A/N: Thanks for reading and reviewing!
Disclaimer: Don't own.
"This is how it'll work."
Three weeks ago, I wouldn't have imagined this happening. Emmett and Rosalie were sitting across from me at the kitchen table. A meeting was taking place on how this whole spying thing would work. I had been so angry and hurt by Emmett the past month or so, I forgot what it was like to actually be civil with my brother again. The moments where our care-free laughing and jabbing at each other were steadily coming back, and the fact that I didn't have to worry if or when I would have those again were a welcome relief.
And to have the company of one Rosalie Hale sitting in my kitchen was by far an unexpected turn of events.
"Sometimes, they plan things out in advance. Other times, they see an opportunity and go for it." Rosalie's thin gold bracelets clanged against the wooden table in front of the three of us. Emmett sat in between, his hands intertwined together. "I can help you out with some of the planned ones, even completely prevent them altogether. However, the 'spur of the moments' I can only try and deflect."
"Well, what happens when they don't…do them?"
"They save it for another day or they move on to someone else." Rosalie was clearly not comfortable affecting anyone else with the pranks. This really wasn't as win-win as I thought it would be. Someone else would suffer the brunt and brutality of the BB.
Should I have had so much faith in Rosalie? All I really had to go on was Emmett's word that Rosalie wasn't who she appeared to be. 'She's not who you think she is. You know me; would I stick around this long if I wasn't completely interested,' Emmett had suggested. The other thing I had to go on were the smidgens of humility I had been told about or even shown; would a girl who fixed cars and took part in eating contests really hang with something so despicable? Part of me wanted to believe that under her exterior she was someone else. I had to.
A knock came from the front door.
"I'll get it." I pushed my chair out.
"We're heading out anyway, Bells. Rose and I are going backpack shopping at Newton's."
"Emmett? Isn't that a backpack you have right there?" I pointed out the unmistakable object sitting on the ground, against the leg of the table. It looked perfectly fine to me.
"Hiking backpacks." Emmett clarified, picking it up off the ground. "Never imagined there were tons of varieties and things that go into buying a backpack. Rosie knows all about hiking. We've hiked up and down the trails of Forks. She says it's barely a challenge compared to Texas trails. Right, babe?"
Rosalie shyly smiled, gripping the straps of her school bag on her shoulder. Another thing to add to my ever growing Rosalie Complexity List: A hiking aficionado.
I followed a hand holding Emmett and Rosalie out to the front door. I opened the door, and Edward stood with a smile. He looked over my shoulder and the smile disappeared, his mouth turned into a straight line.
Emmett turned to me. "I'll be home when Dad gets home." He ruffled my hair, and walked with Rosalie out the door.
Edward sidestepped to let them pass. His eyebrows came together in the center. He looked at the duo as they walked down the walkway.
He looked back at me, his eyebrows returning to their natural shape. "I come bearing gifts." Edward walked into the house, holding a bag of pleasant smelling food and a not-so-pleasing pile of papers.
"Horray." My finger twirled around in a fake enthusiastic gesture, as I pushed the door shut.
"Which is why I brought food over. Forgive me?"
"It's not your fault teacher's assault their students with an endless amount of sleep inducing labor." I was curious as to what kind of food hid in the bag. I took it from Edward's hand and opened it. Mmm…chicken tacos.
"So, no shooting the messenger at what I have next?"
"Why?" I lightly limped to the living room with Edward behind me. I really wasn't supposed to be up and about that much; getting up to open the door was a welcome respite from the constant immobility.
"Banner has a new lab for us." I stood in front of Edward, as he sat on the arm of the couch showing me the paper with the first big project of the school year.
All my other teachers gave me the usual work load while I was home. Edward volunteered to bring it back to me, and even staying to work on it together. I couldn't really afford to get behind during my junior year. Mr. Banner however, hadn't given me any assignments in the past three weeks; something about him hitting me with his car and turning me into Robocop. I guess three weeks is long enough. Our bespectacled nerd of a science teacher probably wouldn't hold it over my head if I didn't complete the assignment though.
I plopped down onto the sofa. "So what if I don't do it?" I opened the foil wrap around the taco and picked up a stray cube of chicken that had fallen out of the floury shell.
Edward dropped his black duffle bag to the floor. "Then he'd just give you an 'A'."
"And what about you, partner?" adding a slight twang to the last word.
Edward shrugged his shoulders. His eyes trained on mine as he waited for an answer. The combination of the slight glint of amusement and the deeply devious green smugness were not very convincing in the least.
I licked the oil from the chicken off my fingers. "Na uh. You are not riding my injury coattails." I snatched the now saliva tinged paper from his hands.
He flashed a lopsided grin. A snort flew out of me and some little stringy pieces of chicken in my mouth tumbled onto my lap. Oh great.
Edward thankfully was on the floor pulling out school stuff from his black bag, not looking at the mess I made of myself.
We settled into the typical teenage homework routine we had going on for the past few weeks. Yes, we even copied answers off each other. But, we were thorough. The faster we got that shit done, the better.
I always sat on the couch with my leg elevated slightly. Edward was always very accommodating. He didn't mind that I took up more than half the couch. Or that my bare feet brushed Edward's thigh, my toes tickling against them every once in a while.
"I'm done with Chemistry." The weighty textbook fell to the carpet below. "If I have to look at one more scientific element table, I will send fireballs of doom to the people at…" I lifted the book from the floor, looking inside the cover for the name of the publisher of such a shitty subject.
"Bedford, Freeman and Worth. One hundred seventy five Fifth Avenue. New York New York. One zero zero one zero." Edward never looked up from his spiral notebook on his lap, his textbook long dormant on the floor.
Once I flipped open the book, I found the name and address he had apparently memorized. "Either you're quick with your hands or you're Rainman."
Edward darkly chuckled. "I took a few photos for the company. Mostly people with science equipment, but a few nature shots. Some made the cut for the book." His pen pointed to the volume in my hands.
"So you are a published photographer? Your stuff is in this book?" My finger made a singular, quiet thud against the hard, cardboard cover.
"I was commissioned for a job and they are in there, yes."
Ugh, why so modest Edward?
"Show me." I opened the book to a random page, leaving it in my lap. Edward flipped to the back where the index and bibliography were. He turned his head to view the book at a proper angle. His finger followed along the words and numbers on the page.
"I'm trying to remember what page. It's been a few years." His eyebrows bunched together. His eyes moved across the page with urgency to find the number.
"Edward, are you telling me that you had a picture of yours put in a nationally published book at age…" I implored him to finish my sentence.
"Fourteen." The pages fell from his fingers; air ricocheted from the effort and little wisps of his hair responded.
"Wow. I mean, Edward that's something, don't you think?"
"Mm." His mouth came together in a tight, concentrated smile. "Here." The book rested flat on my thighs.
The photo was a series of four shots of a clear beaker on a table with a red substance. In the immediate background was a boy's torso and hands, which were slightly unfocused.
In those shots, the boy was performing a chemical reaction. The pictures were accompanied by italicized text and numbers, written to indicate what was happening and what chapter to view more information on the subject.
"Bella, you don't have to pretend it's something great." He sounded unnerved, grabbing the book from my lap. It closed with a sad thump, then placing it on the coffee table in front of us.
I rolled my eyes. Come on. "Edward, am I someone who butters people up?"
He heaved out a sigh. "No, it's not that."
"What is it then?"
"It's…a beaker, Bella. It's no Diane Arbus photograph or anything interesting."
"But it's out there." I'm not a fan of selling out, but with someone as talented as Edward, he definitely deserved a little boost. "And what are you talking about? You've done some other things. All those other photos I've seen were beautiful." The 'no bullshit' rule applied to nice things too.
"My name is on that though." He gestured toward the innocuous book on the table.
"Don't people use fake names for artwork?"
"In this day and age, it'll be found out who I am."
But what does he care that this particular book contained his photographs. I could've thought of many different books I wouldn't want my work in. This was a safe choice; you can't have any controversy from a straightforward piece of literature. If I was someone who was looking for someone to see my work, this would be a great avenue. It's a jumping off point. Not many people our age had that kind of opportunity given to them.
I had a feeling this ran deeper than embarrassment over educational type photos.
"Why do you say that?" I propped my elbow on the back of the couch, my head naturally falling into my hand.
"Say what?" His hands formed into fists, his skin straining against the effort.
"Who cares if people knew who you were? You could be far worse things than a Cullen." A pervy, asshole aka Mike Newton.
"Being a Cullen is shit." Edward's bitterness and harshness were hard to swallow.
"You think being anything else would be better?"
"Yes." He closed his eyes, leaning back into the sofa. His hands lost their tension, laying palm down on at his sides. He took a deep breath. "My family could pay any company off. For anything. Enough to put a family member's picture in their books or magazines. It's not something to be proud of at all or flaunt around. It angers me. They are a bunch of overachieving assholes; they'll hold onto to things even if they don't have a right to it. I don't want to be known for that."
I shook my head with vigor. "But you're not." I used to think so. "You are far from that." And he was.
I really didn't know too much about his family. Carlisle and I have always been on a strict patient doctor regiment for a long time. Esme was also a question mark; I didn't know much about her beside her profession, which required lots of traveling as I never saw her. His extended family members were as blank as a canvas to me.
But from the times I spent with him, whether at his home or behind the cafeteria, nothing indicated that he was what his family was.
"Edward?" I sat up fully, mimicking his position. "You are not your family. If you were how you described your family, I wouldn't be talking to you. You or Alice." I leaned over to look at him in the eye. I patted the back of his hand. "You are as humble as the photos you take."
There wasn't really much I could say to comfort him; to ease the burden of having a family as fucked up as he says they were.
"You know what I do when I'm angry?" A sly smile spread across my face. Scratch that. "Well, any kind of emotion really."
He looked over at me with a quirked eyebrow.
I picked up one of the cheap-o lighters I owned off of the table. My finger flicked the wheel, the hot flame appeared instantly. I let the fiery wheel go and tossed the object to Edward.
I searched for the page with the boy with the beaker. Page four hundred and two was no competition, as I ripped it from its seams. I handed it to Edward.
The candle jars I had been using for my smaller experiments sat on the coffee table. I reached for it, palming it on the bottom.
"Here." I twisted the lid off. "Light the corner of the paper and put it in here."
"You shouldn't have done this." He gestured with the lonesome page.
"What? Rip a textbook apart? There's nothing I wanted to do more. Plus, watching it burn? I'm practically euphoric right now." I couldn't help but plaster a genuinely excited smile on my face.
Edward looked like he was going to say more, but just smiled instead. The fire came to life. It quickly took the paper under its control. Edward dropped it in the clear glass container and I placed it back where it was originally sitting.
It didn't take long for the flames to completely engulf the paper. Smoke danced up and out into the living room air. It eventually became charred crumbles. Little specs of black and burnt brown.
We sat and watched the grey and white smoke clear for a while. I smiled as the trail drifted farther and farther up, mingling with the rest of the air.
Edward cleared his throat. "There are more where that came from." The textbook pages flew under his fingers as he tore the sheets from their binding.
I was about damn near having an Alice-like giddy fit, but composed myself.
One by one we burned the photos that Edward had taken for the book. From some random girl who showed off the color changing of dry ice to the demonstration of how a pH indicator works. A few nature photos were tossed into the mix as well; pictures of bugs sitting atop irrigated leaves and a time sequence of a flower finally blooming. Edward stopped my hand before one of them met its maker.
"Keep that one." He took it from me.
"I actually like this one." He folded it up before I had a chance to examine it.
By the time we had finished our burning, it was close to six o'clock. Charlie was due home by seven. We had no more homework to do and I had filled my burn quota for the day. I still craved to do something though.
"Let's pop in a movie." I suggested, as I stood up. I grabbed the candle jar with the remnants of the now non-existent photos.
"What do you have?" Edward stood up too, straightening out his t-shirt.
"I don't have much of a collection, but its up in my room." I hobbled to the kitchen to dump the scraps in the trash can. Edward followed me.
"So, do you want to watch it up there?" His hands sat in his back pockets.
I thought for a second, as I threw the bits of non-existent paper away. "Probably. Charlie will be home soon enough and he likes to hang out down here. Put his feet up and all."
Edward and I trudged up the stairs. Alice was the only Cullen to have been in my room. She really didn't have anything to say on how I decorated my room. Decorating? Is that what you call putting up white Christmas lights? The closet of clothes was another story; it didn't take long to go through everything. 'Quantity is important, but if you had lots of quality in here, I might've overlooked this atrocity.' Alice said. Of course, I took her overreaction with a grain of salt.
Now, it was Edward's turn. He casually sat on the side of the bed, his hands lazily intertwined in front of him.
I marched over to the DVD collection I owned. I dragged my hand across the top of the TV, feeling the neglect from not cleaning my room.
"Hmmm…" The small shelf full of both books and movies in my room contained few options. Really obscure movies that were purchased from the five dollar bin. Living with two men, the only real options were sports, slapstick or gross-out comedy. I gathered some titles and brought them over to Edward.
I stood in front of him, holding up the boxes. "Bio-Dome, Animal House, Tin Cup, or Billy Madison." I fanned out all four of them, two in each hand.
Edward took the DVD's from me. He flipped them over to look at the summaries on the back. "Two guys stuck in a dome?" His face flickered with bemusement.
"Okay, that one was part of a buy one get one deal. It came in a pack with another movie that Emmett has."
Edward was taking his sweet ass time looking at them. He kept looking at the covers, staring at the characters faces as if that'll give him the magical option to choose. His fingers skimmed along the tiny print.
"Which one is your favorite?" He asked, laying the DVD's on my bed.
"Out of these four? I'd say…Animal House. It's gross-out, but a really good movie. John Belushi is exceptionally funny in it. I mean, no holds bar hysterical. If I needed a funny movie on a deserted island, I'd pick this one."
"Hmm…I've seen it already." Edward put the DVD to the side on my bed.
"What? Why didn't you just say that?"
"I wanted to hear what you'd say." He blurted out his next sentence, "Good to know my opinion on you hasn't changed."
What? "Your opinion on me?" This should be good. I folded my arms, waiting for the inevitable elaboration.
"What?" He looked like he'd been caught ogling the cookie jar.
"What do you think about me, Edward?" Truth be told, I was standing directly in front of him, looking down at his perplexed expression. I picked up the DVD with the toga party attired men on it. "Tell me what my opinion on Animal House has to do with your opinion on me."
Edward's mouth opened and closed a few times. "Nothing bad. Trust me."
"But you put it out there, Cullen. You can't leave a can of soda out in the open and not expect the flies to come."
Edward stood up in front of me. "I think…" He started.
I looked up at him, swallowing hard. His eyes clouded with emotions I didn't think I'd seen mixed together before; decisiveness and fear.
All I could think was my god, he's tall. My heart was close to popping out of my chest. I was feeling a little intimidated at how much he towered over me; I was eye level with his chest. The more I stared at it, the more I felt an urge to move--
"Billy Madison?" Edward held the face of a smiling Billy in a school desk in my vision. "Never saw it."
I blinked a few times before stepping back, sending the previous thoughts away. Did he just say he never saw 'Billy Madison'? "Adam Sandler? Goes back to school?" I started slowly.
No comprehension on Edward's face.
"Wow." I smiled in wonderment. "I thought all boys under the age of twelve have seen this movie."
"I guess I was a deprived little boy."
"Until now. You are about to get schooled on Sandler, my friend."
I made my way back over to the DVD player. The rejected DVD's were stacked back in their original spots. The circular disc snapped into its snug spot on the tray. I walked around to my side of the bed, sitting back against the headboard. I grabbed the remote from my nightstand and pushed play.
The opening scene came on screen and I knew I had to forewarn Edward.
"Okay, it's not the most intelligent movie, but it's a good cheap laugh."
"I'm up for it." He leaned back into the headboard. His hands folded behind his head, pulling the dark blue t-shirt taught against his arms. A new area of Edward was exposed to me; I glanced at the spot where the end of his shirt rode up. That sliver of white skin that sat above the waistband of his jeans. The dark wash of his denim accentuated the alabaster color of it. It lay like a vacant sandy beach outlined by the ocean of his jeans. The skin's perfect look was disrupted by the dark red indention in the shape of the button from his jeans. I think my finger could perfectly fit in that circle.
I longed to look closer, to feel if the skin was as sleek as I imagined it was in that moment. I lazily bit my lip at the thought, my eyebrow quirked with wonder. Would it be like running my hands across marble or the petals of a flower? Would it be hard as a rock or as soft as the softest skin in the world?
I saw Edward's eyes were on the TV. His arms suddenly folded across his chest. And then that spot was now hidden; covered up by the cotton again. Oh lord, how long did I stare at it? Why do those shirt sleeves look even tighter now?
I curled up on my bed, fluffing the pillow beneath my face. I peeked past my feet to view the TV. Every now and then, I look up at Edward; his face always trained on the images in front of us.
Billy had just completed third grade when I grew tired. I gave in around the time Billy had a party in his mansion's backyard.
Under my cheek, a steady rhythm played in my ear. That thumping, calming sound I could've enjoyed on repeat for hours. Slight tempo changes would've been just as beautiful to hear and feel. Even though I had it really close, it wasn't close enough. Something was keeping it away from fully having it pressed against me.
The smooth material under my cheek changed its shape. It no longer laid flat; it wrinkled from the movement of what this fabric belonged to. It wasn't entirely unpleasant, as it simultaneously brought on the rhythm change I was curious about. A satisfied sigh escaped me.
"Bella. Bella." A soft voice and the light tapping of my shoulder were bringing me back to consciousness.
I grumbled at the nasty interruption.
My fingers found the edge of the cloth I was lying on and played with it. I folded it around the circumference of my index finger and interwove it with the others. I was expecting the rough, lumpy shell of a pillows outer lining underneath a pillowcase. Instead, there was a silky supple flat surface. My hands quit the fun it was having with the fabric and became acquainted with this brand new place I happily happened upon. It was a magnificent heated feeling on my fingers, working its way along my nerves. The surface responded with little bumps popping up wherever I rubbed along it. My curious nails lightly scratched against the gentle, undeniable new found land, feeling it mold around my fingers; oh God, this feels even better than the rubbing!
"Bella." Urgency layered in his voice. The hand nudged me further, trying to wake me of my contented discovery.
My face rubbed into the cloth, the natural shape of my nose bending against it. My hand still pressed into the flat surface, never tiring of the feel of it under my skin. Oh, the softness and firmness. My eyelids finally opened to see where I laid my head. My head rubbed further into cotton, willing to go back to my unconscious state. My hair hung in a stringy mess.
My eyes finally comprehended where the hell I was. I was shocked to find Edward's face so close. He was staring off in the distance looking at the wall behind the television, completely motion and emotion less.
I looked down and saw my cheek was pressed into his chest, eye level with the wrinkled bunched up fabric of the mid-section of his shirt. And the silky surface my hand was touching was his abdomen. My thumb now firmly pressed into the indented button mark I had been looking at before.
What. The. Fuck?
"Oh my God!" I immediately rolled to my side, facing away from him. My face grew white hot with a searing flush. I stared wide eyed out the window. The embarrassment I was feeling propelled me off the bed like a rocket. I shuffled as fast as I could into the bathroom.
A hole in the floor could do me some good right about now!
I flipped on the light and turned the faucet on to splash cold water on my scorching flesh. The excess wet dripped down my chin, leaving some stains on my shirt. I grabbed my bath towel and patted the nubby, scratchy square all over my face.
The natural pink reaction of my cheek was painted on, refusing to leave me any dignity to erase. Water didn't tame the fire. It raged like a forest being taken by arsonist's flames.
How in the hell do I explain touching Edward's…skin? Ah, fuck it. I molested his body. But, I was unconscious. You can't hold shit against people when they're sleeping.
I was never good with the self-pride thing. I could own up to something I did, but that didn't mean I was internally good with handling it. Look at you now; you're freaking out in your head.
I threw down the towel on the counter space next to the sink. My bare feet felt the relief of the cool tiles beneath them.
I slowly peeked around the corner of my bathroom doorway. I opened my mouth to speak to a more than likely still shocked boy, but all I saw was my empty green bedspread with only the imprint of where Edward was sitting before.
A/N: Fleetwood Mac was playing in my ears through most of this chapter. Silver Springs, Say You Love Me, Dreams…
Let me know as always. The good, the bad.