Title: Afraid to Fall
Disclaimers: The characters are not mine, any and all music is not mine, only the plot and my words belong to me.
Author's Notes: This story will eventually have some lemons and I will do my best to be good about updating. A very large portion of the story is already written (including the end!) and there will be a total of eight chapters of varying length.
Special Notes: For Blue-Winter-Angel and her extremely motivating story "I Like it Loud" and the upcoming "15 Step." If you like sweet, hot, well written B&E action, you need to check her out! And as always, for Goo82 for being supportive and just altogether awesome. I promise some angst just for you, bb!
Bella Swan stretched as she walked into the kitchen in her apartment on a Saturday morning in mid-May. Normally, she wouldn't have been up before 11:00 on a weekend if she could help it. However, she had woken up an hour earlier, around 9am, and as she had been unable to get back to sleep, had decided to get up and make breakfast for herself and her roommates, Alice Cullen and Rosalie Hale.
The three girls, along with Alice and Rose's boyfriends Jasper Whitlock and Emmett Cullen, had graduated from the University of Chicago a week earlier and Bella was looking forward to a relaxing summer before they all started grad school in the fall at the university. Alice, Rose, and Emmett were all heading to U of Chicago's Booth School of Business for their MBAs while Jasper would be getting his Masters in Psychology and Bella would be working toward her Masters in Social Work.
Bella gathered up ingredients for French Toast and smiled to herself as she heated up the griddle. She stuck her ipod in the ipod dock on the kitchen counter and turned it on so she would have some music to keep her company while she cooked, her thoughts traveling to her little family and everything they had been through together in their four years at the university. It had all started when Alice and her longtime boyfriend, Jasper, had befriended Bella and her then-intimidating roommate, Rose, within the first week of college. Not long after their initial meeting, Rose and Emmett, Alice's brother, had started dating. Now, four years later, the five were a tightly knit group, more like a family than simply a group of friends. The three girls had moved into a three-bedroom apartment in Hyde Park near the University after their freshman year while Jasper and Emmett shared an apartment with a third U of Chicago student only two blocks away.
Bella had come to the University of Chicago from Portland, Oregon, the introverted only child of divorced parents. The last she had heard, her mother had been living in Florida, but it had been a few years since they had spoken – Renee, her mother, never had been very good at the whole staying in touch thing. Her father, Charlie, had been killed in a car accident in October of Bella's freshman year. Rose, Alice, Emmett, and Jasper had been there for Bella every step of the way as she dealt with her father's death and she had known then just how special the friendship among them all really was.
Alice, Jasper, and Emmett had all come to Chicago from the small town of Forks, Washington. Emmett was a year older than the others but had taken a year off between high school and college, deferring his acceptance to the university for a year so that he could start college at the same time as Alice and Jasper. Jasper's parents had died when he was only seven and he had been sent to live with his great Aunt Sara in Forks, Washington. From what Bella gathered, he and the Cullens had hit it off from the day they'd met and he had practically been a member of their family ever since. Jasper and Alice had been together since junior high and Bella was relatively certain that going to separate colleges had never crossed either of their minds.
All Bella really knew about Rose's parents was that they lived in Southern California. They didn't call or write or visit and the only real impact they had on Rose's life was through the large sums of money they deposited in her bank account every month.
Alice and Emmett had another brother, Edward, Alice's twin in fact, but he had been at The University of California at Davis studying animal science for as long as Bella had known the others and had never come to visit his siblings in Chicago. The Cullens' parents, Carlisle and Esme, however, had been out to Chicago to visit them all numerous times during their years at the university and treated Bella, Rose, and Jasper like adopted daughters and son. Bella absolutely adored Carlisle and Esme and Alice had told Bella that they both felt the same way about her. She had never been home with Alice and Emmett, – her aversion to the Pacific Northwest and fear of flying keeping her in Chicago any time the rest of her friends had flown out to Carlisle and Esme's house in the tiny town of Forks, Washington – but Carlisle and Esme had told her she had an open invitation any time she would like to visit.
Bella was pulled from her thoughts by the sizzling drops of water on the skillet letting her know it was hot enough for her to start the French toast. She knew she had at least two for breakfast since she had heard Alice and Jasper come home late the night before when she herself had already been in bed. She wasn't sure if Rose had spent the night at home or at Emmett's and she decided she'd go and check Rose's room after she finished cooking the first batch.
The song on the ipod dock changed to Axle Whitehead's "I Don't Do Surprises," and Bella smiled, turning the volume up slightly as she began to sing along, her body swaying to the music. She heard someone moving in the living room behind her and grinned as she continued dancing along even as she flipped the pieces of toast on the skillet. "I'm making French toast, Ali," she called without turning around. "Do you want some?"
"Well, I'm not Alice, but if you don't mind, that sounds and smells delicious."
Bella gasped and whirled around to find an unfamiliar guy standing at the edge of the kitchen. He smiled crookedly at her. "Hello."
"Who, where did you come from?" Bella stuttered.
"Alice's room," he replied with the same adorable grin on his face. "Great choice of music, by the way. I'm guessing you're Bella."
"How do you…?"
"Alice," he replied.
"Oh," was all Bella could manage.
He knew who she was, which meant he probably wasn't some freak who had broken into their apartment to rob or kill them. She couldn't stop herself from staring at him, her stunned mind registering that he was extremely attractive, quite possibly the most attractive guy she had ever laid eyes on. Vibrant green eyes sparkled at her from a handsome face and his messy bed head hair that was an unusual bronze color seemed to beg Bella to run her fingers through it. He was easily half a foot taller than she was, his bare chest showing a body that was all lean muscle.
Bella blushed as she realized she had been silently gawking at this stranger for several moments now. Her blush deepened when she realized that he was staring back at her but she found herself unable to tear her gaze from his gorgeous eyes.
At that moment, Alice came skipping out of her room still dressed in her pajamas. "Morning, Bella," she sang as she came to a stop beside the stranger, hooking her arm through his.
Bella started. She had been so busy admiring the strange boy that something had not occurred to her right away. He had been sleeping in Alice's room. Alice, who was now practically hanging onto this shirtless boy. Alice, who was supposed to be madly in love with Jasper.
Bella could think of nothing to say and when there was a knock at the door, she gratefully announced she would answer it. Her relief was short-lived, however, when she opened the door to find Jasper standing there.
"Hi, Jasper," Bella said, smiling weakly. Her mind raced as she tried to think of a way to send him away without making him suspicious. She couldn't let him come in now. Not when Alice was draped across some strange shirtless boy who had spent the night with her in her bedroom. It would break Jasper's heart.
"Jazz!" Alice squealed from within the apartment and Bella cringed. "Come see who's here!"
With a smile at Bella, Jasper slipped past her and into the apartment. Bella closed the door and turned slowly to face the group, her body tensed for the explosion. But it never came.
Bella turned to see Jasper and the bronze haired boy hugging and pounding each other on the back. Her mouth dropped open in disbelief and all she could do was stare silently at the scene before her. What the hell?
Pulling herself together, Bella leaned over and turned the ipod dock off before turning back to the group. The sudden silence from the kitchen caught Alice's attention and she turned to face Bella, a huge grin on her face. "Bella, this is-"
Whatever Alice had been about to say was cut off as the door flew open and Emmett came bounding in. "Eddie!" he bellowed, scooping up the unknown boy in a signature bone-crushing hug. Bella was growing increasingly confused as she watched the four people in front of her and she barely noticed as Rose walked past her to join the group.
"Morning, Bella," Rose said. She stopped and sniffed the air. "Is something burning?"
"Shit!" Bella whirled around to the stove where the French toast was beginning to smoke on the skillet and quickly yanked the pan from the stove. In her haste, however, she forgot that she was not using her heat safe cooking ware and yelped as the hot metal touched her skin, dropping both skillet and toast to the floor.
The unfamiliar boy was suddenly at her side, carefully taking her injured hand in both of his. He gently led Bella toward the sink and turned the cold water on full blast, holding her hand beneath the cooling spray.
Bella couldn't stop the gasp that passed her lips when the boy's hands touched hers. It was as if an electric current had passed between them and she shivered slightly as the cold water hit her hand.
The stranger looked up at her. "Did I hurt you?" he asked in concern.
Bella shook her head. "No, it's fine. I just, uh, wasn't expecting it to be so cold." She closed her eyes, cursing herself for the stupid comment. I wasn't expecting it to be so cold? He turned on the cold water tap, what did you expect? Moron, she internally berated herself.
Her uninjured hand was braced against the counter and she was suddenly hyper-aware of just how close her hand was to his bare chest. She could feel the heat from his skin and had to make a conscious effort to keep her gaze focused firmly on her injured hand.
He ran his fingers softly across her reddened skin. "Doesn't look like you've done any permanent damage. How does it feel?"
Bella forced herself to stop staring at his long fingers as they danced across her palm and met his intense gaze once more. "Um, it's fine," she mumbled. "Thank you."
"You're very welcome," he replied, that same crooked grin on his face.
Bella wasn't sure how long they stood staring at each other when Emmett's booming laugh suddenly interrupted them, making Bella jump. She had honestly forgotten anyone else was there.
"Picked something up from dad, huh, Love Doctor?" Emmett teased.
Bella's face turned crimson and she stepped away from her impromptu doctor.
Alice elbowed Emmett. "Idiot," she grumbled.
"What?" Emmett asked. "I was just-"
"Just being an idiot," Alice said.
Before Emmett could respond, Jasper intervened. "Guys, you think maybe we should introduce them?"
Alice brightened instantly. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Right!" She turned her attention to the pair in the kitchen. "Bella, this is my brother, Edward. Edward, my best friend, Bella."
Bella stared. This was Alice's twin?
Edward smiled at Bella. "It's very nice to meet you, Bella. I'm sorry to just barge in here. I hope I didn't startle you too badly."
"Oh no, it's fine," Bella said hurriedly. "It's just, well, Alice never mentioned that you were coming," she added, shooting her friend an evil look.
"Didn't I?" Alice replied, the picture of wide-eyed innocence. "I could have sworn I told you."
Deciding she would yell at Alice later and shooting her another dirty look, Bella turned her attention back to Edward. "So, um, how long are you here, Edward?"
Edward gave Bella the crooked grin she was already beginning to love. "Couple of years, actually." Bella's surprise must have shown on her face and Edward laughed. "Not here here, exactly," he explained. "More like here in Chicago."
"Edward's starting veterinary school at U of C in the fall," Alice piped up. "Isn't it great?"
"Great," Bella managed weakly, tearing her gaze away from Edward's smiling face as she felt her face flush yet again.
"And the first thing I need to do is find a place to live," Edward added. He made a face as he and Bella joined the others in the main room. "Guess I'd better get started on that. I don't suppose I could talk anyone into coming apartment hunting with me, huh?"
"Dude, no worries, you can totally move in with us," Emmett told him.
"Won't that be a little crowded?" Alice asked. "It's only a three bedroom, what about Alex?"
"Alex moved out, actually," Jasper replied.
"Alex and Elise eloped last week," Emmett told his little sister.
"What?" Alice practically shrieked. "Why didn't you say anything?"
Emmett shrugged. "Didn't think it was really important 'til now."
Alice gave him an exasperated look and turned to Jasper. "And what's your excuse?"
Jasper smiled. "I didn't know until yesterday. We knew Alex and Elise had gone away but we just got an email from him telling us they'd eloped and are planning on staying in Hawaii indefinitely. That's actually why I couldn't stay over last night – Goodwill came early this morning to pick up his clothes and furniture." He turned to Edward. "So, yeah, man, if you need a place to stay, you should totally move in with us."
"Works for me," Edward said with a smile. "Much as I love you, Alice, I have to say I'd rather have my own room with my own bed instead of spending another night on your floor."
"Excellent!" Alice clapped her hands excitedly. "Now that you have a place to live, you have to think about how you're going to decorate your room."
The gleam in her blue eyes was familiar to everyone in the room and Edward quickly held up a hand. "Sorry, Alice, but I already have everything I need. My stuff got here on Thursday and I was just going to keep it in storage until I found a place to live but now I guess I can call them and get it delivered to Emmett and Jasper's apartment."
"Well, none of us are doing anything," Alice said. "We can help get you settled. Right, guys?"
"Yeah, I'm in," Rose said.
"Me, too," Bella agreed. "I just need to…" She trailed off as she looked down, belatedly realizing that she was still in the short shorts and camisole she had worn to bed. "Get dressed," she finished in a small voice, folding her arms over her chest as her cheeks turned pink.
"Why don't you three shower and I'll go down to Z&H and grab some breakfast for everyone?" Jasper suggested, attempting to ease Bella's embarrassment. "Zaleski & Horvath," he explained to Edward. "It's right down the street. Great bagels and stuff."
Edward nodded his assent. "Bagels sound good to me," he agreed.
"Hell yeah!" Emmett chimed in from the kitchen where he had started digging through the refrigerator.
"That sounds perfect, thanks, baby," Alice said, leaning up to give Jasper a quick kiss. "Edward, you can use my shower after you call the storage place, I'll use Rose's bathroom." Without waiting for a response, she skipped off in the direction of Rose's room.
"Bagels sound good to everyone else?" Jasper asked.
Rose and Bella nodded. "It won't be nearly as good as your amazing French Toast, Bells," Emmett called from the kitchen where he had just finished throwing out the ruined breakfast. "But I don't really think we should let you near the stove right now anyway," he teased.
Bella stuck her tongue out at him. "Whole wheat, please, Jasper. I'm going to go shower." She turned and headed off to her bedroom.
"Nice meeting you, Bella," Edward said.
Bella stumbled and caught herself on her doorframe. "You, too," she mumbled, turning around and giving a weak wave before hurrying into her room and closing the door behind her.
"Still got a way with the women, huh, Eddie?" Emmett said with a huge grin. "I think she likes you."
"Edward," Edward replied. "My name is Edward. And shut up."
Rose saw the blush rising in Edward's cheeks and raised an eyebrow. In the four years she had known Edward, she had never seen him react to a girl this way. Judging by the look on Emmett's face, he had noticed Edward's reaction, too, and Rose quickly spoke up before Emmett could really start in on his brother. "Emmett, go with Jasper and get breakfast. Edward, go call the storage place and see about getting your stuff delivered."
Edward saluted with a grin before heading off to Alice's room to find his cell phone. Emmett kissed Rose's cheek then left with Jasper and Rose walked toward her own bedroom. Looking between Alice and Bella's rooms, she couldn't stop a small smile from crossing her face. Summer was definitely getting off to an interesting start.
Later that afternoon, the six were at the boys' apartment finishing up getting Edward and his belongings settled in. Jasper and Edward had put Edward's bed together while Rose and Emmett had assembled his two bookshelves. To her extreme embarrassment, Bella had been recruited by Alice to help put away Edward's clothes. Alice claimed she was only doing it to keep Bella safe from any type of construction where she would most likely injure herself, but Bella knew very well that Alice was also using the opportunity to look over Edward's clothing so that she could later make some "suggestions" for additions to his wardrobe. Fortunately, Alice had agreed to let Edward put away the clothing in his dresser so Bella was spared the further humiliation of having to dig through and fold his underwear.
Currently, they were down to the last few boxes and Emmett had started grumbling about being starving. Alice surveyed the room and seemed to come to a decision. "All right, Jasper and I are going to go get you some other essentials," she told her twin. "Rose, can you and Emmett go get some dinner for everyone?"
Rose nodded. "Any requests?"
"Up to you guys," Edward said.
"Yeah, I'm up for whatever," Bella agreed. "You know what I like."
"Think you guys can handle those boxes?" Alice asked.
Edward looked to Bella and she nodded. "Not a problem, Ali," she assured her. "We'll have everything done by the time you guys all get back."
"All right, we'll see you guys in a little while then," Alice said. The others said their goodbyes and the two couples left, leaving Edward and Bella alone in the apartment.
The two settled on the floor near each other, each in front of a large box. Bella cut the tape off of the box in front of her and pulled back the flaps. She was slightly surprised to see that the box was full of books. Looking over, she saw that the box in front of Edward contained similar contents. "Wow, you have a lot of books," Bella blurted out before she could stop herself.
Edward grinned. "Yep. Emmett likes to call me the token dork of the family. Besides, what did you think was going to go on those shelves?" he teased, gesturing to the large bookcase in the corner of the room.
"Well, you do have a lot of CDs," Bella said, smiling back at Edward even as her cheeks turned pink. "They could have feasibly gone there."
"Nope, other shelf," Edward said, pointing to the slightly smaller bookcase next to his closet.
Bella smiled and returned to the box in front of her. As she pulled the books from the box, she saw the familiar "Used" sticker used in college bookstores on the spines of a large number of them. "I thought Alice said you got your degree in Animal Sciences," Bella said.
Edward smiled. "I did. But English was my favorite subject in high school, so every time I could take a class outside my major, I'd take a fiction class. I had some really good Shakespeare and Brit Lit courses and a really interesting one on Science Fiction."
"What was that like?" Bella asked. "I've taken a few Brit Lits and this Shakespeare class that I loved, but I've never had a Science Fiction one. What did you read?"
Edward began to describe the course to her and soon the two were deep in discussion about different novels and authors. As they talked, Bella became more and more comfortable with Edward, her initial awkwardness with him forgotten.
The two were in the middle of a debate over which of Oscar Wilde's plays was his best, with Bella maintaining "An Ideal Husband" was clearly superior while Edward insisted upon "The Importance of Being Earnest," when Alice stuck her head in the door.
Taking in the boxes still filled with books and CDs and the sight of a comfortably chatting Edward and Bella sitting close together on the ground, Alice smiled knowingly to herself – it looked like her plan of leaving the two alone to get to know each other had worked perfectly. "So, did you guys actually get any work done or did you just spend the whole time goofing off?" she teased.
The two looked up in surprise. "Hey, Al, when did you get back?" Bella asked, glancing at the clock Edward had set on his bedside table. She almost gasped out loud when she saw the time. That couldn't possibly be right, could it? She and Edward couldn't really have talked for an hour and a half straight.
Alice followed Bella's glance and she grinned. "Yeah, that is the actual time. Emmett and Rose ran into serious Saturday night spring crowds so it took a lot longer than they'd planned. But come on, they went to Medici's and I'm starving. Let's eat!"
Alice turned and began to head back to the living room. "And I'd advise giving it up, Edward," she called back over her shoulder. "You're never going to change Bella's mind when it comes to books."
Bella and Edward looked at each other and started to laugh. "Well, technically, it's a play," Bella said.
"So does that mean I have a shot?"
Bella screwed up her face and pretended to think a second. "Um, no," she said, shaking her head.
Edward grinned. "I guess I'll have to learn to pick my battles when it comes to you," he teased. Bella blushed and began to pull more books from the box in front of her but Edward placed a hand on her arm, stopping her. "Don't worry about it," he told her. "I can do that later."
"You sure?" Bella asked, her skin tingling beneath Edward's touch.
"Absolutely," Edward said, grinning. "I'll get it all set up later. Let's go get some dinner before Emmett eats it all." He removed his hand but before Bella had time to feel its loss, he reached down and took her hand, helping her to her feet. He held onto her hand a beat longer than necessary before stepping back and gesturing with his arm for her to go first.
Hoping her face wasn't as red as it felt, Bella led the way into the living room where the rest of their friends were seated on the floor, passing around take out containers, drinks, and napkins.
"Bellsy, I got you your portabella sandwich," Emmett said, passing her a styrofoam container as she sat down on the floor by him. "And of course, your weird raspberry lemonade himbo stuff."
"Himbeersaft," Bella corrected, reaching over and taking the take out cup. "Thanks, Em," she said with a smile. "You're the best."
"I know," Emmett said with a grin. He checked inside another container before handing it over to Edward. "Grilled chicken sandwich for you, Eddie. I wanted to get you what I got, but Rosie vetoed me."
"I'm almost afraid to ask," Edward said.
"Garbage burger," Emmett said cheerfully, picking up a thick hamburger and taking a big bite.
Edward stared. "What is that?"
Cheese, bacon, barbecue sauce, jalapenos, and onions," Emmett said around a mouthful of food. "It's awesome."
Edward shot Rose a grateful smile. "Thanks, Rose."
She nodded. "Didn't think it would be the best way to welcome you to town." She turned her attention to Emmett. "And you are so sleeping alone tonight."
"Aww, Ro-ose," Emmett whined.
"After that?" Rose questioned, pointing at the burger in Emmett's hand. "Uh-uh, no way. You're on your own, buddy."
Jasper intervened before Emmett could really start complaining. "So what are your plans for the summer, Edward? Are you interning or working or anything?"
"Actually, no," Edward admitted. "From what I hear, the first year is crazy, so I figured I'd take the summer off and try to prepare for that."
"Jazz and I both start our internships Monday," Alice said, a note of regret in her voice. "And Rose and Emmett both work." She paused a moment and instantly perked up. "But Bella's not doing anything – she could show you around the city!"
Edward and Bella looked at each other awkwardly and then both spoke at the same time.
"Alice, I'm sure Bella has her own stuff to do without you volunteering her as a tour guide," Edward began.
"Alice, I'm sure Edward has his own stuff he wants to do without having to follow me around like a tourist."
They stopped and looked at each other. "Well, I wouldn't mind being a tourist," Edward said shyly. "If it's not too much of a hassle."
Bella shook her head. "I could be your tour guide. I mean, if you want me to," she replied, her skin flushing a deep pink.
"Perfect," Alice said. "Okay, now that that's settled, on to more important things."
Alice began talking about how they would have to take Edward shopping the following day so that she could show her brother all of the best stores but neither Edward nor Bella were really paying attention. Bella kept stealing looks at Edward while Alice prattled on, not really paying any attention to what she was agreeing to when Alice asked her for her opinion on the outing. Edward, meanwhile, was watching Bella out of the corner of his eye, nodding vaguely when Alice asked him a question while having no earthly idea what his sister was talking about.
Edward looked over and caught Bella looking at him. He grinned and she smiled back even as her face turned scarlet and she turned her face to the floor, allowing her hair to hang like a curtain between them. Edward's grin widened as he watched her, thinking to himself that coming to Chicago may have been one of the best decisions he'd ever made.