A/N- Apologies for the wait on this update, I had a bad case of RL and writers block on another story. On a break from that, I wrote this pretty much in one go. I'm so glad to have something to post, I probably haven't checked for typos and mistakes as closely as I could have, so sorry if there's anything glaring! Next chapter will be a tough one (angst!), so could be a couple of weeks, but then the updates should come more regularly. Enjoy, and thanks to those who have left me lovely reviews so far, each and every one makes me smile :)

Disclaimer- All things Twilight beling to S. Meyer. I just like to mess witht he characters heads :)


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Chapter Six- The Pre Birthday

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As Bella pulled in to the school driveway on Friday morning, she could see Edward and Jasper waiting with Alice by the Volvo. Alice was bouncing excitedly from foot to foot which immediately filled Bella with a sense of foreboding. Previous experience had taught her that and excitable Alice generally meant nothing good for anyone else.

Pulling into the space next to them, she took as steadying breath before she opened the door and got out of her truck.

"Happy Birthday!" Alice cried loudly, throwing her arms exuberantly in the air.

"Alice!" Bella hissed, glancing around to see if anyone was watching them. "It's not my birthday until tomorrow."

Alice dropped her arms and pouted.

"Is it so wrong that I want to celebrate my best friend's birthday?" she asked with a dramatic sigh.

"It is when you insist on doing so a day early and in public," Bella pointed out as they made their way towards their classroom.

"Pick your battles," Jasper advised with a grin, sliding an arm around Alice's shoulder as he fell in to step beside her.

"Hey, did Rose manage to get hold of you last night? She called when you guys were at the cinema," Alice said.

"Oh, you mean when you were with your new manicurist?" Edward said with a smirk, tapping Alice's head with one of his books.

Bella's cheeks had coloured at the mention of Rose's phone call. She shook her head in order to dodge questioning from Alice, knowing that she would have to get in touch with Rose before the party the following night.

"How was the movie, anyway?" Alice asked as they reached their classroom.

"Jacob was scared shitless," Edward said with a smirk. Bella swatted at his head.

"Don't think I didn't see you jumping out of your skin on more than one occasion," she said, glaring. Wisely, Edward kept quiet after that.

Later at lunch, Jess came by their table to thank Edward for a great evening. As she left, Alice batted her eyelashes and simpered at him from across the table.

"Oh Eddie," she said in a breathy voice that had everyone else in stitches. "You're so great and manly and tough in the face of the big, scary pretend vampires-" She was abruptly cut off when one of Edward's fries hit her squarely in the middle of the forehead.

"Shut up," he grumbled in a sullen voice, and both of them spent the rest of the time before afternoon classes sulking while the others talked over and around them.

Bella had made plans to cook a meal at the Cullen house that evening to thank Esme and Carlisle for providing a location and funding for her party, so after school she went home to change and then called in to the store before heading down the familiar road that led out of town.

~*~

"I swear to God, Cullen, if you don't get out of this kitchen right now, I cannot be held responsible for my actions!" Bella cried after Edward got under her feet for what seemed like the millionth time, causing her to spill the vinaigrette dressing she had just prepared on to the work surface.

"I was just trying to help!" he insisted, hands held up defensively.

"Do I try and help when you're playing video games?" Bella demanded. "You know that every time you try and help, you just end up getting in the way, or doing things wrong," she gestured exasperatedly to the spilled dressing and the uneven hunks of bread that lay forlornly lopsided on a plate next to the sink.

"Did I hear shouting?" a lilting voice filled with amusement drifted through from the hallway.

"Rose!" Bella cried, panicking slightly that the word 'lingerie' would crop up and praying it didn't.

"Emmett!" Edward yelled at the same time.

The kitchen door opened and Rosalie and Emmett entered the room, bestowing hugs and greetings and talking a mile a minute. Emmett actually swung Bella up in the air, causing her to squeal loudly in surprise, but she was already laughing by the time he set her back down next to Edward, reaching past her to give him a boisterous thump of welcome on the arm. Edward winced- it was the exact spot that Bella had hit on the first day of school.

"How come you're home already? We didn't expect you back until tomorrow!" Bella said happily, opening her arms to hug Rosalie tight, half debating a hissed warning to keep her mouth shut until Bella could get rid of the boys.

"We wanted to see Esme and Carlisle for their anniversary, too, so we decided to head back a day early," Rose explained, settling herself on one of the stools by the breakfast bar.

"And we heard you were cooking, Bella." Emmett added, making it sound like this was the deciding factor for him. He reached out to grab a piece of the massacred bread and dipped it into the vinaigrette. "Mmm, 'sgood!" he enthused with his mouth full, spraying crumbs in front of him.

"I'm so hot for you right now, baby,"Rose drawled flatly from her seat, rolling her eyes dramatically. Emmett pulled a dubiously sexy pose just as Alice opened the kitchen door. Ignoring him completely, she stopped dead in her tracks at the scene of destruction that greeted her.

"What happened here, Bella?" she asked with a frown, gesturing at the mess on the surfaces.

"Edward," Bella said pointing an accusing finger and shooting him a dirty look, "happened here."

"I was helping," he insisted again, nudging Bella's side with his elbow.

"You really weren't," she retaliated, nudging him harder. A brief tussle ensued until Edward jumped back quickly, pulling a face.

"Oh, yuck! You always did play dirty, Swan!" reached up to wipe at the greasy smear of dressing now adorning his cheek as Bella crowed victoriously over him.

"And you always act like a pussy when I do," Bella retorted. "Now will you go and play video games with Jasper and Emmett or something just... away from here?"

"Bro, piece of advice- know when to cut your losses," Emmett said sagely, clapping a hand on Edward's shoulder and steering him towards the door, grabbing another couple slices of bread before they left, pulling the door closed behind them.

Alice, Rosalie and Bella stared at each other in silence for a few moments. Once Bella was sure that the boys were out of hearing range, she wheeled round on Rose.

"What was with that message last night?" she demanded. "Lingerie? What if Charlie had still been up? What were you thinking?"

"I get the impression I am missing something juicy," Alice said as she hopped lightly up onto the counter, propping her head in her hands, eyes shining. "Spill."

"Rosalie seems to think it is appropriate to leave voice mail messages on my house phone about my lingerie preferences!" Bella cried, gesturing with the garlic crusher as she began to make another batch of dressing.

"You're totally overreacting," Rosalie said, folding her arms and leaning back against the wall, a slightly amused smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

"Wait, what's the lingerie for?" Alice asked, confused.

"Edward, of course! If that skank Stanley is going to play dirty, then we sure as hell can, too!"

"Lingerie would be the eventual plan, right? Because that's more of a long game strategy..." Alice mused.

Rose nodded in agreement. "We can fine tune the short play this weekend."

"Let me just stop you right there, crazy girls!" Bella cried. "This is getting insane- Edward is my friend! I want him to continue being my friend! All I want is to get Jess to back the hell off with her psycho little scheme, and to get the lingerie idea out of your idiotic little minds!"

"Oh come on, Bella!" Alice whined. "Not even one little thong?"

"No, absolutely no!"

"But-" Rose started.

"Rose, would you ever wear a thong for Edward?" Bella demanded, one eye brow raised.

"Oh, ew Bella!" Rose cried, waving her hands dramatically in front of her face as Alice's tinkling laughter filled the room.

"I think I've made my point," Bella said, crossing her arms and giving each of them a stern look.

"Okay, fine," Rose sighed, defeated. "But if you're going to teach Jessica a lesson, we need come up with some ground rules or something."

"Yeah, like a will and won't list," Alice said.

"Okay, fine, whatever," Bella said, happy to agree with anything that meant she wouldn't have to wear lingerie or spend an evening with a thong stuck up her ass. "But tonight I want us just to have a nice meal, and then maybe later I can kick your butts at cards, and we can leave this will and won't list or whatever you're calling it until tomorrow. Deal?"

"Deal," Alice and Rosalie agreed at the same time.

"Hi ladies," Jasper said, peeking his head around the door. "Edward's got Emmett helping him lay the table, and he said which place mats do you want him to use?"

Bella's mouth became a thin line as she pressed her lips firmly together, eyes narrowing slightly. She took a couple of deep breaths.

"Don't worry, we're on it!" Alice exclaimed, jumping down from the counter and dashing out of the door, grabbing Jasper's hand as she passed and dragging him along behind her.

"All I wanted was to make Esme and Carlisle a nice meal for their anniversary and to say thank you for letting us have the party here tomorrow," Bella muttered, more to herself than Rosalie, shaking her while she bent down to check on the chicken in the oven. "But no, Edward seems hell bent on helping..."

She heard Rose's throaty laughter behind her, and threw one of the oven mitts over her shoulder in the general direction of the sound, unwittingly laughing herself. The door opened once more, and Bella's head snapped up, mouth already half open to berate Edward for attempting to butt in yet again, when she saw Esme and Carlisle. She closed her mouth quickly and gave them both a smile.

"It smells delicious in here," Carlisle said appreciatively, starting to reach towards the freshly cut bread before Esme swatted his hand away.

"Thank you, I think we're almost done here," Bella said, stepping away from the oven and heading over to her bag, which she'd slung on to the breakfast bar earlier. Rummaging in it for a moment, she eventually pulled out a plain white envelope that was only very slightly dog eared, and a silver picture frame. She shyly held it out.

"Um, happy anniversary," she said. "Sorry the gift isn't wrapped..."

Bella had never had the patience or coordination needed to wrap presents nicely- the gifts Alice gave looked like works of art- but she figured that as Carlisle and Esme were of the 'it's the thought that counts' school of thought, they wouldn't mind too much.

"Oh, Bella!" Esme cried happily, reaching to take the frame and envelope. "You shouldn't have! You've cooked this lovely meal for us."

"The meal is a thank you for entrusting the house to us this weekend," Bella said as they opened the envelope and read the card, before looking at the photo in the frame. The picture it held was one of Bella and the Cullen family on a camping trip at the beginning of the summer. They were all gathered on some rocks in front of a large, placid lake with trees framing the edges and a mountain range providing the backdrop. The camera had been placed on an uneven branch, so the angle was slightly lopsided, and they'd underestimated the delay timer so none of them were ready when the flash had gone off. Alice was mid-way through securing a flower behind her ear, and Rosalie was attempting to push Emmett off his rock, her mouth open in silent, mocking laughter. Esme was looking askance at them with her mouth puckered in what could have been disapproval or suppressed amusement. It was a million miles from the many portraits that were dotted about the house, but Bella thought it captured the family perfectly nonetheless.

"This is wonderful, Bella, thank you," Carlisle said, grinning widely as he remembered the day the photo had been taken on. He and Esme had a similar, more posed one taken once everybody had settled down, but this one was definitely taking pride of place on the mantle piece in their family room.

"Yes, it is," Esme agreed, pulling Bella in to a warm hug of thanks.

"Hey, is it time to eat yet?" Emmett's booming voice called out from the dining room. Esme rolled her eyes as she stepped back from Bella, placing the frame and card down on the work surface. The kitchen door crashed open and Emmett, Edward and Jasper trooped in, followed moments later by Alice, who gave Bella a subtle thumbs up to let her know that the dinner table hadn't been ruined by the boys.

"Maybe you kids can take everything through to the dining room?" Esme said, gesturing for Bella to wait behind. There was the usual grumbling as tasks were delegated and one by one, the other four trooped out with their arms full.

"We thought you'd rather have your gift away from everyone else," Esme explained in answer to Bella's questioning look. She opened her mouth to protest, but Carlisle waved away her unspoken arguments as Esme walked over to the tall boy in the corner of the room and got something out of the top drawer.

"It's already bought, so there's really no use in arguing," she said, placing a small but weighty box into Bella's hand.

She slipped a finger under the wrapping paper and pulled it back to reveal a blain brown box underneath. She looked quizzically up at Carlisle and Esme, who were eyeing her with amused smiles, before proceeding to open it. Inside there was a crystal perfume bottle, it looked antique and had an atomiser that reminded Bella of the collection of similar bottles she had seen on her grandmothers dressing table as a small child. There was a delicate silver chain around the neck of the bottle, held in place by a small silver disk. Bella held it up for closer examination, and her eyes widened when she saw that the disk bore the Cullen family crest.

"We thought you'd prefer it this way than on a piece of jewellery," Carlisle explained as Bella continued to stare at the perfume bottle and crest dumbly.

Ever since Bella had known the Cullen's, the crest had been a familiar sight. Esme wore hers set in a ring, while Carlisle had his pinned to his jacket. Both Alice and Rosalie had it on necklaces and Edward and jasper had theirs attached to wristbands. Even Emmett had been given one, but it seemed like he and Rose had been together for so long, he was practically an honorary Cullen anyway. She'd never thought of owning anything bearing the symbol herself, but now that she did, she all of a sudden found that she wanted it, deeply, completely and for reasons she couldn't understand.

Bella had never been able to accept gifts gracefully, and didn't trust words right now, so instead she settled for hugging both of them tightly.

"Try the perfume," Esme said excitedly as Bella pulled away. "We had it mixed especially." She took the bottle from Bella's hands without waiting for a response and misted a couple of sprays around her. It was delicately floral, but mostly it clean and crisp and fresh in a subtle way that was perfectly Bella. She breathed in deeply through her nose and exhaled with a smile. It was so like Esme to have a perfume mixed for someone rather than settle for a shop bought variety.

"It's great, thank you."

Five minutes later, everyone was seated around the large dining table, all talking at once and reaching over on another in the way Bella loved. Dinners with Charlie were sedate affairs, both of them naturally quite taciturn by nature, and while their quiet life together in their little house didn't leave Bella feeling like she was lacking for anything, the thing she loved most about being around the Cullen's was the hubbub and the chaos and the fights and the laughter and the constant noise. Even thought not one of them was related by blood, it was... family. Bella thought her very own crest adorning her new perfume bottle, and smiled to herself.

Just then, a bread roll hit the side of her head, jolting her abruptly from her reverie. Bella scrutinised Edward, Emmett and Jasper all of whom looked entirely too innocent for her liking. Rosalie reached up to delicately scratch her cheek, and pointed discreetly to Emmett. Narrowing her eyes, Bella took aim and launched the roll across the table at him, realising just moments before impact that it was heading straight for Carlisle's glass of wine.

"Oh shi-" She began to exclaim, watching in horror as the scene unfolded in slow motion before her. The roll hit the rim of the glass, and it toppled over, shattering and sending red wine splashing over the immaculate table cloth, and on to the pale blue fabric of Carlisle's shirt. Emmett reached out in a vain attempt to do something, and managed to upset the dressing, which oozed thick and yellow between the glasses and plates surrounding it. Bella hung her head, allowing her hair to tumble forward and cover her red cheeks- they felt positively flaming. She could hear laughter and commotion all around her as people were hastily dispatched to the kitchen to get cloths and rooms while Carlisle's footsteps faded as he went upstairs for a change of shirt.

"Do you know what my mother told me when we adopted Rose?" Esme asked, the only one at the table still managing to clutch to any semblance of decorum. Without waiting for an answer, she continued. チ"She said to me, 'Esme, you may have either children or a nice house. Make your peace with that now.' I never truly understood what she meant until I met you."

Bella looked up and saw Esme's eyes twinkling.

Eventually, everyone was re-seated again- Carlisle having opted for a more sensible dark tennis shirt- and conversation resumed. They discussed how Rose and Emmett were settling in at the University of Washington, and how the start of senior year was going- there were some pointed looks between Alice and Bella at this juncture. Soon, the plates were cleared and they were enjoying dessert in the comfort of the family room, Bella making good on her promise earlier and kicking butt at cards.

"How is it that you make such a big deal about accepting gifts and yet you have no qualms when it comes to taking my money?" Edward grumbled as he lost another hand of poker.

"I like to look at it as earning your money," Bella smiled sweetly and stuck her tongue out. Alice and Rose were wisely sitting out, sprawled on the rug in front of the fire place playing snap instead. Emmett was sulking a little way off after Bella had cleaned him out after five minutes. Jasper went to deal again, but Bella shook her head. "It's just getting humiliating, now, guys. I can practically hear your masculinity weeping softly in the corner," she cupped a hand behind one ear and Edward kicked her under the table. "Besides, I'd better get back home. Charlie loves to bring me breakfast in bed insanely early on my birthday; I really don't know how he thinks it's going to put me in a good mood..."

Bella thanked Esme and Carlisle for their generosity once more, and wished them a happy anniversary. As she left, she could hear Esme giving Alice a very detailed set of instructions of what to lock away, and what to do if anything dark got spilled on any of the pale furniture. She grinned a little to herself, fully expecting to find Alice wound at tight as a spring the following day. On the short drive back home, the stars twinkling through gaps in the trees overhead, Bella felt relaxed and warm as she thought back over the day. As she pulled up outside her house, she realised she'd left her gift from Carlisle and Esme behind. It wasn't too late, she could go back and get it, but knowing that she would be there in a few hours anyway and being within sight of her bedroom made her decide against it.

Inside, Bella only said a quick 'good night' to Charlie, planning on getting an early night. She had a feeling that she would need as much sleep as possible to prepare fully for her birthday, and what she suspected would be an unmitigated disaster.

She had no idea.