door yet, so I walked right in and took a seat by Angela. He stopped what he was explaining and looked at me.
"Sorry I'm late, Mr. Cullen."
His gaze and his voice stayed smooth and expressionless, but I could tell he was annoyed. "Isabella, I'm about to hand out assignments. You've missed most of the meeting and your colleagues have already made their preferences on what they'd like to work on—,"
"I know, I'm sorry, I-I lost track of time," I stammered. So much for being kick-ass, I thought as I took a seat. "It won't happen again."
Edward let out a barely audible sigh. "Alright, well, I'm sure your colleagues will fill you in when this is over." He turned, facing away from us and beginning his description again, but I could've sworn I saw him roll his eyes before he turned away. "As I was saying, we only have the authority to make it about 7 stories high and on the seventh floor I'd like to see—,"
There was a knock and we all turned to see Alice, who was suddenly standing in Edward's office doorway. She looked a little more put together than she was earlier but not by much. She still had my black pea coat draped over her shoulders and the mug of hot tea in her hand. "I'm sorry to interrupt, Edward, it was my fault Bella was late. I was battling with your stupid secretary and she totally saved me. God, that woman is annoying," she added with an impatient roll of her eyes.
Edward looked completely shocked. "Alice?" He walked out from behind his desk and up towards her.
Alice walked into the office and launched into her mile-a-minute explanation, "I was mugged—,"
"Mugged?!" Edward's eyes widened.
"Yeah" Alice continued, "and your idiot secretary wouldn't let me in here without identification and Bella happened to be walking by and she's late because she was being super nice and helpful and taking care of me and I made her lose track of time, and if you punish her for it, I swear I'll tell mom what a crazy jerk you've be—,"
"Whoa." Edward said to her, stopping her mid-sentence. As he turned to the rest of us, his perfect poker face was back, though I thought I saw a bit of tension in his jaw again. "I'm going to have to end this meeting early. You have the details with you so you can begin. Angela, you can work on the top floor as you requested. There are some notes I have on what I'd like to see go into the space, which I'll email you later on today." Angela nodded, giving him a polite smile. He turned to Tyler, "Tyler, I'd like you to tackle the residential floors. I'll also email you as to what must go into each suite and floor. You can go now." Great, I thought, getting up. What do I get to do, more bathrooms? That's if I'm even on this project at all. He wouldn't fire me, would he? I mean, he could use this as an excuse if he's still mad about yesterday. What if he tried to blackmail me for the hotel project? No, he wouldn't do that, would he? I got up and began to followed Tyler and Angela out of the office, thinking of how I would literally kick him if he tried to get his hands on the Whitlock Grand renovation, or maybe I'll just fix him with an intimidating glare, see how he likes it— "Isabella?" I almost jumped at the sound of my name.
I put my unease aside and tried to sound as confident as I could. Rosalie's first rule to being a take-charge woman was to not show fear. So no fear... no fear. "Yes, Mr. Cullen?"
"I haven't given you an assignment yet."
Well, duh. "I know. I figured I'd get whatever was left or I was out of the loop on the project altogether… since I was inexcusably late and all." I said a little pointedly, "I'm sure you want time to talk to your sister." I couldn't read his expression. God he looks so serious. Was that another tick in his jaw? Come on, man, just put me out of my misery already! "I'll leave you two to your business." I said politely and turned to leave.
Alice spoke up before Edward had a chance to, "Come on, Edward, don't be a douche. It was my fault, not hers. You're so uptight." She put the mug of tea down on Edward's desk and took my coat off, "Thanks for lending it to me. I'm sorry I caused you so much trouble."
I shook my head. "Are you kidding, you lost your luggage and its twenty degrees out! I have another one at home. Keep that one until you get one of your own."
Edward interjected, "You lost your luggage?" As he asked Alice, his face settled into an expression I'd never seen on him before. There was no superiority, no professional politeness, just plain shock. "You walked through Seattle in this weather in what? A sweater?"
"Well I didn't lose my luggage, the airline did. My coat was in there." She smiled at me, "Thanks a lot Bella. I'll give it back to you as soon as I can. I'll go shopping tomorrow."
"Take your time. Won't it take a while to get new credit cards and such anyway?"
Her eyes widened in realization. "Damn! I hate this stupid city!"
I chuckled, "Don't worry about it. If you need anything, my sister and I have a ton of stuff you can borrow in the mean time. And the city's not so bad once you get used to it." Edward cleared his throat, reminding us that he was in the room. "Oh, sorry, Mr. Cullen."
He gave me a curt nod and turned to Alice. "Alice, sit down, you look like you're about to fall over." And she really did look exhausted. But then again, who wouldn't after having a day like she'd had?
"I'm fine now," she assured him, but she sat down anyway in one of the comfortable armchairs in his office.
He turned back to me; his voice was softer than I'd ever heard it, so much so that it almost threw me. "Thank you for helping out my sister. I apologize for not giving you an opportunity to voice your preference on assignments." He did sound sorry.
I shrugged, not being able to look at him in the eyes. "It's alright," I fought to keep a polite smile, "you couldn't have known." But you could've asked! I wanted to add.
"Well, I'll give you the cliff notes version of our meeting." He went around behind his desk and gestured for me to sit down. "Please, make yourself comfortable." I took a seat on one of the chairs in front of his desk, but I was anything but comfortable. "Seattle University has hired our firm to design a new dormitory for them. They want it to be honors dorms for exemplary students and they want it done right away, so it can be up by next fall when the new school year begins." He handed me a black folder, similar to the one Angela and Tyler both had with them. I looked inside and saw the details of the projects. "Did you have some preference as to an assignment?" Surveying the proposal and the preliminary plan, I immediately wanted to tackle the residential floors, but that job had already gone to Tyler. Damn.
"Well, I think it's a bit late for that. Don't worry about it, though, I'm fine with whatever's left… as long as it isn't just public bathrooms again."
He grinned sheepishly. "Oh, I guess you didn't like your part on that particular project?"
I gave him a comical shrug, not quite managing a smile, "It doesn't take a genius to put stalls and sinks into a small room."
His eyes lit up with amusement again, "As I recall, those bathrooms made it into Seattle Design magazine, so I'm guessing some creative genius took part anyway."
And I felt my eyes go wide and my face turn red. I hadn't heard about that. In the moment of silence that followed I thought I saw a small, amused grin playing at his lips.
"Which reminds me," His silky voice cut into my thoughts. I looked up at him and he handed me another set of plans "I'd like you to take a look at these."
I reached out and accepted what he was handing me; the plans for what looked like a lobby. On further inspection, I realized it was a final draft of the lobby I'd given to him yesterday and all the changes I made were still there, slightly altered here and there, but still represented. "This is the Johnston high-rise lobby."
"Yes. I further investigated your ideas and decided to go with them. What do you think?"
I was a little lost. "I'm… freaking shocked." Woops. Edward laughed as my face turned red. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I think it looks great." I handed the plans back to him.
"Yes. This is the first time you haven't changed something I worked on." He frowned slightly and I quickly added, "No offense." Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Alice looking attentively back and forth to each of us, taking in the conversation with a curious expression.
"None taken," He said with a tight smile. There was a small awkward pause and then he spoke again, "Now, about the Seattle U dorm." He sat down on his executive chair. "You probably wanted to work on the residential floors, I'm guessing?"
I forced a polite smile. "Kind of."
"I'm sorry about that." For the first time ever, he looked sincere in his apology. I'd gotten accustomed to Edward Cullen's usual lack of emotion, so it threw me. "Please, give me a moment to think…" I nodded and he remained quiet for a couple of minutes, looking over the papers in front of him, a slight frown fixed on his face.
I stayed quiet for a while and just when I was about to tell him not to worry, he can make it up to me on the next project, Alice spoke. "Let's give Edward a moment to think how he can make up for being a bad boss." She shot Edward an annoyed look, which he mirrored with his own. She patted the armchair next to her with her hand, indicating for me to go sit with her. I glanced unsure at Edward. He shrugged and went back to his papers. "How long have you been working here?" she asked me as I settled in beside her.
"A little over five months," I responded, slightly uncomfortable. Alice was cool and under normal circumstances I would love to sit around and chat with her, but it was weird having a normal conversation with my boss sitting a few feet away. "I came in right after graduate school."
Alice didn't acknowledge my discomfort, "That's amazing! Em told me once that this place was pretty competitive, but couldn't tell if he was bragging. Is it true?"
I smiled, "I think so. I got a lot of experience throughout school, but to be honest, I can't believe it either," I admitted to her in lower tones.
She giggled, "You sound like Edward. He was on the hard-working fast track once he entered grad school too. Not so much during his undergrad years, but I'll tell you about that some other time." Edward seemed to be ignoring his sister, "I don't know how you guys do it."
"Are you still in school?" I asked her.
She nodded, "Graduate school now."
"Very cool. What are you studying?"
"Fashion Design and Merchandising. I got a bachelor's in Fashion Design but I like manipulating and marketing art more than I like creating it. So I just went straight to Philadelphia after college and continued school there."
My eyes lit up, "Seriously? I did my graduate work there too!"
Alice's eyes widened in shock. "No way! I've fallen in love with the city."
I nodded, "I miss it sometimes. You know what I miss the most? That used bookstore on Spruce Street? Have you ever been?"
Alice nodded, "Yea, the one where the owner lets his cats roam around? I've been there a few times. The store is undergoing renovations now, I think. Have you ever been to that Naked Chocolate Café on Walnut?"
I grinned, "Their hot chocolate is amazing."
Alice sighed sadly, "What I would give for a cup right now." I laughed. "So did you study a specific area of architecture in school?"
I nodded, forgetting where I was and relaxing into the armchair. "Classical. I studied it abroad for a few semesters, but it's been my interest since I can remember."
"Whoa." She said, her eyes cutting to her brother, "Edward wasn't that your specialty too?"
Edward nodded, turning his head towards us. "Yes." His eyes met mine, and I realized I was almost lounging on the armchair, so I sat up, remembering where I was. "I think I may have a solution for the current project. Perhaps—," he paused. "Well, perhaps you'd like to take charge of the project?"
I almost fell out of my chair.
What? Edward looked slightly uncomfortable, like he was wandering in unfamiliar territory. "Of course, I'd have the final say on everything, but maybe we could… work together…? On this, in a dual leadership… Would you be comfortable with that?"
I was stunned. I think I was even staring at him.
My eyes snapped back into focus and suddenly I was on my feet again. "Yes!" Woops, too excited. "I mean, yeah… that'd be cool. I mean fine… That'd be fine." I smiled a real, non-forced smile at Edward Cullen for the first time ever. Maybe Rosalie was right about the take-charge outfit. Even with a coffee stain on it, it had kind of worked.
And then he smiled, and I immediately forgot about the shirt. In fact, I stopped thinking about anything at all. A slow, crooked smile lit up his face and my mind went blank. He was beautiful. I'd never seen him smile like that. I don't think I'd ever seen him really smile at all. "Great." He said. And, for once, he sounded like he meant it. I forced my eyes away from the beauty of his face because, honestly, it was best not to think of him in that way. "Alright then, Isabella, I'll send—,"
"It's Bella." Alice cut in. "Honestly, Edward, she's been working here for almost six months, can't you get her name right?"
Edward's eyes narrowed toward his younger sister. "Alice, why don't you go see Emmett? He should be in his office."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. I can take a hint." She got up to leave. "Bella, thanks for everything. I hope to see you again soon!"
"You too, Alice." I smiled at her, "Call me if you need anything." She gave me a hug and left.
Edward made an impatient noise as she left. "I apologize for my sister," he said to me.
"Oh, it was no trouble, she's great! I felt terrible for her, Stephanie was giving her such a hard tim—," I stopped myself, not wanting to be the bitch who bad mouthed people to their bosses, even if she does deserve it. I was immediately ashamed of myself and felt my face flush. "Sorry. What I meant was she seemed like she needed a hand."
He nodded, relaxing into his chair, "I had no idea she was even coming into town." He admitted, resting his head back. "Mugged!" He said with an exasperated sigh, "She was mugged!" He shook his head. "Leave it to Alice to get into trouble the minute she arrives."
"If you think about it, it's pretty impressive that she managed to get out of the situation unharmed and got herself to safety in a strange city." I said.
He was quiet for a moment, "I suppose that's one way of looking at it."
"Besides, it seems to me like she worries about you a lot, so I think you can call it even on the whole anxiety thing."
Apparently that wasn't what he was expecting. "She told you that?"
"I recognized the my-older-sibling-is-a-workaholic expression. You and my sister are both obsessed with work." No need to tell him Rosalie was nowhere near as bad as he was (or maybe she was, who knew?). I looked up at his face, a little scared that I might have said too much. "No offense," I tacked on at the end.
He seemed to understand and to my surprise, he smiled again. "You're not the first person to tell me that." I smiled, more relieved that he wasn't mad than anything else. "I guess you're right." He grinned… another beautiful grin. Jeez, no wonder girls here are obsessed with him. "Thanks Isab—, I mean, Bella, is it?"
I smiled and nodded. "Yep."
"That's pretty." I felt my face turn red at his comment, and his smile grew larger. "You don't like, Isabella?"
I shook my head, "Not really, no."
"Does everyone around here call you Bella?"
"Damn. Shows how much I pay attention."
I laughed. "It's okay. You're busy. I get that."
"It's no excuse."
"Oh well. You just gave me a leading position on the new project, so I'm thinking that makes us even."
He laughed; the sound was lovely, "Not even yet. But I'm happy that you're pleased about the assignment. It'll be interesting working together on this, I think." His smile was intoxicating.
Now if I could just stop blushing…
Thanks for being patient. I finally got to write Alice into it! Gotta love her.