A/N: I know … I know. Hate me if you want. But if you're still here, let me explain. I moved and started my second year of law school along with fighting a wicked case of writer's block. Forgive me.
Chapter 10: Blow Ups and Make Ups
So there I was.
Standing in a gallery watching Edward practically get peed on by the she-wolf Amazon lady over there while she managed to deflate my ego with her perfect stilettos that I would probably look absolutely ridiculous in. Jasper cooing in my ear telling me how I was so great and perfect, that Edward was a jerk face for even bothering with Blondie when he could have me instead.
Yeah, he actually used the words "jerk face." I'm totally serious.
What was he? Two?
You'd think by now I'd totally be freaking out and crying my eyes out, typical Bella style. I'd be overreacting and thinking how I wasn't good enough, I wasn't pretty enough, I wasn't fill in the blank.
Okay fine. Maybe I felt that for a few seconds … or minutes.
But that's not the point.
As Jasper's warm arms tightened around me and the tears on the edge of my eyes dried up, I refused to let those feelings overtake me.
I was a successful writer with a bestselling book. I had a sense of humor and was amazingly smart. I could play both the innocent virgin while still having that naughty school girl edge. And I had great tits to boot. For real! What was there to feel bad about?
Well, besides the fact I just pretty much got denied by a complete hottie in front of an entire art gallery full of people. I was just thankful that only few of them actually knew what was going on.
Meaning Jasper and me. And if Edward wasn't a complete douche him too.
But he wasn't my concern at the moment.
"You wanna go home?" Jasper whispered in my ear as he rubbed small circles into my back.
Hmmm, so clearly I was getting the sympathy card from him. Jasper was always the more in touch with his feelings between the two of us. Probably something about having an ex-hippy for a mother. I always found it amusing that Mrs. Whitlock used to tie daisy chains and protest against nuclear weapons in her teenage years. Especially now that she was a CPA who stressed out big time around tax season. So much for the free love …
The question was now: how did I want to play this?
I thought of my potential outcomes for this.
Choice number one was to play the sympathy card and have Jasper take me home. That would make me miss the show and potentially miss seeing and/or meeting the very artist whose art was being exhibited.
On the other hand I could avoid seeing Barbarella claim a guy who never really was my man for her own and milk it like it was her job. I half expected a pole to come lowering out of the ceiling at any moment so she could start taking her clothes off to get those precious dollar bills all strippers covet.
Choice number two was stay and enjoy what would probably be a pretty cool art show. I would get to see some EC works I hadn't before and the chances were excellent I'd get to see the artist himself. Those little nosh foods they had over on the table looked pretty tasty too.
The downside to this path was quite obvious. I'd be subjected to Hootie McTits grinding her junk all over Edward and this would quite possibly lead me to lose my lunch and likely my dinner as well. Add any potential open bar products to this mix and I couldn't guarantee my girl claws wouldn't come out.
I got a little territorial sometimes when I had a few martinis in me.
Okay, a lot territorial.
There's a funny story about Jasper, a drunk sorority girl and me with three albeit watered down martinis in me I'll tell you about sometime. Let's just say I wasn't the one who ended up in the emergency room. But it was in self defense, I swear.
Both choices before me had their downsides, but they also had potentially pretty cool upsides.
Add to that the little voice in my head telling me not to chicken out and I pretty much made up my mind.
I would stay, for better or worse.
I just hoped it wouldn't be for worse.
"No, I'm good. We can stay. Stripperella over there doesn't scare me," I said confidently and pushed Jasper away from me.
He sucked in a sharp breath and looked at me like I'd grown an extra head or something. I was half tempted to reach up to check just in case. He was really boggled and I could totally tell it.
"You sure?" he finally said after he lost that gaping fish look.
"Yeah. A little competition doesn't scare me. Besides, she probably does anal and Edward's probably into that kinda thing. You know my rule about that," I answered and fiddled with my clothes.
"Exit only," we both said at the same time before busting into huge grins and laughter.
We got a few sideways curious looks as we laughed at our shared joke, the product of a drunk conversation in college where I admitted just a little too much information to Jasper about my sexual preferences. While I wasn't opposed to some spice in the bedroom, I wasn't about to let some guy stick his dick up my ass. No way, no how.
"Damn, Bee. I didn't think you'd be cool with this. I figured you'd be all 'wahhhhhh!' cry baby and we'd run home with our tails between our legs like we'd been kicked while we were down," Jasper said and grinned at me.
I waved him off with my hand.
"Oh please. I'd never do that kind of thing," I scoffed.
Jasper gave me the universal look of 'are you shitting me?'.
"Okay fine. I may have done that. That was choice number two. But come on! We're here for some cool artwork, free food and the potential for artist interaction. So what if I have to deal with Perfect Tits over there and her stripper style grinding?" I said and waived my hand in the blonde's direction, where she was of course still loudly professing her adoration for Edward.
In all actuality it kind of made me sick. Can we say a bit much, girlie?
Jasper was still somewhat gaping at me, but by now he was at least covering it up better and he seemed to be believing that I was at least minimally okay with this whole situation.
"Well … I'm going to be honest here and say I'm kind of shocked by this reaction. I'm not sure I would have pegged you as someone who'd be okay with this situation. Especially considering you were freaking out if Edward liked you or not something like 36 hours ago. You sure there's no waterworks that are going to spontaneously combust here in the next sixty seconds? Cause I mean, you have to prepare me for those. You know I freak out when you cry and go into super protector Big Brother Jasper mode. I hate when you cry Bee and it might make me go punch Easy E over there in the 'nads," Jasper huffed and balled up his fists.
I just stared at him.
"Seriously Jay? 'Easy E'? "Nads'? What is this? 1994?!" I blurted out in shock.
He just put his hand up into his hair and scratched at his scalp, his trademark slight blush taking over his cheeks.
"Damn Bee, don't be like that. I didn't realize how stupid I sounded until you pointed it out," he said and grimaced.
"I'm just … wow … come on! Easy E? Next thing you know you're going to be wearing puffy pants and one of those thick gold chains!" I giggled.
Jasper quickly joined my laughter again, this time earning us more sideways curious glances than before.
As our laughter died down though, Jasper put his hand on my shoulder and pulled me in for a hug. I could feel his laughter still bubbling in his chest.
"I'm serious though, Bella. You want his junk punched, you just tell me. And I'm not opposed to hitting a girl if you know what I mean. Grandma Whitlock will spin in her grave, but I think she'll excuse it this one time," he whispered quietly into my ear.
His loyalty made my heart warm with happiness.
"Thanks, Jasper. If I want the bitch hit, I'll give you the signal."
He let me go and his eyes veered towards the table of goodies.
I sighed with a smile.
"Now let's go get us some appetizers!" I giggled again and turned towards the table, setting off before Jasper could realize what happened to him.
Our plates sufficiently loaded with tiny sandwiches, mini quiches and chocolate-covered strawberries, it was time to wander around and look at the artwork. Jasper conspicuously looped his arm through mine and veered me away from wherever Edward seemed to be moving towards. There was one moment when I thought Edward was walking towards me, but Jasper pulled me to look at this one painting of a woman stretched out across her bed. Nude of course. That seemed to be EC's thing.
We grabbed some of the champagne that was floating around thanks to dapper looking waiters and their booze-laden trays and I quickly found the bubbles going to my head. Normal liquor I was fairly good with. I could manage a few drinks before it made me sloshy, but champagne was a different beast all together. One and a half glasses and I was burping and feeling slightly fuzzy.
I giggled when Jasper made a comment about one of the paintings, something about how he'd like to have the woman in his bed and see if she was really as good looking as EC had painted her. Thankfully he wasn't talking about Slutty McHooterson who still was grinding her probably syphilis-infected junk all over my former almost-man.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" a deep booming voice said behind us and Jasper and I turned around to see Edward standing next to another man who looked strikingly similar. They both had dark hair, though Edward's was much longer and had some reddish tints to it.
The man grinned at the crowd who had settled into a semi circle around him and Edward, Tits McGee standing proudly off to the side with a shit eating grin.
Edward looked horribly uncomfortable standing there with the eyes trained on him and the speaker and even though I was trying to be mad at him, I couldn't help but understand that feeling. Just because I was an author didn't mean I liked to be the center of attention. Cameras freaked me out and having lots of sets of eyes trained on me made me squirm in my seat.
"I'd like to welcome everybody to tonight's event. If you don't already know me, my name is Emmett Cullen. I'm the one you talk to if you want to purchase any of these here purty pictures," he said with a clearly faked southern accent. "I hope you all have enjoyed yourselves and partaken of the refreshments; I know I certainly have!"
The crowd laughed and several people held their champagne flutes in the air.
We were standing off to the side in the back of the open space in the gallery and from the distance we were away, I could still feel Edward's eyes boring into me. I tried to not stare back, and instead I kept my eyes trained on this Emmett guy. The name sounded slightly familiar, but I couldn't place it thanks to the bubbles floating around in my brain.
I hiccupped all of a sudden and Jasper's head turned toward me.
He grinned at me and chuckled a few times.
"Oh Bella. Give you a Four Horseman and you're fine. A few sips of champagne and you're sloppy drunk," he laughed.
"I'm not drunk!" I hissed at him under my breath, hoping nobody around us could hear. "Now shuddup and listen to the muscled dude in the $3000 suit."
His smile widened and he turned back towards Emmett and Edward.
"Art is something very subjective that you either love or you hate. As an agent I've seen a lot of crappy art and I'm sure you all have seen your fair share too. For every one Monet there are a thousand finger painters looking to make it big. As my grandmother often told my sisters, 'you gotta kiss a lot of toads before you find your prince!'" he was saying.
Edward's posture next to Emmett only seemed to broadcast that he was growing more uncomfortable with each passing moment.
Briefly I wondered why he would be so uncomfortable and why in the world he'd be practically center stage for this event tonight.
"That's the beauty about art though," Emmett continued. "Art is something that everybody can enjoy, whether you're an expert or a novice. It doesn't take someone well versed or trained to know what looks good. I am proud to say that what is hanging on the walls around is good. No, it's better than good. It's fantastic. And there's only one person to thank for the beauty that we see tonight."
A sudden look of panic flashed across Edward's face and all the blood seemed to drain from him.
"EC himself, my client and favorite cousin, Edward Cullen," Emmett roared and the crowd started clapping.
It took a few moments for what he had said to register in my brain and when it finally hit me, I was the one who felt like I'd had all blood drained from me.
Edward … EC … Edward Cullen … my Edward … Stalker Boy …
"Bella!" Jasper gasped and the entire crowd turned around in my direction.
Apparently I hadn't just thought those words. They'd come out of my mouth as well.
"Bella!" Jay hissed and pulled on my arm in the direction of the exit.
"What the hell just happened?!" I exclaimed loudly, people still openly gaping at me.
I took a few steps backward and looked up to find Edward's shocked eyes locked directly onto me. Next to him Emmett looked confused and Blondie looked … smug? Well, admittedly she looked smug most of the night so this wasn't too much of a change. She'd wrapped her hand around Edward's upper arm and Edward shook her off, almost like he was disgusted by her touch.
"Jasper, what did he just say? Did he say Edward was EC, as in EC the famous painter?" I asked Jasper who was still trying to get me away from people and presumably out onto the chilly Chicago street.
"Yes, Bella. He did. Now I really think we should go before this gets out of hand. I can feel it coming," Jasper replied in an even tone.
How could he be so freaking calm right now?
"Oh hell no!" I exclaimed again and shook of Jasper's grip as hard as I could.
I pushed the sea of people apart as bodies moved out of my way until I stood before Edward. His mouth had fallen open and his eyes were both asking for forgiveness and laced with shock.
Or at least that's what I was projecting on him.
The entire gallery of people fell dead silent. I'm sure you could hear the proverbial pin drop if you listened hard enough. Too bad it was the other shoe dropping instead.
Talk about a great night in Bella-land. First I watch him get molested by a classy stripper (I'll give her the point she at least looked like she'd be worth the money for the lap dance). And now I get the shock of my life that the entire time I'd been talking to Edward about EC's works, raving about how brilliant they were, I'd been talking to EC himself.
"Are you EC?" I asked firmly and the crowd seemed to lean forward as if waiting for Edward's response.
His mouth closed and opened a few times, making that quiet popping noise that never led to anything good coming out.
"Yes," he finally said.
It was a knee jerk reaction.
My open palm met the side of his face quicker than you can say "battery and assault." A collective gasp burst through the crowd and to be perfectly honest I was just as shocked as they were.
I'd never actually slapped someone in my life.
Now seemed to be like the perfect moment to christen my typically female response.
"You have got to be fucking kidding me!" I shrieked and felt my blood pressure start to rise. My vision started to get slightly fuzzy, a combination of the rage and adrenaline coursing through my system now.
If Edward looked shocked before, he looked about a million times more shocked now. And I am so not exaggerating on that one either. His shock level was probably off the charts. Hell, my own shock was staggering.
I took a sideways glance at Emmett and his face seemed to mirror Edward's. Up close I could fell the family resemblance. It was probably their fathers who were brothers, the dominant genes clearly visible in each cousin. There was a little vein though that was pulsing in Emmett's forehead and I couldn't tell if it was from anger or mirth.
Probably a combination of the two.
Apparently mirth must have won out though because a staggeringly long second elapsed before he burst out into the loudest, most bone shaking laughter. It was his turn to be stared at now, every eye trained on him and the ridiculousness of the situation starting to settle on me as well.
The whole thing seemed like one big comedy of errors.
The difference was I'm not sure Shakespeare intended to include public humiliation, finger foods and champagne in his story.
"Edward!" Blondie snarled and I turned my head to look at her. She had a downright murderous look on her face.
"Rose! Not now!" Edward snapped at her, and my heart thudded in my chest randomly.
"But … she hit you!" she barked out.
Edward rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders, looking downright exasperated with this Rose girl.
"Yeah, well I probably deserved it. Now go try to blow off someone else. I'm not interested and I never will be. I think I've made myself very clear by now," Edward snapped again.
It was my turn to have the shocked look as Rose's look of outrage turned from me to Edward.
"Well … I … you bastard! All I've ever done was be nice to you! I've made you famous with my face and this is how you repay me? Public humiliation?!" she shrieked and started lunging for Edward.
I instinctually stepped in front of him as Emmett leaned to pull her back, his huge hand wrapping around her arm and holding her off Edward easily.
"That's enough, Rosalie," he said firmly.
She huffed and straightened her long blond waves of hair, pulling them out of her face before smoothing her skirt down.
I heard snickers around us and was only then aware that everybody in the gallery was watching us like we were better than a live play, which we probably were. To the outside eye the whole thing was probably both confusing as hell and massively entertaining. Kind of like a car or train wreck. You know the shitstorm is coming, but you can't look away.
If I wasn't one of the actors in the drama I'd probably be staring right along with them.
Jasper stood there in the back of the room with his arms crossed across his chest, a little smirk plastered across his face. From the look he was giving me, I knew I'd never live this moment down as long as I lived. He and I would be old in the nursing home together and he'd remind me of "the time when you slapped the pansy-assed arty guy."
Not that Edward was a pansy at all. Not after hearing him tell off Hottie McTits, who still looked rather incredulous at what had just happened.
Emmett was pulling her away from Edward and me, a half shocked-half pleased look on his face.
I felt a warm hand on my shoulder, and I turned around expecting it to be Jasper urging me out of the spotlight and back into the anonymity of the Chicago streets.
Instead it was Edward with a contrite look on his face and sad eyes.
"Bella, I really think we need to talk … in private," he said quietly and glanced around to the crowd of eyes still trained on us.
I nodded my head in agreement and awkwardly let my arms hang beside my body that had seemingly lost its fight. I felt exhausted already, like I'd run a couple marathons tonight.
I guess adrenaline will do that to you along with good champagne.
Edward's warm hand wrapped around my wrist and he pulled me past several people who were conspicuously trying to look away, almost like they didn't want to be caught gaping. A low buzz of voices seemed to be springing up around us, no doubt gossiping at the spectacle that was our lives.
I wouldn't be surprised if tonight's events found their way onto the gossip pages the next day. I could see the headlines now. "Famous Artist Caught in Public Threesome" or "A Slap In The Face For Modern Art."
I had really embarrassed both myself and Edward tonight and I had a feeling I was only going to feel worse as the night went on, though how that was possible I didn't know.
Edward guided me to a door and opened it, holding his arm out so I could go in before him. The room was probably an office for the gallery and a desk sat in the middle of the room with piles of paperwork flooding the horizontal surface.
He shut the door behind him and the dull hum of people's voices quieted, leaving only our loudly beating heartbeats and the rasping of our breath.
Edward almost looked awkward as he ran his hand through his hair, something I'd come to realize was a nervous habit of his. I shifted on my feet, unsure what I should do other than stand there.
"You can sit down if you want," Edward said and gestured to a little loveseat along one wall of the office.
Though my feet were suddenly killing me at the mention of sitting down, I shook my head mutely and Edward sighed.
"Very well," he said quietly and began to pace in the small space of the office.
I really had no idea what he was thinking about and even though I probably should have been thinking about everything that had happened along with all the night's revelations, my mind was suspiciously blank. All I could do was watch Edward struggle to form words as he paced and kept tugging at his hair.
My heart ticked off the seconds, the silence bearing down on me and making my breath come out in short staccato huffs.
Edward seemed to be mumbling something too low for me to hear even in the surprising silence of the office.
My earlier anger at him seemed to be quickly dissipating in favor of simply wanting an explanation for everything that had happened.
As was par for the evening's course, my mouth spit out something quicker than it registered in my brain.
"So what's with Stripperella back there?"
Edward stopped and stared at me before bursting into laughter. The sound was like music to my ears and brought me back to a time only a few days ago, though it seemed like much longer.
"Oh Bella!" he exclaimed with humor in his eyes. "I can always count on you to lighten the mood."
"No seriously. What's with her? Care to explain to the class?" I answered, undeterred by Edward's attempt at flattery.
His laughter stopped after a moment and he took a second moment to gather his thoughts again.
"Rose is … well, she'd difficult. Always has been. I'd like to chalk it up to her being a model, but I'm sure it's probably a lot more than that. She seems to think that we would be perfect together and has pretty much been trying to get in my pants since she set eyes on me. Too bad The Dude isn't interested and neither am I," he chuckled at the last bit.
The Dude? Who the hell was 'The Dude?'
Edward continued before I could ask that question.
"She likes to make my life more difficult than it really is. Very typical Rosalie actually."
I snorted as his choice of words.
"Yeah, cause the life of a famous artist is sooooooooo difficult," I said sarcastically.
His eyes narrowed on me and he started pacing.
"You'd be surprised," he mumbled under his breath.
I rolled my eyes at him. His life couldn't be that difficult if he had the time to sit around in The Art Institute all day talking to me.
Which reminded me of an overarching question in my mind.
"So why did you lie to me?" I blurted out and Edward stopped pacing to look up at me again.
He ran his hand through his hair and I made a mental note to remind him not to do that as much if he wanted to keep his hair until old age. Charlie did that a lot and he was slowly getting a little patch of skin on the crown of his head.
"I didn't outright lie to you, Bella," he finally said.
"Yeah because only giving me half the truth is so much different."
He sighed and flopped down on the couch that his pacing had brought him in front of.
"I suppose you're right."
I twisted my hands together, nervously flicking at the ring my mother had given me when I'd graduated college that was on the middle finger of my right hand.
"It's just all the things you were saying about EC's work – my work I guess – were so nice and meaningful. I've received a lot of compliments from everybody under the sun and it seemed like the ones that have meant the most to me in my life have come from you. I just wanted you to be able to talk freely without worrying about censoring yourself. You shouldn't have to edit around me," Edward said and hung his head slightly, his palm rubbing the still slightly red mark I'd given him.
"Sorry I slapped you," I said quietly.
"S'okay. I wasn't kidding when I told Rose I deserved it. I feel like a complete dick for not telling you right away. You've done nothing but be wonderful and all I've done is evade the truth and dance around lies," he answered sorrowfully.
I couldn't stop the giggle that erupted out of my mouth.
"What?" Edward asked, his eyebrows narrowing in confusion.
"The mental image of you dancing around anything is pretty freaking funny," I replied while continuing to lightly giggle.
He chuckled a few times, ending with another sigh. "Yeah, you're right about that one"
Silence fell between us and it seemed like neither knew what to say to break it. Edward was bouncing his right leg and I played with my ring.
"So I bet your boyfriend wants to rip my nuts off right about now, huh?" Edward finally said with a grimace.
My head snapped up and I burst out laughing.
"What? What did I say? Oh shit, he totally does, doesn't he?" he groaned and covered his crotch with both hands.
I knew I should have corrected his error in judgment but what he said was just so freaking funny I couldn't stop laughing. Fold in half, bring tears to my eyes laughing.
"Seriously, Bella! Let me in on the joke here cause from where I'm sitting I could use some humor. I pretty much just made a fucking spectacle of my career, probably lost my best model and found out the girl I'm into is dating another guy," Edward said and clutched at the couch's edge with taut knuckles.
"Jasper's … not … my … oh hell this is funny … boyfriend! He's gonna shit himself when he hears you said that. Or probably hurl chunks, either way," I hacked out between loud guffaws.
As suddenly as my laughter had started though, it came to a crashing halt as Edward's words hit me.
"Wait, wait, wait. Back the freaking train up, Geronimo. Did I just hear what I think I heard?" I said with my heart beating thunderously in my ears. I held my breath in anticipation for Edward's answer.
The thought flitted through my mind I'd been less nervous to receive an answer when I had opened the first response letter from an agent in regards to my book.
This answer had a whole lot more riding on it.
"What's that?" Edward returned, confusion lacing his expression.
"Did you just say you're 'into me?' Like check yes or no into me?" I whispered.
His mega watt smile spread across his face, blinding me and making my already quick heartbeat speed up. I swear that smile of his was a dangerous weapon.
I must have lost a few seconds of consciousness because in practically a single heartbeat, Edward was standing in front of me. He lifted his hand to my face and his long fingers skimmed the back of my cheek, the heat of his skin burning into mine. Fire lurched through my blood as he placed one finger under my chin and tilted my face up to his.
He was looking down at me through those eyelashes of his and I think I stopped breathing. Being this close to him, feeling the warmth of his body right up next to mine made my mind fuzzy.
"Bella, you have to breath," he said quietly.
"Okay," I whispered.
We stood there, his finger still holding my head up. It felt like it weighed a ton and if he let me go I'd fall crashing back towards the Earth I was slowly floating away from.
I sucked in a stilted breath and Edward grinned at me, his smile crooked on one side. It was an effortless smile, one that made happiness bubble up in the pit of my stomach.
"So no boyfriend then?" he asked.
"No," I answered and grinned back, suddenly happier than I had been in my whole life to be single.
Edward brought his head down towards my face and his nose brushed against mine. His breath was hot against my skin and it scrambled my thoughts. I could think of nothing more than what was about to happen.
His lips brushed mine feather light, and even just that simple kiss made molten lava run hot and bright through me. My body felt like it was on fire.
"Good because I'd hate to know I was kissing another guy's girlfriend," Edward whispered against my lips before melting his lips onto mine once again.
This kiss wasn't as whisper thin. It ignited me, set me ablaze and burned me to a pile of smoldering ashes. Some guys were all tongue when they kissed or had too much slobber. Half the time I felt like I was being eaten alive.
But Edward's kiss … well, I couldn't find words and I was a writer.
My hands came up to rest on his hips and I pulled him to me, letting him know without having to bring my lips off his that I was enjoying the moment.
When my lungs threatened to explode if I didn't get air, I gently pulled back and gasped for whatever I could get. My chest burned, half from the kiss and half from the oxygen deprivation.
Edward was breathing heavily just like me and pulled me in for a hug, his arms wrapping around me and crushing me to his chest. I inhaled deeply, smelling faint traces of turpentine laced with oil paints under the top notes of his cologne that frankly had parts of me tingling. At least now I knew why he smelled like an artist.
It's because he was an artist.
I burrowed my head in his chest, luxuriating in the way he felt next to me.
"Edward?" I mumbled into his shirt.
"Mmmhmmm," he hummed and I felt the vibration through my body.
I pulled my face back a little and looked up at him. From this angle I saw the clean line of his jaw and placed a gentle kiss right at the top. Edward missed a breath as my lips connected with his skin.
I looked back at his face and he seemed to be marveling at me.
"Just so we're being honest here, you should probably know I'm a bestselling author, okay?" I said quietly.
His mouth fell open and I giggled internally.
"You're a what now?" was his incredulous response.