A/N Here is the full chapter with the lemon intact. It wasn't graphic in the traditional sense but I still felt it needed to be removed to adhere to the T rating of the main fic.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Leavin' on a Jet Plane
The rest of the night went by fairly smoothly. After Edward got over his fear of the paps, he went back into my office to clean up. As much as I liked to see him tousled-looking after being with me, who really wanted to walk around in the clothes that they just shagged somebody in without at least washing up first?
After we headed out of my office, Garret and his boys played for a little bit longer to an adoring crowd. The patrons of the bar didn't fawn over them quite like they had for Edward, but it was a close second. When everyone was sitting at the bar before last call, a throng of women surrounded Garrett, Collin, and Rhys. Garrett remained a little aloof from all the feminine attention, but Collin and Rhys ate it up. Edward made a comment to me at one point about Garrett having someone back home.
The crowd in the bar stayed longer than usual for a Friday night. I actually had to encourage people to head out to other places after last call. The adage 'you don't have to go home but you can't stay here' applied tonight. Edward helped Garrett and the guys pack up their equipment and stow it in their van out back. Before they left, Edward spoke with Garrett briefly, making arrangements for the equipment that Edward rented from Guitar Center. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with Edward when he told me about his deal with Guitar Center.
Throughout the night, Jessica hovered around Edward as a way of saying thanks for the concert. As soon as his beer was empty, she had another cold one in its place. Much to Edward's visible relief, she didn't hang on him like a lost puppy, but merely made sure he was well taken care of. Thankfully, there wasn't much time between the end of his concert and the bar's closing for him to drink much. If he had drank much more I would have become concerned, but he was still quite mindful of what he was drinking and how much. He did not want to go down the same road he'd been on around the time we'd met that had brought him so low.
The last of the stragglers made their way out and I happily locked the front door and flicked off the neon 'open' sign. I sagged against the wall, exhausted. Today had been a long but very good day. My feet hurt and I really wanted to take a shower. Edward must've felt the same, as he came and slouched against the wall next to me.
"Ready to go?" he asked softly, running his fingers across my hand.
"Yeah, I just needed to rest a moment. It's been a crazy day."
"It has been," he agreed.
We stayed there for several minutes, just enjoying each other's company in the quiet of the late evening. With a resigned sigh, I pushed off the wall and walked to the bar to finish cleaning up for the night. Edward followed behind me quietly, lost in his thoughts.
It didn't take very long for the cleanup to be finished. Despite the record crowd, the bar didn't get very messy. As I drained the coolers and wiped surfaces down, Angela stood off to the side and reconciled the cash and credit card receipts for deposit. Edward put the chairs up on the tables and swept the floor while Jacob spoke quietly to the off-duty police officers as they waited to escort everyone to their vehicles. As much as I thought I could handle the paparazzi around here, I was glad for the extra police presence.
Finally we were all ready and gathered up our things to leave. The moment we walked outside, cameras began to flash and people were yelling. Edward instantly wrapped his arms around me, pulling me close to protect me from them. Jacob started yelling back at the photographers while trying to shield Angela. The police escort was also yelling and tried to block any potential shots. It appeared that the paps had been hiding in some of the bushes, waiting for the right moment to get the perfect angle. Angela didn't say anything as the commotion went on; she just stared wide-eyed at the chaos surrounding us.
"I want them off my property!" I yelled angrily as I blinked back furious tears.
The cops nodded and quickly approached the small group of photographs as they continued to yell at them, advising them to leave or get arrested. Most of the photographers took the hint and took off. A few more rabid paps tried to give the cops the run around, moving evasively about the parking lot while continuing to take pictures of us. Jake took off with the cops to try to help them round up the paparazzi.
By this time, Edward had escorted me to my truck with Angela in tow. Angela's eyes were huge as she watched Jake and the cops. Her face was pale and her hands shook slightly. I wiggled out of Edward's grasp to touch Angela's arm.
"Ang, are you okay?"
Angela continued to stare out into the parking lot, like she didn't hear me. I gently shook her arm as I called her name again. She blinked a few times before turning to focus on Edward and me.
"This is what you have to go through all the time?" Angela asked Edward, her voice shaking.
Edward nodded solemnly.
"How do you deal with this?" she whispered.
He shrugged and looked down at me briefly before answering. "I'm not sure. I just do. I just keep my head down and don't let them get to me. I don't like it, but they are going to try to get their pictures regardless of what I want, so I just try not to let it bother me."
"Look at me, Angela," I said quietly. Her gaze lowered from Edward's face to mine. "It'll be okay. Once Edward goes back to LA, things will calm down here again. Plus, you have Jake to help protect you."
Angela shook her head and watched as the last of the paps got chased away.
"Things will never be the same, Bella."
The drive home was quiet. Angela's words would not leave me alone. I knew my life had been irrevocably changed but what about the people in my life? They hadn't asked for this. When I agreed to try to build a relationship with Edward, I had an idea of what could happen. But did Angela? She knew about Edward, and I'm sure she realized that the paparazzi were going to be an issue at the bar, but did she really have any idea of what it would be like? Perhaps she was just startled from it being her first real experience with the paparazzi. It was pretty overwhelming for me too, but I was expecting something to happen. The media sharks were rabid enough to find out who I was and where Edward was, no thanks to Lauren's help.
I couldn't help but think back to how different last Friday was. Had all this happened in just a week? Sweet Jesus. It certainly felt like more time had passed than just one week.
Edward's face was pensive as he stared into the night. I took his hand in mine and gave him a reassuring squeeze as I drove. Knowing him, he was over-thinking everything again.
Just as we were pulling into my driveway, bright lights burst forth from both sides of my truck. The light blinded me and I stopped the truck abruptly, skidding slightly on the gravel. I quickly released Edward's hand and kept both of mine tight around the steering wheel as I tried to figure out what was going on.
"What the hell?" I said, whipping my head around to try to see.
"Looks like the paparazzi were waiting for us here, too," Edward said with resignation, leaning his head against the headrest of his seat and throwing his arm above his head, partially blocking his face from the eager photographers.
The flashes were coming with such speed it was like daylight in the cab of my truck. I heard voices outside, calling out to Edward and me. Groaning in frustration, I laid on the horn and tried to get enough people out of the way so we could advance to the gate where the code box waited. None of the stalkerazzi moved. I wanted to try to inch the truck up the driveway but was afraid I'd hit someone. A few thuds reverberated through the body of my truck as someone actually got ballsy enough to touch my vehicle.
"This is ridiculous," I muttered and undid my seatbelt so I could get out of the cab.
"What are you doing?" Edward asked incredulously, turning towards me and grabbing my hands.
"I'm going to talk to them. If they want is a picture so bad, then they can have one and then go away."
"It's not that simple, Bella."
"You said yourself to Angela that they are going to take our photo whether we want them to or not, right?"
"Yeah," he replied softly. Edward's face was illuminated again by the flashes of the cameras. His brows were furrowed in concern. The harsh lights of the flashes emphasized the creases, making his face look carved in worry.
"Well, by not doing anything, we are allowing them to be in control of the situation. If we go out there and allow them to have a few pictures, we are in control. We can't be overwhelmed if we are in control, right?"
"In a simpler world, possibly, but it can easily get out of control," Edward insisted. "Some photographers may be happy with a few posed photos, but for most of them? Nothing is ever enough. Sure, they'll be happy to take any photos that are offered, but they will want more. Maybe not tonight or even tomorrow, but they will be back. They will want exclusive photos, private photos, the kind of photos that really pay out. By giving them an opportunity tonight, we'd only be fueling the fire."
I leaned my head against the headrest of the seat with a defeated sigh, closing my eyes against the flashes. There was no winning against this. "So what now?"
Edward released my hands and looked like he was about to respond when sirens blared and bright blue and red lights eclipsed the never-ending camera flashes. Two squad cars pulled up behind my truck, causing some of the photographers to scatter into the shoulder of the road. The smarter ones retreated back to their cars, parked on the other side of the road, partially hidden by shrubs. Only with the harsh lights of the photographers' cameras were the cars even visible. The more tenacious paparazzi hovered by my truck, snapping every shot they could.
The front doors on the police cars swung open and four officers emerged. I easily recognized them all, especially the oldest of the four who was wearing a fierce look on his face as he strode forward towards my truck.
"Charlie's here," I whispered, a little unsure of what his reaction to all of this would be. He seemed cool about Edward yesterday when we came clean about his identity, but would he be cool about this?
A few of the photographers somehow knew who Charlie was and a few of them began yelling to one another to try to get shots of "Papa Bear," like this was a game or something. That made my blood boil.
"Those assholes think this is a game," I muttered darkly as my hands clenched around the steering wheel.
Charlie's gruff voice cut through the shouts of the paparazzi, "You're on private property! Get out of here before I arrest the whole lot of you!"
Edward only nodded as he looked around, watching the cops spread out to deflect the photographers. All four had their nightsticks out. The other three cops' voices joined with Charlie, advising the remaining trespassers to leave. Most of the photographers were standing by their cars, snapping a few pictures but not crossing onto my property again. As my father came up to my window, the other three cops chased the stragglers away.
I rolled my window down and Charlie popped his head in quickly. "You alright, Bells?" His brown eyes, so similar to mine, were wide with concern as they flicked across me and Edward making sure we weren't hurt.
Nodding, I looked over at Edward who shrugged and propped his head against his hand, against the sill of the window. A camera flash from very close went off, temporarily blinding us. I was barely able to see, but Charlie had already spun around and chased the sneaky photographer away.
The overweight photographer didn't stand a chance against the very fit chief of police. Charlie grabbed the man who was about to spend a lonely night in jail by the back of his shirt and threw him to the ground, the gravel digging into the man's corpulent body. The paparazzo's camera went clattering against the stones, something snapping along the way. The man cursed loudly but didn't struggle as Charlie yanked his arms behind him and handcuffed him.
"You're gonna pay for that, asshole!" the photographer yelled as Charlie hauled him up and dragged him to the squad car.
"Nah, I don't think so, princess. You're trespassing and I'm not the one who dropped your camera. Oh, and by the way, you're under arrest." Charlie continued reading the disgruntled man his Miranda rights as he stuffed him in the backseat of the second police car. The other three officers were also handcuffing a few photographers who hadn't listened to their earlier declaration to leave.
Now that our path to the gate was finally clear, I inched the forward truck and hurriedly punched in the code at the code box. As soon as I heard the whirr of the gate, I hit the gas pedal and almost hit the gate in my rush to distance myself from the insanity we just went through. Charlie followed quickly behind us in the first squad car. The other cruiser stayed behind, backseat full of unhappy photographers, while the officers guarded the gate from anyone else from trying to trespass.
Back in the house, it almost seemed like things were back to normal, unless I was looking out my front window. I could still see the other police car and the occasional camera flash through the fence and the trees. The dirt and soil around the fence was still fresh from being installed earlier in the week. It almost seemed prophetic how Edward made sure the fence was put up so quickly, like he knew it would be needed tonight. I shuddered, thinking about how close the paparazzi would have been able to get without the fence.
Charlie, Edward, and I stood awkwardly around my kitchen table. Edward had been quiet ever since the paparazzi had ambushed us in my driveway. His reaction surprised me. He was used to this. It was almost like he was in shock. Yet here I was the person who wasn't used to it, seemingly not as affected by it as he was. Charlie was a different story. He was still in cop mode. He kept looking around the room, never quite relaxing, and not saying anything. The tension was getting to me.
"Would either of you like some coffee?" I asked as I reached for the canister of coffee from the cabinet.
Charlie's gaze jumped over to me, his expression slightly startled like he was deep in thought. "Um, sure, Bells, that would be great."
Edward shook his head and kept staring at nothing in particular.
Nodding, I quickly filled up the coffee maker with fresh water and coffee grounds. The task was a quick but mindless activity that I needed. This was a normal activity, something that wouldn't be impacted by the paparazzi or whatever other changes were going on. Once the machine started to brew, I turned back towards Edward and Charlie.
"You got that fence up just in time, Edward," Charlie commented.
Edward only nodded. His lack of speech was starting to irritate me. I knew he was freaking out about the paparazzi scaring me off, but his withdrawal was unnerving. Back in the bar, I told him I wasn't going anywhere and I meant it. Was seeing all the photographers in my driveway scary? Hell yes, but they weren't going to get the best of me.
Charlie had continued to talk to Edward while I was lost in my thoughts. Charlie wanted more details about how bad it could get and what Edward did in the past to deal with the paparazzi.
"I just slipped on a pair of sunglasses, kept my head down, and did my best to ignore them," Edward replied quietly, finally speaking for the first time since we exited my truck.
I took this as a perfect opportunity to continue to reassure Edward. "I can do that. It sounds easy enough."
"Plus I'll make sure there are regular patrols by the bar and your house, Bells," Charlie added. "And until things quiet down, you shouldn't leave the house or the bar alone."
Edward's head popped up as Charlie finished speaking, his eyes quickly locking with mine as he waited for my response.
I shook my head and closed my eyes briefly in an effort to calm myself. "Dad, I am not getting a bodyguard. I'll be fine. I don't go many places anyway to be worried about mobs of photographers."
"Dad, no!" I said emphatically, standing up straight and folding my arms across my chest. "This is not open for discussion. Edward wanted me to get a bodyguard too, and I told him the same thing."
Charlie sighed and looked at Edward sympathetically. "She can be a stubborn handful, can't she?"
Edward smiled faintly. "Yes, but her stubborn strength is what she needs to deal with all this crap I've dragged into her life."
"Hello! I'm right here!" I announced, my voice rising as my irritation increased. Talking about me like I wasn't even in the room.
"And you," I spat, whirling on Edward. His eyes widened in surprise. I poked his chest with my index finger, causing him to back up a step. "You didn't dump anything into my life that I wasn't expecting. I willingly accepted what being in a relationship with you could entail." My voice softened as I continued, "Stop expecting me to leave and trust me; trust us."
Charlie cleared his throat as he fidgeted awkwardly. "Well kids, since you guys seem to be alright now, I'm going to head out. Plus the station is going to need help with all the bookings."
"At least stay until the coffee is ready, Dad," I insisted, turning from Edward towards my father.
Charlie sighed but nodded. He leaned against the wall nearest him and crossed his arms across his chest.
I turned back toward Edward who still looked a bit startled. I gave him a small smile and cupped his cheek. "I love you, silly man. The paparazzi are never going to make me stop loving you. It just isn't possible."
Edward reached out to me and pulled me into his chest. He gently wrapped his arms around me and kissed the top of my head with his trademark half-smile. "Love you too, sweetheart."
Charlie cleared his throat again as the coffee pot pinged as it finished brewing. Regretfully, I pulled myself away from Edward's embrace and grabbed a travel mug for Charlie's coffee.
"What time are you heading out, Edward?" Charlie asked as I added cream and sugar to Charlie's coffee.
"In the afternoon. My flight leaves at 2:37."
"Oh yeah. I try to avoid layovers if at all possible."
Charlie grunted and I handed him his coffee.
"Thank you, Dad, for coming out and helping us," I said softly.
Charlie's eyes softened as he stared into the top of his mug. "Of course, Bells. You're my baby girl. You may be all grown up now, but I can still look out for you."
I blushed and looked down at my fingers. Edward took this moment to step out of the room and give us some privacy.
"No matter how old I am, I'll always be your baby girl, Dad," I whispered.
Charlie didn't say anything, but I saw tears starting to form in his eyes. I smiled gently and hugged him carefully, mindful of his full mug of hot coffee.
"Love you, Bells."
"Love you too, Dad."
Charlie grunted again and headed towards the front door. Before walking across the threshold, he hollered a goodbye to Edward and smiled at me one more time. I gave a small wave and locked the door behind him. It appeared that a lot of the commotion at the front of our driveway had died down. The squad car lights were no longer flashing, and I didn't see any other cars indicating paparazzi presence. I hoped that the rest of the evening was as calm as the beginning of it was not.
Music was playing softly from my partially closed bedroom door. Before I went in, I shut the rest of the house down, turning off lights and putting away anything that was out. One last stop into the kitchen to turn off the coffee pot and I was on my way to my bedroom where I assumed Edward was waiting.
Quietly, walking on the balls of my sock-covered feet, I poked my head through my bedroom door. Edward was sprawled across my bed in his boxers and a t-shirt, totally engrossed in a book. A stray lock of hair hung over his forehead that I itched to brush back. I leaned against the doorframe and watched him read, totally fascinated by his facial expressions as he read. I was quite curious as to what book would hold his attention so closely. I didn't think he had brought any books with him, so it was probably one of the ones I had on my bedroom bookshelf. A quick glance over said bookshelf didn't reveal anything. It did not look like any particular book was missing.
Finally deciding I had watching him long enough, I walked further into the room and sat down next to him. "Whatcha reading?" I whispered as I finally pushed back that tantalizing lock of hair.
Edward looked up with a lazy smile as he put the book down. "I didn't even hear you come in. I'm reading Dune."
I arched an eyebrow at him. Dune was not a book I thought he would ever get into. "Really? You never struck me as a science-fiction fan."
Edward scooted closer to me and ran his hands up and down my legs. "I like all kinds of books. It just depends on the mood I'm in. I've always wanted to read it, and I just happened to notice that you have a copy of it."
"Yeah, I have the whole series that Frank Herbert wrote, even some of the prequels that his son wrote." I tried to ignore the bolts of electricity that were shooting across my body from where his hands touched me.
"Indeed. The universe that Herbert created could not be contained in just one book."
"Hmmm," Edward considered. "It looks like I have quite a bit of reading ahead of me."
He scooted even closer to me as he lay on his side. His scent began to wrap around me, making me think of some very non-literary things I wanted to do to him.
"Eh, I still think the first book is the best. The last few books get a little weird."
"I thought you liked weird," Edward teased, running his hands up my sides now.
"Depends on the type of weird," I whispered. My heart started to beat faster as his ministrations called to me.
"Hmmm, I think you like my kind of weird." Edward followed that statement with a kiss to the inside of my elbow. "And I think you are wearing far too many clothes."
I laughed and looked down at him. Edward had an amused expression on his face as one of his hands crept under my work t-shirt. "Oh really?"
He leaned up on an elbow and held my gaze. "Yes, really." His hand under my shirt managed to pop the clasp on my bra, making the front of my shirt puff out a bit.
"Well, since you put it that why, who am I to argue?" I mused as I slid off the bed. Edward's face looked eager, and he tried to fight the smile that was trying to erupt across it.
Smirking, I turned my back to him. Edward grumbled, mumbling something about not being able to see perfectly fine breasts. Feeling playful, I slowly stripped my shirt up and over my head. I swung it around a few times before I tossed it back, hoping it landed on him. A quick check confirmed that my t-shirt landed square on his head.
With a chuckle, I undid my pants and slipped them down my legs, taking my panties with them. Another peek at Edward revealed him watching my movements with avid interest. My shirt was still perched on his head, but he had moved it aside just far enough for one eye to follow me. Meanwhile, his free hand was on his boxers as he stroked himself through the cloth.
"Enjoying yourself there, dear?" I asked as I stepped out of my pants and underwear.
Edward's voice rumbled across to me, low and husky, "Starting to, love."
I laughed as I unhooked my bra and slid it off my shoulders. "Mmmm, perhaps I can help finish it."
"I certainly hope so."
I turned around and stood before the bed, wearing only my socks and a smile. "And I know just where to start."
Edward's smile got wider as I walked the two steps to the edge of the mattress and crawled over to him. Slowly, I continued my path up his body until we were face to face. I gently raised my hand to his cheek. Edward's eyes closed in anticipation of my touch. The pads of my fingers were just millimeters from his skin, close enough that I could feel the heat emanating from his form. With a smirk and a snort, I reached up and snatched my t-shirt from his head.
"I think you'll want to be able to use both eyes for this."
Edward laughed and leaned over to kiss me, his lips soft but insistent. "Maybe you're right."
His hand brushed along my neck, settling at my nape, holding my head to him as his lips continued their work. His delicate touch at my neck and his lips on mine were enough to make me burn like it was our first time together again. Even though it had only been a few hours since we had been together in my office, my body still called to him.
Edward rolled over, pushing me down against the mattress, resting the weight of his body against mine. Slowly, his hand trailed from the back of my neck, down my body, curving around my breasts and across my stomach. My back arched as his hands awakened every nerve in my body.
My fingers inched up his chest, under his shirt. The taut planes of his stomach and chest shivered at my touch. "Now I think you are the one wearing too many clothes," I murmured, trailing a line of kisses down his jaw.
Edward grunted and reached a hand back to pull his shirt off, tossing it across the bedroom.
I snaked my other hand down to his boxers and cupped him, squeezing gently. "Don't forget about your boxers too, Edward. I think something wants out."
He chuckled and shimmied his boxers down his hips and off his body while still staying in contact with mine with either a hand or his lips. As soon as his erection was free, my hand eagerly grasped it and began stroking the smooth, hard shaft.
"Good God, Bella," he groaned, burying his face in my neck as his hands rubbed up and down my sides, his fingers just barely touching the sides of my breasts.
I smiled softly and continued to touch him. I could feel him throb in my hand, his heartbeat coming through his engorged flesh. My other hand was wrapped around his waist, pulling him closer to my body.
"Edward, please," I begged, drawing him into me. Quietly, without much preamble, he sheathed himself fully inside of me. We sighed together, feeling complete now that we were joined.
Closing my eyes, I allowed my other senses to take over. I had seen him with my eyes many times already, now I wanted my other senses to commit him to memory. Our upcoming separation was going to be short relative to our last, but I still wanted to remember him the best I could.
My fingers became as sensitive as a blind person's, reading Edward's body like Braille, memorizing every crease, every line, every cord of muscle. His skin became a living organism, responding to my touch, blood rushing up in answer to my caress, burning and soothing as I committed his flesh to memory.
My sense of smell became acute. Never before had his distinct Edward scent been as potent as it was right at this moment. There was a hint of sweat from the stage, a trace of alcohol from the beers he drank. There were still traces of soap from his shower that morning, reminiscent of vanilla and sandalwood. All these became an unnamable combination that was completely male and all Edward. I ran the tip of my nose across his collarbone and up his neck, relishing in the subtle changes of his scent.
The taste of his skin followed. My lips and tongue worshipped him as our bodies melded together. The sweat I smelled, I now tasted. The softness of his skin melted under my tongue. There was a certain spiciness to his skin that I hadn't noticed before. Perhaps it was from his soap. Perhaps it was from our earlier intense lovemaking. Regardless, this new aspect of his taste added another dimension to who Edward was.
Hearing was the final piece. Now I had the almost superhuman hearing of a mountain lion, a feline huntress with her prey in sight. I eagerly listened to every breath, every heavy pant, every moan that came from Edward's mouth. I listened as he grunted with each thrust inside of me, how when I tightened our intimate contact he whispered my name like a prayer.
Each of my senses came to an apex as my body soared. My body felt like a spring, fully coiled and ready to burst. My back arched as Edward plunged into me deeply. I finally opened my eyes again and was immediately entranced with Edward's blazing green ones. The intensity of his stare combined with the force of our connection gave me my release.
I called out his name, not as shout or a yell but in exclamation, in celebration of our love. Edward followed soon after, his voice soft and gentle as my name passed his lips. We stayed together, limbs entangled, as we caught our breath. Of all the times we had made love during this week, this particular evening was different. There was a depth and an intensity that I had never experienced before. It brought me to tears.
"Bella, sweetheart, what's wrong?" Edward whispered, trying to wipe away my tears with his thumb.
"I don't know," I admitted hoarsely, gripping his sides tightly as I tried to get a hold of my emotions.
"Did I hurt you?"
I shook my head with a little snifflely laugh. "God no, far from it. It was just… so incredibly intense. It was so… I was just so…" I trailed off, at a loss as to how to describe what just transpired between us.
"Moving?" he supplied softly, brushing my hair out of my face.
I thought for a moment before I nodded. "Yes, I think that could describe it, but it doesn't seem like enough."
Edward's typical smirk came out as he continued, "How about special? Or transcendent? Or ethereal?"
"Or ass!" I playfully smacked his arm as he laughed. "Thanks for making fun of me, jerk off!" I teased
Edward rolled his eyes and kissed me gently on the lips. "I don't need to jerk off now, thanks."
"Such an ass," I declared as he rolled off of me.
Edward settled on his back, folding his arms behind his head. I wanted nothing more than to curl up into his side, but I had a much stronger desire to be clean. With everything that had gone on today, both good and bad, I really needed to decompress under the shower. I slid out of bed with a resigned sigh.
"I'm going to pop in the shower real quick, baby."
"Uh hmm," was the semi-coherent reply. Typical of men, Edward was quickly on his way to post-sex sleep.
I showered quickly, washing the make-up, styling products, and sweat from my body. My hands ran across my skin feeling all the spots that Edward had ravished throughout the night. A few areas were tender but it was a good kind of sore. I would have these bits of soreness as a reminder that Edward was truly real after he had gone back to LA.
I knew that the distance thing couldn't go on ad nauseum. At some point, one of us was going to have to give if our relationship was going to continue. I wasn't ready to make that call yet, and I doubted Edward was either. We had dealt with a good chunk of our initial issues but that didn't mean we were ready to make a more permanent arrangement or even compromise our careers.
I shook my head slightly as I got out of the shower to dispel the negative thoughts. I just experienced the most mind-blowing sexual experience of my life with the man that I loved more than I thought possible. It was practically a sin to think negative thoughts now. Just as I had done before, I would enjoy each and every moment I had with Edward and would worry about the future when those kinds of questions and issues actually came up, and not one second before.
Satisfied with my little internal pep talk, I finished drying myself off and walked back into my bedroom where Edward's soft snores started to fill the air. I laughed quietly, turned the lights off, and crawled into bed next to him. He had moved a little since I had taken my shower. One hand rested on his stomach while the other was still behind his head. I watched his chest rise and fall, the lines of his muscles stretching out as he took a breath. Soft light from the streetlights outside glimmered on his reddish-blonde chest hair and narrow happy trail. I sighed happily and snuggled into his side, draping an arm across his chest, just under his hand. I fell asleep with the scent of Edward flooding my nostrils and soothing my mind.
A streak of sunlight, peeking out from behind a cloud, came barreling down through my bedroom window and right onto my face. I squinted as the sunlight woke me up abruptly. As my body stirred, I felt the heavy, delicious weight of Edward's body next to me. He was no longer snoring but was on his side, curled around my body. One of his hands rested on my hip, warm and soothing. Carefully, trying hard not to disturb him, I slid out of bed and reached for my robe.
Pulling the soft, terrycloth material around me, I padded out into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee. Tasks like this seemed so ordinary, so incredibly normal, so unlike what my life had been turning into since Edward came into it. Now I had a security fence around my property. Now I had to worry about the paparazzi. But did I really want a normal life? I had been perfectly content with where my life was going before Edward stepped into it with a crash, literally. Now, what had changed so much that the contentment I felt before was no longer enough?
Love was what was different. I was content with my life and happy, but I had been irrevocably changed when I fell in love with Edward. While we had made no lifetime commitments or promises to one another, I just knew that this was it. Whatever it was, whatever it led to, he was it. My hands shook with this realization, but I was okay with it.
He was still leaving today, but I would cope. I'd see him again. Soon even, only a month. Our first Christmas. Our first of many. This time I would get to fly to him. This time I'd get to see his world.
I smiled to myself as a Christmas jingle popped in my head. I couldn't resist humming along as I went about my morning. The house wasn't dirty, but I still straightened it up as the coffee brewed. Thoughts of Christmas influenced my breakfast choices as I started making cranberry ginger muffins and pumpkin pancakes. I even added gingerbread creamer to my coffee.
I had just slipped the muffins in the oven when Edward stumbled into the kitchen, half awake with his boxers twisted low on his hips and tented. The giggle erupted from my mouth before I could stop it. Edward blinked a few times and scrubbed his scalp with one hand, making his bed-head look even more atrocious. If the people at GQ could see him now.
Feeling merciful, I handed Edward a cup of coffee and directed him to a chair before he ran into something sharp. He blinked a few more times as his higher level brain functions started to operate. I started to flip the pancakes while he sipped his coffee. Christmas carols spring to mind again, and I resumed humming happily. There really wasn't anything much better than having Edward home with me, even if he was leaving later. But that didn't matter in that moment. Nothing did because right now, he was here with me.
Edward must've finally woken up completely when, I heard his velvety tenor softly sing the lyrics to the carol I was humming. I loved hearing him sing, especially when it was just the two of us. As we finished the song, I turned towards him with the big plate of pancakes in my hand. Edward was still sitting at the table, but he was gazing at me with such love and affection. It was difficult to continue staring at his face with the insanity of his gaze.
I set down the huge plate of pancakes on the table in front of Edward and returned to the oven to pull out the muffins. By the time I had come back to the table, Edward had already piled a stack of pancakes on his plate and was eagerly buttering them.
"Hungry?" I teased as I relaxed into my chair and took a sip of coffee.
"Starved," Edward replied, his voice still rough from sleep. "I feel like I haven't eaten in a week!"
"Well, you did work pretty hard yesterday," I commented drolly, fighting the smile that threatened to show.
Edward snorted with an amused look on his face. "I certainly did."
I snickered and started buttering my own stack of pancakes. Edward began to cut into his but looked at a few of the pieces intently before picking one up and smelling it.
I nodded as I poured a healthy amount of real maple syrup over my stack of pumpkin deliciousness. "And I made ginger cranberry muffins too."
Edward moaned and I looked at him curiously.
"Woman, can you be any more perfect?"
I blushed and snorted at the same time, the snort full of derision as I was far from perfect. "Hardly, Edward. I just know how to make a good breakfast."
"You certainly do. I will miss this when I go back."
Edward's last statement took the wind out of my sails as I struggled to retain my good mood. It's only for a few weeks. It's only for a few weeks. It's only for a few weeks, I thought to myself.
I tried to hide how my mood deflated, but Edward knew me too well and saw the minute signs that signaled my mood change. He cocked his head to the side and looked at me with a soft look on his face.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I didn't mean to remind you."
I shook my head and tried to dispel the depressing thoughts. "It's alright, Edward. Its not like I can pretend its not going to happen since you are leaving today. I'll deal with it, and better than I did last time. Plus, we will be seeing each other soon. That definitely helps."
He smiled as he brought his cup of coffee to his lips. After he swallowed, his index finger ran along the rim of his cup. "It is hard to say good-bye. I hate doing this, and it's only the second time. This time around will be much better for me too. I'll know how to deal with the separation better. And as you said, it will only be for a few weeks. Let me tell you, I cannot wait for Christmas."
"Has Christmas always been your favorite holiday?"
"Generally, I am looking forward to seeing my family. Now that all of us are grown, it is hard for everyone to get together, so the holidays are that much more precious. My mom goes nuts at Christmas so it's always memorable. This year, however, has the added bonus that you'll be there with me."
My heart melted a little bit at his words. My family was never quite traditional, which was something I had always wished for. I loved my family and wouldn't change a thing on how my parents raised me, but I had always wished for that traditional type of Christmas that was portrayed in movies, Hallmark Christmas cards, and Norman Rockwell paintings.
The oven timer binged, signaling that the muffins were done. I rose quickly to pull them out and let them cool for a few minutes. "I can't wait to see it, although I am nervous about meeting your family. I hope they like me."
Edward laughed and came to stand behind me as I put the muffins on a cooling rack. His bare arms wrapped around my waist as he nuzzled my neck. "They will love you. Alice already does. She has told everyone about you, and my mother is fit to be tied in anticipation."
"Not helping, Edward," I complained softly. I was already nervous and now I had to worry about living up to their expectations.
"You're worrying too much, Bella. My family is harmless," he stated simply as he grabbed a still quite warm muffin.
I smiled and tried to be reassured as he eagerly took a bite of the top of the muffin, steam wafting up from where he had broken the crust. His family sounded so wonderful. I hoped they didn't wonder why their rich and famous son was with a relatively unknown woman from Small Town, USA or think I was after his money.
"And before you go there, they aren't wondering why I'm not with someone from Hollywood or think that you are a golddigger. You did not seek me out on purpose. We met by accident when I was at a very low point in my life. You pulled me out of my drunken funk, which is something that they will always be thankful to you for. I don't want someone from Hollywood. I want you. They know that."
I smiled softly at him. He knew me so well already. I didn't consider myself terribly insecure, but I did want to make a good impression on Edward's family. His sister was a formidable ball of energy. I could only imagine what the mother of such a passionate woman would be like.
"Oh my God, Bella, these muffins," Edward groaned as his eyeballs rolled into the back of his head while taking another bite.
I laughed as I handed him a second muffin while I grabbed one for myself. He eagerly started eating the second muffin as I nibbled mine.
"You don't like them at all, do you?"
"Naugt a biff," Edward said through a mouthful of muffin, a look of pure bliss on his face.
I couldn't stop laughing as Edward scarfed his muffins with no care about manners. I was glad I'd made plenty of them so I could send some home with him.
We spent the rest of our morning quietly enjoying one another's company. Edward packed his bags without a fuss, and I tried to focus not on the fact that he was leaving. The sooner he was gone, the sooner I would be on a plane to him. Soft touches and gentle kisses marked the time till Edward sighed one final time and looked at his watch.
I nodded and tried to keep my chin from trembling. I was better than this. I knew better than this. Quickly, I squeezed my eyes shut to push the tears back until I was alone. With a final shake of my head, I stood up and grabbed the bag of muffins from the kitchen. When I returned to the living room, Edward stood next to his few bags, waiting by the front door.
After our run-ins with the paparazzi, we agreed earlier that he would drive himself to the airport and drop off his rental there. I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to go with him to see him off but we both knew the paps would probably be there waiting to get a good shot. While I hadn't been overcome by the paps yet, I had had my fill for a few days. The one and only good thing about Edward going back home was that hopefully some of the paparazzi would leave me alone for a little while.
I handed him the plastic baggie full of muffins. He took them greedily, making sure to pack them securely in his carry-on. After making sure his precious cargo was taken care of, he turned to me and pulled me gently into his arms.
"You know, if you keep making things like this for me, I just may have to keep you," he murmured, running a hand down my back.
"Hmm, I'll have to remember that."
Edward laughed as he brought his face close to mine, running his nose across my cheek into my hair. His arms tightened around my waist, embracing me tightly. I sank into his body, locking my arms across his back. His heart was beating furiously, pounding into my breasts which were crushed against his chest.
"Love you," he murmured, breathing deeply of my scent.
"Love you, too, sweetheart," I whispered with my heart bursting for this man who I treasured more than I thought possible.
Far too soon, Edward pulled away from me. His hands trailed along my sides as he leaned in for one final kiss. His lips were searing, burning down to the depths of my soul. I closed my eyes to memorize the sensation. When I re-opened them, his face was intense and earnest as he stared at me like I was a precious work of art. I stared back, unabashed and unashamed, as I recommitted his face to memory. There was little doubt that I would ever forget what Edward looked like, but I wanted to keep this moment forever in my mind. In the future, when I was a shriveled little old lady on my deathbed with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren around me, I would be able to think back to this moment and remember his face, this look, and this feeling.
Absolute and unending love.
A short time later, I could hear gravel crunch under the tires of Edward's Volvo as he drove away. It was easier this time, but it still hurt. For now, it was a necessary evil. I swallowed back my tears as I got ready to head into the bar. It would be interesting to see what the crowd would be like the day after the concert.
I grabbed one last muffin as I ran out the door and hopped into my truck. The old beast was really on its last legs. The truck usually didn't warm up fully until I was already in the parking lot of the Midnight Sun. I groaned thinking of another harsh winter on the lakeshore. The weight of the truck was good to have for traction, but it was still top heavy. I didn't feel unsafe, but perhaps I could be safer in something smaller.
A new habit had developed over the past day or so. I now caught myself constantly checking my mirrors to see if I was being trailed by someone. Today was no exception as I saw a small black rental car a few car lengths behind me as I drove through downtown. I sighed and kept going, determined not to let the paparazzi get to me. I figured they'd leave when they realized that Edward had gone back to LA.
As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed there was a police car parked there in addition to Jake and Angela's vehicles. My father's second-in-command, Lieutenant Cheney, leaned against the squad car, bundled up in his winter uniform jacket. Quickly, I exited my truck and grabbed the muffins I hadn't had a chance to eat yet and approached the office.
"Good Afternoon, Lieutenant. What brings you by today?"
Lieutenant Cheney smiled warmly and pushed his hat up off his forehead a bit. He was probably a good ten years older than I, between my father's age and mine. I had known him for years, ever since the Lieutenant joined the police department as a rookie straight out of the academy. He actually joined the force about the time I moved to Ohio. We were both scared and a little unsure. Despite our age differences, camaraderie of sorts developed, turning into a casual but long term friendship as I grew older.
"Bella, how many times do I have to ask? Please call me Ben."
"Okay, Ben, what brings you by today? This wouldn't have anything to do with my father would it?"
Ben laughed, causing his shoulders to shake slightly. "Possibly, you know your old man. He is worried that some of the newest visitors to our fair city may try to pull something sneaky."
As Ben spoke, the car that had been following me earlier slowly pulled into the parking lot and parked on the other side of Jake's car, away from our line of sight. I notice that Ben's dark brown eyes kept glancing at the car while he spoke with me.
I rolled my eyes but smiled, also keeping a close eye on the strange car. I knew my father well and was genuinely thankful for the concern, and the extra set of eyes. "If the last several days, last night especially, were any indication, then I'm sure they will. Although, they will be sorely disappointed to find out that Edward has already left."
"Already? Didn't he just get here?"
"He arrived Monday afternoon, but he couldn't stay very long. He's still filming and the director let them have the week off for the holiday. He has to be back on the set tomorrow."
"They work on Sundays too?"
"I guess so. From what Edward says, making movies are generally very expensive, especially if they are being shot at a location and not at a studio, so they just power through it and get all the filming done all at once. What he is working on now is at a studio, but they still can't take their time."
"Hmm, I learn something new every day," Ben commented.
"A little. You buyin'?"
I laughed again. Ben was so easy to be around. He definitely put me at ease. "Better, homemade." I tossed him the bag of muffins I brought for myself. "I made these this morning. Cranberry ginger muffins."
Ben's eyes grew wide as he quickly grabbed the bag and pulled out a muffin. "Seriously? Homemade muffins? I haven't had homemade muffins in a long time." He sniffed the top, smiling like a kid at Christmas.
"Yes, seriously. What is it about men and homemade treats?" I muttered to myself. I swore, if this was all that it took to get a man's attention, then all those feminists were wrong. We definitely had the power, but it was from the kitchen after all.
I cleared my throat as Ben demolished the first muffin and looked like he was considering the second one. "Well, I need to head inside and get to work. Are you staying outside the entire day?"
Ben looked down at his chest and blushed as he quickly brushed muffin crumbs off his jacket. "Er, no, just for a little while. I'll be in and out as I monitor the area. One of the regular patrolmen will be by later to relieve me for a bit. I'll be back tonight to make sure you get home safely."
"Ben, you don't have to do that. I have a security fence now. I'll be perfectly safe."
"Orders from the Chief, ma'am. I can't go against that."
I nodded, acknowledging that Ben was going back into "duty" mode. I knew asking him not to escort me home was probably not going to work, but I had to ask. I didn't like feeling like I was being babysat, but I knew this was for my protection. It was scary to think about what could have happened last night if Charlie hadn't been there to help get rid of the photographers that had followed us to my house. Finding where I lived was bound to happen eventually. Once my name was out, all it took was a tech savvy person to do a property search in the area and find where I lived. The joys of public information in the technologically advanced age we lived in.
"Let me know if you need anything. Whatever you want is on the house," I offered.
"Thank you, Bella."
I walked into the bar which was completely set up already, but there was no sign of Jake or Angela. That's odd. As I walked through the main room towards my office, I heard a scuffle and a groan that seemed to be coming from the supply room. Concerned that a pap had managed to get inside, I quietly approached the corner and peeked my head around. I couldn't have been more surprised at what I saw. It definitely was not a paparazzi.
Jacob had Angela pressed up against the far wall with her legs wrapped around his waist and her hands in his hair. One of his hands was cupping her butt, and the other I couldn't see, nor did I really want to know where it was. I smirked as I tried to keep myself from laughing out loud. I wasn't the only one who became impassioned at work.
Feeling that I had intruded long enough, I softly cleared my throat. I could tell the instant they heard me. Both of their bodies stiffened and Angela let out a sharp gasp. "Hmm, perhaps I should have an office built for you guys so you could have some privacy... certainly beats making out in the stock room." Before Jake could turn around and be further humiliated, I chuckled a few times and walked away to my office. I wasn't going to give him or Angela too much of a hard time about it. They weren't naked and we weren't open yet. Hell, I had done worse in my office just the other night. That didn't mean that they weren't going to get teased a few times before I let them off the hook.
A few minutes later, someone rapped on my office door. I gave permission to enter and spun around in my chair to see who was first in the walk of shame. Jake trudged in, his head hung low with his hand at the back of his neck. It was hard to tell with his dusky skin tone, but it almost seemed like he was still blushing. I tried to fight the smile that was trying so hard to come out, it was a losing battle. At least I managed not to laugh again. Jake stopped in front of me, his head still bowed. He shifted his weight from one side, a habit I had seen from him when he was gathering his thoughts.
"Bella, I am so sorry- "
I held up my hand cutting him off. "Nothing to be sorry for, Jake. Do you think I'd really be upset that you two were having a little fun before the bar opened? I couldn't care less. Just be careful. As long as it doesn't interfere with business, it doesn't bother me. I just don't want to catch either one of you naked on the bar or on my desk."
He looked up at me, incredulous.
"Come on now, do you really think I'd be mad over catching you two getting a little handsy after what I've done in my office with Edward?"
Jake was speechless and blushing furiously.
"Okay, perhaps that was a TMI moment, but you were there standing guard by my office door on Friday night. You knew what we were up to in there."
He appeared to have recovered his speech. "Yeah, I had a good idea but this is your place, not mine. You could screw right on the bar if you wanted to."
I shook my head. "Yes, but that probably violates some health codes. Tempting idea though," I said with a smile as my imagination wandered.
Jake just shook his head and laughed. "Angela is so worried that you are going to fire us."
"Oh come on, really? How long have you guys known me? Do you really think I'd fire you for that?"
He shrugged. "Well, no, but I don't like to assume anything."
I laughed. "You have nothing to worry about. You two are my best employees. You guys are the reason why I can take off for a few weeks next month. You and Angela keep this place running like a well-oiled machine, and I couldn't be more grateful."
Jake nodded and blushed again. "Thank you."
"Now go tell your anxious girlfriend that you two still have jobs for the foreseeable future and let me get back to work."
The weeks leading towards Christmas passed quickly, much quicker than I expected. Business at the bar had picked up, partially because the college kids were home from school and from Edward's concert. People came just to see if he'd stop by or just to be in the same place he was. The extra business was nice. It helped me put money aside faster for the restaurant expansion. For the benefit to the bar, I would put up with the publicity and the paparazzi.
The week after Edward left, Charlie made sure I didn't go anywhere without police escort, either uniform or not. It was comforting but largely unnecessary. There were only two instances where the photographers were a problem and the city's finest helped keep them at bay. I still found myself gracing the covers of the tabloids, but it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would.
There were a ton of pictures of us from the concert on Friday night. I was confident enough in myself to realize that I was fairly attractive, but I barely recognized myself in those pictures. Now those, those I was proud of having displayed. I looked hot, like I deserved to be with Edward. I didn't realize how short that cocktail dress was until I saw a photo of me wearing it, but damn if Alice didn't have good taste.
I discovered the concert pictures when I was in the grocery store later that week after Edward left. Thankfully, the line I was in was not one of Lauren's so I didn't have to fake politeness to her. She was the reason we were outed so early, and I hadn't quite forgiven her for that yet. As some teenaged girl rang up my cart, I grabbed the first rag that caught my eye. Right on the front cover was a picture of Edward and me, arms wrapped around one another in a deep kiss. Going through my memories of that night, I realized these were from his break between sets. As much as the papparazi's attention irritated me, I felt better knowing that now there was proof of our relationship. Tanya can put that in her pipe and smoke it, stupid hag. The rest of the pictures were much of the same, most of the concert, one or two of the paps who had followed me home. One photographer got a great shot of Charlie handing the ass of another photographer, the one who broke his camera. It was a great angle. Even the caption was funny.
"One of the X-17 photographers learned that you don't disturb Papa Bear"
I ended up buying that particular magazine. I thought it was pretty amusing. Some of the rags tried to take themselves seriously in how they presented the "facts" of their stories. Others, like this one, seemed to enjoy poking fun at themselves as much as the stories.
Thankfully, the cashier didn't pay any attention to the cover of the magazine or who was standing in front of her. I was afraid of another Lauren-esque scene like how she practically chased Edward down for an autograph. Some of the people that came into the bar thought it was funny to ask for my autograph. The first few times it was funny. After that, not so much. I wasn't a celebrity, I was just dating one.
The phone at the bar still rang constantly by reporters wanting to talk to me. I listened to each one and wrote down the details and started a file on them. I thought that eventually Edward and I would probably do a joint interview and this way I could see for myself what some of the companies were like. After a week or so, even those calls started to trickle down. It was almost back to normal as it approached mid-December. Just in time for me to leave for the west coast.
As before, Edward and I had talked every day both through voice and text. A few times we used Skype when we both had our computers handy. We discussed flight plans and travel arrangements. I wanted to pay for the flight myself. Edward refused, stating that he asked me to come out to him so the least he could do was pay my way. I argued that I could afford to fly myself, but Edward persisted, asking in his most charming voice to let him do this. I relented. It was hard to say no to him when he asked like that.
However, when the tickets came, I wanted to choke him with them. Instead of the regular coach flight with the cheapest airline available on the day we decided I'd fly out, he bought me a first class ticket through Continental Airlines. I loved Continental, but there were definitely cheaper airlines out there. And first class to boot! I wasn't sure quite why I was upset; perhaps I felt embarrassed that I couldn't afford to fly like this myself or just angry that he was spending that much money on me. I appreciated the surprise but I wish he would've given me some heads up about the upgrade. I did my best to try to put it out of mind, but it was hard.
The night I received the tickets, I tore into him a little bit during our Skype call. "Edward Anthony Cullen! Why did you buy me first class tickets?"
Edward's eyes widened on my computer screen as he watched me pace in front of my webcam. "Um, because I wanted to?"
"I thought we had discussed coach!"
"You discussed coach. You never asked me if I wanted to buy coach or first class," Edward retorted with a smirk.
"Because you shouldn't have! It's too much!"
"It's safer," he countered.
"What?" I stopped on a dime and peered at him on the screen.
"If anyone recognizes you on the flight, they won't be able to bother you."
"What is the likelihood of someone recognizing me? I mean, come on now."
"You are traveling into LAX. There could be photographers on the plane on their way home. It would be a perfect opportunity."
"I never thought of that," I whispered.
"I had, plus I wanted to spoil you a little. I'm assuming you've never flown first class before?"
"No, never. It was always too expensive."
"Well, it's not for me. I prefer to fly first class just for the privacy. You'll see the advantages."
I sulked a little, not liking the fact I'd lost the argument. "If you say so. I still think you spent too much."
"Bella, how many times do I have to tell you? Money doesn't mean anything to me. If it ensures that you are comfortable and safe, then it was well spent, regardless of the cost."
I nodded and our conversation drifted to other topics. I could see his point, grudgingly, but I could. The part of me that wasn't pissed by the expense of the tickets was touched by the gesture.
The night before I was set to leave, I was horribly nervous. I had never been to the west coast before. This would be the longest I'd ever been away from home except for college, and that was in the same state. This would be the farthest from home I had ever been. This was also the first time I would be away from the bar and leaving it under the control of someone else for a period of time. I trusted Angela and Jake implicitly, but it was still nerve-wracking. I felt like a mother who was letting her child drive for the first time.
I was all packed and ready to go. I had painstakingly typed up unnecessary instructions for Angela and Jake, things they mostly already knew, but I wanted to confirm on paper, things that might come up while I was gone, and just whatever things I could think of that I needed to tell them. I felt slightly neurotic. Edward laughed at me but I think he understood. The bar was my baby and I was giving it to the care of someone else for the first time. It was a big step for me. It could be a bigger step for the two of us, depending on what direction our relationship ended up going. I tried not to focus on that. I hadn't actually left to see if being away would be a success.
Jake and Angela wished me a safe trip and told me that we'd celebrate our own Christmas together when I got back. I made them promise not to defile my office in my absence. Jake laughed. Angela blushed as red as a tomato. Jessica was over the moon in excitement for me. She told me to take lots of pictures of LA and to get autographs of anyone famous I met. Charlie offered to drive me to the airport as well. He figured riding in a police car would be a good paparazzi deterrent. He was right. I didn't see any strange cars or any camera flashes.
Next thing I knew, I was on the plane to Los Angeles. Even with the direct flight, it was still going to be five hours. As I sat in my roomy and comfy chair, I felt a little bit better about Edward buying first class tickets. Being in a chair like this for five hours was much more comfortable then being cramped into an economy chair. A lot of my first class cabin mates were business people. They were wearing clothes that probably cost more than my bar's monthly income. No one seemed to pay me any mind, which was the best part. Most had laptops or briefcases open, working on presentations or quarterly sales reports. I brought some of my paperwork for the restaurant proposal and a book to occupy myself. I decided to start light, and I dug out my paperback.
I woke up a few hours later as the plane hit some turbulence over the desert. My book had flopped over to the side, wedged in between my hip and the side of the chair. I quickly checked the cover for damage. I was one of those people would was anally retentive about how my books were kept. Even paperbacks were treated well. I tried to avoid breaking the spine as much as I could.
Eventually, we started our descent into Los Angeles. I had never seen such a huge city before. It seemed to go on forever, well, until the city reached the coast, but still as far as the eye could see. Landing at LAX wasn't any better. It reminded me of flying into Cleveland's airport because the planes had to follow the landing pattern for the airport over the lake. In Los Angeles, the planes went over the ocean...but a lot more of the ocean. I closed my eyes and thought happy thoughts as we rapidly approached the landing strip. Take-offs were fine. The landings were always where it seemed the roughest.
After just a short period of time, we were at the terminal and the flight attendants were allowing us to deboard. First class got to go first, of course. My excitement grew and completely overshadowed my nervousness. I took out the hat and sunglasses that Edward said to bring and slipped them on before I left the gate. LAX was much larger than the airports I had been to before, but it was fairly easy to find baggage claim. All signs usually led you to baggage claim. Where else were you going to go after you got off a five hour flight? The souvenir shop?
I followed the general flow of people into baggage claim. The last thing I wanted to deal with was lost luggage, especially since Edward's Christmas present was in my bags. There were chauffeurs standing by the exits, some with signs, some without, all waiting for passengers. I ignored them and tried to keep an eye out for anyone with a camera. I saw a few, but I kept my head down and tried to look as natural as possible. I had just found the perfect spot for getting my luggage when the conveyor belts started up. Various pieces of luggage in all kinds of colors began spitting out onto the belt from a door on the wall. My huge green suitcase eventually made an appearance. I was surprised that it came under the weight limit without having to pay extra. I heaved the suitcase over the lip of the belt and righted it so the rollers were on the floor.
With one final calming breath, I squared my shoulders and looked over to the line of chauffeurs. Edward had said he was going to send a driver to get me and to look for the one holding up a sign for me. At the end of the line of drivers, slightly taller then the ones around him, stood a man dressed in a non-descript black suit with a white shirt and black tie. He had a pageboy cap on his head and sunglasses. In his hands was a white cardboard sign with an emblem in black written on it: a swan. My mouth curled up in a smile as I approached my driver.
"Welcome to LA. Let me take your bags."
A/N Thank you for sticking with me! I PROMISE that the next chapter will not take six months to post! Teasers for Chapter 23 will be sent with reviews!